In a recent Washington Post article, the author discussed plans from AT&T for their transition from a traditional Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) physical facilities-based telephony environment to one that is entirely based on using the Internet, as Phone.com has been doing for nearly six years now! The article is a bit misleading, as it implies that these are bold and innovative steps on the part of AT&T. There is much more to the story, and this industry-wide transition is going to be very exciting for all of us!
To put this into perspective, The US Government’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) created a Technical Advisory Council (TAC) to assist the Commission in understanding how technology could and/or should be evolving. In June 2011, The TAC issued a report calling for the “sunset” (end of life) of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) as we know it by 2018! That is four years from today! The rationale was very clear. For example, by this year – 2014 – the number of traditional telephone access lines was expected to have dropped to 42 million in the US, declining by an average of 8%-10% each year. It was projected that, by 2014, there would be 32 million VoIP access lines accounting for nearly 45% of all access lines (Source). The PSTN is withering away and AT&T knows it. Will a complete and total transition happen by 2018? Probably not, but much work is underway from many different parts of our industry to help move this along.
In May 2013, the FCC issued a call for comments and trials regarding various elements of the transition to an all-IP network environment (Source). The Commission indicated their views as to why this transition must go forward. “… (A)s we move from TDM to all-IP networks, providers are migrating to voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) interconnection. VoIP interconnection should be more efficient and has the potential to unleash new, innovative services and features.” Also, “as we transition away from TDM, the nation’s emergency calling (911) system must also migrate to Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911). Although there is broad consensus regarding the benefits and potential of NG911, when these new capabilities will be introduced is less certain.” The ability to replace wired with wireless information transport will also be considered, especially for rural or high-density areas. Lastly, consideration is being given to telephone numbers and related database issues. “The technology transition offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at the assignment of numbers and the features, capabilities, and security of numbering-related databases.” For example, there have been industry proposals for a unified, IP-accessible database that provides secure access to number-related information. A technology trial could test new technical proposals for assigning telephone numbers individually instead of in blocks of 1,000. We may then be able to determine what protocols and procedures are most effective to assign and port numbers in an all-IP environment. This would improve services for customers of companies such as Phone.com!
As you can clearly see, the article regarding AT&T’s planning for the migration fails to mention the fact that the entire telecommunications world is undergoing change. We at Phone.com believe that this is for the better, and are delighted to be playing an active and continuing role in making these dreams reality!
As an update to my October 29 comments on the Cryptolocker hold-your-files-for-ransom malware, you may have a hard time believing this next phase in the evolution of extortion: They now have a customer service and support site for those that wanted to pay the ransom but had technical issues, and couldn’t figure out how to do it!
The Cryptolocker Decryption Service—I did not make this up! It is not April Fools’s Day yet!—permits victims to view their “order status” (the ransom payment) and complete the transaction. If someone makes the payment, but the decryption code fails, they can get quality customer service from these thieves.
Also, in the past, if a user failed to pay up within 72 hours, the key was destroyed resulting in their files being lost forever. Our good-hearted criminals realized, however, that they were leaving money on the table, so will now allow latecomers to buy a key. In this case, the fee jumps from $300 to $4,000!
It also turns out that victims wishing to pay the ransom, who had already removed the malware, would need to reinstall the malware for the decryption key to work. The customer service site can provide a key that works without the annoyance of having to re-infect and then disinfect your machine again.
Customer service is incredibly important to us here at Phone.com, and I must admit that the ingenuity combined with the complete absence of ethics demonstrated by those at Cryptolocker has astounded me—and it takes a lot for that to happen!
Remember the old Westerns where the bad guys targeted the stagecoach to rob? Remember the famous apocryphal answer to the question of why a bank robber robbed banks? Of course, the answer was “because that’s where they keep the money.” Today, there is a new breed of thieves that know that very well. What is the most important electronic asset that you have today? It is not your computer – if damaged, they can be replaced. It is not software that can be corrupted. That can also be replaced. In fact, it is your data – the documents, pictures, presentations, and videos that you have created and that are irreplaceable.
Imagine seeing this flash up on your screen:
These hoodlums have not displayed silly messages or destroyed your hard drive. Rather, they have encrypted all of your personal files and are now demanding that you pay a ransom within a designated period of time for them to provide you with the key to decrypt the files. Fail to pay the ransom and the key self-destructs leaving the files unusable.
So far, reports of people paying the ransom have indicated that the bandits are at least honoring that obligation for now, but after all, they are thieves and trust seems to be questionable.
Your first reaction may be “OK. I back up my files regularly to an external hard drive, so I am good.” Not so fast. If the hard drive was attached to your computer when the attack occurred, it too could be infected. Removing the virus is easy. Unfortunately, the files remain encrypted and without paying the ransom, are likely lost forever.
There are a variety of ways that you can protect yourself before you are attacked by Cryptolocker or other malware or ransomware programs.
- Regularly backup your important files. If you can, store your back-ups offline where they cannot be affected in the event of an attack on your active files. Your backups are useless if they are scrambled by CryptoLocker along with the primary copies of the files. If you use an external hard drive, unplug it from your computer while you are actively using your machine so it cannot be affected by “drive-by malware.” Reconnect it when you are finished to enable regularly scheduled back-up sessions.
- Keep your anti-virus software up to date and run a malware detection tool (like www.malwarebytes.com) on a regular basis. Malware can be harming your computer without you knowing it. Catching and eliminating it early makes good sense!
- Keep your operating system and software up to date with patches. This reduces the potential for malware to enter unnoticed through security holes. CryptoLocker authors do not use extravagant intrusion techniques because other malware already opened the door.
As with all security, the best way to protect yourself is before you have been attacked. Cryptolocker is likely only the first of the Twenty-First Century version of an old-fashioned hold-up. It cannot infect your computer unless you open the executable file. Be cautious about what you open. Create walls between your active computer files and those that you have backed up. Having your most important documents in another room will not save them if the building burns down. Keep them somewhere else – like in the cloud! Being held a CyberHostage is not fun. Knowing this threat is out there is the first step to not becoming a victim!
During the Twentieth Century, we saw communications evolve from encoded text (Morse code, teletype, et al) to analog and then digital phone systems. In the early part of the Twenty-First century, we have seen the emergence of portable hand-held wireless devices that we call SmartPhones, but these are really small computers with voice phone services as but one of the many “apps” that are available. In the not-so-distant future, we may very well see wearable or even embedded technologies that allow US to become the SmartPhone! Who needs the Twentieth Century version of a Star Trek communicator when you simply need to tap your wrist, touch your earring, or blink your eye to make a call?
Twenty years ago, the concept of a SmartPhone/minicomputer in your pocket seemed like science fiction to most of us. Today, we are considered passé if we aren’t looking to upgrade to the next generation of “phone” every year! Wearable technology – smart watches, tech clothing, etc. – are already forecasted to generate more than $4 billion in revenue this year, and the industry is only in the early days of its evolution!
Technology is driving communications to an ever smaller footprint but there are limits in size and heat dispersal for silicon-based computing. That is where the next possible technology breakthrough comes in. Engineers at Stanford University are working with carbon nanotubes as a successor to silicon that will operate faster with a lower demand for energy than silicon chips.
SmartPhones helped to move voice communications away from the traditional telephone handset that was tethered to the wall into the palm of our hands. Ten years from now, we may be placing calls or participating in video sessions without holding anything other than perhaps a specially-designed pair of glasses! For Phone.com, there will continue to be the need to facilitate and process calls. What will certainly change is the end-user device that will be used for those calls. No more Star Trek communicators, flip phones, or SmartPhones! Just tap an earring to answer that call!