Surges and spike, storm season is coming – are your computers protected?

We are headed into storm season. During this time when when thunderstorms and the occasional blizzard can cause power surges, sags and spikes. It is estimated that lightning causes about $6 billion dollars of damage each year. Computers are sensitive electronic devices that are very susceptible to these changes in electricity. A lot of damage can be done to your expensive devices. But not just your computers, but your flat screen TVs, digital video recorders (DVR), home routers and other other similar devices. How can you protect your devices from surge damage? We’ve written up a quick guide that should provide you with everything you need to know to protect your computer and other devices this winter.

What are power surges? Spikes or a sags?

Computers need a constant flow of electricity coming into them to function properly. during normal times, the flow of electricity is constant. Think of it like water going through a pipe. When the water level drops, the flow coming out of the pipe drops. This is what a power sag is. When your air conditioner comes on and all the lights in your house flicker or dim a bit, that is a power sag.

Back to our water pipes. When the flow is down and then suddenly it goes back to full pressure, you get a burst of water that is a lot more than normal. The pressure is much higher. That is what a power spike or surge is.; too much electricity coming into your devices at one time.

How do storms effect computers?

When a thunderstorm comes in, it can cause lightning strikes that hit power lines. This can cause surges of electricity can flow down the power line directly into your house and then into any devices that are plugged in. Another way a surge can come is when the power is off and then it comes back on. This is like the water flow that is suddenly more than the pipe is used to handling.

When surges comes into a computer or other device like a flat screen TV, the extra amount of electricity can do damage to the sensitive electronics.

A sag can cause the power processing parts of a computer to be damaged over time. Computers need that constant flow of electricity and when a sag hits, the computer may lock up or not write data correctly and cause corruption.

How to protect your devices from surges and sags

There are several ways to protect your devices. First, we will discuss the most thorough way to do it. Most power companies offer a service known as whole house surge protection. This usually involves placing a surge type device outside near the meter so that all electricity coming into the house is filtered. The monthly charge is usually very cheap and it it is well worth the investment. This will protect your entire house from surges but not sags. This cannot maintain a constant flow of electricity into your house.

The next way is to use surge protectors to plug all of your devices into. But be careful here. A power strip and a surge protector are not the same thing. A power strip is just a strip that allows for more devices to be plugged into one outlet. A surge protector contains a fuse that will blow similar to how a breaker operates in your power panel. When a surge comes into the surge protector, the fuse will blow and stop the flow of electricity into your devices. Surge protectors are more expensive than power strips.  You should expect to spend between $20 and $30 per surge protector. This also won’t protect your devices from sags. It will protect from surges only.

Power strip - these offer no protection from surges

Power strip – these offer no protection from surges

 

Surge protector

Surge protector

 

 

The final method, and the most comprehensive, is to use uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). These are batteries that your devices plug into and can handle both power surges and sags. Also when the power goes off, it will give you time to properly shutdown your computer so that you can save your data. UPSs are the most comprehensive and offer the best protection. The downside is the expense and that you need one for each major device. For example, you will need one for your computer, one for your TV, etc. This can get expensive but its far easier to replace a $100 UPS than to buy a new computer or flat screen TV.

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

 

Iron Comet can help you protect your devices from storm season. If you need help, give us a call for a free assessment on the best option to protect your valuable devices. Call us at 770-506-4383 and we will be happy to help.

 

cyber scams

7 tips to avoid scams on Black Friday or Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are expected to draw in over 3 billion in online sales. With that much money as a target, its no wonder that cyber criminals have setup their own scams to help them cash in on the holiday season.

We have compiled a quick list of tips that you can use to protect yourself from online scams this holiday.

7 ways to protect yourself from online scams

1. Make sure you have a good anti-malware software software installed that offers website protection. A good example is Malwarebytes This will protect you in case you accidentally land on a site you shouldn’t be on. Also make sure the software is fully updated. A good anti-malware software can help catch scams before they do any damage to your computer.

2. Don’t use search engines like Google to find the best deals. Go directly to the websites of the stores themselves.

3. Don’t fall for great deal scams on Facebook. With all the hubbub about fake news on Facebook, the same goes for fake deals. If its too good to be true, it probably is. Go look for the deal on the actual company’s website and if you see it there, then you’re safe.

4. Use credit cards instead of debit cards when shopping online. Credit cards offer fraud protection and doesn’t actually touch your personal finances. However, a debit card is a direct connection to your bank account. It allows cyber criminals direct access to your account. While there is some level of fraud protection, the money is already gone and make take some time for the bank to replace it.

5. Make sure all sites that you purchase on are using HTTPS. This means that the sites are encrypted and your personal purchase details like your credit card information and address will be protected.

6. Do not open any Cyber Monday emails that you receive. Just go directly to the website of the company that you want to shop from. Emails can be phishing scams designed to lure you to an malicious site so that your computer can be infected with a virus.

7. Don’t click on online ads. An increasingly large amount of attackers are using ads as the main method of infecting users.

If you follow these steps, you will go a long way in protecting yourself against online attacks this holiday season.

