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Are you at risk of being hacked?

Today is #WorldPasswordDay. Do you use the same password over and over again? Hopefully not, but if you do, and a hacker gets access to one of the accounts they can get access to all of them. Hackers are buying compromised user data online on hacker websites, and either trying those login credentials at other sites, or they are attempting to blackmail users via a scam email. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that everyone use unique passwords on every website, but remembering all of those passwords is virtually impossible. A very good solution is to use a password manager program.

There are numerous password manager programs available. Most have you remember one password, then keep the others locked away in a password “vault”. Some keep the password “vault” file on your device locally, others are cloud based which allows them to be used on multiple devices. I looked for one that was easy to use, worked on multiple operating systems (Windows, Android, Apple iOS), had positive reviews, and had a good free version as well as a premium version. I have been using LastPass for a over a year now, and have installed it for many customers. I have received positive feedback from those who have been using it.

If you are interested in having me install and demo LastPass Password Manager program, please contact me at (920) 735-1806 to setup an appointment.

Are you protected against these cyber threats?

As the online landscape changes, and new cyber threats emerge, cyber security has to adjust and change. Using just the security software that comes pre-installed with your Windows computer is not enough. I have been looking for solutions to the following items that I have seen customers become victimized by in the past few years.

Patching outdated software

A key component of staying safe online is keeping your computer up-to-date. Hackers and virus writers love targeting outdated software. Outdated software often contains security vulnerabilities, bugs, and performance issues that are often resolved in the latest version. These are some of the reasons why it’s essential to keep the apps updated (or “patched”). Finding an easy way for my customers to update their outdated software, like Java and Adobe Flash which hackers were actively exploiting, lead me to become a contributor for Patch My PC.

Identity Theft

Reusing the same password on different sites was not an issue until hackers started selling compromised data which identity thieves have used to compromise other websites. It is now imperative to use different, unique passwords on every website that you visit. To help with this daunting task I can install and demo a password manager program which stores your passwords and other data in a “vault” and which you need to remember only one password to access the saved password info. It can also give you a “security score” which helps identify reused and weak passwords.

Tech Support Scams

Tech support scammers have victimized unsuspecting users through rogue ads and malicious websites. Installing an ad-blocker and an add-on that blocks malicious websites, clickbait links, unwanted cryptocurrency miners can help reduce the risk of a tech support scam or a browser hijacker taking over their computer.

Ransomware

Ransomware continues to be a major concern. Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts a victim’s files. The attacker then demands a ransom from the victim to restore access to the data upon payment. Anti-ransomware software should be installed, as well as taking extra precautions and having offsite backups. I have partnered with Malwarebytes and Dr. Backup to provide my customers with affordable solutions to address these issues.

Please contact Esser Consulting, LLC at (920) 735-1806 for help with addressing these cyber threats.

What to do if your hard drive crashes

Your computer’s hard drive is a piece of equipment, and like any other piece of equipment (ie: your car’s water pump, your washer, dryer, or dishwasher) it will eventually break. It is not a matter of if your computer hard drive will crash, but when. I strongly recommend backing up your files on a regular basis, but what if you aren’t doing that, or if your backups for some reason fail?

Gillware brochure

Sometimes your files can be recovered by a local computer repair company like Esser Consulting, LLC.  But what happens if your hard drive is unresponsive, is making a clicking noise, or is damaged and files cannot be recovered locally? If your files are important enough, then it is time to contact a company that specializes in data recovery.

Esser Consulting, LLC is a Gillware Data Recovery Trusted Partner. If your hard drive crashes and you need your data files – pictures, Word documents, Excel Spreadsheets, e-mails, music files or other data – recovered, call Gillware at 877-624-7206 and use referral code  8247. You will receive free inbound shipping, free evaluation, and $25 off when you use this referral code.

I have been referring data recovery customers to Gillware for several years now, and they have been very successful recovering people’s data files. They also recover files from smart phones and tablets, DVRs, USB flash drives, camera SD and micro SD cards, as well as many other storage devices.

The Problem with Re-Using Passwords & a Solution – Password Manager Program

Facebook revealed last week that its platform mistakenly kept a copy of passwords for “hundreds of millions” users in plaintext. If you are one of the affected users, your Facebook and Instagram password was readable to some of the Facebook engineers who have internal access to the servers and the database. As of now, Facebook says that no one outside of their company had access to these passwords, and that there was no abuse internally by Facebook staff members.

