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Posts Tagged ‘malware’


Addressing the Unique IT Management Needs at Law Firms

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Law firms face many unique IT management challenges that stem from the confidential nature of the information they work with. And that confidential data is why law firms must make the protection of information a key IT priority. Threats can come from outside (such as hackers using pressure to extort money from the firm) as well as inside (from technology failure). In order to adapt as threats change, it is important to understand both why law firms are prone to specific IT management challenges and how to address those challenges.

Why Are Law Firms a Prime Target for Ransomware?

As with other businesses, law firms must be ready for the growing number and scope of ransomware threats.

Hackers see law firms as ideal targets because lawyers may opt to pay the ransom to recover information for a case with an immediate court date.

Additionally, hackers may seek to exploit a larger law firm’s substantial financial backing to get an easy payday: A $300 ransom is worth much more to an individual than it is to a large firm. The 2017 ransomware attack against prominent global law firm DLA Piper demonstrates how serious these attacks can be.

Law Firms Are Vulnerable to Data Theft

While technology automates a great deal of law firms’ work, it also brings additional risks for information theft. The 2017 Equifax hack demonstrates exactly how far-reaching damage can be when hackers steal personal information.

Law firms also need to be concerned about keeping confidential client information confidential. Hackers may try to steal information stored on servers or personal computers through malware attacks and software exploits.

What’s less obvious is how criminals can use social engineering — such as posing as a client via email or during a phone conversation — to get law firms to give up confidential information.

External and Internal Data Loss

Law firms work with a substantial amount of information that can go missing due to both external and internal factors. For example, a firm’s server or an employee’s laptop may fail and lose all the data stored on the device. Additionally, employees may not always properly manage their documents and information, which makes them difficult to find. In fact, poor document management can cost a firm hours of productivity every week. IT management can help organize information through platforms such as a document management system to help minimize data loss related to human error.

Law Firm IT Management Solutions

While law firms face many unique IT challenges, businesses can take several steps to minimize risk and mitigate damage:

  • Implement a three-copy backup policy to safeguard against data loss related to ransomware, malware, device failure and human error.
  • Make sure that all software on all devices is up to date and running the latest version. Hackers tend to exploit user laziness by attacking security holes that could have been patched had the user not skipped an update.
  • Confirm that all information exchanges are secure. Don’t fall for social engineering schemes or use compromised public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Use document management systems to prevent losing data from mismanagement. These also serve as a type of backup.

If you would like to learn more about how your law firm can better manage its IT assets and protect itself from online threats, contact the IT experts at MPA Networks today.

10 Cyberattacks Your Business Should Defend Against

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Cyberattacks are a major security concern for any business that uses the Internet. Even if your company doesn’t have a website, hackers can go after your email address and business service accounts.

Though they represent one of the more severe risks of a cyberattack, a data breach costs an enterprise $1.3 million and an SMB $117,000 on average.

Cyberattacks take many forms; your business should plan to protect itself from the following common types of cyberattacks:

1. Phishing: In phishing attacks, hackers impersonate a business in an email to persuade recipients to hand over personal information via a reply or to install malware. The email may also contain a fraudulent link to a fake version of a trusted website’s login page. Whaling and spearphishing are specific types of phishing that refer to attacks that single out a specific person or group.

2. SQL Injection: SQL injection is a technique cybercriminals use to exploit database-entry forms on a website. Rather than inputting a name, password, address or other information, a hacker will instead enter a code command designed to damage your database. This is typically successful when the website doesn’t properly sanitize and clean user-input data.

3. Cross-Site Scripting: XSS attacks occur when a hacker slips malicious code into your website or application. It’s common for hackers to exploit advertisement networks and user-feedback fields to sneak code onto a business’s public platform.

4. Man in the Middle: An MITM is similar to a phishing scam in that a hacker impersonates an endpoint in communication. For instance, the hacker might pose as a representative for your bank when communicating with you and pose as you when communicating with the bank — and obtain valuable information with this strategy. More sophisticated variations of this attack involve jumping into a legitimate conversation and impersonating a trusted individual.

