I’ve noticed that a lot of smart-phone users don’t take their security as seriously as they do on Windows machines. They’re happy to surf the web without virus protection and to install software with rather appalling permissions. I’ve seen simple games wanting access to your call history, data, identity, location and more – yet they’re recommended by the Play store. Clearly, their standards are not mine.
Android has become the most widely used OS in the world. It dominates mobile devices. So it’s become a target for trouble. And for the modern trend of collecting user info and selling it.
Fred Langa recently wrote a good overview of some of the apps you might find useful for Android security. He reviews AV suites, Password management, device recovery, wiping, and VPNs.
I’ve been surprised how robust the Android security suites have become. Fred mentions Lookout, which I’m not familiar with. He runs through it’s features, making it a good comparison point for other suites. He also notes that there is some garbage posing as security software – you do want software you can trust. I’ve been using ESET Antivirus for some time on my PC’s and have been very happy with it. So it’s a natural that I checked out ESET’s Android offering. I was surprised to discover they were actually underselling it on the web site.
The app walks you through setting up each section as you choose to activate that feature set. If it recommends setting changes, it gives you easy access to those settings. I didn’t have a need for ‘Call and SMS Blocking‘ but the rest of it was rich with features I found useful.
When I tried to register on the web site for an anti-theft account prior, it failed. But when I registered through the app, it worked fine. Not sure why they have a register option on the web site when its the device that has to register. I was then able to test the anti-theft features on-line. It did catch a picture of me and did show the phones location within about 5 meters. (that’s controlled by the area and phones GPS) If you’re prone to leave your phone places, that can be really handy. You can also text commands much as Fred describes in the article, like locking the phone, have it make a loud noise, and so forth.
Most satisfying to me was the ‘Security Audit‘ feature as I’d become concerned about the behaviour of some apps and I wasn’t as informed when setting the phone up. Indeed, it found one of the games had infection issues through it’s advertising. And a few apps had stepped over reasonable permission bounds. ESET takes you right to the apps permissions and uninstall if you need it.
The free version has somewhat reduced features but is fully functional. It’s clear in the app which parts you’re test-driving during the 30 day free trial. Scroll down the page here to see a comparison chart of the differences.
Premium ESET is currently on sale for $10/ year, $15 for 2. From Fred’s article, $15/yr seems typical for paid versions, though Lookout is $30. ESET is usually in the middle.
If you travel a lot or use public hot spots, a VPN can much improve security – especially if you need to do some banking or some such. Fred reviews some of those options. Device recovery and system wiping tools are included in some AV suites, like the above, but he also suggests stand alone ones if that’s needed.
Finally, Password management. For this, you want a tool that’s useful both on your PCs and mobile. Fred suggests several which basically mean having 2 or more password stores. Not very efficient to have different passwords in different places – the one you need is the one that will be stored somewhere else.
As readers here know, I’m a fan of LastPass, a free PC password manager. The premium version, for $12 a year, adds many other features including mobile access to your password vault from any device. It also allows you to separate work and home passwords, create family shared ones, and adds enterprise tools.
Safe surfing, wherever you are.
Recently in Canada, a lot of small businesses and charities have been quite concerned. On July 1, new anti-spam legislation came into effect here. Many small organizations depend on low-cost messaging services to communicate and advertise. A few have been a little sloppy about their lists.
While anti-spam legislation is a good idea, when they define it with terms like “electronic address”, there are issues. Everything on the Internet has an electronic address. Also, very little spam originates from where the legislation will have any effect. Estimates I’ve seen suggest 2%.
The main thing you need to understand is that CASL is mostly about email, though Instant Messaging and SMS are included. It’s about sending directly to a person’s electronic address, typically to many such at a time.
If you’re doing so without their documented consent through some sort of relationship, this is now spamming and subject to fines. (see the implicit/ explicit summary below) Thus, you want to ensure your newsletter/ emailing list is fully Opt-in. If you’ve been using a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact, they will normally do a confirmed or double Opt-in. The end user enters an email address on-line or clicks a link and the system sends them an email to confirm – click and done. Even many blogs comment subscriptions double-confirm now (on WordPress).
