Olympic Technology is Going for Gold

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This post was originally published in today’s Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

The Olympics taking place in PyeongChang is a spectacle of technology that is giving us a glimpse into our future. With technological powerhouses like Samsung being one of South Korea’s most well known exports, it’s no wonder technology is taking center stage.

Intel Olympics Drone TechnologyThis awesome display of technology is not without its pitfalls. On the first day of this year’s Olympics, hackers took center stage, breaking into some Olympic technology and causing the office website of the 2018 Winter Games to be taken down overnight. As of now, there does not appear to have been any serious breach, but investigators are still at work and we may not know what has really happened during the Olympic Games until well after the Olympic torch has been extinguished in PyeongChang.

One of the massive challenges for technology at an event like the Olympics is security. It’s even more of a challenge due to the nature of the event. A temporary sporting event that brings the attention of the world on a small part of the host country for a short window of time. Talk about a target of opportunity.

Olympic Games are put on by local organizing committees under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee, the IOC. Technology contracts are awarded to multiple companies by the local organizing committee and are often decentralized, meaning each vendor chosen must secure their own networks. This brings multiple players to the table and multiple vulnerabilities. Intel, Samsung, Visa, Atos, Korea Telecom, Comcast, NBC and more all have extensive technology infrastructures in place at the Olympics. Even clothier Ralph Lauren has introduced technology to Team USA’s uniforms for this year’s Winter Olympics. The jackets Team USA will be wearing include active heating technology to keep the athlete’s warm.

Multiple organizations and government agencies have warned attendees to steer clear of public WiFi and be on alert for all manner of cyber scams. Some have gone so far as to recommend turning off WiFi and Bluetooth while at the Games, to avoid what are known as drive-by attacks, where a hacker may theoretically access your device to steal information and use it as part of a larger attack.

There will be plenty of technological marvels on display, from Intel’s amazing drone light shows to Samsung’s robots. A robot even carried the Olympic Torch for part of the relay leading up to the lighting of the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremonies one week ago. Technology will also be available to the athletes to help them tune their performance and maximize their experience. Suits with smart sensors will provide a level of athletic performance feedback not previously seen. It will be interesting to see if any competitors make changes based on this new information that will be available.

Another first for these Olympics is that all of the technology systems running and broadcasting the games will be Cloud based. You won’t find the temporary data centers that powered past games. This year, critical systems will all be physically away from the games in Cloud data centers. There are some fifty critical applications behind this year’s Olympic experience, all out in the Cloud.

Even with this reliance on the Cloud, there will still be well over three thousand IT workers on the ground in PyeongChang supporting the games. Whether things are based in the Cloud or not, you still need an on-site IT infrastructure to enable everything from accurately capturing race times to broadcasting the events live online and to television viewers worldwide.

For spectators who are in PyeongChang, Intel is providing virtual reality experiences from the athlete’s point of view. Imagine putting on a virtual reality headset and finding yourself hurtling down a slalom course at 70 to 80 mph. You can if you want to.

I mentioned Visa earlier as one of the technology companies on display at the Olympics. Yes, Visa is a financial services company, mostly known for issuing debit and credit cards. In PyeongChang, Visa is showcasing payment technologies of the future. There are contactless payment terminals throughout the venues. Visa provided special rings to the athletes that have embedded payment technology, allowing an athlete to simply wave their hand over a payment terminal to pay for something. Visa even has smart gloves in use so that when you are outside, you won’t have to take your gloves off to pay for something. Just place your hand near a payment terminal and make your payment.

The Olympics are always a great event, showcases known and unknown athletes and great stories of triumph and defeat. Technology is giving us a glimpse into the future as well this year, except the future is now.

Happy Birthday Surface Pro

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The Microsoft Surface Pro turned five years old this year.  In a short five years, Microsoft has penetrated the mobile computer device market with stunning success.

As you know from my recent blog post Kudos to Microsoft Surface Support, I’m a fan.  While my system is a Surface Book, it is a descendant of the Surface Pro.  According to Microsoft, the idea behind the Surface Pro was the following:

“We wanted to challenge the concept that people should have to choose between the portability and convenience of a tablet and the power and productivity of a PC.”

Here’s a nice graphic of Surface Pro’s first five years and a video that Microsoft has put out to celebrate.  Speaking of celebrating, if you’ve been thinking about getting a Surface Pro, now’s the time.  Microsoft is offering a $200 discount this weekend to celebrate.

