Welcome to InterconnectNow - Interconnected Technologies' blog about technology and other items of interest to small businesses and individuals.

The topics here will usually deal with productivity-enhancing technologies of interest to small businesses and individuals, but are often of broader interest.  Productivity is the goal of all of this technology that we use. Enabling productivity through refining or adding technology-based capabilities is what we're obsessed with at Interconnected Technologies, and so this blog is dedicated to discussions of all things related to that.

Enjoy!

Entries by Don Ferguson (113)

Saturday
Feb022013

When carriers help too much

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A couple of instances of this particularly difficult issue have come up in the past week, prompting me to set down here a few words that I tell clients when they are considering a new smartphone. This happens across all device types and all carriers, and it’s a throwback to the days when people kept their phone numbers in a cell phone, and cellular carriers needed to copy them to the new device to preserve them.

Here’s what happens:

  1. You have a smartphone. This smartphone is syncing email, contacts and/or calendar with one of the email services recommended by Interconnected Technologies for our clients.
  2. You want or need to get a new one, so you go to the carrier to get it.
  3. During the course of working with the carrier, the helpful sales person offers to transfer your “stuff” to the new phone.
  4. If you have talked to us before doing this (or now if you’ve read this article), you have been told “under no circumstances allow the carrier’s helpful sales person to copy stuff from your old phone to the new one”
  5. You let the helpful sales person do that.

imageAnd that’s where the problem starts. The problem is the way the carrier does this. But it requires a little background explanation: Smartphones have multiple address books. This isn’t apparent to the user since the phone just shows you your contacts in one place. But they do have more than one. One of those address books is the one that is built in to the phone. It’s only on the phone and it doesn’t synchronize with anything, ever. When you add “accounts” to the phone, such as Facebook, or one of the email services recommended by Interconnected Technologies for our clients, you then have additional address books on your phone; one per account.

Remember that the phone usually shows you all of them all squished together; but they’re different. It can and does happen that users of these devices add address book entries to the “wrong one”. “Wrong” here being defined as “any address book other than the one that syncs with one of the email services recommended by Interconnected Technologies for our clients. This can happen (has happened to me!) over time. The solution to this is to either a) disable the display and ability to add to the “wrong” address book (this is possible on some phones, but not all) or b) just make sure to add new entries to the “right” address book.

So here you are, with your old phone with stuff in two address books – the wrong one and the right one, and the carrier offers and you do step 5, above.

What happens is this: To your new phone the carrier copies all of the entries from the wrong address book and all of the entries from the right address book . . . into the WRONG address book on the new phone. So all your addresses appear to be there, and you are happy, until the effects of this become apparent.  Because the very next step is that we (or you, if you know how) will add to the new phone the account that causes the address book (along with email and calendar, usually) to sync to the email service we’ve mentioned above. But now, if you remember how address books work, you’ll see the problem. When you add the new account to the new phone, it will sync the address book down to the phone: to the right address book. But remember, the carrier already copied a copy of all that into the wrong address book.

And so the problem: duplication. Not normal duplication, but a really nasty, hard to untangle kind. With symptoms like this:

  1. You see the duplicates.
  2. You can edit one address book entry on the phone and it doesn’t sync to the email service and yet edits to another entry do sync.
  3. You see entries with duplicates that are different, since if you’ve been following along, you have entries from the wrong address book on the old phone, the right address book on the old phone (now in the wrong address book on the new phone) AND entries in the right address book on the new phone. Some of these will be exact duplicates, some will be partial duplicates.

It gets worse when you don’t notice this at first, and edit several phone entries without knowing which one you’re editing, until you notice that the changes aren’t showing up in the email service (either in Outlook or Outlook Web Access, or other web interface for the email service). Now you have a mess that is very difficult to untangle.

The best solution is to have asked us before getting the new smartphone - or now to have read this article before getting the new smartphone - and so to have been armed with the answer: “NO” to the inevitable question from the helpful salesperson. If this not the case, and you are noticing things such as those described above, the nature and scope of the work needed to untangle things varies widely depending on circumstances. In the simplest case, which we’ve encountered often, just resetting the new phone to factory settings and starting over correctly is a quick and easy solution. If, however, some time has passed and some of the complexities mentioned above have happened, this won’t work, and more complex and delicate methods – too complicated to describe here – are needed to put things right.

