Tag Archives: hackers

PTJ 104: Internet Security? No Such Thing.

This week cybercriminals made off with billions of usernames and passwords from hundreds of thousands of websites around the world and El Kaiser was, not surprisingly, more than a little upset about it.  Sensing Pedro’s imminent panic attack, J.D. cheers him up with a segment on how to buy a new gadget at its peak of freshness.

In other news,  the Rosetta probe from the European space agency has caught up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko; The Shaknado sequel is a hit on TV and on social media networks;  it is once again legal to unlock your mobile phones; the Department of Transportation considers banning cellphone voice calls on commercial flights; Google helps law enforcement apprehend a pedophile; researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology develop an algorithm that constructs an audio signal from a video based on vibrations; and concerned Facebook users called 911 and the Los Angeles’s Sheriff’s Department after the social media behemoth suffers a short outage.

No, we are not kidding.

PTJ 104 News: Hack ‘n’ Sack

Here we go again — Internet Security Freakout! The New York Times reported late on Tuesday that a Russian gang of cybercriminals made off with 1.2 billion usernames and passwords from 420,000 websites around the world, (as well as 500 million email addresses), all with botnets and malware. The Milwaukee-based company Hold Security discovered the stolen data, but wouldn’t say which websites were affected due to confidentiality agreements with its clients. (Not helpful to the rest of us, Hold Security.)

Although snagging credentials off compromised websites was one big way the infohaul was reeled in, a few online observers have suggested that the Russian gang may have also bought chunks of the stolen data from other hackers. This may mean some of the information may be old and out of date, especially after the Heartbleed panic earlier this year when responsible folk went and changed all their passwords then, too. Other sites, like The Verge, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes have noted Hold Security was awfully quick to capitalize on the heist. (The Washington Post took a look at Hold Security itself and had some interesting observations.)

So what can you do to protect yourself? No one knows yet exactly which websites were affected, so let’s just assume it was All of Them. The Times posted some tips for dealing with the breach, so start there. And it may be time to break down and get a password-manager programs like LastPass or 1Password,  as this sort of Massive Data Protection FAIL  is unfortunately starting to become a regular occurence.

For happier news, we go to outer space, where the Rosetta probe from the European space agency has finally caught up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a 10-year chase. Rosetta is now orbiting the comet and sending back photos, and yes, the pictures are on its Facebook page — or rather the European Space Agency’s Facebook page. Good hunting, Rosetta!

sharknado2Sharknado 2: The Second One, the sequel to last year’s unexpected pop-cult powerhouse, grabbed 3.9 million viewers on its original airing last Wednesday on the SyFy Channel and dominated trending topics lists. The film reportedly delivered one billion mentions in Twitter conversations throughout the day of its broadcast. The cameo-filled sequel was set in New York City and another sequel is on the way.

Some more good news: It’s now perfectly legal once again to unlock your mobile phone from the carrier you bought it from, so you can use it with another company’s compatible network after your contract runs out.  President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act on August 1st.  In other government-and-phones news, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Department of Transportation is considering a rule to ban cellphone voice calls on commercial flights to, within and from the United States. Here’s hoping!

In other law-enforcement matters, Google recently alerted authorities to illegal images in the account of a particular Gmail user after illegal child-pornography images were detected during an automatic scan. Google had discussed its efforts in stopping child porn with London’s Daily Telegraph last year, but the news of the arrest got some privacy advocates worried about what companies can do with your mail. (Google said this is the only crime it scans for in Gmail.) In addition to its own VideoID software, Google and other companies also use Microsoft’s PhotoDNA and Friend MTS’s Expose F1 forensic programs to scan for photos and videos depicting abuse.

 

It’s the height of summer and the hackers are gathering in Las Vegas for their annual Black Hat and DEF CON conventions. Black Hat started last weekend, and in addition to a demonstration about how USB devices have huge security issues, another consultant was preparing to show how the satellite communications gear on passenger gets could be hacked by going through the aircraft’s in-flight entertainment and onboard WiFi systems.

