Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – November 17, 2014

Our devices are listening to us all the time — but do we care?  Black Friday begins: Walmart stores to match Amazon prices;  Microsoft rolls out Skype for Web;  Android 5.0 video user guide;  These 5 Emergency Gadgets Can Save Your Life;  This Is the Best Cheap Wi-Fi Router You Can Buy;  Action Video Games Make You Smarter;  How to encrypt sensitive data? Put it in an encrypted container;  Facebook: You post it, we can see it, and that’s that;  Kindle updates include Family Library sharing, Word Wise definitions;  Winning with Mobile (Infographic);  AT&T stops using undeletable phone tracking IDs;  A Gift Guide For The Core Gamer Who Wants It All;  7 Troubling Security Breaches And How They Happened;  A brief history of tailgating;  Apple Pay proves hugely popular at McDonald’s, Walgreens;  Facebook internally working on “Facebook at Work”;  Man injects Bitcoin wallet NFC chips into his hands;  Baidu PC Faster (free).

Black Friday begins: Walmart stores to match Amazon prices – Black Friday, the day that holiday shoppers either love or hate, is quickly approaching. While a number of retailers, both physical and online, have already begun announcing some of their big deals to be available come November 28th, Walmart is getting an early start in this year’s challenge to internet rival Amazon. As of November 14th, all Walmart retail stores are now price-matching with anything available on Amazon.com.

Facebook: You post it, we can see it, and that’s that – Facebook lets its users control whether other people can see the information they post, but when it comes to controlling what Facebook itself gets to see, privacy-conscious users are out of luck. In fact, Facebook doesn’t think it would make sense to let users do that.

Our devices are listening to us all the time — but do we care? – Once a thing dreamed about in sci-fi, voice-controlled computers are a reality. But consumers may not realize the price they pay for living in the future.

Forget the app; Microsoft rolls out Skype for Web – Microsoft announced today that it’s launching a beta of Skype for the Web, allowing browser-based video chats that don’t require a separate app. Skype for Web, which is expected to roll out in the coming weeks, will be available via Internet Explorer, Chrome on Windows, Firefox or Safari.

These 5 Emergency Gadgets Can Save Your Life – Whether it’s a tornado, blizzard or earthquake, these five life-saving gadgets can help you survive the toughest of conditions:

How to get rid of Firefox’s new ads on the New Tab page – As promised, ads have finally hit Firefox’s New Tab page. Here’s how to make them go away.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Action Video Games Make You Smarter – According to a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, playing action titles can improve not only those skills taught in the game, but also general learning capabilities. “Prior research by our group and others has shown that action gamers excel at many tasks. In this new study, we show they excel because they are better learners,” Daphne Bavelier, a research professor in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, said in a statement.

Android 5.0 video user guide – Android 5.0 Lollipop is still just beginning to debut on Android devices, but there’s a lot for you to look forward to as OEMs get other devices up to date. The UI is completely different, and there are new features in every nook and cranny. Let’s try to make sense of it all.

Controversial Suicide-Prevention App Pulled After Backlash – For those unaware, Samaritans Radar allowed someone to sign up using their Twitter account, and Samaritans Radar would monitor the tweets of the people that person followed. If it noticed a particular pattern of phrases that might suggest the person was otherwise depressed or suicidal, it would email a link to the account holder and suggest that he or she contact their friend and help them out.

This Is the Best Cheap Wi-Fi Router You Can Buy – If I wanted the cheapest good Wi-Fi router I could get, I would buy the TP-Link TL-WDR3600. It’s a wireless-N router that costs $60 but outperforms some routers that cost twice as much. It took more than 150 hours of research and testing to find our pick. Of the 29 routers we looked at and the seven we tested, the TL-WDR3600 had the best performance for the lowest price.

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TP-Link TL-WDR3600

How to encrypt sensitive data? Put it in an encrypted container – We all have files that we’d rather not share with hackers and thieves (and maybe even our spouses). Here’s how to put them in a place where no one else can open them.

