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Friday, February 27, 2015

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Farewell, Mr. Spock

By Agent Gavin C

Star Trek launched the imagination of millions of geeks everywhere. But it was Leonard Nimoy’s turn as Spock that ignited my passion for the Star Trek universe and science fiction in general. My brother was always a Kirk fan. I thought he was too flashy. Perhaps it was a simple difference in acting style – Shatner with his over-the-top acting and enunciation and Nimoy with his calm, serious tone. His voice was music to my ears, every word deliberate and worthy of attention. Even now it is hard for me to separate the actor from the character. I feel like there is more Leonard in Spock than the other way around.

Today, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” will be on repeat at The Magic Castle (otherwise known as Geek Squad HQ). An actor, director, writer and all-around great guy, he was a force to be reckoned with.

I would be sad, but I know he would find that “Highly Illogical”. I therefore plan to live long and prosper, and I know Leonard would not have it any other way. The universe is unfolding, just as it should.

There is a good interview with Nimoy on NPR’s Science Friday website.

I leave you with Leonard’s parting words on Twitter:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

Farewell, Leonard. Farewell, Spock.

Agent Gavin C. has been fighting the proverbial good fight and bringing technological enlightenment to clients since 2006. When not analyzing the series of tubes that is Geeksquad.com, he enjoys the simple things in life: rock music, football, and freedom. From his perch at the Magic Castle, he ensures that Geek Squad remains a shining light for truth and justice.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

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An Update on Cryptowall

By Agent Alex Smith

Agent Alex has been following news about the Cryptowall, Cyptolocker and Crowti malware as part of his service as a member of our Technical Tools Team. He reached out to say that there have been some recent developments to which we should pay attention. Let’s let him tell it.

A week or so ago, our Agent Kate B wrote a blog post warning clients about a troublesome type of malware that is making its way around the Web these days. This malware, called Cryptolocker or Cryptowall, is particularly dangerous because it encrypts all the data on your computer, rewriting it and making it unreadable. As Kate pointed out, the most troubling aspect of this malware is the encryption is complex enough that there is no technical solution that can reverse it. Without the private encryption key controlled by the malware writer, your data is just a pile of zeroes and ones. And there is nothing anyone can do to change that.

Agent Kate provided a good summary of ways to avoid being infected by this malware in her blog post. Fortunately, some of my computer security colleagues got ahold of some of the private encryption keys used in conjunction with the malware and have made them available to the public. So at least some of the victims of these hacks have been able to recover their data. But, as is often the case in the computer security game, just when it looks like we have a problem under control, a new problem arises.

In this case, the new problem is Cryptowall 3.0, the latest version of these encryption-type malware. Like earlier versions of Cryptowall, this version encrypts the data on the infected device and sends a ransom note offering to provide the private key to decrypt your files for a fee. In addition, Cryptowall 3.0 disables the “Volume Shadow Copy” functionality of the device and destroys any existing Volume Shadow Copy data. Volume Shadow Copy data can sometimes be used to recover and restore previous versions of data on a machine running later versions of Windows (Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1). So this newer version of Cryptowall eliminates one of the only technical solutions victims have at their disposal.

To make things even worse, this variant will even encrypt data that resides on external storage devices and mapped network drives connected to the infected device. So if you back up directly to USB hard drive or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, they also might become encrypted.

The spread of this new malware makes it even more important for people with devices connected to the Internet (is anything not connected to the Internet anymore?!) to have a robust data backup strategy for their machines. To win against encryption based malware, it is critical that this solution supports versioning. We have seen clients whose machines have become infected with one of these malware variants and didn’t realize it before their backup solution copied the encrypted version of their data over their backup, leaving them with two copies of the encrypted files.

A backup solution that supports versioning will prevent this. A backup solution with versioning will always maintain a number of copies of the backed up files, so even if an infected machines encrypted files are copied over the most recent backup, earlier versions will be available. Those earlier versions of the files can then be used to restore the machine to full functionality. Most good backup solutions support versioning, but it is always a good idea to make sure that feature is enabled. As more encryption-based malware hits the Web, a backup with versioning will continue to be an important safeguard for your data.

Of course, the best way to prevent becoming infected by any malware is to always use safe Web-browsing techniques, keep your anti-malware software and OS up-to-date, and make regular backups of your data to something that supports versioning. And never, ever open attachments from suspicious, unusual or unknown sources.