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Meanwhile, another presentation at the conference dealt with spoofing signals in wireless key fobs to unlock cars. Corporate America, please pay attention, okay? That includes you, Wearable Computing Developers. That’s because the security firm Symantec got itself a $75 Raspberry Pi computer and wrote up a blog post describing how easy it is to track people with fitness monitors and other wearable tech through wireless protocols and other security holes in the apps and software.

Prawn-CocktailAlgorithms are everywhere. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology just announced that some of its researchers, along with scientists from Microsoft and Adobe, developed an algorithm that accurately reconstructs an audio signal from a video based on vibrations. In one experiment, the researchers were able to reconstruct intelligible speech from a potato-chip bag filmed 15 feet away from the camera and through soundproof glass.

The CEO of Verizon Wireless threw shade at the chairman of the FCC over a letter the agency sent to Big Red expressing concern over treatment of customers with unlimited plans. In a blog post, Verizon had outlined what it calls its Network Optimization policy, in which bandwidth for heavy users is scaled back during peak times on overcrowded sites. Verizon 3G hogs have been “optimized” for years, but the FCC only spoke up when the company recently announced it was also going to start throttling 4G LTE users this fall. Among other points in its rebuttal, Verizon said its practices were consistent with the reasonable network management definitions laid out in the 2010 Open Internet Order and other companies were doing the same thing. So there.

Comcast, which has not had a lot of good press lately, announced this week that it will be providing up to six months of free Internet access to low-income families as part of its Internet Essentials program. Requirements for the program include being in an area where Comcast has service and having at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program.

Let the frothing begin: the Re/Code site is now reporting that Apple’s iPhone 6 event will be on September 9th.  

And finally, as millions noticed last Friday, Facebook suffered a major site outage. During this time, some concerned Facebook users called 911 and the Los Angeles’s Sheriff’s Department. Others took a more thoughtful approach and used the outage as an opportunity to study  Web traffic. The Chartbeat blog found that Web traffic to news sites dropped 3 percent and showed how social media drives visitors to other sites. The countries affected by the outage included the United States, India and Chile, so it did not seem to be a worldwide crash.

911

That may seem like a big dent, but compare it to last year when Google took a dive: experts said world Internet traffic dropped by 40 percent. So in addition to keeping your password-manager program at the ready these days, you may also want to pack a book for those times when various parts of the Net are down. And don’t pester 911 because Facebook or Google crashing IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. Just think of it as an offline disco nap and take a break.

PTJ 102: Making The Leap From Windows to OS X

This week on a super-sized edition of the best geek culture web radio show on the planet we answer a question from a longtime listener who is about to make the dramatic leap from a Windows PC to a shiny new Mac. J.D. and El Kaiser offer suggestions on how to make the transition painless.

In the news, Apple edges closer to official i-branded wearable tech; a forensic scientist and hacker claims there are a slew of attack points, system backdoors and surveillance mechanisms purposely built into iOS devices; The Electronic Frontier Foundation has developed its own browser plug-in that prevents third party online snoops;  Facebook tests new “buy now” and “save for later” features; The FCC closes out the first round of public comments on its proposed new rules for Net Neutrality;  Samsung gets into the luxury headphone game; and The Simpsons get the marathon treatment.

PTJ 102 News: It’s About iTime

Could Apple’s mythical smartwatch be edging closer to reality? The iWatch watchers were all titter earlier this week when the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple a patent for an electronic wristband. The original paperwork was actually filed back on January 31, 2011, and the patent just granted this past Tuesday, but it’s full of sketches and diagrams — and the working name “iTime.”

itime

Things are not all shiny with Apple, as Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensic scientist (who also happens to be a hacker and an author of five books on iOS-related topics) revealed what he says are attack points, system backdoors and surveillance mechanisms purposely built into iOS devices — and that these entry points could give user information to government agencies. Apple, for its part, denied that it has ever worked with government agencies to create drive-thru windows for personal data pickup, but said that diagnostic functions were built into iOS for enterprise IT departments, developers and Apple itself for purely troubleshooting purposes.

