Tech Thoughts Net News – Friday – November 4, 2016

Microsoft Cortana: The smart person’s guide;  Home networking: Everything you need to know;  4 things to know before you buy Google Home;  Can your PC run virtual reality? The free new VRMark benchmark can tell you;  LastPass syncing across multiple devices is now free;  5 macOS screen capture apps;  Feds Say it’s Okay to Hack Your Own Car, Smart TV;  Move over Raspberry Pi, here is a $4, coin-sized, open-source Linux computer – and much more news you need to know.

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Firms that force you to change your password are clueless says cyber security chief – Does your firm make you change your password each month and warn you not to open suspicious email attachments? Then they haven’t got a clue about IT security. So says Dr Ian Levy, technical director for the UK National Cyber Security Centre. Levy was scathing in his assessment of the “stupid” and user-unfriendly security advice habitually doled out. Top of his list was the perennial warning not to open attachments or click on links in an email unless you trust the sender. The number of users capable of delving into the technical detail of an email to spot the difference between a well-crafted spoof banking message sent by a hacker and the genuine article is vanishingly small, he said. “That is the most stupid piece of advice I have ever heard,” he told the Microsoft Future Decoded conference in London. “We’re blaming the user for designing the system wrong, we’re trying to get the user to compensate for bad system design. That’s stupid, let’s fix it.”

Microsoft Cortana: The smart person’s guide – For Microsoft and devices running the Windows 10 operating system, the digital agent that will help us interface with our computing devices more efficiently is called Cortana. If you have a computer, tablet, or smartphone running Windows 10, you have Cortana—even if you have never used it. This TechRepublic Smart Person’s Guide describes what Cortana is, who its designed for, when you should use it, and why it matters.

4 things to know before you buy Google Home – The Google Assistant has escaped, and it’s haunting your house. No longer is it trapped in your phone or your browser: instead, the power of Google’s so-called Knowledge Graph now gets a new enclosure, the vase-esque Google Home. Like Amazon’s Echo, it reacts to voice rather than touchscreen or buttons, and like Amazon’s assistant Alexa, it promises to streamline your day and entertain your evenings with its personalized knowledge of your tastes and interests. Sounds great, right? Turns out, there are a few things you ought to bear in mind before you bring Home home.


Home networking: Everything you need to know – Did you know that Wi-Fi and internet are two different things? That’s true, Wi-Fi is just a wireless method for devices in a local network to connect to one another using a router and share a single internet connection, if there is one. Then what is a local network, you ask? And what’s a router for Pete’s sake? Here I’ll (try to) explain them all so that you can have a better understanding of your home network and hopefully a better control of your online life.

Hands On With Microsoft Teams – If you’ve ever felt a disconnect between your applications, files, and coworkers, Microsoft Teams is designed with you in mind. The tool is a cloud-based collaboration chat app that takes the best aspects of Slack and connects them to Microsoft Office 365, as well as more than 150 third-party applications. For those of you who’ve never used a chat app at work, here’s a small primer:

Can your PC run virtual reality? The free new VRMark benchmark can tell you – There’s a new way to easily test your PC’s virtual reality chops. Futuremark, the creators of the widely used 3DMark benchmarking tools (including Fire Strike), just announced VRMark for gauging your computer’s VR capabilities. VRMark comes in both Basic and Advanced Editions. The basic version is free and allows you to run one of VRMark’s two tests, dubbed “Orange Room.” Orange Room tests your PC with the recommended hardware requirements of VR headsets in mind. Futuremark says your PC will pass if it can hit the benchmark’s target frame rate without dropping frames—two crucial requirements for virtual reality. Orange Room also provides an overall score at the end so you can compare different system results.

Move over Raspberry Pi, here is a $4, coin-sized, open-source Linux computer – VoCore2 is an open source Linux computer and a fully-functional wireless router that is smaller than a coin. It can also act as a VPN gateway for a network, an AirPlay station to play lossless music, a private cloud to store your photos, video, and code, and much more. The Lite version of the VoCore2 features a 580MHz MT7688AN MediaTek system on chip (SoC), 64MB of DDR2 RAM, 8MB of NOR storage, and a single antenna slot for Wi-Fi that supports 150Mbps. All this for $4.



