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Last year’s top hacker tactics may surprise you

Did you know that last year, 75% of data breaches were perpetrated by outsiders, and fully 25% involved internal actors? Did you know that 18% were conducted by state-affiliated actors, and 51% involved organized criminal groups?

That’s according to the newly release 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon. It’s the 10th edition of the DBIR, and as always, it’s fascinating – and frightening at the same time.

The most successful tactic, if you want to call it that, used by hackers: stolen or weak (i.e., easily guessed) passwords. They were were used by 81% of breaches. The report says that 62% of breaches featured hacking of some sort, and 51% involved malware.

More disturbing is that fully 66% of malware was installed by malicious email attachments. This means we’re doing a poor job of training our employees not to click links and open documents. We teach, we train, we test, we yell, we scream, and workers open documents anyway. Sigh. According to the report,

People are still falling for phishing—yes still. This year’s DBIR found that around 1 in 14 users were tricked into following a link or opening an attachment — and a quarter of those went on to be duped more than once. Where phishing successfully opened the door, malware was then typically put to work to capture and export data—or take control of systems.

There is a wealth of information in the 2017 DBIR, covering everything from cyber-espionage to the dangers caused by failing to keep up with patches, fixes, and updates. There’s a major section on ransomware, which has grown tremendously in the past year. There are also industry-specific breakouts, covering healthcare, finance, and so-on. It’s a big report, but worth reading. And sharing.

Learn more by reading my latest for Zonic News, “Verizon Describes 2016’S Hackers — And Their Top Tactics.”

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Look who’s talking – and controlling your home speech-enabled technology

“Alexa! Unlock the front door!” No, that won’t work, even if you have an intelligent lock designed to work with the Amazon Echo. That’s because Amazon is smart enough to know that someone could shout those five words into an open window, and gain entry to your house.

Presumably Amazon doesn’t allow voice control of “Alexa! Turn off the security system!” but that’s purely conjecture. It’s not something I’ve tried. And certainly it’s possible go use programming or clever work-around to enable voice-activated door unlocking or force-field deactivation. That’s why while our home contains a fair amount of cutting-edge AI-based automation, perimeter security is not hooked up to any of it. We’ll rely upon old-fashioned locks and keys and alarm keypads, thank you very much.

And sorry, no voice-enabled safes for me either. It didn’t work so well to protect the CIA against Jason Bourne, did it?

Unlike the fictional CIA safe and the equally fictional computer on the Starship Enterprise, Echo, Google Home, Siri, Android, and their friends can’t identify specific voices with any degree of accuracy. In most cases, they can’t do so at all. So, don’t look to be able to train Alexa to set up access control lists (ACLs) based on voiceprints. That’ll have to wait for the 23rd century, or at least for another couple of years.

The inability of today’s AI-based assistants to discriminate allows for some foolishness – and some shenanigans. We have an Echo in our family room, and every so often, while watching a movie, Alexa will suddenly proclaim, “Sorry, I didn’t understand that command,” or some such. What set the system off? No idea. But it’s amusing.

Less amusing was Burger King’s advertising prank which intentionally tried to get Google Home to help sell more hamburgers. As Fast Company explains:

A new Whopper ad from Burger King turns Google’s voice-activated speaker into an unwitting shill. In the 15-second spot, a store employee utters the words “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” This should wake up any Google Home speakers present, and trigger a partial readout of the Whopper’s Wikipedia page. (Android phones also support “OK Google” commands, but use voice training to block out unauthorized speakers.)

Fortunately, Google was as annoyed as everyone else, and took swift action, said the story:

Update: Google has stopped the commercial from working – presumably by blacklisting the specific audio clip from the ad – though Google Home users can still inquire about the Whopper in their own words.

Burger King wasn’t the first to try this stunt. Other similar tricks have succeeded against Home and Echo, and sometimes, the devices are activated accidentally by TV shows and news reports. Look forward to more of this.

It reminds me of the very first time I saw a prototype Echo. What did I say? “Alexa, Format See Colon.” Darn. It didn’t erase anything. But at least it’s better than a cat running around on your laptop keyboard, erasing your term paper. Or a TV show unlocking your doors. Right?

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Email clients and 3D paint applications do not belong in operating system releases

No, no, no, no, no!

The email client updates in the 10.12.4 update to macOS Sierra is everything that’s wrong with operating systems today. And so is the planned inclusion of an innovative, fun-sounding 3D painter as part of next week’s Windows 10 Creators Update.

Repeat after me: Applications do not belong in operating systems. Diagnostics, yes. Shared libraries, yes. Essential device drivers, yes. Hardware abstraction layers, yes. File systems, yes. Program loads and tools, yes. A network stack, yes. A graphical user interface, yes. A scripting/job control language, yes. A basic web browser, yes.

Applications? No, no, no!

Why not?

Applications bloat up the operating system release. What if you don’t need a 3D paint program? What if you don’t want to use the built-in mail client? The binaries are there anyway taking up storage. Whenever the operating system is updated, the binaries are updated, eating up bandwidth and CPU time.

If you do want those applications, bug fixes are tied to OS updates. The Sierra 10.12.4 update fixes a bug in Mail. Why must that be tied to an OS update? The update supports more digital camera RAW formats. Why are they tied to the operating system, and not released as they become available? The 10.12.4 update also fixes a Siri issue regarding cricket scores in the IPL. Why, for heaven’s sake, is that functionality tied to an operating system update?? That’s simply insane.

An operating system is easier for the developer test and verify if it’s smaller. The more things in your OS update release train, the more things can go wrong, whether it’s in the installation process or in the code itself. A smaller OS means less regression testing and fewer bugs.

An operating system is easier for the client to test and verify if it’s smaller. Take your corporate clients — if they are evaluating macOS Sierra 10/12/4 or Windows 10 Creators Update prior to roll-out, if there’s less stuff there, the validation process is easier.

Performance and memory utilization are better if it’s smaller. The microkernel concept says that the OS should be as small as possible – if something doesn’t have to be in the OS, leave it out. Well, that’s not the case any more, at least in terms of the software release trains.

This isn’t new

No, Alan isn’t off his rocker, at least not more than usual. Operating system releases, especially those for consumers, have been bloated up with applications and junk for decades. I know that. Nothing will change.

Yes, it would be better if productivity applications and games were distributed and installed separately. Maybe as free downloads, as optional components on the release CD/DVD, or even as a separate SKU. Remember Microsoft Plus and Windows Ultimate Extras? Yeah, those were mainly games and garbage. Never mind.

Still, seeing the macOS Sierra Update release notes today inspired this missive. I hope you enjoyed it. </rant>

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Windows 10 Creators Update will take forever to download, install, and update

Prepare to wait. And wait. Many Windows 10 users are getting ready for the Creators Update, due April 11. We know lots of things about it: There will be new tools for 3D designing, playing 4K-resolution games, improvements to the Edge browser, and claimed improvements to security and privacy protections.

We also know that it will take forever to install. Not literally forever. Still, a long time.

This came to mind when my friend Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols shared this amusing image:

Who could be surprised, when the installation estimation times for software are always ludicrously inaccurate? That’s especially true with Windows, which routinely requires multiple waves of download – update – reboot– download – update – reboot– download – update – reboot – rinse and repeat. That’s especially true if you haven’t updated for a while. It goes on and on and on.

This came to the fore about three weeks ago, when I decided to wipe a Windows 10 laptop in preparation for donating it to a nonprofit. It’s a beautiful machine — a Dell Inspiron 17 — which we purchased for a specific client project. The machine was not needed afterwards, and well, it was time to move it along. (My personal Windows 10 machine is a Microsoft Surface Pro.)