If you need some good security software for your device or network, we have some available here . If you think you might have malware on your computer, chat with an agent to see what we can do to help.

Good luck, happy computing and be careful out there.

Agent Smith has been thwarting unruly technology for the Geek Squad since 2004. Currently he resides at the Magic Castle helping build and maintain the technical toolset for the Geek Squad. Outside of knowing more about Windows than Microsoft and understanding the beautiful dangers of malware, Agent Smith enjoys taking care of his family, gaming, and rocking out to loud music.

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Categories: Computing | Data | How To | Security Threat Alert

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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The Day the Sign Went Up

By Agent Derek K

Here’s another in our series of posts from some of our more senior Agents as Geek Squad wraps up it’s 20th year of service.

I was going to college when I started at Geek Squad. The requirements for my degree involved taking a marketing class. As I worked my way up to being a full-fledged Agent, I was blown away by the Geek Squad brand and was struck by how much of it seemed to run counter to what the professor and marketing text book advised.

We didn’t have a phone number or our website address on our cars. Our uniforms were nothing like those of our competitors. Our business cards featured the tagline “We’ll Save Your Ass” – clearly not the kind of statement that usually appears on company-printed material. Still, we were the best of the best.

One other aspect of our corporate identity that ran counter to branding best practices was that we had no sign on our office on Washington Avenue on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. We did a lot of business in the office, with more than a dozen computers dropped off on any given day, and yet the only indication that Geek Squad operated out of this location was a small sign, maybe 12″ across, that hung in the door.

A year or so after I started, Robert announced that we finally had enough money for a real sign – a lighted sign, no less! It seemed like our little group of computer technicians was finally growing up.

A few weeks later, an alert went out to our Nextels that anyone who was available should head back to the office because the sign was going up. Most of the agents employed by the Geek Squad at the time gathered to watch our giant logo be hoisted and attached to the side of the building. Besides making our place of business easier to find for our clients, it was great to see the big, lit-up orange and black logo in our little corner of downtown. There were a lot of smiles.

I was there many years later when the sign came down and we left that location. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a little sad. Fortunately, that sign now hangs in the main lobby at Geek Squad – sorry, I mean ‘Best Buy’ – headquarters. It brings back fond memories every time I walk by it.

Agent Derek K. first donned a Geek Squad uniform and Special Agent badge in 1998. When not fanatically protecting the client experience for the Online Support and PC In-Home business, you’ll likely find Agent Derek running around outside enjoying the woods, water and open spaces or tending to his small farm.

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Categories: Computing | Culture | Technology

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

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Staying Connected on Valentine’s Day

By Agent Ryan S.

With all the hurly-burly in today’s world, it is amazing that anyone has time for love any more. It seems like our work days have progressively gotten longer, business trips more frequent and our commitments more time-consuming. It can be very hard for two busy people with full schedules to stay connected. Sometimes just scheduling dinner together can seem like a lot of work.

 

Which makes recognizing that special someone on Valentine’s Day even more important.

Fortunately, the technology that makes it easy for your boss to track you down is also making it easier for you to stay connected to your partner. Here is a rundown of some handy apps and online tools for couples.

Avocado

Avocado is an app designed especially for couples. Available for iPhone, Android and Web browsers, this app allows you to privately chat with your partner, share photos, edit the same “to do” list, set up dates on one another’s calendar and even send each other doodles. One you down load the app, it will ask to provide your partner’s email address so the app can send him/her an invitation to join you. Once accepted, the app will offer its connection functionality to just you and your partner. The app compiles your interactions, forming a timeline that traces the history of your time together. It even allows you to send kisses to your partner. Of course, you have to kiss your phone to do it, but it’s the thought that counts.

Couple

Another entrant into the couples-app market is Couple, The App for Two. Much of its functionality is similar to Avocado, featuring a private chat space, a shared calendar and list-keeping capabilities. There is also a location sharing feature that could be handy when you cannot respond directly to your lover’s call. A nice feature of Couple is that it allows you to place a phone call to your partner from inside the app, allowing you to connect directly with the object of your desire without having to close out of Couple and fire up your phones calling functionality.

A cute feature of this app is the Thumb Kiss. While chatting with your partner, you can both put your thumbs on the screen at the same time, making your phone vibrate and your thumbprints show on the phone’s screen. Yeah, not as good as the real thing, but at least your don’t have to kiss your phone.

