Government’s Struggle With IT

NPR’s amazing “Science Friday” radio show and podcast recently discussed something dear to my heart. No the topic was not “Star Trek” or the “Denver Broncos”, “Disney World” or “Vinyl Records” but something even more critical today, “Information Technology and the Struggles Facing Government”.

Two of the challenges with IT in respect to government mentioned in this episode include:

  1. Project Management. This is incredibly important and if not efficient will of course result in project overruns, increased cost and poor outcomes. This often occurs in the public sector.
  2. IT in government often lags behind the private sector especially relating to embracing innovation.

I believe our 2 planned technology projects in 2016 demonstrate our unique mission at the Borough of West Chester of “embracing technology in order to provide the best service possible to our staff and community”

Our projects here at the Borough of West Chester next year include:

First – “Skype for Business” voice/video system which is focused on mobility, availability and collaboration.

Second – Our move towards a digital document management system demonstrate our goal of improving workflow while reducing paper usage and achieving a smaller carbon footprint.

The goals of these 2 projects in particular are often not seen in government.

In respect to information technology I selfishly believe we are doing very good at West Chester because we have fully embrace innovation.

You can check out Sci-Fri’s episode titled, “Government Glitches – What Happens When IT Projects Fail” here.

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FCC Steps In To Tighten Hacking Laws

FCC_logoOne of the problems surrounding hacks to companies such as Target and Staples is the serious delay in announcing the security breach to their customers. In almost each and every case the public announcement is weeks delayed and sometimes even months. It is this delay in publicly announcing the security breach that makes the problem worse. Because of these delays customer’s data very often remains at risk for longer then it should. This is where the federal government needs to take a role, and it looks like that this may actually happen.

President Obama is also likely to propose rules that prohibit technology companies from profiting from information collected in schools, according to a report yesterday in the New York Times, which quoted White House officials.

The proposed federal law on data hacks, which the president is expected to discuss in a speech to the Federal Trade Commission, is expected to require companies to report within 30 days of finding that their data has been hacked. The new law will more then likely specify when breaches must be disclosed and makes it a crime to sell a person’s online information abroad. The FTC would have the authority to penalize companies which fail to comply with the new law.

 

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Technology Security Is For Everyone!

security_technologyIf you have a feeling that computer security issues are worse then ever you are unfortunately correct. If you are one of our dedicated readers you surely are already aware of this trend.

Infections from malicious software is basically harmful code. This malicious software is known publicly as malware and includes bad stuff like computer viruses and worms and these very real issues are keeping technical professionals busier then ever.

From a report issued this week at AV Test there was more malware found over the last 2 years than in the previous 10 years combined.

Why Have These Infections Increased So Much?

For many years antivirus software was fairly successful blocking malware based on the malicious software’s code. But cyber-criminals have know found a way around that. They can buy or freely download malware code, then change just a few elements of it. Suddenly, the code is invisible to the antivirus programs, and free to wreak havoc.

The security industry is working to find an answer. One of their newest techniques is to keep track of how malware behaves and what it trying to do. Imagine malware that attempts to copy your online-banking password. This new type of active protection would stop any file from doing this. The problem here is that this solution could cause issues with some legitimate applications.

This escalating game of cat and mouse between information technology professionals and cyber-criminals has no end in site and the battle will probably go on for years. The ironic result is that hackers are jumbling the code of their malware to avoid getting caught, using the same techniques companies use to protect sensitive files.

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What Can You Do To Help Protect Yourself? 

Although you cannot do anything about large organizations like Target, Staples and Sony being hacked there are a couple of basic things you can do to protect yourself and I have recommended these for a very long time.

  1. Take your password management seriously!
  2. Do not use the same password across all of your accounts.
  3. Use complex passwords.
  4. Invest in a password manager/generator like LastPass which will make the last 3 recommendations surprisingly easy to manage.
  5. Do not visit shabby or suspicious websites.
  6. Do not open attachments in unsolicited email messages.
  7. Do not click on hyperlinks in unsolicited email messages.

The day has arrived for everyone to take technology security seriously, not just technology professionals.

