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Monday, March 1, 2010
Is your Technology Making You an Easy Target for Criminals?
This is a one day only event, so if you snooze, you lose!
Is your Technology Making You an Easy Target for Criminals?
The Internet has made my job much easier. In the 70s and 80s, when I first started writing professionally (part time), there was a lot more work involved. In the beginning, I composed my articles and stories on a typewriter; typos had to be fixed with Liquid Paper or later, correction tape. Major changes meant retyping the whole thing. Mag card typewriters existed (on which you could save your work to a magnetic card) but would set you back tens of thousands of dollars. When dedicated word processors and personal computers became affordable, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I could save my work on a tape or disk and make all the changes I wanted before printing it out on a dot matrix - or, when I wanted to impress the publisher, a daisy wheel - printer.
Then in the 90s, the Internet went commercial and ISP costs dropped. Instead of paying $25/hour for access to an online service like CompuServe, we could get unlimited access to all the resources on the World Wide Web and other Internet applications for about $25/month. Research became faster and more efficient. No more driving to the library and taking notes on a yellow legal pad. I could consult many more references from the comfort of my own home. And once my manuscript was done, I no longer had to pack it up in a large envelope, trek to the post office and mail it off to my editor. Now I could just save it as an electronic file and email it. I also met many more publishers and editors through online forums, and was able to demonstrate my writing skills in online venues. Consequently, I got much more work - so much more that I was able to switch careers and become a full-time writer.
I know many other people, in many different occupations, whose work has been made easier by the Internet. I know many others whose jobs wouldn't even exist if not for the 'net. But it's not just those of us with legitimate jobs who are aided by today's technology. Unfortunately, in our increasingly connected society, it's also easier for criminals to do their dirty work. And I'm not just talking about phishers and hackers and others who operate solely at a distance.
Take burglars, for instance. Once upon a time, it took some time and effort to be a successful "break and enter" guy. Since most burglars don't want a confrontation - they just want to get in and get the loot and get out as quickly as possible without getting caught - they would spend some time conducting surveillance ("casing the joint") to learn the habits of occupants, to be able to predict when they would be away. They would knock on doors, pretending to be door-to-door salespeople or survey takers, to get a look inside the house so they could determine if there was anything worth stealing. They used clues such as newspapers piling up in the driveway to signal them that homeowners were away on vacation.
Today fewer people subscribe to newspapers - many of us get all our news online or via TV - but that's okay, because burglars have much better sources for finding out that your house is empty. They can just follow you on Twitter or become your Facebook friend, and you'll let them know not just that you're leaving town, but where you're going and how long you're going to be away. If they're really lucky, you might even post other useful info, such as the fact that your dog died last week, or that your alarm system has been on the blink.
And it's even better (for the burglar) if you also recently bragged about the expensive painting that you just added to your collection or the high-dollar TV that you bought last week. Now there's no need to try to guess, based on the outside of the home, what goodies might be inside. Our bad guy can "shop online" for exactly the merchandise he's interested in stealing. Last year, an Arizona man tweeted that he was going out of town and his home was promptly burglarized. Computer equipment worth thousands of dollars was stolen: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Burglarized-cause-Twitter
Of course, it could take a lot of time to try to follow the comings and goings of everyone in the neighborhood that you're targeting. Surely, with today's technology, there's a way to expedite the process. Indeed there is; our would-be crook can just go to a helpful web site and find "new opportunities" - posts gathered from social networking sites indicating that people are not at home: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Please-Rob-Me
The site ostensibly exists not to help burglars, but to raise people's awareness about posting their location data in public venues. There's nothing illegal about it; they're just aggregating posts that are available to anyone from social networking pages that are open to the public. And according to a survey done by a British insurance and investment management company, 40% of social networking users share their holiday plans on sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you absolutely must post that you and your whole family are five hundred miles away from home, it might be a good idea to mention in that post how much you're missing your three pit bulls, who had to stay home, or how thankful you are that your cousin, the Marine sharpshooter, volunteered to house-sit while you're gone.
