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Antivirus is no longer enough to protect your computer

It wasn’t that long ago that anti-virus software was the epitome of computer security, especially if you were a Windows user. However, ransomware and crypto malware attacks are rising at a terrifying rate and show no signs of stopping. Unfortunately, traditional anti-virus software alone is not effective in dealing with these types of attacks

Although experts still recommend using anti-virus software to protect your computer, this is now only the first part of a “layered approach” to keeping your PC and personal information safe.

The second part of the “layered approach” is to ensure your computer’s other software (especially the operating system) is up-to-date. Remember the WannaCry ransomware attack which struck the NHS’ (amongst other organisations) Windows machines in May? Microsoft had already provided a software update about two months before the attack that protected users running operating systems like Windows 7 or Windows Vista from WannaCry. However, PCs that hadn’t been updated or that were Windows XP were left vulnerable. Microsoft says users who were running Windows 10 weren’t affected by the attack.
Don’t forget to keep your anti-virus software, like Windows Defender, updated too. The software can't fight a threat it doesn't yet know about, and that information is found in regular updates.

The third layer is to recognise that phishing attacks are the most common way for attackers to get into your system. Phishing attempts happen when you receive an email with a malicious link in it, or are asked to enter your username and password on a website that impersonates your bank’s website, for example. So, try to be smart about what email service you use. Google and Microsoft are good choices, because, as they have effective inbuilt controls and security, they help prevent phishing in their Gmail and email services.

DO BACK UP YOUR DATA REGULARLY, because should your computer become infected by ransomware, you can wipe your computer, install the operating system from scratch, and then restore it from the backed-up version. OK, so it can be a pain to do, however it’s better than losing everything. Don’t forget to unplug your back up drive from the computer once the backup is done, otherwise it too will become infected.

Finally, as I have mentioned many times before, vigilance and common sense are crucial factors in helping prevent malware and ransomware attacks:

  • Never follow links from e-mails. Instead open a new tab or window and enter the URL of your bank or other destination manually.

  • Enter your username and password only over a secure connection. Look for the “https” prefix before the site URL - if there is no “s,” beware.

Yet more ransomware

It will come as no surprise to you that this week’s article will cover the recent malware attack on the NHS and other major enterprises across the world.

The ransomware in question is called WannaCry (also known as WanaCrypt0r 2.0, Wanna Decryptor 2.0, WCry 2, WannaCry 2 and Wanna Decryptor 2) and in less than four hours, it had infected NHS computers,
beginning in Lancashire, and then spreading throughout the NHS’s internal network.

Although the NHS does not seem to have been specifically targeted, many
NHS trusts still use Windows XP, a version of Microsoft’s operating system that reached its “End of Life” on 8th April 2014. This meant that Microsoft stopped providing security updates or technical support for Windows XP, which instantly made the system vulnerable to a huge array of threats. Even though, in March, Microsoft released a patch for XP & Vista, the NHS failed to implement it!!

In case you missed the furore surrounding this cyber-attack, ransomware is a type of malware that infects a PC and then encrypts data files or even the entire system. Once all the files are encrypted, it posts a message asking for payment (usually in Bitcoins, a digital currency) for a code that will restore the files and threatens to destroy the information if it doesn’t get paid, often with a timer attached to put the pressure on. Even worse is that the hackers often take the payment but still do not unlock the data.

Most ransomware is spread hidden within Word documents, PDFs and other files normally sent via email, or through a secondary infection on computers already affected by viruses that offer a back door for further attacks.

So, it has now been proven that computer users who continue to run Windows XP are playing a very risky game. Unfortunately, this irresponsibility then puts other computer users at risk because their systems end up hosting and distributing malware and viruses. Continuing to use Windows XP on the public internet is very much like going out in public with a virus and coughing on people.

If you are still using an XP machine, STOP! You need to upgrade your existing computer or, if your existing computer is too ancient to upgrade, buy a new one.

For users of the most recent Microsoft operating systems, do protect yourselves by installing
antivirus software and keeping your operating system and applications up-to-date. Don’t visit any suspicious sites or open email attachments from unknown sources. Most importantly, you really must perform regular back-ups of ALL YOUR DATA onto an external hard-drive, then immediately unplug the device from your computer since ransomware can encrypt what is on that as well as what is on the computer.

