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  • Know Your Apps, Because They Sure Know You!

    This is a guest post by Eric Brady, a Cyber Security Expert


    Apps to PhoneThe phrase “there’s an app for that” seems to apply to every single facet of the human condition. The abundance of applications available for smartphones and tablets has changed how we do everything from drive to cook to buy shoes to treat the common cold. Over 3 million apps are available for Apple and Android devices, all addressing the world’s hunger for something to do on their mobile devices. Certainly, if you need to eat, think, fix, work, play, find love, or even break-up…“there’s an app for that.”

    What you may not know is that the vast majority of these mobile apps are not developed by the phone or tablet manufacturer, but by independent software developers. Be it a new game, fitness tracker, social media app, or geo finder, your favorite apps are much more likely to be created by a private developer whose goal is not always to help you get through your day. Often they have more dubious ambitions by placing their program on your device. Often these applications do more than entertain and inform—they can also invade your privacy.

    There’s a litany of ways these apps can mine information from your daily life and parlay it into profits for the app developer. In fact, according to a recent survey, 80-95% of the top-200 most downloaded applications employ at least one “risky” behavior during normal use. These behaviors include following you with geo-location, accessing your contacts, using single sign-on—like using your Google credentials to log into non-Google apps, identifying your device by accessing your unique device identifier, employing in-app purchasing, and—perhaps the most profitable for developers—sharing all this information, as well as your chatting, buying, traveling, sharing, and other personal information, with advertisement networks and analytics companies. And all of this done without your knowledge.

    Armed with this information, what are some simple steps that you can take to better protect your privacy?

    • First, keep in mind that there is no such thing as “no risk” when it comes to using mobile devices. The very nature of using a mobile app exposes you to potential privacy intrusions. Therefore, you should weigh the benefit versus the potential privacy risk when installing any application onto your mobile device.
    • Do your due diligence about any apps you download. By the way, non-gaming apps tend to be less risky than gaming apps, and free apps tend to be risker than those you pay for.
    • If at all possible, avoid signing into apps using your Facebook, Google, or other social network accounts.
    • Confirm that the app you're installing requires only the permissions it needs to function. For example, if a flashlight app asks to access your contacts and post to social media sites, run away!
    • Use location services sparingly. Geo tracking is not only a risky set of data to share with strangers, it is also drains battery power more quickly.
    • Examine all your apps to determine if they are safe before downloading. If the app is new or not well-known, search for unbiased reviews of the app to see what others are saying. A simple Google search for “app name – problems” may be beneficial.

    Smartphones are quite arguably the most earth-changing technological development of all time. Few inventions have had more impact on so many facets of daily life for so many billions of people. They make our lives easier and more efficient, helping us stay connected with friends and loved ones, as well availing to us almost all of the acquired intelligence on the entire planet…instantly!

    Of all the information you gather with your mobile device, none is more important than information regarding the very apps you use. Do your homework and practice these simple steps to increase your mobile device satisfaction while decreasing their risk of invading your privacy.


    February - Power Banner - Apps

  • QB Sneak is Easier in the Dark: Lessons from the 2013 Super Bowl Power Outage

    Super Bowl 50 is coming up Sunday. So it’s a good a time as any to remember the 2013 Super Bowl, when a power outage left half the Superdome dark.

    Before the lights went out, the Super Bowl was humming along. The second-half kickoff had just produced the longest play in Super Bowl history when the Baltimore Ravens’ Jacoby Jones returned the kick 108 yards. Baltimore was leading the San Francisco 49ers 28-6 and the 49ers had the ball when, suddenly, half the stadium went dark. CBS, which was broadcasting the game, lost power to its main booth and some of its cameras, and had to broadcast from its secondary area.

    "Everything shut down," Carl Trinchero, a 49ers fan from Napa, Calif., who was in the Superdome, told the Associated Press. "No credit cards, vending machines shut down, everything shut down."

    Power goes out in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII  between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Raven on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) Fortunately, the Super Bowl only went half-dark - Image via Mercury News

    Later investigation showed that a recently-installed electrical relay device designed to prevent a power outage actually triggered one. It wasn’t set to handle the amount of power needed at the Superdome, so signaled a surge when there wasn’t one and tripped, just like a circuit breaker in a home. It took 22 minutes to turn the power back on and 34 minutes before the game began again.

    However, because several safeguards were in place, what could have been a tragedy became more of a joke. Facebook even got a new community: “I survived the Super Bowl 47 power outage.”

    First, backup power immediately kicked in. The outage only affected half the building and auxiliary power kept the field from going completely dark.

    "People like me looked at that and were like, 'That's awesome that it only went half-dark,'" Juliette Kayyem, a board member of the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), told Vice.com.

    In a power outage at home, light can be your best friend to prevent panic. Make sure you’ve got easily accessible backup lighting.

    Even with backup power, many systems didn’t work. Concourses were lit only by small emergency lights. One elevator got stuck with people inside, and firefighters had to rescue them. Credit card machines shut down.

