The Case for DuckDuckGo!

DuckDuckGoMany people that are concerned about their online security and privacy while doing Internet searches are switching to an alternative search engine called “DuckDuckGo.” They are located at https://DuckDuckGo.com. On their promotion page, they ask that users of the service spread information about why their friends should use the DuckDuckGo search engine. They say that “Friends don’t let friends get tracked!” They also remind users that they need to tell their friends that Google tracks you, and DuckDuckGo does not. Search should remain private and should not be targeted by advertisers. DuckDuckGo actively blocks Google’s hidden trackers, and Google trackers work on 75% of the top million websites! They indicate that their unbiased results are outside of the “filter bubble” that is typified by Google.

DuckDuckGo is committed to unbiased search that’s never based on your search history, and they ask that you spread the word that we all should stand up for a pro-privacy business model in the field of Internet search. This would be a distinct alternative to Google’s “collect-it-all” business model! The gist of it is that no one else should own your data! It is your data and you need to protect it. This is the thinking behind DuckDuckGo. It is a privately held Internet company dedicated to empowering the user to take control over their personal information online without trade-offs.

Maybe it is time to consider this alternative to the all-powerful Google!

The Issue With Google’s Control of Search

Google: Don't Be Evil!As you know my buddy that I used to work with that I call “The Other Computer Curmudgeon” has been sending me all kinds of information about how Google is trying to take over the world! Now, of course, some people think he is a little crazy, but they think that about me as well, so it works out!

To that end, Politico magazine online had a story in 2015 entitled, “How Google Could Rig the 2016 election.” Now, of course, this is old news, as we are well past 2016, but I think that what it’s talking about could in fact be used to sway future elections as well. The author, Robert Epstein, writes in this article that he had been directing research into Google and its ability to control opinions and beliefs based on its search algorithms. What you search for and what the responses are of great importance in how you proceed to perceive an issue.

Google has the ability, perhaps more than any other company in history to control, or shift, voting preferences of undecided voters. Mr. Epstein indicates that in his view they would have virtually no knowledge that they’re being manipulated by the search results they see.

He then goes on to point out that because many elections are won by very small margins, this would give Google the power to flip upwards of 25% of national elections in counties worldwide. His example is that in the United States half of our presidential elections in the past have been won by margins under 7.6%.

The fact that this could be done without the knowledge of the people doing searches using the Google search engine, to me, is what is most insidious in this scenario. Because our school systems have done a very poor job in teaching people critical thinking for themselves; most people tend to just surf the web, do searches in the search engines, and assume that what they’re finding online IS accurate information. They don’t question the source, or the motivation, of the people that are posting such information on the Internet.

Because of this, there is a real problem that people will be swayed by what they find on the Google search engine, Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram and Snapchat; that influences them without their even knowing that they have been influenced. There’s something about seeing an article written on a computer screen that tends to make people think it must be true! This is a sad fact, but all you have to do is critically look at a pharmaceutical advertisement on TV and what they are saying, as well as what they are NOT saying, that would give you an understanding, or pretext, about the drug they’re trying to sell you. Because make NO mistake, the reason they’re running that advertisement IS to sell you their latest drug! That’s just one example of the kind of influence that I’m talking about.

This is even more critical, in a venue where people make the assumption that if they look at a search engine the people providing the search engine have no “skin in the game” when it comes to providing a search response. That is, in fact, the way it should be, but unfortunately it is not the way it is! Google does have a political agenda. That’s why as my buddy, “The Other Computer Curmudgeon” says we need to be very careful of Google, and what it represents, in our searches, and how it impacts the direction of our thinking. The key here is to be a critical thinker! Think about what the person is saying, how they’re saying it, what their motivation behind it is in saying it; and how they are trying to influence you through what they’re writing, or presenting to you. If you don’t see opposing views, you could be swayed!

Frustrating Voicemail Scam

Warning - Scam Alert!I just posted this on Facebook:

“As most of you know, I run a tech show on YouTube called Dr. Bill.TV | The Computer Curmudgeon. I’m going to be talking about this on my show, but I wanted to put this on Facebook as well because it is SO frustrating! I have been hit twice today with a new phone scam that I have just been made aware of. Perhaps you’ve already had this happen, and if you haven’t it probably will soon! It begins on your cell phone with a voicemail message. The key here is that the phone NEVER rings. You are just notified that you have a voicemail waiting. When you listen to the voicemail you are told some story, the two I heard today were both different; and you are asked to call a telephone number, at which point they probably scam you to no end! I, of course, did not call the numbers that I was given and told to call. The correct response is simply to delete the phonemail, and go on about your business.

