Seven Steps to Safer Wireless Access

With your trusty laptop and more coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, and other public places offering free wireless access, you might be tempted to step away from your office and enjoy a change in scenery.
 
If you do decide to roam, here are some tips to make sure your leisurely afternoon reviewing expense reports at your local café doesn’t turn into an opportunity for identity theft or corporate espionage.  

  1. Before you enter the hot spot, disable ad-hoc mode to prevent automatic connections to networks.
  2. Make sure your firewall is turned on. Go to Control Panel, then Security Center in Windows XP or Control Panel, then Security Settings in Vista.
  3. Disable document and printer sharing. To find out how, click here.
  4. Password-protect your files.
  5. Don’t visit web sites where you could potentially expose a lot of personal information. Save checking your bank account balance and paying your credit card and mortgage bills until you’re at home over a secure connection.
  6. If you have a corporate VPN, don’t connect to it through a public wireless network; use a wireless card that works through your cellphone network.
  7. Beware non-password-protected networks or networks with generic names like “Linksys.” A legitimate hotspot host will have an easily identifiable name, and often a password as well. You should always check with whoever is working at the place you’re accessing the network – whether it’s a concierge, a librarian, or a barista – to confirm the network name, because copycats can easily establish similarly named networks in the hopes of duping users.

Don’t Let April Fools Trick You

Don’t Let April Fools Trick You
April 1 Conficker Worm May Be Harmless – Or Devastating

The Conficker worm first appeared in late 2008 and made headlines earlier this year when it affected over 9 million computers worldwide. It disables some of the victim’s security services and blocks access to security Web sites, while granting a “master machine” access to the infected computer.
 
Conficker is now in its third variant, with the Conficker C worm set to do something — we’re not sure what — on the hard-coded date of April 1. It could be something relatively benign, like spontaneously launching a bunch of pop-ups. Or the master machine might send out a message to all the infected computers across the globe to launch a denial-of-service attack or look for personal information on their hard drive.
 
Because we don’t know what April 1 will bring, it’s absolutely necessary to be proactive.
 
Conficker often disables anti-virus software when it infects a machine, so make sure your anti-virus services are actually working. Run a scan, update your definitions, and make sure you’ve installed all your latest Windows patches, especially MS08-067 which patches the primary vulnerability Conficker is exploiting to compromise systems.
 
Then sit back and hope that the pranksters behind Conficker C are feeling more nice than naughty on April Fool’s Day.
 
Bonus Round: New Scareware Alert
 
We’ve been hearing a lot through our own customers and colleagues about the Vundo virus. It basically installs itself on your machine and then encrypts your jpegs, PDFs, and Word documents — which you can decrypt by buying a $40 license for a product called “FileFix Pro 2009.” Security experts call this kind of scheme “ransomware”.
 
One Internet security company has already figured out how to disable the encryption using a simple Perl Script.  But if you don’t happen to have a Perl engineer to disable Vundo, stay vigilant about scareware soliciations and think before you click on any sudden or alarming security messages.
 
If you can’t seem to find the time to run a full system scan, or if you’ve put off installing security updates because you’ve got more pressing tasks to attend to, you might look into a managed services program like CMIT Marathon. Marathon automatically updates your antivirus and antispyware definitions and regularly runs system scans so that you can rest easier about your computer’s security. For more information, click here

Join First and Last Names in a Single Cell

Unless you’re a power user or a statistician, chances are you often use Excel to manage text lists instead of numerical data. For example, you might use Excel as your source file for a mail merge.
 
Let’s imagine that somewhere along the way you separated out first names from last names, and now you want to join them back together in a single column. Like this:

Instead of going through your list and retyping all those names, you can tell Excel to put the first name, a space, and the last name in a single cell. The formula is pretty simple:
 
=A3&” “&B3
 

The ampersand tells Excel to join one value to another, while the quotation marks tell Excel to insert a specific character (or a space, in this case). So the formula above says, in effect, “Join the first name to a space, and then join the space to the last name.”

To repeat the formula, just grab the lower right hand corner of the cell and drag down.

