Hacked. Now What?

First, what are a few ways hackers find their way into a device or accounts?

Unfortunately, there are lots of ways for hackers to find their way into our computers and our accounts. The software and apps we use are in a constant state of change. Sometimes, as developers work to maintain interoperability, opportunities arise for a hacker to exploit a change and access your computer.

Other times it’s a result of something users do themselves. We talked about this previously about opening emails that aren’t legit. Some of those emails may contain a payload that, once opened, deploys malware on your system. And, of course, hackers can always buy your password online. If you’re not diligent about password security, you could easily be hacked.

What should I be most concerned about a hacker gaining access to?

I think most people would say they’re concerned about a hacker gaining access to anything at all. But the biggest threat to an organization would be losing security of their customer’s private or financial information. As a consumer, I’d say the biggest concern would be your own financial information, but we’ve seen plenty of people lose private photos and videos that can be used to extort or embarrass.

What should be done immediately after learning the device or account is hacked?

If you have a hacked device, you need to take it offline as quickly as possible. If the device can’t transmit your personal information, you’ve got a compromised device but your information may not have been compromised yet.

Then it’s a matter of calling in an IT professional to help. Some viruses and malware can be very hard to completely remove from a system. It’s best to be sure.

If you have an account that’s hacked, you need to make an immediate list of any other accounts that use the same username and passwords. We’ve talked before about password security, about not using the same password for multiple accounts, and about using randomly generated passwords. If you have a separate password for each account you hold, your exposure to a single cracked or obtained password only affects the one account.

What additional security measures should be added to prevent repeat attacks?

It depends a little. If we’re talking about your workplace, you need a plan for cybersecurity. That will involve a policy for computer updates, access controls, antivirus requirements, and social engineering/phishing training for your employees. There’s a lot that needs to be done and recognized by each member of your organization to maintain security.

As a home user, you need to be taking steps to make sure you’re not using the same password for multiple accounts. Make sure your antivirus is up to date, make sure you’re not browsing to unreputable websites, and make sure you’re not opening suspicious emails.

That’s why 702 Communications offers managed services and computer repair support. We’ve got a team of IT professionals that can help you design your infrastructure to minimize risk. We can make sure your devices are automatically updating to prevent access via exploits, and we can set you up with a backup plan for your data if you’re the target of a ransomware attack. Whether you’re looking to prevent an attack or recover from one, 702 Communications is here to help.

Improving Connectivity in Your Home

Modern Wi-Fi routers generally do a great job of extending the signal to all rooms and all corners of your home. But sometimes there’s room for improvement. We’re going to talk today about two options for extending internet connectivity inside your home.

Mesh Wi-Fi Systems

The first option to really get great Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home is a mesh Wi-Fi system. In it, you have multiple access points that relay the Wi-Fi signal to and through each other to the base station that’s wired to your main Internet connection. Unlike Wi-Fi repeaters, these devices connect to each other with a different type of wireless signal and provide the full throughput of your connection. They’re generally really easy to set up and some don’t cost much (if any) more than a new wireless router.

CNET likes the Nest Wi-Fi best at $269, but does give other options depending on what’s important to you.

PC Mag does the same, giving you a list of mesh systems to look at depending on your needs.

But there’s another option for devices that need to be wired in.

Powerline Ethernet

If you’ve got an older home, chances are you don’t have Ethernet running everywhere you want connectivity. And, while it’s possible to retroactively wire up your home, there is an easier option that I’ve personally found to be pretty effective: Powerline Ethernet.

Powerline Ethernet takes adapters and uses your home’s wiring to transmit Ethernet in the house. You just plug one box into an outlet near your router (not a power strip) and then plug Ethernet into that device. Providing you’re on a single phase of power in your home, you can then plug subsequent powerline boxes into any other outlet in your home, pair them to the base station, and have Ethernet delivered via your home’s powerline. There are several brands out there, but I use a TP-Link system. For $40, you can deliver Ethernet into any other room in your home.

I hope this information will help get you better connected!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Identifying Suspicious Emails

Phishing is a social engineering attempt to deceive the target into providing personal or financial information or to possibly get them to install a piece of software on a computer that will enable the cybercriminal access to the target’s information.

