Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Dropbox: Is It Secure?

Why are you still using Dropbox?

Wherever we go we always see that people are using Dropbox, it is everywhere and people try to get us to use it all the time but why should we?

For those few of you that don’t know, Dropbox is an online (cloud) file storage and sharing utility. You can upload pictures, documents, videos and share them with other people and businesses.

So what’s the problem?

Well for starters you only get 2gb of free storage, to gain more storage you can either pay for it or if you recommend friends then you can gain up to 16gb (not too bad really apart from the trying to force the product on other folk). However, in comparison Microsoft’s SkyDrive (soon to be known as OneDrive) will give you 7 GB of free storage straight up without the need to hassle others in to using their services.

Ok, so that’s not a major issue but there is one, two or three (or four!) other issues with Dropbox and that is Security!

In 2011 Dropbox suffered a very embarrassing incident when a code update gone wrong allowed any user to log on to anyone’s account using any password over a period of four hours: http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/22/technology/dropbox_passwords/

In 2012 Dropbox again suffered another incident when it was hacked and used as a relay for SPAM emails prompting their two tier authentication process: http://arstechnica.com/security/2012/07/dropbox-confirms-it-got-hacked-will-offer-two-factor-authentication/. This incident (which was still evident in 2013) also saw thousands of Dropbox usernames and passwords stolen and later published online: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/08/01/dropbox-password-breach-leak_n_1727338.html

In 2013 two security researchers once again hacked Dropbox to prove that the security was insufficient and released a paper on how they did it: http://www.businessinsider.com/researchers-prove-dropbox-can-be-hacked-2013-8

Now, here we are in the first month of 2014 and rumour has it that on 10/01/14 Dropbox was hacked again bringing its website down, 1775Sec claimed credit for the disturbance. However, Dropbox is claiming that the website went down due to a maintenance error: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/10/anonymous-member-claims-to-have-hacked-dropbox/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 Either way Dropbox has had a pretty shaky history when it comes to this sort of thing and an admission of another hack could potentially seal the online services fate.

Many users and businesses have left to find alternatives but hundreds of thousands still remain, most people I speak to are unaware about Dropbox’s chequered past and are shocked when we explain what has happened, others shrug their shoulders and exclaim that they don’t care.

Regardless of if the data is personal, corporate or irrelevant nonsense the issue still stands that Dropbox has been proved to be an insecure service time and time again.

It’s time to look for alternatives and that time is now!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The end of Windows XP and the risk of running it after April 2014

On April 8th 2014 Microsoft will finally end its support for Windows XP. Support for the 13 year old operating system has been facing the chop for some time with 2009 originally being slated for the termination of support but after a massive campaign by XP users this was pushed back to the date currently looming upon us. So, while virus updates will still run until 2015 security updates will cease.

So what will happen on April 8th?

Don't get us wrong, XP isn't suddenly going to stop working but customers will no longer receive new security updates nor will they be able to receive non-security hotfixes either paid or free. This opens up a massive risk to anyone still using Windows XP after the April deadline. Any vulnerabilities found by attackers in the operating systems after this date can be well and truly utilised and taken advantage of with no fear of a patch being released to "fill the hole" so to speak.

Normally when Microsoft release their security updates, criminals and security researchers will work endlessly to reverse engineer the updates in question to identify specific sections of code that contain a potential vulnerability. Once that vulnerability has been found they will attempt to develop their own code that will allow them to exploit it on systems without the security updates installed. They will also look for those same vulnerabilities in other products with similar functionality. To try and protect their customers Microsoft will release security updates for all affected products concurrently, this is to ensure customers have the right security in place before attackers have the chance to reverse engineer and exploit.

Anyone still running XP after April 8th 2014 will no longer have this advantage and the security updates already released will soon no longer be sufficient to repel modern day attacks. statistics currently show that XP has a higher malware infection rate than more modern operating systems such as Windows 7 and Windows 8.

As well as the cessation of security updates, Sage has also announced that any new products released in and after 2014 will not run on Windows XP.

We know that XP was a much loved operating system but we're afraid to say that it's time to move on. If you don't want to take too much of a jump in to the future then we would suggest looking to replace your PC's now while Windows 7 is still available on some machines. Windows 7, from a sales point of view is soon coming to its end of life and Windows 8 - 8.1 will soon be the only Microsoft operating system available to you until the rumoured Windows 9 is released sometime within the next 24 months.

