Show of 06-19-2021

Tech Talk June 19, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Michael in St. Louis: Dear Tech Talk. I use Venmo to transfer funds to my friends. I would like to keep some of these transactions private. Unfortunately, Venmo shows them all. Is there any way that I can change my settings to keep transactions hidden? Michael in St. Louis
  • Tech Talk Responds: I use many money transfer apps (PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, Cash App). Venmo is the least private of them all. Owned by PayPal, Venmo isn’t just an app for sending money, it’s a “social network.” By default, everyone can see your friends list—and all the transactions you send. That makes it a better social network, right? So why would you want to hide your friends list?
  • Fortunately, as of June 2021, Venmo now offers more privacy settings, and you can finally hide your friends list. However, everyone’s friends list is public by default. If you do not change this setting, anyone can see your friends list.
    • Open the Venmo app and head to the home screen. Tap the menu icon in the upper-right corner.
    • Tap “Settings” near the bottom of the menu screen.
    • On the Friends List screen, choose the “Private” option. Make sure that there’s a blue check mark or blue circle beside the “Private” option—this means that the option is selected.
    • You can also decide whether you want to appear on other people’s friends lists. By default, this switch is green, indicating that you will appear on other people’s friends lists.
    • If you don’t want to appear on anyone’s friends list, tap the toggle switch so that the circle is gray and to the left.
  • Email from Jim in Arlington: Dear Doc and Jim. A friend told me that hiding the WiFi network name in his router would prevent his neighbors from finding and connecting to the Internet over his network. I live in an apartment building and I’m pretty sure I have this same problem right now. I’d like to follow his advice but I want to make sure I can connect new devices of my own. Jim in Arlington
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can easily to that. You will just have to enter the network name (your router refers to it as the SSID) manually every time you attempt to connect with a new device. This is no big deal as long as you can remember the name you gave your network. However, I do not think that hiding the name of your network is the best solution to your problem. If someone is piggybacking on your Wi-Fi connection you either have it set up as an open, non-password protected network or your password is so weak that they were able to hack it.
  • While changing the SSID and then hiding it would prevent the average gal or guy from finding your network and connecting to it, a hacker would still be able to be piggybacking off it in minutes because they have access to tools that sniff out hidden networks.
  • I would recommend that you do three things to protect your WiFi network:
    • Enable the strongest encryption method that’s supported by your router. Your router’s user manual should have instructions for doing that.
    • Change your WiFi password (aka WiFi security key) to one that is easy to remember yet extremely difficult to crack. This post will explain how.
    • Use the Fing app on occasion to check to make sure there aren’t any strange devices that logged into your WiFi network.
  • Email from Joey in Ashburn: Dear Tech Talk. I have an older laptop that had Windows on it before the hard drive died. I bought a new Windows 10 machine but I’d like to replace the bad hard drive in the old laptop and experiment with a different operating system. Can I install Chrome OS on my laptop and use it as a Chromebook? I am pretty tech savvy so I should be able to follow instructions and get it installed. Joey in Ashburn, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: That is a great question. However, it depends on your laptop’s brand and model. Chrome OS will work on most recent laptops, but not all of them as there are some hardware devices that aren’t currently supported with working drivers. I would certainly try it. If it does not work, install Linux.
    • Replace your laptop’s bad hard drive with a new solid-state drive (SSD). The smallest one you can find should work fine since Chrome OS stores your user files in the cloud.
    • Use CloudReady, an enhanced version of Chrome OS that is optimized to work with a wide variety of older laptops. Link: https://www.neverware.com/
    • When you’re ready to install CloudReady on your laptop, scroll down and click the orange Get the Free Version button.
    • Follow the instructions provided to build an installer onto a USB flash drive and install CloudReady onto your laptop.
  • Your old laptop should be converted into a fully-functioning Chromebook in just a few minutes.
  • Email from Azra in Fredericksburg: Dear Doc and Jim. I have a USB flash drive with several hundred photos on it that I scanned during a recent visit to my grandmother’s house. These are precious family pictures that will be difficult to replace if something were to happen to them. I was wondering how long I can count on the drive retaining them if I lock it up in my little fireproof safe? Azra in Fredericksburg
  • Tech Talk Responds: Most manufacturers claim their flash drives will retain their contents for at least 10 years, but there are a number of variables that can shorten that time span. If the flash drive was new when you copied the pictures onto it, they should be safe for at least most of those estimated 10 years.
  • However, if those photos are really important to you (and apparently they are), I would back them up onto a second USB drive and give it to another family member or a trusted friend (who doesn’t live in the same house) for safekeeping. And after a few years you can transfer them to a new USB drive. Better yet, you could buy several thumb drives and hand them out to various trusted friends and relatives. After all, they are quite inexpensive these days.
  • A couple of other long-term storage options that I recommend are burning the photos onto blank DVDs and/or uploading them to the cloud via Carbonite or one of the many free online storage services that are available these days.
  • When it comes to safely storing files that you simply cannot afford to lose, it’s wise to always do two things:
    • Store at least one additional backup in another physical location.
    • Keep multiple backup sets (in the form of USB drives, external hard drives, DVD’s or online cloud storage services).
  • Email from Eric in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I am in the process of opening my own third-party remote customer service business. It will be absolutely critical that my office have a working Internet connection at all times with zero downtime (or as close to zero as possible). I’ve decided to go with a business Internet connection from Xfinity as my main Internet connection and also have a second connection from Verizon standing by as a backup connection in case the Xfinity connection stops working. Can I have both ISPs connected to the same router at the same time
  • or will I have to manually switch cables if the Xfinity connection goes down? Eric in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: I recommend in your situation is setting up your network with a dual-WAN router. A dual-WAN router will allow you to connect two high-speed Internet connections to a single router to create a single Wi-Fi and/or wired network.
  • The two Internet connections can operate in one of two modes:
    • Failover Mode – If you set the router to use this mode you would designate the Xfinity connection to be the primary (Active) connection and the Verizon connection to be the backup (Passive) connection.
    • Load Balancing Mode – If you set the router to use this mode both Internet connections will be used at the same time, splitting the traffic between the two connections.
  • I would recommend going with Load Balancing to take advantage of the extra total bandwidth that comes from the use of two separate Internet connections.
  • While both Internet connections are active your Internet traffic will be split between the two connections. If one of the connections goes down, the other connection will keep on working.
  • Synology RT2600ac Router is a great dual WAN router with great reviews. It is $199 on Amazon. BTW, you might consider buying two routers as a backup.

