Microsoft Ending Security Support For Windows 8.1 Without Update Users

April 15th, 2014

Windows 8 on laptop

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.

Microsoft Making Changes To Discourage Adware

April 10th, 2014

Microsoft building

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.

Four Steps To Protecting Your New Computer

April 8th, 2014

Bow on keyboard

Buying a new computer is exciting and you probably aren’t thinking about things like warranties and serial numbers as soon as you get home. But, if you want to save time and money later, you should be. Dave Greenbaum of LifeHacker writes that there are some important steps to take as soon as you get your new computer home and before you start testing out its new features.

  • Record the serial number

When you unbox your computer for the first time, find the serial number and take a picture of it or write it down. There will come a point when you need that serial number. If you wait, there’s a good chance it will wear off, especially if you have a laptop. If you lose the serial number, it could make it more difficult to get replacement parts or take advantage of warranties. If the computer uses Windows, also take this opportunity to write down your Windows license key. This way, if you need to reinstall your operating system, you’ll have it handy.

  • Make a recovery disk

Starting your PC for the first time might not trigger you to think about everything that could go wrong, but it’s an ideal time to make a recovery disk for a rainy day. In the case of Windows 8, it’s as easy as typing “create a recovery drive” from the Start screen and choosing a flash drive to store it on. There are a number of situations that would make you want to start over from scratch, so give yourself that opportunity and make a recovery disk before you start altering your system.

  • Inspect the surge protector

A surge protector is a great investment to ensure that your important electronics are protected from surges in electricity. They don’t last forever, however. If there are flashing lights, or you don’t remember when you purchased it, it’s probably time to replace your surge protector. Doing so when you get a new computer is an ideal time. You’ll want to keep your new machine protected and you’ll be able to easily remember how old the surge protector is.

  • Track warranties

The warranties that cover your new computer can save you a lot of money. But, you need a system to keep track of when they expire. One useful method is to set a reminder in your smartphone to go off a few days before any warranties expire. If there’s anything that needs to be fixed that is covered, you’ll be able to take care of it instead of footing the bill later.

These aren’t particularly fun steps to take with a new computer, but they will help you to protect your PC and recover from any disasters.

For help fixing issues that aren’t covered by your warranty, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.

Are Deleted Files Really Gone Forever?

March 4th, 2014

Pushing delete button

There are dozens, hundreds or even thousands of important files stored on your computer’s hard drive. What happens when vital files are deleted by accident? Files can be infected with a virus, corrupted or lost due to hardware damage. Or, you may just delete an entire folder only to realize later that you need some of the files stored in it. As Andy O’Donnell of About reports, a deleted file isn’t necessarily lost forever.

First, it’s important to understand what happens when you tell your computer to delete a file. This is important not only for recovery purposes, but also for security.

Windows users delete a file and send it to the Recycle Bin, which they’ll empty later. Once the Recycle Bin is emptied, most users have lost any means of accessing or recovering those files. But, they may not be completely deleted. In many cases, the actual data is still on the hard drive and only the pointer record, which contains the location of the data, has been deleted.

Without the pointer record, users can’t see files in directories. To find them, you’ll need a special recovery tool, which can be extremely expensive and difficult to use effectively. But, for those with some expertise, deleted files can be found and recovered.

This leads to another problem, however. If files you’ve deleted could still be unearthed by experts that means anyone who steals your computer or buys it legitimately could potentially restore the files you thought you had deleted. That could lead to some costly incidents.

To protect yourself, remove the hard drive from any computer you’re planning to sell. That’s the only way to ensure that no one can find and restore data that you have tried to delete.

Other options aren’t fool-proof, but they are helpful. Use a tool to encrypt your entire hard drive. Regularly use the disk de-fragmentation tool. Format your hard drive before selling it and use a secure drive erase tool, which adds zeroes and garbage data to your drive to make recovery more difficult.

If you need to restore valuable files to your hard drive, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335 before spending hundreds of dollars on a difficult to use restore tool.

