Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – January 20, 2014

The Techno-Militarization Of America;  14 steps to a better, faster Windows laptop;  10 low-impact PC games that just let you chill;  10 classic films to stream for free;  Choose when to block your phone number;  How to Check If Your Accounts Have Been Hacked;  Six clicks: Can your browser do these tricks?  Back up and restore Windows 8 Start screen;  How to Buy a New Energy-Efficient Light Bulb;  Neiman Apologizes for Hack;  Infographic: The Decline of Global Internet Freedom.

Obama’s proposed NSA ‘reform’ changes nothing – Obama’s speech announcing a ‘reform’ of NSA surveillance changes little. It even opens the way for more sophisticated NSA hacking operations than ever before. (This underachiever President seems convinced that Americans are highly gullible – is he right?)

The Techno-Militarization Of America – Over the last decade, pretty much every arm of American authority invoked “homeland security” as an excuse to acquire boatloads of new technology, and used it to help expand their power and authority to unprecedented levels. There is nothing at all exceptional about the NSA’s massive overreach. It was only keeping up with the Joneses — FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, police forces everywhere — who have all been busy doing exactly the same thing.

Infographic: The Decline of Global Internet Freedom – In celebration of the second annual Internet Freedom Day, Golden Frog released an infographic chronicling the worldwide struggle for Internet freedom. Two years after the Internet went dark in protest of a proposed U.S. Internet censorship bill, four out of five people worldwide still don’t have access to an uncensored Web.

Microsoft to furnish malware assassin to XP users into ’15 – Microsoft will continue to offer its malware scrubbing program to Windows XP users for more than a year after it stops patching the operating system in April.

How to Send Dodgy-Looking Legitimate Emails, Target-Style – Target sent an email to customers informing them their personal information may have been stolen. Unfortunately, many of the people who received the email thought it was a scam.

Six clicks: Can your browser do these tricks? – All web browsers are not created equal. Each of the top six browsers has a unique killer feature.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

14 steps to a better, faster Windows laptop – After a couple of years, most laptops fall seriously behind the times. Here are several ways to upgrade your legacy laptop to meet today’s standards.

Choose when to block your phone number – Prevent your cell phone number and information from being collected by blocking your phone number. Allow family and friends to identify your calls by adding a prefix to their numbers in your contacts.

Teach your laptop to treat a secondary monitor as the primary display – If you’ve paired your laptop to a nice 24-inch 1080p monitor, that often means you’re squinting at your 12-inch clamshell display instead of the larger, nicer screen. Let’s fix that by making our external monitor the center of attention.

Storehouse for iPad Creates Beautiful Interactive Collages of Your Photos and Videos – Storehouse for iPad is a way to, as the developer says, tell stories. Never mind the marketing fluff, though. Storehouse is a really slick way to design an interactive assembly of your images and video with a bit of text thrown in.

Sharp to offer a 15.6-inch Windows 8.1 tablet with a 3K IGZO display – It should be quite the display, too. With a native resolution of 3,200 x 1,800 and Sharp’s awesome IGZO technology inside, the RW-16G1 should deliver stunning images on its expansive surface. There’s no shortage of computing power, either. The 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 supplies a good balance of energy efficiency and muscle, and it’s paired with a decent 4GB of RAM. That’s the same tandem that Microsoft went with for the Surface Pro 2.

Regain hard disk space by using Windows Update Cleanup in Windows 7 and 8.x – Disk Cleanup’s Windows Update Cleanup weeds through the WinSxS folder and eliminates unnecessary files. Learn how to use the feature in Windows 7 and 8.x.

SPAM supposedly spotted leaving the fridge: Internet of Things security scares already need to take a chill pill – It’s still silly season, it seems. Tell the world that a bunch of small business broadband routers have been compromised and recruited into botnets, and the world yawns. Add in a television or a multi-media centre, and there’s a faint flicker of interest – perhaps a raised eyebrow, but not much more. Add in the word “refrigerator”, as Proofpoint did in this press release, and the world goes nuts.

How to Check If Your Accounts Have Been Hacked – There are a slew of sites out there that consolidate the publicly available details from all the major hacks and let you search to see if your email is among them.

How to back up and restore your Windows 8 Start screen layout – If you’ve taken the time to carefully customize your Windows 8 Start screen layout, backing it up might be a good idea.

