Saturday, January 24, 2009

Protect Yourself Against the Worm that has Infected Over 9 Million in Two Weeks

One of the biggest worm attacks in years has hit PCs around the world. It's called "Downadup," or "Conficker," and in the past week or so it has spread aggressively to unprotected PCs.

The worm spreads across networks, finding vulnerable computers and turning off the automatic backup service, deleting previous restore points, disabling some security services, and blocking access to security Web sites before spreading to other computers on the network.

It also spreads through USB devices such as flash drives and cameras by taking advantage of the Windows Autorun feature, which will automatically run programs installed on USB devices as soon as they're plugged in. You can try disabling Autorun to prevent infection, but at least one security expert says that Microsoft's own instructions about disabling Autorun are flawed.

If you suspect your machine is infected, please read the instructions below and don't hesitate to give us a call or contact us here for more guidance.

CMIT Solutions recommends you take the following steps to protect your own PC from Downadup or Conficker:

1. Make sure you have a good security suite installed, such as Norton Internet Security, Norton AntiVirus, Norton 360, BitDefender, or AVG. A free version of any of these products is not as thorough or comprehensive as one of the paid versions.

2. Run a full system scan and update your security definitions.

3. Keep your computer updated with any patches that Microsoft has issued recently.

If you're worried that your computer has already been infected, take the following steps:

1. Run a virus scan, which should detect the worm if it's there.

2. If you don't have antivirus software installed, try visiting a few security sites. If your access to those sites is blocked, that’s one sign of infection.

I have included detailed removal instructions by Symantec here.

Posted via web from evanstein's posterous

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sound Principles of Web Design

Web design is always evolving to keep up with new technologies and new search engine algorithms. Businesses that used to be stuck building rudimentary HTML sites with Dream Weaver can now hire designers relatively cheaply and have a slick, high-performance site in no time. But with so many bells and whistles to choose from, how can you make sure your Web site actually informs people instead of confusing them, draws them in instead of making them click away, and generates real interest in what you have to offer?

That's a question we asked ourselves as we recently revamped our entire corporate site. What follows are some of the lessons we've learned -- and the proof is at

1. Relevant content MUST be above the fold. Visitors do not like to scroll, and research has proved that a visitor will click Next before they scroll. That's why we kept all of our taglines and topline navigation buttons within the space of a normal-sized browser window.

2. Keep text short and to the point. People don't go to Web sites to read dissertations. Bullet points are easy and fast to read, which is good when you have about 8 seconds and 3 clicks to get a visitor's attention.

3. Each page should have ONE relevant call to action. Think about what you want each page of your web site to accomplish and make it easy for the visitor to do that ONE thing. Most of our Web pages end with a very simple call to action -- fill out a brief information request form to get more details. It's straightforward, gets the reader what they want, and prevents the reader from having to make a choice about what to do next. (That's good because most casual visitors, if forced to make a choice between two options, will just click away instead.)

4. Minimize load times. In our era of high-speed Internet, people are extremely impatient. If you have any animation elements, make sure they load immediately. Or do what we did, and scrap animation entirely.

5. On every page, include key word phrases a visitor would likely search on to find your site. Avoid pronouns when you can use the entire phrase -- it will help the search engines index your site properly. Will your site look a little repetitive and sound a little more stilted? Maybe, if you sat down and read it out loud. But Internet readers and search engines alike tend to scan quickly for the phrases they want, so it's to your benefit to include them as much as possible.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Data Encryption - Your Biggest Weapon Against Data Theft

The Identity Theft Resource Center recently released a report stating that 35 million data records were exposed last year. That’s a huge increase over the previous year and a very sobering figure for anyone who is concerned about keeping their business or personal data safe.

There was an upside, however: a mere 2.4 percent of data thefts involved encrypted data. Encryption basically disguises or scrambles your data so that it’s unintelligible without a key. The correct encryption key will allow a recipient to decipher the scrambled data and arrive at the original contents.

In order to minimize the chances that your data will fall into the wrong hands, one of the best things you can do is make sure it’s always encrypted.

In the world of backups, that means a few things. First off, you’re much better off backing up to disk, which is more easily encrypted, than to tape, which is only rarely encrypted. Second, you should be backing up to a disk not only at your home office but also to somewhere offsite – and encrypting your files both in transmission and in storage.

An offsite backup solution should feature 128-bit encryption during file transfers. That means it would take somebody without a key 2128 tries, or 3.40282367 × 1038 attempts, to crack the encryption code. The data should then be stored using a 256-bit key or better

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Making PowerPoint Presentations Easy to Share and View

PowerPoint is a powerful tool for creating presentations -- but its very versatility is a double-edged sword. It enables you to make presentations lively and visually appealing, but if you get carried away, you'll end up with a cluttered mess that may not even work on your colleagues' or clients' machines.

Say you're using Vista and you've got a fast computer with all sorts of wacky fonts installed. You can create a real whiz-bang presentation with animations, sounds and colors galore, and a different font for every slide.

