Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Security Upgrade: A Must For All Computer Systems

We all know that no computer system is invincible from outside threats, especially from that of cyber hackers. And nowadays, we have witnessed our fair share of cyber attacks. And here we are thinking that terror attacks are the only thing that’s threatening our existence but we are so badly mistaken. Since the advent of advanced technology and more people share important data and documents virtually, cyber security is an issue faced by many almost on a daily basis.

It is safe to say that a big majority of homes now own at least one computing device aside from the myriad of handy smart gadgets each family member own. Aside from sending emails and files to one another through this virtual network, online banking has also been growing in popularity. There are just far too many computing vulnerabilities that lure hackers with enough know-how to hack systems and disrupt the order in our modern world with the main goal of milking money from as many people as they can.

Amidst reports of 1.44 lakh cyber attacks in India in last three years, the government is mulling upgrading its security system by installing additional features in its computer systems.

The issue was discussed threadbare at a meeting convened by the home ministry and attended by representatives of security agencies and various ministries and departments.

Under the new system, the ministry or department concerned will be made responsible for the security of computer sys tem in the respective ministry and department, the home ministry may be made overall in-charge of the cyber security.


Cyber crimes like phishing, ransomware, website intrusion, etc. are indeed a growing pain to society. Computer systems aren’t secure enough to fend off cyber attackers who keep on intruding systems because they earn lots of money from these invasions. Just recently, the ransomware “Wannacry” caused mass hysteria as computers suddenly became inaccessible and a ludicrous amount of ransom in the form of bitcoins were asked from the unfortunate victims. Unfortunately, big corporations, government institutions, and individual consumers have all been affected.

North Korean hackers may have been behind the WannaCry ransomware attack that crippled the NHS last month, British security experts have said. 

The National Cyber Security Centre has led an international investigation into the attack, which is estimated to have affected more than 300,000 computers in over 150 countries worldwide. 

Security sources at the government body told the BBC that a North Korean outfit called the Lazarus Group may have been behind the attack, which knocked out computer systems at 47 NHS trusts across the country last month.

Computers at the trusts showed a message saying their data had been encrypted and it would only be unlocked when they paid a ransom in bitcoins - a digital currency - into a specific account.


As controversial as it may seem, nothing has been proven yet although others can’t help but raise their eyebrows once they piece together one bit of information with another. The point here is that no one is safe regardless of the antivirus or firewall you are using. Your best bet is to backup your files, so you save yourself from all the stress and anxiety an issue like data loss may trigger. Regular updates also help a lot since these updates often have the fix to many of the bugs that have been bugging you for a while.

Meanwhile, bigger organizations should boost their cyber security measures to protect their systems from these hacks especially that thousands, if not millions, rely on them to work efficiently all the time. A fine example is the UK’s NHS Trust program. Patient’s treatments and medications were put on hold when computers in many UK hospitals can’t be accessed for hours on end. Hence, the only way to fight these troublemakers is to be as good as them in this cyber game even if it means revamping current computer systems to make them 100% fool-proof against cyber attacks.

Security Upgrade: A Must For All Computer Systems Read more on: The Mac Zealots Blog


Sunday, 16 July 2017

What’s The CIA Got To Do With Apple’s MacBook?

Apple is the undisputed leader in the iOS and MacOS technology that were later soon adapted by Google with their very own Android version. But Apple’s got a certain touch of class to it, far from the wide-range Android-based smartphones, computers, and laptops sold by different phone and PC manufacturers. Even with computers and laptops, many people covet those sleek and fancy MacBooks and iMacs.

However, some covert controversy surrounds Apple’s MacBooks and it involves the Central Intelligence Agency. Rumor has it that the agency infected fresh from the factory MacBook units for some major spying right under our noses.

The Central Intelligence Agency is able to permanently infect an Apple Mac computer so that even reinstalling the operating system will not erase the bug, according to documents published by WikiLeaks.

In its second release allegedly from the CIA's arsenal of hacking tools, WikiLeaks also said that it appears that since 2008 the US spy agency has been able to insert it bugs onto new and unused iPhones by intervening in Apple's supply and distribution network.

The release follows the initial publication on 9 March by the anti-secrecy group of thousands of pages of instructions and code from what it called the entire CIA arsenal of hacking tools.

The documents are generally believed to be genuine, although the CIA has not acknowledged this.


If this is true, this has clearly broken the trust placed by consumers on Apple and even on the government. Consumers are being spied upon without them knowing and it is a clear violation of their right to privacy, among others.

