Category: Cyber security

What is Bitcoin and Why Should Everyone Care?

What is Bitcoin and Why Should Everyone Care?

Bitcoin has received much attention from mainstream media outlets this year, and for good reason: since January 2017, it has risen in price from around $800 to almost $20,000. Many speculators consider the current Bitcoin boom to be a bubble, but others hold onto hope that Bitcoin may rise to $100,000 or even $1M in years to come. For such a young currency, Bitcoin has made significant waves in the financial industry; however, it is still widely misunderstood by the public at large.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a currency, much like the U.S. Dollar. What separates it from any normal currency is that it is decentralized, meaning no institution or organization centrally manages transactions, nor could they even if they wanted to. Instead, Bitcoin operates on a peer-to-peer basis; that is, transactions are recorded publicly and distributed throughout the Bitcoin network at regular intervals of roughly every 10 minutes. This running trail of transactions is called the Blockchain, and serves as the 'central bank' for Bitcoin. Discrepancies in the transaction logs are reconciled on the basis of popular vote, so double-spending and fraud are virtually eliminated. If that sounds confusing, don't worry, because it is! Essentially, money is transferred by publicly announcing the transfer from sender to recipient. Everyone on the blockchain receives these notices. If someone attempts to spend the same Bitcoin twice, their second transaction will be denied by the Bitcoin network because the first transaction will have already posted to the blockchain.

Bitcoin security and Colorado PC Pro
Bitcoin is secure enough that some nations hold a portfolio

Should You Trust Bitcoin?

Part of what makes the Bitcoin network successful is it's transparency. The complete inner workings of the Bitcoin network are open source, meaning any developer can view the very code that runs the platform. This transparency helps researchers and developers evaluate the security and effectiveness of the math behind the movement, and so far, everything checks out. The biggest threat to the network is actually the inability of many users to adequately protect their holdings. Any hacker who manages to locate the private Bitcoin key on your computer effectively owns your Bitcoin, and humans are notoriously bad at managing their own security. A simple virus, or even a hard drive crash, could cause someone to lose the key to their wallet and their Bitcoin forever - if this sounds intimidating to you, contact an expert (like Colorado PC Pro) prior to investing in Bitcoin.

Bitcoin miners and Colorado PC Pro
Specialized computers are used to mine Bitcoin.

What is Mining?

Easy answer: Mining is the way new Bitcoins are generated. Millions of computers (miners) contribute their processing power to solve difficult math problems which effectively balance the Bitcoin checkbook and earn them a small reward of Bitcoins.

Complicated answer: A 'Bitcoin miner' is simply a number-crunching computer on the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin mining forms the backbone of the blockchain. Again, the blockchain is essentially just the ledger of all Bitcoin transactions ever made and is shared among all users of the Bitcoin network. When I said that transaction logs on the blockchain are reconciled by popular vote, I didn't mean that you or me get to decide - that is left up to Bitcoin miners. During those 10 minute transaction cycles I mentioned earlier, Bitcoin miners turn pending transactions into mathematic puzzles and race to be the first to solve them.

The first miner to solve the problem, which is most likely actually a large pool of smaller miners, receives 25 Bitcoins (roughly half a million dollars at the time of this writing) and shares the solution with all the other miners currently working on the problem. Once all miners are in agreement that the solution has been found, these transactions are written to the end of the blockchain and distributed across the Bitcoin network. The financial reward for solving the problem provides the motivation for becoming a Bitcoin miner, preventing any one group from monopolizing all of the mining power and writing false transactions to the ledger. Essentially, everyday people like you and me can contribute our computer power toward Bitcoin mining and receive a very small payout in return. Many companies exist that will use your computing power to contribute to a larger mining pool and pay you a fraction of each successful mining cycle based on your participation.

Bitcoin wallet and Colorado PC Pro
Bitcoin can be stored in digital or physical wallets.

How Do You Store Bitcoin?

Easy answer: most users can simply download a popular Bitcoin wallet application, like Electrum, to store their Bitcoins much like PayPal can store their dollars. You access this application with a password and can send and receive money from the visual interface. You can also use an online Bitcoin wallet, which is considered less secure but can be more accessible.

