Posted on January 18, 2019 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
One of the biggest misconceptions often heard by information security experts is related to Apple products, particularly those that run on the macOS platform formerly known as OS X. Quite a few Mac users in the High Desert and across the world somehow believe that they are impervious to malware attacks, and this is a dangerous urban legend that has emanated from incorrect persuasions such as:
Mac desktops and MacBooks are more secure than Windows devices.
Cybercrime groups do not focus on macOS because it is not as popular as Windows.
XProtect, an antivirus feature introduced with OS X Snow Leopard a few years ago, is good enough to protect Macs and MacBooks.
Apple developers are constantly updating XProtect for the purpose of keeping macOS devices safe.
Aside from the assertion that macOS is not as popular as Windows, the assumptions listed above were proven to be false by Windshift, an advanced persistent threat that has quietly infected an unknown number of macOS devices over the last two years. Windshift is believed to have been developed by a shadowy hacking group in the Middle East; it is mostly an espionage operation that uses a combination of email, text messages and URL redirects to keep track of victims. The level of sophistication observed by information security experts suggests that the group responsible for Windshift may be linked to government operations.
The Dangers of Windshift & Other macOS Viruses
The problem with Windshift is that it routinely goes undetected by most antivirus software, including Apple’s own XProtect. In a recent analysis conducted by cybercrime researchers, a Windshift file titled Meeting_Agenda.zip was found to be detected only by the ZoneAlarm and Kaspersky antivirus software products. What is even more alarming about Windshift is that Apple security experts seem to be aware of it but have not shared their findings with major antivirus software developers.
What is known about Windshift is that it attempts to spy on all the digital activity of infected devices, and this may extend to synchronized iPads and iPhones. Documents are being copied, messages are being read, and screenshots are being taken by Windshift’s targets, typically users with Middle Eastern backgrounds or whose online activity links them to people from that geographic region.
If you use Apple macOS or iOS products in the High Desert, you should not fall for the myth about your devices being safer than Windows counterparts. To make sure you are adequately protected in 2019, get in touch with our security specialists at A Plus Computers.
Posted on January 11, 2019 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
After an embarrassing series of bugs, technical issues, delays, and mishap, Microsoft finally announced a wide release of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, which became safely available to all desktops, laptops, tablets, and hybrid devices two months after the failed initial roll-out. A couple of positive developments emerged from this problematic Windows update, and they are worth discussing.
Microsoft has been very transparent about all the issues plaguing the Windows 10 update. Whereas in the past the company would have been disconcerted and cryptic with regard to technical issues, Microsoft’s support team was very responsive and proactive in addressing all the problems caused by the update. The company went as far as developing blocking strategies for users who may have been negatively impacted by the update; for example, if a certain motherboard or chipset were creating display or security issues, the Windows 10 update would not have been available even if users attempted a forced installation. The way Microsoft is able to control the flow of updates is by means of telemetry, the technology built into Windows 10 to send technical reports over the internet.
Windows 10 Update Highlights
There are many reasons to install the Windows 10 October 2018 Update in the New Year, and one of them is the upgraded feature known as “Your Phone.” If you are or were the proud owner of a Lumia smartphone equipped with Windows Continuum, which has sadly been discontinued, you will certainly like Your Phone, a feature that lets you send and receive text messages as well as manage digital photographs right from your Windows 10 device. At this time, only Android smartphone users can use Windows 10 Your Phone; iPhone users will have to wait, but the reviews have thus far been very encouraging.
If you perform a clean install with the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, you will get an improved Start Menu experience along with the Windows Sandbox, a feature that lets you run applications and executable code within a safe environment.
Dark Mode is another nifty feature that you may want to enable after updating; it can be accessed from the Start Menu – Settings window, and it can be found under “default app mode.” From here, you can choose between Light and Dark Modes; however, additional settings must be set for individual apps such as Microsoft Office.
At A Plus Computers in Apple Valley, our technicians are ready to answer your Windows 10 questions. Optimization after the October 2018 Update is highly recommended; contact our office today to make your computer run smoother in 2019.
Posted on January 4, 2019 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
Desktops, laptops and hybrid devices were some of the hottest items gifted this holiday season, and this means that many people across the High Desert are now contemplating what they should do with their old computers. If this is your situation after the New Year, you have a few options besides throwing away your old devices, which is something you want to avoid since it will only add to the growing problem of electronic waste.
