Blake Dowling, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 5

Blake Dowling

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

Blake Dowling: With rising cybercrime, it’s good hearing bad guys get caught

Over the years, I have composed dozens of columns on cyberthreats, skimming credit cards at the pump, boss-phishing, crypto locker, and identity theft. In a lot of those stories, you don’t hear about the bad guys getting the hammer.

The Department of Homeland Security has an enormous task of defending government agencies from nation-state cyberattacks, as well as criminals on our own turf.

They usually don’t have time for Joe-Bob average citizen.

Same for identity theft. If you have your identity stolen, and the criminal makes bogus purchases in your name in another state, local authorities might tell you to report in that other state, which is about as helpful as a microwave lasagna during a power outage (#Hermine).

However, the FBI is the head agency for investigating and defending us from cyberattacks. But again, they are generally after looking for the big threats, and not so much worried about the little guy or gal.

A story over the weekend shows the citizens of Florida getting some help at the state level. Attorney General Pam Bondi took down a tech company called Client Care Experts based out of Boynton Beach that was defrauding “clients” out of millions of dollars.

The alleged fraud consisted of the following scenario: They would infect a user’s PC with malware, and a pop-up message would alert the “victim” to call tech support immediately. That call would be routed to the Client Care Experts’ call center where the sales people would charge them $250 to clean the computer.

Unfortunately, as with a lot of scams, these individuals are more than likely targeting our large elderly population, making the situation even more dastardly.

A court order to shut down the company is in place, which should keep any future victims safe while the matter is thoroughly investigated and the hammer of justice pummels these fellows (if guilty, of course).

“Floridians rely on computers to communicate with family and friends, make purchases and conduct business, and when scammers target these devices they can scare and frustrate consumers, especially our seniors. That is why we are working diligently to identify and stop tech scams targeting Floridians,” Bondi said.

Online threats are becoming more and more persistent, so it’s nice to hear about someone fighting the good fight and some of these criminals getting caught.

As a reminder — if someone calls you about remotely accessing your computer, hang up and consult your IT professional. Do not click on links or files in emails that look suspicious; keep your security products (firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spam software) up to date, and utilize two-factor authentication with financial institutions.

And — last but not least — keep your passwords complicated. Stay safe out there.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

 

Blake Dowling: Hermine rocks Tallahassee; scenes from the hurricane

Hermine rocked Tallahassee in a big way.

Florida’s capital city is still reeling with thousands of businesses and homes without power. I awoke Friday morning at 6 a.m. to a scene from the set of “The Walking Dead.” My home had no power.

As I attempted to leave, several downed trees were blocking the driveway. So tree removal became Chore 1 of the day. Next, on to the office.

I drove down Sixth Street avoiding trees and power lines and pulled into our debris-ridden lot. I grabbed my flashlight and made a to-do list; we forwarded all phones to emergency lines and began checking on staff.

Everyone reported back (with one member MIA), as we went about trying to get some work done.

Then I decided to walk down to Whataburger for breakfast for staff members at the office; It was my third indication that it was going to be a long next few days.

Dowling Whataburger 09.06No taquitos — a fact I posted on Twitter, which was picked up by ABC News (more on that another time).

Now that it was light outside, I returned to my house to assess the damage.

Everywhere in the yard, limbs were down, some missing the home by only a few feet; others were rocketed a foot into the ground — like King Arthur’s legendary Sword in the Stone.

Then I saw my neighbor’s house, where a huge tree landed right down the middle. Yikes. Destruction was everywhere.

I received a call from the MIA staff member, who was a little freaked out. He told me a tree crashed into his home. I said I would be there in a minute to check on him.

A tree had ripped through his bedroom as he slept, tearing a massive hole in the roof. Amazingly, he was not injured. He was extremely fortunate, as one of the tree branches crashed into his bed right by his head. As we stood in his yard to discuss the events of the evening, you began to see neighbors and strangers helping each other clean up and offer assistance.