 

computer virus

Ransomware virus is using weaknesses in Facebook and LinkedIn to spread

A new version of the Locky ransomware virus (malware) is making the rounds. What makes this one so special is that is seems to exploit flaws and vulnerabilities in both Facebook and LinkedIn. This has allowed it to spread much faster and infect far more users than previous versions.  According to the security firm Check Point,  flaws in the two social networks allow a picture file that has been infected with the virus to be downloaded to a user’s computer. When a user notices the file and opens it,  the Locky ransomware virus is installed.  At this point, it seems the virus is focusing more on Facebook.

Checkpoint has done a detailed write up on the issue and has reported the flaws used to both Facebook and Linked In.

“The attackers have built a new capability to embed malicious code into an image file and successfully upload it to the social media website. The attackers exploit a misconfiguration on the social media infrastructure to deliberately force their victims to download the image file. This results in infection of the users’ device as soon as the end-user clicks on the downloaded file.

As more people spend time on social networking sites, hackers have turned their focus to find a way in to these platforms. Cyber criminals understand these sites are usually ‘white listed,’ and for this reason, they are continually searching for new techniques to use social media as hosts for their malicious activities.”

What is the Locky ransomware virus?

Locky infects the files on your computer and then leaves a note behind called “_Locky_recover_instructions.txt” to give you instructions on how to remove it. This involves sending a payment of varying amount to the attackers for an unlock code.  currently the amount is around $365. You can tell if a file is infected because it will change the name of the files on your computer. It follows the following format –

[unique_id][identifier].locky

Example – D34824A2BB422EF458E4F0C128F6D.locky

If you see any files with the extension of .locky or you see the ransom demand and removal instructions, you are infected.

You can read a more detailed description of the Locky ransomware virus here at Ars Technica.

If you have questions about the Locky virus or have been infected and need help getting your computer working again, please contact us at Iron Comet at 770-506-4383 for help.

 

 

 

 

mobile security

Are you suffering from security overload? New study suggests you are

First we had information overload because of the internet. There is so much information coming from so many sources that we got covered over in the avalanche of information. Now, according to a new study by Symatec, it seems consumers are suffering from security overload. the study found that 79% of consumers that they needed to protect the computers and other devices like mobile phones and tablets, 44% of them felt overwhelmed by the amount of data that they actually need to protect.

For example, its not as simple as protecting just your phone or computer. Do you use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook? What about online picture hosting sites like Instagram and Pinterest? many people put very personal and private information on these types of sites and don’t give a lot of thought to how it is protected. That’s because the security our personal data is now far more than just protecting our computers and phones. Our data can reside on dozens of services in the cloud. This is what is causing the security information overload – the sheer number of places we need to watch to protect our own information.

The report indicates that consumers tend to be naïve about what their devices are doing and what services they are connected to. Most believe that the devices already contain with security that is good enough to protect them. However, most consumer level devices have very poor levels of security for the purpose of making it easy for the consumer to use.

We have put together a list of recommendations that will help simply some of this for you.

  1. Use an online password security service like Lastpass. This will help you create very secure passwords for all of your online accounts like Facebook, your bank, email etc. This will also help you not to use the same password for multiple sites. That is a huge security weakness that is easily corrected.
  2. Secure your router at home. Make sure you change the default password and you use a strong password for your wireless network. You should also check to see if there are any updates available for your router from the manufacturer’s website.
  3. Be on the lookout for phishing emails. This is the most common form of attack for hackers today. This is when you receive an email that looks very official or real in some way. Examples may be emails from your bank or credit cards. The idea is that the email wants you to click on a link it provides. When you do, you will likely be infected with some form of virus and could also be taken to a bogus site where you will be instructed to change your password etc. This is a trick and most people fall for it. Be on the look out. The study found that 84% of consumers have likely already faced this threat.

You can read the whole report at Symantec’s site here.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with securing your device, give us a call at 770-506-4383 and we would be happy to show you just how you can make all of this a much easier process.

 

social engineering

These 5 social engineering tactics are how hackers trick you

No matter how advanced our computer security  technology is, the weakest point is still us, the users. Hackers can often bypass the best scrutiny with our help using our kindness, willingness to help and other parts of just being humans against us. This is known as social engineering and its one of the most difficult attacks to protect against.

What is social engineering?

Wikipedia defines social engineering as ” psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.” That means using low tech methods to get us to do things we wouldn’t normally do.

Here are some examples:

Your building uses key cards to access doors to the building. Someone will approach you as you enter carrying boxes and say they can’t reach their card and asking you to hold the door for them. The average person would be willing to help in situations like this, we’ve all been carrying boxes and needed help with the door.

You receive an email from the tech support at your company informing you of new password policies and asking you to click on a link to update your password to make it more complex. The email is addressed to you directly and appears to come from the correct email address for text support.

You receive a phone call from someone who claims to be from your bank informing you that there has been some suspicious activity on your bank account. They ask you to confirm some purchases that you don’t recognize. They tell you that they will be sending you an email with a link for you to change your online banking password.

These are all examples of how attackers can use social engineering to get you to do something you wouldn’t normally do.

