Author Archives: Jeremy

Surf Online, Get Tracked Like an Animal

A depressing report from a few California universities shows that most people have no idea to what extent their online activities are tracked and used against them. This report doesn't offer any solutions other than to try to opt-out of tracking (if it's even possible to do so) though they also state that many companies find clever ways of circumventing promises not to track and do it anyway.

If you don't want to be tracked, make sure to use adblocking software and turn off images in your e-mail. This removes many of the techniques used to track you.

(H/T to The Consumerist for the link)

Seagate Finally Gets Nailed for Dishonest Marketing

Have you ever bought a hard drive that didn't seem as large as was advertised? Why is my 80 gigabyte hard drive showing less than 75 actual gigabytes?

The reason is that companies like Seagate define their gigabytes by a standard that no one but hard drive manufacturers use which is this:

Hard drive manufacturers – 1 GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes
The rest of the world – 1 GB = 1,073,741,824 bytes

The first, while semantically correct, has no bearing on computing terms at all and is highly misleading. Though the term "giga" technically means 1 billion, in computing terms 1 gigabyte is 1024 megabytes which translates to the second number you see there. For a hard drive manufacturer to play with numbers like that, I say they deserve some retribution.

In this case, they've settled on a class action lawsuit (without admitting any fault of course). Customers of Seagate will be able to get a 5% refund on Hard drives they've purchased… assuming they find out about the settlement of course.

That said, to see the settlement information, go to this site.

Using Porn to Motivate Workers

This is amazing. I'll have to explain a few things before this will make sense though:

Example Captcha
Example Captcha
A CAPTCHA is an image used to protect comment forms from spammer's programs. You might have seen them, they look like scrambled letters and you have to type what you see in the image before you can enter the site. In theory, only humans can read the text so it prevents spammers getting in (because the last thing a spammer wants to do is actually enter Spam messages one at a time by hand).

Rather than figure out how to write sophisticated programs to decode the Captchas, spammers would hire people to type Captchas for them one after another. All the spammer had to do was re-write their Spam program to feed Captchas to the hired flunkies as they went around leaving Spam messages on the Internet.

But wait! Someone thought of a better idea. Now the spammers have created a free online porn game where users have to type Captchas to reveal the photo. By combining games and sex, spammers are getting for free what they used to pay for. Worst of all, they're circumventing a security control that wasn't very invasive that will now have to be upgraded making trouble for all of us.

As annoying as this is, it's also quite brilliant! I wonder what other applications we could use this for…

(H/T to Schneier's Blog for the link)

The Problem With Terrorist Threat Reporting

Schneier has a great summary article of how citizen informants combined with officials who won't take responsibility for over-reacting over the last few years is making America look dumber and dumber every day.

Here's an excerpt:

Causing a city-wide panic over blinking signs, a guy with a pellet gun, or stray backpacks, is not evidence of doing a good job: it's evidence of squandering police resources. Even worse, it causes its own form of terror, and encourages people to be even more alarmist in the future. We need to spend our resources on things that actually make us safer, not on chasing down and trumpeting every paranoid threat anyone can come up with.

California Prepares for Onslaught of Scammers

In the wake of every tragedy come scammers looking to profit off the victims. It's sad, but true.

Fortunately, California (historically a very forwardthinking state), is prepared:

“Unlicensed contractors who offer their services during this state of emergency will face up to three years in state prison – and we will show no mercy, ? Dumanis said. “This is a felony crime, not a misdemeanor. ?

Price gouging is also a crime

Brown issued a warning to those who might try to illegally raise prices for goods, services, or hotels.

"Anyone who tries to wrongfully profit from the suffering of others will be investigated by the California Department of Justice, ? he warned.

AT&T’s New Spying Program

In an attempt to remove all doubt that AT&T is a evil-infested, garbage-brained, scum-sucking, low-life, mucus-eating sot of a company, it has been recently discovered that they built a custom algorithm to: "crunch through tens of millions of long distance phone records a night to draw up what AT&T calls "communities of interest" — i.e., calling circles that show who is talking to whom".

Blackwater Offered Immunity

You may have noticed I don't talk about the War much, but this caught my attention. Blackwater, a private security firm (read: mercenaries) is in trouble for having shot some people (I apologize for the huge over-simplification).

Anyway, the State Department is offering them immunity. Here's the problem: immunity means that it doesn't matter if they're guilty or innoncent, there will be no consequences for their actions. Even if you were to assume that the Blackwater guards were put there with little actual training and couldn't be held to the same standards as our military, there should be consequences for the people who made the decision to send them there in the first place.

