In the world of IT there is a war being waged, a war between two super powers – one is older and has reigned for many, many years. The other, is a powerful newcomer (relatively speaking) and has garnished a smaller, yet strong and loyal following.
Yes, I am talking about the war between Windows and Apple. ‘War’ might be a little strong, but the point still stands, each have their advantage and each have a rightful claim to the throne. So which do you choose?
For the fun of it, let us do a pro’s and con’s list to try and determine which one is superior. Full discretion, I am fairly biased, I am a PC user – but I will try my best to remove myself from my loyalty and be objective as possible, for the purposes of this article. I might even be able to convince myself to migrate over to Apple? No, you’re probably right – I doubt it.
Let us start with cost:
Apple computers are expensive, considering what you are getting for hardware, the price compared to Microsoft computers is significantly higher. Many people would no doubt argue that the Apple ecosystem is superior to Microsoft’s and therefore the extra price is warranted. But, Apple does have hardware limitations that make it difficult to upgrade cheaper models.
To Apples credit they do have a program that allows for the easy installation of Windows, Linux or any other operation system you want, in addition to Apple’s OS, and for someone who is less familiar with computers; it is significantly easier to setup a dual boot on an Apple computer.
Microsoft computers are built by many manufactures and therefore, you have a large variety of computers to choose from, in varying price ranges that can easily be upgraded compared to their Apple counterparts.
Upgradable and Configurable:
Microsoft computers are infinitely easier to upgrade than Apple computers. Apple limits what you can upgrade, usually ram and hard drive. With Microsoft computers virtually every part of the computer, from ram to motherboard can be upgraded – therefore, you could purchase a middle of the range computer and upgrade it as needed. I would also argue that the Windows OS itself is more configurable than the Apple OS – which for some people likely doesn’t matter but for other like myself, my OS is highly customized.
Viruses and Malware:
I will concede defeat on this one. Apple computers get targeted much less than their Microsoft cousins when it comes to viruses and malware. But let’s just get one thing straight, the belief by some that Apple computers (and other apple products for that matter) can’t get viruses or malware is simply not true. Microsoft has a much larger user base and therefore, it makes those uses a more worthwhile target.
Microsoft computers are known for their bloatware. When you first purchase a Microsoft computer the manufacture of that computer most likely added bloatware to the machine – Can it be annoying? Yes. Can you get rid of the bloatware easily? Yes.
Windows offers a far superior gaming experience. Plain and simple the hardware limitation with Apple computers make them far less desirable when it comes to gaming.
Microsoft has been around a lot longer than Apple; as a result, the number of software available for Microsoft is greater than Apple. Often times you can find a similar Apple program to your Microsoft program – but I would argue they are not as good.
A Microsoft computer that is a number of years old can easily support newer operating systems like Windows 10, without much trouble or effort. You might have to upgrade some of your hardware but that’s a small price to pay versus purchasing a new computer. Can you do that with an Apple computer? I think not.
There are no doubt other pro’s and con’s between Microsoft and Apple but these are the ones I would consider most important. At the end of the day it is all about what you want in a computer. Take myself as an example, I am currently running a Dell Laptop that I purchased for a middle of the road price but have upgraded and configured to my specification and it is a power house. If I was to purchase and Apple equivalent I would be looking at least a couple thousand dollars - easy. It might not be as sexy as an Apple, but I wouldn’t trade it in for an Apple if they paid me. On the other hand, I know many people who feel the same about Apple, and I can see how the Apple ecosystem would be very appealing.
So let us know which you prefer and why, Microsoft or Apple?
I decided to write about this today because one of our clients was a victim of this particular piece of malware. ‘BackDoor Agent’ is a malicious program that has affected around 500,000 people, worldwide. While that number is particularly low compared to many other viruses and malware, this one deserves special mention because it gives hackers the ability to remotely access your computer system.
