Show of 08-07-2021

Tech Talk August 7, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Andrew from Bethesda: Dear Tech Talk, I want to advance in my IT career. I am currently working at the help desk, but would like to do more. What do you suggest? Love Tech Talk. Thanks, Andrew from Bethesda
  • Tech Talk Responds: You need to anticipate where the field is going and learn what will be needed in the future. A few suggestions would be VMWare (virtualization is here to stay), Cloud Computing (virtualization with load balancing on the web), security (SANS is the gold standard in security training), open source software (Linux, Apache can be installed at home), database management (Oracle student packs can be installed at home), programming languages (Visual Basic for scripting in a MS environment, C is a great foundation language, Java or C++ for object oriented), internetworking (open source Cisco simulators allow you configure devices without any hardware).
  • Ask your employer to pay for some certification courses for you. You are then billable at a higher rate. But most importantly, set up you own IT lab at home and play around. Show initiative. Join user groups. Subscribe to industry rags.
  • Email from Geoff in Arlington: Dear Tech Talk, I would like to clear off/erase all of the programs on my hard drive and clean it up before I donate my computer. What do you recommend? It is a Windows machine. Geoff in Arlington
  • Tech Talk Responds: The best way is to re-format the hard drive and then reinstall Windows. Do not do a quick format. Do the full format. A quick format creates an empty root directory on the hard disk and adds a label. The rest of the disk is left alone. Many commonly available disk recovery tools will be able to recover data from a “quick” formatted disk. You will need to either install the disk in a different machine to be able to reformat it or boot from something else.
  • A safe, practical approach: DBAN, which stands for “Darik’s Boot And Nuke”, is a free utility. It is a CD that you boot from that then “nukes” the information on the drive. You can download it at http://www.dban.org
  • Download the DBAN CD image, burn it to a CD, and then boot from the CD. DBAN will automatically and completely delete the contents of any hard disk that it detects. DBAN does this not by simply deleting files, but by performing a careful overwrite of the entire hard disk surface. When it’s done, everything is erased.
  • Then you can reinstall Windows. You might even perform a security update.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk, I want to explore to new interests, relating to web design and photography, and need some advice. How does one register a url? Does it cost anything? How does one start a blog? Thanks, Jim in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can obtain a domain name for about $35 per year or less. GoDaddy.com is one of the cheapest registries. Once you select your domain name and register it, you will have to have it hosted at an ISP in order to it to become active. You can host it a GoDaddy, if you wish.
  • When it comes to starting a blog, your biggest decision will be whether you want to host the blog yourself, or use a free blogging service that is hosted for you.
    • Free Blogging Services. When you start a blog with a free blogging service, you do not get your own domain. You get something like mygreatblog.blogspot.com (where there are a million other blogs at blogspot.com) and you do not actually own the blog. If you ever do decide to move to your own domain, you have no way to take your readers with you, because you have no control over the site.
    • Host your own blog using WordPress free Blog software. I suggest this method, because it offers much more flexibility and freedom to do what you want. You will have your own domain name, like mygreatblog.com. WordPress is excellent free blog software that allows you flexibility and room to grow.
  • Question from Cameron: I am a student at NVCC Woodbridge campus. I would like to know about transferring to this university. Do they accept courses already taken in different universities? Is there a way I can send transcripts so I can find out how many courses will be accepted? Thank you for your time, Cameron
  • Tech Talk responds: You can send an email to admissions@stratford.edu. They can perform a transfer credit analysis. Stratford accepts credits from accredited institutions. Whether the credits apply to a degree depend on how well the degrees match.
  • Email from Charlie in Scammon: Dear Tech Talk. I need to connect a desktop computer that’s in my basement to my router which is in my sunroom (on the far end of the ground floor of my house). I tried using a USB Wi-Fi adapter but the signal was just too weak to maintain a usable connection. After reading your post on powerline networking adapters I did some research on Amazon and ended up buying a ZyXEL 1800Mbps Pass-Thru Powerline Adapter. I installed the two adapters per the instructions and I can establish an Ethernet connection between the computer and the router just fine. But after a couple of minutes the connection drops out and I have to restart the computer to get it to connect again. Do you have any idea about what I need to do to get these things working as they should? Charlie in Scammon, KS
  • Tech Talk Responds: The powerline networking kit you bought is a good one. I think you made a wise choice. The fact that you are able to establish a connection between the computer and the router leads me to believe the devices are working as they should. And more importantly, the two circuits are on the same breaker box.
  • I can think of two possible causes of issues with powerline networking devices:
    • One or both of the powerline networking adapters is plugged into a power strip, a surge protector or an extension cord. Powerline adapters need to be plugged directly into a wall outlet in order to work properly. If you plug them into any type of intermediary device they will often either not work at all or establish poor connections (as in your case).
    • One or both of the electrical outlets you’re using with the adapters is wired incorrectly. This is easy to check with an inexpensive electrical outlet tester. These outlet testers are easy to use. Simply plug the tester into an outlet and compare the status lights to the chart on the adapter. The pattern of the illuminated lights will tell you if there’s a wiring problem. If you discover that one (or both) of your outlets is wired incorrectly you’ll need to either fix the issue yourself (if you have the necessary skills to safely do so) or hire an electrician to do the job for you.
  • I believe one of the above situations is likely preventing your powerline networking adapters from working correctly. Resolve whatever the issue turns out to be and you should be able to connect your basement computer to your router with no further problems.
  • Email from Mark in Richmond: Dear Tech Talk: I won a really nice Bluetooth speaker in a contest (it’s almost $100 online). I would like to use it with my desktop computer but it doesn’t have Bluetooth. Is there an easy and cheap way to connect a Bluetooth speaker to my computer? For example, maybe by adding a Bluetooth adapter card to my PC? Mark in Richmond
  • Tech Talk Responds: You might not have to use your speaker over a Bluetooth connection at all Cody. If it has an auxiliary input jack you can probably simply plug it into your computer’s audio output jack and use it just like you would use any other speaker. That being said, if the speaker can only connect via Bluetooth you will indeed have to attach some type of Bluetooth adapter to your computer.
  • I would recommend that you buy an inexpensive USB Bluetooth adapter. Going the USB route is the simplest and fastest way to add Bluetooth to most any PC. Just plug the dongle into an open USB port and install the driver and you are done! You can choose from several different brands and models of USB Bluetooth adapters at your local electronics retailer, or you can buy one from Amazon. They range from $10 to $20.

