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The Importance of Data Backups in the Age of Ransomware | Business Tech Solutions

The Importance of Data Backups in the Age of Ransomware

Over the last few years, ransomware has stood out as being of the most destructive and pernicious cyber attacks in history. Global ransomware attacks have disrupted public health and transportation systems as well as municipal governments. Data backups are the best protection strategy against ransomware, but sophisticated hackers have come up with a way to defeat this strategy.

New Ransomware Security Threats

Earlier this year, information security experts detected a new ransomware strain that detects the presence of backups in an infected system and either proceeds to delete them or encrypt them before applying an encryption layer to the rest of the files. Once this is accomplished, a ransom message will be displayed with instructions to make payments, usually in the Monero cryptocurrency, for the purpose of obtaining a key to decrypt the infected files.

Computer users infected with ransomware are often urged to not make ransom payments for two reasons. Law enforcement officials believe that these payments will only encourage hackers to continue plying their wicked trade. Information security experts cite many cases of hackers giving incorrect decryption keys after receiving payments. Nonetheless, hospitals in California have made such payments because their data backup strategies were inadequate, and even law enforcement agencies have chosen to pay off hackers in exchange for decryption keys.

Protecting Data From Cyberattacks

As previously mentioned, a reliable and secure backup strategy is the best protective measure against ransomware attacks; however, the Zenis ransomware threat actually targets backups before proceeding to the encryption stage. The way Zenis works is by searching for known backup locations within a system, and this may include separate hard drive partitions, external hard drives and even USB keys connected to desktops, laptops, and tablets. Security researchers are concerned that future versions of Zenis could feature a way to breach cloud data backups that are not properly secured.

With new ransomware threats such as Zenis, there is a greater need for data backup practices that hackers cannot breach. If you use external solid state or USB drives, you should remove them from your system when the backup procedure has been completed; if you want to keep them attached, it is recommended that you protect them with a password or PIN access code, one that is not kept on the hard drive. Cloud storage can also be a good option for your files; if you have a Mac, iPad or iPhone, you can take advantage of the free iCloud service to minimize the risk of a Zenis attack.
What You Really Need to Know About Laptop Repair | A Plus Computers

What You Really Need to Know About Laptop Repair

Until very recently, technology analysts believed that smartphones and tablets were going to replace desktops as well as laptops. A similar prediction was made years ago when netbooks were still around, but the fact is that computer users have largely chosen laptops as their preferred mode of personal computing.

Declining Support For Laptops and Tablets

Tablets are expected to suffer the same fate as netbooks did years ago; their popularity was mostly based on novelty and marketing, and in the end, laptops retained their status as preferred portable computing devices. Tech giant Microsoft saw this coming with its popular line of Surface products, which these days are either hybrids or laptops.

Computer manufacturers are once again stepping up their production of laptops, and major computer retailers are eager to sell them at very low profit margins; the reason for this business model is that big retailers are keen on upselling each laptop with service agreements that they can manage from their very own repair departments.

Major computer and electronics retail chains have a bad reputation with regard to laptop repair. In 2013, a Reddit user who was a former technician at a major store went public with his comments about unethical prices and overpricing for laptop repairs. This issue is not limited to stores in the United States; an August 2018 investigation by British newspaper The Sun revealed that laptop customers who needed repairs were often overcharged by as much as £260, which comes out to more than $300.

Local Repair Stores Provide the Most Personalized Repair Solutions

Local repair shops such as A Plus Computers in Apple Valley are a much better option for your laptop than the service departments at major chains. Local shops operate on different business models because they do not have considerably lower overhead to worry about.

A common complaint heard about major chains is that they often overcharge on replacement parts because they are not commonly included in the service agreement, therefore presenting a profit opportunity to exploit. Independent repair shops do not engage in this practice because it only puts at risk the most valuable business model: keeping customers happy to increase loyalty potential.

