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Citing its effort to better protect American infrastructure from foreign attacks, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Cyber Information and Security Protection Act April 26 in spite of worries that consumer data privacy will be compromised if the bill eventually becomes law.

For instance, can CISPA really protect America from hackers who could do nefarious things such as shut down or blow up power plants? While the answer isn’t cut and dried, certainly cyber terrorists could feasibly do a lot of harm. In fact, as Johnson pointed out, just this week Iran took several of its oil terminals offline due to fears hackers would program the machinery to self-destruct.

And will fears about terrorism ultimately trump the popular desire to keep regular people’s data private? As we become more entrenched in all things online and the social data revolution continues to unfold, is a society reminiscent of Orwell’s Big Brother or — to use a more modern prophecy from popular culture — the movie Minority Report inescapable in years to come?

These questions have no easy answers. The good news is that dialogue on the policy front and in the tech media is earnest and unrelenting. Here are what several experts had to say during yesterday’s debate:

Against CISPA: EFF

Rainey Reitman, activism director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is an outspoken contributor to the CISPA debate. Reitman said that while CISPA proponents employ rhetoric that the bill will “fend off a cyber Pearl Harbor,” what they’re really doing is inciting fears of security threats when, in fact, such concerns have existed for years. “I do think there is a need for companies to get more information from the government in a timely fashion. The problem that arises with CISPA is that it does so much more than that,” she says.

Like what?

Reitman says civil liberties groups like the EFF don’t want cyber security programs to be a method by which intelligence agencies or the military can garner information about American citizens.

“The government in return has said that if they get information that’s unrelated to cyber security they “may” — don’t have to, but may choose to — remove some of the implications toward civil liberties. But they don’t have to and there’s no real guidelines on what they would have to do about it,” she says. “What we want[are] actual laws in place that make that impossible or difficult. In the very least that if the government wants personal information about users of services including the content of e-mails they [have to ] go to a judge and get a warrant.”

For CISPA: Information Technology Industry Council

He also makes the point that CISPA doesn’t mandate that companies give the government information, but that doing so is voluntary.

As for why cyber security is so important now, Garfield says it’s a problem that just keeps getting worse and he points to data that said between 2009 and 2010 there was an increase of 93 percent in cyber security breaches.

“Most of us spend seven-plus hours a day in a network environment in front of our computer and so we make all sorts of information available on the Internet. It’s an integral part of our everyday life. And of the information that’s being compromised, 95 percent of it is our personal information and it’s important that we take steps to protect that. And there are simple straightforward ways to do that which from our perspective and from the majority of the Congress’ perspective CISPA was a vehicle for doing just that.”

As for concerns about the bill giving the government free reign to get its hands on whatever data it convinces companies to give it, Garfield says that’s not a concern.

“In fact, there was an amendment in the bill that passed that makes clear that CISPA doesn’t enhance the power of the NSA or any other government agency to engage in the kinds of activity that Rainey’s talking about…For example, the bill sunsets in five years. It has a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act clause) so that those who want to find out the types of information that’s being shared can do so. It sets up the process which I don’t think has existed anywhere else where if the government misuses private information, it’s subject to liability for that misuse of information. “

A Tech Entrepreneur Speaks Out

A caller into KQED’s show identified as “Bruce in Los Gatos” said he is a long-time serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley who, along with other tech innovators, has invested heavily to develop services, social media, GPS, and mobile apps that give him insight into the behavior and habits of consumers. “We take pride for the most part in doing the best job we can to use the data responsibly and give consumers value around that,” he says.

He also points out that modern technology and services companies legitimately know where and when people travel and with whom they communicate.

“But if the government should choose to start to aggregate and track that data, it’s very concerning. And I would be concerned as a consumer that there aren’t more safeguards in place to prevent the government from just grabbing that data or forcing the companies to turn it over in secret,” he said.

What Will Happen to CISPA in the Senate?

Garfield says he’s still hopeful about the bill’s future and Reitman says the EFF’s goal is to have a voice in whatever bill the Senate considers.

