Show of 08-15-2015

Tech Talk

August 15, 2015

Email and Forum Questions
  • Email from Jim in Michigan: Dear Tech Talk. I just installed Windows 10 and noticed something about Wi-Fi Sense. It looks like this shares my Wi-Fi with my contacts without my knowledge. Is that correct and is it secure? I have my doubts. Love the show. Jim in MichiganTech Talk Responds: One of the new “features” in Windows 10 is something called “Wi-Fi Sense”. Its goal is to make using wireless networks easier, particularly among friends. It is enabled by default.
  • It will automatically connect your device to Wi-Fi hotspots – open or not – that your friends have connected to in the past. According to Microsoft1, “friends” are your “Facebook friends, Outlook.com contacts, or Skype contacts”. What makes this interesting is that you can connect to their networks even if those networks are password protected, without knowing the password. Wi-Fi Sense just connects you without showing you those passwords. How does Wi-Fi Sense get those passwords? Because your friends have enabled Wi-Fi Sense on their Windows 10 computers. And you probably have it enabled as well – because it’s on by default.
  • What that means is that it’s possible for anyone in your contact list to connect to your password-protected wireless network without needing to know the password… because you shared it with Wi-Fi Sense. Let’s say you disable Wi-Fi Sense; I’ll show you how in a moment. Your contacts will not automatically gain access to your Wi-Fi network. Great. You invite a friend over, and he asks you for your Wi-Fi password. You give it to him, and he connects successfully. If he has Wi-Fi Sense enabled, and Share network with my contacts was checked when he connected2. All of his contacts now have potential access to your network.
  • Click on the Start menu, then Settings; in Settings, click on Network & Internet. Click on Wi-Fi. Then click on Manage Wi-Fi Settings.
  • Turn Wi-Fi Sense off by sliding both “Connect to suggested open hotspots” and “Connect to networks shared by my contacts” to the Off position. This will:
    • prevent you from automatically connecting to those “suggested” hotspots without your knowing about it
    • prevent you from automatically connecting to your contacts wireless networks without you (or them) knowing about it prevent your contacts from automatically connecting to your network without needing to know the password
  • Note that Wi-Fi Sense seems to require signing in with a Microsoft account. When feasible, not doing so is another approach to avoiding Wi-Fi Sense, but ultimately it’s more clear and less error-prone to actually turn the feature off.
  • Email from Alice in Woodbridge: Dear Tech Talk. I just got a new laptop for work and plan to spend quite a bit time at Starbucks doing my daily emails. I have heard to talk about using unprotected hotspots in the past. I can’t remember the particulars. Please review what should be done. Thank Alice in Woodbridge.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Open Wi-Fi hotspots at coffee shops, airports and other public places are opportunities for hackers to steal information. You must follow some very important practices to ensure your privacy.
  • Turn on the firewall. Fortunately most operating systems now default to the firewall being on. Your firewall is essential in a public network. Even in hotel networks. Make sure that the firewall is enabled before connecting to an open Wi-Fi hotspot. 
  • 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.
  • 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. I use VPN Express on both my cell phone and laptop.
  • Finally, you might just decide to use the hotspot on your cell phone and avoid Wi-Fi altogether. This is becoming a very option for many.
  • Email from John in Atlanta: Dear Doc and Jim. I am having trouble connecting to my Wi-Fi router from my office. It is on the opposite side of the house from the router. How can I extend the Wi-Fi network? Love the show. John in Atlanta.
  • Tech Talk Responds: You might try a wireless repeater. A wireless repeater is nothing more than a wireless device that hands off communication between two points: The repeater is placed “somewhere” between the wireless router and the computer you want to have connect wirelessly. 
  • Another approach that is frequently mentioned is simply to get better antennas – either for the wireless router, the remote laptop, or both. This has been my preferred solution. I have put higher gain antennas on both the router and on the laptop. In one case, I used a 10db antenna at each end, which effectively gave me 20 db of gain.A larger or directional antenna on the wireless router can produce a stronger or clearer signal. A larger or directional antenna on the remote device gives it “bigger ears” with which to hear the signal available. You can even make your own. A common example cited is the “can-tenna” made out of a potato chip can that can create a highly directional antenna.
  • Email from Mike in Maryland: Hello, I have four Yahoo e-mail addresses. Logging in and out of each address is not a fun task. How can I continue to use all four addresses but have all four addresses go to one address? Also, if using your suggested mechanism, can it create a false spam signal in responding to and from other people or other negative events? Mike from Maryland.
  • Tech Talk Responds: It sounds like to want to continue to receive email from four addresses, but plan to send email from only one address. Here are two solutions to this problem. You could use an email consolidators like Microsoft Mail or Mac Mail. You can then set them up to check your email from multiple accounts automatically for you and put all results into your inbox. A second solution would be to simply forward your Yahoo accounts to one account. Click the gear icon near your Yahoo! Mail top right corner or hover the mouse cursor over it. Select Settings from the menu that shows. Go to the Accounts category. Click Edit next to the email address you want to forward under Yahoo account. If you forward to Gmail you can set up rules to send each account to a different subdirectory. You can also set up Gmail to use another address in the From: field.
