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Best Practices for Computer Security within Small Businesses

Computer security has never been a hotter issue than it is today. Data breaches, cryptolockers, malware, phishing – as more and more of our lives and businesses go digital, the more we expose ourselves to sneaky hackers looking to take advantage of us.

As a small business owner it’s easy to let computer security slip as a priority. You’ve got so many other things to do besides fiddle around with some computer stuff. She’ll be right, mate! Right? Well, not really.

Anthony Hill, Head of Technology at Geeks2U says that ignoring computer security could lead to a “worst case scenario where there’s a total loss of your business as data like customer info and orders are deleted, customer data is leaked online resulting in a privacy breach and proprietary company information getting out to competitors”. The consequences of ignoring computer security can be catastrophic.

Backups, backups, backups

Backups are Anthony Hill’s top recommendation for small business computer security. “Make sure you have regular backups, because regardless of how good your internet security software is, it’s not perfect.

With a proper backup regime, you can restore any damaged or stolen data quickly”. Regular backups have proven to be the best way to counter popular ransomware attacks. Instead of paying the ransom to restore your data, simply restore from your backups.

The 3-2-1 rule of backups is a mantra anybody serious about computer security should become familiar with. 3 copies of your data, on 2 different devices or mediums and 1 copy offsite. The easiest way to achieve this is to invest in Network Attached Storage and cloud backup (for example Backblaze or Carbonite). Backups should also be as automated as possible to avoid human error.

Keep software updated

Computer security researchers are constantly poking around popular software packages to find flaws that allow hackers to access your computer. Most software vendors keep on top of these security vulnerabilities and release updates to fix them. Hackers take advantage of known vulnerabilities that have been fixed, but prey on users that are yet to update. Thwart the hackers by keeping your software patched.

Unfortunately, software vendors do end support for their products eventually. Versions of macOS three releases prior to the current version and Windows versions prior to Windows 8 no longer receive regular security updates. If you’re still using those older operating systems, it’s time to upgrade or face the computer security consequences.

Upgrade from basic anti-virus

The built-in free anti-virus software that comes with Windows is fine, but if you’re running a small business and have multiple computers to look after (such as those used by employees), it’s worth investigating a centrally managed internet security platform.

Internet security platforms include not just a basic firewall and anti-virus, but the ability to whitelist software, filter internet access, push out forced regular updates and even monitor what employees are doing on company owned devices – all from a single control panel. Having all these features centrally managed ensures all devices are protected and easy to manage, as opposed to trying to wrangle multiple individually owned devices manually.

Cyber security tips for employees

According to Anthony Hill, “the vast majority of data breaches start with staff”, so it’s vital your employees are trained and vigilant. Your small business computer security is only as good as its weakest link!

Introduce a strong password policy (more than 12 characters, no dictionary words, special characters) and provide password manager software to securely store them in. For an additional layer of security, multi-factor authentication tokens such as a Yubikey can be set up for access to important accounts. Using a multi-factor authentication token means any potential hacker needs not only a password, but also a physical token to gain access. This makes it much, much more difficult for unauthorised access.

Institute training to recognise phishing scams. These are emails designed to look like messaging from a bank, a customer, supplier or a fellow employee, but are actually designed to scam your business out of money or access to your computer network. A good way to check if a risky looking email is legit is to pick up the phone and call whoever it is making the request using a publicly available phone number.

Don’t use public wi-fi. Public hotspots can easily be set up as honeypots for hackers to steal information sent wirelessly. Even on legitimate hotspots, hackers can sniff the data going through the hotspot, even if it’s encrypted. The best way to avoid this problem is to provide staff with a mobile broadband device. This way they’ll have internet access everywhere they go, without needing to use risky public wi-fi. If you absolutely must use public wi-fi, at least use a VPN with strong encryption so all communications are secure.


Quick and Simple Guide to Keeping Your Laptop and Smartphone Clean

It may sound like just another task to add to your already busy life, but cleaning your laptop and smartphone is vital to ensure smooth operation of these precious devices. Anthony Hill, Head of Technology at Geeks2U recommends that users clean their laptop “every six to twelve months” and their smartphones “as often as possible”.

To get started, follow Anthony’s advice that the “laptop is turned off, unplugged from the charger and batteries are removed if possible”. This article will focus on how to clean a laptop screen, how to clean a laptop keyboard, how to remove dust from a laptop, and how to clean a smartphone.

How to Clean Laptop Keyboard

Keyboards can get extremely grotty, particularly if you eat or drink at your laptop (who doesn’t?!). Without regular cleaning, keys can fail and require replacement. The keyboards on Apple MacBooks sold in the last three or so years are notorious for failing after a few crumbs become lodged in the thin butterfly mechanism under the keys.

