Category Archives: Tech

Facebook is *NOT* Decrypting Your Secure Messages!

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FacebookDecrypt

Today, a story broke, claiming that

FACEBOOK TO DECRYPT “SECURE” MESSAGES OVER CYBER-BULLYING ACCUSATIONS

This appeared to originate on the InfoWars.com site.  While that site has some interesting stuff and breaks some stories, it also over hypes much of it and posts an amazing amount of conspiracy theory stuff.

But, none of that is reason to automatically disbelieve this claim.  But this is… the first paragraph of the story, explains it all.  I hate facebook for many reasons, especially for its privacy violations, so I can’t believe I’m defending them on this, but this has been blown all out of proportion.  Specifically…

“When you report a secret conversation, recent messages from that conversation will be decrypted and sent securely from your device to our Help Team for review,”

Facebook  DOES NOT DECRYPT the secret messages!!!. YOU DO!  And then you voluntarily SEND IT to facebook.

Now, that’s not to say that they don’t do other nefarious stuff, because they DO!  But this is not one of them.  The ONLY way Facebook can see the encrypted conversation is if someone in the conversation MAKES A CONSCIOUS CHOICE to send it to facebook.  And that conversation is decrypted by that participant’s phone, NOT by facebook themselves.

So, step back, take a breath, and brow beat facebook for their many other privacy violations that actually do exist.

Disclaimer:  If Facebook is decrypting messages, this InfoWars story’s first paragraph text refutes that, in spite of all the hype later.

Lawsuit claims Facebook illegally scanned private messages

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How I Protect Myself Against Ransomware

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Ransomware

What is RansomWare?

Ransomware is probably the worst kind of malware you can get infected with.  After it gets into your system, it secretly encrypts all your disk drives in the background.  Once it’s done, it notifies you that all your files are encrypted and locked and demands an exorbitant amount of money to be transferred to the thieves (usually via BitCoin) in order to receive the decryption key and sometimes they take your money and never give you the key.  The longer you wait, the higher the ransom, until after about 3 days, they delete your key and your files are gone forever.

Things that do NOT work:

  • Encrypting your hard drive.  While it’s good practice to encrypt your hard drive, this does absolutely NOTHING to protect against Ransomware.  It may protect you from external people snooping your data, but if ransomware gets installed on your machine, it has access to your drive while it’s unencrypted, and can then encrypt it with its own keys.
  • Backups created using the same PC.  Why would having a backup NOT work against ransomware?  Because again, the ransomware can see and write to your backup drive if it’s accessible from your same PC and it will encrypt that too!

How I’m protecting myself against Ransomware

  • I have 2 drives on my main PC:  A boot drive that contains Windows and the installed applications, and an external, high capacity hard drive where ALL my data goes, INCLUDING my Windows Desktop, and all the special windows folders like desktop, documents, pictures, videos, downloads, etc…
  • My boot drive and my external drive are both encrypted (not really a help against Ransomware… just thought I’d mention that they’re encrypted).
  • I have a second drive of equal capacity as my data drive and it’s hooked up to an older Linux laptop.
  • On host, Windows PC, I created a user account named “Backup” (could be named anything) with read only access to my main data drive on my Windows PC.
  • On Linux, I used Veracrypt to encrypt my backup drive that’s connected to it (doesn’t really help against Ransomware, but again, just thought I’d mention it.)
  • Running a scheduled backup program on the Linux laptop (Lucky-backup… a GUI for rsync), connecting to my Windows PC over the network with the Windows “Backup” user account. It backs up all of my Windows external data drive to the Linux, encrypted backup drive and runs a differential backup every night.
  • Critically, the Windows PC has no direct access to the Linux backup drive.
  • My Linux laptop boots off a Linux flash thumb drive and does NOTHING but backup.

How does this protect me?

By using 2 different PC’s, the chances of BOTH of them being infected with ransomware at the same time is very small. By using 2 different operating systems, the chances of both being infected at the same time is drastically reduced.  While Linux is NOT virus free and is NOT ransomware free, it’s significantly more resilient and will NOT be infected by a Windows ransomware infection.  If, by chance, the Linux machine gets infected with Ransomware, it has only read only access to my data drive on my Windows PC and will not be able to encrypt it.  In either case, I have my full data on the other machine.

What happens if my Windows machine gets Ransomware?

I’ll reformat all of my Windows drives by booting off a clean flash thumb drive that has Windows installation media.  Then I’ll have to manually re-install my software, which will be a pain, but I have access to all of it.  Then I’ll need to restore my data to my data drive from my clean Linux backup.

What happens if my Linux machine gets Ransomware?

I’ll reformat all my Linux drives by booting off a clean flash thumb drive and then re-set up my backup system.  My Windows machine at that time should be clean.

Why doesn’t Encrypting my drives help me?

Encrypting your drives DOES  help protect you against adversaries trying to gain access to your data, but it does NOT help protect you against ransomware, which simply wants to DESTROY your data.  The reason is because ransomware runs after you’ve booted into Windows and Windows has decrypted access to your encrypted drives.  That means the ransomware has access to your encrypted drives too and can simply double-encrypt your data.

