How to install Office 2013 Home and Business without a Microsoft Account

When Microsoft released Office 2013 the thought at Microsoft was that cloud storage is something that everyone would want. It was discovered very early on that this idea did not work well in the corporate environment. Many businesses, even small businesses, did not want their data out there for the world to discover. And as we all know, given enough time and money, any secure environment can be compromised.

If you purchased your license for Office 2013 with a computer, the OEM Office installation did allow one to install the product without creating a Microsoft Account. This solved the problem for many people.

However, the Microsoft Account requirement became a problem when the operating system was re-installed. Some managed providers routinely remove the factory installed image to install an OS image of their own for consistency reasons. At other times, the time effective way of removing a malware infection is just to wipe the disk and re-install the OS.

With the help of Wayne Cooley of Dell Technical Support, a link to download an image of Office 2013 has been found! Wayne found a link in Spiceworks (http://community.spiceworks.com/topic/299174-microsoft-office-2013-product-key-card-requires-account?page=2#entry-20760870) by Peter Court that pointed to a Microsoft download site. That site can be found at http://officecdn.microsoft.com/pr/39168D7E-077B-48E7-872C-B232C3E72675/media/en-US/HomeBusinessRetail.img. I burnt this image to a DVD (for future use) and installed it with the Product Key supplied by Dell with the machine.  I should note that the installation worked extremely fast from the CD for the machine I was working on.

I should also point out that there is another option for any Registered or better Microsoft Partner. You can download the OEM installation environment from Microsoft at http://www.microsoft.com/oem/en/installation/downloads/Pages/office-single-image-v15-opk.aspx#fbid=0H22b2sEUs- . Although I have not tried it, this should give you the ability to install the same “Out of Box” experience that one would get when first receiving a machine from a manufacturer.

I hope these links help those of us out there that really don’t want our Office environment out in the cloud.

More on Quickbooks Multi-User mode and Windows 2012 R2

In my last post, I explained how the Base Filtering Engine service was blocking the ability for Quickbooks 2014 to go into multi-user mode. As it turned out, that was part of the answer, but not the whole answer. Two days after I did that post, the server rebooted because of Microsoft updates. Suddenly, the client could no longer get Quickbooks to go into multi-user mode.

So it was back to Microsoft PSS to get some answers. The tech that found the Base Filtering Engine solution was totally puzzled. So she passed the case to the networking group. Many more hours of testing, network traces and at one point locking out all remote access to the server, they declared the problem was because of a Group Policy Object was re-establishing the block on port 8019. But since the networking group doesn’t know much about Group Policy, they pass the case back to the OS support group.

The question became was it the Default Domain Controller policy or one of the Direct Access policies. More testing resulted in singling out the Direct Access Server GPO as being the problem policy. This policy gets setup automatically if you setup Anywhere Access from the 2012 R2 Essentials dashboard. Removing this policy from the Domain Controllers group fixed the Quickbooks problem.

I should also note that disabling that policy had no effect on any of the remote access features of the Server Essentials role, VPN or Terminal Server Access. Hopefully this will help more people in the same situation.

So you can’t get Quickbooks to work in Multi-user mode on Windows 2012 R2

Usually I write more about technology from a business owner’s perspective. But today, after spending about hours and hours with tech support from both Quickbooks and Microsoft, I’m writing about a technical issue. I just upgraded a client’s network to a Windows 2012 R2 Essential server. Like most small businesses, they use Quickbooks extensively to run their business. They had been running Quickbooks 2011 and needed to upgrade to Quickbooks 2014 to support their payroll functionally. For those that are legal eagles, I should note that Quickbooks™ is a registered trademark of Intuit, Inc. and Windows™ is registered trademark of Microsoft, Inc.

Like most IT professionals, the plan was to do one upgrade at a time to try and keep the number of things that changed to a minimum. The installation of the new server and all the new workstations worked like a charm. We then tried testing Quickbooks. In this case, 5 users access Quickbooks as a major function of their job. Each of the users could access and work with the Quickbooks 2011 database, but only in single user mode; we could not change to multi-user mode.

So, it was off to Quickbooks support. Since we had to change to Quickbooks 2014 for payroll support, the recommendation from tech support was to upgrade to Quickbooks 2014 to see if that fixed the problem. After several hours of conversion attempts and diagnostics, our Quickbooks tech declared that there was something wrong with the Quickbooks database and it needed to be sent into their database group for repair. This repair was to take 3 to 5 days. Since it was the Wednesday before a holiday weekend, we were hoping we would get notified that the file was available on Friday, but more realistically, we figured we would hear on Tuesday.

