Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – December 21, 2016

The cheapskate’s guide to buying a new PC or Mac;  How to securely erase hard drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs);  How to Set Up and Optimize Your Wireless Router;  How to Find the Best Android Calendar App;  10 mistakes to avoid when troubleshooting IT problems; The best Linux desktop just got even better; 7 ways to take screenshots in Windows 10;  How to Find the Best Android Calendar App;  Box won’t say if it’s giving your secrets to the government;  RansomFree is the free program that protects your PC against ransomware – and much more news you need to know.

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RansomFree is the free program that protects your PC against ransomware – Security firm Cybereason recently announced a free anti-ransomware program for Windows 7 and up, RansomFree.

The cheapskate’s guide to buying a new PC or Mac – Only suckers pay sticker price for a new Windows PC or Mac. If you’re patient and willing to do some research, you can save hundreds of dollars and get a more powerful configuration than you ever dreamed possible. Here’s how.

How to Set Up and Optimize Your Wireless Router – Everyone who’s ever purchased a new PC knows that there’s more to setting it up than just taking it out of the box and turning it on. The same is true of your home router. Putting together a home network isn’t trivial, but it doesn’t have to be overly difficult, either. Just because you’ve plugged everything in and it seems to be working doesn’t mean your network’s performance and security are as good as they could be, however. Here are the basic steps you need to follow to properly configure your home router.

How to scan and archive your old printed photos – Whether you’re looking to reduce clutter or share fond memories online, here are four methods for digitizing your print photo collection.

Why Windows 10 users have better anti-virus protection – The latest Microsoft Security Intelligence Report shows an increase in the use of anti-virus software following the introduction of Windows Defender, and highlights the extra security improvements in Windows 10.

Windows 10: The 10 biggest controversies and surprises in 2016 – Windows 10 has been dogged by various controversies since soon after its release. Anger about Windows 10 rarely dies down for long, and this year Microsoft has faced backlashes about the OS’s approach to privacy, upgrades and user control. Here are the biggest storms that whipped up around the OS in 2016, and one example of how Microsoft sometimes does listen to its users.

7 ways to take screenshots in Windows 10 – There’s the Snipping Tool, various keyboard and physical button shortcuts, and tons of third-party tools. It’s just not as intuitive as I’d like (I’m a big fan of Apple’s screenshot process in OS X). But if you’re looking for screenshot info, look no further — here are seven different ways to take a screenshot on your Windows 10 device.

10 mistakes to avoid when troubleshooting IT problems – The pressure of troubleshooting technology can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially in emergency situations. Avoiding these 10 mistakes will improve your chances for success.

Linux Mint get a major upgrade: The best Linux desktop just got even better – Linux Mint 18.1 is the best desktop available today. Not best “Linux” desktop. Best desktop period. With this long-term support Linux desktop, which is based on Ubuntu 16.04, Linux Mint is better than ever. Since I’ve already found Linux Mint 18 to be the best desktop out there of any sort, that’s saying something.

How to securely erase hard drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs) – Got a pile of old drives that you need to wipe before sending them to Silicon Heaven? Or do you want to wipe a drive in a computer that you are selling or giving away? Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the job done.

How to Find the Best Android Calendar App – Design, email integration, widgets, and task management: Here are our picks for the top Android Calendars in each of those categories.

Viber plays catch-up with GIFs and video messages – Just before the holidays get into full swing, Viber is rolling out an app update featuring improved emoticons, recorded video messages, and animated GIFs.


New report says Android phones by Lenovo and others may be running spyware apps – When security firm Kryptowire discovered last month that Chinese firmware company Adups was spying on text messages, call logs, contact lists, and location information sent by Blu R1 HD phones in the United States, Blu quickly acted to plug the security hole and assure customers that their personal data was safe. But now it appears that the issue might be more widespread. Security research outfit Trustlook has uncovered numerous other manufacturers that may have devices containing Adups apps. While many of them are smaller China-based manufacturers, a few notable brands made the list, including Archos, ZTE and Lenovo. Trustlook’s findings echo those of Kryptowire, in that the preinstalled apps are working behind the scenes to mine your data:

Police can force you to give up your iPhone password, Florida court rules – A Florida judge recently ruled that the Fifth Amendment did not protect an iPhone user from releasing his passcode to be used in a case. Here’s what it could mean for the future of digital privacy.

