The Worst is Yet to Come

What do factory closings and travel bans have in common? They’re going to affect the flow of technology to your business and home. Unfortunately, we have no idea yet on how bad the impact will be or how long it will take to recover.

Right now, the demand for products hasn’t caught up to the factory closings, but we can see the writing on the wall. The supplier that makes the cameras for Apple’s iPhones is still shut down, and Foxconn, the major supplier of phones has been shut for weeks. Even if the manufacturers have inventory to ship, the illness – or potential for illness – could shut down all forms of transportation into the United States. We just don’t know how long all of this will go on.

The travel bans are forcing the cancellations of technical conferences, and that will impact the flow of new hardware and software products and upgrades to you. The technology industry depends on conferences. It’s where they give developers the chance to look under the hood and ask questions. In turn, they start working on apps for new hardware or to fit the capabilities of new software – and all of that translates into new capabilities for your business, entertainment and quality of life.

We don’t know what the effects of the travel bans will be because we don’t know what was planned for development and rollout in the long-range future. But when you combine travel bans with factory shutdowns, it’s obvious that we’ll need to make do with what we have. And that may affect anybody who’s forced to work at home.

We haven’t begun to comprehend what could happen if offices are forced to close and employees have to work remotely. In our experience, we see a lot of laptop computers that never leave the office. In a shutdown, they might need to go home. While we can fix a lot of problems with computers remotely, we strongly recommend you test every computer. Employees can take them home and see how easily and quickly they can log in to your corporate network.

At the same time, you should make sure your network, servers and cloud connections are all functioning properly and that every piece of equipment and application is up to date on firmware and software. With your computing being distributed, it’s critical to do whatever you can to prevent problems before everyone and everything scatters to individual homes. You should also make sure everyone who’s logging in remotely understands they should not work from a public network, like from a Starbucks. You have no way to control the security of public networks, and you can bet hackers will be sipping lots of lattes as they search for ways to get some kind of information they can monetize.

If you have any questions at all about the operating conditions of your computers and other parts of your technology systems, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs. If you must close your office and have employees work at home, make sure they know how to contact us. Just as you’re being proactive with personal health, it’s time to be proactive with your technology’s health.

The Best of Both Worlds for TV and Video Content?

Are you ready to cut the cable TV cord to save money but not ready to lose all of your favorite TV and cable channels? The entertainment and cable companies may have a solution for you. More and more, the “cable company” is allowing you to stream the channels they offer on cable. If you prefer watching live TV, including shows, the news and sporting events but hate paying for multiple cable boxes, streaming from the cable might give you the best of both worlds.

AT&T just grabbed a few headlines by launching AT&T TV NOW, essentially moving their DirecTV lineup from satellite to streaming. You get the same channels, and they have service tiers priced at $65 to $135 for 45 to 125 channels with HBO included. They join Xfinity’s streaming service, which lets you keep all the channels you have on a current cable TV plan for the same money. If your cable company doesn’t offer a similar service yet, it will.

We think it’s a good move. While nobody watches 200+ channels, we still know of a lot of you who like what’s now referred to as “live TV,” which covers the over-the-air channels for network programming, local news and some live sporting events. We also like a lot of the programming that cable adds, especially sports, 24-hour news programming and premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime. Those are all hard to come by unless you have cable. If you stream your cable package’s lineup, you’ll have access to it anywhere in the US wherever you can connect to the internet.

The cable providers also bundle – for a price – the same premium channels and access to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. The price is roughly the same that you’ll pay directly to the streamer unless somebody is running a special. If you stream without the cable company, you can access some of your cable programs through services like YouTube TV, Sling, fubuTV and Hulu+Live. They’re known as skinny bundles, and you’ll need to see what they offer. In addition to viewing their programs on TVs, you can view them on mobile devices and computers. They have limits on how many devices can be connected at one time.

