Larilyn’s Tip of the Week

Something I’ve seen a lot of over the last few weeks is a rare sight.

The return of dinosaurs.
Okay – not real dinosaurs.  And not even the precious and cute animatronic ones found at a Disney theme park.

I’m talking about old computers.  

And when I say old computers, I don’t mean computers from 1990.  When you still had a green screen.  And command line was common.  And Oregon Trail was my jam.
 
When it comes to computers for business purposes, we generally recommend considering replacing every 3-5 years.  Anything older than that belongs with the t-rex if you ask me.

What we have seen over the last few months (thanks a lot COVID) is people suddenly using their personal computers for business purposes.  And a lot of times, these computers are old and not maintained or kept up to date.

So I have a few tips for you that might help get a little more life out of your old computer if it’s just not in your budget to put the poor thing out of its misery and buy yourself a new one.

1.)  Updates are your friend!!  And there are two different types of updates you need to make sure you are doing. Operating system (this would be Windows updates or Mac updates) updates are important.  In fact, anything older than a current version of Windows 10 (such as Windows 7 or even version of Windows 10 previous 1809) are no longer support by Microsoft.  And Apple doesn’t support anything older than Mac OS 10.15.4 / 10.14.6 / 10.13.6.
 It’s also important to do manufacturer updates.  So if you have an HP, you would want to use the HP Support Assistant to check if there are HP updates for your system.  Or if you have a Dell, there’s an app on your computer called Support Assist. 

You want to make sure both your computer and it’s operating system are up to date! 
2.)  Restart your computer regularly.  You don’t need to restart it every day, but once a week is a good guideline.  And if you are using a laptop, remember that simply closing the lid is NOT restarting.  So you still want to make sure you restart once a week.

3.)  Remove unwanted programs.  Sure, back in the early 2000’s, everyone was using AOL Messenger.  However, if you don’t use it – remove it!  Clean up that space and get rid of it!

4.)  Go through and delete unwanted pictures.  It’s great that we have digital cameras and can take fifty shots of a sunset so we get the perfect one.  However, keep the one and delete the 49!  Pictures take up a lot of space, and the older your computer, the more I bet you have on there!

5.)  Use disk clean up.  This will help get rid of some of the temporary files that bog your computer down that it just doesn’t need – hence the label “temporary”.  To do this, simply hit the Start button (the Windows logo on the bottom left of your screen).  Type “Disk Cleanup” and select the application that pops up.  It will open up a box and you can check off all of the items that you want it to clean (I go for it all!) and hit okay.  

Hopefully as you do these things, your computer will have a little more pep in its step.  But remember, even a dinosaur with pep in its step is still…..a dinosaur.
 

Larilyn’s Tip of the Week

Alright – we’re all pros at working from home now, right?

Okay Gladys, I see you over there – still working at your office.  I’m not talking to you. 

Actually, I still am talking to you because even though this might not affect you work wise, you might still want my tip for your normal life.

I digress……
Even though we’re working on week five thousand and three of self isolation (at least it feels like it), you might still be able to tweak a few things to make yourself more productive.

Today I want to talk about QOS on your home network.

What is QOS?  It stands for quality of service.  It’s how your router chooses which devices in your home get to go to the front of the wi-fi line. 

Have you ever been right in the middle of a Zoom call when the apple of your eye decides it’s time to start his online game championship and your Zoom call suddenly becomes choppy and pixelated?  Or are you trying to upload that important report at the same time that your teenager is downloading all of the Twilight movies in order to have a marathon binge watching session?

 
You can change all of this by giving your work computer or device priority in the QOS settings on your router.  That way, your device will always be at the front of the line.  Most routers support QOS settings and can be accessed through your router web portal or an app. 

And of course, we’re here to answer any questions.

Larilyn’s Tip of the Week

Impersonators aren’t a new thing, right?  They’ve been around since…..well…..at least since Elvis.
Something that is newer though is impersonation emails, because those have only been around since…..well, you know.  Since email became a widely used thing and bad guys decided to get involved.

