Category Archives: VOIP

“Swatting” – Are You A Potential Victim?

imageIn both Canada and the United States, calling 911 (999 in the UK), will put the caller in contact with emergency services including – Police – Fire – Ambulance. In fact, where I live, all these services are dispatched in response to a 911 call.

Luckily, even if the call is interrupted, emergency personnel with access to Automatic Number Identification, coupled with an Automatic Location Identification (ALI) database, can still dispatch emergency response units to the location generated by the system.

In other words, the location from which the emergency call originated is known, and not subject to mistake. Or is it?

Imagine opening your front door – only to be greeted by this.

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Not very likely to happen to you, you’re thinking. Perhaps not – but it does happen to innocent victims and, more to the point, it’s happening with increased frequency. The culprits?  Evil lowlifes who misuse call spoofing technology.

Phone phreaking has a long history – those of us who’ve been around since the 1970s should remember these hackers and their free long-distance calls hacks. Fast forward to today, and what was once a victimless crime (though not entirely so), has taken on ominous overtones.

Call spoofing (showing a phone number in caller ID, other than the real originating number) in it’s most vicious form – “swatting” – can have potentially lethal consequences. The twisted idea behind swatting is – faking an emergency of such a magnitude that the response from law enforcement is the deployment of a  SWAT team to the location generated by the spoofed phone number.

You can well imagine the chaos such an incidence is sure to cause.

From the FBI website:

Needless to say, these calls are dangerous to first responders and to the victims. The callers often tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off. The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies. And the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves.

I must admit; I’ve been completely out of the loop on this one and, until I read the following two newspaper stories this past week, I had no idea of the potential danger.

Toronto man ‘swatted’ by hacker who summoned police

Hacker’s swatting attack calls police to Langley home

Why did they do it?

According to FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kolbye:

Individuals did it for the bragging rights and ego, versus any monetary gain. Basically, they did it because they could.

It’s not my intention, in this article, to describe just how easily a phone number can be spoofed – but, I was hardly surprised to see roughly 2 Million Google search results covering this.

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It’s an unfortunate fact that laws impacting technology issues are seemingly destined to always be in catch up mode. In my view though, this perversion should be addressed with some senses of urgency.

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Filed under Connected Devices, Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, cybercrime, Hackers, Mobile Applications, Software, VOIP

MagicJack – Is It Worth The Money?

Popular guest writer Rick Robinette loves to fiddle with the latest technology gadgets. In this guest post, Rick gives you his take on MagicJack – the good, and the bad. See what you think.

MagicJack – A device that you plug into your computer’s USB port that enables you to use your broadband internet connection to make FREE local and long distance phone calls. A phone line (standard RJ-11) plugs into the magicJack from a phone. Initial cost is typically around $40 dollars the first year, then $20 a year thereafter. There are other pricing packages available, as well.

magicJack

magicJack

Recently while browsing in the local RadioShack, I could not help overhearing a man and woman asking the salesperson a lot of questions about the magicJack. What they wanted to do was replace the landline phones in their home with a magicJack and this salesperson was laying it on heavy; making it sound like this $20 device was the “ultimate” solution to replacing their landline phone service.

After detecting skepticism from these folks, I could not take it any longer and piped in. I said, “Listen, I have been a magicJack owner for over a year.  It does work; however you need to know this about magicJack”.

  • This device is dependent on the speed and reliability of your broadband connection and your computer. If the broadband connection and/or computer is under heavy load, then expect problems.
  • This device depends on your computer being turned “on”; however, the service does have voicemail which can be forwarded to an email account (in the event the computer is turned “off”).
  • Call quality can vary; however, on my setup the call quality is better than cellular and most of the time as good (sometimes better) than my landline. Again, this varies, based on the factors previously reflected.
  • I have experienced occasional software issues with the magicJack software, which is driven by the magicJack device itself. Often a reboot of the PC will make it behave itself. When you get this thing, get everything plugged in and follow the registration instructions to setup your “new” phone number.

  • This device will not work through the phone jacks in your house. The salesperson was definitely giving that impression. One thing you can do, is purchase a cheap cordless phone and plug the main base into the magicJack.
  • Services included are FREE local and long distance calls, FREE voicemail, FREE call waiting, FREE Caller ID and FREE Directory Assistance.  Again, this all varies based on factors previously reflected; however these services are included.
  • You are going to see thousands of “pros” and thousands of “cons” on this device. For example, [ SEE HERE ] .  All I can tell you is, it works for me.
  • You are going to read where magicJack computers may analyze the phone numbers you call in order to improve the relevance of the ads you see in the magicJack software.  In other words, this could be a privacy concern.
  • You are going to find at the magicJack.com website, it is geared toward marketing; not tech support.

