Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 24, 2015

The undercover war on your internet secrets;  7 things to consider before canceling cable;  15 Amazing Apps That Will Ruin Your Life;   Avoid message trackers in Gmail;  Your Smartphone Could be Tracking You Every 3 Minutes;  Windows Store apps to cost more starting April;  How to run Windows software in Linux;  Instagram Launches Layout, Its Own Photo Collage App;  The 10 Best External Hard Drives;  Netflix Goes Live In Australia And New Zealand;  All four major browsers take a stomping at Pwn2Own;  Who Cares If Antivirus Works, As Long As It’s Low-Key;  Colorado 12-Year-Old Tries to Kill Mom for Taking iPhone;  Google Chairman says Glass ‘fundamental’ for Google;  First lawsuits against FCC’s net neutrality are filed;  Tech-savvy NYPD cop allegedly hacked NYPD computer and FBI database to run a con;  Tor Browser Bundle (free).

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

The undercover war on your internet secrets: How online surveillance cracked our trust in the web – How the battle over privacy technologies could define the future of the web. This TechRepublic cover story explains the strange history and the serious consequences of the fight over encryption.

15 Amazing Apps That Will Ruin Your Life – There are some “productivity” apps that will suck you in and never let you go. Day after day, you’ll return to them, enjoy them, and then wonder “Where the hell did the time go?” They’re the empty calories of the app world. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth downloading; just beware that these apps (like these Websites to Avoid) don’t suck … but they will suck time.

Your Smartphone Could be Tracking You Every 3 Minutes, Study Says – Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study where they asked 23 people to use their Android smartphones normally, and tracked location data requests from each device with specially designed software, the Wall Street Journal reports. The researchers found that many popular Android apps tracked their users an average 6,200 times per participant over a two-week period, or about every three minutes. Some of the apps came pre-installed on the phone, and were not as easily deleted, the WSJ reports.

7 things to consider before canceling cable – One of the biggest problems with traditional cable subscriptions is bundling — you have no choice but to pay for dozens of channels you never watch just to get the few you want. The ideal alternative would allow you to pick and choose just the channels you want. The reality is that cutting cable does not eliminate bundling. Whether you switch to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling TV or any other option, you’ll still pay for shows that go unwatched.

YouTube Autoplay rolls out, here’s how to turn it off – Websites get more traffic and, in some cases, more money, the longer you stay on their site and the more you get hooked on their content. On YouTube, that equates to watching more and more videos without having to stray away from the page. And what better way to do that than by enticing you video after video after video. That’s right, YouTube’s once experimental Autoplay feature is now rolling out to all users to keep you from getting bored, or escaping. Fortunately, it’s easy to turn it off.

Chrome: Avoid message trackers in Gmail –  As Ghacks.net points out, Gmail does try to help you avoid trackers, but it doesn’t catch them all. Instead, a tracker-blocking extension, and a few adjustments to the way you read Gmail messages, are the most convenient methods to dodge many of the available tracker services. Here’s how to get started:

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PixelBlock running in Gmail. Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

The 10 Best External Hard Drives – For under $100, you can add a terabyte or more of data storage to your laptop desktop, or tablet. But which to choose? There’s a lot consider—desktop- or laptop-class, traditional spinning or SSD are only a couple of factors—so finding the perfect hard drive for your use can seem overwhelming. That’s where we come in. We narrow down your choices to the 10 best external hard drives on the market.

10 obscure, highly specialized browsers that will make you forget about Chrome, Firefox, and IE – There’s a wide world of alternative browsers out there, all fighting for your attention with unique features and specializations in gaming, privacy, media consumption, and more. There’s even something to appeal to old-school Internet users. If you’re looking to shake up your web surfing experience, here’s a look at 10 great browsers not named Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer.

Windows Store apps to cost more starting April – Due to the strengthening of the US dollar, Microsoft has updated its pricing tiers for Windows Store apps and in-app purchases. Unfortunately this means prices in other currencies will be hiked.

Windows 10 might not peacefully coexist with other OS – It seems that Microsoft is developing a pattern lately. After a flood of good news comes the fine print and some sad, if not worrying, follow ups. First it was the speculation that the lure of a free Windows 10 upgrade for pirated copies of Windows might not be so sweet after all. Now it seems that Microsoft will potentially ostracize another group of computer users: those who dual boot operating systems. Slides from its presentation in China seem to hint that Microsoft won’t block OEM’s from prohibiting users from disabling secure boot.

Windows System Restore: You can adjust this utility to save your PC image more often – Just about any new problem that makes Windows behave badly can be fixed by opening Windows’ System Restore and returning to an earlier time. But this only works if you have a restore point that was created before the unfortunate changes. So you need to take control of how often Windows creates these points.

