Server monitoring is an often overlooked, but very important, step in maintaining a healthy computer network.
As computers become more a part of our life, so the issues that go along with them become more apparent. Even though they're meant to help us, the IT that we rely on can often get in the way of us doing our job. Also, because we rely on them so much, they have replaced many of the old ways of doing things, so we now have nothing to fall back on.
One of the technologies that has made arguably the greatest difference to our lives is email.
The first email clients were cumbersome affairs, often bolted on to existing MRP and ERP systems, and commonly viewed through green screen terminals and hence hard to use.
These systems didn't really take off, and it wasn't until the common usage of PCs, and then the expansion of graphical user interfaces such as Windows and Mac did email really start to have an effect in organisations.
And then came problems
Setting up email on your computer is actually a fairly simple thing to do.
If you're in a fairly large organisation it's probably already done for you and you probably connect to an exchange server where everything is all set up and ready for you to start emailing.
However, if you're in a smaller company then the chances are you're using some basic method of connecting to your mail server such as IMAP or POP3. They sound complex, but really they're not.
All of your mail will be stored on a server somewhere. The most common way this is achieved is via the same server that your website is stored on.
This means you'll have an email address like "firstname.lastname@example.org".
So far, so good, but often you'll have problems with your emails that you just can't fathom, so here are a few things to try.
Wrong Email Password
This is quite a common problem and one that foxes many people.
If your email has been working fine, then why should it now pop up asking for a new password when, to the best of your knowledge, you haven't changed your password?
Most systems won't ask you to change passwords regularly (although really, they should), so why should it be a problem?
Very often it's because another problem has occurred unrelated to passwords which has caused this box to appear. You see, sometimes it can appear if there's a problem with the server, or your network has failed for some reason. The network or server failure might only be for a few seconds, but if you're collecting emails at the time, this box could appear:
As you can see, it offers a password box, and that's where the problems start.
In most cases, leaving it a minute and then pressing OK will result in emails working as normal, however often people will attempt to remember their password and type it in. They get it wrong, the password is remembered by Outlook and then any further attempts will fail.
How to solve it
Firstly, if the box appears and you haven't changed your password, simply leave it a couple of minutes and then click "OK". More often than not the problem will go away.
If you have a regular problem with your network, it might be that you simply need to talk to someone about upgrading your router, or even checking with your Internet provider.
If you find you've changed your password by mistake, then the only way to solve this is to talk to the person who handles your email. This could be your web host, or even you! But all you have to do is change the password on the server, and make sure it's the same as the one you type in - and you should be good to go.
Connection problems abound in the Internet world and unfortunately, they're notoriously difficult to trace, however there are some very common problems that can be resolved with a little bit of investigation.
One such problem is the constant checking of emails.
Years ago we had an issue with one client who normally would have no problems with emails, but then started getting constant connection problems.
It was a typical small business set-up. They had just three users and a web server which also handled the email, and one day she kept getting a "connection refused" error.
When she returned from lunch, email would work for a while, but then would stop again with the same error.
Then we had an idea.
We asked if she could view their own website - and the connection was refused there, too.
When we checked with their host, it turned out that she had been constantly hitting the "send&receive" button, which had checked email so often that the server thought it was some kind of attack and automatically refused any more connections.
After 30 minutes, connections were allowed again.
The simple fix here was a procedure. Only check email every five minutes, and don't keep hitting the "send" key!
Files too large
These days we love to share pictures, and as digital cameras and phone cameras get better and better, the files they create get bigger and bigger.
Email systems have managed to keep up in many cases, and most now allow for large file attachments, but we have to keep in mind that email was never really meant to send files. It's just a transport mechanism for text, so there's a lot of work to convert images between different formats so your mom can just click and view on the other end.
However, a few pictures at high quality can result in them not getting through to the recipient.
It might be because the receiver has run out of space, or it could be that your mail system simply won't allow you to send entire photo albums.
So what's the answer?
What of the easiest systems to use is "Wetransfer.com".
Simply upload all your files (or pictures) and enter your friend's and your email. Add an optional message and the files will be sent.
The free system allows 2GB of files, which is plenty for most people's needs, but if you send lots of big files regularly, you can upgrade to the paid-for version and send up to 20GB, which would be most of the contents of your digital camera's memory.