More Ransomware

You may remember our article from last September regarding Ransomware and in particular the CryptoLocker virus. So why are we writing yet another article about this malicious malware? Simply because in 2016 there was a massive rise in the number of Ransomware attacks.

There are currently two types of ransomware in circulation:
  • Encrypting ransomware, which is designed to block system files and then demand payment to provide the victim with the key that can decrypt the blocked content. Examples include Cryptolocker, Locky and CryptoWall.
  • Locker ransomware, which locks the victim out of the operating system, making it impossible to access the desktop and any apps or files. The files are not encrypted in this case, but the attackers still ask for a ransom to unlock the infected computer. Examples include the police-themed ransomware or Winlocker.

Ransomware differs from other malware in that it features unbreakable encryption, meaning that you can’t decrypt the files on your own. It can encrypt all kinds of files, from documents to pictures, videos and audio files and it can scramble your file names, so you can’t know which data was affected. Usually, the ransom payments have a time-limit - going over the deadline will increase the ransom, but it can also mean that the data will be destroyed and lost forever

Victims are hacked by clicking on an innocent looking attachment or website link within an email. This releases malicious software
that destroys not only the victim’s data but also the data on any connected device including network shares. Ransom notes then appear demanding that money be paid in Bitcoin in return for a decryption key that will disable the virus. However, there is no guarantee that the key will work or prevent further attacks.

Ransomware creators target home users mainly because they often don’t have
data backups; because many users will click on almost anything and because their software and antivirus are not up-to-date (even if specialists always nag them to keep them updated!).

Businesses are targeted because that’s where the money is; because it can cause major business disruptions, which will increase their chances of getting paid and because computer systems in companies are often complex and prone to vulnerabilities that can be easily exploited.

Public institutions, government agencies in particular, are targeted because they manage huge databases of personal and confidential information that cyber criminals can sell; because they often lack defences that can protect them against ransomware and because they often use outdated software and equipment.

Like most malware, ransomware gets onto systems through untrusted sites and attachments. So protect yourself by installing
antivirus software, keep your operating system and applications up-to-date and don't visit any suspicious sites or open email attachments from unknown sources. The most important piece of advice I can impart is that you perform regular back-ups of ALL YOUR DATA onto an external hard-drive, then immediately unplug the device from your computer as ransomware can encrypt what is on that as well as what is on the computer.

Fake News Scam

newsI’d like to bring to your attention this week a new trend of “Fake News”, currently appearing on a great number of websites, including Facebook, Google and Twitter. Fake News is posted for a number of reasons: trying to influence opinion, attacking a political opponent (the 2016 Presidential election is a prime example); stock manipulation scams, to sell advertising and most popularly to shock people into clicking on the link and then infect their machine with malware (celebrity deaths).

For example, one of my customers saw a supposedly genuine news story on Facebook reporting that Noel Edmonds had died. When he clicked on the link, the entire page tuned into a huge virus warning saying he had less than 5 minutes to phone the support number at the bottom of the page otherwise his computer would become inoperable. This was a ruse (there was no virus) and just an excuse for the offending company to charge £150 for 10 minutes of support as well as selling him some anti-virus for a further £20.

Another example is the advert claiming you can become a millionaire overnight. These ads are usually placed next to an image of a famous person of great wealth and the scheme is described as his/her secret and people are encouraged to sign up.

So how do you know if a news story or advert is real or fake?
  • Avoid websites that end in “lo”, for example Newslo. These sites take pieces of accurate information and then package that information with other false or misleading “facts”.
  • Watch out for websites that end in “” as they are often fake versions of real news sources, and strange or unusual domain names are a big Red Flag.
  • Check to see if other known and reputable news sites, such as the BBC are also reporting on the story.
  • If it is an anonymous story and there is no known / trusted author, it's probably fake.

To summarise, consider the source, double check if the data is correct using other reliable sources, and most importantly Think Before You Click!

