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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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Favor founders’ foray into real estate tech yields serious questions

(TECH NEWS) As Favor’s founders launch Sunroom, we have unanswered questions that will reveal the company’s intentions once answered.

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Popular delivery startup, Favor, was acquired by Texas grocer HEB in February for an undisclosed sum, freeing up the founders Ben Doherty and Zac Maurais up for their next venture. Enter Sunroom which makes property rental tours on-demand.

Sunroom seeks to improve the property rentals process – renters can search available properties, select the addresses they’d like to tour, and then order a “tour guide,” which is a licensed Sunroom agent that is paid an average of $20 per hour, kind of like Uber for property rentals.

The company currently serves Austin but has expressed publicly that they intend to expand.

Property managers pay Sunroom if a qualified tenant is placed, and renters never pay for the app (just like apartment locators, a common practice in Texas). At launch, the company differentiated itself as a tech contender with a $1.5M round of seed funding from heavy hitters like Tim Draper of Draper Associates, and Joshua Baer of Capital Factory.

Maurais told AustinInno, “We knew we wanted to do something inside of the rental market because it’s so massive and affects a lot of people. I’ve had bad landlords in the past and have been renting for the past decade. So I understand first hand.”

He also said that renters can keep application info saved in the app for their next rental experience, “almost like you’re building out your renter’s resume.” Perhaps the long game is building an alternative credit rating for renters? Now that would actually be interesting.

Technologists are inquisitive by nature – put a bunch in a room for a weekend hackathon and with technology, they’ve solved a problem that they hadn’t even thought about prior to the weekend. Thus, the industry is prone to inherently believe they have the answers to everything, and they’re accustomed to make decisions quickly and move nimbly which is something I personally admire.

But if you go to any tech meetup (we’ve hosted one monthly for 10+ years), and mention real estate, their beautiful brains flip into action mode, and there is an instinct that they can fix real estate. As a whole. What sucks about real estate? Not sure, but they know it sucks, and they can fix it.

That combination doesn’t mean they’re stupid or evil, just that they’re fixers. But it also means that endless attempts at “disruption” come from technologists rather than industry insiders with technology experience. And most efforts inevitably fail. Or they pivot into a modified version of the traditional model they sought to innovate in the first place (like Redfin).

Speaking of Redfin, that’s what first comes to mind when we see Sunroom (regarding how they potentially pay agents). But what also comes to mind is the model the founders created with Favor (compete with a national brand locally where they have a soft spot, seek acquisition by a large company to suit their tech needs).

So the future of Sunroom relies heavily on the answers to the following questions that we have sent to them multiple times, without answer:

  1. The 8 agents you have licensed under your broker, are they the only agents on demand?
  2. Who gets the commission on the rental, and what is the split for the $20/hr agent that showed the property?
  3. Do consumers sign any locator representation agreement with you?
  4. Are the agents on salary, hourly, or commission with a bonus of hourly pay for touring properties?
  5. Ben and Zac are now licensed agents – do either of you intend on being the broker when eligible? How’d you find the current broker? What’s the plan there?
  6. Do you guys intend on expanding beyond Austin? Which cities are next, and what does the growth plan look like?
  7. Has Redfin’s model been of inspiration for your model?
  8. What am I missing in why you’re so disruptive?

Further, what does the fiduciary relationship look like? Does Sunroom represent the renter or the property manager, or are they attempting dual agency? Are the agents employees or do they remain independent contractors? See how things can get hairy?

We’ve seen a bajillion startups come and go where outsiders try to get a cut of a commission via a slick app that implies representation, and even more than that seeking to manage the contract portion of rentals, and even MORE that offer showings on demand, but where I see disruption is in the pay model for agents (and the potential to cut agents out of the rental market), but until Sunroom answers basic questions, we simply won’t know.

Stay tuned – they’re either the first exciting disruption to hit the real estate market in so many years, or they’re another group of technologists that see a profit opportunity.

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A visual guide to the Dark Web to get you up to date

The Dark Web isn’t new, but most people don’t know of its existence or what happens in this anonymous corner of the world.