The first step is to get a can of compressed air and blow all the dust and loose particles out from around the keys. Tip the laptop upside while doing this if possible, so all the debris falls out. After the dusting, get a damp (but not wet) microfibre cloth and give the keys a wipe. No need for detergent or other cleaners, just water is often enough to remove any stains or marks. For heavier marks and stains, a “Magic Eraser” (white cleaning cubes found in supermarkets) will get the job done.

How to Clean Laptop Screen

You’re probably looking at your laptop’s screen as you read this, just realising how dirty the thing you look at all day is. It’s not unusual for a screen to look clearer and sharper, with richer colours after giving it a good clean after years of neglect. Luckily, it’s quite easy to do.

Like most electronics, a slightly damp microfibre cloth is all you need for a basic clean. Wipe it along the screen, in a straight motion (not circular) and using a new part of the cloth with each wipe. Make sure not to get your cloth or sponge too wet, as moisture can seep between the display and case, which will damage your laptop.

Don’t use window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, ammonia, abrasives, or cleaners containing hydrogen peroxide to clean the display, as they can damage the glass or plastic display surface.

How to Remove Dust From A Laptop

Dust can kill a laptop. Literally. Components inside the laptop generate heat and if that heat can’t escape because the fans and vents are clogged with dust they fail, and the repair bill can often outstrip the cost of a new laptop. Dust can also impede performance, as if heat generated by the CPU can’t escape properly, the CPU will throttle its speed down to compensate. If you notice your laptop’s fans spinning wildly, but you aren’t doing anything intensive on your laptop, that’s also a sign of dust clogging up vents and fans.

Purchase a can of compressed air from a hardware or electronics store (Bunnings or Jaycar for example) and give the vents a few short bursts to blow out the dust. There are often vents at the base and sides of most laptops. Anthony Hill recommends that “if the vents are heavily clogged with dust, disassembly may be required by the manufacturer for a deep clean, so internal fans and heatsinks can be deep cleaned, as compressed air probably won’t reach that far inside.”

Smartphone and Tablet Cleaning

Do you wash your hands prior to using your smartphone or tablet? It’s unlikely you do, so that means there’s probably a mini-laboratory full of germs breeding on the glass and metal surfaces of your smartphone. Smartphone cleaning wipes are available at some chemists and are pre-moistened wipes with anti-bacterial fluid that also dries quickly and doesn’t leave a smudge. Don’t use household cleaners as those can stain metals and erode coatings on a smartphone’s screen.

The speaker vents, charging and headphone ports on smartphones can get clogged up with pocket lint and other crud from being in pockets, bags and cases. It’s not uncommon for smartphones to have difficulties charging due to dust bunnies sitting in the charging port, preventing a firm connection between cable and port. Simply get some compressed air and give the ports a blow out every now and then.

By following these instructions on a regular basis, you can ensure your precious electrical devices will run in top condition for years to come. If you’ve let your computer go for a while without a clean and want it deep cleaned by a professional, get in touch with Geeks2U and they’ll be happy to assist.


Laptop buying guide: PC or Mac?

A question as old as computing itself is should I get a Mac or a PC? Apple even turned that question into a successful series of “Get a Mac” advertisements for many years, comparing Macs versus PCs using actors John Hodgman as PC and Justin Long as Mac. There are many pros and cons for both Macs and PCs and we will go through all of them, listing the MacBook’s pros and cons and PC laptop pros and cons.

Anthony Hill, Head of Technology at Geeks2U is asked this question often and has an easy way to clarify if you should get a Mac or a PC – “if you’re into gaming and plan to use your laptop to predominately play games on, a PC laptop is the best way to go”. This is due to the vast array of PC laptops available with powerful GPUs and the fact most games aren’t even available on the Mac.

However, Anthony recommends a Mac if “basic video editing and music production is your thing” because “out of the box, the Mac comes with superior creative software such as Garage Band and iMovie and excellent advanced tools like Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro”.

If you’re thinking about a MacBook, here are some pros and cons of Apple’s popular laptop:

Pro: MacBooks, even the cheapest ones, all have excellent displays. They’re factory calibrated, have excellent viewing angles and are “Retina” quality (Apple’s marketing term for high resolution). The similar quality of display on a PC laptop are often available on only high-end laptops that cost way more than Apple’s.

Pro: Apple Watch, iPhone and iPad owners will enjoy a Mac more with iCloud and a familiar design language. Airdrop will “just work” between devices. Apple Pay configured on your phone will show up on your Mac when making a purchase. iMessage will work between devices, as will FaceTime. Living in the Apple ecosystem is a nice place to be.