But judging on history, they'd get immunity too. No one will be held accountable while Bush is in office.

Update

CNN has responded to the hype that the "immunity" stories caused by releasing this article explaining that it was a limited immunity deal that would not have stopped prosecution. Read the full articles for details.

New Trend – Leaking Ad Flyers Online

So here's somehting new: finding out the prices on an upcoming sale by looking online. This is particularly useful when the ad flyer happens to be for Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving).

This follows another recent story of a Walmart ad being leaked online (which has, of course, been taken down due to a legal threat from Walmart).

(H/T to Digg.com for the link)

TJX Data Breach Up to 94 Million Victims

If you've been following this breach, the key problem here is two part:

1) TJX is the parent company of several other companies including TJ Maxx. Each of those companies shared data with TJX creating a massive database (and a single target for the hackers).

2) TJX (and others) shouldn't have stored the credit card data in the first place.

Seriously, what right does this company have for storing people's credit card numbers? What they hell are they going to do with my credit card number anyway? Show it to me on a web form the next time I buy something? It's my card! I know what the freaking number is, you don't need to store it for me!

Anyway. I hope something drastically negative happens to TJX because of this and I hope it encourages other companies to stop data-raping people.

Sprint Forced to Unlock Phones

In California, Sprint has been forced to unlock their phones to allow their customers to use their phones with other cell services. The main point here being that if someone has been using their cellphone for years wouldn't normally want to switch to another service even if Sprint was terrible since they might like their phone and have it customized and full of data they wanted to keep.

With cellphone unlocking, now that customer can drop Sprint like a bad habit at will. Bad news for Sprint, great news for us.

Fingerprint Evidence No Longer Allowed in Trials?

So much for CSI.

In actuality, this is only a ruling on partial fingerprint evidence. I'm not sure if I agree that a partial print can't be considered as one piece of the evidence though I do agree that you can't make a case solely on a partial print. In this case, the judge ruled that a partial print can't be used as evidence in a murder investigation.

The more disturbing part of this article is this:

… the FBI mistakenly linked Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon lawyer, to a fingerprint lifted off a plastic bag of explosive detonators found in Madrid after commuter train bombings there killed 191 people.

So not only can your fingerprints be used to identify you as a criminal in this country, you might get nailed for crimes in completely different countries as well. Always be wary of providing fingerprints.

(H/T to Schneier's Blog for the link)

RFID Tracking Students By Tagging Their Uniforms

Nothing like treating people like animals to be tagged and tracked. Of course, it's much easier to start by tracking kids because they don't have much choice in the matter and when they grow up, they'll be less resistant to the practice. Enter surveillance society…

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. They portray the tests as successful, but as Bruce Schneier points out, "So now it's easy to cut class; just ask someone to carry your shirt around the building while you're elsewhere."

Or how about, "it's easy to get someone you hate in trouble by wearing their uniform for a few minutes while vandalizing the teacher's lounge."

Or "We had no idea that constantly bombarding students with radio frequencies in closed spaces during their formative years would lead to these kinds of mutations! Mrs. Johnson, you can't honestly expect us to pay to have Timmy's third arm removed can you?"

I love how companies start implementing RFID without any thought to the consequences.

Microsoft Messes Up Again, Installs Unwanted “Feature”

Microsoft slipped another bomb into their "critical updates" in the form of a Windows Desktop Search. The reports say that besides being an unwanted feature, it has been slowing machines down considerably.

The worst part is that somehow Microsoft thinks they can change the way our machines work without our consent. But this wouldn't be the first time.

Parents Can Get Fired For What their Kids Post Online

Well this is different. I knew that posting online can have severe negative effects on the poster, but I hadn't considered the effect on the parents.

"Whether we're talking about dad's work secrets or problems between mom and dad with their relationship," Sgt. MacDonald said.

We asked him to show us just how easy it is to find incriminating posts. It didn't take long.

"Not only do I have to live with my nagging mom, my dad does drugs. This person, Tara, says her parents are lazy alcoholics," reads Sgt. MacDonald.

He says it's not hard for police, or employers, to uncover the identity of teens from the details in their profiles

While those people might deserve to get fired (if the teen poster is telling the truth and not just venting), the article lists another example of a mortgage broker finding out that one of his customers lost his job.

Privacy is starting to become harder and harder to protect, but also more important at the same time.

(H/T to Digg.com for the link)