Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – September 8, 2014

The U.S. government’s secret plans to spy for American corporations;  Is Windows XP still safe? The answer is a resounding yes;   You need to know about NFC and mobile payments. Here’s why;  Very handy! Six helpful add-ons for Gmail;  Automate your morning programs with Windows Task Scheduler;  ChitChat is Snapchat for voice messages;  The 10 best websites for students;  Home Depot hit by same malware used in massive Target breach;  Botnet malware discovered on Healthcare.gov server;  Stephen Hawking: God particle could wipe out the universe;  The Sims 4 cheat codes;  Coffee shop bans laptops and tablets, business grows;  Meet the shadowy tech brokers that deliver your data to the NSA;  The game is not yet over for Gameover Zeus botnet;  Google recommends pronounceable passwords.

Windows XP security – Though Microsoft ended support for Windows XP in April, the popular OS refuses to die. Roughly 25 percent of desktop users are clinging to the OS, meaning XP still has four times as many users as Windows 8 or 8.1, according to NetMarketShare. Recently, independent security lab AV-Test investigated whether the outdated XP can be adequately protected. Is Windows XP still safe? The answer is a resounding yes.

You need to know about NFC and mobile payments. Here’s why – Rumored to be in Apple’s new devices, NFC is poised to play an important role in the way we use our phones, especially when it comes to mobile payments. Here’s how it works.

ChitChat is Snapchat for voice messages – To send a message, you need to tap and hold the relevant contact icon while speaking your message (which may mean holding your iPhone’s mike a little awkwardly to your mouth), releasing when done. As soon as you release, the message sends automatically. Once your contact has heard your message it is deleted, and listening to messages just requires one quick tap on a contact’s pic to access them. You can also send messages to multiple contacts at once.

Very handy! Six helpful add-ons for Gmail – A few weeks ago, I migrated from Outlook to Gmail. Since I made the move, I’ve been exploring Chrome and Gmail extensions to find the ones that would best suit my needs. I’ve been relatively frugal in my choices, because I didn’t want to add too much at one time. For those of you who are curious, the following are the six add-ons I’ve found most useful so far.

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The Chrome extension for the Pinterest-obsessed – Pinterest, the social bookmarking juggernaut, unveiled a Google Chrome browser extension today that turns your boring “new tab” pages into a daily dashboard with an oversize Pinterest pin. Meaning, every time you open a new tab in Chrome to search the web or go to a website, you’re greeted with a pinned photo that fills the window.

Best Android smartphones (September 2014 edition) – Looking for a new smartphone but aren’t interested in an iPhone? Don’t worry because we’ve got you covered. Here is a selection of the best Android phones currently available on the market (September 2014). So whether you’re after a handset for personal use, or one suited to BYOD, there bound to be an Android smartphone here for you.

Automate your morning programs with Windows Task Scheduler – If you ask me, the best tool for your computer is automation. Get it to do some of the mundane things you need to get done in the day or that make your work life just a little bit easier. One way to do that is to use the built-in Task Scheduler for Windows. A simple, but also strangely satisfying use for Task Scheduler is to fire up all the programs you need to get going during your morning work routine. In our case, we’ll use Excel, Firefox, and Skype as examples.

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The 10 best websites for students – Whether you’re looking to make sense of an obscure topic or want to avoid breaking the bank on that political science textbook, the Internet has a solution. We’ve compiled ten of the best resources for research, report writing, cheap textbooks, and even finding a date with a fellow student from your university—because college isn’t all about schoolwork.

Google Glass goes mainstream, now listed in the Play Store – It would appear as though Google has officially made its wearable face computer a member of the family, because you can now order the Explorer Edition of Google Glass and all of its accessories through the Play Store.

Windows Threshold Technical Preview: It’s all about feedback, feedback, feedback – Windows Threshold is getting really darn close to being ready for its public release. With the 30th of September quickly approaching, Microsoft is starting to put the final pieces together to create a release of the build that is ready for public consumption. Mary Jo Foley was the first to grab this bit of news and since we had heard the same thing and could add a bit more, we figured we would add some color to the reasoning why they want feedback and what to expect. The short answer to why they are focusing so heavily on user feedback is not just about polishing the experience for user – it’s also because the enterprise hates Windows 8.

