Core Computing Blog

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The Malware We've Been Warned Would Come Is Here

Make sure you're patching your systems. Or call us and we can take care of all of your patching needs for you.

A NEW STRAIN of ransomware has spread quickly all over the world, causing crises in National Health Service hospitals and facilities around England, and gaining particular traction in Spain, where it has hobbled the large telecom company Telefonica, the natural gas company Gas Natural, and the electrical company Iberdrola. You know how people always talk about the Big One? As far as ransomware attacksgo, this looks a whole lot like it.

Read the full article here.

https://www.wired.com/2017/05/ransomware-meltdown-experts-warned/

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Internet Privacy In A Time of No Privacy

Since browsing habits are now up for sale, we at Core are recommending that you keep yourself safe, secure, and free from tracking by using a VPN. VPN is the acronym for a Virtual Private Network. A VPN is a safe and encrypted network. VPN client software on your computer or smartphone connects you to the secure network. So long as that's active, all that you do on the internet is private. Your shopping habits are safe and, so, you have no information for the ISP to sell. Here's what it looks like:

Image from PIA http://www.privateinternetaccess.com

After much research, we are recommending that our clients use Private Internet Access for their VPN needs. They have servers all over the world and, most importantly, they do NOT share their logs with anyone. Their mission is complete privacy.

You can sign up here: https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/pages/buy-vpn/corecomp and then give us a call if you need assistance getting it set up. It's really pretty painless and PIA's walkthroughs are helpful.

Protect yourselves and your families' privacy.

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Tech Helping Domestic Abuse Survivors

We think of tech as social media or business functions. But tech could serve a higher purpose. It could save lives.

"One afternoon three years ago while her children were playing in a park, Kristin Mathiesen was nearby trying to use the precious moments she had to organise a way to leave her abusive partner.

“I had set myself a target to leave him,” she explained. “I only had a few minutes to make the call to the refuge but it turned out I needed to make a couple more calls including a national helpline because there wasn’t a suitable room, it was so much hassle. I didn’t have a smartphone to research anything quickly and in the end I just booked a hotel.”"

 Read more:'I had minutes to make the call': the tech helping domestic abuse survivors

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Oh, Those Russians Again...

If you have Kaspersky antivirus on your PC, you may want to rethink that decision and choose another. I don't want to be political on this blog, but there's some scary privacy issues here.

From Robert Reich on Facebook - Sunday, April 2, 2017  (https://www.facebook.com/RBReich/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf):

 

The noose tightens.

1. Recall that after former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was told recently by the White House she didn’t have clearance to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, and then, when she said she was going to do so anyway, Devin Nunes, the Republican chair, cancelled last week’s hearing.

2. One of the people Yates was planning to discuss was former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

3. Last week Flynn asked for immunity from prosecution in return for spilling some beans.

4. Now we learn that last week the White House asked Flynn to “amend” the financial disclosure form he turned in months ago before he was named Trump’s National Security Advisor.

5. Guess what? Flynn’s “amended” disclosure, released yesterday, lists income from Flynn's consulting firm, whose clients are not revealed, as well as income from several Russian firms that he had left out of his original form -- including the cyber-security firm Kaspersky Government Security Solutions.

6. Kaspersky makes some of the world’s most widely used anti-malware programs, and has documented ties to Russian intelligence agencies. The company’s founder, Eugene Kaspersky, was educated at a KGB-sponsored cryptography school, and worked as a Russian intelligence agent. An investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2015 found that the company frequently used data collected from its hundreds of millions of customers to aid Russian authorities -- including the KGB’s successor, the FSB -- in criminal investigations. Since 2012, many high level positions at the company have been filled with former Russian military and intelligence agents.

7. In December, Russian prosecutors charged a manager at Kaspersky with treason, saying he and two Russian information-security officials were “interacting” with U.S. intelligence officials, according to a defense lawyer in the case.

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The Russians are coming...for your Mac?

We've been recommending anti-virus and anti-malware software to our clients for a year or more now. But we still get pushback on it. For the longest time, we Mac users had been free from the worry of hacking and viruses and other assorted malware. But those days are gone (and have been for a while). Enter the Russians...

The Russian hacking group APT28 has created malware that targets Macs. The malware uses Xagent which, on the Mac, is a backdoor to the system. It can be used to execute file or to log passwords, amongst other things.

How does this actually happen? Well, not being a programmer I can't give you a detailed explanation. What I can tell you, though, is that one way it executes itself is by taking advantage of a vulnerability in MacKeeper. You know, that software that is advertised as a protection and cleanup suite for your Mac? It's sneaky too...sometimes you don't even realize you've downloaded it. It shows up on speedtest.net and looks just like the kind of button you should click to start your test. Yes, even I have gotten taken by the ploy. It's not a fun experience and it's, somehow, always surprising when it happens.

Our advice, as always, is to be very careful where you go on the internet. Pay attention to everything that's clickable. And if it doesn't come from the Apple Store and you didn't go looking for it specifically, don't download it.

And always always always, if you're not sure...call us.

