New Global Ransomware Attack Underway

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Tuesday has seen a new ransomware attack launched globally. This appears to be very similar to the recent Wannacry outbreak. This attack is reportedly using the same EternalBlue vulnerability attributed to the NSA.

So far the attack has successfully hit organizations across Europe and Russia. While most computers have been patched against the vulnerability, should a single user trigger the ransomware, reports are suggesting this variant can also hit patched systems. 

This variant reboots an infected computer and renders it unable to boot. Reports also indicate that the only recovery option is to rebuild or restore from backup as the email associated with h ransom demand has been shut down by the email host. 

Please remind your users to be vigilant about links and attachments and just not click or open. That is the only sure defense.

Taking Technology on the Road

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This article was originally published in Seacoast Sunday and Foster’s on Sunday, June 25, 2017.

This week’s column comes to you from the Emerald Isle of Ireland, where I am vacationing with my family. As we travel the country, I’ve been taking notes of various uses, or lack thereof, of technology and thought this would be an interesting perspective to share.

489612-taking-your-home-office-on-the-roadMy first impression of Irish technology was not exactly impressive. We flew Aer Lingus from Boston to Dublin and while we were encouraged to download the Aer Lingus mobile app for our trip, it turned out mobile boarding passes were not allowed for our flight. This was the first time I had to print a boarding pass in more years than I can recall. To top it off, when we got to the airport, we learned the boarding pass we were asked to print at home was not valid for the flight. We had to get a boarding pass printed at the airport. To board the aircraft, anyone with a boarding pass printed at home needed to see the gate agent and have it reprinted. An odd process.

Once we arrived in Ireland, the use of technology became far more leading edge. You may book tickets for just about any venue you would like to tour online and when you arrive your tickets are waiting for you.

I have noticed extensive use of technology is in restaurants, primarily in the major cities like Dublin. Waitstaff carry small tablets, mostly Android tablets from what I was able to tell. When you order at your table, your server enters your order into the tablet, which immediately sends it to the kitchen. When the time comes to pay your bill, your server brings the credit card terminal to your table where you insert your chip card, enter your PIN and pay your bill. No signature required. Europe, in general, remains far ahead of the United States in terms of payment card technology, security and ease of use. Paying by card is a much faster process than at home.

As we travel around the country, we have been renting homes in many locations. At our most recent stop in Doolin, in western Ireland, our rental agent met us at the house with her iPad. She confirmed our booking, checked us in and processed our payment, all from her iPad. Connectivity is everywhere. Even on the Aran Islands off the coast near the Cliffs of Moher we had LTE service.

Renting a car in a foreign country, especially one where they drive on the left-hand side of the road, can be a bit daunting. It’s been made quite a bit easier by Waze, the navigation app I use all the time at home. It’s made driving the Irish countryside almost easy, if you remove the narrow roads and fast moving trucks that come at you with no hesitation. Waze has been flawless. If you have not used it, download it for free and check it out.

To keep safe while using a navigation app on my phone while driving on the wrong side of the road, it was critical the phone be mounted close to my line of sight so I did not have to take my eyes off the road. This is where Scosche’s Magic Mount comes to the rescue. I use this in my car with the dash mount at home. This is a suction cup mount that needs no adhesive to stay on the dash. It’s a magnetic mount, so you place a slim metal plate on the back of your phone and it effortlessly stays in place. For travel, I carry the Magic Mount Vent, which attaches to the air vent in the dash. This is how I kept my phone mounted high enough so I could see the map without taking my eyes completely off the road. It’s worked perfectly.

When traveling with several people in the same car, keeping everyone’s devices powered up is key to maintaining family peace. I did not want to deal with the constant battle for the charger to keep five or more phones charged at all times. This is where the RapidX X-5 charger is invaluable. This unique charger plugs into the power port in the car. The piece that plugs in has two USB ports and a five-foot cable that leads to another section with three USB ports and a clip to attach to the seatback pocket behind one of the front seats. This way, people in the front of the car can charge their phones while three people in the rear can charge as well. The ports deliver up to 2.4 amps of power, enough to charge a tablet as well.

Technology is everywhere and by and large its use makes our lives better. Let me know what you see for technology in your travels this summer and Google Scosche and RapidX to find gadgets that will make your travels by car much happier.

Irish Environmental Technology

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They say everything is bigger in the United States. Cars, food portions, the list goes on. In many ways, these are true statements.

One thing that has really stood out to me over the last week here in Ireland, is how much bigger and better environmental technology seems to be.  Especially compared to the US. As good as we are, at so many things, we also seem to lag behind many other countries in areas I would expect us to be better.

Here are some examples of prevalent environmental tech across the Emerald Isle.

