Hardware hacks — do you do it?

5036i65E323395C842537You go out, you buy some tech, and it works. Excellent. But haven’t you ever wanted it to do more? For example, your in-home WiFi is kinda weak — router is OK, but you’ve needed more range out of it to reach the other end of your house. That’s a hack, waiting to happen. There’s more, and they’re easy, and ‘mostly’ safe 🙂 Though they can carry risks…

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This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


Nifty Hack: How to circumvent a firewall with Twitter, Jaiku, Twitku using Netvibes

Need to ‘follow’ your friends on Twitter or Jaiku, but are firewalled? Then here’s a quick solution that is working for me:

  1. Set up a NetVibes account.
  2. Create a new page, setup as three column.
  3. Add the Bitty Browser module.
    1. Point that browser at the TwitKu mobile page ( http://twitku.com/m ).
    2. Sign into your Twitter and JaiKu accounts through the TwitKu mobile interface (you may need to acquire a Jaiku API code…follow the link).
    3. Select the Post link on the TwitKu Mobile pane. You’ll use this pane to post to Twitter and JaiKu with one entry.
  4. Add the Twitter Module to the page. Edit the settings to match your Twitter account. This pane will monitor your Twitter feed directly.
  5. Add a Feed to the page. This is your Jaiku page. Copy the RSS feed link of your JaiKu account into appropriate edit location for this pane. This pane will monitor your Jaiku feed directly.

This workaround relies on third-parties grabbing the content and live processes from sites that may be firewalled and ‘masking’ that content behind the site that isn’t firewalled. Your mileage may vary.

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Stealthy hacker dons a white hat

The Globe and Mail – Business Section
July 1st, 1999 – 1450 words

Brad Grier – in Calgary

Brian Lynch looked like any other executive as he flew to his next business meeting, typing notes on his laptop and finishing off yet another memo.

But the papers in the clean-cut young man’s carry-on told a different story. The bag contained a printout of 10,000 valid credit card numbers, taken after a successful security penetration of a computer system.

Brian is a hacker. A White Hat hacker to be precise. A professional computer security specialist working for ‘the forces of good’. Continue reading “Stealthy hacker dons a white hat”

iOS 7 Launch – A busy day today

iOS 7 will be released later today, and I’m looking forward to it!

Update: But first, a public service announcement. Don’t forget to BACKUP YOUR DATA (thanks for the reminder Ryan!) Here’s a great how-to from Apple’s support site.

From what I’ve seen, this update of the venerable iOS operating system will be the best yet, not in terms of huge technological leaps and flashy features, rather in terms of subtle usability improvements that really make sense, such as the new way your pictures are grouped, and AirDrop (ok, that’s a new feature for iOS, but it has existed awesomely in OS X).

One thing I’m not so certain of yet, is the number of clicks it seems to take to do certain things, such as back out of a folder in multitask view. I was kind of hoping there’d be a swipe command to get you back to the top level of the desktop, not a button press. My thinking is that buttons can wear out, but the multi-touch swipe tech will last longer.

As well, this week you’ll have noticed a flurry of application updates as developers get their software ready for today’s launch of iOS 7. Being interested in electronic music and photography, here’s a couple of useful articles on upgrading and app compatibility:

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see real-world experiences as iOS 7 goes live later today. If you’re upgrading and feel like sharing, let me know what you think!

Speed up your Internet experience by using the right DNS server

Last week I saw this LifeHacker article (via AppleInsider) about NameBench, a window utility that tests the speed of your system’s DNS servers.

And I was wondering if my DNS was as fast as it could be…

Previously, I’d switched my DNS services over to OpenDNS, a free alternate DNS Provider that adds value as:

  • Ultra-reliable, globally-distributed network
  • Industry-leading Web content filtering
  • Easy to use for families, schools, and businesses of all sizes

Google also has free public DNS services available, which NameBench scans and includes in the results.

But recently I’d noticed that often videos and other streaming media just wouldn’t play back smoothly, so after reading this bit in the life hacker article I thought I’d give NameBench a try.

