Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – August 26, 2014

The Surveillance Engine: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google;  5 of the Biggest Facebook Mistakes (and How to Fix Them);  Get a free year of LastPass Premium;  The 10 apps every college student needs to have;  Debit cards get new protections;  $38 Firefox OS smartphone;  Whopper of a Burger King deal: A side of free smartphone;  Getting started with iPhone camera app Camu;  TiVo Releases A $49.99 Over-The-Air DVR For Cord Cutters;  Amazon’s Twitch Acquisition Is Official;  The 16 best one-hand Android games for fun on the go;  Ralph Lauren Unveils Smart Polo Shirt;  Flappy Bird creator updates Swing Copters to make it less impossible;  Australia: Metadata storage wishlist­ revealed;  Screenshots: Use Clonezilla to clone a hard drive.

Report: Consumers concerned about online threats but do little to protect themselves – A new survey from Kaspersky Lab finds most consumers believe banks, online retailers, and payment systems are responsible for safeguarding their financial data.

Debit cards get new protections – Imagine an on/off switch for your debit card. Here’s an early look at what’s going to make using debit a whole lot safer. (recommended by Keith P.)

Get a free year of LastPass Premium – If you’re already using one, great — feel free to skip ahead to the bonus deals below. If not, get ready for a seriously sweet offer: AppSumo is offering a free one-year subscription to LastPass Premium. Regular price: $12. Granted, that’s literally saving you just a buck per month, but I’m hoping it’s enough to encourage people who otherwise balk at the idea of a password manager. Because once you start using this, you’ll wonder how (and why) you ever got along without it.

5 of the Biggest Facebook Mistakes (and How to Fix Them) – With regular introductions of privacy-flouting new features and different sets of etiquette for connecting with colleagues, friends and family, it can be all too easy to make a Facebook misstep that sends the wrong message into the world. Below are five of the most-common Facebook faux pas – and how to avoid them.

The 10 apps every college student needs to have – The life of a high schooler living at home is quite a bit different than that of a college freshman living on his or her own for the first time. The good news is that you can make the transition a lot smoother with some useful digital tools. The apps below will help you with everything from saving money to finding food to getting to class on time.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Whopper of a Burger King deal: A side of free smartphone – You can’t just roll up into the drive-through lane at your local BK and get a deep-fried Galaxy S3 dropped into your bag next to your Whopper. The offer is available online and it does have some strings attached. The free phone requires a new or upgraded two-year agreement with AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon. This comes with all the usual rigmarole of signing up with a cell service provider, including possible credit checks, activation fees, early termination fees, and deposits. So your free Burger King smartphone will end up costing you the same as any other free-phone deal.

Screenshots: Use Clonezilla to clone a hard drive – Jesus Vigo takes you step-by-step through the process of cloning your hard drive using Clonezilla, an open-source, Linux-based, OS agnostic solution.


Three easy ways to separate work and play on the same PC – If you’ve got strict divisions between your work and play identities online, what’s the easiest way to keep the two worlds from colliding? Here are three suggestions.

Facebook to ditch clickbait headlines – Facebook is taking measures to boost quality journalism by reducing the number of clickbait headlines shown in news feeds and making good headlines more visible.

How to keep in touch with people while traveling – Unless you want to go off the grid completely, it’s relatively easy to keep in touch with friends and family when on the road. Of course, there are the obvious solutions, including familiar apps like Facebook and Skype, but you may be interested in tips and tricks making use of other contact solutions.

Microsoft Surface 2’s price slash: Great deal or a waste of your money? – Microsoft just temporarily slashed the prices on all of its Surface 2 Windows 8.1 RT-based tablets by $100, to as low as $349. Is this the deal for you, or one you should avoid? The price cut lasts only from August 24 through August 27, or “while supplies last.” Each customer will be allowed buy up to five of them. This is the second year in a row that Microsoft cut prices for its RT-based Surface2. It did the same thing last year, and there’s some evidence that it gave the device a temporary boost. So is this the deal for you?

Surface Pro 3 bugs keep coming as overheating complaints arise – The Surface Pro 3 is a fantastic device when it’s working properly, but a procession of crippling bugs are keeping many users from enjoying their high-end hardware. Over the past few weeks, users on Microsoft’s support website have complained of overheating in the Surface Pro 3. Fan noise becomes excessively loud, the tablets become too hot to handle, and in some cases the device shuts down completely with a temperature warning.

