Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 14, 2014

The paranoid’s survival guide, part 2;  Add speed reading to Chrome, Firefox;  How to make Skype calls in a browser;  Zuckerberg says US government threat to internet;  Pro tip: Migrate all of your Android contacts to Google;  The 10 apps you need to keep prying eyes away from;  How to Block Telemarketers on Android and iPhone;  Google Will Start Encrypting Your Searches;  The 3 Best Tax Software Products for Procrastinators.

Stop mass surveillance now or face consequences, MEPs say to US – Parliament’s consent to the EU-US trade deal “could be endangered” if blanket mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency does not stop, members of European Parliament said on Wednesday, in a resolution wrapping up their six-month inquiry into US mass surveillance schemes. The text also calls on the EU to suspend its bank data deal with the US and the “Safe Harbour agreement” on data privacy. The fight against terrorism can never justify secret and illegal mass surveillance, it adds.

NSA: Our zero days put you at risk, but we do what we like with them – The National Security Agency (NSA) might soon face some legal oversight over how and when it discloses previously unknown flaws, but for now it can do as it pleases — even if that raises the threat level for organisations in the US and its allies.

Zuckerberg says US government threat to internet – Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg says he has called US President Barack Obama to complain that the US government is undermining confidence in the internet with vast, secret surveillance programs.

Google Will Start Encrypting Your Searches – The tech behemoth plans to make users’ searches more private as part of the company’s broader campaign to push back against hackers and government surveillance. They’ve already started in China as a show of defiance against the country’s infamous censors.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

The 10 apps you need to keep prying eyes away from your mobile messages and data – Ongoing revelations about government agencies snooping on citizens’ electronic communications has led to more privacy-awareness among mobile users. Here ZDNet takes a look at 10 apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry that can boost mobile privacy.

The paranoid’s survival guide, part 2  Protect your privacy on social, mobile and more – Is privacy dead? Not by a long shot. While you can’t control everything that’s out there about you, there’s quite a bit you can do to reduce your data footprint — or at least avoid adding to it. For this series, Computerworld asked nine privacy experts for tips and tricks they use for keeping their own personal data profiles on the down low. Whether your goal is avoiding tracking by marketers, ensuring your personal safety or protecting yourself from government surveillance, there are steps you can take to minimize your exposure both online and off, these professionals say.

How to make Skype calls in a browser – A new plug-in from Microsoft lets you make Skype video and voice calls worldwide. Here’s how to set it up in just a few steps.

Add speed reading to Chrome, Firefox – This technology is not only useful on smartphones or tablets, it’s also great for tackling longer written works online in less time. If you search for what the average reading speed is, you’ll come up with a figure somewhere around 200 wpm. Even if you read faster than that right now, could you imagine being able to read two, three, or even four times faster? Here’s how to add RSVP speed reading to Chrome and Firefox:

The 3 Best Tax Software Products for Procrastinators – This guide is for the do-laters and procrastinators. We set out to find the best tax software available, particularly if you—like us—haven’t touched your still-sealed W-2 in 46 days. We tested multiple products, looked at ratings from experts like CNET and PC Mag, assessed reliability, noted guarantees, and most of all, compared productivity and helpfulness features across products in order to pick the three options best suited for Joe-April-14th tax filer.

Survival tips for Google Apps users with a Windows 8 tablet – The Google Apps experience on a Windows 8 tablet is much like the Microsoft Office experience on a Windows 8 tablet. As of March 2014, I think both suites work better with a keyboard and mouse; neither is yet a pleasure to work with on a Windows 8 touch tablet. The apps aren’t well adapted to tablets, and the touch targets are often tricky to tap. Recently, I spent several days using Google Apps on a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet. If you want to use Google Apps and have a Windows 8 tablet, here are five things you should consider.

Chromebooks and education: A perfect match – I just finished my review of the Dell Chromebook 11 that Dell targets toward the education market, namely teachers and students. I think that Chromebooks, in general, are good choices for schools. They’re lightweight, durable, inexpensive, secure, and fun to use. If you’ve never used a Chromebook, you need to try one.

What Chromebooks can do offline – Chromebooks are catching on and it’s easy to see why. They are cheap, easy to set up and maintain, and have enough features to satisfy many users. But what can you get done without an Internet connection? More than you might expect.


New health site lets the crowd rate treatment effectiveness – CureCrowd aggregates the experiences of others by letting them score the usefulness of various treatments from 0 (no help) to 4 (cured).


Autodesk Instant Brings Business-focused Group Messaging to Android and iOS – Autodesk is mostly known for making professional drafting and CAD software, but it has used mobile to branch out into a surprising number of other fields including photo editing and interior design. The company’s newest venture is a group messaging app called Autodesk Instant. This is a business-focused messaging client that supports both data and SMS communication.