The first task was to restore the laptop to its factory installation. This was accomplished using the disk image stored on a hidden partition, which was pretty easy; Dell has good tools. It didn’t take long for Windows 10 to boot up, nice and pristine.

That’s when the fun began: Installing Windows updates. Download – update – reboot– download – update – rinse – repeat. For two days. TWO DAYS. And that’s for a bare machine without any applications or other software.

Thus, my belief in two things: First, Windows saying 256% done is entirely plausible. Second, it’s going to take forever to install Windows 10 Creators Update on my Surface Pro.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes for you.

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Congress votes against Internet customer privacy; nothing changes

It’s official: Internet service providers in the United States can continue to sell information about their customers’ Internet usage to marketers — and to anyone else who wants to use it. In 2016, during the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried to require ISPs to get customer permission before using or sharing information about their web browsing. According to the FCC, the rule change, entitled, “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services,” meant:

The rules implement the privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act for broadband ISPs, giving broadband customers the tools they need to make informed decisions about how their information is used and shared by their ISPs. To provide consumers more control over the use of their personal information, the rules establish a framework of customer consent required for ISPs to use and share their customers’ personal information that is calibrated to the sensitivity of the information. This approach is consistent with other privacy frameworks, including the Federal Trade Commission’s and the Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

More specifically, the rules required that customers had to positively agree to have their information used in that fashion. Previously, customers had to opt-out. Again, according to the FCC,

Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.

Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” All other individually identifiable customer information – for example, email address or service tier information – would be considered non-sensitive and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations.

Sounds good, but Congress voted in March 2017 to overture that rule. Read about what happened — and what consumers can do — in my story for Zonic News, “U.S. Internet Service Providers Don’t Need To Protect Customer Privacy.”

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Top Do’s and Don’ts for creating friendly calendar invites

“Call with Alan.” That’s what the calendar event says, with a bridge line as the meeting location. That’s it. For the individual who sent me that invitation, that’s a meaningful description, I guess. For me… worthless! This meeting was apparently sent out (and I agreed to attend) at least three weeks ago. I have no recollection about what this meeting is about. Well, it’ll be an adventure! (Also: If I had to cancel or reschedule, I wouldn’t even know who to contact.)

When I send out calendar invites, I try hard to make the event name descriptive to everyone, not just me. Like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics” or “Suzie Q and Alan Z — XYZ donations.” Something! Give a hint, at least! After all, people who receive invitations can’t edit the names to make them more meaningful.

And then there’s time-zone ambiguity. Some calendar programs (like Google Calendar) do a good job of tracking the event’s time zone, and mapping it to mine. Others, and I’m thinking of Outlook 365, do a terrible job there, and make it difficult to specify the event in a different time zone.

For example, I’m in Phoenix, and often set up calls with clients on the East Coast or in the U.K. As a courtesy, I like to set up meetings using the client’s time zone. Easy when I use Google Calendar to set up the event. Not easy in Outlook 365, which I must use for some projects.

Similarly, some calendar programs do a good job mapping the event to each recipient’s time zone. Others don’t. The standards are crappy, and the implementations of the standards are worse.)

There’s more than the bad time-zone mappings. Each Web-based, mobile, and desktop calendar app, even those that claim to conform to standards, has its own quirks, proprietary features, and incompatibilities. For example, repeating events aren’t handled consistently from calendar program to calendar program. It’s a real mess.

Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts for event creators. Or rather, don’ts and do’s.

  • DON’T just put the name of the person you are meeting with in the event name.
  • DO put your name and organization too, and include your contact information (phone, email, whatever) in the calendar invite itself. Having just a conference bridge or location of the coffee shop won’t do someone any good if they need to reach you before the meeting.
  • DON’T assume that everyone will remember what the meeting is about.
  • DO put the purpose of the meeting into the event title.
  • DON’T think that everyone’s calendar software works like yours or has the same features, vis-à-vis time zones, attachments, comments, and so-on.
  • DO consider putting the meeting time and time zone into the event name. It’s something I don’t do, but I have friends who do, like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics — 3pm Pacific.” Hmm, maybe I should do that?
  • DON’T expect that if you change the event time on your end, that change will percolate to all recipients. Again, this can be software-specific.
  • DO cancel the event if it’s necessary to reschedule, and set up a new one. Also send an email to all participants explaining what happened. I dislike getting calendar emails saying the meeting date/time has been changed — with no explanation.
  • DON’T assume that people will be able to process your software’s calendar invitations. Different calendar program don’t play well with each other.
  • DO send a separate email with all the details, including the event name, start time, time zone, and list of participants, in addition to the calendar invite. Include the meeting location, or conference-call dial-in codes, in that email.
  • DON’T trust that everyone will use the “accept” button to indicate that they are attending. Most will not.
  • DO follow up with people who don’t “accept” to ask if they are coming.
  • DON’T assume that just because it’s on their calendar, people will remember to show up. I had one guy miss an early-morning call he “accepted” because it was early and he hadn’t checked his calendar yet. D’oh!
  • DO send a meeting confirmation email, one day before, if the event was scheduled more than a week in advance.

Have more do’s and don’ts? Please add them using the comments.

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What’s the deal with Apple iCloud accounts being hacked?

The word went out Wednesday, March 22, spreading from techie to techie. “Better change your iCloud password, and change it fast.” What’s going on? According to ZDNet, “Hackers are demanding Apple pay a ransom in bitcoin or they’ll blow the lid off millions of iCloud account credentials.”

A hacker group claims to have access to 250 million iCloud and other Apple accounts. They are threatening to reset all the passwords on those accounts – and then remotely wipe those phones using lost-phone capabilities — unless Apple pays up with untraceable bitcoins or Apple gift cards. The ransom is a laughably small $75,000.

According to various sources, at least some of the stolen account credentials appear to be legitimate. Whether that means all 250 million accounts are in peril, of course, is unknowable.

Apple seems to have acknowledged that there is a genuine problem. The company told CNET, “The alleged list of email addresses and passwords appears to have been obtained from previously compromised third-party services.”

We obviously don’t know what Apple is going to do, or what Apple can do. It hasn’t put out a general call, at least as of Thursday, for users to change their passwords, which would seem to be prudent. It also hasn’t encouraged users to enable two-factor authentication, which should make it much more difficult for hackers to reset iCloud passwords without physical access to a user’s iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Unless the hackers alter the demands, Apple has a two-week window to respond. From its end, it could temporarily disable password reset capabilities for iCloud accounts, or at least make the process difficult to automate, access programmatically, or even access more than once from a given IP address. So, it’s not “game over” for iCloud users and iPhone owners by any means.

It could be that the hackers are asking for such a low ransom because they know their attack is unlikely to succeed. They’re possibly hoping that Apple will figure it’s easier to pay a small amount than to take any real action. My guess is they are wrong, and Apple will lock them out before the April 7 deadline.

So what’s really going on, and what can be done about it? Read more in my essay, “Apple iCloud Accounts Hacked — Or Maybe Not,” on Zonic News.

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New ban on flying with a laptop or tablet means the terrorists win

The U.S. and U.K. are banning larger electronic items, like tablets, notebooks and DLSRs, from being carried onboard flights from a small number of countries. If that ban spreads to include more international or even domestic flights, this will result in several nasty consequences:

1. Business travelers may be unable to bring computers on trips at all. Some airlines ban checking luggage with lithium ion batteries into the cargo hold. Nearly all of these devices use LIB. If you can’t carry them onboard, and you can’t check them, they must stay home, or be overnighted to the destination. Shipping those devices may work for some people, but it’s a sucky solution.

2. Even if you can check them, there may be a surge of thefts of these costly electronic goodies from checked baggage. I always carry my expensive pro-grade DSLR and lenses onboard, and never check them. Why? I’m worried about theft and about breakage — that stuff is fragile. If I had to check my camera gear, they’d stay home. Same with my notebook and tablets. There is too much opportunity for stuff to disappear, especially when anyone can easily obtain a universal key for those silly TSA locks. Yes, a family member lost a DSLR from checked luggage.

