Archive for Rants

Sort of an update: My Motorola story, good and bad

// April 22nd, 2015 // Comments Off on Sort of an update: My Motorola story, good and bad // Rants, tech

Good story gone bad

UPDATED

So, about that MotoX. It’s a great phone. I really do like it. In fact, I’d say I love it. It’s fast, Lollipop is great and all the little integrations (shake for camera, OLED screen low-power notifications, etc.), all very nice It’s a great phone and I haven’t regretted the switch from Apple yet. Unfortunately, the screen is cracked* on mine and I need to get it fixed. And it was from this that I discovered the dark downside to the Moto X… Motorola support.

Motorola repair support is terrible.

If only I’d read all the “Don’t use Motorola’s Advance Exchange program! You’ll regret it!” warnings on forums, I could have saved myself the headache.

What’s the Motorola Advance Exchange program?
Motorola sends a replacement phone, puts hold on your credit card ($500), you send back broken phone.Replacement phone ships to you within 4 business days of request. You pay for repair cost, keep the replacement phone.

In theory that’s how it works… In practice? Not so much.

My Experience with Advance Exchange for my new MotoX bears no resemblance

4/11 – Submit Advance Exchange request. Motorola promptly puts hold put on card. Ah, look. It’s $500 + $125 + tax instead of the $500 they tell you the hold will be. Oh, well, no big deal.

4/16 – Online status doesn’t show anything shipped yet. Oh, well, no big deal

4/17 – Online status still shows no replacement has shipped. Almost call, but decide to give them more time and I wait until Monday. No big deal… right?

4/20 – Initiate online chat. They say they need to escalate. Someone from repair escalations calls me. Says nothing has happened because they don’t have a phone like mine to send and have to build it. No reason for why they didn’t bother to tell me this. I say it’s been long enough and if I’d  settle for whatever 32GB Moto X they have in stock, even without leather and in any color, would that speed it up. Sure, they say. Agent says they can send me a plain black one and he’ll get right on that. Fine, I say.

4/22 – I check and see that status STILL says no phone shipped even though they implied this was all sorted and on the way.

I email Motorola support:

My Advance Exchange # xxxxxx-xxxxxx still doesn’t show anything shipped. I originally submitted it 4/11 and on 4/20 spoke with someone and was told nothing had happened because they didn’t have a suitable phone in stock. I said at that point I was OK with a stock replacement phone if that would speed things up (I have a white 32GB with leather with a cracked screen, he said they could send a plain black 32GB).

But when I check online it still doesn’t show a replacement shipped. Could you please check on this and make sure it hasn’t gotten stalled again? – Thanks

Motorola replies:

Dear MARGARET,

Thanks for reaching out to Motorola. I’ve reviewed your e-mail and I’m ready to help. Upon checking on this incident xxxxxx-xxxxxxx, the phone is not yet shipped because when you called last April 20 and agreed to have a different device because of the stock, the process started again. You will received the device within 5 working days from now as part of the replacement process.

We hope that you find this information useful and we look forward to assisting you in the future.

For information about Motorola products and services, please visit us at http://www.motorola.com/

Thank you for contacting Motorola e-mail support.

Best Regards,

Motorola Customer Support

I reply:

Wait, wait. This is ludicrous. I was going to have to wait a business week to get an equivalent replacement, a week that’s now passed, but now I need to wait even longer to get a lesser device ‘faster’?

Please cancel this advance exchange. Given that nothing has happened yet I assume that won’t be a problem. I’ll investigate repair or return options with my carrier. This is ridiculous.

Please let me know that the exchange is canceled. I’m not waiting two business weeks for a downgraded phone. I’ll live with the cracked screen for now.

Thanks. I realize this is not your fault, but being an ex-Apple customer who just made the switch to a Motorola phone, I can see why their service still ranks so much higher. I would have had a replacement in-hand a week ago.

Yes. THE ENTIRE PROCESS @#$&%@# RESET back to square one and now the cheaper, plain black phone will ship WITHIN 5 MORE BUSINESS DAYS.

