How to Respond to Facebook: Hollow Out Your Account.

For the purposes of this article, I am naming Facebook, but I include any social media outlet that you feel has wronged you, whose practices you can no longer abide, whose reputation now affects your own. 

My feeling is that Facebook has abused our trust.  They promoted the idea that sharing more improved our experience and our lives.  All the time they were luring us into their plan to monetize our activity, fattening us like piglets for the slaughter.  It should come as no surprise that this resulted in disaster.  An American election with an asterisk; billions lost in market capitalization; no accountability for the information they publish. 

Friends and relatives have just shut it down.  They have downloaded their information and deleted their account.  We know that many are doing this.  Good for you, friends, you are the smart ones.  Me, I am an IT guy.  I tell people how to get the most out of their technology, whatever it is.  I am the Bodhisattva, delaying nirvana to lead others out of their darkness.  I thought that the right thing for me to do was run down the road to see where it led.  Then I could come back and tell everyone.  What I can tell you now is that this road has no end. It is a treadmill.

I started invested my data in Facebook many years ago.  I posted photos and videos, played the games where I answered all the questions about books and movies and hobbies and all of my likes and dislikes.  Family reunions, new babies, puppies, kittens, prom dates, marriages: all documented with easy and wonderful photos and videos from our ever-improving smartphones.  When the Facebook IPO happened, everyone questioned whether Facebook could monetize mobile.  Mobile was like gasoline on the Facebook flame. Facebook toyed with the idea of creating their own mobile phone.  They never needed to.  The iPhone and every Android phone became Facebook phones once the app was installed.  Go ahead and see how different your phone becomes after you remove the Facebook app.

Every step of the way, Facebook lulled us into a false sense of confidence in them.  When they made an overt anti-privacy move, they rolled it back if the up-roar was too great in the user community.  They weathered wave after wave of these scandals starting with early amendments to their terms of service, to their unduly invasive “Beacon” service, to ever more subtle and inscrutable betrayals.  First it was just your data, then it was your friends of friends’ data, and so on.  Opting out was possible, but the un-private default settings roped in millions as the capture of new, uninitiated users accelerated.  Facebook could not have played their cards more perfectly to maximize their own rights with respect to your information and minimize their own obligation.  Unless you are savvy and diligent, the drift in your Facebook experience shared ever more of your information.   So, ask yourself, how many of your friends are both savvy AND diligent?

Because I feel that I have been presented with incontrovertible evidence that Facebook is essentially not a benign influence in our society, I am moderating my account.  Because I communicate with so many of you, I do not want to punish our relationship by withdrawing from a medium that you may like, and not forgoing everything I have written here, I still value Facebook.  I will be posting less, and my interests in Facebook will be more commercial and less personal.  I have deleted the Facebook app from my smartphone.  I encourage you at a minimum to do the same.  My participation in Facebook will now be a dissident one. 

It is apparent that the culture within Facebook is arrogant, insular, and elite.  I have spoken with a former employee with a position of some importance in Facebook Human Resources, and this person told me that they were frustrated when they recruited a brilliant candidate, and the Facebook managers would ask why the candidate had not attended Harvard or Stanford.  It is apparent that the Facebook organization is an Ivy League club, with all of the myopia and dysfunctional discrimination that implies.

Today, there are millions of businesses that operate almost entirely within the confines of the pages of Facebook.  Products and services are offered, specials advertised, messages exchanged, appointments made, and payments arranged.  There are millions of people around the world who find Facebook to be so convenient that they never look anywhere else for news or other information.   There was an online property that was in that position many years ago when the Internet was young.  It became one of the most powerful companies on Wall Street before it was merged with one of the biggest media companies of the day.  With any luck, we may be looking at a repeat of that story. What was the property?  It still exists.  It is called “AOL”.

WPA2 KRACK Wifi vulnerability

Some of you may have heard about a newly discovered Wifi vulnerability called “KRACK”, which stands for “Key Reinsertion attACK”.  This vulnerability exposes a flaw in the WPA2 security protocol that virtually all Wifi networks use to keep them secure and prevent unauthorized access to a password protected Wifi network.  Most of you are affected by this vulnerability.

Here are the bullet points on this issue:

  • Protocol flaw affecting all devices secured by WPA2.
  • Newly disclosed, no known exploits in the wild.  (not super dangerous at this time)
  • Two classes of remedy: “Client”, and “Router/AP”
  • ABN Contract clients will receive remediation as it becomes available under contract terms automatically.
  • Clients without ongoing monthly support contract with ABN must contact ABN for service to remedy this issue.
  • Microsoft has already released a fix for Windows computers through Windows Update.
  • Other manufacturers and software publishers have not yet published all required fixes at this time. 

Fortunately, the threat level of this vulnerability is not high, partly because it was caught before any exploits have come to light, which means that it was a secret to bad guys and good guys alike.