Google Drive slashes storage prices, costs way less than Dropbox – Google today announced big price cuts for the 100GB and 1TB tiers of Google Drive cloud storage. “We’ve lowered the price of our monthly storage plans to $1.99 for 100GB (previously $4.99), [and] $9.99 for 1TB (previously $49.99),” the company said in a blog post.


Hands-on with VLC’s beta Metro app: Already better than Windows 8’s Video app – The PC geek’s beloved video player, VLC, has finally landed on the modern side of Windows 8.

Amid Bullying & Threats Of Violence, Anonymous Social App Yik Yak Shuts Off Access To U.S. Middle & High School Students – The founders of an up-and-coming anonymous messaging app called Yik Yak, that began to take off among the middle school and high school crowd where it has been linked to both bullying and threats, have taken the unprecedented step of actually blocking younger users from accessing its application while on school grounds.

This Is the Hottest Online Video Service You’ve Never Heard Of – Begun in 2011 as an offshoot of the live-streaming website, Twitch allows users to broadcast virtually any video game live online. Players can offer live color commentary or, as with Pokemon, let viewers help control the game through a chat window that runs next to the gameplay. The site now attracts 45 million unique viewers and 1 million broadcasters each month. In February it comprised 1.8 percent of total Internet traffic during peak hours, beating Hulu, Amazon and Facebook.

Pro tip: Migrate all of your Android contacts to Google – If you have multiple Android devices or you’re planning on purchasing a new smartphone in the near future, you know that all of your Google contacts will be viewable by any Android device you associate with your Google account. But what about those contacts isolated to your phone’s local storage? Since those aren’t stored in your Google cloud, they won’t be available to other devices. So, how do you solve that conundrum? Easy… you migrate you contacts from the local storage to your Google account. I’ll show you how to do that in two easy steps.

How to Block Telemarketers on Android and iPhone – No one enjoys cell phone spam, especially aggressive telemarketing calls and texts while you’re on the go. Though you can list your cell phone number on the Do Not Call Registry, that doesn’t stop telemarketing text messages or even all phone calls, in our experience. If you’re tired of these nuisances, you have options. You can use the following apps and features built into your phone to help cut down on spam.


Target Knew About Credit Card Hack For 12 Days Before Reacting – In a scathing bit of reportage from Bloomberg Businessweek we discover that retailer Target had received word that its security system had been compromised nearly two weeks before it moved to act on the information. In fact, last year Target hired FireEye, a security firm, to watch their servers for malware. The firm, which has a Bangalore-based response team, informed Target HQ in Minneapolis that someone had hacked the company on November 30. And no one did anything about it.

Adobe patches a critical vulnerability in Shockwave Player – Adobe Systems released a new security update for Shockwave Player in order to fix a critical vulnerability that could allow attackers to remotely take control of affected systems. The vulnerability, identified as CVE-2014-0505, is the result of a memory corruption issue and can lead to arbitrary code execution. According to Adobe, the flaw was privately reported to the company and there are no reports of active exploits targeting it in the wild.

California police criticized for ‘stingray’ cellphone trackers – Law enforcement agencies in California are using devices that mimic cellular base stations to track mobile users, public records have revealed, triggering charges that the practice may be unconstitutional. Agencies in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento and other areas own or have funding to buy the so-called “stingray” devices, according to documents uncovered in an investigation by TV station Sacramento News 10. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California highlighted the findings in a blog post on Thursday, saying the use of stingrays may violate constitutional restraints on searches.

Stanford research shows even when offering up metadata, it’s very revealing – “It highlights three key points. First, that the key part of the NSA’s argument—we weren’t collecting sensitive information so what is the bother?—is factually wrong. Second, that the NSA and the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court failed to think this through; after all, it only takes a little common sense to realize that sweeping up all numbers called will inevitably reveal sensitive information. Of course the record of every call made and received is going to implicate privacy. And third, it lays bare the fallacy of the Supreme Court’s mind-numbingly broad wording of the third-party doctrine in an age of big data: just because I reveal data for one purpose—to make a phone call—does not mean that I have no legitimate interest in that information, especially when combined with other data points about me.”

Company News:

Apple, Microsoft among firms earning tax-free interest from US — report – The companies, along with Google and Cisco, own a collected $124 billion in US Treasury debt offshore, allowing them to collect tax-free interest. (As you sit down to file your taxes this year – THINK about these CORPORATE WELFARE bums!)

CEO Sean Rad Says Dating App Tinder Has Made 1 Billion Matches – Tinder is announcing that it has made 1 billion matches between its users. As most (all?) of you know, Tinder works by giving users a stack of potential matches and allowing them to swipe right or left to show their interest. If two users express mutual interest, then the app will connect them, allowing them to send each other messages — those are the matches that Tinder is counting.

