The Three Scariest Threats To Small Business Networks

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

While spam, pop-ups, and hackers are a real threat to any small business network, there are three security measures that you should be focusing on first before you do anything else.

Worry About E-mail Attachments, Not Spam
Sure, spam is annoying and wastes your time, but the real danger with spam is in the attachments.

Viruses and worms are malicious programs that are spread primarily through cleverly disguised attachments to messages that trick you (or your employees) into opening them.

Another huge threat is phishing e-mails that trick the user by appearing to be legitimate e-mails from your bank, eBay, or other financial accounts.

Here are three things you must have in place to avoid this nightmare: [Read more…]

How To Keep Your E-mail Off The “Naughty” List

Someone’s making a list and checking it twice, but it isn’t Santa. Due to rising e-mail abuse and spam, hundreds of servers at various companies now monitor e-mail accounts to make sure those accounts are not sending out mass e-mails.

If that e-mail account is assumed to be sending spam it is put on the “blacklist.”

Once on the blacklist, your e-mail account is virtually SHUT DOWN because your e-mail is blocked by hundreds or thousands of servers and your message can’t be delivered.

Big companies who give out e-mail addresses like AOL, Google, and Comcast, for example, will cut off e-mail service to anyone who sends an e-mail to a large number of people at once.

Because of this, even if you or your employees innocently send a message to 100 of your clients, you could be without e-mail for days or weeks.

So, how do you prevent this costly and frustrating downtime from happening to you?

Read these tips to find out:

Protect Your Server
Spammers LOVE to find e-mail servers that don’t have a proper firewall, anti-virus, and intrusion protection.

They get a high from hacking into these servers and then using them to send out thousands of e-mails. Plus, with no protection in place, tracking and catching these spammers is nearly impossible.

The right protection will also prevent malware from being installed on your server, which can automatically send spam without human interaction.

Don’t Allow Employees To Forward Messages
Unless it is for work –only related purposes, make a policy that no one is to forward messages like jokes, photos, or videos outside the company.

If just four of your employees send out this kind of an e-mail to 30 of their contacts, that’s well over 100 people receiving junk mail on the same day from the same e-mail server. This puts you at high risk of being blacklisted.

Have Your Clients And Prospects “Opt-In”
Sometimes companies end up on the blacklist because someone on your list complained and reported your message as spam.

If you have your clients and prospects agree via an opt-in form that they want to receive communication from you and confirm their permission, then you’ll have better protection against that.

Also make sure you keep good records of these optins. That way, even if you do get blacklisted, you should be back up and running fairly quickly.

Make Sure Your E-mail Is Set-up Properly
In addition to protecting yourself from hackers and invasions with software and firewalls, you also need to be sure that your e-mail is configured correctly and set-up to block outside relays.

If you’ve got the wrong setting in your e-mail account, you could wind up blacklisted, without any e-mail for days or weeks.

Keep Your E-mail List Up-To-Date
If someone asks to be removed from your list and you ontinue to send messages to him, the chances of him reporting your company as a spammer is pretty high.

Avoid this by using in-house lists (instead of purchasing one) and contracting your list to verify the information.

We use and recommend iContact. They’re excellent commericial email service. To sign up for a free trial, or for more information, go to: http://icontact.extole.com/a/clk/37L8x

SPAM Prevention FAQ: Tips To Reduce Junkmail

How can you reduce the amount of junk email you receive? Here are our best tips!

Never Allow Your Email To Be Posted Or Listed
“Spiders” and web “crawlers” routinely “harvest” email addresses from web pages in an effort to build a collection of email addresses to send junk email to.

Never Unsubscribe Or Ask To Be Removed
The only exception to this rule is if you originally signed up for that particular list or asked to receive updates.

If you never asked to be part of a participating mailing list, why would you ask to be removed? Doesn’t make sense does it.

This is a common ploy spammers use to validate email addresses. If you respond, that proves to them that your email address is alive and active, and that you are receiving their emails.