Now that it is known, vendors are working hard to close the hole in the WPA2 protocol implementation.  There are two general classes of fixes coming to us for this vulnerability.  The first is a class of “client” updates, which affect anything that connects to a wireless network.  This includes Wireless enabled PC’s, laptops, smartphones, tablets, printers, and other wireless devices such as security cameras, baby monitors, and the like.  The second class of fixes are for the Wireless Access Points and routers to which the clients connect.

The most critical class of updates is the clients class, and there is good news here.  Microsoft has already released a fix to their Wireless client software, and anyone remaining current on Microsoft updates through the Windows Update process will receive, or may have already received their update.  Apple is beta testing updates for iOS and MacOS, as is Google and the various smartphone manufacturers for Android.  So, anyone following the ABN standard procedure to maintain all device updates as current as possible will be well served to keep it up and make sure that everything you’ve got is up to date.  ABN performs this service for contract customers, so those of you in that position need not worry, and watch for us checking up on this issue as we go forward.

The less critical but equally important class of updates is for the Wireless Access Points and Routers.  To correct the protocol flaw on these devices, a device “firmware” update will be required, and we are receiving communication from our major vendors indicating that they are developing and testing firmware updates for their devices.  Again, as a matter of course, ABN updates device firmware on wireless access points and routers for our contract customers as part of the contract support entitlement.  As firmware updates become available for each of your various access points and routers, we will be contacting our contract customers to schedule a maintenance window to perform the firmware updates.

Those of you who are not contract customers of ABN, you will need to contact us and request a review of devices for remediation.  Please call our main support number to get this service scheduled.  At this time we can check Windows updates only.  As time goes on and more of our vendors have issued fixes for their devices, we will have more that we can do for you.

As a side note, we have received independent confirmation that companies served by managed service providers like ABN were almost unscathed by the WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks.  This is partly because those attacks relied on out of-date-software on networked PC’s which had gone months and even years without regular updates.  We make sure that doesn’t happen.

DRAM and SSD Shortage

One of our primary vendors just sent us this message:  

"We wanted to alert you to an industry-wide Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and Solid State Drive (SSD) supply shortage that’s impacting pricing across all vendors. The shortage has caused a 50–105% pricing increase and is expected to continue through the first half of 2017.

"The shortage is related to the high demand of NAND flash in the PC, smartphone and tablet markets, which has caused a decrease in availability of SSD and DRAM products."

We wanted to make clients, partners, and others aware of this news because a surprising amount of our business in the last year has been upgrading systems by installing additional RAM memory and replacing spinning hard drives with SSD Drives.  It has made many computers that were manufactured since the release of Windows 7 fully adaptable to Windows 10 and newer applications that require more memory and demand faster disk storage access.  

If you have not upgraded to Windows 10, it may still be useful to look at DRAM and SSD upgrades as a way to avoid a premature computer purchase, even with the higher prices for these items.  Use our feedback page if you want more information or you operate a New Hampshire business that may benefit from these upgrades.

2016, the year of the Ransonmware exploit

On October 23, 2013, Steve Gibson reported on his weekly security podcast "Security Now" on the twit.tv podcast network, that about three weeks prior a new exploit called "Cryptolocker" had been discovered infecting computers at an alarming rate. 

In that podcast, Steve quoted another journalist, saying: "Dan Goodin at Ars Technica wrote said: 'You're infected. If you want to see your data again, pay us $300 in Bitcoins.' And the subhead was: 'Ransomware comes of age with unbreakable crypto and anonymous payments.' So, and if you want to [...] just put "CryptoLocker" into Google, and you will see, I mean, it is bad."

Three years later, what Steve and other security experts predicted about CryptoLocker and ransomware in general has come true.  It is the main malware threat concern of all Information Technology security personnel around the globe: how do I prevent my users from getting infected with ransomware, and how do I respond to it if they do?

We at ABN have prepared a 30 minute presentation to help IT managers and personnel at any company or organization become aware of ransomware, and to become better equipped to avoid the exploits of Internet ransomware threats.  This is available to our monthly contract customers for free with their support agreements, and for a small fee for anyone else. 
 

The Unbelievable Awesomeness of JunkEmailFilter.com

I have to take a moment to call out a really extraordinary service that I have done business with for several years.  The name of the business is "JunkEmailFilter.com", and it is run by one of the unknown soldiers for Internet integrity, Marc Perkel.

I became aware of this service because of the curmudgeonly rantings of John C. Dvorak, one of the most respected and longest running tech journalists still living.  He famously ranted "I GET NO SPAM" several years ago on my favorite tech podcast, TWIT (go to twit.tv for more on that), and I never quite forgot it.