Ensure Safe, Continuous Access to Electricity — And Automatically Shut It Off When You Don’t Need It

If you’re like a lot of home-based workers or employees in a small office, you’ve got a single power strip with your computer and all its many peripherals plugged into it. You want to make sure that power supply is reliable, well made, and not driving up your electricity bills unnecessarily. Here are a few things to consider when you’re thinking about managing your access to power:
  1. Surge protection. Everybody knows that you need some protection against power spikes. But a surge protector won’t help when it comes to power failures and fluctuations, which can cause data loss and software problems if equipment isn’t allowed to shut down properly.
  2. Backup power. A battery backup solves the problem of how to conduct a smooth shutdown. In the event of a blackout or brownout, a battery backup will automatically kick in and buy you enough time to execute an orderly shutdown of your equipment.
  3. Energy saving. A new breed of power supply can actually detect when a machine is shut down after a certain period of time and will cut off power to that machine without your having to switch it off. Given that electronic devices can pull up to 40 percent of their power when they’re turned off but plugged in, this can really help you reduce your electrical bills. You can also set the strip to automatically power down peripherals when you shut off the main device — so, for example, your printer and other peripherals will shut off when you turn off your computer. You can also set your peripherals to shut down while your computer stays on, so that if you’re on a service like CMIT Marathon that requires your computer to be on for regular updates you can still reduce power waste.
Got questions about how to execute an orderly shutdown of your servers, backups, and computers in the event of a blackout? Call CMIT Solutions. We can help.

Watch Out for More Facebook-Transmitted Worms

In the computer security industry, it’s a well-known fact that hackers and malware makers tend to go wherever the users go. That means that these days they go to social networking sites like Facebook: in the addition to high traffic, social networking sites offer up a treasure trove of personal information that hackers are constantly looking for new ways to unlock.

 

According to a recent news report, Facebook dealt with five different security threats in the space of a week. One of the most serious threats is the Koobface worm, which surfaced in two major attacks last year and is now back for more.

 

Once downloaded, the worm searches for cookies left on the user’s machine by social networks. It uses these cookies to connect to the site and find the user’s friends, and then sends them a message telling them to download a video.

 

People often click the link to the video because they tend to trust their friends and are too tempted by the promise of entertainment to resist. Of course, what they end up downloading isn’t a video at all — it’s Koobface.

 

In addition to the Koobface worm, Facebook is also battling four new applications that attempt to get users to reveal their usernames and passwords.

 

Facebook now has over 175 million users, and more people sign up every day to connect to friends, family, and work colleagues. If you’re one of them (and you probably are), just remember that the same good habits you learned for surfing the Web and handling email apply when you’re on Facebook as well. Keep your security software updated, don’t download unnecessary applications or plugins, and don’t ever trust a suspicious link.

 

Still worried about viruses, worms, spyware, and other Internet threats? CMIT Solutions can help. Our Marathon service automatically runs regular system scans and anti-virus updates.

5 Ways to Make Sure Your Emails Get Read and Responded To

We’ve come a long way since the days when email etiquette included advice to avoid forwarding chain letters to your coworkers. (It’s still worthy advice, but in the age of spam and viruses, nearly everybody knows not to open those things – let alone forward them.)
 
Now people are checking email remotely, over the Web, over cellphones and smart phones, and their needs and expectations have changed. New technology and people’s comfort with email mean that the old etiquette rules need some updates.
 
For example, you used to hear that your Subject line should give as accurate a description as possible of the contents of the message – for example, you should never give an email the subject line, “Question.” Nowadays, while accuracy is still important, brevity is equally vital. If your recipient is reading your email off a BlackBerry, a long subject line will run off the screen and be just as useless as “Question” used to be.
 
Here are a few perennial tips as well as a few new ones that should keep you in your email correspondents’ good graces:
 
  1. If you’re sending an attachment, attach it FIRST before you write the message, so that you remember to do it. A few years ago, it was hardly rare to see an attachment referred to in a message but not included. Nowadays it’s unusual enough that you could start to look like a flake.
  2. Check the To, CC and BCC fields, particularly if you’re about to Reply All. Are you absolutely certain you want everybody on that list to read your response?
  3. Nix the fancy backgrounds. They just add to the size of individual emails, many email programs won’t display them anyhow, and they can make your message difficult to read. Backgrounds were novel when people were first introduced to Outlook, but that novelty has long since worn off.
  4. Keep subject lines and text short. In the new era of smartphones, more and more people are checking email over the phone. That means screen real estate and bandwidth are both scarce — so don’t make it difficult for people to download or view your messages by making them any longer than they need to be. Additionally, the email has evolved from something like a letter to something like a Post-It note. Nobody has the time or the patience for a multi-paragraph email; if it takes that much space to convey an idea, consider picking up the phone instead.
  5. Don’t abuse the high importance marker. There’s almost nothing more irritating for a recipient than to open up their Outlook email and see a long column of red exclamation points staring back at them. If something’s an emergency or a pressing priority, then by all means use the High Importance marker. But use it judiciously or else you’ll be dismissed as crying wolf all the time.