If you cut the cable cord, you’ll need to connect your TV to the internet through a provider such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick or Google Chromecast. All typically work through Wi-Fi, but they don’t all provide the same access to streamers. You’ll need to research that, too. In a sense, you’ll be trading the cable boxes for internet access devices, which will pay for themselves in a few months.

On the technology side, you’ll need to have a strong internet connection and a strong network. The actual levels of service and performance will vary with how big your home is, how many total devices will be on the network and how many devices can display 4K programming. If you’re not properly equipped, your devices will need to buffer the programming, which means you’ll see pauses in the action.

You can always pay for more data capacity from your internet service provider (ISP), which is most likely your cable company. You add network strength by adding access points, either by hardwiring your home or strategically placing mesh network devices. Either or both steps may be necessary, depending on what you have now. Don’t expect to just pull out the cable and plug in a streaming device.

Just be aware of one factor that most people overlook when cutting the cord. Your TV viewing will be done on a data network, which has a capacity or limit, depending on your plan. If you exceed your data limit, your provider may slow down your connection, and that will slow down the feed to your device. You need either to regulate your viewing according to your plan or pay for unlimited data.

Once you decide how you want to watch TV and other video content, we can assess your technology setup, recommend steps you need to take and help you with all installations that may be required. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment. You have more viewing choices than ever – and that means more decisions than ever.

Home is Where the Hack Is

Don’t think your home is too small to be a hacker’s target. The recent invasion of a young girl’s bedroom through a camera system has sparked a lawsuit and some hot discussion about who’s at fault. Ultimately, you need to make you cover all the bases, and the Department of Homeland Security offers some help in making sure you know where the bases are.

DHS rightly states what we think is obvious about the two common misconceptions home users share about the security of their networks:

  1. Their home network is too small to be at risk of a cyberattack.
  2. Their devices are “secure enough” right out of the box.

Besides those misconceptions, home networks – no matter how many smart devices or dumb devices they connect – have many moving parts. In addition to cameras and smart speakers, to name just two, our networks include routers, computers, mobile devices and TVs. So, even though you may think you have a strong username and/or password for every device, there’s a possibility you can miss one key setting – or there’s a possibility that someone using your network has the weak link in your security chain that provides outside access.

The DHS checklist, which we summarize below, is a good place to start. It reiterates a lot of actions we’ve told you to take over the years, and it’s a good refresher.

  • Update your software regularly. Besides adding new features and functionality, software updates often include critical patches and security fixes for newly discovered threats and vulnerabilities. (See Understanding Patches and Software Updates.)
  • Remove unnecessary services and software. They can create security holes in a device’s system that could lead to a larger attack surface of your network environment. This is especially true with pre-installed trial software and apps installed on new computers. Remove what you don’t use.
  • Adjust factory-default configurations on software and hardware. They’re intended to reduce the troubleshooting time for customer service. Harden them to reduce vulnerabilities.
  • Change default log-in passwords and usernames. Most network devices are pre-configured with default administrator passwords to simplify setup. They’re not secure. Change them.
  • Use strong and unique passwords. Choose strong passwords and don’t use the same password with multiple accounts. (See Choosing and Protecting Passwords for more information.)
  • Run up-to-date antivirus software. A reputable antivirus software app can automatically detect, quarantine, and remove various types of malware, such as viruses, worms, and ransomware.
  • Install a network firewall. It can block malicious traffic from your home network and alert you to potentially dangerous activity. When properly configured, it can also serve as a barrier for internal threats, preventing unwanted or malicious software from reaching out to the internet. We can help you configure them.
  • Install firewalls on network devices. In addition to a network firewall, consider installing a firewall on all computers connected to your network. We can help you configure them, too.
  • Regularly back up your data. Consider using a third-party backup application, which can simplify and automate the process. Be sure to encrypt your backup to protect the confidentiality and integrity of your information. Data backups are crucial to minimize the impact if that data is lost, corrupted, infected or stolen.
  • Increase wireless security. Follow the steps below to increase the security of your wireless router or ask us for help.
    • Use the strongest encryption protocol available. DHS recommends using the Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) Personal Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Temporary Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), which is currently the most secure router configuration available for home use.
    • Change the router’s default administrator password to deter an attack using default credentials.
    • Change the default service set identifier (SSID), the “network name” that identifies a wireless network. Make it unique and not tied to your identity or location.
    • Disable Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). A design flaw in the WPS specification for PIN authentication significantly reduces the time required for a cyberattacker to brute force an entire PIN.
    • Reduce wireless signal strength to reduce your electronic footprint.
    • Turn the network off when not in use or automatically disable the Wi-Fi at specified times to prevent outside attackers from breaching your home network.
    • Disable Universal Plug and Plan (UPnP) when not needed. Recent large-scale network attacks prove that malware within your network can use UPnP to bypass your router’s firewall to control your devices remotely and spread malware to other devices.
    • Upgrade firmware to enhance product performance, fix flaws, and address security vulnerabilities.
    • Disable remote router management to guard against unauthorized individuals accessing and changing your router’s configuration.
    • Monitor for unknown device connections to monitor for unauthorized devices joining or attempting to join your network. Also see the manufacturer’s website for tips on how to prevent unauthorized devices from connecting to your network.
  • Mitigate Email Threats. Phishing emails continue to be one of the most common and effective initial attacks. They prey on the human element – the weakest component in every network – by persuading a user to click on a link or open an attachment.

