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Use "Favorites" in Internet Explorer


IE FavoritesDo you visit a lot of the same web sites over and over again?  Some examples may include line of business applications, banking, tax sites, etc.  Many people rely on browser "history" to find web sites when you need them...just start typing the address and Internet Explorer will try to complete it for you.  This usually works well, but the more organized way to memorize these sites is to use "Favorites".  

To access "Favorites" in Internet Explorer, look for the gold star in the upper right hand corner.  Clicking this icon will open up the "Favorites" section where you view your existing favorites, and organize in folders as needed (if you have a lot of favorites).

Favorites   ExampleTo add a site to Favorites, browse to the site your interested in, and then click "Add to Favorites".  You can then name the site so you can find it easily next time, without remembering the entire URL. Click "Add" to save the site.  

Next time you want to access the site, simply select it from your list of favorites.

A big advantage of using the Favorites tool to organize your sites is that if you get a new computer, you can simply transfer this entire folder to your new system so you don't have to recall all your frequently used sites.  

Import to FavoritesIn Windows 7, to find your favorites folder (so you can copy it as needed to a new system, or make sure its being backed up), go to C:\Users\userName\Favorites (where "userName" is your actual user name).  You can copy this to your new system, and then simply import it into favorites again.  This will save you a lot of time getting started on the new system.

On this menu, there is also an option to Organize Favorites, where you can create new folders, move favorites, rename favorites, and delete as needed.

Take a few moments to get organized, and you'll save a lot of time in the future!

Do you keep your important files in the trash?


email TrashAt a recent industry event, I had the opportunity to share some "war stories" over lunch. One of the guys at the table told a tale of an email server crash on a Friday night that one of his techs rescued after many hours of effort late into the night.  The Microsoft Exchange server had crashed, and they ran recovery and clean up tools to get the mail running again.  Mission accomplished!

Until Monday morning when they received a frantic call from the customer reporting missing mail!  After a few questions, they figured out that the missing mail was from the "Deleted Items" folder, which had been cleaned out as part of the best practices for getting the mail up and running again.  This turned out to be a major problem, because the user was actually intentionally storing important mail in the "Deleted Items" folder.  The funny thing is that all of us at the table had heard this before from other sites over the years, so this wasn't an isolated incident.

If you happen to be one of these users who keeps important files in the trash, stop!  Storing valuables in the trash doesn't make sense.   You wouldn't keep your important paper files in a trash can and get angry when the cleaning service emptied the trash, and it doesn't make sense to keep your electronic files in the electronic trash.  

Thinking about this dilemma, it seems that the users who do this may want to segment their mail between what has been read (winds up in the trash) and what still needs follow up (stays in the inbox).  What may be occurring is that the users don't know that you can create folders in your mail, just like you can with your regular files.  Creating folders is the right way to organize your mail.  

Create a mailbox subfolderTo create a subfolder in your Inbox, right click on the Inbox and select New Folder.  You'll then have the option to name the folder whatever you want, such as "Important Stuff". 

New Mail Folder Name

As for your Deleted Items folder, the contents will remain in this folder until you empty the contents.  You can do this by right-clicking on the folder, and select "Empty Folder" from the pull-down.  Its a "best practice" to keep this folder (and all your folders!) free of clutter. 

To organize your mail, you can create as many folders as you want.  Think through a plan that works for you such as organizing by client account, or vendor, etc, but don't leave it all in your inbox, and don't use your "trash" for storage!

Do you know where your WISP is?


Do you know where your WISP is?March 1 was the 4th anniversary of the Massachusetts Data Protection Law which was introduced to help protect residents against identity theft and fraud.  The law identifies requirements businesses must follow to secure protected information, which includes a resident's first name or initial and last name, combined with a number of specified protected information including drivers license number, bank account number, social security number, credit card numbers, etc. We've all read the headlines about the major retailers such as Target, Hannafords, and TJX who have been in the news over the years for security breaches, but many small business owners may not be fully aware that the law applies to ALL businesses, large and small.

Do you know where your WISP is? A WISP is a Written Information Security Policy.  Its not enough to follow the guidelines identified in the law, you must also have a written policy.  The anniversary of the law going into effect is a good time to assess your own situation with respect to compliance.

