Category Archives: IT
A few days ago I had cause to register a new Internet domain name for a project I’m working on.
On this occasion it was a “.net” domain.
Unfortunately for some reason I wasn’t given the option of taking the “Identity protection” option at the time of purchase, and I’ve not previously had too much in the way of issues by not taking it, so didn’t really think much of it.
This time however, proved to be different.
The WHOIS records for the domain concerned contained full name, address, and telephone number contact details.
Within hours of registration I was starting to receive spam e-mails like this one:
Anyone with a degree of knowledge will know that search engine registration is free, and threats like this one that if you don’t (implied: purchase their service) your website will not be indexed by search engines is misleading at best, and outright deception at worst.
What was slightly more sinister this time was the fact that so far this morning I have received no less than five unsolicited phonecalls from foreign sounding ladies & gentlemen, and in one case a silent call directly to my mobile. The calls I actually answered all wanted to talk to me about website development, or search engine registration.
This takes publicly available personal contact details, and exploits it in an entirely new way. They MUST get enough takers to make this worth doing, but it alarms me to think that people would fall for this.
I’ve subsequently enabled ID protection on the domains I can, and have requests outstanding to complete on others.
I am using a fairly advanced spam filter on e-mails, which is “learning” about these new unsolicited e-mails every time they come in, and I use Truecaller on my mobile, and Sky Talk Shield on the home phone number.
I wonder how many more will bug me?
So I’ve been having some problems over the last couple of days. And by the looks of the Google search results, I’m not alone.
Our Chinese Spammer friends have found a new and really bloody annoying way of getting in our faces.
For anyone with an iCloud account (including just about anyone with an iPhone, iMac, iPad, etc) they are sending bogus event invitations to your iCloud e-mail address. These are mass sent events, and all you can do is respond with “accept”, “maybe”, or “decline”.
These events will pop up in your calendar, and depending on your reminder settings will disruptively pop up on your Phone or iPad. Unfortunately ALL of these responses will send a trigger back to the sender, so he/she knows that the e-mail address is active, which anyone with a grain of common sense will know is the last thing you want to do, because they will then send a load more junk to the e-mail address if they know it’s active.
The only temporary bodge “fix” seems to be to create a new calendar called “Spam”, move the spam events in to it, and then delete the calendar. I’ve not managed to get that to work as yet on any of my iDevices.
This is a poor show by Apple; There seems to be no way you can restrict the receipt of event invitations to people in your contacts list, or to report an e-mail address for sending spam.
So thanks for this Apple. Sort it out, please!!
Here’s hoping for an “update” soon that will give some better options!
I got a reasonable score for my day to day password! 🙂
I’ve been doing more musing than usual recently on where I think technology evolution in the Network arena is heading over the next few years, and the concept of a Virtualised CE Router keeps popping in to my head. This entire post is a bit of blue-sky thinking, but it’s not that far away from where we are today.
I think of the idea as a logical next step in the Hybridisation of Virtualisation and Network Function Virtualisation with that of Software Defined Networking.
Virtualisation has already taken over the Data centre, with VMWare and others having the capabilities to provide logically discrete Virtual Switching, Routing, and Firewall instances within the cloud infrastructure, so why not take it to the next step and start to consider Virtualisation for some of the additional services we might want to use? Indeed the IETF has a draft considering exactly this for MPLS VPN’s.
Current WAN networks follow a fairly traditional delivery model in that the edge of the carrier network is terminated on to a local piece of Customer Premise Equipment (CPE), which in turn is connected to a “Customer Edge” (CE) device usually provided by the Network Operator. Domestic DSL services follow a similar model.
My vision of a Virtual CE device fits both the conventional WAN solution, and in particular MPLS type deliveries, and a consumer grade DSL service.
