Category Archives: Technology


Now Twitter Efforts to Silence Trolls

Twitter on Tuesday announced yet another crackdown on abusers.

With the goal of making Twitter a safer place, it has come up with new ways to

  • Prevent the creation of new abusive accounts;
  • Make search safer; and
  • Collapse potentially abusive or low-quality tweets.

Twitter also pledged to persist in its anti-abuse endeavors, saying it would keep rolling out product changes, some more visible than others, and updating users on its progress every step of the way.

Twitter “is more vulnerable than other social media because people expect it to be their link to the world, and not just their friends,” noted Jim McGregor, a principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“People use it for news and for access to quick gossip,” he told TechNewsWorld, adding that its open-ended structure makes it an easier target for abuse.

Latest Offensive

Twitter will identify account owners it has suspended permanently and block them from creating new accounts.

That might be a reaction to the creation of multiple fake accounts last fall, after Twitter had suspended several accounts linked to the alt-right movement, which is known for advocating white supremacy and other extreme views.

Those suspensions came amid mounting criticism of the company’s failure to expunge harassing, racist, sexist and anti-Semitic tweets from its network.

Safe search involves filtering tweets that contain potentially sensitive content, as well as tweets from blocked and muted accounts, from search results. However, users would have other ways to search for and access those tweets.

Under the new system, potentially abusive and low-quality replies will be collapsed, although they will be available if users want to seek them out. This change will roll out in the coming weeks, Twitter said.

Protection or Cybergagging?

“Ultimately, determining what constitutes cyberharassent or any kind of inappropriate behavior on Twitter is a subjective undertaking,” said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“As soon as you introduce subjectivity into regulating Twitter, it loses its appeal,” he told TechNewsWorld. “One person’s freedom of speech is another person’s microaggression. Twitter’s best bet is to say, ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here.'”

Getting around the problem of subjective judgment will be difficult, McGregor suggested. “How do you decide what’s appropriate or abusive, and what’s not? You need to have a context for the conversation and the relationship.”

Friends would couch statements in terms that might be considered inappropriate when relayed to a stranger, he pointed out. “For example, I could tweet the word ‘s**t’ to a friend in response to something he’d said or a news item we were discussing, and it would be all right.”

Using artificial intelligence to filter out potentially offending tweets isn’t going to resolve the issue, because “AI systems have to learn like humans do, and no AI solution will really work unless you have a finite number of inputs,” McGregor pointed out.

Twitter’s Battle Against the Trolls

Twitter in 2014 suspended several accounts for violating its rules after actor Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda publicly quit the site due to hateful tweets about her father’s tragic suicide. She later reactivated her account

Another victim, Imani Gandy, had been harassed since 2012 by someone with the handle “Assholster,” who created up to 10 different Twitter accounts a day to hurl racist invectives at her.

Leslie Jones, a Saturday Night Live cast member, temporarily quit Twitter last year after being deluged with hundreds of racist and abusive tweets. She returned after an outpouring of support.

Twitter permanently suspended conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos this summer on the grounds that he had subjected users to targeted abuse.

Twitter over the years has introduced a laundry list of new measures to curb the abuse.

The frequent changes are necessary, according to Laura DiDio, a research director at 451 Research.

“Twitter has to update its rules to reflect the changing times,” she told TechNewsWorld. “Nothing’s 100 percent foolproof.”


The Dozens of iOS Apps Vulnerable to WiFi

Dozens of applications for Apple’s mobile devices are vulnerable to WiFi snoopers, a security researcher reported this week.

Will Strafach, CEO of the Sudo Security Group, identified 76 popular iOS apps available at Apple’s App Store that were vulnerable to wireless eavesdroppers, even though the connections were supposed to be protected by encryption.

There have been 18 million downloads of the vulnerable apps, he said.

Strafach categorized 33 of the vulnerable apps as “low risk.” Potentially intercepted information included partially sensitive analytics data about a device and partially sensitive personal data, such as an email address or login credentials.

VivaVideo, Snap Upload for Snapchat, Volify, Loops Live, Private Browser, Aman Bank, FirstBank, VPN One Click Professional, and AutoLotto: Powerball, MegaMillions Lottery Tickets are some of the apps he assigned to the low-risk category.

Riskier Apps

Strafach categorized another 24 iOS apps as “medium risk.” Potentially intercepted information included service login credentials and session authentication tokens for users logged onto the network.

Strafach labeled the remaining apps “high risk” because potentially intercepted information included the snatching of financial or medical services login credentials.

He did not identify the medium and high risk apps by name, in order to give their makers time to patch the vulnerability in their apps.

How concerned should users be about their security when using these apps?

“I tried to leave out anything regarding concern level, as I do not want to freak people out too much,” Strafach told TechNewsWorld.

“While this is indeed a big concern in my opinion, it can be mostly mitigated by turning off WiFi and using a cellular connection to perform sensitive actions — such as checking bank balances — while in public,” he said.

