We hear it all the time, “My computer won’t start, saying disk not found”, “I opened an email and now I can’t open my files”, “My external hard drive where I keep all my photos isn’t detecting”.

And our first question to any of these is “Do you have any backups?”

There are so many ways that you can lose your data that it’s quite alarming how many of us don’t backup our files.

Situations Where Backups Can Help

If your computer dies from a hardware fault, it’s quite easy to get back up either with a repair or a replacement.  But if you lose all your data including your photos, they are potentially gone forever.  The simplest way to protect your data is to have at least one copy of it on an external hard drive.  The more copies you have, the less chance there is of losing all your data.

It is also important to do backups properly.  Like everything else in the technological world, backups will fail sooner or later.  Investing in a professional to setup your backup, make sure it works and provide some training will ensure you backups will run smoothly for a long time.

Backup options

We recommend and use Storage Craft Shadow Protect as it is a full featured backup software solution.  It has software for you desktop PC up to your file server at your office.  The backups from Storage Craft are an image based backup solution, allowing us to restore the system to a previous point in time with all software and files back how they were at that particular time.  You know the saying, “don’t put all your eggs in the same basket”, So we like to configure Storage Craft with a set of at least 3 external drives, 1 that’s currently being backed up, 1 in transit and 1 that’s offsite at a secure location.

Cloud based backups

Another option for saving your files is using a cloud service like Dropbox or One Drive.  Both offer a free amount of storage before you need to buy a plan to get more storage.  Cloud storage has become a lot more robust and secure over the years, now offering options like file history allowing you to go back to a previous version of a file.  It also allows you to access your files from the cloud anywhere in the world with an active internet connection.

Set & Forget?

We would love to just be able to set up a backup and never have to worry about it, but sadly that’s not the case.  Ideally it is a good idea to check your backups periodically to ensure they are working efficiently and effectively.  You don’t want to go to your backups in a time of need and find they haven’t been working for the last month.

Should I Backup Up My Smart Phone?

Another thing to consider is your smart phone.  When’s the last time you backed it up?  How many photos have you taken since the last time you backed it up.  We rely on our smart phones more and more, however problems arise when they fail, are dropped or end up in the toilet.  Making sure you have a regular schedule to back up your smart phone can ease the anguish when your device may inevitably fail.

By now you have probably heard of the CryptoLocker malware, by firsthand accounts or even on the news.  This is very prevalent on the Sunshine Coast and has affected many local businesses. It is part of a nasty class of software known as ransomware, malware that adversely affects a victim’s computer, and demands a ransom be paid in order to restore functionality.  Although ransomware has existed for many years, CryptoLocker’s release in 2013 caused a massive increase in reported cases, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing.

What is Encryption?

The modern forms of ransomware take the form of malicious email attachments or URL links that subversively downloads a file to the victim’s PC which then begins encrypting the user’s photos, videos and documents. Strong Encyption is basically locking files away behind a very long password that cannot be cracked except in very rare cases. The malicious program that encrypts the files holds this key and will request the ransom in order to unlock all of your files.

What is Encrpyted?

As well as encrypting local files on the computer, the malware will also encrypt any other computers with shares on the network. This will include devices like NAS Storage devices or even Servers or other computers. Encrypted files will appear with different extensions – often .enc or .encrypted and will not be able to be opened. Once infection is underway, users will receive a message file (often dropped into every folder as “HOW_TO_UNENCRPYT.txt” informing them that their files have been encrypted, and directs them to a bitcoin payment site where the victim must pay a ransom in order to receive access to their files again.

In some rare cases, it can be possible to recover these files using what’s called Shadow Copies.  This technology is used by Windows to take automatic backup copies of files and folders in case of data loss.  Unfortunately, most modern ransomware software deletes these automatic copies as part of its infection routine, and thus is not reliable as a backup solution or ransomware prevention method.

Although CryptoLocker and other ransomware like it can prove devastating to those unprepared it is still malware and, just like all malware, there are steps that you can take in order to prevent it.

