All posts in “computing”

New malware masquerades as a ride-sharing app


An update to the venerable Faketoken.q Android malware has made it easier for the program to steal your credit card information from ride-sharing apps. Faketoken attacks Russian ride-sharing apps by overlaying text boxes on the credit card information pages that can capture your credit number and other important information.

Kaspersky writes:

After getting onto a smartphone (judging by the malware icon, Faketoken infiltrates smartphones through bulk SMS messages with a prompt to download some picture) and installing the necessary modules, the Trojan hides its shortcut icon and starts background monitoring of everything that happens in the system.

The trojan masquerades as a photo app on your phone and is specially camouflaged for maximum sneakiness. It then watches all your apps and uses a technique similar to Cloak & Dagger that overlays interface items onto running apps. This functionality is helpful in some cases but, as we see, is dangerous in others.

The trojan also goes after “apps for booking flights and hotel rooms, and apps for paying traffic tickets — as well as apps for booking taxis.”

Run to the rock


The past week has been a tough one for lovers of freedom. Slippery slopes have been slid down and a side of the human mind that once remained in shadow has reared its head. Charlottesville is just the first step down a dark road.

In real life, on the public square, our support of freedom of speech and public assembly – a freedom that has long helped hater and lover alike – is in question. Do we open our squares to men who will fight equality? Do we unlock our school grounds so that fear can reign? Do we simply close our windows on loudspeakers calling out for genocide or do we act? I don’t have an answer, but sunlight has always been the best antiseptic and seeing most of these groups on a bare parade ground lays bare their insignificance.

But what do you about the Internet where everything is shadow hiding inside corporate iron? The Internet is a utility, to a degree, but not one whose sanctity is guaranteed to us by some holy writ. We send bits over corporate networks onto servers housed in corporate basements. We shout into corporate megaphones and write screeds – like this one – into corporate editor windows.

On that skein of wires there is no sunlight. We, the creators of that world, must decide. Do we let hate live alongside love? What is conversation when everyone yells? What is fair when everyone has the loudest voice?

I was once a free-love kind of Internet zealot. I still agree that DRM is wrong, that media wants to be free and that good media will be paid for by someone. I still agree that sex is far less egregious than violence and that visions of both help define the lines of our personalities and ensure we do not wander too far into some puritan desert. I was angry, for example, when Pinterest pulled sexual content but know I know things have changed. Pinterest runs is own servers. It is responsible for the contents. It deserves final say.

And that’s where we are now. If you hate, says Wired in a recent profile of Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, you will be shut down.

“Insta­gram is supposed to be a place for self-expression and joy,” wrote Nicholas Thompson in the profile. “Who wants to express themselves, though, if they’re going to be mocked, harassed, and shamed in the comments below a post? Instagram is a bit like Disneyland—if every now and then the seven dwarfs hollered at Snow White for looking fat.”

Or who wants to star in a Ghostbusters reboot and be called racial slurs? And who wants to live in a world where /r/aww lives next to /r/poli?

We, the curators of the Internet, have to decide. Some of us already have. We see Cloudflare and GoDaddy pulling their services from white power site Daily Stormer. Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince agonized over the decision. He, like most Internet users, expects the web to be free as in freedom.

“Our team has been thorough and have had thoughtful discussions for years about what the right policy was on censoring. Like a lot of people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a network. We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare,” he wrote. “You, like me, may believe that the Daily Stormer’s site is vile. You may believe it should be restricted. You may think the authors of the site should be prosecuted. Reasonable people can and do believe all those things. But having the mechanism of content control be vigilante hackers launching DDoS attacks subverts any rational concept of justice.”

In the end this is where we must go. It’s folks like Rabbi Abe Cooper as well as Valley CEOs who will help us find a way forward. Freedom of speech in the public square is one right we all have. But there is no free speech in the walled garden if the gardener doesn’t will it.

Listen to Nina Simone. She sang an old spiritual and sang it beautifully.

“Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to? Where you gonna run to? All on that day,” she said. “We got to run to the rock. Please hide me, I run to the rock. All on that day. But the rock cried out. I can’t hide you, the rock cried out. I ain’t gonna hide you there.”

