Every Apple Security Update

38-365 Fingerprint

Photo by Bram Cymet

After a reported 5.6 million fingerprints were compromised as a result of a recent data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM says 5.6 million fingerprints stolen in cyberattack), iOS users have yet another reason to doubt security measures behind what’s been dubbed “the most spyware-proof mobile operating system” to date (iOS scores as most secure mobile OS).

While it’s true that the “attack” was aimed at high-ranking U.S. government officials the same technique could just as easily be employed to obtain the fingerprints of millions of iPhone and iPad users across the globe, and with far less risk.

Continued use of TouchID is a somewhat risky decision. Your fingerprint is a permanent means of identification that’s more valuable than any driver’s license or key card, once stolen the effects are irreversible.

Inform Yourself

Apple provides documentation on every security update released for all of it’s products.

Apple security updates – Apple Support

Always update digital devices to the latest software version, and don’t be afraid to become slightly informed of the various bugs that are addressed by each.

Image by Bram Cymet- Flickr

2014’s Most Valuable Program: Popcorn Time

Netflix step aside, a new wave of video streaming applications debuted in 2014. They don’t really compete with your average subscription-based services as they’re free and open-source, but they play their part in the war on internet-piracy.

popcorn-time

Several developers sought added functionality not found in modern BitTorrent clients like uTorrent and Transmission, so they created their own. With one significant addition a never-before-seen type of video streaming application was born. It eliminated the need to download an entire video and accessed (downloaded) only the portion necessary for viewing at the precise moment.

header-uiPopcorn Time and a slew of spinoffs quickly became the “new Netflix” among internet users already familiar with torrenting. It works on the same basis as torrenting a movie or television show from The PirateBay, but rather than searching for a file and waiting for it to download, Popcorn Time will download and play the first portion of a movie, constantly buffering the remainder while you watch. When the movie or show is over nothing remains on your computer and SOPA is none the wiser. Sounds interesting eh?

SOPA Slam

There’s no questioning the legality in using a BitTorrent client to unlawfully acquire digital media. The law-breaking isn’t committed when you download and install uTorrent, but rather when you downloading something you’d normally need to pay to receive. Thus, what you’re allowed to do with Popcorn Time is largely dependent on the country in which you reside. Online piracy in the United States is sometimes as widely heated a debate as gun control and abortion so if you read this from the US the answer is no, you cannot legally use Popcorn Time or the like to stream movies and TV.

Popcorn Time Today

popcorntime_helpAs of now you can still download Beta 3.5 from popcorntime.io, although an astute warning states “Downloading copyrighted material may be illegal in your country. Use at your own risk.” To my knowledge, upon being ruled illegal for its intended purpose Popcorn Time’s original developers abandoned the project. It was revived by an open-source community who identify as “a bunch of geeks from All Around The World.” I haven’t kept up with news surrounding the project and can’t verify the current working status of Beta 3.5 so I’ll leave that to the adventurous.

Go Forth

The reason for mentioning Popcorn Time was simply to make known the existence of an impressive feat of programming to as many people as possible. It’s important that we maintain an accurate picture of the state of technology and the internet. Refusing to be ignorant of technology enables one to know exactly where we, as the human race, stand.

Whether you choose to act on any newfound knowledge is your decision. Go forth into a world beyond Netflix.

Featured Image

Road to Audiophile $28

Audio..What?

Audiophile: a person enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction.

How happy are you with the EarPods that came bundled with your shiny new iPhone? Ever wonder if Apple’s signature white ear buds aren’t doing your music justice? Heaven forbid you still own the previous model. In any case, unless you’ve spent a moderate amount of cash on a new set of headphones or in-ear buds it’s possible you’re hearing less detail than a vinyl record.

What to Do?

Ask yourself if the prospect of hearing a more accurate reproduction of your favorite artist’s best album is worth any amount of money. A response other than ‘yes’ warrants some extra thought. If money is tight you don’t need to break the bank to improve your listening experience. There’s no better way to invest $30 in your portable audio setup than what I’m about to lay down, right after I mention one fact: If you own stock earbuds included with nearly any smartphone your $30 is better spent on a new set (#1 Recommendation: Klipsch Image S4 ~$60).