$38 Firefox OS smartphone – the Spice Fire One Mi-FX1– Priced at approximately $38, the Spice Fire One Mi – FX1 will be targetting first-time smartphone users and those on an extremely limited budget. The specs are nothing to write home about, with the biggest limitations hovering around the low-resolution display and the lack of 3G connectivity, but it does various useful elements such as dual sim functionality, bluetooth, and a front and rear camera.


TiVo Releases A $49.99 Over-The-Air DVR For Cord Cutters – TiVo today is announcing the release of its TiVo Roamio OTA DVR, a $49.99 device that will give customers who don’t have cable or satellite service. Instead, they will be able to connect the DVR up to an antenna to record shows broadcast on channels available through over-the-air digital signals. The Roamio OTA has 500 GB of storage capacity, which holds up to 75 hours of HD programming. It also has four tuners to allow customers to record multiple programs at once, while also being able to tune in live to one channel. The device is also compatible with the company’s TiVo Stream device for streaming live and pre-recorded videos on other devices.


For The First Time, More People Will Watch Streams On Devices Than Desktops – On August 26, 2002, Major League Baseball streamed its first live video of a game to the web — a tiny, grainy little player that looks laughable in comparison to today’s HD streams you hold in your palm. This month, 12 years later, the MLB says that it projects that over 51 percent of its monthly live streams will be watched on ‘connected’ and mobile devices in August. It says that this is a first for any live sports video product on the Internet.

Ralph Lauren Unveils Smart Polo Shirt – The new Polo Tech shirt, unveiled Monday morning to coincide with the first day of the U.S. Open, goes beyond the old preppy design you know and love. It’s essentially a compression shirt that has knitted-in sensors that can read biological and physical data, such as heartbeat, respiration, stress level, and energy output, and send this information to your smartphone. Aimed at athletes, the Polo Tech shirt is designed to help “improve general wellness and increase personal fitness,” the luxury lifestyle brand said in a statement.


Getting started with iPhone camera app Camu – iPhone photographers, take note: there’s a new app vying for your attention. Free app Camu is worth checking out for its slick, easy-to-use interface and small but useful collection of filters and tools.


Tech Support scammers rip big brand security software with fake warnings – Just when we thought we had seen it all, scammers come out with an elaborate and clever scheme to trick users into calling for bogus tech support. If you are looking to download one of the popular antivirus or anti-malware product on the market, watch out before you click. Fraudsters have set up fake download pages that look incredibly like the authentic ones.


There is even a fake page for our own Malwarebytes:


Side-channel android weakness likely on other platforms – Researchers have discovered a weakness in Android that is likely present in other leading operating systems that can be abused and lead to information leakage. While the researchers tested their attack only on Android, they wrote in their paper that the same shared memory mechanism being exploited here is also present in window managers present in Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and iOS.

Sub-domain on SourceForge redirects to Flash Pack Exploit Kit – We have talked about SourceForge before on this blog, in particular when they were associated with bundled software. This time around, we are going to take a look at an infected sub-domain hosted on SourceForge responsible for a drive-by download attack. The first redirection is located within a JavaScript file:


Secret Service says “Backoff” malware hit 1000 businesses – 6 tips to keep your data safe – It now appears that the string of recent data breaches at US retail establishments was not a coincidence, but rather related attacks using the same malicious software kit. In a security advisory from the US Secret Service dated 22 August 2014, obtained by the New York Times, the government said the malware known as Backoff has struck more than 1000 US companies since October 2013. US-CERT has updated its alert to advise businesses on ways to mitigate Backoff. Naked Security writer and Sophos Senior Security Advisor Chester Wisniewski has some further advice.

Company News:

Amazon’s Twitch Acquisition Is Official – After months of rumors suggesting that Google was prepped to snatch up Twitch, word broke this morning that Amazon had crashed the party and was about to acquire Twitch themselves. Sure enough, the Amazon/Twitch deal is done. Our sources had previously suggested that the deal would close at nearly $1 billion dollars. We’re digging on the final price right this second, but are still hearing that it was very close to $1b. Update: Amazon confirms that the final price was $970M in cash.

