July 13, 2012
Every so often we see emails come in from our own names. For instance, if your name is Ted Smith and you receive an email from Ted Smith it may look like it is from you but this is not true. The next time this happens hover your mouse over the name and see if the same email address appears. I doubt that it does.
Email is un-authenticated. This means that anyone can say they are Ted Smith and no one can come back and challenge this. When I setup an email account for someone I put the name and email address that they want to show when an email is sent from that account. It does not mean that this is the correct name but just one that they want to have. The same holds true on the internet. I may put down Ted Smith but no one really knows it is from him.
There is no way to stop this but there are always ways to curtail it. You cannot stop emails from Ted Smith from going out to anyone but you can stop what emails servers will allow through. These are called reverse lookups. For instance, email server A receives email from Ted Smith firstname.lastname@example.org. The server then finds out what server sent the email because the server that sent this also sent the IP in the header of the email. Server A goes back to this IP and says "who are you?" If server A gets a reply from spamserver.testme.com then the mail is discarded as spam. If server A gets a reply from mail.abc.com then server A will allow the message through.
You should always have your server using reverse lookup to verify your mail. Again, this will not stop anyone from using "tsmith" but it could slow them down. Or so we hope.
Spam is here forever as long as we have un-authenticated email. Good luck and safe surfing.
July 9, 2012
This is the day the internet died. Well actually, I guess you are reading this on the WWW so you did not kill your internet. Congratulations.
We received many questions last week regarding the loss and impending collapse of the internet. Of course during this slow news time before our next two political giants crash and keep the media buzzing the media needs something to talk about. So with that they bring in the "internet doomsday" and blast it across the radio and television waves.
What happens is pretty simple for someone techie to understand:
- Infected PCs had been redirected to DNS servers used by scammers to generate revenue.
- The FBI has had these DNS addresses running on a temporary basis to allow infected PCs to retain access to website addresses.
- These servers will be shut down at 12:01am, so if any PCs are infected and still referencing these DNS server they won't resolve addresses.
And for you non-techie people, all this means is that your computer will not get on the internet because the seized servers will no longer operate.
It is pretty ingenious if you ask me. Someone goes out and finds a spyware download that will send thousands, if not milliions, of innocent computer users to different name servers to route to AOL and Yahoo. Instead of going to your favorite news outlet like Fox News, you end up going to buy some diet pills. It is a very cheap way to put a product in front of you on the market. Illegal? Yes. But only because you have to take over and infiltrate some else's computer to do so. This act created millions of dollars in advertising and we, the consumer, are the ones who receive those ads.
I would love to say that this will not happen again but you will probably see diet pill ads as long as the internet is around. We just have to be smarter about how we sift through those.
February 3, 2012
How is it that when you get home, turn on your wireless laptop, and scan for networks you see every network in your neighborhood, yet you go to an airport and see just one of them? What is it that you actually see anyways? You see a network named "smith family" and one named "Jones." They are called SSID; short for Set Service Identifier. Basically it is the name of your network.
We know wireless has its limitations in range so how does it work that an entire airport has one SSID? The term is called "clustering." Wireless access points are spread out every so often and all chained together with clustering. We are taking a group of wireless access points and grouping them together. This allows for someone to stay connected no matter what side of the airport they are on or how far away they are going inside the facility.
Think about this the next time you are in a large environment and impress one of your friends by telling them you know about wireless clustering. You might get called a tech nerd but if you are reading this blog you sort of are anyway, right?
January 19, 2012
On Wednesday, January 18, 2012, many of our beloved websites took to the net in protest. Several websites shutdown, or "blacked" themselves out to show their opposition for the proposed PIPA (Protect IP Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) bills. These bills are intended to take aim at copyright infringement and internet piracy, though many against these bills say they will dissolve personal expression on the internet and leave too much control in the hands of our government. While the bills have not yet been voted on they are facing support and opposition from all sides, making it a hot topic in the coming weeks. We won't get into any of our political beliefs, but here are a few major websites that participated in the protest:
- Wikipedia, the internet's largest open-source collection of information, shut down completely for over 24 hours
- Craiglist's landing page showed a petition that portrayed strong opposition for the proposed PIPA and SOPA bills
- Google blacked out its own logo to show support for the opposition
- Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter also aired its concerns regarding SOPA yesterday, although they declined to take part in the blackouts
- According to Twitter, there were over 30 million Tweets regarding the PIPA and SOPA bills
Were you affected or inconvenienced by any of these websites? Let us know!
October 4, 2011
As almost everyone has seen and heard, "the cloud" has become the new buzzword in the Information Technology (IT) field. Some people think the cloud is a new technology, however it has been around for some time. Have you ever had a Yahoo or Hotmail account? Do you realize this is a cloud-based service? The cloud is not a new philosophy, just a new expression for some existing and old technology. The cloud can be explained as a service that is hosted via the internet where you do not need shared resources, software, and other hardware to utilize this service. All that would be required is a computer along with an internet connection.
