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Security

Summer holiday internet safety

The school summer holidays are now in full swing. At the time of writing this, the weather thus far has been far from ideal for the kids to be outside all the time, so it’s inevitable that they are spending more time than parents would like on their computers and tablets. And the more time they spend on their machines, the more time they may spend browsing and exploring on the internet and “chatting with friends” on social media.
So how do you monitor what they are doing and how do you keep them safe? It’s not easy, so start with some basics such as setting boundaries and rules for your children from a young age. Then get involved in finding out more about the kinds of online interests that they have by asking them to show you how to do various things online. It can be fun and is also a way of spending more time with them. They will probably even like the fact that you’ve taken the effort to ‘catch up’ with them.
You can also:
  • Ask them questions about what their friends do on-line, ask them to show you the newest and best websites and apps and ask what their favourites are.
  • Ask your children to tell you about all their email and instant messaging accounts and what the passwords are, thus allowing you to monitor their activities. Don’t feel guilty about it - you’re only giving them a false sense of security by letting them believe that privacy exists on the Internet.
  • Ask them to “friend” you on all their apps. This may not go down well but it could be one of the conditions for you allowing them to access social networking sites.
  • Talk to them about cyberbullying – ask them if they know what it is and if they, or any of their friends have ever experienced it?
  • Talk to friends, family and other parents about how they help their children to progress and keep safe in their digital world.
  • Ensure you know how to use parental controls on computers, mobiles and games consoles, privacy features on social networking sites, and the safety options on Google and other search engines.
  • Install software designed to keep children safe online, for example Qustodio, which helps you monitor web activity, blocks inappropriate content and sets a time schedule or limits how much internet time is allowed each day.
  • Make sure they know not to click on links in emails or instant messages, that they are aware of using strong passwords (which they should share with you) and are not turning off antivirus programmes and firewalls.
Further helpful information can be found on the NSPCC and Cbeebies websites: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety
http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/grownups/article-internet-use-and-safety

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 Outlook.com 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.

Windows Vista end of support

In our last article, we spoke about the ransomware which crippled, amongst other large organisations, the NHS, mainly because their computer systems were still running the hugely outdated Windows XP operating system. In fact, any computer user who is still using Windows XP is at risk of being struck by any type of malware or ransomware, by which we mean that all their data, including photos, coursework etc, could be lost forever.

Well this also applies to anyone still running Windows Vista on their PC. And there are many people out there. Mainstream support for Windows Vista actually ended on April 10, 2012, but Microsoft continued to offer support options and updates as part of its extended support phase. However, that came to an end on 11
th April of this year.

Microsoft has confirmed that "After April 11, 2017, Windows Vista customers will no longer receive new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options, or online technical content updates. Microsoft has provided support for Windows Vista for the past 10 years, but the time has come for us, along with our hardware and software partners, to invest our resources towards more recent technologies so that we can continue to deliver great new experiences."

Windows Vista will continue to work after 11
th April, but if new security vulnerabilities or bugs are found - and believe me, that will happen - Microsoft will not issue updates to fix them. Some programs will continue to work and you can still run security software to keep your device as safe as you can, but fact of the matter is you are basically putting yourself at risk.

The longer you stay with Windows Vista or XP, the higher the chance of you becoming a victim of cyber-crime. Cyber-criminals target out of date operating systems due to their vulnerability, therefore updating your operating system will safeguard you from these external threats and help keep your system more secure with continued Microsoft mainstream support and patches.

Another thing to consider is what will happen to Windows Vista support when it comes to popular programs. Google, for instance, stopped supporting Windows Vista in the Chrome browser nearly a year ago, and Mozilla is now doing the same thing with Firefox.

For those of you who do wish to upgrade to Windows 10, our next article will cover buying new or refurbished PC’s and laptops, on which this latest Microsoft operating system is installed.

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.

Windows 10, Adding a child's account

The Internet is a scary place and keeping your child safe online can often be a daunting prospect. Luckily, Windows 10 offers access controls, time limits and activity reports, including reports on the websites, apps and games your child uses. You can set up individual user accounts for each member of the family with their own unique passwords and then tailor the controls and restrictions to the age of your child. It’s relatively easy to set up a user account and then protect and monitor their activity in just a few minutes.

To get started, you need to create Microsoft accounts for your kids, which you then can add to your family at account.microsoft.com/family. Once you've added them to your family, you'll be able to choose the additional limits and permissions you want your kids to have. When your kids sign in with their own accounts, they can personalise their desktop and explore apps and games and in addition, their family settings will be applied to any Windows 10 device they sign into.