All the steps you can take are common sense, but they’re often overlooked in our hurry to get a new product or feature online. The hacker looks to exploit momentary carelessness. We can review your home or office network with a security assessment and help you implement any of the steps in this checklist. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.

Trade War’s Perfect Tech Storm

You could see this one coming way off on the horizon. Computer users on Windows 7 are starting to move to Windows 10 as the date approaches in 2020 – it’s eight months off – for the end of Windows 7 tech support. The shortage of chips is starting to abate, but with tariffs looming on chips imported from China (which means just about all chips), prices will rise – possibly affecting supply and demand. We’re finding ways to work around the issues for many of our clients, and we can still keep options open for those who call quickly to get equipment ordered and work scheduled.

For clients still running Windows 7 who have computers with the capability of upgrading to Windows 10, we’ve been able to execute a two-step strategy. Success depends on having a good processor and enough RAM (random access memory). The first step is to install Windows 10, and the second step is to install a new solid-state hard drive (SSD). The combination of the new OS and SSD makes those computers run like new, and that will buy you time to make a bigger investment in a new computer.

The new SSDs we’re using are mostly 256 GB hard drives, and they are providing enough space for users with 500 GB mechanical hard drives – and even some with 1 TB hard drives. For those who need to store a lot of files or may want to store them, we’re installing 500 GB SSDs.

There are two primary reasons why the smaller SSDs work for most of our clients. First, SSDs are a different technology. They don’t require the space to physically access, use and store files. Second, our clients with Office 365 packages, including those with the $5, $8.25 and $12.50 monthly plans, can store files on OneDrive and access them on any device from where they can get to the internet. Personally, I have 32 GB of files on OneDrive and keep only a handful of files on my hard drive.

With OneDrive now making the storage space part of its package and integrating it with Office 365, we believe it is now a better value than Dropbox. While Dropbox has a free plan, it is limited to use on three devices, and it can easily escalate to more than $100 year just by itself. OneDrive also gives you a better feature set, including Mile IQ, which we talked about in our opening letter in the email.

With prices expected to rise because of market conditions and/or tariffs, anyone who can solve their Windows 7 and upgrade issues with a new SSD hard drive can do it at a reasonable cost. A 256 GB drive costs $125, and 512 GB drive is $200. We generally need about 1-1/2 hours of time to set up the drive, including file transfer. While we can’t predict what prices will be in the near or long-term future, we can look at Apple for some guidelines. If a new iPhone costs $1,000, a 25 percent tariff increase will raise the price to $1,250. The supply chain can only absorb so much of the increase for a limited time, and once the prices go up, they won’t come back down.

