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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

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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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Yell ‘Marco,’ this app makes your phone yell ‘Polo’

(TECH NEWS) New iPhone app helps find your iPhone so you can find your phone to phone a friend. Are you ready to play Marco Polo on land?

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Do you ever find yourself taking your phone too seriously? Is your phone more of a business tool than anything else? Do you honestly not mind when you lose it?

When you think of your phone, what comes to mind first – April Nardini’s “silent German films,” or Rory Gilmore’s jaunts with the Life and Death Brigade? Consider spicing up your relationship with your phone with role playing! And yes, don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

It’s called Marco Polo, and you may have already guessed what it does, which in my book means it’s a pretty darn good name.

Once you install the app, you can literally shout the word “Marco” into oblivion and your phone will sing out “Polo” at the top of its smart little lungs.

Those who are looking to get themselves and their phones out of deep relationship ruts can endlessly customize the way they address their phone, and choose how it responds.

The customization possibilities seem endless. I suggest terms of endearment: when screamed into the darkness of your early morning bedroom, words like “Dearest!” and “Honeybunch!” are likely to open up a healthy dialogue between you and your phone by making it feel safe and appreciated.

It will then respond in one of thirty preset character voices with the words you’ve instructed it to say. Because phones don’t have free will yet, duh.

The Marco Polo app is extra handy when you don’t have a real live friend around you to call your phone for you, and when you’ve left your phone on silent or very low volume to block out the outside world.

It’ll boost your phone’s volume and light up its screen against its (not-free) will, no matter how carefully you’ve stifled it.

Basically, whenever you’re lonely or stressed and can only find solace in your misplaced phone, this app will be there for you like no one else can be.

The website doesn’t specify how nearby your phone needs to be, or how loudly you need to shout at it, so a little friendly trial and error will get your spicy new relationship up and running.

Marco Polo is only available on Apple devices but it's so worth it.Click To Tweet

Because it definitely isn’t 2018, and most of the entire world definitely doesn’t use Android. Come on, guys.

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The semantic argument of the phrase ‘Full Stack’

(TECH NEWS) As the tech industry knows, being able to classify your job qualifications is paramount.

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Semantics

A new debate is emerging in the web development world and it’s not about which framework is best, or which language is most marketable.

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In fact the debate isn’t a matter of code, it’s a matter of words.

It’s Not Just About Experience Level

“Full Stack Developer” is the title developers both new and old often use to describe themselves. According to a Stack Overflow developer survey touted as the “most comprehensive developer survey conducted” the title is among the top five respondents used to describe themselves.

However, not everyone thinks newer developers should adopt the title.

It would be easy to distill the debate to a matter of experience level, veterans earned the “full stack” title, while newer programmers haven’t. However, there’s way more layers to this debate.

What Exactly is Full Stack

First of all, a simple google search reveals several different definitions of “full stack.” There’s general consensus when it comes to the high-level definition. CodeUp sums up this definition, “The term full stack means developers who are comfortable working with both back-end and front-end technologies.”

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of what exactly falls under back-end and front-end, there’s some disagreement.

Mastery level also matters, but again there’s disagreement over what’s acceptable. In one camp, are the proficiency pushers who require not only a breadth of understanding, but also a depth of understanding in multiple areas.

In this camp, it’s not just good enough to have exposure to SQL, one must have proficiency in SQL.

In the other camp, are the generalist. They also require a breadth of knowledge, but are happy with a basic familiarity of each stack element. When it comes to debating whether newer developers should adopt the full stack title, the lack of clarity on what full stack means in the first place is a major stumbling block.

Why Full Stack?

Besides clarifying the what behind “full stack” some folks are also clarifying the why. According to Indeed’s job trends, the number of postings and searches matching “full stack developer” on average has trended upwards since 2012 . The title’s popularity causes some to believe that new developers are adopting the title as a buzzword with no real care put into understanding what “full stack” means.

Android Programmer Dan Kim from Basecamp warns, “Just don’t fall back to labeling yourself with a bullshit buzzword that everyone else uses.”

For others, adopting the full stack title is a matter of mindset. As Web developer Christian Maioli over at TechBeacon writes: “To me, a full stack developer is someone who has the curiosity and drive to test the limits of a technology and understand how each piece works generally in various scenarios. Having this mindset will give developers more value and more power in dealing with new situations.”

In both cases, understanding why a new developer adopts the full stack title is connected to understanding whether they’re overselling their skills and how valuable their skills are to a potential employer.

Beyond Job Titles

Finally, this debate about whether new developers should use the “full stack” title brings up the need for alternative methods of measuring proficiency. This need isn’t limited to the web development world, as technology innovates job titles become convoluted.

A job title won’t be the most reliable way to communicate what you bring to a job or what you expect.Click To Tweet

Quantifying what you’ve accomplished in the past, along with what tools you used will be critical in a time where job titles aren’t trusted.

This story was first published here on April 7, 2017.

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We’ve all seen job listings for UX writers, but what exactly is UX writing?

(TECH NEWS) We seeing UX writer titles pop up and while UX writing is not technically new, there are new availabilities popping up.

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The work of a UX writer is something you come across everyday. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints UX writers work on are interface copy, emails and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find a UX writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must have. Excellent communication skills is a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post.

But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater UX design team. In larger companies some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User centered design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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