Top Tech Gifts 2018

1. Apple Watch

The New Apple Watch series 4 has the power to check your heartrate, log your stepcount, calories burned, remind you of what’s on your schedule, send email and text notifications, make calls, use walkie talkie radios, and much more with hundreds of apps available.

Apple Watch Series 4 in Space Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apple watch comes in a variety of colors that can be mixed and matched with bands and is available from $399. For budget buyers the Apple Watch Series 3 is available starting at $279

 

 

Apple Watch Series 3 in Space Grey

 

 

 

2.For Dummies books

Everyone has a little learning to do in some area. This holiday season, help a friend get an edge on their productivity by picking up a for dummies book on their technology. ‘For Dummies’ books are written by industry professionals in an easy to understand and consistent format that makes the learning curve of any topic much easier to get through. Titles include Windows 10 for Dummies, Microsoft Office 2019 for Dummies, Quickbooks 2019 for Dummies, Outlook 2019 for dummies and many more. Books usually range between $20-$35 on Amazon

3. Nintendo Switch

 

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo switch is a portable game console that enables quick and adaptable gameplay. 2 controllers are always available making multiplayer gameplay available anywhere you go. With titles such as Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Skyrim, the Nintendo Switch is a game console that is sure to please gamers of every kind.

4. Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo introduced a whole new category of tech less than 5 years ago and has already become a bestseller in technology and a must have for any smart home enthusists. The Amazon Echo is a speaker which intelligently answers voice commands and questions, plays music and internet radio, and can serve as the universal remote of your smart home, by changing the temperature, controlling smart lights, playing your favorite show on Netflix with an Amazon Fire TV stick and so much more.

Amazon Echo Dot 3rd gen in Heather Grey
The Amazon Echo 2nd Gen in Heather Grey

 

The Amazon Echo Plus 3rd Gen

The Amazon Echo lineup includes the Amazon Echo Dot, a small speaker that can fit anywhere currently starting at $29.99, The Amazon Echo is the standard speaker currently starting at $69.99, and the Amazon Echo Plus, with higher quality audio and a built-in Zigbee smart home hub  currently starting at $119.99

For budget shoppers, the Amazon Echo Dot 2nd gen is currently available starting at $19.99 .

5. Tile

We’ve all lost our keys on the wrong day. But with Tile, you are in luck. Tile is a small device that pairs to your phone via bluetooth that can clip on to easily lost items. If you leave an item behind, tile can show you the last location that it was close to your phone. If you are closeby, you can have the tile sound-off to make the item easier to find. Tile starts at $25 but you can currently get up to 45% off on multipacks.

 

6. Surface Go

Surface Go

Microsoft’s Surface Go is an inexpensive productivity tablet that runs every application in the Microsoft store. Paired with the surface pen it is a great gift for students, and professionals, great for reading emails, browsing the internet and using your favorite apps like Spotify, iTunes, Word, and Excel.

 

7. Password logbook

Forgotten passwords lead to wasted time following a password reset process, and if you forgot your email password, you can easily fall into a black hole of lost passwords. Today we are lucky to have password management software solutions such as Lastpass, Dashlane, Keeper, and 1Password. However, some users are simply more comfortable with traditional pen and paper. Although this is not the safest solution, as anyone who has access the written passwords can have access to your accounts, a password logbook may serve as a helpful mechanism for our forgetful friends. Amazon currently has passowrd logbooks by the Peter Pauper Press for less than $6

https://www.amazon.com/Personal-Internet-Address-Password-Book/dp/1441303251/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1544565360&sr=8-3&keywords=password+log+book

Virtual Reality and the Human Experience in Technology

There is a recent movement that has occurred in the video game world which may be attributed to developments such as virtual reality that attune to our need to connect as humans. Chris Milk, an immersive storyteller in his TED talk “How Technology can create the ultimate Empathy Machine” has been studying the cutting edge of technology use and its ability to make humans understand, feel and empathize. He cites film as the first technological medium in this evolution and later explains how VR builds on this medium by creating an environment that simulates full immersion in the story.

He concludes that Virtual Reality is the ultimate empathy machine and he uses it to tell the stories of immigrants and refugees to world policymakers.

