Category Archives: Microsoft

Skype Collaboration Project, and quick tips to detect Phishing scams

skypeA few days ago I posted a quick post called Free Skype Premium for a year! and I got a few interesting questions about the voracity of the offer.  Some of you were worried that it was a scam, and believe me I am the first person to say you should be skeptical.  However before I posted about it I checked it out.

As one reader noted, the first thing I look at is the domain name.  Behind all of the mess of incomprehensible much, every URL you browse to on the Internet will begin http:// or https:// and will be followed by child domains, sub-domains, and eventually the parent domain – for example I might, if we were larger, have a page with the URL http://we.all.love.mitch.garvis.ca/And?Wish/himAndHisFamily/?Well.  The actual domain is directly to the left of the first (really the third, but I don’t count the two in http://) slash.  So while a phishing scam might use http://24.200.34.12/we.all.love.mitch.garvis.ca/And?Wish/himAndHisFamily/?Well the first slash is after the numbers, which means that it is a scam.

Unless my domain name itself has been compromised – if someone has actually hijacked the DNS (Domain Naming Service) of garvis.ca they cannot create a child domain to it… so they could no easier use http://scam.garvis.ca than I could http://garvis.skype.com.

The link to the Skype offer was https://collaboration.skype.com/promotion/?cm_mmc=AFCJ%7C1250_B1-_-11129583-1225267.  To the left of the first slash is collaboration.skype.com.  This means it came from Skype.

imageNow let’s look at the next objection I got.  ‘This page does not have a Skype logo on it, it doesn’t have Skype’s (or Microsoft’s) branding or look and feel.  That is a big red flag.’

That is something that you would definitely take pause at… the only thing on this page that looks remotely like Skype is the colour they used for the top line.  While this is a good observation, it is something that I throw away when determining the legitimacy of the page.  I have examined hundreds or more phishing schemes and hijacked sites, ranging from banks to credit cards to e-commerce sites to the White House and United States Department of Justice.  No matter how good the look and feel might be, they cannot get beyond the technical – if the domain name is right, then either the domain itself has been compromised… or it’s legitimate.  In truth, most phishing scammers spend more time on look and feel because they understand that most of us would look for that first… if they wanted to hijack your Skype password, they would spend the time to make the site look legitimate, including the colour scheme and logo.

The next concern was that we entered our e-mail address, ticked the appropriate box, and clicked on SEND… and nothing happened.  We didn’t get an e-mail right away (or even ten minutes later) as we were promised.  Actually we were not promised that… we were told to ‘Look out for the voucher codes coming to your inbox in the next 48 hours…’  Well most of us are not that patient, and we assume that while some sites do claim it will take that long, we should really be getting something in the next fifteen minutes.

We shouldn’t be so impatient… especially when out of the blue someone offers us something for free.  In fact, I posted the article just after 1:00am on December 18th (EDT) and received the e-mail at 10:27am on December 20th (EDT)… so in fact it was closer to 58 hours than 48.  Okay, no problem… It was later than they promised, but it came.  Thank you Skype for giving me a free service that I will absolutely use, and I forgive your slight tardiness Smile.

image

imageAs I had been promised in the original invite, I saw this screen – my vouched was successfully redeemed.  However it did say that it would take no more than 15 minutes, so it could still be a scam, right?  Well a few seconds later the bottom-right corner of my screen popped up with this Notification… and I knew I had gotten what I asked for.  Thank you Skype, I will use the Premium services well!

Free Skype Premium for a year!

It looks like this is legitimate, although I will keep an eye out and let you know immediately if it isn’t.  Microsoft is giving away Skype Premium for a year.  Simply submit your e-mail address, and you will receive a code.  Click on the link for more info!

http://microsoft-news.com/get-premium-skype-features-free-for-one-year/

Thanks for your support!

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

Over the past few days I have received an incredible number of you asking what happened, if I am okay, and if I will be alright.  I can assure you I am.  Let me explain.

A great many of you have known me as a Microsoft contractor.  I have been for quite some time, first as a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor, then as a Virtual Technical Evangelist, and most recently as a member of the Server and Tools Business.  So when e-mails to my @microsoft.com account started to bounce (Tuesday this week) a lot of people expressed their concern.  I am quite touched by the outpouring of support!

I have always contracted to Microsoft through its Canadian subsidiary, Microsoft Canada.  In September of this year I accepted a contract with Rakuten, Inc – a Japanese company – that would see me spending most of my time in Tokyo.  Although we tried, there was no good way for Microsoft Canada to keep me on.  It was not done maliciously – in fact, my skip-level (my manager’s manager) did everything he could to a) keep me on, b) communicate the issues with me, and then c) accommodate my request for a timeline extension.

