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Looking for a way to save or even make money in 2015?


If you’re looking for a way to earn extra money in 2015, here’s a list of a dozen mobile apps that can help.

  1. Nielsen Homescan This app will pay you to scan your groceries. Once you sign up to become a Nielsen Homescan family (yep, the same company that tracks TV ratings), the company will send you a free scanner or you can use your smartphone. Every time you go shopping, you simply scan the barcodes on the back of each product and send your data off to Nielsen.

If you want to give it a try, you can fill out the application here: Nielsen Homescan Application (you can’t download this one from the app store; you’ll need to visit their website first).

As an active participant, you earn gift points which you can redeem for different types of merchandise. You can choose electronics, jewelry, household items, and even toys for the kids. The longer you stay on the panel, the more opportunity you have to earn points towards prizes. You also receive entries for the panel’s many sweepstakes. Prizes include money, vacations, and brand new vehicles. http://www.homescan.com/

 

  1. i-Say Mobile The i-Say mobile app is one of the only legitimate paid survey apps out there. It’s actually a part of the Ipsos company, which might be a name you’re familiar with because they do a lot of the polling you see during presidential races.

Historically, some of the top-end surveys can pay up to $95, but those are rare and can take a while to complete. Most surveys pay a buck or two and only take 10-15 minutes. Also, the i-Say app rewards you with points which can then be redeemed for Paypal or gift cards to Amazon, iTunes, etc. (example: 1000 points can be redeemed for $10 Paypal). Use the link above to fill out an application and then they’ll send you a link to download the app. http://i-say.com/

 

  1. Ibotta The Ibotta app will pay you cash to take a picture of your receipts.

Here’s how it works: 1. Sign up for a free account with Ibotta (just need a name & email address). 2. Download the mobile app and then click on the “Rebates” section. 3. From here, you should see dozens of different rebates you can take advantage of. For example, right now the app is offering 50 cents if I upload a picture of a receipt showing that you bought milk. And there’s another rebate for $10 if you upload a picture of a Best Buy receipt.

Now, you obviously don’t want to go out and buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need, but you will find tons of rebates for things you are already buying. Plus, you can stack regular coupons on top of the rebate, meaning some of you savvy shoppers will be able to get free stuff. https://ibotta.com/

 

  1. Media Research Panel Media Research Panel is a smartphone app that helps media companies better understand how consumers use, view and share TV, social, digital and mobile media. Their app “measures activities conducted on a device, such as sharing, viewing, clicking, chatting, downloading and more. The app also listens for TV shows, and, using technology of Gracenote, Inc., identifies which TV shows was captured.”

When you install their app, they’ll pay you $5/month per device. And you can install the app on up to 3 devices. Plus they’ll send you a $5 bonus after the 12th week. (Totals $185/year)

Here’s how to do it: 1. Sign up for Media Insiders Panel (you can’t download this one from the app store) 2. Install and activate the MI Mobile app onto your device(s). 3. Watch your e-mail for important information and instructions on next steps. Also, at no time is a member’s personally identifiable information ever shared or released publicly, nor will they ever interact with you via social media.

Support devices: Android™ smartphones and tablets that run Android version 4.0 or greater, and are not rooted. They also accept the Kindle Fire HD, but not the first generation Kindle Fire. iPhone®5, iPad®, iPad mini®, and iPod touch® devices that run iOS version 5.0 or greater. ***You’ve got be a US resident, 13 years or older, and have a valid email address. https://www.mediainsiders.com/

  1. Field Agent The Field Agent app will pay you to complete small tasks around town for their clients. The tasks are pretty simple: scanning barcodes with your iPhone, checking prices at your local grocery store and conducting field surveys.

Payouts vary and depend on the job and area that you are in. For example, a job posted in Mission Viejo, California is looking for an agent to take 4 separate photos of products in the toothbrush section of the local Target. This particular task pays 9 dollars.

And in Brooklyn, New York, a field agent can go to a local Toys “R” Us store, snap a shot of the $19.99 & under video game display and come out a healthy $5.50 richer.