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Reading Your Tablet in Bed is Not Good for Sleep

iPad_BedLast week a new study confirmed something I had already figured out myself. You see although I am a technology junkie I have never had much luck reading my tablet or even e-book reader in bed. I always found that the bright light of the screen at night caused an uneasiness falling asleep and sometimes even a headache.

The new study I am referring to found that the glow form smart phones, tablets and other devices may be disrupting sleeping patterns. Researchers report that they now believe the effect the devices have may be more profound than originally thought.

To conduct the study, researchers took a look at 12 adults during a two-week inpatient stay, reported The Los Angeles Times. Some of the participants were asked to read an iPad for four hours each night before bedtime for five nights. The rest of the study participants were given printed books to read in dim light. After a week, the two groups switched.

After the researchers observed the participants, they found that the group with the iPads took longer to fall asleep then those without. In fact, those who use tablets and other devices for bed took an average of 10 minutes longer to fall asleep, American Live Wire reported. As a result, they spent less time in restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

This is very important because REM sleep is the restorative part of the sleep cycle. Typically, you begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep. The period of NREM sleep is made up of stages 1-4. Each stage can last from five to 15 minutes. A completed cycle of sleep consists of a progression from stages 1-4 before REM sleep is attained, then the cycle starts over again.

“It may be having a greater impact than we previously thought,” said Anne-Marie Chang, a study co-author. Chang is a bio-behavioral health professor at Penn State.

Researchers also found the iPad group to be groggy and less alert the next day. The Kindle e-reader is the only device that proved to be an exception because it does not emit light and is similar to a printed book.

“When you are reading on a light-emitting device, you are directly staring at the light source, whereas if you are reading using a bedside lamp for example, the light that you are receiving is a lot less intense”, said Chang.

“A lot of people think this is psychological,” said Charles Czeisler, director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “But what we showed is that reading from light-emitting, e-reader devices has profound biological effects.”

I suggest that when your day is done you take a good old fashioned book to bed with you and if it must be an e-book reader use a Kindle Paper White which does not use a back light. In addition not taking electronics to bed will allow you to take a break from technology and your work day, and of course it will be less of a fire hazard.

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The Precarious Future of Email

email security2Can you imagine a world without email? Not that long ago (prior to 1995) it did not exist for the masses. Today it is everywhere and most of us have at least 2 email accounts. However there have been ripples out there predicting the demise of email and there are some very real and legitimate reasons to consider this possibility.

Today about 6 in 10 Internet-using workers in the U.S. list email as “very important” to doing their jobs, topping the list of most important work tools, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

Email even outranked the Internet for most workers, which 54 percent called very important, and ranked well above mobile or smartphones [24 percent] as well as social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, which only 4 percent of workers found important. Surprisingly, the use of landline phones outranked mobile phone usage: 35 percent of respondents marked landlines as very important.

Email and the internet top the list of important tools for online workers

Despite email users being subject to hack and phishing attacks as well as spam, it continues to be the primary communication tool that workers believe is important to their jobs, Pew said. Since taking hold a generation ago, email has not loosened its grip on the American workplace, the research group said.

The analysis in the report released earlier this week is based on an online survey in September of 1,066 adult Internet users over 18. The respondents included 535 adults employed full-time or part-time, forming the base of the report.

 

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The Case for Email

One of the findings here and one that I agree with it is that using the Internet does not lead to distractions in the workplace and does not affect productivity. Just 7 percent feel their productivity has dropped because of the Internet, email and cell phones, while 46 percent felt more productive, despite critics worrying that digital tools can be a distraction, Pew said.

What’s more, more than half of the workers said that Internet, email and cell phones expand the number of people outside of their company they communicate with. And almost 40 percent said the tools allow them more flexibility in the hours they work, while 35 percent said they also started working more hours due to the digital tools.

The Case against Email

Meanwhile, employers are now starting to change practices regarding employees’ Internet and email usage. Just under half of those surveyed said their boss blocks access to some websites, and 46 percent said there are rules about what workers can say or post online. The latter figure more than doubled since Pew began asking about company rules in 2006.

