Tag Archives: Google Chrome

ALERT! – Specter and Meltdown Security Flaw – ALERT!

Regardless of what computer you own, Apple or Windows, Spectre and Meltdown security flaws affect you. Security researchers recently revealed the details of these two microprocessor security flaws. Chips made by Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and others are in billions of devices making them sitting ducks for hackers.

Devices with these chips include phones, tablets, PCs, and computer servers. Exploiting the vulnerability opens the door for hackers to steal personal data, passwords, cryptographic keys, and other supposedly inaccessible information from device owners. While the average consumer should exercise caution the impact on business could be devastating. 

The Meltdown flaw only runs on Intel chips while the Spectre flaw can affect devices with virtually any modern processor.

Computer microprocessors handle data like a passwords or encryption keys. Normally these are kept from other apps. But both Intel and AMD pride themselves on the speed of their chips. To do this the chips use whats known as “speculative execution” to try to guess answers that may be needed if a chain of calculations came out a certain way. Since the delay in calculations can be predictable researchers found that a rogue app could guess where confidential data was located in a chip’s memory and steal it.

Regardless of your web browser, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, or any version of the Windows family, they all use Javascript code.  Hackers could introduce a data stealing Javascript program and post it on any chosen web site. Your browser app would automatically run the rogue code like it was an ordinary part of the site’s features resulting in your data becoming vulnerable or stolen. As you can see this is an extremely grave threat to business computing.

Although this vulnerability is now known there is no evidence anyone has used it…yet. And that is where the danger lies. The danger of these flaws is so great that tech companies  swung into action quickly to fix the problem. Perhaps too quickly.

According to various news sources the Microsoft patch to fix the flaw has been damaging some devices.  In some instances the computers are suffering performance problems while others have been bricked. A bricked computer is frozen and unusable. The problem has become so bad that Microsoft has halted issuing the patch for both Spectre and Meltdown for AMD equipped computers and devices.

Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich addressed the Meltdown and Spectre issue as the keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “I want to thank the industry for coming together to address the recent security research findings reported as Meltdown and Spectre,”  said Krzanich. He called the response to the issues a “collaboration among so many companies.” Krzanich promised that “for our processors and products introduced in the past five years, Intel expects to issue updates for more than 90 percent within a week, and the remaining by the end of January.”

Browser makers have swung into action to combat the flaw. Users of Google Chrome should turn on a feature calledsite isolation.”  The feature prevents malicious Javascript from accessing sensitive data. Google will soon release an update to Chrome’s Javascript feature that will improve protection against Spectre attacks, however, browser performance may suffer.

Microsoft has already issued a Windows security update for its Internet Explorer and Edge browser apps labeled “KB4056890” to protect against Spectre. According to Microsoft the update will change the browser’s features to protect confidential information in a device’s CPU. But make sure you check if your device has an AMD chip before using this patch.

Firefox maker Mozilla said its newest apps changed several features to make Spectre attacks more difficult. Released on January 4th, Firefox version 57.0.4 includes the new protections. Mozilla said in a blog post that it is studying additional ways to strengthen security against the attacks. “In the longer term, we have started experimenting with techniques to remove the information leak closer to the source, instead of just hiding the leak by disabling timers. This project requires time to understand, implement and test.”

Apple is planning to release an update to Safari in “coming days” to protect against Spectre. Early tests of the Apple updates showed a minimal impact on browser performance. For additional information on Apple products click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Online Holiday Shopping 2016 – Best Gift Card Sites

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Photo courtesy of Nirots

There is a magical gift that, no matter what, is always exactly what the person wanted or needed. It is adaptable to any situation or occasion. This gift can be from the recipient’s favorite store or any store anywhere. And this gift can purchased for less than face value.  What is this super gift? The gift card of course!

One of the best gift cards to give is the reliable VISA ,MasterCard  or AmericanExpress Gift card. These three are perfect for gift giving because they can be used anywhere the credit cards are accepted and some are even re-loadable. How can you possibly go wrong when the gift card can buy anything from auto parts to nice dinners to clothing and jewelry. Using these cards as holiday gifts is a no brainer.

But should you have someone with particular tastes or if you know there is some place they get a special kick out of shopping then you can buy specific store gift cards. Almost every store provides gift cards and the top gift cards of 2016 can be found by clicking here.

