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eThinker Newsletter February 2017 

    Remember what it was like to have to download a huge file over a 56K modem, where you'd go get coffee while you're waiting, or take a shower, or maybe mow the lawn, all the time praying that something didn't cut off the transmission before it completed? Or are we dating ourselves?
     Transmission speeds have increased dramatically since 1990, from an average 56K to 31M per second, enough to soothe the angst of the most impatient sufferer of attention-deficit disorder. And now we bring news that it can only get better.
     The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology has announced the development of a new terahertz (THz) transmitter that could boost the strength of satellite-powered internet, providing speeds that exceed 100 gigabits per second (Gbps) on a single channel. According to the press release earlier this month, the transmitter officially achieved a transfer speed of 105 Gbps, which is at least 10 times faster than next-generation 5G networks. Check out this TechRepublic article for more information.
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     All is not that cheerful on the technology scene. We refer you to the article below on the latest ransomware threat. As exciting as the Internet of Things can be, maybe we need to slow down to let our security measures catch up.


Paul Fountas
MicroComputer Resources, Inc.
Coming to a Water Faucet Near You
    One of the demonstrations at the RSA security conference in San Francisco this month was downright chilling. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology ran a simulation which demonstrated the ability to poison a community's water supply if a hefty ransom is not paid. Note: this was a simulation run by the good guys, but if they could figure out how to do it, the bad guys will not be far behind.
     There are two acronyms involved: (1) IoT, the Internet of Things, by which everything gets connected to everything else, and (2) PLC, the programmable logic controller, which enables a technician to start or stop pumps, open and close valves, and control the level of chlorine going into the water supply.
     The PLCs are no doubt very handy in allowing one technician to monitor and correct problems at a water treatment plant, but they're installed with the assumption that only the certified employee will be sending the signals from a secured network. But passwords tend to be notoriously weak, and it is feasible that someone else could take control. The chlorine that protects us in small quantities can become harmful or even deadly in large amounts.
     While this sounds like a recipe for terrorism, researchers believe that far more agents will be prompted by a financial motive; hence the threat will probably surface as ransomware. The Georgia Tech researchers are urging all industries that employ the PLC technology to upgrade their security immediately. Check here for more information.
    And on a related issue, watch Tom Merritt's video list of the top five cybercrime vectors that you need to be aware of, along with efforts you can take to avoid them. And, number five on his list was the Internet of Things.

Free Smartphone Chargers Not That Smart
    You probably don't need another scare story right now, but the 2017 RSA Conference in San Francisco WAS about security. This piece is about the danger that your smartphone might get hacked if you use a free charging station equipped with convenient cords and adapters. In an experiment during the conference, the company Authentic8 offered free charging. What they observed was that roughly 80% of the people used the charging station without asking about security.
     The danger is that your phone data can be stolen if the public outlet has been hacked. "Even when a mobile phone is in 'charging only' (locked) mode, it can still transmit the device name, vendor name and serial number to the system behind the USB port, and more based on the platform and operating system of the phone," an official warned.
     Lest you feel that it's getting too dangerous to leave your house, the company explained that the risk lay in the public USB cables, power adapters, and ports that would be made available at these free charging stations. You can bypass the risk by bringing your own charger and plugging it into any outlet. Could the outlet itself be hacked? In typical 007 fashion, the techs won't say, "Never say never," but they said it would be extremely difficult to pull off, and unless you're some incredibly important bigwig with the fate of the world in your hands, no one's going to bother.

In This Issue
Ransomware: Coming to a Water Faucet Near You

Free Smartphone Chargers Not That Smart

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Fun Facts
A decade ago, Microsoft took it on the chin when Munich announced that it was ditching Windows in favor of the Linux-based Ubantu operating system. So it must be comforting to the software giant to learn that, nine years and millions of euros later, this major German metropolis is ready to kiss and make up. The goal of the city council is to switch over to Windows 10 by 2021.
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"Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual. This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly. They are created one policy—one scar—at a time. So don’t scar on the first cut. Don’t create a policy because one person did something wrong once. Policies are only meant for situations that come up over and over again."
- Jason Fried