It’s Time for Encryption

circuit-lockAs I write this article, I’m approaching the 14th anniversary of launching my business full-time. A lot has changed over the last 14 years in the technology landscape and the impact of technology in society has never been greater than in the timeframe since I began providing technology services to my clients. I could talk ad nauseum about the impact of social media, mobile devices, cloud computing, apps, and so on, but I don’t need to. It doesn’t take a technology expert to see this. You, the user of technology, is well aware of how much technology has changed your life. It is also you who has driven this change, because without the acceptance of the general public, all these technologies would not have the impact they do today. As technology has interwoven itself into the lives of nearly everyone in our society, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: our technology has become a virtual extension of our person. In turn, many of the details of our private lives have become digitized. This digitization offers us amazing insight into how we can better live our lives and make better use of our time, but it also can endanger our privacy if it falls into the wrong hands. The recent public debate involving Apple and the FBI has highlighted the issues that concern many people regarding the security of their most valuable data. While the debate over privacy continues, it has brought the concept of data encryption to the forefront. While to this point in time the topic of cryptography and encryption has been about as arcane as a subject can get, it is now something everyone should become familiar with. The impact of encryption technology will be an incredibly important issue that will affect our everyday privacy and security now and well into the future.

Encryption for Dummies

Simply put, encryption technology scrambles data so that is undecipherable to anyone except to those who encrypted it or their intended recipient. Whether this data stored on a drive or is in transmission, encrypted data is nothing but a bunch of gibberish to anyone who doesn’t have the virtual keys to decrypt the data. Whether it is a nosy neighbor, a common criminal, a corporate spy, or worse, encryption helps protect your privacy from anyone who may steal your devices or attempt to intercept your transmissions. Even major governments do not have the resources to forcibly crack data that is protected by the most secure modern encryption technology commonly available today. With this type of technology readily available, it would seem that we have the capability to ensure our privacy right now. The problem that while this technology is available now, not all tech companies are fully embracing data encryption and even more problematic is that many people do not take advantage of it when it is an option. The good news is that with a little effort, most of us can take advantage of modern encryption technologies on the majority of the devices and services in common use today.

While the variety of options for encryption are far too numerous to detail in this article, I will say that all major operating system platforms offer a built-in encryption option.

  • Apple’s Mac OS X includes FileVault which can encrypt your entire drive, but it is not activated by default (although the latest versions do suggest and offer to enable FileVault during the initial setup or upgrade).
  • Apple’s iOS (iPhone and iPad) by default encrypts all data stored on a device and encrypts iMessage and FaceTime data transmissions.
  • Microsoft Windows contains their BitLocker encryption, but only on their “pro” and “ultimate” versions of their operating systems. It too is not activated by default. There are third-party encryption options available for the “home” versions of Windows.
  • The latest versions of the Google Android operating system do support full device encryption, however, support for encryption varies by manufacturer and device. If you choose an Android device, I highly recommend choosing a device that supports full encryption by default.

With virtually all encryption technologies, you must use a good password to ensure that your data stays safe, as guessing your password is effectively the only way to defeat encryption. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in using encryption technology to protect your data.

Do it for the Kids

Besides keeping your own data safe, your use of encryption technology will help set a precedent in our society. The more people who use strong encryption – and demand that technology companies fully embrace it – help to ensure the future of data privacy in the United States and the world. As government agencies fight to force companies to adopt encryption technologies with built-in “backdoors,” we must stand up to those who would compromise our ability to protect our most private information and conversations. There is no compromise when it comes to data security. Virtually every single technology and cryptography expert in the world agrees that no encryption technology with backdoors is truly secure, as those backdoors will be easily exploited by criminals and malicious governments. It is one thing for politicians to target the rights of a perceived small group of people who use encryption technology but another thing entirely if strong encryption is embraced by a large portion of the population. In addition to protecting your own personal data, the data of your business, or the data of your customers, your use of encryption technology today could help set policy for generations to come.

What do you think about encryption and privacy issues? Feel free to comment below and keep alive an important discussion!

iPhone Encryption is Unbreakable – As Long As You Use a Password

iPhone_6_SecurityWith all the news about the FBI attempting to force Apple to help them hack into an iPhone used by a terrorist, I thought it would be a good time to touch upon the security of your smartphone and give you some helpful tips.