Ethernet is increasingly becoming the bearer of choice for MPLS and Enterprise WAN services, either using Copper or Fibre, and terminating on an RJ-45 Ethernet port on the CPE. Since this is literally an Ethernet service delivery, why not shift the “intelligence” back to the other end of the circuit? Enabling the Service provider to virtualise the physical and provide a logical instance delivered from a shared hardware platform. This reduces the equipment that could “go wrong” on a customer site, reducing (but not totally eliminating) the potential need for engineer visits, break/fix maintenance, and ultimately to save costs. The carrier can also standardise the services that the customer takes, and capitalise on investment in centralised CE equipment. It would still be possible to use tagged Ethernet to deliver traffic to different Networks/VLAN’s for the more sophisticated requirements, and doesn’t really change the scope for screwups which could cause traffic to be delivered in to the wrong logical networks due to mis-patching, (although I do know of a solution that might help there too! 🙂 )
Extending this line of thought in to the Consumer market, I think that It has massive potential there too. It may still be necessary to have an intelligent black box of a sort as a CPE to provide a Layer 2 connection back to the intelligence in the Virtualised CE environment, (using something like L2TP over DSL to the virtual CE router?). Of course local WiFi breakout services will also still be required (Cisco already have the Meraki Cloud-managed Access Point range) but nevertheless similar benefits around centralisation, management, and economy of scale could apply. Consumers could still manage their own CE device via a browser, but the carrier could have a far greater degree of influence/control over the make/model of CE device the customer uses enabling standardisation as well as opening the door to many more value-added services that the carrier could provide. Some possibilities include:
- Central, Redundant, Backed up Network Attached Storage
- Media Centre/TV and related services (XBMC/Netflix/Plex/Sky Plus/Virgin TIVO etc)
- Remote Access/VPN
- Firewall & Security
- Shared Access (Data Sharing, Gaming, etc)
- Content Filtering
Taking those points in order:
Network Attached Storage: How many high-tech families (read: geeks) have sophisticated home networks with Network Attached Storage capabilities, used to backup Photos/Music/Documents, or other locally stored Data? This type of virtualisation could allow the carrier to provide (sell!) Exchange or Data-centre based NAS/SAN capacity.
Media Centre: What about those people using Media Server(s) running on a NAS or dedicated server Hardware? iTunes or Airplay servers to stream music to a SONOS or similar? Centralised access to subscription based TV services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, or even inbound access to your Sky Plus or Virgin TIVO? Local storage (maybe on NAS?) of your own movies using Plex or XMBC?
Remote Access/VPN: I can only predict this area will grow and grow. I currently have the capability to establish a private VPN connection to my Home Network in order to access data stored on my NAS etc. As the trend towards the “internet of things” accelerates, I predict that this trend will only increase over time as we access additional home based solutions including Lighting, Home Security, Central Heating, Electric/Gas meters, even Cookers and Freezers etc going forward.
Firewall & Security: We all hear about the latest and greatest zero-day exploit and such, wouldn’t it be great if we could sit back secure in the knowledge that our service provider was protecting us against these threats centrally. Integrating this measure of control behind an easy to use UI to facilitate:
Shared Access: Already we find the younger generations gaming together within the same house on their respective games consoles with LAN enabled gaming, and of course MMORPG’s are extremely popular too! Why not have the neighbourhood kids playing Minecraft together on a private server that only they can get to? This is about the ability to selectively extend parts of the Network between entities (on a selective and controlled basis of course). Want to access that particular music track at home while you’re visiting a friend? no problem!
Content Filtering: How about being able to deliver different levels of filtering, maybe to different Wifi SSID’s or LAN ports on the black box locally? How about separate SSID’s for “Adults”, “Teenagers”, and “Children” each with differing levels of content filtering, maybe even logging applied.
And of course that’s before we start entertaining the ideas of Desktop-as-a-service, or the shift of compute workloads to the cloud. I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of time before we shift the work behind our games consoles away from black boxes in the home, and just use a virtual-screen display type solution for it all! (nVidia SHIELD?)
I know that much of this can be done today, but it requires a particularly persistant technical person to make it all work, and even then it’s not yet as seamless as we’d all like! I think that the idea of Virtualising the CE takes us a step towards my vision, and is a potentially lucrative area for the carriers to invesigate.
What do you think?
Being myself a product of the British Educational System, and having followed a fairly conventional path in to my current career, I have long felt a substantial frustration with the direction of our current higher educational system.
