Internet

A woman points to icons that represent IoT.

A Crash Course on the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept in the computing world which defines the notion that ordinary physical objects can be connected to the Internet, and can have the capability of identifying themselves to other connected devices. This is extremely important, because any object which can digitally identify itself to others becomes something much greater than it would be on its own.

Whatever the object is, it no longer relates just to its owner but can be corrected to an endless number of other machines.

If this description sounds a little nebulous, it’s understandable, since it’s a somewhat difficult concept to grasp. The digital innovation expert who coined the term IoT, Kevin Ashton, put it this way, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

What Can IoT Do?

There’s a subtle capability included within this quote which you may have missed, but which is the central concept behind Version II of the Internet itself. The original Internet was entirely comprised of data created by humans, but in its second incarnation, the Internet will also include vast amounts of data generated entirely by objects, without human intervention.

Another important point made in the quote by Mr. Ashton is that some of the data generated by objects relate to performance and everyday operating conditions, and back-end software can evaluate this data. When such data is analyzed and compared against other data, it can provide extremely useful information about the status and performance of the object sending the data. That’s how we know if a device is not operating correctly and can make necessary replacements as soon as possible. However, this capability is only one of the many uses advantages which will result from objects connected to the Internet of Things.

Smart Homes

One of the ways that the Internet of Things will change life in our everyday world will be through the greater adoption of smart technology in the home setting. Although there have already been several ways that IoT technology has improved life, even more, are just around the corner. Today you may have your coffee pot, your thermostat, and your Amazon Echo connected to the IoT, but even more innovative ideas like this are currently being tested and readied for production. Expect to see IoT versions of washers, dryers, refrigerators, security systems, and lighting systems very soon.

A self-driving car powered by IoT.

It’s predicted that IoT will eventually result in self-driving cars, and other exciting automated innovations.

Wearable Devices

Last year, approximately 85 million wearables were sold in this country, and within two or three years, that figure is expected to exceed 400 million. In the broad category of wearables are included fitness trackers, virtual-reality headsets, smart watches, and other devices. All of these wearable devices are generating literally tons of data, for which practical uses have not even been defined yet. To be sure, there are endless possibilities and potential applications for this data, and when some of these are put into practice, the Internet of Things will become a far busier place.

Smart Cars

One of the most tantalizing uses of IoT technology is in smart cars, which are now very close to becoming a reality. In a few years, more than 80% of all vehicles on the road will be connected to the Internet. This will increase the potential for navigational guidance, diagnostic tools, and most exciting of all, self-driving cars.

The automobile industry has made major investments in exploring the potential for IoT technology relative, and as a result, self-driving cars are a virtual certainty in the near future. Many such cars have already been built and tested, and have performed admirably under controlled conditions – which means general rollout won’t be far off.

Business Applications

The Internet of Things will affect more than just individuals and will change the way we do business. For instance, physical inventories will no longer have to be conducted by employees spending their entire weekend in the warehouse, because smart devices will be able to track inventory automatically.

Inventors and creators of appliances and other gadgets will be free to get creative in developing new devices which can provide consumer benefits by being connected to the IoT.

The number of employees working remotely or from home will increase dramatically in the future, as more devices are connected to the IoT, permitting closer integration with work facilities.
Businesses will closely analyze all that data which is being generated by objects connected to the Internet of Things, and a great deal will be learned about where they should put their focus regarding where to innovate, what to innovate, and how to innovate.

 

 

 

An billboard against a blue sky with clouds that says, "Internet Neutrality: Straight Ahead," the opposite of what will happen if practices like zero-rating become a widespread standard.

Zero-Rating: Net Neutrality and What You Can Do to Protect It

An billboard against a blue sky with clouds that says, "Internet Neutrality: Straight Ahead," the opposite of what will happen if practices like zero-rating become a widespread standard.

Zero-rating is a sneaky way that ISPs try to control the way we consume data on the web.