Phishing attempts are nothing new, but as time’s gone on, some of them have become a bit more sophisticated and, in this work-from-home environment, easier to fall for.

By now everyone’s on the lookout for emails from Nigerian princes who claim to want to provide you with fabulous wealth, for just a small investment of your own, but you might not be as cautious if you see an email from “Facebook” that claims someone just tried to log into your account, or from “Amazon” who’s emailing to tell you they’ve detected fraud on your account.

It is important to protect your online identify. It is important to make sure your social media accounts aren’t compromised and your online merchant accounts are secure. But before you click a button in a panic to respond to one of these alerts, make sure you take the time to really look at it and see if it’s not a trap.

Here are examples of both the “Facebook” and “Amazon” alerts for your reference.

I have a Gmail account for personal emails. The other day while perusing my Spam inbox I found the following:

At first glance, someone might think, “I don’t know Rosina Taylor, I’m not going to click on that. Someone tried to log into my Facebook account? I better check it out!”

If you’re careful, you know this isn’t from Facebook. For one thing, it’s in my Spam folder, so even Google thought it was suspicious. But sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes totally legitimate items show up in there. That’s why I check it. But if you look twice at the sender, you see it’s not actually Facebook that’s sending the message, but Facebook. They’re missing an o in their identity field.

Here again, to Google’s credit, there’s a big gray banner telling you it’s in your spam folder because it’s similar to items that have been identified as spam in the past. But if that’s not enough for you, take a good look at the sender’s email address: UPRBKFIQ…@tsvbxnpmsiwafloechcuwsmeesfeen.us. A legitimate email from Facebook or from any other reputable company isn’t going to come from a randomized account like this one. It doesn’t matter what else might be in the body of that message or the footer of that message. There is no doubt that this is a phishing attempt and any further action on your part to engage this message may end in your computer being compromised by a cybercriminal trying to otherwise steal your personal or financial information.

Here’s the “Amazon” example:

But say you missed that and you clicked on the message. I did to show you. This is what comes up next:

Knowing what you do now, you can see that this is also an email that doesn’t require any further action. Amazon is never going to send you a notice from alertsupport4376-recentfailedsigninappf8qtwwl7fn2c0i3z10@mail-important0562.com. Here again, you can delete the message and move on.

Both of those emails were easy to identify as phishing attempts if you just take a moment to really look. But sometimes it can be a little trickier to see. That’s why it’s really important for you to be vigilant when reading and replying to emails. If you get something from a professional contact or from a company with whom you do business that’s at all out of character or at all suspicious, look carefully at it before taking further action. If you’re still not sure, ask a trusted IT advisor.

Recently an email came into a staff email box at 702 from:

Jim Walter was the CEO at 702 for our first 20 years. Everyone here (except our newest hires) knows Jim by name, so it’s possible that he’d be emailing an employee even in retirement. There’s a little bit of legitimacy there. The email address is funky, but who knows? Maybe Jim decided he wanted to start his own email domain of “chiefe-mail.com” and send emails from it. It’s not hard to set something like that up. It’s not in character for Jim, but it’s not impossible. Let’s look at the body of the message:

Are you available, i need you to handle something for me asap, i can’t talk on phone now, just reply me here. Stay Safe

That isn’t Jim’s speech pattern. “reply me here” is a dead giveaway that this is a phishing attempt.

Our employee identified this as suspicious, reached out to our system admin regarding the email, and the phishing attempt was shut down. It does take a level of vigilance from each member in your organization to keep company information safe.

Be on the lookout in your own environment. Do your part. Stay safe out there!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

How to Read a Speed Test

You’re maybe wondering why in the world I’d take the time to explain how to read a speed test, but it actually is a little more complicated than you might think.

Now, I know, at the end of the day, you just want things to work the way you want them to work, but if we’re going to get to the cause of your slow internet, we need to figure out if your internet is actually slow because of usage or a problem.

So, what’s the best way to run a speed test and what do the numbers mean? Let’s go through it:

Step one: Plug your computer into your router. I know, most of our devices are connected via Wi-Fi, but you have to remember, it’s your provider’s job to provide you with a reliable WAN (Wide Area Network) connection. If you’re being sold 25MB you should be able to test at your modem pretty close to 25MB. There are many factors that may cause a Wi-Fi speed test to show less than your full subscription rate. So, plug something in for the most reliable test.

