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Ransomware is Still a Major Problem in 2019 | A+ Computer Repairs

Ransomware is Still a Major Problem in 2019

Even though the “cryptojacking” cyber threat has been dominating news headlines over the last couple of months, ransomware is a risk that computer users in the High Desert should keep in mind. The spectacularly damaging WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware attacks that took place in 2017 and 2018 are unlikely to be repeated because information security experts have developed adequate countermeasures, but cybercrime groups are still launching these attacks under a new business model.

The Latest Trends in Modern Cybercrime

Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) and “decryptor” protection rackets two of the latest trends emerging in the cybercrime world. RaaS is a profitable cloud-based malware deployment model operated by organized cybercrime groups, mostly from Russia. In essence, RaaS offers ransomware packages that can be purchased and managed from an online dashboard. The players of the RaaS world include malware coders, platform operators, affiliates, and clients. The prices of RaaS packages range between $45 and $700; affiliates bring clients to RaaS platforms on a commission basis, and clients are expected to provide their own victims.

One of the advantages of RaaS is that it gives platform operators more time to focus on coding malware and fine-tuning their distribution strategies. The RaaS model also makes this particular cyber threat more dangerous. As for the functionality of RaaS packages, they do not deviate from the intended goal: to encrypt all files in a personal computing device and to present a ransom note demanding payment in Bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency in exchange for a decryption key.

“Decryptors” Scams Threatens People with Cyberattacks

Speaking of decryption keys, information security experts are warning about the rise of “decryptors” and intimidating emails offering these tools. Decryptors are free tools released by law enforcement agencies and cyber security teams for the purpose of removing the encryption applied by ransomware. Scammers are taking advantage of decryptors by either selling them or sending emails demanding payment from victims even if they have not been affected by ransomware. The rationale of the decryptor protection racket is to scare victims into believing that they are “next-in-line” in a ransomware attack, which they can ostensibly avoid if they pay in advance or purchase a decryption tool.

The best protection against ransomware attacks is to follow a reliable data backup strategy. When your data is safely backed up to an external location, there is no need to heed ransom demands if your computer is infected with ransomware and your files are encrypted; you can always format the hard drive, reinstall the operating systems and recover from a backup. For more information about backup strategies that really work, contact A Plus Computers today.
Custom Computer Builds Regain Popularity Among PC Gaming Enthusiasts

Custom Computer Builds Regain Popularity Among PC Gaming Enthusiasts

Video gaming platforms go through trends and cycles. In the early 1980s, it took a while for video game consoles to establish market dominance over arcade machines. Once compact disc and DVD technology became part of desktop computing, game developers turned their attention to releasing elaborate PC titles; this started a Golden Age of PC gaming that lasted until about 2007, and during which time custom computer builds became popular.

PC Gaming vs. Console Gaming

Consoles have ruled the video gaming market for more than a decade, but this cycle seems to be coming to an end. PC gaming is once again on the rise, and this trend is being boosted by both virtual reality and the internet.

Game development firms have been showing great interest in the VR segment and the rising popularity of video streaming, and these technologies are better handled by custom PC gaming rigs than by consoles. Even though VR headsets are supported by both Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox systems, the experience is far superior on a custom computer that has been built specifically for gaming. As for live streaming of tournaments or producing video tutorials or game runs, seasoned YouTube and Twitch pros will tell you that a custom gaming desktop is the way to go.

The Future of Computer Gaming

An interesting aspect of VR gaming is that it is bringing back full motion video, a game design trend that was very popular in the 1990s with titles such as Sewer Shark and Night Trap for the Sega CD console. Gamers too young to remember FMV, which essentially consists of filmed scenes performed by actors, are discovering this trend through special titles such as “Groundhog Day VR,” which is a sequel to the cult film starring Bill Murray. With “Groundhog Day VR,” viewers are transformed into game players who can control part of the story and determine the outcome of the movie.

Filmmakers see plenty of enticing opportunities related to the nexus of VR gaming and movies; to this effect, they want to work with game development studios that can push the boundaries of technology. What this means for PC gaming fans is that now is the right time for investing in a custom-built gaming rig that can truly handle VR. To learn more about your custom computer options in the High Desert, get in touch with one of our technicians today.
Fake Pizza Coupons and Beyond the Grave: New Malware Threats | A+ Computers

Fake Pizza Coupons and Beyond the Grave: New Malware Threats

Two new cyber threats have been detected by information security firms in early March; one of them appears to be part of a hacktivist campaign while the other involves fake Little Caesars pizza coupons.

