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How to restore your SSD to peak performance


  • Jan 16, 2014 3:30 AM
Jon L. JacobiFreelance Writer, PCWorld

Back in the days when mechanical hard drives with spinning platters were the norm, you could simply hand your old hard drive to a deserving relative or friend as an upgrade, get a thank you, and call it a day. It’s not so simple with today’s solid-state drives.

In many cases, used SSDs simply aren’t as fast as newer ones. The biggest issue in retasking, reselling, or even maintaining an SSD for a prolonged period stems from an inconvenient characteristic of NAND flash memory: Previously written cells must be erased before they can be rewritten with new data. If the SSD is forced to reuse cells rather than use new ones while storing data, performance will plummet.

To avoid this problem with NAND flash memory, modern SSD controllers use a number of tricks, including building in extra capacity that users can’t touch—a technique known as over-provisioning. There’s also a command called TRIM that tells an SSD when blocks of memory are no longer needed and can be consolidated and erased.

Sounds good, right? But there’s a catch.

Better in theory than in practice

inside intel sata ssd nand Intel

NAND memory inside an Intel enterprise-class X-25E Extreme SATA SSD.

Not all garbage collection (as the cleaning up of an SSD’s NAND is known) is created equal. It doesn’t run constantly, and some older operating systems don’t even support the TRIM command. As such, more “used” NAND cells are left hanging around on your SSD than you’d suspect, according to nearly every vendor and data-recovery specialist I consulted

After prolonged use, these idle cells can add up to a big hit on your SSD’s performance. That’s not good.

Simply deleting files and repartitioning and formatting your drive won’t do the trick, however, as those operations take place at levels above where true garbage collection occurs. In fact, due to the total absence of utilities that force complete garbage collection, there’s only one way to return an SSD to pristine, like-new condition—the ATA secure-erase command.

Secure erase to the rescue

Secure erase, a function built into every ATA-based drive since 2001, erases everything on a drive and marks the cells as empty, restoring the drive to factory-fresh default performance.

Once upon a time, you could invoke secure erase only via command-line utilities such as Linux’s HDparam or the DOS-based HDDerase, developed by the University of California San Diego (with funding from the NSA, incidentally). But now, many SSD and hard-drive vendors provide a free utility—such as OCZ’s ToolBox, Samsung’s Magician, or Seagate’s SeaTools—that provides a secure erase capability.

Note that while the command is standard, many vendor utilities work only with their company’s products. If your vendor doesn’t provide a secure-erase command, you can use the DriveErase utility found in the stellar Parted Magic software.

Got all that? Good. Here’s how to restore your SSD to top performance, step by step.

How to restore your SSD to peak performance

First things first: If you have data on the SSD you’d like to retain, back it up. If you’re worried only about backing up files, simply drag and drop them onto a flash drive or external hard drive, or use your favorite backup program.

If you have a working operating system that you’d like to keep, however, use an imaging program such as Acronis True Image or R-Drive Image that copies everything. Do not use Windows System Recovery unless you’re restoring the data to the same drive. It won’t restore to a smaller drive and it sometimes hiccups even with a similar-size drive that has plenty of room.

Next, download the drive utility provided by your SSD vendor, or snag Parted Magic.

Before you get down to brass tacks, disconnect all other drives and boot from a flash drive to perform the erase procedure, to avoid accidentally overwriting the wrong drive. Parted Magic is a great option for this, since it works as a bootable flash drive. If disconnecting your other hard drives is too much hassle, make darn sure you’ve selected the correct drive to erase throughout this procedure. Secure erase is irrevocable.

Now run the secure-erase function. The exact method varies by program. PCWorld’s guide to securely erasing your hard drive explains how to activate secure erase in Parted Magic, which runs on a bootable flash drive. Some SSDs implement the enhanced version of secure erase by default—which also deletes the drive’s housekeeping data—but if an enhanced erase option is available, you might want to use it. Definitely use it if you’ve been doing work for the CIA.

parted magic

Parted Magic contains all the tools you need to restore an SSD to top performance. 

The secure-erase process should take just a few minutes on a modern SSD. (Traditional hard drives can take hours, by comparison.)