Six Pieces Of Advice For Windows XP Users

February 19th, 2014

Young man helping with computer

The year 2001 may not seem that long ago to some, but for Microsoft, it was an eternity ago. Windows XP launched in October of 2001 and since then, Microsoft has moved on to three more operating systems, Windows Vista,  7 and 8. In April, support for Windows XP will end and users will be left to choose between upgrading to a newer operating system, or using one with no hope of bug fixes or security patches. At Information Week, Jeff Bertolucci published a list of what XP users need to know ahead of the April expiration date and what they should be thinking about.

  • Windows XP will still run

Just because Microsoft will no longer support XP, it doesn’t mean that your computer running XP will no longer work. The only change will be that Microsoft won’t be releasing updates. That means newer devices won’t be compatible with XP machines. It also means you’ll become more vulnerable to attacks as vulnerabilities are uncovered but unpatched.

  • Office and Exchange 2003 also expiring

Lost in the news of XP’s end of support is the end of support for both Office 2003 and Exchange 2003. Online content, security updates and bug fixes will no longer be released for these popular applications after April 8th. If you’re unsure of what version of Office you’re using, go to the ‘Help’ menu in Microsoft Word and select “About Microsoft Office Word”.

  • Security Essentials gets a reprieve 

Microsoft Security Essentials is far from a complete malware protection program, but Microsoft won’t be continuing updates for Security Essentials on XP until July of 2015. That, in addition to an up to date antivirus program, will help keep you more secure even after the XP updates cease.

  • Windows 7 features Windows XP mode

If you decide to update to Windows 7, there’s an XP mode to help make the transition easier. This allows you to run applications designed for XP effectively. A separate window will open on the desktop, which will be a fully functional version of XP. There’s one catch, however. XP mode also will stop getting support in April. It will still be available, but it won’t be getting updates and patches.

  • Compatibility troubleshooting

The hesitation for many users in upgrading their operating system is a concern that programs they consistently use won’t be compatible with a newer version of Windows. Microsoft has publicly stated that they can’t guarantee that programs that ran on XP will work in Windows 7 or 8. There is, however, a troubleshooting tool to help you adjust an application’s settings to make it work. To access the tool, right click on the program’s icon and select “troubleshoot compatibility”.

  • You need storage

Hard drive space has increased exponentially since the days when Windows XP ruled the world. Now, Windows 8.1 requires at least 16 GB of free space for 32-bit systems and 20 GB of free space for 64-bit systems. This free space is allocated for updates. If you’re planning to upgrade from XP to 8.1, you’ll have to make sure you have enough space on your hard drive to make it work.

If you need help upgrading your personal computer or an entire office of XP machines, or if you have computer issues that extend beyond an out-dated operating system, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.

Sophisticated Malware Threat Monitors And Steals Nearly Everything

February 17th, 2014

Malware sign

A recently discovered form of malware is being called “the most sophisticated malware yet” by experts. As Timothy B. Lee reports for The Washington Post, this threat is capable of infecting almost anyone and of stealing almost anything.

Called Careto, this malware is actually a suite of tools used for collecting data from infected users. This highly targeted attack starts as a phishing scam. An email made to look like it’s from a major publication is sent to a user. Those that click on the provided link are taken to a malicious website that scans the user’s computer to find vulnerabilities.

Careto is capable of infecting a number of operating systems. Windows, OS X and Linux users are all at risk. Experts believe that mobile versions of the malware that target iOS and Android will be developed soon.

It’s when the malware has infected a user that the real trouble starts. Nearly everything a user does can be recorded by Careto. Network traffic is intercepted, keystrokes are logged, screen captures are taken, Skype conversations are monitored and all file operations are tracked. The malware can also sniff out encryption keys stored on a device.

The nature of the malware also allows for software or plug-ins to be added easily. This means additional capabilities are being added to steal other data or to add more features.

