News from the Virus Front

Periodically, we like to post information on viruses we are seeing in our customer’s system.

Some good news is that overall computers infected with viruses have declined.

However, there some areas of concern:
1) Ransom Viruses

These are viruses which want you to pay money to someone to correct problems created by the virus. More recently, these viruses have encrypted data files and leave behind contact information to obtain a key to de-encrypt the files.

At one point what we were seeing was doc, xls, pdf, and jpg files being encrypted. They would also go out and encrypt such files on network drives and/or remote drives. Programs which might copy files offsite would eventually copy up the change/encrypted files and replace non-encrypted offsite files rendering them encrypted and unusable. The viruses didn’t seem to bother music files or database type files.

Lately, we’ve seen a vicious variation of this virus which encrypted even database files and underlying Microsoft security settings. This virus also went out to the remote backup drive and reformatted in such a way that data could not be retrieved even in a clean room dismantling the drive.

Dealing with the threat of such a virus means changing the way backups are handled since backups are the best way to restore data.

  • Periodically, perform a manual backup only when you can attach and then detach a remote drive. Put the remote drive physically aside until the next supervised backup.
  • If this impractical, consider having two backup drives and rotate a second one into the equation while keeping the other drive detached and in a physically secure area (offsite or in a fire box).
    • Restoration would be to an earlier point in time but at least it will be possible.
  • If you have an offsite backup, take your computer off the Internet (so encrypted files can’t be copied up to it) and then download your files from the offsite to another computer.

Be prepared to reinstall your operating system (OS), programs, and then restore data to this pristine environment.

Anti-virus software To be sure, this could help but all viruses tend to get by the AV Systems. That’s because while we’re sleeping over here, the bad guys in Eastern Europe tweaking tomorrows release.

Bottom line is that you’re better with an AV software than without one but it’s not full proof.

2) Scammers
Three or four times a week we get calls from customers telling about letting people into their systems and then being sold (or were trying to be sold) some dubious cleanup service. These calls seem to be increasing in number lately.

There are variations on how they contact you.

  • They might hijack a website and a “warning” pops us from something that seem legitimate. Along with the warning is an 800 number to call. Making the call starts the process.
  • We’ve also seen them use Google Ads to impersonate very real companies with real sounding names for “technical support.” Prominent is an 800 number. Again, making the call starts the process.
  • We’ve had reports from customers receiving telephone calls identifying themselves as “Microsoft” and informing you of a problem. In this case, the scammers have called you.

No matter which contact method they use, the scammers want to access your system and you do have to grant them specific permission to do so.

Once in your system, the scammers will show you the “Event Viewer” which is always going to return “errors” since you don’t use all the available services.

  • Then they will offer to clean you up for anywhere from $199 to $299.
  • In most cases, these people just try to take the money and run and no harm is done when you say “no” but we do advise that you bring the computer in for us to check to make sure they haven’t left some backdoor into you.

There has been a growing number of cases where we’ve seen the scammers do something malicious usually after their service is turned down.

This usually involves setting up a high level Windows system login password which can only be changed by entering the password. Of course, they don’t give you the password.

The repair option then is to take the data out and reinstall the operating system and put the data back in.

Bottom line advise is DO NOT LET STRANGERS ACCESS YOUR SYSTEM REMOTELY and IT Support people are very hard to simply telephone. Any phone number given is probably bogus.

3) Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPS)
We’re seeing a growing number of computers each week “infected” with PUPS.

PUPS have no malicious code so they are ignored by the Anti Virus Software.

This is because some people want the PUPS.

Usually, the PUPS are associated with “deal-making.” Rebates, coupons, ebates etc. are firmly in this world.

  • The “deal making” aspect of the PUPS could include visiting websites that “troll the Internet” for bargains.
  • They can be helpful but they don’t stop working once you’ve found your deal.
  • Typically, you’ll continue to see pop ups during your regular browsing often for the same items you were shopping for in the first place.
  • This happens because the PUP is a browser search engine that essentially redirects you to sites where the people that made the PUP have a deal. When their search engine delivers you up, they can bill that website. Needless to say, those search engines tend to be limited in scope and could impact your ability to get where you want to go on the Internet. I’ve seen in some cases, they can get you to your email site but when you issue the command to go where attachments are stored, the PUP search engine doesn’t know how to get there and you can’t get to your attachments at all.

