CyberSecurity News of Note

Here’s the last of the news chum collections for this morning. This one has to do with safety and security.

  • Tiny Dots and Phish. Hopefully, you’ve been getting trained on how to recognize phishing threats, and how to distrust links in email or on websites. But it’s getting even trickier, as this article notes. Miscreants are using characters in other character sets that ļȯоķ like other characters. Hint: Always look at how addresses look when you hover over them, and even then be suspicious.
  • Complex Passwords Don’t Solve All Problems. So you’ve gotten smart: you are using complex passwords everywhere. But every solution contains a problem: reusing complex passwords can give your identity away. Research showed, the rarer your password is, the more it “uniquely identifies the person who uses it. If a person uses the same unique password with multiple accounts, then that password can be used as a digital fingerprint to link those accounts.” Although this is not something previously unknown, there seems to be a lack of awareness about the practice. Remember: complex passwords, never reused, and use a password manager.
  • Two Factor Authentication. Using 2FA can also help. Here’s a handy guide on how to set it up on most major websites. Here’s a list of all major websites, and whether they support 2FA.
  • Protecting Your Social Security. This article from Brian Krebs explores abuse of the social security system, and contains some advice I hadn’t known: go create your account at SSA.gov now to protect yourself.  That’s something I need to do; I tried to do it this morning but it wouldn’t accept the proof for the upgraded account, and I have to (a) find a previous year’s W2 and (b) wait 24 hours to try again.
  • Predicting Problems. A few articles on predictive algorithms. One explores whether predictive algorithms should be part of public policy.  Essentially, should they have a hand in shaping jail sentences and predicting public policies? Government agencies are now using algorithms and data mining to predict outcomes and behaviors in individuals, and to aid decision-making. In a cyber-vein, there are calls to add prediction to the NIST cyber-security framework. The argument: With AI and machine learning, companies should now be considering how to predict threats before they even appear. Speaking of the NIST Framework, Ron Ross tweets that it is being incorporated into FIPS 200 and the RMF.
  • Building It In. The NIST effort — especially with SP 800-160 — is to emphasize the importance of engineering in and designing in security from the very beginning, not bolting it on at the end. Good news: The government is finally coming around to that realization as well. The link is a summary of the recent updates to the NIST pub. It’s an area I’ve been exploring as well, and I’ve been working on some modifications to the process to make it even more accepted. The first report on the effort is under review right now; I hope to publish something soon.

 

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Health and Medical News of Note

As I continue to clear out the links, here is a collection of articles with some interesting health and medicine news:

  • Colds and Flus. A few articles related to the cold and flu season. First, here’s a useful chart of how to pick the right medicines for that cold or flu that you have. The key tip: Know your ingredients, what they do, and go for single-ingredient generics. Next: If you haven’t gotten that flu shot yet, GO GET IT. Anything you read about the dangers is only fear-mongering. Perhaps you think you shouldn’t get it because it isn’t fully effective. Even less effective, it is important to get it.  Think about it this way: seatbelts and air bags aren’t fully effective — people still get into accidents and die. But if you get into an accident, seatbelts and airbags reduce the amount of damage you will incur. Flu shots are like that:  you might still get sick, but it will likely be less severe. Better to be in bed for a few days than in the hospital or dead.
  • Tide Pods. They won’t go away, will they? Here’s an interesting infographic on the chemistry behind laundry pods, demonstrating succinctly why should should never never never put one in your mouth. You shouldn’t even eat real foods made to look like Tide Pods, so you don’t confuse the gullible and stupid out there.
  • Better Medical Testing. You might have heard about the recent Ikea advertising for women: they would pee on the ad, and it would reveal a discount on baby furniture if they were pregnant.  But it turns out that’s just the beginning, and the Ikea technology could save your life if you where having a heart attack. How? The cited article explores the technology behind the ad, and notes that the developer of the ad is now working on developing a type of synthetic paper that could combine all of those characteristics, and be used to develop diagnostic tools to detect certain types of heart diseases. Heart attacks, for instance, are very hard to diagnose from symptoms alone, like chest pain. But if, say, paramedics in an ambulance had a tool that can pick up certain biomarkers from plasma, just like the ad picks up the pregnancy hormone from the urine, they could quickly determine whether someone is having a heart attack. That would allow patients to receive immediate treatment, which is key to survive a heart attack. Oh, and someone else is working on a quick and easy blood test to detect cancerThe test, detailed in the journal Science, could be a major advance for “liquid biopsy” technology, which aims to detect cancer in the blood before a person feels sick or notices a lump. That’s useful because early-stage cancer that hasn’t spread can often be cured.
  • The Alien. I have an odd problem. When I essentially do a sit up (i.e., lie on my back and curl up), I get a belly bulge. My internist thinks it is a form of hernia (muscles separating), and although it can be fixed surgically, such fixes aren’t all that effective. Reading an article the other day, I found an interesting explanation of what I’ve got — which is oddly a post-pregnancy belly problem called diastasis recti.  Doctors diagnose diastasis recti when the distance between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle gets to be two centimeters or more. DR can affect anyone — women, men, and children. “Coughing, laughing, pooping, breathing, birthing, and moving (i.e., your posture and exercise habits) are all things that can change the amount of pressure in your abdomen” and can, over time, cause DR. As the article notes: “DR can give the belly a soft, protruding appearance. It can push the bellybutton out, or look like a visible gulch at the midsection when a [person] bends or does an abdominal curl.” For me, it seems to only be there when I move like a sit-up; for others, it is much more common post pregnancy due to the pressure of the baby. Alas, the cited article notes there are no good solutions to the problem yet, and exercise done wrong can make it worse.
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Interesting Histories