So let me answer some of the ‘Best Of’ questions… the ones that seem to be coing up most often.

1. Did your decision to leave Microsoft have to do with being turned down for a particular position?

No. Although over the past year I have indeed been turned down for a position, it has worked out very well for me in almost every way imaginable.  While taking that role would have been good for me, I have been able to grow in the direction I have wanted to grow.  Because of my independence I have been able to accept the consulting project I am currently working on, which is one of the mot exciting projects I have worked on in years.

2. Did you leave Microsoft because of a disagreement?

No… and yes.  I suppose in the end we disagreed on geography – my consulting role needed me to be in Japan, and Microsoft Canada would have needed me to be in Canada.  Other than that there was no disagreement whatsoever.

3. Did you leave because you did not like the direction in which the company was heading?

Not at all.  In the army I topped out at Staff Sergeant, and as such I learned quickly that some things were above my pay grade.  At Microsoft that was the case as well – I know that a lot of things are out of my control, but I also knew that whatever direction the company would take, my position (should I have elected to keep it) was safe.  Whatever decisions the company made, as a VMware Compete expert I was reasonably safe :)

4. Do you feel any disdain toward Microsoft, Microsoft Canada, or anyone you worked for or with?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.  I loved working there, and while I may have had the occasional issue with someone they were always resolved.

5. Did you leave Microsoft to work with competing technologies?

NO.  Although over the past couple of weeks I have made a habit to wear my non-Microsoft branded shirts more than usual, I have not ‘gone over’ to any other competing technology.  With that being said, I am carrying an iPhone now not because I left Microsoft… because Windows Phone 8 is not available in Japan, and this is what the company I am working for gave me.

6. Will you be going back to Microsoft?

That is a very good question. What I once thought of as my dream job no longer holds the same appeal to me.  With that being said, there are a lot of jobs at Microsoft, and should the right opportunity present itself I would be glad to go back, either for the right contract or for the right full time position.  However one thing is for certain: I no longer view Microsoft as the Holy Grail of companies.  I think they are a great company to work for, but there are a lot of other great companies out there.

7. What will you miss most about it?

I had to give this question a little thought.  My first knee-jerk reaction was the people, but then I realized that the people I got to know are still there, and are still available to me.  I am still a Microsoft MVP, a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and an influencer.  My friends are still my friends.  When it comes down to it, I suppose what I will miss most is having Lync… having the ability to call my family from Japan was a great tool!

8. Any regrets?

None at all… for the remainder of my time in Japan I will continue to work closely with Microsoft, but not with the Canadian team.  It is a really exciting project, and I would not trade it for anything.

I want to thank you all again for your concern and support, and hope to be able to continue working with you in the future!

Exchange Issues with iOS 6.1

There has been a lot of chatter over the last few days about the most recent update to the iPhone’s iOS 6.1.

I have been saying for years that Patch Management is one of the most critical steps to protecting your infrastructure, both on the server-side and on the client-side.  However I have also stated that before implementing any patch the IT department should be testing it to make sure that it does not do more harm than good.  Of course, vendors do not release patches that they are not confident with, but they do not always test them in every scenario.

One of the common scenarios we see with the iPhone is with it being connected to an Exchange Server for its mail and such, whether that Exchange Server belongs to the organization or a public cloud solution such as Office 365.  While it works and it fully supported by Microsoft, it is not a scenario that Apple seems to test extensively for.  And so, with this most recent patch, there are issues (excessive logging causing enterprise-wide issues for all users).

It is the very reason that I have always advocated maintaining a lab environment that mirrors your production environment, and testing patches in that setting before approving them for your organization.  However with the iPhone being an unmanaged device end-users are prompted to apply their own patches without waiting for approval from the IT department.

And so this past weekend following this patch release mail server administrators around the world were scrambling to find a solution to the problem.  Unfortunately for many the immediate solution was to block iPhones from syncing to the mail servers until Apple releases a new patch.  I expect this will not make a lot of people happy, but in this case iPhones really are bringing down entire mail server farms.

With Windows Intune and System Center 2012 Configuration Manager there should be a solution to this, although I have not had the opportunity to test it yet.  The latest version of Intune (commonly known as Wave D) allows the management of iPhone and Android devices, and just may allow the IT department to regain control of patch management, preventing such issues going forward.

My friend and fellow Microsoft MVP from Israel.  He is a Microsoft Infrastructure Practice Manager at Ankor Computing Infrastructures, a leading Integration company in Israel.  Although his award category is the same as mine (Windows Expert-IT Pro) he is an expert in several technologies, including Exchange Server.  In 2011 he wrote an excellent paper on P2V Migration for Microsoft Exchange Servers that I published on this blog.  He has written a very interesting white paper about this recent issue, including solutions and workarounds.  You can download his paper by clicking here.