Because Careto is so complex, it’s difficult to detect, even if you’re running an up to date antivirus or anti-malware program. The best way to avoid infection is to be extremely cautious regarding links in emails. If a link is sent to you, it’s better to go to the site directly, rather than following the link. This eliminates the possibility that you’re being sent to a fake, spoofed, site.

If your computer is infected with malware, bring it to Geek Rescue or call us at 918-369-4335.

Flash Exploit Allows Malware To Steal Log-Ins

February 7th, 2014

Log in

Many internet users believe that the key to avoiding a malware infection is to only visit legitimate websites and never open suspicious looking email or download attachments. While this is certainly going to keep users safe from a large amount of malware, it doesn’t keep them safe from all of it. This is evidenced by a recent exploit of a vulnerability in Adobe’s Flash player. As Lucian Constantin reports for PC World, this exploit infected victims with malware capable of stealing users’ log-in credentials for a variety of websites.

Security experts uncovered 11 exploit files targeting this vulnerability, which reveals that the same security flaw was being used by hackers in different ways. Some of the exploit files were designed to execute other files, one downloaded other malicious files and one was a trojan that steals log-in credentials saved in email and web browsers.

Experts found that each file was embedded within Microsoft Word .docx files and target Windows users specifically. Though one attack used malicious emails with a rigged .docx file as an attachment to infect users, most files were found in internet caches suggesting they were downloaded from websites.

These files have already been used in attacks against real-world users, as evidenced by Adobe’s use of the phrase “in the wild” to describe them. Since the vulnerability is known in the hacking community, expect more attacks to be rolled out exploiting it.

To their credit, Adobe scrambled to release a patch that would eliminate the Flash security flaw. This is version 12.0.0.44 for Windows and Mac users. If you haven’t updated Flash on your machine yet, be sure to do that as soon as possible.

If your computer has been infected with malware, bring it to Geek Rescue or call us at 918-369-4335.

Leaked Windows 8.1 Update Reveals New Features

February 3rd, 2014

Windows 8 on device

A planned update to the Windows 8.1 operating system is planned to be released in March, but an early, unfinished version has already leaked online. As Wayne Williams of BetaNews reports, this leaked version reveals many features the official update will offer to users.

  • Pin apps to taskbar

Many experts surmised this would be part of the official update and it appears they were correct. Any app downloaded from the official Windows Store can now be pinned to the taskbar. To do so, users only need to right click on the app, or holding down on it if you are using a touchscreen, then select “pin to taskbar”. You can also set Windows to display all currently running apps on the taskbar.

  • New Buttons

On the Start screen, next to your username, this update includes two new buttons. First, a search button allows for easy access to the search function. The second is a Power button. From here, you can shut down or restart. You can also put your computer to sleep.

  • App options

Those using a mouse can right click apps and have access to a menu full of options. Pin or unpin from the Start screen or taskbar, resize its tile or uninstall completely. There’s also now an alphabetical view on the Apps screen that allows you to filter apps by letter. Any app that comes from the official Windows Store now has a title bar to make it easier to minimize, close or rearrange those windows. Also, for the first time you can access the taskbar even while running an app.

One popular rumor was that part of the official update would make booting to the desktop the default behavior, but that isn’t reflected in the leaked version. There’s still a chance that the official update will include that change, however.

Regardless of what operating system you use, when your computer has issues, bring it to Geek Rescue or call us at 918-369-4335.

3 Threats To Your Data For 2014

January 30th, 2014

Data security concept

Planning is a key step to effective data security for your business. If you know how you’re likely to be attacked, you’ll know how to best protect yourself. At PC World, Tony Bradley published a list of security threats he expects to be common throughout 2014.

  • Mobile Malware

The time when you could consider your smartphone immune from the dangers of malware has passed. With a large percentage of the population not only using mobile devices, but using them to access critical data, criminals have begun heavily targeting them with mobile-specific malware. And infection can stem from a number of places. Email, malicious links and text messaging are all popular modes of malware infection, but even connecting to an infected computer via USB has been the root of infection in some attacks.