What’s most likely to get attention first, Martinez says, is a bill by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) that supports a different method of evading and mitigating cyber threats.

“The main difference is that the core component [of Lieberman’s bill] puts new security mandates on operators of critical infrastructures [such as] utilities companies, [and] possibly water plants [whereas] CISPA is focused on improving information sharing about cyber threats between the government and industries so it doesn’t have that piece that addresses security gaps in critical infrastructures,” she says.

How You Can Hear and Be Heard

To listen to the entire radio interview for yourself, visit KQED.

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4 Gmail Labs Features You Should Be Using

As powerful as Gmail is, you make it even more productive with add-ons from Gmail Labs. If you’re new to Labs, it’s the testing ground for Gmail’s more experimental features. The successful ones go on to become standard Gmail capabilities—the much-loved Send & Archive button was once a Gmail Lab experiment—but while they’re in the Labs, there’s always the outside chance they could break, change, or disappear.

Gmail Labs calls its features “some crazy experimental stuff.”

Assuming you’re comfortable being Gmail’s guinea pig, here are four Google Labs features you should experiment with yourself.

Authentication icon for verified senders

Email scammers continue to devise nefarious new ways to trick people into surrendering money and personal information. While there’s no substitute for following basic security practices, you can add an extra layer of protection with Gmail Lab’s Authentication Icon for Verified Senders.

When you enable this lab, you’ll see a key icon next to “trusted” senders such as PayPal and Google Wallet. Google deems senders trustworthy if they send a lot of messages over time that most Gmail users think are not spam; and if they publish a DMARC reject policy, which states they send only authenticated mail, and any unauthenticated mail sent by the domain should be rejected.

Gmail Authentication lets you designate certain email addresses as trusted. 

Google Voice player in mail

Google Voice is already like Gmail for all your phone messages and texts. So why not have them delivered right to your Gmail inbox?

Enable this lab, and when you get notified of a voicemail in Gmail, you can play it right within the message rather having to go to a separate browser page. The message will be marked “read” so you won’t have to play it again next time you check your Google Voice inbox on your phone.

Undo Send

Whether it was a simple snarky remark or a seething message, we’ve all felt the pang of regret after sending an email we probably shouldn’t have. If you just can’t control your impulses, Gmail’s Undo Send feature can save you from having to eat a heaping helping of humble pie.

Once you enable Undo Send, configure your cancellation period on the General Settings tab.

This feature will delay sending your email messages 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds, giving you a grace period during which you can hit an “undo” button and prevent your missive from going out. Once you’ve enabled it, just set your “cancellation period” on the General tab under Settings.

Canned Responses

Preview Pane

One downside to Gmail is you have to open a message to see its contents, which is a time suck when you’re trying to browse through your inbox. Preview Pane gives Gmail’s web interface the multi-pane view we’ve become accustomed to on most desktop email clients, and let’s you view messages as you scroll through them.

Preview Pane lets you view messages as you browse your inbox.

When you enable this feature, a new button will appear next to the gear icon in your inbox. From here you can toggle Preview Pane on and off and select either a vertical or horizontal orientation.

4 Things Every New Computer Owner Should Do

Deluxe or Premium edition.

2. Set up cloud storage to backup your most important files

You’ve probably already had thoughts as to how you’ll transfer all your files from your old computer to your new one, if it isn’t your first.

Seemingly our entire lives are now stored on these big boxes or slim laptops, with bills, financial information and other important notes being tucked away in digital folders. Losing access to these files can be frustrating and even devastating, because in many cases you might not be able to get them back.

As invincible as your new computer might feel at the moment, remember that it’s still a piece of technology and it has its risks when it comes to storing information. It could:

Crash and need to be reset from factory settings

Someone (like a child or even yourself!) could accidentally delete a document

Cyberthreats like ransomware could lock away, erase or corrupt files.

These are some of the reasons why so many new computer owners get cloud storage. It’s a way to backup files more safely and securely and make sure you never lose the documents that are important to you.

