Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Barb Bowman - Internationally Acknowledged Home Networking and Device Authority; Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) - Windows Networking and Windows XP Media Center
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Barb Bowman.
"Technology enhances the quality of life through the ability to share, store and access data, and in particular in how it allows us to communicate with friends and family."
Technology-savvy baby boomer Barb Bowman was one of the first people to become an expert in wireless technologies. Her job with a national cable company allows her to stay on top of the latest technologies in the broadband industry and as a consumer of varied technologies, she subscribes to RSS feeds that keep her tuned in and on top of developments in multiple fields. She shares her expertise voluntarily for two to three hours daily online. She advises consumers and industry experts on Windows® networking and Windows XP Media Center.
She provides insight into connected home technologies, devices and products on blogs, in articles published on the Microsoft Corp. Web site and in Microsoft® chat rooms. In addition to having participated in beta testing Windows Vista™, Bowman presents webcasts on the Windows Vista hardware ecosystem on the Windows Vista community site, as a companion piece building on a Windows Vista Community Column.
Bowman recognizes that her involvement with the international technical community will prove to be valuable in the future. She gained insight into what's next in wireless trends at the 2007 Microsoft MVP Global Summit and she is already planning for the next products she can beta test.
The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
Opening Comment: Barb, you are well known internationally for making continuing and many significant contributions to the industry and profession over a sustained career of considerable achievement. Your schedule is particularly tight due to the high demand for your widely acknowledged elite expertise. We thank you for taking the time to share your talent, deep insights, and experiences with our audience.
A: My pleasure. Our connected world has certainly changed rapidly, especially in the past 5 years. Staying on top of emerging technology in the WiFi Connected Home space has been both exciting and rewarding.
Q1: From the more than 3500 ICT professionals worldwide nominated and selected for their outstanding technology/community contributions as Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) from 90+ countries and in more than 90 technologies, five MVPs were specially chosen to be profiled with Chairman Gates, VP Kaplan, and GM O'Driscoll in the MVP virtual pressroom, for the invitation-only 2007 MVP Global Summit in March 2007 (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/mvpsummit/default.mspx). You are quite unique amongst this group of five. Congratulations on this honour!
A: Thanks. My vision is a broad one of technology transparently and seamlessly enabling consumers to communicate, share, and enjoy the benefits of a networked world in a safe and secure connected environment. Starting with the basic wired/wireless home network is only the beginning. Keeping it safe and secure is something the industry has only just begun to address in the residential space and I am hopeful that my knowledge and evangelism (directed at the manufacturers of residential networking hardware) in this arena has had an impact. With a secure and safe home network, adding computers and consumer electronics components, gaming consoles, televisions, digital picture frames, wireless media players and many other devices has allowed me to enjoy cross competencies within Microsoft's MVP program and no doubt was the reason I was selected. In a sense, I've established relationships within Microsoft groups on both the hardware partner side and of course the end user side. I've been fortunate to have been involved in the pre-release cycles of some pretty exciting hardware and software for several years.
Q2: How did you originally get involved in technology?
A: As a young 5th grader I started becoming interested in math, science, and technology. My parents saw to it that I had science kits and challenges. I'm sure that my upbringing and environment contributed greatly. My father owned a radio station and I was interested in some of the engineering aspects.
After college, I spent some time working for a winter recreation/engineering consulting company. The president of the company ordered an IBM "Mag Card" typewriter and I became interested in the technology. I ended up sitting down with some folks from IBM and working out some advanced ideas. Also I became involved with one of the first trials of fax machines (the old cylindrical slow equipment).
Fast forward to a 13+ year career in a design related industry where I was partially responsible for getting the US and UK wallpaper industry to adopt fax technology as well as the Customs Brokers and U.S. Customs office in Boston. Fast forward to the mid-80's when I bought my first computer and was immediately hooked.
Q3: You have a history with wireless. What best practices would you like to share?
A: More and more people are running secure wireless networks at home but totally neglect the very real risks when they travel (or even visit a local Starbucks) and use wireless networks. I'd like to share some recommendations on bolstering security in these environments. If you travel with a laptop and connect wirelessly, you need to take extra precautions. Most public wireless providers and hot spots use no security at all. Everything you send and receive is sent in the clear with no encryption.
- If you use a VPN connection to your office, you will have the protection of an encrypted tunnel.
If you can't use a VPN tunnel to your office, consider using a Remote Desktop connection to a computer you've left running at home. You can use Vista Ultimate or Business (32 or 64 bit), Windows XP Professional, Media Center Edition or Tablet PC Edition as a Remote Desktop host machine but not Vista Home Premium or Basic and Windows XP Home. Vista Home Premium, Vista Basic, and Windows XP Home, however, can be used as the remote client.
