Actrix Online Informer – November 2016
The Actrix Online Informer is published each month to help keep
Actrix customers up-to-date with what's happening on the Internet, and to
help ensure they have every opportunity to benefit from it.
Welcome to the November Actrix Online Informer
Welcome to the Actrix Online Informer for November 2016. This month we look at the recent hack event that took down a number of the internet's larger sites, including Twitter and Spotify.
Our second feature article looks at some useful travel apps that solve the most common problems tourists face in new and unfamiliar cities.
YouTube feature – 3D printed castles are a thing now
A new era of architecture is inevitable. With creative, imaginative people like Andrey Rudenko in the world, 3D printing has now advanced beyond pen holders and plates – he's building legitimate concrete castles with 3D printers! The castle is Andrey's test round. Next up: full sized, livable houses printed entirely with machines!
"I'm excited to see where the next few years will lead in terms of construction and design. I have previously been sure I could print homes, but having finished the castle, I now have proof that the technology is ready."
Cyber attacks in America and the Internet of Things
Last Friday (22 October 2016), Americans faced a dramatic dig at their internet as hackers successfully implemented a highly effective DDoS (denial of service) attack. The attack crippled popular websites like Amazon, Spotify, Reddit and Twitter, causing customers a whole world of annoyance.
While stories are still developing on the attack and new information is being uncovered hourly, we know that the malware used to cause the attack – called 'Mirai' – was inspired by a group of gamers who used similar programming to wreak online havoc on their game's servers a few years ago.
While hacker attacks might not be a new concept, this attack was comparatively unique in nature. Hackers used everyday devices rather than computers to implement the attack. In a recent update, we have learned that the devices used to implement the attack were a collection of – mostly – webcams and DVR motherboards produced by Chinese manufacturing company, Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology.
These devices generally have weak security, making them fair game for hackers to use as low-danger pathways through which to access 'bigger fish'.
Mirai's attack left its mark upon more than 500,000 devices. While the programming might not be the most sophisticated out there, it was certainly effective on these underprotected devices. It's quite a surprise that nobody saw this coming!
So what does this attack mean for the Internet of Things?
Nobody likes to imagine that their smart-toasters and light bulbs could be the conduits for cyber chaos. Anyone invested in the Internet of Things should be sprinting back to the drawing board and brainstorming tighter security for the potentially hazardous concept.
What does this mean for New Zealand?
All we can do is tighten our security and be careful of whatever 'smart' devices we welcome into our homes. Invest time in soundly researching anything 'smart' that you buy (or any device with access to the net). What sort of security rating does the company that produced your technology currently have?
Keep your finger on the cyber-pulse in the media, too. Not just mainstream media: keep your eyes on YouTube tech reviewers, tech websites, and the odd mention of any tech-producing companies in the news. Have you spotted any company names portrayed negatively in the media lately? We say this because the very company in trouble for this recent hack – Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology – was in trouble just last year for the poor security of its products!
Stay vigilant and don't compromise on security. One day, if your toaster should require anti-malware software... just do it. Better to be safe than sorry!
Three travel apps you'll actually use this summer
Christmas is on its merry way and, like most of New Zealand, you've probably got an escape plan in place for the summer holidays. Pretty soon you'll be packing your bags for an adventure, be it overseas, or in our own dear country. If you are headed abroad, then we can offer some travel tech to help your trip go as smoothly as possible.
Oh, and don't worry... these apps are ones you're actually likely to use, because we know that the last thing you want is a phone full of useless 'bloaty' apps slowing you down.
In terms of map and direction apps, Google Maps is that kindly shop clerk you ask for directions and a crudely drawn map. Citymapper, on the other hand, is that savvy local who will tell you where to avoid if you don't want to be stuck in traffic at this hour, as well as a series of those magical shortcuts that practically teleport you to your destination. It's the kind of app that the locals themselves use when they want to get around their city.
This app is free and can be downloaded on iOS and Android.
A simple yet highly effective currency converter app based on the popular currency conversion website. This app has seen over 20 million downloads since its launch – it's not here to muck around! In addition to being able to quickly convert the prices you see into Kiwi dollars, you have a selection of other business-related features such as precious metal rates, historic currency charts and the ability to function offline (though we recommend giving the app a chance to update its information as often as possible).