Complicated answer: This is where Bitcoin gets the name 'cryptocurrency' from. A Bitcoin 'wallet' is simply a random string of numbers and letters that tell people where to send money (My Bitcoin address is 1BvtEfQGcY3fxsoBwL7nKMLBSjx4g2Poy5). This random string is generated from a private key (a much longer string of numbers and letters) that you can keep digitally or on paper. Keeping this private key totally private is absolutely essential to retain ownership of your Bitcoins. Think of it this way: your private key can be used to easily generate your Bitcoin wallet's address, but your bitcoin wallet's address cannot be used to reverse-calculate your private key: reversing the calculation is mathematically infeasible using current technology.

This public/private key infrastructure is the basis of Bitcoin cryptography and also how the modern Internet works. You need your private key, which proves you are who you say you are, to send money, which includes sending it to an exchange to convert it into physical currency like U.S. dollars. If someone else takes possession of your private key, they effectively become the new owners of your Bitcoins. In this case, possession is ten tenths of the law.

 

How To Buy Your First Bitcoin

Before you buy your very first fraction of a Bitcoin, you need to choose a wallet where it will be stored. You can compare wallets and wallet types at Bitcoin.org. Once you've chosen your wallet, set it up and received your Bitcoin address, you can choose an exchange to purchase your first Bitcoin. As described on the Exchanges page on Bitcoin.org, "exchanges provide highly varying degrees of safety, security, privacy and control over your funds and information", so choose wisely from a list of reputable vendors. Once you've purchased your Bitcoins, you should find it in your wallet near-instantly - there are no wait times for transactions like you normally experience with centralized banks. Keep in mind, you do not need to buy a whole Bitcoin. As prices increase, one Bitcoin is quickly becoming out of reach for normal investors. Millionths of a Bitcoin are called Bits, and there are other denominations called mBTC and Satoshi out there, as well.

Bitcoin altcoin and Colorado PC Pro
Tons of 'altcoins' are available to choose from

What Are These Other 'Coins' On The News?

Bitcoins started a revolution of digital, anonymous, cryptography-based currency that is booming today. In fact, there are well over a thousand variations of cryptocurrency, each practicing their own method of blockchain transactions and mathematic cleverness. Some of the names of these 'altcoins' are Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, or Dash. You could think of many of these as the penny stocks of digital currency, but some of them approach the field in truly novel ways in an attempt to perfect what Bitcoin started. Once you're comfortable with Bitcoin, you could think about moving into the altcoin market as a speculator or day-trader. Keep in mind, however, that many of these altcoins exist only to scam people out of their hard-earned money.

Should You Invest?

The ultimate question of whether or not you should invest is entirely dependent on your investment strategy. Bitcoin is not a 'get rich quick' scheme, nor is it a new technology. In fact, it is among the most volatile currencies publicly available to trade. If you decide Bitcoin is for you, ensure you have a thorough understanding of the market and the risks involved. Although it should go without saying, I am not a financial advisor and this blog post is only meant to provide information to those curious enough to seek it. Nothing I've described in this post should be interpreted as financial advice and, in fact, you should seek the assistance of a financial advisor if you decide to invest in Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency.

Nine Things You Should Disable in Windows 10

Nine Things You Should Disable in Windows 10

What to Disable (Windows 10)

Installing Windows 10 on an old or inexpensive computer can lead to speed issues, as many of our customers in Colorado Springs have recently discovered. While Windows 10 solves many of the gripes users had with older versions, like the 'Metro' layout of Windows 8, it introduces a host of new problems with tracking and prediction services that are always on by default.

Follow this guide to reclaim your computer's lost processing power and enjoy a more streamlined experience immediately.

Superfetch (Prefetch)

Superfetch, known as Prefetch in older versions of Windows, is a service that predicts what resources you will need while you are working on your PC. Superfetch then caches these resources, or loads them before you ask for it for quicker access once they are needed. Unfortunately, this can cause problems with certain types of programs or for users that leave many applications open at once. Superfetch is especially a problem for gamers.

