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Why the Heartbleed Bug Is Still Breaking Our Hearts

heartbleed-full-size-240x300This past April brought to light a bug that affected computer systems worldwide.  Thousands of computers and servers were left vulnerable to hacker attacks. Businesses worldwide went into attack mode, finding any holes in their SSL encryption and patching them as quickly as possible.  Although we know how and why the Heartbleed Bug occurred, many computers and servers across the world are still vulnerable.

Although the bug was widely reported and announced, not all users have acted to protect their computers and servers from continued attack.  This means that many websites could be at risk from attacks until today. Here are some general tips on what to do to protect your information against the Heartbleed Bug and other online threats.

Check the website before visiting: If you are going to use a website that you are not sure has been cleared of the Heartbleed bug, use Last Pass to check if the website is safe.  This site will tell you if the site was ever vulnerable and if it is currently safe.  Last Pass will also recommend a password change if the tested website meets certain credentials.

Change your passwords regularly: Changing your passwords frequently is recommended to improve login security. Having passwords that are unique and do not repeat across sites is the best way to ensure that all your information will not be compromised in a cyber-attack. Use characters and numbers within your passwords and shy away from using phrases easily cracked. Changing your passwords every 4-8 months will help protect your information. Of course, if there is a new cyber-attack, change your passwords immediately.

Check the SSL: It is very easy to check the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).  Visit a SSL check site and enter in the website, domain or URL. The site will let you know if this page has an up-to-date SSL certificate.  If the certificate is up to date, then the site can be considered safe to visit. Do not visit sites without a current SSL certificate.

Always Use an Anti-Virus Software: Every computer should be using reliable anti-virus software.  This software checks your computer for viruses and malware that can leave your information vulnerable.  Have the program run a weekly check to ensure that your computer is virus free and your information is safe and secure.

The Heartbleed Bug brought the dangers of online security to the forefront.  There is a more proactive effort throughout the world to secure and maintain servers and computers because of attacks like the Heartbleed Bug, Cryptolocker and more. Be attentive when online and maintain the security of your information with these simple, easy steps to worry-free access online.

Guide to malware

Avoid Security Breaches in Your Business

secure-informationThe business world and tech world are intertwined into today’s society and rely on each other to function.  The move to digital business has improved transaction speed and overall operation speed for most companies. Although operations are moving at rapid speed, this occurs at a risk.  Security breaches are becoming a daily worry in corporate offices and are not to be taken lightly.  Recent breaches by large corporations such as Target and Michaels’ have shown the extent to which a cyber-attack can affect a business.  Target’s first quarter reports show a significant loss in profit and many are placing the blame on the Thanksgiving security breach.  Although these corporations may be much larger than your business, the risk is still the same. Implement these tips to help prevent a security breach from occurring in your business.

Conduct a Security Audit: The first step that should be taken is a security audit.  It is likely that you do not realize how much sensitive information is lying around in multiple excel sheets, login notepads and in files. Analyzing what is readily available to those in the company and on unsecured servers is critical.  Make sure logins for former employees are shut down and only required logins are kept. These can be used to outside hackers to gain access to your information.

The rule of thumb is to keep only the needed information readily available. If it hasn’t been used in over six months, do you really need it handy?  This is extremely important for ex-clients. Once any business transactions or contracts have been completed, it is recommended that the clients change the passwords and you move the information to a more secure format.  Be sure that you are also following regulations and compliance for your industry when dealing with secure information.  Be sure to follow industry guidelines and either secure the unneeded information or discard.

Implement A Security Policy: Once all documents have been reviewed, setting up a clear and concise security policy is recommended.  This will set the standard for the entire company and leave no questions for employees.  An environment of accountability will be created and employees will likely follow the policy. This will ensure your business will be maintaining and discarding information properly post-audit.  The process will make future audits move faster as well.

Test Your Security Breach Prevention System: What better way to test your system than by trying to hack it yourself? If you have an IT department, ask them to attempt to enter your data systems without any standard information handy.

Have a Breach Response Plan: As hard as you may try to prevent a breach, there is always a risk that can occur. Have a plan in place in case of this event.  Pick designated staff to gain back control of the data, change passwords and inform any employees or clients that need to be in the know. Gaining control back as quickly as possible is critical.

No company wants the negative response and potential profit loss of a security breach. Implementing these suggestions can help bolster your security and prepare your company in case of an attack. Another suggestion is to hire a third party IT company to secure your information. Contact VBL at 252-491-8306 or at support@vbltech.com to ensure your sensitive information.

