Show of 08-11-2018

Tech Talk

August 11, 2018

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Stu in Kilmarnock: Dear Doc and Jim. I would like to buy a satellite phone for use on my boat in the case of emergency. What are some good options? Love the podcast. Stu in Kilmarnock, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Not all satellite phones have the same coverage area.
    • Inmarsat — Inmarsat satellite phones work best between 50° North and South latitude due to their 3 satellites being positioned over the equator. The farther from the equator you are, the more your Inmarsat phone’s signal will rely on a clear line of sight to the horizon. This is a good option for most sailors.
    • Iridium — Iridium is also the only network (with 66 satellites) that offers global coverage including the poles. This is an option if are near the poles.
    • Globalstar — Globalstar is mostly limited to North America with a network of 40 LEO satellites.
  • Iridium’s Extreme 9575 rugged satellite phone has an integrated GPS, an SOS button, and works anywhere on the globe, including polar areas. The 9575 has integrated GPS and an SOS button and lets you send and receive text messages and email, receive voicemail, and use it as a mobile hotspot. Maximum data speed is only 2.4 kbps, so short messages work best. Talk time per battery charge is up to 4 hours. All Iridium phones have the same service rates. The Iridium Monthly Wave Runner Plan, for example, provides 90 minutes a month for $100. Extra minutes cost $1.54 each. It costs $1,157.00 from Amazon.
  • Inmarsat’s Isatphone 2 is a rugged, splash-resistant satellite phone great for marine use that works worldwide except for the polar regions. Built for marine life, the IsatPhone 2 is dust, shock, and splash resistant, and withstands 95 percent humidity. Battery life provides eight hours of talk time with 160 hours standby. The phone also has voicemail, SMS, and email messaging. A built-in GPS and emergency button sends a distress text to a pre-arranged number with your location. Inmarsat’s IsatPhone Mid Plan costs $65 a month for 30 minutes, with extra minutes costing $1.05. It costs $634.00 from Amazon.
  • Globalstar’s GSP-1700 low-priced, regional coverage satellite phone has great voice quality and low operating costs. If you’re traveling or staying within one of the Globalstar regional coverage areas, much but not all of the world, the Globalstar GSP-1700 is a good option. The GSP-1700 doesn’t send or receive SMS messages and there’s no GPS, but you can get your longitude and latitude directly from the phone while in talk mode. Because Globalstar phones link with cell ground stations, they have far and away the clearest voice quality. The Globalstar phone also has voicemail. The Globalstar Orbit 200 minute plan provides 200 minutes for $100, with extra minutes for $0.99 each. It cost $499.00 from Amazon.
  • Email from Jim in the Studio: Dear Doc. I am setting up a payment system on my phone. Which is better to use, Paypal or Venmo? Both have interesting, but different, features. Jim in the studio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: PayPal is the long-standing, trusted payment service that created the digital wallet category. Venmo, the new digital wallet, has become so popular among Millennials that the verb “to Venmo” has been coined. Paypal went public in 2002. Venmo was created in 2012 and acquired by Paypal in 2013.
  • Venmo is part digital wallet, part social media feed. The app asks for comments on every transaction and these comments are posted, newsfeed-style, for friends to browse. Venmo’s website even explicitly states that the service is “designed for payments between friends and people who trust each other.
  • PayPal has diversified into other financial products and is beginning to resemble a bank more than a payment app. Venmo, on the other hand, is really good at what it does. It replaces cash when you owe a friend money.
  • Venmo is free to use. Credit card payments are subject to the 3% transaction fee that the card company charges, but debit card payments and transfers from a user’s balance cost nothing. PayPal charges 2.9% + $0.30 for payments from debit and credit cards but offer free transfers from PayPal balances.
  • Email from Betty in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Jim. I am retired and need a low cost mobile phone to stay connected. Most of the plans are beyond my budget. I rarely use my phone. Mostly it gives me connectivity when the electricity goes out in the house. What are my best options? Betty in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: Unlimited high-speed data, video streaming and mobile hot spot are now standard for most cell phone plans. Seniors, however, don’t need all of those expensive extras. Here are two low cost plans that may work for you.
    • T-Mobile: For just $3 per month, you can use any combination of 30 minutes or 30 text messages. Phone prices start at around $60, but if you have a compatible device, you can use it rather than buying a new one. You will, however, need to pay for a $20 SIM Starter Kit fee, whether you bring your own phone or buy a new one.
    • AT&T: The company charges the $2 fee only if you place or receive a call or send a text on that day. That fee is deducted from the prepaid balance on your account. Unused balances may expire if you don’t refill your account, so be mindful about topping up.
  • I would get an old phone from one of your children. Both T-Mobile and AT&T are GSM. This will save you the initial cost of a new phone.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Doc and Jim. I am going on a trip to Europe and Asia. I would like to take my cell phone along. How should I prepare for this trip? Love the show. Jim in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: You will need a GSM phone when travelling. Most phone support that technology (even Verizon supports both CDMA and GSM on its phones). Make certain that your phone is unlocked (will accept any SIM), if you want to get a local number. Activate Wi-Fi calling with your carrier so you can have cell like service whenever you are connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
  • Use VPNs (virtual private networks) to give you a secure connection on public Wi-Fi. These networks are frequently hacked, especially a high end hotel that have VIP guests. I use ExpressVPN on my phone and am quite satisfied. It is around$100 per year. However, you can get a monthly subscription.
  • Install your favorite VoIP messaging app. I use Viber and WhatsApp. I still have Skype, but do not use much anymore. Many use Facebook messenger, but not me.
  • Bring an adapter. Don’t use USB charging stations. They can be modified to steal data from your device. Be sure to also pick up a universal adapter or one that’s specific to where you’re traveling.
  • Get an international calling plan, if you don’t plan to get a local SIM card. I like the Verizon or AT&T $10 a day plan (only billed if you use your phone that day). If you plan to use only Wi-Fi, make certain to turn off data roaming or your emails will cost you dearly. Notify your carrier of your travel plans, including the countries where you will be travelling (some have to authorize the phone connection in those countries).

