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Tip of the Week

Kiss Goodbye To Nosey Parkers

As we all know virtually everything you do on the Internet can now be monitored and the history of your web browsings are almost certainly being logged by your ISP so they can be examined by official (and quite possibly unofficial) snoopers, as well. Of course, most of us have nothing to hide, but at the same time no-one wants to be spied upon, but there are ways to mask your identity and remain secure online. On a more practical level, there may be times, when you are out and about, that you want to access a website and watch a TV program, or stream a video, but your PC or tablet won’t let you as the site you are trying to connect with uses your IP address and geolocation to find out where you are, and restrict access if you are not in the right country. The solution is to use a Virtual Private Network or VPN service, and there are plenty of good ones to choose from, but most of them you have to pay for. There are also lots of free ones as well, but inevitably there are often strings attached; you might have to watch ads, it can get busy, the bandwidth is limited, it is painfully slow, or there are security issues. Well, so far SecurityKISS Tunnel (Keep It Smart & Simple) is free, fast and accessible, and very easy to use, but as you would expect there are usage limits. Security is always a concern, but there have been no negative reports, even so, it is not a good idea to use it to carry out financial transactions using it, but that is good advice when away from home and connected to a publicly available wireless network. Once installed it’s ready to go and all you need to do is select a server in the country you want any geotracking system to think that you are in and click the Connect button. It’s that easy. The download is clean – no nasty toolbars or unwanted extras to watch out for Android, iOS, Mac and Linux versions also available), but you do need to be aware of the daily limit of 300Mb in the free version. That’s enough for emails and a spot of web browsing and the server locations are limited to the UK, USA, France and Germany, but it’s a good way to get a taste of what it can do. If you like what you see and want to upgrade prices for a 20Gb/month service starts at €2.99 a month or €23.90 a year, and if you want to go unlimited that will set you back €9.99 a month or €89.90 a year, with various discounts in between for 3 and 6 month packages.


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News Briefs

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Junior Spooks

Catching them young is the theme of a new app from spy central, otherwise known as GCHQ. It’s called, Cryptoy and currently only available for Android devices from Google Play. Basically it is an interactive cryptography teaching and learning tool, aimed at Key Stage 4 students, but don’t let that put you off, it’s fun for all ages. Don’t get too excited, though, the sample cryptographic demos and games are not giving away any state secrets, they’re based on old-school systems. There’s even a section on the famous Enigma code, developed by the Germans in World War II, with some good historical background, but the essential principles behind many early forms of cryptography hold good for today’s code making and breaking technologies and GCHQ hopes it will inspire the next generation to take an interest in cyber security. Students, on a placement at GCHQ, originally developed the app for the Cheltenham Science Festival. It was meant to demonstrate encryption techniques, but it proved popular with the teachers who saw it, who asked for it to be made available as a teaching aid. In addition to giving users a basic understanding of cryptography they can use Cryptoy to compose and send encrypted messages via social media, challenging friends and family to decode their messages. It’s probably unnecessary, though, as anyone over 40 will know that teenage text-speak is already an almost unbreakable code…


Flash Forever?

We all know that nothing lasts forever, and the hard drives in most recent PCs and laptop have a MTBF (mean time between failures) rating of upwards of 100,000 hours or around 11 years – some manufacturers claim considerably higher figures. The point is, a hard drive is probably not the best place to store you data if you want it to still be readable in more than a decade or so, but what about solid state drives or SSDs? Clearly they haven’t been around long enough for anyone to make any rash longevity claims. Most types come with a warning that the number of read-write cycles they can endure is finite and this is due to wear and tear, at the molecular level, to insulating materials inside the chip. The Tech Report decided to put half a dozen SSD to the ultimate test, pushing them well past their design limits by continually pumping them full of terabytes of data. All six sailed past their claimed best-by dates and were only deemed to have failed when they had used up all of the chip’s built-in spare capacity, which automatically replaces worn out and faulty circuitry. The first drive failed at the 727-terabyte mark, which is vastly more data than they will ever be required to handle in the real world. To give you an idea of what that means, a very well used laptop with an SSD would typically handle between 2 and 5TB in a year. Two of the six SSDs are apparently still going strong, having now passed 2 petabytes  (2,000TB) and if we use the laptop analogy again, that’s getting on for 1000 years worth of use!   



Eyeing Up The Perfect Pizza?

Pizza Hut those purveyors of tasty, dough-based treats, have found a new way to speed things up and help you decide on toppings by tapping into your brain and tracking your eye movements. It’s called the Subconscious Menu and it was developed in collaboration with Swedish technology company Tobi, who are leading lights in the eye-tracking business. In trials, customers looked at a screen, showing 20 popular ingredients and the system’s algorithm took just under 3 seconds to figure out which of the almost 5000 possible combinations of ingredients would make up the hungry victim’s ideal pizza, and if they don’t like what it comes up with, it’s a simple matter to have another go. The company reckons they’re getting it right more than 95 percent of the time, there still some fine–tuning to be done but if the trials prove successful it could soon be appearing in a Hut near you.