Why on Earth would I want to wait even longer than I would have for them to go build a damned equivalent phone just to get a cheaper, lesser, plain black replacement phone for my nice white, leather-backed phone? Who could possibly think that’s a bettter solution and one likely to make me happy??? How is ‘you can wait 7-10 business days for the same, or you can wait 11+ business days for a lesser one a viable option?

If I didn’t like this phone so much, I’d pay for the repair and just send the whole goddamned thing back.

Logic, @MotorolaSupport, you’re doing it wrong. Also support. You’re totally doing that wrong.

UPDATE: So someone called me back today (4/23) to hand me off to another person. Then came back to say they couldn’t do anything because their system was broken. Then another person called later and I explained I wanted the return cancelled. They said I could have the black phone within “umm… 48… maybe 72 hours”. I said no. Cancel. He also explained that the original problem was my request had been sent to ‘the wrong warehouse’ where I suppose it would have sat and rotted had I not been nagging them. But, again, no one told me. It just sat in limbo for a week. After being on hold again (the the loud, distorted 15 second violin concerto loop again, holy crap is that crazy-making) for a while the guy said it was canceled. I thanked him and went on with my life.

Super-heavy-duty case should be here tomorrow. I can live with the crack for a while…

UPDATE: Repair cost charged to my card on 4/25… two days after this was supposed to be canceled.

UPDATE 2: It just occurred to me that I’ve engaged 6 or 7 human beings during this whole process. And _not_ the human beings whose job it is to process the exchange. Just imagine that. For a process that begins online driven by the customer, which then presumably goes into an automated binning system where a matching phone is found and marked for dispatch (or, unlike my experience, when no matching device is available the customer is notified of a delay and offered an alternative or timeline) and _then_ a human being gets the work order and processes the outgoing phone. Later another person processes the incoming device. But, no, 6 or 7 people have stumbled over one return before anyone even had a chance to process the initial exchange. What a waste of resources and money because someone can’t work out their returns pipeline in such a way that it’s even marginally reliable.

There’s no excuse for such bumbling, Motorola. You’re a grown up technology company.

UPDATE 3: Hi. It’s May 8th and Motorola still hasn’t refunded the repair fee they charged to my card. I sent a support email which, of course, just came back ‘we need your number so someone can call you’. No. No one needs to take up any more of my damned time, they just need to do their job and fulfill their promises. And you HAVE my number already! *sigh* I’m done with Motorola. No matter how much I like this phone (and I do! I really, really do!), it’s not worth worrying that should I need support I’m going to have to push the ball up hill for them at every turn. Every single time the wheels started to move in the above narrative it was because I’d initiated it. I’M THE CUSTOMER, NOT CUSTOMER SUPPORT!

God I feel like all I do is whine on this blog now, but… for the love of everything good how can a multi-billion dollar 21st century tech company’s tech support seem like it’s being phoned in [literally] from the mid-20th century? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they’re using pen and paper still…


* – UPDATE: The following is all irrelevant now as I’ve just kept the phone and got a heavy-duty case to protect it. I’m living with the crack (it’s in the upper left an mostly out of the way).

The irony of the cracked screen is that after looking down to find it cracked (I’ve no idea of the cause) one day, a bit later I actually dropped it and dinged the metal on that same corner. So I’m definitely on the hook for the repair cost. There’s no way they could know that I dropped it after the screen cracked and maybe I did hit it on something to crack the screen… Again, I have no idea. I only mention it here as a “ain’t that always the way” story.

 

Elegy to a Racist

// December 4th, 2012 // Comments Off on Elegy to a Racist // musings, Rambling, Rants

I started thinking about this around November 6th, 2012. You can make the connection, I think. And then today I read Ashley Miller’s story of how she lost her father… to racism. So I put all the words into some sort of order, and here they are.

Elegy for a Racist

“I ain’t apologizing. That’s just the way I was raised.”

“That’s an excuse, not a justification.”