And since this is the giving season lets look at the top gift cards sites. As I always say, “Black people don’t play when to comes to money!” So for African-Americans looking for the best deal on holiday gift cards there are a few sites you need to check out. These sites sell gift cards for below face value and these deals can save you some big money.

gift-card-granny-logoLets start with GiftCard Granny. The most amazing thing about GiftCard Granny is that you can actually download the Chrome extension and the apps for Apple and Android devices. GiftCard Granny offers over 150,000 gift cards from just about every store you can imagine and the discounts are nice. As much 20 percent off in some cases.  You can also sell your unused gift cards through the site. 

 

 

ebatesNext up is Ebates. This is another superstore of gift cards and they advertise discounts of up to 30 percent. And yes there  are thousands of stores and millions of cards to choose from. The deals are there but… You have to surrender your email address to even shop there. The site won’t even let you browse without surrendering some data. A definite turn off during the holiday season and good reason to move on to other gift card sites. 

 

raiseRaise.com is yet another excellent discount gift card website. This site lets the buyer shop using several parameters that include price, card type (physical or electronic),  and about twenty different categories of gift cards.  And if you are in Chicago you can check out the specials there as well. I am sure more cities will be offered soon. But trust me they have all of the major retailers  and hundreds of other specialty store and restaurants from Taco Bell to specialty steak houses. Right now it is also offering a new  sale section for additional discounts.

 

cardcashCardCash.com allows the user to buy and sell gift cards with awesome discounts.  And CardCash offers a 45 Day Buyer Protection Guarantee against those ever present holiday scam artists.  This site also allows you to search by physical or electronic cards and numerous different categories. You can find discount cards for hotel stays, restaurants, even frozen dinners. Here you can find gift cards discounted as much as 30 percent.

 

whizwalletWhizWallet.com offers discount cards from numerous different sites. According to their website they aren’t following the model that other sites use. Sites mentioned already buy and re-sell the gift cards. But WhizWallet compiles the inventory of the best discounted gift card sellers.  Using WhizWallet can help the customer find the right credit card, buy retail cards and discount cards. As always the selection is pretty expansive and you are bound to find the store you are looking for.

 

giftcardsGiftcards.com is another excellent gift card site that offers several different cards from various stores and providers. This site allows the user to even customize the gift card for special occasions. Y0u can get eGift cards delivered to your smartphone and again, every store is represented.

Holiday season is extremely busy and stressful for everyone. Trying to find the right gift for someone special can be a real headache.  But a gift card can definitely help. You literally have millions choices from stores to locations to type of gift. There are gift cards that allow you to give some special person a cruise or a vacation if you have that kind of money. May we suggest a Neiman Marcus Gift Card?

 But you may still need a little help. So WalletHub has released 2016’s Best Gift Card List  to help you choose. You can also check out their 10 Tips for Getting the Best Gift Card.

Finally, some people say that gift card are lazy gifts and seem impersonal. But research indicates 42 percent of Americans appreciate gift cards and cash over being mis-gifted. 

Online Holiday Shopping 2015 – Stop Credit Card Fraud

Black people shopping online this holiday season should be aware that fraud is rampant. Hackers are extremely savvy and know where and how to steal credit card data. So you need to be just as savvy. African-Americans should understand where and how they are vulnerable when shopping, in stores or online. Don’t let a techno-Scrooge ruin your holiday.

According to NASDAQ, nearly 32 million Americans had their credit cards breached in 2014. Forty-five percent of those breaches happened online.  Now is the time to learn online safety to protect your credit, your cash, your identity and your holiday season.

First and foremost, by now you should have the new Chip & PIN or EMV cards. If not then you need to get a hold of your bank or credit card company and demand it. This new card is not perfect but it is far more secure than the regular magnetic strip cards. Of course it takes longer to process a transaction but isn’t it worth it to keep you money safe?

Here are a few tips to help you stay safe while shopping online.

  • Shop only at trusted websites and stores. Stick with the familiar retailers and more common internet sites.  Keep some cash on hand when you shop at unique stores or gift shops to avoid exposing yourself to fraud. Beware of misspellings or domain names using “.net” instead of “.com”. This a common trick used by cyber criminals to fool unsuspecting consumers. Check out “Is ThatWebsite Trustworthy?”

