Android Where? Or should I say Android Wear.

Android Wear

Android Wear

Yes, I have succumbed to the phenomenon that is Android wear and a testing a LG G Watch with my Nexus 5 phone to see what it can do and if it is really a great benefit to me in what I do.

I run a business and use mobile a lot as I am generally out and about and not tied to a desk as much as I used to be. This is a good thing and I like it, I use my Nexus Tablet and my Nexus phone to juggle all the information that is generally thrown at me every minute of every day. Up to this point the combination of my tablet, Phone and desktop have sufficed in keeping me mostly on top of the information overload.

Being a techie and as some would say a Geek I have also been aware of new developments and the hype around Android Wear, (and the Apple watch, bank loan wear).

So Father’s day came and I asked my sons to give me some money and I would add the rest and treat myself to not the top end but the lower end of the wear market as I am still uncertain how this will make my life better.

First Impressions

I have been using the watch now for around two weeks and here are my first impressions.

Ease of setting up was good and it immediately updated itself as the previous wear software had been getting bad press. The new software has changed the watch interface and usage considerably.
It connects to some of the popular Google Apps immediately and gives some interesting interactions through the watch face. Other apps are downloadable and there are a multitude of watch faces that can be installed to change the look and interaction with the watch.

The watch arrived with the watch itself, strap attached and a charging USB cable and cradle.

When placed on charge it automatically switches on and starts the charge. I have found that over the time I have been using it the battery charge survives depending on how much interaction you have with the watch, early on not long as I was using it a lot in setting up etc.

Connectivity was excellent and it connected to my Nexus 5 with ease and has interacted no problem. All though through Bluetooth and my other fear was the phone battery not lasting. At the start this may have been an issue as I was playing with the watch and downloading and changing settings etc.

But generally it has not drained the battery as much as I suspected it might. So that’s a good thing.

I have tended to place the watch on the charging cradle overnight and not worry about it during the day. It charges using pins on the rear of the watch body. I have cycled through some watch faces to get the one I use the most as well as playing with the LCARS one being a huge TNG fan.

Apps that have impressed

The usage of it I suppose is the question and I am still evaluating the benefits. However when an email pops in and I glance at my watch to see the heading and gist of it, I can take action quickly or just swipe it off to tackle it later. So I am finding that quite useful, not having to rake my tablet or phone out of my pocket every time it buzzes. Weather on the phone face and Google NOW journey times are useful at a glance.

My scary moment was the first time I used my phone for Google Navigation recently with the watch and it pinged the route navigation to the watch face. This caused me to giggle glance at the watch and loose concentration on the road. So good or bad thing I am unsure at this time with that one. I am sure you can disable it and I haven’t as yet.

Early days

So it is early days and I am sure I will find more intriguing benefits of having this Android wear device, I haven’t as yet answered a call from it in private or public. Looking like Dick Tracey I suppose. I suppose the answer to the title is Andoid everywhere.

I may post another update soon, but is anyone using these wear devices to great effect?

If so what are you using and what are you doing with it?

It would be great to hear from you.

I want to stand on a platform with regard to this matter.

bridging the gap

Choosing a platform

During the time of election fever and the stance of many politicians and the media flooding our households, Internet and newspapers with all the spin and comments of election contenders, it occurred to me that many of them are launching the election campaigns on a platform of one thing or the other. If it isn’t the NHS it is migration and immigrants.

It got me a thinking

It started me thinking of what is the platform I stand on with regard to my business and how it operates and runs and then to take it into the techie world, what Social Media and Internet platforms do I use to get the message flooding to my customers and potential customers worldwide.

Platforms there are so many

It is the case that there are so many platforms, as with the election there are so many stand points that people take and you don’t know at times which one to believe, so we base our beliefs and decisions on past experience and their record if they have done the job before. When I set my company up I knew I did it out of passion. I wanted a company that had a drive and passion for what it did and did it well and honestly. So that was my initial platform if you like, I then structured the offering my company had around this. My testimonials from clients were my gauge as to whether I was achieving this each and every time. Then learning and tweaking happens. No one is perfect and it is the driving force behind our actions that should be considered.

So honesty, integrity and doing the best job as promised was my platforms and I hope I have achieved them as often as possible.

The other thing I did as an organisation was start to business network, before I even setup as a company I attended some networking groups to find out what business was saying about the climate and how they were getting on. I wasn’t setting up blind as they say. This paid off and I have continued to business network to this day. It is a great place to bounce ideas around, meet great people and pick up so much information and ideas.

What about online platforms?

With regard to online platforms, I have always been as you can imagine, the company is called IT Turning Point, very aware of what technology is doing and where it is taking us. The Internet has been with us for years and introduced so many changes in the way organisations and customers operate that it has dragged some organisations into the 21st century screaming and kicking.

The key of course is to decide your best and most appropriate route to market and then target the majority of your efforts there. This of course sometimes takes more than one attempt to get it right and is what I like to call a toe in the water scenario. We try and see if it works and tweak and try again until we hit the sweet spot. I decided early on to have a website and had it up and getting found before the official company launch, so when I launched people had a shop window to visit.

This of course was mentioned on all emails and literature to drive traffic in that direction. The site was optimised at the time for the search engines and we were off.

Social media was my next area of consideration and what should I do here and which platform would be best for me to use. I did the following and it has worked for me over the years.

My company was primarily B2B so LinkedIn to me was essential and getting my profile up to 100% as it was at the time and then making good honest connections with potential customers, existing customers and other companies and contractors that might be useful for me to touch base with and bounce ideas around. A company LinkedIn page was setup as well as my profile and maintaining it and promoting it became a goal.

