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Tip of the Week

Lock Stock And USB Drive

Here’s a neat little freeware utility for locking your PC while you are way from your desk for a short while, and it couldn’t be simpler to use. All you have to do is whip out your USB drive ‘key’ and the computer goes into lockdown mode. When you return just pop the drive back in and it’s ready to use again. It’s called Winlockr and it works with any USB flash drive, or card reader, and the only limitation that we can see is that it doesn’t work properly on Windows 8. It only takes a minute to configure, and in case you’re worried, there’s a backdoor, just in case you loose your key. Incidentally, a similar, but obscure facility, called Syskey (type that into a search box), has been built into Windows since the mid 1990s but in 1999 it was show to be vulnerable and although it was later patched and beefed up it is still a bit of a palaver to set up, and not that intuitive to use.


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News Briefs

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Graphene Screen Flexible Solution

Back in the 1960s lasers were famously described as a solution looking for a problem, and we all know how that turned out… Well, the new wonder material Graphene has been suffering form the same problem. This remarkable two-dimensional carbon-based crystalline material has many wondrous properties and a lot of people are working on ways to do amazing things with the stuff, but so far there’s been little that you can put your fingers, let alone spend your money on but here’s another future use that looks quite promising, this time from the University of Cambridge Graphene Centre. It’s a flat and flexible display, with Graphene replacing the normally inflexible metal and ceramic electrodes, which are deposited on the screen’s backpane layer. As an added bonus the screens can also be manufactured, or rather printed, on a roll, at relatively low temperatures, which in theory reduces cost and complexity. The prototype screen has a relatively modest 150dip resolution but the developers are working towards flexible LCD and OLED displays with improved performance for colour video displays that could be incorporated in various forms of wearable technology. We will be keeping our eyes on this one, probably...


One’s Hot, The Other’s Not, Probably…

First some hot news for owners of Compaq and HP laptops, notebooks and charging stations sold between September 2010 and June 2012, buy a fire extinguisher! It appears that there have been upwards of 29 incidents (overheating and small fires) in or around the power cords. Thankfully it only concerns the cable and it’s easily identified, and HP will replace it free of charge. The code to look out for is LS-15 and this can be found moulded into the connector at the adaptor end of the cord.


What’s not hot, apparently, is the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and this is in spite of some models displaying a thermometer overheating icon on the screen. MS maintains that only a small number of units are affected, and the appearance of the Thermometer Gauge icon is down to a software glitch, which is begin addressed by a soon to be released update. Some users disagree and claim that their tablets really do become too hot to handle, and it’s quite possible they are right with so much powerful technology shoehorned into such a thin and poorly ventilated case, but we’ll have to wait and see until after the update is released, which will probably be in amongst the scheduled Surface updates on September 9th.



Dodgy Diallers

Our thanks to PCWorld (the US webzine, not the shop) for alerting us to something new to worry about. It appears that some smartphone apps, and Facebook Messenger has been cited as an example, may have a security loophole that could be exploited to make expensive premium rate phone calls. It’s all down to the way some apps display a phone number as a link. Danish software developer has discovered that some apps do not enable the necessary warning or permission step and will make the call without asking the user. He has found a way to use this behaviour on a web page, using JavaScript code, so in theory all the unwary user has to do is click on a link to visit a web page on their mobile, the code is triggered and the phone dials the premium rate number, which the user may not know about until they get their next bill. So far this vulnerability doesn’t seem to have made it into the wild and been used for malicious purposes, and hopefully now that app developers have been warned it won’t become a threat but it would be wise to take care when clicking on web links and keep an eye on your phone when doing so, to make sure it’s not racking up your bills.