3. This messes up the plans of airlines who are moving to a BYOD-centric entertainment model. Forget the drop-down TV screens playing one movie. Forget the individual seat-back TV screens offering a choice of movies, TV shows and video games. Airlines are saving money, saving weight, and making customers happy by ditching the electronics and using onboard WiFi to stream entertainment to the passengers’ phone, tablet or laptop. (And they get to charge for air-to-ground WiFi.) According to the Economist, 90% of passengers bring a suitable device. Everyone wins, unless devices are banned. No tablets? No laptops? No onboard entertainment.

The answer to terrorist threats isn’t security theater. Address the risks in an intelligent way, yes. Institute stupid rules that affect all travelers, no. One guy tries to light his shoe on fire, and now you have to take off your shoes to go through airport screening. And now there’s a “threat” and so here’s a new limitation on people making international flights.

That’s how the terrorists win and win and win.

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Having fun with a vintage HP-28S calculator

Today’s calculation device is this lovely vintage HP-28S “advanced scientific” calculator from the late 1980s.

As a working calculator, it’s not my favorite. HP gets points for creativity, but the clamshell design makes for an awkward user experience. I’m finding it frustrating to use because each line on the display is hard to read, there are too many keys, and the visual cues are subtle. It is also hard to pry the clamshell open.

The keys do have a nice clickiness to them. If you are doing basic math, you can fold the alphanumeric left part of the clamshell behind the right part.

Functionally, the HP-28 series is also innovative, as it’s where HP first exposed RPL to the user. RPL is Reverse Polish Lisp, a next-generation RPN, or Reverse Polish Notation, designed to handle complex algebraic expressions.

Were I doing that sort of equation-solving or scientific work this afternoon, the HP-28S would be ideal. Today’s project, though, is simple arithmetic related to tracking video editing timings. (Last time I did this, I used an HP-32S II, which has a simpler interface and much larger numbers on the one-line display.)

While I don’t use it often, the HP-28S is a prized member of my extensive collection of vintage calculators. My goal is to keep using all the devices (well, at least, the ones that still function) because it’s more fun than simply looking at them.

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Happy encouragement from my smartwatch

“You walked 713 steps today. Good news is the sky’s the limit!”

Thank you, Pebble, for that encouragement yesterday.

The problem with fitness apps in smartwatches is that you have to wear the watch for them to work. When I am at home, I never wear a watch. Since I work from home, that means that I usually don’t have a watch on my wrist. And when I go out, sometimes I wear the Pebble, sometimes something else. For a recent three-day weekend trip away with my wife, for example, I carried the pocket watch she bought me for our 15th anniversary. So, it’s hard for the Pebble app to get an accurate read on my activity.

Yesterday, I only wore this watch for a brief period of time. The day before, not at all. That’s why Pebble thought that 713 steps was a great accomplishment.

(Too bad Pebble is out of business. I like this watch.)

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Apple replaces Videos mobile app with TV — confuses iPad users

Apple isn’t as friendly or as as communicative as one would think. Earlier today, I received a panic call from someone trying to sync videos to her iPad from a Mac – and receiving a message that there was no suitable application on the iPad. Huh? That made no sense. The app for playing locally stored videos on an iPad is called Videos, and it’s a standard, built-in app. What’s the deal?

In short: With the iOS 10.2 operating system update, Apple renamed the Videos app to TV. And it has to be installed from the Apple App Store. It’s a free download, but who knew? Apparently not me. And not a lot of people who queried their favorite search engine with phrases like “ipad videos app missing.”

What’s worse, the change had the potential to delete locally stored video content. One dissatisfied user posted on an Apple discussion forum:

New TV App deleted home videos from iPad

I had a bunch of home videos on my iPad, and when I updated to iOS 10.2, the new TV App replaced videos. On my iPhone 6, this process went fine. I launched TV, and up popped the Library, and within it was a sub-menu for Home Videos. The one and only one I had on my iPhone is still there.

But I had dozens on my iPad and now they are all gone. Not only are they all gone, but there is no sub-menu for Home Videos AT ALL! I can probably replace them by synching to my laptop, but this is a time-consuming pain in the *$$, and why should I have to do this at all?

This change was unveiled in October 2016, with much fanfare, claiming:

Apple today introduced the new TV app, offering a unified experience for discovering and accessing TV shows and movies from multiple apps on Apple TV, iPhone and iPad. The TV app provides one place to access TV shows and movies, as well as a place to discover new content to watch. Apple also introduced a new Siri feature for Apple TV that lets viewers tune in directly to live news and sporting events across their apps. Watching TV shows and movies across Apple devices has never been easier.

The update appeared, for U.S. customers at least, on December 12, 2016. That’s when iOS 10.2 came out. Buh-bye, Videos app!

The change moved a piece of core functionality from iOS itself into an app. The benefits: The new TV app can be updated on its own schedule, not tied to iOS releases, and iOS releases themselves can be smaller. The drawback: Users must manually install the TV app.

Once the TV app is installed, the user can re-sync the videos from a Mac or Windows PC running iTunes. This should restore the missing content, assuming the content is on the desktop/notebook computer. How rude, Apple!

Let me add, snarkily, that the new name is stupid since there’s already a thing from Apple called TV – Apple TV.

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Snapchat IPO goes big — let’s hope it doesn’t go poof!

What’s the Snapchat appeal? For now, it’s a red-hot initial public offering and the promise of more public offerings to come, after a period of slow tech movement on Wall Street.

The Snapchat social-media service is perplexing to nearly anyone born before 1990, myself included. That didn’t stop its debut on the New York Stock Exchange from ringing everyone’s bell. According to Fox News, Snapchat’s (SNAP) wildly successful trading debut, which bested Facebook’s (FB), Alibaba’s (BABA) and Google’s (GOOGL). At the outset of trading Thursday, the stock jumped more than 40 percent to $24 a share, no thanks to Main Street investors who were largely left out of the action. Snapchat surged 44 percent Thursday, closing at $24.48, which valued the social media company’s market cap around $28.3 billion.

Not bad for a social media service whose appeal is that its messages, photos and videos only stick around for a little while, and then vanish forever. That places Snapchat in stark contract against services like Facebook and Twitter, which saves everything forever (unless the original poster goes back a deletes a specific post).

Read more about my thoughts on Snapchat — and the tech industry’s expected IPOs for 2017 — in my latest blog for Zonic News, “The Huge Snapchat IPO Is Big News – What Will Follow?

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Chicken sandwich at 12 o’clock high!

If Amazon can deliver packages by drone, then fast-food restaurants like Chick-Fil-A can air-lift chicken sandwiches via hot-air balloon. Right? At least, that’s the best explanation for this sighting in my Phoenix neighborhood.

Of course, what I really want is a Dunkin’ Donuts food truck going up my street. Like the old-fashioned ice cream vans. Though drones would be okay too. I’m not picky.

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Goodbye, Pebble – It’s a real loss to smart watches

5d3_1277I was dismayed this morning to find an email from Pebble — the smart watch folks — essentially announcing their demise. The company is no longer a viable concern, says the message, and the assets of the company are being sold to Fitbit. Some of Pebble’s staff will go to Fitbit as well.

This is a real loss. The Pebble is an excellent watch. I purchased the original monochrome-screen model by signing onto their Kickstarter campaign, back in April 2012, for an investment of $125.

The Kickstarter watch’s screen became a little flakey after a few years. I purchased the Pebble Time – a much-improved color version – in May 2016, for the odd price of $121.94 through Amazon. You can see the original Pebble, with a dead battery, on the left, and the Pebble Time on the right. The watchface I’ve chosen isn’t colorful, so you can’t see that attribute.