  • Email from LedbyBrain in Bethesda: Dear Dr Shurtz, I have come across something disturbing about LinkedIn and wonder if you’ve ever seen this yourself. There was a company BCG (I won’t give their full name here) who I wanted to reach so I put the name into linked-in and found this woman’s entry. I reached out someone else who said that had never heard of this company. It looks like a false entry on a LinkedIn page. How can I protect myself from this? Thanks. LedbyBrain.
  • Tech Talk Responds: LinkedIn does not validate profiles or profile information. References can be helpful as well as the number contact of contacts. This is a social networking site for business and the degree that they are networked is an indicator. LinkedIn won’t do anything unless they are engaged in criminal activity.
Profiles in IT: Nick Szabo
  • Nick Szabo is a computer scientist, legal scholar and cryptographer known for his research in digital contracts and digital currency.
  • He received a degree in computer science from the University of Washington in 1989.
  • He completed his law degree from George Washington University in 2006.
  • The phrase and concept of “smart contracts” was developed by Szabo with the goal of bringing what he calls the “highly evolved” practices of contract law and practice to the design of electronic commerce protocols between strangers on the Internet. 
  • Smart contracts are a feature of cryptocurrencies and the E programming language.
  • In 1998, Szabo designed a mechanism for a decentralized digital currency he called “bit gold”. Bit gold has been called ‘a direct precursor to the Bitcoin architecture.
  • In Szabo’s bit gold scheme, a participant would dedicate computer power to solving cryptographic puzzles. In a bit gold network, solved puzzles would be sent to a fault-tolerant public registry and assigned to the public key of the solver.
  • Each solution would become part of the next challenge, creating a growing chain.
  • This feature provided a way for the network to verify and time-stamp new coins.
  • Unless a majority of the parties agreed to accept new solutions, they couldn’t start on the next puzzle. Szabo detailed the entire process in a 2008 paper.
  • In 2008, a mysterious figure who wrote under the name Satoshi Nakamoto released a proposal for Bitcoin. Nakamoto’s true identity remained a secret, which led to speculation about a long list of people suspected to be Nakamoto. 
  • Although Szabo has repeatedly denied it, people have speculated that he is Nakamoto.
  • Research by financial author Dominic Frisby provides circumstantial evidence.
  • Nathaniel Popper wrote in The New York Times that “the most convincing evidence pointed to a reclusive American man of Hungarian descent named Nick Szabo.” 
  • In 2008, prior to the release of Bitcoin, Szabo wrote a comment on his blog about the intent of creating a live version of his hypothetical currency.
  • In 2014, he was closely linked to a Palo Alto-based bitcoin startup called Vaurum. Szabo helped transform the company by developing tools that automate financial transactions.
  • During his involvement, people who worked closely with him were convinced that he was indeed Nakamoto, based on his vast expertise in cryptocurrency. Szabo left the company in late 2014, when bitcoin started receiving considerable media coverage.
  • Experts revealed that Nakamoto currently owns over one million bitcoins, which were likely mined during the inception of the virtual currency
  • At August 2015 values, that would be worth around $266 million US dollars.
  • Szabo’s blog: http://unenumerated.blogspot.com.
  • Szabo’s Website: http://szabo.best.vwh.net.
Factoid of the Week: NASA’s New Horizon Probe Used a PlayStation CPU
  • New Horizon’s 9-year voyage to Pluto used  a PlayStation 1 processor for a brain.
  • The same MIPS R3000 processor used to control New Horizon’s onboard systems powered the first generation of Sony’s popular gaming console 20 years ago.
  • The chip on board New Horizon is a special, radiation-hardened version of the CPU, but its computational capabilities are only as powerful as the gaming console.
Phantom Cellphone Vibrations
  • Many people experience phantom cellphone vibrations on occasion.
  • It happens to me maybe once or twice a month. 
  • Several studies have examined the prevalence of phantom cellphone vibrations, and they’ve come up with impressive numbers, from 68 percent of the medical staff at a Massachusetts hospital to 89 percent of undergraduates at a midwestern university, to more than 90 percent of Taiwanese doctors-in-training in the middle of their internships.
  • “Phantom vibrations are this unusual curiosity that speaks to our connection with our phones,” said David Laramie, a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills who did his doctoral thesis on people’s relationships with their mobile phones. 
  • Laramie’s thesis, published in 2007, was the first study to examine the prevalence of phantom vibrations and phantom ringing. Two-thirds of the people he surveyed had experienced one or the other.
  • In 2012, the Macquarie Dictionary, the authoritative source of Australian English, chose “phantom vibration syndrome” as its “Word of the Year.
  • According to Laramie. “You’re misinterpreting something, but there is this external cue. You’re not totally making it up.” 
  • In his thesis research, he found the two biggest predictors of phantom vibrations and ringing were age (young people experienced them more) and the extent to which people relied on their phone to regulate their emotional state—checking their phone when they wanted to calm down, for example, or get an emotional boost.