I am of course talking primarily about the prevalence of “Hairdressing”, “Media Studies”, “Photography”, and “Tying your Shoelaces” courses which seem to be so popular with the modern youth. Coupled with this has been a somewhat backwards attitude towards Computing and IT qualifications, or “ICT”. Thinking back to when I graduated some 15 plus years ago now, some of the available courses were somewhat out-of-touch with the marketplace, teaching obsolete programming languages (COBOL) and disciplines such as JSP which the real world had left behind. For the first two years after graduation, I sept unlearning, or more specifically relearning what I actually needed to have a real career in Computing and IT, but to be fair, despite teaching obsolete topics, the courses had equipped me with the basic approach and knowledge I needed to apply to any language or discipline that I required. Indeed it would be foolish to assume that I would be programming in COBOL or PASCAL for the remainder of my programming days, knowing how the market was going to evolve in unknown directions.
The Technology sector is the industry in which I work, so I have a huge vested interest in caring about the direction it takes. For me it is the future, it is replacing many of the White collar types of work our Parents could or would have done in their lifetimes, and it has the potential to become the new wealth creating sector of the economy, since it’s evident we just cannot compete in Manufacturing, and have exhausted most of our Raw Materials already. In my estimation this makes it so vitally important for our economy, even for those that have no interest in working within that sector.
For me then, the Educational System has let the Technology sector down badly for the last ten years or more. Many people don’t seem to have much of a clue about the difference between Computing and IT, or “Information Technology” to give it it’s full title. For me, IT is about using the modern tools available to do a job. It’s not specifically about that £500 PC or £1000 laptop sitting in front of you, but it’s you being able to use that piece of equipment to help you complete a task of some sort; in the same way Screwdrivers, Paintbrushes, Spanners, and Shorthand might have been to support other professions.
If we are honest, in recent years this has translated in to needing to be able to use a Mouse and Keyboard, to navigate Windows, MS Office, and yes, even to know how to use popular Office suites such as MS Office, or perhaps using a Tablet or Smartphone. It is absolutely vital that this particular facet remains current and aligned to market trends. The downside of this in the last 5 years or so has meant knowing the Microsoft Product suite, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, and Word specifically. Of course in order to do all of that, you don’t need to understand much about how a computer works, or why it does what it does; No knowledge is needed of Binary, of Electronics, although a high level knowledge of Computer components would probably be useful. All of these skills will be handy for just about any student of any discipline these days. In much the same way as English and Maths are part of a standard curriculum, so I believe Information Technology should also be included as standard, and probably in the first 2-3 years of Secondary Education (I believe they call it Years 7-9 these days!). I know “Graduates” of a Higher level Computer Programming course that think programming is using Visual Basic for Applications within Access or Excel, when in my estimation this is “just” a tool (and admittedly a fairly sophisticated skill to possess) to do a job which ought to be a product of the Information Techology arena.
Contrast this with a Computing course, or more correctly titled a course in Computer Architecture or Computer Programming, which clearly would require a much lower level of detail around how computers work, and why they do what they do; Perhaps a missing element in Networking could be folded in to the Architecture section? In any case, out of this fundamental knowledge of Computer Architecture grows a necessary understanding of Operating System concepts, which in turn grows in to API’s and programming languages that may or may not be platform specific.
I have recruited and interviewed staff several times during my career to date, and each time I’ve found it necessary to explore just what content the Computing courses a candidate has on his CV actually contained, and from that establish whether the basic level of required knowledge is there. In the Networks space, it’s quite astounding to see how few people in IT actually have a grasp of how the Internet works, and how applications could be exploited over the Network if not written properly.
So, enough moaning, Why are we on the brink of something wonderful?
Two reasons…. Firstly a Slice of Pi.
The Raspberry Pi is a fantastic concept which has been long missing in the marketplace. It is a simple, and cheap (not just cost effective) solution for providing Computing Power and technology. It literally costs about $30 to produce, and the Raspberry Pi Foundation does not aim to turn a profit, so this is loosely the price to you as an end user. In exchange you don’t get a finished product nicely cased with lots of glossy instruction manuals; Instead you get a completed PCB slightly larger than a credit card, but probably smaller than the smartphone in your pocket, with a Media Card Reader slot, a couple of USB ports and a Network interface, and an HDMI Out so you can plug it in to a modern TV to use, and not much else! No PSU, no Keyboard/Mouse, and no Operating System is provided; instead you have to use another PC to write the Open Source OS on to a Media Card, and then plugging a USB keyboard & mouse in and away you go!
