After the Year of Datasec Fail, in the wake of breach after leak after hack, it’s time to cop to the fact that private data security is Serious Business.
Private sector titans like Google, Facebook and Yahoo, not to mention the actual flippin’ US government, have demonstrated that, if there’s anything in your life you’d rather Vladimir Putin and/or the entire Internet not know about, you’d better spit on your hands, boot up your robot of choice, and take responsibility for your own infosec.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
The mere notion of handling your own information security (“infosec” to professional nerds like your narrator) conjures images of command lines, spaghetti code and whatever else it is tech types actually, yknow, do. If only there was an easy fix! A simple, widely applicable one-shot that would make your precious 1s and 0s safe forever.
There pretty much is. It’s Linux.
Superficially, using the famous open-source operating system might seem like the opposite of security. After all, the point of open-source is that anybody can look at and futz with the code. How is that compatible with “make everything hidden?”
But that’s the not-so-secret shame of tech
As we’ve ceded more and more of our lives to internet-enabled services, nothing is hidden. Cloud-based services like Google Docs and online-only offerings like Facebook and whatever Yahoo’s doing these days are accessible to everyone, everywhere. That’s the point. That’s their offer. “Accessible to everyone” is incompatible with “accessible only to nice people.”
The Linux fix is twofold.
First, old-school hackers (cue pounding 90s electronica soundtrack) still trading on invading your personal system generally don’t bother with Linux exploits. Windows and the traditionally safer Apple are bigger, more valuable targets. Second, 5 popular distros – that’s “particular flavors of Linux some noble white-hat nerds put together for you” – incorporate fixes for increasingly common Internet breaches of the kind that felled Facebook and Google.
Tails is a live OS, which means you can put it on a USB stick or disc, run it on any computer, and when you pop it out again the computer goes back to the way it was. Local hacks work by reading your logs, huge quantities of nested information your operating system hangs onto for complicated reasons. Windows does it. Apple does it. Some Linux distros do it. Tails doesn’t. It also roots your internet traffic through the legendary Tor, benchmark of Internet anonymity. Tails’s commitment to zero-footprint computing also has the smaller but just as welcome convenience that, if you do prefer to use it sparingly and stick with your old, less-secure OS, it leaves no souvenirs on your system; your old setup will boot like nothing happened.
If this were a 19th century novel, this entry would be called “IprediaOS. Or, the Trouble with Tor.” Tor prioritizes security above all else and limits Internet access accordingly. There’s a lot of stuff it won’t go near, because it’s just not secure enough. That limits the mainstream usability of Tor, not to mention services like Tails that rely on it. IprediaOS uses a similar but less strict service, I2P, that affords access to the everyday Web with minimal loss of security. IprediaOS also comes with anonymous chat, email and BitTorrent clients.
Whonix is a unique beast. It’s a virtual machine, which is (incredible oversimplification incoming!) a program that thinks it’s a computer and convinces others to treat it likewise. Its big offer is that it can be run as a program on the Windows and Mac OSes, making it a perfect match for anybody who only has a job or three that demand anonymity – cloud-based business records, say, or anonymous blogging – and is otherwise good to go with a by-the-book setup. It’s also a great way to learn the basics of home infosec, since, being based on the venerable Debian distro of Linux, it plays well with Microsoft, Apple and other Linux systems.
Not a typo! This cleverly named beastie discreetly keeps your secrets by building a discrete structure, unconnected to anything else, for you to whisper them in. It’s limited in function compared to the other services listed, functioning primarily as data storage and anti-malware/spyware/Trojan solution, but it is very good at those things. It’s in beta at present, and as is a beta’s wont there’s a bug or two to shake out, but it has real promise as a data security tool.
Qubes is the Whonix solution raised to the level of an operating system. It compartmentalizes your work as separate virtual machines, limiting any compromise in security to one set of services, with no chance of spreading to more vulnerable areas. Qubes even color-codes your machines for you, with colored frames indicating the potential security vulnerability of a given VM. So, if you set up one machine as straight data storage with no access to the outside world, that’s about as secure as data gets and Qubes will tell you so. The machine you do your web browsing in will be coded otherwise. Better still, Qubes provides a secure data-transfer solution that lets you move information safely between machines. Last September Edward Snowden, a man understandably interested in information safety, tweeted “If you’re serious about security, @QubesOS is the best OS available today. It’s what I use, and free. Nobody does VM isolation better.” Can’t say fairer than that.
Don’t be intimidated
Obviously, as is made clear by the monolith of text above, infosec is an enormous topic.
That said, don’t let it scare you.
Get educated on the subject and in a week of digital futzing you’ll be warm in the knowledge that you do security better than the smartest, richest, most powerful people in the world. Happy (white hat) hacking!
