Popular "Virus Alert" Scam on the Rise

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There's a scam going around that has Microsoft & Apple customers reaching into their wallets to try to stop a "virus" from wiping out their computer.  

The typical scenario portrays a concerned tech from a reputable company calling to inform you that they have received an alert signaling your computer is infected.  The tech claims to be from Microsoft or Apple and requests permission to remotely login to your computer to remove the virus.  It's a very convincing pitch.  Once they have access to your computer they open up legitimate system logs & files, but use them as evidence that your system has been breached.  Most people can't identify these logs, so they take the scammers word for it, and proceed to pay the scammer to clean the "infected" system for a relatively low price.  The fee varies, but is usually in the range of $100-$200.  Once the scammer knows they can get a little money from you, a bigger step is taken to try to get even more.

If the initial scam wasn't terrible enough, during this time logged into your system the scammer could also be installing much more harmful software designed to steal things like credentials for accessing your banking info. 

The scammers script generally continues at this point by saying you need additional protection at a much larger price.  You have already been breached once, why let it happen again they argue?  The scammer makes a calculated decision based on how well the initial fleecing went to price their next "service."  It's often in the $1,000 range for them to install "special" software to protect you in the future.  It isn't until this point that many people start to wonder if they're being taken for a ride. 

If someone calls you from Microsoft or Apple and tells you your computer is infected, hang up.  If you are worried, call a trusted IT Professional & explain the situation.  You wouldn't let a stranger into your house.  Similarly, don't allow someone into your computer who you don't know and haven't requested service from.

SSD : A Solid Choice for Efficiency

Want to add an extra hour to each employees timecard every month for free?

Technology often promises to save time and money by making us more efficient, but sometimes it's cumbersome to quantify. Other times a technology is a clear winner in efficiency. SSD's are one such technology.

 Internals of a Traditional Spinning Hard Drive

Internals of a Traditional Spinning Hard Drive

SSD is an acronym for Solid State Drive.  SSD's are a replacement for traditional hard drives. A computer's hard drive is the part that stores files and data. Hard drives store nonvolatile information, information that is preserved even when the computer has no power. Traditional hard drives have spinning discs, called platters, and a magnetic mechanical arm that moves over the platters to read and write the data. Watching them in action reminds me of an extremely high speed record player. SSD's on the other hand have no moving parts making them more reliable. SSD's are also MUCH faster at reading and writing data. Current high speed SSD's are 5-6 times faster than their traditional hard drive counter-parts. A good quality traditional hard drive averages about 80mb/s (megabytes per second) for reading and writing data. As of this writing, a quality SSD is capable of more than 550mb/s.

In fact, traditional hard drives have become the biggest bottleneck in most modern computers. Much of the time a computer feels slow is due to waiting to read or write from the hard drive. SSD's change all that.

How drastic is the change? It's a big deal. A SSD will speed up almost everything you do on your computer. However, I'm going to focus on one quantifiable aspect; how a SSD can give you and your employees an extra hour of productive work time each month. 

My first mass SSD deployment was an office with about 70 employees. It was a typical office with cubicles and computers for each employee. It may be larger or smaller than your office, but it doesn't really matter for this conversation.

When employees arrive in the office to work they turn on their computer and then...

...WAIT and WAIT and WAIT...

 

How long does your computer take to go from "completely powered off" to "on and ready to work"? Have you ever timed it?

For this office, it was nearly FIVE MINUTES. That's five minutes each-and-every work day. That doesn't sound like much, but multiple it by 5 days a week and then by 50 weeks per year and it's 1,000 minutes per year. Multiple that by 70 employees and we're looking at noteworthy payroll numbers.  

how does SSD speed translate into computer boot-up time? 

In my real world experience computers upgraded with SSD's average 45 second boot times. I measure from completely off to ready to work.

At our example office that's a saving of over 4 minutes per day, five days a week. That's over an hour per month! An extra hour of productive computer time per employee. Remember, this was ONLY counting the time it takes to START the computer. 

