Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – October 12, 2016

Spying is the new hacking: Here’s how to fight back;  Crypto Wars: Why the Fight to Encrypt Rages On;  How to Back Up, Restore Your Documents in Windows 10;  Yahoo now accused of locking users into Yahoo Mail ;  Dropbox gets a ton of nifty iOS 10 features;  Five Galaxy Note 7 alternatives;  Baidu Made a Bot to Help You When You’re Sick;  Like it or not, here are ALL your October Microsoft patches – and much more news you need to know.

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Spying is the new hacking: Here’s how to fight back – Once upon a time it was much easier to stay safe online; as long as you used an up-to-date antivirus package and were careful how you acted on the internet, you could expect to stay safe. But now things have changed: new forms of malware and viruses appear every single day. Meanwhile the rise of social media means everything from your pet’s name to what you did at the weekend is online and could be exploited by cybercriminals to hack your devices and services. Increasingly cybercriminals are using spying techniques better associated with intelligence agencies to identify relevant information about you and your life and turn that around to attack you.

Crypto Wars: Why the Fight to Encrypt Rages On – Spies use encryption to send secrets, generals use it to coordinate battles, and criminals use it to carry out nefarious activities. Encryption systems are also at work in nearly every facet of modern technology, not just to hide information from criminals, enemies, and spies but also to verify and clarify basic, personal information. The story of encryption spans centuries, and it’s as complicated as the math that makes it work. And new advances and shifting attitudes could alter encryption completely. We talked to several experts in the field to help us understand the many facets of encryption: its history, current state, and what it may become down the road. Here’s what they had to say.

Encrypted communications could have an undetectable backdoor – Researchers warn that many 1024-bit keys used to secure communications on the Internet today might be based on prime numbers that have been intentionally backdoored in an undetectable way.

Five surprises in the latest Windows 10 Insider build and what they mean – Most of the changes in the latest Windows 10 preview release, build 14942, look like minor tweaks. But they point the way to more significant changes to come next year. Here’s what to look out for.

How to Back Up, Restore Your Documents in Windows 10 – Uh, oh. That incredibly critical file you were working on the other day is lost or won’t open. Are you in trouble? Not if you’ve been using Windows 10’s File History. This feature, around since the Windows 8.0 days, automatically saves specific file folders to backup devices, thus allowing you to recover a prior version of a file should it go missing or become corrupted and unusable. Let’s see how it works. First, make sure you have a viable external drive connected to your PC. This could be a USB stick, a full-fledged USB drive, or a network location on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive.

Yahoo now accused of locking users into Yahoo Mail – The year is ending terribly for Samsung, but it won’t be alone. Yahoo is on the same boat after it admitted to have “assisted” the US government in spying on its Yahoo Mail users. Matters have gotten so bad that Verizon, who is acquiring Yahoo, is looking into slashing its price by more than half. It isn’t surprising that there would be users eager to jump ship, but reports are coming in claiming that Yahoo is making it nearly impossible to do so. How? By “temporarily” disabling Yahoo Mail’s auto-forwarding feature.

Baidu Made a Bot to Help You When You’re Sick – If you’ve ever tried to diagnose yourself using websites and other online resources, at some point, you’ve probably also fallen into a digital rabbit hole so deep and so terrifying that you might have felt compelled to book the earliest appointment with your doctor. Baidu, the company behind China’s largest search engine, wants to do away with that terror in real-time. Starting today, it’s offering a new, free smartphone app (iOS and Android) that uses artificial intelligence to try and discern whether you’re actually sick or not. If so, it can quickly connect you with a doctor. While it could have a huge impact in China, experts are less certain that the app would catch on in the US, where Baidu eventually plans to launch an English-language version.

Duolingo now has chatbots to help you learn new languages – It’s common advice to new language learners to practice speaking with native speakers of that language. But not everyone might have the luxury of having such people around. In the absence of real humans, popular language learning platform Duolingo is offering the next best thing: chatbots. It is definitely an interesting, and perhaps more useful, twist to an increasingly popular trend that is putting chatty artificial intelligence “persons” inside almost any app that accepts typed or spoken input.

The best Android photo filtering and creative editing apps – Want to go above and beyond simple photo touchup? These apps will put powerful editing tools right on your smartphone or tablet.