To set up a child’s account in Windows 10, open Settings, then Accounts, then click Family and Other Users in the left side panel. From here, you can either add a new family member, which gives you the option to set parental controls on your children’s accounts, or simply add a new user. If you choose 'Add a family member', each person you add will need to have their own Microsoft account. (You can create Microsoft accounts from here by clicking the 'The person who I want to add doesn’t have an email address' link).

For extra security, you will need to enter a telephone number. This way if you’re ever unable to access the account, i.e. if it is hacked or you forget the password, you can have a code sent to your phone that will let you reset it.

On the next screen, there are options to have Microsoft recommend apps and other such advertising techniques. I would suggest unchecking these boxes. It’s entirely up to you, but considering this is a child’s account, I don’t believe that either of these options are relevant.

Once you’ve set up your additional accounts, the next time you reboot or log off your PC the new users will appear to the bottom-left of the login screen.

With your child’s account added, you can set up and configure their account settings using the Microsoft Family Safety website. We will cover this and
How to Use the Parental Controls in Windows 10 in our next article.

How to back up data on Windows 10 PCs

Our last article warned about the rise in Ransomware attacks and how, if your PC is attacked, your data will almost certainly be destroyed and lost forever. In addition, the everyday hazards of spilling water on a laptop or suffering a hard drive failure can also result in disaster.

You can take steps to protect yourself by ensuring you have at least one external backup for your important files and that this backup is performed on a regular basis. In fact, many business users should have two or three backups, all kept in different locations.

There are two main types of backup that you can use to keep your important data safe. The first is ‘file backup’, which allows you to make copies of the files stored on your PC.

File History is a handy tool in Windows 10, which allows you to perform regular, scheduled copies of the data on your PC and store it on an external drive.

To set up File History you’ll first need to ensure a secondary drive is connected to your PC:

Click the
Start button then the Settings button (it looks like a gear and is found in the bottom-left corner of the Start menu). Then click Update & security > Back Up > Add a drive and then chose the drive you’d like to use as a backup.

You can now choose which files you want to back up:

Click the S
tart button then the Settings button. Click Update & security > Backup > More options > Add a folder. Choose a folder you want to back up then click on Choose this folder. If you add the wrong folder or want to remove a folder from the backup list, click the folder in the Back up these folders list then click Remove.

You can change how often a backup occurs, as long as the drive is connected:

Click the
Start button then the Settings button. Click Update & security > Backup > More options. Click the dropdown arrow beneath Back up my files, then click frequency options.

You can also change how long the backups are kept on the drive or network by clicking the
dropdown arrow beneath Keep my backups, then click a time limit.

REMEMBER THAT ONCE YOUR BACK UP IS FINISHED, YOU MUST DISCONNECT THE EXTERNAL BACKUP DEVICE FROM YOUR PC TO PREVENT RANSOMWARE FROM ATTACKING IT.

The other type of backup is a ‘system backup’ or a 'system image'. This is more complicated as it involves making a backup copy of the entire Windows operating system running on your PC, as well as all your programs, files and settings. If this is something you wish to carry out, give us a call.

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.

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. (www.bullguard.com/blog/2016/06/internet-of-things-consumer-devices.html).

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.

Internet Of Things

You may have heard the term "Internet of Things" (or IoT) but wondered what it is. In short IoT is the concept of connecting different devices to the web and to each other. This can include anything that has an on/off switch such as washing machines, coffee makers, smartphones, tablets, doors, light switches, coffee makers and many more. These objects or “things” are embedded with software, sensors, electronics, and network connectivity, allowing them to complete tasks and communicate with each other without any human involvement.

One of the ideas behind IoT is to create a Smart Home where objects such as thermostats (in the UK, most energy companies are rolling out Smart Meters), lights, fridges, door locks, toasters, washing machines etc can all be connected to the internet and controlled by your smart phone or computer. IoT also applies to the use of smart devices outside of the home to automate processes, such as roads that alert drivers to spots of black ice or recycling bins that tell the council when to pick them up.

So how does the Internet of Things work? Well, it is made up of three major components: the things themselves; the networks connecting them together and the data flowing between each of the devices. By collecting and analysing this data, the devices can establish patterns of interest, so that users can act upon the data via their mobile apps.

One of the most popular pieces of Internet of Things technology currently available is the Nest, a smart thermostat that is connected to the internet. The Nest learns your household’s routines and will automatically adjust the temperature based on when you’re home or away, awake or asleep, hot or cold, to make your house more efficient and help save on heating and cooling bills. The mobile app allows you to edit schedules, change the temperature when you’re away from home, etc.

There is also the Philips Smart Bulb, which lets you programme and control your lights from your smartphone.