Responding only encourages them to sell your email address to other spammers, and will ultimately increase the amount of junk email that you will receive.

Never Open Or Read Junk Email
Believe it or not, even if you never respond, but merely open a junk email, there could be special HTML code contained in that email message that will report back that you opened or read the message.

This provides validation to the spammer that your email address is alive and active, and you can bet you will start receiving more spam!

Be sure to turn off your email program’s Preview Pane feature, as this is essentially the same thing as “reading” a message.

Avoid Contests, Special Offers, And Chances To Win
These are gimmicks to get you to reveal your email address so they can send you special offers. Many free ecards (electronic greeting cards) are also ways companies collect email addresses.

Never Post To An Email List Using Your Private Email Address
Many spammers watch these posts in order to harvest new email addresses.So be very cautious when posting to these websites.

If you are a contact for a registered domain, do not list you private email address.

Instead of using your personal email address use a generic common mailbox for this purpose, or ask for domain registration privacy.

Create a public email address such as DNS@yourdomain.com or help@yourdomain.com.

Guard Your Computer Against Trojan Spyware And Software
Never open any attachments you don’t explicitly trust.

Some “fun” emails are often a ruse to steal email addresses or track your behavior on the Internet.

The use of both anti-virus, personal firewall, and or antispyware software is strongly recommended.

Use A Free Account As Your Public Email Address
Reserve your private email address for friends and select associates.

Never sign up for special offers using your private email address. Use your generic common email address for those.

Trick The Spammers
If you post an email address online, disguise its set-up, spelling out ‘dot com’ in place of .com.

Junk Mail Out Of Hand
If your junk mail has reached a level that it is just out of hand and you cannot handle it anymore, consider changing your email address.

If you don’t want to change your email address consider us to take advantage of our advanced SPAM filtering services.

We can make all necessary changes on your computer and with your email service to help prevent those spam messages.

Avoiding Common Email Security Threats

Most companies today rely heavily on the use of email. Emailing is a very fast and cost effective form of communication for many different types of businesses.

Most companies use it as their main source of communication between employees. In fact, most employers do not realize the risk of using email.

Some risks range from viruses, hackers, to someone else just trying to gain a little information.

Here’s an overview of the most common email security threats in today’s Internet world.

Viruses
Viruses cause billions of dollars in damage to businesses every year.

Many corporate email systems are still quite vulnerable to viruses. In fact, in last year alone, an estimated 63 distinct email virus attacks hit the United States. These attacks come quickly and can spread quickly.

They mainly cause slowdowns across the internet. However some have been known to take down major corporation’s entire email systems.

Today’s viruses are very complex and often appear to be harmless such as personal notes, jokes, or promotions. While most viruses require recipients to download attachments in order to initiate infection and spread, some are designed to launch automatically with absolutely no user action required.

Spam
Studies have shown that 20 percent of corporate email is spam. A company that has a thousand employees could receive over two billion spam emails in a full year.

Most do not realize it until a lack of productivity ends up costing the companies billions of dollars each year.

While most spam is just annoying, some of it can be very dangerous. Most trick employees into opening malicious emails to spread faster. Also, many hackers have begun disguising viruses as spam.

Phishing
Phishing is used to trick a person into thinking the email is legit and came from a real website, usually asking the person to verify their password or to change some sort of account information.

Then, taking them to a fake website and stealing what you have typed in. This is the number one way people get their identity and personal information stolen.

Spyware
The main purpose of spyware is to install itself on the victim’s computer. It monitors all key strokes and mouse clicks so that they can later go back and collect usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.

These infections can stay installed on computers for many months without an antivirus picking them up.  Most are detected and removed instantly if the user keeps their antivirus up to date.

Having a great antivirus that scans files as well as emails can help prevent virus attacks, phishing and spyware.

Users should also have an up to date spam filter that prevents the infection from getting to your inbox to begin with. And most importantly never open an email attachment you didn’t specifically request.