With all the above in mind, you should also know that laptops are more likely to require repairs than desktops, and this is caused by virtue of being fragile portable devices. Always handle your laptop gently and avoid impact situations, and this also applies to the cords and peripherals; also, be sure to give your laptop vents plenty of air circulation since these devices tend to run hotter than desktops.
Modern Computers: To Repair, Replace or Recycle | Victorville Computers

Modern Computers: To Repair, Replace or Recycle

Just a couple of decade ago, technology analysts were thinking about a future when personal computing technology would one day become disposable. In the days when this conjecture was formulated, cheap mobile phones were starting to be sold on discount stores such as Walmart and Target; they were often marketed as “throw away” devices that were more affordable to replace than to repair.

Is Electronic Waste A Rising Problem?

Things have radically changed since the aforementioned time when disposable computing was pondered. Nowadays, electronic waste has become a serious issue that goes against the philosophy of carbon footprint reduction. Disposable computers would add even more metric tons of electronic waste to the already overburdened landfills; nonetheless, the business models practiced by manufacturers of personal computing devices often exacerbate the e-waste problem.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft are examples of companies that do not alleviate e-waste with their business practices. These tech firms constantly release new devices, operating systems and other technologies that render previous efforts obsolete; on top of this, they also conduct heavy marketing campaigns to promote their new products. In many cases, they manufacture devices that are difficult to service and repair, case in point: MacBooks and Surface tablets that are essentially glued together and hard to disassemble.

Steps You Can Take To Reduce Electronic Waste

If you are interested in reducing the electronic carbon footprint of your household, you should look into repairing, reusing and recycling your personal computing devices. It is easy to become frustrated and overwhelmed by tech issues that could be easily solved by replacing your devices with new ones, but it is often more affordable to repair, upgrade or find a new purpose.

Migrating your existing files, operating system and apps to a new device will often cost more than repairing it. These days, you could easily spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars purchasing a new desktop, laptop or mobile device.

The technical issues that affect most computer users can be repaired without having to replace, these issues include:

  • Windows apps were not performing well.
  • Windows configuration problems.
  • Data loss.
  • Poor internet connectivity.
  • Mac OS or iOS issues.
  • Hardware component failure.
You should not automatically think about replacing your system when the issues listed above become problematic. In most cases, they can be repaired. Even in the case of hardware failure, components can be replaced, or the entire system can be upgraded for a lot less than the cost of replacement. In the end, computer repair is not only affordable but also eco-friendly since it does not add e-waste to the landfill.
Your Home Network May Be Riskier Than You Think | Apple Valley Computers

Your Home Network May Be Riskier Than You Think

If you are like many Americans, your home network has been configured with minimal regard for security, and this is an issue that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is really concerned about. A recent alert issued by the cybercrime division of the FBI is warning Americans about the dangers of the Internet of Things, more commonly known as IoT.

According to the FBI alert, IoT hackers are increasingly looking for vulnerable devices that they can use to attack larger targets; these devices include printers, routers, webcams, lighting systems, security alarms, motion detection sensors, streaming boxes, and just about any smart home automation component. In many cases, homeowners are not aware that their devices have been hijacked for the purpose of masking malicious network traffic.

Home Networks Targeted By Cyberattacks

Local IP addresses have become a strong focus of IoT hackers in 2018, and the reason for this focus is related to IP filtering software. Let’s say a cybercrime group affiliated with the Kremlin is trying to gain access to California election systems; in this example, the hackers know better than to attempt network intrusions with Russian IP addresses, thus prompting them to look for local IoT devices to hijack and hide behind.

The problem with IoT devices is that they are often subject to security loopholes; manufacturers often ship these devices with minimal security measures, and they will frequently be forgotten in terms of firmware upgrades and patches.

Protect Your Network Security

The immediate recommendation given by the FBI is to reboot home routers and all smart home devices. This measure will disable malware that has been installed in RAM sectors, but this does not mean that hackers will not target the devices again. The best course of action is to conduct a security audit of the home network, and this is something that A Plus Computers can do for you in the High Desert.

Naturally, once hackers succeed in hijacking a smart home device, there is nothing to stop them from taking a look around the home network and checking for vulnerabilities. In this situation, they may look for an opportunity to install a keylogger, a dangerous piece of malware that records keystrokes, thereby collecting username and password combinations.

Think about all the important devices that connect to your home network: computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and others. A single unsecured device could compromise valuable information and the integrity of your entire network. For more information about IoT security, contact A Plus Computers today.

