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Could a Quantum Network Be the Solution to Internet Security? June 2013

Could a Quantum Network Be the Solution to Internet Security?

Perhaps. A recent article published online mentioned a test network at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico that was trying the first economical and scalable quantum cryptography. The technology, if successful, could be used with existing fiber-optic networks (like ours at PenTeleData).

What is quantum cryptography?

Quantum mechanics says that certain properties of subatomic particles cannot be measured without disturbing the particles and changing the outcome. That is, if data is encrypted with a quantum key before it's sent, anyone trying to intercept the message would inadvertently change it, and in turn, it could not be viewed.

Why is quantum cryptography potentially important?

Although being aware of security risks and taking steps such as malware protection to avoid them is helpful, no one is immune from being affected by hackers and other online criminals. An almost foolproof method of coding/encrypting data could keep personal, financial, and business transactions much more secure. At a minimum, it could be used for critical infrastructure, such as the electrical grid.

Who could it benefit?

In a word: EVERYONE. Since data connections are used for everything from healthcare, education, government, retail sales and banking, such a development would be an asset to everyone, including Internet Providers, consumers and businesses too.

Could it really work?

Until now, the challenge with quantum cryptography was how to share the encryption past each node, or location in a network. The new approach uses a hub-and-spoke architecture, as many optical fiber networks do. Instead of connecting every node, the test network sends the encrypted message from the spokes to the hub and back out again. As long as the hub is secure, the rest of the network is too.

At PenTeleData, we'll be watching for future updates about this technology. Stay tuned for additional information as it becomes available!

Don’t Leave Your Internet Browser to Chance! March 2013

Don’t Leave Your Internet Browser to Chance!

In December, Microsoft announced that everyone using a legacy (older) version of Internet Explorer would be required to upgrade to the newest versions, Internet Explorer 8 or 9, depending on the compatibility of their current operating system.  Some users considered this demand to be harsh, but from a security perspective, using an up-to-date browser is very important.  In fact, Microsoft reported that 90% of computers that were infected with malware were missing security patches that had been available for over a year.  This statistic points to the importance of using a newer browser with current updates.

Google’s Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Opera, and others – they’re all trying their best to earn your desktop.  Perhaps you’ve never even given it any thought, and just use whatever browser was on your computer when it was purchased.  So how should you choose?

First and foremost, whatever browser you choose should be up-to-date.  The newest versions, as mentioned above, are equipped with the latest technology and features to simplify, speed-up, and boost your Internet experience.  More importantly, anything old is a security risk.  Here are some factors to consider:

Security - The best browsers protect against pop-ups, viruses and phishing.  They should also allow you to clear personal information, including your search history.  Some even offer a “do not track” option for users to block websites from gathering information.

Features - With a goal of faster and easier Internet, browsers offer features like integrated search engines, tabbed browsing and thumbnail previews.  Find out which ones have the benefits most useful to you.

Speed - The speed of your computer and Internet connection are the primary factors when it comes to how fast you get information, but your browser also determines how quickly a page will open and whether it will open correctly.  Things to compare include startup times and how the browser processes HTML and JavaScript.

Support - Does the browser you choose offer support through e-mail, FAQs, tutorials or phone?  Although many browsers are free, it’s helpful to have customer support if a problem does arise.

Compatibility – Your browser must work well with your operating system.  For example, Windows Internet Explorer 9 does not work with some older versions of Windows, but Firefox 4 does.

Insights into the Broadband Initiatives Program January 2012

Insights into the Broadband Initiatives Program

Kevin Post, Business Editor for the Press of Atlantic City, ended 2011 with some comments about the Broadband Initiatives Program.  Some of the statistics he quotes are significant, and worth noting.

Here is an excerpt from his article:

"The Federal Communications Commission recently detailed its order to spend $4.5 billion skimmed from telecom revenues on a new Connect America Fund".

Federal stimulus spending in response to the recession already included $7.2 billion for this same purpose. An analysis by Navigant Economics of three big projects under that Broadband Initiatives Program found:

  • Even "areas in which very high proportions of households were already served by multiple existing broadband providers" were eligible for subsidized broadband work.
  • More than 85 percent of households in the three project areas were already passed by cable broadband, DSL and/or fixed wireless broadband.
  • $232 million spent on the three projects would provide service to just 452 households without any broadband service.

