New IBM Video Tells You How To Survive A Robot Apocalypse

A couple years ago the CDC released a guide for surviving the zombie apocalypse. Zombie hunters everywhere rejoiced to have an official guide on that critical topic. Now anti-robot warriors can also rejoice because IBM has released a video with instructions for surviving a robot apocalypse (see video at the bottom of this post).

IBM’s hope is that their new cloud platform, IBM BlueMix, will be an effective tool for tracking robots and communicating with other anti-robot warriors. (“In the unlikely event of a cybernetic revolt, your smartphone may be used as a weapon.”)

Bottom line? You won’t get turned into one of these:
cybermen

Good luck!

Department of Defence Security Threatened by Adobe Hackers

department of defense hackers adobe

Adobe is the latest in a long line of prominent tech companies to suffer a major security breach. Adobe stated that hackers had stolen source code to some of its most popular software applications and data about millions of its customers (source: Reuters).

Adobe is currently re-setting passwords and is advising customers to re-set passwords which are also used on other sites. But if the loss 2.9 million of its customers IDs and encrypted passwords wasn’t enough, the theft of the source codes means that hackers could potentially use that knowledge to exploit flaws in the software, launching attacks which are very difficult to detect.

The Wall Street Journal suggests that “attackers could exploit the code for ColdFusion, a Web application development platform, to find ways to directly access databases linked to public-facing websites”.

These fears have been debunked by Adobe’s security chief, Brad Arkin, as he suggests that after investigating the breach since its initial discovery, he has not seen any evidence that Adobe customers are suffering attacks based on the theft.

He goes on to state that “from my experience as someone who’s been in possession of the source code for five years, I don’t know that it helps the bad guys very much … in my experience, the most efficient way of finding vulnerabilities is not spending time with the source code but directly testing the product while it is running”.

However, if Adobe’s Chief Security Officer is incorrect, this could spell trouble for many major US based organisations. For example, the US Department of Defence, the National Security Agency and the Department of Energy all use Adobe ColdFusion, one of the systems which could potentially be affected.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence was quick to respond by stating that “as with any widely distributed software, when we identify an issue that may pose a threat or vulnerability to our networks, we remedy it as quickly as possible”. He went on to ensure the public that “we remain vigilant of any potential vulnerability to our systems or networks and take issues such as these seriously.”

With so many major organisations falling foul to data theft from hackers, perhaps it’s time you started to think about taking your cyber safety a little more seriously with varied and secure passwords.

Author: Russell Scott has been the MD of Sycura since its initial inception. Russell offers IT Support services through Sycura and enjoys writing about IT infrastructure and security issues within IT.

How the Digital Divide is Being Bridged in Rural Areas inf the UK

Access to fast broadband and all the information that comes with it is pretty lopsided in the UK. In the biggest cities and large towns which are part of major conurbations, internet speeds and access in general tends to be far greater than that in rural areas, something which many people off the beaten track are up in arms about.

In the slow lane
Slow broadband can be extremely problematic, especially for children who need a fast, reliable connection to help them with learning outside of school hours. The two main causes of slow broadband are lack of availability and expensive rates for superfast connections. Whatever the cause, it’s something that parents, teachers and even politicians are worried by.

David Nuttall, MP for Bury North, is calling funding given to the Greater Manchester area to tackle the problem of access to broadband in rural areas. Talking to the Bury Times, he said:

“Those who live in areas which have very slow broadband access speeds are seriously disadvantaged in this digital age. Although in recent months we have seen some progress — for example in Nangreaves thanks to the hard work of local residents — there is still much to be done.”

Solution from up on high?
While a long-term solution to the problem of slow rural broadband speeds isn’t in the pipeline just yet, something which could prove to be a cheaper and more realistic alternative to installing fibre optic into a home could come to the rescue of many country dwellers. Satellite broadband, although not that well-known, may be useful for individual homes where fast internet speeds are essential.