The staff member whose house was destroyed even shared a funny story.

Dowling Hermine 09.06A police officer knocked on his door at dawn, asking: “Sir, are you aware there is a tree smashed into your home?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

We all had a good laugh at that one. But no insult was intended to anyone during this time. First responders were on the scene all over town checking on the well-being of our citizens.

As I returned to the house, the neighborhood was out in force, cleaning up yards and streets.

I have not visited with my neighbors much over the years. Everyone was asking if others were OK, and if anyone needed any help.

It was pretty cool, among all the chaos, to see the good side of human nature and the power of the human spirit. The staff member I mentioned earlier — whose home was destroyed the night before — stopped by my house with an extra case of water. What a heart of gold.

Tragedy can bring out the best in people; in this instance, that is exactly what happened. Thank goodness, we did not hear many stories of looting or other troubles.

I think the only negative story I heard during that time is the feud between the governor and the mayor (save the anger and bickering guys, we need you on the same page during a crisis, not pointing fingers in public. Keep it behind closed doors).

Technology really helped us make it through the storm with our clients. With only a few tablets and mobile phones, we were able to keep several balls in the air simultaneously Friday for those needing technical support.

Beer distributors (beer must flow), insurance, roofers; businesses that needed to be open, stayed open. Then came Saturday, and the power was back. We continued to provide service for those needing help.

On the homefront, I was able to hitch my smartphone to the TV, watching in full high-definition our local football hero John Burt and the Texas Longhorns whoop up on Notre Dame. What a game.

And, of course, with limited tech at home, we had endless amounts of family bonding. Now, we are all caught up on everything in each other’s lives. For anyone with teenagers, you know this kind of opportunity is rare. And we all worked together all weekend, hand-in-hand, to clean up the debris covering the yard and roof.

Back to the business world.

Sunday, I spoke with Paul Watts, whose company, Electronet, provides internet. He was checking in on some mutual clients, and let me know they had been running a generator for three days. By burning a lot of diesel, they kept our customers (and his) up and running. Nice job, sir.

When preparing for the next crisis that could face our community, make sure disaster recovery plans are clear.

In the case of damage to your office, establish a rallying point. And, depending on your line of work, get a generator. Have call-forwarding protocols ready, and set up redundant backups of your data — both local and in the cloud.

Disaster will strike again, so make sure you are ready.

In closing, I would like to offer huge thanks to all of those who spent the holiday weekend helping others.

This Instagram post — from my friend Heather — sums it up nicely:

Dowling Hermine 09.06 2

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com

Blake Dowling: Are your customer service skills ‘noble’?

Blake Dowling with Ashley Leggett of Capital City Bank at the Chamber Conference
Blake Dowling with Ashley Leggett of Capital City Bank

The annual Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Conference was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island this August; if you have never attended, it is a solid get-together of North Florida’s business, political, educational and health care leaders.

Master of ceremonies for the weekend, as in the 10 years that I been in attendance, was Gary Yordon. Gary oversees the agenda, sliding in a snarky joke or zinger at every twist and turn.

We get a well-deserved break from the world of academia bubbles, microaggressions, triggers and safe places, because when Yordan is behind the wheel, no one is safe, mainly elected officials.

Bravo, sir.

One panel, held by lobbyist Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting, weighed in on gaming in Florida, talking about what the future might look like. I noticed Nick likes to use the phrase “Class 3 gaming” a lot. By the end, Gary was giving him a good bit of hazing, calling Nick “pretty.” To his credit, Nick did not blink an eye. Both are cool customers.

I like to think of the Chamber conference as the wedding reception of business.

Eh? What is this Family Guy-type of analogy you speak of? Let me explain.

At a wedding reception, you have all of your family and friends in one place. For a single occasion/weekend, you get to hang out with all of them morning, noon and night. The same goes for the Chamber conference, with elected officials and other community leaders all in one place to network. You can’t escape.

