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How to Tell When You've Been Hacked | High Desert Computer Repairs

How to Tell When You’ve Been Hacked

Ransomware attacks, one of the latest trends in cybercrime, are not subtle at all. Hackers who intrude upon networks for the purpose of infecting them with ransomware make it a point of letting their victims know that their data has been compromised and that it could be destroyed unless a ransom payment is made.

Most cybercrime attacks are designed to be surreptitious. Ransomware is an exception based on what the hackers intend to achieve; in fact, a new ransomware strain detected by computer security researchers in late March actually used Star Trek imagery as part of the ransom message. Aside from ransomware, website defacement, hacktivism, and cyber vandalism, malicious cyber attacks are meant to be silent.

When your antivirus program notifies you that a threat has been neutralized, this means that a cybercrime incident was averted. Hackers are constantly working on ways to circumvent detection; if a computer virus or some other malware infects your system, you should not automatically assume that your antivirus has failed you. In many cases, the attack may have originated externally, or a change in your device’s configuration may be to blame. With this in mind, here are some red flags that may indicate a cyber attack:

Strange Purchase Transactions

Hackers are increasing their attacks on networks where they can access personal financial records; some examples include banks and online retail stores. If you receive an email notification alerting of a credit or debit card purchase that you did not make, this could be a sign of an external attack.

Your System Drastically Slows Down

Cryptocurrency miner attacks are on the rise; cybercrime groups have been infecting systems with malware designed to take advantage of computing and broadband resources for the purpose of mining digital currencies such as Monero, Dash, Ripple, and Bitcoin. If your Windows 10 Task Manager shows that CPU utilization is at more than 50 percent when you do not have any programs running, there is a chance that a malicious process could be hijacking system resources to mine cryptocurrency or to spread malware.

Sudden Shutdown or Restart Routines

Personal computing devices can be expected to suddenly shut down or restart from time to time. If this happens once or twice every couple of months, you should not be concerned. If it happens weekly or daily, this could be mean that malware is taking over your system.

If you notice any of the red flags listed herein, there is a chance that your system or online accounts have been compromised. Contact the security technicians at A Plus Computers in Apple Valley to learn more about keeping your computing devices safe.
GTA V and The Rise of Custom Gaming PCs | Apple Valley Computer Repair

GTA V and The Rise of Custom Gaming PCs

The latest chapter in the Grand Theft Auto franchise has proven to be one of the most influential video games of all times. GTA V broke global sales records within days of its release in 2013, and it seems as if this game is not quite done selling copies. More than 15 million copies of GTA V were sold in 2017, and the online version of the game reached its maximum player count back in December.

Another interesting fact about GTA V is that its high levels of graphical detail have made it the new benchmark title for players who are into building powerful custom gaming rigs. In early 2018, GTA fans started posting comparison videos of the game running on the Microsoft Xbox console and on a custom computer built specifically to handle 4K resolution at 60 frames per second and with a special graphics mod.

Custom Gaming Rigs Popularized By The Latest Games

The YouTube videos comparing the console and custom gaming PC versions of GTA V have attracted thousands of views and comments from gamers who are happy to see desktop gaming making a strong comeback.

Playing GTA V on a custom computer build is an experience that cannot be replicated on even the most advanced video game console. It should be noted that the GTA V developers delayed the PC version by two years because they wanted to push the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine to its limits; as such, this game is one of the most demanding in terms of hardware and performance.

The graphics settings within GTA V can be adjusted all the way up to “Maximum” level, which would involve playing on the monitor with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels and with a frame rate above 90 fps. Some of the RAGE settings that can be appreciated at this graphical level include:

  • High texture quality that really brings out the natural beauty of San Andreas, the fictional version of Southern California in the game.
  • TX Anti-Aliasing: this feature eliminates all flickering and sudden shifts of game objects.
  • High-resolution shadows that are truly crisp, particularly when the game unfolds during a sunset.
  • Distance scaling eliminates the fog on the horizon and makes everything look natural.
  • NPC population: with a powerful custom gaming PC, GTA V comes alive with high numbers of people going about their business on the streets of San Andreas.

Some of the aforementioned YouTube videos claim that a $10,000 custom gaming rig was used to make the comparison against the Xbox; in reality, A Plus Computers can build a powerful gaming rig that can handle GTA V for far less than that.

