Yearly Archives: 2014

The jury is still out on the validity of this story but it’s worth sharing even if just for a laugh. An nondescript company executive’s computer was recently  attacked by malware after charging his e-cigarette using the USB connector, as shared on Yahoo today. IT personnel deduced that when the executive connected the charger to his computer, the  e-cig had access to the server and immediately infected the system, despite anti-virus and other security software. We recently posted about USB drives being used for malicious behavior so we feel the latest e-cig story can in fact be true. Regardless if it is or not, we encourage computer users to be careful about what they connect electronically or everything could easily go up in smoke.

One of the saddest sights for technology: payphones. These once life-saving devices now sit unused in cities all over the world creating more of an eyesore than a lifeline. In New York City’s five boroughs, however, this is about to change. Starting in 2015, existing payphone booths will be revamped and joined by more than 10,000 Wi-fi hubs that will be called Links which will offer free wireless internet connectivity all day, every day (barring any technical difficulties that are sure to occur). Once in operation, the Links will allow nearby users to connect to the internet through a secured network, look up directions, and charge mobile devices all in one convenient location. Supposedly at no cost to taxpayers, the upcoming project is a collaboration effort between the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and CityBridge. Through advertising on the internet hubs, the LinkNYC project is expected to make the city more than $500 million dollars in just over ten years of successful use. We’re not sure how successful the program will be but hopefully it inspires other cities to follow New York’s lead and help cut down on citizens’ data overages when they are out and about on the town.


Earlier in the month we shared about how Verizon has been tracking users’ internet habits and selling them to advertisers for personalizing marketing efforts. Remember how we also shared that AT&T was being questioned about similar habits? Turns out that AT&T indeed has a supercookie program, even though they claim it currently isn’t being used. Now that the cat is out of the bag, the company has created an opt out program so that they can legally say they gave users the option to not be tracked before Relevant Advertising is fully rolled out. Want to enroll in the opt out? Visit this USA Today article to learn how:

The National Cybersecurity and Communications Integrations Center and the U. S. Computer Emergency Readiness Teams have shared that a method dubbed as a Masque Attack is being used to hack into iOS operating systems on iPhones and iPads. The “WireLurker” system aims to gain access to log-in credentials sensitive data, and remote monitoring abilities through the affected devices. Refraining from disabling your security measures and only downloading apps from Apple’s App Store are (not surprisingly) the most secure way to avoid the WireLurker. Your iOS tells you not to trust an INSTALL pop-up window? Don’t trust it! While Apple product users should be vigilant as ever, using common sense is your best defense in this latest attack.

Yikes! Turns out Intel manipulated benchmark scores for the first-gen Pentium 4 processors. Not enough techno drama? HP had a hand in the act. The two allegedly published false tests to give the appearance that the new processor was better performing than the AMD Athlon Thunderbird, tests that were done by Intel and not an outside entity as claimed. Even if customers bought systems with the Pentium 4 without knowledge of these fabricated statements, the fact that the companies falsified information in the first place is a big no-no.

The good news in this mess is that you may be able to get a share of the settlement. If you bought a computer with a Pentium processor between November 20, 2000 and June 30, 2002 (regardless of if you have a miraculously still have a receipt or not) you may be eligible to receive a $15 claim. No, $15 isn’t close to what you paid for the unit but it’s better than nothing, right? There is a limited amount that will be refunded so don’t delay in submitting your form soon. If you wait until the April 14, 2015 deadline you’ll likely receive an SOL message in response. To claim your part of the settlement, visit the below link and submit the form online. The link also includes details about the case documents, exclusions that may affect eligibility (like living in Illinois), and customers’ legal rights in the lawsuit.

Intel Pentium 4 Settlement

While it is not yet time to get in line for a terahertz chip powered computer, it is time to recognize that the possibility isn’t as far off as may have been previously assumed. Why? DARPA and Northrop Grumman Corporation have developed the first terahertz amplifier, the Terahertz Monolithic Integrated Circuit (TMIC). To put this feat into perspective, the difference between what was the norm and the TMIC can be compared to a bottle rocket and a space shuttle. Surely this can’t be true … and yet it is. The former record of 850 gigahertz was shattered with the TMIC’s one trillion cycles per second. The faster turnover should be able to astronomically improve technologies such as security imaging systems, radar, and communications. DARPA’s program manager Dev Palmer describer “terahertz circuits promise to open up new areas of research and unforeseen applications in the sub-millimeter-wave spectrum, in addition to bringing unprecedented performance to circuits operating at more conventional frequencies.” The development team still has more work to do before this new cycle-turnover rate becomes commonplace but we’re confident that we aren’t the only techies eagerly awaiting to see what changes this will ultimately bring to the world.

