Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Microsoft Will Give Windows 7 and 8.1 Users Windows 10 For Free [Update]

During today's Windows 10 announcement Microsoft officially announced a free upgrade offer for the company's latest operating system.

For the first year after Windows 10 launches, any device running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or Windows Phone 8.1 will be able to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft's OS — for free. The details on exactly how the program will work were not released just yet — we expect it'll certainly be subject to some sort of hardware requirements, particularly for older machines running Windows 7 and may have some other stipulation attached. Well have more details once they are available. 

Microsoft's Terry Myerson made the announcement with a vision of a more unified Windows — a world where asking "What version are you running" no longer makes sense. "We need our work in the hands of our customers." he said. Giving it away for free sounds like a good start.

The new upgrade will have a heavy focus on smart, Cortana-powered voice control. It will also feature a unified platform that uses the same code for the same apps on desktop and laptop PCs, tablets, phones and even game consoles. It's a better gaming platform — using that unified code to give PC gamers direct access to their friends on Xbox Live, enabling cross-platform multiplayer, game DVR features and even local, in-home streaming of Xbox One games to a nearby PC. Microsoft is even replacing Internet Explorer, yes that is a big shocker for us too.

If we can take anything from today's announcement it is that it will be a big UPDATE. As for now Microsoft has been pretty quiet on release dates, pricing for none-upgrades and any other information other than the fact that Windows 10 is said to feature a ton of new improvements over its predecessors. For those wanting to see a few you can still download the Windows 10 preview.

Update: A follow-up blog post from Terry Myerson offers a bit more detail as to what Microsoft's overall goal for Windows 10 and the new upgrade service will be. "Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we'll be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device. With Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service." writes Myerson.

In other words Windows 10 users will likely see a similar continuous stream of updates to what the technical preview folks are seeing today.  We'll see a new set of upgrade options varied to the consumers taste or needs. Once you add Windows 10 to your device, so long as you have that device, you'll see options to either be continually update with new features as soon as they're available, block all new gets new features, and most likely even see an option that allows administrators to roll out new features at their own pace. Security updates will be published at the same rate they are today. This new update scheme is an effort to balance delivering new features to consumers while not upsetting businesses that prefer to roll updates out more slowly.

Study Shows People Still Haven't Learned Their Lesson When It Comes To Bad Passwords

Geeks everywhere know the risks associated with using weak, obvious or easily guessed passwords. However, despite the uptick of data breaches, followed by numerous warnings, the general public still seems to remain totally oblivious to the risk!

According to a recent report from a company called SplashData, it appears as though we are still seeing widespread usage of  extremely obvious passwords such as "1,2,3,4,5, 6" (or a shorter combination) password, or even worse, general words like names and names of super heroes. Why are these worse you might ask, well because people wrongfully think they are safer and more secure when in fact they are much less secure. (More on that later though).

SpashData compiles the company's annual listing of the most popular passwords through a list of those leaked in high profile data breaches from the previous year. According to SplashData, the passwords evaluated for the 2014 list were mostly held by users in North America and Western Europe. In 2014, millions of passwords from Russian accounts were also leaked, but these passwords were not included in the analysis.

The top 25 list contains the following:
  1. 123456 (Unchanged from 2013)
  2. password (Unchanged)
  3. 12345 (Up 17)
  4. 12345678 (Down 1)
  5. qwerty (Down 1)
  6. 1234567890 (Unchanged)
  7. 1234 (Up 9)
  8. baseball (New)
  9. dragon (New)
  10. football (New)
  11. 1234567 (Down 4)
  12. monkey (Up 5)
  13. letmein (Up 1)
  14. abc123 (Down 9)
  15. 111111 (Down 8)
  16. mustang (New)
  17. access (New)
  18. shadow (Unchanged)
  19. master (New)
  20. michael (New)
  21. superman (New)
  22. 696969 (New)
  23. 123123 (Down 12)
  24. batman (New)
  25. trustno1 (Down 1)

“Passwords based on simple patterns on your keyboard remain popular despite how weak they are,” said Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData. “Any password using numbers alone should be avoided, especially sequences. As more websites require stronger passwords or combinations of letters and numbers, longer keyboard patterns are becoming common passwords, and they are still not secure.”
For example, users should avoid a sequence such as “qwertyuiop,” which is the top row of letters on a standard keyboard, or “1qaz2wsx” which comprises the first two ‘columns’ of numbers and letters on a keyboard.

