Is the Cloud safe?

A friend asked me a question today.  Is the Cloud safe?  She feels like a Luddite because she’s not using it, but she really doesn’t feel like it’s safe.  I’ve talked to a number of people who feel the same way. Some people think that their data in the Cloud will be stolen in some fashion.  Others tell they’re afraid that their data will be taken out of context and they’ll be hauled off to jail. So, what’s the answer?

Is the Cloud Safe?Is the Cloud safe?

Well, yes it is.

The Cloud is the safest place I’ve found to store my data.  This is because my data backup is on automatic pilot.  When I change a file and save it, it gets updated to my computer AND to Dropbox.  We’ve had several customers who use an external hard drive to back up there data once a week or once a month.  The trouble there is that people are fallible.  People don’t always remember to do a task.  They may have set up a calendar alarm to remind them to back up their data, but decide when it goes off that they will do it “later”.  And “later” never comes.  Those customers I mentioned earlier then had their hard drive crash, but hadn’t backed up their data in six months or a year.

So, is the Cloud Safe?

Well, no, it’s really not.

There have been several instances where the “bad guys” have broken into databases and stolen data.  One instance last year when a Password Manager was hacked and thousands of passwords were compromised.  (Which is why I am constantly harping on folks to change their passwords frequently!)

Another concern according to MalwareBytes that many people (and companies) have is: “It’s physically out of your hands. You aren’t saving to a hard drive at your house. You are sending your data to another company, which could be saving your data thousands of miles away, so keeping that information safe is now dependent on them.”

It’s really your call.  Convenience vs. keeping your data physically in your possession.  But, if you have precious data that changes frequently, I really recommend the Cloud.  Oh, and change your password!

 

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fifteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more on our website, or give us a call 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area as well as remote service throughout North America.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free 2-3 day shipping and the online streaming. I haven’t tried the Kindle lending library yet.  I’ll try that next!   Prime is normally $99/year, but you can try it for 30 day for free by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial (Yes, we’ll get a small commission if you sign up.)

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Ransomware

Chris has seen several Ransom Ware infections in the past 18 months or so.  Ransomware is just about the worst of the malwares the “bad guys” have thought up. Essentially, once you get infected, the ransomware installs a nifty little program which encrypts all of your data.  Then, they’ll give you a pop-up letting you know that you have so much time to pay a ransom to receive the encryption key.

Here is a screen shot of one of the ransom notes Chris has seen.

HELP_DECRYPT - ransom ware - modified

I’ve asked Chris to tell you what ransomware looks like, what you can do if you’re infected, and how to protect yourself.

I’ve seen three actual instances of ransomware in the past few years.

The first instance occurred about two years ago at a customer site.  I found that their personal and business files were all encrypted.  Since they had a fairly recent backup of their data, the thought process was relatively quick: remove the old hard drive, install a new one, rebuild their server, and restore their data.  This took several hours to complete, but it was successful and very little data was lost.

The previous instance occurred last summer, to a customer I hadn’t served in many years.  I forget the nature of the problem which motivated the service call, but I soon discovered that their personal data was unreadable.  I turned off the computer and removed the hard drive, so that I could see what customer data was there without allowing the infection to proceed if it was still active. Turns out the customer already had a secondary infection which had been running for the past six months.  This created a huge volume of temporary files and greatly delayed my getting permission to access to their data. Somewhat fortunately, every personal folder which had been encrypted had had a text file and an HTML file added, which contained a document from the ransomware software.  The document indicated that the data was encrypted, and if you wanted to get it back you had pay a fee in BitCoin at one of 4 different IP addresses.  Note that only one IP address was responsive.  The ransom cost started at some amount, and would increase as time went on.  To prove that they were indeed the ones which encrypted the data, they offered to decrypt one file immediately and at no charge.  In talking with the customer, they identified the one file that was the most critical, and this one file was successfully and promptly decrypyted. Eventually, the customer decided to pay the ransom, which was about $700.  It it took a long time for the customer to get the BitCoin payment into a spendable account, and then the payment could not be given because none of those IP addresses were accessible.  We were ultimately declined access to provide the ransom payment because their servers were too busy to receive another connection.  Apparently their servers were being crushed with activity from their own success.

The most recent occurred a few months ago at a business I frequent.  The symptom to them was that the computers which run their business management application displayed an error message saying that the database was corrupt.  Since I was there at the time this happened, my recommendation was that they turn off all of their computers. Turns out they received an encrypting infection called “Locky”, because the customer files are encrypted and renamed to have a “.Locky” extension.  But there was no opportunity to pay a ransom to get the data back.  Another problem was that there was no backup of their data for several years.  The solution was to replace the old hard drive with a new drive in the server computer, reinstall and update the operating system, and coordinate with the manufacturer to reinstall the application and look for old data.  Fortunately, a copy of the database that was 6 months old was found; so there was a 6 month gap in time, but at least they had not lost 20 years of customer data.  Also, a good antivirus was installed on all of their computers, which they did not have before.  They did not understand that they needed a good antivirus installed.  This was actually a problem that was waiting to happen.  It could have been avoided if their usual “IT Guy” had taken the initiative to see what they did and did not have, rather than just doing a technical task they were called in to do.  They are hopefully in the process of getting a backup procedure, because hindsight showed that having a 6 month gap in customer data could have been avoided if their usual “IT Guy” had implemented backups of their data.

There are lessons to be learned from these experiences.

  1. Have a good antivirus on all of your technology.  Note that there is no antivirus on the planet that can protect you from all things all the time.
  2. Have your computer prepped by a competent IT person.
  3. Make backups of your data.  Backups never go out of style.  It can be to an external hard drive, or a USB thumb drive, or to a cloud based backup service like Dropbox.
  4. Know the completion status of that backup.  I’ve lost count of the number of customers who believe that they have been backing up for long time, but turns out that their data is actually old because the backup has not worked for years.

