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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

Microsoft’s latest HUGE investment: Self-driving car technologies

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft invests in self-driving car technology by joining other investors in a combined equity investment of $2 billion.

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Cars driving on city highway, including more than one self-driving car in the future.

Microsoft has put its money into self-driving car technology. The tech giant has partnered with General Motors and Cruise, GM’s majority-owned driverless car startup, to “accelerate the
commercialization of self-driving vehicles.”

“Our mission to bring safer, better, and more affordable transportation to everyone isn’t just a tech race – it’s also a trust race,” said Cruise CEO Dan Ammann in a press release. “Microsoft, as the gold standard in the trustworthy democratization of technology, will be a force multiplier for us as we commercialize our fleet of self-driving, all-electric, shared vehicles.”

Along with Honda and other institutional investors, the companies are investing a combined $2 billion into the autonomous car company. This new funding round brings Cruise to a post-money valuation of $30 billion.

The long-term strategic partnership between the companies will be a collaborative one and beneficial for both. To roll out its fleet of self-driving vehicles, Cruise will leverage Microsoft’s cloud and edge computing platform, Azure.

In turn, as GM’s and Cruise’s preferred cloud provider, Microsoft will use the car company’s “industry expertise to enhance its customer-driven product innovation and serve transportation companies across the globe through continued investment in Azure.”

Besides helping bring the self-driving technology out to the market quicker, the companies will also work together on other digitization initiatives. For instance, they will collaborate on artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. And, explore opportunities to streamline operations and increase productivity.

“Advances in digital technology are redefining every aspect of our work and life, including how we move people and goods,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “As Cruise and GM’s preferred
cloud, we will apply the power of Azure to help them scale and make autonomous transportation mainstream.”

Cruise first announced its self-driving car service a year ago, but when it will be deployed isn’t certain yet. With Microsoft as a partner, deploying those cars will help speed things up.

“Microsoft is a great addition to the team as we drive toward a future world of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Microsoft will help us accelerate the commercialization of Cruise’s all-electric, self-driving vehicles and help GM realize even more benefits from cloud computing as we launch 30 new electric vehicles globally by 2025 and create new businesses and services to drive growth.”

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Tech News

Wow! This synthetic cornea gave a legally blind man his vision back!

(TECH NEWS) Another instance of “technology is amazing:” this minimally invasive eye implant has opened new doors for sight restoration surgeries for the legally blind.

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Blurry city with a single glass piece held in the middle with a clear view.

After being the first patient to receive a cutting-edge cornea implant, a legally blind 78-year-old man can see again. Directly after his surgery, the patient was able to recognize his family members and read an eye chart. The KPro implant comes from the company CorNeat.

KPro is the first implant that can be directly integrated into the eye wall, replacing damaged or deformed corneas with no donor tissue. The clear layer that protects the front portion of the eye is called the corona. The corona is susceptible to degeneration or scarring, as well as a number of diseases such as keratopathy, keratoconus and pseudophakia bullous.

While artificial cornea implants already exist, the surgeries are complex and typically only used as a last resort when transplants or cornea ring implants don’t work. That is perhaps what makes the CorNeat transplants so remarkable – it’s a simple procedure that’s minimally invasive.

Additionally, KPro uses a biomimetic material that “stimulates cellular proliferation, leading to progressive tissue integration”. Not only can these implants give you your sight back instantly, but they also can help the natural tissue in your eyes to grow back and integrate. Now, THIS is cool stuff.

CorNeat said that ten more patients in Israel are approved for trials, as well as two in Canada. Six others are in the approval process in France, U.S., and the Netherlands. Professor Irit Bahar of CorNeat stated that he believes this project will ultimately impact millions of people’s lives. Only time will tell.

This advancement in biotech comes at a time where many Americans are uninsured and at a higher risk for health ailments due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent effects. At its best, CorNeat’s KPro offers some hope – while COVID has brought many industries to their knees, advancements in medical technology seem to persist.

If the results of the implants continue to stay as promising as they are now, who knows – maybe we’ll all be receiving cornea implants as a normal part of health upkeep in the not-so-distant future. I know I’ll be first in line.

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The top 10 languages you can know as a programmer

(TECH NEWS) Considering a career as a developer or programmer? You’re not alone. Here’s top 10 programming languages to enhance or start your career.

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Two female programmers at a laptop working on a programming screen.

The COVID economy has thousands of Americans reconsidering their career paths – with so many jobs dissolving due to various reasons (i.e., automation, a decrease in full-time creative positions), it’s no wonder why scores of professionals are seeking to reskill ASAP.

If this sounds like you, look no further; have you ever considered the lucrative career of computer programming?

Programmers on average make a salary of $89,590 a year. And better yet, coding jobs might never become obsolete. The trick is to know exactly what you want to do – different coding languages best serve specific purposes. So, which one should you learn first?

Top ten languages for new developers:

  1. Python – Learn Python if you’re interested in data analysis, machine learning, scripting, web development and Internet of Things (it’s the future!). Python is also the easiest language to learn, so give it a go!
  2. JavaScript – JavaScript is for you if you want a career in making websites interactive.
  3. The Go Programming Language – You can learn to build simple, reliable, and efficient software.
  4. Java – Want to work on computer programs, games, apps and web applications? What about Internet of Things and robots? Learn Java to tap into these fields. Keep in mind, Java is considered difficult for novice programmers.
  5. C# – C# is great for websites, web applications, games, and apps – especially Windows apps. It’s also perfect for Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.
  6. PHP – Want to get your hands dirty doing back-end website programming? PHP is the language for you.
  7. C++ – For programming apps, games and web browsers, C++ is the language you’ll need to learn. Though it’s notoriously tough to grasp, knowing this language could be the competitive edge you need to set you apart from the pool of programmers.
  8. C – C will prepare you for operating systems, compilers and databases.
  9. R – The world is always in need of those who conduct data and statistical analyses – check out R to dive in.
  10. Swift – For apps and software for Apple devices, check out Swift.

My advice? Figure out exactly it is you want to do in your new career as a programmer. Set your goal. Then, after you’re sure what direction you want to go in, see which programming language best suits your needs.

Get proficient at one language to start and become top-notch at it. Then, you can expand your rolodex to include multiple languages and grow your abilities as a programmer.

Good luck!

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