But if you send it to a client with a slower machine, an older operating system, or even a Mac -- watch out. All those fancy geegaws might not even show up! To make sure your presentation is easily viewable on a variety of systems and platforms, here are a few pieces of advice:

1. Stick to commonly installed fonts. It's hard to go wrong with a solid sans-serif font like Arial or Helvetica. It might lack the drama of a Gothic script or the pizzazz of a hand-lettered font, but you can be pretty certain it will look the same from user to user. The same goes for custom bullet points -- they might show up as plain old bullet points on somebody else's machine, so you may as well keep them simple to start.

2. Keep embedded sound or video to a minimum. According to Bit Better, a clip art publisher and PowerPoint presentation developer, sounds and videos "will not go from Mac to Windows gracefully, and you have to be very careful about how you insert the files in order to get them to 'travel' properly." Save yourself the hassle by keeping images static.

3. Don't write all the way to the edge of the screen. This might sound odd, but the reason is that, depending on which presentation medium you're using -- projector, computer, even television screen -- the aspect ratio might be slightly different than the one you built the presentation on. Make sure you have a decent white space on either side of your text so that your words don't run off the side of the screen when it's projected.

4. Beware of subtle shading and color schemes. Your viewer's screen might be more or less sensitive to color variations than your own. The graduated fill on a bar chart that goes from light yellow to bright chartreuse on your computer might just look like a mustard nightmare on an older screen. Keep your look simple, clean, and bold.

5. Run it by a friend. Check out your presentation on several different computers and operating systems to make sure it's rendering the same on all of them.

Need advice on how to tame PowerPoint or other Microsoft Office programs? Give us a call -- we can help.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Year's Worth of Technology Advice

The QuickTips 2008 Year in Review

From the wildfires sweeping Santa Barbara to the breach of a vice presidential candidate’s Yahoo email account, a surprising number of news stories seemed to carry valuable lessons for small business owners. We learned how vital it is to protect business data, equipment, and individuals’ privacy. We learned about how social networking and Web 2.0 technologies can help a small business raise its public profile. And we learned all over again how increasing personal productivity can help a whole business.


Listed below are some of our favorite QuickTips from 2008. Thank you for another wonderful year!


From the thunder storm-prone Pacific Northwest to the flood-stricken Midwest,

everybody has their own version of extreme weather to deal with. Taking a few precautions can help prevent damage to your office equipment when the weather gets nasty. 


Many office buildings shut down their air conditioning on the weekends, which means it can get pretty warm in the office by Sunday night. If you've left your computer on -- a necessity in many office environments for a variety of reasons -- you can take some common-sense measures to keep your computer as cool as possible.


Despite the name, instant messages can stick around for a long, long time. Your conversations may live on, long after you've shut down your IM client – depending on what service you're using and what controls you or your employer may have in place.


If you’re a small, locally owned business without a lot of formal tech staff, you may be just as likely to have a page on MySpace or Facebook as you are to have a Web page. But wading into the murky waters of social networking when you’re a business can carry certain risks.


We all read the headlines about a hacker accessing Sarah Palin’s personal Yahoo! email account. It turned out the hacker didn’t even need to use fancy coding maneuvers or computer wizardry. Instead, he used one of the oldest tricks in the privacy-invasion book: he changed the password to her account.


You need extra storage and multiple copies of the same data so that you can retrieve information even if it’s lost or corrupted in a particular location or format. Think of it as a diversification strategy for storage: by putting your eggs in multiple baskets (or, rather, your data in multiple storage locations), you lessen the chances of ever losing that data for good.


There are plenty of other reasons for doing more with your old computer than just dumping it in the trash. If you go through the proper channels – namely, the relevant computer manufacturer, a charity, or a refurbisher – you can be more confident that any information you inadvertently leave on that old computer doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. You can also do some good for the environment while you’re at it!


Many people spend the bulk of their days working in two Microsoft programs: Word and Excel. And if you've ever done a lot of cutting and pasting in and between these programs, you know how quickly you can end up with a very muddled-looking document. To bring all these formats in line, you can do several things. First, you can select the whole passage, then alter the font, font style, and font size. Or, with a nifty feature in Word, you can simply use Format Painter.


Years ago, the average office desk used to have just one thing on top of it: a typewriter. Now you've probably got a phone, a computer, and a monitor at minimum. Chances are you have a laptop as well, and occasionally plug your cellphone or iPod into an available USB port for charging or downloading. In a home office you'll likely have connections to a backup hard drive, a wireless router, and a printer/fax as well. Add it all up and that translates to a big pile of loose cords and cables gathering dust under your desk.


With Google Alerts, you’ll receive periodic email notifications (once a day, once a week, or in real time) when search terms you monitor appear on the Web or in the news. This helps you stay on top of what people are saying about you or your company -- and what they’re saying about your competition or other areas of interest.