There are, of course, many other problems that beset people when using something as simple as email, so feel free to let us know what problems you've had!
Company data is being hacked all the time, so it's almost not even news when a company announces that it's had data stolen, including passwords, and that they're in the hands of criminals.
However, the recent announcement that Yahoo had been hacked and had half a billion emails stolen was eye watering.
That's a lot of data, and such a huge breach means it's not only Yahoo customers that are affected, it means everyone is potentially at risk. Here's why.
How people hack
There are many ways in which the bad guys can get into your accounts. The most common is to use some kind of "social engineering", they essentially get your confidence and then brazenly ask for your password. Lots of people just hand them over.
But another way is through brute force.
This means simply testing a huge number of words and word combinations until you find the one that works.
However, it has a fairly low success rate for a number of reasons:
• People now often use more complex passwords
• You need a lot of computing power
• You're limited by the size of your dictionary
Point one often depends on the type of account and demographic of user. There are still many people using very easy to guess passwords, so if you have a large enough number of people, you will probably manage to find a match.
Point two gets less of a problem as computing power gets cheaper. Also, some of the more inventive hackers out there are using cloud computing for phenomenal processing speed.
Point three is where this hack comes in. You see, having a large dictionary means you have more chance of getting a 'hit' with a password, and Yahoo's breach just added 500,000 to the pool.
That data will now be being shared across the darker places of the web, being added to the dictionary they already have and being used to attack other networks.
The bigger picture
Essentially, this hack weakens security for all.
Even if you're not a Yahoo user, the networks you currently use could be under attack, and if anyone else uses anything like your password, then your account could be at risk.
The problem is made worse by the fact that many of us re-use passwords. In fact, it's calculated by Cambridge University's Security Group that passwords are re-used 49% of the time, which is an astonishing amount.
What can we do?
Luckily, we've already covered this extensively in another blog, but in brief, here's what you need to do:
• If you're a Yahoo user, change your passwords now!
• Even if you haven't used Yahoo for years, if you tend to re-use passwords, start changing them
• If you've never been a Yahoo user, but you re-use passwords, consider changing them and making them unique for all the sites you visit
Obviously, some sites are more sensitive than others. For example, banks use a number of different methods to protect logins, including using passcards and codes, however other sites aren't so secure.
If you'd like to speak to an expert, give our team a call on 01527 880088 or email email@example.com
When the first anti-virus software was released decades ago, there was a thought amongst many that it wasn't necessary. At the time, we didn't have interconnected PCs, the Internet was something only large organisations and universities used, and moving data from one PC to another meant floppy disks and walking.
This was the 'sneakernet', and it was easy to police. Much like viruses in humans, their effect was limited simply because they didn't move about much.
But then magazines began to put disks on the front as a way of selling them, and suddenly they became more mobile. Programmers saw this as a good way of getting their malicious code spread around, and suddenly, anti-virus was a thing. We needed it, and we needed it quickly.
When companies began to connect to the outside world, the need for anti-virus became ever more pressing, and vendors began to beef up their offerings with solutions for the enterprise that protected not only PCs, but also servers and other network devices.
IT support departments would make sure all anti-virus software is up to date. The more paranoid would have multiple versions of different anti-virus packages and would test any media entering the company before letting it loose. But anti-virus soon became much better. You're now pretty safe from most viruses, and the Internet - the cause of so many scares - is now the reason software stays up to date.
As soon as a new exploit is discovered, vendors will push out new versions of their software. It's a game of cat and mouse, and it would seem that due to the impressive technology now packed into PC operating systems and the work the anti-virus vendors have done, we can sleep safely.
However, that would be a wrong assumption.
Complacency and a belief that your IT infrastructure is safe can be dangerous, because the bad guys out there don't stop, and they always look for the weakest link. And that link is very often the person sat in front of the computer.
It's a Human Problem
Years ago I heard the story of a business person who had his bank account wiped out by what was thought at the time to be a hack. It even had all the elements of a hack.
He had lost his card, and it had been used to take money from his account, so obviously the hacker had broken the encryption to discover his PIN.
But that's not how it happened at all.
