Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

May 25, 2024

ICQ messenger shutting down after almost 28 years of service

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 6:12 AM

I used ICQ for the first time around 1997/98 and it was an amazing experience to be chatting with someone on the other side of the planet for free. I had been using BBS’s to connect with people but for obvious reasons they were all local folks. ICQ was the first system that allowed me to connect to the international world for free. I think it was also the first system where I encountered the infamous A/S/L(Age/Sex/Location) question. It was quite popular over on AOL IM as well, but I first encountered it on ICQ. I think it was probably because there was no concept of a profile picture at that time and ICQ used a number instead of a custom screen name for user identification.

Unfortunately the system is going to be shutdown on June 26th with no explanation given on why it is being shutdown. That being said It is impressive that the system managed to stay up and running for so long. I think the last time I logged into ICQ was sometime in the late 2000’s. I wonder if I still remember the password to be able to log in one last time before it is gone for good.

What would be really cool is if VK makes the source code behind the server opensource so that others can setup an alternate ICQ server for folks to use. But I doubt that would happen.

Source: ICQ messenger shuts down after almost 28 years

– Suramya

May 23, 2024

Windows 11 will feature builtin Spyware in the near future or Recall AI as Microsoft Calls it

Till recently if you wanted to spy on someone and see what they have been doing on the computer, you had to infect their computer by making them visit a dodgy site or get physical access and download a RAT (Remote Access Trojan) & install it on the target’s computer, configure the Antivirus to ignore it and put in a backdoor so that you can access the data remotely. Obviously this was a lot of work so looks like some cyber criminals reached out to Microsoft (MS) and asked for help. MS being a super helpful company, has added a functionality called ‘Windows Recall’ to it’s windows 11 Preview build to solve this. Recall takes a snapshot (literally) of the screen every few seconds and stores it in a searchable database ‘stored locally’. Basically it does exactly what spyware does without having to install anything new on your system. As per the company below is how the Recall works:

Recall uses Copilot+ PC advanced processing capabilities to take images of your active screen every few seconds. The snapshots are encrypted and saved on your PC’s hard drive. You can use Recall to locate the content you have viewed on your PC using search or on a timeline bar that allows you to scroll through your snapshots. Once you find the snapshot that you were looking for in Recall, it will be analysed and offer you options to interact with the content. What actions you can take depend on the content and the chat provider capabilities in Copilot in Windows. For example, you may highlight a block of text and decide to summarise it, translate it, or open it with a text editor like Word or Notepad. If you highlight an image, you will be able to edit it or use your chat provider in Copilot in Windows to find or create a similar image.

Recall will also enable you to open the snapshot in the original application in which it was created, and, as Recall is refined over time, it will open the actual source document, website or email in a screenshot. This functionality will be improved during Recall’s preview phase.

The best part is that according to their own announcement the snapshots will not hide passwords/account numbers etc. However, it does block you from recording DRM’d video you might be watching because protecting that is important not simple things like personal information etc.

Note that Recall does not perform content moderation. It will not hide information such as passwords or financial account numbers. That data may be in snapshots that are stored on your device, especially when sites do not follow standard internet protocols like cloaking password entry.

This is a gold mine for data thieves, abusers, industrial espionage, identity thieves and other cyber criminals. Once they have access to a PC they don’t need to do anything else except copy the data from the Recall DB to their own system and happily browse through the users personal data at their leisure.

I don’t think MS has thought about folks who use public computers such as the ones in an Internet Cafe or Hotels or Libraries. With this feature enabled all someone has to do is wait a few days then come back and copy incredibly private information that they can then sell/use. Privacy and Domestic Abuse experts are raising questions about this as well because sure as night follows day, abusers will use this to track what their victims are doing on a computer and that can go bad very quickly.

Even if the data is supposedly only on the local machine we don’t know when MS is going to force it to be uploaded to their servers using OneDrive or other similar setups. All the coverage I have seen for this functionality 99% of them have raised similar concerns about the security, privacy and quite frankly the need for this kind of surveillance.

Imagine what would a regieme like Taliban, China or other conservative/restrictive governments do with information they get from this system. You are dreaming if you think that they will not force MS to make this information available to them at the risk of losing access to that market if they don’t. Once you have the capability to do this, feature creep will happen for sure and we will end up in a Surveillance state.