 

At the end of the day, the Internet is just a network of tubes.  So who’s to say which tubes cost money to use and which don’t? Without net neutrality, Internet service providers and other companies can use strategies like zero-rating to forever change the way we browse the web. In a world where most television networks are controlled by a few major companies, the Internet is really one of last level playing fields out there.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. That means that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) do not have the right to block, slow down, or use paid prioritization to favor one website over another.

Essentially, a world without net neutrality is a world of censored knowledge. An open internet benefits everyone. Medical professionals in developing areas can search for critical information to treat patients.  Small family-owned businesses have the opportunity to expand into multi-national companies, servicing millions. People around the globe deserve an equal chance at success.

The Internet is and should always be an open forum for the free exchange of ideas.  In fact, the UN recently deemed Internet access a human right. In the digital age, it is important to discuss and determine the ethicality of Internet usage control.

Zero-rating

One sneaky way that ISPs are controlling the way we use the internet is through zero-rating.  When you use data to browse websites on your smartphone, your service provider keeps track of your data usage.  To prevent users from maxing out their data caps on the first day, say by watching two hours of YouTube on their daily commute, they zero-rate some sites.

With zero-rating, certain sites or apps don’t count towards the total amount of data you’ve used.  For example, a video streaming company can pay your service provider in advance to join this “zero-rating club.” This makes their services more appealing than another streaming site that fills your data cap more quickly.

If you think about it, there is no need for data caps or zero-rating.  If networks already have enough bandwidth to unlimited data to zero-rating sites, then there is enough for everyone.  On top of being highly illogical, this practice is violating net neutrality.  The Netherlands, Slovenia, and Chile have already banned this practice, but the FCC remains silent on zero-rating regulation.

A World Without Net Neutrality

If ISPs continue to offer preferential treatment, strong service companies will become even more powerful.  Not only that, ISPs will dictate how you surf the Internet in your free time.  Right now, the web is composed of mostly streaming sites, blogs, games, social media, and email services.

Service providers will want to control which sites cost more to visit, and will also want additional fees from every website to show their content to customers. They can also choose to block certain sites and make visiting certain sites more expensive than others.

For those who argue that abolishing net neutrality can increase service provider competition, a free and open internet also stimulates ISP competition.  It also is the backbone of entrepreneurship in the digital age.  It promotes freedom of speech innovation.  Lack of net neutrality can lead to monopolies, which are already a big issue in free market economics.

What Can You Do About It?

To speak to your local legislators about this issue, or to contact members of the FCC like Chairman Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn, and Michael O’Reilly, here are some tips:

The first and easiest way to contact them is via email. Their email addresses are located on their website. You can also call them.  Legislators take their call appointments seriously.  If you are interested in tech and have educated opinions to provide on the issue, they are eager to listen.  Since they themselves are not tech experts, they want to be as informed as possible when creating tech policies.

If you are a DC local, you can choose to speak with them in person. If you are not, you can even make appointments to video chat with FCC commissioners or local legislators.

The Internet is a utility, not a commodity. Under the Obama administration, it was deemed a telecommunications service, meaning that it receives the same treatment as water, gas, and electricity services.  However, under the Trump administration, these rules are projected to reverse.  If you are a net neutrality supporter, it is your job to voice your opinion.

If you would like to receive more news on the latest in cyber security, Internet happenings, and general technology buzz, stayed tuned on our Geek-Aid blog.

An open laptop that is blocking ads, which represents Google Chrome and it's new update.

Google Chrome Says ‘No’ to Annoying Ads

An open laptop that is blocking ads, which represents Google Chrome and it's new update.

Google Chrome may block disruptive ads next year.

Google Chrome is arguably one of the most popular web browsers available. Starting next year, the web browser will make a step towards improving the user experience. With new ad-filtering technology, Chrome users are protecting from spamming ads, pop-ups, and auto-playing ads. These types of online advertisements are often intrusive to the user.