Profiles in IT: Paul T. Buchheit

  • Paul Buchheit is a computer programmer and angel investor, who is best known as a creator of Gmail.
  • Paul Buchheit was born November 7, 1977 in Webster, New York.
  • From a young age had a great affinity to anything computer related. He was one of the brightest students in his class and came up with many innovative ideas to tackle issues related to computer glitches.
  • He received a BS and MS from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he rowed crew.
  • He had started working on email software in 1996, as a small side project. Oddly enough, he was calling it Gmail at the time for some other reason.
  • It just was a random project, not necessarily the predecessor to Gmail, but it was something that he had been thinking about because he had been unhappy with email for a long time.
  • It was before Hotmail and he was in college at the time. If he wanted to check your email, he would have to go back to his dorm room. He wanted to check his email anywhere.
  • Buchheit worked at Intel and later became the 23rd employee at Google.
  • He began developing Gmail in 2001, with its innovations in search and storage.
  • He had worked on Google Groups. After the first generation of Google Groups had mostly wrapped up, he was asked to build some type of email or personalization product. Of course, he was excited to work on that.
  • He started out with some of the Groups code, just because I was familiar with it. He built the first version of Gmail in one day, just using the Groups code, but it only searched his email. He released that to some Googlers and people said it was useful, so it progressed from there.
  • This was when Google was still thought of exclusively as search, so even the idea of doing something like email was strange. At the time, it was a bit controversial.
  • For quite a while, it was just Paul and a couple of other Googlers. They gave everyone a gigabyte of storage to start with. At the time, the standard was around 2 or 4 megabytes.
  • At the time, people were organizing their mail aggressively because they were trying to put the conversations back together. They would put them all in the same folder.
  • There were all these little tools and tricks that people had for reassembling the conversations. The got the idea of group conversations directly within Gmail and the rest is history.
  • He ended up with side projects just because something catches his eye and he would go off and work on it for a little bit. AdSense, the content-targeted ads, was actually something that.
  • It was an idea that many had talked about for a long time, but there was this belief that it would not work. One Friday evening he implemented a content-targeting system, as side-project, not because he was supposed to. It turned out to work.
  • What he wrote was just a throwaway prototype, but it got people thinking because it proved that it was possible, and that it was not too hard because he was able to do it in less than a day. After that, other people took over and did all the hard work of making it into a real product. Adsense now makes millions in revenue each day.
  • In early 2000, and there was a meeting to decide on the company’s values. He wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out. It occurred to him that “Don’t be evil” is kind of funny. The person running the meeting kept trying to push “Don’t be evil” to the bottom of the list. But this other guy, Amit Patel, and I kept kind of forcing them to put it up there. It made it onto the final list. Amit started writing it down all over the building, on whiteboards everywhere. It’s the only value that anyone is aware of, right
  • In 2007, Buchheit decided to start his own company and came up with FriendFeed.
  • FriendFeed was a real-time feed aggregator that consolidated updates from social media and social networking websites, social bookmarking websites, blogs and microblogging updates, as well as any type of RSS/Atom feed.
  • In 2009, FriendFeed was purchased by Facebook in a private transaction worth millions, in which Buchheit became a Facebook employee.
  • From 2006 (when he started investing) until 2008, Buchheit invested about $1.21 million in 32 different companies and he left Facebook to become a full-time angel investor.
  • In 2009, Buchheit set up Google Moderator to crowdsource ideas for the causes (501(c)3 non-profits) should benefit from his financial support.
  • In 2010, Buchheit left Facebook to become a partner at the investment firm Y Combinator.
  • He continues to oversee angel investments of his own in “about 40” startups and is active with Y Combinator.
  • He won the 2011 The Economist Innovation Awards for the Computing and telecommunications field.
  • Buchheit has stated that he believes society has the technology and resources to provide adequate food, housing, education, and healthcare for everyone, using only a fraction of available labor and resources. In his view, this implies it is possible to put an end to wage slavery.
  • His net worth is estimated to be $600M.
  • Paul’s blog: http://paulbuchheit.blogspot.com/