If you do happen to click on a fake news story, you will need to force your browser to shut down. To do this, press CTRL-ALT-DELETE (all at the same time), open Task Manager, then select your web browser (it'll probably be called Edge, Chrome, Firefox or iexplore) and click the End Task button. This will kill the fake virus web page. Once you have done this, you can reopen your web browser BUT DO NOT TRY TO RESTORE THE PREVIOUS SESSION.

And please, if ever you see a fake story, do report it to the platform you found it on.

Phishing Scams

This week I want to talk about Phishing Scams. Phishing is a way in which fraudsters try to obtain your computer user names and passwords, and from there be able to access the rest of your online life.
Most of these scams come in the form of emails, although they can also arrive via text message, instant message, posted letters or phone calls. They will claim to be from organisations such as Internet Service Providers, banks, PayPal, eBay, Google or Apple. They will look genuine with the all the right icons, trademarks, copyrights and fonts that you’d expect to see.
The emails and text messages normally contain genuine-looking links to the relevant, but of course bogus, websites, asking you to simply login to the secure page of the website with your email address and password. Some may ask you to install a piece of software to do a security scan (installing viruses or keystroke loggers along the way).
Once your details have been “phished”, crooks can then use this information to commit crimes such as identity theft and bank fraud. They may even use your details to target you deeper by earning your trust in such a way as to convince you that they are from organisations such as the police or the fraud office. This is called “Spear-Phishing” because they already know their target.
Phishing isn’t restricted to just individuals - businesses are also targeted using specific requests for information or quite often legal or tax threats.
What can you do to stop it? The short answer is not a lot - crooks use systems that work. So, while you can’t stop them sending you the email in the first place, you can be aware and proactive. If you receive an email from, let’s say, PayPal that looks suspicious, you should forward it onto their fraud team who will inspect it and try to stop the crooks from using that email server. Almost all big companies will have an anti-fraud team that you can contact.
Other things to be aware of are:
  • When responding to emails, phone calls or texts, never give your login or personal details.
  • The email address that appears in the ‘from’ field of an email is not a guarantee that the email came from the organisation that it claims to have originated from.
  • Contact the organisation that has sent you the message by using a phone number that you have personally sourced. Speak to them directly to confirm if the message is genuine.
  • Use the spam filter in your email program to mark the message as spam and delete it. This ensures that the message cannot reach your inbox in future.
  • Never respond to a message from an unknown source. Take care not to click any on links to web pages. Even unsubscribe links can be bogus.

Dangers of IoT

In our last article, we wrote about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it is being used to create a “Smart Home” by connecting IoT ready devices to the internet and controlling them with your smart phone or computer.

However, a lack of security in IoT devices, just like in desktop computers and traditional mobile devices, can potentially offer an easy way in to your network and allow hackers to access, collect and misuse your personal information. Many hackers are moving away from businesses and governments, which nowadays have highly reliable internet security, to easier targets. And they don't come easier than the IoT connected smart home with its growing array of web-connected devices, from clever fridges which notify you when you are out of milk (yes really!) to thermostats and smart lightbulbs.

The Internet Society warned last year that: "The interconnected nature of IoT devices means that every poorly secured device that is connected online potentially affects the security and resilience of the internet globally."

So how do we protect ourselves from our networks becoming compromised? The first and most important thing is to change default passwords as soon as we buy an IoT gadget. NEVER use default accounts or passwords as many of them are posted on the internet. In almost every article we write, we reiterate the necessity of a strong password for your computers, bank accounts, email accounts etc – it should be made up of letters, numbers and punctuation (“iwantaCheeseSandwich4lunch!” is a brilliant example except that now most the Fenland Citizen readers know about it!!). Well the same applies to any IoT device you decide to connect to your network.

Simple tools such as Bullguard's IoT Scanner software can also help spot weaknesses. In addition, BullGuard has also published an IoT manual that gives a checklist on what to check and how. (

Other ways to increase IoT security is to keep product software and firmware up-to-date and to buy only from trusted brands like Philips or Nest.

It is also important to be aware that, in the rush to bring new products to market, some manufacturers of IoT devices add on privacy and security features after the fact, rather than including them in the device at the outset. One of the reasons why some IoT devices are cheaper than others is that manufacturers cut corners on security which is akin to putting cheap tyres on an expensive car.

