Archive for May, 2010

What is Linux, Why is it used in Computer Repair?

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
Linux Penguin, The Linux Mascott

Linux Penguin, The Linux Mascot

Linux is a term familiar to most IT techs. Unfortunately, many of them have only heard the name, and have never used it in practice. Linux is an operating system, like Microsoft Windows for the PC or OS for the Mac. Linux is different in that the code is freely available (open-source) and it is completely free to use. Linux operates in a much different manner than Windows – Linux is based on its own set of command line programs.

Linux has numerous pros and cons as a desktop operating system, and it also serves as a very handy computer repair tool in the hands of a skilled technician.  To begin our discussion of Linux, first realize that Linux is not Windows.

In contrast to Microsoft Windows, Linux is completely free. There’s no cost to downloading and using it. Many small businesses and schools are switching from Windows to Linux for this reason alone – the price savings can be enormous.

On the other hand, because Linux is not Windows, common tasks are accomplished differently and it can be difficult to learn. If you are interested in switching to Linux, you also must be prepared to tackle problems on your own (with the help of Google). You will have to edit config files, install different versions of software, and troubleshoot errors. With recent flavors of Linux, such as Ubuntu, such difficulty is rapidly disappearing as the system becomes more user friendly and automated. In fact, installing new Linux software packages in Debian-based systems is now so easy that all it takes is a simple “sudo apt-get install [package-name]” command.

Linux commands are similar to Windows commands, but they do have significant differences. For example, the “cd [DIRECTORY]” command is very similar to the Windows command, but in Linux “ls -la” is the Windows equivalent of “dir”. “mv [OLD NAME] [NEW NAME]” is used instead of the Windows command “ren [OLD NAME] [NEW NAME]”. Such differences can be hard to learn at first, but with time they become second-nature.

Another major drawback to using Linux instead of Windows is that it can’t run Windows programs natively. Microsoft Office will not run in Linux by default. There are ways around this limitation, however. The WINE project provides a Windows-like layer for executing Windows programs, but it isn’t perfect and many Windows applications will not run. You can check out your favorite program’s compatibility on the Wine project’s app-databse.

Linux also provides alternatives to popular commercial software. For example, OpenOffice is offered instead of Microsoft Office, and the Gimp is offered in place of Adobe Photoshop. Such alternatives are high quality programs, but do realize that they are not the same, and don’t include every feature of their commercial counterparts.

A significant advantage of Linux that makes it a choice tool in computer repair and data recovery is that it can be run dynamically from a single DVD without being installed on your hard drive. We can boot Linux anywhere, anyplace. This is a great advantage because we can usually access your Windows files even if Windows won’t start! We have used Linux numerous times to rescue data that was previously inaccessible, or to simply duplicate user data onto a new disk if the old one was failing.

Ubuntu Linux 10

Ubuntu Linux 10

Lastly, Linux is nearly impervious to malware, spyware, Viruses and Triojans. No OS is perfect, but the weaknesses of Linux are so small that most Linux users don’t install antivirus software. In fact, the available list of antivirus software for Linux is extremely limited, in large part due to the lack of demand.

In summary, Linux is a unique operating system that can be a very effective computer repair tool, especially in data recovery. You may also want to look into Linux as a Windows replacement or secondary operating system. If you only use your computer to surf the Internet and check email and are comfortable using open-source office software like OpenOffice instead of MS Office, you should investigate Linux. Likewise, if you are a computer user who wants to try something new, is comfortable looking up solutions to your own problems online, and would like to tinker with the many tools available in Linux, you should give it a try.

Here at Hampton Roads Computer Repair, we use Linux in our arsenal of powerful computer repair tools. We use Linux, along with many other tools, to recover data, troubleshoot problems, and get you back up and running again. If you need a problem fixed, we pull out all the stops and bring out the big guns to fix your problem. If Linux is the best tool to use, we’ll use Linux.

Preventive Maintenance

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Most of us regularly bring our vehicles in for maintenance to have the oil changed and brakes checked, but having our computers checked regularly is not common practice for many. Vehicles and computers are both similar in that they are relied upon daily to perform important tasks. Both are also equally susceptible to failure. While the idea of running your car for months on end without changing the oil or filters sounds absurd to most, many do the exact same thing o their computers – for years – and don’t even realize it. Computers, like vehicles, can take a certain amount of abuse, but if not properly cared for, will fail prematurely.