Between

Between is similar to Avocado and Couple, providing a private and secure chat space for couples, a shared calendar and space set up to share photos and notes. This app does not have a ‘kiss’ function like the previous two, but it user interface is the best of all three – clear, well-rendered and easy to use. It handles photographs quiet well and stacks your interactions in a nice, intuitive fashion. And its home page features your partner’s city and associated weather, helping you feel close even when you may be a continent apart.

Snapchat

For those of us who like to keep our relationships private, there is the industry-leader in photo swapping apps – Snapchat. What is more fun and endearing than getting a goofy picture from the one you love. The fact that all Snapchat pictures self-destruct after ten seconds allows for some special creativity with the app. Users can even put captions on their pictures. Although the service maintains that all images disappear ten seconds after they are sent, Snapchat has been involved in some situations lately where the app’s security has been compromised and some of the photos have been stolen. So no matter what the software manufacturer tells you, nothing on the web is totally secure. It is always a good idea to be careful what images your share online.

Skype and Google+ Hangout

Video chat is, after all, the next best thing to being there. While couples apps are designed to track your relationship on your mobile device, nothing beats being able to chat with your partner in real time. Skype’s simple, tried-and-true functionality has been connecting lovers and families for more than ten years. The simple combination of video chatting, instant messaging and file sharing remains the gold standard for online video chat. Not many companies are given the privilege of having their name turned into a verb – eg. “I’ll Skype you.” There is now a version of the app that works with mobile devices.

The Google Hangouts service provides many of the functions you would expect from the teleconferencing service you use during the day. Not only will it let you IM and video chat with your partner, but also has a feature that lets you two watch the same TV show, movie or video. The functionality even allows for group calls. Probably not a function you will use with your baby on Valentine’s Day, but it’s nice to know it’s there. Hangouts are also available for smartphones.

So, if you are going to be separated from your special someone on St. Valentine’s Day, we feel for you. Maybe one of these couple’s or video-chatting apps will take the sting away.

Agent Ryan S. (Badge #23) has been with the Geek Squad for 16 years, and was fixing Macs before they were cool. (Remember those old monochrome displays? Ryan does.) Oh, and the plot of the Matrix is based on a service call he went on in 1997.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

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A Day in the Life of a Field Agent

By Agent Tanya B.

Our team of Agents has a national reputation for our abilities to tame rebellious computer and networking technology. But not everyone knows there is another set of Agents who are more about the display than the processor, more concerned with finding the “true black” than they are about speeding up your spreadsheet program. These are the Field Agents, brave souls who are deployed to client homes and workplaces to install, tune up or debug home theater systems.

As televisions become better and the images they display more life-like, they have become more complicated. Gone are the days when you only had three tuning knobs to fuss with. And forget about those rabbit-ears. Modern televisions can receive content through no less than four distinct input types (coaxial, HDMI, USB and Ethernet cables). Which doesn’t even include wireless connectivity. Or the surround-sound system. Fortunately, we have the Agents to handle it.

Recently, a writer for the Anniston (AL) Star newspaper went on a ride-along with David Champion, a veteran Field Agent working out of the Best Buy store in Oxford, Alababma. It’s an interesting look into the life of an important but under-recognized segment of the Geek Squad team. (Off to Work With) A Professional Geek by Lisa Davis

Agent Tanya B. has been a woman of technology since 2009. When she steps away from her role maintaining the Geeksquad.com website, Tanya is either at the gym, walking her dog, or gaming with the other Agent B. Having moved to corporate from Florida last spring, she’s trying really hard to not complain about the cold too much.

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Categories: Culture | Home Theater

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

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Fruit-Powered Technology

By Agent Gavin C

A banana-powered piano? A video game controlled by a couple of watermelons? No, this is not the aftermath of a collision between a fruit cart and a Geekmobile. They are tools our Agents use to get young people excited about technology at our Geek Squad Academy camps.

Our friends at Engadget, the “definitive guide to this connected life,” came to visit our Academy team at the Expand NY event last fall and wrote a nice little piece about our produce-driven technology experiments. Check out the article and associated video on the Engadget website.