Email Forwarding Scam

Once again I feel the need to write another article warning about hacking and identity fraud as I have visited several customers over the last few months whose emails have been hacked. In some of these cases the email hijackers created “forwarding policies” from the customers’ email addresses. But what does this mean and why is it dangerous?

Well, in one instance, a lady received a fake email from BT asking her to login to her BT email account to retrieve her statement. By clicking on the link within the email and then entering her email address and password on the fake BT email page (which looked incredibly convincing by the way), she'd unwittingly given the hacker all they needed to get into her real email account. Once in the BT account, the hacker altered the lady’s email settings so that all of her emails were automatically forwarded to the hacker’s email address.

In another instance a customer called me because he had not been receiving emails for several weeks. It turned out that his BT email account had also been compromised and once inside his email account, the hacker had set up an auto-forward which was sending all his emails to an email address he had never heard of. We only got to the bottom of this because the hacker hadn’t ticked the box to keep a copy of the emails in the in-box; hence he was not receiving any emails.

The reason that this email forwarding scam is so dangerous is because the hackers will receive everything you receive, including bank statements, personal messages, log-in information for other websites and accounts and much more. How long would it take, I wonder, for a hacker to build up enough information from your emails to create a new identity based on you? Not long at all is most certainly the right answer.

My advice therefore to all email users is to check all your email settings, in particular ensuring that the box to forward email on is not ticked. I would also recommend being careful when clicking on a weblink within an email. Personally speaking, if I am asked to log into any of my accounts – be it email, banking, Apple, Google, Paypal or anything - I do it directly through their website and not through an emailed weblink.

I would also like to take this opportunity to stress once again the importance of strong passwords for all your accounts. The longer the password the better and the more characters there are in your password, the longer it will take for a hacker to break it, making it less likely they will continue trying. Do use a mixture of numbers, lowercase and uppercase letters and special characters as it increases the complexity of your password and increases its strength.

BT and Talk Talk Scams

You may well remember my article last year warning of the scam whereby someone claiming to be from Microsoft or Windows technical support calls to tell you that your computer has been attacked by a virus and that they need to take control of it in order to remove the virus. In return, naturally, for a large fee. Of course, the caller is not from Microsoft and there is probably nothing wrong with your PC.

It would appear that since many people are now failing to fall for the “Microsoft Scam”, the scammers have put in place a twist on an old trick and are now purporting to call from ‘BT’s support team’ and have very believable answers when challenged.

They warn you that they have detected a virus which needs to be “fixed immediately” and then get you to download a piece of software onto your PC so that they can access it remotely to be able to remove the virus. In reality, what this software does is to give them access to your computer, therefore providing them with all your passwords and log-ins etc. Not only do they then access your bank accounts, they also make purchases using your credit or debit card details.

The alternative trick is to get you to pay the best part of £400 to remove the non-existent virus from your PC.

But the scammers are not stopping at phone calls. There is now an on-line scam in which fraudsters pose as legitimate internet service providers (ISPs) offering fake technical support. It works as follows: you are happily browsing the internet when a warning pop-up appears on your screen. This pop up is supposedly from your actual internet provider warning that “malware has been detected” and urges you to call a number "for immediate assistance”. When you call the number, you will be charged an excessive call fee and be asked to install software that compromises your computer.

It is scarily realistic because the scammers know which internet provider you are subscribed to. But how? Basically they place adverts which are infected with malware on perfectly legitimate websites. The user browses these websites and without even having to click on the advert, the malware in the advert redirects the user to a website in the background which checks their computer and finds their IP address. From the IP address it is easy to find out which ISP owns which IP address.

If you’re called by one of these scammers, whether they purport to be from BT, Microsoft or another company, NEVER let them remotely access your PC and NEVER hand over your bank details. It is simply not possible for a caller to know whether your PC is infected with viruses.

If you think you’ve been a victim, run a
virus scan, alert your bank and contact Action Fraud to report the scam.