Developments such as VR films have brought a change on how this medium and other interactive experiences such as video games can be used to help people in negative circumstances to be better understood. There has been a recent influx games and experiences that are meant to demonstrate these sorts of human situations such as with cancer, dementia, and mental illness, here are some examples.

That Dragon, Cancer is a video game that explores the story of a family and their son diagnosed with terminal cancer. The game goes through how the family went through this experience and presents poetic representations of the situation to players.

Before I Forget by UK based 3-Fold Games explores the perspective of an elderly woman suffering from dementia. In an article by Mark Serrells, author of the CNET article, “The video game that helped me understand my grandma’s dementia” Mark wrote, “I’d forgotten that people with dementia are also, in their own way, grieving.” This deep empathy is typical of these experiences, rather than watching what happens, the problems unfold as the player interacts with the environment creating a more direct connection between the player and the experience of those who suffer with this condition.

“Games are traditionally power fantasies, a medium in which players are the driving impetus. You solve problems, defeat monsters, save the day. Stripping back that power is, in some ways, a revolutionary act.” This divergence from the tradition of games draws into question whether games have a new genre to fill or are these experiences games at all? I named them empathetic simulations, but would there be a better name? The answer remains to be found should games like this continue to be produced and accepted as titles worth playing and seeing for years to come.

 

Sources:

https://www.campaignlive.com/article/tech-sympathy-vr-ultimate-emotive-storytelling-tool/1391407

https://www.cnet.com/news/these-video-games-are-telling-stories-of-immigration-anxiety/

http://www.depressionquest.com

http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/

https://www.3foldgames.uk/

https://www.ted.com/talks/chris_milk_how_virtual_reality_can_create_the_ultimate_empathy_machine?language=en

 

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence: Creepy or Helpful?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning has become a hot button topic in Technology. Apple brought us Siri, Amazon brought us Alexa, and Google brought us Google Assistant. But AI capability and purpose goes far beyond your common answer to “what’s the weather like?” and “set a reminder when I arrive at home”. AI is ready to help businesses trace food from farm to store,  give a guided tour through New York City, research the cure to cancer, and to secure our networks. However, AI is something many of us fear. Voices throughout the technology community have expressed their warnings of further research on AI. Stephen Hawking said Artificial Intelligence will be the end of man”. Elon Musk stated, “We are rapidly headed towards digital super intelligence that far exceeds any human”. Should we mind these warnings?

Here’s some history.

In 2011, IBM’s Watson won the game of Jeopardy against 2 top human challengers.

Not only did Watson beat top challenger’s in Jeopardy, Watson brought deep questions about our limitations as humans and the capabilities of machines.

In 2017 Facebook created two AI chatbots, which were trained to have certain likes and pretend to express some sort of grief when they lost what they wanted. In an experiment, the AI’s were challenged to speak to one another and negotiate a trade of balls and books. The results of the conversation are seen below (One AI was called Bob, the other Alice):

 

Bob: i can i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

Bob: i i can i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

Bob: i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i i i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have 0 to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

 

What may seem like a useless conversation was actually the two bots communicating in their own language. The creators shut down the bots as they had no use to humans.

So AI is pretty smart right? But can modern AI beat the Turing test? The Turing test was a test developed by computer scientist Alan Turing (known for breaking the enigma encryption algorithm during World War II) used to distinguish whether a computer is artificially intelligent, it requires that a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both.

Can you distinguish the Google Duplex AI from a human caller?

OK, Maybe this is all a little creepy.

So maybe we cease to use technology altogether until every programmer vows to never create AI again; their creepy computer voices won’t be able to laugh at us in binary as we post silly human memes across their domain. Do we smash every smartphone? Every smart speaker? Every Internet connected device? Do we stop progress? Was Elon Musk right? Those are all questions for a philosophy course. For now, there are many benefits we can gain from utilizing AI.

Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana serve as assistant AI’s to help keep you organized, and keep your technology working for you in very personal ways.  Read more about them in my Tech Talk on smart things and privacy

Barracuda’s Sentinel AI was build to detect phishing scams so we don’t have to figure it out. It learns the patterns to the emails we send and receive and is able to determine whether a message is a spoof message to or from you.

