Show of 02-25-2017

Tech Talk

February 25, 2017

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Dave: Hello Doctor, I find our household now chained to our cable bundle. (Internet, phone, tv). Is it practical for us to cut the cable and use streaming on our smart tv, and other available services? We need fast Internet service, a landline phone, and would like to have regular and easy access to about 10 recurring television shows. The other 400 cable shows have no real interest to us. I do have access to high definition over the air network channels. Can you recommend a service that will help Declutter our options? Love your show. I just found your Podcast online. Keep up the good work! Regards, Dave
  • Tech Talk Responds: You have many options now. You can get a pretty good selection to TV shows from Roku (subscription required), classic movies from Netflix (subscription required), classic movies from Amazon Prime (free for Prime members), local broadcasts from over-the-air HDTV (get a good antenna with amplifier), and music from Pandora or Spotify (ad free subscription required), VoIP landline (Ooma, $200, plus around $30 per year for taxes). All services run over- your Internet connection which should be broadband.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Doc and Jim. I am setting up two computers in the house and am hardwiring the Internet connection for security reasons. My neighbor is a Wi-Fi hacker. I only have one Ethernet port in the office. Is it possible to have one Cat5 (4-twisted-pairs) cable and split it into two Ethernet ports? I know Ethernet only needs four wires so that would not be a problem, but would the connections interfere with each other or work without issues? Enjoy the podcast. Jim in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: Yes, it will work, though it will be limited to 100 Base-T speeds. However, for the price of two splitters and the extra cables you would then need at each end, you could probably get a cheap Ethernet switch and keep your 1000 Base-T speeds. You could also use a managed switch that could handle the VLANs by itself and assign each VLAN to a particular port. That way, the computers do not need any configuration and it is a bit more secure since the computers would not receive any packets belonging to the adjacent VLAN.
  • Email from Helen in Rockville: Dear Doc and Jim. I love to play Pokemon Go and recently go an Apple watch as a gift from my best friend. Is there a way to play Pokemon Go using my watch? It would be so convenient and I could leave my iPhone in my purse. Love the podcast. Helen in Rockville.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Perhaps the most newsworthy Pokemon Go update in recent months is the newly released Apple Watch app. The Watch app was available as part of the December 22, 2016 update for iOS. So just make sure your app is updated to the latest version, and the Watch app should automatically be installed on your Watch.
  • When you first open the app on the Watch, it will ask permission to send you notifications. You should allow it to do so or you will miss out an essential part of the experience. You can always change this in the Settings later. When you proceed, you will probably be greeted with a level 1 trainer screen. Don’t panic, you just need to open the Pokémon Go app on your iPhone to sync up. Indeed, when you tap “Start” on this screen, you might be greeted with a message telling you to do just that.
  • On your iPhone, open the Pokémon Go app. The first time you do so, you will be asked to allow the app to access your location even when you’re not using the app. Again, you are going to want to tap “Allow”, because it will let the game to run in the background. If you allow the app to read data, it will use this data for things like tracking distance walked, hatching eggs, and finding candies. Overall, the Pokémon Go Apple Watch app is stable and polished.
  • Email from Kim in Ohio: Dear Tech Talk. I just noticed that my Gmail client blocked a JavaScript file attachment. What is JavaScript and why is Gmail blocking it. Did I do something wrong? Love the show here in Ohio. We all listen in the basement together. Kim in Ohio
  • Tech Talk Responds: We actually discussed this briefly last week. Starting February 2017, Gmail changed its policy regarding JavaScript. Here’s why this is changing, and how you can protect yourself from malicious JavaScript.
  • JavaScript (not to be confused with Java, a separate programming language with a similar name) is not inherently a dangerous or malicious thing. JavaScript is a programming language that is stored in plain text and executed by various programs, including web browsers. JavaScript has been around since the mid 90s. With the explosion of JavaScript’s popularity and the increasing complexity of the web, Google released their Chrome browser and V8, an open-source engine for efficiently executing JavaScript code.
  • Security experts have noted a trend of more malware written in JavaScript. These are often sent over email, disguised as a resume, or phishing message targeting businesses, or a claim the attachment will “track a recent order.” One frightening recent trend from the past few years is Ransomware. Given access to your computer, a JavaScript program might install software to turn your important files to unreadable gibberish through a process called Encryption, forcing you to pay someone halfway around the globe to get back the files that used to be yours.
  • Google keeps a list of common file types used by malware creators, and Gmail blocks them. Because of the increase of this kind of malware, the JavaScript file type has been added to that list. It is unlikely this will cause most users any problems, the notable exception being you are a developer trying to email a file called “functions.js” to a coworker. In this case, you may have to share through Google Drive or other file sharing solutions.
  • Email from Lacy in San Francisco: Dear Tech Talk. What is cloud computing? I have heard this term used so many times, but it still confuses me. Love the show. BTW, I sometimes come to the DC area and can listen live. Lacy in San Francisco.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Cloud computing is a type of Internet-based computing that provides shared computer processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand. These services provided over the internet, using computers and storage that can change as needed to meet the needs of whatever service is being provided. The word “cloud” comes from the fact that when diagramming networks, engineers often use a cloud to represent a massive inter-connected network. Using a cloud to represent the connections highlights that it’s a somewhat intangible thing “out there”, as well as hiding all of the specifics of exactly how the interconnections happen. Examples of cloud services include:
    • Your email. Web-based is the most obvious “cloud service.”
    • Social media services like Facebook, Twitter, and others.
    • Photo storage services like Flickr, Photobucket, Google Photos, and many more.
    • Document storage services like Google Docs.
    • Storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and so on.
    • Financial services like QuickBooks Online, your bank, your investment firm, and others.
    • Web-based information resources like Wikipedia.
    • Backup services like Carbonite