So you’re a racist in 21st century America. Welcome to the fringes. Oh, no, you didn’t realize did you. You thought you were still mainstream, salt of the Earth, true blue. Perhaps you’ve surrounded yourself with others like yourself and that helps you maintain the illusion. Or, at the very least, you’ve cowed those around you with your bile and wrath, so they won’t challenge you or call you out. But the truth is that the society you live in no longer accepts you as rational, as educated, as ‘normal’. And it doesn’t care to hear your arguments contrariwise. No, sir or ma’am, you are a minority. You are an ‘other’. The society where you fit in has grown and matured. It has left you behind. You and that hateful lump of smoldering rotten coal that simmers in your heart.

You’re unwanted. You are an artifact of an age, time and place that no longer exists. The words you once loved to use as weapons – now so actively listened for that – even muttering one under your breath is a risk you rarely take outside the walls of your home. And you will sit there, festering and growing colder and harder as you begin to feel the isolation of being an outsider. And not so long from now, you will become a fossil — Bigotus Americanus. And people will look upon you with new eyes, eyes not clouded by the hate you’ve kept burning and tried to pass down to your kith and kin. And they will wonder how you lasted as long as you did.

Yes, surely a few of you will survive long into humanity’s twilight. Your kind are always around, lurking. But no longer in the numbers you once enjoyed, comfortable in the rocking chair of self-satisfaction and privilege you once lazed in. You are now, and they will future be, pariahs. They will be secret outcasts who dare not speak their mind lest they be tossed out of humanity’s warmth. Hiding as you and your kind have made others hide.

But you, you original sinner, you will be long gone.

Good riddance.

Comcast cares, but not about fuel, time or money

// November 7th, 2012 // Comments Off on Comcast cares, but not about fuel, time or money // Rants, tech

Update 2: Nope. Now they’re saying she’s ‘lost’ TWO modems and has to pay for both of them. So, basically, if they can’t properly document the whereabouts of their equipment, it must be your fault.

High-speed internet suggestions in the Atlanta area?


Update: The @ComcastCares Twitter people are offering to look into this for my friend. Presumably pre-truck roll. Before it was just (paraphrased) ‘Sorry. Let us know if you have any questions after the truck comes to your house [for no apparent reason and then leaves again none the wiser].’

BTW, I like the whole @ComcastCares on Twitter thing. It’s actually helped me at least once with a d.u.m.b. situation. But don’t fool yourself that this was some brilliant idea on Comcast’s part. A guy who used to work there named Frank Eliason took it upon himself to start it and then showed the company that it worked. To their credit Comcast let him create a small team to do this sort of online triage, but they were, and presumably still are, just a small hand trying to steer a large gun away from continually shooting the foot of the Comcast giant.


IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Friends may have heard me whinge about something like this before in person. OK, I realize that doesn’t narrow it down. But bear with me. I’ve never jotted down my thoughts online about this issue and it really bugs me. No, this is not election-related. I’m not up in arms about Honey Boo Boo’s poll numbers or who names a child ‘Saxby Chambliss’ or some such shite. It’s Comcast.

Comcast just seems to want to waste not just your time, but gas and man-hours on trivialities. And they just don’t seem to either A) give two shits about it or B) realize that they’re just wasting gas (and my money) and ERMAGERD STOP BERNIN ALL TEH GASS! This seems to be institutionalized waste, too. She says from her First World perch on her couch in front of her giant-ass TV plugged into #*&^%@^& Comcast cable.

Roll a truck. Roll a truck. Roll a truck. Is there a union inside Comcast that we don’t know about that says “When in slightest doubt, roll a truck. If a tree falls in the woods, roll a freakin’ truck!” And we, undoubtedly, pay for this waste via our exorbitant cable bills. I don’t know about you, but my cable bill is ludicrous for what I get. OK, back up. Actually, I do know about several of you, including the friend who just this week asked me how she can best get rid of Comcast because she feels like she’s being fleeced like a whale in Vegas. But for me it’s a monopoly. I literally have no choice if I want cable TV (and by cable I mean HBO, AMC and ‘all that other stuff’). It’s Comcast or it’s nothing for me.