- If you are going to do this, you really want to use a router/gateway (and honestly, you don't ever want to connect a computer directly to a broadband modem). You'll need to forward port 3389 to this computer (see the router docs). To make this easy to do, get yourself a free domain on www.dyndns.com and get a router that has easy transparent support for DYNDNS.
For details on using dyndns, see:
http://www.dyndns.com/services/dns/dyndns/howto.html and http://www.dyndns.com/services/dns/dyndns/
- When connecting to a new public network (hotels, municipal, etc.) be sure to specify Public when prompted on any version of Windows Vista.
- Configure the Vista or Windows XP SP2 Firewall to be on with no exceptions. Vista users should also turn off all file and print sharing in the Network and Sharing Center window. If you are using Windows XP Home edition, turn off file and print sharing on your laptop when you travel. If you are using any other version of Windows XP, turn off Simple File Sharing.
- Don't visit any website or use any program that lets you send passwords, account numbers or other sensitive information in the clear. Use SSL connections for email. If you don't know how to configure Outlook Express or other email client for SSL or if your ISP does not support this, it is probably your ISP has a secure SSL based webmail application that you can use. If in doubt and there is a choice for secure or encrypted versus normal or non secure, always select the secure version. SSL sites normally have URL's that begin with https://
- Use online banking with care. Most banks offer SSL online access. Read the fine print carefully.
- Only use online merchants who provide a secure SSL site. Internet Explorer and most other browsers will display a padlock icon on the bottom status bar when accessing a SSL secured site.
Q4: Describe your five top challenges and their solutions?
- Moving consumers off existing wireless home networks that use old WEP only technology or no security at all to WPA or WPA2.
- Residential users are networking two or more computers at a rapid pace. Consumers are not replacing older routers or updating firmware to provide the security they need. Educating consumers through articles, webcasts, newsgroups and all available forums is one avenue.
- Educating everyone on the real risks of public wireless networks.
-I've detailed solutions above in best practices, but additionally:
Convincing providers of public networks to post similar advice will do much to educate wireless users. Similarly, financial institutions and online commerce web sites need to post similar warnings.
- Old hardware and technology that does not support WPA including old operating systems. It's a fact of life that old computers are passed down to kids and there are first and second gen devices on home networks that support only WEP. At the same time, the head of household has a state of the art computer online with sensitive personal data in shared folders with incredibly weak passwords like 1234.
-Obvious hardware solutions (attaching a wireless gaming adapter to the wired Ethernet port on a device that isn't upgradeable) require money that the home user isn't willing to spend.
-Educating home users on security.
- Residential home networking wireless routers (usually the entry level gear that is heavily discounted) that ship with no wireless security and allow configuration over a wireless interface coupled with a default known username and password for admin access.
-Vendors need to modify their defaults and at the same time, a really universal and transparent way for anyone to setup a new wireless network need to be universally adopted. Microsoft has made huge steps in this area with Windows Rally technologies, but these need to be widely adopted by all vendors and consumer electronics manufacturers and Microsoft needs to backport them completely to older supported operating systems. Other OSes need to include compatible technology.
- ISP's who insist on deploying their old lagging edge wireless routers with weak security as part of a standard install.
-Some of the equipment the DSL providers and even some cable providers are installing are appalling behind the curve in security and functionality. It's a real problem to replace or update the firmware in many of these. There's no easy solution here other than to implement an evergreen contract replacement policy that will cost both the consumer and the provider.
Q5: Describe your role as an MVP and your areas of expertise.
A: I consider myself a "Connected Home" MVP. My award is for Windows Networking and my area is wireless and devices. I'm also a "secondary" in Media Center, MS Hardware, and at one point was asked to be a Smart Display (RDP technology over wireless) MVP. The Smart Display technology actually morphed into Media Center Extender technology and I'm active in the Media Center networking area as well as CableCARD/Digital Cable Tuner setup. I've been writing columns on various technologies under these umbrellas for Microsoft's Expert Zone and Vista Community as well as presenting webcasts for Microsoft covering these residential technologies.
Q6: What top five, highly desired tips can you share from your areas of MVP specialty?
- While in airports, be on the lookout for spoofed public providers. Never, never connect to an Ad Hoc network (turn off ad hoc networking if possible) and be wary of SSID's that look similar to national public providers. For example, Wayport vs. _Wayport_ where the latter could be a spoofed AP.
- Don't use personally identifiable information as WPA/WPA2 Personal passphrases and don't use easy to guess words. Use something random that includes alpha-numeric-characters. The only way to hack WPA/2 Personal is by dictionary attack.
- Change the default SSID on your wireless router. Don't use Linksys/Default/Netgear and don't use anything personally identifiable. Be sure to setup a strong password for your wireless router.
- If possible, turn off the ability to configure your home wireless router USING wireless. Force any changes to be done using a computer connected via wired Ethernet TO that router.
