Technology Advisor Blog

Important Notice Regarding Your Domain Name(s)

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 6/4/18 2:15 PM

Internet WHOISA few clients have asked us about recent notifications received from Network Solutions (and others):    "Action Required: Notice Regarding Your Domain Name(s)".  In this day and age, we recommend that all users stay alert when opening email, and we welcome questions about the legitimacy of received mail - better safe than sorry!

This notification states as follows:

"This notification is being sent to you as a contractual requirement of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) WHOIS policy. When you registered your domain with us, you agreed to keep your contact information in Account Manager current, and the WHOIS policy mandates that we ask you to verify and/or update this information periodically. Further, ICANN requires us to remind you that providing inaccurate or dated contact information may be grounds for domain name cancellation."

In this case the message IS legitimate, and we always recommend as an extra precaution that you go straight to the website in question (in this case, the company you registered your domain name with, typically Network Solutions), rather than clicking through the link in the website.  Yes, we just said the email was "real", but as a "best practice", don't follow links in emails when you don't have to. 

You don't have to reply to the email, it's just a reminder to check that the current information is still valid, and to update it as necessary.

ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is a non-profit organization committed to maintaining a number of databases associated with domain names.   ICANN is committed to maintaining the WHOIS directory, which is a directory of contacts associated with all domain names - much like a telephone book.  In order for the information to be useful, it must be up to date, and anyone who registers a domain name must agree to keep the information up to date.  Domain name registrants, businesses, individuals, consumers, and law enforcement are all stakeholders in this directory.

As part of your contractual agreements when you registered your domain name, you agreed to keep the contact information accurate and current.  If you use a private registration, you must keep the contact information current at your registrar.   Note that all your renewal notices, etc, will be sent to the current contact on file, so its also in YOUR interest to keep the information current.  Even if you have a credit card on file for automatic renewal, if the card expires or gets replaced, without out accurate contact information you won't get the notification and you could lose your domain name.  

To look up your own information, go to the Network Solutions WHOIS lookup tool.  The Registrant organization should be your company name (not an employee or webmaster! - this is VERY important!  Does the business own the domain name, or does the employee or webmaster who set it up own it?  Make sure this is correct!.  Also check that the registrant, administrative, and technical contacts are all current.  

Check the WHOIS Primer for more information on the role of ICANN and the WHOIS directory.




Tags: eMail, Internet, web site

Sending an email to more than just a few recipients? DON'T hit the send key before reading this....

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/16/18 3:54 PM

eMail-BulkMailYou need to send an important update or invitation to all your clients and you're ready to hit the "send" key.  Don't!  

If your eMail hosting provider or Internet Service Provider sees a lot of mail coming from you that looks the same, this will be categorized as "bulk" commercial mail and you may unwittingly violate the acceptable use policy of your provider.  Even though these would be emails people want, the systems and algorithms in place can't tell the difference between your well-crafted invitation to a high-quality event, or highly thoughtful customer update, and the massive amount of spam on the Internet.   

To send bulk mail, first you must comply with the current anti-spam laws, and then you need to find a way to successfully deliver your mail.

You must have permission to send the mail via an opt-in process (such as a newsletter sign up), or implicit permission such as an established client relationship.  The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 puts into law the differentiation between legal and illegal commercial email.  Commercial emails are considered legal if they adhere to the following standards:

  1. The header of the commercial email (indicating the sending source, destination and routing information) doesn't contain materially false or materially misleading information;
  2. The subject line doesn't contain deceptive information;
  3. The email provides "clear and conspicuous" identification that it is an advertisement or solicitation;
  4. The email includes some type of return email address, which can be used to indicate that the recipient no longer wishes to receive spam email from the sender (i.e. to "opt-out");
  5. The email contains "clear and conspicuous" notice of the opportunity to opt-out of receiving future emails from the sender;
  6. The email has not been sent after the sender received notice that the recipient no longer wishes to receive email from the sender (i.e. has "opted-out"); and
  7. The email contains a valid, physical postal address for the sender.

Source:  Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute.

Even if you follow all these rules, now you need to find a way to deliver your mail to your recipients.  Your email hosting provider or Internet Service Provider will not be reviewing the contents of the email so they may just block you.  If you plan to use any bulk email, we recommend Constant Contact or Hubspot to send your mail.  There are also many other excellent providers, but these are the ones we use and recommend.

