Today the Internet virtually slowed down

Screenshot 2014-09-10 13.01.24Or, at least several major sites wanted you to know what it might feel like if it were to slow down permanently due to what they say may result in Internet “fast lanes” where companies would be able to purchase the ability to have their sites served faster than others (ala, the Comcast/Netflix agreement made earlier this year). This would potentially disrupt what we’ve all come to know and love as the digital economy of the Internet.

Meaning, if another movie / tv streaming content provider tried to enter the market today without the ability to sign a similar agreement (if only because they were new) they would be unable to even attempt to compete and thus their service would fail before users ever had a chance to try something that may be better or more innovative than the current big kid on the block. While even without net neutrality, enforcing payments like this (rather than the two companies voluntarily entering an agreement) would be legally hard to do today due to current antitrust laws, that doesn’t mean the little guy still wouldn’t find itself in a precarious situation – but perhaps that’s as it should be given the ups and downs of the digital economy.

What is the impetuous behind this? Well, the telecom infrastructure in America is largely owned and maintained by private businesses including but not limited to Level 3 Communications, TeliaSonera International Carrier, CenturyLink, Vodafone, Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T. You might recognize the last three as companies from which you purchase your Internet connectivity. It is in their interest to make a profit. But, from what they tell us, it is hard to do that while maintaining and innovating on the infrastructure at the same time.

To my understanding (which could be wrong, I am not a networking expert – feel free to correct me), companies are fighting against the need to use a standard which treats all data the same regardless of what is being carried (i.e. TCP/IP). As an alternative, each company would able to create their own innovations that would help their own networks move data along without that technology necessarily being shared with everyone else. Without chiming in on one side of the debate or the other, this could be very good for consumers in the long run as competition in this area would drive innovation further and further.

The fear is that while competition has somewhat driven the cost to connect down on the consumer side, these companies must find another way to make profits and are looking toward the providers of digital goods as a potential revenue option. To that end, many see these infrastructure companies’ waves against net neutrality as an attempt to charge content providers money to ensure their data reaches their customers as fast as possible. This idea is comparable to a tollway company claiming their roads need maintenance and thus charging stores along the tollway, that have no other way to access them, extra fares to make sure consumers can access the offramps to those stores without delay, while also collecting money from the consumers themselves in order for them to gain access to the tollway in the first place. However, as I said above, this would be difficult to do given the antitrust laws currently in place.

While I am not standing on one side or the other, I hope I’ve been able to some what enlighten people as to what the big deal is and I hope I have shed some light on the topic that is not as black and white as most of us have been lead to believe. The lesson to be learned, as with most things on the Internet, is issues such as these aren’t always necessarily as they first appear and a little research goes a long way. This is especially so where government and technology intertwine.

Time Warner Down

20140827twdown People across the US are waking up this morning to the fact that Time Warner Cable is down. Apparently it’s not just their network that is down either. Their own website is also down and there are reports that no one is answering calls into Time Warner either.

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From the spike in reports shown above, it looks like the majority started happening just before midnight HST or 6am EST.

Timing is everything of course. I just cancelled my cable TV today and am now apart of a massive Internet outage. I’m sorry?

There is already speculation as to whether TWC is the latest target of the recent DDOS attacks. I expect more answers will come soon enough, but it’s nearly 1am here in the middle of the Pacific and I have a 8am meeting. Let’s just hope my Internet is up by then as I work from home…

Internet Gaming brought to a halt by DDOS

Several gaming news outlets are reporting on the recent gaming outages brought on by a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack (PCGamer, Joystiq, VentureBeat | GamesBeat) perpetrated by a group calling themselves Lizard Squad. This all came to a head when the SOE (Sony Online Entertainment) President’s plane was diverted due to a bomb threat made by the same group claiming responsibility for the DDOS attacks (Gamespot, Polygon).

I’ll be following this story and making updates on it as it progresses since the FBI is now involved due to the nature of the bomb threat.