If you are an Office 365 user, see our article Setting Up and Using Microsoft OneDrive to learn how to get ready for migrating to a new hard drive or computer. We recommend you call us to help you get your OneDrive account set up, and then you can manage the transfer of files on your own.

Again, we urge all who need or want an upgrade to Windows 10 and a better hard drive to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your best migration path, order the required equipment and schedule the work.

Microsoft Goes Passive on Passwords

Microsoft recently announced it will not enforce password policies that require you to change your Windows password periodically. One reason is that most passwords and password changes are pathetic. Microsoft’s Windows Hello can eliminate some password requirements now, and it will eliminate more as website owners and developers catch on. Right now, it’s available for Windows 10 Home and Business users.

Windows Hello logs you into your Windows devices three times faster than a password, using your camera to recognize your face or a fingerprint reader. Just to put you at ease from the start, you can always keep your PIN as a backup.

Windows Hello addresses our biggest concerns with passwords:

  • Because strong passwords can be difficult to remember, many of us reuse passwords on multiple websites. If your password is hacked and works on one site, you can bet that cybercriminals will use it on every site they know you visit.
  • Server breaches can expose symmetric network credentials, which is a technical term for passwords.
  • Passwords are subject to replay attacks, which happen when an attacker copies a stream of messages between two parties and replays the stream to one or more of the parties. Consequences can include redundant orders of an item.
  • Users can inadvertently expose their passwords due to phishing attacks.

We’ve cited all of them in one way or another when discussing the need to be extremely careful about what you click on a website or in an email.

Right now, Windows Hello lets you authenticate access to:

  • A Microsoft account
  • An Active Directory account
  • A Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) account
  • Identity Provider Services or Relying Party Services that support Fast ID Online (FIDO) v2.0 authentication, which is now an official web standard for making the web more secure – and usable – for users around the world

The last item in that list will be the key to implementing better security for everyone who has a presence on the internet. Even though we have a way to go before it’s fully implemented, Hello can give you a head start.

After an initial two-step verification during enrollment, Hello is set up on your device. Windows asks you to set a gesture, which can be a biometric, such as a fingerprint, or a PIN, which Windows uses through Hello to authenticate users. It works across all Windows 10 devices. Individuals can create a six-digit PIN or a biometric on their personal devices. Unlike the business application, it is not backed by a public/private key or certificate-based authentication, but it’s still more secure than passwords.

PINs provide better security because you still need the device to access websites – or ATMs. Someone may know your number, but unless they have your device or ATM card, they can’t get access.

For businesses, we’ll help you set up Hello for your organization, including setting policies to help you manage access to computers and mobile devices. This will eliminate the practice of employees in an office putting their passwords on sticky notes that they attach to monitors. (Did you ever stop to think that anyone in your cleaning service can empty your data files as easily as they empty your trash cans?)

In our opinion, Hello is the most compelling reason to update your Windows 10 operating system or upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Again, we can’t over-emphasize that Microsoft will discontinue its technical support for Windows 7 in February 2020, and that will leave security holes in an already out-of-date, obsolete OS.

Windows 10 will step you up to the next level of security and protection and put you on track to take advantage of advances as they happen. Technology changes fast, and security improvements are always significant. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about upgrading to Windows 10 or adding Hello to your personal or business systems.

Connected Cars are in (Apple) Play

I bought today’s ultimate gadget about a month ago – after hearing all about it from one of our clients. It’s a Volvo XC90, and I am having a blast with the benefits of Apple Car Play. For me, it’s the ultimate connected car. The car’s capabilities range from infotainment to assisting me with driving it.

