Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – June 22, 2016

Stop videos from autoplaying in your browser;  How My Neighbor Beat a Social-Engineering Scam;  6 Reasons You Should Get a ‘Burner’ Phone Number;  The Best Wireless Routers of 2016;  New Android malware can secretly root your phone and install programs;  The Best Laptops of 2016;   Twitter and Vine videos just got a whole lot longer;   How to authenticate your Google sign-in with just a tap – and much more news you need to know.

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No more codes: How to authenticate your Google sign-in with just a tap – Multi-factor authentication is an important part of keeping your online accounts secure, but the process is notoriously cumbersome. Text messages, code generators, and the like significantly slow down the process of logging in, but Google is attempting to streamline the task by allowing you to authenticate with a tap on your smartphone. If you’re an Android user with the latest version of Google Play Services, or an iOS user with the Google app, you can now configure your Google account to send your device a notification whenever there’s a login attempt. Interacting with the notification (or launching the app) will then allow you to either authorize the login or deny it completely. No codes, nothing to copy, and no typos to trip you up.

6 Reasons You Should Get a ‘Burner’ Phone Number – Burner numbers might seem like a plot device best left to the writers on cheesy cop shows, but a fast-growing startup—aptly named Burner—is proving there are everyday use cases for a secondary set of digits that you can access through your existing phone via app. Here are six.

Stop videos from autoplaying in your browser – When you go to a website to read an article, you want to read the article, not listen to a video.

Using Edge instead of Chrome will add hours of extra battery life – According to company tests, Microsoft’s browser even beats Opera’s battery saver mode.

The Best Wireless Routers of 2016 – The right router can make the difference between a speedy network and a sluggish one. Here’s how to shop for one, and our top recommendations.

The Best Laptops of 2016 – Here’s everything you need to know when shopping for your next laptop, along with top-rated models in a range of form factors and prices.

Travel the world without printing a thing – Still printing out travel reservations and boarding passes when you head out on a trip? Break that habit now, because you can do it all on your phone — really, all of it. A few hacks and travel apps are all you need to bid adieu to easily lost, tearable, inconvenient paper.

Twitter and Vine videos just got a whole lot longer – This morning Twitter turned up the juice. In addition to allowing certain celebrities know what followers to follow back, they released some limits on video posting. Posting, that is, videos that are far longer than they used to be, both on Twitter itself and through Vine. Users of all sorts will be able to upload videos with a maximum file size of 512MB and a length of 2-minutes and 20 seconds.

Googling medical symptoms may no longer convince you that you’re dying – If you ask the Internet what’s wrong with you when you’re not feeling well, it’s bound to break the news that you’ve probably got cancer or perhaps some rare, terminal disease. It doesn’t matter that you just have a mundane, generic symptom. You likely only have a few months left and you should start getting your affairs in order. Sincere condolences, poor Internet user. With the Web brimming with such bum medical advice—alarming patients and irking doctors worldwide—Google is now rolling out new search tools to try to strip away the medical malarkey or at least shove it down deep in search results.

PDF to Excel – The absolute best way to convert PDF tables into Excel spreadsheets. Easily and quickly convert PDFs from anywhere on your device, Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail, Box and OneDrive, into editable Microsoft Excel documents. Easy-to-use app and powerful converting engines. Google Drive integration (you can convert PDFs, Google documents, spreadsheets, and presentations from your Drive)

VLC for Android now plays videos from your local network – VLC for Android just became much, much more useful if you like full control over how and where you play your videos. The newly released VLC 2.0 rolls in a few big features that you may well have missed, most notably network browsing. Yes, you can find that elusive movie on your home media server. The upgrade also brings a pop-up video window that’s helpful for tablet owners eager to multitask.

Twitter launches a standalone analytics and engagement app for power users – Twitter has announced a new standalone analytics app aiming to better serve its celebrity and power/marketing users, and — it surely hopes — eke out more activity on its platform in the process by making its highest profile users more effective tweeters.

