What in the WWW is going on?

Posted by Mike on October 26th, 2016

It has been a couple of months since my last blog post. However, that doesn’t mean that anything of interest hasn’t been going on.  I am sure you all would agree it is going to be nice to stop hearing all those negative political ads after the election.  Stop already!  That’s my entire political rant.

Aside from that, you may have heard of a number of cyber security breaches involving the Democratic National Committee, 500 million user accounts on Yahoo, and a major attack on DYN that took down a number of really big companies including CNN, HBO, PayPal, Pinterest, Playstation, Twitter, and many others.

I’ve had a number of friends and clients call me to find out what was going on.  From a technical standpoint, the details are not really hard to understand.  Don’t be fooled by the spokespeople from the affected organizations.  There is always MORE to the story than meets the eye, and those that follow the cybersecurity news saw all this coming months and years ago.  Like a Greek tragedy, cybersecurity pros know what is going to happen but are powerless convince anybody to take notice. We just watch it play out before our eyes.  We try to let people know how to protect themselves, but many just don’t listen or actually care until they get hacked.

Now don’t be surprised that the Russians hacked the accounts of the DNC and others.  They have been at it for years and so have we with the CIA, FBI, and NSA.  Nations have been spying on each other for decades.  What is troubling is that they dumped the stuff they hacked on a public website for the world to see. The timing around the election is not by chance.  Usually a nation will hold the information it steals from the other for some intelligence advantage.  Apparently, things have changed.

The thing is… to most of us, computers, networks, email, our cell phones, and the Internet are basically a mystery, a black box of magic run by a bunch of nerds. We understand that locking our car and keeping cash and other valuables out of sight is a good practice.  We have the military and missile defense systems along with a well trained and equipped Army, Air Force, and Navy to protect us against physical attack.  We have food inspectors, building inspectors, electrical codes, and laws we live by in a civil society. We are programmed over thousands of years of evolution to keep watch for dangers in the physical world around us.  For obvious reasons, human beings just can’t wrap their brains around this new electron and light pulse fueled cyber creation called the Internet.

All this new “smart” stuff connected to our networks is an Achilles heel, a Trojan horse.

I see the pitfalls every day. We love the gizmos and technology laid before us in shiny blinking boxes delivered to our door in two days or less. We have built another world and ecosystem in our cyber universe where we can tap in to untold knowledge and power.  Even the poorest among us has the ability to participate in this new economy.  We load “free” software from people we never met, and plug all manner of “smart” electronics made cheaply in China, into our trusted cyber universe without giving it a second thought.  All this new “smart” stuff connected to our networks is an Achilles heel, a Trojan horse. It is called the Internet of Things, or IOT for short.  No government agency or guardian is around to protect us from ourselves. We have a UL listing on anything we plug in to the wall and at least know someone has inspected it for electrical safety, but there is no such thing for digital safety to date.

IOT is a HUGE industry worth billions of dollars and will grow exponentially for years to come. Cheap, insecure, “smart” devices are what were weaponized by some unsavory people to bring down many of the websites mentioned at the beginning of this blog post.  The bad guys have compromised insecure DVR’s, surveillance cameras, cheap routers, Internet connected printers, refrigerators, house thermostats, light bulbs, garage door openers, baby monitors and more.  Manufacturers pump these devices out with little or no thought to security.  Once the bad guys have control of all these things, they treat them like their own robots or “bots”. From one central command computer, they can control your baby monitor or home security system–along with thousands of other such devices–to attack a target’s servers.  This is what happened last week, has happened in the past, and will happen in the foreseeable future.  This really sucks for those of us who just want to go about our lives. In reality, it’s our appetite for cheap crap and gizmos to plug into our networks that is threatening our national security.  Interesting times we‘re living in.


Every so often, we need to dial back the tech

Posted by Mike on July 20th, 2016

Like many of you out there, I love my weekends.  This past weekend was particularly nice, and for those of us who don’t have to work on weekends, we should consider it a blessing.  I had the house to myself and usually I have the news or radio on but decided to just turn it off and listen to … well… nothing electronic for a while.