That is the reason the Chamber leaves Tallahassee for the event. If we all stayed here, we would sneak back to our homes or offices.

Being out of town, everyone is together and focused, at least in theory. Now do you understand the reception analogy?

It’s that one weekend where one can have a very broad view into the inner workings of our community.

The Chamber does a nice job with the agenda, creating a diverse tapestry of learning opportunities.

The Dowlings with Maclay Head of School, James Milford
The Dowlings with Maclay Head of School, James Milford

From artists to politicos to Florida State University President John Thrasher, there was a lot of information to take in. As the weekend rolled on, one thing was hard to ignore: The level of service provided by the property, the Ritz-Carlton.

Brooke Hallock, my Leadership Tallahassee classmate, ordered a Coke Zero with lunch. I casually mentioned the hotel was a Pepsi property. The server, a young lady, did not blink, took Brooke’s order and — rather quickly — produced the requested Coke product, instead of something from Pepsi-land.

“After all, it is ‘the Ritz,’” Brooke chimed in.

One morning, I saw employees gather by the pool with their manager, who led them through a lively discussion of customer service and professionalism. They are truly 100 percent committed to delivering rock-solid customer experience to everyone visiting their property.

Taking with William Smith of Capital City Bank, he mentioned they perform a weekly stand-up at the bank similar to the Ritz. I thought that was cool.

At Aegis, we have a similar approach to meetings; making sure the lines of communication remain wide-open between clients and team members.

William also asked me if I noticed that the doors of the elevators are always open at the lobby level?

No, I did not notice until William said something. But isn’t that how it should be?

It’s the little things in life, ya’ know; they really do mean everything.

dowling 2 08.30
Blake and Jeanne Dowling with Jay and Bri Smith, the Smith Family owns Ajax Building Corporation

Another experience, this time in the restaurant, in which Mrs. Dowling was less-than-thrilled with her entrée.

The manager got down on one knee, eye-to-eye with us. She professed her most sincere apologies. As a manager, it honestly seemed as if she had let us down personally, taking the situation (perhaps a bit) too seriously.

We politely refused her offer of a complimentary dessert or beverage, which she took as a sign of our continued dissatisfaction — which was not the case. The fact was, we had been already overserved and overfed.

The manager followed up by wanting to comp the entrée, and later the director of catering called to offer additional niceties, which we humbly and respectfully declined.

The Ritz is a shiny (and hard-to-miss) reminder that we should always take first-class care of both clients and constituents, no matter what your business. If you fail to do so, someone else is out there ready to take up the slack.

Ritz Carlton’s logo is a lion and crown, representing elegance, refinement and nobility. Mission accomplished; thanks for a great and noble customer service experience.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: The latest in social engineering and digital fraud — hacking a person

Social engineering refers to manipulating individuals into divulging confidential information as part of an elaborate con.

In some cases, it can be the first step in digital fraud.

Last week, I received a call from “Verizon,” asking me for the password of our account.

I asked the chap what his name was; he said “John.” I informed “John” it was a bad day to be in the fraud business and said I would need his password.

See what I did there?

Needless to say, John was not amused. I added that I would also need the name of his pet and favorite song by Coldplay (he seemed like a Coldplay guy). Anyway, he hung up.

Obviously, John did not work for Verizon. He wanted to gather private info. There are so many ways for criminals to attempt to defraud; I will detail a few to save you some pain. Not just common phishing schemes or crypto locker ransomware threats, but some new ones I bet you haven’t heard of.

Have you heard of baiting? This is a very creative form of fraud.

In baiting, the criminal counts on the curiosity of the victim. The thief leaves an infected disc or USB drive in an elevator, a parking lot, a bar and the like, hoping the person who finds it puts the device into their computer. To this end, they rely on the user, usually labeling the disc or drive with something that sounds enticing: “Swingers party at Dan’s,” “credit card numbers, “case notes,” or even something as simple as “confidential.”

The device in question has malware loaded; the minute it is plugged in, the thief can target that PC and its connected network.

