Category Archives: Internet

Data Continuity

Introduction

Imagine losing $100,000,000 in revenue in two days: 1/10th of a billion dollars gone in two business days. This was the reality for Delta Airlines in September of 2016, when a loss of power shut down many of their servers, causing thousands of flight delays.  Everyone enjoys using the term “crash” when referring to basic program and process failures, but do not often convey the impact that crashes can have on a company. Expanding on this; companies that are not prepared with backups and continuity solutions are risking hemorrhaging resources like money and time the entire time their network is down.

“Crash” Course

One of the contributing factors to “crash” being such an overused term is that fact that a crash can be caused by many different things, and can come from both internal and external sources. A crash is, at its’ basics; an unwanted and sudden shutdown or cessation of function by a program or process. This can be cause by many different core issues, but amongst the most common would be information overload and hardware failure. Information overload is when too much information is attempted to be processed by the program or process and consequently the demand exceeds the capability of the software, causing a crash. Hardware crashes are more diverse, being caused by a variety of physical or mechanical failures that can cause the software logic to conflict with itself or trigger emergency shutdown procedures within the program itself. These can be caused by simple pre-existing conditions within the computer such as trying to run a program that has higher demands than your network can meet. However not all process and program failures stem from crashes; the recent “WannaCry” malware if present, can lock your files away, threatening their deletion for ransom, leading to a similar situation as a crash.

Why does network stability/continuity matter?

What truly makes a crash dangerous is its’ potential to “go down with the ship”. It is possible that on a computer network, if a key component or program fails and crashes, it could take the network with it; one server crashing has the capability to make a network unusable from a business perspective, costing time, and a large sum of money. As previously mentioned, in September, 2016, Delta Airlines had a physical hardware failure that caused a power outage at their Atlanta facility. Not all the servers within had backup which led to a massive data loss.  This caused flights to be delayed, which meant that flight crews went overtime and had to clock out as per federal limitations, meaning flights were delayed even longer to replace flight crews, which meant passengers were in some case waiting days for their flights. Vouchers were offered to appease many of these passengers, but by time all had been said and done, Delta reported they lost over $100,000,000 in revenue all within a few days.

How can I protect my data?

The act of protecting your sensitive data from these situations is often referred to as “data continuity” or “business continuity”. The idea is that if the worst should come and your data is the victim of a crash or attack, it can be recovered quickly and effectively. There are a few ways to go about this, from keeping up-to-date backups, to having copies of your data present at off-site or off-network locations that wouldn’t be affected.

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Network Connectivity

Computers and other devices can talk to each other, but computers on their own can only handle so much information; if you tried to host all of, say, Google on a single server, it’s simply not possible without a server bigger than your average house. Computers can talk to each other in networks through various means of connection. This connection can be crucial to your operations as a company, or to how fast you can get that cat video to buffer at home. Firstly, for those people unfamiliar with the basic concepts of connectivity and networking; we offer a little primer.

Connectivity basics

Computers are intelligent things, insofar as they can handle a great deal of information, but they’re limited by the amount of information a hard drive can hold. This is where networks come in, the concept to get two (or more) devices to share the information they hold. When these computers are connected, they can share information, but the method of connection itself dictates how fast information can be transferred and how far that information can be transferred. A common type of connection you may have heard of is Ethernet. Ethernet is a type of cable (usually a thick, white or blue cable with a white/clear jack) that runs from the back of most devices into whatever provides your network capabilities (likely a router). An Ethernet cable works very much like a highway; you have one centralized avenue for information to travel (that’s the cable itself) with multiple small “driveways” so information can leave its host device to travel on this “highway” (the “driveways” are the Ethernet ports). Information can then flow more or less freely between devices.  Once that occurs, you have your network. Another common connection for computers is one you most likely experience everyday: Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi, at its’ core, is data transfer via radio waves. Wi-Fi is different than Ethernet insofar as the data transfer is typically slower, but the lack of cables and maintenance means more reliability and ease of use, though it is less secure. Trading ability for convenience, though certain advancements in Wi-Fi have recently allowed for transmission speeds approaching (but not matching) Ethernet cables. Fiber optics are a newer transmission type with incredible transmission speed, though they are very fragile due to their glass cables, and much more expensive than other options. The basics of how they work is: in lieu of radio waves to transmit data, fiber optics use light, allowing incredibly fast transmission speed.

Why does connection matter?