Email has become the most serious security concern for employers today. The problem here is that most people have become unwisely comfortable and trusting of email. Because of this hackers have begun using email as the transport device for malware, Trojan horses, viruses and more. To make this situation even worse is that people have gotten lazy during the past decade and have begun using one email account, usually their employers. This situation has placed email in the position of being one of the primary security risks for organizations today.

Saving Email

I unlike others do not believe email should go away but I do believe that the time has come for organizations and individuals to take email use and security very seriously. Only this will save the future of email. So what do we do to save the invention of email? It is really not that hard.

  1. Users must separate their personal lives from their professional lives in respect to email. A separate email account for work and home is a must and should be required by employers.
  2. Users must familiarize themselves with good email security. Do not click on unsolicited email attachments and hyperlinks.
  3. Employers must implement sound email monitoring and compliance policy and procedures.

You can see that I only have three “rules” here. Of course these can be expanded but here we have the means to keep email alive, safe and secure.

You can read the Pew Research Report here.

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Glimpsing 2015

OK now that 2015 is officially and really here I have a couple of tech objectives that I am hoping finally find some success and adoption. I had hoped for more success in these arenas in 2014 but hey you can’t have everything, but maybe this year these will finally break through.

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Security

Hacking took the tech work by storm in 2014 and 2015 will only be worse. In almost every single case Malware was the weapon used in these attacks.

The hackers are getting more audacious and it is clear that you should not rely on companies to protect your information.

So this year, the average person has no choice but to take the time and learn about security. You really need to take responsibility and protect your own data and privacy. You need to learn about encryption and password management as well as changing how you use the internet and email.

Security is no longer the subject of the paranoid, it is how you interact with the world. It’s going to be difficult, but it will be worth it because it’s not just about hackers going after your information. The NSA disclosed on Christmas Eve that it has been spying on us for years with is somewhat alarming.

2015 will be the the year of security whether we like it or not.

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The Un-Bundling of TV channels

There is finally some good news on this horizon and it’s called HBO GO. HBO GO is currently bundled with HBO which, depending on your pay-TV provider, may or may not be bundled with all sorts of packages filled with channels you’ll never watch. But this year, HBO GO is expected to be offered on its own without a pay-TV package. You won’t even need the HBO channel. This is a first.

This is actually a huge gamble by HBO, which gets money not only from your subscriptions, but from the deals it makes with cable and satellite providers to offer the channel. But with pay-TV subscriptions slowly falling and more networks offering apps with access to their shows, if cable and satellite companies and the content providers they work with want to stay relevant, the bundled TV package might be a thing of the past.

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Wearable Technology Finally Finds Some Broad Success

Other then the Pebble smartwatch I have not found that I cannot truly recommend any wearable today. Sure if you want to monitor you works the Fitbit and Microsoft Watch might be OK for you but the Fitbit only bring minimal benefit outside of monitoring your physical workouts and the Microsoft Watch is simply to clunky.

All of this is likely to change in 2015 with the expected debut of the Apple Watch and Microsoft will surely redesign their otherwise excellent entry in the wearable market. I am hoping for the best here because I really do find that my Pebble Watch helps me through the workday providing me with easy access to email and notifications.

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Cloud Services Growth Continues

Now this is my only no brainier on the list. Cloud Services both on a personal and enterprise level have been steadily growing both more reliable and affordable during the past couple of years and this trend will continue in 2015. In 2014 Microsoft began offering it’s Microsoft 365 service with unlimited OneDrive Storage for under $10 a month. Considering that 5 family members can access this service that is quite a deal. Microsoft also began offering  unlimited cloud storage to it’s enterprise customers as well. This unlimited storage will begin to have organizations exploring more cloud services in 2015. Of course other cloud providers will also have no choice but to offer similar services to that of Microsoft in order to compete for your cloud dollars.

In the end 2015 should be an exciting year in the tech world and I look forward to experiencing it with all of you, my dedicated readers.