Google / TLS

  • Make sure you see “https” in the URL. Also look for the little green lock. You should be well aware of these things if you shop online anytime not just the holidays. And even if you are not shopping whenever you perform sensitive business online know what a secure website looks like.
  • Do your homework! Research the company or website before making a purchase in person or online. Check websites like Yelp.com or  Scamadviser.com to see what other consumers are saying. Look for a website’s customer rating. Check posts previous customers have written on the company’s website, blog, or customer feedback page.
  • Protect your privacy. Be suspicious of any store or website that asks for too much information. Information such as your PIN, birthday or Social Security number are strictly off limits. Only give up the minimum amount of personal information possible. Don’t store information on the website server. Some websites will ask you to register and keep your credit card number on file in a cookie. Decline this option of you can and purchase as a guest to the website. You may have to enter your information each time you buy but you are safer.  If you do create an account on a shopping website, or any website for that matter, make sure you have a strong and secure password. This makes it harder to be hacked or high-jacked by cyber crooks. Learn how to create a secure password.
  • Use filters that warn you of suspicious or fraudulent websites or web pages. Google Chrome is excellent for stopping you from visiting suspicious websites. Many anit-virus programs can do the same thing. Make sure your anti-virus/anti-malware is up to date.
  • Use a credit card versus a debit card when shopping online.  Why? Because credit cards offer protections from identity theft that debit cards don’t offer. Also credit cards offers you the option of contesting  fraudulent charges to your account where a debit card takes the money directly from you bank account. Its much harder to get back if something goes wrong.
  • Keep good records. Print a copy of your order confirmation, save email receipts, and write down any pertinent information in case it’s needed to contest a charge.
  • Never, ever shop using public computers! These computer are notorious for viruses and malware. They could be hiding all sorts of software to steal passwords and personal information. You have no idea who was there before you or what they were doing.
  •  Beware public Wi-Fi! This is a favorite hunting ground for cyber thieves. They can steal information by simply by being on the same network and watching what you do. But some cyber criminals are even providing free Wi-Fi in hotels and coffee shops as a trap for guests. Once you are on THEIR network you’re at their mercy. Be alert and know what network you are on and use a VPN to protect your Internet traffic from prying eyes.
  • As always check you bank account and credit card statements daily.  If you see any charges you don’t recognize, address the matter immediately. Don’t pay credit card bills until you know all your charges are accurate. You have 30 days to notify the bank or card issuer of problems. After that, you might be liable for the charges.

Happy Holidays!

Back to School Tips for Black Students

canstockphoto26484013Fall is creeping up on students all over the nation. Fall means returning to the campus or classroom. In 2015, the number of black students entering college or returning for another year is rising again.  Black college enrollment is gradually catching up with whites. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)  70.9 percent of black graduating seniors enrolled in college in October 2014 compared to 67.3 percent of whites students.  2014 marked the first time ever that African-Americans enrolled in college at a higher rate than whites.

But there is still a problem. Young black men are not enrolling in college at the same rate as black women. According to Clutchmagonline.com black women are enrolling in college more than any other group. But don’t get it twisted; black men are attending college. Another myth we need address while we’re at it. It is not true that there are more black men in prison than in college. 

But college requires many things in addition to the desire to learn and better one’s self. It requires money. A college education is shamefully expensive. But what is truly heart breaking is the millions of dollars in scholarships and grants for minority students that are unclaimed every year. There is money available for black students. The AACR published this report revealing the scholarships available to minority students.

But college has other hidden expenses  that students and parents need to realize. These include:

  • On campus parking
  • Course materials, text books, lab equipment, technology and assorted supplies.
  • Taking longer to graduate, additional semesters and summer school.
  • Student social activities.
  • Clubs, fraternities and sorrorities fees.
  • Travel expenses for family visits.
  • Sports activities.
  • Dorm expenses, laundry, bedding, toiletries, etc.
  • Dining hall and meal plans, food.

All these expenses add up year after year and they are not normally covered by tuition. Some college tuition include meal plans but not all. Some will cover lab equipment and supplies. But you need to be aware of these costs and calculate them into your overall education budget. You can find ways to beat these costs here.

