Managed Tech

Antivirus Software and Firewalls

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Antivirus Software and Firewalls

These days almost everyone uses the internet on a regular basis, whether at home, work or on the go. The internet is a tremendously valuable resource; as the number of people accessing the internet grows, so do the risks associated with it. Regardless of whether you are accessing the internet for personal or professional purposes, it is imperative to ensure you are doing so safely.

Two vital components to protect yourself and your system online are an effective anti-virus and a firewall.

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Antivirus software

Anti-virus software is your primary defense against malicious threats online and offline. An anti-virus runs in the background of your computer, quietly checking every file that is accessed, monitoring for threats (this is often referred to as ‘real-time protection’). Your anti-virus runs these files through its database, checking against known viruses and other malware. Because of this method, it is very important that you regularly check for updates with your anti-virus software or set it to auto-update.

Anti-virus software can also perform a ‘full system scan’, where it will scan the selected locations to ensure there is no malware lying dormant. Full system scans are typically used when initially installing the software, or when you think your computer is acting up and something could have slipped through the cracks of your real-time protection.

Firewalls

In the most basic sense, a firewall is a barrier to keep damage away from your property – hence the name firewall. A firewall is a piece of software or hardware that sits between your computer or private network and the internet. Its job is to filter information (packets) coming through your connection, and if need be, reject them. A firewall gives you several options to establish rules to identify the traffic allowed in and out of your network, whether restricted by IP, certain ports or through application filtering amongst others.

By rejecting this unwanted traffic, the firewall prevents those with malicious intent being able to probe your network and attempt to cause damage by stealing information, uploading malware, performing denial of service attacks, using remote login, source routing and more.

Firewalls are effective at protecting your system from unauthorized entry, but they are not capable of removing malware from an already infected system – therefore firewalls should always be used in conjunction with some form of anti-virus software, ensuring that both are always up to date.

For more information on Managed Technology and Security please contact us

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How Important Are Windows Updates?

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We’ve all seen the notifications for when Windows Updates are available, and I’m sure most of us have thought to ourselves “Again?! I only just installed one last week!”.

Have you ever thought to yourself why they pop up at what seems to be the most inopportune moments, and with such importance?

What is a Windows Update?

Windows Update is an inbuilt Microsoft service used for periodic updating of system files, to patch known issues and vulnerabilities with Microsoft products. This includes the Windows OS itself, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Edge, etc.

Each Microsoft Update is assigned an associated Knowledge Base number (KB) which gives further information on the updates. Updates are classified as one of four types:

Critical Updates

  • These fix major issues, found across all Microsoft Products, that cause errors or unexpected functions. Alongside Security Updates, these are the highest priority updates to apply and should be done as soon as possible.

Security Updates

  • Security Updates are applied to address security vulnerabilities which can allow a system to become compromised. Security updates have five different levels of importance; Critical, Important, Moderate, Low or non-rated. Security updates classed as Critical are the most important updates for your system and ignoring these can leave your server or computer vulnerable to hackers and other malicious attacks.
  • Security updates are provided with a Microsoft Security Bulletin number (MS) for further details.

Software Updates

  • Applied to cover non-critical problems, often applying feature updates and addressing minor bugs.

Service Packs

  • Service packs are an amalgamation of all updates up to a certain date, for a specific piece of software or operating system, typically including feature updates.
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How can I ensure that my systems are secure?

All recent Microsoft Operating Systems have in-built automatic updating features, which allows you to schedule and download high-priority updates.

If you are managing multiple desktop computers and even servers, the most efficient and effective way to stay up-to-date is to offload what can be a mammoth task to a Managed Service Provider (MSP). Managed Service Providers employ professionals with years of experience maintaining, reviewing and applying Microsoft patches to a vast range of different environments.

Using monitoring software MSP’s are able to monitor patch statuses remotely and schedule regular patching cycles to ensure that all critical and relevant patches are applied as soon as they are available. If issues are to arise from any patches pushed by Microsoft, your MSP is able to analyse the issue and determine which patches can be causing the issue and disable them, or roll-back where necessary.

By removing the burden of responsibility internally and placing it in the hands of experienced professionals, you can rest easy knowing that your systems are receiving the best in pro-active care.

If you are interested in what Advance can offer in this scope, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Which Backup Media Is Right For You?

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Twenty years ago, backup media was easy to get your head around. Floppy Disk, Iomega, CD and Tape Drives, nothing to it.

