Cybercrime: 5 Things You Need to Know

 

This very informative article from Cloudwards.net, a leading cloud storage company, will help you understand cybercrime in 2017. The article includes some examples of some more noteworthy security breaches and hacking events and details how you can use cloud storage to keep your files secure.

Click here to check out the article

 

Boot Device Not Found Error or Hard Drive Not Detected

pcoverhaul-no-boot-device-available

This series of error messages- Boot Device Not Found,  Hard Drive not Detected, No Boot Device Found, No Bootable Device,, No Boot Partition Found, Hard Disk Drive Failure, Data error Reading Drive, Blank screen with flashing Cursor, Seek error – Sector not found, Missing Operating System, Operating System Not Found, Primary Hard Disk Failure, Error Loading Operating System, Drive not Ready- all these messages are really saying the same thing. The computer can’t find your operating system so it can’t boot into Windows.

pcoverhaul-hard-drive-issue

The easiest thing to check is whether the hard drive, or the cable running to the hard drive may have come loose from the motherboard. Connecting the drive or cable snugly to the motherboard will quickly resolve the problem.

The hard drive on the left has a loose cable, the one on the right shows the cable connected snugly.
The hard drive on the left has a loose cable, the one on the right shows the cable connected snugly.

Virus or malware infections can also damage or remove the Windows boot files, which would give you this message. Sometimes a Windows Update doesn’t install correctly or isn’t finished installing when you restart your computer, and that can prevent Windows from starting too.

Many times, the error results from some type of problem with the hard drive itself. You can read my post about some of those problems here.

e - 20131231_184859_Nahatan St

If you receive any of these messages and want to get your computer working again and recover your data, contact me for an appointment.

 

 

 

World Backup Day

Have you backed up your data recently? Every day people and businesses lose huge amounts of
valuable data because they fail to run a backup of their files. World Backup Day is set aside
as a reminder to back up those important files.


If you have files that are important to you and can’t be easily replaced or recreated, you should have some sort of regularly scheduled backup. Hard drives can crash. Computers can be infected with malware and viruses. And your smartphone can be damaged, lost or stolen. Losing irreplaceable and valuable documents or photos with no way to recover them is a nightmare scenario.

pcoverhaul-files

No matter how new or secure your smartphone or computer is, it’s important to back up your
files, because even new hardware can fail. Some polls have shown that almost 40% of people
don’t have any type of backup at all, and another 15% only backup 1-2 times a year.

Malware and viruses infect roughly 1/3 of the world’s computers. There’s a whole class of
viruses that will lock your files and hold them for ransom. In most cases, even paying the
ransom won’t get your files back. If you have a current backup, you can completely wipe your
computer’s hard drive to rid it of the virus and restore your files from your backup copy.

The hard drive on your computer can also fail or crash. In those cases you may be able to recover the files by sending them to a professional data recovery lab, but that type of service is expensive. Depending on the exact problem, the cost could be anywhere from $300- $2000 and you may not even get back 100% of the data.

This laptop was damaged beyond repair in a house fire, and all the data was lost.
This laptop was damaged beyond repair in a house fire, and all the data was lost.

Any natural disaster that strikes your home or business can damage or destroy your computer and with it, your files. Fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes can eradicate your data permanently with no chance of recovery.

Computers can be stolen, whether they are laptops, desktops, or even servers. Your data may or may not be valuable depending on who the thief is. In many cases, they wipe the hard drives to conceal who the original owner is before they sell the computer, so even if you can recover the system, your files may be gone.

More than 3 million smartphones were stolen last year- that’s more than 100 smartphones stolen every minute, each day. Another 1.4 million phones are lost every year and never recovered. Smartphones are prime targets for thieves because even more so than computers, smartphones hold loads of personal information like banking and credit card info, photos, emails, and even your whereabouts thanks to GPS location. The thief may be after your
identity or financial information and not your documents or photos, but you’re going to lose them regardless of the motive. Phones are also small and easy to conceal in a pocket or handbag, and they have a high resale value. And the first thing they will do is wipe it clean of all traces of your files.

There are dozens of other things that can happen to your files. A regularly scheduled backup
gives you peace of mind in those situations. There are several methods you can use to backup your files.

An external hard drive.
An external hard drive.

