To Firewall or Not To Firewall….

September 14, 2010

If you have ever installed a fully featured Antivirus program, or another security program, you may of been presented with an option to install a firewall, thereby disabling the standard firewall built into Windows.

What is a firewall, and should we keep the Windows firewall, or use the 3rd party software firewall?

A firewall is a hardware of software application that blocks unauthorized access to a computer or network.  It also lets the right kind of access in or out, meaning you can still access the internet and applications you need.

For most small businesses and home users, a software firewall application is suitable.  For larger networks, or high security, a robust hardware solution may be the answer.

There are arguments for using or not using the built in firewall in Windows.

  • FOR – The windows firewall is automatically configured and turned on by default.  You don’t have to do anything to start it up.
  • AGAINST – Microsoft Windows is a huge target for hackers.  They are always looking for ways to find ways into the system.  It may be harder to attack a system with another software firewall running.
  • FOR – If you have a hardware firewall application, or the firewall setup on your router, it does not hurt to keep the Windows Firewall running on your individual computers.
  • AGAINST – A company that specifically makes security software is focused on the purpose of security.  A 3rd party firewall application typically provides greater protection, though it does require more interaction and configuration.

Whatever your decision is, having a firewall running on your computer(s) is a good idea.  There are thousands of viruses, worms, and other threats floating around in cyberspace.

Advertisements

VOIP

August 31, 2010

inQuo Computer Repair in Salt Lake City, inQuo Computer Repair in Salt Lake City, inQuo Computer Support in Utah, inQuo Computer Repair in UtahSo everyone knows that the internet has permeated much of our lives.  One area that this holds very true is voice communications.  Many people have abandoned their old land-lines from the phone company for mobile phones and internet based telephone service

VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol.  When you send an email, download a song, or view a webpage, all the data is sent using small packets.  VOIP works in a similar way, breaking down your conversation into small packets and sent along with all the other internet traffic.

There are several ways to communicate over the internet using VOIP.  A popular commercial option called Vonage allows you to connect a regular telephone to a device that plugs right into your internet connection.  Vonage gives you all of the same features you had with your old phone, but their service is usually less expensive.  The quality of the phone calls is very good, and with cool features like multi-number forwarding and voice mails that are delivered into your email box, you may find the switch to be an easy one.

Another way to communicate over the web is to use Skype.  Skype has a similar commercial service like Vonage, but you can also use their service for free when calling other Skype members.  It is free to join, and does not require any special hardware to be purchased, though if you have a webcam, you can do video telephone calls!

Many businesses have switched from expensive and hard to maintain telephone switches to VOIP systems.  With a new telephone switch costing several thousand dollars, VOIP is a great way to get all the benefits of a multi-line telephone system without a huge cost upfront.


Weird and Wonderful Bluetooth!

May 25, 2010

inQuo Computer Repair in UtahI was recently at my grandmothers house, and she asked me what the heck that thing in my ear was.  As I explained to her what my Bluetooth headset was for, she seemed astounded.  Of course, Grandma is still using a VCR and rabbit ears on her tube TV.

Bluetooth Now

Most people, besides Grandma, have heard of, or use, a Bluetooth device.  Bluetooth technology uses tiny short-range radio signals to connect devices together.  Any Bluetooth device can communicate with another Bluetooth enabled device, regardless of who actually makes the equipment.

Unlike standard wireless network connections, Bluetooth is a short term connection.  Once one of the devices is finished transmitting the data it needs, the connection is terminated.

The most common Bluetooth devices are headsets.  Lightweight and easy on power consumption, Bluetooth headsets make hands-free communication easy and within reach of most people.  Any new cell phone is Bluetooth enabled, and headsets can cost as low as $20.

Other popular Bluetooth devices include keyboards and mice, speakers, stereo headphones, remote control devices and even video transmitters.

Bluetooth in the Future

As more and more devices incorporate this technology, everyday functions like paying for gas, ordering meals, and redeeming coupons may all be done using a handheld device.

The medical field may find dozens of applications for monitoring and maintaining patient’s health using Bluetooth.  Imagine a doctor being able to monitor a patients vital signs as they are sitting in their living room.  How about a lifesaving phone call if an ill person cannot make the call themselves?  Medical testing now involves leads and wires that are intrusive and can sometimes produce inaccurate results.  Bluetooth testing devices may solve some of those issues.