For more awareness of brand name and getting me more widely known quicker I also thought that Facebook would be a great place to have a business page. So off I went on my next platform and got that page up and running and started to gain likes and awareness.

Remember, I am always aware of where technology is trying to take us and I launched a Twitter account at the same time to take advantage of the profile raising for my brand name.

In the corner of my eye I was always reading techie articles about search engine Optimisation and how you can get found online to make sure my efforts where not all in vain. This kept me informed that Google the main and most popular search engine was changing what it calls it’s algorithm that checks the Internet to find you and me and was placing more emphasis on Social Media activity and content. So this means and still does today that you need your website optimised, but you also need to be active in the realm of social media. You need to have link popularity, which means people are coming to your site from various locations and landing there and then leaving to go to other locations from your site.

Other social media platforms are out there, Google+, Kiltr, Pinterest and Instagram. It was now a case of deciding which platforms I felt I could benefit from and manage easily.

Again tools were there for the managing and these have helped immensely. Such as Hootesuit, highly recommended and there are others.

Email newsletters were the next thing I had always ran since setting up and had made a decision that a monthly newsletter would be the thing. So to this day we send out a monthly newsletter to a database of people who have signed up for it. Again there are laws about spamming people.

Have we reached our goal?

No, is the easy answer, we are always looking at tweaking and changing what we do and managing it differently and we do use other mediums to get the message out there, such as PR articles to business press, etc. We also run an online blog about technology amongst other things.

All these various platforms have meant that we have been able to vary our offering and develop it over the time the company has been running and as long as we keep to the company platforms of honesty, integrity and doing the best job as promised then we will keep it up.

I hope this helps, let me know your thoughts on the whole area of platforms, online or offline.

The Communication Revolution

communication revolution

Communication Revolution

Nice to talk to you, how are things going?
Can you drop me a day and time for a meeting?
When can we talk about the training you need?

You know I see around a hundred questions a day coming my way in various guises and usually keep on top of them, but I have noticed recently that I have dropped the ball on a couple and  wondered why.

I use technology for most things and particularly admin, tasks and communication so how can this be happening? Well in fact the very saviour that I use to keep me organised is the very thing that is making me drop the ball.

How is technology failing me?

I have been doing some historical research and asking the question of how we communicate and of course using my age, no comments here please, as I remember using various versions of communication over my years in industry and business.

Here is a rough breakdown of what I experienced: –

  • Phoned into the office once or twice a day to see if there were any messages for me
  • Got a pager that bleeped when the office needed me, then found a phone and phoned into the office
  • Technology improved and I got given a pager that had a scrolling screen across the top and I could read the messages. This was amazing, where was technology taking us?
  • Got my first company car with built in car phone, large box in the boot and aerial on the roof. The handset took up most of the foot well and a microphone hung in your face as you drove. But, hey that was advances in technology and don’t be fooled I loved it. It also meant I now couldn’t hide anywhere.
  • The next was a company car with a cradle and no large box in the boot and no aerial on the roof. The phone had it all built in and could be removed from the car. What…I was lost for words and it was great. It fitted in my pocket and I could call the office or any clients I wanted. This was just amazing.
  • Then on top of all this I was given a small portable compute that had all my product range on it that I was selling and could work out a quote on the spot for a client. I was then hooked on technology. The tech kept me informed and allowed me to be more flexible in what I was doing, simply brilliant. I could juggle all these no problem and I was mobile even back then.

So where are we now? And I still haven’t answered why technology is letting me down?

Yes, sorry was caught up in nostalgia when times were developing fast and things were simpler.

Now I sound like my gran.

Well, now we have the Internet, the cloud, the web, back then we didn’t so communication was done differently. Now I can get communication from all sections of the Internet that I am active in and believe you me there are a lot of them. Because I am also mobile a lot of the time these communications come in as I am on the hop and I read them quickly and think I will answer that when I get back to base and have time to think it through and check a few things out.

So where do my communications come from now? Well here is the current list and I may have missed some: –

  • Letter, or snail mail as it is called.
  • Emails, quite a lot of emails to various accounts I use
  • Direct messages I get from Facebook, three possible accounts
  • Direct messages I get from Twitter, three possible accounts.
  • Emails I get from LinkedIn
  • Messages I get from my blog I founded and write
  • Messages form my website activity
  • Messages from any LinkedIn groups I am in
  • Messages from Facebook pages I manage
  • Google Hangouts, sometimes a few open at one time talking to more than one person, like holding two phone calls at once.
  • Skype, which I must admit I don’t use a lot really
  • Phone calls on landline and on mobile
  • Text messages
  • Even my file server at home emails me when it updates or has had a problem…….

So my dilemma is that I have on occasion been out the office and mobile and got a message through one of these mediums and read it over and thought I will answer that once I can put a reasonable response together. I then get back to base and there is something in my mind about a message I must answer so I open my emails and check each account, all emails have been read, which of course they have as I looked at it when I was out and about. So it doesn’t jump out at me.

Or on occasion I can’t find an email and think how else did the message come in and spend a bit of time going through all of the above until I hopefully stumble across it. An example recently was one that I had read over when I was out and about that it was a direct message and then my day got busy and confusing. When I got back to base I looked and it wasn’t there. I checked emails and other areas and couldn’t find it. Finally I think found it as a direct message to one of my Twitter accounts I use.

So maybe you can see my dilemma, the very thing I have embraced to make my profile and business public and found easily is also the very thing that is causing me to be juggling so many forms and ways to communicate that I occasionally drop the ball.

What’s the solution, or is there one?