The Massachusetts Data Protection Law includes the following requirements:

  1. Secure User Authentication Protocols  (use of strong passwords, and no passwords on post-its under your mouse pad!)
  2. Secure Access Control Methods (access to protected information needs to be restricted to those who need access to perform their jobs)
  3. Encryption of all transmitted records and files containing personal information that will travel across public networks, and encryption of all data containing personal information to be transmitted wirelessly (wireless networks must be encrypted, and NEVER send protected information via regular email).
  4. Reasonable monitoring of systems for unauthorized use of or access to personal information (Do you have a way to identify if someone is trying to access your network?)
  5. Encryption of all personal information stored on laptops or other portable devices (Newer laptops are encryption ready so you don't need extra software)
  6. For files containing personal information on a system that is connected to the Internet, there must be reasonably up-to-date firewall protection and operating system security patches, reasonably designed to maintain the integrity of the personal information  (all those updates we talk about every "patch Tuesday" are required by law!)
  7. Reasonably up-to-date versions of system security agent software which must include malware protection and reasonably up-to-date patches and virus definitions, or a version of such software that can still be supported with up-to-date patches and virus definitions, and is set to receive the most current security updates on a regular basis. (one of the key reasons we advise all clients to sign up for monitoring through managed services).
  8. Education and training of employees on the proper use of the computer  security system and the importance of personal information security (in our experience, the vast majority of problems we see are caused by users who don't fully understand security requirements and may inadvertently work around them).
In addition to complying to all these requirements, you also need to have a written policy that describes how you do this.  We recommend keeping this as simple as possible, but it has to be written down.  Do you know where your WISP is?

Cryptolocker may be lurking in that email - Don't open it!


Don't let Cryptolocker in!Many viruses are embedded in email attachments designed to get through even multiple layers of security.  CryptoLocker is one of the worst viruses seen in years and it only takes ONE message to get through to cause a lot of damage, and the “bad guys” have developed sophisticated techniques to get around your antivirus protection. 

All users are advised to be extremely cautious when opening email attachments.  Typically, the incoming email is a "spoofed" email pretending to be from a reputable source such as UPS, Xerox, ADP, Verizon, Dun and Bradstreet and others.  The subjects of the emails are socially engineered to trick people into opening them.  Some the subjects include:

  • Scan from a Xerox WorkCentre
  • USPS - Missed package delivery
  • ACH Notification ("ADP Payroll")
  • Voice Message from Unknown Caller
  • Corporate eFax message from "random phone #" - 8 pages
  • Important - New Outlook Settings
  • Dun & Bradstreet Case Number

As you can see from these subjects, during a busy work day, it would be very easy to quickly open one of these emails and open the attachment.  You may think the email is for you (from your scanner, efax, or service provider), or perhaps a curious employee would be enticed to peek at a confidential file.  The problem is, by opening the email, even with Antivirus protection in place, you have effectively opened the door for the virus directly.  

When Cryptolocker is launched, your files will be encrypted (including files on mapped drives), and a while later after the damage is done, you'll see a pop up warning asking for a payment to restore your files.   We strongly advise against paying the ransom.   You would be giving money directly to criminals, and only encouraging them to do more damage.  Instead, we advise cleaning the system and restoring files from a good backup (make sure you have a solid backup!).  

Slow down, and carefully check out the emails before opening them.  For example, you may use an eFax service or scan with a Xerox scanner, but the subjects are usually a bit off if you look closely.  Also Microsoft never sends unsolicited mail.

Spam filtering,  antivirus protection, and perimeter security all help, but it only takes one message to get through and create a LOT of damage.  When you open the email attachment, it's effectively like letting the thief in the front door after the doorbell rings.

Please help spread the word to all users in your organization.  Education is the first line of defense for all security.

Have you noticed it takes longer to open PDF files?


Adobe ReaderWe got a few calls on this and noticed ourselves that recently pdf files started taking a lot longer to open.  We receive electronic faxes in the form of pdf files, and I noticed that they took much longer to open starting around a week ago.  Bob also noticed that when he double checked quotes before emailing them, they were also slow to open.  Several clients also reported similar experiences.  

The culprit?  Adobe Reader "Enhanced Security".  This is apparently the result of an update, and the new settings automatically call for Adobe to look up a "policy file" for the document.  Of course security is a good thing, but in this case, too much security will slow you down. If you have up to date antivirus protection, anti-malware protection, a good firewall, and you're careful about opening files from trusted sources, this is a case where you probably don't need an extra layer of protection.

To revert the settings, in Adobe Reader, go to "Edit" and select "Preferences" from the pull-down.  In the "Preferences" window, under "Categories" select "Security (Enhanced)" which is about 3/4 down the list.  Then un-check the "Enable Enhanced Security" box.

Adobe Reader   Enhanced Security

Windows XP Support Ends April 8, 2014 - PLAN AHEAD!


WindowsXPLogoMicrosoft Windows XP and Office 2003 both go out of support on April 8, 2014. We are advising all clients to start planning now for the transition.  When the software goes out of support, you will stop receiving security updates, and although your systems will still work, you'll be out of compliance for the Massachusetts Data Security Law as well as many other industry-specific security regulations.