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Encrypting the Non-Encrypted Cloud Drive Services

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In this article in my series of “Encrypt All The Things!”, I’ll show how to fully encrypt your files on popular cloud drive services that do not support zero knowledge encryption.  Such services that do NOT support zero knowledge encryption are:

  • Google Drive
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • DropBox
  • Box.Net
  • Amazon Cloud Drive

That is obviously not a comprehensive list.  Some that DO support zero knowledge encryption:

  • Mega
  • Spider Oak

That is also not a comprehensive list.  The problem with Mega is that it’s closed source, so you can’t confirm that everything’s on the up and up.  In fact, Kim Dot Com, the creator of Mega, was/is wanted by the United States government for hosting pirated material.  That’s why he created Mega, so he’d have zero ability to decrypt the data, which was a great big middle finger to the U.S. government.  He’s since left the company and now claims it can’t be trusted, but we don’t know if that’s just sour grapes from him, or if there’s a legitimate reason for him to say that.  At any rate, it’s closed source, so there’s no way to confirm.

Spider Oak is also closed source AND it costs money.  It’s not a free service.

But, there are plenty of free cloud drive services (listed above at the top of this article), but none of them support zero knowledge encryption.  But, there’s now a fairly easy way to encrypt those.

Download and install the free, open source software called Cryptomator.  You can get it here:

https://cryptomator.org/

As of this writing, they only have a Linux, Windows, and Mac version, but they are actively working on Android and iOS versions.

How it works

Once you install CryptoMator on your PC, you configure it to access each of your cloud drive services.  At the time of this writing, Cryptomator supports 4 of the popular cloud drive services.

  • Google Drive
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • DropBox
  • (I can’t find information on the 4th one)

But, it should work with any cloud drive as long as you have a synced folder on your PC to that cloud drive service.  It doesn’t have to directly support your cloud drive service AS LONG AS your cloud drive software provides a local sync folder that other apps on your PC can access.

Below, I give general instructions.  The exact steps are clearly outlined in the CryptoMator documentation.  This will give you the basic idea of what you’re trying to accomplish…

Once installed, you add a “vault” to Cryptomator, create a password, and point CryptoMator to your local sync folder.  It will then create a virtual drive (using an unused drive letter) and store some encrypted files in your local sync folder.

Now, with your new drive letter, just put any files you want encrypted into there and NOT directly in your local sync folder.  If you put anything directly in your local sync folder IT WILL NOT BE ENCRYPTED!!!!  If you put files in your virtual drive that CrytpMator created for you and gave it a drive they, those files will appear as unencrypted to you as long as you have the “vault” unlocked with CryptoMator.  The actual encrypted bytes of the files are stored in the local sync folder associated with your cloud drive service.  If you open the sync folder, you’ll see meaningless file names and meaningless folder names with encrypted files in them.  That’s the encrypted data.  To have an unencrypted window into that encrypted data, simply open the new drive letter that CryptoMator created for you when you unlocked the vault with your password.

Since the encrypted bits are stored in your sync folder, they get synchronized with your cloud server and it’s those encrypted bits that are stored on the cloud drive servers.

Once you get that working, it’s a good idea to drag and drop all your previously existing NON ENCRYPTED files and folders from your local sync folder into your vault virtual drive.  Once you’ve confirmed they’re in the vault, BACK UP YOUR FILES, then you can safely delete them from your sync folder, which will delete the unencrypted files from your remote cloud drive, leaving only the encrypted bits.  Cryptomator will automatically encrypt them and store the encrypted bits back into your local sync folder, which your cloud drive software will then upload to your cloud drive service.

Caveats

  • Errors with large folders: I have about 64GB in my Microsoft One Drive.  When I tried moving my camera roll folder into my Cryptomator virtual drive associated with OneDrive, it kept failing.  I presume it wasn’t designed for folders with that many files or that many bytes.  After many days of effort, I finally did get it working.  I do not know if it was a OneDrive problem or a Cryptomator problem.  I had no issues encrypting my Google Drive nor my DropBox, but neither of them had as much data.
  • No Mobile (yet): Right now, there’s no mobile access to your encrypted data.  They’re actively working on both Android and iOS apps, so that may change by the time you see this.
  • No browser access: Since the web interfaces of these cloud services simply show you the files as they are on their services, after you encrypt your files and folders, when viewing them with a web browser on those services, you’ll only see the encrypted data.  This makes sense because the cloud drive services are unaware of the encryption switch-aroo you’ve done.  Don’t expect this to change.
  • Your Key: With zero knowledge encryption, you keep your key locally, but Cryptomator stores your key ON your remote cloud drive.  Don’t fret too much though.  It’s encrypted with your password that you made when you created your vault.  Technically, your password is your key.  In my judgment, it’s fairly safe.  Though, I wouldn’t be storing my archives of my classified State Department e-mail on any of these public cloud drives, even with Cryptomator. Winking smile
  • Meta data: The contents of your files are encrypted as well as the file and folder names, but the timestamps are NOT encrypted and neither are the number of files, the number of folders, nor the sizes of the files.  The timestamps are left as is in order for your cloud drive software (OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox, etc…) to know when things have changed so it can sync properly.  The file sizes are a result of how many bytes you’re encrypting.  The number of encrypted files will be roughly equal to the number of files as they were before they were encrypted (but the contents will be fully encrypted).  This too is a side effect of how the syncing works.
  • Mobile still unencrypted: You should probably turn off or uninstall the cloud drive software on your mobile devices because you won’t be able to see anything but encrypted data.  Also, any files you have locally on your mobile device that you have set to sync will be uploaded UNENCRYPTED.  Then you’ll have a mix of both encrypted and unencrypted files on your cloud drive.  Remember, CryptoMator is actively working on Android and iOS apps.  When they’re available, you can install those and follow Cryptomator’s recommendations on what to do with your cloud drive provider software.

