We have several items of interest to cover in this post so it may be a bit longer than usual. Please take a moment to read through this and let me know if you have any questions…


***Okay, everyone knows the web is full of scammers but we all need to be hyper-cautious even with the best known sellers out there. I had an incident with Amazon recently where a client was looking for a particular item. Amazon had the exact item at an amazing price. I did the normal thing, put the item in the cart and then instead of the expected checkout process, I got a notification to e-mail the seller in order to complete the transaction. What they wanted me to do was to buy an Amazon Gift Card, send them the card number and then they’d send the item out to me. Red flags went up everywhere because once you do this, the seller cashes in the Gift Card and vanishes into thin air.

It took me almost a week to get the Amazon Customer Service people to even understand what I was trying to tell them. How did someone get on the Amazon Marketplace seller list without any sort of verification? Apparently, Amazon doesn’t know, either… so if you are placing orders on sites you normally trust and something like this seems out of the ordinary, stop, call us and we’ll see what’s really going on before you end up losing time, money and maybe even your identity.

***Amazon isn’t the only one I’ve had issues with lately. Newegg is one of my most trusted sites. I’ve been buying from them since before they were even called Newegg. But they have a similar Marketplace setup on their site, as do most vendors and it’s due to the higher level of competition in the online sales area. The long and short of it is that I had a client who urgently needed several refurbished units and my default vendor was offline while they relocated their company. So I found the refurbished systems I needed which were from a vendor I have never used. The item description was specific about the units being refurbished under the Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher program. That means a new activation code and a certificate of refurbishment, a fresh software load and so forth.

What arrived was a group of units that had none of that and worse yet, the systems were damaged in numerous ways. The Operating System was a clone from some Enterprise installation and in general, it was a mess. Newegg is the best at handling this sort of thing as they will boot these types of vendors out of the Marketplace program since it gives Newegg a bad name. So that issue has been resolved but once again, it calls for caution when you are between a rock and a hard place trying to get what clients need at the best price.

***Microsoft Help calls… here’s he scenario… someone calls you and says they are from Microsoft and have noticed that your computer is infected and needs to be fixed. If you agree, they get your credit card number and proceed to really wreck your system (often loading Trojans and other Malware in the process).

Microsoft will never, ever call you for this or anything else unless you have initiated a support call with them first. Even then, it’s notoriously difficult to get them to call you back. So if someone of questionable accent calls you and says they are from Microsoft, tell them, “That’s nice” and hang up on them…

Security Breaches… Current and Potential

***If you don’t know by now, Yahoo recently admitted they had a massive security breach to the tune of 500 million accounts… in August of 2014!!! They didn’t bother to notify the site users until now… The hackers got usernames, passwords, security questions/answers and who knows what else. Once this occurred, the hackers promptly started selling the account information on the dark web a small bit at a time in order to go unnoticed. Then they began sending account holders a bevy of false invoices, infected e-mails, Ransomware infected attachments and so forth. While I personally don’t use Yahoo, (never have and never will) if you or someone you know does use this site and maybe even Flickr, Yahoo Finance or Yahoo Fantasy Sports, it’s way past time to change some stuff. Here’s a decent guideline article from CNN which you can check out if needed… http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/22/technology/yahoo-hack-password-tips/

***I’ve mentioned this before but it is now getting to the point of big-time, major critical… Old network Routers and old wireless access points are vulnerable to hacking. That’s the result of everything being enabled and linked (the Internet-of-Things). It is a near absolute that very few home users have changed their router username and password. The standard default for most devices straight from the factory is usually admin/admin. This means most home systems (TV, Internet, Security Cameras, etc.) are wide open. Fortunately for us, that’s not our area of business.

