• Posted on September 20, 2017 9:35 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    Whether you're a home PC user or a network administrator, you always need a plan for when the unexpected happens to your computers and/or network. A Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) is essential in helping to ensure that you don't get fired after a server gets fried in a fire, or in the case of the home user, that you don't get kicked out of the house when mamma discovers you've just lost years worth of irreplaceable digital baby photos. A DRP doesn't have to be overly complicated. You just need to cover the basic things that it will take to get back up and running again if something bad happens. Here are some items that should be in every good disaster recovery plan: 1. Backups, Backups, Backups! Most of us think about backups right after we've lost everything in a fire, flood, or burglary. We think to ourselves, "I sure hope I have a backup of my files somewhere". Unfortunately, wishing and hoping won't bring back dead files or keep your wife from flogging you about the head and neck after you've lost gigabytes of family photos. You need to have a plan for regularly backing up your critical files so that when a disaster occurs you can recover what was lost. There are dozens of online backup services available that will backup your files to an off-site location via a secure connection. If you don't trust "The Cloud" you can elect to keep things in-house by purchasing an external backup storage device such as a Drobo. Whichever method you choose, make sure you set a schedule to backup all your files at least once weekly, with incremental backups each night if possible. Additionally, you should periodically make a copy of your backup and store it off-site in a fire safe, safe deposit box, or somewhere other than where your computers reside. Off-site backups are important because your backup is useless if it's burned up in the same fire that just torched your computer. 2. Document Critical Information If you encounter a major disaster, you're going to loose a lot of information that may not be inside of a file. This information will be critical to getting back to normal and includes items such as: Make, model, and warranty information for all your computers and other peripherals Account names and passwords (for e-mail, ISP, wireless routers, wireless networks, admin accounts, System BIOS) Network settings (IP addresses of all PCs, firewall rules, domain info, server names) Software license information (list of installed software, license keys for re-installation, version info) Support phone numbers (for ISP, PC manufacturer, network administrators, tech support) 3. Plan for Extended Downtime If you're a network administrator you'll need to have a plan that covers what you will do if the downtime from the disaster is expected to last more than a few days. You'll need to identify possible alternate sites to house your servers if your facilities are going to be unusable for an extended period of time. Check with your management prior to looking into alternatives to get their buy-in. Ask them questions such as: How much downtime is tolerable to them based on their business needs? What is the restoration priority (which systems do they want back online first)? What is their budget for disaster recovery operations and preparation? 4. Plan for Getting Back to Normal You'll need transition plan for moving your files off of the loaner you borrowed and onto the new PC you bought with your insurance check, or for moving from your alternate site back to your original server room after its been restored to normal. Test and update your DRP regularly. Make sure you keep your DRP up-to-date with all the latest information (updated points of contact, software version information, etc). Check your backup media to make sure it is actually backing something up and not just sitting idle. Check the logs to make sure the backups are running on the schedule you setup. Again, your disaster recovery plan shouldn't be overly complicated. You want to make it useful and something that is always within arms reach. Keep a copy of it off-site as well. Now if I were you, I would go start backing up those baby pics ASAP!

