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4 Things even n00bs can do to stay safe online

(TECH NEWS) The risks today are high, and all of us can do more to keep our information out of hackers’ hands – these four simple steps can be taken by anyone. Even great grandma.

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We’re obsessed…

You know what we love where I work? Security. Seriously, it’s our favorite thing to talk about around NSS Labs Headquarters that’s not the finale of West World (yes, we’re still stuck on it).

We dream about security threats while analyzing what a breach really means. We obsess about keeping things secure, we argue about strategy, and plenty of times, we wax poetic on ways teams can make their systems more secure.

As the NSS Labs crew heads into this year’s RSA conference, we’ll be surrounded by some of the brightest minds in security.

On the other hand, we’ll also be around those looking to hack those bright minds. Security culture is complex like that.

But, we figured this was a good time to share some tips that any team could use to make their systems stronger, the basic stuff everyone can do. A few might seem obvious, but it never hurts to remind folks that simple measures could keep their systems secure.

1. Make sure your plug-ins are up to date

There are a lot of people who hit “remind me later” when it’s time to download that plug-in update. But, what folks don’t realize is that those updates typically provide patch fixes for known bugs, or errors working as backdoors to all kinds of viruses.

It’s a hacker’s job to try their damnedest to get into your computer, and by not updating your Java, you’re giving them that much more firepower.

Plug-ins like Java or Flash need to be updated on the regular.

If you want an alternative to checking for updates manually, both Firefox and Chrome offer plug-ins of their own, which tell you when updates are available for practically everything on your machine. All you need to do is click a button, and you’re off to the update races – your browser does all of the work for you. By doing so, you’re giving  shady characters one less avenue to potentially get your information.

2. Get proactive in the fight against ransomware

If you haven’t heard of ransomware, here’s the easy definition: it sucks. Some variants of ransomware  live in your spam folder and can turn your computer into a brick with a simple click. If you’re unlucky enough to open that email from the Nigerian Prince, and next thing you know, you’re locked out of your machine – it’s likely you’ve been hit with ransomware.

Ransomware is a threat that scrambles your data and then makes you pay a ransom to decode it.  Over 4,000 ransomware attacks happen every day. Go ahead, Google it. Every. Day. It’s the second most scary thing next to self-diagnosing on WebMd.

Staying vigilant in today’s ever-evolving tech landscape is imperative. Hackers don’t sleep – they’re always looking for a way to get paid. Not everyone falls victim to this plague, but there are a few steps your team can take to ensure no one is opening an email they shouldn’t.

If you’re running an IT team, or are in charge of your company’s security, there are a few easy best practices you should keep in mind when dealing with your not so technical co-workers:

  • Get an incident management plan together with your IT team
  • Remind coworkers to not open shady-looking emails from unknown addresses
  • Simulate an attack and put your system to the test
  • BACK UP YOUR STUFF – Get a Dropbox account for your important documents and work in Google Docs or Confluence
  • Set up automated system alerts when code looks compromised
  • Adjust your computer’s security settings to alert staff in case of suspicious activity

3. Keep your password complicated

Look, this seems easy enough, but there are a lot of people who use 1234 as their password. Really.

By making your password complicated with a series of numbers and symbols, you’re protecting yourself and your information.

Cyber awareness is crucial – it’s important you don’t give hackers the edge. By making the password complicated, it’s harder for password jugglers to crack your accounts.

Or, you could go one step further and register all accounts through a service like OneLogin or 1Password and get all of your accounts connected through an encrypted, and secure portal.

4. Wipe that drive

Just because you delete something from your computer doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Computers have hard drives like the raptors in Jurassic Park: they remember.  

When it’s time to get a new laptop, make sure your drive is wiped clean and you give it a factory reset. If you don’t, those files you thought you’d deleted could fall into the wrong hands.

And there you have it – four simple tips to get your team more secure in 2017.

#Cybersecurity

Robert Dean is a writer at ScaleFactor and The American Genius. He is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

Tech News

Descript is a mindblowing editing shortcut for audio and video

(TECH NEWS) Descript is an automatic transcription tool that uses machine-learning to make transcribing easier.

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transcribe descript

Anyone getting into audio/video editing for the first time is almost immediately struck with the sheer enormity and complexity of it all. Even if you have the physical hardware, the proper software, and the creative spark to produce media, that doesn’t make the process of editing it all into a cohesive product any less daunting. For those of us struggling under the sisyphean weight of complicated editing workflows, a new product aims to relieve us all of this struggle. Enter Descript, an automatic transcription tool.

Descript uses machine-learning to transcribe your raw audio and video files into a dialogue script. This in itself is an incredibly valuable tool for anyone looking to transcribe podcasts, youtube videos, or whatever kind of media you produce. But this is just the beginning of what makes this app so special.

Descript is the world’s first audio word processor. Using the transcript the app creates from your audio, you can edit the text script to change the media itself. Removing the “umms” and “ahhs” from your speech — or removing whole sentences at a time — is as simple as using the backspace key on a word processor.

As a would-be podcaster, I played around with the app over the weekend, so I can tell you my initial impressions of the app. While it’s not for me (not yet, anyway), it is incredibly easy and fun and quite frankly mindblowing to use.

First things first, let’s talk about the cost.

The app works on a subscription model that pays by the minute. New users are able to upload up to 30 minutes of audio for free, but anything past that will require paying 15 cents per minute or signing up for a monthly subscription. Keep in mind these costs apply to total raw audio uploaded, not finished product audio produced. So if you’re the type (like me) to record several hours of audio per week only to trim it down to a single hour of product, this may be a bit on the wasteful side.