Reddit Bans Major Subreddit Promoting Celebrity Nude Picture Hack – The Web’s talk of the town—Reddit this time, not 4chan—has taken quite a bit of flak this week for its role in the big celebrity naked picture hack. While a number of online entities passed the batch of images and videos around like digital trading cards, an entire Reddit sub-community entitled “The Fappening” quickly became the files’ bridge to a more mainstream audience. Said subreddit has since been banned by Reddit administrators, mostly due to the fact that it’s been the epicenter for related Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests related to the photos—and the fact that said subreddit’s users keep posting them.

With the Core M, Intel promises thinner, cooler, more powerful PCs – Intel formally launches its Core M chips for notebooks and tablets, the first wave of its new Broadwell generation of chips. Expect dramatic improvements in performance and battery life, Intel says.

Security:

Home Depot hit by same malware used in massive Target breach – The malware used in the massive Target data breach last December, which affected more than 110 million people, has now hit customers from almost every single Home Depot store in the United States. It is unknown exactly how many customers were affected in Home Depot’s data breach, but considering the number of retail stores affected, it’s not unlikely that the count could number in the millions. Since the attack used BlackPOS, the same malware used in the Target breach, Home Depot’s breach may include credit card numbers, ZIP code data, and other sensitive personal information.

Google recommends pronounceable passwords – Google has updated its password manager to recommend pronounceable passwords within its flagship Chrome browser. The experimental feature was the latest development which could make it into the regular versions of Chrome as part of steady improvements to its password capture, storage and generation. The update is Google’s latest encroachment into the territory of online password management dominated by LastPass and 1Password, who could well feel threatened as Chrome builds in functionality they once offered as third-party value adds.

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Will iCloud ‘hack’ help kill online security questions? – There is no such thing as a “private naked selfie” and Apple’s online security questions don’t improve the situation. Kevin Rose said it’s high time to kill such security questions, or else “we might as well change all of our passwords to ‘1234’ and hope for the best.”

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Feds say NSA “bogeyman” did not find Silk Road’s servers – The FBI easily found the main server of the now-defunct Silk Road online drug-selling site, and didn’t need the National Security’s help, federal prosecutors said in a Friday court filing. The authorities said Friday that the FBI figured out the server’s IP address through a misconfiguration in the site’s login window. They said that a US warrant wasn’t required to search the Icelandic server because “warrants are not required for searches by foreign authorities of property overseas.”

Why Breach Detection Is Your New Must-Have, Cyber Security Tool – Cyber attacks are all over the news, and it seems like no one is immune — Home Depot, Target, Adobe and eBay included. So why are CIOs still fighting cyber criminals with one hand tied behind their backs? Shockingly, most companies are still relying on outdated, only partially effective methods to protect their sensitive data, mainly with technology that focuses on preventing incoming attacks. But actually stopping bad guys from slipping inside enterprise networks and getting their hands on sensitive data is nearly impossible these days. In fact, among organizations with over 5,000 computers, over 90 percent have an active breach of some sort at any given time. What’s worse, those organizations may not even know about it.

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The game is not yet over for Gameover Zeus botnet – If you’ve ever watched a horror movie, you know the trope where the hero seemingly kills the monster, but as soon as he turns his back to walk away the monster regains consciousness and attacks again with renewed vigor. According to the latest report from F-Secure, that’s the sort of scenario we might be looking at with the Gameover Zeus botnet.

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Botnet malware discovered on Healthcare.gov server – A server connected to Healthcare.gov had botnet malware on it, but the malicious code was never used and no personal information was compromised.

Company News:

Microsoft has removed its Bing Image Widget – Following a lawsuit from Getty Images over copyright infringement, Microsoft has bit the bullet and removed the beta version of its Bing Image Widget, which allowed site owners to easily embed media.

Alibaba Proposes To Go Public For As Much as $66 Per Share, Valuing The Firm At More Than $160B – Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant run by Jack Ma, has submitted F-1 paperwork to the SEC with the expectation that it will go public on September 8 under the NYSE symbol BABA. The filing appeared on SEC.gov today. 20.1 million shares will be on offer. Japanese investor Softbank currently owns 34 percent of the company while Yahoo owns 22 percent. The initial price is expected to hit at $60-66 per share with an initial valuation of up to $162 billion. At that valuation, Softbank’s share of the firm is worth around $55 billion, and Yahoo’s stake is worth more than $36 billion.