What is an impersonation email?  Basically, it’s a phishing method where the bad guys send you an email that is crafted to look like it’s coming from someone you know or someone with authority in your organzation.  It’s all about impersonating someone that they are not.  

This makes it tricky to detect because they have gotten very good at making their emails look legit and like they are coming from the person they say it is.

But not all impersonations look alike.
So in order to help weed out imposters, most email users already have basic imposter detection in place.  It will look for things that seem a bit fishy.  For example, it might see [email protected] is emailing [email protected] – but Sarah’s domain is actually something different (like, inmotionisgreat.com) and is impersonating an inmotionnet.com email address.  So the email gets flagged because the email server can see the impersonation.

Or maybe [email protected] emails something to [email protected], and this gets flagged.  Sure, she may be forwarding something from her personal email to her work email.  Definitely a possibility.  However, it still gets flagged because it’s also possible that someone is just trying to impersonate Sarah and impersonated her personal email address instead of the domain email address.

When it comes down to it, being educated and aware is the most important thing.  So while it’s good that your email probably has some protection in place, still remember to be cautious when opening emails.  If it is from someone you don’t know, even if it looks like it’s coming from your own domain or office, don’t click links or attachments until you verify the sender.

Even if it is from someone you know but they are asking you to do something such as send a wire transfer or change account credentials and you weren’t expecting this from them – don’t do anything until you verify that it is from them.

And above all – please, please, please don’t add your own email address or domain to any allowed lists or filters.  That just makes it too easy for the bad guys.

Larilyn’s Tip of the Week

Well.  Life is upside down.  I feel like we’re all playing a huge game of Don’t Touch the Lava.  You know, the game kids play on a playground?  Don’t move, don’t fall, don’t touch anything….stay at your home base and survive!!

Just me? Hmmmm…..okay.

Anyway!

Since so many of us are now working from home, doing distance learning, and social distancing – we have seen the rise of the use of any and all apps that allow us to see people we can’t actually see in person.
One of the biggest platforms that people have been using is Zoom.  They’ve offered their services for free in a lost of cases, so a lot of schools and businesses have jumped on the Zoom bandwagon.

Now….I don’t want to completely bash Zoom.  However, what we have been seeing is that the more people use it – the more vulnerabilities are being exposed.  There are some legitimate security and privacy concerns with more and more people using it.

We would recommend that you take a look at your options when working remote.  A lot of businesses already have resources they are paying for that they aren’t fully utilizing. 

For example, do you have Office 365?  Then you have Microsoft Teams, which has a lot of video conferencing capabilities and messaging capabilities.  

Do you pay for Google Business apps?  Check out the Hangout, Meeting and Chat features.

Even if you don’t currently have these options, the companies are also offering their services – such as Google offering some of its features for free, and Microsoft offering Teams for free for six months.  It’s worth talking to us and figuring out what resources your business has available to it.

And if you DO need to use Zoom, please pay attention to the news and make sure you are doing all you can to stay safe as you use it!  Make sure you set your own password for the group (don’t use the default) and don’t send links in the chat!

What is Working Well with Work From Home?

As many of us have adjusted to working from home for a month or more now, what are you finding that is working well?

Photo by Collins Lesulie on Unsplash

I’m hearing from some clients about things that are working better than before. For example, some have found that having daily huddles via Google Meet (or similar) is actually better than standing together for the huddle. They’re planning to continue meeting that way even when we get back to whatever the new normal looks like. 

Is there anything you’ve been doing the past month that has been working really well?

As some areas are starting to talk about loosening restrictions, it’s natural to start thinking about what the end of this looks like. Are you going to flip a switch and go back to business just like it was in early March?

Take a moment and think about the things that you’d like to continue to incorporate into your new normal. Maybe thats some video conferencing tools, maybe it is some more flexible work from home arrangements or maybe it is something all-together different that you’ve seen success with.

If there is something that your business is struggling with, please reach out and let’s see if we can find a solution for you.

What Makes a Server a Server Anyway?

So, you’ve decided that your business needs a server and now you’re wondering why you can’t run it on a Raspberry Pi or that old computer no one is using in accounting.