Automobiles – By and large, they are smaller than in the US. Given how narrow some of the roads are, this is not a bad thing at all. However, more so than their size, it’s their environmental features that stand out. Most vehicles are diesel and diesel is generally less expensive. You find it at every petrol station. What I find most impressive is that the Diesel engine shuts down whenever you stop, saving fuel and emissions. As soon as you take your foot off the brake, the engine starts. It makes a ton of sense.

Hot Water – Hot water systems in many houses and apartments are optimized for utilization. For example, at the apartment we are presently staying in, the hot water system heats overnight so it’s ready for hot showers in the morning. It’s calibrated to deliver two hot showers a day. If there are more than two showers needed, you simply press a “boost” button to deliver enough hot water for one or more additional showers. It’s far more efficient than keeping a water tank continually heated 24×7.

Wind Farms – Many of the power plants I have seen also have wind farms on their grounds. Makes it hard to make the argument that the wind turbines are unsightly when they are standing alongside the large buildings and stacks of a traditional power station. I have also seen a number of free standing wind farms and they don’t look at all out of place or imposing.

Switchable Outlets – Every wall outlet I have seen has a switch adjacent to it.  When you plug something in to an outlet, you have to also switch the outlet on for it to deliver power to what’s plugged in. This helps conserve power by stopping the trickle effect where most devices draw even a small amount of power when plugged in, even if the device itself is off.

Solar – Many buildings have small solar panels on them to help reduce their reliance on the traditional electric grid. This is an area we are doing considerably better with in the US as well.

Food and Agriculture – Ireland has a rich farming history and that history has laid a strong foundation for continued local sourcing for the food supply. What I noticed, almost immediately, is that chicken is quite different from at home. My son loves wings and orders them whenever he can. The wings in Ireland are like they were when I was young, not the enlarged ones we see in the US now. That’s because these are truly free range chickens and there is considerably less fat and less waste because the portions make sense.

Air Quality – Other countries are generally considered to be far more accepting of smoking than the US, but I would contend that is not the case in Ireland. Smoking is clearly prohibited in nearly every building, private and public. Coupled with other initiatives around emissions and other air quality concerns, Ireland is a leader, not a follower.

Water Conservation – Most of the toilets in Ireland have two flush settings.  One that uses less water, for when there is only liquid waste to flush and second setting to use more water, when flushing solid waste.  I have seen this in the US, but very sparingly.  It’s fairly widespread in Ireland and keeps water conservation front and center and for everyone.

Advancing environmental technology is a national priority in Ireland. All aspects of technology seem to be front and center in terms of educational opportunity as well. I have seen numerous advertisements that encourage students to pursue technology education.  Ireland seems to be doing a much better job training their workforce in technologies for today and the future. As an example, I came across this government statement that seems to capture he national call to action: “The Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) has set out a vision to make Ireland internationally renowned for the excellence of its research and to be a leader in using new knowledge for economic and social progress.”

I’d say that’s not just an impressive vision, it’s a reality taking shape in a small country on an Emerald Isle that has called upon the entire world to embrace green technologies for a better future. Well done Éire!

Travel Tech in the Emerald Isle

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We are traveling around Ireland over the next two Irelandweeks, so I thought I would blog about my use of technology while traveling.  For this first installment, I am sharing the tech I am using to keep us connected and on the right course as we travel from Dublin to Killkenny, Killarney, Doolin, Galway, Westport, Portballintrae, Belfast and back to Dublin.  We are ringing the Emerald Isle.

We rented a couple of cars and are off, on our own, across the countryside.  To be sure we get to where we are going, I’m using my iPhone with Waze for voice guided navigation.  Wave has become my trusted navigation tool over the years.  When at home, I use it to know where the speed traps are and to get rerouted around traffic jams.  Here in Ireland, it’s my GPS of choice and has been absolutely perfect.  Now driving on the left hand side of the road is a story for another time, maybe.

To keep Waze in my line of sight while not distracting me from the task of driving on the other side of the road for first time in my thirty six years of driving on the right hand side of the road, I’m using Scosche‘s awesome MagicMount system.

At home, I use the MagicMount Dash/Window mount.  This innovative suction mount Dash MountMagic Mount Vent1will grip to your dashboard without the use of any adhesives.  When traveling, I use the MagicMount Vent that grips the air vent in the car.  The mount has prongs on the back that are spaced to grip slim or thick vents, so it will work in any vehicle.  Here is a picture of my iPhone mounted in our rental Ford Galaxy.

What makes the mount work is a small metal plate that you attach to the back of your smartphone.  The mount itself, has strong magnets, so when you place your phone to the mount, it sits in place nicely, even over the occasional bump in the road.  It’s the easiest and most reliable phone mount I have ever had.

