Category: Security

Thoughts On Zoom Controversy

Over the past few days, I have read all the bad news about Zoom.  Between updates they put out from Thursday until today, they have corrected all of the issues.  It is alarming some of the flaws they had which are nicely detailed in this WSJ article  https://www.wsj.com/articles/zoom-ceo-i-really-messed-up-on-security-as-coronavirus-drove-video-tools-appeal-11586031129?shareToken=stf921d7c733df40db8c49d2a934d7ada2

However, I also think that as the fresh new kid on the block — Zoom’s success irritated established players that would benefit even from a 10% to 20% downfall from Zoom — Microsoft (with Teams and Skype) and Cisco with Web Ex.   One of the interesting facts about all of this is that one of the lead engineers at the original Web Ex, prior to Cisco’s $3 billion purchase in 2007 was Eric Yuan.  He is the founder of Zoom.     Zoom’s goal was to make live conferencing easy, even without an account.  Unfortunately — when conference rooms were created without passwords (no longer the default as of 4/5/20) anyone could enter them and harass people.   However, a heckler could walk into an AA meeting or a meeting between students and professors in a lecture hall.  Zoom in some ways mimicked real life. 

Joining a Web Ex meeting is really not that much different than joining a Zoom meeting.  It often involves opening a link and an application launching.  The controls and options are laid out in different places.  New life is being breathed into Skype as they have a now have an account-less meeting option.   The online meeting / conference space will see shifts in preferences as companies respond to potential threats.  I hope Zoom can rebound from this.  However, there is no doubt that stumbling by one entity creates opportunities for others. 

Corona Contingencies and Compromised Accounts

Getting Ready for Remote Sessions

I know that the coronavirus and its potential impact on our lives must be on your mind.   I’ve been reading stories like people in Milan going through a “psychosis,” to people stocking up on dry foods, to toilet paper being sold out.  I’m trying to stand on sensible ground and not join a feeding frenzy.  I think it’s important to look for teachable moments in history too.  Let’s look back to how we responded to the H1N1 swine flu in 2009.  1,000 people in this country died.  I don’t remember the mood being quite like it is now.  Nevertheless, I acknowledge that if there comes a time when we won’t be going out as much and resort to working and handling other business from home — reliable technology will be more important than ever.    I think most people know that I have provided remote consultations for years.  I don’t really see text message as effective for this purpose, but I have been known to provide consultations by email such as answering a list of questions you may have or giving some analysis. Phone based consultations will also come into play. Commonly, I will tap into your computers via software that allows you to share your screen with me.  For this, I use Quick Assist an application that is already built into Windows 10.  With my Mac clients, I use Skype (preferred) or also the free version of Team Viewer.   If you are a Mac client of mine, and you do not have Skype or Team Viewer installed, you can install them from Skype.com or TeamViewer.com .   However, I know that installing software is not a comfortable spot for some of you.  And, installing software on the Mac has gotten a little more complicated as of late.  Therefore, if you are a Mac client and need one of these applications installed for our remote sessions — even if we don’t have an upcoming appointment scheduled — I will come and do it for you at no charge when I am in your area.  It will take me all of 5 to 10 minutes.  Please ask.   For remote sessions, I bill by the half hour on a per incident basis.  So when you have a concern that is worth it to you, don’t hesitate to reach out for remote assistance whether by necessity or by choice.  Also for these remote sessions, there is no need to send me a check.  I can take your credit card over the phone or send you a digital invoice. 

Compromised Accounts

It has come to my knowledge that many credit cards and banks are now offering “dark web monitoring” or some type of scanning where they can detect if your credentials have been compromised on the internet. Services like Life Lock do this on a paid basis. Some clients have shared information they were given with me and it seemed hard to decipher.  One of them was simply told that an email address was compromised on a couple of occasions in recent months.  It was not immediately clear whether there was an intrusion on the email account itself or a website that the address was used to sign up for.  I have access to a well known database where I can look up where your identity (based on email addresses) has been compromised and tell you what sites and services were breached.  It does not take long to look up this information.  Some of the information found may be actionable and other bits may not, but at least you will be informed.  Knowledge is power.  A “compromised account search” would be a great activity for a future appointment that we have. Let me know.

Three Cheers for Firefox

You can feel good about using the Firefox browser today!

Not many of my clients use the Firefox browser — as their primary way of reaching the internet but since you do — I want to let you know that you can feel very good about them today

They turned on an encryption feature that makes you browsing even more private than before.

https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/25/21152335/mozilla-firefox-dns-over-https-web-privacy-security-encryption

You know it’s a good thing when the politicians are ticked off about this feature. 

Just about every other browser out there (except Safari) is based some way off of Google Chrome — including Microsoft Edge, Brave, and others.

Firefox is a truly independent and unique browser.   How does Firefox make money?   They make money through ads shown in Google searches.  They have a huge contract with Google.


