Blake Dowling, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 4

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at or at

Blake Dowling: Retailers use your online data to determine what to charge for a product

Price discrimination has reared its head again. Just like most things, technology has taken something old school and rolled out a high-tech version of it.

Not to be confused with “price gouging” mind you. This is where some run-down hotel in a college town charged you $300 a night for a $60 room. They should all be flogged. But that conversation we shall have another day.

In the past, different stores in different neighborhoods where different socio-economic conditions exist might charge different prices for the same item. That is a grossly simplified example of old-school price discrimination.

What is this digital version I speak of? Down the rabbit hole we go, take the red pill Neal…. (Matrix humor)

So you shop online a lot. You have a Facebook account. You Tweet about nonsense (I love the burgers #whataburger). You have a Gmail account etc.

The servers at retailers are stirring up this data and crunching it into analytics that they can use to identify and predict your buying patterns as a consumer. They are also sizing up your browser and device type as well as how much time you spend online and many other factors.

By finding out what you buy and for how much, the online retailers can spit out a price to you that may be higher than it is to someone else. It sounds almost ridiculous, but it is happening and it is legal.

Northeastern University did a study on a hardware chain and looked at pricing at its brick and mortar stores vs. prices on a mobile device. It was higher on the mobile device, even higher when an Android device was used.

So are Android users stooges to be toyed with and ripped off? I guess so, according to digital marketing metrics. MAC users are also on the list to get higher prices as it is assumed that they have a higher price threshold.

How does one protect oneself? Get multiple quotes from different sites when buying big ticket items. Call a store if it has one and check the price over the phone. Check pricing on different devices, laptop, tablet, home PC etc.

Also, delete your browsing history, and cookies, close all accounts that require a log-in, and drop your free mail accounts. There is a reason they are free. Thanks for reading, be safe out there.


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: Beware of ‘boss phishing’ and other new cyber scams

I had a client ask me last week why I did not let them know about the scam “boss phishing.” That’s when an organization receives an email pretending to be from the boss of a company asking accounting to send money ASAP to an account.

I told the client that I had done my absolute best to get the message out.

On two local TV networks, I spoke of the threat. I wrote articles for 850 Magazine, Context Florida, and the Tallahassee Democrat. We had a “lunch and learn” with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on it; we featured it in our newsletter.

But I know where that client is coming from. All the training and information in the world may not help you when the threat comes knocking at your door.

With Boss Phishing and Cryptolocker (ransomware), you can ruin your company’s day pretty fast. This particular client had an accountant with a sharp eye and she noticed the domain was one letter off and she asked the “boss” if he had sent her a request for funds.

The answer was NO.

Not all companies are as lucky. I have talked to victims of both crimes.

Cryptolocker can strike a lot faster. You click on a virus-embedded link that looks like it’s from a debt collector (or Dropbox, UPS, AMX etc). Because of all the client lists and sensitive info that have been stolen (data breaches left and right in the US), you might actually owe money to this entity. Therefore, it looks legit.

But when you click to straighten out the old bill, you are infected. As with any business, and it is a business, criminals are getting smarter.

A lot of tech info these days references going to the cloud. Well, it’s not just us law-abiding folks who are taking email and other business functions to the cloud. Criminals are flocking to the cloud as well.

The people who write malicious code are no longer just writing one piece of software to sell once. They are putting up malware as a service for sale. This way they make money each time it is purchased or rented.

Where could such illegal services be sold? The anonymous dark web, of course. That’s where anything is for sale and your moves are hard to trace by law enforcement.

I have seen black-market code that comes with a money-back guarantee, terms and conditions and terms of use that look just like something Microsoft might sell. The black-market tech landscape is frightening.

If you were the criminal, you would go on the dark web, lease an exploit kit and go about trying to infect PCs around the world, and depending on the attack, steal your bank info, encrypt your files and ask for ransom — or get you in a botnet scenario.

This latest move by criminals heading to the cloud is just another example of criminals getting smarter. So as a reminder, be wary if you see anything odd coming in via email — a request for money, to reset your password, enter your banking info, congrats you have won something, click here to see your pictures from last night.

Do not click, consult your IT professional. It is always better to safe than to be hacked.


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published monthly. Contact him at or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: Apple vs. FBI and the bounties for ‘bug hunters’

This battle between Apple and the FBI is one of the most controversial technology stories of the year.

The FBI, while trying to get into the phone of the two San Bernardino terrorists, took Apple to court. The agency demanded that Apple help the agency get data off the locked phone and then said “never mind.”

Apple then asked, why the “never mind”?