Common Repair Policies for Computers Under Warranty | Apple Valley Computers

Common Repair Policies for Computers Under Warranty

Most computer buyers will not complete their purchases without first inquiring about the type of warranty that will cover their new equipment. Manufacturer warranties are pretty much standard for off-the-shelf and custom-built systems; in some cases, refurbished computers may also include a limited warranty offered by the store or the service center. In other cases, electronic retailers may offer service and maintenance plans that can be purchased for the purpose of augmenting equipment warranties.

For the most part, warranties extended by computer manufacturers are comprehensive, which means that buyers may get a replacement system if certain issues cannot be repaired within the coverage period. Warranties typically last anywhere between six months and a year, although companies such as Apple are known to offer longer terms.

The Most Convenient Way to Repair Personal Computers

Even though the personal computing industry dates back to the previous century, its warranty system has never been able to match the convenience that the automotive and home appliance industries provide. Computer owners would certainly like being able to take their devices to a local repair shop and even get a temporary loaner; however, this is hardly the case. With the exception of Apple device owners who purchase special maintenance plans for their Macs, PowerBooks, iPhones, and iPads, most computer warranties require device owners to get in touch with a call center and try to resolve the problem via remote tech support before shipping the computer to a repair hub. A more convenient process is available to those who purchase a maintenance plan since this allows them to take their devices to a retailer that has a service department, but even in this situation, their computers are often shipped to a repair hub if the issue cannot be resolved locally.

Local repair shops such as A Plus Computers in Apple Valley offer a convenient option for computer owners who feel that exercising their warranties will be cumbersome. Quite a few repair and maintenance services can be performed without voiding the warranty, and many issues can be solved a lot faster than when the computer has to be shipped.

The moment a computer owner exercises the device warranty, the manufacturer is bound to perform the required repairs. Should the warranty expire after the issue is reported or while repairs are still being performed, the manufacturer has to honor it.

In recent years, the scope of repairs covered under computer warranties has become limited. If your system has an issue that falls outside of the warranty, contact our repair technicians at A Plus Computers.

Ransomware is the New 21st Century Extortion Industry | Victorville Computers

Ransomware is the New 21st Century Extortion Industry

Ransomware infections were the most painful headaches that information security experts had to deal with in 2017, and the same can be said about this particular cyber threat in 2018. Ransomware has proven to be one of the most profitable revenue channels for malicious hackers and cybercrime groups, and there are various reasons why computer users in the High Desert should be concerned.

The FBI estimates that more than a billion dollars have been paid by ransomware victims in recent years. When ransomware infections were first detected a few years ago, they were a variation of the online tech support scams that prompted victims to enter their credit or debit card numbers to allow a fake virus scan and removal utility to clean their systems. Quite a few hackers and criminals were caught running these scams because law enforcement investigators were able to track merchant processing accounts that the hackers used to accept card payments.

New Ways for Ransomware to Extort Ransom

With the introduction of Bitcoin and later other cryptocurrencies that allow anonymous payments to be made through blockchain technology, ransomware attacks increased exponentially. Although there are multiple variations of ransomware attacks, the underlying mechanism is the same: the target device is infected with malicious code that proceeds to encrypt files with a very strong encoding scheme such as RSA-2048, which means that decryption by brute force methods would be out of the question.

The ransom note displayed in these attacks directs victims to make payments to a cryptocurrency wallet in exchange for the keys needed to decrypt files. While many victims have made payments and received the keys, recent reports of ransomware attacks indicate that hackers are pocketing payments without issuing keys. One of the current problems with ransomware is the level of sophistication that hackers have attained in this regard; they are now able to distribute malicious code that is not detected by antivirus software, and they have learned various deployment techniques from cyber weapons stolen from the United States National Security Agency and the CIA.