In case you weren’t aware, since the fall of 2014 (iOS 8) the encryption technology Apple has used in the operating system of the iPhone and iPad is so strong that not even government agencies like the FBI can crack it. In fact, the way it is designed, not even Apple themselves can decrypt the data stored on the iPhones or iPads of their customers. However – and this is very important – that encryption is only as good as the passcode you use with your iPhone. If you do not use a passcode with your iPhone or iPad, anyone can unlock it and get at your data immediately. If you use a weak passcode (like 1234), it makes it more likely that someone could unlock your iPhone by guessing your passcode. Also, simple passcodes like your birthday, your spouse’s birthday, your anniversary, etc., are some of the first things a smart criminal will attempt if they are trying to steal your data. The bottom line is to please make sure to use a good passcode to keep the data stored on your iPhone or iPad data safe. If you have a more recent Apple device with the Touch ID feature (iPhone 5S or higher, iPad Air 2 or higher, iPad  mini 3 or higher) then it is strongly advised that you use a “complex” password with alphanumeric characters and symbols since you will use your fingerprint to unlock your device most often.

Any decent passcode, combined with Apple’s security features to defeat password-guessing attempts (called brute-force attacks), is generally sufficient to stop even the most sophisticated hacking attempts. This is why the FBI is trying to force Apple to help them hack into the terrorists’ iPhone. Even the FBI can not work around Apple’s iPhone security features. They want Apple to create a special security-disabled iPhone operating system that would allow the FBI to initiate a computer assisted brute-force password attack on the iPhone in question. Apple contends that this will threaten the security of all iPhone and iPad owners so we’ll see how this situation plays out.

iMessage and FaceTime Encrypted As Well

It’s all well and good that the data stored on your iPhone is encrypted, but what about communications? Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime systems also encrypt the data being transmitted. So for iMessages, any text, pictures, video, or sounds you send are end-to-end encrypted in transmission. Apple’s FaceTime system also uses strong encryption to protect conversations, whether those conversations are video or audio calls. Not even Apple can decrypt the data in an iMessage or FaceTime call. Note that regular SMS text messages (the green messages) are not encrypted. These messages are sent directly over your wireless carrier’s old SMS system which in theory could be intercepted. Regular phone calls are also not encrypted. So make sure that the messages you are sending are the blue iMessages to ensure they are secured, and make sure to use FaceTime to place a secured call. If you need to send sensitive data, iMessage is an acceptable platform to use, although you need to trust that the person you are sending this data to is using a good password on their Apple device(s) so that the data is safe once it arrives and is stored on their end.

Business Owners Can Enforce Strong Passwords

If you run a business and you want to ensure that your employees are using strong passwords, it is possible to enforce technology policies on their devices, such as the use of a good password, even if they are using their own personal devices to access business data. This is accomplished through a technology called Mobile Device Management or MDM, of which there are many third-party systems that you or your technology staff can manage. The great thing about MDM is that it is relatively simple to deploy and also very easy for the user to remove once they leave the company or no longer want to use their device to access your business data. If you are interested in better managing the security of the devices your employees use, please contact me for more information.

Can the FBI Hack Your iPhone?

Setting aside the political discussion for a moment, if the FBI gets their way and forces Apple to provide them with a hacked version of the iOS operating system, they should be able to crack a 4-digit numeric passcode in less than 15 minutes (10,000 possible combinations with each attempt taking 80 milliseconds). A 6-digit numeric passcode could take just under one day (1 million possible combinations). However, if the password uses alpha-numeric characters, then the time required for the FBI to crack the password could be unfeasible. For example, by my calculations there are 192 possible combinations for each character in an iPhone password – this includes upper and lowercase letters, the 10 numbers, the space character, various punctuation and special characters, plus all the “diacritic” characters such as å, é, ñ, and ü. Even just a 4-character “complex” password comprises 1,358,954,496 (1.3 billion) possible combinations and could take up to 3.5 years to crack using a brute-force attack. Bump that up to 8 characters and suddenly the time to crack that password could take over 4 billion years! If the FBI were to skip the diacritic characters assuming most people do not use them (hint!) it would take up to 85 days to crack a 4 character password (98 combinations per character, 92,236,816 combinations total). However an 8 character complex password without diacritic characters would still take up to 21 million years to crack! So … if you’re worried that the FBI could hack into your iPhone, then simply use a password of 8 or more characters and throw in a diacritic character or two for good measure.