Recycling Your Old Devices
All High Desert cities offer recycling programs designed to mitigate electronic waste accumulation. The Town of Apple Valley runs a household hazardous waste facility that operates most Saturdays from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. In Hesperia, electronic waste collection events take place behind Eagle Plaza on a couple of days every three months. In Victorville, the e-waste collection point is located behind the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, and items are received on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Reusing Your Old Devices
For the most part, we want our computers to do everything, or at least as much as possible. An old Windows or even Mac computer can be given a new purpose with the right repair or upgrade strategy; for example, you can turn it into a smart home automation hub, a home theater media center, a gaming PC for young children, or a basic workstation for web browsing. Depending on the condition of your old devices, you may need upgrades or repairs so that they can serve their new purpose; one option in this regard may include installing a new version of Linux so that the device can optimally perform. You should not feel uneasy about giving Linux a try if your computer is a few years old; this open-source operating system shares many features and functions with Windows and macOS.
The question of how much to spend on repairing and upgrading an old computer can be determined by its intended purpose. In general, your upgrade and repair options should be limited to RAM, the main drive, network adapter, power supply, and cooling system. Upgrading the CPU or motherboard would be going overboard; in this case, you would be better off with a custom-built PC.
If you are interested in keeping your old computers and giving them a new purpose, A Plus Computers will be happy to help you. Contact our PC technicians today to discuss repair and upgrade options for your old machines.
Posted on December 17, 2018 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
It has been more than two months since Microsoft made a difficult but ultimately wise decision to indefinitely postpone the release of its Windows 10 October Update, and it looks as if the delay will continue well into December. The 1809 Update has been plagued with bugs; some were mildly irritating while others affected overall performance and even compromised security. After a couple of releases were halted, Microsoft rolled out the update again in November, but even more issues have been reported since then.
The Latest Issues with Windows 10 Updates
The latest issues detected and acknowledged by Microsoft are related to the Windows Media Player app as well as drivers coded for devices powered by Intel processors. The problem can be specifically traced to cumulative updates, which are smaller fixes released specifically to deal with previous issues. With regard to the Media Player issue, Windows engineers have acknowledged that users are not able to access the Seek Bar when playing certain files. Until Microsoft can fix this issue, Windows 10 users can install and use another media player such as the extremely reliable VLC.
As for the problem related to Intel drivers, many users have reported a complete audio loss that affects users connecting to external displays by means of USB-C, HDMI or the new DisplayPort connectors. In this case, poor coding by Microsoft is not the issue; Intel has admitted that its new set of drivers may activate unsupported features on some devices. Intel processors were not the only ones affected in this ongoing Windows 10 Update ordeal; if you use equipment powered by AMD graphics cards and have installed the OfficeScan antivirus software by Trend Micro, you will likely experience difficulties such as INVALID_POINTER_READ_c0000005_atidxx64 errors, issues with Microsoft Edge, and even getting stuck on the lock screen.
Various Bugs Affecting Windows Users
A more pernicious bug noticed in November affects users of the iCloud data synchronization service, which includes millions of iPhone users. The problem is tied to the new Shared Albums functionality of Windows 10, and Microsoft went as far as blocking the October update for users who have iCloud installed. If you notice that your Windows 10 has not updated since October, the chances are that you have one of the aforementioned issues.
Windows 10 users in the High Desert who are experiencing difficulties with their devices after the updates can contact A Plus Computers in Apple Valley to discuss a solution. In some cases, rolling back to a state prior to the flawed update can fix the issue, but it is highly recommended to allow the update to install once Microsoft has fixed the various bugs.
Posted on December 10, 2018 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
Online retail activity tends to be higher during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but this does not stop millions of Americans from extending their internet shopping throughout December. The holiday shopping season is highly anticipated not just by consumers but also by cybercrime groups who specialize in identity theft. If you suspect that your desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet devices are not updated and secure, you should not be using them for online shopping because malicious hackers have become extremely sophisticated and can exploit weaknesses in your system.
Before getting started with your holiday shopping, you should strongly consider contacting A Plus Computers in Apple Valley to schedule a computer diagnosis service, which happens to be free. Should our technicians find issues that would put you at risk while shopping on e-commerce websites over the holidays, adequate recommendations will be made. Aside from checking that the operating system and web browsers are updated with all security fixes, our technicians also look for traces of malware that may have gone undetected by antivirus programs.
With the above in mind, here are a few strategies that internet scammers are planning on using against you this holiday season:
Dear Santa Letters
In recent years, hackers have set up slick-looking websites purportedly offering customized responses from Santa Claus to children who send those perennially sweet Dear Santa letters. These sites ostensibly ask for small donations in exchange for credit card information, and this is when identity theft takes place. Your best bet in this regard is to only deal with companies vetted by the Better Business Bureau.
Bogus Shipping Notifications
Seasonal Job Offers
Hackers know that making a few extra dollars during the holidays is very tempting, and for this reason, they will compose phishing attacks purporting to be job offers for part-time work. If the positions are for local establishments, make it a point to call them or apply in person. If your antivirus system has a link evaluation system, you should keep it activated while browsing the web over the holidays.