Once the process is done, repartition and format the drive if you intend to copy data back to it. Parted Magic handily provides a full partition editor for this purpose, but you can use Windows’ own Drive Management utility (Control Panel > System and Security > Administrative Tools > Create and format hard disk partitions) to do the same task. Most commonly, you’ll want to use the full capacity of the SSD in a single partition and format it as NTFS.

Once that’s done, you’re good to go. Dump any data you may have saved back onto the drive and bask in the super-speeds of your good-as-new SSD. Check out PCWorld’s guide to prolonging the life of your SSD to keep your drive humming along for years to come

Ten Immutable Laws Of Security


keypadlock

The 10 Immutable Laws

Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it’s not solely your computer anymore.
Law #2: If a bad guy can alter the operating system on your computer, it’s not your computer anymore.
Law #3: If a bad guy has unrestricted physical access to your computer, it’s not your computer anymore.
Law #4: If you allow a bad guy to run active content in your website, it’s not your website any more.
Law #5: Weak passwords trump strong security.
Law #6: A computer is only as secure as the administrator is trustworthy.
Law #7: Encrypted data is only as secure as its decryption key.
Law #8: An out-of-date antimalware scanner is only marginally better than no scanner at all.
Law #9: Absolute anonymity isn’t practically achievable, online or offline.
Law #10: Technology is not a panacea.

Law #1:If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it’s not solely your computer anymore

It’s an unfortunate fact of computer science: when a computer program runs, it will do what it’s programmed to do, even if it’s programmed to be harmful. When you choose to run a program, you are making a decision to turn over a certain level of control of your computer to it — often  anything up to the limits of what you yourself can do on the computer (and sometimes beyond). It could monitor your keystrokes and send them to criminals eager for the information. It could open every document on the computer, and change the word “will” to “won’t” in all of them. It could send rude emails to all your friends. It could install a virus. It could create a “back door” that lets someone remotely control your computer. It could relay a bad guy’s attack on someone else’s computers. Or it could just reformat your hard drive.

That’s why it’s important never to run a program from an untrusted source, and to limit the ability of others to make that decision for you on your computer. There’s a nice analogy between running a program and eating a sandwich. If a stranger walked up to you and handed you a sandwich, would you eat it? Probably not. How about if your best friend gave you a sandwich? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t—it depends on whether she made it or found it lying in the street. Apply the same critical thought to a program that you would to a sandwich, and you’ll usually be safe.

Law #2: If a bad guy can alter the operating system on your computer, it’s not your computer anymore

In the end, an operating system is just a series of ones and zeroes that, when interpreted by the processor, cause the computer to do certain things. Change the ones and zeroes, and it will do something different. Where are the ones and zeroes stored? On the computer, right along with everything else! They’re just files, and if other people who use the computer are permitted to change those files, it’s “game over.”

To understand why, consider that operating system files are among the most trusted ones on the computer, and they generally run with system-level privileges. That is, they can do absolutely anything. Among other things, they’re trusted to manage user accounts, handle password changes, and enforce the rules governing who can do what on the computer. If a bad guy can change them, the now-untrustworthy files will do his bidding, and there’s no limit to what he can do. He can steal passwords, make himself an administrator on the computer, or add entirely new functions to the operating system. To prevent this type of attack, make sure that the system files (and the registry, for that matter) are well protected. In modern operating systems, default settings largely prevent anyone but administrators from making such bedrock changes. Preventing rogue programs from gaining administrative-level access is the best way of protecting the operating system. That’s best accomplished by not operating your computer from an account with administrative privileges except when specific tasks make it absolutely necessary – and logging out of that high-privilege mode as quickly as possible once your task is complete.   Home users should consider creating an “everyday” account set to operate with standard-level user permissions. On those relatively rare occasions when you really do need to make big changes, you can log into the administrative account, do whatever needs to be done, and switch back to the safer account when you’re finished.

Law #3: If a bad guy has unrestricted physical access to your computer, it’s not your computer anymore

Oh, the things a bad guy can do if he can lay his hands on your computer! Here’s a sampling, going from Stone Age to Space Age:

  • He could mount the ultimate low-tech denial of service attack, and smash your computer with a sledgehammer.
  • He could unplug the computer, haul it out of your building, and hold it for ransom.
  • He could boot the computer from removable media, and reformat your hard drive. But wait, you say, I’ve configured the BIOS on my computer to prompt for a password when I turn the power on. No problem – if he can open the case and get his hands on the system hardware, he could just replace the BIOS chip. (Actually, there are even easier ways).
  • He could remove the hard drive from your computer, install it into his computer, and read any unencrypted data.
  • He could duplicate your hard drive and take it back to his lair. Once there, he’d have all the time in the world to conduct brute-force attacks, such as trying every possible logon or decryption password. Programs are available to automate this and, given enough time, it’s almost certain that he would succeed. Once that happens, Laws #1 and #2 above apply.
  • He could add a recording device or transmitter to your keyboard, then monitor everything you type including your passwords.

