Red Light, Green Light, Warning Signs

How many of you ignore red or amber warning lights when they appear on your car’s dashboard? Based on what we see in IT, most of you probably ignore them. When you see a red warning on your computer screen, it could be a security alert or a malfunction.

I recently got a red warning when I tried to print a document. When I looked, the system was objecting to my print parameters. I was trying to eliminate the margins so that I could fit everything I wanted on the piece. In this case, I was able to add some instructions to override the printer’s setting; it’s something I’d bet a lot of you have done.

Other types of warnings can’t be circumvented. In our next example, a client got a new computer but didn’t pay close attention to a OneDrive warning about synching files between his old computer and OneDrive. Typical OneDrive accounts provide a terabyte (1 TB) of storage space. It sounds like a lot of room, and we keep throwing stuff there. However, there is a finite limit on how much you can store. And just as with your hard drive, you need to have space available to be able to manage files. That’s one reason OneDrive and your computer’s hard drive can’t sync.

Microsoft is pretty good about giving you a heads-up on problems, but you need to be proactive, too. In the lower right corner of your computer screen, OneDrive users can see an icon for their drive on their service tray; it should be a blue cloud, and you should monitor that corner of your screen – just like you check your dashboard and mirrors when driving your car. When there’s a problem with OneDrive, you’ll see a red indicator. You can right click on the icon to see what the problem is.

In this client’s case, they missed the warning as they were transitioning to a new computer. When they started to use it, they were missing six months’ worth of files because unbeknownst to them, the synching stopped. Fortunately, they were able to recreate the lost files, but it cost considerable time and money.

It goes without saying that the earlier you catch a problem, the faster and easier it is to fix. Sometimes, it’s an administrative issue, such as a problem with your account. Signing in to your account may point you to a few steps. Sometimes, it can be as simple as just signing in.

But other times, you may have run into a complicated technical issue, and that’s where you need an IT professional’s help. We have seen just about all OneDrive problems known to the world, and we have tools to get to the heart of your issue. Depending on the problem and your comfort/skill level with technology, we get you started on the solution, work with you at various stages of the solution, or fix it for you.

Taking a few steps back from the crisis stage, you can prevent a number of problems by properly setting up OneDrive on a new computer. We can verify all systems are working as they are supposed to. We can do this in one of two ways: 1.) access your new computer remotely once you take it out of the box and get it online; or 2.) take delivery of your new computer, start the setup with you on the phone, ship it to you, and finish the setup remotely.

No matter what we do for you or how we do it, we will remind you: red light, green light. If you can get into the habit of checking the status of apps on your service tray, you need our services a lot less often. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have a problem or want to take a step to avoid one.

WiFi Jammers

A recent TV news report on criminals in Morris County using Wi-Fi jammers to disable security cameras and communications grabbed our attention. It should grab yours, too.

The news report focused on a crime ring that’s using Wi-Fi jammers to break into homes. In some cases, they’ll install their own surveillance cameras in a property’s landscaping to know when residents leave their homes. In this case, the homeowner was in his basement when he heard a loud noise coming from the ground floor of his residence. He used his home surveillance cameras to see someone attempting to enter his home. He soon lost his camera and phone service, indicating to police that a Wi-Fi jamming device was in use. The resident was still unable to utilize his cellular phone to call for assistance due to the jamming device.

Let’s look at that last sentence first. The reason the resident couldn’t use his cellphone is because it was likely set to make calls on the Wi-Fi network if the network is available. Our guess is that he could have made the call if he had turned off Wi-Fi on his phone. Heed that point when you face an emergency.

That can be especially true when it comes to security devices. Hard-wired devices perform better and more reliably. Yes, it sounds old-fashioned, but it works. If you have a security system installed by an alarm company, it’s likely hard-wired and connected to a monitoring station via a cellular network – and it has a battery backup in case the power goes out.