Posted on December 3, 2018 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
For the gamer, graphic designer, filmmaker, musician, architect, developer, or engineer in your life, a custom computer build is one of the best gifts you can think about this holiday season, and now you have an advantage related to the fall of the cryptocurrency market. With the exchange price of Bitcoin having reached record low levels in November, operators of mining pools have stopped gobbling up the most powerful graphics cards on the market, which means that they are back in stock and have returned to normal pricing.
While the majority of custom-made PCs are built for gaming, there is an important segment of digital photo and video editors who also need powerful rigs. Apple recently introduced its latest iMac Pro and MacBook Pro devices, but even the six-core processor running on 32GB of modern RAM may not be enough for 3D rendering and other complex video production tasks. What you really want for composite editing that flies is an Intel i9 7900X processor mounted on an Asus X299 motherboard, and these two components cost less than the MacBook Pro while delivering far more performance. For a graphics card, you can go with the better Nvidia option instead of having to settle for Apple’s choice of AMD.
The Strengths of Custom Gaming PCs
For gamers, the allure of a custom rig is that it will be one step ahead of most off-the-shelf systems, which are generally priced to be underwhelming and may not be able to play the most demanding AAA titles or virtual reality games to their full glory. Not many store-bought systems will be able to deliver 4K resolutions and 100 frames per second; if this is your goal, custom computer builds are your only choice; depending on the configuration you choose, the cash you save can be put towards cool peripherals such as special mouse and keyboard combinations, VR headsets and surround sound systems.
If you wish to surprise a loved one with a custom computer build, make a note of the games they play or the programs they use for graphics, video, sound, or software development; our PC technicians will be able to design a powerful system that is within your holiday budget. As for the case, you get to choose one with lots of flairs that will match the style of your loved one’s office, bedroom or gaming space. Custom computer builds are long-lasting gifts that can always be upgraded in the future.
Posted on November 19, 2018 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
When it comes to the repair of computers and other electronic devices, some manufacturers tend to be overzealous. Case in point: Apple and the new MacBook Pros, beautiful pieces of hardware that feature a hidden “kill switch mechanism” that renders them inoperable if they are opened for repairs by unauthorized technicians.
“Right to Repair”
For years, consumers and repair shops across the United States have been clamoring for the enactment of “right to repair” laws to prevent situations such as the aforementioned MacBook Pro kill switch, which is essentially software that reports repair activity to Apple’s servers and checks whether it was performed at an Apple Store or by one of its few authorized repair centers. Imagine powering down your MacBook Pro to replace a faulty charging port only to end up with a bricked device the next time you connect to the internet; this is what “right to repair” laws aim to prevent.
According to a recent article published by PC Gamer, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress have revised rules within the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for the purpose of allowing computer owners to circumvent digital rights management schemes that lock them out of repairing their systems. Essentially, it is now legal for you to “hack” the Apple kill switch software so that you can repair your MacBook Pro.
Setting the Legal Precedent
There is still a lot of legislative work to be done with regard to “right to repair” laws, but this recent development is a good first step; in fact, it has helped a MacBook repair video achieve viral status in Canada. The video in question shows a teenager whose MacBook presented display issues; when the young Apple device owner went to his local Genius Bar, he was quoted more than $1,000 for repairs that included replacing the graphics card and motherboard. After consulting with a local technician who is a popular YouTube personality, the teen learned that his MacBook could be repaired by replacing an $11 cable.
As 2018 comes to an end, activists who support “right to repair” laws are feeling confident that lawmakers will continue to listen to their reasonable demands. This is a win-win situation for consumers and computer repair shops alike because the Genius Bar and Geek Squad business models have been proven to be less than transparent and ideal. If you have issues with your Apple devices, contact A Plus Computers in Apple Valley to discuss your repair options.
Posted on November 12, 2018 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
As we head into the final months of the year, information security firms are starting to compile cyber attack data in an effort to detect cybercrime and malware trends. The goal is to get an idea about the potential direction malicious hackers may take in the near future. The year 2018 has been problematic because hackers have had access to leaked cyber warfare weapons developed by American intelligence agencies; these leaks date back to 2016 and have been widely disseminated.
The aforementioned leaks have resulted in malware that is more sophisticated and destructive. Here are some of the most dangerous examples seen thus far this year:
This troublemaking piece of ransomware wreaked havoc around the world in 2017 and has not stopped since. A perfect example of how damaging the NSA and CIA leaks have been; WannaCry features a Windows exploit built on the EternalBlue framework of the NSA, but it has been perfected through the removal of a remote kill switch feature. The best protection against WannaCry and all other kinds of ransomware are to implement a solid backup strategy.
This is an example of malware that does not require the installation of files to do damage. Kovter spreads through a series of Visual Basic macros hidden in Microsoft Office documents, and it is most often used to commit click fraud. With this malware, infected users do not realize that their PCs have been hijacked to visit websites and click on ads.