Always make sure that a computer is physically protected in a way that’s consistent with its value—and remember that the value of a computer includes not just the value of the hardware itself, but the value of the data on it, and the value of the access to your network that a bad guy could gain. At a minimum, business-critical computers such as domain controllers, database servers, and print/file servers should always be in a locked room that only people charged with administration and maintenance can access. But you may want to consider protecting other computers as well, and potentially using additional measures to guard their physical integrity.

If you travel with a laptop or other portable computer, it’s absolutely critical that you protect it. The same features that make them great to travel with – small size, light weight, and so forth – also make them easy to steal. There are a variety of locks and alarms available for laptops, some models let you remove the hard drive and carry it with you, and almost all can be used with extremely small, extremely portable storage – e.g. USB thumb drives – for storing your data while you travel. You also can use features such as drive encryption available in most modern operating systems to mitigate the damage if someone succeeded in stealing the computer, or to retain some confidence in its protection if it’s taken from you in an unexpected bag check or unfriendly border crossing. If the computer walks off or is lost, you’ll still need to address the loss of the hardware, but it’ll be harder for your data to be disclosed without your knowledge. But the only way you can know with 100% certainty that your data is safe and the hardware hasn’t been tampered with, is to keep them on your person at all times while traveling.

Law #4: If you allow a bad guy to run active content on your website or online application, it’s not your website any more

In Law #1, a bad guy tricks you into downloading a harmful program and running it, giving him control over your computer and its data – at least as much control as you had. But what about the reverse: if he can upload active content – programs, scripts, or even documents and pictures designed to crash peoples’ computers in specific ways – and have them served from your website or online application?  Your site becomes his platform for reaching out to capture data from site visitors or harm their computers, or reaching inward towards other systems that support your site.

If you run a website or hosted applications, you need to limit what visitors can do. Some sites provide an open forum for people to upload and distribute software, code or configurations – and that’s fine as long as visitors understand Law #1 and the risks that come along with their downloads. But if the bad guy’s uploaded programs actually run on your server or in the browser of visitors, he effectively own your site and can impersonate you.  Worse, the bad guy could gain your rights to the underlying systems, and might find a way to extend his control to the servers, data storage or network itself.  If your site is on shared infrastructure or a cloud-based service, this can put other sites and data at risk, and potentially create interesting liabilities for yourself and other people.

A properly administered site host or cloud service will have taken many of these risks into account and will disallow scripts or programs uploaded to the service from affecting other accounts that happen to share the same resources. Just the same, you should only allow a program to run on your site or as part of your application if you wrote it yourself or if you trust the developer who wrote it, and make sure your operations and maintenance processes don’t run afoul of the host administrator’s security policies.

Law #5: Weak passwords trump strong security

The purpose of having a logon process is to establish who you are. Once the operating system knows who you are, it can grant or deny requests for system resources appropriately. If a bad guy learns your password, he can log on as you. In fact, as far as the operating system is concerned, he is you. Whatever you can do on the system, he can do as well, because he is you. Maybe he wants to read sensitive information you’ve stored on your computer, like your e-mail. Maybe you have more privileges on the network than he does, and being you will let him do things he normally couldn’t. Or maybe he just wants to do something malicious and blame it on you. In any case, it’s worth protecting your credentials.

Always use a password on your computer—it’s amazing how many accounts have blank passwords. And develop a complex one. Don’t use your dog’s name, your anniversary date, the name of the local football team, or QWERTY / 12345 / other basic keyboard patterns – and avoid using single “dictionary words” (that is, words that can be looked up in the dictionary). And don’t use the word “password!” Build a password that has a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and so forth. Make it as long as possible; consider using two words in combination. (If you speak multiple languages, you might choose to mix tongues in your password for extra complexity.) And change it often.