How to track down the Startup folder in Windows 10 – There are various ways to access the Windows 10 Startup folder–but this Shell command trick cuts to the chase.

How to add a Hibernate option to the Windows 10 Start menu – Windows 10 doesn’t include Hibernate in the shut-down options by default, but it’s easy enough to add it.

How Microsoft plans to shrink down and speed up Windows 10 updates – Microsoft has revealed a new Unified Update Platform that’s designed to make it easier for devices to upgrade from one version of Windows 10 to another.

LastPass syncing across multiple devices is now free – LastPass has announced that its syncing feature is now free to use across multiple devices, including things like your laptop, tablet and smartphone. Whatever devices you use the service on, your passwords will sync across them and it won’t cost you anything. Premium members will still keep exclusive access to the other premium perks, however, including things like going ad-free and sharing with up to five users.

Vivaldi: A stellar web browser, but don’t make it your default yet – Before making the switch to Vivaldi, read what an avid Chrome fan likes and doesn’t like about this much-talked about web browser.

Another 40 million people bolt from Microsoft’s browsers as mass exodus continues – Microsoft’s browsers hemorrhaged another 40 million users last month, according to analytics vendor Net Applications.

15 hidden Facebook Messenger tips – There are hidden Messenger games, fun emoji animations and more that you probably don’t know about.

5 macOS screen capture apps that make sharing important info a snap – Taking a screenshot isn’t hard, but making use of them can be a lot trickier. Here are five apps for your Mac that can make your screen captures far more functional.

Adobe Photoshop Sketch, Photoshop Fix, Comp CC now on Android – Adobe is finally showing some Android love. The company whose name is synonymous with digital content creation tools hasn’t exactly been close friends with Android, preferring to focus its resources more and first on iOS as far as mobile platforms go. Not like Android users are less creative than their iOS counterparts. But, as they say, better late than never. Finally, Android users can enjoy three new creative mobile apps from Adobe: Photoshop Sketch, Photoshop Fix, and Adobe Comp CC.

Red Hat releases new flagship Linux operating system – Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.3 includes new features and enhancements built around performance, security, and reliability. The release also introduces new capabilities around Linux containers and the Internet of Things.

Android closes in on 90% market share – As the battle between iOS and Android rages on, we’re seeing Android pick up some market share in quarter three 2016. Strategy Analytics has published a new report for the quarter that shows Android making some gains while iOS loses a little ground. On top of that, the smartphone market as a whole showed some modest year-over-year growth.

Uber has overhauled its app: three key differences – Uber has rebuilt its mobile app, making it cleaner and easier to use in comparison to the previous version. This update was necessary, says Uber, as the app had ‘become complicated and harder to navigate’ since the last big overhaul in 2012. By remaking it from the ground up, the app is now faster and, says the company, smarter — it can learn your routines if you’re a frequent rider, and pretty soon it’ll be able to tap your mobile’s calendar, too.

Hands-on: Using CrossOver Android to run Windows apps on a Chromebook – Android app support in Chromebooks opens the door to Windows emulation, but that first step is a doozy.

Report: Smartwatch sales aren’t falling — shipments increased 60% year-on-year – Are smartwatch sales tanking? Analysts are divided. A recent IDC report suggested the total shipment of smartwatches had plummeted by 50 percent in the last year, but this week rival analyst firm Canalys claimed that sales have actually increased.


The ransomware dilemma – More than 90 percent of all phishing emails are now ransomware. The average amount paid via ransomware has grown from $40 in 2009 to $1,000 in 2016. This amount will grow even faster as ransomware moves to enterprise. An LA-based hospital paid $17,000 and, according to FBI records, several small businesses have paid as much as $80,000. Many are embarrassed to admit it, so we may never know the real figures. According to Cyber Threat Alliance, ransomware variant CryptoLocker generated $325 million for the hackers within 100 days of launch. At the Black Hat 2016 CISO Summit in Las Vegas, several industry experts projected a billion dollars will be paid in ransomware in 2016.

(Another) Hospital Falls Victim to Ransomware – The NHS’s Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Foundation Trust is back up and running after a four-day ordeal.

Mobile subscriber identity numbers can be exposed over Wi-Fi – Researchers have now found that protocols used by operators to offload data connections and voice calls to Wi-Fi can be abused to track mobile subscribers by their unique identification numbers.