What About Other Smartphones?

Other smartphones, such as Android and Windows-based phones (even BlackBerry phones if anyone out there is still using them), are capable of using strong encryption similar to what the iPhone uses. However, whether or not a specific model of smartphone can use strong encryption or if that encryption is turned on by default depends on the particular model of smartphone and the version of operating system it runs. I would encourage users of other smartphones to consult with their phone manufacturer to verify if strong encryption is available for their phone, how to enable it if it does support it, and then actually enable encryption if their phone can make use of it (note that enabling encryption may cause performance issues on older smartphones).

There are other third-party platforms such as WhatsApp and Viber that are also end-to-end encrypted in message transmission, similar to iMessage and FaceTime. You should verify with any third-party apps that you use whether they employ strong encryption for the messages and data they transmit on your behalf.

Questions?

If you have any questions about the security of your devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even desktop computers, please feel free to ask me a question on my Q&A page.

How to Get Microsoft to Shut Up about Windows 10

Win10-noIf you are like most users that run Windows 7 or 8 on their PC, you undoubtedly have seen numerous notifications from Microsoft about the limited-time free offer to upgrade to Windows 10. As I covered in my last article about Windows 10, Microsoft has become increasingly aggressive about pushing users to upgrade to Windows 10. The constant nagging seems to be working on some users as they have asked me if they should upgrade to Windows 10 just to get Microsoft off their backs. While upgrading to Windows 10 might be something you want to do, you shouldn’t do it because Microsoft has brow-beaten you. The good news is that if you don’t want to upgrade to Windows 10, there is a free utility that can disable the nagging notifications.

GWX Control Panel is the name of a simple software that can disable many aspects of the Windows 10 notification system Microsoft has created for Windows 7 and Windows 8. It can be removed at any time to re-enable the Windows 10 notifications and upgrade process in case you later do want to upgrade to Windows 10. Download GWX Control Panel from this link and read the instructions on how to use it. It is fairly simple to install and operate and it will get rid of all Windows 10 notifications from your operating system. Note that it will not remove the Windows 10 advertisements from Microsoft-owned sites such as MSN.com, which is the default home page for Internet Explorer. Those notifications come from the web sites themselves, not from your computer’s operating system.

To sum up, if you are tired of the Windows 10 notifications, simply use GWX Control Panel to make Microsoft shut up already! Comment below if you are tired of seeing the Windows 10 notifications and used this software to disable them.

Is it Time to Upgrade to Windows 10?

windows-10-upgradeLast summer I wrote an article about Windows 10 prior to its release, warning people that Microsoft was about to start nagging them with notifications to upgrade to their latest operating system. At the time, I was concerned that people would perform the upgrade without knowing the full ramifications of what they were getting themselves into. While I did have a few instances of clients performing the upgrade without full knowledge of what Windows 10 was going to do to their PCs, luckily it seems that there was not a tidal wave of users jumping off the Windows 10 cliff without a parachute. As well, it seems that Windows 10 has been a relatively stable operating system so it should be relatively safe to upgrade at this point. The question is, now that Windows 10 has been out for over 6 months, should you upgrade?

Only Six Months of Free Remain

One reason you may want to upgrade to Windows 10 sooner than later is that it will only remain free for about 6 more months, until the one year anniversary of Windows 10’s release of July 29th. At this point in time, if you want to get Windows 10 free (assuming you have Windows 7 or 8), you must upgrade soon. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Microsoft will extend the free offer as the deadline nears. It really is in Microsoft’s best interest to have as many people on Windows 10 as possible. As soon as they start charging for it, I doubt many people will be interested in paying for it. That being said, we must assume Microsoft will keep their word and end the free giveaway period this summer so if you want Windows 10, don’t wait too much longer.

New Features

Free is all well and good, but realistically your main reason to upgrade to Windows 10 should be the features. If there are features in Windows 10 that you really want to use, then that should be the reason to upgrade, not just to take advantage of a freebie. So take a look at the Windows 10 features Microsoft is touting and decide if any of those are worth the upgrade.