Winning with Mobile (Infographic) – Mobility brings tremendous opportunities for companies today, both in increased productivity and new business, but an unmanaged deployment invites risk and creates a potential for data loss.

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Partial graphic shown.

Yosemite upgrade stops Macs with aftermarket SSDs from booting – There’s a new security feature in OS X Yosemite that could render your computer unbootable. If you’ve been using an SSD with Trim support enabled, proceed with caution. Turning on Trim is a great way to extend the life of SSDs and keep them performing at the peak of their abilities. OS X, however, only supports Trim on Apple-supplied SSDs. If you upgraded the drive at some point, you couldn’t simply switch on Trim and go about your business as usual. Apple’s drivers won’t allow it.

Testers protest abrupt changes in Windows 10’s OneDrive sync – The latest preview release for Windows 10 is getting a thumbs-down from one group of testers angry that Microsoft changed a fundamental feature of the OneDrive sync client. Here’s what they’re unhappy about and how Microsoft has responded so far.

Flickr Wall Art printing service launches worldwide – Just over a month after a limited launch, photo hosting & sharing service Flickr has updated its new Wall Art printing service to accept orders from anywhere around the globe. A premium well beyond regular printing, the options allow users to have photos either printed on gallery-style canvas or be wood-mounted, each available in a number of sizes.

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Apple Pay proves hugely popular at McDonald’s, Walgreens – Having been available to iPhone 6 users for just short of a month now, Apple Pay has proven to be very popular among customers, and accounting for a rapidly growing number of transactions at participating retailers. Apple itself has said little on numbers of payments made, with CEO Tim Cook only commenting that 1 million activations took place in the first 72 hours, but a report from the New York Times reveals some concrete info about Apple’s mobile payment service.

Family-friendly Kindle updates include Family Library sharing, Word Wise definitions – Just ahead of the holiday sales rush, the Kindle’s new features promote learning and togetherness. Amazon also expanded the X-ray feature on the e-readers.

Volvo gives Google Cardboard new life, uses it to preview new cars – Remember Google Cardboard? It’s a Google project that uses a small cardboard contraption to effectively turn your smartphone into a basic VR headset. It’s been sort of forgotten, but Volvo is putting it to good use to preview its new XC90 SUV. Volvo’s XC90 preview—which the auto maker claims is “the first virtual reality test drive on your phone”—works in conjunction with a free smartphone app, which is available now for Android, and will arrive in the iOS App Store on November 18th. Volvo designed the app with a Google Cardboard viewer in mind, but says that you don’t need the viewer in order to use the app.

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Anonymous seizes Ku Klux Klan Twitter account over Ferguson threats – Summary: After racial hate group Ku Klux Klan said it would use ‘lethal force’ on Ferguson protesters, a skirmish with Anonymous erupted: Anonymous has now seized two primary KKK Twitter accounts.

Security:

7 Troubling Security Breaches And How They Happened – Through third-party apps, big business email scams, and even the cloud itself, information has been chronically compromised. Private information, from the infamous celebrity photo leak, to personal data of regular folks has flooded into the open, sending the public into a privacy panic – and it doesn’t look like the hacks are going to stop. Here are some of the major big privacy breaches of 2013 and 2014, and how they happened.

AT&T stops using undeletable phone tracking IDs – Verizon says its tracking is still ongoing, with no immediate plans to stop – AT&T says it has stopped its controversial practice of adding a hidden, undeletable tracking number to its mobile customers’ Internet activity. The move comes after AT&T and Verizon received a slew of critical news coverage for inserting tracking numbers into their subscribers’ Internet activity, even after users opted out. Last month, ProPublica reported that Twitter’s mobile advertising unit was enabling its clients to use the Verizon identifier. The tracking numbers can be used by sites to build a dossier about a person’s behavior on mobile devices, including which apps they use, what sites they visit and for how long. AT&T said it used the tracking numbers as part of a test, which it has now completed.

How Apple Pay helped me catch a fraudulent credit-card charge – After setting up the service weeks ago, I promptly forgot about it. Then this happened.

