Seattle Tech Advisory Board selects new officers, committees

At the December meeting of the City of Seattle Citizens Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board, the members elected Nourisha Wells as Board Chair and Joneil Custodio to be the Vice Chair for 2015. The Board and City staff thanked the 2014 Chair Ben Krokower and 1st Vice Chair Dana Lewis. Both will be continuing to work with committees in 2015. The Board also thanked retiring members Rob Dolin, Brian Hsi, Stacey Wedlake and Daniel Hoang for their valuable service to the residents of Seattle.  Read more about the new and current members here: seattle.gov/cttab

The Board members also selected committees they will serve on in 2015 and initial committee chairs:

e-Government: Nourisha Wells (chair), Joneil Custodio, Jose Vasquez
Digital Inclusion: Ben Krokower (Chair), Joneil Custodio, Jose Vasquez, Dana Lewis, and Sarah Trowbridge
Broadband & Cable: Sarah Trowbridge (Chair), Beryl Fernandes, past members Brian Hsi and Daniel Hoang
Privacy: Beryl Fernandes (Chair), Ben Krokower, and Nourisha Wells

Follow CTTAB and the exciting work they do here: cttab.seattle.gov/feed/

 

City of Seattle supports assistive technology lab, empowers older adults

IMG_2188Older adults with low vision reconnect with their independence in a new assistive technology learning lab funded by the City of Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund. Low vision caused by age-related eye diseases compromises the ability of older adults to continue activities of daily life, self-care, and even social interaction. One nonprofit, Sight Connection, enhances the ability of individuals with vision loss to lead active independent lives. The Technology Matching Fund provided Sight Connection with a wide selection of assistive technology devices for lab participants to experiment with for their personal goals. Over 440 low vision lab participants discovered assistive technology devices help them read, write, communicate and search online, and accomplish other tasks linked to independence. At age seventy and living with macular degeneration, Barbara Reedal found an electronic magnifier and an iPad could help her write cards to loved ones, send emails, and read paperwork to become a kitten foster mother. She claims, “Things started looking better as soon as I became aware of everything available. My next goal is to use a smart phone and I know I can try it at Sight Connection.” Through the Technology Matching Fund, older adults are living life with low vision on their terms and giving back to their community. Visit sightconnection.org to learn more about Sight Connection and the assistive technology learning lab.

Internet’s Hot Newsmaker: Net Neutrality

It was hard to make it through 2014 without coming across the term Net Neutrality somewhere, whether a newspaper headline, an online blog, a television story, or a radio program. In just the first seven months of 2014, the term was cited in tens of thousands of news sources, blog posts and Tweets. Why has Net Neutrality been such a hot topic? It started with a January 2014 court decision that changed the legal framework protecting the concept and ignited the very public debate over whether – and how – Net Neutrality would be protected into the future.

Prior to this debate, most of us used the Internet every day, never being aware of how the concept of Net Neutrality (short for ‘network neutrality’) impacted our experience.  The network neutrality principle is what allowed us to have an Internet where the companies providing our Internet access, like Comcast, Wave, or CenturyLink, would treat all Internet traffic equally regardless of what the content is, where it comes from, or where it is going. The role of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) was to provide us with a ‘neutral pipe’ to the Internet, and not to interfere with our access to any content over the pipe. The Internet has operated this way since its beginning.

Without network neutrality protections, an ISP could decide it is no longer going to be a completely neutral pipe, and is not going to treat all Internet content equally. Instead it could give preference to their own content or charge other content providers for ensuring their content is not slower than the ISP’s content. This could lead to a future Internet where bigger companies have the best access to you via the Internet, while smaller, independent sources of content, applications and dissenting opinions could be harder to reach. It could mean the end of the open Internet access that’s been enjoyed by users for the past 20+ years.

This concern is what fueled the past year’s Net Neutrality debate. It is also what prompted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open a rule-making process to determine how to best protect the concept under a different legal framework (see FCC Chairman Statement on Rule Making to Protect & Promote the Open Internet). The FCC process began with asking for public input for the rule-making. So many comments were received that it overwhelmed the FCC’s web site and caused them to extend the public comment period.  In the end, over 3.7 million public comments were received.