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
So what prompted me to write this screed and in the sentence after this one compare Comcast to the dystopian bass-ackwards grinding dumb machine that is The Party in Orwell’s 1984? Well, a friend is currently dealing with some Comcast INGSOC. You see, she’s just realized that The Party… errrr, I mean Comcast… or Xfinity… or whatever their name is… is still charging her for her old cable modem. She asked for her a service disconnect when she moved, a tech came and did so and took the equipment away as is their duty. However the cable modem, which is now marked as inactive on her account, is still on her monthly bill. The undisputed part is that it’s clearly not the cable modem that’s currently in use, there’s no question of that. Each unit has a unique ID called a MAC address that Comcast can easily view. So they know what unit is online. If for no other reason than that once upon a time another truck came and installed a different cable modem at her current residence on a completely different order which they have in their system.

To recap:
1) A disconnect order is somewhere on file at Comcast that her services was disconnected and the tech closed that order, but with no notation that anything was wrong and the modem was not found. And since equipment retrieval is S.O.P. for the disconnection order, the assumption has to be that the device was picked up. Otherwise, the tech would/should have noted that the modem was missing.

2) The service at her current residence is using a Comcast modem that they are fully aware is not the modem in question and was connected on a completely different order, also somewhere on file.

3) The obvious conclusion is that the old modem was picked up along with the other equipment during the disconnect order and someone dropped the ball in removing it from her bill. Obvious to the the Proles, that is.

4) This means they need to roll a truck. Because for every little thing that a billing person is not capable of typing into CES… a truck must roll, a tech must be paid and gas must be burned and… Wait. WTF?

Yes. To sort this out, Comcast’s Ministry of Truth is not looking at the previous disconnect order, using logic to extrapolate the clear error on their part (FYI, Comcast, the tech works for you – their screwups are your screwups) and saying, “Ah. The only logical conclusion is that we screwed up. A tech came out on xx/xx/xx when you moved and disconnected your service and, if the modem had been missing, the tech should have noted this. They did not. Sorry for the confusion, Miss, here’s your refund.”

No, instead of that, their brand of DoubleThink, let’s call it XfinityThink, means they need to roll a truck to have a tech… look at a thing that is not there and declare “It’s not there”.

Yes, that was a long run-on sentence above, but you read it correctly. A tech will show up, stare at the cable modem that they already know is not the one in question, not see it transmogrify into a completely different cable modem that they have no way of knowing where it is and say “OK.” Then get back in a truck and burn some more gas.

Vroom!

Instead of a human with decision-making abilities looking at this situation and saying “That’s a complete waste of time, money and gas, old bean. And it is pointless as, for all we know, even if she had the modem, which seems logically unlikely and would still be our fault for not properly maintaining record of, she could have delivered it in offering to Cthulhu for shinier hair and whiter whites, for all we know. A tech going to her house is not going to change anything other than our gas consumption. And waste her time.”

I mean, seriously, is this tech going to show up and ask to search her house for the missing modem like some TV Cable Cop? CSI: Xfinity? Today’s episode: “Don’t go to work, we need to come look at a modem that’s not there.” A modem that’s probably an old DOCSIS 2 unit anyway that they would just toss in a landfill. But if they can continue to charge you for it — but waste twice the value in gas and tech time — hey, whatever. No. That would be logical. So that’s not the plan. Bad is good, brother. Smart is stupid.

A thing that is Not There is more Not There once we’ve not seen it being Not There with our eyes.

Personally, I can think of at least four instances in recent years where I’ve had a truck sent to my house for completely trivial things that someone could have done over the phone. And every time I wondered “How much did that just cost? And don’t they realize what a waste of money it is? And… how much am I paying for it, ultimately?”

Or do virtual monopolies care about such things like burning crap-tons of petrol? My friends who live in the area of town where there’s actual competition and therefore lower prices can stop laughing and shut the hell up. Or tell me where I need to move so I can get RCN.

Comcast… you are a big stupid beast.

What Am I Ticked Off About re: Mozilla/Firefox?

// November 17th, 2011 // 2 Comments » // Rants, tech

What Am I Pissed Off About re: Mozilla/Firefox?

EDIT: I’m very grateful to Mozilla for listening and eventually creating the ESR track for both Firefox and Thunderbird. This ( http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/organizations/ ) effectively fixes all the below for us.