Not having heard from Quickbooks by mid-day Tuesday, the client called Quickbooks and discovered that the database group had received the file, but had no idea what they were supposed to do with it. Instructions were given and the file was made available late Thursday.

We installed the file and started testing. We still could not get multi-user access to the new Quickbooks 2014 version of the database. Quickbooks support got called in again. After spending another half day with Quickbooks support, they declared that there was something blocking the ports they needed open on the server. When asked if there was any additional help we could get from them, like Tier 2 support, we were informed that there was no additional support that is available to clients and we were on our own to figure out what the problem was with the ports. They only thing they would point to is an article in their knowledge base that walk you through the same steps we had taken. There were also the following lines at the bottom of the article:

Once you have followed all the steps in the article above and still experience the H202 error (your file is hosted on a Windows Server 2012 server), sign up to be notified below.

We are working to resolve this issue. We will notify you as soon as we have a solution or update to this topic.

Knowing that Quickbooks support wasn’t going to be any more help, I did some additional testing. Taking another server in my lab, I installed Windows 2008 R2 and added in Quickbooks 2014. That configuration allowed me to open the client’s file in multi-user mode. To take it a step further, I wiped the test machine and installed Windows 2012 R2 Essential, just like the client server, added Quickbooks 2014 and it worked! This meant the problem was isolated to the specific server at the client. I also determined that the problematic port was port 8019.

Since the problem was now isolated to being the client server environment, I went back to the client site and installed the Quickbooks database on a Windows 7 machine and the client’s staff was able to access the database in multi-user mode. While they were catching up on the work that had piled up, it was now time to contact Microsoft support to find an answer.

It was a long day with Namrata Manchanda of Microsoft PSS. Quickbooks tech support tested the ports by attempting to telnet to each of the ports required by their application. If a connection could not be opened, they concluded that the port was closed. My testing had shown that if I tried the same telnet test on the server using the loopback address (127.0.0.1) the connection worked. If I used the internal LAN address, the connection failed. Namrata found the same results. She checked the firewall rules, deleted them, re-added them with the same results. She compared SysInternal Process Explorer logs between the working workstation “server” and the real server. She still found nothing to point to the cause of the problem. We then removed Quickbooks from the server and she created a temporary website that would respond to port we were working on. After confirming the website worked via a browser, she tried the telnet tests. They responded exactly the same, loopback worked, LAN address didn’t. She then changed the port on the website to 8020 to test on a non-modified firewall port. Again the results were the same!

This testing now showed that the problem was indeed the firewall. Since restarting the firewall service several times did not fix the problem, Namrata tried restarting the Base Filtering Engine service. Now both tests worked! We reinstalled the Quickbooks database engine and we were able to open the file in multi-user mode.

The final result was that for some reason the Base Filtering Engine was not acknowledging the changes to the firewall rules and had cached the old rules. This is why when checking the rules, it appeared that the rules were correct, but in actuality, they were not applied. So if you have a Windows Firewall issue that will not resolve properly even if the rules are correct, try restating the Base Filter Engine service as well as the Windows Firewall service.

Does Anti-Malware really work?

I’ve been off taking care of business, but an article crossed my desk that I could not help sharing. The Wall Street Journal reported

“Software designed to block malicious actors from infiltrating networks is no longer viable and enterprises need to transition to new cybersecurity strategies focused on identifying threats and mitigating damages, according to the company that put antivirus software on the map. Brian Dye, senior vice president for information security at Symantec, says even the best antivirus software can now only intercept less than half of all malware, which is prompting the company to shift its focus on new products that help companies detect and respond to breaches.
The Wall Street Journal (tiered subscription model)

Many of my colleagues, me included, have thought that Symantec AntiVirus had been living off its reputation and no longer really worked in the SMB marketplace. From our perspective, the code had gotten too bloated and had too large of an impact on the performance of user workstations. Additionally, the just did not seem to find the malware that other options found. Now they are basically admitting that they have not done a great job and have given up.

This may be in reaction to the Target and other similar break-ins that have happened over the last few months. And it may be a reaction to the change in the legal environment’s view of what responsibilities an anti-malware provider really has. And it may have nothing to do with any of these occurances.

IT should be noted that anti-malware has always been a reactive science; you can never perfectly predict what a person will do, you can only report what they have done. Malware creation is no longer a hobby, but a real profession with real monetary rewards.

Does this mean that you should just forget about keeping your anti-malware up to date, or even run it on your machine? Just ask anyone how has done this. Ask them how well their machine runs, or should I say crawls.

