Internet Security: Beware Of “Malvertising”

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

As if Internet use wasn’t already troubled with cyber perils, users now have to add “malvertising” to the list of things from which they need to protect themselves.

“Malvertising,” like the name suggests, means “ads that contain malware.” Some mal-ads aren’t dangerous unless you click on them – but others can do “drive-by downloads,” sneaking their malware onto your computer simply because you’re viewing the page on which the ad appears.

While most malvertising is on websites, it can also show up on other ad-displaying apps, such as Facebook, Skype, some email programs, and many games.

The reason that malvertising is more of a problem than other malware approaches is that it can be spread through online advertising delivery networks like Google DoubleClick to legitimate sites that users routinely visit, like the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as routinely-used mobile apps that show ads. Malware-bearing ads can be “injected” either by hacking ads at the provider end or by buying and providing mal-ads. In most cases, there’s no way for a user to tell just by looking that an ad has been compromised.

The Potential Damage
The dangers of advertising-delivered malware are the same as those from malware you get any other way. Malware can steal account usernames and passwords, bank and credit card information, and other sensitive data.

It can encrypt your data and “hold it for ransom.” It can, in turn, infect other computers on your network and turn your computer into a “zombie,” spewing out spam and malware to the Internet.

July_2015_MalvertisingLike other viruses and malware, malvertisements take advantage of security vulnerabilities on users’ computers and mobile devices. These may be anywhere from the operating system, to web browsers and other applications, to add-ons and extensions like Java, JavaScript, and Flash.

How do you know if your computer has been infected by malware? One sign is that your web browser shows unexpected pop-ups or seems to be running slower. But many malware infections remain “stealthy,” possibly even eluding anti-malware scans.

Legitimate ad creators and ad delivery networks are working on ways to detect and prevent malware from getting into the digital ads they serve. Otherwise, people have even more reason to not look at ads or block ads entirely.

But, assuming it can be done, this won’t happen for a year or more. The burden is on companies and individuals to do their best to protect their networks, computers, and devices.

What Can Companies and Users Do?
Although malvertising is a relatively new vector, the best security practices still apply; if you’re already doing things right, keep doing them. But what does “doing things right” look like?

  1. Avoid clicking on those ads, even accidentally.
  2. Maintain strong network security measures. Next generation firewalls at the gateway can often detect malware payloads delivered by ads, block the ads entirely, and/or detect communication from already-infected devices.
  3. Regularly backup systems and critical files so you can quickly restore to a pre-infected state if your systems and data are compromised.
  4. Deploy endpoint security software on every device so that it’s protected on and off the network.
  5. Ensure that all operating systems and client software (especially web browsers) are fully patched and up to date.
  6. If you suspect a computer has been infected, stop using it for sensitive activities until it’s been “disinfected.” Again, many security appliances can help you identify and quarantine infected devices.

It’s unfortunate that even more of everyday Internet use is potentially unsafe, but the steps to fend off malvertising are essentially security precautions that companies and individuals should already be following.

How Can You Use Google Trends For Small Business?

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

Google Trends is a tool that has been around for a while, and has great potential for improving exposure and sales for businesses. It is entirely free to use, and its simplicity makes it accessible to virtually anyone with basic computer knowledge.

Here are some specific ways in which you can use Google Trends to enhance your small business practices:

Brainstorming Topics
For instance, if your business website contains a blog, it’s common to quickly run out of content ideas that will not only interest your readers but also tie into the products or services your business offers.

Choose a phrase that describes a broad idea for a blog post, and Google Trends will show you how popular that phrase is and also suggest related topics. With one simple search, you could potentially come up with ideas for dozens of different blog posts, and relevant content is the best way to build your business website. [Read more…]

Time Spent Blogging Will Boost Your Online Profile

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

You‘ve no doubt noticed the thousands of blogs online from big businesses, mom-and-pop stores, consultants, and individuals.

Some of the information is interesting, some of it is boring, and a lot of it is just an outlet for folks to vent.

However, if you are not blogging, you may be missing out.

Why blog?
If you are a business owner or manager, blogging has many benefits:

It boosts online awareness about your company. By including search engine optimization (SEO) keywords in your blog titles, links and copy throughout your blog postings, you’ll significantly increase your search rankings and boost online awareness about your company, services and products.

These keywords are simply the words or phrases potential customers are using to search for your products and services online.