Read more about the hack here: https://www.macrumors.com/2017/02/14/xagent-malware-targets-macs/

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Starbucks and Alexa

I don't know how secure these things really are. There is disagreement as to whether they are listening all the time or not. The consensus, though, is that we pay for Amazon Echo and our other IoT devices with more than our money. We pay with our data. Whether or not you choose to participate in the Internet of Things or not is up to you. But I encourage you to think long and hard before jumping in for the mere convenience of being able to say, "Alexa, order me a grande no-foam-triple-double-espresso-with-a-shot-of-hazelnut-carmel-topped-latte." 

http://mashable.com/2017/01/30/starbucks-alexa-pickup/#i.vs_7BisiqX

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Smart TVs and ransomware

We've seen it in computers...hackers lock up a user's data and hold it hostage for some fine in, usually, bitcoin. But who would have thought their tv could get infected?! 

From the article below: On Christmas day, a family member of software developer Darren Cauthon received an unwelcome gift. According to Cauthon, that person “downloaded an app to watch a movie” on his or her LG smart TV, and the device froze soon after. When it rebooted, it was stuck on a screen purporting to show a letter from the desk of FBI Director James Comey, one claiming in subgrammatical English that the device had been locked up for “your attendance of the forbidden pornographic sites.” To make good, the letter warned, the device’s owner would have to pay a $500 fine.

Read on:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2016/12/28/ransomware_reported_on_smart_tv.html

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AT&T Debuts Call Protect Service

AT&T today announced Call Protect, a complementary service aimed at protecting its users from automated phone calls, also referred to as robocalls. The service debuts five months after the U.S. Federal Communications asked wireless companies to offer free robocall blocking services. 

The service offers two solutions to stop robocalls. It can automatically block numbers suspected of fraud at the network level, preventing them from reaching your phone entirely, or it can deliver the call from a suspected number with a fraud warning on the display. The latter feature requires the user to be in an area with HD Voice support. 

AT&T customers can activate the feature via their MyAT&T account or by downloading the AT&T Call Protect app. The app allows users to look at call details, receive spam warnings, block specific numbers and turn on and off Automatic Fraud Blocking. 

Read the full article here:

http://www.macrumors.com/2016/12/21/att-call-protect-blocks-robocalls/

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Update: Evernote Changes Its Mind

Just a day after Evernote released its new privacy policy stating that its employees could read users' notes and data, the provider rescinded that portion of their policy.

Evernote's CEO, Chris O'Neill, said, "We announced a change to our privacy policy that made it seem like we didn’t care about the privacy of our customers or their notes. This was not our intent, and our customers let us know that we messed up, in no uncertain terms. We heard them, and we’re taking immediate action to fix it."

"We are excited about what we can offer Evernote customers thanks to the use of machine learning, but we must ask for permission, not assume we have it. We’re sorry we disappointed our customers, and we are reviewing our entire privacy policy because of this."

However, there are certain circumstances in which particular Evernote employees may still view users' notes such as responding to a warrant or investigating violations to their Terms of Service. Users have no ability to opt out of this. 

So, the news is better on the Evernote front I wonder if this will leave a sour taste for Evernote users, though. 

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Machine Learning and Its Practical Impact

From SAS (http://www.sas.com/en_us/insights/analytics/machine-learning.html) -

"Machine learning is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. Using algorithms that iteratively learn from data, machine learning allows computers to find hidden insights without being explicitly programmed where to look."

In practical terms, machine learning is what companies use to learn your likes and dislikes. It allows them to market products directly to you that you didn't even know you wanted but can't live without. Ever notice how Facebook always manages to put up advertisements about things that you have JUST been looking at? Machine learning. Ever notice how once you look at a fake news site you see more and more of those suggested to you? Machine learning.

From a day to day perspective, machine learning can be annoying. From a security perspective, machine learning should worry you. Here's why (and I quote from http://gizmodo.com/here-s-what-you-should-now-use-instead-of-sketchy-evern-1790104632): "Starting on January 23, 2017, Evernote says the shift to machine learning means the service will collect data and then adjust and offer you services based on how you use Evernote. New reliance on machine learning technologies to improve the service means that “human review is simply unavoidable” in order to 'make sure that our machine learning technologies are working correctly.'”

Sure, you can opt out of the machine learning part of the Evernote update, but you cannot opt out of the humans-can-read-your-goodies part of the update. Our recommendation, therefore, is if you are concerned about other people reading your data, that you remove all your notes and put them into some other application. Here at Core, this is what we will be doing.

For the next couple of weeks we will be testing various options for notetaking. We'll post back here when we have a great recommendation.

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When Hopes and Dreams Become Reality

When I was growing up, baseball to me was kind of the essence of all that was good in the world. I loved the game. I loved to play it, I loved to study it, I loved following it, I loved watching it. And the essence of all that, the spirit of baseball, all boiled down to a quote from Ernie Banks, “let’s play two.” To those guys back then, yeah, they needed money to live and they fought for raises and such, but not like today. Back then, they would have played the game for living expenses. Back than it was the love of the game that drove them, not the money. 

