If You Use the Internet, Make Your Voice Heard

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The following was published as yesterday’s Tech Talk column in Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

Net Neutrality is in danger of being rolled back and if you use the internet, especially for work, you must make your voice heard on this important issue. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be voting to roll back Net Neutrality Thursday, Dec. 14, so the time to speak out is now. So you understand what is at stake, let me first provide the background.

Net Neutrality is a term that is often used to refer to FCC rules that guarantee open access to broadband Internet services. In simple terms, this means anyone is able to purchase internet access from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in their area and that ISP must supply this access equally to all consumers, individual or commercial. Once you have that internet access, Net Neutrality rules further state that the ISP is not allowed to limit or block your access to content on the internet in any way.

So, let’s look at some potential real-life scenarios where Net Neutrality is critically important to both consumers and businesses. In the greater Seacoast, we know Comcast is the major provider of residential and business internet access. We also know that just south of the New Hampshire border, in many Massachusetts communities, Verizon is also a major provider of internet access. While in the city of Portsmouth, there really is no competition for internet access for residential customers, there is competition for commercial customers. In many Massachusetts communities, Comcast and Verizon compete for both. This competition is a good thing, though it remains restricted in many communities due to outdated franchise systems that limit competition. That’s the situation we face for the individual consumer here in Portsmouth, for example.

So while Net Neutrality is supposed to ensure open access to the internet, it does not address true competition for that access where local franchise agreements are in place between municipalities and providers. This dates back to the early organizations that brought cable TV and internet to local communities. They needed exclusive franchises to ensure they would have the long-term revenue required to recoup the massive infrastructure investments needed to bring these services to the communities they serve. That time has passed and more competition is necessary now, more than ever.

But where Net Neutrality really comes in to play is in the guarantee that access to online content not be in any way limited or outright blocked. Consider this scenario. Comcast owns NBC. NBC, as we all know, is a major media network and delivers a host of content online. Verizon owns Yahoo and as we know, Yahoo is a large provider of free email and search services. The current Net Neutrality rules guarantee that if either Comcast or Verizon is your ISP, they cannot restrict your access to online services provided by the other. Now let’s consider what the reality may be if Net Neutrality is reversed by the FCC on Dec. 14. Let’s say Comcast is your ISP in the Seacoast. Instead of pricing its internet service based on the speed you want, which is how it works today, it has access tiers. Let’s say for $29.99 a month, you can get internet access from Comcast. However, that pricing tier does not allow you access to Yahoo.com or any of its services. If you want access to Yahoo.com and all that it offers, you have to subscribe to a more expensive tier of service. That service could cost double, triple or more the cost of the basic tier. This is a fictitious example today, but could become reality after Dec. 14 if the FCC rolls back Net Neutrality protections.

This is not a good thing. People unable to afford an unrestricted tier of internet access could be faced with subscribing to levels of service that provide internet access, but not full and unrestricted access. The ISP they get their internet access from could make decisions about what content they have access to. The implications of this are profound. Just look at what happened with the 2016 elections and what we now know about targeted ads that were purchased by foreign actors to influence the vote in certain areas of the country. Now think about the implications if content is only made available to certain audiences based on their ISP and what they can afford for service. It could be disastrous. An entire generation or generations could grow up thinking they have free and unfettered access to the online world, when in fact they do not. It’s a fundamental right that must be preserved.

Fortunately, a group of like-minded organizations has put together a website where you can contact your members of Congress and ask them to implore the FCC to maintain Net Neutrality. The website is www.battleforthenet.com and I encourage you to visit the site and take action. I have also published a number of posts about this issue on my blog at mjshoer.com and I encourage you to read those as well. I have a link to an op-ed written by Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel about this that is quite compelling. But first, take action, visit www.battleforthenet.com and educate yourself more about this issue. They have some great links and videos that make this issue easy to grasp. Consider this a call to maintain free speech online. This is one of the most important issues of our time and I hope you will join me in encouraging the FCC to maintain Net Neutrality.

Safety Reminder from KnowBe4

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KnowBe4 is a great business partner, focusing on end user security training to keep employees safe online.  They have released a great video, just in time for the holiday shopping season.  Watch this quick video for five simple tips to help keep you safe through the holidays and all year long.