Andrew Walwyn, CEO of EuropaSat, explained how it could work for individual homes that would otherwise find access to fast broadband restricted:

“Whilst traditional wired broadband providers champion their investment in fibre networks, in reality out of town dwellers are still stuck staring across the digital divide because of their distance from the exchange.

“There’s no Government money available, and it’s not financially viable for the networks, to invest in laying fibre-to-the-home in out of city locations. BT states that it can cost up to £10,000 to install fibre to a single rural home”, he said.

“Many people don’t realise the role satellite broadband has in filling in rural ‘not-spots’ and connecting the last 5% of homes and businesses that will never get fast broadband over wires.

“The latest generation Ka band satellite broadband services offer defined, predictable service levels at reasonable cost, with no geographical discrimination. Using a small set-top box and an outside mini dish it’s now possible to deliver up to 20 Mb fast broadband to any property in the UK or indeed Europe”, he concluded.

Forget Video Conferencing, Holographic Communication Is Here!

People working away from the office have never had more technology at their disposal to make their jobs easier. Social media, instant messaging, smartphones, cloud storage, collaborative software and video conferencing have made communication to and from the office far less difficult than it would have been several years ago, but despite all the advances made, there’s still room for improvement.

Following on from our twitter post about a new ‘robot’ which allows remote workers to ‘roam’ around an office via video, you might wonder what other cool new innovations are in the pipeline. As it happens, there are quite a few which might make office life a little less stressful and more exciting at the same time, but what are they and when, if at all, can we expect to see them?

Straight out of sci-fi?

The robot itself is very cool and useful, but it can be a bit bulky, plus most offices couldn’t afford to have one. A less difficult and more impressive alternative may come in the form of holographic video conferencing, which has already been trialled in high-profile circumstances. For remote workers, it could give them even more reason to enjoy staying at home without fearing being out of the loop.

How this particular form of video conferencing works is that a holographic image of the person using it is beamed to another location remotely using a special kind of projector. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? As far back as 2008, Prince Charles used it to deliver a speech, and since then, this technology is being harnessed before it’s made for a mass market.

The next step in holographic video conferencing technology came in the form of Musion, which saw the deceased rapper Tupac Shakur brought back to life for a concert! Creepy as that might seem, Musion could become a feature of many offices if many businesses like what they see, especially if it makes this tech more ‘human’.

A personal touch

As great as the robot might seem, Musion has a big advantage over it. As well as being more visually impressive, it’s also more immersive and has that personal touch which you might not get from the robot or an ordinary conference call.

“If Musion begins to take off, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that businesses could use this technology for conferences, meetings and so much more”, commented Jacqui Keep, Marketing Executive from Powwownow.

“In time, holographic video conferencing could become the norm, but it depends largely on cost, need and space, although the latter issue might be resolved if the technology behind it becomes smaller.”

It’s likely that the technology behind Musion could become smaller. If so, then expect businesses and homes to take it up and use it to their hearts’ content, leaving the video conferencing robot trailing in its wake.

Will iOS Rally Against Android?

ios

In the battle between Android and iOS the next move will be Apple’s and likely announced at WWDC, which is already underway.

So far the tide seems to have shifted in Android’s direction and it seems likely iOS will have to bend in the direction of being more customizable going forward. That’s a big change for Apple, which has so far remained tightly in control of the user experience. Android is open and customizable, iOS far less so.

More Than Lock Screen Widgets

Users want more than screen widgets from Apple, they want apps that can manage calls, change the keyboard layout, customize the home screen and make substantive changes to the user experience. All things allowed with Android, but not iOS. It will be interesting to see how far Apple is willing to go in letting users and application developers run as it quickly runs into functionality such as application data sharing and allowing users to select default applications, two features currently not available on iOS.

Not The Only Challenge For Apple

Apple is facing challenges on several fronts, including phasing in streaming from iTunes which hit an early snag when a bug allowed test users to stream any pre-release album. Oops. Getting out from under the iTunes download only model has put Apple behind the curve in some respects to more established competitors and playing from behind is an unaccustomed position for them.