Remember though: you’re in this to make money; don’t bust out the plastic when you see a new Xbox 360 game nearby that you’ve been itching to buy. Field Agent job payouts typically vary between $2 – $8  (payable through PayPal). Most of the jobs only take 5 minutes, so the real time involved is with driving to each location. Still with travel time and gas, you could easily make $10-$20/hour completing mini-jobs. http://www.fieldagent.net/for-agents/

 

  1. Inbox Dollars InboxDollars has been around for quite a while now, but they just came out with a pretty cool mobile app that will pay you to search the web, play games, and take surveys.

The app is totally free to download. Plus, they give you a free $5 just to signup. Once you’ve accumulated $30 earnings (it’s possible to do this in only a couple of hours), you can request payment via check. It takes about 2 weeks to get the check when you cash out. http://www.inboxdollars.com/

 

  1. Receipt Hog Receipt Hog is very similar to Ibotta. You take a picture of your receipts and the “hog” rewards you with points that you can redeem for Paypal or Amazon gift cards.

The difference with this app is that you don’t have to shop anywhere specific, or buy anything specific. You can take a picture of any of your receipts and the app will reward you with points. http://receipthog.com/

 

  1. Bookscouter The Bookscouter app is really useful when you want to sell your old books that are just collecting dust on the shelf. You scan your book’s barcode with a smartphone and Bookscouter will let you compare the payout of 20+ different buyback companies.

Once you’ve found the buyback company offering the most cash, you just fill out a little information about where you want your payment sent and prepare the books to be shipped. Most of the buyback companies offer prepaid shipping labels too, so there aren’t any costs associated with this. http://www.bookscouter.com

 

  1. ESPN Streak for the Cash Think you know sports? The ESPN Streak for the Cash app will let you make predictions for upcoming games and then reward you with cash if you have the longest streak of correct predictions. To make it tougher, you have to make call for 10 different sports. The person with the longest winning streak earns $50,000 every month. Pretty sweet! http://streak.espn.go.com/en/

 

10. Mobee Have you ever tried mystery shopping? The Mobee app will pay you to go undercover in your local stores and restaurants and rate the level of customer service and cleanliness, among other things. http://www.mobeeapp.com/

 

11.  SlideJoy & 12. ScreenPay Both SlideJoy and ScreenPay operate on the same principal – download their app and they will serve ads on your smartphone’s lock screen. For this, you get paid a monthly stipend.

The SlideJoy app doesn’t specify how much you earn (it’s based off how often you look at your phone), but the ScreenPay app will pay you a flat fee of $3 a month, plus they’ll give you $1 just for signup up. These are both Android apps, so they won’t work on your iPhone or Blackberry. https://www.getslidejoy.com/ http://www.screenpay.com/

 

Special Thanks to ThePennyHoarder.com for this list of mobile apps

2014 Santa Tracking Is Now Online

For most of the year NORAD is tasked with monitoring airspace around the US and Canada for incursions by foreign air forces and potentially devastating man-made objects, but each December it also pours a huge amount of resources into entertaining children around the world by tracking Santa Claus.

This unusual tradition dates back to 1955, when a Sears Roebuck & Company department store offered children the chance to talk directly to Santa in an advertisement. It said: “Hey, Kiddies! Call me on my private phone – just dial ME 2-6681.”

Unfortunately, Sears had accidentally printed the phone number for the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) instead of their special Santa line. Instead of getting through to Santa, the kids ended up on the line to a military base. Once he realized what had happened, Colonel Harry Shoup – who came to be known as the “Santa Colonel” – quickly told his staff to answer the calls with an update on Santa’s current position.

1955_sears_ad NORAD replaced CONAD a few years later, but the tradition remained and continues to this day.

Volunteers staff call centers on Christmas Eve and field around 70,000 phone calls each year from over 200 countries. The whole program is run by volunteers from within NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), but also from Google, Verizon and Air Canada.