Well, the solution is obviously a difficult one. I could peal back the activity to the essential areas and not over complicate things. Hence only check and receive important messages. But being into all the aspects of the current Internet I find this difficult to rationalise. I even teach people to use it to its fullest. No I will just have to be more organised again and make sure I am aware of the source of communications that come my way and prioritise and deal with them as appropriate. A few extra hours each day might be useful.

What are you experiences of this phenomenon, is it something you have experienced or is it just me?

OnePlus One Phone Review

OnePlus One Phone

OnePlus One Phone

History

Before arriving in the land of OnePlus, I had owned an HTC Desire, HTC Desire HD, Nobrand Chinese Phone™, and a Nexus 4 – the N4 being the nicest phone I had owned to date. Being nexus device, it was thoroughly hackable – I was frequently installing different ROM’s, kernels, etc. to get the most out of it. In finding out about the OPO, I was looking to see if the same flexibility would be present (and guaranteed to remain so). I wasn’t disappointed.

Introduction

Getting an OPO

This is the trickiest part. Having found out about the phone late summer, I was only really in the market for a new phone around October – this was, as family can vouch for, my time of bombarding social media feeds with competitions (winning is better than buying on the wallet) and posting inane chatter on the OnePlus forums. This is the prescribed way of getting an invite, which currently, of December 2014, is the only real way of getting a device (the two preorders seemed a bit shambolic with many users complaining of problems placing orders).

Unpacking the OPO

The OPO arrived in reasonable time and I set about unboxing it. What arrived was an envelope which contained a box, which just so happened to have more boxes inside. Boxception. However, a nice boxception with the inner boxes being fashionably designed and pleasing to look at. This being said, I didn’t look at them for long. The device itself is a large (coming from an N4) phablet, with a nicely textured back (I ordered the 64 GB “sandstone” model). I also ordered a clear clip-on case to prevent the device getting mangled when lying on desks.

Here are some pictures of the unboxing (admittedly, pretty poor pictures – I was in a hurry to unbox!): Images of unboxing. There’s also a size comparison between the Nexus 4 and the OPO.

Notice the plain, cardboard box that it all comes in. Fairly minimalistic!

Initial Impressions

Size

“This thing is BIG, but not too bulky…” This would be how I feel about the device a month down the line. It’s a big device to handle. My Wife is completely not interested in using it, as it’s too large for her hands. My hands, whilst not gigantic, have pretty good reach…and I still find myself using both of them to access menus.

Speed

In use, the OPO is a fast, responsive and pleasant device. CM11s (the custom version of CyanogenMod that runs on the OPO as stock) is well tailored to the device. I had no lag flicking through menus, no issues watching Netflix, or streaming content. It’s quite hard to tax the quad core 801 – 3Gb RAM helps to keep things moving along.

Screen

The 5.5” screen is gorgeous. I had read online that the colours aren’t as vibrant as other devices, and the blacks aren’t as black – I haven’t found this to be the case. It looks good. It responds well. The colours seem reasonably accurate – enough for a phone anyways. I don’t plan on doing huge amounts of image/video editing on the OPO!

Does it fit in pockets?

Sure does! Gets a bit awkward trying to sit down sometimes, but a little shuffling and all is well. If you’re a skinny-jeans type…you’ll definitely need another solution though!

Usage

Does it work well as a phone?

Yes.

How does it cope with media, Netflix, Google Play Music, Movie files etc.?

I’ve not noticed any slowdown, or difficulties in playing files, until I started using a Lollipop ROM where codecs weren’t quite plumbed in. This was soon resolved, and now I can watch movies and listen to music/podcasts to my heart’s content.

Any good as a PDA? Is the term ‘PDA’ even still used?

Seems to be. The large screen is excellent for reading emails and web pages, viewing calendar entries, as well as social media feeds. The only downside to such a screen is the distance your fingers have to travel: the OPO is a big phone. As for using the term ‘PDA’, this was how I used to rock and roll: Palm IIIe.

How’s the camera?

As far as phone cameras go, the OPO is pretty good! I’ve never had a phone camera that can take such detailed and rich photos as the OPO. The ability to shoot and save a .DNG is a boon too: when things aren’t quite right, you can quickly adjust in your favourite editor and hopefully sort them out. They offer much more latitude than the standard JPEG output. See this link right here for some examples.

That screen looks good, but is it a pain to hold and use? How does it fare with colours? What about this yellow tinge™ I’ve read about?

A wee bit pain is a good thing, right? Means you know you’re alive! This was a valid concern for me when purchasing the phone – the Nexus 4 is a 4.7” device, so screen size wasn’t an issue as my ever-agile thumbs could quickly jump across the whole screen. Whilst the OPO did present problems at first I quickly adjusted – there’s a crafty way of holding it one-handed that allows for a slight adjustment and the top of screen is then usable. Take my word for it!

The yellow tinge that folks have been moaning about – this I did notice, and it bothered me for all of 30 seconds after which I realised that the amount of time I’d be staring at a pure white screen was pretty minimal. I’ve stopped noticing it now, and it hasn’t affected my use of the OPO at all. Even on text-heavy sites, where there’s lots of white-space its fine. Seems like folks have been finding this to be an issue that resolves itself over time (or with the use of a UV lamp…): Reddit page about the issue going away.

What’s the battery life like? Does it last all day with moderate usage?

This is where the OPO shines for me. I commute to work (roughly 40 minutes each way) and I enjoy listening to podcasts there and back. On previous phones, I could do this but would always have a nagging sensation that I’d run out of juice if I then wanted to view media/play games/photo edit etc. during the day. With the OPO, I don’t need to worry: the SoC (SnapDragon 801) has a nifty feature for audio playback which really maximises battery life. Watch the video explaining it all here. This has certainly proved true for me. Negligible battery drain whilst commuting, enough juice to back up the phone, download and flash ROM’s, play some games (Godus is the current favourite) and pfaff around on social media. Photos and the occasional video on a lunchtime stroll happen fairly regularly. At the end of day, I’m sitting happy with 30-40% left. This is without any custom kernels or underclocking.