Step two: Close every other program on your computer and open a browser to pick a speed test. If you’re streaming music or videos or downloading pictures or uploading files during a speed test, it’ll skew the results. There are lots of speed tests out there but the most common one is speedtest.net. Once there, you’ll see the main test screen.

Step three: Select your testing server. Speedtest will select a server based on some metrics, but it’s sometimes to your benefit to force a different selection. If your provider hosts a speed test, you can reliably test your connection from your home to your provider using their speed test. If you want to test your connection elsewhere in the country, you can do that as well by selecting another location to test. To really get a feel for your connection to your provider, pick your provider’s test server.

Step four: interpret the results

speed test screen

Speedtest.net is going to show you a metric for ping, download speed, and upload speed. In this instance my ping was returned in 1ms, or 1 millisecond. That’s the time it took for me to send a packet of data to the speed test server and get it back. 1ms is the best you can get. I’m on a 100Mb connection and, at the time of this test, I’m showing 93.61Mb down and 92.85Mb up. I’m happy with that result. So, I know that if I can wire a device in and test my connection, I’m getting what I’m paying for. What if I speed test off my phone?

On my phone, I’ve downloaded the speedtest.net app. I’ll run the same test and post the result below:

That’s a completely different result and there could be numerous reasons for the slower test on my phone via Wi-Fi. It could be how far I am from my router, interference with other Wi-Fi networks, other devices in my home or office that are actively using Wi-Fi bandwidth, etc. But if this was the only test I’d done, I might assume that I’m only getting 30Mb of the 100Mb I’m paying my provider for.

Your provider can help you troubleshoot your LAN issues and possibly increase the speed of your Wi-Fi. But remember, our first test today showed that the WAN connection, the one my provider’s responsible for, was good. My LAN connection might need some work, and that’s on me.

For more tips on internet speed or troubleshooting, give our customer service team a call. We’re here to help you get the most out of your internet service so you can stay connected.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

PhoneSoap

If you’re not familiar with PhoneSoap as a product, you may be conjuring images of dish detergent or window cleaner. The truth is that PhoneSoap is a creative way to sanitize your cellphone and any other small personal items that may need cleaning.

PhoneSoap, at least the basic model that I’ve got, is a white clamshell with ultraviolet bulbs in both the top and bottom of the device.

phone soap closed

phone soap open

These bulbs are what’s responsible for sanitizing any items placed within it.

PhoneSoap uses UV-C radiation to sanitize your phone. We’re all familiar with UV radiation. We’ve heard, for years, about the necessity of using sunscreen to prevent sunburn and possible skin cancer.

What you might not know, though, is that the World Health Organization has, for years, recommended the use of sunlight (UV radiation) to purify drinking water if no other purification means are available.

How does sunlight purify or sanitize anything? It’s all about the radiation.

Our sun generates three types of UV radiation: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. Our ozone layer stops all of the UV-C and most of the UV-B radiation. UV-A and B radiation cause us to tan or burn when exposed, and the damage from UV-B radiation also causes our bodies to create vitamin D.

None of those changes occur, though, without some catalyst. And that catalyst is radiation damage.

UV-C is the most dangerous of the UV radiation because it has the shortest wavelength. It’s so short, in fact, that it can inactivate microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. That’s why you may be hearing more in the news now about cities and countries using UV light to sterilize hospital equipment, mass transit equipment and the like. UV-C gets right into the RNA and DNA of germs to prevent them from infecting or reproducing.

Our phones go everywhere with us and there’s probably little you touch or hold more than your phone. It stands to reason that our phones need regular sanitizing. And while you can wipe down your phone with a bleach wipe, something like PhoneSoap gets your phone truly clean and doesn’t leave any residue when it does.

Using PhoneSoap is easy! Just place your phone in the case, close the lid, then the light on the top of the case will come on. Ten minutes later, the light will turn off, and your phone is clean (well, sterile anyway).

