Interview with Fox News Affiliate – Email Security and Encryption

“On Monday, 25 July 2016, I was interviewed by our local Fox News affiliate on the topic of email security. The report is archived below, the original is online.” ~ Greg Johnson

Video

Full Report

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) — Hackers have already disrupted the Democratic Party after releasing many damaging emails from the Democratic National Committee. They were embarrassing for party leaders and will likely result in at least the party chair stepping down this week.

But IT security for political groups and organizations at many different levels often balances on human error.

Running a campaign is a lot like a small business. There’s plenty of things to spend money on. With so much technology all around us, it’s often not an area where campaigns spend a lot of extra resources.

Physical protection is generally something we think politicians and their Secret Service Agents get right, especially at the highest levels.

Online, IowaCityTechnologyServices.com Director Greg Johnson says even they fall short.

“There are just so many points of failure,” said Johnson.

CBS2/FOX28 spoke to local campaigns and elected officials from both major political parties about their IT security. They say, generally, campaign staff email is handled through services like Google’s Gmail and some additional security options within those programs. Rarely will even the most Congressional races have a dedicated IT team to keep it safe.

“Just using Google, or some similar service, steps it up a bit, but it’s not entirely secure,” said Johnson.

Once a candidate is elected to Congress, their staff is brought on to Federal Government systems. That’s usually a step above most security, but Greg says it still doesn’t solve human carelessness.

“All it takes is for one person to lose their computer or have one person get their password and suddenly, that person has access to all those emails that somebody was copied on, or anything they’ve ever sent or received,” said Johnson. “It would be a huge collection of emails just from one account getting breached.”

Greg says there is encryption software that would make sure emails and information is locked and can only be accessed by someone with the right password. He says that can be free, or be as expensive at $175.

Great News: Business is Expanding

In December 2015, I received an unexpected offer to work for a business I really admire. The new job would allow me to return to doing more consulting and public interest work. It seemed like an appealing option. I decided to take the offer, and make a change.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take to build-up the consulting business. Surprisingly, in less than 24 hours, I was busy with all the work I could handle, and it’s been busy ever since. Many thanks to everyone who has been calling and requesting services.

Recently my wife Makur, also a technology support person at the University of Iowa, decided that she also would like to do more consulting work, so she decided to leave her job at the University and in March will join me in providing technology support through Iowa City Technology Services.

Makur has a broad range of experience in expertise in small business and enterprise-class computing, as well as an array of other skills. So, we’ve launched MJIowa.com as a website for her to bring in additional business. Over the years she has developed a following of people who specifically ask for her, so the new site is a great way to connect with those clients.

I look forward to the coming months, and appreciate everyone’s support.

Thanks!

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Reflections on a Year Using Gmail

As an Apple computer enthusiast, I’ve been using the Apple Mail client for years. About a year ago, I decided to switch over to using Gmail exclusively as an online email client. For my primary email accounts (included with my website hosting package), I set them to forward all emails to Gmail. I have a personal account and also a collection of other email addresses that I forwarded to a secondary Gmail address.

Here are the reasons I switched:

  1. Over time, the Apple Mail client became slower, and it caused my entire computer to slow down whenever it was running. I assumed this was due to the indexing of so many individual emails. I stopped seeking a solution when I learned that many people were having similar problems. Gmail was much faster than using the Apple Mail client.
  2. At the same time the slowness became an issue, about two years ago, there were known issues with Gmail compatibility and the Apple Mail client. Flagged and read emails weren’t synchronizing properly. For many months, people complained on the Apple discussion forums, but no solution was provided.
  3. In addition to these issues, I began hearing from people trying to reach me by email who were getting returned emails with an undeliverable message notification.
  4. I also heard from people that my emails were ending up in their spam/junk folder.
  5. At the time, my email inbox was limited to 1GB and constantly filling up, but Gmail offered virtually limitless email storage.
  6. Junk email wasn’t being identified accurately so I was having to manually sort them out.
  7. The Apple Mail client in iOS lacked mail rules and the intelligent Junk Mail filtering found in the native OS X desktop Mail client version. So, unless I had a desktop computer on all the time, with the Mail client running, those rules wouldn’t get applied.
  8. Gmail was identifying the Apple Mail client and others as non-secure email clients. So, using them required a special exception setting in my Gmail account.

So, for all these reasons, I decided to switch to Gmail.

As of January 2016, here’s why I’m switching back to using the Apple Mail client and the email accounts included with my hosting package.