Driving assistance is absolutely amazing. Its adaptive cruise control matches the speed of traffic, and in heavy traffic, it will almost bring the car to a complete stop on its own. With Pilot Assist, it helps you handle bumper-to-bumper traffic more easily. If the lines on the road are visible to its camera system and radar detects a car in front of you, it will follow that car at speeds of 25 MPH or lower. If traffic starts to speed up, it will disengage or you can disable it with a light tap on the gas pedal.

Other connectivity features run off the system’s own SIM card, and you can connect devices to its own Wi-Fi system just as you would to your home network. (Yes, that can eat up a lot of data on anybody’s plan, but…) Remote starting from your cell phone is handy, and the ability to track your mileage on your phone and download the information to an appropriate app is a great convenience.

For those of you who are familiar with all the features of your iPhone, Apple Car Play gives you a lot of same features and capabilities for your phone, maps, messaging and music. I can speak an address or the name of a store or restaurant into Siri, and Google Maps will activate with directions.

If you are using the car’s navigation system and talking on the phone, you don’t have to worry about directions drowning out your conversation or missing a turn. The system emits two tones to alert you that a turn is coming.

One other Apple Car Play feature is the unlimited number of phone numbers it can store. Our old car had a system that only stored 1000 phone numbers. If you have a contact base and two phone numbers for each contact, for example, you would only be able to access the first 500 contacts. This is a huge upgrade. Software updates are delivered automatically.

You can read more and see videos about its features and how they work. You can also find a list of cars that have Apple Car Play or will have it soon. We love its seamless operation. If you’re thinking about a new car this year, consider one that has Apple Car Play. If you have any questions, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. We can also help you with the complexities of setting it up, but that will require an on-site visit.


Defeating the Biggest Business

Cybercrime is the world’s biggest business, and there are no signs it’s shrinking. While you can take a number of steps to protect yourself, here’s what you need to do if you suspect you’ve been hacked: ACT FAST.

The reason fast action is vital is because it takes practically no time at all for criminally minded hackers to get into your system once they find an unlocked door – or find a “cyberlock” they can pick. With a little more time, they can use your information to exploit larger systems to which you may have a connection, such as a large merchant or a bank. Your complacency works to their advantage.

After lying relatively low for a few months, malware and ransomware have once again reared their ugly heads. Google recently removed more than a dozen malware-infected apps from its Google Play store. Variations of the Crypto Locker and Crypto Wall viruses, which plagued the IT world in 2014 and 2015, are coming back in email attachments and fake update notices for Java and Adobe Flash.

If you see something really unusual or strange on your screen, you should call your IT specialist immediately. An IT professional should be able to fix the problem right away. We see a lot of the problems on a regular basis, and we know where to look to make the fix. If you can’t get your IT professional right away, take a picture of the screen with your smartphone and send as text or email. You can also take a screen shot and paste it into a blank Word document that you can save and send to your IT professional. On a Windows-based computer, press the FN key (it usually has blue lettering) and the PrntScrn key (also lettered in blue). Then paste it (Ctrl-V) into the Word document.

As soon as you do that, you can shut the computer off – without saving anything.

To further protect yourself and your data, you need to look before you click. DO NOT:

  • Open email attachments from sources you don’t recognize
  • Open email attachments that look suspicious or odd even if they appear to be from a source you know
  • Click on a link you cannot verify for authenticity

We’ve talked a lot about hacking, and here are some figures to cause concern. Some 82,000 new pieces of malware are released every day, and 600,000 Facebook accounts are hacked daily. On top of that, hackers are finding more ways to load ransomware on your computer, essentially holding your data hostage until you pay them money.

If a hacker manages to defraud you of money in your bank account, you get no FDIC protection. That is one reason why we recommend you stop using a debit card – remember, the money comes directly out of your bank account – and just get a plain-old, single-purpose ATM.

You can also sign up to get alerts from your bank or credit card company anytime a transaction is made on your account. That way, you’ll know immediately if somebody made an unauthorized purchase with your credit card or debit card or made an unauthorized withdrawal from your bank account.