Cloud services are great for Gmail, file sharing such as Dropbox, and some hosted based applications. Cloud-based services have some very distinct advantages and just like anything else, have some disadvantages.
Your advantages are easy to account for:
- Low cost of hardware- You will not require expensive back office equipment to run your databases and applications. All of your file sharing that was going to be stored on a server in your office will be stored online. Your upfront costs are very low. Typically, hosted services in the cloud are setup so all you need is an internet connection and a computer.
- Maximum uptime/availability- Any decent cloud-based provider will have multiple customers that require use of this service. This provider would guarantee a certain level of uptime or availability of their service by having it available to you at peak times of your business. They will have redundancies (power, telecommunications, hardware, and security) in place to avoid a single system failure at their site, thereby maximizing this uptime or availability.
- Maintenance- Maintenance will be performed during the cloud provider's off peak times, such as the middle of the night or on weekends, minimizing your downtime during a work week. Maintenance, such as enhancements and fixes to the application, would be performed without client intervention and would allow for quick and easy software patches to correct an error.
The disadvantages of a cloud-based system:
- Ownership of data- You do not own your data. If you use a cloud-based application called XYZ CRM and you decide to move to another vendor ABC CRM, in some cases you will have no guarantee as to what data XYZ will give you. Your data is essentially stored on their system and they will retain ownership of the information. The cloud-based provider will tell you that you can retrieve your data but it may not be in a usable format or the format that you may prefer. As with all conversions of data from one software package to another, there is a very high probability that you will never get a one to one translation for your data if you were to move from a cloud-based application, whether it is to another cloud-based provider or to host your own information.
- Accessibility/speed- In the preceding paragraphs, I wrote about how maximum uptime can be achieved with a cloud-based system. However, this does not guarantee accessibility to the application or data. Many cloud-based applications transfer small amounts of data down to your individual system. For applications that require more data, such as imaging, calculations, or reporting, a cloud-based system will be slower. Should you need to transmit a set of digital images from a camera or a radiograph, the access to this data will be much slower. A typical network on a customer site can work at 100MB to 1.0GB. This means that you can access your data on your network at one hundred million bits per second up to one billion. The fastest cable provider in our area can deliver from five million to thirty million bits per second. As you can see, having a system on premise will always be much faster than something in the cloud. When looking at a cloud-based application it is best to determine how much speed is required and what you will be transmitting before making a final decision.
- Cost- Many would say that cost should be considered an advantage but I would say the opposite. In the determination of a cloud-based system, you should determine how long it would take to justify the monthly cost of the application versus what it would cost to get the system put in-house. If you brought your system in-house you would need hardware to run all of the databases and applications, a software purchase to install on the hardware, and the cost of a qualified IT professional to set this up. However, as this cost may be high up front, it does have a low monthly overhead. The break-even point where you would have paid off your on-premise system versus the cloud-based system is typically 18-24 months. When you surpass the break-even point, this is when you start to spend more for a cloud-based system than an on-premise application.
- Contracts- Typically a fee for service cloud-based provider will lock you into a contract for their services. These providers know what their break-even point is and how to maximize their contract with you to make the deal profitable for them. These contracts may be longer than you want and have excessive cancellation fees.
- Downtime- I mention an advantage of a cloud-based application was uptime, but how would downtime hurt you? In a traditional premise-based application, if your system goes down you call your local IT support and dispatch them to correct this. Depending upon who you use for local IT support you should get same-day response. If your cloud-based provider has an internet or power outage you will have to wait on them. For instance, what if your provider is based in Silicon Valley and they have an earthquake that cuts power to the facility? How long are you willing to be without your data while you wait for the local California power company to restore power to your provider? You will not have any control over downtime and it may or may not be excessive. Does your provider reimburse you for lost revenues? I would say they will not.
Overall, the pros and cons aside, it should depend on your application's features and benefits to determine if you need cloud-based services. Specific applications have been proven to be successful, such as e-mail of file sharing. Application hosting has been around a very long time but may not provide you with the service you expect to differentiate your business from your competitors.
Work with your peers and local IT support to gain insight on what would and would not work to help you determine the right path. Good luck!
Author: Bradley T. Wilson is Vice President of Technology for IRIS Solutions and is responsible for the daily service and support of the clients of IRIS Solutions. He has done hundreds of installations for new practices utilizing various practice management software and peripherals as they relate to dental practices and the use of images for patient treatment. He can be reached at 704-523-3877 or at www.irissol.com
September 28, 2011
Remember the old sci-fi movies that had a storyline based on technology and healthcare together? Even the more recent films have used this idea. "Avatar", for example, used technology to repair a soldier's leg after an injury. While such advances are from from reality, one step closer has been made.
Engineers in Utah have developed a way to use Wi-Fi receivers to monitor a patient's breathing with no wires, no tubes, and no intrusion. The technology, known as "Breath Taking", can be used for elderly patients with COPD and Emphysema, infants and newborns, and even patients with Sleep Apnea.