With Norton 360, which includes antivirus, firewall protection and useful features, users can get up to 75 gigabytes (GB) of cloud storage for backup. These files are hosted and secured by NortonLifeLock, ensuring that your documents will be there when you need them.

Don’t forget to regularly backup the files stored on your hard drive (or in other words, on your computer) to the cloud.

Now that your computer has the most basic security settings enabled, it’s time to make sure it’s safe from another big security loophole: patches.

While you might commonly know patches as updates to bring new features to your favourite programmes and games, patches also provide valuable security updates against vulnerabilities. In many cases, cybercriminals use these vulnerabilities to gain access to PCs and their most valuable information – including financial records, if they are stored on the computer.

If you’re on Windows 10, you can go to the search bar in the bottom-left hand corner of your desktop screen and type in ‘Check For Updates’ to find out whether the operating system is the most recent – and secure – version available.

After doing so, use your browser to find patches for common programmes, like Adobe Flash or your internet browser. These popular applications can also be abused by cybercriminals if they aren’t properly updated.

4. Get a password manager

With your new computer set up and ready to go, you’ll be doing a lot of web browsing, downloading and registering over the next few days.

There’ll be a lot of passwords floating around if you’re using a different one for each account like you should (because we all follow internet security best practices, right?).

Password managers do the heavy lifting when it comes to account safety and security, letting you create new accounts on websites and for applications knowing that you’ll always be able to find your password if you forget it. They let you create more secure passwords as you’re able to add in special characters and numbers to your passwords, while still being able to use your accounts hassle-free.

Get a single solution

Setting up a new computer can be a little stressful, especially with how many programmes that are needed to protect it.

Should You Shun Energy Drinks?

Should You Shun Energy Drinks? Deaths possibly linked to two brands

The popular caffeinated 5-Hour Energy drink now has another, tragic number associated with it. As required by federal law, its distributor recently reported the caffeinated beverage’s possible involvement in 13 deaths. While the Food and Drug Administration is investigating, should BU students bypass 5-Hour Energy drinks available for purchase in University food stores?

“There is absolutely no need to reach for any of these products for energy,” declares Joan Salge Blake (SAR’84), a Sargent College clinical associate professor. Food provides ample energy for the body, she says.

The director of BU’s Student Health Services echoes her opinion. Any product promising energy that’s “not naturally achieved” through sleep and diet “just seems not to be a great idea,” cautions David McBride. Even students who overdo their coffee drinking—a familiar sight to his staff during final exams, he says—can “mess up their sleep schedule. They’re basically pushing their bodies beyond what would be considered normal and healthy.”

And unlike energy drinks, says Salge Blake, “coffee, because it’s served hot, is typically consumed more slowly than gulping a shot or energy drink. Thus, coffee consumption is less likely to cause a person to overconsume caffeine.”

In October, the Food and Drug Administration said it had received reports of five deaths possibly linked to another drink, Monster Energy. Such incidents, according to the New York Times, are not confirmations that the drinks indeed caused the deaths. The FDA insists that the science is insufficient at this point to justify stiffer regulations of caffeine or other energy drink ingredients. But U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have called on the FDA to act quickly to regulate energy drinks that are marketed as beverages.

The ingredients in energy drinks, Salge Blake says, can include guarana (a caffeine-containing plant) and taurine, an amino acid that can act as a stimulant and is found in 5-Hour Energy. And another key ingredient: “Collectively, soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks are the number one source of added sugars in the diets of Americans,” she says. “Even more concerning, these beverages are displacing more nutrient-rich ones, such as bone-strengthening nonfat milk or sugar-free plain water.”

Elizabeth Hatch, a School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, has researched caffeine and fertility (although not caffeine toxicity) and wonders whether there might be other factors involved in the deaths, such as drugs and alcohol, as the amount of caffeine in 5-Hour Energy reported in the Times “is not all that much—about the same amount of caffeine as in two strong cups of coffee.”