They’re also facing litigation by the DoJ that paints Apple as the ringmaster in an ebook price fixing scheme. It’s good to remember that the last time a government lawsuit actually changed anything was 1984 with the breakup of AT&T, though it’s an unneeded distraction at a time when Apple should be focusing on its product pipeline and customers.

The Post Steve Jobs Era

Apple is the same company with mostly the same people running it and only one big change at the top. Yet ever since Job’s death it seems as though Apple has struggled to find its footing in product development. For the first year afterwards it seemed like they were going to pull it together as their share price continued to climb, but recently Apple stock has returned to prices not seen since Jobs was alive and product development has lost its cutting edge appeal.

Pro users are hoping for a reason to stay with Apple and the Mac Pro product manager’s promise of “something really different” is coming late as many have already started considering PC alternatives. Video pros were already feeling snubbed by the FXP X fiasco and if the “something really different” doesn’t wow video editors, many of them could drop Apple altogether.

Perhaps WWDC will put all these fears and the sense of general unease to rest and demonstrate that Apple’s problems are related to communication rather than any real issues with their product development. It promises to be an interesting day for Apple watchers and many of those watchful eyes will be on Wall Street.

Three Free And Easy Ways To Thwart Government Snooping

Locking up your digital life is not terribly difficult these days. - photo by Christine Zenino

Locking up your digital life is not terribly difficult these days. – photo by Christine Zenino

Unless you’ve been hiding in some mountaintop religious monastery you’ve already heard the news about the NSA spying on millions of Americans. This should have been a headline back in 2006 when the program started but I guess mass indignation is better late than never.

Let’s face it, the government isn’t the only entity spying on you these days and hiding from these all pervasive services is becoming both increasingly difficult and inconvenient. Personally, I like being able to whip out my phone and see where I am in relation to where I’m going. Yet every time I do that I’m sharing my location and activities with an array of businesses that include my cell provider, Google, and probably another half-dozen companies looking over my electronic shoulder.

Going completely dark on your data trail is possible, but it’s extremely difficult and really inconvenient. The good news is that, unless you really are trying to hide from the government, it’s fairly easy these days to mask parts of your digital trail. You don’t have to hide all of it, just enough to muddy the waters and leave gaps in your digital life. There are some simple and free tools out there that can make Big Brother snooping a lot more difficult.

Tor

Tor used to be somewhat difficult to install and use but now adding it to your browser is pretty easy. Since the Tor network is open, anyone can establish a relay and monitor traffic coming and going on the node. You can bet that every major government on the planet is running a Tor node but that really doesn’t matter because you’re not using Tor to hide secrets from the NSA, you’re using Tor to keep your internet service provider from knowing all your business.

Tor sets up an encrypted link from your computer to the relay router and all your ISP sees is the encrypted connection. It’s none of Comcast’s business where you surf, right? You don’t have to use Tor for everything you do, just the things that aren’t anyone else’s business.

TrueCrypt

TrueCrypt is industrial strength, state of the art encryption that will even slow down the most seasoned government spy agency. You can use it to encrypt entire drives, including the boot partition, or create smaller encrypted containers that you can store safely online, on your computer, a thumb drive or even email them around.  If your data gets stolen it’s useless without the passphrase.

TrueCrypt has one really neat feature and that’s the ability to nest encrypted containers. One password opens up the outer container and second secret pass phrase opens up the inner secret container.  So, if you’re being waterboarded at GITMO you can give up the outer container password and no one knows the secret container is even there.

JavaScrypt Encryption and Decryption

Fourmilab has this nifty little javascript tool for encrypting the text of an email. You can run the javascript tool locally on your own machine or at the web site. Paste in the plain text and encrypt it with a passphrase or paste the encrypted text and decrypt it with the same passphrase.

JavaScrypt turns this:

This is a secret message. Don’t read me Big Brother!