So you enjoy some gaming – what games run well, and how’s the performance?

So far I’ve played some Ravensword (which runs well, but I’m convinced could look better), Godus, Carmageddon (looks identical to how I remember it back in the day), Cogs…so some new, some graphically intensive. So far, nothing has troubled it, although I did notice that Godus had intermittent issues – but I thought this was more likely the nightly CM12 build I’m on rather than the OPO.

There was a recent kerfuffle between OnePlus and CyanogenMod…

Ah, yes. This came across as playground politics. The OPO is still guaranteed updates for the next two years from CyanogenMod, so I’m not that bothered.

Caveats

Are there any caveats with the device? Anything that should make a potential buyer reconsider?

The only thing that I’ve read, that really seems to be a tripping point, is the returns procedure. It seems to be overly complicated and I’ve not really read of anyone successfully managing to return a device…but then again, I’ve not really been needing to research this as my OPO is currently working fine.

The only real caveat for me is the unwillingness of insurance companies to insure. My current company rejected my custom after I informed them I would like to change my policy to cover the OPO. Supposedly the OPO wasn’t shipped from Britain (it was, from the British warehouse OnePlus put in place). I reckon they didn’t know what it was, and so refused to insure. For £281 delivered though…is insurance something I need to concern myself with? The verdict is still out!

Conclusion

Any last words?

Buy this phone. If warranties are a concern, realise that you’re getting a high-end device (I know it’s not cutting edge, but then for £281? C’mon!) For not a lot. The build quality is good, the individual components are great, and the overall experience is pleasant. I’ve not looked back! This is genuinely the best device I’ve owned so far.

Guest Blogger this month is Gordon Thomson BSc Hons Applied Computing, Application Developer.

My Double Google + Experience

google plus

This is about something that caught me off guard, and I am fairly sure it will have caught others out the same way – so what exactly is it?

To explain – I am very keen on using social media, and have a footprint on most of the main platforms that would help my marketplace and business. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Kiltr, and of course – Google+.

I went about setting up the various accounts, and then proceeded to create business pages. All went well. I had a personal Facebook page and then a company page. I had a personal Google+ page, and then went on to set up a company page.

Following me so far? Good! I was indeed a happy bunny, as all was progressing as I had expected. To bolster my knowledge, I attended various Social Media talks and workshops. One suggested getting your company listed on (what is now) Google Local Listings – so I went about doing this. I registered my location and opening hours, and thus got my business on Google Maps. This means that when someone performs a Google search for me, my company pops up on the right hand side of the screen with all my details. I checked all was working, and yes – there it was! Meanwhile my company page on Google+ was gaining visitors and followers – all was just as it should be.

Now this was around two years ago, and I have grown the page to get it where I want it, everything seemed to be going in the correct direction.

So why is this a Double Google+ experience?

Well this year I attended another talk on social media and the speaker displayed the Google+ page of another business, it had all the default settings and it appeared no effort had been spent on it. I sat thinking how glad I was that I had spent the time on my page.

Anyway, I went back to my desk and searched for my company in Google – it was (happily) listed on page one of the results. I then clicked on the Google+ page link under my company name, and to my astonishment discovered my page had very few followers or visitors. It also had the default settings and appearance! I then launched my Google+ account and went to my company page there, and it was the fully customised and populated one – I somehow had two Google+ pages.

I researched and found out that Google creates a Google+ page on Local, but doesn’t explicitly tell you – however this is the one that any searchers will see. I realised that I really had to fix this. Further research led me to carry out the following procedure, and Google doesn’t make it particularly easy.

  1. Sign in to the Google Local page, this used my business email account – rather than my personal Google+ account – I then made my personal account a manager of the Local Google+ page. I then have to wait 19 days, yes 19 days, before I can make my personal email account the owner of the local page.
  2. 19 days later I logged in again with my business email to the Google+ Local page, and then was able to make my personal email address the owner.
  3. I was then given the opportunity to merge the Local page with my previously created business page. Once this option is chosen you are told which areas will be merged. This new merged page will then have the link on Google maps, and all your company details, as well as all the followers I had built up.
  4. I checked by searching in Google and clicking on the Google+ page link to find the old local page still there.
  5. Once you merge the pages you get the choice to delete the old page, which now shows up as backup of the company page. I deleted it and double checked a Google search to see if anything had changed. They had – and I now had the local page I wanted – the one I had originally set up and gained interest in.

So now hopefully you see the double Google+ problem I discovered, and then thankfully cured.
Please let us know if this has been useful.
Were any of you aware that this issue existed?
We’d love to hear from you!

What do you use to browse the shops?

browser usageImagine the internet as a large series of shop windows from all over the globe. We all need a method of browsing through them, and finding and buying information or physical goods. So, what do you use as your internet browser?

For a long time, Microsoft had the market sewn up – as it built its browser, Internet Explorer, into the Windows OS – and so everyone used it without giving it much thought. If it works, then why change? Well, people did change – and they did it because they felt that IE wasn’t doing a good enough job of displaying the web to you, the customer, in an accurate and intuitive way. So various other browsers have been developed, and the majority run quite happily on the Windows platform.

I have tried various browsers over the years, mainly on my Windows based machines – and now more recently on my Android based devices – and find each browser to have its own set of positives and negatives. The picture above shows a rough breakdown of internet browsers in use at the moment, mainly for desktop machines running Windows.

So what do we look for?

So what do we look for in an Internet Browser? Are they all the same? Should we be bothered?