Speaking to NBC back in 2010, then deputy commander of NORAD Lt. Gen. Marcel Duval said: “It’s really ingrained in the NORAD psyche and culture. It’s a goodwill gesture from all of us, on our time off, to all the kids on the planet.”

In 1997 the internet was brought into play and each year since, NORAD has hosted a different website tracking Santa’s progress. Through the years they’ve become more and more advanced, upgrading along with the internet itself.

The project has now embraced all forms of online communication and social media using Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook accounts. From 2004 to 2009 people were able to track Santa through Google Earth, with the site offering a download link for the application. Today, we simply log on to NoradSanta.org where kids will find an assortment of games, movies and music to keep them entertained while parent get the last minute holiday preparations taken care of.

On December 24th when NORAD starts tracking Santa, visitors to the site will be able to follow his journey on the 3D globe and pinch and zoom their way to his many destinations.

Another Win For The Little Guys

When we first heard about the CryptoLocker malware a year ago or so, I thought, as cybercrime goes, that’s about as bad as you can get.

CryptoLocker is a very malicious form of malware: unlike a virus infection, it totally blocks access to your data but leaves your computer and your software running just fine.

Then the demand, “Pay us $300 within three days, and you’ll get your data back. Otherwise… it’s gone forever.” The $300 payment buys you the 2048-bit RSA private key needed to unscramble your encrypted data.

But, as malicious as CryptoLocker and now CryptoWall 2.0 are, there is another contender in this game of hacker warfare.

Fake support calls
Fake support scammers are the people who phone you out of the blue (whether you are on the Do Not Call register or not) and, not to mince words, scare you heck out of you spouting lies about malware on your computer.

For $200 – $300 or so, the same price point as CryptoLocker, the scammers will fix your computer, but any “fix” you get is as bad or worse then the “problem” you didn’t have in the first place.

Many people have reported that these guys don’t just call once if you fail to cough up the $300. They often call again and again, with the calls getting more insistent – outright threatening, by many reports – and with no real hope that they will stop.

Dealing with the scam
It’s easy for us to say, “But all you have to do is hang up, so this scam could never work.” But it’s also easy to see how a well-meaning but not very technically savvy user, especially someone without a network of family or friends to ask for IT help, could be scared into paying up.

Imagine the questions that worried users might ask themselves:

  • Didn’t the caller say he was from Microsoft?
  • Didn’t he say that a virus on my computer was attacking his company’s servers?
  • Didn’t he find evidence of it in my system log, just as he predicted?
  • Isn’t most computer support done over the phone and online these days?
  • Isn’t this the third time he’s called, with the symptoms getting worse every time?
  • Can’t you get sued for a cyberattack because you didn’t have a virus scanner?
  • Won’t it end up costing $300 anyway, or even more, if I go to my local shop instead?

Demanding money with threats is what it sounds like to me, amounting to extortion or blackmail. And these guys have your phone number!

FTC takedown
With that in mind, it’s always a good thing when fake support callers get bagged and thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya, who ran a company called Pairsys in Albany, New York, have been shut down by court order.

That may not sound like much, as I’m convinced that there are still MANY other individuals and groups perpetrating this scam but in this case, the settlement with the FTC will see the scammers’ operation shuttered and their assets frozen.

Indeed, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:  ”We are pleased that the court has shut down the company for now, and we look forward to getting consumers’ money back in their pockets.”

There’s a lot of money to recover: the FTC claims that the pair have pulled in about $2,500,000 in the past two-and-a-half years.

Is it real punishment?
Of course, just giving the money back isn’t really a punishment for these 2 crooks, because they weren’t supposed to have it in the first place. It’s still a direct result for the FTC’s internet crime fighting efforts, so, “Well done, Bureau of Consumer Protection.”

The next question should be – how do you think the courts should punish fake support scammers?

Dealing with fake support calls
So if you have friends or family who have been pestered to the point of worry by fake support callers, here’s a short podcast you can tell them about. The podcast makes it clear that these guys are scammers (and why), and offers some practical advice on how to deal with them.

