Category Archives: General

Get off of my cloud!

Isn’t it amazing how our government, politicians and large companies push us into THEIR decisions for our future?  Wait a minute – did she say “large companies”?!  Yes, I did.  Technology is experiencing that very phenomenon through cloud computing.  By giving consumers and companies substantial savings, we can now use the cloud for almost everything technology.  Look, I get it, no one likes to spend $500 on a piece of software to own it outright when, for $15/month, one can use the cloud version.  It’s all about ROI (return on investment).  It would take, under this scenario, just under 3 years to make purchasing the software profitable, and by then, the current version will be obsolete.  Is there an inherent danger in having your company’s technology, processes or both, all in the cloud?  We all have heard about the infiltrations, hackers, malware, ransomware and viruses.  But here’s one to ponder which might not have received thought:

Has your internet ever gone down?  During business hours?
It’s frustrating when it happens, isn’t it?

What if all of your company’s technology functions were in the cloud (i.e. Internet)?  It would most likely bring your entire company to a grinding halt. Imagine ALL of your personnel sitting there (on your payroll) unable to work until the internet comes back up.  How long do you wait before you send them home for the day?  How much new and existing business would it cost you?

OK – what’s the solution?  “I can’t afford to keep buying my hardware and software when cloud solutions will save me so much money!”

The best answer is one of moderation.  We do believe that there are some instances where the “cloud” is the absolute best choice.  But it isn’t the ONLY  choice – and there are a myriad of options.  In this industry, there are a lot of people making a lot of money converting your world to their cloud.  But we would be remiss if we didn’t tell you about companies that put the needs of their business ahead of yours.  Like the difference between buying and leasing, there are factors to be considered; who really owns the data that you think is yours?  You may be unpleasantly surprised at the answer.

There is no single solution that fits everyone.  We encourage you to meet with your IT professional if you have questions about your specific network environment.

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Microsoft Releases Patch for Internet Explorer vulnerability

Well, if you read my post from yesterday, I gave you a work-around to avoid the problems caused by the Internet Explorer (IE) Vulnerability when using Adobe Flash.

Today, in an unprecedented move, Microsoft not only released a patch for all versions of IE, they also issued a patch for Windows XP.  It is well-known that they said that there would be no more however, Microsoft contends that since this vulnerability existed long before the deadline for Windows XP, that an exception was in order.  I applaud them for that decision.

The security bulletin that announces the patch can be found here .

Otherwise, if you have Automatic Updates turned on, it will push for you.

SO – Remember – if you did perform the workaround, you should UNDO it after you apply the patch.

You can then return to watching flash-based content in Internet Explorer.

EVEN if you primarily use FireFox, or another browser, Internet Explorer may still be on your computer, and we DO recommend that you update it.

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Internet Explorer Vulnerability?

I’m sure you have probably heard on the news, or been sent an email describing the terrors of the Internet Explorer vulnerability.  It is concerning when so many IT companies want to use scare tactics to get in the door of your company.  Yes, there is a concern – yes it is real.  But does it apply to you ?

Do you use FireFox, or Chrome, or Safari, or Opera ?  Then this doesn’t apply to you.  There are other issues which may be present with your chosen browser, but this one isn’t yours. You may safely stop reading and enjoy the rest of your day. However, some people *must* use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as it is required by their software or their workplace.  What can you do ?

First of all you must know the conditions that must be met for this vulnerability to apply to you:

  • You must be using Internet Explorer
  • You must be viewing an animation that requires Adobe Flash

Not doing that ?  Then you need not worry.

You ARE doing that ?  Well, then we need to do something until Microsoft releases its patch to remedy the vulnerability.
The easiest thing to do is simply disable flash until it is fixed.  Now, you *can* install FireFox, Chrome, or another browser if you like, but you should be aware that they may not work with your software.

This isn’t difficult to do.

6 steps (not kidding) – if you have dual monitors, put these instructions up on one screen and do the steps on the other:

  • While in Internet Explorer
  • Click on Tools Menu item or Gear in the upper right hand corner of your screen
  • Choose Manage Add-Ons
  • Locate Shockwave Flash Object (Under Adobe Systems)
  • Highlight it
  • Click “Disable” in the lower right hand corner

How does this affect me while I wait for Microsoft to release the patch for this vulnerability?

You will not be able to view any animations which require Adobe Flash.  An example would be YouTube animations.

We fully expect Microsoft to release a solution by early next week.

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Windows XP – Zero Day

Do you remember Y2K?  Do you remember when the magnetic poles of the earth shifted and all life ceased to exist?  People make some wild claims, but if you become informed and remain calm, then the challenges that change brings are not so bad.