What is so frustrating here is that no call blocking software blocks this yet. I have several on my phone and neither stopped it. I understand that there is legislation being considered to stop this practice.

This is a case of tech development gone bad. They are developing nuisance tech to try to reach us with their scams, and this one is particularly insidious! More to come on my show about tech gone bad this weekend!”

Elon Musk Wants to Wire-Up Your Brain!

Elon Musk This would give whole new meaning to Blue Screens of Death! Yikes! And, would you want someone to be able to hack your brain?!

Elon Musk is making implants to link the brain with a smartphone

CNN – By: Michael Scaturro – “London (CNN Business) Elon Musk wants to insert Bluetooth-enabled implants into your brain, claiming the devices could enable telepathy and repair motor function in people with injuries.

Speaking on Tuesday, the CEO of Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX said his Neuralink devices will consist of a tiny chip connected to 1,000 wires measuring one-tenth the width of a human hair.

The chip features a USB-C port, the same adapter used by Apple’s (AAPL) Macbooks, and connects via Bluebooth to a small computer worn over the ear and to a smartphone, Musk said.

‘If you’re going to stick something in a brain, you want it not to be large,’ Musk said, playing up the device’s diminutive size.
Neuralink, a startup founded by Musk, says the devices can be used by those seeking a memory boost or by stroke victims, cancer patients, quadriplegics or others with congenital defects.

The company says up to 10 units can be placed in a patient’s brain. The chips will connect to an iPhone app that the user can control.
The devices will be installed by a robot built by the startup. Musk said the robot, when operated by a surgeon, will drill 2 millimeter holes in a person’s skull. The chip part of the device will plug the hole in the patient’s skull.

‘The interface to the chip is wireless, so you have no wires poking out of your head. That’s very important,’ Musk added.
Trials could start before the end of 2020, Musk said, likening the procedure to Lasik eye correction surgery, which requires local anesthetic.

Musk has said this latest project is an attempt to use artificial intelligence (AI) to have a positive effect on humanity. He has previously tried to draw attention to AI’s potential to harm humans.

He has invested some $100 million in San Francisco-based Neuralink, according to the New York Times.

Musk’s plan to develop human computer implants comes on the heels of similar efforts by Google (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB). But critics aren’t so sure customers should trust tech companies with data ported directly from the brain.

‘The idea of entrusting big enterprise with our brain data should create a certain level discomfort for society,’ said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research and co-author of the book Human/Machine.

‘There is no evidence that we should trust or be comfortable with moving in this direction,’ he added.

While the technology could help those with some type of brain injury or trauma, ‘Gathering data from raw brain activity could put people in great risk, and could be used to influence, manipulate and exploit them,’ Frederike Kaltheuner of Privacy International told CNN Business. ‘Who has access to this data? Is this data shared with third parties? People need to be in full control over their data.’

The tech industry is coming under heightened scrutiny over how it handles data.

France fined Google parent company Alphabet in January for violating EU online privacy rules. Facebook reportedly faces a major fine in the United States over its own data privacy violations.

Tesla has also suffered data leaks. In 2018, researchers at security firm RedLock said Tesla’s cloud storage was breached to mine cryptocurrency.”

Linux Drops the Floppy Disk!

You knew this had to happen eventually. Who uses a floppy anymore!?

Retrotechtacular: The Floppy Disk Orphaned By Linux

Retrotechtacular: The Floppy Disk Orphaned by Linux

HackaDay – By: Jenny List – “About a week ago, Linus Torvalds made a software commit which has an air about it of the end of an era. The code in question contains a few patches to the driver for native floppy disc controllers. What makes it worthy of note is that he remarks that the floppy driver is now orphaned. Its maintainer no longer has working floppy hardware upon which to test the software, and Linus remarks that ‘I think the driver can be considered pretty much dead from an actual hardware standpoint’, though he does point out that active support remains for USB floppy drives.

