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By Dan Lhotka

CrytpoLocker – a Dangerous New World

Most spyware we have encountered messes up the operating system.  It makes the computer slow, infects other computers, and throws up popups.  But most do not affect your data.

The latest spyware out there, CryptoLocker, is much different.  It will take the data on your computer and on the server you access and encrypt it.  It then stores the encryption key on its servers, and displays a ransom.  Pay $300 or lose your data. 

This is a very dangerous piece of software, because once it infects your computer, you have two choices – pay the ransom, or restore from backup. 

From what we can tell, the most common infection source is through email.  Emails sent to company email addresses that pretend to be customer support related issues from Fedex, UPS, DHS, etc. These emails would contain a zip attachment that when opened would infect the computer. These zip files contain executables that are disguised as PDF files as they have a PDF icon and are typically named something like FORM_101513.exe or FORM_101513.pdf.exe. Since Microsoft does not show extensions by default, they look like normal PDF files and people open them.

What to do :

1. Make sure your backups are up to date. Restoring from backup will allow you to recover your files.  For those people with V2 Systems Remote Management and Maintenance Agreements, we check your backups daily. 

2. Don’t open zip or archive files. The usual warning; don’t open attachments from unknown senders, or accept downloads you weren’t expecting. Don’t accept video codecs a website tells you are necessary. If a site tells you that you need a Java update or a new copy of Flash, check that it’s coming from Oracle or Adobe respectively.

3. If you get infected, and don’t have a full recent backup, then pay the ransom – but use a disposable prepaid debit card.

4. If you’re not sure if you are infected, or need assistance, call us at 703-361-4606 we will check things out for you.

5. Tell everyone in your organization, and be forceful; this is no joking matter.

We have also begun reaching out to our Monthly Service Agreement and Remote Management and Maintenance Contract clients, to implement a Group Policy Object to prevent the execution of CryptoLocker.
If you want more information about CryptoLocker, and how it works, read here:

http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/virus-removal/cryptolocker-ransomware-information

By Leilani Wardle

I need a new computer – now what?

Being an essential service IT support does not stop once the workday ends.  Much like the doctor who gets asked to look at a suspicious mole at the family dinner party; our friends and families like to reach out and ask for advice.  By far the most frequent question is “What kind of computer should I get?”.  Seems like a simple enough question and yet buying a new computer is a complex maze of components, cost, and quality that can overwhelm the most well informed buyer.  And technology buyer’s remorse is the worse right after buyer’s remorse for a car.

As an IT support provider we frequently help our clients update and replace their workstations so we’ve developed a few simple questions to help us match workstation to business function.  One, what is the computer going to be used for the most?  Two, how long does the computer need to last? And finally, what would I like to be able to do with it?  The first question requires a little personal reflection – it’s important to be honest with yourself on this one.  Of course everyone is going to use their home computer to write letters and make budgets and track schedules.  But really that is only going to be 15% of what you will do on the computer.  More than likely the majority of the computer’s time will be spent playing movies, or watching videos on you tube, or playing facebook games, or going through the vacation photos from last year.  And you shouldn’t feel bad about that – your home computer is a tool and a toy all wrapped together.  You don’t feel bad because your car takes you to both work and the movies right?

So what does this personal honesty about how you really use your home computer get you?  The freedom to save money on one part of your computer configuration and invest it in other parts that will provide the best daily performance.  And here’s the professional tip: invest in memory, CPU, video card, and hard drive speed.  Don’t be seduced by a large hard drive or fancy software.  You can save a lot of money by selecting a small hard drive with 7200 RPM write speed that will let your computer run very quickly and smoothly.

The second question determines how much memory, CPU and video card you want to buy.   If you want your computer to last a long time (long time for computers usually means 5 years) then you want to upgrade to the maximum number of cores in the CPU you can afford.  Cores are individual processors within the CPU which means the CPU can work on 2, 4, 0r 6 separate tasks at the same time.  The lowest number of cores you should get is 4 and if you are looking at running heavy duty photo/video editing and office software; you are going to want to up those cores to six.  It also means you should up the memory to maximum the motherboard will support.  And for longer computer life – don’t do the integrated video card.  An integrated video card means that it’s built into the motherboard and you cannot upgrade it without upgrading the entire motherboard.

The final question helps you figure out how to balance how much hardware and software you are going to buy and what kind of computer you are going to get yourself.  For example – would you like to be able to take a computer on vacation with you to upload photos to your sky drive and watch movies on the plane?  Well then you are going to want a laptop that is light and has wireless.  And has at least 8 GB of RAM with a 1 GB video card.  Windows 32 bit can only support 4 GB of RAM so now you know you are going to have to get the 64 bit version.  What if you truly just want to manage the family business and not do much else – well then a small desktop with 4 GB of RAM and integrated video card will suit you nicely.

So that’s it – this is how these simple questions help IT help their clients.  Buying a computer can be really simple if you know what you really want and need and what to focus on.  I’ll be posting additional articles that focus on the ins and outs of the various hardware components discussed in this article.

By Dan Lhotka

The Cloud

 

The Cloud

One of the buzzwords in IT is “The Cloud”.  “What is the Cloud?” is something I get asked many times.  However, the answer is not as easy as most things. This is because the Cloud is difficult to describe.  The best way I can think of that describes it would be :  a virtual network hosted via the Internet.  The idea is that you move mission critical functions and programs to a remote network on the internet.  According to NIST, there are five essential characteristics of cloud computing :

On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.

Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).

Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. …

Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

So when someone talks about “going to the cloud”, they mean that they are moving their critical infrastructure or service to a virtual network on the internet. 

Cloud computing is cost effective, and provides much more capability than traditional networks.  However, there is one drawback to it.  You are totally dependent on your internet connection.  If internet is down for any reason, the critical software or service will not be available.  This may not be a big issue for some people.  Our email is hosted on the cloud.  If the internet is down at the office, I can go home and access my email with no difficulty.  However, it is something to think about and take into consideration when moving to the cloud.

Once again, if you have a question that you would like for me to answer during next month’s IT News, please send an email to newsletter@v2systems.com