Show of 03-22-2014

Tech Talk

March 22, 2014

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Feroze in Fredericksburg: Dear Tech Talk, I just got a Windows 8 laptop and don’t like it. I loved the Windows 7 interface? Should I downgrade to Windows 7? What are my options? Love the show. Feroze in Fredericksburg
  • Tech Talk Responds: I would not downgrade. In all probability you new laptop has a touch screen. Windows 8 is designed for a touch screen and Windows 7 is not.
  • Your fix is easy. Install Classic Shell or any of the other Start menu replacements; there are quite a few of them. It will make your desktop Windows 8 look and act pretty much like Windows 7, and it’s a lot easier than the downgrading. Plus, if you downgrade, you will have to buy a retail version of Windows 7. If it is a company machine, they may be able to assign a Windows 7 key to you and reassign the Windows 8 key to someone else.
  • Email from Jason in Alexandria: Dear Tech Talk. I just installed Linux on my laptop. I am using VMWare so that I can still boot in Windows. I installed Linux to practice using this OS. However, I am having trouble finding Linux print drivers for my printer. My vendor only has Windows and Mac print drivers on their site. What are my options? Jason in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: This is the Achilles heel of Linux: lack of hardware support. But it is getting better each year. Linux is actually a good operating system, but is not as complete as Windows. The problem here is that drivers need to be written or at least heavily modified for Linux specifically. That means either someone in the Linux open source community needs to write one or the hardware vendor needs to do it. The good news is that there are many drivers available.
  • Linux has many distributions. Some drivers will work with many distributions; some don’t. There are so many distributions that you might not find your distribution listed in those supported, even though it might actually work.
  • The hardware vendors don’t see Linux as a marketplace that’s big enough to justify their expense. But look at your vendors sites. Sometimes those drivers aren’t placed in the box with the printer, but they are made available as a download. Give the printer manufacturer’s support site a try. Every once in a while you can get lucky and find someone who cares.
  • Visit the product support forum for that particular Linux distribution and ask if anyone there knows. You’ll probably get the most knowledgeable response from those types of Linux forums, perhaps even with information about different drivers that somebody may have found to work.
  • Email from Peter in Washington DC: Dear Tech Talk. I have a problem with the Ask Tool Bar showing up in my Chrome browser unannounced. The Ask Tool Bar is not visible in Add/Remove programs. I’ve tried many patches to get rid of it and in fact it’s not visible anywhere except in Chrome. I’ve uninstalled Chrome many times but when I reinstall it, it just comes back. Can you please help me get rid of it? Thank Peter in Washington DC.
  • Tech Talk Responds: One of the unique things about Chrome is that it lets you log in to your Google account. The purpose of that function is to allow Chrome to synchronize things like your bookmarks, your settings and more across multiple computers. By synchronize, I mean that all of the other copies of Chrome that you might run on different PCs or different devices that you’ve logged in with will have the same settings, bookmarks and so on. Add-ons are one of the things that Chrome synchronizes.
  • I would hope that going into Settings –> Extensions in Chrome on any one of your devices and removing that toolbar would remove it from all of your Chrome instances. However, just the opposite could be true: you remove the extension from a synchronized Chrome; and shortly thereafter, it reappears. And it’s the same for reinstalling. You reinstall Chrome, you login, it synchronizes, and that add-on is back.
  • Don’t login to your Google account in Chrome. Log out if you’re already in there; go back to the settings menu and select “Disconnect your Google Account…”. Uninstall the add-in, plug-in or whatever it is you’re trying to get rid of. Or if you like, reinstall Chrome from scratch. But do not let it automatically login to your Google account. Make sure that it stays not logged in. Now, repeat that process for every machine. Visit each one and disconnect from your Google account. Uninstall whatever it is you’re trying to uninstall and then move on to the next machine that has your Google account. Once all of your copies of Chrome have been cleaned, then is it safe to start logging into Google again.

