Show of 03-12-2016

Tech Talk

March 12, 2016

Email and Forum Questions
  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz, You have VPN, so you may escape the constant flood of marketing ads one receives by browsing or shopping on the Net. Just the same, have you ever used Ghostery? I installed it on my laptop several weeks ago, and it really reduced the tracking marketing companies follow on ads hawking their wares as a result of my browsing & shopping. You always make Tech Talk so interesting. Really enjoy the show and learn a lot. Arnie, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: Ghostery is an ad blocking program. I have been using Purity and Blockr. However, Ghostery has gotten very good reviews. Lifehacker, one of my favorites sites, rates it as a solid privacy tool. Ghostery is owned by Evidon, a company that collects and provides data to advertising companies. It has a feature called GhostRank that you can check to “support” them. The problem is, Ghostery blocks sites from gathering personal information on you—but Ghostrank will take note the ads you encounter and which ones you block, and sends that information back to advertisers so they can better formulate their ads to avoid being blocked. The data is anonymous, and Ghostery still does everything it promises to do to protect your privacy. Lifehacker and Mashable recommend that you avoid Ghostrank.
  • Email from Alice in Wonderland: Dear Dr. Shurtz, I live in a three level SFH and have Verizon FiOS as my IP service. I have an iMac is on main floor and the apple TV is in the basement. Today, nearly show I selected would not load. All I got was the spinning icon on the screen. I rebooted the power to the apple TV. This didn’t fix the issue. What are my options? Thanks. Alice, anxious to return to WonDerLand
  • Tech Talk Responds: Alice, it sounds like an Internet connection issue. You need to reboot your Wi-Fi router and when the Internet is down. Simply rebooting the Apple TV won’t do it. My router has both 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz bands. I have given them different names so that I can choose which one to use. The 5.8 GHz band has substantially more bandwidth. I connect my Apple TV using the 5.8 GHz band and never an buffering problems with my FIOS connection. 
  • Email from Ford in Bowie, Maryland: Dear Tech Talk. I have a boatload of baby pictures and no place to store them. I have been sending them as attachments using a few free email accounts. I was wondering how long I will be able to keep those accounts open. I would hate to lose my pictures. I use Yahoo Mail, Gmail, and Hotmail for my picture storage. Love the show. Ford in Bowie in Maryland. 
  • Tech Talk Responds: First of all Ford, you are going to have to get a better way to store your photos, either in an external hard drive or the cloud. Using free email accounts for secure storage is lunacy. At least it is better that using Facebook, which only save a low resolution version of your photo. But if you insist, you must make certain to log onto the account at least twice a year to keep it from going inactive. Here are the facts.
  • Yahoo Mail: If you rarely use your account, it will go into an inactive state and then be deleted. You can prevent this by signing in to your account using any device at least once every 12 months. It is a good practice to log into your account twice a year. Yahoo will recycle email addresses.
  • Gmail: Google reserves the right to delete the data in your account after 9 months of inactivity. In practice, Google does not delete accounts or data, but that could change in the future. It is a good idea to log into your account twice a year. Google says it will not recycle usernames, according to its terms of service. Users can never sign up for a Gmail account previously held by another person, even if that account has been deleted for years.
  • Hotmail: After 270 days (about 8 and a half months) without access, a Windows Live Hotmail account becomes inactive. This means all messages stored in the account are deleted and no new mail is accepted. After 360 days (five days short of a typical year) of inactivity, a Windows Live Hotmail account is permanently deleted. If you don’t use your Windows Live ID (which is your Windows Live Hotmail email address) for 365 days (about a year), it, too, can be permanently deleted. Somebody else can take your Windows Live Hotmail address!
  • Email from Chau in Indiana: Dear Doc and Jim. I keep getting message pops up on my computer, warning me that malware has been detected. What should I do? Love the show. Chau in Indiana.
  • Tech Talk Responds: That message is probably completely fake. It is counting on you to trust that it’s legitimate, and then click on it to take further action. And that “further action” could actually install malware, or worse. They want you to trust them.
  • Other examples that malicious activity that needs your trust.
    • You’ve probably received email – important-looking email – that indicates there’s a package on its way to you, and the details are in an attached file.
    • Perhaps your online email provider has detected a problem with your account, and you need to check something by clicking on a link.