FaceSubstitute Is The Coolest (And Creepiest) Thing You’ll See This Week – Ready for your semi-regular reminder that technology is freakin’ amazing? FaceSubstitute is a tech demo that lets you use your webcam to try on someone else’s face (god, that was a weird sentence to type), and it’s just as creepy/awesome as it sounds. Want to be Walter White? Sure! Want to be a terrfying pseudo-Kardashian? Okay! Want to be Bieber for a day? No problem, weirdo!

How to Buy a New Energy-Efficient Light Bulb – Instead of going to the store and grabbing an incandescent off the shelf, you now have several options when shopping for light bulbs.


UK’s security branch says Ubuntu most secure end-user OS – CESG, the UK government’s arm that assesses operating systems and software security, has published its findings for ‘End User Device’ operating systems. The most secure of the lot? Ubuntu 12.04.

Neverquest Trojan infiltrates banks, Kaspersky warns – Kaspersky Lab has recorded thousands of attempts to infect computers used for online banking with a malicious program that its creators claim can attack “any bank in any country.” The Neverquest Trojan banker supports almost every possible trick used to bypass online banking security systems: web injection, remote system access, and social engineering among others. In light of the Trojan’s self-replication capabilities, a sharp rise in the number of attacks involving Neverquest can be expected, resulting in financial losses for users all over the world.

Starbucks sat on its clear-text password problem for months – The company is dancing around the question of what it knew and when it knew it, but the security problem was not a revelation for it this week.

Starbucks app teaches users to check security, experts say – The weak protections for customer data in Starbucks’ mobile-payment app is a “wakeup call” for consumers who should never assume the apps they use in their smartphones are secure.

Six more U.S. retailers hit by Target-like hacks – Security firm IntelCrawler also identified a 17-year-old Russian it says wrote the BlackPOS malware, a version of which was used against Target.

Neiman Apologizes for Hack, Which Reportedly Dates Back to July – Neiman Marcus this week apologized for a recent hack that resulted in stolen customer credit card data, and offered customers one year of free credit monitoring

Target breach notifications are a perfect example of what not to do – It’s bad enough that Target allowed more than 100 million accounts to be compromised, but the retailer’s response to the breach is an exercise in poor judgment.

Adware vendors buy Chrome Extensions to send ad- and malware-filled updates – One of the coolest things about Chrome is the silent, automatic updates that always ensure that users are always running the latest version. While Chrome itself is updated automatically by Google, that update process also includes Chrome’s extensions, which are updated by the extension owners. This means that it’s up to the user to decide if the owner of an extension is trustworthy or not, since you are basically giving them permission to push new code out to your browser whenever they feel like it.

Nearly HALF of South Korea hacked in insider data theft – The personal details of as many as 20 million South Koreans may have been exposed after an employee at a credit ratings firm was arrested on suspicion of selling the records to marketing firms. The temporary consultant, who worked at the Korea Credit Bureau (KCB), is suspected of lifting the data from the servers of KB Kookmin Card, Lotte Card, and NH Nonghyup Card, before selling it to phone marketing companies.

Florida couple arrested in phishing scheme investigation – A Florida couple have been arrested for allegedly running a small-scale but highly sophisticated phishing scam that managed to steal at least $550,000 from hundreds of victims.

Company News:

HP promotes Windows 7 PCs sales; says they are “back by popular demand” – The home page of HP’s website is currently running a promotion that has price cuts on some of their Windows 7 PCs, and using the term “back by popular demand” to describe the sale.

Tech patent leader remains IBM, but Google accelerates – IBM retained its patent crown in 2013, snaring more U.S. patents than any other company for the 21st year in a row. But the big news is Google, which quickened its patent pace and climbed to No. 11 in the rankings. IBM was awarded 6809 utility patents last year, according to data from IFI Claims Patent Services. That record-setting haul is up 5 percent compared to 2012, when Big Blue earned 6478 patents.

Nintendo cuts Wii U sales forecast from 9 million to just 2.8 million – Nintendo has had to cut it by 70 percent, claiming by March 31 they will have sold just 2.8 million consoles instead of the projected 9 million. Such a shortfall in many company’s sales projections would see the person at the top resign or pushed out, but not Iwata. For now, nothing is set to change management wise and he intends to ride out the storm. Nintendo will suffer a big loss this financial year, however, of around $335.76 million.