The FBI hired its own hackers and one or more of them were able to get the data off the iPhone, according to the Washington Post.

There were rumors that the Israeli tech firm Cellebrite was brought in to assist, but that does not seem to be the case.

Have you heard of the Bug Bounty program and bug hunters in general? Started in 1996, the program was the idea of a Netscape employee who recognized the work being done outside of the company on their products.

He pitched an idea to management about how to incentivize these outsiders and make their findings more widely available. His bosses loved the idea and the program was off and running.

The same system is in place for other firms today. Hackers and tech specialists around the world are paid to find bugs in systems. This way, the flaws can be fixed before they reach the public.

Facebook had a program where it actually issued debit cards to researchers who found bugs. Facebook is not alone. Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft all have their own bug programs and they are certainly not limited to the United States.

Russia has the most bug hunters, followed by India and then the U.S., Brazil and the UK. Payments for discovering a bug can reach up to $20,000.

So you can see why people jump into this sort of thing. Where does this leave law enforcement, tech companies and little ole me (the consumer)?

Who knows. FBI Director James Comey said this case was the hardest problem in his career. The issues with encryption and privacy cannot be magically solved in our courts.

The shelf life of the vulnerability that was found in the terrorists’ iPhone 5C seems to be very short, so Apple is not worried about pursuing the case any further.

Just wait until Hollywood gets a hold of this. You know there is a studio exec pitching this story now: “OK, super-nerd bounty hunter works with the FBI to crack the case…..”


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: Be careful of new computer viruses that target businesses

Ransomware has been a scourge since it first reared its head a few years back.

The original Cyptolocker virus continues to cause problems worldwide and has been doing so since 2013. The original version would work like this: you receive a fake email pretending to be from UPS etc. and you click the link.

BAM. First the files on your PC are infected and if you do not unplug the device, it spreads to anything connected to it. The virus still gives you access to Windows but no files, and the frightening looking clock begins its countdown to show you how long you have until your files are deleted.

There is a new version called Petya Ransomware in which a computer’s hard drive is infected. This threat is rampaging across Europe.

The new version is disguised as a Drop Box file ready for you to download. It lists an applicant applying for a job and a link from which you click to download the applicant’s resume.

The criminals do not just send this to anyone. They are not just targeting generic lists of email addresses. They are purchasing corporate email lists from the dark web or trolling for their own.

In this case they are sending to HR professionals. What is the likelihood of an HR pro whose job it is to screen applicants for potential openings clicking on a link to a resume? I would say 25 percent. Those are awesome stats for the criminal as a return rate or click rate on old school hacks was in the 1 to 2 percent range (think back to “I am a Prince in the Congo that needs your help to prepare 10 million USD for transfer).

The appearance of legitimacy is what keeps these people in business. They keep finding better ways to appear like they are the entity in question, going so far as to create domains and email addresses that are only one or two letters different from the original.

If they can pass the casual eye test for a few seconds, someone will click on it. That is why Ransomware has become one of the most prevalent online threats.

There are some other interesting variations to the Ransomware scourge that are just coming to light.

MAC users have always thought themselves impervious to such threats. Those days are over.

MACs are by far safer, but the main reason for that is they are not targeted as much because most of the corporate world is Windows based.

As more and more MACs are introduced, the hackers are along for the ride. KeRanger is a crypto attack that targets the MAC OS. Cerber is a crypto variant that takes geography into account. If you reside in Russia, it will not execute as it detects your location.

The creators of the original virus are from Russia and allegedly hiding out in Ukraine.

My advice is to never pay these ransoms but a lot of people do, with mixed results. They say the average ransom request is about $300 (it is actually paid in Bitcoin which is harder to track), and once you pay the ransom you are either sent a decryption key and you can go on your merry way. In some cases, your money is simply stolen.
Be careful where you click, as you could bring on a world of hurt to your business in an instant.


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published monthly on Wednesday. Contact him at or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: Apple vs. FBI: battle is over, but I doubt the war is

The United States Justice Department says it has closed its case against Apple for refusing to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooters.

I wrote a column earlier in the month about the repercussions and legal precedent that would be established if Apple complied with the request. Most citizens were perplexed that these two giants could not work outside the courts to settle this issue.

Now that the FBI has supposedly broken into the phone, the agency is not telling Apple how agents did it. There is an arrogance on both sides that needs to be dropped.

This will not be the last time law enforcement and the private sector are asked to play nice with one another. For example there are more than a dozen phones that the Justice Department is trying to get into under the All Writs Act.

So as the title states, this battle may be over, but the war is from from done. The All Writs Act is from 1789, so when George Washington himself signed this act, he certainly didn’t imagined a world where there would be a device that could access all the collective knowledge of mankind via the Internet.