It’s been an interesting week. Although I was collecting a bunch of news chum, they never coalesced in my head into a coherent post. Now it’s the weekend, so let’s start clearing them off. This first collection provides a bunch of histories that I found of interest:

  • Street Light Banners. 1984. For some, a chilling book. For others, a foretelling of our current political climate. For me, it is the memory of when Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, with pastel banners and wayfaring signs all over the city. It turns out that the 1984 Olympics was the first major use of the light pole banner. As the article notes: “With only $10 million to outfit the entire city (five percent of the budget of the 1976 Games in Montreal) the designers of LA’s Olympic look, overseen by legendary designer Deborah Sussman, had to be scrappy. Instead of stadiums, they built towering scaffolds. Instead of brand-new Olympic villages, they outfitted parks and freeway entrances with colorful pylons, sonotubes, and giant inflatable stars. Little of it would have stood a chance if it had rained (luckily it didn’t) but the designs looked great on television. It was a classic LA story. The street banners were intended only to line the Olympic marathon route, which ran down Exposition Boulevard from Santa Monica to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum downtown. At the last minute, however, the organizing committee dramatically expanded the program, promising banners to dozens of additional neighborhoods and even cities in neighboring counties.”
  • 31 Flavors. Here’s another Los Angeles creation. No, not ice cream, but Baskin-Robbins.  Starting with two shops, one in Glendale, the other in Pasadena, BR franchised and grew, until by the time of the 31st anniversary, Baskin-Robbins had already accumulated more than 500 flavors. The previous year, they had come out with several flavors made for the U.S. bicentennial celebration, including Yankee Doodle Strudel, Valley Forge Fudge, Concorde Grape and Minuteman Mint. Over the years, their commemorative flavors have ranged from Beatle Nut in 1964 to Lunar Cheesecake in 1969 to Saxy Candidate in 1996. Today, Baskin-Robbins has 1300 flavors.
  • Use of the American Indian Image on Advertising. It’s a staple of advertising, from Land O’Lakes butter to Native American Cigarettes. They were at cigar stores and on motorcycles. How did the image of the American Indian — either the full headdress or the beautiful princess — come to be everywhere. Here’s an article that explores a new exhibition of how the image of a people that we systematically oppressed and pushed out because an advertising image that is everywhere. As the article notes: “American culture has used imagery of American Indians to symbolize authenticity in branding, or combativeness in sports and the military, even as it has subjugated real-life Indians throughout history. At its core, the artifacts in the exhibition reveal how Indians have become an integral part of the American brand itself–something that companies have been capitalizing on for decades.”
  • Food Colors. Brightly colored food. Red maraschino cherries. Blue jelly beans. Yellow banana pudding. Do we ever stop to think where those colors came from? When food dyes came in, they were made from products such as coal tar, a by-product of coal manufacturing.  Yet we believed them safe. As the article notes: “Food companies soon used the coal tar colors as well, especially in butter, candy, and alcohol. Though gross-sounding, they might have been healthier than the alternative. In both Britain and the United States, the 19th century was plagued with food adulteration, often in the form of food coloring. In order to make pickles, jellies, and candy more vivid, manufacturers added dangerous metal salts such as copper sulfate and lead chromate. In contrast, coal tar dyes were so vivid that only a little was needed. Plus, the tiny amount meant that the flavor wasn’t affected.” But were they safe? And what are we using today?
  • Elevators. We probably don’t think twice about using an elevator. They are everywhere. They are what made the high-rise revolution possible. But there is risk, such as the time the President got caught trapped in an elevator.  This was at the Pentagon, a concrete building/bunker with only one elevator. What did the President’s party think? Levinson’s first thought was that he was experiencing, first-hand, an attempted coup by the U.S. military on McNamara’s last day in office. “Was someone about the inject some type of gas into the lift or drop some form of explosive? We had the head of state and the Secretary of Defense in one small place that was undefended and vulnerable. A natural site for an extraordinary disaster.”
  • Interstate 95. For a highway system that started in 1955, one would think the Interstate Highway System, after 60 years, would be complete. But it isn’t, and one glaring whole was New Jersey… was in New Jersey on I-95. Finally, through a kludge, I-95 has (almost) been completed. Construction to fix the I-95 gap began more than eight years ago in Pennsylvania, but it has now reached its final stage. This week, the New Jersey Department of Transportation began switching out road signs in preparation for the change. But until it opens, if you are driving northbound on I-95, just outside of Princeton, a road sign will warn you that I-95 North—the road you are on—is ending. But the physical road itself doesn’t end—instead, the highway veers south, now under the name Interstate 295. If you don’t get off at an exit, you will find yourself suddenly driving south, and have to do a complicated series of maneuvers to get back on a northbound road. On the other side of this gap, Interstate 95 continues northward, starting from eight miles away.
  • Mapping Applications. Some of us love road maps. Some of us love our navigation applications. But did you ever think about where the maps come from, and how they were created in the era before satellite mapping. It was a hard process, and this article explores how cartographers made maps before modern technology. The process of updating maps involved sending scouts out into the field to drive along every road and note conditions, compare the roads against topographical maps, and confirm mileage figures. Then, those scouts reported back to the draughtsmen responsible for producing revised maps every two weeks. The draughtsmen updated the data on road closures and other changes.
  • Printers. Although this article isn’t as long as I would like, and omits a number of classic printer types (such as the IBM 1403 Line Printer, or the workhorse ASR33s and the DEC LA36  Dot Matrix Printer), here’s a short exploration of the start of computer printing technology. The articles notes that in 1953, the first high-speed printer was developed by Remington-Rand for use on the Univac computer, and the original laser printer called EARS was developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center beginning in 1969 and completed in November  1971.
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