Show of 6-1-2013

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Alice: Dear Tech Talk, I am curios how Google can know my location? Is there anything I can do to keep it secret? Thanks, Alice in Reston
  • Tech Talk Responds: Google can get some idea from the external IP address that your ISP provides. It can get a locality (country, city) with this information, but not much more. They can get more information from StreetView data. Google drove around all around these neighborhoods and took pictures of what the streets look like so you could see. While they were doing that, they often actually had a Wi-Fi antenna hooked up so they could see and record at the different Wi-Fi hotspots.Couple that with the mapping information that they are creating and they now know that, “If you’re connected through this Wi-Fi hotspot, I know where that Wi-Fi hotspot lives. That must be where you are.”
  • Another way Google can get locations information is through your phone.  can happen is if you happen to have a mobile phone. Most people use their Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet while at home. Your phone shares GPS data. Google has this information from my phone that says this is where the phone is, this is the hotspot where it’s connected, this is the IP address, etc.
  • Email from Hac in Bowie: Dear Doc and Jim. Recently, Google and Microsoft asked me to insert my telephone number and kept asking for it until I agreed to insert the number. What’s the main reason for doing this? Do they have hidden purposes for doing that? Wouldn’t they control everyone doing this? Is privacy on the internet dead? Love the show, Hac in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: They use your phone number for account recovery. Your phone number (and in particular, your cell phone number) is a piece of information that Google and Microsoft can use to restore access to your email or other account through them.
  • If you’ve forgotten your password, you’re locked out, or even if someone hijacked your account, Google, Microsoft, and other providers can send a text message, call you, or use your cell phone number as a way to help you prove you are who you say you are and thus are the rightful owner of the account.
  • Email from Loyal Listener in Bethesda: Dear Tech Talk. I’m thinking about installing Google Chrome. I currently use IE8. Will Chrome just install over it and then become the default browser leaving IE as a used program in the background? Loyal Listener in Bethesda.
  • Tech Talk Responds: First, you can have more than one browser on your machine. Many people do. I do. Once you install Google Chrome, you still have Internet Explorer available to you. The icon should still be in your Programs menu and when you click it, Internet Explorer 8 opens. And you can then click the Google icon to use Google Chrome. Installing one browser does not automatically replace any browsers already installed. They are completely separate programs that can actually live together in something approaching harmony. However, when you download an additional browser you do have the option of making it the default browser.
  • Email from Dave: Dear Tech Talk. What is DHCP? Someone keeps talking about in relation to their Wi-Fi router. Thanks, Dave in Boulder
  • Tech Talk Responds: DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol.
  • In a nutshell, DHCP is all about the request that your computer makes and the response that it receives when assigning a “dynamic” IP address.
  • Every computer on the internet has an address. That address is just a number, but that number uniquely identifies that computer; no other computer on the internet can have the same address. If your computer is behind a router, then it’s not attached directly to the internet, but the router is, so the IP address of the router on the internet is unique.
  • There are two types of IP addresses: static and dynamic. Static IP addresses are just that – unchanging. They refer to a particular computer, whether that computer is turned on or not, connected or not. Dynamic IP addresses are assigned on-the-fly.
  • As I said, when your computer is connected to the internet via a router, it isn’t directly connected to the internet. Routers also use dynamic addresses when setting up that local network. The actual DHCP protocol is fairly simple. The computer broadcasts an IP address request. The DHCP server responds with an address.
  • Email from Benoit in New Jersey: Dear Tech Talk. My ISP just informed me that my inbox was full. After much chat with the ISP, I learned that the ISP was referring to its inbox not my Windows Live mail inbox. My question is how long does an ISP keep emails on its server? Thanks, Benoit
  • Tech Talk Responds: That depends on your ISP and what their rules are. When you set up your POP mail account on your computer in Windows Live, you have a choice. You can download the emails to your local machine and then delete them from the server or you can leave them on the mail server after download. I leave them on the server so that I can access them from any location and still see the same emails.
  • That means that the mail server will continue to accumulate emails and will eventually run out of assigned space. You will need to log onto the mail server and manually delete the saved emails.

