What do online searches have in common with politics and the scales of justice? Somebody is usually trying to tip the balance for economic gain.Continue reading
Privacy vs. Privilege
So, you want to block ads and pop-ups? That’s fine – because we’ve identified ads and pop-ups as gateways for hackers to penetrate your systems and networks. But even the safe ads and pop-ups can be annoying and an intrusion on your privacy.Continue reading
Too Many Gadgets
It’s confession time. We have too many gadgets in our house, and the byte-load finally bit us by causing disruptions in service and performance. Who was the big culprit?
We fingered Google in our house, but the accusation came after a long process of elimination. We’ve had a performance issue for the past few years, noticing that even though our network showed four bars, we didn’t have four-bar performance. Over that time, we took things apart, looking at captures; that’s our technical term for what’s actually online.
We started by investigating our router and then started changing switches. Eventually, we started removing devices – all Google devices. The problem went away. We had read on the internet that a lot of people had similar problems. They all involved Google Home, Google Nest, Google Hub and Google Chromecast. Here’s what was happening. When the devices awoke from a sleep mode, they sent large packets of data through the network, which disturbed performance if it didn’t crash the network.
The weird part was that it affected our cable TV boxes. I noticed it especially while having the TV on in my office. There would be times when the TV would simply go out. Once we removed the Google devices from the network, the problems disappeared.
The Google devices are now tucked away on a shelf, and we’re making more use of Alexa. However, we should hasten to add that our Google problem could have been exacerbated by having a large number of devices on our network. We’re a highly connected family, but we’re not much different from the norm. Many households have computers, phones and tablets for all family members, and many of those devices could have been added since the start of the pandemic as we’ve increased our online activity. We also may have added more smart TVs.
As a result, it’s easy to overload your network’s capability and impact the performance of every connected device. If you’re having a problem, removing Google devices like we did might solve your problem. But you might also need to upgrade your router and other network components to meet your needs and wants.
We can help you get the performance you need. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about your network, the devices on your network and your performance expectations. Sometimes, less is more, but sometimes, too, you need to add more to get more. A smart look can make your smart devices seem like geniuses.
The Bluetooth Blues Will Make You See Red
Many people are unaware of all the places that Bluetooth connects your devices to. They’re more than just your phone to your headset. Apple brought this to light in their release of iOS 13, and one of their biggest rivals, Google, and Facebook may be the biggest culprits. Here’s what you need to know.
Of course, one of the reasons Apple has brought this up is that its new iOS 13 enables you to allow which applications can have Bluetooth access to your location. When you deny access, you’ll lose some functionality, but you have the option.
Why are Google, Facebook and others stalking you? It’s obvious: they can promote a product or service for someone to sell you. They’ve been doing it for a while. All they had to do was set up a network of Bluetooth devices that could detect your presence and deliver a popup notification on behalf of a retailer, product manufacturer, restaurant, etc. At the same time, apps such as those for ride sharing and banking also use Bluetooth, and you might not be able to get a ride or complete a transaction without it. But at least now you’ll know who’s tracking you, and you’ll know why because the app has to state its purpose for it.
The infuriating part is that before iOS 13, you never knew when you entered one of their tracking zones, and there was nothing you could do about it. The new OS changes that. It will tell you when an app wants to use Bluetooth to use your location data. You’ll then have the option to allow it or deny it. You’ll also have the option to deny an application access to your location automatically – until you decide to grant access. The process to deny access until you change your mind is straightforward: Go to Settings > Privacy > Bluetooth and toggle apps on or off.
Installing the latest software – iOS 13 for iPhone 6 and later and newer versions of iPad – is one example of why it’s critical to have all of your software up to date. Many people don’t realize that devices in homes and offices have operating-system software, which is known as firmware. This includes smart TVs and the massive copiers that you get from an equipment dealer. Google has many ways to track locations and user data, and you don’t know about them.
If you’re mad as hell about your privacy and don’t want to take invasions from unknown parties anymore, we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to walk you through a software update process or schedule an appointment to do it.
