Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bitdefender Says New Tool Uses 'Trickery' To Prevent Some Ransomware Infections

With ransomware infections making big headlines these days security researchers are looking at new ways to keep the malicious software from taking over users machines. Unfortunately, in this cat and mouse game the bad guys have seemingly been wining the war! All that may soon change as security researchers test new inventive ways to actually vaccinate machines from possible infections.

Antivirus firm Bitdefender is one such company that has been taking a new approach as to how it handles ransomware. They have just released a free tool that the company says can prevent computers from being infected with some of the most widespread file-encrypting ransomware programs: Locky, TeslaCrypt and CTB-Locker.

The new Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware vaccine is an update of sorts to a piece if software that the company designed to prevent CryptoWall infections. As with the previous tool this new 'vaccine' works by taking advantage of a very specific feature commonly used in several piece of ransomware. Those malicious pieces of software actually check to make sure the machine they are trying to attack haven't previously been infected. Bitdefender's Anti-Ransomware vaccine uses those checks against the ransomware by making it appear as if computers are already infected with current variants of Locky, TeslaCrypt or CTB-Locker. This prevents those programs from infecting them again.

Bitdefender has stated that in its current form the tool can only fool certain ransomware families and is not guaranteed to work as protection against those indefinitely. Therefore, it's best for users to take all the common precautions to prevent infections in the first place and to view the tool only as a last layer of defense that might save them in case everything else fails.

"While extremely effective, the anti-ransomware vaccine was designed as a complementary layer of defense for end-users who don’t run a security solution or who would like to complement their security solution with an anti-ransomware feature," said Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender.

The new tool is available for download on the Bitdefender website.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Need Help Using One of Google's Sites or Services? Checkout The Official Google Tips and Tricks Webpage

It isn't often that you see a company devote time and attention to create detailed walk-throughs of how to better use their sites and services. Yeah most might compile a FAQ list, and some will offer up some basic help. But for the most part, most companies leave you, well Googling it!

Google has always been an exception to that rule! They have always done their best to offer users advice and tips & tricks on how to get the most out of their Google Search results as well as most of their other services. Just last year we mentioned that Google offered a list of essential tips for becoming a Google Guru. At that time the list of tips and tricks was still relatively small, at only 78. Today however, that list has blossomed to more than 170!

Google's official list of Google tips and tricks features easy to follow walk-throughs, videos and step by step guides on how to use just about anything related to Google. The tips are now broken down into six categories: Do More, Save Time, Online Security, New Device, Ask Google, and Improve Access. You can also access tips for each individual Google product. with tips & tricks encompassing everything from Android to Google Play to using Chrome. We'll note some of the categories for each product aren't fully covered and don't have any tips yet, but most do!

While many of these tips are going to seem remedial to a power user. Most if not all are going to be helpful to someone that is just now breaking their teeth on some of Google's services. Either way, the site is a great one to add to your tool bag and makes for a great resource for sharing with your 'new to Google' friends or less than tech savvy family members.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Must Have Geek Gadgets For Spending Time Outdoors This Spring

If there is one thing I know about my fellow geeks it is that we love our gadgets and as such we always find some cool new piece of tech that makes every life experience that much better. In the past we've talked about a few of our favorite gadgets for summer time fun, but today we are going to share a few suggestions aimed specifically at some of the challenges of being outdoors during the spring time.

Keeping Bugs Away!

Whether it be mosquitoes, ants or wasps nothing ruins a nice afternoon outdoors quite as much as bugs. Not to mention those little pests are known to carry and spread pesky little viruses like West Nile, Zika and even Lyme Disease (yes that is still around). Therefore it should be no surprise that are first few suggestions are going to help keep bugs at bay!

ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent Camp Lantern: The folks over at ThermaCell were nice enough to send us over this cool little dual action lantern and so far we have been nothing but impressed. The light produces 300 lumens which is plenty to bright to light up a full sized or a standard picnic table. The repellent, which can also be used as an independent unit, is said to offer 15'x15' protection from mosquitoes, black flies and a few other “no see-ums”. In other-words plenty of coverage for a small campsite or picnic area.

Rock Those Tunes!

