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Cybercrime Groups Are More Active During the Holiday Season | Data Backup

Cybercrime Groups Are More Active During the Holiday Season

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

This has become a classic phishing attack perpetrated during the holiday season. If you receive a suspicious email asking you to confirm a purchase you know you did not make, do not click on any links on the message. All it takes is a browser redirection or pop-up window plus a couple of clicks for malicious JavaScript to execute and install a keystroke logger to steal your username and passwords.

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.

Why Custom Computer Builds Make Great Holiday Gifts | Apple Valley PCs

Why Custom Computer Builds Make Great Holiday Gifts

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.
Review of Federal Copyright Laws Could Make it Easier to Repair Your Computers

Review of Federal Copyright Laws Could Make it Easier to Repair Your Computers

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.
The Most Dangerous PC Malware Strains in 2018 | Apple Valley Computers

The Most Dangerous PC Malware Strains in 2018

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.
Protecting Your Home Network Against Russian Hackers | Computer Repair

Protecting Your Home Network Against Russian Hackers

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.
What You Should Know About USB Port Troubleshooting and Repair

What You Should Know About USB Port Troubleshooting and Repair

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.
What to Expect from the Windows 10 October Upgrade | Victorville PCs

What to Expect from the Windows 10 October Upgrade

Nearly all IT professionals and PC technicians recommend that you promptly download and install Windows patches and updates the moment they are available, this is not the case for the Windows 10 October 2018 upgrade. Depending on how your system is configured and how much media storage space you have left, the October upgrade may result in a computing device that is unable to initialize.

During the final week of September, Microsoft started issuing warnings to users whose computing devices were limited in terms of storage space. Windows 10 updates have been getting larger and larger in terms of file size; although Microsoft has not revealed the exact size of the October 2018 update, the company has admitted that it will be larger than the April update, which clocked in at 20 GB for 64-bit systems.

Preparing for Windows Update

If your Windows 10 device has less than 20 GB of free storage on the hard drive, your system may not only crash during the upgrade but may also fail to boot. You can check for free space with the Windows File Explorer tool, which can be launched by holding down the Windows key followed by “E.” Users who have previously seen the “Windows needs more space” message during an update installation are the most likely to be affected.

Although the press releases Microsoft issued in relation to the October 2018 upgrade mentioned embedded devices, the reality of the situation is that users who purchased laptops, tablets, and hybrids with 32 GB of storage are at risk, and this could mean millions of users. Other users who may also be affected by the October 2018 upgrade are those who took advantage of the free Windows 10 upgrade offer on older systems with limited hard drive space.

Troubleshooting Possible Issues with Upgrading

To make matters worse, Microsoft admits that the latest upgrade will not check for adequate space. If the installation fails because there is not enough room, the system will not be able to start. Windows 10 tablets could end up in a “bricked” state; desktop and laptops will require a hard reset procedure.

If you think your Windows 10 device will not be able to handle the October 2018 update, you have the option of stopping automatic updates so that you can free up space; to this effect, you can delete files or transfer data to external or cloud storage, and you may also wish to consider upgrading your digital storage. For assistance with these issues, contact A Plus Computers in Apple Valley.

These Games Deserve a Custom-Built Computer

Video game console manufacturers have enjoyed a pretty good run in recent years, but their dominance seems to be coming to an end. There was a time when game developers were strictly focused on consoles; however, gamers are demanding more complexity and graphical intensity, thus ushering a new era of PC gaming.

Custom computer builds optimized for PC gaming are once again becoming popular, and this can be explained by trends being followed and implemented by developers. Major titles such as Grand Theft Auto V, a game that is now over five years old, have been heavily optimized for gaming rigs while their console versions languish. The same can be said about No Man’s Sky, another game that keeps getting better with major updates, and which looks far more gorgeous on PCs.

Here are the games currently considered to be the most deserving of being played on custom-built gaming desktops:

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Similar to Grand Theft Auto V, The Witcher is one of those games that were released years ago and simply keep getting better with updates and optimization. Whereas GTA V goes for a realistic look, The Witcher pushes the limits to create a fantasy world that is simply dazzling in 4K resolution. Of special note is the Nvidia Hairworks option, which makes the hair of the characters and the fur of the beasts shine, move, fly, and generally react to environmental changes.

Far Cry 5

A wildly political story set in the Big Sky country of Montana, Far Cry 5 features an incredible level of detail that can only be appreciated with advanced GPUs. The beautiful outdoors of Montana are faithfully rendered in this game, but only on desktop PCs that can handle it. Far Cry 5 is one of those games that require a reliable cooling system because it puts systems to the test.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Some games are designed to push the envelope when it comes to graphics cards, and this is certainly the case with Mankind Divided, a cyberpunk thriller that calls for 99 percent of GPU resources when played on a GTX 1080 card. Even when this game detects twin GPUs installed, resources will be pushed over 90 percent for the purpose of rendering smoke, fog, clouds, debris, particles, and atmospheric effects.

If you are thinking about building a gaming rig for the holidays, contact A Plus Computers now and start selecting components according to the games you would like to play in 2019.
Recent Windows 10 Security Patch Creates Issues for Many Users | Apple Valley Computers

Recent Windows 10 Security Patch Creates Issues for Many Users

If your Windows 10 desktop, laptop or tablet automatically installs the KB4100347 security update, there is a chance that you may end up with a frozen operating system after the device reboots. The security update in question is related to the Spectre and Foreshadow vulnerabilities discovered by security researchers last year; these security issues affect a broad range of Intel processors, but Microsoft apparently pushed out the patch to all Windows 10 users.

Spectre & Foreshadow, Which Users Are Affected

Windows 10 users whose computers are equipped with an AMD processor or an Intel chip that is not affected by Spectre or Foreshadow, there is a chance that you will see the infamous “blue screen of death.” Your system may not even make it past the Windows logo screen upon reboot, and there is the chance that reinstalling Windows 10 may result in another automatic download and installation of the KB4100347 update.

The issue with this update is that not all Windows 10 devices are affected by the Intel vulnerabilities; nonetheless, Microsoft seems to be pushing out the security patch to all systems. The update is only supposed to work on certain Intel chips; when installed on a different system, it may cause issues such as instability, critical errors and failure to reboot.

Solving System Update Issues

There is a way you can troubleshoot and fix this issue on your own, and it requires that you boot into Safe Mode. If you are able to see the Windows 10 login screen or the desktop, you can click or tap on the icon that looks like an On/Off button; hold down the Shift button on your keyboard and choose Restart. If your system does not fully boot, you can press the F8 button in one-second intervals soon after pushing the hardware On button.

Once you are in Safe Mode, click on the Start button and choose Settings followed by Update and Security. Within this window, click on the Windows Update history so that you can display the culprit KB4100347 and uninstall it. As of late August, Microsoft was working on modifying the patch so that systems not equipped with affected Intel processors are not targeted, and this will prevent future automatic installations.

KB4100347 is only the latest in a series of issues related to Windows 10 updates. If you are not able to get into Safe Mode or have other issues with Windows 10 updates, feel free to contact our office and talk with our technicians.
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.