But before you even get a chance to pay for all those things and tuition you have to get into college. Many under-priviledged students find the cost of testing and admissins fees to be a major roadblack to geting into school. These fees can add up to hundreds of dollars before a student even gets admitted to college. Thankfully there are ways to beat those fees as well. Some states offer the ACT  or the SAT free of charge. Some states and universities don’t require either  for admittance into school. Some students may qualify for fee waivers allowing them to take those tests and possibly qualify for college application fee waivers as well. To check your qualifications for college application fee waivers the National Association of College Admission Counseling offers this formHere are more details on the ACT waiver requirements and the SAT has some info here.

You still have to buy the books. College text books are notoriously expensive. Betwen 2002 and 2013 the price of a text book rose 82 percent. Why?

You can bring down the price of text books.Occupy the Book Storeis a Chrome browser extension that allows you to shop for the same books you find at your college book store at online stores where you may find them cheaper. Other websites that help fight the high cost of textbooks include;

These are just a few websites but you can find many more by doing a simple web search.

Another concern that could be costly is the loss of personal information at school. You have no doubt heard of a data breach. Colleges and universities are not immune to this. As a student you need to protect your personal information at all times because you are a prime target for hackers. Schools can hold enormous amounts of data about students including their social security numbers, financial information of them and their parents, background information, medical data, and God knows what else.  Parents and students need to understand why student data is such a prized target of data gatherers.

So how does the student protect their pers0nal information at school? Here are a few tips.

  • Protect your technology. Never leave your laptop or phone unlocked and unattended. College campuses are often wide open and thieves know it. Whether you’re in the dorm or the library its easy for a thief to grab it and be gone. Don’t advertise the fact you are carrying a laptop. Laptop sleeves or carriers are clues and a target for thieves.
  • Install a tracking app that will help you track down your device in case its lost or stolen. Encrypt your files. This way even if someone gets access to your computer they won’t get your information.
  • Students are prime targets of malware and phishing attacks on their mobile devices. Students can protect themselves by making sure they are using different passwords on different accounts. One password fits all means a hacker gets it all if he can break or hack your password. And use a strong password or consider two factor authentication. If you have trouble keeping all those passwords in your head then use a password manager.
  • Don’t share your password with your dorm or classmates.
  • Be extremely careful with links and attachments in your email and text messages. Make sure to use a good anti-virus/anti-malware. You can find the best free anti-virus here.
  • Install apps only from reputable app stores. Make sure to scan files with an anti-malware product before installing. Remember, campuses are rich environments for computer viruses.
  • Many campuses offer free Wi-Fi. But who else is on that Wi-Fi? Hackers can monitor and collect information from free Wi-Fi and they do.  So be extra careful when using the school or any free public Wi-Fi. Make use of VPN software so that your web use is encrypted and keep hackers from electronically eavesdropping on you.
  • When using a campus or library computer;
    • Don’t log into accounts, especially banks or accounts that store financial information.
    • Don’t shop online because someone might get not only your login credentials but your credit card number.
    • If you do have to use a public computer make sure to change your user name and password for whatever sites you log into once you get back to your own computer.
    • Browse in Privacy Mode if you can’t erase your browser history and all cookies.

Students can be careless. They may feel that their information is not as vaulable as that of more established adults. Students don’t see the value of their information and this leaves them vulnerable because they don’t take information security seriously. But in reality it doesn’t matter how young you are, data and identity are valuable to cybercriminals. Remember AACR Internet Rule #5 “The currency  and commodity of the digital age is called information.”

For a young man or woman just starting out in life correcting the problems caused by loss of identity is a painful uneccessary experience. Protect your data!

It’s back to school time and students face many challenges to getting an education. Parents and students working together can make it to graduation day. Good Luck!

Now you know.

 

 

See and Block Who’s Tracking You Online

canstockphoto19683471Privacy on the Internet is a rare commodity. Currently 85 percent or more of black people are online. Most black people own a smartphone or other mobile device. And most black people have no idea how easy it is to track exactly who you are, where you are, who you call, text or email and pretty much everything else you do online. You are being watched like a prisoner.

Trying to stop this constant tracking is a tough task and the law is no help. Congress and industry have little or no incentive to stop this incessant invasion of privacy. Part of the problem is that consumers have yet to get really angry about this activity.