Another concern you should cover is the data on your hard drive if you lose your computer or if it’s stolen. With all the personal data that most people keep on their computers, a computer thief can easily get into your data and find all the account numbers, user names and passwords you have stored. Encrypting your data could make it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to get at your data. At the very least, it can give you enough time to contact banks, credit card companies and stores where you have accounts to shut down activity.

The possibility of losing your computer, having it stolen or getting hacked is also a good reason to make sure your data files are all backed up offsite – and it’s a good reason, too, to rely on the cloud instead of your hard drive for the bulk of your storage needs. Also make sure you have fully licensed application software. With securely backed-up data files and licensed app files, we can clean out ransomware and malware problems and restore your data and apps – and get your security up to date.

We can help you maintain the security and integrity of your information. Contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to talk about your business or home system, how you use your computer and the best available anti-virus, malware and backup programs for your needs. We can also make sure you’ve set up all defenses properly.

Two Essentials to Take Care of Business

Backing up your data files and keeping them from prying electronic eyes are essential. We have the tools and tips you need to take care of business at the office and at home. Here are some things to keep in mind.

The first tip is: Backup your data offsite. We never like to consider the “unthinkable,” but bad things do happen. A story from a recent sales call, a non-profit organization, drives home the point.

Non-profits can get a lot of software free or at a greatly discounted price. So, our client wondered why they needed to spend money to back up software on the cloud. As we were talking, the client mentioned that they had considered buying the house across the street from their office and converting it into their own space. They didn’t do it, and at some time after they made their decision, that house burned down.

We never talked about the cause of the fire. If the house was old, some failure of its electrical wiring, for example, could have played a role, and all of our client’s “free” stuff would have been gone. The cost of replacing and reinstalling all of their hardware and software – especially when you add the value of their time and the cost of lost service to their clients – would have been huge.

We’re happy this is a “could-have-happened” story, and we can’t emphasize backing up data offsite enough, but we have a tool to keep your data safe.

Our managed backup program includes automatic backup to the cloud through local data centers and daily monitoring. It is far less costly than post-disaster recovery and much more reliable than putting all of your data and pictures on an external drive that can fail or be lost in a fire or flood. It’s a proactive form of insurance.

Our second tip is: Never sacrifice protection for performance. In today’s hack-happy world, you can’t protect your data and yourself too much, but you must understand one thing: Any system can be hacked by any hacker willing to spend the time and effort to do it.

Just as you need doors and windows to enjoy the world outside of your home, you need pathways from your computer to the Internet. And, just as you have locks on your windows and doors to keep out most bad people and just as you take safe routes on trips, you need to use firewalls and passwords to lock your computer and data access, and you need antivirus software, malware protection and common sense to travel safely on the Internet.

At a recent security seminar, a presenter pointed out that people are agreeing to take on more bandwidth from providers for a free or a small fee. (You know our feelings about free stuff.) You can face problems if your firewall or Wi-Fi devices can’t handle the increased performance, and that can leave your security vulnerable.

We get questions from time to time, for example about the safety of storing data on Dropbox. Our question back to that is: Who hasn’t been hacked? Yes, Dropbox is as safe as you can make it as long as you and Dropbox take all the precautions and safeguards you can.

So, in this day and age of hyperactive hackers, how are you protecting yourself? Are you reading emails carefully before clicking on any links or attachments? Are you careful about signing up for online offers that are almost too good to be true? What kind of antivirus are you using?

We’ll address that last question. We have our partners, but no matter whose system you use, make sure they give you regular updates and act with blinding speed to fix a problem as soon as it’s discovered. Subscription services generally offer you better protection and faster fixes, and they are more likely to automatically update your virus and malware definitions.

If you accidentally click on a site or open an attachment, our recommendation is to push the power button on your computer or device IMMEDIATELY. This will stop any activity right away, and hopefully limit any damage. Then, call us without delay to find and fix any problems.

We can help you with all of your backup and antivirus needs, including installation of valid software and setting up automated functions. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and put a solution into action.