Common household appliances may soon be fitted with Bluetooth hardware, allowing your fridge to alert you if the door has been left open, or your dryer can tell you that your clothes are ready to be folded.  You could use the same handheld device to call your parents, order pizza online and change the channel on your television.

As the technology improves, the quality of data, audio and video should increase, making Bluetooth a universal transmission catalyst.


What is a firewall and why do you need it?

April 13, 2010
A firewall used to refer to the materials in an automobile that would protect the passengers from the heat and elements of the engine compartment.  When it comes to computer networks and the internet, a firewall still protects people.

  • Most large companies with extensive computer networks use sophisticated firewalls to protect their digital assets from outside sources.
  • Firewalls are configured to block most incoming network or internet traffic, but exceptions are made so employee’s can perform their work duties accordingly.
  • Any computer that has Windows XP, Windows Vista, WIndows 7 or Mac OSx has a built in firewall software application.
  • Some viruses and malware are designed to infiltrate, disable or re-configure a firewall in order to give a third party access to the network, computers or websites.
Antivirus and Third-Party Firewall Software

Most antivirus software programs include a personal firewall solution for desktop computer systems.  You can also download third-party firewall programs.

Although the built in firewall in the Windows operating system is generally effective enough in keeping your computer safe on the internet, the reason you may want to consider using another firewall program is that many authors of viruses and malware specifically target Microsoft products.   A third party firewall software may be able to thwart some attacks that a built in firewall may permit.

  • When you install a firewall program, you may notice that some of your programs, internet access or other networking configurations may not work.  You may have to configure your firewall to allow the program configurations to work.
  • File and printer sharing may also stop working.
  • One of the first troubleshooting steps most IT professionals will take is to disable antivirus and firewall software applications to determine if those programs are causing issues.

Utilizing a firewall can be a good way to keep your computers and network safe from intruders on the internet, but be sure to read the instructions or help files to configure the software correctly.


Broadband – Cable vs. DSL – inQuo’s Tech Tip Tuesday Newsletter

March 30, 2010
Broadband internet service is a part of many people’s daily lives, whether at home, at work, with our phones and even at coffee shops and other public locations.  Many terms are used by advertisers and computer nerds, but what do they mean?

Cable and DSL
  • Cable broadband travels over the standard COAX cable that is usually buried and ran directly to homes.  Cable internet can offer faster speeds than DSL, but the broadband internet for a neighborhood is a shared connection, which may mean that during peak times, the internet may slow down.
  • DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is a broadband internet service that works over regular copper telephone wires.  Most homes in the US have copper phone wires that are run (either underground, or overhead) directly to them.  Those lines run from your home to a DSLAM (a building or box that feeds the internet to homes).  DSL speeds can be slower than cable, however, because of how the network is setup, there is not much variation in that speed.
Bandwidth, Upload and Download

inQuo Computer Repair in Salt Lake City, UT - The Tech Tip Tuesday Newsletter

  • Bandwidth refers to the capacity or speed of a connection.  Imagine your internet connection is a pipe.  The diameter of the pipe is your bandwidth.
  • Upload speed means the speed in which your computer or network can send data over the internet.  When sending emails, accessing websites (typing the address), or sending large files over FTP or file sharing networks, you are uploading.
  • Download speed means the speed in which your computer or network can receive files and information over the internet.  When you are viewing a video on a website, you are downloading the stream to your computer, temporarily.  When you open an email and save a file to your hard drive, you are downloading that file.  When you type in a web address, as the page begins to load, it is downloading the information to your computer in the form of text and graphics.
Cable and DSL Broadband are priced differently, and depending on your individual needs, either one can be a good fit for you.  For the average home computer user that is surfing the internet for news and email, DSL is probably a good solution.  For online gaming, downloading large files, and heavy internet streaming (movies and video), cable may be a better solution.  Cable is typically more expensive than DSL.

Securing your Wireless Access – inQuo’s Tech Tip Tuesday Newsletter Volume 3

November 20, 2009
Wireless access is a great way to untangle the cords that hold you back from wandering around your office or home, laptop in hand.   It is a great tool for increasing productivity, but without the proper security, wireless access could expose you to security risks.Most wireless routers will offer ways to lock up the security of your wireless network.  There are typically two different security scenarios for wireless access.  WEP and WPA.
  • WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) was the original security protocol for wireless access.  Designed to offer the same protection as regular network passwords, it is now considered un-secure and can be easily hacked by someone with the proper equipment.
  • WPA (WIFI Protected Access) is the current standard for stronger wireless access security.
How do I know if my wireless security is setup?
The easiest way to tell is to use your computers network viewer to view available wireless networks.  If your wireless network shows a little padlock symbol, or if it requires a password to access it, then you are probably ok.   If your wireless security is not configured, it would be recommended to get it setup as soon as possible.  Each wireless router will be different when setting up the security options.We have linked some helpful pages for some of the main manufacturers of wireless routers:

It is not a question of if your hard drive will fail, but when.