 

FiiO E06 – $28

E6-05

 

The FiiO E06 is the best low-cost upgrade anyone with a mid-range set of headphones will love. The iPod Nano sized amp will power any ear buds or low impedance headphones you can throw at. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery promises up to 10 hours of amplification, although we assume that number will vary between headphones and with volume. The E06 has 3 EQ settings indicated by an LED: Red: +6db Bass, Blue: +3db Bass +3db Treble, and Violet: -3db Bass/Mid/Treble. An additional mode ‘flat-EQ’ has no LED indicator and results in a pure application of the input signal with no changes in EQ.

Quick Specs:

  • Output Power: 150mW (16Ω); 16mW (300Ω)
  • Headphone Impedance Range: 16 Ω ~ 300 Ω
  • Frequency Range: 10Hz ~ 100kHz
  • Power Supply: Internal rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Recharging: USB 5V DC 500mA
  • Size: 41mm x 40.2mm x 8mm
  • Weight: 16g

“They also often offer functionality not available from bigger names, winning the company a hearty following among audiophiles without bottomless pockets.”

Value

For the price the FiiO E06 is the perfect addition to any budding audiophiles arsenal. With enough power to drive professional studio monitor headphones up to 300Ω it’s a step up in sound quality that offers flexibility should you decide to upgrade headphones down the road. If this is your first tangle with FiiO don’t be alarmed. They’re a reputable Japanese electronics firm specializing in audiophile-grade portable amplifiers and Hi-Fi music players at an incredibly competitive price.

If research is your thing Head-Fi will tell you everything you need to know about the brand and it’s reputation. With a little time you’ll find that even the most serious audiophiles carry a FiiO E17 anytime they’re out of the house.

Impressions

I received the E06 free with ATH-M50x headphones from Amazon. It does an incredible job rounding out the M50s already stellar sound. I use it almost strictly on flat-EQ unless I notice a need for more bass. As well as it drives 36Ω studio monitors I would imagine this thing would only be useless with $400+ headphones. The E06 doesn’t struggle with my in-ear buds either. At something like 18Ω the little guy barely even breaks a sweat. I’ve noticed an increase in the mids and highs of my S4s to the point that they sound like a new better pair. If that’s not enough to convince you, the E06 is the #1 selling portable amplifier on Amazon to date. Check it out people.

Featured Image

See Apple, the Stand-In

Apple is engrained in the lives of millions in younger generations. We grew up with what I’d call “the mature Apple.” We had no knowledge of its rough past or the incredible human being who devoted his life to it. To some Apple may even feel like family. But several years and the death of an icon have left a sizable hole where the company we grew to know and love once lived. Our awe and wonderment at the incredible feat of engineering that was the iPod faded with age and the release of a new device that would eventually lead the “iPod Classic” to its demise. The iPhone has had a permanent impact on technology and in the world, but how long before the iPhone is just a sad, distant memory?

Gone are the days of salivating over the thought of what Apple was cooking up behind closed doors in Cupertino. Their products are still largely unrivaled today and continue to set new standards for innovation in technology, but the age-old question of whether “iPhone or Android” has yet to disappear. It’s as though we’re all standing around hoping and praying that an Apple reincarnate appears in the news tomorrow and proceeds to knocks our socks off.

Apple will go down as one of the most influential companies in history, ruling from the late 90’s through the foreseeable future. But just how long will Apple fend off it’s enemies and defend the throne? How long before our prayers our answered? Or will a reinvigorated and re-energized Apple emerge under a new post-Steve Jobs image? The iconic fruit has likely lost a bite or two since Jobs passed, but should we as consumers continue to relive the iPhone glory days or look to the future and the apparent start-up boom already in motion?

I should clarify that I’m what you’d call an Apple “fauxboy.” (I made that up on the fly. If I just coined a new term…) In this respect I mean I’m a very loyal Apple fan (still rock my 5th gen. iPod Video) in just about every category but the most important. I love my iPhone because it’s simple, to-the-point, and pretty darn good-looking to top it all off. I’m still carrying around the best iPhone we ever got. It’s standard 8gb’s and stunning 326ppi Retina display pumping out skeuomorphic eye-candy everyday for four long years. It really was the best iPhone update we’ll ever experience.