Profiles in IT: Tim Berners-Lee

  • Inventor of the World Wide Web and the Browser
  • Tim Berners-Lee was born in London, England, the son of Conway Berners-Lee and Mary Lee Woods.
  • His parents, both mathematicians, were employed together on the team that built the Manchester Mark I, one of the earliest computers.
  • During his time at university, he was caught hacking with a friend and was subsequently banned from using the university computer.
  • He graduated in 1976 with a degree in physics.
  • While an independent contractor at CERN from June to December 1980, Berners-Lee proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. He called this application Enquire.
  • In 1989, CERN was the largest Internet node in Europe, and Berners-Lee saw an opportunity to join hypertext with the Internet: “I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas to create the World Wide Web.
  • He used similar ideas to those underlying the Enquire system, a previous system he developed in the early 80s, to create the World Wide Web, for which he designed and built the first web browser and editor (called WorldWideWeb) and the first Web server called httpd (short for HyperText Transfer Protocol daemon).
    • The basic idea of WWW was to merge the technologies of personal computers, computer networking and hypertext into a powerful and easy to use global information system.
    • With electronic documents, these cross-references can be followed by a mouse-click, and with the World-Wide Web, they can be anywhere in the world.
    • There is no need to know where the information is stored, and no need to know any detail on how it is formatted or organized.
    • “Wandering from one document (webpage) to another” is called browsing. Some people do this just for fun, following links just to see what’s there. This is usually called “surfing the Web”.
  • The first Web site built was at CERN and was first put online on 6 August 1991.
  • It provided an explanation about what the World Wide Web was, how one could own a browser and how to set up a Web server. It was also the world’s first Web directory, since Berners-Lee maintained a list of other Web sites apart from his own.
  • In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It comprised various companies that were willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web.
  • In December 2004 he accepted a chair in Computer Science at the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK, to work on his new project — the Semantic Web.[8]
  • Berners-Lee made his idea available freely, with no patent and no royalties due.
  • The World Wide Web Consortium decided that their standards must be based on royalty-free technology, so they can be easily adopted by anyone

Website of the Week: WabiSabiLabi

  • Web Address:
  • Suggested by Arnie, a loyal listener
  • A place to auction newly found security flaws (bugs) to the highest bidder.
  • The independent auction house, called WabiSabiLabi, aims to staunch the flow of vulnerabilities to the underground by giving security researchers a legitimate marketplace for what they find.
  • Once a vulnerability is reported, WSLabi will confirm it is real and that it can be exploited. After this it will be placed on the auction site where it can be sold to the highest bidder or sold to just one firm.
  • The first vulnerabilities posted to WSLabi are selling for between 500 (£340) and 2000 (£1,350) euros.
  • Four items are currently being auctioned. Two have bids (2,600 euros and 2,000 euros).
  • * Other places to sell security bugs
    • iDefense and Tipping Point, run schemes that give cash rewards to security researchers who find serious loopholes in widely used software.
    • The Mozilla Foundation, which oversees development of the Firefox browser amongst other things, gives a t-shirt and a $500 (£250) bug bounty to anyone finding a critical vulnerability in its software.

Geek Pride On the Rise

  • Nerdcore rappers invade New York City last weekend.
  • On a steaming Saturday, a horn-rimmed posse of software engineers, computer programmers and support technicians was grooving at a most unlikely spot — a fierce underground music venue here.
  • The act: MC Chris — king of the burgeoning world of “nerdcore rap”
    • “Sometimes I rhyme fast, sometimes I drink Quik.
    • If this was a gym class, I’d be the last picked.”
  • Also dubbed “nerdcore,” this branch of hip-hop is for geeks, by geeks.
  • In recent months, the field has seen a growing number of releases from computer science labs, where egocentric grad students show off their Ph.D. credentials in tracks like “Have to Code” and “End of File.”
  • Rather than guns and ‘hos, they speak about DDOS attacks and camgirls.”
  • The self-proclaimed “#1 greatest computer science gangsta rapper ever” is MC Plus+, a geeksta leading light whose moniker comes from the C++ programming language.
  • The Purdue University, Indiana, Ph.D. candidate and “CS pimp,” whose album Algorhythms was recorded with pirated software, calls himself “the Tupac of the computer science world.”
    • “I’m encrypting shit like every single day
    • Sending it across a network in a safe way
    • Protecting messages to make my pay
    • If you hack me you’re guilty under DMCA.”

