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General Telephony

VirtualPBX Support: Tuesday Toolbox
August 4th, 2015

Toolbox

We’re back at it! Because our first Tuesday Toolbox was such a success, we’ve gone back to the wellspring of information. That’s right, our Customer Support Team has put together a few more commonly encountered challenges with a hosted telecom service and, more importantly, guidance on how to avoid facing these yourself. Because let’s face it, what’s the value of pointing out a problem if you aren’t also ready to offer a suggestion on how to fix it?

5 (More) Best Practices for VoIP Users

  1. Extension Activation: Remember to have each extension user activate their extension through their phone to complete the extension registration. From the auto-attendant of any extension handset, press pound to bring up the login prompt, then follow the instructions to record your name and voicemail greeting. Until this process is completed, an extension will not be registered in the either the user or dial-by-name directories.
  2. Robodialers: A robodialer is what the industry uses to refer to an automated dialing system typically used for advertisements or political campaigns. At best, these are not much more than irritations, but the can also end up costing you money with overages and unexplained charges to your phone system. Using Auto-Attendant to require input from the caller is a good way to screen for autodialing because you can require inbound calls to select form a list of options once the call is received. By configuring the Auto-Attendant Replay and Return to Auto-attendant features each to, “hang-up,” you can protect your system by automatically disconnecting the call if no option is selected. Auto-Attendant Guide
  3. Daylight Savings: Just like your clocks at home (do people even still use clocks not located on their mobile device?), your VirtualPBX phone system needs to be updated manually twice a year. Not updating to accommodate the time change will affect any Day/Night settings that you have in place for your system. Administrators can log in and edit the time in Advanced configurations. Daylight Savings Guide
  4. Lines vs Extensions: In your VirtualPBX system, lines refers to the number of VoIP devices (desk phones, softphones, etc) that you have active on your account and therefore that is the number of billable “seats” that will be reflected on your account. Extensions are not fixed directly to a cost and can be added and subtracted without creating a billable event.
  5. The Power of Power-Cycling: You know what power-cycling is, right? It’s basically the technical term for the simple act of turning something off and then back on to reset it. As unsophisticated as it sounds, sometimes any piece of technology can, “get stuck,” (also a technical term, obviously) and not even VoIP phones are immune to the occasional, “sticking.” If a phone no longer makes or receives calls, try unplugging both the ethernet and power cables for a minute. Often this will correct whatever was the matter with your device but, if not, just know that our Support Team is there to assist you with any problem you may have.

On that point, we’d just like to offer a friendly reminder that VirtualPBX is one of the last companies to include all of the award-winning talent and know-how in our Customer Support Team for free. Plus, they’re all still located here in our main offices in the Silicon Valley, and standing by to make sure you stay up and running through any ordeal.

Protect Ya Neck – The Internet Of Things
July 30th, 2015

In this series of blogs we examine all topics under the information security umbrella. From corporate blunders to rogue state attacks to the occasional celebrity hack, we believe there is something for businesses and individuals to learn from any cyber security event. We also believe that, while experience is the best teacher, it’s even better to let other people make the mistakes for you.

Internet of Things

Maybe you’ve heard by now that this whole “internet fad” doesn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon. Quite the contrary, in fact. Connectivity is an increasingly important part of our everyday lives, so much so that now companies are looking to further integrate it by networking our physical world, as well. Much like how the global introduction to the internet seemed like science fiction to many people at the time, this new endeavor of creating The Internet of Things (IoT) has people similarly awestruck. Whenever a new layer of technology is introduced in to the world, though, there seem to come with it a host of unforeseen, or unprepared-for challenges. It turns out that networking our every last possession is rife with such challenges. Color me shocked.

All the Things

The Internet of Things is set to leave no area of our lives untouched by the “intelligent” label that any inanimate object can garner once it has become connected. The IoT is encompassing everything from refrigerators that can order more groceries from an AmazonFresh account to space-age end-caps for bat/club/racket sports that provide immediate data feedback and swing corrections right to your smartphone. But how does a connection for every object impact our security? Apparently, that impact is only barely beginning to be calculable, but for one company the cost is potentially crippling.