In 2010 the iPhone 4 was the undisputed, all-around, title-holding, Android-killing, champion. I remember praying for weeks before it’s announcement that Big Red had finally pulled the right strings and I’d be the proud new owner of “the best phone on the best network.” Evidence would show that Verizon did just that and although I never owned an iPhone 4 or 4S during their time as flagships, I was ever thankful that I had the choice.

But all good things must come to an end. Apple will one day fill the shoes of countless companies and competitors that came before it. While I can assure you Apple in its entirety doesn’t plan to hand over the reigns anytime soon, I do believe the end of the iPhone dynasty is (hopefully) approaching.

I could easily turn this into a list of current and upcoming competitors that give Apple’s flagship device a run for its money. Although I’d like to assume that most of us already have a pretty good idea or are capable of constructing one easily. Not to mention I don’t like to regurgitate already regurgitated information. But, if I was to list the two or three devices that challenge the iPhone’s popularity they would certainly be Android powered. Personally I’ve had more Android devices than iPhones (once upon a time I knew an iPhone 5), but that was back when Motorola’s Droid was the only viable option. As much as they’d like to think so, Microsoft, Amazon, Ubuntu, and Mozilla haven’t produced anything worth a glancing at.

It’s been a long time since the iPhone hit the scene and quite frankly competition in the smartphone department has been somewhat stagnant ever since. Even if I wanted to provide you the ultimate iPhone alternative it would still be just that, an alternative. I’m due for an upgrade mid-December and I would deeply enjoy something other than a physical and performance update to hold me over for the next 730 days. Should I remain team iPhone the next two years will undoubtedly be stress-free and to the point, but I draw the line when I feel no enthusiasm to upgrade from an iPhone 4. There are likely numerous reasons behind my general lack of excitement to upgrade, but was it all that long ago that the iPhone was the pinnacle of innovation AND excitement? It’s just not the same.

Yes, all of this is coming from the owner of a nearly four-year old model. If you thought “no wonder he’s given up” you have a valid point. I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of a ‘real’ iPhone experience for a long, long time. Regardless, I wouldn’t have trouble finding someone to agree with my perception of the greatest company our generation has ever known. With each successive release a wave of longtime iPhone fans jump ship or give up hope. Sales don’t appear to be affected in the slightest, but that’s because the population “giving up” and switching to iPhone outnumber the opposite 10:1. No matter our feelings about Apple’s latest release there’s no doubt that it is still the clear winner. Maybe smartphone innovation has hit its peak?

Whatever the case, I won’t at all be surprised if I lack the guts to give Android another shot. The Nexus 6 is the only flagship device I would ever consider and to say it’s enormous is an understatement. To this day my only hesitation to switch back is long-term reliability. I love the direction Android is going and 5.0 Lollipop certainly has my attention. I can’t ignore the fact that while I’ve had plenty, rooted plenty, experimented with countless custom ROMs, and a slew of other things, on day 730 an Android phone will never run exactly like it did unboxed on day 1. I’m willing to bet you know what will.

Featured Image: Bite That Apple Steve Jobs Desktop by [Anthony Sigalas Link to Flickr]

After 30 Days of WordPress, Learn HTML

Who’d have thought the customization aspect of WordPress.com (yes, the FREE one) could be so… addicting.

I can barely make time for school, let alone a decent post, after applying this new theme. And to think I simply implied the extent of customization from the word ‘free.’ I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

On the exterior, WordPress.com looks relatively simple. At a glance, the Dashboard can even appear entirely blog-oriented. But, what I failed to understand until recently, is that every basic element of a website is present (to some degree) and accessible to the novice blogger.

This is news to me.

The elements of a free WordPress blog are themselves very simple. It’s clear that WordPress.com aims to make starting and maintaining your first blog an effortless experience. And effortless it is!

To my knowledge, a blogger can go from concept to their first published post within minutes; truly an awesome service.

What remains unclear to the first time blogger is the ability to combine these elements as they increase in number. Combining Posts, Pages, Links, Menus, and Widgets, with a tad of basic HTML, to create more than just the average blog, requires a better understanding of the role each must play.

Experimentation led me to discover several ways of creatively combining elements to achieve desired effects. Most notably, I found the ability to add additional HTML code, to nearly any text, useful in making subtle, yet distinctive changes in my blogs appearance.

However joyful the discovery, it has only fueled my desire to self-host. WordPress.org is incredibly attractive. The ability to edit fonts and the color palette, two aspects that play such an instrumental role in overall appearance that you must pay for them separately, is undoubtedly the biggest drawback to a free WordPress.com blog.