We have developed a preventive maintenance program that keeps problems away before they begin rather than doing damage control after the catastrophe has occurred. The majority of problems we see are from the moving parts in computers. Specifically, the hard drive. This is where all your files and data are stored, and if you have no backup, failure of this single part could mean the loss of all your files, documents, pictures, programs and other data.

Another common cause of failure is overheating parts. Electronics love cold temperatures, and some will even operate far below zero Fahrenheit. While they love cold temperatures, anything above 70 Fahrenheit can cause malfunctions in some cases. What typically causes this overheating? Dust and lint collects over time in your computer, brought in by fans and vents. During our preventive maintenance visit, we thoroughly and physically inspect all fans, heatsinks and parts on your computer to ensure proper cooling.

A customer in Chesapeake recently reported a competitor had ‘cleaned’ their server, and setup a backup drive for them. After calling us due to recent failure, we opened the case and found the fans clogged with dust, causing the server to shut off. Some competitors’ maintenance programs only include ‘software’ cleaning, but we cover the complete computer, hardware and software. In addition, the competition simply plugged in the backup drive and left. The server had NOT backed up since they left the business! So the server had failed and they had no backup of their payroll data – what a winning combination! After our visit completed, the server was running cool and fast, while a test backup later completed successfully. This goes to show that heat as well as parts failure can be prevented if proper maintenance is followed. In this case, we were called soon enough to prevent permanent damage to the electronics. If this abnormal heating continues long enough, electronics will permanently fail and then must be replaced, if replacements can be found.

Maintenance is important for desktops, laptops as well as servers. Even some networking equipment can fail if left unchecked long enough. Computers will last much longer if regularly maintained, and will provide much more reliable operation as well.

Symptoms that a failure may be imminent:

  1. Strange whines or clicking noises
  2. Fans not moving that usually are
  3. Recent exposure to moisture or severe humidity
  4. Computer running slower that usual
  5. Computer shutting itself off randomly
  6. Computer shutting off with blue screen

These do not guarantee failure, but are definitely factors which show a higher risk down the road. If you notice any of these abnormal symptoms, call us as soon as possible to minimize the chance of failure. If you simply have a slow computer, we can resolve that as well.

Preventive maintenance, when done properly, is just as important for computer systems as it is for vehicles, if not more so. Any systems you value and depend on need to be routinely checked to prevent costly failures in the future. A small investment now can save many $$$ in the long run. Stay Cool!


Computer Maintenance

Remote Support – Is It Worth It?

Monday, May 24th, 2010

In today’s world of computer repair, a relatively new concept is remote computer support. A quick search on the internet will yield millions of hits on various programs which promise to allow “24 hour access to your pc from anywhere”, or provide “low cost computer support”. What many people do not consider are the multiple issues related to this new feature.

  1. Security
  2. Cost-Savings
  3. Adverse Effects
  4. Compatibility

First on anyone’s list should be security. Regardless of some company claims of “100% secure”, or “no-risk”, one must research what actual security is present before handing over the keys of your business network to a remote support program. Many different types of programs exist. Some free programs used by other companies, such as VNC, natively operate based on a local setup. A ‘server’ program is installed on one of your computers, and the client connects to it remotely. Security issues can exist, depending on how well the software is written, what ports are open, etc. Internet based solutions usually require the user to visit a webpage to start a remote session. This can be useful but also easy to attack. If the user is sent to a fake webpage, the page is not well-written, or if the program is not encrypted correctly, problems could result. Others use a little of both of the previous categories. In addition, most of the well-known remote access solutions install some kind of software onto your computer, which is usually left there, even after the remote support is over. A customer in Virginia Beach brought his desktop in to us for repair. While processing it, we noticed numerous files in his profile left from a recent “GotoMyPc” session, which did not resolve his issue, so he brought it to us after that failed. Aside from being a nuisance, this could leave the system vulnerable to attack, especially if the user continued to use the pc for banking and other private activities after he believed the computer was ‘clean’. In addition, in this case, the customer was trying to have an infection removed, which the previous company ‘attempted’ to do over a remote support session. Once they failed (since the infection was in control of the computer’s network connection), they unknowingly left behind these remote support files. So in this case, remote support cost the user more than if he had simply brought it in from the start. Put simply, remote support can be a time saver, or a time waster, depending on the application. Anyone claiming to do remote virus removal should be suspect. In the rare event they are successful, 90% of the time the infection comes right back, since they cannot physically ensure the infection is gone. Adverse effects can be anything from crashing your computer completely, like a customer in Virginia Beach who had another company try to  ‘remotely remove a virus’, to serving advertisements that do not go away, to leaving files on your computer after the remote session ends. Also, not all programs work with certain versions Windows.

