Archive for February, 2017

Alison Announces New Course On Python

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 28, 2017 by itnerd

Alison, a free e-learning platform with more than nine million registered learners worldwide, today announced the launch of a course in Python programming. Programming is a highly sought after employer skill, with Python engineers taking home more than $100,000 per year on average.

The course introduces core programming concepts through Python, including string variables, making decisions with code, repeating events, and functions. Learners then complete two online assessments, and those who achieve a grade of 80% or higher qualify for an Alison diploma certificate.

Key facts:

  • Alison announces free online course on Python
  • Python coders in the US get paid more than $100,000 on average
  • Java, C# and Python most in-demand coding languages of 2016

The course is available here.

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Titan Note: Designed To Change The Way You Take Notes

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 28, 2017 by itnerd

Titan Note is the only voice recorder, translator, phone charger and music speaker in one. This combination of advanced technology and features make paying attention in meetings and in classrooms easier than ever. Currently, Titan Note is raising funds on Indiegogo with a goal to raise $35,000 to finalize production.

By placing Titan Note on the table or desk, the small device has the ability to accurately record everything that is spoken and save it within the iOS and Android application. Within this application, users are able to summarize the transcription to get a quick review of the notes at any time as well as edit it to make sure the most important information is always seen.

Titan Note is programmed to have the ability to translate the text into ten different languages including Spanish, French, German, Italian and Danish. By being able to translate the text, users are able to share notes with clients around the world and use it in foreign countries where the language is not easily understood by the user.

The device is pocket-sized for easy transportation and takes up less space than a notebook and pen. Titan Note fits into backpacks, purses, briefcases, suitcases and more. Additionally, Titan Note is water resistant for rainy days or accidental spills on the desk. To complete the list of features, Titan Note can also double as a powerful speaker and smartphone charger to emergency charges. The Bluetooth anti-lost system ensures one never leaves their Titan Note behind because a ping will be sent to their phone through the app alerting them.

Titan Note is currently being sold for $75 on Indiegogo. To learn more about Titan Note or to pre-order, visit bit.ly/TitanNoteIGG.

#Fail: Amazon Web Services Is Down

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 28, 2017 by itnerd

If you rely on Amazon Web Services, and a lot of you do seeing as businesses like  Airbnb, Pinterest, Snapchat’s Bitmoji, Time, Citrix, CNBC, Expedia, Expensify, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and Zendesk among other rely on Amazon Web Services to conduct business, I have bad news for you that you likely already know. Amazon Web Services is down. And I really mean down. Here’s the details from USA Today:

Portions of Amazon Web Services, the nation’s largest cloud computing company, went offline Tuesday afternoon, affected multiple companies across the United States but especially on the east coast. The outage appeared to have begun around 12:45 pm ET. It was centered in AWS’ S3 storage system on the east coast. Many of the services that firms use AWS are for back-end processes, and therefore not immediately visible to consumers, though the outage could disrupt customer-facing activities like logins and payments.

Lovely. If you’ve been trying to access your favorite websites and you’ve been having difficulty doing so, this is why you’re having difficulty. Amazon is apparently working on it, but people are already taking to Twitter to express….. Whatever they want to express about the situation:

UPDATE: Apparently the #Fail includes Amazon itself. Their status page is affected by this which means it is incorrectly reporting the status of Amazon AWS:

UPDATE #2: The issue was resolved just before 5PM PST.

Rogers QUIETLY Dropping Upstream Speed Of Ignite Gigabit Internet…. Why?

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 28, 2017 by itnerd

Rogers seems to have gone out and created a problem that likely didn’t need to be created. They’ve come out with new pricing and some new tiers for their Internet offerings. But they’ve also altered their top tier which is Rogers Ignite Gigabit so that it now says this:

Capture.JPG

What’s wrong with this picture? When Rogers announced the availability of Gigabit they promised upstream speeds of up to 50Mbps. Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof via Google Cache and for bonus points, I’ve posted a screen shot below:

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So now they’ve dropped the max upload speed by 20Mbps. Likely hoping that nobody would notice. Well, people on DSLReports among other places have noticed. And they are not happy. Another thing, this puts Rogers at a massive disadvantage when you compare their offerings to what Bell offers. For giggles, since I know that Bell has their Fibe gigabit service available in my condo, I checked to see what they offered:

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Ignoring the price, you get 100 Mbps upstream. And I do know that people in my condo who are actually getting these speeds or faster with Bell. Thus if you aren’t happy about what Rogers offers, and you can get Bell Fibe Gigabit, you’d be tempted to switch.

Part of me wonders if this sudden change is the result of Rogers rather problematic rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 which I have documented here since late last year? In other words, they might not be able to consistently get close to 50Mbps upstream in the locations where Gigabit is offered, so as a result they’ve lowered the bar to 30 Mbps? I know I’ve never gotten anything more than 30Mbps with my Rogers gigabit install, so that seems like a reasonable assumption. Whatever the reason, Rogers isn’t doing itself any favors and may find that there will be some blowback from this move.

Skype WiFi To Be Deep Sixed On March 31st

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 28, 2017 by itnerd

For those of you who use Skype WiFi to get online when tethering and paying some outrageous fee for WiFi doesn’t make sense, I have bad news for you. This was posted on the Skype WiFi page:

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If you click on the FAQ, it says this:

We’re retiring Skype WiFi globally so we can better focus our efforts on bringing you the best possible experience through our core Skype features.