Man in the Middle Attack

If anything, Strafach is understating the problem, maintained Dave Jevans, vice president for mobile security products at Proofpoint.

“We’ve analyzed millions of apps and found this is a widespread problem,” he told TechNewsWorld, “and it’s not just iOS. It’s Android, too.”

Still, it likely is not yet a cause for great alarm, according to Seth Hardy, director of security research at Appthority.

“It’s something to be concerned about, but we’ve never seen it actively exploited in the wild,” he told TechNewsWorld.

What the vulnerability does is enable a classic man-in-the-middle attack. Data from the target phone is intercepted before it reaches its destination. It is then decrypted, stored, re-encrypted and then sent to its destination — all without the user’s knowledge.

To do that, an app needs to be fooled into thinking it’s communicating with a destination and not an evesdropper.

“In order for a man-in-the-middle attack to be successful, the attacker needs a digital certificate that’s either trusted by the application, or the application is not properly vetting the trust relationship,” explained Slawek Ligier, vice president of engineering for security at Barracuda Networks.

“In this case, it appears that developers are developing applications in a way that allows any certificate to be accepted,” he told TechNewsWorld. “If the certificate is issued and not expired, they’re accepting it. They’re not checking if it’s been revoked or even if it’s properly signed.”

Developer’s Problem

Should Apple act to weed these vulnerable apps from behind its walled garden?

“Apple should most certainly remove any of the offending apps from the App Store,” said Sam McLane, head of security engineering at Arctic Wolf.

“This is something that is relatively easy to test for and should be enforced by Apple, since the trust model starts with the Apple ecosystem being safe for people to use,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Strafach disagreed. “The setup now is exactly as it should be with regards to developer control of networking code,” he said. “Developers can do something about this problem. For affected apps, the fix is only a few lines — less than an hour tops, if that, to fix the matter in affected code.”

Lazy Coders

If Apple tried to address this app vulnerability, it could create headaches for developers, especially those developing enterprise apps, noted Simeon Coney, chief strategy officer for AdaptiveMobile.

“A lot of app developers rely on current behaviors to do things like enterprise apps, which may not have a public certificate,” he told TechNewsWorld, “so the responsibility lies more with the app developers to make sure their apps aren’t bundled with this risk.”

Apple doesn’t want to force developers to fully trust certificates, added Ligier. “It will break a lot of things, especially internal apps, and generate a lot of unhappy users,” he said.

Nevertheless, developers should not release apps that allow for third-party certificates to be blindly accepted, McLane maintained.

“This is entirely in their hands to remedy,” he said. “It’s easily tested and only out of laziness would someone ever ship an app that had this egregious security hole in production level code.”


Wow Gaming’s New Virtual Reality Frontier and Personal Cargo Robots

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that occasionally stops gaping at contentious Senate confirmation hearings and votes to peruse the latest gadget announcements.

This time around, we’re looking at some of the gadgets that perhaps got a little lost in the noise after CES in January but caught our eye, for better or worse. Among them are a 4-D arcade machine and a robot designed to carry all the things you don’t want to.

As ever, dear readers, this is not a review column, in part because these products have yet to reach the public sphere, but mostly because the chances of my actually ever using said products are slim. The ratings relate only to how much I’d like to try them, should the stars align.

Regular readers will know that I’ve played games my entire life. I hold deep reverence for the care and attention that go into creating these experiences, and I’ve rarely met a game I didn’t want to conquer.

Yet I am nervous about virtual reality. I’ve tried it and found those disorientating worlds difficult to handle, though I suspect that over time I could grow more accustomed to it. I doubt I could say the same for an arcade machine that both locks me into a VR world and pelts me with physical stimuli.

Koei Tecmo Wave’s VR Sense machine is a virtual reality arcade cabinet that houses you and subjects you to what I can only imagine is sheer torture. It has what Koei Tecmo Wave calls a “3D seat,” which attempts to draw players further into the games through touch, movement, aroma, wind, and temperature and precipitation changes. It’s not completely clear as yet whether you have to wear a headset for the full VR effect.

It’s launching with three games: a horse-riding simulator, a version of Koei Tecno Wave’s Dynasty Warrior franchise (with a stab at replicating in-game flames while you swelter in your moving chair), and a horror game.

I enjoy horror titles. However, I’d be less likely to welcome a VR horror game, as I’d probably come close to having a heart attack or three. There’s next to no chance I’d ever try Horror Sense.

That’s in large part due to the game apparently mimicking bugs falling from the ceiling and critters scuttling along the floor. I have a lot of questions about this, but ultimately, I’d tear off a VR headset in a second if I thought there were bugs falling on me while playing. No thank you, ma’am.

I’m happy to transport myself into different times and landscapes mentally if not physically. I may yet become a virtual reality convert — but for now I’m more than happy with a flat screen and a controller.

Rolling Repository

There is little I detest more, outside the realm of what certain parties are doing to the planet, than the act of carrying things. I truly despise it. I suppose in my heart of hearts I am a minimalist, and things get in the way constantly. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a car to dump purchases into on a shopping trip, or to hold my bag on the passenger seat.