This costly effort is aimed at bringing broadband to a group of people who mostly don’t want it, according to a 2010 Pew Internet survey.

  • Half of Americans who don’t use the Internet told Pew that the main reason is they don’t find it relevant to their lives.
  • Only one in 10 nonusers said they would be interested in starting to use the Internet sometime in the future.
  • Navigant figured it cost $350,000 in subsidies to provide first-time broadband access to someone with none currently.

"So that makes the cost of new broadband access for those who actually want it about $3.5 million per household. "

"Pew asked if the spread of affordable broadband connections should be a government priority and 53 percent said no, 41 percent said yes."

Last April, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association released an analysis of the federal government broadband stimulus projects that were awarded under the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS).  It concludes that the program’s funding of duplicative broadband networks “has resulted in an extremely high cost to reach a small number of unserved households.”  The study was commissioned by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and prepared by Jeffrey Eisenach and Kevin Caves of Navigant Economics of Washington, D.C.

Here is what they published:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) included $7.2 billion to subsidize broadband deployment – $4.7 billion to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and $2.5 billion to RUS. The NTIA and RUS programs funded by ARRA make up the largest federal subsidies ever provided for broadband construction in the U.S.

The study shows that the RUS' history of funding duplicative service has continued under its Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and that the current program is not a cost-effective means of achieving universal broadband availability. It examined three large BIP subsidy awards which total $231.7 million, or about seven percent of the total BIP $3.5 billion combined loan and grant program:

  • $101.2 million in western Kansas
  • $66.4 million for Lake and St. Louis counties in northeastern Minnesota
  • $64.1 million to cover a portion of Gallatin County in southwest Montana.

Reports by the Department of Agriculture's Inspector General (AIG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have shown that RUS' prior broadband subsidy programs have not been cost effective, in part because they have provided duplicative service to areas that were already served by existing providers," the study says.

NCTA said that the study raises critical issues that were still not addressed in the RUS' "interim final" rules, which were just adopted last month. The new rules will enable RUS to continue funding duplicative broadband networks, even in communities where the vast majority of households already have access to broadband service.

Among the key findings in the study are the following:

Definitions used by the RUS to determine where grants should be awarded permitted subsidies to areas which were already served by multiple wireline and wireless providers. Of the three projects analyzed, more than 85 percent of households were already passed by existing broadband providers, and in one project area, more than 98 percent of households were already passed by at least one provider.

Based on the cost of the direct grants and subsidizing the loans, the study estimates that the cost per incremental home passed will be $30,104 if existing coverage by mobile broadband providers is ignored, and $349,234 if mobile broadband coverage is taken into account.

The RUS approach of funding duplicative coverage is directly at odds with the National Broadband Plan recommendations and would massively increase the cost of extending broadband to all unserved homes. The FCC's Omnibus Broadband Initiative estimated that the cost of extending broadband to every unserved household in the U.S. is approximately $23.5 billion, so long as duplicative service is not funded. But funding duplicative service (as RUS has done under BIP) increases the cost of a nationwide buildout by $63.7 billion, to $87.2 billion.

"While it may be too early for a comprehensive assessment of the ARRA's broadband programs, it is not too early to conclude that, at least in some cases, millions of dollars in grants and loans have been made in areas where a significant majority of households already have broadband coverage, and the costs per incremental home passed are therefore far higher than existing evidence suggests should be necessary," the study says.

Smartphone Malware on the Rise December 2011

Smartphone Malware on the Rise

Threats to smartphones are on the rise, and according to McAfee, they will reach a record high by the end of the year.  The most targeted smartphone platform, also one of the most popular, is the Android. According to a recent CBS news wire article, the Android is also the easiest device to sneak bad apps into because Google is slower to catch them.  During an interview on "The Early Show", CNET.com senior editor Bridget Carey mentioned "The bouncer to the Android club isn't as tough as the Apple bouncer.  An attack or virus on an iPhone has not been detected."   When asked why, she said, "It's just not out there yet."

What does this mean for all smartphone users?