Fedora 24: The 4 biggest improvements from the latest Workstation release – The release of Fedora 24 improves on a formula that has been working rather well. Here’s what you need to know about this Linux distribution.

Slack just made apps for its chat service way more useful – Workplace chat service Slack will now let users interact with third-party services without ever having to leave the app. The new feature, called message buttons, lets companies create interactive Slack apps for performing tasks from within the chat window, like approving expense reports or booking a trip. For example, companies that rely on the project-management software Trello can now create new project cards, add members to those cards, and set due dates for the project all by clicking buttons in a Slack channel.


How My Neighbor Beat a Social-Engineering Scam – We hear a lot in the news about big companies and organizations that are victimized by criminals who hold their data hostage until large amounts of money exchange hands. We hear less about individuals who are tricked and intimidated into forking over a few hundred dollars, but they too are being victimized. One person who came close to being taken by a social-engineering version of this scam my neighbor, Robert Coplin. He’s retired, but spends a lot of time on his computer, writing novels and hunting down solutions to problems in our building (he’s president of the tenants’ association).

New Android malware can secretly root your phone and install programs – Android users beware: a new type of malware has been found in legitimate-looking apps that can “root” your phone and secretly install unwanted programs. The malware, dubbed Godless, has been found lurking on app stores including Google Play, and it targets devices running Android 5.1 (Lollipop) and earlier, which accounts for more than 90 percent of Android devices, Trend Micro said Tuesday in a blog post.

How to find out if you have the latest Android security patch – Software updates don’t always guarantee you’re up to speed with security. Here’s where to look.

Apple blocks outdated versions of Adobe Flash – On Tuesday, the iPhone maker said on a support page that it would once again start blocking outdated and potentially vulnerable versions of Adobe’s Flash plug-in. Any Safari users with an older version of Flash will get a message saying it is out of date. They will also be prompted to download the latest version.

After huge hacks, these chief executives were given raises – You’ll often hear the same old spiel from companies who’ve just been hit by hackers. “We take security seriously,” they say. “We’ll offer you credit protection.” What you rarely hear is the sound of the door hitting the company’s boss on the way out of the executive suite. The average corporate cost of a data breach in the US is a little over $7 million, according to a recent Ponemon study. A new day, a new hack, and little changes. Companies offer their apologies, they swallow a fine or two, and move on. But don’t expect any fines to come out of the chief executive’s pay. It’s the customers who have to get new credit cards, change their passwords, and worry about identity theft, fraud, or a ding to their credit.

Hackers sold access to 170,000 compromised servers, many in the U.S. – The market for hacked servers might be much larger than previously thought, with new evidence suggesting that hackers sold access to over 170,000 compromised servers since 2014, a third of them located in the U.S.

Report: Chinese Hackers Slowing Attacks on US Infrastructure – The number of cyberattacks on US computer infrastructure that originate in China have declined sharply in recent years, according to a report by a private security company. Fire Eye, which provides malware protection and analyzes threats to computer networks, found that since mid-2014, there has been a drop in China-based groups’ overall “intrusion activity” against computers in the US and 25 other countries. The number of worldwide networks compromised by hackers suspected to be from China hovered at around 60 per month between the beginning of 2013 and the middle of 2014. They started to decline sharply in August of 2014, and there have been less than 10 per month since October 2015, according to Fire Eye’s analysis.

Apple fixes serious flaw in AirPort wireless routers – The flaw could allow hackers to execute malicious code on affected devices.

Don’t be surprised if you see spam coming from the top websites in the world – Lax security standards are allowing anyone to “spoof” emails from some of the most-visited domains, according to new research. Email spoofing — a common tactic of spammers — basically involves forging the sender’s address. Messages can appear as if they came from Google, a bank, or a best friend, even though the email never came from the actual source. The spammer simply altered the email’s “from” address. Authentication systems have stepped in to try and solve the problem. But many of the top website domains are failing to properly use them, opening the door for spoofing, according to Sweden-based Detectify, a security firm.