Waze

The phone sits perfectly on the vent on the right hand side of the steering wheel.  This is just below my line of sight and also keeps me oriented to the right side of the vehicle, which I have learned the hard way, helps keep you from coming in to unwanted contact with things on the left hand side of the road.

I use Scosche’s boltBOX retractable lightning cable to connect my phone to a car charger to keep powerboltBOX flowing.  This great little cable retracts neatly into a small box and extends up to three feet, making it a perfect travel companion.

When traveling with lots of people in a vehicle, competition for the USB plug and any chargers becomes fierce.  The RapidX X-5 is the absolutely perfect car charger when you are traveling with a full car.  This innovative charger has five USB ports, allowing you to charge up to 5 smartphones and tablets from the device.  What makes it so unique, is that the charger that plugs in to the outlet in the car contains two USB ports, like most auto chargers do these days.  However, these ports are on the side and off the top is a five foot cord that connects to another piece with three additional USB ports in a clip that is designed to clip on the pocket on the back on most vehicle front seats.  This provides three charging ports for anyone seated in the rear of the car.  All the USB ports are 2.4 amp capable.  Here are some pictures of the unit in our rental car.

Put together, these travel gadgets have made for easy navigation and happy passengers as we moved from Dublin to Killarney and now to Doolin.  I’ll be posting more updates on tech I am seeing in Ireland and what I’m using to stay connected and productive.

Front Seat Charger

Front half of charger with 2 USB ports and cable connecting the rear section.

 

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This is the rear section of the charger, clipped to the seat back pocket.  You can see the cable heading back to the front piece.

What a Great Open House

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Today we had the pleasure of welcoming customers, prospects, friends and special guests to our Open House at our new state-of-the-art headquarters office in North Andover at the West Mill on High Street. What a fantastic evening. Everyone was wow’d by the new office. Our NOC wall in our Network Operations Center was a big hit. Had not to be with sixteen seventy inch monitors. Here are some photo’s from the event. Thanks to everyone who stopped in over the course of 3+hours into the evening. 

Yes, we put the Red Sox game on at 7 PM.


The NOC Wall, minus any customer information.


We were packed with guests for well over three hours.


The kitchen was a popular spot, as always.

Today is Flag Day

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June 14 is flag day, a day of national pride for the Stars and Stripes, our dear Old Glory.

“That the flag of the United States shall be of thirteen stripes of alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white in a blue field, representing the new constellation.”

As resolved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.

This flag was carried into battle for the first time on September 11, 1777.  Today’s flag has fifty stars on that same blue field, representing the present fifty States of these United States of America.

In perhaps a sad point of irony, my family has personally flown the flag on our home every day since September 11, 2001.  I had not realized the connection of the date until today.

There are several claims to the origin of Flag Day.  Today’s date, June 14, became Flag Day by law after Congress approved the observance and then President Harry Truman singed it into law on August 3, 1949.

Happy Flag Day!

 

Summer Power Outages – Reason for Concern?

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Summer is finally taking hold across the northern hemisphere.  Here in the United States, the advent of summer often also means power outages.  These outages can be caused by pop-up thunderstorms due to the increase in humidity or the drain on the electric grid, often related to the increased use of air conditioning during periods of extreme heat.

However, there could be another reason for an outage this summer and it’s one thatmalware-power-grid-attack cybersecurity researches have warned about for years.  The power grid has been an infrastructure of concern for quite some time now and many contend that it is borderline irresponsible that some of these concerns may not have been addressed. Personally, it is my hope that the vulnerabilities have been addressed.

That said, reports began coming out late yesterday about malware that specifically targets power grids and has proven itself to be effective.  The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, US-CERT issued an alert as well.  The so called “Crash Override” malware successfully took down the Ukraine power grid in 2016.  The outage did not last long, but is considered by researches to be a dry run to see the malware’s effectiveness.  Similar to the Stuxnet malware that damaged centrifuges with the Iranian nuclear program, Crash Override is able to run on its own and does not need an active Internet connection to be effective.

The concern with this particular malware is that it was successful and its design, as reported by security firms ESET and Dragos, Inc., appears to be engineered for adaptable and multiple use, meaning it is not a one time attack tool.  It is designed to be repurposed and reused, theoretically allowing it to be used to attack electric grids in several countries, including the United States and possibly multiple simultaneous attacks.

This builds on a post I wrote back in April titled Technology, Terrorism and Modern Conflict that was based, in part, on an FBI Infragard meeting I had attended, during with risks to the electric grid were discussed.

So, the next time the power goes out, it may not be due to a passing storm or heavy loads on the grid.  It may be hacker.