Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sandy Followup 11/6/2012

One week has now passed since the East Coast has been struck by Hurricane Sandy.  We here at Pointsolve are excited to be running at 100% capacity again and have resumed normal business operations, and more importantly, most of our clients are too.

We would like to thank everybody for their patience and compliance in working with us and your other vendors to help resolve any issues the storm may have brought.  We understand the inconvenience in having your services disrupted, and though often the fix is out of your hands or ours, patience goes a long way in allowing the various utilities and services companies to restore services to their customers.

For any of our customers still experiencing issues, whether hurricane related or not, we encourage you to call us at 866-336-3106 ext 1, or email at support@Pointsolve.com.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Update 10/30

As most of you know, either from being in it or reading about it, the East Coast has been battered with Hurricane Sandy over the last 24 hours.  The desctruction caused is not yet know, but early estimates place 750,000 people without power as of last night.

Pointsolve's central office is one of those places without power.  However, our support operations are still able to function at almost 100% capacity, as our technicians are at a variety of locations around the midstate and at the moment, all have power and phone access.

What this means to our customers is that we will still be monitoring the 866 line when you call, we still have access to email, and we still have our technical notes and our remote support tools.  For our CommonFocus subscribers, please note that the CommonFocus server is currently offline, so routine maintenance services will not be running after hours and you may notice the system tray icon observing that CommonFocus cannot contact the server.  This will return to normal once we have power.

As observed yesterday, we are experiencing higher than usual call volume, so if you do not get a technician immediately, please leave a detailed message and the first available technician will return your call.  Please be sure to identify yourself and leave a good contact number for which to call you back.

As always, thank you for working with us, and please stay safe and dry.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Extreme Weather Preparation

As Frankenstorm bears down on the East Coast, and we are starting to get hit with some sideways rain as I type, we would like to take a moment and review best practices for the next few days.  Many of you will likely be losing power and other services, and we're sure you already have your basement stocked with canned food and bottled water, but have you thought about your IT infrastructure?

For those of you with servers in your offices, you very likely have an Uninterruptable Power Supply connected to it.  The purpose of the UPS is to prevent sudden power loss and give the server ample time to complete a proper shutdown (thus preventing any serious damage from a sudden poweroff).  However, these units typically provide 15 minutes to half an hour of runtime, which does not help if you have four days without power.  Double check with your IT provider to determine if your UPS can shut down your server before its battery runs out, and if not, please ensure somebody in the office has the username and password to log in and shut down the server if the power goes out.

For desktop PCs, just shut them down at the end of the day when you leave.  Yes, that may stop you from working from home, but better to avoid a potentially damaging power loss.

For clients of Pointsolve Technology, please note that our support team will be working hard to respond to your calls.  Should you happen to call and one of our technicians did not answer, our message system will activate.  Please leave a voicemail and clearly identify yourself, and leave a good contact number.  A technician will get back to you as soon as possible.  We cannot emphasize enough to please leave a message, even if you do not believe your question is critical: we would rather answer an innocuous question than run the risk of not having answered a potentially serious issue.

Thank you all for your time and patience in this matter, we wish everybody to stay dry, stay warm, and most importantly stay safe!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Windows 8 (2 of 2)

Welcome back!  In part 1, we looked at the new features that you will be seeing in Windows 8.  Today, we'll have a look at how Windows 8 will be available.

Let's start with upgrades.  Microsoft and its resellers are offering upgrade licensing for Windows 8 from as far back as XP.  The idea is that, you can run the upgrade to 'convert' your PC from Windows ___ to Windows 8.  Some of you may remember, they offered this type of upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7.  Those of you may also remember, your PCs ran a little strangely afterwards, and never quite as well as PCs that came native with Windows 7.  That is exactly what we are after here.  While the technical capability exists for varying forms of 'conversion' from one copy of Windows to another, we do not recommend this in almost any situation as the background architecture of Windows 8 is never fully deployed.  It is the rough equivalent of getting new walls, flooring, and finishings in your house: it will look and feel newer, but it still resides on the old frame and is subject to weaknesses from that frame.