5. Malware Attacks: Malware refers to malicious programs designed to infiltrate and disrupt user devices. Of all the different types of malware, ransomware is among the most high-profile and dangerous: It disables access to a device until the user pays a ransom. Trojans, worms, and spyware are other notable types of malware.

6. Denial-of-Service Attacks: DoS attacks disrupt networks and online platforms by overwhelming them with incredible amounts of traffic. Hackers can use these attacks to knock your website offline or slow your network to a crawl. Distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are a DoS variation that utilize multiple devices to pull off the attack; one such example is the Mirai IoT Botnet, which caused a major internet disruption for the eastern United States.

7. Social Engineering: Social engineering refers to a hacker using psychological manipulation to get an employee to hand over confidential information or install malware.

8. Drive-By: These attacks trick a user into installing malware, usually a Trojan, by clicking a link in a web browser. Drive-bys typically exploit security holes in web browser plug-ins.

9. Unpatched Software: Unpatched software attacks are entirely avoidable: They work by hackers using known exploits in programs that have already been fixed. Hackers rely on the fact that some users neglect to install important updates.

10. Brute Force Password Hacks: Hackers may also seize your company and employee accounts through brute force password hacking. In this scenario, they use a program to continually guess an account’s password at login until the program finds one that works. Secure passwords will take far longer to crack, so hackers tend to target less secure accounts.

IT security is an incomplete process unless your business has the right hardware, software and employees working together to prevent attacks. The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help. Contact us today.

The Mirai Botnet Returns — and Why You Should be Concerned

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

The Mirai botnet refers to a massive-scale network of Linux-running Internet of Things devices turned into remote-controlled bots through a malware infection. Hackers can use the network to run a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, by having the infected devices overwhelm a target with data traffic. Mirai malware and its copycats are an ongoing threat to Internet security and stability. All businesses should be concerned about Mirai’s damage potential and perform their security due diligence to avoid contributing to the problem.

A History of Attacks

Mirai first appeared September 2016, then reemerged in late 2017; its botnet of devices maxed out at around 600,000 infected devices.

While the average person probably doesn’t know what Mirai is, most people in the eastern half of the United States experienced what it can do: it was responsible for the October 2016 wide-scale slowdown of the Internet for the entire region.

Without diving too deep into the technical details, this outage-causing traffic came from malware-infected routers and cameras. In the malware botnet’s initial use, it created a massive 630 Gbps attack on a journalist’s website on September 20, 2017, double the traffic from the previous largest known attack.

While the hackers from the original Mirai attack eventually pleaded guilty, the threat from Mirai and similar malware is still very real. In late 2017, hackers used a variation to seize control of over 100,000 devices in just 60 hours, mostly consisting of unsecured modems made by ZyXEL.

How It Works

Mirai is a worm-like malware that infects Internet of Things devices by using factory default credentials. The malware scans the Internet for dozens of IoT devices with known vulnerabilities from default security settings and seizes them. Mirai exploits human behavior because owners often don’t change the default settings. The malware will control the device and use it to flood a target with Internet traffic when the hackers activate a signal. The malware creates an ad-hoc network of thousands of devices and has them all attack a target at the same time until the target’s web hosting platform is so overwhelmed with traffic it goes offline.

Mirai is dangerous because it inspires copycat malware that can be used for similar attacks. This malware family tends to target low-hanging fruit: low-cost electronics with little security. Device owners will have a difficult time identifying when their devices are infected because they remain dormant between the infection and the attack.

What It Means for Businesses

Businesses should be concerned about Mirai and similar malware in two areas: having their devices seized by the malware and being a target of a DDoS attack. Your business could be a victim of the malware without being a hacker’s target if your devices get infected and become a part of the network. An infection could potentially run up bandwidth usage, lead to slower network connections, and cause device malfunctions. Your business could be a target of a botnet DDoS attack, but your company’s devices are far more likely to be infection targets.

Do You Have a Crisis Management Plan for a Cyberattack?

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

A cyberattack crisis management plan is your business’s best defense for minimizing cyberattack damage after technology-based preventative measures have failed. Unfortunately for most businesses, cyberattacks are not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Establishing a crisis management plan can help your business minimize data compromise, limit attack scope, decrease recovery time and reduce harm to your reputation. Having a plan in advance means your operation can immediately get to work on containing the attack when it occurs rather than allow it to incur further damage while you scramble to develop a plan during the breach.

