Brave New Wireless World

It’s a wireless world out there, and it’s getting “wirelesser” every day. Not getting tangled up in wires can make for carefree experiences – as long as you’re not careless about your online presence. That’s especially true as you travel this summer. Here are some safety tips.

First, understand that we are not only living in a wireless world, we’re living in a Bluetooth world. To get it down to very simple terms, Bluetooth enables you to set up a short-distance radio broadcast/reception system, and for most applications, it’s a plug-and-play deal. You pair your mobile device with whatever broadcast system you’ll be using, and you’re good to go.

If you’re flying somewhere this summer, you’ll likely use a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for your inflight entertainment. Airlines are eliminating the seatback screens and related systems to reduce weight and space requirements. Mobile-device manufacturers are eliminating external ports for the same reasons. As a result, you’ll be likely to watch inflight movies or TV shows from the plane’s Wi-Fi network or watch programming you’ve already downloaded to your device or computer. And, you’re also likely to use Bluetooth headphones or earbuds.

Besides inflight entertainment, Bluetooth systems can be used to connect your phone or tablet to guided tours in museums, parks and other attractions. In addition, many cameras use Bluetooth to upload photo cards to mobile devices or computers.

Because it’s a broadcast system, there are security holes. You can start by trying to make sure your device or computer has Level Four Bluetooth security. That has the strongest authentication protocol, which can help your security. Newer phones, tablets and computers are more like to have this capability. Regardless of the security level, here are a few steps to help you secure your devices:

  • Make them “non-discoverable” when you have them in use. Turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t using the device.
  • Use headphones or earbuds with signal encryption.
  • Download and install all software updates and security patches.
  • Maintain physical control of enabled devices and “unpair” any that are lost or stolen.

Second, more and more of us are using Wi-Fi hotspots to enjoy the many benefits of internet connectivity while we’re on the go. Remember, you’re on unsecured – and untrusted – networks when you use these hotspots, so practice good security. You should especially make sure you and your family members avoid online banking or shopping on these networks, and that includes making online changes to your travel reservations or using a ridesharing app like Uber or Lyft.

Using a cellular network is safer, but make sure you have uploaded all the latest upgrades for your OS and apps and all security patches. Also make sure you have new, strong passwords and change them while you travel.

You might want to couple this with reviewing and/or deactivating any accounts you no longer use. A client recently got an email from Microsoft about an account that might have been compromised. We helped verify it was a legitimate message and traced it back to a free account or something that wound up being based in Turkey. He was able to access it and change the password; no harm, no foul.

However, it does raise the point that security and privacy laws vary among countries, and that you can’t depend on any company or government to guarantee your privacy and security when you’re connected to the internet or a Wi-Fi network.

We can help you make sure you have your security bases covered before you travel domestically or internationally – or even if you’re just going around the corner. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your travel-security needs.

Replacing Your Hardware

We’re a bunch of collegial competitors in IT support, and in recently sharing some thoughts with an industry fellow, I learned that Toshiba is shutting down its telephone business as part of a global restructuring. It seems that the pending bankruptcy of its Westinghouse Electric nuclear division is having a major financial fallout that’s affecting Toshiba America Information Systems’ (TAIS) Telecommunication Systems Division (TSD).

If you have a Toshiba phone system, as one client does, you need to make plans to secure third-party support or be ready to migrate to whichever company may buy Toshiba’s phone system assets. However, there are many things that any company needs to do whenever any of its technology suppliers goes out of business. Some companies have assets that can be acquired, in which case you can most likely expect factory-level support. Some companies are better than others about helping you stock up on replacement parts and providing final firmware updates and security patches, but we wouldn’t count on it.

As an IT support company, we can help you in a number of ways.

  • We’ll check to make sure you have the most up-to-date firmware and security patches for your hardware system. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of this. Any security hole in your phone system can easily lead to a breach in your entire network. Updates will buy time for any next steps you’ll need to take.
  • We’ll help you evaluate your options. Your best option may be to continue with your system based on its age, its capabilities and the strength of current firmware and security software or the strength of support from another provider. Our two goals are to protect the integrity of your business systems and to help you maximize your investment in your current technology.
  • If migration to another system is your best option, we’ll help you plan a budget and timetable for making your move. As part of the process, we’ll help you evaluate all the available systems that fit your needs to help you fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and set ROI goals.

System providers come and go. Always have; always will. But if you keep your eyes and ears open and take a deep breath when you get bad news about one of yours, we can always help you find a solution. And working together, we can find one that meets your cost and capability needs as best as possible. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with any questions about looking for new systems.

Pulling the Plug at BA

An IT contractor for British Airways accidentally pulled the wrong plug as travelers queued up for a holiday weekend. That pulled the plug on travel plans for some 75,000 passengers and cost the airline a reported $128 million. It makes you wonder: Who else is vulnerable to an “oops”? Probably everybody, but we can all reduce our risk exposure with good backup systems.