Avoiding fake support calls
https://soundcloud.com/sophossecurity/avoiding-fake-support-calls

Good News for Cryptolocker Victims

All 500,000 victims of Cryptolocker can now recover the files encrypted by the malware without paying a ransom. The malicious program encrypted files on Windows computers and the hacker demanded a substantial fee before handing over the key to the scrambled files.

Thanks to security experts and law enforcement, an online portal has been created where victims can get the decryption key for free.

The portal was created after security researchers grabbed the hackers hardware and got a copy of Cryptolocker’s database of victims.

“This time we basically got lucky,” said Michael Sandee, principal analyst at Fox-IT – one of the security firms which helped tackle the cyber-crime group behind Cryptolocker.

The Timeline

In late May 2014, law enforcement agencies and security companies seized a worldwide network of hijacked home computers that was being used to spread both Cryptolocker and another strain of malware known as Gameover Zeus.

This concerted action seems to have prompted an attempt by the gang to ensure one copy of their database of victims did not fall into police hands. What the criminals did not know was that law enforcement personnel  and the security firms were already in control of part of the network and were able to grab the data as it was being sent.

The action also involved the FBI charging a Russian man, Evgeniy Bogachev, aka “lucky12345” and “slavik”, who is accused of being the ring leader of the gang behind Gameover Zeus and Cryptolocker.

The Gameover Zeus family of malware targets people who bank online, and is thought to have racked up millions of victims.

Cryptolocker was created by a sub-group inside the larger gang and first appeared in September 2013, since then, it has amassed about 500,000 victims.

Those infected were initially presented with a demand for $400 – $500 or an equivalent amount in the virtual Bitcoin currency. Victims had 72 hours to pay up or the specific keys that would unlock their files would be destroyed.

Analysis of the back-up database indicates that only 1.3% of all the people hit by the malware paid the ransom.

Despite the low response rate, the gang is believed to have netted about $3m from Cryptolocker alone. Many of those caught  did not pay because they were able to restore files from back-ups. However, others are believed to have lost hug amounts of important files and business documents to the cyber-thieves.

Security firms Fox-IT and FireEye – who assisted in the efforts to shut down the Gameover Zeus group – have created a portal called Decrypt Cryptolocker via which any of the 500,000 victims can find the decryption key needed to unlock their files. All they have to do is submit a file that’s been encrypted and from that file we can figure out which encryption key was used,” said Greg Day, chief technology officer at FireEye.

People wishing to use the portal should submit a file that does not contain sensitive information to help verify which key they need.

Here’s the link:

https://www.decryptcryptolocker.com/

DOJ Disrupts Gameover Zeus Botnet


The DOJ has declared a victory over the Cryptolocker Trojan stating that it is now out of commission.

Authorities in 10 countries seized servers believed to be connected to Gameover Zeus, a tightly controlled botnet that has plagued computer users worldwide. The botnet was also believed to be connected to CryptoLocker, the ransomware that locked up the files of victims and businesses and attempted to extort money for the key to access the frozen files. Police seized servers connected to the botnet in Canada, France, Germany Luxemboug, the Netherlands, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, investigators said. The FBI added Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev to its most wanted list on Monday. The 30-year-old Anapa, Russia, resident was allegedly the principal administrator behind the Gameover Zeus botnet. Others are believed to be in Russia or Ukraine.

That’s very good news for computer users worldwide, unfortunately – this could be a short lived respite: Ransomware kits, which automate the process for criminals, are becoming more prevalent, Intel Security announced, predicting malware infections to increase on mobile devices. Security vendor Sophos has detected Simplelocker, an Android Trojan that encrypts mobile files and demands payment using the similar Cryptolocker extortion scam.

The FBI estimates that there were $27 million in ransom payments made in the first two months of CryptoLocker’s emergence.  Constant vigilance and a good, solid offsite backup solution is our only salvation when confronted with attacks like this. It’s been so lucrative for the criminals, you can bet we haven’t seen the last of this type of attack yet.