However, if you’ve manually entered peoples email addresses or your list is mostly imported, then you will want to ask your subscribers to re-verify with a new Opt-in. You’ve probably seen a bunch of such emails yourself. Constant Contact handily offers a “CASL Template” for doing so. The user clicks the email link and it’s done. (though you’ll need to edit the Contacts, Signup Tools, Change of Interest email as that’s what they’ve used for an email post-confirmation – just make the message more generic.) Constant Contact has said they’ll be exposing the confirmed data in reports later this month. Managing will thus be easy.
With Constant Contact, you may also wish to update your email headers to add the Confirmation option to all emails as well.
So far MailChimp has offered an overview article on the subject. That makes setting up a confirmation email much more involved, not to mention managing the results. MadMimi just refers to the US CAN SPAM law with a link to the CASL site. Even less helpful.
If you’re emailing large groups from your home computer with no unsubscribe link and no opt-in routine, you’re falling further and further outside the law in N. America. Not such a cheap option if you get fined. If your list is under 2,000 in size and you don’t send a ton of messages, MailChimp and MadMimi are both free. I’d suggest that after you import your list, your first order of business will be to send a verification email to get everyone to opt in. Or you drop them.
You also then get all the advantages of reporting, subscription management and so forth. Much easier to manage. And the templates help you to easily design professional looking messages.
All of this will ensure your Contact list is compliant. It may also save you a bit of money as you purge email addresses that have gone stale – just look at your Open vs Send rates. Many abandon free accounts over time. And some ISP’s no longer bounce stale addresses as it can lead to them getting on spam lists, ironically.
Updates that you post on your blog, Twitter or Facebook are sent to yourself. People who then wish to partake of these updates can then choose to view or subscribe. No worries there, in spite of some comments in the news. CASL does not apply.
EasyDNS has offered an excellent summary of implicit and explicit consent and why sending an unsubscribe reminder (Opt Out) won’t cut it.
Also note that you have time. The government does not plan to enforce this for 3 years. But don’t wait – it will take time to herd your cats and you don’t want to wander onto someone’s radar meantime.
Finally, here’s a review of a CRTC presentation on the topic that should ease some minds. But it also highlights the vague language in the legislation. It’s also notable it covers unauthorized software installs but is again a little vague on meaning.
If you have any experience dealing with emailing services we’d be interested in hearing how well they supported you with CASL.
UPDATE – see comments
In recent years, how we consume media has changed markedly. Video rentals stores have mostly died. Some have cancelled their cable service. Flat screen TV’s, then Smart TV’s (with built-in computers) have become common. On-line media sources as well. Movies now offer digital copies and so on.
If you mainly get your services from online sources like Netflix and Hulu, then you want a Smart TV or attached media box with a wireless keyboard and a smart remote like LG’s Magic Remote. (a standard TV remote is near useless for web browsing and such)
But if your main source is local digital media, like your movie, photo and music collections, you need a local storage solution. It might seem like hooking your computer up to your TV is a great idea, but that’s not likely to be convenient for how you normally use it. It will also create issues with backup sizes. Plus, I’ve found that TV media serving software tends to bog your computer and doesn’t update changes reliably.
Custom-building a PC as a media server may seem like a great idea, but the form factor and energy consumption are not as good. And PC’s need all those fricking updates.
Your better solution is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that includes a media server. These are energy efficient boxes designed for handling large media files. They’re somewhat similar to an external hard drive except they plug into your network (typically the router) and contain a small computer that allows them to handle several drives. They’re a natural for the job.
You do need to check it will work for your setup though – will it hold drives large enough for your growing media collection? And does it have the right kind of media server for your TV? Typically a DLNS is supported by Smart TV’s but do check yours. Can your TV even connect to a network? Smart TV’s do.
In my own case, I have an LG Smart TV and their Magic remote.