No party is complete without some great music and what better way to enjoy that music than with a killer portable system? For those of you, that like me, grew up in the 80's and early 90's you'll remember the days with the boombox was king! It seemed as though everywhere you went someone had their beats blasting out of their own portable system. Then the days came where we decided to go more personal and portable with the walk-man and later MP3 players.

Monster is trying to put the boom back in boombox with the release of their new Monster Blaster Portable Bluetooth Boom Box. Dubbed the 'Boombox Re-imagined' the Monster SuperStar Blaster features bi-directional speakers with full range drivers in an angled 360⁰ orientation and a down-firing integrated powered subwoofer to offer plenty of sound for large outdoor spaces. For those that plan on being around the water it will also offer splash resistance, though we would suggest something like the BackFloat Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker if you are planning on enjoying the tunes in or around the pool.

Don't Get Lost Out There!

Your smartphone might be great at offering you directions when you are around town. However, using it as a functional GPS device while in the mountains or hiking in the backwoods just isn't practical. For that you'll need a dedicated GPS unit and while there are several great options from several great companies, there is only one unit that I can say I'll recommend 100% of the time. That is the Garmin Astro or new Garmin Alpha 100 series.

Both of these units not only offer you a fully function GPS unit with all the regular bells and whistles, but they both offer you the ability to track your four legged friends everywhere they go. There is nothing worse than being in the backwoods and loosing your family friends. With the Garmin Astro or Alpha you can track there movement on the devices pre-loaded topographical maps and see their distance from you and heading. The Gamin Alpha adds the training function with the help of Tri-Tronics electronic training. Allowing you to select traditional or linear progression plus tone or stimulation types.

Feed Those Hungry Geeks

Cooking in the outdoors can be challenging to say the least. Personally I prefer going with the simplest options possible, which usually means pre-made meals or sandwiches, but there are occasions that you'll want to chef it up. Nothing, and I mean nothing, ruins that experience more than forgetting your cooking essentials at home. The two things I've found that are essential for a good cooking experience while camping are a good portable bbq (gas preferably due to fire restrictions) and a nice portable stove.

The folks at Grub Hub have come up with a few ways to take the hassle out of camp cooking. The Grub Hub Camp Kitchen is a super portable unit the size of a large piece of luggage that organizes, stores and transports all your camp kitchen gear then sets up in less than 3 minutes to provide the ultimate camp kitchen and campsite. The full camp kitchen unit offers everything you need from the stove to the utensils to whip up your favorite meals in no time!

If the Grub Hub is a bit too much for your needs I wholeheartedly believe the Coleman single burner propane stove is the best thing ever. It is super compact so it fits anywhere and offers plenty of functionality for anything from heating up water for your pre-made meals or making coffee. Since camping isn't camping without a good BBQ I'd be a miss without adding a quick simple suggestion there too. Here I keep it simple with a Char-Broil Table Top Gas Grill. Small portable and always gets the job done!

Final Note: Now of course there are several other suggestions we could add to our short list here and we have discussed plenty of those in the past. We just wanted to highlight a few of the newest products out there that are on our wishlist and offer a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing. A few additions I'd always add are portable chargers or battery packs, an awesome flash light or camp lantern and of course we wouldn't be geeks without a multi-tool.

If you guys have suggestions for your favorite spring time tech gadgets be sure to let us know by dropping a comment in the comment box below. We are always looking for more toys and more ideas to build out our tech bundle.

Smaller iPad Pro Has One Nice Perk You Can Use Microsoft Office 365 For Free

While I'm sure many of you Apple fans are reveling in this week's Apple event and their announcements of smaller versions of both the iPhone and iPad Pro. Most of the tech world took a collective yawn! The truth of the matter is most tech pundits have historically shunned companies for creating the sort of fragmentation Apple just did. So it shouldn't be a shock that most of us aren't all that excited.

Whether you agree or disagree with Apple's latest approach of releasing their devices in multiple configurations, there is one rather minor benefit, at least in the case of the 9.7" iPad Pro, and that is that when buying the new smaller device users won't have to pay for a Microsoft Office 365 subscription to use Microsoft’s iOS Office apps! This isn't the case for 'power users' that are looking at the larger iPad Pro. The reason, a simple one, Microsoft's licensing terms and the differentiation of  how they view mobile devices.

