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The Updated Pros and Cons of Wearable Tech

Posted by Max Castleman
In January of 2014, I wrote a piece for this blog entitled The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearable Tech. In it, I made a few informed guesses about a burgeoning, and very intriguing, market. Google Glass had just been released in a limited capacity and companies like Microsoft and Apple had already begun work on competing products. Since then we’ve gotten items like the Pebble smartwatch, the Apple Watch, the Fitbit and the Microsoft Band, to name just a few.
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Still Using Internet Explorer? A New Bug Will Give You that Final Reason to Switch

Posted by Ken Franzen
On Saturday, April 26th, Microsoft announced that they had found a bug in their somewhat popular web browser Internet Explorer. This bug, which has not yet had the privilege of being branded with a catchy Heartbleed-esque name, affects Internet Explorer versions 6-11, versions which more a half of the PCs on Earth run. Though IE’s popularity has significantly lessened in recent years it still comes standard on a huge variety of PCs including, of course, every one that Microsoft sells. Now, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is urging internet users to steer clear of IE until its current issues have been resolved. They strongly recommend switching to another browser, one of IE’s competitors like Chrome or Firefox, while Microsoft continues to look for a solution. Oddly, the stance they’ve taken publicly seems borderline casual, saying in an official statement that they will “take appropriate action… which may include providing a solution through our monthly security update release process or an out-of-cycle security update, depending on customer needs.” In other words, there’s a major bug which they are responsible for which effects 55% of PCs and the users which operate them, and they’ll get around to fixing it sometime this month. As such, the Department of Homeland Security’s suggestion seems entirely reasonable. What is This Bug Exactly? Microsoft calls the bug a “remote code execution vulnerability” and says that it “may corrupt memory in a way that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code in the context of the current user.” Basically, that means that a hacker could use the bug to enter and execute any code they wish to while inside your system which, in short, means that they could use this so-called “vulnerability” to completely take over your computer. They could view any data it contains and then edit or delete that data as they see fit. They could install malicious programs on your computer. They could even create an account on your system which could give them full user rights on your machine, allowing them access to absolutely everything. If that sounds a lot more horrifying in my words than it does in Microsoft’s that’s probably due to the fact that they’re trying to implement a little damage control. What Caused This Bug? According to Microsoft, it was a “vulnerability [that] exists in the way that Internet Explorer accesses an object in memory that has been deleted or has not been properly allocated.” When pressed for more information on what that statement might actually mean they chose not to grant it. If you are still using an old version of IE, you are also a menace to us web designers. Am I at Risk? If you use or have extensively used Internet Explorer in the past this bug puts you at risk. However, in order for hackers to exploit the IE vulnerability they need a way in to your system. As such, a hacker would need to craft a malicious site or link which, when accessed, would grant them an entryway into your system. So basically, if you’ve ever clicked on a link or showed up at a website that you didn’t fully trust while in IE you’re in danger. Is a Solution on the Way? Microsoft is working on a fix for IE versions 6-11, but they recently stopped supporting Windows XP (as of about a month ago) and as such they will not be providing a solution for users who access the web using that particular browser. Their decision to ignore XP has proven to be somewhat controversial, mainly because 15-25% of PC users still use XP on a daily basis. Windows is telling those users to update to a more recent version of IE, once the fix has been completed of course, but those on older computers which cannot run a more recent version are pretty much out of options, unless they want to buy a new computer or, perhaps, switch to a different browser. What effect has this bug had so far? Honestly, we don’t know. Once again, Microsoft is being very vague here, saying that they’ve been made aware of “limited, targeted attacks” against “US-based firms currently tied to defense and financial sectors.” Who’s been attacked? How many attacks have been confirmed? What were the nature of these events? Microsoft won’t say. We have learned that hackers are calling the campaign Operation Clandestine Fox, which I think is just fantastic. What are their motives? Microsoft says that they’re unclear, just like everything else about this bug, but that they appear to be focused on “broad-spectrum intel gathering.” In other words, they’re stealing information, but we don’t know what information or why. As for how long they’ve been exploiting it, that’s unknown at this time. Microsoft’s not saying how long this vulnerability has been present in IE, so for all we know it very well might have been there from the start. When Will This Problem Be Resolved? As for when it’ll be resolved, their official stance is basically, as I previously stated, “we’ll get to it when we get to it.” That being said, some preventive measures have been taken. Microsoft is quick to point out that those running Internet Explorer on Windows Server 20003, 2008, 2008 R2, 2012 and 2012 R2 don’t have to worry about this problem at all, as browsers on those servers already run in a “restricted mode.” Microsoft recommends that users who can do so implement Enhanced Protection Mode (usable for those with Windows 7, 8 or RT and IE 10 and 11), though they say this is not an actual solution, just a way of tipping the odds in your favor. The bug’s still out there, but EPM makes it more difficult for hackers to utilize on your system. At the time of this writing the issue has still not been resolved. It's never too late to open up that install of Netscape Navigator you've got buried on your old computer. I'm sure there's nothing wrong with it... Conclusion Currently, Microsoft seems to be doing all it can to preserve the reputation of Internet Explorer. Their vague language makes the issue seem less pressing than it really is, and their casual stance is tailor made to keep the potential panic of IE users at bay. However, the truth is that this bug puts every IE user at tremendous risk, and the fact that Microsoft isn’t shouting that fact from the rooftops at this point is pretty deplorable. Sure, there’ll be a fix in time, and Microsoft’s doing what it can to make IE safer for as many users as possible, but “safer” isn’t the same thing as “safe.” Right now, it really is in your best interest to follow the advice of the Department of Homeland Security and switch to another browser. IE is simply not secure right now, and if you’re using an older computer which runs XP it might never be again in your case. Keep an eye on Microsoft, as I’m sure they’ll announce the solution as soon as its finalized and approved, but do yourself a favor and do it from a different browser, at least for now.
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Are We Prepared for the Future?