How to block the ultrasonic signals you didn’t know were tracking you – The technology, called ultrasonic cross-device tracking, embeds high-frequency tones that are inaudible to humans in advertisements, web pages, and even physical locations like retail stores. These ultrasound “beacons” emit their audio sequences with speakers, and almost any device microphone—like those accessed by an app on a smartphone or tablet—can detect the signal and start to put together a picture of what ads you’ve seen, what sites you’ve perused, and even where you’ve been. Now that you’re sufficiently concerned, the good news is that at the Black Hat Europe security conference on Thursday, a group based at University of California, Santa Barbara will present an Android patch and a Chrome extension that give consumers more control over the transmission and receipt of ultrasonic pitches on their devices.

Mirai botnet attackers are trying to knock an entire country offline – The nation state has a single point of failure fiber, recently installed in 2011, and it could spell disaster for dozens of other countries.

Australia’s cybersecurity strategy: Continue the omnishambles – As the UK launches its much-praised active cyber defence plan to integrate protection of the entire domain, Australia chooses to do the exact opposite. Hilarity will ensue.

Flaw in Wix website builder risked computer worm –, a major website building provider, may have a significant bug on its hands. A vulnerability with the company’s sites can potentially pave the way for a computer worm, warns a security researcher.

Company News:

Google formally rebuts EU antitrust charges against Shopping, AdSense – Google has now formally responded to two antitrust charges brought against it by Europe’s Competition Commission, rebutting charges of exploiting the popularity of its search engine to boost its price comparison service, Google Shopping, and its ad placement service, AdSense. The company has yet to respond to a third EU antitrust complaint — regarding complaints that it uses its Android mobile OS as a ‘trojan horse’ to promote its own products and services at the expense of rivals’ — but in a blog post outlining its response in the Shopping case the company’s SVP and general counsel, Kent Walker, said it will be responding to the Android Statement of Objections “in the days to come”.

Symantec reports solid Q2, CornerStone, Arista, Hortonworks also report – The tech earnings parade was led by Symantec. Generally speaking the results from enterprise vendors were solid.

Lenovo posts ‘solid results’ in tough PC and tablet market – The world’s biggest PC vendor has announced its second-quarter results, with a return to profit despite tough PC and server markets. Revenue stood at $11.2 billion, an eight percent decrease year-over-year, and a 12 percent increase over its first financial quarter. Pre-tax income for the second quarter was $168 million compared to a loss of $842 million in the same quarter last year. Net income stood at $157 million compared to $714 million in last year’s second quarter. Lenovo described this as “solid performance” at a challenging time in the industry, with both the PC and tablet markets down, and smartphones and servers showing only modest growth.

GoPro shows its vulnerability after horrific Q3 earnings – Expectations were already incredibly low for GoPro this go around and yet somehow the company managed to eclipse even the worst fears of analysts. The company’s stock trading was halted prior to the release of results that missed revenue expectations by 23 percent and nearly $75 million. When trading began again, shares were down 22 percent. This means that, in a matter of minutes, the market cap of the company melted from $1.23 billion to $972 million — the spontaneous combustion of roughly $250 million in value.

Fitbit shares tank 29 percent as holiday sales look bleak – Fitbit is going to have a rough holiday season as the company shared a disappointing outlook for the next quarter on yesterday’s earnings call. As a result, Fitbit shares (NYSE:FIT) opened at $9.03, down 29.5 percent compared to yesterday’s closing price of $12.81. So what happened exactly? Fitbit’s earning report yesterday wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad either. According to Forbes, earnings were in line with the analysts’ expectations, and revenue was slightly below expectations — $504 million vs. $507 million. This doesn’t seem enough to tear the company apart on the stock market. The issue is what’s going to happen next. Fitbit devices seem like the perfect gift for the holidays. But Fitbit says it’s not going to be the huge quarter investors expected. Fitbit’s own outlook says that earnings per share are going to be between $0.14 and $0.18, well below expectations of $0.75 per share, according to the WSJ.

Facebook doubles down on video as forecast worries investors – With new video features, the social network is preparing itself for the future. Still, investors are worried about the coming year.