    Blog Entry, DATA, Data Recovery
  • Posted on September 17, 2017 9:30 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    Whether you're managing disaster preparation activities for a small business or a large corporation, you need to plan for natural disasters because, as we all know, information technology and water don't mix well. Let's go over some basic steps you'll need to take to ensure that your network and IT investments survive in the event of a disaster such as a flood or hurricane. 1. Develop a Disaster Recovery Plan The key to successfully recovering from a natural disaster is to have a good disaster recovery plan in place before something bad happens. This plan should be periodically tested to ensure that all parties involved know what they are supposed to do during a disaster event. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has excellent resources on how to develop disaster recovery plans. Check out NIST Special Publication 800-34 on Contingency Planning to find out how to get started developing a rock-solid disaster recovery plan. 2. Get Your Priorities Straight: Safety First. Obviously, protecting your people is the most important thing. Never put your network and servers ahead of keeping your staff safe. Never operate in an unsafe environment. Always ensure that facilities and equipment have been deemed safe by the proper authorities before any recovery or salvage operations begin. Once safety issues have been addressed, you should have a system restoration priority so you can focus on what it will take to stand up your critical infrastructure and servers at an alternate location. Have management identify which business functions they want back online first and then focus planning on restoring what is needed to ensure safe recovery of mission critical systems. 3. Label and Document Your Network and Equipment. Pretend that you just found out that a major storm is two days away and it is going to flood your building. Most of your infrastructure is in the basement of the building which means you are going to have to relocate the equipment elsewhere. The tear down process will likely be rushed so you need to have your network well documented so that you can resume operations at an alternate location. Accurate network diagrams are essential for guiding network technicians as they reconstruct your network at the alternate site. Label things as much as you can with straightforward naming conventions that everyone on your team understands. Keep a copy of all network diagram information at an offsite location. 4. Prepare to Move Your IT Investments to Higher Ground. Since our friend gravity likes to keep water at the lowest point possible, you'll want to plan to relocate your infrastructure equipment to higher ground in the event of a major flood. Make arrangements with your building manager to have a safe storage location on a non-flood prone floor where you can temporarily move network equipment that might be flooded in the event of a natural disaster. If the entire building is likely to be trashed or flooded, find an alternate site that is not in a flood zone. You can visit the FloodSmart.gov website and enter in the address of your potential alternate site to see if it is located in a flood zone or not. If it is in a high risk flood area, you may want to consider relocating your alternate site. Make sure your disaster recovery plan covers the logistics of who's going to move what, how they are going to do it, and when they are going to move operations to the alternate site.. Move the expensive stuff first (switches, routers, firewalls, servers) and least expensive stuff last (PCs and Printers). If you're designing a server room or data center, consider locating it in an area of your building that won't be prone to flooding such as a non-ground level floor, this will save you the headache of relocating equipment during a flood. 5. Make Sure You Have Good Backups Before a Disaster Strikes. If you don't have good backups to restore from then it won't matter if you have an alternate site because you won't be able to restore anything of value. Check to make sure your scheduled backups are working and check backup media to make sure it is actually capturing data. Be vigilant. Make sure that your administrators are reviewing backup logs and that backups are not silently failing.

    DATA, Hardware, Security
  • Posted on September 2, 2017 10:13 am
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    All Windows computers include features that protect the operating system from hackers, viruses, and various types of malware. There are also protections in place to prevent mishaps that are brought on by the users themselves, such as the unintentional installation of unwanted software or changes to crucial system settings. Most of these features have existed in some form for years. One of them, Windows Firewall, has always been a part of Windows and was included with XP, 7, 8, 8.1, and more recently, Windows 10. It’s enabled by default. Its job is to protect the computer, your data, and even your identity, and runs in the background all the time. But what exactly is a firewall and why is it necessary? To understand this, consider a real-world example. In the physical realm, a firewall is a wall designed specifically to stop or prevent the spread of existing or approaching flames. When a threatening fire reaches the firewall, the wall maintains its ground and protects what’s behind it. Windows Firewall does the same thing, except with data (or more specifically, data packets). One of its jobs is to look at what’s trying to come into (and go out of) the computer from web sites and email, and decide if that data is dangerous or not. If it deems the data acceptable, it lets it pass. Data that could be a threat to the stability of the computer or the information on it is denied. It is a line of defense, just as a physical firewall is. This, however, is a very simplistic explanation of a very technical subject. Why and How to Access Firewall Options Windows Firewall offers several settings that you can configure. For one, it’s possible to configure how the firewall performs and what it blocks and what it allows. You can manually block a program that’s allowed by default, such as Microsoft Tips or Get Office. When you block these programs you, in essence, disable them. If you’re not a fan of the reminders you get to buy Microsoft Office, or if the tips are distracting, you can make them disappear. You can also opt to let apps pass data through your computer that aren’t permitted by default. This often occurs with third-party apps you install like iTunes because Windows requires your permission to allow both installation