Westbrook Communications
Monday 12th September 2011

The benefits of VPN technology

By Sharon Shaw, Sales and Marketing Manager

VPN (Virtual Private Network) technology is a buzzword, but what can this technology do to improve your business processes?

Essentially, a VPN can bring your office network to your PC or laptop, wherever you are as, as if you were sitting at your desk.  With recent battles for companies to save costs and streamline processes, the capability to work from remote locations has been an increased demand.  Traditionally, this could be achieved via a dial-in method, but this option was costly.  The need to set up a leased telephone line and then pay expensive call charges saw this option dent the purse of many an SME.

VPN access is achieved with existing infrastructures (internet connection) and all you need is a VPN server.  Before you topple off your office chair wondering how big a hole a VPN server will make in your wallet, let me cushion your fall.   Several major office operating systems all have the capacity to act as a VPN server, including Windows XP Professional, Vista Business and Windows 7 Pro, so there’s no outlay.  You’ll also need a static external IP address in order to route the data to the relevant machine.  You can then set up whatever network resources you want e.g. folders, email accounts and printers.  You can also use VPN to access multiple computers at once or use it for conference or training purposes as it allows multiple people to remotely access the same pc simultaneously.

There are a number of alternative remote access software options available that I would describe as the true VPNs poor relative.  LogMeIn is probably the most common.  They all have similar limitations including cumbersome file transfer, difficulty printing from office based printers, limited keyboard recognition and slow access of network resources.  If you want true remote access with no hiccups, VPN is the way to go.


Setting up a VPN does require some IT knowledge.  However, it’s worth noting that once it’s up and running, a VPN requires little or no maintenance and should not require continued expertise.

With more people working from home, remote VPN access has become an invaluable tool for many businesses.  It means there are no restrictions to when or where you can access your vital office data so introducing VPN technology to your business can bring flexibility, increased output and less headaches for those who are on the road.


Monday 5th September 2011

Don't get duped by scareware


By Sharon Shaw, Sales and Marketing Manager 

Don't believe everything that says it will offer you protection against viruses and other nasties.  Scareware (or rogue anti-virus) is a sophisticated, often gang-run scam that has reaped £millions for the less-than-honest members of the cyber community.  Research suggests that one quarter of online Brits have been approached by the scareware vendor.


These 'fluffy on the outside' pieces of software harbour a dark, hidden agenda.  Whilst seemingly helpful on the surface, they're hoping you believe the hype and part with your money to fix a problem that isn't even there.  Scareware will leave you out of pocket, your PC seriously compromised and your system none the better off.  And to top it off, your credit card details are then sitting in the in-tray of a dubious character.  Scareware may also even deliver you a virus, just for the hell of it.


If a security program pops up that you've never installed, it's most likely scareware.  The aim of the game with scareware is to convince security conscious users that the program has spotted viruses or errors on your PC which need to be fixed.  Other clues that you've got a scareware visitor are that it's hard to close the program and very fast virus scanning.  As there is actually no virus scan taking place, the programmer can make it all happen in the blink of an eye.


The interfaces of these programs are often very sophisticated.  They sometimes copy the interfaces of bona fide programs, making them all the more difficult to spot.


They operate mostly by using Javascript.  These little snippets of code generate dynamic content and are really common, which makes it a perfect vehicle for scareware to hitch a ride on.


Using Mozilla Firefox as your browser can help as it blocks ActiveX (Microsoft's version of JavaScript).  However, some sites rely heavily on JavaScript, so you could face a distinct lack of 'oomph' while surfing. 


Utlimately, ensure that your PC is protected with legitimate anti-virus.  Sophos Endpoint Security is the one we advise for business use, as it has one of the highest detection rates.  For home use, Kapersky Labs is a reliable and cost effective anti-virus option.  Also make sure that you have anti-spyware installed on your machine, such as Spybot Search and Destroy.  But above all, don't believe everything that pops up on your screen and never give your credit card details to a source that you can't be sure is 100% legitimate.

Monday 22nd August 2011

Spyware - the hidden malicious software and what to do about it


By Sharon Shaw, Sales and Marketing Manager 

Users are more than aware of the dangers of virus attacks in today’s malicious cyber world.  But how many are aware of the dangers of spyware?  Unlike viruses which self replicate to cause havoc with systems, spyware silently creeps onto your PC without your knowledge.  It does what it says on the tin and is designed to hover in the background, secretly collecting information about the user.   All spyware isn’t designed to cause untold havoc however.  Some will sit there collecting information to be used for targeted marketing purposes.  While this is annoying, it doesn’t necessarily cause damage.


That said, some spyware is damaging and can be damaging to the extreme.  An example of this could be a ‘keylogger’ that has jumped onto your system via a pop up ad.  It’s there, sneaking in the background, recording information from the keys you press.  This could mean that your passwords and security information are being extracted, ready for future malicious use.  Spyware is always there without user knowledge, which makes it all the more dangerous.  When you’re attacked by a virus, it’s usually quite obvious, but spyware is the shadow in the dark – creeping around on your system doing its dirty deed with the user being none the wiser.


Rogue anti spyware is abundant on the net.  This ‘scareware’ dupes the user into believing that they are downloading something useful, while in fact this wolf in sheeps clothing is designed purely for malicious purposes.  The user downloads it, not immediately realising that the software is actually doing harm.  We’ll be looking at scareware in a future blog.  The moral of the story is, ensure that you scrupulously check your choice of downloads.


One of the first things a user who is infected with spyware will notice is a degradation of their system performance.  Slow pc’s and connection problems to the internet can both be a sign that you have had a visit from spyware.  Many users will mistake these signs as faulty hardware.  Spyware is intelligent and can even disable firewalls and anti-virus programs.


Major anti-virus vendors have, until recently been reluctant to add anti spyware features to their products.  Some now categorise spyware as an ‘extended threat’ and offer real-time protection.  However, to ensure that you are fully protected, it’s wise to get hold of one of the legitimate (and often free) anti-spyware products.  We would recommend Spybot Search and Destroy.  It will track down existing threats and prevent new threats from occurring.  Don’t get caught out by spyware.  Anti-virus is not always enough.


Monday 1st August 2011

The need to remain competitive sees small enterprises adopt IT support strategies


By Sharon Shaw, Sales and Marketing Manager

Almost every business or organisation relies on their IT systems.  With our ever increasing reliance on technology, IT now forms the basis of every organisations processes.


It takes time to implement and maximise the use of IT within an organisation and this can be problematic for small enterprises who often don’t have the technology know-how to maximise on their IT investment.  Quite often small business owners are wearing many hats and don’t have the time to fully plan the company’s IT beyond their day-to-day requirements.


Small businesses need to keep ahead of the game with their IT systems in order to remain competitive.  An IT infrastructure that runs smoothly increases productivity.  When IT systems are unreliable it’s damaging, and in today’s climate any loss of productivity puts a small business into a vulnerable position.


Westbrook Communications have been providing larger organisations with IT support for many years, but recognise that provision for small enterprises is often overlooked as a ‘luxury’.  But in today’s ever increasing scramble for businesses to remain viable, every aspect of their back office processes need to be maximised.


We recognised an increased need for small enterprises to implement support for their IT systems.  Many businesses are experiencing difficult times but have looked at ways to streamline their processes in order to squeeze as much productivity from their businesses as they can.


Since the launch of our IT support service for small enterprises in June, Westbrook Communications have seen an increased demand.   Small business owners don’t have the time to adapt to new advancements or to spend man hours maintaining their current IT system.  Our new clients tell us that they just want their IT to run smoothly in order for them to get on with the task of running their business.


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