Also, pay attention to links inside emails that appear legitimate. Many times, phishers will send you an email that looks like it came from an official source. After clicking the links, you’re redirected to a site on the hacker’s network. This is often used to collect personal information and passwords.

3 Things You Need To Know About E-mail Marketing

It’s everyone’s favorite application. Since its introduction, it has revolutionized the way we communicate, both personally and professionally. It has had a major impact on how companies market themselves, communicate with vendors, send out press releases, rally employees and alert clients to their latest and greatest promotion. The ease, low-cost and speed of e-mail in marketing is the biggest reason why our inboxes are overflowing with spam.

In response to the ubiquitous outcry, “I hate spam,” governments have crafted new regulations surrounding the use of e-mail; and if you are one of the millions of companies using it for marketing, then it’s important that you familiarize yourself with these laws. But the danger doesn’t stop there…

Even if you don’t get caught by the authorities for violating the rules of e-mail usage, you can still end up on a blacklist with the major ISPs such as Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN. Once you get blacklisted, you are considered guilty until proven innocent, and ALL the e-mail you send won’t get through, even to people who want to receive it—a consequence that could end up hurting your business more than a fine.

So what are the basic guidelines of e-mail marketing?
First and foremost, make sure you are only sending e-mail campaigns to people who have solicited (requested) to be on your distribution list. This is called “opting-in” or subscribing, and e-mails sent to these folks are considered “solicited e-mail.” You are perfectly within your rights to send them messages; but if you got their e-mail address by any other means and they did NOT specifically request to be on your list, that is “unsolicited e-mail” or spam.

Sending promotional e-mails to people who have not requested it can be illegal, but certainly annoying…so don’t do it!

Next, make sure you provide directions on how a person can remove themselves from your distribution list in EVERY e-mail. The best place to put this information is at the very bottom of your message. You should also include your full company name and contact information at the bottom so no one can blame you for cloaking your identity—which is in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Finally, when sending mass e-mails, we recommend using a web based service such as iContact (www.iContact.com). These applications will help you manage your e-mail distribution list with automatic opt-out and opt-in tools and will keep your e-mail server off an ISP’s blacklist. Naturally, you want to make sure the information you are sending is interesting and relevant. No one wants more junk filling up their inbox so the better you are at marketing, the better your results will be.Email is not a magic marketing bullet that will solve all your marketing problems, but used correctly, it can help you reach more customers and build stronger relationships with the people you already do business with.

Do You Make These Mistakes When Sending E-Mail?

In this day and age, it is amazing how many businesses and professionals still violate basic e-mail etiquette rules. Almost everyone uses e-mail to communicate with their clients and friends yet very few give any thought to the importance of those communications.

If you want to make sure you are not offending your clients and friends when sending e-mail, here are 6 basic rules to live by:

1. Never send e-mails to people who have not requested to receive them.
This is also known as spamming and federal laws are getting much tougher in the rules and penalties for sending unwanted e-mail messages. Many businesses make the mistake of thinking that they are free and clear to send e-mail promotions to their clients, even if the client has not specifically requested to get those promotions. When in doubt, it’s always smarter to err on the side of caution and NOT include them in your broadcast; doing so could cause you to lose favor with your clients, or worse yet, lose their business altogether.

2. Don’t attach files unless you’ve gotten permission to from the recipient.
With the looming threat of viruses, it’s considered bad net-etiquette to send file attachments.

3. DO NOT USE ALL CAPS.
Using all caps in an e-mail is the online equivalent of screaming at the top of your lungs. Unless that is what you intended to do, make sure you use lowercase letters.

4. When sending to a large list of people, use the BCC (blind carbon copy) feature.
Otherwise, you are exposing every recipient’s e-mail address to everyone else on the list. Since most people like to keep their personal e-mail addresses private, exposing your entire list will cause you to lose quite a few brownie points.

Here’s another point to consider: I wish I had a nickel for every sales person that sent out a broadcast e-mail to all their clients and prospects and accidentally copied everyone on the list. This is an EASY way for your competition to get their hands on one of your most precious assets.