EDIT 12/2/11: heh… Looks like I’m not alone in my thoughts. Comments at Slashdot on Firefox losing market share [image].

Mozilla is fighting an invisible battle against Google Chrome. They’ve implemented a ‘me too’ rapid release cycle for Firefox (and therefore also Thunderbird since they have [again artificially] tied their cycles together) in answer to Google’s rapid release cycle.

And the poop started hitting the fan. Not only was the public confused (“OMG! My browser’s really old! I only have 3.6 and they’re already up to 6! Was I asleep for a year?”) but enterprise IT folks were not amused. We can’t afford to have a browser we just deployed be declared un-supported mere weeks later. Similar remarks here: http://mike.kaply.com/2011/06/23/understanding-the-corporate-impact/

Yes, there is a working group that was put together after Mozilla finally admitted that enterprise IT had a valid point ( http://www.readwriteweb.com/hack/2011/08/mozilla-chair-acknowledges-ent.php )… in August 2011 after the release of version 6… two more major releases have come out since then. But right now there’s just an ESR proposal and… that’s where we stand. In the meantime, time continues to go forward at the same pace and we’re still dealing with actually using the browser. We esentially had ESR, then Mozilla took it away to go tilt at a windmill called Chrome. Now we wait while people talk about ESR… or we don’t wait and we move on.

We want to love you, Firefox! Why won’t you let us love you!??

The browser we’d fought for, the browser that finally took away share from IE, the browser that worked across platform and became popular enough for sites to start to say “OK, we support Firefox too.” That browser’s maker has seemingly turned into a parody of Microsoft trying to keep up with [Apple/Google/etc. and yes, even Mozilla] when they’d clumsily announces after the fact “Oh, yeah, we’re gonna do that too!” Now I have users who used to complain maybe about a website complaining about the browser.

So now, no more stable release followed by a cycle of improvements and bug fixes (all the while being supported because the ordinal number up front hasn’t changed and won’t change until the next release goes stable and comes out of beta). Now it’s release, release, release and pray to bob the bug fixed in 5 doesn’t show up again in the ‘all new super hot off the press’ 8.

And, most importantly, this all loses sight of how the browser wars ended. They ended with Firefox the moral and spiritual victor on one solid principal: Build a better browser and people will use it. Goliath IE was slain (or at leads severely maimed and forced to also get better) by one simple principal: Build a better browser and people will use it. Did I mention “Build a better browser and people will use it”? Not “OMGZ googlez has bilt a browzer and they’s gonna take all our search eyeballs moneys! Run around in circles!!!”

Now Firefox is so effing scared that they’ll lose that sweet Google search eyeballs cash that they’re all but making it a self-fulfilling prophecy in their panic. ( http://www.conceivablytech.com/9419/business/browser-market-share-forecast-update-firefox-losses-accelerate ) Why? Because Google planted that idea in their head when they released Chrome and now Mozilla’s management can’t see past it. It’s like a bug in their brain that’s making them crazy. (“This is Ceit Alpha V!”) They are so fixated on the forest they don’t see the trees catching fire. But the truth is that Google will keep paying out that cash as long as Firefox brings in eyeballs. That is, unless Mozilla gets so panic’d they start acting like headless chickens and _manage to drive all its customers away_!

Which is exactly what I think might be happening. Hell, I’M using Chrome now because I just can’t take it any more (and Safari is in the crapper too as far as I’m concerned – so I don’t have much choice… in a world that used to be all about choice).

Now, my team is forced to sit down and talk about “What browser do we support officially if/when Firefox doesn’t get back on track. Also, we’re screwed email client-wise if Thunderbird ends up under the bus for no good reason.” My server guy… my poor staunch advocate for open source and non-big brothery software is forced to admit that we might have to consider Chrome! He wants to love you, Firefox! Hell, he does love you. But his love is wavering. So what exactly is wrong? Sheesh, where to begin. And, honestly, I’ll forget something. It’s all become a blurry laundry list of complaints from minor annoyances to show-stopping bugs (Stack space errors?? Really?? In 2011?). But, quickly and anecdotally, go google this:
http://www.google.com/search?q=firefox+switch+to+chrome

Those people? They’re not switching to Chrome because Chrome is sexy or amazing… largely you’ll see them saying that they are leaving Firefox because of Firefox’s problems or short-comings, not Chrome’s features. OK, on to my gripes as an enterprise (education, actually, but we work the same and expect the same) IT shop.