What Threats Do Cybersecurity Attacks Pose?

Cybersecurity attacks aren’t going away. According to CBS, as of 2015, criminals contributed to 1.5 million annual cyberattacks. These attacks can have major repercussions for a business.

According to IBM, the average breach costs a business $3.6 million.

Some attacks can lead to massive fallout that can put a business in financial trouble. In 2016, there were 15 breaches that exposed more than 10 million identities, Symantec reports.

The technical side of preventing cyber-attacks is an ongoing cat-and-mouse game. The tech industry pushes to close security holes as soon as — if not before — hackers find and exploit them. Hackers like to take advantage of businesses that haven’t applied software patches to close established security holes.

Malware, ransomware, botnets, IoT vulnerabilities and email phishing were all major threat sources in 2017. In particular, ransomware is a growing problem because businesses are paying more than $1,000 on average to recover “locked” data. Many of these payouts could have been avoided by implementing proper crisis management and disaster recovery plans in advance. While big businesses offer big targets, SMBs still need to protect themselves from attacks.

What Your Plan Should Contain

A cyberattack crisis management plan revolves around three main elements: preparation, response and recovery. Every step is crucial, because a poor response can actually make the situation worse. According to WIRED, Equifax’s management response could have stopped the problem before it started in their major 2017 breach, if they had not done such a poor job. Here’s what to consider:

  • Prepare: Your business should prepare for extreme-level attacks in advance. Part of this process involves creating a response team with key players from all necessary departments. The plan should include what each group needs to do in the event of an attack. The crisis response team should take action to plug major known security holes as they are discovered to prevent a breach.
  • Respond: The response team should identify the attack, secure the compromised systems, and investigate the cause of the breach in that order. Next, the team should take action to prevent further attacks that exploit the same or similar security holes.
  • Recover: The cycle continues after your business contains the threat. The response team should next work to minimize public damage and repair customer trust. According to a 2011 Ponemon Institute study, larger businesses say they averaged $332 million in diminished business value following a customer data breach.

The disaster recovery experts at MPA Networks can be a vital part of your business’s crisis management plan. Our experts can help your staff gets back to business as usual as quickly as possible. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

Four Security Threats Your Company Could Face in 2018

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Hot off the tail of the massive 2017 Equifax breach that exposed personal information of 143 million customers, businesses are on high alert concerning IT security in 2018. While the IT security industry has been successful in mitigating and cracking down on many common threats, hackers are finding new ways to exploit devices that haven’t received as much attention and protection as PCs and servers have. Trends indicate that your company could be looking at security threats from previously ignored devices and sources in 2018. Be on the lookout for the following threats this year.

1. Missing Windows Updates Over Incompatible Antivirus Software and the Meltdown-Spectre Fix

This is one security threat your company could already be facing: There’s an inherent flaw in the way modern CPUs by Intel, AMD and ARM handle data that can be exploited to leak information. This is a substantial problem because it stems from the hardware as opposed to the software, and fixing it can negatively impact device performance. To make matters worse, some types of antivirus software conflict with Microsoft’s fix. If your business is using one of those incompatible programs, you need to switch to a compatible option to continue receiving Windows Updates as of January 2018. Those Windows Update patches are vital to keeping your company’s computers safe.

2. Internet of Things Devices Become a Bigger Threat

As of 2017, there were 17.68 billion IoT-connected devices, and that number is expected to grow to 23.14 billion in 2018.

Your office may interact with devices like an Amazon Echo, a smart thermostat and dozens of smartwatches. These are all IoT devices that could be the targets of security attacks.

These devices can be used to piggyback onto your office network. Additionally, DDoS attacks from hijacked IoT device botnets could be an even bigger threat in 2018.

3. New Devices Are Targeted

Ransomware is for more than just computers now. In 2018, IoT devices could be the next major target for hackers using ransomware to get your business to fork over payment to regain control. A workplace that’s lost control of the thermostat because of ransomware might be highly motivated to pay. Hackers may also be looking to exploit security holes in your office router and modem, as these devices are often neglected when IT staff applies regular security updates. Hackers often exploit the fact that many users don’t change the default password on these devices.