Convenience vs. Competition: What do You Think?
The Department of Justice is beginning an investigation of “big data” companies and their hold on your online activity. This is not intended to be a political rant, but we’d like to know your thoughts on convenience vs. competition.
Here’s the executive summary of the DOJ’s investigation:
- DOJ is reviewing whether and how market-leading online platforms – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and the rest of the usual suspects – have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.
- The review will consider the widespread concerns about competition that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online.
- The goal of the review is to assess the competitive conditions in the online marketplace in an objective and fair-minded manner and to ensure Americans have access to free markets in which companies compete on their merits to provide services that users want.
- If violations of law are identified, the DOJ will proceed appropriately to seek redress.
The investigation – or review – caught our attention because Amazon’s recent Prime Day blew projected numbers out of the water. Why not? When you want to buy a product, what do you usually do? You use Google to find the best price or fastest delivery, and you generally go to an Amazon website – where Amazon has your address and credit card info on file. Yes, it’s basically one click or just a few, and your shiny new object is on its way – sometimes with same-day delivery.
I admit, that’s how we sometimes shop for products and make our purchase decisions. I don’t know if the size of Google and Amazon limits my choices – or if they limit them significantly. I might never know if a local merchant has a better product, price or customer service because smaller businesses don’t have the numbers to show up in a Google search where I can easily see it. I don’t know if another search engine (not Bing, which is Microsoft) would give me better results because Google is ingrained in my mind. It’s even become a verb.
We recognize that technology and laws are complex fields, and we’ll all have different opinions about what makes a good law. But we’d like your thoughts on competition and convenience. If you would answer a few questions either by return email or by leaving comments for everyone to see, we can share what’s important to us:
- Do you automatically use Google for product searches?
- Would you use another search engine if it were readily available and gave the results you needed?
- Do you go to websites only at the top of a Google search?
- Do you click on the ads at the top of the search results?
- Do you go to a product provider’s website directly before or after seeing Amazon results?
- Do you really care that Google and Amazon are so big that they might be stifling competition and limiting your choices?
Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts.
Inside the World of Updates
Facetime updates got a lot of face time recently with all the reports about how a 14-year-old discovered a bug that left a mic open even if a recipient didn’t answer a group Facetime call. It was shocking but not surprising, based on how updates are developed and implemented.
Apple, Microsoft, Google and other technology companies are huge corporations and, as such, are highly compartmentalized. When I visit trade shows and conferences and can find an engineer or software developer to discuss very specific issues related to hardware, firmware or software, the conversations very technical and very tightly focused. They are brilliant people, but they operate in silos.
So, when a problem like the Facetime issue surfaces, it’s likely to involve a piece of code that only one person or a small team worked on – based on instructions that may have come down through several layers of command. That person or team didn’t talk the public or get any feedback based on a personal interaction. Further, the amount of code needed to implement a feature such as a group Facetime session is massive. It’s written in sections and assembled in sections, and even though they are tested, errors can occur each time lines of code from various teams are put together. The people involved do a great job, and the percentage of errors to lines of code written is practically microscopic.
The bottom line is that bugs will show up in the real world, and they need to be found and fixed before any catastrophic consequences show up. But code is not the only factor in updating software for use on a computer or device. We see a lot of old computers and devices with old operating systems that simply cannot handle updates.
We were reminded of the technology gap that opens up when working with older systems. It involved a family business, and technical challenges arose as some family members wanted capabilities that were requested by others. The challenges came as we had to work with computers and devices with a wide range of ages and with differences between Windows 7 and Windows 10. We had to be mindful that Windows 7 is 12 years old and that we are six versions into Windows 10.
Our common thread in the solution had to be sealing up security breaks. We can’t emphasize enough that security patches are the biggest improvements in upgrades and updates, although we all get excited about new features and capabilities. And the problem is that an older system can only handle a limited number of security and feature updates.