The ultimate protection against ransomware is to properly configure systems so that they are constantly backing up data and making it available for easy recovery; by doing so, computer users who are infected by ransomware can ignore the extortion scheme by simply resetting their systems and restoring data from a secure backup. The challenge is to find the right backup solution for your system; external storage will work for some users while cloud backups will work for others. To learn more about keeping your data safe from ransomware attacks, contact A Plus Computers in Apple Valley today.
A Future Without Passwords, Thanks to Windows 10 | Apple Valley Computers

A Future Without Passwords, Thanks to Windows 10

Although there is no question that passwords have served a crucial service to society during the Information Age, most security researchers agree that the time has come to look for more hermetic measures of access control and data protection. Tech giant Microsoft has been working on new security measures to replace the standard username and password credentials that have proven to be vulnerable to hacking and identity theft; recently, the company announced a new version of its Windows 10 operating system that is being considered to be the first step towards a future without passwords.

Meet the Newest Versions of Microsoft’s Windows 10

Windows 10 S is a streamlined version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system; it was introduced with the Surface Laptop as a more secure environment for students. The debut of Windows 10 S locked users into installing apps exclusively from the Windows Store for the purpose of preventing malware from sneaking into their laptops. Additionally, Windows 10 S also restricted various operations that could further compromise the functioning of the operating system and underlying hardware.

The new version of Windows 10 S goes further in terms of protecting users by eliminating passwords altogether, and this is possible thanks to the Windows Hello security protocol. Even though Windows Hello has been around for a few years, Microsoft has mostly positioned this protocol, which is meant to provide biometrics security functionality, as an optional feature. With the new Windows 10 S, the feature is configured during the setup stage, which allows users to set up their desktop, portable and mobile devices so that they are protected by fingerprints, facial recognition or temporary PIN combinations.

Solutions Provided by Windows 10

Microsoft is working with other tech firms to establish Windows Hello as a computing standard; the ideal situation would be for banks, e-commerce sites, and cloud service providers to adopt this security protocol so that new accounts can only be created and accessed with fingerprints. Transitioning existing username/password accounts to biometrics will be a more extensive challenge; however, smartphone manufacturers are starting to incorporate fingerprint scanners in greater numbers.

Windows Hello can be enabled in other versions of the Windows 10 operating system. If your device has a built-in fingerprint scanner or facial recognition functionality, it is strongly recommended that you enable Windows Hello. You can also purchase peripheral fingerprint readers that connect to your computer’s USB ports and are meant to work with Windows Hello. If you need help configuring Windows Hello, contact A Plus Computers.
The Importance of Securing Smart Home Automation Networks | Victorville Networking

The Importance of Securing Smart Home Automation Networks

If you have installed at least one smart device or appliance in your household, the chances are that your smart home automation network will continue growing as you add more devices in the future, and this implies a greater security risk. Each time you connect a new device to your home network, you are essentially adding an attack vector for hackers to exploit; for this reason, properly securing your smart home network is essential.

From an information security point of view, a device connected to a smart home network could be just as vulnerable as a device connected to an office network; however, the difference is that individuals are less likely to implement adequate security measures at home than in business settings. Most smart home devices can be installed on a “plug-and-play” basis; this makes them more attractive to consumers, but it also creates a security risk.

Ensuring Security Within Smart Home Networks

When a new device is added to a smart home automation network, it becomes part of the Internet of Things, a massive global network of connected devices that have been of great interest to malicious hackers in recent years. Devices connected to the IoT have their own IP and MAC addresses, which means that they can be indexed, scanned and located; this is the same for computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and wireless printers that become part of Wi-Fi networks when they connect through routers. Hackers are constantly scanning the IoT in search of devices that they can access, exploit and manipulate; one of the dangers of the IoT was exposed in 2014 when Russian hackers launched a website streaming live video feeds of private webcams installed in homes around the world. In this particular case, hackers took advantage of the known default username and password combinations of installed cameras to redirect the digital video stream, and they even obtained the GPS coordinates of the homes where the devices were installed.

The problem with unsecured smart home networks is that hackers have multiple ways to exploit them; for example, if you set up an IP camera or baby monitor to capture photos and send them to your business email address, hackers could be able to figure out where you work, and they can also determine when you are not home. The last thing you want is to let hackers control smart home devices such as remote garage door openers and digital door locks.

If you want to ensure that your smart home network is as safe as it should be, contact the networking security specialists of A Plus Computers in Apple Valley.

What You Should Know About Spectre and Meltdown in the High Desert

What You Should Know About Spectre and Meltdown in the High Desert

In 2017, information security researchers from Google’s Project Zero and from European universities stumbled upon two major vulnerabilities in the architecture of microprocessors manufactured by Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, and other major chip makers. The two flaws are known as Meltdown and Spectre, and they could potentially present security risks to users of desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones powered by Microsoft, Apple and Linux operating systems.