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The Problem with Passwords

password_606-11387690It has seemed that just about every week (or 2) this year I have had to write about large companies getting hacked and millions upon millions of people’s personal information being placed at risk. There is one thing really at the heart of this problem, and that is passwords. You may be surprised by that answer because I am consistently preaching about the need to get you password house in order and to take your security seriously.

The Problem with Passwords

The problem with passwords is that people forget them, or worse, use the same one over and over, for everything from downloading an album on iTunes to paying their mortgage.

Hackers just love this old password system because they can use them to steal without having to actually face their victims.  The most current example of this type of theft by password is the nude photos swiped from the Apple iCloud accounts of roughly 100 celebrities.

The Future of Online Security

Security experts have argued for years that the password, at least as it’s used today, must go. They are less certain about what should replace it.

Apple and Samsung phones often today come with a fingerprint sensor, an increasingly popular approach. Some companies are now developing eye-scanners, or programs that can identify people from the way they hold, type on or scroll through their mobile phones.

Although these fingerprint sensors are popular they can work erratically and people often give up on them after a few weeks.

 

Others say the solution is better security software that eliminates the need for any firm to store passwords at all. This is a similar technology to the LastPass solution I recommend.

We Are the Problem

The problem is us. Most people simply can not remember a separate password for every online service. People prefer short, easily memorized words or numbers, not the long and complicated strings of characters that are harder for hackers to crack.

Given the password’s inherent flaws, many companies have started turning to biometrics, using the unique details of the human body as the ultimate source of identification.

Apple’s iPhone gives people the option of recording their fingerprint to unlock their phones with a single touch. They can also use their fingerprint to approve purchases on iTunes or the App Store.

McAfee’s LiveSafe security system recognizes its customers by voice, and by sight. The system records each user’s face and voice, then uses the cameras and microphones built into computers and phones to verify their identity.

All of these security options are really at least 3 to 5 years out and probably longer because the technology of security is very hard and even more difficult it changing the habits of human beings. 

In the meantime I again recommend using a password manager which will allow you to organize, manage and most importantly use unique encrypted passwords for all of your online accounts. LastPass is my recommended solution today for this.

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Happy 48th Star Trek

Star-Trek-TOS-Fan-Art-star-trek-the-original-series-5821046-387-526Today is the 48th Anniversary of the most non-human influence on me. On this day, 48 years ago Star Trek premiered on NBC. I was only 2 at the time so I of course did not get to see Star Trek on that premier night. However it would not be long. About 5 years later at the age of 7 or so I can still vividly recall stumbling on the episode, “The Devil in the Dark” and actually taking a few steps backwards in stunned surprise as I watched Spock mind melding with a Horta. Of course at that moment I did not know who Spock was and I certainly had never seen a Horta before, but I was sold and my life would go on to be guided by the philosophy of Gene Roddenberry’s Trek universe from that point forward.

There is no denying that Star Trek in all of it’s incarnations has made an impact on young and old fans alike. From entertainment to science, the ideas created for the science-fiction classic resonated with many generations, not just me. From ideas about warp drive and universal translators, Star Trek certainly has provided the science world with many thrilling innovations to explore and bring from science-fiction to reality.

The episode, "The Devil in the Dark" was the first episode of glimpsed and it still captures my imagination.

The episode, “The Devil in the Dark” was the first episode of glimpsed and it still captures my imagination.

 

Many critics during the the time the original Star Trek series was airing believed there were too many scientific impossibilities in the writing and blew the series off as silly fiction. It was no surprise that Star Trek was cancelled after three seasons. However, twelve movies with a $2 billion box office and several Star Trek television series later, Star Trek surprised all of its critics with an unprecedented success and longevity. There has also been hundreds of Star Trek novels written and sold during the past 48 years and I admit, I have read most of them.

Why Does Star Trek Endure Almost 50 Years On?

This has been asked and discussed by countless people trying to figure out Star Trek’s consistent popularity. It is not really that hard if you ask me. I believe that answer is quite simple and dare I say… logical. Star Trek at the end of the day is a celebration of diversity. Star Trek advances a commitment to self-determination, independence, freedom, equality, individual rights, responsibility and creativity. It promotes a naturalistic worldview, dedicated to using reason, science, and logic in understanding the universe, solving problems, and improving the human (and alien) condition. It accepts universal ethical norms that transcend religion and culture. These views represent Star Trek’s humanist principles and ethics. While most fans may not identify them as such, I have always believed that they are a large part of Star Trek’s continued attraction and have contributed to making it more than just a TV show for many fans.