I suppose that is why we have so many lawyers so that we can accurately “reinterpret” what the Founding Fathers meant and apply their wisdom to the modern world. Apple has refused to comply from the start. The company’s official statement goes something like this:

“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought. We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.”

There must be a new level of cooperation because technology is not going to get any less complex. In fact, new encryption methods to try to satisfy our need for privacy are popping up everywhere. That is why so many flock to the dark web as they are looking for anonymity online.

This case was about our civil liberties and our privacy online and in the digital world. Our nation is under attack by hackers in Iran, China and elsewhere

I predict a new army of “white hat” hackers will be hired by the government and private sector in the coming years as we try to find a way to work together and not let tech get in the way.

We need tech to be part of the solution, not the problem.


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published monthly on Wednesday. Contact him at or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: FBI, Apple in battle over confidentiality of iPhone data

Law enforcement investigators are eager to see what information is on the iPhone5c that terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook used for his work at the San Bernardino, Calif. Health Department.

Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 others in December in San Bernardino. They attacked during a Health Department holiday party. Farook worked as a health inspector for the department and was provided the phone for his work. Police killed both Farook and Malik within hours of the attack.

The FBI has been attempting to hack into the phone to determine if anyone else was involved in the terror plot. The courts have ordered Apple to help the FBI get access to the phone’s content by disabling its encryption software. Apple has refused to comply.

Apple executives say they don’t have the software to bypass the encryption. They acknowledge they could create it, but they contend that disabling the killer’s encryption would mean that law enforcement would have access to the information that is on every iPhone owner’s device. In that case, they say, the encryption is meaningless to the people who buy their products.

There are other tech giants taking a careful look at this case because it could establish a significant legal precedent.

Companies like Snapchat are looking at tightening their security so their clients’ data is not at risk. So if app makers tighten their security, investigators who could bypass the encryption still would not be able to get access to information kept on apps.

Apple officials say they have no problem handing over cloud data and anything stored in their files. However, they do not want to write new software to get into their devices.

If they do that, millions of their customers will be exposed, they say. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, says the FBI’s request is asking them to make the “software equivalent of cancer.”

Once the government began pressing Apple to unlock the iPhone, Apple’s R&D department went to work on what insiders are calling the “unhackable” phone.

It is unclear how this phone would differ from the current models, but it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

I believe that the FBI could have hacked into the phone using traditional hacking means. They could have gotten around the security barrier of entering the wrong security code 10 times, and causing the phone to delete everything on it.

But it would appear that they wanted to take the fight public to set the precedent that they can force tech companies to help them with their investigations.

I see where the FBI is coming from. If getting into this phone would possibly stop a future attack and lead to the arrest of other potential terrorists, I am all for it.

But, would this action lead to thousands or millions of future data breaches? Hopefully both parties will find some common ground where the FBI can do its job and Apple can provide its customers with products that protect their information. We shall see.


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published by several organizations. Contact him at or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: Get ready for flexible phones, driverless cars

This year is rolling along like a can of Pringles in my house (one can survives about an hour). They are the Super Chip. Munchos are also outrageously awesome.

However, my friends, this is not a column about chips; it’s about the future. What is next for technology? The Cloud is here, artificial intelligence is here, 3D printing is here, and many other new faces of tech are becoming mainstream.

What’s Next is a big conversation. Let’s start with Mark Zuckerberg and see what he has in store.

Mark has always big a big proponent of bringing Internet connectivity to places that don’t have the access that most Americans do. The initiative by Zuckerberg and his colleagues is called and the basic package is available now in 38 countries, giving 19 million users access to the Internet.

To expand this initiative, the Facebook team is working on deploying solar-powered drone aircraft that will beam Internet service via laser to regions where land-based infrastructure is not a viable option. This is visionary work, and I hope they succeed.

There are several barriers that must be navigated, but FB has the resources and the commitment to work miracles. So we will see.

Smartphone manufacturers are spending lots of R&D money on flex tech – phones and tablets that can bend or roll up like a scroll. As my friend Shawn just said, “Why don’t they make phones that work better, and focus on that.”  Well, they aren’t.

There are also flexible phones now available that offer plastic screens and have a more contoured look that should reduce glare and fit your face better while holding it up for a call. These phones do not bend. Do not get “flex” and “flexible” confused.

The main benefit here with the flexible is that the phones are plastic, so feel free to drop it and not have to run to the corner store that specializes in screen repair. (There is one on every corner, but not for long, since here comes plastic).

