The Importance of Updates!

With the number of security threats circulating on the Internet today, it’s critical that you keep your computer systems up to date to help protect yourself against some of those threats.  Running Windows Updates is important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.  You must keep your other software updated as well.

Windows Updates

By default, Microsoft enables automatic updates to run at 3:00 AM each day.  We recommend that you leave your computer on at least a couple nights each week so that it can install any outstanding updates.  We also recommend that you configure Automatic Updates to update all Microsoft products.
 
It’s a good idea to run updates manually once in a while.  Microsoft has some updates that will not install automatically because they require you to accept a license agreement first.  If you’re running Windows 7 or 8, watch out for the update to Windows 10.  In a business environment, we don’t recommend upgrading to Windows 10, unless you know for certain that all of your software and devices will be supported by that operating system.  The license agreement for Windows 10 has some very shady language that has led many computer experts to brand it as a legal form of spyware, so you will want to spend some time adjusting the privacy options if you decide to upgrade.

Antivirus

While antivirus software isn’t as effective as it once was, it is a very necessary piece of the security puzzle.  Almost all antivirus solutions will update their virus definition files automatically, but they may not update the program files automatically.  It’s a good idea to check for updates manually once in a while, and always be sure to check the software provider’s website on occasion to be sure that you’re running the latest version.

Java

Java is arguably one of the biggest security threats to PC users today.  Our recommendation is to not run Java, unless you have a specific need for it.  If you do have Java installed, be sure to keep it updated, and make sure that old versions are uninstalled.  You can uninstall old versions in the Programs and Features section of the Windows Control Panel.

Web browsers

Firefox and Chrome have their own automatic updates, and normally these updates happen in the background with little to no impact on your day to day computer use.  Occasionally, you will get a pop up notice to restart these programs to install new updates.  Internet Explorer gets its updates through Windows Updates.  We recommend that you use Firefox or Chrome as your default browser, since they are less prone to vulnerabilities.  If you must use Internet Explorer for some reason, be sure your Windows Updates are running successfully!

Other Software

Almost all software will have some type of security issue and needs to be updated from time to time.  You may think that since your software isn’t accessible to or from the Internet that you’re protected.  To a certain extent, that may be true, but malware today doesn’t necessarily stop at infecting just the files associated with the application that caused the security breach.

If you get a notification that a piece of software needs to be updated that you’re not sure of, do a quick Google search for the text in the notification message, and include the text in the title bar of the message box.  If you’re still not sure, don’t hesitate to give us a call to verify that the notification is legitimate.

 


Beware of Ransomware!

CashInSuitcaseNothing unsettles a computer technician’s stomach more than a call from a customer, letting us know that they have been infected by some form of malware.  Today’s malware is much more advanced, and in many cases, much more damaging.  In years gone by, malware usually resulted in aggravating popups, or pop unders, and was more an inconvenience than anything else.  Well, the times have changed.

Ransomware is one particularly dangerous form of malware.  If you’re not already familiar with ransomware, you should be.  Like most malware, ransomware takes advantage of human engineering, and tricks the user into allowing its payload to be delivered.  In most cases, ransomware is spread by way of an attachment in an email.  Most of us are trusting souls, and our natural inclination is to open an attachment, especially when the email tells us that we have past due invoices or an applicant has applied for an open position.  Don’t do it!

For those of you using a Mac, don't think that you're immune to this ransomware.  Viruses on a Mac certainly occur much less often than on a PC, and for most home users, the Mac is an excellent platform.  Having said this, most of you would not be able to run your businesses with Macs, so it's not worth the effort to have the discussion.  For more information about a recent ransomware attack directed at Mac users, check out this link.

www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-ransomware

There are a few things that you can do to protect yourself from these types of attacks.

  • Never open an attachment in ANY email from an unknown source.
  • If you get an unexpected email from someone you know that contains an attachment, pick up the phone or email that person, and verify that the email is authentic before opening the attachment.
  • If you have mail filters available, configure them to block all .zip and .exe attachments.
  • Locky ransomware has been known to deliver its payload by way of Microsoft Word documents.  If you receive an unsolicited email with a Word document attached, delete it!  For those of you in human resources positions, consider having applicants upload their resumes in pdf or text formats only.  Yes, this does create some inconvenience, but it’s better than having all of your company’s files on the server encrypted and spending the next several days recovering from backups.
  • Keep your systems updated!  Turn on automatic updates, and allow the updates to run regularly.  If you turn your systems off at night, consider leaving them on two or three times each week so that they get their critical security updates.  An unpatched system is like leaving the barn door wide open.
  • Run quality antivirus products, and keep them updated!

Unfortunately, the bad guys always seem to be a step ahead.  User education is a great start to preventing malware from impacting your business, but there is always the possibility that something will slip by your best defenses.  When that happens, it’s critical that you have good backups that you know you can recover from.  One backup isn’t enough, so consider implementing multiple layers of protection including local backups and online backups.  For local backups, be sure to rotate your backup media daily.  And finally, consider testing and documenting your ability to recover from your backups.

In addition to all of these things, there are other solutions that can be installed at the edge of your network to help protect your business from the bad guys.  For example, Cisco has a new line of firewall appliances called Advanced Security Appliance – Next Generation.  In addition to the normal firewall and VPN functions that you’ve come to expect from Cisco, these appliances have optional software services, including intrusion detection and advanced scanning capabilities, that can help protect your business from the human element.