June 26, 2009

Nearly anyone who has owned a computer for a significant amount of time has probably had to deal with a hard drive failure.  First, you may hear a squealing and knocking noise coming from inside your computer.  Depending on who made the computer, you may actually get a pop-up warning about “imminent hard drive failure”.  That is if you are lucky.  Eventually, the computer starts crashing repeatedly and finally, when trying to turn on your computer, all you see is a black screen telling you that the disk cannot be found.  Or you may not even get any warnings at all.

A hard drive is basically a disk, with springs, levers and an arm that races back and forth to read the data on the disc.  Hard drives are full of tiny mechanical parts, and eventually, one of those parts will wear out.  Outside factors, such as the environment or shock damage can also speed the process of wear on a hard drive.  Though drives are manufactured to last for many years, sometimes that is just not the case.

Is there anything that can be done to prevent a hard drive from failing?  Aside from never turning on your computer, and the obvious stuff like keeping it away from water, dropping the machine or placing magnets all over the case, the hard drive will eventually fail.  For this reason, backing up your important files is one of the most important things you can do.  If you use your computer to run a business, backups are even more critical.  What are some of the ways you can back up your important data?

Recordable Media

  • Nearly every computer nowadays is built with a DVD or CD burner.  These devices, and the media that goes with them, have become extremely inexpensive.  Using a CD or DVD burner to back up your files is an adequate solution, but it can be a little tricky and time consuming.  Most computers have built in software for burning disks, however there are some third party software programs that are effective.  Nero is a popular one, however, unless it came with your computer, it is not free.  We recommend CDBurnerXP.  This is a simple to use program that is absolutely free.

External Hard Drive

  • External hard drives typically connect using a USB connection, and provide a fast and easy way to back up files using simple copy and paste commands.  External drives are portable, relatively inexpensive, and can be a good way to quickly back up your data.  Another added benefit is that you can take the drive off-site, minimizing the risk of data loss if some unforeseen event took place like fire or water damage.  To help automate your backups to an external drive, there are many software applications, including one built right into Windows and Mac systems.  We recommend SyncBack Freeware.  This is an intuitive program that is free to use.  Just complete a wizard to start your automatic backups.

Network Storage Device

  • Sometimes referred to as a NAS (Network Attached Storage), these units are self contained storage devices that connect to a network connection, rather than directly to your computer.   Most NAS devices come with built in software to facilitate easy backup solutions.  The benefit of one of these devices over a standard external drive is that they usually have redundant hard drives, which means, two hard drives that mirror each other constantly.  If one drive fails, the other drive still has the data.    Another benefit of a networked device is that multiple computers can access the drive for backups and data.

File Server

  • A server is basically another computer that is primarily used to carry out functions like managing printers, files and databases.  A server is not used as a workstation.  A server can be any kind of computer, however, most typical servers are engineered to be more reliable and redundant than a regular computer.  With multiple hard drives, redundant power supplies, extra memory and special software, a server is a great tool to use for backing up data from multiple employees on a network.  By setting up a file server, and educating employees on using the server as the storage site for their documents and other digital assets, the risks of losing data from hardware failures are diminished.  Of course, a server can still fail, and measures should be taken to back up the assets on servers as well.

What should you be backing up?  To start out, make sure that your important documents and files are included in your backups.  Typically, these reside in your My Documents folder of your computer.  Remember to also backup the files that you have saved on your desktop.  Some people save more files to their desktop than any other location.

If you are using financial software like Quickbooks, or contact database software like ACT!, you should also back up the database files for those programs as well.  Losing all of your financial information can be devastating.  If you are using Outlook or another email program, the emails you have stored in the program may not be available if your hard drive crashed.  The key is to remember that all data has to be stored somewhere.  It is a good idea to assess the critical tools that you use, and take steps to insure that the data being used by those tools is safe and secure, and that regularly scheduled backups are taking place.

All of the free software mentioned in this article can be downloaded safely from http://www.download.com.