At ABS, we pride ourselves on staying ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. Monthly Tech Talk discussions include news, tips, and more.

Encryption: A positive tool, in the right hands

Encryption, We hear the term used often. Some associate it with security and protection. Others with breaches and destruction. It is at the heart of many new problems, solutions, and innovations. But what is encryption? And why can it be seen as either a good or bad thing?

Encryption is the process of converting readable data into unreadable data, only to be made readable again if decrypted with the proper decryption key. It was created to secure the transfers of sensitive data, and has its roots dating back to the enigma machines of World War II (pictured in featured image), cracked by the English computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing. Today encryption is used to protect sensitive data such as banking information, medical records transmissions, and critical business data. But is Encryption a very secure process? And how is it done?

In a nutshell encryption scrambles up data and saves it. The only way the data can be unscrambled is if the user has a decryption key or algorithm to unscramble or decrypt the data. To demonstrate I created a small Python program with a very basic encryption algorithm to demonstrate: click here to learn more.

There are many positive ways encryption can be used. The AES encryption standard is used by the U.S. Government and many business such as Automated Business Solutions MaxxD cloud backup Services. It prevents outsiders from prying in on your personal data. This is especially effective when your data is saved on a space such as the cloud.

But there are some ways encryption can be used negatively. In the case where data is encrypted without access from the proper user such as in ransomware. Ransomware can infiltrate a computer or network through methods such as email phishing, or insecure sites.  Once it infects a system it can encrypt data away from the proper user. By doing this, the virus creator can hold data ransom from a user, withholding the encryption key until a certain amount of money is sent usually via Bitcoin. The best way to secure your network from this type of malicious use of encryption would be through Automated Business Solutions MaxxP protection services, which is powered by Barracuda email filters that prevent phishing scams from ever reaching your network, And MaxxM monitoring services that provide Bitdefender Antivirus and patching services that can provide immunity from a cyber-attack via ransomware.

The last area where we see encryption technology is an area such as Bitcoin, in this area, rather than securing data from other users or accounts, the publicity of the data becomes the security of it. When transactions occur with bitcoin, an encrypted key is assigned to the owner of the coins, only the owner of the coins can decrypt them to their public key to use for transactions.

In conclusion, encryption is a powerful technology. The best way for our networks to survive in an encrypted world is to use the technology effectively.

Smart Things versus Privacy

Since the dawn of Internet of things, the tech giants have brought us a wave of new products that fit every nook of our homelife. Among the most revolutionary are smart speakers. Each device is activated by a wake word (“Alexa”, “Hey Siri”, “Ok Google”, “Hey Cortana”) after which it listens for a command or question: “…what’s the weather like tomorrow?” “Order more paper towels”, ” play classical radio on Apple music” “Turn on the lights” are just a few of the types of commands these virtual assistants will answer to. According to Techcrunch.com on a report by Juniper Research, 55% of U.S. households are expected to have a smart speaker. That is 70 million households with a device with microphones capable of capturing sound across a home!

Amazon brought us the Echo lineup, Google brought us Google Home, and Microsoft and Apple recently stepped into the smart speaker world with the Harmon Kardon Invoke smart speaker powered by Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s recently announced HomePod powered by Apple’s Siri. The products function as speakers that can listen for commands, and execute applications and activate other smart home devices.

Amazon Echo 2 is Amazon’s hardware answer for their virtual assistant Alexa. powered by Amazon cloud services (image from Amazon.com)

With this newfound convenience there are concerns about privacy. Google recently revealed that a flaw in the design of the Google Home mini was causing it to record conversations without activation by the wake word. When privacy flaws emerge it does make the average consumer more hesitant to adopt such a powerful device. After all these are devices that were designed to control the rest of the smart things we install in our homes including smart locks, cloud security cameras, and smart thermostats.

Google Home Mini, powered by Google Assistant (Image from store.Google.com)

The concerns many people face today with smart speakers are similar to the concerns we faced at the dawn of cellular phones and in a new wave with smartphones. Suspicions of government or corporate spying on our day to day lives became a concern for some and subject of debate. Since that time, new protocols have been implemented to assure autonomy in personal phone use. Apple encrypts text message conversations in iMessage, and Snapchat launched encrypted picture communications.