The following list was compiled from the victims identified in court documents unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Manufacturer: $375,000 Stolen
Haysite Reinforced Plastics, an Erie, Penn.-based manufacturer was bilked of more than $375,000 in October, 2011.  Several employees at the company had their computers infected with malware and in a two day period Bogachev’s group allegedly transferred money from Haysite’s PNC bank account to a money mule accounts at banks in Atlanta and New York City. Investigators said the attackers could inject additional information in the form fields into the website displayed in the victim’s browser to request a Social Security number, credit card information and other sensitive information often used as a challenge mechanism by financial institutions to validate the authenticity of a transaction

Washington Indian tribe: $277,000 Stolen
An Indian tribe, based in Washington, lost more than $277,000 after an authorized wire transfer was initiated with its bank using stolen credentials, according to the court documents. Stealing banking credentials was the principal aim of Gameover Zeus, but the botnet of infected systems also was used to send out spam and conduct attacks to steal other types of sensitive data.

Assisted Living Facility Operator: $190,800 Stolen
Thieves allegedly stole more than $190,800 after stealing account credentials from an employee at an assisted living facility operator based in Eastern Pennsylvania. Investigators say Gameover Zeus was increasingly used to conduct other attacks, including phishing and spam campaigns. Between 500,000 and 1 million computers were infected with the Gameover Zeus malware globally

Regional Bank: $7 Million Stolen
A regional bank in Northern Florida lost nearly $7 million after the criminals allegedly used stolen account credentials to transfer funds out of its main bank account. The Zeus Gameover operators conduct denial of service attacks in conjunction with their fraudulent wire transfers, according to the FBI warning.

Insurance Company: $70,000 Loss
A Pittsburgh-based insurance company had critical business files encrypted by a CrytpoLocker infection. The company repaired the damage by wiping the infected systems and restoring from backup but estimates the loss of business — it sent employees home during the remediation — and the cost of wiping and reimaging infected systems at $70,000.

Restaurant Operator: $30,000 Loss
A Florida restaurant operator had more than 10,000 files encrypted by CryptoLocker, according to investigators. Employees were locked out of the company’s team training documents, franchise operation files and recipe folders. Remediation costs associated with the infection were estimated at $30,000. The criminals behind the threat gave victims 72 hours to pay the CryptoLocker ransom in Bitcoins or face permanent destruction of the private key. In addition, the thieves threatened to destroy the private key to unlock the files if it detected any attempt to remove CryptoLocker.

Massachusetts Police Department: $750 Ransom
A local police department based in Swansea, Mass., paid a $750 ransom to the criminals behind CryptoLocker after the agency’s main file server, including administrative documents, investigative materials and digital photo mug shots were encrypted by the malware. The department paid funds last November to send two Bitcoins to the thieves for the key to unlock the files.

Pest Control Company: $80,000 Loss
A North Carolina-based pest control company said it racked up $80,000 in infection removal costs associated with CryptoLocker when an infection spread to its customer database and schedule of appointments. The company’s backup server also was encrypted by the malware.

Microsoft Seizes Malware Domains

Microsoft’s cybercrime-related seizure of 23 domains from No-IP.com, a Reno, Nev.-based company that provides a popular free dynamic DNS service, is causing outages for millions of legitimate users of the service — and at least one security vendor.

The No-IP.com outages are having an impact on some customers with SonicWall firewalls. SonicWall, which Dell acquired in 2012, supports No-IP.com and other dynamic DNS services in its products.

Hundreds of his SonicWall customers began experiencing outages on Monday. Some of these customers are apartment complexes that run security surveillance cameras behind SonicWall firewalls, using No-IP.com’s dynamic DNS service to relay the video feeds.

No-IP.com and other dynamic DNS services are commonly used by remote workers to connect VoIP phones and video cameras to the Internet. Their popularity stems in large part from the fact that purchasing static IP addresses are expensive.

Microsoft has justified its actions by claiming that No-IP.com’s domains have been regularly used in malware attacks against millions of Windows users. And in Microsoft’s view, No-IP.com hasn’t done enough to stop this activity.