The point is, remote support, if done correctly, can save time, but if used improperly it can cost you more in the long run.

  1. Our custom software removes itself after the session ends, leaving your computer exactly as it was before
  2. It will not crash your system
  3. It does not use popups or advertisements
  4. We use encrypted connections end-to-end
  5. You know who is working on your computer (US), not India!
  6. We Speak English!

Remote Support

Are All Antivirus Programs the Same?

Monday, May 24th, 2010

In today’s world of computer repair we deal with numerous threats from malware, spyware, ransomware, viruses and others that require most of us to run antivirus / antispyware programs. While most other companies only sell the programs that bring the highest profit, we recommend you take a deeper look at what each program does and how it affects your system. Contrary to popular belief, the most well-known names do not necessarily mean the best performance. On the contrary, some of the least-known ones work the same, if not better. Many factors should determine which antivirus program you choose,  some of which are:

  1. Protection
  2. Compatibility
  3. Speed (Does it slow your system down?)
  4. Price

Some big names such as Symantec Endpoint Protection have the most media exposure, but our experiences have shown it can bring an entire network to it’s knees, including servers. We had one network in Virginia Beach that called after another company installed SEP and they were completely down. Removing the Endpoint Protection was the solution! Symantec’s home product, Norton 360, can be compared to a virus, in that it slows the system down to an unusable state. One user in Chesapeake had this program on her desktop machine. Removing and replacing the program with another antivirus program was comparable to a memory upgrade! Mcafee and other big names may work in some applications, but for the majority of users, it is not the best choice. Virus creators are always targeting the well-known protection programs as well, and we have seen many current malware programs that instantly disable both Symantec and Mcafee, then proceed to infect the computer, unrestrained. What can be done to avoid this? We believe using a lower-profile antivirus solution, combined with a layered approach helps. Still, in some cases, we recommend others based on specific needs. Watch out for antivirus programs that say they are free as well. There are many ‘fake’ programs out there that infect your computer instead of protecting it, or generate popups on your screen every few minutes. The moral of the story: Don’t be sold on a brand name. Dig a little deeper to see which solution is best for you. This requires research and taking many factors into account. What works on TV does not work for everyone. One size does not fit all!


Transformation from Virus to Malware

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The most familiar type of infection known as a virus has now changed into an even more dangerous form of infection, Malware. ‘Mal’, as the name suggests, describes a program with malicious intent. These programs are from the dark side. What are they called? Some of the most popular names include: Spy Sherriff, Winantivirus, Antivirus 2008 Pro, Antivirus 2009, Internet Security 2010, Advanced Virus Remover, etc. Aside from just being annoying, these programs can bring in and install even more malicious programs that can steal passwords, private documents, and even allow the bad guys to control your computer. One customer in Virginia Beach even had funds withdrawn from a bank account to a Russian criminal due to an advanced computer infection. Fortunately, it was caught in time to stop the transaction. Most programs of this type we see can be traced to either Chinese or Russian origins. Are you protected? Most antivirus programs cannot protect against this new threat, because it appears to be a legitimate program. If / when it is detected, the infection has already installed itself into your computer.

Our approach is threefold:

  1. Determine the type of infection and trace it’s origin (most come from facebook, myspace, email, banners, etc). We can usually tell when the infection occurred, to the minute.
  2. Carefully remove the malware to ensure it is clean. Current infections will reload themselves if just one piece is left intact.
  3. Prevent re-infection

In practice, many of these ‘bad’ programs appear to be ‘free’ antivirus or security programs, which always cause more problems than they solve.  Some are even so bold as to ask the user for credit card information to ‘pay’ for the fake software. Never provide any financial information to any program you are not familiar with, even if it is on your computer. The best suggestion is to shut the power off and call your computer tech. Unlike some other problems, this cannot be safely resolved over the phone or remotely. Attempting this may lead to privacy issues and more. Once infected, the machine must be thoroughly processed in- shop to ensure a complete disinfection. To make things worse, most antivirus programs scan right over these newest infections, not even detecting them! The only way to resolve some of these latest infections is to know what you’re looking for and remove it yourself. That’s where we come in. Our combination of filesystem tools in addition to our years of disinfection experience gives us an advantage in successfully identifying and removing infections from your desktop laptop or server. While surfing the world wide web, be careful where you go and what you click on!