If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it

If you’re perfectly happy with the way your Windows PC works currently, then it may not be worth upgrading. While it appears that for the most part Windows 10 has rolled out smoothly, there are always going to be problems that happen to various computers. It is certainly possible that you could encounter a problem during the upgrade process that causes you to lose a lot of time and money troubleshooting. Also, the upgrade process takes at least an hour if not longer so do not decide to upgrade to Windows 10 when you are on a deadline with your PC.

Privacy Concerns

If you do a Google search on Windows 10 and privacy issues, you will see a lot of people concerned with the way Windows 10 persistently communicates with Microsoft servers. While the final decision is up to you whether or not these concerns are with merit, for the most part it appears to me that Microsoft isn’t capturing any truly personal information. Regardless, you should at least be aware what kind of information Microsoft is harvesting from your computer with Windows 10 before making a decision to upgrade.

Nagged to Death

Unfortunately the worst part of this whole situation is the fact that Microsoft really, really, REALLY wants you to upgrade to Windows 10 very badly. So badly in fact, that they’re constantly nagging users of Windows 7 and Windows 8 to upgrade to Windows 10. This is probably the main reason many users want to upgrade to Windows 10 – just to get Microsoft to shut up about it already! Seriously, I’ve been asked by several clients if they should upgrade to Windows 10 because they keep seeing the nagging notifications and just want them to stop. Microsoft has even gone so far as to pre-download the entire 6 GB of the Windows 10 installer for the “convenience” of users, and some people have reported that Microsoft’s notifications are aggressively suggesting to users that they have no choice but to install Windows 10. The good news is that there is a free utility that will disable all the nagging notifications, which I will cover in my very next article. So if you are considering the Windows 10 upgrade only to get rid of the annoying notifications, don’t do it. Disable the notifications and move on with your current operating system.

Windows 10 Undo

One of the best features of Windows 10 is the ability to reverse the upgrade. I am pleasantly surprised that Microsoft included this feature and that it actually works well. Simply put, if you upgrade to Windows 10 and you have glitches or simply don’t like it, you have 30 days to completely revert back to your previous Windows 7 or 8 operating system. Simple, clean, and no fuss. Not a common thing to say about Microsoft software for certain. But the bottom line is that this feature should make users feel more comfortable about upgrading to Windows 10 since they can back out if they like.

Want to Upgrade to Windows 10 But Don’t Want to Do it Yourself?

If you live in my area and want to upgrade to Windows 10 but are not comfortable with doing the upgrade yourself, don’t worry. I am happy to help you. I would recommend that people who have slow Internet connections consider hiring someone like myself to do the Windows 10 upgrade as it can take a very long time to download. Regardless, if you have any questions about Windows 10, please ask and I’ll be happy to answer.

Wi-Fi Calling is a Great Solution to Poor Cellular Coverage

Wi-Fi CallingFor those who suffer from poor cellular coverage in their homes or businesses, up to now there have been only a few possible solutions to this dilemma. Devices such as signal boosters or microcells did help in certain scenarios, however few options were truly all that effective or reliable. Trust me, whether it was for my own personal use or working with my clients on this issue, I had not found a solution that was consistently effective or practical, especially when it came to cost. One potential answer was a technology that is now called Wi-Fi Calling. Simply put, Wi-Fi Calling technology allows compatible cell phones to use Wi-Fi networks as virtual cellular towers with no additional equipment or infrastructure necessary. I had been following this technology for years and felt that it could be one of the best solutions to poor cellular signal issues. Since most people have Wi-Fi in their homes or businesses, deploying Wi-Fi Calling seemed like a no-brainer. However, this technology had been in the works for years and only saw extremely limited support with carriers and cell phone manufacturers. To my chagrin, it seemed as if this technology might never see mainstream adoption. However, as they’ve done many times in recent history, it took the support and backing of Apple to make this technology available to the masses. Only in the last few months has Wi-Fi Calling become available to most of us.

