April 22nd, 2014
At the end of March, HTC released their latest flagship smartphone, the HTC One M8. Leading up to the release and in the weeks since, the device has earned rave reviews for a number of innovative features and high quality specs. But, it’s not perfect, as no smartphone could be. At CIO, Al Sacco explained his biggest beefs with HTC’s offering.
The first feature that sticks out about the One M8 is that it uses dual lenses on its rear-facing camera. HTC calls it “UltraPixel” technology. The two lenses are expected to accurately calculate the distance of subjects in order to yield better images. In reality, bright light environments result in washed out colors. Combined with the lower than expected 4 MP, the One M8’s camera is a definite disappointment.
The One M8 comes with a bundle of software that gives the device a number of features that sound great on paper. In practice, many users find them cumbersome, annoying or useless. HTC Sense features include gesture based commands and a home screen panel designed to deliver interesting information. In most cases, these features feel gimmicky and actually inhibit users from accomplishing their tasks.
The fact that the One M8 features memory card support is noteworthy. With a capacity for microSD cards up to 128GB, users are able to add plenty of space for nearly any application. The execution of this memory card support is lacking, however. Specifically, the only way to open the slot to add or remove a memory card is with a small tool that comes with the phone. This is limiting for a mobile device that might not stay close to the tool at all times. It’s also extremely easy to lose or misplace the tool, which means you’ll be left prying open the memory card slot with a paper clip.
This final complaint isn’t about the actual smartphone at all. Instead, it focuses on the highly publicized Dot View case, which has appeared in most of the advertising for the One M8. Some readers will immediately see the case’s display as similar to a Light Bright. There are small holes that display lights of different colors to allow users to check the time, get notifications and even answer phone calls without opening the case and turning on the screen. Again, on paper this sounds great. The problem is how cheap the case feels. At a retail price of $45, that’s unacceptable. It’s also awkward to use and keep open when you actually want to use your phone. Since it doesn’t do anything revolutionary, considering most smartphones display similar information on their lock screen, this case certainly isn’t a reason to purchase the device.
These flaws don’t necessarily mean that the HTC One M8 is not right for some users. No smartphone is perfect, but it’s best to understand the positives and negatives before hitching yourself to your next phone.
Regardless of the make and model of your smartphone, Geek Rescue is here to fix it when it breaks. When you have issues with any of your devices, come by or call us at 918-369-4335.
April 18th, 2014
Microsoft released an extensive update to Windows 8 in the fall, which, while useful, also confused many users. At the beginning of the month, Microsoft released their second significant update for Windows 8. This time, it’s quite a bit less robust than Windows 8.1 so they simply called the new iteration Windows 8.1 Update. Again, this update is useful, particularly for desktop users, but it takes some time to get accustomed to. At Information Week, Michael Endler published usability tips to help users acclimate after updating.
There are a number of new features and options, but some will be hidden and unused the first time you boot up Windows 8.1 Update. Head to the ‘PC Settings’ menu, which can be accessed a number of different ways. Some key options to consider include the ‘Corners and Edges’, which includes the new feature to pin Windows apps to the desktop taskbar. Also, ‘Search and Apps’, which allows you to adjust which programs open which file types. You can also manage storage space from ‘PC and Devices’ under “Disk Space”. You’ll be able to uninstall apps, sort installed apps by size and empty your recycle bin.
Windows 8.1 allows users to search for files and apps in a number of ways, but Windows 8.1 Update adds an obvious search field to the Start screen’s top-right corner. The search function itself is finicky, however. For example, you’ll need to know what specific app titles are when you search for them, or your search won’t reveal them. Searching for “Pictures” won’t allow you to find the “Photos” app.
As the updates for Windows 8 have rolled out, users have been able to pin more and more to their taskbar. This is a useful feature that users clamored for, but it opens the door for overuse, which actually hurts usability. Not only will your pinned apps appear on the taskbar at all times, but open apps appear there also. If the number of apps on the taskbar gets too large, you’ll have a hard time finding what you want, which defeats the purpose of pinning apps in the first place.
To make the use of tiles more appealing to desktop users, Windows 8.1 Update includes the ability to right click to change the settings of tiles. Resize, unpin, uninstall and more are available from a menu when users right click on a tile. Also, adjust the way apps are displayed by visiting the ‘Tiles’ section of the Settings menu.
