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Archive for August, 2012

Are You A Prisoner To Your Tech Support?

It’s Monday morning and you come into the office to discover that your network is down for unknown reasons.  You call your IT Professional, only to find out that he/she has been in a serious accident and is in critical condition.  You quickly Google for another “tech” in the area, and call and explain the situation to him/her.  As each moment passes, you are unable to do your job.  Later that day, you see your “geek angel” in the front lobby and you are immediately relieved knowing your problem is going to be fixed.  He/she takes a look at your infrastructure, and tries to access some resources.  He/she suspects it’s a problem on the server, and needs an account with administrative privilege to resolve the issue.  You look at the specialist, and with a sinking feeling, you realize that you don’t have passwords, account information, or any other useful documentations, and the situation quickly goes from bad to worse.

Those of you who know me will hear me refer to the “hit by the bus file”.  This is a file, paper or electronic that documents your entire IT implementation.  Consider this…one day you need IT support and you call your “IT guy” and find out he was crossing the road and was hit by a bus.  You now have to bring in someone else who has never seen your systems or implementation before, and this new person will have to figure out how your tech fits together before he/she can even start to assist you.  He/she can’t start to take anything apart to troubleshoot if they don’t know how to put it back together again for your implementation.  It’s very much like a completed puzzle.  You can see how all the pieces fit together, but without the picture on the box to refer to, the puzzle may not easily go back together again if some of the pieces need to be modified.

Your IT support person is also not un-replaceable.  Any person who holds your IT structure to themselves is (in my opinion) either selfish, lazy, or is hiding something.  Yes, this may sound harsh, but in my experience, it almost always comes down to one of these three factors.

1. Selfish – they want to feel like they are a key element of your companys structure.  You and your data are now hostage of your IT support.

2. Lazy – they don’t want to take the time to document your structure.  This should be part of the contract, and a professional will always include this.

3. Hiding Something – they might not use legitimate/legal software and this could be their way to hide it (follow-up post to come).

You are now at the mercy of whoever holds your information.  You are trapped.

As a small business owner, you need to be responsible for both your data and network.

Your trustworthy IT Professional should be leaving you:

  1. All usernames and passwords for all equipment
  2. A list of all service providers, including ISPs, and any hosting service
  3. A backup number to call
  4. A network schematic
  5. Documentation for custom application
  6. A list and location of all software installers
  7. Backup procedures
  8. Router configuration

This file should be updated whenever there is a change to the infrastructure.  For example, you change your ISP, or add a new file server.  As someone trying to help you, there is nothing more frustrating than realizing the documentation you have is not accurate.

Keeping your documentation current and accurate is critical in protecting your data. If your IT specialist (either on contract or on payroll) does not provide this information, you are at risk of becoming a “prisoner”.  Take the case of Terry Childs, the network administrator for the city of San Francisco.  He refused to give up the administrative passwords to his supervisors, and it cost the city almost $900,000 USD to regain control of their own network.  This is an extreme case, but it demonstrates what can and has happened.

What is the cost of your systems being unusable?  What if those systems are down for an extended period of time?  What would it cost for someone to have to figure it all out before fixing it?

If you don’t have current IT documentation, call your IT Specialist and ask, or if need be, demand that this documentation is updated or created.  Don’t be held captive by your IT support.

Image courtesy of worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When the Windows Support Team Calls!

After another call from the helpful folks at the Windows Support Team this week, I decided it might be a good idea to explain how this group tries to scare people into purchasing their services to solve your nonexistent computer problem.  This scam has cost people thousands of dollars.

Here’s their basic script:

“Hi, I am (insert name here), calling from the Windows Support Center (or something similar).  Your computer is sending us reports that you have a (insert problem here).”

Now they will try to convince you of this by having you type in commands to prove that your system is really having (insert problem here).

(Insert name here) will instruct you to press the Windows Key and the letter R, and then you will be instructed to type eventvwr in the dialog box.  This will launch the Event Viewer.  The Event Viewer is part of every Windows operating system.  It provides details about the services running on your computer.  He’ll continue to instruct you, telling you to “Click on Custom Views.”  This will display a window with a list of errors and warnings.  I have posted mine for reference.

I know that these are normal errors and warnings, but the friendly folks from (insert company name here) are hoping you don’t know this, and that all these errors and warnings will convince you that there is a problem.  (Insert name here) states that this is a symptom of (insert problem here), but would like to check one more place to confirm.  This is their way of trying to gain your trust and prove that they are really trying to help you, when that’s not their intention at all.

Now he’ll have you press the Windows key and the letter R again and have you type inf in the dialog box.  This will launch the Inf folder.  Friendly (insert name here) will tell you these files are a result of  (insert problem here), confirming your system has (insert problem here).  The INF folder is a normal folder in the Windows operating system and contains driver files, not files related to (insert problem here).

Now they will offer to help “fix” your “problem”.  All you need to do is give them your credit card or visit a website.

This is a scam. Do not give them any information.

Microsoft will never call you about your computer issues. They have issued a statement about this scam here. Your computer is not randomly sending reports to Microsoft or (insert company name here).

After months of (insert company name here) calling to help me solve my computer issue and me poking at them I have learned a few things about their operations.

  • The friendly folks from (insert company name here) will insist this is not a scam and it was your computer that sent the messages.
  • They will be vague about the problem.
  • There is usually a lot of background noise on the call.
  • They only work within their script.
  • They tend to be very demanding and brash.

On average I usually receive a call a week, and it’s become a game for me.  To keep myself amused, I use the following strategies:

  • After thanking them for calling and explaining the problem, I tell them I run Linux/Mac
  • I let them know that I was unaware that my Linux/Mac were sending reports to Microsoft
  • I have them explain what the Windows key looks like – then ask why I don’t have a Windows key on my Mac
  • I ask for help on other Microsoft issues (printer, server, etc. problems)
  • I ask them questions that require very specific Microsoft knowledge – this usually frustrates them
  • I try to sell them something, like an electric dog polisher (thanks Steve Martin)

What do you do when they call you?

Notes:

*Insert Company Name Here – Esolve, Windows Support Company, Windows Technical Support or a variation of these.

*Insert Name Here – Tends to be a generic name.  I have never had a female call.

*Insert Problem Here – Usually they claim it’s a virus or the system is running slow.  Or the system is running slow due to a virus. 🙂

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