It seems like a silly question, but for many people how they have a connection is irrelevant as long as they have one. Largely, people are satisfied to be connected and don’t think about things like network speed. Sometimes your Wi-Fi signal may be blocked by a wall (older buildings may have block walls or cement ceilings which can result in poor signal), or your Ethernet cable might not be connected on both ends. This all seems trivial until you’re attempting to pull a crucial document off a networked server and it won’t download. Or consider a skype meeting across continents to ensure a deal goes smoothly and the video keeps failing. Most modern companies use computer networking in some way; advertisement via website, grouped workstations, usage of cloud servers; these all require an internet connection, and it can make a real, monetary difference to know the difference between your provider having an issue or a poor signal because someone installed your router behind a brick wall. You should also be careful when accessing public wireless. Typically places like Starbucks will have an unencrypted free public Wi-Fi; you should be careful on these networks and avoid using anything that requires a password: email, banking, and shopping to name a few. These networks are easy prey for people looking to intercept personal information. The internet is not the quiet, gentle place it once was.

What can I do about my connection?

There’s a variety of ways to improve your internet connection on your own without rousing the beast in your office that is the IT department. These methods can be situational though, and vary depending on the problem and type of connection. First, you need to determine that it is in fact a problem with your network connection; what type of computer do you own? Some models come with radio switches that can turn the radio inside of your computer on or off – if it’s off, you’re not going to be connected to the internet anytime soon. Also check to make sure you’re connected to the correct network – Wi-Fi has a limited range so if you’re trying to connect to a network some distance away you might encounter difficulty. On that note you should always know whether you have a wired or wireless internet setup; you can tell this by the connection icon in the lower right of most PCs.

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A few examples of common symbols used to express your devices’ Internet connection

Another question to ask: are you the only one having issues? Ask around, see if anyone else can connect with the Internet – if they can’t, it’s probably not an isolated problem to you. So how do you determine where the problem is when it’s not just you? Go to adjacent office, ask your neighbor if they are having any trouble. If they are (and they use the same service provider) there is likely nothing much you can do, since it’s on the provider’s end. If they’re not having issues, it’s most likely a problem with your network. So what’s the issue exactly now that we’ve determined it’s your network? If everyone is still connected but has a weak or sporadic signal (1-2 bars for Wi-Fi), check your router. It may be that your router is placed far away from the machines it’s connecting, or it may be obstructed.  Radio waves can travel through walls but thick walls like concrete can severely weaken or block them. Resetting your router can often help, but you should never do this without checking with your boss/notifying your employees; the Internet might stay down and that can hurt everyone. Also before handling a router be careful! Some routers are more complex than others and it has the capability to do damage and loss of company productivity if you just start flipping switches. Beyond these basic solutions, it becomes a good idea to contact your IT professional.

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Malvertising

Maybe you do everything right: you only go to websites you trust, you have updated antivirus and anti-malware programs, you use complex passwords, but you still deal with the occasional Internet annoyance, like pop-up or banner ads. Unavoidable and pesky, but part of the web-surfing territory, right? They’re annoying, but they don’t really get in your way. Why should you worry about them?

Even if you never click on them – I REPEAT – even if you don’t interact with them at all, they can infect your computer with malware – just by being displayed on your screen.

Here’s the problem.

You see, most websites innocently use ad services to create revenue – even websites you trust, like your favorite news site. The ad service will set up a certain number of ads in a rotation on the website. While many of the ads are harmless, sometimes an ad in the rotation will have invisible, malicious code embedded in it (without either the ad service or the website knowing about it). When your computer displays the ad, the evil, embedded code gets run on your computer, looks for any security “holes” it knows how to exploit, and downloads the right kind of malware for your particular vulnerability.

You won’t even know what hit you until, say, you find that your browser homepage has changed to a porn site or ransom page. And you were just trying to update your fantasy football league stats! Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take which will greatly reduce your chances of falling prey to this type of attack.

Step 1: Update your web browser(s).

You’re probably reading this right now using an internet browser like Internet Explorer (or the new Microsoft Edge), Firefox, Safari, or Chrome. If you don’t know if you have the most current version of your browser, here are some directions for finding out. (It never hurts to double check!)

Step 2: Update your web browser plugins.

Javascript and Flash are the two biggest security concerns. Click here to check your version of Java and here to update Flash. You can also change your browser’s default plugin settings so your computer must “ask to activate” them. Disable unnecessary plugins entirely.

Step 3: Download good web browser protection programs.

If you’re using Firefox, Adblock Plus and NoScript are great browser extensions that will prevent most ads from displaying and will prevent a lot of “invisible” browser activity from happening. Malwarebytes also offers a good free version of its Anti-Exploit Kit (for personal use) that specifically defends against malvertising attacks.

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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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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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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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