People are curious by nature and they often fall for this.

The Verizon story mentioned above is called “vishing” or phone phishing. There are many variances of this, with one of the most common is someone calling claiming to be from tech support, or Microsoft.

Don’t forget, readers, Microsoft never calls you, not ever.

So when a fake rep from Microsoft calls, asking you to click a link and enter your password, please don’t do that. That is bad. I have had clients fall for that one, and all of their data was compromised.

Another abundant playground for cyber thieves is social media.

Is your birthday on your Facebook page? Your title at work? How do you think criminals come up with fake emails sent to the president of organizations to the accountant asking for wire transfers? We received one the other day at Aegis; the tone was way too nice. We laughed over that one.

Or maybe they pull contact info off your corporate website. Having info out there is a good thing — for people trying to reach you — but it also makes you a target for those in the fraud business.

Just this morning, I was speaking with a local businessman. He asked me if I had ever heard of the following scam: Someone pretending to be a vendor for a large university provides a change of bank account for direct payment and impersonates the CTO or accountant of that supplier. Schools in Florida are always a target.

Once a transfer is executed, it is hard to track down the criminals in question, as the money is gone and they are usually overseas. In these cases, local law enforcement doesn’t know what to do. Just like a friend of mine in Texas who had their credit card number stolen. The card was used in a store in California so the Texas police told him to file a report in Cali.

That’s about as helpful as a room full Pokémon Go players drinking copious amounts of Dirty Steves — Red Bull and vodkas.

The reason cyber criminals go to all this trouble? It is usually much easier to hack a person (con them into providing confidential information) than it is to hack a network.

How do you protect yourself? As Agent Fox Mulder said back in the day: Trust No One.

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Blake Dowling is chief business development officer of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are published by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

 

Blake Dowling: Not in this lifetime — tech and the Guns N’ Roses reunion tour

On a Wednesday evening in 1988, I joined my friend Quinn Borland for an epic concert in Albany, Georgia.

Opening for rock legends Motley Crüe was a little-known band called Guns N’ Roses.

I was in middle school, so it was an incredibly big deal to be out on the town on a school night.

The show was spectacular, and in the years to follow, the band rocketed to worldwide success.

GNR 1996
Guns N’ Roses in 1996.

Fast forward to 1992, and my friend Ron LaFace and I caught the band in Tampa on the “Use Your Illusion Tour.” The band was on top of the world; in their prime. Soon after that, they broke up.

About 10 years ago, lead singer Axl Rose was asked if the band would ever re-form. “Not in this lifetime,” he said.

Never say never, as earlier this summer most of the original lineup launched a massive reunion that rivals any traveling show on the planet.

It’s called the “Not in this Lifetime” tour.

Over the weekend, I caught their performance at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl; they delivered an evening of 100 percent gold.

It’s interesting to note how the world has changed since the original heyday of GNR.

Andy and I were rolling down Interstate 10, and he kept looking at his iPad to check some map. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he uses the Waze app for travel. Waze points out traffic issues, accidents, police, cheap gas and anything else you might need while going down the road. It is a community app, so you rely on other drivers to get you the information you need; you can contribute also. Very cool.

Guns N’ Roses in 2016.
Guns N’ Roses in 2016.

It would have been nice to have this in the ’80s.

I used Uber to get a ride to the stadium. Andy had never used that app, so I explained how I use the app while traveling, from the tailgate spot back to the hotel in Gainesville, etc.

For the two of us, it was $10 to get dropped off in front of our gate. What a deal.

(I assume I don’t need to define Uber.)

The world of rock and roll and technology have indeed formed a bond. My friend was obsessed with the GNR Twitter account as they randomly awarded guests seat upgrades and free swag throughout the evening.

We did not win.

However, we had a truly authentic engagement with the GNR brand and community. That was thanks to social media.

Speaking of social media, I try to keep posts short and sweet.