But Salge Blake says that using energy drinks in tandem with other caffeine sources can overcaffeinate a person, potentially causing “jitters, anxiety, a rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, seizures, and even death. There have been reports of middle school–age consumers who had to be taken to a hospital with many of the above symptoms and a teenager who even died after consuming multiple servings of an energy drink.” More than 45 percent of reported caffeine overdoses occur in people 19 or younger, she says.

While the FDA already restricts caffeine levels in soft drinks, Salge Blake says, energy drinks and shots (the term with which 5-Hour Energy’s manufacturer labels the product) are deemed diet supplements by law and go unregulated.

Bottom line: the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) warns that “if you drink more than a couple of cups of coffee or several cans of caffeine-containing soda per day and experience insomnia or jitters, are at risk of osteoporosis, or are pregnant, you should rethink your habit.” Or as Salge Blake more succinctly puts it, “Moderation is key.”

Things may get worse first: the CSPI is alarmed about possible caffeine ODs in kids from a soon-to-hit-the-market product: caffeinated Cracker Jacks.

Explore Related Topics:

Should You Consolidate Your Database?

I recently did one of those things that analysts are supposed to do, which is to test the accepted wisdom about a concept that’s been kicking around so long no one seems to even question its veracity. The concept is database consolidation, and the accepted wisdom is that database consolidation lowers IT budgets and raises business effectiveness and efficiency while providing a high degree of ROI and value.

Unfortunately, that statement is only half true. Database consolidation can have a huge impact on IT budgets by lowering hardware and database license costs, and in doing so database consolidation can even help on the business side as well. But it turns out that most database consolidation projects miss an enormous opportunity to have a dramatic effect on the business side, and in fact often leave business users out on a limb when it comes to regulatory compliance, business continuity, and plain old business success.

Once again the accepted wisdom proves to be more accepted than is merited and a lot less wise than expected.

Here’s the problem. Database consolidation is easy if you leave out one important element: the maintenance of an accurate, usable, and extensive history of past transactions and results that spans the different data types, formats, and standards that have been used in your different source databases over time.

In other words, as long as you don’t try to maintain anything but the most cursory history of your chart of accounts, your customer records, your product offerings and prices, your manufacturing records, and everything else you’ve store in databases lo these many years, consolidation is easy. And cost-effective, and relatively useful, and a key component in IT simplification.

But if you want to maintain some historical perspective on your business, and be able to access the data that you need to meet regulatory requirements, analyze historical trends, maintain customer and business continuity, and otherwise run a successful business following a merger, divestiture, or other major consolidating event, it turns out that database consolidation only gets you so far. And it’s usually not far enough.

Far enough means being able to meet your business obligations, like providing the FDA with an historical record of the clinical trials for a new drug that isn’t working right or the processing records for a food product that is suspected of poisoning consumers. Far enough means being able to accurately balance your books and, if necessary, restate your earnings without worrying whether you’re about to break the law. Far enough means being able to truly optimize your cross-sell and up-sell opportunities by maintaining a single version of the “truth” about your customers and prospects. Far enough means making sure your business is up and running on day one post merger or divestiture, absent that chaos and uncertainty that an incomplete data environment would guarantee.

It’s true that there are other ways of meeting these business needs other than through a classic database consolidation. You can undertake a major master data management initiative, and keep everything you need in its original database, which solves your data history problem but kills any attempt to reduce the complexity and cost of your IT environment. Similarly, you can build an enterprise SOA infrastructure, and hide the complexity of data reconciliation behind a wall of Web services interfaces. Once again, say farewell to simplification and budget savings.

Or, you can try to actually do a business-level consolidation, which up until recently would have involved a massive, brute-force effort to reconcile an enormous set of complexities that typically exist between different database instances. That brute force effort is so brutal, and requires so much force, that – guess what – virtually no one has ever tried it.

I say virtually because I leave open the possibility that it has been done on a small scale, or in some benighted corner of the IT universe. But I’ve been looking for an example of this kind of deep business-level consolidation, and every time I’ve scratched the surface of a database consolidation project what I’ve come up with is something far short of “far enough.”