Is magicJack’s VoIP for you?

In this particular case, I set up a “win-win” situation for these folks (the customer) and the salesperson.

Replacing your landline phones in your home with magicJack, is not a good solution; unless you are living on bread alone (which did not appear to be the case here). Using magicJack to supplement other services you have is a good solution. For example, I dumped my long distance and use MagicJack to make my long distance calls, which is really not that many compared to other people. We also have pay-as-you-go cell phones and can use them in a pinch, if necessary.

I then turned to the salesperson and asked, “What is your return policy? AND, If these people buy this and do not like it can they bring it back to YOU? At this point, I really got the look. Once that was out of the way, I told these people, take this home and play with it and play with it a lot.  If it does not suit bring it back to this guy. They ended up buying it!

To my readers, magicJack does work; however it depends on many variables. If you want to play with one, go to Walmart to buy it.  Their return policy is probably the best around. If you can’t wait and want a decent buy, then check [ HERE ] .

This is a guest post by Rick Robinette, who brings a background as a security/police officer professional, and as an information technology specialist to the Blogging world.

Why not pay a visit to Rick’s site at What’s On My PC. Like me, you’re sure to become a frequent visitor.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under Interconnectivity, Software, Telephone, USB, VOIP

Free Phone Calls From Gmail – Yes It’s Free, But Is It Any Good?

image If you live in North America, you’ll know that “FREE” is one of the most overused, and undefined words – ever. Free, has so many variables attached, that it’s virtually worthless as a descriptor.

If you don’t live in North America, it’s still probable that the same conditions apply where you live, as well.

Despite the fact that “free”, is a very uncertain term, and despite the fact that we’ve all aware of that old expression – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, advertisers continue to appeal to our lower instincts by crafting entire campaigns around “FREE”.

So last week, when Google announced “free” phone calls to “actual phones”, not just PC to PC (including long distance), from within Gmail, in both Canada and the US, my natural sense of skepticism kicked in.

Being the old cynic that I am, I immediately thought –

It’s got to be a hassle. Well I couldn’t have been more wrong. Google Voice is the easiest VOIP application I’ve ever used. Even easier to use than my long time favorite VOIP application – Skype.

Voice quality has gotta suck. Wrong again! Voice quality beats my home phone quality – hands down. In fact, if you’re a speakerphone user, I’ll wager that this application will be an improvement.

It isn’t really free. By now, I was a little tired of being wrong but, I was wrong again! Google’s free phone calling feature in Gmail is, well, FREE – at least until the end of 2010.

Setup couldn’t be easier. Highlight “Call Phone”, in your Gmail chat menu.

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Then, just download and install the voice and video application from the next screen. The installation app will automatically calibrate your devices. Alternatively, you can choose to self calibrate.

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Following installation, you’ll notice that the “Call phone” icon has changed to green – from the previous gray.

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Clicking on the Call phone icon will open a phone keypad, as the following screen capture shows.

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Choose your Country, (Canada or the US for the moment), input the phone number – either with your mouse, using the onscreen keypad, from your keyboard, or your Gmail contact list. Click on “Call”, and voila! – you’re connected. Incidentally, the application will automatically save your call history.

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Incoming calls:

The service provides a US phone number (not yet available in Canada – but it’s on the way), chosen by the user from available numbers in selected area codes.

Requirements:

US or Canadian based Gmail users only – for the time being.

A Gmail account.

Web Cam and Speakers (I found this the easiest setup), or

Microphone and Speakers, or

Headset.

Download: From within Gmail.

Features:

Explore some of the most popular features of Google Voice by watching these videos:

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  • Overview
  • Voicemail transcription
  • One number
  • Personalized greetings
  • International calling
  • SMS to email
  • Share voicemails
  • Block callers
  • Screen callers
  • Mobile app
  • Conference calls

I must admit, I’m very enthusiastic about this new service from Google. I find it very convenient, and it’s already saved me some cash in long distance fees.

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Filed under Business Applications, Communication, downloads, Freeware, Gmail, Google, Google Software, Interconnectivity, Software, Video Apps, Video Calling, VOIP, Windows Tips and Tools

I’m InTouch Online Meeting – A Cost Effective Online Collaborative Solution

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In the early 1990s, I was involved (as a partner), with an organization that both developed, and provided, training programs to the Insurance industry (I won’t bore you my personal opinions of the Insurance industry, except to say – they’re not positive).