I live out in the country and often enjoy sitting on the front porch with a cup of coffee and watch the humming birds fly around the feeder.  The hawks circle above the meadow looking for their next meal or perhaps they just love to soar.  There is so much wonder around us to enjoy when we take the time to disconnect from our phones, televisions, radios, game consoles, or anything else with a battery or a plug. Turning this noise off allows us to think and imagine.  It provides balance to our lives.

This may seem odd coming from an admitted techno weenie like myself.  I make my living working with technology and helping others get the most out of their technology.  I love learning new things, and have become quite good at what I do for a living. However, there comes a time when we all need to just put down all this electronic “stuff” and get in touch with what makes us all human.  A wise person once told me that finding a balance in life was the key to happiness and fulfillment.

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When I do tune into the news and current events, or watch how people interact with each other at a restaurant, it seems like we are paying more attention to our devices and ignore the actual breathing human beings right next to us.  I stopped at McDonald’s the other day for a cup of coffee and observed a young family in the table next to me. Both parents and both kids were absorbed with their cell phones and hardly spoke a word to each other.  What a missed opportunity, and what a shame.  Those parents are going to realize that in a very short time their children quickly grow up and will be on their own. They are relinquishing the precious moments they have as a family so they can absorb an endless stream of useless information on social media.

I would never trade the quality time I spent with my family or the countless hours spent with my grandfather hunting and fishing in exchange for a video game or twitter feed. My grandparents are long gone now, but the life lessons, stories, experiences, and joy we shared will always stay with me.

All this “addiction” to social media, digital games, endless news cycles, and talking heads on TV, comes at a price.  This electronic addiction is messing with our sense of reality.  We are turning our families, neighbors, country and world into short digestible sound bites and videos.  We have lost the ability to just sit down and talk to each other.  We have lost the desire to actually read a long news article, meet other people who may have different beliefs that we do, and perhaps try to understand their world and walk a mile in their shoes.

So take some simple advice from a professional technologist… every so often, turn off all the electronic stuff and enjoy some quiet time by yourself, with friends or the ones you love.  Technology is a wonderful tool, but it is not a replacement for human interaction.


Two things West Virginia must do to thrive and not just survive

Posted by Mike on May 25th, 2016

Our state politicians seem to waste time on subjects like Raw Milk, Gun Permits, and Religious Freedom bills. Nonsense like this is a distraction and inconsequential to the BIG issues we face NOW. Such foolishness is a way to avoid taking bold and decisive action on the actual problems we need to address in the coming months and years. On a positive note, our state is much more decisive than our federal politicians who have done next to nothing. Again, coming from the business owners and directors I deal with on a daily basis this is extremely frustrating and downright aggravating.

This article is intended to shed some light on two of the most important aspects of our economy that many of us just can’t seem to wrap our heads around. One issue has been the subject of thousands of hours of study and hundreds of millions of dollars spent with only marginal improvement over the course of decades, the other is a new issue that is so vitally important to the future of this state but is not understood, gets little attention and for the most part is beyond the comprehension of many of our elected leaders and most of the general public.

So what are these two highly important segments of the economy that will determine the future of West Virginia? Is it coal, natural gas, timber, manufacturing, or perhaps tourism? If you are still living in the 20th century then you may be correct. I would argue that although important, none of these are as important as the two major areas that will provide a successful thriving and exciting life in the 21st century. So, if you have been interested enough to read this far, then I should tell you. They are Education and Telecommunications. Here is why.

Our state will remain in a recession for the foreseeable future because we have not properly addressed these two most important issues. While the great recession and economic downturn of the past 10 years affected other states, West Virginia was still able to rely on coal and a booming gas industry. The southern coal fields which drove the economic engine of the state for over a century have slowly shut down while the north central and eastern panhandle areas have begun to show promise. This is all part of the economic evolution of our state, our country and the world. Like it or not, it is what it is.

The past is but a memory, so trying to revive the past will be futile and irresponsible. Change is necessary along with some BOLD thinking and BOLD ideas. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and lived through the decline of the steel industry. The recession of the 1980’s is still a vivid memory for me as I watched my father’s business wither with the local economy. I can still recall the day when the steel mill closed leaving thousands of families without an income. Supermarkets like my father’s along with many other businesses were soon to follow. Thirty of our employees lost their jobs along with me.

As a young man I was forced to pack my bags and leave town for a place that had more to offer. Steel would never come back to the “Steel City”, but in the years since, a diverse economy emerged and new industries and business sectors were born.