The contractor’s mistake occurred at BA’s data center, and it caused the airline to cancel flights at London’s two airports, Heathrow and Gatwick. Besides the millions BA will pay for their customers’ inconvenience, there will be an investigation that will draw on company resources. It affected operations throughout the BA empire.

The incident raises two questions?

  1. Why wasn’t that cord clearly marked in some way, shape or form to give anyone a clue that it absolutely had to stay plugged in?
  2. Why wasn’t some sort of backup system available?

To me, the second question gets to some very fundamental issues about how major companies operate in today’s world. One of them is cost-cutting. News reports indicate that BA’s management was under pressure to cut costs and boost profit margins in a highly competitive industry. Well, we’re all in highly competitive situations, and we all want to raise our profit margins because we can’t raise prices – at least not without significant pushback.

But at some point, the large corporations that provide so many services for small businesses and consumers, like us, need to step up their game. They should be taking the steps our clients and customers would demand of us to make sure we serve them as expected. If one of the package delivery services, such as UPS or FedEx – or even the Post Office – has an IT failure that causes one of our deliveries to miss a deadline, the consequences for us will be much greater proportionately than for the big corporation.

Mechanical problems at a specific location can happen, but a data center problem should never happen because there are so many ways to add backups. Here are a few examples of what they can do:

  • Have a battery-powered back-up system in place so that everything in the system can be saved.
  • Have a back-up location that can be immediately and automatically activated so that critical operations continue.
  • Make time to make sure everyone is trained and retrained for all tasks they need to do on the system.
  • Keep your hardware and software up-to-date to make sure you have all performance and security measures installed. One of the things we’ve seen in many IT-related catastrophes, such as WannaCry ransomware, is that large businesses simply don’t bother to invest in technology in order to cut costs. They wind up paying more when something happens.

Let’s take this one step farther. You can be exposed to many of the same risks and can benefit from the same preventive measures in your office and at home. You can buy battery back-up systems and plug in your servers, routers and computers to give you time to save your data. You can use remote storage – the cloud – to save data and apps. You can make sure everyone knows what to do and not do with your system. You can automatically update your systems – especially your operating system and app software – to keep them secure.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions about keeping your home and office systems running in the face of any incidents – manmade or natural. We can also audit your system and give you a plan to stay plugged in.

Apple Speaks…or Listens

Siri’s new voice made a lot of noise at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last week. She’s the lead voice of HomePod, Apple’s home hub that will try to muscle out Google Home and Amazon’s Echo. But as they say, “wait, there’s more.” Apple had a lot more to announce and a lot for Apple fans to look forward to.

HomePod is the biggie. Like its competitors, you can ask questions and get info like news, scores and weather. Apple claims it’s going beyond the others by providing encryption to protect users’ privacy, and a system to sense the size of a room and adjust its acoustics. It’s expected to be available in December and carry a $349 price tag. But it also signifies a move by Apple to making greater use of artificial intelligence (AI), and that will be reflected in some of Apple’s other announcements.

You can look for a new operating system for Apple’s devices, iOS 11, and for Apple Watch, watchOS 4. Siri plays a key role in both. For iOS 11, Siri will be able to do more tasks, speak in a more natural voice and assume a male or female voice. There will be other features available, including a control center for making certain adjustments, a person-to-person payment feature for Apple Pay, GPS features and a “do not disturb” option for voice and text while you’re driving your car. Apple Watch will have a new Siri-focused interface that can personalize notifications based on your behavior at different times of the day, such as traffic updates before you leave for work or home.

The new iOS 11 will add new features to the iPad Pro, which will increase its screen size to 10.5 inches ($649) and a bigger 12.9-in screen model ($799). Both will have 512 GB of storage, and they’ll add productivity features with the new iOS, such as multi-tasking and drag-and-drop images between apps. With a better stylus, it should also read your handwriting.

Macs are getting a new OS, High Sierra, and the machines are getting upgrades, too. New desktops have higher memory capacity and stronger graphics performance. The 21.5-inch iMac starts at $1,099; a 21.5-inch, 4K-capable iMac Retina will cost $1,299; and a 25-inch iMac Retina 5K goes for $1,799. All are available now. In December, you’ll be able to get the new iMac Pro, but it will cost $4,999. For laptops, the MacBook and MacBook Pro have faster processors and solid-state hard drives. The 15″ MacBook Pro is also getting faster graphics. Apple is also cutting the basic price for the MacBook’s 13-inch model by $300. All are available now.

Finally, Apple TV customers will now be able to watch Amazon Video through their set-top boxes.

I’ve always been a big fan of iOS-powered devices and have been developing more of a liking for Apple products. I believe there are many instances where Apple and Windows products can integrate seamlessly and where other devices and systems can come into play. Apple’s announcements have raised my geeky sense of excitement, and I hope they do the same for you.

As always, we’ll be getting our hands on a lot of this new technology as soon as we can, and we’ll be available to help you make informed buying decisions and get everything properly installed and operating. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with your questions and comments. Better yet, leave a comment on our website to share your thoughts and experiences with our Sterling Rose community.