Praise be to Piaggio Fast Forward, then, for its personal cargo robot, Gita. The machine can cart around up to 40 pounds of your things. It can follow you as you trudge home wearing a special belt that connects to Gita over WiFi and houses cameras to help Gita see where it’s headed.

Gita can move autonomously if has an area mapped out — though I suspect I would not be likely to let a Gita trundle around by itself lest someone smash it open to steal my water bottle or something.

There’s good news if you’re a cyclist, since Gita can travel at up to 22 miles per hour and has a zero turning radius. I’d love to have this little gizmo even to carry my wallet around instead of stuffing it in my pocket, though I admit I’d feel a little silly having a moving shopping dolly following me around.

For people who aren’t as carrying-averse as I am, there are some broader, practical benefits — like transporting groceries and having only the intended recipient able to open it, or moving goods around a hospital.

Postal workers might find it useful as well, especially since Piaggio is developing a bigger version, the Kilo, which can transport up to 200 pounds of goods.

Mostly, I’m just glad I may never again have to contend with twine bag handles tearing into my hands as I desperately speed home to unload my frightful burden.


Info Anonymous Hacker Pulls Plug on Thousands of Dark Net Sites

Twenty percent of the Dark Net was taken offline last week, when a hacker compromised a server hosting some 10,000 websites on the Tor network.

Tor, designed to hide the identities of its users, is widely used on the Dark Web, which isn’t indexed by mainstream search engines and serves as a hub for illegal online activities.

Visitors to the affected pages were greeted with the message, “Hello, Freedom Hosting II, you’ve been hacked.” Freedom Hosting II is the server that hosted the Tor pages.

The attacker, who has claimed to be part of the hacker collective Anonymous, reportedly took Freedom Hosting II offline because 50 percent of its sites contained child pornography.

The original Freedom Hosting sites hosted as much as 50 percent of the Dark Web’s pages as of 2013, when it was taken down by law enforcement. A number of child porn prosecutions followed that action.

This incident supposedly was the first hack carried out by the attacker, who claimed responsibility in an interview with Motherboard. In addition to taking Freedom II offline, the person stole 74 gigabytes in files and a 2.3-GB database.

The database stolen from Freedom II contains 381,000 email addresses — thousands of them with .gov extensions, Troy Hunt, who runs the Have I Been Pwned website, told Wired.

However, those .gov addresses may not be legitimate, he noted.

The hack of Freedom II was relatively rudimentary, said Tim Condello, technical account manager and security researcher at RedOwl.

“They identified a configuration issue and used it to identify the root user of the system and gain control of it that way,” he told TechNewsWorld. After gaining control of the system, “they overwrote the index file and redirected the landing page for all the websites to a landing page containing their message.”

Shared Vulnerabilities

This attack demonstrates that when it comes to resistance to vulnerabilities, the Dark Web doesn’t have an edge.

“The underlying technology of the Dark Web isn’t anything revolutionary. The way a content management system or a hosting service operates is identical to how it’s done on the open Web,” Condello said.

“The difference is how the content is communicated, so it’s accessible only through the Dark Web,” he continued.

“The code that’s used for a forum on the Dark Web is the same code that’s used on the clear Web,” Condello explained, “so if there’s a vulnerability identified for WordPress, that vulnerability can be exploited on a Dark Web website using WordPress just as it would on the open Web.”

Flaws in Dark Web

The attack on Freedom II also shows the danger of concentrating resources in a central location.

“The fact that so many sites used this single particular hosting provider meant that a breach of that provider meant a breach of thousands of sites,” noted Danny Rogers, CEO of Terbium Labs.

“The anonymity of the Dark Web relies on its distributed nature,” he told TechNewsWorld. “These sorts of centralizations create significant weaknesses.”

Although breaking into servers and stealing data on the open Web is illegal, it remains to be seen what the consequences may be for the hacker of Freedom II.

“I’m sure they angered a lot of people, but I’m not sure how much anyone can do about it,” Rogers said.

There may be legal ramifications from the attack, but they could be for the people identified in the dump of stolen data rather than for the hacker.

“The data release is going to be a major boon to law enforcement,” Rogers observed.

More Attacks to Come

Attacks on the Dark Web are commonplace, but they don’t often get the visibility of the assault on Freedom II.

“These attacks will continue on a pace with what we see on the clear Web,” Condello maintained.

“I think the new pattern is going to be [that] as vulnerabilities are revealed on the open Web, people are going to go to the Dark Web and see if there are any sites with those same vulnerabilities,” he suggested. “Getting access to sites built around anonymity and pulling the curtain back on that can give you power and money.”


Four Ways To Increase Your Mobile App Reviews

You might be wondering whether reviews really matter when it comes to your app … Let’s jump straight to the conclusion and say yes, it does matter (and much more than people realise). This article will guide you through tips to increase mobile app reviews.

