Ransomware & Bitcoins

Ok ladies, it’s time for some heavy lifting! So let’s get right to it:

  • Question: What is Ransomware?
  • Answer: Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their system. It forces its victims to pay the ransom through certain online payment methods in order to grant access to their systems, or to get their data back. (Trend Micro)

Let me give you a real life example to help you relate. If a criminal kidnaps a child, like in the popular Denzel movie, Man on Fire, they often demand cash in exchange for returning the person to their relative/loved one. During the time of the kidnapping, the family has no access to the child – they cannot even see the child or perform everyday tasks like eating dinner together or talking about what happened at school that day. Imagine that the child got their report card on the day they were kidnapped – the family would not be able to see what was on the report card – not the child’s name, not their grades, nothing. Access to the child and everything the child has is completely cut off. No family member can get to the child or access to the information they may hold until the ransom is paid and the child is returned. #InThatOrder

Ransomware is technical jargon; but, it basically means the same situation as described above; but, in this case the kidnapper is a computer hacker and the kidnapee is a computer systemA hospital in Southern California, Hollywood Presbyterian, is under a ransomware attack as we speak. Their computer system is completely shut down and workers do not have access to patient information, records, etc. Patient  registration, notes, medical records and conditions are all being handled the old way – by pen and paper. This is serious: the FBI has been called in to investigate and help!

The ransom being demanded is 9,000 bitcoins (or 3.4 million dollars). In exchange, the hackers would send back the key code to restore the system.

video.yahoofinance.com@8dfea102-b1a8-362e-9e14-5554f85eab4c_FULLBitcoins are a sort to encrypted virtual currency – think of it as electronic money (they are not real dollars) that can be transferred between entities or people digitally and ANONYMOUSLY. Your bank keeps track of everything you send/receive but that’s not possible with Bitcoins. Users simply have a Wallet ID and that’s it. You can “never” know who the buyer or seller is. This virtual currently is not ensured by the FDIC and this industry, praised by Bill Gates and others, is largely unregulated.

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Today, it’s a hospital, tomorrow maybe it’ll be the Social Security Administration or your bank. Then what? Sure, those agencies/companies spend millions of dollars fighting cyber attacks – President Obama recently announced that he wants$3 billion from Congress to to fight such crimes as these, cyberattacks; but, we, very much live in a digital world and it only takes one lucky attempt or try for a hacker to do “virtual” damage.

Ransomware is not just for companies, individuals can be targeted as well. Even you! So, what can you do? Don’t open email from people you don’t know, especially attachments. Don’t click on UNKNOWN links – seriously, if the sender’s email address is something like “info@yourbank.com” this should a RED FLAG. If you haven’t paid attention to that before, spend 5 seconds to look NOW! Don’t download FREE software you think is going to solve your problem (i.e. my computer is slow software X claims to be able to fix it”, etc.) Don’t play games online that require you to DOWNLOAD something. PERIOD. FREE != GOOD != SAFE… I just taught you a bit of computer programming there 🙂 And finally, get a Mac. Seriously… read more here.

I included a few videos below in case you want to learn more about Ransomware or Bitcoins. #StaySafeOnline

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There is no Online Safe Zone

macIn case you haven’t noticed, computer hackers are taking over the world! Surely you’ve heard of Anonymous, the “invisible” group threatening to release all sorts of information. I’ve said this so many times – the next “war era” will not be using bombs or grenades, it will be done online! And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s already started. Before we get into the details, here’s a simple truth: “Everything you do or say online can be used against you.” That disclaimer should be tied to every smart phone, computer or tablet issued in the entire world.  People who are smart enough to know how to program a computer (and exploit it) can make all of our worst nightmares a reality. You remember – there was the Target data breach (40 million cards affected), then came Home Depot and even more recently the US Government and Ashley Madison (online affair site – those hackers made good on their promise and exposed cheater’s names, credit card numbers and home address).  Even Hillary Clinton’s camp is  not smart enough to know that emails CAN ALWAYS be recovered.

SIDE NOTE: I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton by the way. Charles Barkley was on Mike and Mike this morning. When asked who he would vote for at the moment, he said “No Democrat impresses me.” I agree!

Now, back to the subject at hand – I’ve always said, the dumbest criminal is the one who incriminates him or herself. Why photograph illegal activity? Or post it online? Or insinuate it? Or leave a paper / digital trail. Just not smart people!!! Even a PRIVATE Instagram account will not hold up to a WARRANT from a JUDGE. Facebook just LOST a case when it tried to challenge the legality of warrants requesting personal data from it’s members.

I ran across this article by The Verge, I knew it was worth sharing:

PSA: Everything you say and do is public: five rules for living with the internet

  1. Assume everything you do and say will be made public.
  2. Do not be seduced by privacy settings and passwords, which are temporary illusions that distract from the reality of the previous point.
  3. Understand that context and data are often one in the same. When you enter information on the internet, assume that you include the who (you), the what (the data), the when (the time of data input), the where (the site on which the data is being placed), the how (the device on which you input the data), and the why (the purpose of the site).
  4. Believe that all of your credit card transactions are being kept in a colossal, searchable ledger that one day will be made available for all to study.
  5. Believe that data does not disappear when you delete it.

Stay in the KNOW!