Preparation and Vigilance

The most effective means of avoiding infection by ransomware is preparation and vigilance.  As mentioned above, the most common method of infection is by attachments and website links attached to emails.  These emails can appear to be from well-known companies (previous examples include Australia Post, AGL Energy and Optus), friends and family, or work colleagues.  If you receive an email that contains an attachment of website link, it is better to be safe than sorry, so always triple check its contents before opening anything.

Check Sender Address

In the below example, you can see that although the email appears to be from Australia Post, the sending address is clearly not from an Australia Post official email account, and it appears to simply be a free email account created through Yahoo. Don’t trust anything that is not from the website you know such as the official Australia Post website auspost.com.au.

AUsPost-CryptoLocker

Check all Hyperlinks

In this example it wants you to click a link with the get parcel info to find out why it hasn’t been delivered. This will then download malware to your computer which when you run it will encrypt all your files.Note again the sender address is nothing like what you would expect.

Australia Post Scam Email

If the suspect email contains links rather than attachments, there are also ways of checking them before opening.  Without clicking on the link, simply hover your mouse over it.  This will display the actual text link that the email is trying to send you to.  In the case below, the sender claims to be from AGL Energy, telling the recipient that there are overdue fees.  When hovering over the link however, we can see that instead of the correct URL from AGL (agl.com.au), the link is a Russian address and not an official AGL Energy domain, and thus is almost certainly a malicious link that would try to download ransomware to the system. Don’t click this link!

AGL-CryptoLocker

Call the Sending Company

Whenever in doubt, the safest option is to call the person or company that appears to have sent the email to confirm that it is safe to open; remember to look their phone number up yourself, as the phone numbers included on the emails will often be false.  It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Help with Prevention

Aside from monitoring your emails, there is a range of software products available to help prevent ransomware attacks.  At OJ Networks, we have had some success with a program called CryptoPrevent.  A dedicated anti-ransomware suite, this program stops ransomware by preventing programs from running executable files (which are used to install the malware) in many of the locations that are used by CryptoLocker and other malware.  The rise of ransomware in recent times has meant that most good antivirus software has tools to combat it, and it is more important to make sure your PC is protected.

The Only Real Solution: Backups, Backups, Backups

Finally, perhaps most important is keeping a regular and up to date backup solution for your PC.  If the worst does happen, and you become infected, the last thing you want to do is hand over your hard earned money to the people who are holding you data to ransom.  With a solid backup solution, not only are you protected from malware attacks, you guard yourself against data loss, accidental deletions, computer hardware faults, and much more.  It really is invaluable if you used your computer to hold important information, personal photos and business documents.  One important thing to note with backups is that they too can become encrypted by ransomware if the USB drive you are storing them on is attached to your PC at the time of infection.  For this reason, we recommend that after you take a backup of your system and documents, you remove the USB drive from your PC and store it safely.

For business users, we take the next step and implement a full backup rotation of drives, often up to 5 of them, and couple that with backup software called ShadowProtect.  This powerful program allows us to manage multiple instances of backups over large periods of time, which allows for archival backups stretching back months in addition to the safety of having multiple backups spread over many devices and locations.  Another great benefit of using ShadowProtect is real time data recovery.  If only a few files are lost and damaged we can simply “load” a backup from before the time of data loss, and copy only what is needed rather than implementing a full data restore.  This can be invaluable for businesses who rely on server uptime and cannot afford the time for a full recovery.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen Windows 10 begin to roll out to computers across the world.  As people have begun to take advantage of the free upgrade offered to them, some of our clients have come to us with a peculiar error that prevented Microsoft Outlook from being able to send email after they completed their Windows 10 upgrade.

Users first notice that no emails they send are getting through, and a small SEND/RECEIVE ERROR is displayed in the bottom right of the screen:

SENDRECEIEVE ERROR

When expanded, this error shows itself in more detail:
Sending reported error (0X800CCC13).  ‘Cannot connect to the network.  Verify your network connection or modem.’