How to run Windows software in Linux: Everything you need to know – Linux is more capable than ever. With over 1000 Linux games available on Steam and a general shift towards more web-based desktop software, there’s less need for Windows than ever. After all, you can now watch Netflix on Linux without any hacks, and you can even use Microsoft Office on Linux—a web-based version of it, at least. But, as most dedicated Linux desktop users will eventually discover, there comes a time when you just need to run a particular piece of Windows software on your Linux PC. There are quite a few ways to do so. Here’s what you need to know.

Instagram Launches Layout, Its Own Photo Collage App – Instagram today announced the debut of a new application called Layout, the company’s next standalone creation tool outside of its flagship photo-sharing application. With Layout, Instagram users will be able to quickly build collages using their mobile photos, which they can then choose to share to Instagram, Facebook, or elsewhere.

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Netflix Goes Live In Australia And New Zealand, Its First Launches In Asia Pacific – Netflix spoke of aggressive international expansion ambitions in January, and a major step towards its two-year globalization plan was taken today when its video-on-demand service went live in Australia and New Zealand. Customers in Oceania can pay A$8.99 (US$7) per month for standard access to its catalog. HD and 4K quality streams are charged at A$11.99 (US$9.40) and A$14.99 ($11.77) respectively. Those in Australia will suffer from a somewhat streamlined selection of content, initially at least.

Twitter quietly introduces abusive language filter – Twitter has been busy trying to stem the flood of abusive users and trolls, the latter of which it has been given a lot of grief over in recent times. Among its different efforts is a new one the social network has rolled out without much fanfare: a filtering tool that allows verified users in particular to filter out tweets containing abusive language. Verified users have been reporting seeing it roll out, and it appears that it is only available for the iOS mobile app at this time, though it’ll likely be appearing elsewhere in the future.

Adobe builds new features straight into Microsoft’s browser – A partnership advances Adobe’s technology ideas while making Microsoft’s Project Spartan more competitive. For the rest of us, expect a more graphically rich Web.

Security:

All four major browsers take a stomping at Pwn2Own hacking competition – The annual Pwn2Own hacking competition wrapped up its 2015 event in Vancouver with another banner year, paying $442,000 for 21 critical bugs in all four major browsers, as well as Windows, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Reader. Despite huge leaps in secure code, nothing is immune when hackers are motivated. In all, this year’s Pwn2Own unearthed five bugs in Windows, four bugs in IE 11, three bugs in Mozilla Firefox, three bugs in Reader, three bugs in Flash, two bugs in Safari, and one bug in Chrome. To qualify, winning bugs must be previously unknown and have the ability to break through anti-exploit defenses.

Google warns of unauthorized TLS certificates trusted by almost all OSes – In the latest security lapse involving the Internet’s widely used encryption system, Google said unauthorized digital certificates have been issued for several of its domains and warned misissued credentials may be impersonating other unnamed sites as well. The bogus transport layer security certificates are trusted by all major operating systems and browsers, although a fall-back mechanism known as public key pinning prevented the Chrome and Firefox browsers from accepting those that vouched for the authenticity of Google properties, Google security engineer Adam Langley wrote in a blog post published Monday.

Twitch Resets All User Passwords After Suffering Data Breach – Twitch, the immensely popular livestreaming service for gamers that was acquired last year by Amazon in a nearly $1 billion deal, confirmed today that it has suffered a security breach that may have resulted in unauthorized access to a number of user accounts. The company is now forcing all of its users to change their passwords.

Hacking bios chips isn’t just the nsa’s domain anymore – THE ABILITY TO hack the BIOS chip at the heart of every computer is no longer reserved for the NSA and other three-letter agencies. Millions of machines contain basic BIOS vulnerabilities that let anyone with moderately sophisticated hacking skills compromise and control a system surreptitiously, according to two researchers. The revelation comes two years after a catalogue of NSA spy tools leaked to journalists in Germany surprised everyone with its talk about the NSA’s efforts to infect BIOS firmware with malicious implants.

New malware program PoSeidon targets point-of-sale systems – The new malware program has been dubbed PoSeidon by researchers from Cisco’s Security Solutions (CSS) team and, like most point-of-sale Trojans, it scans the RAM of infected terminals for unencrypted strings that match credit card information — a technique known as memory scraping. This sensitive information is available in plain text in the memory of a PoS system while it’s being processed by the specialized merchant software running on the terminal.