Review Of 2015

We hope our blogs this year have been of some interest and help to you. Technology is a fast moving, ever-changing business and it’s sometimes hard to keep up, especially when you only use a computer every now and again. Let’s recap on some of the major happenings over the past year.

2015 saw the launch of Windows 10, replacing the much maligned Windows 8. This is the last major numbered release from Microsoft - future features and updates will be released on a regular basis instead of during a big release. So far the feedback has been mainly positive - approximately 110 million people throughout the world have upgraded to Windows 10. Remember that it is still free to upgrade to Windows 10 from an authentic copy of Windows 7 and 8.1 until July 2016. The main advantage of Windows 10 is that it can be used across all Microsoft devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones and Xbox.

Although Windows XP reached its “End of Life” in 2014 (meaning that bug fixes, free assistance and upgrades were no longer available), Microsoft did continue to provide virus warnings. This support however ended in July 2015. In fact, there is no support out there at all now for Windows XP, therefore continuing to use it puts not only your system at risk but also the systems of other people.

As mentioned in several blogs, internet and phone scamming was rife in 2015. We have dealt with many customers who have fallen prey to these evil individuals who are simply out to make easy money. And they make it so easy for us to fall for their scams. For some people, owning a PC and using the internet is a big deal and with all the clamor surrounding keeping safe on-line, panic can set in and all they want to do it follow the advice of the person who has phoned them. So remember - NO ONE GENUINE WILL EVER phone you about a faulty computer. If you do receive a call from a so-called Microsoft engineer, put the phone down. NEVER give them passwords, access to your computer or bank details. EVER.

We have also seen a rise in the number of people who have come to us with recently purchased second-hand computers, which are not only faulty but also have non-genuine operating systems installed. Often these are very old laptops which have a more recent version of Windows illegally installed on them. Simply put, these older laptops weren’t built to run Windows 7 and 8. The laptops we’ve seen were all very underpowered XP machines and were purchased through places such as Facebook selling pages, Gumtree, boot fayres and disreputable computer shops. If you have been a victim of this practice, talk to Trading Standards and Microsoft.

Yet More Scammers!!

unknownYou may think that the subject of this week’s blog is a bit of a cheat as I have previously written about it but phone scamming is once again on the increase and because it is such a heartless act, I would really like to remind people about it.
Phone scamming happens when a caller pretends to be a “technical support engineer” from either a Windows or Microsoft call centre, who has discovered problems or viruses on your computer. The caller will persuade you to give them access to your machine and once in, will use a common scare tactic of showing you lots of yellow and red exclamation marks and other scary looking error messages on the machine and claim that these are caused by viruses (which of course they are not, they are quite simply logged events such as your printer once having run out of paper or a web page you once tried to access was down).
The “engineer” will of course require immediate payment to clean up the “dangerously infected” computer and install “protection” software onto the system. In addition and unbeknownst to you, they are highly likely to install malware on your PC in order to obtain your online shopping or banking information, thus being able to steal money from your bank account.
Genuine computer companies will never, ever call you to report computer problems. So if someone claiming to be from Microsoft or Windows technical support calls you, we recommend the following:
Do not purchase any software or services.
Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the "service." If there is, hang up.
Take down the caller's information and immediately report it to your local authorities.
Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from “Microsoft tech support.”
If you’ve been victimised by a phone scammer:

Contact your credit card or bank Fraud Prevention Team to have the charges reversed and the account protected from future charges.
Change your computer password, along with the password of any online accounts that may have been provided to the scammer.
Update your security software and run a full security scan on your computer. You may also want to contact a local IT professional to have your computer checked for malware.