Wi-Fi Calling Support on All Major Carriers

Wi-Fi Calling started to peek its head out a few years ago with certain carriers and certain smartphones supporting it. When Apple released iOS 8 in 2014, T-Mobile was the first carrier to support Wi-Fi Calling on iPhones. It took another year for the other 3 major carriers to support Wi-Fi Calling, but in the fall of 2015, with the release of iOS 9, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon finally support Wi-Fi Calling. Note that Verizon doesn’t quite support “native” Wi-Fi Calling for iPhones yet, but they should support it very soon. In the meantime, you can perform Wi-Fi Calling with Verizon’s Message+ App. The various carriers all support or will support a variety of Android phones, but you must check with the carriers for compatibility. Sprint and T-Mobile support the iPhone 5C and up, while AT&T and Verizon only support Wi-Fi Calling with the iPhone 6 and up.

How Well Does Wi-Fi Calling Work?

I’ve been testing Wi-Fi Calling for the last two months with my AT&T iPhone 6S, along with setting it up on my wife’s iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6 of each of my two kids. Prior to starting the use of Wi-Fi Calling, I hadn’t noticed too much of an issue with cell phone coverage in my house, although it does tend to only have 2 bars in most rooms, especially the basement. I was somewhat surprised that the “AT&T Wi-Fi” indicator came up right away, since the protocol is only supposed to kick in if the cellular signal is “poor”. In observing the operation of Wi-Fi Calling at various client locations and other areas with Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi Calling indicator seems to be active, even with 3 and sometimes even 4 bars of signal. It seems that Wi-Fi Calling errs on the side of using Wi-Fi even if the cellular signal isn’t necessarily “poor” (at least by my definition). I think this is probably a good thing, as I would think that a nearby Wi-Fi signal is almost always going to be more reliable than a distant cell tower.

The odd thing about testing Wi-Fi Calling is that it is basically very uneventful. Phone calls simply work and that’s not very exciting in and of itself! However, I’m sure it would be very exciting to people who couldn’t reliably use their cell phones in their homes or offices! Finally they can use their cell phones without worrying about the call dropping or wondering why their phone didn’t ring and suddenly they have a voicemail. In my testing plus observing the operation of my wife’s and kids’ phones, Wi-Fi Calling seems to “just work.” It automatically turns itself on when in range of a Wi-Fi signal and if for some reason the Wi-Fi signal is weak or the Internet connection is down, it automatically turns itself off and reverts to using a cellular tower. I’ve even tested Wi-Fi Calling over a satellite Internet connection in a location with almost no cell phone coverage. It seemed to work very well although admittedly, it was limited testing. I really wish Wi-Fi Calling had been available when I lived at my previous house. The coverage there was terrible and while a signal booster improved the situation, there were still areas in that former house where the call quality was bad and calls would never ring. I’m certain that Wi-Fi Calling would have greatly improved our cellular service.

How to Configure Wi-Fi Calling

Since all four major carriers have support for Wi-Fi Calling in place, I encourage everyone who has a compatible smartphone to take advantage of this new feature. There are almost no downsides to having it on and it should only result in improved cell phone reliability.

If you have an Android phone, you must contact your carrier for current compatibility and your phone manufacturer for configuration instructions.

For those of you who have iPhones, below are the steps required to enabled Wi-Fi Calling:

 

Wi-Fi Calling Bonus

If you own other Apple devices, such as an iPad, iPod Touch, Macintosh computer, or even an Apple Watch, you can enable those devices to use Wi-Fi Calling as well. The details of setting this up on the various devices are beyond the scope of this article, but you can read more about it in this Apple support document. It is nice to be able to make or answer a call on any of your devices in case your iPhone is out of charge or not close to you at the time.

If you have questions about Wi-Fi Calling or any other technology topic, please visit my Technology Q&A section and I’ll be happy to answer you!

HIPAA Audits in Full Force for 2016

hipaa audit forewarningThe Department of Health and Human Services will begin a significant round of HIPAA compliance audits beginning in January 2016 (yes, that is next week). According to Jim Moore, certified HIPAA professional, he expects that 20% of all medical practices in the country will be subject to at least a “desk audit” and any practices that fail the desk audit will be subject to a full-blown audit. A desk audit can be as simple as a phone call or e-mail to a medical practice requesting documented proof of HIPAA-compliant patient privacy practices within 24 hours. If the correct proof of compliance is not delivered within that 24 hours, the practice will have failed the audit. There will be no extensions or exceptions granted for desk audits so if a medical practice is not compliant when they are targeted for a desk audit, they will likely not be able to comply and will be marked for a full-blown HIPAA audit in the near future. Failing a HIPAA audit can cost a medical practice many thousands of dollars, so it is in a practice’s best interest to get in compliance – besides the fact that protecting patient privacy is simply good business practice.