While I will post a column I wrote, a concert pic, me and the family on vacation, etc.; I shy away from political rants, sharing personal problems with the world, how much l love my dog, etc.

But I couldn’t help but post a two-minute video of the encore, “Paradise City.”

There was so much going on, it was irresistible. Fireworks, epic jam, sound and lights off the chart, plus the band sounded amazing (that’s important). Axl is not 25 anymore, but he can still bring the thunder as good as anyone.

The conversation about music and technology is usually about how tech, specifically how online file sharing has destroyed the business. And, believe me, I understand that dialogue; I used to work in the business.

However, if you think about how technology has changed the concert experience for the user, it is mind-boggling. Getting to the show, enjoying the show and documenting it for vital Facebook posts make the 2016 concert experience both unique and weird.

I say weird because half the stadium was staring at their phones during the show — maybe they were playing Pokémon Go? LOL.

If you get a chance to see the 2016 GNR, I say go for it.

DOWLING GNR 2016

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Blake Dowling is chief executive officer of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are published by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: Consumers can avoid feeling the ‘email Bern’ by hackers

Debbie Wasserman Schultz got to “Feel the Bern” from a hostile crowd of Florida delegates at the Democratic National Committee.

Why were these Bern Victims so fired up? The email scandal, of course, which led to Schultz’s resignation. The pro-Clinton digital documentation revealed in this breach and scandal is a mess.

There are several old school rules of thumb my grandparents used to use. Here are two: “make sure to get it in writing” and “make sure to not put that in writing.”

You should have the same approach to writing emails.

“I don’t care if anyone reads this, ever.” If it’s not that, delete.

Emails can be sent/forwarded to the wrong people, handed over to the courts, watched by the National Security Agency, and — as with Debbie and the gang at the DNC — hacked.

The DNC realized something was wrong going back as far as April. They brought in a professional security firm to analyze their network; they found a breach, and blocked it. But it was too late. The bad guys had been inside their world for a year, and they had already taken everything they wanted.

It is suspected that a nation state was behind the hack (Russian-backed cybercrime syndicate Guccifer 2.0 is a distinct possibility). I was asked by the Orlando Sentinel this week how do you stop something like that? (See my Q & A with Paul Owens later this week.)

The short answer is … you don’t.

If you have the resources to build nuclear weapons and fly in space, you can pile up enough code, hackers, hardware and software to perpetuate a successful cyber threat against anyone. What you need to be thinking about is how to minimize the threat.

Your password is your front line of defense.

To those of you that have a password that is a variation of the word password or a word that can be found in the dictionary: FAIL.

Those rules from information technology experts have been read over and over: a number, a capital letter, and a symbol in every password gives you some security. There are software programs designed to auto-hack passwords, and by following these protocols, you might just stop a threat in its tracks.

The most common attacks are Trojans, Phishing schemes, denial of service (DOS) attacks, Ransomware/Malware (Cryptolocker), and password attacks/brute force attacks. In conjunction with a strong password, put your email somewhere smart.

Don’t use a free hosting service for email. There are a dozen examples of free email, but I will minimize my risk of a nasty letter in the mail and not call them by name.

You get what you pay for, both in life and email. Use a cloud platform with a “Tier 4” data center.

Tier 4 is defined as critical servers and computer systems in a data center, with fully redundant subsystems (cooling, power, network links, storage, etc.) and compartmentalized security zones controlled by biometric access control methods.

If you have your email on a local server, make sure a state-of-the-art firewall is deployed, and in all cases have up-to-date hardware with the latest patches, as well as anti-virus and anti-spam solutions in place.

Lastly, if an attack, breach or theft occurs, have a solid backup of your email and data in place.

The Russians, Chinese, 14 people in North Korea with internet access, and the wacko next door could all be potential cyber criminals. You can buy kits on the dark web to become a cybercriminal in about seven minutes.

So keep thinking defensively. To that end, another way to keep the bad guys out is “two-factor authentication.” This is a method of confirming a user’s identity by utilizing a combination of two different components. These components may be something the user knows, something the user possesses or something that is inseparable from the user.

