Pick up the Phone

Until we better develop telepathic technology and autonomous vehicles, my IT service colleagues and I agree that picking up the telephone is the fastest way to get emergency help for tech issues. Problems that can be resolved in minutes can take hours when you text instead of talk.

One issue with one of our clients illustrates how our infatuation with text instead of talk can add to a problem instead of speeding its resolution. I should preface the story by telling you that our client is tech savvy, and that we had a good laugh about it afterward. But while the problem was ongoing, it was pretty grim.

The issue had to do with a password that had a combination of letters and numbers. When entering the password, the user typed the letters on the keyboard and the numbers from the numeric keypad. While it makes no sense to us mere mortals, the keypad puts the numbers in random places. So, when the user entered the password, it was rejected. The solution would have been to use the keyboard for all characters.

A phone call would have solved it. Instead, there was a series of five texts over the course of an hour, each escalating in intensity. One of the texts implored me to call them. I didn’t see the texts because I was in a meeting and then driving. It’s fair to say that when you have someone in a meeting, you want their full attention – without that person glancing at a phone and responding to other messages. That’s how we operate unless it’s an emergency or an urgent situation. I also turn off text reception when we drive – and that’s an important safety move.

Why would a phone call have been faster? If I am unable to take the call, my receptionist takes it and gets a description of the problem and your sense of urgency. We have a system that allows our receptionist to break into a meeting if it’s judged an emergency. Not being able to log in to a website to conduct business would have been deemed an emergency.

Once I got word that our client couldn’t log in, I reset the password remotely. When the client reset the password and couldn’t log in, I was able to discover the root of the problem and let the client know about using the keyboard instead of the numeric keypad for entering password numbers.

This story illustrates how texting is abused. It’s not meant to be a means of emergency communications – except in those cases where they’re used in 9-1-1 emergencies where a caller’s safety could be endangered by talking. (And if you’re in that situation, we hope you have the presence of mind to silence your phone for all notifications.) If you need to contact someone who you know is in a car, it only makes sense to call and not text.

The moral of this story: Call us – 973-433-6676 – if you have an emergency or urgent problem. You’ll get a faster response and resolution.

Airports, Wi-Fi and VPNs

Since most of us fly in and out of Newark Liberty International Airport, you might want to know that it’s ranked fifth on one list of airports where your phone is mostly likely to be hacked. Setting up a VPN (virtual private network) might not be your answer, either, because they are not always as reliable as you think for protecting privacy. Your best protection is your own cybersmarts.

Newark’s lack of security was highlighted in a recent article by Tech Republic about the 10 US airports where you’re most likely to be hacked. That article was based on a report by Coronet, an internet security provider, which looked at the 45 busiest airports in the country. The report applies mostly to businesses, but a lot of it can apply to all travelers.

Why are airport wi-fi systems vulnerable? Lax cybersecurity at most airports lets bad guys onto insecure public wi-fi to introduce a plethora of advanced network vulnerabilities, such as captive portals (AKA Wireless phishing), Evil Twins, ARP poisoning, VPN Gaps, Honeypots and compromised routers. Any one of these network vulnerabilities can empower an attacker to obtain access credentials to Microsoft Office 365, G-Suite, Dropbox and other popular cloud apps; deliver malware to the device and the cloud, and snoop and sniff device communications. Further, not all VPNs give you rock-solid protection against attacks, and USB charging stations are notorious being vulnerable to attack.

To be fair, the report puts the probability of connecting to a medium-risk network at 1 percent and the probability of connecting to high-risk network at 0.6 percent. The same numbers for the worst airport, John Wayne Airport-Orange County Airport are 26 and 7 percent, respectively.

But why take a chance when you can take steps to reduce even the slightest risk? Even at a 1 percent risk, you’re still gambling, and the cost of a breach could be more than the cost of more data on your cellular plan. To be safe, use cellular data in public places.

But let’s try to put all of this in perspective. If you’re checking your email or browsing the internet at the airport, you’re not using much cellular data. The heavy use comes in streaming movies or TV shows or in downloading content with a lot of pictures and video. To keep data use minimal, change your settings so you don’t download pictures and video. If you can, download and store reading and viewing material onto a device before you leave home. If not, buy a newspaper or carry a book to kill time at the airport.

When you’re at various locations – anywhere in the world – make sure you check that you are on a legitimate network. In Europe, for example, we found that the wi-fi networks were faster than data networks, and that made it better to use them to download email. But if speed is not an issue or if the wi-fi is slow, you’re safer on cellular.

We’d also like to add one more reminder: Although this article deals with airports, the same safety precautions apply to any public network. They’re all prime targets for hackers. The notorious bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks. His answer: “That’s where the money is.” Today, data is where the money is; hence the hackers.

If you have any questions about securing your phones, devices and computers, call us – 973-433-6676 – and email us.

Tech Preps for Trips

For all the acclaim that Israel gets for technology, I was shocked at how slow the wi-fi service was while we visited there. With all the advanced security systems in place and all the tech startups and established R&D places there, I was expecting blazing internet service. Instead, I found internet service was based on DSL technology, and I had to ask why??? It was the slowest internet service I’ve experienced anywhere on the planet (though I’m sure I haven’t visited the places that are even slower).

While your experiences in Israel may differ from mine, the visit reinforced the need to plan for your tech needs as you plan your itinerary. In our case, I brought two phones, and we had Danit’s phone.

I ordered SIM cards for Israeli cellular service for my iPhone X and Danit’s iPhone before we left the US. They were ready for me at the airport, and using a little tool I carry, it was a simple matter to pop out our US SIM cards and install the Israeli cards. Our cost was $60 for the two cards, and we got 10 gigabytes each of data usage plus the ability to make unlimited calls worldwide. We also got the 4G cellular data service, and it was really fast.

Of course, that meant my iPhone X did not have my US phone number. That meant I lost access to voice mail for my number, and I lost the ability to receive text messages. The solution was to carry an old iPhone 5, which was activated for my US number. That gave me the ability to monitor US calls and texts and to use my “Israeli” phone to call and text as needed. The only issue with SIM cards in other countries is that you are likely to get text messages in the language of the country tied to the phone number. Along that line, if you are using your phone for GPS car navigation, you should check your settings to make sure you get displays and voice directions in English – and maybe in kilometers, too.

There are a number of workarounds for phone-number challenges. One is to get a Google Voice number through Google. You can then forward that to any phone number you want, such as the phone number tied to your SIM card in another country. I chose to get a US phone number in Israel for my Israeli phone, and people who needed to reach me immediately could use that number. That helped me balance time away while being accessible.

If you are averse to getting a SIM card and changing your phone number, you can arrange for international service with your cellular carrier. That can be expensive (“expensive” can be a relative term), and if you have an iPhone phone that you bought from a Verizon store, you’re stuck with just a CDMA radio in your phone. Without getting overly technical, CDMA is one of the two radio systems used in cell phones, and it’s used in the US. GSM is the other radio system, and it’s used worldwide.

Most Android-based phones, all iPhones sold in AT&T stores and iPhones sold in Apple stores have both radios built in, giving you seamless service if you decided to use an international phone plan from your carrier. If you are planning to buy a new iPhone and want to use Verizon as your carrier, we recommend buying it in the Apple store to get both radios and keep more options available.

If you opt not to have cellular service on your phone, you can still use wi-fi for email, browsing and making calls through various apps, such as WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and others. Just be aware of security needs when using public networks. You can also rent a cellphone in the country you are visiting.

We can help you plan for tech needs for travel. Give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about what’s available in the countries you’ll be visiting.