If you wish to discuss a new PC or notebook then please contact us via our website: www.ilessystems.co.uk

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?

Ever since channel 4’s “The IT Crowd” graced our screens these words has probably become the best known catch-phrase to ever be used in an IT environment. Is it funny? Of course it's funny, this is from the man that created Father Ted!

But does it actually work?

Since the show, whenever we ask someone to reboot using the above phrase we are often asked “how is that going to help?” normally the retort will come after a little chuckle or a slight eye-roll but it comes none the less and we have to answer. I am aware that we could ask the user to reboot but in that case we are often faced with the following scenario:

Do you mean shut down?

No, reboot the PC.

Log off?

No, restart the PC.

You mean turn it off and on again?


Oh… Why didn’t you say so.

So then, why do we ask you to turn it off and on again? Well, the answer is simply that restarting a PC can fix a few common issues such as:
  • Network connectivity issues
  • Memory Issues
  • Printer connection issues
  • Slowness issues
  • Clears cache
The list could go on and on, it may be that a program has hung on you and you can’t end it via task manager or your keyboard has stopped responding (actually for that one I’d just have a quick look at the back of the PC to make sure you haven’t just dislodged the lead before you reboot).

In fact, in March 2010 Gadget Helpline requested that 1000 callers manually restarted their faulty devices and in 274 of those cases the user’s problem was resolved. Over 25% of callers issues were resolved with nothing more than turning it off and on again!

Now don’t get us wrong rebooting isn’t going to fix everything, it’s never going to hep get rid of a virus or fixed a knackered motherboard and to be fair if something small is going awry then it may indicate the beginning of a far bigger issue at play.

So, the next time your PC is throwing a bit of a wobbly and before you pick up the phone to your IT professional why not remember those few words immortalised by Roy Trenneman…

“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

And take action!

Besides, we’re just going to ask you to do it anyway.


Friday, 18 October 2013

Windows 8.1 is here

This morning saw the release of the much awaited Windows 8.1.

Windows 8 has had a bit of a marmite reputation, some loved the OS while others hated it. Me? I was on the side of the former. While it took a couple of days to get a feel for the new metro system it wasn’t as painful as one first thought.

In fact Metro was the biggest problem for some and I can see why. People were used to the Start button, it had been there since as long as they could remember and then suddenly it was gone. There were round this since there are more than a few free downloads such as Classic Shell that put in place a 3rd party start button should the user desire.
Anyway, back to 8.1.
So what’s new?

Desktop Mode
Start Button - The Start button is back! Kind of. While there will now be a Start button in the bottom left hand corner of the desktop it will not display the familiar layout most end users have been accustomed to. Tapping the start button once will open up the tiled (metro) interface while a long press will apparently bring up system controls. Having just updated my own system and tried it out I've found that a long click does nothing but a right click on the mouse does bring up the system controls menu.
Metro Menu - If you have more than one display you have the option to pick a screen on which the Metro interface will display on when you click the start button.

Desktop Mode – This mode allows the user to skip over the metro interface entirely and boot directly to their desktop.
Internet Browsing – Separate web pages will now be displayed side-by-side when using IE via the Metro interface. Using IE via your desktop will work the same as it did before.

Bing Omnisearch
Bing Omnisearch – The search function under the metro menu has been boosted so now it doesn’t only search your PC but also the web, so now the metro menu will double as an internet search engine. Typing in "Word" for instance will not only bring up the installed program options but below that you will see popular internet search options.

Backgrounds – It is now possible to have the same background for both your desktop and your metro menu. Not a big leap but looks nice when you transgress from one to the other.

Tile Moving – Easier to tweak tile positions

Keyboard Shortcuts – This removes the requirement to switch between different on-screen keyboards when typing number and letters

Gesture Control – Allows for some applications to be flicked through without touching the screen, especially helpful with cooking applications.

Tile Resizing – The user now has the option of four different tile sizes.

So there you have it, Windows 8.1 in a nutshell. There are other changes including X-Box Music, Windows store, New Apps + you can now change your display and mouse settings from within Metro. There are a few other minor changes here and there but the above listed are generally going to be the ones most will really notice.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

SAGE Advice

If you know anything about accounts or bookkeeping then you’ll know Sage, I’m sure most of us have come across it sometime or another. Thousands of companies worldwide are using Sage right now in harmony with Microsoft products but what happens when things start to go wrong?