While we prefer to avoid this type of thing altogether (hence our typical advice and this article) we have some considerable experience and success in untangling the more complicated variants of this situation, and stand by to help, as always!

Sunday
Jan202013

Spam, it’s not just for breakfast anymore

If you’re over a certain age, this may call to mind recollections of less-than-healthy breakfast, or Monte Python skits (or both), but these days, it’s all about email.

Spam (or Junk E-mail – by whatever name you know it, we’ll call it spam here) does not mean the same thing to everyone. This can lead to confusion, missteps and misunderstanding.

We’ll attempt to address that to some extent here.

What you don’t see can’t bother you. Most spam never gets to the intended recipient at all. It is filtered out by the email provider without ever being sent through to the inbox, giving the individual user no visibility that this even happened.

Spam is in the eye of the beholder. As for the stuff that *does* get through, different people react differently to email that is not sent to them by another person whom they know (personal email). Is an email from LL Bean resulting from placing an order from them spam? How ‘bout an email from your bank about the annual privacy notice. Or a notice about how to boost one’s (fill in: size, quantity, amount) of (fill in: body part, bank account, physical characteristic)? Any of this can be spam if one thinks it is. And not, if one thinks it’s not.

What’s a person to do? Most email services or programs (Gmail, Live Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird) have a way to indicate that a given email should from now on be considered spam for a given user. The better of these services or programs “learn” over time to do a better job of filtering out the “bad” and keeping the “good”, as the user defines those terms through the emails the user marks as spam.

The real issue isn’t just annoyance – here there be dragons! Yes, spam is annoying. It obfuscates the “real” email one intends to see. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is what’s hidden in some spam emails: attachments that are virus infected, and links that go somewhere dangerous.

It is worth reiterating: if you receive an email from someone you do not know, do not open any attachments from that email, and do not click on any links on that email. Just delete it.

For example, when I receive an email that looks like this:

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I delete it without a second thought. You should too.

Words to live by, those. BUT, there is another, more insidious type of spam: email that looks like it’s from someone or somewhere you know, but isn’t.

Spam that looks legitimate, but isn’t. Now, each person has his/her own tolerance for spelling errors, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, formatting errors and the like. I tend toward the pickier side this spectrum. You may be more tolerant and open minded when it comes the the many ways one can spell a word, or whether subject and verb agree, etc. However, if you see a single spelling, grammar, typographical or formatting error in an email supposedly from a big company, it’s a fake. Microsoft, Apple, Symantec, GE, Exxon, will NEVER send an email with one of these errors in it. Never, never, ever. OK, the chances aren’t strictly 0%, but they are close enough to 0% that is you see an error like this, you should probably just delete the email. Assuming none of these flaws exists, you have to look deeper.

An example. Interconnected Technologies uses ADP for payroll services. I received this email last Friday:

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Now, the fact that it says it came from Twitter should be my first clue that it’s not legitimate. And that second to last sentence was clearly written by someone for whom English is not the first language. But the logo is really their logo, and I am a client, and they say they’re debiting my account, so I might be fooled by this into clicking on that link.

HOWEVER, if I hover the mouse over that link (in Outlook, which I and most of the rest of the business world use for Email), I see this:

 

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The REAL link goes to a site in Czechoslovakia (hence the .cz at the end of the web address), and were I to click on that link, no doubt I’d be taken somewhere where I could have the opportunity to boost my (fill in: size, quantity, amount) of (fill in: body part, bank account, physical characteristic), or worse, to a site infected with something that might try to compromise my computer.

This is the nastiest type of spam, and the type most likely to compromise a user’s computer.

Now, if you have the Interconnected Technologies standards in place for security, this type of thing is unlikely to damage you, even if you click on such a link. But don’t take chances. I hope the above will help you understand what those chances are, how to avoid taking them, and why. As always Interconnected Technologies clients are only a call or email away from help, and if you think your system has been compromised, let us know – we’re here!