Not to Mention..

...other benefits of the SSD throughout the day. It doesn't account for the fact that opening, saving, or copying a huge .pdf file (or whatever you're doing) is also 5-6 times faster. Or that a virus scan that previously slowed down the machine as it scanned files is no longer perceivable. Or that you might have to reboot during the day for some reason. With a traditional drive you might as well go to lunch. 

So, where's the catch? What's this going to cost?

It depends on the data capacity you require. In our example office, based on the average salary per employee, they recouped their SSD investment within six months. Again, that was ONLY factoring the savings in computer boot-up time. We didn't take into account any other time or frustration savings. 

We also didn't factor in the savings compared to purchasing a new machine. You see, I could set a 3 year old SSD based computer in front of you and a brand new computer with a traditional spinning hard drive next to it for a "Pepsi challenge." You won't be able to tell the difference. For standard office tasks, nine times out of ten you'd tell me the older machine is faster.

If I had to choose between the two computers for my desk, I'd take the older one with a SSD. It's that big of a difference for the majority of tasks. 

At our example office the performance improvement of the upgraded computers allowed management to hold-off on purchasing new machines for another few years saving tens of thousands of dollars. 

SSD Myths

There are some myths floating around about SSD's. Among the most common is that SSD's wear out with use. It's true SSD's do have a useful lifespan, there is a limit to the number of times you can write data to them, but the limits are WAY higher than an individual will encounter during the useful life of the computer. Techreport.com did an amazing torture test with 6 SSD's from different manufactures. They worked them to the maximum 24/7 for over 6 months before the first one wore out and died. The strongest contender lasted 18 months of continual usage. The "worst" of them successfully wrote nearly 1 Petabyte of data, enough data to equal 13.3 years of HD video, well exceeding the manufactures expectations. Long story short, it will take decades to wear out a SSD even for power users. 

You may have heard SSD's are too expensive, we touched on that earlier, but it's more cost effective than you might imagine. Most users don't need as much storage space as they think. Marketing has lead us to believe we need 1TB or more of drive space, but the majority of systems I see day-to-day are utilizing less than a quarter of 1TB. The average cost of a SSD including professional setup and installation is less than 1/3 the price of a new PC. 

Next myth, if I buy a new computer it will come with a SSD. This myth is true ONLY for Apple computers. Most, but not all, new Mac computers come with SSD drives. Some new Windows computers include SSD drives, but most do not. At this point, it's highly unlikely the PC on sale at your local big box store will include a SSD. That will change over time, but as of this writing you've got to seek out a SSD if you want one. 

I guess the only question left is Do You Want One?

How's Your Infrastructure?

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Plug in a light and the bulb glows. Get to the next town anytime by hopping on the interstate. Turn the knob on the stove and the burner fires to life. For the most part we take Infrastructure like electricity, highways, and natural gas for granted.

It's the same with our computer networks. Open the laptop and surf to google. We expect the internet to launch. In offices we expect to be able to send files to and from other computers with ease. Many businesses offer WiFi access in addition to a wired network. We expect to join a network and get data from the grid just like we expect to plug into a socket and get electricity. 

Computer networks are infrastructure. Making changes to infrastructure is time consuming and expensive.

Imagine you buy a house from the early 1900's with ancient electrical wiring. The house has 2 prong outlets and all your plugs have 3 prongs. You can buy adapters and live with it, but it's a hazard. Some of the outlets don't even work. You see sparks when turning on light switches. You've got an infrastructure problem. You bite the bullet and replace the electrical. It's expensive, it's time consuming, it's messy, but after the remodel you're current with local building codes. The electricity "just works" again. You're not frustrated by adapters, sparks, and potentially a major fire. You know your investment in infrastructure has increased the value of your property. 