Facebook Highlights Its 1 Billion Video Views Per Day Reach By Adding View Counts – To prove to advertisers and the world that it’s not just YouTube that has massive video engagement online, Facebook today announced it now delivers 1 billion video views per day and will begin showing everyone view counts on videos posted by Pages and public figures. This could convince advertisers shifting TV ad spend to digital to look to Facebook, which recently bought video adtech company LiveRail for between $400 million and $500 million in July.

Microsoft is moving away from Windows Phone and towards ‘Windows’ for your phone – Looking at the trail of evidence, it becomes clear that for Windows Phone, the future is Windows for your phone as Microsoft looks to pivot products around the Windows brand

Nest expands into Europe, reveals new parterships – Nest today announced it is expanding further into Europe. Its Thermostat and Protect products will be available to buy from official channels at the end of the September in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. Nest says that people use its products in 120 different countries already, having bought them online, even though they are not set up properly for that country’s heating system. After the UK, where Nest products are already on sale, the new countries announced today are some of the most popular countries for imported Nest usage in Europe.

Games and Entertainment:

Dreadnought preview: It’s like World of Tanks and Battlestar Galactica had a baby – Here’s the easiest way to describe Dreadnought—the way it was described to me, and presumably the way it was described to everyone at PAX, and it’s the first thing you think of when you play the game. Remember that scene in Battlestar Galactica where the ship warps in the atmosphere? Yeah, of course you do unless you didn’t watch Battlestar Galactica in which case who are you? Dreadnought is that scene.

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A heavy support vehicle attacking a light dreadnought.

You Should Play: Hazumino – If you like Tetris, platformers, endless runners, and multi-tasking, I have the perfect game for you. Hazumino is a brilliant—and totally bizarre—mash-up of everything that is awesome. It’s a platformer à la Super Mario. It’s an endless runner à la Robot Unicorn Attack. It’s a block-stacking game à la Tetris. And it’s all of these things at the same time.

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Six mathematical apps for Adventure Time fans – Adventure Time is easily one of the weirdest, most creative things on television today, and it’s also the rare show that means so much to kids and adults alike—and sometimes for different reasons altogether. The cartoon is alternately silly and sentimental, absurdist and still surprisingly relatable. It’s a curious concoction, to be sure, but a rather wonderful one overall. Looking for ways to stoke your Adventure Time enthusiasm on the go? Here are six entertaining apps that will do just that.

The new Lego Slave I set is a stunning Star Wars tribute – When Lego offered up a Slave I set back in 2010, I was pretty excited to see it… but the original doesn’t hold a candle to the one that’s coming out this year. Lego has updated Slave I for the 2014 holiday season, and it’s an amazingly faithful reproduction of the bounty hunter’s ship. If you look in the bottom left corner of the box, you’ll see why that’s the case: it’s part of the Lego Ultimate Collector Series. The “low-fi” 2010 set was just 573 pieces. The Ultimate Collector’s Slave I? It’s packed with nearly 2,000 pieces.

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The Sims 4 cheat codes – The Sims is one of the few games that still openly permits the use of cheat codes. Here are the codes for the newly launched The Sims 4.

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Off Topic (Sort of):

You can thank Brit funnyman John Oliver for fixing US broadband policy, beams Netflix – Netflix CEO Reed Hastings thinks Americans owe a debt to British satirist John Oliver for the FCC’s tough stance this week on broadband monopolies in the US. The comment references Oliver’s campaign earlier this year to raise awareness of net neutrality. Hastings reckons Oliver’s mocking of the FCC’s handling of the net neutrality debate has made the watchdog shake up its priorities.

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Cable companies want to unbundle broadcast TV, and broadcasters are angry – A group called TVfreedom.org that represents local broadcasters and other organizations today criticized the American Cable Association (ACA) for supporting Local Choice. “We believe ‘Local Choice’ represents a frontal assault on free and local TV broadcasting,” TVfreedom Public Affairs Director Robert Kenny wrote. “It would tilt television’s balance of power in favor of pay-TV providers at the expense of broadcasters invested in localism. It would cost consumers more on their monthly bills, and do nothing to address shoddy pay-TV service or the deceptive billing practices of cable and satellite TV providers.”