This leads to another issue that people need to be aware of – the problem of reusing the same password on multiple sites. For example, is your Facebook password also your email password? If one of the sites is compromised, all of your sites are compromised. Hackers are buying compromised user data online on hacker websites, and either trying those login credentials at other sites, or they are attempting to blackmail users via a scam email. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that everyone use unique passwords on every website, but remembering all of those passwords is virtually impossible. A very good solution is to use a password manager program.

There are numerous password manager programs available. Most have you remember one password, then keep the others locked away in a password “vault”. Some keep the password “vault” file on your device locally, others are cloud based which allows them to be used on multiple devices. I looked for one that was easy to use, worked on multiple operating systems (Windows, Android, Apple iOS), had positive reviews, and had a good free version as well as a premium version. I have been using LastPass for a few weeks now, and have installed it for several people. I have received positive feedback from those who have been using it.

If you are interested in having me install and demo LastPass Password Manager program, please contact me at (920) 735-1806 to setup an appointment.

FBI recommends routers be power cycled to disrupt malware infection

The FBI recommends that small office and home office routers be power cycled – rebooted or unplugged for a few seconds, then plugged back in – to disrupt possible malware infection. The firmware (software that controls hardware) for these devices should also be updated to the latest version. Contact Esser Consulting LLC for help. More info: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2018/180525.asp

True Christmas story (from a few years ago)

The following is a true story from a few years ago.

A dad found a laptop on sale and bought it as a last minute Christmas present for his family. It was opened on Christmas day, and his son, little Johnny, immediately wanted to play with it. Unfortunately, within an hour or two of playing games on it, Johnny called to his parents and asked them to fix it. A ton of pop-ups and other items had gotten onto the computer. Even after restarting the computer, the pop-ups kept coming back.

I received a frantic phone call that night from their dad. He explained what had happened, and asked if I could fix it and “work my magic” on it. I did a factory reset, then added Computer Maintenance and Security items to it, including anti-virus and anti-malware programs, as well as ad blockers and updates to Microsoft and other programs. I also optimized the start menu so that it was running better than new. Upon returning the laptop to him, the father thanked me, and explained that they were planning on having me look at during the week after Christmas, but he never realized what could happen. Lesson learned. Be careful using a computer right out of the box. Make sure that you have it professionally setup.

Contact Esser Consulting, LLC, a better Business Bureau Accredited Business, at (920) 735-1806.

Online Security Tips for Shopping on Cyber Monday (or any other day)

Shopping online on Cyber Monday (or any other day)? Here Are Some Online Security Tips:

  • Use a credit card, not a debit card. Better recourse. Better protection vs. fraud.
  • Consider using a separate credit card, with a smaller credit limit, for shopping online.
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi. Too easy for data to be stolen, or to connect to an unsecured or spoofed hotspots. Mobile users should use their data plans instead of public Wi-Fi.
  • Only shop on secure sites. Look for https (s=security) and padlock.
  • Be careful when clicking on links. Make sure you are on the correct website and that you spelled the website name correctly. Signs of some spoofed websites include bad spelling and poor grammar. It is very easy for hackers to spoof legitimate websites.
  • Make sure that your web browser, operating system and other software such as Adobe Flash Player are updated to the latest versions. Outdated software is more vulnerable to being compromised. Latest browser updates warn about insecure sites. For Windows computers I recommend using Patch My PC.
  • Use good passwords. Make sure they are different on each site. Longer passwords are more secure. Use capital and small letters, numbers and characters. Using unique passwords is especially important as hackers are testing passwords compromised on a breached account on other accounts.
  • Review your statements. Beware of small charges on your card. Hackers use them to “test” your account. Report any discrepancies to your card company.
  • Beware of pop-up and other digital ads that are not from the store’s official social media page. If you have to answer questions (survey scam) or share on Facebook for a deal that is too good to be true, it’s probably not legit.
  • If using a mobile device, only download and install apps from the O/S official store (Google Play, Apple iTunes, Microsoft App). Also, install a security app, and keep your apps and O/S up-to-date.