Not Like a Rock

Well, maybe falling like one. This week we saw Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) hit with a record-setting $105 million fine stemming from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) settlement over disturbing news about some of their vehicle’s on-board computers. By exposing how two hackers can access a vehicle over its, “head unit,” or basically the car’s internet-connected brain, a Wired article set in motion the events which led to the auto giant’s troubles. But the problems don’t stop with just a simple fine. After quickly announcing a patch for the vulnerability in their cars’ head units, FCA had to hit the bargaining table with the NHTSA to very quickly find a solution to their little problem. That’s because the software update has to be manually installed with a USB (download the software update here) or by a dealership service agent. Oh, and also because the IT crusaders who exploited the weakness plan to publish portions of the code they wrote at the Def Con Hacking Conference next week. Better get moving, Detroit.

The good news, and I swear there is some, is that if you’re one of the owners of an affected Dodge or Chrysler vehicles that are at risk, then part of the settlement with the NHTSA is for FCA to also buy-back the balance of the cars not yet up-to-date with the software patch. But seriously, what kind of real sense of security does this leave you with your new car, regardless of the make or model? With more technology trickling down from luxury automobiles into all trim levels, we’re likely to only build our number of access points (read- vulnerabilities) with each new model year.

Doom & Gloom For Improvement

Just like Chicken Little proved to us way back in the day, things are never as bad as we initially fear they will be. Elvis Presley and The Beatles didn’t portend the End of Days, neither did the Mayan Calendar. I’m going to make a stand here and say that the IoT isn’t going to completely destroy our lives, either. What is going to happen, though, is that people are going to need to more conscientiously design systems that can bring really cool Jetson’s-caliber features into our lives but that have Skynet security clearance. Wait, maybe they shouldn’t design it just like Skynet, but you get the picture.

So go ahead, buy your fancy new spatula that knows when you’ve whipped the batter enough to start sampling it for “quality control” and don’t be afraid it will actually become sentient and poison you and empty your bank account. That’s like 99% unlikely to happen. What you should do, however, is make sure you’ve thoroughly read about the capabilities of any connected device, how they link/communicate to other devices and the internet, and perhaps most importantly, follow the manufacture on Twitter or through an RSS feed. After establishing solid password protection habits, one of the best protections for your personal or digital safety is simply staying informed. Just like FCA proved, often times these threats are ones that can’t be predicted until they’re discovered, so it’s best to be ready to act fast once and if they are.

That’s it. Good luck out there, and remember to protect ya neck!

Digital Nomads
July 22nd, 2015

Digital Nomad

Imagine, if you will, the bleak and barren wasteland setting of a dystopian novel. Where there once were thriving commercial centers there has risen a new class of production, driven by the remaining few who have adapted to their unpredictable, and often hostile new landscape. Working from a seemingly endless number of different locales, this new class of traveler is part provider, part hunter/gatherer, and all nomad.

Art Imitates Life

A little imagery can be fun, but it’s important to recognize the meaning behind the theatrics. This futuristic, post-apocalyptic scenario may not be too far from the truth for some businesses that are experiencing a shift in how, and more importantly where, their business is conducted. Though mobile workforces have been the choice of nimble businesses to encourage satellite operations for some time now, larger corporations are even getting into the act. Insurance giant Aetna now even claims that in the small time since they’ve introduced a flexible work-from-home program, participation has skyrocketed and nearly a third of their employees are now completely remote. This groundswell of adoption from large and small companies alike has helped to create a new subset of workers that relies totally on telecommuting.

The Digital Nomad

The remote life of a working professional has often only served to provide opportunities for freelancers to earn some fast cash between travels. Now, however, with increases in home exchanges and sharing economy giants like Airbnb, traveling to and working from anywhere in the world is easier than ever and allows the nomads to hold full-time jobs if they so choose. There are also an ever-increasing list of useful technology tools that make remote work access possible, tactics on how to maintain a productive and rewarding career without ever setting foot in an office, and communities for trouble-shooting and connecting with other nomads. Be it for the practicing or aspiring nomad, the breadth and depth of the burgeoning field of permanently remote employment’s growing resources make entering into or sustaining this lifestyle more feasible.