IoT has been described as a world changing revolution that will affect industrial sectors, the home and eventually the entire world. But be warned, the
smart home might not be quite so smart when it comes to security.

Cyber criminals must be rubbing their hands together with glee knowing that there are an estimated twenty-five billion devices, including desktops and laptops, online, with separate research stating that 70 percent of IoT devices are unsecured. Connecting even more of these devices creates new, and heightens existing, security risks. In fact, there have been recently reported web attacks that used compromised connected devices, from webcams to printers, to knock out several popular websites.

So what should we be doing to protect ourselves and our homes? We’ll talk about this in our next article.

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.

Is online banking safe?

A question I am asked almost every week. And rightly so. But yes, online banking is safe with the proper precautions. The following are tips for how to safely bank on-line.

Go to your bank’s website by typing in their URL – NEVER CLICK ON A LINK IN AN EMAIL
Hackers can access a bank account by tricking a user into thinking they're logging into their account when actually they are not. This technique (phishing) is often carried out via an email informing you that you need to change your online information, verify a purchase, or something else that would make you log into your bank account via a link in the e-mail. In reality, the link takes you to a fake page that will log your account information.

Make sure the page is secure when entering data
A web page that encrypts data displays a small lock either next to the address bar (top left of the screen) or in the bottom corner of the window. In addition, the URL will start with https:// instead of http://. When you go to your bank login page, check that you see this lock before entering your username and password. If there is no lock, DO NOT log into the page.

Never send usernames, passwords, etc. through e-mail
No bank will ever ask you to send personal information via email. E-mail is unencrypted and could be read if intercepted by a third-party.

Be cautious where you log into your bank
It is advisable to only log into your online bank page while at home.
Your workplace may employ methods of monitoring you while online. Someone with access to these logs would be able to see all keystrokes, including usernames and passwords.
When on an open wireless network it's important to realise that all information being sent to and from your computer to the wireless router can be intercepted and read by someone nearby. We would
NEVER recommend on-line banking over an open wireless network (ie at a hotel or in a restaurant).
Be aware when logging into a computer you're not familiar with – it could intentionally or unintentionally log usernames and passwords.

Use a strong password
Here I go again!! But I cannot emphasise enough how easy passwords are to crack. PLEASE do not make it easy to guess such as your child’s/pet's name. Your banking password should have numbers, special characters and upper and lower case letters. Most banks now also provide you with a card reader or an app for a 2-stage authentication log-in .

Make sure your computer is protected
Finally, it's always a good idea to keep your personal computer protected with an anti-virus. When an attacker attacks or infects a computer they could install a keylogger - a software program or hardware device used to monitor and log each of the keys a user types into a computer keyboard.

YouTube Parental Controls

Our kids are growing up as part of the internet generation and, if they are anything like mine, love watching videos online. As much as we would love to let them loose on YouTube to watch their cat videos, there is a huge amount of rubbish that kids shouldn't have access to, despite it being vetted for extremely explicit offensive content.

The good news is that YouTube has a "Safety mode" setting—its version of parental controls. It doesn’t guarantee to prevent all content of an explicit nature from reaching your children's eyes, although it is better than having nothing at all.

To enable YouTube Safety Mode in Your Web Browser
    IMPORTANT!! To prevent your child from turning safety mode off, you must log out of your Google / YouTube account by clicking your username link in the top right-hand corner of the browser window to lock the setting for the browser you are using. If you have multiple browsers, you need to open each browser and repeat this process to make sure Safety Mode is turned on in each one.

    Enable YouTube Safety Mode on Your Mobile Device
    Safety Mode may also be available on your mobile device's
    YouTube app. Check the settings area of the mobile app to see if it is an option. The process for locking the feature should be similar to the process above.

    NOTE AGAIN: YouTube warns parents that the Safety Mode feature is not 100% reliable and some offensive content could get through its filters.

    YouTube has released a free mobile app called "YouTube Kids" designed to provide a safer viewing experience for young children. Its built-in features make it harder for children to view the type of videos parents don't want them watching. It also blocks many search terms that young people might type in that parents find inappropriate.
    Other features of the app include a parental "timer" which allows parents to limit how long their children can use YouTube Kids before the app automatically turns off as well as an option that allows parents to turn off search.