BlackBerry: No plans to bring BBM app to Windows Phone – A BlackBerry executive says the company has no plan to offer a BBM app for Windows Phone devices, claiming they are waiting for “consumers demand in sufficient numbers to make it worth our while.”

Games and Entertainment:

10 low-impact PC games that just let you chill – Some games consist of grueling tasks, dark stories, and violent events in which your favorite characters might perish. In these games, half the fun is wrapped in mastering intricate details and unraveling mysteries. We dig those kinds of games. Sometimes. But after a hard day in the classroom or on the job, those kinds of games can seem like more of the same. The following games are just the opposite.

Blizzard’s Hearthstone instantly plagiarized in China long before release – When Hearthstone finally releases to the public, all signs point to it being a massive hit, which is why a Chinese developer already ripped it off — from head-to-toe — and released a clone long before the game even announced when a public beta would be.

Valve Expects Virtual Reality To Be Awesome Within 2 Years – Virtual Reality is coming. As in, actual, good, user-friendly virtual reality. The stuff sci-fi has promised us for decades. Don’t take my word for it. Valve — easily one of the most revered and admired companies in gaming — has gone deep on virtual reality R&D, and they believe that amazing, consumer-friendly virtual reality is but a couple of years away.

10 classic films to stream for free on Crackle – From works by legendary directors to films featuring Oscar-nominated acting performances, these ten streaming movies are worth your time and more than worth their low cost of zero dollars.

When it comes to video games, difficulty is the point—not the problem – You can talk, then, about a game’s art, politics, script, music, sounds, making, impact, legacy, sociological significance, and all the intricacies of design and data that conjure these. But you should never forget the fundamental contract every game seeks to forge with its players: accept this world and these obstacles in the name of experience, and make of them what you will. Difficulty is the point, not the problem. The play’s the thing.

Off Topic (Sort of):

The Tablet Is The New General Purpose Computer – Apple’s latest iPad spot demonstrates that tablets have general purpose computing strengths that have never been exhibited by laptops. Laptops have had decades in the spotlight as our portable computers of choice and were on their way to eradicating desktop machines before tablets came along. But they’ve never managed to exhibit the flexibility of purpose that tablets can.

DNA solves one of the Titanic’s oldest mysteries – More than 100 years after Loraine Allison disappeared with the sinking ship, genetic testing uncovers a massive hoax and brings to light who this girl really was.

Rewinding to Betamax: The path to consumers’ “right to record” – In 1976, shortly after its Betamax machine hit the market, Sony Corporation had been sued by the studios, which said that home taping was illegal. They hoped to force Sony to pay a royalty for each device and cassette sold or to withdraw from the market. Sony fought back, saying that many forms of home recording were absolutely legal and that, in any event, it couldn’t be held responsible for what its customers did with its machines.

7 classic versions of Windows and Mac OS you can run in a browser – If you want to be able to use all the features of an old operating system, you’ll probably have to find the software and load it in a virtual machine. But there are a bunch of browser-based emulators that show you what the old OSes looked like and let you click on a few things. It’s a lot easier, and it may satisfy your urge to relive the past. Here are a few such websites to fuel your technostalgia.

How 3D printing could revolutionize manufacturing – Lawrence Livermore National Lab scientists are exploring the use of 3D printing in manufacturing, including creating new raw materials.

YouTube gives you an early jump on 2014 Super Bowl ads – The YouTube Ad Blitz channel offers an early look at some Super Bowl commercials and will let people vote for their favorite ad once the big game is over.

China claims web users surge to 618 million – The number of web users in China has surged to 618 million, a government agency has said, underscoring the rapid growth of online connectivity in the country with the world’s largest internet population.

Something to think about:

Wanting to be someone you’re not is a waste of the person you are.”

–       Kurt Cobain

Today’s Free Downloads:

Registry Key Jumper – Registry is the heart of the windows operating system and modifying the registry is not easy but sometimes is necessary, such as you may want to make a customization or repair a registry key or just want to use a Registry trick that you need, Registry Key Jumper simplifies the navigation of your registry, it is a portable freeware application.

Classic Shell 4.0.4 – Classic Shell is free software that improves your productivity, enhances the usability of Windows and empowers you to use the computer the way you like it. The main features are: Highly customizable start menu with multiple styles and skins. Quick access to recent, frequently-used, or pinned programs. Find programs, settings, files and documents. Start button for Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Toolbar and status bar for Windows Explorer. Caption and status bar for Internet Explorer.

