BitCoin is Here to Stay

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer electronic currency. BitCoin was described by its probably pseudonymous creator Sakoshi Nakamoto as ‘a peer to peer electronic cash system… for electronic transactions without relying on trust.’ That definition seems like a good place to start – BitCoin is a purely electronic, decentralized currency; the idea of a dollar, with no Fort Knox. There’s no need to go through any central agency and no need to give your real name.

So why has a kind of money that’s essentially just made up becoming a popular, legitimate payment system?

While BitCoin’s futuristic anonymity originally appealed to the very tech-savvy and users of very dark grey-area sites, the growth of the currency has been phenomenal.

In January 2009, an unknown user on the first BitCoin client negotiated the indirect purchase of two Papa John’s pizzas for BC10, 000. In January 2013, the price of one BitCoin was US$13.36. In November the same year, one BitCoin was worth US$1, 124.67, though the price has now declined into the $700 range. It’s possible to buy pizza directly with BitCoin now – and also to buy web hosting services, manicures and a wide range of other goods and services, including paying your OKCupid and Virgin Galactic bills.

BitCoin’s electronic nature makes it a natural shoo-in for eCommerce stores looking for ways to accept payment online. But the currency of the future can’t be just online. It needs to be one that can be used offline too, as more and more bricks and mortar stores integrate their online presences, with pickup and other mixed-channel services. In an age when Amazon has a bricks and mortar store, it’s clear the line between online and offline commerce is going to blur, and a currency that can cross those boundaries is going to come out ahead. Paypal is a contender, but Bitcoin has several major advantages.

First, it’s a currency all to itself. You don’t need a bank account, a dollar amount to be transferred from anywhere else. By contrast PayPal operates as an extension of your bank account – another layer, taking another percentage. Which brings us to point two.

BitCoin is cheap. That’s great for the individual, but even better for the business that has had to pay to use cash, pay for changing, pay for credit card transactions… there’s none of that with BitCoin and it can be used in the real world just as effectively as online.

Finally, BitCoin is really hard to commit fraud with. Anyone who processes online payments knows that sooner or later they’ll get hit with a fraudulent payment, and when that happens, the mess is the merchant’s to clear up: they take the hit. While e-stores fear the credit card customer who turns out not to exist, shoppers fear the hacker who steals their details and uses those to steal their money or bombard them with cunning spam. That doesn’t happen with BitCoin – it behaves just like cash. Unlike a credit card payment, it isn’t a promise to pay – it’s an actual currency. That means that once a merchant has taken a payment, there’s no need to hang on to customer details, no callbacks a month later to say the payment wasn’t valid, and no details for hackers to steal.

BitCoin has some problems: It’s suffered from currency speculation and with the deep suspicion governments feel at the idea of a currency that no-one’s really in control of. But with names as big as Dell and Expedia already accepting the currency, it’s probably too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

BitCoin isn’t coming: it’s here, and it’s here to stay.

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USB Has A Huge Security Flaw

It looks like USB technology has a huge security flaw that is inherent to the technology and that we can’t do anything about. That’s what we’re hearing from researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell, from security firm SR Labs. The pair developed a system they called ‘BadUSB,’ malware that lurks in USB devices at the firmware level and can’t be found by scanning flash memory. This BadUSB can take over and control a PC by exploiting weaknesses in the base-level software that mediates between hardware and higher-level software like OSs. Since most computer users aren’t necessarily aware that such software even exists, it’s pretty hard to deal with as a threat.

Messrs Nohl and Lell are white hat hackers, thankfully: rather than empty your bank account or make your PC become part of a botnet, they’re primarily interested in demonstrating proof of concept and helping the industry tighten up security standards.

They say that wiping a flashcard won’t get rid of their malware, and neither will antivirus or antimalware scans. Only by reverse-engineering the firmware can anyone really be sure they got the code, and not many users have the chops to do that.