So – here we have Windows XP.  What to do?  “ZERO DAY IS UPON US”, says the headlines of technical journals everywhere.  So where is the hype and what is the truth?  I’m glad you asked.

Zero day is real.  It is a date that Microsoft will no longer offer security updates of any kind (unless you have a contract with them) to Windows XP.  Why is that a big deal?  Because if there are no more security updates, then hackers will be able to find and exploit vulnerabilities without fear of being stopped by the next security update.  In a business environment, Windows XP is a two-edged sword; on one side, it was easy to develop software that interacted with XP and made it extensible and many people did

– on the other side, because of the way that Windows 7 differed from Windows XP, many programs would not run in the same way.

So, the real questions are :

  1. Do you have any programs that were specifically written for Windows XP that will not run in Windows 7 ?
  2. Do you run or keep confidential information on computers running Windows XP ?

If the answer to question number 1 is “no”, AND the question to number 2 is “yes”, then I will tell you without pause that it is in your best interest to upgrade your computers NOW.  The largest threat we are facing in the technological world right now is electronic theft.  Sometimes it is personal information, sometimes it is credit card information, but the new threat is information that has greater implications.  To steal corporate information that has trade secrets and to sell them to competitors, to steal legal or medical information that yields TONS of information that can be used to do all sorts of evil – these are the issues that concern us the most.

I understand wanting to save money – and I understand that people resist change.  I also understand that the reason we have vaccines is because someone figured out a way to stop certain diseases.  In this illustration, the “vaccine” of which I speak is the replacement of the old computer.  Let it go.  Back up your data (or better yet, keep your old hard drive), and get a new computer.  If you are afraid of the way that Windows 8 works, there are plenty of ways to make it look like Windows 7.

In the end, our advice is simple: upgrade your computers.  It simply isn’t worth the risk.  Will the magnetic poles of the earth shift if you don’t? Unlikely, but in the event it does, one would imagine that this will not be your largest concern.

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Disaster Recovery?

It sounds alarmist – complicated – and you don’t need it for you and your company, right?

WRONG!!!!

The real value to your company is not the hardware – it is you, your hard work and your data.  Think about that.  How long (hours, days, weeks) can your company be out of business while you recover from an unwanted technological “event”.

Let’s talk about what Business Continuity/Disaster Planning and Recovery really means for your company’s technology.  Consider these real-life client scenarios
(names and companies have been omitted):

  • Your server’s hard drive melts (not kidding) – no one in your entire company can work with network files and no Business Continuity plan has been implemented.  Hard drive is unrecoverable – all company data is lost
  • Your Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware misses a new piece of Ransomware – your data is entirely encrypted unless you pay the ransom – or can restore from a valid backup created before infection.
  • You/ your dog/your cat/your child – spews an undefined substance on your laptop and fries internal components.  Guess what?  The warranty expired yesterday.

I think I’ve made the case for a sound Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plan.  Want to hear even better news?  It’s not as expensive as you might think – and it is easily implemented.

We understand that most people want to stick their head in the sand, say someday I’ll look into it, someday do a test restore of their backups, someday automate their routine or, the most dangerous:

 It can’t happen to me

These things can and do occur – and we charge a lot more to recover the data than the prevention would have cost.

Have you ever been asked for your disaster recovery plan?  The foreboding name almost asks for a catastrophe. That is why we counsel our clients to not make one unless they absolutely have to.

WHAT?  That is crazy talk!

Bear with me.

The idea of operating a business is one that depends on many factors.  For most of us, the technology that we use is the lifeline of operations.  How much business could business do without the internet and their computers?  In today’s world, not too much.  When a disaster strikes, things often grind to a halt.  But when we concentrate on containment and rebuilding, we admit to ourselves that we are willing to accept the disaster.  On the other hand, what if we planned for something else?  What if our plan was business continuity?

Disaster Recovery vs Business Continuity.

EVENTDisaster Recovery (DR)Business Continuity (BC)
   
The server bursts into flames1) Extinguish Flames2) Get new server

 

3) Locate backups

4) Restore Operating System

5) Update to latest patches

6) Restore from backup

7) Expected downtime? Weeks

1) Extinguish Flames2) Spin up image of burned computer on BC computer

 

3) Continue Working

4) The IT department rebuilds while the company continues to operate

5) Expected downtime? 2 hours

   
The office bursts into flames1) Let the firemen do their jobs2) Find a new building

 

3) Buy new equipment

4) Locate your OFF_SITE backups (you have those, right?)

5) Start to restore your world

6) Expected downtime? Weeks, Months, NEVER ?

