Categories
computing

Do I need security software?

Many computer users don’t need to spend extra money on security software. Others do. This helps you decide where you fit.

Windows users can get Microsoft Defender1 for free. MacOS has built-in security features2.

For many people these free OS tools are more than enough protection.

That doesn’t mean there are no risks. The online world is as dangerous as ever. Yet, for many people there’s little value in paying for protection. Spend the money elsewhere.

Paid-for computer security won’t be foolproof even if you buy the best on the market. A clever social engineering attack can shimmy past the smartest defence.

A common example is when a crook persuades a victim to hand over a password or let them behind the defences.

Perhaps the most powerful way of defending your computer and data is making frequent encrypted backups. You can automate this in Windows and MacOS.

Given a choice between spending on security software or backup, I’d pick the latter every time.

You should make more than one kind of back-up. Perhaps use a cloud service and a local hard drive or network server. Ideally back up to a removable hard drive that you can store away from your computer.

Always test back-ups to make sure they are usable.

With back-up you can recover from most attacks, even ransomware . Some security products and services include back-up as part of their deal.

Who needs extra security?

  • If you deal with customer data or anyone’s personal data the law says you must protect it from attack. Security software goes some way towards meeting your obligations. It will reduce the likelihood of attack, criminals often find enough low hanging fruit elsewhere to leave your protected data alone.
  • If you have valuable data including material you want to stay secret. This includes things like business plans or product designs.
  • If you are a potential target for online criminals. This can include having valuable IP that crooks or foreign governments might want. It also includes things like working for political parties or campaigns where there are people who would be only too happy to embarrass or expose your data.
  • If you indulge in risky behaviour online. This can mean activity like illegal downloads or visiting dodgy streaming sites. Some sites at the dark end of the web are fronts to help find victims.
  • If you run a small business where employees are on a local network or you have a home system with teenagers. Sure, you can trust the people you know, but you can never be certain that others might make mistakes, either by indulging in risky behaviour or being susceptible to scams. Spending a couple of hundred dollars on security is easier and less stressful than attempting to monitor and police other people’s activity.

  1. Microsoft Defender isn’t perfect, but it does a good job and doesn’t get in the way, unlike some paid-for security software. ↩︎
  2. In six years I’ve never had the slightest security scare on my Macs ↩︎
Categories
computing

China due to introduce face scans for mobile users – BBC News

Beijing wants people to use only real identities online but there is concern over data collection.

Source: China due to introduce face scans for mobile users – BBC News

People in China are now required to have their faces scanned when registering new mobile phone services, as the authorities seek to verify the identities of the country’s hundreds of millions of internet users.

It’s creepy. Another step on a path to a terrifying totalitarian state that is starting to make George Orwell’s 1984 nightmare look mild in comparison.

Two things worry me abut this development. First, China could be paving the way for other governments to do something similar. In the West this may be pitched as some kind of protection from terrorism or crime, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be abused.

Second, it may not be secure. It’s bad enough for abusive totalitarian or even nominally democratic governments to use this technology to keep tabs on people, but what if criminals get their hands on it? Say if violent men use it to stalk women. We know that already happens with technologies like police car registration plate databases.

Categories
computing productivity

Ditching your laptop for an iPad Pro

Ben Brooks argues that you should ditch your laptop for an iPad Pro. He says the iPad has shown it is a better tool than a laptop.

Up to a point I agree with Brooks. The iPad Pro can be a better work tool than a laptop in many circumstances. One day it may always outperform the more traditional computer format all the time.

The gap between what you can do on an iPad compared with what you can do on a laptop has almost closed. Every new version of iOS makes the gap smaller. That will accelerate now Apple has split iPadOS from iOS.

But we’re still not all the way there yet. Some tasks are still better done on the laptop. Take, for example, troubleshooting a web page. Despite there being excellent iOS web inspection tools, my favourite is Inspect Browser, this still works better on a laptop with a desktop-style browser.

Some webpages still force the iPad to a mobile version, although you can now demand the desktop page.