While it hasn’t had any major public privacy flaps of its own this week, Facebook is tinkering with new ways to buy and save — as detailed in a pair of recent posts on company blogs. First, The Social Network announced it was testing a Buy button on advertisements and product pages so users could purchase goods right there. Second, the company is rolling out a Save feature that lets users mark a post or link for reading later.

On to the next round. After overwhelming demand, system crashes, and a deadline extension, the Federal Communications Commission finally closed out the first round of public comments on its proposed new rules for Net Neutrality. The Consumerist blog has gathered up a selection of the highlights for your reading pleasure. (Oh, and Netflix, a company that would really like to see the Net stay neutral for its own corporate well-being, just announced it hit the 50-million global subscriber mark and the second season of Orange Is the New Black, helped bring in some new members who’d heard good things.)

One of those big telecom companies, Verizon Wireless, just launched a rewards program for its customers. In order to participate in the Smart Rewards program, you need to consent to let Verizon track you around the Web. In other Verizon news, the FiOS broadband department is rolling out faster upload speeds for customers. FiOS customers will soon have symmetrical upload and download speeds. Take that, cable!

Amazon launched its Kindle Unlimited plan last week. The service costs $10 a month and gives readers access to about 640,000 ebooks and audiobooks. Not everything Amazon sells in the Kindle format is available, though, so many people are already complaining about the limits of Kindle Unlimited.

Google is working on a new file type called WebP. Google’s developer page said the format makes for smaller and richer images that help make the Web faster.  (And while Google would like to change image formats to make the Web faster, Italy would like Google to change its data-use practices.)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of the groups here in the States that consistently fights for the digital privacy and rights of the common user, and now the group has taken its own action. The EEF has developed its own browser plug-in that’s supposed to block third parties from snooping on your Web travels. The plug-in, which is just out of alpha and into beta now, is called Privacy Badger, and it works with Chrome and Firefox so far.

badger

The P-Badger is just one of the options out here for people who’d like to avoid being tracked — or want to know just who is tracking them. The Ford Foundation has also helped sponsor Lightbeam, an add-on for Firefox that provides interactive visualizations for the first and third-party sites you encounter while surfing. AdBlock Plus, Disconnect and Ghostery are even more options for shielding yourself.

Samsung is not letting Apple and Google make all the expansion and acquisitions this year. The South Korean company has its own “Level” line of fancy high-end headphones available now in the States. The products in the family cover most headphone styles and are available on the Gilt.com luxury-product site. So while it has its own high-end headphones like Apple now has with its Beats acquisition, Samsung is also trying to keep up with Google in the Internet o’ Stuff department and has reportedly bought a company called SmartThings, which develops home-automation software.

Refugees pining for the return of the real Windows Start menu button might have some hope next year. Leaked screenshots, (like the one below) supposedly of Windows 9 in development, show Microsoft getting closer to the Start button known and loved from Windows 95 to Windows 7.

win9

Speaking of tech nostalgia, Sony is still tinkering with its Walkman line, first released in 1979 and the iconic personal cassette player that changed how we ignore each other on the subway. Sony’s new upscale NWZ-ZX1 Walkman, however, costs $700 but offers 128 gigabytes of storage for high-quality lossless music files.

And finally, if you are a fan of The Simpsons, the FXX cable network will soon be holding the longest-running marathon in TV history. The network plans to show all 552 episodes of the classic animated series, as well as The Simpsons Movie, in chronological order from August 21 to September 1. That’s 25 seasons of quality Bart jokes and tidbits for mathletes. In case you’re on vacation or your DVR melts, wait until October, when the company launches Simpsons World, streaming on-demand portal (with apps) for all the episodes and plenty of extras. Bulk-buy your snack food of choice and settle in through Labor Day!

PTJ 94: How Soon Is (Google) Now, Fellow Netizen?

El Kaiser looks at the Tech Term “netizen” and explains how the once innocuous mashup of “Internet” and “citizen” has come to represent a responsibility all of us should not take lightly.

