While We’re Waiting for Whatever…

While we’re waiting for whatever our new normal will be, it’s a good guess you’ll need to beef up your network capability to handle more business, education and entertainment. At “Chez Rosenthal,” we’re taking hard-wired Wi-Fi outside to enjoy the summer. Our experience may fit your needs.

We’re doing it so that we can expand our internet coverage to our deck and part of our yard to accommodate four devices running simultaneously. As we all spend more time at home and the summer heat is not oppressive, it’s a good way to give everyone in the family more options. With smart TVs, you might consider it a good way to get a TV outside, and you’ll have no worries if you use an ethernet connection or have a network access point outside.

For my house, it was a fairly straightforward process, including drilling my own holes in my own house. We were able to run wire behind walls and under floors to get to the back of the house, and once we got outside, we put the wire inside some PVC pipe. Our only expenses were for the wire, the pipe and some connectors.

Getting more of a hybrid system of wired and wireless networking in your home may be a good solution. You’ll need a strong network if you find you’re still working from home and your kids are doing all or part of their classroom time and homework online. Whenever you can plug your device into a network node, you’ll get a stronger signal. And the closer you can be to a node, the stronger your signal will be. Getting a wired node outside the walls of your house eliminates the need for the signal to fight its way through the wall.

We have had more calls for help with networking as we’ve spent more time at home and are streaming more content. In older homes with thicker plaster walls, wiring is sometimes the best solution. The alternative is to place a series of nodes to get the signal to the farthermost places from your router or gateway, but it can fall short due to signal strength losses. In the case of a network in a two-story penthouse in an apartment building, we could only use a series of mesh units because we couldn’t go through the concrete and steel between the floors.

If you’re doing renovations or an addition to your existing home – or building a new home – we highly recommend hard wiring your network access points. Your electrician can do it at the same time they do the electrical wiring.

We can help you boost your network’s strength by recommending where to put hardwired connections and mesh nodes. We’re OK with drilling holes in our own walls but not in yours. Once the wiring is in, we can place the mesh nodes and configure everything for maximum network capability. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.

Home Remodeling – Technology Style

Homes were caught short when everybody had to stay home to work, learn and entertain themselves. Wi-Fi networks and the internet had to carry much more traffic, and the rapid rise of new technology needs created holes for hackers to tunnel into systems. Here’s what you need to do.

First, shore up your security. Treat every device in your home that’s connected to the internet like it’s a block of gold in Fort Knox. Make sure your gateways, routers and firewalls have up-to-date security patches and bug fixes installed and running. Do the same for the firmware for every piece of hardware and software for every operating system and application that everyone in your household uses. That includes all of your smart-home devices and TVs – and make sure you have changed the default user names and passwords that came along with those devices.

We can’t emphasize this enough. That’s because between work, school and socializing, we all have more people coming in contact with our systems and every other system we’re connected to. If you have weakspots in your home system, the security of your personal financial and health data could be at risk, and so could the systems at your place of work.

In short, you may need to “remodel” the technical architecture of your home to make sure your systems and devices are airtight.

Second, make sure everyone in your home understands the security settings of all the new software you’re using for work, school and social interaction. We and our kids are all into using the latest and coolest collaboration tools, and the providers of those tools and the users need to pay special attention to how to set them up and use them safely.

Zoom is the collaboration tool that comes immediately to mind. Ever since stay-at-home orders went into effect some three weeks ago, very few people knew about Zoom, which is still considered a startup company. To encourage people to use it, Zoom quickly spread the word about its free service that allows 100 people to gather interactively online for up to 40 minutes. The two operative words here are both four-letter words: Zoom and free. You get what you pay for.

To make a long story short, Zoom rushed out the adaptation of a business application as a consumer app, and it left a lot of security holes. Two of the glaring issues, which were acted on by Zoom two weeks ago, were the sale of user data to partners for marketing purposes and the insidious “Zoombombing” incidents. The latter problem led to hackers placing porn material in school lessons and white-supremacist invasions of meetings, classes and chats sponsored by religious organizations.

Zoom stopped some of the data sales and reworked its privacy setup. It also ramped up the security requirements for people to join a Zoom session.