We've seen clients try to work around the bulk mail limitations by sending mail in batches or by trying to hide the number of recipients in distribution lists.  It won't work! Computer systems are very good at recognizing patterns and you won't outsmart the system.  Blocking an individual sender, which is highly inconvenient for that sender, actually protects you from the worse situation of having your entire domain blocked.   If your domain is blacklisted, it will take time to get off the black list, and in the meanwhile, no one in your company will be able to send email.

Why do eMail hosts and Internet Service Providers block mail?  They're trying to cut down on the spam that ties up about 90% of email traffic.  Many viruses attack PCs by turning them into "zombies" that send mail on behalf of spammers.  This ties up valuable resources, so the hosts and Internet Service providers want to stop it... and unfortunately they wind up stopping the "good guys".

After you comply with all the rules, and use the right platform, keep in mind that if customers "unsubscribe" then you can't add them back on to the list.  We recently sent out an important customer update, and found that a few customers didn't receive it because they had unsubscribed from our newsletter.   Focus on high value information, and use your bulk mail sparingly to keep the retention level high.  You may also need to do some customer education around what you're trying to achieve with the notifications so they won't just de-clutter one day and cut off all communications (and then ask why they didn't get the important update).

Bottom line, don't fool around with bulk mail.  eMail is a great way to get the attention of your clients directly in their inbox, but be informed and responsible before hitting that "send" button!

Tags: eMail, email security

eMail Delays in the "Always On" World

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 7/17/17 2:02 PM

ModDownDetector-Down.jpgern technology enables us to accomplish so much, but when there's a disruption, we're reminded of our dependence, and it's painful!  Last Thursday and Friday, many users were affected by delays in sending and receiving emails.   The systems at Rackspace, one of the leading cloud providers in the world, became overloaded and disrupted services for many users, including a number of Ekaru clients.

We have been tracking the situation closely, and spoken to many of our users, and the situation was mostly resolved on Friday.  We've provided updates on our website and social media pages, and we're always available by phone for questions.   Thank you for your patience and understanding!

None of the leading providers are immune from disruptions and downtime.  Office 365 had three disruptions in June, and Amazon Web Services had a major outage in February.  In an twist of irony, Down Detector, which monitors web outages was itself down as a result of the Amazon outage.  Although Amazon, Rackspace, Office 365 are known for excellent up times, there is always the chance of an exception.

Here is a summary from Rackspace regarding the timeline that affected users:

  • "We identified an issue with system performance during the week of July 3. While minor, we were concerned that it had the potential to grow worse over time. After discussing the issue with our vendors and consultants, we elected to perform proactive maintenance designed to double our total capacity. The additional capacity would provide plenty of headroom and prevent the issue.
  • On the evening of Wednesday, July 12, the capacity was ready, and engineers initiated the process to re balance users across the new hardware.
  • An unknown bug associated with moving users caused high system load across affected systems, and impacted only those users who had been moved.
  • During the time of impact, when an affected user tried to access their mailbox, they would have seen access errors, incomplete message listings, or other errors. Mail delivery was also slowed for a time, and this would have affected a broader set of users.
  • Email messages were not lost or destroyed, but would have been inaccessible by some users during the time of impact."

More analysis is underway, but for now, the important thing is that performance has been restored.  

We know how stressful events like this are for all users, and we are here to help in any way we can, but in some ways this is the technology equivalent of being stuck on an airplane at the gate with a mechanical delay or weather delay - sometimes it's just out of our control!  Work was performed around the clock to restore services.



Tags: eMail

What's my email password?

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/13/16 2:57 PM

Cybersecurity is a hot topic these days.  We need "strong" passwords, we're not supposed to use the same pasword for multiple applications, and we need to change passwords on a regular basis.  It's hard to remember all the passwords, and especially hard when you don't even know a password exists!   Your email has a password, but its likely you don't remember it because you don't usually need it on a regular basis.

Who can survive without email?  It’s an essential tool for business!

You’re busy and on the go and probably reading email on your smart phone, laptop, iPad, office computer, and webmail. 