  • First, be cautious of third-party downloads.
  • Limit apps to sources you know and trust.
  • Avoid getting pirated or bootlegged apps, because although you may save money, it’s just like handing your house key to a stranger.
  • Read the app reviews before you download.  If there’s a problem, users are likely to mention it.
  • Watch out for holiday or seasonal themed apps.  The holidays are one of the easiest times to be fooled.
  • Buy a mobile malware protection app from a trusted source, like Norton or McAfee.

If your smartphone does become infected with malware, you could become a victim of identity theft or your phone could send costly texts or call pricy 900 numbers without your knowledge.

The Latest on Net Neutrality April 2011

House Votes Against Net Neutrality

In December, the Federal Communications Commission passed an order called "Preserving the Open Internet".  Net Neutrality had been the topic of an ongoing debate to determine what limitations telecommunications companies should impose and what pricing models work best. For example, should some content providers be blocked? Should there be different rates for broadband customers depending on the content or service type they receive? At what point is a user required to upgrade to a commercial account because they are using too much bandwidth? Essentially, the goal has been to find a balance between consumers' interest while maintaining incentive for investment and innovation on the part of service and content providers.

The December resolution created the regulatory framework for transparency and continued Internet openness, while allowing providers to effectively manage their networks and respond to market demands. In summary, the rules enforce the following:

Rule 1: Transparency
Broadband providers must publicly disclose information regarding network management practices, performance and terms of use so that consumers can make an informed choice about use of their services for content, application, and service. This information will also help content providers develop, market and maintain Internet offerings.

Rule 2: No Blocking
Broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management. (For example, a cable provider cannot block access to a content provider who offers movies, etc.)

Rule 3: No Unreasonable Discrimination
Broadband providers shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic. (In other words, providers cannot pick and choose whether to allow faster access to some websites over others.)

Then, in mid-April, the Republican-led House of Representatives approved a measure that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from regulating how Internet service providers manage their broadband networks.  Many Republicans argue that the regulations will discourage these companies from investing in network upgrades.  They also express concern that the legal authority of the rules are beyond the realm of the FCC’s authority.  Most Democrats favor the rules, stating that they provide "an enforceable and effective policy for keeping the Internet free and open."

The resolution will be presented before the Senate, where 51 votes are needed to uphold the ruling.  If passed by the Democrat-led vote in the Senate, it also faces a veto threat from President Barack Obama, who promised during his campaign to enact a net neutrality provision.  If the bill does make it the President’s desk and is vetoed, it would take a two-third vote in each house of Congress to override the decision.

Are You in the Cloud? February 2011

If you use a web-based e-mail service, online photo sharing or if you share ideas on forums and discussion networks, you are cloud computing. Cloud computing is data storage and applications that are kept somewhere other than your computer. This allows access to current data and software that is stored via virtual servers or computers, possibly in another part of the world.

The concept can be compared to the rollout of grid-based electricity. When implemented over a century ago, businesses and consumers no longer needed to produce their own power. Instead, they could plug into a huge network. With cloud computing, users connect to services and applications anytime as they are needed.

Examples of cloud computing include:

  • SaaS stands for "Software as a Service". Rather than relying on desktop software or traditional servers, some software is hosted by a third party and available via the cloud.
  • Web-based e-mail services
  • Online photo sharing
  • Forums and discussion networks
  • Social networking (Facebook, MySpace, Classmates, etc.)
  • Storage services
  • Spam Filtering
  • Managed Security Services
  • Virtual Hosting

Most of us don't give much thought to where in the world such files and services exist, just that they are available when we want them. Cloud computing provides the benefit of anytime access to data, added capabilities, increased capacity, and free software that is kept up to date.

Few would argue that the benefits of cloud computing are great and should be embraced with open enthusiasm. Like anything though, some approach the concept with distrust. Not knowing where data is stored brings up privacy and security concerns. If the data is not backed up and goes missing, who is responsible? Others believe that it's marketing hype. The concern is that people would become trapped into using proprietary systems. Another question is how the software or data becomes available if the computer is working, but the broadband Internet connection is experiencing an outage.

One thing is for sure. Cloud computing is the next stage of the Internet's evolution. Since it eliminates many of the constraints from the traditional computing environment, including space, time and cost, the cloud has changed technology.