 

Profiles in IT: Charles Kuen Kao

  • Charles Kuen Kao is a pioneer in the development and use of fiber optics in telecommunications. Kao commonly referred to as the Father of Fiber Optics.
  • Charles Kuen Kao was born November 4, 1933 in Shanghai, China.
  • He studied Chinese classics at home with his brother, under a tutor.
  • He also studied English and French at the Shanghai World School.
  • Kao’s family moved to Hong Kong in 1948 where he completed his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College in 1952.
  • He did his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering at Woolwich Polytechnic, obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree in 1957.
  • He then pursued research and received his PhD degree in electrical engineering in 1965 from University College London, while working at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) in Harlow, England.
  • In 1963, Kao was appointed head of the electro-optics research group at STL.
  • His research first theorized and proposed to use glass fibers to implement optical communication, becoming the basis of today’s optical fiber communications.
  • Kao concluded that the fundamental limitation for glass light attenuation is below 20 dB/km and that losses were caused by impurities in the glass.
  • Kao proposed the use of high purity of fused silica (SiO2) for optical communication.
  • The results were first presented by Kao to the IEE in January 1966 in London, and further published in July with George Hockham.
  • At the time of this determination, optical fibers commonly exhibited light loss as high as 1,000 dB/km and even more.
  • Kao was also a strong advocate for single mode fibers for long-distance optical communication, instead of using multi-mode systems.
  • In spring 1966, Kao traveled to the U.S. but failed to interest Bell Labs, which was a competitor of STL in communication technology at that time.
  • Kao visited many glass and polymer factories, and discussed techniques and improvement of glass fiber manufacture. He focused on high purity fiber fabrication.
  • In 1969, Kao with M.W. Jones measured the intrinsic loss of bulk-fused silica at 4 dB/km. Bell Labs started considering fiber optics seriously.
  • Kao has published more than 100 papers and was granted over 30 patents.
  • He predicted in 1983 that world’s seas would be littered with fiber optics, five years ahead of the time that such a trans-oceanic fiber-optic cable first became serviceable.
  • Kao joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 1970, to found the Department of Electronics.
  • In 1974, he returned to ITT Corporation in 1974 (the parent corporation of STC at that time) in the United States and worked in Roanoke, Virginia.
  • In 1982, he became the first ITT Executive Scientist and was stationed mainly at the Advanced Technology Center in Connecticut.
  • In 1986, Kao was appointed the Corporate Director of Research at ITT.
  • Kao became Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1987 until retirement in 1996. He has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease since early 2004
  • Pottery making, a traditional Chinese handiwork, is a one of his hobbies.
  • On October 6, 2009, Kao was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the study of the transmission of light in optical fibers and for fiber communication.
  • Kao died September 23, 2018 at age 84 in Hong Kong.