Online reviews, in general, are extremely important; they can make or break a business. Reviews are part of a consumer’s online research efforts, and the opinions of others can directly affect your business. In other words, reviews play a major role in people’s purchasing decisions, whether the opinions are about restaurants, movies or apps.

  • 70 percent of people trust local businesses more as a result of positive online reviews.
  • 80 percent of consumers have changed their minds about a purchase based solely on the negative reviews they read.
  • 88 percent said they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • 57 percent of consumers visit a local business website after reading online reviews, and another 15 percent call the business.

With respect to apps, these opinions and reviews also affect how visible they will be in the app store search results. Users tend to download the first app that appears in their search result and app reviews are one of the factors that decide which app gets this highly coveted spot. It is also important to note that not having any online reviews can be just as harmful — if not more so — than having some negative reviews.

Unfortunately, people are not lining up to review your app, even if they are in love with it. Users won’t go back to the app store on their own accord to write a review, but they might do so with a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Here are 4 ways to increase mobile app reviews:

1. Create a great app

It might seem obvious, but you need to have a good app to generate good reviews. If your app does not function well in the first place, you cannot expect many users or positive reviews. You need to create a great app that provides value to its users. The happier the users are, the more positive reviews will come in. Make sure you update your app regularly to keep it relevant and functional.

2. Encourage user feedback

The key to increasing and improving your app reviews is by providing exceptional customer service. By allowing unhappy users to easily get in touch and express their concerns, you show them how valued their opinion is. How? Include a “Send Feedback” button in your app that connects straight to an email form. You can use this as a two-way channel of communication to improve your app. This way problems get solved much quicker, and the customer is left with a more positive feeling after they deal with support. Once you have helped your customer, you can politely ask them to review your app. As a result, bad reviews are minimized and your (now) happy customers will leave good reviews.

3. Use gamification

Gamification, according to Badgeville, is “the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” In this case, you will try to entice users to leave a review by creating a game around it. Think of a contest or a giveaway. You can offer a small prize, like a gift card or a discount code, that will go to a randomly-chosen winner. Keep in mind that both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store have rules about contests, so make sure to check these out before you set up a game.

4. Integrate social media

Ask the people who are already a fan of your company to use and review your app! Leverage the power of your social media channels to increase app downloads and, simultaneously, increase reviews. Remind users to rate and review your app by cross-promoting through email, newsletters and social media. Another strategy is to ask social media users and influencers to rate your app during the beta stage. This way your app will already have a good amount of reviews before the full version is launched.

Remember, never purchase fake reviews or you will run the risk of having your app suspended from the app store! Anyhow, organic reviews are a win-win for the user and the app developer: it helps to improve the app for its users, as well as increasing its ranking and downloads. Now that you know how to increase mobile app reviews, go out there and rake in those good ratings!


Newest Technology Trends That Will Shape

In its State of UX in 2017 report, the team commented that phrases like “intuitive” and “human-centered” are disappearing from developers’ and designers’ vocabularies.

But I would argue that those UX traits aren’t disappearing; they’ve become requirements rather than perks. Saying that a product is “intuitive” shouldn’t be necessary because that should be a given property of its functionality.

If a user can’t intuitively utilize a particular function, it becomes irrelevant.

The merger of UX and functionality poses a tough problem for developers, especially those working on global consumer apps like Uber. Those developers have to cater to the needs of a group of users wildly diverse not only in age and ethnicity, but in terms of the languages they speak, the values they hold and the devices they use. Plus, developers must account for varying levels of connectivity and make design choices accordingly.

All of this means there is no magic bullet when it comes to advancing technology. Change isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it’s still inevitable. Here are four technology trends that will define 2017 and how companies can use them to improve their UX:

1. Collective intelligence

As its name implies, collective intelligence encompasses the evolving knowledge base of a group. It’s been a hot topic since the inception of the internet, which is in and of itself a CI platform. There are two sides to the CI discussion.

On the one hand, platforms relying on big data, artificial intelligence and automated objective data collection will keep getting smarter. Tools such as Amazon’s Alexa aggregate human-generated information in real time to help users navigate potentially changing environments.

On the other hand, we’ll see the continued prevalence of human-generated, open-source communities, which often serve as repositories of CI. For years, websites such as Quora, Reddit andStackExchange have allowed users to rely on one another for answers (and entertainment). More recently, my company was asked to build open-source communities to facilitate collaboration and learning among internal teams of developers and designers at large corporations. We have also seen the same principle applied to employee feedback and HR, such as with POPin.

So, if you’re pondering how best to take advantage of CI, rethink your company’s decision-making processes and its approach to the curation of company knowledge bases. Companies structured the way most companies still are — with a single key decision-maker at the top — will inevitably make some suboptimal choices.

That’s because one single person can’t have all the knowledge necessary to make the best decision in every circumstance. But by flattening your organizational structure and giving more people the authority to make key decisions that fall under their individual areas of expertise, your entire company will benefit.