Not sure if you need a server for your small business? Read does my small business really need a server?

Bottom line, you might be able to run the software on that computer no one is using, but there are a few features you probably want to have in your server that the typical computer doesn’t have.

First and foremost, redundancy is key when it comes to servers. Second, servers are typically built with higher end components with a longer life expectancy than consumer or even business grade desktops. Third, servers should feature out of band management allowing remote access, management and monitoring. Fourth, servers may feature hardware that can be hot swapped.

Redundancy

A number of components should be redundant in servers. Hard drives should always be redundant in servers without exception. RAID is typically utilized so that if a single drive, or possibly more depending on the configuration, was to die, the server can keep running along without any interruption until the drive is replaced. As the redundancy has been diminished, it is imperative to replace the drive as soon as reasonably possible.

Frequently servers have redundant power supplies. Power supplies are often overlooked, but they do a lot of work and are susceptible to fluctuations in power and voltage spikes if the power is not properly conditioned. Redundant power supplies should be utilized so that any one source of power doesn’t cause the server to go offline. You might have going to two separate UPS systems or two separate sources of power.

In some configurations, fans, memory and other components may be redundant. While it is more likely for equipment with moving parts to fail, it’s always possible for other components to fail.

Higher Quality Components

Most equipment is rated with a mean time between failure (MTBF) which is calculated to be the age at which point 50% of those components will fail. Hardware which has been designed for servers generally has a longer MTBF which helps keep the server running. Cheaper components frequently have lower MTBF.

Desktops made for the consumer market typically only have a one year warranty. Business class desktops generally have a three year warranty. While the warranty is not the same as MTBF, you can bet the company has done the math to make sure equipment doesn’t fail during that warranty period.

Out of Band Management

If your computer gets turned off, it probably isn’t a big deal. When you come into the office, you simply turn it on again. However, if your server isn’t running, this can be a big problem when you’re paying employees who can’t access their email, applications, databases, computers, etc.

Servers should feature a remote access feature that provides basic level access even if the server is powered off. Say, for example, the power goes out in your office for an extended period (longer than your UPS was designed to keep systems running). Hopefully your server was shut down properly, but what if you didn’t set it up to turn back on automatically when the power comes back on? You’d have to go to the office and turn it on. That might not sound like a big deal, but after a long, hard week, do you really want to drive back to the office on a Friday night?

The management features on the server frequently provide advanced reporting, monitoring and access features so potential issues can be diagnosed and fixed before they impact your business. Out of band remote access may even allow remote technicians to fix problems preventing the server from booting to the operating system.

Hot Swap

If you need to replace the hard drive in your computer, it’s almost certain that you’re going to need to turn it off, take it apart and spend some time doing it. In most servers, you simply click a button to release the failed drive and insert a new drive. The system will start rebuilding the data and other than a minor slowdown (due to increased usage), users can keep accessing their applications without knowing the drive was replaced.

The same may be true for power supplies, fans and other components. Servers are designed to keep running and supporting your employees.

Bottom Line

Servers are generally one of the most important pieces of equipment that keep employees working and productive. If your business would be impacted if the server was down, you should invest in equipment that is true server class and features redundancy for critical and most likely to fail systems, high quality components, out of band management features and the ability to hot swap parts when they fail.

Finally, it is worth noting that many manufacturers are always trying to win the race to the bottom to make the cheapest equipment possible and frequently they will skimp on some of these features. The cheapest entry-level servers will not have many of these features and should generally be avoided if your business relies on your IT infrastructure for operations.

We should also note that there are many ways IT equipment, including servers, can be setup. We can’t comment on how your server is setup and you should never assume that best practices have been followed. Finally, while redundancy is important for servers, redundancy alone will not protect your data or your business operations in all cases. All businesses should have a documented business continuity plan that is checked, tested and updated on a regular basis.

If you aren’t sure if you have the right hardware for your business, schedule a free evaluation today.

Does My Small Business Really Need a Server?

