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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

Facebook policy sets themselves up for yet another failure

(TECH) Facebook’s role in news consumption increases, and their new policy regarding news is raising eyebrows.

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Facebook did not get a lot of likes a when it was facing scrutiny for taking money for Russian ads, and their subsequent role in the 2016 Presidential election. In response to that, Facebook announced its Ad Archive – a public political archive to allow users more transparency in who purchased those ads like you can on television. Additionally, they changed their political ads policy.

Of course, the goal of this is to promote transparency and give the public an opportunity to scrutinize advertisers and have more control about what they do with that information. Facebook and the world at large acknowledges that still isn’t a perfect solution, and there are many problems left to work out, including how perpetrators can get around the new rules by simply setting up an LLC.

Now, Facebook says they will include news pages in their Ad Archives. While this decision was originally opposed by many news publishers, and Facebook compromised by putting them in a separate category, it has officially become part of Facebook policy.

To be a news page, there are several criteria pages and promoters must follow, including focusing on current events and news, spreading factual and true information, and publishing content that is not user generated or aggregated from other areas of the web. Also, the amount of advertising content can not exceed the amount of content related to news.

Facebook’s decision to include news publishers involved some input from The Trust Project was a decent step, but it’s almost certain that many publishers are raising their eyebrows at the decision to include them in the archive, with the indication that news organizations are as suspect as corrupt Russian players. It is particularly grating in an environment where Twitter has opted not to lump news and Russian actors together.

Certainly, how publishers spend their dollars and make platform decisions will be impacted, especially as this continues. Given the broad domains of ad archive – elections, elected officials, and issues of national importance – we are likely to see how things play out over the next few months.

The biggest concern of course, is how this sets Facebook up for another failure in regards to how it handles news, and how this will impact the people receiving that news. And hopefully, we find out before the stakes are too high.

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Quickly delete years of your stupid Facebook updates

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Digital clutter sucks. Save time and energy with this new Chrome extension for Facebook.

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facebook desktop

When searching for a new job, it’s always a good idea to scan your social media presence to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure with offensive or immature posts.

In fact, you should regularly check your digital life even if you’re not on the job hunt. You never know when friends, family, or others are going to rabbit hole into reading everything you’ve ever posted.

Facebook is an especially dangerous place for this since the social media giant has been around for over fourteen years. Many accounts are old enough to be in middle school now.

If you’ve ever taken a deep dive into your own account, you may have found some unsavory posts you couldn’t delete quickly enough.

We all have at least one cringe-worthy post or picture buried in years of digital clutter. Maybe you were smart from the get-go and used privacy settings. Or maybe you periodically delete posts when Memories resurfaces that drunk college photo you swore wasn’t on the internet anymore.

But digging through years of posts is time consuming, and for those of us with accounts older than a decade, nearly impossible.

Fortunately, a new Chrome extension can take care of this monotonous task for you. Social Book Post Manager helps clean up your Facebook by bulk deleting posts at your discretion.

Instead of individually removing posts and getting sucked into the ensuing nostalgia, this extension deletes posts in batches with the click of a button.

Select a specific time range or search criteria and the tool pulls up all relevant posts. From here, you decide what to delete or make private.

Let’s say you want to destroy all evidence of your political beliefs as a youngster. Simply put in the relevant keyword, like a candidate or party’s name, and the tool pulls up all posts matching that criteria. You can pick and choose, or select all for a total purge.

You can also salt the earth and delete everything pre-whatever date you choose. I could tell Social Book to remove everything before 2014 and effectively remove any proof that I attended college.

Keep in mind, this tool only deletes posts and photos from Facebook itself. If you have any savvy enemies who saved screenshots or you cross-posted, you’re out of luck.

The extension is free to use, and new updates support unliking posts and hiding timeline items. Go to town pretending you got hired on by the Ministry of Truth to delete objectionable history for the greater good of your social media presence.

PS: If you feel like going full scorched Earth, delete everything from your Facebook past and then switch to this browser to make it harder for Facebook to track you while you’re on the web.

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Tech News

Why are all apps starting to look exactly the same?

(TECHNOLOGY) As apps evolve, they are beginning to look uniform – is this a good or bad thing?

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apps looking uniform

Have you noticed that all apps are beginning to look a lot alike? Many popular social media apps are utilizing minimalist designs, featuring lots of black and white with negative space and little color.

At a glance, you may not be able to differentiate what’s Airbnb and what’s Instagram. Normally, something like this could be argued to be unoriginal and boring. However, let’s look at the positives.

If every app – for the most part – is operating with the same design, they’re not trying to constantly one-up each other with the next big look. As a result, they have more time to focus on what’s important – the content found on the app and the functions of the app.

While many apps offer similar features (like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram both having Stories), every social media app has its own flair that keeps users coming back. And, user retention is higher if they feel comfortable using the app – which is another plus of them all having similar designs.

If you have 12 different social media apps with 12 different interfaces and means of operation, it’s unlikely that a user will keep up with all 12. But, if they know exactly how to use them, the user can flip back and forth like it’s nothing.

However, “app fatigue is a real thing,” said Yaz of UX Collective. “Most people have grown tired of bouncing between too many apps or learning how to use a new interface after every new download.”

Below is Yaz’s exploration of the uniformity in apps:

Research has found that a quarter of all apps are deleted after just one use. People tend to stick with the apps that they have found made a positive impact in their lives – either for communication with others or apps that save them time.

Uniformity means developers can spend more of their time on creating the content that will aid in better communication and more time saving options.

Again, what it comes down to is the content and function. That’s where the true creativity comes in. People aren’t using Airbnb because the app or the website are ridiculously exciting; they’re using it because it offers a service that is beneficial.

What are your thoughts on app uniformity? Unoriginal, or a stepping stone for what’s really important?

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