Microsoft To Launch $6.99/Month Office 365 Plan For Individuals This Spring – Microsoft today announced a new plan for Office 365 that’s geared to individuals who want to subscribe to its suite of productivity applications. For $6.99/month (or $69/year), you will be able to get a single license for Office 365 that you can use on one PC or Mac and one tablet. This new plan will launch later this spring.

Games and Entertainment:

Microsoft: 258,000 Xbox One consoles sold in February in US, close to PS4 sales – Microsoft has announced that, according to the NPD Group, the Xbox One sold 258,000 units in the U.S. in February 2014, which surpassed Xbox 360 sales by 61 percent in the same comparable time period.

Here’s how to use an Xbox One controller with your PC – Although Microsoft hasn’t released an official driver for the Xbox One controller, a third-party application now lets customers use the controller with a Windows PC with a regular USB connection.

Unity Acquires Applifier To Bring Shareable Instant Replays To More Games – Your friend takes out his phone. “Duuude — You’ve gotta see this game,” he says, before showing you a particularly crazy scene. Is there really any more effective ad for a game? Unity doesn’t think so. That’s why they just bought Applifier, a company that helps developers add instant-replay type recordings to their games.


Netflix and DreamWorks partner to bring three new exclusive animated shows in 2014 – Puss in Boots, Veggie Tales, and King Julien will join Turbo FAST as three new animated series to debut on Netflix’s streaming service later this year. Banderas and Cohen will not reprise their roles.


This War of Mine plays the battlezone as civilians – A new game, This War of Mine, aiming to tell the story of a warzone from the perspective of a civilian trapped in it, has been revealed, with developers 11 Bit Studio challenging first-person shooter convention. Billed as a game of survival, where “in war, not everyone is a soldier”, development of This War of Mine was triggered by a real-life story the developers saw about an actual survivor in a besieged city, and the challenges he faced.


Craig Ferguson ‘f-ing’ loves science with new TV show – “Late Late Show” host will produce “I F-ing Love Science” TV show for Science Channel, which hopes to show the lighter side of science. According to the “I F-ing Love Science” Facebook page, “We’re here for the science — the funny side of science. Quotes, jokes, memes, and anything your admin finds awesome and strange. If you take yourself seriously, you’re on the wrong page. We’re dedicated to bringing the amazing world of science straight to your newsfeed in an amusing and accessible way. Tell us what makes you say ‘wow!'”

Off Topic (Sort of):

Study: Feelings On Facebook Spread From Friend To Friend – According to a study from the University of California, San Diego, feelings on Facebook can spread from user to user like a virus. In other words, your friends’ moods can affect your moods, positively or negatively. As we well know, humans can spread their moods to each other in face-to-face situations. A grumpy co-worker can make you grumpy while a happy significant other can cheer you up.

Arnold Schwarzenegger crushes a Zune with a tank, but doesn’t know what a Zune is – Regular visitors of YouTube will be well aware of the video series “Will it Blend?” where newly released devices, such as smartphones, media players, and tablets, are placed in a blender to see just how well they will, well… blend. Typically the result is the same: some dust and lots of bits. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to take this concept to the next level, and is starting a video series on YouTube called “Will it Crush?” In typical Arnie fashion, bigger is better, so he’ll be testing if different objects can be crushed with his new tank.


Google Maps sails down the Colorado River (pictures) – The Street View trekker winds its way through the Grand Canyon, past the Redwall Cavern, Vulcan’s Anvil, and big horn sheep.


Accused movie theater shooter was himself texting, report says – In the case of Curtis Reeves, the retired policeman who allegedly shot dead a texter in a Florida theater, documents reportedly show that he himself had been texting his son just before the movie started.

Bill Gates talks tech with Rolling Stone – In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Microsoft founder Bill Gates dropped a few tech tidbits, including that Microsoft “was willing to buy” WhatsApp. He’s also no Edward Snowden fan (no surprise).

Something to think about:

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices.”

–     William James

Today’s Free Downloads:

Zoom Commander 2.0 Final – Zoom Commander, a Windows PC application that easily manages, controls, schedules & presents media (Audio, Video, Image) and interactive (Web, Flash) content on multiple remote Windows PCs, over the Internet or a local network. Beta version is also available. The Commander app is the central controller, manager and coordinator of multiple instances (copies) of the Presenter running on remote, network accessible computers.


WOT for Chrome – Web of Trust (WOT) is a website reputation and review service that helps people make informed decisions about whether to trust a website or not. Also available for Internet Explorer and Firefox. WOT displays a colored traffic light next to website links to show you which sites people trust for safe searching, surfing and shopping online: green for good, red for bad, and yellow as a warning to be cautious. The icons are shown in popular search engine results, social media, online email, shortened URL’s, and lots of other sites. WOT shows you which websites you can trust based on millions of users’ experiences around the world to help you stay safe when you search, surf, and shop online.