Any child who studies history can draw the conclusion that nations, cities and towns who rely on a few industries experience growth in an economic boom. When times are good, nobody really thinks about what will happen when the resource or boom ends and conditions change. Any reputable financial adviser will always tell his clients to diversity their portfolio. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! But in some respects, that is what we have done here in our state. It’s nobody’s fault, just human nature. And nature repeats itself time and time again. Question is, with our collective intelligence we should be able to properly chart a course to a future that will not land us in this position again. That leads to the two major all important things we all need to concentrate on going forward:

Education: If you are not educated for the 21st century, if you are not a knowledge worker, if you cannot think critically, if you were happy you just graduated high school, you are going to have a very tough time making a living now and in the future.

In my opinion, manufacturing will return to the United States in a big way. The reason is that manufacturing in the 21st century will involve a heavy dose of technology and engineering. Robots and automation will drive the resurgence simply due to the fact that robotics cost about same to operate in China as they do here. The savings and incentive for moving back here will result from not having to transport goods halfway around the world. The workers will need to be skilled in engineering, logistics, electronics, and software. We live in a state that is located close to the some of the highest population centers in the country and sit on the energy necessary to produce it along with the resources to feed it. BUT, our education system was designed, is run and is funded for the 20th century. If bold, new thinking and funding is not brought to our education system, we not only miss the opportunity, we lose our best young minds to another state. If you haven’t noticed, we already are losing them by the busload and I don’t blame them one bit.

When I attend national and regional technology conferences, I am made aware of the stereotypes this state has and some of those perceptions are true. It hurts because we all have an emotional and physical attachment to our state and are proud of who we are, but deep down we also know that we must take responsibility for being at the bottom of so many negative national statistics. At the end of the day it is no one’s fault but our own and we are the ones who must decide to make the changes necessary. Turning around our education system will be very hard to do, however inaction and status quo will only keep us at the bottom of the economic ladder subsisting on scraps dished out by federal programs.

Telecommunications: For years I have been an advocate of the Internet and have built my company around it staking my savings, my reputation and experience on what it has to offer. Without access to the “digital economy” we will be left out and relegated to second class. This country crossed the divide of being an industrial powerhouse to one of technology and services decades ago. Today the most powerful and successful companies are built around digital technology. The auto industry needed a bailout from the government. All you have to do is look at textiles, furniture, steel, heavy machinery the list goes on. Our state and our nation can and will bring back the “Made in America” status, however it will be done with new methods, new ideas and a totally new labor force that is digitally connected and educated. These connections that include our roads, pipelines and most important our communications systems are the circulatory and nervous system that carries the life blood of any economy. It is time that West Virginia stakes its claim and taps in.

There are those who say that we should allow the private sector to build the necessary communications infrastructure. That may work for areas of high population living on flat land. This is not the case in our state. No amount of wishful thinking is going to convince a business to spend the money necessary to build our digital highway. Ironically, this digital highway can be built for the price of a couple miles of new four lane highway. The economic impact of this digital highway could far exceed that of a highway built for trucks and cars and the return on investment will be a hundred times greater.

As citizens of this state we need to set our priorities now and take the bold steps necessary to bring together private and public expertise and lay the foundation of a new economy. This new economy can be one that we decide and shape for ourselves. One that incorporates the heritage and beauty of our surroundings. In a planned way, it should foster new companies and innovation to drive employment and a better standard of living. We need to create an environment that provides opportunity to our young graduates to start new businesses. If we don’t concentrate on the two major issues facing us head on, they will continue to hold us back from what we can and should be.

So next time our lawmakers spend precious resources and tax dollars talking about raw milk legislation or gun carry rules let them know that there is a speeding unemployment train coming our way and they have bigger things to take care of first. Otherwise we won’t be able to buy milk for our families or ammo for our guns.


The Apple Pickle

Posted by Mike on February 24th, 2016

I can’t help but discuss the pickle we are all in regarding our right to privacy and the ability of our government to keep us safe. If you have not heard of the FBI vs. Apple news you may want to pay attention. This battle has been brewing for years, and the decisions coming out of this case will impact our security for years to come.