Terahertz Monolithic Integrated Circuit (TMIC)

You search for a website on your phone and assume that your internet provider is the only one who knows where you visit. Turns out if you have Verizon, you were wrong. Recently it has been discovered that for at least the past two years the communications provider has been selling the data it collects from its mobile internet users and sells the information to marketing companies. Verizon refers to the process as a Unique Identifier Header (UIDH) which inserts unique numbers and letters into users’ web requests. Paying advertisers can then use these distinctive web addresses to identify which you tend to visit and can closely tailor their ads to your searches. The UIDH system alters the addresses through Verizon’s network so deleting saved cookies will have no effect on the advertisers’ ability to view your tendencies and history. Even more troubling to many people hearing about the tactics is that the company’s opt-out function does not stop the process. Verizon and its advertising clients won’t use your searches for personalized ads; however, it will continue to collect all of the information that it did before you opted-out. Bit of a head scratcher, yes? Providers including AT&T and Sprint are now also being questioned if they employ tactics similar to Verizon. Be careful for what websites you visit on your phone; Big Brother is not only watching but keeping track of where you go…

UPDATE: AT&T confirms to use of similar program:

Verizon UIDH

You snap a pic, send it to a specific user, and assume that it will be automatically deleted once it is viewed on the user’s Snapchat account. PLOT TWIST. Turns out that it isn’t this simple and unfortunately for some, thousands of these photos have been released on the internet. The Snapchat application itself was not hacked but third-party applications that store saved shots. Applications and websites like allow users to save otherwise “expired” photos so that users can return to them for viewing in the future. Though the images were taken using the application, Snapchat is admitting no fault because “Snapchatters were victimized by their use of third-party apps to send and receive Snaps, a practice that we expressly prohibit in our Terms of Use precisely because they compromise our users’ security.” Regardless of how the images were accessed or how they were initially shared, this event is yet another obvious reminder that what happens in technology does not stay hidden no matter what is promised.

Several of the applications being accused of hosting the leaked images claim that they do not store usernames and passwords, yet usernames are indeed attached to the approximately 90,000 images. Worst yet, many viewers of the released images have reported they contain child pornography. Many sites are now claiming that the Snappening is a hoax because the releaser cannot create a searchable database but the evidence stands: images were released without the users’ permission. As with all similar photo releases, we advise all readers refrain from searching for these images and to be more cognizant of what you share on the internet. It’s not as safe a place as you may have been led to believe.

Snapchat Snappening

Today if you walk into a computer programming or computer science class on nearly any college campus, the room will be filled with primarily young adult males. Does this shock you? It shouldn’t. Yet this hasn’t always been the case. Does this shock you? How about the fact that women were some of the frontrunners in computer programming? It should based on how history has been told.

Science and mathematics have long been regarded as masculine studies because that’s what the media consistently reports. If women were involved it was reported that they simply assisted, even when their work shows they were co-contributors with their male colleagues. Considered the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace was tutored almost exclusively in mathematics and worked on Charles’ Babbage’s analytical engine. Despite reports of Babbage himself saying that Lovelace understood the computations and calculations of the machine better than he did, Babbage is credited as the sole inventor of the machine. When computers really took off in the 1940s, leaders such as Gertrude Blanch, Adele Goldstine, and Grace Hopper made monumental contributions to the industry, yet aren’t recognized today by most programmers or programming students. While female programmers were the minority for most of the 20th century, it was a mere 60-40 split with their male counterparts. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are modern-day examples of programming geniuses but women had been dominating the role long before Apple or Microsoft ever existed.

Many believe that women are underrepresented in technology because there aren’t ample, prevalent role models for them to look up to which since the 1980s has sadly been true. When Steve Jobs and Bill Gates broke into fame, they were the image of the classic computer programmer. Women in the industry shifted from 40% at the time to now closer to 17% according to various studies. This 17% have recently been pushing young girls to remember that they do have role models to look to and they shouldn’t be afraid to become programmers.


Grace Hopper, electronic computer automatic programmer

Grace Hopper, electronic computer automatic programmer

Using a USB is no longer one of the safest ways to transfer files between computers. Why? Because two researchers (Karsten Noll and Jakob Lell of SRLabs) have discovered a way to reprogram the device’s firmware to attack the computer to which it is attached. As if this weren’t bad enough, the reverse engineered USB can affect the computer in such way that any USB device that is plugged into it will be corrupted as well. Think that connecting an anti-virus device will solve the problem? Think again. The infected computer will self-replicate the malware onto the newly attached device’s controller to make it a BadUSB as well.

Because this new attack isn’t a normal virus, security measures like McAfee or Norton will not stop the attack. These systems scan files and program codes to identify malicious behavior and attributes. This BadUSB as the creators have dubbed it is unique because it is run through the controller of the USB, not in the memory. Thus, the connected computer will not be able to recognize the malware. The device identifies itself as a USB to the computer once connected but is able to redefine itself as another device such as a keyboard. This may not seem useful at first but once defined as a keyboard, the malware can then enter strokes that command the computer to do tasks such as download Trojans or log into accounts, giving the USB needed usernames and passwords.

Unfortunately once a computer has been infected, there is nothing even the savviest tech can do to remove the malware. Noll explained that the only valid defense for this breach is for the device creators to “make it so the firmware can’t be reprogrammed.” Even an unopened USB drive fresh from the store can already have been infected at the factory so planning to replace all old devices with new ones doesn’t ensure security. Until the way USB controllers are made and programmed differently at production, this new threat is a reality that we should all be on the lookout for.


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