    Steps Setting Up a PC for the First Time

    It’s Christmas and you’ve decided to treat the kids/your partner/your parents/your grandparents/yourself* (*delete as appropriate) to a new PC. “Hooray” they cheer as they unwrap their surprise – “we want to use it NOW!”
    Oops. You see, unlike most electronic devices, which can be plugged in and used immediately, Windows PCs need to be properly set up. There are a few simple actions you should undertake when you first turn it on to make it safer, faster and better prepared for the future.
    Install Windows Updates
    Depending on when Windows was installed on your computer, there may be many updates, some of them large, to download. Connect the PC to the Internet, go to Settings, then System and Security > Windows Update > Check for Updates. Your system will search for updates, which you will need to download and install. Reboot your computer and do it again… and again… until the update check fails to return new entries. Be patient, it may take some time.
    Customize
    Do create a user account and password. Only forgo this step if you're 110% sure no one else will want to gain access to this PC. Ever. If the computer is to have multiple users, it really is a must.
    You may also need to set your language, time zone, and clock and calendar. We would also advise adjusting the power settings, especially if you've got a laptop that is unplugged while in use. The "high performance" pre-sets will run the battery down faster.
    Install an Anti-virus program
    As we’ve mentioned numerous times in previous blogs, keeping your PC safe from malware and viruses is crucial.
    Clean out the cr*p…
    Large PC manufacturers install software on their computers at the factory. These "extras" are referred to as bundleware, bloatware, shovelware, and perhaps the most accurate, cr*pware. Download PC Decrapifier, a FREE tool that scans your PC for known bloatware, then allows you to delete it all in one click.
    …then fill it up again!
    Of course you needed to make room for your own stuff! Although we can't decide for you what software you need, no PC is complete without at least an office suite like Libre Office, a photo-editing tool, a media manager, Web browser and e-mail. And there are free alternatives for almost any program you might need – see next!
    FREE Alternatives.
    For popular and FREE Windows applications, such as web browsers, system tools, media applications, and cloud storage programs, go to www.ninite.com. Tick the programs you want to install, click Download Installer, and Ninite will download a single .exe file onto your system. Run the downloaded Ninite installer and it will automatically download each program you selected, installing it in the background. It’s brilliant.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our customers.

    How To Keep A Good Digital Reputation

    As children get older it is inevitable that they will start using social networking sites. Within these sites they will be encouraged to share all aspects of their lives – thoughts, opinions, feelings, pictures etc. – thus creating digital traces of themselves across the internet. However, what they probably fail to realise is that the internet keeps a record of everything we do online. In other words, it creates an “online reputation”.
    It is vital for children to understand how to manage their online reputation because once information is uploaded to the internet, it can be very easily and very quickly shared around. This in turn could affect their friendships, leave them open to cyber-bullying and even affect their job prospects (many employers and university admissions teams check social media profiles when researching candidates). Yet a digital footprint is incredibly difficult to remove.
    You can help your child keep a positive presence online by ensuring they understand the long-lasting effects of their internet activities and that their online reputation is created not only by what they post about themselves but also by what others post about them.

    • Emphasise the fact that it’s almost impossible to keep things private online. Even friends or family members could pass on messages you’ve asked them not to.

    • Children should never post anything online they don’t want thousands of people, including their family, to see.

    • A computer screen may give the illusion of distance between them and the other people they are communicating with, however being online is the same as living in the real world.

    • Always ask permission before tagging a friend online and never post inappropriate pictures. Watch out for photos tagged by their friends and remove any that are offensive.

    • Stop & think before posting a comment online. They could end up hurting someone or being hurt themselves. It is easier for comments to be misunderstood when typed rather than spoken.

    • Ask your child to tell you about all their email and instant messaging accounts and what the passwords are, thus allowing you to monitor their activities. Don’t feel guilty about it - you’re only giving them a false sense of security by letting them believe that privacy exists on the Internet.

    • Ask them to “friend” you on all their apps. This may not go down well but it could be one of the conditions for you allowing them to access social networking sites.

    • When your child stops using a social networking site, deactivate or delete their account.

    Keeping Your Family Safe On-Line

    Keeping Your Family Safe On-Line

     

    The internet is a fantastic resource with its millions of websites, apps, games and online communities, and just like thousands of other parents, I want my child to learn how to use it safely and responsibly. Unfortunately, it’s nigh on impossible to watch what our children are doing every minute they’re online. The increase in use of mobile devices in particular makes it even harder to keep tabs on what they’re watching or playing when they are out of sight. So, how can we help our children to stay safe on-line?

