The Night the ‘Office’ Went Dark

Two weeks ago, Microsoft’s Office 365/Microsoft 365 cloud-based services, which include the online Office apps, went down for as long as five hours in some parts of the United States, Western Europe and India. As of this writing last week, users were still reporting sporadic outages of some services. So far, our clients have not been affected, but It’s a fluid situation.

No matter what happened and what might happen, you can protect your data by backing up your files in more than one place. The outage hit Azure, a Microsoft platform, that we use for our backup for Microsoft 365, which was known as Office or Office 365. Microsoft 365 is built on Azure. It wasn’t the first time it was hit by an outage, and it won’t be the last. In its most recent outage, Azure and Microsoft 365 were affected by what was reported as a major Azure Active Directory authentication issue. In practical terms, users got kicked out of cloud-based applications, such as Office, Outlook, Exchange, Teams and SharePoint. It lasted from roughly 5 to 10 p.m. on Sept. 28.

Microsoft said very little but referred to an update in their network structure – and then said they rolled back the changes to an older version. It was all automated, but because of the authentication issues, some administrators couldn’t see the changes. Over the course of two weeks, problems cascaded worldwide – and randomly. Despite what Microsoft reports, we haven’t seen any satisfactory explanations of what happened and how it was fixed.

In this case, we don’t know of any data losses, but if you can’t access your files, they’re as good as lost until the service comes back. That’s where multiple backups are valuable. As a small business or home user, you may still have a computer with a version of Office installed. If you can pull a file from another storage site, such as Mozy (one of our partners) or Dropbox, or from an external hard drive, you may be able to work with your file. You also can store files on your computer’s hard drive.

One of the problems with an outage such as the one that hit Azure, you never know when it will hit. We reported on an outage two years ago, and we did have at least one client who was affected.

At the time we were affected, we were doing a setup at a client and needed to get a big file from Azure. When I logged in to get it, I got no access; I just got a message they would send a text. I had an external hard drive with an old version of the file, and that was not suitable. Transferring the file remotely from my office computer would have taken too long. We solved the immediate problem by transferring the file from my computer to my Dropbox account and then downloading it from there. We and our client were fortunate that I had the capability – files stored on a computer I could access and Dropbox – to initiate a solution.

Azure solves recovery issues for us because it works seamlessly in the background with Office 365, including Outlook and its PST files for your email. For some, backing up email may be more important than backing up files.

As an IT professional, I like Azure’s ability to generate reports – with more capabilities coming online all the time. Microsoft constantly uses customer feedback to add more power to the platform. That gives us the ability to go back into our clients’ backup records to trace incidents and to restore files after a catastrophic event. That’s critical because it can be 90 days – sometimes longer – before a hack or data loss is discovered by a client. When that happens, we can go back in time through the power of Azure to find data files that help us help you recover.

We can help you with continuity during various service outages, but it all starts with accessing your data.  Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your backup and file storage options. The cost of a workable redundancy system may pale in comparison to the loss you could suffer from the loss of data or the loss of access to your data.

iPhone 12: It’s Here

iPhone 12 has arrived, and it could be in your hands (or mine) in less than two weeks. As with every Apple product rollout, this one is shrouded in secrecy and pierced by leaks. You can get the official info from the online presentation – Hi, Speed – from Apple Park.

By the time you read this, you may have already seen the presentation, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET. Regardless, here’s what we’re zeroing in on from what we’ve seen. iPhone 12 pre-orders could begin this Friday, and the first shipments could happen on October 23.

Rumors suggest the 6.7-inch iPhone and one 6.1-inch models will be higher-end devices with triple-lens cameras, while the 5.4 and 6.1-inch models will be lower-end iPhones with dual-lens cameras and a more affordable price tag. All iPhones in 2020 are expected to feature OLED display technology regardless of price. There were rumors that 120Hz displays could be included within the high-end iPhone 12 models, but more recent rumors indicate Apple will wait until 2021 to unveil the feature.

Reports indicate that Apple will take the plunge into 5G capability, but it’s possible that only one model, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will offer the fastest possible speeds. That makes sense; its 6.7-inch size will be able to house the antenna and slower-draining battery to provide the performance. iPhone is likely to have several ranges of 5G service with all the modems in the phone coming from Qualcomm.

With 5G still early in its development and deployment, we’ll need to wait to make better use of it, but the new iPhone 12 will be ready for at least some of it. Another futuristic twist will be LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). It uses lasers to judge distances and depth, and it’s big news for augmented reality (AR) and, to a lesser extent, photography. One can only wonder what it might open for new experiences on iPhones and iPads – and Apple Glasses.

But so much for the future. For the here and now, let’s review the expected specs and pricing for the four likely versions of the iPhone 12. All will have the new A14 processor and a minimum of 128GB storage, which is critical for all the apps we expect to use and high-image photos and videos we’ll want to take.