Once you’ve picked a strong password, handle it appropriately. Don’t write it down. If you absolutely must write it down, at the very least keep it in a safe, a locked drawer, or perhaps deep in your wallet—the first thing a bad guy who’s hunting for passwords will do is check for a yellow sticky note on the side of your screen, or in the top desk drawer. Don’t tell anyone what your password is, and don’t ask for theirs. Managers, kids, and even IT helpdesk staff should rarely if ever ask for your password. Modern operating systems and programs allow you to give other people permission to see and use your files, without giving out your password so they can impersonate you.  Remember what Ben Franklin said: two people can keep a secret, but only if one of them is dead.

If you have accounts for multiple computers and online services, you’ll need to balance requirements for unique and strong passwords, yet limit how many passwords you have to remember. For accounts that give access to your most critical information – financial accounts, regulated personal data, sensitive work access, and primary email accounts to name a few – use a unique password for each one, and follow their access management policies.  If you’re awash in multiple accounts that gather little personal information and have low value if lost, such as news sites that require free registration, consider developing one reasonably strong password and reusing it for most or all of them.

Finally, consider using something stronger than – and in addition to – passwords to identify yourself to the system. Windows, for instance, supports the use of smart cards, which significantly strengthens the account checking the system can perform. You may also want to consider biometric products such as fingerprint and retina scanners. “Two-factor authentication” of this sort incorporates not only something you know (your password) but something you own (a card) or even something you are (a person with your unique fingerprint or retina) – dramatically increasing authentication strength.

Law #6: A computer is only as secure as the administrator is trustworthy

Every computer must have an administrator: someone who can install software, configure the operating system, add and manage user accounts, establish security policies, and handle all the other management tasks associated with keeping a computer up and running. By definition, these tasks require that the individual have control over the computer. This puts the administrator in a position of unequalled power. An untrustworthy administrator can negate every other security measure you’ve taken. He can change the permissions on the computer, modify the system security policies, install malicious software, add bogus users, or do any of a million other things. He can subvert virtually any protective measure in the operating system, because he controls it. Worst of all, he can cover his tracks. If you have an untrustworthy administrator, you have absolutely no security.

When hiring a system administrator, recognize the position of trust that administrators occupy, and only hire people who warrant that trust. Call his references, and ask them about his previous work record, especially with regard to any security incidents at previous employers. If appropriate for your organization, you may also consider taking a step that banks and other security-conscious companies do, and require that your administrators pass a complete background check at hiring time, and at periodic intervals afterward. Whatever criteria you select, apply them across the board. Don’t give anyone administrative privileges on your network unless they’ve been vetted – and this includes temporary employees and contractors.

Next, take steps to help keep honest people honest. Use sign-in/sign-out sheets or log access badge swipes to track who’s been in the server room. (You do have a server room with a locked door, right? If not, re-read Law #3). Implement a “two person” rule when installing or upgrading software. Diversify management tasks as much as possible, as a way of minimizing how much power any one administrator has. Also, don’t use the Administrator account—instead, give each administrator a separate account with administrative privileges, so you can tell who’s doing what. Many industries require audit logs documenting all activities on covered business systems; audit trails can’t stop rogue admins from running amok, but they can record who did what if a problem is discovered later, and enforce a sense of individual accountability.  Finally, consider taking steps to make it more difficult for a rogue administrator to cover his tracks. For instance, store audit data on write-only media, or house System A’s audit data on System B, and make sure that the two systems have different administrators. The more accountable your administrators are, the less likely you are to have problems.

Law #7: Encrypted data is only as secure as its decryption key

Suppose you installed the biggest, strongest, most secure lock in the world on your front door, but you put the key under the front door mat. It wouldn’t really matter how strong the lock is, would it? The critical factor would be the weak way the key was protected, because if a burglar could find it, he’d have everything he needed to open the lock. Encrypted data works the same way—no matter how strong the crypto algorithm is, the data is only as safe as the key that can decrypt it.

Many operating systems and cryptographic software products give you an option to store cryptographic keys on the computer. The advantage is convenience – you don’t have to handle the key – but it comes at the cost of security.  Simply put, no matter how well the keys are hidden on the system, the software has to be able to find them – and if it can, so can a sufficiently motivated bad guy.

