Tag Archives: cyberculture

Internet security: Are your passwords good enough? | Opinion | Cyberculture

HeartbleedEvery other day you’re told to change your password, and now the internet comes along and says that almost every major website has been compromised by a crippling security flaw – you just can’t win.

Of course, there’s an element of overreaction and drama to things like this. Websites are hacked what seems like all the time, but the Heartbleed bug has hit more than most. Mashable puts across what you should do more eloquently than I can (short version, there’s a few you’ve heard of, but in the UK it’s only a couple), but the bottom line is it’s always good to have a think about your password security.

Think secure

A password is a simple concept. Think of a word which means something to you but no one else would guess. Of course in the good old days you could (almost) get away with ‘Password’ or ‘Password1’, but these days you need to be a little more savvy, and, frankly, unpredictable.

How many of you are using passwords right now which are based around your pets name? Your child’s name? Your birthday? Or even you’re mother’s maiden name? Now think about how easily someone could get hold of this info…plus, if you have a public Facebook account then you’re basically doing their work for them.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, because people choose ‘memorable’ words and phrases as secure answers, but in fact it might be more sensible to choose something completely random and unrelated to you instead.

Passwords

How strong is a ‘strong’ password?

You can go too far the other way, meaning your password is impossible to remember and therefore you end up resetting it every time you try to log on. If you think you have the memory for it, you could try a strong password generator, which then you remember with a handy mnemonic.

For example, a strong password might be: Iow2ts2b18!bop, which as a sentence could be: I once went 2 the shops 2 buy 18! bags of peas. This is a random example (please don’t use this password!) but you get the idea. A really strong password would have more punctuation and more capital letters in it of course, if in doubt, add a few numbers in the middle of the word for good measure.

Another alternative is take a word you know well and reverse it to turn that into a mnemonic, of course that is less secure than a completely random word or name, but it might be easier to remember.

The key really is to be sensible, there’s no point in coming up with an incredibly elaborate password if you can’t remember it. I remember I changed some passwords recently and quickly lost track of which was for which site.

Two-step verification from Google AuthenticatorTwo-step verification

In terms of the Heartbleed sites, many of them offer two-step verification. What this does is asks you to log in with a password and a security code which is created by an app on your smartphone or tablet.

You can have the website remember a specific device so you don’t need to use the log-in process from you’re phone every five minutes, but the benefit is if someone does hack your account information then tries to log on as you somewhere else then they won’t be able to (in theory at least, there are some determined people out there).

It’s a fairly simple process, in that the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple (for example) have their own two-step process in place, go to your security settings on your account for those sites to find out more. If you ever wondered what ‘Google Authenticator’ is, then that’s what it’s for (see the video below for a quick guide), personally I would recommend it.

As a disclaimer, I would not claim to be a password or security expert, and if you have genuine concerns that your account on any site has been compromised, contact that site immediately. In all likelihood though, you are very unlikely to be targeted specifically, it’s more likely that your data gets scooped up by a targeted attack on a high profile site, and keeping your passwords fresh eliminates the security risk from that.

It might not be very exciting, but would you really want someone logging on to your email and sending malware to you entire address book? It isn’t likely, but it’s the sort of thing which could happen if you don’t do something about it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to change my password and promptly forget it.

James Michael Parry

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An internet monopoly?: Google’s products scrutinised | Feature | Cyberculture

Google logoGoogle’s recent I/O conference revealed a number of new strategies, consolidations and initiatives, but is the search giant’s vision exceeding its capability?

A wide range of services

Google Apps
There are some big names and brands in their own right under Google’s umbrella, including YouTube.

The number of plates Google have spinning is bafflingly vast, offering over 30 products through their main site and numerous first-party apps through their own android operating system for smartphones and tablets.

‘Search’, where it all began, is currently the top ranked site for traffic in the world (according to rankings.com), followed by YouTube, which Google bought back in 2006 for $1.65billion, and is a topic of popular news almost daily.

The rise and rise of Google

The company’s philosophy states its mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Reading that out of context you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the motto of Wikipedia (which, coincidentally, is more related to the fact that the site is to provide information and not argue value judgements), but Google’s approach is far more widespread thanks to its targeted approach to every other internet-driven product on the market.

Though Google has created many of its biggest success stories, such as ‘Maps’ and ‘Gmail’, other products were acquired through the 2000s, such as Picasa and YouTube. Arguably only YouTube truly holds its own against the might of its parent company to have its own identity, partly because of how the business is run (as a subsidiary company), but most interactions surfers have with Google are with ‘Google’ prefixed products.

