Disaster Recovery in Less Than 3 Hours

What I Inherited

My first job after I earned my degree in electronics was for A Pineywoods Home Health, Inc. On my first day, I was introduced to their “backup” system. In a nutshell, the way it worked is every day I would eject a tape from a server and put it in a bag and hand it to the office manager. She would then, in turn, give me another tape to insert into the machine. I did that religiously for about 5 months. Finally, I was caught up enough on emergencies to take a look at the backup tapes. After 5 or so months if something goes wrong they’re going to expect *ME* to fix it.

I gathered up the tapes and inserted the first one in the server and proceeded to take a look at what was on it. HORROR as I realized the tape was useless. The system was configured all wrong and there was nothing useful on the tape. If we’d have a server crash I would not have been able to get the company back up and running any time soon. I quickly reconfigured the system and implemented a schedule to verify the tapes.

What I learned

The result of that experience is now one of the things I include in all our managed services agreements is “Disaster Recovery Planning”. Basically, I work with my client to develop a system to get them back up and running in case their server crashes. I had the opportunity to see just how good my backup plan was last week during those storms that wreaked havoc in our area. In the mornings I look at all the networks I manage and look for issues. Sure enough, the storms caused quite a few issues for me to handle. One of my doctor’s offices was completely off-line.

That in and of itself isn’t much to be concerned with during or after a storm. It happens. I assumed I would just go to the office and check to make sure they had the Internet and if needed reboot the server. I showed up at the office before they opened and went to check everything. Sure enough, the server was failing to boot up. I tried a couple of times with no success.

Putting What I Learned Into Practice

Guess it’s time to see how good my backup is.

Here’s how I have that particular office set up:

  1. The primary server is a VM (virtual machine) on a VMware ESXi server.
  2. Anytime a major change to the operating system (OS) on the server occurs, a VM copy is made to a second physical host.
  3. Daily the database is saved locally to a virtual machine file server on the second host.
  4. Backed up the database is uploaded daily to a cloud server off-site.

I fired up the backup VM (virtual machine) on the other host. Then I copied the most current database from the backup file server. The process took less than 3 hours from the time I saw there was a problem with the network from my house. The doctor literally had no idea his server had crashed until I showed it to him unplugged on a counter.

Carbonite Silver Partner

http://partners.carbonite.com/pineywoodscomputer

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How To Prevent Losing Your Memories

Photo of Family How to prevent losing your memories from your computer.  Today someone brought in their external USB backup drive. “You’ve got to help me; ALL my pictures are on this drive. I plugged it into my computer today, and it said, ‘drive needs to be formatted.’ Everything’s GONE!

Three times in the last week, I’ve worked on computers where the hard drives had crashed to the point of not being recoverable without considerable expense. Often crashed hard drives can be “recovered.” However, they have to be sent to specialists that physically take apart the drive platters and manually reconstruct your data. It is usually several hundred dollars to recover data from a crashed drive.

Another way you can lose all your pictures is through Malware, particularly one called CryptoLocker. Cryptolocker is a type of Malware called Ransomware. Ransomware encrypts documents and images on all the hard drives (including your external USB drive). Then tell you how much it’ll cost you to get the files unencrypted. I give a good description of CrytpoLocker in a previous blog post, Avoiding Malware.

I’m not too fond of when I have to tell someone their hard drive is crashed, and their pictures are lost. Every time I have to do it, I always ask, “Do you have a backup somewhere?”

Usually, the answer is no. Everyone is sad.

The technology exists to ensure you never lose your data permanently. This is how to prevent losing your memories from your computer. The solution is cloud storage backup. Cloud storage backup protects your data from loss either through a hard drive failure, theft, fire, or the newest threat to your pictures, Crytpolocker, and its many variants. What are all your photos worth to you?

I decided that I wanted to help as many people as possible keep their memories from ever being lost. Pineywoods computer has partnered with Carbonite. I looked at quite a few providers, and they all had their pros and cons. Carbonite won out for several reasons.