There’s a password for your email, but after your device is programmed the first time, you don’t have to enter it again.  What a pain it would be to have to enter your password each time you read email on your phone, or any of your other devices …over and over again!

The flip side of this is “out of sight – out of mind”:  most people don’t remember what their password is.  Even if you use webmail where you do have to submit a password each time you access mail, your browser is probably “remembering it for you”.

All is well until you get a new phone, computer, iPad, laptop, or any other device. When you set up your new phone, you’ll need your password again.  So you call tech support and ask “What’s my email password?”   The problem is that, for security reasons, we can’t see your password and we don’t know what it is!   We can re-set it for you, which means we assign you a new password.  Now you can quickly get email set up on your phone and you’re back in action!

Later in the day, you may try to access email from your laptop, and you may be very frustrated to see that your email is broken – “Why do I have so many problems with my email!?”

Actually, Microsoft Outlook will just prompt you for your new password.   Enter that password and you’re good to go! Your new password will need to be entered to all your devices, and then you’ll be all set.  

If you want to avoice the hassles of a password reset (which isn't really that bad when you understand why, and how it works), there's no simple solution other memorizing the password (just like school!) or storing your password in a secure location.

Tags: eMail, password

Example of an email you should NOT open!

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 6/19/14 2:38 PM

In our last post, we talked about suspicious emails that don't look so suspicious on the surface.  Here is an example of an email to show you what to look for.  In this case, a fake payroll report is being sent.   A busy, distracted person may open this by mistake, or an opportunistic employee may try to open it to sneak a peek at confidential information.  SLOW DOWN and check your mail carefully.  Even with up to date antivirus protection and spam filtering, some emails CAN get through because they are engineered to get through.  This can be a phishing email (trying to get confidential information) or a dangerous virus such as Cryptocker.   Don't open the door!  

describe the image

  1. Multiple random email addresses are listed including some mispellings
  2. The subject line doesn't match what is actually used by this vendor (but this is tough to catch)
  3. The dates don't match - report date vs email "sent" date
  4. The instructions call for the user to download the file from Dropbox and this vendor would never transmit this type of information with consumer file sharing application
  5. The instructions mention Dropbox, but the link says Cubby (a different brand of file sharing)
  6. The link includes a .zip extension which is often used to hide executable files.
  7. There is no corporate email signature or information at the end of the email.
Many things to watch out for, and we thought it would be helpful to point them out.  Please help spread the word by including this in your employee security training. You can click on the image to view a larger version which is easier to read.

Tags: Virus, eMail, cryptolocker, spam

Don't open these (un)suspicious emails!

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 6/13/14 9:03 AM

Stop!We've all heard that we shouldn't open suspicious emails.  They can be phishing scams (attempts to get personal information such as username, password, and account number), or contain viruses.  The problem is, the "bad guys" know we're on the lookout, and the real danger lies in emails that are disguised to not look suspicious.  

There's another round of Cryptolocker going around and this is just about the worst virus you can get.  The virus attacks your files including any files you have on a networked device, and holds them for ransom.   The virus often spreads through emails with very normal (and sometimes enticing) subject lines. 

Here are some of the email subject lines to be on the lookout for: 

  • Scan from a Xerox WorkCentre
  • USPS - Missed package delivery
  • ACH Notification ("ADP Payroll")
  • Voice Message from Unknown Caller
  • Corporate eFax message from "random phone #" - 8 pages
  • Important - New Outlook Settings
  • Dun & Bradstreet Case Number

In some cases the emails look very routine such as a fax or a scan and you can see how easy it would be for someone to open the email on "autopilot".  In other cases, they are designed to entice someone to open something they normally shouldn't have access to like a (fake) payroll report.  

We've covered theses threats in our on-line training, newsletters, blog posts, social media feeds, but it's worth repeating - stay alert when opening email!  When you slow down, you'll see the emails are always a bit off, or they may contain a "zip" attachment.  If something is a bit off, STAY AWAY! It may be a criminal knocking on your door.