Currently most of the available OS’es are Linux based, but I expect this will change over time. The Pi uses an ARM processor based on a Broadcom System-on-a-Chip, and has a limiting 256Mb of RAM, but again this costs $30 (or ~ £30 for us Brits).
What an amazing Catalyst for learning the Pi could be! Providing cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere! It’s aimed at the Educational sector, and it fits in so well with my vision of a Computing course it’s astounding. It could be used to learn Web programming! Several of the currently available OS distros can support a LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql, & PHP) stack, and of course it facilitates a clear understanding of the system architecture and indeed it’s limitations play to this as well, having to write code that performs well and within the capabilities of the Smart Card based Storage and 256Mb of RAM.
Other options are of course there too, with C and Pascal compilers, Basic compilers/interpreters, and so many possibilities it’s incredible. The Pi doesn’t lack for processing power either, it’s capable of outputting an HD picture to a TV and decoding video at 720P resolution on your HDTV, or even playing Quake.
So, if you are a parent with a curious youngster, I strongly suggest you think about investing in one! It’s not going to replace your family PC, at least not yet, but what better way for both you and your children to learn together about Computers? And it doesn’t stop there either; Schools adopting the Pi in to the curriculum could develop Craft Design Technology (or whatever they call it these days!) sessions around making cases for the Pi, and so much more!
The second reason dovetails neatly in to the Slice of Pi. If Pi helps shape the Computing aspect of Technology Educational needs, then the Governments’ brave decision to effectively scrap the current ICT curriculum in January this year, and to invite dialogue with the Technology Industry on developing a replacement has kindly facilitated the other missing part of my vision.
The so called “Microsoft GCSE” has the potential to deliver Students with real skills in modern technology solutions out to the workforce in a few years time. If at 16 or 18 a student had the ability to write applications for a modern Windows PC using Visual Studio, or to interface with and control a SmartPhone, or even produce Apps for that SmartPhone, then the system has done it’s job, and will be producing worthy candidates once more.
I know that other vendor entities including Cisco have been engaged in discussion over the future curriculum too, (see here), perversely the Government has even been criticised for perhaps listening too closely to the vendors, but at the end of the day it’s Vendors like Cisco, Microsoft, and the Raspberry Pi Foundation that are going to be leading the market in all sorts of directions over the next 5-10 years, so why should we not pay close heed to their needs?
If all of this happens as I sincerely hope it will, UK.plc has the potential in years to come to retake the worldwide lead in the Technology market, and to turn out some of the most supremely and more importantly usefully qualified students which will go on to lead our economy who knows where! This is something which we’ve been fighting to do for years now in the face of strong competition from Asia and the Pacific.
This is all my own opinion and perspective, and of course it’s possible I’ve got it all wrong, and my Vision is naught but ideas in my head. I sincerely hope not, but all the same it makes me feel like we’re on the brink of a whole new journey now, so let’s make the most of it together, and see where it takes us!
(I am currently in a waiting list to get my own Raspberry Pi).
You might just have noticed over the last couple of weeks, this Website has undergone a bit of a transformation.
One of the extra abilities that some of this work has given me is the ability to gain a little insight in to the people that visit my blog. While perusing the statistics today one particular entry caught my eye.
Somewhere, Someone is using a very VERY old version of Windows still!
Microsoft have not been supporting or producing any Security updates to Windows Millenium since July 11th 2006, meaning that for nearly five years now, that individual has been receiving no patches or updates of any kind. I would suspect that any Anti-Virus software (if any!) that they may be running is long past it’s end of life now, and is very likely to be out of date at best. Internet Explorer 6 is probably the newest version of IE that Windows ME could run, and the more observant amongst you have probably already noticed that the PC in question is already infected with the Zango Toolbar spyware!