There are many ways phishing scams can come through. And utilizing AI to assist with detecting it is the best way to avoid falling victim to it.

In conclusion, Modern AI is smart, and keeps getting smarter. The best way to stay ahead of the machines is to utilize them to your benefit.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540

https://gizmodo.com/nvidia-taught-an-ai-to-flawlessly-erase-watermarks-from-1827474196

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/07/10/the-economics-of-artificial-intelligence-how-cheaper-predictions-will-change-the-world/#50fdd7655a0d

https://www.ibm.com/blockchain?lnk=ushpv18c10&lnk2=learn

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/facebook-artificial-intelligence-ai-chatbot-new-language-research-openai-google-a7869706.html

https://ai.google/research/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2018/04/06/elon-musks-nightmarish-warning-ai-could-become-an-immortal-dictator-from-which-we-would-never-escape/?utm_term=.1a8fc6b6310d

Be a smart fish in a phishing online world

Phishing has become the hot topic word in security today. It is where the majority of modern malware comes from. Phishing scams according to the Microsoft Safety and Security Center are, “[E]mail messages, websites, and phone calls are designed to steal money.” What Microsoft fails to mention is sometimes information is what hackers are after since it can be held for ransom. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself against the 3 main methods of phishing.

 

Email Phishing

Email phishing functions in some of the most deceiving ways. Official logos can be stolen for use of malicious entities, and email addresses can be spoofed. The best way to protect against this kind of vulnerability is by using a spam filter service such as Barracuda Email Security Service.  Sifting through email otherwise is much more risky. Some ways to detect phishing scams is to check that the email address matches the domain of the sender. For example: Emails from Microsoft should be from @Microsoft.com rather than a domain like @msft-support-hotmail.com. Another way to check is by hovering over links to make sure they are going to what they say they are going to. For example: if a link goes to www.absne.com and when you hover over, another url pops up, this is not a legitimate message. There are many other ways  email phishing can come through. You can learn more and take a free phishing test by Dell Sonicwall here: https://www.sonicwall.com/en-us/phishing-iq-test

Website Phishing

Website Phishing is often associated with pop-ups, but it also comes through links. For example, an ad link on Facebook may lead to a page where malware may exist.To avoid falling for this hook check if there is a small ad indicator (usually labeled ad, adsense, or ads). Use the same procedure with website links as you would use in email links. Be wary of articles along the side or at the bottom of even respectable news sites or local news sites. Look out for attention grabbing phrases such as “You won’t believe what..-“ or “Kanye uses this…-” or “In just 2 days..-“ and similar language. These are designed to be click-bait pulling you to malware or ad-ridden holes of the internet.

 

Phone Phishing

You or someone you know may have received calls that sound like this. “Hi this is Dell tech support, we found there is a virus on your network I need to remote in to remove it”.

These calls often result in the installation of malware and a possible charge for the false service provided by a fraud service provider.

Dell, Microsoft, and other systems manufacturers will not contact you for a malware infection. If your MSP provider were to contact you in regards to an infection you would likely be working with a technician already introduced to you.

In conclusion, it is very possible to avoid phishing scams just by being a smart fish. If it gets hard to determine however never hesitate to ask your IT technician!

Top 4 Ways to use Technology to Reach Your 2018 Business Goals

2018 is almost here! Automated Business Solutions is here to provide you with some tips to make sure your office’s technology helps you reach your goals. Here are a few ideas:

 

1. Use productivity apps to help you meet your personal goals in the office

One of my favorite productivity apps is Forest by SeekrTech. If you’re anything like me, you may easily be distracted by your phone. When it isn’t productive for you to be using your smartphone, use Forest. With Forest, you can set a timer for how long you need to remain focused on a task outside of your smartphone. If you keep Forest open until the timer runs out you will earn credits and plant a virtual tree. These credits are exchanged to plant real trees in the world. Forest accomplishes this in partnership Trees for the Future. Using Forest makes your productivity time charitable, and rewards you for staying focused. Forest is available for iOS, Android, and now has a Chrome webapp and Firefox addon. You can find out more about Forest at the website at https://www.forestapp.cc/en/

Mindfulness meditation has proven to boost productivity and focus in the workplace and its practice is often a New Year’s resolution of its own. Headspace and Calm. are apps designed to assist with practice of mindfulness. Headspace now comes with business plans and is used by companies like Linkedin, Airbnb, Google, and Spotify. Each app walks you through guided meditations designed to relieve stress, anxiety, and to improve positivity, focus, and energy. Although each comes with a free trial, both require paid addons or subscriptions in order to continually progress with the app.