Once the Hackers have access to your computer system they can transmit information, modify files and install other software that is likely unwanted. These types of programs are called a ‘Trojan Horse’. If you know anything about Greek mythology or maybe you have seen the movie Troy, you likely know the general premise behind the Trojan Horse. In Greek mythology, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, hid men within it. The Greeks as a manner of subterfuge got into their boats and sailed away, leaving the Trojan Horse behind. The leaders of Troy thinking they have won, hauled the Trojan Horse inside the walls of Troy, where the armed men inside waited until night fall to attack.
In a similar way, Trojan Horse malware, are sent to you, usually through email (but not always), the computer user unsuspectingly opens the email with the attachment thinking something important has just arrive. However, they have just invited inside the firewall of their computer a Trojan Horse. These Trojan Horse’s sometime carry relatively harmless pieces of malware and sometime, they contain malware of a much greater threat. The greatest indicators of a Trojan Horse on your computer will be the degradation in computer performance and the appearance of unwanted programs that you don’t recall downloading.
If you think you are the victim of a Trojan Horse or more specifically a BackDoor Agent, it is crucial that you get the malicious application off your computer immediately – if you are not comfortable doing this yourself, please bring your computer in to us at GMF Computers and we will remove any viruses or malware present and make sure your computer is up to date with the latest virus definitions and windows updates.
Being vigilant is always the best way to protect yourself with regards to privacy and protecting your important information, like debit and credit card pins and account numbers. With the news coming out of Calgary that a customer at a gas pump found a ‘skimming machine’ on the pump, I thought it would be a good idea to explain what a skimming machine is and how it works.
A skimming machine is a device used by individuals who are trying to gain access to your bank account information, debit or credit card, through the use of technology that captures the data from the magnetic strip. Most skimming machines are placed over top of the original card reader, whether it is at a gas pump or even an ATM. They look identical to the original card reader and so they can be difficult to spot. Credit card fraud is a roughly 12 million dollar industry in Canada, and while that is down considerably from roughly 140 million in 2009 it is still a big problem. So how do you spot skimming machines?
Always do a quick check for tampering. If you are taking money out of your regular ATM at your local branch, you are no doubt familiar with how the machine looks and operates. Do a quick check around the screen, keyboard and card reader for any signs of tampering. If something doesn’t look right there is no harm in double checking with a teller. The same goes for any ATM; they all tend to work in a similar manner so if something seems off, don’t use it and notify someone immediately.
Skimming machines usually sit on top of the original card readers and are not securely fastened. Therefore, if you touch the card reader and it moves or feels loose that would be considered unusual. ATM machines are well built so if anything seems loose, that would signal a red flag for me.
Always assume someone is watching. Maybe someone is not physically standing over your shoulder, but observing through the use of micro cameras and transmitters. Whenever you are using your debit or credit card, always protect your pin. You might be in the middle of a store and no one is in sight, but that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t trying to watch. Even if you don’t notice anything unusual with the ATM itself, always cover your pin with your hand.
By remaining vigilant you will significantly reduce the likelihood of having your card information stolen. But always be aware of the credit card and bank statements. If something looks abnormal or you see a purchase you didn’t make, the sooner you report that to your bank the better.
Privacy is a growing concern among many technology users. Technology and their ever increasing advancements mean more of our personal and intimate details are ending up online in some form or another, whether it is social media or some other platform. This is true for both our personal and professional lives. From a business perspective, there are many tools out there that are convenient and easy to use but don’t necessarily consider our ‘private’ information important enough to protect it properly. However, there are some companies out there that specifically use the business model of keeping our private information completely and entirely secure. These companies use a model called Zero Knowledge – I will define what that means in a moment.
For this article I am going to focus specifically on cloud storage systems, but keep in mind that the Zero Knowledge paradigm can be applied to any system or platform, in so far as, that particular company is willing to lose access to your personal information. When enlisting the services of an online cloud platform there are some important questions you should ask yourself. One, is my privacy worth protecting? Two, should I allow someone other than myself to control my private information, and three, should I blindly trust that a company has my best interest at heart when it comes to that information? The answers to those questions should be fairly clear.