A better solution is to store them in a protected repository.  For instance, the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip that’s present on most computers is designed to strongly protect cryptographic keys, and release them only when a PIN is entered.  Smart cards provide similar protection, and their portability means that you can also physically separate them from the computer.  But the best “protected repository” is your brain – if the key is a word or phrase, memorize it.

Law #8: An out-of-date malware scanner is only marginally better than no malware scanner at all

Antimalware scanners work by comparing the data on your computer against a collection of malware “signatures.” Each signature is characteristic of a particular malware family, and when the scanner finds data in a file, email or elsewhere that matches the signature, it concludes that it’s found trouble. It’s vital that you keep your malware scanner’s signature file up-to-date, as new malware is created every day.

The problem actually goes a bit deeper than this, though. Typically, malware will do the greatest amount of damage during the early stages of its life, precisely because antimalware programs will not be able to detect it, let alone remove it. Once word gets around that new malware is on the loose and people update their signatures, the propagation of the problem falls off as protections spread through the ecosystem. The key is to get ahead of the curve, and have updated signature files on your computer before the malware reaches your machine.

Virtually every maker of antimalware software provides a way to get free updated signature files from their website or from a dedicated update service. In fact, many have “push” services, in which they’ll send notification every time a new signature file is released – several times a day, if necessary. Use these services. Also, keep the malware scanner itself—that is, the scanning software that uses the signature files—updated as well. Malware writers regularly develop new techniques and variations that require that scanners change how they do their work.

Law #9: Absolute anonymity isn’t practically achievable, online or offline

All human interaction involves exchanging data of some kind. If someone weaves enough of that data together, they can identify you. Think about all the information that a person can glean in just a short conversation with you: In one glance, they can gauge your height, weight, and approximate age. Your accent will probably tell them what country you’re from, and may even tell them what region of the country. If you talk about anything other than the weather, you’ll probably tell them something about your family, your interests, where you live, and what you do for a living. It doesn’t take long for someone to collect enough information to figure out who you are. If you use any payment system other than cash or any transportation other than your own two feet, you leave a trail of data breadcrumbs that can be used to reconstruct a personally identifiable “portrait” of you with remarkable accuracy. If you crave absolute anonymity, your best bet is to live in a cave and shun all human contact.

The same thing is true of the Internet. If you visit a website, the owner can, if he’s sufficiently motivated, find out who you are. After all, the ones and zeroes that make up the Web session have to be able to find their way to the right place, and that place is your computer. There are a lot of measures you can take to disguise the bits, and the more of them you use, the more thoroughly the bits will be disguised. For instance, you could use network address translation to mask your actual IP address, subscribe to an anonymizing service that launders bits by relaying them from one end of the ether to the other, use a different ISP account for different purposes, surf certain sites only from public kiosks, and so on. All of these make it more difficult to determine who you are, but none of them make it impossible. Do you know for certain who operates the anonymizing service? Maybe it’s the same person who owns the website you just visited! Or what about that innocuous website you visited yesterday, that offered to mail you a free $10 off coupon? Maybe the owner is willing to share information with other website owners. If so, the second website owner may be able to correlate the information from the two sites and determine who you are. And anonymity is even less achievable when you factor in location data, which is gathered perpetually by mobile phones and often enough by Web sites, mapping your machine’s IP address to a real-world location with pretty decent accuracy.

Does this mean that privacy is a lost cause? Not at all. Governments along with public and private entities continue to wrestle with how best to balance the need for personal data privacy with other concerns. What it means is that the best way for you to protect your privacy on the Internet is the same as the way you protect your privacy in normal life—through your behavior. Read the privacy statements on the websites you visit, and only do business with those whose data-sharing practices you understand and agree with. If sites you visit allow you to determine how and with whom information about you will be shared, learn how to adjust those settings and check yours regularly. If you’re worried about cookies, disable them. Most importantly, remember that information shared by or about you online is only as safe as the least protective, least enforced privacy policies and settings with which it comes into contact. But if it’s complete and total anonymity you want, better start looking for that cave.

Law #10: Technology is not a panacea

Technology can do some amazing things. Recent years have seen the development of ever-cheaper and more powerful hardware, software that harnesses that hardware to open new vistas for computer users, and services that change our expectations for both, as well as advancements in cryptography and other sciences. It’s tempting to believe that technology can deliver a risk-free world if we just work hard enough. However, this is simply not realistic.