The only Windows 11 system at my place is my wife’s laptop and you can be sure that I am going to disable this ‘feature’ as soon as it launches.

Source: Bleepingcomputer: Windows 11 Recall AI feature will record everything you do on your PC

– Suramya

May 20, 2024

Winamp announces it will open its source code to the public on 24th Sep 2024

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Winamp is one of my all time favorite music players but unfortunately it is only available on windows. But in an announcement from winamp team made recently, they state that they are planning to make the full source code for Winamp available to everyone on 24 September 2024. This will open up the possibility of the code being ported over to Linux and other operating systems, which would be awesome.

Winamp has announced that on 24 September 2024, the application’s source code will be open to developers worldwide.

Winamp will open up its code for the player used on Windows, enabling the entire community to participate in its development. This is an invitation to global collaboration, where developers worldwide can contribute their expertise, ideas, and passion to help this iconic software evolve.

Winamp has become much more than just a music player. It embodies a unique digital culture, aesthetic, and user experience. With this initiative to open the source code, Winamp is taking the next step in its history, allowing its users to contribute directly to improving the product.

“This is a decision that will delight millions of users around the world. Our focus will be on new mobile players and other platforms. We will be releasing a new mobile player at the beginning of July. Still, we don’t want to forget the tens of millions of users who use the software on Windows and will benefit from thousands of developers’ experience and creativity. Winamp will remain the owner of the software and will decide on the innovations made in the official version,” explains Alexandre Saboundjian, CEO of Winamp.

At this time we don’t know what license the source code is going to be released under so we will have to wait and see on that front. Depending on the license used there might be restrictions on the code use so… The announcement asks users to register their interest by entering their details at their Free-Llama site. I have done so and will share any details I receive from them as we get nearer to the release date.

Unfortunately, there is a good possibility that the code will not be released under a public open source licence like GPL/MIT etc as in that case they would have just dumped the code on Github and made the announcement. Unless… this is a way to drum up interest for the release.

In either case, we will have to wait and see. But I am very excited by this 🙂

– Suramya

May 16, 2024

Google claims to have created AI to detect scams in realtime by listening to all your calls

Scams are getting more and more common nowadays, with folks loosing a lot of money due to this. We absolutely need more ways to detect and warn people about scams but I don’t think this is the right approach. By ‘this’, I am talking about Google’s recent announcement at Google I/O to use Gemini Nano to alert users to potential scams during a phone call.

The feature, which will be built into a future version of Android, uses Gemini Nano, the smallest version of Google’s generative AI offering, which can be run entirely on-device. The system effectively listens for “conversation patterns commonly associated with scams” in real time. Google gives the example of someone pretending to be a “bank representative.” Common scammer tactics like password requests and gift cards will also trigger the system. These are all pretty well understood to be ways of extracting your money from you, but plenty of people in the world are still vulnerable to these sorts of scams. Once set off, it will pop up a notification that the user may be falling prey to unsavory characters.

In order for the functionality to work we would have to give Google full and complete access to all our phonecalls & audio during the call. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to give this kind of personal data over to a company that has already lied about the data they collect (referring to the recent lawsuit on their tracking the web-browsing habits of users in incognito mode that they settled last month).

– Suramya

Source: Slashdot: Google Will Use Gemini To Detect Scams During Calls

May 13, 2024

Please don’t use AI to cheat on your interview no matter how tempting it sounds

Interviews are hard and at times folks who are really good at work don’t do that well in interviews. This could be because of nervousness, anxiety or just bad timing/questions. However, that doesn’t mean that you should cheat in the interview because trust me, you will get caught. Having been in the industry for over 24 years, I have seen multiple instances where folks decided to cheat in the interview thinking they would get away with it but in the end all of them were caught and ended up getting blacklisted in the company. In some cases it can even lead to charges & cases being filed against you.

Now that AI is getting into everything, it was inevitable that it would enter the interview world as well as an cheating aid. Enter They don’t even attempt to hide the fact that this tool is meant to help candidates cheat in their interviews. From their website, right at the top “Job adverts cheat, so why can’t you?”. I mean it doesn’t get more blatant than that… As per the description on their site the software listens into the audio stream of the interview and then displays the answer on the screen for you to parrot out. A sample question and answer featured on the site is shown below:

What digital marketing tools and platforms are you familiar with?

