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Is Anything In Life Free?

We’ve all heard the saying that the best things in life are free, but I’m not sure they were referring to software.

Freeware (free software, not to be confused with open source software) such as the AVG anti-virus free edition, Spybot, and Ad-Aware are all programs you can download to your PC for the ultimate discount: free. However, you get what you pay for.

While these programs may work just fine for someone’s home computer, they are not business class tools and should not be trusted to completely protect your computer or network from viruses, spyware, hackers, and other problems.

Every month we receive calls from clients whose computers are infected with a nasty virus or a boatload of spyware who had these programs installed and running, and were under the false assumption that they were protected.

Why Freeware Doesn’t Protect Your Computer
In most cases, freeware is a light version of a software program that you pay for. Take the AVG free edition for example. AVG offers a free edition of their licensed product as a way of introducing you to their fully-featured product. However, this software does not come with any online, e-mail, or phone support. It is also illegal to use it on multiple machines or in a commercial, non-profit, or educational environment (single home users only).

You’re On Your Own
As you might expect, freeware comes with zero guarantees or promises to function correctly, to be compatible with your system, or to safeguard you from threats. You’re not a paying customer so you’re on your own to resolve any technical problems you encounter, and you certainly won’t get support if your computer gets infected.

Since many free applications are plagued with bugs and incompatibilities, you may end up with a mess on your hands and no one to blame but yourself.

Additionally, freeware programs are not always current with the most up-to-date protection, and don’t always update themselves automatically or perform scans and tasks on a regular schedule. That means you could be operating with a false sense of security; and since the sophistication and number of threats circulating are only increasing, you need a comprehensive solution that you can trust especially if your computer or network holds data and files you don’t want to lose or make available to a cyber-criminal.

Bottom line: you get what you pay for. If the files, data, pictures, and functionality of your computer or network is of high-importance, then investing in a trusted, industrial-strength software program to protect it is a smart and worthwhile investment.

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I Bet You Didn’t Know You Could Do THIS With Your iPod

Let’s face it; while this blog post is supposed to be “business” focused with tips and strategies to help you run a cleaner, faster, and less expensive computer network for your business, what people really want to know is how to use their PC to store and play music.

So we gave in to our client’s “secret” wishes and wrote this post on cool things you can do with your iPod that most people don’t know.

Recording Voice Memos
Most iPods can record voice memos if you purchase a compatible microphone. Almost all stores that sell iPods will have these for sale as an optional accessory; just make sure it’s compatible with your iPod before you leave the store. To record, simply connect the microphone to your iPod and the Voice Memo screen will appear. To begin recording, select “Record.” To stop recording, select “Stop” and “Save.” You’ll find your recordings under the “Extras—Voice Memos” menu.

When you connect your iPod to synchronize with iTunes, your recordings will be transferred automatically if you have your iPod set up to synchronize automatically. Otherwise, you’ll need to drag and drop them from the iPod’s “Recordings” folder.

Important! Once you synchronize your iPod, the location of your recorded messages will change to the “Voice Memos” play list on the “Music” menu.

Play Games
The games stored on your iPod are more reminiscent of the game “Pong” than the more sophisticated games available on your Xbox or Playstation, but they will pass the time when you’re waiting in line at the airport.

From the main menu, scroll to “Extras-Games.” There you’ll have four games to choose from: Brick, Music Quiz, Parachute and Solitaire. Brick is similar to the old video game Breakout. The object of Parachute is to shoot down paratroopers and their helicopters by using the scroll wheel and the Select button. And Solitaire is the old standby.

But the game that really uses the iPod’s music-playing capability is Music Quiz. It plays a portion of a song from your collection and then challenges you to identify it from a list of titles.

Calendar and Contacts
Included with your iPod is a very basic contact and calendar program that can be synchronized with Outlook Express, Outlook, or Address Book on a Mac.