Like Citymapper, this app is also free for iOS and Android.
Consider Tripit your pocket-sized travel agent: it busily gathers up all the vital info you need from your confirmation emails to keep you informed and updated on your flights, accommodation and transportation. Rather than scrolling back through piles of old emails, you can trust Tripit to keep everything in one go-to place which can be exchanged through a shareable feature with friends and family.
Another freebie for iOS and Android users.
Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.
Got a site you think would be neat to share with other readers?
Click here to e-mail and let me know!
Cyberspace news snippets
What's been happening in the online world?
Vigilante warnings after theft accused has name, pics, address, car rego posted online: The rising power and popularity of social media pages is raising warnings about vigilante action. On Tuesday, the name, photograph, phone number, car registration details and home address of a man accused of theft were posted on a Facebook group with tens of thousands of members.Click here for more.
Kiwi woman Shontelle Crosby's smile goes global: In the past, sharing her smile with the world would have terrified Shontelle Crosby. But since the Auckland mother was gifted a new set of teeth, her grin has gone global. The 33-year-old's story of living with a deformed smile before receiving $30,000's worth of dental work has reached international media, with Shontelle's pearly whites splashed on news sites in the UK, Australia and the US. Click here for more.
Marlborough District Council conducting review of communication policies and strategies:The council in Marlborough might not be splashing out on social media promotions but the message is still getting out, its chief executive says. Figures requested by the Taxpayers' Union show the Marlborough District Council is the second lowest council spender on social media promotion in the country. The figures, released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, show the council spent $22.13 in the year to June on LinkedIn promotions. It did not spend anything on boosting Facebook posts. Click here for more.
New Zealand Post deletes 'it's a Kiwi thing' tweet after conversation turns 'heavy':New Zealand Post has deleted a tweet about its latest promotion after social media users began referring to drug use and family violence. On Monday, the state-owned company asked Twitter users for help with their latest stamp promotion - 'It's a Kiwi Thing'. The new stamps have classic Kiwi-isms on them, and New Zealand Post wanted to know if they had missed any. Click here for more.
Hands on: Google Allo smart messaging: Back at the Google I/O developer conference in May, the search giant unveiled plans for two new communications apps in Duo and Allo. Duo is a simplistic video chat app, which was launched in August, while today Google takes the wraps off the far more ambitious Allo. Click here for more.
Australia clamps down on misleading consumer reviews, but rules differ here: SAustralia may crack down on fake reviews posted online to promote the "sharing economy", but it is not clear similar action would be possible in New Zealand. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is investigating whether the likes of Uber and Airbnb are properly managing customer reviews, or whether laws may be being broken. Click here for more.
Google phone: reveal set for early October, expected to be called Pixel and Pixel XL: In two weeks from now we will likely have official confirmation of brand new smartphones from Google, the first to be designed by the company itself. The world can follow the unveiling, via Google's Oct 4 live stream on YouTube and an Australian launch is set for the early morning of October 5, and unless it's planning to reveal a completely unexpected product that just happens to have the rounded oblong dimensions of a smartphone, it seems like the long-held rumours of a Google phone will come to pass. Click here for more.
Facebook launches buy and sell platform nationwide and overseas : Facebook is launching its online trading service nationwide on Tuesday, after testing the function in New Zealand since late last year. The service, called Marketplace is also rolling out to Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Marketplace provides Facebook users with a free platform to find, buy and sell items locally, much like auction site Trade Me. But unlike Trade Me, the service is for individuals only and not for businesses.. Click here for more.
This bot expertly baits internet imbeciles into losing arguments : A Twitter "honeypot" bot is provoking people to argue with it, revealing how desperate some people are to get into online fights. Click here for more.
Warning over Facebook marketplace : A Hamilton couple are warning bargain-hunters to be wary of buying items being sold through Facebook. Facebook launched a "Buy & Sell" button on its website and smartphone apps for some New Zealand users last year. Buyers can search through a marketplace for items and make offers to the sellers on how much they want to pay. Click here for more.