PUPS are also associated with “freebie” downloads. Mostly these are video/audio editing software that is “free.” However, they’ll squirrel the PUP in with the “free software” and can make money if that PUP delivers you up to a website.

Sometimes, they’ll also package other “free software” with the freebie download. These are often marginally productive products that will tell you that you X number of issues, they’ll fix these but for the rest, they want you to pay around $40. If you have one of these “free software packages” they’re going to pop up usually at start up.

Common types of this “free software” are:

  • Various Registry Cleaners
  • Some type of promise to “optimize” your PC
  • A form of backup software

You need to get rid of them. Bring your machine is so we can remove them and/or neutralize them. Even though they aren’t causing any problems, they are wasting resources and helping to obsolete your machine.

Bottom line is that NOTHING IS FREE. There is always a payload or overhead and behind it all is some way to make money.

In and Out of the Cloud

By John Schroeder

First, let’s get some reality. There is no such thing as a “cloud.” Everything is eventually landing on a file sever somewhere in the world. The major problem is we don’t always know where those servers might be. They could be in US or China. And the type of security on those servers is equally elusive. This can be of great concern to anyone whose business touches upon some kind of regulation. (SEC, HIPPA, and even Sarbanes Oxley).

Secondly, the concept of “cloud computing” is not new. It’s been around for 15 years or more.

Nevertheless, it continues to capture the imagination of both business and residential users.

We are going to explore some of the pluses and/or minuses of cloud computing.

On the plus side, these days, the communication networks are more robust. Granted in the past, our providers boasted a 99% uptime but in reality communication was erratic. Uptime during non-peak hours was factored into the 99% claim but downtime during critical hours was and is the real concern.

However, the general communication network has been improved in the last ten years. There is more bandwidth available and theoretically there is no upper limit on “land based” connections as fiber is being added everywhere.

However, communications via the cell networks is clearly more strained than ever and it’s an arena where more bandwidth is not possible. Instead, technology has been used to squeeze packets into ever more crowded networks and still making reliability difficult to achieve. By the way, the same can be said for internal local Wi-Fi networks as more such devices (tablets, phones, and printers) are added to the local environment.

In general, as far as bandwidth is concerned for “land based” connections, cloud computing is starting to become sustainable and, other than occasional downtimes on the circuit, a more reliable business tool.

Types of Cloud Computing

There are basically two types of Cloud Computing: 1) Data Storage and 2) Applications

Data Storage:
This is a typical situation of copying your data files “off to the cloud” to be recovered later if needed. This would also include Dropbox type options which also significantly allow for data sharing with remote users. (Assuming you can tolerate the download times to bring the data down locally).

It seems everybody and his brother is offering offsite data storage. Banks, computer manufactures, and outside sources almost to many to list.

There are three potential pitfalls to watch out for:

  1. You may not know where the servers housing your data are located. This could be a problem with regulated industries.
  2. Often “free space” is soon used up and charges start rising accompanied by charges to your credit card. The wise thing to do is to read the print and be aware of what you need to and are backing up.
  3. Data transfer can be slow. It could literally take weeks to drag your data back across the circuits if you need to bring it back.

Cloud Applications (which includes inter-data transfer between diverse applications, such as iCloud):

On a simple level, this could be writing a letter in an alternative Cloud Application as opposed to a local copy of Microsoft Word. This is generally not difficult.

Simply spreadsheets are also pretty easy to write and maintain. However, with more complicated sheets, the experience is going to be “clunky.

Things start to get even more difficult when databases or specific applications are involved. Generally, these “web-based” systems need to restrict data entry level points (to say nothing of reporting) due to the need to “conserve bandwidth.”