Because Wi-Fi signals can see through walls and are even taking on new roles as burglar alarms and motion detectors, engineers decided to take it to the next level. They found that a network of 20 wireless transceivers around a hospital bed were able to estimate a patient's breathing rate to within two-fifths of a breath per minute. Because the chest and abdomen move during breathing, which impedes crisscrossing signals, each of the nodes can receive and transmit to and from the other 19 transceivers, resulting in as many as 380 measurements of radio signal strength. To detect breath, a computer algorithm squares the amplitude of the signal on ever link between nodes and averages that volume over the 380 links. Pretty remarkable!
Although the use of robotic surgeons to repair an injury in hours instead of the body taking months will probably not be an option the next time you wind up in an Emergency Room, at least we know we're on the right track.
August 4, 2011
Just like traditional home phone lines from the major phone companies, cable television could be headed out. I spent some time this past week looking through the channel selections from Time Warner and could not settle on what to watch. It was a Saturday evening and during the time when the big 4 channels (ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS) have started re-runs. Thanks to Time Warner the channel selection is massive, but I just wanted some basic "cops catch the bad guys" show for about an hour to feed my ADD just long enough before I feed my body a typically greasy burger and fries from the local watering hole. Now I thought I would just look through my DVR list but remembered the major channels are playing re-runs so I decided to check back through On Demand but they only have the last three weeks of programming.
Well now that we have established my ADD and I have spent fifteen minutes looking for a one hour TV fix I remember hulu.tv. Hulu is just one of many online television sites. I grabbed my handy laptop and logged right in and got what I was looking for: an episode of CSI that I have missed. I started looking and could quickly view by show, network, genre, or even go to movies. I did manage to find that elusive hour of free time to sit there and watch this show with little commerical interruption.
Take it one step further. Netflix is yet another service but not free like hulu. It is $7.99 per month but comes with movies, shows, and media sent to your house on DVD format. Combine this with a PlayStation or Nintendo Wii, and an additional $8, and you can stream this off the internet. Or if you don't want DVDs sent to your house, you can get the streaming only package for $7.99. You can also watch this on your laptop, tablet, pc, or mobile phone.
So with all of this available and HD sources to match, why am I still paying for cable TV every month?
July 6, 2011
The past couple of weeks were tough for anti-virus manufacturers and we started getting a lot of phone calls for virus problems. Our hardware anti-virus solution has proven to be more effective than software solutions but this latest virus attack got through everything. We were able to find the site that caused the virus and watch it happen. We tested every single flavor of the major anti-virus software companies the next day and all of them allowed this site through and then a rootkit was installed.
The rootkit is one of the nastiest attacks because it installs software that morphs and changes on every reboot and the latest attack was done with Windows Recovery. The virus downloads and removes all files and folders from the "C" drive. They are still there, just hidden. The virus also reports hard drive failures and system problems.
We had a very hard time removing the infection but thanks to one of our hard working techs, Mike Baldwin, we found out how to kill this nasty piece of software. The website in question was a plugin from Yahoo Mail and we did find that a fully patched system with Windows, Adobe, and Java updates did seem to stop the attack.
Keep your system up-to-date and make sure you are cognizant of where you are going to prevent malicious software because sometimes anti-virus is just not enough.
June 24, 2011
Have you ever launched Internet Explorer and found half of the browser window occupied by toolbars? Generally these are helpful toolbars that increase efficiency for the user, but not for the PC. While you are waiting for all of these toolbars to load you could wash a car, clean the room, or play a full game of Monopoly.
Each of these toolbars requires time to run, memory resources from the PC, and often interact with the websites you are visiting. Now imagine that for each website you visit, six toolbars are interacting to receive and send information about the site you have landed on. Not only does this drastically reduce the speed of your computer, but many of these toolbars are considered spyware and must be removed with anti-malware removal tools.
Get rid of these toolbars and give your PC the break it deserves!
April 20, 2011
We live in the age of the social network; Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn...they're everywhere! Though these can be useful for reconnecting with old friends and family, or just catching up with the day-to-day activities of your acquaintances, the social network has become a hacker's playground.
Just in the last week four new security threats have been identified on the popular social networking site Facebook, all of which seem to redirect the user to another page. The hacker plays on your urge to see who's been looking at your profile or on your desire to win a free iPad, but be weary of the shorter, unusual-looking links entered into others profiles and posts. A news feed on Facebook from one of your best friends may say, "Look who sees your profile... click here... www.bity.bti." In your mind you may be thinking, "How Cool! Now I can see who's been looking at me!" but with just one click from the office computer you have exposed the entire database and network infrastructure to a savvy hacker. These links should make you a little suspicious, no matter if you're on an office or personal computer, but the threat of such a breach should be enough to steer anyone away from such a link, or websites such as these altogether, due to the possibility of HIPAA violations and lawsuits that may result from private entries and information being scattered across the net.
Don't put yourself, your information, or your career/office in jeopardy, because the next time you see a post on one of these sites that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.