Into this (the passphrase is “digizd” if you want to try it out):

##### Encrypted: decrypt with http://www.fourmilab.ch/javascrypt/
ZZZZZ XNKLE MMUBX XJHTT USFFX SVUEP WAFQI PLLDH TMFEX PTMTX HULAD
UDXXC EHPKW XMRWO IUOWG HEOHW LAMCP FQFLA JMKWR PFTXR AISQK EUGIG
XTEHF OQUVC OQCCV AMNJG HPKPS ASDNS BGTQX MHJAI KDFVL VUWGD DTWJR
AHRLR KCWJU OUGHR FILOV MUDNV MBBRQ GCZZZ YYYYY
##### End encrypted message

It’s not bulletproof encryption but it would take a real person computer time and effort to decrypt it. Again, you don’t have encrypt every message, just the ones you want to make Big Brother work for.

Commercial Solutions

If you want to encrypt your cell phone calls from the prying eyes of the government, there are new commercial solutions like SilentCircle that can encrypt your voice, text and emails for a flat annual fee. The downside is that unless both parties subscribe to SilentCircle, only your side of the conversation is encrypted, but at least it’s your half.

I believe our government is about to find out the hard way that the more pervasive and widespread snooping becomes, the more likely it will motivate people to explore their options for encryption. The encryption you employ doesn’t even have to be all that bulletproof, just inconvenient to crack. If enough people do just that, it will keep the codebreakers at the NSA busy for a long time trying crack grandma’s cookie recipe.

Windows RT – It’s Dead, Jim

Windows_RT_logo

According to Bloomberg and other sources Microsoft is cutting the price of Windows RT, though that may be a mute issue since few hardware manufacturers are planning on fielding an RT device.

Windows RT was supposed to be Microsoft’s answer to iOS but, like the Zune, it turned out to be a poorly implemented imitation. Microsoft gave RT a few Windows tricks, but the platform is incompatible with many big Windows software applications. Coders had to choose between Windows 8 and RT and that was not a difficult decision for most developers.

Hardware manufacturers are unloading their RT devices faster than AT&T is dumping the Facebook phone. HP and Samsung have dropped support and Acer’s CEO announced today the company is still deciding if they intend to offer an RT device, but definitely seem to leaning toward abandoning those plans.

While the Zune was a blunder Microsoft, and the rest of the tech community, could laugh off one wonders how many high-profile blunders the company can sustain and still stay relevant. The Redmond giant trying to compete with Apple always reminded me of your dad hitting on your college-age girlfriends; part sad, part creepy and a little uncomfortable.

In fairness to Microsoft, Windows RT may have looked like a good idea in the days when Android tablets were really expensive and online productivity apps were still in their infancy. These days cloud productivity has improved to the point many businesses started questioning the cost of Office, Android tablets dropped to the $200 price range and 64 percent of smartphones sold the first quarter of this year will be running some flavor of Android.  The domination of Android makes Windows RT look out of place and Microsoft appear out of touch.

All this culminates with news from the Wall Street Journal that Microsoft is now engaged in a massive reorganization starting with laying off 200 employees in various marketing divisions. As the era of big PCs comes to a close it’s going to be interesting to see if Microsoft can find its footing and a path forward in a rapidly changing technology market.

Five Hacks To Make Your Android Phone Do Awesome Things

500px-Android

Technically a “hack” for your phone involves rooting it first, but that can cause problems such as voiding your warranty and, in extreme cases, can brick your phone. That’s bad.  Short of that there’s still a lot you can do to change the look and function of your phone without worrying about the downsides of rooting an expensive device that you depend upon heavily.

If you’ll allow me to use the softer definition of “hack” here are some great tools for making your phone do some pretty awesome tricks.

Fix The Annoying Autocorrect On The Galaxy S4

jb_keyboardInstead of real autocorrect, the Galaxy S4 and several other phone models, have a suggestion bar where you pick the word you want. Some people are okay with that, others miss the speed of real autocorrect. It’s easy to have autocorrect your way with an app called Jelly Bean Keyboard that also gives you the option of a split screen keyboard for thumb typing.