and passage. But, the features can also be Windows-related such as the option to use Hyper-V to create virtual machines or Remote Desktop to access your computer remotely. You also have the option to turn off the firewall completely. Do this if you opt to use a third-party security suite, like the anti-virus programs offered by McAfee or Norton. These frequently ship as a free trial on new PCs and users often sign up. You should also disable the Windows Firewall if you’ve installed a free one (which I’ll discuss later in this article). If any of these are the case, read “How to Disable the Windows Firewall” for more information. Note: It is vitally important to keep a single firewall enabled and running, so don’t disable the Windows Firewall unless you have another in place and don't run multiple firewalls at the same time. When you’re ready to make changes to Windows Firewall, access the firewall options: Click in the Search area of the Taskbar. Type Windows Firewall. In the results, click Windows Firewall Control Panel. From the Windows Firewall area you can do several things. The option to Turn Windows Firewall On or Off is in the left pane. It’s a good idea to check here every now and then to see if the firewall is indeed enabled. Some malware, should it get by the firewall, can turn it off without your knowledge. Simply click to verify and then use the Back arrow to return to the main firewall screen. You can also restore the defaults if you’ve changed them. The option Restore Defaults, again in the left pane, offers access to these settings. How to Allow an App Through the Windows Firewall When you allow an app in Windows Firewall you choose to allow it to pass data through your computer based on whether you’re connected to a private network or a public one, or both. If you select only Private for the allow option, you can use the app or feature when connected to a private network, such as one in your home or office. If you choose Public, you can access the app while connected to a public network, such as a network in a coffee shop or hotel. As you’ll see here, you can also choose both. To allow an app through the Windows Firewall: Open the Windows Firewall. You can search for it from the Taskbar as detailed earlier. Click Allow an App or Feature Through Windows Firewall. Click Change Settings and type an administrator password if prompted. Locate the app to allow. It won’t have a check mark beside it. Click the checkbox(es) to allow the entry. There are two options Private and Public. Start with Private only and select Public later if you don’t get the results you want. Click OK. How to Block a Program with the Windows 10 Firewall The Windows Firewall allows some Windows 10 apps and features to pass data into and out of a computer without any user input or configuration. These include Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Photos, and necessary features like Core Networking and Windows Defender Security Center. Other Microsoft apps like Cortana might require you to give your explicit permissions when you first use them though. This opens the required ports in the firewall, among other things. We use the word “might” here because the rules can and do change, and as Cortana becomes more and more integrated it could be enabled by default in the future. That said, this means that other apps and features could be enabled that you do not want to be. For instance, Remote Assistance is enabled by default. This program allows a technician to remotely access your computer to help you resolve a problem if you agree to it. Even though this app is locked down and quite secure, some users do consider it an open security hole. If you’d rather close that option, you can block access for that feature. There are also third party apps to consider. It’s important to keep unwanted apps blocked (or possibly, uninstalled) if you don't use them. When working through the next few steps then, check for entries that involve file sharing, music sharing, photo editing, and so forth, and block those that don’t need access. If and when you use the app again, you’ll be prompted to allow the app through the firewall at that time. This keeps the app available should you need it, and is thus better than uninstalling in many instances. It also prevents you from accidentally uninstalling an app that the system needs to function properly. To block a program on a Windows 10 computer: Open the Windows Firewall. You can search for it from the Taskbar as detailed earlier. Click Allow and App or Feature Through Windows Firewall. Click Change Settings and type an administrator password if prompted. Locate the app to block. It will have a check mark beside it. Click the checkbox(es) to disallow the entry. There are two options Privateand Public. Select both. Click OK. Once you’ve done this, the apps you’ve selected are blocked based on the network types you’ve selected.   Consider a Free Third-Party Firewall If you would rather use a firewall from a third-party vendor, you can. Remember though, the Windows Firewall has a good track record and your wireless router, if you have one, does a good amount of work too, so you don’t have to explore any other options if you don’t want to. It’s your choice though, and if you want to try it out, here are a few free options: ZoneAlarm Free Firewall – ZoneAlarm has been around for a very long time and is a trusted name. It protects your computer on many levels from hiding open ports to real-time security updates. It’s easy to download and set up and doesn’t require a lot of attention once it’s running. Explore ZoneAlarm Free here. TinyWall – Simple to use, effective, and non-intrusive, this firewall is a good choice for those users with only a little experience but a healthy curiosity. Download TinyWall safely from CNet. Comodo Firewall - This firewall comes with a full security suite and is best for more advanced users. It includes automatic updates but not a lot of built-in help. Check out Comodo here. For more information about free firewalls, refer to this article "10 Free Firewall Programs". Whatever you decide to do, or not do, with the Windows Firewall, remember that you need a working and running firewall to protect your computer from malware, viruses, and other threats. It’s also important to check every now and then, perhaps once a month, that the firewall is engaged. If new malware gets by the firewall, it can disable it without your knowledge. If you forget to check though, it’s highly likely you’ll hear from Windows about it through a notification. Pay attention to any notification you see about the firewall and resolve those immediately; they'll appear in the notification area of the Taskbar on the far right side.