The Microsoft Store: The place to be this week-end

WP_000870If you are in or around the Greater Toronto Area this week-end then there is no better place to be than the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall.

The first international store and the largest in the chain, the opening of Microsoft’s newest retail store can only be descried as a huge success, with literally hundreds of people lined up hours in advance to get their first glimpse of the retail marvel.

Microsoft Canada president Max Long was joined by Tami Reller, Corporate Vice President and CFO of Microsoft’s Windows Division were on hand to open the store with a crowd of 700 onlookers.  They did not only welcome the crowd and talk about the store, they also announced that Microsoft Canada was making a new donation of $1.500,000 to local charities – presented by store manager Alison Evans.

When the curtain dropped the entire staff was leading the cheers, and then lined up to form a passageway into the store where they high-fived the first visitors.  By the time this VIP got in the door (in the first minute) the store was already bustling with activity, a level that has hardly abated at all thus far.

I spoke to a lot of people lined up and they were all here for different reasons – deals on new hardware, Xbox and laptops and accessories… but the two things that drew the most people were the Microsoft Surface and the new Windows Phone 8 devices.

While the Surface has been available since the launch of Windows 8 on October 26th, the only place you were able to see it in Toronto was at the pop-up retail kiosk in the Eaton Centre.  Now that the full retail store is open there are dozens of Surfaces everywhere, as well as Sony, Acer, Asus, Dell Samsung devices ranging in size from 9" ultrabooks and tablets to 27" all-in-one machines.

The greatest thing about the store in my opinion is that the display machines are all available for visitors to try out — as I write this article from a handy Sony Vaio T, complete with multi-touch sreen and reasonably priced at $899.  They are all internet-connected, and nobody is telling visitors not to touch, try, and in the Xbox corner play.  It is a great hands-on experience, and the store associates are as welcoming and helpful as I have ever seen.

In the Windows Phone corner there are representatives not only from a couple of the local carriers but also from the manufacturers as well.  Although the platform released October 26th, this is the first time I have even seen the devices outside the Microsoft offices.

Everywhere you look people of all ages and knowledge levels are asking questions, learning, and trying out great devices.  Of course every PC is running Windows 8, so it is a great opportunity for people to get their first glimpse of Microsoft’s flagship product, barely three weeks old.

In the back of the store there is an area called the theatre where during the regular hours people can play on the Xbox connected to an incredible 103" touch screen.  This afternoon (and tomorrow and Sunday) the Microsoft MVPs are taking over – we will be presenting sessions every hour on topic including Windows 8, Office 2013, Office 365, Xbox, and of course Windows Phone 8.  I have several sessions over the course of the week-end, but am more interested to sit in and listen to what my fellow enthusiasts have to say (I usually know what I am going to say so I am seldom surprised).

It is definitely the place to be this week-end.  Even though the initial ‘line up and wait’ is over, the store has been consistently hopping since it opened, with no signs of slowing down.  I spoke with several members of the management team who are all pleased by the turnout.  Alison Evans, the store manager, told me she is ‘ecstatic about the turnout.’

To make things even hotter, there will be an exclusive concert with the band Train tomorrow evening, and store staff are handing out wristband passes to the lucky few; and this afternoon The Great One – Number 99 himself – Wayne Gretzky will be in the store, and people will be lined up to meet him, get autographs, and get the chance to play Kinect games with him!

So if you haven’t come down yet what is stopping you?  Trust me, you will not be disappointed… your only regret will be if you do NOT come down!

The Shoemaker is No Longer Barefoot!

This post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection blog, and can be seen there at http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro/archive/2012/09/13/the-shoemaker-is-no-longer-barefoot.aspx.

For years I have been espousing the need to and value of locking down client workstations in a corporate environment.  Part of the SWMI Story – the secure, well-managed IT infrastructure for which I named my company – is that every user in the organization should have the rights and permissions to do their job… and nothing more.

Most corporate users are issued a computer that they use in the office (and at home or on the road) that are domain-joined, and because of all of the security threats out there the SWMI Story is very clear that they should be locked down.  If they want a computer to surf websites that are not business-related, play games, watch movies or anything else then they should invest in a home computer (or laptop).  I know that it is not fun to travel with multiple laptops (better than most!) but the bottom line is that unsecure client workstations are a stepping stone on the path to compromised server infrastructures… and that is bad news for everyone but the hackers.