 

 

Observations from the Bunker

  • Google’s Eight Pillars in Innovation
  • The Eight Pillars of Innovation
  • How does a company like Google continue to grow exponentially while still staying innovative? Nurturing a culture that allows for innovation is the key.
  • Have a mission that matters. Work can be more than a job when it stands for something you care about. Google’s mission is to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’
  • Think big but start small. No matter how ambitious the plan, you have to roll up your sleeves and start somewhere. Google Books, which has brought the content of millions of books online, was an idea of Larry Page. People thought it was too crazy even to try, but he went ahead and bought a scanner and hooked it up in his office. He began scanning pages, timed how long it took with a metronome, ran the numbers and realized it would be possible to bring the world’s books online. Today, our Book Search index contains over 10 million books.
  • Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection. The iterative process often teaches invaluable lessons. Watching users ‘in the wild’ as they use products is the best way to find out what works and what to do next.
  • Look for ideas everywhere. Google posted idea boards at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. On a Friday night, an engineer went to the board and wrote down the details of a convoluted problem we had with our ads system. A group of Googlers lacking exciting plans for the evening began re-writing the algorithm within hours and had solved the problem by Tuesday.
  • Share everything — Employees know pretty much everything that’s going on and why decisions are made. Every quarter, Googles shares the entire Board Letter with all 26,000 employees, and shows the same slides presented to the Board of Directors in a company-wide meeting.
  • Spark with imagination, fuel with data. In a fast-evolving market, it’s hard for people to know, or even imagine, what they want. Google encourages blue-sky thinking through ‘20 percent time, a full day a week during which engineers can work on whatever they want. What begins with intuition is fueled by insights.
  • Be a platform – Google believes in in the power of open technologies. They enable anyone, anywhere, to apply their unique skills, perspectives and passions to the creation of new products and features on top of their platforms. This openness helps to move the needle forward for everyone involved.
  • Never fail to fail. Google is known for YouTube, not Google Video Player. The thing is, people remember your hits more than your misses. It’s okay to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes and correct them fast.


 

New FTC Commissioner Wants to Break Up Big Tech

  • The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan.
  • At 32, Khan will become the youngest commissioner ever confirmed to the agency. Her confirmation also signals a bipartisan desire to impose more regulations on Big Tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet and Apple.
  • Khan received the support of several Republicans, including Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who participated in her confirmation hearing.
  • Khan became a well-known figure in antitrust circles after writing “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” for the Yale Law Review in 2017, while a student at the university.
  • The paper made the case for using a different framework for evaluating competitive harm than the popular consumer welfare standard. That standard essentially says that antitrust law violations can be determined based on harm to consumers, which is often measured based on prices.
  • But Khan argued that standard could miss significant competitive harm in the modern economy, such as predatory pricing that lowers consumer prices in the short term but allows a company that can afford it to quickly gain market share.
  • She also argued that both owning and selling on a marketplace, like Amazon does, could allow a business to exploit information across their ecosystem to undercut the competition.

