Feb 9, 2016

Designing Smart Sites for Smartphone Users

Last May, U.S. mobile search queries passed desktop queries for the first time, confirming a long-anticipated trend, according to Google. Smartphone usage grew 394 percent between December 2010 and December 2014, while tablet usage increased 1,721 percent, with the two devices combining to account for 60 percent of time spent on social media, according to comScore.

As the growth of mobile changes the dynamics of Internet access, web design is changing accordingly. Here are some of the design trends that are transforming websites into smart sites for smartphones.

Defining Smart Sites

A smart site is a website midway between a traditional multi-page website and a one-page landing page. A traditional site has multiple pages of content that are accessible by clicking. In contrast, a sales-oriented landing page using a "squeeze page" format employs a single page that is designed to boost sales conversion rates by minimizing options for clicking away from the page. This means the only on-page option is clicking a buy button.

A smart site combines the one-page nature of a landing page with the content-oriented characteristics of a traditional website. The structure of a smart site steers users through a narrative that is digested by scrolling down the page rather than clicking off the page. The story is told visually and emotionally, with the plot guiding the readers toward some desired action at the conclusion. A smart site is also designed to be intuitive. Traditional analytics provide raw numbers from multiple pages that must be analyzed in context to translate results into meaningful performance metrics. In contrast, smart site analytics measure whether or not the site's single-page design achieved its intended goal, using tools such as heat maps, that measure which part of the page drew the reader's activity. Finally, smart sites are designed to work on all devices. Smart sites use responsive designs that adapt to the user's device and screen size in order to provide optimal experience for all users.

Pageless Design

Single-page smart sites use an approach to web design known as pageless design or scroll-oriented design. Pageless design arranges the elements of the site to be read vertically down and across the page in a story sequence that resembles the acts of a play or the chapters of a book. For instance, Driving-Tests.org places its most essential features on a page where the top of the page is dominated by a banner graphic with an image and word balloon arranged in cartoon-style configuration, which is meant to be read from left to right and down. As the reader's eye travels from left to right to follow the word balloon, his or her gaze is guided toward a call-to-action button that invites visitors to take a DMV practice test.

For readers who do not immediately click on the practice test button, the story continues in a second row that reinforces the call to action. All the essential elements of the story are contained on a single page. The site also includes supplementary pages that perform functions such as answering FAQs, illustrating that a pageless design does not have to be literally one page in order to incorporate scrolling-oriented principles. The key feature is that the page design is guided by a scroll-through narrative structure rather than a click-oriented menu structure.

Bounce Rates

Traditionally, analytics tools such as Google Analytics have measured bounce rate in terms of what percentage of visitors left a site after visiting only one page, with a high bounce rate indicating lack of user engagement. But with a one-page site, a user can be engaged even if they only read one page. To factor this in, Around Analytics recommends that one-page sites should define a timeout range, which represents how long a user has to stay on a page in order to be considered engaged. Use Javascript to set up a timeout counter that starts when the page code finishes loading, and execute a Google Analytics event when the timeout expires to let Google know the visitor is not a bounce.

Feb 8, 2016

Get notified via email when your VPN connection drops in Windows

Last Friday I mentioned a tool that lets me kill my Bittorrent client if my private VPN connection drops so the fuzz can't catch me in the act of *gasp* downloading my favorite TV shows. Today I will tell you how you can get notified via email if that connection drops so you know when to check on your media server.

This method is similar to my method for notifying you when someone in Active Directory gets locked out. It uses a PowerShell script and a scheduled task that looks for a specific event in the event log, and when that event happens the script is ran and an email is sent off. You can look at my Active Directory script post to see how to setup the scheduled task. For VPN being dropped, the event you want to use as your trigger is:
Log: System
Source: Rasman
EventID: 20268
You can use the following code and tailor it for your environment:

Save the code as vpnfail.ps1 and you should be good to go.

Obviously the above code is for secure email servers that use TLS encryption over port 587 (Like Gmail does). If you're SMTP server doesn't require it you can remove the SSL options.

You can easily test the script first by running it manually via PowerShell, and then again with your scheduled task by disconnecting from VPN.