    Have you thought about what else you might lose during a power outage?

    out-of-service-atm - Super Bowl Image via Real World Survivor

    If you live in a high-rise building, for example, water most likely is pumped to your floor. Lose power, and the pumps won’t work. Also, do you keep emergency cash in small bills? In a power outage, you won’t be able to access an ATM, and your credit card won’t work.

    Communication proved vital to keeping people calm. The public address announcer immediately came on and encouraged fans to stay in their seats. Social media went crazy: AT&T reported that in the Superdome, cell data use was almost doubled from the same time the year before. In fact, the NFL’s security chief said fans were calm because of their preoccupation with their electronic devices.

    Do you have a way to receive communication during a power outage? Do you have a way to charge your phones? Be aware that during a disaster, cell phone service will likely be jammed, so try to use text messaging to communicate.

    Although authorities haven’t found any credible security threats to Super Bowl 50, they are concerned about a recent spate of attacks on fiber optic cables.  Since July 2014, vandals in northern California have cut at least 16 fiber optic lines, which carry Internet, TV, and phone information. Tens of thousands of people have been affected, but so have banks, stores, and anyone else that uses broadband services to communicate information. Hypothetically speaking, it would be bad enough if a person can’t access their (expensive) e-ticket to get into the event; it’d be worse if, say, a hospital can’t access a person’s medical records.

    So this weekend, be prepared. Be safe. Have fun. And go Broncos.

    - Melissa


    February - Power Banner - Super Bowl

  • The Power’s Out…Now What? 5 Steps to a Better Blackout

    Your town is landlocked, so there’s no threat of hurricanes. Tornadoes tend to avoid your state, and earthquakes just don’t happen. So what’s to worry about?

    Blackout ManhattanChances are you use electricity in your home. No matter where you live, there is always a threat that your power will go out. In fact, the United States experiences “more blackouts than any other developed nation,” according to International Business Times. They went on to say that the number of power losses along the U.S. grid have escalated 285% since 1984. And, with the demand for power still growing, those numbers will just get higher.

    So hopefully you’re preparing for the inevitable blackout. But once it does come, what then?


    1. Light It Up

    Power Outage with Candles BlackoutFirst of all, know where your backup lights are (flashlights, emergency candles, etc.), and keep them in an easy-to-reach place. This way, you’ll be able to find everything else you need quickly – without having to stumble through the dark. When using candles, it is important to exercise caution, as they have the potential to start fires. While a larger fire will provide more light, it will also cost you a lot more in damages. Pros and cons, I guess.


    1. Power to the People

    Now that you have light, the next step is to give yourself power. You can’t always have a super-generator on hand to keep your entire home up and running for the duration of the blackout (although that would be nice), but you can prepare with power packs, batteries, and chargers that will keep your electronic devices working despite the lack of electricity. This way, your phone will always have a charge, just in case you need to make an emergency call – or play an emergency game of Angry Birds. That being said, try and keep the games and movies to a minimum so as to not run down your power sources before you need them for actual emergency purposes (not that Angry Birds isn’t an emergency, but…you know what I mean).

    20121026-_MG_2503_ccs blackout Generators like this Goal Zero Yeti are safe to use indoors because they don't run off gas. It can also be hooked up to solar panels!

    A note about generators: Most generators should never be used inside, no matter how safe you think it is. You may be able to find some indoor-safe generators, but unless stated as such (and certified), don’t risk it. Carbon monoxide is deadly and you may not even realize you’re being poisoned by it. The same goes for grills, camp stoves, and other gas-powered cookers and heaters. Basically, if it’s portable, chances are it’s not safe to use indoors (this includes the garage and carports. There is danger even if there is ventilation). There are, however, generators you can have charged well in advance that will last you many hours. Because these run off stored electricity, they are safe to use inside.


    1. Stay Safe

    If it’s cold outside, keep to a higher level if possible, as warm air rises. Wrap yourself up in blankets and layer up your clothing to keep in that body heat. Alternately, if it’s really hot outside and your power goes out, make your way to the basement or other cool area. Wear light, loose clothing as well. Regulating your body temperature is vital during a blackout.

    If it is dark, don’t try and venture around your home without a light. Falling down stairs or knocking your head on an open cupboard can make things a lot worse. Likewise, if the power's out, the streets will most likely be dark as well, so it might be best to just avoid going out into the blackness of night.


    1. Keep Your Food Safe

    According to Ready.gov, food in your refrigerator should stay cold for about 4 hours, so long as you keep the door shut. A freezer full of frozen food will maintain its temperature for up to 48 hours.


    1. Know When to Call it Quits

    Sometimes, the best thing to do is admit defeat. If the blackout is going to last longer than you’re prepared for, you might need to check in to a hotel or stay with a family member nearby. Doing so is not showing weakness – it’s showing wisdom. If you’re having troubles preparing food, staying warm or keeping cool, finding another location to spend the night or next few days would be a wise move indeed.


     What are some other important steps to take during a power outage? Let us know in the comments below!


    February - Power Banner Blackout

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