The CIA’s user guide for Screwdriver, released as part of WikiLeaks’ ‘Dark Matter’ drop, describes the tool as “a mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is starting up.” Ordinarily, an Apple Firmware password would prevent any changes being made during the startup phase.

However, Screwdriver allows the CIA to infect the very core of the computer making it a stealthy tool undetectable by antivirus software.

The malicious code, implanted by the Screwdriver, attacks the computer's Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI), the firmware that loads the computer's operating system (OS). EFI resides outside of the hard disk space on the machine, making it much harder to detect.

The implant code is stored on the firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter, a small compact device used for transmitting data (similar to a USB cable), and when it’s plugged into the Thunderbolt port on Macs, it infects them.

Once inserted into “any Mac laptop or desktop with a Thunderbolt port," the implant code then scans all internal and external hard drives looking for a volume with a specific name - FILER. If this is found, the code will execute, allowing the CIA to take control of the computer, potentially monitoring and transmitting everything that occurs on the machine.


How can the CIA get away with something like this? And how can Apple allow the CIA to do this to their customers – people who paid a dear price to own a shiny Apple MacBook? So, what does the company have to say about this matter?

On March 7, WikiLeaks released thousands of documents it said were from the CIA, revealing tools the agency used to infiltrate smartphones, computers, televisions and other electronic devices. After concerns that the document dump opened up the devices to additional security risks, WikiLeaks head Julian Assange said he would contact the makers of the affected devices to share information with them.

Apple said it has not received information from WikiLeaks “that isn’t in the public domain.” In the statement the company sent, it also said: “We have not negotiated with Wikileaks for any information. We have given them instructions to submit any information they wish through our normal process under our standard terms.”

The company added: “We are tireless defenders of our users’ security and privacy, but we do not condone theft or coordinate with those that threaten to harm our users.”


These are serious allegations hurled by Wikileaks to both Apple and the CIA. Wikileaks also caught the attention of everyone with all their exposés last election and more people now actually believe in them. If Apple’s new MacBooks indeed come with bugs, then they should do something about or take responsibility for such a crime together with the CIA.

The blog post What’s The CIA Got To Do With Apple’s MacBook? is republished from The Mac Zealots Blog


Sunday, 9 July 2017

How Prepared Is America For Disasters During The Trump Era

Over the years, we have witnessed out fair share of disasters – both natural and man-made. These disasters have taken lives and displaced many, even leaving them scarred for life. While the country tries its best to respond as efficiently and effectively possible when disaster strikes, other factors can get in the way of public service.

Although politics should be far from everyone’s mind when talking about disaster preparedness, we can’t ignore the fact that it plays a major role in the creation of helpful policies and in ensuring that these agencies and services get the funding they need.

The executive order on climate change President Donald Trump announced Tuesday afternoon is an explicit attack on President Barack Obama’s efforts to fight climate change.

But it also implicitly denies we’re at risk from climate change in the first place.

As Bloomberg reports, the order — which you can read here — rolls back Obama’s executive orders and guidances that the government consider the costs of climate change–related disasters in planning and policymaking.

This is backward. If climate change is real — regardless of the cause — why not prepare for the costs and damage of it? We can already see the impacts. In January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Vox that abnormally high tides in parts of the country have turned “from a rare event into a recurrent and disruptive problem." There’s a clear need, the agency wrote, “to support preparedness planning ... about future changes in sea level and associated coastal risks.”

The Obama administration made supporting preparedness a priority. And Trump is doing away with that priority.


Threats of disaster will remain a constant reminder for all of us to be prepared all the time. From our own homes to the schools and offices, we should have a disaster preparedness plan in place. And we have no choice but to always remain on our toes as global warming and climate changes mess up with our weather systems and make natural disasters worse than they did in the past.

That proposal is "the cornerstone for adaptation planning throughout the government," according to Christy Goldfuss, managing director for the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality under Obama and now a vice president at the Center for American Progress.

Its effects ranged from the mundane to the radical. For example, the order directed the General Services Administration, which manages federal buildings, to make sure the government wasn’t signing long-term leases in areas likely to get inundated with floods, Goldfuss said. It also allowed different federal agencies to coordinate more far-reaching programs, like the relocation of communities most threatened by climate change.

But there are also some who do not share the same sentiments as President Trump and acknowledges the threat of climate change as something that is real and even more dangerous than what the administration gives it credit for.

Senator Dick Durbin, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, called Trump’s decision "a security disaster."