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Meltdown & Spectre, What You Should Know

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Over the last few days, mainstream media has been sounding the alarm over two security vulnerabilities named Meltdown and Spectre.  What is unique about this latest security threat is that the flaws are within the design architecture of the processors that run virtually every computer and mobile device on the planet.  Yes, you read that right, you are almost certainly impacted by these flaws.

So, now that you are concerned, what should you do?  In a nutshell, watch for operating system and software updates and apply them as soon as you can.  Not your anti-virus or anti-malware software.  These won’t help.  Watch for operating system and firmware updates, as well as application updates and apply them.

If your company works with an MSP, like the company I work for, you can likely breathe a little easier.  Companies like Onepath were aware of these threats before the news hit and have been actively monitoring for patches from the hardware and software manufacturers, testing them and pushing them out to managed computers and mobile devices to patch them against the threat.  We sent out an advisory to all of our managed clients on Thursday, which may review at this link.  There is some good information in this advisory, including links to more detailed articles on the matter.

As of now, it is unclear if any malicious actors have actually used these threats to steal information.  It is thought not to be the case, but this is a rapidly developing story.  The good news is that to exploit these threats on a computer or mobile device, a hacker would need to get their malicious software installed on your computer or mobile device in order to take advantage of the exploits.  If you are practicing safe computing, you are likely safe for now, just as you should be against any malicious threat.

Cloud server infrastructures are thought to possibly be at greater risk.  Cloud providers are working diligently to patch their infrastructures to protect their customers, but most of us have less control over those resources as they are managed by the Cloud providers. We have to rely on them to tell us what they are doing to safeguard their systems.

For those that are interested in the technical side of this issue, Meltdown allows access to information running in memory on the affected computer or mobile device.  By allowing a hacker to gain access to what’s in memory, a bad actor could potentially steal passwords and other sensitive information, including what’s stored in password managers and browser sessions.  Spectre, on the other hand, allows a hacker to jump between applications, penetrating a security isolation long thought to be impenetrable.

As I stated earlier, the real risk to the average business and consumer is really not yet known.  The best defense is a strong offense, so making sure your computers and mobile devices are updated when manufacturers release their updates is the best thing you can do.  Some updates have already been released.  Others are thought to take days, weeks or even months to get to users.  I will continue to monitor developments related to these threats and posts updates as new and actionable information becomes available.  In the meantime, stay safe online and keep your defenses up.

IT Themes for 2018 from CompTIA

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The following press release was issued by CompTIA today.  I’m very pleased to have been quoted in the section on “From product sales to service subscriptions.”

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 CompTIA Board of Directors Identifies Six Tech Themes to Watch in 2018

 Downers Grove, Ill., December 21, 2017 – Artificial intelligence (AI) will stake out a larger role; a greater emphasis will be placed on the user experience with technology; and protecting personal data and information will become more critical in 2018, according to the board of directors of CompTIA, the leading technology industry association.

The new year will also see technology companies focused on new government regulations and requirements, led by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); evolving their business models to rely more on the sale of “as a service” subscriptions; and taking new actions to combat cyber threats.

The CompTIA directors at a board meeting earlier this month spent time trading ideas and debating the impact of nearly 20 trends likely to impact the technology industry in 2018. Six themes rose to the top of the consensus list of technology trends to watch.

Artificial intelligence (AI) expands its presence – A recent CompTIA survey found that one in four companies make regular use of AI in areas such as machine learning, virtual assistants, workflow tools, and in the automation of processes and tasks. Another 19 percent of organizations expect to adopt AI in the next year.

More focus on optimizing the customer experience – Options for acquiring technology have expanded, driving providers to find new ways to maintain relationships with current customers and acquire new clients. Optimizing customer experiences with technology is a crucial step in maintaining and building relationships; but it requires a thorough understanding of both user expectations and business objectives.

“The emergence of technologies that enhance the customer experience will be an important tech theme for companies wanting to stay ahead of the competition in 2018,” said Dan Shapero, founder, ClikCloud Digital Marketing. “Companies using artificial intelligence, chat, call center and mobile web to enrich customer experience will reap the benefit of increased customer loyalty, greater efficiency and higher margins in the foreseeable future.”