It is a personal decision, and you should use which ever one you feel most comfortable with, but be aware of the following areas: –

  • Rendering of web content. Some browsers display web content much faster than others, and for you the end user that saves time and frustration waiting for web pages to load.
  • Security features. Each browser claims a set of security features that allow for secure connections and more secure shopping etc. Check them out and make sure you are happy with what they are offering and how they are handling it.
  • Cookie handling. Browsers each handle cookies, which are small text based files that store some details of your path through the Internet. Most cookies are time saving and harmless, but some are Malware – and can cause popup windows etc. Check what settings each browser allows you to change to get the level of security that suit you and your business.
  • Some browsers allow you to save a list of your open tabs and create a snapshot of where you have been – this is then available when you leave your desktop machine and go mobile. Chrome for example lets me see the tabs I was looking at when I was seated at my desk – and this all leads to an easier work environment.
  • The look and feel. Again, this is a personal choice, some of it is down to the look and feel of the browser. You may find some are easier than others to use and navigate around. They all constantly update themselves, and so just as you think you have sussed the settings and where to find stuff they can change it all. But, hey, that’s computers and applications for you.

Why not let us know what browser you use, and why you use that one. Give us your experiences of browsers you have tried and why you moved on to others.

We look forward to reading your posts.

Hack in the box!

security laptopOn average 30,000 websites are hacked every day*, 200,000 new malicious programs/viruses are detected every day**.  Google recently reported that they detect 9,500 websites/day infected with malware used for drive-by download attacks, where the victim only has to browse the site to become infected, and 4,000 of these sites are legitimate company websites. Small business have been a target for cyber criminals for a few years now, because they are an easier target due to their lack of budget and expertise. Is your network as secure as it can be from hackers? Are you sure? Or are you helping cyber criminals distribute malicious programs to your customers, friends and family, even if you’re computers are just acting as a base of operations for attacking and infecting others.

* Sophos Labs Report ** Kaspersky Labs Report

It is estimated that cybercrime costs the world’s economy between $1 – 3 trillion per year.

Many businesses around the world have been struggling financially for a number of years, but sadly the underground hacking economy seems to be alive and well. In July of 2013, the FBI charged two Russians for hacking into US Financial Institutions that resulted in the theft of millions of dollars from more than 800,000 victim bank accounts. One of the hackers and several other undiscovered criminals, were also charged with the stealing and selling of at least 160 million credit and debit card numbers, resulting in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the indictment, these losses included $300 million in losses for just three of the corporate victims not to mention the immeasurable losses to the identity theft victims, due to the costs associated with stolen identities and fraudulent charges.

Underground Prices for Stolen Credentials and Hacker Services

Hacker Credentials and Services Details Price
*Visa and Master Card (US)   $4
American Express (US)   $7
Discover Card with (US)   $8
Visa and Master Card (UK, Aus & Can)   $7 -$8
American Express (UK, Aus & Can)   $12- $13
Discover Card (Aus & Can)   $12
Visa and Master Card (EU and Asia)   $15
Discover and American Express Card (EU and Asia)   $18
Credit Card with Track 1 and 2 Data (US) Track 1 and 2 Data is information which is contained in digital format on the magnetic stripe embedded in the backside of the credit card. Some payment cards store data in chips embedded on the front side. The magnetic stripe or chip holds information such as the Primary Account Number, Expiration Date, Card holder name, plus other sensitive data for authentication and authorization. $12
Credit Card with Track 1 and 2 Data (UK, Aus & Can)   $19-$20
Credit Card with Track 1 and 2 Data (EU, Asia)   $28
US Fullz Fullz is a dossier of credentials for an individual, which also include Personal Identifiable Information (PII), which can be used to commit identity theft and fraud. Fullz usually include: Full name, address, phone numbers, email addresses (with passwords), date of birth, SSN or Employee ID Number (EIN), one or more of: bank account information (account & routing numbers, account type), online banking credentials (varying degrees of completeness), or credit card information (including full track2 data and any associated PINs). $25
Fullz (UK, Australia, Canada, EU, Asia)   $30-$40
VBV(US) Verified by Visa works to confirm an online shopper’s identity in real time by requiring an additional password or other data to help ensure that no one but the cardholder can use their Visa card online. $10
VBV (UK, Aus, Can, EU, Asia)   $17-$25
DOB (US) Date of Birth $11
DOB(UK, Aus, Can, EU, Asia)   $15-$25
Bank Acct. with $70,000-$150,000 Bank account number and online credentials (username/password). Price depends on banking institution. $300 and less
Infected Computers 1,000 $20
Infected Computers 5,000 $90
Infected Computers 10,000 $160
Infected Computers 15,000 $250
Remote Access Trojan(RAT)   $50-$250
Add-On Services to RATs Includes set up of C2 Server, adding FUD to RAT, infecting victim $20-$50
Sweet Orange Exploit Kit Leasing Fees   $450 a week/$1800 a month
Hacking Website; stealing data Price depends on reputation of hacker $100-$300
DDoS Attacks Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks– throwing so much traffic at a website, it takes it offline Per hour-$3-$5
Per Day-$90-$100
Per Week-$400-$600
Doxing When a hacker is hired to get all the information they can about a target victim, via social engineering and/or infecting them with an information-stealing trojan. $25-$100

*Note: All Credit Cards sold with CVV Codes

As always, there is no shortage of stolen credit cards, personal identities, known as Fullz, for sale. However, the hackers have come to realize that merely having a credit card number and corresponding CVV code is not always enough to meet the security protocols of some retailers. Hackers are also selling cardholders’ Date of Birth and other personal information. Having this additional information would allow a hacker to answer additional security questions or produce a fake identification, to go along with a duplicate credit card. VBV (Verified by Visa) data is also being sold.