In the iTunes window, right-click your iPod and select iPod “Options” (on a Mac, select iPod in the “Source” list and click “Options”). Click the “Contacts” tab and check the “Synchronize Contacts From” box. Select the correct program in the dropdown list (on a Mac, click “Synchronize Address Book” contacts). You can synchronize all of your contacts or only selected ones. Click “OK.” To view your contacts, select “Extras—Contacts” from the main menu. Scroll down to the name of the person and press the Select button.

To view your calendar, select “Extras-Calendar” from the main menu. Scroll to the day you want to view. To view other days, use the “Next” or “Previous” buttons. To view a day’s schedule, highlight the day and press “Select.” You can review the details of a meeting or event by scrolling to it and pressing the “Select” button.

Storage and Backup Device for Large Files
If you haven’t filled your iPod with music files, you can use the extra space to backup files or to transport large files. To do this, open iTunes and right-click on your iPod (on a Mac, select iPod in the “Source” list). Then select iPod “Options” and click on the “Music” tab. Select “Enable Disk Use.” A dialog box will warn that you must remove the iPod through iTunes before disconnecting. Check the “Do not warn me again” box unless you want to be reminded.

This will enable you to load files onto your iPod using Windows Explorer (and Finder on a Mac). In Windows, click “Start-My Computer.” Double-click on your iPod. Then simply drag and drop files into your iPod window to store them. On a Mac, double-click the iPod disk icon on the desktop. Keep in mind that we do NOT recommend you use your iPod as a backup device for important files; this is just a quick fix to transport large files if you can’t send them any other way.

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The 3 Scariest Threats to Small Business Networks

While spam, pop-ups, and hackers are a real threat to any small business network, there are 3 security measures that you should be focusing on FIRST before you do anything else…

Worry About E-mail Attachments, Not Spam
Sure, spam is annoying and wastes your time, but the REAL danger with spam is in the attachments. Viruses and worms are malicious programs that are spread primarily through cleverly disguised attachments to messages that trick you (or your employees) into opening them.

Another huge threat is phishing e-mails that trick the user by appearing to be legitimate e-mails from your bank, eBay, or other password-protected entity.

Here are 2 things you must have in place to avoid this nightmare:
Keep your anti-virus up to date and enabled. Okay, this sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s not uncommon for an employee to disable their anti-virus software unbeknownst to you. Which brings us to #2…

Train employees on what they are (and aren’t) permitted to do with the company’s computer, e-mail, Internet access, etc. One thing that should be on the list is that they should NEVER open suspicious attachments or respond to phishing e-mails. We highly recommend creating an AUP (acceptable use policy) to teach your staff what NOT to do.

Put monitoring software in place to not only maintain the health of employees’ desktops, but also to automatically “police” employees from accidentally (or intentionally) visiting a phishing web site, downloading a virus, or visiting questionable web sites and content online.

Fear Downloads Before Pop-Ups
Did you know that most computers and networks get infected with viruses because the user actually invited the threat in by downloading a file (screen saver, music file, PDF document, pictures, etc.).?

Again, this comes down to training the staff on what they can and cannot do with your computer network; but the best way to avoid this from happening is to remove the temptation by installing monitoring software that will prevent employees from downloading unsavory items to YOUR network. We also recommend installing and maintaining a good firewall, which will block Internet traffic to and from dangerous sites.

Lose Sleep Over Backups Before Hackers
You are more likely to lose data from hardware failure, accidental deletion (human error), flood, fire, natural disaster or software corruption than a hacker. Sure, you should do everything to keep hackers out of your network, but not backing up your data to a remote location is crazy. At a minimum, you should have an onsite AND offsite copy of your data, and you should be testing your data backups regularly to make sure your data CAN be restored in the event of an emergency.

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Mobile Devices: The NEW Train Robberies!

With nothing more than some rope, a few guns and a lot of gumption, Jesse James committed the first train robbery in 1873. Although he and his gang were hoping for a windfall of gold bullion, they only made off with a meager $2,000. After that, thousands of train robberies occurred and became common because trains were easy, slow-moving targets full of valuables traveling through unpopulated areas (the most common targets were trains carrying payroll shipments).