Wind turbine blown away by control system vulnerability – It had to happen, we suppose: since even a utility-grade wind turbine might ship with a handy Webby control interface, someone was bound to do it badly. That’s what’s emerged in a new ICS-CERT advisory: CVE-2015-0985 details how turbines from US manufacturer XZERES allow the user name and password can be retrieved from the company’s 442 SR turbine. As the advisory notes, “This exploit can cause a loss of power for all attached systems”.

Tech-savvy NYPD cop allegedly hacked NYPD computer and FBI database to run a con – An NYPD auxiliary cop was busted for allegedly installing a hidden camera in a cable TV box, so he could check if the coast was clear, before remotely accessing a police computer and using off-duty cops’ usernames and passwords to log into databases. He supposedly ran 6,400 queries, acting as an ambulance-chasing attorney when contacting accident victims. Yehuda Katz, the alleged con man taking kickbacks, was arrested last week for using “his position as an auxiliary officer to hack into restricted computers and networks in order to obtain the personal information of thousands of citizens in a scheme to enrich himself through fraud.”

Who Cares If Antivirus Works, As Long As It’s Low-Key – Rather than blindly run the same tests year after year, the researchers at AV-Comparatives regularly survey consumers to make sure their tests hit the criteria that matter. Interestingly, low performance impact was more important to users than thorough malware cleanup.

Cisco small business phones open to remote eavesdropping, calling – An authentication flaw allows attackers to listed to audio streams and make calls from Cisco SPA 300 and 500 IP phones

Company News:

US judge orders seizure of foreign domains owned by Chinese company – A federal judge in New York has ordered dozens of global domains owned by the Chinese company Fengtao Software to be seized, for its social media accounts to be blocked, and for payment processors to cut off their services to the company. It’s not clear how he hopes to enforce that ruling: even if domain registrars in Japan and Germany are willing to implement the order, it’s hard to see one in China helping a US judge shut down a Chinese company.

Microsoft Signs 11 Agreements With OEMs To Bring Office To More Android Handsets And Tablets – Microsoft has broadened a previously announced agreement with Samsung to preinstall its software on the latter firm’s hardware it announced today, and landed nearly a dozen separate, similar arrangements with other OEMs including Dell. As a company, Microsoft is pursuing an increasingly cross-platform software strategy, one in which it is content to ensure that its applications are suited for rival platforms, such as Android.

Google Chairman says Glass ‘fundamental’ for Google – Is Google Glass dead, or do we just wish it were? When Google demolished the ‘Explorer program’ for Google Glass, they quickly seated Glass under the watchful eye of Tony Fadell, who heads up Google’s de facto hardware arm, Nest. Over time, various talking heads have said Glass wasn’t gone, just regrouping. The latest to chime in is former Google CEO and current Chairman Eric Schmidt, who calls Glass “fundamental” for Google, and says Fadell and his team are going to “make it ready for users”.

Games and Entertainment:

iOS Game Mr Jump Leaps To 5M Downloads After Four Days On The App Store – The game from France’s 1Button has already racked up 5 million downloads in just four days, and its simple in-app purchase and ad-based revenue model is earning its developers five-figure revenues on a daily basis, without having to resort to “pay-to-win” mechanics. The game keeps play simple – it’s a one-button platform title, meaning all a user has to do is tap the screen and the appropriate point. A tap results in a jump, with the length and height of the jump variable based on how long you tap. The player character, Mr Jump, moves of his own accord from left to right across a scrolling, simply colored blocky environment, and your goal is to avoid the various spikes, pitfalls and other dangers that impede his progress.

Battlefield Hardline review: an odd, cops-and-robbers facade – Like its predecessors, Hardline is larger, slower, and much more open than most of the multiplayer shooters that follow in the footsteps of Modern Warfare’s success. If you haven’t played Battlefield in a while (or outright skipped Battlefield 4 thanks to the horror stories about glitches and server issues), it might be an adjustment. It’s the kind of game where running around like an idiot without checking your environment will get you killed incredibly quickly. Snipers line every fire escape and rooftop, ready to pick you off unseen from 100 meters out if you’re not careful. Helicopters are shot down seconds after takeoff. If you’re not paying attention to your minimap, sweeping the horizon for targets, and ducking from cover to cover, it’s a safe bet you’ll be gunned down almost immediately. In short: It’s Battlefield.

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Off Topic (Sort of):

FTC opens new office to protect you from the Internet of Things – The FTC says it’ll be broadening its scope with the launch of a new Office of Technology Research and Investigation, described by the agency as “the next generation in consumer protection.” In 2015, we’re faced with the growing Internet of Things, cars that get faster with software updates, and the expanding smart home. The FTC thinks now’s the time to widen its net so that it may protect consumer interest across every facet of technology. Specifically, the OTRI will keep an eye on “privacy, data security, connected cars, smart homes, algorithmic transparency, emerging payment methods, big data, and the Internet of Things,” according to the agency.