Calm.
Headspace

If you don’t have a personal goal yet (we won’t tell anyone) there is an app help you find vision and ease to attain it. The TED app gives you access to thousands of videos of TED talks on almost every topic. Speakers offer inspiring and visionary ideas in your area of expertise. If you need motivation, start with the TED app to set your 2018 skyrocketing.

TED app

When using your phone as a productivity tool, use the Outlook app to access your calendar, set reminders, access email from your smartphone. The Outlook app integrates with Office365 so your Outlook webapp, Outlook desktop application, and phone application will always be in sync. Just sign in with your company’s Office365 account and get moving!

Outlook for iOS

 

2. Check your backups

When backups are initially set up they don’t operate under the policy of ‘set it and forget it’! Although your managed services provider may be getting positive backup reports they may not know that you want a new drive backed up, or that the new laptop that came in holds mission critical data. Take the time to think through where some of the most important information is being saved and have your managed services provider check to make sure those areas have backups, If its only a few files that are the most critical such as a Quickbooks file, Barracuda MSP backup may be the best solution for you, if it’s the whole network, ask about our Barracuda Backup appliances, that keep a local copy of your backups on the network and uploads to the cloud to provide high reliability and efficiency in your backups, ABS covers both solutions in our MaxxD plans. Hard drive failures don’t happen often, but when they do, give yourself the peace of mind that you have a backup.

Barracuda Backup Appliance

3. Have your network evaluated for efficiency and security

Your office may be less secure than you think. Hackers and malware creators use phishing methods that, without a careful eye can deceive some of the most vigilant technology users. It’s good to have powerful antivirus on your network to combat viruses and malware but it is better to prevent malware from landing on your network. Using tools such as a Dell Sonicwall firewall or a Barracuda Essentials Email security filter can reduce the risk of malware by more than half.

Sonicwall
Barracuda Essentials

 

4. Have toner replacements ready to go

If you’re looking for greater efficiency from your office in 2018, there is nothing more frustrating than having that efficiency interrupted by a stalled printer, this can leave a whole department down until  that printer is serviced or until toner arrives. You can prevent that from happening by keeping backup toner on hand or if you have a supplies contract sign up to use a tool like FMAudit to make sure your printing supplier is aware when your toner is starting to run low or if a maintenance kit is close to expiring, That way replacements will arrive before you run out.

 

Canon Toner

 

 

 

We hope you can reach every goal you set this coming year.

From all of us at ABS have a Happy New Year!

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.

Black Friday Special Tech Talk: Augmented Reality Shopping

There are always new and exciting ways to use technology. This year has been big for augmented reality,Microsoft announced Mixed Reality headsets and has made available AR hardware from 3rd parties such as Dell, Acer, and Lenovo.

Apple announced ARkit and released iOS 11 with new augmented reality features.

Apple ARKit was announced at Apple WWDC 2017

One of the most immediate uses of Augmented reality is Amazon’s AR view. All you need is iOS 11 and the Amazon app, select the little camera in the upper right hand corner and tap AR view. There are a list of items available on Amazon to be viewed in your own space via Augmented Reality. I tried it out on my iPhone and found it to be fairly robust.

Here are some pictures in the office here at ABS:

What if this were my office chair?
You could call this a real life image of a DOS machine.

This is a fun way to shop and allows you to avoid the the black friday horror stories in style. We wish you all a happy Thanksgiving weekend, happy shopping, and happy holidays from all of us here at ABS!

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

 

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?

Continue reading “Tech Talk – October 2016 – SMTP”