I walked out of the office with a friend recently. When we got near his car, it started coming toward us. He explained about the feature (summons) that sends his Tesla Auto to him. Pretty sweet ride.

The summons function is a nice example of where the automobile industry is heading. That’s right campers, driverless cars. So much for new outfits like Uber coming to pick you up. Jump in and roll, do your workout routine in the car, have some beers, play the Operation board game with your kids.

It’s very interesting to imagine the possibilities. The shift has been compared to the shift from brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, said that in two years you can summon your car from across the country.

The Obama administration has proposed spending $4 billion over the next 10 years to research autonomous vehicles and build the infrastructure to support them.

The Internet, phones and cars are some of our favorite things and they are changing faster than Lady Gaga changes outfits. Disruption is here – now. Buckle up.

• • •

Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published by several organizations. Contact him at or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: Stay vigilant, hackers aim to crack your computers

As we navigate the world of technology as professionals, we must remember that cyber threats are around every corner. The threats are real, and at the heart of these threats are the hackers themselves.

What motivates someone to become a “hacker”? Money usually, but other hackers are out there as modern-day Robin Hoods trying to expose some great “injustice,” such as what motivates the hacking group Anonymous. They have supported the Occupy movement in the past few years by showing police brutality toward protesters and they have gone so far as targeting ISIS, disrupting its recruiting through social media outlets.

The first use of the word hackers goes back to the 1960s on the campus of MIT. Those individuals mainly focused on computer programming and were not yet in the devious column.

However, by the 1970s that had changed. A hacker with the handle “Captain Crunch” figured out how to make free long-distance calls and from that point on, the term hacker carried the stigma of a sinister computer crook. During the 1980s the “414s” were a notorious hacking group that became one the first to be raided by the FBI and charged for computer related crimes.

The most common hacks in today’s corporate world are social engineering (phishing emails), compromised accounts (weak passwords), web-based attacks (SQL injection), and exploiting server updates (heartbleed).

Most entities have robust password protocols to assist with security as well as an enterprise-level firewall to keep bad guys out of the network. But all the technology in the world can’t stop a hacker who finds a sucker.

For example a common fraud of the moment is a hacker calling an office, then telling them that they are from Microsoft and they must run a critical update so let them log into the computer. I had a client say “OK” and guess what happened?

All of their data was stolen.

And guess again. Microsoft doesn’t call anyone to fix anything. It’s hard enough to get them to fix something by trying to call them. If you think a call might be suspect, it usually is. As Fox Mulder liked to say on the “X-Files”: Trust no one.

Lastly, I will reference white-hat hackers. These brilliant folks have seen the light and are actually hired by the government and corporate America to try to hack into systems and identify vulnerabilities so they can be corrected. That would be the opposite of black-hat hackers whose intent is to wreak cyber havoc.

As you head into 2016, keep the thought of hackers on the top of your mind because the the cyber threats and hacking will get worse before it gets better.

• • •

Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published by several organizations. Contact him at or at Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: You need to protect your credit cards from ‘crowd hacking’

As Floridians and citizens of the increasingly connected digital world, we must stay on DEFCON4 (see the 1983 movie WarGames for meaning) at all times for the next threat.

Phishing emails, data breaches, credit card skimmers at the gas pump, bot nets, and identity theft are in the news weekly, but how about crowd hacking (also called digital skimming)?

It’s the worst of the bunch and unless you’ve been a victim, you probably wouldn’t even know about. It’s very difficult to catch someone in the act, and the credit card companies certainly do not want anyone talking about it. For example I found this statement in an article from a Mobile, Alabama Fox TV station.

MasterCard spokesman, Chris Kangas, issued this statement:

“Sniffing, replay and relay attacks have been reported by the media and others as threats to contactless payments.  Cardholders can rest assured that MasterCard has and continues to invest significantly to ensure the security of the payment system including for MasterCard contactless technology.  As a consequence of these investments, the various attack scenarios which are difficult for criminals to conduct, make this an unattractive means of committing fraud.  Accordingly, in the 10 years since contactless was launched, MasterCard is not aware of any fraud incidents using these techniques.”

If you reached the second paragraph, you obviously have not heard of crowd hacking. So off to the classroom we go.

Let’s start with the criminal. He goes on eBay and purchases a RFID card reader for $50, hits the dark web to order a stack of blank credit cards and lastly picks up a card magnetizing device for about $300. Then he’s ready to have his own digital criminal syndicate. Next he heads to a ball game or mall and turns on the reader and credit card numbers are wirelessly stolen. Dozens at a time.