As a general rule, a lot of people who have gone to these web-based applications have decided to migrate back to a local environment solution.

We have several customers who have decided to migrate their application-based system back to their own local environments.

An exception to this has been with Exchange Server.

In 2003, Exchange became the industry standard for business email systems.

At the time, Exchange gave businesses users access to a global address list, share calendars, and shared contacts. Remote access to Outlook was pretty seamless and a Service Pack upgrade to Exchange 2003 provided a fantastic Web Interface which looked and acted like Local Exchange with Outlook without having a local Outlook program installed.

All of this, plus the proliferation of Email Providers has made Exchange Email a major success story in the arena of Cloud Computing. Companies can now establish a “Hosted Exchange” solution rather than hosting the product internally.

Nevertheless, you will pay extra for the “Hosted Exchange” environment since many providers offer Exchange as one of many choices of services. Moreover, we would suggest picking “unlimited mailbox storage” as an option to avoid eventual escalating costs.

Unfortunately, Hosted Exchange remains one of the few success stories in “Cloud Computing.”

A quick word about cloud based inter-data transfers between applications such as iCloud.
The major function promised is to transfer via “the cloud” from specific local data sources to other storage system. Typically, this could include things like Contacts being transferred to a smart phone’s Contacts. Ditto for Calendar items. It can also include syncing items such as pictures and music.

I’m going so say the results of these “solutions” is mixed.

The major problem is that all of the underlying applications (on both sides) are constantly being updated and upgraded. This can result in a break of the syncing process and it simply stops working.

This can result in more of “management headache” than simply managing the devices manually.


“Cloud computing” is really a delusion.

It promises a lot of solutions but comes with its own overhead of headaches.

You end up simply swapping one headache with at least one if not more.

Bottom line is: think twice about adopting any “cloud based solution.”

Windows 10

Windows 10 Upgrade
Microsoft has recently introduced a new Operating System: Windows 10.

They are offering free upgrades to current Windows 7 and Windows 8 users.

We have had several customers who have taken the upgrade and it has failed for one reason or the other.

To be sure, there has been major confusion with the new Operating System. Very specifically, people wonder what happened to their files (they are still there…you just need to know how to find them), they wonder where is my Internet Explorer and what is this Microsoft Edge? and etc.

However, most of the failures are due to incompatibility of third party software. Wi-Fi adapters are a good example especially for upgrades from Windows 7 to Windows 10. But, printers and their underlying software are also third party products which could fail the upgrade. More significant though could be third party applications (such as earlier versions of Quickbooks) not being compatible with the new Operating System.
In short you could be looking at upgrading more than just the Operating System and suddenly that free upgrade has some hidden additional costs.

General Rules New Operating Systems
We always need to lay down some ground rules for new Operating Systems whether you upgrade to it or if you simply buy a new computer.

  • Third party compatibility:
    • Everyone uses some third party products. Your Wi-Fi adapter is a third party product. So is your printer. A lot of programs (including Microsoft Office) are third party products that may not be compatible with the new Operating System.
    • You need to verify compatibility to your third party products or will need to replace them. This could result in significant additional expenses to you although you need to realize those expenses are probably inevitable.
    • As an example: Full operationally for Quickbooks in Windows 8 required you to be on Quickbooks 2013 or higher. Quickbooks 2011 would install but crash. Quickbooks 2012 would not let the interface to Outlook to function.
    • Even with Microsoft Office: Outlook 2003 would not work in Windows 8.
  • You are always going to have a “learning curve” for the any new Operating system.
    • It’s best to have your upgraded system or new systems set up for you by someone who can provide access to your commonly used programs and files.
    • Keep your head about yourself and look for “work arounds.” The F1 key on an open desktop brings up some Microsoft assistance. You could also Google the function you are trying to do and their might be a You Tube Video to step you through your “learning curve.”

Windows 10 Concepts
With Windows 8 Microsoft introduced the concept of “Apps.” These were programs to be downloaded from the Microsoft Store and would function like “Apps” on a tablet; meaning you would run one at a time. This meant you would run an “App” and then have to minimize it to run another and/or proceed to the next “App” presentation.