Mobile banking trojans adopt ransomware features – Cybercriminals are adding file-encrypting features to traditional mobile banking trojans, creating hybrid threats that can steal sensitive information and lock user files at the same time. One such trojan is called Faketoken and its primary functionality is to generate fake login screens for more than 2,000 financial applications in order to steal login credentials. The malicious app also displays phishing pages to steal credit card information, and it can read and send text messages.

Methbot: Russian botnet steals millions from US companies every day – Russian hackers are stealing between $3 million to $5 million per day from US brands and media companies in one of the most lucrative botnet operations ever discovered. On December 20, researchers from White Ops said the scheme, dubbed “Methbot,” is a Russian operation set up to watch up to 300 million video-based adverts automatically every day. These adverts, displayed on legitimate domains owned by companies including the Huffington Post, Economist, Fortune, ESPN, Vogue, CBS Sports, and Fox News, are used to generate additional revenue through advertising sponsors which help keep these businesses afloat.

Company News:

EU says Facebook misled it over its WhatsApp data-sharing policy – The European Commission has accused Facebook of providing “incorrect or misleading information” in the run-up to its $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014. Information requested by the Commission is used to vet large mergers and takeovers, aiming to find out if the resulting business would be anti-competitive. If Facebook cannot provide a decent excuse for misleading the Commission before January 31st it could be fined up to $179 million. The Commission’s complaint refers specifically to the nature of the data-sharing agreement between Facebook and WhatsApp.

Uber losses expected to hit $3 billion in 2016 despite revenue growth – Uber’s losses are growing from $2.2 billion last year to an expected $3 billion this year, according to multiple reports this week from The Information and others. The ride hailing pioneer is expected to surpass $5.5 billion in net revenue in 2016, according to a Bloomberg report, up from an estimated $2 billion in revenue last year. While that kind of sales growth is normally impressive, considering the $3 billion in anticipated losses, Uber is apparently spending $1.55 for every dollar it makes.

Revenues are down, but BlackBerry’s earnings still give investors hope as the company pivots – The company posted earnings this morning, featuring a large, if unexpected drop in handset revenue from $220 million for this quarter last year, down to $62 million – to be expected as the company moves from manufacturing its own hardware to third-party branding partnerships like the one it recently struck with Alcatel maker, TCL. On a more positive note, the company saw a raise in software and service revenue to $160 million, a recurring profit that points the way forward for a company undergoing a profound shift. Its adjusted earnings were at $0.01 a share, a marked upgrade from the $0.02 predicted per share loss.

Google sued for encouraging employees to spy on each other – “Don’t be evil.” That’s supposedly Google’s corporate motto but as many would attest, it might simply be Google poking fun at the very idea of doing nothing evil. Because that is precisely what Google is usually caught doing, depending on who you ask. If you ask a former Google product manager, that is definitely the case as far as California labor laws are concerned. Suing his former employer, this ex-Google drone claims Google implements shady confidentiality practices, including encouraging its minions to rat out each other.

Appeals against European Union’s €13 billion Apple tax ruling take shape – Apple will this week file its appeal of a European Commission decision that it owes Ireland billions in back taxes, while the country’s Department of Finance has revealed details of its own appeal.

Tim Cook promises “great desktops in our roadmap” after a desktop-free 2016 – Although Apple released new MacBooks and redesigned MacBook Pros this year, one area of the Mac lineup could still use some attention: the desktop. The iMac was last refreshed in October 2015, the Mac Mini was last refreshed in October 2013, and the Mac Pro dates back to December 2013. In an internal memo obtained by TechCrunch, Apple CEO Tim Cook briefly addressed the importance of Mac desktops in the lineup. He did so to quell skepticism in the media and possibly among Apple’s own staff. The full quote reads:

Games and Entertainment:

Facebook introduces live audio streams in partnership with the BBC – The company said today that the feature, which is first being made available to publishers, is designed to complement video streams with a lower-bandwidth option. Initial partners include Britain’s LBC radio, the BBC World Service, Harper Collins, and authors Adam Grant and Britt Bennett. It will be made available to everyone next year, Facebook said. Listening to live streams on iOS will require that you have Facebook open on your mobile device the entire time, Facebook said — a feature that seems likely to limit engagement among listeners. Android users can close the app and continue to listen.