For a year, gang operating rogue Tor node infected Windows executables – Three weeks ago, a security researcher uncovered a Tor exit node that added malware to uncompressed Windows executables passing through it. Officials with the privacy service promptly shut down the Russia-based node, but according to new research, the group behind the node had likely been infecting files for more than a year by that time, causing careless users to install a backdoor that gave attackers full control of their systems. What’s more, according to a blog post published Friday by researchers from antivirus provider F-Secure, the rogue exit node was tied to the “MiniDuke” gang, which previously infected government agencies and organizations in 23 countries with highly advanced malware that uses low-level code to stay hidden.

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A flowchart of the infection process used by a malicious Tor exit node.

Reports: State Department admits intrusion into unclassified email – The U.S. State Department’s unclassified email system was taken offline over the weekend for security improvements, a scheduled event, but officials conceded suspicious activity had been previously detected, according to media reports. A department official said “activity of concern” was discovered around the same time the White House’s network was attacked in late October, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the incident.

Report: FTC Asks Apple How it Protects Health Data – Now that Apple has released its iOS 8 Health app, offering a single place where you can store all your health information, the big question is — how is the company protecting all that very sensitive information? It’s a question that the Federal Trade Commission is apparently looking into. According to a report from Reuters, the consumer protection agency is “seeking assurances” from Apple that it will safeguard the sensitive health data collected by its mobile devices and upcoming smartwatch.

Suspected WireLurker malware creators arrested in China – Beijing police have arrested three people suspected of developing the “WireLurker” malware that may have infected as many as hundreds of thousands of Apple users. Local authorities arrested the three suspects on a tip from Chinese security company Qihoo 360 Technology, the Beijing police’s Internet security team said Friday.

Company News:

Microsoft overtakes oil giant Exxon as 2nd largest traded company – After a $47 billion loss in market value, Exxon Mobil has lost its coveted second place spot in market capitalization to none other than technology kingpin Microsoft. Market capitalization is the metric by which companies are traditionally defined on the stock market – the total value of all a publicly traded company’s outstanding shares, calculated using share price and number of shares. By market capitalization, Microsoft figures at around $409 billion, while Exxon Mobil dipped to around $401 billion.

Apple adds China UnionPay to its list of partners – Continuing its courtship of the Chinese market, Apple has just announced that its App Store has just added UnionPay as a payment option in the region. Being the only domestic bank card network in China, UnionPay’s presence will make it much easier for iPhone, iPad, and Mac users to get their app fix, no matter their actual credit card. This also makes it easier for them to get hooked into the app-buying fever, which could very well boost China’s position as Apple’s second largest app consumer.

Facebook internally working on “Facebook at Work” – According to the Financial Times, Facebook at Work will have similar features as the normal social network that includes news feed, messaging and groups. Additionally, it will have separate work profiles, privacy settings and document sharing in order to enable collaboration in work places. Facebook is currently working on reducing promotional content in news feeds for regular users but the current pilot program of Facebook at Work in London is completely free from advertising. Of course, this could change once the product rolls out as advertising is the key source of revenue for Facebook.

IBM, Nvidia to Build Huge Supercomputers for U.S. Labs – Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge will use the machines to help sort through massive amounts of data.

Facebook looking to cut down on promotional posts in 2015 – Facebook is apparently looking to cut down on promotional posts after a shocking survey found that many users would prefer to see more of their friends’ posts instead of ads.

Games and Entertainment:

Call of Duty is Back: Now What? – I’ve completed the campaign, I’ve played online, and I’ve shot just about every weapon the game has to offer. And I can say unequivocally that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare brings the franchise back to a place of prominence and esteem it lost in recent years. For everyone who left the Call of Duty franchise over the awfulness that was Ghosts, Advanced Warfare has atoned for those sins and then some.

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A Gift Guide For The Core Gamer Who Wants It All – Do you like games? Do you also like playing them, regardless of surroundings, access to power, Wi-Fi or a clean water supply? We’ve got you covered, with a list of must-haves for those who’d rather play in virtual worlds than exist outside them. Strap in and prepare your hands with ample stretching, because what follows will arm you for hours of game time, both on-the-go, and at home, in all the resolutions and on all the things.

