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Why the term “zero day” needs to be in your brand’s cybersecurity vocabulary

(TECH NEWS) What’s at risk? Identity theft, botnet spam, corporate espionage, and loss of privacy. Better get to know the term “zero day.”

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Mobile trust and security

The other day I wandered into Best Buy at the mall. Nobody’s around and I’m alone with the sales guy. “Umm, what’s the most secure device you have here?” He takes a step back.

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Paraphrasing our brief conversation, Apple and Samsung make up 95% of his sales and he thinks Apple is safer. “Is Apple safer because they screen apps better?” Head nods.

“I heard Blackberry is working to secure Android for business users.” Sales guy had nothing to say about that.

Why do people trust Apple?

I wouldn’t take security advice from a Best Buy sales guy, but it does seem that people trust Apple more. Maybe because Apple stood up to the FBI in a very public way. Great marketing, Apple.

Most likely, Apple does care about the slippery slope of security, in terms of unlocking devices. (The same way Google cared about user data intercepted under the ocean.) But I don’t know Tim Cook personally. Even if I did, I wouldn’t feel more or less confident using Apple products because Tim’s not omniscient – he can’t see or control everything going on within Apple.

What’s different about Android?

I think people can generally trust me, but they can trust me exactly because they know they don’t have to.” –Linus Torvalds

What does that even mean? Well, Linus created the core “kernel” of the Android operating system, a customized version of Linux.

In other words, Linus Torvalds is the core genius inside every Samsung-Android smartphone at Best Buy.

Linux is “open source” which means anyone can look at the code and point out flaws. In that sense, I’d say Linus Torvalds doesn’t have to be as omniscient as Tim Cook. Linux source code isn’t hidden behind closed doors. My understanding is, all the Linux code is out there for anyone to see, naked for anyone to scrutinize, which is why certain countries feel safer using it–there’s no hidden agenda or secret “back door” lurking in the shadows. Does that mean Android phones are safer? That’s up for debate.

How security has changed

For a long time, Apple had the “security through obscurity” thing going for it. In simple terms, that means the bad guys go for low-hanging fruit first, the easy score. Is Apple hanging lower? Windows was the low-hanging fruit. But now that Apple is more popular, it has a bigger target on its back.

As we depend more and more on smartphones, and there’s more people, more money and more at risk, consequently there’s more incentive for hackers to penetrate deep into our devices.

If you read the book “Hackers” by Steven Levy, you know the original hackers were all about the “Hacker Ethic” which boils down to “Information wants to be free.” Sounds harmless enough. For whatever reason, the original hackers found secrets offensive, or they just saw “locked doors” as a technical challenge. Maybe they were idealists, but somewhere along the way, other interests crept in.

That leads us to the zero-day Apple exploit that has people concerned about their iPhones.

The origins of “zero day”

First, what does “zero day” even mean?

Back in the early 90s, a couple of my classmates were into downloading “0 day warez” which was nerd speak for “the latest video games released today.” Games had copy protection. So you couldn’t just buy a game and copy it for your friends, you had to buy your own copy. Hackers figured out how to break the copy protection and called themselves “crackers.” Crackers were competitive, in terms of who could crack a new game first.

For bragging rights, their goal was to crack a game within 24 hours, and that was the “zero day” game, as a full day had not gone by yet.

Fast-forward 20 years. Now you can watch the “Zero Day” movie on Netflix and the original meaning has morphed to mean “software that’s still secret.” Potentially harmful code could lurk undetected in your computer for years. But if your anti-virus scanner hasn’t detected anything suspicious yet, pop culture would consider that a “zero day exploit.” As far as the actual terminology used among hackers, who knows?

Should you be concerned? Almost by definition, most people aren’t targeted by zero-day exploits. Once an exploit is released into the wild and exposed, it’s no longer as useful to attackers, because then it can be studied and whatever hole it used (to penetrate your phone) can be “patched” to block future intrusions. Then again, older unpatched phones could remain vulnerable and ordinary people could be affected.

Patches for Apple vs. Android

In Apple’s case, they’re able to patch these holes within days. For Google, it might not be as fast, depending on the problem. It might take months to get a patch pushed out to everybody, or the fix might never come. For example, it sounds like Samsung is mostly concerned about security updates for its flagship phones.

Why the difference? My understanding is, Google can fix apps and push out patches at the “app level” as fast as Apple, if the problem is specific to a certain app. The main difference is that the Android market is larger and has more devices, and each Android phone manufacturer has a slightly different, tweaked version of the core Android operating system. Different Android manufacturers will push out updates on their own timeline.

Your best bet

If you want the latest (hopefully safest) operating system straight from Google as soon as possible, you’ll want an official Google phone, probably a “Nexus” branded device. According to something I read last night, I believe Android 7 directly addresses this shortcoming to some degree with a new auto-update feature. But for now, the Android ecosystem remains fragmented.

For the average person, what’s at risk? Identity theft, botnet spam, corporate espionage, and loss of privacy.

#ZeroDay

PJ Brunet is a writer, full stack developer, and abstract artist. His first computer was a Texas Instruments TI-99. As a teen, he interned at IBM in Boca where the first PC was born. Graduating with a BFA, he gave California and New York a shot, but fell in love with Texas in 2004, the same year he started blogging about technology.

Tech News

Amazingly fun tech toys that are secretly educational

(TECHNOLOGY) STEM toys for children are fun *and* educational – here are some that have caught our eye.

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STEM tech toys for kids

There’s a new trend amongst startups – and amongst kids’ toys: educational playthings that teach your little ones STEM skills like programming and coding.

