Please Use a VPN on Public WiFi

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I’m sure you’ve heard the term VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network.  Most people are familiar with it in the context of connecting remotely to their work network.  For those that aren’t familiar with a VPN, here’s a word picture I often paint to describe what a VPN does.

VPNThink of a four lane highway as the public Internet.  All the cars traveling on this highway are equivalent to each person’s Internet traffic.  As one car passes another, you can look at or in the car and possible see some of what’s there.  This is akin to unencrypted traffic traveling across the Internet, it can be seen and watched by others.  This is why sending sensitive information across the Internet is not safe, as it may be seen by those it’s not intended for.  When you use a VPN, your Internet traffic is sent across an encrypted connection.  Think of an encrypted connection as being like those pictures you see in Car and Driver Magazine when they publish “spy” reports on the next model year of vehicles.  The vehicles are typically wrapped to conceal what they actually look like and the windows may be tinted so darkly that you can’t see inside.  This is like encrypted traffic on the Internet.  You know it’s there, but you can’t tell what it is.  When you establish a VPN, it’s even better.  It’s like putting a tunnel over one of the four lanes on the highway.  The “public” traffic is happily driving along three of the lanes, able to see one another and get where they are going.  The traffic that is being sent across the VPN is being sent in the new tunnel that has taken over one of the lanes.  You know there is traffic there, but you can’t see it or access it.  It can only be seen at it’s starting and ending points.  It’s the safest way to send data, especially sensitive data.

When you connect to a wireless hotspot in a public location like a town square, a restaurant, hotel, etc., you are connecting to a very “public” network.  You should never log in to your bank or other sensitive site over a public wireless network.  Unless you are using a VPN.  If you use a VPN when connecting to these public networks, then you can safely connect to secure sites and protect your traffic from being seen by others.  I have used a VPN for years, for this very reason.

There are many excellent VPN’s on the market, but I am very excited that a company I trust a lot, Webroot, has a VPN specifically designed for WiFi.  Webroot has been an innovator in the cybersecurity space for years.  Their anti-virus/anti-malware tool, Webroot SecureAnywhere is a leader.  They have now added Webroot WiFi Security.  If you already have an anti-virus/anti-malware solution that you are happy with, you can add any VPN easily.  If you are looking for a better anti-virus/anti-malware solution and a VPN, there is a great bundle of both available as well.

I encourage you to check out Webroot’s WiFiSecurity.  Whether you decide to use that solution or another VPN, just pick one and stick with it.  You’ll be glad you did and a whole lot safer as well.

Your Facebook Account May Not Be Hacked

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But telling all your Facebook friends not to accept your fake friend requests may actually be helping the hackers, so you may want to think about deleting those posts.

Facebook Fake AccountI don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed was inundated with friends warning me not to accept friend requests from them as their account got hacked and these are fake.  While the requests may be fake, the account has probably not been hacked.  Yes, Facebook had a significant security breach recently, with over 50 million accounts potentially impacted.  You may have noticed after that news broke, that you were logged out of your Facebook account and had to log back in and create a new password.  This was Facebook’s proactive response after the breach, to try to require all its members to be safe.

Here’s the reality of the situation:

  1. Your account may not be actually hacked.  An account does not have to be actually hacked in order for a hacker to copy your profile picture and pretend to be you and send out friend requests.
  2. Your friends should know if they are already friends with you.  They should not accept a friend request from you if you are already friends.  This is simply common sense.
  3. By posting not to accept friend requests, you may be playing in to the hackers hands.  They want to disrupt Facebook and clutter feeds to make people frustrated with Facebook.  Don’t help them.
  4. Definitely don’t forward messages on Facebook messenger.  Those could spread a potential virus without you knowing.  Just ignore and delete the messages.
  5. You should never copy and report Facebook statuses like this or others that seem innocent enough.  These often let the hackers know who is vulnerable to their ploys and they will use this against you, now or in the future.
  6. If you want to know if you account has actually be duplicated, just search Facebook for your name.  If you see more than one of you, then someone is trying to impersonate you.  Follow Facebook’s process to report a fake account.  That’s the best way to deal with these things.

At the end of the day, just use common sense.  Ignore friend requests from people you are already friends with.  Don’t help the hackers out by telling all your friends to ignore those requests, just ignore them and move on.