Guide to malware

Surface Pro 3: The Laptop Killer?

SurfacePro3PicMicrosoft recently held a press conference regarding their upgrade to the Surface series, the Surface Pro 3 Tablet. Many hoped this new release would be the android answer the Macbook Air.  Rumors had stirred that this tablet may take big steps to equaling the power and functionality of laptops. Microsoft did not disappoint. The new Surface Pro 3 is a hybrid of a laptop and tablet all at once.  Now that it has been released, how do you know if the Surface Pro 3 is ideal for you and is it really the laptop killer? Check out these great pros to the Surface Pro 3.

Design: The Surface Pro 3 resembles its predecessors visually, but the Surface Pro 3 offers an ultra-thin experience with an optional detachable keyboard. According to Gizmodo, it is nearly as thin as the iPad Air. Although it is thinner, the screen is still large for the tablet world at twelve inches. There are also new fan vents that allow for better cooling that do not take away from the tablet visually.

Functionality: Although the Surface Pro 3 is ultra-thin, the bigger screen allows for more space for larger and faster processors. This speeds up the tablet and gives it laptop-like experience. Although it works great as a stand-alone tablet, we suggest purchasing the detachable keyboard if you plan to use this as your sole computing device. Typing on a tablet can be tiresome, and the keyboard improves the experience.

The beauty of the device is you can run it in either tablet mode or computer mode making the functionality you wish to use easily attained at your fingertips. There are no issues researching, creating documents and saving them to the cloud, which is a major improvement compare to other tablets.  It also is easily used no matter if you are sitting at a desk or on your couch lounging.

Battery Life: The battery life of the Surface 3 Pro has improved to about seven hours of serious use. This is up from the previous versions of the surface and is high for most of the tablet world. Laptops can offer upwards of ten to fifteen hours of battery life. Although it is not quite to laptop speeds, this is still impressive battery life.

This new device offers design, functionality and the battery life many users want while not diminishing the quality of the user experience. Want to discuss if the surface is a good choice for you and your next purchase? Call VBL Tech at 252-491-8306 or email at support@vbltech.com.

Guide to malware

How Do I know It Is Time for A New Computer?

time-for-a-new-computerComputers are devices that we use nearly every day whether at work or at home. We depend on them to pay bills, find information and to communicate with others.  Technology has advanced computers so they last a much longer time than in the past, but as time passes, a new computer may be the only option.  Not sure if you need to buy a new computer? Here are some inclinations that it may be time to buy a new computer.

Insufficient RAM/Motherboard Space: Random Access Memory (RAM) helps run programs that you use daily and many of the background programs you don’t think about. RAM helps run programs like anti-virus programs, firewalls, anti-spyware, wallpapers, and necessary system processes. This also includes any programs that you add to the computer.  If you are running many programs that take up a lot of RAM, you may need to add more RAM to your Motherboard.

Your motherboard hosts your ram and keeps your computer running. Many computers have space for you to add more RAM to the motherboard.  The problem is there is only so much space to add RAM and larger motherboards.  If there is no space left in your computer to add these items, it may be time to upgrade.

Graphic Card Speed: Graphic cards help your computer play streamed media on your computer.  Graphic card speed will affect the quality and speed that media is played and can cause issues for many. Some graphic cards use on-board RAM memory; if your RAM is overworked running your programs this can affect your speed. If the computer only has issues streaming media, it is likely your graphics card and can be replaced.  If there is a combination of issues including the card, it may be time for an upgrade.

Old Systems on Computer: If you are running older Windows systems such as XP or Vista it is time to upgrade.  Microsoft ended support for XP in April and will no longer send out patches to fix issues.  This leaves your computer in danger to hackers.  Hackers are creating viruses to gain access to your computer and its information. Although Vista is currently supported, it is likely Microsoft will be cancelling support soon.  In addition, if you are running these older systems it is likely that the computer itself is old and many new fixes will be unavailable to you.

Blue Screen of Death: The computer will start the blue screen of death if the operating system sees a problem that could potentially damage the hardware of information on the computer. There are some things that can be done to extend the life of a computer after the blue screen, but it highly recommended that you search for a new computer. Don’t lose your information because of the blue screen!