So how do we install Windows 8?  The only method we feel comfortable recommending a Windows 8 install in which you are least likely to encounter problems down the road, is from a freshly formatted hard drive using a System Builders License.  Using our house analogy from above, you'll be building everything from the frame up, so the entire structure is brand new and laid out exactly the way it needs to be.

But what will be the best way to get Windows 8, without needing to format your hard drive and install Windows?  Quite simply, purchase a Windows 8 computer, tablet, or notebook.  The companies who build computers have been working with Microsoft for the last year or so to develop computers that are truly designed to run Windows 8 and take full advantage of it.  The prime example of this will be touchscreens, which have largely never been a mainstream Windows thing, as the mouse & keyboard have served for decades as the primary input mechanisms.  Windows 8 was designed to work with touchscreens seamlessly, so it will be worth getting a machine with a touchscreen to take advantage of this.

The reality of Windows 8, however, comes down to a few simple ideas.  First, if you already have Windows 7, there is really no need to get Windows 8.  If you have Windows XP, it is probably time to replace your old PC anyways as it is certainly more than a few years old.  For those of you on Vista, talk to your IT provider for a recommendation.  The bottom line is, it is not worth buying the software itself to upgrade on your existing hardware, and if your existing hardware is ageing then a new PC is in order.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Windows 8 (1 of 2)

Many of you will be seeing Windows 8 launching in the very near future, in a variety of forms.  October 26 is the official launch date, and many vendors are accepting pre-orders.  Here is what you need to know.

The main differences between Windows 8 and Windows 7 are the metro interface, integrated Security Essentials, and a new interface for Windows Explorer, as well as a number of technical details that happen behind the scenes (things your IT provider will need to know, but won't affect you).

The metro interface is a tiles-based interface that will look vastly different than your standard Windows desktop you typically see.  We find it to be a bit 'clunky' and unintuitive when using a traditional mouse and keyboard, but it is designed for ease of use on touchscreen PCs.  To that end, unless you intend to use a touchscreen enabled piece of equipment, the metro interface will likely be worth turning off.

Integrated Security Essentials is the feature that should have been built into Windows years ago, in our opinion.  Instead of having Windows, and then having to install an antivirus program, why not have the antivirus built into Windows?  That's exactly what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8.  This should enhance security by having everything working right out of the box, and one less item for you to worry about when you get your new Windows 8 PC.

The ribbon interface for Winodws Explorer is essentially a modification of how the window looks when you open "My Computer" or "My Documents".  The new interface is modeled after the style that is used for Office 2010 and Office 2007, which can be somewhat of an initial shock but many users have found it to be fairly intuitive.  Be prepared for a learning curve, but it should not take more than a day or two in order to get used to it.

Check back soon for part 2!  We'll address upgrades and new equipment.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"LOL, is this your new profile pic?" Do not click!

A new infection is spreading through popular video service, Skype, exploiting a loophole in the software.  Similar to other ransomware, infected users are locked out of their PCs and presented with a page claiming that illegal content has been found on their PC and requesting a fee to gain access to their data.

GFI Software, makers of Vipre Antivirus, have discovered the infection spreads when a user is presented with the message "Lol, is this your new profile pic?"  Upon click, the user's PC is infected.

As always, we recommend that you maintain an active antivirus subscription and ensure Windows is fully patched - including running those Java and Adobe updates that pop up in the morning.  Additionally, if you are a Skype user and the software offers an update, please run it immediately as Skype is working to close the security loophole and will deploy the new software as soon as it is ready.  Lastly, please remember that government and law enforcement agencies will never lock you out of your PC and request money.  If you have become infected, do not provide any payment information and contact your IT provider immediately.

Read more at CNET: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-57528353-83/worm-spreading-on-skype-im-installs-ransomware/

FBI Internet Scam

We have recently performed a number of cleanups relating to an "FBI Virus" that PCs have become inflicted with.  The infection uses the FBI logo and presents a very official looking message that pirated content has been detected on the PC and the user should pay a $200 fine in order to avoid going to jail.  Of course, this also locks the computer up and makes it unusable.  This type of infection is known as Reveton, and essentially holds the computer 'ransom' until the user pays the fine.