I’ve found the case to be big enough for my key, wallet and eyeglasses, but not much more than that.

phone soap with keys inside

But those are my daily carry items, the things that I’m holding or touching most often, so it stands to reason that if I can keep them clean, and my hands clean, I can do a pretty good job of making sure I’m not bringing all sorts of germs back home.

PhoneSoap Basic is available for about $50 and should be good for tens of thousands of uses.

Stay safe out there.
Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Hosting Live Events Remotely

Large gatherings as we knew them are a thing of the past. 50% capacity or cancellations are the only solutions for some, but what about virtual live events? In the following clip, I discuss the logistics behind live streaming tech needed to bring your event to the masses safely on your own devices.

 

 

Thinking about putting on a live streaming event? Here are some pieces of technology to consider.

Eventlive.pro
Wireless Mic
Patch Cable

Call us with questions on connectivity!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Staying Connected

We’re coming up on four months of quarantine now and, for many, that’s meant four months of mental health struggles.

Consider the run on toilet paper we had at the beginning of it all. People’s anxiety over the unknown triggered that hoarding behavior. But having enough toilet paper (or way too much in many people’s cases) only satisfied a superficial risk. The underlying anxiety remained.

We are social creatures. Most of us want to be around people. Human contact, emotional and physical, is important. I’m a performer. I need feedback to be fulfilled. I’m also a hugger. I want that physical affirmation from the people I love and trust. I’m fortunate to be quarantined with my family right now. They can tell if I’m up or down. My oldest son, who’s out of the house, will check in with me on Tuesdays because those days are often (for whatever reason) my most stressful day of the week.

 

 

Knowing how important it is to me to have that interaction, I’ve made it a point to try to reach out to friends and family during the pandemic. Some of that contact may have been via a text message or instant message of some sort. Messaging is great. It’s quick, it lets someone know I’m thinking of them, but it does have a downside, too. It’s easy to lie in a text message. If I were to ask how you were doing/how you were feeling and you replied, “I’m good!” would I have a reason not to believe you? Even if you replied, “Oh, not bad, getting along pretty well I guess,” would that trigger a sense of unease?

Messaging keeps us in touch, but I’d argue it doesn’t really keep us connected.

A phone call gets us closer. If we can hear each other’s voices, we can hear the subtle inflection that helps tell the real story of how we feel. And, be honest, is there a much better feeling in the world than sharing a hearty laugh with a loved one? Speaking of laughs, I’m also fortunate to have a group of friends that I unwind with via PlayStation in the evenings. The ridiculous jokes, occasional curses and honest laughs are a welcome release during all of this.

Maybe the best way to get in touch with someone though, if you can’t see them in person, is on a videoconference. Whether it’s Skype or Zoom or Facetime or Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts or whatever else you may have access to, actually seeing the faces of your friends and family is important. Then you really know they’re okay. If you haven’t done it yet, give it a shot. Video call someone you haven’t seen lately. You’ll make sure you see how they’re doing and they’ll be able to see how much you care.

I wish you all health.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Opening the Office: 702’s Steps

COVID-19 has changed everything for everyone. A year ago, working from home was something we had employees trying out “in case of emergency.” Of course, the “emergencies” we were planning for were something more like a one-day blizzard than a three-month quarantine. But when the day came that I gave the order to close the office, everyone went home, set up their workstation, and (with a couple calls to our LAN administrator for help) got to work remotely. Practice and planning made that move possible.

We have never practiced or planned for reopening during a pandemic, so beginning to do so is uncharted waters.

 

 

I’m gladdened by the decreasing active cases of COVID in our community. I’m proud of the social distancing that’s shown to slow the spread. The question has now become “Are we ready to come back to work?”

I’d love to be able to send out an email to my employees and announce that 702 is open for business, just like we were back in February. But that’s not the reality. The reality is, we will reopen, but it won’t look like it did before.

When 702 does reopen, we’ll do so with limited staff in the office. Initial plans are to have no more than 10 members of our staff in either building, at any time. Employees will be asked to sanitize their own workstations a couple times a day. We’ll have sanitizing wipes in the bathrooms, by the copier, in the break room and any other common areas with the direction “if you touch it, sanitize it.”