There are people fighting for your privacy online but its an uphill battle to say the least. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Disconnect, Internet privacy right groups and a group of web companies have lauched a new “Do Not Track” (DNT) standard meant to encourage website owners and advertisers to respect your online privacy. Unfortunately this is a voluntary standard and companies are free to agree, or not to agree, to adhere to the new standard.

Big players like Yahoo! and Microsoft have not come out in favor of the new standard. Microsoft announced in April that it was no longer enabling ‘Do Not Track’ as the default state in Windows Express settings.

A year ago Yahoo! said that ‘Do Not Track’ settings would no longer be enabled on its site saying; “we have yet to see a single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry.” But Yahoo! has agreed to honor the ‘Do Not Track’ setting on the Firefox browser as part of a search deal. So both companies are openly admitting they are tracking you.

Companies that have agreed to honor the new ‘DNT’ standard include publishing site Medium, analytics service Mixpanel, ad and tracker-blocking extension AdBlock, and privacy search engine DuckDuckGo.

Millions of black people are using social media. And the God of social media is Facebook. But did you know that Facebook is probably the biggest data collector in the history of civilization? Because people are giving it to them.

But who is using Facebook to track your Internet activity? How do you block them?

First of all keep in mind that advertisers may not not know your name and other personal information about you. But that is just a maybe. We don’t know what they know and they ain’t telling. Legally, they don’t have to.

But here are the steps to see and block advertisers that are tracking your Facebook profile from Businessinsider.com.

First go to the settings button on your Facebook page.

Facebook settingsFacebook

Scroll down and click “Settings.”

Facebook settingsFacebook

Inside the settings menu, click on Apps.

Facebook settingsFacebook

This looks like a list of apps that are signed into your account. But pay close attention to the “show all” option at the bottom of the list …

Facebook settingsFacebook

Voila! The list of apps tracking me is so long I have to make this super zoomed-out view to see them all:

Facebook settings

Facebook

On each app, there is an Edit function and a delete “x” mark. Let’s look at what QuizUp, the hot new trivia mobile game app, knows about me.

Facebook settingsSettings

QuizUp knows my email, birthday, and current location. Because it’s a mobile app on my phone, it also knows my phone number. But that’s not all …

Facebook settingsFacebook

Click this little “?” symbol on “basic info” and it turns out that QuizUp is getting a bunch more info about me, too, including a list of all my friends and my profile picture!

Facebook settings

(Source: Businessinsider.com)

You can control this information by clicking on the “x” symbol to delete the app’s access to your Facebook account. That might mean the app won’t work, however.

Review each app to either edit its permissions or delete its access to you on Facebook entirely. It’s a bit time-consuming — but otherwise you’re just giving these people free data.

Another thing black people need to be aware of is that companies are using your email to spy on you. Much of the email you recieve from an advertiser or even a company you do business with is loaded with spying technology.

To see who is tracking your email, or in this case Gmail, you can use a browser extension tool named UglyEmail to see what companies are tracking your Gmail email.

UglyEmail shows you if your email is being tracked. And email being tracked in Gmail will have a tiny eye attached to it. Your inbox will look something like this.

UglyEmail

One of the ways that your email is tracked is a technology known as pixel tracking. Pixel tracking is when a tiny image, about 1 pixel in size, is inserted in an email. The image is invisible to the email recipient but it has a code that tells the server to call the sender when the email is opened.

To block that you can use a browser extension known as PixelBlock. PixelBlock will block that pixel code from transmitting back to the sender. Email with a pixel tracking code have a red eye on them. PixelBlock will also tell you who sent the pixel and how many times they have attempted to track you.

We did mention that Facebook is the greatest collector of data in history didn’t we? Well did you know that Facebook follows you around the Internet even when you are not on the website? How do they do this?

Facebook employs over 200 different trackers that follow your online activity. These trackers come in the shape of cookies, Javascript, 1-pixel beacons, and Iframes. Tracking technologies are used to see what websites you visit, how often you visit them and other interactions with websites.

Not all cookies are used for tracking.  Many Facebook ‘Like’ buttons are used to collect and store information to be used later. Your browser communicates with a server to construct the website you wish to view. This called a request.