“The reality is, it’s far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web — like the kind that blare music unexpectedly or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page,” Google SVP of ads and commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy says. “These frustrating experiences can lead some people to block all ads — taking a big toll on the content creators, journalists, web developers and videographers who depend on ads to fund their content creation.”

The Coalition for Better Ads

The Coalition for Better Ads is a group of international trade associations and companies involved in online media. The group’s hope is to provide a balance between the ads online and a better user experience. The Coalition understands that ads can be disruptive to the user experience. They even go so far as to list several types of ads on desktop and mobile devices that users find annoying. These ads include the following:

Desktop

  • Pop-Up Ads
  • Auto-Playing Video Ads With Sound
  • Prestitial Ads With Countdown
  • Large Sticky Ads

Mobile Web Experiences

  • Pop-Up Ads
  • Prestitial Ads
  • Ad Density Higher Than 30 Percent
  • Flashing Animated Ads
  • Auto-Playing Video Ads With Sound
  • Postitial Ads With Countdown
  • Full-Screen Scroll Over Ads
  • Large Sticky Ads

The Coalition is made up of 27 members, including Google. The group discovered which ads were the most disruptive by polling more than 25,000 consumers. Chrome’s update next year could be a response to meeting the Better Ads Standards that the group set.

Building a Better User Experience Through Chrome

Many believed that Google would create an ad-filtering version of Chrome. Through most of their policies, Google always strives to put the user experience over everything else. As the update goes into effect, the Ad Experience Report may change as well. By using this tool created by Google, publishers can see if their ads are violating the Better Ads Standards.

What’s interesting is that Google itself makes a generous amount of revenue from advertisements – to be exact, they make $20 billion almost every quarter. Time will tell how the new update will affect their income.

Google also wants to make sure that the companies producing the ads aren’t put at a disadvantage. The search engine giant is rolling a tool called Funding Choices, which is now in beta. It allows advertisers to send a message to visitors using an ad blocker. The message either invites users to enable ads on their site or pay to remove ads altogether. This allows publishers to continue gaining revenue despite the loss in ads.

Looking towards the future, Ramaswamy states that “We believe these changes will ensure all content creators, big and small, can continue to have a sustainable way to fund their work with online advertising.”

Internet Users: Close-up shot of a female learner typing on the laptop keyboard.

Nevada Seeks to Protect Internet Users

Internet Users: Close-up shot of a female learner typing on the laptop keyboard.

Nevada takes protecting internet users into their own hands.

The government’s stance on the future of the internet has forced several states to take action. In preparation for a possible roll back on the Obama administration’s standing rules, states are making laws of their own. Nevada’s Senate takes the side of those who are for the protection of internet users by introducing Senate Bill 538. This bill hopes to protect the online privacy of Internet users by requiring websites to notify users when they are collecting personal data.

What Is the Bill Trying to Prevent?

The Republican-led government recently voted to roll back the FCC’s privacy regulations. These rules made it mandatory for internet service providers (ISPs) to get your permission before selling your personal data. The House of Representative new bill would allow ISPs to collect and sell information about your browsing history and present users with unwanted advertisements. President Trump has made it known that he is in support of the resolution and plans to sign it.

Nevada’s Bill to Protect Internet Users

The state of Nevada hopes to keep the old rules alive by implementing their variation of the law. Nevada is not the only state either. Other states like Seattle are creating similar bills to protect online privacy, an act that shows their opposition to the current government landscape.

Senate bill 538 states that it is “AN ACT relating to Internet privacy; requiring the operator of an Internet website or online service which collects certain information from residents of this State to provide notice of certain provisions relating to the privacy of the information collected by the operator; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.” The bill also lists several rules that lay out what ISPs can and cannot do.

What Measures Are Consumers Taking?

Nevada’s new bill can potential prevent ISPs from taking advantage of internet users. On the other hand, these rules don’t apply to the rest of the country. Informed consumers are taking matters into their hands by investing in a VPN. A VPN is a way of hiding your activity from ISPs by encrypting your internet connection. Essentially, the only information that your ISP will see is you visiting the VPN, not your internet activity.