Facebook deletes developer over ironic browser extension invention
(TECHNOLOGY) Think a muted week for a nipple shadow is bad? Facebook just permabanned this inventor for…helping others to use the platform less.
It must be true that corporations are people because Facebook is pulling some seriously petulant moves.
In a stunt that goes beyond 24hr bans for harmless hyperbole, and chopping away at organic reach (still bitter from my stint in social media management), Facebook straight up permanently banned one of their users for the high crime of…aiming to get people to use the platform a little less.
Developer Louis Barclay came up with Unfollow Everything, an extension that basically instantly deleted your feed without having you unfriend anyone or unlike anything. Rather than have users manually go through and opt out of seeing posts, they’d now opt IN to keeping who they wanted front and center.
In his own words on Slate: “I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.”
Since more time spent on Facebook means more ads that you’re exposed to, means more you spend, the add-on started slowly making headway. I myself pretend to be a ranch owner to keep ads as irrelevant to me as possible (though my new addiction to hoof trimming videos is all too real), and Unfollow Everything probably would have been a great find for me if it hadn’t been killed by a cease and desist.
Law firm Perkins Coie, representing the internet giant, let Barclay know in their notice that Unfollow Everything violated the site’s rules on automated collection of user content, and was muscling in on Facebook trademarked IP.
They also added, in what I can only assume was a grade-school narc voice, that the add-on was “encouraging others to break Facebook’s rules.”
Barclay, not having the resources to fight a company with the finances of a small country, promptly ceased and desisted. Practical.
Officially speaking, Facebook might have actually have some ground to stand on vis-à-vis its Terms Of Service. The letter and legal team may have been warranted, not that we’ll ever truly know, since who’s taking Facebook to court? But then they followed up with a ‘neener neener’ deletion of Barclay’s 15 year old account – which was still very much in use.
Look, Facebook is the only way I connect with some of my friends. I don’t take enough pictures to make full use of Instagram, I fully hate Twitter, my Tumblr is inundated with R-rated fanfiction, and any other social media platform I’m happy to admit I’m too haggish and calcified to learn to use. So a complete WIPE of everything there with no notice would be pretty devastating to me. I can only imagine how Barclay felt.
And in light of the fact that the browser extension wasn’t hurting anyone, taking money, or spewing hateful rhetoric, there’s really only one thing to say about Facebook’s actions…they’re petty.
Sure, they may have the legal right to do what they did. It’s just that when you notice every fifth post is an unvetted advertisement, their high ground starts to sink a little. I mean nothing says ‘We’re being totally responsible with user information’ like the number of add ons and user tactics popping up to avoid seeing the unnecessary. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Facebook put up a fight against losing ad traffic.
We all know all those stores with amazing deals aren’t actually going out of business, or even using their own photos right? Right?
Barclay added in his article, “Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.”
Agreed, Mr. Barclay.
Now I’m off to refresh my feed. Again.
Glowbom: Create a website, using just your voice
(TECH NEWS) Talk about futuristic! This app allows you to create quizzes, surveys, an online store, and even a website in minutes–without typing.
In the past, we’ve discussed things like simplified coding and no-code app creation. Now, a San Francisco startup has taken the process a step further with no-type app creation.
Glowbom is a voice app that allows you to dictate steps to an AI – from adding information all the way to exporting code–in order to create a simple app, survey, or game. While the built-in options for now are limited to four simple categories, the power of the app itself is impressive: By asking the Glowbom AI to complete tasks, one is able to dictate an entire (if small) program.
It’s an impressive idea, and an even more impressive product. Glowbom founder and CEO Jacob Ilin showcases the power of Glowbom in a short demonstration video, and while he only uses it to create a simple survey, the entire process–up to and including the exportation of the API–is accomplished via voice commands.
Furthermore, Glowbom appears to process natural inputs–such as phrases like “Let’s get started”–in the context of an actual command rather than the colloquial disconnect one tends to expect in AI. This means that users won’t need to read a 700-page manual on phrases and buzzwords to use before jumping on board–something the Glowbom user base was probably hoping to avoid anyway.
As of now, the options one can use Glowbom to create include a quiz, a survey, an online store, and a website. It seems reasonable to expect that, as support for the app grows, those categories will expand to comprise a larger library.
Glowbom certainly opens a few doors for people looking to take their businesses or ideas from an offline medium into the digital marketplace. As coding becomes less centralized in computer language and more contingent on processes such as this, we can expect to see more products from folks who may have missed the coding boat.
Perhaps more importantly, Glowbom and products like it make coding more accessible to a wider base of disabled users, thus taking a notable step toward evening the playing field for a marginalized demographic. It’s not true equality, but it’s a start.
This story was first published here in October 2020.
4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends
(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.
Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.
Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.
The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”
The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.
“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.
The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.
Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.
The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)
Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.
The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.
Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”
Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)
And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.
The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.
Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.
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