Slow Internet or Slow Site?

I always get a good chuckle when someone comes running into my office to tell me that someone called and says, “the Internet is down” or “the Internet is really slow.” I understand what they are trying to say and I can even understand their choice of words, but an important part of the sentence is missing. What’s missing is the word “connection.” You see the Internet is a connection of computers, so while my computer or your computer may not be connected to the Internet at this given instance the Internet as a whole continues to function.

At it’s simplest form, most small business and consumers don’t actually get on the Internet. Instead, we call up our local provider (Charter, Frontier, etc.) and order a connection to their network. In turn, their network is connected to some other networks. Those other networks are connected to other networks and so on. This is effectively what makes up the Internet – a bunch of connections between different carriers. There is a good chance that your Internet Service Provider (or ISP) is directly connected to Netflix and Google because they are top frequently used sites and a lot of bandwidth is consumed with these sites. On the other hand, there is a pretty good chance that the site that you access for many of your business applications (let’s think something like salesforce) isn’t directly connected to your ISP. Chances are that your ISP has to go through another provider or at least go to another portion of the country to connect to your service’s provider.

You might be starting to get an idea of the number of companies, networks or hands involved in getting a webpage to load. Below is a graphic to try and depict the path your traffic might take to get to major sites and minor sites.

Diagram showing how computers are connected on the Internet.

How we get to various sites is a lot like how we travel or drive to different places. If you want to go to Costco, Five Guys or Chick-fil-a, there is a good chance you have one of these in your town and you can get to it fairly quickly. However, there’s also a chance that one of these places doesn’t exist in your town and you might have to drive to the next town or city. Now, imagine that favorite restaurant you have that only exists in one place or a few limited locations. Let’s assume that I’m in southern California, but I want to go to Cracker Barrel. I can’t easily get there for breakfast. I could drive out I-10 and find one near Phoenix or I could drive out I-8 and find one in Yuma. For your favorite single location restaurant (not in your local town) you can imagine how far you’d have to travel to get it.

In part two we will discuss the similarities between how the Internet works and how you drive to your favorite restaurant.

Personal Computer Recommendations

While we professionally manage computers and workstations in enterprise and small business environments, we are frequently asked for recommendations for personal computers for home use. While needs can vary greatly, I will try to provide some standard recommendations for the typical environmental. Gamers, video editors and other types will probably not find our suggestions sufficient and higher end configurations are definitely available for those in the need.

First up, if you still aren’t feeling ready for Windows 10, it is possible to get a new computer with Windows 7, but you will have to look at business grade computers which may cost more than the computers you see featured in the Sunday advertisements. You typically can’t purchase these computers at the local electronics or big box store and they must be ordered direct from the manufacturer or from another online retailer. (Note, while we provide computers to our managed business customers, we don’t typically sell personal computers like you will find at retail outlets.)

Processor/CPU: The lowest priced computers are going to have some likely underpowered processors that we would stay away from. You’re going to be best served with an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7. An i3 will be sufficient for most users who just need to surf the web and do some occasional other tasks. The i5 and i7 are going to be faster and give you more processing power. If you’re shopping for a computer at Costco, you’ll likely get a great value, but you’re normally going to see higher end configurations. Our typical business configuration is an i5. Advanced users who frequently edit video or photos are going to want higher end machines with additional processing power.

RAM or Memory: Don’t accept anything less than 4 GB, and more is better. Our typical configuration has 8 GB of RAM and 16 GB for power users. This is the easiest thing to upgrade, so you can buy a PC with 4 GB and then purchase additional memory separately or even at a later date. You can purchase additional memory at Crucial.com.

Hard Drive (Storage): In business applications, we go with a solid state drive because it increases performance of the computer dramatically. The same is try for personal use, however personal users will frequently want to store more data than in business. (In business we store all files on servers where they are accessible to multiple users, backed up, etc.) If you aren’t planning on storing lots of pictures, music, videos, etc. a 256 GB SSD may be sufficient, but most users will want at least 500 GB or 1 TB of storage. Purchasing that much storage as solid state may be cost prohibitive. Most desktop computers will come with a 7200 RPM drive, but some lower end models may try to get by with a slower (5400 RPM) drive. The slower drives are the standard in laptops, so upgrading to SSD will make an even more noticeable improvement in those cases.

Bottom line, you have to figure out what your needs are here. One possible workaround is to have a solid state drive as your primary drive and use online storage or a second/external drive for your pictures, music and videos that take up lots of space. One caveat to be aware of: many online backup programs (like Carbonite) won’t let you backup an external/USB drive on their personal plans. It can also be a bit of a pain dealing with two drives, so most users will accept the tradeoff of a larger (non-SSD) drive.