Profiles in IT: Mikko Hermanni Hyppönen

  • Mikko Hermanni Hyppönen is a computer security expert and columnist.
  • Mikko Hyppönen was born in 1969 in Finland.
  • Mikko Hyppönen is Chief Research Officer at F-Secure since 1991.
  • In 2003 Hypponen’s team took down the global network used by the Sobig.F worm and in 2004 he was the first to warn the world about the Sasser outbreak.
  • In 2004, Hyppönen cooperated with Vanity Fair on a feature, The Code Warrior, which examined his role in the Blaster and Sobig Computer worms.
  • The blog “News from the Lab”, started by Hyppönen in 2004 was the first blog from any antivirus company.
  • In 2007 he named the infamous Storm Worm and in 2010 he produced classified briefings on the operation of the Stuxnet worm, the malware designed to take down the Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
  • Hypponen is also an inventor for several patents, including US patent 6,577,920 “Computer virus screening”.
  • Hyppönen has given keynotes and presentations at a number of conferences around the world, including Black Hat, DEF CON, DLD, and RSA.
  • In addition to data security events, Hyppönen has delivered talks at general-interest events, such as TED, TEDx, DLD, SXSW and Google Zeitgeist.
  • He has also written for international publications like the Scientific American, Foreign Policy, New York Times and virus Bulletin, as well as addressing the most important security-related conferences worldwide.
  • Hyppönen is a member of the advisory board of IMPACT (International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats) since 2007.
  • In 2010 he received the virus Bulletin Award as “The Best Educator the Industry.”
  • Hyppönen made international news in 2011when he tracked down and visited the authors of the first PC virus in history, Brain.A. He produced a YouTube documentary of this event.
  • Hyppönen has been the Curator for the Malware Museum at The Internet Archive since 2016.
  • Hypponen has become one of the most outspoken critics of the NSA’s widespread digital surveillance and its sabotage of encryption algorithms.
  • He selected among the 50 most important people on the web by the PC World magazine and was included in the FP Global 100 Thinkers list.
  • Hyppönen is a reserve officer in the Finnish Army.
  • He enjoys collecting and restoring classic arcade video games and pinball machines.
  • Website: https://mikko.hypponen.com/ and Twitter: https://twitter.com/mikko
  • F-Secure Blog: https://labsblog.f-secure.com/

Self-Flying Air Taxi in Dubai This Summer

  • Dubai’s Road & Transportation Agency plans to launch trips with the first fully-electric autonomous aerial vehicle drone starting this July.
  • The Prime Minister of the UAE wants 25% of all passenger trips to be made in driverless vehicles by 2030.
  • This human-size drone, EHang 184, is made in China and has already flown in Dubai. Its manufacturer, Chinese drone company Ehang, showed off the 184 at this year’s CES in Las Vegas after 100 successful manned test flights.
  • EHang 184 has enough room for a small suitcase and will be controlled through 4G mobile Internet.
  • It is able to carry a single passenger who weighs less than 220 pounds over short distances at 62 miles per hour with a fully-charged battery.