It has been found that credit cards and personal identities for non-US residents continue to sell for more money than the credit cards and identities for US residents. An example of the pricing discovered for stolen credit cards, Track 1 and 2 Data of Credit Cards, Fullz, Date of Birth and VBVs for cardholders is listed in the table above.

Online Bank Accounts for Sale: Name Your Bank and Country Preference

Just as with stolen credit cards, there are hundreds of online banking credentials for sale. It has found that one can purchase the username and password for an online bank account with a balance between $70,000 and $150,000 for $300 and less, depending on which banking institution the account is located. Also one can specify the login information for an account within a specific bank and country.

Malware Infected Computers for Sale

There are thousands of compromised computers (bots) for sale by bot salesmen. The price per computer typically decreases when they are bought in bulk. The costs for infected computers (bots):

  • 1,000 bots = $20
  • 5,000 bots= $90
  • 10,000 bots = $160
  • 15,000 bots = $250

Infected computers in Asia tend to sell for less. It is thought that infected computers in Europe & U.S. are more valuable than those in Asia, because they have a faster and more reliable Internet connection.

Once scammers buy the malware-infected computers, they can do anything they want with the machines. They can harvest them for financial credentials, infect them with ransomware so as to extort money from their owners, or use them to form a spam botnet to send out malicious spam on behalf of other scammers. If you don’t think there is much money in the spam business think again. Research into one of the largest spam botnets, Cutwail, it is estimated that the Cutwail gang’s profit for providing spam services was approximately $1.7 million to $4.2 million over two years.

Malware and Exploit Kits for Sale

A variety of Remote Access Trojans (RATs) are for sale ranging from $50 to $250. Most of the RATs are sold with a program to make it Fully Undetectable (FUD) to anti-virus and anti-malware. However, there were some hackers who sold the FUD component for an additional $20. For those RAT buyers who want the seller to do all the work for them, eg: setting up the RAT’s Command and Control Server, configure the malware to be FUD and possibly infect the target, they could pay an additional $20 to $50.

Exploit Kits – One of the offerings the Sweet Orange Exploit Kit for lease charged between $450/week and $1800/month. Sweet Orange is certainly more expensive to lease than the once popular BlackHole Exploit kit. Before BlackHole’s supposed creator was arrested, the leasing rates for BlackHole were:

  • 3 months—$700
  • 6 months–$1,000
  • One year–$1,500

Hacker Services for Hire: DDoS Attacks, Hacking of Websites, Doxing

Hacking into a Website

The cost to hire a hacker to break into an organization’s website runs between $100 – $300. Generally the higher the fee, the more reputable the hacker. What is worth noting is that most hackers for hire will not hack into a government or military website.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

A DDoS is where 1000’s of computers, controlled by a RAT, are used to attack a website and bring it to a halt through sheer volume of traffic. Those customers wanting to purchase DDoS Attack Services could pay by the hour, day or week. Most hackers who provide the DDOS attacks guaranteed that the target website would be knocked offline.

The rates were as follows:

  • DDoS Attacks Per hour = $3-$5
  • DDoS Attacks Per Day = $90-$100
  • DDoS Attacks per Week = $400-600

Doxing

Doxing is when a hacker is hired to get all the information they can about a target victim. Their methods include searching public information sites, social media sites, as well as manipulating the victim via social engineering and infecting them with an information-stealing Trojan. There are a lot of Doxing services for sale on the hacker underground, A “Vouch” from customers is used to verify that the hacker providing the Doxing service is legitimate. Doxing services range from $25 to $100.

Name Brand Products, Get Them For Cheap

Another service being sold on the hacker underground is where hackers will sell popular products, below the retail price. The hackers will obtain a specified product for a buyer either by using a stolen credit card or by working a scam, where they contact the retailer’s customer service representative and pretend to have purchased the item from the vendor, and it was damaged. The customer service representative is convinced that the complaint is legitimate, and they send out a replacement to the scammer, who in turn sells the product below the retail price.

Summary

For the most part, it does not appear that the types of hacker services and stolen data for sell on the hacker underground have changed dramatically in the past several years. The only noticeable difference is the drop in price for online bank account credentials and the drop in price for Fullz or Personal Credentials. In 2011, hackers were selling US bank account credentials with balances of $7,000 for $300. Now, accounts with balances ranging from $70,000 to $150,000 go for $300 and less, depending on the banking institution where the account is located. In 2011, hackers were selling Fullz for anywhere from $40 to $60, depending on the victim’s country of residence. Fullz are now selling between $25 and only go up to $40, depending on the victim’s location. It is believed that the drop in prices further substantiates that there is an abundance of stolen bank account credentials and personal identities for sale. There is also no shortage of hackers willing to do just about anything, computer related, for money, and they are continually finding ways to monetize personal and business data.

Key Protective Security Steps

Companies should adopt a layered approach to security and consider implementing the following:

  • Firewalls around your network and Web applications
  • Intrusion Prevention Systems or Intrusion Detection Systems (IPS/IDS). These inspect inbound and outbound traffic for cyber threats and detect and/or block those threats
  • Host Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
  • Advanced Malware Protection Solution
  • Vulnerability scanning
  • 24 hours a day x7 days a week x365 days a year log monitoring, and Web application and network scanning
  • Security Intelligence around the latest threats (people working on the latest threats in real-time, human intelligence)
  • Encrypted email
  • Educating your Employees on Computer Security. A key protective measure is to educate your employees to never click on links or attachments in emails, even if they know the sender. Employees should check with the sender prior to clicking on the email links or attachments. Client side attacks using email attachments and hyperlinks to malicious code on the web are the two major infection vectors.