* Instability. We’ve gone from a stable Firefox (sure, it had its quirks, but stable enough for us to say “we support Firefox” and be able to stand by it) to having to say “well, if you’re having problems in Firefox, you may have to use Safari/IE for that”. And then bracing for the next release 6 weeks later. (In all honesty, we’re just leaving most people on 3.6.x)

* Page rendering and slowness. This has forced us to downgrade some users who just can’t deal with it to 3.6.x And we’re clearly not alone: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/firefox-36-is-mozillas-windows-xp/16098?tag=rbxccnbzd1
And, tellingly, you’ll still find a link to 3.6.24 on Mozilla’s download site. Even they, tacitly admit there’s still a reason for it to be there:
http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/all.html

* Let’s talk about slowness. How can it be that Chrome got faster and Firefox got slower? ZDnet sure thinks so. Compare these two Kraken scores:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/ie9-vs-chrome-10-vs-firefox-4-vs-opera-1101-vs-safari-5-the-big-browser-benchmark/12023?pg=5

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/the-big-browser-benchmark-chrome-15-vs-opera-11-vs-ie9-vs-firefox-8-vs-safari-5/16041?pg=5

You’re killing yourself, Mozilla. No excuses, no waffling. You. Are. Killing. Yourself.

* New weirdness depending on if you’re on 6 or 7 or 8. Profiles being trashed, bookmarks reverting or disappearing… What works in 7 might not work in 8. What was fixed in 7 from 6 seems to once again affect 8. And boy is it RAM hungry. But it was i/o hungry before, so that’s probably a step forward for users with networked hime directories… Submit crash report, submit crash report, submit crash report.

* The artificial rapid release cycle creating browser instability is also unnecessarily affecting Thunderbird. For us, Thunderbird 8 is unusable. It _simply does not work for some users_. Add an IMAP account with lots of folders and mail and it crashes at startup. Get someone with less mail and it’s fine (but Lightning may or may not work). Submit crash report, submit crash report, submit crash report.

* The rapid release cycle also tends to break plugin/add-ons, often for no other reason than the fact that this version, which isn’t much different, starts with a different number. We even saw Thunderbird run into this day of release when we rushed to test it. In my case, instead of bringing Lightning with it, it disabled the already-installed lightning add-on and then refused to upgrade (Lightning will be upgraded on next restart -> restart -> Lightning will be upgraded on next restart -> removed lightning manually -> install lightning -> Lightning is not compatible with this version (WTF?) -> clear everything out -> install, go to add-ons, aha! Lightning link in featured add-ons -> install Lightning -> Lightning will be installed on next restart -> restart Lightning will be upgraded on next restart… give up.) That’s… crazy. This is Mozilla we’re talking about…

Dammit… we were pinning our hopes on integrating Lightning into our environment to stem the tide of requests for Outlook for those who just wanted calendaring of some sort. Now we have a 1.0 release of Lightning for a version of Thunderbird we can’t even deploy. ARGH! Because of Firefox chasing the Chrome around like a big dumb puppy chasing a car. (“It must want to eat my food! GRR! Chase!”)

I think Mozilla has lost their minds. Please. Please. Go find your minds and put them back in before you lose all that you’ve worked and fought so hard for (and we’ve supported so strongly) because you got a little scared by some actual competition. This coming from someone who wants you to succeed. Who’s begging you to succeed. I’m your fan. Your cheerleader. And now I’m about to break up with you because… you won’t let me love you!