1) Let the firemen do their jobs2) Spin up the server images from the remote BC server

 

3) Go to a local store and buy a laptop

4) Attach to remote BC server and continue working

5) Expected downtime? 1 day.

Backups have been the bane of existence of IT people since devices started failing.

  • Tape drives are slow and notoriously unreliable.
  • Backup hard drives are fine for archiving – but recovery is not ideal
  • Backups to the cloud are ok, as long as you have a server and an operating system that will receive them
  • People do not have the time to look after their own backups
  • Since very few people ever do a test restore, the restoration process is foreign.  The time to learn is not while the flames are being extinguished.

I was talking to the Executive Vice President of a national retail chain and he asked me if I would pay $ 1,000.00 for the pencil he had in his hand.  When I told him that it was too expensive, he asked me if I would pay $ 1,000.00 for his Rolls Royce.  When I told him that I would, he answered “it wasn’t too expensive … it is the same $ 1000.00.  The difference is the value”.

Designing Business Continuity systems will not be done from the parking meter money you keep in your car.  There is an investment to be made.  However, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster.  That is an alarming statistic.

The remaining question is simply math.  What is the value of your business to you? What if you could prepare to continue on even in the face of natural disaster?

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Something easy for all you Windows users out there

I sometimes forget that the simple things can be the most productive.  So today, I am going to make your day a little easier with two little-known keystrokes that can save you a lot of time.

The only caveat is that you must first locate the WINDOWS key on your keyboard.  It is typically on the same row as your space bar and is usually the Microsoft Logo.

Got it ?

The rest is easy.

It is time to get up from your computer and you have left something that you don’t want others to see and/or modify what you are working on.

Hit the WINDOWS key and the letter L – want to try it now ??  I’ll wait, go ahead …

Wasn’t that cool ?

One more (I use this one a lot) – need to minimize everything on your desktop ?  Sure, you could go mouse over to that little box to the right of the clock and click that, OR you could very quickly hit the WINDOWS key and the letter M.

So, if you can remember that L locks the computer and M minimizes the apps, you can fly through your day a little faster.

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What does my smart phone know about me? (And what do I know about it?)

As a Certified Computer Examiner, and a Mobile Certified Examiner, I have the opportunity to look into all kinds of devices looking for information which is responsive to a subpoena and has probative value.  I tend to forget that most folks don’t realize what is in their device.  I was asked to look at a website today to determine if I could tell when it was accessed and by whom.  Simple enough – I went to the access logs of the site, and found exactly what I was looking for.  Well, that seems straight forward enough, doesn’t it ?

I was a little surprised at the reaction of the attorney I was working with, until I realized that most folks don’t know what information that their Smart Phone is willing to give up.

I was able to tell the attorney :

  1. What type of phone the user had
  2. What browser they were using
  3. What they searched on their telephone to find the website in question
  4. and their GPS co-ordinates when the request was made.
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Do you suffer from “Too Quick to Click” Syndrome?

The perils of being “too quick to click”…

We have all gotten them – those familiar looking emails from banks, facebook, twitter, that all turn out to be less than genuine.  The tactics that they use are things designed to make you act quickly : someone has compromised your account, someone made a withdraw, YOU have cancelled your facebook account.  These outrageous claims are designed to make you want to correct the problem IMMEDIATELY.  That is exactly what these ne’er-do-wells are seeking to do, get you to CLICK HERE before you think.

I am an advocate of knowledge.  To quote a movie icon, “knowledge is good”.  Unfortunately, the evil people of this world watched another movie quoting that “greed is good”.  Knowledge will win in this arena.

When I showed an email to someone this morning, she made the comment “If these criminals ever get to the place where their English is good, then how will people know they are being scammed?”

It is a good question.  There are still some good indicators that will tell you, and there are some FINE rules that you should employ.  They may seem like common sense, but to be honest, good sense is not common – it only seems that way if you are sensible in the arena being analyzed.  You would not want to rely on my common sense in a brain surgery scenario.

  1. NEVER respond to an email from your bank.  Call them.  Do NOT use the provided phone number in the email.  It is on the back of your credit card, AND information (411) has the branch number.
  2. ALWAYS look at the FROM and TO addresses.  It if is from elfdevil@wearecrooks.com, then it should be avoided.  The good ones will try security@facebook.com.euro.net ß this is NOT an address at facebook.  ALWAYS read the address from right to left.  The last two items are the domain it came from. In this instance – EURO.NET – they can put anything that they want to add to the left of the domain.  So just because it has the word facebook in it, that means nothing.
  3. Look at the TO address.  Is it yours ??  If it isn’t, discard it.
  4. Check the grammar – many of these emails are poorly written.  You may not have gotten an A in English, but these are pretty hard to miss. “You account have be disabled” is not something you would expect from your vendor.  If they really write this way, move your money.
  5. IF there is a link in a suspicious email, don’t use it.  It takes only a minute to look up the correct address of the institution in question.
  6. And finally, if you WERE really related to a Royal Family in Africa, you would have heard about it by now … don’t fall victim to bank transfers and the promise of instant wealth.