One of my clients in the medical industry shared with me that they were very recently visited by government officials to verify that their practice was in fact physically located at the address the government has on record for them. This is in preparation for the upcoming 2016 audits. The picture in this article is the identification they left behind.

Since 1 in 5 medical practices will be receiving desk audits, it is wise for medical practices to not bury their heads in the sand in the upcoming year. The best course of action is to get up to speed with HIPAA compliance and the quickest way to do that is to hire a HIPAA professional like Jim Moore. It is always better to be prepared ahead of time as “emergency” services are almost always significantly more expensive, so don’t get caught unprepared. The federal government is serious about enforcing compliance in 2016 and time is quickly running out.

Take Care to Not Spill Liquid in Your Laptop!

liquid spill laptopNothing pains me more (in a technology sense) than to hear stories of laptops being damaged by completely avoidable liquid spills – especially when those spills happen to brand new computers. This just happened (again) to a client of mine. A brand new Christmas present MacBook Air is possibly destroyed because of a Slurpee getting knocked over by a dog.
 
The first rule of laptop usage is to keep liquids away from your laptop. There should be no cups, glasses, or bottles on the same table that your laptop is sitting – period! As careful as you think you will be, any number of things can accidentally happen to knock that drink over and that can be the end of your laptop. This is especially true if you have kids and/or pets! Time and time again I see people with glasses of wine or coffee cups or other laptop-ruining substances sitting right next to their expensive computers. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with your laptop! Just keep those drinks on a separate table or find somewhere else to sit your laptop! You may think it won’t happen to you, but trust me when I’ve seen far too many liquid-damaged laptops to know better.
 
I make it a habit to move liquids away from any electronics any time I see it. For the sake of your laptops, take heed of this advice and share it with your family and friends. The laptop you save just might be your own.
As always, feel free to ask me any technology questions you may have and I’ll respond right away.

Review Your Credit Card Processing – Save Money and Liability

emv nfc apple payIf you are a business owner who takes credit cards, you should be well aware that as of October 1, 2015, the rules for credit card processing changed. As of that date, banks and credit card companies are required to provide their customers with the new EMV “chip cards” and merchants are required to use the EMV system when possible. Any merchant who takes credit cards with the traditional swiping method can be held liable for fraudulent transactions. This is a big shift in who will carry the burden for credit card fraud and small business owners could be caught holding the bag if they are not compliant!

For as much publicity as this change received in the early part of this year, I am quite surprised at just how many banks, credit card processing companies, and businesses have not transitioned to the new EMV system. Along with the EMV requirement, many businesses are also holding back on accepting mobile payment systems like Apple Pay, which are also highly secure. Many customers are asking the places they shop at if they accept Apple Pay and companies that do not are perceived to be behind the times.

In talking with many of my clients, I have found that many businesses are putting off accepting the newer payment systems because of the potential costs and hassle in switching their credit card processing equipment. Without the newer equipment, they can not use the EMV chip cards nor can they do mobile payments. In addition, I’ve run into businesses that do have the newer equipment, but they have not yet activated the EMV and/or Apple Pay transactions because their credit card processing company has been slow in implementing the change or would charge them more for using the newer technologies.

I am fortunate to know Lisa York of Beacon Payments, who has helped me learn quite a bit about how the credit card processing industry works. She has worked with many business owners whom I know transition their companies to the newer payment systems and often is able to save them money on their credit card transaction fees at the same time. She says that the process to change credit card equipment is nowhere near as hard as many business owners think it will be. Usually just replacing the “swiper” terminal is enough for a merchant to accept both EMV and mobile payments such as Apple Pay. She also says the transition to the new systems should not be as expensive as many companies are charging. While other payment processing companies have used the newer technologies as an excuse to charge extra for each transaction, her company does not charge anything different for companies to accept EMV or Apple Pay payments.

As many businesses are doing end-of-year reviews, it is a perfect time for them to review their credit card processing arrangements to find opportunities to save money. This year is especially important as the October 1st shift-of-liability date has long passed. The longer small businesses put off transitioning to the newer, more secure payment methods, the more likely they will be to incur the cost of fraudulent transactions. I would encourage all business owners to give Lisa York of Beacon Payments a call at 618-514-2565 to discuss their options as well as get a free review of their current credit card processing costs.