Games that were affected by the attack are as follows:
Blizzard.net games including World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Starcraft, Hearthstone
Sony Online Entertainment including Play Station Network
League of Legends
Path of Exile

Were you affected by the outage? Feel free to comment or contact me to let me know about your experience.

Dealing with being a digital packrat

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My laptop only has a 750G hard drive which is quickly filling up. So, I spent all weekend cleaning it up and moving files to my Mac Mini server. One of my biggest headaches is my photo and music libraries. I’ve had iPhoto and iTunes since they existed. (The first iPod was a portable firewire hard drive that also played music! I couldn’t pass that up. I’ve also been taking digital photos since digital cameras came onto the market, which means I have tons of pictures.) This has lead to my libraries growing wildly rampant and becoming totally out of control.

So, rather than dealing with the headache that comes with trying to fix it all manually, I found a software solution to help out and I highly recommend them: http://www.fatcatsoftware.com/

My biggest deal was moving files off of my laptop and on to my server, but still having them easily accessible from my laptop. I have multiple iTunes libraries due to having multiple computers over the years and backing up to different computers at different times. These can be difficult to manage and lead to missing (orphaned) files. Powertunes found all my random files and now my phone (which I had to replace a couple of months ago) has all my relevant music back on it! (Only took a full day to copy it all over, but that was all iTunes.)

I also wanted to break up my iPhoto library into smaller ones so I could archive parts off. While splitting up over 20 thousand photos and videos has taken a long time – it’s totally worth it. Next on my list will be to tackle my resources library. I think I’m finally going to bite the bullet and buy Adobe CC education edition while I still can. Then I’m going to use the updated Bridge to organize my my 15gb of digital resources. If you have any other recommendations for organizing digital assets locally, please leave a comment!

Facebook Messenger and You

My readers, please take a moment to read all of the TOS in every single social app you have downloaded and used over the last year. This includes all of the updated TOS you automatically agree to because you’ve already had it installed. They ALL ask for some setting you’re not going to be comfortable with if you are caught up in the hysteria over the new FB messenger application.

If you are not installing the FB messenger app because of the latest and greatest in sensationalist headlines, then you should follow through and uninstall every single other app that utilizes any of your social networks (twitter, tumblr, instagram, skype etc). After you’ve done that, you should revoke all access of those applications to each other (i.e. any app that is connected to your Facebook account).

Then, if you really want to protect your privacy, you will delete your Facebook account altogether, along with every other social network profile you’ve ever created. Just don’t forget those companies still own all of the data you gave them over the last 10 years (if you’ve been on FB as long as I have). You already sold it to them when you signed up and they can do whatever they want with it whenever they want to. Most importantly, it’s their business to do just that.

If you would like an alternative, try Facebook Texting:
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It is accessible via Facebook Settings (easiest way to access it is to click on the lock in the header next to the updates icon and go to “See more settings”).

Texas Cyber Bullying Case

Mashable did an extensive writeup of the case here. In summary, two 12 year old girls claim to be bullied by another girl through social media. This bullying then escalates to attacks via their very own phones, computers, and network as well as physical stalking.

It’s a chilling read. It becomes more than simple playground bullying when you are told what you are wearing and where you are located in your home by someone who is taunting you via social media.

A big issue is many law enforcement agencies, especially those in the more rural parts of the country, still have no idea how to handle these cases. There needs to be some sort of organization these people can turn to in order to educate themselves and understand how this type of bullying effects those involved. Additionally, they need to be able to have quick and reliable access to people with technical expertise than can attest to the level of effort the attackers have gone through to carry out their maliciousness.

Does any such program exist? If it does, who funds it and where is it located? If it doesn’t, why not?

Hello? Facebook can hear you now.

Last week several news organizations including Ars Technica shared information about Facebook’s new passive listening feature.

From their report:
“Facebook has added a new feature to its mobile app as of Wednesday that uses a phone’s microphone to identify ambient TV shows, music, or movies and include them in status updates. The feature is off by default, though the app offers to turn it on in an intro screen that it pops up for users.”