US Phone Companies Explore IP Addressing

  • The FCC is now encouraging phone networks to explore what would happen if VoIP replaced everything else.
  •  In other words, how would the system cope if the only phone numbers were Internet Protocol addresses; if even emergency calls were transmitted over the web; and if remote rural communities became dependent on VoIP, with no other type of network as a backup?
  • Companies that want to participate in the experiment have until late February to submit their ideas, with approvals expected to be granted as early as March — but don’t fear, the tests will only be permitted in “discrete geographic areas or situations.
  • The phone would become the next item in the Internet of things. This is a very logical progression, since most called at VoIP in the backbone anyway.

Tech Trends for 2014

  • In 2014 we will see the acceleration of a redefined role for corporate IT. Business has new alternatives, enabled by ever expanding public cloud and SaaS providers which continues to raise the bar for internal IT.
  • Many IT departments have reaped tremendous benefits from service virtualization and the next wave will extend those capabilities to software-defined storage and the software-defined network. 
  • Developing Valuable Big Data Lakes
    • Business leaders, disappointed by the lack of business-relevant progress from IT, will assume more responsibility for Big Data initiatives.  CIOs will respond by embracing the development of new data architectures that bring together silos of data into a single data lake.  Simply queries into that data lake will begin to unlock the value of Big Data for the enterprise.
    • CIOs will also apply similar technology to infrastructure and data center operations to gain new predictive analytics and a quantifiable lens into how organizations are developing, deploying, and managing IT services.
    • To make those data insights impact business in real time, we will see the development of a new class of applications that leverage Big Data in real time, developed with Agile development methodologies and very rapid release cycles.
  • Movement to the Cloud
    • The market will begin to formally dismiss issues which impede the “rent v. buy” decision around data protection. Risk management, legal and compliance requirements will start acting as the primary reason to move to XaaS.
    • We will see the beginning of security structures which manage the risk of distributed data. The architecture will place the security discussion closer to senior leadership.
    • Continuous availability will be expected. Low cost storage will allow sufficient data redundancy for secure storage.

RECAP: Tech Talk Listener’s Dinner

  •  Jim Russ talks to Stratford University’s Jordan Lichman about the recent Tech Talk Listener’s Dinner held at the Falls Church Campus.
  • Jordan discusses the Culinary Arts Program at Stratford and how you can get involved.