Through this exposure, I became well aware of both the hard costs, and the soft costs, involved in hosting “in the flesh”, training seminars, meetings, round table discussions, and so on. Not surprisingly, the costs could be, and often were, prohibitive. The development and broad scale distribution of Online meeting software  has essentially changed all that.

An overriding hallmark of Online meeting software is its cost effectiveness, since the need for companies to absorb travel and accommodation costs, employee downtime costs, etc,. no longer exists.

Despite the fact, that this type of application has been available for years, I have not taken an opportunity to review an Online meeting application – until now. I was recently invited to participate in a Beta Online meeting application developed by 01 Communique, a Toronto based technology company, and I’m glad I did.

I’m InTouch Meeting is an Online meeting solution which is notable for its cost effectiveness, highly intuitive user interface, and a simple three stage process that allows a user to host meetings for up to 15  attendees – directly from their computer’s desktop.

Since I’m InTouch Meeting is a Windows driven system, Online meetings and participant collaboration, can easily be achieved without the need for a heavy backend IT infrastructure – and, it’s easy. How easy? Take a look at the following surprisingly easy 3 step process.

The three step I’m InTouch process:

1. The Moderator logs in at www.imintouchmeeting.com

Alternatively, you may select “Host an instant meeting” from http://www.imintouchmeeting.com to quickly start hosting a meeting.

2. The moderator creates and starts a new meeting

A Meeting ID will be provided. Simply use the provided tool to send invitation emails to your attendees.

3. Attendees click the link on the invitation email to join

All the attendees are now sharing the screen of the moderator in real time. To join the meeting, attendees do not need to subscribe to I’m InTouch Meeting; however, the moderator can require a password to join the meeting.

How easy is that!

Fast facts:

Unlimited usage

Shareable licenses

Real-time screen sharing

Enhanced File Transfer – Instantly send a copy of your presentation or report during the meeting to all participants using I’m InTouch Meeting’s File Transfer capability. Perfect for securely sending files too large for email.

Remote printing

Text and audio chat (VoIP)

Whiteboard (drawing tools)

Attendees’ access rights control

Support up to 15 attendees

Administrative/Statistics tools

The one thing we know about the Internet is – from a security perspective, we need to be proactive on a continuous basis. I’m InTouch Meeting addresses security issues, straight out of the gate.

Security fast facts:

256-Bit SSL Data Encryption – Ensures your transmitted data stays private with end to end encryption and authentication.

No Ports Opened – No new ports are opened on your firewall or router ensuring your current security measures are not compromised at all.

Dual Login Passwords – Passwords are required to from the moderator and attendees to initiate and join an online meeting respectively.

Account Protection – Multiple failed login attempts will result in your account being temporarily locked out to protect against unauthorized access.

Security Settings Maintained – I’m InTouch retains your OS-level access controls already in place on the PC.

Session Time-Out – Your remote access session will automatically terminate after a period of inactivity you define.

No Session Data Kept – None of your remote session data is kept on our servers ensuring your work stays private.

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The I’m InTouch Meeting “how it works” video – click on the graphic.

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7

To signup for the free beta: go to the developer’s site. There is no obligation to subscribe during the Beta period.

About 01 Communique:

Established in 1992, 01 Communique is an innovative force in the development
and delivery of remote access, online meeting, support products and
integrated communications software.

We develop and market a suite of remote access services designed for small-medium sized business, mobile professionals and IT service providers.

Our software as a service offerings are deployed on-demand and include functionality enabling on-line meetings, remote computing and IT support.

All offerings are developed using our patented remote access technology and marketed under our I’m InTouch.

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Filed under Beta Software, Cloud Computing Applications, downloads, Enterprise Applications, Multimedia Tools, Online Meeting Software, Productivity Software, Software, Video Calling, VOIP

I’m a Canadian and I Now Own a Piece of Skype!

image Like most working Canadians, I am required to contribute a percentage of my earnings to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), a government retirement plan, which will provide me with a monthly pension benefit on retirement. Well, that’s the promise.

This is a bit of a joke, since I have yet to meet a retired person who could survive on this benefit – although there may be some, somewhere.

Since most of my family are Americans, I’m reasonably familiar with that country’s Social Security program as well. So, the lack of adequate income upon retirement produced by Social Security, is also a familiar refrain.

It’s not startling news of course that government run plans such as these, are generally poorly managed; often producing a less than adequate return on investment, which naturally leads to a reduction in income stream at retirement, for those who have contributed over a working lifetime

I was surprised then (actually I was shocked), to learn this morning, that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has taken an investment position in Skype, my favorite Internet communication application. My first thought – maybe the Canada Pension Plan has decided to reassess its antiquated investment rules, and boldly step into the twenty first century.