I guess it just reinforces for me my belief that it is vital to stay current with your Software Updates and Patches. I know there will always be a healthy dose of pragmatism involved on the spend/save upgrade cycle, but in my mind that really is pushing the limits in my mind. It is little wonder that we are subject to such massive disruption and organised anarchy caused by “Hackers” (used in the negative context) using things like the Storm Botnet, which to an extent relies on un-patched vulnerabilities in Windows to spread.
So the message of the day today – Keep your PC Up to date. When was the last time you ran WindowsUpdate?
Incidentally, I’ve added a small section to this blog with some recommended tools and utilities, including a Free Anti-Virus recommendation, and some Security Tools to help keep your PC safe.
Long time followers may be aware that I’m lucky enough to be part of a test programme run by a certain large PC & Printer manufacturer. On two previous occasions I’ve been sent an all-in-one Printer/Scanner/Copier/Fax to “test” and report back on, at the end of which time I’m allowed to keep the printer as a Thank you for my feedback and participation.
I finished the second of these test programmes in about August last year, and have happily been printing away on this “free” printer ever since. Admittedly not making particularly heavy use of this one, it’s still got it’s original ink cartridges fitted!
I came to use it a few weeks ago and discovered that the printer just had no power whatsoever. Having checked the obvious cables, and extension leads I concluded that it was a printer fault of some sort, and started cursing as I expected that meant I’d need to go out and buy a new printer.
Surprisingly, I made a few inquiries first, and after one phone call, much to my delight a new power supply is on it’s way to me. I have “full” support on the printer until September this year!
For a printer that cost me nothing but a little time, I think that’s pretty fantastic service!
Prompted by some fellow Networksy types, (Jeff and Jeremy), who’s recent entries on the contents of their toolbags I found extremely interesting; I thought I’d go through mine as I have a few unusual items!
Starting with the fairly standard stuff:
Good old fashioned and simple wire strippers. These ones have an adjustable lock to stop you stripping too much cable unintentionally.
Then of course the RJ45 Crimps. Nothing too fancy, just cheap and practical. I have never needed to crimp an RJ-11, so all I need are RJ-45 ones.
A standard set of Cisco Console cables; I tend to have a couple of brand new ones as well as tried and tested ones in the box, as I often end up leaving them behind attached to “core” devices, so there’s at least one on any site that we touch.
A good old Krone punchdown tool. My old and trusty one is starting to be a bit tempramental now when it comes to cutting the wires, so I’ve recently added a new one which has yet to be christened. Fortunately I don’t need these THAT often!
The quite rare and exceedingly valuable lesser spotted Cage-Nut Tool. I try to keep hold of these as they have a tendancy to vanish from my toolbox when other engineers realise what they are and how useful they can be! Most decent brands of Rack seem to come with one, so I’m not sure quite how they are so rare. Maybe they live under datacentre floors along with the cage nut eating mice?
Some Cage Nuts/Bolts, and some Velcro ties, have to try and keep things nice and neat now! 🙂
This one is a relatively new2 addition, a freebie I picked up at Infosec this year, but it replaces a rather worn and similar one.
I usually keep a handful of these Couplers at the ready. I’ve used them for all sorts of strange purposes over the years. Everything from extending Cisco Console Cables for those REALLY hard to reach devices, to temporarily connecting cables in lieu of an IP Phone with a built-in Switch.
I probably don’t need to explain why these are here, but it’s a good “just in case”.
Always a good standby, but I keep some of these 6″ Cat5e cables, they seem to come in handy all over the place!
A mixture of Adapters, Gender Benders, Modem Eliminators, RJ45-RS232 adapters, and Loop Tools.
Now on to the slightly more interesting stuff!
I’m not sure what this is called; I managed to pick this up several years ago when doing a project involving opening and unboxing over 1200 new IP Phones which were boxed in boxes of 4. The sheer quantity of cardboard and the number of boxes to be opened quickly caused fingers to be cut to shreds and fingernails to be damaged, but this really made life so much easier.
I’m always equipped with a USB Memory Stick, simply because my lanyard with my Swipe Card on it has one built in. This was a Promotional item from a supplier a couple of years ago, and has 1Gb storage, which is plenty for most things I’m likely to need.
