Ethical IT Blogs

Each month we publish a Blog to share some of our experiences in supporting charities and other social change organisations, and discuss some of those IT topics you may have heard about in the news or pondered when using your computer.
 

May/ June 2017

​Ransomware: viruses make you sick


Back in February 2016 we wrote a blog and white paper on Ransomware. Given the huge attack this month – hitting not only the dear old NHS but also slick “tech savvy” firms like O2 and UPS - we thought we’d revisit this topic to share the latest information and advice to help you stay protected as best you can.

So what is ransomware?

Simply another type of computer virus, spread by users unwittingly allowing a program to install itself on their computers. What makes it special is that it locks you out of your documents by encrypting them, and asks for money to decrypt them so you can access them again.

Unlike other viruses, you can’t just run a scan to fix things. Your personal files are encrypted and your anti-virus program, no matter how good it is, doesn’t have the key to unlock them.  In fact, the whole point of encryption is to prevent 3rd parties from getting to files; remember the Apple vs FBI story, or the recent WhatsApp being used by terrorists thing? Even if you had the best IT brains in the world, chances are you won’t be able to unlock the files, because the “key” is held by the attacker, and it’s unique.

The attacker will of course offer you a way out; a one-off payment via BitCoins (very easy to do nowadays) will get you the key. Their business model – if you can credit malicious organised criminals with such – is to make the ransom amount realistic; £200 or so. They are likely to honour the deal too, because they want to make money out of this and consumer feedback is everything these days. Sickeningly conniving.

Might as well just throw away my computer now then?!

Not if you have a backup of your files. Apart from paying your way out, the only other option is to roll back to a time before the infection, using a recent backup. In bad cases you will need to restore your entire PC, depending on what files it encrypts. It can take a long time, but it will work as long as your backups have been running.

You would be amazed at how often backups are overlooked. Most people appreciate the importance of them, but when was the last time you tested it was working? How far back in time can you go? Are all your files covered, or only certain folders? Do you actually know how to recover files if you needed to?

We’ve heard many horror stories of people having to pay the ransom money to these malicious criminals to get their precious personal files back because their backups had not run properly for months. The old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” could not be more pertinent. A quick calendar reminder to yourself to check these things once a month, fortnight, week – whatever you need it will be time very well spent in the long run to avoid this screen meaning game over for all your data:


 
So what can I do to protect myself in future?

We’ve provided straightforward advice and practical guidance in our Malware white paper on the Ethical IT Knowledgebase for starters; this is completely free, no sign up or personal information, so please read it, share it, spread the word. Knowledge is power!

To summarise, it’s important to know that all viruses require the user to give them permission to deploy themselves. People don’t intentionally kill their computer (unless they are having a really bad day), so this happens by mistake. Hence the most popular routes in are via fake email  attachments, or injecting genuine looking links or adverts on infected websites with the virus. The best form of protection then is to never use email or the internet and go back to pen and paper.

The luddites would love that idea, but in reality there are a few simple measures you can take to help reduce your exposure:

1.       Run Windows Update and always install updates and patches; do this at least once a week. There are thousands of developers constantly working on the software you use to keep it safe. Use them, don’t ignore them!

2.       Make sure the day to day account you use on your computer is a “Limited” account, meaning you cannot install new programs without giving explicit permission and putting in a password. This means unauthorised programs cannot install themselves silently in the background.

3.       It goes without saying that good virus protection is essential. Check the market place once a year to see what program is top of the league tables; don’t just stick with the same old anti-virus. The quality of protection rises and falls among competitors so a little research can go a long way to keeping you ahead. There are some great review sites here and here you can quickly compare current products.

What’s the single most effective weapon against malware?

Knowledge. Awareness of what to look for in a fake email (see our handy Spam article for help here). An understanding of what pop-up is fake or what advert is illegitimate. or yourself and your staff, so they can spot spam emails or fake adverts on websites and thus never click or open them in the first place. There are lots of articles such as this one that explain ransomware in non-techie detail, and we are more than happy to help give some group training sessions to your teams to help them arm themselves with the knowledge to avoid risk of infections like ransomware or any other virus for that matter.

Finally, we cannot stress enough the importance of making sure you have backups of your files. This goes without saying of course - regardless of ransomware or viruses or spam – but you would be amazed how often this is overlooked. Backups also need to be tested at least twice a year to make sure they are actually working; again this is very often forgotten, so when the time comes to restore there is no data there!

Please do have a read of our White Paper on this rather hot topic, and feel free to get in touch with our security team if you wish to discuss this further – we can help you audit, set up and test your Backup Strategy, and provide tools and advice to help secure your IT and minimise your exposure to this new type of threat.