No Overhead for Nomads

A company needn’t break their commercial lease and shutter its doors to begin benefitting from the advantage of a nomad or two on their team. Simply by considering the pool of qualified, nomadic talent the next time there is a contract or job req that needs to be filled is a fine place to start. Businesses in expensive areas needn’t justify the cost of moving a candidate halfway around the world if he can also work from where he is. Furthermore, employing tools like the free-to-download VirtualPBX Softphone App that integrates with an existing unified communications strategy saves on additional office build-out. Many Digital Nomads are also part of the BYOD community to some extent saving businesses even more, both initially and ongoing, by deviating from the traditional, in-office approach to employment.

Getting your company started for this shift is easy if you have the right information. VirtualPBX’s award-winning Customer Support Team is always available to help discuss the challenges your company might have with its communications and how we can help you to best overcome them. And more importantly, they, unlike our other nomadic coworkers, are also located right here in San Jose so you’ll never have to worry about them zip-lining through the Amazon when you need some answers.

The Hidden Cost of Summer
July 20th, 2015

Roadtrip

For many, summer means the time to begin enjoying time off with the family. With kids out of school the opportunities for an annual trip to visit relatives or friends is often on the menu. However, for a growing number of Americans, the summer time can be a financial burden they aren’t ready for.

“New”clear Family

The modern family is not what it once was. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 59% of families with children had both parents working outside the home in 2012. Dual income families are growing increasingly common which can lead to logistical and financial challenges when the kids are home from school. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies estimates the national average cost of daycare in America is $1,000 a month per child. That means that the costs putting two kids into supervisory care for the summer months would cost a family of five upwards of $6,000 over the course of the summer. All of a sudden the cost of summer vacation plans to visit Grandma and Grandpa seems a little more daunting than merely braving a 20-plus hour car trip with the kids.

PTO That Pays

Giving your employees paid vacation is more than just good business, it’s a comment on your value of them as more than just workers, but as individuals. However, as we’ve seen, sometimes simply having the permission to take a break is not always the same as having the ability to do so. Don’t be that boss.

Instead of offering only paid time off but not a realistic strategy for using it, some employers are presenting the real opportunity to enjoy their kids’ time away from school. Introducing the tools to work away from the office is a meaningful benefit that actually saves the whole company time and money. With the exponential growth in adoption of hosted telecom solutions, the VoIP industry has been supercharging its offerings to teams with dispersed or satellite workforces. Flexible options like the VirtualPBX Softphone App are exactly what it takes to let the office follow an employee to anywhere he or she goes, instead of having them follow the antiquated approach of clock-punching in and out of a physical office.

Getting Started

Bringing your business communications systems to the front of the curve is easy, plus you’ll be bringing your HR practices along with them. Talented candidates are being courted with a variety of flexibility options in their job searches and existing employees will value the added value their introduction will bring, too. To get started with assessing your company’s capacity for a hosted telecom system, you can speak with our locally-based, expert Customer Support team who can walk you through the process. Additionally, for a very limited time, you can still save on new Office Plans as we celebrate our most recent awards, so there really hasn’t been a better time to upgrade. Plus, if you act now, you can still make sure your team has hours upon hours of Eye-Spy and 20 Questions to look forward to on their way to Grandma’s house.

Tuesday Toolbox: VirtualPBX Support VoIP FAQ
July 14th, 2015

Toolbox

We’ve received some great feedback from our guest blog posts, so here’s another one that is certain to delight. We’ve cobbled together some insights from the technical staff of VirtualPBX (read- all of the people who keep this place running smoothly) to see if we can shed some more light into the nuts and bolts of hosted telephone service – specifically the most frequent questions they receive about the VirtualPBX system. After tapping-into the brain trust that is our award-winning Customer Support Team, we’ve put together this VoIP FAQ to save you both time and headaches before they even start.

