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Repurposing your old computer

You’re sat waiting for your ageing PC or Apple Mac to boot, thinking “maybe its time to buy another one?”. You can pick up a new PC for less than £200… with an operating system, which seems crazy cheap but in this age of throw away tech, it seems to be the way that most manufacturers are moving. Even the high end MacBook Pro laptops are not built as well as you might think, but their price point suggests otherwise.

What if you could repurpose your old laptop, PC or Apple Mac to be as fast as the day it were born? There is no special magic or sauce here. No clever dongle that promises to boost the speed of all the components on board. The potential solution comes from something called Linux.

You may have heard of Linux or perhaps Ubuntu. Linux is another Operating system, just like Mac OS or Windows. The difference is that most Linux distributions (we call them distros) are free to download and install. They come with a raft of tools to rival many Microsoft or Apple software and if installed correctly, Linux can provide a boost of speed and give new purpose to an otherwise perfectly good but ageing computer.

Now, lets be clear, you’re not going to get Microsoft Internet Explorer or Edge. Your not going to get Word, Excel, Powerpoint or Outlook on Linux (at least not yet), but you can get some very good alternatives such as Libre Office for your Office siute replacement, Mozilla Firefox or Chromium to replace Internet Explorer/Edge and Mozilla Thunderbird to replace Outlook for email, making this a perfectly useable internet ready PC once more.

If you’re confident to have a go at installing Linux yourself, then head over to https://www.ubuntu.com/#download and download the desktop version yourself. However if you would like to discuss this further, drop us a line and we can provide a personalised quotation for installing a new Linux operating system and all the software you may need.

Data Backup

Backup, Backup and Backup

One of the most common issues I encounter when fixing a computer is the lack of regular backup. If the computer that I’m asked to fix has a faulty Hard Disk Drive or SSD, then its likely that some/all data on that drive will be lost… forever.

There are some software tricks we can employ to try and get the data, but if the disk itself simply will not start, then recovery of important thinsg such as family photos, important documents, emails, family videos etc. is increasingly slim and also increasingly expensive, running into £1000s to send the disk away to a special dust free laboratory where engineers will try (and there are no guarantees) to recover as much data as they can.

These days, there really isn’t any excuse not to have some kind of backup in place, whether thats a second USB Hard Disk that you plug in each week or month, or perhaps an online solution such as our own Cloud backup solution, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsofts OneDrive, or even perhaps whats called a NAS (Network Attached Storage is an unassuming box of disks that acts as a kind of central repository for all your backup files across all your devices). I’ll talk about NAS boxes and options in a future Blog entry.

Many of the online solutions (including own own) provide some free space to start you off. If you already subscribe to Microsofts own Office 365, you’ll have 1TB (1 Terabyte or 1000 Gigabyes) of online storage included, so what are you waiting for? Don’t put off setting up a backup until its too late.

 

 

internet security child family

Protecting your family online

Protection for the Family

There are plenty of services and software that help to protect you and your loved ones online from nasty website, phishing attacks, viruses and malware. I read a recent article http://robert.ocallahan.org/2017/01/disable-your-antivirus-software-except.html and wondered if anti-virus was more of a hinderance than a help? Now the caveat. If you’re using copied/hacked/illegally downloaded  software or if you frequent dubious sites then you might wish to consider some options to protect yourself, using one of the many anti-virus solutions out there. After all you really don’t know how the software has been modified or even if the software you’ve procured is indeed what it says it is.

For the rest of us I do wonder if a constantly running anti-virus solution is actually having a negative effect on our PCs, especially lower end ones? I’ve decided to uninstall my kaspersky anti-virus software, which incidentally I purchased as it supposedly had the smallest footprint and the lowest impact of many of the mainstream anti-virus solutions out there, and I’ve promoted Microsofts Windows Defender to the forefront once more.

But that’s not all, an anti-virus solution will only protect the PC its running on and I wanted to also provide web safety for my family too. My two young children (9 and 12) have their own PCs and tablets and are regularly online these days. They are confronted with the World Wide Web in its entirety. From the BBCs Timmy Time to less suitable website starring naked men and women carrying out all kinds of sexual acts. An innocent search online can lead to some really worrying websites.

Many ISPs now offer free family safety solutions directly through their service and these can be turned on and off theorh the ISPs own control panel. However they may not give you much control over what you deem to be suitable content for your children or even adults. That’s where OpenDNS comes in. OpenDNS acts as a gatekeeper of sorts to the web, filtering out domain names and web services that fall into specific categories such as alcohol, dating, gambling, weapons and pornography to name a few. There are four pre-configured levels of protection, high, moderate, low and none and if these aren’t enough you can also customise the categories chosen as well.