Microsoft filed a restraining order against No-IP.com in the U.S. District Court for Nevada on June 19. The court transferred DNS authority over the domains to Microsoft a week later.

Microsoft, which has a well-established track record of using legal means to break up botnets, said No-IP.com bears the brunt of the blame for allowing criminals to use its service for nefarious purposes.

As malware authors continue to pollute the Internet, domain owners must act responsibly by monitoring for and defending against cybercrime on their infrastructure,” Richard Domingues Boscovich, assistant general counsel in Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, said in a blog post Monday.

If free Dynamic DNS providers like No-IP exercise care and follow industry best practices, it will be more difficult for cybercriminals to operate anonymously and harder to victimize people online.

However, in seizing the domains, Microsoft has disrupted service for a large chunk of the dynamic DNS service’s users, No-IP.com said in a statement Monday. The company also claims that Microsoft never reached out to it first before going to the courts. “Millions of innocent users are experiencing outages to their services because of Microsoft’s attempt to remediate hostnames associated with a few bad actors,” No-IP.com said in the statement.

Security experts applaud Microsoft’s malware-fighting tactics. Big DNS take-downs are very effective. They can quickly nullify huge botnets in a single move. With DNS names black-holed, the botnet essentially becomes useless since it cannot communicate back to its command infrastructure.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear how much of a long-term benefit Microsoft’s latest antimalware actions will have. Malware creators are always developing new strategies around this, including the use of multiple DNS names, resolvers, or fail-safe measures to reconnect to their command-and-control systems.

Was Microsoft right in taking this action? Even though they had a court order, did they overstep their bounds? Let us know what you think.

Its Time To Say Goodbye To LogMeIn Free


After ten years, LogMeIn’s free remote access product is going away. Current users will be notified via email and in-product messages about the need to upgrade. While messaging has already started, users will be given 7 days to make a purchase decision about LogMeIn Pro.

Even though LogMeIn Free is gone, don’t panic: You can still find alternative and FREE remote-access tools. Whether you need to access a document, collaborate with a colleague, or support several PCs, try one of these free tools to get back into the game.

TeamViewer
Our tech team has been using TeamViewer as our secondary remote access tool for years, and it has always been reliable. Simply download the program from the website, and then install it (or run it without installation, if you like) on both of the PCs you want to connect. During installation, you can also set the program to allow for unattended control. TeamViewer installs as both a server and a client, so you can use it to take control or to allow control.

TeamViewer 9’s cooler features include the ability to open multiple remote sessions in tabs (as in a browser), cut and paste between computers via the clipboard, and drag and drop files from your desktop to the remote desktop. It’s a mature, stable, practical tool for anyone’s remote-control needs. Note that you will get the occasional message about upgrading to the pay version if you use TeamViewer regularly to connect to a lot of different PCs.

VNC
VNC, or Virtual Network Computing, isn’t itself a product, but an open-source remote-control and display technology that’s implemented by Tight VNC (free), Ultra VNC (free) and RealVNC (free and pay), among other parties. VNC isn’t hard to use, but it’s not as simple as Join.me and TeamViewer, which don’t require user knowledge of IP addresses. To use VNC, install it on both the PCs you want to connect and then set them to listening. To control another PC, simply open the VNC viewer (client), enter the PC’s IP address, and have at it.

Join.me
Join.me is another remote access tool my team uses on a regular basis. Join.me is a web-based meeting service (free and pay) from LogMeIn that also provides remote control. It’s convenient for impromptu support in that all you need on the controlling PC is a Web browser. The user with the computer that will host the meeting (and offer control) simply surfs to the Join.me site, selects Start Meeting, and downloads a file.

After running the file, the meeting originator passes the provided nine-digit passcode to the user or users on the other end, who in turn enter the passcode in the Join Meeting field on the Join.me homepage. The meeting originator’s desktop will appear in the browser. Once remote control is granted, you can chat, send files, and more. Join.me isn’t suited for unattended remote control, which makes it only a partial replacement for LogMeIn.