Company News:

Samsung pours $1.2 billion into the Internet of Things – Samsung is willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to the Internet of Things. The electronics giant is spending $1.2 billion on IoT development in the US over the next 4 years, sharing it between startups and its own work. This isn’t just about getting into a young field, if you ask Samsung. The company pitches this as crucial to dealing with an aging population — connected gadgets could help an older generation maintain its independence.

Tesla makes offer to buy Elon Musk-backed SolarCity – Tesla is making a bid to acquire sustainable energy company SolarCity, Tesla announced today. We are pleased to submit to you and the SolarCity board of directors a proposal to acquire all of the outstanding shares of common stock of SolarCity in exchange for Tesla common shares,” the company wrote in a letter announcing the proposed deal. Rather than paying cash, Tesla is offering a stock-swap deal at a premium of about 21 to 30 percent over the price of SolarCity’s shares. The deal values SolarCity at up to $2.8 billion.

Apple may finally get clearance for stores in India – Apple may finally get clearance to set up its stores in India, following the Indian government’s decision Monday to liberalize rules requiring local sourcing of some products sold in foreign-owned, single-brand stores. The iPhone maker operates in the country through third-party owned, exclusive stores run by partners like Imagine, in addition to selling through retail chains and online e-commerce websites. But Apple considers the design and layout of its own stores a key element of its branding and retail experience.

Apple is returning money to ebook buyers after losing price-fixing lawsuit – Three years after a court first ruled that Apple was liable for conspiring to fix ebook prices, consumers are finally getting their money back for buying overpriced books. Starting today, booksellers are beginning to refund customers by placing store credit into the accounts they bought the affected ebooks with. Apple will pay out $400 million to impacted consumers. It still denies wrongdoing with regard to ebook pricing.

Sony agrees to pay millions to gamers to settle PS3 Linux debacle – After six years of litigation, Sony is now agreeing to pay the price for its 2010 firmware update that removed support for the Linux operating system in the PlayStation 3. Sony and lawyers representing as many as 10 million console owners reached the deal on Friday. Under the terms of the accord, (PDF) which has not been approved by a California federal judge yet, gamers are eligible to receive $55 if they used Linux on the console. The proposed settlement, which will be vetted by a judge next month, also provides $9 to each console owner that bought a PS3 based on Sony’s claims about “Other OS” functionality.

Tumblr launches live video support in partnership with YouTube, YouNow and others – Tumblr this morning announced support for live video on its service, confirming our report from yesterday that such a move was in the works. The feature will allow Tumblr users to live stream video directly to their followers’ Dashboards, and will also send out push notifications when users go live or reblog a live stream.

Facebook is paying media companies millions to stream live video – Earlier this year, Facebook went all in on Live Video, placing it in a place of prominence in its app as well as promoting it rather heavily on the web. Now it appears that the company is even going so far as paying media companies and celebrities millions of dollars to create live-streaming content. According to a document received by the Wall Street Journal, almost 140 contracts totaling more than $50 million have already been signed.

Adobe’s Q2 solid as revenue climbs 20 percent – The Photoshop maker credits Q2’s record revenue to “breakthrough product innovation across each of our three cloud offerings.” As a result, Adobe is selling a lot more subscriptions to its cloud-based software tools. As for the numbers, the creative software giant reported Q2 net income of $277.07 million, or 48 cents a share. Non-GAAP earnings in the quarter were 71 cents a share on revenue of $1.40 billion, up 20 percent year-over-year. Wall Street was looking for earnings of 68 cents a share on revenue of $1.40 billion.

Games and Entertainment:

Android TV now unofficially supports x86 PCs – Ever have a few of them HDMI PC sticks or mini/pico PC boxes lying around and can’t think of something new to do with them? Well now you have one more. Geek Till it Hertz, the very same that brought Android TV to the new Raspberry Pi, has now done the same for x86 machines. That practically means that you can now install, unofficially of course, Android TV on any Intel or AMD PC to transform them into specialized multimedia computers, for fun or hacking.