Other tips from a review of this year’s Worst Passwords List include:
  •   Don’t use a favorite sport as your password – “baseball” and “football” are in top 10, and “hockey,” “soccer” and “golfer” are in the top 100. Don’t use a favorite team either, as “yankees,” “eagles,” “steelers,” “rangers,” and “lakers” are all in the top 100.
  •   Don’t use your birthday or especially just your birth year -- 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992 are all in the top 100.
  •   While baby name books are popular for naming children, don’t use them as sources for picking passwords. Common names such as “michael,” “jennifer,” “thomas,” “jordan,” “hunter,” “michelle,” “charlie,” “andrew,” and “daniel” are all in the top 50.
Also in the top 100 are swear words and phrases, hobbies, famous athletes, car brands, and film names. None of these are truly secure or should be seen as viable passwords. Users get a false sense of security by changing from using traditional number only combination to using common words. Something that puts your information at extreme risk! Brute Force hacking using a database, often large collections of words from the dictionary. Therefore it is best to avoid common words entirely and use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.

SplashData offers three simple tips to be safer from hackers online:
1.    Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters.
2.    Avoid using the same username/password combination for multiple websites.
3.    Use a password manager to organize and protect passwords, generate random passwords, and automatically log into websites.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Folding@Home Now Lets Your Smartphone Cure Diseases While You Sleep

For most of the world, when you sleep your electronics do too. However, for those of us that are geeky enough to know you know that doesn't have to be the case. Thanks to some amazing distributed computing projects you can use those 'sleeping' devices to actually do some really important work!

Distributed computing uses the power of a network of connected devices to spread out the workloads needed to solve computational problems. One such problem is that of protein folding, which happens in only a few milliseconds, too fast for even the most powerful lab computer. While the immediate answer might be "build a more powerful computer", another solution is the more efficient use of building a DC project. Folding@Home is one such project.


While we are all aware of the raw computing power of our PCs, devices like your Sony PS3 actually pack a great deal of computing prowess. For years Folding@Home users have connected these devices to the distributed computing network to help Stanford University scientists studying Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's, and many cancers by simply running a piece of software on their devices.

Now, thanks to a partnership between Sony and  Dr Vijay Pande, a doctor in biology and structural chemistry at Stanford, and a key member of the Folding@Home team – the collective power stored in your smartphone can be used to dramatically speed up the fight against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The team hopes that the new Folding@Home Android app will significantly reduce the time needed to conduct their research. “In order to publish a new paper, something that represents a genuine step forward, we would need about 150,000 “phone – days”, according to Dr. Pande that’s one phone running 24/7. Split that up amongst 10,000 phones though and all of a sudden you’re looking at two weeks.

For now, the beta version of the Folding@Home Android app will only be compatible with Sony Xperia Z series smartphones as well as the Xperia T3, T2 Ultra, M2 Aqua and C3. It is available for download from Google Play here. Following the initial Beta release, it will be made available for all smartphones running Android 4.4 and above early in 2015.

For those of you that are looking for more information or would like to use your PC or PS3 checkout the Folding@Home Wiki or the Folding@Home main site. If like me you are a Samsung owner and want your phone to 'do good while it sleeps' you can checkout the Samsung Power Sleep app which is a similar project backed by Samsung and the University if Vienna.

Source: Sony Mobile Communications

Friday, January 02, 2015

PlayStation Plus Members Get Six Free Games to Kick Off 2015

Sony's PlayStation Plus subscription service has been a hit amongst gamers and for good reason. Last year alone gamers were given the opportunity to snag 71 free titles worth almost $1400. Not bad for an optional subscription which costs $49.99 when purchased annually.