Password Frustrations

Lately, I’ve become aware of some really sloppy and unsafe password practices that clients have.  I thought we were turning the corner a while back and unfortunately gang, I think it’s getting worse.  For some of you, I have set up professional password managers like Last Pass and 1Password.  These do a very good job of keeping your passwords secure and allowing you to create completely randomized passwords, if you take advantage of this feature.  However, where is your hard copy / print out of these passwords?   Next, some of you choose to use the password managers built into your browsers like Safari, Chrome or Firefox.   If you are syncing these with an Apple, Google or Firefox account – you have a backup.  But where is your printed copy?   Is it even possible to make a printed copy of those passwords?   Are you keeping one copy in duplicate on paper?   These are things you really need to think of, pronto.    Finally, there is an even larger group of you that just keep your passwords on paper.  I don’t have a problem with this necessarily.  But are they on scraps of paper that are scattered all over the place?  Are these passwords mixed in with all of your other notes and documents about your computer?  You can’t keep doing it the same way.  If you are going to go the paper route, these passwords should be in a notebook for passwords only. 

I really hope this scenario doesn’t apply to anyone, but I know that a couple clients keep their passwords in an unprotected Word or Excel document on their hard drives.  This is very unsafe.  I have become aware that Excel 2016 and later can ENCRYPT a spreadsheet at the file level, which is way better than saving it with a password as has been the case in Office apps for years.  This encryption option would be ok in my opinion.

Laptop Talk At The Oscars

Best Moment of Oscars

https://mobile.twitter.com/indiewire/status/1226704317136220160

Filmmaker Taika Watiti (short interview clip – via link), instead of talking about his work, took the opportunity to slam Apple on their awful keyboards in their recent Mac Books.  Can you believe it?  This event was supposed to be about the films, the actors, the great production staff — and it’s Apple’s keyboards that he really to speak of.   Going back to early 2018, I have been really hard on Apple and I have let you know it.  Some of you simply had to get new Macs over the past few years and I was very straight with you, even when Apple wasn’t.   I let you know about the 4 year warranty from date of purchase on the keyboard replacements.  I have also let you know that a Lenovo Thinkpad or Dell Latitude would be a much better investment, if you could see yourself switching from Mac to Windows.   There will likely be some good news around the corner, however.   Between March and June — I expect Apple to release new 13 inch Mac Air and Pro models with the “classic keyboard”.   That would be a keyboard similar to the 2015 models, the last good Mac laptop keyboard.  When those products launch, I will be telling you it’s time to buy. 

The Cadillac of VPN’s

This is a message for the more privacy focused among us.  You may travel a lot.  You may use WiFi at coffee shops and hotels. You may just not like the idea of your internet service provider knows everywhere you go online.  If you are one of those people, you need a VPN.  A VPN is a little app that runs on your computer, smartphone or tablet that creates an encrypted tunnel for all your traffic to flow through. It’s simple to use, you turn it on and  you turn it off.  Your internet provider will never see any of the sites that you visit. A good VPN will cost $8 to $12 per month, give or take.  The best of them will never keep any logs of your activity.  I used to recommend 2 particular VPN services.  I have refined my picks, due to experience.  The Cadillac of VPN’s — the best you can get right now, Is a company called  Express VPN.  They are so easy to use. and they offer 24 hour technical support (via chat on their website).  I know that older technology users like good customer service.  Current pricing is $12.95 month to month and $100 if you paid for 12 months.   My second choice, let’s call them the Volvo of VPN’s, is Private Internet Access — PIA.  PIA’s commitment to privacy has held up in court.  However, like Volvo, they were recently sold to a new company but have promised to keep their past commitments and maintain their legacy. PIA is cheaper than Express VPN.   It remains to be seen, if there will be long term changes under the new management.   If I could tell you to go with only one VPN — go with Express VPN.


Financial Safety Tip of the Week

This is a really simple tip, but very relevant to the scam calls that are going around today.  You may get a message saying they are from your credit card.  Do not call back or answer the call.  Call the customer service number on the back of your card or on your statement.  If you are the type that likes to throw everything out, always keep the last statement of all of your bills in a folder.  That way you have a good number to call.  Not everyone can see the numbers on the back of a credit card without a magnifier. 

Dropped And Spooky Phone Calls

Travel Tips

After bringing and picking my wife up from the airport due to a weekend trip, I thought I would share a couple of tips with you.   If you are thinking of traveling from Bradley Airport (BDL) and don’t mind a quick, relaxing, and scenic trip to T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island, you should really check out fares from PVD.  My wife was able to save $300 on a round trip to the Ontario, California (ONT) airport.  PVD is only 1.5 hours from Hartford and seemed quicker.  As the old saying goes, your mileage may vary.  Another suggestion is to try alternate airports.  These landing spots may be less expensive, more convenient, or both.  The friends she was looking to meet were about 20 minutes east of ONT.   Getting there from LAX when arriving at about 1030 PM would have been a challenge for her.