Use this information about the caveats

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Zero Knowledge Encryption

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Zero Knowledge

Spideroak.com has this to say about zero knowledge encryption:

“Zero Knowledge means we know nothing about the encrypted data you store on our servers. This unique design means nothing leaves your computer until after it is encrypted and is never decrypted until it is unlocked with your password on your computer. It’s not just “end to end encryption;” it’s a Zero Knowledge System.”

Spideroak.com, by the way, is a cloud drive service provider.  Though, there are some critiques of the way they password protect your local key on your own PC, it is far more secure than Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Amazon cloud storage, DropBox, Box.Net, etc…

In short, if you have full control over your encryption keys and the remote service provider does NOT and cannot decrypt your data, then THAT is zero knowledge encryption.  Never settle for anything less.

 

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You may live to see the Extinction of the Human Race

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This is a “fun” article I’ve been wanting to write for a while now.  Don’t worry, nothing below is going to happen anytime soon.  Or will it?

A Great Filter event is an event, either self-made or natural, that wipes out an intelligent species.  The idea is one presented as an explanation for the Fermi Paradox.  The Fermi Paradox says that per the odds that we’ve calculated, our galaxy should be teaming with technologically advanced life forms, yet we’ve found absolutely none, regardless of how intensely we’ve been looking.  One possible explanation for the lack of our finding any is that technologically advanced species that happen to survive all natural causes for extinction, inevitably self-destruct due to losing control of their own technological progress.  Ever since humans have invented the nuclear bomb, the idea that we may destroy ourselves has been a real concern.  And with that technology falling into more and more irresponsible hands like North Korea, Iran, and eventually terrorists organizations, the likelihood of a nuclear war keeps increasing.  Also, as more technology becomes accessible to more people, individuals are gaining greater and greater destructive power.  As humanity learns more and more about how biology works and how the laws of physics work, humanity is more and more capable of making both intentional and unintentional, massive planetary changes.

There are multiple ways we could bring about our own destruction and the number of ways and the ease of which to do it are increasing daily.

How will the human race go extinct?  Oh, let me count the ways!  This is a tiny list of all the ways!  First, I’ll provide the list, then below the list, we’ll go into a little more detail of some of them.  So, strap on your tinfoil hats, let’s go for a ride.

  1. Self inflicted:
    1. Global Thermal Nuclear War
    2. Bioengineered disease
    3. Artificial Intelligence run amok
      1. Machines advancement, ignoring impact to us
      2. Machines intentionally eliminating us (Terminators)
      3. Machines hacking us
    4. Gray Goo
    5. Climate Disasters
        1. Heat
        2. Cold
        3. Oxygen
        4. Nuclear Radiation
        5. Nuclear winter
        6. Starvation
    6. As-yet discovered quantum physics planetary annihilation
    7. As-yet discovered quantum physics universe destroying annihilation
    8. Artificial black hole
    9. Intentional asteroid impact
    10. Invited planetary alien invasion
  2. Natural
    1. Asteroid or comet impact
    2. Rogue planetary impact
    3. Planetary orbital change
    4. Sun flares
    5. Loss of magnetic field
    6. Disease
    7. Other life form atmospheric change
    8. Rogue black hole
    9. Rogue star
    10. Nearby supernova

Global Thermal Nuclear War

This one speaks for itself.  Throughout the second half of the 20th century all the way up to today, the threat of a global nuclear war has been real and if humanity explodes their entire nuclear arsenal,  about 1/2 of humanity will die within hours.  Over the next few weeks, hundreds of millions more will die from radiation sickness due to exposure to the initial blasts.  Nuclear fallout will rain down for hundreds of miles around each blast point, covering much of the earth in deadly, radioactive ash, killing all that come into contact with it anywhere from days to years later.  Radioactive clouds will permeate through all of earth’s atmosphere, irradiating everyone that breaths the air, including animals.  Those that didn’t die in the immediate blasts will die slow, painful deaths from cancer.

There will be pockets of people surviving from a few areas that were lucky enough to not receive major doses of any of the radioactive fallout.  And I use the term “lucky” loosely here.