To disable Superfetch in Windows 10, navigate to your start menu (or press the 'Windows' button on your keyboard) and type 'services.msc' in the search box.Press enter to launch the services Window, then:

  • Locate 'Superfetch' in the resulting list.
  • Right-click 'Superfetch' and select 'Properties'.
  • Select the 'Stop' button to stop the service.
  • Optionally, select 'Disabled' in the 'Startup type' dropdown box to prevent it from opening again in the future.
  • Press 'Apply' then 'OK' to save your changes.
9 things to disable windows 10 superfetch
Find 'Superfetch' in the list of services

Cortana

Cortana is the voice-enabled digital assistant bundled with all versions of Windows 10. If you don't plan on using Cortana as a productivity tool, disabling it may improve your PC's performance by freeing up valuable resources. To disable Cortana, click the Cortana icon in the taskbar, select the 'Settings' icon in the resulting window (it looks like a cog wheel on the left side of the window), and set all of the settings to 'Off'.

9 things to disable windows 10 cortana
Your Cortana settings may vary slightly from this image

Into the Settings

The next several tips will all be found in the Windows 10 'Settings' menu, which can be accessed by selecting 'Settings' from the Start Menu, or by typing 'Settings' into the start menu search bar.

Notifications

First, we'll get those pesky desktop notifications under control so that you can stay focused on your work and leave your computer ready to process more important things. From the 'Settings' menu, select 'System, then 'Notifications & actions' from the navigation bar on the left side of the window. We suggest disabling everything except for 'Show app notifications', and then selectively allowing only your preferred applications to deliver those notifications. You can select which applications you want to hear from on the same window, under the main settings.

9 things to disable windows 10 notifications

Windows Store Apps

Starting with Windows 10, Microsoft includes applications in your start menu that you didn't put there. These are 'Apps' that are available on the Windows Store, and since you didn't ask for them to be there, they are essentially advertisements. To prevent these apps from cluttering up your start menu, navigate back to the 'Home' tab of your 'Settings' window and select 'Personalization'. From there, select 'Start' on the left side of the screen and disable the slider labeled 'Occasionally show suggestions in Start'.

9 things to disable windows 10 windows store apps

Privacy

The release of Windows 10 marked a dark day for digital privacy. While there are many things you can do to reclaim a bit of your digital identity, it is essentially surrendered to Microsoft as they move to a more open, advertiser-friendly and subscription-based operating system model. To do what you can for your privacy while slightly speeding up your computer, select 'Privacy' and then 'General' from the navigation bar. Unless you specifically need these services, you should turn the following off:

  • 'Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps'
  • 'Send Microsoft info about how I write to help us improve typing and writing in the future.'
  • 'Let apps on my other devices open apps and continue experiences on this device.'
  • 'Let apps on my other devices use Bluetooth to open apps and continue experiences on this device.'

Once you've completed the previous step, navigate to 'Speech, inking & typing', still located under the 'Privacy' tab, and select 'Stop getting to know me' to end some additional data collection.

9 things to disable windows 10 privacy

Background Applications

Many apps run in the background of Windows 10 by default, even if you have never and will never use them. As expected, these apps are mostly Windows Store apps and are unrelated to your actual browsing habits. Having these apps run in the background is a massive resource drain for your computer. To selectively disable apps you don't plan on using, navigate to 'Background apps' in the 'Privacy' menu and review the list. Don't worry about disabling something important, since you can still voluntarily open programs that aren't on this list.

9 things to disable windows 10 backgruond applications
Choose your background applications according to your needs

Settings Sync

Unless you specifically enjoy having your settings sync between all of your Windows devices, you should protect your privacy and speed up your device by disabling the feature altogether. To change this setting, navigate to the 'Home' tab of the 'Settings' window, then select 'Accounts' and 'Sync your settings' from the navigation menu on the left side of the window. Move the slider to 'Off' to seal the deal.

9 things to disable windows 10 settings sync

Power Options

If you are using a laptop, you may benefit from tweaking your computer to use more resources when you are receiving power from a wall outlet. These settings exist mainly as a way to conserve battery power on-the-go, but can also be used in the exact opposite manner. To view your power plan, right-click the battery indicator icon in the icon tray at the bottom-right corner of your screen. From there, select 'Power options' to access the necessary menu. On this window, you can select the 'High performance' power plan for an instant speed boost. If the 'High performance' plan is not available, expand the space under 'Show additional plans' by clicking the arrow located next to it. Feel free to explore the wide variety of options available to you to meet your individual needs.