“When millions of users all tap into the same DNS server addresses to resolve domain names, as Google DNS does by design, Akamai and other CDNs route content to those users along the same path, preventing the network from working optimally. This causes problems not only for Apple’s iTunes, but also any other media streaming or download service that uses a similar CDN strategy to distribute downloads.”

As an added benefit, NameBench checks to see if your DNS servers are vulnurable up to security standards, and if your DNS requests are being censored or redirected (WikiLeaks, for example).

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WOW.
According to NameBench, By switching back to my ISP, I’d get an amazing DNS speed improvement of over 100%!! Remember, this doesn’t speed up my internet connection, just the speed that the Internet translates domain names into those cryptic Internet IP addresses.

So, by making the recommended changes to my systems DNS settings, NameBench was happy with my settings. Now to see if I actually notice any improvement…

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In Real Life.
Well, I’m not too sure if I am noticing any difference yet or not. There’s so many different factors that can contribute to network speed that one change rarely makes a huge difference.

But still, every small improvement you make adds up, and contributes to a more efficient online experience.
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Commerce in a post-Wikileaks economy

cc.jpgYou’ve likely seen the news that Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others are under distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks by folk who feel that WikiLeaks headman Julian Assange is being persecuted for distributing sensitive information he’d received from others.

Setting aside that entire espionage, sex-by-surprise, persecution, journalism and right to information thing, what’s left is the hacking attempts — coordinated attacks on key points of the infrastructure of commerce. This, as we are in the midst of the holiday buying season. A juicy target indeed.

What’s happening
The coordinated attacks seem to be having some small effect on commerce. According to one report:

MasterCard, calling the attack “a concentrated effort to flood our corporate website with traffic and slow access,” said all its services had been restored and that account data was not at risk.

But it said the attack, mounted by hackers using simple tools posted on the Web, had extended beyond its website to payment processing technology, leaving some customers unable to make online payments using MasterCard software.

How it’s done
By using freely available tools to target and coordinate these attacks, *anyone* can join in the action. Find the right IRC server, download the tools, and turn them on — poof, you’re a ‘hack-tivist’ and  your computer (or computer network) is now part of a botnet:

The weapon of choice is a piece of software named a “Low Orbit Ion Cannon” (LOIC) which was developed to help Internet security experts test the vulnerability of a website to these assaults, the distributed denial of service attacks. The LOIC is readily and easily available for download on the Internet.

The LOIC can be controlled centrally by an administrator in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, a type of computer chat room; it can seize control of a network of computers and use their combined power in a DDoS attack. The attack is aimed at the target website and when the LOICs are activated they flood the website with a deluge of data requests at the same time.

The DDoS attack prevents the overloaded server from responding to legitimate requests and slows down the website to a crawl — or shuts it down totally. The attacks are coordinated in the IRC channel, and on Thursday, around 3,000 people were active on the Operation: Payback channel at one stage.

One side effect of all this is that the participants are also testing the limits of the commerce infrastructure for hackers and others who’s intentions may not be so noble as preventing a perceived injustice.

The impact
So what does this mean for retailers and customers in the next few weeks and months, and what does this mean for the future of online commerce?

  • Slow or blocked online commerce — if the servers are clogged, your online merchant may not be able to process your credit card or PayPal transaction, and can’t complete the sale
  • Increased attacks — depending on how this spate of incidents turns out, copy-cats will use the same techniques against new targets, or evolve their own methods and tools
  • Increased unease — new online consumers will have another reason to *not* shop online, preferring to continue shopping at brick and mortar shops as they’ll feel more secure
  • Increased security — essential to recover control of the commerce infrastructure and to demonstrate to consumers that online commerce works and is safe
  • Increased cost — better and tighter security isn’t free, so this ‘cost of doing business’ will be factored into the retail process, resulting in higher prices

The Genie is out of the bottle
Yep, the tools and techniques have been around for a while. It’s taken one event like this to catalyze a motivated and unconnected group of people around the world to participate in coordinated action. We will see more of this, maybe aimed at political institutions, national governments, or launched by environmental activists. Welcome to a new reality.