 

May 2017

IT Projects – change is the only constant!

We’ve all been there: an “upgrade” is announced that promises to improve this system or speed up that, make reliability better or data more secure, and there’s always a collective groan as people translate that to mean upheaval, stress and quite possibly some lost work is on the way to wreak havoc – and just as you got everything running the way you like it.

Why do IT projects illicit this reaction? Why do they regularly fail? And why don’t we learn from our mistakes? This month we discuss IT projects and change in general, and suggest a few ideas that might help turn things around in your organisation.

As always, a more detailed White Paper on this topic is uploaded to our Knowledgebase at the same time as this Blog. It’s  free and aimed at Managers/Directors in non-technical language. You can tweet us if you want other topics covered too!
 
To err is human?
There are lots of very depressing stats about IT projects b
ut the one that stands out the most is that on average around 50% of all of them fail. Half of all projects failing – just absorb that figure for a moment. If you were setting up a company and only left 50% of your customers satisfied, you’d barely last a week. If you were running a school and only 50% of students passed you’d be shut down within a year.

Yes maybe some people running projects are just bad at it, but surely not half of them!? So why do so many projects crash and burn or – more often – massively run over time and budget or worse of all, just fail to deliver the benefits they promised?
 
What do we want?! When do we want it?!
Most research concludes that projects fail because the scope – or requirements – were either not accurate at the start, or they changed over the course of the project. The project could not (or would not) adapt to meet this change in scope, so the result is that what gets delivered is something that started off seeming like a good idea at the time, but now maybe isn’t relevant or useful. Adapting to change is a huge part of project management, and hard to get right!

Change is coming!
Heraclitus called it back in 500 BC when he observed “change is the only constant” in life, therefore how your project is set up to handle shifts in requirements, usage or access will go a long way to determining its success.
Your teams’ ability not only to react to these external factors but proactively seek feedback from your stakeholders and continuously check your projects goals remain valid - and the product you are building is still relevant - is absolutely vital.

Of course, having your end users or stakeholders engaged, excited and generally spreading the good word about the project you are working on delivering helps a great deal here; communication between you, them and the wider staff base being at the heart of all winning teams.  But getting people excited about a new finance system that will calculate PAYE tax returns in half the time can be tricky to put it mildly.

What WILL get them engaged is showing them how this new system might affect their daily lives in future – however small that change. Showing them what it might look like and how it could be configured will get them thinking…. “now that could halve the time I spend with that Excel report each month”… and then… “what if it could also distribute the tax report to our Finance team automatically? That’s one less thing for me to do”.. and so on.  Voila – an engaged, motivated stakeholder.  Achieving this nirvana state can often come down to one word: Prototype

















Agile is not a new project methodology, and a whole industry exists purely selling the Agile framework as a rock n’ roll alternative to sluggish boring old Prince2. But whilst there is still a very good place for Prince2 projects that have a clear start and end, the core principal of Agile is to start fast and deliver early – a first sketch. A draft, a demo, a model – a prototype. Something that resembles the finished product that your staff can look at, play with and start thinking “what if….”

This sounds simple but we are stunned how often it does not happen. We have seen first hand the huge benefits it brings – real feedback, real emotions, real engagement that helps nail the scope of the work and, most importantly of all, through repeating this iterative approach it allows you to adapt as you deliver the project. Using this prototyping approach almost guarantees the end result is something people want because they have been using it from the start.

We will talk about Agile in more detail on the full White Paper of this topic – the image on the right shows the basic concepts of the “Sprint” which is a 2 week chunk of intensive work, the end of which results in another demo with the user group – and as you can see there’s a lot going on.
                                   
But for now if we can offer you one piece of advice to help you with your IT project planning and delivery, it would be to spend time working out how you can give stakeholders a “sneak preview” of the work you are doing. It will ignite their interest in what is purely conceptual before that point, and well worth the effort.
 
Risk vs Reward
The other big ticket item to nail down before and during your project is your Risk Register. This sounds very dull but a Risk Register is your Get Out Of Jail card, and it’s very important to come back to it again and again. At the heart of this document is simply a record of “if X happens, we will do Y”. That’s all it is, and “Y” can be anything from run away to celebrate wildly, but just having this on record and reviewed at least once a fortnight helps to keep everyone calm and feel like they are in control. There’s quite a simple 3-step guide here: http://www.gregerwikstrand.com/risk-management-three-simple-steps/ - it’s not hard.
 
