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How to stop people from mining cryptocurrency on your computer

(FINANCE) Cryptocurrency vampires are among us! They are also nowhere near as cool as they sound. Here’s how to stop sites from jacking your processor cycles when they shouldn’t.

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cryptocurrency mining

Cryptocurrency! It is a thing. At the moment, that’s about all that can be said on the subject of Bitcoin and pals. With the current boom and/or bubble in Bitcoin, any statement on cryptocurrency beyond “it exists” is doomed to the depths of grinding, pedantic Internet debate, plus the occasional crazy person shouting about it being a) our salvation; b) the downfall of the West; c) both.

Which sucks, because there’s something you need to know if you’re involved with web design, cryptocurrency, or just don’t like strangers futzing with your things. Hackers can swipe your computer’s processing power to mine cryptocurrency without your knowledge or consent.

By itself, cryptocurrency mining isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a necessary thing. Blockchains are distributed: they get the processing power they need to function from any available computers on their chains. As an incentive to keep processor cycles available, the computer that completes a given task receives a small bonus in the blockchain currency. “Mining” just means going out of your way to be that computer, typically by having as much processing power available as possible.

But in the glorious Age of the Cloud (which, protip, may not last much longer) “processing power” doesn’t always mean “giant wheezing plastic rectangle.” Finding novel sources for those sweet, sweet processor cycles is proving to be a smart way for lots of folks to monetize. Popular websites, for instance (we wrote about a rather notorious one) have already incorporated in-browser mining scripts into their business model. Their offer is that, instead of suffering through ads or big sad-eyed donation requests, users will be able to proffer a few otherwise unused processor cycles for cryptocurrency mining for as long as they’re on the page.

Alas and as always, clever ideas don’t only work for nice people. The black hat is here, and as ever, it will fill your digital life with fail.

Per Lifehacker, malicious miner scripts are becoming distressingly common. WIRED calls it “cryptojacking,” nefarious instructions added to the source code of websites without the owner’s knowledge, in order to harvest cryptocurrency on the backs of users. No informed consent, no warm glow in the knowledge that you’re both helping your favorite website and skipping your least favorite algorithmically generated YouTube ad. Just some gross code you can’t see, taking irritating little bites out of your computing experience. Grats, black hats: you’ve digitally recreated bedbugs.

Thankfully, they’re not even good bedbugs. Real bedbugs are nuke-it-from-orbit hard to kill. These things are pushovers. Fixes are plentiful and simple. A free adblocker like Adblock Plus automatically disables Javascript, where most of the nasties live. If you want to get more hands-on, new extension NoCoin lets you curate a list of sites you do and don’t allow to bum a few cycles for crypto mining.

To some degree, cryptojacking is yet another instance of the price of progress. In-browser miners show real promise as a new way to monetize web content, which is, to say the least, a fraught process at the moment. The fact that sketchy people want to steal money with it is, in its horrible way, a vote of confidence in in-browser mining and cryptocurrency generally. Thieves go where the money is, after all.

But one thing is sure – they are things. People like to have things, particularly when they’ve paid money for them. On that non-contentious point, I have terrifying news – oh my God(s) you guys people are taking your things.

Well. Sort of. They’re using your computer to mine cryptocurrency without your permission.

Before we get into it, I have a brief complaint to register. I was a 90s kid. I never got my jetpack or flying car, but I’m kind of OK with that. I’d just crash and die anyway. But I was promised better hackers.

These guys aren’t precisely stealing from you. What they’re doing is more like sneaking into your house while you sleep, booting up your computer, then just going nuts on Excel for 10 hours straight.

Here’s the deal.

People are making things like the things you have, and they’re doing it without permission. Cryptocurrency mining, whatever you may have heard to the contrary, is not in itself A Bad Thing. It’s just A Thing, a necessary component of blockchain technology: the necessary processing power gets distributed among interested parties. A few processor cycles here, a few there, and the ledger is sustainable.

That’s all “cryptocurrency mining” is: using multiple processors on a network to do the computing tasks necessary to maintain a cryptocurrency. “Cryptocurrency miners,” usually just “miners,” are people or organization who commit serious processing power to the cause.

So remember – if you don’t want sites using your computer power to earn cryptocurrency for themselves, get in on adblockers and NoCoin. Even though it’s really not a big deal (unlike my lack of a jetpack – I lied, I care).

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.

Tech News

Having your license plate data stolen is worse than you think

(TECH NEWS) California’s license plate camera system not only records everyone, but has some glaring security issues that could expose sensitive data.

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Turns out, California’s been recording millions of license plate information. What’s the deal?

Another day, another privacy violation. That’s sure what it seems like in our increasingly connected world – from our speakers spying on us, to our phones recording our every move – but that shouldn’t stop us from interrogating what is happening and whether or not it should continue.

For instance, should the government be allowed to store images of license plates for no apparent reason? Because that’s exactly what’s happening in California.