Perfect security requires a level of perfection that simply doesn’t exist, and in fact isn’t likely to ever exist. This is true for software as well as virtually all fields of human interest. Software development is an imperfect science, and all software has bugs. Some of them can be exploited to cause security breaches. That’s just a fact of life. But even if software could be made perfect, it wouldn’t solve the problem entirely. Most attacks involve, to one degree or another, some manipulation of human nature, a process usually referred to as social engineering. Raise the cost and difficulty of attacking security technology, and bad guys respond by shifting their focus away from the technology and toward the human being at the console. It’s vital that you understand your role in maintaining solid security, or you could become the chink in your own systems’ armor.

The solution is to recognize two essential points. First, security consists of both technology and policy—that is, it’s the combination of the technology and how it’s used that ultimately determines how secure your systems are. Second, security is a journey, not a destination—it isn’t a problem that can be “solved” once and for all, but a constant series of moves and countermoves between the good guys and the bad guys. The key is to ensure that you have good security awareness and exercise sound judgment. There are resources available to help you do this. The Technet website, for instance, has hundreds of white papers, best practices guides, checklists and tools, and we’re developing more all the time. Combine great technology with sound judgment, and you’ll have more effective security.

How to Fix a Cracked Touch Screen Phone


August 1 2013
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Even if you’re super-careful with your phone, accidents happen. Sometimes that beautiful touchscreen phone takes a fall and the glass cracks.

Today, we’ll show you how to remove the glass from a touchscreen phone (in this case, a Samsung Galaxy S3), then apply a new piece of glass on it. We are not removing the actual display or digitizer. A digitizer is what actually recognizes your inputs. Burke McQuinn came by to show us how he repaired his cracked Galaxy S3. He consulted the forums at XDA Developers to provide a guide.

Materials

You will need a replacement piece of glass, goggles, a heat source, a prying tool, microfiber cloth, some tape, and time.

You can find a replacement piece of glass on Amazon. You can even get kits that include prying tools. Example kits: ProKit for Galaxy S3 |Replacement Glass Kit by NewerStone.

Before You Start

Before you begin taking apart your phone, back up the phone if you can in case you damage the phone. After that, take out the battery and MicroSD card if you have one installed.

Removing the Glass

To remove the glass, we will use a heat gun to melt the glue that affixes the glass to the digitizer and then pry off the glass.

For our heat source, we used a heat gun. You can probably get away with using a hair dryer if you don’t have one. We checked on the temperature of the glass periodically using a thermometer and tried to keep the temperature around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 93 degrees Celsius).

From there we pried the glass away from the digitizer using a prying tool in the corner of the S3. The one we used is called iSesamo, which is a metal prying tool. This can cause more scratching of your device if you’re not careful. You can opt to use a plastic prying device like theoOpener.

Burke then heated around the border of the glass prying up each part slowly and keeping the glass away from the digitizer using plastic razor blades.

Use caution when removing the glass from the bottom of the device where the home button is. There is a small ribbon that flanks the home button. It controls the two capacitive buttons on the Galaxy S3. You don’t want to damage that.

Replacing the Glass

Once the glass is removed, you’ll want to clean off the digitizer of any excess glue. Burke wore latex gloves used painter’s tape to remove any dust and remnants of broken glass on the screen. You could use a microfiber cloth to clean off the screen before you replace the glass. You want the screen as clean as possible, but don’t damage it with too much pressure.

Burke applied the glass from the bottom of the device, carefully placing the ribbon under the glass. Then he heated the new glass to affix the glass to the device. Then you just have to let the phone cool off before you use it.

Test Your Results

Once your phone is cooled off, reinstall your battery and test out your handiwork. With the new glass, Burke’s phone worked flawlessly.

Goji’s Smart Lock snaps pictures, welcomes you by name


 

By Brian Heater posted Jun 4th, 2013 at 5:05 PM 38


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Burglars of the future beware: the age of the smart lock is coming. There’s no shortage of entries into the space these days — in fact, it was just under a week ago that we spotted the lovely Yves Behar-designed August lock. Goji’s (whoever heard of a company named after a fruit?) got a pretty nice looking lock of its own, one it’s hoping to bring to the market with help from a $120,000 Indiegogo goal. Like August, Goji’s got a sleek disk design. In the place of the green and red dots, however, you’ll find blue text that greets the user by name. The lock features bank-level encryption and will send pictures of people as they enter in through the door for added security. You can unlock it using your smartphone and can send people digital keys with your mobile device. Goji’s expected to hit around December for $278 — though you can get in a bit cheaper through the aforementioned crowd funding campaign.