9 things to disable windows 10 power options
'High Performance' was hidden under the other two power plans

Visual Effects

To reduce the load on your graphics card and reduce input lag, it may also be useful to limit the amount of visual effects Windows can use. These effects change how the mouse pointer, menus and other Windows frames appear and animate themselves, so you won't lose much functionality by disabling some of the settings. Changing visual effects would most benefit graphic designers, video editors or multimedia enthusiasts.

To access the visual effects settings, type 'sysdm.cpl' into the Windows search box and press enter. In the System Properties window, select the 'Advanced' tab and then the 'Settings' button under 'Performance'. In the Performance Options window, you can adjust your visual settings for best appearance, best performance, or a balance of the two by selecting the appropriate radio button.

9 things to disable windows 10 visual effects
Experiment with different settings to find your combination.
13 Virus and Malware Terms You Need to Know

13 Virus and Malware Terms You Need to Know

This primer is meant to serve as a reference guide to malware so that our clients can better understand the issues going on around them and in the news. A certain level of technical acumen is typically expected by reporters and news outlets, and this article contains more than enough information to satisfy those expectations. If you are experiencing problems related to malware or viruses, call us at (719) 345-2345 for a free consultation and quote.

MALWARE TERMS

MALWARE | Malware is a general term used to describe any program or software that causes an unwanted modification to your computer, operating system or browser. Malware can be defined to include viruses, but typically describes less severe programs, addons and extensions like spyware, adware, and unwanted programs. When you hear 'malware' in the news, it could refer to almost anything in this blog post.

SPYWARE | Spyware is a subset of malware designed to secretly collect personal data from its victims. It is often disguised as a beneficial program or bundled with free software without the users knowledge. Data collected by spyware ranges from advertising information like browsing history and demographic information to usernames, passwords and full files, including personal files.

ADWARE | Adware, like spyware, is a subset of malware. While it can similarly be disguised as or bundled with free software, it is also commonly found as browser toolbars and extensions. Regardless of its form, adware exists to bombard you with relentless popups, pop-unders and banner ads, slowing down your computer and Internet. It can usually be uninstalled easily but often finds its way back onto target computers, eventually.

RANSOMWARE | The most severe form of malware currently being distributed. Ransomware encrypts all or a portion of your hard drive and holds your personal files hostage. You can read our full blog post about ransomware and it's many variations here. Typically, the ransom is 1 'Bitcoin', a digital currency worth around $500. Paying the fine rewards you with a decryption key for your data, while failure to pay the ransom results in permanent, unbreakable, encryption of your files. Most recently, a ransomware program named 'WannaCry' crippled the UK and European health care systems before being broken by security expert Marcus Hutchins.

POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAM (PUP) | A PUP, while not typically malware, is a program that is usually bundled with other programs or distributed in less-than-honest ways. Due to these poor distribution methods, these programs are often downloaded by accident, even if the programs serve a useful purpose, causing them to be viewed as a nuisance. Most antivirus programs allow you to decide if these programs are wanted or not, rather than automatically quarantining or removing them.

Malware terms infographic in colorado springs

VIRUS TERMS

VIRUS | We are all familiar with viruses. Technically, they are computer programs or scripts designed to perform a malicious function after being triggered by the victim. This means they do not actively seek out new victims and are always the result of an action taken by a user -- think clicking a malicious link in an e-mail or downloading an infected file. Viruses serve many purposes such as sniffing, keylogging or simply causing damage to a target system.

WORM | A worm is simply a virus that can copy itself and propagate over a network without human intervention. Worms seek out new targets and mindlessly infect target systems until there are no more left. Worms are good for creating botnets or infecting offline systems, like factory and industrial controls; for example, Stuxnet was a worm designed by the US and Israeli military to target nuclear equipment in Iran and is commonly known as the first digital weapon.

TROJAN | A trojan, like the Trojan Horse, is a virus or piece of malware in disguise, either bundled with or masquerading as legitimate software. Trojans convince victims to download an inactive virus that only activates after certain events; for instance, a trojan may activate at a certain date and time, when you visit a certain website, or only if you have an outdated version of Windows. It is also possible to be infected with a trojan that never activates.