Normally with a NAS, the drives are set up to appear as a single massive drive or are mirrored in pairs. A mirrored drive creates an immediate backup of everything that’s on the main drive. This is a common practice on servers. You get half the available space but a perfect backup.
Buying a NAS, they don’t typically come with drives pre-installed – you choose your own. The exception would be some home offerings like HP’s My Cloud models. They’re more limited and pricey but get good reviews. The reviews oddly seem to compare wildly different types of NAS (with huge variations in price) rather than separating out home and business systems. Ideally, you get matching drives – especially if you’re going to mirror them. But you can start with one and add the other later.
I got a Shuttle OmniNAS KD20 on sale. This is a basic model made by an established small-format computer maker. It’s not a fast NAS but is much less expensive than many and does fine at turning your TV into a media centre from local content. We’re not talking about your office data centre here. The box is well designed and I found it very straightforward to set up. They indicate it’s supported by Win XP+, Mac and Linux.
In buying drives, the OmniNAS supports 2 drives up to 4TB each for max of 8 TB. That’s a lot of media. The WD Reds get the best reviews for the purpose, but this is a budget project. I found 2x 3TB Seagate external drives that were on sale for much less than the bare drives. Removing them from the case is straightforward but this does void the warranty. Thus it’s a good idea to test the drives in their cases prior to removal, if you take such a route. It’s also a slight bit more work.
Also note that setting up the NAS will erase anything on the drives, so copy anything off them before installing in the NAS. They’re generally configured to be in an array in a NAS. That way they appear as a single drive on the network.
In my case I was disassembling Seagate Expansion drives and used the free Seatools to test the drives prior. Seatools is not restricted to Seagate drives. This video reviews both the testing and the drive removal for that model. Shims do a better job than a screwdriver to avoid breaking the clips or damaging the surface – then you have spare cases for another external drive.
The OmniNAS supports both PC and laptop-sized SATA drives. Installing the drives is straightforward. Just follow the Quickstart Guide. You screw them onto the drive tray, then slide them in. Screws provided, as was a network cable. Plug it in and turn it on, voilà!
You then install Finder software on your PC. You can get the newer version from the web site. This finds the NAS on the network, then opens a browser window to configure the device.
It will ask for an Admin password, then later wants to set up a username and password. Make sure you have strong passwords, especially if you plan to share the media through the Internet. A tool like LastPass can help you track all your passwords securely.
I highly recommend you install the Firmware upgrade through the browser interface. (see the Downloads tab) The problems I saw reported with the unit when I researched it prior are addressed with this update. If you loose access to it on the network prior to updating, shut it down and then restart.
Be sure to edit the Workgroup name to match your LAN if it’s not the default “Workgroup”. (on your computer, right-click My Computer and select Properties. Scroll down to see the Workgroup name)
In my case I set up mirrored drives as the backup was more useful than all that drive space. I can easily change that later if I need more space.
Share Box sets your NAS up to serve media onto the Internet as your own “private cloud”, accessible from your Internet connected devices. Basically your own Dropbox service. This is done through an Omninas domain portal. You can skip that and set it up later if your main desire is for your local network and TV.
The box has a Twonky DLNS media server included free, which the LG TV happily and easily supported. Anything added to the “disc” folder is available to the TV. I added a lot of files – this took a bit of time to copy over on my non-Gigabit network – but the NAS had no trouble serving it all. In contrast, the LG PC software choked on a fraction of it and didn’t update reliably.
It also has an iTunes server, if you’re in Mac world or like serving your media that way. If not, turn it off.
And it has a print server to share your USB printer on the network. And an SD card reader and USB ports if you want to add or copy media that way.
It even has a torrent server, although you have to disable the media server for that. Several reviews criticised that but it may be a security measure.
The OmniNAS also comes with a copy of Acronis imaging software if you wish to use the NAS for your backups as well. It will work fine with recent editions of Microsoft Backup and Mac Time Machine as well – in fact any software that will backup to network locations.