Profile of a Teenage RATTER

  • Based on a article in
  • A malicious virus known as Remote Administration Tools (RATs) can be used by hackers to switch on your webcam and control the machine without your knowledge.
  • Someone who uses it is a RATTER.
  • Alex couldn’t believe his eyes. The virtual currency he’d worked so hard to earn in the online role-playing game Runescape had vanished. He’d lost the equivalent of $700. All that remained was an instant message dialogue box: “Haha, you got RATted!”
  • He didn’t know at the time that his machine had been compromised by a Remote Administration Tool (RAT), an aggressive form of malware that allows hackers to access a victim’s entire computer. It was too late. The thief had disappeared.
  • After researching RATs and spending an entire day spreading an innocuous link using Runescape’s in-game chat function, in the hope that someone would visit the page and run the Javascript application embedded within, Alex had his mark.
  • Within a few clicks, the teenager had access to a stranger’s entire computer. His victim didn’t have a webcam, so Alex wasn’t sure of their gender or their appearance, although he assumes they were male. But he knew that they played Runescape, so he got straight to work on what mattered: looting their gold.
  • After emptying the stranger’s account, the teenager watched, intrigued, as his mark realized that he’d been hacked, and began trying to close the connection.
  • Fifteen minutes later, Alex’s first “slave” – hacker shorthand for a compromised user – had disconnected himself.
  • The RATted had become the RATter. “I felt unstoppable,” says Alex, now 17.
  • A 14-year-old boy motivated by revenge is probably one of the last people you’d want to have unmitigated access to your computer. Especially if you’re female, given that one of the most commonly exploited features of RAT software is the ability to spy on a user’s webcam. Many modern laptops will display a green light when the webcam is in use; however, RAT developers have long since worked out how to disable that tell-tale sign on some computers.
  • Discussion threads in the Remote Administration Tools section of overflow with webcam screenshots.
  • Alex goes by a pseudonym on HackForums. He’s been a particularly active community member over the past 12 months, clocking more than 6000 posts – about 17 a day – while establishing himself as a helpful source of information for those new to RATs.
  • The teenager says he’s never had a job, yet he’s drawn a respectable income from his RAT activities for more than two years. His parents began asking questions when he connected his PayPal to his bank account, and sums of up to $500 at a time would flow in: profit from his Runescape thefts.
  • Federal penalties for these offences range from two to 10 years’ imprisonment; the states and territories also have laws prohibiting the installation and use of surveillance devices, including listening, optical, tracking and data surveillance devices, which may also apply to those caught using RATs for malicious purposes.
  • Using freely available RATs with names such as DarkComet and BlackShades, Alex was able to gain control of up to 1000 computers simultaneously. The dual monitors in his Wauchope bedroom became a window to the world. If he didn’t like them, he would delete the files in their System folder.
  • But those days are behind Alex now. In mid-March, he posted a thread on HackForums saying goodbye to using Remote Administration Tools.

Born In the Egyptian Revolution: CloudPress

  • CloudPress is a year-old startup which has emerged from the chaos of the Egyptian revolution.
  • The three founders of CloudPress – Allen Chen, El-Zohairy and Bobby Mathews – started the company in Egypt early 2013 and were incubated by Flat6Labs, one of the very few tech accelerators in the Middle East and the only one in Cairo.
  • The idea behind CloudPress is pretty clever. It’s a cloud platform designed to easily create and share rich visual content, in particular: visual storybooks, recipes, how-to-guides, buying guides and similar kinds of content.
  • Users achieve this by manipulating an online drag-and-drop editing platform to upload and arrange images, text, and videos, without any coding being necessary.
  • This can pull in imagery and content from Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Embed, Email etc.
  • The published content is then immediately online and available to distribute through social media and email channels. It’s optimized for touch and mobile. Competitors include Ceros and Glossi.
  • Chen, El-Zohairy and Mathews met at the University of Washington in Seattle while doing their undergraduate degrees in computer science.
  • El-Zohairy is a University of Washington graduate, and worked for Adobe Systems with the Adobe InDesign team in Seattle, and for mobile and web startups in Egypt and Canada. As a student, he was selected for one of only 5 scholarships given to Egyptian students to study in the US.
  • Chen is a University of Washington graduate, with 5+ years experience as a software engineer for He led the design and implementation of many of the front-end libraries that Amazon is built on.
  • Mathews is a University of Washington graduate, with 4+ years experience as a software engineer at He developed various frontend and backend components.
  • While El-Zohairy was in grad school in Canada, the Egyptian revolution started rumbling in in 2011. Deciding to get involved, he ended up in Cairo during the uprising and revolution that tore through the country, trying to apply his skills as a technologist to help.
  • After he went back to Egypt, El-Zohairy and Chen (who was in Seattle) started working together on a side project to create a platform for independent authors who want to publish children’s books on multiple tablet platforms.
  • At the end of 2012 they applied to Flat6Labs and Mathews joined them.
  • This month they sold the startup to News Corp for an undisclosed amount.
  • New Corp plans to use the platform to create, delivery, and sell great content.