Stephen Hawking: God particle could wipe out the universe – In a preface to new book, the famed physicist fears the Higgs Boson becoming unstable and causing a “catastrophic vacuum decay.” But how likely is that really?

GM plans to launch hands-free driving by 2016 – General Motors announced Sunday it plans to introduce Cadillac models in two years that incorporate hands-free driving and Wi-Fi-enabled vehicle-to-vehicle communications to exchange traffic information with similarly equipped vehicles.

Coffee shop bans laptops and tablets, business grows – A Vermont bakery and coffee shop shuts off its Wi-Fi and discovers that people quite like it.

Something to think about:

“Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.”

–     Alvin Toffler

Today’s Free Downloads:

recALL – recALL allows quick recovery of passwords from more than 180 programs (email, web browsers, instant messengers, FTP clients, wireless, etc) and license keys from nearly 800 applications. recALL it the world’s first program that allows you to recover most of the password and also a license from damaged operating systems through native support of the systems registry files Windows.

Due to the unique function emulation FTP, POP3 and SMTP can recover passwords from any application supporting these protocols, even if the program is not yet supported in recALL.

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PCFerret – PCFerret is designed to produce reports for the novice user and technical support departments, and perform analysis of a PC’s content.

It is ideal for troubleshooting and for clients to be able to provide technical support departments with accurate information relating to their system’s configuration. The report can be viewed on screen, printed for faxing, or saved as a single HTML formatted file, ready for emailing as an attachment.

Features:

Detailed System Report

Password Generator

ADS (Alternate Data Stream) Detection

File Analysis

Find File By Type (Content)

Reboot Operations

Detect Tor Browser

Additional Information

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

The U.S. government’s secret plans to spy for American corporations – Throughout the last year, the U.S. government has repeatedly insisted that it does not engage in economic and industrial espionage, in an effort to distinguish its own spying from China’s infiltrations of Google, Nortel, and other corporate targets. So critical is this denial to the U.S. government that last August, an NSA spokesperson emailed The Washington Post to say (emphasis in original): “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”

After that categorical statement to the Post, the NSA was caught spying on plainly financial targets such as the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras; economic summits; international credit card and banking systems; the EU antitrust commissioner investigating Google, Microsoft, and Intel; and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In response, the U.S. modified its denial to acknowledge that it does engage in economic spying, but unlike China, the spying is never done to benefit American corporations.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, for instance, responded to the Petrobras revelations by claiming: “It is not a secret that the Intelligence Community collects information about economic and financial matters…. What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of—or give intelligence we collect to—U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

But a secret 2009 report issued by Clapper’s own office explicitly contemplates doing exactly that. The document, the 2009 Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review—provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—is a fascinating window into the mindset of America’s spies as they identify future threats to the U.S. and lay out the actions the U.S. intelligence community should take in response.

India government: ‘net should not be censored: Except, of course, when it should – India’s communications and IT minister, tasked with attracting foreign investors to the country’s tech sector, has defended controversial IT laws while saying that Internet censorship should be minimal.

Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad made the remarks to The Hindu Business Line in response to criticisms of Section 66 of the country’s IT Act.

While many countries forbid using telecommunications services to menace or threaten, the Indian law goes further by criminalising the publication of false information for, among other things, the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience.

As a result, as Index on Censorship notes, Facebook posts are increasingly landing individuals in front of the courts.

Meet the shadowy tech brokers that deliver your data to the NSA – Picture two federal agents knocking at your door, ready to serve you a top secret order from the U.S. government, demanding that you hand over every shred of data you own — from usernames and passwords, phone records, emails, and social networking and credit card data.

You can’t tell anyone, and your only viable option is to comply.

For some U.S. Internet service providers (ISP) and phone companies, this scenario happens — and often. Just one ISP hit by a broad-ranging warrant has the potential to affect the privacy of millions of Americans.

But when one Atlanta, Georgia-based Internet provider was served a top-secret data request, there wasn’t a suited-and-booted federal agent in sight.