Oregon Attorney General sues Oracle for “racketeering activity” – In the aftermath of what was likely the most spectacular failure among state-run Affordable Care Act health exchange site launches, the state of Oregon has filed a lawsuit against Oracle America Inc. over the total failure of the Cover Oregon exchange. “Oracle’s conduct amounts to a pattern of racketeering activity that has cost the State and Cover Oregon hundreds of millions of dollars,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum wrote in a civil complaint filed August 22. The lawsuit seeks over $5.5 billion in damages from Oracle, plus legal fees. The complaint comes after Oracle filed its own lawsuit against the state’s health exchange for failure to pay for services rendered in early August.

WhatsApp hits 600 million monthly active users – In the six months since Facebook announced it was buying the messaging app, the service’s monthly active user base has grown by 150 million.

Games and Entertainment:

The 16 best one-hand Android games for fun on the go – Clenching to the bus rail on your way to work, you don’t have both hands free to finish that Dead Trigger level you started last night. With a few minutes to spare, and one hand free, you need to find some games you can play with the same hand you’re holding your phone with. Your choices aren’t as limited as you might think. You’ll find that most of the titles are designed specifically with the portrait orientation in mind. However, some games are good enough to bend the rules, and you’ll see a couple games sprinkled in that are played in landscape mode.


Age of Empires: Castle Siege headed to Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 for ‘free’ – Age of Empires is one of the most popular real-time strategy game franchises on the PC and Microsoft has been looking to bring the game to its mobile platforms for quite some time. However, the Age of Empires: World Domination game which was set to launch on all mobile platforms has been delayed till the end of the year but another Age of Empires game, which would be called Age of Empires: Castle Siege, will land on the Windows and Windows Phone stores in September.


Loyal subscribers to get rewards in The Elder Scrolls Online – With free-to-play massively multiplayer online games being so common now, surviving as a subscription-based MMO is quite difficult. Many previously paid-for online games have made the switch to free-to-play, but Bethesda isn’t prepared to do that with The Elder Scrolls Online, and instead is choosing to reward loyalty. As a thank you for subscribing, Bethesda is introducing a loyalty program that rewards players with in-game items. All you have to do is subscribe for a set period of time.


Steam Update allows multiple installs at once – Supposing you switch computers often – like if you review PCs for a living – you’ll be glad to know of the latest Steam update. Valve has deemed it important that users be able to install multiple games at once with ease. While you’d have been able to jury-rig this in the past, now it’s much, much easier.

Swing Copters is Out and It’s Hard, Here’s How to Avoid the Fakes – Swing Copters is the second game from .GEARS Studios, the one-man dev house that brought you Flappy Bird. Of course, it also took Flappy Bird away a few months later. Swing Copters will, presumably, not be pulled from app stores, but you might wish it was.


Flappy Bird creator updates Swing Copters to make it less impossible – You know a video game is really, really difficult when a developer has to push out an update to make it playable.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Jawbone user data shows how Bay Area ‘quake affected users – One of the neat things about wearables are their ability to give you data about your life and habits. Making personal data available and pertinent is why we enjoy wearable tech, but what if it can be used on a broader scale? Jawbone recently shared data about Bay Area users’ sleep patterns to show the effect an earthquake can have on your sleep.


Spheree lets you watch animated images in full 3D – It’s official: we’re well on the way to a true 3D display. This one, called Spheree, is the work of a team of researchers working together from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and the University of British Columbia, Canada, and it’s mesmerising to behold. Like its name suggests, it’s in the shape of a translucent sphere; inside, the viewer can see animations and images that appear to float in the centre; as the viewer moves around, they can see other sides of the object as their perspective changes. And it’s all based on optical illusion.


Can we please stop talking about the Linux desktop? – Linus Torvalds wants the Linux desktop. Too bad no one else does. This is never going to get any better, so let’s give it up.

Is MSG really all that bad for you? – A new video from the American Chemical Society’s Reactions YouTube page explains that not only is MSG perfectly safe for the vast majority of people but shows how MSG, or, more accurately glutamate, is found in tons of natural, protein-rich foods. Plus, glutamate occurs naturally within our own bodies as we process and metabolize food. The whole monosodium part of MSG is so we can easily sprinkle it in our foods.


See what it’s like to fly through an aurora in orbit – Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have been capturing worldview-altering photos of Earth from space for ye ars now, including some beautiful shots of those dancing lights we know as the aurora borealis (or aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere). Now, the European Space Agency has published a new view for the YouTube generation with the breathtaking time-lapse video below.


Something to think about:

“It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.”