4. Watch out for Mobile Malware

The growing mobile device user base is making the Android and iOS platforms much more attractive targets for hackers over the traditional PC targets. According to Kaspersky, Android devices are more vulnerable to malware, but attacks are easier to identify and fix. While iOS devices are more secure, it’s much harder to tell if a device has been compromised.

Keeping up with IT security in your workplace is your best bet to avoid disastrous breaches and downtime. Our IT consulting experts can help your company identify and protect its security weak points. Contact us today.

Scheduling Security: Take Control of Your OS Updates

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

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It happens to everyone: You turn your computer back on after you intended to leave the office, or come in early to get a head start on a new project, only to be greeted by a 20-minute operating system (OS) update session. This common workplace frustration turns what should have been a four-minute job into a half-hour ordeal, forcing you to stay behind or defeating any time gains from starting early.

OS updates provide essential security fixes that keep your business safe, but the platforms have a knack for pushing updates at what feels like “the worst possible time.”

Here’s what you can do to remain one step ahead of your updates at all times.

Change the Default Settings

Don’t leave operating system updates on their default settings, because they’re likely to interfere with work when you need the devices. The solution to this productivity- and attitude-killing problem is to adjust the system settings to force the updates at a specified time when your team won’t need them. Other software, like Office, Photoshop, and web browsers, tend to be less of a problem, since their update sessions are usually much quicker.

Updates Are a Security Issue

The worst solution to update inconvenience is to disable automatic updates. While updates that don’t add any new features may seem irrelevant, they’re actually doing lots of work keeping you safe behind the scenes in areas like IT security and virus/malware prevention.

According to TrendMictro, malware and other security exploits tend to target known security holes that have already been closed through updates and patches. Instead of finding new exploits, it’s easier for hackers to continue to exploit the old ones and take advantage of users who do not update their computer software.

Schedule Around Work to Increase Productivity

Microsoft usually posts their updates on the second Tuesday of every month, which is commonly known as “Patch Tuesday.” However, this may not work well with your business if it disables employee computers Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. The ideal time for updates will differ depending on your business, but for the typical Monday-to-Friday 9-to-5 office, you will be best served by installing updates around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. Devices can even be individually customized for each employee based on their personal schedule.

The IT Consulting experts at MPA Networks, serving San Francisco, San Mateo County, San Jose, and other San Francisco Bay Area cities, are ready to help your business make technology work for you, not against you. Scheduling updates is a desktop management and support issue, which IT Managed Services can deliver. Contact us today to find out how we can help you better manage your office computers.

Mac- and Linux-Based Malware Targets Biomedical Industry

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

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The malware infection, discovered in late January, that’s been hiding out on Mac and Linux devices for more than two years doesn’t mean the security floodgates are open, but it is a reminder that these devices aren’t invincible. Apple is calling this new malware “Fruitfly,” and it’s being used to target biomedical research. While not targeted for Linux devices, the malware code will run on them.

This attack may hit a little too close to home for those industries MPA Networks specializes in protecting, including healthcare and biotech. That makes this a good time to reexamine security best practices for devices that aren’t commonly targeted for attacks.

Attacks Are Rare, But Not Impossible

Broadly speaking, any device that isn’t running Windows has benefited from a concept called “security through obscurity,” which means hackers don’t bother going after these devices because of a smaller market share.

Mac OS X and Linux provide more secure options than Windows for various reasons, but neither is an invincible platform.

Every so often, hackers strike the Mac community with malware—and when the attacks are successful, it’s typically because users don’t see them coming. The lesson here, of course, is to never let your guard down.

You may not need an active anti-virus program on a Mac, but occasional anti-malware scans can be beneficialAccording to Ars Technica, “Fruitfly” uses dated code for creating JPG images last updated in 1998 and can be identified by malware scanners. Anti-malware programs like Malwarebytes and Norton are available for Mac devices. MPA Networks’ desktop support and management can also improve user experiences on non-Windows devices.