     

    • Start discussing online safety at an early age. Explain that just like the real world, there are safe and unsafe things on the internet. Some good questions to make the point are: If you leave the house, would you leave the front door open? Would you tell a complete stranger all your deepest secrets? 
    • Talk about protecting private information and never sharing passwords with anyone, even friends. Advise them that for extra protection they should create different passwords for different sites.  
    • Try to avoid having your child use the computer or device whilst hidden away. It is best to set up a computer in a family room with the screen facing outwards.  
    • Do read website and app ratings before allowing your children to visit or download them. If you wish to see which websites your child has been visiting, look at the browser history.  
    • Let your child know that it is perfectly OK to tell you, a teacher or another adult they trust if they are not happy about something they’ve seen or been asked to do whilst online.  
    • Ask them not to download files (music, games, movies or pictures) or install software or apps without asking. Turning off in-app purchasing capabilities on all devices should help.  
    • Ensure parental control software is installed on your devices. This will restrict the sites your child can access and prevent them from sharing sensitive information, such as name, age, address, phone number etc. Should your child accidentally access an unsuitable website, delete it from the 'history' folder and add the address to the Parental Control Filter List.  
    • It is important to install internet security software on all devices and make sure it is regularly updated.
     

    For further helpful advice, we recommend the following websites:

    http://www.kidsmart.org.uk/
    http://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety

    2 Factor Authentication

    While many people might not yet know the term “two-factor authentication,” there is every chance that you have come across it when you want to check your email, or perhaps your bank statement on-line. Having a password alone unfortunately isn’t as secure as it used to be and if someone gets your password, they can access your account without any fuss. Even having a strong password doesn't completely protect you. Two-factor authentication can help solve this problem.

    But what exactly is Two Factor Authentication (or 2FA)? Basically it requires not one but two pieces of privileged information before giving access to an online account. It works on the basis of “something you know and something you have”, ie when using your bank cash machine, you insert your bank card (something you have) and enter your passcode (something you know).

    2FA can be a little time-consuming as most major sites and services offering 2FA do it as an optional security feature, so you’ll need to dig around in the security settings of each account to find it. Much also depends on your willingness to ensure a higher level of security as you’ll need to prove your identity every time you log into a protected account from a new device.

    However, 2FA does make it much harder for hackers to gain control of your accounts. For example, a hacker trying to access your email account has your email address and even your password, however doesn't have the second element of the authentication process, which in most cases is a unique security code that's sent directly to your mobile phone via text messaging.

    Most major services support two-factor authentication when you attempt to log into your account from a new machine:

    Google/Gmail sends you a 6-digit code via text message. It also works with the Google Authenticator app for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

    Apple sends you a 4-digit code via text message or Find My iPhone notifications when you try to log in from a new machine.

    Facebook’s two-factor authentication is called "Login Approvals” and sends you a 6-digit code via text message. It also works with apps like Google Authenticator for Android, iOS and BlackBerry, as well as the "Code Generator" feature of the Facebook app.

    Dropbox sends you a 6-digit code via text message, although it also works with Google Authenticator and a few other similar authentication apps.

    Microsoft sends you a 7-digit code via text message or email. It also works with a number of authenticator apps. Windows Phone users can download Microsoft’s own authenticator app from the Windows Store.

    Yahoo! Mail sends you a 6-digit code via text message when you attempt to log in from a new machine.

    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
    https://blog.malwarebytes.org/tech-support-scams/
    http://netsecurity.about.com/od/securityadvisorie1/fl/How-to-Spot-a-Tech-Support-Scam.htm
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/18/phone-scam-india-call-centres

    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.

        Staying safe on face book

        Having your Facebook account hacked is a nightmare. Having someone access all your private messages, contact your friends, abuse your Facebook page and delete your personal information is a true definition of an intrusion of privacy? It could be a hacker or even a so-called friend who gets hold of your password and posts offensive messages to your Facebook friends. There are however, some actions within Facebook’s settings you can choose to limit the chances of being hacked or cyber-bullied.
        Enable Secure Browsing. This will, where possible, encrypt your activity on Facebook thus making it harder for others to access your Facebook information without your knowledge or approval.
        Enable on Login Alerts. This will alert you by email or text if somebody who isn’t you is accessing your account.
        Add a security code to new devices. For extra caution, set up Login Approvals. This will send a new security code to your mobile phone every time you log into Facebook from an unknown device, which you’ll need to use as your login password.
        Change your password regularly and use a unique password. Create a strong Facebook password and make sure it is different from your other online passwords. Use a combination of small and capital letters, numbers and symbols.
        Be wary of scams. To avoid downloading malware onto your computer, don’t click on suspicious links. You might even be asked to log in to Facebook again, although this time you’ll log into a different website set up by a hacker to steal your login information.
        Keep Your PC Security Updated. In addition to keeping your antivirus updated, keep your Firewall switched on and updated, use the latest version of your chosen browser and regularly download security updates.
        Add a secondary email ID to your account. In case your profile is hacked, Facebook will also send account recovery information to the secondary email ID.
        Confirm your mobile number. That way, even if you lose or forget your password, Facebook will be able to send you a new one via text message.
        Don’t ‘Keep Me Logged In’. At the Log In page, uncheck the checkbox that says Keep me logged in.
        Sign Out after use. Lastly but probably most importantly of all, never forget to log out from your Facebook account.
        If you believe your Facebook account has been hacked, go to the Facebook Account Compromise Reporting Page, and follow the instructions to report your account as compromised. For further information on Facebook security, go to https://en-gb.facebook.com/help