The problem with VPNs is that a good one is hard to find. Most VPNs are not as secure as one thinks. Some of these services have even been caught selling the very information that they are responsible for protecting. It is best to do extensive research before purchasing to find out about the company’s background.

The Future of Online Privacy

The FCC’s new Chairman, Ajit Pai, still seeks to move online privacy regulations to the FTC. Without ISP rules, the FCC is hoping that the providers will act in good faith, without betraying the trust of their customers. However, users believe that these service providers will take advantage of an unregulated internet. With many in disagreement with the Trump administration, we may see more and more states making their rules to protect online users.

Net neutrality written on a wooden surface, a hot button topic for the FCC.

FCC Changing Net Neutrality Rules Soon

Net neutrality written on a wooden surface, a hot button topic for the FCC.

The protection of net neutrality by the FCC may cease to exist.

The ongoing battle for the future of the internet rages on. At Geek Aid, we’ve discussed the in’s and out of net neutrality. For more than a decade several groups within the FCC have debated time and time again on how the internet should be regulated. Some parties feel like regulations are necessary to prevent business from treating consumer unfairly, while others believe it threatens the spirit of competition among internet providers.

The Obama administration set rules for net neutrality. They reclassified the internet as a telecommunication service. With a new title and standards, the government was able to prevent internet companies from slowing down or blocking certain services. Now that Ajit Pai is the new chairman of the FCC, he has laid plans to strip the internet of its title and reduce regulations.

What Changes Are Coming From the FCC?

Ajit Pai is notorious for being an advocate for fewer regulations, voting against the FCC’s 2015 rules. Like many others, he believes in the idea of competition. His plans to roll back on the Obama administration’s rules include the following:

  • Turn the Internet Into a Title I Service – The current Title II ruling for the internet treats it like a public utility. This is the same classification as electricity, water, and natural gas. The new ruling could treat it as an information service, meaning the government has less control over what these companies do.
  • Remove the Internet Conduct Standard – This enables the FCC to investigate zero-rating schemes that create fast lanes for certain services over others. With fast lanes being a part of Pai’s agenda, investigations won’t be necessary.
  • Review “Bright-Line Rules” – The bright-line rules make it illegal to block access, throttle, or create fast lanes for content online. Removing these rules is the primary focus of Pai’s time as chairman of the FCC.

Recently, the federal court has prevented internet providers from taking Obama’s net neutrality rules to court. While that might sound like good news, it’s not. As Pai’s changes to the FCC becoming more and more of a possibility, federal judges don’t see the point in reviewing rules set to change.

Will the Changes Happen?

It seems likely. The proposal is up for debate within the FCC on May 18th. Many of the FCC’s officials are for Pai’s changes, including the commissioner and senior public servants. The public can voice their opinions to the FCC but ultimately have no say in the vote. The publicly elected representatives are the ones who do. No one knows if they will listen to the vast majority of people for net neutrality.

If and when these rules are in place, the FCC will no longer be in charge of privacy complaints. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will handle those objections. If you want to make your voice heard, contact the FCC before the vote takes place.

An image of earth surrounded by network signals, representing the internet. Some people are for and against net neutrality on the web.

Why People Are for and Against Net Neutrality

An image of earth surrounded by network signals, representing the internet. Some people are for and against net neutrality on the web.

Some people want open access to the internet, while others are against net neutrality.

Last week we discussed the troubled history of net neutrality. For years, the government has debated whether its guiding principles should be put into place. However, why is there such contention? Why are lawmakers so divided on this issue? Here are the reasons why people are for and against net neutrality.

The Champions of Net Neutrality

There are a lot of motives to back the net neutrality. It’s equal internet access for all. This idea is built around the notion that the internet is a necessary tool for everyone. People need it to communicate and send information in the modern age. The laws created in 2015 are meant to protect the concept.