So what exactly is a Zero Knowledge System? Let me first give you some examples of what are not Zero Knowledge Systems. They would include cloud platforms like, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. These platforms are easy to use and they offer convenient ways to access your data from anywhere. However they are not completely secure, because those companies have access to your encryption keys which means they have access to your data. This puts your privacy at risk, hackers can more easily gain access to that information and two Government entities can also more easily gain access to your personal information. A Zero Knowledge System (ZKS) is the complete opposite of those platforms listed above. Zero Knowledge Systems provide a platform for you to securely store your data, they provide the means to encrypt that data, but they themselves do not actually have access to that data – they do not have access to your encryption key. This means for examples, a hacker couldn’t hack into their servers and gain access to millions of encryption keys. It also means that government entities cannot coerce or subpoena companies to give them access to your data because they do not actually have the encryption keys to that data – the government would have to get a warrant and come directly to you for your encryption key.
A good example of a company that provides a Zero Knowledge platform is SpideOak. They provide three basic, yet very important services. One is called Semaphor, Semaphor is a real-time collaboration tool that allows for encrypted conversation and easy file sharing, it is similar to Skype, but safer from a privacy perspective. Second is SpiderOak One, SpideOak One is a cloud storage platform that allows you to securely access your data anywhere. The third one is Encryptr, which is a Zero Knowledge password manger.
In many cases I think people associate technology with a loss of privacy and as such, they accept it as something that is inevitable. However, I would argue and I think Zero Knowledge Systems are proof that technology actually has the means to both makes our lives easier and increase our privacy, so long as we, as users, align ourselves with companies (like SpideOak) that operate on a platform of true and genuine privacy.
Let’s admit it. We don’t do as good of a job as we should keeping our computers (and technology in general) maintained and while you might think it doesn’t really matter, or perhaps it is inconvenient, a properly maintained computer helps ensure it lives well beyond its typical life expectancy. And sure there are exception to this where either you got a lemon and it died well before it should have or you have a computer that just doesn’t want to die – but this are exceptions and not the rule.
Cleaning and maintaining your computer means both the physical machine and the virtual computer itself. Dust impact can cause many problems inside the computer, for example, if there is not enough air flow and the computer begins to overheat it can cause serious damage to the components. Not maintaining the virtual computer can cause a whole host of problems you would rather avoid.
Scanning your computer is a no brainer, and yet sometime we simply forget to do it (I am no exception to this and I work in the industry). Most Anti-virus programs can be configured to run scans at predetermined times, once a month, once a week or whenever you really want it to. But these often times get missed, for example if your computer is shut down during the allotted time. Additionally, these scan are usually quick scans of the computer system which are not as thorough. That is why it is important to open your anti-virus program and run a ‘Full Scan’ at least once in a while – I would argue you should do this at least once a week.
Applications are seemingly harmless programs that sit on your computer. Some of them you use and some of them get automatically downloaded with other software you downloaded and other you downloaded but don’t use any more. The problem with applications or any type of software is that they a prone to security failures and holes. This is not intentional (in most cases) but hackers and programs are good and exploiting holes in software. That is why it is so important to one, remove unwanted or unnecessary programs from your computer and two keep your applications up to date, because these updates often come with important security patches that help fix these security flaws.
Your hard drive, I am begging you, literally on my hands and knees begging you to back up your data. Have you ever seen a grown man cry like a baby? As you all know, your hard drive is where all your data is stored, from application data to your personal data. What you might not know is that hard drives are incredibly finicky and temperamental creatures and if not properly cared for they will bite you. In some case you might get away with a minor flesh wound in other cases a limb. Okay, okay, enough with being dramatic.
Over time the data on your hard drive can become fragmented, data stored is not always stored in contiguous blocks which cause pieces of your data to become separated from the pack. Your computer in all likelihood can find those fragments but I would expect there to be some degradation in performance and wear and tear on the drive itself (they don’t live forever). Again, it is important to uninstall programs that are not frequently used so they are not taking up space on your hard drive. It is also important to clean up your temporary files and any files that are unnecessary. For example, sometime when you uninstall a program there are residual files that are left behind. Always a good idea to keep your downloads folder cleaned as well so you are not using up unnecessary space.