I truly adore the Pebble Time. Why?

  • The battery life is a full week; I don’t travel with a charging cable unless it’s a long trip.
  • The watch does everything I want: The watch face I’ve chosen can be read quickly, and is always on.
  • The watch lets me know about incoming text messages. I can answer phone call in the car (using speakerphone) by pressing a button on the watch.
  • Also in the car I can control my phone’s music playback from the watch.
  • It was inexpensive enough that if it gets lost, damaged or stolen, no big deal.

While I love the concept of the Apple Watch, it’s too complicated. The battery life is far too short. And I don’t need the extra functions. The Pebble Time is (or rather was) far less expensive.

Fortunately, my Pebble Time should keep running for a long, long time. Don’t know what will replace it, when the time comes. Hopefully something with at least a week of battery life.

Here’s the statement from Pebble:

Pebble is joining Fitbit

Fitbit has agreed to acquire key Pebble assets. Due to various factors, Pebble can no longer operate as an independent entity, and we have made the tough decision to shut down the company. The deal finalized today preserves as much of Pebble as possible.

Pebble is ceasing all hardware operations. We are no longer manufacturing, promoting, or selling any new products. Active Pebble models in the wild will continue to work.

Making Awesome Happen will live on at Fitbit. Much of our team and resources will join Fitbit to deliver new “moments of awesome” in future Fitbit products, developer tools, and experiences. As our transition progresses, we’ll have exciting new stories to tell and milestones to celebrate.

It’s no doubt a bittersweet time. We’ll miss what we’re leaving behind, but are excited for what the future holds. It will be important for Pebblers to extend a warm welcome to Fitbit—as fans and customers—sharing what they love about Pebble and what they’d like to see next.

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We need a new browser security default: Privacy mode for external, untrusted or email links

firefox-privateBe paranoid! When you visit a website for the first time, it can learn a lot about you. If you have cookies on your computer from one of the site’s partners, it can see what else you have been doing. And it can place cookies onto your computer so it can track your future activities.

Many (or most?) browsers have some variation of “private” browsing mode. In that mode, websites shouldn’t be able to read cookies stored on your computer, and they shouldn’t be able to place permanent cookies onto your computer. (They think they can place cookies, but those cookies are deleted at the end of the session.)

Those settings aren’t good enough, because they are either all or nothing, and offer a poor balance between ease-of-use and security/privacy. The industry can and must do better. See why in my essay on NetworkWorld, “We need a better Private Browsing Mode.

 

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With Big Data, Facebook knows you by the company you keep

liberalAs Aesop wrote in his short fable, “The Donkey and His Purchaser,” you can quite accurately judge people by the company they keep.

I am “very liberal,” believes Facebook. If you know me, you are probably not surprised by that. However, I was: I usually think of myself as a small-l libertarian who caucuses with the Democrats on social issues. But Facebook, by looking at what I write, who I follow, and which pages I like, probably has a more accurate assessment.

The spark for this particular revelation is “Liberal, Moderate or Conservative? See How Facebook Labels You.” The article, by Jeremy Merrill, in today’s New York Times, explains how to see how Facebook categorizes you (presumably this is most appropriate for U.S. residents):

Try this (it works best on your desktop computer):

Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.)

That will bring you to a page featuring your ad preferences. Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab.

Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.

(If the “US Politics” box does not show up, click the “See more” button under the grid of boxes.)

Part of the power of Big Data is that it can draw correlations based on vague inferences. So, yes, if you like Donald Trump’s page, but don’t like Hillary Clinton’s, you are probably conservative. What if you don’t follow either candidate? Jeremy writes,

Even if you do not like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.

This is about more than Facebook or political preferences. It’s how Big Data works in lots of instances where there is not only information about a particular person’s preference and actions, but a web of connections to other people and their preferences and actions. It’s certainly true about any social network where it’s easy to determine who you follow, and who follows you.

If most of your friends are Jewish, or Atheist, or Catholic, or Hindu, perhaps you are too, or have interests similar to theirs. If most of your friends are African-American or Italian-American, or simply Italian, perhaps you are too, or have interests similar to theirs. If many of your friends are seriously into car racing, book clubs, gardening, Game of Thrones, cruise ship vacations, or Elvis Presley, perhaps you are too.

Here is that Aesop fable, by the way:

The Donkey and his Purchaser

A man who wanted to buy a donkey went to market, and, coming across a likely-looking beast, arranged with the owner that he should be allowed to take him home on trial to see what he was like.

When he reached home, he put him into his stable along with the other donkeys. The newcomer took a look round, and immediately went and chose a place next to the laziest and greediest beast in the stable. When the master saw this he put a halter on him at once, and led him off and handed him over to his owner again.

The latter was a good deal surprised to seem him back so soon, and said, “Why, do you mean to say you have tested him already?”

“I don’t want to put him through any more tests,” replied the other. “I could see what sort of beast he is from the companion he chose for himself.”

Moral: “A man is known by the company he keeps.”

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Securely disposing of computers with spinning or solid state drives

big-shredderCan someone steal the data off your old computer? The short answer is yes. A determined criminal can grab the bits, including documents, images, spreadsheets, and even passwords.

If you donate, sell or recycle a computer, whoever gets hold of it can recover the information in its hard drive or solid-state storage (SSD). The platform doesn’t matter: Whether its Windows or Linux or Mac OS, you can’t 100% eliminate sensitive data by, say, eliminating user accounts or erasing files!

You can make the job harder by using the computer’s disk utilities to format the hard drive. Be aware, however, that formatting will thwart a casual thief, but not a determined hacker.

The only truly safe way to destroy the data is to physically destroy the storage media. For years, businesses have physically removed and destroyed the hard drives in desktops, servers and laptops. It used to be easy to remove the hard drive: take out a couple of screws, pop open a cover, unplug a cable, and lift the drive right out.

Once the hard drive is identified and removed, you can smash it with a hammer, drill holes in it, even take it apart (which is fun, albeit time-consuming). Some businesses will put the hard drive into an industrial shredder, which is a scaled-up version of an office paper shredder. Some also use magnetism to attempt to destroy the data. Not sure how effective that is, however, and magnets won’t work at all on SSDs.

It’s much harder to remove the storage from today’s ultra-thin, tightly sealed notebooks, such as a Microsoft Surface or Apple MacBook Air, or even from tablets. What if you want to destroy the storage in order to prevent hackers from gaining access? It’s a real challenge.

If you have access to an industrial shredder, an option is to shred the entire computer. It seems wasteful, and I can imagine that it’s not good to shred lithium-ion batteries – many of which are not easily removable, again, as in the Microsoft Surface or Apple MacBook Air. You don’t want those chemicals lying around. Still, that works, and works well.

Note that an industrial shredder is kinda big and expensive – you can see some from SSL World. However, if you live in any sort of medium-sized or larger urban area, you can probably find a shredding service that will destroy the computer right in front of you. I’ve found one such service here in Phoenix, Assured Document Destruction Inc., that claims to be compliant with industry regulations for privacy, such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley.

Don’t want to shred the whole computer? Let’s say the computer uses a standard hard drive, usually in a 3.5-inch form factor (desktops and servers) or 2.5-inch form factor (notebooks). If you have a set of small screwdrivers, you should be able to dismantle the computer, remove the storage device, and kill it – such as by smashing it with a maul, drilling holes in it, or taking it completely apart. Note that driving over it in your car, while satisfying, may not cause significant damage.