End of Year Business Technology Review – Save Money on Your Power Bill

energy deregulationAs a technology consultant, one of my responsibilities is helping my clients save money on their technology implementations. Additionally, I look for ways they can save money or improve the quality of services that impact their technology. One critically important service that directly impacts a company’s technology is the electricity coming into their building. Often overlooked, it should be obvious that without power, most technologies aren’t going to function. Yet many business owners do not realize that they may be able to save money on their power bills by reviewing the offerings of many competing power companies. As many businesses do their end-of-year reviews, this is a great time to find out if savings are possible on the electricity that powers their company and technology. However, this process can be time-consuming and frustrating if business owners try to tackle it on their own. So it is important to find someone who knows the power supply industry to help them.

Energy “deregulation” is the reason that people in many states can now shop around for their power suppliers. It used to be that we had no choice on where we purchased our power. But depending on the state one lives is, energy has been deregulated for several years now. However, many people don’t realize what energy deregulation is and what it can save them. Or they have been inundated with calls from salespeople trying to get them to switch their energy supplier and they are confused on how to proceed. Luckily, I know the man who wrote the book on energy deregulation – yes, he literally wrote a book about energy deregulation.

Mike Grimes of Commercial Energy Consultants is the go-to person when it comes to saving money on your power bill. Using his vast knowledge of the power supply industry, he will research over 30 companies to find you the best price for your energy needs. The key to saving money on your power, as Mike explains, is to lock in your price when you get a good rate, as prices tend to fluctuate over time. Unfortunately, a lot of people who have taken advantage of deregulation over the last few years did not lock in their rates and are now paying more as companies have incrementally raised their rates. The bottom line is that even if you think you have a good rate, you really don’t know until you’ve had your bill reviewed and energy rates compared with competing companies. So whether you’ve ever deregulated or not, it never hurts to have your power bill reviewed for free by Commercial Energy Consultants.

Again, as you review your business plans for the upcoming year, do not forget to consider your power bill as a source of savings. Give Mike Grimes a call at 877-212-1400 or take a look at this web site trycec.com. Tell him you read about him on my blog and he’ll be sure to take great care of you and your business’ power needs.

Update Boot Camp Radeon R9 M370X Driver on a MacBook Pro Retina 15″ Mid-2015 (Rainbow Six Siege fix)

Apple Boot CampUpdate: As of April 2016, AMD has finally released an updated Radeon Boot Camp driver for the 2015 MacBook Pro Retina 15″ and similar iMac Retina models. This updated driver fully supports Rainbow Six Siege and other new games. I recommend you use this supported driver at this time. However, the steps described below should still work if you want to make sure you have the latest and greatest unsupported driver from AMD for your Radeon R9-based Mac. Additionally, if you read the comments there are now a couple of sites that claim they have pre-packaged modified drivers available. I’ve not yet tested them, so proceed at your own risk.

Update 2: As of October 2016, AMD and Apple have yet to release an updated Radeon driver since April. I have just used the process in this article to update to version 16.9.2 of the Radeon drivers to verify it still works correctly. I wish AMD and Apple would update their official drivers more frequently, but at least we still have an option to update unofficially on our own.

If you purchased a MacBook Pro Retina 15″ model this year after late May, you may have purchased the model with the AMD Radeon R9 M370X discrete graphics processor. For those of us who run Windows through Boot Camp on this Mac, keeping the graphics driver updated is a little bit of a chore. It seems that AMD (maybe at Apple’s behest?) is not supporting the Radeon R9 M370X GPU in this MacBook Pro with their standard Radeon driver updates. Instead, this GPU will only run specific Boot Camp drivers that you can download from AMD’s site or through Apple’s Software Update utility.