In our networks, we always set these things up in as secure a mode as possible. But even at that, older equipment is now vulnerable to hacking. One of the most recent methods is for hackers to access this equipment, overwrite the device’s Operating System and make it appear to be exactly what the vendor loaded from the factory. That means they would have near-complete access to the network Gateway and from there, into the network and you’d never know it was happening until it was too late. It is as common as rain to log into networks for the Morning Report checks and find many users still logged onto their systems. So, if a hacker can access the Gateway and then go to a conveniently open machine (especially one where the user has a high level of credentials), they are in to the heart of the business data… accounting, client information, banking… While this is a bit more technical, this article from Homeland Security highlights this point… https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/alerts/TA16-288A

It’s our job and our commitment to keep our supported networks secure.  Consequently, we have been pushing for everyone to upgrade to a SonicWall Router for some time now. Also, we are working through Wireless Routers and Wireless Access Points to upgrade them to Ubiquiti versions which have Enterprise-level security features. This press will continue and eventually we will have this vulnerability closed down as much as possible. Compliance is mandatory for continued support, period, end of conversation.

***Without exception, our client base not only requires the Internet for business, advances in Cloud Computing and vendors moving applications there means secure Internet access continues to be the area with the most challenges for an IT Support company. Upgrades to connectivity hardware is only one factor in the mix. Last year we started expanding our multi-layer approach to security by adding in Third-party updating capability (JAVA, Adobe products, etc.), OpenDNS for Gateway protection and soon we’ll add WebRoot in the mix to handle Anti-Malware/Antivirus at a level above Trend Micro. Not too long ago, all this would have been looked at as overkill. Today, it’s now just the minimum and if history is any indicator, as we build out a solution, the challenge will change sooner rather than later.

Windows 7… end of an era

***It’s now official. As of 31 October 2016, Microsoft will stop allowing vendors to sell Windows 7 on new machines. This means all new systems will come with Windows 10. If you know anything about the Windows 10 Operating System, you know it has some fine features and some glaring outright work stoppage failures. The problem list is too long to go into here but from our IT Support perspective, it will be much harder to manage updates that don’t crash systems, resolve problems when software issues arise at the Workstation level and so forth. Even our highest and most experienced tech resources for this subject are close to throwing their hands up in total disgust with Microsoft. For us, it has been a constant war with them since they killed off Small Business Server and started forcing Windows 10 on unsuspecting systems. The battle continues…

So after 31 October, we can only get Windows 10 systems and we don’t know if this end-date for Windows 7 will include Authorized Refurbisher vendors, Open License purchases and so forth. So I think we should all expect more pain from Microsoft’s current direction…

4th Quarter Tasks

We have been overloaded with projects for the 4th Quarter. It seems we knock one down this week and two take its place next week. In fact, we already have several lined up for the first few months of 2017.

As of today, 19 October, we cannot take on any further major projects through the end of 2016. There are currently three new Servers, two new site setups and at least a dozen known Workstations in the mix. All that must be completed by 1 December. Other than confirmed work-stoppage issues, we will not be scheduling much of anything in December as we will be hip-deep in a top, down review of the business operations configuration for this company.  We will be reviewing changes to the software used for Managed Services (a major revamp if we change this), the communication methods for client contact, Network Status reporting procedures and all things related to company operations. If we get requests for major projects with a completion date falling in the remainder of this year, we will not accept.

FY2017 Support Agreements

Yes, it’s that time again. I’ll be finalizing the documentation for FY2017 support and getting it out to everyone by the end of October. I need the signatory page returned by 15 November so I can update the accounting application. Please designate a Primary and Secondary Point-of-Contact for your company and remember those two are the only ones who will have authorization to allow us to make purchases for your company. Also, please take note of the 24/7 Notifications entry. If you want 24/7 then please be sure to indicate that.

As we did last year, there will be a Managed Services section and an Enhanced Security section in the Support Agreement. Those who have Datto, Exchange Defender e-mail filtering or web hosting services will be billed for those items outside of the Support Agreement.

Also, once again, we will not be changing our labor or travel rates this year. The previous year’s reduced rates for Labor, Help Desk, Travel remain intact. Any increases in Support Agreement rates will be directly tied to two things; growth in number of supported units at the site and additions to the Enhanced Security package.

After 23 years in this business, we know our service and fees are still better than any competitor out there but as always, if you are unsure, I certainly recommend you check apples to apples with any other IT Company you might be interested in. People have been known to occasionally make that switch and for some unknown reason, our phone numbers no longer work if they need to call us for help after the fact. Must be Global Warming or some such thing…