Even if you're diligent about not revealing your location in your posts, that doesn't mean you're safe. Location-aware applications are becoming more and more popular, especially for smart phones, which have built-in GPS chips. Now some laptop computers also include GPS. This means software programs can access the information from the GPS hardware and know where you're located (or more precisely, where your cell phone or laptop is located). Some apps use this information to provide you with location-specific information; for example, if I look up a restaurant with Bing on my Omnia II phone, it displays ads for restaurants that are here close to my house.
Location-awareness can be used by program developers for all sorts of purposes. Some apps (such as Twittelator for the iPhone) let you automatically send your location to your followers. The intent is to be able to keep up with where your friends are so you can get together when you're in the same vicinity. But if you aren't careful, these applications can also expose your location to burglars, stalkers, or other people who will use the information for nefarious purposes.
Google Buzz is a new service that integrates with your Gmail account, and there is a mobile version of it for iPhone, Windows Mobile, Android and Symbian phones. According to the Google folks, "Rather than simply creating a mobile version of Buzz, we decided to take advantage of the unique features of a mobile device - in particular, location." The app can attach location tags to your posts and although this can be turned off, it is one of the key features of the program so many people will be using it without thinking about the ramifications. http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Buzz-for-Mobile
Another location-centric phone application is Foursquare, which comes in versions for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Palm. I guess the Foursquare folks are anti-Microsoft, so we WinMo users aren't at risk from this one. The purpose of Foursquare is to "check in" - which means divulging your location so the app can then tell your friends where you are. http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Foursquare
Yet another similar application is Loopt, which "shows users where friends are located and what they are doing via detailed, interactive maps on their mobile phones. Loopt helps friends connect on the fly and navigate their social lives by orienting them to people, places and events." http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Loopt
All of these apps can be fun to use and useful, but it's important to think about the downside of constantly having your whereabouts known. And it's not just your own posts and apps that you have to worry about. If your friend comes over to your house and he tweets that he's visiting his friend, (insert your name here), and his location-aware app sends a map out to all his followers, those people now have your address.
For kids, the dangers are even greater - and they are often too naïve to understand that giving out information about where they are can put them at risk. With so many teenagers and pre-teens carrying cell phones these days, it's something parents need to keep in mind. Of course, location-awareness can also be used by parents to keep tabs on those kids. AccuTracking is just one company that offers real-time cell phone tracking services: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-AccuTracking
Tell us what you think about location privacy (and the lack thereof) in the Internet age. Have you ever posted anything to Facebook or Twitter that could, in retrospect, have made your home an enticing target for burglars? Do you have location-aware applications enabled on your cell phone? Do you even know? Do your minor children have cell phones of their own? Have you examined them to find out whether non-emergency GPS is turned on and whether there are apps that use it? Would you be interested in using it to track where they are? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forums at http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Forum-Discussion
Follow-up: Spying webcams
Well, I guess I'm on a privacy kick. In last week's editorial, I wrote about how webcams can be used to spy on you in your home (or, in the case of laptops, in your hotel room), and the recent lawsuit alleging that a school district was using the webcams in students' school-issued laptops to keep tabs on what they were doing.
To the reader who said I was jumping the gun by calling it "spying" because the students might have signed or agreed to the remote surveillance: First, as a minor, the students themselves would not be able to legally give that consent. Second, if the parents gave consent but the students didn't know about it, then it's still spying - just not illegal spying. But that's actually a moot point, because a school district spokesman, Doug Young, admitted that families were not informed that webcams might be activated in their homes in the paperwork they signed to get the computers: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Webcam-Spy-Case
I also seriously doubt that the FBI would be investigating if there weren't at least some evidence of wrongdoing; the FBI generally doesn't get involved in obviously frivolous cases. One forum poster said there is no expectation of privacy because the school owns the computers. If they were being used on school property, sure. But there is a well-established expectation of privacy in one's own home, and the issue was not about something that the student was doing on the computer; it was about something that the computer's webcam "saw" in the student's room.
As several readers pointed out, the school's story that the webcams were intended for the purpose of finding missing laptops seems weak. A webcam just doesn't do that very well; if they were serious about finding missing computers, they could have installed software designed for that purpose.