If you want your backup to also serve as a remote access store, use a tool like Cobain Gravity that copies files rather than images them. Imaging software is ideal for the operating system and programs but copy software is better for your files to ensure immediate access in the event of trouble.
If you Map the network drive, then the NAS shows up as a drive in Windows Explorer and such making file transfer easier.
For simplicity, I set up the free Microsoft SyncToy to echo to the NAS some of the media folders like Photos. I like copies of those on my computer, so when I update them, Synctoy will match all the changes to the NAS.
Then you can have slide shows, music playlists, and more on your TV. It becomes today’s stereo. If you have surround speakers, it’s better even than an old Quad system. Any other devices on your network also have access to all the content now too.
And if you also want to access that media on your tablet, smartphone (Android or iPhone apps in the Stores) or laptop on the road, Share Box to the rescue. No worries about storing your stuff on someone else’s servers. If you’re a small business person, you can backup your documents to the NAS, ensuring both a backup and that you always have access. No worries about remote access to your PC. (note the comments about backup types above if you want document access – don’t image those files)
I’ve been much happier with the OmniNAS than serving from my laptop. It’s been more reliable, frees up computer resources, and provides another layer of backup.
Just as software has it’s open source and licensing has Creative Commons, open knowledge of hardware is crucial for us to grow as a society in healthy ways. I recently wrote a similar article on network infrastructure – an open Internet.
Why is this even an issue? Current laws concentrate knowledge into property rights for economic control rather than the common good. Corporate structures, treated legally as a person and thus given the same rights, are concentrating economic activity into monopolies. The result is the concentration of knowledge and wealth in a progressively smaller group, the so-called 1%. (although that’s overstating it now) This has historically destabilized and destroyed civilizations.
If we’re going to learn the lessons of history, we need more balance and a more diversified economy. We need opportunity in the commons and that is best served by accessible knowledge.
“This increased access to knowledge is hugely important…it acts as the foundational infrastructure on which we can start to build a whole new economy.”
— Alastair Parvin of WikiHouse
This video outlines how it can be applied to hardware:
And this page lists 10 open hardware projects. If you’ve been around long enough you’ll recognize the Access to Tools theme that was common in the old Whole Earth Catalogue. It was also a theme of R. Buckminster Fuller.
Look Up… a rap on engaging with life, with people. Not so much with technology.
A year ago, I summarised some of the events that had occurred as a result of 2 controversial talks at a TEDx event in England.
As the site Science Set Free illustrates, the controversy didn’t die off. (scroll down their page for the background) 251 PhDs and MDs have signed a petition that was recently delivered to TED, expanding on the original 16. There is also a change.org petition still underway. They held a public rebuttal, though it looks more like a press conference for the petition.
This article also came out, with more details about the West Hollywood event they pulled the plug on, 2 weeks before it was due to go. As the event was largely intact, they decided to go ahead anyway but Livestream inexplicably pulled the plug on them too. TED seems the only explanation. That created a rather large price tag for the shows producer. Reimbursement or support seems dubious at this stage of the game but it’s disturbing the apparent lack of integrity on TED’s part. As Science Set Free notes, TED “has become the central hub of cutting edge social and scientific thought internationally“. That’s disturbing if they’re being driven by radical atheists. Ironically their behaviour reinforces Sheldrake’s points.
The other TEDx event I’m aware of that lost TED support also went ahead, with a little more warning. Hosted by a small university, their original line-up had only one speaker mentioning the word “consciousness” in their talk title but there was a human potential theme. Ironically, that speaker was Kilby-award winning physicist John Hagelin who had spoken at TEDxWomen a few months prior. That talk is still present in the TED channel. The theme of that event? Fact & Faith.
Amusingly, the university conference is now being presented on-line under the banner “Consciousness Talks“. They set up a web site for it and have been gradually posting videos from that event this year. I posted an article on one of them by Dr. Pam Peeke: Hacked by a Cupcake, on Food and Addiction. One that should be on TED. I look forward to others.