At some point, it doesn’t pay for a software or hardware provider to support older systems. Their developers have to jump from one issue to another like playing Whac-A-Mole, and then there is a smaller universe of real-world users to provide feedback on the new code and then use it.
One of our missions is to make the most efficient use of your money. We’ll always do our best to avoid having you buy new equipment or software by trying to find a good workaround. But sometimes, buying new technology can give you a better return on your investment, and one of the reasons to do so is to take advantages of upgrades and updates that are used by a larger universe of people and businesses. That can be especially beneficial based on the how the update world lives.
We can help you install, configure and test updates, and we can advise you on whether to upgrade or keep your current technology. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for a consultation.
We’re Not Neutral on Net Neutrality
The intended repeal of net neutrality by the FCC will affect all of us. We’re likely to see the first changes as they affect the cost and availability of streamed programming and premium content; less is likely to cost more. We don’t know, yet, how it will affect search engines and your ability to find local businesses or anything else on the internet.
Let’s start with a quick review of the history of the internet. It began as a level playing field for exchanging information worldwide, and it led to a communications revolution. It mightily disrupted the communications industry’s business models in every way imaginable.
Telephone calls, for example, are free or cost just pennies per minute to almost anywhere in the world. We can even make video calls for free. The internet, in this case, took away a revenue stream from traditional telephone carriers – and added a business capability for the cable TV industry.
Telephone service – or voice communication – became essentially a throw-in for telephone carriers and cable providers. Even if they were restricted in some markets in certain ways, at least one of each plus a satellite carrier could compete for your business. That led to service tiers and bundles of programming that customers were likely to buy.
Cable or satellite TV, in turn, was impacted by the internet. You don’t need a cable connection – or a satellite dish – to get all manner of visual content: TV shows, movies, etc. All you had to do was buy and install a good Wi-Fi system in your home and pay for fast enough internet service, and you could pick and choose what you wanted to watch.
This setup, which has continued until now, has allowed a number of smaller, innovative companies to get into the content business, either as producers or carriers. Companies that have innovated in some way, shape or form have become big-time players in the internet. Google, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and the like are relatively new companies that grew rapidly by exploiting technology.
But those companies are not ISPs (Internet Service Providers). The ISP business is essentially comprised of telephone and cable carriers, and that business has been commoditized. How many of us have switched ISPs at the drop of a hat to save a few bucks on basic services or add new features for very little additional cost? How many of us have simply dropped cable or satellite TV?
One of the factors that has contributed to our freedom of choice is Net Neutrality. Simply put, it is a governmental regulation that prohibits any ISP from blocking or slowing down virtually any content from virtually any provider. If you pay for 300-mbs internet service or 1-gigabit service, you can get it at that speed because the ISP can’t block it or slow it down.
That’s different from most cable or satellite TV services. Ever since their inception, they have sold blocks of programming in tiers. The more programming you want, the more you pay. If you want to pay less, you sacrifice choice – or you choose not to get high-definition service. That was OK because with Net Neutrality, you could get programming over the internet, and you could price your service more selectively.
The removal of Net Neutrality means that your internet service will now be bundled like cable/satellite TV programming. You want to stream Netflix or Amazon programming? There could be a premium charge for that. You want to stream sports or news programming? Your ISP can negotiate with the program providers to determine which ones they’ll carry and at what data speeds. No matter how it happens, your cost is likely to go up.
And there’s more. What about your favorite search engine? Why has Google fought so hard to become the dominant search engine? Why does Facebook keep trying to expand its user base? You know why: they can get more advertising dollars. Who doesn’t get any benefit from that now? Your ISP.
With the removal of Net Neutrality, search engines will need to strike deals with ISPs just like programmers have had to do, and then you’ll have to decide on an ISP based on a search engine you might want – as well as what websites you might want to access. Or, will some carriers show preferences for certain businesses? What’s to prevent one from favoring a shopping site over others in return for a higher access fee? What’s to prevent a consumer products company from being priced out of a website presence by bigger, well-financed conglomerates?
