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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Monday, May 31, 2010

Can Facebook be Trusted?

Last week Facebook rolled out another round of what they consider easy to use privacy settings. What they’re really doing is trying to appear as if they’re doing something to address major privacy concern from customers and privacy organizations. Even Harry McCracken at Technologizer, says “Bottom line: Managing your Facebook privacy is still a remarkably convoluted process which isn’t explained clearly enough.”

Many of my friends received new Facebook settings on the first night but not everyone. I received one change however that baffled me. It seems that any post I made on my wall was set to be seen by “Only Me”.

fbstupid1

It seemed like Facebook was saying “Screw you privacy advocates” by changing the default settings for wall posts to “Only Me”. “There you go, want privacy? Now nobody can see what you post”. I can’t imagine why this would even be an option let alone the default.

If I clicked on the padlock I was able to change it so my posts could be seen by “Friends Only” which was my normal settings. Unfortunately, I had to change this setting for each post I made.

fbstupid2

When I clicked on Customize I was able to tell Facebook I wanted to change my default but it took four times before it would stick. These changes or bug appeared before the new security settings were rolled out to my account.

Plenty of people are doing articles about the new Facebook settings but I’m really asking the fundamental question. Can you trust Facebook? Based on my observations the answer is no.

Facebook creator Mark Zuckenberg has a vision of the world in which we all share information. It’s no secret that this remains his basic philosophy and goal for Facebook. When announcing new privacy policies he wrote…

“Six years ago, we built Facebook around a few simple ideas. People want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more. If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world. These are still our core principles today.”

Even if Facebook were to change and make sharing an opt-in service, my experience says we still can’t trust Facebook.

I have some info I want to share like my bird photos or other favorite photos. I have other images that are private for my family that I wouldn’t want available to everyone. I can easily imagine a day when all my photos are exposed and Facebook responding with “Oops, sorry it’s a bug we’re working on”.

I’m also very concerned about information which is shared with Facebook partners. These are companies who have no physical address and no known privacy policy.

I reluctantly continue to use Facebook to keep my eye on them and write about it. If they do something good, I’ll write about that as well. I have a Fans of WinPatrol page which I once promoted on WinPatrol.com. I no longer encourage users to join Facebook and removed the link. I welcome current Facebook users to be Fans of WinPatrol but I don’t feel its safe to promote Facebook as a service to new users.

What do you think?

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why Dancing with the Stars is #1

Are you wondering why the heck I’m talking about TV Shows? Well, it’s still a little all about tech and some of my past experiences. In the 90’s I worked with what was, at the time, “Capital Cities ABC”. ABC was one of the first networks to start posting some of their content online. My first project was a program which helped automate the process.

I was still connected with ABC when the Disney Corp came in and took over. I was part of a small group that launched something called “ABC Enhanced TV” integrating live broadcasts with Internet games and content.

mnfptp

I admit I really don’t know much about the actual production of TV shows but I know what networks like ABC can do. I witnessed the organization of the production staff as they moved small cities from one race tack to another, from one football stadium to another. I always said if FEMA had just hired the folks at ABC and NBC to handle Katrina the residents of New Orleans would have been better off.

This week is the season finale of the show “Dancing with the Stars”. I’m sure most of you have never seen this show but if you want to see an example of one of the finest production on the air take a peek on Monday night. DWTS isn’t the number one show because people like ball room dancing.

First let me give kudos to host Tom Bergeron. You might only know Tom from Hollywood Squares or America’s Funniest Video but his talent and timing for adlibbing is 1st class. I also respect Tom for acknowledging that Disney uses every chance they can to promote other properties, it’s comical.

DWTS is a live show which by itself is a huge production nightmare. Yet, every week the cameras are where they’re supposed to be, the taped segments are well placed and entertaining and surprises(like people fainting) are handled as if they were planned.

If you haven’t already, pay special attention to the lighting during an episode of Dancing with the Stars. The lighting changes with each dance to match the theme and is coordinated as if they had a month to prepare instead of a week.

I’m not always a fan of the singers or song selections but the band is great. Having to coordinate the music for each new show certainly isn’t a breeze.

Have I mentioned it’s a live show? Even Saturday Night Live gets to do a test show the night before to see what works. So again, even if you don’t give a hoot about dancing Monday may be your last chance to see TV production at its best.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Windows Home Server Saved my Butt

Last November I posted the article below after someone recommended a Windows Home Server to me. I’m happy to say after having a system failure this week I was able to try the “Restore PC” CD that came with my HP Mediasmart Home Server and it saved my butt. I now have a completely restored system in working order.

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November 30, 2009
Do you have more than one PC or Laptop in your home? Would you like a better way to make sure your computer data is backed up? If you answered yes then like me you want a Windows Home Server for your home network.