“Apps” helped setup the Microsoft Store as a source for the source of “Apps” to run on your system. Much as the Apple Store distributes “Apps” for Apple product.

With Windows 8, the usual Microsoft Desktop (and usual applications) were single/independent selections on what was called the “Start Page.” On the Desktop, the former “Start Button” was missing. This caused a great deal of confusion for users.

The “Start Page” actually contained all of the items that used to be associated with the “Start Button” but wasn’t very well organized. A “Charm” bar on the right hand side of the screen helped located specific “Apps” and “Programs” provided you knew the name of the “App” or “Program” you wanted to use.

The upgrade to Windows 8.1 provided the users with some relief mainly by allowing the users to by-pass the “Start Page” and proceed directly to the Desktop. A quasi-“Start Button” was also provided which mainly accessed system programs.

Windows 10 essentially restored the “Start Button” function with some very helpful enhancements.

Basically, you can right click on the “Start Button” and have access to some very important system programs. In some cases, the “Search” function is controlled here although in some OEM versions of Windows 10 you will also find this with a left click “Start Button” option.

Left clicking on the “Start Button” brings up the new “Start Menu” in the right hand panel.

What’s interesting is that the right panel of this “Start Menu” is the former “Start Page” from Windows 8 populated with a lot of the “Apps” found in Windows 8 with the notable exception that these “Apps” can now be run in a regular Window rather than the Windows 8 “tablet style” format.

Wow! What a concept. Isn’t that exactly what made Windows so popular in the first place?

It’s suggested that to keep the “Start Menu” clean, you unpin any “App” from the “Start Menu” you do not wish to use.

All that said, with a left click on the “Start Button,” you will now see the word “All Apps” near the bottom of the left hand part of the screen. This used to be called “All Programs,” with various installed programs available in folders. They are now listed alphabetically with some “Programs” or “Apps” having sub-items and have “Expand Up/Down” arrows.

In short, the word “Apps” now refers to both “Apps” and “Programs” and the technical difference between the two is now unimportant to the average user.

For simplicity sake, we will adopt the “Apps” name from here on forward to include both “Apps” and “Programs.” Might as well. That’s going to be the standard of the future.

As in the case of all Windows applications, right clicking on any “App” will allow you to pin to the “Start Menu.” If the “App” is also a “Program” you can pin or unpin it from or the “Taskbar.”

Annoying Differences Introduced in Windows 10
There are a couple of changes in Windows 10 you might find annoying.
Short Cuts:

  • It used to be that you could right-click on an “Program” and drag it to the Desktop and then take the option to create Shortcut.
    • This feature no longer exists and creating a Desktop Shortcut means you have to find the underlying program.


  • It used to be (even in Windows 8) that you could right click on an empty space and you’d have a screen which allowed you to change things like your Desktop Background or Screen Saver.
    • With Window 10, right clicking on a black spot on the Desktop brings up a complicated menu which is “object oriented.”
    • The suggestion here is to use the “Search” function to decide what you want to do. For example: “Desktop Background” or “Screen Saver.” Some of the resulting screens maybe familiar, others may not.
    • However, It’s simply an annoying change.

Dealing with Windows 8

By John Schroeder June 2014.

It’s hard to believe that in October 2014, Windows 8 will be two years old.

When I first saw a copy of Windows 8, I was intimidated. It represented a radical change and learning curve.

But, I have to make a general IT warning about any new operating system. “Do not move to a new operating system during its first year of release.” With Windows 8, that should be changed to say “until at least two years after its release.”

Most of the problems with Windows are 8 cosmetic. The operating system is pretty solid and not prone to blue screens or other performance problems.

However, the real major problem with Windows 8 involves 3rd party issues. The ultimate question is whether 3rd party applications will work with Windows 8.

We’ve noted the following:
Quickbooks will not work properly unless it’s QB 2013 or higher. (QB 2011 will install but will crash… QB2012 will not interface with Outlook for generating a PDF invoice/statement).