Feb 5, 2016

Automatically kill your torrent client when your VPN drops in Windows

Well, it happened again. I received another warning letter from my ISP for downloading one of my favorite TV shows. The really sucky part is that I've been using a VPN service to hide my torrent activities for a while so I shouldn't have been detected.

The problem is that occasionally the VPN connection will drop for some unknown reason. Maybe the issue is with the VPN company, maybe the issue is with my home router, maybe the issue is with my ISP. Who really knows, But the VPN connection will drop. When it drops, I'm exposed!

For a while I tried using the SOCKS5 proxy service my VPN company offers, but for some reason RSS feeds don't work right with that so I had to turn it off in order to get my latest show downloads. When that is off, and the VPN goes down the torrent client keeps running and my real IP address is, once again, exposed!

I decided I needed a kill switch to stop my torrent client from working if the VPN fails for some reason. There are a couple of clients that have that built in. Vuze for example lets you bind to your VPN network interface, and if that connection goes down it stops working. My client of choice, qBittorrent, has this feature too, but in Windows it won't detect my PPP interface for my VPN, so it won't work for me. I don't want to use Vuze because I don't like how it handles RSS feeds.

Well, I found a solution. It's called VPNWatcher!

From TorrentFreak:
VPNWatcher is pretty straightforward. It monitors whether a VPN connection is active, and when it’s not it shuts down uTorrent or any other application it is configured to kill.
When users first start the application they can pick the network interface that matches the VPN (it appears when the VPN connects) and list the applications it has to shut down. The settings can then be saved and the user has the option to run VPNWatcher minimized.
By default the applications VPNWatcher is looking for are uTorrent and Firefox. You can change these applications in the VPNWatcher.exe.config file. I have mine set to look for qbittorrent and it works like a charm.

If for some reason my VPN gets disconnected, qbittorrent is immediately closed down! Boom! No more notices from my ISP!

What do you do to ensure your privacy when your VPN fails? Let us know in the comments!

Jan 20, 2016

Major Linux Exploit Made The News (CVE-2016-0728)

A recently discovered Linux exploit has made the news that has gotten the whole cyber security industry's panties in a bunch. It's been labeled as CVE-2016-0728 and affects every major distribution of Linux including Android and Ubuntu.

From RT:
All PCs, smartphones, and other gadgets running Linux-based systems such as Android are susceptible to extremely intrusive hacks due to a three-year-old flaw that was only discovered on Tuesday. Now the race to patch and secure millions of devices is on.

Discovery of what is identified as CVE-2016-0728 was made by Israeli defense start-up Perception Point. By working with Linux researchers, Perception Point found that by manipulating the central Linux kernel, an app or user could gain unlimited control over the root systems. The problem has existed since Linux version 3.8, which is also present in devices running the Android version KitKat or better, or about two-thirds of all Android products.

The trouble lies in the keyring, part of the kernel that stores sensitive security information like encryption keys. Even built-in or add-on security features like “supervisor mode access prevention” and “supervisor mode execution protection” are still not enough protection to absolutely guarantee against hackers.

A fix is anticipated from top distributors of Linux this week, but it could be months or years before millions of Android handset or embedded device users are squared away, due to the fact their software updates are not prompted automatically. While Perception Point says the sensitivity has yet to be exploited, the risk is still real for now.
If you haven't done it already, we suggest you update your systems as soon as possible!

Dec 21, 2015

High-Tech Holiday Gifts for Fellow Geeks

Getting the right gift for that tech geek in your life can be a challenge. Holiday shopping can get expensive, which is why it's important to shop smart when shopping high-tech — after all, the National Retail Federation recently released a study that found the average American would spend approximately $463 on family members and a whopping $805 total on gifts this holiday season. If you are looking for the perfect gift to give to the tech-obsessed friend or family member this holiday season, here's a look at some of the best high tech gifts out there.

Samsung Gear VR

Powered by Oculus technology, the Samsung Gear VR is an affordable entry point into the world of virtual reality. Compatible with all of the latest Samsung Galaxy line of phones, the Samsung Gear VR has a rapidly expanding selection of games, apps, and virtual experiences all designed specifically for this affordable VR headset. You simply drop your phone into the portable headset, load the app, and begin experiencing 360 degree virtual reality. Proximity and gyrometric sensors in the headset help make the experience feel more immersive, and with a $99.99 price tag it makes the perfect gift for that geek in your life who can't stop talking about the coming VR revolution.