Dealing With Bad Memories: When RAM Gives You Headaches | PC Repairs

Dealing With Bad Memories: When RAM Gives You Headaches

Of all the components in your computer, random access memory can be one of the most uncertain. If you have a laptop equipped with an optical DVD drive, you can bet that this will be the first piece of hardware that will fail, but this is something that is easy to deal with. A hard drive failure can be catastrophic if you do not have a data backup strategy, but at least you get warnings most of the time. Bad RAM is more of a headache because it directly interferes with the overall performance of your device.

Why Does RAM Fail

RAM is not supposed to last forever; in most cases, it will last longer than a hard drive but not as long as the processor or power supply. In general, you can count on RAM functioning perfectly while your system is still under manufacturer’s warranty, and it may not give you any headaches for a few more years. The problem with defective RAM is that it can be a bit difficult to detect.

On Windows systems, the blue screen of death may be a sign of bad RAM, but this may also be caused by operating system bugs, failing hard drives, or quite a few other issues. In the case of Mac OS X machines, the gray screen of death may be related to bad RAM; on a Linux system running from removable media such as USB drives, kernel panic errors almost always indicate defective RAM.

Symptoms Of RAM Failure

When your PC freezes or unexpectedly shuts down, bad RAM may be at play if it performs optimally upon rebooting the system but gets sluggish later. A strong sign of RAM failure would be corrupted files that were recently created or edited.

There are various ways of diagnosing RAM chips; one of the easiest methods is to remove some of them and test the performance of the machine. Windows has a built-in tool to conduct memory diagnostics that tells you if errors are detected, but this requires physical confirmation by means of testing the individual chips. A better method is to run benchmark tests and use special diagnostic tools.

Once RAM errors are detected, they will not go away unless they are related to improper cooling or excessive dust inside the machine. Fixing bad RAM almost always means replacing it, and this is a reasonable repair in most cases. The best thing about RAM replacement is that it presents an opportunity to upgrade, which will result in sharply improved performance.
Microsoft Previews New Windows 10 Features | Apple Valley Computer Repair

Microsoft Previews New Windows 10 Features

Compared to previous versions of the Windows operating system, Microsoft has shown a greater willingness to roll out improvements and implement new features in Windows 10. The latest preview build of Windows 10 is currently being tested by select users and tech journalists who for the most part seem to be pleased with what Microsoft has accomplished.

The Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17704 was first announced on June 27; the new features and security fixes of this build will likely be available to all users later this year through the Windows Update program.

Here are some of the improvements reported thus far:

New Skype Calling Features

As the flagship communications app for Windows users, Skype has been getting regular improvements over the last few years. This time around, Microsoft has repositioned the button that enables screen sharing so that it is more prominent and easier to reach. The notifications panel has been streamlined, and users will be able to change the look of their Skype app with themes; moreover, snapshots of conference calls can now be taken from within the app.

Screen Sketch App

The Windows 10 Snipping Tool may be enhanced by a new Screen Sketch App in the future. The current build gives users a preview of this new feature, but it is unclear whether it will be rolled out this year or later.

Edge Browser Aesthetics

The new Fluent Design guidelines adopted by Microsoft are being tastefully applied to the Edge web browser, which now sports a look that is flatter and more angular. Automatic play of audio and video files can now be controlled by users, and the Edge hub has been rearranged so that the most commonly made adjustments appear at the top. A few icons have been redesigned for a more colorful look.

Security Improvements

Within the Windows Defender control panel, a new option will allow users to block suspicious behavior emanating from a file or an app that may have bypassed antivirus detection. There’s also a new feature designed to minimize the impact of ransomware attacks; controlled folder access gives users exclusive rights to make changes to files contained therein.

Enhanced Task Manager Information

Users who are interested in assessing the energy efficiency of their devices will be able to glance at the power consumption of processes with two new Task Manager columns. The information provided by these two new columns is based on the CPU, GPU and disk read/write resources utilized.