But keep in mind that the website you are viewing isn’t the only server your browser is talking to. Trackers from other data collectors, Facebook included, are on the site as well. You have no idea they are tracking you without privacy software. You don’t know they are there and you probably don’t wish to share your personal information with them.

To protect yorself and your information you need to use the do not track function on your browser. It may help but probably won’t competely stop the tracking. You can find a list of the five most secure browsers here.

Choose your privacy setting in the following browsers

Google Chrome

Microsoft Internet Explorer

Apple Safari

We used Facebook as an example of companies that track you online because they are the biggest offender. But undertand this, almost every website has some method of monitoring who visits it. The sometimes sell the information or just hold onto it to better serve you. Just remember AACR Internet rule #8 “There is no privacy on the Internet.”

Now you know.

 

 

 

 

Home Internet Security; Have You Been Hacked?

ID-100310547Far too many African-Americans ignore their Internet security. When we do this we are gambling with our lives. Our financial life, our professional life, our identity, our children’s identity or the identity of our husbands or wives, are all endangered if we ignore basic cyber security.  Let’s look at it this way; do you drive without a seat belt? Then why would you use the Internet without being safety and security conscious?

One of the first things you should be aware of when using the Internet is if you are browsing safely and if your browser is secure. Regardless of the browser you use, be it Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, FireFox or Opera, you have to ask, is it secure.

The reality is that it’s hard to know which browser is the safest or most secure. Why? Because there is no set standard for browser security. That makes you responsible for setting up your browser and home network to be as secure as possible. But there is a little good news. Experts at Skybox Security have looked at all the browsers mentioned above and evaluated them based on exposed vulnerabilities, most published and patched vulnerabilities, and the shortest time between security patches.

Surprise! The winner is the browser you are probably not using; Opera.  Opera is pretty much an unknown browser.  It’s market share is around one percent so there’s probably not a lot of interest in finding Opera’s vulnerabilities.  Keep in mind hackers are looking for the greatest numbers to have the greatest impact when they attack. But Opera did have the least number of vulnerabilities.

Even if Opera has the fewest vulnerabilities we have to look at how often the other browsers find and fix their own vulnerabilities. In this category Chrome wins. Chrome finds flaws and issues updates every fifteen days compared to Opera’s every 48 days. Internet Explorer and Firefox update about once a month. But again there more to it than that. Keep in mind that all these browsers are vulnerable to what is known as Zero Day Exploits. That is a flaw that the hackers finds and attack with no warning to the browser makers. It happens all the time. As for Firefox; just last year Extremetech.com named it the least secure browser.

So finally let me answer your question. Which is the safest and most secure browser? My answer would have to be Chrome. AACR does not make product endorsement. But, when looking at the overall measures we have decided that having defenses that update regularly and frequently is the best way to go. We hope that answers your question. Read more about the Best Browsers of 2015 here.

Lets take the next step in your home Internet security. Is your home router secure? Or has it been hijacked? My guess is you really don’t know. I have always said, make damn sure you have solid password protections on all your devices including your home router. Ask yourself  “Is my password stupid?” If your home router is compromised then your life is compromised. Every Internet device in your house uses the router. Think about this, your cellphones connect to your router, all your computers, laptops, tablets, game consoles, television, telephone, printers, home security system, your thermostat and any other smart appliances you have in your home all go through your router. Think long and hard about that.

So how do you now if your router is hijacked? A company named F-Secure just launched their Router Checker tool. It’s a quick, simple and free way to determine whether or not your DNS is working the way it should. OK; so you’re asking what the heck is DNS. DNS stands for Domain Name Servers. This is the the Internet address book.  If your DNS is corrupted or poisoned then you could end up on some pretty dangerous websites and not even know it.

The best thing about the Router Checker Tool is that there’s no app to download and install. It’s a website that you visit with any modern, standards-compliant browser. Any of the browsers we have talked about, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera, will work. I would suggest you check your browser immediately and then bookmark the site and do the test regularly. You can also use the tool when you’re connecting to less trustworthy access points like the airport, a coffee shop, library, or anyplace offering free WiFi. Before you do anything in these places you should fire up F-Secure’s tool and find out what it thinks about your connection.

