Show of 06-07-2014

Tech Talk

June 7, 2013
Email and Forum Questions
  • Email from Lois in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk, Last week you talked about changing the wifi channel so it would be different than the neighbor’s channel. How can I tell what channel the neighbors are operating their wifi on? Thanks, Lois in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: I use the program Netstumbler. It is a shareware program available from Netstumbler.com. I use this program for my war driving experiments. When I tried it with my Sony Vaio laptop, it would not support the Wi-Fi unit. I had to purchase a Wi-Fi dongle for my laptop to get a compatible receiver. I could not find an app for the iPhone, but am still looking.
  • Email from Lynn in Ohio: Dear Tech Talk. I’ve returned to the same coffee shop where I was a few months ago when I noticed that my email had been hijacked/hacked. This time, I’m using my phone, but the last time when I noticed the hack, I was using my computer and doing email over an open-internet, free Wi-Fi network. Do you think that could be the source of the problem or just a coincidence? I’m still afraid to do email from here. The whole family loves your show. Thanks, Lynn in Ohio
  • Tech Talk Responds: The connection could have been intercepted. But it does not have to be that way. It can be safe to send and receive email from a coffee shop or any other location that provides unsecured or “open” Wi-Fi. In fact, I do it all the time. But you do have to make sure to follow some very important practices to ensure your safety.
    • Turn on the firewall in your laptop. Fortunately this is the default now. Make sure that the firewall is enabled before connecting to an open Wi-Fi hotspot.
    • Secure your desktop email program. If you use a desktop email program such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird or others, you must make certain that it’s configured to use SSL/secure connections for sending and downloading email. Check with your
    • Secure your web-based email. If you use a web-based email service like Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo or others via your browser, you must make sure that it uses an httpS connection and that it keeps on using that httpS connection throughout your email session.
    • Be careful. Some services will use https for only your login, which is insufficient as your email conversations thereafter could be viewed by others. Other services may “fall out” of https, reverting to unsecure http without warning.
    • Use a VPN. A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that sets up a securely encrypted ‘tunnel’ to the internet and routes all of your internet traffic through it. Https or not, SSL/secure email configuration or not, as all of your traffic is securely tunneled, no one sharing that open Wi-Fi hotspot can see a thing.
  • Email from Doug in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I am graduating from high school this month. What are the prospects for computer science? Is it a hot field? How should I decide? Love the show. Doug in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: You should use the methods in What Color is Your Parachute? by Dick Bolles to assess your interest in this field. It is a very personal question about the type of work that inspired you. If computer science looks like a good option, I would use some of the coding sites to begin computer programming to determine whether you like it. Code Academy would be an excellent place to begin (http://www.codecademy.com/).
  • If you decide that computer science is the field for you, you will have made a very popular choice. Demand for computer science classes and programs is booming at universities across the U.S., according to data presented at the summit for Women in IT. Computer science class enrollment is markedly up at a number of institutions, from traditional tech hubs like MIT and Stanford to more humanities- and business-focused schools like Harvard:
  • Enthusiasm for learning to code is at all-time highs, with CS enrollment at some schools far surpassing the numbers that were seen during the late 1990s. The recent dramatic growth in CS studies may very well continue for a long time, rather than head for a trough like they did in the early 2000s.
Profiles in IT: John T. Draper
  • Also known as Captain Crunch, a former phone phreak
  • Named after Cap’n Crunch, the mascot of a breakfast cereal.
  • Draper was born in 1944, son of a US Air Force engineer.
  • Draper himself entered the Air Force in 1964, and while stationed in Alaska helped his fellow servicemen make free phone calls home by devising access to a local telephone switchboard.
  • He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1968 and did military-related work for several employers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • He adopted the counterculture of the times and operated a pirate radio station out of a Volkswagen van.
  • A blind friend of John Draper’s named Joe Engressia (later known as Joybubbles) informed him that a toy whistle that was packaged in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal.