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This 18-Year-Old’s Invention Could Make Your Future Phone Instacharge


Eric Limer 5/18/13 4:58pm Saturday 4:58pm

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While you are hanging out on the Internet (in your underwear, maybe?) on a Saturday, kids that are smarter than either of us are out there getting ready to change the world. 18-year-old Eesha Khare (left), for instance, not only invented a supercapacitor that could someday be a phone battery that charges in just a couple of seconds; she also won $50,000 for it.

Khare is one of the three big winners from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She and 17-year-old Henry Lin (right)—who created a model that simulates thousands of galaxies—picked up Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ionut Budisteanu won the Gordon E. Moore Award and $75,000 for his AI model that could lead to a cheaper self-driving car. Khare’s invention is the one with some really immediate potential though, and quick-charging phones is something we all want.

So far, the supercapcitor has only been tested to light up a LED, but it was able to do that wonderfully and the prototypes new format holds potential to be scaled. It’s also flexible and tiny, and should be able to handle 10,000 recharge cycles, more than normal batteries by a factor of 10.

It’s a great step in the right direction, especially since we all know that battery life is the most important feature a phone can have. But like all supercapcitor tech, it’s not exactly close to commercial development yet. But hey, if an (admittedly super smart) 18-year-old can get this stuff figured out, multi-national corporations with an even bigger cash profit incentive on the table should be able to as well, right? Hurry up already. I’ll take either solution so long as one comes soon.

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Passwords: You’re doing it wrong. Here’s how to make them uncrackable.


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Rick Broida@justrick

For years now I’ve harangued relatives about their shoddy password practices. Either they use easily-hacked passwords or forget the passwords they’ve created—sometimes both.

If you won’t take it from me, beloved family, consider this Password Day (yes, apparently it’s a thing) statement from McAfee’s Robert Siciliano: "74% of Internet users use the same password across multiple websites, so if a hacker gets your password, they now have access to all your accounts. Reusing passwords for email, banking, and social media accounts can lead to identity theft and financial loss."

What’s the fix? It’s easier than you might think. For starters, head to Intel’s Password Grader to see just how easily cracked your current password is. (The site promises not to retain any information, though still recommends that you not use your actual password—so maybe just use something similar.)

From there you can scroll down to see a simple step-by-step process for making your "hackable" password "uncrackable." (There’s a longer and more informative version of this info graphic on Sicilian’s blog—and it doesn’t require you to use the Password Grader if you’d prefer not to.)

The key takeaway here is to avoid the usual mix of letters, numbers, and punctuation you’re often advised to use, and instead opt for an easier-to-remember passphrase.

So, for example, if your PC World password is something like "PCW0rldD4ve," you’d actually be better off with "I Love Reading PC World!" Sounds crazy, but as McAfee and Intel note, it’s not about complexity, it’s about length.

And you could adapt a similar passphrase to every other site you visit: "I Love Reading Facebook!", for example, and so on. Now you’ve got both diversity and simplicity in your corner. The only catch is that some sites won’t allow you to use spaces, and others may limit password length.

How’d you fare on the Password Grader, and what other methods have you employed to create a hack-proof password system? I know some folks are big fans of tools like LastPass, which can auto-generate (and auto-fill) complex passwords for you. Your thoughts?

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Give Your Laptop and Smartphone a Spring Cleaning


Andrew Tarantola         

It’s officially spring, so why is your computer still moving like it’s half frozen? After all those long winter nights surfing shady sites, it’s no wonder. Here’s how to give your most important devices a spring cleaning fit for a May Queen.

Clean It Out

The first thing you’ll want to do is clear out the riff-raff—unused programs and browser extensions, obsolete registry entries, and expired permissions. Uninstall unused and under-utilized programs on your desktop and laptop systems, clear out forgotten apps from your mobile devices (Sorry, Angry Birds Rio). Give your registry a scrubbing with CC Cleaner, a free program for both Windows and Mac, that will clear old registry entries (for PCs) as well as empty recycle bins, zero out recent document lists, and erase a variety of browser information—Temporary files, history, cookies, download history, form history—from the major browsers.