ROOTKIT | Rootkits are the worst of the worst viruses. They install themselves so deep in your operating system, or even beyond it, that they go undetected by antivirus scans. In order to accomplish such a task, they exploit very serious vulnerabilities and therefore prey mostly on old or unpatched computers. Since such powerful viruses are necessarily rare, they can also be used as weapons by hackers and governments.

malware terms and computer code example in colorado springs

WHAT MALWARE CAN DO

KEYLOGGER | Keyloggers are malicious programs that record every key you press on your keyboard. This data is sent over the Internet to a hacker who can then reconstruct your activities to determine your usernames, passwords, financial information and more. Keyloggers can be installed by or be part of viruses, worms, trojans, rootkits, or other malware. Keyloggers can also be easily built from basic electronics and physically plugged into a target system.

SNIFFER | A sniffer is similar to a keylogger, only it records all of the information passing over your network. This means that it can't record your keystrokes, but it can see the sites you've visited, the e-mails you've sent and, to an extent, collect enough data about you that a hacker can steal your digital identity in certain situations, such as during a bank transaction.

BACKDOOR | Backdoors are a metaphor for their real-life counterparts. Many viruses, worms and other malware 'leave the back door open' when they are done with their task, giving future malware a way back in should the need arise. Backdoors are sometimes installed on purpose by software developers who need a convenient way to configure or test software, often from a remote location. This is widely considered to be a poor security practice.

BOTNET | When a computer is infected by a virus or other malware, it can sometimes be put to work for the hacker who planted it there. In Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, a botnet, or 'network of bots' made up of thousands or millions of infected computers is instructed to send data traffic to a target over the Internet. The combined power of all these 'bots' sending small amounts of data can be enough to overwhelm a target, forcing it to shut down for the duration of the attack. Many botnet victims remain unaware that their computer is infected -- the sheer number of infected systems in a botnet can be large enough that only a very small contribution, likely to go unnoticed by the average computer user, is needed from each system.

malware terms and botnet layout in colorado springs
Tech Support Scams and PUPs

Tech Support Scams and PUPs

TECH SUPPORT SCAMS AND POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

"Some scammers call and claim to be computer techs associates with well-known companies like Microsoft or Apple. Other scammers send pop-up messages that warn about computer problems. They say they've detected viruses or other malware on your computer. They claim to be 'tech support' and will ask you to give them remote access to your computer. Eventually, they'll diagnose a non-existent problem and ask you to pay for unnecessary -- or even harmful -- services."

This is what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes as a 'tech support scam'. In this blog post, we'll explore a number of similar scams that fall under the same umbrella; that is, scammers and hackers pretending to be tech support in order to access your computer or data, whether it occurs over the phone, online chat, in-person or through a malicious, unwanted program installed on your computer. Follow along with us as we explore the various methods of these con artists and how to thwart them before you become a victim.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Beware PC repair websites that advertise remote support. This one is a scam!

To counter the tech support scam threat, it is important to understand exactly what these criminals are after. It may not seem like much to you, but your data is actually extremely valuable to hackers. Even if you place a low value on your photos, documents and videos, hackers can often piece together small bits of data found across many files to create the 'big picture', your identity. Think about what you have saved on your computer: tax documents, scans of your drivers license, birth certificate or social security card, receipts for large purchases, your address, account names and passwords stored in your web browser and bank information. Even if hackers don't plan on using this data themselves, it is remarkably easy to offer identities up for sale on the dark web, often in large lots from multiple compromised computers.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Now that you understand the value of your data and why it needs protecting, let's discuss what you can do to spot scammers and stop them in their tracks. First of all, you must be suspicious of everyone and everything asking for access to your computer. If you didn't initiate contact with a tech support agent, it is almost guaranteed that being contacted unsolicited is a scam. These con-artists take advantage of the complicated nature of computers to convince less tech-saavy users to simply give up control, but you know better than that! If you receive a call claiming to be tech support that you didn't schedule or arrange, it is a scam, even if the caller ID data appears legitimate. It is common for criminals to 'spoof', or fake caller ID names to appear legitimate (enough) to complete the scam. Similarly, unexpected popups often use the logos and branding of major corporations to convince you that they are legitimate. When in doubt, it is a good idea to close the popup by clicking the 'x' in the corner of the window. If you are overly suspicious or the popup seems legitimate, look up the phone number for the company using your favorite search engine and call that number from your phone to confirm. Do not call the number provided by the popup!