Tech Talk: Sextortion is the Latest Email Scam

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SextortionThe following article was published in today’s editions of Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

The headline is racy, Sextortion. It’s the latest email scam circulating the internet and it certainly raises some eyebrows and causes anxiety for many recipients. The good news is it’s an email scam that sounds a lot worse than it is.

Here’s how it works. You receive an email with a subject containing a username and password you are either currently using or have used in the past. The message goes on to say that you recently visited an adult website and while you were there, the sender of this email installed malware on your computer. This malware allowed them to take control of your webcam and record you. Unless you agree to send a ransom in Bitcoin, the sender threatens to release the videos they have of you and the adult websites you have visited to your contact list.

The sender also employs a little odd humor, commenting on your good taste in adult videos you watch. That aside, there is nothing funny about this. This scam plays on your sense of privacy and prudence. It attempts to shame you into paying a ransom to protect your reputation. It’s just the latest example of extortion attempts via email.

So where are the bad guys getting your username and password? The first thing to confirm is whether the password is one you use currently. It may be. It may also be one you have not used for years.

So where are the bad guys getting your username and password?  The first thing to confirm is whether the password is one you use currently.  It may be.  It may also be one you have not used for years.  Most security researchers believe that the usernames and passwords are being obtained from databases on the Dark Web that have millions of compromised credentials, gathered from numerous data breaches that have taken place over the last ten or more years.  The problem is that many people don’t change their passwords often or use a unique password for each site you need a login for.  So, it’s quite likely that the password may still be in use, on at least some of the web sites that you visit.

The good news is there are no reports that anyone has actually had the threats in the email carried out. But the threat is what gets people to take action and in some cases, actually pay the demanded Bitcoin ransom. You should never do this as it just fuels these scams. All indications are this is an automated scam, mining data on Dark Web and crafting these email messages. If the bad guys behind this receive even a small fraction of the ransom they are demanding, they will make out pretty well. Don’t fall for the scam and help them make money.

So, what can you do to help protect yourself against email scams like this? Use a strong password, preferably a passphrase that consists of several words put together to create a strong passphrase that will be very difficult to hack. I recommend a bare minimum of 12 characters, mixing upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use the same password on more than one website. This is probably the most difficult thing to do, with all the username and password combinations you have. If you struggle with this one, look into a password manager to help you manage all the usernames and passwords you have. If you are not familiar with password managers, Google them and read user reviews to see if one may be good for you. Also, be sure to enable two factor authentication whenever it is an option, to further secure your logins.

Most importantly, if you get one of these messages, don’t panic and absolutely do not reply or send the ransom. The worst thing you can do is engage in an exchange with a hacker like this. Or pay them.

A Labor of Love

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If you regularly follow my blog, you know I love technology.  You know that I also post an occassional personal thought and in this post, I’m combining both.

My wife Jennifer Shoer is a professional genealogist.  Her business, Reconnecting Relatives, helps answer questions that families have been asking for generations and reconnects lost family members with one another.  This is her labor of love, as technology is mine.  The most important thing I do, is support her research and be sure her technology is always doing what she needs it to do.

Technology has had a huge impact on the world of genealogical research.  The digitization of centuries of records, some becoming available for the first time since the end of the Cold Way, has revolutionized this research and lead to discovers that have impact beyond words.

My cousin Michael Shoer is another member of my family who has had the good fortune to pursue labors of love, first from his impressive career on the ground floor of CNN to his latest venture, Creative Word and Image, Inc. in Atlanta and his @boomzoom video channel on YouTube.  Michael creatively leverages technology to bring important messages and stories to life in effective ways.

Michael and Jennifer recently leveraged video technologies to bring an incredible missing piece of our family history to not just our family, but the world.  The ability to find this missing evidence was a breakthrough that Jennifer has been working on for years.  It’s an amazing discovery that has brought joy and sadness to our family in a profound way.  Most importantly, technology has allowed Michael and Jennifer to preserve this important historical record for generations to come.

This is why we all love what we do…

Goodbye Net Neutrality

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Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority fo the citizens of this country support net neutrality, politics has prevailed over the will of the people.  Such is the state of our current political system.

We still live in the greatest democracy that humanity has ever known, but it is flawed.