Crime has evolved in leaps and bounds since then, but one thing hasn’t changed: there are a growing number of people in the world who have the motivation and the means to rob you blind. The only difference is that instead of getting a gun and holding up a bank or a train full of people, they’re getting smarter and more sophisticated, using software, tools and malware to rob MILLIONS of people, simultaneously, while sitting at home at their PC. They are cropping up in droves in China, Brazil and Russia as the Internet and low-cost online tools and software become available. Worst of all? Businesses are giving these criminals MULTIPLE points of easy entry through unprotected, unmonitored mobile devices.

Every two seconds someone becomes a victim of cyber-fraud in the US. Over 82,000 NEW malware threats are being released every single DAY – and small businesses are cybercriminals’ hottest target because of the low-end or nonexistent security controls they have in place. Combine that with the fact that more companies are allowing employees to access and store confidential data on their mobile devices AND the increasing litigation around data privacy, and you’ve got a perfect litigious storm that EVERY business must address if it is allowing employees to access and store company data on mobile devices.

That’s why it’s critical to have a Mobile Device Management system (MDM) in place. One breach of your company’s information due to a lost laptop or Trojan introduced via a cell phone can cause a nightmare of reputational damage, litigation and lost clients, not to mention the loss of your hard-earned cash.

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How to Pick a Good Password

What’s the most common password? You guessed it…”password.” Obviously this is not the best way to protect yourself against hackers and online thieves. But even if you don’t use the word “password,” you might be using an equally easy password to decipher.
We suggest you DON’T use the following passwords for really important web sites, such as your online banking web site or other financially related sites.

· Your name or your spouse’s name.
· Your children’s names.
· Your pet’s name.
· Your birth date.
· The last four digits of your Social Security number.
· Your phone number.
· Your address.
· A series of consecutive numbers, such as “1, 2, 3, 4.”
· A single word that would appear in a dictionary.

Your best bet for creating a strong password: Use combinations of letters, numbers and special characters.

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The Simple Document That Could Save Your Company From Complete Disaster!

It’s official: end users are the weakest link in the IT security chain. You can set up a firewall, encryption, anti-virus software, and password protection up to your ears, but it won’t save you from the employee who posts his access information to a public web site.

Most security breaches, viruses, spyware, and other network problems are a result of human error—an end user unknowingly downloading an infected file, e-mailing confidential information, or disabling their anti-virus, to name a few.

So what is a company to do? While there is no surefire way to keep end users from making mistakes, you can dramatically reduce the number of problems by creating an acceptable use policy (AUP) and training your employees on what is and what is NOT acceptable behavior.

But if you want your employees to actually adhere to your security policies, here are a few tips:

• Keep it simple. A long, confusing policy that looks like a legal document is about as easy to read as the instruction manual for your digital camera. Make the policies clear and easy to read. Give examples and include screen shots where necessary.

• Provide group training. Many companies make the mistake of distributing their AUP by e-mail and telling employees they must read it on their own. This gives the employees the option of NOT reading and simply signing and submitting. You don’t need hours of classroom training but a simple 15 or 20-minute session will force even the most reluctant users to learn a thing or two.

• Keep employees updated. To add to the above tip, make sure you update employees on a regular basis to keep the policies fresh in their minds and to educate them about new threats.

• Explain the consequences of not following the policy. This is both explaining the negative effects to the business as well as disciplinary actions that will be taken if they refuse to follow policy. Occasional violators should be warned, and habitual violators should be disciplined.

• Monitor their behavior. The best policy in the world won’t work if it’s not enforced. There are many tools on the market that can do this for you automatically.

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3 Easy Steps To Get 7 Years Of Hassle-Free Service Out Of Your Laser Printer

Printers – the necessary evil of every office. From paper jams and error messages, to problems like smearing, misfeeds, and ghosting, printers can really make your blood pressure rise.