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
This Norton Antivirus lookalike is also a scam - beware!

You may even be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics if you become a target of these scammers. Fake tech support agents may use lots of technical terms, or jargon, to frame themselves as an expert and prevent you from properly participating in the conversation. In their minds, they want you to be as scared and confused as possible so that you agree to their proposed 'solution', which is usually asking for remote access into your computer. They may even try to get you to buy into their scheme by guiding you through some simple processes on your computer, like checking files or typing commands into the command prompt, to convince you that you have a problem by being polite and helpful -- just like a real technician. Don't fall for it! The last step they ask for will always involve gaining remote access to your computer or getting you to pay for something. With remote access, the scammers will have permanent access to your computer, day and night, and can do anything they choose with it, like viewing video through your webcam or using your computer as part of a Botnet to hack bigger targets.

POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

To change gears a little, most scams we have seen, particularly in Southern Colorado and Colorado Springs, do not actually involve a phone call. They are conducted entirely online via program downloads and are often welcomed by the victims who believe they need the scam program for one reason or another. It is also common to bundle unwanted programs with legitimate free software without properly disclosing this to the user. This method involves preying on victims searching for computer help. For example, if you search for 'remote computer repair', you are bombarded with similar-looking websites offering to help. What can you do to figure out if 'LogOnfixIt' or 'OnlineComputerRepair' are legitimate? Simply put, don't trust anything you haven't already heard of. If you really need something an unknown site is offering, run an additional search specifically about the company with the word 'scam' in the query; for example, 'LogOnFixIt scam'. This will show you if any consumers have been scammed by the company and if you can expect the level of service you deserve from them. Searching for a company on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is also usually helpful.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Both the blue screen and the popup are scams disguised as Windows warnings.

Many of these sites will install a program on your computer that is not necessarily malicious, but rather unwanted. We've all seen them: the programs that start up as soon as your computer loads, bug you over and over to upgrade to the paid version and frequently cause you to stop what you're doing to pay attention to them. These programs are best uninstalled using a powerful uninstall tool, like IOBit Uninstaller, which removes all remnants of uninstalled programs to make sure they don't come back to haunt you, as they often do. A short list of programs that fall under this criteria, also known as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs):

  • BrowserDefender
  • BrowserManager
  • Web Assistant
  • MyPcBackup
  • PCSpeedUp
  • Safe Search
  • 1ClickDownload
  • CouponDropDown
  • Superfish
  • Yahoo/Ask/Google Toolbar(s)

As you can see, not all of these programs have names that sound malicious. A program called 'PCSpeedUp' sounds useful if your computer is slow, and it will appear that way when you run it. Your inability to close, delete or uninstall the program is what makes the program dangerous. Combine this with the fact that the program is most likely also collecting your personal information for the private gain of others and you have a recipe for disaster. Remember, you only want well-established, high-quality programs on your computer. If you don't know where a program came from, call us at (719) 345-2345 to determine if it is harmful or not. We care about your security and privacy at PC Pro.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Another blue screen scam, masquerading as a standard Windows error screen.

Not sure if you've been infected? Most modern anti-malware and anti-virus programs are capable of notifying you. Here at PC Pro, we recommend using MalwareBytes Antimalware, BitDefender antivirus, or Avira antivirus to stay safe both on- and offline. Of course, Windows Defender and Firewall should always be enabled and running simultaneously with your antivirus program. Since some PUPs may actually be beneficial or wanted, like programs by IOBit or McAfee, these malware scanning programs will only alert you to their presence and let you decide if they should be removed or not.

If you still have doubts after reading this article, or if your computer is simply not running like it used to or you are experiencing unwanted popups and advertisements, you should call PC Pro today to schedule a free consultation and PUP removal.

iDrive Automatic Online Data Backup

iDrive Automatic Online Data Backup

WHO NEEDS DATA BACKUP?