    • I’ve even received email from Paypal indicating that access to my account had been “limited” because of suspicious activity. I needed to log in to provide additional information – once again, using the provided link.1
    • You get a phone call from someone who says they work for Microsoft, and they’ve detected problems with your computer.  Then they offer to fix it, if you’ll just go to a site and type in a few numbers that they recite to you.
  • Abusing your trust in this manner is currently one of the most effective ways to distribute malware. Be a skeptic always. Question everything.?
Profiles in IT: Jan Koum
  • Jan Koum co-founder and CEO of WhatsApp and Managing Director in Facebook. 
  • Jan Koum was born February 24, 1976 in Kiev, Ukraine and grew up in Fastiv, Ukraine. 
  • In 1992, he moved with his mother and grandmother to Mountain View, CA. He was sixteen.
  • The family was supported by welfare and lived in a small two-bedroom apartment.
  • At first Koum’s mother worked as a babysitter, while he worked as a cleaner at a grocery. 
  • In 1994, he enrolled in San Jose State University when he became interested in programming.
  • While in school he worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester, where he met Brian Action.
  • In 1998, Brian Action hired Koum at Yahoo, as an infrastructure engineer. He served as his mentor, inviting him over to his house and taking him skiing. 
  • They stayed a Yahoo for nine years. In September 2007 Koum and Acton left Yahoo and took a year off, traveling around South America and playing ultimate Frisbee.
  • Both applied, and failed, to work at Facebook. In January 2009, Koum bought an iPhone and realized that the App Store was about to spawn a whole new industry of applications. 
  • He visited his friend Alex Fishman and over tea in the kitchen talked about an idea for new app.  Koum chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like “what’s up.” 
  • A week later on his birthday, Feb. 24, 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in CA.
  • Brian Action, who had a computer science degree from Stanford, was his co-founder. 
  • The two founded WhatsApp later that year with the idea that smartphone users should be able to easily message each other without incurring fees from phone carriers.
  • WhatsApp doesn’t collect information like name, gender, address or age. Instead, users are approved after their phone numbers are authenticated.
  • This approach was shaped by Jan’s experience growing up in a communist country with a secret police. He appreciated communication that was not bugged or taped.
  • A hand-written note on his desk reads: “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!”
  • They didn’t employ a public relations person, relying on the word-of-mouth. The service became popular with friends and family communicating in different countries.
  • Jan and Brian remained devoted to a clean, lightning fast communications service that works flawlessly. Their approach paid off. WhatsApp grew to 450 million monthly users, twice as many as Twitter. The users were active, sending billions of messages per day. 
  • The two founders also mostly avoided Silicon Valley investors. They didn’t take any funding until 2011, when Sequoia Capital invested $8 million in WhatsApp for 15 percent stake.
  • Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg first contacted Koum in the spring 2012. The two began meeting at a coffee shop in Los Altos, CA, then began a series of dinners and walks.
  • On February 9, 2014 Zuckerberg asked Koum to have dinner at his home, and formally proposed Koum a deal to join the Facebook board.
  • Ten days later Facebook announced it was acquiring WhatsApp for US$19 Billion USD
  • His mother died in 2000 of cancer in the US, while his father died in Ukraine in 1997.
  • In November 2014, Koum donated $1,000,000 to The FreeBSD Foundation, and close to $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) the same year.
  • His net worth as of February 2016 is US$8.6 billion. ?
The Donald Trump Twitter bot
  • Bradley Hayes, a researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and and Artificial Intelligence Lab, has created the Donald Trump Twitter bot.
  • It is named DeepDrumpf. You can follow it.
  • Donald Trump has mastered the art of the one-liner. 
  • The bot tweets Trump-like statements using an artificial intelligence algorithm based on hours of the candidate’s debate speech transcripts.
  • The bot creates tweets one letter at a time. For example, if the bot randomly begins with “M,” it will likely follow with an “A,” “K,” and “E,” until it produces Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” It then starts over for the next sentence until it reaches the 140-character limit.
  • Just like the real Trump, DeepTrumpf thinks many things are “great,” “not great,” or could be “great again.”