I have experience working with a variety of digital marketing tools and platforms, including: - Google Analytics: I have used Google Analytics extensively to track website traffic, user behavior, and conversion rates. I am comfortable setting up custom reports, analyzing data, and identifying opportunities for optimization. - HubSpot: I have experience using HubSpot for marketing automation, lead nurturing, and CRM integration. I have created email campaigns, landing pages, and workflows to drive engagement and conversions.
Sample answer to a question generated by the cheating software

The site doesn’t explain how it ensures that its responses actually match what is in your resume abd I doubt there is much of that happening here. In anycase, I do understand folks who are desperate can end up using tools like this one to get a job. But while it might look like a good bet in the short term it will get you in trouble in the long term. If the people trying to cheat actually put in the effort they put into cheating the system into actually learning the system they would be much better off.

Please remember that the folks who are taking the interviews (like me) have been doing this for a while and it is quite easy to figure out that someone is reading an answer off the screen. In the past we used to listen for keyboard sounds to figure out if someone was googling for answers but with this ‘AI’ listening that tell is no longer there. However, if this is on a video interview I can still figure out that you are reading off the screen by looking at you.

Also remember, most large companies do have face to face interviews as well and a final fit round before rolling out an offer letter. I have had an example in one of my previous companies where a person who had cleared all the phone interviews was in office for the final rounds and one of the interviewers asked them a basic clarification question and they were unable to answer, so the interviewer got suspicious and asked more probing questions. Finally the candidate admitted that someone else had taken the phone interview (this was before video calls/interviews) and they ended up getting blacklisted and obviously didn’t get a job. Even with video interviews, one of the candidates was recently caught lip-syncing the answers that someone else was giving.

This actually gave me an idea for a project (which I might or might not work on). Basically, a lot of times in meetings we talk about technologies or projects we are working on and sometimes I end up making a note for myself to look up something post the call because I wasn’t sure of what it does. It would be really cool to have an assistant/program running in the background that continuously gave information & links to additional information when people talk about projects or technologies or past discussions. I doubt it would be good enough to only give information I would need but it could be an interesting addition to make a person more productive. Basically the same technology used in this site but instead of interview answers actually giving links to more information along with summaries etc.

Long story short, please don’t cheat on interviews no matter what tech is powering the cheat tool.

– Suramya

April 19, 2024

Would Tesla cars still work if Tesla went out of business?

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 9:18 AM

Dave Winer asked the following question on MastodonIf Tesla went out of business, would my Model Y stop working??” and at the first glance it sounds like a ridiculous question. In fact, if you told someone even 15 years ago that you were worried that your car would stop working if the company that manufactured it went out of business they would laugh at you. But thanks to the over proliferation of Things as a Service which is used by a lot of manufacturers to control and profit out of stuff that should be included this is no longer the case.

Auto manufacturers are now adding functionality as a service to their cars for things that were included for free earlier. For example, BMW started selling Seat Heating as a Service in 2022. Tesla has subscriptions for Premium connectivity and ‘self-driving’. Mercedes goes even further and charges an extra $1200/year to unlock a fully functional accelerator.

However the big problem with Tesla (and other cars) is that all the critical software components are protected by DRM. Once a device has DRM on it, Section 1201 of the DMCA makes it a felony to bypass that DRM, even for legitimate purposes.

We have already seen cases where owners are unable to start their cars from the mobile app when the Tesla servers went down (Apparently the manual key worked in this case). Others have seen problems starting their car when they lost connectivity during software updates. I do seem to remember reading somewhere that there is a phone home system built into Tesla’s that would stop the car from working fully if it could no longer talk to the company servers but I can’t find the link to the story anywhere.

