Editorial – June 2019: A taste of Internet vulnerability.

Hello everyone

On the 12 May 2019, the year given for posterity and in case you’re reading this editorial much later, Outlook/Hotmail failed to send out messages but did receive them. I did all the standard checks from making sure the router was getting a clear signal by turning it on & off and even rebooted the laptop in case its wi-fi software was playing up. After an Internet speed test showed that was all right, I realised I was having a serious problem with communicating with anyone on the Internet. A check with my back-up computer and had a similar problem, I realised it wasn’t any problem with my computers which did bring a big sigh of relief. Even so, it also meant I was literally cut-off from sending messages on the Internet and that is a very powerful vulnerability issue no matter who your email server is or the device you are using. Oddly, the SFC newsletter arrived so I knew it wasn’t affecting everyone on-line using the same email server.

A side-step here. When Windows updates are issued, they are not all done at the same time but in cluster groups. That is, a chunk of users are done at a time or else you would have everyone using the likes of Windows 10 waiting a few hours for an upgrade to be completed and twiddling your thumbs in case doing anything else with your computer at the same time would slow it down or worse, not being saved properly before an enforced reboot. The latter can happen as much as being given the option to choose when to reboot.

Of course, I sent out a help message via its help screen but depending on traffic that can still take time and there’s no indication if I was the only on or how big the cluster group is. I wasn’t even sure if that would get through. Then again, if people with the problem can’t communicate it out, how does it become a news item to tell anyone else? News relies on communication.

Well, maybe easier for those with multiple email addresses on different servers and how many do that? They probably wouldn’t even see it as a fault. Just because you might have social media accounts as well doesn’t change things. It takes time for messages even that way to circulate to ever bigger numbers of people and, by then, the problem gets resolved and you have to send out that message so people might not even bother so why bother to worry about it? Who wants to become a boy/girl/biped who cries wolf? You see the problem? Many people only use the ‘free’ email addresses they get from their Internet providers rather than have an independent email address that doesn’t have to change every time you switch servers. In some respects because they have fewer customers and smaller tech working team, a glitch there can have serious repercussions.

Anyway, while I was waiting, I did some checks of my own. Had one of the ‘Settings’ controls been activated accidentally? That’s less likely to happen these days but you still have to be careful with pressing ‘Ctrl’ with letter combinations but it can happen. I even tried ‘outlook /safe’ in case Windows 10 thought Outlook was ‘hostile’. The options were getting limited as to what else to try from my end.

All that was left was to hope someone in the Help headquarters would get enough queries to realise there was a common problem and realise there was something that could be done right away. Just because one computer system is safe, if doesn’t mean the rest ar. After all, it looked like it was a menu line fault that turned off most of its controls beyond sending out emails than just the ‘Send’ button. Always a good point to remember to try adjacent control buttons in case they have a similar problem. A spread out of that correction and everything back to normal. Just a question of when and hoped it didn’t run into Monday.

Fortunately, it clicked back on late Sunday evening and a couple message out to check it was working. Hopefully, the remedy would be installed with any other Outlook updates.

The IT Crowd: The Internet Is Coming (special).
The IT Crowd: The Internet Is Coming.

Interestingly, I got a reply from the ‘Help’ people on Thursday explaining they had a glitch that weekend that affected some of us and that had been remedied. I did suggest back that they needed some kind of protocol to email out if something like that ever happened again so the people affected would know something was being done to remedy the situation from their end. It’s either that or having a lot of confused people wondering if they ought to find another email server.

The wider implication of this is that if whatever caused this happened to one email server, then it could happen to the rest out there that people use. We rely on the Internet so much for passing messages that if you were suddenly cut-off, you suddenly realise how vulnerable you are. Hopefully, this was only a software glitch that was repaired but a serious hack across the board would seriously be dangerous and even longer to fix so never be afraid to back down from updates because much of the time they are security upgrades.

Remember, objectively, this kind of thing could happen to any email server. This appears to be a standard glitch but a deliberate hack across the board and the ability to communicate across the Net could effectively paralyse everyone who sees this as their medium of communication across the world.

Programmers at these various websites really do need to do more thorough tests before letting loose updates on-line, especially in the communication medium. Certainly using a ‘cold’ computer not already using the software/website would make more sense than one already having it already there as part of the tests just in case any residue programming is still in memory might help. It’s amazing how much is kept in regularly used computers that gets over-looked that could influence things that they think are all right.

Equally, there should be announcements sent explaining an upgrade is happening and for what. It isn’t as though they don’t have your email address after all. It doesn’t necessarily need a fully detailed account of what it’s all about but it is good manners as well as leaving a call note if you spot any problems to let them know. After all, ultimately, we are the final testers.

Thank you, take care, good night and you did receive this message all right, didn’t you?

Geoff Willmetts

editor: www.SFCrowsnest.info

A Zen thought: Never put off something you could do today when you can do it today.

What Qualities Does A Geek Have: To not only read instructions but apply them to ensure they work.

The Reveal: If your Windows 10 is taking its time getting out of sleep mode, press the ‘Windows’ button and ‘X’ on your keyboard to speed things up. I wasn’t sure myself when I read that but it does appear to work, although I added the space bar, other keys are available.

Computer Observation: Thinking further about last month’s editorial, how many people play with your computers in isolation, which is one of the ingredients that can lead to becoming a geek. However, put your hands down if you’re regularly on social media? There you see the problem. I’m not saying you shouldn’t network, just the lack of social communication that helps develop individualism also makes us geeky.

Observation: The 1976 film ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ brings up some confusing contradictions. If their alien world is so devoid of water, how can it create propellant without some knowledge of hydrolysis which is the principle way to get hydrogen for part of its fuel, even if it’s combined into other compounds.

Computer Observation: If your USB port won’t recognise something like a scanner or printer, simply reboot with them plugged in and they should then be recognised. If that fails, remove the device in ‘Printers And Devices’ and reboot with it connected and let W10 find it again, that way all your software settings will be preserved so don’t delete the software as that tends not to be where the problem lies unless there was a faulty update.

Observation: Looking at the Legion Of Super-Heroes member Ferro Lad who never took off his mask, at least in public, there remains a burning question: How did he eat? Of course, he had to eat but I suspect the Legion canteen never had him as a diner.

Observation: Look at Ringworld. Considering the distance from one side to the other and width, would you believe you were on a ring although you might believe in a flat planet?

Computer Observation: How weird and this might not stay the same forever but try this: When your opening page onto the Net is slow after boot-up, press the ‘Home Page button’ – that’s the one that looks like a house in the top right corner and you instantly get the page appearing properly.

Feeling Stressed: Don’t think it’s always your own fault when things go wrong.


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