Those “survivors” will have to endure a nuclear winter, blocking out the sun around 4 years, meaning no chance of growing any crops, current crops will die.  Livestock will die from starvation.  Most of the few survivors will die from starvation.  What few remain will have survived on stockpiles of rations, small rodents, insects, and cannibalism.  If any of them survive the long, 4 year nuclear winter, if they haven’t saved any seeds, they will have nothing to grow.  The odds of them not having received lethal doses of radiation during that time is small.

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Bioengineered disease

Humanity is gaining knowledge of genetics at an alarming rate.  They can already intentionally extract specific genes from specific species for specific purposes into other species.  Here’s an example of extracting cockroach genes and injecting them into the DNA of bacteria to intentionally produce cockroach milk, that’s 4 times more nutritious than other forms of milk:

http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2016-07-21

Here’s a DARPA project that creates pharmaceuticals via gene manipulation:

http://news.mit.edu/2016/portable-device-produces-biopharmaceuticals-on-demand-0729

Meanwhile smart building bricks have been created with microbial fuel cells embedded to produce electricity, clean water, and create detergents:

http://info.uwe.ac.uk/news/uwenews/news.aspx?id=3428

In India, they’re re-engineering the pea’s DNA:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-19/an-upgraded-3-000-year-old-pea-could-ease-india-s-inflation-problem

Recent research has shown how to modify genes of existing individuals (most gene modification techniques to now have been on changing genes for new individuals).  China is starting human trials already:

http://perfscience.com/content/2144438-china-start-world-s-first-human-crispr-trial-next-month

Here’s a gene manipulation that scientists are debating the ethics of releasing into the wild, because, Once it’s released, there’s no going back!

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/543721/with-this-genetic-engineering-technology-theres-no-turning-back/

Killer bees were artifacts of a scientific experiment in South America breeding African bees with European honey bees.  One night, a first time technician failed to go over all items on his checklist and didn’t close the beehives.  Some of the killer bees escaped into the wild.  Now, decades later, they’ve invaded almost as far north as Sacramento California.  There’s no known way of stopping them.

http://www.livescience.com/52153-africanized-bees-spreading-north.html

Any of those technologies above could be used intentionally or unintentionally to wipe out the entire human race.

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Machines Advance, ignoring impact to us

We may well create self-replicating machines, combined with full, general purpose artificial intelligence without proper controls.  These machines may simply reproduce, consuming resources needed for their reproduction, having enough smarts to mine for what they need, and just roll right over us humans, possibly even using our bodies as one of many raw materials available to their use.

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Machines intentionally eliminating us (Terminators)

This one doesn’t need much of an explanation as we’re all familiar with it.  A.I. advances, forms its own consciousness, uses the weapons we gave it to kill our enemies, and it turns on us for its own survival, perceiving us as a threat.  With the advanced A.I. we gave it, it improves on our weapons for more killing power and replicates drones and other killing machines, hunting us all down, one by one.

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Terminator Anthology (The Terminator / Terminator 2: Judgment Day / Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines / Terminator Salvation) [Blu-ray]

The movies have it very very wrong though.  A.I. could produce machines of any size, from as large as mountains to as small as single cells.  They could swarm the entire planet, finding every possible hiding place and eliminate us all, easily, quickly, efficiently.  We would have no chance at all.

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Machines hacking us

Another terminator scenario is that A.I. will become smart enough to decode the workings of the human brain and can easily rewire it or reprogram it to make us do its bidding or even integrating with us, against our will… well, until it reprograms our will to fully allow it.

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4 Film Favorites: The Matrix Collection (The Matrix / The Matrix Reloaded / The Matrix Revolutions / The Animatrix)

What remains of us will not be what we are now.  What we were is essentially extinct.  We are now nothing more than bio material consumed for the machine’s needs.

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Gray Goo

This is a particularly terrifying great filter scenario.  Mostly because there are MANY paths to this outcome.  Essentially, this is humans making self-replicating nanobots with no controls to stop reproducing.  They spread out from their point of origin, carried by the wind, in the fur of rodents, on insects, and birds, at the microscopic scale, copying themselves, using whatever material they come into contact with… desks in the laboratories, flooring, dry wall, pipes, wires, insulation, asphalt, grass, dirt, rocks, trees, skin, flesh, eyes, brains… whatever it comes into contact with.  Eventually, the entire planet is converted into nanobots, consisting of what appears to be a gray goo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z45Tpp9DBq4

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Heat or Cold Climate Disaster

This is the global warming scenario you never, ever, EVER stop hearing about.  Though this one takes enormous timeframes to happen, we’re much more likely to die from our quicker technological progresses.

If we somehow survive all our other, quicker means of self destruction, this one takes so long to happen, there’s almost no doubt we’d develop technology to reverse it before it wiped us out.  But, supposing we survive long enough, continue to heat up the earth, and somehow never manage to advance technology to just slightly higher than what we have now to reverse it, and continue to pump enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, then, eventually, it’d be too hot for us.  In all honesty, this is probably one of the most unlikely endings because it requires us to pass through and avoid almost all the other self made great filters.