Error

Upon verifying that all the SMTP, username and password settings, were correct, we eventually came across the solution; running a command in order to correct missing or corrupt system files in Windows.  This command is known as the System File Checker, and below I will run through the process involved in invoking the program using a command prompt command:

  1. First of all, we need to open the command prompt.  Right click the Windows button in the bottom left of the screen, and select Command Prompt (Admin).
  2. Enter the following command:

    sfc /scannow

SFC Scnannow

Once completed, you will receive a message confirming that Windows found some corrupt or missing files, and that it has repaired them successfully.

Load up Outlook, and check that your emails are now sending!

If you are still having issues, there is still hope.  Another command that other users have found helped them out is using the NetShell utility from the command prompt, similar to the solution we provided above.

  1. Open the command prompt once more by right clicking the Windows button in the bottom left of the screen, and select Command Prompt (Admin).
  2. Enter the following commands:

    netshwinsock reset

This handy set of commands will reset your network adapter to its default settings, and hopefully get you going again.

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OJ Networks prides itself on the Professional and  value for money IT services we provide on the Sunshine Coast. Since our incorporation in 2010 we have kept our fees at the same low rate. Recently the cost of business has increased and our fees will be increasing for the first time.

Please see the table below for the new fees applicable from 1 July 2015.

Service Before 1 July 2015 From 1 July 2015
Ad Hoc Business Hours IT Support
(Remote/On-site in Coolum Area/Additional Hours Onsite outside Coolum Area)
$80 + GST $90 +  GST
Ad Hoc First Hour On-site IT Support (Outside Coolum Area) $100 + GST $110 + GST
Ad Hoc Web Development and Maintenance $80 + GST $90 + GST

Managed Services Fees will not change and clients on Managed Services Agreements will not see a change in their fees.

We look forward to provide the same high quality of service our customers have come to expect.

We had a problem recently where we replaced the external backup drives on a client’s 2008 r2 server with a new suite of Samsung m3 portable 2tb USB 3.0 drives. The problem is that when the drives were plugged into the server on any USB port, they were detected as USB devices fine but did not appear in Windows Explorer. We checked in Disk Management and the drives appear ok but do not offer a drive letter. Also, the only option when right-clicking on the drive in Disk Management is to convert to a dynamic disk. There is no option to change drive letter.

Background

After some research it was determined that the physical sector size on these drives was 4KB. Drives with physical sector size of 4KB represent the latest technology and as they are transitioning from the traditional 512 byte sectors which has existed since drives were measured in megabytes. The physical sector size represents the smallest unit that will be consumed even when the file being written is smaller. Years ago it would matter if a few Kilobytes were wasted but as the size of storage drives continually expanding, it makes sense for the physical sector size to grow too. A larger physical sector size means less error checking (ECC) required and therefore faster access.

It turns out that a lot of these Advanced Format Disk that have a 4KB physical sector size do still have the capability to be backwards compatible with 512 byte physical sector size systems. They do this by changing their logical addressing system to 512 bytes although their physical sectors remain at 4k. They are known as 512-byte emulation disks.

We did a check of the drives using FSUtil on a windows 8 machine which supports these drives natively…

Fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo [driveletter]

It shows the Physical and logical “Bytes per sector” value. The drives we had were emulation disks.

Solution

Apparently this Server 2008 r2 had some issues seeing these drives properly. To solve this issue we installed the…

Microsoft KB 982018 – An update that improves the compatibility of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 with Advanced Format Disks is available

and rebooted the server. The drives magically appeared with a drive letter and the correct sizing for 2tb.

The strange thing is that this update is supposed to be contained within SP1 of Server 2008 r2 which this server already had. Maybe the USB subsystem just needed to be reset in some way that this update helped with. In any case – if you are addressing this problem it might be worth a try!

 

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The screenshot attached to this post will provide a good laugh to anyone that knows Windows. What the supposed “Windows Technical Support” expert has done here is type commands like “14 Trojans Found”, “Drivers Corrupt” and “Hackers to Network”! into command prompt and then tell the computer owner that their computer is infected and needs a lot of work to fix.