On the other hand, I have to respond to Newreader's statement that "It to me doesn't matter if the person or entity doing the accessing intended to commit a crime." Legally, it does matter. While ignorance of the law is not a defense, most serious crimes (felonies) require a specific culpable mental state and for many offenses, "intent" is the required culpable mental state (for others, it's lower: knowledge, recklessness or even negligence).
The exact wording of the law is very important. For instance, under Texas Penal Code section 33.02, Breach of Computer Security, the law states that "A person commits an offense if the person knowingly accesses a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner." Because the school district is the owner, they could not be charged under that statute. http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Computer-Crimes
The federal law that covers unauthorized access is Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1030. That law prohibits "accessing a computer without authorization" but it only applies to "protected computers," which are defined in the Code as those used by financial institutions or the United States government, or used in affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication. The last part of the definition is vague but even so, I doubt it could be construed to cover computers used by students in their high school studies.
There might, however, be other laws outside the realm of computer crimes that could be applied, depending on that state's statutes. In Texas, we have an offense called "Improper Photography or Visual Recording (TX PC section 21.15) that prohibits "photographing or by videotape or other electronic means recording, broadcasting, or transmitting a visual image of another without the person's consent" - however, it also requires that the recording be done with the intent (there's that culpable mental state requirement again) to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of some person, if the location is not a bathroom or private dressing room. If the location is a bathroom or private dressing room, then only the intent to invade the person's privacy is required. http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Statutes
This means that if the webcam transmission took place in the student's bedroom, we couldn't charge this offense unless we could prove a sexual aspect. As you can see, the "letter of the law" can be very precise and you must meet all of the specified elements of the offense to be able to charge a person with that crime (much less get a conviction).
It's certainly an interesting subject, and I have a feeling we'll hear more on it if the practice of issuing school-owned computers becomes more common. In many places, the laws have not yet caught up with the technology, but a high profile case like this often results in passage of new laws to address the problems. We'll be watching to see the result of the lawsuit and what else comes out of this. As always, thanks to all of you who participated in the discussion.
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Quotes of the Week
Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. - Ayn Rand (1905 - 1982)
It seems to me, Golan, that the advance of civilization is nothing but an exercise in limiting of privacy. - Isaac Asimov (Janov Pelorat in "Foundation's Edge")
I do suspect that privacy was a passing fad. - Larry Niven (1938 - )
Own a Single-user VIPRE?
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Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
MediaWidget is the quickest and easiest way to transfer all of your music, videos, photos, podcasts, and more from your iPod to PC. Check out the cool Youtube demo and download the trial here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-MediaWidget
The most recent statistics from Quantcast shows that XP is still the favorite when it comes to computer operating systems, despite recent gains by Windows 7. All Windows versions combined make up 86.8% (with OS X taking 10.9%, mobile operating systems accounting for 1.3% and "Other" - which includes Linux - still way down there at 1.0%). Of the Windows versions, XP has held onto 51.8% and Vista comes in second with 37.4%. Windows 7, after four months on the market, has 10.2% and all other versions of Windows combined only command a little over half a percentage point. You can see the chart here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Media-Room
Winter Olympics ran on Windows XP
According to Nielson, more than 32 million people watched the opening ceremonies for this year's winter Olympics games, which just wrapped up a few days ago in Vancouver, Canada. Guess what computer operating system was used by the event organizers and operators? That's right - Windows XP. Acer supplied over 6000 systems and they all ran XP. The Olympics organizers decided to go with XP because Windows 7 is "too new." Apparently Vista wasn't even deemed worthy of consideration. Read more here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-XP-at-the-Olympics
Just Cause 2 (computer game) won't run on XP
Just Cause is a popular computer game made by Avalanche Studios and Eidos, and the companies have announced a new version, Just Cause 2, which will come out in March. The bad news for Windows XP users is that it's going to require DirectX 10 - and XP will only support DirectX 9, so gamers who are still running XP are going to be out of luck. Is this the start of a trend among game makers? Will XP users be forced to upgrade if they want to play the new games? Read more here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Just-Cause-2
Microsoft licenses exFAT to Panasonic
What's exFAT, you might be wondering? Well, it's the Extended File Allocation Table, also known as FAT64. If you thought FAT was dead and buried with NTFS dancing on its grave, you haven't been keeping up. The exFAT system is for USB flash drives and it can be used in circumstances where the overhead of NTFS makes it undesirable and the file and folder size restrictions of older versions of FAT are too limiting. Users of XP SP2 or above can install an update to support exFAT. Now that TVs and other consumer electronics devices are coming with built-in flash readers and the capability to play media files, Microsoft has licensed exFAT to Panasonic, for use in their entertainment devices. Find out more here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Panasonic-n-exFAT
How To: Using XP Features
How to clean out your Temp folder
A reader recently noted that when he ran Disk Cleanup in XP and selected the option to delete temporary files, there were still hundreds of files left in his Temp folder. The reason is that the Disk Cleanup utility only removes files in the Temp folder if they're over a week old. If you need to get rid of them right away, you can delete them manually:
Click Start | Run
In the Run box, type %temp% to quickly open the Temp folder
In the Temp folder displayed in Windows Explorer, press CTRL+A to select all files.
