Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – October 26, 2016

How hackable are your smart home gadgets?  Beware this fake Windows BSOD from tech support scammers’ malware;  Better safe than sorry: 5 apps for encrypting and shredding files;  10 must-have Android apps for Halloween;  How to watch the World Series online;  IBM Watson: The smart person’s guide;  5 Tools You Need to Finally Go Paperless;  WhatsApp update download brings Video Calls to Beta;  The most common malware, country by country;  November Xbox Live Games With Gold Lineup Revealed – and much more news you need to know.

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Microsoft: Beware this fake Windows BSOD from tech support scammers’ malware – Microsoft has sounded the alarm over a fake installer for its Security Essentials, which attempts to trick victims into contacting bogus help centers. Tech-support scammers have stepped up their technical game, prompting a “severe” warning from Microsoft over new Windows malware that mimics Microsoft’s free Security Essentials antivirus, and then displays a fake blue screen of death, or BSoD, with an error message and a suggestion to call a 1800 number that is not a Microsoft support center. The malware, which Microsoft calls Hicurdismos, disables Task Manager to prevent the user from terminating the fake BSoD and hides the mouse cursor to make the user think Windows is not responding.

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Microsoft doesn’t call you to offer tech support and does not provide phone numbers to call on its BSoD security warnings. Image: Microsoft

How hackable are your smart home gadgets? – After last week’s massive internet outage, now may be the time for a full audit of your smart home devices. Most of the smart home devices used in last week’s attacks seem to come from lesser known manufacturers with shoddy security practices, including Chinese webcam-maker Xiongmai. But what about those larger platforms? What are they doing to keep your devices and your data secure? Are they at risk, too? Let’s break it down, one at a time.

Better safe than sorry: 5 apps for encrypting and shredding files – If you want to protect sensitive data — especially if you’re sending it via email or via an online service — one of these programs can help.

Tips, tricks and shortcuts: Ed Bott makes Windows 10 work for you – Need help navigating Windows 10? Let Windows pro Ed Bott be your guide.

How to watch the World Series online – Fox will broadcast the games nationally, but you don’t need a TV in order to watch. There are four legal options to watch this historic World Series matchup live online.

5 Tools You Need to Finally Go Paperless – Going paperless doesn’t have to be hard, especially if you know what tools will help you do it. Whether you’re a first-timer or you’ve tried giving up paper before and it didn’t stick, there are at least five tools that are essential to making it work.

10 must-have Android apps for Halloween – From creepy games to costume aides, it’s time again to summon the spirits to your phone for a fun and festive Halloween.

WhatsApp update download brings Video Calls to Beta – WhatsApp has been updated to include video calling for the first time in the messaging app’s history. This functionality was first brought to the Windows Phone version of the app, by some miracle, but is now ready for Android. The update for iOS was just made this past week, but it does not appear as though video calling is quite prepared for the iPhone as yet.

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How to access and edit Google Calendar quickly with this must-have extension – If you rely heavily on Google Calendar, check out an extension that makes viewing and adding to upcoming events a snap.

How to repair Windows 10’s Master Boot Record – You should know how to repair your Master Boot Record, because if ransomware or some other disaster bricks your PC, you just might be able to save it. Here’s how.

Use Windows 10’s Battery Saver to squeeze more life out of your laptop – Settings for screen brightness, low-power mode and more will help you last longer on a charge.

Best home security camera: Our favorite tools for keeping an eye on the home front – A boom in wireless security cameras is inspiring a movement in DIY home surveillance. Follow our buying guide and read our reviews to find the best option for you.

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Best Bluetooth speakers – There was a time when Bluetooth speakers were like jelly beans: They were cheap, they all looked the same, and they were invariably of dubious quality. Times have changed. Every major audio manufacturer has at least one model on the market today, and most have several. If you haven’t listened to a Bluetooth speaker lately, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise.

IBM Watson: The smart person’s guide – This comprehensive guide covers how the IBM Watson data analytics processor works, and how it helps customers in various industries make critical decisions.

You have one week left to buy a Windows 7 PC – Two older versions of Windows are approaching their mandatory retirement date. If you want a new PC running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you’ll have fewer options beginning on Nov. 1. Here’s what the end-of-sales deadline means.

Security:

How Web Cams Helped Bring Down the Internet, Briefly – While the attack did cause some economic damage, cybersecurity experts say the bigger issue is the way in which the hackers were able to pull off such a feat. They did it not only by co-opting zombie computers—the typical way that hackers push servers off-line—but by leveraging “tens of millions” of addresses on insecure, internet-connected devices that had been infected with malicious software code, according to Kyle York, the chief strategy officer at Dynamic Network Services Inc., the company that came under attack.