Let’s celebrate, we’re in the top 50%!!
We’ve seen lots of projects – good, bad and ugly – but when they work they do so for the same core reasons:
  1. Requirements are understood by all (staff, techs, managers, suppliers) and are allowed to flex
  2. The end product is demonstrated to stakeholders early, during development, and evolves
  3. Risk is constantly checked and balanced so not much is left to chance (some is inevitable!)
  4. The project team emit tons of excitement and passion which rubs off on their end “customers”
Ultimately it’s an exciting space to be in, and a satisfying one – you are making a difference, even if it is to that finance system, the finance team will be your new best friends, so embrace that change and keep fit and agile!
 
As always, we are here to help answer your questions, plan and deliver a good project and anything else in between!

Got a topic of the day you’d like to hear our views on? Ask and follow us on Twitter - @EthicalITUK  - for daily Tweets with tips, tricks, advice and articles relevant to IT in the charity sector!
 


March / April 2017

Cloud Storage - for a rainy day


Cloud Computing is relatively old hat in the tech world, yet we still hear and see a lot of organisations battling with ageing servers, expensive tape backups, dead hard drives and in some cases lost data that could be avoided by adding online storage or even switching entirely to cloud based files.

This month we discuss a few different online backup and file storage options available at very low cost to ensure you never lose that precious photo of GrumpyCat again!

As always, a more detailed white paper on this topic is uploaded to our Knowledgebase at the same time as this Blog. It’s totally free and we are happy for it to be shared; it’s aimed at Managers and Directors in non-technical language. You can tweet us if you want other topics covered too!

Storage vs Backup

Storage generally refers to placing your files inside a cloud based platform and working on them there: opening, editing, sharing, saving in the cloud. Online Backups, on the other hand, take a copy of your existing data that might reside on your server or computer and save it in the cloud; this backup usually runs daily so that you never lose more than a days’ work if your physical computer or server dies.

Each approach has pros and cons which we cover in more depth in our White Paper but largely we find that smaller organisations can comfortably migrate to a cloud storage solution, whereas larger ones may have existing file arrangements that make things a little more complex, but can benefit greatly by adding in an online backup layer to secure their data from loss far more cheaply than traditional tape or off-site backup services



According to Lacie (storage manufacturers) a lot of data loss is beyond our control (source: http://www.lacie.com)

Free Storage

Cost can be a factor when looking at storage or backups; usually this will be down to much data you have in the first place. For some, simply signing up and using a service like Google Drive, DropBox, or OneDrive is a great first step to securing the most important files.

Google Drive gives you 15GB of completely free storage, for instance. Office 365 gives users 1TB (1,000GB) of storage per via its “OneDrive” platform included in any subscription –around £6 per month or free for charities. These are a great way to trial which works best; in our experience OneDrive’s integration with Windows and Microsoft Office make it our go-tool tool of choice, however there are lots of products on offer; a good comparison table can be found here.

Security

It is not hard to get scared about “hacking” and “cyber-crime”; this can understandably put organisations off adopting a technology that moves their data off site into the arms of a 3rd Party. But like so much in life, one has to view things in perspective and weigh up the costs versus the benefits. Consider the cost of accidental or unforeseen loss of your data by user error or system failure, versus the risk of a hacker gaining access to your cloud provider systems and seeing your data; the former being a lot more likely than the latter!

Cloud providers invest billions of dollars in security; far more so than you or I could ever dream of. On the flip side, anyone with your password could log in as you and get to your data. So our advice is to embrace cloud storage with an end-user security approach that ensures measures such as Two Factor Authentication (staff log in with a token on their mobile phone as well as their usual secure password) and Encryption are enabled from the start – these features are supported by all the major players at no additional cost.

Bandwidth

A key factor often overlooked is your internet connection. Moving to the cloud is going to have an impact on your internet line in three ways:
  1. The initial migration / setup can cause a huge amount of traffic as data “uploads” or “syncs” for the first time – this can render the line unusable if it is a slow connection to start with, and if you have a lot of data, it can last for a long time as all the data uploads.
  2. Ongoing bandwidth usage will be higher for every user, compared to traditional “offline” files – if your current internet line has a capped or even “unlimited” plan but with a fair usage policy as part of the T&Cs then this can result in horrendous unexpected bills so do check this.
  3. Once you complete your move to the cloud, you may find that if your internet line goes down in future, you might not be able to work at all – so the connection becomes a vital lifeline that’s worth investing properly in.
Therefore a robust, reliable internet service should be at the heart of any plans to move to cloud storage or backup. In fact internet connections in general are so vital for all our customers that we’ve written a dedicated, non-technical guide to helping you navigate to the best solution, which you can access here.

What Next?

Clearly there are lots of factors to consider here – too much for a short Blog like this, hence we have written a full guide on our Knowledgebase. But for starters our suggestion would be to adopt an Agile principle of “start small, fail fast, learn quickly”, that is to say try out a few products with some test files on a few computers, at little to no cost at all. Try working elsewhere for a day and see how you get on, test out deleting files and retrieving them from the cloud again, and generally get to grips with the basics then grow it from there.