I consulted with a small business last week. Their server had stopped powering on a few weeks ago. There were a few things they couldn’t do, but nothing that was causing a major impact to their business. This got me thinking: does your small business really need a server? With everything going to the cloud, what does a server really do for you?

Many businesses start out as a single user or maybe two and even if there are plans to grow the business, most often one doesn’t want to invest the capital in technology when there is no immediate need to do so. Let’s face it, when you’re one user, the benefits of a server do not outweigh the costs of purchasing and maintaining one.

However, there is a point where you’ve got a handful of computers to manage, different employees who should have selected access to files and maybe applications or databases. At this point, the benefits of a centralized server can be realized.

[Read more…]

Update: MalwareBytes Issue Fixed

It has been widely reported this morning that MalwareBytes was causing an issue blocking legitimate access to email, web sites and remote connections. We posted a workaround earlier this morning. Fortunately, the team at MalwareBytes has been able to resolve the issue.

Martin Kleczynski, Chief Executive Officer at Malwarebytes posted the following about 11 a.m. Pacific:

Earlier this morning, we published a protection update that caused connection issues for many of our customers. As a side effect of the web protection blocks, the product also spiked memory usage and possibly caused a crash.

We have triaged this issue and pushed a protection update that resolves it. If the update does not resolve the issue for you, please shut down the product and restart it.

The root cause of the issue was a malformed protection update that the client couldn’t process correctly. We have pushed upwards of 20,000 of these protection updates routinely. We test every single one before it goes out. We pride ourselves on the safety and accuracy of our detection engines. To say I am heartbroken is an understatement.

We are working hard to not only triage your issues and get your computer or business back up and running but to also rebuild your trust. We are going to overhaul how we publish these protection updates so that this never happens again.

He provided his contact information as well in the post.

It isn’t clear if devices impacted by this will be able to update automatically. If you’re facing issues, please update Malwarebytes manually by following these steps:

It is most likely necessary to expand the notification center icons in the taskbar down by the clock by clicking the ^. (This icon appears different in different versions of Windows.)

Then, right click on the Malwarebytes icon: 

If it is not already unchecked, uncheck Website Blocking:

Finally, right click on the icon and select Check for Updates:

You should be updated to database version v2018.01.27.12 or later to resolve the issue.

Re-enable the website blocking feature by repeating the steps and checking Website Blocking.

MalwareBytes Gone Crazy Blocking Internet

If you’re having a problem this morning accessing your email or other network resources or websites, and you’re getting a pop-up saying that sites are being blocked, you may be impacted by a recent MalwareBytes update that is causing similar problems for many people.

Update 11:15 Pacific: The issue has been resolved in an update. See instructions for updating Malwarebytes to the latest database. It should no longer be necessary to disable Website blocking or exit Malwarebytes.

While MalwareBytes is working on a fix for this issue, here’s the workaround:

It is most likely necessary to expand the notification center area down by the clock by clicking on the ^ arrow:

Find the MalwareBytes icon:  and right click on it, then click on Website Blocking to disable this protection module.

In the event that disabling Website Blocking doesn’t resolve your issues, try exiting the program completely. Follow the steps above to access the menu and select Exit.

Finally, click Yes to confirm you want to exit the application:

 

[Read more…]

Stop Creating Calendar Events from Emails

If you’ve recently booked a hotel, a flight or some other things like restaurant reservations or concert tickets, you may have noticed corresponding events in your Google Calendar.

For many of us, these are helpful reminders, which is why Google does it by default.

What if you use something like TripIt to manage your travels? You may want to disable auto importing events from your Google (aka Gmail or G Suite) Mail.

  • Open your Google Calendar. (If you’re using Outlook with Apps Sync, you’ll need to actually go to calendar.google.com in your browser.)
  • Click the settings gear at the top right.
  • Scroll down to Events from Gmail
  • Uncheck “Add automatically”
  • Save!

Now events will not be added automatically. If you decide you miss this functionality, just go back to the same spot and check the box.

It probably goes without saying, but if you generally like this feature, but need to remove a specific event, you can click on the event and then delete it by clicking the trash can.