Protecting personal privacy – The security and personal privacy challenges associated with how consumer information is collected, used, analyzed, and shared will grow in importance as millions of new interconnected devices come online through the expansion of the Internet of Things, smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and other innovations.

Government requirements and regulations – The pace of innovation greatly exceeds the speed at which governments can adopt, alter, expand or eliminate policies and regulations. This can create inherent tensions between technologies entering the market – often at the demand of customers – and governments’ ability to regulate. In 2018 one of the biggest regulatory issues technology companies will face is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the new primary law that will regulate how companies protect European Union citizens’ personal data.

“Government regulation becomes more stringent when it feels the need to do a better job of protecting people than it deems the industry it’s regulating is doing,” said Tracy Pound, managing director, Maximity. “The GDPR is intended to provide consistent enforcement of data protection rules that increase an individuals’ rights to control data held about them; and to ensure that companies holding data can demonstrate accountability for that data and have good governance processes in place. It applies to any company that processes, stores or transmits personal data belonging to EU residents. It will still apply to the UK post Brexit, making it a global issue rather than a European one.

“With industry surveys stating that less than 10 percent of companies are prepared for the GDPR, this is a significant opportunity for tech companies to reinforce being a true trusted business advisor by providing insights and services that help clients navigate the new regulation in order to help them minimize the risk of data breaches and to demonstrate compliance,” Pound continued. “With maximum fines of 4 percent of global turnover or €20 million, tech companies and their clients need to wake up to the volume of preparatory work in documenting systems, educating staff, bringing policies and procedures for processing data up to date and making changes to be ready for the deadline of 25th May 2018. Expecting this to go away and to do nothing is a game of Russian Roulette.”

From product sales to service subscriptions – The “everything-as-a-service” model is not a new phenomenon. But the subscription service model continues to evolve as businesses expand their reliance on the technology ecosystem. In this fast-changing market many companies – traditional technology firms and new market entrants alike – are striving to carve out their niche.

“As the ‘as-a-service’ model of technology acquisition continues to mature, traditional resellers are facing significant changes to their established business models,” said MJ Shoer, director, client engagement, and virtual CIO, Onepath. “While there will always be a need to make capital acquisitions of technology, subscription models are now the norm and some traditional customers are now procuring their technology from multiple sources. This requires that technology solution providers drive value by helping our customers understand and leverage this evolving market trend. We also need to help our customers leverage technology to improve their workflows and business processes to gain a competitive edge.

“Technology solution providers also need to adapt to the changing security landscape,” Shoer added. “While many traditional MSPs are building security practices within their existing business structure, this leads to concerns about the fox watching the hen house. How technology solution providers bring security services to their customers while ensuring the integrity of those services will be paramount to providing the type of services most customers will require, especially with increasing government regulation like GDPR and others.”

Cyber readiness – Video gaming communities, hotels, fast-food restaurants, retailers, healthcare providers, educational institutions, government agencies, and business services providers were just some of the victims of cyber-attacks and data breaches in 2017. Despite improvements on many fronts, threats show no signs of abating. In fact, evidence suggests that things will get worse before they get better, with the attacks growing in both frequency and virulence.

“Going into the new year we expect cybercriminals to stick with the malware that makes them the most money: ransomware,” said Scott Barlow, vice president, Global MSP, Sophos. “In fact, according to recent research by Sophos, 2018 could potentially bring the explosion of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS). These hacking kits, designed to make cybercrime accessible to anyone regardless of skill, will drive global ransomware levels through the roof.”

As the leading trade association for the technology industry association CompTIA provides a vast selection of education and training materials, research and market intelligence, webinars and conferences, business best practices, member communities and advisory councils, and more on a wide range of technology topics. Visit www.comptia.org to learn more.

CompTIA: Building the Foundation for Technology’s Future

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is the world’s leading technology association, with approximately 2,000 member companies, 3,000 academic and training partners, over 100,000 registered users and more than two million IT certifications issued. CompTIA’s unparalleled range of programs foster workforce skills development and generate critical knowledge and insight – building the foundation for technology’s future. Visit CompTIA online, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to learn more.

Contact:

Steven Ostrowski
CompTIA
sostrowski@comptia.org­
630-678-8468

Apple, Please Fix Do Not Disturb While Driving

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Back in late September, I posted about 2 Excellent iOS 11 Features to Enable.  One of those features is Do Not Disturb While Driving.  Well, after using this feature for a few months, I’m sorry to save it is flawed and desperately in need of an update to address a few serious shortcomings.