India’s Move to a Cashless Society

  • India has made efforts to move toward an economy less dependent on cash.
  • A decade ago, India had a massive problem: nearly half its people did not have any form of identification.
  • In 2009, the government launched a massive project, called Aadhar, to solve this problem by providing a digital identity to everyone based on an individual’s fingerprints and retina scans.
  • As of 2016, the program had issued 12-digit identification numbers to 1.1 billion people.
  • India’s next challenge was to provide everyone with a bank account. The government sanctioned the opening of 11 institutions called payment banks, which can hold money but don’t do lending.
  • To motivate people to open accounts, it offered free life insurance with them and made them a channel for social-welfare benefits.
  • Within three years, more than 270 million bank accounts were opened, with $10 billion in deposits.
  • And then India launched its Unified Payment Interface (UPI), a way for banks to transfer money directly to one another based on a single identifier, such as the Aadhar number.
  • The mobile phone and a personal identification number take the place of the credit card as the authentication factor.
  • India has just introduced another innovation called India Stack. This is a series of secured and connected systems that allow people to store and share personal data such as addresses, bank statements, medical records, employment records and tax filings, and it enables the digital signing of documents.
  • The user controls what information is shared and with whom, and electronic signature occurs through biometric authentication.
  • With the new “know-your-customer” procedures that are part of India Stack, all that is needed is a thumb print or retina scan, and an account can be opened within minutes. The same can be done for medical records.
  • India Stack will also transform how lending is done. Now people can share information from their digital lockers, such as bank statements, utility bill payments and life insurance policies, and loans can be approved almost instantaneously.
  • In November, in a move to curb corruption and eliminate counterfeit bills, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shocked the country by announcing the discontinuation of all 500- and 1,000-rupee (about $7 and $14) notes — which account for roughly 86 percent of all money in circulation.

Scientists Discover Several Earth-like Planets

  • Scientists have discovered that at least seven Earth-sized worlds circle the star TRAPPIST-1, a ultracool dwarf star only about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth.
  • This marks the first time so many Earth-sized worlds have been found orbiting the same star.
  • It is possible that some of those exoplanets (worlds orbiting stars outside of our solar system) could play host to liquid water on their surfaces, boosting the chance that alien life might be lurking there.
  • The seven planets in the system closely orbit their star, so that if TRAPPIST-1 were in place of our sun in the solar system, the planets surrounding it would all be within the orbit of Mercury.
  • The planets are thought to be tidally locked to their star, meaning that, like the moon, the same sides of the exoplanets’ faces always point toward the host star.
  • If you were to stand on the surface of one of the planets, the salmon-colored star would look about 200 times dimmer than our own sun, giving off about the same amount of light as our star does at the tail end of a sunset.
  • Because the star system is so close (in cosmic terms) to Earth, it’s ideal for any scientist hoping to check out these worlds for themselves, and they already have.
  • Scientists used the transit method to find the exoplanets, meaning that they had to wait for the worlds to pass in front of their star, causing a dip in the light of the dwarf star. Because the orbits of each planet influence the others, such observations also allowed the researchers to ascertain the masses and diameters of the planets, Triaud said.
  • All of the planets are far enough from their star that they could conceivably host liquid water on their surfaces, according to the researchers. Four of the worlds in particular are thought to be in the “habitable zone” of the star, which means they could be our best chances for life outside the solar system.
  • NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), expected to launch in 2018, should be able to peer deeply into the atmospheres of alien planets to try to see if they really could be like our own. It may be able to pick out oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane and other molecules in exoplanet atmospheres to find any biosignatures that might be present.

Device of the Week: Astrobot

  • AstroBot Kit Teaches Kids the Joys of Coding
  • UBTech’s AstroBot kit can be built into one of three different characters and programmed using a simple mobile app.
  • Available this spring for $199, AstroBot can be built as either a treaded robot, a humanoid-style robot or a wheeled vehicle. It comes with 5 servo motors, and 397 different pieces to put together.
  • An infrared sensor keeps AstroBot from bumping into objects as it moves around. A speaker and a pair of 16-color LEDs allow it to make sounds and show colors.
  • With the app installed on any iOS or Android device, you can use Blockly, a development environment that involves dragging logic blocks around on a canvas and linking them together to form functions.
  • If you want to get more advanced and actually see some code, a button will show you your application written in Swift, a popular programming language.
  • AstroBot is just the latest in UBTech’s “Jimu” line of kid-friendly robots.
  • The company has seven other kits, which are already on the market, including TankBot, another tread-based robot that costs $149, but doesn’t have the LED lights or design flexibility you’ll find on AstroBot.
  • The Inventor Kit comes with the most parts and the most flexibility — it can make 9 different bots, but it costs a full $363.
  • All of the Jimu robot kits offer compelling ways for children to learn about programming and experience the joys and frustrations of putting electronics together.
  • Website: http://www.ubtrobot.com/