WebEx Free
Most users think of WebEx as a tool for multiuser boardroom meetings, but it’s also perfectly suitable for small-scale, live (not unattended) remote control and support. WebEx works a little differently from Join.me in that installing software is required at both ends, but that’s a relatively painless process.

Once users have joined the meeting, initially they can only view the originator’s desktop, but the originator can make another person the presenter, pass control over the mouse and keyboard, and share files, chat, and utilize webcams for face-to-face interaction. There’s a bit of a learning curve if you stray from the main features (available from the usual drop-down panel at the top of the display), but overall WebEx is quite easy to use. 

Most importantly – Don’t get spoofed
Because of the popularity of remote-control and remote-meeting services, the Web is ripe with spoofed websites (those that look very much like the correct one, but aren’t) that will attempt to lure you in if you don’t type the URL correctly. Downloading software from these sites can be dangerous to your computer’s health, as well as to your wallet. This is something we talk about all the time.

The correct website addresses for the services I’ve mentioned above are:

TeamViewer — http://www.teamviewer.com/en/index.aspx
RealVNC — http://www.realvnc.com/
Join.me — https://join.me/
WebEx Free — http://www.webex.com/

The ability to access and control a PC remotely is a must for workers and IT administrators alike. If you really love one of these free alternatives, consider throwing a few bucks to the developer. Who knows: Your contribution could help to keep the FREE program going for everyone.

Tech Giants Unite

Tech Giants Unite In Anti-Snooping Effort

Eight major United States high-tech companies have called on President Obama and governments worldwide to reform their surveillance practices.

Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and AOL want governments to ensure that data collection by law enforcement and intelligence agencies is bound by rules and focuses on targeted suspects. They also want governments to be more transparent about the data they request.

“The security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” said Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page.

“This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world,” he continued. “It’s time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”

Some of the principles the tech industry suggests governments should embrace:
• Governments should pass laws imposing “sensible limitations” on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data and should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes.

•Intelligence agencies should only collect data or compel its production under a clear legal framework with strong checks and balances. Independent review courts incorporating an adversarial process should be set up, and important rulings should be made public in a timely fashion.

•Companies should be permitted to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information, and allowed to promptly disclose this data to the public.

 The call for independent reviewing courts and the inclusion of an adversarial process are a direct blow against the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is viewed as rubber-stamping the NSA’s requests without affording defendants or recipients of warrants the chance to be heard.

User anger over government surveillance is growing, particularly in light of recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency has infected 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malware, and that it is daily harvesting the locations of 5 billion cellphones around the world.

The Long, Hard Battle for Transparency
The Center for Democracy and Technology wrote the White House and Congress on these issues in July and November on behalf of coalitions representing various sectors of society.

 In August, proponents of surveillance reform held closed-door meetings separately with President Obama and top administration officials about government surveillance.

 Meanwhile, bipartisan support is growing for the USA Freedom Act, jointly introduced in October, by Rep. Jim Sesenbrenner, the lead author of the U.S. Patriot Act, and Sen. Patrick Leahy to rein in NSA’s bulk collection of data.

All Good Things Take Time
Don’t expect changes any time soon. The political process doesn’t work like the tech industry, where things change overnight.

The problem is that changes in technology have overtaken the law. When the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, it was inconceivable that someone could record every single telephone conversation. However, technology has improved dramatically and is able to accomplish this today and it’s easier to record everything now than it is to selectively record various conversations.

Between legal cases challenging surveillance and legislative measures being proposed, the Patriot Act is not going to be reauthorized in its exact same form when it comes up again for reauthorization in 2015.

Article in the Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/major-tech-companies-unite-to-call-for-new-limits-on-surveillance/2013/12/08/530f0fd4-6051-11e3-bf45-61f69f54fc5f_story.html

Article in USA Today
http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/12/09/google-microsoft-facebook-others-form-reform-government-surveillance-coalition/3914697/

Google Chromecast

Chromecast is a $35 streaming dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port and plays audio/video content on a high-definition TV using your Wi-Fi connection.