In essence, Apple has built a lot of security into their phones. So much so, the FBI and local law enforcement cannot access the data on an iPhone if the security is setup correctly. The FBI is using the case of the terrorist couple in San Bernardino who shot 14 people. They have a cell phone that they want Apple to “fix” so they can see what is on it.  Problem is, Apple will have to develop new firmware for the device to do this, in essence creating a “back door” to all iPhones that the government can use at will.

Now, the FBI (and other three-letter agencies) state they will only use such technology (if it existed) with a court order. However, we have learned from former NSA employee Edward Snowden that the NSA actually went much further in their role collecting all sorts of information on American citizens in the name of security. They were caught red-handed spying on millions of us without our knowing and pushing all the limits of due process.

I attended a technology conference last year where ex-FBI Assistant Director Jana Monroe spoke. She was director of the newly formed Cyber Division and is listed as one of the top 10 cyber security leaders in the United States. I asked Jana in public: If the government had a back door to all our encrypted devices, did she feel the government could keep this secure in light of all the security breaches with the OPM and other government databases? She said no.

As a IT service provider and consultant, I am being told by our government that we all need to encrypt critical information. In fact, under new regulations like HIPAA (for health information) and PCI (for credit card processing), you can face heavy fines if you don’t beef up security and encrypt. It’s the law.

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So what can we do? On one hand, we need to increase security. On the other hand, our three letter agencies need to keep tabs on the bad guys. Based on the opinion of one of the founders of the FBI cyber division, if the government had a “back door” to all our encryption, they wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret for long. Every state and local law enforcement agency will want the master keys for their investigations. We all know how that will turn out.

In my opinion it comes down to this: Encryption is here to stay. There are hundreds of encryption programs all over the world that will happily supply encryption technology to anyone who pays for it–including terrorists and criminals. Anybody who wants to communicate via encryption can. It is not rocket science.

Encryption is just math, and you cannot outlaw math. Merely producing a back door for the good guys is making a door available for the bad guys. This is backed up by nearly every cyber security expert out there. The best way to protect our data is solid encryption with no front door, back door, or any other door to access it except the key held by the people who encrypted it. This is why Apple CEO Tim Cook is drawing a line in the sand. He and many others in the tech industry understand this concept and see the coming firestorm between government and private security.

This will be interesting to follow in the coming months, because it will impact us for many years to come. I have no idea what the solution could be at this point.


Is technology a cost or an investment?

Posted by Mike on January 18th, 2016

When it comes to technology in a business or organization, I have often seen two major mind-sets. One group views every purchase of goods and services as an expense. The other group takes a more holistic view and bases purchasing decisions on value, and approaches the purchase as more of an investment. The differences between these two mind-sets are interesting when you look at companies and organizations that are growing and those that just survive.

Companies that have the “I can’t afford the expense” attitude tend to view every purchase of goods and services as an expense.  When times get tough, they drastically cut back on all spending. As a business owner myself, I fully understand. However, when you study business organization, something else comes to light. When everything is viewed as an expense, then decisions are not made for growth, but for survival. This impedes the ability to make informed and sound decisions that will grow and sustain the business. When you develop that survival mentality you tend to get caught in a death spiral that can last months or years. Which type of business do you have?

My attitudes have always been to build a company that has value and is valued by my clients. The tough part is the day-to-day slog that throws all sorts of distractions our way and soon we get caught up in the business details and forget to actually work on the business. By stepping back and looking at the large picture, we can base our purchasing decisions on a sound plan. Every purchase of goods or services should fit into our plan and provide value. By doing this, we begin to see the difference between an expense and an investment. Most successful companies invest in three key areas: People, Product, and Process. Another important area is marketing, which is challenging for me.

People: Money spent on your personnel in the form of training, work environment and culture is clearly an investment that provides great value. Successful organizations have happy, trained, helpful people working with them. Do you want to deal with an organization that has brash, un-trained, and generally un-caring people? Think about it.

Product: Whether you provide a service, a product, or both, the product or service must fill a need and provide value to your customer. Making the necessary investments in product quality and delivery are essential. Over-commitment, under-performance, and quality cutting to save a buck can ruin a good company’s hard earned reputation in a heartbeat.

Process: Without a top notch process in place, you will not be able to hire and retain good people and your product will suffer the minute you begin to get busy. When things are slow, that is the time to double down on process to enable you to scale and take on new business. Investment in process will always pay off.