Lenovo Ideapad Y700

Gaming rigs for geeks are often a personal thing, built from cutting edge parts and customized to run high-end games at incredible framerates but all that fails to matter when you are on the road. Enter the Lenovo Ideapad Y700 series of gaming laptops, which allow you to experience immersive high end gaming wherever you might be. Quad-core power from a 6th generation Intel i7 processor gives you the grunt power to run even the most processing-intense modern games while the AMD Radeon R9 M375 2GB graphics card insures that your rig can handle high end graphics without lagging. Finally, thermal cooling systems make sure that your Ideapad doesn't overheat during a long bout of slaying dragons or crawling through the radioactive wasteland. With discounted prices starting as low as $799, the Ideapad Y700 series is an affordable gaming rig for the geek on the go.

Neato Botvac

You may have seen vacuum robots in the past, but they pale in comparison to the automated cleaning beast that is the Botvac. Powered by a lithium ion battery, the Botvac uses real-time object detection technology to scan the floor of your home, build a map, plan a route and then methodically clean — other automatic vacuums simply bump around and scare the cat. Best of all, you can clean anytime and anywhere with the Neato app, which allows you to schedule, start, stop and remote control your Botvac wherever you might be. It even sends notifications to your smartphone. The Botvac can be easily quarantined from any part of your house with a simple boundary marker that you place on the ground that alerts the Botvac that it isn't welcome. Easy to use and program, the Botvac feels less like an RC car and more like a tiny industrious robot for your home.

Dec 17, 2015

Top Five Countries with Highest Percentages of Cybercrime

Often labeled white collar crime, cyber crime takes place in the intangible, online web-scape of the Internet, and is generally related to any activity that breaches or violates the rights or personal information of another online environment member. Since billions of dollars in online transactions take place every day along the path of the World Wide Web, even more so during holiday seasons, it is no surprise that cyber bandits have become all too prevalent in modern life.

Cybercrime is not isolated to one single group, ethnicity, gender or race. These faceless outlaws do not discriminate, and though this is a global problem, some countries are more likely to suffer the wrath of cyber thieves more so than others. So which countries in the world community make the top five list of most likely to be hacked, what kinds of cyber crime are rampant in these nations, and most importantly, what can online community members do to protect themselves and their information while connected to the web?

In the Top 5

Coming in at No. 5 is the country of Brazil. According to Symantec's ranking of the top 20 countries experiencing cybercrime, based on the percentage of malicious computer activity detected in each country and other telling variables, Brazil topped at four percent in the malicious computer activity arena.

Notably, Brazil has more phishing website hosts than any other country in the top five list. These phishing websites obtain and store personal information, making identity theft more likely to occur. To guard against such cyber offenses, online users should not offer up any personal information to any unauthorized webpage, nor should users store and save passwords on their computers.

Sneaking into the No. 4 spot was Great Britain with five percent of the recorded malicious computer activity tracked globally, and Germany, with six percent, settled into the rank of No. 3. Germany is also ranked 12th in 20 in the prevalence of malicious code within their online environments.

Malicious code is computer language designed to steal personal information. This kind of malware snakes its way into users' computers or electronic devices through opening unsolicited emails and clicking suspicious links. Once they have installed, opened and begun to run, this malware transmits your personal information through the open channels of the Internet computers that are normally located thousands of miles away from your location, where your information is stored and later sold to counterfeiters. Protecting against such aggressive violations involves close monitoring of your identity details and setting up credit alerts in case of infraction.

Battle for No. 1

From here the cyber criminals favorite playgrounds become obvious. Jumping up three percent to a total of nine percent malicious computer activity, China slides into the runner-up ranking, and finally, with a whopping 23 percent of recorded cybercrime activity based on percentage of recorded malicious computer activity: The United States of America. Ironically, the U.S. is also ranked No. 1 on the list of countries in which cybercrime originates.

Notice that the list of nations experiencing the highest levels of cybercrime are not third-world countries; these are first-world, wealthy, highly established nations. This just goes to show the undeniable reach of cyber criminals and the great need for protection from white collar crime in the modern age.