Balabolka – Balabolka is a Text-To-Speech software application. All computer voices installed on your system are available to Balabolka. The on-screen text can be saved as a WAV or MP3 file. The program can read the clipboard content, view the text from DOC, RTF and HTML files, customize font and background colour, control reading from the system tray or by the global hotkeys. Balabolka uses various versions of Microsoft Speech API (SAPI); it allows to alter a voice’s parameters, including rate, pitch, and volume. The user can apply a special substitution list to improve the quality of the voice’s articulation. This feature is useful when you want to change the spelling of words. The rules for the pronunciation correction use the syntax of VBScript.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Those NSA ‘reforms’ in full: El Reg translates US Prez Obama’s pledges – On Friday, President Obama gave his long-awaited speech on plans to reform the activities of the US intelligence services and how they monitor the rest of the world. You can watch the entire speech here, but words are tricky things – never more so than when national security is involved. As such we’ve taken a transcript of the president’s words and, given what we know about today’s mass surveillance operations, tried to work out what was actually said. Prez Obama’s speech is presented below in bold, with our annotations throughout.

European commentators see little to praise in Obama’s NSA changes – The French newspaper Le Monde called them “timid and partial.” The British newspaper The Guardian referred to them as “sleight of hand.” The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel called them “Refoermchen,” meaning less than a real reform, or a “tiny reform.” The Russian news agency Novosti reminded its audience that “neither the reform nor the statement would have happened without the leaks from Edward Snowden,” a former NSA contract worker who began leaking secret files back in June. The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau simply noted in a headline: “Obama disappoints the world.” (recommended by Aseem S.)

NSA goes on declassification spree ahead of Obama reform – US National Intelligence director James Clapper has thrown open the books on hundreds of previously classified documents detailing national and international surveillance, as President Obama’s scheme to reform the NSA goes into operation. The new batch of declassified files brings the total number of released documents to around 2,300 pages, DNI Clapper wrote, including orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), documents the NSA and others have previously submitted to Congress, and data about the legality of the ways in which the NSA collects telephone metadata and other programs currently operating.

How the NSA collects millions of phone texts a day – On Thursday, another National Security Agency document from the trove obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was published by The Guardian. The new slides from the NSA’s top-secret WebWorld intranet are from a presentation called “Content Extraction Enhancements for Target Analytics: SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit.” Aside from the overuse of colons, the slides include details of a program that collects massive amounts of data from the world’s cellular phone networks.

Announcing ‘Major Changes’: The Government Vs. The Private Sector – The Internet is collectively experiencing disappointment over President Obama’s big National Security Agency reform speech. Instead of announcing a sweeping end to the bulk surveillance of our entire digital lives, the President charged authorities to investigate how incremental privacy protections could be enacted.

Some tech firms say Obama’s surveillance plan is thin on details – The president on Friday proposed a series of reforms to the National Security Agency’s surveillance methods, as part of an effort to strike a better balance between privacy and national security. ”We’re concerned that the President didn’t address the most glaring reform needs,” Mozilla said in a statement. The Firefox browser maker raised a point made by others: Although the plans include assigning new privacy advocates to a surveillance court, and a shift away from the NSA’s bulk-phone-records-collection program, they fall short of recommendations made by Obama’s own review panel.

The Fact That The US Intelligence Community So Readily Admits To Fantasies Of Killing Ed Snowden Shows Why They Can’t Be Trusted – We’ve mentioned things in the past like former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden “jokingly” talking about how he’d like to put Ed Snowden on a “kill list” while simultaneously suggesting that the NSA should be a part of determining who to target. While some would dismiss this as a tasteless “joke” it seems like he’s not the only one in the intelligence community with such thoughts. We just recently noted that reporter Steven Levy, who spent over two hours interviewing NSA officials, had said that they appear to have a real and passionate hatred towards Snowden. (recommended by Aseem S.)

Protect Yourself From The NSA With WireOver’s Encrypted File Sharing – Nothing is truly NSA-proof or hacker-proof, but WireOver wants to offer you more security than Dropbox, Google Drive, or Skydrive. The Y Combinator startup just emerged from stealth with a desktop app that lets you send files of any size for free. And for $10 a month, your transfers get end-to-end encryption so only the recipient can open them. WireOver can’t even look at what you’re sending.

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