Why? Because the order was served on a so-called “trusted third-party,” which handles the request, served fresh from the secretive Washington D.C.-based Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court. With permission from their ISP customers, these third-parties discreetly wiretap their networks at the behest of law enforcement agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and even intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA).

By implementing these government data requests with precision and accuracy, trusted third-parties — like Neustar, Subsentio, and Yaana — can turn reasonable profits for their services.

Little is known about these types of companies, which act as outsourced data brokers between small and major U.S. ISPs and phone companies, and the federal government. Under the 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), any company considered a “communications provider” has to allow government agencies access when a valid court order is served. No matter how big or small, even companies whose legal and financial resources are limited do not escape federal wiretapping laws.

On a typical day, these trusted third-parties can handle anything from subpoenas to search warrants and court orders, demanding the transfer of a person’s data to law enforcement. They are also cleared to work with classified and highly secretive FISA warrants. A single FISA order can be wide enough to force a company to turn over its entire store of customer data.

Off-the-grid texting device GoTenna attracts antisurveillance crowd – Daniel Levy, a Web developer living in the Puna District of Hawaii, lived through a 12-day blackout after a rather vicious hurricane earlier this summer. Many residents in his community were stuck powerless until the local utility company restored the grid, while some subsisted on solar energy. It was after that, Levy said, that he sought a solution and came upon GoTenna.

The gadget — a small Bluetooth-enabled rod packed to the brim with modern radio innards — lets you create your own private, secure communication network for sending messages without cell service using your smartphone. Though marketed toward outdoors and emergency situations like hiking and disaster relief, GoTenna is getting a boost from the cryptography community. Levy, whose neighborhood gets little to zero reliable cell service, happens to represent both. He’s among the more than 25 percent of GoTenna preorder customers who paid for the product with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

“We do not need to be dependent on centralized industries for our communication, which is a very important part of our modern lives,” Levy told CNET. The developer runs WebOfTrust.net, a peer-to-peer credit and collaboration-focused social network currently in development that aims to take the decentralization and financial empowerment elements of Bitcoin and apply them to his local community in Hawaii. He’s considering integrating with GoTenna’s application programming interface (API) to link the gadget with his software platform.

“With GoTenna, we can create our own, decentralized mesh network that we own, and be in control of the data that we create,” he said. Levy said he wouldn’t have purchased GoTenna had the company not accepted Bitcoin as payment, nor if the device’s communication lines had not been end-to-end encrypted and the messages never stored, he said. “If it proves to be useful, I would like to encourage my community to start utilizing these devices.”

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A mobile accessory that lets you communicate without cell service has taken off with Bitcoin enthusiasts, in part because it prevents spying eyes.

The pentagon is giving grenade launchers to campus police – The Pentagon’s 1033 program, which allows the Defense Department to unload its excess military equipment onto local police forces, has quietly overflowed onto college campuses. According to documents obtained by the website Muckrock, more than 100 campus police forces have received military materials from the Pentagon. Schools that participate in the program range from liberal arts to community colleges to the entire University of Texas system. Emory, Rice, Perdue, and the University of California, Berkeley, are all on the list.

In 1990, Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act, including the magnanimous section 1208, which since 1996 has been known as program 1033. Over the last 17 years, this trickle-down gift economy has distributed more than $4.3 billion worth of equipment, according to program administrators. As Ferguson police rolled up to peaceful protesters in military-grade tanks, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, President Obama ordered a review of the program, which reached new highs in regifting under his tenure.

It’s clear why a review of the program is in order, because it isn’t clear at all what sort of equipment these colleges are receiving. David Perry, the president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, told Politico that 1033 mostly funnels “small items” to college police forces for daily use. These could be anything from office supplies or uniforms or car parts, but it’s probably not all that tame. Campus Safety magazine recommends that universities take part in the 1033 program to cover a range of needs from storage units to grenade launchers. That is, after all, what the program was designed to achieve.

But program 1033 doesn’t even come close to explaining all the ways in which campus police have been militarized over the past two decades. Colleges can also apply for Homeland Security grants, the same ones made available to every municipal police department in the country after 9/11. In 2012, UC Berkeley tried to use the program to purchase an eight-ton armored truck. After a backlash, university officials ultimately decided the truck was “not the best choice for a university setting.” The following year, Ohio State University acquired a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle. So far, it has yet to be targeted.

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