What can you do with an old PC?

If your PC has been struggling to perform all the tasks you have at hand, we completely understand why you would be itching for a new one. But even if it’s old, sluggish, and always crashing, your old desktop or laptop may still prove to be useful. Here are some things you can do with an old PC.

Make a NAS server

Network-attached storage (NAS) is a server for your small business network that lets you store files that need to be shared with all the computers on the network. If your old PC has at least 8 GB of RAM, you can use it as your own NAS.

Simply download FreeNAS, a software accessible on Windows, MacOS, or Linux, that enables you to create a shared backup of your computers. FreeNAS has access permissions and allows you to stream media to a mobile operating system (OS), like iOS and Android.

But if you’d rather convert your PC into a private cloud for remote access and data backup, Tonido is a great alternative. This free private cloud server turns your computer into a storage website, letting you access files from anywhere on any device. Tonido offers up to 2 GB of file syncing across computers, and there are even Tonido apps for iOS and Android.

Secure your online privacy

Install The Amnesic Incognito Live System (TAILS) on your old computer and enjoy your very own dedicated privacy PC.

TAILS routes all your internet traffic and requests through TOR Project, a software that makes it difficult for anyone to track you online. All of this Linux-based software’s integrated applications like web browsers, Office suite, and email software are preconfigured for robust security and privacy protection.

Activate kiosk mode

In Windows 10, enabling Assigned Access “kiosk mode” ensures that only one app is allowed to run in the system. To activate this mode, open Settings and go to Accounts > Family & other users, then click on the Set up assigned access option. From there, you can choose which app the system can access.

For example, if you want a dedicated audio and video conferencing system, you can choose to give assigned access to Skype or other online communication apps. This mode is also perfect for setting up a public information desk for walk-in customers or a dedicated point-of-sale system for cashiers.

Create a guest computer

When you have to accommodate for consultants and temporary staff, it may be worth setting up a bare-bones guest computer. First, reformat your PC and reinstall the latest Windows or Mac operating system. Then, install security updates and set up guest restrictions to prevent unauthorized access to critical systems. Ideally, temporary staff should only be able to use guest computers for things like email, web browsing, and standard productivity software.

Salvage PC parts

If your old computer can’t be transformed into a NAS server or service kiosk, consider reusing certain hardware components. For instance, you can reuse RAM sticks for another computer, repurpose hard disk drives as external hard drives, and set up a second display with an old monitor.

Reselling hardware components like motherboards and video cards is also a good idea if you’re saving up for a new PC. Finally, keep your cables. Many USB adaptors, ethernet cables, and AUX cords are compatible with a wide array of electronics.

We’re always on the lookout for ways to help our clients make the most out of their technology investments. Want to know more about how to utilize hardware to your business’s advantage? Give us a call.

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Ransomware: What You Should Know About the Latest Attacks

Ransomware is a multi-cloud problem for organizations of all sizes, especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which have become a new favorite target for cyber criminals. A couple of the latest attacks have highlighted the increasing need for SMBs to take proper precautions to better protect themselves against malicious software infiltrating networks across the country.

Ransomware attacks aren’t going away anytime soon. There was a 363 percent year-over-year increase in ransomware attacks during the first half of the year, according to a Malwarebytes report, which explored the evolution of ransomware attacks. Businesses are taking note of the nasty threat.

Nearly 90 percent of companies consider ransomware a critical threat to their businesses. According to a report on how IT executives are implementing disaster recovery (DR) throughout their organizations, many companies have recently experienced DR events caused by ransomware attacks.

Published by Datrium, a multi-cloud data platform company, the report, titled “State of Enterprise Data Resiliency and Disaster Recovery 2019,” found that more than 36 percent of businesses that have experienced a DR event in the past year identified ransomware as the primary cause of the incident.

Here are a couple of the latest ransomware events in the news you should know about if you want to stay up to date on what’s been happening in the cybersecurity threat landscape.

Cybercriminals attack Louisiana’s state servers, again

Louisiana recently fell victim to a ransomware attack, which interrupted several services across the state, but no data was compromised in the cyberattack.

The attack impacted several state services being used by agencies at the time — including email, websites, and other applications — but it didn’t directly interrupt services, according to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who tweeted about the incident numerous times. The state directly caused the service interruption by shutting down some of its servers to prevent infection.