It’s a very reasonable view to have arrived at because outside the realm of retrocomputing the physical rather than virtual floppy disk has all but disappeared. It’s well over a decade since they ceased to be fitted to desktop and laptop computers, and where once they were a staple of any office they now exist only in the ‘save” icon on your wordprocessor. The floppy is dead, and has been for a long time.

Still, Linus’ quiet announcement comes as a minor jolt to anyone of A Certain Age for whom the floppy disk and the computer were once inseparable. When your digital life resided not in your phone or on the cloud but in a plastic box of floppies, those disks meant something. There was a social impact to the floppy as well as a technological one, they were a physical token that could contain your treasured ephemeral possessions, a modern-day keepsake locket for the digital age. We may have stopped using them over a decade ago, but somehow they are still a part of our computing DNA.

So while for some of you the Retrotechtacular series is about rare and unusual technology from years past, it’s time to take a look at something ubiquitous that we all think we know. Where did the floppy disk come from, where is it still with us, and aside from that save icon what legacies has it bestowed upon us?

WHERE DID THE FLOPPY COME FROM?

Computers of the 1950s and 1960s had typically been room-sized machines, and even though by the end of the ’60s a typical minicomputer had shrunk to the size of a cabinet it would still have retained some of the attributes of its larger brethren. Removable storage media were paper tapes and cards, or bulky magnetic disk packs and reels of tape.

The impending arrival of the desktop computer at the dawn of the 1970s demanded not only a higher capacity but also more convenience in the storage media for these new machines. It was IBM who would provide the necessary technology in the form of an 8-inch disk that they had developed for loading microcode onto their System/370 mainframes. Their patent for a single-sided disc with a capacity of 80kB had been filed in December 1969, and was granted in June 1972. 8-inch disk drives were produced by IBM and other manufacturers in a variety of formats with increasing capacities over the 1970s, and became a common sight attached to both minicomputers and desktop machines in that decade. Many consumers would have had their first glimpse of a floppy disk in this period courtesy of an 8-inch drive on a CP/M machine in their workplace, and they became for a while symbolic of a high-tech future.

The basic design of a flexible magnetic disk in a plastic wallet with a fabric liner was soon miniaturised, with the company formed by former IBM staffer Alan Shugart producing the 5.25′ format in 1976. This was visibly a shrunken 8′ disk, but its increased portability and convenience led to its rapid adoption. When IBM’s PC made its debut in 1981 it was the obvious choice, achieving mass-market ubiquity until it was slowly displaced by Sony’s 1981 launch of the 3.5′ hard-cased format.

…AND WHERE DID IT GO?

This Disgo-branded 32Mb Flash drive cost me a small fortune back in about 2001, but meant I could carry a load of floppies-worth of data in a much more convenient form.
This Disgo-branded 32MB Flash drive cost me a small fortune back in about 2001, but meant I could carry a load of floppies-worth of data in a much more convenient form.
It is an inevitability that any dominant technology will in due course be usurped, but why did the floppy fade away so quickly over the end of the 1990s? Was it the thirst for extra capacity that couldn’t be satisfied by expanded density drives or by expensive new formats such as Iomega’s Zip drive? Or was it simply superseded by a better technology such as the CD-ROM or the USB Flash drive? It’s more likely that both of these and more contributed to the format’s decline in popularity.

There was a time when a boot floppy was an essential tool in the armory of anybody working with computers, but as the CD and USB drive took over that function we said good riddance and no longer had to pray our boot floppies hadn’t lost a sector. The arrival of much more convenient free cloud services with significant storage — the launch of Gmail in 2004 comes to mind — sounded the death-knell for the floppy. If you bought a computer with a floppy drive installed after about 2005 you were in a minority, and in 2019 they retain a tenuous existence as an external peripheral with a USB interface. Perhaps most tellingly, an Amazon search reveals boxes of ten floppies selling for around $15, what was once a commodity item has crossed into being an expensive oddity.

The floppy drive has left us, but what legacies do we retain from it? Perhaps the most obvious is in every desktop computer, the size of the floppy drive standardized the size of the drive bay, which in turn dictated the size of other devices designed to be put into drive bays. And of course we’ll always have the glamorization of the floppy in movies from the era, like the corny-is-cool scene with a 3.5′ in 1999’s Office Space or the use of an 8′ in 1983’s War Games.