Run Your House With Iris

The Iris system available at Lowes stores makes home automation a breeze by packaging the system for you. Turn lights on and off, change the thermostat, even look around inside your house all from your Android phone. Iris is one of the few that gives you a decent amount of control from the free subscription account and $9.99 a month for more advanced controls, including contractor “day pass” access codes.

Improved Themes With Beautiful Widgets Pro

beautiful_widgetsTired of the stock themes and boring widgets on your Android phone? Apparently a lot people are because Beautiful Widgets Pro is one of the longest running top rated apps on Google Play. Get thousands of themes and different layouts. Go ahead and spend the $2 for the pro version, it’s worth the coin.

Harness Your Computers Media Power With Gmote 2

Gmote allows you to start and stop movies or music from a distance, stream music to your phone and even run your PowerPoint presentation. It’s like a remote control for your PC or laptop.

The Name Is Bond, James Bond

mobile_cameraWith Mobile Hidden Camera you can turn your phone into a stealth surveillance device, taking pictures or recording video without them appearing on your screen. Autoshot and burst mode options available for taking pictures and a stealth mode that makes it look like your device is powered off. A word of warning there 007, recording conversations may not be strictly legal in every state. And bring the car back in one piece, will you?

Six Awesome Apps For Your New Android Phone

s4 handset

Connected devices are taking over as the world undergoes the most momentous technology shift since the internet was first opened up to the public. The same way PCs took over from mainframes, mobile devices are quickly replacing PCs and full size laptops.

Smartphone prices continue to drop and screen sizes get wider as more people want to do more things on their phone. It’s not so much that smartphones are taking over, it’s connected devices that are taking over and some of them happen to make phone calls. And what we’re seeing today is just the warmup act, what’s coming is even more amazing.

In the meantime smartphones have taken over our lives and have become more than a convenient phone, they are task managers, a compass when you’re lost, a light in the darkness, a still camera, a video camera and a device to watch movies and play games.

If you’re new to smartphones, here are the first six apps you’ll want to explore on that new Android phone. I was going to put Google Now on top of the list, but that’s only available for Android 4 and, for the five or six people who have that, it’s an awesome feature. The rest of us have to wait and that’s why Now didn’t make my list.

What you can get right now is amazing enough.

Netflix

netflixNearly identical to the experience you get on your PC. Even at 3G speeds you can still watch your favorites movies and TV shows. In fact, for spouses that Netflix cheat (watch an episode before their partner) most often that cheating happens on their phone.

Any.Do

any.doIf your life is driven by a hectic schedule, tame the wild timeline of your life with Any.Do. Featuring online sync, task snoozing, speech recognition, and a raft of options for reminding you about appointments, Any.Do is your digital valet. While it may not cover for you on the last bender, you can wipe away the evidence with a flick of your finger. Like it was never there.

The Weather Channel

weather_channelThis app made our list of Top Rated Weather Apps and is a must have if weather is a concern. Whether you’re at home or on the road the weather will never again sneak up on you and ruin your outing.

Pocket

pocketWhen you see something online you want to read later, store it in Pocket. The best part is you can sync Pocket across multiple devices for later viewing. You can also archive stories after reading them which are searchable by subject.

Google Hangouts

hangoutsIf your phone has dual cameras Hangouts is awesome for being able to have face to face meetings on the go anywhere. I use hangouts to routinely talk to family and friends and have regular meetings with a publisher in Virginia. Flip between rear and forward cameras to show your friends a view of where you are.

Google Voice

voiceIf you didn’t have enough reasons to get Google Voice before, you have another good one now. A Google Voice number is better than a burner phone and coupled with the app it’s nearly seamless on your phone. You can give it out to anyone without any connection back to your regular phone number. Screen calls, block numbers or route callers to specific voicemail boxes. The feature most people like the most on Google Voice is the transcripts of voicemails which is free, most cellular providers are charging extra for that feature. Google Voice is better than a phone number.

This is far from an exhaustive list but it will get you started with a set of features that will transform the phone in your hand into an information gateway to the world around you.

