computer virus

Computer virus forces hospitals to shut down systems and cancel operations

A computer virus attack forced three hospitals to shutdown their computer systems and go completely offline. This caused the cancellation of all routine operations and outpatient appointments.

A “major incident” was reported by both the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust. The cause was listed as a “computer virus” which infected its electronic systems this pas Sunday, 30 October 2016. To rid themselves of the virus attack, the hospital made the choice to take all of its computer offline. This allowed each computer and server to be cleaned of the virus.

Dr. Karen Dundersale, the chief executive of the Goole NHS Foundation Trust said, ” virus infected our electronic systems [on Sunday] and we have taken the decision, following expert advice, to shut down the majority of our systems so we can isolate and destroy it.” The BBC reports that this led both hospitals to completely cancel all operations. As of now, both hospitals  have yet to restore full operations to all departments.

Because of the attack, all outpatient appointments and diagnostic procedures that were scheduled at the infected hospitals on Monday and Tuesday were forced to be cancelled.  Medical emergencies such as  major trauma and women in high-risk labor were being diverted to neighboring hospitals.

At this time, we don’t have any information on the type of virus or malware that was used in the attack. We also don’t have any information on how it entered the internal systems of the hospitals. However, as the hospitals were both using a shared system, it was possible for both to be infected.

Hospitals becoming targets of virus attacks

This is similar to an incident in March of 2016 where MedStar Health Inc, a large hospital chain in the Washington DC area, was also forced offline. This case was more about ransomware and the hospital was forced to pay the attackers $17,000. But the end result was that attacks were able to force a hospital chain completely offline.They were denied access to their patient charts and couldn’t access anything including lab results, x-rays, or other procedures results.

Hospitals have become hot targets for hackers because they haven’t kept up with the times when it comes to security. While spending on technology has increased, especially in the area of electronic medical records, security has taken a back seat.

Steps to protect your practice or business from virus attacks

These types of attacks show just how vulnerable a hospital or doctor’s office is. When they are knocked offline and are denied access to medical records, that has massive implications. No longer is it just a computer system issue, lost revenues or time, now its people’s lives.

You can greatly reduce the chances of these types of attacks by controlling the main entry points of these types of attacks. They are:

  • Email phishing attacks – can be greatly reduced by educating employees and by using a strong spam filters
  • Infected USB drives – having anti-malware software installed that scans in real time can reduce this risk
  • Browsing unsafe sites or clicking on infected ads – anti-malware software usually also includes web surfing protection. But you can also obtain lists of dangerous sites and configure your firewall to block access to these types of sites or to filter malicious advertisements.

If you need help with any of these options for your own practice or business, please contact Iron Comet at 770-506-4383 or email us at support@ironcomet.com.

 

Your internet connected devices can be hacked in under 3 minutes

According to research done by Gartner, there are nearly 6 billion Internet of things (IoT) devices connected to the Internet today. Many manufacturers are sacrificing ease of use for security. These devices, in turn, are easy to hack and can be used to attack other devices. According to a recent report by Forescout, they can often be hacked in under three minutes. That creates two problems for the end user. The first issue is that criminals can access the device for their own reasons. And the second is that these devices can be used to attack parts of the Internet.

The attack on the Dyn DNS system a few weeks ago by over 10 of millions of these hacked devices, we are seeing a new wave in computer security.

But what does that mean for you and what types of devices are we talking about?

What are these hacked devices?

Most of these devices were internet cameras, digital video recorders for security systems, mobile phones, televisions, kitchen appliances, and other types of devices. Manufactures left default passwords in place and did not require the end user to change it. That made it easy for attackers to easily take over so many to use in these massive attacks. In addition, most of the devices were using outdated firmware, the software that actually runs the devices, and had many bugs and flaws in them.

Its not just the no name, unknown Chinese manufactured devices, its also some big names like Panasonic and Xerox.

The bad news for end users is once these devices are hacked, they often can’t be fixed by without sending the device back to the manufacturer. There the device will be formatted and reset.

Fortune magazine has an interesting article on the liability these companies be facing in the coming weeks and months since their poorly designed devices were used to do millions of dollars in damage.