Internet Explorer 11 (which ships with Windows 8) is not compatible with some web-based applications and you have no option to roll back to IE 10, 9, or 8. It should be noted, this is not a Windows 8 problem or even an IE 11 problem. The problem is with the 3rd party websites not being ready/able to support IE 11. It should also be noted that IE 11 on Vista or Windows 7 computers have the same problem but at least on those system you can roll your IE back.

Recommendation is to check with your critical application providers and follow their advice prior to moving to a Windows 8 computer. is a Dell reseller and is currently stocking Windows 7 Professional mainly for our business customers. We neither encourage or discourage people from buying Windows 8 unless there are known business capability issues.

The opening Start Page of Windows 8 is all about tablet-type applications (to be downloaded from the Microsoft Store).

The basic concept of using a tablet is to launch one application at a time and then return to your launching screen to launch an application and/or return to a previously launched application.

This is a radical change for Windows users who are simply used to bouncing back and forth between applications without having a number of numerous keystrokes.

The key to approaching Windows 8 begins when you first setup your new system.

By default, during setup, Microsoft is trying to set you up with a Microsoft Store Account (along with a password). This account is going to drive any tablet-application downloads you might want from the store as well as any Microsoft Software you might want to purchase (although not necessarily from Microsoft directly but you would still need to download the software from their store, for example, new versions of Microsoft Office, which are only going to be available from the store … meaning a CD with a product code is ancient history).

During setup, there is an option to setup your new account user on the Windows 8 computer as a “local account.” You have to be watching for this though as it’s not easy to see.

We recommend this option. You can deal with setting up Microsoft Store account later but for simple daily access, it really isn’t necessary. A problem with using the Microsoft Store is forgetting the password.
Resetting this password requires access to your email for a link to reset. Clearly, if you forget the password for your initial sign on and therefore can’t get to your email, you could be toast.

The second setup thing to concentrate on is the “desktop application” from the Start Page. This needs to be setup to behave like a usual Windows Desktop. By default, several key desktop applications are turned off.

Right click on the Windows Desktop and select the option to change “desktop icons.” You should turn on Computer (browsing attached drives), User files (which is access to your documents, pictures, and music), Control Panel which is critical for adding/removing programs as well launching Windows Updates, and if you’re in a networked environment, the icon called Network.

To access your usual applications (such as Word), you should put them on your desktop taskbar. Moving your cursor to the far right evokes the “charm” menu. Pick the “Search” option and type in the name of your application, for example “Word.” The search will show you the Word Application (if installed). Right click and pick the option to “Pin to the Taskbar.” The application will now be available to start from the desktop by clicking on it from its icon on the taskbar. (Note, clicking on a Word document file in your user documents will also bring up the program).

Proceed until all of your commonly used programs have shortcuts on your taskbar or on your desktop as shortcuts.

Training your system:
Sometimes, your new system, by default, is going to invoke the Start/Application programs. For example, click on a picture and you might flip over to the Start Page/Viewer. To view another picture, you have to take multiple steps to get back to where you started.

Correcting this involves working with “program defaults” which has always been a feature of the Windows program.

Due to the possible variations involved, this would require assistance from professional people to help “train your system” for optimal/personal usage.

However, the following cautions should be taken:

  1. Do not take the “mail application” on the start page until you’re ready to decide how you want to handle your email.
  2. Do not take any picture or video applications from the start page until you decide how you want to view/deal with pictures/videos.
  3. Do not open a PDF file until you’ve decided how you want to view these files, which usually means Adobe Reader.

Windows 8.1 fixes:
Windows 8.1 was generally released in October, 2014. Microsoft made a few cosmetic changes which do help the users somewhat. All of the “work arounds” discussed above still apply but Microsoft did:

  1. Restore some “start button” functionality including being able to shut the computer off from the “start button.”
  2. The items on the “start button” bring a lot of the system operational functionality discussed above closer to the user without having to “turn them on.” In fact, a lot of these system tools used to be located in various locations on the Xp-Windows 7 “start buttons” and so arguably this is actually an improvement.
  3. By right clicking on the task bar/properties, you can tell your system to start to the desktop. It’s still a rather buried function but at least they’re giving you that option.