  • The Drumpf bot is pretty feisty and fed up with a lot of things, similar to the real Trump. In the NYT analysis, Trump called his political opponents “stupid” 30 times in a week, a word the bot also uses:
  • Dictionary.com also ran its own analysis of which words Trump uses most often during political debates. Trump’s favorite word, “eminent,” appears in this tweet:
  • Of course, like every Twitter bot, DeepDrumpf’s tweets can be a bit nonsensical — which makes them all the more realistic.
  • If you want to keep up with this bot, just follow DeepTrumpf on Twitter.
Killer Robots Should be Banned
  • In August, Stewart Russell, a computer scientist at University of California at Berkeley, authored an open letter calling for the ban of “lethal autonomous weapons.” 
  • Humans have a unfortunate tradition of automating warfare. Land mines are a kind of robot, though a very dumb one. Heat-seeking missiles are smarter, but not by a lot. 
  • Russell says that we’re further along it than we realize. “If you wanted to produce something very effective, pretty reliable, and if it became a military priority—in 18 months you could mass-produce some kind of intelligent weapon.” 
  • Autonomous killing machines already exist: The Super aEgis II, a South Korean-made weapons platform, can recognize humans and target them. It will request permission from a living operator, but that’s more a courtesy.
  • AI weapons could change the scale in which small groups of people can affect the rest of the world. They can do the damage of nuclear weapons with less money and infrastructure.
  • Proponents of AI weapons point to some upsides: Robots going to war would mean fewer human casualties. 
  • But to the 20,000 people who signed the letter, the costs far outweigh the benefits. Later this year, Russell and others will push for legislative stopgaps and a change in international law, similar to those that prohibit biological weapons. 
  • Meetings are set at the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. Once killer AI is here, there’s no going back
The IRS Systems Hack Worse Than Reported
  • When the agency first announced in May 2015 that hackers had broken into its website and stolen tax transcripts, it said that about 100,000 people were affected. 
  • It bumped that number up to 334,000 last August, and now says the number of records stolen is actually 724,000.
  • To protect the victims of the data breach from further harm, the IRS provided them with “Identity Protection PINs.” As long as they keep their PINs secret, they should be safe from fraud.
  • For this master plan to work, though, the IRS would also have to keep the PINs secret. Unfortunately, it seems the agency is having some trouble with that.
  • At least one of the PINs has been compromised. An accountant in South Dakota, Becky Wittrock was assigned her PIN in 2014, after she was a victim of fraud. When she filed her tax return this year, she found out the PIN had already been used:
  • The crooks beat her to the punch by more than three weeks, filing a large refund request with the IRS on Feb. 2, 2016.
  • If someone loses their PIN, they can retrieve it by logging into a service on the IRS website. And that login process is secured by the same technology that hackers broke through in the original data breach.
  • That technology is called Knowledge-Based Authentication, or KBA, which asks security questions to confirm a user’s identity. You’ve probably seen this before. KBA asks questions about a person’s credit history, like “On which of the following streets have you lived?” or “What is your total scheduled monthly mortgage payment?” and provides multiple-choice answers.
  • The hackers who stole tax transcripts in the 2015 data breach found a way to correctly answer those questions on the IRS’s “Get Transcript” page, which has since been taken down. 
  • The service to retrieve an IP PIN not only stayed up, but was the only barrier between hackers and the secret codes given to the victims of the original breach. It’s been right there this entire time, still using KBA to verify users.
  • The IRS said that although it’s been reviewing the authentication process for IP PIN retrieval, “most taxpayers receive their IP PIN via mail and never use the tool.” 
Celebrate Pi Day the NASA Way
  • Pi Day, the holiday loved by math enthusiasts, is almost here.
  • March 14 marks the yearly celebration of the mathematical constant ? (pi). More than just a number for mathematicians, pi has all sorts of applications in the real world.
  • For the third year, JPL has created a Pi Day problem set, which gives students a chance to put their pi skills to the test to solve some of the same problems NASA scientists and engineers do. 
  • The set of four illustrated math problems are compiled into a graphic (as well as classroom handouts) designed for students in grade 4 through high school – but fun for all! 
  • On March 16, the answers to all four problems and the steps needed to find those answers will be released in a companion infographic on the Pi Day challenge activity page.
  • To see a compilation of all 12 Pi Day challenge questions optimized for mobile devices and screen readers, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/nasapidaychallenge
  • Check out the official Pi Day website: http://www.piday.org/