As a nation, we are trying to combat counterfeit card use by using “chip and pin” technology so that even if a number is stolen it cannot be used. However, that technology covers only part of the problem. By going online or using a credit card over the phone, the hacker can circumvent those security measures as the RFID scanners can pick up expiration dates as well as the CVV number on the back.

There are products that can protect you from this. I have a card in my wallet made by signal vault that creates white noise to any RFID card reader in the vicinity. In essence, it blocks any attempted theft.

If you want something more advanced, there is a product called Guard Bunny that goes in your wallet and it actually makes a whining nose and lights up if you are targeted. I would encourage you to invest in one of these security tools. For the ladies, there is a RFID blocking purse called Clutch that can protect you.

Despite what the experts at the credit card companies say, this is real and you need to protect yourself because someone is out there right now planning his next digital heist.


Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at or at www.aegisbiztech.comColumn courtesy of Context Florida.

Blake Dowling: Bahamian government needs to protect Bimini from developers

As Floridians we have so much beauty right outside our door.

As I write this, I am 45 miles from the coast and could be at Angelos Restaurant on the water (Panacea, Florida) for happy hour if I jumped in the car now.

Just 50 miles from Miami is the closest Bahamian Island, Bimini. It is a top-10 destination for me and has been for 20 years. Bimini consists of three islands, and it is paradise worth visiting.

The main island is seven miles long, features three settlements — Alice Town, Bailey Town and Porgy Bay.

The history of the island is straight outta Miami Vice, speedboats at dawn shipping powdered goods to the mainland in the 80s, and going back to prohibition a nice safe place to get a glass of rum when it was unavailable stateside.

Back in 1996 I made my first of many visits to the island, and as I stepped off the seaplane into my friend Trimmer’s back yard, I was down with it.

Local color, island charm, amazing views, laid-back lifestyle, the island had every travel writer’s adjective taken care of. Time crawled on the island. I was looking a little hurried one day as I strolled into the Big Game Club and the waitress laughed loudly and told me to “take a break” in a heavy Bahamian accented suggestion (while handing me a Kalik).

You might find yourself barefoot in the End of the World Sand Bar playing Dominoes or down the street at the Complete Angler playing the ring game with a Rum Runner in hand and the only band on the island, “The Calypsonians” rocking out.

When the majority of my college friends began receiving their degrees, they headed off to Atlanta, Chicago and similar cities in search of a high-paying gig. Trimmer went the other way. He sold his truck and set up shop on the island renting and leading kayak tours through the beautiful ecosystems surrounding the island.

I was lucky enough to join him, his brothers and parents on the island over a dozen times over the years. They maintain a second home there.

The visits included epic spring breaks all the way up to weddings just a few years ago. I was prepared to write a piece on how technology helped shape the island in some way, but my early research points to, what in my opinion constitutes, gross abuse of the island by the central government and certain foreign corporations.

Plans were drawn up by a developer for a resort on the end of North Bimini island called Bimini Bay. When complete it was to accommodate 10,000 people on an island whose total population numbers only 2,000.

Land was cleared, mangroves uprooted, seabed was dredged in a section that had been previously deemed “preserve”.

The name was changed to Resorts World Bimini (“RWB”). Against the advice of locals and environmental impact assessments and with the full support of the government in Nassau, RWB dredged a significant area of seabed and built a 1,000 foot pier to service a cruise ship that was supposed to ferry thousands of tourists each day from Miami.

I have been informed by certain locals that promises were made to the local community about economic growth, and that concerns for Mother Nature were ignored. Two years later, the daily ship service has been abandoned.

One of the main draws to Bimini is its ecosystem, which provides lobster, conch, mangroves, reefs and fishing. Swim with dolphins, kayak through the mangroves, fresh conch salad on the beach, spear lobster…yes to all that.

The next phase of development plan would put a golf course in the middle of what is called the North Bimini Marine Reserve (“NBMR”). In my opinion, this type of development eliminates the opportunity to enjoy a lot of the aforementioned activities.

This land was declared a protected area in 2008 but the Bahamian government never enacted a law that would ban such developments.

The west side of North Bimini was rocked by development. But if the east side can be salvaged by blocking the golf course, the environment should not be harmed any further. Maybe the government will sign the NBMR into law and everyone can move on.

I certainly will not give up on Bimini. A massive storm wrecked a big resort and casino built on Bimini back in the 1920s. My friend’s home is built on top of those ruins. So we will see what Mother Nature has in store.

On my next visit, I plan to set up shop at Big Johns (hotel, bar, marina), which maintains some of the charm I fell in love with in 1996. As the Calypsonians sang “Once you come here, you’ll want to stay here, down in Bimini by the Sea.” Indeed.


 Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at or at

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