What can you do to protect your own devices?

The first thing you need to do is to update your device’s firmware. These are usually available from the manufacturer’s website. Install the most recently available firmware for your device. After that, reset your default user name, if that is possible for your device. Lastly, the most important thing to change is the password. Doing these three things all but guarantees your security for now.

AT&T to buy Time Warner – what does this mean for you the consumer?

AT&T has been in talks to purchase Time Warner. Last week, they reached a deal that would allow AT&T to purchase the entertainment powerhouse for 85 billion dollars. What does such a massive deal mean to you the consumer? Read on to find what both sides are saying in this massive development that will have far reaching implications.

Is this purchase good or bad for the consumer?

Of course it depends on who you ask. For its part, AT&T released a press release stating that consumers would see a stronger “alternative to cable & other video providers,” better value and more choices.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-area advocacy group for consumers said this, “the deal raises major challenges for consumers, subscribers and competitors.”

This is far from the first time a phone company has bought a media company. Version, AT&T’s chef rival purchased AOL in 2015 and is currently in talks to purchase Yahoo. Cable TV company Comcast purchased NBC in 2013. AT&T itself bought DirecTV in 2015.

The reason these large companies are doing this is two fold. First many are seeing a decline in the number of new phone sales as we all already have smart phones. We are less likely to buy new ones every year. The second reason is to have a larger piece of the consumer pie.

“This is all about tracking and targeting us regardless of whether we use a mobile device, PC or TV,” Chester says. “Through the growing capability of mobile phones to follow and geo-target us everywhere we go — the supermarket, while in a car, or even on the street, these new broadband ISP/mobile/TV giants are extending their powerful digital tentacles further into our lives.”

With that kind of access, AT&T can better target us with advertising. You could see an ad on your phone for certain items at the grocery store as you walk in. Highly targeted ads are the holy grail for companies.

distributed denial of service website

Was your website down? Massive attack against the web

Last Friday morning, October 21, 2016, there was a massive distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack against large parts of the internet. Many websites were unreachable for over two hours Even the website of many large companies like Twitter, Spotify and Netflix. This was a massive, well coordinated attack that had been a long time in the making. Was your website also effected?

What happened? Why was my website down?

Dyn, a company that manages part of the domain name system (DNS), was attacked by an unprecedented level of attacks. DNS is what allows users to type www.Google.com rather than having to remember the IP address of the website. Dym was hit with lots of false web traffic. Think of it that you are having a conversation with someone and then suddenly someone turns on music from 200 radio stations all around you and person you are talking to. The conversation will be drowned out in all of the noise. That’s what happened here. Dyn was no longer able to answer legitimate requests for data and thus, the website of many companies were knocked offline.

 

What is a DDOS attack?

A distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) is when a large network of devices that are scattered all over the web (distributed) send out random noise data to a specific target. The target is no longer able to filter out the noise and eventually gives in to the attacks. In the case of this most recent attack, the network used was composed of over 10 million infected devices that the cyber criminals used to attack Dyn. These devices were mostly Chinese made digital video recorders (DVRs) for security systems, web cams, and smart phones. Dyn was eventually able to filter out the noise and get back online.

 

How can I protect my website?

Unfortunately there really is nothing you can do for these attacks. The hosting service must handle the attacks. The best advice is to make sure your website is hosted at a quality company that is large enough to fend off these types of attacks. Those $5.99 per month hosting companies won’t have the resources to handle attacks of this volume. Choose a large, established hosting company for your company’s website.

 

If you need help with your website or if your company needs a website, give us a call at 770-506-4383 and we would be happy to help you.

Computer security in the US elections – a real fear?

With the election coming on November, we have all been fed a steady stream of intense drama from both candidates. However, one subject we haven’t heard much about is just how safe is our election process? How good is the computer security of the election machines? Most people don’t realize that most voting machines are now simply just small computers. In addition, voter databases are stored on servers in state voting agencies. These databases can be tampered with to add or delete voters.

Reading these headlines should give you a fright:

Foreign Hackers access state voting database (Arizona and Illinois)

Russian hackers target half if US states voting databases

In addition to these, it was found that hackers had probed the computer security of the state of Washington as well.

