Show of 02-08-2019

Tech Talk

February 8, 2020

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Helen in Rockville: Dear Doc and Jim. I am trying to set up a new account and am told that I must allow popups to complete the process. How can I enable stop blocking Popups on a particular site. I cannot go to my account page unless popups are allowed. I am using the Chrome Browser. Helen in Rockville
  • Tech Talk Responds: Most browsers are set to block popups because many pesky ads are delivered via popup. You can easily allow for a particular site by going into the Chrome browser settings. Click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner to open settings. Click on Advanced. Click on Privacy and Security. Click on Site Setting. Click on Popups and Redirects. Add that site you are working on to the allowed list. You are done. I would not recommend that you turn off popups everywhere. You will be inundated with popup ads.
  • Email from Al in Manassas: Dear Tech Talk. I just bought my son a new laptop. The salesman told me that laptops don’t need surge protectors because their power bricks protect the machine from power surges. That just didn’t sound right to me, but I’m not one to argue. Was he right or do I need to go ahead and buy a surge protector for the laptop? Al in Manassas, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: The power bricks that come with most laptops do provide a modest level of surge protection, but only for minor surges. A strong surge or lightning strike can easily take out the power brick itself and the laptop along with it if the surge is strong enough. As a rule, anything that plugs into a wall outlet can be destroyed by a power surge or lightning strike. And that even includes surge protectors themselves. I strongly recommend that you purchase a quality surge protector for your son’s laptop. When you go to pick one out, I recommend getting a surge protector that’s rated for at least 3,000 Joules. For instance, the Belkin 12-outlet surge protector is $24.99 on Amazon and has a protection capacity of 3,940 Joules. That would be a good choice.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: I have an old Dell OptiPlex GX280 desktop computer that I used for several years before I bought the one I have now. I need to copy a couple of very important files off of that. My problem is it has a BIOS password on it and I can’t remember it! Do you know of a way to disable the BIOS password so the computer will boot up into Windows? Jim in Bowie, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: The answer to your question is yes, you can indeed disable the forgotten BIOS password on your old Dell machine. The instructions are found in online user’s guide. Here’s how:
    • Shut down the PC and unplug the power cord.
    • Press the PC’s power button and hold it for 10 seconds to drain any stored electric charges from the system.
    • Remove the case cover.
    • Look for a tiny black plastic jumper on the motherboard labeled PSWD and remove it from the pins (just grasp it firmly and pull it straight up).
    • Put the cover back on the PC, connect the power cord and then turn the machine on. If all is well the computer should now boot into Windows.
    • Find the files you want to retrieve and copy them onto a USB flash drive.
  • Email from Dennis in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk. I was told that hibernate is a good way to shut down my Windows 10 computer and I am in the middle of a big project. When I turn it on again, all programs and files will be in the same state and I can start work immediately. Is this a good option? How can I do it? Love the show. Dennis in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: Having to shut down your PC can be a major hassle if you know you’ll have to re-open all the programs and websites that you’re currently using the next time you power the machine back on. This can be avoided by selecting a special shutdown mode called Hibernate. Putting your computer into hibernation instead of just shutting it down will enable you to simply pick up where you left off during your last computing session without having to reload anything. Hibernating your laptop won’t drain the battery because the hardware will truly be shut down instead of “putting it to sleep”.
  • You have probably noticed that the Hibernate option is disabled in Windows 10 by default. Luckily, it’s very easy to enable it. Here’s how:
    • Press the Windows+S key combination to open a “Search” box.
    • Type the word control it into the Search box, then select Control Panel from the list of search results
    • Click Hardware and Sound.
    • Click Power Options.
    • Click Choose what the power buttons do.
    • Click Change settings that are currently unavailable.
    • Scroll down to the “Shutdown settings” section and check the box beside Hibernate.
    • Click Save changes.
  • From now on you’ll be presented with the option of hibernating your Windows 10 computer in addition to all the other shutdown options.
  • Email from John in Baltimore: The hard drive on my 5 year old laptop died and I bought a 480GB SSD to replace it. Since I have to reinstall the operating system anyway I’m seriously considering installing Linux on it instead of Windows. The only thing I use this laptop for is keeping up with several of my favorite websites so I’m not really worried about running any Windows programs on it. I’d really like to install the version that looks and works the most like Windows. Can you tell me which version that is? John in Baltimore
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are several Linux distros that look and work a lot like Windows. Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop has gotten rave reviews from the Linux community. Linux Mint is a very fast and full featured Linux distro that’s based upon Ubuntu. But unlike Unbuntu’s Unity desktop, Mint’s Cinnamon desktop has a lot in common with Windows 7. It has a “Menu” button in the same exact place where Windows 7’s “Start” button is located, and it does virtually the same thing. The desktop has a “Computer” icon for accessing the disk drive(s) and the files and folders it contains. It also has a “Trash Can” that works like Windows’ “Recycle Bin”. You can also place program icons and user files on the desktop just like you can on a Windows PC. There’s a “Quick Launch” bar that allows you to launch programs with a single mouse click, and it’s in the same exact place as the Quick Launch bar in Windows 7.
  • Go to the Linux Mint Website and check out all the details. If you like what you see you can click the download link and download the ISO file and burn it onto a blank optical disk or USB flash drive. Once you have a Linux Mint DVD or flash drive in hand you can boot your laptop from it and give it a try. You can put Linux Mint through its paces right from the LiveCD/flash drive. There’s no need to install it to the SSD until you’re sure you like it. If you decide you like it just click the “Install” icon and follow the prompts. In just a few minutes you’ll have a fully functioning Linux laptop that “looks and feels” a LOT like Microsoft Windows!
  • Link to Linux Mint 19 “Tara” Cinnamon: https://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=3597
  • Email from Doug in Kansas: Dear Doc and Jim. What is your take on public Wi-Fi? Is it still as dangerous as some people maintain. I can’t imagine someone hacking me a Starbucks. What do you think? Doug in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: Public Wi-Fi is much safer and more private than it used to be thanks to the widespread use of HTTPS on the web. Other people on the public Wi-Fi network cannot just snoop on everything you are doing. Man-in-the-middle attacks are not as easy as they used to be. Even, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) recently declared it safe.
  • There are still some risks. A malicious public Wi-Fi hotspot itself could perform a “man in the middle” attack, modifying the web pages sent to you. That is why I never connect any random Wi-Fi free hotspot at the airport. It could be a malicious.
  • For maximum protection on public Wi-Fi networks, we still recommend a VPN. I and used ExpressVNP for years and love it, both for my cell phone and my laptop. This particularly true at hotel in foreign countries. These tend to be hotbeds for hackers.