Let me explain: Last year Microsoft attempted to distinguish what the company thought defined a mobile vs professional experience, and which devices would typically be used by the consumer on the go. The idea, according to Microsoft, was that the company wanted to offer customers the basic feature set while they are using their mobile device and charge the regular Office 365 licensing fees for those users who were using Office at a desk,in front of a larger 'PC'. Microsoft views mobile apps as more appropriate for light editing, rather than document creation.

“Currently, we are also using screen size to delineate between professional and personal use,” Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office 365 Client Apps and Services team wrote. “Based on our research, we are classifying anything with a screen size of 10.1 inches or less as a true mobile device: You’re probably using it on the go, when it’s not practical to use a larger computing device such as a PC or a Mac. You probably aren’t using a mouse or a keyboard, instead navigating via touch interface. It’s probably not a “pro” category tablet that is used for design or presentations.”

Of course this may only be a minor benefit to most users, it is still a nice perk. Of course you still don't get all the benefits of a full blown Office 365 subscription or the full set of features. But for users that need to edit and view an Office document created elsewhere, it comes in handy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Uber Launches A New Bug Bounty Program Offers $10k For Bugs

Bug bounty programs are big business these days, with researchers often seeing rewards of thousands of dollars to find bugs in software and security systems. Today we see yet another company joining the fold as Uber has announced that it’s officially launching a “bug bounty” program that will pay independent security researchers thousands of dollars in rewards for finding hackable bugs in its apps and websites.

Uber wants to pay researchers up to $5,000 for finding anything from a minor bug that could deface the company's homepage or expose users’ email addresses and up to $10,000 for more serious and critical bugs that could lead to attackers gaining the ability to fully take over Uber accounts or run malicious code on an Uber production server.

According to Uber the main reason behind the move to open a public bug bounty program comes as a result of the company's very own private program that turned up over 100 bugs — all of which have Uber has said have been fixed. This time the company is going a step further by offering hackers and security researchers not only more money but a new bug bounty “loyalty system” that gives bonuses for repeated bug discoveries. They have also created a “treasure map” for bug bounty hunters designed to guide them toward potential vulnerabilities in the site—mapping out the company’s code to make bug hunting as efficient as possible.

"Even with a team of highly qualified and well trained security experts, you need to be constantly on the look-out for ways to improve," Uber's Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan said in a statement. "This bug bounty program will help ensure that our code is as secure as possible. And our unique loyalty scheme will encourage the security community to become experts when it comes to Uber."

For more information about the program visit https://hackerone.com/uber.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Manually Closing Apps On Your Phone Make Actually Make Your Battery Life Worse

Old habits seem to die hard and there is one bad habit I know that I share with several of my fellow geeks, force closing apps on our smartphones. Unfortunately, for those of using still clinging to this old habit, we now have absolute confirmation that our habit actually does more harm than good.

Over the past week or so, both Apple and Google have confirmed that force closing your apps does absolutely nothing to improve your battery life. In fact, says Hiroshi Lockheimer, the VP of Engineering for Android, it might make things worse.

To put into simpler terms what we are seeing here, and why software developers from both Apple and Google have reached this conclusion, the operating systems for smartphones (and even PCs these days) have become some adept at memory and battery management that they are doing more good by continually running apps than you are by closing them. In more complex terms, both Android and iOS, utilize algorithms to run memory management. These algorithms control each app, the amount of memory allocated to those apps and allow them to sit dormant until they are needed again.

Why this matters you may ask? Think of it as a hot water faucet. Each time you turn it on you need to run more water to get the water hot. Thus you waste a lot of water. Now if you had that water circulating, but not being used, it would be hot instantly and you'd have little to no waste. This is sort of how these memory algorithms work.

These systems will close apps that need to be closed, typically ones that have been sitting dormant for a while or are using more power or memory than they should. They know exactly which ones they can and should 'disable' based on your usage. These algorithms build a profile specific to you as a user and they know when you’re going to need data, or want a refresh, or open an app again.