PlayStation Vue arrives on Roku in the U.S. – Sony’s live TV streaming service PlayStation Vue has been available for a while now, and until today, you needed either a PS4 or PS3, iOS, Amazon Fire TV, or Chromecast device to watch it. That changes today, with Roku announcing that PlayStation Vue is now available on its own devices, as well, greatly expanding the number of cable cutters and set-top-box owners who can subscribe to it.


‘Outlast 2’ drops you in a desert for a fresh batch of nightmares – The Outlast 2 demo made me jump and shriek in the middle of the E3 show floor, in Microsoft’s rowdy Xbox space where I was surrounded by swashbuckling pirates, roaring racing games and joyous fans. With my clammy fingers gripping an Xbox One controller, headphones hugging my ears, Outlast 2 sucked me in. Its setting, a pitch-black northern Arizona desert, was impressively immersive — not to mention accurate to the actual Supai region that inspired it. I should know: I’ve backpacked through the area. The Outlast 2 demo is horrifying, wonderful, gruesome and downright marvelous — in a bone-chilling kind of way.


Hadean Lands is the new Infocom game you’ve always wanted – If you have any nostalgia at all for interactive fiction, Hadean Lands is certainly worth your time and money.


Jump into the ‘Overwatch’ Competitive Play beta now – Overwatch, the massively popular online multiplayer shooter from Blizzard, is now bringing its Public Test Region live in North America, allowing PC players the chance to square off in the upcoming Competitive Play update. That means any current PC player can pick up the official client to test out the Competitive Play mode right now. As in, right now?


Ars’ favorite games of E3: From dueling VR wizards to calm underwater dives – Another E3 is in the books, and it’s nearly impossible to distill the dozens and dozens of games on display into a few titles to keep an eye out for—but that won’t stop us from trying. These 10 games in particular stood out from the crowded E3 show floor, and each has us excited to try out the full versions after a short taste this past week.

Off Topic (Sort of):

This Australian Party Has a New Voting Idea That Could Radically Change Politics – Growing distrust in mainstream politics could provide fertile ground for a party that promises to let voters and experts make policy through a cellphone app

Sex vs. tech: More than a third of working Americans prefer better work tech over a better sex life – Millennials and Baby Boomers value work over sex at a similar rate, while Gen X’ers opt for fun in the bedroom at a higher clip. See what else we learned from this June 2016 survey.

Mark Zuckerberg tapes up his webcam – Today, as Instagram celebrated reaching 500 million monthly users, Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo of himself enjoying the moment. But after he did, some sharp observers noticed another detail: the laptop on his desk, which seems to have a webcam wrapped up with tape. Zuckerberg is apparently paranoid enough about hackers that he took the extra security step, in a move to shut down any prying eyes savvy enough to gain control of the camera. There also appears to be some sort of obstruction on his mic jack, although it’s unclear what — tape, or some kind of dummy plug?


New FAA commercial drone rules require “pilot certificate” – The rules call for a new “remote pilot certificate,” a blanket ban on night flights, and a requirement that all flights remain below 400 feet or within 400 feet of a structure. Under the new operational rules, which take effect in August 2016, drone pilots must be at least 16 years old or be supervised by an adult with a remote pilot certificate. The pilot must also maintain “visual line of sight” with the drone at all times, among other requirements. (Personal, or hobbyist, use rules remain unchanged.)

True grit may be a false concept – A meta-analysis of 88 studies on grit raises some questions about the concept.


John Wayne in True Grit – Paramount Pictures

The Perfect Memory camera will record your entire life – The camera, created by the team at General Streaming Systems, LLC, is an evolution on the traditional body cam. This device connects to a chain you can wear around your neck or can clip to your clothes. It takes video constantly and allows you to note special events with a tap of the device. It can also stream photos and video to iOS and Android devices and, most importantly, it can connect to your pet. “Yes, it easily attachable to dogs, and even cats,” write the creators. “The camera lens is stable so you will be able to see in superb quality what your loved pet is up to.” It also mounts to other action camera mounts.