Cryptocurrency mining malware is the latest trend in cybercrime, and it often targets enterprise computers that run Windows 10 Pro. CoinMiner thrives on enterprise servers and spreads with the assistance of the EternalBlue exploit. Infected users with powerful machines may not even realize that CoinMiner is using up their computing resources to mine controversial digital currencies such as Monero and Dash.
Also known as Zeus, this Trojan malware is particularly dangerous because of its modular nature, which means that it assembles itself from snippets of code injected when victims visit a malicious website. Once installed, Zbot acts as a keystroke logger that captures username and password information when victims log into banking websites. Zbot is a good argument for using two-factor authentication.
If you feel that your desktop or laptop needs a security audit, contact A Plus Computers in Apple Valley to ensure that your firewall and antivirus combination is up-to-date; moreover, you should also think about a dependable data backup solution.
Posted on November 5, 2018 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
Information security analysts monitoring the situation ahead of the midterm elections in the United States have determined that hackers working on behalf of the Kremlin intend to continue interfering with the American democratic process, and one of their proven strategies involves taking advantage of unsecured home networks.
For the most part, cyber attacks perpetrated by Russian hackers against residential wireless networks do not necessarily target members of households; the primary goal is to use the network and IP addresses for the purpose of conducting political attacks. State elections systems already block IP address ranges originating from Russia and other regions are known to be adversaries of the U.S., but they cannot block local IPs because voters need to register and obtain information about upcoming elections.
Armed with local internet connections, hackers can obtain voter registration data, inject malware or carry out distributed denial of service attacks in an effort to derail elections. The trophy attack for these political hackers would be to infiltrate a network that is connected to electronic voting machines.
Precautions for Computer Users in the High Desert
What residents of the High Desert should keep in mind that political hackers can also carry out traditional cybercrime activity such as stealing username and password data as well as personal information for identity theft purposes. The Kremlin has been known to strike partnerships with cybercrime groups and allow them to conduct malicious hacking along with political activity; this is done to sow confusion and obfuscation.
Many hackers find it too easy to infiltrate home networks because they are poorly secured. If your wireless router was installed on a plug-and-play basis years ago and without changing the default password, the chances are that your home network is at risk, but there are other situations that may apply even if your Wi-Fi network was recently installed and the router password was changed. Now that smart home automation devices are becoming popular, homeowners are connecting them to their wireless networks without paying attention to potential security issues.
Secure Home Networks and All Devices
Any device that connects to your home Wi-Fi network can become a dangerous endpoint for hackers to exploit. One of the problems with smart home devices such as IP cameras, light bulbs, refrigerators, home theater systems, and even video game consoles is that many manufacturers fail to remind consumers about security measures that should be taken during the installation process.
If you have questions about home network security or would like to audit your smart home automation devices, feel free to contact our security specialists. Keep in mind that it is never too late to make your home network safer.
Posted on October 16, 2018 by Apple Valley Computer Staff in Our News with Comments Disabled
A couple of years ago, Universal Serial Bus technology celebrated two decades of existence with the announcement of USB Type C, a full-duplex implementation for the third generation of this computing standard. USB ports can be found in standard, mini and micro sizes on computing devices ranging from desktop computers to smartphones and from peripherals to IoT components.
Common Problems with USB Connections
Thanks to the advanced technology and convenience of USB ports in terms of connectivity and functionality, we tend to take them for granted. Since USB ports are not known to malfunction or stop working often, many users think that the connecting devices may be at fault; however, it should be noted that USB issues can be caused by hardware failure, operating system conflicts or CPU degradation.
When connecting USB devices to a desktop or laptop, the first action most users take after noticing an issue is to test another port; if this solves the problem, the hardware failure could be isolated to just one port. If none of the ports seem to be working, this could be a driver or operating system configuration issue. Connected devices that suddenly stop working when plugged into various ports may indicate a motherboard or CPU issue, particularly older systems that freeze or turn off without warning.
Repairing USB Ports
A loose USB port that appears to be coming off its casing is a hardware issue that requires soldering; this is not a very complex repair. When one or all USB ports are not responding, rebooting or a hard reset may solve the problem, and this is for all Microsoft, Apple or Android operating systems. In some cases, the USB port may not be at fault at all; turning the device on and off will force the operating system to scan again and install drivers as needed.
USB host controller issues are notorious in computers powered by the Microsoft Windows operating system, particularly Windows 7. If you are familiar with Device Manager settings, you can try uninstalling the USB host controllers and rebooting Windows to look for an updated version. In other cases, a Windows Registry key may present an incorrect value; this usually happens in relation to a battery power saving scheme. USB ports that stop working after a thunderstorm may indicate a power supply or voltage distribution problem that requires hardware repair.
If your desktop, laptop or mobile device is affected by any of the aforementioned issues, our technicians will be happy to take a look.