In response to the attack, the state activated its cybersecurity team. The state’s Office of Technology Services (OTS), which oversees the team, confirmed that the attack was similar to the ransomware that was targeting school districts and government entities in the U.S. this past summer.

The state didn’t pay the ransom demanded by the cybercriminals.

Many cybersecurity professionals and government agencies, including the FBI, advise against entities complying with ransom demands. One of the main reasons why is that it’s not guaranteed an organization will regain access to its data after paying the ransom requested by the hacker.

Louisiana has been through this before. Ransomware hit three school districts in the state over the summer.

Russian hackers hold IT provider’s data hostage

Even IT providers are having a difficult time preventing ransomware attacks.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in October 2018 issued a warning about the increasing number of cyberattacks on IT service providers. Instead of gaining access to a single company’s network, cybercriminals can infiltrate many networks when successfully attacking IT services providers. These targets have access to customer data that they can easily exploit.

For example, hackers recently launched a ransomware strain inside a Milwaukee-based IT provider’s networks; this malicious act affected more than 80,000 computers in 45 states across the country.

The cybercriminals demanded $14 million from the company, Virtual Care Provider Inc. (VCPI), which provides IT support and services for long-term post-acute care, in exchange for a digital key needed to unlock access to the files; at the time of the attack, VCPI couldn’t afford to pay the ransom.

The attack impacted facilities under VCPI’s jurisdiction differently. Some locations couldn’t gain access to patient records, pay employees, or order medications.

Ransomware attacks are evolving. The best way to stay on top of what’s going on in the space is by paying close attention to how the latest types of ransomware attacks are impacting businesses, local school districts, and health care providers. Staying informed helps with preventing future attacks.

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What Do You Know About Business Intelligence?

What Do You Know About Business Intelligence?

If you don’t know much about business intelligence (BI), that’s okay. What’s important is you’re open to learning how BI can help grow your business, which means you’re more than likely ahead of your peers.

Honestly, BI isn’t a difficult concept to understand. Simply, think about it this way: BI solutions assist businesses with analyzing business data — that’s as much as you need to know.

Businesses are always gathering data, but they’re not always processing it, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t good for businesses looking to improve their bottom lines.

Unstructured data leaves too much money on the table. In other words, businesses not using BI solutions to increase their bottom lines aren’t taking full advantage of the opportunities BI solutions can provide.

With the cloud, it’s easier now than ever before to adopt BI solutions. SMBs no longer have to purchase additional hardware to convert unstructured data to structured data.

BI solutions are providing real-time data to users throughout entire organizations. Instead of targeting decision makers at the top, BI software is more often than not accessible to various departments.

There are plenty of businesses in numerous markets looking to leverage what the BI market as a whole has to offer.

The proof is this: The global business intelligence market size is set to exceed $26.50 billion between 2016 and 2021, according to a Zion Market Research (ZMR) report.

One industry where investments in business intelligence solutions have become essential to driving business growth in agriculture.

Over the years, farmers have been turning to BI solutions to help their farm field operations grow.

For example, at a high level, many farmers are using BI software to help with boosting their yields, which improves the overall financial performance of their farms.

Many farmers are seeing a positive impact from using BI software to improve their farm operations. Instead of being unaware of how business operations are impacting their bottom lines, many in the agriculture industry are now seeing what can increase market share, productivity, and profitability.

In fact, globally, there’s been a continued interest in analytics software geared toward the agriculture analytics market. For example, the global agriculture analytics market size is expected to grow from $585 million in 2018 to $1,236 million by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.2% during the forecast period, according to a report published by MarketsandMarkets.

Basically, the reason why the market has been growing so much is there’s been an increasing need to improve farm productivity and associated farming operations, according to the report. The study also pointed out the growing demand for specialized digital agriculture service providers.

For this industry, BI enables farmers to evaluate crops and determine whether anything should be done to improve a farm’s profitability.

Businesses across the board are investing in BI. Forty-eight percent of respondents indicate cloud BI is either “critical” or “very important,” and current use and future plans for deploying cloud BI continue to grow, according to a Dresner Advisory Services report.

When it comes to the kind of technology, software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing now ranks 12th in importance among a list of 37 BI technologies under study, up five places since 2018, the report revealed.

Used correctly and BI can help your business grow. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are using BI solutions to improve bottom lines. Agriculture is one industry using BI effectively to increase productivity and profitability, especially when it comes to determining pricing and forecasting. BI technologies can help businesses leaders from all industries making informed business decisions.