(aside: I did click on that link, just to see, and it redirected me to a site in Russia that had a Blackhole Toolkit installed. It tried, and failed, to compromise my computer)

Saturday
Jan192013

Symantec bulletin: Java Vulnerability

We informed Interconnected Technologies’ clients directly about steps that should be taken to address the recently-discovered Java vulnerability that could be used to compromise individual computer systems. At that time we also conveyed the fact that Symantec, maker of Interconnected Technologies standard security software, had express confidence that its users were safe from the vulnerability.

On Friday they sent a more definitive statement:

 

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This is the link:

https://response.nortonfromsymantec.com/servlet/website/PersonalizedForm?lRtHgmLJE7y_8ez0_u7f_VTUW_790b2.26_2pkNl7sLkmELtHps_EKhgFMLknNlhgDNlElohPEg

While no security solution is 100% fool-proof, we continue to believe (and our research bears out the fact) that the products that use the Norton Antivirus and the Norton Firewall engines (Norton Internet Security, Norton Security Suite, Norton Business Suite) offer the best protection for an individual computer. When coupled with a correctly configured hardware firewall, this offers Interconnected Technologies clients the best defense against attacks.

Tuesday
Nov202012

Spam problem resolved by Network Solutions

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Last week Network Solutions, one of the premier web and email hosting providers in the US,  fell victim to a spamming problem what was not resolved until today. This issue directly affected millions of Network Solutions email users across the world, and indirectly affected some users of the Exchange Hosting service used by many Interconnected Technologies clients.

When a large email provider falls victim to someone using its services to send massive amounts of spam email, the large spam blocking services such as SpamCop will issue a warning to the provide. If that warning is not heeded, the spam blocking services will blacklist the email provider until the situation is resolved.

This happened last week to Network Solutions. It affected Interconnected Technologies in three ways:

  1. If you use Network Solutions for web hosting, and are still using their email services, email you sent may have been blocked because of the blacklisting.
  2. If you used to use Network Solutions email and are now having your email forwarded to Hosted Exchange, which uses SpamCop for spam filtering, the forwarded mail was blocked due to the blacklist, effectively stopping email being sent to you.
  3. If others who use Network Solutions tried to send you email, their email may have been blocked due to the blacklisting.

The good news is that as of this morning Network Solutions resolved this issue, shutting off the offending spammer, and the blacklisting has been removed.

Saturday
Aug112012

And the winner and still champion is . . .

. . . the Droid Razr Maxx! Yesterday I bought a Samsung Galaxy S III (SGS3) phone from Verizon. Few of you will be amazed at that since many of you know that this will be about the 20th phone I’ve tried over the past 2+ years (I’ve lost count).

The SGS3 is really quite something – fast, huge beautiful screen, typical Samsung Android excellence – and against any other phone it would be a strong competitor. However, I’ve gotten spoiled by one big thing and a couple of small things about the Droid Razr Maxx:

  1. Battery life. There isn’t another smartphone that’s even close to the Maxx. I have become accustomed to getting a whole day’s use out of my phone without running for the charger during the day. The SGS3 is good, but in using it today I got the awesome and terrible low battery warning by about 3pm. Before the Maxx I really had no choice – they all run out of juice well before the end of my day.
  2. Universal search. Searching on the Maxx searches Google and also several other things on the phone such as the address book, Google Drive, Music, Facebook, etc. Very handy, and removed from the SGS3, apparently as a result of the Apple suit against Samsung.

Really, the other differences are pretty trivial. Address book sync doesn’t work as well as the Maxx with my car’s Bluetooth system; the SGS3 is slightly more difficult to hold than the Maxx. There are a few other minor areas in which the Maxx wins that I can’t even recall now. On balance, though, Motorola really got things right on the Razr Maxx, especially with the recent operating system update. The SGS3 is a great phone, and so is the Maxx.

With HTC’s recent difficulties, on any other carrier the SGS3 is the clear frontrunner. On Verizon, if you care about battery life as I do, the Maxx still comes out on top!

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