Chinese Firm Issues Webcam Recall After Massive Cyberattack – A Chinese electronics maker has recalled millions of products sold in the U.S. following a massive cyberattack that briefly blocked access to websites including Twitter and Netflix. Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology said in a statement that millions of web-connected cameras and digital recorders became compromised because customers failed to change their default passwords.

Physical RAM attack can root Android and possibly other devices – Researchers have devised a new way to fully compromise Android devices without exploiting any software vulnerability and instead taking advantage of a physical design weakness in RAM chips.

ARM builds up security in the tiniest Internet of Things chips – On Tuesday at ARM TechCon in Silicon Valley, ARM will introduce processors that are just a fraction of a millimeter across and incorporate the company’s TrustZone technology. TrustZone is hardware-based security built into SoC (system on chip) processors to establish a root of trust. It’s designed to prevent devices from being hacked and taken over by intruders, a danger that’s been in the news since the discovery of the Mirai botnet, which recently took over thousands of IP cameras to mount denial-of-service attacks.

The most common malware, country by country – Microsoft’s security analysis reveals what kinds of malware are most likely to hit your region.

Company News:

Twitter reportedly planning to cut hundreds of jobs – Twitter is planning to cut hundreds of jobs, with an announcement possibly coming as soon as this week ahead of its third-quarter financial results, Bloomberg reported Monday. The financially troubled company is planning to eliminate about 300 jobs, or 8 percent of its workforce, unidentified people described as familiar with the matter told the media outlet. It’s roughly the same number of jobs cut a year ago after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey returned to the social media company’s helm.

iPhone sales slump. Apple still raking in billions – Apple’s iPhone difficulties were clear for everyone to see on Tuesday, when the company released its financial results for the quarter ended Sept. 24. The company reported its third straight quarter of weaker iPhone sales, marking its first fiscal year of lower phone sales since the blockbuster device was introduced in 2007. Sales and profit for the year were also down. Overall, the company sold 45.5 million iPhones, five percent fewer than the 48 million it sold in the same quarter a year earlier. However, the performance surpassed Wall Street’s forecast of 44.2 million units, according to Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi.

Weak Nintendo earnings show there’s nowhere to go but up for Switch – If last week’s reveal of the Nintendo Switch sparked widespread excitement around the company for the first time in a while, today’s second-quarter earnings release is a reminder that there’s still some way to go. Nintendo reported revenue of 137 billion yen ($1.32 billion), down 33 percent year-on-year, slumping to an operating loss of 5.95 billion yen ($57.1 million) after making 8.98 billion yen operating profit in the same period last year. Nintendo sold just 530,000 Wii U systems between July and September, down 53 percent on 2015, and software sales were also down 33 percent because, well, basically nothing of note was released. Nintendo is winding down production on the unsuccessful console, only expecting to ship 800,000 units for the entire fiscal year.

Sprint’s Q2 revenue grows for the first time in two years – Sprint Corp. posted its first year-over-year revenue gain in more two years as part of its second quarter earnings report released Tuesday. The Overland Park, Kansas-based company reported a net loss of $142 million, or four cents per share, compared to a loss of $443 million, or $0.11 per share, the year prior. Net operating revenue was $8.25 billion, which, at three percent above the previous year, marks Sprint’s first net revenue increase since 2014. Wall Street was expecting a loss of seven cents per share on revenue of $8.03 billion.

Pandora’s latest quarter disappoints investors – In what has become a very competitive landscape for digital music, early pioneer Pandora is trying to remain a leader. The company reported third quarter earnings after the bell on Tuesday, giving a glimpse at the current health of their business. Pandora has seen its revenue grow to $351.9 million, up by 13% from the same period last year. Yet analysts had been expecting $366.1 million. Adjusted earnings per share also missed the mark, with a loss of 7 cents, instead of the 6 cents Wall Street was forecasting. The stock fell about 8% in the initial after hours trading. Advertising revenue came in at $273.7 million, up 7% year-over-year, but beneath the $286.9 million that analysts predicted. Ticketing service revenue was $22.1 million, an area that saw 25% growth, yet also fell slightly beneath Wall Street expectations.

Games and Entertainment:

AT&T prices DirecTV Now at $35 a month – AT&T wants to give you a cheaper alternative to cable TV. The answer: Its new DirecTV Now online video service will cost only $35 a month. The price of the service, expected to launch next month, will include the cost of streaming plus 100 channels of programming, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said on Tuesday at the WSJ.D live conference in California.