Apple vs. Android
Hands-on: Microsoft HoloLens: Calling the HoloLens clever is a lot like calling the Mona Lisa a mere scribble. As a completely self-contained computer running a version of Windows 10, The HoloLens provides a seamless blend of virtual and real. Click here for more.
The Microsoft-Apple rivalry is alive and well: Microsoft is trying to rekindle a rivalry with Apple, introducing two new computers this week that are aimed squarely at the creative set of customers that Apple has long-claimed as its own. A few years ago, Microsoft was an afterthought for most in the tech world. Click here for more.
Review: MacBook Pro: Picking up where Pokemon Go leaves off, Microsoft's Hololens delivers a new way of looking at the world. Virtual reality is stealing the headlines this year as the major VR headsets finally hit the shelves, but in the long term I suspect augmented reality will have a greater impact on our lives. Click here for more.
Google searches for a more Apple-like strategy: For all its talk of making the world a better place, there is no place where the competitive ideals of capitalism are more evident than in cut-throat Silicon Valley. Almost every move by Apple, Google or Facebook is seen through the lens of offence or defence, either against each other or towards a nimbler startup trying to turn them into yesterday's news. But as well as competing directly, these clashes between titans have manifested themselves collaterally into a series of ideological arguments. Click here for more.
Air NZ bans Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones from all flights: Air New Zealand has issued a total ban on fire-prone Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on all of its flights from 5am on Sunday morning. A spokeswoman said the airline strongly advised travellers not to bring these devices to the airport with them. "They cannot be accepted for travel and there is no storage facility available for them at our check in areas," the spokeswoman said. Click here for more.
Security and Privacy
Sticking with one email address is a security risk: Having a separate free webmail account for services which you think are likely to leak your email address helps to protect you from spammers and hackers. Click here for more.
Cas Carter: What price is your privacy?: Recently my gym offered me an online device to help me track my fitness and be healthy. All I had to do was fill in my details. To my horror, shortly afterwards my Facebook friends started 'liking' the fact that I had joined. I had no idea this was connected to Facebook and, worse, if I had just broadcast my vital statistics to the entire world. I felt violated. I value my privacy – but how much? Click here for more.
The Weird, Wide Web
Benjamin Grant offers unique perspective of earth in spectacular aerial photos: Inspired by "overview", the sensation astronauts feel when they look down on earth, Benjamin Grant created an Instagram account called Daily Overview. By stitching together high‑resolution satellite photographs, the New York-based author has created more than 200 images since 2013, offering a unique perspective of how humans impact the earth. Now, his spectacular images have been put together in a new book, Overview: A New Perspective of Earth. Click here for more.
Secretive company teaches robots to be more like people: You've ordered a robot online and are booting it up at home. At first the bot doesn't do much of anything; it simply follows you around and observes your daily routine: walking the dog, making lasagna, washing the dishes. Click here for more.
Each month we dredge through our archives to pull out stories from the Actrix Newsletter of exactly five years ago. Sometimes these stories will show just how much the net has changed in such a short time, and sometimes they'll be included just because they're interesting.
Slow internet explained?: Victoria University hopes it will be able to give internet users a better insight into why websites might be taking an age to load after getting three computer servers from Google-backed non-profit organisation Measurement Lab that will run a series of tests. Click here for more.
Minority Report technology getting real: Tom Cruise famously showcased motion-capture technology on the silver screen in the blockbuster film Minority Report, but Wellington firm Lumen Digital wants to bring it into the real world. Click here for more.
Social workers to trial tablets out in the field: Social workers in Christchurch will be test driving tablet computers, using them to record client information while out in the field. If the trial is a success the tablets could be used by the Social Development Ministry's more than 1300 social workers around the country. Click here for more.
Thousands of NZ computers infected by malware: Statistics New Zealand's recent survey of internet service providers (ISPs) found 55,000 computers had been compromised by malicious software - as many infected computers as there are households in Hamilton. Click here for more.
Kiwi music helps hook US clients: There is no doubting the excellence of New Zealand popular music. But even the most ardent fans acknowledge that the industry has failed to make much impact on that vital corporate measure: the bottom line. How pleasing, then, to report that the music industry can take a small but important credit for the success of a Wellington-based, award-winning international company called Resn. Click here for more.
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