5. Never send information you wouldn’t want the entire world to know about.
E-mails can quickly spread around the Internet. Never send confidential information, off-color jokes, political opinions, pictures, or gossip that you wouldn’t want made public. This goes double if you are using a business e-mail address. And if you are a business owner, you want to make sure your employees know that it is against company policy to send this type of information through your company e-mail. Even a well-meaning joke can land you in a lot of hot water if taken the wrong way. Always take a minute to think before you hit the “send” button.

6. Avoid fancy formatting, background graphics, and other “cute” pictures and fonts.
What looks great on your monitor may be impossible to read on someone else’s; it also may annoy the reader who has to weed through the fluff to find the content.

5 Simple Ways To Avoid Getting An Avalanche Of Spam

As you probably already know from firsthand experience, once you’re on a spammer’s list, it’s next to impossible to get off. And changing your e-mail address can be a major inconvenience especially if you rely on it to stay in touch with important business and personal contacts.

To reduce the chances of your e-mail address getting spammed, here are 5 simple preventive measures you can take that will go a long way in keeping not-so-delicious spam out of your in-box.

Use a disposable e-mail address
If you buy products online or occasionally subscribe to websites that interest you, chances are you’re going to get spammed.

To avoid your main e-mail address from ending up on their broadcast list, set up a free Internet e-mail address with Hotmail or Juno and use it when buying or opting in to online newsletters. You can also use a throwaway e-mail address when making purchases or subscribing to newsletters.

Pay attention to check boxes that automatically opt you in
Whenever you subscribe to a website or make a purchase online, be very watchful of small, pre-checked boxes that say, “Yes! I want to receive offers from third party companies.”

If you do not un-check the box to opt-out, your e-mail address can (and will) be sold to every online advertiser.  To avoid this from happening, simply take a closer look at every online form you fill out.

Don’t use your main e-mail address on your website or forums
Spammers have special programs that can glean e-mail addresses from websites without your permission. If you are posting to a web forum or newsgroup, use your disposable e-mail address instead of your main e-mail address.

If you want to post an e-mail address on your home page, use “info@” and have all replies forwarded to a folder in your in-box that won’t interfere with your main address.

Create throwaway e-mail accounts
If you own a web domain, all mail going to an address at your domain is probably set up to come directly to you by default.  For example, an e-mail addressed to anything@yourdomain will be delivered to your in-box.

This is a great way to fight spam without missing out on important e-mails you want to get. The next time you sign up for a newsletter, use the title of the website in your e-mail address. For example, if the website is titled “successsecrets.com,” enter “successsecrets@yourdomain.com” as your e-mail address. If you get spammed, look at what address the spam was sent to.

If successsecrets shows up as the original recipient, you know the source since that e-mail address was unique to that web site. Now you can easily stop the spam by making any e-mail sent to that address bounce back to the sender.

Don’t open, reply to or try to opt-out of obvious spam e-mails
Opening, replying to, or even clicking a bogus opt-out link in an obvious spam e-mail signals that your e-mail address is active, and more spam will follow.

The only time it is safe to click on the opt-out link or reply to the e-mail is when the message was sent from a company you know or do business with (for example, a company that you purchase from or a newsletter you subscribed to).

Finally! A Way To Stop Spam, Spyware And Pop-Ups From Taking Over Your Computer

If you are absolutely fed up with the number of spam e-mails you get every day, the annoying pop-ups being shoved in your face when you surf the net, and advertisers installing spyware on your computer to monitor your every move and serve up unwanted ads, then please read on.

We’re Waging War Against Spam, Spyware, and Pop-Ups!
Just recently we polled our clients to find out what their biggest frustration currently is with their computer networks.

Not too surprisingly, an overwhelming number of you said “SPAM” with pop-ups running a close second on the list of things that make you crazy.

That’s why we’ve decided to launch a war against spammers and unethical online advertisers for our clients by offering a FREE “Stop The Ads” audit.