If you’re backing up a computer and have a relatively small amount of data, you can use a USB flash drive. If you have larger amounts of data you probably want to use an external hard drive. External drives are portable so they can be thrown in a laptop bag or backpack. They also allow quick access to all your files at once. There are downsides to external drives though. The drives are affected by all the same things computers are- they can be lost, stolen, damaged by natural disasters, get infected by malware and viruses and they can have mechanical failures. If your data is very valuable you should use more than one external hard drive.

Cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive/Google Photos are popular for both smartphone and computer backups. They give you a small amount of space for free, and can be
accessed from anywhere on any device (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, PC, MAC). The problem is, one glitch and your files are gone, because there’s only one copy of your files there. If you accidentally delete a file, that deletion gets synced up to the cloud and there’s no way to get it back.

If you have an iPhone, you can back it up right to your computer using iTunes. This is nice because you only get 5 GB of space in iCloud so all your files may not fit there. Your computer probably has a ton of free space, and an iTunes backup is a complete backup of all your photos, videos, music, documents, SMS messages, call logs, contacts and apps. If you ever lose your iPhone or upgrade, just plug the replacement into your computer, open iTunes and you can restore your entire configuration from your last backup.

A Cloud Backup Service is different because it offers the ability to keep multiple versions
of your files, so if Tuesday’s backup is corrupted or encrypted from a virus infection, or
deleted by mistake, you can get the files back from Monday’s backup. You do have to pay for a
backup service like that, but if the data is important or irreplaceable, it’s well worth the
cost. If you have a large number of files to back up, you’ll find cloud backups are slower than backing up to an external hard drive. And if you ever need to retrieve a large number of files it may take hours or even days to pull them down from the cloud.

A sound backup solution would combine all these methods.

The accepted rule for backup best practices is the three-two-one rule. It can be summarized as: if you’re backing something up, you should have:

  • At least three copies,
  • In two different formats,
  • with one of those copies off-site.

    pcoverhaul-google+photos
    I use Google Photos to automatically back up photos from both my smartphone and my wife’s phone whenever we are in WiFi range.

I have multiple external hard drives for my most important files, which happen to be photos. These are backed up daily. Everything is also backed up to the cloud via Google+ Photos and Amazon’s Prime storage service. I also burn Blu-Ray discs so I always have a “negative” that can’t be deleted, and store a copy of these with a relative. Both my smartphone and my wife’s smartphone are set to automatically backup to Google and Amazon whenever we have WiFi access.

Whatever method you choose, please be sure you backup your files. If you’re overwhelmed and you don’t know where to start, I’ll be happy to help you out.

 

 

CryptoWall 3.0

Simply put, this type of virus is devastating. CryptoWall (and the rest of the CryptoLocker variants) will encrypt (lock) your files and demand a ransom to get the key.

cryptowall

Files affected are usually photos, documents, music, and movies.

So far, there’s no way to crack the encryption (unlock the files) without paying the ransom, and there’s no guarantee the hackers will give you the key even when you’ve paid. The ransom can be anywhere from $400-$600 and with every new variation it’s going up.

pcoverhaul-cryptowall2.0

The best way to prevent infection is to have a current backup of your files. Once the virus is removed (or once you wipe and reload the computer), you can restore your files. Most antivirus programs can remove the virus, but that won’t help you get your files back.

 

Repair or Replace?

All hardware will fail at some point. The typical lifespan of both laptop and desktop computers is in the 3-5 year range, and according to this study by Backblaze, 90% of hard drives will last 3 years, but after that there’s a 12% chance per year that your drive will die (always keep current backups).

If this is your home computer, you may want to make different choices than if these are business computers. Often you can delay replacing a home computer until a good deal comes along, and you may have other devices to fill the void in the meantime if you are waiting for a repair. But in business, time lost waiting for a repair can offset any potential savings.

So should you repair or replace?

This handy infographic by Lexicon Technologies shows there can be a decent amount of money saved when making the right choice between repairing and replacing broken technology.

replace-or-repair

 

How safe is your online data?