One other thing that home users likely have noticed is the drop-in internet speeds from their ISPs. That’s a consequence of the ISPs trying to manage the massive demand for data. As a result, you’ll all need to manage your internet use to optimize performance in your homes.

We can help you with security audits, setting up security software and automatic updates for firmware and software. We can also help you with security settings for apps like Zoom. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.

Streaming in the Cord-Cutting Era

A lot of people have been cutting the cord from cable TV and satellite providers to get more flexibility in choosing their content and not having to pay for content they’ll never watch. But the plethora of streaming content providers could create an environment that’s not a whole lot different from the cable/satellite experience. And, you might even wind up paying just as much money, if not more.

We came away from a recent Disney conference with the distinct feeling that Netflix is destined to go the way of Blockbuster, at least in terms of being the only source for content. Remember them? They’re the company that basically had a lock on the videocassette rental market until the worlds of Netflix and On Demand made video rentals as easy as pushing a few buttons on your remote. If you want to rent a DVD, you can order it from Netflix or find a Redbox machine.

Most people, however, prefer to get their video content via the internet, cable or satellite, and those who hold the rights to that content are getting ready to scale up an access war. Netflix, in addition to producing its own content, has also provided feature films and old TV shows to its own base of subscribers. They pretty much had the market to themselves, but that’s changing.

In case you weren’t paying close attention, Disney, which makes films, owns the ABC network and provides sports programming through ESPN, recently bought Fox’s movie studio and many of its non-news TV assets. That means Disney now has a huge library of content, and they’ve already started to move some of into “+” Channels, such as Disney+ and ESPN+. This allows them to stream selected content for a few bucks a month more, and you can’t get it anywhere else.

Disney is not alone. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have exclusive content in addition to hours upon hours of movies of all ages and genres. And each has its own subscription fees. HBO, Showtime and a few others still offer movies and original programming, and YouTube and Sling offer packages of TV content now found over the air (remember broadcasting?) or offered by various cable and satellite companies.

Finally, the field is getting more crowded with the entry of Apple TV+ and its original shows and movies.

Regardless of whether your content is delivered through a cable box or streaming internet or both, there will be a lot of hands out there for your money. And in all likelihood, you’ll pay for more content than you want unless somebody decides to offer single events, single movies or a single series of programming.

You’ll have to decide whether to cut the cord based on what you perceive will be your best value. The cable companies have an incentive to keep you because they can sell advertising. They also provide your internet access in most cases, and that gives them leverage in controlling what you pay for it.

The Triple Play packages (TV, internet and phone) are a staple of their business, and many subscribers find their balance of TV content and internet speed. One selling point for the packages is that you don’t use any data to watch the content delivered over the cable. The cable also provides better quality in most cases than high-def content streamed over a Wi-Fi network, though you can build a network to handle almost any need.

Cutting the cord but keeping the internet service could raise costs in two ways. First, if you need more bandwidth for streaming, it will cost more as a stand-alone service. Second, you’ll likely face data caps, which could limit how much streaming video you can watch or the speed at which you can watch it. Of course, more money can mitigate the cap issue, but don’t forget, the content providers are looking for more money for what they bill as premium content.

If you’re highly selective in the premium content you watch, cutting the cord and finding the right internet service may pay for you. But if you need the wider range of choices, you just might want to keep that cord connected.

We can help you make a decision by looking at your Wi-Fi network and the internet capacity you’ll need to support your viewing. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and set up an evaluation.

Security and On/Off Wi-Fi

We’re seeing more Ring doorbells. They offer you the ability to monitor your door from anywhere through the internet and your Wi-Fi network. But some clients have told us they don’t want their network on at all times because of radio frequency waves.

We don’t share some people’s concerns about damage from radio waves. We carry cell phones in our pockets and hold them up to our ears. We can reduce our exposure to radio waves by using a headset, but nearly everyone uses a Bluetooth device, which operates on…right.

Despite a majority of scientific studies that radio waves from cell phones pose no danger to most people, some like to avoid them wherever possible. And those avoidance steps include shutting off Wi-Fi systems – routers and boosters within a home – for periods of time.