New-look Maps

Google Maps Beta
The new interface makes it quicker to find your house than ever before.

A redesign of the ‘Maps’ product was the most impressive innovation to be announced this year, using a vector-based interface to shrink loading times and improve accuracy.

Playing around on the beta version, the new interface is slick and effective, offering more transport options than before. Loading is undeniably snappier and the simplicity of the presentation helps things not look cluttered even in built up areas.

There are bugs to be ironed out, but it seems like a solid step forward which offers consumers what they had before quicker and more into the package as well.

One for all and all for plus

The company insists that ‘it’s best to do one thing really well’ and despite the diversification that is still true – search is clearly the strongest part of any one of their products, whether it’s tracking down a two-year-old email or picking out a restaurant you half remember from 2008.

Convergence is happening in all forms of media and the real drive for Google this year seems to be to unite their products, most likely under the banner of Google +.

The social media sharing platform has been steadily growing momentum through the past few years, and a recent tune up to the Hangouts feature has made the technology far more accessible (though not necessarily more popular).

The consistency and familiarity is something which will solve a lot of the companies brand loyalty in the long run, but the short and harsh truth is that change is hard for most people.

With nothing to compel them to switch, most users will continue with the messaging app they are familiar with, whether that is Facebook Messenger, iMessage or a third-party compiler like What’s App.

The writing’s on the cloud

Can the futuristic technology really deliver?
Can the futuristic technology really deliver?

The long-term gain may prove to be enough, but there needs to be imagination-capturing innovations such as the company’s fancy, though slightly unbelievable, ‘Glass’ product to keep people coming back to them for more than just ‘googling’ something.

In a way the company is a victim of its own success, being so synonymous with internet searching makes it difficult to really make its mark in other areas. This is despite the infrastructure of many other aspects of the business, such as Google Docs or Blogger, being more than up to their respective tasks.

Plus (pun not intended), there is scope within the ‘Labs’ area of development, but overall the company would do well to not spread their net too thinly and find holes starting to develop.

The power of brand

The operating system reportedly has a staggering 75% market share, thanks to its incorporation in a number of different brand's devices.
The operating system reportedly has a staggering 75% market share, thanks to its incorporation in a number of different brand’s devices.

Android is where the opportunity lies over the next few days, ironically because it has its own brand separate to Google, so consumers can feel more of a brand affinity than with the plain, cold image of a multi-national.

In-roads are being made in areas such as business, where the company is powering more and more companies from behind the scenes, but the ‘cool’ factor is still something which is clearly owned by the likes of Apple.

In short – Google is here to stay, but what it means to ‘google’ something might need to diversify to let the brand continue to make progress overall, rather than just in the more flexible, innovative and smaller-scale aspects of the business.

James Michael Parry

Cyberculture: Is 2011 the beginning of the end for the PC?

Computers have long been a part of everyday life, fulfilling every need from satisfying boredom to delivering the latest shiny products straight to your letterbox, but following the move by number one PC developer Hewlett Packard (HP) to focus on the corporate sector and with Apple on the rise, is the end in sight for the likes of the desktop computer?

One of the biggest challenges to PC’s dominance is the overwhelming success of Apple’siPad and iPad 2, which reported a profit of $7.6billion in the last quarter, more than double from the same time last year and the same as the entire year’s profit for supermarket giant Tesco, with iPad sales up +183% thanks to the launch of the iPad 2. (source: BBC)

The biggest change is the diversification of technology though, with consumers able to do what they used to only be able to accomplish on a computer on any number of devices, many smaller, more portable and more convenient.

PC tried to hit back at the latter with the ‘netbook’ style laptop, a smaller version of the standard laptop designed for increased convenience, but thanks to the iPad having the ‘cool’ factor it continues to dominate.

Consumers valuing portability has shown over the past few years as desktops have increasingly given way to laptops, particularly since the price of laptops has dropped significantly. When the format was first pushed out, you couldn’t find a laptop for under £1000, whereas now you can get an entry-level laptop for £300, around the same price as the lowest grade iPad.

Smartphones are a whole other arena, with many glued to them 24/7. iPhone leads in this arena of course, with the respectable, business-friendly Blackberry and the open-source Android masses not far behind.

iPhone might be the must-have, but the real ingenuity comes through the user-generated Android Marketplace, clearly out to increase the standard and amount of applications available rather than just making profit.

