Tech Talk

Tech News, User Tips, and Answers to Common Questions. 

11/9/17Cloud Storage 

After seeing the terrible destruction left in the wake of this hurricane season, I am reminded how easily our property can be destroyed or lost forever. It seems in today’s environment, in one way or another we are all susceptible to loss of property due to either, wind, flooding, fire, theft, or possibly just forgetfulness. When it comes to the technologies that we rely on so heavily in today’s world, we often overlook protecting our digital property such as photos and documents despite the relative ease to make a data backup.

These days, we have several options to back up our data such as external hard drives, flash drives, and cloud storage. Most people know what an external or flash (usb) drives are, but I get a lot of questions about cloud storage. In a nutshell, cloud storage is just a group of hard drives that are maintained by a company such as Google. The end user can connect to the cloud server and upload and download data from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Cloud storage offers several conveniences but does have some drawbacks.

Losing your data in the cloud is almost impossible because the cloud company also backs up their servers (a set of hard drives your data is stored on) to other servers in different locations. For example, if Google’s main cloud servers where destroyed by a catastrophic event, such as an earthquake, your data would still be safe and accessible online from one of their other severs located in a completely different location. So, you don’t have to worry about losing your data, but how safe is cloud storage from theft?

We have all heard about security breaches to online data, so you may be wondering how secure the cloud is compared to your own backup device? The bottom line is that no system is 100% safe from unauthorized access. Hackers gain access by exposing vulnerabilities in a system, and every system is vulnerable to infiltration by hackers, so we have to ask ourselves; whose system has the least vulnerabilities from hackers? Albeit, a multi-million dollar system owned and operated by a company such as Google will be more secure and have less vulnerabilities then your own laptop or home device, but they also are more likely to be targeted by hackers than the average person’s personal computing device. Fortunately, your personal files can be encrypted with password protection, providing yet another level of security.   If a hacker did gain access to your data in the cloud, they would still need the password to decrypt the files. In addition to security of your data in the cloud, you also need to consider the ability to access that data.

A minor drawback of using cloud storage is that it is necessary to have an internet connection to access your data. This has become less of an issue as internet access is available almost anywhere in the world where people live, but there’s always that chance that your internet is down, or there is a catastrophic event that leaves you without internet access. So, I suggest keeping a local backup, (i.e. external hard drive or flash drive), of at least your most important files, in case for some reason you don’t have access to internet yet need access to that information. Also, if you decide to scan and upload copies of documents that contain confidential information, I strongly suggest you encrypt that data.

There are several cloud based data storage services and companies to choose from each offering different storage limits at different prices. If you would like assistance with choosing the right service for your needs, setting up your cloud account or help with uploading your data and/or encrypting your confidential data, please contact me for an appointment.

 

4/21/17: Online Streaming 

Online streaming has become great option for those who wish to cut the cord with the local cable or satellite TV Company. The three things you need to stream online entertainment are:

1. A device to do the streaming to your television.

There are several devices you can get to stream, such as a Smart TV, a Roku box, a Droid box, an Amazon Fire stick, or an Apple TV box. Streaming devices work much like smart phones in that they contain apps that give you access to services like Netflix and Hulu. Some streaming devices are virtually unlimited as to what Apps you can put on them, thus making the variety of online media endless, while others are a bit more restricted and limited in what online media is available. If you need assistance choosing a streaming device, contact me and I can help you choose the right one for your specific needs. Once you have your device of choice you need to get a VPN service to gain access to all the online content that is geo-restricted.

2. Access to online content.

A VPN service masks your physical location by sending all your internet traffic through a secure server in the U.S. thus giving access to online media that is restricted for viewers only in the US. A VPN service does several things in addition to bypassing geo-restricted content.   A VPN encrypts your internet traffic to secure your personal information that you transmit and receive over the internet. A VPN also circumvents throttling which is a method that Internet Service Providers use to control the amount of bandwidth a customer gets during peak usage times. The average cost of VPN service is $80 USD per year. In addition to the cost of a VPN service, a VPN router is also required, which piggybacks on your existing home router. For more information about VPN services and to get a VPN router setup, contact me.

3. A stable high speed internet service.

Last but not least is a good high speed internet service. A rule of thumb for streaming is that it takes 3-5 Megs per second download speed to stream a 1080p HD program without buffering interruptions. Because streaming media has become so popular, especially in the evenings, your speeds may vary greatly throughout the day. As noted above, a VPN service helps circumvent internet speed throttling, but it won’t help if your Internet Service Provider is overselling its bandwidth which is a common practice. You can check your internet speed by using a free ping service such as http://www.speedtest.net/ .

 

1/13/17:  Ransomware

A new type of computer security threat has emerged recently called Ransomware.  Ransomware is a type of Malware (malicious software) that can inadvertently be placed on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, which essentially holds your personal data hostage.  How it works is the end-user will receive an official looking email or social media message that has a link to a website or an attachment within it.  The email or message will instruct the end-user to open the link or attachment, which then automatically installs the ransomware on your device.  The ransomware then encrypts your data so you no longer have access to it unless you have an encryption key.  To get that key, you must purchase it from the person who put the ransomware on your computer.  The best way to avoid becoming a victim of ransomware is:

  • Avoid suspicious emails and messages on social media, and if you get a suspicious email, do not click on any links or download any of the attachments.  A few minutes of due diligence can save you hours of frustration and preserve your personal data, so call the alleged company before you do anything the email instructs you to do and verify the email is valid.  If you think or find that the email is malicious, you should mark it as spam and delete it from your inbox.
  • If your device does become infected wth ransomware or any malware for that matter, the only way to rid your system of it is by having a full system backup on an external device such as an external hard drive or flash drive that you can do a full system restore from.   Without a full system backup, the only option is to wipe the hard drive, thus losing all your personal data, and reinstall the operating system, any updates the base operating system needs, and reinstall all your programs and/or apps.  The whole recovery of your device can easily take many hours to complete.


Below are some sample screenshots of an actual email and social media message that contained ransomware:

 

ransomware

Below are some sample screen shots of what the end-user might see once their device is infected with ransomware:

ransomware

ransomware

If you think your operating system has been infected with Malware and need assistance with a full system restore or re-installation of your operating system, contact me for an appointment.