In her (Hopefully) Helpful Hint segment J.D. takes a look at Google Now, the interactive virtual assistant from the “Big G” and tells us how it is slowly evolving and trying to stand out when compared to Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

In the news  AT&T has sealed the deal to buy DirectTV;  YouTube rumored to be buying the videogame-streaming company Twitch;  FBI arrests over 90 suspected cyber-criminals;  Verizon continued rolling out its zippier XLTE service across the country;   and Facebook is testing an Ask button on user profiles allowing a user to inquire about  the relationship status of your online acquaintance.

PTJ 94 News: The Urge to Merge

Spring is in the air and plenty of companies seem to be in a spending mood. For starters, AT&T has sealed the deal to buy DirectTV for close to $49 billion dollars. (AT&T can walk away from the agreement the National Football League decides to take its NFL Sunday Ticket package elsewhere.) Yes, opponents of the pending Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal and telecom mergers in general are also speaking out about this one, too.

Although neither party is talking yet, Variety reports that YouTube, owned by Google, has crafted a deal to buy the videogame-streaming company Twitch for one billion dollars. While it had the checkbook out, Google also bought a company called Divide for an undisclosed purchase price. And while it’s not a done deal, the Re/Code site reports that Twitter may be considering an acquisition of SoundCloud.

On to fighting crime: Manhattan US Attorney and the FBI Assistant Director-in–Charge announced more than 90 arrests and law-enforcement actions in a massive global cyber-law enforcement operation. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Justice has unsealed an indictment of five members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on hacking charges.  (In a probably unrelated incident, China has banned the use of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system on its own government computers.)

Although the Asian market may have just gotten a bit smaller with the news, Microsoft announced some new hardware this week. Going against the trend of smaller tablets, the company unveiled a bigger version of its Windows-based Surface Pro tablet. The Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch diagonal high-def screen and a bunch of other laptop-like features.

In happier news back home, Verizon is revving up the 4G LTE networks for some of its customers down south in Alabama. The new technology, called XLTE offers more wireless capacity and improved performance for wireless data customers; Verizon has been steadily adding XLTE service in many other markets around the country, including New York City. (If you’re burning your battery down uploading all those photos on the superfast network here in the Big Apple, be sure to visit one of AT&T’s mobile charging stations around town — all five boroughs get some love.)

streetcharge

In addition to thinking up new rules for Net Neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission does enforce other laws relating to telecommunications. The FCC Enforcement Bureau has come down on Sprint with a $7.5 million spanking for its failure to respect the Do Not Call List.

And finally, in case you were wondering if a certain friend is single or in a relationship, Facebook is testing an Ask button on user profiles that lets you send a gentle inquiry as to the relationship status of your acquaintance. So let’s see if Facebook’s statistics for blocks and unfriending go up in the next few weeks — or perhaps the arrival of the Step Off reply button.

PTJ 88: Laser Beams and TV Streams

Admit it, you aren’t prepared for the onslaught of “must see” television shows airing on Sunday nights this spring on U.S. networks. That under-powered cable company issued PVR just ain’t gonna cut it. Lucky for you J.D. has some strategies for dealing with your TV watching blues. In the news, the United States Navy announces its engineers are putting the finishing touches on a laser weapon prototype; the Supreme Court decides to skip a case against the National Security Agency over bulk phone metadata surveillance;  up to two-thirds of websites relying on OpenSSL might be susceptible to a critical security flaw; Google’s Play store deals with another embarrassing mishap; Windows XP officially bites the dust; and Battlestar Galactica may get “reimagined” again, but this time on the big screen.

 

PTJ 88 News: Frick and Frak

Just about a year ago here on Pop Tech Jam, we were chattering about the tests the United States Navy was doing with laser weapons and this week, the Navy has announced its engineers are putting the finishing touches on a laser weapon prototype that will be the first to be deployed to a ship. The device is said to be accurate and affordable. However you feel about modern combat, this seems to be a significant step into the future. Frickin’ lasers. On a warboat.