By including SEO keywords in your entries and writing weekly blogs that are 300 words or more, you will see a difference in website traffic.

Blogging builds customer relationships. Blogs also offer a way for you to share information, interact and build customer relationships.

If people can comment on your posts and like what you have to say, they will share the information with others and build word-of-mouth for your business.

But how do you discover what is valuable to your customers?

Check your Google Analytics. The key is knowing what pages your site visitors are looking at most and what keywords they are currently using to find your website.

This information will give you clues about what your clients want and help you create great blog entries.

If you’re still not sure, you can always post a quick, online survey and ask your customers what they want to see.

A blog lets you beat the competition by providing unique content. Blogs can help you stand out from the competition by providing valuable information that your customers cannot find anywhere else. And how do you do that?

In your blogs, share your personal insights pertinent to your expertise, background, likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc. Your blog should be as unique as you are.

Blog for business growth!
If you haven’t looked at blogging as part of your marketing strategy, it’s time to review it again.

Blogs provide a great way to boost your rankings on the search engines and build client relationships with unique and valuable information.

However, blogs need to be written with the appropriate SEO content and posted on a regular schedule – there’s nothing worse than a stale site.

If you don’t have the time or writing skills for this, hire a content strategist who does. It will be well worth it when you see your site visitors and sales increase!

Social Media Strategies Are Different For Every Business

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

“One size fits all” doesn’t work as a strategy for managing your company’s social media presence.

Social media – the big three, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – has become an increasingly more complex space the last few years.

Constant change
There’s a lot of activity and change across all three sites. Keeping up with the changes in policies and process, while at the same time updating your site and status, can be overwhelming.

The right way to use social media for your business depends on a number of variables, including the size of your company, the type of business you’re in, your target audience, and whether you’re a B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) company.

Many business owners don’t understand this. They think that you need to use every possible social media tactic and tool that’s available, but usually that leads to confusion and distraction with little measureable result.

Choose carefully
Not every social media promotion method works for every company.

Some businesses are successful using social media to hold contests and encourage check-ins by fans and followers.

It’s a great way to raise awareness and engage prospects and clients for a local B2C business, but probably doesn’t make sense for a B2B professional services firm.

Just because other businesses are doing it and finding success, it doesn’t mean that the tactic will work for your company.

Have a plan
Many business owners make the mistake of jumping into social media without a solid strategy, figuring it out as they go.

Just as you need a business plan, you also need a social media plan. Failure to strategize leads to poor decisions, wasted time, and confused clients and prospects.

The plan doesn’t need to be complex – one page that outlines your goals and the steps you need to take to get there will work. Once your plan is outlined, it’s time to execute!

Who’s responsible
The most important decision you’ll make when it comes to your company’s social media strategy is who will be responsible for managing it.

For smaller companies, this usually will be the owner. But for even the smallest business, a well thought out plan can be delegated to a staff member. Make sure you hold them accountable, and that you measure your results.

Not just for sales
Strategic posts on your company’s social media sites can help with customer service and public relations, too. Don’t narrow your social media focus just to sales and marketing.

Your end goal with social media should be to get clients and prospects to take an action: Visit your website or blog, ask for more information, or promote your company and brand to their friends and followers. Tracking the results of your social media strategy is the only way you’ll know what’s working, and what needs changed.

Taking Your Business Online Can Increase Profits

by Jeremy Miller, Technician
Most if not all businesses can benefit from having an online-presence. Going on-line for a business can be a low-cost marketing solution.

Your online presence can help give customer’s quick access to information about you and your business, all the way to having automated inventory alerts that let clients know about new products and stock levels.

When getting started online, you’ll want to get a domain that represents your business. You’ll want to pick something that’s easy to remember, and easy to spell and type.

You don’t want a domain name that you have to spell out for clients – that makes it very hard to use in advertising.

There are many domain registrars to choose from, including Tech Experts.

After you have your domain name, you’ll need website hosting services. Most web hosts, including Tech Experts, include company email with the service.

Most hosting plans are very affordable. Our basic hosting plan starts at $9.99 per month.

If you want to take it a step further, you can set up an online store. There are a lot of options, depending on how involved you want the store to be.

Accepting credit cards online can be a hassle, especially with the new security and compliance regulations. If you expect to do a large volume of business in your store, it makes sense to set up a secure site and contract for the credit card processing services.