        Tips to Keep Your Data Secure on the Cloud

        For those who are unfamiliar with the term “cloud storage”, it is essentially a way of saving information to the internet. Cloud providers store your files, photos etc to an on-line location, thus offering an alternative backup to conventional methods of file storage. Using cloud storage, you can not only access but also share your files from any computer anywhere in the world since all you need is an internet connection.

        But can you be sure that the information you store on the cloud is safe? The short answer is, for the time being, no you can't. However, you can take some protective measures:

        1. Keep Your Computer Virus-Free.
        It is imperative that your computer is virus-free otherwise you run the risk of revealing your cloud logon details. Make sure your virus scanner and anti-malware software is up-to-date, and that you run your anti-virus scanner on a regular basis.

        2. Read The User Guide
        If you are not sure what cloud storage to choose or if you have any questions as to how a particular cloud service works, read the user agreement of the service you are planning to sign up for, however boring you may think it is. Be aware that your cloud service provider must also keep your data as safe and secure as they can. A good provider will be able to offer several secure backups of your files, all stored in different locations. If the service provider only has one storage location, or if they reveal the exact physical whereabouts of their servers, their security may be compromised.

        3. Be Serious About Passwords.
        I know you’ve heard me banging on and on about it in previous blogs, but so many people still do not take password security seriously. Did you know that 90 percent of all passwords can be cracked within seconds?

        4. Avoid Storing Sensitive Information
        The best way to protect any highly sensitive information is to keep it well away from the virtual world and use an alternative storage solution.

        5. Use An Encrypted Cloud Service.
        Some cloud services provide local encryption and decryption of your files as well as storage and backup. It means that the service takes care of both encrypting your files on your own computer and storing them safely on the cloud.

        XP Rip

        On 8th April 2014, Windows XP reached its “End of Life”. 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 new threats. Indeed, almost immediately, scams and fake software updates began to and continue to plague XP users.
        Just as importantly, not only did Windows XP machines start becoming less and less compatible with newer devices, most software makers have now also stopped ensuring that their product works with Windows XP. In fact, only last week Windows XP users have been reporting that after signing out of iTunes they’re no longer able to get back in. Although as yet unconfirmed by Apple, this is probably due to an upgrade in the way the iTunes App securely communicates with the iTunes Store. Furthermore, although Google extended support for Chrome on Windows XP after Microsoft stopped issuing security patches on XP, it has been announced that this support will cease at the end of 2015.
        Users who ignore the warnings and continue to run Windows XP are playing a very risky game. Unfortunately, this irresponsibility then becomes everyone else’s 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.
        So what should you do if you are still using an XP machine? The best tip I can offer is to run as far away as you can from this insecure, creaky and obsolete operating system. There are 2 basic options for switching to a more secure and less outdated operating system: 1) upgrade your existing computer or if your existing computer is too ancient to upgrade, 2) buy a new or second hand one.
        Upgrading to a Windows 8 PC is the best option however can be a little pricey for some. In which case, buying a 2nd hand Windows 7 computer is the next best option.
        The advantage of upgrading your operating system or buying a new one is that later this year Microsoft will offer free upgrades to Windows 10 for Windows 8.1 users and then for Windows 7 users. (Please note that the free upgrade is only available for the first year the software is available). Although no exact date has been given, Microsoft has confirmed a summer 2015 launch for Windows 10 in the UK.

        Ads, Add-Ons & Anti-Virus!!