Why this discussion about expense and investment? As a technology services provider, I often see businesses make decisions based solely on cost. What they fail to realize is not making an investment in technology and its updates will actually cost more. I’ll throw out a few examples to make the point and leave it at that.

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  1. Remember Blockbuster video? Netflix made the investment.
  2. Do you ever purchase encyclopedias or do you use google and Wikipedia? Google made the investment
  3. Do you use an old rotary phone or do you now have a cell phone? AT&T, Sprint, US Cellular made the investment.
  4. As much as I love bookstores, do you now use a kindle and order from Amazon? Amazon made the investment.
  5. Typewriters still work fine but do you use a computer and word processor?  Microsoft and others made the investment.
  6. I still love my 35mm film camera, but haven’t used it in years. I made the investment in an iPhone with a camera.
  7. The accounting firm who had a server failure during tax season was able to keep the business on track. They made the investment in a good backup and recovery solution, and discovered that it has real value.

I could go on and on with examples of technologies and companies that have come and gone. The ones that view every purchase as a “cost” typically don’t make it, or they get marginalized. The ones that survive and thrive are the ones that make the “investment” in the right strategic technology. They run the numbers to ensure their equipment provides value and a return for them. They make sure it fits with their overall strategic plan and changes with the shifting market. Successful companies in today’s world do not view their technology purely as a cost.


Some Geek to share with family over the holidays…

Posted by Mike on December 3rd, 2015

The Holiday Season is here and many of us will be spending time with family and friends. This would be a great time to share some knowledge with your parents, aunts, and uncles who may not be aware of some of the cyber scams out there.

At Mi-Tec, we have “walk in” repair service, and we get to see what kind of trouble our customers and clients are getting into. One particular issue is the “Fake Tech Support Scam.”

Now, if you remember one thing, remember this…. legitimate companies will never place a message on your computer instructing you to call them about a virus infection or any other issue with your computer.  They will also never call you on the phone to tell you that you are infected or have a computer issue. Genuine alert messages (such as from an antivirus program) do not contain a phone number, and they do not appear in your browser window.

If someone calls you and wants information about your computer, credit card, bank account or any other personal information, HANG UP. If they say they are from Microsoft Tech Support and need to remote into your computer… HANG UP. If you get a pop-up on your computer stating that there was “suspicious activity” on your computer and to call them “Toll Free,” DON’T DO IT!

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Scammers create alarming looking messages to try to get people to call their “tech support.”

If you are surfing the web and something pops up about your account being suspended, you are infected, or “suspicious” activity was detected, ignore the message and run antivirus and antimalware scans on your computer.

If you get an email that looks like it came from your bank, the IRS, the FBI or some other agency, don’t click on any links.  The government usually sends you a notice via the post office or visits you in person. You should go directly to your bank, credit card, or government site by typing in the address, using one of your browser shortcuts, or finding it via a search engine. Suppress your urge to click on stuff delivered via email.

Now you have some knowledge to share at the dinner table this holiday season.  Have a nice holiday, and be careful on the roads and on the web.


Government and the Rest of Us: A Double Standard

Posted by Mike on October 27th, 2015

I was watching the news the other night. Many of the stories had something to do with the Clinton email scandal, and a recent hacking of the email accounts of the directors of Homeland Security and the CIA.  Interesting thing is, the hacker was not a nation state or group of sophisticated cyber criminals. He was a teenager….. go figure.  His techniques were textbook social engineering 101 and not that sophisticated.

Now, according to the New York Post reporter who broke the story, the hacker was able to get sensitive information on CIA director Brennan’s security clearance SF86 form because Brennan had forwarded it to his personal AOL account from his work account.

Now if that did not sink in, I will repeat myself.  The director of the CIA had sent sensitive information from his work account to his personal email account on AOL?

So for us little folk who have to pay for all this, we can take a lesson from the people we put in charge of our national security.  Don’t send sensitive information over email.  Be very suspicious of anybody calling you from “Tech Support” asking for your passwords or other information over the phone.  Be careful with the information you put in websites to get “free” stuff.  The old adage holds true.. You can purchase a product or get it for free.  If you get something for free then you and your personal information is the “product.”