How these devices interlink is another attractive feature, since the days of linked accounts and automatic remembering of passwords mean that a Facebook account can take you a long way across the internet.

The likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google+ cement the day-to-day nature of technology in people’s lives, and this is no longer something you need a PC to access.

There are still areas where only a full PC will do though, such as writing or editing document, where the limited screen space on a phone or tablet make it tricky, or graphic design – although this practice has largely been annexed by Mac. Even for reading websites you often find yourself longing for a computer when reading on a mobile, to avoid the constant need to zoom in and out.

But what next? An announcement of an iPad 3 seems inevitable, but will the familiarity and ease of use be enough to keep PCs in the running as we draw ever-closer to the Back to the Future benchmark set for 2015.

Technological development seems unlikely to move the goalposts at this stage, with computers at a level where almost all standard specifications are more than adequate for the average PC user. Speed will be the thing which will attract people, instant booting up and powering down for example, as well as better connectivity with devices, which might be improved by USB 3.0, 10 times faster than the current USB and allowing for transfers of 5.0Gigabits per second, meaning transferring your music collection to an external hard drive could take seconds rather than hours.

The inclusive, caring-sharing way of taking the technology forward seems the only way to go, with Apple’s stubbornness to cooperate or share with other businesses only allowable because of their market dominance. This Davids and Goliath setup is less than ideal, but it does mean companies will continue to do their best to overcome Apple and encourage competition in areas it can effect. Fingers crossed the giant doesn’t move to crush them, since a marketplace monopoly won’t do any favours for the industry, or its consumers.

James Michael Parry

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14490709

Cyberculture: The pluses and minuses of Google Plus +

A brave new world?The internet speeds forever forward, with every online company trying their best to get you to spend time interacting with their website. Search giant Google recently introduced a ‘+1’ option to search results,  designed to encourage user feedback on the usefulness of sites.

The introduction isn’t the only way the big G is trying to ‘muscle in’ on Facebook’s screen time however, with the current trial of ‘Google Plus’.

The only way to become a part of it at the moment is to be invited someone already in it, much like their ill-fated Google Wave product from last year (a hybrid instant messenger, email and file sharing program designed to encourage communication).

So what’s it all about? The easiest way to think about it is one part Facebook, one part Twitter and two parts Windows Live Groups and Hotmail. The principle is that you invite people you know – this can only be done automatically from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo so far, but Facebook too with some fiddling – and put them into ‘Circles’ according to their relationship to you, much as you might organise your address book contacts on Hotmail. That way when you share content through Google (such as uploading photos) you can choose who to share those pictures with, so it’s easier to put up those pictures from Friday night without the possible embarrassment of the boss seeing them!

The point of this is to give an ‘at a glance’ view of others’ internet activity, allowing you to dip in to people’s status updates, pictures, blog posts etc, much like Facebook’s newsfeed. The interface is entirely customisable, and in this way it’s more useful than Facebook, since Facebook tends to guess who you are interested in hearing about, Google Plus lets you tailor it to your needs much more easily.

It's quiet in here, can you hear the echo?Since many people have Google as their home page, this plus service aims to provide a one-stop shop for ‘checking the internet’ bringing in as much information as possible from other people you are digitally connected to.

With internet information sharing there is always security concerns, and this is another aspect where Google gains the upper hand. The way it is set up doesn’t require you to share information about yourself in order to keep tabs on others, so if you were just curious about how a friend was getting on, you could see quickly and easily without them even knowing. It only uses information people have already made publicly available, so there’s no more risk of data theft than using the websites generally, in fact it can flag up just how much information about yourself there is out there.

The next step in using Google Plus, once you have connected some friends together in ‘Circles’ is videochatting with them in a conference known casually as a ‘Hangout’, unashamedly pinpointing the likes of Skype (now owned by Microsoft) in their sites. This allows you to jump in and out at any time, though how well Britain’s troubled connection speeds will cope with the bandwidth needed for multiple streaming is anyone’s guess.

Aspects of Google Wave have found their way into plus too, such as the concept of ‘instant’ uploading, which allows you to upload photos from your phone through thin air as soon as you take them, rather than collecting them together and uploading through your computer later.

Next up is ‘Sparks’ a feature designed to bring you things you are interested in, so if you wanted something to do with rock music but didn’t know what it would choose something hip and happening, akin to MS’ ‘Bing decision engine’. So, in this example, ‘rock music’ brings up news that Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl believes drum machines ruin rock tracks.

One feature which could prove very useful is ‘Huddle’ which allows you to group people together on your phone for a group text conversation, but presumably everyone will need to be using it for it to work, and no question on how much of your data will be used.