Press the Delete key. You may have to reboot in order to delete some files.
XP Security News
Watch out for fake Security Essentials that's actually malware
A favorite tactic for malware authors is to distribute software that pretends to be an anti-malware program but is actually malicious code. Now there is such a program out there that's pretending to be Microsoft's Security Essentials suite. It tells you that you have a bunch of malware on your machine and then asks you to pay a fee. If you fall for it and put in your credit card info, you put yourself at risk of identity theft. Of course, those of you who are already running a good anti-malware program, such as VIPRE, are already protected from malware. Read more about this latest "scareware" scam here: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Security-Essentials-Scareware
XP Question Corner
No sound in Remote Desktop session
QUESTION: I have been using Remote Desktop with XP for years, to use the desktop of my desktop computer from my laptop if I want to work at the kitchen table or out on the patio or on the living room sofa. Recently I set up my friend's computer so he could do the same thing and everything works except there is no sound. It's driving me crazy, trying to figure what I did differently. Can you help? Thanks! - Rusty G.
ANSWER: There are a couple of reasons that the audio might not be transmitted. First, check the firewall and be sure it's not blocking UDP as that's the protocol used for transmitting the audio data. You might need to create a rule or exception to let it through. If that's not the problem, consider it might be a bandwidth issue. The UDP packets might be dropped because the network doesn't have enough bandwidth for everything. See if reducing the color depth, if it's set at a high quality (for example, to 256 colors) to free up some bandwidth. If the audio plays then, you know it was a bandwidth problem. If your friend's network is running on 10 Mbps Ethernet or a slow wireless connection, upgrading will increase the bandwidth so he can have both audio and high quality video.
XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
9 pt. Simsun font displays incorrectly in XP
Now here's an obscure problem: If you set the size of text that's formatted in the Simsun-18030 font to 9 points on your Windows XP (or Windows 2000) computer, it will be displayed incorrectly. If you're one of the people who needs to use this font in this size, there's good news: a hotfix is available to fix the problem. To find out how to get it, see KB article 948765 at http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-9pt-Font
Can't change display settings to 640 x 480
Does anyone really use that resolution anymore? If you have a very small monitor, there is a chance you might want to. But if you try to do it in XP, you'll find that the screen resolution slider in the Display Properties dialog box will go no lower than 800 x 600. That's because the lower resolution isn't supported by XP (neither is 256 bit color). However, there is a workaround if you need it. See KB article 286906 to find out how to do it: http://www.wxpnews.com/MY5HU3/100302-Display-Settings
This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
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Personal & Educational Use Only
This blog consists mainly of FREE newsletters from computer web gurus that I receive. I thought you might like to see them all in one place than try to discover them on your own. A moderate amount of editing may be done to eliminate unrelated repetitious ads or unnecessary text which bloat the post.
However I have given the authors full credit and will not remove their site links because you deserve to see where it comes from and they deserve to get credit for what they have written. Your use of this site is simply for educational purposes.
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for free software, advice and tips on low cost products which are very helpful.
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