Con: The much maligned “butterfly” key mechanism on Apple’s current laptop range has been a sore spot for many Apple devotees. While the innovation allows for a slim chassis, people describe using the keyboard like typing on a glass iPad screen and the thin key mechanism is suspectable to failing with any kind of debris ingress like dust, sand or crumbs, requiring repair.

Con: Whatever you plug in to a MacBook will need to be USB-C, as that’s the only ports Apple has included on the MacBook range. If you plan on using anything not USB-C enabled, you’ll need an adaptor, or a dongle to convert the plug. It’s not unusual for many MacBook owners to have a little kit bag full of adapters to plug into projectors (HDMI, VGA) and mini USB hub to insert flash drives and other peripherals.

If you’re thinking about a PC laptop, here are some pros and cons of going with Windows:

Pro: There’s so much choice when it comes to buying a PC laptop. Want something cheap and cheerful to surf the web on? There’s plenty of sub-$500 PCs that’ll do the job. Need a powerful mobile rig to game on the go? The fastest mobile GPUs from Nvidia are only in PC laptops. There’s a PC laptop to suit everyone, at every price point.

Pro: Apple is notorious for using proprietary parts (even screws) and making their devices difficult to open. While there are ways for third party repairers to fix a MacBook, it’s never as quick and cheap as a PC laptop that uses industry standard interchangeable parts that are easy to replace.

Con: One thing Apple excels at is the trackpad and for some reason PC manufacturers just can’t match it. Even on the highest end PC laptops, the trackpads are small and don’t have the same amount of glide, tactile feedback or accuracy as Apple’s most basic trackpad on an entry level MacBook.

Con: Windows can be a bit of a mess sometimes. There are multiple places to change settings, Microsoft has loaded the stock Windows 10 install with bloatware apps and there’s a plethora of tracking and data collection services enabled by default. Apple however keeps macOS lean and doesn’t collect any data on you unless you opt-in to doing so.

Either choice you make, Anthony Hill from Geeks2U says that “there is a misconception out there that Macs don’t get viruses, but that’s not the case. There are viruses and malware specifically targeting the Mac nowadays, so make sure you’ve got anti-virus software on both PC and Mac” – don’t buy your next computer on what is “safer”, but rather what meets your needs. If you require purchasing decision help, Geeks2U is more than happy to assist!


Quick Tips To Fix Your Computer Problems

Fixing a computer problem can be a frustrating task….

Computers today are highly complex machines squeezed into very small spaces. Add to this the constant barrage of computer viruses, malware and spyware plus the enormous range of add ons such as cameras, modems and wireless network cards and it is no wonder that there is the occasional glitch.

  • When your computer misbehaves, a simple restart may be all that is necessary to set things right. By shutting down and restarting the computer, you are effectively starting afresh. During the reboot, files, services and programs are properly closed. Fresh new copies of the files needed to run your operating system and support your hardware are then loaded from the computer’s hard drive during start-up. Naturally, rebooting will not solve all the computer problems that you are likely to encounter. However, in many instances, it is a very useful first step and may ultimately save you a lot of frustration and lost productivity.
  • Over time, computers accumulate a series of instructions from the various programs that are added or downloaded. Although the programmers are pretty clever today, conflicts can develop between different operating instructions requested by the software. Without getting too technical, these conflicts can either slow your system down or, in the worst cases actually cause your PC to freeze up. You should research and buy a reliable PC optimisation program that regularly checks for such conflicts and “spring cleans” your system.
  • Unless you have a sophisticated hard drive filing system, files can often become “orphaned” or randomly spread out across your hard drive, jumbled up like a deck of cards dropped on the floor. Defragmenting your computer attempts to do some housekeeping, putting all related files closer to each other so that your PC takes less time and does not have to work as hard to find the files.

If your computer problems are not resolved by these simple tips, then it’s time to call in the experts. Unless you are a real computer wiz, fiddling and rummaging through your computer’s hard drive and software can cause further problems, making fixing your computer problems even harder. It’s time to call in the experts…


Top 5 things to look for when buying a new computer or upgrading your PC

Buying a computer doesn’t have to be overwhelming

When you’re looking for a new computer, or upgrading your existing computer, begin the process by listing everything you’d like that computer to do, eg. browsing the internet, send/receive email, store your photos and music. Once you know what you’d like to use your computer for, you will find it easier to establish what sort of computer to buy. Some key things to remember when purchasing/upgrading your desktop or laptop computer are detailed below.

