Winter Storm Juno: What to do when you have to work remotely

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Snow pic - Alex - 1

View from the front porch of Alex Straffin, Everon’s Technical Services Manager.
That’s a lot of snow! (Jan 27, 2015)

Making the headlines today is Winter Storm Juno. While the storm didn’t bring in the massive snowfalls predicted, it did force thousands of employees to either take the day off or work from home, as transportation came to a screeching halt in many of the major cities.

What do you do when you are forced to work from home? Fortunately, as long as your IT department has invested in this scenario, you have options.

Snow pic - Brandon

A view from the window of Massachusetts-based Everon Project Engineer Brandon Hodgkin (Jan 27, 2015).

The biggest option most employees are given is to use a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It basically is a tunnel between you and your location to your office. When you join a VPN, you are routed to your company’s internal network, and from there you can map drives and access resources that are only accessible to you from inside the office.

VPNs are either offered internally, through an RRAS (routing and remote access server) or through a unit designed to handle the traffic (such as a Cisco AnyConnect device).

Another option you have, if available, is the use of a terminal server. Terminal servers are servers set up inside a company’s network. They allow multiple users to connect via remote desktop protocol and receive a fully functional desktop to use. When logging into a terminal server, you will be put onto a server’s desktop and will have access to all tools that have been previously installed on the server, such as Microsoft Office or Quickbooks.

Be aware that with a terminal server you are sharing the resources of a server with several other users, so you will be very limited to what you can do and where you can go. You should not be able to reboot the server or get to any administrative tools as a standard user.

Snow pic - Simon - 1

That white car belongs to Everon’s IT Project Manager, Simon Islam. Look at how much the tree limbs are weighed down — must be very wet, heavy stuff. (Massachusetts, Jan 27, 2015).

If neither of these are available through your company, and as long as you have permission, you can also use free remote software, to gain access to your actual desktop at your office. One such tool that I recommend is Teamviewer. You sign up for a Teamviewer account, and then install the software onto your workstation for unattended access (that will be an option to choose).

By doing that, Teamviewer modifies your machine to stay online and to keep a constant connection open, so when you leave the office, you can go to teamviewer.com, sign into your account, and access your machine. It will open a window that puts you right on the desktop of your machine!

When using Teamviewer, be aware  that if you have your monitors on at work, everyone who is around your machine can see what you are doing. If you know you are going to use Teamviewer the next day, it’s a good idea to turn off your monitors before leaving work. (You will still have access to your machine.)

Snow pic - Simon - 2

As of 4 p.m. today (Jan 27, 2015), snow was still falling. Photo courtesy of Simon Islam.

These are the main three ways you can connect into your office remotely. Check with your IT department to see what they have available for you. Most likely they will allow one of these three. These are not the only ways to connect remotely — just the easiest and most common of the type of calls we typically get when a snowstorm shuts down a city.

For further information on how to connect remotely, and what your options are, feel free to contact Everon at 1-888-244-1748.

Snow pic - Alex - 2

I’d hate to have to be the one to dig out Alex’s car. Eesh! (Jan 27, 2015)

 

Microsoft suing fake “tech support” company!

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Microsoft

Hello again. I read something rather interesting over the weekend that I thought would be great information to relay, as it goes alongside my previous security and holiday scams post that we published earlier in the month. According to a report on December 18th, Microsoft filed suit against a company that was claiming to be techs who worked directly for Microsoft.

Apparently, this company was using Microsoft’s name to dupe unknowing victims into paying top dollar for technical support that was “crucial” and affecting their system files. They tricked them by putting out Internet ads for tech support by Microsoft technicians. Once victims signed up, they were talked into letting the technician take over their computer to do “scans” and checks on the machine. They would present their “findings” and demand over $200 for these repairs.

These fake technicians were on-point with their technical jargon and even came up with clever reasons as to why the repairs were needed, even being as costly as they were. According to the investigative findings, the representatives would reference things like, “polymorphic infection,” “damage to core system files,” and they would warn victims that if they didn’t act in time, their systems would crash. (My guess is when the “techs” were on the computers, they more than likely infected the machines more in order to guarantee future work and future paychecks.)

As I have stated before, never trust anyone on the Internet, whom you do not know. Do not sign up for services of which you are unsure, do not let just-anyone on your computer, and never give out your credit card information without being 100% sure. My best advice is to get yourself a reputable company, such as Everon, for your computer and network needs. We have real techs, who are highly trained, and can help you in your time of need. Call us at 888-244-1748 or email us at [email protected] We’re here to support you and your business 24/7, year-round. 

 

Sonicwall Registration Issues - NEW UPDATE

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I recently wrote a blog about my issues with trying to register at mysonicwall.com. I added a brief update at the end of the blog. However, I have a new update which I would like to share.

Since getting my issue resolved, I figured that was it. To be honest, that would have been perfectly fine with me. As I mentioned in my blog, I knew someone in the company would have resolved my issue, and as long as I have had my issue resolved, I didn’t care. I wouldn’t harbor any hard feelings toward Dell’s Sonicwall line, and I am going to continue to use my Sonicwall, so no harm done really. However, yesterday I was contacted via phone by the Manager of Global Customer Service at Dell — that was something I did not expect. It really went above and beyond what I expected of Dell, so much so that I decided to write my update into a new blog post here for you all.