5 Best Practices for VirtualPBX Support

  1. Dialing a toll free number from another toll free number: Though these types of calls are rare, occasionally a call or fax will originate from a toll-free number to another toll-free number. Unfortunately, this just won’t work, mainly due to the fact there isn’t an existing rules hierarchy on which line will assume the charges that is accepted across all carriers.
  2. Trouble-shooting and reporting issues: Our system produces huge amounts of data every second and those records are crucial for diagnosing any problems you may have. To leverage that data, though, we need to know where to start looking. Screenshots of fax logs and dates and times of call quality issues are examples of relevant information that expedite any investigation. Also, it’s helpful to have your network information (ISP, modem, and router information) handy for issues, so having that easily accessible is always a good idea.
  3. Currently, our system doesn’t support all menu buttons on VoIP phones: More often than not we’re asked why the transfer button on a phone isn’t working. It probably is working, but that isn’t how calls can be transferred within your VoIP network. To transfer a call using VirtualPBX phones, press “*” to place the caller on hold, then listen to the menu of transfer options and select the one you need.
  4. Missing major account changes: Any material change to your VirtualPBX system that will affect your service charges must be confirmed by the billing contact on your account via email. Though access permissions can be given to any admin on your account, to protect the security of your billing cycle, only approval of the authorized billing contact via email will trigger that change’s implementation.
  5. With extra features come extra charges: Unless it is specifically outlined in your contract with VirtualPBX, certain features like ACD queues, call recording, and softphones could be considered extra features that come with additional charges. However, we are here to help with more than just technical issues, so there may be instances where you’re underutilizing certain features that are included in your service. Never hesitate to give us a call and we’d be happy to help find the best solution for the right price- you might be surprised at how much our core system can do for your business!

All of our hosted telephone experts are located right here in sunny California and are available for you whenever you need. Let us know how we can help you today!

Independence Day Celebrations
July 2nd, 2015

Driveway Fireworks

If you’re anything like us, you’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a while now. Our team is scattered (or currently about to begin scattering) all over the world visiting friends and family to share in celebration of Independence Day. It sure is a good thing that we have a connection in the hosted telephone game, too, because that means everyone can stay connected when they are out of the office. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? That’s not entirely the focus this, though, because we feel it’s important to recognize what is sometimes overlooked this time of year; what exactly we are celebrating.

Independence had to be Won

Obviously the Fourth of July commemorates when the original colonies signed the Declaration of Independence from England, but the following acts of war are what ultimately granted the Great Experiment of her freedom. Our world looks much different today than it did in 1776, but what remains is that we have millions of men and women in five branches of the military that are willing to fight to protect and preserve our freedom. This is no small commitment on their part and the parts of their families, and we want to say thank you for their sacrifices.

Returning Home to New Missions

Organizations like the USO are making plans to bring a bit of the flavor of Fourth of July celebrations from home to servicemen and women all over the world, and for those fortunate enough to be back home, we want to make different concessions. VirtualPBX recognizes that being home with their families is amazing for folks who have been deployed, but transitioning into civilian life is something that poses a different set of challenges.

Veterans have world-class leadership and discipline and have proven time and again to become indispensable assets to the business community after their military careers have ended. To help see them launch their new professional lives in the civilian sector, we have created a special Military Discount Programs for exclusive access to all of our award-winning features and service.

Thanking is Just the Beginning

We are grateful for our freedom to enjoy this weekend and the significant contribution that the military continues to make in preserving it is not lost. Helping veterans with their businesses is a small token of our appreciation, and we carry our commitment to them into everything we do. Our Customer Support Team is located here in San Jose and is available around the clock to help with any concerns as they arise. Whether you are a veteran or not, we pride ourselves on bringing the same effort to building a feature-packed telephone system as we do to making sure you never need to worry about navigating it alone.

If you have any questions about the VirtualPBX Military Discount Program, your service in general, or anything else that we can help you with in achieving the time-saving, cost-cutting, industry-leading telephone system your business needs, please do not hesitate to contact us.

And from all of us at VirtualPBX, please enjoy a safe and happy Fourth of July Celebration and long, holiday weekend!

The Do’s And Don’ts of Adopting Hosted VoIP
June 30th, 2015

TypewriterBy: Reuben Yonatan –

VoIP systems are a great way to save your company money on phone service, but just like any other utility, they also can encounter a wide range of security issues, call quality concerns, and other pitfalls. Getting around these problems isn’t difficult, but you can’t approach your new phone system the same way you would a landline one. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to consider when switching to VoIP telephony:

Do: Consider Your Hosting Options

Cloud hosted and on-premise are the two most common options for VoIP services, and each has its advantages. Cloud based involves buying phone service from a VoIP provider. This option has almost no upfront costs; there’s no need to buy software or phone equipment, and you’ll only pay for the calls you make. On-premise solutions, on the other hand, involve installing voice servers and delivery lines in your office. Cloud based phone services are great for most small businesses with little money for upfront investments, whereas on-premise is better for big businesses, particularly those who handle confidential customer information.