2. Everyday AI (Chatbots)

We’re in the midst of a chatbot craze, but the importance of including rapidly evolving technology is more than just hype. A chatbot that offers a great UX is a thing of beauty — and it can work wonders for your organization.

While having a conversation with a chatbot still doesn’t feel quite like a mind-altering experience, we are reaching a tipping point where AI-based bots will be be key to forming better, more efficient connections with customers. Everyday AI can give businesses access to customer feedback as fast as their customers can type it.

Chatbots can handle issues that involve basic trouble-shooting, leaving customer-success team members to actually interface with customers. Bots can also drive engagement and growth by continuously creating opportunities for dialogue with customers.

But, remember, not everyone likes talking with bots, so if you’re implementing chatbots, be sure to inform customers beforehand. Likewise, make sure to include privacy safeguards, and be clear with customers about what your bot can and can’t do. Better yet, add monitoring mechanisms that allow real humans to step in when necessary.

3. AR, VR and mixed reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality are getting closer to being both affordable and functional enough to have major consumer and business applications — close but still not quite there yet. Major smartphone manufacturers, including Google, Samsung and Apple, are rushing to improve on VR-compatible devices, though, which means the technology will be mainstream sooner rather than later.

Choosing to explore VR and AR technologies in 2017 can help brands position themselves at the forefront of technology. One of the foremost (yet one of the least-suspected) examples is Snapchat’s AR geofilters, which frame, warp or magnify users’ photos with different graphics and illustrations.

And for companies that can deliver a branded VR/AR experience to customers in a creative way, the impact could be profound. Snapchat reels in anywhere from $250,000 to $750,000 per branded geofilter, and the brands buying those filters reap benefits, too. Taco Bell’s Cinco de Mayo filter, for instance, was viewed 224 million times in just a day.

4. Consumerized designs and digital technology platforms

Technology platforms are the foundation for new value creation. Of course, platform-based companies aren’t new. According to Accenture, the global market capitalization of platform companies isaround $2.6 trillion. And in 2017, they aren’t going away.

Digital platforms and UX go hand in hand. When companies prioritize platforms (which are designed for growth), their business models become more connected, collaborative and scalable, creating plenty of opportunities to put the end user first. One of the most recognizable examples is Apple’s iCloud. With iCloud, users have the advantage of accessing photos, notes, contacts and more, no matter which of their Apple devices they’re using at that moment — there’s no need to switch back and forth.

So, whether companies are focusing on their competitive edge, potential partners or their own product innovation, they need to look at the emerging and thriving platforms within their industry and figure out how those models can take their own business further.

Regardless of how your company chooses to implement new technology in 2017, one thing that won’t change is the importance of putting customers first. Research your customers, talk with them, observe what technologies they’re using, and work from there. Don’t assume all change is good change, but if a new technology is getting the attention of your customers, it’s time for you to pay attention, too.


Mark Zuckerberg Finally Tries Out Virtual Reality Gloves

Consumers are still getting to grips with virtual reality and trying to decide whether to jump on board yet. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg is keeping a close eye on what the research arm of Oculus is up to, with the latest R&D project being virtual reality gloves.

Right now, there’s the Oculus Rift headset and Oculus Touch controllers, which allow six degrees of motion tracking for your hands. What the Oculus Research lab in Redmond, Wash., is working on is a pair of gloves that bring the full movement range of your hands and fingers into a virtual world. By wearing them, you’ll be able to type on a virtual keyboard and draw with a high degree of accuracy.

As the image above shows, these prototype gloves aren’t hooked up to the Oculus tracking system yet. Instead they rely on an array of trackers focused on the area where Zuckerberg is moving his glove-covered hands.

As TechCrunch points out, the VR gloves probably aren’t brand new tech Oculus developed internally. Oculus acquired Pebbles Interfaces last year, which already had a virtual reality hand tracking system in development. This is likely an extension of that tech.

Zuckerberg also points out that the research lab is working on reducing the size of the headsets to glasses we can carry anywhere. He also mentions “advanced optics, eye tracking, mixed reality and new ways to map the human body” in his Facebook post about the lab visit.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for this next-generation of Oculus-branded VR technology to appear. The gloves may work, but they currently use a dedicated sensor array not shipped with the Oculus headset. There’s also a question mark over how much processing power and data storage Oculus will need to deal with in order to detect and react to finger and hand movement in real-time.

I’m sure the gloves will be perfected and offered to the public, I just don’t think Oculus will have the tech ready for quite a while. And let’s not forget Sony won’t be standing still in developing new peripherals for PlayStation VR.


Here Six Tips to Building a Stronger Brand Using New Media

Branding has always been important, but it’s never been as essential as it is now. Thanks to the internet, your potential customers are being flooded with dozens — if not hundreds — of different buying opportunities every hour.

While quality, cost and execution will all play a role in a customer’s decision, trust remains the key way to win the sale. Branding is one of the most important things you can do to win trust, so it’s important you do it right.