    • Emitted a tone at precisely 2600 hertz (Listen to 2600 wave file)
    • Called Cap’n Crunch Bosun whistle
    • First released in 1971
    • The same frequency that was used by AT&T long lines to indicate that a trunk line was ready and available to route a new call.
  • This 2600 Hertz tone would effectively disconnect one end of the trunk, allowing the still connected side to enter an operator mode.
  • The class of vulnerabilities Draper and others discovered was limited to call-routing switches that employed in-band signaling.
    • Newer equipment relies almost exclusively on out-of-band signaling; the use of separate circuits to transmit voice and signals.
    • Though they could no longer serve practical use, the Cap’n Crunch whistles did become valued collector’s items.
  • Some hackers sometimes go by the handle Captain Crunch even today; 2600: The Hacker Quarterly is named after this whistle frequency.
  • The 1971 Esquire Magazine article which told the world about phone phreaking got Draper in hot water.
  • Draper was arrested on toll fraud charges in 1972 and sentenced to five years’ probation.
  • He forced the phone companies to move from in-band switch control (SS5) to out-of-band switch control (SS6 in 1977 and SS7 in 1980). SS7 is still in use.
  • The Esquire article also brought him to the attention of Steve Wozniak.
  • In the mid 1970s he taught his phone phreaking skills to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who later founded Apple Computer.
  • He was briefly employed at Apple and created a telephone interface for the Apple II.
  • Draper wrote EasyWriter, the first word processor for the Apple II, in 1979.
  • Draper ported EasyWriter to the IBM PC, beating Bill Gates for the IBM contract.
  • Draper’s company, Capn’ Software, posted less than $1 million revenue over 6 years.
  • In the 1980s, Draper worked for Autodesk, but was laid off.
  • Currently he writes computer security software and hosts Crunch TV via the Internet.
  • He is also portrayed in the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley.
  • He inspired Kevin Mitnick the first well-known and first-arrested computer hacker.
Next Generation Aircraft GPS Guidance Systems
  • The System We Have Now is Antiquated
    • Radar plane detection and tracking
    • Planes have no knowledge of other nearby aircraft
    • Currently, a plane is guided to its destination via a series of radar handoff’s.
    • With today’s radar, it can take up to 36 seconds to get an accurate read on a plane’s position  a long time for an aircraft flying 500 mph.
    • So safety buffers err on the conservative side: The minimum distance between planes is 5 miles horizontally and about 3 miles on landing and approach.
  • NextGen is designed to change all that by providing air traffic controllers and pilots with much more accurate and detailed real-time information
    • Instead of radar, the new system relies on ADS-B, or automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast.
    • An aircraft equipped with ADS-B receives GPS signals via an on-board receiver to determine its position in the sky.
    • That information, plus data on the plane’s identity, position, speed and intended flight path, is broadcast to other aircraft and ground stations within 150 miles. For the first time, both pilots and controllers will see the same real-time displays of air traffic.
    • Planes will be able to fly closer without jeopardizing safety, so more flights can be scheduled, easing congestion.
    • This procedure is known as self-separation.
  • Several airlines aren’t waiting for government action
    • Cargo carrier UPS Airlines has already equipped nearly 300 of its planes and its main airport hub in Louisville , Ky. , with ADS-B technology.
    • By shortening flight times and using more efficient approach paths, UPS expects to save about 800,000 gallons of fuel annually.
    • Next year, Southwest will install a similar system.
    • Southwest is forecasting big fuel savings when it re-equips its fleet of 520 737s next year
Law Agencies Arrest Blackshades CyberGang
  • International law agencies have arrested a cyber crime gang which deployed malicious code to turn on your webcam, listen to your microphone and steal your information.
  • The gang was using a RAT (Remote Access Trojan) to gain access to computers and allow them to remotely monitor large numbers of individuals for various extortion purposes. 