"Climate change is doing more damage to American military assets than any bombing raid," Durbin said in a telephone interview. "General Mattis is a realist when it comes to national threats. I hope that in a quiet moment he’ll pull the president aside and explain the reality of climate change and national security."

Former officers echoed that criticism. David Titley, a retired rear admiral, said the national security risk was beyond doubt.

"The Department of Defense will be operating in an environment fundamentally changed by climate," Titley, now a member of the advisory board at the Center for Climate and Security in Washington, said in an email. "Our bases and training ranges will be at increasing risk, and conflicts that may have remained as regional brush fires may burst into international crises."


President Trump may not see the value and importance of addressing climate change issues but we are still hoping he will not compromise everyone’s safety by pulling out funding for these agencies that prepare for such eventualities. He may live in his high tower and feel comforted by his millions of properties, but in the end, they won’t be able to protect him in case Mother Nature gets fed up and unleash her fury to mankind.

Climate change may be a novel concept for him but as the highest elected official in the land, he must take all threats seriously and enforce security and protective measures to prepare for any possible disasters. By ensuring the safety and security of the public from all sorts of threats, that’s the best way for him to repay the trust entrusted to him by many – making his presidential win possible against all odds.

How Prepared Is America For Disasters During The Trump Era was first seen on The Mac Zealots Blog


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Less GPS Use: It’s Okay To Get Lost At Times Too

We fear chaos and confusion in our lives. Whenever possible, we try to organize things and the things we have to do so we don’t get lost throughout the day. This is most especially helpful when traveling, especially during long travels. The GPS (Global Positioning System) comes in handy, so you can get to your destination the fastest way possible without any fears of ever getting lost.

Back in the days, getting lost is a common complaint among drivers since there was no GPS yet and the most you could do was to bring a map – which is only efficient if you have someone else with you to check it out while you are driving. But recent studies reveal that too much reliance on GPS may not be good for our health after all.

Using a GPS to reach your destination may be throwing your brain off track, new research has revealed.

A study published in Nature Communications found that frequent GPS use might actually be making you a worse natural navigator, as relying on technology to get from Point A to Point B doesn’t engage your brain the same way navigating on your own does.

In the study, 24 participants navigated a video simulation of London, England with and without a satellite navigation system. When participants didn’t rely on technology, their hippocampi (responsible for mental maps of our surroundings) and their prefrontal cortex (responsible for decision-making) became more active when choosing which streets to venture down. Their brains didn’t experience this same activation when they used the GPS, and actually looked identical whether they arrived at a fork in the road or were simply continuing along the same path.


Our forefathers survived traveling thousands of miles on foot and never worried about getting lost. In case they did back then, then that means it is just but a new discovery. It is simply how the brain process and retain information.

“We show that, specifically when new streets are entered during navigation, right posterior hippocampal activity indexes the change in the number of local topological connections available for future travel and right anterior hippocampal activity reflects global properties of the street entered,” said the researchers.

“When forced detours require replanning of the route to the goal, bilateral inferior lateral prefrontal activity scales with the planning demands of a breadth-first search of future paths.”

These results will help shape models of how hippocampal and prefrontal regions support navigation, planning, and future simulation.

The hippocampus appears to produce two maps of the environment. One tracks the straight-line distance to the destination and is encoded by the frontal region of the hippocampus, the other model is in the rear of the hippocampus and tracks the “true path” to the goal.

While navigating, the hippocampus flips between these two maps depending on the information you need.


So, what happens when you ignore your instincts and rely on technology to find the solutions for you?

A reliance on satnavs could make the brain disinterested in learning directions. When the brain has something telling us where to go, this kind of brain activity will switch off and the brain will be unresponsive to the street network. This can affect the brain in the future and make GPS users learn slower or follow and create routes unaided, the Reuters reported. The study hopes that satnav users will realize that the technology has its uses and limitations.

Using GPS devices while driving can even cause the brain to abandon common sense altogether. These might have actually happened to you when you followed Waze to a dead end instead of relying on your instincts to turn at a different corner to reach your destination. The findings of the study can shed light on accidents caused by GPS glitches where this reliance on technology make travelers insist on following the device rather than common sense.


The human body is equipped to overcome obstacles it may come its way in your day-to-day. From physical and manual labor to challenges that require you to think, your body will help you figure things out. But as we increase our reliance on technologies that aim to make our life easier, we may also be unconsciously changing the way our brain works and it might not be a good idea after all.

The following blog post Less GPS Use: It’s Okay To Get Lost At Times Too was originally published to