As always, we are here to help answer your questions, plan and deliver a cloud move, or anything else in between!

Please do visit our Knowledgebase – lots of free papers that go into a little more detail on topics like Office 365, Security, How to Move Offices, Cloud Computing, The Dark Web and many more.

The same applies to our Twitter feed - @EthicalITUK  - for daily Tweets with tips, tricks, advice and articles relevant to IT in the charity sector
 

February / March 2017

Digital” is the buzz word of the moment, but what does it actually mean, and how might your organisation ensure they are adopting digital technology in the right way? This month we discuss how such a broad term might apply to you.


As always, a more detailed white paper on this topic – Digital Transformation - is uploaded to our Knowledgebase at the same time as this Blog. It’s totally free and we are happy for it to be shared; it’s aimed at Managers and Directors in non-technical language so we hope it’s easy to use and follow. You can tweet us if you want other topics covered!

IT is awash with buzz words and hot topics that come and go like the tides. Remember the Millennium Bug, the advent of Online Shopping, Browser Wars, even the Dot Com Bubble going back a few years?  Recently Uber, SnapChat, WhatsApp, even Tinder have fundamentally changed how we use technology.

The word Digital has risen to the top of the pile of management consultancies’ catch-all patter; being digital, becoming digital, digital transformation, digital maturity – the list goes on.

But how does digital actually translate to you and me?  Well, in our eyes, digital can be summed up as the technology that connects people to things. That’s very broad brush, but in this Internet of Things (IoT) era, as more and more of our possessions become connected to one another, the term digital gets wider and wider.
 
The onset of Cloud Computing has underpinned the digital revolution, and the IoT has driven uptake of this technology into every home in the UK almost without choice – the fact your TV connects to your Wi-Fi is expected now, but I doubt you ever woke up thinking “I want to take part in the Internet of Things”.

For the charities, social change organisations and NGOs that we here at Ethical IT support, we think that digital really represents an opportunity; both internally - for staff, processes, systems, efficiency and security - and equally externally - for donors, supporters, fundraisers and stakeholders: overall there is a lot to gain.
 




Customer at the centre

Most of the organisations we work with may not directly have “customers” - but donors, sponsors, trustees and supporters can all be included in the group of people who you engage with on a regular basis and often in a transactional way.

So how do you manage these transactions? How do your “customers” engage with other organisations – and each other - in their personal and professional lives? The answer will almost always be “digitally”, but the focus is on convenience and mobility: via an email, inside an app, using a chat service, on a video call or just plain old fashioned talking – more often than not these engagements are handled entirely within the mobile phone ecosystem.

Yet most of us use a desktop PC at work so it can be difficult to detach from this mode and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. One very quick easy win would be to add a live chat feature to your website; nowadays you just need to pick a product and it will bolt into website platforms like WordPress or Joomla very quickly.

Tawk is an example of a completely free live chat plug in. PureChat is only about £20 a month for 3 users; in fact there’ a list of free online chat services here and a comprehensive list of other paid-for chat products here – giving your customers a convenient and flexible way to engage with you from their phones has never been so easy. Your staff remain the same but how they engage with customers shifts.

Twitter is another way customers expect to be able to interact with you. Here are some great examples of how companies engage with their customer base, watching for hashtags that mention them and replying. Digital technology such as Hootsuite can automate this and alert you when you are mentioned, to allow you to respond and interact across multiple social media platforms with ease and from anywhere.



Mobile traffic overtook PC on the internet in late 2014 (wpsocial.com)

Agility

The key to exploiting digital trends is not the tech itself, but the ability to adapt quickly. Successful digital organisations can react and evolve within days or even hours to leverage current events or emerging technology to keep ahead of the pack or stand out as innovative and dynamic.

Their ability to do this is greatly helped by their underlying infrastructure; multiple strands of public-facing digital technology and platforms means they do not rely on a single outlet for their interactions with customers or stakeholders. Staff can be spread across multiple regions but accessing the same cloud based systems, working uninhibited by the traditional IT Policies.

Cloud computing in itself can really underpin your ability to keep agile and make the most of digital trends. At the heart of any IT Strategy should be a focus on reducing your reliance on the IT Helpdesk and wherever possible moving systems to a private or public cloud – at Ethical IT we offer both, allowing for a mix of cost effective – often free – public cloud systems like Office 365 for some applications like emails, and a private cloud for sensitive data that you need to keep totally locked down.