Learning circuits and programming with the Geek Squad

Agent Gavin C. has been fighting the proverbial good fight and bringing technological enlightenment to clients since 2006. When not analyzing the series of tubes that is Geeksquad.com, he enjoys the simple things in life: rock music, football, and freedom. From his perch at the Magic Castle, he ensures that Geek Squad remains a shining light for truth and justice.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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Cryptolocker and Cryptowall Ransomware

By Agent Kate B

It can happen in an instant. You click on an attachment from Granny and the next thing you know you are watching your files getting locked up before your eyes. Then an important-looking message pops up on your desktop demanding you pay a substantial fee to a group you’ve never heard of using a online payment method. They make it clear – pay now or you’ll never see the precious photos of your Chihuahuas again.

 

You sit in shocked silence. You then do everything you can think of to get a look at your data. No luck. There don’t seem to be many options. Cryptolocker is holding your data ransom.

Cryptolocker, and it’s cousin CryptoWall, are malicious Trojan virus programs, also called “ransomware”, that take your data files hostage by encrypting the data stored in the file. The encryption process rewrites your files in a way that prevents them from being opened normally. In order to open an encrypted file, the file must be opened or unlocked using a type of encryption that is virtually impossible to break if you don’t know or have the “secret key”— which in the case of Cryptolocker and CryptoWall will only be provided by the malware’s operators, if you pay a ransom for your data.

These viruses usually target Microsoft Windows computers and were first seen in the wild in September 2013. There have been instances in which this kind of phishing scams have targeted Android phones and Mac users, so no one is totally safe. Always remember to follow safe browsing practices to protect your identity.

The most common way we see computers become infected is when our clients open infected files attached to an email they receive. The virus itself can be removed, but the files will remain encrypted. There is no simple solution to un-encrypting those files. A user may choose to:

  1. Pay the ransom [which does not always lead to the files being decrypted],
  2. Restore the files from good backups, [if you have them], or
  3. Try data-recovery options [generally very expensive and also not guaranteed].

Recently, the CryptoLocker 1 virus was isolated and, in late May 2014, Operation Tovar took down the Gameover ZeuS botnet that had been used to distribute the malware. In addition, security firms FireEye and Fox-IT have managed to recover the encryption keys used by CryptoLocker’s authors. These groups have set up a private website that will allow victims to test an encrypted file to see if the security outfits have isolated a key that will let victims decrypt their files. Unfortunately, experts have identified at least 3 versions of CryptoLocker and 2 versions of CryptoWall in circulation. Fireeye warns that some data may not be recoverable using their portal, especially if a victim’s machine is infected with a variant of the virus and not the CryptoLocker virus itself.

We recommend develop a strong anti-malware strategy to prevent contracting the Cryptolocker or similar virus. The strategy should include all of the following steps:

  • Use safe browsing practices,
  • Buy and install a quality triple protection antivirus/antispyware/antiphishing program (covering Windows, Mac and Android machines) to help prevent infection, and
  • Make regular backups of your files so you can restore your data from backup should you become a victim of this kind of malware infection.

If any of your machines have been infected by Cryptolocker or similar malware, we’re here to help. We have Agents standing by available to chat if you need help immediately, or look into our Tech Support service plan so you are ready if the worst happens.

Agent Kate B is a 3-year veteran of Geek Squad, currently on assignment at Geek Squad City. Follow Agent Kate on Twitter @AgentKateB.

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Categories: Computing | Data | Security Threat Alert | Technology

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

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My First Service Call

By Agent Derek K

Editor’s note: As we begin wrapping up our 20th year of serving the public, policing technology and protecting the world, a few of our senior Agents have been reflecting on the path Geek Squad has taken. We will be publishing their reminiscences here over the next couple of weeks.

It was the spring of 1998. I was in my first week as a Geek Squad Agent. I was working in the office/Precinct, as every new Agent did, until I could convince Robert (Stephens, Geek Squad’s founder) and some of my fellow Agents I was ready to go out to help a client alone. I was excited to make the jump to assisting business and home clients on-site, but understood these things take time.

One day a call came in and soon after Robert approached me, saying that we had a 911 service call and no other Agents were available to take it. I would have to head out and try to handle it.

The call was from a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis called the Pickled Parrot. They were unable to print their list of daily specials that needed to be inserted into their menus that afternoon. They really needed their specials inserts ready for the dinner rush, so I needed to get moving. I was out the door before I knew it.