Operating System (OS): The operating system should be 64 bit. Lower end models may still try to get by with 32 bit Windows, but you should stay away from those models. As most of the models have switched in the past few years to 64 bit, it has become less prevalent to indicate this in the heading so you might have to dig into the details to make sure you see x64 or 64-bit somewhere in the listing about the OS. For personal use, the home versions of Windows are sufficient, but they are missing some features critical to even small businesses. As mentioned above, you can still get computers with Windows 7 Professional. On the plus side, they generally come with a Windows 10 license to make upgrading down the road.

There are a few other features we are concerned about when trying to remotely manage or maintain computers, but for personal use this should help you narrow down devices on your shopping list.

What is Malvertising?

Malvertising is not new, but it is being used more and more to deliver malware (things like viruses) to computers. Malvertising uses advertising networks to deliver malicious content. This allows malware perpetrators to have their infections on popular pages like yahoo.com and msn.com. In fact, malvertising has advanced to the point where in many cases your computer can get infected simply when you visit a page with malicious advertising. You don’t even have to click on the link! This is called a drive by download.

The most common way that attackers are able to gain access to your computer is through out of date software. Vulnerabilities that allow bad guys to gain access to your computer are frequently found in popular software programs like Adobe Flash and Java. Typically as soon as the software makers learn of the weakness they work to resolve the issue and release a patch or update. Unfortunately, from the time the vulnerability is discovered by the bad guys until the time that the software is updated on your computer, you are vulnerable to becoming compromised.

Ransomware, where your computer or files are locked and you are forced to pay a ransom to get them back, is also on the rise and frequently used with malvertising to infect victim’s computers. Without a backup, your only option frequently is to pay the ransom or face losing everything on the computer. You’ve likely hear of high profile companies that have been forced to pay ransoms to get their systems back up and running.

For a visual explanation, check out this Malvertising & Ransomware infographic from Malwarebytes. For more information, you can read more from Malwarebytes.

It is imperative that your computer is updated daily. We have invested in tools that check daily to ensure that the latest software is installed on computers we maintain. You likely don’t have this same level of protection on your computer if it isn’t being professionally managed, monitored and maintained. To protect your unmanaged computer (or your home computer) you will need to install updates as soon as your computer prompts you. To make things easier, you might want to utilize Ninite Updater to detect third party software on your computer that needs to be updated. You’ll still have to tell it to update, but with a single click it will be able to update multiple applications.

Christmas & New Year’s Schedule

Christmas is almost here and New Year’s is right behind that. Once again want to make sure that you are ready for the holidays.

Our holiday schedule is as follows:

Thursday, December 24th – Closed
Friday, December 25th – Closed
Thursday, December 31st – Closing at 12 Noon Pacific
Friday, January 1st – Closed

Forgot to order that last minute gift? Traffic will be horrible out there, but you can still order from Amazon with one day shipping or you might be lucky enough to live in an area with free same day or two hour delivery. Cutoff times vary so don’t wait. Still need some gift ideas? 

We will have someone on call during this time that will be responding to voicemails that are left in the technical support mailbox. Call (951) 894-8809 and follow the instructions for technical support. Messages that are left in individuals voicemails will not be returned until Monday the 28th or later and should not be used for requesting technical support at any time.

Is your office ready for the holiday? Here are some things to consider before next week. We may have already taken care of some of these things for you. If you’re not sure please make sure you have communicated any necessary changes with us.

Are your phones set for holiday hours?

If your system is setup to route based on time of day, holiday hours should be programed so calls are not ringing empty stations. If your calls route to an answering service, the service should be notified of your change in schedule. If your phone routes to an auto attendant or IVR that may need to be updated with an appropriate message specifying when you’ll be returning calls. Finally, you may want to make sure you have an option for emergencies. This could be an extension that forwards to the answering service or an on-call employee’s cell phone.

Out of Office Notifications

It may be appropriate to set an out of office notification on your email if you correspond with others who may not be aware you’ll be out of the office for an extended period. It may be necessary to update your voicemail message too. With Digium’s Switchvox system it is possible to program a separate message to play during a company or user specified time frame.

Door Locks & Security Systems

Do your doors unlock on a schedule? It might not be the best idea to have the doors unlocked when no one is going to be around. Please verify that your schedule has been set accordingly to have the doors remain locked. With key fob systems you can also ensure that only necessary personnel have access during the holiday.

Your alarm monitoring or on site security company should also be notified of your closure.

What equipment can be turned off?

Program your thermostats for the holiday. Make sure that the one covering your server or network closet (which should be dedicated) is set to continuously cool as needed. We generally do not recommend turning off computers unless you will not be using them for a full week. Servers and all networking components should be left on at all times.