Back in the present, the United States Supreme Court has decided to skip a case against the National Security Agency over all that bulk phone metadata surveillance. The Court denied a petition by activist Larry Klayman. Ars Technica and other sites have noted that the court giving this one a miss means that Congress will attempt to tackle the future of the phone surveillance program. However, given the past few years of Congressional productivity (or lack thereof), one is not filled with a sense of great hope on this matter.

congress

Over in the Department of More Things To Be Paranoid About, The New York Times has a story this week about how hackers can break into computers on corporate networks in ways most people have never imagined — including online menus from Chinese food restaurants. And if you think that’s gonna gives you heartburn, check out Heartbleed, a dangerous security flaw. GigaOM has an info-roundup on the topic here.

The Google Play app store has another embarrassing security incident to add to its list. An app called Virus Shield, which cost $4 and had a huge number of downloads, was discovered last week to be a complete scam. Seriously. It did absolutely nothing. The Android Police site even posted samples of the app’s code to show the thing was bogus. Google has since yanked the app from the store.

Microsoft’s official End of Support for Windows XP deadline was this past Tuesday. Obituaries for the 12-and-a-half year-old operating system could be found around the Web along with stories about the massive security sinkhole the outdated system poses as it continues to run unsupported on millions of machines around the world. If you (or someone you know) is still on XP for whatever reason, at least make sure the poor computer has an up-to-date antivirus and security program installed and do not use Internet Explorer on it.

Microsoft fancies itself a TV studio now, too, after seeing Netflix and Amazon jump in.  Bloomberg News reports that the company’s new Xbox television studio is producing at least six new shows that are expected to arrive this summer.

Amazon went and released its Amazon Fire TV set-top box last week. The small $99 device connects to your HDTV and pretty much serves as a rabbit hole right to Amazon’s warren of wares. Digital music and Amazon Instant Video streams, are available, of course, as is content from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora and a few other services. (It has been noted that the Amazon Fire TV box has about 180 apps and channels so far, while Roku’s set-top streamer currently brings about 1,200 to your TV screen.)

Games could also be on the menu for the next version of Apple TV. Adding more weight to the rumors: a public filing to the FCC from Comcast and Time Warner Cable mentions that Apple is developing a new type of set-top box.

Speaking of set-top boxes and services, remember Google TV? Yeah, not exactly a barnburner there, with the whole Web-on-your-TV thing, but The Verge site is reporting that Google is having another go soon with Android TV. Google isn’t talking, but remember, the annual I/O conference is and the end of June in San Francisco.

Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference is set for early June, also in San Francisco, but Microsoft already had its programmer’s pow-wow last week. The annual Build Conference wrapped up last Friday after a series of announcements from the company on Windows-related matters.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of Apple’s aforementioned WWDC event, the 9to5Mac site has put together a roundup of all the rumors and leaks it’s heard on OS X 10.10 and iOS 8. (Also down Apple Way, Adobe has released a mobile version of its Lightroom program for photographers on the go with their iPads.)

Perhaps taking a page from the Facebook, Twitter is overhauling the design of user profile pages in its Web site. A post on the Twitter company blog describes its sassy new look for spring.

And finally, the Hollywood trade publication Variety is reporting that Universal is gearing up for a movie version of Battlestar Galactica. No word on casting or timing, but the site hears that the film will be developed as “a complete reimagining of the story.”
“WHYYYYYY?” so say we all.

Now let us think of happier times:

starbucks

PTJ 80 News: Time Flies

As the week winds down, the State of the Union address is history and cloud service provider Akamai has popped out its latest quarterly  State of the Internet report. Once again, South Korea leads the world in average global connection speed; the United States ranks 8th. As if to rub it in, the South Korean government is dropping $1.5 billion into upgrading its mobile communications network by 2020, and says this will make it a thousand times faster than it is now. In theory, you could download an entire movie in one second on this mythical 5G network. Think of it, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in less time than it takes to sneeze and find a tissue.

But wait, this week had more reports to report. The Android operating system was tops in Europe in 2013, according to new numbers from research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. The little green robot snagged a 68.6 percent share of the European smartphone market, compared to Apple’s 18.5 percent. Windows Phone, showing some moxie, was able to claim 10.3 percent of the market. All three operating systems placed in the same order Stateside, but don’t even ask about BlackBerry (although BlackBerry OS 10 did get another update recently to make loading Android apps even easier).