Plus, it’s easy to sink thousands of dollars into maintenance and repairs. If you want to avoid common printer problems AND save yourself a small fortune on replacements and repairs, follow these 3 easy steps:

Keep It Clean
There is no faster way to gunk up a laser printer and cause printing problems than by letting it get dirty.

On a monthly basis, use compressed air to blow out the inside of the printer. Remove the toner cartridge for better access, and don’t forget to do the back if it is accessible. It also helps to take a vacuum to the outside. If you print labels or use any other type of specialty media like transparencies, use rubbing alcohol to clean the rollers inside the printer.

Do Your Maintenance
You can almost infinitely extend your printers lifespan by doing the regular maintenance suggested by the manufacturer.

This includes replacing rollers, filters, and occasionally replacing
the fuser (the printer’s internal furnace.) Here’s a little money-saving secret: you only need to do this type of maintenance at 1.5 to 2 times the manufacturer’s usage recommendation. In other words, if your printer’s manufacturer says to replace rollers every 100,000 pages, you really only need to do so every 150,000 to 200,000 pages.

Use a Surge Protector
Nothing will send your printer to the bone yard faster than an electrical surge caused by lightning or other issues on the power grid.

When internal components are fried, it is often cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to fix the existing one. It is easy to protect yourself with a $25 surge protector. DO NOT plug a laser printer into a UPS or other battery backup system. The printer’s power draw is too much for a battery to handle.

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7 Secrets to Finding Relevant Information Online

Have you ever run into a virtual wall when searching for information on the Internet? With billions of websites online, finding good, relevant information online can sometimes be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. But take heart! Here are 7 little-known secrets that will help you find what you are looking for in no time at all.

1. Use the “Advanced Search” tool
Almost all search engines have an “advanced search” tool that will provide you with more options for filtering information and websites. This will help you narrow down your search and eliminate irrelevant, off-topic websites.

2. Search with a phrase in quotations
Putting quotations around a phrase will tell the search engine to look for that exact phrase or name instead of each individual word. For example, if you were looking for a chocolate cake recipe, type “chocolate cake recipe” in the search window with the quotes around it. If you left the quotations off, you might get recipes for other cakes or chocolate candy in general because the search engine will look up the words separately: chocolate cake recipe

3. Use synonyms
If your search does not produce the results you want, try synonyms. For example, a dog is also a pet, canine, mutt, pooch, and man’s best friend. Use your Microsoft Word thesaurus tool or Merriam-Webster OnLine to find synonyms for your search term.

4. Use a plus or minus sign
This trick will allow you to narrow down a larger category. If you were looking for a roadside café in Atlanta, you would type in “roadside café + Atlanta”. This will allow you to search on a specific set of keywords that might not be strung together in one phrase as mentioned in tip #2.
This also works in reverse with a minus sign (-). If you wanted to find all roadside cafes that were NOT in Atlanta, you would type in “roadside café – Atlanta”.

5. Just search the domain name
If you know the website you want but can’t seem to find the information you are looking for, you can tell the search engine to search for a specific keyword or phrase within that site. Simply enter the search term you are looking for followed by the word “site” and a colon, and then by the domain name.
For example, if you wanted to find information on spam filter updates for Microsoft Outlook, enter this: spam filter update site:www.microsoft.com

6. Eliminate inappropriate content
To eliminate adult sites clogging your search results, simply activate your favorite web browser’s adult filter setting. MSN has a SafeSearch option on its settings page and Google’s can be found in their advanced search option. It’s not 100% accurate but it will eliminate the most obvious sexually explicit websites from your search.

7. Use your search engine’s categories
Many search engines offer specialized areas such as news, video, audio, pictures, local, and shopping related categories. If you know you are looking for a picture, choose the appropriate category and your chances of finding what you want increase significantly.

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“Spring Clean” Your Computer For Maximum Performance

With Spring in the air, and summer just around the corner, now is a good time to do an annual clean up of the computers, servers and electronic equipment in your office, both inside and out.