Nowadays there’s so much more – what method of backup to use, where the backups are stored, how the backups are taken, when they are taken and how the backups are tested to ensure they are restorable.

Floppy disks and Iomega have gone the way of the dodo, but let’s look at current backup media still in use

  • USB Stick
  • Internal Hard Drive (via RAID)
  • External Hard Drive
  • NAS
  • CD / DVD (some people still use it!)
  • High Speed Tape Drives
  • Remote Backup Services
  • Syncing over internet (OneDrive, Google Drive etc.)
  • Cloud Backup

Each of these methods has its place depending on many factors, but don’t fool yourself thinking that a cheaper version will be ‘OK’ - It rarely is.

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Considerations when deciding on a backup media type

Type of backup

Whether you are backing up hourly or daily and what sort of files you are backing up should help determine what backup media to use. For example, if you have a large amount of data requiring a nightly backup, then you could not use DVDs.

Backup Media Cost

It is important to factor in the cost of backup media, as well as the number of devices you require to ensure a consistent and effective backup process.

Backup data security

Identifying what is backed-up and how sensitive that data is can help you decide the most appropriate backup media. If your data is integral to your business, don’t sacrifice quality for savings.

Restorability

You need to weigh the risk of your selected media - how often will a restore fail per 1000 times it is tried? Each type of backup media has its own pros and cons and you need to investigate them properly to make an informed decision.

Hardware Redundancy

Ensuring that your hardware is not going to become redundant over time is extremely important when choosing a media type. Five years down the line, you may need to restore data which seems recent today, and the hardware may be considered obsolete with the restore devices hard to find. Restoring from a 3.5” floppy disk today would not be the easiest task.

Restore speed and time

Depending on the data, whether it is ‘mission critical’ or whether you can do without for a day or more, all plays a part on which backup media to use and what processes to put in place. Consider putting your crucial servers on a quicker restoring media where possible.

These are only a few considerations when looking at backup media. You need to see the complete picture and envision where your organisation might be in five to ten years’ time. If you think back on how things have changed since the 1990s, you can appreciate that being open to new ideas and processes could not only save you time, but also money.

For more information on back-up software and processes, get in touch with one of our highly experienced staff today. 

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Minimising a Ransomware Attack

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What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a piece of software that has been installed or downloaded to a computer, that once activated it will block access to that computer system until a sum of money has been paid. Typically, the sum of money demanded is not a large amount compared to the cost of time and effort it might take to restore or otherwise resurrect the files.

For example, your work computer containing important documents has been held ‘hostage’ and you are required to pay USD$500 to regain access to your files – when calculating the time and effort required to restore the computer back to the original state, even with good backups, you are likely to exceed that figure.

Two well-known ransomware threats that have received considerable press coverage recently for their widespread nature are the WannaCry and Petya attacks. These aren’t the only Ransomware threats out there, there are hundreds and they won’t stop circulating.

How do I minimise my risk of getting ransomware or having to pay for my files to be decrypted?

This is truly a case of being vigilant and taking precautions so as not to be caught out and taken advantage of by a Ransomware attacker.

On your computer

Make sure important data is not only stored on the computer! Backing up important files to an external hard drive (not attached permanently to the computer) is a good idea. It is important to note that cloud backups with an automatic sync (such as DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive etc) may also be infected due to the infected files syncing. It poses the question; do you always need to have these turned on by default?

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Ensure that your operating system and antivirus is up to date (including latest security updates and virus definitions) and that you use some form of ad-block to avoid the threat of malicious ads. To go even further, refrain from using an administrative account on your computer and disable macros in Office products by default.

Keep your browsers updated and remove outdated plugins and add-ons from your browsers. Remove Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Java and Silverlight from your browser plugins - if they are needed then set the browser to prompt for activation when these plugins are required to run.

General Behaviour

Learn the typical signs of a spam message and don’t open any suspected spam message from an unknown sender.

Be very cautious of any attachment within an email that you are not expecting. Sometimes a contact could be caught out and a virus distributed from their email account, which may look totally innocent. If in doubt you can ask the user whether they intentionally sent the attachment to you, over the phone or IM.

Be extra cautious of all links in emails, as links can be made to look valid but take you to malicious sites instead.

Conclusion

The best form of protection against a virus or ransomware is prevention. By changing your mindset around emails, links, attachments and computer updates you can drastically increase your chances of avoiding these threats. Stay vigilant!

For more information on minimising a ransomware attack in your business, speak to a member of the Advance team today!