  1. The Gmail conversation threads were problematic, and the nested messages made it sometimes hard to find where the conversation left off, especially if multiple replies were in a a thread. Messages people would send using feedback forms with the same subject line would be grouped as a conversation. Turning conversations off was an option, but not desirable either.
  2. Gmail would repeatedly put important emails into the Junk folder even for senders who were in my address book and even after repeatedly marking them as not junk.
  3. Gmail would automatically file emails into the Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums categories, which was very helpful some of the time, but much of the time it caused important emails to be misfiled.
  4. Gmail lacks the ability to sort on sender, subject, date, and other aspects of messages.
  5. Once I setup my computer with 16GB of RAM and a solid state hard drive (SSD), the slowness issue went away. This may have also had something to do with upgrading to the latest edition of OS X (El Capitan).
  6. The Google Gmail client for iOS made it possible to send messages as another email. However, the Apple Mail client for iOS would not permit this with Gmail accounts. This was very frustrating. So, it was necessary to continually used the Gmail client for iOS if replying to a message and desiring the recipient to see the correct sending address.
  7. Clicking on an email address typically brings up the default email client on a computer. This doesn’t work with the Gmail web based system unless you’re using Google Chrome.
  8. The Gmail ecosystem doesn’t have the same instantaneous push feature that Apple offers with their other iCloud services.

During the transition back to my original email addresses, I’ve set an autoresponder letting people know my best contact methods — in case anyone had inadvertently received an email from those Gmail accounts.

I still maintain email accounts in Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and other services in the event there are communications issues with people using any of those third-party services. It’s sometimes more reliable to communicate with someone on the same system they are using, and other features exist that make it helpful to have an account on various services.

Please visit my contact page for further details about how to best reach me.

Thanks!

Virginia Tech, Tiny Houses, and Distance Education in Higher Ed

Virginia Tech is utilizing distance education technologies to bring specialists into the classroom.  On 14 April 2015, I had the opportunity to be a visiting guest for a sustainability course taught by Luke Juran. Using Skype I was able to present and interact with the students in the course. Below is a photo from our Skype session.

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I’ve been inspired by the increased interest in tiny houses among students and faculty in higher education. Those focusing on sustainability and urban planning are incorporating smaller and more efficient living spaces into our built spaces. This tells me that we’re reaching a point of critical mass within the small house movement.

As a technology support specialist at the University of Iowa, I enjoy exploring how we can utilize technology for enhancing education. At the University of Iowa, through the Division of Continuing Education, courses are offered through Distance and Online Education.

Continuing education typically delivers certificates, degrees, and professional training to people with full-time jobs who do their studying in the evenings and weekends. In addition to schedule conflicts, people pursuing their career may find their ideal career location doesn’t put them close to the educational institution of their choice. So, distance education provides a great service.

In the past I assisted in teaching a course that utilized various classrooms on campus with multi-camera and multi-microphone systems to enhance the connection with an instructor in California.

More recently I had an opportunity to provide some technical support for a course being conducted by the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, and Ohio State University. The course, Two Koreas: Political Economy and Regional Rivalry, had students on three campuses participating.

Combining the on-campus experience with efficiencies of distance and online technologies, creates the best of both worlds. The in-class experience gives students a chance to meet in person. The online component helps expand the campus to include a richer diversity of students and draw from a wider selection of faculty.

The Importance of Digital Storytelling Through Social Media

Digital storytelling through social media is increasingly becoming an essential component of outreach for organizations and businesses. It’s especially important in higher education.

  • Informing. It’s how we inform the public and those within our institution about the work we do.
  • Hiring. It’s how we get the attention and interest of potential staff and instructors seeking employment.
  • Recruiting. It’s how we reach prospective students.
  • Fundraising. It’s how we inspire alumni and others from the community to give.
  • Motivating. It’s how we inspire ourselves to be encouraged about the work we do.
  • Documenting. It’s how we journal our experiences to create a collective institutional memory and history. These stories can document the what and how of processes.
  • Educating. In addition to telling stories, we can share about the process. This becomes an educational, transparent, and open-source way of equipping others to tell their stories.

Below are some photos from recent work I’ve been doing in the area of digital storytelling, and sharing the behind the scenes experiences of how we’re documenting our work — what technology and process is used.

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Michael O’Hara (center). Greg Johnson (behind camera at left). Developing an informational video for the Marcé Society.
Neema Loy shares about her @FulbrightPrgrm experience @UIOWA teaching ‪#‎Swahili‬ with the @DWLLC_UIOWA
Neema Loy shares about her @FulbrightPrgrm experience @UIOWA teaching ‪#‎Swahili‬ with the @DWLLC_UIOWA

Radio Interview with Asa Crowe on the KRUI Poli-Tech Tuesday Show

I had the pleasure to be a guest on the Poli-Tech Tuesday show on KRUI with Asa Crowe and Arianna Chronis. In about 30 minutes, we covered technology on campus and a lot of other topics. The interview is available below. Click the play button to listen.

About the Interview

I was a sophomore at the University of Iowa when KRUI was launched. As IOWA alumni, it was meaningful to be at the station today during the weeks leading up to their 30-year anniversary celebration.

It was nice to have a chance to visit with Asa about the various technology resources available on campus. Here are some of the topics we discussed during the interview, and links to further reading:

  • Flipping the Classroom – We discussed the approach to instruction that involves delivering lectures and course content online outside of class time and focusing class time on interactive, participatory, and engaging learning activities.
  • GarageBand – An Apple program for multitrack recording and music composition on desktop computers or iOS touch interface devices (iPhone, iPod, iPad).
  • ITS Help Desk – The central source on campus where you can get support for all things tech.
  • Language Media Center – A computer and technology lab on campus for language learning and media services. The LMC is part of the Division of World Languages, Literatures & Cultures.
  • Lynda.UIOWA.edu – Over 100,000 video tutorials on topics such as: Microsoft Office products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), Microsoft Windows and Mac OS, Adobe Suite (Acrobat, Photoshop, etc.), Apple products (iPad, iPhone, etc.), Web and mobile app design, Development and Programming, Google Products, Time management, running effective meetings, and Business skills (leadership and manager fundamentals, etc.).
  • Online Education @UIOWA – The University of Iowa offers Distance Education and online learning opportunities. This is explained on the Continuing Ed website as follows: “Online. On campus. On location. This phrase describes what Continuing Education at Iowa stands for: providing access to a nationally-ranked public institution to as many people as possible. In addition to where you take your course, there are a variety of ways the course is delivered. Many distance courses use the Internet to deliver course work to your desktop. Some distance degree programs or courses are offered on-location, such as Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, the Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Iowa Lakeside Laboratory in northwest Iowa. While still others are offered at the Iowa City campus, many at nontraditional times. Distance courses vary in delivery format and are supported with various technologies. Some are structured so you can complete them at a time that is most convenient for you (like our Guided Independent Study courses), while others provide a more specific set of deadlines and opportunities to collaborate with classmates.” [Facebook]
  • Stanford Open University – An example of higher education courses and reading materials made openly available to the public.
  • Tech Connection – The University of Iowa Bookstore computer center and authorized Apple repair center. [Facebook]
  • Two Koreas: Political Economy and Regional Rivalry – A course being delivered collaboratively by the University of Iowa, Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan. This is a CourseShare course offered by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC).
  • UI Capture – The University of Iowa lecture capture system that provides recordings of the audio, PowerPoint presentations, and other content from class lectures.
  • University of Iowa Photography Club – The UIPC has over 500 members on their Facebook Group page. Their organization page is just over 260 likes. The club offers various opportunities to meet other photographers, participate in photography events, and learn at workshops and presentations. The Iowa City Photographers Guild is another local photography group.

Music

Below is a video sample of my music and photography. The song is “Arpeggio Rising.” The photos are from 28 days in India. More of my music is available on ReverbNation and SoundCloud.

Thanks For Sharing

I appreciate the interest everyone has had in this story, and those who have shared this post on Facebook and elsewhere. The maps below show recent visitors to this page. Click any map image for a larger gallery view.


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Interview with KWWL About Heartbleed Security Exploit

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Today I had an interview with Justin Andrews of KWWL. We discussed the Heartbleed security exploit and what consumers can do to protect themselves. Click here to view the interview and read the KWWL story. If you have questions about this and other computing security concerns, feel free to contact me.

“Considering the long exposure, ease of exploitation and attacks leaving no trace this exposure should be taken seriously.” ~ CodeNomicon

I’ve written a more comprehensive article on my technology website. Click here to read that article.

New Artificial Intelligence Big Data Computers Have Almost Psychic Abilities and Access to Confidential Data

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Today I had a computer tell me some things that a computer or even a person would most likely not know.

I was setting up an online account. I’d only provided my name and address. Then suddenly a screen came up asking me to verify my identity with several multiple choice questions.

One of the questions was, “Which of the following people are you associated with?”

It was able to list someone who isn’t a family member, isn’t on any shared bank account, doesn’t live at the same address, but is indeed someone I know. The other names listed were people I don’t know.

How is a computer able to know someone I’m acquainted with only socially and not through any online connection? That’s almost spooky. Perhaps because the geopositioning information on our phones has identified us as being in close proximity of each other?

I’ve had similar authentication questions when setting up accounts, where the system will ask “Which of the following addresses have you ever lived at” and an address from many years ago will be listed.

It’s as if the system is instantaneously being granted access to my credit report without my consent.

On one occasion, about 10 years ago, when getting auto insurance, I was asked, “Will ______ be driving the car also?” The insurance agent was reading from a computer screen, and somehow the database was aware of everyone who had ever lived at the address where I was. The insurance agent was going to calculate my auto insurance based on other people the computer knew might drive my car. I had to convince the agent that the person in question maintained the same local address, but lived in another state and wouldn’t be driving the car.

It seems like computers are becoming more and more powerful as databases are connected globally. Let’s hope their programming doesn’t allow them to take control away from the humans.

Making the Move to a Post PC World With the iPad Mini

Greg Johnson
Greg Johnson

Embracing Technology. In the early 1980s, I became intentional about embracing computing technology and using it in every area of life. At first it was disorienting and uncomfortable to shift my daily activities to a new unfamiliar platform. The ongoing task of putting information in and getting it out took a while to get used to. I’m now going through a similar shift as I move toward increasingly using small, portable, solid-state, touch-screen devices for more of my work.

From Mouse to Touch Pad. After years of using a mouse for computer navigation it is disorienting for most people to switch to a touchpad. Not only does the interface feel different but the neural pathways in the brain that make mouse activity so familiar and efficient need to be re-created for a new interface like the touchpad. A physiological change the brain and body is needed. New muscles are engaged and old ones are no longer needed. The shift to an entirely different hardware platform with a completely new operating system and user interface is even more challenging.

Slimming Down. I recently decided to start riding my bicycle again to work, and walking more whenever possible. Given my reliance and dependence upon using my notebook computer, I’ve always carried it along with all the acoutrements. For many years, I would put my heavy backpack and accessories in a trailer behind my bicycle. I’m now storing my bicycle in a smaller space that doesn’t easily accomodate the trailer. Also, I’m wanting to carry a lighter load so walking will be easier.

Mobile Devices. Some tasks are intuitive and more easily performed using mobile devices. Text chatting and posting photos to Instagram are examples of tasks where mobile devices are more practical. With iMovie for the iPhone and Garageband for the iPhone, basic video editing and music production are now more easily done on a mobile device.

Large Screens. Some tasks are still more easily performed on a large screen, such as writing content when multiple documents are being referenced. The ability to simultaneously see multiple items on the screen at one time from different programs is unique to the desktop-world since mobile devices typically don’t support multitasking in that sense due to screen size limitations and processor limitations. With mobile devices, the visual aspect of multi-tasking must take place in the creator’s mind since content isn’t in front of you.

Visual Editing. I’ve written many pages of content and articles for the web using notebook or desktop computers. A larger display has always been a preference of mine. I usually keep a window open on the right for reference materials. The convenience of WSWG Visual editing (What you See is What you Get) is essential for creating content to see the formatting in real-time. When designing websites, it’s handy to have a window open showing the results of design changes.

Website Editing on Mobile Devices. I’ve been using WordPress for a while to manage websites. Editing sites using a tablet device has been limiting. The WordPress mobile editor app requires editing in HTML. While I’m quite comfortable with HTML, it’s much easier to use a visual editor when working with images and tables. So, I’ve continued using my notebook computer for creating and editing website content. Recently I discovered an app for the iPad and iPad Mini called BlogPad Pro. It’s a full featured website editor with visual editing and additional features that aren’t even found in the standard WordPress visual editor such as a table generator. Below is a screenshot of the post/page editing screen (click to enlarge). This app is making is possible to do advanced mobile post and page editing from the iPad Mini. This entire article was written and posted using BlogPad Pro – including the image below. The software works much better than the app provided by WordPress for editing.

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The Impact of Apps and Websites. Mobile devices are only as effective and useful as the apps allow them to be. Increasingly websites are being designed so that they are easily usable and navigate using a mobile device such as a tablet.