  • Internet Of Things

You’ve likely seen this buzzword in the media and it refers to the growing number 0f items with internet capabilities. Your refrigerator, car, home security system, baby monitor and many other common items can now be online and controlled remotely. While this may present a convenience for you, it also poses a security risk as hackers may also be able to gain control of your things. We’ve already seen a refrigerator used as part of a botnet. Be aware that if an item in your home or business can connect to the internet, it can be hacked.

  • Windows XP

Patches and security updates for this operating system will be discontinued by Microsoft this April. While Microsoft Security Essentials will receive support until the summer of 2015, this still presents a significant security issue. A large portion of the world’s desktop computers, particularly in offices, are still running XP. Worse is that kiosks and other embedded devices also run off of XP. When Microsoft stops supporting their old operating system, developers will also likely stop releasing updates for their XP applications. This leaves users in a frozen state where known exploits won’t be fixed. Some security experts are forecasting that hackers will wait until support stops and then launch all out attacks on XP systems.

Due to the success of attacks, like those on Target and Nieman Marcus, expect large scale data breaches to continue. Cyber criminals understand how valuable data can be and are willing to launch intelligent attacks to steal it. Staying protected requires planning, putting proper security tools in place and being smart about what you download and who you allow on your network.

For help improving the security at your company or on your home PC, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.

 

Could Your Web Browser Give You A Longer Battery Life?

January 29th, 2014

Laptop with low battery

If you’re a laptop or tablet user, you understand how important it is to get the most out of one battery charge. Adjusting settings can earn you some extra time, but optimizing the applications you use is another way to improve battery life. At 7Tutorials, Ciprian Adrian Rusen tested the five most popular web browsers on three different devices to find out which provided the biggest boost in battery life.

Tests on each device were run with ‘balanced’ power plans. Screens on each device were set to never turn off in order to simulate a constant browsing experience. Each device tested browsers Microsoft Internet Explorer 11, both the touch and desktop versions, Google Chrome 32, Mozilla Firefox 26, and Opera 18. All devices were running Windows 8.1 as their operating system.

  • Toshiba Encore 8 tablet

This tablet featured an Intel Atom processor running at 1.33 GHz and 2 GB of RAM. It featured the longest battery life of any of the devices tested and also the largest discrepancy between a browser’s affect on battery life. Internet Explorer Touch performed the best lasting eight hours and 52 minutes on a single charge. IE’s Desktop version lasted about an hour less, while Chrome and Firefox each ran out of battery after about six and a half hours. Opera lasted six hours and 11 minutes.

  • Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet

This tablet is much more powerful than the Toshiba Encore and the battery life reflected that. The Surface Pro 2 had a quad-core Intel Core processor running at 1.6 GHZ and 8 GB of RAM. The best browser was again Internet Explorer, but this time the Desktop version outperformed the Touch by about an hour. Firefox lasted four hours and 22 minutes, which was good for second. Opera allowed for three hours and 56 minutes of battery life, which made it ten minutes better than IE Touch. Chrome was the worst performing browser in this test, dying before the three and a half hour mark.

  • HP Pavilion dv7 laptop

The lone laptop in the test is also the only used device. The battery life was described as poor and even the top performing browser couldn’t last 90-minutes. It also featured a quad-core Intel Core processor. It also had 6 GB of RAM and a much larger hard drive than the tablets. The original battery had been replaced with a generic that fit the same specs. Once again, IE’d Desktop browser was the top performer at an hour and 25 minutes. The difference between the top browser and the worst, IE’s Touch, however was a scant 12-minutes.

The findings from this test suggest that Internet Explorer will likely give your device a longer battery life. Depending on the age of your device and the efficiency of your battery, a different browser might not make much of a difference, however.

If your device is suffering from poor battery life, slow performance or broken hardware, fix it by calling Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.