We’re also planning to require masks in the office. We’ll limit the number of customers in the lobby, discouraging any non-essential visits. We know some of you have missed coming in to chat with your favorite 702 employee and pay a bill or ask a question. We’re going to ask that you hold off a bit longer. Make your payment on the internet or over the phone. If you’ve got a question, give us a call. We want to keep everyone safe.

As I type, we’ve ordered plexiglass barriers for our customer service stations to create separation between customer and staff.

Staff members will be required to take their temperature before reporting in-person for work. Anyone with a fever will not be in the office that day.

Some of these things are going to be a hassle, sure. But the goal of all of this separation has been to protect each other from harm. We’re going to continue to do so for the time being to enable the day when we take the barriers down, put the masks away, and get back to business as usual.

I wish you all health.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

COVID-19: Work-Life Balance

Remote work is blurring the work-life balance for millions of Americans, and causing some mental health issues in the process. Here are some tips for managing your stress and finding a healthier balance.

I’d always jokingly maintained that the amount of time I spent at work each day helped me appreciate my family more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t love my family. But there’s always been value for me in leaving my office, where it may have been a stressful or frustrating day, pulling into my garage, and being able to leave the workday’s trouble at the door.

 

 

When the office is just a room in the house and your coworkers are the same members of the family that you see every day, that balance can be harder to find. My den used to be where I played video games to review on my podcast or where I spent time writing for fun or painting or any other number of hobbies I have to relax and unplug. Now that same den is the office that I spend 8 hours a day in. When I’m done with work, if all I do is move from my desk to my recliner and boot up a video game, I could be spending 12 hours a day in the same space.

It’s easy to see how that could start to wear on a person after a time. Cabin fever, anyone?

So, here are a couple suggestions to help combat that cabin fever and maintain some work-life balance.

First and foremost, if you’re going to be doing work from home, pick a room to do that work in and only do it in that room. If the den is going to be where stressful conversations take place, then I need somewhere else I can go to de-stress. So, maybe I move the video game console to another room in the house.

Work your normal day. If you’re expected to be in the office from 8-5, be in the office from 8-5. But get out of that room for lunch. Get up and walk around the house (or block) for a break a couple times a day. When it’s the end of your shift, shut off the lights in that room and close the door on your way out.

It might be time, too, to pick up a new hobby. YouTube is a wealth of information and ideas. It’s the right time of year to try growing a garden. Maybe you want to plant a tomato for the first time. Watch YouTube and figure out how to prune it for maximum yield. Get on the sourdough train and perfect the perfect loaf of bread. Start birdwatching in your neighborhood. I’ve just started making some jewelry at home with leftover scrap copper from some electrical projects.

The point is, we all need that balance. We all need an escape. And if it’s hard now to get that escape the same way you used to, find your new escape. There are still plenty of things out there to discover and new things to enjoy.

I hope this helps you be safe and work well.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

COVID-19: Work From Home Bloopers

While many people out there are work-from-home professionals, this is new to a lot of us. As a result, we’ve seen some pretty embarrassing work-from-home bloopers pop up. How can you make sure you’re not the next YouTube sensation? I’ve got some tips for you.

Maybe you haven’t seen the videos in question. While there is a certain amount of Schadenfreude involved, I’m not going to spread the misfortune directly. You can search on Google or YouTube for “work from home videoconference bloopers” and feast your eyes on the failures.

 

It’s easy to laugh at the student who attended class, in his bedroom, naked, and without realizing he was on camera started to walk around the bedroom for everyone to see, or to feel really, really bad for “Poor Jennifer” who took her whole office to the bathroom with her.

At the end of the day, though, both of these situations and many others you find can be easily resolved.

I get that one of the joys of working from home is maybe working in your pajamas or not doing your hair or makeup. I’d suggest, though, that you resist that urge, especially if your day contains even one conference call.

Don’t let working from home be permission to be lazy. Get up, take your shower, put on your work clothes and just be ready for your day. Not only will you avoid the work blooper reel, but you’ll also likely feel more of a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. You didn’t trudge down the stairs to hang out in the basement all day; you got up and went to work.

I’m not saying you can never work in your PJs. For all you know, I’m writing this blog post in mine. But I know there’s no chance you can find out.

Here’s hoping we can all stay off that blooper reel!

I hope this helps you be safe and work well.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications