Michael Horowitz
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October 22, 2017: I blogged about Defensive Computing for Computerworld from 2009 - 2017, and pretty much ignored my personal blog. Now that I no longer write for Computerworld, my blogs will go here - for now.

Lying to non techies

November 9, 2017

Bad things are often put in the best possible light. For example, when a TV or radio show is about to air a commercial, they always say "We'll be right back" rather than "and now a commercial". Glass half empty/full.

I recently came across this concept with an Android phone. The operating system on the phone, version 6.0.1, had been abandoned. There had been no security patches for the last 11 months. Yet, when the user checked for System Updates (Settings => System Updates => Check for system update), the resulting message was "Your device's software is up to date."

The software is not up to date. In November 2017, an Android device with a security patch level of January 1, 2017 is not up to date. What is true, is that there are no outstanding available updates for the phone that have not yet been installed. This is totally different from the software on the phone actually being up to date.

Did Google word this particular message to purposely trick non techies? We'll never know.


A tale of two cable modems

October 25, 2017

I recently replaced my cable modem. The the old one had trouble re-establishing the Ethernet connection to my router after an outage. Once they linked up, all was well but it took way too many attempts for the two devices to see each other.

The old one was made by Arris, the new one by Netgear.

The old one went months and months without getting an available firmware update. The new one upgraded its firmware the first day it was installed. This is all on my cable provider, there is nothing that Arris, Netgear or I can do about this.

The old one lived through many ISP outages. Often the lights on the front did not change in an outage. The new one has lived through two outages and each time the lights on the box clearly indicated that there was a problem.

The lights on the Arris modem were all circles. The lights on the Netgear modem are indicative of what they represent. For example, the light indicating the status of the upstream connection is an arrow pointing up, and the one indicating the status of the downstream connection, is an arrow pointing down. In the last outage it was interesting to see that, at times, the downstream connection was fine, while the upstream connection was problematic.

One of the lights on the Arris modem was so bright, that I had to cover it with tape. The lights on the Netgear modem are well behaved.

The lights on the Netgear modem use an obvious color scheme: green is good, orange is bad. The lights on the Arris modem were either blue or white. On the outer two, white was normal, on the inner two, blue was normal. Green is good is the clearly the better approach.

Both modems can be reached at The Netgear is password protected, the Arris was not.

The Netgear modem has a Spectrum Analyzer on a non-standard port, available from the LAN side. I found the open TCP port with an nmap scan. The Arris modem does not have a Spectrum Analyzer. What do you do with a Spectrum Analyzer? Beats me.


The downside of Security Software on Windows

October 23, 2017

Once upon a time, I knew someone who was a big fan of faxing on Windows. They used the Windows Fax and Scan feature of Windows 7 and when their Windows 7 machine died, they continued to use the same feature on Windows 10. Apparently it hadn't changed at all. I was not aware of this, but you can (or could) buy a modem with a legacy analog telephone jack on one end and a USB connection on the other.

All was well, until that person replace their router. Afterwards no more faxes. Debugging this was difficult: I was not at the location, I did not have remote access to the problematic computer, the fax enthusiast was a non-techie, I don't use Windows 10 much and I have never faxed to/from a Windows computer. This would have been one of life's little annoyances, but it became seriously important when the fax enthusiast came down with a medical condition that required faxing to/from doctors and labs. This was not something that could wait. Not even a day. Why the medical community still relies on faxing, I don't know - but they do.

What to do? Simplify. Fewer moving parts makes it easier to narrow down the problem.

Since the problem started after installing a new router, both the router and the assorted wires and cables, that had to be uprooted during its installation, were suspects. Perhaps some wires weren't reconnected properly. In the end, the wires/cables were not the issue.

The Windows PC was running an ESET antivirus program, don't know which one exactly. One the one hand, it was objecting about a USB flash drive, which made me think that antivirus programs want to be active when new USB devices are plugged in so that they can scan the files for malware. Perhaps ESET had interfered with the USB modem connection? On the other hand, some searching online by the fax enthusiast found references to the Windows firewall causing grief for faxing and scanning. Again, Windows security software sometimes pokes around with firewall rules, so ESET was a double suspect.

As soon as the ESET antivirus software was removed, faxes could be sent.

But, the next day we learned that faxes could not be received. I suspected a firewall issue. When Windows connects to a new network, it asks the user if the network should be treated as public, home or corporate. Perhaps Windows considered the new router to be a new network? The question is typical of Microsoft and Windows. That is, its confusing and incomplete. Perhaps the non-techie fax user had not seen the message, or had responded wrong, somehow. Don't know.

It could also have been that the Windows firewall popped up its own warning during the first faxing with the new router and that warning was ignored or answered incorrectly.

Configuring the Windows firewall is an undertaking for masochists. Back in the days of XP it was simple and easy but with Windows 7 and 10, the user interface is a confusing, complicated disgrace. Rather than fight that battle, with a non-techie driving no less, we disabled the Windows firewall, and ... faxes can now be received.

Anyone who has dealt with a life threatening medical condition knows, there are things far worse than malware.





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