What about solid state storage? The same actually applies with SSDs, but it’s a bit trickier. Sometimes the drive still looks like a standard 2.5-inch hard drive. But sometimes the “solid state drive” is merely a few exposed chips on the motherboard or a smaller circuit board. You’ve got to smash that sucker. Remove it from the computer. Hulk Smash! Break up the circuit board, pulverize the chips. Only then will it be dead dead dead. (Though one could argue that government agencies like the NSA could still put Humpty Dumpty back together again.)

In short: Even if the computer itself seems totally worthless, its storage can be removed, connected to a working computer, and accessed by a skilled techie. If you want to ensure that your data remains private, you must destroy it.

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5 things you should know about email unsubscribe links

sophos-naked-securityHere’s a popular article that I wrote on email security for Sophos’ “Naked Security” blog.

5 things you should know about email unsubscribe links before you click” starts with:

We all get emails we don’t want, and cleaning them up can be as easy as clicking ‘unsubscribe’ at the bottom of the email. However, some of those handy little links can cause more trouble than they solve. You may end up giving the sender a lot of information about you, or even an opportunity to infect you with malware.

Read the whole article here.

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Driving risks out of embedded automotive software

can-busWhen it comes to cars, safety means more than strong brakes, good tires, a safety cage, and lots of airbags. It also means software that won’t betray you; software that doesn’t pose a risk to life and property; software that’s working for you, not for a hacker.

Please join me for this upcoming webinar, where I am presenting along with Arthur Hicken, the Code Curmudgeon and technology evangelist for Parasoft. It’s on Thursday, August 18. Arthur and I have been plotting and scheming, and there will be some excellent information presented. Don’t miss it! Click here to register.

Driving Risks out of Embedded Automotive Software

Automobiles are becoming the ultimate mobile computer. Popular models have as many as 100 Electronic Control Units (ECUs), while high-end models push 200 ECUs. Those processors run hundreds of millions of lines of code written by the OEMs’ teams and external contractors—often for black-box assemblies. Modern cars also have increasingly sophisticated high-bandwidth internal networks and unprecedented external connectivity. Considering that no code is 100% error-free, these factors point to an unprecedented need to manage the risks of failure—including protecting life and property, avoiding costly recalls, and reducing the risk of ruinous lawsuits.

This one-hour practical webinar will review the business risks of defective embedded software in today’s connected cars. Led by Arthur Hicken, Parasoft’s automotive technology expert and evangelist, and Alan Zeichick, an independent technology analyst and founding editor of Software Development Times, the webinar will also cover five practical techniques for driving the risks out of embedded automotive software, including:

• Policy enforcement
• Reducing defects during coding
• Effective techniques for acceptance testing
• Using metrics analytics to measure risk
• Converting SDLC analytics into specific tasks to focus on the riskiest software

You can apply the proven techniques you’ll learn to code written and tested by your teams, as well as code supplied by your vendors and contractors.

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Quick-draw: Six-shooter or smartphone?

5D3_0451

 

The modern gunslinger carries an iPhone on his belt, across from the six-shooter. If the phone rings, hope he doesn’t grab the wrong device.

Prescott, Arizona, July 24, 2016.

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NetGear blinked – will continue VueZone video cloud service

vz_use_outdoor_headerThank you, NetGear, for taking care of your valued customers. On July 1, the company announced that it would be shutting down the proprietary back-end cloud services required for its VueZone cameras to work – turning them into expensive camera-shaped paperweights. See “Throwing our IoT investment in the trash thanks to NetGear.”

The next day, I was contacted by the company’s global communications manager. He defended the policy, arguing that NetGear was not only giving 18 months’ notice of the shutdown, but they are “doing our best to help VueZone customers migrate to the Arlo platform by offering significant discounts, exclusive to our VueZone customers.” See “A response from NetGear regarding the VueZone IoT trashcan story.”

And now, the company has done a 180° turn. NetGear will not turn off the service, at least not at this time. Well done. Here’s the email that came a few minutes ago. The good news for VueZone customers is that they can continue. On the other hand, let’s not party too heartily. The danger posed by proprietary cloud services driving IoT devices remains. When the vendor decides to turn it off, all you have is recycle-ware and potentially, one heck of a migration issue.

Subject: VueZone Services to Continue Beyond January 1, 2018

Dear valued VueZone customer,

On July 1, 2016, NETGEAR announced the planned discontinuation of services for the VueZone video monitoring product line, which was scheduled to begin as of January 1, 2018.

Since the announcement, we have received overwhelming feedback from our VueZone customers expressing a desire for continued services and support for the VueZone camera system. We have heard your passionate response and have decided to extend service for the VueZone product line. Although NETGEAR no longer manufactures or sells VueZone hardware, NETGEAR will continue to support existing VueZone customers beyond January 1, 2018.

We truly appreciate the loyalty of our customers and we will continue our commitment of delivering the highest quality and most innovative solutions for consumers and businesses. Thank you for choosing us.

Best regards,

The NETGEAR VueZone Team

July 19, 2016

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A response from NetGear regarding the VueZone IoT trashcan story

5d3_9839-100670811-primary.idgeThank you, NetGear, for the response to my July 11 opinion essay for NetworkWorld, “Throwing our IoT investment in the trash thanks to NetGear.” In that story, I used the example of our soon-to-be-obsolete VueZone home video monitoring system: At the end of 2017, NetGear is turning off the back-end servers that make VueZone work – and so all the hardware will become fancy camera-shaped paperweights.

The broader message of the story is that every IoT device tied into a proprietary back-end service will be turned to recycleware if (or when) the service provider chooses to turn it off. My friend Jason Perlow picked up this theme in his story published on July 12 on ZDNet, “All your IoT devices are doomed” and included a nice link to my NetworkWorld story. As Jason wrote,

First, it was Aether’s smart speaker, the Cone. Then, it was the Revolv smart hub. Now, it appears NetGear’s connected home wireless security cameras, VueZone, is next on the list.

I’m sure I’ve left out more than a few others that have slipped under the radar. It seems like every month an Internet of Things (IoT) device becomes abandonware after its cloud service is discontinued.

Many of these devices once disconnected from the cloud become useless. They can’t be remotely managed, and some of them stop functioning as standalone (or were never capable of it in the first place). Are these products going end-of-life too soon? What are we to do about this endless pile of e-waste that seems to be the inevitable casualty of the connected-device age?

I would like to publicly acknowledge NetGear for sending a quick response to my story. Apparently — and contrary to what I wrote — the company did offer a migration path for existing VueZone customers. I can’t find the message anywhere, but can’t ignore the possibility that it was sucked into the spamverse.

Here is the full response from Nathan Papadopulos, Global Communications & Strategic Marketing for NetGear:

Hello Alan,

I am writing in response to your recent article about disposing of IoT products. As you may know, the VueZone product line came to Netgear   as part of our acquisition of Avaak, Inc. back in 2012, and is the predecessor of the current Arlo security system. Although we wanted to avoid interruptions of the VueZone services as much as possible, we are now faced with the need to discontinue support  for the camera line. VueZone was built on technologies which are now outdated and a platform which is not scalable. Netgear has since shifted our resources to building better, more robust products which are the Arlo system of security cameras. Netgear is doing our best to help VueZone customers migrate to the Arlo platform by offering significant discounts, exclusive to our VueZone customers.

1. On July 1, 2016, Netgear officially announced the discontinuation of VueZone services to VueZone customers. Netgear has sent out an email notification to the entire VueZone customer base with the content in the “Official End-of-Services Announcement.” Netgear is providing the VueZone customers with an 18-month notice, which means that the actual effective date of this discontinuation of services will be on January 1, 2018.

2. Between July 2 and July 6, 26,000+ customers who currently have an active VueZone base station have received an email with an offer to purchase an Arlo 4-camera kit. There will be two options for them to choose from:

a. Standard Arlo 4-camera kit for $299.99

b. Refurbished Arlo 4-camera kit for $149.99

Both refurbished and new Arlo systems come with the NETGEAR limited 1-year hardware warranty. The promotion will run until the end of July 31, 2016.