Major Hardware Vulnerabilities Revealed

These two vulnerabilities could allow hackers to develop malware that would target the way the CPU processes information handled by the kernel, which is the core system of a computing device providing an interface between software applications and the hardware. In essence, an attacker who understands the Spectre and Meltdown flaws could spy on the data being processed within the system’s memory without exception.

The most worrisome aspect of this discovery is that it affects all systems designed to work in the x86 computing architecture developed by Intel, which means that virtually all modern computing devices could be compromised since CPU manufacturers follow the x86 model. The fact that Spectre and Meltdown could affect Linux distributions is of high concern since more than 80 percent of servers around the world run on various Debian and Fedora versions. Major cloud computing operators such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon moved quickly to patch their data centers and protect them against this issue.

Solutions to Looming Malware Threats

Although no malware taking advantage of Meltdown or Spectre has been reported, information security firms and antivirus software developers are rushing to come up with solutions. The burden is on operating systems developers, and it has been problematic for Microsoft thus far. In a bulletin published in early 2018, the company explained that security patches would be suspended until certain antivirus software developers updated their applications to include a specific registry key. As of January 8, for example, popular antivirus suites such as AVG, Kaspersky, and F-Secure had complied with the registry key inclusion as part of their regular updates; however, McAfee and BitDefender Gravity Zone had not, which means that certain Windows users would not receive their scheduled security update for January.

Some Windows 10 users who upgraded their Athlon AMD machines in recent years reported that they could not boot their systems after the January security update addressing Spectre and Meltdown; for this reason, Microsoft froze its AMD patching efforts until further notice.

If your Windows system in the High Desert is having problems with the latest Microsoft updates, contact A Plus Computers for a solution.

Which Browser is the Best for Your System? | Apple Valley Computers

Which Browser is the Best for Your System?

The era of the modern web browser recently celebrated a significant milestone. In 1993, two researchers from the University of Illinois released Mosaic, the first graphical web browser that would later be developed for widespread installation and use. Back then, the web was called the World Wide Web, the WWW or the WEB; after the arrival of Mosaic, this digital information system became synonymous with the internet.

On the day that Mosaic turned 25 years old, Google and Mozilla announced new major versions of their Chrome and Firefox web browsers. Chrome 64 and Firefox Quantum are packed with new features that are clearly designed to compete for greater market share. In the case of Chrome, Google is going out on a limb by providing native ad blocking features while Mozilla is offering greater speed and smoother performance with Firefox Quantum.

Aside from Google and Mozilla, two other major combatants in the battle for browser supremacy are Microsoft and Apple; other worthy fighters include Vivaldi, Opera, and Maxthon. Your choice of browser boils down to two factors: system capacity and your browsing needs. You can always have more than one browser installed in your system since virtually all of them are offered for free. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Chrome: If you are constantly using Google services such as Gmail, Docs, Translator Toolkit, and YouTube, this is the browser you should use, but keep in mind that its extensions and plugins are being deprecated.

Vivaldi: If you find Google Chrome boring on the desktop, this browser will liven things up with improved performance and interesting features.

Firefox: The most recent Quantum version boasts the fastest rendering and performance on the market. Unlike Chrome, Mozilla has no intention of deprecating extensions and other third-party tools for Firefox, which makes it the best browser for customization. Firefox is highly recommended for Linux distributions.

Edge: If you run Windows 10 and use cloud services such as Outlook and Office 365, this is the browser you need. According to extensive testing by Microsoft and third-party reviewers, Edge will go easy on laptop, tablet and smartphone batteries.

Opera: Without a doubt, this is the best browser for mobile devices. Chrome for Android is great for accessing Google services, but the Opera smartphone browsing experience is superior.

Maxthon: There are two versions of this browser: Maxthon Cloud is a desktop app loaded with interesting and useful features while Nitro is a lightweight browser that focuses on speed.