What You Should Know About Hard Drive and SSD Data Recovery | PC Repair

What You Should Know About Hard Drive and SSD Data Recovery

The growing popularity of cloud computing, flash memory storage and “always-on” personal computing devices are leading some individuals to believe that hard drive failure is a thing of the past, and this can be a problematic misconception. While it is true that solid state drive technology has vastly improved over the last few years, this does not mean that these storage devices are impervious to hardware failure.

Solid State Drives Are Not Immune to Breakdown

The misconception about SSD storage is related to its lack of moving parts. With legacy hard drives, failure can often be heard or felt. The click of death associated with hard drives is heard when the actuator component repeatedly tries to recover from a critical error. Depending on the brand and build, spinning hard drives can be quite noisy when they enter an irretrievable error state; a knocking or clicking sound indicates physical failure while whirring sounds are more indicative of logical issues. At any rate, these noises signal the end of life for legacy hard drives.

With SSD hardware, there are no audible indicators of critical errors or impending failure; however, users can tell things are going wrong when they notice that their systems are not working properly. When files refuse to open or applications no longer execute on SSD devices, this could be related to bad blocks, which are the equivalent of bad sectors on spinning hard drives. One problem with SSD devices, particularly those installed on tablets and modern laptops, is that malware apps can be coded to create bad blocks, thereby leading to a high risk of data loss.

Preparation Against Data Loss

There is no true formula to figure out the longevity of SSD or legacy drives; nonetheless, drives that have been operating for longer than eight years are more likely to fail. It should be noted that hard drive failure does not automatically render data inaccessible. Data recovery is a service that focuses on rescuing data from storage devices that are no longer functional, and it can be a virtual lifesaver in many cases.

Whether a spinning hard drive is emitting the dreaded click of death or an SSD component is no longer functional, data recovery may be an option. When the operating system installed on the failed hard drive is no longer booting, data recovery technicians may be able to boot the device from RAM using special tools; other situations may require disassembly and clean room techniques, but the bottom line is that data should not be considered permanently lost upon hard drive failure.
Microsoft Begins Withdrawing Windows 7 Support | A+ Computer Repair

Microsoft Begins Withdrawing Windows 7 Support

The most popular desktop and laptop operating system in the world is being gradually and quietly abandoned by its developer. A recent column published by Computer World magazine explained that Microsoft had blocked the Windows Update feature on PCs powered by Pentium III processors, which essentially indicates that the company will no longer support those older machines. Moreover, Windows 7 users who visit the Windows Community online forums are noticing that their questions are no longer being answered by Microsoft representatives.

The issue with Windows 7 installations on Pentium III machines is that they do not support a feature known as Streaming Single Instructions Multiple Data Extensions; when a May 2018 update was rolled out, some users lost network connectivity after installing the patch, which prompted Microsoft to promise that the issue would be fixed in future updates. The issue was never fixed; instead, Microsoft published a technical article recommending Pentium III users to either upgrade their hardware or run Windows 7 inside a virtual machine. After publication of this article, access to Windows Update was cut off for owners of Pentium III hardware.

Time to Upgrade From Windows 7 to Windows 10

Windows 7 has been around for nearly a decade, and it continues to be a leader in terms of market share; in April 2018, this operating system was installed in more than 47 percent of all personal desktop computers, business workstations, and laptops around the world, which means that it is more popular than Windows 10. Even though Microsoft has actively enticed users to upgrade to Windows 10, many have chosen to stick with Windows 7, particularly those who operate older hardware.

When Windows 10 was released, Microsoft announced that Windows 7 users would still receive updates and support until January 2020; for this reason, blocking updates for individuals who own older hardware seems harsh and arbitrary. While it is easy to understand Microsoft’s business strategy to push all users into Windows 10, those Pentium III users chose to stay with Windows 7 because their machines did not meet the hardware requirements of Windows 10.

Upgrading to Windows 10 is highly recommended; if your PC is powered by a Pentium III processor, you may want to think about getting more recent hardware that supports this operating system. You can also keep your old computer operational by backing up personal files and installing a version of Linux that runs faster and smoother than Windows 7.
The State of Custom-Built Gaming Computers in 2018 | Apple Valley Computer Upgrade

The State of Custom-Built Gaming Computers in 2018

A few months ago, an editor at the respected PC World magazine published an article suggesting that true video game enthusiasts, who are more commonly known as gamers, would be better off purchasing off-the-shelf computers than ordering custom-built gaming computers.