–     J. K. Rowling

Today’s Free Downloads:

Ultimate Settings Panel Released – We are pleased to announce the release of our new utility, Ultimate Settings Panel. We have designed it to be an all in one settings solution for a multitude of configuration options in Windows, Office and Configuration Manager. As it is a first release, there may be some bugs in it or some things that may not quite be perfect – the only way we will fix these bugs and add the extras that you want is if you tell us – so please feel free to contact us or use our Disqus system at the bottom of this post. If you have any good ideas for what we can do to this utility in future releases then we will take them on board and add them if possible.

Ultimate Settings Panel is a tab based utility giving you the option of selecting from a wide range of different configuration options as you can see from the screen shots below:



In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

The Surveillance Engine: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google – The National Security Agency is secretly providing data to nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies with a “Google-like” search engine built to share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept.

The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies. Planning documents for ICREACH, as the search engine is called, cite the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration as key participants.

ICREACH contains information on the private communications of foreigners and, it appears, millions of records on American citizens who have not been accused of any wrongdoing. Details about its existence are contained in the archive of materials provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Earlier revelations sourced to the Snowden documents have exposed a multitude of NSA programs for collecting large volumes of communications. The NSA has acknowledged that it shares some of its collected data with domestic agencies like the FBI, but details about the method and scope of its sharing have remained shrouded in secrecy.


The Landmark file: Inside Canadian cyber-security agency’s ‘target the world’ strategy – When Canadian intelligence officials speak about today’s spying, they can reveal great ambition.

Sometimes they speak of wanting to “master the Internet” or even “target the world” before switching to less evocative terms, such as “computer network operations” or CNO.

When pressed whether this is tantamount to “hacking,” they avoid that word.

“We’ve got some bright young kids,” retired spymaster John Adams once told The Globe in an interview. “Virtually everything – 90 per cent of what they do – is CNO now. It opens it up to where they can literally go out and target the world.”

These previously unpublished remarks from Mr. Adams, chief of Communications Security Establishment Canada from 2005 to 2011, seemed cryptic at the time they were spoken late last year.

Yet they are a little less so now.

Recently released material suggest just how very good CSEC may be getting at its job –– avoiding the capture of Canadian communications even as it steps up its capacity to spy on countries around the world.

The German computer magazine c’t has published what appears to be leaked details about a CSEC endeavour called Landmark. The slides, if genuine, showing how Canadian government “network exploitation analysts” actually do their jobs. The article suggests these details show how the Canadians seek to impose the will of their agency – and allied agencies – on thousands, potentially millions, of computers in “as many non 5-Eyes countries as possible.”

The “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance – the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand – is the club of English-speaking nations whose electronic-eavesdropping agencies agree not spy on each other, while working together to keep tabs on the rest of the world.

Australia: Metadata storage wishlist­ revealed – THE Attorney-General’s Department has drawn up a confidential wishlist of the metadata it wants to capture — including financial records, home and ­internet-protocol addresses and download volumes — as part of the government’s plan to ­impose a data-retention scheme on large telecommunications companies.

Confidential consultations with the companies — including Telstra, Optus and iiNet — commenced late last week with the circulation of a paper that has been obtained by The Australian. It articulates for the first time what type of data the ­Attorney-General’s Department wants telecommunications companies and internet service providers to store.

The paper, prepared for “preliminary discussions”, reveals the companies should retain records that would identify the names and addresses of individual internet and telephone ­account holders as well as information to trace and identify the source of a communication and the device used.

Data including when and where communication services originate and terminate have also been included in the wishlist as well as information that would reveal users’ upload and download volumes.

In a sign the government could be widening its net for what type of data is retained, the paper suggests the scheme should be able to capture “any current or historical ­supplementary identification”, which it says could include “date of birth, financial, billing and payment information, other transactional information, or contact information”.

In a significant win for citizens concerned that the new scheme could be used to track the specific pages visited by internet users, the discussion paper states that web histories will not be captured in the new laws.

“Nothing in this data set ­applies to or requires the retention of destination web address identifiers, such as destination IP ­addresses or URLs,” the paper says. “(This) does not apply to or ­require the retention of destination web-address identifiers, such as destination IP addresses or URLs. This exception is intended to ensure that providers of ­retail and wholesale internet ­access services are not required to engage in session-logging.”

Under the proposal all captured data would be required to be kept by telecommunications companies for a maximum of two years.

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