All of the innovation that we’ve seen? It’s going to be harder and harder for startups to get a foothold. We think the end of Net Neutrality will lead to higher prices and fewer choices for anything that we’ve become accustomed to finding on the internet. At least that will be the case until something new comes along. You can bet somebody’s hard at work developing the next alternative.
In the meantime, you can count on us to help you navigate the new world of the internet. We can help you select and install the networking equipment you’ll need to be compatible with your ISP and/or TV provider and make sure all interfaces and security systems function properly. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with any questions you have as Net Neutrality events unfold.
Verizon Forcing Email Decision; We Recommend You Exit
Verizon is dripping out the announcement that it will migrate its email business to AOL, which the communications giant acquired in 2015. It’s a rolling process that will take place over the next several months, and everyone will get specific instructions based on your account. Your clock will start ticking when you get an email notification from Verizon, and you’ll have the choice of: 1.) migrating to AOL and keeping your Verizon email address or 2.) exiting to an email provider such as Outlook or Gmail. When you get your email, you’ll have a short time to make your decision. If you don’t choose one option, you’ll lose access to your “verizon.net” account. Here’s why you should take the second option.
Keep in mind that you can make the switch from Verizon now and retain access to your Verizon contacts and messages for six months. If you don’t decide, Verizon will close out your email accounts. If you have copiers, scanners, servers and other equipment that rely on email addresses to function, those devices will stop working after you choose your options or your time runs out.
We think Verizon is leading a move by utility companies – phone and cable carriers – to get out of the email business because it’s too complicated and time-consuming to provide as a free service. Just to get this out of the way, Verizon’s first option, switching to AOL, is less complicated right now. You’ll be able to keep your existing addresses, with “verizon.net,” but you can keep your addresses and log in through AOL’s system from now on. That might be a temporary solution because you can keep all your contacts.
But we don’t like it for the long term. While you may think that you’re getting a lot of spam now through your Verizon filters, we think that will increase with AOL. Spam is more than a nuisance; it’s a way for hackers to get into your system. Although you can catch most hacking attempts with common sense, hackers know that if they throw enough spam at you, one of them will get past even the most vigilant user. We don’t think security is a major concern. AOL tightened up its security after it was hacked in 2014, before Verizon bought it.
However, we think the “utility company” extensions will disappear as those companies get out of the email business. That means you’ll need to make a switch at some point, and it makes sense to do it now, before you add more contacts. Switching now may make particularly good sense for copier and scanning companies and other similar service providers that use email addresses. We’ve had some Verizon email addresses for some services, and we’re moving away because those addresses will disappear at some point.
We recommend switching to an email provider that will be in the business for the long term, such as Outlook or Gmail. You should be able to keep that address for as long as you like. Besides not having to worry about losing the email address, you’ll gain much more flexibility in shopping for a new ISP. We know it’s a hassle to move all your contacts and messages and tell people your new address. It’s also a pain when people don’t update their own contact lists or when autofill puts in an old address. For all those reasons, you might as well start to move away from Verizon/AOL, as well as from any other utility.
The two email services that come to mind are Outlook and Gmail. In listing the option to move away, Verizon tells you to follow the instructions from your new provider. You could also get your own domain and have that hosted through Outlook or another email service provider. You can keep your domain for as long as you like, and because you’ll be hosting it and calling the shots, you can do away with the advertising that seems to be more prevalent and more annoying.
Regardless of which new provider you choose, you’ll need to establish your new email address and set up your mailbox – or mailboxes – before you close out your old one. Then, you can follow the steps to transfer addresses and messages and set up your rules for how you manage messages.
We can help you in two ways:
- Choose an email provider: Outlook and Gmail are two that come to mind, but there are many others, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, depending on what you need. We can review the ways you access email, such as a computer, phone or tablet, and whether you need integration and/or collaboration tools.