It has long been rumored that eBay was looking for a buyer for its Skype internet phone service and today it appears it’s a “done deal”. eBay Inc. is spinning off Skype in a deal worth more than $2 billion US, to an investor group that includes the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. eBay however, will continue to hold a 35 per cent stake in Skype.

So, faithful reader, if you want to ensure my Canada Pension contributions add up to something more than a miserly sum when I retire, consider adding Skype to your list of must have applications.

You won’t regret it, and hopefully, neither will I since I’m sure to need the money on retirement.

All kidding aside, Skype is a terrific free application; an application I would be lost without. I use it through the day, every day, to communicate by video calling worldwide for free.

Take a look at my earlier review of Skype, and you might be surprised at the impact this application can have on your communications.

Skype – Right for Your Life?

Despite the fact that I’m an early adopter of most technology, surprisingly, it took me forever to give Skype a try. For communicating, I found the old fashioned telephone worked; and it does what it’s supposed to do with a minimum of fuss and bother. Just pick it up, dial and voila – instant communication. What could be simpler and easier than that?

As I found out, after giving Skype a test drive – maybe this free communication application! In fact, it has now become my preferred method of contact. I use the Skype video calling feature dozens of times a day to speak with contacts worldwide.

Kudos to my good friend TechPaul, at Tech for Everyone, for finally convincing me to give Skype a test drive. I’m glad I did.

In its basic form, Skype is a free communication package, using proprietary code, which allows users to make free computer to computer calls, including video calls, across the globe. As well, there are a bundle of additional features, that can be purchased at a low cost, which will expand the application’s functionality.

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Fast facts:

Improved sound quality over regular telephones.

Secure end-to-end encryption.

Uses peer-to-peer technology for even more enhanced security.

Video calling – I have to admit I find this feature fascinating.

Conference calling – a very cool feature.

Online status notification – online, away, do not disturb, invisible, offline.

Contact creation, including groups, and importation from MS Outlook and Outlook Express etc.

Screen sharing – I find a lot of uses for this feature.

Chat – I find this a great help for sharing URL’s which can then be opened during a video call to facilitate the sharing of information.

Upgrade features:

Call phones and mobiles

Receive calls from phones and mobiles with an online number

Voicemail – Send and receive voicemails

Forward calls to phones

Transfer calls to phones and mobiles

System requirements: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux. Sound input and output devices – microphone and speakers, or a headset. Of course, for video calling you’ll need a webcam.

Download at: Skype

If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under Communication, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Peer to Peer, Productivity Software, Skype, Software, Video Calling, VOIP, Windows Tips and Tools

Skype – Right for Your Life?

Despite the fact that I’m an early adopter of most technology, surprisingly, it took me forever to give Skype a try. For communicating, I found the old fashioned telephone worked; and it does what it’s supposed to do with a minimum of fuss and bother. Just pick it up, dial and voila – instant communication. What could be simpler and easier than that?

As I found out, after giving Skype a test drive – maybe this free communication application! In fact, it has now become my preferred method of contact. I use the Skype video calling feature dozens of times a day to speak with contacts worldwide.

Kudos to my good friend TechPaul, at Tech for Everyone, for finally convincing me to give Skype a test drive. I’m glad I did.

In its basic form, Skype is a free communication package, using proprietary code, which allows users to make free computer to computer calls, including video calls, across the globe. As well, there are a bundle of additional features, that can be purchased at a low cost, which will expand the application’s functionality.

image

(Credit: CNET)

Fast facts:

Improved sound quality over regular telephones.

Secure end-to-end encryption.

Uses peer-to-peer technology for even more enhanced security.

Video calling – I have to admit I find this feature fascinating.

Conference calling – a very cool feature.

Online status notification – online, away, do not disturb, invisible, offline.

Contact creation, including groups, and importation from MS Outlook and Outlook Express etc.

Screen sharing – I find a lot of uses for this feature.

Chat – I find this a great help for sharing URL’s which can then be opened during a video call to facilitate the sharing of information.

Upgrade features:

Call phones and mobiles

Receive calls from phones and mobiles with an online number

Voicemail – Send and receive voicemails

Forward calls to phones

Transfer calls to phones and mobiles

System requirements:

Windows, Mac OS X, Linux.

Sound input and output devices – microphone and speakers, or a headset. Of course, for video calling you’ll need a webcam.