It appears NetGear is trying to do the right thing, though they lose points for offering the discounted migration path for less than one month. Still, the fact remains that obsolescence of service-dependent IoT devices is a big problem. Some costly devices will cease functioning if the service goes down; others will lose significant functionality.

And thank you, Jason, for the new word: Abandonware.

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Ten-and-a-half years of my Steelcase Think office chair and I still love it

chairAfter more than a decade of near daily use, I still love my Steelcase Think chair.

Today is cleaning day at CAHQ (Camden Associates Headquarters). That means dusting/cleaning the furniture, as well as moving piles of papers from one part of the office to another. As part of the gyrations, we flipped my trusty Steelcase Think upside down, and saw that its date of manufacture was Feb. 15, 2005. Wow. The chair is in excellent condition. The only wear is that one of the rubber armrest pads cracked and was starting to peel apart. We superglued it back together; it’s super ugly but should last for another decade.

Looking at the Steelcase site, the Think chair has changed only a little bit since mine was purchased. My chair has a black mesh back (they call it “3D knit”), black cushion seat, black frame, and black wheel base. You can still buy that combination. However, there are now new options, like different types of wheels for carpet or hard floors, a tall bar-stool-height base and even an integrated coat hanger. There are also lots more colors and materials. Oh, and the price has gone up: My particular chair configuration would cost $829 now.

What I particularly like is that there are very few settings or switches. It’s so simple, and I don’t need to keep fiddling with it.

I blogged about my chair in 2007. I recommended it then, and I still recommend it today without hesitation. Here’s what I wrote back nine years ago:

I am consistently amazed at how comfortable my Steelcase Think office chair is.

For years, my back had been sore and stiff if I sat in front of my computer for more than an hour or so. In early 2005, I mentioned that to a friend, and he said, duh, buy a better chair. I guess it was time to replace the task chair picked up second-hand 15 years earlier.

My search was exhaustive: I was willing to spend serious money to get something good. After visiting several “real” office furniture stores – places like Office Depot, Staples and Office Max have a lousy selection, imho – I fell in love with the Think.

What I like is that it’s essentially a self-adjusting chair. The Think has extremely few adjustments, and the back is made of springy steel rods. Plus the mesh fabric means that my back doesn’t get all hot and sweaty on a warm day. (You can read about the ergonomics at the Steelcase site.)

Some even pricier chairs I tested, like the Steelcase Leap and the Herman Miller Aeron, were much more complicated, and much less comfortable. With an Aeron, I literally can’t find settings that work. With the Think, it only took a minute to find the right settings, and I haven’t changed them in the past 2 ½ years.

While I can’t claim that the Think is the best premium office chair, I believe that this is the best investment that I’ve ever made in my work environment. I paid about $700 for it in 2005 at an office furniture store in San Francisco.

There are a few different versions available. Mine is the original model with mesh back, cloth seat and adjustable arms. Today, Steelcase also offers leather or vinyl coverings, fixed arms or armless, and optional headrests and lumbar supports. That makes it complicated again! When I got mine, the only option was fabric color. I chose black.

So, if you sit at your desk/computer for hours at a time, and if you’re using a cheap task chair, consider an upgrade. Try the Think — maybe it’ll work for you, maybe it won’t. (My wife tried mine out, but didn’t care for it.) The important thing is that you get a good chair that fits you well, and is comfortable. If you’re sore and stiff, duh, buy a better chair.

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Beyond the fatal Tesla crash: Security and connected autonomous cars

Kitt-InteriorWas it a software failure? The recent fatal crash of a Tesla in Autopilot mode is worrisome, but it’s too soon to blame Tesla’s software. According to Tesla on June 30, here’s what happened:

What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.

We shall have to await the results of the NHTSA investigation to learn more. Even if it does prove to be a software failure, at least the software can be improved to try to avoid similar incidents in the future.

By coincidence, a story that I wrote about the security issues related to advanced vehicles,Connected and Autonomous Cars Are Wonderful and a Safety-Critical Security Nightmare,” was published today, July 1, on CIO Story. The piece was written several weeks ago, and said,

The good news is that government and industry standards are attempting to address the security issues with connected cars. The bad new is that those standards don’t address security directly; rather, they merely prescribe good software-development practices that should result in secure code. That’s not enough, because those processes don’t address security-related flaws in the design of vehicle systems. Worse, those standards are a hodge-podge of different regulations in different countries, and they don’t address the complexity of autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

Today, commercially available autonomous vehicles can parallel park by themselves. Tomorrow, they may be able to drive completely hands-free on highways, or drive themselves to parking lots without any human on board. The security issues, the hackability issues, are incredibly frightening. Meanwhile, companies as diverse as BMW, General Motors, Google, Mercedes, Tesla and Uber are investing billions of dollars into autonomous, self-driving car technologies.

Please read the whole story here.

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Need propane? Refill your five-gallon tank, don’t do the exchange thing

blue-rhino

What do you do when your 20-pound (5 gallon) propane tank is empty? If you are Alan, you go to a near-by filling station and refill the bottle. In our case, there’s a Shell station close by, and that’s where we go.

The cost is minimal, and you get a lot of fuel that way. In our case, filling a propane tank today (June 29, 2016) got us 4.7 gallons (20 pounds) at $2.99 per gallon, for the princely sum of $14.05. The whole process took about ten minutes.

At that same Shell station was one of the exchange tank systems, in this case, Blue Rhino. I have no objection to that company, but know that what Blue Rhino (and others) offer is convenience — not a great price on fuel.

The price to exchange a Blue Rhino bottle at the Shell station: $24.99. (Prices can vary wildly, both for the Blue Rhino exchange and the cost of bulk propane.) That’s a lot more — nearly $11. And for less fuel!

If you dig into the Blue Rhino FAQ, you learn that they don’t give you 4.7 gallons. They don’t put 20 pounds of propane into a 20-pound tank:

How much propane does Blue Rhino put in its tanks?

Inflationary pressures, including the volatile costs of steel, diesel fuel, and propane, have had a significant impact on the cylinder exchange industry. In 2008, to help control these rising costs, Blue Rhino followed the example of other consumer products companies with a product content change. We reduced the amount of propane in our tanks from 17 pounds to 15 pounds.

To ensure our consumers are properly notified, Blue Rhino clearly marks the amount of propane contained in our tanks, right on the package.

A gallon of propane weighs about 4.2 pounds, so Blue Rhino’s 15 pounds is 3.6 gallons of fuel. That’s a lot less than 4.7 gallons. Doing the math, Blue Rhino’s price per gallon is $6.94. And you have to get your bottle filled more often, of course, since there is less fuel in it.

Okay, it costs more and gives you less. What benefits do you get with a bottle exchange? Convenience and it’s probably slightly quicker to exchange a tank rather than have an attendant come out and fill your existing bottle.

Also, Blue Rhino says that the tank is leak-tested, cleaned, freshly painted as needed, and checked on a schedule:

Propane isn’t just propane with Blue Rhino, America’s leading brand of propane tank exchange. Every tank is cleaned, leak-tested, inspected, precision-filled, delivered to your favorite store, and more. So you can grill with confidence. So take a Rhino home!

Another major U.S. propane-exchange company is AmeriGas. Their website is more obtuse and doesn’t say how much propane goes into an exchange tank. (Or at least I can’t find it.) However according to Home Depot, which sells AmeriGas, their Propane Tank Exchange specs are:

With safety being our number one priority, the chemical properties of propane restrict us to only fill our tanks to 80% capacity.