Cyber Security

Cyber breaches are becoming a daily occurrence. Whether you are part of a large company, small company, governmental unit, or using your home computer or mobile device, you are at risk if you don’t take proper precautions to secure your systems. What are the risks and what should be done?

Getting a virus by clicking on an infected email attachment or visiting a compromised website can let a hacker access your account, take over your computer, even encrypt your files, in effect holding them hostage. Hackers have targeted not only victims who can afford paying larger ransoms, such as hospitals and others in the medical industry, but also individuals and businesses of all sizes.

A compromised email account can lead to identity theft. The hacker can send out email from your account, request money be transferred, or reset passwords and take over any account connected to that email account. CEO spoofing has lead to millions in unauthorized money transfers as well as theft of employee and customer data.

Adware, spyware and other malicious software (malware) can also slow down your computer, change your home page or search settings, and redirect your web surfing, possibly resulting in a more serious problem. Compromised ads have been linked to ransomware infections in addition to hackers being able to remotely controlling computer systems.

Users need to be educated to be on the lookout for cyber threats. Beware of spoofed emails which will try to get them to open a virus-infected attachment or click on a link to a malicious website. Only install programs and updates from trusted sources. Even the best security precautions cannot prevent a careless user from causing serious damage.

Backups need to be done on a regular basis. A copy should be kept locally as well as remotely. Off site backups are important because ransomware can infect USB and network attached drives. If a machine becomes compromised, it should be immediately disconnected from the network to prevent other machines or your network storage drives from being infected.

Security measures including anti-virus, anti-malware, firewall, intrusion detection and prevention software needs to be installed, updated and monitored on a regular basis. E-mail filtering needs to be done to block spam and virus infected emails from reaching end-users. Mobile devices also need security software installed.

Operating system and other software updates also need to be done on a regular basis. Unpatched systems might contain a security vulnerability or “hole” that can provide hackers and virus writers with access to your computer.

Passwords need to be changed on a regular basis. Password cracking programs can guess any word, including slang and obscene words. Use a mixture of small and capital letters, numbers and special characters. Longer passwords are much harder to compromise. Three letters, three numbers and the shift key can result in an easy to remember 12 character password.

Being vigilant and taking the proper precautions can significantly reduce the chance of being a victim of cyber related problem.

Curt Esser is the owner of Esser Consulting LLC, a BBB Accredited Business specializing in Computer Consulting, Internet Security and Privacy. He is also a contributor for PatchMyPC, a free, easy-to-use program that keeps over 100 programs up-to-date on your computer. He can be reached at (920) 735-1806 or cesser@esserconsulting.com.
(This article was originally published in the October 2016 WI Better Business Bureau newsletter for Cyber Security Month.)

The Importance of Keeping Your Computer Patched

A key component of staying safe online is keeping your computer up-to-date. Hackers and virus writers love outdated software. It might contain a security vulnerability or “hole” that can provide them with access to your computer. Outdated software can also be buggy, or have performance issues, which are usually fixed with a newer version of the software. These are two of the main reasons why it is important to keep the software on your computer updated (or “patched”).

Microsoft, Adobe, and occasionally Oracle release updates or patches regularly to keep their products secure. These updates are normally released on the second Tuesday of the month, which is known as “Patch Tuesday”. Microsoft’s updates can be installed manually or automatically. I recommend doing them manually, as a computer restart is usually required. You can also check to make sure that they were installed correctly.

Several years ago I was looking for an easy way for my customers to keep Adobe’s Flash Player and Oracle’s Java updated. I came across Patch My PC, and after corresponding with the developer, was asked to join the team as a contributor. Patch My PC Updater is a free, easy-to-use program that keeps over 100 programs up-to-date on your computer. It is also an easy way to install any of these programs on to your computer. Scammers and hackers sometimes trick people into installing fake updates for these programs. Patch My PC is a safe and secure program which ensures that you are installing the valid program.

Whether you are a computer novice, semi-tech savvy, the go-to tech person for your family and friends, or an IT professional, Patch My PC Updater will make patching your PC easy. It can be downloaded from this link: https://patchmypc.net/download.

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Esser Consulting, LLC
Curt Esser

2410 S. Kerry Lane
Appleton, WI 54915-1665

(920) 735-1806
cesser@esserconsulting.com

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