How you take up digital in your organisation will ultimately be a culture driven thing. Given the chance, most of us like to play with new apps or emerging social platforms, and the IT function should be there to support that. 
Moving your traditional IT systems to model that contains a blend of products, services and cloud systems removes old fashioned single points of failure and, crucially, allows the staff more freedom and control over their tools; trying new programs or apps is fine with the IT team, because they know that core systems are ring-fenced, not held locally, and can’t be “broken” by accident.

Let’s embrace the digital revolution, not hide from it!

Please do visit our Knowledgebase – lots of free papers that go into a little more detail on topics like Digital Transformation, Office 365, Security, How to Move Offices, Cloud Computing, The Dark Web and many more.

The same applies to our Twitter feed - @EthicalITUK  - for daily Tweets with tips, tricks, advice and articles relevant to IT in the charity sector

Ethical IT February 2017
IT Support, Cloud Services, Internet and Voice for the Social Change Sector
www.ethicalit.net

January / February 2017

Happy New Year and here’s to a successful 2017.   The New Year is a natural time to look ahead with positivity, and IT Strategy is exactly that - but creating something like this can feel daunting without in house expertise.  So we kick off 2017 with a streamlined checklist you can use as an agenda with your Senior Management Team to focus energy efficiently on a low fat, effective and simple IT strategy to help your organisation evolve.

As always, the full white paper version of this topic is uploaded to our Knowledgebase at the same time as this Blog. It’s totally free and we are happy for it to be shared; it’s aimed at Managers and Directors in non-technical language so we hope it’s easy to use and follow. You can tweet us if you want other topics covered!


We’ve been doing IT for charities for a while now – some of us over 15 years – so nothing much surprises us these days. But something we find time and again is just how reactive IT can be; break fix break fix break fix - repeat. It can be like groundhog day sometimes.

And this cycle can lead to staff spending ages on the phone to us patching up their machines or, worse, getting frustrated and missing deadlines because their computers let them down at the worst possible time.

Of course, the onset of Cloud Computing has helped take away some of the reliance on hardware, but we still need decent enough kit on which to do our work. Computers – like most things – will break eventually, and being prepared for that; shifting the strategy from reactive to proactive, is something we try hard to foster with our clients.

“I am not technical and have no time, how can I come up with an IT Strategy without expensive consultants or subject matter experts” – it’s a common and understandable misconception.


BUT the raw ingredients for a simple strategy are easy. We think that you could come up with one in about a days’ worth of effort, split over a few weeks.  3 or 4 meetings with the Senior Management Team and a little engagement of your staff and IT Supplier if you have one, and you’ll have something tangible and light to take away and then refine over the months and years as things around you change. Well worth the effort.

Our Top 5 Picks for a no frills IT strategy

This list is by no means exhaustive, but covering the below 5 areas will go a long way to having a Version 1.0 of a strategy covering most bases, on which you can then build and refine.

1. Gap Analysis.

Start by stopping. Talk to staff, hold a group meeting and open the floor to feedback – get the good the bad and the ugly on what works well and what people hate about your IT (people will get fired up, trust us!).
Ask them to share experiences from past jobs. Let them be creative. Nothing is off limits, you want to listen and let them be heard. Surveys, Town Halls, Brainstorming – simple techniques to get valuable data back from your most valuable assets, you can then use to drive the direction of your IT estate over the next year.

2. Bring Your Own Device

BYOD is here to stay. People expect it now, and it can save you a heap of money whilst simultaneously giving staff flexibility. It needs a framework to control your data and prevent loss, but this can often be straightforward to implement alongside a “soft” policy permitting you to remotely wipe a device if lost.


3. Speak to IT! 

It may sound obvious but your IT Support team are well aware of your organisations issues, and they would love to be more proactive.

Schedule time to dedicate to strategic talk with them; what are their other customers doing, what about Office 365, charity discounts, donated hardware, Thin Clients, security guidelines, data protection – an hour with them talking strategy – looking 18 months ahead max – will be time very well spent.

4. Hardware Refresh

Don’t let computers die a slow death and cost some unlucky staff member 6 hours on the phone to IT when it finally gives up the ghost! Plan to replace PCs with Laptops and budget on a 4-year cycle.

Putting a rough figure of £500 per workstation and depreciating over 4 years will allow for proper spend on your IT assets; this is equipment your teams will use all day every day, and they are absolutely critical; replace them like you would tyres on a car.  Laptops also save power and are portable, and lots of cheap docking options are available to make connecting and disconnecting a breeze.

5. IT Security

Another seemingly daunting topic that is straightforward to cover when broken down into small chunks; the usual suspects like password rotation, old user deletion, shared drive access – all these sorts of things can be captured in a simple plan and brief action and Risk Reponses added to help control security and manage incidents should something go wrong.