So there you have it, a small dose of “common sense”… don’t feel bad if you didn’t know it before, instead be happy that you do now !!

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Windows 8 – WHERE THE H#LL IS MY START BUTTON ??

Funny the thing people notice most.  In Windows XP we got the START button.  How great, we knew where to start.  In Windows 7 it was replaced by the Windows Button – it didn’t say START anymore, but we all knew what it really was.

Now we have no button … or do we ?

I really didn’t want to take the work of anybody else, I mean, with the election and all, I’ve had my fill of what other people were telling me was true.  They had an agenda.  I do not.

Let’s be real clear about this.  I do not care what tool you use to compute.  I use a lot of different tools, because I find that I must be facile in a variety of environments.  That being said, please resist telling me “just use a mac” … I already do.

Since I have a natural distrust of new things from ANY manufacturer, I wanted to try it myself.  I took an extra hard drive (because I have that sort of thing lying about), and plugged it into my laptop.  I loaded Windows 8 and here is what I found :

10:30am : begin load
10:33am : verify time, date, and keycode
10:37am : begin installation
10:48am : booting into O/S
10:49am : reboot
10:53am : 4 attempts at the CAPTCHA query before succeeding
10:54am : preparing PC (Pretty screen colors)
10:55am : installing APPS
10:56am : LET’S START
10:59am : setup mail account from my exchange server
11:00am : testing

SO, in 30 minutes, I was able to format a drive, install Windows, and start using it. Kudos to Microsoft for making that part faster.  But getting to someplace new quickly isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

I can’t help but mention this, though.  I understand CAPTCHA challenge boxes (you know, type these two words that look like grafitti painted by a dog hyped up on coffee), but why do we need them while installing an operating system ??  Are we really that concerned that a computer is going to automate this process and leave us mortals out of the mix ?? (which might be cool, by the way).  Note to Microsoft … STOP IT<>

Lets talk about the interface.  Do you like Windows Phone ?  You will love Windows 8.  Do you like the idea of an APP store and iCloud ?  You will love the Microsoft APP store and SkyDrive.

Do you like change ?  That would be helpful.

Windows 8 has icon tiles instead of menu items.  Some of them, like the weather are live icon tiles and will show you current conditions.  This is not unlike the same feature on your iPhone.  Conicidence ?  nahhh.

You may not like some of the icon tiles – no problem, right click it and a toolbar will appear at the bottom of the screen where you can unpin it (or uninstall it).

If you move your mouse to the RIGHT side of the screen you will get another menu  that will appear that will let you modify your screen settings and some of the computer.  It seems like there is something new in each of the sides of the screen.  The more compelling issue, however is if you RIGHT click where the START button USED to be.  THEN you will get a menu of things that you will find helpful. If nothing else in this article will help you, THIS WILL.

Ok, that was fun.  Time to shut down. Counter-intuitive as it used to be, we are used to clicking the START button when it is time to stop.  Microsoft has fixed that problem by removing it.  However it might be nice to end this session.  Don’t hit the power button yet .. there is a right way to do this.

  1. Mouse over to the lower right corner of the screen. (You can also move your mouse cursor to the upper left corner; same result. Or, you can press Windows-C on your keyboard.)
  2. In the slide-out menu (known as the Charms Bar – ostensibly because it looks like charms from a charm bracelet) that appears, click Settings.
  3. Click the Power button, and then click your desired action: Sleep, Shut down, or Update and restart.

On our next time together, we will install some apps …

Micro Systems Management’s opinion on Windows 8:

  • It appears to be faster than Windows 7 and also requires less resources to run.
  • Windows 8 boots faster than Windows 7 and hosts a variety of new tools.
  • This is brand new, version of Windows that was designed for people using Microsoft phones & tablets (touch screen enabled), and does not look or function at all like previous Windows versions.

In summary, we suggest that you wait a couple of months before purchasing.  But if you can’t wait and want to sit down with one of our staff and get a personalized tour, call and we will setup an appointment!

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The New Internet has come – are you ready for it?