Which apps and services work with Google Home? – Google Home is part of a new batch of new hardware that’s all tied together with Google services and the Google Assistant. So while the underlying technology is interesting, it’s how much you can do that will determine how compelling this will be for everyday use. Here’s the current list of supported apps, which Google of course hopes to grow as more third-party developers and services jump on board.

Dropbox gets a ton of nifty iOS 10 features – When Apple formally started rolling out iOS 10 to users, dozens of apps rode the wave to take advantage of the hype and craze. Dropbox, however, bid its time and for good measure. Now it is unleashing a flood of new features taking advantage of the latest iOS version, from being able to share files directly from inside iMessage to, amusingly, being able to watch a video stored on Dropbox while you try to be productive at work.

Amazon Music Unlimited debuts with discounts for Prime members, cheap “Echo-only” plan – Rumors have been swirling around Amazon’s plans to launch its own, standalone music streaming service, and now those reports have been proven out: the company is today announcing the launch of Amazon Music Unlimited. This new, on-demand streaming service offers access to tens of millions of songs, and is available for $7.99 per month for Prime members, or $9.99 per month for non-Prime members. Amazon has also launched a “for Echo” subscription plan that lets you listen only on its connected speakers for just $3.99 per month.

4 little-known streaming music services you should try right now – Believe it or not, Pandora and Spotify aren’t the Internet’s only music sources. Like indie radio stations, these smaller services fly under the radar — but often deliver something truly special.

Netgear Arlo Pro is a smart, wireless and weatherproof HD security camera – Netgear has introduced a new security camera called the Arlo Pro, an offering the company bills as the ‘world’s most advanced” wireless, weatherproof and high-definition smart security camera for homes. That’s a lot of promises to pack into a small device, but Netgear appears to do so gracefully, offering a robust set of features in a relatively small and attractive package. Among its many features is total wireless functionality, as well as two-way audio support, night vision, advanced motion detection, and more.

Samsung sending out fireproof return boxes for the Note 7 – XDA-Developers reports that Samsung has begun sending out the return kits to customers who have gotten in touch about returning their phone. The return kit includes three boxes and a static shielding bag. The Note 7 is supposed to be slipped into the bag and then enclosed in box after box. It’s the outermost box that’s most interesting: it’s lined with ceramic fiber paper, which is capable of handling extreme heat.

Five Galaxy Note 7 alternatives – It would seem that the Galaxy Note 7 just can’t put its problems behind it. With Samsung rumored to be halting production on the handset after reports of a fresh round of battery problems and all of the major US carriers now offering to swap the phone out for something different, Galaxy Note 7 owners are in a tough spot when it comes to selecting a new phone. To help make the transition a little smoother, here are five handsets (in no particular order) you can pick to replace your Galaxy Note 7.

Sprint to Offer 1M Low-Income Students Free Devices, Data – The Internet is a blessing to many a school-aged kid trying to get through the night’s homework assignment, but what if your home has no Internet access? It happens all too often in poorer neighborhoods, but Sprint’s new initiative will provide 1 million high school students with free devices and wireless connections. The 1Million Project is a multi-year plan to connect low-income US high school students lacking a reliable source of Internet access at home. The pilot program is set to launch in January in seven to 10 markets, where students will receive a free smartphone, tablet, laptop, or hotspot device and 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month—for up to four years.

Facebook launches Workplace, targets business users with new look – After an 18-month beta program, Facebook officially launched Workplace, in hopes of changing how professionals collaborate online.

3 ways to dashboard-mount your smartphone – If you’re driving a car, you shouldn’t be using your phone. There, I said it. Unfortunately, almost no one heeds this advice, myself included. Because maps must be viewed, podcasts must be played, text messages must be glanced at (but never responded to, unless it’s by voice) and so on. But let’s face it: that’s insanely dangerous. It’s really hard to not use your phone while driving. But it’s not hard to be a little smarter about it, which starts with mounting your phone on your dashboard or windshield.


Odinaff Trojan attacks banks and more, monitoring networks and stealing credentials – New Trojan is suspected to be linked to the Carbanak hacking campaign — and is potentially very lucrative for criminals, warn Symantec researchers.

Second group of hackers found also targeting SWIFT users – A second hacking group is also trying to rob banks by exploiting the SWIFT money transfer system, following an $81 million heist in February that used a similar approach.