This change is part of the standard Microsoft Support Lifecycle, but the countdown is now getting serious.

Now is the time to take a look at your technology inventory and identify systems that will need to move to Windows 7.  As a general rule for businesses, we advise that if a system is three or more years old, it is generally better to replace the entire system than simply installing a new operating system.  Although Windows 8 is also available, for most business applications we are currently recommending Windows 7. 

Plan to develop a migration schedule during the month of September, so you'll have plenty of time to phase in new systems at a reasonable pace before the April deadline.

New "Technology Tax" in Massachusetts


TechTaxOn July 31, 2013, with short notice, Massachusetts introduced a new tax on computer software services (in addition to tobacco and fuel taxes).  While it has been widely reported as a “technology tax”, please note that this tax only refers to a narrow set of tasks that largely fall outside the scope of the work that Ekaru performs for you.

What’s taxable:   The “modification, integration, enhancement, installation or configuration of standardized software”.  The DOR has clarified that the tax is intended to apply to services that modify, enable or adapt “taxable prewritten software” to meet the business or technical requirements of a particular purchaser and to operate on the purchaser’s computer system. (Source: Mass Technology Leadership Council).  In general, Ekaru does not customize prewritten software.

What’s NOT Taxable:  Troubleshooting, repair, maintenance, training, cloud storage, disaster recovery services, web hosting, email hosting, data migration, installation of hardware, reinstallation of software, domain registration, work with open-source software, virus removal, etc.

There is widespread opposition to this new tax, seen as a “gateway” tax for all professional services, and difficult to interpret.  We are closely following new information as it becomes available.  If you already have tax-exempt status, you will not be affected by these changes.

To learn more about this new tax, read what Tom Hopcroft, President of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council has to say and follow the Mass TLC's Policy Page.


Why does one computer cost more than another? Business Class v Retail.


Dell Optiplex 9010One of the questions we get every once in a while when we're quoting new systems is why is our recommendation is more expensive than what the user see's in the latest "big box" retail sales flyer. Sometimes users will think they can get the exact same system for less, and when we review things closely, this isn't the case.

Our philosophy at Ekaru is that we work with clients to support any technology they choose for their office, but when we make recommendations for purchase, we will recommend business class systems, customized for the clients use requirements. 

So, what does this mean and what are the differences?  The "same" computer may cost hundreds of dollars more depending on what's inside of it.

1.  Operating system - For a business with a server, the "professional" version of the operating system is needed and this results in about a $100 difference.  With Windows Anytime Upgrade, Microsoft has made it easy to upgrade if you make the mistake of getting the consumer version of the operating system, but we'll recommend the right fit the first time.  Another big thing to watch for right now, is that if you go to the big box retailer to get a system it will be loaded with Window 8, which may not be compatible with all your applications you have right now.

2.  Processor - Is it an AMD or an Intel Processor? If Intel, what type?   Intel processors run from i3 to i7, and depending on the features, you may see around a $150 price range (or more).  We take the applications you run into consideration when recommending a processor.

3.  Microsoft Office - The very low price you see in a sales circular probably doesn't include Microsoft Office.  Depending on the version of Office you need, this may add $200-$300 or more to the cost of the system if pre-installed (or more if you add a retail version later).

4.  Monitor - does the system include a monitor or not, and if so, what size and resolution is it.  This may account for $100-$200 (or more) of the total cost.

When you actually compare "apples to apples", you'll see that PC pricing is basically determined by the specifications of the system, and the PCs are built on commodity components.  We've listed the major highlights above, but there are also differences in drive size and speed, and other things like video cards, etc.  Run through the specifications line item by line item, and you'll see there isn't much variation in price for the SAME systems.

8 Things to Know About the Massachusetts Data Security Law


MA Data Security LawMarch is the anniversary of the Massachusetts Data Security Law which went into effect March 1, 2010:  201 CMR 17.00: Standards for The Protection of Personal Information of Residents of the Commonwealth.  The anniversary is a good time to refresh your team about the requirements!

The goal of the law is to help prevent identity theft and we all have a role to help.

Here are the eight technology requirements included in this law:

1.  Secure user authentication protocols including:

(i) control of user IDs and other identifiers;
(ii) a reasonably secure method of assigning and selecting passwords, or use of unique identifier technologies, such as biometrics or token devices;
(iii) control of data security passwords to ensure that such passwords are kept in a location and/or format that does not compromise the security of the data they protect;
(iv) restricting access to active users and active user accounts only; and
(v) blocking access to user identification after multiple unsuccessful attempts to gain access or the limitation placed on access for the particular system;

Use of STRONG passwords is required (uppercase letters, lower case letter, numbers, and symbols) and NEVER put your password on a post-it by your monitor, or under your keyboard or anywhere else that's easily accessible!