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iPhone game entirely made of emoji released by 19 year old student – We can look back at the tremendously popular iOS game Flappy Bird and instantly see how simply designed it is; one-touch controls paired with colorful, blocky sprites. Well, a 19 year old Russian student may have just taken the simple design factor to a new level, with his game Emoji Cosmos made of nothing but emoji.

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How to Avoid Sucking at ‘Super Smash Bros’ – For the next several months, as new iterations take over both the 3DS and Wii U, Super Smash Bros. is likely to become the reason your social life shifts from a bar stool to a sofa. Here’s how not to embarrass yourself in the process.

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Black Friday deals: Xbox One Master Chief Collection bundle for $299 at Walmart – Walmart is offering some tremendous Black Friday deals this year, including the Xbox One Master Chief Collection bundle for only $329 (plus a $30 gift card) and the Xbox 360 4GB for $99.

Alien: Isolation review: The best, most terrifying Alien experience in nearly 30 years – Alien: Isolation has its issues, but by-and-large it’s the best stealth game of the year and a stunning tribute to Ridley Scott’s universe.

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You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley — star of the Alien films.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Startup tests robot security guards at Microsoft campus – A California based startup has developed robot security guards which could soon be used widely, and four of them were recently seen surveilling Microsoft’s campus in Mountain View.

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As Developers Depart, Google Glass Is Ready To Become This Era’s Segway – Just over 18 months ago Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said he found having to talk to Google Glass out loud “the weirdest thing” and admitted that there would be “places where Google Glass are inappropriate.” Well, hello! I think the average person could have told Google this long before they spent millions developing the thing, and as I wrote at the time, the product was simply incapable of becoming a mass-market device. I predicted it would become this era’s Segway: hyped as a game changer but ultimately used by warehouse workers and mall cops. Indeed, Glass might well be our surveillance era’s perfect pairing. Now Reuters has uncovered clear evidence that app developers are dropping the device.

Google works with Australia’s biggest carrier to test Project Loon balloons – Project Loon, Google’s ambitious plan to bring internet to the entire world by way of a network of high-altitude balloons, is preparing to launch a series of test flights in Australia. The tests will see 20 balloons launched across western Queensland, and will be the first to be conducted in the country when they begin in December. They’ll also mark the first time Google has partnered with a wireless carrier to beam internet to the ground below — the flights are being run in partnership with Australia’s largest telecoms company, Telstra.

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War, beheadings, and booze: a brief history of tailgating – According to the American Tailgaters Association, the first occurrence of tailgating occurred in mid-summer of 1861—a full eight years before the first football game—in Manassas, Virginia, before Confederate forces and Union soldiers met in the First Battle of Bull Run on—you guessed it—a Sunday. The story goes that civilians arrived at the battlefield in wagons loaded with wines, whiskeys, and food. Spoiler alert: the blue team retreated, but came back to win the war. So tailgating is an American pastime, shrouded in red, white, and blue, right? Maybe not.

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Presumably the Mayor of San Francisco. Photo by Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Man injects Bitcoin wallet NFC chips into his hands – Chalk this one up to sounding both a little crazy and a little brilliant. 10 days ago, a Dutch man had a NFC chip implanted into each of his hands to serve as storage for the encrypted key to his Bitcoin cold storage. Keeping one’s Bitcoins offline, and in this case in the body, makes it harder for them to be hacked and stolen, but Martijn Wismeijer is already thinking ahead for other uses for his chipped hands.

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Polygraph.com owner indicted for training customers to beat the polygraph – A former Oklahoma City police officer was indicted Thursday on accusations of teaching people to cheat on lie detector tests, the government announced Friday. The 69-year-old Norman, Oklahoma, man is the owner of Polygraph.com and charged customers thousands of dollars for instructions on how to beat lie detector tests administered for federal employment suitability assessments, federal security background investigations, and internal federal agency investigations, court documents show.