        First thing things first, don’t trust your anti-virus program, a very odd thing to say I know, but hear me out. You can spend any where up to £60 a year on Norton or McAfee and they give you a warm fuzzy feeling that you are safe. But beware!
        Anti-virus software makes you as safe as it can and for the most part does a really good job at what it is supposed to do, which is to kill viruses and improve your firewall. It does however have 2 major flaws: it is only as good as its last update and it provides you with a false sense of security.
        The internet is full of fraudsters and hackers wishing to access your bank account and what we’ve found most of the time is that we’re the ones letting them in with weak passwords and the belief that we are safe in doing crazy things like installing free programs from unknown sites that get around our firewalls.
        Secondly, if you're seeing extra or unusual ads on your computer, you may have an unwanted ad injector. Ad injectors are programs that insert extra ads or replace existing ads on web pages. Unfortunately, many of these ad injectors are not detected by traditional anti-viruses.
        Browser add-ons (also called browser extensions) are simple little programs that add functionality to your web browser. Some, like Adblock Plus, are really good, however there are many rogue add-ons that bombard people with ads, the most malicious of which may steal login names and other valuable data. Ad injectors may be acquired through malware, deceptive advertising, browser add-ons or simply through a careless attitude towards online risks. It is essentially "unwanted software" and in some cases can be considered as malware. Not only are ad injectors intrusive, but people are often annoyed because they have been tricked into installing them in the first place.
        Only last week Google announced that after analysing over 100 million visits to their sites, they had discovered more than 200 fraudulent add-ons for its Chrome browser. It concluded that as many as 1 in 20 people who visit their websites have at least 1 malicious add on and of those users, a third have four or more. Google’s research found that malicious extensions were available for every major browser.
        So our advice this week is simple: check your browser to see if you have any lurgies hanging about that could inject those unwanted and possibly dangerous adverts.

        Whats the difference between malware and viruses

        We are often asked what the differences are between malware and viruses and why an anti-virus cannot stop everything. This week I’d like to try to help out a little.

        Malware (malicious software) is the big umbrella term. It covers viruses, worms, trojans, adware, spyware etc. Malware can be unwittingly downloaded from infected bogus email attachments, USB sticks, pirated material and hijacked websites.
        There are 2 major categories of malware: hidden and visible.

        Hidden Malware.
        This is malware that is predominately installed without the user’s knowledge. Its intention is to cause damage or for financial gain:

        Virus -
        this may corrupt or delete data on your computer or even delete everything on your hard disk. Viruses spread when the software or document they are attached to is transferred from one computer to another.

        Worm - a malicious computer program that is able to copy itself incredibly quickly from machine to machine, usually by exploiting a security hole in a piece of software or the operating system.

        Trojan - like the mythical Trojan horse, they are often disguised as a piece of software that looks innocent. Trojans are one of the most common methods a criminal will use to infect your computer and collect personal information.

        Visible Malware (Grayware)
        Grayware refers to applications or files that are non-malicious, but can still adversely affect the performance of a computer:

        Spyware - installs components on a computer for the purpose of recording internet surfing habits. Spyware sends this information to its author or to other interested parties when the computer is online.

        Adware - displays advertising banners on web browsers, which many computer users consider invasive. Adware programs often create annoying pop-up ads and a loss of network connection or system performance.

        PUPS (Potentially Unwanted Program) – software that uses high amounts of system resources and is a common cause of spam e-mails and slow systems.

        The reason your anti-virus won't stop all types of malware is because the release rate of malware is so high. New malware is released on a daily basis and the anti-virus companies just cannot keep up. We advise that you protect your computer as best you can by:

        • Keeping up-to-date with the latest operating system updates and patches.

        • Installing anti-virus software and downloading updates.

        • Ensuring that Adobe Flashplayer is up-to-date. Use their official website (never use a pop-up which informs you that you need to update it): https://get2.adobe.com/flashplayer/

        • THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK. The best way to prevent a malware infection is YOU. Avoid downloading and installing anything you do not understand or trust.


        Hopefully that clears things up a bit!

        GO WIRELESS WITHOUT BEING CARELESS

        If you have a laptop, smartphone or tablet with wireless connectivity, you can access the Internet using Wi-Fi or wireless networks in public places such as cafés, airports and hotels.
        Here are some tips to enjoy the convenience of public Wi-Fi whilst helping protect your privacy.

        Turn off sharing

        Ensure you disable sharing settings on your device before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. Tablets and Smartphones don’t share at all but laptops do, therefore when you connect to a public network, make sure you select the public profile.

        Avoid Automatically Connecting to Wi-Fi Hotspots

        If your device is set to automatically connect to any available Wi-Fi hotspot, not only will this allow it to connect to public networks without your permission, you may also be connecting to malicious networks set up specifically to steal your information.

        Confirm the Network Name

        Hackers can set up fake Wi-Fi networks to attract innocent public Wi-Fi users. If you’re in a café, hotel or other public place and you’re not sure that you’re connecting to the official network, ask. Staff should know the name and password of the official network if there is one.

        Check the network is secure

        Wireless networks might require a password or other security key, or they might be unsecured and open to anyone with a wireless adapter close by. Make sure you connect to a secure network; Windows warns you if it’s insecure by using a yellow shield, Apple tells you it’s secure by putting a padlock on it.