All of this my opinion, of course.

Summary: Learn the basics of HTML. It’s almost too easy to comprehend and, most importantly, you’ll have no excuse for an ugly blog.

 

Featured Image: 10 buenas practicas para escribir código HTML Photo By [infocux Technologies Link to Flickr]

Reigning Security Exploits of 2014

Come On People

Until recently, I wasn’t aware that I’m one of the few who consistently maintains an updated computer. I thought it was a no-brainer. You’re notified by Windows Update or the App Store and after clicking some variation of ‘Update,’ TA-DA! You’re done!

It really couldn’t get any easier, right? If you take into account the period of time the computer itself is unusable, maybe you’ll find an argument against updating somewhere. But really, who can’t find 20 minutes every 3-4 months to, at the very least, install updates to the core OS and maybe even some major apps?

I can’t say for sure, but probably the majority young people. It’s astonishing how many college students will go a year or more without as much as one update. If this was 2001 that attitude wouldn’t pose a problem. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on the brink of a cybercrime wave the magnitude of which is reasonably unknown.

Protect Yourself

If there’s one single reason you should consistently update your personal computer, it’s the previous statement. At this point, almost everyone is aware of the wave of breaches in credit-card information databases at massive retailers like Target or The Home Depot. What most ignore, especially those that grew up with technology, is the danger posed to individuals in addition to multi-billion dollar companies.

90% of core system updates patch critical security flaws. The number of major security exploits has grown steadily in the past year alone and will probably only increase for as long as we live. Here I’ve listed the two crown jewels of 2014. If you haven’t heard of them there’s a good chance you might benefit from a quick update or two..

 

1. Heartbleed

heartbleed

“The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. SSL/TLS provides communication security and privacy over the Internet for applications such as web, email, instant messaging (IM) and some virtual private networks (VPNs).

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.”

Hopefully you learned about Heartbleed when it made the news earlier this year. It was the first real security exploit that affected nearly everyone who used the internet and caused quite a disturbance in the days before it was patched.

If it’s been more than six months since you’ve installed updates, it’s highly likely that you’ve missed a multitude of patches from manufacturers correcting for the exploit in their respective programs.

Even though you may feel you aren’t of interest to a ‘hacker,’ wouldn’t you rather not find out?

heartbleed.com

2. Shellshock

Shellshock is a more recent exploit rumored that’s to pose a far larger threat than Heartbleed. I neglected looking into the details of the exploit this time around and opted to just look into the status of a patch for my OS. Multiple updates were already being released as early as the very next day. Here’s an excerpt from Symantec:

“The vulnerability affects Bash, a common component known as a shell that appears in many versions of Linux and Unix. Bash acts as a command language interpreter. In other words, it allows the user to type commands into a simple text-based window, which the operating system will then run.

Bash can also be used to run commands passed to it by applications and it is this feature that the vulnerability affects. One type of command that can be sent to Bash allows environment variables to be set. Environment variables are dynamic, named values that affect the way processes are run on a computer. The vulnerability lies in the fact that an attacker can tack-on malicious code to the environment variable, which will run once the variable is received.”

ShellShock: All you need to know about the Bash Bug vulnerability

You can see why this exploit has the potential to wreak far more havoc than Heartbleed. You’re definitely at risk if you own a Mac and haven’t updated in a few months as several patches were released shortly after its discovery.

Your Task

The severity of exploits like those mentioned isn’t going to get better anytime soon. It’s easy to get caught in the mentality that ‘my computer runs great, why would I update it?.’ Even if it does “run great,” I can hardly imagine that you’d enjoy it not doing just that.

Hopefully this struck a chord and sounds like something you wouldn’t enjoy. Take a few minutes every week and install the one or two available updates, sometimes it’s even less. The intimidation that comes with a year’s worth of neglected updates is eliminated. Not to mention the time commitment virtually disappears as well.

An up to date computer is the only part an owner can play in preventing harmful circumstances from befalling himself and his computer. Education and subsequent action to protect yourself will always prove more time and cost efficient in the long run.