    Blog Entry, Internet, KnowledgeBase (KB)
  • Posted on September 2, 2017 9:36 am
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    Whether you're a home PC user or a network administrator, you always need a plan for when the unexpected happens to your computers and/or network. A Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) is essential in helping to ensure that you don't get fired after a server gets fried in a fire, or in the case of the home user, that you don't get kicked out of the house when mamma discovers you've just lost years worth of irreplaceable digital baby photos. A DRP doesn't have to be overly complicated. You just need to cover the basic things that it will take to get back up and running again if something bad happens. Here are some items that should be in every good disaster recovery plan: 1. Backups, Backups, Backups! Most of us think about backups right after we've lost everything in a fire, flood, or burglary. We think to ourselves, "I sure hope I have a backup of my files somewhere". Unfortunately, wishing and hoping won't bring back dead files or keep your wife from flogging you about the head and neck after you've lost gigabytes of family photos. You need to have a plan for regularly backing up your critical files so that when a disaster occurs you can recover what was lost. There are dozens of online backup services available that will backup your files to an off-site location via a secure connection. If you don't trust "The Cloud" you can elect to keep things in-house by purchasing an external backup storage device such as a Drobo. Whichever method you choose, make sure you set a schedule to backup all your files at least once weekly, with incremental backups each night if possible. Additionally, you should periodically make a copy of your backup and store it off-site in a fire safe, safe deposit box, or somewhere other than where your computers reside. Off-site backups are important because your backup is useless if it's burned up in the same fire that just torched your computer. 2. Document Critical Information If you encounter a major disaster, you're going to loose a lot of information that may not be inside of a file. This information will be critical to getting back to normal and includes items such as: Make, model, and warranty information for all your computers and other peripherals Account names and passwords (for e-mail, ISP, wireless routers, wireless networks, admin accounts, System BIOS) Network settings (IP addresses of all PCs, firewall rules, domain info, server names) Software license information (list of installed software, license keys for re-installation, version info) Support phone numbers (for ISP, PC manufacturer, network administrators, tech support) 3. Plan for Extended Downtime If you're a network administrator you'll need to have a plan that covers what you will do if the downtime from the disaster is expected to last more than a few days. You'll need to identify possible alternate sites to house your servers if your facilities are going to be unusable for an extended period of time. Check with your management prior to looking into alternatives to get their buy-in. Ask them questions such as: How much downtime is tolerable to them based on their business needs? What is the restoration priority (which systems do they want back online first)? What is their budget for disaster recovery operations and preparation? 4. Plan for Getting Back to Normal You'll need transition plan for moving your files off of the loaner you borrowed and onto the new PC you bought with your insurance check, or for moving from your alternate site back to your original server room after its been restored to normal. Test and update your DRP regularly. Make sure you keep your DRP up-to-date with all the latest information (updated points of contact, software version information, etc). Check your backup media to make sure it is actually backing something up and not just sitting idle. Check the logs to make sure the backups are running on the schedule you setup. Again, your disaster recovery plan shouldn't be overly complicated. You want to make it useful and something that is always within arms reach. Keep a copy of it off-site as well. Now if I were you, I would go start backing up those baby pics ASAP!