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West Chester Launches New Website

Visit CivicPlus at www.civicplus.com.

Visit CivicPlus at www.civicplus.com.

Launching a new website is NOT an easy thing. Going all the way back to January of this year the decision to find the best solution, obtain the financial resources and then work with the provider was in itself a daunting task. Websites, especially for local governments are a very public affair. Residents, business owners, elected officials, visitors and other professionals often see the organization’s website first, and as we all know, first impressions are very important. Because of this mis-steps need to be avoided if at all possible. It is all of these reasons and many others that projects like this often stay on the back burner. Excuses are very often welcomed as a reason to delay moving forward.

This year, at least for our organization delay was no longer an option. Working together with West Chester’s leaders right down to each and every department I was first, able to find a service provider in CivicPlus that I knew could get the job done and internally build a “website team” with the staff around me. Working with members of each of our departments we were able to, stay on schedule and build a website that our government and community can be proud of, and find very useful.

You can visit our new webpage at the same old address, www.west-chester.com.

You can visit our new webpage at the same old address, www.west-chester.com.

 

From the start of this project there was really one over riding objective for us.

Enhancing citizen engagement with their government.

Although we are very proud of our new webpage there are many more enhancements in the works including a sister mobile app which we will be calling “West Chester Mobile” which will bring all the services of the webpage to iPhone and Android smartphones.

Here is a big thank you to CivicPlus and each and everyone on the Website Team for the Borough of West Chester. The Borough of West Chester’s website team includes, Judy, Rich, Kathy, Jennifer, Staci, Dave, Hector, Meghan, Pam, Scott and Bob. It would not have been possible without each and everyone of you.

Unlike books, movies, TV episodes, music and just about anything else a website is a living – breathing thing and it’s development never stops so this is a project for us here that will be going on for a long, long time.

Be sure to visit the new Borough of West Chester today.

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Microsoft’s New Vision Leads to Cuts

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft’s vision of adjusting to the new tech world as primarily a “software as a service” and “devices” company is underway. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “software as a service” is cloud computing. Earlier this year Microsoft purchased Nokia, a very well established and respected smartphone manufacturer. Nokia and Microsoft already were very much tied at the hip as Nokia has always been the primary builder of the Windows phone line.

As with any acquisition of two large companies there will eventually be job cuts and a reorganization as the new melded company decides how to move on with their new mission. This is where Microsoft is today.

We heard reports earlier this week that Microsoft would be announcing a huge round of layoffs. This reports were some what confirmed last week when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella foreshadowed the cuts in a letter to employees by outlining his plans to “flatten the organization and develop leaner business processes”.  This is basically what I suggest earlier in this article regarding the merging of companies and Microsoft’s new vision.

Today, Microsoft made the move official and the numbers are very staggering. However, Nadella announced this morning announced that 18,000 positions would be cut over the course of the next year.

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Nadella further said that 12,500 of those positions will come from redundancies as a result of its Nokia Devices and Services acquisition, and that it will eliminate the first 13,000 positions within the next six months. Nadella promises that the job cuts will be down in a “thoughtful and transparent” manner, and that severance packages would offered to affected personnel.

Microsoft has been through many changes just in the past 5 years. Microsoft was until recently primarily thought of as a software company. Their Windows operating system, Microsoft Office line and Business server operating systems sustained the company for decades. However, especially in the past five years mobile devices (tablets & smartphones) and cloud computing have become critical services and Microsoft is keenly aware that if they are not successful in those arenas their company will fade into history.

I believe that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is on the right track here and although there will be bumps in the road the acquisition of Nokia and the reorganization of Microsoft are major steps to successfully fulfilling their vision of being an important player in several markets including, “software as a service”, “devices” and “enterprise”.

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