Do backup your data. This isn’t so much maintenance protocol but a keep your personal data safe protocol. Hard drives will stop working and if you don’t have your data backed up there are no guarantees that it can be retrieved. There are tools out there that will read your hard drive and give you some important information, for example, how many hours are on it, what the temperature is and if there are any bad sectors. This will help you determine if you need to replace your hard drive or not.
Quick side note: if you do decide to replace your hard drive, I highly recommend a SSD (Solid State Hard drive). They are significantly more stable and faster.
Windows, much like other pieces of software on your computer are prone to security flaws. As with other applications it is important to install Windows Updates, this will help protect your from any bugs within windows itself and also help protect your from any security flaws.
Computer maintenance is key, not only can it help protect you but it can increase the life of your computer. Some of these things you can do yourself – and I highly recommend that you do. However, if you want a complete top to bottom cleaning come in and see us at GMF Computers, we will clean your computer of any viruses and malware, do all your updates to windows and other software, clean out your temporary files, junk files, unnecessary files, clean your registry and do a dusting of your physical computer. Plus, we will test your hard drive and let you know its condition.
There has been a virus or viruses that have been spreading at an alarming rate, with an estimated half a million victims so far. We have seen it here personally, infecting many of our personal computer users and some of our business clients as well. It is called the Locky Virus (other names include, CryptoLocker) and unfortunately, there is nothing that a user can really do to prevent the virus except be vigilant in their computer usage.
The Locky Virus is a ransomware type virus; it encrypts all of your data with the design of forcing you to pay to get your data back, usually in Bitcoin currency. I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT PAY. The Locky virus uses a AES 128 military grade encryption, rendering your files unusable and inaccessible, and simply deleting the virus is not enough.
Based on what we have seen the Locky virus is arriving to your system via email, usually with an compressed folder attached. Often times, the email references some receipt or invoice. Sometimes, the email in questions is spoofed, coming from a reputable business or maybe even someone in your contact list, leading the user to believe the email in questions is safe and legitimate. Opening the email and the compressed file themselves is not enough the allow the Locky virus access to your system. When you open the document in the compressed folder however, it will likely ask your permission to run some sort of executable or Macro, which then installs the virus to your system or server.
That is when the work begins. The virus, having been downloaded to your system begins its work in relative secrecy. Slowly encrypting your data without your knowledge. Although, there are signs. Your system may be running unusually slow; programs may take significantly longer to open or execute. One thing about the Locky virus is it hogs your computers resources, your CPU and memory will display signs of exertion. If you look in your computers task manager, under performance and see a program or service that is taking a lot of your computers resources (sometimes masked as a Microsoft program or service), it is best to immediately end that process and delete any files that may be associated with it. Eventually, if you do not realize you are infected or otherwise failed to prevent the spread, you will soon realize you have become a victim of the Locky virus.
As I mentioned earlier there is not much you can do to prevent a ransomware attack on your system. The best thing you can to do is be extra vigilant when opening programs and emails of which you are not 100% percent certain are safe. If you get an email and a compressed folder, even if it is from someone you know, I strongly suggest you DO NOT open it. If you do open a document, for example, a word document and it asked you to download Macros, again, I suggest to don’t and immediate exit that program. Additionally, and I cannot stress this enough, create a back up of your system and important documents and backup your backup. Keep at least one backup that is not online. The Cloud is great and convenient but can be susceptible to infection more so than an offline backup.
Microsoft has finally ended it’s free upgrade to Windows 10. Overall I would say that the upgrade and Windows 10 in general was a success, with the majority of users happy with Windows 10 and its functionality. However, as with all Windows operating systems, they need almost constant attention to keep them working and running properly. To that end there are a number of different things you can do to ensure Windows is running at optimal performance.
It is important to note, before you start making any big changes to Windows, back up your data on an external device or cloud storage. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to create a restore point in the event something goes wrong. To create a restore point search ‘System Restore’ and click on ‘Create a Restore Point’ in the pop up box at the bottom, click ‘Create…’, type a description into the dialog box and click ‘create’ – Windows will then create a restore point.