Here are five simple tips for marketing your brand with new media.

1. Spend moments on execution, but months in prep.

For your company’s branding to really work, it will need to be more than just a name. A logo, tag line, tone of approach and color scheme can be important.

Consistency in these choices is just as important as the choices themselves. A decision to change any element of your business brand can undermine a lot of hard work, so be willing to take your time — months, if needed — to decide exactly how you want to present your brand.

Actionable tip: Consider creating a comprehensive brand uniformity guide where your branding elements will be standardized. Trapeze has a solid brand identity guide to use as an example and guidelines to creating your own.

2. Monitor your brand-related queries.

Whatever people are searching about your brand on Google indicates what they think about it and, importantly, what problems they have. Moreover, if too many people are searching [your-brand-name scam], this phrase will show up in Google Auto-suggest results as others.

Monitoring what people are searching and where your own site ranks for different search phrases is crucial. You can use various keyword research tools in combination with keyword position monitoring software like SEranking.

3. KISS still applies.

The famous battlecry of “keep it simple stupid” is thoroughly embedded in the jargon of every salesman. This lesson doesn’t start and end on the sales call, though. Simplicity has been shown to be more effective in branding efforts as well, especially since it makes your company more memorable.

4. Get into social media and interactive content.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Ello . . . I could go on for hours. There are tons of social media sites, and people age 18 to 34 actually spend more time on these sites than they do watching TV.

Obviously, you need to get your company onto these sites; however, your work won’t end there. You need to post regularly, add valuable content and use as much interactivity as you can by putting out videos, interactive presentations, manipulable infographics, and so forth. Rich interactive designs have been the hottest trend for a few years now.

For instance, Target successfully reached out to college students with their “Made for U College Styler” and ServiceNow captured the attention of their target audience with an interactive quiz.

Interactivity doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Smartketerclaims that something as simple as animating your banners can significantly improve your campaign performance.

5. Be consistent with your branding.

Whatever the details of your company, you need to repeat yourself for your brand to stick. Did you catch that? You need to repeat yourself for your brand to stick.

If you’re not consistent from site to site, customers won’t recognize your brand, won’t build trust, and your efforts will end up fairly impotent. So, keep in mind: You need to repeat yourself for your brand to stick.

Brand consistency requires scalable team collaboration. Make sure you have tools in place for your whole company to be aware of your branding efforts. Here are some collaboration tools to try and use in the office. This site lists several mobile alternatives.

6. When in doubt, hire out.

How much is a good-looking logo worth to your company? What about the creation of the right tag line or company motto?

If you’re not sure you can come up with something really solid on your own, then employing a copywriter, graphic designer and brand strategist is a very wise move.

Branding is a constant effort that gets reinforced with every move you make, and doing so carefully is just one more aspect of “smart business.”

By being consistent, memorable, and just a little bit omnipresent, you can build a brand that separates you from your many, many competitors.


There FastComputer With Fussy but Fixable

FastComputer Linux is a disappointing experience that almost fails.

It is poorly designed, has little community support, and lacks its own home base and identity, all of which contribute to an identity crisis. Its home — on — lacks much in attractiveness, as does the distro.

The Linux OS offers developers and users choice among desktop options and OS standards. Linux’s greatest strength is its ability to provide customized distributions with a variety of features. Distros that offer users something new and more inviting are great finds. FastComputer is not one of them.

Linux distributions run the gamut — from very specialized and finely tuned to garden variety. Some are very innovative. Others are little more than look-alikes that offer no distinguishing features or benefits to set them apart from other options.

FastComputer Linux falls into the latter category. In its present iteration, this distro offers users an ordinary OS experience that leaves much to be desired. What should make it especially inviting is its ties to legendary Suse Linux developers. It falls far short of delivering, however.

Linux Heritage

FastComputer’s developer, Andrei Ionel, who is based in Romania, represents it as a perfect privacy and security product that comes fully configured out-of-the-box. It is based on openSuse Leap 42.1 64-bit x86. It is a relative newcomer to the Linux distro scene.

The latest version is 2.2.1, but that is not solely the developer’s choice. He apparently has been in a holding pattern for new builds until the Suse Studio staff solves the “Error retrieving status information” bug that is affecting all distros built on openSuse Leap.

As advertised, FastComputer offers four desktop environments: GNOME, GNOME Classic, IceWM and MATE. But only the GNOME desktop was provided in the download options.

Look and Feel

The GNOME desktop does not excite me on a well-oiled distro. GNOME can be rather plain Jane in its desktop integration — or it can be tweaked by the developer to include additional settings to provide more user features.

GNOME on FastComputer falls into the former category. It is rather plain and ordinary. Still, GNOME 3.0 and GNOME classic (which is a distant relative of the forked MATE) are popular, because they are more traditional and easy to use.

I would have been more pleased with an opportunity to try the IceWM and MATE desktops running on FastComputer. The ICEWM could be a problem solver for some of my memory-challenged computers that still thrive on the likes of Puppy Linux.