So long story short, if Tesla went out of business a lot of the functionality in the car would stop working. As per a forum post on ‘Tesla Motors Club’ from 2021 the following would stop working if the car didn’t have connectivity (I can’t verify this because I don’t have a Tesla and no desire to get one):

  • control aircon remotely turn on/off adjust temperature
  • turn sentry mode on/off
  • control heated seats and heated steering wheel
  • open/close trunk
  • check location/speed of the car
  • unlock remotely
  • allow someone to drive the car (while you’re in a different location to the car)
  • Smart summon
  • vent or close the windows
  • sentry mode alarm alerts
  • restrict speed
  • valet mode

I think some of these might work with physical controls but not sure. I think I will stick with my Honda City for now 🙂

– Suramya

April 16, 2024

Creating a Tic-Tac-Toe game using a single printf statement in a loop

Filed under: Computer Software,Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 12:19 PM

The printf statement in C/C++ (and other languages) is a fairly innocuous command that prints information to the screen (or any other output stream). Reading over JWZ’s blog post (The Turing Police say “X Wins”) I found that I was mistaken as it is much more powerful than that. In fact, a single printf statement in a loop can be used to create a full interactive game of tic-tac-toe and this is demo’d by Nicholas Carlini, who has implemented this and you can view the code over at their GitHub Repo: tic-tac-toe in a single call to printf.

Apparently, this was inspired by the International Obfuscated C Code Contest. The repo has an explanation on how this works and I am still going through it to wrap my head around how it works and understand it fully. Check it out if you have some time.

– Suramya

March 6, 2024

Researchers demo the first worm that spreads through LLM prompt injection

Filed under: Artificial Intelligence,Computer Security,Computer Software — Suramya @ 10:17 PM

In the past year we have seen an uptick in the tech industry looking towards embedding LLM (Large Language Models) or AI as they are being pitched to the world in all possible places. Windows 11 now has built in Copilot that is extremely hard to disable. Email systems are using LLM’s to get additional details/information using the data from the email to add context etc. This creates new attack surfaces that attackers can target and we have seen instances where attackers have used prompt injection to gain access to data or systems that were restricted.

Building on top of that researchers have now created (and demo’d) the first worm that spreads through prompt injection. This is breakthrough work similar to how the Morris Worm was in the late 80’s. Basically, researchers created an email which has an adversarial prompt embedded in it. This prompt is then ingested by an LLM (using Retrieval-Augmented Generation which allows it to enhance the reliability of the LLM by fetching data from external sources when the email is processed by the LLM) where it jailbreaks the GenAI service and can steal data from the emails (or do whatever else the attacker wants such as changing email text, removing data etc). In addition the prompt also has the ability to make the email assistant forward the email with the malicious prompt to other email addresses allowing it to spread. The researchers have christened their worm as Morris II giving homage to the first email worm.

Abstract: In the past year, numerous companies have incorporated Generative AI (GenAI) capabilities into new and existing applications, forming interconnected Generative AI (GenAI) ecosystems consisting of semi/fully autonomous agents powered by GenAI services. While ongoing research highlighted risks associated with the GenAI layer of agents (e.g., dialog poisoning, membership inference, prompt leaking, jailbreaking), a critical question emerges: Can attackers develop malware to exploit the GenAI component of an agent and launch cyber-attacks on the entire GenAI ecosystem?

This paper introduces Morris II, the first worm designed to target GenAI ecosystems through the use of adversarial self-replicating prompts. The study demonstrates that attackers can insert such prompts into inputs that, when processed by GenAI models, prompt the model to replicate the input as output (replication), engaging in malicious activities (payload). Additionally, these inputs compel the agent to deliver them (propagate) to new agents by exploiting the connectivity within the GenAI ecosystem. We demonstrate the application of Morris II against GenAI-powered email assistants in two use cases (spamming and exfiltrating personal data), under two settings (black-box and white-box accesses), using two types of input data (text and images). The worm is tested against three different GenAI models (Gemini Pro, ChatGPT 4.0, and LLaVA), and various factors (e.g., propagation rate, replication, malicious activity) influencing the performance of the worm are evaluated.

This is pretty fascinating work and I think that this kind of attack will start becoming more common as the LLM usage goes up. The research paper is available at: ComPromptMized: Unleashing Zero-click Worms that Target GenAI-Powered Applications.