Keep Your Macs and Linux Machines Updated

The old IT adage that says “keeping your programs updated is the best defense against security exploits” is still true when it comes to Mac OS X. While Mac OS X upgrades have been free or low-cost for years, not everyone jumps on to the latest version right away. For example, less than half of Macs were running the latest version of the OS in December of 2014. This means all the desktop and laptop devices running older versions of Mac OS X are exposed to security holes Apple patched with updates.

Typically, Apple only supports the three most recent versions of their operating system, which usually come in annual releases. Your workplace computers should, at the very least, be running a version still supported by Apple. The good news is that Apple quickly issued a security fix to address Fruitfly. The bad news? This isn’t the first Mac OS vulnerability malware has managed to exploit, and it won’t be the last.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your company find the right tools to increase productivity and improve security on all your office devices. Contact us today to get started.

8 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Office Computers

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

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When it comes to your office computers, a little bit of spring cleaning goes a long way. Sure, cleaning office computers can seem tedious. But think of it like preventative maintenance on a vehicle: In the best-case scenario, you’ll never know all the breakdowns you avoided.

Keeping your office computers clean and healthy minimizes your risk of downtime and increases productivity.

Here are 8 tips for your next round of spring cleaning:

1. Update All Software

Run updates and patches for the operating system, commonly used programs, and security software on every system. Program and operating system updates don’t just add features; they’re loaded with security updates that keep your devices safe. Most problems with computer security exploits stem from outdated software that allows hackers to break through established breaches that the developer already closed, so running updates and patches is your best line of defense.

2. Run a Full Anti-Virus Scan

After updating all the software on the computer, run a full anti-virus scan to catch any malicious software hanging out on the device. Active anti-virus protection does a good job of safeguarding the system against infections, but sometimes malware slips through the cracks.

3. Run a Full Anti-Malware Scan

Anti-virus programs go after specific, high-risk malware infections, meaning lower-level malware can still find its way onto your computers. Anti-malware programs including Malwarebytes and Spybot are better equipped to identify and remove malware that the anti-virus misses.

4. Defragment the HDD

Older PCs with traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) may experience load time improvements from an annual drive defragmentation. However, newer Windows systems—and all currently supported Mac OS versions—handle this process in the background, so you don’t need to worry about it. If the computer is running a Solid State Drive (SSD), do not bother with the defragmentation process.

5. Remove Unnecessary Launch Programs

It may seem like every program installed on your computer wants to launch itself at startup—even those you rarely use. Removing unnecessary programs from the system startup can help improve performance and reduce login times. Windows 10 features a handy “Startup” tab on the Task Manager that lets users quickly toggle which programs launch with the system.

6. Check and Create Restore Points

Restore points can be a major time saver in returning a compromised computer to full operation. Restore points reverse most of the damage caused by malware and bad configurations, all with minimal effort. Check whether the computer is already using them, and create one if it isn’t.

7. Run a Full Backup

Backups are like restore points for when very bad things happen to a computer. It’s best practice to make at least two backups of a given computer’s files, and store them in different physical locations. This ensures that in the event of catastrophic loss, all the data saved on the computer up until the backup point is preserved. Mashable recommends verifying if automated backup services like Time Machine and Windows Backup and Restore are actually working.

8. Bust Dust on Desktops

This part of the spring cleaning process is literal. As we’ve previously discussed, excessive dust inside a computer obstructs airflow, which can cause crashes due to overheating and even damage components. CNET has a helpful guide on how to go about the dustbusting process.

A little spring cleaning makes for a more efficient office and stronger disaster recovery. The expert desktop support and management staff at MPA Networks is ready to help your workplace in San Mateo, San Francisco, the South Bay, and other Bay Area cities implement better practices. Contact us today for more information.

Antivirus Software: When One Is Better Than Two

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

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If your company’s antivirus software is letting you down, you should think twice before installing a second one on a computer: It may actually make things worse.

Multiple antivirus programs working in conjunction on the same device is not a case of “the sum is greater than the parts” but rather “less is more.”

With many viable free solutions like AVG, Avast, and Avira, it can be very tempting to install backup for a paid option. However, the interaction between multiple antivirus programs leads at best to, essentially, nothing. At worst, it will be detrimental to system performance, stability, and security.