Personally, we believe that defeats the purpose of having a security device, such as Ring, which can record and store images of anyone coming to your door, even if they don’t ring the bell. But your Wi-Fi has to be on, or else you can’t identify a threat to your home.

The issue of no internet or Wi-Fi was brought home to us this past summer with 10 days left on our vacation. We saw that Ring alerts had stopped – because our internet service was down. We were able to contact Verizon while in Europe, and they were able to restore our service as soon as we got home. But during the time it was out, we lost part of our security protection. (For the record, our service was knocked out by a squirrel.) That being said, we can help you set up a program to automatically control the operating times of your Wi-Fi network. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss all the pros, cons and options.

Brave New Wireless World

It’s a wireless world out there, and it’s getting “wirelesser” every day. Not getting tangled up in wires can make for carefree experiences – as long as you’re not careless about your online presence. That’s especially true as you travel this summer. Here are some safety tips.

First, understand that we are not only living in a wireless world, we’re living in a Bluetooth world. To get it down to very simple terms, Bluetooth enables you to set up a short-distance radio broadcast/reception system, and for most applications, it’s a plug-and-play deal. You pair your mobile device with whatever broadcast system you’ll be using, and you’re good to go.

If you’re flying somewhere this summer, you’ll likely use a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for your inflight entertainment. Airlines are eliminating the seatback screens and related systems to reduce weight and space requirements. Mobile-device manufacturers are eliminating external ports for the same reasons. As a result, you’ll be likely to watch inflight movies or TV shows from the plane’s Wi-Fi network or watch programming you’ve already downloaded to your device or computer. And, you’re also likely to use Bluetooth headphones or earbuds.

Besides inflight entertainment, Bluetooth systems can be used to connect your phone or tablet to guided tours in museums, parks and other attractions. In addition, many cameras use Bluetooth to upload photo cards to mobile devices or computers.

Because it’s a broadcast system, there are security holes. You can start by trying to make sure your device or computer has Level Four Bluetooth security. That has the strongest authentication protocol, which can help your security. Newer phones, tablets and computers are more like to have this capability. Regardless of the security level, here are a few steps to help you secure your devices:

  • Make them “non-discoverable” when you have them in use. Turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t using the device.
  • Use headphones or earbuds with signal encryption.
  • Download and install all software updates and security patches.
  • Maintain physical control of enabled devices and “unpair” any that are lost or stolen.

Second, more and more of us are using Wi-Fi hotspots to enjoy the many benefits of internet connectivity while we’re on the go. Remember, you’re on unsecured – and untrusted – networks when you use these hotspots, so practice good security. You should especially make sure you and your family members avoid online banking or shopping on these networks, and that includes making online changes to your travel reservations or using a ridesharing app like Uber or Lyft.

Using a cellular network is safer, but make sure you have uploaded all the latest upgrades for your OS and apps and all security patches. Also make sure you have new, strong passwords and change them while you travel.

You might want to couple this with reviewing and/or deactivating any accounts you no longer use. A client recently got an email from Microsoft about an account that might have been compromised. We helped verify it was a legitimate message and traced it back to a free account or something that wound up being based in Turkey. He was able to access it and change the password; no harm, no foul.

However, it does raise the point that security and privacy laws vary among countries, and that you can’t depend on any company or government to guarantee your privacy and security when you’re connected to the internet or a Wi-Fi network.

We can help you make sure you have your security bases covered before you travel domestically or internationally – or even if you’re just going around the corner. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your travel-security needs.

Network Strength and Costs

With more and more devices in our homes – more than you think – you need to strike a balance between speed and cost. Keeping your network strong and secure is a given, but you should look at what you can hardwire into your gateway to maximize speed and free up wireless capacity for devices and systems that can’t be wired.

Many people have looked to simple solutions such as EERO, which plugs repeaters into power outlets in homes and offices. It’s known as a wireless mesh system, and it’s a technology that hasn’t won us over. The modules are repeaters, and the problem is that each time you repeat, you cut signal strength, and that diminishes the speed of the network to deliver signals to the target computer, TV, tablet or smartphone.