Internet of Things Malware Has Apparently Reached Almost All Countries on Earth – The malware that powered one of the worst denial of service cyberattacks of the last few years has infected internet-connected devices all over the world, reaching as many as 177 countries, according to security researchers. At the beginning of this month, a cybercriminal released the source code of the malware that powered one of the worst-ever zombie armies, or botnet, made of Internet of Things. The release of the malware, known as Mirai, gave cybercriminals with minimal skills a new tool to launch cyberattacks. It also gave internet defenders and security researchers a way track down the bad guys’ activities and map their armies of hacked devices.

Adobe on patch parade to march out 83 bugs – Adobe has patched 83 vulnerabilities in its Reader, Acrobat, and Flash offerings including remote code execution holes. The former apps soaked up 71 patches centred on use-after-free, memory corruption, and buffer overflow vulnerabilities that lead to code execution. A dozen remote code execution flaws are plugged in Flash. “These updates address critical vulnerabilities that could potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system,” Adobe says in its bulletin. Windows and Mac apps are affected by the largest patch run from Adobe since May when it dropped patches for 91 vulnerabilities.

Like it or not, here are ALL your October Microsoft patches – Microsoft is kicking off a controversial new security program this month by packaging all of its security updates into a single payload. The October security release introduces Redmond’s new policy of bundling all security bulletins as one download. While more convenient for end users, who now get just one bundle, the move will irk many administrators, who had preferred to individually test and apply each patch to avoid compatibility problems. In total, ten bulletins have been bundled into the Patch Tuesday payload:

2017 cybercrime trends: Expect a fresh wave of ransomware and IoT hacks – This year companies were rocked by over 90 million cyberattacks. In 2017 the number could double. Cybersecurity expert Sameer Dixit explains how new innovation leads to increased vulnerability.

Cyberattackers hack UN nuclear power plant – The successful hacking attempt was followed by an attempt to steal ingredients for dirty bombs.

Company News:

Amazon is planning to open grocery stores for its Amazon Fresh customers – The grocery stores — which the company has been rumored to be working on for over a year —would be an expansion of Amazon’s existing Fresh grocery delivery service. The stores would be exclusive to Fresh customers, which is available for Prime members in select cities at a monthly fee of $15 on top of the annual $99 Prime cost. In addition the the actual grocery stores, Amazon is also reportedly planning drive-in curbside locations where Amazon Fresh customers can pick up their online deliveries.

Samsung slashes profit forecast by a third following Galaxy Note 7 debacle – Samsung issued earnings guidance last week that suggested the calamitous Galaxy Note 7 recall wouldn’t have a major impact on the company’s bottom line, but the company just released a statement adjusting its forecast significantly. Operating profit for the third quarter of 2016 is now estimated to come in at 5.2 trillion won ($4.6 billion), down 33 percent from the previous figure, while revenue expectations have been slashed by 2 trillion won to 47 trillion ($41.8 billion). Earnings of 5.2 trillion won would represent the first year-on-year profit decline for Samsung in a year.

FCC hits Comcast with record cable company fine over billing practices – Comcast is being fined $2.3 million for billing customers for products that they never ordered. The fine was announced this morning as part of a settlement with the Federal Communications Commission, which says this is “the largest civil penalty” it’s ever issued a cable operator. Most of the issue arose over a practice called “negative option billing,” where Comcast would begin charging customers if they didn’t actively decline or cancel a service. The commission says this occurred with premium cable channels and DVRs, among other products; in some cases, customers said they were billed despite specifically declining the product or service.

Twitter said to still be in buyout talks with Salesforce – The cloud computing company hasn’t bowed out yet, according to the New York Times, despite investors’ apparent disapproval.

Games and Entertainment:

The 20 best free Android games to play right now – It’s increasingly rare to see a new Android game with a price tag, but not all free games are built alike. The Play Store has a ton of great games you can snag without spending a penny, and we’ve collected our 20 current favorites within. Some of these may have ads or limitations, but those small annoyances don’t disguise the immense fun you can have without being forced to pay a thing. Grab a bunch of them!