    Blog Entry, DATA, Data Recovery
  • Posted on July 11, 2017 11:00 am
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    Spam is amazing. In an unprecedented and astonishing effort, junk email reaches almost everybody online. All it takes to get on the mailing lists used by spammers is an email address. There is no need to sign up for anything or ask for emails. The spam just starts coming, out of nowhere, apparently without any plan, and without a reason. It invades email addresses that are never used. But how do spammers discover email addresses? How do they find your mailbox when your best friend does not? Dictionary Attack Big free email providers like Windows Live Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail are a spammer's paradise, at least when it comes to finding spammable addresses. Millions of users share one common domain name, so you already know that ("hotmail.com" in the case of Hotmail). Try to sign up for a new account and you will discover that guessing an existing username is not difficult either. Most short and good names are taken. So, to find email addresses at a large ISP, it's enough to combine the domain name with a random username. Chances are both "asdf1@hotmailcom" and "asdf2@hotmail.com" exist. To beat this kind of spammer attack, use long and difficult addresses. Brute Searching Force Another tactic employed by spammers to discover email addresses is to search common sources for email addresses. They have robots scanning web pages and following links.  These address harvesting bots work a lot like the search engines' robots, only they're not after the page content at all. Strings with '@' somewhere in the middle and a top-level domain at the end are all the spammers are interested in. While not picky, the pages the spammers are particularly keen to visit are web forums, chat rooms, and web-based interfaces to usenet because lots of email addresses are likely to be found there. This is why you should disguise your email address when you use it on the net or, better yet, use disposable email addresses. If you post your address on your own web page or blog, you can encode it so visitors who want to send you an email can see and use it, but spambots cannot. Again, using a disposable address provides a very effective and at the same time convenient alternative. Worms Turning Infested PCs Into Spam Zombies To avoid being detected and filtered, spammers seek to send their emails from a distributed network of computers. Ideally, these computers are not even their own but those of unsuspecting users. To build such a distributed network of spam zombies, spammers cooperate with virus authors who equip their worms with small programs that can send bulk emails. Additionally, these spam-sending engines will often scan the user's address book, web cache and files for email addresses. That's another chance for spammers to catch your address, and this one is particularly difficult to avoid. The best anybody can do is keep their email program updated and patched, be wary of any attachments they did not request and do virus scans with a free, up to date scanner regularly.   There are four ways that spam senders get people's email addresses: Spammers will illegally buy lists of real people's email addresses. Spammers will use "harvesting" programs that scour the Internet like Google and copy any text that contains the "@" character. Spammers will use "dictionary" (brute force) programs like hackers. You will unwittingly volunteer your email address to dishonest subscribe/unsubscribe online services. Buying illegal lists of real people's email is surprisingly commonplace. Dishonest employees of ISP's will sometimes sell information that they take from their work servers. This can happen on eBay or on the black market. From outside the ISP, hackers can also break in and steal ISP customer lists and then sell those addresses to spammers. Harvesting programs, aka "crawl and scrape" programs, are also commonplace.Any text on a web page that contains "@" character is fair game for these programs, and lists of thousands of addresses can be harvested within an hour via these robotic harvesting tools. Dictionary programs (brute force programs) are the third means to get spam target addresses. Just like hacker programs, these products will generate alphabetic/numeric combinations of addresses in sequence. While many of the results are incorrect, these dictionary programs can create hundreds of thousands of addresses per hour, guaranteeing that at least some will work as targets for spam. Lastly, dishonest subscribe/unsubscribe newsletter services will also sell your email address for a commission. A very common unsubscribe tactic is to blast millions of people with a false "you have joined a newsletter" email. When users click on the "unsubscribe" link, they are actually confirming that a real person exists at their email address. How do I defend against spammers harvesting my email address? There are multiple manual techniques to hide from spammers: Disguise your email address using obfuscation Use a disposable email address Use an email address encoding tool for publishing your address on your website or blog Avoid confirming an "unsubscribe" request from a newsletter you do not know. Simply delete the email.

    Emailed, Internet Scam Notices