WazeI use Waze, pretty much every day, as it is far superior to the built in navigation in my car.  The problem is that by having Waze open, Do Not Disturb will not enable.  Why?  Because the feature requires that your phone be locked.  This just doesn’t make sense.

Android phones have had this type of feature, mainly through 3rd party apps, for years.  Due to Apple‘s strict control over the iOS operating system, which I support, iPhone‘s have not.  This is admittedly Apple’s first attempt to address this need, but it lacks some proper planning and is a flawed implementation.

Many states, like my home state of New Hampshire, have or are enacting hands-free laws, which is a great thing.  The amount of incidents involving distracted drivers using their phones has become an epidemic.  You see it on the road every day.

The premise of this feature is that you can’t use your phone, except as a hands-free device, nor will you get any pop-up notifications that would distract you, while you are driving.  Great concept, flawed implementation.  Here’s my real world experience over the last few months.

With Waze open, Do Not Disturb While Driving will not activate.  I have it set to automatically activate when my iPhone connects to my car’s Bluetooth audio system.  Once I determined this was happening, I placed an icon to manually enable Do Not Disturb While Driving manually from the Control Center.  While this does enable it, it does not work reliably, again, because I have Waze active on my iPhone.  Only some text messages receive the auto-reply that I have configured.  Most do not.  I also get every pop-up notification, which is a distraction.

Here is how it should work.  You should be able to set app exceptions that are allowed to be running and still allow Do Not Disturb While Driving to function properly.  It should not be dependent on the phone being locked.  I should be able to get in my car, open Waze, put my phone on it’s mount, connect it to vehicle power and as soon as it connects to my Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb While Driving should activate.  I should not receive ANY pop-up notifications until I have turned off the car or pressed the home button and clicked the I’m Not Driving pop-up that displays when Do Not Disturb While Driving is active.  Anyone who sends me a text message, should receive my configured auto-reply and the very cool feature, an additional notification informing them if they send the message again with the word urgent, it will come through and notify me.  This is s smart emergency notification option.

I’ve sent this feedback to Apple and am hoping they will fix this in an update soon.  I’ll be monitoring this situation and will update you as I learn more.  In the meantime, stay safe and only use your phone hands-free while driving.  Your fellow drivers, riders and pedestrians thank you.

T Minus 2 to Black Friday: Today’s Recommendation

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If you are thinking of cutting the cord, your options have never been so plentiful.  From Smart TV’s to streaming media devices, it may actually be possible to cut the cord this year.

One of my favorite streaming devices is the Amazon Fire TV.  It’s a small HDMI dongleFireTV that plugs in to the HDMI port on your TV.  Amazon sells three versions, the Fire TV Stick at $39.99 is the smallest and portable.  The current version does not yet support 4K video, but still delivers impressive quality, at 1080p, on any TV.  The Fire TV is $69.99 and does support 4K and HDR video.  There is also a bundle that includes an HD antenna to pick up local digital broadcast networks.

If you are an Amazon Prime member, you have access to an incredible library of content and apps to really make the Fire TV and impressive media device.  Each version also includes the Alexa enabled voice remote, which lets you search and control playback with your voice.

With live TV services like Hulu Plus with Live TV and YouTube TV, you now have access to more services than ever.  Most concerns with cutting the cord are around access to local broadcast networks, including syndicated sports broadcasts.  Amazon Fire TV and many of the other streaming services now have options to satisfy just about every viewing desire you may have.

If your cable bill is really starting to bother you, this may be the year to explore cutting the cord once and for all.  Even if you are not yet ready to cut the cord, these devices make a great gift that will allow the recipient to explore the world of entertainment beyond what the cable company delivers.

Today’s Recommendation: Accessories for Safety

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I’ve blogged about Scosche before.  They are, without question, my favorite manufacturer for mobile accessories.MagicMount

Especially here in New Hampshire where we have a tough hands-free law, if someone on your gift list is still taking their and others safety in their own hands, you will want to give them the gift of safety.  Get them a Magic Mount and tell them it’s time to be hands-free!

Scosche’s Black Friday Sale is underway and I encourage you to check it out.  From the wide array of mounts for your car and home, to portable batteries, cables, speakers and more, there is a gift for everyone available on their site.  Happy Shopping and most importantly, Happy Hands-Free Safety!

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