Profiles in IT: Claude Elwood Shannon

  • Claude Elwood Shannon was a mathematician, electronic engineer, and cryptographer known as the Father of Information Theory.
  • Claude Elwood Shannon was born April 30, 1916 in Petoskey, Michigan.
  • The first 16 years of Shannon’s life were spent in Gaylord, Michigan, where he attended public school, graduating from Gaylord High School in 1932.
  • He constructed model airplanes, a radio-controlled model boat, and a wireless telegraph.
  • His childhood hero was Thomas Edison, whom he later learned was a distant cousin.
  • In 1932, he entered the University of Michigan, where he learned about George Boole.
  • He graduated in 1936 with two bachelor’s degrees, one in EE and one in mathematics.
  • He began his graduate studies in EE at MIT, where he worked on an early analog computer.
  • In his Master’s thesis, Shannon proved that Boolean algebra and binary arithmetic could be used to simplify the arrangement of the relays used for telephone call routing switches.
  • He went on to prove that it would be possible to use arrangements of relays to solve problems in Boolean algebra, a concept that underlies all electronic digital computers.
  • Shannon’s work became the foundation of practical digital circuit design when it became widely known in the electrical engineering community during and after World War II.
  • He received his PhD from MIT in 1940, after applying these concepts to theoretical genetics.
  • In 1940, Shannon became a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
  • Shannon joined Bell Labs to work on fire-control systems and cryptography during WWII.
  • In September 1945, he prepared a classified memorandum for Bell Labs entitled “A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography,”
  • In 1948, he published two part paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, which formed the foundation of information theory.
  • This work focuses on the problem of how best to encode the information a sender wants to transmit. Shannon developed information entropy as a measure for the uncertainty in a message while essentially inventing the field of information theory.
  • In 1949, he published “Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems”, a declassified version of his wartime work on the mathematical theory of cryptography.
  • He is also credited with the introduction of sampling theory, which is concerned with representing a continuous-time signal from a (uniform) discrete set of samples.
  • This enabled telecommunications to move from analog to digital transmissions in the 1960s.
  • He returned to MIT to hold an endowed chair in 1956.
  • After the breakup of the Bell system, the part of Bell Labs that remained with AT&T Corporation was named Shannon Labs in his honor.
  • Outside of his academic pursuits, Shannon was interested in juggling, unicycling, and chess.
  • He is also considered the co-inventor of the first wearable computer along with Edward O. Thorp. The device was used to improve the odds when playing roulette.
  • Shannon used to go on weekends to Las Vegas with M.I.T. mathematician Ed Thorp, and made very successful forays in blackjack using game theory type methods.
  • Shannon and Thorp also applied the same theory, later known as the Kelly criterion, to the stock market with even better results. These techniques were used by Warren Buffet.
  • Shannon died at the age of 84, on February 24, 2001, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Iowa Election Snafu: What Happens Best Practices Are Ignored