The last time these drivers were updated was September 21st. Now that it is early December, these drivers are a little over two months old. For most people, that really isn’t much of an issue. Unfortunately, for those of us that like to play games through Boot Camp on our Macs, these drivers are a little long in the tooth. Specifically, if you are trying to play the recent release of Rainbow Six Siege on a MacBook Pro Retina 15″ Mid-2015 model, you will have noticed significant graphical glitching as this video demonstrates:

As the video states, it turns out the fix is to simply update to the latest Radeon graphic drivers. This normally would be a no-brainer easy fix, except that I stated above we MacBook Pro Retina owners who have the AMD Radeon R9 M370X can not update our drivers past the official September 21st release. I did a lot of research and found no solutions available. This is very infuriating, as I was fairly confident that AMD’s latest release probably would work on this GPU as it was part of a family of processors that pretty much use the same drivers. It is only because AMD specifically excludes the Radeon R9 M370X GPU from their driver installer that we are left out. If there was only a way to force the drivers to install, I felt I could make it work.

To make a long story short, after some research and experimentation, I have discovered a way to unofficially update the Radeon R9 M370X driver on a MacBook Pro Retina 15″ Mid-2015 to the latest version, fixing the issue with Rainbow Six Siege. Simply follow the instructions below and if you’re in the same boat as I was, you’ll find this to be a workable life vest until AMD and Apple release their next official driver release.

A Few Words of Warning

Obviously this is procedure is completely unsupported by Apple or AMD. While I do not think this procedure should cause any significant problems for your Windows installation or your Mac, installing this unsupported driver is completely at your own risk. If your Windows operating system crashes or your Mac blows up, it’s all on you. Apple or AMD will be of no help and will likely admonish you for trying something you read on the Internet. Additionally, I’ve only tested this on Windows 10 64-bit. In theory the core of this procedure should also work for Windows 8.1, but I’ve not tested that and will likely not ever test it myself. So far in testing my Boot Camp installation and Rainbow Six Siege for a few hours, almost everything seems fine. The only issue I’ve uncovered is that the screen brightness controls don’t work. There may be some other glitches lurking, but I’ve not suffered them yet. However, for me this is an acceptable trade-off, as I pretty much only use Boot Camp to do various Windows testing and play Windows games. However, if you are not going to play Rainbow Six Siege and you otherwise have no issues with your current Boot Camp installation, I would not advise following this procedure. Just be patient and wait for the next official Boot Camp graphic driver release.

Anyway, with no further ado, here is how to unofficially update the Windows 10 64-bit Boot Camp Radeon driver in a MacBook Pro Retina 15″ Mid 2015.

  • Download the latest Radeon drivers for R9 300 Series from this page: http://support.amd.com/en-us/download/desktop?os=Windows+10+-+64
  • Run the installer. It will fail with “We are unable to find a driver for your system. No supported AMD hardware was detected.” However, it will have copied the necessary installation files to your drive.
  • Edit the following file, noting that the path and INF filename will be slightly different for newer versions of the driver:
    C:\AMD\Radeon-Crimson-15.11-Win10-64Bit\Packages\Drivers\Display\WT6A_INF\C0296567.INF
  • Put a semicolon ; in front of the following line or lines (there will be at least one, but maybe 2 or more)
    ExcludeID=PCI\VEN_1002&DEV_6821&SUBSYS_0149106B
  • Save the file.
  • The line(s) above serve to exclude installing the Radeon driver for this specific GPU. A semicolon serves to mark the line as a comment, disabling the exclusion. This would normally be enough to force the driver to install on an unsupported system. However, it turns out that the driver is not digitally signed and Windows 10 64-bit by default will not install unsigned drivers. So we must disable driver signature enforcement first. Instead of detailing all the steps here, please read the following article if you do not know how to do this yourself. http://www.howtogeek.com/167723/how-to-disable-driver-signature-verification-on-64-bit-windows-8.1-so-that-you-can-install-unsigned-drivers/
  • Once the computer has rebooted after you have disabled driver signature enforcement, follow the steps below that I have included screenshots for:

Now that the driver is updated, you should be able to run Rainbow Six Siege without the graphical glitches we had to suffer with earlier. Please be sure to keep your head down, look around those corners, and watch your teammates backs!

Hopefully this procedure helps you if you own a MacBook Pro Retina 15″ Mid-2015 with AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU. I believe that some recent iMac owners with a similar AMD Radeon GPU may also suffer from the same problem. In theory, this general procedure should also work if we can identify which “ExcludeID” line should be commented out. For all I know, it might be the exact same line, but it is likely a different one. If you have a recent iMac with an AMD Radeon GPU, let me know if you want me to help you out. Also please comment below if this procedure helped you out!

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