I arrived at the location excited and nervous about the opportunity. I was escorted to the suspect, where I met the restaurant’s owner. He explained the issue and I quickly got to work. I poked around for a few minutes and then, more out of luck than skill, determined that conflicting printer management software was causing the problem. The owner was thrilled to have the problem resolved and he bought me a delicious lunch.

I arrived back to the office with confidence in my step and a smile on my face. Robert came over and told me that the owner of the restaurant, a friend of his, called and told him I did a great job. Not only solved the problem, but did so with communication and personality. Robert told me I would begin being scheduled for on-site service calls starting next week. He didn’t come right out and say it was a test, but I felt I had passed my first right of passage as a Special Agent.

Agent Derek K. first donned a Geek Squad uniform and Special Agent badge in 1998. When not fanatically protecting the client experience for the Online Support and PC In-Home business, you’ll likely find Agent Derek running around outside enjoying the woods, water and open spaces or tending to his small farm.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

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Phishing Scams Target Android Phones

By Agent Derek M

According to a New York Times article from last fall, Android devices are a new target for “ransomware”. These malicious software apps act similarly to the fake FBI virus scams that have been attacking Windows PCs for years. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help protect your Android smartphone or device from these scammers and their malware apps.

 

Stick With Trusted App Sources

Android devices generally come setup for downloading apps from a trusted app store, like the Google Play Store. For extra security, don’t change the settings on your device that allow 3rd party apps to be downloaded from the official app stores. Sometimes called “sideloading”, allowing apps to be installed from less trustworthy places on the Internet increases your chances of accidentally loading malware onto your device.

Stay Updated

Just like your computer, your smartphone’s operating system and apps need to be updated periodically. It’s important to keep an eye out for system update notifications on your device. You can also check for system updates by visiting “Settings,” then “About” (or “About Phone”), followed by “System Updates.”

For app updates, visit the Google Play Store app, then the “Play Store” icon. Select “My Apps” to view your downloaded apps and any available updates. You can also touch the Menu button to check the “Auto-update” option to keep that app automatically up to date.

Practice Safe Internet Habits

A common attack method, known as “phishing” on the Internet, isn’t technical, it’s psychological. Scammers will create fake websites, pretending to be your bank or shopping site. They’ll send you emails asking you to sign in and provide your account information, which they’ll then use to access your account on the real sites.

For more information on how to protect yourself, check out this article on how to avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam.

Some malware attacks come in the form of banner ads designed to look like a security warning telling you viruses have been detected. The error will ask you to download and run what it claims is an antivirus app, but is really the scammer’s software waiting to load onto your device.

The same safe Internet habits you follow on your computer work on your mobile devices as well. If you do find yourself falling victim to one of these attempts, here is what to do if you are scammed.

Security Software

The rapid growth in the number of Android devices being used worldwide has made the platfom a growing target for malicious software makers. Keeping your settings in check, your system updated and avoiding unsafe behavior will often be the most powerful ways to protect your device. To help take your protection further, security software makers have made a range of protection products for the Android platform.

The good news is that many of the major security software suites, like Webroot’s SecureAnywhere Internet Security or Trend Micro’s Titanium Internet Security, include Android security apps that you can install on your device in addition to their Windows PC or Mac coverage.

If you still have questions on how to best protect your Android device, or need help with a potential malware issue like viruses or spyware, chat with an Agent or or stop by the Precinct at your local Best Buy store.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

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Categories: Computing | How To | Security Threat Alert | Tablet

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

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Resolution Time Again…

By Agent Derek M

Still making your resolutions for the New Year? Consider adding “Back It Up Once a Week” to your list. That’s the message that the FTC is passing along in a new blog post and video as we begin 2015.

In our highly technical world of laptops, tablets, smartphones, it’s easy to forget that the most valuable thing on our devices is our personal data. Whether it’s cherished family photos, important financial documents or your favorite songs and movies, losing data can be inconvenient, costly and potentially devastating.

You can protect your data by making a resolution to back your data up at least once a week. There are plenty of options for where to back up your data, from DVDs, external hard drives, flash drives, even online cloud storage.

Which is better, local or online back-ups? We have a breakdown of the advantages on our website. Of course, you don’t want to just stop at backing you data up, so here’s six steps to keeping your data safe.

Remember, a consistent data backup plan is crucial to saving you time and money, as well as protecting your important memories and irreplaceable files. If you need more help, explore our Data Backup or Transfer Services or Chat with an Agent for more help.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

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