Profiles in IT: Scott Heiferman

  • Scott Heiferman is co-founder and CEO of Meetup, a site for organizing local groups
  • Scott Heiferman was born in 1972 in Homewood, Illinois.
  • At 9, he founded Scotts Slave Service to market menial tasks to his siblings.
  • At 12, he programmed an Apple II computer to manage the inventory for his parents’ paint store.
  • His mother died when he was 16. He was the youngest of five children.
  • He studied engineering at the University of Iowa, but I wasn’t very good in math. He ended up getting a BS in business.
  • He paid for his first year in college through a business he started in high school. It was a local coupon package for a surrounding town.
  • He worked at the college radio station, as host of a weekly show called “Advertorial Infotainment,” which was about culture increasingly being overrun with ads.
  • After graduated from college, he accepted a job with Sony in Montvale, N.J as an Interactive Marketing Frontiersman.  He lasted less than a year there.
  • He moved to Queens and in 1995 started an online ad agency called i-traffic, which was bought by Agency.com in 1999.
  • He left the company in 2000 and was so sick of investment bankers that he worked at the counter at a McDonald’s in Manhattan for a couple of weeks.
  • The attacks on September 11, 2001 got him thinking about community and he came up with 30 ideas for his next project. He narrowed them to two.
  • The first, which he developed with a co-founder, was a company called Fotolog, now a social network that is big in South America.
  • The second was Meetup, a way for people to self-organize locally. With four others, he started Meetup.com in January 2002.
  • People sign up at the Meetup.com site, indicating where they live and what topics they’re interested in, and when a certain number of like-minded people in the same area have registered, the site announces a meeting.
  • The site gained notoriety in 2004 when 190,000 supporters of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign used Meetup.com to organize in the months before the Iowa caucuses.
  • Meetup earns most of its revenue from the small monthly fee charged to organizers.
  • In 2008, he married Emily Krasnor, a human-rights professional. In a few years, they hope to move to a developing country, perhaps in Africa.
  • As of December 2011, ten million people have registered on Meetup, and people self-organize over 100,000 Meetups each week.
  • Meetup’s investors include eBay, Omidyar Network, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Esther Dyson, Union Square Ventures and others.
  • In 2004 MIT Technology Review named Scott Innovator of the Year.
  • Personal blog: http://scott.heiferman.com/
  • Twitter account: @heif

Former MS Windows Chief Defends Windows 8

  • Ex-Windows chief Steven Sinofsky is “happy” with the miserable sales record of tablets and PCs running his Windows 8 baby.
  • MS earlier this month claimed it had sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses.
  • Analysts recorded a massive drop in worldwide PC shipments – and hence orders – for the first three months of 2013, just after Windows 8 launched.
  • For the sake of history, let’s remember Windows 8 hasn’t just not helped revive sales of PCs – it has actually hurt them.
  • Many blamed the radical changes Microsoft had made to its UI with Metro, the removal of the familiar Start button, and the relative expense of touch PCs.
  • Sinofsky left Microsoft unexpectedly and amid much mystery just three weeks after the launch of Windows 8 and before the 2013 launch of Surface Pro tablet. He is now on sabbatical as an “executive in residence” at Harvard Business School, where he writes about “disruption” and “conversations” on his blog Learning by shipping.

Haswell Processor Promises Longer Battery Life

  • Despite improvements in processing power in recent years, battery life remains an issue with the growth of mobile devices.
  • Intel has looked to address this with a new family of Core processors code-named Haswell, which the company said will offer up to 50 percent more battery life for laptops than its Ivy Bridge chips provided.
  • The Haswell chips are designed specifically with those on-the-go devices, notably laptops and tablets, and its main focus is on decreasing power consumption.
  • “It gets you into that class of ‘all-day’ battery life. Typically with an Ivy Bridge processor you are getting four hours or five hours.”
  • Not only do the Haswell processors have the ability to improve the battery life without affecting performance, but this could be the first case where the processors are built with sleeker and slimmer devices in mind.
  • The question, however, is whether such new form factors are enough, even with improved battery life, to get Intel back in the game.
  • “What Haswell does to the PC market is interesting. It enables thinner form factors, but it is really a question of whether this change in form factor will reinvigorate the PC market.
  • The new Intel chips may be competitive, “but that doesn’t mean these will end up in devices that consumers actually want to buy.
  • “With Haswell, it appears that Intel’s OEM partners will have the technologies in hand to deliver x86-based products that rival the iPad and similar products.