For smaller web stores, PayPal offers a checkout service that is fully PCI DSS compliant. Their basic service is free (less the processing costs).

Setting up a website is not enough to make your business drastically improve. You have to find a way to get customers to your website.

There are many ways to do this. An inexpensive and effective way to get your website noticed is to start a blog.

Blogs will show a human side to the business and search engines crawl blogs easily. Easy places to do this are popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus.

This helps improve your ranking in a search on search engines. There are other ways to improve your ranking as well. In fact there is a periodic table guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

By looking at the periodic table, you can see exactly on a point scale what increases and decreases your SEO ranking.

There are companies that specialize in SEO Optimization. The fees range from very reasonable to exorbitant. SEO is as much black art as science, and it pays to have professional help.

There are tools that track how users are using your website. Google Analytics tracks how much time is spent on your website, and where visitors are going.

This can be useful for you to optimize your site for ease-of-use. You want to make it easy for your users to find what they are looking for and browse easily as well.

Another tool that can be useful is Google AdSense, which places targeted ads on your site – and everytime someone clicks on ad, Google will pay you a small amount.

The last thing to think about is the mobile version of your site. More users browse the Internet than ever before with their smart phones and tablets, so you’ll want to have a mobile site for these visitors.

This can be a little more tedious due to the fact that this technology is still emerging.

A lot of web sites require a mouse for them to function; an example of this would be a site with a menu bar at the top with a “mouse over” function to see the drop-down menu.

So having a site that detects the type of device and browser that the user is using and directs them to the correct site is important.

Are Discount-Promoting Sites Right For Your Business?

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

“You’ve undoubtedly heard about Groupon, the Internet company that sells discount coupons for everything from spa visits to cosmetic surgery. Their IPO last November was the largest since Google, and raised about $700 million.

You might wonder if adding a Groupon or Groupon-like promotion to your marketing mix makes sense.

There are dozens of companies that provide these types of promotions (Groupon isn’t the only game in town), including our local newspaper – see (offered as illustration only, and not endorsement).

Personally, I’m skeptical of both the marketing value and the business model. Don’t get me wrong! As a small business owner, I’m not really a fan of discounting, but I understand that it can be a powerfully effective marketing tool. I do, however, question its viability when used on a mass scale for new customer acquisition.

The Groupon model
Groupon’s model, in particular, has some quirks that make me skeptical.

After a deal goes out and coupon buyers pay for the deal upfront, Groupon doesn’t pay out the merchant’s portion immediately.

Instead, it pays out in three equal installments over a period of up to 60 days.

In contrast, Living Social and Amazon’s Local service pay out 100% to merchants within 15 days. Google’s service, Google Offers, pays 80% within four days and the rest within 90 days.

Smaller businesses that are always concerned about cash flow can really get into a bind, since they have to honor the coupons immediately and then wait to collect their portion from Groupon.

The whole “I take your money now, and I’ll give you your cut later” thing strikes me as a bit Ponzi-like, especially since almost two months go by before the merchant is paid.

Mass discounting
It makes sense to take a step back and examine discounting and coupon in the larger context of a small business marketing plan.

The first consideration, of course, is targeting. Small companies don’t have the budgets or luxuries afforded to large companies. Food manufacturers, for example, are very effective at using coupons, the Sunday paper being a perfect example.

The reasons they’re effective are mass distribution – they print hundreds of thousands of coupons, offering untold amounts of cash discounts – and mass appeal. Their target market is essentially anyone that goes to the grocery store or buys food.

Small business promotion
Discount promotions like Groupon are quite a bit different when used by a small company. You don’t have the option to target your audience, and targeting is the most important part of a promotion when budgets are low and risks are high. I don’t think you’d argue that a 50% discount is a potentially high risk marketing expense.

Groupon’s emails go out to everyone in a specific geographic area, and you have no ability to target your reach.

The concern, particularly for smaller, locally-based businesses, is that you attract not only customers that really aren’t right for your business, but the type of consumer that is only motivated by price slashing.

The Bottom Line
Be very careful about using daily deal mass discounting to acquire new customers.

Think about how it can downgrade the image of your company to your current clients, damage your brand, and attract a group of clients whose only interest is in a “deal.”

You can quite likely do much better with laser targeted promotions to your ideal type of customer. Easy and cheap marketing is rarely the profitable marketing.

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 ( 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.