I’ve got to give Blue Rhino kudos for honesty. At least they are up front for admitting that under-filling is a cost-saving measure. On the other hand, AmeriGas gives you 80% capacity, compared to Blue Rhino’s 75%.

Bottom line: Don’t exchange! Get your propane bottles filled at a local filling station. However, if a tank starts looking rusty, or if you’re not sure if it’s still good, bring it in for a Blue Rhino/AmeriGas exchange. Then, refill that tank for a while until it looks ratty. Remember, not only are you paying less for fuel, but you are also dealing with an empty tank less often!

Update 6/30: Found an AmeriGas service at a Circle-K convenience store, and the bottle exchange fee was $21.99. Price can vary tremendously!

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When do we want automated emails? Now!

stopwatchI can hear the protesters. “What do we want? Faster automated emails! When do we want them? In under 20 nanoseconds!

Some things have to be snappy. A Web page must load fast, or your customers will click away. Moving the mouse has to move the cursor without pauses or hesitations. Streaming video should buffer rarely and unobtrusively; it’s almost always better to temporarily degrade the video quality than to pause the playback. And of course, for a touch interface to work well, it must be snappy, which Apple has learned with iOS, and which Google learned with Project Butter.

The same is true with automated emails. They should be generated and transmitted immediately — that is, is under a minute.

I recently went to book a night’s stay at a Days Inn, a part of the Wyndham Hotel Group, and so I had to log into my Wyndham account. Bad news: I couldn’t remember the password. So, I used the password retrieval system, giving my account number and info. The website said to check my e-mail for the reset link. Kudos: That’s a lot better than saying “We’ll mail you your password,” and then sending it in plain text!!

So, I flipped over to my e-mail client. Checked for new mail. Nothing. Checked again. Nothing. Checked again. Nothing. Checked the spam folder. Nothing. Checked for new mail. Nothing. Checked again. Nothing.

I submitted the request for the password reset at 9:15 a.m. The link appeared in my inbox at 10:08 a.m. By that time, I had already booked the stay with Best Western. Sorry, Days Inn! You snooze, you lose.

What happened? The e-mail header didn’t show a transit delay, so we can’t blame the Internet. Rather, it took nearly an hour for the email to be uploaded from the originating server. This is terrible customer service, plain and simple.

It’s not merely Wyndham. When I purchase something from Amazon, the confirmation e-mail generally arrives in less than 30 seconds. When I purchase from Barnes & Noble, a confirmation e-mail can take an hour. The worst is Apple: Confirmations of purchases from the iTunes Store can take three days to appear. Three days!

It’s time to examine your policies for generating automated e-mails. You do have policies, right? I would suggest a delay of no more than one minute from when the user performs an action that would generate an e-mail and having the message delivered to the SMTP server.

Set the policy. Automated emails should go out in seconds — certainly in under one minute. Design for that and test for that. More importantly, audit the policy on a regular basis, and monitor actual performance. If password resets or order confirmations are taking 53 minutes to hit the Internet, you have a problem.

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Special Mac option key symbols – your handy reference

I am often looking for these symbols and can’t find them. So here they are for English language Mac keyboards, in a handy blog format. They all use the Option key.

Note: The Option key is not the Command key, which is marked with ⌘ (looped square) symbol. Rather, the Option key is between Control and Command on many (most?) Mac keyboard. These key combinations won’t work a numerical keypad; you have to be using the main part of the keyboard.

The case of the letter/key pressed with the Option key matters. For example, Option+v is the root √ and Option+V (in other words, Option+Shift+v) is the diamond ◊. Another example: Option+7 is the paragraph ¶ and Option+& (that is, Option+Shift+7) is the double dagger ‡. You may simply copy/paste the symbols, if that’s more convenient.

These key combinations should work in most modern Mac applications, and be visible in most typefaces. No guarantees. Your mileage may vary.

SYMBOLS

¡ Option+1 (inverted exclamation)
¿ Option+? (inverted question)
« Option+\ (open double angle quote)
» Option+| (close double angle quote)
© Option+g (copyright)
® Option+r (registered copyright)
™ Option+2 (trademark)
¶ Option+7 (paragraph)
§ Option+6 (section)
• Option+8 (dot)
· Option+( (small dot)
◊ Option+V (diamond)
– Option+- (en-dash)
— Option+_ (em-dash)
† Option+t (dagger)
‡ Option+& (double dagger)
¢ Option+4 (cent)
£ Option+3 (pound)
¥ Option+y (yen)
€ Option+@ (euro)

ACCENTS AND SPECIAL LETTERS

ó Ó Option+e then letter (acute)
ô Ô Option+i then letter (circumflex)
ò Ò Option+` then letter (grave)
õ Õ Option+n then letter (tilde)
ö Ö Option+u then letter (umlaut)
å Å Option+a or Option+A (a-ring)
ø Ø Option+o or Option+O (o-slash)
æ Æ Option+’ or Option+” (ae ligature)
œ Œ Option+q or Option+Q (oe ligature)
fi Option+% (fi ligature)
fl Option+^ (fl ligature)
ç Ç Option+c or Option+C (circumflex)
ß Option+s (double-s)

MATH AND ENGINEERING

÷ Option+/ (division)
± Option++ (plus/minus)
° Option+* (degrees)
¬ Option+l (logical not)
≠ Option+= (not equal)
≥ Option+> (greater or equal)
≤ Option+< (less or equal)
√ Option+v (root)
∞ Option+5 (infinity)
≈ Option+x (tilde)
∆ Option+j (delta)
Σ Option+w (sigma)
Ω Option+z (ohm)
π Option+p (pi)
µ Option+m (micro)
∂ Option+d (derivative)
∫ Option+b (integral)

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Quantify the risk of automotive software failures: The SRR Warranty and Recall Report

Summary of Recall Trends. Source: SRR.

Summary of Recall Trends. Source: SRR.

The costs of an automobile recall can be immense for an OEM automobile or light truck manufacturer – and potentially ruinous for a member of the industry’s supply chain. Think about the ongoing Takata airbag scandal, which Bloomberg says could cost US$24 billion. General Motors’ ignition locks recall may have reached $4.1 billion. In 2001, the exploding Firestone tires on the Ford Explorer cost $3 billion to recall. The list goes on and on. That’s all about hardware problems. What about bits and bytes?

Until now, it’s been difficult to quantify the impact of software defects on the automotive industry. Thanks to a new analysis from SRR called “Industry Insights for the Road Ahead: Automotive Warranty and Recall Report 2016,” we have a good handle on this elusive area.

According to the report, there were 63 software- related vehicle recalls from late 2012 to June 2015. That’s based on data from the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The SRR report derived that count of 63 software-related recalls using this methodology (p. 22),

To classify a recall as a software component recall, SRR searched the “Defect Summary” and “Corrective Action” fields of NHTSA’s Recall flat file for the term “software.” SRR’s inquiry captured descriptions of software-related defects identified specifically as such, as well as defects that were to be fixed by updating or changing a vehicle’s software.

That led to this analysis (p. 22),

Since the end of 2012, there has been a marked increase in recall activity due to software issues. For the primary light vehicle makes and models we studied, 32 unique software-related recalls affected about 3.6 million vehicles from 2005–2012. However, in a much shorter time period from the end of 2012 to June 2015, there were 63 software-related recalls affecting 6.4 million more vehicles.

And continuing (p. 23),

From less than 5 percent of all recalls in 2011, software-related recalls have risen to almost 15 percent in 2015. Overall, the amount of unique campaigns involving software has climbed dramatically, with nine times as many in 2015 than in 2011…

No surprises there given the dramatically increased complexity of today’s connected vehicles, with sophisticated internal networks, dozens of ECUs (electronic control units with microprocessors, memory, software and network connections), and extensive remote connectivity.