Don’t: Take VoIP Prices At Face Value

Businesses that opt for VoIP usually do so because they believe it will lower their operational costs, and while this is generally true, it’s not the full story. As in any industry, you have to read the fine print and fully understand the terms and conditions. One common pitfall is to assume that a flat fee for toll free calls applies to all phone services. If you plan to send faxes, for example, make sure there isn’t an extra fee for that. Be sure to ask about any setup fees, number porting fees, and cancelation fees.

Do: Look Into Auto-Attendants

One of the downsides of integrating all of your office’s communication endpoints into a VoIP system is that wrong numbers and confused extensions affect everyone. To avoid wasting workers time, consider how you would configure an auto-attendant system along with your VoIP network. An advanced auto-attendant can handle many customer concerns on its own while directing other customers to the right numbers. This will decrease call times and volume and thus reduce pressure on your business’s bandwidth.

Do: Identify All Your Endpoints

Though many people associate VoIP with video conferencing, the technology is compatible with most communication forms and endpoints. If your business uses a fax machine, for example, you can convert the machine’s analog connection into a digital link and send faxes over a VoIP network. You also integrate traditional handset telephones, headsets, computers, smartphones, and most other communication devices into the system. Consider all of the endpoints your employees use or would like to use for company purposes, and adopt a VoIP system compatible with all of them.

Don’t: Ignore Outdated Infrastructure

If you haven’t already gone through your network infrastructure, updated obsolete software and hardware, and eliminated any other inefficiency, now is the time to do so. A VoIP system will increase your business’s bandwidth use by several orders of magnitude, especially if multiple employees will have to use the phone simultaneously on a regular basis. If your network can’t handle this increase in demand, you’ll suffer from dropped calls, poor call quality, and reduced productivity in all areas of your business.

Don’t: Ignore Simple Call Quality Solutions

Before you buy compression software and jitter buffers, look into simpler solutions to preserve call quality. You can eliminate many call quality problems simply by buying better ethernet cords and headsets, lowering speaker volume, and making calls when bandwidth use is low. Adopt these measures when you install your VoIP system, and then keep track of call quality for a month. If you’re satisfied with the quality, elaborate software may be unnecessary.

About the author:

Reuben is the founder and CEO of GetVoIP, the online resource to businesses trying to find the right cloud communication solution. With an extensive background in cloud communication technologies and building industry leading internet companies, Reuben’s writings blend commentary, research, and perspective on cloud computing, digital media, business/leadership strategies, and enterprise solutions. Follow Reuben on Twitter @reubenyonatan

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Updating to Auto-Attendants Only Half-Way to Effective Telephone Modernization
June 23rd, 2015

Vintage Receptionist

Although the world seems to believe that this whole internet fad might just be here to stay, the truth is that there is still an extremely high likelihood that you will have business coming to you from more traditional channels. No, letter-writing is a little more antiquated than I was shooting for here, but specifically the telephone is where nearly half of all consumers still prefer to conduct their business. With that high volume of potential business filtering through your phone lines, it is especially critical that it flow freely onto the desks of your employees. Yet, the real challenge here is that an alarmingly high number of consumers still feel frustrated with poorly designed telephone auto-attendants.

Give the People What They Want

This isn’t one of those Henry Fordisms about giving people a faster horse because they didn’t think of building a car, this is a far less abstract concept- people get impatient with terrible design. Not your company’s logo or your color scheme, but the design of the telephone architecture could be helping or hurting your business substantially. Simply stated- if someone wants to do business with you, make it as easy as possible.

According to the reliably thorough think-tank Software Advice, the expert software reviewers that revealed added benefits of both OTT Apps and SIP Trunking, we’ve been able to quantify and verify things we have suspected for a long time to be true. Specifically that if a caller doesn’t feel like staying on the line, they won’t.

Customer Reactions To Poor Auto-AttendantsBrevity is the Lifeblood of Engaging Callers

At the risk of violating this very simple rule, allow me to explain. Of the consumers surveyed in this most recent study from Software Advice, 42% of them said they would take their business to a competitor after a frustrating experience with a company’s auto-attendant. Nearly half of all callers to your business are ready to jump ship to your competition if your auto-attendant isn’t efficient. Even when you’re discussing succinct communication, that number is representative of enough business to warrant repeating.