Review: ‘Civilization 6’ Fixes Most of the Series’ Biggest Flaws – I love almost everything else about Civilization VI. It’s friendly in a way that belies its complexity. The interface looks busier than it feels, which is to say never convoluted. You can glean all the information you need, without peeping the spreadsheet views hiding under tiny icons (which seem to exist more for the reasons scientists publish their data—so you can double-check the math if you like). It is, in most of the ways that matter, the best-looking, most systemically well thought out, and thereby most fun I’ve had with a Civilization since 1996.

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Civilization 6 tips: Succeeding in the early game – You only need to spend a few minutes with Civilization 6 to notice that things have changed since the last time you danced to this song. Civilization 6 presents a number of new features that can be confusing or overwhelming for even the Civilization veteran, let alone newcomers. Using the tips listed here, you should be able to get your civilization off to the start you need to ensure that you remain competitive as the game moves into its middle and ending stages.

November Xbox Live Games With Gold Lineup Revealed – Microsoft just revealed next month’s Games With Gold lineup for Xbox Live Gold members. Like usual, you can expect four free games in October — two on Xbox One and two on Xbox 360. On Xbox One, Live Gold members can download dungeon brawler Super Dungeon Bros for free all month while spooky stealth game Murdered: Soul Suspect will be available as a free download from Nov. 16 to Dec. 15. Both games normally sell for $20 each.

Sonic Utopia fan game revealed – here’s how to download the demo – Those who have been disappointed by Sonic the Hedgehog’s 3D escapades may want to take a look at Sonic Utopia, a new fan-game announced today. Sonic Utopia looks to fix some of the problems 3D Sonic games have, offering players an open world to run, jump, and go fast through. If that has piqued your interest, you might like to know that there happens to be a demo you can download to try Sonic Utopia for yourself.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Microsoft’s graveyard: 8 products Microsoft killed in 2016 – Microsoft has rolled out plenty of new things in 2016, including the latest edition of Windows Server, additions to its Azure cloud platform and increased availability of its futuristic HoloLens mixed reality technology. But as always, the company has had to make room for the new by ditching some of the old. Here’s a roundup of products, services and more that Microsoft rid itself of in 2016.

Watch Uber’s Self-Driving Trucks Make a Beer Run – Otto, the self-driving truck company owned by Uber, recently completed what it claims was the first commercial delivery by a self-driving vehicle. A truck outfitted with Otto’s autonomous driving technology shipped a truckload of Budweiser beer from Fort Collins, Co. to Colorado Springs, a distance of about 120 miles. Otto says the truck drove hands-free from exit to exit, though a human driver was in the cab for local streets and to take over in case of an emergency.

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Here are the 10 most — and least — reliable cars according to Consumer Reports – Every year, Consumer Reports ranks all its vehicles based on reliability data. This year’s 10 best (and 10 worst) cover a number of automakers and countries of origin.

Religious people are worse at math, researchers claim – I’m currently moved by a study from the University of Helsinki. As the British Psychological Research Society’s Research Digest reports, the Finns asked 258 respondents to offer up their beliefs. Specifically, the participants were asked about their beliefs in paranormal phenomena, as well as whether they thought “there exists an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God.” The researchers wanted to measure something they call “physical capability.” This embraces, among other things, an assessment of scientific knowledge, as well as of the ability to solve problems that require a grasp of math and physics. They concluded that those who are religious are less aware of the physical world than those who aren’t. There’s even some similarity, claim the scientists, between religious belief and autism because they both blur the mental and the physical.

Donald Trump launches nightly campaign show on Facebook Live – Starting Monday, the video program will run on Trump’s Facebook campaign page weeknights at 6:30 p.m. ET, the Trump campaign announced on its Facebook page. The program will originate from Trump Tower and be hosted by Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn, conservative political commentator Tomi Lahren, a political news site publisher who is also serving as a Trump advisor.

Something to think about:

“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.”

–     Mark Twain

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Does privacy exist anymore? Just barely – Privacy is a critical area for IT, and as social media and mobile extend potential privacy invasions into areas once considered safe, reasonable safeguards must be taken. But it has to be acknowledged that many restrictions — you’re not allowed to save this or to track that — are simply not going to work. If data can be accessed, it will be used and retained, and no rules or laws to the contrary will make any difference. Two recent events make it clear how such attempts are futile.

AT&T Is Spying on Americans for Profit, New Documents Reveal – The telecom giant is doing NSA-style work for law enforcement—without a warrant—and earning millions of dollars a year from taxpayers.

French surveillance law is unconstitutional after all, highest court says – The French Constitutional Council has taken another look at a new security law it waved through in July 2015, and found it wanting.

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