There is an excellent article in this morning’s Boston Globe entitled The Screen Zombies by Carlo Rotella. It’s a short read and touches on something that has always fascinated me: What will come true in science fiction? There are plenty of examples of science fiction predicting the future, like the computer and communicator (see image) on the original Star Trek. What’s more interesting to me are the social and behavioral changes to our society due to increasing reliance on technology.
Much of science fiction presents a dystopian future that is at the very least, disconcerting. This future is being played out on TV and movies almost daily. The latest of these entries, Almost Human on Fox, has as its premise a future were technology has evolved faster than society’s ability to control it. That’s right out the of current headlines of increasing cyber-criminal activity and cyber-anarchic entities like Anonymous. It’s really not hard to imagine this vision coming true.
The gist of the Globe article is about the increasing reliance of technology and the effect of disconnecting ourselves from some of our fundamental human interactions. Texting is replacing face-to-face discussion, especially among our youth. People are not enjoying the “simple” pleasures of walking in nature and friendly conversation around a meal. Either they are busy with their technology or the folks they’d interact with are doing the same.
In the article, Rotella describes being on the T and seeing everyone around them in the devotional stoop (great turn of phrase) of the screen zombies. He also describes his 10 year old daughter not having anyone to play with on the playground because all her friends had their noses in their phones.
Rotella looks back at several classic sci-fi stories to draw correlations to the present trends.
Time for a long walk on the beach …
I just purchased a new Bose Wave radio with a Bluetooth attachment and I’m really impressed. I’m a heavy listener to SiriusXM both in my car and over the Net. I’ve been tempted to acquire a satellite radio for the house. However, it’s complicated and expensive on a yearly basis, so I’ve been reluctant.
With the new setup, I can run my SiriusXM Internet subscription off my iPad (or phone or computer) right to the Bose radio. What a treat! I can also listen to my iTunes library, Pandora and the new Apple radio. The fidelity is great and it certainly beats the annual SiriusXM fees and I don’t need to figure out where to put the antenna. Read more »
There is a new version of ransom malware called CryptoLocker. It started showing up in October, 2013 and to date only infects MS Windows systems (though like all malware, MacOS can be a carrier). It works the traditional way: An legit looking attachment is opened and it proceeds to hunt down data files including MS Office data files, pictures, sound and video files. Once it finds the files, it encrypts them with a 2,048 bit key, which is impractical to brute-force break. It then gives you 72 hours to pay $300, 300 Euro or 2 bit coins to unlock the files. After 72 hours, they claim to destroy the key.
Since this malware is difficult to detect even with the most sophisticated anti-malware software, the best way to avoid it is to engage in good computer practices, like never allowing software to be installed on your machine unless you specifically request it. Don’t open attachments from anyone, including friends unless you’re sure the sender actually sent it and you trust them. For more on malware, see my The war on malware and Don’t you hate it when you’re right posts.
The other crucial thing is to perform regular backups of your data. The good news (if there is good news with this type of malware) is that the ransom code doesn’t lock up your computer, it just locks up your files. So, once the malware software has been removed (which I understand is straightforward), you can recover your data from backups. For more information on backups, see my Data Safety: Backups post.
One final comment: If this happens to you, get help fast. I’d highly recommend that you not pay the ransom for two reasons: First, there is no guarantee that they will unlock your files. Second, you will let the bad guys know you will pay.
For more information, see:
So, being the geek that I am, I couldn’t wait to upgrade my iPhone and iPad with the latest operating system iOS 7. I have an iPhone 4S and the 3rd generation iPad. The upgrade went fine on both devices, though it look a long time to download the iPad software update (I suspect the server was getting slammed). One warning however: If you are connected to your work emails, VPNs or other apps, be sure that they are supported before upgrading as you can not go back.
Regarding the upgrade, just be patient and be sure to follow these steps:
- Update all your apps via the App Store on the device
- Update iTunes
- Backup your device either on iCloud or iTunes (I prefer iTunes personally)
- Start the update via iCloud or iTunes (again, I prefer iTunes). It will automatically perform the following steps:
- Download the installation package (again this could take a few minutes up to a couple hours depending on how busy the Apple servers are)
- It will prepare the installation
- It will start the firmware update, which has several steps
- It will restart the phone with the new firmware. On the phone, answer the questions
- When done, I’d recommend another backup
A few quick impressions:
- It’s interesting with graphics how what was fresh suddenly looks stale once an upgrade happens. The graphics are very simple and clean. Very Windows 8 like (I know, heresy :)). I got used to the look quickly and now see the “old” graphics as old-fashion. Go figure …
- The device isn’t sluggish at all. In fact, it might be running better (time will tell on this). Also, battery life seems OK, though again time will tell.
- The Control Center is terrific. I now can perform several functions without unlocking the phone, like managing the wireless capability (WIFI on/off, Airplane mode, Bluetooth on/off), as well as getting quick access to the timer, a calculator and of course the camera. There is a flashlight feature that uses the flash as a flashlight.