Failure to thoroughly clean your computer at least once or twice a year will result in decreased performance and possibly even system failures. Here’s why:
• Dust clogs the computer’s cooling system causing it to heat up, damaging sensitive electronic equipment. Dust can also cause fan noise and (believe it or not) slow performance!
• Crumbs and dirt in your keyboard can cause keys to stick and crunchy sounds when typing. Plus, it’s just gross and unhealthy; do you know there are more germs on your computer keyboard than the average public toilet?
• Dust, fingerprints and dirt build-up will make your computer monitor dim and fuzzy.
But the physical “dirt” is only the beginning…
• Delete temporary files and unused programs taking up space and slowing things down.
• Defrag your hard drive (Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter).
• Get rid of clutter on your desktop by removing shortcuts and files you don’t need.
• Make sure you have the latest security patches and updates installed and configured properly.
• Check your backups and conduct an emergency “restore” of the data. Remember, the best time to check your backups is when you DON’T desperately need to recover your data!

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What To Do When Things Go Technically Wrong

It’s amazing how many things can go wrong with your computer; bad drivers, hardware malfunctions, viruses, software glitches, spyware…and this is only the beginning.

Computer problems always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times and can leave you stranded for hours, even days without a computer. However, vendor “help desk” support can be frustrating and in some cases, expensive. The next time you have a computer problem, here are 5 simple things you can do to try and resolve the problem yourself or to at least prepare and get the most out of your help desk support.

1. Check your connections. This may sound obvious, but check all the cables to make sure they are plugged in securely. Don’t ignore this step because USB, printer, and serial cables have a way of working themselves loose and causing problems.

2. Reboot. Windows sometimes gets into a state of confusion or overload and locks up. You can clear the memory and set things straight by simply rebooting your system. Similarly, if you’re having a problem connecting to the Internet, try rebooting your cable/DSL modem and router by unplugging them for 15 seconds and allowing them to reset themselves.
However, this isn’t something you should have to do often. If you find yourself rebooting your router once a day, the problem is a bit deeper.
If you still can’t resolve the problem yourself, then here are a few more steps to take before calling support that will save a lot of time and get your problem resolved quicker…

3. Try to narrow down the problem as much as possible. Identifying what went wrong is 90% of the journey to the solution. Try to isolate when and where the problem happened and note the last thing you installed, changed, or plugged in to your computer. You’ll also want to narrow down the error message as much as possible.
For example, if you discover your printer isn’t working from Word, try to print from another application. Also note the order of events leading up to the problem.
Maybe you can print when you first boot up, but everything seems to go haywire after you scan a document. Does the problem occur all the time or only after the machine has been running for a while? Does the problem repeat itself or is it only occasional? Observing what situations lead up to a problem can be a great help in determining what is causing it.

4. Access crash logs. If you are using a Microsoft operating system, you can access an application called Dr. Watson that will report information about your memory and configuration to a crash log file.
In Windows XP, the default location is C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\Dr Watson. The crash log is a text file called Drwtsn32.log, which can be read in Notepad or sent via e-mail to a tech-support person. Dr. Watson can also create a crash dump, which contains similar information but is readable only by a debugging utility.

5. Know your system. When you talk to a support technician on the phone, they are going to want to know what specific hardware, operating system, and software you’re using.
To save time, know the make and model numbers for all your hardware. You can access CPU and memory info by selecting Control Panel | System. Drill down from here into Hardware | Device Manager for information about other devices such as your sound and graphics cards.
Write down new software, no matter how small or insignificant, that you’ve downloaded and installed lately, including upgrades, screen savers, emoticon software, and web browser updates. It can also help to jot down any services running in the background.
To access a list of what is running on your Windows XP system, press Ctrl-Alt-Del and select Task Manager. You can also get very detailed info from Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Information.

6. Back up your data. Before you start following directions over the phone from a support technician or tearing your system apart to fix it yourself, make sure you have a backup of all your important documents, e-mail, and other data.
Although many fixes will be as simple as downloading a new driver, you’ll be glad you have a backup if you find yourself reinstalling the operating system. You should also have your original CDs around in case you need to reinstall applications.

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