Have you considered what would happen if you suddenly lost all the data on your computer, laptop or phone? Years of family photos, taxes and bank documents, personal videos and even your iTunes account could be gone in an instant. Many of us have already experienced the displeasure of an unexpected hard drive failure or a computer that simply can't be fixed, and it can be frustrating. With automatic Cloud file backup through IDrive, our preferred data backup solution, you can rest easy knowing that your files will never be lost, all for less than five bucks a month.

But what is the Cloud, anyway? To simplify the concept a bit, the Cloud is simply someone else's computer. Storing your data in the Cloud means you are uploading your data to servers that are publicly available to the Internet and owned by a corporation or government. This means you can access your files anywhere you can find an Internet connection. Unfortunately, it also raises certain (easily avoided) security concerns, but we'll talk about that a bit later.

"I don't really care about my personal files."

-No One, Ever.

WHAT IS IDRIVE?

IDrive is just one of many data backup software solutions, but it is the program of choice here at Colorado PC Pro. For around $50, you get 2 Terabytes of data storage (That's 2,000 Gigabytes, more than almost anyone needs), file encryption during data transfer and storage, the ability to sync files between multiple computers and more. The robust user interface and plentiful options allow you to customize a plan specific to your needs, such as backing up all photos, documents and videos while skipping your folder full of martial arts movies. This allows you to maximize your storage space and keep data transfers to a minimum.

iDrive backup screen
The Backup screen allows you to select what folders contain important files

It should come as no surprise that I actually use IDrive on my personal computer. At Colorado PC Pro, we practice what we preach. We give you the programs we use at home, only install Smart Home devices we have personally tried and we treat you like family. We are not affiliated with IDrive or any other software company -- we simply believe in this product enough to offer an annual subscription of IDrive automatic online file backup with each computer maintenance plan we manage in Colorado Springs.

IDrive delivers a clean, user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate. Large tabs labeled 'Backup', 'Restore', and 'Settings' are self-explanatory and direct you to the features you are looking for quickly. If you can navigate folders in Windows, you can use IDrive, which uses the same process to select files and folders. There is also a backup scheduler built into the main menu. Once you have completed your initial upload, you can set IDrive to check for new files to update at any time -- preferably in the middle of the night, when the excess Internet usage won't slow down other services.

iDrive settings menu
The settings have just about everything you could ask for

WHY YOU SHOULD USE IDRIVE

Aside from the obvious benefit of never losing your important files and data, IDrive is pretty darned cheap. There are constant promotions on IDrive's homepage, so you can usually pick up a software license for around $50 per year. That's less than $5 a month -- a fantastic price for data security and peace of mind. You probably wouldn't think twice about buying a $5 soda at the movies, so why turn data backup into a painstaking decision? We are here to make it easy for you, and we can even come to your home to set up your IDrive account the way you want it, on your terms, and fast.

Do you frequently transfer files between computers, laptops and other devices in your household? Do you ever e-mail documents to yourself so that you can access them from anywhere? I know I do. IDrive's sync feature is easy to overlook if you're only focused on online data backup, but it can be extremely useful. Instead of going through your self-created hassle, just set up a single folder on your computer designated for IDrive file sync. All of your computers can share your IDrive account, and they will all sync that folder as often as you tell them to. Want the folder updated every time you add something? Done, and instantly accessible from any of your other computers.

Persistent data backup is becoming more and more important every day. Take, for example, the recent introduction of 'ransomware' to the Internet. Ransomware is a new term used to describe a computer virus that holds your computer hostage. Specifically, ransomware encrypts your computer hard drive and only provides you with the decryption key once you have paid a huge sum of money, typically around $500, to the scammers. If you don't pay, your files are permanently encrypted with no chance of recovery. With IDrive, you know that your files are always backed up, current and safe from hackers. While ransomware would still be serious, it would not be impossible to recover from.

iDrive automatic online cloud file data backup
IDrive sync allows you to share files between all of your computers and devices

ANY CONCERNS?