We have experienced this type of infection getting past every major antivirus vendor on the market, as of early October 2012, and can be delivered simply by visiting an infected web site.  Regardless, we still advise maintaining active antivirus subscriptions and *please* ensure your Windows patches are up to date.  Don't forget to run those Java and Adobe updates that keep popping up!

As always, it is good practice to never provide payment information to a vendor you do not recognize or have prior experience with.  Antivirus companies will never ask for payment to clean up an infection, nor will any government agency 'lock' your computer until you pay a fine.

Should you be presented with this type of infection, call your IT provider immediately for assistance.  Even if you succeed in 'unlocking' your PC, the infection may still be present and working in the background to steal personal information.  Read more here: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/august/new-internet-scam

Friday, April 6, 2012

PC Cleanup Utilities - Buyer Beware

One of the complaints we hear the most from new clients is how slow their computers are.  This is usually a multi-faceted problem that includes outdated hardware, a slow internet connection, an out of date operating system, and too many running programs.  As this is such a common complaint, a myriad of companies have started to advertise a service to “Clean Your PC.”  One of the most advertised products is from mycleanpc.com.

The business model works like this.  They advertise a free diagnostic service, which is usually a piece of software you download and install.  You run the scan, which will always find thousands of errors, and then you find out you can remove all these errors and have a computer that runs like new for the low, low price of $_____.

Independent tests by software review companies have found that even if they run the diagnostic scan on a brand new machine that has a fresh copy of Windows installed with all updates run, the software will detect multiple issues.  Also the software usually comes with toolbars and free anti-virus scanners that will actually slow down your computer.  This is a double bonus for the company, as by bundling the software with a toolbar such as Bing, they make money for advertising the toolbar, and because your machine will run slower, you have more of an incentive to purchase the cleaning product.

The long and short of it is that all of these businesses are as close to a scam as you can get, without actually being illegal.  Windows is a very complicated operating system internally, so you can design anything that will find “errors” that it can “fix.”  But they will not give you more memory, or a faster processor, or a speedier internet connection, or remove a bunch of pre-installed programs that are actually slowing down your desktop experience.

There is good news however.  A piece of software we do recommend is CCleaner made by Piriform.  It can be downloaded from Piriform's Website.  Make sure to uncheck the box to install any toolbars during installation.  After it is installed it can be run by right clicking the Recycle Bin and choosing Run CCleaner.  This will wipe out any temp files, browsing history, and other various junk that does not need to be there.  Typically it won’t speed up your PC, but does about the same thing as the paid programs do.  And it’s FREE!

The quickest way to speed up your PC without updating the hardware is to go through your installed programs and uninstall anything you don’t use.  Or you can speak to one of our technicians for a consultation who can give you a proper recommendation to improve your overall computing experience.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Intuit Spoof Email

There is currently an email circulating that appears to come from Inuit, the maker of Quickbooks.
The subject of the email is similar to this: Your Intuit.com software order.

The email looks very legitimate and looks like a receipt for a recent purchase.

We recommend you delete any emails that appear to come from Intuit regarding a purchase.  We also recommend you contact Intuit if you have recently made a purchase and are waiting for a receipt, to verify the email is legitimate.

We are confident that you will be infected with malware if you click on any links in the email, and it appears the group behind this spam has a list of Intuit customers, as every client who contacted us so far is using an Intuit software product.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Highlander Bot

Luis Corrons of PandaLabs has recently found an interesting take on a trojan malwarebot.

As with most malware, the attack begins with a suspicious email inviting the recipient to click a link to review an order confirmation for a bogus order.  The reader, even if aware that the order is bogus, may follow the link anyways to see where it leads.  In a typical course of action, the link asks for the reader to download a piece of software to view the order, which is in fact the infection.  And, as with most infections, it will steal user data & send it back to its controllers.

The interesting twist is the Highlander angle: in a nod to the movie's premise of "there can be only one," the bot actually removes any other infections it finds.  In that manner, it ensures that it has complete control of the infected PC without having to compete with other pieces of malware.