We’ll leave you with a video, showing an automated production line for 3.5 inch floppy disks. We see all the constituent parts including tiny pieces such as the write-protect slider and the head shutter spring, coming together on a beautiful piece of production line automation. A surprise is that the shell is assembled before the disk itself is slipped in from one end. If you still use floppies for something other than retrocomputing, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.”

UEFI Secure Boot Added to VirtualBox

VirtualBox on Linux has a new feature!

VirtualBox 6.0.10 Adds UEFI Secure Boot Driver Signing Support on Ubuntu and Debian

VirtualBox 6.0.10 comes more than two months after the previous maintenance release with some notable changes for Linux-based operating systems, especially Ubuntu and Debian GNU/Linux hosts, which received support for UEFI Secure Boot driver signing. Additionally, Linux hosts got better support for various kernels on Debian GNU/Linux and Fedora systems. It also fixes focus grabbing issues reported by users when building VirtualBox from sources using recent versions of the Qt application framework. The Linux guests support was improved as well in this release with fixes for udev rules for guest kernel modules, which now take effect in time, and the ability to remember the guest screen size after a guest reboot.

Humans Listen to Google Assistant, Too!

Google Assistant MiniMy buddy, that I call the “Other Computer Curmudgeon,” warned us… there ARE humans listening as well!

Yep, human workers are listening to recordings from Google Assistant, too

The Verge – By: James Vincent – “A report from Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS has revealed how contractors paid to transcribe audio clips collected by Google’s AI assistant can end up listening to sensitive information about users, including names, addresses, and details about their personal lives.

It’s the latest story showing how our interactions with AI assistants are not as private as we may like to believe. Earlier this year, a report from Bloomberg revealed similar details about Amazon’s Alexa, explaining how audio clips recorded by Echo devices are sent without users’ knowledge to human contractors, who transcribe what’s being said in order to improve the company’s AI systems.

Worse, these audio clips are often recorded entirely by accident. Usually, AI assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant only start recording audio when they hear their wake word (eg, ‘Okay Google’), but these reports show the devices often start recording by mistake.

In the story by VRT NWS, which focuses on Dutch and Flemish speaking Google Assistant users, the broadcaster reviewed a thousand or so recordings, 153 of which had been captured accidentally. A contractor told the publication that he transcribes around 1,000 audio clips from Google Assistant every week. In one of the clips he reviewed he heard a female voice in distress and said he felt that ‘physical violence’ had been involved. ‘And then it becomes real people you’re listening to, not just voices,’ said the contractor.

Tech companies say that sending audio clips to humans to be transcribed is an essential process for improving their speech recognition technology. They also stress that only a small percentage of recordings are shared in this way. A spokesperson for Google told Wired that just 0.2 percent of all recordings are transcribed by humans, and that these audio clips are never presented with identifying information about the user.

However, that doesn’t stop individuals revealing sensitive information in the recording themselves. And companies are certainly not upfront about this transcription process. The privacy policy page for Google Home, for example, does not mention the company’s use of human contractors, or the possibility that Home might mistakenly record users.

These obfuscations could cause legal trouble for the company, says Michael Veale, a technology privacy researcher at the Alan Turing Institute in London. He told Wired that this level of disclosure might not meet the standards set by the EU’s GDPR regulations. ‘You have to be very specific on what you’re implementing and how,’ said Veale. ‘I think Google hasn’t done that because it would look creepy.’

In a blog post published later in the day, Google defended its practice of using human employees to review Assistant audio conversations. The company says it applies ‘a wide range of safeguards to protect user privacy throughout the entire review process,’ and it does this review work to improve the Assistant’s natural language processing and its support for multiple languages. But Google also owned up to the failure of those safeguards in the case of the Belgian contract worker who provided the audio to VRT NWS, breaking the company’s data security and privacy rules in the process.

‘We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data,’ writes David Monsees, a product manager on the Google Search team who authored the blog post. ‘Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.’

Update 7/11, 6:33PM ET: Added information and comment from Google’s blog post published in response to the VRT NWS report.”

“Beam Me Up…” For Real!

Beam Me Up!!!This is one I thought would be a LONG ways off, but look at this! True, it is only a photon, but you gotta start somewhere!