Like I said up above, this is just the warmup act. What’s coming just around the corner is even more amazing.

The Cloudy Future Of Professional Software

Holger Winnemoeller, senior research scientist, Adobe, demonstrates “Painting with Bob” during Adobe MAX - Photo courtesy of Adobe/David Zentz Photography

Holger Winnemoeller, senior research scientist, Adobe, demonstrates “Painting with Bob” during Adobe MAX – Photo courtesy of Adobe/David Zentz Photography

Those who depend on professional software for video editing, engineering and imaging have good cause to be concerned about the future. The tech market has been undergoing a dramatic but largely unheralded change that is just now beginning to cause some consternation among professionals who depend on big software applications to make a living.

The symptoms of the change have been apparent for some time, but the first real alarm came when HP announced a 20 percent drop in PC sales. The hardware industry was quick to point fingers at Windows 8 as the problem, but the change that’s happening now in the tech industry goes deeper than any one operating system.

The World Goes Mobile

As 90 percent of the world discovers they can get by just fine with cloud-based productivity software running on smartphones and tablets, the whole concept of a “seat” for software packages is quickly becoming outdated. This will certainly roll up on the big software providers like Microsoft, but the first wave of the tsunami hit the shores of hardware manufacturers.

It’s no surprise then that Meg Whtiman, CEO of HP, put some distance between her company and Microsoft, suggesting the future for HP is “multiple operating systems, multiple architectures and multiple form factors.” In other words, HP is diversifying their product line as fast as they can make the changes. When it comes to revenue in 2014, HP is not counting exclusively on Windows machines.

The Google Nexus 10 is one of the devices challenging the role of full size laptops and PCs - Photo courtesy of Google

The Google Nexus 10 is one of the devices challenging the role of full size laptops and PCs – Photo courtesy of Google

PC Sales Hit Leaves Software Companies In a Quandary

Fewer people buying PCs and big laptops means fewer people buying big software packages. Adobe addressed this problem by moving their entire product line to a subscription service in the cloud. A bold move that solves the problem for Adobe by turning their user base into walking ATMs, but it remains to be seen if users are going to stick with them.

Apple solved the problem by trying to make their professional applications, like Final Cut Pro, into an application that was more friendly to non-professionals to spur wider sales. What they fielded was called FCP X and professional users abandoned them in droves.

The Problem For Professional Users

Adobe claims the subscription model is better for professional users but no one is really buying that logic. The problem is that big PCs and laptops are becoming a specialty niche resulting in diminished software sales and fewer profits to pay developers.

Before they were purchased by big companies, most of those professional specialty applications were built and managed by small companies. The bigger fish in the software industry went around buying them and bundling the applications into software suites. Now there’s not enough profit for the big companies to keep working on desktop software and those companies are turning to their user base for more money. Even users who don’t use the software every day would have to pay the same monthly subscription fee as those who use it every day in most subscription plans. I see many part-time users saying no to that deal and jumping ship to other products.

The real question here is do we owe any of the big software companies a living on the terms they set? These applications would be profitable if managed by a smaller company without all the corporate overhead. Cool Edit Pro was doing just fine before being purchased by Sony, as was Acid. Professional software would be a successful niche for many companies, just not for the big players.

Most professionals will probably sign up to the new business model, they don’t have many alternatives and a subscription payments are just a cost of doing business to them, but some won’t be able to make the transition. Video editors are having a very big problem with the new cloud software model and Adobe isn’t helping matters by being less than clear in their user communications. It’s generally not a good business practice to have to prove yourself all over to your customer base. Sony has an alternative to Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC in Vegas Video but if they go subscription users will be turning back to turnkey systems made by Avid, where many of them started.

Any way you slice the old PC software model is changing, profits are shifting to mobile development and developers are moving along with the market. Before long there will be video and high-end image editing programs for tablets and other portable devices but whether those new programs on low-end hardware will be adequate for professional use is unknown.

Right now professional software users are feeling underappreciated and cast adrift by big software and the future is cloudy for both parties in this dance.