Wi-Fi networks are low-hanging fruit for criminals, and we make that fruit more accessible through our own ignorance or laziness. You can’t make your Wi-Fi totally jam-proof, but you can make your network more secure.

The following steps are nothing new to long-time clients and readers of this newsletter, but let’s run through them anyway:

  • Whenever you install a new device – especially a security device – that’s tied to your Wi-Fi network, IMMEDIATELY change the default username (it’s usually “admin”) and the password (it’s usually 1234).
  • Make sure your firewall software is up to date and running to keep out unwanted intruders. It’s one thing to be jammed. It’s another thing to be invaded.
  • Make sure you keep all software for operating systems, hardware and apps up to date and running. Updates contain security patches and bug fixes as well as performance enhancements. A single weak link anywhere in your technology chain can expose your entire system.

In our opinion, a security camera system that’s hardwired to a central location in your home but is accessible through the internet – independently of Wi-Fi – is best. We can help you with the internet connection and show you how to access your security system from anywhere in the world.

We can also help you prevent intrusions by outsiders by providing a thorough security audit of your technology system and making recommendations to improve security. That can include the installation of new systems and user training.

We all have a lot at stake in our homes and businesses. With the rise in hacking and the use of technology to break down our defenses, it makes sense to take every step you can to harden those defenses. Call us – 973433-6676 – or email us to talk about your needs. And make sure you turn off Wi-Fi on your cell phone in an emergency.

Passkeys Not There…Yet

Passkeys hold a lot of promise in eliminating passwords. They rely on an electronic handshake to allow your device to access a secure website, and many password managers claim to link to passkeys. They’re getting there, but they’re not there yet.

A major hurdle right now is that not all websites recognize the passkeys from password managers. Sometimes, recognition depends on the device. Since most of us have fairly new cell phones, our phones usually have the ability to work with facial recognition, which is a form of a passkey. Older devices may not have the ability to work with this type of technology.

We suspect the move to newer computers – especially as Microsoft ends support for Windows 11 – and the need for better security will speed the drive to make more devices capable of using passkeys.

Why are passkeys secure? They eliminate the need to enter usernames and passwords, both of which are stored on the website you’re trying to access. We know the problems with usernames and passwords: they can be stolen by hackers from the website or your device, they can be forgotten, and we can make them less effective by using simple passwords multiple times so we don’t forget them.

Passkey information is stored on the website and in your device. They are not the same info; they rely on the handshake – sort of like two spies who each know what they need to hear in a phrase. On your device, the most common passkey information is a biometric (facial recognition or fingerprint) or a PIN (personal identification number). Because they are device specific, the system relies on you having your device when you log into the website.

When you combine a passkey with some form of 2FA (two factor authentication), you’re using an access method that has proven reliably secure up to now. Many of the leading password manager programs, such as Dashlane, 1 Password and Bitwarden, can create and store passkeys for you, and both Apple and Android can store their passkeys locally and access them using the keychain app on mobile devices.

Even if you can’t use the passkey with your password manager, you’re still ahead. Remember, with a password manager, you only need to remember a single master password. You can let the password manager generate a long, complex password for each website. That password should be immune from guesses based on any of your personal information.

More websites, too, are using passkeys instead of the username/password duo. As the websites use them more, you will have easier access to more websites, but that comes with a caution. The websites will need to tighten their security, too, to prevent more sophisticated hijackers from getting info from their sites. One of their hacks is to hijack cookies. You can help prevent that by not clicking on “Accept” when the cookie dialog box pops up. Instead, navigate to the “Cookies” or “User Data” sections and choose the shortest available session duration. That way your cookies will expire automatically or whenever you close your browser window.

To expand the conversation about the internet and security, you can apply the same security measures to any device in your office or home that uses the internet or a Wi-Fi network. Printer manufacturers such as HP have created anti-hacking steps, such as entering a PIN, to gain access to the information stored in a printer.

We can help you install and configure password managers and set up effective passkeys and other security measures. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.