Custom Computer Builds for Cryptocurrency Mining | Apple Valley Computers

Custom Computer Builds for Cryptocurrency Mining

Not a single day goes by without news headlines reporting on the world of cryptocurrencies, which collectively amount to a market capitalization higher than $530 million. As the oldest, most valuable and controversial of all digital currencies, Bitcoin tends to dominate headlines, and this has a lot to do with the volatility of its exchange rate and the way its mining operations have developed over the years.

All cryptocurrencies operate on a blockchain, a peer-to-peer (P2P) software network that serves as a public ledger as well as an authentication tool to clear transactions and set the monetary value of the digital coins. Transactions are cleared by means of complex calculations that require considerable processing power; these blockchain calculations are performed by on a P2P basis by computers connected to cryptocurrency networks, and the individuals who keep these systems operational can be rewarded with digital tokens, this creates the financial incentive known as cryptocurrency mining.

The Big Hype Surrounding Cryptocurrency Mining

Bitcoin mining has become a very controversial activity for various reasons. The original cryptocurrency was developed in a way that makes mining extremely difficult for average individuals; these days, mining cartels control the Bitcoin blockchain by means of outlandishly expensive rigs that consume lots of electricity. Unfortunately, Bitcoin mining has virtually become off limits for individuals; however, this is not the case with other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, which has been developed in a way that makes mining a more democratic operation.

Ethereum is not as valuable as Bitcoin, but its advanced blockchain has prompted financial regulators in Russia and Singapore to develop digital versions of their national currencies. This is a cryptocurrency with a more stable and definite future than Bitcoin, and it does not require impossible mining rigs. In fact, a custom computer build can be easily put together for the purpose of Ethereum mining.

The basic system requirements for an Ethereum mining rig include:

  • A 64-bit version of Windows 10.
  • A motherboard with various PCI slots for the purpose of adding graphics processor units (GPUs).
  • A modern CPU with 4 GB of RAM, preferably DDR4.
  • A power supply unit that provides sufficient wattage to keep the GPUs running efficiently.

The complex blockchain transactions are mostly handled by GPUs manufactured by Nvidia and AMD. These graphics cards should be powerful enough to handle virtual reality games; in fact, gaming rigs are often put to work as Ethereum miners.

In terms of power consumption and broadband access, prospective miners should evaluate their monthly electricity and internet bills and search for Ethereum mining calculators to determine if this would be a profitable activity. For questions about custom computer builds, contact A Plus Computers today.
Personal Computing Trends to Watch for in 2018 | Victorville Home Networking

Personal Computing Trends to Watch for in 2018

As is often the case after every holiday season, High Desert residents who received personal computing devices as presents are happy and enjoying the wonders of advanced technology. Think about previous systems you have used in recent years and how far we have come along since then; as impressed as you might be with your new desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you should expect to be even more impressed in the near future.

With the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas just around the corner, tech analysts expect to see an even greater shift towards portable and mobile computing with the possible exception of custom gaming rigs, which are getting a major boost thanks to new and exciting virtual reality titles.

If you plan to get into VR gaming this year, feel free to stop by A Plus Computers in Apple Valley to learn more about custom computer builds. In the meantime, here are some personal computing trends that will likely make headlines in the tech sector during 2018:

Laptops Are Here to Stay

Even though netbooks and tablets managed to make a huge impact in recent years, they have mostly failed to dethrone laptops. Even Microsoft has taken a break from tablets and hybrids to introduce a clamshell Surface laptops, which means that sleek, slim and powerful notebooks will continue to dominate in 2018, but this does not mean that hybrids are over; in fact, speech and gesture recognition technology will make these portable devices even more powerful and attractive.

Touch and Gesture Control

As previously mentioned, the kinetic input will be a major new development for new laptops, and we will likely see more touchscreen, motion and eye recognition sensors. A major driver of this trend will be the incorporation of Android apps that will work with Chrome OS; this will move more new Chromebook model to feature touchscreen technology since users are already used to tactile operation mobile apps. Eye-tracking technology will be incorporated into portable computers that will allow users to open apps and even move screen cursors and pointers by simply directing their gaze.

Low-Power Laptops

Even the fanciest laptops in 2017 could not manage battery life longer than five hours per charge when streaming HD video; however, next-generation processors being developed by Intel and Qualcomm may be able to reduce power requirements by as much as 50 percent this year, which means that new laptops could handle full operational loads for more than 12 hours on a single charge.

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