Halo Wars is finally on PC—and hey, it ain’t so bad – To celebrate the series’ impending sequel, currently scheduled to launch in February, Microsoft has come up with an odd promotional move. Finally, you can play Halo’s console-minded RTS from 2009… with a mouse and keyboard. Halo Wars: Definitive Edition landed on Xbox One and Windows 10 on Tuesday, and I dove in to offer some quick impressions of what to expect from a PC-ized version of a console-ized version of a PC gaming genre.


Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare ‘Sabotage’ DLC for PS4 arrives January 31 – The first DLC Map Pack for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will be released for the PlayStation 4 first, and it’ll be available starting January 31. The DLC is called “Sabotage,” and it’ll bring a few new multiplayer maps, as well as the fan-favorite co-op zombie experience, this one dubbed “Rave in the Redwoods.” Of course, other platforms will get access to the DLC some time later.

Simple guide to making (and sharing) a Plex streaming movie library – Plex enables anyone to create their own streaming movie (and TV show and music…) library, and even share that library with friends and relatives. Setting the entire thing up can be daunting at first glance, though, if you’re not familiar with the software and how it works. The benefits are worth the effort in the end, and so we’ve written up this simple, complete how-to guide taking you from start to finish.

Steam winter sale 2016 start date confirmed by PayPal – For gamers, no holiday season is complete without the Steam winter sale, and now we know when this year’s event is going to kick off. Steam’s holiday sale is usually its biggest of the year, typically offering two weeks of deep discounts on most of its game catalog. Thanks to PayPal’s UK arm, we know that the festivities begin later this week.

Off Topic (Sort of):

IBM employees launch petition protesting cooperation with Donald Trump – The effort has been spearheaded in part by IBM cybersecurity engineer Daniel Hanley, who told The Intercept he started organizing with his coworkers after reading Rometty’s letter. “I was shocked, of course,” Hanley said, “because IBM has purported to espouse diversity and inclusion, and yet here’s Ginni Rometty in an unqualified way reaching out to an admin whose electoral success was based on racist programs.” The petition now has 51 signees, which is a tiny fraction of the company’s enormous global staff, but to date has circulated only privately. The full letter can be read below:

Trump’s pick for interior secretary was caught in “pattern of fraud” At Seal Team 6 – A Montana lawmaker tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to be secretary of the interior committed travel fraud when he was a member of the elite Navy SEAL Team 6, according to three former unit leaders and a military consultant. In announcing the nomination of Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL commander, Trump praised his military background. “As a former Navy SEAL, he has incredible leadership skills and an attitude of doing whatever it takes to win,” Trump said last week. But when Zinke was a mid-career officer at SEAL Team 6, he was caught traveling multiple times to Montana in 1998 and 1999 to renovate his home. Zinke claimed that the travel was for official duties, according to the sources.

FCC Republicans vow to gut net neutrality rules “as soon as possible” – The US Federal Communications Commission’s two Republican members told ISPs yesterday that they will get to work on gutting net neutrality rules “as soon as possible.” FCC Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly sent a letter to five lobby groups representing wireless carriers and small ISPs; while the letter is mostly about plans to extend an exemption for small providers from certain disclosure requirements, the commissioners also said they will tackle the entire net neutrality order shortly after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

2016 tech that lived up to the hype (and tech that didn’t) – It’s been a year of big promises and quiet achievers in tech, but what blew us all away and what just blew it?

3 Things Mark Zuckerberg Has Learned About Artificial Intelligence – What if your security camera could not only see who’s at your door, but also identify whether it’s a guest you’re expecting, alert you when they arrive, and let them in? Or how about a speaker system that automatically plays music as your child wakes up? That’s the type of functionality Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is trying to build into his virtual butler, Jarvis, which he’s been developing throughout the year as part of his New Year’s resolution.

Something to think about:

“I can imagine no greater disservice to the county than to establish a system of censorship that would deny to the people of a free republic like our own their indisputable right to criticize their own public officials. While exercising the great powers of office I hold, I would regret in a crisis like the one through which we are now passing to lose the benefit of patriotic and intelligent criticism.”