The good news for SME’s is that there are some products out there that are open source and free that can cover a lot of the above. Configured correctly will help to protect the network from malicious hackers, at least make them want to bypass you and attack an easier target.

Individuals Should Implement the Following Security Steps

  • Computer users should use a computer dedicated only to doing their online banking and bill pay. That computer or virtualized desktop should not be used to send and receive emails or surf the web, since Web exploits and malicious email are two of the key malware infection vectors.
  • Avoid clicking on links or attachments within emails from untrusted sources. Even if you recognize the sender, you should confirm that the sender has sent the specific email to them before clicking on any links or attachments.
  • Reconcile your banking statements on a regular basis with online banking and/or credit card activity to identify potential anomalous transactions that may indicate account takeover.
  • Make sure your anti-virus is current and can protect against the latest exploits. Also, make sure that your anti-virus vendor has signatures for detecting the latest Trojans and that you have the most up- to-date anti-virus protections installed.
  • Do not use “trial versions” of anti-virus products as your source of protection. Trial versions of anti-virus products are good for testing products, but do not continue to use the trial version as your protection for your home or work PC. The danger is that the trial version does not receive any updates, so any new Trojan or virus that is introduced after the trial version was released will have total access to your PC.
  • Make sure you have your security protections in place. Patch management is key. It is critical that as soon as they become available you install updates for your applications and for your computer’s operating system.
  • Be cautious about installing software (especially software that is too good to be true – e.g., download accelerators, spyware removal tools), and be conscience about pop-ups from websites asking users to download/execute/or run otherwise privileged operations. Often this free software and these pop-ups have malware embedded.

Make sure your company is not an easy target for the cyber criminals by having a penetration test by a trained and experienced Certified Ethical Hacker.

Penetration testing is the process of evaluating both your physical and digital security systems and finding all areas that are insecure and that need attention. The main goal of penetration testing is not only to find security vulnerabilities, but to attempt to exploit them as well, which can decrease the chances of data loss or allowing unauthorised persons access to secured data. Common problems discovered by penetration testing include software bugs, design flaws and configuration errors. Once these have been identified, they need to be quickly repaired in order to ensure that safety isn’t compromised for longer than necessary. Testing is vital for any business, no matter how large or small, as data has become the most important currency available to organisations and hackers.

Penetration testing should be performed by an experienced tester from outside the organisation or the service provider whom has configured the solution, website, network, etc. It is all too easy to ignore or turn a blind eye to a known issue, or to have the attitude of ‘Nobody could possibly find that flaw!’ or ‘Who would want to hack us? We’re not interesting enough!’ As this involves the security of the business, no half-measures can be taken. Security breaches happen every minute of every day, and unless you have a dedicated team for penetration testing, it may be wise to consider outsourcing the procedure. Having an in-house team is ideal, but there are many businesses that find good reasons to outsource the testing and security of their information systems.

Thanks to our Guest blogger this month
Wynn Jones ECSA/LPT CEH CHFI CVE CCA MCSE
http://www.praetoriansecurity.co.uk

 

Who has the lion’s share?

touch screenWho has the lion’s share?

In this post I thought we could have a look at who has the lion’s share of the Operating system market. That’s not such an easy question anymore, as the idea of sitting at a desk and performing all your duties has changed drastically over the last few years.

 

The operating systems we use daily are now spread over the following device types:

  • Desktop Computers and laptops
  • Tablet computers
  • Smart Phones
  • Server machines

Gone are the days of the Microsoft Windows revolution, the massive change in how we used computers that made us all want one, and then get really frustrated with it as the technology kept changing. In the pursuit of progress, the Operating system was continually transformed into something else just as soon as we were just getting to grips with it. Our parent company, IT Turning Point, exists primarily to educate and inform. This keeps everyone using their systems and software correctly, and ensure they always work to their benefit.

Let’s look at the Desktop

 

Desktop operating system browsing statistics on Net Applications

Windows 7

47.53%

Windows XP

28.53%

Windows 8

10.68%

OS X

7.68%

Windows Vista

2.10%

Linux

1.48%

Desktop OS Market Share as of February 2014 according to Net Applications

 

Microsoft still has a massive share in the desktop market, primarily because of their prevalence in the business world and enterprise companies. They have the history of targeting this market successfully, and that past success really what made them who they are today. It is interesting to note the various incarnations of the Windows operating system still dominating the desktop marketplace.

When it comes to mobile, things are different indeed

Microsoft did not see the mobile market as their main thrust, and as such they left their entry into the arena a bit late. By the time they made their move, Apple had introduced us to the touch screen smart phone, and the mobile landscape had changed. Google entered the market with Android, its operating system for mobile devices, and the landscape changed once more. Let’s look at the picture for mobile devices as things stand:

Worldwide smartphone sales to end users by operating system in 2013

Android

79.0%

iOS

14.2%

Windows Phone

3.3%

BlackBerry

2.7%

Other

0.9%

Mobile OS Market Share as of 2nd quarter 2013 Gartner

Mobile operating system browsing statistics on Net Applications

iOS

52.96%

Android

36.14%

Java ME

4.44%

Symbian

3.50%

BlackBerry

1.42%

Kindle

0.93%

Windows Phone

0.45%

Other

0.16%

Mobile OS Market Share as of February 2014 Net Applications[1]

 

As you can see, the companies in the mobile arena are very different from those on the desktop, and it’s still evolving – these mobile devices also include tablet computers as well.

Android have swept the floor with their OS, a large amount of key hardware manufacturers signing up and skinning the core Android to make it their own. Layers such as HTC’s Sense and Samsung’s Touchwiz enable these devices to stand apart despite the same underlying core. Google have kept their hand in with Android devices running an unskinned version of Android – these devices are all part of Google’s Nexus range. See our recent posts for articles on these devices.