These consumers have already dialed your business, which indicates they clearly want to investigate working with you. In order to keep them on the line, according to the study, the best way is to focus on two key areas, namely length of introduction messaging and complexity of menu options.
Challenges of Using Auto-Attendants

  • Intro Message Length – Remember the Rule of Eight? This was the concept that messaging should be distilled to 8-second sound bites. Turns out, that’s too long. In fact, 69% businesses already have greetings less than 5-seconds long, yet consumers still prefer a 3-second greeting or less.
  • Menu Options – In addition to the length of time it takes typical auto-attendant programs to send callers to the menu, the actual amount of menu options themselves were cited as the second most aggravating characteristic of poorly designed auto-attendants. Keeping the number of menu items as close to five as possible is ideal, but never any more than eight, according to respondents.

Don’t Abandon the Auto-Attendant

Very few businesses will benefit from not having an auto-attendant. Simply having an around-the-clock resource for customers can yield huge dividends, but then there is the added advantage of not requiring a receptionist, too. However, it’s obvious that the wrong auto-attendant or one that is poorly designed can also be a crippling blow to a business that can’t afford to lose 42% of their potential inbound leads.

Partnering with a modern business telephone provider will be the easiest and quickest way to test, iterate, and improve your inbound caller experience. VirtualPBX’s sleek and simple Extension Manager is fully web-based so you can take it wherever you have an internet connection, and our Customer Support Team is located right here in San Jose and ready to help you get the most out of your phone system.

Protect Ya Neck – Patriot Act
June 18th, 2015

American Flag

In this series of blogs we will examine all topics under the information security umbrella. From corporate blunders to rogue state attacks to the occasional celebrity hack, we believe there is something for businesses and individuals to learn from any cyber security event. We also believe that, while experience is the best teacher, it’s even better to let other people make the mistakes for you.

Okay, politics and religion are the third rail of conversation, I get it. But every now and then there is something so relevant to anyone who has ever been on the internet or a telephone (read- “everyone”) that it begs our attention. So here it is, the political edition of Protect Ya Neck. Hip-hop references considerably diminished for this one.

What’s the Deal?

The Senate held late night talks on a Sunday at the end of May to discuss matters of both national security and personal privacy. Yeah, there’s a lot going on in that sentence, mostly surrounding the fact that the Senate was working late on a Sunday, but I digress. The topic that got the 100 distinguished gentlemen and women to have a senatorial slumber party had to do with the expiration of certain parts of the USA PATRIOT Act. To help understand how this has a huge impact on the personal information of all Americans, we’ve compiled this handy guide for you to know the facts.

Two key provisions of the Act that were slated to expire-

  1. NSA Metadata Collection – You’ve heard about this before, this was the big sweeping dragnet that allowed the National Security Agency to collect huge stores of data from America’s telephone service providers that was made part of public scrutiny by the now expatriated Edward Snowden. The data that was collected was permitted to be stored for five years, but this sweeping power is, for the time being, no longer permitted to continue.
  2. Roving Wiretaps – This provision allowed law enforcement officials to only include the individual(s) they intended to wiretap and not each specific device or phone number. The concept was based on the fact that terror suspects would often change pre-paid phones and so going through the standard procedures of getting a warrant for each new line was too cumbersome to provide any meaningful surveillance.
  3. Bonus Provision – There was a third component of the Act that dealt with appropriating “national security tools” against the “lone wolf” operative. I’m not going to go into too much detail on this one for three reasons-
    1. It doesn’t directly affect the world of telecommunications like the former two do so it isn’t particularly relevant here.
    2. According to the Department of Justice, this provision actually hasn’t been used since the Act was written into law.
    3. The term “national security tools” is pretty intense and I don’t want to venture guesses as to what all that entails.

Let’s Try it This Way

The USA Freedom Act made slight changes to the metadata collection and roving wiretap provisions but left the lone wolf provision intact. Therefore, moving forward, current changes to these provisions include-

  1. The NSA is no longer collecting the metadata, but rather they will present warrants to telephone companies for release and will only be able to collect info on individuals rather than wide swaths of millions of people. So that’s nice.
  2. Wiretapping practices that were permitted under the original Act will be allowed to continue so long as they were begun prior to the June 1, 2015 expiration date of the Act. Any such wiretaps moving forward will not be immediately allowed, but rather will be subject to approval from the super secretive FISA Court so, basically nobody will know if these are actually expired practices or not.