The basics: what it is and what it does:
You can use it to stream online videos from YouTube, Netflix and elsewhere, and use your computer, mobile phone or tablet as a remote control. It doesn’t have any kind of separate app store or user interface on your TV – everything gets controlled from your PC or mobile device.

The key word here is control: Your phone doesn’t stream videos directly to your Chromecast dongle. Instead, it just tells the device which video it should stream from the cloud. That means that you can use your phone for something else, or even turn it off, once the stream begins. This also helps preserve your smartphone battery

This kind of remote control capability only works with apps and sites that directly support Chromecast. In addition to that, users can also stream any web content directly from their computer’s Chrome browser, as long as they have a special Chrome extension installed.

The setup:
The setup is remarkably easy if you follow Google’s directions and download the setup app on your computer or mobile device.  Just get those apps, and the setup is literally done in two minutes. Plug the dongle into your TV, connect it to a power source and fire up the app on your computer or mobile device. Enter the password of your local Wi-Fi network, and you’re good to go.

Streaming Netflix:
Chromecast is a great device for Netflix viewing: Streams look as good as on any other device and navigating the Netflix catalog on a computer or mobile device works much better than on a connected device like the older WII we have for streaming Netflix.

Streaming YouTube:
The other use for Chromecast right now is streaming videos from YouTube. One limitation though is that streaming videos to Chromecast from your PC is only supported if you are on YouTube.com, and not if the video is embedded in a third-party website. That means that you’ll need to click through to YouTube.com before you can start watching on the big screen.

When Chromecast was introduced it was thought that the HDMI-CEC standard would be its secret killer feature and it is. Chromecast can automatically turn on TVs that support HDMI-CEC and even change the HDMI input, switching from live TV to whichever video you selected on your mobile device.  One complaint is that turning on the TV doesn’t work if you plug your Chromecast unit into the TV’s USB port, which is why it makes sense to use the extra power adapter that Google ships with the device instead of USB.

Netflix and YouTube are clearly just the beginning for Chromecast. Hulu, Vimeo, HBO Go and others have already pledged their support, and many developers have begun creating apps and games for the device. All of this means that Chromecast will get substantially better over the months to come.

No additional monthly fees and only $35 to bring Netflix to a TV in your bedroom or den is really a no brainer even if you already have a smart TV, or watch Netflix with the game console that’s otherwise collecting dust in your living room. The device makes it easy to bring online video to the living room or kid’s room and in turn makes TV watching a lot more enjoyable. I’ve just ordered 3 more dongles for 2 TV’s at home and one here at the office.

More information is available here:
http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/chromecast/?gclid=CIKCoPGHgbsCFclQOgod0FMAQw

Windows Start Button Resurrected


Microsoft’s New Windows 8.1 Ad Shows Off The Start Button!

With Windows 8 now the go to operating system for consumers and business users alike, Microsoft is hoping that bringing back the Start button in Windows 8.1 will make users fall in love with its newest operating system.

Users told Microsoft not to kill the Start button. Even Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen publicly griped about its loss when he reviewed an early version of Windows 8. After a lot of soul searching, Microsoft saw the light and listened to users.

Bringing it back is a step in the right direction, but, as mentioned before, if you already tried Windows 8, and hated it, Windows 8.1 probably won’t change your mind, Start button or not. The bigger problem is that the user interface just isn’t intuitive in a whole bunch of ways. It’s almost downright confusing. But, we have little choice in the matter, aside from abandoning PC’s and jumping to a MAC or Linux based system, we’ll all need to learn to like it.

On top of that – April of next year is the drop dead date for Windows XP’s extended support & security updates so if you don’t make a change before April 9th 2014, you’ll be surfing the net with a 12 year old operating system (that’s ancient in technology terms). When Windows XP was first developed the internet was a different place. Smartphones were non-existent, laptops were a luxury and tablet computers were a thing of science fiction

That said, here’s a YouTube video showing how the revived Start button will look when Windows 8.1 is released to the public on Oct. 18:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QGrv7JbzjU

Updated Windows 8.1 Demo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoxDi-rb0TI

 

 

 

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