The House of Representatives has so far, refused to act on the issue.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that the Senate voted to overturn the FCC repeal of net neutrality.  For that overturn to move forward, the House needed to act and they have not.  Should the House choose to act at some future date, then the President would also need to sign off.

At this point, all we can do is bombard the House and White House with plea’s to listen to their continuents and vote to overturn the FCC’s repeal.  For now, we are left to sit back and see if the large broadband Internet providers change the way their networks operate or if costs begin to rise in order to maintain unfettered access to all of the Internet.  Only time will tell.  Hopefully, watchdog groups will keep an eye on this, as there is still a transparency requirments, so providers must disclose if they begin to prioritize traffic.

Keep the pressure up at a grass roots level.  It’s never to late to save net neutrality, but as of today, the prior protections are officially no more.

An Undersea Data Center

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You read that right, an underwater data center has been created by Microsoft.  Yes, that Microsoft.

The so called “submarine data center” is a giant tube packed with a whopping 864 servers.  The ocean will offer natural cooling to the data center that sits on the ocean floor off the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland.  Cooling is one of the most expensive components of a traditional data center, so this renewable aspect of cooling should cut down on a major cost component.

The tube is about the size of a shipping container and is designed to the deployed rapidly off the coast of major cities allowing for more expansion of cloud capabilities.  What’s not yet clear is how any hardware or power failures would be addressed in a large tube that sits about 100 feet below the ocean surface.

Microsoft plans to monitor this new prototype data center for a year, to determine it’s future viability.  While Microsoft is touting the renewable energy aspects of this development, one does have to wonder if there will be any heat bleeding from the tube and any ambient noise coming from within that could disrupt the marine ecosystem where these tubes are placed.  It will be interesting to see what is learned over the coming year.

sunk-data-center

Here is a link to more details, including videos and photos of the data center.  It’s worth a look and read.

https://news.microsoft.com/features/under-the-sea-microsoft-tests-a-datacenter-thats-quick-to-deploy-could-provide-internet-connectivity-for-years/

Yes! We did it! But there’s more to be done.

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Yes!I am thrilled to report that U.S. Senate has voted to overturn the FCC repeal of net neutrality rules.  Thank you to everyone who read my posts and took action to make your voice hear.  While this is a great victory, sadly it only gets us to first base, using a baseball analogy.  To get to second base, the measure will now go to the U.S. House, where it faces more opposition.  Three Republican Senators voted based on the desire of their constituents to protect net neutrality.  Thank you Senators Collins, Murkowski and Kennedy for representing your voters over your party.  It’s sad more Senators did not do the same, but that is the state of hostile politics in our nation today.

Now we need to flood the House, especially the Repulican Representatives, to encourage them to vote in support of the repeal.  Only then will the measure move to the President’s desk for signature.  That’s the rounding of third base we need to ensure net neutrality does not go away on June 11.  That’s the home run we need, so if you have a Republican representative, please contact them, repeatedly, and remind them 86% of American’s support overturning this repeal.  The will of the people is clear and is has nothing to do with any political party.  It has to do with what is right for this country, our citizens and our economy.

Thank you for what you’ve done to date.  Please keep the pressure on!  The voice of the people is able to be heard.  Today’s vote proves it.

Go to www.battleforthenet.com to contact your Representative about the upcoming vote in the House.

The Vote Happens Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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This is absolutely our last chance to tell the Senate to vote to overturn the repeal of net neutrality.  It is critical that this message be sent loudly and clearly as if the Senate votes to overturn, the House and President need to follow.  This has become a partisan issue when it never should have been.  Over 86% of American’s do NOT support the repeal, yet right along party lines, Democrats overwhelmingly agree and Republicans overwhelmingly support the repeal.  Clearly send them all a message to listen to their constituents over their party!

Make your voice heard by clicking here.

Take Action

This May Be Last Chance to Save Net Neutrality

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The following was published in yesterday’s Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

On May 3, I had the honor of testifying before a U.S. Senate field hearing about net neutrality. The hearing was held by Senator Jeanne Shaheen as a member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Facebook_profile2It was an official hearing with six witnesses, including Portsmouth City Councilor Nancy Pearson, director of the Center for Women and Enterprise in Nashua, Portsmouth City Councilor Joshua Cyr, director of Education and Acceleration at Alpha Loft in Portsmouth, Robert Zakon, co-founder and chief technology officer of the Zakon Group in North Conway, Zach Luse, founder of Paragon Digital Marketing in Keene and Lisa Drake, director of sustainability innovation at Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry.