Now I doubt that Brennan is going to pay a fine or go to jail for this breach of security.  You can bet, however, that if a small business was hacked or there was a HIPAA violation on the part of a medical office then there would be fines and consequences from the government.   In the same light, few if any of the people on Wall Street or in Congress who were responsible for the last financial melt-down were charged or fined personally.  They just say “oops, sorry” and go about their business hoping that the next news cycle will bury the story.  If this happens to a small business, it can literally put them out of business.

So what do us working folks do if we don’t have political power or a boatload of cash?  Personally, that is a hard question to answer.  There are so many things out there to worry about, now we have to include cyber threats?

As the CEO of a technology business, I must keep up with the changes in the IT landscape.  This is not only time consuming but it is fun for a geek like me.  Like it or not, we are in for one hell of a ride in the months and years ahead.

The old way of doing things is on a collision course with today’s economy.  Like it or not, we all need to prepare our businesses and personal lives to adapt.  Those that can and do will thrive and prosper.  If you hate change, close your eyes and hold on.


The Inconvenient Truth About Computers

Posted by Mike on September 30th, 2015

Running an IT services company can be challenging at times.  We all try to stay on top of the latest trends and news in our field.  I guess this is true for any number of businesses out there, however the pace of change in the digital world is mind blowing.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, however having this knowledge about what is actually going on with the Internet and cyber security sometimes makes me cringe and wish for the good old days of computing only ten short years ago.  Our clients don’t want to know all the details about security; they just want to be assured that their systems are safe.  I have a hard time telling them that there is no such thing anymore.

Nobody in the IT field should tell a client that their systems are totally safe; if they do I would run away from them.  Politicians constantly tell their voters what they want to hear.  People like to think that they are safe and will dismiss reality simply because it is hard to face the facts sometimes.

So where am I going with this?  Simply put, if you want your computer and network to be more secure, you have to endure a bit of inconvenience.  There… I said it.

In our world of instant everything, we are giving up our personal data, our client data, and our overall security.  Doing things the way we always did it is not good enough in the 21st century.  Ask anybody in cyber security and they will say the same thing.  You are going to hear a lot more about this in the coming year on the news.  Just ask the owners of Chrysler vehicles who purchased a vehicle with all sorts of “Tech” aimed at convenience if they feel safe knowing that hackers can control your vehicle as you drive down the highway.

So what can be done about this?  Add some security to your systems on multiple levels.  Drop your account to “user” instead of “Administrator.”   Make sure your AV software is up to date.  Make sure you install Adobe, Java and Microsoft patches on a regular basis.  Make sure you have a good firewall.  Don’t click on anything in an email if you don’t really trust it or did not ask for it.  Make use of a good password manager like Last Pass and change your passwords to something better than “fluffy123.”  Never use the same password over and over.

The best way to protect yourself and your business is to shrink your attack surface.  Think of it this way.. We all know about the game of Corn Hole where you toss a bean bag into a board with a hole in it.  If the bean bag is a hacker or “bad guy” and you have a huge hole three feet wide, it is very easy for them to win.

Shrink your attack surface and reduce the size of your Corn Hole (pun intended).  Tossing a bean bag at a very small hole at a distance is hard; you have to really work at it.  It may not be impossible but hopefully the bad guys will move on to easier targets because you took the time to build some defenses.  It may be inconvenient, but compared to the consequence of having your identity stolen, or all your client records stolen it is a small price to pay.  Convenience comes at a price.

I try to practice what I preach, so our newsletter will no longer contain links to articles that we find interesting.  Clicking on links or attachments in emails, on Facebook or other social media is a bad idea and a habit we all need to break.  If you really feel compelled to click a link, roll over it first and examine the line that appears in the lower left hand corner of your browser window. Consider if that destination is something you really want to expose your computer to.


Backups: The Rule of 3

Posted by Alexandra on August 21st, 2015

Last month we ran an article about the speed of the internet connection. Have you tested yours at speedtest.net?

This month, we would like to stress the importance of backups. To “back up” means to have copies of your data that you can rely on to recover from a virus, unintentional deletion of data, or total hard drive failure. We recommend following the Rule of 3, which means that you have three different current copies of your data at any given point in time. These include the original files that you work with every day, a local copy stored on a separate hard drive, and an offsite copy in case a twister takes your whole office to the Land of Oz. It helps to have a faster internet connection when uploading files offsite.