Now imagine you have an office with an old or improper data network. The wifi coverage is spotty. Some of the network wall outlets don't work. Your internet connection isn't reliable. It's increasingly vulnerable to security attacks. Sound familiar? It's infrastructure. There's not a quick fix. It's going to cost money, it's going to take time, it might be inconvenient, but it's a wise investment. You'll have much lower risk of a major data "fire" that can render your systems inoperable, less risk of a data breach, you'll have fewer intermittent issues, and less frustration. Do you foresee a future where your company will be less reliant on computers and data networks? Of course not, it will get more automated and will require more digital data. Just like electricity, a reliable data network is required for most businesses to function effectively. Investing in your infrastructure is a smart business choice. 

Don't Fall For This iCloud Password Hacking Trick

 Make sure you see the "return" key before inputting your iCloud password. If it says "Go" instead of "return" you risk sending a hacker your iCloud password

Make sure you see the "return" key before inputting your iCloud password. If it says "Go" instead of "return" you risk sending a hacker your iCloud password

Be on the look out for a new iCloud password hacking attempt. Features in your iphone/ipad's native email app make it possible to receive an email that prompts for what looks like a legitimate dialog box requesting your iCloud username and password. In reality, the dialog box is an internet form that can send your iCloud username and password to the hacker.

Currently, the best defense against this exploit is knowing that it exists. The best way to tell if the password box is legitimate is to look at the lower right of your keyboard. If it says "Go" in the corner that's BAD! DO NOT INPUT YOUR INFO. If it says "Return" you should be fine. "Go" indicates it will be sending that information outside your device. 

Automated Mileage Tracking

Business owners know we should be keeping a mileage log when we drive for business. Your tax preparer may have told you about the tax benefits of logging your mileage, but it’s such a hassle. As a small business owner myself, I know the last thing on my mind when getting in the car is writing down my starting mileage in a log book. If  I manage to write down my starting mileage murphy’s law makes sure I forget to write down the ending mileage. 

In this day and age where we carry miniature computers (smartphones) in our pockets and our cars give us turn by turn directions there must be a better way.

There is a better way.

I started 2015 by installing MileIQ on my smartphone. MileIQ bills itself as “The smart mileage tracker”. It’s totally living up to that promise. The app runs in the background and intelligently records all my trips using GPS. When I open the app it shows me all the places I've driven and I can quickly swipe to classify each trip as business or personal. To make things easier it shows a small map of the starting and ending location. I can give frequently visited locations a custom name to make identification even easier. As of March 3rd I’ve recorded over $640 worth of tax deducible business driving for the year. The app estimates I’ll finish 2015 with over $3,500 of deductible mileage. 

The app tracks up to 40 trips per month for free. I went through 40 trips in about a week, so I opted to upgrade to the monthly plan which allows unlimited trips. It costs $5.99 per month which works out to $71.88 per year. So for me, it will cost about 3% of the tax deduction they estimate I’ll earn during the year. Sign me up. 

Won’t constantly using GPS drain my battery quickly?

It would, but MileIQ doesn’t constantly use the GPS. It uses low power background tracking that is likely to be enabled already by other apps native to your phone. With this advanced location tracking the battery drain is minimal. Generally, it's less than 1% different per hour than not having the app installed. In my personal experience I didn't notice any obvious decline in my battery life. 

Because of the low power way it tracks the mileage there are occasionally trips recorded that don’t make sense at first glance. For example often when I go to my PO Box it shows a 10 mile trip that starts and ends at my office.  Since I’m only in the post office for a minute or two the app doesn’t realize I stopped. This is actually very useful because if it was too sensitive for short stops it might consider a long stoplight as a separate trip. Now that I'm aware and expect the behavior for short stops it’s much easier to classify the trips correctly. 

As I gear up to file my 2014 taxes I wish I’d known about this app sooner! I'm not getting compensated to write this,  but I am very much looking forward to emailing my tax professional my complete MileIQ log of tax deductible trips this time next year.