The hearing, “Net Neutrality: Impacts on New Hampshire Small Businesses,” was held at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The hearing was kicked off by Stan Waddell, UNH’s chief information officer. He talked about the importance of net neutrality to higher education and UNH in particular. Sen. Shaheen read an opening statement and then each witness gave a statement followed by interactive questions and answers between the senator and witnesses.

Unlike the recent hearings surrounding Facebook in Washington, D.C., I was impressed with Sen. Shaheen’s understanding of the issue and its impact on New Hampshire and really, the entire global economy. She was well prepared and well versed on the matter at hand. Her questions were pointed and important, and the ensuing discussion was valuable for all in attendance. The entire hearing will be recorded on the Congressional Record as will each of the written testimonies submitted.

The main reason for the hearing was to gather more data and input on the impact of repealing net neutrality rules put in place several years ago. If you have been following this issue, you know in 2015, the FCC passed rules that prohibit Internet Service Providers from throttling, blocking or charging content companies for faster response on the ISP’s network, what’s commonly referred to as paid prioritization. The FCC repealed those rules and Congress is debating whether to overturn that repeal. The first step toward such action will be a vote in the Senate using something called a Congressional Review Act, which would be a vote to reverse the repeal and reinstate net neutrality protections.

If the Senate passes this measure, it moves to the House, where it would also have to vote to reverse the repeal. From there, it requires the President’s signature. This should not be a partisan issue, but it has become one. It’s become a fight between Democrats and Republicans without regard to the will of the people.

More than 86 percent of Americans support net neutrality and want to see the repeal overturned. People making their voices heard have built the momentum that led to a historic accomplishment earlier this week when the Senate produced enough signatories to force a vote on the Senate floor. That vote is expected to take place this coming week. There is still time to make your voice heard. It does not matter that the New Hampshire and Maine senatorial delegations are in support of this measure. Take the time to contact them and let them know you support their actions. Visit www.battleforthenet.com and follow the easy steps to register your support.

The Senate only needs one more vote to pass and it is expected that it will. From there, the pressure needs to be maintained so the House follows suit. From there, the president needs to be clear it’s the will of the people that net neutrality be forever protected and that this is not a political issue. It’s an issue at the core of freedom of speech, entrepreneurialism and economic competitiveness. Please do your part and make your voice heard. Thank you.

Your Voice Is More Important Than Ever

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Today, the U.S. Senate made history.  Senators successfully submitted a discharge petition, a picture of which is below, that will force a Senate vote next week to save #netneutrality.  This is a key outcome from the Senate field hearing that I particpated in last week.

Senate Discharge

Senate Discharge forcing vote on #netneutrality. From @JRosenworcel, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

The country is clear, with more than 86% of citizens supporting maintaining net neutrality rules enacted by the FCC in 2015.  Those rules prohibit providers of Internet access from throttling, blocking or using paid prioritization to deliver content across the Internet.

Please take action and make your voice heard.  50 Senators are in support of this action, but 51 are needed for it to pass.  All 48 Democrats are in support as is Independent Senator Angus King of Maine along with his fell Mainer, Republican Senator Susan Collins.  Most observers believe any one of a number of moderate Republican Senators will deliver the needed 51st vote to pass.  From there, the measure heads to the House, which will need significant outreach to get the needed 58 additional Representatives to support.  From there, it will require the President’s signature.

The only way to assure net neutrality is preserved is to put pressure on Congress by making your voice heard.  This is not a political issue, this is a fundamental first amendment issue.  Please make your voice heard by going to:

www.battleforthenet.com and take action!

“Congress is fast approaching one of the most consequential votes on internet policy and free expression this century,” Demand Progress Director of Communications Mark Stanley said in a statement. “Lawmakers are going to have to make a choice, and the sides are clear. They can join with big cable companies that want to control the internet for profit. Or they can stand with the millions of Americans who rely on the open internet for news, entertainment and communication, as well as small business owners who depend on it for their livelihoods.”