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There’s the internet that you and I use. The “Surface Web,” which is comprised of the usual sites such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and everything else a search typically shows. But this only makes up about 10 percent of the whole internet. Think about that. Only 10 percent.

Then, there is the other 90 percent of the Internet that we don’t use. The hidden side of the internet, known as the Dark Web.

While it is technically a public space, it can only be accessed via a specific browser called Tor. Despite attempts to index the Dark Web, much is still unknown about its contents. What we do know is that it is the infinitely secret side of the internet.

The Dark Web is full of hidden services including buying/selling drugs, black market sites, whistleblowing, pornography, blogs, abuse and other things that aren’t meant to be public. Hackers often hide under the anonymity provided by the Dark Web.

Likewise, fraud runs rampant, with numerous sites and forums dedicated to scamming and counterfeiting.

Entrepreneurs need to understand the dark web because of its implications for businesses. Many of the services offered via the dark net may pose a threat to your company. It is very easy for your information to be stolen, duplicated and quickly sold, all done in total anonymity and little risk of consequence.

On the Dark Web, a Social Security number costs just $1.00 and medical records go for around $50. Just think about if your credit card or bank details were to be put up for sale.

For the most part, you won’t ever encounter the Dark Web directly. Occasionally, Dark Web links make it onto popular sites such as Youtube, Twitter, Reddit and online forums. However, it isn’t recommended that you start browsing around the Dark Web on your own. Government agencies have long known about the Dark Web and have taken steps to reduce its criminal activity. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently working to index the Deep Web.

It’s not all shady activity.

The Dark Web isn’t totally full of criminal activity. The Dark Web was initially developed so that protestors being muzzled by their government abroad could communicate to fight for their freedom. Others, such as whistleblowers, activists, or cryptocurrency users take also advantage of the anonymity. Regardless, you should be aware that the internet, be it Dark or otherwise, is unfathomable and mysterious.

Beyond the confines of most people’s online lives, there is a vast other internet out there.

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The number of digital assistants is rising quickly #robotapocalypse

(TECH NEWS) Anyone remember iRobot? A recent survey shows that the robot apocalypse could happen sooner than later via digital assistants.

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Outnumbered

Seven and a half billion. That’s a number that’s been on a lot of people’s minds lately. It raises some formidable questions, to be sure. Can our infrastructure conceivably support such a vast population? What shifts in markets and demographics, philosophies and principles can we expect from that kind of rise in scale? Where in heaven’s name are we going to get all that white plastic and swipable glass?

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Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think I was talking about human population? That’s adorable.

Robots! Everywhere!

As a robot apocalypse aficionado, I note with horrified glee that Ovum, highly regarded research and consulting firm, predicts that by 2021, four whole years from now, the world will contain 7.5 billion digital assistants.

That is to say, more robots than people.

Awesome. I’m super psyched about that. As I recall from my steady diet of dystopian science fiction, having more robots than folks and ceding control of our lives to them always ends super well.

But seriously

What Ovum is really tracking is a sea change in the nature of applied tech. The big paradigm shift, go figure, was the smartphone. That was where the active process of integrating a seamless digital interface into the tasks of daily life got going, where the assumption became that consumers would handle a given task digitally rather than not.

Go figure, the 3.5 billion digital assistants that already existed as of 2016 mostly lived in phones.

That number is doubling itself because we want that functionality in the rest of our lives. I jest about the robot apocalypse, but the rise of the smartphone led to nothing more apocalyptic than mild irritation of dudes with boundary issues. That’s because the point of smartphones, the point of digitization in general, is to provide consumers with more control over their lives, not less. It’s the opposite of conquest. It’s the claiming of power.

Likewise the rise of the digital assistant

It’s all about exporting smartphone-level interactivity to more stuff. Ovum predicts the rise will come primarily in the form of assistant enabled cars and in-house tech like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The big winner will be Google Assistant, because Google is primarily a service provider.

So at the risk of coming in on the side of our steel overlords, I’m calling this one a good thing.

This isn’t another step toward a Matrix pod. It’s how you get deeper, clearer and more directly interactive with less-than-revolutionary tech like your house and car.

#BringOnTheBots

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