Apps that are already in memory open quickly, rather than having to fully start again; it’s like waking your computer from sleep rather than rebooting it completely. You’re far, far better off letting the system work for you rather than forcing it to re-open and re-start everything every time. Battery questions aside, it makes your phone slower and less coherent.

So now that we know that, are we really going to stop? Honestly, probably not! I've know about this for a few years now as it has come to my attention through various sources and through several discussions. Still I can't break the habit and honestly even if I did as a high level user I doubt I personally would notice a major improvement in battery life. You however, might see some improvements. These might only be minor, but that last second of battery life can mean a lot in the right circumstance!

My suggestions, if you are really that worried about it and you are really into saving battery is to follow a few of these tricks:
  • Battery management - All phones have an option to see where they are using battery power. Learn to use your battery management tool so you can see where your battery life is going or get a freebie that helps you see even more info!
  • Shut off that bright screen- Turn down your screen brightness or set it to auto adjust. When you check your battery management you'll likely see that your screen is using most of your battery. 
  • Stop sharing your location - Turn off location sharing for apps that don’t need it (which is a good idea regardless).
  • Turn off features you don't need - If you’re not using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or NFC turn them off. Why waste power on things you aren't using right?
  • Powering saving mode - Use Low Power Mode in iOS and power saving or Doze on Android. Cut back on some of the power your device has and you can shave a little off your usage.

Uber Launches UberEATS In The US But Would You Trust An Uber Driver to Deliver Your Food?

The on-demand market is a hot commodity these days for sure and by now most of us have used services like Uber and Lyft at least once. But how much do you actually trust the people that drive you around? Would you trust them to handle your food? Several new companies, including Uber, are hoping that you will. The company just today announced their UberEATS app is now available within a limited few cities in the US. The announcement, which came via  a blog post today, highlights some of the features of the new standalone app.

For us geeks that are too busy gaming to get out and get our own dinner the new UberEATS app will offer a few options. First you can opt to get regular delivery from a hundred or so restaurants in each service area, with the full menu available for you to pick and choose from. This portion of the service will be available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday, and you can see how long it will take for Uber to get the food to your doorstep within the app (15-20 minutes, 20-30 minutes, etc).

Or, if you want food delivered to you faster—Uber says as fast as 10 minutes or so—you can choose Instant Delivery, which features three to five daily dishes in every city, all displayed in big, clean photos in the app. Instant Delivery is only offered between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during weekdays.

According to Uber the company will feature a separate driver base handling UberEATS deliveries, which doesn’t overlap with the group of regular Uber drivers picking up people in their cars. However drivers can choose to switch between modes freely, by logging into and out of the app. Meaning that these new drivers may indeed simply be the same drivers we see on a regular basis.

So this begs to question, will you really trust an Uber driver to deliver your food? Uber makes no mention of specific details like food handling certification or any food specific training, something that most food handlers (at least in my area) are required to have. I for one may be a bit skeptical!

For you geeks out there that aren't as skeptical as I am the UberEATS App is available today on both iOS and Android and the service will be available in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Uber says it will be rolling out UberEATS in Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seattle and Washington D.C. in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Win A Trip to Microsoft's Rare Studios to Be The First to Play Sea of Thieves

The Microsoft gaming development team at Rare, yes that is the actual name, has announced a new competition built just for fans (or would be fans since the game isn't out yet) of their latest game Sea of Thieves. With six lucky and the winners being offer the chance at an all-expenses paid trip to the UK studio to play the game before launch. The announcement video is below, while more details follow further down.

For a chance at winning this all-expenses-paid adventure, Microsoft and Rare are asking fans to create something that conveys their excitement for Sea of Thieves, and then share it with the world on social media via an image or video. The more creative and entertaining the entries, the better chance fans will have at winning the contest. This will be based on the judge's very selective and subjective opinions. In fact they have stated their selections will be based on the following three criteria:
  • 33.00% - Creativity - you must show something new and different
  • 33.00% - Entertainment value - you'll probably need to make them laugh
  • 33.00% - Level of excitement for Sea of Thieves - don't be ho-hum about the game!
Once finished, fans must share a link to their image or video with us on Twitter @SeaOfThieves, or on Facebook via Facebook.com/SeaOfThievesGame, including the hashtag #SeaOfThievesContest.
 For a full run-down of the rules, be sure to check out our official rules page here.