Stepping on Toes

The primary reason that running simultaneous antivirus programs on the same device is a bad idea is that the two programs will confuse one another for malware infections and try to eliminate each other. According to PC World, the antivirus scan conflicts can spill out and cause other programs to fail, while making the operating system less stable. Computer users may immediately notice general slowdown and shorter battery life after installing a second antivirus program.

Users may also be plagued with continuous “false alarm” messages after threats have been removed because the act of one antivirus program removing an infection will be seen by the other as a malware action. Therefore, if you’re installing a new antivirus program on a computer, you’ll need to remove the old one first. This includes removing Windows Defender.

Anti-Malware Scanning Software: Antivirus Backup Exists

Backup exists, but it’s not found in additional antivirus programs. Instead, your business can utilize additional programs commonly referred to as “anti-malware” that are specifically designed to catch infections antivirus software misses for improved protection.

The term “antivirus” is a bit misleading because the programs actually protect computers from a wide range of software-based threats on top of viruses including Trojans, rootkits, worms, and ransomware. Antivirus refers to a software security program that runs in the background at all times as an active form of protection. Anti-malware programs including Malwarebytes, SuperAntiSpyware, and Spybot work through “On Demand” scans, meaning they can be used periodically to clean malware infections.

The Recovery Clause

In disaster recovery situations, your IT staff may need to install a different antivirus program to combat a malware infection that the currently installed software can’t remove. In this situation, the old software will need to be disabled or uninstalled before the new program can get to work.

If you’re looking for better digital security options for your office, contact MPA networks today. Use our experience in IT consulting to your advantage for assistance in both preventing and reducing downtime over malware threats.

Are Chromebooks Right for YOUR Business?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

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Google’s Chromebook platform has the potential to replace traditional laptops and increase productivity for businesses, much like it has in the consumer market at large. For the uninitiated,

Chromebooks are Cloud-oriented laptops that run most operations through the Google Chrome web browser instead of traditional desktop applications.

And, while lacking the raw horsepower and feature range found in Windows and Mac computers, Chromebooks manage to pack a ton of functionality in a secure, zippy, and affordable package.

Extremely Capable Machines

According to TechRadar, the Chromebook is an ideal device for workers who rely mostly, if not exclusively, on Cloud data storage and web applications. Employees that work mostly through Google Apps already will find the device a natural fit. If it runs in Chrome, it runs on the Chromebook.

Other employees who primarily use desktop computers may find a Chromebook a much more powerful productivity booster for a secondary mobile device compared with smartphones and tablets. While the devices may have slower CPUs than comparable laptops, they’re running an OS with little overhead bloat, so they tend to offer a smooth user experience.

Cloud-Based Advantages

The Cloud-based nature of Chromebooks makes them a great asset for malware prevention and simplified disaster recovery. According to Google, Chromebooks “are designed from the ground up to defend against malware and viruses.” Additionally, all files saved in web applications are stored in the Cloud, which means the disaster recovery process amounts to simply reloading the operating system. Moreover, Chromebooks are highly secure in the event of theft since they don’t store confidential data on the device itself.

Low Cost

Chromebooks are a cost-effective option for many companies, but small startups may have the most to gain. Don’t use—or can’t afford—costly management tools, server hardware, and other infrastructure? Chromebooks start as low as $150, with more capable models in the $200-250 range; high-end Chromebooks hit the cost ceiling at $500. These are much cheaper than typical enterprise laptops, making them an affordable alternative. Chromebooks are also a great option for business trips, considering three-day laptop rentals can cost between $70 and $150 per employee.

Results May Vary

Chromebooks aren’t for everyone, so make sure the device fits seamlessly into your workflow before making a company-wide commitment. If, for example, your employees need powerful systems with proprietary software for intense applications like video editing, rendering 3D models, or financial modeling, and these tasks are not offloaded into the Cloud, then Chromebooks are not for you. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that Chromebooks lose most of their functionality when working in areas without an Internet connection, and that configuring a Chromebook to print isn’t as easy as on a PC or Mac.

That said, many of the Chromebook’s shortcomings could see improvements soon: Google is planning to add Android application support in the near future. If your workflow can adapt well to Chromebooks, the pros may outweigh the cons and then some.