The manager at Dell said that she’d read my blog post. She said that what I’d said was fair, and they were able to understand the issue and my frustrations completely. She also noted that due to the fact that I’d detailed the issue so thoroughly, the issue was escalated to their website developers… and they identified the bug and resolved it on their website! Woo!

I think it is something to note that a company as large as Dell will take the time to get your issue resolved, and it really turned around something where I was upset into a renewed respect for Dell. I always feel bad when I have to send in complaints to a company, because I know they have a job and a family, just like me. But it’s good to see results as complete and thorough as the ones Dell gave me.

Dell-Sonicwall-new

 

Sonicwall Registration Issues

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Hi all,

I have never used my blogging to complain about anything. I believe blogs should be helpful and should allow you to learn something new that you may never have known before. The blog I am writing now hopefully doesn’t come off as complaining, but maybe more as a way for me to get this information out there for others to review — and maybe we can discuss solutions. Because unfortunately, at the end of this blog, there is no resolution.* But I want to discuss Sonicwall Registration issues.

I am not talking about what to do when you have a Sonicwall, and you need to register it for your account. I am referring to registering for a mysonicwall.com account. I have had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with this, and I want to get some myths and facts squared away.

First off, a little background here: I am a Watchguard guy. I was originally trained on Watchguards, I love the interface, and in my time in Florida it was 90% Watchguard, 10% Sonicwall. We had one client who had a Sonicwall, and I dreaded it. Until I realized they had the Public Server Wizard in the upper right hand corner of the webpage, creating simple rules was as difficult to me as an ASA (I won’t even get into that right now). I have always been a server guy, never strong on networking, so I didn’t understand why Sonicwall needed all of the various components to open a firewall rule. Watchguard made sense to me. You created everything right there with your system manager. I loved it, but upon moving to Colorado, much to my horror, I found that Everon is almost primarily Sonicwalls.

Nevertheless, I took this in stride and began to learn everything I could about these devices. Sonicwall, which was acquired by Dell a few years back, is a good product. It definitely can go toe-to-toe with Watchguard and Cisco ASAs. It is at the forefront of firewall security, so it was something that I needed to learn. I ended up getting a chance to take a Sonicwall home and connect it to my home network. I have a TZ 200, and I wiped it, uploaded the latest firmware at the time, and modified it to match what I wanted out of a firewall.

Flash forward: Everything is working great, but now I want to go further. I want to open some ports and play around a little bit. But first, since it’s been several months, I want to register it as my own. I want a mysonicwall.com account, and I want to update its firmware.

I initially went to mysonicwall.com and began the registration process. Everything seemed right in-line. It looked like I would have my firmware updated by the weekend.

Hold on…. it says my password is poor, with this error:

This password is publicly available in hacking/security forums and can be easily compromised. Please use a different password.

Wow that sounds intense. I really hope the password I chose isn’t available in some forum! I believe it’s a very secure password: I used capital letters, symbols, numbers, and didn’t follow a pattern. It’s over 15 characters! I figure I am going to have to review this later and see if I can find out if I have been compromised in any way. For now, let me input another password….

Same result. (?) How about a different browser…?

Same result. (?!) How about if I VPN into my office at work and try, using a different public IP (because what if, for some weird reason, maybe my IP is blocked)…?

Same result!

Here is a screenshot of the error in all its glory:

Sonicwall

I decided to call Sonicwall to discuss. After all, I am sure they want me as a customer, right? I have called Sonicwall probably at least 100 times before with client issues, so I know that, yes, it can take a while to get someone on the phone. But once I do they are great and will help me out.

Once I got a technician on the phone and explained the issue, he said this can only be taken care of through their Customer Service team, by emailing: [email protected] OK, that was fine, it sounds like I am not getting to work on my Sonicwall at this time, but whatever, as long as we are moving along. I emailed that address, and a ticket was created immediately, and a response came within 24 hours, so progress. The response that was given was simply:

Dear Customer,
 
You should not use special characters while creating an account.
 
Regards,
DELL SonicWALL Customer Support

OK… pretty sure I had tried without special characters, but let’s go at this again and see what happens. Yep, tried without special characters and I still got the error message. So I emailed Sonicwall back to state this and to see if they will set up the account, or what further can I do. Unfortunately here is where the trail goes cold….

…crickets…

It’s been 5 days now, absolutely no responses. I have tried the registration 3-4 times a day, and responded back to the original ticket requesting assistance, and nothing.

Today I thought about the idea, “What if I just click on ‘Register?’ Will it allow me to somehow register an account?”

NO. (This time the error is that my security question/answer has errors in it. The registration page just gives me two blank fields to fill in whatever I want, so I created a question, and filled in an answer! How could there be errors?! I even tried clicking on the question marks to the side of the fields, assuming those are helpful hints, but even those are not clickable.)