There are many components that go into the decision of buying a new computer, but VBL Technologies is here to help. Our expert IT department has started a new residential program where we can help you determine what is the best option for you and your PC.  Feel free to contact us at support@vbltech.com or at 252-491-8306.

Guide to malware

4 Reasons Your Business Needs to Use The Cloud

cloud-computingThe reliance on technology and instant communication is hard to miss in the business world.  Transactions and exchanges are happening at lightning-fast speed all over the world.  With this increase in productivity, storing and saving information for businesses has caused great debate. Saving information on on-site hard drives is dangerous and can leave your business unprotected.  The answer to these issues is cloud-based computing. Wondering why it is so important for your business to switch to the cloud? Here are three reasons you need to integrate your business onto the cloud immediately.

24/7 Protection: It’s a dangerous world for documents and important information. Hackers are constantly trying to gain access to your information and creating new ways to do this. Backing your information up to a server seems the logical answer, unless your server is on-site. On-site servers can be hacked just as easily as keeping your information on computers. Investing in an off-site server gives you the peace of mind that your information is constantly being protected and your data is secure.

Keeping information on-site is also risky because of natural occurrences.  One fire, storm or flood could potentially wipe out all information.  Off-site backups are critical for the safety of your information.

Easier Accessibility:  This is very exciting for employees on the go.  Cloud computing gives your employees the ability to log in on almost any device and access files for work from anywhere with an internet connection. If an employee is sick or the weather does not allow for workers to come into the office, productivity is still an option. Updates to documents occur automatically to the cloud.  This allows group projects to happen even faster.

Manage Access for the Entire Company: Not all employees need access to all information. The administrator of the cloud can easily create drives which only give access to certain files and documents within the drive. For example, accounting may not need access to marketing files. You can easily create an accounting and marketing drive which separates the information and give access to specific employees while keeping the information on the same cloud server.

Lower Operational Costs: Cloud computing does not require expensive hardware or software on site that has to be replaced. As the name alludes to, your information is in the cloud and goes to large, secure off-site servers in which you pay to use.  Instead of having bulky and expensive devices on site you pay a minimal fee to use these off-site servers, saving your business hard-earned dollars in the long run.

Your business can be up and running on the cloud very quickly with a quick evaluation from our expert team .

Guide to malware

Ebay Database Hacked, Users Urged to Change Passwords

ebayEarly today, Ebay released a statement that their database which included names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and passwords experienced a hack. Luckily, this did not include credit card information; this information is kept on a separate, secure database.  According to the statement, Ebay does not believe any information has been used, but there is still potential for illegal use.

The hackers were able to reach this sensitive information by first hacking employee logins and then using these to gain your information. This was first discovered two weeks ago, but the actual hack likely occurred in February and March.

VBL highly suggests that you change your account password. Log into your account and
enter your account settings and edit your personal information.  There you can reset your password, which should secure your Ebay account. If you use the same password on more than one site we also recommend that you change the passwords to these logins as well.

We recommend that you have different passwords for your different logins to make it difficult for hackers to gain access to all your information. Be sure to use variety in your passwords; use numbers and symbols within your password. This is another way to make it more difficult for hackers to gain access to your information.  There are password generators online that can create strong passwords for you to use.

If you are concerned about the safety of your accounts please contact us at support@vbltech.com or at 252-491-8306.  To read the entire statement from Ebay, click here.

improve computer speed with simple tips

PC vs. Tablet: Which Is Best For Your Small Business?

pcEvery day, businesses rely on technology to keep their operations running smoothly and efficiently.  Without these crutches, many businesses would come to a grinding halt. With older businesses reaching their computer turnover dates and looking to purchase the newest technology, the question today is: do businesses buy a PC or a tablet for their employees?  There are pros and cons to both and we will discuss each for your business to make the decision that is best for the company.

Look at the trends:  Tablet sales are consistently outpacing PC and notebook sales throughout the world. With the shrinking size and weight of tablets, even the lightest notebooks today seem bulky to many and deter purchase. Advances in tablet technology now allow these devices to function comparably to notebooks and PCs. Many android tablets are now offering USB portals and with the advancement of the cloud, storage is no longer an issue. Winner: Tablet

Programs make a difference: Every business runs different programs, which makes this topic a little more difficult. If your business relies solely on the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote), both types of devices have the ability to function with these programs. The one downfall for the tablet is that the Microsoft Office Suite has only recently become available on tablets and does not quite have the full functionality of the desktop suite. If your business runs programs like QuickBooks, there is no problem running the program on each device. Where the tablet loses the battle is with more technical programs. If your business runs AutoCAD, programming software and more sophisticated programs, it is unlikely that the tablet can support the program (unless there is an app for that). Winner: PC/Notebook