You may have heard about the latest celebrity phone hacking scandal involving stars such as Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande and Kate Upton. The photos were stolen from Apple’s iCloud service, and not the phones themselves. Many of the celebs had already deleted the photos and videos from their iPhones, some of them a year or more ago, but they still had those files backed up on iCloud. Hackers use a variety of methods to get into iCloud accounts, from brute force attacks to trying easy to guess passwords, since iCloud would not lock you out if you guessed wrong a certain number of times.

screen shot 2014-05-19 at 9.54.52 am-1

In the case of these particular celebrity photos, they have been floating around on the “dark net” for quite some time before they were finally leaked publicly.

Though it hasn’t yet been confirmed that the pictures came from iCloud accounts, reports have speculated that the hackers used a recent tool called iBrute, which can repeatedly try different combinations of passwords on Apple’s Find My iPhone service until one of them works. Once Find My iPhone is breached, it is possible to access iCloud passwords and view images and other data stored in a user’s iCloud account. Apple had previously allowed an unlimited number of password attempts on the Find My iPhone service, but it has since limited it to five attempts, making the iBrute tool ineffective. [TheVerge]

You may or may not have intimate photos and videos you want to protect from prying eyes. Even if you don’t, think about all the sensitive information you may have in your email and private messages on Facebook and other social media sites. There’s probably some stuff in there you’d rather keep to yourself.

So what can you do to protect your private files and conversations online?

First, accept that virtually everything we do now electronically can be hacked or compromised. It may only be  a curious spouse, but it could be an ex, a co-worker, or a professional hacker.  The best way to keep someone from gaining access to sensitive data  is not to put it online in the first place.

For data that you DO share, the first thing you should do is have a complex password that nobody can guess. “Password”, “123456” or your telephone number are not going to cut it. As this Password Strength cartoon by Randall Munroe demonstrates, substituting numbers and symbols for letters is still easy for a sophisticated software prgram to crack. 

Password Strength cartoon by Randall Munroe

For example, Bruins?Win?Habs?Lose! will not be easily cracked by hacking software and is easier to remember than Bru1n5W#nH4B5L0s3. Phrases make a password more complaex without being too hard to remember. And if remembering is an issue, try a free password manager like LastPass.

Another thing you can do is enable two step verification. This means in addition to knowing the password, the person trying to get into the account has to have access to some kind of device like your phone. where a code may be sent to verify your identity.

ZDnet has this great info on how to set up two step verification for some of the most popular services:

Apple iCloud

  1. Login to My Apple ID.
  2. Pick “Manage your Apple ID and sign in”
  3. Select “Password and Security”
  4. Under “Two-Step Verification,” select “Get Started,” and follow the instructions.

Note: Be aware that when you change your Apple ID to two-factor authentication, it’s a one-way journey. You can only change your password afterwards by using the two-factor method.

Dropbox

  1. Sign in to Dropbox.
  2. Click on your name from the upper-right of any page to open your account menu.
  3. Click “Settings” from the account menu and select the “Security” tab.
  4. Under “Two-step verification” section, click “Enable.”
  5. Click “Get started” and follow the instructions.

Note: You will need to re-enter your password to enable two-factor verification. Once you do, you’ll be given the choice to receive your security code by text or to use a mobile app.

Google Drive

  1. Login to Google from this link.
  2. Enter your phone number.
  3. Enter the code that you’ll get from either a text or a voice phone call.
  4. Follow the instructions.

Note: You will need to get a new code for each PC or device that uses any Google services. For some services, such as Gmail when accessed on an Apple device or by a mail client or some instant message clients, you’ll also need to set an application specific password.

Microsoft OneDrive

  1. Login to your Microsoft Account.
  2. Go to “Security & Password.”
  3. Under “Password and security info,” tap or click “Edit security info.”
  4. Under “Two-step verification,” tap or click “Set up two-step verification.”
  5. Click “Next,” and then follow the instructions.

Note: Microsoft may require you to enter a security code that the company will send to your phone or email before you can turn on two-step verification.

Many other services now offer two-step authentication. Here are ZDNet articles detailing how to set it up onFacebookTwitter, and Google.

 

What Files Should I Backup?