Toys that double as learning tools are nothing new, but digital, connected technology still is, and so is the idea that your toddler can get a leg up in the tech industry by getting an early start.

Parents, universities, and economists seem concerned that acquiring STEM skills will soon be the only way to guarantee a good job, despite reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that 3 out of 4 STEM majors end up in non-STEM fields anyway.

So if your kid is more into, say, baseball or dancing than computers, you might be wasting the pretty pennies these high-powered educational toys will cost you.

Kids, with their alarmingly short attention spans, are as likely to toss these toys back into the toybox as any other. But if your wee one seems to have a knack for all things technical – or if you’d just rather see them learn how to build a device than passively stare at one all day – then check out TC’s guide to STEM toys.

Even though these toys are marketed towards the younger set, I found myself a little envious, wishing I could take a few for a test drive – especially since many of them are modern, high-tech reboots on old standbys from my childhood.

Lego’s Boost Creative Toolbox uses the same classic Lego blocks, but allows you to animate and program your creations.

Several products cross-market with some of my childhood favorites; Dash Robotics has teamed up with Mattel to make Jurassic World robots, and Kano makes a Harry Potter Coding Kit that teaches kids to program a wand that can interact with digital content. There’s even Electro Dough which is basically electrically-conductive Play-Doh that can light up and make sounds. I want!

In fact, a lot of the toys combine arts ‘n’ crafts with STEM lessons. Adafruits makes a marker with electronically conductive ink that can light up circuits and interact with computer programs, and an electronic pencil that synthesizes music. Root Robotic’s little bot can draw pictures and compose songs.

For the more straightforward tech nerds, Makeblock, Evo, Robo Wunderkind, and Wonder Workshop all make programmable robots – a big step up from the “artificially intelligent” Furby’s of my childhood. Sphero’s Bolt is a ball-shaped robot, while Airblock makes a programmable hovercraft.

There’s the Pi-top Modular Laptop that teaching kids coding, and there are even opportunities for kids to build their own electronics; Kano offers a build-it-yourself computer.

The holidays are just around the corner – but whether STEM educational toys will be the next Tickle Me Elmo remains to be seen.

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Tech News

This AI program wants to be your graphic designer

(TECH NEWS) If you’re a small business looking for branding or to re-brand but don’t have the time nor budget, this tool can help you get it done!

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brandmark

AI is growing, now it can even be your own personal graphic designer.

The new company Brandmark uses AI to create custom brand identities in minutes. All you need to do is describe your business and leave the designing up to them.

Brandmark describes their system as “more than just a logo,” as they aid people in developing an entire brand identity. This includes a complete style guide, color scheme and even a WordPress compatible website template.

It is the perfect tool for small businesses and entrepreneurs who may not have the budget to hire an in-house designer to join their team.

The creators of Brandmark have attempted to give the platform personal elements as well, so that you can understand the design decisions and even have the chance to make it your own.

The process is as simple as it can get. All that Brandmark requires is for you to type in a few keywords that best describe your business. For example, a coffee shop might type in “coffee, hot, lounge, mocha, books, relaxation.” These keywords are anything that can be associated with your brand so it is important to include adjectives as well. Consider how you want customers to feel when they see your product or walk into your shop for the first time.

All of these details will help Brandmark create a unique and personal identity for you.

The creators of the tool wanted it to feel like a true designer. That is why they have developed a system that understands design principles. After creating a look, Brandmark will explain the design choice and how it relates to your brand. In addition, you have access to features that allow you to customize the design.

Just like any professional service, Brandmark provides a style guide that can be used to apply your brand - including logo, color scheme and font - to various type of products. Click To Tweet

For instance, the same coffee shop would know how to apply their logo to coffee cups, bags, mugs and menus by following the guide. In addition, website layouts are offered to get your online business started. It’s an all-in-one package to get your business up and running with a professional look.

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Tech News

Why chatbots may never fully catch on

(TECH NEWS) We’ve cheered on plenty of chatbots in the past, but the truth is that chatbots aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be.

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Ah, the chatbots. Why talk to a human being when you can send countless messages into the void and receive canned responses in return? Due in part to the convenience and potential for free engagement, we’ve supported iterations of this unnatural evolution of the automated call center in the past; however, there are a few reasons why chatbots may never fully catch on.

The main difference between a chatbot (e.g., the kind of automated message you may find on a tech support site) and something like Siri is that chatbots, for all their portrayed eagerness, don’t do much outside of addressing specific questions with specific answers.

Where a true AI suite like Siri or Alexa can learn and respond accordingly, chatbots are doomed to stay within their glorified voicemail-esque confines.

Of course, the main incentive behind using a chatbot is to simplify your resulting interaction with a customer: if the chatbot is able to identify the main concern or query on the customer’s behalf, it saves you time and mutual frustration. In theory.

Unfortunately, customers are statistically more likely to click off of your page or service before they even receive a second message from the chatbot than they are to follow through.

Chatbots can also be extremely confusing to navigate, making them tedious and clunky to “talk” to, and their limited responses can quickly aggravate hurried or less-tech-savvy clients.

Whether you’re using a chatbot to automate the filtering process or simply gather some more information, you can assume that the chatbot isn’t always saving you as much time as it’s costing other people.

Ultimately, it seems that chatbots aren’t saving you time, aren’t providing a hospitable environment for customers, and aren’t contributing much in the way of useful analytics — so why are we still using them?

Frankly, a multiple choice form or a blank text box in the middle of your website’s landing page might better serve inbound customers; giving folks a few choices and an option to explain in further detail their problem will give you all the same information with the added benefit of not having a confused, angry client to deal with at the end of the process.

Beep boop bye.

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