Should You Buy The Oneplus 2?

Reasons to buy the OnePlus 2

Future proofed

Yes, “2023 flagship killer” should probably be taken as a marketing slogan and nothing more. In the fast paced race of mobile industry, no device can claim supremacy for more than a few weeks, never mind a year. That said, the OnePlus 2 strives to deliver on its promise of being a flagship killer, by offering a blend of the flagship specs from this year’s handsets combined with projected requirements of a flagship in a year’s time with an eye on the overall price.

In-part due to its affordable price tag and in part due to the specs including the RAM, fingerprint sensor, camera and dual SIM, the OnePlus 2 specs should, on paper, at least be good enough to challenge flagships from this year and next, at all but the top price bracket.

Value for money

On paper, the OnePlus 2 is equal to many devices – and better than a lot of others – but what really sets it apart is its price tag; other devices offering similar specifications retail in excess of $550 but the OnePlus 2 retails a lot lower at $389 for the higher-specced 64GB model (and even lower at $329 for the lesser-spec 16GB model).

Comparing the specs on paper is certainly one consideration but the actual experience also has to deliver. The $300 to $500 price bracket is becoming one of the most fiercely contested amongst OEMs and the OnePlus 2 will likely compete against devices that feature many of the similar specs.

ZTE Axon vs OnePlus 2 vs Moto X Style: value for money, redefined


For a lot of consumers, the little considerations may be the difference when choosing a handset, and while the OnePlus 2 certainly has a lot going for it, there are a few little things that could let the handset down.

Reasons NOT to buy the OnePlus 2

OnePlus has prided itself on offering flagship specs on its smartphones and while the OnePlus 2 does this mostly, there are a couple of features that have been omitted from the handset. The 3300 mAh battery is certainly large enough for most usage but as it’s non-removable, so you can’t swap it out when your battery does get low.

For other handsets like the Galaxy S6, this is not so much of an issue as that handset has both wireless and quick charging, but these are two features that are missing from the OnePlus 2. Wireless charging is a feature that is a nice-to-have but Quick Charge 2.0 is definitely a must-have feature and as the OnePlus 2 doesn’t have it, it means it’s likely to take several hours to charge to full (as opposed to other Quick Charge handsets that can charge half the battery in just half an hour).

A crucial feature that’s also been omitted from the OnePlus 2 is NFC (Near Field Communications) and while OnePlus claim it left the feature out as it’s not used that often, we’re entering an era where mobile payments are becoming mainstream. The lack of NFC means you won’t be able to pay for items using your phone and it also means you won’t be able to use NFC for accessories and cross-device communication, which are both likely to become popular features in the ecosystem over the next 18 months.

The invite system

The one thing that sets OnePlus apart from the competition is the (dreaded) invite system. To manage its inventory, the company issues invites to purchase the handset (and then allows people who have bought it to also share invites) and while they have promised a much larger launch inventory, actual availability could be an issue.

The other thing that could hamper the OnePlus 2 is its release date; the handset launches on August 13th and with availability likely to be significantly less than the demand, you might find yourself turning to other handsets. For example, the Galaxy Note 5 should be announced the same day before hitting the market a few days later on August 21st and offer similar specs (with a heftier price tag) while IFA at the beginning of September should herald other devices that vie for your money.

Support: Is there any?

One reason many customers opt not to buy a handset from a start-up (can we still call them that?) like OnePlus is the question of support and the OnePlus One doesn’t leave us with any confidence. OnePlus’ first handset failed on the support front and quality assurance fronts with numerous reports of DOA (defective/dead on arrival) devices and a lack of communication from the Chinese manufacturer.

For the OnePlus 2, it’s unclear how the company aims to improve this, especially as it seems to predominantly operate out of an Asian base (although it does have warehousing and admin functions in Europe). For customers in the USA and Europe, support (or the lack of it) could be a reason to skip the OnePlus 2 and opt for a handset with better support, should you need it.

So should you buy the OnePlus 2?

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