A computer virus known as “Beyond the Grave” has been targeting hedge funds as well as associated attorneys, investors, and financial firms. Stealing username and password credentials seems to be the goal of this cyber attack, which starts with a sophisticated phishing campaign.

The hedge funds already affected by Beyond the Grave are known to invest in companies and sectors that work with the United States government, which suggests political motives. The victims are initially contacted by means of email messages purportedly sent by a market research firm seeking input about the ongoing Brexit situation. Each message includes a link that appears to correspond to a legitimate financial research company, but in reality, the website delivers a JavaScript payload coded to steal username and password combinations.

Protect Your Personal Data from Cyber Attacks

The other cyber threat reported in March is propagating by means of Facebook updates, and it has appropriated the logo and branding of American pizza delivery chain Little Caesars, which will celebrate six decades of operation later this year. This particular attack is made to look like a special coupon from Little Caesars that purportedly grants Facebook users an opportunity to claim three large pizzas as part of the company’s 60th anniversary celebrations. This particular cyber threat appears to be incomplete since users who clicked on the fake coupon failed to be redirected to a website where malware would be injected; nonetheless, Little Caesars executives are urging people to avoid clicking on such Facebook posts.

While the specific malware fingerprint of the Little Caesars cyber threat has not been determined, antivirus software providers have already updated their definition databases to detect Beyond the Grave malware. All of the malicious code samples related to Beyond the Grave match known malware, and they have replicating features that make them true computer virus threat. What this means for computer users in the High Desert targeted with a Beyond the Grave attack is that they could end up infecting others in their home or office wireless network; moreover, they could also unwittingly contribute to malware propagation through their email contact lists.

Keeping your personal computing devices safe these days requires a preventative strategy that includes the right antivirus program, but some modern malware variants are known to be coded with stealth routines for the purpose of avoiding detection. If you believe your computer system has been infected with malware, contact our information security technicians.
Apple Continues to Fight Against Independent Repair Shops

Apple Continues to Fight Against Independent Repair Shops

Despite getting negative press reports about the practice, tech giant Apple continues to suppress services rendered by shops that are not aligned with the Apple Store or the company’s very small network of authorized repair partners. In late 2018, Antonio Villas-Boas of Business Insider wrote about his experience repairing his wife’s MacBook Pro after an accidental spill: the Apple Store quoted him $1,500, but he chose the $425 service quoted by an independent repair shop.

Independent Repair Services

The aforementioned repair consisted of replacing a single chip on the MacBook Pro’s motherboard. The problem was that the liquid that seeped past the keyboard ended up corroding a small section, but the Apple Store planned on replacing the entire logic board. In the end, the Apple Store repair would have cost the same as a refurbished MacBook Pro, and the independent repair shop had an interesting story to tell about it.

It so happened that the New York City repair shop in the Business Insider article is operated by a man whose Apple repair videos are very popular on YouTube. The shop has made the news because the United States Customs and Border Protection agency has previously seized shipments of used Apple parts destined for his repair center. The CBP explanation for the seizure is that the products displayed the Apple logo, thus making them potentially counterfeit instead of aftermarket parts.

Apple Continues Its Fight Against Third Party Repairs

Apple has long been opposed to right-to-repair legislation that would break the company’s virtual monopoly on parts and service. One of the problems that customers see with this business model is that when Apple declares products to have become vintage, not even the Genius Bar at the Apple Store will touch them. In this case, local repair shops and aftermarket parts become a necessity.

The bottom line of Apple product repair is that you should go to an Apple Store first to check on the status of your warranty; there may be a chance that your repair may come out being free. If you purchased an AppleCare+ plan, the Apple Store should also be your first choice, but if you are quoted what seems to be an outrageous price for what seems to be an easy repair, bring your iPhone, iPad, MacBook, or Mac to A Plus Computers. We may be able to diagnose the issue and offer a solution.
Upcoming Windows 10 Update May Take Up More Disk Space Than Usual

Upcoming Windows 10 Update May Take Up More Disk Space Than Usual

Microsoft has announced that previews of its next major upgrade to Windows 10 will soon be released to users in the insider program. Among the upcoming features, one that stands out is called Reserved Space.