Also be sure to take a look through your browser’s extensions list and remove any rarely used features. The same goes for Google users: Go to your Google account’s security screen, select the “Connected applications and sites” option from the bottom of the list, and nix any old devices that you no longer own or operate.

Windows owners would do well to invest in a defragmenting program beyond the native OS offering. Defraggler, from Piriform, the makers of CC Cleaner, is a solid option—even the free version—for defragging all or just parts of your hard drive. Mac users, while not needing a full-feature defrag tool, will still benefit from DaisyDisk. This visualization software displays the relative sizes of files across the drive, allowing you to quickly spot and eliminate corpulent documents.

And whether you’re running a Mac or a PC, Android or iOS, make sure the OS is up to date and install any queued system or security revisions recommended by the system’s auto-update program. For mobile devices, be sure to update all of your on-board apps as well.

Give Your Laptop and Smartphone a Spring Cleaning

Lock It Down

Once you’ve tightened up the OS and toned your system’s basic performance, it’s time to boost its defenses. Update your firewall and antivirus software. I’m a huge fan of Vipre but AVG, Norton, Kasperski, and a slew of other developers offer programs with varying degrees of service, features, and pricing. Once updated, run the fullest, deepest, most complete scan your program offers, making sure to scan any attached external hard drives as well. For an added layer of protection, especially if your anti-virus suite doesn’t already do so, install and run a Spyware Removal tool such as SpywareBlaster.

Your Android-based mobile devices are not to be excluded from the security sweep either. Both Avast and AVG offer quality mobile anti-virus services—basic features are free, advanced options like the Lost/Stolen Phone Locator/Eraser features will cost cash. iOS users don’t need to take this step as thier mobile devices are protected by a cloud of smug that no digital virus can penetrate.

You’ll also do well to look into investing in a Password manager—at least one that doesn’t involve Post-Its surrounding your monitor. One Password by Agilebits is a very popular program as it allows users to manage and sync their password menageries across every desktop and mobile device— Mac, iOS, Android, or PC—using integrated Dropbox functionality for a one-time $50. What’s more, it also manages sensitive online shopping data, credit card numbers for example, as well.

If that’s too steep for your security requirements, at least audit your list of passwords to ensure you don’t have any duplicates and that your phrases are strong enough. Remember, an easy mnemonic like “If it’s going to be that kind of party” is infinitely more difficult for a computer to guess (and easier for you to remember) than any combination of letters, numbers, and characters you can devise.

Give Your Laptop and Smartphone a Spring Cleaning

Back It Up

Now that you’ve cleared away all the OS detrius and plugged any security leaks, it’s time to take a snapshot of the system for posterity—and for the next time your system randomly decides to catch fire. Both desktop OS include native backup support to secondary storage devices—either an external hard drive or recordable media. Make sure you back up your family photos, documents, home movies, naughty movies, and anything else you’ve either collected or stored on your computer.

While you can (and should) set an aggressive weekly schedule for this method of backup, it cannot provide the always-on protection afforded by online backup services, nor does it guard against larger crises like, say, a fire that destroys not just your laptop but the redundants as well. Online services such as Carbonite and Backblaze, instead tuck your data safely away in the cloud while allowing for easy file transfers (a la Dropbox) between your machines and mobile devices. These services do however cost money—both Carbonite and Backblaze charge $50-$60 annually to hold on to your data, for example—and offer differing layers of service so make sure to examine all your file security options before opening your wallet.

Give Your Laptop and Smartphone a Spring Cleaning

Wash It Off

Now that your devices’ insides are squeaky clean, it’s time to give them a thorough physical cleaning as well. Wipe down your monitors with a damp cloth, clean the gunk out of your mouse (if you don’t yet use a laser mouse) and wipe off your desktop tower and laptop exterior. Shake out and vacuum your keyboard, scrub the keys with a mild soap and water solution to remove oily buildup and remnants from the latte you spilled in there last week. If you use a desktop tower, now would be a good time to open the case and blow out any dust bunnies out of the fans.

Congratulations, your computer, nay, your entire personal digital ecosystem is now fit as a fiddle and ready for anything the Internet (and your perverse taste in backwater porn sites) can throw at it.

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