For those that didn't get in on last year's freebies there is no time like the present! To kick off 2015 Sony has officially released the list of free games you gaming geeks can snatch up for January starting on Tuesday January 6, 2015.

There is a great mix of games for each of their three platforms with a great mix of a little something new and a few older classics.
  • PlayStation 4: Infamous: First Light and The Swapper
  • PlayStation 3: The Swapper, Prototype 2, DuckTales Remastered and Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition
  • On PS Vita, Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition and Woah Dave
inFAMOUS: First Light, is a standalone expansion to inFamous: Second Son that outlines the backstory of the troubled conduit, Fetch. The Swapper, is a highly reviewed puzzle game that allows gamers to solve puzzles in an attempt at exiting a space station. Prototype 2 is the sequel to Radical Entertainment’s best-selling open-world action adventure game of 2009. Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition is the definitive compilation of the landmark first-person shooter that includes enhanced versions of Duke Nukem 3D and three classic expansion packs, as well as the original version of the classic game.

If you want to see these titles in action, check out the video below.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Facebook Message Scanning Lawsuit - What You Need to Know!

Earlier this week U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton passed down a ruling that Facebook Inc must face a class action lawsuit in which the social media site is accused of violating its users' privacy by scanning the content of messages they sent to other users for advertising purposes.

At the heart of the lawsuit, which was initially filed in 2013, are allegations that Facebook actively scanned the content of private messages sent between users for links to websites and would then count any links in a tally of "likes" of the pages. These "likes" would then be used to compile user profiles, which in turn were used for building a database that was used for delivering targeted advertising to its users.

In basic terms, Facebook would use tools to read private messages for the most popular links being shared across its own site, even if they were sites or pages not within Facebook. That information would then be used to target advertising to each user. This data most likely would also be shown to prospective advertisers to help bolster sales of advertising via Facebook allowing them to profit from your personal information.

The complaint, filed by Facebook user Matthew Campbell, alleged that the scanning of these private messages violated both federal and California state law. Facebook had originally argued that the alleged scanning of its users' messages was covered by an exception under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act for interceptions by service providers occurring in the ordinary course of business. However, judge Hamilton dismissed those claims stating that Facebook had "not offered a sufficient explanation of how the challenged practice falls within the ordinary course of its business."

The case is Campbell v. Facebook Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 13-5996 and seeks class action status on behalf of all U.S. users who sent or received private messages that included website addresses in their content. As reported by Bloomberg the suit is seeking as much as $10,000 in damages for each user and could benefit all users of the site.

Facebook is not alone in facing these allegations. Lawsuits against Internet companies and social networks are multiplying as more users become more aware of how much personal information these sites are collecting, how they are using it and how they are revealing it to third parties, often without end user knowledge. Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. also are facing accusations of intercepting communications for their profit at the expense of users or non-users.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Amazon Offering $220 Worth of Apps For Free Beginning December 24th

Christmas will come a day early this year thanks to Amazon, as the company will be offering customers a ton of free apps as part of what they are calling the 'largest Free App of the Day bundle ever'! The bundle includes apps and games from developers like Halfbrick Studios, Rovio Entertainment and Sega of America, which range in price from $0.99 to $64.99, all for free!

Starting December 24th and running until December 26th, Amazon Appstore will offer a number of paid apps and games for free, as part of the largest Free App of the Day bundle ever. The bundle includes apps and games from developers like Halfbrick Studios, Rovio Entertainment and Sega of America, which range in price from $0.99 to $64.99, all for free—saving customers up to $220. Also starting today, and for a limited time, when customers buy or gift Amazon Coins, they can get up to a 30% discount on their overall Coins purchase—up to triple the normal savings to spend on apps, games and in-app items, like card packs in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, gold in Game of War-Fire Age, lollipop hammers in Candy Crush Saga and gems in Brave Frontier. Throughout the remainder of December and into the New Year, customers will find 50-85% discounts on titles from developers like Disney, Gameloft and Sony Pictures Television. Find out more at amazon.com/appstore and download the Amazon App at amazon.com/androidapp.