Scientists Just Teleported an Object Into Space for the First Time

Time – By: Melissa Chan “Scientists have successfully teleported an object from Earth to space for the first time, paving the way for more ambitious and futuristic breakthroughs.

A team of researchers in China sent a photon from the ground to an orbiting satellite more than 300 miles above through a process known as quantum entanglement, according to MIT Technology Review. It’s the farthest distance tested so far in teleportation experiments, the researchers said. Their work was published online on the open access site arXiv.

For about a month, the scientists beamed up millions of photons from their ground station in Tibet to the low-orbiting satellite. They were successful in more than 900 cases.

‘This work establishes the first ground-to-satellite up-link for faithful and ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation, an essential step toward global-scale quantum Internet,’ the team said in a statement, according to MIT Technology Review.

The MIT-owned magazine described quantum entanglement as a ‘strange phenomenon’ that occurs ‘when two quantum objects, such as photons, form at the same instant and point in space and so share the same existence.’ ‘In technical terms, they are described by the same wave function,’ it said.

The latest development comes almost a year after physicists successfully conducted the world’s first quantum teleportation outside of a laboratory. Scientists at that time determined quantum teleportation, which is often depicted as a futuristic tool in science-fiction films, is in fact possible.”

Are You Still Running and Old Version of Windows?

Computer CautionWhy? Stupid comes to mind. You are not safe!

This Windows Flaw Is So Bad, Even the NSA Is Begging You to Update

Gizmodo – By: Patrick Howell O’Neill – “It’s not every day that the National Security Agency urges you to update your computer.

Three weeks ago, a critical Windows security vulnerability known as BlueKeep was revealed and fixed. In that short time, Microsoft has repeatedly begged users of older Windows versions to make sure their machines are up to date. The company even released fixes for Windows XP, Server 2003, and Vista—a slate of unsupported operating systems that usually don’t get much attention.

Now, it’s an American intelligence agency echoing Microsoft.

‘Recent warnings by Microsoft stressed the importance of installing patches to address a protocol vulnerability in older versions of Windows,’ the NSA advisory read. ‘Microsoft has warned that this flaw is potentially ‘wormable,’ meaning it could spread without user interaction across the internet. We have seen devastating computer worms inflict damage on unpatched systems with wide-ranging impact, and are seeking to motivate increased protections against this flaw.’

In addition to its more famous offensive mission of global electronic surveillance, the NSA is also tasked with defending U.S. networks. The NSA’s Cybersecurity Requirement Center authored the advisory, which listed out impacted systems and directions for mitigation.

Microsoft’s warning compares BlueKeep to WannaCry, the notorious 2017 ransomware worm allegedly developed by North Korea that infected hundreds of thousands of computers and cause millions of dollars in damage.

Although BlueKeep affects mostly older Windows versions, there are millions of old, unsupported Windows machines still out there—and, believe it or not, still being used in important places. It’s not unheard of for an American energy company, for instance, to have a Windows XP machine somewhere on the network. That’s when using an old machine becomes a vulnerability to critical infrastructure. The Defense Department is also famous for its use of ancient Windows machines.

‘Although Microsoft has issued a patch, potentially millions of machines are still vulnerable,’ the NSA wrote.

‘This is the type of vulnerability that malicious cyber actors frequently exploit through the use of software code that specifically targets the vulnerability. For example, the vulnerability could be exploited to conduct denial of service attacks,’ it added. ‘It is likely only a matter of time before remote exploitation tools are widely available for this vulnerability. NSA is concerned that malicious cyber actors will use the vulnerability in ransomware and exploit kits containing other known exploits, increasing capabilities against other unpatched systems.’

It’s almost certain that we’ll see malware exploiting this vulnerability at some point. In addition to the NSA’s concerns, the U.S. cybersecurity firm McAfee and exploit sales company Zerodium each independently said last month that they’d seen the flaw exploited.

It’s been about three weeks since BlueKeep was fixed. It took two months for WannaCry to be unleashed around the world. Following reports last week of around a million still-vulnerable machines, NSA wrote Tuesday that ‘potentially millions of machines are still vulnerable.’

Cybersecurity experts will be keeping their eyes open for months. So buckle up, this one’s not even close to over.”

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