  • iPhone 12 mini will be considered the entry-level iPhone 12 with a 5.4-inch OLED panel with a rumored resolution of 2340×1080 pixels and Y-OCTA technology, which means that the touch sensor is integrated directly into the display. Like the iPhone 11, this model will rely on dual rear cameras, losing the telephoto in the Pro versions. It comes with 4GB of RAM. Estimated price: $699
  • iPhone 12 with its 6.1-inch will have the larger screen and battery size, and its OLED panel will have 2532×1170 resolution. It also has 4G of RAM. Estimated price: $799
  • iPhone 12 Pro is expected to have a 6.1-inch flexible OLED screen and could be the first phone to feature 10-bit color support with its 2532×1170 resolution along with Y-OCTA technology. Its screen may support a 120Hz refresh rate. It comes with 6G of RAM. Look for storage options up to 512GB. It could have three rear lenses, highlighted by a 64MP main sensor, plus a LiDAR time-of-flight sensor that will improve performance of AR apps. Estimated price: $1049
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max will be the same as the iPhone 12 Pro with a bigger 6.7-inch OLED screen and higher resolution at 2778×1824 pixels. A 120Hz refresh rate is also possible. Estimated price: $1149

We think the specs for each of the new iPhone 12s should hold pretty close to rumor reports. We’ve already seen some of the new features through the recent release of the iOS 14 operating system for iPhones and iPads – which coincided with the new iPad Air and 8th Generation last month. The pricing may be different. There will also be variations based on the storage capacity you choose.

If you drop down to 64GB on the iPhone 12 Mini or iPhone 12, you can save $50, which is probably false economy. Moving up to 256GB will likely add $100 to the base prices, and it may be worth the money. For the Pro and Pro Max models, going to 256GB will add $100, and going to 512GB will add $200.

While we’re on the subject of Apple upgrades, we’re expecting an upgrade to macOS Big Sur. It could be part of today’s announcements. The current version of macOS Catalina (10.15) is supported across every model line of Mac laptop and desktop, but only going back as far as 2012. With the release of Big Sur, Mac users will still see plenty of Intel-based Macs supported, but not as many as Catalina. It’s one of the big questions we have because many of our clients use Windows-based Microsoft 365 (Office) on their Macs. It’s likely that newer devices, like the iMac Pro and the MacBook will see all models supported, but products with longer legacies, like the Mac mini and the MacBook Air will see a lot of products missing out on support for Big Sur.

Releasing the new OS for Mac along with the new iPhone rollout would make a lot of sense, especially leading into the holiday shopping season. Apple already rolled out the new iPads and Apple Watch, along with OS upgrades for those products, the iPhone and Apple TV+.

Watch our social media for comments on the new Apple devices and operating systems. We can help you with OS updates and custom-configuring both the new operating systems and new devices. Once we see each of the new phones’ properties and prices, we’ll be able to guide you in selecting a new phone that’s right for you. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.

Disinformation Wars Scaling Up

Disinformation is as old as the homo sapiens species. But the ability to create misleading information and deep fakes continuously gets better and more vicious, and the speed at which it can spread gets faster. It’s easy to say, “get your news from trusted sources” and “use common sense,” but the deceptions are sophisticated.

Disinformation is the blend between misinformation and malinformation. Misinformation can be simple or significant unintentional mistakes such as an error in statistics or translations. Malinformation can be the purposeful change of private information for personal, business or, as we’ve seen in this election cycle, political interests. Disinformation is the deliberate changing and manipulating content to spread rumors, conspiracy theories and propaganda.

Disinformation is difficult to distinguish and anyone is susceptible, including professional TV and radio show hosts. Even when news organizations discover disinformation or malinformation and edit or retract their stories, fire journalists etc., there are far-reaching consequences.

We applaud the efforts that social media are taking to call out and remove the deliberate dissemination of lies and distortions. Because anyone with the technical ability can game the algorithms used by social media, we do need humans to make some judgment calls. Those humans work for the social media companies, but you are also a human who can apply intelligence to judging the truth of any social media post or news item.

The consensus is that some 3.5 billion people worldwide engage through social media. Facebook is by far the largest social media organization, but with many social media organizations claiming hundreds of millions, if not billions, of users, it’s clear that we all visit several every day. Some 500 videos are uploaded every minute to YouTube.

With that said, here are some fact-checking tips and tools, starting with the tips.

  • Consider the source of the information. Is it legitimate or proven to be reliable? You don’t have to agree with the source’s point of view, but you should respect its integrity.
  • Read past the headline. Don’t assume the entire story is true, especially if the headline is worded in a way that catches your attention.
  • Check up on the author. Reputable news organizations use bylines to identify who reported and wrote the story. Reporters often have bios at the end of a story.
  • Don’t assume information is correct just because it confirms your beliefs.
  • Check the date. Information from the past can be manipulated into looking like up-to-date facts.

If you assume that everything you see on social media or on any news site needs some fact-checking, here are some sites you can visit.

  • Politifact is a fact-checking website that verifies elected officials’ statements. It has its most recent posts on its home page, but you can find extensive links to check out just about any specific candidate.
  • FactCheck.Org aims to reduce the level of deception in U.S. politics. On the right side of its home page, you can select specific topics for investigation, and it also has a “misinformation directory” organized alphabetically of websites that have published misleading information.
  • Snopes is one of the oldest fact-checkers on the internet.
  • The Daily Dot put together a list of fake websites that appeared on Facebook. While the link dates back to April, you can find current information once you get on the website.
  • Google Fact-Check Explorer can tell you if a fact or claim has been investigated by a fact-checking organization. Its home page is wide open. You’ll need to enter a name or phrase to get the fact-checker started.
  • Media Bias Fact Check can either confirm your suspicions or enlighten you. Use the search function to enter a specific news outlet. You can also learn a bit about the website’s methodology.

With less than a month to go before Election Day, you can expect more disinformation on the internet, especially in social media and on websites designed specifically to spread false information. We hope you find the websites we’ve mentioned useful in helping you make up your own mind and in deciding what to share. If you have similar sites to share or tips on evaluating information on the internet, we invite you to leave a comment or post it on our Sterling Rose Facebook page.