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Encrypted doesn’t mean hack proof, even for cryptocurrency

(TECH NEWS) There is no such thing as un-hackable, even in cryptocurrency. Yes, it can be hacked, BUT it can also be prevented.

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What if cryptocurrency… wasn’t?

Sounds like a terribly clever Black Mirror episode, I realize, but it’s a serious question that’s come up more and more in conversations about cryptocurrency: is it really safe? Security has always been the core offer of bitcoin, Ethereum and their digital kindred. It’s right there in the name. Cryptocurrency equals currency, encrypted. It’s supposed to be so good it can be bad, as in, the security is so tight bad people can do bad things and nobody knows about it.

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But despite the rep for felon-worthy security, the plain fact is that blockchain isn’t invincible. When it comes to secure exchange of funds, blockchain-based cryptocurrency is still probably your best bet, but as with all things “best” does not equal “perfect.” Blockchain’s advantages over conventional cash are clear: there’s no hard currency to steal or lose, no middleman to get up to nefarious doings, and the records are cozy behind the apex of information security. That’s great, but it’s not everything.

How to keep the crypt part of cryptocurrency

That being the case, in my self-appointed role as AG Crypto Guy (Pulitzers, call me) here follow several ways nefarious folks can eff with your fat digital stacks, and what you can do about them.

1. Malware

It’s a classic. Early on, cryptocurrency was spared the plague of Russian threats and Nigerian princes for the same reason as Linux: not enough there to steal. After Mt. Gox and other frankly spectacular bits of fraud (the word “trillion” occurs in the Mt. Gox story, and it’s not hyperbole) that is, to say the least, no longer the case. Bad folks are writing programs based on the same tricks they’d use to swipe normal cash – Trojans that skulk in the guts of your programs, scooping up secure data, phishing attempts to get you to hand that data over voluntarily – aimed at your digital dollars.

Solution: Operational security. Sounds fancy when I put it like that, but for our purposes “operational security” just means “stuff that you do” as distinct from “stuff your computer does.” If you keep a substantial portion of your value in cryptocurrency, protect it as tightly as you would anything else worth having. Have strong, single-use passwords for each service you use your coins of choice with. Keep offline backups of your cryptographic credentials. Use a good VPN. Think of it as the equivalent of keeping your bank password out of your Smart Lock list, and not putting your PIN on a Post-It.

2. Botnet

The scourge of the new digital order. Seriously, who figured the robot apocalypse would come, not in the form of a deceptively soft-voiced computer overlord, but a houseful of mechanical morons? Well, except XKCD. And us. Anyway. The aforementioned bad folks are by no means especially bright, so they tend to be in favor of having other things do their thinking for them. As we put more and more computers into things, generally with less and less security, those people can make those computerized things do the thinking, and the hacking, for them. Hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of dumb little computer brains can thus be put to work, crashing sites with overwhelming numbers of requests or brute forcing security information by inputting every possible option at the speed of Internet.

Solution: Get offline. Not entirely, obviously. That would rather defeat the purpose of digital currency. But the Mt. Gox folks got shafted because they kept their bitcoins in an online wallet, and through mismanagement, fraud or a combination thereof, they found themselves suddenly bereft of same. To avoid their fate, go with what cryptocurrency types call “cold storage”: keep your stash offline. No amount of digital malfeasance can reach data that isn’t connected to anything. When buying or selling on an exchange, restrict what you transfer to what you’ll use for that particular transaction, and use a wallet where you and only you have the public and private key. It’s only a little less convenient, and it’s safe as houses.

3. Scams

If the information revolution of the last four decades could be reduced to a single transcendent lesson, it is as follows: no digital solution, however elegant, fixes stupid. With something as new and deliberately opaque as cryptocurrency, it’s horribly easy to be stupid, and even easier for folks versed in the art of the steal to exploit same.

Solution:
Learn. At least until we get a proper robot apocalypse going, this is something we h. sapiens can do that, as yet, our machine overlords can’t. Do the reading. Research different currencies and different exchanges before you lay out funds. Talk to people about their experiences before you invest. Nothing replaces legwork, digital or otherwise.

4. Hacking

Proper hacking this time, none of this faffing about with turncoat toasters or email con games. No code is perfect. Some bad folks, alas, are exceptionally bright, and will from time to time find holes they can exploit.

Solution: Zen. Or “s$%t happens,” depending on your cultural framework. Cryptocurrency isn’t perfectly secure. Perfect security isn’t a thing. It’s just more secure than normal currency, especially if you have a philosophical problem with banks, nations or both. People have been scamming people through the medium of exchange since the medium of exchange was barter. Cash is safer than barter. Cryptocurrency is safer than cash. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, just that it’s as good as it gets. Execute on the solutions above, and with any luck your Robot Future Money should stay where it belongs.

#KeepItCrypt

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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App turns your phone into an intercom, great for remote teams

(TECH NEWS) Turn your phone into an intercom with one quick switch without having to install anything on any wall. #NewSchool

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Growing up, I lived in a blended family home. It was essentially like The Brady Bunch just without Alice and the general merriment.

Us kids would often keep to ourselves in our bedrooms and would sometimes communicate with our parents via phone – even though we were under the same roof. While I’m acknowledging that it was incredibly lazy, it was convenient.

It helped to cut out the fruitless, across-the-house conversations that would often result in miscommunications. In those times, I wished there had been an intercom system in the house.

This is no longer a problem for people to have as an app has been created that sets up an instant voice network. It was designed for work use or communication with people outside of the home, but this piece of machinery would’ve been very helpful in the Leddin household.