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more on our website.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free 2-3 day shipping and the online streaming. I haven’t tried the Kindle lending library yet, but I’m tempted!   Prime is normally $99/year, but you can try it for 30 day for free by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial (Yes, we’ll get a small commission when you sign up.)

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iCloud – Valued Apple Feature or not?

iCloud

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about Apple’s iCloud recently.  iCloud is something many of us have been using for years.  But are you sure how to best take advantage of it?

If you have multiple devices – an iPhone, iPad, and iMac, for example, you can listen to your music whether you’re at home, a coffee shop, in your car, or on a trip.

If you don’t have an Apple computer, you can still access some of the iCloud features from your Windows computer.  Head over to www.iCloud.com and sign in with your user ID and password.  Some of the features available at the website include Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Photos.  Access to your music is not available here.

20160621 iCloud image

The “Find My iPhone” feature is available at the iCloud website.  Take a minute now to sign in.  Navigate around the site briefly, but especially take a look at the “Find my iPhone” feature so that if you do lose your phone, you’ll know how to use it.  (Make sure any folks in your family who are challenged in the area of knowing where their possessions are, have this feature turned on!)

When you sign in to the iCloud, your user ID is probably your email.   If you’ve forgotten your password,         it’s relatively easy to reset it.  Remember that the password for your iCloud account is different from the security passcode you may have set up to access your iPhone or your iPad.  If you have set them up to be the same, please change one of them now!

Another feature I’ve just learned about on the iCloud is the ability to share photos with other people.  When you click on the “Photos” icon, your pictures appear.  At the bottom of the screen there are three buttons – Photos, Share, and Albums.  Your Photos shows all the pictures you’ve taken from a given point in time organized by date.  Albums arrange your photos by different categories like Selfies, Panoramas, Videos, and Screenshots.

To share photos, click on “New Shared Album”.  Give it a title, and select who to share it with by entering their emails.  Once the structure is set up, you can then add photos to the album.

If you need help setting up your iCloud properly, check out Apple’s Help pages or the Genius Bar at the Apple store.

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more on our website.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

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The Cloud and Backing Up Your Data

It’s almost summer-time and that means it’s time again for my reminder about backing up your data!  For many people, summer is the time to travel and your laptop could get banged up at the airport or in the camper.  For others, summer is the season for extreme weather.  It could be fires or floods or tornadoes or hurricanes, but there is always the chance that your home could be damaged, and your computer as well.

That’s why it is so important to make sure your data back up is current.  The most convenient way to keep your data backed up is to use one of the Cloud backup services.  I’ve had many people ask what “the Cloud” is and how it might affect them.  The Cloud is a term used to describe using another company’s servers to store your data or to provide off-site computing.

Here’s a better definition from wiki:

Cloud computing, also known as on-the-line computing, is a kind of Internet-based computing that provides shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand. It is a model for enabling ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services), which can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort. Cloud computing and storage solutions provide users and enterprises with various capabilities to store and process their data in third-party data centers.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing

There are a many companies that provide cloud storage.  I’ve been using Dropbox for a number of years and like the simplicity of it.  (Disclaimer: if you use that link to sign up, you’ll get 500 mb for free, and I’ll receive 1g as a thank you from Dropbox.)   https://db.tt/0ZRkMXZ

Dropbox

I like Dropbox for a number of reasons:

  • It will automatically upload a file to the cloud every time I make a change to it.
  • I’ve set it up so that it uploads photos I take on my phone to my account.
  • I can open files on my iPhone and iPad when I’m away from my computer.
  • Dropbox stores data for several weeks.  If I get a bad virus, I can ask them to restore my data to a particular date.

All of this enthusiasm about cloud storage for backups aside, it’s also important to keep a physical copy of your data.  About once a month, I backup my data to an external hard drive.  Chris has set me up with the Seagate Backup 2TB Portable External Hard Drive which is convenient and easy to use.

If you need help setting up a backup system, let us know!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more on our website.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

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Are You Thinking of Using a Password Manager?

I am of two minds when it comes to an online password manager.  On the one hand, I think it would be a great way to keep multiple passwords secure.  On the other hand, I worry about hackers gaining control of my data.

That being said, if your keyboard (or monitor) looks like this, it’s time to find another solution!

Is this your password manager?!

Luckily, there are several online password managers to choose from:

  • 1Password
  • Dashlane
  • LastPass
  • KeePassX
  • mSecure
  • Sticky Password

Most of these have the same or similar features.

  • Manage passwords over multiple devices
  • Generates ultra strong passwords
  • Stores banking and other sensitive information
  • Most are free but do have an annual or monthly fee for certain upgrades
  • Some utilize the iPhone fingerprint to confirm your identity

Even with a secure password manager, you still need to be careful of “spoofing”, where a fraudulent web page is displayed to trick you into providing your super-secure password key as described in this article:

Which password manager do you use?  What are its best features?  What don’t you like? Let us know in the comments below!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more at http://www.GeekForHireInc.com  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

 

WHEN Should I Back-up My Data?

We’ve been doing a LOT of data recovery work lately. Hard Drives are crashing. Computers are getting really bad viruses. It’s stressful and can get to be pretty expensive. So, please, please, back up your data!

When? Here’s a handy chart:

20150831 When should I back up my data Infographic jpeg revised

If you need help setting up your backup system, just let us know.  We can help you backup to an external hard drive, to the cloud, or both!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more on our website.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.