These software defects are not occurring only in systems where one expects to find sophisticated microprocessors and software, such as engine management controls and Internet-connected entertainment platforms. Microprocessors are being used to analyze everything from the driver’s position and stage of alert, to road hazards, to lane changes — and offer advanced features such as automatic parallel parking.

Where in the car are the software-related vehicle recalls? Since 2006, says the report, recalls have been prompted by defects in areas as diverse as locks/latches, power train, fuel system, vehicle speed control, air bags, electrical systems, engine and engine cooling, exterior lighting, steering, hybrid propulsion – and even the parking brake system.

That’s not all — because not every software defect results in a public and costly recall. That’s the last resort, from the OEM’s perspective. Whenever possible, the defects are either ignored by the vehicle manufacturer, or quietly addressed by a software update next time the car visits a dealer. (If the car doesn’t visit an official dealer for service, the owner may never know that a software update is available.) Says the report (p. 25),

In addition, SRR noted an increase in software-related Technical Service Bulletins (TSB), which identify issues with specific components, yet stop short of a recall. TSBs are issued when manufacturers provide recommended procedures to dealerships’ service departments for fixing problematic components.

A major role of the NHTSA is to record and analyze vehicle failures, and attempt to determine the cause. Not all failures result in a recall, or even in a TSB. However, they are tracked by the agency via Early Warning Reporting (EWR). Explains the report (p. 26),

In 2015, three new software-related categories reported data for the first time:

• Automatic Braking, listed on 21 EWR reports, resulting in 26 injuries and 1 fatality

• Electronic Stability, listed on 6 EWR reports, resulting in 7 injuries and 1 fatality

• Forward Collision Avoidance, listed in 1 EWR report, resulting in 1 injury and no fatalities

The bottom line here, beyond protecting life and property, is the bottom line for the automobile and its supply chain. As the report says in its conclusion (p. 33),

Suppliers that help OEMs get the newest software-aided components to market should be prepared for the increased financial exposure they could face if these parts fail.

About the Report

Industry Insights for the Road Ahead: Automotive Warranty and Recall Report 2016” was published by SRR: Stout, Risius Ross, which offers global financial advisory services. SRR has been in the automotive industry for 25 years, and says, “SRR professionals have more automotive experience in these service areas than any other advisory firm, period.”

This brilliant report — which is free to download in its entirety — was written by Neil Steinkamp, a Managing Director at SRR. He has extensive experience in providing a broad range of business and financial advice to corporate executives, risk managers, in-house counsel and trial lawyers. Mr. Steinkamp has provided consulting services and has been engaged as an expert in numerous matters involving automotive warranty and recall costs. His practice also includes consulting services for automotive OEMs, suppliers and their advisors regarding valuation, transactions and disputes.

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Remote exploits are coming to a car, truck or other vehicle near you

5D3_5453Connected cars are vulnerable due to the radios that link them to the outside world. For example, consider cellular data links, such as the one in the Mercedes M-class SUV that my family owned for a while, allow for remote access to more than diagnostics: Using the system, called mbrace, an authorized M-B support center can unlock the doors via that link. Owners can use the M-B mobile app to

Start your vehicle from anywhere, and heat or cool the interior of your vehicle to the last set temperature. You can also remotely lock or unlock, sound the horn or find your vehicle via the Mobile App or website.

Nearly all high-end car manufacturers offer remote access systems, also referred to as telematics. Other popular systems with door-unlock capability include General Motors’ OnStar, BMW’s Assist, Hyundai’s BlueLink and Infiniti’s Connection. Each represents a potential attack vector, as do after-market add-ons.

In a blog post on Car & Driver, Bob Sorokanich writes,

It’s been a busy summer for automotive hackers, and the latest development is bad news for luxury-car owners: Good-guy digital security researcher Samy Kamkar just revealed that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, and aftermarket Viper connected-car systems are all theoretically vulnerable to the same hack that allowed him to remotely control functions in OnStar-equipped vehicles.

Consider yourself warned. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a public service announcement, “Motor Vehicles Increasing Vulnerable to Remote Exploits.” The PSA says:

Vulnerabilities may exist within a vehicle’s wireless communication functions, within a mobile device – such as a cellular phone or tablet connected to the vehicle via USB, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi – or within a third-party device connected through a vehicle diagnostic port. In these cases, it may be possible for an attacker to remotely exploit these vulnerabilities and gain access to the vehicle’s controller network or to data stored on the vehicle. Although vulnerabilities may not always result in an attacker being able to access all parts of the system, the safety risk to consumers could increase significantly if the access involves the ability to manipulate critical vehicle control systems.

The PSA continues,

Over the past year, researchers identified a number of vulnerabilities in the radio module of a MY2014 passenger vehicle and reported its detailed findings in a whitepaper published in August 2015. The vehicle studied was unaltered and purchased directly from a dealer. In this study, which was conducted over a period of several months, researchers developed exploits targeting the active cellular wireless and optionally user-enabled Wi-Fi hotspot communication functions. Attacks on the vehicle that were conducted over Wi-Fi were limited to a distance of less than about 100 feet from the vehicle. However, an attacker making a cellular connection to the vehicle’s cellular carrier – from anywhere on the carrier’s nationwide network – could communicate with and perform exploits on the vehicle via an Internet Protocol (IP) address.

In the aforementioned case, the radio module contained multiple wireless communication and entertainment functions and was connected to two controller area network (CAN) buses in the vehicle. Following are some of the vehicle function manipulations that researchers were able to accomplish.

In a target vehicle, at low speeds (5-10 mph):

  • Engine shutdown
  • Disable brakes
  • Steering

In a target vehicle, at any speed:

  • Door locks
  • Turn signal
  • Tachometer
  • Radio, HVAC, GPS

(The whitepaper referenced above is “Remote Exploitation of an Unaltered Passenger Vehicle,” by IOActive Security Services.)

How can you protect yourself — and your vehicle? The FBI offers four excellent suggestions – read the PSA for more details on them:

  1. Ensure your vehicle software is up to date
  1. Be careful when making any modifications to vehicle software
  1. Maintain awareness and exercise discretion when connecting third-party devices to your vehicle
  1. Be aware of who has physical access to your vehicle

To those I would add: Choose security over convenience, and if possible, disable the remote-access capabilities of your vehicle. You may not be able to prevent every possible attack — some of those systems can’t be turned off, and if a hacker is able to get physical access to the vehicle’s ODB-II diagnostics port or other electronics, all bets are off. You can live without being able to use a mobile app to start your car, or without the manufacturer preforming remote engine diagnostics. Heck, our ’91 Honda doesn’t even have a clicker, we have to open the door with a key. Be safe!

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Enterprise risks when an employee can’t find a BYOD phone

find-my-phoneThere are several types of dangers presented by a lost Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) smartphone or tablet. Many IT professionals and security specialists think only about some of them. They are all problematic. Does your company have policies about lost personal devices?

  • If you have those policies, what are they?
  • Does the employee know about those policies?
  • Does the employee know how to notify the correct people in case his or her device is lost?

Let’s say you have policies. Let’s say the employee calls the security office and says, “My personal phone is gone. I use it to access company resources, and I don’t think it was securely locked.” What happens?

Does the company have all the information necessary to take all the proper actions, including the telephone number, carrier, manufacturer and model, serial number, and other characteristics? Who gets notified? How long do you wait before taking an irreversible action? Can the security desk respond in an effective way? Can the security respond instantly, including nights, weekend and holidays?

If you don’t have those policies — with people and knowledge to make them effective — you’ve got a serious problem.

Read my latest story in NetworkWorld, “Dude, where’s my phone? BYOD means enterprise security exposure.” It discusses the four biggest obvious threats from a lost BYOD device, and what you can do to address those threats.