When the perpetrator was caught (using the card, he was careless), it turned out he'd used a very simple trick.
He'd pick-pocketed the target's card. That happens all the time, no real skill involved and it was in New York which is busy, so the victim didn't notice.
He then followed the victim to his office. Again, easy to do in a busy city.
He noted the name of the company and went to a call box.
He called the company, asked for the victim by name (it was on his card) and explained that the card had been reported stolen and "could he confirm his PIN?"
This was over 15 years ago, but attacks are far more sophisticated now.
You may have heard of 'phishing' where an email comes from an apparently legitimate site but it's not, and it's sole purpose is to extract your password details.
They rely on a number of psychological tricks.
Firstly, they use the branding and wording of a bank or other well-known brand. It might look like it comes from HSBC or Barclays or, more recently HMRC.
They'll have words such as "Act now to protect your credit rating" or even "your account may have been compromised, please log in now to verify your details."
These sound like legitimate requests, and many people fall for them.
When they click on the link, the site you go to isn't the bank, it's the attacker's site that's been made to look like the bank's.
You type in your details, they ask for confirmation and before you know it; they've got all of your password information.
It's extremely easy, and although email providers and software developers are always looking at ways of stopping it, the only way to make sure you or your staff aren't affected by it is through education.
How to avoid being scammed
Hackers can attempt to get all kinds of information from you. It could be bank details, or it could be your company CRM login details so they can steal business information. But staff need to be on the guard.
Here are a few ways to help keep your information secure, and your private details safe:
• Never send passwords over email - nobody should ever ask for sensitive passwords via email, and banks or any other organisations should never ask for it. The whole idea of a password is that it's secret.
• If you receive an important looking email from a large organisation, and it asks you to click a link - check with that organisation first. Check their website, find their customer enquiries number and call them.
• If you receive an email asking for company information, check with the sender first. Simply phone them up and make sure that they asked for it and that it's OK to send.
Above all, be suspicious.
If an email doesn't look right, don't click on the links. Check with your IT support team first. You may be the first person to discover a scam, and if you are, you can make it easier for your support to make sure nobody else gets caught by it.
In today's uncertain times, it's absolutely critical that companies base their operations on a solid foundation. These foundations vary between businesses, but it can be staff skills, internal systems or, more likely, their IT infrastructure.
Knowing that the IT of a business is there to help and support means the business can continue to do what it does without being hindered with downtime, annoying software issues or problems when upgrading.
- When someone sends an email, you should have the confidence that it's going to get to the person it's intended for.
- When you dial in to access the network, you should expect it to be secure.
- When you accidentally lose files, you should be able to get them back quickly.
Do you have that amount of confidence in your computer systems?
And what happens when things go wrong? Who do you or your staff call to put everything right?
Downtime can cost a business dearly, which is why Technical Drive offer a wide range of IT support services to companies just like yours, but only in the Birmingham area.
If something goes wrong, our engineers will attempt to fix it straight away remotely. However, if necessary, we can get someone there to your site normally within 40 minutes.
That's the beauty of being local.
What's more, being based close to Birmingham means we can offer the type of disaster recovery and business continuity services that are normally reserved for multi-million pound organisations.
Our office suite, based in Bromsgrove, is ready to provide your staff with a fully serviced office with phones, computers and a network ready to go.
Whatever your IT Support needs, Technical Drive is ready and able to help you today!
Call us on 01527 880088.
Smart business owners and entrepreneurs put a lot of thought into their daily operations, which is wise, making sure a business runs efficiently is essential for success.
Many, though, fail to plan for disasters that could potentially cripple their operations, and that mistake can cost them dearly.
Disaster recovery and business continuity are terms that many business owners don’t consider to be important, but they can be critical. If just one piece of your IT infrastructure fails, what effect would it have?
No matter your industry, information technology is likely a key pillar on which the survival of your business depends. Client data, sales reports and user accounts are just a few examples of the important data that is stored on company servers. Although you might not want to think that it could happen to you and your business, nobody is safe from disasters. A flood, fire or hacker can harm your servers and compromise your data before you notice that something is wrong.