Darknet shopping bot may be brilliant, illegal, or both – Called the Random Darknet Shopper, this simple program has access to exactly $100 worth of Bitcoins each week, and is authorized to use that currency to make randomized purchases from Agora Marketplace. Agora is one of the leading dark markets, especially after the FBI’s recent bust of the Silk Road 2, and it hosts a wide variety of content. Sure, users can buy drugs (lots of different ones!) but they can also purchase counterfeit credit cards, spy-like recording equipment, cigarettes, lock picking tools, or the services of a professional hacker. The shopper-bot makes purchases within its means, and has all items shipped to the artist’s studio space, where it is immediately put on display.

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Census: Most U.S. Homes Have a PC and Internet, But Gaps Remain – Not surprisingly, a majority of U.S. households own a computer. But according to recent Census Bureau data, there remains a huge divide across the country. Perhaps the greatest discrepancy, however, is the geographic deviations. Last year, 25 states had rates of computer ownership above the national average; 17 of them are located in the west or northeast. Of the 20 states with low rates, meanwhile, half were located in the south.

Something to think about:

“Leave it to a girl to take the fun out of sex discrimination.”

–     Bill Watterson, Calvin in “Calvin and Hobbes”

Today’s Free Downloads:

VeraCrypt – VeraCrypt is a free disk encryption software brought to you by IDRIX (https://www.idrix.fr) and that is based on TrueCrypt.

VeraCrypt adds enhanced security to the algorithms used for system and partitions encryption making it immune to new developments in brute-force attacks.

VeraCrypt also solves many vulnerabilities and security issues found in TrueCrypt. The following post describes parts of the major enhancements and corrections done so far: https://veracrypt.codeplex.com/discussions/569777#PostContent_1313325

As an example, when the system partition is encrypted, TrueCrypt uses PBKDF2-RIPEMD160 with 1000 iterations whereas in VeraCrypt we use 327661. And for standard containers and other partitions, TrueCrypt uses at most 2000 iterations but VeraCrypt uses 655331 for RIPEMD160 and 500000 iterations for SHA-2 and Whirlpool.

This enhanced security adds some delay only to the opening of encrypted partitions without any performance impact to the application use phase. This is acceptable to the legitimate owner but it makes it much more harder for an attacker to gain access to the encrypted data.

VeraCrypt storage format is INCOMPATIBLE with TrueCrypt storage format.

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Pointing up     TrueCrypt users will certainly recognize this GUI.

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Is the Government’s Aerial Smartphone Surveillance Program Legal? – Civil rights groups are raising serious constitutional questions about the Justice Department’s use of dragnet technology onboard aircraft to collect data from suspects’ cell phones, as reported by the Wall Street Journal Thursday.

The program, run by the U.S. Marshals Service, uses small aircraft equipped with high-tech devices that mimic cell towers, tricking suspects’ cell phones into connecting with them instead of legitimate towers. The devices, called dirtboxes, can then grab certain data from the tricked phones, most notably their location. The aircraft involved operate from five U.S. metropolitan areas and have together a flying range covering most of the country’s population, the Journal reported.

The program is designed to target suspects in law enforcement investigations. However, the nature of the technology means that devices in a certain range of the aircraft are fooled into connecting to the dirtbox, potentially giving law enforcement access to identifying data and general location information about hundreds or thousands of innocent Americans with each flight. Because that access comes without probable cause, civil liberties groups say, the program could be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The German startups hoping to ease the privacy worries of the ‘healthy paranoid’ – If you’re looking for a VPN product, chances are you’ve heard of ZenMate, which provides VPN and web traffic encryption through easy-to-use browser plugins and mobile apps.

On a recent afternoon in ZenMate’s Berlin offices, Simon Specka, one of the company’s co-founders, explained what led ZenMate to create its privacy products. Even though various VPNs and encryption solutions have existed for some time, ZenMate’s founders saw they weren’t really being adopted by the mass market.

“We thought that one of the key reasons is that security or privacy tools are still too complicated,” said Specka.

“So we thought that by making very complex technologies accessible and comfortable for users on the mass market, this is something we could do.”

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