- Many people are having connectivity issues with wireless routers and Vista. Use the IGD tool at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/using/tools/igd/default.mspx to test your router. And check with your vendor for the most recent firmware and apply it before running the test.
Q7: What are the five critical issues facing organizations today?
A: Speaking for myself and not for my employer:
- Rogue wireless access points in or near the workplace
- The variety of consumer mp3 players, pda's, external USB flash keys/hard drives etc. that can also store data and can be connected to corporate computers that can be lost/used elsewhere.
- Laptop theft
- Data and IP theft by disgruntled/departing employees
- Allowing visitors Internet access without compromising corp networks
Q8: How can ICT professionals get involved in making a difference and how can they make contributions?
A: The biggest need (if it isn't obvious from my responses) is education and awareness in the residential space of safety and security for residential wireless home networks. If professionals in various positions within the tech sector can become more involved in neighborhood (even casual awareness and conversation helps) and by speaking in schools, the foundations of sound and safe computing can spread. (I've done this by engaging local teachers and asking for opportunities to speak to school computer classes and clubs.)
Offer to speak to scouting groups, boys and girls clubs. See if your local newspaper or radio/TV station has a technology reporter that wants to interview you or use you as a resource.
Q9: Make your ten predictions for the future-no boundaries or topic limits here…
A: This may be more of a wish list then prediction based and a dream sequence, but:
- Biometrics will be the primary means of authentication.
- Voice/voiceprint recognition enabled technology will unlock doors, provide in home automation and more.
- Everyone will be issued a permanent IP address (IPv6 perhaps) at birth that will be theirs for a lifetime and totally portable.
- Bionic limbs will become a reality.
- Technology will overcome global warming.
- All unused computer cycles globally will be universally available for medical research and development.
- We will discover a self-renewing completely safe form of energy.
- Basic Internet access will be globally available without cost with the arrival of "Internet 2.0".
- We will solve the Digital Rights Management dilemma and Intellectual Property protection problem with technology that is totally transparent and non-confrontational.
- The existing body of great literature and art will be digitized in a free, universally available electronic library.
Q10: Which are your top recommended resources?
A: Not in any order, but:
- If you're looking for unbiased commentary and advice and had to pick a blog to read, George Ou is even handed (and understands the WiFi arena perfectly. http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/
- Current info for non-engineers on what's happening with 802.11/WiFi (http://www.wi-fiplanet.com/)
- CERT's Home Network Center http://www.cert.org/tech_tips/home_networks.html
- Joe Davie's Cable Guy articles http://www.microsoft.com/technet/community/columns/cableguy/about.mspx
- Home Networking Product Reviews http://www.practicallynetworked.com/
Q11: Provide commentary on three topics of your choosing.
Topic 1: Purchasing Your First Home Networking Router
Brick and Mortar stores want to see you what they have on their shelves and what gives them the most profit. Typical store personnel have very little product knowledge or know much at all about home networking. If you must buy at a brick and mortar retail store, try to bring someone more knowledgeable with you. Research products on the web before you purchase. Check dslreports.com for known problems and also check the groups dedicated to various ISPs.
Topic 2: Shared Family Computers, Safety and Security
If you don't already have a home network and a router, chances are good you have a single shared family computer connected to a broadband modem. Even if you don't have wireless networking and even if you just own a single wired computer, it's advisable to buy a router and place it between your computer and the broadband modem. Even a cheap wired only router will do. Most have a built in hardware firewall and NAT will give you an extra cushion by not exposing you directly to the Internet. ISPs are still installing directly to a computer. Most offer downloadable anti virus programs and firewalls. Maybe the tech installed this add-on software, maybe not. Or maybe your 13 year old disabled the AV because it was slowing down gaming responses and maybe he/she turned off all firewalls because of similar reasons. I've got neighbors surrounding me that are all were this situation. I've made it a point to educate them. I wish more people would follow my lead here. Those of us who know the dangers need to be the educators because the ISPs are not doing this and should be.
Topic 3: Data Backup for Home Users
This rarely happens. Home users don't think about data backup until disaster strikes. Gone are 3 years worth of digital images of your firstborn child. Your personal email is wiped out and you've lost all financial info you were storing in Quicken or MS Money. And all that digital info you had accumulated in Family Tree Maker after painstakingly building a family tree is gone. Sure, some programs now offer online backup and backup to writable CD/DVD but how many people actually take advantage of these tools. Pitifully few. Windows Home Server is coming soon. This may be the answer for some, but for many, it will involve getting and setting up a router and a network. And it may be in itself, the best reason FOR setting up that first home network.
Closing Comment: Barb, we thank you for sharing your time with us and we wish you continued success for the future.
A: I'm sure that my little niche is somewhat different than the IT/Enterprise oriented technologist, but I hope I've shared some insight into the state of the residential home user space that has been helpful. Thanks for the opportunity.