Tags: Virus, eMail, cryptolocker

"Junk" eMail Settings in Microsoft Outlook

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/23/14 12:25 PM

Microsoft Outlook has a built in feature to process junk mail and send it to a "Junk" folder as a way to control Spam in your inbox.  This is a great feature if you only read mail in one place, but for most users these days, mail is read on multiple platforms - smart phone, tablet, laptop, browser, etc.  This is why we typically recommend filtering Spam in the "cloud" so the mail is filtered BEFORE it gets to your mailbox, and gets cleaned centrally before going to all your devices.

When spam is filtered in the cloud, it's important to turn off the Junk filter in Outlook so you don't wind up with two competing programs doing the work.  We often get calls about missing emails that are sometimes found in a Junk folder, or have been processed by forgotten "rules" in Outlook.   Some users are fine with checking in two locations for "false positives", but for most users, it just leads to confusion.  Keep it simple!

Junk email optionsTo control your Junk settings in Outlook, in the "Home" tab, select "Junk", and then choose "Junk E-mail Options".  

Junk Mail No FilteringThis will open the next window where you can control your settings.

When filtering is done in the cloud, we recommend turning off the local filter as shown.

You can see from all the options that this is a powerful tool, and if you have nothing else, and read mail only in one location, it's worth using.  However, we do strongly advise filtering in the cloud and then turning off this setting for most users.

Tags: eMail, Microsoft Outlook, spam

Navigating your Spam Filter "Quarantine"

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/15/14 9:54 AM

We've recently started upgrading our Spam filtering platform, so it's time to post some updated instructions.   These days Spam messages account for 80%-90% of all email sent worldwide, generating a lot of clutter and in some cases, security threats.  We strongly advise filtering mail before it gets to your mail server, and many of our clients have signed up for Spam filtering services with us.

The gist of this service is that all mail is filtered in the cloud before it gets to your mail server (either in the cloud or at your office).  This way, the spam is kept off your network, and cleaned up in a central location before getting your PC, iPad, smart phone... all the devices you may use to read mail.  Typically we set up the filter to send a summary report every day, typically scheduled for 8am (this can be scheduled for any time, and can be sent more than once a day).

eMail Quarantine AlertYou'll get an email summary in your inbox with a subject: "Messages quarantined since (previous day)".  In some cases, you'll see a "false positive" which is a message that is flagged as spam, but actually something you want delivered.  After a while, your filter will be "trained" to know what you want and what you don't want based on your preferences, but after an upgrade its important to check regularly at least at first.

Quarantine eMail ContentsWhen you open this message, you'll see a summary of the total number of messages quarantined and a list of all the messages including a "subject", the "Address" of where the email is coming from, a time stamp of when the message arrived, and some "Actions" you can take.  

Quarantine   Allowed ActionsScan through the  list to see if there are an messages you want to have delivered.  You have several allowed actions.  "View" lets you look at the message in more detail without actually sending it to your mail server. This is a good option when you're not sure what the messages is.  "Release Message" lets you release it to your inbox.  Finally, "Allow from Sender" lets you release it to your mailbox and put the sender on your "safe list".  This means that not only are you releasing the current message, but any future messages will automatically be allowed through.   This helps "train" the software so you'll get fewer and fewer "false positives" over time.

At the top of the Quarantine Summary email is a link to "Enter your Quarantine".  This is how you can get to your quarantine any time.  For example, you may be expecting an important email that didn't arrive and you want to check your spam filter in real time to see if there's anything important there.

Quarantine LoginIf you don't know your password, don't worry.  Just go to the login page and select "Forgot Password" to reset it.  Many people try their email password or Windows password and this is a separate password.   After you log in, you'll be able to see your up to date quarantine (so you don't have to wait until the next day's summary), and you can also proactively add "safe senders".  Under "User Options" you'll see "Allow List" and "Block List" where you can add addresses you want mail from or don't want mail from.  Also, you'll see an option to set your password to something you can remember.

We strongly advise using only ONE spam filter.  In Outlook, turn off your "Junk" filter as it is much more efficient to only check one location to manage spam.  If you're not running Exchange mail, the Outlook "Junk" settings don't help for spam on your smart phone or tablet, so this is why we recommend filtering in the cloud before the messages get to your mail server. Getting your mail organized will save you time so take a few moments to acquaint yourselft to the settings.  

Tags: eMail, spam filtering, quarantine, Reflexion

Do you keep your important files in the trash?