In addition to the loads of freebies Amazon wil also be offering customers several other exciting deals including up to 50% off Holiday and Kids movies and TV shows and up to 85% off popular Kindle books from best-selling authors. For more details checkout Amazon's full press release and be sure to check back on Wednesday December 24th to get all your free apps!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

iPhone 6, Robin Williams and World Cup Top Google's 2014 Search Trends

It is that time of year again when Google releases the company's annual list of the most popular  searches that its users have collectively searched for the most over the past 12 months. As per usual the list is broken down into several categories of interest. However the few that interest us geeks the most are listed below!


Overall top search trends of 2014:
  1. Robin Williams
  2. World Cup
  3. Ebola
  4. Malaysia Airlines
  5. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
  6. Flappy Bird
  7. Conchita Wurst
  8. ISIS
  9. Frozen
  10. Sochi Olympics

And trending consumer tech:
  1. iPhone 6
  2. Samsung Galaxy S5
  3. Nexus 6
  4. Moto G
  5. Samsung Note 4
  6. LG G3
  7. Xbox One
  8. Apple Watch
  9. Nokia X
  10. iPad Air
Interestingly enough smartphones and wearable tech take most of the consumer tech positions breaking from some past trends that saw gaming consoles taking a few of the top spots. For a full overview Google has a website dedicated to the year with stories and highlights following some of the wide range of stories that intrigued the world at some point or another. Here's the full list of the top search trends of 2014 if you're interested.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Comcast Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Use of Customer Routers For Comcast Xfinity Wifi Service


Much to the disdain of many customers earlier this year Comcast began its roll out of the company's new Comcast Xfinity Wifi service. The service features an update to rented home Wi-Fi routers that turns on a little known feature enabling your Xfinity router to be turned into a public hotspot!

Unfortunately for many un-suspecting customers the newly update service was turned on by default, and while Comcast promises there is no risk to users, and no added costs associated. The new service has not been met with open arms.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle report a class-action lawsuit was filed against Comcast last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit was submitted by East Bay residents Toyer Grear and daughter Joycelyn Harris, who claim that Comcast is using its equipment to exploit customers for profit. They're seeking an injunction that will prevent Comcast from using its residential wireless routers as public hotspots. The suit also seeks compensation for unspecified damages.

According to the complaint Comcast violated the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as California laws on unfair competition and computer data access and fraud. They claim that the public hotspots, broadcast from the same equipment used for subscribers' private Wi-Fi networks, raise customers' electricity costs and harm network performance. But they also make what Comcast says is a false allegation regarding network security.

Comcast is looking to build a public Xfinity WiFi hotspot network, one that offers any current Comcast customer access to WiFi hotspotx throughout the region. This network will reside in 19 of the largest cities here in the United States and compete with America's top mobile service providers such as AT&T and Verizon. To do this, Comcast has added a second Internet channel to the newer models of its wireless gateway modems that are leased out to subscribers.

The lawsuit claims that “unauthorized broadcasting of a secondary, public Wi-Fi network from the customer’s wireless router subjects the customer to potential security risks, in the form of enabling a stranger who wishes to access the Internet through the customer’s household router, with the customer having no option to authorize or otherwise control such use.” The suit goes on to say that “upon information and belief, any activity on the Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot will appear as though it originated from the Comcast customer’s IP address.”

A Comcast FAQ says the public hotspots are "completely separate from your secure Wi-Fi home network" and contend that there is no risk of cross access or communication. Furthermore Comcast ensures users that because the public Wi-Fi signal these features provide is treated as a separate connection, you won’t get into trouble for anything anyone does with it. It should be a separate IP address and usage will be associated with the account the other person signs on with.

Security risks aside the lawsuit also claims that end users with these 'hotspot enabled' routers are subject to higher electricity bills and slower overall connections speeds. Another claim that Comcast has previously defended in regards to the hotspots, saying they use minimal extra power, do not pose security risks because they are walled off from each customer’s private network, and do not cause any noticeable performance drop.

Although the hotspots are turned on by default, customers can turn them off by calling 1-800-XFINITY or online at http://customer.comcast.com/.  More details can also be found in our previous report here.