First lawsuits against FCC’s net neutrality are filed – The FCC just announced its ruling on net neutrality last month, and lawsuits are hitting the agency right off the bat. The FCC declared that the Internet is a utility, which allows the government to regulate it. As such, the FCC created net neutrality rules which treat all web traffic equally. Well, no one likes being told what to do, especially by the government. The telecom industry is up in arms over the FCC’s net neutrality ruling, and now the lawsuits are beginning to trickle in. These lawsuits are part of an industry-wide effort to overturn what private companies believe are the FCC’s unlawful regulations.

Boeing scores patent for blast-inhibiting force fields – Our the-stuff-of-fiction future is becoming ever brighter, and newest to flesh it out is a new patent scored by Boeing, which has apparently set its sights on force fields. The patent details a technology that would create force fields somewhat similar to what we’ve seen in movies like Star Wars, though they won’t work quite the same. Rather than taking the impacts from objects, they’ll absorb or otherwise inhibit the shockwaves that result from a blast, helping keep the blast contained while protecting nearby people and structures from the damage that could result.

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Mercedes to release 10 new plug-in hybrids by 2017 – Luxury auto maker Mercedes-Benz has just announced that it will be greatly expanding its lineup of plug-in hybrid models by launching 10 new vehicles between now and 2017. As of now only two models are confirmed for sale in the U.S., but with an aggressive worldwide release of 10 hybrids, it means Mercedes will average a new model every four months. To solidify the company’s investment in hybrids, Mercedes is simplifying their branding, dropping the “Plug-in Hybrid” suffix to just add “e” to end of model names.

Colorado 12-Year-Old Tries to Kill Mom for Taking iPhone – According to reports, a 12-year-old from Boulder, Colorado was arrested on Friday following accusations that she attempted to poison her mother for taking away the girl’s iPhone. These kinds of things tend to go beyond warranting a trip to time out, or a further reduction in privileges. As you might expect, the mother contacted police, told them the deal, and investigators ultimately took the girl into custody. Charges haven’t been filed just yet, though the 12-year-old is currently being held in a juvenile detention facility.

Kaspersky, Bloomberg Spar Over KGB Allegations – Eugene Kaspersky, head of Russia-based security software supplier Kaspersky Lab, is fighting allegations that his company has “close ties” to Russian spies. Last week, Bloomberg Business published an article accusing Kaspersky Lab of excluding Russia from reports examining electronic espionage by the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom.

Something to think about:

“I am the only one who can make America truly great again”

–    Donald Trump

Today’s Free Downloads:

Audacity – Audacity is a free, easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder. The interface is translated into many languages.

You can use Audacity to:

Record live audio.

Record computer playback on any Windows Vista or later machine.

Convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs.

Edit WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP2, MP3 or Ogg Vorbis sound files.

Cut, copy, splice or mix sounds together.

Change the speed or pitch of a recording.

And more!

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Tor Browser Bundle – Protect your privacy. Defend yourself against network surveillance and traffic analysis.

The Tor software protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.

The Tor Browser Bundle lets you use Tor on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux without needing to install any software. It can run off a USB flash drive, comes with a pre-configured web browser to protect your anonymity, and is self-contained.

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Screen shots from a personal system

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Documents Reveal Canada’s Secret Hacking Tactics – Canada’s electronic surveillance agency has secretly developed an arsenal of cyberweapons capable of stealing data and destroying adversaries’ infrastructure, according to newly revealed classified documents.

Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, has also covertly hacked into computers across the world to gather intelligence, breaking into networks in Europe, Mexico, the Middle East and North Africa, the documents show.

The revelations, reported Monday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, shine a light for the first time on how Canada has adopted aggressive tactics to attack, sabotage and infiltrate targeted computer systems.

The latest disclosures come as the Canadian government debates whether to hand over more powers to its spies to disrupt threats as part of the controversial anti-terrorism law, Bill C-51.

New Zealand Spied on WTO Director Candidates – New Zealand launched a covert surveillance operation targeting candidates vying to be director general of the World Trade Organization, a top-secret document reveals.

In the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment, the country’s electronic eavesdropping agency programmed an Internet spying system to intercept emails about a list of high-profile candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico and South Korea.

New Zealand’s trade minister, Tim Groser, was one of nine candidates in contention for the position at the WTO, a powerful international organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that negotiates trade agreements between nations. The surveillance operation, carried out by Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, appears to have been part of a secret effort to help Groser win the job.