Number 1 – Removing unnecessary programs and apps:
Go to Cortana (the search box on the task bar) and search ‘settings’ à ‘System’ à’Apps and Feature’. This will give you a list of app and programs that are running on your system that either came with the computer or maybe you downloaded inadvertently. It is a good idea to get rid of any of these that you either don’t use or don’t want. Simply click on the app and select ‘Uninstall’. At this point in time it might also be a good idea to remove any residual files or Registry entries. To do this you will need to use a third party tool, GeekUnistaller is a good one to use and IObit uninstaller is also a good one to use. Beware however, with IObit Uninstaller; they really push you to purchase the entire suit of IObit software. If you are going to use IObit, install it, use it and then uninstall it.
Number 2 – Optimize Cortana Searches:
Cortana can be a powerful search tools, for both your computers directory and the web. It can also be really annoying– perhaps you want to limit Cortana AI and use it simple as a search tool. The first thing you can do is reclaim some of your task bar by turning the search box into a much smaller magnifying glass. Right click the taskbar à click search à select show search icon. You can also hide the search bar all together if you simply don’t’ want to use it.
You can customize Cortana a little more. Click the search box, on the left hand side you should see some icons, one of which should be a gear which represent Cortana’s settings. If you open her settings you have the option to disable Cortana’s AI, toggle device search history, and toggle online and web searches.
If you type ‘search’ into the search box you can manage how windows actually searches for files on your computer. This shows you which folders have been indexed for searching, it allows you to remove unwanted folders or add folders. It also allows you to move the index to another drive. Additionally, it lets you select specific files types you want to be indexed.
Number 3 – Clean your drive:
If you upgraded to Windows 10 from a previous operating system, it is a good idea to clean out your drive to reclaim any wasted hard drive space. Open up your ‘file explore’ (usually a folder icon on your task bar, if not type file explore into the Cortana)à right click on your system drive à click properties à click Disk Clean up. When it opens select ‘Clean up system files’, this should generate a list of things you can clean up, for example, temporary internet files and the recycling bin.
There is a free tool out there called CCleaner which allows you to clean your hard drive very easily, as well as, your registry, manage startup programs and uninstall unwanted programs.
Number 4 – Partition your hard drive:
It is always a good idea to keep your data separate from your operating system and applications. That way if something happens with your operating system then your files won’t be directly affected. If you can keep them on a separate physical drive from your OS, that’s great. If not then I would suggest you partition your hard drive. The first thing you want to do is make sure you have enough room on your hard drive to partition it, so head over C drive and see how much space you have available. You want to make sure that you leave enough room on your partitioned hard drive for your operating system and any application you might want to install.
Right click the start button and select ‘Disk Management’ à Right click on the C drive and choose ‘Shrink Volume’. If it were me I would leave at least 50 GB a free space on your operating partition for any programs you might want to download in the future, the rest you can turn into a storage partition for your data. Once you have adjusted your volume size click ‘Shrink’, once this is done you will see an empty space partition beside your operating partition. Right click your new data partition and choose ‘New Simple Volume’, make sure to format using NTFS. When this is completed you can now use the storage partition to store your data and portable applications. You are going to want to properly transfer your files to the new partition so Windows knows where to find them. To do this right click on the file or folder you want to move to your storage drive and select ‘Properties’ à Location Tab à Click move à browse to the location on your storage drive where you want your data to sit and select ‘yes’ to move your data there.
There are a few other things you can do to speed up and streamline your PC. You can download a program called SpaceSniffer that gives you a visual break down of what is taking up space on your hard drive. You can also use cloud storage to keep important documents stored off of your hard drive. Google Drive or One Note are good, however, if you are concerned about privacy and security I would recommend a Zero Knowledge system like SpideOak. You can also build a portable tool kit. There are many portable applications out there that allow you to download an operating file with the application, without actually installing it on your computer. You can leave these apps in your storage drive or keep them on an external device like a USB stick or external drive; alternatively you can also store these on the cloud. Another upgrade I strongly suggest would be to replace your standard sata hard drive to an ultra-fast, more stable solid state drive. These solid state drives don’t have any moving parts in them so not only are they more stable but they are also faster. They tend to be more expensive and don’t have as much capacity but overall they are much better.