  • The Blackshades RAT is ‘dual use’ technology in that it could (hypothetically, possibly, maybe, but really more than likely not) be used legitimately to access your home or work computer, but can also be used by criminals.
  • In this instance the Blackshades RAT (historically available at bshades.eu, though the FBI took over this page some time ago) has been associated with a widespread campaign infected hundreds of thousands of computers.
  • This is the same RAT that was infamously used to spy on Miss Teen USA.
  • The Blackshades RAT cost between $50 and $100 and while one of the authors, Michael Hogue, was arrested some time ago it has continued to be distributed on the web.
  • This particular gang combined Blackshades with drive by downloads enabling seamless and silent installation in the background whilst you browse the web if you weren’t running up to date security software and had not patched your computer.
  • There were a large number of law enforcement agencies involved in the operation which led to over 90 arrests from countries all over the world (with a heavy leaning to Europe).
  • Top Tips To Avoid RATs On Your Computer:
    • Keep your computer fully patched and up to date – particularly the operating system, the web browser and plug ins like Java or Flash.
    • Run up to date endpoint security software which will detect a large number of the RATs in the wild.
    • Plan for the worst! Don’t keep a file called Passwords.xls with your sensitive information in it in your documents folder.
    • Black out your webcam with a sticker. There are a large number of stylish stickers available which will cover the webcam on your computer .
    • Keep an eye out for strange behaviour. RATs don’t have to interact with the computer screen directly. Data theft and recording can occur entirely in the background without your knowledge. It is quite common for the mouse to move like someone else is using your computer (they are).
    • Use web security. It isn’t just adult sites that infect your system with malware. Malicious code can be located everywhere on the web and might hit you when you least expect it on a legitimate site you visit every day. Network based web security can identify web pages that contain nasty code and prevent you from browsing to them.
Who Gets “Forgotten” by Google
  • Google must respond to the European Court of Justice’s recent “right to be forgotten” ruling.
  • Google has announced that they are now accepting requests from Europeans to take down links to unflattering or potentially damaging reports or content.
  • What lies ahead is an ethical and legal morass of issues and contentious debate as to remove to respect an individuals privacy and what remains in the public interest.
  • The ECJ has made Google both judge and jury when it comes to deciding what is or is not visible to European users.
  • The company is throwing in Iceland and Liechtenstein for good measure.
  • To help navigate these turbulent waters, Google has announced a seven person advisory committee, headed by Chairman Eric Schmidt and including Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales and a number of privacy and free speech experts.
  • Also included is Luciano Floridi, an information ethics philosopher at the Oxford Internet Institute. He is grounded the tradition of Aristotle and Plato.
  • The committee are going to need all the philosophical help they can get to help them determine what we can remember and what we must forget, at least in Europe.
  • Of course, the links that are lost to Europeans will be still available to us in North America and other jurisdictions that don’t have a similar rule.
  • What is telling about the Google announcement is that the expunged links will also come with a note that these have been taken down due to the European Court’s ruling.This is similar to the notices for Google results in China which have been censored by the authorities.
Flappy Bird Is Returning To The App Store!
  • Flappy Bird is set to return to the App Store with some new features that’ll make a seemingly overnight success an even bigger deal than it was before.
  • That’s right. Flappy Bird, an addictive game we said you’ll love to hate, is coming back this August. Multiplayer support will likely be the biggest change, although there are few details regarding how it will be implemented.
  • If you’re new to Flappy Bird, it’s a free game that flapped its way to the top of the App Store and spread through social media sites like wildfire before being pulled by its developer purportedly due to the stress of sudden success getting to him
  • With everyone talking about Flappy Bird, analysts believed that Dong Nguyen, the game’s sole developer, could have been making $50,000 a day from ad revenue alone.
  • Since the Flappy Bird’s sudden departure from the App Store, a number of clones and knock-offs have tried to take it’s place.