Nude View Scanners Removed from Airports

  • The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it has completed the process of removing all security scanners capable of creating detailed images of passengers’ bodies from US airports.
  • By Congressional mandate, all scanners using so-called advanced imaging technology (AIT), which rendered fliers’ nude bodies in Pixar-like detail, were to be either removed or retrofitted with software capable of performing automated target recognition (ATR).
  • With ATR, the scanner displays only a vague outline of a passenger’s body, with generic yellow boxes superimposed to alert security screeners to possible concealed objects.

Justice Department Requests User Data

  • Secret lawsuit in Manhattan filed last month asks judge to force Google to provide user data without a search warrant.
  • A different court has already ruled that the process is unconstitutional.
  • The Department of Justice has asked a Manhattan judge to grant its “petition to enforce” a warrantless legal demand the FBI sent Google.
  • A new lawsuit in Manhattan pitting the U.S. Department of Justice against Google offers a rare glimpse of how determined prosecutors are to defend a process that allows federal agents to gain warrantless access to user records, and how committed the Mountain View, Calif., company is to defending its customers’ privacy rights against what it views as illegal requests.
  • The Justice Department’s lawsuit, filed April 22 and not disclosed earlier, was sparked by Google’s decision to rebuff the FBI’s legal demands for confidential user data.
  •  It centers on the bureau’s controversial use of so-called National Security Letters (NSL), a secret electronic data-gathering technique that does not need a judge’s approval and recently was declared unconstitutional in an unrelated court case.
  • The use of NSLs is controversial because they gag the recipient: If you receive one, it’s illegal to tell anyone. They’re only supposed to be used in national security investigations, not routine criminal probes, and there’s no upper limit on the amount of data a single NSL can demand.
  • An inspector general’s report (PDF) found that the FBI made 50,000 NSL requests in 2006, and 97 percent of those included mandatory gag orders.
  • While the FBI’s authority to levy NSL demands predates the Patriot Act, it was that controversial 2001 law that dramatically expanded NSLs by broadening their use beyond espionage-related investigations. The Patriot Act also authorized FBI officials across the country, instead of only in Washington, D.C., to send NSLs.

Big Data Applied to Politics, Then to Social Issues

  • As chief scientist for President Obama’s reelection effort, Rayid Ghani helped revolutionize the use of data in politics.
  • During the final 18 months of the campaign, he joined a team of data and software experts who sifted, collated, and combined dozens of pieces of information on each registered U.S. voter to discover patterns that let them target fund-raising appeals and ads.
  • Some veterans of the campaign’s data squad are applying lessons from the campaign to tackle social issues such as education and environmental stewardship.
  • Edgeflip, a startup Ghani founded in January with two other campaign members, plans to turn the ad hoc data analysis tools developed for Obama for America into software that can make nonprofits more effective at raising money and recruiting volunteers.
  • Ghani isn’t the only one thinking along these lines. In Chicago, Ghani’s hometown and the site of Obama for America headquarters, some campaign members are helping the city make available records of utility usage and crime statistics so developers can build apps that attempt to improve life there.
  • Ghani, who is 35, has had a longstanding interest in social causes, like tutoring disadvantaged kids. But he developed his data-mining savvy during 10 years as director of analytics at Accenture, helping retail chains forecast sales, creating models of consumer behavior, and writing papers with titles like “Data Mining for Business Applications.”
  • The campaign’s success in applying such methods on the fly to sway voters is now recognized as having been potentially decisive in the election’s .
  • At Obama for America, Ghani helped build statistical models that assessed each voter along five axes: support for the president; susceptibility to being persuaded to support the president; willingness to donate money; willingness to volunteer; and likelihood of casting a vote.
  • These models allowed the campaign to target door knocks, phone calls, TV spots, and online ads to where they were most likely to benefit Obama.
  • One of the most important ideas he developed, dubbed “targeted sharing,” now forms the basis of Edgeflip’s first product.
  • Edgeflip’s app, like the one Ghani conceived for Obama, will ask people who share a post to provide access to their list of friends. This will pull in not only friends’ names but also personal details, like their age, that can feed models of who is most likely to help.
  • Say a hurricane strikes the southeastern United States and the Red Cross needs clean-up workers. The app would ask Facebook users to share the Red Cross message, but only with friends who live in the storm zone, are young and likely to do manual labor, and have previously shown interest in content shared by that user.