For everything IDrive does, it doesn't do the best job explaining to the casual computer user how it all happens. That's what we're here for, and we know you have questions. If you can't find your concerns addressed here, call us at (719)345-2345 and we'll do our best to keep you informed.

As I mentioned earlier, Cloud storage means that files are accessible from the Internet, which is usually considered a security risk; however, IDrive uses the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to transfer and store your files. That means that even if your files were sniffed during a routine backup or outright stolen from IDrive's servers they would be nothing more than encrypted, garbled nonsense to hackers. This is considered better than industry-standard data protection.

The next main concern is the time and data it takes to upload your files to the Cloud. In my case, I selected only my photos, documents, school and work documents to be backed up. Since I have decades of digital photos, the total size was 60 Gigabytes. Keep in mind, you are allowed to store 2,000 Gigabytes with your IDrive subscription. To upload my data, it took almost a week straight of running IDrive overnight. I may have forgotten a night here and there, but that is still a long time. If you have much more files than me, say, over 250 Gigabytes, uploading over the Internet is simply not a realistic option.

Thankfully, you can actually ship your data to IDrive. If you don't want to upload an enormous amount of data or simply don't have the time, you can request a hard drive be shipped to your house, back up your data onto it, and ship it back to be stored on the Cloud. For advanced users, you can connect IDrive to a Microsoft Exchange or Oracle server for streamlined home business operations.

Idrive online cloud file data backup
You can even clone an entire hard drive in IDrive - great for disaster recovery
How To Avoid Common Password Pitfalls

How To Avoid Common Password Pitfalls

Everyone has experienced the frustration of forgetting a password. Even worse, not remembering the answer to security questions you created years ago can make recovery impossible. You can use the following tips to secure your accounts across the web without having to remember what your favorite color was in 2004.

Common mistake #1: Using the same password for everything.

Sure, you created a password that passes the test of every website: Some capital letters, a number or two and perhaps some special characters. No way that is getting cracked, right? Think again!

Your password doesn't need to be cracked to be compromised. Many of us have 20 or more accounts that we use on a regular basis, and an attack on any of these sites' weak spots has the potential to compromise your password right out from under you, which can then be used to gain access to all of your accounts.

To illustrate how widespread this problem is, just check out 'Have I Been Pwned?'. This site tracks account compromises and hacks by web site; for example, it shows us that over 360 million MySpace accounts, 160 million LinkedIn accounts and 65 million Tumblr accounts have been compromised to date. These compromised passwords will then be stored by hackers and tested against other sites. You can visit the site to enter your username and see if your account has been compromised and how badly.

Common mistake #2: Writing your passwords down.

Many people, in order to make the most secure passwords, will create nonsensical strings of characters in an attempt to thwart hacking attempts. While a long, random string of characters does indeed present a strong challenge to hackers, it also opens you up to exploitation in other ways.

Writing down passwords has the potential to either compromise or lose all of your sensitive data all at once. Sure, you can save a file on your computer with all of your passwords, but then it would be even less secure. It is almost impossible to tell nowadays who is viewing your files - hacker, government or otherwise, so why would you take the risk? Just look at how many Dropbox accounts have been compromised: those all have access to the personal files of the compromised users.

Many a common computer user has been compromised by writing their password on a sticky note and placing it on their monitor. While this is more critical in the workplace, it is also important for the home. Don't presume that everyone who enters your home would pass that bit of information up! Even if an opportunist didn't want to use your password, they could sell it.

Common mistake #3: Not using a complex password.

Most modern websites require you to create a password containing a combination of the following: Capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Some websites don't.

Even if it's not a requirement, you should strive to create a strong password. A quick view of Passwordrandom.com, which lists the 10,000 most commonly used passwords, shows us that some of the most common passwords in use today are 'password,' '123456,' 'qwerty,' and 'football.' Any password in the top 1,000 of this list will be cracked in seconds using automatic hacking software, and a study on the site shows that an astounding 91% of all user passwords sampled appear in the top 1,000. This means only 9% of all users are safe from password cracking attempts!

How do you stay safe?

Are you making any of the common mistakes described above? If so, taking a few simple steps can greatly improve the security of your digital identity.

To learn how to create a strong, unique password for every site without having to remember all of them, check out our blog post on password manager basics.