What is Copyright Infringement? February 2011

When was the last time you watched a DVD or VHS cassette? When did you purchase a CD? Whether it was music or video, it probably contained an FBI warning. Copyright protects the value of creative work, and any unauthorized reproduction or distribution is breaking the law.

Internet providers are required to follow-up on each occurrence. It's a time consuming process, and most often, the response from customers is the same: "I didn't know that I had done something wrong." When using the Internet, there isn't a warning that tells you that your actions are illegal – but the weight of the law still applies. Federal law allows for severe penalties, including loss of your Internet service. Fortunately, knowledge is power, and the following information can save you from committing a crime.

  • Copyright law protects literary works, paintings, photographs, drawings, films, music, choreography, sculptures and many other things.
  • If you copy or distribute copyrighted work, you can be prosecuted in criminal court and/or sued for damages in civil court.
  • It is illegal to download unauthorized copies of any copyrighted material – even if you don't intend on sharing it or passing it along to others.
  • Peer-to-Peer networks allow Internet users to link their computers with other computers around the world. If you allow a file-sharing network to use part of your computer's hard drive to store copyrighted material that anyone can access and download, it's illegal.
  • File Sharing is the distribution of data (documents, music, videos, images, e-books or any other digitally stored information) through the use of a peer-to-peer network, e-mail, etc.
  • Peer-to- Peer, commonly known as P2P, is a giant network of computers in which each user installs and runs software to connect to this network.
  • Torrent or bit torrent is very similar to other P2P programs (like LimeWire, Kazza etc.). Torrents integrate themselves into your web browser (example: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari etc.) and create a new file type ".tor" (abbreviated for torrent) within the Windows operating system, similar for the Macintosh operating system. When finding a file that you wish to download, the download will initially start as a small file but then builds itself from other users around the globe until your download is complete. While you are downloading, other users begin to connect to you and get file chunks from you.​
Network Address Translation: It's Pesky (Maybe) but Refers to a Different Kind of NAT February 2011

The Internet has grown larger than anyone could have imagined. As a result, the standard IPv4 addresses are running out and implementing IPv6 has become a priority.

IPv6 solves addressing issues, but the transition to an exclusive IPv6 network will take a long period of time. That's why Network Address Translation (NAT) is important. Most people already use NAT and may not even realize it. For example, if there is a router in a home that is linked to multiple computers, there is one IP address to the house.

Large Scale NAT (LSN) will allow Internet providers a temporary transition until IPv6 is fully functional. Using LSN, a single device acts as an intermediary between the Internet and a local network. As a result, a single IP address can be used for an entire group of users/customers.

Internet providers need to plan carefully. Everything from requests from law enforcement to record keeping will need detailed tracking, with translations to the millisecond. All reports will need to be accurate and saved for a significant period of time.

Of note, Large Scale NAT is also known as NAT44, NAT444, and Carrier Grade NAT (CG4).

Super Wi-Fi February 2011

The name sounds like something great. It may even remind you of a super hero. Super Wi-Fi is a very powerful network and has extraordinary potential. It's a new platform of innovation with many possibilities.

In September 2010, the Federal Communications Commission voted to open the "white space" between TV channels. When cable TV stations switched from analog to digital signals in June 2009, they left behind an unused spectrum – the unused "white spaces" between the TV channels, spectrum that companies like Microsoft and Google wanted to use for mobile broadband. Instead, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) argued that it could disrupt RV signals and wireless microphone transmission. The new rules walk the line between expanding current Wi-Fi service and preventing disruption of existing TV signals. This possibility of "Wi-Fi on steroids" could spark a technological revolution in the United States. Using low frequencies, the spectrum will allow signals to travel further, through walls, barriers, buildings, trees and other terrain to transfer more information.

This forward-looking change will optimize spectrum allocation by capitalizing on evolving technologies. Companies will develop new applications to develop the white space networks, which is also an opportunity for American companies to participate in innovation and perhaps even provide Internet service where it is currently unavailable.

Are We Running Out of IP Addresses? February 2011

It's true. Almost 4 billion sequences later, the Internet is almost out of IPv4 addresses. When the system was designed in the 1970s, few people could have predicted how the Internet would take off and how many IP addresses would be needed. From laptops and game consoles to smartphones and cars, the number of Internet connections has risen considerably. There's just one thing - no one seems to know for sure when the IPv4 numbers will run out. The estimate has changed many times over the last decade and even as the end is approaching, the final deadline is unknown.