This one is so valuable when trying to trace cables and find those frustratingly misnumbered ! I stick with this slightly older model because it has both an RJ45 connection, and a set of Croc-Clips for wiring only checks.
Not sure if I’ve spelt that one correctly! 🙂 The Butt is becoming less useful these days in the “modern” world of IP Telephony, but it’s still useful to have for tracing Wires and Analogue lines.
A fairly standard Cat5 cable tester. I haven’t had cause to use the older BNC style cable tester for some time, but this one is a two-part unit for testing local cables or entire cable runs, and will identify Straight Through or Crossover cables.
I added these some years ago after myself and a colleague were working in a building, one of us in the Patch Panel / Comms Room, and another person at the other end of a cable run. I actually have a set of four but keep two in my Toolbox and two at home.
An all-in-one unit for most sizes of star type screw, this one is a really useful one to keep handy.
Again an all-purpose tool which has a multiplicity of uses! I tend to use the conductivity test and Voltage readings most of the time, but it has saved me from a nasty shock on at least one occasion!
This one is in the spirit of keeping things tidy! I sometimes have cause to use the plastic surround which wraps a bundle of cables in a protective sheath. This is the special head which is used to apply the covering. It opens up and is clipped around the cables to be protected, and the sheath slides over the protruding knob. You then slide the head along the cable while pushing the protective sheath on to the head and hey presto, the cable is all nice and neat and protected.
The MiFi is used to get me Internet connectivity in places where corporate network connections are not available, or too slow. You never know when you’re going to need to download a different IOS image, and if the Network is broken – well you simply have to have an alternative. It’s often also faster than Hotel Wifi as I can get up to 8Mb all to myself on this, depending on how good the 3G coverage is at the time. The USB extension cable is used to get to those really hard to reach USB ports from time to time.
Interestingly I note some of my peers keep a Flashlight in their tools; this is my equivalent. With an elasticated head fitting, it can go over my head to give me hands free illumination while working.
I’m not sure where I picked these up, or what their proper purchase is, but they are ideal for temporarily holding some cables “up” together in the back of a rack somewhere. The metal clips will hook on to all sorts of things, and the Velcro at the bottom keeps the cables secure.
Used for connecting directly to the Laptop and transferring stuff straight to/from a CF card before putting it in a Router or Switch.
This is a specific tool for a certain brand of UTM appliance. It’s credit card sized but fairly thick with a push-out USB cable head. Plugging it in to the USB port on an appliance will cause the appliance to reset to it’s factory default, so the ultimate in password reset tools I guess!
And lastly a collection of Miscellaneous Widgets including some Permanent Marker Pens, a collection of Batteries, a standard USB Memory Stick, a Wireless USB Network Adapter, and a GLC-T GBIC.
That’s all. I’ve not shown the “boring” screwdrivers, or must have label printer etc which are probably an ever present feature of most Network Guys’ toolkits. My only problem at the moment is that I don’t have a proper “box” to put all the tools in; I’d like one similar to this Stanley one, but currently this is all in a plastic crate at work which will slide in to the back of the car nice and easily if needed.
So, what’s in your Toolkit?
What am I on about you may ask?
The answer is simple…. one of these:
It’s an LG N2B1DD2 2 Bay Blu-ray Network Attached Storage 2TB which connects to the Network and provides Network Attached Disk for me to back up and archive data to.
I’ve had a 1Tb Buffalo Terastation for about five years now, and it’s choc-full of data, with my MP3 Collection, my Library of Audiobooks, copies of most of my Applications and so forth, and that’s BEFORE I count the Multi-Gigabyte’s of Documentation I’ve accumulated from all the different PC’s I look after, and various Laptops that “visit” for me to maintain!
The Buffalo was a 1Tb, the new one is 2Tb but has the added benefit of allowing me to migrate on-line storage to near-line or off line using the built-in Blu-Ray recorder, which is REALLY interesting!
The fact that it’ll work as a DLNA Server, so I could stream Video straight from the storage device to my Whizzy Samsung 7-Series TV is a huge bonus, and the iTunes Server thing is quite interesting too.
So, this is squarely on my list of gadgets to acquire. Psst; Anyone want to buy a 2nd hand Buffalo Terastation?? 🙂