In all it seems very casual and Google has worked hard on making the interface very ‘funky’, perhaps a lesson learned from their extremely popular Android mobile phone operating system.

While new things are always interesting, the test of the Google Plus (or +) interface, will be how many people go for it, because if people don’t sign up then you’ll end up talking to yourself…

And therein lies the biggest issue so far, despite being very active in cyberspace, my own Plus profile doesn’t show up any of my own tweets, updates or blog posts, making my home screen currently tear-jerkingly empty. Getting friends on board is fine providing you have your Hotmail contacts list in order, but having accepted the challenge and found I have 1200 people in the address book (including interests imported from Facebook masquerading as people, such as feature films and bands), it’s going to be a mammoth task whittling the numbers down to people who I actually get in touch with on a regular basis.

This is the key difference between Google Plus and Facebook, Facebook wants as many people connected as possible, Google Plus wants them talking and sharing with each other. A noble message but how many people can one person keep in touch with at once? Not 1200 that’s for sure, particularly if many of them aren’t ‘real’ or are just ‘contact us’ email addresses.

Used right, Plus could make everything about the internet more streamlined, cutting down the time needed to get the information you actually want, and so taking the clutter out of what Facebook. But half the fun of Facebook is talking to someone you haven’t seen for years just on a whim, which is something you wouldn’t get from Plus. Perhaps a dose of HTC’s ‘Sense’ technology might smooth the transition?

Time then, will be the test, as it often is on the internet, if nothing else it’s forcing me to clean up my bloated Contacts book on Hotmail, and probably Facebook as well.

James Michael Parry

Links:
Google Plus project – http://www.google.com/+/demo/
In-depth technical explanation on CaseDetails – http://www.casedetails.com/2011/05/12/google-plus1-explained/
The fate of Google Wave on TechCrunch – http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/wave-goodbye-to-google-wave/

Film Review: The Social Network (so yeah…they mean Facebook)

Just a fad? A waste of time? For people with no real lives? Facebook may fall victim to the generation gap but there’s no denying its popularity.

Over 500 million people actively use the site, spending 700 billion minutes of their time every month updating statuses, poking people and checking out pictures.

The company is currently valued at $25 billion, making CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire of all time.

But The Social Network’s story begins well before all that in 2003, at a bar at Harvard University with poor socially awkward Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) being dumped by his Girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) for being elitist about his academic future.

Sure enough, Mark doesn’t react too well to this and goes on the computer-geek version of a alcohol binge, creating a site called facemash.com which compares girls on the university campus, blogging all the while.

It’s not all megabytes and C++ coding though, and as Mark, with his business partner/best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), evolves their company from a lose connection of college students to the most popular social networking site in history the strain begins to show.

Mark and Eduardo soon don’t see eye to eye over the business, with Eduardo pushing to make money from their success while Mark insists: “We don’t even know what this is yet, all we know is that it’s cool.”

Whether the film is a true reflection of what really happened between the pair through those ground-breaking years, only seven years ago, is unlikely, but there is a keen sense of teenage-awareness with director David Fincher, helmsman of Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac, to keep the film entertaining as well as tense.

Zuckerberg wasn’t involved with the film and in fact only Saverin is loosely connected with the book which originated the film, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

Nonetheless the events did happen, and a few unexpected names pop up in the opening credits such as Kevin Spacey as Executive Producer and Trent Reznor, the founder of industrial rock group Nine Inch Nails, on music duty alongside Atticus Ross, who appeared in Reznor’s post-Nails side project How to Destroy Angels.

The supporting cast has a few surprising additions, none more so than former pop sensation Justin Timberlake, who plays Sean Parker, a renegade entrepreneur who co-founded original music sharing site Napster back in 1999. Parker becomes a wedge between Mark and Eduardo and Timberlake manages to be convincing as the washed-up party boy – strange that.

Social media is undoubtedly a phenomenon, and Facebook is at the centre of it, like MySpace before it it changed everything about how people interact on the internet, and it continues to be important today, seven years on, after a lot of similar sites have long since declined, including MySpace itself.

As for the film the story is engaging because of the friendship between the characters, and anyone who has grown up with the rise of the internet will relate to it’s integration with the cyberculture which has evolved in the 21st century, as well as typical teenagery moments.

For those who don’t know Facebook and don’t want to know it won’t offer much, but to see what goes into something that has become more than ‘just a fad’ it is much more rewarding.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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