In addition to this, you can also specify domain names that might not fit into any of these categories in a white or black list, allowing you to block everything except bbc.co.uk for example.

This is all carried out by modifying two settings  in your router/modem called the DNS servers. Its these DNS servers that are the signposts to websites, so essentially OpenDNS stops some of these signposts from working. Nice!

If you configure the DNS at the router/modem level, each and every device that uses that routers connectivity, whether that’s wired or wireless would typically use these DNS settings so there’s normally little else to do. Of course, there’s a way around this and that’s to configure your device to not use the OpenDNS servers but perhaps use Googles own DNS (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4). If a PC or mobile was manually configured to use anything other than OpenDNS, you would  essentially bypass the security offered but most kids won’t know where to look (at least not until their teenage years).

Getting rid of adverts/speeding up web browsing

Another issue that many of us have is the incessant advertising we receive in websites and also in games. You have to remember that advertising funds the future development of websites and games and many developers rely on it to keep their services essentially “free”. The moment you stop ads being delivered, that’s also stopping their revenue. That said, I found that adverts were making my little netbook grind to a halt. Many adverts now are video based while some contain mini games and once you’ve downloaded three or four of these per page, a low end device really starts to crawl.

You can get around this by installing ad blocker software or plugins on your browser and on each and every device that you wish to block ads. This will certainly speed up browsing, but there’s a trade off as the ad blocker itself typically uses processing power to block ads. But there is a better way to block ads across your entire home network with nothing more than a Raspberry Pi and a single line of code.

Something called pi-hole recently came to my attention, so I spent a little time booting up my old Raspberry Pi 1, installing a fresh version of Raspbian Operating System and then running the pi-hole command. Within minutes I had a dedicated DNS server which uses OpenDNS as the Upstream DNS Servers. What does all that mean? Well essentially, pi-hole has a huge list of all the domains that tend to serve ads and it downloads them to itself. You then tell your home devices to use the pi-hole as their DNS server either by configuring your router (see above) or by manually adding the pi-hole IP address as the DNS server to each PC/phone/tablet. When your device makes a request to a domain that’s listed in pi-hole, the ad is essentially blocked before its even downloaded. The great thing about pi-hole is that you can use it in tandem with openDNS, giving you dual protection.

Pi-hole is free software and a Raspberry Pi with a case, SDCard and power supply would set you back around £45.

So whats next? Now that my little Raspberry Pis running again and feeling quite proud of itself, I’m going to see how well a Minecraft Server will run from it while pi-hole is running.

Strong-Password

How secure is my password

A question that we get asked regularly is “how secure is my password” and there unfortunately is no simple answer, however it is possible to figure out roughly how vulnerable you might be. There are some simple rules that we should follow when it comes to password creation and I’ve listed these below:

  1. make sure your passwords are at least 16 characters long
  2. use a different password for each service you use
  3. ensure that your password is not based on a dictionary word (in any language) or indeed any word that might be easy to guess
  4. ensure that your password contains a variety of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and also special characters such as $ % and * for example
  5. change your passwords every 3 months

Thats actually quite a daunting list but according to tools online such as http://random-ize.com/how-long-to-hack-pass/ my newly created password that fits all the above criteria might take 420,805,123,888,006 years and 6 months to crack. Thats a long long time but even thats not stricty accurate and I may discuss this in a future blog article, but simply mention “Moores Law” or more the death of Moores Law and the advent of Quantum Computing. As a comparison the password “password” can be guessed within 1 minute and 13 seconds, and thats if the computer doing the guessing isn’t cycling through commonly used passwords first.

If we consider that the only way we’re likely to remember these passwords is to use a piece of software such as a bespoke password manager, or even the web browser itself as many of them offer the ability to remember passswords or perhaps spreadsheet then ideally we should also be password protecting this source too, in case our computer gets hacked and vital data is exposed to the hacker. We could write them all down on a piece of paper and file that away, however my writing is atrocious and did I write a “1” or an “l”, a “O” or a “0”.

The more pressing issue is remembering all these passwords for each and every service. If we were to follow the above 5 points then I expect that we would be continually requesting password reminders. But is that really such a bad thing? After all if we’re asking for a password reset every time we need to log in, we’re potentially fulfilling point 5 while of course fulfilling all the other points as well?