–        Woodrow Wilson    (1856 – 1924), Letter to Arthur Brisbane, April 25, 1917

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

EFF urges companies to prepare for more surveillance and censorship – The Electronic Frontier Foundation – a group of tech pioneers trying to keep the Internet open and free – have published an open letter to tech companies pleading them to prepare for an era of increased Internet surveillance and censorship. The EFF is citing statements by Trump and his advisors regarding Internet control, net neutrality, and freedom of speech and the press.

They write:

Incoming President Donald Trump and many of his advisors have promised to ratchet up surveillance and censorship, while threatening the future of net neutrality, privacy, and encryption. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is calling on technology companies to unite with us in defending Internet users. By working together, we can ensure that technology created to connect and uplift people worldwide is not conscripted into a tool of oppression.

The EFF ran a full-page ad in Wired asking tech companies to delete unnecessary logs and user data and offering up their 2017 wishlist which includes a request that “Facebook should stop making itself an arbiter of ‘authentic names’ and allow people to use whatever name they want on their account” and that “Twitter should enable end-to-end encrypted direct messages.”

The EFF is also offering detailed talking points for leaders in government.

Signal Claims Egypt Is Blocking Access to Encrypted Messaging App – Egypt has been censoring access to encrypted messaging app Signal, according to Open Whisper Systems, the company behind the app. The move highlights that as privacy-focused users move to technologies such as Signal, governments may still try to limit their use.

“We’ve been investigating over the weekend, and have confirmed that Egypt is censoring access to Signal,” a tweet from Open Whisper Systems on Monday reads.

Signal is a free app available on Android and iOS, and also has an accompanying desktop client. Users can send text messages, photos, and videos using end-to-end encryption; meaning that those who intercept the communication, such as a government or internet service provider cannot read its contents.

Signal’s protocol has also been adopted by other end-to-end encrypted messaging systems, such as WhatsApp and Facebook’s Secret Conversations feature.

Strong non-backdoored encryption is vital – but the Feds should totally be able to crack it, say House committees – A bipartisan House working group on encryption has today come to the conclusion that encryption is vital to US national interests, even as it seeks to mitigate the problem the technology can pose for law enforcement.

Citing the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s effort earlier this year to force Apple to help the agency decrypt an iPhone used by one of the shooters in a 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, California, the House Judiciary Committee & House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Encryption Working Group (EWG) report explores the tension between authorities’ desire for access to digital data and the increasingly necessary use of encryption to keep data secure.

Box won’t say if it’s giving your secrets to the government – Cloud storage giant Box won’t say how many times it has turned over customer data to the government.

The company’s policy stands out from the cloud storage crowd, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Dropbox, which along with other every internet and phone company in the Fortune 500, provide a biannual transparency report detailing the number of government requests and secret orders they receive.

A spokesperson for Box confirmed that the company doesn’t issue a transparency report, adding that government requests for customer data is “strictly limited to the extent mandated and required by applicable law.”

“Our priority is always to preserve the privacy of our users to the fullest extent possible,” the spokesperson said.

But confidence in the notion of “applicable law” quickly waned after the government was shown to have pushed the limits of its legal powers in the wake of the NSA disclosures.

Privacy groups complain to FTC over Google’s ‘deceptive’ policy change – Privacy groups have complained to the Federal Trade Commission that Google is encroaching on user privacy through a policy change in June that allows it to combine personally-identifiable information with browsing data collected by its DoubleClick digital advertising service.

The complaint by Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearing House alleged that Google has created “super-profiles” as it can track user activity on Android mobile phones, with an 88 percent market share of smartphones worldwide, “and from any website that uses Google Analytics, hosts YouTube videos, or displays ads served by DoubleClick or AdSense.”

The combination of data is in contrast to Google’s pledges not to combine users’ personally-identifiable information with DoubleClick’s browsing data when acquiring the ad serving service in 2008, according to the complaint filed Thursday but made public on Monday. In October this year, ProPublica reported that Google “quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand” by its policy change in June that allowed the DoubleClick database of web browsing records to be combined with personal user data.

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