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Oxygen Climate Disaster

Given our ability to bioengineer, it’s possible we may produce a rapidly replicating microscopic species that consumes oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere, suffocating us all.  Considering the amount of time this would require, even with a fast replicating microscopic life form, odds are in our favor that we’d be able to create a predator against this and/or eventually move off planet before enough oxygen was consumed to kill us.  But, assuming all attempts fail…

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Quantum Planetary Annihilation

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(Image: The Planet Vulcan being crushed by a manufactured, artificial black hold, from the motion picture “Star Trek” 2009)

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Star Trek Movie 2009 3D BlueRay

In this scenario, scientists discover some kind of quantum effect that can form a black hole that crushes the entire planet, leaving absolutely nothing behind, except our satellites orbiting the new black hole.  Alternatively, they could discover some quantum effect that explodes, out of control, exploding the planet.  Another possibility is a variation on the gray goo, where the subatomic particles called “stranglets” are created in a supercollider.  Srangelets have the property of converting any other subatomic particle they collide into into more stranglets.  This sets off an unstoppable chain reaction, converting the entire planet into a gray goo.  Atoms of different types can no longer form.  There is only one type of matter in the entire earth and the entire earth is a smooth ball of strangelet goo.

Universe Destroying Phase Change

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Empty space is not quite so empty.  It’s made of a quantum foam, bubbling all sorts of new particles in and out of existence.  Space itself has quantum properties.  At the heart of quantum physics is randomness, not certitude.  When a radioactive material has a particle decay, it happens randomly.  All quantum events happen randomly.  Empty space is quantum in its core existence.  The big bang may have been a spontaneous phase change of a prior universe and that change spread out at the speed of light, consuming the old universe, ushering in a new universe with different laws of physics.  There’s nothing stopping that from happening again.  It could happen, spontaneously, anywhere in the universe, at any time, spreading at the speed of light, erasing the old universe and replacing it with something else with different laws of physics.  The odds are very low, but not zero, and given enough space and enough time, it’s inevitable that it will happen.  The only question is when.

However, since it’s a physical possibility, science may one day understand it enough to reproduce it, completing a complete and utter destruction of absolutely, positively everything.

This might be another answer to the Fermi paradox.  Not only is it likely that technological species eventually wipe themselves out, but it may also be likely that they accidentally destroy the entire universe.  If that’s true, then that would mean we’re the first technological species, judging by the fact the universe hasn’t been destroyed  yet.

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Intentional asteroid impact

Humans have had space travel capability for 59 years.  We’ve gone from 2 superpowers’ governments being the only ones to conquer space to about 20 countries’ governments involved and just in the last 10 years, 6 or more companies have risen to be independent space faring organizations.

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Armageddon [Blu-ray]

Asteroids have lots of valuable minerals, so those will definitely be mined ASAP.  As these become very profitable, the number of companies traveling to, claiming, and mining asteroids will increase exponentially.  At some point, a mentally ill or religious fanatic could find their way to one and use his rockets to change the orbit of an asteroid to direct it to earth.  An asteroid of about 6 miles in diameter, impacting the surface of the earth would be more than enough to wipe out a continent on impact, send tidal waves miles high to wash across the planet, cause a shockwave through the entire planet, and raining fire down on the entire planet, igniting our atmosphere, killing us all.

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Invited Planetary Invasion

You really need to watch the Neil deGrasse Tyson video (linked just above) and read the BBC article on renowned astrophysicist, Steven Hawking’s dire warning of initiating contact with technologically advanced life from another planet.

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War of the Worlds Blue Ray

Odds are, that if we ever cross paths with another intelligent species, that they will be millions or even billions of years ahead of us, technologically and that their intelligence will be so powerful compared to ours that we will be simply incapable of comprehending it nor communicating with it.  They will perceive us in the same way we perceive ants.  Our technology will be absolutely nothing compared to theirs.  There is absolutely, positively zero hope of us defending ourselves from such a species if it decides to do anything at all to us.  All the movies of alien invasion have it drastically wrong.  There will be no fight.  One simple decision from a super advanced alien race and we’re toast.  Done.  Period…

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I’ll update this later with natural extinction level disasters.  All this talk of doom and gloom has made me hungry, so I’m calling it quits for the night.  Forget the doom and gloom… I’m just glad it’s not Monday!

Oh, and uh… Have a nice day! Smile

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Why it’s proper to assume the worst

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When you’re securing your devices, network, and data, you do so as if you’re expecting the worst.  This, of course, doesn’t mean the worst is going to happen, but if you can protect against it, you should, and if you don’t, and you get hit, it’s your own fault.

“Are you Paranoid???”

It’s inevitable that when you discuss standard security practices online, you’re going to run into some uneducated yahoo that loves to scream “paranoia!”.  If we used their “logic”, then we’d have no blinds on our windows, no bathroom doors, no bedroom doors, no locks on our homes or cars, no health insurance, no auto insurance, no life insurance, no home owners or renters insurance, no smoke detectors, and no fire extinguishers.  Just because you’re taking obvious and appropriate precautions, does not a paranoid schizophrenic make.

Reduce Your Attack Surface

A basic security principle is to reduce your attack surface.  That means that you simply turn off or disable avenues of outside attack, except for the few that you definitely need to use and protect those as best you can when they’re open, and close them when you’re done using them.