Time Berners-Lee Auctioning NFT of Original Web Source Code

  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee is auctioning his original source code for the web in the form of a “non-fungible token,” as digital collectibles continue to sell for millions.
  • The auction at Sotheby’s will be the first time that Berners-Lee has been able to raise money directly from one of the greatest inventions of the modern era, with the proceeds benefiting initiatives that he and his wife Rosemary support.
  • The idea is somebody might like a digitally signed version of the code, a bit like plenty of people have asked for physically autographed copies of the book.
  • Auctioneers hope that the one-of-a-kind digital artefact will ignite interest in NFTs beyond their mainstay of artworks, games and sports memorabilia.
  • Berners-Lee said the auction was an “opportunity to look back 30 years on from the initial code, which was very, very simple, to the state of the web now, which has some wonderfully simple aspects to it but also has a lot of issues of various sorts.
  • Unlike the founders of Google, Facebook and Amazon, who gained enormous riches through the web, Berners-Lee is no billionaire.
  • The source code behind the world wide web and its first browser, which were conceived and coded by Berners-Lee between 1989 and 1991, was never patented. Instead, it was released into the public domain by CERN, the particle physics laboratory in Switzerland where the British scientist worked at the time.
  • The move enabled widespread uptake of a technology now used by more than 4B people every day.

Ransomware Payments May Be Tax Deductible

  • The IRS offers no formal guidance on ransomware payments, but multiple tax experts said such deductions are allowed under law and established guidance.
  • Many fear the deduction is a potentially problematic incentive that could entice businesses to pay ransoms against the advice of law enforcement.
  • A ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline last month led to gas shortages in parts of the United States.
  • The company, which transports about 45% of fuel consumed on the East Coast, paid a ransom of 75 bitcoin—then valued at roughly $4.4 million.
  • An attack on JBS SA, the world’s largest meat processing company, threatened to disrupt food supplies. The company said it had paid the equivalent of $11 million to hackers who broke into its computer system.
  • Ransomware has become a multibillion-dollar business, and the average payment was more than $310,000 last year, up 171% from 2019, according to Palo Alto Networks.
  • Officials warn that payments lead to more ransomware attacks.

Ransomware Hits a Food Supply Giant

  • Hackers targeting JBS USA have disrupted meat processing facilities around the world.
  • JBS SA is the world’s largest meat processing company, with headquarters in Brazil and more than 250,000 employees worldwide.
  • In a statement on Monday, its American subsidiary, JBS USA, said that “it was the target of an organized cybersecurity attack, affecting some of the servers supporting its North American and Australian IT systems.”
  • The company added that its system backups are intact. In response to the attack, JBS USA took impacted systems offline, notified law enforcement, and began working with an outside incident response firm on remediation.
  • JBS facilities in Australia, the US, and Canada have faced disruptions since the attack was first detected on Sunday.
  • The JBS incident is now rippling out through the meat industry, causing some plants to shut down, workers to be sent home, and livestock to be sent back to farmers after being transported for slaughter.
  • In Australia, the situation is having a particularly noticeable impact on local supply chains, though officials say the ramifications may be contained if JBS can restore operations quickly.
  • Ransomware has been a known and active threat to critical infrastructure, particularly health care, for years now, and the situation notably escalated as the Covid-19 pandemic raged.
  • It’s all about payment—the second it stops being profitable, it stops.
  • You can’t outlaw payments. That will put business operators in bad positions. What law enforcement needs to do is aggressively analyze cryptocurrency exchanges and tools like mixers, so hackers can’t cover their tracks and convert ransom payments to fiat currency.

Scam Alert: Beware dangerous ‘Evil Twin’ Wi-Fi networks

  • As a general rule hotel networks are safe and we can use them without having to worry about having our usernames, passwords and personal info being stolen.
  • However, hackers and scammers are now setting up “Evil Twin” Wi-Fi networks that mimic an establishment’s real, legitimate network. The scam works something like this:
  • A hacker/scammer rents a room in a busy hotel, checks in, then sets up a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot using a Network ID similar to the one assigned to the hotel’s real Wi-Fi network.
  • When other guests at the hotel decide to go online, they see two (or more) Wi-Fi networks with very similar names: the hotel’s real, legitimate secured network(s) and the hacker’s fake, unsecure network(s).
  • If a guest attempts to log on to the hotel’s real network, they’ll be prompted for the access code. Once connected, they can use the secure Internet connection to conduct their online activities as usual without having to worry about having their info stolen.
  • But if a guest chooses the fake network, they often won’t be asked to enter an access code. They’ll simply be automatically connected to the insecure network and many of their online activities will be transmitted back and forth in the open (i.e. unencrypted).
  • Meanwhile, the scammer is sitting in his/her hotel room logging the victim’s usernames, passwords, credit card info, mobile phone number and more.
  • Any time you see two available Wi-Fi networks with the same (or very similar) Network ID, DO NOT connect to either one of them until you call the front desk and ask which network you should use.
  • Never use a network that isn’t encrypted (there is no lock icon) unless you’re using a VPN to encrypt your network traffic.
  • And finally, always remember that any time a network that’s supposed to be secure fails to ask you to input an access code, that network is either an “evil twin” or a legitimate network that isn’t set up properly (again, there won’t be a “lock” icon).