Gears of War 4 is now out on Xbox One, Windows 10 – It’s not yet be the season for gaming or buying new games, but, for a true-blooded gamer, there really are no seasons. Heralding that season, Microsoft Studios and The Coalition, not Epic Games, have pushed the button to launch Gears of War 4 into the hands of fans. Technically the fifth installment in the acclaimed franchise, Gears of War 4 takes players 25 years past Gears of War 3. And the storyline isn’t the only future thing either, with a gameplay that embraces Microsoft’s shiny new cross-play feature.


Halloween is coming! Stream these gems to get an early start on your monster mash – October has arrived. Monster month is here. And there’s no shortage of horrific movies to stream, to celebrate, and to scare away unwanted spirits. To start, we have one of the scariest vampire movies ever made—despite its being nearly a century old—as well as one of the spookiest and most underrated ghost movies of recent years. We have a monster movie from the early 1980s, a restored, creepy-crawly classic from the mid-1980s, a 1990s effort by an acclaimed horror author, and then a trilogy devoted to horror films watched on videocassettes during that time period. For those looking for lighter-hearted fare, we have a gory, ultra-smart spoof of “dead teenager” movies, as well as a warmhearted romantic comedy with ghosts.

COD: Infinite Warfare, Modern Warfare Remastered need 130GB of free space – Last week, a tidbit of info surfaced suggesting gamers will need 130GB of free hard drive space to install Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered. Some, understandably, have balked at the figure, hoping it is incorrect. Put simply, it’s not. At least not according to a new FAQ page Activision has published for the two games, which says the 130GB requirement is a high-end estimate, one that covers future map releases and game updates as well as the games themselves.

Skyrim Special Edition PC requirements revealed – We’re just a couple of weeks out from the release of Bethesda‘s Skyrim Special Edition, and like clockwork, the company has released a list of minimum and recommended PC requirements. Obviously, since this version is getting something of a graphics overhaul, it’ll require a fair amount more power than its predecessor, despite the fact that the original version of Skyrim was at least somewhat friendly to those playing with lower-end hardware.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Google is running home page ads pushing people to get registered to vote – Google is upping its efforts at getting its U.S. users registered to vote, via a pop-up ad that now appears directly on the desktop home page. The company has historically made an effort to help web users get registered to vote and find answers to their voting-related questions by placing instant answers in its Search results. That has continued this year, as voter searches were redirected to answers about the registration process, deadlines, poll hours and more. However, adding a pop-up on the home page is a much more forceful effort on the search giant’s part in terms of increasing the number of registered voters.

Behold, the first drone with Intel outside – The Falcon 8+ system is a complete package designed for “industrial inspection, surveying, and mapping,” and is built around an octocopter manufactured by Intel subsidiary Ascending Technologies. The drone’s rotors are arranged in AscTec’s patented V-formation, and the craft can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour — faster than most amateur drones. Its makers promise all sorts of features designed to appeal to professional pilots, including back-up batteries and communication systems built into the drone itself. The system also ships with the Intel Cockpit, a weatherproof controller with twin joysticks and an integrated Intel tablet, with the whole system ready to fly right out of the box.



Five years of observations from tandem satellites produce 3D world map of unprecedented accuracy – A pair of satellites operating in tandem for five years have produced a depth map of the planet so exact you could theoretically zoom down to street level and tell an adult from a kid, or spot a breaking wave at Malibu. The immense database — some 2.6 petabytes — is available for free to researchers.

2,200 years ago in Turkey, this disturbing rental agreement was inscribed in stone – Carved into a 1.5 meter-long marble stele, the document goes into great detail about the property and its amenities. We learn that it’s a tract of land that was given to the Neos, a group of men aged 20-30 associated with the city’s gymnasium. In ancient Greece, a gymnasium wasn’t just a place for exercise and public games—it was a combination of university and professional training school for well-off citizens. Neos were newbie citizens who often had internship-like jobs in city administration or politics. The land described in the lease was given to the Neos by a wealthy citizen of Teos, in a gift that was likely half-generosity, half-tax writeoff. Because the land contained a shrine, it was classified as a “holy” place that couldn’t be taxed. Along with the land, the donor gave the Neos all the property on it, including several slaves.


Here’s the 58-line rental agreement, written literally in stone.

Nightingale blankets your bedroom in customized white noise – A new product called Nightingale aims to eliminate your nighttime disturbances using a ‘blanket’ of sound that drowns out unwanted ambient noises and things like tinnitus without disturbing your sleep. The company behind the product, Cambridge Sound Management, bills the device as a smart home sleep system — one that involves two components, each that plug into a wall outlet in your bedroom. The devices can produce 15 different sound ‘blankets’ for different scenarios.


