‘Hello’ to a Better Camera Angle

The next big update for Windows 10, coming to your computer next month or in May, will feature the ability to switch between two webcams. For many that will be toggling a built-in laptop camera and a second camera mounted on a separate monitor. It will help you make better eye contact during meetings. But remember, not all devices are created equal.

The “most equal” device for Windows Hello is the Microsoft Surface, which I use regularly along with another computer and multiple monitors. Its built-in camera is high resolution, but like with all built-in cameras, you get locked into a single direction and camera angle. If I’m video conferencing with a client through my Surface and need to look at data on another monitor, we lose eye contact. We all know eye contact is critical for effective personal communication. It’s why we are more aware of it now that the pandemic has forced us to work from remote locations.

By placing a second camera on the monitor I use for the extra data I need, I’m able to make better eye contact with the others on the video conference.  With Windows Hello, the biometrics make it possible to use facial recognition to essentially “toggle” the camera I’m looking into directly. It can all be configured in the settings for my Surface and a Hello-compatible external camera. It’s all done through the Device Manager settings in Windows.

The key is to make sure your external camera is compatible with Hello. It gives you a plug-n-play setup, and once it’s configured, you can use its facial recognition to sign onto other devices connected through Hello. It’s faster and avoids the need to enter multiple passwords. The benefit of that, too, is that you can use a single, secure routine for logging in on everything. (Remember, one of the benefits of new technology we always push is eliminating the need for passwords.)

If you don’t have a computer or device that works with Windows Hello, you can still use multiple cameras or an external camera with Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other platforms. Most external webcams can be mounted on a monitor – or even a large flatscreen TV – and connected to your computer. A USB connection is most common, and we recommend using the fastest USB connection available. If you have Bluetooth capability in the device you’re using for your video conference, that will give you more flexibility in placing your camera. Either way, you also have the option to mount your webcam on a tripod, with Bluetooth most likely extending your range.

External webcams with Hello and Bluetooth compatibility are readily available for anywhere from $30 to $70. You should look for 1080p resolution because it will work much better for anyone who’s watching on a large TV. Just think of what you like to view when you’re watching a show or streaming content on a large TV. You can even go to 4K resolution, but for most of us, 1080p does very well.

If you don’t have Windows Hello, you can still connect an external camera – even with Bluetooth if your computer or device supports it. You’ll need to go into your Zoom settings and select the camera you want to use. Most people use the built-in camera as their default device. (It’s the same with their microphone and speakers.) However, you have several options with both an external camera and your built-in camera. These include setting the video ratio and – if your camera supports more adjustments – the ability to set a closer (zoom) or wider viewing angle.

Again, not all devices are created equal, so you’ll need to live with the technology you have or upgrade.

We can help you determine what hardware will provide the videoconferencing capabilities you want and help you configure your hardware to maximize its capabilities. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs, your current technology and your budget. They’re all factors in making your system as “equal” as you want it to be.

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.