Planning Ahead is Cheaper
Creating copies of important data and backing up your servers might seem like an expensive and time-consuming task. Planning ahead does require an investment, but consider the price that you will pay if a disaster strikes when you don't have a plan or system in place.
Cloud backup services are now cheaper than they’ve ever been, but do you use them? And if you do, have you tried to recover a backup?
It’s much better to plan your recovery options and prepare for the worst than have the worst happen and have to solve it. It’s cheaper, too.
If a hard drive fails on a server, it could cost thousands of pounds for a specialist recovery company to get at the data for you. However, if your data is constantly being backed up, you can just access it instantly.
When clients give you their personal information and trust you to perform a service, they want to know that their trust is not misplaced. So, it's vital for business owners to display a level of competence and foresight at all times, and any violation of a client's trust will likely result in losing them forever.
If your customers' credit card details get stolen because you did not take the proper preventative steps, then a lot of people who were once loyal to your brand will likely walk away. Because acquiring new clients is always more expensive than retaining your old ones, protecting their personal details is always a worthy investment.
Of course, it’s not just credit card data. Any breach that results in personal information of any kind being lost can reduce a customer’s confidence, and if you then struggle to retrieve that data, you can eventually lose that customer.
When a flood or fire damages your business, your fragile data servers will likely be the first assets that get destroyed. When damaged servers result in losing customer data, keeping that information private will be a difficult task. If news of your misfortune is exposed to the public, it will impact the way that they view you and your business. In their eyes, you will not appear to be reliable or worthy of trust.
It's the same with hackers. If your systems are brought to their knees, and you can’t get up and running quickly, then your customers will go elsewhere.
In this 24x7 economy, people won’t wait around, and your competitors will be waiting in the wings ready to swoop.
Of course, if your systems fail, it often means your staff can’t work either, but what if offices are damaged, telephone systems crippled and desks destroyed?
Business continuity planning is key to ensuring that your staff can keep working while your company recovers.
You see, disaster recovery isn’t just about fixing servers and restoring from backups. If your offices are destroyed, you need to have somewhere else to work from, and somewhere to put the servers.
How Disaster Recovery Can Protect You
A good IT disaster recovery plan will protect your business by backing up your data and storing it in a secure, remote location, and you can easily obtain your files if your main servers get damaged or destroyed during an incident.
But it’s also about getting your business up and running, your staff working and your sales processes continuing, so it should also include contingency for that. There should be somewhere for your staff to work from, with workstations prepared with phones, computers and network access.
Technical Drive can provide you with peace of mind, a solid backup plan and somewhere to work when you need it most.
Call us today and we’ll help you plan for the unexpected.
There was a revolution in the IT industry a couple of decades ago that transformed the face of personal computing.
Up until 1995, most people's idea of a computer was huge screen and box on the desk, software that needed to be "run" and programs, which, if you wanted to use all their functionality, you needed to have a print out of common commands stuck to your keyboard.
However, in 1995 it all changed.
Microsoft released Windows '95, and it was a revolution.
We'd had a graphical interface for a few years. Windows 3.1 was arguably the operating system that made mouse manufacturers sit up and take notice, but that was just a veneer on top of an old, cranky, text-based legacy operating system that was difficult to use. It just made it a bit easier.
Windows '95 made everything different, and it arguably kicked off the home PC revolution. For the first time, people could use a computer to do simple things, simply.
In the workplace, this had a huge impact. Computers began to appear in more areas of the workplace as IT departments, and company owners, realised that they weren't just for accountants. Maybe Supercalc, Lotus 123 and Excel were the catalyst to get more companies hooked on IT, but when they realised other software was available that could help streamline operations, they soon latched on to them.
And the beauty of Windows was that it was a seamless transition for many. They had this at home, so it was easy for them to use at work.
But in reality, although Windows '95 and its subsequent upgrades made the interface more familiar and allowed people to do things they didn't think possible, rather than reduce the need for support, it increased it.
Problems still exist
Computers are still complex. They still go wrong, in fact, you could argue they go wrong more now than they ever have done.
Way back in 1995, there wasn't much software available to install, just a handful of applications. As years went on, most people installed an office package, and then there were a few graphics packages available. That's all OK; they're quite easy to maintain still.
But then the Internet became widespread, and software became a little easier to come by.