- They’ve improved the Notification Center, which is also available on the lock screen. BTW: All the lock screen functions can be disabled in settings if you’d like.
- Siri has been significantly enhanced. You can open apps and control some of them with Siri
- From a security point of view, the change to “Find my phone” is probably the most important. If enabled and the phone is stolen or missing, attempts to use it or reinstall it will require your iTunes password. A quick clarification: You can access the phone with your password or pin assuming it’s set (If not, then obviously your phone is not secure). Be sure to set the Erase Data setting so that the phone will be erased after 10 attempts to log in (see Settings->General->.Passcode Lock). If the user can’t figure out the password, then the phone will be unusable without entering your iTunes credentials. If the phone’s been erased, it can be recovered via the iCloud or iTunes again with your iTunes credentials. Basically, a stolen iPhone becomes a brick (which is a highly technical term that means its only use might be as a door stop).
- iTunes Radio — I’m listening to it right now. It reminds me a lot of Pandora, but is easier to work. If you like what you hear, you can purchase it via iTunes. I’ll probably give up my premium subscription to Pandora between this and SiriusXM online.
- Double-clicking the Home button will bring up the running apps. It now shows thumbnail of what’s currently on them, which you can scroll through. It’s really useful (and again, very Win8 like). BTW, to kill an app, swipe it up and it will be stopped.
- To search the phone, they’ve removed the left-most home screen that used to allow search. Now on any of the home screens, swipe down on the right or left edge to access search.
For an excellent article on the changes with iOS 7, see David Pogue’s blog on the New York Times website. He goes into much more detail on the upgrade.
Last week, I wrote a post about allegations that the NSA has the capability to decrypt various Internet encryption packages and the potential ramifications of that. You can find that post here.
Over the weekend, I found a blog post from Professor Matthew Green a cryptographer and research professor at Johns Hopkins University. The post is On the NSA. It’s a very good and more detailed description of the issues being alleged by Edward Snowden.
Here are my thoughts on some of the issues he’s raised: Read more »
The latest Snowden revelation alleges that the NSA has the technology to break the encryption that powers the secure use of the Internet for commerce and personal use. When I first heard this, my initial response was: Duh! Code breaking was what the NSA was founded to do and they have the budget and resources to make it happen somehow. However, like most of the revelations that Snowden has exposed, the devil is indeed in the details. So, should we be concerned?
Before I give my opinion on that question, some background. I believe we live in a very dangerous world, were most of our enemies don’t play nicely in the sandbox. The NSA role is to play in this shadowy sandbox, while being constrained by US law. The NSA does this by listening to and deciphering all sorts of electronic signals and they are very good at it. They have a very large budget and are one of the few organizations in the world that can afford to apply large numbers of very powerful computers to find keys by brute force. Read more »
There are times that I’d really like to access a given computer from a remote location. Remote access is tremendously valuable, especially if you perform as the family helpdesk. This is a technology has been available on the corporate level for many years, but many folks aren’t aware of similar offerings for the home and small office setting.
There are several methods for doing this, though many require that one be on the same LAN or a specific hole be punched into the firewall. Also, both Windows and MacOS have remote access features, but they assume that they are running on a secure LAN.
On tablets and phones, the issue is complicated by having to replicate mouse gestures without a mouse, which can be frustrating (e.g., right click and click-drag).
There are several remote solutions that address these problems. In this post I’ll describe two. Read more »
I’ve been following the Edward Snowden saga, along with the revelations from Snowden and the NSA with great interest. I really have conflicting concerns over this, believing we have a fundamental right not to have our privacy invaded by the government versus the very real need of government entities to have access to data to help protect the safety of its citizenry.
Last October, I wrote a post about Wickr, a service provider that provides a very secure method for messaging. The concept is that for messages between you and your recipient are highly encrypted using keys not available to service provider, then the messages are completely destroyed after receipt to insure confidentiality. There are a few other services that have been providing secure messaging, including secure email. Two that provided secure email have been in the news lately are Lavabit and Silent Circle. Lavabit obtained notoriety by being the email provider that Edward Snowden used to securely email his revelations to the press. Both differ from Wickr in that they encrypt the messages but not the metadata since email protocols require unencrypted metadata to be able to deliver the message (see the GLOSSARY for a definition of metadata). Wickr uses proprietary instant messaging protocols where the messages only reside for short periods of time on their servers and are fully encrypted. Most importantly, Wickr doesn’t have the encryption keys. Read more »
In August, there are a couple very influential conferences in the area of computer security. The first is the Black Hat Cybersecurity Conference in Las Vegas, with the other the USENIX Security Symposium in Washington, DC. These conferences serve and attract a wide variety of experts in cyber security defense, as well as various white hat hackers and presumably some black hat hackers also.
The terms white vs black hats use the old western movie convention to identify the good guys (white) from the bad guys (black) by the color of their hats. There is some incredible work being done by white hat experts in academic, government and commercial spaces to help manufacturers identify ways their products can be exploited so that the manufacturers can plug the holes. These two conferences are two of several that offer these researchers opportunities to present and demonstrate what they have found. Read more »