There will be 6 prizes total. The prize(s) will be as follows: Each winner will receive a trip (for winner only) to Twycross, UK, for the opportunity to tour Rare Ltd and meet Rare game software developers. Includes:
  • Round trip coach airfare from major airport closest to winner's home
  • Transportation between airport, hotel, and studio
  • Three (3) nights standard hotel accommodations
  • Daily meals
  • A tour of the Rare Studio
According to GameSpot, Sea of Thieves has been described by Microsoft as "the best game Rare has ever made," and given their rather extensive list of games that may or may not say a lot! The game that was first teased during E3 2015, with the promises to be a first person pirate adventure game with opportunities for exploring jungles, roaming the high seas and enjoy multiplayer naval combat. 

As of yet a release date has not been revealed and Rare has acknowledged on their official site that they have had very specific reasoning for limiting details about the game until now, but hopes this contest will generate buzz and excitement before the release.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Google's Project Fi Cellular Service Now Open to Everyone

Google has officially opened the doors to every that wants to sign-up for their Project Fi cellular service as the search giant has announced they are dropping their invite only requirement to join the program. In addition, those joining the program before April 7th will be offered the deepest discount ever on the Nexus 5X. If you buy the phone through Project Fi and activate it, you can get the normally $349 Nexus 5X for just $199.

Project Fi is Google's first ever attempt at breaking into the MVNO cellular service. It offers users a pre-pay service with no contracts. Services utilize cell towers  rented from Sprint and T-Mobile, switching automatically between whichever gives you the best services at the time. The service then combines all the best features of Google Voice, like visual voicemail, number forwarding, and the ability to send and receive SMS messages from any computer and via the Google Hangouts app.

One major downside, that Google is still apparently working on, is that the service is only available in limited areas and with very limited device compatibility—the Network switching feature means Fi only works on the Nexus 5X, 6, and 6P. The upside is that all calls on Fi are made over Wi-Fi by default if that’s available (and how doesn't have Wi-Fi these days), and then switches to the cellular network when a user moves out of range of a Wi-Fi signal.

Project Fi charges a $20 base fee for unlimited texting and calls, plus $10 per GB of data you use. Fi customers also only pay for the data they use, and then are credited with any data left over. So if you sign up and pay $20 for calls, plus $30 for 3 GB of data but only end up using 2 GB, you’ll get $10 credited back on your account at the end of the month.

For more details checkout the Project Fi home page as well as the Project Fi FAQ

Apple Moves Quickly to Squash Ransomware Concerns

While ransomware may hardly be a new thing, this weekend saw a new first for the malicious software as it for the first time ever has been confirmed as targeting Apple Mac OSX users.

Palo Alto Networks, A security research firm announced Sunday its discovery of what is believed to be the world’s first ransomware that specifically goes after OS X machines. The malicious code dubbed "KeRanger" ransomware, was found wrapped into Transmission, which is a free Mac BitTorrent client.

At this time it is still unclear exactly how the attackers managed to upload a tampered version of Transmission to the application's website. But compromising legitimate applications is a commonly used method. "It’s possible that Transmission's official website was compromised and the files were replaced by re-compiled malicious versions, but we can’t confirm how this infection occurred," Palo Alto Networks wrote on its blog.

The KeRanger malware imposes a 72-hour lockout window unless the victim pay up to unlock their devices. As mentioned the software was loaded to OSX machines unintentionally by users running version 2.90 of the Transmission software. A version that was signed with a legitimate Apple developer's certificate. This allowed the software to bypass one of OSX's security settings as users often set the setting to allow downloads from identified Apple developers. This setting means the person with the infected machine may not ever have seen a warning from Apple's GateKeeper software that the application could be dangerous.

According to reports by Reuters Apple revoked a certificate that allowed the software to be installed on Macs, and Transmission removed the download link from its website noting that any users that downloaded the infected version over the weekend should immediately upgrade to version 2.91 of the software, which was available on its website, and delete the malicious one.