Desktop computer

  1. What type of computer & which CPU (processor)? For most users a standard mid-range computer will do everything you require. Most users do not need the latest/fastest computer, the increased price does not justify the small gains in performance…but don’t buy the cheapest! There are two main brands of processor, AMD and Intel. Both of these processors are great – just make sure it’s a “dual-core” processor.
  2. How much RAM (memory) should I get? Your computer memory is one of the most important components for performance. 1GB is the suggested minimum for a new computer – 2GB will ensure that everything runs very quickly.
  3. Will it be compatible? Make sure your existing software and hardware, like for example your camera and printer will work with your new computer.
  4. Graphics & video capabilities. If you use your computer for playing games, video editing or graphics applications, you should get a computer with a “separate graphics card” rather than an “inbuilt graphics” card. You won’t be disappointed by slow graphics and poor image quality.
  5. Backup! Buy an external drive to back-up all of your valuable photos, videos and documents. They can be purchased from $50 upwards and will give you the security of knowing you won’t loose your irreplaceable files.

Laptop computer

When purchasing a laptop you need to bear in mind that many components within laptops are not upgradeable – so it’s really important to identify exactly what you need before you start shopping. It can be quite mind-boggling when you’re out there shopping and you’re confronted with dozens of laptops – so here’s a guide to help you get started…

  1. Size vs. Portability
    When you buy a laptop, the decision you need to make is: do you want a ultra portable laptop or would you prefer a larger-screen laptop? A portable (lightweight) laptop means a smaller screen and keyboard but easier to carry around, while the large-screen laptops are heavier but have a more comfortable keyboard.
  2. What type of CPU (processor)?
    There are two main brands of processor, AMD and Intel. Both of these processors are great – just make sure it’s a “dual-core” processor.
  3. How much RAM (memory) should I get?
    Most new laptops are being sold with Windows Vista which needs at least 1GB of RAM to function correctly – if you can afford to spend a little more you should get a laptop with 2GB of RAM.
  4. What other things should I get with my laptop?
    Most laptops come with both a DVD burner and wireless technology – but its always worth checking the specifications just to make sure.
  5. Will it be compatible?
    Make sure you existing software and hardware, such as your camera and printer will work with your new computer.


10 Tips to Speed Up Your Computer

Everyday IT and computer repairs advice to help make your computer run faster & more efficiently from Geeks2U…

Everyone knows the aggravation and frustration of a slow computer, so how do you speed up your computer? You can now save yourself from exasperation especially when you are busy working. The following are Geeks2U top ten tips to speed up your computer.

Note:
you should only attempt these tasks if you feel confident in doing so, and remember that your friendly Geeks2U computer technician is only a phone call away.

Here are 10 tips to make your computer go faster:

1. Close applications that you’re not using.
Having lots of windows open will reduce the performance of your PC. Even applications running in the background can use up memory and can cause issues. It’s always good to check your system tray (near the clock) and quit everything that you don’t need.

2. Check for & remove spyware and adware.
Spyware and adware are a menace to computers these days. All computers on the internet are exposed to spyware and adware. These malicious programs usually install themselves without your consent and are designed to monitor your computer usage for marketing purposes, and also to spam you with unwanted advertisements. These can be removed with special software, but be very wary of companies claiming to offer spyware solutions, because they often contain spyware themselves!

3. Check for and remove viruses.
Many viruses will slow your computer to a crawl. It’s very important to have a good antivirus program that is kept up-to-date.

4. Defragment your Hard Drive.
As you use your computer, files become fragmented. This can slow the operation of your computer dramatically.

5. Upgrade your RAM.
RAM stands for “random access memory” and almost everything your computer does requires this type of memory. If you are running low on this, your computer will suffer significant loss of speed. This is the cheapest and most effective hardware upgrade you can perform.

6. Add a dedicated video card.
Most computers use integrated video adapters, meaning that all of the graphics displayed on your screen are using up RAM. Adding a dedicated video card which has its own memory can dramatically increase both the graphics performance and overall speed of your computer.

7. Reformat your Hard Drive.
This is a very dramatic form of cleaning up your PC. It involves deleting everything on your Hard Drive and reinstalling your operating system (such as Windows). Make sure you have backed up all of your files.

8. Upgrade your internet plan.
If the performance of your computer is satisfactory, but web pages load slowly or downloads aren’t as fast as you’d like them to be, call your internet service provider and ask them about upgrading to a plan with more bandwidth.

9. Is it time for a new PC?
We’ve found that computers older than 4 or 5 years are somewhat obsolete. Obtaining parts for older computers is generally more expensive and they are usually much less efficient than newer parts. Computers these days are extremely cheap regarding what you get for your money, so it’s always a good possibility to explore.

10. Get a geek out!
Here at Geeks2U we receive calls every day from people suffering from poor computer performance. Our technicians are extremely experienced at diagnosing performance issues with your PC and can generally have them fixed within one hour. We will also provide you with personally tailored advice on how to keep your computer running as efficiently as possible.


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