Above all else, remember to Keep It Simple and short – for now.  Then revisit it in a few months to expand and refine it. Share it with your staff. Ask your peers from other organisations what they do. Spend a bit of time being proactive on this subject, and it will pay itself back many times over in future; we’ve seen this in action and the end result is that staff are confident in their IT usage, get the most out of collaboration and are ultimately more productive when backed up by a forward looking, easy to understand IT Strategy.

Please do visit our Knowledgebase – lots of free papers that go into a little more detail on topics like Office 365, Security, How to Move Offices, Cloud Computing, The Dark Web and many more; same applies to our Twitter feed - @EthicalITUK  - for daily Tweets with tips, tricks, advice and articles relevant to IT in the charity sector
 

December / January 2016

Top 10 Support Questions Part 2

This month is Part 2 of 2, and we cover our final 5 most frequently asked about IT areas. A full guide to all these topics can be found in our monthly white paper, which is published on the Ethical IT Knowledgebase at the same time as this Blog, at http://www.ethicalit.net/knowledgebase.php

1. Is public WiFi safe?

When you are on a public WiFi network, others on that same network can “see” your computer. So if you’re sharing files inadvertently, or browsing websites that do not begin with https:// then you’re in plain sight to anyone that cares.

A few simple steps like sticking to sites that use https:// (meaning they are encrypted) and turning off file sharing on the network will cover your bases. If you really have to do internet banking, use 4G on your banks’ app on your phone. Here’s a handy little guide

2Are cheap cables a false economy?

As our white paper explains, there is little to no difference in cables like
HDMI or VGA. Signal is signal and it with most component it either works or doesn’t.  A fiver for an HDMI cable is perfectly fine.

There are lots more tips and links in our White Paper this month on the Knowledgebase, and also a great online store here too.

3. How often is “normal” to be rebooting my router?

If you are having to reboot a router more than once a month, you probably have a line fault. Getting your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to acknowledge this can be like pulling teeth, but make a note of it and call them back with the evidence.  Keep an eye on how much bandwidth the family are sucking up by doing speed checks at regular intervals, and if you really want to get funky, install a free little bandwidth monitor on your own laptop to see who is using what - https://www.solarwindsmsp.com/blog/10-free-tools-monitoring-network-bandwidth

4. Is my internet provider watching me?

To keep it short and sweet: probably yes. What gives you relative anonymity online is the “pack” principle – there are so many users on any ISPs network that monitoring millions of gigabytes each hour is not realistic.  What there will be is certain triggers like you sucking up huge swathes of data downloading all those TV series, or other types of activity that might mean they keep a closer eye on your connection for a while.  This is a little scary to think about, but there are lots of ways to remain fully invisible – some more ethical than others, as you can read here

5. Does Online Privacy matter?

Following on from the above, should anyone care if they have nothing to hide that they are being watched? This is a tough call but we think everyone has the right to go about their business without unjustified close monitoring of their every step. The Investigator Powers Act 2016 is certainly giving a heck of a lot of power to the Government to watch your every step online and this freedom of speech is something that we should all try to fight to retail:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2016/nov/24/how-can-i-protect-myself-from-government-snoopers

Please do visit our Knowledgebase – lots of free papers that go into a little more detail on topics like Office 365, Security, How to Move Offices, Cloud Computing, The Dark Web and many more; same applies to our Twitter feed - @EthicalITUK  - for daily Tweets with tips, tricks, advice and articles relevant to IT in the charity sector
 

November / December 2016

Top 10 Support Questions Part 1

Re-inventing the wheel isn’t needed - even in Tech

This month is Part 1 of 2, and we cover our first 5 most frequently asked about IT areas. A full guide to all these topics can be found in our monthly white paper, which is published on the Ethical IT Knowledgebase at the same time as this Blog, at
http://www.ethicalit.net/knowledgebase.php

1. What does malware actually do?

It’s not fun.  Malware will encrypt your files and ask for a ransom to unlock them. The files cannot be unlocked by anyone apart from the attacker, and paying the ransom will actually work; that’s their business model.

If you inadvertently allow malware to install itself on your PC and it locks your files, you either pay a faceless criminal or, hopefully, you fall back to a recent backup of your files – meaning you wipe your PC totally and restore from backup. Either way, a complete pain. Good article about it here

2. Looking after my phone battery 

Charging stuff can become a bit of an obsession these days, with phones and tablets doing so much lifting that the batteries get hammered. A good battery will only last about 18 months at best, but you can help by keeping the thing cool, not letting it become empty and never leaving it discharged. There are lots more tips in our White Paper this month on the Knowledgebase, and also a great guide here too.