The new art of war: How trolls, hackers and spies are rewriting the rules of conflict – Cyberwar isn’t going to be about hacking power stations. It’s going to be far more subtle, and more dangerous.

Something to think about:

“The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.”

–      Andrew S. Tanenbaum

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

ACLU exposes Facebook, Twitter for feeding surveillance company user data – The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday outed Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for feeding a Chicago-based company their user streams—a feed that was then sold to police agencies for surveillance purposes.

After the disclosure, the social media companies said they stopped their data firehouse to Chicago-based Geofeedia. In a blog post, the ACLU said it uncovered the data feeds as part of a public records request campaign of California law enforcement agencies. Geofeedia touts how it helped police track unrest during protests.

In one document, Geofeedia hailed its service because it paid for Twitter’s “firehose” and because it is the “only social media monitoring tool to have a partnership with Instagram.”

“Geofeed Streamer is unique to Geofeedia and has numerous uses (Ie: Live Events, Protests—which we covered Ferguson/Mike Brown nationally with great success, Disaster Relief, Etc),” said one document (PDF) that Geofeedia sent to a police agency, which was then forwarded to the ACLU.

Following the ACLU post, Twitter tweeted, “Based on information in the @ACLU’s report, we are immediately suspending @Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data.”

Nicole Ozer, an ACLU civil liberties director in California, said, “The ACLU shouldn’t have to tell Facebook or Twitter what their own developers are doing. The companies need to enact strong public policies and robust auditing procedures to ensure their platforms aren’t being used for discriminatory surveillance.”

The ACLU said that “after we reported our findings to the companies, Instagram cut off Geofeedia’s access to public user posts, and Facebook has cut its access to a topic-based feed of public user posts.”

Geofeedia, which did not respond for comment, says it has more than 500 customers, including the Denver Police Department. That agency recently signed a $30,000 annual deal with the company. The money came from the agency’s “confiscation” fund. The department’s intelligence agency’s top brass wrote that it would allow cops to analyze and respond in real time to “social media content from anywhere in the world.”

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter Block Tool For Cops To Surveil You On Social Media – On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California announced that, after the organization obtained revealing documents through public records access requests, Facebook and Instagram have cut off data access to a company that sells surveillance products for law enforcement. Twitter has also curbed the surveillance product’s access.

The product, called Geofeedia, is used by law enforcement to monitor social media on a large scale, and relies on social media sites’ APIs or other means of access. According to one internal email between a Geofeedia representative and police, the company claimed their product “covered Ferguson/Mike Brown nationally with great success,” in reference to to the fatal police shooting of a black teenager in Missouri in 2014, and subsequent protests.

“Our location-based intelligence platform enables hundreds of organizations around the world to predict, analyze, and act based on real-time social media signals,” the company’s website reads.

According to the ACLU, Instagram provided Geofeedia access to its API; Facebook gave access to a data feed called the Topic Feed API, which presents users with a ranked list of public posts; and Twitter provided Geofeedia, through an intermediary, with searchable access to its database of public tweets. Instagram and Facebook terminated Geofeedia’s access on September 19, and Twitter announced on Tuesday that it had suspended Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data.

Cory Doctorow says fight against DRM laws is more important than his blogging – Cory Doctorow, the popular science fiction author and journalist blogger, says he will be writing a lot less in order to focus on his digital activism work in fighting Digital Rights Management (DRM) laws alongside the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

He was speaking at a recent event at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Artist Talks series, on the topic of how museums and libraries can “shape conversations about civic participation and cultural citizenship.”

He said that museums and libraries employ lots of highly skilled archivists and that they should be taught some software engineering skills to help take their work into digital realms.

Much of his SFMOMA talk, however, was about current copyright laws and the danger they pose to democracy and to basic rights such as expectations of privacy and protection from government surveillance.

He warned that the Internet of Things and new electronics products such as a connected smart rectal thermometer would allow the government to spy inside our bodies.

He says government surveillance is tightly linked with DRM laws. People can be jailed for five years for disabling DRM systems, and can be prosecuted if they share such information. This bars researchers from discovering security holes that could be exploited by criminal organizations or or foreign states.


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