There are tasks that are better on an iPad Pro than on a laptop. I’m a journalist, I write for a living, all day most days. Writing is arguably better on an iPad Pro than a laptop.

I no longer use my MacBook as a portable. When I’m on the move the iPad is my preferred device. I fly with it, take it cafes and to meetings. Soon I will drop the MacBook, but not yet.

Categories
computing mobile

Sign-in with Apple means privacy, security

At first sight sign-in with Apple looks like another attempt by a tech giant to collect user data.

It isn’t. Apple aims to reverse that data collection.

Facebook and Google offer single sign-in services. These are used to monitor people’s online activity.

Single sign-in reduces friction as you move around on-line sites that ask for a log-in. It speeds things up. That’s important in an impatient world.

Sign-in downsides

The downside is that Facebook and Google get to learn a lot more about account holder online activity.

You may view this as innocent, ominous or simply a tax paid to live in the digital world. You may not care.

Other downsides are greater security and privacy risks. In the past single sign-on services have been hacked.

Sign-in with Apple is different. It is more secure. There is built-in two-factor authentication support and anti-fraud detection.

You can use it to sign-in to websites. It also works with iOS apps. That way you know the apps you use are not sharing your private data with someone you may not trust.

Also, you choose if an app developer gets to see your email address. That’s optional.

If you choose not to share, Apple generates a disposable email address for that app. If, say, the app developer starts spamming you, you can kill the email address and lose nothing.

Sign-in with Apple works with Android phones and Windows computers, but you’ll get most from it if you have Apple hardware. It integrates with iOS and Apple Keychain. It also works with Apple TV and Apple Watch.

Sign-in with Apple stays private

There’s no lock-in. On the other hand, it might give privacy aware users who shop elsewhere another reason to consider Apple products.

Apple insists app developers using the App Store offer the service if they offer the Google or Facebook alternative. Otherwise it is optional.

At first I was wary of the idea. Now I’m keen. I’ve never used the Google or Facebook sign-ins and got used to doing things the slow, but more private, way. Now that’s unnecessary.

Of course, you have to trust Apple when it says that it doesn’t interpret collected data or keep track of your log-ins.

The difference here is that we know for certain Facebook and Google do this. Apple makes its money from hardware and services. Facebook and Google are all about surveillance capitalism.

See: Let’s Clarify some Misunderstandings around Sign In with Apple • Aaron Parecki

Categories
computing

Self-driving car a let-down for Wozniak

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made the news when he told car industry executives he doesn’t expect to see self-driving cars in his lifetime.

Wozniak is 69. You can do your own grim maths calculation here. A self-driving car may yet pull up in my lifetime, hopefully your’s too.

The tech sector has a long history of misplaced ‘coming real soon now claims’.

One of my first jobs covering technology was in 1981. I went to a press conference showing an early speech recognition computer. It could just about understand ten words some of the time if you spoke very carefully.

At the press conference we were told computers able to recognise and understand everyday speech are just two years away. They’ve been just two years away ever since.

Self-driving cars are not that different. In fact the reason for misplaced optimism is much the same. That is, people are terrible at forecasting future technology.

In 2015 Elon Musk, Tesla’s boss, predicted his cars would be capable of “complete autonomy” by 2017.

Last year General Motors said it would offer a range of driverless cars this year.

Waymo, which is part of Alphabet (Google) has been testing driverless taxies in Phoenix Arizona this year. Waymo choose Phoenix because it has wide, flat roads.

In theory it is one of the easiest places in the world to drive. In practice Google still sits human drivers behind the wheel; just in case.

One reason for overconfident forecasts is that tech company leaders believe their own hype about progress in artificial intelligence and related technologies.

Progress is difficult. Much of today’s AI uses brute force; improvement can be a long, hard slog. That doesn’t sound anything like as good at a rah rah sales event as whipping up excitement about what could be possible.

Hear me talk to Kathryn Ryan about this on RNZ Nine-to-Noon.