During this debate, Seattle’s Mayor Murray has been a strong supporter of protecting network neutrality, stating “The Internet thrived because anyone could use the network to communicate, collaborate and create applications, without any unnecessary interference from network owners.” Without network neutrality protections, and with the possibility an ISP could interfere with equal network access, the Mayor is concerned it “will inhibit innovation, decrease research and development, and hurt Seattle’s economy.” In August, he sent a letter to the FCC stating Seattle’s support for protecting network neutrality principles (see Mayor Murray’s letter to FCC on Net Neutrality).

In November, Mayor Murray joined the mayors of New York, San Francisco and Portland (OR) in sending a letter to federal lawmakers asking them to support President Obama’s call for the FCC to reclassify the Internet to be a ‘telecommunication service.’ Currently, Internet service is classified as an ‘information service’ and almost totally unregulated. As a ‘telecommunication service’ it would be subject to utility-style regulation (like the phone company) which could ensure Internet service companies continue to treat access to all Internet content equally.

This approach to ensuring network neutrality is only one of the options being considered by the FCC. It is the approach favored by President Obama (see www.whitehouse.gov/net-neutrality) and many others, but there is also plenty of opposition to reclassifying Internet service as a telecommunication service. Opponents say the healthy development of the Internet was the result of it being an unregulated service, not because of government regulation. Adding on regulations now would make it more burdensome for an Internet service company and cause private companies to stop investing in the infrastructure needed to bring Internet services to users. An example of an opposition argument is here: Harvard Business Review: Why the Public Utility Model Is the Wrong Approach for Internet Regulation).

As a new year begins, the Net Neutrality issue remains an open and important national debate. The FCC will be working through the millions of comments it received and continuing with its new rule-making process.  If the future openness of the Internet remains a broad concern, you can expect to see Net Neutrality as a hot newsmaker in 2015 too.

City increases Seattle Public Access Television support

For many years, Seattle has been a leader in supporting a public access program for City residents.  The program is an important free speech and community building tool by allowing anyone to produce their own TV program for airing on cable TV channel 77 (Comcast) and channel 23 (Wave). The public access program also provides studio space, equipment for producing a video program, training opportunities, and the ability for producers to store and archive their programs for web viewing.

Seattle’s Public Access program manager operates public access television as Seattle Community Media (SCM).  The City provides annual funds to help support the program, and SCM staff independently manage the program.

In November, the Mayor and City Council showed the City’s continued support for a healthy public access program by increasing its operating funds by $105,000 for 2015 and 2016.  They also approved another $51,000 to be used in 2015  to buy new equipment for the program. This will help update and replace the aging video equipment that is currently available for program members to use.

If you or your community group has an expertise to teach, an important message to be heard, or a hobby to share, look into SCM and see how the program can help you.  SCM services include:

  • Access to production tools like cameras, microphones, and editing and studio space.
  • Access to stream video programs on-demand through the Seattle Community Media website and access to a wide variety of easy-to-use online tools.
  • Ability to control the messaging about your programs that television viewers and online viewers will see.
  • Ability to upload your finished programs from anywhere you have access to the web and to schedule when your program will air.

For more information about the program and becoming a member/producer, visit their website at Seattle Community Media.


 

Password suggestions

I am sure you have heard this a million times by now.  Make your password hard for others to guess but easy for you to remember.  Most systems you access today require you to change your password on a regular basis,  which can cause you to forget what pet you used last as a password.  There is a way to make your password easier for you to remember but hard for others is to access.

Most systems require/recommended that your password:

  • is 8 characters or more long
  • has a punctuation in it like .,!,@,&, etc.
  • has at least one character capitalized.

A way to make sure your password is secure is to do something like the following.

Let’s say in the 90’s you used a password like “puppies.” As you know, today this password would be hacked within minutes. On top of being a security risk, most systems will ask you to change the password, not letting you change it to “puppies” again.

You can change the password “puppies” to look like this:

01Pupp!e$2015. This is easier to remember than you might think.