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The fact is there’s plenty of money to be made and is being made by malicious users around the world, whether it’s phishing scams, viruses, trojan horses, worms, stolen databases, direct hacking attempts, webcam hijacking, bots, ransomware, or any number of other attacks, if it’s online, it’s definitely being scanned by malicious users and poked and proded for exploits.

Your current software and operating systems and devices are not secure

Today, in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century, if you put a fresh install of Windows 95 on a computer and hook it to the internet, it’s estimated that within 45 seconds, it will be compromised.  I’m not trying to scare you away from Windows 95.  By now, you’re certainly on a newer operating system.  That’s just an example of what kind of attacks are constantly running and scanning everything hooked up to the internet.  Newer operating systems are much less vulnerable.  Let me clarify that.  Newer operating systems are no longer vulnerable to those old, known attacks, but they are still vulnerable.  Every week, Microsoft releases security patches to Windows.  They’ve been doing this for at least 15 years.  And next Tuesday (no matter when you’re reading this), there will be another round of security patches to close up some of the security holes your up-to-date copy of Windows has right this moment.  But, it will not fix the security holes that are still in it.  The following Tuesday, even more holes will be closed.  And the cycle will continue ad-infinitum.  Even as Microsoft continues close up more security holes, they’re always making other modifications to Windows to add new features or fix bugs, that ultimately open new security holes.

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Conclusion

It doesn’t matter how much you try to protect yourself, there will always be holes open for attackers, but you should, of course, close up the holes you know about, keep your software up to date, encrypt your data, don’t re-use passwords, use long passwords, preferably computer generated, use a password manager, and even cover up your webcam on your laptop with a piece of tape.  You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you, and believe me and all the others in the security industry… They Are!  However, they’re most likely not out to get specifically you, just anyone or anything that they find that’s not protected, and that’s YOU, me, and everyone else on the internet.  Just as you lock your front door, close your bedroom blinds, and buy insurance, protecting your digital content is no different.  You’re not expecting anyone to rob you tonight, but you’re going to lock your door anyway.  You don’t expect to die today, but you have life insurance anyway.  However, unlike your front door on your home, your home network is constantly being probed.

Now, go an encrypt your data.

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How to deal with Trolls Online

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Years ago, back when Google+ was still in the invite phase, I wrote the following article on Google+ Netiquette:

Google+ Netiquette

Years have gone by and the pleasant days of invite only are gone and now we deal with trolls on a daily basis.  If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve dealth with trolls.  But what IS a troll?

Troll Defined

According to Google, it’s someone that “make(s) a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.”

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According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s “Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it’s the internet and, hey, you can.”

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Let’s look at some real life examples of trolling, shall we?

Here’s a typical one I encountered recently.  During an innocent conversation about someone that got a chip on their Gorilla Glass screen on their Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, which, has a premium build glass and metal body (that’s important to follow the trolliness here)…

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So, this troll jumped into an ongoing, pleasant conversation instantly stating lies (or he’s just 2 generations behind on his knowledge of what Samsung phones are made of), then he jumps to drastically wrong assumptions, repeats his misinformation, jumps to massive conclusions, attacks the entire Android platform, then expands his insults to all Android users across the entire planet, then accused me of being the troll when I called him out on his trolliness.  This thread went on further with more of the same.

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Good Luck Lifestyle Theme Trolls 5″ – Ballerina by Play Along

This is just the latest troll I’ve dealt with and is a typical example of the trolls I deal with almost daily.  No doubt, in true troll form, if this troll ever sees this post, he’ll make a new thread claiming this post is all about him.  Reminds me of the old Carly Simon song, “You’re So Vain” … you probably think this song is about you.  Would be the same with any troll that I used as an example here.  This is just the most recent one at the time of this posting.

Of course, you see this behavior on any subject where people have opinions… politics, religion, science, favorite devices, etc…

But, how do you DEAL with these trolls?

There are 2 schools of thought on this and they’re both equally valid:

  1. Ignore them and the’ll go away.  Also known as “Don’t feed the trolls”.
  2. Take them on.

The conventional wisdom is “don’t feed the trolls”.  The theory goes that they only post to get people riled up and if you ignore them, they’ll go away.

While that’s true for some trolls, and in my opinion, a very small minority of them, it’s not true for all trolls and it’s my experience that it’s not true for most of them.  Ditto for the claim that they just want to rile people up.  My experience in dealing with them going all the way back to 1988 is that most of them are just people with strong opinions, poor social skills, and an extraordinarily sensitive ego.  Their purpose is not to rile people, but to make themselves feel better by belittling others.  When uncontested, they feel vendicated and that is a reward to them to do more of the same.

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So, step 1, Don’t be a Troll!

See these Google+ Netiquette tips

Step 2:  Understand that you’re not necessarily dealing with this one troll, but combating a larger problem of trolls everywhere.

Step 3:  Determine what kind of troll this person is.  Are they just confused and if you provide corrected information, will it fix them?  Or, are they a repeat troller or trolling in a known trolling topic (such as iOS vs. Android or Republican vs. Democrat)?