Plugins for popular applications such as Word and Excel made it easier for office staff to do complex tasks but made it harder for IT support teams to look after them.
What if the plugins clashed with others? What if the PC doesn't have enough disk space? And what about all the licenses?
Viruses became a real problem. As the Internet became more widespread, making sure networks were secure became an even more pressing task. It was now possible for people outside the business to get inside its network and therefore get at its data, without even having to walk through the door.
Far from making computer systems easier to support, the widespread availability of hardware, software and Internet connectivity now made it much harder, and more critical.
Who handles that support?
In many small businesses, it's the staff themselves that have to handle those support tasks. In others, they'll know someone who knows someone. Or, the owners will have a friend or relative who they call upon when things go wrong. Howeve, this could make things worse.
All IT networks are different. Of course, in many cases they'll be using the same version of Word or Excel, and they will be having the same problems as many others, but the nuances of a network and the complexity of proprietary software means support isn't as simple as someone simply walking into your offices, hitting a few keys and making problems go away.
And those problems could mean productivity is reduced, or even stopped, and that means you're losing money.
How to reduce the costs of downtime
The best way to ensure you don't have downtime is to avoid it as much as possible, but it's also important to have plans in place for when things do go wrong so you can get back up and running as quickly as possible.
Here are five things you can do to help make sure IT problems don't stop you working altogether.
- Restrict what can be installed on PCs
There is software available that will stop people downloading and installing anything they find on the Internet, but it can also be controlled effectively from within Windows itself. However, it may just be something that you need to have a clear organisational policy on.
Explaining the problems that unknown software can cause to an employees, and businesses, productivity is usually enough to stop people downloading and installing programs left right and centre.
- Have a standard for common used software and hardware
To be fair, most companies use PCs and have Microsoft Office installed these days, it's pretty much the standard, but you may have mavericks who want to install their own software, and they're the ones to watch.
If you want to keep support costs down and make life easier for your IT department, make sure that you make the most commonly used software standard throughout the organisation. It also keeps licensing costs down, as you can benefit from bulk purchasing.
- Install anti-virus software
Not just on individual PCs, either. Make sure your network has anti-virus and that it's kept up to date at all times, and ensure you also keep a look out for malware and other security issues that are not covered by anti-virus.
- Restrict Internet access
The Internet is a rich web of valuable information, but it's also a hotbed of dodgy websites that will attempt to hijack your computers as soon as you visit them. Luckily, your Internet traffic should be easy for you to control - so control it.
If you're a small organisation, many ISPs have software that can be configured to manage your connections automatically, so investigate it and talk to your provider about increasing security.
- Always have a backup
Backups are an essential part of every company's IT policy, so don't be left out.
Make sure they're off-site, too. If your backups are kept on an external hard drive next to your laptop and they both get stolen, it's not much use.
And of course, if all of this is overwhelming, call on a company that can ensure your IT infrastructure is solid, well supported and is there when you need them!
If you use a number of websites, applications or corporate systems, it's a fair bet you have to use a password to get into them.
It's also a fair bet that you reuse the same password on many systems and that it's fairly easy to remember. And also easy to guess.
Of course, many people go that extra mile and put strange characters in their passwords, using a '$' for an 'S' and replacing 'E' in their name with a '3'. Unfortunately, hackers are wise to these techniques, and they don't deter those who really want to get at your accounts.
And if your password is difficult to remember, there's a likelihood you've made a note of it somewhere. On a Post-It note stuck to your monitor anyone?
Happens all the time, you're not alone!
There have been many methods proposed that will make passwords go away, here are a couple and their obvious downfalls.
These work on the principle that much of what makes us human is that we have unique characteristics. Although there have been experiments with eye-scanners, face recognition and others, the most popular one at the moment is the fingerprint scanner.
You'll have noticed that many mobile phones now come with them as standard, and they seem to be an ideal solution to securing access to your devices, but there's a huge drawback, one which I discovered recently.
Having secured my phone with a fingerprint, I was doing some DIY in the house, and I got a small cut on my finger, the one I used to unlock the phone. This meant the fingerprint was no longer recognised, and I couldn't unlock the phone using it.