- Set up your new account and transfer all the data: This is extremely critical. Although your new service will have instructions and although you’ll be able to find help through online forums, it’s not always easy to get right settings for your new account and then transfer your contacts and messages. It’s also not easy to back up all of contacts and messages. If you don’t have an accessible back-up and you make a mistake in the transfer process, you could need to jump through hoops to get it all done – at the least – or lose everything – your worst-case scenario.
If you have a “verizon.net” email address, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us as soon as you get a notice to discuss your options (keep your address, keep your address temporarily or switch immediately to a new email service). If you have an April 13 deadline approaching, and you need to have a plan in order now. If you didn’t get an email, you will, and you’ll need to be prepared to make important decisions quickly. It wouldn’t hurt to start planning now. You can spend hours and hours of frustration solving this issue, or you call us to handle your transition without stress.
Cybersecurity has dominated our conversation for the past year, and a report from SonicWall, which provides security tools worldwide for networks to email and everything in between, shows where we’re making progress and where new threats lie.
First, the good news. In data gathered in the past year from the SonicWall Global Response Intelligent Defense (GRID) Network, the good guys and the bad guys made advances. The most notable of the advances the company found were:
- The number of new POS (point of sale – mostly credit and debit cards) malware variants decreased by 88 percent since 2015
- SSL and TLS encrypted traffic increased 34 percent year-over-year
- Major exploit kits Angler, Nuclear and Neutrino disappeared
- Unique malware attack attempts dropped to 7.87 billion from 8.19 billion in 2015
On the other hand:
- Ransomware attacks grew 167x from 2014 to 2016 to an astounding 638 million attacks during the year
- SSL/TLS encrypted malware was exploited 72 percent more often in 2016 than in 2015
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices were compromised to launch record-setting DDoS attacks
- Despite significant efforts by Google to patch vulnerabilities, Android continued to be exploited by cyber criminals
SonicWall notes that the technology to solve many of the new challenges cyber criminals threw at victims in 2016 already exists. SSL/TLS traffic can be inspected for encrypted malware by NGFWs (next-generation firewalls), which are hardware- or software-based network security systems that detect and block sophisticated attacks by enforcing security policies at various levels. For any type of new advanced threat like ransomware, it’s important to understand that all network-based solutions should block network traffic until a safe verdict is reached before passing that traffic through to the intended recipient.
In 2017, there are two areas that SonicWall joins us in telling you to be particularly on-guard: ransomware and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Companies in the United Kingdom were 3x more likely to suffer ransomware attacks than in the United States, but don’t breathe easy. The US experienced the highest number of ransomware attacks in 2016 because of large volume of business. While we as individuals and small businesses depend on companies like SonicWall to provide the tools to detect and stop ransomware, we need to follow strict security procedures – all of which should be well-known to us by now:
- Install updates for all of your software for operating systems and apps. They contain the security patches and bug fixes that shore up the breaches in your systems.
- Be extremely careful about the emails you open and the links you click.
- Back up your data continuously to a system that is either not always online or that uses authentication. This will help ensure that you don’t accidentally revert to an encrypted back up if you’re hit.
The IoT has been massively compromised because of poorly designed security systems by device manufacturers. To protect yourself, SonicWall reminds you to make sure your devices are behind next-generation firewalls that scan for IoT-specific malware and that you segregate IoT devices on a separate zone to make sure they don’t affect the rest of your network if they’re compromised. To that, we add that you immediately change user names and passwords – and that you make those passwords strong. Some 70 percent of IoT breaches worldwide are in the US.
More protection was made available for Android mobile phones and devices, but they still remain vulnerable to overlay attacks. SonicWall recommends that companies using Android devices keep the option to “install applications from unknown sources” unchecked and both options to “verify applications” checked. They also recommend you avoid rooting and that you install anti-virus and other mobile security apps – and that you enable “remote wipe” in case your device is stolen or compromised with ransomware.
If you’re interested in a deeper dive and more technical explanations, we invite you to read SonicWall’s whitepaper on cybersecurity.
We can help you with a cybersecurity audit for your office or home and for all mobile devices. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.