Windows 10 Becomes Bigger and Bigger

Windows 10 is a very large operating system that seems to be getting fatter with each major update, which is something that happens twice a year. During the early months of Windows 10, when Microsoft offered free upgrades to millions of users around the world, hard drive space became an issue for older desktops and laptops. Since running low on storage can affect operating system performance, Microsoft’s decision to introduce the Windows 10 Reserved Space feature makes sense; however, it is expected to take up as much as 7 GB of space.

The hard drive space expected to be allocated and managed by Windows 10 will mostly consist of temporary system files and update packages. The operating system will take care of deleting previous update files, patches, and fixes that are no longer used. While this feature makes sense insofar as Windows 10 having enough room for system files and future upgrades, the 7 GB may be too much for some users. There are ways you can reduce the space that this new feature will claim from your hard drive even before the Windows 10 update is rolled out in April.

How to Free Up Space for Windows Updates

From the Settings section of the Windows Start Menu, you can select Apps followed by Optional Features to delete things you are not really using and have no intentions of using in the future. You can also apply a similar strategy by visiting the Time and Region section of the Settings menu, where you can delete unused language packs.

Digital storage management is becoming more challenging because everything from apps to files and from utilities to operating systems are getting larger. It’s not just Windows taking up a lot of space; web browsers and other programs that rely on cache folders can also consume significant hard drive space. When you bring your desktop or laptop to A Plus Computers for an optimization service, our technicians will look for ways to maximize disk space. Backing up files and upgrading to a hard drive with more capacity is another option, and if you think Windows 10 is simply too large for your taste, a small Linux desktop distribution could be a smart solution.
Smart Homes in 2017: Why Security Matters

Smart Homes in 2017: Why Security Matters

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, tech journalists were excited by the prospect of smart home automation, which is set to have its breakthrough year in 2017. If you have thought about welcoming smart appliances and other devices into your Apple Valley home, 2017 would be a good starting point; nonetheless, you should also think about approaching this idea with security in mind.

Modern Cybercrime Threats

One quick review of two major cybersecurity incidents that took place in 2016 should be enough to convince Apple Valley homeowners that smart home automation is a concept that can be exploited by malicious hackers. In October 2016, a botnet consisting of smart home devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) resulted in major internet outages across a few regions of the United States. Months before that incident, dozens of printers connected to university campus networks were hijacked by a hacker who proceeded to print pages filled with antisemitic and profane messages.

Information security experts are rightfully concerned about the issues created by smart home automation. One of the problems in this regard is the plug-and-play nature of many smart home devices that encourage do-it-yourself installations; most people do not pay attention to the security of their home networks and will simply connect new devices without checking for potential vulnerabilities.

Network Security for Smart Homes

In 2016, cybersecurity researchers from the University of Michigan were able to breach a Samsung smart home network and obtained the PIN code of the front door’s electronic lock. Once inside a smart home network, hackers could disable security cameras, sensors, and alarms, and they could also access personal information left by family members on the smart refrigerator’s digital notepad.

At the CES 2017, computer security firm Symantec introduced its first-ever hardware product: a secure router and firewall for smart home networks. This product arrives at a great time; after all, nearly 30 million new smart home devices are expected to be connected to the IoT this year.

Secure routers are a good start in making smart home networks safer; however, the diversity of devices that can be connected requires closer scrutiny in terms of security settings. Each smart home device must be considered an addition to the attack surfaces that hackers seek to breach; for this reason, the security of each device must be ascertained.

If you are thinking about a smart home network in Apple Valley or elsewhere in the High Desert, A Plus Computers can help you with installation and security.
New and Sophisticated Malware Exclusively Targets macOS Users | PC Repair

New and Sophisticated Malware Exclusively Targets macOS Users

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.

Better Late Than Never: The Windows 10 October 2018 Update | PC Repair

Better Late Than Never: The Windows 10 October 2018 Update

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.

Should You Repair, Reuse, Recycle, or Replace Your Old Computer in 2019?

Should You Repair, Reuse, Recycle, or Replace Your Old Computer in 2019?

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.

Major Issues Delay Windows 10 October Update Fixes Once Again

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.