When you get an issue on your computer please think about taking it to someone local. What our customer has done in this case is had a problem with her laptop display and googled for free windows support. They have started an email or online chat and the person that has answered from some country overseas has then convinced them to start a gotomeeting (www.fastsupport.com). This allows the remote user to gain access to your computer. They then tried to convince the customer that they needed a lot of work done and it will cost $x. Of course, once they are in they can install whatever they like and in cases like this will do absolutely nothing to fix your pc – in fact they will probably install trojans and malware so they can use your computer or get in again in the future.

Luckily for this customer they thought twice before proceeding and brought the laptop in to us to have a look. When we saw the command prompt window we had a laugh. It may not be so funny if you part with hard earned cash to these scammers though. Please use someone local and reputable – it may seem more expensive than free or super cheap online support but is it really?

External hard drives are not immune to having issues.

They are often transported around and bumped and knocked more than a drive in your computer. Many people consider these USB drives as a “backup” device and then proceed to place the only copy of their information on them.

Remember that in order for it to be a backup it needs to be a copy of the information stored on your main hard drive.

In the case where your external hard drive is not responding, the data may still be accessible. There is a controller on most external drives that may be malfunctioning.  In this case we can remove the drive and put it into a new external caddy to get it working again. In some cases through the actual drive is faulty and the data may not be able to be retrieved.

Which is why you should only keep a backup copy of your data on there!

Drop in or give us a call if you have any issues with external USB drives on the Sunshine Coast.

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If you have a multi-storey home or a very long one that is made of concrete, you may find that the Wi-Fi signal from your modem/router doesn’t carry right through the house. This can be frustrating as your mobile devices keep switching back to 3g when they lose the signal.

There are a couple of options to fix the issue.

One is a wireless repeater. This is an access point placed within wireless range that connects wirelessly to your existing router. It boosts the wireless signal from its position. With this solution results vary widely and even change day-to-day.

A much better solution we have found is to use Powerline devices. These connect into the 240v power system of your house to work as a substitute for Ethernet (blue cables). Plug one in where your router is and connect it into the router. Plug the other one in out near the dead spot and you will have a solid Wi-Fi connection throughout your house. Powerline devices do rely on the power outlets being on the same phase and circuit. We have Powerline devices in stock and can install and configure them on-site if you are faced with this issue.

Microsoft has announced that it will be doubling the storage provided to 50GB from the current 25GB provided. Most users probably haven’t reached the ceiling of 25GB yet however it makes what is already a very attractive enterprise-grade email solution even better.

The mailbox size will be automatically implemented so Exchange Online Users will not have to do anything in order to benefit. If you are currently holding your old emails in a local archive PST, it might be a great time to upload all that content into the cloud so it is easily accessible from all your devices.

For more information on Exchange Online, please see our dedicated Exchange Online page. We are reseller for Microsoft Cloud Solutions and experts in converting businesses over to Exchange Online – the best hosted cloud email solution. We have found it makes the world of difference to businesses still running traditional POP or IMAP email services. If your business is still running on POP mail give us a call and find out about the many benefits.

When you try to receive mail that is over 10mb into an Exchange 2010 mailbox, the sender may receive this bounce back error.

#550 5.2.3 RESOLVER.RST.SendSizeLimit.Org; message too large for this organization ##

Your Exchange 2010 server may need a few settings changed if you want to receive mail of this size.

Due to the way Exchange routes emails we found the following settings helpful if you are using a facility such as popcon to download incoming mail.

  1. Organization Configuration ->Hub Tansport.
    Go to Global Settings -> Transport Settings
    Set the Maximum send and receive size to KB values that suit eg. 20480 for 20mb or 51200 for 50mb
    Exchange increase receiv
  2. Go to Server Configuration ->Hub Transport
    Go through the receive connectors one-by-one and right-click -> Properties
    Exchange Receive Connector
  3. Set the Maximum message size to a size that suits such as 20480 for 20mb and click OK. DO this for all the receive connectors unless you have a special one that you use for a certain purpose and needs to remain lower.
    Exchange Receive Connector

Now the larger messages from outside your organisation should get to their destination mailboxes in your Exchange 2010 Server.