Of course, there's a backup. There's also a PIN to allow you to get into it should the biometric system fail, but this falls back to that old problem again - I have to remember it.
Fingerprint scanners are available for some computers, but they suffer the same problem. You have to have a backup in case your finger is unrecognisable, they're not much use in industrial environments, and they're pretty easy to bypass.
These work well - if you remember your card.
Many companies use them as a way to access their premises, offices and their computer systems. They also suffer from the problem of damage, though, but it's not quite as bad as if your fingerprint is unrecognisable. At least in these cases, you can get in touch with your IT department to get a new one.
These work well on phones but haven't really made their way to desktop computers yet, although I have seen them used in some enterprise applications.
They comprise of a grid of dots, and you set a pattern on those dots to give you access. When you want to log on, you make the pattern, and you're in.
There are a couple of problems with these, though, the most obvious being that they can be fairly easy to defeat.
As we're all sweaty humans, if we're using a touchscreen, we are going to be leaving a pattern of grease (yeah, I know, when you think about it, it's gross) on the screen. I discovered this when my son gained access to my phone one day.
On a laptop, you'll probably be using the mouse to make the pattern, so it's not quite such a big problem, but they've not caught on.
So what's the solution?
Well, there may be a very simple solution to all of these problems, and it's been staring us in the face all these years - the passphrase.
A passphrase is simply a long password, but it's a sentence, a proper one that you'll find very easy to remember, but which is extremely difficult to guess. Some security experts say they're impossible to guess, even when they just use standard characters.
However, we're creatures of habit, and there's a good chance that given the chance, we'll think of a passphrase that others have already thought of, and therefore can still be guessed. For example, how many Led Zep fans will choose "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold" as their banking passphrase given the chance?
Luckily, there's a way of doing it that means you can remember it easily, and it's impossible for others to guess, and it's called Diceware.
This method uses dice to generate a five-digit number which corresponds to a word in the English language. Roll the dice a number of times (at least four to be secure) and you have your passphrase.
- arnold tent pluck vellum blow
- weave foggy will leak grater mush
- bauble spew whelm up brave yodel
Look ridiculous don't they? But try and remember them. After you've recited them to yourself a couple of times, I bet you'll be able to type them out quickly without thinking.
This works because of the way human memory is stored, and how those memory masters remember things on magic shows.
Essentially, the more absurd and strange something is, the more away from the norm it appears, the easier it is for us to remember.
You can find out more about Diceware here: world.std.com/~reinhold/diceware.html
And maybe you can change some of your existing passwords and see how you get on?
We recently wrote an article explaining how to speed up your computer using a number of different methods, one of which was by defragging your hard drive.
Defragging is necessary in many cases due to the apparently erratic way hard drives sometimes store information. When you save a Word document, for example, your hard drive will very often scatter the data over different areas of the disk.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, what it's doing is filling up space first, and so it's efficient in many cases. However, when files get spread all over the place, especially large ones, it can cause your computer to slow down. If it needs to go all over the drive to knit one piece of data together, then it takes time. Standard hard drives are mechanical in nature, so their read and write heads after travel to get the information necessary.
But SSD aren't like this.
An SSD is very much like normal computer memory. Memory was always one of the most expensive parts of a computer. The cost-per-megabyte made it prohibitively expensive to use them for long-term storage, and there's also the problem of volatility. If you turn off the computer, everything in your RAM (the computer's memory) is deleted, it needs power to keep it going. Hard drives don't suffer from this problem.
But, technology moves on, and so SSD became more common.
It's now much more likely that a computer you just bought will have at least some of its storage as SSD, and it's for a good reason.
SSD is much faster than mechanical drives. When booting up a computer, one of the most frustrating aspects is the startup speed. It can take a long time before that login screen appears, and then even longer before you can do anything.
By storing the operating system and more important files on SSD, that problem is alleviated. The system boots up quickly, and you can get to work.
As technology improves and prices come down, SSD will make its way into more and more computers.
So does this mean we'll never have to defrag again?
Although some software vendors say that it's possible to defrag an SSD and that it will speed it up, there's not very much evidence to back up the claim.
It's possible that as more computers come with SSD installed, the companies selling defrag utilities are trying to ensure they stay in business, however, they should really move on to other things.