An example from everyday life is the withdrawing of money from an ATM. You have to have a bank card (something that the user possesses, factor one) and a PIN (personal identification number, factor two) for the transaction to be carried out. The same goes for logging onto a commercial site, when they text you a code to enter.

Criminals are not getting dumber, but the average American is; see the Pokémon Go craze if you need further evidence.

So when it comes to email, keep your eyes wide open, and security top of mind. Be safe out there.

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

Blake Dowling: What is Pokémon Go and why is it news?

My son Reid catching a creature
My son Reid catching a creature

Fads are a regular occurrence in our fast-paced, ADD-ridden culture.

We run from shiny thing to shiny thing, instantly fascinated and quickly bored.

Swatch Watches in the ’80s and (of course) parachute pants, those awful rubber band bracelets my daughter wore by the truckload a couple of years ago. The yahoos from Duck Dynasty are a trend that hopefully will go away very soon.

This month, a digital craze began sweeping the world, via the weird world of Pokémon, and their innovative new app Pokémon Go.

Why is Pokémon being featured in a professional column? Because the tech use in it is off the charts and criminals have found a way to get in the mix, actually monetizing from gameplay.

Put your tray tables up and your chair in an upright position; this is going to be an interesting ride for you. Wheels up.

To start our story, we must journey to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Pokémon began as the hobby of Satoshi Tajiri, who as a child was into catching bugs and tadpoles near his home in suburban Tokyo. Tajiri decided to put his idea of catching creatures into practice, to give kids the same thrills he had as a child.

In 1996 – after getting Nintendo on board – the first game was launched (where you try and “catch ‘em all”) followed by trading cards, toys, TV, a touring show, movies and more games.

The object of the game is to collect creatures; this latest version has the same goal.

Pokémon is a free-to-play mobile app unless you are foolish enough to buy PokéCoins during game play. Yes, this is a real thing.

The game works by tapping into your phone’s GPS for real-world location and augmented reality to bring up those cool-looking Pokémon on your screen, overlaid on top of what you see in front of you.

And you—the digital you—can be customized with clothing, a faction (or “team” of players you can join) and other options, and you level up as you play.

DOWLING POKEMON 2

In reality, you are walking around at the grocery store, park or pub, catching Pokémon. You add them to your Pokébex (your jail of Pokémon), and once you have a few, you then battle other people. You can also go to Pokéstops to gather items to help your game play. This is the “lure” function.

Three people were robbed at gunpoint in Baltimore this week while playing Pokémon Go, Baltimore County police say. In this case, it appears the victims were so engrossed with their phones and the game that they didn’t notice they were alone in a dark alley in a bad neighborhood. This behavior is similar to a teenager on a cellphone who sees nothing of the real world.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, a group of teens was caught Monday using the beacon function to lure other players to a “Pokéstop” location where they were waiting to rob them. This is scary. You are able to lure people to a shady area, who will be distracted, most likely unarmed (as the Pokémon crowd seems like a docile bunch) and easy prey to rob or worse.

As citizens of the digital world, we need to up the dosage on our common sense as being so engrossed in our phones and games, where we would expose ourselves to dangerous situations is alarming, to say the least.

This will not be the last game of this kind that comes up, and the crimes mentioned above will not be the last digital themed crimes committed.

DOWLING POKEMON 1

On a lighter note, my wife was driving down the road yesterday by a local park; out of the corner of her eye saw our son in the bushes with some friends laughing and running around. He is 17, so this is not normal behavior, when she asked what he was doing he said “playing Pokémon.”

She wondered if the ’60s were back and LSD was popular with kids again, but I assured her that he was just the latest American on the Pokémon Go train.

Technology makes our lives easier, sometimes more complicated and sometimes more dangerous, so when you are rolling out new tech make sure you are being safe and don’t forget to “catch ‘em all.”