 

The top 5 ways hackers use social engineering

  • Pretexting
  • Quid pro quo
  • Phishing
  • Tailgating
  • Baiting
Pretexting is where the attacker will pretend to be someone else and make contact with the victim. This may be via the phone or email. The attacker may pretend to be a representative of the government or authority so that the victim feels pressured to comply. They may pretend to be from your phone or internet company, or even your bank. Regardless, the focus of this attack is pretending to be someone from somewhere else in an effort to gain your trust so that you will reveal the information that they are seeking.

Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that”. It means to offer you something, an incentive, in exchange for your help.

Phishing is becoming the most common form of attack and uses some of pretexting to be effective. It is the use of very carefully crafted emails that are sent to a target and gets the victim to click on links that in turn, will infect the target’s computer with malware.

Tailgating is following someone into a secured area, such the person carrying the boxes mentioned above. They use our willingness to help and to be kind as a way to get around security procedures.

Baiting is where an attacker will leave infected USB flash drives around in the hopes that a victim will plug them into a computer to see what is on them. They computer will then be infected and the attacker can begin his work.

We’ve outlined the most common forms of social engineering that an attacker will use to go after us, the users. By being on the look out for these types of attacks. you can help prevent yourself from being taken advantage of.

If you have any questions on this or want to make sure your own organization is protected from the most common attacks, please contact us at 770-506-4383 to schedule your free assessment.

 

Child Protection – Secretly recording underage girls in shower isn’t child porn says court

The Supreme Court of the state of Tennessee vacated the conviction of the charges of  producing child pornography.  The defended, a Knoxville man, named Thomas Whited secretly filmed his 12 year old daughter his daughter’s 14 year old friend. He recorded them showering, going to the bathroom, and undressing. Whited recorded the bathroom for two months for his own sexual reasons, but the the high court vacated his 22 year sentence on the grounds that what was filmed did not constitute pornography. Since the girls were not engaged in sexual acts and instead were doing “everyday activities.”, it wasn’t pornography. You can read the court’s decision here. It may not be considered porn, but in the area of child protection, the father certainly failed.

The majority of states define child pornography to varying degrees on whether the purpose of the recording is to sexually stimulate the one watching. That was the criteria used to prosecute and convict Mr. Whited. Tennessee, however, isn’t one of those states. The child pornography laws of  Tennessee state that the intent of the viewer or producer of the recorded images isn’t relevant. What is relevant, is the what story the images or videos are telling.

The Tennessee law defines child pornography as showing children having sex, simulated “sexual activity,” and “lascivious exhibition” of children’s private parts.  In this case,  there was no sexual or simulated sexual activity being filmed. The court believed that that there was vagueness in  the “lascivious” definition of the law. Otherwise filming a baby’s first bath might also be considered child pornography. The law seems to be having a hard time to balance child protection.

“The question is close, but we must hold that the videos at issue do not rise to a level at which the trier of fact could reasonably find that they include “sexual activity,” defined as the “lascivious exhibition” of the minor’s private body areas…. Rather, the minors in the videos are engaging in everyday activities that are appropriate for the settings and are not sexual or lascivious within the ordinary meaning of those terms. For this reason, we reverse and dismiss the defendant’s nine convictions for especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.”

The court  also added that the video producer’s “subjective intent or purpose of sexual arousal or gratification” isn’t relevant.

So what does this mean for child protection in our video everything age? It means that we have to be even more vigilant in how we protect our children. While it still may be illegal to record children in areas they are not expecting to be recorded, it won’t be child pornagraphy, at least in Tennessee and other states that interpret the law the same way.

 

Testimonial one

How to tell if you have a computer virus

You may be thinking your computer is infected with a computer virus. Maybe your computer is slower than it used to be or you are seeing strange popups. Regardless, you’re concerned and want to know what to do. You’ve come to the right place. This article will give you a quick overview of just what an infection may look like and then how to diagnosis it for yourself.

Symptoms of a computer virus

There are many possible symptoms of a computer virus being on your computer. Here are a list of the most common ones:

  • Your computer is much slower than it used to be
  • There are lots of popup windows, some may even be for pornographic material
  • Your internet connection is very slow or even intermittent
  • Your files may be missing
  • Applications won’t start on your computer
  • Your antivirus software may have been disabled or even uninstalled
  • You see windows or applications using a language different than your own as if they have been changed
  • You lose control over your system and it starts to do things on its own. Sending emails, visiting websites etc.
  • You may receive very specific popup windows telling you that your computer is infected and offering to help you clean it

Steps to diagnose a computer virus

If you have any of the symptoms above and want to find out if you are indeed infected with a computer virus, follow these steps.

  1. Go to the Bitdefender Quickscan online site
  2. Click on the “Start Scanner” button
  3. Select “Scan now”

online-computer-virus-scan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We do not recommend Bitdefender products here. However, the reason we are recommending it for the purpose of diagnosing your computer is that it is one of the few online computer virus scanners that do not require you download anything.  It wills can your computer completely online. Most modern computer viruses would lock files form being downloaded and thus, prevent the scanner from working.

If you find out you do have a computer virus, its best to contact a computer virus specialist. Modern viruses can be very nasty and damaging to remove. h