  • The wireless application that malfunctioned during the Iowa caucuses this week is a shining example of what happens when information technology (IT) and cybersecurity best practices and standards are ignored by the leaders of organizations.
  • The Iowa app appears to have skipped or been deficient in most of the Systems Development Lifecyle steps through implementation.
  • These best practices should have been applied to the development of the Iowa app, which would have included peer reviews of code, periodic code scans, and the testing of security features.
  • The Iowa app was developed by a Colorado company called Shadow. The app was supposed to be used to report caucus precinct results to the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP). Although the app failed dramatically (some users couldn’t even complete installation) and created havoc in reporting Iowa caucus results, the situation highlights the importance of this geeky stuff called IT and cybersecurity best practices and standards.
  • Moreover, the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) declined to accept an offer of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to test the app.
  • Cybersecurity experts have been quick to point out that the app appears to have been rapidly developed and screen shots that have been shared in the media show that the software was updated on January 24, January 30, and February 1 – three days before the Iowa caucuses, indicating it was not thoroughly tested and ready for production implementation.

Beware of Free Downloads: Risk Malware Infection

  • Researchers claim more than 500,000 PCs have been infected with malware after a cracked app went on to retrieve further malware.
  • Users generally start their journey to hell by “downloading a cracked version of commercial software like Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and others”.
  • There is an demand for free versions of expensive software, it seems, and search engines are happy to help.
  • Such downloads create a connection to Bitbucket repositories to install “additional payloads”.
  • Bitbucket is a code-management platform from Atlassian. There is no suggestion that Bitbucket itself has any specific vulnerabilities, but the claim is that serving malware from legitimate sites such as this – or others like Github, Dropbox and Google Drive – makes it harder for security software to detect.
  • In addition, the researchers said the repositories are “updated almost constantly by the threat actor” in order to evade antivirus signature lists.
  • The real story here is the risks inherent in users trying to get commercial software for free.

Safety Alert: Coffee Banned in A350 Cockpits

  • The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued a formal safety directive banning A350 airliner pilots from putting cups of coffee anywhere near sensitive cockpit electronics.
  • The EASA ban, confirmed yesterday, takes the form of a “liquid prohibited zone” inside the A350’s cockpit and pragmatic “procedures to be followed in the case of inadvertent liquid spillage”.
  • If pilots do not overcome their addiction to caffeine and stop spilling beverages over control panels, warned EASA, spillages could “lead to a dual engine in flight shut down, possibly resulting in a forced landing with consequent damage to the airplane and injury to occupants”.
  • Aviation trade mag Flight Global reported that the cockpit coffee ban came about after two incidents where spilled liquids led to engines shutting down mid-flight “after inconsistent output” from control panels submerged under hot java.
  • Last year an A330 captain discovered, while over the middle of the Atlantic, that pouring hot coffee onto his aircraft’s radios causes them to melt.

Idea of Week: Monitor Glucose Levels without Finger Prick

  • Samsung announced that it has developed a way to monitor blood glucose levels without requiring people to prick their fingers to draw blood.
  • Using a technique known as “Raman spectroscopy” the team created a system that “utilizes lasers for chemical composition identification.”
  • Adjusting this system enabled “the direct observation of glucose Raman peaks,” with Samsung adding that the group “demonstrated one of the highest prediction accuracies among non-invasive technologies.”
  • Raman spectroscopy (/ˈrɑːmən/); (named after Indian physicist C. V. Raman) is a spectroscopic technique typically used to determine vibrational modes of molecules, although rotational and other low-frequency modes of systems may also be observed.
  • Raman spectroscopy relies upon inelastic scattering of photons, known as Raman scattering. Laser light interacts with molecular vibrations, phonons or other excitations in the system, resulting in the energy of the laser photons being shifted up or down. The shift in energy gives information about the vibrational modes in the system. Infrared spectroscopy typically yields similar, complementary, information.
  • No product launch date has been announced.