Now, while Apple did set a record in the last quarter with 51 million iPhones sold, investors were hoping for 55 million iPhones out the door, so the company’s stock fell 8 percent. The tech press will now be filled with stories about how Apple needs to innovate again, although the company recently filed a patent for a solar-powered MacBook and seems to have new plans in the works for its Apple TV set-top streamer. Just last week, the tech press was filled with stories about the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer, which made its debut on January 24th, 1984, and had a very memorable Super Bowl commercial that can still be found online.

Google is still on its January shopping spree, buying up DeepMind, a privately held artificial intelligence company based in the United Kingdom. While replicants don’t seem to be in the near future, a DeepMind investor told the Re/Code website, “If anyone builds something remotely resembling artificial general intelligence, this will be the team. Think Manhattan Project for AI.”

Google Glass may be getting a little more affordable for some, particularly those with optical health insurance. The provider VSP has made a deal with Google to subsidize prescription lenses and frames for the Internet-connected spendy spectacles. However, Google Glass may not be the only wearable face computers strutting around town. The Korea Times is reporting that Samsung and Sony may be getting into the game. Samsung is rumored to be showing off its version this September at the annual IFA trade show in Berlin.

Shifting gears to Gears of War, Microsoft has purchased the shoot ‘em up franchise from Epic Games, which means future installments will likely be Xbox-only. And in other Microsoft news, the company announced that it was renaming its cloud storage service. The formerly known Hawaii Five-0 Approved Microsoft SkyDrive will now be known as OneDrive. Microsoft was forced into the name change after losing a trademark tussle to British Sky Broadcasting.

Government security groups have allegedly been harvesting player info from mobile games. Do people at the top of the leaderboards have anything to worry about? Angry Hackers, by the way, have already smacked up the Angry Birds website.

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The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be on the lookout for mysterious charges $9.84 on their credit-card bills. Those charges, often from unfamiliar sounding websites, are part of a scam. Call your bank and request a new debit or credit card, as this one’s been compromised.

The Chrome browser for iOS just got an update from Google that brings more speed and security to the app. And speaking of apps, a couple hotels in the Starwood chain are trying out new room door locks that can be opened by a smartphone with a Bluetooth connection and an Android or iOS app. (Here’s an idea: put this system in a few Vegas hotels during the annual DEF CON gathering and see how it holds up.)

And finally, Facebook marks its 10th birthday next week. The site was founded as TheFaceBook.com back on February 4th, 2004, and was intended as a resource for Harvard students. Flash forward a decade past a big-budget origin movie, a wobbly IPO and about 1.2 billion users around the world and you have the current social network. Now, if you’ve been wondering how much of your life in the past 10 years you’ve spent on the site, the folks at Time magazine’s website have created a handy tool called “How Much Time Have You Wasted on Facebook?” If the thought of letting an app trip merrily through your Facebook history disturbs you (it’ll probably meet up for drinks with the NSA bots in there), you can probably ballpark it yourself, especially if you’re a daily user. Just calculate the average amount of time you spend per day on the site, look up the date on your Timeline when you joined Facebook to see how many days it’s been, and factor those numbers together. Remember, there are 1440 minutes in a day

PTJ 78: The Case of the Missing Kaisercoins

Series 3 of the BBC’s “Sherlock” finally makes its debut on PBS stations across the United States but if you can’t get enough of the deerstalker hat wearing detective, J.D. fills us in on other ways to get our Sherlock fix. Pedro deals with the disappointment of not having any cryptocurrency named in his honor by telling us what he knows about digital money.  In the news,  the U.S . Court of Appeals strikes down F.C.C. net neutrality rules; hackers mark the one-year anniversary of the death of programmer and digital-rights activist Aaron Swartz; Winamp will whip more llama ass; Google goes shopping; Snapchat continues to deal with its growing pains; and the bells begin to toll for Microsoft’s Windows 8.