Observations from the Bunker

  • Fiber optical communications have transformed the telecommunication industry.
  • Over many years of consistent reliability, fiber optics have become the predominant choice for Ethernet backbone infrastructure, high-speed internet services, and general data networking.
  • Due to its massive throughput capabilities, fiber optic can support bandwidth-intensive devices with no issue.
  • The following four benefits, however, surely outweigh the costs of installation.
    • Secure Communication — Fiber optic cabling is considered one of the most secure means of communication. The construction of the cabling makes interception of the transmission signaling extremely difficult. Any attempts to penetrate the glass cable will cause “light leakage” which in turn will cause noticeable degradation in communications.
    • Electromagnetic Compatibility — Fiber optic cabling is resistant to many of the outside forces that degrade copper cabling. In areas such as industrial facilities where large motors, controllers, and air conditioners are constantly starting and stopping, fiber optic cabling is highly recommended. Electrometric interference and radio-frequency interference (EM/RFI) from the equipment can cause data loss increasing latency on packet streams as they traverse the network.
    • Speed — Fiber-optic cabling is many times faster than traditional copper cabling. The small diameter glass fibers can support bandwidth speeds in-excess of 10-gigabit speeds per strand. While copper cabling can support these speeds, it would take multitudes of large diameter category 6 cables aggregated together to reach the speeds of one fiber strand.
    • Distance — Fiber cable is the ideal means for long-distance, point-to-point hardline communications. The 328ft limit on traditional copper cabling restricts long-distance communication requiring the need of additional equipment to extend the signal. Towards the maximum reach of copper cables, attenuation will start to set in causing a slight reduction of speeds on gigabit transmissions. Fiber cables are far superior and less expensive for long-distance connectivity with the ability to achieve over 10 gigabytes of speed at over 40 km in length.

Trivia of the Week: First Ransomware Masqueraded As Medical Survey

  • Ransomware is a type of malware. The setup for ransomware is pretty straightforward: after the payload executes on a computer, the contents of the computer are encrypted or the computer is locked down until the victim, held for ransom, pays up.
  • Today, ransomware is incredibly sophisticated, and before the victim even realizes their entire computer hard drive can be encrypted in such a fashion, their only options are to pay up to get the decryption key or write all their data off as a loss (with, hopefully, some offline backups to restore their machine from).
  • The first known example of ransomware, however, was not nearly so sophisticated. In 1989, evolutionary biologist Dr. Joseph Popp wrote a simple Trojan disguised as a tool for learning about the AIDS epidemic and taking a medical survey to assess your risk.
  • If you’re wondering why exactly a biologist (and an esteemed one at that) was moonlighting as a black hat hacker and writing malware, Dr. Popp had, leading up to his computer hijinks, a mental breakdown that left him behaving very erratically—he claimed that the motivation for creating the program was to raise money for AIDS research.
  • The program was originally distributed to a mailing list that Dr. Popp belonged to, but also ended up on one of those free software disks that used to come with many popular computer magazines and thousands of people were affected by it.
  • After you ran the program and took the interactive survey about AIDS, it waited for you to reboot your computer 90 times and then it rewrote the names of all the files on your computer (but did not encrypt them).
  • Despite the infection, however, victims did not have to pay up, although many of them did pay the $189 Popp demanded. The malware was so poorly designed that not only was your data not encrypted, you could, albeit laboriously, simply rename all your files to undo the damage.
  • A proof-of-concept ransomware that utilized more robust encryption didn’t appear until the 1990s, when computer researchers Adam Young and Moti Yung created the first ransomware that used public key cryptography (so it was not possible for the victim to reverse engineer the code and decrypt their computer). Despite the proof-of-concept, however, such ransomware did not become common until the mid-2000s.