Last year one of our clients recently updated their server hardware & software, a new Gateway GT310 was installed, single CPU & 20 GB RAM in a 6 user environment, SBS 2008.

A PC in the accounts department was upgraded to Acer X2611G’s, i3 CPU, 4 GB RAM, Windows 7 pro x64. Sage Accounts 2013was installed to the new accounts PC. The 2nd accounts PC was still running XP Pro x86.

At this point in time the client was running a Sage 50 Accounts 2009, data was housed on the server and everything worked fine. The problem started once Sage 50 Accounts 2013 was installed. Both users started to complain of that the program was slow or hanging especially when producing reports. Obviously there was a slight increase in performance if only one machine was accessing the data at a time.

We’re a registered Sage reseller so we spoke with Sage regarding the matter, we got the usual stock response “it must be your network” from Sage and nothing was resolved, we have dealt with Sage on numerous occasions regarding most of their software packages and in all of these cases Sage's reluctance to accept blame for any problems has resulted in a lot of wasted man hours. Searching online for a solution we found a blog suggesting that perhaps it was a memory resourcing issue on the PC. We didn’t really buy this but as a gesture and to show willing we increased the RAM in the Windows 7 PC to 8 GB and while initially the user reported a slight improvement in performance it was still not running as the earlier version had been.

Again we went looking for answers, another phone call to Sage “it’s a problem with your network” (helpful). Just to be sure we install Gigabit switches… no improvement in performance.

Once again we turned to Sage and this time we got a very interesting reply, the problem wasn’t a memory issue, nor was it a network issue. In fact the issue was with the software itself and SBS 2008. Basically if Exchange and SQL Server are running on SBS 2008 (which of course it will be) then Sage 50 Accounts 2013/2014 is going to run like a two legged dog. Brilliant, we finally have an answer!

*The following is not an actual conversation but it might as well have been*

So then Sage, when will the patch be released to fix this issue?

It won’t.

Eh? So what are you going to do about it then?


I’m sorry, did you say nothing?

Yes, we did.


And that’s how it has all been left really. Sage released this information on their website but it was hastily pulled and instead SBS 2008 was deleted under the “supported OS” banner. However, SBS 2008 has reappeared  although highlighted with an asterisk with a disclaimer (see below) . Also note that SBS 2011 has been removed as a supporting OS from Sage Accounts 2014:

For Sage 2013

* Running software like Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft SQL Server on a Small Business Server will reduce the performance of Sage over a network. We are currently investigating the cause of this issue.

For Sage 2014

* Running software like Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft SQL Server on a Small Business Server will reduce the performance of Sage over a network. We are currently investigating the cause of this issue.

Windows Small Business Server 2011 has been removed from the system requirements for Sage 50 Accounts 2014.

Recommended system requirements for Sage Accounts

Obviously it’s not a problem for Sage since thanks to Microsoft SBS will no longer be available as it is to be replaced with Windows 2012 Essentials which in a rather (what I consider) stupid (or most likely greedy... but that's another post altogether) move by Microsoft does not include Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint Foundation (problem solved).

For those that have recently invested in SBS 2008 there is nothing but a road of frustration lying ahead but more than that, the supplier will also be in for a bit of a hard time. End users will want a resolution sooner rather than later and could be apply pressure on their support to get it sorted.

While there is no way the performance issues is ever going to be resolved on SBS 2008 there are ways around the issue but these workarounds are going to incur an additional heretofore unforeseen cost to the client. Again the potential for the IT support to come under fire here is high also.

With economic uncertainty already looming over most businesses this is something everyone could quite frankly do without.

Iles Systems Ltd - Sage Training

Iles Systems Adventures in IT

Hello there and welcome to ISL's "Adventures in IT".

We've been around the block a bit since starting up in 1998 and as you can imagine we've come across all sorts of issues in that time. As some  of you will know there tend to be a lot of glazed over looks whenever the subject of IT comes up, some are perplexed others are just not interested.

The purpose of this blog is to provide a light hearted insight in to our “adventures” in the glorious world of IT and highlight some of the issues we encounter along the way, whether it’s related to hardware, software or in the rarest of cases end-users.

We’ll also be looking at various products from time to time, letting you know our thoughts and advising if they have help us out in a jam or not.

Let the adventure begin…