The biggest reason people fight for it is because they are afraid of what kind of world an unregulated internet leaves. Without regulations, companies are able to selectively put people in what is called the “Fast Lane.” Essentially, those who can pay more receive better service. Those who don’t can potentially have their access or services slow down.

Some even fear that websites and services may be slowed down by internet service providers (ISP’s) based on another companies’ interest. That is why big name companies like Amazon and Microsoft are in favor of net neutrality and its regulations.

The Opposition Against Net Neutrality

Why would anyone be against net neutrality? Well, there are always two sides to any story. And if you are going to argue for one, it is imperative to know the other. There are big names on the opposition of net neutrality as well. That includes AT&T and Comcast, the very companies that provide internet access.

They argue that not all internet traffic is equal, and some need to be prioritized over others. Some content, like a video, takes up a lot of bandwidth. Some expert computer scientists, like Harsha Madhyastha, argue that slightly slowing down other data might be necessary to allow content like video to play at an optimal level.

Net neutrality could also threaten the idea of competition. ISP’s believe that some content providers who use a lot of bandwidth should pay for a “fast lane.” That way, customers can choose which service they wish to get their access to the internet from, especially if the content they want is more accessible there.

As the trump administration forms within the government, we will begin to see what shape the internet will take. Until then, what side are you on?

A world map, representing the internet, which is something net neutrality wishes to protect.

The Troubled History of Net Neutrality

A world map, representing the internet, which is something net neutrality wishes to protect.

Till this day, the government still debates the value of net neutrality.

Net neutrality has been and continues to be a hot-button issue. As Google defines it, net neutrality is “The principle that internet service should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.” Find out what this issue is about and how the government of the United States has handled it.

A Brief History

Back in 2003, media law professor Tim Wu coined the infamous term and reinvigorated the idea that access to the internet should be the same for everyone. It’s the idea that no one (user, website, business, application company, etc.) should be discriminately given poor internet service or charged differently than others.

During the Obama’s presidency, his administration was largely in favor of the principle, putting into place rules to protect it.  In 2015, the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) reclassified the internet as a telecommunications service. This essentially treats the internet in a similar way to electricity, gas, and water. The law instills the following rules:

  • Companies cannot prioritize one piece of content over the other.
  • Broadband providers cannot block lawful content.
  • Providers cannot slow down or throttle certain content or services.

The State of Net Neutrality

With the election of President Donald Trump, the state of net neutrality is in question. His administration seeks to reverse the rules put into place in 2015.

Former Verizon lawyer, Ajit Pai, is now the chairman in charge of the FCC. He started out in the FCC as a commissioner and during his time has been an opponent of net neutrality. His new position might put him one step further towards achieving the Trump administration’s goal.

For more than a decade, several groups have debated for and against net neutrality. Check back with us next week as we list why people are for and against net neutrality.

A digital version of Facebook's logo, representing online privacy.

Facebook Updates Online Privacy Guidelines

A digital version of Facebook's logo, representing online privacy.

Facebook’s updated guidelines for their online privacy settings may help you.

Privacy is something that all of us cherish. We very carefully choose who and where to share our most intimate moments. However, in the digital age that can be hard. We use social media to interact with personal friends and share our lives online. And once something is online, it is difficult to hide it from everyone. Well, Facebook seems to understand your concern. They’ve updated their online privacy settings to make it easier for you to understand.

Facebook Privacy Basics

Knowing the ins and outs of Facebook’s privacy settings is not the easiest thing to do. And when they constantly add new features, users are never sure who is able to see what they post. Well, thanks to a handy new guide, you can learn answers to the following questions:

  • Who can see your posts?
  • Who can see what you like and comment on other people’s posts?
  • How can you see your profile’s appearance from someone else’s perspective?
  • Who can see photos that you tag someone else in?
  • Who can see your friends list?
  • How can you block and unfriend people?

They even have a section in their new guide on how to make your security better and what to do in the event that it has been compromised.

The Benefits of These New Online Privacy Guidelines

Giving users an intuitive way to understand their settings and Facebook experience goes a long way. With a better understanding, users can now take extra care of staying safe and keeping their information private.