Intel Security sets up strategy, ecosystem, architecture for McAfee independence – Intel Security outlined its strategy, architecture, key partners, and a series of products as it preps to become McAfee and a standalone company. At its Focus 16 conference, Intel Security launched an architecture that ties together its four key systems for endpoints, data protection, data center, and cloud and security analytics. Intel Security announced 10 products driven by machine learning malware classification and cloud advanced threat protection.

Games and Entertainment:

GOG’s Fall Sale dangles free copies of Victor Vran, Little Big Adventure 2, and more – You can walk away with four free games on top of this year’s GOG’s “Monstrous” fall sale harvest.

Review: ‘Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ Reaches for the Stars But Never Gets off the Ground – Once more, we’re drowning in a season of shooters: the jazzy robo-parkour of Titanfall 2, the eco-pocalyptic hustle of Gears of War 4, the anthologized toil of Battlefield 1. And on November 4 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the slick celestial operatics of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It’s the thirteenth installment in Activision’s granddaddy projectile-chucker that’s been nipping at Pokémon‘s fourth place heels in the battle for all-time bestselling franchise bragging rights.

PlayStation 4 includes free COD: Infinite Warfare on November 4 – 5 – Sony has announced that PlayStation 4 consoles purchased on November 4th and November 5th will include a free copy of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the latest addition to the popular game franchise. The promotion is being offered through ‘select retailers,’ according to PlayStation Brand Marketing Vice President John Koller. As well, it will only be available to customers in the United States and Canada.

PS4 Pro Will Have 30 Games Optimized for Launch, 45 by Year’s End – Next Thursday will see the launch of the PlayStation 4 Pro. With a more powerful CPU and GPU, games will run and look better than they do on the current PlayStation 4. All future releases will be optimized to take advantage of the system’s beefier hardware, and some older titles will be patched to do the same. Sony has today revealed a list of all the titles that will optimize for the PS4 Pro. This list contains titles that are getting patched or have been created with PS4 Pro in mind. Some of the games that will be PS4 Pro ready include 2016 releases like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Battlefield 1, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Ratchet & Clank, Titanfall 2, and Firewatch. Older titles like Knack, inFAMOUS: Second Son, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and XCOM 2 will be getting optimized as well.

EVGA issues patch to stop its GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070 cards from catching fire – EVGA issued a patch to its GeForce GTX 1080, 1070, and 1060 graphics cards this week after some users reported that their cards overheated and sometimes caught on fire. Is this the year of exploding gadgets? Tom’s Hardware Germany initially reported an issue with EVGA’s cooling system. The site found that the card reached up to 107 degrees Celsius, or 224 degrees Fahrenheit, when put under the Furmark stress test. Tom’s noted that EVGA failed to include an adequate cooling solution, which the company is now trying to remedy through a VBIOS update that will speed up the fans so everything stays cool.

Sling TV adds on-demand kids channel: here are four alternatives – Children’s programming is an important part of the television industry, not just because kids comprise a large viewer base, but also because they’re more likely to stick with something that becomes familiar to them at an early age. It’s no surprise, then, that video streaming companies have been fleshing out their family-friendly and kids-centric programming, and Sling TV is no exception.

Vimeo to Take On Netflix With Premium Subscriptions – Vimeo hopes to create an ad-free streaming service with lower prices than its competitors.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Feds Say it’s Okay to Hack Your Own Car, Smart TV – Want to hack your own car or smart TV? Now you legally can. The Federal Trade Commission last week announced that the Librarian of Congress issued a new temporary exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), authorizing the hacking of consumer devices for the sake of research. That includes everything from electric toothbrushes to home thermostats, connected appliances, cars, smart TVs — even medical devices so long as they’re not connected to humans during the research. It does not, however, apply to “highly sensitive systems” like nuclear power plants or air traffic control. The FTC called the new temporary exemption “a big win for security researchers and for consumers who will benefit from increased security testing of the products they use.”

These glasses trick facial recognition software into thinking you’re someone else – Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have shown that specially designed spectacle frames can fool even state-of-the-art facial recognition software. Not only can the glasses make the wearer essentially disappear to such automated systems, it can even trick them into thinking you’re someone else. By tweaking the patterns printed on the glasses, scientists were able to assume one another’s identities or make the software think they were looking at celebrities. (In the image at the top of the article, you can see the researchers wearing the glasses in the top row of pictures, and the identity they copied in the bottom row.)