You might think you don’t have that many devices on your network, but you’d be surprised. In our house with four people, we have a dozen computers, tablets and smart phones, several automated systems for the doorbell and for turning on certain lights. We also have a Sonos sound system with seven speakers around the house. I haven’t added in smart TVs, which many households have. Most of them use a USB antenna to connect to their home wireless network, and then people use the wireless network to stream movies and shows – especially if they’ve cut the cord on cable TV.

Depending on your provider, you can get Internet connections ranging from 15 megabits per second (of data transmission) to 1 or 2 gigabits per second. Many users in moderately connected homes have service ranging from 50 to 300 megabits per second (mbs). The faster the speed, the more data it pushes through per second. However, your TVs, computers and devices on your wireless network may not be getting the full speed you’re paying for because of repeaters and the number of devices using the network at a given time.

You can maximize wireless performance and your Internet costs by hardwiring some computers and smart TVs and then determining how much speed you need to support your wireless devices. Wired computers and TVs will get the full benefit of your connection speed, and you may not need as fast (and expensive) a connection as you think.

To use our house as an example, we have a 150mbs connection, and we use it more for downloading large files than for streaming movies and shows. With hard wiring, it works fine. If I would double the speed to 300mbs, it would cost $90 per month more. That’s $1,080 more per year, and I wouldn’t get the full performance because of the wireless penalty.

With smart TVs and streaming becoming more popular, TV manufacturers are heading off potential problems with customer satisfaction by including Ethernet connections in their units. Taking advantage of the hardwiring capability can help you avoid problems elsewhere in your home.

In the office, hardwiring as many components of your system to the network is essential. Hardwiring grantees your computers and peripherals will work at the speeds you’re paying for, and it will free up wireless capacity for the devices that you must have, such as phones and tablets.

Regardless of whether you have a home or business network, remember that your service speed can be increased or decreased without a visit from a technician. You can see how one connection speed works and then have your provider raise or lower it from their service center.

We can help you by installing the wiring and connecting your equipment. We can also help you analyze your system’s performance to find the right combination of speed and cost. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment to discuss your needs.

Network Security More Vital Than Ever

In helping a new customer work through some set-up issues, we found an outdated Wi-Fi security system. With more hackers finding more ways to get into more systems for more personal information, it’s just plain stupid not to make sure you have a secure Wi-Fi system and a strong password.

Let’s start with a secure router. The technology is mature, as far as IT goes, and the current security technology, known as WPA 2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access – the second generation), works very well if you set it up properly. It’s also not that expensive, especially in relation to the value you need to protect, but we’ll get to that farther down in this article.

We were astounded when we found an ancient WEP security system on a new Wi-Fi installation when we began servicing a new client. WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy, but in today’s practical terms, you might as well call it WET, as in wet paper towel. If you have a password with a long, totally random combination of numbers and letters (that you’ll never remember), it’s probably WEP. While the password may be hard to type, it’s pretty easy for a hacker to crack.

The client still had an old WEP Wi-Fi because they were told it would be an expensive, time-consuming project. However, they “wasted” a considerable amount of money because they somehow wound up with enterprise-level equipment. Along with getting worthless advice, they had a pound-wise, penny-foolish Wi-Fi system with vulnerable security that had cumbersome management steps.

If their Wi-Fi was old enough to have the older security technology, then it was old enough to replace. The radio in the average router begins to lose its power after three or four years, anyway, so our client probably wasn’t getting performance in addition to not getting the most up-to-date security and a more efficient way to grant access to those who need it.

In today’s offices with the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment, WPA 2 works very well. You can make a password easy to remember – just make it long – so that your authorized users can get their smartphones and tablets onto the network. That boosts productivity. At home, we’re streaming more, and that needs a good network.

Regardless of how you use your network, security is paramount. If an outsider gets into your network through a hole in your Wi-Fi, they’re already past the firewall. Once they get that far, it’s easy to get into any computer or server on your network and get financial information, medical records and anything that they can use to make money at your expense. You could also be responsible for somebody else’s criminal activity, such as distributing child pornography.

We can help you install and set up a new Wi-Fi with WPA 2 security. We can also help you set up filters to keep employees or children from accessing specific websites. We can do it all over the phone and through remote access. Call us – 973-433-6646 – or email us to discuss your options and set up your system.