This means if you use Facebook on your mobile device, you should take notice in the coming weeks and choose NOT to use this feature if you are not comfortable with it. Many of us are used to just bypassing these sorts of pop ups without a second thought. This is one you may want to pay attention to before you agree to it.

Cyber Extortion

How often do you use your email? Your Twitter / Facebook / other social media accounts? Your cloud apps? What would you do if you lost it all? What is recovering it worth to you?

When we have something of value, it becomes a target. And, the more we entwine our lives with technology, the more valuable those 1s and 0s become to us.

Though cyber extortion is not new, it is interesting how common it is becoming.

The latest attempt I recently read involved the loss of the @N twitter handle, which was facilitated by both PayPal and GoDaddy.

Then there is the case of Hunter Moore who was arrested and indicted by the FBI for his involvement in hacking private email accounts to gain access to explicit pictures that were meant for private use only. While this was not exactly extortion, it was a method of hacking and stealing of personal digital property that was used to shame and make money off of unsuspecting people.

Last year the story making the rounds was about Cryptolocker hijacking people’s data and then requiring money to unlock it and regain access to it.

Then there was of course the great Facebook, Gmail, Twitter hack I wrote about in December.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, rather just one to show the different ways your data can be used against you.

What does this all mean for you? It should heighten your awareness of cyber security and the very real threats that exist out there today. How do we mitigate these threats? We do what we can to protect our data. Following is a simple list of steps you can take immediately to avoid becoming a victim.

  1. Back up your data
  2. This means not only data you physically have access to like your financial documents, family photos/videos, or your music – but also your online presence. Many social networks let you download the entire contents of your user profile. You should also consider redundant backup options such as physical backups and off site backups. Just remember to make sure both are secure.

  3. Use 2-Factor Authentication
  4. Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Paypal and more utilize 2-factor authentication. My first introduction to this was using an authenticator for my World of Warcraft account, which I opted for as soon as they were made available. I still use 2-factor on that account today. This Life Hacker article has a great rundown of all the places you should enable it. Do it now!

  5. Hide Sensitive Information
  6. While sites may require you to provide a birthday or email address, the also usually give you the ability to keep this information private. Those who need to know the year you were born or your private email address already have that information or can ask for it. There is no need for it to be out in the open for everyone to see. Also, don’t let sites save your credit card information. While it is an added convenience, as the case of @N above demonstrates, it can be used against you. Other advice he offered in his article was to call your institutions and require them to NOT share any of your personal information over the phone. That means birth dates, names, or partial information like last 4 of social or credit cards.

  7. Be Wary of Strangers
  8. This may sound odd as the whole allure of the internet is connecting with strangers. However, if you don’t know someone, you should be very cautious about letting them into any social network circle where they can find out more information about you as this can be used against you.

  9. Be Careful Online
  10. Don’t click on anything you can’t easily identify. Don’t submit information to sites you are not familiar with. Don’t trust things just because they come from people you know. Don’t download things to your computer without some sort of software protection installed.

In summary, treat your digital property much like you would treat your physical property. Follow the Hide Lock Take philosophy. It works for both your email and your car.

Facebook & Self-Censorship

Salon recently featured an article (Salon.com) about a study (PDF) that reveals how Facebook monitors self-censorship by tracking everytime we type something, even if we decide not to post it. While it is understandable that people are concerned with this tracking of information that we do not share, I believe it is also important for us to understand that Facebook is not a free service. We pay for the opportunity to use this service by providing our precious data. Therefore, it is Facebook’s goal to gather and retain as much data as possible, even if that data is never explicitly shared.

Though I do not agree with their practices, as I am an advocate for the user and users rights when it comes to their data, I do understand them and contend that it is within their right to do this – even if it is an unsavory practice to perform. As a user, your rights and your power lay solely within the choice to use the product. If you want to retain ownership over your data, sharing it on a service where you provide said data for payment of using the service, is likely not the wisest choice. Keep that in mind when you type anything into any text box anywhere on the web, because as this example proves, that data may be saved even if you hit cancel.