Responsible Recommendations 

As many of you know, I made a BIG SWITCH to T-Mobile for cellular service with my wife back in March.  The initial reasons I joined was because of their cheaper / possibly free international service for a trip she was taking to southeast Asia and because of the reports I had read from a plethora of sources about how good the coverage had gotten in recent years.  5+ years ago T-Mobile was truly a 3rd rate carrier.  I’ve shared that the experience has been mostly good and the financial perspective got even better about 4 months in when we were able to sign up for the age 55+ plus plan (2 lines for $70 including taxes and fees, with unlimited everything).  This was half what we were paying with Verizon.  Given that I have so many clients that could benefit from a plan like this, I could have pumped them hard and made good money marketing TMO to you.  I did not jump on that opportunity because I wanted to give my experience more time.   More recently, I have noticed some shortcomings.  When helping a client far from downtown Glastonbury (near Portland actually), I had no service.  When taking the smooth, rural, Route 165 into Rhode Island I had no service for about 3 miles.  Additionally, last week I had about 3 dropped calls in the Hartford area.  It was a new development.  After extensive conversations with TForce (customer support), I found out that there are tower upgrades going on in the area and they should be completed by mid-November.  I did not have any more dropped calls outside of those 3 days, so I’m inclined to believe what I was told.   So here is where I stand with T-Mobile — as far as my client base is concerned:  If you want to save money with T-Mobile, you can go to a T-Mobile store or I can certainly help you.  However, there are potential limitations.  One reason to keep your Verizon or ATT service is the reliability of the towers.   Considering the country as a whole, Verizon and ATT have a much higher percentage of towers with fuel powered backup in the case of power outages and natural disasters than T-Mobile.  At times, you just want the call go through. While we are spared from a lot of the worst weather, you never know when a “2011 Snowpocalypse” will hit us again.

Spooky Phone Calls

Are you getting more scam phone calls?  I have two clients that may have been called by fake or moonlighting Comcast representatives the other day.  “Hi, I’m calling from the Cable Department.”   Good thing I was there.  We hung up.   I want to make sure you can recognize a scam call.  On Monday morning, I received a call on my business line saying that my Social Security Number is being suspended.  Hmmm, I feel so scared now.  I might be in big trouble. NOT!

Apple Why Did You Do This To Us?

Thought of the Week:  I am not a Russian asset, but I will help you fight technology scammers from Russia, India, the U.S. or wherever.  I am going to say this again because new clients have gotten on board and it’s been a while since I made this announcement.   The real Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo or Facebook are not going to pop up on your screen with a phone number with a person on the other end of the line asking for money.  You have an intrusion on your computer and you are one step away from being scammed.  Do not call the number!  Do not make a $500 – 1000 mistake plus open yourself to identity theft.  If you can’t get rid of it call me and I will solve it.

Small Business Spotlight:  As you know I am in business to serve sole proprietors and small businesses, along with residential consumers and non-profits.  From time to time I like to highlight unique small companies and non-profits.  This week I would like to introduce you to Skrewball Whiskey.  They are unique in that they sell one product (available for order online and select locations), a peanut butter flavored whiskey.  A husband and wife run this operation and there is a really positive immigration related twist to their vision.  The husband hails from Cambodia, grew up poor, and never had peanut butter as a kid.  Peanut butter was one of the first food items he learned to love in his new American life and thus inspired this venture.  Check them out at https://www.skrewballwhiskey.com  (Unsolicited)

Apple, Why Did You Do This To Us?

Well well, I have gotten an earful from clients about Apple’s new iOS 13 software (and its sister iPad OS 13). The new versions and subsequent minor updates are hard to avoid.  They bring new features and stability and security fixes.  However, they bring CHANGES.  I work with an older client base.  Remember I am the I.T. Guy that specializes in age 55 + at home, at work, and in non-profits run by people in this age bracket.  Older adults can be quite resistant to change.  It’s not good or bad; it’s a fact of life. I’ve been doing this for 22 years.  

I know many of you enjoy putting your photos in the Photos app into albums.   These albums will synchronize between iPhone and iPad, as well as the Mac, with iCloud Photo Library turned on. You can also see all of your photos and albums by logging on to iCloud.com from any computer, including a Windows computer.   From the iPhone, in iOS 13, the process of adding a photo to an album has changed.  Please make a note of this and try this out

In the Photos app

-the Photos tab at the bottom has changed a bit — you now see sub tabs for Years — Months — Days and All Photos.  All Photos is still a good place to see all of your photos.

-But if you want to add photos to an existing album, you must click on the Albums tab

-Press the + to create a new album, name the album, from there you can add photos

-However, to add photos to an existing album, you must go to Albums, and open the album

-Then press Edit in the top right, then Add in the bottom center, then choose photos

Rinse and repeat, you will get it!

Song of the Week:  (Haven’t done this in a while) Ludovico Einaudi – “Experience” https://youtu.be/91sFlP6aa5Q  . A You Tube video will open.


Concluding remarks:  Remember, when you choose a small business, you are choosing someone who cares.  You are choosing someone who will not cave to corporate pressure. When you choose to patronize someone like me, you are voting with your dollars, stating — I want someone like you to live in my community.  Thank you all.