Okay, it’s probably happening in plenty of other states too, but California’s recent audit revealed the extent of their privacy violations. In fact, 99.9% of all license plate images stored had no connection to cases from law enforcement. This is bad enough, but the audit also revealed that this information was shared with all sorts of agencies for no justifiable reason.

And it should come as no surprise, but California’s audit also revealed that none of these agencies are up to snuff when it comes to the state’s 2016 privacy policy. In fact, few of the agencies audited even had reliable protections on their cloud based storage system, which leaves them vulnerable to outside attacks. This would be bad enough if they’d only stored information collected for legal purposes, but the storage of plenty of innocent civilian’s records makes it much worse.

Don’t get me wrong, California isn’t the only state to have troubling policies when it comes to ALPRs (automatic license plate readers). In fact, it’s been revealed that many of these cameras are connected to the internet – and make it terribly obvious to boot. That means if you live in an area with a heavy concentration of ALPRs, any stranger might easily be able to learn about you: your preferred route to work, the times you’re typically out of the house, sometimes even where you live. In short? Not great.

There is some glimmer of hope, though. Last year, Virginia became one of the few states to more strictly regulate ALPRs. After being sued by the ACLU, a Virginia court ruled that a license plate can only be recorded and stored if said plate was part of an on-going investigation. They’re now one of 16 states to have some sort of regulation on LPRs.

In the meantime, if you’re in California – or one of the 34 other states without regulations – drive carefully. You never know who’s watching.

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Futuristic air commuting via drone-like air taxis is around the corner

(TECH NEWS) German aviation company, Volocopter, and southeast Asia rideshare company, Grab, partner to take business to the skies in Singapore.

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air taxis taking flight

Move over, Jetsons! You too, Leela and Fry! You’re not the only ones living in the future. If Volocopter and Grab have their way, you’ll soon be able to hail an air taxi as painlessly as you hail a rideshare, at least if you live or travel in Singapore.

Nothing thrills me like being airborne, so I am excited to read this. The dreams of my childhood are unfolding before me. Electric air taxis transporting us across the urban landscape? Yes, please, and hurry up. Are you with me?

Imagine what a powerful–and fun–flex it will be to summon your own private electric multicopter and hop from rooftop to rooftop (AKA VoloPort to VoloPort), arriving at your destination in high style. Eyebrows will go up, and jaws will drop as you saunter into your appointment with a nonchalant air of confidence. In my mind, clients and investors will rush to sign contracts with you, and potential mates will move you up to the top of their short lists.

This is the reaction I imagine at first, when Volocopter and Grab launch their test commercial flights in 2022. If we are to believe the hype, this experience won’t always be such an exclusive one. The long-term goal (at least ten years) is to offer affordable and accessible rides for the general population, not merely the posh and pompous among us.

Drone-type electric Volocopter air taxis are single-passenger multicopters. Other companies are also dabbling in these vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft as well, but the Volocopter 2X has beaten them to the punch with successful test flights in Germany, Dubai, and Las Vegas.

By many accounts, multicopters with several chopper blades are simpler to navigate and more stable than a traditional, single-blade helicopter. However, flying requires mucho power, which must be why Volocopter has set its sights on multiple, short flights vs. long-distance transportation. They currently are projecting a maximum distance of 17 miles and 30 minutes per ride.

Singapore-based Grab is already part of daily life in Southeast Asia, much as Lyft or Uber is in the U.S. and elsewhere. Singapore is one of the fast-growing financial hubs in Asia, one of the Four Asian Tigers. Wealth and commerce abound in this charming island nation/city. In general, Singaporeans are quick to embrace modern solutions that add value and convenience to their lives. As such, it’s a dream location to test the waters for using VTOLs as a means of transportation.

Therefore, it makes sense that German aviation startup, Volocopter, and popular southeast Asian rideshare company, Grab, would team up in Singapore to make this futuristic dream a reality. No word yet on the cost-per-ride of traveling via the uncrowded skies of Singapore, but one can assume it will start out fairly prohibitive. Testing these flights with commercial clients first ensures that the math checks out for now.

However, Volocopter foresees a time when their VTOLs can land in a park or parking lot as easily as at a sanctioned rooftop VoloPort. Bring on the glory days of your average commuter as they hop from home to work to the nightclub with the greatest of ease. I want to live in this reality.

By 2035, Volocopter and Grab predict building up the capacity to deliver up to 10,000 Grab air taxi rides per day in Singapore alone. The commute to work never looked faster, easier, or sexier. One day in our nearish future, we may shrug and see air taxis as a mundane part of daily life, a mere getting from point A to point B.

I expect it to stay exclusive and kind of a thrill a while longer. However, if you’re planning to travel in Singapore, and your company is an early adopter of the first commercial Volocopter air taxi flights, rest assured your glamorous sunnies and fanciest gear will not look out of place–yet.

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Tech News

You’ve seen the job listings, 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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UX writing

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 touch points 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-centric 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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