Spoiler Alert: I am still curious about revisiting FastComputer running a planned Cinnamon desktop version once the Network Manager issue is fixed (see below). So I have hope that some promise exists for a happier computing experience with FastComputer.

“A Cinnamon version is on the way,” FastComputer’s Ionel told LinuxInsider.

Critical Fault

Included are three Web browsers: Mozilla Firefox, Iron and QupZilla. Normally, I would be singing the praises of these three options, but FastComputer issued an error message on every bootup stating that the Network Manager needed to be running and to contact the software vendor. So I was not able to access the Internet.

At first, I thought the error was caused by the Broadcom wireless in my test laptop. That is often the cause when there is a glitch during testing of Linux distros.

When that happens, my usual workaround is to plug in the cable and go hard wire — but there was nothing for the hard-wired connection to grab without the Network Manager running.

The cause was a deep-down OS issue.

I had just about given up on doing any more testing of FastComputer Linux. Then I loaded it into a virtual machine. That was a Eureka moment! The connectivity issue went away.

My guess is FastComputer piggy-backed a connection from the host computer. I ran it from the same ISO file that I used to burn to the installation DVDs that produced the Network Manager error. At least Fast Computer remains viable with an Internet connection.

What You Get

The FastComputer ISO is packed with an impressive bundle of installed software. This is not a lightweight or stripped-down release.

FastComputer also comes with the antivirus package Comodo with a special Linux OS antispam component. That was a pleasant surprise. I like the GUIand operation of this package compared to ClamTK, my usual choice.

As a side note, Comodo is not available from the Synaptic Package Manger or any of the distro-based software repositories that I checked.

Another bit of hyped advertising is that FastComputer runs Windows programs courtesy of a WINE installation. WINE is not a distinguishing feature for a Linux distro, other than you do not often find WINE preinstalled.

FastComputer ships with Adobe Flash Player installed. Its default office suite is WPS Office (also known as “KingSoft Office”) instead of LibreOffice.

Ignoring the connectivity problem, the software that comes preinstalled on FastComputer Linux is substantial:

  • torrent client: Deluge;
  • two IM apps: Skype and Pidgin;
  • mail app: Claws Mail;
  • remote controlling app: TeamViewer;
  • three graphics apps: GIMP, Pinta Paint and Shotwell;
  • three sound and video apps: VLC, Clementine and Cheese;
  • Leafpad;
  • four terminals: Terminator, GNOME Terminal, MATE Terminal and XTerm;
  • Oracle Virtualbox; and
  • four games: Nibbles, Winemine, SuperTuxKart and SuperTux.

The GNOME Desktop

The GNOME 3 panel bar sits at the top of the screen. Its only purpose is to display a few notification icons.

An activity button in the upper-left corner of the screen does sort of what a menu or start button does in other desktops. It exposes a thumbnail view of the virtual workplaces along the right edge of the screen and the favorites bar along the left screen edge.

The favorites bar has the menu button at the bottom of the icon row. GNOME uses a full-screen icon display of installed software rather than a pop-up two-column title index.

Bottom Line

Let’s assume that the developer soon will issue an updated or fixed version so the Network Manager will work outside a Virtual Machine window. That will give FastComputerLinux a shot at being more useful to those who want a good out-of-the-box simple OS solution.

I am not sure that this distro’s name is an indication of speedy performance. I tested it on several machines looking for speed.

As expected, the live session DVD was very sluggish. It was much peppier on the VM. I was expecting a little bit better speed performance on my test gear with a hard drive installation.

Other than the apparent malfunction of the Network Manager, my biggest disappointment is the lack of more than one virtual desktop. Unlike other GNOME 3 integrations, FastComputer offers no way to add additional virtual desktops, the developer confirmed. So if you rely on this flexibility, look elsewhere.


Why Yahoo and the Year of Living Dangerously

If there is a lesson to be drawn from Internet search giant Yahoo’s hellish past year, it is a grimly illustrative one: Never assume a cybersecurity disaster can’t get worse.

Last September, the Internet portal disclosed that it had suffered the most damaging and far-reaching data breach in history — only to then announce in December the discovery of a second, earlier, and even larger hack.

Since the discovery, the sale of the company to Verizon has been put in jeopardy, as Yahoo — which recently announced its name would be changing to “Altaba” — began a probe into the hack that is expected to take several weeks. We may not know the full extent of these hacks’ effects for years; indeed, it took years for the breaches to even be discovered.

What is known is that these travails were a long time coming. The Yahoo hacks were not acts of God, falling from the sky and striking an unlucky victim; they were the direct result of the corporation’s continual neglect of information security as a vital priority for doing business.

Systemic Problem

The tragedy of Yahoo’s troubles is not merely that its systems were compromised; that is a risk even the most secure online servicers may face. Rather, it is Yahoo’s lack of attention to cybersecurity, such that it was unable to detect and respond to the breach, making a very bad situation into a nightmarish one.