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Still Running Windows 7? It’s Time To Upgrade

Still Running Windows 7? It’s Time To Upgrade

If you still haven’t upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10, you’re not alone, but just because you’re in the company of others, doesn’t mean you should continue pushing off upgrading desktop computers at your business locations.

Even though routine maintenance is essential to protecting data from an evolving threat landscape, many businesses aren’t updating software, which has become apparent by the speed at which cyber attacks are spreading from user to user.

To reverse this worldwide trend of neglecting software, businesses should look no further than the operating systems running their desktops.

Windows 7 is still popular among desktop users

Globally, more than 38% of desktop computers are still running on Windows 7 — even after the tech giant revealed it would be ending extended support for the OS.

Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or support for PCs running Windows 7 after January 14, 2020. Customers will still be able to run Windows 7 after the end of support (EOS) date; however, their PCs will become more vulnerable to security risks, including viruses and malware.

To avoid gaps in Windows 7 support, the software giant has been urging its users to “keep the good times rolling by moving to Windows 10.”

What businesses can do

There are a couple of options businesses can take if they’re still running Windows 7 on their PCs.

First, businesses can simply upgrade their desktops to Windows 10. For businesses, Windows 10 Pro is recommended. Upgrading to Windows 10 allows businesses to sidestep additional hardware costs — unless their hardware is also out of date.

Buying new PCs is another option for businesses. If your PCs are older than three years, Microsoft recommends upgrading your hardware to avoid any potential compatibility issues.

Even though support for Windows 7 is officially ending in less than a year, there’s one last option for businesses continuing to ignore the inevitable — if they’re willing to pay for it, of course.

Microsoft’s desktop initiative

Microsoft has its own vision for desktop: It’s called “modern desktop.”

“A modern desktop not only offers end users the most productive, most secure computing experience — it also saves IT time and money so you can focus on driving business results,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in a company blog post in September 2018.

The tech giant kicked off its initiative by making servicing and support changes to provide “additional deployment flexibility,” according to Sapataro.

What this means is the following: Not all Windows 7 users will need to upgrade to Windows 10 before EOS; customers willing to pay Microsoft additional fees will receive Extended Security Updates (ESU) through January 2023.

The tech giant is expected to charge customers as much as $200 per Windows 7 PC after ending its extended support for the operating system on January 14, 2020.

While it’s comforting to know Microsoft is willing to work with its Windows 7 customers, especially those unable to upgrade their PCs by early 2020, delaying your upgrade isn’t the best way to go.

The longer you wait to upgrade to Windows 10, the more money your business is going to end up paying in the long run.

Upgrade your PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10 today to ensure they’re protected from today’s ever-evolving security risks.

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22 Texas Towns Hit With Ransomware Attack In ‘New Front’ Of Cyber Assault

Texas is the latest state to be hit with a cyberattack, with state officials confirming this week that computer systems in 22 municipalities have been infiltrated by hackers demanding a ransom. A mayor of one of those cities said the attackers are asking for $2.5 million to unlock the files.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and state cybersecurity experts are examining the ongoing breach, which began Friday morning and has affected mostly smaller local governments. Officials have not disclosed which specific places are affected.

Investigators have also not yet identified who or what is behind the attack that took the systems offline, but the Texas Department of Information Resources says the evidence so far points to “one single threat actor.”

Elliott Sprehe, a spokesman for the department, said he was “not aware” of any of the cities having paid the undisclosed ransom sought by hackers. He said the areas impacted are predominantly rural. The department initially put the number of cities attacked at 23.

Two cities so far have come forward to say their computer systems were affected. Officials in Borger in the Texas Panhandle, said the attack has affected city business and financial operations. Birth and death certificates are not available online, and the city can’t accept utility payments from any of its 13,25o residents. “Responders have not yet established a time-frame for when full, normal operations will be restored,” city officials said.

Keene, Texas, a city of some 6,100 people outside Fort Worth, was also hit, officials announced. The city’s government is also unable to process utility payments.

Keene Mayor Gary Heinrich told NPR that the hackers broke into the information technology software used by the city and managed by an outsourced company, which he said also supports many of the other municipalities targeted.

“Well, just about everything we do at City Hall is impacted, Heinrich said.

Heinrich said the hackers want a collective ransom of $2.5 million.

“They got into our software provider, the guys who run our IT systems,” Heinrich said. “A lot of folks in Texas use providers to do that, because we don’t have a staff big enough to have IT in house.”