Preparing for Thanksgiving Holiday Closing

It’s almost Thanksgiving and we want to make you aware of a few things coming into the holiday week. We will have limited staffing due to employees traveling for the holiday. Here is our holiday schedule:

Wednesday, November 25th Closing at Noon Pacific
November 26th-27th Closed

We will have someone on call during this time that will be responding to voicemails that are left in the technical support mailbox. Call (951) 894-8809 and follow the instructions for technical support. Messages that are left in individuals voicemails will not be returned until Monday the 30th or later and should not be used for requesting technical support at any time.

We are grateful for the opportunity to work with you and look forward to many prosperous years to come. Thank you for supporting us as we continue to grow to better serve you.

Is your office ready for the holiday?

Here are some things to consider before next week. We may have already taken care of some of these things for you. If you’re not sure please make sure you have communicated any necessary changes with us as soon as possible.

Are your phones set for holiday hours?

If your system is setup to route based on time of day, holiday hours should be programed so calls are not ringing empty stations. If your calls route to an answering service, the service should be notified of your change in schedule. If your phone routes to an auto attendant or IVR that may need to be updated with an appropriate message specifying when you’ll be returning calls. Finally, you may want to make sure you have an option for emergencies. This could be an extension that forwards to the answering service or an on-call employee’s cell phone.

Out of Office Notifications

It may be appropriate to set an out of office notification on your email if you correspond with others who may not be aware you’ll be out of the office for an extended period. It may be necessary to update your voicemail message too. With Digium’s Switchvox system it is possible to program a separate message to play during a company or user specified time frame.

Door Locks & Security Systems

Do your doors unlock on a schedule? It might not be the best idea to have the doors unlocked when no one is going to be around. Please verify that your schedule has been set accordingly to have the doors remain locked. With key fob systems you can also ensure that only necessary personnel have access during the holiday.

Your alarm monitoring or on site security company should also be notified of your closure.

What equipment can be turned off?

Program your thermostats for the holiday. Make sure that the one covering your server or network closet (which should be dedicated) is set to continuously cool as needed. We generally do not recommend turning off computers unless you will not be using them for a full week. Servers and all networking components should be left on at all times.

Carbonite

Heartbleed Bug

OpenSSL is widely used to secure web servers on the Internet and other similar devices. A vulnerability in OpenSSL was found last month that allows attackers to easily capture privileged data from servers running specific versions of OpenSSL. Unfortunately this code has been in widespread use since 2012. Attackers are able to access the secured memory on the server which could contain sensitive information including usernames and passwords and the private master key used for encryption. If the key is obtained it would allow all encrypted information on the server to be unencrypted and read by the attacker.

What does this mean for me?

Unfortunately it is unknown exactly how far reaching this vulnerability was or will be. The only secure option is to not give any privileged information to sites until all the web servers have been impacted. This could mean avoiding online banking, or even avoid signing into facebook if you use the same password there as you do for other sites. It is also possible that hackers have been exploiting this vulnerability for some time without being detected too. Many banks have said that they were not impacted by the vulnerability. Please confirm with your bank prior to logging in.

How the heartbleed bug works.

What do I need to do now?

You should update your passwords everywhere as a precaution. A list of sites where I encourage you to change your password immediately is listed below, but just because a site isn’t listed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t update your password. Remember that you should not use the same password for multiple sites, nor easily guessable variations. Always use a secure password that consists of non-dictionary based words and a combination of upper case, lower case, numbers and symbols if allowed. You should also change your password frequently to ensure no one else has access to your accounts. Finally, if the service offers it you should rely on two-factor (or two-step) authentication. Typically the service will send a text message to you with a code you must use along with your password when signing in from an unknown computer.

Here’s a list of sites that may have been compromised that you should change your password on immediately. Note that it is not known if some of these sites were compromised, but in the interest of safety, please change your password. You’ve probably been using the password for too long there or have shared that password with another site anyway! 🙂

  • Amazon
  • Box
  • Dropbox
  • Etsy
  • facebook
  • Flickr
  • GoDaddy
  • Google, Gmail
  • Instagram
  • Netflix
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr
  • Yahoo, Yahoo Mail
  • YouTube

Finally, it would be suggested to go ahead and change your passwords again in a few weeks – especially for sites that haven’t confirmed they have patched their servers against the vulnerability. Mashable has a list of websites affected by Heartbleed which can be consulted for a more detailed list.

Stop the Bleeding!

How do you create secure passwords? The best way is with a random password generator. Of course, you’ll need to store all the passwords you’ve created or else you probably won’t remember them. I use and recommend 1Password who is currently offering a 50% off sale. Please see the 1Password blog post for more information as well.