  • Of course, nothing will be as good as the original. If you didn’t have a chance to download your own before it was pulled, the new Flappy Bird should hit the App Store just in time to consume the rest of your summer.
As Mobile Grows, The Web Is Dies
  • The Web is rapidly losing users as it fails to adapt to disruption from mobile apps.
  • The web had a great 25-year run. But the end is in sight.
  • The Web is a collection of protocols (namely, HTTP) and hyperlinked documents (built using HTML) that allow users to easily produce and consume content.
  • Since HTTP is a standardized protocol and HTML is a markup language, the Web is platform-agnostic and usable on any device that can connect to the Internet.
  • Beginning in the early 1990s, this system would transform the world for the next 15 years, becoming the key vehicle for information and content dissemination across the globe.
  • When smart devices arrived at the end of the last decade, it became increasingly clear that the Web had found its competitor.
  • It is easier today to create a rich application using XCode or Eclipse than it is to develop a comparable app on the Web.
  • With the libraries offered by iOS and Android, software engineers have extensive standardized resources to build great experiences for users, and both platforms have reached sufficient maturity that documentation is plentiful and APIs are fairly consistent.
  • The Web has tried to compete with the “mobile web” concept, but like so many responses to technology disruption, this one seems too little, too late.
  • Building an engaging application with HTML5 on mobile is challenging, even with a host of libraries downloaded from GitHub to simplify the process.
  • Mozilla’s expansion into the space through FirefoxOS and Open Web Apps is a decent start, but with Americans already spending more time on their smartphones than on the Web through a PC, such efforts are becoming moot.
  • Even if you get a mobile web application running, its performance will pale in comparison to natively run, compiled code.
  • From the user’s perspective, compiled apps are easier to discover, seem more natural, and perform better.
Born In the Egyptian Revolution: CloudPress
  • CloudPress is a year-old startup which has emerged from the chaos of the Egyptian revolution.
  • The three founders of CloudPress – Allen Chen, El-Zohairy and Bobby Mathews – started the company in Egypt early 2013 and were incubated by Flat6Labs, one of the very few tech accelerators in the Middle East and the only one in Cairo.
  • The idea behind CloudPress is pretty clever. It’s a cloud platform designed to easily create and share rich visual content, in particular: visual storybooks, recipes, how-to-guides, buying guides and similar kinds of content.
  • Users achieve this by manipulating an online drag-and-drop editing platform to upload and arrange images, text, and videos, without any coding being necessary.
  • This can pull in imagery and content from Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Embed, Email etc.
  • The published content is then immediately online and available to distribute through social media and email channels. It’s optimized for touch and mobile. Competitors include Ceros and Glossi.
  • Chen, El-Zohairy and Mathews met at the University of Washington in Seattle while doing their undergraduate degrees in computer science.
  • El-Zohairy is a University of Washington graduate, and worked for Adobe Systems with the Adobe InDesign team in Seattle, and for mobile and web startups in Egypt and Canada. As a student, he was selected for one of only 5 scholarships given to Egyptian students to study in the US.
  • Chen is a University of Washington graduate, with 5+ years experience as a software engineer for Amazon.com. He led the design and implementation of many of the front-end libraries that Amazon is built on.
  • Mathews is a University of Washington graduate, with 4+ years experience as a software engineer at Amazon.com. He developed various frontend and backend components.
  • While El-Zohairy was in grad school in Canada, the Egyptian revolution started rumbling in in 2011. Deciding to get involved, he ended up in Cairo during the uprising and revolution that tore through the country, trying to apply his skills as a technologist to help.
  • After he went back to Egypt, El-Zohairy and Chen (who was in Seattle) started working together on a side project to create a platform for independent authors who want to publish children’s books on multiple tablet platforms.
  • At the end of 2012 they applied to Flat6Labs and Mathews joined them.
  • This month they sold the startup to News Corp for an undisclosed amount.
  • New Corp plans to use the platform to create, delivery, and sell great content.