When you log into a secure web site and get “https” and a lock symbol, what you transmit is secure, right? Maybe. About 2/3’s of the web uses OpenSSL and its recently been discovered it’s had a bug for about 2 years.
“Heartbleed has the potential to be one of the biggest, most widespread vulnerabilities in the history of the modern web.”
Security expert Bruce Schneier says “‘catastrophic’ is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.“
While there is a fix and it’s unlikely this was discovered and exploited in the past, the issue now is with sites that don’t have decent maintenance and don’t get updated. Now that the bug is known, some old site you used once long ago may now be insecure. If you have the habit of using the same password all over or using your social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) logins on other sites, you may have unwittingly shared your access all over. Including to sites that are now secure.
Changing your password on such old sites won’t help in the slightest, contrary to some of the advice floating around. It’s only a useful exercise if you know the site has updated. But you can on sites that are fixed. All the major ones apparently have but there are millions of servers out there.
And the trick is, even server admins may never know they’ve been hacked with this one.
This article explains: Heartbleed Nightmare
You can check a site you use here
This is a great reason not to use the same password on multiple sites and may be a great time to implement a password manager like LastPass, if you have not already.
Not only did Monday bring Heartbleed but there was a security update for WordPress on Tuesday and another for Jetpack on Wednesday. The second 2 are things bloggers should update now. The first you want to be sure your web host has. You really don’t want your ecommerce offerings to go nasty on you.
UPDATE – see comments for more links. It’s also become apparent it exists in many security devices.
The technology landscape has been changing rapidly. Companies like Microsoft have already lost over half their market share. Meanwhile, the open Internet has devolved into a giant marketing opportunity. Dominant technology players are gathering everything they can about our movements, shopping, and social lives. Just look at what you have to approve on a typical smart phone app. Or how you’re invited to use one service to log into another. Government agencies have been doing the same and more, quite illegally.
Meanwhile, a variety of technologies have been developing to change the way we connect and interact – mainly to take out the intermediaries. The behaviour of business and government above and the revelations of security breaches and spying are simply pushing those technologies to the fore so we can take back control of our lives and devices.
Here is a talk by Fred Wilson in Paris, on 3 macro trends in society:
3 macro trends:
– from bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks (eg: newspaper to Twitter)
– unbundling – how products and services are delivered, specialization (eg: finance moving away from banks, a la carte entertainment on demand)
– becoming a network node (w/ smart phones, shifting from desktop), always on and connected
4 Sectors to watch:
– money – distributed and decentralized payments on the Internet, without the banks
– health & wellness – staying out of the health care system, wearable monitors
– data leakage – data pollution, spying
– identity – cryto-currency applied to online and secure identity
This article lists 21 technologies that may decentralize networks, including mesh networks, alternative domain registration, and decentralized farming. We live in remarkable times.
A weird episode in Internet “marketing” this week. A real company, HUVr Tech, seeking funding sought buzz. First, they faked up a Promo video for Hoverboards, complete with the famous and Back to the Future references. Note the 0 noise and that the video is named “belief” (on their web site). They apparently used the Back to the Future wire harness.
Fake promotions and fake apologies? Lame. Pranks are funny only if you include the punchline. Has their home page been updated to reflect this? Nope. This is what they think of their possible customers?
Periodically, I’ve recommended some tools that help keep your browsing safe. Web sites are the most common way of getting infections now. Not to mention tracking your activities and identity. I thought it was time for an update as the threats and tools continue to evolve.
Of course, the most important tool is common sense. Don’t go into bad neighbourhoods. Look before you leap.
I personally use the Firefox browser because it’s the most customizable. It’s also an open-source platform that’s not invested in making money from the collection of user data. That collection in itself leads to both privacy and security issues. Some consider Chrome superior but I have concerns about using too many Google services as they do collect user info for marketing. LifeHacker discusses the browser issues here.
This article is thus focused on securing Firefox on a Windows PC. Some of these tools or equivalents are also available for Chrome and Internet Explorer. This is not a review of all security tools but rather recommended examples in several categories, with a few caveats. All are free, unless otherwise noted.