With the Cubs win yesterday, all of that kind of came back full force. Especially so when I read a Facebook post from Cody Lefkowitz, the 22 year old son of Pam Lefkowitz, with whom I've worked for over 20 years. It’s really more of an essay on baseball than a Facebook post. I’ve known Cody since he was three. There is no one alive anywhere who loves the game more than he does. 

His goal in life is to be a general manager of a major league team. He spent this summer after graduation searching for his next gig and making a few bucks here and there as a Patched Umpire for any baseball or softball league that would hire him. At the moment, he’s working his way up the ladder. He’s got a position as Media Director with a minor league hockey team (http://www.jackalopes.org/) in Odessa, TX where among many other things, he is the on-air broadcaster. He gets paid an intern salary (not much money, LOTS of experience). 

Most importantly, he’s been a Cubs fan all of his life.

Here’s his post as it appeared on Facebook today, the day after the Cubs won the 2016 Series. (Quick note for those not familiar, “Zayde” is the Jewish term for grandfather and “Bubbie" for grandmother. Dudley was and Shirley still is, two of the most die hard Cubs fans who ever lived.) Anyway, here it is:

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From Cody Lefkowitz:

"I can't believe it. It's only been 22 (Almost 23) years in my lifetime, but I feel like I was there for the full 108. My heart has been broken. I've cheered, I've screamed, I've cried. I couldn't have asked for anything better. EVERY... SINGLE... BIRTHDAY wish in the past 22 years has been for a Cubs World Series. I go to petting zoos just to feed the Billy Goats in hopes that the baseball gods would look upon it and it would be enough.

I've gone through the Stages of Grief and the only thing left is acceptance... I still can't believe it. From 1,232 miles away, I'm dressed head-to-toe in Cubbie Blue, wearing my W flag as a cape, because this team is full of heroes. Every last one of them.

From the goat, to the black cat, onto Bull Durham's Buckner-esque play, all the way to Bartman, I've stuck with this team. Everyone says we did this for Harry, and while he is the Poster Child for the Cubs, he is not Cubs baseball.

This team did it for the legends that have left us: Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Jack Brickhouse, Ron Santo, and Ernie Banks. They did it for the legends that are still with us: Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, and Mark Grace. This team has come in to debunk these "curses" and defy the laws that have been set for them.
I think about my love for the team and my love for the game in general. It's all thanks to my Zayde. 10 years ago, he was taken, but from the start, he's been the biggest fan. Him and my bubbie had season tickets for years. Not only did they do this for the legends, but they did this for the most legendary fans any sport has to offer."

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Below is a pic posted by his oldest brother, Jesse. Cody is third from the left. All three boys are in Cubs gear. Jesse, the oldest brother is second from the left. Randy, the middle brother is on the right. On the left is a mystery guest (or at least a mystery to me.)

14915694_10107098798971888_6389127283773743327_n.jpg

- Jim Vestal

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An ounce of prevention…

Your IT needs are driving you nuts. You aren’t sure when - or who - to call for help, what to update, what not to update. Hey… is this a virus, trojan, worm, ? How dangerous is it? What do I do about it? My email or backups or maybe even your server isn’t working.

If you run a business, you know the dilemma. Staffing an IT department often isn’t cost effective. But then, neither is having your executive assistant act as your IT staff. Every minute a member of your staff is doing IT work is time that they aren’t helping the company in your core business.

Which brings us to the proverb referenced in the title of this blog entry, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of managed services.

Properly done, a good managed services provider will make your IT support almost invisible. They do it by providing proactive support to prevent issues from appearing in the first place. It might include virus protection, email spam protection, email services, software updates, security updates, backups, file sharing. On the rare occasions when you need something special, a good provider will have a ticketing system in place that will reach a member of their team immediately and deal with whatever issue you are having quickly and efficiently.

One of the wonderful things about technology today is that no longer is it required that a tech be on site for every little issue. In today’s world, remote tools are very effective. Now, it’s possible for a support person to be actively engaged with the problem computer in under a minute. In most companies that’s faster than an IT staffer could walk to the problem.

But the real beauty of all this is that almost all of this is done after hours and done remotely. No longer will your workday be interrupted by someone coming around to update a piece of software. You won’t be faced with mountains of spam mail, your backups are always done (and done offsite for maximum protection), not to mention all of the other services usually provided in the managed services package.

A good provider will put together a package that consists of a core suite of tools and tasks that will take care of all of the basic IT needs. And a really good provider will be able to find, implement, and maintain solutions specific to the way you run your business. Email, onsite and cloud backups and storage solutions, constant monitoring of your environment and general support. It all comes in one package, at one price, which makes budgeting for your IT needs incredibly easy.

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The 25 best hidden features and tricks in your iPhone's latest update

Business Insider recently posted an article on iOS 10 we thought you might be interested in! Click the link below to read the article.

25 Best Features of iOS 10

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Over The Hill or Just Over IT

On July 9, 2014 I gave a presentation at the PSU MacAdmins conference on the topic of staying viable in your IT career entitled "Over The Hill or Just over IT".These are the slides from that presentation. file File Name: Aging-in-Tech.pdf Fi...
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