Please tell your friends and family about these scams. If more and more people are able to stop making it financially worth their while, then the scammers might stop bothering innocent computer users.
Don’t just take our word for it. Here are a few links

Fake Anti Virus

lego thief and policemanUse of fake anti-virus software is a fast-growing scam, especially since people are so aware of the dangers of spyware, adware and malware. Scammers often use the names of well-known companies that specialise in computer security software – such as AVG, Norton, Bullguard, McAfee etc - to gain your trust. The pop-up adverts are almost exact replicas of genuine warning alerts generated by these legitimate security manufacturers - once you click the warning, your computer is infected.
The aim of this scam is to charge you for bogus software and/or obtain your personal information. Once your computer is infected, the scammer is able to gather information to steal your identity or to sell it to other criminals.
Fake virus alerts are usually generated by a Trojan — a program that takes control of your computer after you open an email attachment, click on a pop-up advert or visit a particular website. Sometimes the Trojan creates “false positive” readings, making you believe viruses and spyware have infected your computer, even though nothing has. In other cases, scam software actually implants malicious code into your computer, especially if you request a “free virus scan.”
So how do you know if you have been infected with malware:

    To avoid becoming infected, we recommend:
      Although the majority of anti-virus pop-up alerts are fake, you may of course have received a legitimate virus warning. If you are unsure whether it is a genuine warning, check the official website of your anti-virus provider or consult a computer professional.

      Are you genuine?

      Following on from our laptop buying guide of a couple of weeks ago, this week I’d like to bring to light a worrying trend. We have seen an increase in the number of second-hand computers being brought in which not only have faults but also have non-genuine operating systems installed. Often these are very old laptops but which have a more recent version of Windows (usually Windows 7 Ultimate) illegally installed on them.
      This isn’t about protecting Microsoft’s millions but simply that these older laptops weren’t built to run Windows 7 or 8 since manufacturers often don’t make the software drivers available for newer versions of Windows.
      The laptops we’ve seen recently were all very underpowered XP machines with a mere 1 Gigabyte of RAM and were purchased through places such as Facebook selling pages, Gumtree, boot fayres and disreputable computer shops. You might think that buying a laptop for under £100 is a good idea in these austere times, but do check what you are buying and make sure that it comes with the right version of Windows installed
      So how do you know that you’ve got the correct version of Windows installed? Firstly, you need to check that the laptop has a Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity (COA). This is a label, usually located on the body of the computer (or for some newer laptops, inside the battery compartment), which is used to identify genuine Microsoft software. The version of Windows printed on the COA should match the version of Windows installed. If the COA doesn’t match or is missing, the chances are that the operating system is not genuine.
      Most Windows 8 computers will have a Windows 8 anti-tamper label on the body of the computer, however the code for installing Windows 8 is often locked away inside the main board of the laptop so it can’t be stolen.
      For more assistance, try Microsoft’s website:
      The general rule to remember is that
      if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is. People who sell dodgy laptops often advertise them at just below the normal prices to make you think you're simply getting a good deal. We always advise that you check before you buy and ensure you are buying from a reputable company. If you believe you have been a victim of this practice, talk to Trading Standards and Microsoft.

      Evil Call Centre Scam

      Computer users everywhere beware - phone scamming is on the increase again. This malicious act occurs when someone claiming to be from either a Windows or Microsoft call centre telephones you. The reason for their call, they say, is to warn you of a virus on your computer and to scare you into believing that you will be permanently kicked off the Internet. The caller will then ask you to run some checks on your computer. These may include Event Viewer, where they will show you numerous yellow and red exclamation marks and claim that these are caused by viruses. This is not true. These events are logged for a myriad of reasons, some of which are historical and quite mundane, such as your printer had run out of paper and failed to print or a web page you had once requested was down. The caller will then ask to take control of your computer and remove the virus for you, once you have paid them up to £200.

      For some people, however, it doesn’t end there. Only last week, a local lady was not only conned out of £209 for a bogus virus removal but the scammers then locked her computer out completely and emptied her bank account of an additional £1,000.

      These types of scam have been going on since at least 2008 and Microsoft is aware of the problem. However, apart from alerting people to the scams, there isn’t much more they can do. They do have this to say though:
      “Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes.
      So if someone claiming to be from Microsoft or Windows technical support calls you, we recommend the following:

      • Do not purchase any software or services.

      • Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the "service." If there is, hang up.

      • Take down the caller's information and immediately report it to your local authorities.

      • Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from “Microsoft tech support.”

      Please tell your friends and family about these scams. If more and more people are able to stop making it financially worth their while, then the scammers might stop bothering innocent computer users.
      For further information, see our blog at

      Don’t just take our word for it.. Here are a few links