Amazon Subscribe & Save

I’m all for life hacks – those are the things people invent, make up or just do, to get rid of mundane tasks in their lives. One extreme example, wearing the same outfit everyday, was made famous by the late Apple CEO & billionaire Steve Jobs, adopted by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and was recently reported on as a trend by The New York Times (for men and women). I also heard a scaled back version of this very same concept from one of the CIO’s at my company: He went out and purchased 10 sets of the exact same (color) socks and wears the same one everyday. He also took brown completely out of his wardrobe and wears only black & gray as his base colors (reduces the need to own and maintain different color shoes, belts, etc). His morning complexity is now greatly reduced!


I’ve told you before that one life hack I implemented in my own life is to not pay any bills (my bills do get paid … it’s all just automated). Well, I have another tip for you today! Amazon’s Subscribe & Save is just what is says: you pick an item that you use A LOT, like one you use everyday and can’t live without – and tell Amazon to automatically send it to you at the interval you specify (i.e. 4 weeks, 5 weeks, whatever works for you!). You will get discounts up to 15% off each order! As an added bonus, they have even have coupons specifically for products that offer the subscribe & save feature. (some product’s aren’t setup for Subscribe & Save)

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 7.04.53 AMCan you think of any products that may fit this category? How about toilet tissue?? Soap? Deodorant? Toothpaste? Lotion? Why even spend time thinking about these things? Automate this part of your life!!! … Set It and Forget It! In fact, an article from one of the blogs I read daily inspired this post and listed the following 10 things to order automatically: pet food, dishwasher tablets, diapers/wipes, coffee pods, toilet paper, cooking oils, vitamins, furnace filters (serves as a great reminder), shampoo/conditioner and cat litter. The hardest part is figuring out what frequency to pick for each item. Amazon shows you the most common frequency selected by customers (i.e. every 3 weeks) but keep in mind, this will vary by household. I would air on the side of caution with this selection and pick the next highest one (4 weeks in this case). And always remember, you can change the frequency at any time. If you’re nervous about this, start small and then ramp up as you get more comfortable with the program. You may, for example, decide to start out with one extremely basic item, like toilet paper and see how that goes.

So of course, there may be times that local stores like Sams, Costco, Wal-Mart, Target may have these items cheaper, and/or on special as reported here; BUT; ask yourself these questions: How long do you spend looking for and identifying these deals? When you do find a deal/sale, how much are you actually saving? How much gas do you need to use traveling to/from these places? Is this worth your time? Or would you rather spend your valuable time thinking about or doing something more productive???

Happy Subscribing & Saving! ~Bri

Shop here.

Hack the Hood

20140715_160531_2-0e7b40433a4997c6818b1428f2089d4ea312038e-s3-c85Planes. Bailouts. Budgets. Violence. When it comes to local news, I’ll pass. Add in cable and it’s even more of a fiasco – from one extreme (FOX News) to another (MSNBC). I resort to reading my daily blogs and resources like The Economist and National Public Radio (NPR). It’s the latter that caught my attention with an article about a non-profit called Hack the Hood, located in the Bay Area.

“Hack the Hood provides technical training in high in-demand multimedia and tech skills to youth who will then apply their learning through real-world consulting projects with locally-owned businesses and non-profits.  During sprints that are 6-weeks long, low-income youth gain hands-on training and experience executing search engine optimization; building mobile friendly, responsive web sites using template software; and getting clients listed in local maps and directories.”

Hack the Hood was 1 of 4 companies that recently won a $500,000 award from Google. When I see these types of articles, it not only warms my heart, I also love reading the comments. Here’s one of my favorites from Steve:

When you provide instructions to a computer in a language it understands, it will do exactly what you tell it to do. The computer doesn’t care what color you are, whether or not you have a degree, or it if your dad was a Governor. This makes a tech career much fairer than the rest of our economy.

The non-profit seeks donations, including: laptops, digital cameras, bus passes and of course a Benjamin (or two) will do.

Hacking Telsa

telsaTelsa, an electric car company, is being touted as the Apple of the auto industry, meaning its innovating and selling users experiences they never knew they wanted or needed (Forbes). Just as iPhone users have hacked their way into Apple’s devices for years, Business Insider is reporting that Telsa’s touch-screen is possible one step away from being been hacked as well!

“It’s essentially one big, car-mounted computer, and according to Drag Times, one Model S owner has found a way of patching into that computer via a disguised ethernet port hidden in the dashboard. By hooking up an ethernet cable between the car and a laptop computer, the owner found a backdoor into the car’s central screen–even managing to run a Firefox web browser on the car’s touchscreen.”

Back in 2010 a judge overruled Apple’s quest to make jailbreaking void its warranties (Wired). While the price of an iPad/iPhone is greatly less than that Telsa’s cheapest model (~$40k), it will be interesting to see if this precedent is used to enable owners of Telsa’s vehicles to do the same, without voiding the car’s warranty.

Here are 2 key statements from recent rulings and why Telsa may not like the association with Apple, after all:

Per the copyright office, “while a copyright owner might try to restrict the programs that can be run on a particular operating system, copyright law is not the vehicle for imposition of such restrictions.”

And from the federal appeals court, “The owner’s technological measure must protect the copyrighted material against an infringement of a right that the Copyright Act protects, not from mere use or viewing,” (.pdf) the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case concerning a software licensing flap between MGE UPS Systems and GE Consumer and Industrial.