Profiles in IT: Richard L. Adams, Jr.

  • Richard L. “Rick” Adams, Jr. is best known as founder of UUNET, which was the world’s largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the 1990s.
  • He obtained a master’s degree in computer science from Purdue University.
  • After graduation, Adams worked as a programmer for SAIC in San Diego, CA.
  • In 1982, he accepted a position as a data-gathering specialist with the Center for Seismic Studies in VA to develop technology for nuclear testing violation detection.
  • It was there that Adams first encountered ARPAnet, precursor to the Internet.
  • He ran the first international UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy) e-mail link at the machine seismo, which evolved into UUNET. He maintained a Usenet News transport.
  • In 1984 Adams created SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol) for dialup connections.
  • Adams began toying with the idea of creating a nonprofit enterprise to offer moderately priced access to the APRANet.
  • He presented his plan to the Usenix Association, a Unix software users group to which he belonged, and secured $250,000 in funding.
  • In 1987 Adams formally established UUNET, offering services only to research institutes and universities.
  • In 1989, he moved UUNet to his home, and the following year he turned it into a for-profit operation as UUNet Technologies. The for-profit company bought the assets of the nonprofit, repaying it with a share of the profits over the years. The nonprofit supported many UNIX-related causes, such as the Internet Software Consortium.
  • The launch of AlterNet in 1990 marked UUNET’s first foray into commercial service.
  • A few years later when it landed the contract to carry Internet traffic for the Microsoft Network, beating out competitors like AT&T Corp. and MCI Communications Corp.
  • Adams took UUNET Technologies public in 1995 and a year later agreed to a $2 billion buyout offer from MFS Communications. He owned 15% ($300M).
  • Adams left UUNET after transitioning leadership of the company to John Sidgmore. Adams other ventures, including the 2941 restaurant in Falls Church, VA.
  • In 1996, Worldcom purchased MFS Communications for $14 billion.
  • As a subsidiary of WorldCom, UUnet remained one of the largest ISPs in the world.
  • Its Internet backbone, carried more than 2,500 points of presence globally.
  • It also offered VPN, web hosting, security and e-commerce services to 70,000 clients.
  • In 2004, Worldcom declared bankruptcy and merged with MCI.
  • In 2006, Verizon purchases MCI and UUNET become Verizon Business.
  • Adams co-authored A Directory of Electronic Mail Addressing & Networks and RFC 1036, the Standard for Interchange of USENET Messages.
  • As of 2012, he resided in Northern Virginia with his wife Donnalyn and two sons.

Going to the Bird: Electric Scooter Backlash Has Started

  • Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists may be pouring billions into electric-scooter startups, but companies like Bird, Lime, and Spin are already facing backlash.
  • The electric-scooter startup model involves dropping hundreds of dockless scooters into a city and then hoping people will use them. Despite the startups’ racking up huge valuations, that approach hasn’t always been successful.
    • Bird pulled out of Louisville, Kentucky, a day after launching because it put scooters into the city without first asking officials.
    • Nashville earlier this year filed a cease-and-desist letter, saying Bird users were abandoning scooters by the sidewalks.
    • San Francisco was forced to issue permits to a handful of scooter companies to clamp down on the increasing numbers of scooters clogging up the city streets.
  • Bird scooters have been dropped into 30 US cities, including DC and Baltimore.
  • To ride a Bird Scooter, download the app, set up an account, locate a Bird, and go. It costs a flat fee of $1 to ride the scooter plus 15 cents per minute used. The scooters go up to 15 mph and they can travel about 15 miles on a single charge.
  • You can earn money as a charger ($5 to catch, charge, and release a Bird). It takes about 7 cents of electricity to charge a Bird. Charges can make $100 per night, if they care for 20 Birds.