PageRank, Google’s Claim to Fame

The secret to Google’s uncanny ability to return the most relevant results to any search query is an algorithm called PageRank. Developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (the founders of Google, duh), PageRank is supposedly a pun base upon the last name of one of its founding fathers. Regardless, the algorithm does what its name implies, ranks pages by relevancy.

PageRank is essentially an evolved form of a few lesser “tricks” that combine to achieve one desired function.

The Hyperlink Trick

Hyperlink Trick

“The basis of the hyperlink trick. Six web pages are shown, each represented by a box. Two of the pages are scrambled egg recipes, and the other four are pages that have hyperlinks to these recipes. The hyperlink trick ranks Bert’s page above Ernie’s, because Bert has three incoming links and Ernie only has one.”

The Authority Trick:

Authority Trick

“The basis for the authority trick. Four web pages are shown: two scrambled egg recipes and two pages that link to the recipes. One of the links is from the author of this book (who is not a famous chef) and one is from the home page of the famous chef Alice Waters. The authority trick ranks Bert’s page above Ernie’s, because Bert’s incoming link has greater “authority” than Ernie’s.”

Well that’s all fine and dandy, but how does my computer know that Bert is any greater an authority than Ernie? They are, after all, both puppets…

The Hyperlink Authority “Trick”:

This particular “Trick” isn’t technically a trick at all, but rather an improved version of both. In order to determine the result of highest authority, each web page is assigned an initial score of 1. If a page has hyperlinks pointing to it, their respective scores are combined to produce an overall authority value for that page.

Authority + Hyperlink

“A simple calculation of ‘authority scores’  for the two scrambled egg recipes. The authority scores are shown in circles.”

The Hyperlink + Authority Problem:

Guess what? Another problem. You see, the previous algorithm appears to work without any need for the computer to know the contents of a web page, but there exists a particular phenomenon called a “cycle”, in which one returns to their starting point after consecutively clicking a series of links.

Cycle

“An example of a cycle of hyperlinks. Pages A, B, and E form a cycle because you can start at A, click through to B, then E, and then return to your starting point at A.”

How do we fix it?

The Random Surfer Trick

In this instance, a “random surfer” visits an entirely random web page anywhere on the internet. He scans the page for hyperlinks and selects one at random. He repeats the process on the resulting page, and so on, and so forth.

Random Surfer

“The random surfer model. Pages visited by the surfer are darkly shaded, and the dashed arrows represent random restarts. The trail starts at page A and follows randomly selected hyperlinks interrupted by two random restarts [dashed lines].”

In the random surfer model their exists one opportunity for failure. There is a small percent chance (ex: 15%) that the user becomes bored of a particular page, and restarts on another completely random webpage. Illustrated below, the computer counts each time a particular website is visited in a group of 16. In both cases, page D accrues the highest number/percent of hits.

PageRank

“Random surfer simulations. Top: Number of visits to each page in a 1000-visit simulation. Bottom: Percentage of visits to each page in a simulation of one million visits.”

BTWPRchecker allows you to check your site’s PageRank.

How do all of these seemingly different algorithms come together to produce Google’s PageRank? 

The values produced by the random surfer trick are exactly what the hyperlink and authority tricks require. Page had the most hits in both cases. Why? Page D had the highest number of incoming links (hyperlink trick) and the highest number of incoming popular links (authority trick), thus the surfer found himself returning to D more than any other page (because there are fewer links leading to them).

Random Surfer

“Surfer authority scores for the scrambled egg example. Bert and Ernie each have exactly one incoming link conferring authority on their pages, but Bert’s page will be ranked higher in a web search query for “scrambled eggs.”

Summary:

“…the random surfer model simultaneously incorporates both the hyperlink trick and authority trick. In other words, the quality and quantity of incoming links at each page are all taken into account. Page B [above] demonstrates this: it receives its relatively high score (10%) due to three incoming links from pages with moderate scores, ranging from 4% to 7%.”

There you have it. The Random Surfer Trick returns the most popular page whether a cycle exists or not.

If you’re still confused, or simply want to read more about Google’sPageRank, check out Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today’s Computers, by John MacCormick. It provides a more in-depth look at this, and eight other extraordinary algorithms behind every piece of technology we use today. The paperback is going for about $8 used on Amazon.

9 Algorithms

Excerpts from: MacCormick, John. “PageRank: The Technology That Launched Google.” Nine Algorithms That Changed The Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today’s Computers. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012. 39+. Print.