Mobility: Today’s business world has a fast-paced, on-the-go mentality. With many employees traveling from place to place and the popularity of flex work schedules, it is becoming a must to have some type of portability with company devices. This usually pushes aside the PC and brings the decision down to a notebook or a tablet. Both devices give you the ability to hop on a plane, go to the coffee shop or set up presentations downtown. Both are easily transported making either a great choice for mobility. Winner: Toss Up

Size Matters: Currently it is difficult to find a tablet with a screen bigger than ten inches. If you spend eight or more hours a day using your device for work, this can cause serious strain on your eyes.  PCs and Notebooks have a variety of monitor sizes and the biggest perk: external monitors. Winner: PC/Notebook

Performance and Speed: Using tablets for day to day activities works out fine, but some tablets have hiccups while downloading larger files or watching high res videos.  PCs and notebooks are able to complete the tasks smoothly. Processor speed is something that needs to be taken into consideration as well.  PCs and notebooks tend to be more reliable on this front. Winner: PC/Notebook

Each company has different needs and requirements which can make the decision difficult.  Prioritizing what is the most important to your operations and employees can help make this decision easier. Our techs are available to discuss and create a conversion plan for your business.

 

Tips to Extend the Life of Your Computer

old_pcNo matter if you are a business with many computers or a residential user with only one, finding ways to extend the life of your aging PC is extremely important.  Although the prices of computers have dropped dramatically, it is still a financial inconvenience when a computer has its swan song. But there are ways to extend the life of your computer that are easy to do from the home or office. Here are some great tips on how to extend the life of your old computer.

Keep the furballs away: Unless you use your computer in a vacuum, it is very likely that there is dust, debris and grime in your computer. This is an unavoidable fact for most computers. This debris can cause hardware to overheat and lead to critical portions of the computer to have malfunctions.   How can you stop this from happening? About every 6 months clean your computer completely using canned air.  Be sure to clear vents on laptops and if you know how to take the casing off your desktop, open it up and use the air (but don’t touch any of the components).

Don’t suffocate your computer: We often kick back and relax on our computers while lying on the couch. Although this is relaxing, you may be suffocating your computer. Not allowing cool air into the vents of a computer can also cause parts to overheat and malfunction.  If your workspace is extremely cluttered, try to give your tower some room to breathe as well.

Protect your computer from malware: Having a reliable anti-virus program is absolutely essential today. With hackers constantly trying to gain your personal information and infecting computers with viruses, turning on the computer can be a game of chance without it. Install an anti-virus program that is reliable and runs checks often for any dangerous bugs.

Use a surge protector: Leaving computers unguarded during electrical storms causes many computers to see their last day. The surge of electricity overpowers the components inside the computer rendering it useless.  It is always recommended to unplug computers from electrical outlets during storms, but if the computer must be plugged in, use a surge protector.

Run disc cleanups and disk defragmentation regularly: This will clear your computer of unnecessary and damaged files causing your computer to run more efficiently.  These programs are located in your start menu.  We suggest running these programs at least once a month.

Implement these tips and your computer will live a longer and healthier life! Concerned about the performance of your computer? VBL Technologies is now offering residential service to those in the Outer Banks area. Contact us at 252-491-8306 or at support@vbltech.com to have your computer serviced quickly.



New Computer Security Risk: The Internet Explorer Bug

Internet-ExplorerThe Department of Homeland Security and Microsoft have announced that Internet Explorer web browser contains a bug which has not yet been resolved.  This is a major announcement as millions use Internet Explorer on a daily basis.  The bug is affecting versions six through ten, making it particularly dangerous since it reaches across all versions, excluding eleven. The Department of Homeland Security is suggesting everyone use a different web browser, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, until the threat has been secured.  This is a big blow to Internet Explorer because of its waning popularity and strong competitors like Chrome and Firefox.

The bug allows hackers to skip security protections in Windows giving them access to your computer. The hack is enabled through Adobe Flash. Disabling the flash plugin within Internet Explorer should secure the web browser, but it is still best to use a different browser altogether for now.  Another suggestion is to run Internet Explorer in Enhanced Protect Mode, but this can disable many of the necessities needed to use the browser functionally.