Dec 7, 2015

More reliable free alternative to mRemoteNG

I have been using mRemote and mRemoteNG for a long time now. It is just way easier to keep all of your remote server connections in one place if you manage a lot of servers like I do.

Well there has been something with mRemoteNG that has been bothering me since I started to manage more and more Windows 2012 R2 servers, and that's the fact that if you have five RDP connections open you can't open any more to Windows 2012 R2 servers. You can open Microsoft Remote Desktop and connect fine, but it will fail with mRemoteNG and it's a known issue that won't be fixed anytime soon.

Since they aren't fixing it, and people have been bitching since at least 2013, I thought I'd check out a different tool to use instead. I found Terminals!

From their page:
Terminals is a secure, multi tab terminal services/remote desktop client. It uses Terminal Services ActiveX Client (mstscax.dll).

The project started from the need of controlling multiple connections simultaneously. It is a complete replacement for the mstsc.exe (Terminal Services) client.
Here is a list of protocols Terminals supports:
  • Windows Remote Desktop (RDP)
  • VNC
  • VMRC
  • SSH
  • Telnet
  • RAS
  • ICA Citrix
  • HTTP and HTTPS
Here is a screenshot:

I blurred out my connections, but you might be able to see that you can group your connections easily, which was a feature I liked in mRemote as well.

So far, I haven't had any issues with multiple RDP sessions and Windows 2012 R2, So I think I will stick with this for the foreseeable future.

What do you use to manage multiple RDP/SSH etc sessions? Let us know in the comments!

Dec 2, 2015

The Best Features Inside the iPhone 6s

The iPhone 6s has been in stores and online for several months now, so you don't have to wait in line or order one at 12:01 a.m. to get your hands on the world's most popular smartphone. In case you're not up to speed with what Apple improved on the latest generation iPhone, here are the most popular features that set the iPhone 6s apart:

3D Touch

When Apple added Force Touch to its MacBook Pro trackpads earlier this year, experts predicted the same technology would come to the iPhone, and they were right. Like Force Touch for the trackpad, 3D Touch adds an extra dimension to your iPhone's screen by responding to the pressure of each press from your finger or thumb. Tap on the Mail icon and it will open the app. Long-press and it will give you the option to move the icon around your home screen. And now a hard press opens a quick menu outside the app. While Apple launched the iPhone 6s with a myriad of 3D Touch features, it's the developer community that will really make this new technology come to life.

Improved Cameras

Apple is always striving to house the best smartphone camera on the market inside the latest iPhone, and the 6s makes great strides in this area. The newest rear-facing camera captures stunning 12-megapixel photos and can now shoot video in full 4K resolution — a feature more common on a GoPro than a smartphone. The front camera is also beefed up to 5 megapixels, so your selfies can be more vivid than ever. And like the iPhone 6, the Plus version carries a few optical features that the regular 6s does not have.

A9 Processor

The 64-bit A9 processor teams up with the new M9 motion coprocessor to bring speeds 70 to 90 percent faster than the iPhone 6, according to Apple. If all you do is check email and Facebook, you probably won't notice a difference between the 6 and 6s. But if you love the latest mobile games and multitasking apps (which has greatly improved in iOS 9), then this new processor is a treat for your speedy thumbs.

New Materials & Internal Design

The #Bendgate scandal is over. While the outside of the iPhone 6s looks nearly identical to the iPhone 6, the inside features a new architecture made of a higher grade of aluminum and glass that prevents the unfortunate bending in the pocket. You should still use a case, as the iPhone 6s is incredibly thin, but this new structure should save you a trip to the Genius Bar.

Faster Wi-Fi and LTE

You may not think much about the antenna in your phone that affects Wi-Fi and LTE speeds, but Apple is always improving them to speed up your signal and capacity to download data. Depending on your home Internet connection and carrier signal, this might not make any difference. But for some, the new iPhone means faster Internet.

Rose Gold

And, of course, how will anyone know you have the new iPhone if it looks just like the old one? Apple has you covered there, too. The iPhone 6s comes in white, black, gold and now rose gold, which means your iPhone can be both a smartphone and a fashion statement.

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