Future Releases and Promises:
The next operating system is going to be called Windows 9. There is no release date for this and it’s likely there will be a Windows 8.2 update before then. Microsoft has announced trying to make the Windows 8x system look and act more like the Windows 7 environment.

None of third party product problems noted and discussed above will be solved with any Microsoft update. You will have to upgrade those software products.

Other ramifications with Windows 8 and Microsoft new “marketing plans:”

Gone are the COA (Certificate of Authenticity) tags which used to accompany new computers. These were hologram decals put on your computer by whomever you bought it from. The COA included the product keys necessary to reinstall the operating system. Supposedly, the product keys are now being imbedded on the motherboard and if a reinstall is needed, those codes will be picked up automatically. Clearly, you cannot transfer these codes to another computer meaning, it’s a one shot deal only.

News from the Virus Frontline

By John Schroeder June 2014
Virus infections for Windows systems seem to be declining or our customer base is getting better at avoiding infection.

It’s also possible the virus bad-guys are starting to focus more on the Windows 8 systems and aren’t getting it quite right yet.

However, we will note that certain viruses appear to be easy to remove they are damaging the Operating System. Be sure, if you manage to clean the viruses that your test your Operating System; particularly Microsoft Updates.

On the other hand, we’ve noted an uptick in PUP’s. These are Potentially (P) Unwanted (U) Programs.

They are only considered potentially unwanted because some people actually want them. These are programs and configuration changes which re-direct users to the “deal.” Hence, if you are into coupons/rebates/ebates and/or etc. you will find yourself redirected to a “deal site.”

People who provide “freebie” services on the Internet often include these PUP’s in their download because if one of their installations renders you to a commercial site, they can bill that site. It’s a major drive for e-Commerce.

Hence, these things are driven by money and you need to realize that nothing is “really free.” These guys will even co-opt the really free downloads by using Google Ads to appear at the top of your search list so you’ll take the free downloads from them rather than the official site. In short, they’ll go out to the free site, get the download for you and then send it to you along with their packaged PUP’s.

For example, you want an IRS form and you Google it. You go to site but it isn’t the IRS but they’ll go get the form for you and send it down along with their packaged PUP’s.

The more legitimate sites will tell you what additional items they are sending down and give you the option to opt out by unchecking box. The less legitimate ones might bury their additional downloads in a simple “agreement” option which nobody bothers to read.

Generally, there isn’t too much of a problem with the PUP’s as long as there is only one. But, once there is more than one, they fight over your business.

Another problem is that they don’t always know how to properly deliver you to a real website not offering any deals in which case, you go nowhere. This actually happens a lot to people trying to read an email from a web browser. The link to read the email can’t be resolved and therefore you can’t read your email.

We might also add that these PUP’s are the source of numerous pop ups which occur during regular browsing as they aggressively try to deliver you somewhere (anywhere) so they can create billable events.

These PUP’s manifest and result in the following:

  1. A “light application” for reviewing your systems. These are applications run at start and usually find X number of problems and will remove X-20 but if you only if buy the full product to fix all the X problems. The applications tend to be legitimate although their need and ultimate effectiveness is doubtful. (The same can be said for those “clean up” programs advertised on TV).
  2. The PUP’s will change your home page. If you go to their home page for searches, they need to do nothing further (no software) with your computer. They got you where they want you.
  3. They put themselves in as your background search provider. Again no software is needed. They “tell” your system to use their systems for web searching. Again no software needs to be downloaded.
  4. The various anti-virus systems will recognize these PUP’s but since they only “potentially unwanted,” they will not be checked for removal (assuming a software element on the computer). You need to check the box to remove them.
  5. The newer versions of Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware can help find these PUP’s but you still need to READ THE SCREEN in order to remove.