So assuming that if one person can think of this, so can another, what can we all do to keep ourselves safe while the tech industry struggles to catch up with an open door in one of its most popular technologies? Don’t plug an unknown thumb drive into your computer. Don’t plug your thumb drive into an unknown computer. At the moment, that’s about the limit of defences against BadUSB – type malware. Down the line, a firmware canary could let you know if the drive has been tampered with, or software that can do the job might be available – but right now the best thing might be to transfer files over the web: the security advice you thought you’d never hear.

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Polish Your Chrome

Ten tips to get the most out of Google’s browser.

1: Use autofill

Autofill is for more than telling you what other people are searching for by completing your search terms for you.. You can set it to automatically fill out any online form with predetermined information, completing common fields like your name, email address, address, and so on. To enter the Autofill values, here’s what to do:

  1. Click on the wrench or menu icon in the top right corner.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. At the bottom of the Settings menu, click Show advanced settings
  4. Click Manage Autofill settings under Passwords and forms.
  5. In the Autofill settings window, click the Add new street address button and fill out your details.
  6. find a form and try it out!

2: Shortcuts

Like any app, from MS Word on up, Google Chrome has a set of keyboard based shortcuts and power keys that can make your whole experience faster, easier, and a lot cooler looking if anyone happens to be watching. Here are the top 10 ways to power up your Chrome experience:

Ctrl + 1 – 8 : Pressing Ctrl and a number from 1 to 8 will move through your open tabs to that numbered tab, counting from left to right.

Ctrl + 9 : Switches to the last tab, however many tabs you have.

Ctrl + H : Shows the history in a new tab.

Ctrl + J : Opens the Downloads window.

Ctrl + K : Moves the cursor to the Omnibox.

Ctrl + T : Opens a new tab.

3: Use the Omnibox to do more than search

Google Chrome doesn’t have two boxes – one for search and one for URLs. It’s the same box – an Omnibox. But it can do more than search and go.

You can use it as a calculator – just type in your sums using * for times, / for divided, – for minus and + for plus. You don’t need to hit enter – the answer will be displayed under the bar.

You can use it to get answers to questions – ever wondered how many gallons there are in a liter?

4: Resize text boxes

Google Chrome lets you resize the text boxes on online forms. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal -but if you have a long name, or your street address is huge, it’s a permanent irritation. Not any more! Simply click and drag the bottom right hand corner of the box.

5: Sync it with your Google account

Chrome allows you to synch the browser with your Google accounts. You can sync your settings, passwords, and bookmarks, and take them with you from one computer to another, and adjust all of them from your Google account.

6: Pin frequently used tabs

You can pin your favorite tabs to save tab bar space without forgoing convenient access to tabs you use all the time. To pin a tab, right click (Ctrl + click on a Mac) And click Pin Tab. You can click and drag a pinned tab to any position you want on the tab bar too.

7: Use the Chrome Task Manager

Each tab runs in its own sandbox, which helps to make Chrome more stable. That can make it hard to see the overall system resources being used – unless you look in the Task Manager. In the Windows Task Manager, you’ll sometimes see multiple instances of Google Chrome running for each open tab!

To open the task manager, either use Shift + Esc, or click the wrench or Menu icons and select Tools and then Task Manager. On a Mac you’ll find the Tools menu on the top bar of your Mac when Chrome is selected. If you’re a nerd and you’d like some stats, your day has come: The Chrome task manager has a ‘stats for nerds’ tab at the bottom of the Task Manager.

8: Quickly close a tab

Any tab can be closed by clicking on the x on the tab. But if that’s not quick enough for you, there are quicker ways. If your mouse has a wheel, pushing in on the wheel while you mouse over any part of the tab will close it. There’s a keyboard shortcut too: Ctrl + W and Ctrl + F4 also close a tab immediately.

If you want to quickly open a tab, middle clicking on a link opens it in a new tab; on Mac, it’s Command + click to get the same result.