The app is called Switchboard and it creates an intercom for your friends and colleagues. Like a phone, there is a friend/contact list available or you can dial using voice command.

The nice thing about this compared to a regular phone call is that there are availability settings. You can control interruptions by “switching off” to go on Do Not Disturb mode, and it will not list you as available for calls.

Switchboard uses Slack integration that allows users to leave voice messages and automatically have them sent to Slack with a transcript.

“Switchboard is your instant voice network. It gives you a hands-free intercom between close friends and colleagues to let you chat more spontaneously, as though you’re in the same room,” explains developers.

“You control your availability so that you’re easy to reach when you want and you can focus when you need.”

The idea is to make it easier to communicate more efficiently, rather than using text messaging; though most smartphones do have a voice messaging component. While they refer to the app as an “intercom” it definitely reminds me more of walkie talkies, (similar to Voxer which is a walkie talkie app for team communication).

Switchboard is an interesting concept, and is something that could benefit teams that work remotely (or are too lazy to yell down the hall to another office).

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Uber has secretly set up tip limits for drivers #classy

(TECH NEWS) Uber has had a shaky year, but their latest move proves that perhaps a new leader doesn’t mean a new culture.

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After frequent requests from drivers, Uber finally added a tipping option to their ride-sharing app this June. But, after a few months to try it out, riders and drivers alike have been disappointed to discover that Uber puts an upper limit on how much a rider can tip.

Lyft has allowed riders to tip for almost five years, but Lyft too has a tipping maximum. In many cases, Lyft and Uber drivers aren’t aware that there’s a limit to tips until they have a generous customer who finds that they can’t tip as much as they’d like.

Initially, these apps were seen as a convenient, tip-free alternative to traditional cab services. However, because fares are calculated in mileage and not time, tips can be especially appreciated when rides take a long time but have low mileage, such as in dense traffic, or when the driver has to make multiple stops. And of course, tipping is always a great way to say thanks to a driver who goes the extra mile (no pun intended) to help out the rider or make the ride especially pleasant.

Unfortunately, some riders have found that they can’t tip as much as they’d like. Uber told CNET that they placed a maximum on tips to help avoid “fat fingers” typos, such as when a customer means to type $10, but accidentally types $100 instead – a problem that could seemingly be solved by adding a secondary confirmation before withdrawing the payment.

Uber limits tips to 200 percent of the cost of the ride, or $100. Lyft also limits to 200 percent of the fare, but also blocks tips above $50. Of course, riders can always tip in cash – but not having to carry cash was one of the perks of ride-sharing apps in the first place.

Generally, drivers for Lyft get more tips than Uber drivers. That’s because Lyft riders receive a prompt to tip upon reaching their destination, whereas Uber drivers have to reopen the app and rate the driver before tipping. Since few Uber riders take the time to rate their driver, even fewer ever make it to the tip screen.

Granted, an extra big tip is a rare and precious thing. But it shouldn’t be up to the company to cap tips if riders feel compelled. Says Denise, a Los Angeles Uber driver, “Generosity should be something that you have no limit on.”

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Tesla to build largest ‘virtual power grid’ on this round Earth

(TECH NEWS) Tesla teams up with Australia to create a virtual power grid, cutting energy costs and preventing blackouts.

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Tesla’s teaming up with Australia to provide an energy efficient solution to blackouts and price surges in the Southern Australian state.

Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill announced a new partnership with Tesla that will provide solar panels and batteries to homes in the southern state. Since the area consistently struggles with adequately powering homes, Weatherill and Tesla hope to create a “virtual” power grid to stabilize electricity infrastructure.

In the extreme wilderness area of South Australia, nearly half of all power comes from wind farms. Last September, issues with wind farms caused a statewide blackout. Sure, tornadoes were to blame too, but backup generators also failed, so the whole system collapsed.

To address this issue, a combination of solar panels and Tesla batteries will eventually be installed in 50,000 homes in the state. Any surplus energy generated by the home’s solar panels can contribute back to the larger grid.

Excess energy can be routed back to a centrally controlled grid to provide energy to the rest of the state as needed.

For the initial test, 1,100 public housing properties will receive the batteries and solar panels free of cost, using the sale of electricity to cover expenses. An additional 24,000 more public houses will get added to the program as well.

If the trial runs succeed, private homes will be included by 2019. Eventually, the plan is to have batteries and panels installed in 50,000 homes, creating a 250MW Virtual Power Plant.

Participating homes will have 5kW solar panels and Tesla Powerwall 2 13.5kWh batteries installed, providing a more reliable source of power, and potentially lowering power bills by thirty percent.

Installation is proposed to take four years, and according to Tesla, the virtual power plant will have as much capacity as a coal plant or large gas turbine.

Funding comes from a $2 million Australian ($1.6 million USD) grant, and a loan from the state’s Renewable Technology Funds for $30 million Australian ($23.8 million USD).

While the plan seems well-meaning, Austalian Prime Minister Malcomlm Turnbull called Weatherill’s previous strategies as “reckless” experiments, leading to excessive energy costs. Partnering with Tesla may give Weatherill some street cred for the upcoming South Australian election, proving he has a game plan for curbing energy costs.

According to the South Australian government, the virtual power plant could provide around twenty percent of the state’s daily average energy requirements. Tesla plans to review all properties to determine if the homes can support their systems and be able to participate.

If you happen to live in South Australia and are reading this, you can register to participate in the program. Registration doesn’t guarantee participation, but if initial interest exceeds original estimates, the government may consider extending the program.

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