3. Spam email.

Spam seems almost retro these days, but it’s still the no. 1 vehicle for delivering malware and viruses and getting people to mistakenly consent to those nasties installing themselves on your computer. True they are getting more and more sophisticated, but there are a few quick checks you can do before you open that email from PayPal or eBay to check it’s real. Have a look at our guide on Spam here

4 . Handling USB Drives

Did you know that when you save something to a USB flash drive, your files may not actually get put onto the drive until the PC is in an idle, resting state (i.e. when you stop pounding the keyboard). This is called “caching” and it helps improve performance. Ripping the drive out of the slot could mean your data never makes it over, or gets corrupted. Have a little respect for your inanimate friend and eject it properly please.
 
5. Oh no, LinkedIn has been hacked, I'm doomed. 


Well, if you’re very unlucky and the hackers manage to decrypt your password, match it to yourusername and you don’t intervene then you may find yourself be in a spot of bother, yes. ESPECIALLY if you use the same username and password for all your cloud services like Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook etc.

Again there is help at hand from Ethical IT on our self-help portal. Another place worth checking is this guide on staying safe online, it’s very sensible stuff - https://www.getsafeonline.org/
 
Please do visit our Knowledgebase – lots of free papers that go into a little more detail on topics like Office 365, Security, How to Move Offices, Cloud Computing, The Dark Web and many more; same applies to our Twitter feed - @EthicalITUK
 


September / October 2016

Bitcoin


The new kids on the block (chain)

We started our Blog exactly 1 year ago, back in October 2015; we are having a very Happy 1st Birthday and we hope you’ve found the posts at least a little bit helpful in your day to day computer stuff.


Over the year we’ve covered topics such as Cloud Computing, Information Security, Support and Helpdesk, Spam emails, Windows 10, the list goes on! If there’s any topics you would like to know more on just drop us a line on enquiries@ethicalit.net or via Twitter @EthicalITUK

Please do also visit and share our Knowledgebase too – this contains lots of free papers that go into a little more detail on topics like Office 365, How to Move Offices, VOIP (phone calls over the internet), Cloud Computing, The Dark Web and many more. These are intended to be practical plain-English, non-technical guides to help you avoid some of the common mistakes we sometimes have to come in and fix!

This month we take a brief look at Bitcoin, the new type of online currency ruffling a lot of feathers in finance circles and offering a fascinating alternative to conventional payment methods.



What are bitcoins?


Bitcoin is a form of virtual currency, created in 2009 by an unknown person using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto.

With Bitcoin, you can buy goods or services using this currency just as you would with pounds or euros, as long as the seller accepts bitcoins. Bitcoins are used for electronic purchases and transfers. Every single purchase is immediately logged digitally on a transaction log that tracks the time of purchase and who owns how many bitcoins. This way every transaction is 100% transparent, giving more safety to the whole process.

So people will know what I am spending?

No - each transaction is recorded in a log, known as a Block Chain (more about that later) but the names of buyers and sellers are never revealed, keeping the transactions private.

Where can I spend them?

Bitcoins are growing in popularity and there is a positive trend of businesses accepting it as a form of payment. Many big companies like Microsoft, Subway, Expedia, WordPress and Reddit accept Bitcoin. More than $1.5 billion worth of bitcoins are currently in circulation around the world, with millions of transactions occurring daily.

Why use Bitcoin?

It is a very fast payment method which, unlike some credit card payments, happen in real time. It is also a very cheap form of currency; most transactions carry no fee which can be a major advantage, particularly for small business, as the typical credit card payments are 2-3% on the transaction.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that there is no central bank or institution with power over the industry. Bitcoins are controlled by its community and, for good and for bad, it is completely decentralized. No one can “freeze your account” or access your bitcoins.

Surely it’s not safe?

We wouldn’t condone switching your entire life savings to Bitcoin just yet, but the structure of the system is inherently safe – some say safer than your bank in fact. Each transaction is only subject to two pieces of data: a public key, and a private one. Anyone can see the public key (your bitcoin address) but your private key is secret. When you send a bitcoin, you ‘sign’ the transaction by combining your public and private keys together, and applying a mathematical function to them. This creates a certificate that proves the transaction came from you. This type of system grows as the network grows and it makes it unbelievably hard to intercept and crack.


 
How to get started

You can get Bitcoins in a different number of ways but the first step is to sign up for a Bitcoin Wallet - basically an app where all your bitcoins and information is kept securely.

Once you have that set up, you can start collecting and using your currency. The most common ways to get the currency are the following:
  • If you are selling goods, you can accept bitcoins as a form of payment.
  • You can purchase and sell bitcoins through marketplaces called Bitcoin exchanges. The largest exchange is Mt.Gox
  • You can trade bitcoins for traditional currencies of countries.
  • Through mining. Yes, mining! People compete to “mine” bitcoins using computers to solve complex math puzzles.
This is how bitcoins are created. Currently, a winner is rewarded with 25 bitcoins roughly every 10 minutes. This means that the “miners” are the ones creating wealth (meaning bitcoins) in the system.