Aftermath- Are we less safe?

The yes we are camp says– Absolutely. Mostly backed by national security hawks, there are dissenting voices on both sides of the aisle. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the inability of the Senate to act on extending these provisions would result in, “a serious lapse,” in America’s ability to protect herself from terror.

The no we’re not camp says– Well, not exactly. Retired General Michael Hayden was the head of the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and was recently quoted at a Wall Street Journal conference saying that, effectively; nothing has changed for the security organization. According to Hayden, by merely transferring the responsibility of storing metadata onto the telephone companies, the NSA can essentially continue operating as if the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act were still wholly unchanged. So, net-net, this former security official seems to think it’s business as usual.

Nifty Bonus Fact!

In case you were wondering why USA PATRIOT Act is written in all caps, it’s not because we yell things that are important. Actually, it is because unlike the acronym, SCUBA, this is a backronym (acronym that was constructed to fit an existing word, not a word from an acronym) that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. So, there’s that.

One more thing, all of this is still tenuous in that there will very likely be additional voting, extending, editing, revising, and deliberating of these and a bevy of other surveillance-related provisions. Stand by for more as it develops but in the meanwhile, always remember to stay safe out there and Protect ya Neck.

Ask an Engineer: DNS Servers
June 15th, 2015

Ask An Engineer

Earlier this month, a Comcast DNS Failure left millions of consumers without internet access in several huge tech markets. This was an inconvenience to millions and, even though Comcast recognizes the frustration enough to issue $5 credits to those affected, there were some folks who found a way around the DNS failure. To better understand what exactly happened and how some savvy consumers changed course to avoid the lapse in service, we’re turning to Len Cacioppo, VirtualPBX’s VP of Operations, for answers.

First of all, what is a DNS server?

It’s basically a phone book of the Internet. A DNS (Domain Name System) server has all of the locations or “phone numbers” of every website, email, what have you, and search engines like Bing or Google are the index.

If there are other DNS options out there, why does Comcast have their own that can potentially go down?

It’s all about the speed of service for the end users. There are a bunch of different DNS options available, but if you can use your internet service provider (ISP), that will mean that users have to wait less time for pages to load, media to stream, etc. This may be only the smallest fractions of a second for some things, but in the end it really helps improve performance.

What does it mean when the DNS goes down? How does that happen?

Typically, no service provider is going to be completely upfront about what causes a failure because it would be difficult to do so without yielding too many trade secrets. That said, these events are typically some sort of internal error where an application, network, or service has failed. These events can be a result of any one of numerous factors from a DDoS attack to a power outage without redundancy (backup points). It’s impossible to say what caused this recent one.

What are Google DNS and OpenDNS and how can they be free? How do people sign-up for them?

DNS isn’t something that is really commercialized at all, it’s almost like radio airwaves. DNS is administered through an international consortium of companies deciding to provide the service, and not all of them choose to sell it or, like Comcast and other ISPs, include it in their service for internet access. Free DNS servers don’t really require a sign-up, they just require that you include these other “phone books” in your computer’s list of references to check when you are online.

How can people fix this if it happens again or possibly even avoid it causing a disruption in the future?

DNS Back Ups

This is pretty simple. All you have to do is find some other DNS information (which is widely available for free on the internet) and put them into the Network Settings of your computer. Here you can see we’ve put the DNS information for Google, AT&T and a few others right into our settings. This way, should our ISP have complications on their end, we will simply perform “phone book” lookups through the next DNS server on the list and so on. If there were to be a failure that compromised all of these, or your problem with the internet is access as opposed to services, chances are there’s no internet access via your ISP, so none of this would help anyway.

Many private customers wouldn’t have had this type of redundancy in place to protect them from the Comcast DNS outage, but steps like these are simple to take. Businesses, especially, should consider taking a few minutes to train employees to input back-up DNS options into their work computers so that work can keep humming along, no matter what happens.

To learn more about DNS servers, ISP, or any other internet issues that could help or hurt your business, get in touch with our hosted telecommunications experts today.