This attack seems to be isolated, but after other recent infections like the Heartbleed bug and Target’s credit card issues, many are on high alert and don’t want to risk taking chances.  If a fix is not found quickly, this will become especially concerning because nearly all PC computers have Internet Explorer installed.

Microsoft usually releases patches for issues on “Patch Tuesdays” which occur on the first Tuesday of the month. May 6th will be the first Tuesday in May, but it is still anyone’s guess as to when a solution will be found for this issue.

This bug is a major concern for anyone still using Windows XP. Microsoft officially ended support for Windows XP at the beginning of April.  The Heartbleed bug and the current Internet Explorer bug can be extremely dangerous to anyone still running this operating system as there will be no patches released for XP.

Concerned about Internet Explorer? If you have questions regarding how this can affect your business and home computers, contact VBL Technologies at support@vbltech.com or at 252-491-8306 for more information. Safe browsing!

improve computer speed with simple tips

Prevent Cryptolocker Virus Before it Attacks Your Business

After making its debut in September 2013, Cryptolocker has held thousands of computers hostage in order to rake in millions upon millions of dollars in “ransom.” The Cryptolocker virus is one of the largest and most impactful cryptoviruses to hit the digital world. Its end result is often catastrophic. We at VBL Technologies recently helped a client get rid of the Cryptolocker virus, and we thought it would be helpful to inform others of the danger. Here’s what you need to know about the virus, how to prevent it, and what to do if you get it.

What is the Cryptolocker Virus?

CryptolockerThe Cryptolocker Virus is an intricate virus that gets into your computer, encrypts everything in your computer including files and pictures, and essentially holds it hostage for ransom. A message comes up on your computer screen demanding 0.5 bitcoins or about $300 in return for giving you everything back. It is reported that the mastermind behind this virus has netted hundreds of millions of dollars from users wanting their stuff back. An article about Cryptolocker noted a survey of just over 1,500 UK computer users showed that 3.4 percent of them had been infected with Cryptolocker and 41 percent of those infected paid the ransom.

One of the key factors that make this virus so hard to track is the use of bitcoins. When actual money is paid through online payments, it is easy to track. But with bitcoins, the tracking is very difficult – almost impossible.

How Do You Get the Cryptolocker Virus?

The Cryptolocker Virus hides in the attachment of a phishing email. The phishing email usually claims to be from a known company that is sending important information. Some examples include banks confirming a wire transfer or tracking information from a shipping company. Once you open the attachment (never open anything if you are unsure), the virus goes to work.

The attachment appears to be a PDF file because the file name ends with “.pdf”. For most computer users, PDF files from recognizable and trusted senders are OK to open. However, in reality it’s not a PDF document. The sender has used the Windows hidden extension feature to add the characters “.pdf” to end of the file name.

Once you open the attachment and the virus targets the files it’s designed to attack, it encrypts the files by using a public key. The next thing the virus does is make a record of the file in the Windows registry. The records are kept under the name HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareCryptoLockerFiles. But for most average computer users, the file is very hard to find. From there, the prompt comes up that alerts users their files have been encrypted and the “ransom” demand is made.

Users have about four days to make the payment to get their files back. If they pay the demand, decryption begins. The creator of the Cryptolocker Virus says that there is a private key required to decrypt files and that the key will be deleted if the ransom is not received within the set time. If this happens, all the files will be gone forever. This is why you should always back up your files frequently!

What Can You Do to Keep from Getting It?

Unlike most viruses and malware, the Cryptolocker Virus is hard to stop with antivirus and anti-malware programs. One helpful precaution is to establish a blanket email filtering rule that strips out executable attachments and prevents users from returning these emails to their inbox.

The best way to prevent the virus from taking over your computer is to implement a software restriction policy (SRP) on your computer. SRPs allow you to control or prevent the start of certain programs. They also block executable files from hitting specific user-space areas – areas where Cryptolocker goes to launch.

What Happens if Your System Gets Kidnapped by Cryptolocker?

First of all, if you did not request anything from any company, there is no reason to open an email. Do not ever open any attachment unless you know what the attachment is. It is as easy as that. If you do inadvertently open one, do not try to remove it yourself or you can do even more damage. Instead, consult an IT services company like VBL Technologies. We have experience with resolving the Cryptolocker Virus.

Also, know that copycats are rearing their ugly heads now with similar viruses, so be very diligent in looking at each email before you open one. If you are unsure, just delete it.



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