Haters are hiding. They run to the rock. The rock is cries out. It won’t hide them. They must stand, then, and face those they wronged. This is the way it has always been and always will be. We can’t let the Internet change that.

Ghost, the open source blogging system, is ready for prime time


Four long years ago John O’Nolan released a content management system for bloggers that was as elegant as it was spooky. Called Ghost, the original app was a promising Kickstarter product with little pizzazz. Now the app is ready to take on your toughest blogs.

O’Nolan just released version 1.0 of the software, a move that updates the tool with the best of modern blogging tools. You can download the self-hosted version here or use O’Nolan’s hosting service to try it out free.

“About four years ago we launched Ghost on Kickstarter as a tiny little prototype of an idea to create the web’s next great open source blogging platform,” said O’Nolan. After “2,600 commits” he released the 1.0 version complete with a new editor and improved features.

The platform uses a traditional Markdown editor and a new block-based editor called Koenig. The new editor lets you edit posts more cleanly within blocks, a feature that uses something called MobileDoc and Ember.js to render complex pages quickly and easily. The team also started a journalism program to support content providers.

While tools like WordPress still rule the day, it’s good to know that there are still strong alternatives out there for the content manager. Although this software has a name that portends dark sorcery and dread magic, I still think it has a “ghost” of a chance.

Rabbi Abe Cooper talks about online hate


In this episode of Technotopia I talked with Rabbi Abe Cooper, Associate Dean, Director Global Social Action Agenda of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Cooper doesn’t use many online services, but he knows how to remain human in a time of great digital upheaval and he shared some of the tactics he uses to help online services keep hate groups off of the Internet.

He turned this podcast into a wide-ranging monologue that touches on the digital sabbath, the inability of a Rabbi to predict the future, and how you should never let a guy like him talk without questions. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed his insight.

You can download the MP3 here or grab it on Stitcher or iTunes.

The Minifree Libreboot T400 is free as in freedom


The Libreboot T400 doesn’t look like much. It’s basically a refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad with the traditional Lenovo/IBM pointer nubbin and a small touchpad. It’s a plain black laptop, as familiar as any luggable assigned to a cubicle warrior on the road. But, under the hood, you have a machine that fights for freedom.

The T400 runs Libreboot, a free and open BIOS and the Trisquel GNU/Linux OS. Both of these tools should render the Libreboot T400 as secure from tampering as can be. “Your Libreboot T400 obeys you, and nobody else!” write its creators, and that seems to be the case.

How does it work? And should you spend about $300 on a refurbished Thinkpad with Linux installed? That depends on what you’re trying to do. The model I tested was on the low end with enough speed and performance to count but Trisquel tended to bog down a bit and the secure browser, “an unbranded Mozilla based browser that never recommends non-free software,” was a little too locked down for its own good. I was able to work around a number of the issues I had but this is definitely not for the faint of heart.

That said, you are getting a nearly fully open computer. The 14.1-inch machine runs a Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor and starts at 4GB of RAM with 160GB hard drive space. That costs about $257 plus shipping and includes a battery and US charger.

Once you have the T400 you’re basically running a completely clean machine. It runs a free (as in freedom) operating system complete with open drivers and applications and Libreboot ensures that you have no locked-down software on the machine. You could easily recreate this package yourself on your own computer but I suspect that you, like me, would eventually run into a problem that couldn’t be solved entirely with free software. Hence the impetus to let Minifree do the work for you.

If you’re a crusader for privacy, security, and open standards, than this laptop is for you. Thankfully it’s surprisingly cheap and quite rugged so you’re not only sticking it to the man but you could possibly buy a few of these and throw them at the man in a pinch.

The era of common Linux on the desktop – and not in the form of a secure, libre device like this – is probably still to come. While it’s trivial (and fun) to install a Linux instance these days I doubt anyone would do it outright on a laptop that they’re using on a daily basis. But for less than a price of a cellphone you can use something like the T400 and feel safe and secure that you’re not supporting (many) corporate interests when it comes to your computing experience. It’s not a perfect laptop by any stretch but it’s just the thing if you’re looking for something that no one but you controls.