Are Custom Gaming Rigs No Longer Worth It?

The argument in the aforementioned PC World article was presented with a heavy heart; the author clearly prefers custom-built computers for gaming, but he is concerned about the current trend of overpriced graphics processing units and memory. Powerful GPU cards and high-performance RAM kits have been experiencing shortages and pricing surges due to the great interest in mining Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

While it is true that cryptocurrency miners are hording GPUs and memory that are traditionally used in gaming rigs, the current situation mostly affects do-it-yourself gamers whose hobbies extend to building systems themselves; these are passionate individuals who spend considerable time searching for hardware components on Amazon and eBay, but they are running into high prices and few options.

Pre-Built Computers Leave Much To Be Desired

Even with the current memory and GPU situation, it is difficult to support PC World’s advice and recommendation to gamers at this time. Major computer manufacturers such as Lenovo and Dell can certainly strike better deals with GPU suppliers because they purchase hardware components in bulk, but their pre-built gaming systems are often not in line with the expectations of hardcore PC gamers.

An entry-level gaming PC may only cost a few hundred dollars more than the new Microsoft Xbox One X console, but the performance may not be sufficient to handle the highest settings of major PC games being released these days, particularly those coded to run on virtual reality platforms. Moreover, some of the low-end gaming PCs equipped with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPUs may carry the three GB version instead of the six GB card that gamers crave.

In some cases, off-the-shelf PC gaming systems may not offer too many opportunities for future upgrades, and this issue can be explained by the manufacturers’ intention to guide buyers towards more powerful options that will end up costing more.

At A Plus Computers in Apple Valley, our custom-built computer specialists have established good relations with hardware suppliers who are able to provide GPUs, memory and other special parts at reasonable prices. It may take a few more months for manufacturers to adjust to the demand created by cryptocurrency mining, but this does not mean that PC gamers should give up on their wishes to build the custom rig they really want.

How to Get the Most Out of Google Chrome | Apple Valley Computer Repair

How to Get the Most Out of Google Chrome

The endless battle over web browser supremacy is currently being won by Google Chrome. It has been more than 10 years since Chrome surpassed Microsoft Internet Explorer in terms of global market share, and this dominance is expected to continue growing as more Chromebooks, which only work with the Chrome browser, become more popular.

Aside from being the most ideal browser to access popular Google services such as Gmail, Maps, and Docs, there is another reason why Chrome is the world’s leading browser: its comprehensive catalog of extensions that can significantly increase functionality and productivity.

Even though Google officially deprecated the apps section of its Chrome Web Store in late 2017, many developers transformed their apps to extensions; furthermore, Google started pushing progressive web apps, which are next-generation web services that take advantage of Chrome’s structure and offline functionality.

Getting the most out of the Chrome browser boils down to installing the right extensions, and here are a few you should consider for your desktop or laptop:

TweetDeck

This is the app that United States President Donald Trump, known to be a big fan of Twitter, should be using. TweetDeck works like a dream with regard to managing your favorite feeds, composing updates, engaging with others, and uploading multimedia content.

Stylish

If you are partial to a certain layout and color scheme when browsing the internet, you can apply your preferences to every site you visit after installing the Stylish Chrome extension.

Polarr

As a great example of the direction that progressive web apps are taking, Polarr is a full-fledged image and photo editor that fives Photoshop a run for its money. This app also features some offline functionality.

Evernote

The best note-taking tool on the internet works better as a Google Chrome extension. With Evernote, anything you observe or create can be instantly recorded in a variety of digital formats, and it can also be dynamically shared with others for collaboration projects.

AdBlock Plus

This extension does more than just block those annoying online ads that seem to take up entire web pages; AdBlock Plus also deals with those pesky behavioral marketing cookies that follow you all around the web.

Pushbullet

Imagine being able to get all your calls, messages and notifications right within your browser; this is exactly what happens when you install Pushbullet. With this extension, you can even send and receive traditional text messages and share links without touching your smartphone.

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