Last month, I finally decided that a Home Server system would be a good choice for me. After some serious research, I went ahead and purchased a HP EX490 1TB Mediasmart Home Server . At the time it was $500 but can now be had for $469 USD. I also added some drive space with an extra Western Digital 1.5 TB Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive for only $90.
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HP Mediasmart Home Server

I can’t believe I waited so long before picking up this essential device for any home network. Designed as a single device to stream your music, videos and photos the Mediasmart Home Server has a variety of cool functions. For me the single feature which backs up all my computers was well worth the cost. When I first set up the Windows Home Server I had it back up all my home computers which took the better part of the day. Now, it backs up every system in 5-10 minutes and only stores what has changed. Everything is done without any intervention and alerts me only if an error occurs.

If I sound excited it’s because I am. I’m sure, I’m not the only one with 2+ computers at home and this is a must have addition to any home network. For more information on the power and features of the Windows Home Servers check out Microsoft’s Windows Home Server page.

I recommend highly that you add a Windows Home Server to your holiday wish list. This month keep your eyes out for special savings. Today on Twitter I read that Amazon has a HP LX195 MediaSmart Home Server with a 640 GB hard drive on sale for $199 USD. This smaller unit doesn't have room for more internal storage but includes 4 USB ports to easily add more space. If you’ve ever had a hard drive failure and/or looked at the costs of disk recovery you’ll want to order one today.

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My 4 year old desktop had 829 GB’s of data which I have collected over the years. It included 12 years of digital photos, full copy of TV shows which I had recorded, 10 years of Email stored in Microsoft Outlook, many programs which I doubt I could ever find again and more.

I have never found a backup system I was happy with until now. It took almost a full day to restore all the data but it worked as advertised. I doubt this is the last time you’ll hear be sing the praises of the Windows Home Server. If you have a household with multiple computers treat yourself and make the investment today.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Security Software Doesn’t Fix Human Nature

If you’re interested in PC Security, you’ll want to check a look at research recently compiled by the folks at PC Pitstop. Even I was surprised at how much people mistakenly rely on their security software. The research shows that even with some of the most popular and/or highest quality protection computers are still at risk.

http://techtalk.pcpitstop.com/2010/05/13/the-state-of-pc-security/

It’s not uncommon for a system to be infected and users won’t even know it. Even more common is folks have no clue how an infiltration could have possibility happened. Nine times out ten it will result from a social engineered attack on our human nature. No matter how often people claim they don’t download strange software, they will. They just won’t immediately know it’s a bad file to download or bad link to click on.

Historic Social Engineered Infiltrations

In the early days, the bad guys used simple methods which aren’t much different than the creative attacks used today. Imagine you're a secretary at a company and you get a phone call like…

“This is Mr. Hunt from IBM. It seems someone did something wrong on your computer which have been damaged your accounts payable system. Could you please give me your user name and password so I can correct this error.? We don’t have to report any mistakes to your boss”.

You can bet this kind of breach wasn’t rare and still happens today with a different script. One well known hacker tells the story how he’d just leave a copy of infected floppy disks labeled “Salary Figures” laying around inside a company.

More Recent Infiltrations

Some of you may remember a spyware attack that was spread via an Email claiming to have naked photos of Tennis star Anna Kournikova. Some of you may feel users deserved to get infected falling for this one but it makes for a good example of taking advantage of human nature to spread badware. I’m sure most of you are careful when receiving a greeting card from friends or family. If you’re like me, you’ll contact the person and thank them but let them know you don’t read anything suspicious especially if it’s a online greeting card. Even if a message comes directly from a friend there’s no way to know if that friend hasn’t had their Email or Facebook account compromised. Social engineered attacks have fooled plenty of intelligent people.

Latest Infiltrations

Social engineered attacks are getting really good. Ironically, some of the trickiest scheme are given away by poor grammar and bad spelling. Today I received noticed that UPS was trying to deliver an important package but it was signed by DHL Customer Support. Many of the schemes use scare tactics to throw someone off track. Would your family and friends fall for any of the following?

“You have won a new laptop via Amazon’s best customer contest". Click here to download acceptance form.”

“Thank you for the purchase of your new Dell computer. Your PayPal account will be billed $929.95. Click here to cancel this order”.

“There is an Amber Alert for your local area Click here for more information. You can verify this is true on Snopes.com by clicking here”.

Yes, people are falling for these tricks and others. There may be one coming that will fool you so always be skeptical. If you think your family and friends need help maybe you should encourage them to read BitsFromBill.com.

Please feel free to leave a comment with a tricky scheme that didn’t fool you, or even one that did. Our best defense is for all of us to share this information.

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