Additional reading from way back at version 5 (oh, wait, that wasn’t that long ago…)
http://www.conceivablytech.com/8102/business/should-mozilla-ditch-the-rapid-release-cycle-again

The Principle of Least Privilege – A Failure in MA

// May 18th, 2011 // Comments Off on The Principle of Least Privilege – A Failure in MA // Rants

[cross-posted to my blog at Berkman/Harvard Law Weblogs]

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, nor do my opinions represent that of Harvard Physics, Harvard Law or Harvard University. What I am is a computing professional and technologist. A sometimes outraged one. As a result, some of what follows may be a bit snide. I can’t apologize just yet for that. Past the outrage, I’m hoping that something good will come from this incident… although I rather doubt it.

The Incident:
On April 20th, 2011 around 1,500 computers in the Massachusetts labor department’s Departments of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) and Career Services (DCS) were found to be infected with a [allegedly] new variant of a well-known Windows worm (not a virus as has been reported) called W32.Qakbot. From some prior date — they say April 19th, but I don’t find the idea that they know when the initial infection occurred convincing given other facts — until around May 13th (or May 16th, according to another report), information entered or accessed on these machines may have been intercepted by the worm for transmission to an unknown recipient.

The Response:
The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported this incident on May 17th. That’s 28 days until they notified the public or state officials. Call it four weeks, call it nearly a month, but either way it’s too long and clearly at odds with state law which requires that any such break-in be reported to the Attorney General’s office “as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay”. There is absolutely no reason this could not have been reported sooner… except, perhaps, incompetence and/or fear. In their official statement it’s claimed that “all possible actions have been taken to minimize the impact to the Commonwealth’s constituents”, but this is clearly in error as “all possible actions” would have included notifying the AG immediately.

And I’m afraid I have to take the Boston Globe to task too. In its report on the incident it said:

“The potential impact of the breach is dwarfed by other recent data thefts. In April, Sony Corp. suffered an attack on several of its networks used by consumers for video gaming, music, and movie downloads. In the same month, Texas e-mail marketing firm Epsilon Data Management LLC reported that hackers had raided its network and stolen the e-mail addresses of millions of US consumers.”

If anything, it’s the other way around. Those other episodes presented a low risk that actual sensitive data was released. The Sony breach, while involving more people, may have included names, email addresses and probably mailing addresses, but these sorts of scraps are something that criminals can often already buy or collect on their own from search engines. The Epsilon breach netted mostly email addresses. In all likelihood, that just means more phishing attempts; Something people are already inundated with unless their email provider is one of the better spam preventers.

But the labor department incident most likely included the transfer of critically sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, financial information, EINs, and work or personal history information. So let me be very clear in exactly what I’m stating. This incursion is more serious than the Sony or Epsilon breaches. It may affect tens or hundreds of thousands of MA residents and potentially thousands of MA businesses and, unlike the Sony breach, which may help identity thieves zero in on a target, the information gleaned from DUA/DCS might make it a trivial matter for thieves to hijack a person’s identity.

The initial response to the media from the labor department was a shrugging ‘Well you know… viruses, right?’ and a clearly implied wish that everyone will just move on and not make a big deal of it. As though virus/worm outbreaks are just part and parcel of having a computer. And some, it seems, including some of the media reporting the issue, are buying this wrong-headed idea. Why? Because… well, because lots of people have PCs and they get viruses all the time, right? Right. And Wrong. And part of the problem. The home computer user’s experience cannot and should not be projected onto the ‘enterprise’ computing environment. Despite the fact that the average PC user and the average business user are both using a boat with Windows written on the side does not mean that the water they sail on is the same.

That sort of thinking is what’s got us where we are. The proliferation of malware (viruses, worms, trojans, etc.) in the world is not a foregone conclusion. It’s not an endemic side-effect of owning a computer. It’s something that has grown and been fostered by a poor understanding of ‘security’, a leaning towards this sort of passive concession that it’s Computer Magic and beyond our ken and… frankly… laziness. That’s been followed up by an industry that’s happy to do the least they can get away with to band-aid the situation and entities who put their head in the sand and think slapping on an anti-virus client is good enough. And the cycle repeats. The only winners are the thieves. They win because a large portion of the United States computing population can’t be bothered to do better.