 

Apple HomePod, powered by Apple’s Siri (image from Apple.com)

Based on this history, we can expect a similar evolution to occur as smart things begin to integrate more and more into our daily lives and privacy becomes a weightier concern. already, strides have been made in the programming of these devices to answer privacy concerns Microsoft’s Cortana saves personal data it collects locally to a computer rather than to the cloud in a place called Cortana’s Notebook. If a user chooses to sync data to the cloud, Microsoft provides a highly secure 2 factor authentication on personal accounts. Users can edit or remove data stored there at any time. Apple programmed Siri to hold the personal data it collects encrypted in iCloud storage, so you control what data Apple retains for use of Siri. Google’s privacy site allows you to delete your search history either by voice assistant or by text from Google’s servers at privacy.google.com, all encrypted and secured by your Google account. Amazon has made it clear they wish to prevent exploitation of their users by banning repugnant ads from the Alexa platform .

Harmon Kardon Invoke powered by Microsoft Cortana, (image from PCMag.com)

 

Every company producing Smart speakers has a strong privacy policy and each can be found below:

Apple:

https://www.apple.com/privacy/

Google:

https://privacy.google.com/

Microsoft:

https://privacy.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10-cortana-and-privacy

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=468496

 

 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.privacyrights.org/consumer-guides/privacy-age-smartphone

http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/11/technology/google-home-mini-security-flaw/index.html

Voice-enabled smart speakers to reach 55% of U.S. households by 2022, says report

 

Battle of the Browsers

“The only use for Internet Explorer is to download another browser.”
It seems millions of others agree. Google Chrome surpassed Internet Explorer in 2012 and has only increased it’s share of users since then. The popular browser continues to grow as web developers optimize their websites for the browser most people are viewing their site with. The chart below shows an estimated browser market share.
It’s important to keep in mind that more people are browsing from their mobile devices than ever before. Android (developed by Google) is the most popular mobile OS worldwide. The default browser installed on Android devices is Chrome, further padding their lead ahead of Apple’s Safari.
But not everyone is happy with Chrome’s massive presence. Mozilla, the creator of Firefox, deployed a Billboard recently likening Google to Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984.
Shortly after the Billboard went up, Mozilla announced Firefox 57 which promises to be a “night and day” difference to the current Firefox 55. A new design, several significant performance increases, and potentially a new logo add to the hype around the latest release.
Not all browsers are created equal. Some of the underdogs don’t mind. Opera has developed an experimental browser based off of Chrome called Neon. Neon uses your desktop wallpaper as it’s background and displays your most visited pages in bubbles that “float” to the top the more you use them.
Though it may not matter to you which browser you use, it does matter to developers. The good news for us is that more competition in the browser market will continue to produce new features and improve overall experience across platforms.
And hey, if you like Internet Explorer, keep doing your thing.

Securing My Life in 2016

Let me start by saying I’ve had my personal information compromised when large companies were hacked twice. I used my debit card to make purchases with Home Depot and with Sony shortly before they were each hacked a few years ago.

Because I think internet privacy is important, and also because I don’t intend on having my identity stolen I’ve started using a few different free, secure communication services that I’ll post here in case you also plan to prevent identity theft.

The first and maybe most important is an email provider called Proton Mail. All servers are hosted in Switzerland (who has much more stringent privacy laws than the US) under 1000 meters of rock. I’ll be using this account to replace my google account for everything connected to my bank accounts, Paypal, Venmo, etc.

Web: protonmail.com

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/…/protonmail-encrypted…/id979659905

Second I would recommend installing Signal. It’s an encrypted text messaging / calling app endorsed by Edward Snowden.

Web: whispersystems.org

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/…/signal-private-messe…/id874139669

Third, because I don’t have a company cell phone and my cell number is connected to several accounts that should be more secure, I’ve started using Sideline. It allows me to have a second phone number on the same phone that I can give out more freely or put on a business card and not worry about it being used to access my personal information.

Web: www.sideline.com/

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/…/sideline-2nd-phone…/id1012032539…

It feels like we’ll never really have the tools to maintain 100% private online lives. Hopefully by using a few of these we can make a few hacker’s jobs more difficult.

Tech Talk – October 2016 – SMTP

What is SMTP?

You may have heard this acronym once or twice when talking about scanning to an email address.

SMTP stands for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. It’s the method of communication that moves your email across networks (like the Internet.) SMTP works with the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) to send your information to the correct computer and email inbox. SMTP spells out and directs how your email moves from your computer’s MTA to an MTA on another computer, or several computers.

What is an SMTP Server?

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