Groser ultimately failed to get the position.

A top-secret document obtained by The Intercept and the New Zealand Herald reveals how GCSB used the XKEYSCORE Internet surveillance system to collect communications about the WTO director general candidates.

India’s Supreme Court Strikes Down Controversial Internet Censorship Law – Today is a good day for freedom of speech in India. The country’s Supreme Court struck down an ambiguous law that could be used to imprison citizens for content that they post online.

NDTV reports that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was declared unconstitutional at a session held this morning. The court added that the controversial law, which first came into existence in 2000, is “vague in its entirety” and in violation of existing free speech laws.

Snowden should be allowed a public interest defense, say European lawmakers – A group of European lawmakers has called on the US government (PDF) to allow the whistleblower Edward Snowden to return to the US from Russia “without fear of criminal prosecution under conditions that would not allow him to raise the public interest defense.” A post on the Open Society Foundations blog explains that Snowden faces up to 30 years of imprisonment under the US Espionage Act of 1917, which does not allow a public interest defense to avoid or mitigate any penalties.

The call comes in a resolution by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly is made up of 318 representatives from the national parliaments of the Council of Europe’s members. This is significant, Open Society Foundations says, since it “marks the first time that any inter-governmental body has called on the United States not to prosecute Snowden unless he is afforded the opportunity to raise a public interest defense.”

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2 Comments

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

2 responses to “Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 24, 2015

  1. Fred

    Hi Bill!
    Donald Trump
    Generally I take him less than seriously, seems like an arrogant SOB to me, but there was one thing he did years ago, NYC was INCAPABLE of maintaining, repairing, the Central Park Skating rink. Donald Trump using his own money made it better than ever.
    As far as I know that is the only good thing he did.
    I wonder, as I read here last week, what the Chinese hackers are going to do with all the information they stole from US health insurance companies, that seems, to me at least, OMINOUS.
    Now I have a question regarding the “10 obscure, highly specialized browsers that will make you forget about Chrome, Firefox, and IE” as you know Bill I am on dial-up and can only watch Videos on Facebook in a start and stop stutter, so a 3 minute video takes about an hour to watch and I’m not really watching it, so I was interested in the “Torch is a browser for media junkies” yet even though Google shows no malware downloaded via the site what about PUPs? Which I was reading about on your blog last week also. I went to their privacy page, http://www.torchbrowser.com/privacy, and found this,
    >TorchMedia may use “cookies”, “web beacons” and similar devices to track your activities as a visitor to the Website. <

    Now as I recall web beacons are, or were, almost impossible to get off your computer, I don't know if that is an issue nowadays.
    3rd parties help them out in seeing how you the use the browser.
    Maybe all browsers use 3rd parties and track usage but boy that doesn't sit right with me. So that is part 1 of my question, part 2 is would this browser help me watch/save videos so I can watch them in real time. And is it worth the privacy invasion!
    From the Stone Age,
    Fred

    • Hi Fred,

      Trump is a sparkling example of the cult of celebrity – a moronic example – but, aren’t they all.

      I suspect that the Chinese will make good use of such information – not for espionage – but for economic advantage. The penetration attempts we read about generally are business based. Hey, it’s money that makes the world go ’round – not bragging rights. 🙂

      Trackers, if we can use a generic phrase, can easily be removed by any number of tools. I run with 2 – CCleaner and PrivaZer – both are free and do an excellent job. Trackers are browser independent – they are set by sites.

      As for PUPS – the overwhelming majority of “free” apps have a PUP, or more than one, attached to the installer – it’s just a fact of life in the “wild west” of the Internet. There’s no reason to shy away from a particular download because of PUPs – being aware is the key issue. That’s not to say that slimey developers aren’t out there – they are. And, the havoc that they cause with hidden PUPs, is substantial.

      There is no way to boost dial-up or any other connection past the connection speed. Look at it this way – you have a pipe that delivers water at 1000 gallons an hour – there’s no way to get more than 1000 gallons an hour unless you increase the size of the pipe, or increase the pressure. Similarly, you can’t get any more out of your connection than it’s designed to deliver.

      It is possible however, to increase the speed at which any given page is rendered by a browser (the next step after the connection is established) – some are marginally more efficient than others. But, only marginally. Hardware assist can be used by select browsers (Firefox is one example), to boost rendering significantly. Video cards are the type of hardware often used for this purpose. However, discrete video cards are generally the toys of super users and not casual users.

      Take a look here – How to Improve Dialup Modem Speed – there are some fundamental pointers that might prove interesting.

      Best,

      Bill