But the most troubling breach of computer security was in the state of Arizona.

Just how bad was it?

 

Can bad computer security tilt an election?

Back in June, the FBI contacted the Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan with news that they had discovered user credentials for sale on the dark web that allowed voters to either be edited, added, or even deleted from state voter registration databases. The dark web are places where criminals go to sell services and stolen products to each other. In this case, the FBI found the credentials that would allow changes to the voting database but not the voting machines.

The good news is that voting machines are not connected to the internet. It would take a personal visit to all the machines in a specific area. the attacker would need to spend at least a few minutes with each machine he wanted to alter. To have an effect on the national elections, this would need to be done in very specific swing states and many machines would need to be effected. That borders on the impossible.

But this does bring up the validity of the integrity of the voting system and its computer security. Perhaps local elections or less important races than the national election could be tampered with.

A quote from Arizona Secretary of State Reagan says it all –

“The last thing we want is outside forces, especially from outside the country, trying to make people think that there’s no integrity in their vote,” Reagan says. “That shakes the very foundation of what we’re trying to do.”

 

 

 

Identity theft is even being used to steal your tax refund

Identity theft is unfortunately now, just a part of our modern life. Its so common that even the IRS is having to deal with it. The IRS was breached by hackers twice already in 2016. In fact, the breach was so bad, that the IRS scrapped their whole PIN system. The PIN system was designed to HELP identity theft victims not be hacked again. However, the system turned out to be vulnerable and was canceled.

Earlier in February 2016, the IRS was hacked and had 464,000 social security numbers and of that, over 100,000 were successfully used to access the PIN system. Yes, you read that right. The IRS was hacked and 100,000 social security numbers for taxpayers were accessed.

What where the hackers trying to accomplish?

The hackers that attacked the IRS were looking for two things. The first is a massive haul of personal information that could be used to further take over the identities of others.

The second thing is the tax payer’s refund.

Using identity theft, hackers steal your refund

Hackers have begun to take identity theft in a new direction by filing for the victim’s tax refund. They still your personal information and file a fraudulent return. Once complete, they have the refund sent to them. When you go to file your taxes, you find that the refund you thought you were owed is gone.

This is one reason you should file your taxes as quickly as you can to help prevent others from stealing it.

The main concern is that there is no defense against this type of attack. Your information can be stolen from a third party, in this case the IRS, even though you have done everything right to protect your own identity. As mentioned before, the only real defense is to file your taxes as early as possible.

 

Upgrade to Windows 10 – should you upgrade?

If you ask a computer repair company when you should upgrade something, you probably expect them to always say NOW! And while there are good reasons to upgrade and keep current with technology, that doesn’t always match up with the budgets of small businesses. This is especially true with those who wish to  upgrade to Windows 10. When should I upgrade is the question we are hearing a lot now from our customers.

When should you upgrade to Windows 10?

Its been more than a year now since Windows 10 was released. Many of the bugs and issues have been worked out. Like all versions if Windows, its usually best to wait until the first major service pack. Here are some reasons for you to upgrade to Windows 10:

  • You’re still on Windows XP – Windows XP was great in its day, but its long since become obsolete. If you’re still using Windows XP, you’re asking for trouble. Microsoft is no longer issuing security updates for Windows XP so it means your computer would be very vulnerable to attacks.
  • You’re still on Windows 7 – a case can be made to keep using Windows 7 (see below) but Windows 7 is  also getting a little but long in the tooth.
  • You’re ready to upgrade your computer – if you’re ready to purchase a new computer, then it’s the perfect time to upgrade to Windows 10
  • You need the cutting edge software – some software requires the latest operating system. If this is you, then now is the time for Windows 10

Here are some reasons that you should NOT upgrade to Windows 10, at least for now.

  • Your current system doesn’t have the specifications to be able to handle Windows 10 – If your computer’s processor isn’t fast enough, or you don’t have enough memory or hard drive space, then now isn’t the best time to upgrade. It would be a larger investment for you to upgrade all of your hardware just to get to Windows 10.
  • Windows 7 (or gasp, 8) is working just fine for you – If its not broken, don’t fix it. If you don’t have a really compelling reason to upgrade, then you may want to hold back.
  • You don’t want to be trapped into a cycle of forced updates – Updates and patches are good for Windows. But that doesn’t mean you always want to update to all of them as soon as they are available. There have been cases when an update was installed that it caused other unintended problems. With all versions of Windows, you have the choice of whether or not you will install them. But with Windows 10, you no longer get that choice.
  • Privacy is important to you – Windows 10 has several things that should be a concern to most computer users. First, it shows ads in the start menu. It also collects a lot of information about how you use your computer and sends it to Microsoft. It also uses your computer in its network to help distribute updates to other users. This means Microsoft will download an update to your computer and then use your internet connection to help send that update to others. Why?  So Microsoft doesn’t have to pay the internet bill.

 

So there you have it. You have the good information and the some reasons why and some reasons why maybe not to upgrade to Windows 10.

Here is some additional information about Windows 10 from Microsoft:

cleaning your computer

Cleaning your computer can maximize its lifespan

Most people would like to get the most use from an expensive item like a computer. cleaning your computer can go a long way to protecting the investment you have made. Where going to show you some tips you can give your computer a good cleaning.

Why cleaning your computer is so important

Over time, dust and debris will collect in your computer. When a computer gets dirty like this, it will cause parts such as fans to stop working. Fans are critical to keep your computer cool and not overheating. In addition, once layers of dust collect on other parts, it acts as an insulating blanket on the component causing it to overheat and fail. That’s why cleaning your computer is an important part of maintaining it.

Dust and other things can collect inside our keyboards causing them to fail as well. So it’s a good idea to keep them clean as well. You would be surprised what you find when you clean out your keyboard.  Remember that lunch at your desk and a bit of egg salad that slid down between the T and Y keys? How about the Doritos’ cheese power? And that one time you spilled a bit of coffee. We all do these things so as long as you are cleaning your computer once in a while, you should be good.

Get the right tools for cleaning your computer

You’re going to need a few items to get your cleaning done. We recommend the following items:

  • a can of compressed air
  • cotton swabs
  • a clean rag
  • window cleaner such as Windex that is ammonia free
  • a set of screw drivers

We will discuss each of these items throughout the article below.

Now its time to get started. First you will need to shutdown your computer. If you’re using Microsoft Windows, go to the Start button and select Shutdown. Once your computer is shut down, go ahead and remove the power plug from the back of the computer.

Pull the power plug

Pull the power plug

Pull the power plug

 

Once you have removed the power, use the can of compressed air to blow out the vent of the power supply. This is the most common place for dust and debris to enter the computer and collect. There is nothing in the power supply that you can damage easily so go ahead and use the compressed air to give it a good cleaning.

Once you have done that, use your screwdrivers to unscrew the side panel of your computer. Many neweer computers will have large thumb screws that may not require screw drivers. v

cleaning your computer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have removed the side panel from the computer, use the compressed air on the parts onside. Be sure not to use the air too close, maybe blow the inside from about six inches away. Make sure all of the dust and debris is removed especially from the fan that sits on top of your processor. That will be the large fan you see on the motherboard. Be careful not to touch anything inside the computer itself. Just use the air to clean everything out.

Once you are done with that, put the panel back on the computer.

Take your keyboard and turn it upside down and gently shake it to remove some of the debris. After that, you can use the compressed air to blow out anything stuck between the keys. You can also use the Q-tips here to get a little deeper.

Once you are done with the keyboard, its time to focus on the monitor. You can use Windex to clean your CRT or LCD monitors as long as it is ammonia free. Ammonia can damage screens so be sure not to use that on any CRT or LCD screen.

Once you have completed wiping down the monitor, then you have finished cleaning your computer. Sit back and and enjoy a job well done.

If you need any help on cleaning your computers, please contact us at 770-506-4383 and we would be happy to setup a time to have all of your computers cleaned.

 

Identity theft – don’t be a victim

In the United States, each year, more than 17 million Americans are victims of identity theft. It is a growing crime that can have massive implications for the victims.As we become more and more depended on technology, it will become easier and easier for the bad guys to perform these types of crimes.

 

What is identity theft?

Identity theft falls into two basic categories. These are account take over and identity take over. Account take over makes up the vast majority of the those that are affected. Currently,amounting to 86% of the victims of identity theft. Account take over is where someone would access an account of yours and then use it for fraudulent purposes. Examples include stealing your credit card information to make purchases or taking over your bank account for making transfers. The second type is identity take over. This is where someone assumes your persona and uses your details to open their own accounts in your name. This could be home mortgages, credit cards, car purchases etc. In the end, they would not make the payments and leave you stuck with all the debt on your credit profile.

Either of these can pose serious threats to your credit profile and financial security.

 

How can you protect yourself from identity theft?

There are different ways to protect yourself from the two types of identity theft. The best ways are always proactive in nature. Its far easier to prevent than to clean up a mess after the fact.

For account take over, there are several things you can do protect yourself. First, make sure you have antivirus or anti-malware software installed on your computer. This will keep your computer protected from attackers who will attempt to gather information from your computer in an attempt to access your accounts.

If possible, use two factor authentication on all of your important sites. Banks, credit card companies, email etc should all offer this option. What is allows is that each time you login, your phone will receive a text message with a code. You will enter that code into the website  before being granted access. This makes it much harder for an attacker to gain access to your account.

Enable alerts from your bank or credit card companies whenever purchases are made or account changes are made. This means that whenever there is activity on your account, you be alerted by either a text message or email. This way, you can find out about fraudulent use very quickly.

The good news is that with credit card and bank fraud, the cost to you is usually nothing because Visa and Mastercard  both have policies protecting users from lost or stolen cards. The key is to catch it quickly and report it.

Defending against identity take over is much more difficult and and can be the most damaging in turns of time and money. The most important part is to get a free annual credit report and study it for anything that you don’t recognize. You can get a free credit report from Annualcreditreport.com

After making sure your credit report is clear of anything, you may want to consider a credit monitorint service like Credit Karma.

These services monitor your Transunion credit profile for any changes and notify you for suspicious changes. Many credit card companies also offer these services free to their customers. You many want to check into those as well.

Following these basic steps will go a long way into protecting your identity and helping to prevent theft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

buy a new computer

Buy a new computer – when is the best time?

We often get asked this question from customers as to when its time to buy a new computer or similar device such as tablets. Most expect a computer company to say, buy a new computer every year! But of course this isn’t correct for a number of reasons. This article will give you the information you need when you’re are looking to buy a new computer or similar device.

The first thing to consider is this. Is your current computer completing the tasks that you need it to do? Is there something you need the computer to do that it is currently not? Can that be solved by just upgrading software or upgrading a piece of hardware? Is the computer running too slow?

Here are some common issues that you may have and other solutions other than to buy a new computer.

Computer is running too slow

This can be a great many things. Many of which can be resolved little cost or even for free.

  • Your computer simply has too many programs installed – try going through and removing any programs you are no longer using.
  • Too many programs starting up with Windows can really slow down a computer – use the MSCONFIG utility to remove unnecessary programs from starting up with Windows
  • Running out of hard drive space – install a second hard drive very inexpensively
  • Virus or other kinds of malware – get the viruses cleaned out and you will see a big improvement
  • Time to format and reinstall Windows – this also called purging by fire, reinstalling everything from scratch is a last solution but often is a very good one

 

Computer won’t run programs that I need

  • Is there an upgrade of the program? Do you need more hardware specs such as memory?
  • Can you add more memory or hard drive space? These are both very inexpensive ways to upgrade your computer
  • Do you need to upgrade your operating system? Still using Windows XP? Maybe you only need to upgrade your operating system and that can often be done without buying a new computer.

 

General guidelines on best time to buy a new computer

Is your computer more than 3 years old?

Are your main programs no longer supported on your operating system?

Can your current computer not handle upgrading to a new operating system?

these are the best indicators of when its time to buy a new computer. If you’re not in any of these situations, then are cheaper alternatives to purchasing.

 

If you need help determining if you should purchase a new computer, please contact us at 770-506-4383 and we can give you a free assessment. We are good at squeezing more life out of older computers. We can find the most effective way to get more use for you. Give us a call and we can help.