9: Install Extensions

No other browser has the same capacity for extensions as Chrome. Chrome’s Webstore has extensions and plugins, games and every other kind of add-on you can imagine, all of which just slot into your broswser.

10: Use Chrome Commands

You can use Chrome’s built-in command line function to do a lot of cool stuff too. Type chrome:// to begin using it. You can see DNS information, GPU information, look for conflicts, set flags, and more – if you want to know everything Chrome’s command line does and how to do it, type chrome://chrome-urls into your Omnibox.

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Think First, and Click Emails Later

Most hackers still use the easiest route to your details: spam emails.

While there are holes in some of our most important technologies, most data loss doesn’t occur when someone breaks into your building. It doesn’t occur when something like the Heartbleed bug strikes, or when someone with a cool username uses quasi-magical computer skills to get to your personal information. The vast majority of hackers, it turns out, don’t even own a leather trenchcoat. What they do have is millions of email addresses, and spam.

The number one way for hackers to get people’s data – and probably the way they got your email address – is through people clicking on links in spammy email.

Like most people, you no doubt get a lot of very blatant spam that you never look at – it goes straight to your spam folder, and periodically you empty out all the offers of blue pills and shares in the riches of sadly-deceased Nigerian millionaires into the ether. But some spam can be quite clever – and if it’s from Ebay, or your bank (I’ve had both of these this week) saying there’s something wrong with your account, you’re likely to click it before you think.

Somewhere, someone is banking on it.

Always read an email before you click on any link it contains. No legit organization requires you to click a link in an unsolicited email, whatever the problem, and another red flag is the absence of your real name. Banks don’t write to ‘dear customer.’ If you have serious antivirus, you’re probably safe, but it only takes one person in your organization to panic or slip up. Train staff to think first and click links later.

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Version Now Vs. Version Next: The Toughest Decision in Tech

In a field that moves as fast as tech, the decision whether to buy the current latest version of a product or wait for the next, inevitably just-around-the-corner upgrade is constantly coming up. Whether it’s hardware, an app or a big piece of software, it’s difficult to make that call. And when it’s a new technology, it’s even more important.

The Threat and the Promise of Disruptive Technology

Disruptive tech is around every corner. Electric cars are a bit of a damp squib now – but will next-generation battery technology convert them into gamechangers this year, or next year? Hydrogen cars look like a poor proposition now – but next year? We have to remember that back in the day, IBM allegedly saw a world market for about five computers. That’s probably apocryphal, but there are plenty of examples of predictions about the internet, cars, Facebook and a million other things that ‘will never catch on’ becoming totally disruptive and changing the whole way the world works. That’s a nightmare for some people, but great for early adopters.

The Dummy Trap

What you want to be is an early adopter of successful technologies. Being an indiscriminate early adopter means being the test dummy for a lot of ideas that never actually make it. If you’re being asked to test drive a technology, that should be reflected in the price you’re paying or some other kind of consideration.

The Late Late Show

Not quite the opposite of the Dummy Trap, this is going to be a situation where you’re constantly about to get into a new technology – just as soon as the really good version comes out. That could be because there isn’t a version that really works just yet, but it’s (of course) around the corner. In other words, you’re waiting your turn to become an early adopter of a successful version of a successful technology. Or it could be because the product already works pretty well, but you’re waiting for a much-vaunted future improvement (any day now) before you get on board. Hang around on this platform too long and you’ll miss all the trains.

So What’s To Do?

Knowing the situation is the key here. You need to be aware of the state of play in the world beyond what marketing materials, tech-happy advocates of the product you’re considering and other true believers are saying. Form doesn’t mean a lot – successful companies have backed dead-in-the-water tech (remember the Laser Disc?), while companies you never heard of have come up with just one idea and taken on the world. But your situation does mean a lot. If you need a certain tool, you might have to settle for version In Store Now. Otherwise, play the angles: if you think you stand to gain by getting in early, just remember the risks – but waiting forever while that same technology changes the world around you is a risky game too.

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