I am constantly reminding people to keep regular backups of their files, but what does that really mean? There are hundreds of folders and sub folders on your computer, so which ones should and shouldn’t be backed up?

pcoverhaul-files

 

First of all,  let’s talk about the software you can use to run the backup. There are lots of programs you can use to back these files up. New computers often have some sort of backup software installed and some external hard drives come with pre-installed backup software as well. A backup feature is also sometimes built in to some of the large antivirus suites. But if your computer or external drive doesn’t give you a backup option, don’t panic. If you have Windows 7 or Windows 8 or Windows 10, a backup feature is built in.  And of course there are several great free backup tools out there, like Redo Backup & Restore, Create Synchronicity, and Free File Sync. It’s not important which backup software you use, just be sure to get one that you are comfortable using and use it or schedule it to run regularly.

Free File Sync's interface. The 'Source" drive is shown on the left, the "Target" on the right.
Free File Sync’s interface. The ‘Source” drive is shown on the left, the “Target” on the right.

 

And one more important note-  one backup is never enough. That external hard drive you are using to back up your files is likely going to be in the same location as your computer in order to run these backups. If you have a theft, a natural disaster like a fire or flood, or a power surge fries your computer, chances are the backup drive will meet the same fate. So the key is to have a backup that’s not located wherever your computer is. Most people use a cloud backup for this. If you are confused about the cloud, it basically just means it’s kept on a server outside of your location. Free services like DropboxGoogle Drive, Box,  JustCloud, and Microsoft’s Skydrive (soon to be Onedrive) may be enough if you only have a few Gigabytes of data to back up. If you have a large amount of data, paid services like iDrive, SOS Online backup, or even Amazon’s Cloud backup solution are a better option. They allow you to upload very large document, photo, video and music collections (or whatever else you need to store) to a secure account and usually the cost is under $10 a month. Spending $100+ a year to backup your data may seem like a lot of money, but when it’s compared to the $1000-$1600 data recovery companies usually charge to attempt to get your files back after a hard drive crash, it’s a very good investment. DVD or BluRay media also make an excellent backup for files that won’t be changing, like years of older photos. these can be put in a fireproof safe, safety deposit box, or even given to a friend or family member to keep at their place so you will always have a copy “offsite” so to speak.

 

Carbonite's different plan options for home users.
Carbonite’s different plan options for home users.

 

Before we select the folders to back up, there are some hidden folders we need to be able to see, so you should change your settings to make them visible. You can do it manually, or I have a handy little script you can download that will do it for you.

You can manually show hidden files too.

Click on START->COMPUTER->TOOLS and then select the Folder option button.

To show hidden files in Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, select Tools, then Folder Options
To show hidden files in Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, select Tools, then Folder Options

 

Then choose the VIEW tab, and under HIDDEN FILES AND FOLDERS, choose the radio button for Show Hidden Files , folders and drives.

Then choose the VIEW tab, and under HIDDEN FILES AND FOLDERS, choose the radio button for Show Hidden Files , folders and drives.
Then choose the VIEW tab, and under HIDDEN FILES AND FOLDERS, choose the radio button for Show Hidden Files , folders and drives.

 

Finally, the files you should backup.

Files to back up for Windows XP
Files to back up for Windows XP

 

♦  Documents: Your documents folder is an obvious choice. This folder can be a catch it all for some people, with files of various types from actual documents, resumes, tax forms, to downloaded exe files, photos and subfolders created by programs on your computer. Depending on which version of Windows you have, this may also be called “My documents”.

♦ Photos & Videos: The “Pictures” or “My Pictures” folder and the “Videos” or “My Videos” folder are the most important folders I back up. Most of us have been using digital cameras for at least 10 years now and don’t have any negatives to fall back on if we lose these originals (like we did in the old days). Unless you are a professional photographer these have no monetary value, but preserving these memories is priceless. I back these up to disk and the cloud, but also burn a DVD at the end of each year as a set of permanent negatives. Mine are BluRay discs, which cost roughly $1 each but it’s well worth it knowing every photo ever taken of my children are safely stored away.

♦Music: “Music” or “My Music” folder.  –My Mp3 collection is huge and includes stuff I ripped from CD years and years ago, songs I converted from cassette of my old high school bands, and download music. If you use Itunes, this is where the Itunes data is stored for your music, playlists and apps.

♦Application Data: “AppData” or “Application Data” folder. This is that hidden folder we need to back up. The subfolders inside here contain settings and preferences for your software, as well as your PST file for Outlook that is used to store all of your Outlook data, including your emails, contacts, calendar, and more.