Cyberwarfare comes of age: The internet is now officially a battlefield – Cyberspace has joined air, sea, land, and space as an arena of military interest: but the concept of cyberwarfare continues of evolve beyond the grasp of military planners.

Resolving homelessness in the digital era – The explosion of tech companies setting up headquarters in major cities has encroached on the homeless population. Like San Francisco, the tech industry is growing rapidly in Seattle, and we too have the same dilemma. But unlike San Francisco, we have the opportunity to get ahead of this issue and truly make a difference.

Something to think about:

“Coming to terms with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee is like being told you have Stage 1 or Stage 2 cancer. You know you’ll probably survive, but one way or the other, there’s going to be a lot of throwing up.”

–     Christopher Buckley

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Pressure mounts against Rule 41 – the FBI’s power to hack Tor, VPN users on sight – The campaign against Rule 41 – which will give cops and Feds in America the power to hack people’s computers around the world – has kicked up a gear.

Leaders of the US House of Representatives and Senate got a letter today urging them to block the rule change before it becomes permanent in December.

The proposed legislative tweak, quietly passed by an obscure committee and approved by the Supreme Court in April, would allow a US magistrate judge to grant law enforcement access to any stored data on a computer, phone, or any storage device around the world that was suspected of being “related” to a crime.

The amendment would also grant automatic legal approval for police hacking against those who use technology to conceal “the district where the media or information is located.” Tor and VPN users, that means you: by accessing information remotely through an anonymizing or proxy service that hides where the information is truly stored, you’ll be fair game to the authorities.

On Tuesday, 50 organizations – including Google, PayPal, the TOR Project, Data Foundry, the rather unfortunately named Hide My Ass VPN, the ACLU and the EFF – urged Congress to block the Rule 41 change, saying it was an undemocratic decision and an issue that elected representatives needed to debate rather than usher in via the backdoor.

After Orlando, GOP Moves to Expand FBI Surveillance Power – In the wake of the Orlando attack, several Republican senators have proposed enhancing the FBI’s surveillance capabilities.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Richard Burr of North Carolina, among others, proposed an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill that would make it easier for the FBI to obtain “electronic communication transactional records” without a warrant when conducting investigations.

As Reuters notes, the proposal expands the FBI’s ability to use secretive National Security Letters (NSLs) to get information on suspects. NSLs allow the FBI to demand data about a company’s users without judicial review, and the companies that receive them have to remain silent, though the passage of the USA Freedom Act last year allowed for more transparency.

According to the bill text, the feds would be able to access a person’s name, physical address, email address, telephone number, instrument number, account number, login history, length of service (including start date), types of service, and means and sources of payment for service (including any card or bank account information). They could also get IP addresses, session times and durations for an electronic communication, but cell tower data is excluded.

Pointing up    Follows the same old pattern – scare the hell out of the populace – then, strip them of their civil liberties – for their own good, of course. Are we ever going to wake up to this Machiavellian manipulation?

Tech groups say FBI shouldn’t be allowed to do mass hacking – Congress should block proposed changes to rules governing U.S. law enforcement investigations that could give law enforcement agencies new authority to hack thousands of computers, several tech and advocacy groups said.

Congress should stop the proposed changes, approved by the Supreme Court in April, that would allow judges to issue warrants for hacking and surveillance in cases where investigators don’t know the target computer’s location, a coalition of 50 tech trade groups, digital rights groups, and tech companies said in a letter sent Tuesday to congressional leaders.

The proposed rule, which would allow judges to issue warrants outside their jurisdictions, “would threaten the civil liberties of everyday Internet users,” the coalition said in its letter. The new rule “would invite law enforcement to seek warrants authorizing them to hack thousands of computers at once.”

In addition, the rule change could hurt network security efforts, the groups said. “Increased government hacking will likely have unintended consequences that cause serious damage to computer security and negatively impact innocent users,” their letter said.



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2 responses to “Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – June 22, 2016

  1. RandiO

    We are being assaulted from so many fronts that we are becoming ambivalent and apathy has been firmly entrenched in our psyche!
    Mission accomplished but still a good fight to attempt to continue.