In 2014, hackers gained access to Yahoo’s main user database, pilfering credentials and personal information from at least 500 million accounts in what was the biggest data breach in history.

Perplexingly, the theft went undiscovered until September 2016, when 200 million sets of user credentials appeared for sale on a darknet website. Yahoo’s failure to identify a breach of such gargantuan magnitude — one that it would somewhat ominously claim to be a “state-sponsored” act (an accusation rejected by researchers) — was a dark portent of things to come.

The hack reported last December seems to be worse — much worse. That hack, which is believed to have occurred in August 2013, resulted in at least 1 billion accounts suffering theft of personal information like names, phone numbers, and dates of birth. Perhaps even more damaging was the hackers’ theft of poorly encrypted Yahoo passwords, as well as unencrypted answers to security queries like “What is your mother’s maiden name?” or “What was your first car?” That information is meant to easily allow users to confirm their identities when resetting account details.

Some sensible security protocols and simple, low-cost encryption could have prevented this calamity. Adding insult to injury, the theft was not discovered until government investigators and private data analysts examining the first reported hack found evidence that a mysterious “third-party” had gained access to other Yahoo data.

Incredibly, these thefts — the largest and most damaging hacks in Internet history — were perhaps not even the lowlight of Yahoo’s year. That honor would belong to CEO Mayer’s decision, at the behest of a U.S. intelligence agency, to scan the content of all Yahoo users’ emails for specific phrases or attachments, a massive warrantless spy program so invasive that Yahoo’s security team, uninformed of the effort, initially thought it was a hack.

It is not enough that Yahoo’s security posture is moribund — not only unable to prevent successive blitzes against billions of its users, but even to detect their occurrence. Worse, in this instance, is the fact Yahoo is as fully complicit as any hacker in exposing its customers’ most sensitive personal communications: It did so without permission, simply at the demand of a government agency bearing no warrants or probable cause.

What, then, will be the fallout of Yahoo’s year of living dangerously? Given the enormous potential for secondary fraud on other sites using Yahoo account credentials, forcing password resets now, years after the crime, is both entirely necessary and woefully inadequate.

After years of criminals likely trading Yahoo user information on darknet marketplaces for cash, this attempt to rectify the situation is equivalent to changing the vault’s combination a couple of years after a safecracker robbed the bank. In an information technology environment where Internet users commonly recycle the same credentials across the dozens of sites they regularly use, password reuse attacks are a growing threat.

Such an attack against Yahoo users has precedent, and the results could be frightening. In 2012, the login credentials of as many as 167 million accountson business networking site LinkedIn were stolen by hackers, emerging again on darknet auction sites in May 2016.

The compromised information, which, as with Yahoo, included poorly encrypted passwords, is believed to have been responsible for numerous large-scale “password reuse” secondary attacks, including one major attackagainst cloud hosting platform Dropbox and 60 million of its accounts.

Given the potential for wreaking havoc, Yahoo’s inadequate and outdated password encryption could have severe consequences, affecting even sites that securely encrypt their customers’ passwords, through no fault of their own. This is the nightmare made possible through the theft of reused passwords: a concatenating wave of data breaches affecting website after website.

Beyond these technical threats, Yahoo’s lack of transparency in combating information theft has further endangered Internet users. It is becoming clear that under Mayer’s leadership, Yahoo downgraded the importance of instituting much-needed cybersecurity measures, fearing that it would alienate a fickle user base with annoying new security requirements. However, the end result will be far worse reputational damage.

A user experience that results in hackers compromising every one of your Web accounts, or stealing your identity, is far worse than the inconvenience of signing into an email account using two-factor identification.

This short-sightedness extended to Yahoo’s public relations reaction: While the company would ultimately estimate that a half billion accounts were affected in the 2014 hack, the true number may be as high as 3 billion; and while Yahoo may claim any affected accounts are being identified and reset, its inability to detect even larger breaches is more than enough reason to doubt the effort’s efficacy.

Fortunately, this debacle need not be entirely in vain, if some simple lessons can be absorbed. Had Yahoo made modest, sensible improvements in its security posture, the hackers might have been dissuaded from attempting such an ambitious heist, or at least been frustrated in their attempts to do so.

Cyber risk is an unavoidable aspect of Internet business today, and even in the worst-case scenario of a breach, reasonable precautions and rapid action can prevent extensive damage.

For example, when “drag-n’drop” website creator Weebly suffered a hackaffecting 43 million of its users, the company’s ready cooperation with observers who discovered the attack helped it to quickly issue password resets, while its strong password encryption further prevented customer sites from being accessed.

The latest breach revelation may derail Verizon’s planned $4.83 billion acquisition of the search giant, but that would hardly be the greatest cost of Yahoo’s incompetence.

As always, the people who will most suffer are the consumers to whom Yahoo owes its responsibility. They entrusted Yahoo with their personal information — a trust the former No. 1 search engine has inexcusably betrayed.