Posted by Max Castleman
  A few months ago I wrote a post about wearable tech and the societal impact it might have, both upon the wearer of said tech and the people around them. In it, I mentioned that early adopters of these items might be ridiculed and stigmatized by those who did not fully understand the devices and what applications they might have. Now, a new survey by the Pew Research Center has shown my prediction to be accurate. More than half of the people they surveyed said that they believed that wearable tech would have a negative impact upon society, and women seemed especially wary of these items, with the huge majority of those surveyed responding negatively to the idea of items like Google Glass. However, these questions were only a small part of a much larger study. Pew, in conjunction with Smithsonian magazine, recently interviewed 1,001 Americans across the country, asking them for their opinion about various future technologies, most of which are expected to be here rather soon. The results of their study are fascinating, and the implications of their results are certainly interesting to ponder.
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The Aftermath of the Heartbleed Bug

Posted by Max Castleman
Most of us realize that transmitting information over the internet has its share of risks. That’s why so many of us only share sensitive information, like credit card and social security numbers, with so-called “secure sites,” otherwise known as 'https’ at the beginning of a web address. However, as we learned on April 7th, 2014, even secure sites can fail us from time to time. In fact, as we soon were made aware, millions of secure sites had in fact been failing us, for more than two years. A full two-thirds of websites rely on a program called OpenSSL to encrypt user information, making it possible for visitors to complete credit card transactions and other similarly private tasks without fear that their information could be stolen. What most of us didn’t realize until April 7th was that there was a small error, since nicknamed the Heartbleed bug, in the coding of OpenSSL. It had been there since the very beginning, December of 2011. By abusing this error, hackers could gather some of the information OpenSSL had been put in place to encrypt. In other words, all of that information you shared in confidence, safe in the knowledge that the site you were using was secure, was seemingly up for grabs.
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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearable Tech

Posted by Max Castleman
For a long time, wearable tech has been little more than an intriguing concept. We already augment our bodies with various peripherals, using watches to tell time and glasses to protect our eyes or correct our vision. But what if those devices, and others like them, could do even more for us. What if our watches and glasses and jewelry could do what our smartphones do, and perhaps even more? Perhaps the most notable piece of wearable tech available today (albeit on a limited basis) is Google Glass, a pair of glasses augmented with a virtual display which adapts to your environment. It can record whatever you require, translate signs in other languages, give you facts about your surroundings and answer questions on the fly, among many other features. Basically, it’s like constantly having Google in front of you, allowing you to interact with it in real time without the barrier of a computer screen. What some might not realize is that Google Glass is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many pieces of wearable tech currently being developed, everything from interactive fitness equipment to bracelets that tell you when you’ve received a Facebook message. The only question is how soon these items will catch on and how successful they will truly be.
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Avoid Security Breaches: Build a Better Password

Posted by Max Castleman
 
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Bitcoin: The Inherent Folly of the Internet's Cryptocurrency

Posted by Max Castleman
In 2009, an experiment was conducted. Its intent was to determine the viability of a concept known as “cryptocurrency,” funds which could be traded for goods and services like traditional money but with complete confidentiality. In our current economic system that level of security is virtually impossible. Money is regulated by governments and as such anything you do with it will remain under some level of scrutiny. In order to trade money for goods and services identities must be revealed and sensitive information must be shared. In theory, cryptocurrency would eliminate those elements. Each transaction would be blind, an unknown party doing business with another unknown party for their mutual benefit. This idea had been entirely theoretical until the “experiment” of 2009. It was conducted by a “crypto-specialist” who went by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. He invented the world’s first actual cryptocurrency, the Bitcoin, essentially just to see if he could. As you might imagine, the currency had no value at all. Nakamoto’s invention was entirely hypothetical, essentially imaginary. That would soon change.
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Are Paid Operating Systems a Thing of the Past?

Posted by Max Castleman
 
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