We’ll Show You How To Stop Spammers And Unethical Advertisers In Their Tracks
During this free audit, one of our senior technicians will come onsite to review your network and uncover loopholes that allow spammers and advertisers to penetrate your network and install unwanted spyware on your computer.

Note: Spyware is a small program that online advertisers download to your computer without your permission or knowledge so they can monitor your web surfing and steal your confidential information. Sometimes they can even read your credit card information!

During this FREE “Stop The Ads” audit we’ll show you how to:

  •  Eliminate pop-ups finally and forever.
  •  Quarantine virus-riddled spam before it ever gets to your in-box.
  •  Filter spam without blocking important e-mails from clients and associates.
  •  Clean out any spyware installed on your individual PCs or network.
  •  Bulletproof your network from viruses and other cyber criminals.

And If You Are Not Currently Hosting Your Own E-mail In House, We’ll Also Show You How To:

  • Save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on costly bandwidth and ISP fees by bringing your e-mail in house.
  • Prevent your ISP’s spam filter from blocking important, non-spam e-mails you need to receive.
  • Make it easier to set up new e-mail accounts.
  • Stop employees from accidentally (or intentionally!) sending illegal, inappropriate, or confidential information via e-mail.
  • Set up a safe and secure filing system to store all of your important e-mail.
  • Eliminate the file size limitations on your in-box.

Here’s How It Works:
To request your free “Stop The Ads” Audit, simply call our offices or fill in and fax back the enclosed form.

If you have three or more computers in your office, we will send one of our senior, professional technicians to your office. If you have less than three computers, we’ll make arrangements for you to bring your machine into our professional repair shop.

Our technician will be on time, guaranteed. He will evaluate your network for FREE and give you a straightforward situation analysis, and explain the options you have available for eliminating spam, spyware, and pop-ups.

We will also give you a guaranteed price in writing – not an estimate – for the options you want to try. If you agree to allow us to do the work (you are under no obligation), we can usually start right away!

EVERY job is backed by our exclusive Peace of Mind Guarantee: if you are not happy with the work or the technician doing the job, simply say to the technician “this is not what I had in mind.”

That will be his cue to stop the work, restore your network, and leave your office – AND YOU WON’T PAY ONE PENNY!  No questions, No argument, No guilt, No payment. You can consider the job cancelled and the work ON US.

As you can see, we don’t think you should take a chance on hiring ANY computer support company – even us. We strongly feel that the client is number one and to prove our commitment to you, we are willing to put ourselves on the line.

It’s that simple and you have nothing to lose!

Give us a call at (734) 457-5000. You’ll be glad you did!

‘Surge’ In Hijacked PC Networks

The number of computers hijacked by malicious hackers to send out spam and viruses has grown almost 30% in the last year, according to a survey.

More than six million computers world wide are now part of a “bot network,” reported security firm Symantec.

Computer users typically do not know that their PC has been hijacked.

More than a third of all computer attacks in the second half of 2006 originated from PCs in the United States, the threat report said.

While the total number of bot-net PCs rose, the number of servers controlling them dropped by about 25% to 4,700, the twice-yearly report said.

Symantec researchers said the decrease showed that bot network owners were consolidating to expand their networks, creating a more centralised structure for launching attacks.

Ollie Whitehouse, senior consulting services director at Symantec, said: “This rise in the number of infected computers can certainly be attributed to the rise in the online population of countries like China and Spain, in Europe.”

Whitehouse continued: “There is almost an educational curve that the users and service providers have to go through. Unfortunately when certain countries go through rapid increases in connectivity and availability of technology that curve is not always kept up.”

Alfred Huger, vice president of Symantec Security Response, said online criminals appeared to be adopting more sophisticated means of “self-policing.”

He added: “They’re launching denial-of-service attacks on rivals’ servers and posting pictures online of competitors’ faces.”

Huger concluded: “It’s ruthless, highly organised and highly evolved.”

The best defense against attacks? Never click on an unknown link, regardless of who sent it, and always run up to date anti-virus and anti-spyware software.