As a result, when I was a bit frustrated with my efforts to control spam for clients who were using their own hosted email, mostly set up by me on Microsoft Exchange, I tracked Marc down and found that I was dealing with him personally in setting up service, and that he responded with lightning speed and perfect accuracy in setting up filtering service for my accounts.  The price for this service is amazingly low, and he can scale to whatever you need to support.

Furthermore, he is dedicated to our freedom and privacy on the Internet.  If you are not hosting your own email, but you want a completely secure and uncompromising email hosting service for yourself or your small business, then Marc is your man.  He provides that service also at similarly reasonable rates.

If you are still hosting email using Small Business Server or something similar like MDaemon, and you or your client cannot or will not migrate to a cloud service like Office 365 or Google Apps for Business, then you would be well served to put Marc's service in front of your own.  His is an extremely effective filter, and as I mentioned above, he works very hard to deliver service and support immediately via email.  It is very convenient to work with him.

Thanks to Marc for his help today, and lets hope that more like him step forward to eliminate spam and all of the nefarious cruft that crosses the Internet every day.

It Is Time To Choose a Password Manager

Dashlane and LastPass are the two major password keeper systems available, however there are quite a few and more coming every day.

I would recommend either Dashlane or Lastpass for the purpose of securely keeping your passwords in a reliable Internet based vault.   Here are my tips:

Dashlane seems to be oriented more toward Apple computer and device users.  David Pogue of Yahoo news recommends this service, and he has always been devoted to the Apple product side of things.

I found that the Dashlane program for Windows was a bit buggy, and LastPass wound up working better for me.  Both of them impose some adaptation on the user, so you should not expect totally smooth sailing in using either program.  Here are my main tips of the day for any of these programs:

1. Set a good strong password for the password manager and never, ever forget it. 

2. Make sure that you understand how password recovery works on your password manager in case you can't adhere to tip #1.

3. Make sure that you know how to go into the password manager vault and just look up your credentials for a website or service. 

Both programs are designed to automatically fill in user accounts and passwords for you, but sometimes they don't work with a particular website or service due to technical choices on the part of the service or website.  In those cases, you need to open up your Dashlane or LastPass program and copy and paste your user name and password into the site, or look it up and type it in. 

These are edge cases, and I don't have to do this often, but I know that if you just let LastPass or Dashlane take you along from their installation wizards, and you haven't really taken the time to learn to use them, you could be in for some frustration if they don't work on a site that you are under time pressure to log into.

Overall, they are great time savers, and both of them will generate new, very secure passwords for you that you would never have the ability to remember.  Both of them will import all of your saved passwords from your web browsers and store them in your vault when you install them.  After installation, they will ask if you want to do a security analysis, and they will offer to reset passwords for you that are heavily duplicated or very insecure (easy to hack/guess).  I would take it slow with that process so that you don't get locked out of anything if there is a problem.

Sneaky sneaky!

At this time, I use a very fine service called "LogMeIn".  Specifically, I use LogMeIn Central to manage remote desktops as part of my I.T. business.  When an end-user has a problem that we need to resolve, I can just jump directly onto their desktop using a LogMeIn remote access session, and interact directly with the user on their computer screen.  It is very nice.

This week, I received three messages that appeared to be from LogMeIn.  The first email was thanking me for my LogMeIn renewal payment of $999, which contained a Microsoft Word Document attachment named "receipt", or something like that.

I actually started to open the document before I thought about it because I was so upset by this message.  You see, LogMeIn has undergone a significant restructuring in the pricing in the last couple of years, and I reacted emotionally because I was keyed in to this information that has been discussed heatedly in user forums and elsewhere.

Then my senses came about me and I inspected the technical headers of the email to confirm where it came from, and sure enough, it was a phishing attack.  So, I filed it in my "Scams" folder and went about my business.

A week later, I got a message with the same reply address that indicated that my credit card on file at LogMeIn had expired and that my service would be terminated in 72 hours.  At that point, I second guessed my first conclusion because I DO have an expired credit card on file at LogMeIn, because I knew that at some point I would be using a less expensive service to replace LogMeIn.

So, I began to pro-actively migrate to the new service, but before I got to the tedious phase of updating my 200 supported computers with different remote support software, I took one last look at the last LogMeIn email.  The technical headers revealed that the originating server was HLERHGFWZ (41.158.9.115), and the originating sender was peremptorilyhrs79@rexhongkong.com.  So, after doing the smart thing and logging back into LogMeIn Central and checking my subscription status, I concluded that this was a sequential phishing attack with a very clever strategy.  Knowing that there were many users like me out there who were playing out the string on their LogMeIn Central accounts, they used a 1-2 punch to try and get us to click on their malicious email attachment. 

These are days to be wary, my friends, and pay attention to your mal-ware protections.  The stakes are continually being raised, and even the experts can be played.