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Paranoid about internet security? Here are the most secure OS options

(BUSINESS NEWS) After all of the hacks and security breaches this year, Linux is a great option for OS security.

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Internet security

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.

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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

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.

IprediaOS

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

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.

Discreete Linux

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 OS

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!

#Linux

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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China no longer dependent on U.S. for smartphone components

(TECH NEWS) Trump’s trade war, more specifically, the ban on shipping phone components, to China has begun to take a toll on chip manufacturing.

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Once upon a time, the U.S. and China were buddies, exporting and importing from each other with ease. However, President Trump’s recent actions regarding trade with China is certainly putting a damper on things.

It seems that Chinese companies have moved past the need to import certain products, like smartphone chips, from the U.S. – something they previously relied heavily on by working with American companies like Qorvo, Inc. in North Carolina, Skyworks, Inc. in Massachusetts, Broadcom, Inc. in California, and Cirrus Logic in Texas.

Since the ban in May, Trump specifically barred shipments from the U.S. from companies like Qualcomm and Intel Corp to companies like Chinese tech conglomerate, Huawei Technologies Co. But much like the bans that came before the Trump administration, it didn’t last long. With tensions high, the U.S. actually recently started rolling back some aspects of the ban and started making exceptions that allow American tech companies to continue to work with Chinese companies like Huawei.

Of course, China’s lack of U.S. parts hasn’t stopped them from rolling out new and improved products. As a matter of fact, in September, Huawei unveiled its newest phone, the Mate 30, which boasts highly-desired features, such as a curved screen and a wide angle camera. This makes the phone a pretty solid competitor of Apple’s newest iPhone, the iPhone 11, of which China was sent 10 million of in September and October.

After Huawei’s announcement, investment and banking firm UBS, and Japanese technology lab Fomalhaut Techno Solutions, partnered up and took to their labs to analyze the phone’s components. Their analysis was simple and straightforward. They found that there were absolutely zero American components in the phone. In fact, the chips in the Mate 30 are actually from Huawei’s in-house chip design agency, HiSilicon. They also provided Huawei with WiFi and Bluetooth chips. With HiSilicon’s 20 + years experience in the industry, 200+ chipsets, and 8000+ patents, it’s no wonder U.S. chip companies are getting nervous. Qualcomm, for example, announced a 31-40% decrease in estimated chip shipments over the next year.

Although the chip ban has made a big impact on larger U.S. companies who make and supply chips to China, there are still many other businesses that have been affected in Trump’s trade war. As it happens, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently confessed that, since May, when the ban was put in place, the U.S. has received at least 260 requests, asking that they excuse them from the ban and be allowed to work with China as they previously had.

But really, at the end of the day, with so many American companies relying on China for both import and export, it’s probable that the ban will be short-lived and that exceptions won’t need to be made. As Americans, we can be hopeful that the end-result of this trade war will be a positive one, but only time will tell.

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AI cameras could cut down traffic deaths, but there may be flaws

(TECH NEWS) Traffic accidents have plagued humanity since motor vehicles were created, can AI help cut down on text and drive incidents?

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What if we told you Australian officials believe they have found a way to reduce driving deaths by almost 30% in just two years? It’s a pretty appealing concept. After all, Australia alone faces an average of over 3 deaths a day due to driving accidents. And Australia’s average death rate clocks in at just half of what we face in the United States.

There’s just one problem with Australia’s proposed solution: it’s basically Big Brother.

Basically, Australia plans to use AI cameras to catch people texting and driving. There are plenty of places that have outlawed texting and driving, but that rule is very hard to enforce – it basically means catching someone in the act. With AI cameras, hands free driving can be monitored and fined.

Australia has already started rolling out some of these systems in South Wales. Because this is a new initiative, first time offenses will be let off with a warning. The following offenses can add up quickly, though, with fines anywhere from $233 to $309 USD. After a six month trial period, this program is projected to expand significantly.

But there are real concerns with this project.

Surprisingly, privacy isn’t one of these worries. Sure, “AI cameras built to monitor individuals” sounds like a plot point from 1984, but it’s not quite as dire as it seems. First, many places already have traffic cameras in order to catch things like people running red lights. More importantly, though, is the fact these machines aren’t being trained to identify faces. Instead, the machine learning for the cameras will focus on aspects of distracted driving, like hands off the wheel.

The bigger concern is what will come from placing the burden of proof on drivers. Because machine learning isn’t perfect, it will be paired with humans who will review the tagged photographs in order to eliminate false positives. The problem is, humans aren’t perfect either. There’s bound to be false positives to fall through the cracks.

Some worry that the imperfect system will slow down the judicial system as more people go to court over traffic violations they believe are unfair. Others are concerned that some indicators for texting while driving (such as hands off the wheel) might not simply apply texting. What if, for instance, someone was passing a phone to the back seat? Changing the music? There are subtleties that might not be able to be captured in a photograph or identified by an AI.

No matter what you think of the system, however, only time can tell if the project will be effective.

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Tech News

DeepComposer: AWS’ piano keyboard turns AI up to 11

(TECH NEWS) Amazon has been busy with machine learning, which includes a camera, a car, and now DeepComposer that’s able to add to classics on the fly

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Musicians, listen up, there’s a new kid in town, its name is DeepComposer and it’s coming to take your creativity and turn it up to 11.

Artificial Intelligence has taken a leap into what has long been considered the “pinnacle of human creativity”, as Amazon revealed what is said to be the world’s first machine learning-enabled keyboard capable of creating music.

Amazon unveiled its AWS DeepComposer keyboard Monday during AWS re:Invent, a learning conference Amazon Web Services hosted for the global cloud computing community in Las Vegas.

Demonstrating DeepComposer’s abilities, Dr. Matt Wood, Amazon’s VP of Artificial Intelligence, played a snippet of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and then let the keyboard riff on it with drums, synthesizer, guitar, and bass, sharing a more rockin’ version of the masterpiece.

Generative AI, is considered by scientists at MIT to be one of the most promising advances in AI in the past decade, Wood told the crowd. Generative AI allows for a machine not only to learn from example, as a human would but to take it next level and connect the dots, making the next creative step to composing something completely new.

“It [Generative AI] opens the door to an entire world of possibilities for human and computer creativity, with practical applications emerging across industries, from turning sketches into images for accelerated product development, to improving computer-aided design of complex objects, Amazon said on its AWS re:Invent website.

How does it work? The Generative AI technique pits two different neural networks against each other to produce new and original digital works based on sample inputs, according to Amazon. The generator creates, the discriminator provides feedback for tweaks and together they create “exquisite music”, Wood explained.

A user inputs a melody on the keyboard, then using the console they choose the genre, rock, classical, pop, jazz or create your own and voila, you have a new piece of music. Then, if so desired users can share their creations with the world through SoundCloud.

This is the third machine learning teaching device Amazon has made available, according to TechCrunch. It introduced the DeepLens camera in 2017 and in 2018 the DeepRacer racing cars. DeepComposer isn’t available just yet, but AWS account holders can sign up for a preview once it is.

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