Let’s talk about particulars. One concept most PC users do not follow but every business PC environment that calls themselves security-conscious should is the ‘Principle of Least Privilege’ aka least-privileged user account (LUA). Given the notoriously malware-prone existence that Windows has lived, a corporate or government support entity who does not subscribe to this principle is just asking for it. The idea is very simple: The end-user should ordinarily be logged in with an account which has the least amount of administrative privilege possible which still allows them to do their work. In other words, require passwords and don’t log in with an administrator account. But… walk into any coffee shop in America and you can wager a safe bet that 80%-90% of the people there are doing just that.

Why is this so important? Why am I bringing it up here? And why do I assume the computers in question didn’t rely on this principle already? Simple: This one action, implementing this one policy, would have stopped the spread of this worm in the DUA/DCS computers. W32.Qakbot cannot extend its infection without the user having certain administrative privileges. And, in my opinion, this principle should not only be encouraged… it should be mandated, especially for computers that come into contact with sensitive information. I know mine are. And how many ‘inevitable’ virus/worm infestations have we dealt with in my tenure as head of this group? Zero.

I’m not saying this to imply that my network is beyond the reach of malicious computer thieves and black hat hackers. No network can ever be 100% secure. But there are certain principles and methodologies well-known and well-documented in annals of computer security that, if followed, reduce your susceptibility by leaps and bounds. But, sadly, many would rather cross their fingers, stick their heads in the sand and hope they get lucky. Well… the law of averages (another name for ‘luck’) is not on their side. Yes, your users will complain that they can’t install software without your help, but they won’t be complaining about a proliferation of viruses and malware. Because, and this is the crux of the whole principle of least privilege, if they can’t install software, malware can’t install itself. The malware only has as much privilege to modify the system as the user does (barring flaws in the operating system – that’s a wholly separate issue that we’ll not get into here). And you, the administrator, control that level of privilege.

Simple. Effective. And… ignored by the average IT outfit as being too ‘burdensome’ on the end-user. Sure, a firewall is the first line of defense when designing your network. But an anti-virus client is not the second defense, it’s the last line of defense. We’re not even concerned yet with what operating system is in the line of fire, much less what software it’s running. The second line of defense in this case is your policies and whether it’s more burdensome to inconvenience the user a little bit… or risk having the whole thing come down on your head like DCA and DCS are now experiencing.

  • If you approach your security policies as merely ‘keeping people out’, you have already failed.
  • If you approach them from the standpoint of ‘let’s assume they’re already in’, you have a chance at success.

So when CNET reports that “The agency is notifying people who may have been affected and is working with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to investigate the breach”, I sincerely hope that part of the investigation will include looking into what made this possible from inside, not just from outside. Because there’s zero chance they’ll stop the thievery of this information. It’s already in the wild and catching the perpetrators is, now, a secondary concern given that there’s not taking back the damage. But as a MA state resident, right now I care very much about what my state government’s computing security policies are and why they’re not using every proven method available to them to safeguard our information. We have new and very specific laws in MA about how sensitive information can be transmitted, but how it’s stored and maintained by the state is equally as important.

And, as such, I feel that the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development has some explaining to do.

State House News Service report: Massachusetts officials disclose data breach in unemployment system
Official response: Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Reports…

Disk Test Results Round 2

// July 16th, 2008 // Comments Off on Disk Test Results Round 2 // Rants, Represent, tech

I’ve finished the tests I’d planned and the results are posted in the PDF linked here.
(I’ve updated this since yesterday into one document with added notes, so grab the latest copy.)

In the end, Seagate trounces the competition on performance. However, the second place Samsung disk is still a strong contender, especially where price is an issue. Quite frankly, these are the only two 1TB disks I’ll be recommending to anyone for any sort of capture or editing. Well… actually, I’ll be recommending 4 disks: the two winning models here and their cheaper non-enterprise versions. You’ll have to decide for yourself which best fits your needs and pocketbook.

For us, the 4 Seagates will go into a rack unit and be put into daily use offloading backups.
The 4 Samsungs will go in a new Mac Pro for edit/capture.

Disk Test Results (final)

I’m glad I could share this info and I hope someone finds it useful.
Maggie



Read more nonsense at The Outhouse.

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