The current statistics vary drastically, but it is now being suggested that around 72% of Internet traffic is coming from mobile devices. A very interesting statistic, and again as we mentioned at the beginning, this changes the way we do computing in a big way.

The second table above shows the Operating systems we are browsing with in the mobile market, as you can see Windows is at the bottom and Microsoft are now desperately playing catch-up.

Conclusion

Microsoft have still got a lot to offer, and they still have the main desktop market sewn up for now. They have moved late for the mobile market however, and the writer has to wonder whether they will continue in this arena or pull back and concentrate on what they do best. Considering that we are moving more towards mobile working, and more tablet computers are being bought every day, that may not be a move they can afford if they wish to maintain their own future growth.

 

What OS do you use and what devices do you have? Let us know your thoughts.

Do I use Protection?

passwords

Password protection of course.

In this post, we are looking at passwords – and what people do or don’t do with them. It was inspired by a recent report online about the most common passwords of 2013. It scares me when I see what is being used. Strong passwords are one of those things we know we need, and should be using, but tend to put little to no effort into. Then we tend to be the first to shout ‘my details were taken’ when things go wrong.

So what are the rules then? Different camps will give you different instructions, and some will claim a password is strong when in fact it isn’t.

Let’s look at the most common methods:

  1. Use Different passwords everywhere.
    Why should we have to do this when it is so easy to use our pets name at every password prompt? Well it’s simple really. If someone guesses your pets name, and believe me they will, then they have access to every site you use. A study by an online company, called BitDefender, showed that 75% of people will use the same password for their email and Facebook. If that is then also your PayPal password, and it’s discovered, say goodbye to some funds and your friends.
  2. Remember the Underwear Meme
    Seemingly the saying goes like this: Passwords are like underwear. You should change them often, maybe not every day of course. Don’t share them. Don’t leave them out for others to see. (No Post Its). They should also be mysterious and a secret to others. So make them something that they can’t guess.
  3. Avoid Common Passwords
    If the word can be found in a dictionary, it is not a strong password. If you use numbers and letter as they appear on the keyboard, it’s not a strong password. Relatives names and pets names, NO. Even if you follow them with a number. Birthdays and anniversaries are just as bad sadly. Hackers will try all these things first. They actually run programs to check all these kinds of passwords, and for the love of all that’s techie, if you use “password” as your password, please just sign off the Internet right now. SplashData has been listing the 25 worst passwords for some years now, and “password” has always topped the list as the most common password. This year it was deposed by the long-time second worst password: “123456.” No, really!

So what are you tips I hear you cry!

Don’t cry, here is some advice.

Strong Password Solutions

How to Build Strength

To create a strong password, it is suggested you should use a string of text that mixes numbers, letters that are both lowercase and uppercase, and special characters. It should be eight characters, but preferably many more. A lot more. The characters should be random, and not include words, flow alphabetically, or be from your keyboard layout.

So how do you make such a password?

1) Spell a word backwards. (Example: Turn “New York” into “kroywen.”)

2) Use l33t speak: Substitute numbers for certain letters. (Example: Turn “kroywen” into “kr0yw3n.”)

3) Randomly throw in some capital letters. (Example: Turn “kr0yw3n” into “Kr0yw3n.”)

4) Don’t forget the special character. (Example: Turn “Kr0yw3n” into “Kr0yw3^.”)

You don’t have to go for the obvious and use “0” for “o,” or “@” for “a,” or “3” for “e,” either. As long as your replacement makes sense to you, that’s all that matters. A “^” for an “n” makes sense to me.

The suggested best form today seems to be creating a sentence and type it in, including spaces. It takes algorithms much longer to crack something like that than it does just for straight words – even if you have changed the letters for symbols and numbers. (Example: “I love yellow trousers”). This believe it or not is quite secure, and has the added advantage of being easier to remember. Of course, I could also swap numbers for letters and include symbols as well.

Well I hope you got the point and the Protection is definitely needed.

To finish, here is last year’s list of the 25 most commonly used passwords. I expect to hear the cries of despair as you recognise yours. It also shows their change in rank from the year before, and includes some newcomers for this year as well.

1. 123456 (Up 1)

2. password (Down 1)

3. 12345678 (Unchanged)

4. qwerty (Up 1)

5. abc123 (Down 1)

6. 123456789 (New)

7. 111111 ( Up 2)

8. 1234567 (Up 5)

9. iloveyou (Up 2)

10. adobe123 (New)

11. 123123 (Up 5)

12. admin (New)

13. 1234567890 (New)

14. letmein (Down 7)

15. photoshop (New)

16. 1234 (New)

17. monkey (Down 11)

18. shadow (Unchanged)

19. sunshine (Down 5)

20. 12345 (New)

21. password1 (up 4)

22. princess (New)

23. azerty (New)

24. trustno1 (Down12)

25. 000000 (New)

Let us know what you think, and how you cope with remembering all the various passwords you use.

More Nexus-5 News!

Nexus-5We haven’t managed to get our hands on a new Nexus 5 here at IT Tech Point yet so we are always interested in what others are saying and are constantly reading reviews.

We thought we would just give you a quick link to a review by the Guardian Newspaper so you can wet your lips on what they are saying about it. They did give it 5 out of 5 at the end.

We hope to have our hands on one soon, unless our friends at Google want to send one for us to test drive like we did with the nexus tablets before we bought the new one.

Anyhow, here is the link to the article, feast your eyes and your brains and let us know what you think.

http://goo.gl/f87oFh

Regards, IT Tech Point