State officials would not comment on the nature of the attack or confirm the ransom amount. But Heinrich said there is no way his city will be coughing up anything for the hackers.

“Stupid people,” he said of the cyber-attackers. “You know, just no sense in this at all.”

Experts say that while government agencies have increasingly been hit by cyberattacks, simultaneously targeting nearly two dozen cities represents a new kind of digital assault.

“What’s unique about this attack and something we hadn’t seen before is how coordinated attack this attack is,” said threat intelligence analyst Allan Liska. “It does present a new front in the ransomware attack,” he said. “It absolutely is the largest coordinated attack we’ve seen.”

Liska’s research firm, Recorded Future, has found that ransomware attacks aimed at state and local government have been on the rise, finding at least 169 examples of hackers breaking into government computer systems since 2013. There have been more than 60 already this year, he said.

In recent months, the data networks of Baltimore, the Georgia courts system and a county in Utah have all been hit by ransomware.

The hacker bait tends to come in the form of a seemingly benign email with links or attachments that, once opened, can infect a system. There are other popular ways of tapping into government networks, Liska said, like through remote desktop systems, which can be vulnerable to hackers.

While the attackers tend to be anonymous and their locations undisclosed, Liska said his research has found that few are based in the U.S. Many, he said, are breaching local government computer systems from operations based in parts of Eastern Europe or Russia.

And sometimes local governments see no other option to restoring their crippled networks than paying a ransom demanded by hackers. In Lake City, Fla., a town of about 12,000 residents, officials paid $460,000 in the form of bitcoin, the preferred payment method among cybercriminals.

“They turned off the servers. They literally went room through room through city hall, unplugging people’s networks cables and turning off all the computers,” Mike Lee, a sergeant with the Lake City Police Department, told NPR in July.

The ransom was paid by insurance, but taxpayers were still on the hook for a $10,000 deductible.

The Recorded Future study found that about 17% of local agencies hit with ransomware viruses paid up, a practice federal law enforcement officials discourage, saying it incentivizes cybercriminals to keep engaging in the activity.

Liska said in cities he has worked with that have been preyed upon by hackers, there are instances in which ponying up for the return of data is the only viable option.

“Sometimes the reality of the situation may call for it,” he said. “If the backups aren’t working or if the bad guys have encrypted your backups, then unfortunately that’s what you’re left with.”

Individuals, businesses and institutions such as hospitals have been targeted by ransomware attacks for years. With the recent attacks on state and city government, local officials are rushing to secure their computer systems, holding new training and backing up their servers, Liska said. But in smaller, cash-strapped localities, there could be challenges to building a security defense.

Tad McGalliard studies local government cybersecurity at the Washington-based city manager group ICMA. He has been pushing for municipalities to find more funding to fight back against hackers.

“Somebody out there on the bad guy front is seeing an opportunity in local governments and we got to make a better job of making sure our employees are as well-trained and as well-equipped as possible,” McGalliard said.

McGalliard said the Texas case should be a wake-up call to cities in remote parts of the country.

“We might have thought this was a big city problem, or at least an affluent city or county problem, but I think what’s clear now is just about any local government is vulnerable,” he said.

In Texas, state authorities have not yet disclosed where exactly the attacks were based or how many computers have been swept up in the breach, meaning it is not yet known what services or data might have been compromised.

“Hitting 23 towns at once was bad, but we don’t know how much damage was done,” Liska said. “One computer in each town versus 100 computers in each town is a big difference.”

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Simple Security

Online security is a major issue for businesses of all sizes. The good news is that there are IT tools that can give you peace of mind if a security threat arises. They can prevent and stop the threat quickly, providing a great return on investment for your managed IT Services.

Are You Safe?

Some recent famous security breaches you might be familiar with are Facebook, Equifax, eBay, Apple, Panera Bread, Target, Home Depot, Yahoo! and Blue Cross Blue Shield. These breaches resulted in exposing the private data of millions of people to hackers. Athough you may only hear about these breaches happening to larger companies, the risk is high for smaller businesses, too.

Who Is a Target?

The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that 61 percent of cyber-attacks in 2017 were targeted at smaller businesses.

Hackers can use a variety of tactics to gain access to a business’s private data or information. According to the study, more than 50 percent of breaches included malware, 81 percent of hacking-related breaches were from leveraging stolen and/or weak passwords, and 43 percent were social attacks.