– Suramya

March 1, 2024

If buying isn’t owning, then piracy isn’t stealing

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:27 PM

Nowadays it is quite common for folks to move from having physical copies of books, movies, TV series etc to having digital copies of the same. I like having digital versions of things because they are easier to store but that brings a whole lot of problems. Basically having an electronic item specially something that is hosted on a service or needs an external system to approve your right to open that file/game/book then it means that you don’t really own that item. The service can arbitrarily decide to remove it from their system, alter it without telling you or decide to reduce functionality and make you pay more for something that you already paid for.

We have so many examples of this happening, such as services removing movies that you bought from your systems because they figured it was more cost effective to not renew rights to the movie. Amazon Music has removed music that was paid for from their system or have changed it. Books were removed from Kindle by amazon when they felt it needed to be inspite of the users having purchased it.

Earlier this week in example no 400035 that shows that we don’t really own the digital content we ‘bought’, Sony deleted content that they had promised would be there forever with little to no recourse for the users to get their content back when though they had paid for it.

Funimation, a Sony-owned streaming service for anime, recently announced that subscribers’ digital libraries on the platform will be unavailable after April 2. For years, Funimation had been telling subscribers that they could keep streaming these digital copies of purchased movies and shows, but qualifying it: “forever, but there are some restrictions.”

But soon, people who may have discarded or lost their physical media or lack a way to play DVDs and Blu-rays won’t have a way to access the digital copies that they were entitled to through their physical copy purchase.

A little while ago Philippe Tremblay, director of subscriptions at Ubisoft made a comment that gamers need to get used to the idea they don’t own their games anymore and embrace digital downloads. This is absolutely ridiculous and should not be normalized. If I own something I should be able to do whatever I want with it. Unfortunately that is not the case because the content is protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management) which is supposed to be a tool to prevent piracy but instead is a tax or punishment for doing the right thing and buying content legally.

If I pirate a movie or a book I can do whatever I want with it and watch it wherever I want or convert it to another format that is easier for me to consume (mobi->epub for books as an example) But when I legally buy something the DRM on it stops me from doing the same thing as it is a felony for me to remove the DRM so that I can access stuff I paid for in a way that is convenient for me.

Before streaming services and digital stores became popular, at times the only way to get content was to pirate it. To give an example, back in 2007/2008 books by most of the authors I like were not available in India so if I wanted to read a book I would have to buy it from Amazon and have it shipped to India. Amazon used to charge $10 PER book to ship it to India at that time even if you ordered multiple books and paying that for a book that costed $7 made absolutely no sense. Same was the case with movies and tv series. With streaming and digital media taking off, I can now buy a digital book when it is released or watch a new TV series when it is launched legally. Now with this nonsense of deleting stuff that people have bought, we need to start keeping copies of all the stuff we buy offline so that I still have access to what I paid for even when a corporation decides that it is more cost effective to delete/remove access to it.

Source: Here We Go Again: Sony Disappears Digital Content That Was Pitched To Customers As ‘Forever’

– Suramya

October 17, 2023

Best Support response times and quality I have seen is from the WordPress Activitypub team

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 10:49 PM

I have been using Open Source since I found out about it back in 1999. At present majority of the software I have running on my system is opensource with a few notable exceptions such as Microsoft Word (Libreoffice still has formatting issues) and CrossOver by Code Weavers (that allows me to run Windows software on Linux) and a few games that I don’t get to play enough. Which means that I have considerable experience with the support offered by the various opensource projects. The support ranges from RTFM, no responses to questions or detailed responses from the team/users.

Out of all the projects that I have reached out for support the most fantastic & the fastest support response has been from Matthias Pfefferle (German Site) from the wordpress-activitypub project. I have raised multiple tickets with the project and have always gotten a quick (Fastest response in 2mins!!!), detailed and helpful response to my questions. For the issues I raised, some of them required a code fix and a fix was released within days. I don’t think I have received such a fantastic response even from sites/projects where I am a paying subscriber.

Anyways, we always post about the bad experiences we have so I think that we should also take time to post about the fantastic experiences and people we interact with because there is way too much negative news out there and these small things can help bring a smile to someones face and make sure they know that their hard work is appreciated.

If you run a WordPress Blog (self-hosted) you should definitely install this plugin and federate your posts to Mastodon (and the rest of the fediverse).

– Suramya

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