2.  Secure access control measures that:

(i) restrict access to records and files containing personal information to those who need such information to perform their job duties; and
(ii) assign unique identifications plus passwords, which are not vendor supplied default passwords, to each person with computer access, that are reasonably designed to maintain the integrity of the security of the access controls;

If an employee doesn't need access to personal information to do their job, make sure they can't get to it.  This is very important if multiple users share a system.

3.   To the extent technically feasible, encryption of all transmitted records and files containing personal information that will travel across public networks, and encryption of all data to be transmitted over a wireless network.

Do not email personal information.  Instead use SSL transmission of data to secure web sites.

4.  Reasonable monitoring of systems, for unauthorized use of or access to personal information;

Are logs routinely checked?  There are several great tools to help you decipher server logs to get the information you need.

5.   Encryption of all personal information stored on laptops or other portable devices;

Laptops MUST have encryption technology.  Other portable devices such as flash drives must also be protected.  Backup tapes (if used) must be encrypted.

6.  For files containing personal information on a system that is connected to the Internet, there must be reasonably up-to-date firewall protection and operating system security patches, reasonably designed to maintain the integrity of the personal information. 

7.  Reasonably up-to-date versions of system security agent software which must include malware protection and reasonably up-to-date patches and virus definitions, or a version of such software that can still be supported with up-to-date patches and virus definitions, and is set to receive the most current security updates on a regular basis.

Do you know if your security patches and Antivirus definitions are up to date?

8.   Education and training of employees on the proper use of the computer security system and the importance of personal information security.

Users often break basic rules for “convenience” so they can get their work done faster. Ongoing education is needed!

In your next team meeting, review these requirements and make sure everyone understands the importance of compliance.  For more information, visit the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations web site.  Give us a call if you'd like us to review your site security with you.

Get S.M.A.R.T and save your data BEFORE you lose it!


Hard DriveOne of the things we strongly advise our clients to get on board with is proactive monitoring of all their systems with our managed services.   With this service, we monitor all systems for a long list of parameters including Antivirus software updates, Security Patch updates, system performance and when capable, S.M.A.R.T monitoring of hard drives.  

S.M.A.R.T definition from Wikipedia:  

"S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology; often written as SMART) is a monitoring system for computer hard disk drives to detect and report on various indicators of reliability, in the hope of anticipating failures.  When a failure is anticipated by S.M.A.R.T., the user may choose to replace the drive to avoid unexpected outage and data loss."

Recently, Brian rescued a client's system when he received a SMART alert that the hard drive was showing signs of failure.  Rather than waiting for the drive to fail, and potentially risking the client's data, we went ahead and initiated the the process to replace the drive.  The system was still under warranty with Dell, but the problem was that the drive hadn't failed yet, so initially they wouldn't proceed with the warranty replacement, and Brian replaced the drive.

Brian didn't give up, though, and wrote to Dell:

Dell Support,

In regards to hard drive replacement policy, Waiting till the hard drive FAILS is NOT a good policy for Helping customers.  In our case we use remote monitoring and management software that is extremely reliable and efficient at reporting errors, and when is a SMART Error you need to take notice.

We have provided our services and resources to take care of YOUR Customer and ours By acknowledging that an ERROR from SMART needs attention and should never be taken lightly we purchased an identical replacement drive, was able to quickly and efficiently save the customers data and get them back up and running with no loss. 

Any customer regardless of how many computers they purchase, from 1 to 10,000 are equal.

Waiting for the hard drive to fail is like closing the Barn doors after the horses have run off, it's too late.

I have been a PC/Server tech for over 20 years and  I know how hard it is to repair an intermittent problem But when reliable monitoring tells you there's a problem, there is a problem.  Computers  know 2 things. 1's & 0's.

And as you know if one of them is out of place.. problems happen.  People can hide what their problems are, computers can't.  Preventing a Problem from happens before it happens is GOOD for Business for Both of us.

I hope you would consider replacing the hard drive, I see the Man. Date is either 6/2012 or 8/2012 and the SMART reporting started to show a problem on 01/28/2013 04:25 AM.

I have the Hard drive ready to ship.

Brian Brackett

Help Desk Tech


Dell eventually stepped up and honored a parts replacement of the hard drive and shipped back a drive.  Being proactive saved the aggravation of a failed system and potential data loss.  Even with an almost brand-new system, a hard drive can fail (in fact, if you think about a disk spinning at 7200 RPM, it's a miracle that any hard drive can work!).  Hard drives are the most common failure point in PCs, and proactive monitoring is definitely advised.


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