 

 

The Future of Cryptocurrency Is Being Decided in Congress

  • Two competing amendments to the Senate’s infrastructure bill may shape the future of cryptocurrency in the United States.
  • One proposal wants to exempt miners, hardware manufacturers, and developers, putting the focus on centralized cryptocurrency exchanges and trading apps.
  • But the Biden administration has thrown its weight behind another amendment that would grant exemption only to those behind so-called proof-of-work cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but not other networks said to be more environmentally friendly because they don’t consume as much electricity to validate transactions.
  • The infrastructure bill, which promises public spending on major projects like new roads and bridge repairs, would not appear to have anything to do with cryptocurrency.
  • But the Congress figured that “crypto brokers” could be squeezed for $28 billion in taxes over a decade to foot part of the bill. The proposal immediately caused a furor, with crypto influencers prompting their followers to call their senators and industry stakeholders applying pressure.
  • The definition of brokers in the original bill — any person who (for consideration) is responsible for regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets on behalf of another person — was so broad that it meant pretty much anyone that makes a cryptocurrency tick — node operators, miners, validators, or services that stake digital assets — would have to report to the I.R.S. the information on their “customers.”
  • Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are designed to be non-custodial and pseudonymous, so that requirement would be nearly impossible to satisfy for much of the industry, Olya Veramchuk, director of tax solutions at blockchain firm Lukka, told Motherboard.
  • On Wednesday, three senators put forward an amendment to narrow the definition of a crypto broker down to those who are custodial and actually hold information on their customers, such as cryptocurrency exchanges like Coinbase or trading apps like Robinhood, granting exemption to everyone else.
  • But an amendment proposed by Senators Rob Portman (R. Oh) and Mark Warner (D., Va) on Thursday, favored by the Biden administration, grants an exemption from the tax reporting obligation to only a segment of the crypto industry, resting on a major technical difference in blockchain design between proof-of-network and proof-of-stake.
  • The vote on rival amendments is expected to take place on Saturday.
  • A proof-of-work model is when a network, such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin, requires miners to take care of the task of validating transactions using huge amounts of electricity for a reward in the form of newly-minted coins. “
  • Others, like Polkadot and Cardano, require ‘staking’ (hence, proof-of-stake) — which is a process of pledging funds to the network and getting semi-randomly called to validate transactions. Validators are rewarded with newly-minted coins.”

NSO’s Pegasus Spyware Update

  • Pegasus is spyware developed by a private contractor for use by government agencies.
  • The Pegasus spyware can steal private data from a phone, sending a target’s messages, passwords, contacts, photos, and more to whoever initiated the surveillance.
  • It can reportedly even turn on the phone’s cameras or microphones to create covert recordings.
  • Recent versions of it have reportedly been able to do this without having to get the user to do anything — a link is sent to their phone, without a notification, and Pegasus starts collecting information.
  • In other cases, Pegasus has reportedly relied on users to click phishing links that then deliver the Pegasus payload.
  • Pegasus’ developer, an Israeli company called NSO Group, says that the software can’t be traced back to the government using it.
  • The company describes the role of its products on its website as helping government intelligence and law-enforcement agencies use technology to meet the challenges of encryption during terrorism and criminal investigations.
  • The company told The Washington Post that it works only with government agencies, and that it will cut off an agency’s access to Pegasus if it finds evidence of abuse.
  • Much of the reporting centers around a list containing 50,000 phone numbers, the purpose of which is unclear.
  • The Pegasus Project analyzed the numbers on the list and linked over 1,000 of them to their owners.
  • NSO says the list has nothing to do with its business, and claims it’s from a simple database of cellular numbers that’s a feature of the global cellular network.
  • A statement from an Amnesty International spokesperson says that the list indicates numbers that were marked as “of interest” to NSO’s various clients.
  • The Washington Post reports that some of the phones analyzed were targeted shortly after they were added to the list. In some cases, only a few seconds separate timestamps that indicate when the phone number was added to the list and incidents of Pegasus attacks on the phones.
  • According to an analysis done by the Post and other Pegasus Project members, the current presidents of France, Iraq, and South Africa were included, along with the current prime ministers of Pakistan, Egypt, and Morocco, seven former prime ministers, and the king of Morocco.
  • Also on the list were two women close to Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was murdered in 2018.