Now, I have to admit that I have not used Skype WiFi lately  as WiFi is pretty much everywhere. However it has come in useful at times. Thus I will be looking for other options as something like Skype WiFi is handy to have. I’ll post any alternatives that I come across in a future post.

Data From Kids Toys Leaked And Ransomed

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 28, 2017 by itnerd

I’ve written about kids toys and their relative insecurity for a while now and I will cite these examples why you may not want to give your kids a connected toy as a gift. Now comes the worst example of this that I have seen via security researcher Troy Hunt:

CloudPets allow parents to record a message for their children on their phones, which then arrives on the Bluetooth connected stuffed toy and is played back. Kids can squeeze the stuffed animal’s paw to record a message of their own, which is sent back to the phone app. The Android app has been downloaded over 100,000 times, though user reviews are poor, citing a difficult interface, frequent bugs, and annoying advertising. Hunt and the researchers he collaborated with found that the central database for CloudPets’ voice messages and user info was stored on a public-facing MongoDB server, with only basic hashes protecting user addresses and passwords. The same database apparently connected to the stored voice messages that could be retrieved by the apps and toys. Easy access and poor password requirements may have resulted in unauthorized access to a large number of accounts. The database was finally removed from the publicly accessible server in January, but not before demands for ransom were left.

Not cool. If I were a parent and I bought this toy, I’d dump it. I really do not believe that the people who make these toys have your security in mind when they put them on the market. Until they can prove that they do, they should be avoided by parents.

 

#PSA: How To Lock Down Your iPhone

Posted in Tips with tags on February 28, 2017 by itnerd

These days, you cannot take security for granted. And that includes locking down your iPhone from people who would want to get some of your personal information. If you want an example of how easy it is to get personal information from a locked iPhone, try these Siri commands with a random iPhone that is locked:

  • Siri, who am I
  • Siri, navigate me to home
  • Siri, show me my recent calls

What you’ll see is that the contact card belonging to the owner of the phone will appear. Plus Siri will route you to the address of the owner of the iPhone. Finally, you’ll see the last call that was made from the phone. And you get all of this while the phone is locked. That’s not good. What’s worse is that this is how the iPhone is set up by default which is a bit of a #fail from a company that values privacy. I’ll also add that the Today View, Apple Wallet, notifications as well as control center are also exposed for anyone to see by default on the iPhone. Any of those could expose personal information, and having the control center available could be leveraged to disable the phone’s ability to connect to cellular networks if it is stolen. Which means that you won’t be able to find it or remote erase it using iCloud. For those reasons, I suggest that you take the time to lock down your iPhone. I will admit that by doing so you take away some convenience, but you will make your phone a lot more secure. Here’s what I would suggest that everyone disable:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Touch ID & Passcode
  3. Enter your passcode
  4. Disable the following:
    1. Today View
    2. Siri
    3. Reply With Message
    4. Home Control
    5. Wallet
  5. Now go back one level and go to Control Center
  6. Disable “Access On Lock Screen”

By doing all of that, it will take away most of the ways that your personal information can leak out. For bonus points, you may want to consider disabling Notifications View under Touch ID & Passcode. I didn’t do that as I find that it is handy for me to have notifications from my various apps pop up on the screen. But if there’s info from those notifications that you don’t want a third party to see, it is worth considering whether you should disable it or not.

The next thing that I suggest that you do is not only improve your passcode, but set your phone to self destruct. I’ll start with the former. Most people use 4 digit passcodes which means that there are 9999 possible combinations. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Someone with a lot of time on their hands, like a border agent for example, will take the time to crack the passcode. Thus try using a 6 digit passcode or better yet an alphanumeric code for improved security. Now to the part about self destructing the phone. No, you cannot set the phone to self destruct in 5 seconds like they do in Mission Impossible. But iPhones do have a feature that erases the data on the phone after 10 failed passcode attempts. You can enable it  like this:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Touch ID & Passcode
  3. Enter your passcode
  4. Enable “Erase Data”

Now, you don’t want to enable this unless you back up your iPhone on a regular basis using iTunes. But in my case, I use iCloud Backup which automatically backs up my phone is plugged in, locked, and connected to WiFi. That means that I always have a backup that I can fall back on should the need arise and I can get my phone back to a working state anywhere. Not to mention set up a new phone with the same settings if I have to. Here’s how you set it up (This is assuming that you have set up iCloud before hand. If not, you should create an iCloud account as it is free to do so and it gives you 5GB of storage):

  1. Go to settings
  2. Go to iCloud
  3. Go to Backup
  4. Enable iCloud Backup

One thing to note is that it will only backup your health data, accounts, and phone configuration info. It does not backup music, apps or pictures. But music and apps are easy to restore from your computer using iTunes on your Mac or PC. Ditto for photos if you’re not using something like iCloud Photo Library which keeps your photos in the cloud.

Full disclosure: I use a 4 digit non-obvious passcode (in other words, one that isn’t easily guessed or is tied to anything else in my life) and I have the iPhone set to erase data. My logic is that this configuration will keep my data away from prying eyes because the phone will erase itself after 10 failed passcode attempts. This is on top of the fact that I use Touch ID to unlock the phone which means I am not entering the passcode most of the time. But you have to decide how paranoid you want to be on this front and what steps you’re willing to take to protect yourself.

Now, all of this sounds like a fair amount of work. But I ran through this and it took me 20 minutes to set all of this up. In my mind, that’s a good investment of time to make sure that your phone is locked down and doesn’t reveal personal information about you should it fall into the wrong hands. Thus it is something that every iPhone user should do.