  1. Automatic Backup. Photos, documents (tax returns, college essays, etc.), music, and emails are automatically saved to the cloud.
  2. Set It & Forget It.
  3. Carbonite works quietly in the background, continually adding new and changed files to the cloud – that means you’ll never have to add “backing up” to another to-do list again.
  4. Safety & Security. Your files are encrypted and sent to our state-of-the-art offsite data centers that are monitored by guards 24/7 and secured with other stringent technical safeguards.
  5. Easy File Recovery. With just a few clicks of your mouse, you can restore your precious family files and recover from unexpected computer glitches seamlessly.
  6. Sync & Share. Available to all Carbonite customers, this free app syncs your work across all of your devices, allowing you to collaborate with family and colleagues on-the-go easily.

Pricing is extremely competitive. Unlimited storage for your home computer is less than $6/month. View all the Carbonite Plans HERE.

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Avoiding malware, spyware, and computer viruses

Computer Security

Avoiding malware, spyware, and computer viruses should be a top priority for everyone. Hackers and thieves continuously come up with new ways to infect your computer with the latest version of malware. Recently, some major websites, the Huffington Post, FHM, LA Weekly, Houston Press, and GameZone, were targeted, and people with outdated web browsers had their computer infected without doing a single thing other than surf the site. Hackers are slipping malware into legitimate-looking online advertisements. When you visit sites that serve those ads, you’re automatically and unknowingly downloading computer viruses. CNN Money has an excellent article about Malvertising

Update Your Browser and OS

The best way to prevent getting infected this way is twofold: 1) keep your browser of choice (mine in order are: Mozilla FirefoxGoogle Chrome; and on my iPhone and iPad, Safari) and your operating system (i.e., Windows, Linux, macOS, etc.) current and updated, and 2) don’t click on ads on web sites, especially if they say anything about the security of your computer. REBOOT YOUR COMPUTER IMMEDIATELY when anything other than your known anti-virus product pops up on your screen warning you that you are infected.

Most Common Method of Infection

E-Mail Attachments are the most common way malware is spread. I tell anyone who will listen, “Do not open any e-mail attachment unless you are 110% sure of what the file is, and you were expecting to get the file. ” This last week, I had to do a total format / reload of a laptop for an oil field service. One of the employees had opened an e-mail attachment that claimed to be from UPS about an invoice. The malware installed was called Cryptolocker, a malware program deemed “The Worst Computer Virus In 10 Years“. This is a pretty fair assessment because Cryptolocker destroys all the files on your computer by encrypting all the data. You will only get your files restored by paying the ransom to the individuals that deployed the program. The actual malware is removable from the computer, but usually, the only way to recover the files is to pay the ransom or recover your data from some backup. (cold storage backups are the best defense against this).

Avoiding malware, spyware, and computer viruses

Hackers, thieves, criminals, and other nefarious types never stop looking for ways to access your computer. Since they are always looking for a new in, it’s nearly impossible to guarantee 100% that they never will; however, here are some practical tips that will make you a much harder target for them.

  1. Make sure you have an anti-virus /anti-malware product installed on your computer and make sure it is current. At least once per week, I clean up a laptop that HAD a paid, good, anti-virus / anti-malware program installed with an expired subscription.
    1. I recommend using a paid product because they tend to offer a lot more security, but if that’s outside your price range, an excellent free solution is Bitdefender Free.
    2. Avoid Microsoft © Security Essentials. Even Microsoft © recommends that!
    3. Feel free to ask me what my recommendations are for an acceptable paid product.
  2. Turn on Automatic Updates on the computer. Make sure the device is on to receive the updates (this is a real problem with laptops shut down.)  Instructions to turn on Automatic Updates in Windows.
  3. Set your Adobe products to update automatically. If you have any doubts, update them manually, and then set the option to automatically update.
  4. Make sure to update JAVA. Java is another program that has an update agent installed with the program; however, Java doesn’t automatically update, it just tells you when an update is available.
  5. Be vigilant with your e-mail. NEVER open an attachment in an e-mail unless you are 110% sure what it is, who sent it, and that you were expecting it.
    1. If the e-mail is from a peer, you can ask that person if they intended to send you the attachment.
    2. If the e-mail is from a vendor, contact the vendor in your usual manner to confirm they sent you an attachment. Remember the case above of Cryptolocker coming in through an e-mail from “UPS”!
  6. Back up your files. You should have at least one, and preferably two, backup solutions. The first should be a cloud-based solution that backs up daily. The second recommended backup should be an external hard drive backed up to at least once a month and not permanently connected to your network.

If you do get a malware infection, Pineywoods Computer provides complete removal at an affordable price.

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