At this point I wrote a “less than happy” email back to Customer Support, because I am at the end of my rope. Even when you Google this Sonicwall error message, you don’t really get anything, so that is one reason I decided to write this blog. Am I the crazy one, or are others out there having the same issue?

I found one response on superuser.com, stating that the reason that error exists is because they are reviewing the password in rainbow tables, and if it exists, they are throwing it out. This made me feel a little more secure, like the password I created was not stolen. To further give myself solace, I created an EXTREMELY long and miserable password by typing random letters, numbers, symbols — everything you could think of — into this registration process… and still nothing. (The password was akin to looking something like this: [email protected]&%#$F093jd938de%^&* That looks pretty secure, but apparently not secure enough for Sonicwall.)

Also, just to state, before I get to my conclusion: if/when I get this resolved with Sonicwall, I will let you all know. I know someone, somewhere in that company will resolve this, and I will continue to be a very happy customer of Sonicwall’s. Just right now we are not on the best of terms.

So, In the end, the point of this blog is really to reach out to the world and state a few facts:

  • This is a big part of being a remote engineer. We are constantly having to contact 3rd party companies all the time, and when they drop the ball it’s tough to relay that information to the client. Because even though you know you have done everything you can, when your client is wanting you to get info from a 3rd party, and they drop the ball, you can’t help but to feel for your client. It’s like you’ve failed them in some way.
  • Sonicwall’s devices are amazing, they are great products, and I recommend them.
  • Dell’s customer service for Sonicwall is less than desirable. If anyone has figured out how to create a registration for mysonicwall.com, please email us at [email protected], subject line: Sonicwall.
  • And lastly… Watchguards RULE! I still love those devices!

245845c*UPDATE [Two weeks later]: I have resolved this issue, and I have my Sonicwall account created finally! I almost gave up, but I decided that if the original engineer who was assigned to my ticket was not going to get back to me, I was going to email in again separately and create a new ticket. I know how their CRM works — just like at Everon — where when you email in to a specific email address, a ticket gets created and assigned out to an engineer. My thinking is that I received an engineer who didn’t care to help me — unlike at Everon. But this situation does happen at some companies sometimes. So if I email in again and a new ticket gets created, maybe I would get an engineer who cares.

So when I emailed in and a new ticket was created, I did get a response — albeit it took 2 days, and they requested a screenshot of the issue. I sent them a screenshot with my phone number, and they actually called me and set the entire account up! They didn’t sound too happy on the phone, and I am sure they were nervous about talking to me since I sent a very nasty email beforehand. Regardless, the issue is resolved, and I have my account. I hope to never have to use Dell Sonicwall’s customer service center ever again. I will say this as well: my password I ended up using has special characters, so the original technician who suggested I could not use special characters was flat-out wrong.

I hope this helps anyone else who might have been going through the same issues, as this was a nightmare for what honestly should have been a very easy, and quick issue. Good luck!

 

 

When Techs Need Tech Support: a spooky story

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Zombies - 28:50 a.m. I walked into work at Everon, stood at my desk, clocked in, and was immediately attacked by zombies. These humanoid creatures closely resembled my co-workers, but with huge eyes and stress-creased faces. They plodded forward, closing in on me. The same words repeated out of their mouths in a strange, garbled chant: Coffee machine… broken…. Won’t. Make. Coffee.

I am in charge of dealing with the coffee needs of the office. This is, of course, because I drink tea.

My breathing became shallow. I backed up until my legs hit my desk. Terror gripped my gut. The Walking Dead had nothing on these guys.

In some dim, still-rational recess of my brain, I knew this was a situation I’d seen before. My mind raced, trying to remember what to do, hoping that whatever I’d done before would work again. I hid my fear, nodded solemnly, and schooled my expression to be clinical, like a doctor. (Zombies are afraid of doctors, right?) Then, as fast as I could, I sat down at my desk and blitzed out an email to our coffee rep. More zombies approached. Coffee machine… broken….

Warm Bodies, Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate, 2013

Thirty seconds later, when my rep hadn’t responded, I pulled out her business card and called her cell phone. This time I also programmed her number into my contact list. She answered. As calmly as I could I explained the situation. I then relayed her message back to my coworkers—a message that was eerily reminiscent of what our own clients must say to their coworkers, after having contacted us for downed servers or Internet failure:

“A ticket has been opened; our status has been marked as ‘urgent.’ An onsite tech will be here shortly.”

Resigned groans filled the air, but my under-caffeinated colleagues lumbered back to their desks. I prayed my slightly-misleading verbiage would go unnoticed: I had no idea how long “shortly” would wind up being.

Trying to keep the horde pacified, I repeated the message frequently. The clock ticked. At one point a Desktop Engineer, who was clearly not himself, demanded coffee-status updates in 15-minute increments. I kept my expression clinical and forced myself to take deep breaths, so as not to belie my fright.

Hours later, at 3 p.m. the coffee machine tech arrived. We had an unusual problem that took him a half-hour to fix. But I’d made it. More to the point, my crew had made it. They say doctors make the worst patients. Well, it’s the same with techs who need tech support, especially when it involves missing their java. Now we’re all good. As long as we don’t run out of beans…!

Zombies - 3a