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Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or at www.aegisbiztech.com.

 

Blake Dowling: из России с любовью (From Russia with love)

Dowling Russia 1I visited Russia for the first time this summer.

Growing up a Cold War kid, the prospect of visiting the Motherland was a little freaky — and the constant visibility of the Russian Navy in the Baltic Sea had me sleeping with one eye open.

Once I overcame these minor fears, the country was truly a gem to explore and discover. Who knew drinking straight vodka with lunch was such fun? It also makes bland food taste fabulous.

Our guide kept telling us how nice Russians are and how they love Americans; this was a farce. I detected no love for the United States. In fact, half of the souvenir shirts that I saw, mocked our president and other world leaders.

Barry [Obama] is an easy target; but still, this is ’merica, ya’ll. (see T-shirt below for an example).

It is interesting that our guide said to use cash only while visiting the former USSR. Credit card fraud is so rampant they said to just avoid it. So rubles it is, I think the ratio was 66 to 1 rubles/dollars.  T-shirts were 450 rubles, so was a Diet Coke.

Anyway, as we roamed — through the Hermitage Museum (Who would have thought DaVinci and Rembrandt had pieces there?), Catherine’s Palace, checked out the ballet, and had lunch where Putin celebrated his 50th birthday —  cyber-crime and fraud were always in the back of my mind.

Some of the world’s most diabolical cyber threats originated in Russia. The CryptoLocker virus was developed by a Russian hoodlum, and it is the Bill Cosby of cyber threats. It is believed a man with the online name of “Slavik” created CryptoLocker.

The FBI has identified Slavik as Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, a Russian national whose whereabouts remain unknown. He is believed to be the creator of two of the most sophisticated and destructive forms of malicious software in existence — Gameover Zeus and CryptoLocker.

Through the Zeus program, he was able to take control of almost half a million computers worldwide in what is called a botnet, controlled by criminals. The primary goal of the Zeus program is to capture your keystrokes, so that when you go to a financial site, it copies your passwords and then they go about stealing your money. In the crypto-locker scenario, your computer and all its data are locked, with demand for ransom. Once the ransom is paid, you may or may not get the encryption keys to release files. (Make sure you keep a solid backup of your data in case you are infected and need to wipe and reload your machine).

It is estimated hundreds of millions of dollars have been stolen with these tools.

It appears Bogachev is still on the run and is facing charges from Russian and American authorities.

Also making news while we were visiting Russia was the doping scandal and the subsequent Olympic ban. Man, they are pissed about this.

No one I talked to denied anything, they were all cool about the fact that the culture of doping was widely known over there.

Russia has a lot of alarming trends.

Did you know that Russia’s homicide rate is one of the highest in the world?

Organized crime in the country has its hands in everything you could imagine: human trafficking, assassins for hire, extortion, drugs, money laundering, etc.

The Russian military rolled into the Ukraine and annexed Crimea, and actively assisted a separatist force in destabilizing the region.

What are we doing? Our government has cut our military spending by 25 percent in the past five years.

We are a joke to them and not the America they once feared. Who knows how global politics and conflict will end up in the coming years? One would assume China and Russia will eventually try something on a grander scale, and then there are our pals in Iran.

As the downed fighter pilot, Col. Andy Tanner said in the movie “Red Dawn” about how the the fictional invasion of the U.S. by Russia started, “I don’t know. Two toughest kids on the block, I guess. Sooner or later, they’re gonna fight.”

The sun sets around 11 p.m. in Russia this time of year, and it was a pleasure to visit and learn more about this nation. It is a nation of grandiose history and horrendous violence (see Lenin, Stalin) but a nation worth checking out if you get the chance.

And don’t forget to drink some vodka while visiting; it worked for my wife and me.

We just need to make sure not to take that ritual home with us …

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Blake Dowling is Chief Business Development Officer for Aegis Business Technologies in Tallahassee, and he writes columns for several organizations.