Computers and other hardware are easily replaced commodities. Often you can get new hardware shipped overnight. On the other hand, recreating years of financial data, photos, and documents can be extremely expensive and quite possibly sink your business or organization. One thing you can be absolutely sure of is your hard drive will fail. They are mechanical devices and have limited life spans. Modern SSD (Solid State Drives) also have lifespans and are actually less reliable than the older spinning disk drives. We usually replace our computers before they fail, but that is not always the case. Why play the odds with your valuable data?

Features of a good backup program include:

Automation–Once set up, the whole backup process happens without your intervention. If you do manual backups of your critical data, you may forget or accidentally overwrite the source files.

Notification–If something goes wrong with the process, you know about it via email or text message.

Versioning–Suppose you got one of those nasty viruses that dwell in your computer for several days before you know about it. Will last night’s backup come to the rescue? No, it’s probably infected too. How about from a week ago, or two weeks ago? Now we’re talking. A backup program that incorporates versioning provides you with a set of backups from the past that you can use if the most recent one is no good.

Retention–Retention settings control how many versions of the backup are stored. A typical retention scheme gives you a set of backups from the past hour to the past month or year. While a good backup program uses strategies to reduce the storage space used by backups, longer retention will of course need more space.

Imaging–Sometimes a computer really takes a dive. The traditional recovery method includes tedious re-installation of the operating system, programs, patches, updates and recovery of files from a backup. Disk imaging dramatically shortens this process by creating backups of an entire computer. If the computer needs to be rebuilt or replaced, all that is necessary to recover it is to make sure the hardware is healthy and then draw on a good disk image.

Testing–It has been said that a backup untested is nonexistent. The time to make sure your backups are viable (particularly disk images) is before you need them.  We have seen too many companies who have a false sense of security as they change the backup tapes daily for months or years only to discover that nothing was backed up!

Encryption–We mentioned an offsite copy, right? That means your data gets uploaded to a server over the internet and stored… well, somewhere else. Strong point-to-point encryption ensures that no one but you can recover your data. Your data becomes “secret code” that only you have the keys to. If someone managed to get hold of your data (including any hackers, or three letter agencies) on the remote server, it would be unreadable gibberish to them.


Internet Speed: A Measurable Rate

Posted by Alexandra on July 21st, 2015

The place where you live has a water source. Whether it is city water, a well, or a spring, the water enters your dwelling at a rate that is measured in gallons per minute (gpm). This rate affects how your home functions. For example, can you comfortably shower and run the kitchen sink at the same time?

The information that flows over the internet has a rate as well, and it is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). When you visit a website, download speed affects incoming data, while upload speed affects outgoing data. There is a constant flow down-up-down-up as your computer reaches out to other computers for the information you request.

Just as your home’s water delivery rate may be different than your neighbor’s, internet speeds vary as well: from house to house, business to business, city to city, and state to state. The internet speed in a region contributes to the function of its healthcare, education, and economy.

When an internet service provider (ISP) such as Frontier, Suddenlink, CityNet, or Lumos sells you an Internet package, they sell you a certain speed for a certain price. You can find out easily what you’re paying for–just ask your ISP if it’s not on your bill. But here’s the big question: are you actually getting what you’re paying for? There are online tools that can help you determine that. The one we use and recommend most frequently is speedtest.net, a consumer protection tool.

Here is a sample of our download speed. We pay for 40 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload. Are we getting it?

speedtest7-20-15

Unlike other speed tests provided by ISP’s, speedtest.net is an independent website that ventures outside of the regional network to test speeds. We believe that it provides a relatively accurate gauge of your download and upload speed at a given point in time. Your speeds may vary by the time of day and be affected by other network activity, so test and retest. You can even create an account on the site for management of your historical results.  It is rare to get 100% of the advertised speed, but take special notice if you consistently drop below 70% of what you’re paying for.

We wanted to tell you about speed testing because you have a right to verify that you are getting what you are paying for, and to discuss your results with your ISP.  Imagine going to McDonald’s, ordering a Big Mac, and receiving half a burger. Most all of us would go right back to the counter to complain. Are you putting up with sub-standard service from your ISP?