RAMDisk – RAMDisk is Freeware (up to 4GB disk size). It creates a virtual RAM drive, or block of memory, which your computer treats as if it were a disk drive. By storing files and programs into memory, you can speed up internet load times and disk-to-disk activities, accelerate databases and reduce compile times. Save and load features allow RAMDisk to appear as persistent storage, even through reboots.


In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Foreign Officials In the Dark About Their Own Spy Agencies’ Cooperation with NSA – One of the more bizarre aspects of the last nine months of Snowden revelations is how top political officials in other nations have repeatedly demonstrated, or even explicitly claimed, wholesale ignorance about their nations’ cooperation with the National Security Agency, as well as their own spying activities. This has led to widespread speculation about the authenticity of these reactions: Were these top officials truly unaware, or were they pretending to be, in order to distance themselves from surveillance operations that became highly controversial once disclosed?

The White House Has Been Covering Up the Presidency’s Role in Torture for Years – The fight between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Committee’s Torture Report – which Dan Froomkin covered here – has now zeroed in on the White House. Did the White House order the CIA to withdraw 920 documents from a server made available to Committee staffers, as Senator Dianne Feinstein says the agency claimed in 2010? Were those documents – perhaps thousands of them – pulled in deference to a White House claim of executive privilege, as Senator Mark Udall and then CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston suggested last fall? And is the White House continuing to withhold 9,000 pages of documents without invoking privilege, as McClatchy reported yesterday? We can be sure about one thing: The Obama White House has covered up the Bush presidency’s role in the torture program for years. Specifically, from 2009 to 2012, the administration went to extraordinary lengths to keep a single short phrase, describing President Bush’s authorization of the torture program, secret.

The NSA Responds To Allegations It Impersonated Facebook And Infected PCs With Malware – The NSA has responded to allegations that surfaced yesterday indicating that the agency pretended to be Facebook to infect computers with malware. The revelation, built of course on top of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, were another stunning indication of potential overreach by the NSA, an agency that has been hobbled in the past year by a constant drip of information regarding its practices and techniques. The NSA’s terse response called the report “inaccurate,” denying that it uses its tools to “impersonate U.S. company websites.”  Here’s the full statement………

Zuckerberg Called Obama To “Express Frustration” Over Spying’s Threat To Internet Security – “I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future,” he wrote in the note, most likely in relation to recent revelations that the National Security Agency has been hacking into computers and weakening security standards. Specifically, Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept published new information from Snowden explaining how the government could pretend to be Facebook to push surveillance malware to users. “In one man-on-the-side technique, codenamed QUANTUMHAND, the agency disguises itself as a fake Facebook server. When a target attempts to log in to the social media site, the NSA transmits malicious data packets that trick the target’s computer into thinking they are being sent from the real Facebook. By concealing its malware within what looks like an ordinary Facebook page, the NSA is able to hack into the targeted computer and covertly siphon out data from its hard drive. A top-secret animation demonstrates the tactic in action.” You can see that animation in the video below:

NSA hijacked criminal botnets to carry out spying program – For nearly six years, they’ve had a system in place that’s designed to steal control of zombie PCs from their criminal overlords. It’s part of the Agency’s far-reaching Quantum program, appropriately called QuantumBot. The plan of attack is simple enough: identify and take control of idle IRC bots, and then hijack command and control systems to become the new puppet master. Since 2007, QuantumBot has “co-opted” more than 140,000 computers. The actual figure is likely much higher. The slide above, part of the treasure trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, only lists dates up to late 2010. If QuantumBot is still operational, it’s had plenty of time to wrest control of tens of thousands of additional computers.



Filed under Free Software Downloads, Internet Security Alerts, Latest Tech News

5 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 14, 2014

  1. I need to find this stuff less interesting darn it! Another wealth of info, thank you!

  2. Reblogged this on khrystleraineduste and commented:
    Again and again… I may have to stop reading other blogs – so much interesting info in here!


     Dear bill                          In the inerests of freedom and truth is it possible you would advise your readers  as  to gmail/google s-role in complicity with the NSA,privacy,andidentity-theft complicity/via sloppyness-stupidity,hubris,and/or cynical profit-motive based disingenuosness?Excellent point on interest free oofshore accunts with google/ge etc  

    • Hi Alan,

      I’d like nothing better than to return to writing opinion pieces – but, after setting up the news column each morning, there is simply no time left in the day. Frankly, I’d drop the news column in a flash in order to get back to writing – but a ton of readers, who have been with me for years, would object to that, I expect.