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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

Facebook starts handing out merit badges like we’re Girl Scouts

(TECH NEWS) Facebook offers merit badges to users, and it’s pretty neat, but we’re also rolling our eyes.

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According to some Facebook Group administrators, Facebook has today rolled out merit badges. So far in the wild, we’ve spotted “Conversation Starter” which praises the admin (or user) for starting engaging posts that got the conversation going.

We have asked numerous users if they’ve seen these badges, and so far it appears that only one badge has been rolled out, potentially with more on the way. Upon logging into the group where you have earned a badge, you’ll see a notification at the top of the feed informing you of your new badge (get out your vest, it’s time to start collecting them all)!

The merit badge that you’ve earned shows up in your profile when other group members (where you’ve earned the merit badge) click on your face:

Currently, when an Admin posts in the group, it still only has their Admin badge next to their name, not the “Conversation Starter” or other badges lined up next to it, but if a regular group member has posted something engaging, the badge appears next to their name (it may be a one-badge-limit so far, maybe hold off on buying a Girl Scout vest for your badge collection):

Lastly, users apparently do have control over the display of whichever neato merit badges we eventually earn or collect:

There is no word on what the ultimate plan is or what merit badges will be awarded, and it appears to be limited to Facebook Groups at the present.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment and will update the story as we learn more. For now, if you want a badge, you can at least get a “Conversation Starter” badge in Facebook Groups, so go get ’em – we’ll soon know which other badges we can earn slash collect slash compete for slash game.

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Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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Tech News

This phishing simulator tests your company’s (lack of) readiness

(TECHNOLOGY) Phishero is a tool which tests your organization’s resistance to phishing attacks. Pro tip: Most companies aren’t ready.

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In the wake of any round of cyberattacks, many organizations question whether they’re prepared to defend themselves against things like hacking or other forms of information theft. In reality, the bulk of workplace data thievery comes from a classic trick: phishing.

Phishing is a catch-all phrase for a specific type of information theft which involves emailing. Typically, a phishing email will include a request for sensitive data, such as a password, a copy of a W-4, or an account’s details (e.g., security questions); the email itself will often appear to come from someone within the organization.

Similar approaches include emailing a link which acts as a login page for a familiar site (e.g., Facebook) but actually stores your account information when you sign in.

Luckily, there’s a way for you to test your business’ phishing readiness.

Phishero, a tool designed to test employee resistance to phishing attacks, is a simple solution for any business looking to find any weak links in their cybersecurity.

The tool itself is designed to do four main things: identify potential targets, find a way to design a convincing phishing scheme, implement the phishing attack, and analyze the results.

Once Phishero has a list of your employees, it is able to create an email based on the same web design used for your company’s internal communications. This email is then sent to your selected recipient pool, from which point you’ll be able to monitor who opens the email.

Once you’ve concluded the test, you can use Phishero’s built-in analytics to give you an at-a-glance overview of your organization’s security.

The test results also include specific information such as which employees gave information, what information was given, and pain points in your current cybersecurity setup.

Phishing attacks are incredibly common, and employees – especially those who may not be as generationally skeptical of emails – are the only things standing between your company and catastrophic losses if they occur in your business. While training your employees on proper email protocol out of the gate is a must, Phishero provides an easy way to see how effective your policies actually are.

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