I think that this is just a case of a company that was not doing the best job out there decided to cut its losses and move to another segment where it thinks it can do better.

Should we trust our Phones?

Recently I wrote about the number of malware apps for the android operating system. Well, I think the article I found interesting was found interesting by other people. From an article posted in Network World, it appears that HP found that 90% of Apple iOS mobile apps show security vulnerabilities. Now in reading this summary of the HP report in detail, the point made by HP is not that 90% of iOS apps are malware, rather “86% of the apps tested lacked the means to protect themselves from common exploits.”

As companies expand their IT presence into phone and tablet apps, the question of the security of those platforms needs to be answered. After spending the first 20 years of my career as an application developer, I understand the problem. The first thing you do as a developer is find a solution to the problem that is presented to you. The second to last thing you do (the last always being documentation, if you ever do it) is test your code for unexpected usages. And you never think of all of them. I remember being thanked by a user for writing a particular function a year or so after I had released the code. He told me what he was doing with what I had written and my response was “It does that?” The user was using what I had written to do one thing for something completely different and totally unexpected. What was more interesting is that it was working perfectly.

The problem according to HP is that adequate penetration testing is not done. This is probably because of the speed in which apps are being developed and released. Like any other client, mobile apps are at some point going to be connected back to the corporate servers. Then, like any other client, malware on the client may be transported to the server. As noted above, you never know what someone will do with something you wrote.

As an IT professional, you need to be aware of what apps you are recommending/developing do and what they might do under malicious conditions. Although malware protection is a reactive science, you should be as proactive as possible when evaluating mobile apps.

So the Cloud is “Safe”

It’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month! Of course you should be aware of cyber security every month. Intel has done an interesting page of cyber security suggestions at https://www-ssl.intel.com/content/www/us/en/security/lifehacks.html. Check it out.

I know it seems like I have been picking on Google for the last couple of posts, but they are such an easy target. This time, Google’s CIO, Ben Fried had some interesting things to say in an article written by Liz Gammes of All Thngs D. The article talks about how Google employees are insulated from what is used in the outside consumer world. Google’s mantra is that everyone should trust the cloud to handle their communications and data storage. Employees should collaborate and develop corporate strategy on the web rather than their own internal networks.

Now, Google follows its philosophy by using its own products, like Google Apps and Google Drive for their internal development in their internal cloud. But how does it feel about using other’s products, or the cloud in general? “The important thing to understand about Dropbox,” Fried said, “is that when your users use it in a corporate context, your corporate data is being held in someone else’s data center.” To put that in a real context, Google’s basic philosophy, from my understanding, is anything that is stored on Google’s servers is Google’s property. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but they do feel they have the right to mine your data in order to target ads to you. What is to prevent and Edward Snowden from coping your information and passing it to others? You are relying on Google to tell you that your data has been compromised, and it is because of a breach of their security. Can you say “lawsuit”?

This is not to say that Google is worse than any other cloud provider. They are open about their position on data mining and I am not saying that anyone else is data mining or not data mining. What I am saying is that moving your data to the cloud means that you are consciously giving up control of your information to someone else. You are trusting them to prevent anyone other than yourself from accessing, destroying or changing that data.

As the old consumer adage goes “Buyer beware”.

Android on course for One Million Malware Apps

After taking some time off to attend to my real business, I have found some time to write again. The article the peaked my attention the most was a recent article in Fox Business News. The headline to this article is “Cyber Hackers on Course for One Million Malware Apps” and they are talking just about the Android operating system! According to the article it took over a decade to reach that many malware applications on the “much” beleaguered Microsoft operating environments. However, do we hear a cry from the public about how bad the Google Android operating system is? Not really, we just hear sales numbers on how that OS is selling better than anyone else.

I can go on about the details in the article, but it is written in plain English and doesn’t need any technical translation. What I really what you to think about is how this affects your policy on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). It is evident the malicious software industry is turning its attention from the evermore hardening arena of the PC environment to the easy pastures of the mobile environment. Not to get too into Google bashing, but it is evident that Google has not learned from the mistakes of its predecessors in the industry. I will not say they are ignoring the security of their customer’s data and money, but they are evidently not doing what is necessary to control the massive outbreak of malware in their OS environment. The excuse that they just create the OS with associated patches and it is up to the licensees to distribute and implement those patch is ludicrous. If Google wants to be recognized as a true software vendor for the business environment, it needs to step up to the responsibilities of a true software vendor. This means they have to reach out beyond the environment that they completely control and make sure that the people using their software are protected as much as reasonable possible.