Perseid Meteor Shower This Weekend

  • The Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 11 and 12, 2018).
  • This year’s show is expected to be especially good because the moon will be a thin crescent and will set early, leaving a dark night sky.
  • There should be as many as 60 to 70 meteors per hour during its peak.
  • The Perseids Meteor shower is caused by the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which comes close to Earth during its 133-year journey around the sun. When it last passed by in 1992, this comet left a trail of stony grit.
  • Every summer, Earth moves through this thick trail, allowing some of the comet’s debris to enter and burn up in our planet’s atmosphere. As the space rocks burn, they create a bright streak of light known as meteors, or shooting stars.
  • The Perseids are so called because the point from which they appear to originate lies in the constellation Perseus.
  • Our planet will move through the densest and dustiest part of the trail this weekend.
  • While the Perseid meteor shower will be visible on Saturday night, the best show comes on Sunday, with peak shooting star activity happening the Sunday night.
  • The best time to see the Perseids is after 2 a.m. local time, when the Perseus constellation is high in the sky.

Idea of the Week: Drones as Flying Sheepdogs

  • A new algorithm could allow drones to reduce collisions between birds and planes
  • Collisions between planes and birds create all sorts of problems. They mostly strike the aircraft in the engine or windows of the cockpit.
  • In the UK alone, there were 1,835 confirmed bird strikes in 2016. In North America, bird strikes cost airlines an estimated US$500 million a year.
  • Scientists at Imperial College London, together with researchers from Caltech and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, may have a better way.
  • The effort began with mathematical modeling of the way flocks of birds behave. This involved the dynamics of how the flocks behave when threatened.
  • Based on this modeling, the team then built a herding algorithm that programs flight paths for a drone, specifically laid out to drive birds away from a designated airspace.
  • The algorithm was tested flocks of loons and egrets, with the drone carrying out a series of maneuvers around the flock to push them away from protected airspace.
  • The team found the approach worked well, successfully shepherding flocks of different sizes away as desired.
  • The next steps involve looking at how multiple drones can both be used to shepherd larger flocks, and multiple flocks at the same time.

US-CERT Warns of Cyber Threat from North Korea

  • The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has issued a fresh warning that a new piece of malware believed to be created by North Korean government actors is on the loose on networks around the world.
  • Known as KEYMARBLE, the malware is a Remote Access Trojan (RAT), US-CERT said and cautioned users against opening attachments in emails, even when the sender appears to be known.
  • The RAT is a 32-bit Windows executable that can access device configuration data, download further files, run commands, modify the Windows Registry configuration and settings database, take screenshots and transmit data.
  • US-CERT believes KEYMARBLE is disseminated by a North Korean hacking group called Hidden Cobra, and could be linked to other government-sponsored malware.
  • Intezer and McAfee say they have been able to link multiple North Korean hacking groups through significant code reuse in the malware utilized by them for attacks.
  • This includes the infamous WannaCry destructive malware, that used the same Windows Server Message Block (SMB). This malware has been attributed to North Korean hacking group Lazarus. The Lazarus group has reused the SMB module from at least 2009 to 2017.

Building an Internet for Space Communication

  • Audacy is on a mission to provide the first commercial space-based data relay system and has claimed the network should be fully operational by 2020.
  • The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized a crucial license to the firm earlier this month.
  • The network will use two ground stations in San Francisco and Singapore to communicate with three linked Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites that are scheduled to launch in 2019.
  • At present, most commercial satellites sit in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and connect directly with one tower situated on the ground, only carrying information for one client at a time.
  • Audacity’s plan is to network three satellites further away from Earth so that the LEO satellites will communicate “up” to. This, in turn, will allow contact and data transfer to be maintained with Earth at all times.
  • More than 20,000 satellites are forecast to enter service in the next five years and Ewig said that everyone was currently fighting to secure dedicated radio spectrum in order to transmit data to and from Earth.
  • The idea is to build something in space that allows multiple people to use it simultaneously in an efficient way
  • The development is priced at $300 million and investment has been sourced from a mix of equity investment, project financing and customer deposits for future services.
  • Prior to the launch of the three main satellites in 2019, Audacy is to launch two test satellites. The first, Audacy Zero, will leave on a Space X mission in the next few weeks and will be used to test radio spectrum and communication with ground stations.
  • The second, Audacy Lynq, will be installed on the International Space Station (ISS) to give commercial firms the use of up to 100 MBps (megabytes per second) of send and receive data to carry out experiments in space.

Voting Machine Hacs Explored at Black Hat Conference

  • The Black Hat Conference came to Las Vegas this week. Security researchers from around the world presented findings that demonstrated lack of cyberprotection across a broad spectrum of industrial and consumer products.
  • On Thursday, Carsten Schuermann, associate professor at IT University of Copenhagen, offered his forensic analysis of eight decommissioned WINVote machines used in a number of state elections for over a decade.
  • He found machines with open ports using a 2002 version of Windows XP that had not been updated, along with system drives accessible using the password “abcde.”
  • He also discovered downloaded MP3 files playing Chinese songs on one machine and more than sixty files modified during a one-hour period on another.
  • Schürmann penetrated the machines via its Wi-Fi system, using a Windows XP exploit from 2003, meaning that any time the machine was in use, it would have been vulnerable to remote access.
  • You can imagine someone driving around with a laptop from polling place to polling place and changing votes on these machines, with no paper trail.
  • Both voting machines were used for gubernatorial elections in Virginia. At one point, there were 4,000 WINVote machines installed in states across the country.