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 3/26/14 8:28 AM

email TrashAt a recent industry event, I had the opportunity to share some "war stories" over lunch. One of the guys at the table told a tale of an email server crash on a Friday night that one of his techs rescued after many hours of effort late into the night.  The Microsoft Exchange server had crashed, and they ran recovery and clean up tools to get the mail running again.  Mission accomplished!

Until Monday morning when they received a frantic call from the customer reporting missing mail!  After a few questions, they figured out that the missing mail was from the "Deleted Items" folder, which had been cleaned out as part of the best practices for getting the mail up and running again.  This turned out to be a major problem, because the user was actually intentionally storing important mail in the "Deleted Items" folder.  The funny thing is that all of us at the table had heard this before from other sites over the years, so this wasn't an isolated incident.

If you happen to be one of these users who keeps important files in the trash, stop!  Storing valuables in the trash doesn't make sense.   You wouldn't keep your important paper files in a trash can and get angry when the cleaning service emptied the trash, and it doesn't make sense to keep your electronic files in the electronic trash.  

Thinking about this dilemma, it seems that the users who do this may want to segment their mail between what has been read (winds up in the trash) and what still needs follow up (stays in the inbox).  What may be occurring is that the users don't know that you can create folders in your mail, just like you can with your regular files.  Creating folders is the right way to organize your mail.  

Create a mailbox subfolderTo create a subfolder in your Inbox, right click on the Inbox and select New Folder.  You'll then have the option to name the folder whatever you want, such as "Important Stuff". 

New Mail Folder Name

As for your Deleted Items folder, the contents will remain in this folder until you empty the contents.  You can do this by right-clicking on the folder, and select "Empty Folder" from the pull-down.  Its a "best practice" to keep this folder (and all your folders!) free of clutter. 

To organize your mail, you can create as many folders as you want.  Think through a plan that works for you such as organizing by client account, or vendor, etc, but don't leave it all in your inbox, and don't use your "trash" for storage!

Tags: eMail, deleted items

Cryptolocker may be lurking in that email - Don't open it!

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 2/3/14 5:12 PM

Don't let Cryptolocker in!Many viruses are embedded in email attachments designed to get through even multiple layers of security.  CryptoLocker is one of the worst viruses seen in years and it only takes ONE message to get through to cause a lot of damage, and the “bad guys” have developed sophisticated techniques to get around your antivirus protection. 

All users are advised to be extremely cautious when opening email attachments.  Typically, the incoming email is a "spoofed" email pretending to be from a reputable source such as UPS, Xerox, ADP, Verizon, Dun and Bradstreet and others.  The subjects of the emails are socially engineered to trick people into opening them.  Some the subjects include:

  • Scan from a Xerox WorkCentre
  • USPS - Missed package delivery
  • ACH Notification ("ADP Payroll")
  • Voice Message from Unknown Caller
  • Corporate eFax message from "random phone #" - 8 pages
  • Important - New Outlook Settings
  • Dun & Bradstreet Case Number

As you can see from these subjects, during a busy work day, it would be very easy to quickly open one of these emails and open the attachment.  You may think the email is for you (from your scanner, efax, or service provider), or perhaps a curious employee would be enticed to peek at a confidential file.  The problem is, by opening the email, even with Antivirus protection in place, you have effectively opened the door for the virus directly.  

When Cryptolocker is launched, your files will be encrypted (including files on mapped drives), and a while later after the damage is done, you'll see a pop up warning asking for a payment to restore your files.   We strongly advise against paying the ransom.   You would be giving money directly to criminals, and only encouraging them to do more damage.  Instead, we advise cleaning the system and restoring files from a good backup (make sure you have a solid backup!).  

Slow down, and carefully check out the emails before opening them.  For example, you may use an eFax service or scan with a Xerox scanner, but the subjects are usually a bit off if you look closely.  Also Microsoft never sends unsolicited mail.

Spam filtering,  antivirus protection, and perimeter security all help, but it only takes one message to get through and create a LOT of damage.  When you open the email attachment, it's effectively like letting the thief in the front door after the doorbell rings.

Please help spread the word to all users in your organization.  Education is the first line of defense for all security.

Tags: Security, eMail, cryptolocker, antivirus

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