One of the reasons that client machines have to be locked down is because most people do not think about IT security during the course of regular computer use.  Because I am always thinking about security, coupled with the fact that if something goes wrong I am pretty good at fixing it, I have been quite lax with my own laptops over the years.  After all, I own them and the servers; I built and maintain the infrastructure, and of course I am in charge of IT security.  So for the last few years, as I have been advocating otherwise, I have been logging on as the Domain Administrator on every laptop I have carried.

Last week I joined Microsoft Canada’s DPE Team as a Virtual Technical Evangelist.  Although it wasn’t actually a requirement, there were real advantages to reimaging my primary laptop (an HP EliteBook 2740p) with the Microsoft corporate image.  I was all happy once it was done… until I went to perform a simple operation and got a UAC window asking me for administrative credentials.  I entered my corporate credentials… and had a sinking feeling in my stomach when it came back with a DENIED message.

Fortunately the internal image allows you to install Windows with a local Administrator account; I was able to add my corporate account to the Local Administrators group so I don’t have to keep going into that account to make changes.

For the first time in many years I am not an exception to the rule… and rather than trying to find a way around it, I accept that while I need to be a local administrator, there is no way that anyone is going to make me a domain admin.  However this means that I am exactly in line with the statement I made in the opening paragraph… I have the permissions to do my job, and nothing else.  In order to do my job I need to be a local administrator… and nothing more!

The Dawn of a New Day

As I sit in my office getting ready to close up, it is a little after 10pm, September 3rd, 2012.  That makes tomorrow a very important day in the world of IT.

Microsoft has announced that on September 4th, 2012 they will make Windows Server 2012, the newest generation of one of the most successful back-end software franchises in the world, available for purchase – in other words, GA (General Availability).  For those of us on the front line evangelizing the product, it is a very exciting time.

For myself it is doubly exciting, because as of September 4th, 2012 I am officially joining the Evangelism team at Microsoft Canada – albeit in a less direct way.  My new title is Virtual Technical Evangelist – Windows Infrastructure.  I have known about this for some time but have kept it quiet for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is superstition.

For the last year I have begun to work much closer with the Evangelism team, with presentations, tours, and blog articles on Server Virtualization, Windows, and many other topics.  I have surprised many people in the last few months when I told them that I do not actually work for Microsoft Canada, but with them.  My new title simply means that I will be doing more of the same – teaching people and groups about Windows (Server and Client), helping them dispel some of the myths, showing them how to use the technologies better.

It is a very exciting time to be a Technical Evangelist.

Because of the switch I want to put a few things straight.  Very little is actually going to change.  I will still be running SWMI Consulting Group, and will still be available for private engagements.  I will continue teaching both Microsoft and some non-Microsoft technologies in classroom settings.  I have spoken with Stephen Rose and Simran Chaudhry, and have assured them that I will still be a Microsoft MVP, and will continue to be an active member of the STEP (Springboard Technical Experts Panel) team, presenting on Windows 8 across the country and, when invited, around the world.  None of that is changing.

Something else that is not changing is probably what makes me the ideal candidate for this new (I am the first!) position: my passions.  If you have heard me speak or read my articles you know a lot of what I am passionate about, and none of that is changing.  I am still a passionate advocate of Hyper-V and the Microsoft Virtualization story, including the Private Cloud managed by System Center 2012.  I am still a passionate advocate of migrating clients and users off Windows XP, and will continue the countdown right through April 14, 2014 (by the time you read this the countdown will be to 580 days until #EndOfDaysXP!).  You can read it on my blog from time to time, or if you want a running countdown you can follow me on Twitter at @MGarvis.  These passions and focuses are not being redirected because of the position I am taking, rather I was selected for the position because my passions and focuses are exactly where a Technical Evangelist (Virtual or otherwise) for Microsoft should be.  I have not focused because I have been paid to.

Another passion of mine that will align me to the role is my passion and belief in the IT Pro (and other) technical communities around the country.  I will continue to support those communities – whether they are on-line or in person, user groups or otherwise – in the same manner and with the same passionate zeal that I have in the past, dating back nearly nine years.  I hope that going forward I will be able to do so from a more official position than I have, but even if that does not happen my support for user groups and their leaders (and aspiring leaders) will not change.

Over the next few weeks we will be crossing the nation with the launch of Windows Server 2012, and following that we will likely do the same with Windows 8.  Interspersed with both we will be bringing IT Boot Camps and user group events to you in your city, so stay tuned;  it may be an exciting time to be a Virtual Technical Evangelist, but it is a really exciting time to be an IT Pro and community member in the Microsoft ecosystem in Canada.  We look forward to helping you along the journey!