The replacement system, IPv6, is available and ready to go with trillions more addresses. The current system for assigning IP addresses, which look like a series of four numbers with periods between them, can only handle 32 bits of data. IPv6 will each hold 128 bits of information. Researchers have been working on IPv6 for more than a decade, but adoption has been slow.

Why the caution instead of just converting to IPv6? Well, the answer is somewhat complicated. There are two categories of providers: content and eyeballs. Essentially, content providers are those who provide the information on websites. The eyeballs are the people who view it and their Internet providers. Both need to make the change to IPv6, but until recently, neither was making the first move.

Internet providers are considering a variety of solutions with the goal of making the transition as seamless as possible. Additional information about conversion plans will be available in the coming months.

A Brief Overview of Broadband Stimulus in Pennsylvania February 2011

As a direct result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, \$7.2 billion was designated for the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to expand broadband access and adoption in underserved communities across the United States.

Many Internet providers in Pennsylvania already offer 1 GB connections to serve schools, hospitals and numerous other businesses. Despite this, the state was awarded a large portion of federal monies to build a network that many feel is already being served from private investment. According to www.recovery.org, projects in Pennsylvania are focused on constructing an almost 1,700-mile fiber-optic network connecting 60 community institutions, public and private universities, K–12 schools, public libraries, public broadcasting facilities, and medical facilities in 39 counties across the southern and central regions of the state. More than 2 million households and 200,000 businesses were also expected to benefit.

For most Internet customers in Pennsylvania, this concept is not new. The Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania (BCAP) is the trade association for the Commonwealth's broadband cable industry that represents 75 cable operators, networks and suppliers in Pennsylvania who provide advanced video, high-speed data and voice products to more than 3.6 million households. According to their June 17, 2010 testimony to the Senate Communications & Technology Committee, "BCAP members have invested nearly \$8 billion in private capital since 1996 to bring broadband services to rural, suburban and urban areas of the Commonwealth. Those same cable company members employ 17,000 in Pennsylvania with a total payroll of \$700 million. Broadband cable operators are the largest providers of residential data services in the Commonwealth. Our advanced fiber optic networks provide broadband connectivity to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, health care facilities, and small and large businesses." In fact, prior to the stimulus funding, Pennsylvania made one of the most aggressive broadband deployment commitments. Pennsylvania's Act 183 is a telecommunication modernization law which expanded earlier legislation and included a plan to ensure "By 2015, and as early as 2008, every city, town and village will have access to broadband service – even in the most rural areas." In almost every case, with only a few exceptions, that deadline has already been met.

Not only are existing providers privately funded, but BCAP members, telephone operators and other private sector broadband providers have the experience to run and maintain large telecommunications networks.

Pest of the Decade: Computer Viruses February 2011

It's true – viruses are the most common computer problem. No one is immune, and many people don't take the most basic precautions. So, what can you do about it?

  • Just like you lock the front door, use a firewall and keep it turned 'on'. Firewalls help protect your computer from hackers who might try to gain access to crash it, delete information, or steal passwords and other sensitive information.
  • Install and update anti-virus software. The essential software works like a vaccination and will prevent malicious software programs from embedding on your computer. It can also detect malicious code, like a virus or a worm, and help remove it.
  • If your virus protection software does find a malicious program, be sure to remove it.
  • Some things aren't meant to be shared. To keep others from watching your computer activity, install and update anti-spyware technology.
  • Remember when you were a kid and seemed to pick up every illness that went around the school? This can happen to your computer too. Protect it from new threats by keeping your operating system up-to-date. Installing updates will fix the security holes and help your computer stay in tune with technology requirements.
  • Beware of 'scareware', pop-up messages that tell you your computer is infected with a virus. Most of these pop-ups are scams, designed to frighten you into purchasing a fake version of anti-virus software with a seemingly genuine warning. But if you do, your computer could be infected with malicious software.
  • Be cautious about your online activity, including what you download. E-mail attachments can circumvent even the most vigilant anti-virus software. Social networking sites are also known to cause reason for concern.