Avoiding this type of infection involves exercising care in following links from emails.  Generally, if a vendor sends you a suspicious email, call the company to handle the situation and that way, if it is indeed a piece of phishing email, they will tell you.  Alternatively, avoid following links to the vendor's website; instead, open up your web browser and navigate to the vendor's site, then log in as you ordinarily would.  As always, ensure your anvivirus and antimalware software are up to date, and do not hesitate to contact your IT provider if you receive something suspicious.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The DNSChanger vs the FBI

In the ever continuing battle against malware, the FBI may be shutting off some DNS servers around the country on March 8, 2012.  DNS servers are used to translate recognizable site names (like www.pointsolve.com) into IP addresses, which are read by your computer.

The problem is that some hackers in Estonia have managed to infect close to half a million PCs in the US with a DNSChanger attack.  By taking control of DNS, the attackers could then direct web traffic from the infected PCs to any sites of their choosing, often to malicious sites designed to spread more infections or gather personal data.

The FBI fought the attack by replacing the hackers' rogue DNS servers with legitimate ones, but the problem is that the court order keeping the legitimate servers online may expire.  If the legitimate servers are taken offline, infected PCs will then lose internet access.

As always, it is our recommendation to ensure your antivirus software is up to date and running.  Additionally, run Windows Update regularly to ensure that the latest security patches are installed.  Lastly, if at any point in time you attempt to visit a website and it redirects you to a suspicious website, contact your IT professional immediately.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Validate your Mailbox" email scam

We have been notified that several health care providers and organizations have been targeted with an attempt to infiltrate the health care networks via an email scam.

The suspect messages are entitled "Validate your mailbox" and invite the reader to click a link inside the message.  The link leads to a site requesting account login information, including a username and password.

Please be advised that if you receive one of these messages, delete it immediately and remove it from your Deleted Items folder as well.  Do not read or open the message, or click on the link.

As always, we recommend not clicking on links in unsolicited email messages and encourage all email users to call your IT provider if you have any questions or confusion about a suspicious message.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Using your Smart Phone for Business Presentations

Original Article:
PCWorld Use Your Smartphone for Business Presentations

PCWorld has an article describing some uses for smart phones while giving presentations.  The concept of using your smart phone as a replacement for a USB stick may not be as convenient, as you have to bring the connection cable with you.  However in a pinch, it will work.  I currently use my smart phone as a remote control for my Home Media PC, so if that is something you'd be interested in there are some good free solutions out there to turn your smart phone into a wireless mouse and keyboard. Contact us for more details in setting up this solution at your home or office.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The SOPA Blackout

As you may have noticed while surfing the web today, a large variety of web pages are protesting the controversial SOPA and PIPA bills currently in Congress.  If you haven't already, please take the time to contact your Senators and Representatives.  Our favorite method for doing so is Wikipedia's blackout page, which allows you to put in your ZIP code and will take you right to the correct three elected officials for your district.

If you are interested in learning more about SOPA and PIPA, CBS outlines the bills in a very readable manner at CBS.com.  The general idea is that content providers are forcing these bills through Congress that will allow sites linking to copyrighted material to be shut down without a court hearing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tape backup has a 100% failure rate

Are you still using tape drives for backup?

Did you know that tape drives have an average failure rate of 100%?

There are many reasons we do not recommend tape drives for you business's backup solution.

  • Reliability
  • Cost
  • Data Protection and Security
Tape drives are not a reliable backup system.  As they are a mechanical device, they will eventually fail.  Magnetic tapes are prone to damage from human mishandling and environmental factors such as electromagnetic fields generated by TVs, monitors, and speakers.  All tapes have a life span, and many get worn out, stuck, or broken.

The initial cost of a tape backup system is very high, and the drive, tapes, and software can cost literally thousands of dollars.  Since tapes wear out and drives fail, the ongoing cost can be very expensive.  If you experience data loss, and the tape system has failed in any way, the cost of data recovery is astronomical.

Tape drives are not very secure, as a human has to handle the tapes and keep rotating them daily.  If the tapes are taken off-site, the transport of the tape can cause security issues.  If the tapes are not carried off-site, a natural disaster or fire can decimate all of your data.

Thanks to major advancements in backup technology, you can now have a completely automated onsite and offsite backup of your data for very little cost.  We recommend an online backup solution to all of our clients, as it is the most cost-effective, reliable and secure solution for small and medium businesses.

Please let us know if you would like more information on our online backup solutions.