India likely source of multination cyberspying

  • A multi-national cyberspying outbreak, carried out over three years against companies and agencies in a dozen nations, has been uncovered by Norwegian security vendor Norman Shark and San Diego-based antivirus maker ESET.
  • The perpetrators appear to operate from India. The strongest evidence of ties to India is the pattern of buying and maintaining hostile websites. There are a lot of links toward Indian attackers in those data.
  • Norman’s investigation began after Norwegian telecom giant Telenor filed a criminal complaint for unlawful computer intrusion last March.
  • The attackers began with spear phishing. They identified and targeted specific senior Telenor managers, sending them legit-looking e-mail and getting them to click on a viral attachment.
  • They then probed deeper into Telenor’s network, pilfering data and storing it on the Internet, much the same as countless other so-called Advance Persisent Threat tactics. APT attacks are often attributed to hackers from China.
  • The network of infected storage PCs and web servers used to send out tainted e-mail and infiltrate Telenor’s network has also been used to run identical APT attacks against organizations in more than a dozen nations.
  • ESET emphasizes that evidence of the attacks attributed to the Hangover gang being orchestrated out of India is circumstantial.

Famed iPhone Jail Breaker Hired by Google

  • Famed iPhone jail breaker Comex, whose real name is Nicholas Allegra, tweeted that he will be joining Google as an intern in the coming weeks.
  • Allegra originally made a name for himself when he released a jailbreak tool dubbed JailBreakMe. As the name implies, the tool enabled users to easily and quickly bypass Apple’s iOS security measures.
  • Allegra’s work eventually caught the attention of Apple who decided to hire the Brown University student as an intern in August of 2011.
  • Allegra lasted 14 months at Apple before being let go under somewhat murky circumstances in late 2012.
  • As for what Allegra will be up to over in Mountain View, well that’s anybody’s guess.
  • It doesn’t appear, though, that he’ll be working on any Android related matters.

Pictures from Stolen Laptop Send from Iran

  • Dom Deltorto, a London-based animator, had his Macbook Pro taken from his flat on February 4. Deltoro had installed Hidden App, a $15 piece of Mac software that lets you track a stolen machine the next time it connects to the Internet.
  • It can send you surreptitious pictures of its new owners from the built-in camera, and let you take screengrabs of what they’re doing on the desktop.
  • It took until late March for the stolen laptop to show up online. When it did, Deltoro was surprised to discover it was in Tehran. There was little police could do other than notify Interpol; Iran isn’t the easiest country in the world to recover your stolen gear from.
  • So Deltoro did what any citizen of the social media world would do: he started a Tumblr called “Dom’s laptop is in Iran,” devoted to pictures of the laptop’s new owners.
  • He found a family playing Jenga, listening to music, and wearing what was likely unintentional headgear . The Tumblr went viral April 10, 2013.
  • There’s a vast black market for laptops in Iran, where imports of computers and smartphones are banned under international sanctions.
  • Deltoro isn’t the first aggrieved former laptop owner to devote a Tumblr to Hidden App snaps. In 2011, an Oakland designer called Joshua Kaufmann did something similar with a Tumblr called “This guy has my Macbook”.
  • The spy pictures he snapped helped Oakland Police track the suspect, and Kaufmann got his laptop back less than four months after the theft.