Now let me ask you another question. Have you been pwned? First a quick definition of the word is clearly needed. Pwned comes from video-game culture. It refers to someone who’s been beaten. Pwned accounts are email addresses and user accounts that have been compromised. A hacker may have illegally obtained the data from a vulnerable system. Perhaps a breached home router? Pay attention people!

Now if your pwned account is made public it becomes a pasted account. That means it has been pasted to public sites that share information while remaining anonymous. Such a site is Pastebin.com

Now there is a site you can use to discover if you have pwned or pasted. Have I Been Pwned?  is a website built by Troy Hunt author of web security courses for PluralsightIt’s simple and free to use. You just enter your email address or account name in a text search box and the site lets you know if it’s been pwned or pasted. Do it!

Paying attention to your digital life is as important as paying attention when you drive. The slightest lapse in focus could get you killed. You know that. It’s the very same with using the Internet. I suggest to black people that you pay attention to what can happen if you lose focus. The Internet may not kill you but if something goes wrong online you may want to kill yourself.

 

 

 

 

Online Price Discrimination

ID-100188375African-American people are extremely sensitive to discrimination. No matter what form it takes it is ugly and wrong. Unfortunately discrimination has found a home on the Internet. Its called price discrimination.

We have all had it happen to us. You search for a product or service and find it at one price but then later, sometimes only minutes, the price will change. We have all heard that you should search for flights on certain days and at certain hours to get the best deal. But Internet pricing is discriminatory, even predatory, according to factors that will surprise you.

Research from Northeastern University analyzed how online stores customize prices according to a shoppers digital habits and demographics such as their ZIP code.  The study revealed  major e-commerce sites including Home Depot, Wal-mart, and Hotels.com list online prices that are all over the map. Not only that but in some situations prices are customized based on the behavior of a particular shopper. This behavior includes whether you are shopping on a  smartphone or desktop. The report was presented this at the Internet Measurement Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

“Going into this, we assumed the project would be risky—that we might not find anything,” says Christo Wilson, an assistant professor of computer science at Northeastern and one of the study’s authors. “There have been incidents in the past where companies have been caught doing this, and the PR was very bad. We thought that sites wouldn’t be doing anything. We were more surprised that we found something.”

Some companies whose sites were studied complained that the study methodology was flawed. Northeastern researchers did admit to one mistake but believe that the study provides insight into how your shopping experience can change depending on personal factors.

The actual searching and shopping was performed by 300 people recruited through the crowd sourcing site Mechanical Turk. Researchers had them shop online and perform product searches on 16 top e-commerce sites. The study tested these sites for personalization based on the browser a web shopper might use such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari.  Also tested were operating systems; Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, and whether or not a user was logged into the site as a regular customer with an online account.

What the research is looking at is the ability of e-commerce sites to tailor what you pay based on what they know about you. That’s discriminatory. For example does you zip code indicate an certain income level?  Does that mean you can or will pay more? That’s predatory.  Are you paying more for a plane ticket based on your profile on a travel website. That’s predatory. Or what you post on Facebook? That’s discriminatory.

How true is this? We already know that online advertising is targeted at you based on your web searches and other online activity. We also know that Facebook will follow your activity and travels on the Internet even after you log off the website. Merchants use cookies to monitor your activity on websites as well. Another fact to consider is that African-Americans and people of color are more likely to use mobile technology for banking and shopping than white Americans. Your digital profile is out there. Could prices be set based on that? It seems so.

What the test revealed was that if you shop using your smartphone some online stores actually pay attention to what kind of smartphone you use. Home Depot and Travelocity.com websites were the target of the research but they both deny this activity. Researchers admitted to a flaw in the study methodology pointed out by Travelocity.

However, Travelocity admitted to offering a handful of mobile-only offerings on smartphones and tablets that don’t appear on searches performed on desktop computers. Why? Its a tactic used to encourage the download of the the mobile app. A Travelocity spokesperson told Wired.com that results aren’t cheaper by design but sometimes are since Travelocity smartphone users might be looking for a place to stay at the last minute. Results that appear on mobile devices appear to bring down the average price the spokesperson explains. But Travelocity claims the pricing for the same specific properties remain constant across platforms.