Your first line of defence is of course a good Anti-Virus service and Firewall. With Windows 7, the built-in firewall is fine. The hardware firewall in routers is also advantageous. As for anti-virus, you can check testing sites like AV-Test for your choice. Some free ones are as good as the paid ones for basic protection. I’ve been using paid ESET NOD32 AV to good effect for some time.
Blocks most annoying 3rd party ads that slow down web sites and track your presence.
The first thing many suggest you install – it blocks the troublesome scripts on web sites, similar to the above. Lifehacker suggests this is redundant with AdBlock. I’ve been using both but they have come to overlap more.
RequestPolicy is a more aggressive version of this. With it, I typically found a web site was text-only until I worked out where their styles and functionality were loaded from and adjusted the settings. This is a bit of a guessing game that makes it less effective in practice to me.
Specifically targets tracking done by social networking services on other sites, like the omnipresent Facebook “Like” buttons that can track your browsing even without clicking.
This deletes “Super” or Flash cookies – a more invasive and persistent type of cookie. I’ve not found the deletion affects performance of any sites. But I was surprised how many some sites use.
None of these would be necessary if web sites played more politely with visitors.
Safe Sites marker:
WOT (Web of Trust)
This is a crowd-driven add-on that will flag your search results to warn you off of troublesome sites. (versions for most everyone)
This tool does not show up in search results unless you ask but can give an overview from 5 services, including WOT, before you click. (Norton now stingily blocks 3rd-party tools like this) I use it as a 2nd opinion if the WOT result is unexpected either way. I used to recommend LinkExtend similarly but it’s not been updated in some time.
A Virus Total tool to give a site or download link a deeper check with a right-click. How’s it fare with multiple anti-virus sources? A cautionary step before inviting something onto your computer from unknown sources.
(VT has other versions for Chrome and IE)
Shuts off nested links in Google search results to avoid click-tracking. Google will still track you but it reduces some of this and it makes copying web addresses, doing checks with the above tools and so forth much easier. It also makes Google faster.
StartPage.com is a search alternative that doesn’t track but uses Google. DuckDuckGo is also suggested but I’ve not found the results as useful. Both eliminate the “filter bubble” of targeted search results where your IP and history determine what you see, rather than what the larger world is discussing.
For secure passwords – much more secure storage that will fill-in login details and remember strong passwords for you. Way better than browser tools. I’ve recommended this before. RoboForm is also well-recommended but not free.
TIP – Avoid the temptation to use your social site logins on other sites. It makes you much easier to hack and track. That’s becoming all too common and is not in your best interest. Use distinct logins for every site and let something like LastPass help you keep track of them.
backs up your Add-ons, themes, and settings in Firefox automatically.
If you want to see how a site is tracking you, try Lightbeam.
Some of the other add-ons I’ve tried I found too aggressive. Lifehacker recommends Disconnect, for example. While it may reduce tracking, it also greatly reduces the functionality and display of web sites. Again it becomes a guessing game to know what needs OK. They have made you more anonymous but do it by breaking site features.
And if you’re also logged into a sister site, you’ve lost the advantage. Even worse if you’ve logged in using a social media sites credentials.
Browsing through a VPN, sandbox, or alias site would be more effective if privacy is a priority. Just keep in mind that the web is not about privacy but sharing. That’s why it’s called a world wide web. Anything you share often stays shared, beyond anything you may have imagined. A long-gone web site I built 16 years ago still has a copy on-line at the Wayback Machine, for example.
On the flip side, you may find this HowToGeek article useful – some browser add-ons are or have become spyware, reporting all of your browsing history and inserting ads on pages you visit. The article includes a follow-up list of troublesome ones to avoid or remove.
I considered moving away from popular webmail services to avoid some of the tracking but soon realized that many contacts use them, so the messages get tracked anyway. Email has not yet had this kind of functionality added. Another gold mine for advertisers.