01 = the current month

Pupp = you’re spelling puppies but you ccapitalize the “P”

! = instead of using the letter “I” you used “!”

e= Is just like you wanted

$ = instead of using the letter “s” you used “$”

2015 = the current year we are in

Now you will always know what month and year you are in, so all you would have to remember is the root password “puppies” and the fact that you change certain characters.  Now when it’s time to change your password, just change the date portions to reflect a new year.

Please note, I strongly suggest from time to time changing your root password, which letters you choose to change characters, and capitalize.  This will help you ensure your password always stays secure.

Who is really on the other end of the line?

Beware of fake support scams!

Your phone rings. The caller ID says ‘Windows Support,’ so you answer.

“Hi,” the caller says, giving a name. “I’m calling from Windows support. We’ve been receiving some error messages from your computer.” The caller says he can fix those errors if you give him remote access to your computer. You’re worried, so you agree.

Next, the caller says he needs to download software to your PC to fix the problem. He also requests your credit card number to pay for the software and tech support services.

Sound suspicious? It is. The tactic is commonly known as a ‘Windows support scam’ or ‘tech support scam,’ and anecdotal evidence suggests it’s on the rise.

In October 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced an international crackdown on Windows support scammers. But since then, publications such as Computerworld, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle and others have reported that the scam appears to be occurring more frequently.

The Scare Tactics
Windows support scammers succeed too often because they scare their victims into thinking something’s terribly wrong with their computer. The scenario described above is just one of their tactics. Here’s what can happen during a ‘Windows support call.’

  • In some cases, the caller ID may say ‘Windows Support’ or it displays a number from area code 425, which serves the Washington state area including Redmond—Microsoft’s headquarters. This doesn’t mean the call is legitimate, however, as scammers often use caller ID spoofing to mask the true phone number from which they’re calling.
  • The caller usually identifies himself as being from Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, an Internet Service Provider (ISP), or other known computer/service companies.
  • When you ask for proof that the caller has seen error messages from your computer, he may direct you to look at a Windows Event log on your PC. The log typically displays harmless error messages, however, which could look like legitimate problems to less savvy computer users.
  • Once they gain your confidence, scammers will try to convince you to pay for their ‘tech support services,’ which may be a one-time fee or a subscription. Not only do you pay for useless tech support, you’re giving your credit card information to a criminal, who may use it for unauthorized charges or sell it to other criminals.
  • The software that the caller downloads onto your PC to ‘fix’ it may contain Trojan horse malware designed to steal your online account information and passwords.

Windows Support Scam Variations
If all that weren’t enough, there are other types of tech support scams you should be aware of.

In January, the FTC’s website reported scams in which callers say that if you previously paid for their tech support services, you may be due a refund. They’ll ask if you were happy with their services (chances are, your answer is “no”). Or they’ll explain the company is going out of business. Because you paid for a tech support subscription from them, you’ll get a ‘refund.’ Their motive, of course, is to convince you to give them your credit card or banking information so they can steal your money instead of refunding it.

Separately, tech support scammers have been targeting mobile users, too, though cold calls or online ads, according to PC World. The mobile scam goal is usually to get you to pay for bogus tech support subscriptions of $300 a year, more or less.

There’s also the old ‘scareware’ ploy, in which some websites display bogus pop-up windows or banners telling you that your computer may be infected with spyware or viruses. The goal is to get you to purchase and download fake security software, which could be malware.

What You Can Do About It
Never give strangers remote access to your PC. Microsoft, ISPs and other companies aren’t going to call you out of the blue claiming to have seen errors coming from your computer.

Did you fall for the scam? Ask your credit card company to block or reverse the charges ASAP. You may need to be issued a new credit card.

Scan your PC for viruses, spyware and other malware using your computer’s security software. In worst-case scenarios, you may have to backup your data, reformat your hard drive, and reinstall Windows to be sure you’re rid of any downloaded malware.

Of course, the best step is to be aware of the Windows support scam so you don’t fall for it. Tell friends and family about it, too—especially those who are less savvy about computers and Internet-related scams.

Posted on December 10, 2014 by ZoneAlarm