(this article originally published on 6/27/12)

The internet has just evolved in a really important way that’s going to affect your business. People are even going so far as to call IPv6 “The New Internet” because it’s completely revolutionizing the way the world transmits and receives information online – and yet, most of your everyday users will never hear about it or notice that anything’s different. And if you’re a tween who only uses the internet to play World of Warcraft, or a sorority girl who thinks of her Macbook as a “Facebook machine” – that’s probably fine. However, if your business or professional life relies on the internet, you’re going to want to pay attention.

IPv6 stands for “Internet Protocol Version 6.” Most of the online world is running on Internet Protocol Version 4, which, believe it or not, has been running since the late 1970’s, unlike your beloved El Camino. (Don’t ask what happened to Version 5; the answer’s really boring.) As you might guess by the use of the word “protocol,” IPs are basically the rules that dictate how anything with an internet connection gets and sends out information. Of course, they used to just apply to computers, but now we have smartphones, Androids, tablets, gaming consoles, netbooks, e-readers – heck, I bet you could find cookware with an internet connection, if you looked hard enough. I love to use metaphors, so, if we think of the internet as a series of roads and highways, it now has more “cars” – internet-using appliances – on it than ever before. Internet usage has absolutely exploded in the past decade or so, to the point where, apparently, even the entire royal family of Nigeria has gotten email accounts. With increased “cars” (and therefore increased “traffic”) has come a number of problems that didn’t exist when the internet was just boring old DARPAnet back in the day.

The biggest problem with IPv4, in essence, is that there simply aren’t enough “license plates” to go around. Anything that communicates on the internet has to have what’s called an IP address, which, like the license plate on your Camry, is a series of numbers that allows the vehicle to be identified. An IP address is a way of identifying who’s doing what on the internet, which is a vital element for technological security these days. But, whatever it is you’re doing on the internet, your device has to have one or it won’t work. So they’re pretty important, and, unfortunately, they’re running out. In fact, if you go to IPv6Forum.com, you’ll see something on the left-hand side labeled “IPv4 Exhaustion Counter,” which is simply a doomsday-like countdown until all the IP addresses in a given geographic region are going to be used up, and there will not be room for even one more smartphone to get on the internet. Anyone who buys a smartphone after that line has been crossed will be destined to accidentally eat at poorly-Yelp-reviewed restaurants for the rest of their days, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Unless they want to move to Antarctica. (Good luck finding any restaurants there.)

But not so fast, says IPv6, cape billowing in the breeze, for I have enough IP addresses for all! (3.4×1038 of them, in fact, which means that every single person of the world’s 2011 population [7 billion] – individually – could have 4.8×1028 of them. Holy exponential numbers, Batman!) Preventing IPv4 address exhaustion is the main reason why IPv6 had to be invented, but it does a lot more than just provide more “licenses” for the growing number of “cars.” It’s created a whole new set of data transmission capabilities that never existed before, and it’s made some of IPv4’s preexisting capabilities much faster and more efficient. If you’re interested in the technical jargon, you can show off to your friends and say it allows for things like new routing capabilities (including route aggregation), makes renumbering an existing network for a new connectivity provider MUCH easier, and it has improved multicasting abilities with new bells and whistles. (And even if you don’t know what those things are, they do sound impressive, don’t they?)

What you probably don’t know is: IPv6 is already here. June 6, 2012, was the World Launch Day, which means that there are a chunk of the world’s internet devices out there that have already been transitioned from v4 to v6. The world’s largest internet service providers, hardware manufacturers, and web content providers have already begun transitioning the world’s main data centers and routes of data transmission to v6.>

Here’s the part where you come in, so pay attention! The world, at a point in the not-too-distant future, is going to be using IPv6 on the vast majority (if not the entirety) of their internet devices. But you will need to manually convert your servers, DNS servers, routers, and etc. to IPv6 if you want to be able to communicate with the rest of the world. You may have heard it said that routers and computer devices “talk” to one another, in a manner of speaking, and you’re going to need your devices to be able to “speak” and “understand” both IPv4 and IPv6 systems (what we would call backwards compatibility). For instance, if your router hasn’t been converted from IPv4 to IPv6 compatibility, it isn’t going to be able to communicate with any device bearing an IPv6 address (which will be most of them, pretty soon, because, as we mentioned earlier, there aren’t many more IPv4 addresses to be had).

Now, manually converting your devices sounds like work, and it is (sorry), but it’s not really optional if you’re making any attempt at network security. The transition has already begun, and if your devices aren’t actively transitioned with it, they’re going to be security risks for your networks, devices, and data. Routers and infrastructures that have been designed around IPv4 technology have new vulnerabilities, because they’re now less advanced than the systems they’ll be runni8ng. Because the very format of IP addresses has changed with IPv6, this also means that legal tools for tracking IP addresses (and safeguards within your routers and servers) will need to be redesigned as well.

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