2 Years: What a Ride, In the Blink of an Eye

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On December 1, 2015, my MSP company, Jenaly Technology Group, Inc. was acquired by Internet & Telephone, LLC.  Fast forward to December 1, 2017, two years to the day from that acquisition and Internet & Telephone, LLC is now Onepath, having been acquired in May 2017.

Personally, I have gone from being the President & Virtual CTO of Jenaly to the CTO of Internet & Telephone to the Director, Client Engagement & vCIO at Onepath, here in our New England offices.

What a ride!  It’s been a blast.  People often ask me why I’m still working for the same company, especially after two acquisitions.  It’s really quite simple.  I enjoy it, every day, even the tough ones.  Seriously, I love what I do and I get to work with some of the best and brightest in the business.

2When I decided to sell Jenaly to Internet & Telephone, I was not actively looking to sell the business.  I was however, concerned about keeping the company on the leading edge and being able to provide our clients with the expanded technical capabilities and services that I saw them needing over time.  I was also concerned with being able to provide my staff with career growth opportunities beyond what we were able to provide as a small business.  Internet & Telephone raised the idea of acquiring Jenaly out of the blue.  We had danced around the idea from time to time, as we have known each other for close to 25 years and helped each other grow our businesses.  When the idea surfaced, there were more reasons to pursue it than not.  So the marriage was made.

A mere 17 months later, Internet & Telephone and Onepath came together in May 2017.  The circumstances were different, but the overall themes that brought the companies together was more similar than different.  The breadth and depth of resources and the incredible talent that Onepath brings to the table are formidable.

Most importantly to me, our clients remain some of the best, most loyal clients there are.  Our client attrition through two acquisitions has been minimal.  The benefits we have brought to our clients have been substantial.  Our employees have benefited as well, now part of a larger organization that offers more career advancement opportunities, more benefit options and brings provides more resources to ensure team success.  We continue to help our clients reach their business goals by leveraging technology in ways that set them apart from their competition.  It’s a very fulfilling experience, personally and professionally.

So as you can see, it’s been an interesting journey these past two years.  Regrets?  None.  Opportunities?  Unlimited.  Here’s to the future!

You can read more about my MSP journey here.

Apple Mac OS Security Risk

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OSXRiskApple has acknowledged a flaw in the latest version of the Mac operating system, OSX, also known as High Sierra..  Simply put, if you did not set a “root” password when you setup your Mac, your computer may be vulnerable to hacker being able to take advantage of root account to perform malicious activity.

Apple has released a patch as of this morning and it is recommended that all users who have updated to the latest version of OSX apply this patch right away.  Here is the link to Apple’s article on this issue:

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208315

If you are a Mac user, please apply this fix ASAP.

 

Net Neutrality is Better than Not

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There are a lot of voices being heard with regard to Net Neutrality.  On December 14th, the FCC will vote on whether to rescind standing Net Neutrality regulations.

Many are in favor of removing the regulations, many more are not.  I’m in the “not” camp.  I’ve posted about this before.  For sure, there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue.  For me, the negatives of repealing Net Neutrality far outweigh the positives some people are in favor of.

I’ve met and heard two FCC Commissioners speak over the last several years.  Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and current FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.  I respect them both, but agree with Commissioner Rosenworcel over Chairman Pai.

Commissioner Rosenworcel recently wrote the following op-ed in the LA Times.  It’s well worth a read and should clarify the issue for you, if you are not sure what this vote is about.

Op-Ed: I’m on the FCC.  Please stop us from killing net neutrality

If you agree that Net Neutrality should not be repealed, and I hope that you do, please consider signing one or more of the following petitions to let the FCC know how you feel:

White House Petition – Do Not Repeal Net Neutralityprotectinternet

Petition to the FCC: Stand Up for Net Neutrality

Leave Net Neutrality Alone: Common Cause

Change.org: Save Net Neutrality

 

Shop Safely This Holiday Season

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The following was published in today’s edition of Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

So Thanksgiving has come and gone, as has Small Business Saturday. Tomorrow is Cyber Monday. The deals keep coming and the enticement to shop online and retail is at its height for the year. So how do you ensure you shop safely? Here are a few recommendations, not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year.