You can contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Blake Dowling: Kicked in the conch … Bimini, part 2

In early 2016, I wrote a column for Florida Politics.com about the island of Bimini, located in the Bahamas about 50 miles from Miami. Hemingway wrote some books there, Gary Hart got busted for some shenanigans there. It’s a small fishing village with some seriously cool spots to check out — nature, watering holes, possible site of Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, conch, rum, etc.

I put together a piece intended to be a technology column. In the end, the finished product was a discussion of what — in my opinion — constitutes overdevelopment on the island.

As the column hit the streets, the feedback started roaring in like crazed Bernie Sanders supporters at a hemp rally. I got comments from the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Miami, Texas and all the way to England.

My column was reposted across the pond by a group called Tourism Concern that has been watching the island closely. Jolly good show, Alison Stancliffe.

(L to R: Myself, Bradley Beesley, Trimmer)
(L to R: Myself, Bradley Beesley, Trimmer)

Here is the short version of the past and the now. In 2008 an area of the island was declared protected, called the North Bimini Marine Preserve. Oddly enough, since that time, a rather large resort, pier, marina, and some private homes have been built, and they keep creeping closer to the NBMP area. One of the other people to pick up my column was filmmaker Bradley Beesly (Google him: HBO original shows, Travel Channel shows, the Flaming Lips documentary, etc.)

Bradley and his team were commissioned to do a piece on what is going on in Bimini. He flew me and my esteemed cohort, Trimmer (whose family has close ties to the island) down for a few days of filming.

Getting there was a real treat — Silver Airways to Tampa-Tally-Ft. Lauderdale-Bimini. Get to the Tally airport two hours early, all flights canceled. WTF. Rerouted to Miami airport with a one-hour layover, thanks to a taxi driver on meth, I actually made the 45-minute rampage across town and caught the connecting flight to the island.

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We hit the ground running hard — literally, really hard (those Silver Airlines pilots need to take a refresher, just saying) — around 5 p.m. We threw our bags down, cracked a Kalik beer, and started our quest to capture the essence of the island on film with a scene at the local conch shack. We talked to locals and guzzled a few Kaliks while enjoying some fresh conch salad. Working with Bradley was great, he guided us in and out of several spirited conversations, and we really got the chance to lay it all out there.

The fact of the matter is, the hotel is there now. It is HUGE, by the way, I had never seen it with my own eyes, we checked it out via boat, and then rolled over on the golf cart. Granted it is not an ugly hotel, it’s cool looking, but (ye gods!) it is slapped right on the end of an island that only has 2,000 people on it, and the island is just 7 miles long.

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I think at this point the hotel and the island need to work in more harmony as neither one are going anywhere. Also, the hotel and the government need to sign the NBMR law and move on, and stop any discussions of golf courses where mangroves and reefs are currently located. Attention, señor, what do you think helps stops storms, replenishes the sea life, etc.?

These things are why people come to the island in the first place.

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We spent a lot of time at Big Johns, the Big Game Club, had some homemade Souse with Sarah Lee, rum drinks at Ebby’s, listened to stories from the Barefoot Bandit (foreign girls, fishing, etc.)

We did some swimming, ate like kings, more Kalik, did some boating, more rum, tinkered with the boat, got the golf cart fixed (maybe). Everything, and all things, that make the island a real gem.

These awesome characters or activities would not be around without the bounty of nature Bimini has to offer, and it’s a shame it is being disrupted. But hopefully, that is over. As we sat at Joe’s Conch Shack during our first day of filming, we were discussing some of the negativity associated with the recent development, and I think I summed it up nicely by saying, “the island got kicked in the conch, fellas.”

So there you have it, the good, the ugly and all the rest. See you in the islands again soon.

I will, hopefully, be at the far right corner of the porch at the Big Game Club, and I will let you buy my next Kalik.

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Blake Dowling is Chief Business Development Officer for Aegis Business Technologies in Tallahassee, and he writes columns for several organizations. You can contact him here: dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

 

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.

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

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