Installing new apps from the Windows Store doesn’t automatically add them to the Start screen or taskbar. You’ll be able to see them in the ‘All Apps’ view, but some users have struggled to find apps they’ve recently downloaded. Windows 8.1 Update includes visual notifications that help. When an app finishes downloading, users will see a notification in the top right corner and another “new app” notification will remain in the bottom left until the app is opened.
These tips will help you transition to Windows 8.1 Update by customizing it to your liking and avoiding potential problems.
Anytime you’re having computer issues, call on Geek Rescue for help at 918-369-4335.
April 17th, 2014
Cloud computing has experienced monumental growth and adoption in the past year. If your business hasn’t incorporated some cloud services into your infrastructure, it likely will be doing so soon. But, not everything you hear about the cloud is gospel. Michael Brown of MSP Mentor explains three “half-truths” about cloud computing that you should understand.
Reading some of the recent headlines touting the cloud’s power, you might think that your business should move entirely to the cloud. But, the truth is that not every application is appropriate to be integrated with cloud computing. Many businesses will likely be expanding their use of the cloud and making it an essential part of their IT infrastructure, but a hybrid model that uses both the cloud and more traditional methods will likely become the new normal.
- The cloud is for cutting costs
Let’s be clear. The cloud is capable of significantly cutting costs for any size of business. Reductions in spending on hardware alone make the cloud one of the most effective cost cutting tools available. But, to sell the cloud as only a money saver is selling it short. The cloud is also able to expand your company’s capabilities and improve on current methods. With enhanced mobility, easier collaboration and always available scalability, the cloud far exceeds its price tag.
- Every cloud is created equal
To most business owners, cloud providers are all offering the same product. In actuality, cloud service models vary from provider to provider. Despite the fact that each likely offers solutions for file sharing, remote computing and data storage, the subtle differences are important to take note of. The way a cloud service integrates with existing applications and other cloud services is important to understand before integrating a cloud into your business. For this reason, carefully consider and plan for how you want to use cloud computing so that you can match your needs to a provider who’ll be able to fit them.
Cloud computing is a powerful tool capable of transforming many aspects of your business.
If you’d like to explore cloud solutions for your company, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.
April 16th, 2014
Users of Android smartphones are already at a significantly higher risk of malware infection than their iPhone counterparts. Experts, however, are warning of even more threats coming throughout 2014. One of those threats has already been identified and has infected millions of devices. Chris Smith of BGR reports on the Android malware threat called ‘Oldboot’ that is also being referred to as “the biggest threat to the operating system to date”.
Oldboot is capable of installing malicious apps on a device and can even remain hidden from detection or “fight” antivirus apps by modifying or uninstalling them. But, what makes it so dangerous is Oldboot’s ability to re-infect devices even after seemingly being removed. This malware is stored in the memory of devices and alters booting files. Infected devices then re-install malware in the early stages of their restarting process.
Oldboot is referred to as advanced malware because it has so many capabilities. It’s able to send text messages from a user’s device, modify the browser’s homepage, launch phishing attacks and more.
Perhaps the biggest problem is very little is known to date about what specific Android devices are at risk or even how devices are infected. Most Android malware infects devices through malicious apps. Occasionally, these malicious apps find their way into the official Google Play app store, but more often they’re downloaded from an untrusted source.
Other dangers include malicious text messages and emails and malicious websites visited on your smartphone.
If you think your device has been infected by any form of malware, bring it to Geek Rescue or give us a call at 918-369-4335.
April 16th, 2014
It’s no secret that malware is an ever-present threat to internet users. It’s also no secret that while defenses against malware are steadily improving, the number of malware being produced and its capabilities are growing. A recent study released by security firm Panda Labs confirmed the growing threat of malware, as Tony Bradley reports for PC World.
In their 2013 security report, Panda Labs found that about a fifth of the malware that exists was created last year. That speaks to the rapid growth of malware production. In 2013 alone, 30-million new threats were created, which breaks down to about 82-thousand per day.
Of these newly minted threats, about 70-percent are trojans, which are particularly troubling forms of malware capable of mining data and even controlling an infected computer while staying hidden from users and security tools. Total, Panda Labs discovered more than 20-million trojans. The rest of the malware was made up of a combination of worms, viruses and adware or spyware. Trojans were also responsible for the most successful infections and accounted for almost 80-percent of infections in 2013.
In terms of application vulnerabilities, Java was to blame for the most attacks. Exploits on a security flaw in Java led to successful attacks on Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.
With so many forms of malware around, it’s amazing users aren’t victimized more often. Most users aren’t infected by malware often, but even becoming the victim of malware once each month would mean you avoided all but .0001 of all new threats. Given these statistics, it’s clear why experts warn that there’s no such thing as perfect security.