As for the transcription itself, the program’s machine-learning transcription transcribed my dulcet tones into the appropriate written words with nearly complete accuracy. I did have a few issues with the program understanding other speakers, but I believe that may have been a fault on my end that I’ll go into later. If the machine-learning transcription isn’t accurate enough for you, you can also choose to pay extra in order to have your audio specially transcribed by real human professionals.

The app can divide audio between different people speaking, but not automatically. If you have different audio files for each speaker, then each audio file will be labeled separately from the start. If multiple speakers are on the same audio track (like mine), then you’ll have to notate these differing speakers in the script yourself. I believe this is why the program had difficulty transcribing other speakers on the audio than myself. Being on the same audio track, the machine attuned itself to my voice (the first speaker on the recording) and was trying to interpret other people’s words as if I were the one saying them.

As for the audio editing aspect of this program, well, it really needs to be experienced to be believed. I was told what the program could do beforehand, but actually editing audio just by changing words around on a script is something else entirely. Cutting out non sequitur sentences, removing unnecessary articles, or even changing the order of words around to better suit the flow of conversation — through a literal word processor — will make you feel like an arcane grammar wizard.

Will this replace your entire audio/video workflow? Probably not. At least not yet. In addition to the cost factor which may be prohibitive to some users, there are some issues of editing that aren’t based on word choice. I found myself frustrated at my inability to change the timing of spaces between words, sometimes leaving gaps between sentences (or not enough space between words). Of course, I only had the program for a weekend, so this could very well be attributed to user error.

Whatever flaws real or imagined this program may have, it’s very important to keep in mind that Descript is the first of its kind.

It can only improve from here, not to mention potentially inspire a wave of similar programs that may very well function better. Whether or not Descript is right for you, what’s undeniable is that this program is the start of something amazing.

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Tech News

This eye tracking tech could be what saves VR

(TECHNOLOGY) VR has struggled with adoption rates, but this new technology could finally make it more useful in daily life.

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VR could be saved

The new HTC Vive Pro Eye VR headset made its debut at CES 2019. An updated version of the HTC Vive Pro, its features are expected to have a variety of uses over the long-term.

The Vive Pro Eye features new eye tracking technology developed in partnership with Tobii Eye Tracking. Inside the headset are sensors around the eyes to help the A.I. target what your eye is seeing. This is integrated into the UI design, allowing users to select menu options just by looking at their choice. In theory, users can choose how to interact with different A.I. characters or in VR chat spaces.

The eye tracking features Dynamic Foveated Rendering which will allow the computer to render VR objects the user is looking at to a high resolution. Likewise, images on the user’s periphery or outside the field of view will appear at a lower resolution or won’t be rendered at all. This way headset will require less performance power from its graphics card, and can still generate high-quality images in the places that matter.

Another feature is the A.I. assist where the computer can register intended targets in the VR environment based upon where your eyes are looking. This could be helpful for newcomers to VR instead of adjusting to the hand-eye coordination with the remote.

In a new industry like VR, the turnover rate for technology is fairly high, but the fovated rendering is likely to stay. Since its practicality not only enhances user experience, but also provides support from a hardware standpoint, its not outlandish to think developers will piggy-back off this new feature.

Sounds like fun? Well, currently the Vive Pro Eye is meant for business ventures rather than for consumers. But we’ll likely see this technology eventually find its way into more affordable VR products. There is no release date or price range yet available.

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Tech News

Google kills another of their brands – are chatbots over?

(TECH) Google sunsets another brand – does it mean *they* failed or that an entire technology failed?

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Another Google invention bites the dust as we said goodbye to Allo to close out the year. Development for the Google’s instant messaging app was officially “paused” earlier in 2018, though the company says users will still have limited support.

While the reasons for Allo’s demise are as messy as they are unsurprising, the public backlash against chatbots and privacy abuse was another nail in Allo’s coffin per its definitive feature, Google Assistant.

Allo is like most messaging apps with the ability to send/receive all your favorite pictures, links, emojis, and animated cat stickers, and meant to compete with the experience of using Apple’s iMessage. The added bonus was Allo’s Google Assistant, a chatbot powered by the omnipotent Google Search engine suggesting replies and constantly “learning” as its users fed it information.

Allo could learn your favorite sports teams, nearby restaurants, or parts of your texting patterns. As if that weren’t creepy enough, users must specifically put the app into “incognito mode” in order to keep their conversations safe from potential data mining. With 2018 declaring open season on digital privacy, it’s unlikely the coming year will be any better.

The real benefits of a virtual assistant are hiding beneath a thick layer of potential data theft, legal controversies, and an unsightly image as Silicon Valley’s A.I. minions. But ultimately, Allo’s demise is connected to Google’s push to catch the trending wave of RCS communication.

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is meant to set a universal standard of communication across platforms. Currently, Allo is (was) just one messaging app among many others such as Facebook Messaging, WhatsApp, and Telegram.

Most of us are forced to jump between apps to communicate with all our contacts as service carriers/device manufactures keep us jumping through hoops.

Allo is not RCS compatible, (a.k.a. only an Allo user can message other Allo users) and its low number of users doesn’t speak well to the future. Meanwhile, RCS is a trend that’s growing in the United States and Google intends to be in the forefront getting everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya. Can you imagine? Compatibility for all? It sounds too good to be true — are the eavesdropping chatbots coming along?

Google has always has always bid on multiple horses when coming to the various tech races.

Allo’s birth and death is no less unusual than the company deciding to switch from exclusivity to inclusivity. The path towards global connectivity will undoubtedly be littered with the bodies of other fallen platforms. Here lies Allo, right next to MySpace.

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