The majority of malware was installed via malicious email attachments and were financially motivated. About 25 percent were related to espionage, discovered by third parties.

Can My Business Be Safe?

There are many easy and affordable steps a small business owner can and should take to lower the risk for online threats. Here are five of them:

  1. Insist on complex and unique passwords  This is the easiest way to prevent your business from being hacked. Have all employees use secure passwords, update them every 90 days and secure them in a safe password keeper.
  2. Use anti-virus and email anti-spam  Anti-virus is software designed to detect and destroy computer viruses. Anti-spam manages and filters unsafe emails from unwanted and blacklisted senders.
  3. Make sure you have a firewall  A firewall helps secure and monitor traffic in and out of your network.
  4. Create a backup  Storing and protecting your data from unauthorized access is important and can prevent a long-term data loss disaster.
  5. Educate all employees  Phishing is the most common form of email hacking and malware installation that can reveal personal and business information. It’s important to educate yourself and your employees from exposing private information to malicious cybercriminals.

To get a comprehensive breakdown of easy-to-implement IT essentials to protect your business from online threats, download The Purple Guys’ free resource, Simple Security—5 Easy Ways at https://goo.gl/8m4n4e

INFO-TEK is the highest-rated outsourced IT support department for small to midsized businesses in the Greater Kansas City Area, holding a 97.3 percent customer satisfaction rate. We’re on the front lines of managing our customers’ security through our 24/7 monitoring services, and we’d be happy to talk with you about your IT needs. 816-914-8826

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How To Protect Yourself From a Future Email Attack

Whether you’ve been hacked or not, everyone can take stronger efforts to protect their accounts. In the modern age, it’s no longer if you get hacked – it’s when. There are measures you can take, however to make it more difficult for hackers to gain control of your accounts. Follow these steps to keep your data and identity safe online.

Use Secure Passwords
Change your passwords on all accounts frequently, and they need to be strong, with at least 12 characters, including numbers, letters, special characters. Avoid any common information about you, or things that could be learned from your Facebook account, like address, kids’ names, pets’ names, birthday, etc. You should have a different password for every online account you have. A unique phrase that is creative and unpredictable is best, something like, il0veTr@vel, would be a good option.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication
You can set this up on your email, Facebook, banking sites, and other accounts as well. Every time you login, you’ll be sent a unique temporary code via text or to another email account, and you’ll need to input that to access your account. Hackers would have to also take your cell phone in order to login to your accounts if you set this up, so it gives a good layer of protection.

Use Secure devices
If possible, only access online accounts from your personal computer or device, while using a secured internet connection. Avoid accessing personal accounts from public computers, which could have been infected with malware, or might use an unsecured internet connection. If you do use public computers, always log out of every account when you are finished. It’s also advised to use your phone’s cellular data if you need to access a secure account, as opposed to public internet.

Protect your financial information
Though it’s convenient to have your credit card or banking info saved on accounts or websites you use, if your account is hacked, they now have all that information. Whenever you need to enter financial information on a website, make sure it is secure, so the URL starts with “https://”—remember that the “s” is for “secure”). And always log out once you are finished.

Never open suspicious emails
If you get an email from your bank or PayPal that looks strange, don’t open it. If you’re unsure if it’s real, call the office before opening it. Hackers have been known to impersonate banks, the IRS, and more to try and get your information. If you get a weird email from a friend with a link that you weren’t expecting, don’t click it. Call them to see if they sent the email before you open it. It is best to delete spam or dubious-looking emails without opening them.

Get account alerts
Some accounts give you the option to sign up for an email or text alert when your account is accessed from a new device or unusual location. This will instantly update you if an unauthorized person is accessing your account. As a result, you’ll minimize the amount of time they have in your account. If you get a suspicious alert, change your password immediately.

For your computer & devices:

  • Update security software
  • All internet-connected software and operating systems should be updated regularly, like email programs, web browsers, and music players. Sometimes an attack could have been prevented if your system was updated to the latest security measures.
  • Install antivirus software
    If you don’t already have security software, it’s a good idea to install a firewall and antivirus software and keep them up-to-date. If you need recommendations for software, let us know. These programs will help identify threats and help you remove any malicious software. Beware of scam software that may get you to download programs that actually contain malware.

Getting your email hacked is a scary prospect, but if you know how to keep your account secure and what to do if it happens, you can minimize the impact. If you have any further questions about protecting your accounts from hackers, please contact us.

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