Download at: Skype

6 Comments

Filed under Audio Applications, Communication, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Living Life, Peer to Peer, Productivity Software, Skype, Software, Video Calling, VOIP, Windows Tips and Tools

Reduce Cell Phone/VoIP Background Noise With SoliCall!

image We can often find ourselves in an environment that is not telephone friendly; noisy conferences, on the boat while at the cottage – think about the noise produced by twin Mercury outboard motors, sporting events, or dare I say it, loud raucous parties.

Background distractions produced by unwanted environmental noises may, at a minimum, be no more than an annoyance, or in more extreme cases can lead to confusion, frustration, misunderstanding, and irritation for both parties to a telephone call. Think about the impact on the listener, while you shout to be heard over background noises.

Often we have limited choices as to when we either make, or take, a telephone call, and circumstances may dictate that we do so despite environmental background noises which are sure to produce some degree of anxiety.

Recently, while using my cell phone I instructed my Broker to sell all my holdings in Chrysler – not hearing me clearly, instead he bought additional shares in Chrysler. I’m only kidding you – but you see the point. Background environmental noise, while using the telephone, has the potential to produce unintended consequences.

There’s a great new solution to this common scenario. SoliCall, a company which specializes in noise reduction, noise cancellation and noise suppression technology has developed a personalized voice filtering solution. This noise reduction software operates as a voice pass filter which can be integrated in any phone system, and in any voice call.

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(Before and after the application of this technology)

This amazing technology – I admit, I’m old enough to still be amazed by unique technology – is based on identifying the voice of the speaker – it does not center on specific noises but only on the user’s voice. To accomplish this, the application records and analyzes a sample of the user’s voice and stores the unique acoustic parameters. The end result is; all other voices, noises and sounds are filtered out.

Unlike some existing voice filtering technologies which rely to some extent on telephone speaker position – physical contact using jaw bone sensors for example – this new technology does not rely on the position of the telephone speaker, with the obvious comfort advantage this entails.

Installation is easy even for a novice computer user, but to ensure seamless installation the company provides a terrific FAQ page, supplemented with an application integration page, which covers more than just the basics.

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Recording telephone calls can often be important for both business and personal reasons, and surprisingly (well I was surprised); the SoliCall program includes the capacity to do so.

With SoliCall’s personalized noise reduction you can now improve voice quality and get rid of those virtually impossible to deal with background distractions, in cell phone, headset, and other telephone calls.

There is an obvious need for this exciting technology, and the number of free downloads thus far (32,000+ at Download.com alone), speaks to this.

Fast facts:

Compatible with all SoftPhones

Compatible with business centers, e.g. Gateways, PBXs and Conference bridges

Improves sound quality on any type of VoIP call, e.g. PC-to-PC, PC-to-Phone

Robust echo cancellation

Transmits only your voice – personalized to your specific voice

Screens all other voices, noises and sounds

Becomes more efficient as it learns

Small 1.23 MB free download

System Requirements: Windows 2000/XP

Download at: Download.com

Please note, that all other products offered by SoliCall, for cell phones and for PBXs (the SDK and the PBXMate), are already in the production phase. In fact, the company recently reported on their signing three international deals in the telecom sector.

Pay a visit to SoliCall’s new Website and checkout their full complement of noise reduction and echo cancellation technologies.

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Filed under Audio Applications, Audio Software, Cell Phone Apps, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Interconnectivity, Mobile Applications, Software, VOIP

SpySkype.C Trojan Wants to Talk to You!

Panda Security’s weekly report on viruses and intruders (1/30/2009) provides details on a recently discovered Skype Trojan classified by Panda as SpySkype.C. The initial objective of this malware is to steal the user’s login details.

According to Panda, the Trojan achieves its ends by convincing the user that a new Skype plug-in, Skype-Defender has been loaded onto the potential victim’s computer. As is common with this type of parasite, user action is then required to complete the infection.

Skype 1

Following the acceptance of the installation of the Trojan, users are instructed to enter their user name and password on a spoofed web page which are then transmitted to the malware’s author.

Skype 2

Luis Corrons, Technical Director of PandaLabs, explains the ultimate objective of the SpySkype.C Trojan is to use the newly infected account to spam the victims Skype contacts through the messaging service. According to Corrons “these messages can include a copy of this malware, or a different example of malware”.

To keep ahead of malware threats, go to Panda Security’s malware information site. For additional information on Skype scams read TechPaul’s Skype — “Windows Requires Immediate Attention”.. Not!

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Filed under Don't Get Hacked, Interconnectivity, Malware Advisories, Skype, trojans, VOIP, Windows Tips and Tools, worms