In order to reduce inflation in the bitcoin world, there is a limit for the amount of bitcoins that can ever exist. The number of bitcoins created per block halves every four years (it will go from 25 to 17.5 in 2017) with the maximum ever possible being 21 million bitcoins.

Recent developments

There has been quite a lot of talk around Bitcoin. Some countries, such as China, have blocked the use of Bitcoins. Plus, a couple of weeks ago, the European Union warned its citizens for the fact that virtual currencies have no consumer protections, meaning that we are on our own risk when it comes to virtual hacking or any other losses.

How this form of currency grows into the mainstream remains to be seen, but the core message behind the movement is incredibly powerful – the concept that groups of people can create their own currency and exchange goods just using the internet and cut out both Governments and Banks, could have massive repercussions on our digital lives over the coming decades
 


August / September 2016

Speed up your PC

Watching the wheel go round is a waste of your life!

Welcome back and we hope you had a magnificent summer!  This month we have published a detailed guide on our Knowledgebase outlining five or six simple steps you can take to give your PC a good service - clean it up and make it run better. As always it’s totally free, no sign up is required, just download it any time
here

                                           

Why do computers slow down, it’s infuriating!?

We’ve all been there – you plug in your new laptop and it runs like a dream. Then as the months wear on, it slowly starts to creak, to crash, to take ages to load BBC News or send an email. What’s changed? You’re still using it in the same way, and yet it seems like it’s slowly falling to bits!
The simple answer is that data is being sprayed all over the hard disk – the central repository for all the files on the computer. This data is generated by you though browsing the web or using Skype or installing iPlayer or any number of ways. As this giant database grows inside your PC, it becomes more and more unwieldy and eventually it takes your computers’ brain a long time to sift through it to find what you’re after.

The simple answer is that data is being sprayed all over the hard disk – the central repository for all the files on the computer. This data is generated by you though browsing the web or using Skype or installing iPlayer or any number of ways. As this giant database grows inside your PC, it becomes more and more unwieldy and eventually it takes your computers’ brain a long time to sift through it to find what you’re after.

OK but if Windows can see this coming surely it can be prevented?

It would be reasonable to assume that preventative measures could be automated to help stop this “clogging up” occurring in the first place. And to be fair, Windows 8 and Windows 10 have got a lot better at trying to be proactive. But the main problem is that all of us consumers are unique. We all use our PCs in our own way, and have millions of apps and programs to choose from, websites to visit, games to play – it’s almost impossible to predict the demands these interactions will place on your PC and/or what you’ll ask it to do.

My (slightly annoying) friend has a Mac and she says it doesn’t happen to her

This is not the time or place for a Windows vs. Mac debate (although if you want that, here is a good place to start!) suffice to say that the Apple ecosystem is a lot more locked down and controlled. That’s why they can charge so much money – it’s all manufactured, owned and controlled by Apple, whereas PCs are made up of components from hundreds of different vendors, and the Windows operating system is inherently more open in what third party software can and cannot do inside it, meaning consistency is hard to come by.

OK so what can I do?

In essence there are five main steps to go through to properly service your computer. You should aim to do this about once a year or if you are keen, every six months. Allow about two hours and do them roughly in this order:
  1. Remove unused apps       
  2. Disk clean-up
  3. Registry clean-up
  4. Defragment
  5. Windows Updates
                                            
Our PC Maintenance guide on the knowledgebase walks you through each of these steps in plain English – don’t be scared! It may seem daunting but actually it’s very simple nowadays, and becoming the master of your PC is much healthier and less frustrating than the other way around!
Don’t just take our word for it either – there is a fantastic set of simple lessons for beginners by the folks at How To Geek which is well worth half an hour of your time: http://www.howtogeek.com/school/pc-maintenance-for-beginners/lesson1/all/

What about my internet connection?

BEWARE THE BANDWIDTH RED HERRING!  Nowadays Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will all try to sell you the highest speeds possible; Virgin Media for example are touting a 200Mb service for the home, costing an eye-watering £80 a month. It’s tempting to think that faster is better, and an upgrade will solve everything. Don’t be sucked in!

The average worker in an office only needs about 2Mbps nowadays to function properly.  At home, we like to do things like watch House of Cards on Netflix or stream Great British Bake Off in HD of course, which does require more bandwidth, but actually not that much more. If you live in a house with four internet users, for example, a connection of roughly 8 – 10Mbps download and you’ll be absolutely fine.

In summary: don&am