Another benefit is that this guide is mobile friendly. Some actions you take might lead you to the privacy basics, which can tell you what the how to share things the way you want to. Hopefully, this guide will encourage people to check and update their privacy settings. This way it makes it easy to connect with others online without having to worry.

A close-up image of a web address on a computer screen. A denial-of-service attack can prevent access to a website like this one.

What Is a Denial-of-Service Attack?

A close-up image of a web address on a computer screen. A denial-of-service attack can prevent access to a website like this one.

A major denial-of-service attack halts the internet.

Recently, most of the internet was subject to a denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. This attack effectively prevented access to more than 1,000 popular websites, like Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit. Ultimately causing people on the internet to collectively lose their minds. While we have discussed DDoS attacks before, it is time to define what it does and how it prevents you from accessing your favorite sites.

Denial-of-Service Attack

A denial-of-service attack is a cyber-attack. It is willfully done by an external force, looking to impede a user’s access to a website. By targeting Domain Name Servers (DNS), they were able to interrupt a user’s connection to a website. A DNS server is important when it comes to accessing the internet. It basically takes your web browser’s request to go to a certain webpage and fulfills it by making sure it goes to the right place.

In the case of the DDoS attack that recently occurred last month on October 21st, major DNS host, Dyn, was the one affected. An open source malware called the “Mirai botnet” infected IoT devices, which launched 10’s of millions of IP address at the DNS servers. A large amount of request from internet users, occurring simultaneously, can overload DNS system and prevent many from having their request to visit a website fulfilled.

How to Prevent a DDoS Attack

There is not much that a user can do to prevent a DDoS attack from happening. It is up to manufacturers to build more secure devices, especially when they connect to the internet. Dyn discovered that some of the infected devices came from Hangzhou Xiongmai, a Chinese manufacturer of computer parts.

Currently, the devices that caused the attack are being recalled and patched with security updates. The devices did not force users to change their passwords, leaving them susceptible to an infiltration. Unfortunately, many devices might carry the same security flaw as the ones made by Hangzhou Xiongmai. Unless manufacturer can provide better cybersecurity measures, more attacks like this can happen in the future.

A cursor, shaped like a hand, is hovering over a link, representing dangerous links.

Dangerous Links: Be Careful Where You Click

A cursor, shaped like a hand, is hovering over a link. Some emails contain dangerous links.

How do you avoid dangerous links? By deleting emails from unknown senders.

Curiosity can be a fascinating thing. It can lead us to the answers we are looking for, however, it can also get us into trouble. This is especially true when it comes to navigating the internet. Dangerous links can make our computers vulnerable to malware and other security threats. While this notion might seem obvious, people are more likely to let curiosity get the better of them and click on something they shouldn’t.

Watch Out for Unknown Senders

How can you avoid dangerous links? The first step is to know who the link comes from. If you receive an email or Facebook message from an unknown sender, you should delete. Links embedded into the message can lead you to a malicious website, which in turn can potentially infect your computer.

Unfortunately, not everyone will follow this advice. In a recent study at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), researchers found that one in two users were more than likely to click on a link from someone they did not know.

Why People Click on Dangerous Links

Prior to this experimental study, which tested around 1700 FAU students, researchers asked students if they were aware of the risks of unknown links. According to Dr. Zinaida Benenson, lead author and Computer Science at the FAU, “The overall results surprised us as 78 percent of participants stated in the questionnaire that they were aware of the risks of unknown links.”

Over 56 percent of email recipients, and 38 percent of Facebook message recipients clicked on a link that was addressed to them. Despite their knowledge of how dangerous the link might be, curiosity lead them to click on the link anyway. This is especially true when the users either believed that they knew the sender or the contents of the email related to them in some way.

It’s important for users to be aware that attacks can occurs in this way. When receiving messages, be care to check that the sender’s traditional are correct. Otherwise, do not let curiosity get you into trouble.

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