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When shopping retail, your largest risk is at checkout. Whether you are writing a check, using a debit or credit card, it’s important to know your risks and the technologies available to mitigate them. Checks are tough. Some people swear by them, others avoid them at all cost. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a check. Frank Abignale, the FBI security expert of “Catch Me If You Can” movie fame, never writes a check. He believes checks are the easiest transaction to forge and he would know. If you haven’t seen the movie about his story, you may want to watch it. His words carry the weight of experience and some hard lessons learned.

When it comes to debit and credit cards, Abignale recommends never using a debit card as it has direct access to your bank account. Instead, he advocates for using a credit card and paying it off every month. Now there’s the trick, paying it off every month. For many, this is easier said than done, but his point is well taken. Credit cards have consumer protections that safeguard you against fraudulent charges. Debit cards do not. Once the money is pulled from your bank account, it’s very difficult, if not impossible to recover.

Whichever type of card you use, be sure you use the chip feature and don’t swipe the card. Magnetic readers are easy to hack or replace with what’s called a skimmer. A skimmer reads the cards magnetic stripe, sends the payment information to a hacker while still passing the transaction through to the point of sale terminal where you swiped your card. It’s one of the most common forms of debit and credit card theft out there.

Several consumer advocacy and law enforcement agencies have warned of point of sale terminal hacking this holiday season. If a store you shop at has been hacked, even if their credit card machine itself has not been compromised, a hacker may still be able to grab your payment information. Chip technology safeguards against this by using on-chip encryption for your payment card data and each transaction done with the card. If a retailer is not accepting chip, tell them you have to shop elsewhere. There’s no reason not to and their credit card processors are charging them a higher fee for not using the chip.

Where you can, I also recommend using Apple Pay, Samsung Pay

 

 

 

, PayPal and similar payment services. Especially if all you have is a debit card, linking that card to these services will insert a layer of encryption and security to your transactions that the debit card alone cannot. These are more secure ways to pay and will help protect you, online and offline.

When shopping online, there is ample technology available to safeguard you. Be sure you take advantage of it. First and foremost, be sure you are only shopping at websites that have https and not just http. The “s” indicates the site is secured with secure socket layer encryption, or SSL. If a site is not SSL, everything you enter in to your browser is clearly available to anyone who may be intercepting your Internet traffic as it travels from your web browser to the site.

I also recommend not clicking on the millions of ads and links you receive in your email. Sophisticated hackers will impersonate legitimate companies and offers, in an effort to get you to click their link, which would bring you to a fake site, setup to steal your identity and payment data. Instead, just enter the site address in your browser and get to the site this way. Once on the site, search for the deal you are looking for. Chances are, if it’s a legitimate offer, you will be able to find it right from the website’s homepage.

A few other considerations for shopping safely online include using a VPN and privacy mode in your web browser. A Virtual Private Network connection to servers on the Internet masks your online activity for prying eyes. If you connect securely to a company network for work, chances are you may be doing so via a VPN. The same principal holds true for a VPN for Internet access. Think of the Internet as a four lane highway and think of a VPN as a tunnel that gets placed over one of the lanes and that is the lane you travel in. No one can see where you are going and where you enter and exit the highway. This is what a VPN does for your Internet use. Don’t use a free VPN as you get what you pay for. No one is so altruistic that they put this technology out there for free. They are capturing something of value from you. Instead, subscribe to a reputable VPN service if you decide to go this route. It’s well worth the modest cost.

Finally, consider using privacy mode in your web browser. All browsers have this and it does a decent job of masking your online activity, avoiding ad trackers and cookies, technologies that make you wonder how that ad showed up in your browser for something you were thinking of shopping for. When you want to be sure what you do online remains private, privacy mode is the way to go.

I hope I haven’t scared you away from shopping this holiday season. That is not my intent. Instead, I hope I have given you some good ideas to protect your identity and your bank account this holiday season and throughout the year. Happy shopping!