        Don’t type in credit card numbers or passwords

        The measures mentioned above can provide some protection against identity thieves who prey on wireless networks. However, a hacker with the right tools can use the same public network to see everything you do, including the websites you visit and any passwords or information you type. It's like inviting someone to peer over your shoulder. To be truly safe, never use public networks for banking and shopping.
        One more thing about wireless networks: if you've set one up at home, you should secure it too to avoid anyone within range of the signal accessing your personal files. No offense to your neighbours!
        We were recently asked by a customer if we could write this column regarding security advice on connecting to public Wi-Fi. If you would like me to write about something specific in a future column, please email me at wisbech@diamondbyte.com

        Laptop top tips

        This week I thought I’d give some advice on keeping your laptop running spick and span.

        Your laptop is an advanced bit of kit, worthy of special care and attention. That doesn’t mean looking after your laptop is difficult though as my top tips below should explain.


        Dim It
        The LCD display on a laptop sucks battery life like you wouldn’t believe. To make the battery last longer when the laptop is not plugged in, turn down the screen brightness to the lowest level your eyes can bear.

        Windows laptops include power plans for maximizing battery life, but you can also customise your laptop’s power-management features. Setting shorter times for when the display turns off and when the laptop goes into sleep will help your battery last longer.

        Cool It
        Due to their small vents, laptops can easily overheat when kept in small cases and using your laptop on your lap can prevent ventilation and make matters worse. Try using a lap desk or a laptop cooling pad that doesn’t conduct heat or block the laptop's vents.

        Back It Up
        Lots of movement puts computer components at risk, which means that laptops suffer much more wear and tear than desktops. This increases the risk of hard drive failure, so do ensure you back up the data on your laptop to an external hard drive, USB memory stick, or the cloud on a regular basis. Portable hard drives are good for backing up data when you are out and about.

        Bag It
        If you often carry your laptop about with you, the most useful accessory you can buy is a laptop bag. For maximum protection, it is advisable to buy a bag with a built-in padded sleeve. If you want something less conspicuous place your laptop in a stand-alone sleeve and stow it in your backpack or briefcase.

        Acclimatise It
        When your laptop is moved from a cold to a warm environment (and vice versa) don't turn it on until it reaches room temperature. Sudden temperature changes can cause condensation and moisture to build up inside the laptop, which could damage the internal components.

        Track It
        Thousands of laptops are reported stolen every year. It is worth investing in tracking software, such as prey from www.preyproject.com, which is able to locate a registered laptop once it connects to the Web, thus increasing your chances of recovering your system.

        Top internet shopping security tips

        As the festive season is fast approaching and many of you will be buying Christmas gifts on-line, I’d like to give you some tips on trying to keep safe when internet shopping.
        • If you don’t know the website, stay clear. This may sound a little obvious, but if you don’t know who the retailer is, are you sure you can trust them? Make sure you’ve either heard of them or that they’ve been recommended to you as safe. Don’t trust website reviews from people you don’t know but in the event that a particular online retailer is the only place to get what you want, make sure you check that you’ve got plenty of contact details such as a name, phone number and postal address.
        • Returns Policy. Make sure the retailer you buy from has got one and that you know what it is.
        • Make sure the retailer has a secure website. When you are at the checkout and before you type in your credit card details, do check the security of the website. There are 2 ways of doing this: firstly look for a padlock in the web browser’s address bar; secondly check that the address in the address bar starts with https:// (the ‘s’ stands for secure).
        • Use a credit card. Avoid using a debit card online as you will have significantly less protection than using a credit card. In addition, some credit cards will give you free extended warranties.
        • Split your email addresses. You’ve quite possibly got 2 email addresses already, one for work and one for home. You should consider at least 2 email addresses for home use, one for all the social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and another for shopping and banking. That way if your social media address gets hacked, it won’t be as much of a security issue as the shopping/banking one. We’ve always recommended free email addresses which are available from Microsoft but Google, Yahoo and Apple offer similar services.
        • Set a serious password. Coming up with a good password that is easy to remember and yet strong can be quite hard. The best passwords are made up of phrases, upper and lower case characters and punctuation. So for example “iloveShopping4shoes!” or “iwantaCheesesandwich4lunch!” would work really well (although obviously not now as I’ve just told 10,000 readers!).

        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 www.diamondbyte.co.uk/blog

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

        http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/security/online-privacy/avoid-phone-scams.aspx
        https://blog.malwarebytes.org/tech-support-scams/
        http://netsecurity.about.com/od/securityadvisorie1/fl/How-to-Spot-a-Tech-Support-Scam.htm
        http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/18/phone-scam-india-call-centres