SPUD lets you take a pop-up 24-inch screen on the road – The challenge with working from the road for many people is that even with a laptop, often the screen is too small to be truly productive. A new portable display called the SPUD has landed on Kickstarter and this gizmo will make it a snap to carry a large screen with you for all your devices wherever you go. SPUD is a collapsible, pop-up projection screen measuring 24-inches diagonally.


Can you solve some of the most complicated cryptographic puzzles in the world? – The UK’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) are some of the best code breakers in the world. Think you have what it takes to be a cryptanalyst? Find out here.

Something to think about:

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”

–      Ralph W. Sockman

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

The FBI is investigating its own Twitter account over allegedly pro-Trump tweets – The FBI’s Inspection Division has launched an internal investigation into a string of tweets from the @FBIRecordsDivision account, according to an exclusive report from ThinkProgress. The account had been inactive for more than a year before this week, when it sprang to life with a string of tweets publishing records from a years-old investigation into then-president Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich in 2001. The account also tweeted its archive on Donald Trump’s father Fred Trump, whom the account hailed as a “philanthropist.”

Under the Hatch Act, the FBI and its employees are forbidden from taking an active role in election activities. But some critics have argued that the bureau overstepped that line with FBI Director Comey’s July press conference, which criticized Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for classified communication while simultaneously declining to recommend criminal charges.

Canadian Spies Illegally Retained Metadata for a Decade – A bombshell federal court ruling revealed on Thursday that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s CIA analogue, operated a secret metadata collection and retention program for a decade.

The Operational Data Analysis Centre (ODAC), a CSIS program that was not known to the public until this court ruling, has been in operation since 2006, the court found, although CSIS did not make courts aware of its existence until this year. This breached the spy agency’s “duty of candour,” the court ruled.

The ODAC is a “powerful” program, the court’s judgement states, and collected and retained information known as metadata. This sort of information would include details like the sender and recipient of an email, for example, but not the contents of the message.

“The end product [of ODAC surveillance] is intelligence which reveals specific, intimate details on the life and environment of the persons the CSIS investigates,” the court’s ruling states. “The program is capable of drawing links between various sources and enormous amounts of data that no human being would be capable of.”

Unlike the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s version of the NSA, CSIS is mandated to spy on Canadians in order to thwart terror attacks.

The ODAC program not only collected metadata from people that CSIS had warrants to surveil, but also collected so-called “associated data,” which means information on non-threats or third parties: in other words, citizens not under investigation.

Edward Snowden Calls Police Spying on Quebec Journalists a ‘Threat to Democracy’ – In a speech to 600 people at McGill University in Montreal on Wednesday night, Edward Snowden described police spying on Quebec journalists a “threat to the traditional model of our democracy.”

Though it had been announced months ago, the timing of Snowden’s conference was strangely appropriate. The event took place just hours after La Presse revealed the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), which is the provincial police force, had put at least six prominent journalists under surveillance. Two days earlier, the same Montreal daily had broken the story that its own star columnist, Patrick Lagacé, had been spied on by the Montreal police force (SPVM).

Appearing live from Russia, where he’s been living in exile since exposing top secret information about US intelligence and surveillance programs, Snowden did not mince words when discussing the behaviour of Quebec police.

“From now on, local police can decide they don’t like what a journalist has been reporting and go to a justice of the peace, who’ll say, ‘Sounds great. Look at the GPS on his phone, figure out everywhere he’s been traveling, figure out anyone he’s communicated with. No, you can’t actually read his emails, you can’t actually listen to his calls, but you can find out anyone he met with, who did he call, how long he was on the phone with them’,” the former CIA agent and NSA employee said. “With this, you can gain an extraordinary understanding of how this individual works.”

The world’s most famous whistleblower suggested SPVM chief Philippe Pichet should resign immediately, describing the surveillance of Lagacé and other journalists as a “radical attack on the operations of the free press.” Snowden also took shots at Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard for not firing Pichet.


1 Comment

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One response to “Tech Thoughts Net News – Friday – November 4, 2016

  1. Mal

    Hey Bill,

    Re: Australia’s cybersecurity strategy: Continue the omnishambles

    And for a bit more mirth (if it wasn’t so serious) here is a link to a news piece regarding the ATO and DDOS attack a few days ago. Department of Human Services, which runs the portal for Centrelink, Australian Tax Office, amongst other things.