Saturday, October 29, 2016

Family Tech: DOS attack reminds us to be prepared - October 28, 2016

I hate it when the world mocks a recent column. Two weeks ago I extolled the virtues of the Internet of Things devices. This week, they helped cripple large parts of the Internet for the better part of a day.

On Friday the 21st, users were unable to reach sites like Twitter, Pinterest, CNN and many others. These sites all used the DYN Corporation to manage their DNS services.

When you type in an Internet address, like InsideNova.com, the request is first routed to a Digital Name Service server. There the name is found in a database, and a number is returned to your browser. That number tells your browser where to find the actual InsideNova web server on the net.

If that DNS server is down, then your browser will not find the content you are seeking.  

 DYN manages the DNS servers for the companies that became unreachable Friday. DYN was attacked by an unknown entity using a denial of service attack, or DOS for short.

In a DOS attack a site is flooded with traffic, overwhelming its servers so they cannot do their job. Think of a million mailmen all trying to put mail into your mailbox at the same time. Not all of them could stuff mail at the same time, and the little box would be overwhelmed.

Friday’s DOS came in two separate attacks from an astonishing tens of millions of Internet addresses. By attacking this one site, the attacker was able to hobble many sites instead of just the one they were attacking.

If just one computer tried to flood another in a DOS attack, it would be easy to know where the attack was coming from and block it. To avoid detection DOS attackers created botnets to infect PCs. They might trick you into opening an email attachment that would install the botnet or sneak it onto a PC another way.

A lot of times when your computer is infected by a virus, that virus did not harm your PC or even copy information from it to another PC. Instead it became partially under the control of a bad actor. When they wanted to mount a DOS attack, they could order their army of botnets on PCs like yours and mine all over the world to begin flooding the target site with traffic.  If you and I were alert, we might notice our outgoing internet traffic was higher than it ought to be, but few of us would notice.

This is where Internet of Things devices enter the picture. When we began adding home automation hubs, internet connected lights, thermostats, sensors etc., the manufacturers did not pay as much attention as they should have to the security of those devices.


Read the rest at FamilyTechOnline.com


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tech apps can make that commute just a bit easier - October 21, 2016

A few weeks ago I mentioned I had a new car. The new car was for a new job, and a daily commute to the Reston/Herndon area.  For the first time in 14 years I have a more or less typical commute for this area.
I’ve come to see my car as yet another piece of digital technology. And while my physical life may not be the best organized, my digital life is efficiently optimized. So I set out to find the best suite of tools to make my commute more efficient, while not distracting from driving safely.
Since a big part of any job is to arrive on time, my commute efforts begin upon waking. Google Now on my Android phone tells me as soon as I turn off my alarm how long my commute will take on my normal route. This gives me an idea of the urgency needed in getting ready for work.
The last part of my morning preparation has me at my computer checking personal email and dealing with column and blog issues. One of my open browser tabs is Google Maps. It shows my route to work along Fairfax County Parkway and two alternatives along Va. 28 and I-495. I can easily see if the estimate Google Now gave me on waking is still accurate, and how the alternative ways are faring.
Once in the car, I start the pertinent apps and place my phone in a dashboard mount. I am careful to plug in the power--the mapping app takes a lot of power as it keeps the GPS and screen running constantly.
I’d tried Google’s Waze navigation program a few times and have not been impressed. However, after our trip to Israel in March, I saw how enamored every cab driver and tour guide was with the Israeli developed app, so I gave it another try.
Why use a navigation system for the commute you do every day?  Waze is actually a social networking tool. People who precede me on the route can enter traffic jams, accidents, road hazards and other issues with their voice or gestures.  If an issue arises, Waze will immediately plot a route around it.  It also keeps me up-to-date about the probable time I will arrive.
Alone time in the car is a good time to listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Audio books are available from the county library or from Amazon Audible's monthly subscriptions.

Read the rest at www.FamilyTechOnline.com

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Family Tech: Internet of Things is already here - October 14, 2016

It used to be the only thing in our homes hooked to the Internet were our PCs. In a short amount of time, we added phones and tablets. Now, there are a multitude of things we can connect to the net, in our home and in the outside world.

This concept is called the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. The Internet of Things will dramatically change the world and, if we choose, our homes.

IoT in the world can be sensors along the roadside that report traffic flow. It can be power meters already in many homes that automatically report meter readings to utility vehicles that pass your street.

IoT can be sensors monitoring pipelines, medical equipment monitoring patients as they go about their day, buoys at sea watching for tsunamis, remote seismometers, and new uses every day.

IoT may already be in your home. There are home automation lights you can control from your phone, the Harmony remote control system for controlling TVs and other home entertainment, the Ring doorbell or any of the multitude of connected home automation devices.

The Amazon Echo, and Google’s just announced Home, let you ask questions, receive answers and command some home automation products. The Echo makes it easy to order from Amazon simply by asking for a product.

The Ring doorbell is mounted by your front door. When someone touches the button, thinking it is your doorbell, you are alerted on your phone. You can see them and have a conversation with them. They do not know you might not be in the house. Burglars often ring the doorbell first to see if anyone is at home before entering a house.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Family Tech: Be sure to ensure the kids’ safety online - September 30, 2016

My brother’s granddaughter called her grandmother four times Friday after school.  When an 8-year-old can place a video call for free, cross country, from her own tablet, it struck me again just how easy kids can communicate these days.

Therein lies the great benefit, and the profound risk of online life.

The 8-year-old can communicate with friends--hopefully ones she knows in real life--but also ones she has met online.  How do you teach a child that not everyone is good, not everyone is really 8 when they say they are, and the other cautions they need to learn sooner than later?

And it is not only children who need to be taught to be safe online. We can all fall prey to bad actors online. And we need to help our senior citizens understand the dangers online as they are often the target for financial scams.

Thankfully there are some powerful resources out there to help parents, kids and seniors.

Our county schools teach from materials found at Netsmartz.org. Parents should review the materials there.  There are sections for kids of various ages: teens, tweens and younger children. There are also sections for parents. Material is available as articles, presentations and videos.

The teen sections have real life stories of the consequences of being unsafe online.

Larry Magid of CBS News is the power behind SafeKids.com.  It has a contract families can agree to for safe surfing. They also have resources on how to stop cyberbullying, how to prevent sexting and how to recognize when your child is being groomed by a predator.

Cyberbullying is especially worrying. It used to be your child could only be bullied in the presence of the bully: at school.  The home was a safe place from bullying, and after school hours could be peaceful respites from bullying.

Read the rest at www.FamilyTechOnline.com