Panda Labs also agreed with the consensus that in the mobile world, Android is the most popular target for malware producers. They also sent a warning to users that more targeted attacks aimed at stealing data would be coming this year.
Users who are unprotected by security tools like antivirus programs run a significantly higher risk of becoming the victim of an attack. This could lead to the harm of your computer and the theft of your data.
For help securing your computer or recovering from an attack, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.
April 15th, 2014
Spyware has been a problem for internet users since the mid-90’s. Software that is able to gather information, or spy on a user, without their knowledge falls under the umbrella of spyware. In 2007, an estimated 850-thousand computers in the US were essentially rendered inoperable by spyware, according to Consumer Reports. Since then, spyware hasn’t become less of a problem, but there are better ways to protect yourself from it. Steve Bell of the BullGuard blog has some tips.
First, it’s important to understand the typical ways spyware gets onto your computer. The most common method is to piggyback on other programs you download. For the most part, free software is free for a reason. While the spyware included might not be malicious, it is still not something you’d volunteer to have on your machine. Some software installation methods will let you opt out of additional programs and spyware that’s included, but others install it automatically.
In order to stay safe, it’s important to be careful about anything you download. Spyware can also stem from spam emails, links and advertisements. There are a number of antivirus tools that also protect you from spyware. There are even some legitimate, dedicated anti-spyware tools, but be careful. There are plenty of programs claiming to be security programs that are actually malware or spyware themselves. Not only will these programs infect your computer, they won’t offer you any protection at all from other threats.
If you’ve already been infected, or if you’re not sure, Windows users can head to the Control Panel and check the list of installed programs. If you don’t recognize some of the programs listed, there’s a chance they’re spyware. Before uninstalling, you might want to do some additional research.
Unfortunately, not every piece of spyware installed on your computer will always show up this way. Some can even convince you that it has been uninstalled but actually remain in operation. For these particularly nasty cases, you’ll have to rely on a trusted security application. They’ll be able to recognize the common characteristics of spyware and either block it before it is installed, or help you remove it.
If your computer is infected with spyware, malware, viruses or you’re having other issues, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.
April 15th, 2014
Installing a major update to your operating system can be a daunting task. Many users feel this way as evidenced by Windows 8 still owning the lion’s share of the market over Windows 8.1. It doesn’t seem to matter if the update is offered at no cost. What matters is that users think updates will be too time consuming, too complicated, or cause issues with compatibility or storage. Naturally, the audience’s reluctance to update their systems is frustrating for Microsoft, who is forced to roll-out multiple versions of the same patches and updates constantly. As Mihaita Bamburic reports for Beta News, Microsoft has found a solution to force users’ hands.
Microsoft recently announced that by May’s Patch Tuesday, roughly 30-days away, there will be no more security updates provided to Windows 8.1 users who haven’t installed Windows 8.1 Update. The update, which is the first major update released for Windows 8.1 and aims to help make it more usable for desktop users, has only been available since the beginning of April but adoption numbers have been low.
This is a move that attempts to force users to install the update because without it, their computers will be at risk to the latest threats and exploits. As it is, Microsoft is having to spend an inordinate amount of time creating patches for each version of Windows currently active and altering those patches for users who haven’t updated their operating systems fully.
For Windows 8.1 users, the best option is to bite the bullet and download the update. If you’re concerned about losing data, updating is an ideal time to back-up your files. You can even create a restore point that will allow you to revert back to the state of your system before the update is installed in case you run into problems.
If you have issues with your computer that an update from the manufacturer won’t fix, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.
April 14th, 2014
Last week, news of the Heartbleed bug, which threatens the integrity of HTTPS enabled websites worldwide, broke. In addition to a worry that important data sent between users and websites could be compromised and stolen, there is also a concern that mobile services could be vulnerable. Stephanie Mlot at PC Mag explains how Heartbleed threatens the security of Android users specifically.
Naturally, Google was among the most potentially costly sites should users fall victim to Heartbleed. Not only are Google’s services among the most used online, but they also have access to a lot of personal information that is extremely valuable to criminals. So, Google set out early to patch their services and protect their users.
So far, Google services Search, Gmail, YouTube, Wallet, Play, Apps, AdWords, Maps and Earth have all been patched.
For the Android crowd, every version of the mobile operating system is safe from Heartbleed save for Android 4.1.1. It’s unknown exactly how many users have this version installed on their devices, but some iteration of Android 4.1 is being used by more than a third of Android users. It’s estimated that the number of affected users is in the millions and devices affected include popular manufacturers Samsung and HTC.
A Google spokesperson stated that patching information is being distributed to manufacturers, but this slow process is one of the main issues regarding Android security. Unlike Apple, which can push updates and patches to all of its users directly, Android users must wait for each manufacturer to tailor patches to their specific environment. In cases like this one, that can leave users and data vulnerable to known exploits for days and even weeks.
Blackberry has released a statement informing users that a fix for their Android devices will be made available by the end of the week. Other manufacturers have been quiet, however.
The best option for users in the meantime is to assume that data can be stolen from their device. If your Android device uses the 4.1.1 operating system, which can be checked in the Settings menu under ‘About Phone’, don’t use your device to log-in to online accounts or to message personal information.
While users will have to wait for an official patch to protect themselves from Heartbleed, for any other problems with your Android device or other mobile devices, come by Geek Rescue or call us at 918-369-4335.
April 11th, 2014
A common piece of advice is to keep applications updated, especially antivirus programs, to try to keep up with constantly evolving cyber threats. At Dark Reading, Tim Wilson reports on the recently released Websense 2014 Threat Report that finds advanced, targeted attacks are more prevalent than ever before. This means that relying on out of date malware definitions and failing to patch vulnerabilities quickly are more likely to cause users to become victims of an attack.
Websense reports preventing more than 4-billion attacks in 2013. Almost all of these attacks were intelligently designed to by-pass traditional security tools and pursue confidential data. The worry is that not only are the highly targeted, advanced attacks able to fool traditional security infrastructures, but attacks considered more common and able to affect users on a large scale are also using advanced tactics to avoid detection and prevention.
A common attack tactic is the use of malicious links, either on a website or included in an email. Clicking these links causes the download of malware, or directs users to phishing sites designed to steal log-in credentials or other important information. In 2013, 85-percent of these malicious links were found to be located on legitimate, trusted websites that had been compromised. This makes it exponentially more difficult to recognize and prevent this style of attack because the website being used isn’t designed as an attack site.
About one-third of all malicious executable files discovered in 2013 contained custom encryption of programs designed to remotely take control of a system or mine data from it.
There were also a reported 67-million exploit kits discovered throughout last year. An exploit kit is a way for developers with expertise to design an attack and sell it to others to be easily customized and launched at the target of their choosing. These kits make it easier for more criminals to launch an attack because it only takes money, rather than expertise.
The takeaway from the Websense report is that no user is safe. There are so many threats to your safety, you’re bound to run into one eventually. This report also speaks to the importance of being proactive in your security. Update and patch often and be looking for new ways to protect your network.
For help improving the security of your network at home or at the office, or for help recovering from an attack, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.
April 10th, 2014
Adware is the name for software that automatically generates advertisements. Usually it finds its way onto a computer by piggybacking on another program. Once on a user’s computer, ads can pop-up without warning either. Sometimes, these ads are displayed while using a web browser to disguise where they’re coming from and other times they pop-up seemingly from nowhere. As Lucian Constantin reports at Network World, however, Microsoft is implementing new guidelines for programs to discourage adware.
Starting July 1st, adware will be blocked by default, which seems like a move Microsoft would’ve taken ages ago. Up until now, it was up to users to decide what action to take when adware was detected by Microsoft’s security software.
The criteria for classifying adware is also becoming much more strict. Any program that displays ads of it’s own window or inside of another program like a web browser will risk being labeled as adware and blocked. Advertisements that stay within the program that displays them will be free of Microsoft’s wrath.
Those that do get flagged will have to pass the next level of tests. First, ads must have a clear way to be closed. This can be an “x” or the word “close” in the corner of the ad. Ads also must be clearly labeled to tell users what program they stem from. Microsoft suggests using language like “Ads by [blank]” or “Powered by [blank]”. Programs will also need to provide an uninstall method through Windows control panel to make it easy for users to remove them.
The idea behind the adware criteria is to give users more control over what is allowed to run on their own systems.
In the past, adware developers intentionally made it nearly impossible for average users to remove the entirety of the programs or reset changes made by them. The most popular forms of adware are browser toolbars, which are notoriously difficult to remove once installed.
These changes aren’t expected to put an end to what has become a lucrative business, but it will hopefully cut down on the amount of adware capable of penetrating computers with Windows operating systems.
If your computer is infected with adware, spyware or malware, bring it to Geek Rescue or call us at 918-369-4335.