♦Bookmarks: For Internet Explorer, these are stored in “Favorites”. If you use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, there are in a subfolder of your AppData folder.

Of course, you can always just back up your entire User profile. The downside to this is you use more space and end up backing up lots of temporary files, but it’s one way to make sure you get every file you need without missing anything. This could be found at C:\Users\Username in Windows 7, 8  or Vista, and C:\Documents and Settings\Username for Windows XP.

You can back up the entire user profile. This is the default Administrator profile in Windows XP.
You can back up the entire user profile. This is the default Administrator profile in Windows XP.

 

Don’t bother backing up the “Windows” or “Program Files” folders, since you can’t restore your Operating System or your programs without completely reinstalling them.

 

 

 

Help, My Hard Drive Failed!

Why do some hard drives crash and others seem to run forever? Most of the time you probably replace a computer before your hard drive stops working, but if you let them run long enough every hard drive will crash, fail or die.

There are 3 types of hard drive failure you have to concerned about.

First, there’s a physical problem with the drive. The most common things that fail are the PCB board, or the chips or power connector on the board, but there are dozens of moving parts in a typical IDE or SATA hard drive and they can all fail. I explain this kind of failure in more detail here. Symptoms vary. If there’s certain physical damage you may hear a loud clicking noise. Sometimes if the heads are stuck on the platter you’ll hear more of a buzzing or beeping noise. Or if the power connector is damaged, you may hear nothing- no spinning, no whirring- and the drive may not be seen by Windows at all.

The green circuit board seen on the underside of this hard drive is the PCB board. The little black chips contain the firmware. At the bottom right you can see the gold data and power connectors.
The green circuit board seen on the underside of this hard drive is the PCB board. The little black chips contain the firmware, which is the software that tells the drive how to function. At the bottom right you can see the gold data and power connectors.

Your hard drive can also crash if it has too many bad sectors. Sectors are small clusters of storage space that hold your data. When a sector goes bad, software on the drive is supposed to try to move the data to a good sector, and mark the bad one so it never gets written to again. In some cases, sectors can become so damaged that the computer can have trouble reading the data, lock up, refuse to boot or crash.

in this example, the hard drive shows problems with the reallocated sectors count, the current pending sectors count and the uncomfortable sectors count. Each variable has exceeded the allowable threshold, so the data on this drive needs to be backed up right away.

CrystalDiskInfo has reported sector problems with this hard drive.
CrystalDiskInfo has reported sector problems with this hard drive.

The second possibility is called logical failure. This is not a problem with the physical drive itself but with the file system on the drive. Imagine your hard drive is a library, and the files on it are books. Your computer has its own version of a card catalog to find the books, called a File Allocation Table, or FAT. If the FAT is corrupted, Windows can’t find the files it needs to run Windows, and you will be unable to boot. This can be caused from a virus infection, system driver conflicts, damaged Windows files and other software issues. In most cases I can perform a data recovery if this is your problem. I can back your files up to a good hard drive or flash drive, wipe your drive and reload windows with a new FAT. Then I can transfer your files back over to your new Windows installation. I can backup any user created files (photos, documents, music, videos, etc) but not your programs – I would need the software and licensing information or serial numbers to reload your software.

One of the most common errors when your hard drive has a logical error,
One of the most common errors when your hard drive has a logical error,

External hard drives are susceptible to physical and logical issues as well, but they also have a potential problem that doesn’t exist in internal hard drives.  External drives are really just an internal hard drive in a fancy enclosure so you can connect them with a cable and move them around from place to place. The enclosure has its own power supply and data connector and sometimes these die or break after dropping the drive. In that case, the hard drive itself may work perfectly and the enclosure itself may be the issue.

 

Two different external drives. The one on the left has a larger desktop hard drive inside which requires a power adapter and the one on the right contains a USB powered laptop drive inside.
Two different external drives. The one on the left has a larger desktop hard drive inside which requires a power adapter and the one on the right contains a USB powered laptop drive inside.

 

With all ways your hard drive can fail, this is a good time to remind you, please keep an updated backup of your files. Spending $100 on an external hard drive or a cloud backup service can save  $1000 in data recovery fees, so backup, backup and then backup again.

Whatever issue you may be having with your hard drive, or if you need to create a backup plan for your data, feel free to contact me for help.