Step 4:  Always try to first resolve issues politely and respectfully, even when the other party isn’t being respectful… IF you’re not sure they’re a repeat offender or trolling on a repeat troll topic.

Step 5:  Establish yourself as a polite, honest, reasonable person.  Politely try to resolve the problem.  Don’t give them an opportunity to label you as a troll.  They’ll do this anyway, but when you’re being more than polite, it only makes them look more ridiculous.  This is a big hit to their ego.

Step 6:  Re-confirm that you’re goal is to get to the truth, not to argue, and that you’d appreciate being treated with respect and that you’ll provide him (or her) with respect too.  Killing them with kindness makes their heads explode.  On a few occassions, they realize what they’ve done and apologize.  Sometimes they just leave, licking their wounds, usually blocking you on the way out.

There are, however, times when a troll needs a true smackdown.  I caution against this unless you can hold your own and are an expert in the topic being discussed.  Don’t be rude for the sake of being rude (that’s trolling), but feel free to mirror their insults.  Copying and pasting their own text against them is a great way to mirror their bad behavior that they can’t tag you on, because they’re actually the ones that wrote it.  Make absolutely certain that your facts are correct, because if you make any factual mistakes, YOU will be called out.  Keep reminding them that you tried to be civil, rational, and respectful, but they chose this path and you’re simply reciprocating the style of discussion that they chose… that it appears to be the only style they’ll pay attention to.  Also, trolls hate it when you use complex sentences and multisyllabic words or sound educated in any way.

Conclusion

When a troll has an unpleasant experience trolling (when their ego is hurt), they’ll think twice before trolling again, especially against you.

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Mobile: Encrypting All Internet Traffic

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This is one of many articles in a series I’m writing to cover end-to-end encryption for everything you do in your digital life.  I’ll cover encrypting specific types of internet traffic (like E-Mail, Web sites, etc…) in other articles.

For a primer on encryption, please read my article “Understanding Encryption” as it teaches VERY IMPORTANT concepts that you need to know before moving forward here.

This works for rooted AND unrooted phones.

Big Disclaimer

Before going any further, let’s make one thing perfectly clear on THIS particular encryption.  This does NOT make all your internet traffic encrypted from your phone all the way to the final destination!

So… What does it do then?

This will encrypt your connection from your phone through and past your ISP.  It protects you from your ISP and anyone snooping on  your local end of the network.  This is great for when you need to use public wifi.  Scammers running a free wifi node will NOT be able to see your data NOR will they know where on the internet you’re going.

So… What does it NOT do?

Excellent question!  Let’s say you’re browsing a website that’s NOT encrypted (like this page you’re on right now)… Under normal circumstances, anyone snooping your network traffic ANYWHERE on the internet… from your local connection all the way to the connection on my end at my website, can see:

  • Your IP address.
  • The URL you’re wanting to visit.
  • Anything you type on my search page.
  • The contents of the pages my website sends back to you.
  • In short, everything is visible and in the clear.

Using the techniques in this article, you’ll be on an encrypted connection from your phone, through and past your ISP to some random computer on the TOR network, to a couple MORE computers on the TOR network, till your connection finally exits the TOR network and gets back on the regular internet, possibly in another country.  From THERE, your connection from THAT computer to my website is entirely unencrypted.

So… Why use TOR then?

To hide your network activity from your ISP, your cell phone provider network, your employer’s wifi, your local government(s) (including the NSA and GCHQ (the British NSA)), and anyone else snooping on the network near your end of the connection.  It will also hide your IP address from the websites you’re visiting.  You can make yourself appear to be in just about any country you choose.

Will this guarantee no one can see what I’m doing online?

LOL!  You’re cute when you’re innocent.  Of course not.  NOTHING is 100% safe on the internet, but it’s pretty darn strong protection and causes even the NSA headaches.  Someone with lots of resources would have to be specifically targeting you and it would be very difficult for them, even then.  You’re reasonably safe even against the NSA, but not totally.

What does it encrypt?

Note that this is a method to obfuscate ALL your internet traffic from your Android device, not just web browsing, but everything, including traffic to and from the Google Play Store, Google searches, game communication.  Again, it will NOT encrypt an unencypted connection.  It will encrypt all steps of the connection up to the exit node (see “How does it work?” below).

How does it work?

There are thousands of computers all around the world volunteering to be part of the TOR (The Onion Router) network.  When you connect to the TOR network, you’re randomly choosing an entry node computer somewhere in the world.  That computer then forwards your traffic to another, randomly chosen computer somewhere else in the world, which then forwards you to yet another computer on TOR somewhere else in the world, which then forwards you to a randomly selected TOR “exit node” computer… a computer on TOR whose purpose is to act as a fake YOU to the sites you visit.  It’s THAT computer’s IP address that your sites will see.

All traffic between you and all the TOR computers that your traffic passes through is encrypted.  The TOR computers do not know of your entire connection path through all the TOR computers you’re connecting through.  ONLY your own device knows that.  This is to prevent malicious adversaries from trying to reverse trace where you are.

Doesn’t this slow my connection down?