Wilson and his team of researchers were able to highlight other forms of price discrimination on some websites but were unable to determine the root cause of the price variations. Among those most notable are Sears and rental car websites. “We tried different browsers and different platforms. We tried logging in and logging out,” Wilson says. “But it looks like there’s something else in there that we haven’t figured out yet.”

Northeastern researchers don’t believe that cookies are all bad. According to Wilson on sites like Cheaptickets.com or Orbitz.com, users who are logged in will often be shown “members only” pricing that, on average,  saves the member $12 on hotels. But if buyers cleared their cookies before conducting the search, they wouldn’t be logged in and wouldn’t see that discount.

Wilson and the Northeastern team avoided Amazon.com and eBay.com. These online marketplaces, explains Wilson, allow sellers to list their own products and used items making things too complicated.

Considering the discriminatory pricing found by this research how does the consumer get the best offer for your money? Wilson points out that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. “Every site we looked at was doing something different—changing different things based on different information,” he says.

There are some guidelines for searching and shopping online;

  • Perform searches on all platforms you have access to. That means your regular browser, an incognito or anonymous browser, and your smartphone or tablet.
  • Plan ahead and take your time to observe price fluctuations.
  • Be extra thorough asking a friend or relative in a different zip code to do the same thing and see what results turn up.
  • Incorporate every money saving tool you can. That includes coupons, credit card discounts, adjusting time and date of travel. Use frequent flyer miles and credits. Ask about credit union or employer discounts.

This way of shopping may be tedious and much different from your mall stores with clearly marked prices, coupons and discounts but it’s an unavoidable part of our digital lives. If you shop online in any form you might as well get used to it. “All online retailers are watching each other, and it’s a race to the bottom,” says Wilson. “The only thing that changes between online stores and brick-and-mortar stores is the pace at which that happens. It’s faster online.”

Now you know.

 

 

 

 

Microsoft Internet Explorer Most Vulnerable Browser

Microsoft‘s Internet Explorer is leaving users vulnerable to hackers and other cyber criminals. A recent study conducted by Bromium Labs revealed that Internet Explorer was highly vulnerable when targeted by hackers.  Adobe Flash was indicated as a major weakness for Internet Explorer and another prime target for hackers.

Bromium Labs’ report also stated that“The notable aspect for this year thus far in 2014 is that Internet Explorer was the most patched and also one of the most exploited products, surpassing Oracle Java, Adobe Flash and others in the fray. Bromium Labs believes that the browser will likely continue to be the sweet spot for attackers.” 

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the target of hacker and cyber criminals far more frequently than other popular browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome. Microsoft acknowledged this fact and has released fixes for as many as 24 vulnerabilities within Internet Explorer.

Bromium Labs reported that hackers are targeting Internet Explorer by deploying a new ‘Zero Day’ attack trend known as  “Action Script Spray.” This technique is used to attack Adobe’s Flash application which in turn makes Internet Explorer vulnerable to hacking.

Reportedly Microsoft is well aware of the long list of Internet Explorer flaws.

“We’re aware of the reported issues, one of which has been addressed in newer versions of Internet Explorer,” said a Microsoft spokesperson to The Guardian.

“Each version of Internet Explorer is more secure than the last and contains new and improved security features that help protect customers,” the spokesperson added.

Microsoft Windows is the dominant operating system on computers worldwide. The result is that most people use Internet Explorer almost by default.

Breaking It Down

Most black people use Windows products because it comes pre-loaded on their computer. Apple is popular but lets face it; you’re probably reading this using Microsoft Internet Explorer. You’re also probably using Windows Office at work and home. All these products have security flaws that are very inviting to hackers. So make sure you keep your stuff updated.

Microsoft has struggled to secure its product offerings and Internet Explorer is just another failure that they refuse to acknowledge. Using a browser to get online is a necessity. You can’t use the Internet without it. So the intelligent choice is to switch. Google and Firefox are excellent products and they are somewhat more secure. I say somewhat because none are hack proof. But the fact still remains that Microsoft is too big and too smart to be constantly issuing fixes and patches for its product. The problem is that they are not focused on security. With its power and market share Microsoft can create seismic shifts in Internet security beginning with its browser. Its almost their responsibility to do so. But alas I feel that the mighty Microsoft has struck out again. They should take a lesson from GM, they used to the the biggest car maker. Then look what happened.