You betcha!  Yes.  Yes it does.  You do NOT want to do this for a first person shooter game.  YOU WILL LOSE!

Step by step instructions (FINALLY!)

If you’re device is NOT rooted, you’re going to change your Proxy address to “localhost” and your port to 8118 after you download and install Orbot. Below the installation steps are steps on doing that below:

  1. Download the app “Orbot” from the Google Play store.Screenshot_20160404-165041
  2. Optionally, you may want to ALSO install “Orfox”, a browser made to work on the TOR network.  It’s a modified version of the FireFox browser.  It works in tandem with Orbot.  But any browser will work.
    1. Screenshot_20160404-165051
  3. Launch the Orbot app.
    1. Screenshot_20160404-165126
  4. Long press on the screen to start Orbot.
    1. Screenshot_20160404-165118
  5. If you want to appear to be from a specific country, tap the drop down control in the bottom right of the screen and choose your desired country.
    1. Screenshot_20160404-165145
  6. If your device is rooted, skip the following steps about configuring your wifi connection and go directly to step #11.
  7. If your device is NOT rooted, it requires a little more work.  Steps 7-9 will need to be completed every time you connect to TOR.  Go to Settings->Wifi and long press on your wifi connection that you’re connected to and select “Manage network settings”.Screenshot_20160404-165310 BLURRED
  8. Now check the box “Show advanced options”
    1. Screenshot_20160404-165317 BLURRED
  9. Change your Proxy to “Manual”.
    1. Screenshot_20160404-165332 BLURRED
  10. Change your Proxy Host Name to localhost and your Proxy port to 8118 and tap “SAVE”.
    1. Screenshot_20160404-165404 BLURRED
  11. If everything worked (and it doesn’t always), you should have a secure connection on the TOR network now.  Open OrBot and click the “Browser” button on the lower left.Screenshot_20160404-165118
  12. If you have OrFox installed, it should open OrFox and load a page that tests.  It will tell you if you’re on a safe Tor connection.  If you don’t have OrFox installed, it’ll launch your default browser and do the same thing.  Here are 2 screenshots, one of OrFox and one of Chrome:

Screenshot_20160404-165205Screenshot_20160404-165422

If it didn’t work, you’ll see a page like this:

Screenshot_20160404-165246 BLURRED

If you see the “sorry” page, launch Orbot, then open its menu and choose “Exit”, then go to step #3 and try again.  There’s no guarantee that this will work all the time.  Some days it works.  Some days it doesn’t.

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How to end TOR and go back to NORMAL networking

  1. Open the Orbot app, long press, and Orbot will end the TOR connection.  The onion icon will become gray.
  2. Open the menu in the Orbot app and choose “Exit”.
  3. Fix your wifi proxy back… Settings->Wifi.
  4. Long press your wifi network and choose “Manage network settings.
  5. Click the check box “Show advanced options”.
  6. Change “Proxy” back to “None”.
  7. Tap save.

You should now have a normal network connection again.  As a last resort, simply reboot your device if networking fails to restore to normal.

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Hangouts: "photo sharing is not available because of your administrator settings"

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If you get the error “photo sharing is not available because of your administrator settings” in Google Hangouts (iPhone, Android, or any other platform) when you’re trying to send a picture (either by taking a photo within hangouts or just selecting an existing picture on your device), here’s what’s up with that and how to fix it…

Why you’re getting this:

You’re probably using an e-mail address that’s NOT @gmail.com.  You’re using Google custom domains (or whoever assigned you your account is using it) or Google domains for business or education.  Your account does NOT have “Google Photos” enabled.

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How to fix it:

If you’re NOT the administrator for the domain, then contact your domain administrator (the person that set up your account) and have them follow the following instructions:

If you ARE an administrator…

  1. Log into your domain control panel and click on “User”.image
  2. Click on the appropriate user account.
  3. Click on “Google Apps enabled”image
  4. Scroll down to “Show more” and click it.
  5. Then click “Additional Google services enabled”
  6. Scroll down and click on “Google Photos”.  It’s probably “off”.  Turn it on.
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Now the user should immediately be able to send images from within hangouts.

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Slow Motion Galaxy S7 Video Tests

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I bought a Samsung Galaxy S7 on March 11, 2016 (well, actually TWO of them) and have been testing the features.  Now, this slow motion video is not a new feature.  In fact, I’ve had it on my prior phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4 for almost 3 years, but I’ve had Cyanogenmod installed on it for the the last 2 and a half years, so I’ve been missing this feature.

Details of Slo-Mo

The Galaxy S line of phones since the S4 have had a camera feature where the camera can record video at 240 fps (frames per second) at 1280×720 resolution.

Enough already, let’s see some slo-mo video!

Fine!  Here you go!  This first one is a water bottle connected to a SodaStream, being carbonated.

Next is video of spraying water on the headlight of my car.   I have this uploaded to YouTube, but because of the extreme detail of the thousands of water droplets, YouTube’s video compression really destroys it, so I’m providing it as a downloadable MP4 file instead (46MB).

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If you want to see the butchered YouTube version, here it is:

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