Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

June 27, 2024

What’s the Difference Between Mastodon, Bluesky, and Threads?

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 11:39 PM

When Twitter was taken over by Musk a lot of us folks moved to alternatives because of the change in the quality and tone of Twitter. In the early days many alternatives were created but now the field has narrowed down quite a bit and the main alternatives are: Mastodon, Bluesky, and Threads. I have accounts on both Mastodon and Bluesky but primarily use Mastodon as most of the security and Tech experts migrated to Mastodon. Some interesting folks are there on Bluesky as well but for some reason I don’t find it as interesting to scroll the feed over there.

If you are not aware of the apps you might wonder what is the difference between them, EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation) did a great write up on the various alternatives to Twitter and you can check out the article here.

– Suramya

June 19, 2024

Yet another example of why strict data privacy controls are needed everywhere

Filed under: My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 11:35 PM

Here is yet another example of why we need data privacy and rules to protect the data that is collected about us. In this case a person snooped on the mobile data history of potential dates before going out with them.

I work for one of the most popular mobile providers in the country. Back when I was dating a few months ago, I'd check the lad's mobile data history at work to see what sort of porn they watch on their phones. Helped me to weed out and ghost a couple of freaks

I work for one of the most popular mobile providers in the country. Back when I was dating a few months ago, I’d check the lad’s mobile data history at work to see what sort of porn they watch on their phones. Helped me to weed out and ghost a couple of freaks

This is absolutely an invasion of privacy but still something a lot of us would do if we had the access to a system that gives us this information. I mean it is human nature to be curious and if we could most people would end up doing something like this and that is why Banks have strict policies and controls around looking up data that you shouldn’t be looking into like financial transactions or bank balances.

It would have expected the ‘most popular’ mobile provider to have controls around who can access such data. But even if the controls limit who can access the data it doesn’t solve the full problem because it doesn’t stop the people authorized to view the data from misusing it. The latin phrase ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?‘ (Who will watch the watchmen?) highlights this problem. People who have official access can (and do) misuse that access and we have seen this misuse multiple times, folks in law enforcement have used their access to track and research their significant others, other folks have stalked celebrities and there are many more such examples..

That is why in addition to restricting access there needs to be a regular audit of the access requests made into the system and sign off to ensure people are not misusing the data. In my previous companies, we had to review audit logs for production access and sign off on the access (for the systems we were responsible for). For obvious reasons people couldn’t signoff on their own access requests.

Data Privacy is very important and because of the amount of data that companies collect about us it is a dangerous situation. In the ideal world they would not be storing this data in the first place but since that is not going to happen anytime soon we need to ensure that we build legal/technical frameworks around the systems so that the potential for misuse is reduced.

– Suramya

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 24, 2024

OpenSSF launches Siren to provide real-time security warning for Open Source Software

Securing OpenSource software (OSS) can be a bit of a challenge at times and a lot of the Infosec feeds that give information on Security issues in software are commercial paid entities. There are software that scan for OSS vulnerabilities but we can always use more threat intelligence networks.

Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) has launched a new threat intelligence sharing group called ‘OpenSSF Siren‘ that aims to provide real-time security warning bulletins and deliver a community-driven knowledge base to fill the gap between the open-source and enterprise communities.

The OpenSSF Siren is a collaborative effort to aggregate and disseminate threat intelligence specific to open source projects. Hosted by the OpenSSF, this platform provides a secure and transparent environment for sharing Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) associated with recent cyber attacks. Siren is intended to be a post-disclosure means of keeping the community informed of threats and activities after the initial sharing and coordination.

The Key features of the OpenSSF Siren include:

  • Open Source Threat Intelligence: shared with the community about actively exploited public vulnerabilities and threats.
  • Real-Time Updates: List members receive notifications via email about emerging threats which may be relevant to their projects, enabling swift action to mitigate risks.
  • TLP:CLEAR: To facilitate effective unrestricted transparent communication, the list follows the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP), Clear guidelines for the sharing and handling of intelligence.
  • Community-driven: Contributors from diverse backgrounds collaborate to enrich the intelligence database, fostering a culture of shared responsibility and collective defense.

You can sign up for it here: Siren Sign-Up
Source: OpenSSF sings a Siren song to steer developers away from buggy FOSS

– 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 15, 2024

Leftover Yeast from Beer Brewing can be used to Recycle Metals from E-waste

Filed under: Emerging Tech,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 6:42 PM

Lots of People like beer and now they can pretend that the only reason that they are drinking beer is to help in recycling metals from e-waste. Basically in a new study published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, researchers found that re­­­sidual yeast sludge generated after beer is brewed is very good at isolating and taking up specific metals from a solution of mixed metals.

This would mean that it can be used to extract metals from e-waste, which is currently a very inefficient process that requires a lot of energy and manual effort, plus it generates a lot of toxic gases which kind of negates the whole point of recycling.

The researchers rinsed, froze, dried and ground up 20 liters of residue with inactive yeast from a brewery. Next they added some of the yeast to solutions containing a laboratory-made mix of aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc, then added some to solutions with those same metals leached directly from scrapped printed circuit boards. The researchers adjusted the mixtures’ acidity and temperature to alter the charge of sugar molecules on the yeast organisms’ surfaces; particular metals are drawn to specific charges on the sugars, so this process controlled which metals the yeast attracted and bound. After each attempt, the scientists extracted the yeast and soaked it in an acid bath to remove the metals from it, leaving the yeast ready for another round.

The four tested metals are relatively inexpensive, and most e-waste recyclers currently prioritize recovering more valuable ones such as gold, silver and platinum. But the study’s metals are still beneficial and widely used—which “justifies the recycling process,” says Treavor Boyer, an environmental engineer at Arizona State University. Kerry Bloom, a biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, adds that the yeast’s low price and sheer abundance could make the technique relatively feasible at a large scale

Setting up a recycling plant near a brewery would make this a cost efficient way to recycle metals. In fact in the traditional recycling methods we focus on metals like gold, silver and platinum because it is not cost effective to recycle metals like zinc, aluminum etc. So the new method can increase the amount of metal recycled at a lower cost. However, the paper doesn’t say if they tested it on the more expensive metals or not. I doubt they did, because if they had it would have been a great advantage to move to the new process.

Obviously, the process is still experiemental and needs a lot more refining and work before it can be used in an industrial scale. But it is a great step forward.

Source: After Brewing Beer, Yeast Can Help Recycle Metals from E-waste

– Suramya

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

May 12, 2024

A High-Level Technical Overview of Fully Homomorphic Encryption

Homomorphic Encryption is an interesting application of data encryption in that it allows us to encrypt data in a way such that we can perform computations on it without first having to decrypt it. The more formal definition states “Homomorphic encryption is the conversion of data into ciphertext that can be analyzed and worked with as if it were still in its original form. Homomorphic encryption enables complex mathematical operations to be performed on encrypted data without compromising the encryption.”

I have been following the work on Homomorphic Encryption solutions since 2017 onwards, which was when I first became aware of it and have read tons of articles and papers on it. The overview by Jeremy Kun is probably the best one I have seen so far. His post with A High-Level Technical Overview of Fully Homomorphic Encryption goes into enough technical details that you understand it without going so deep that you are lost in the details.

Homomorphic encryption lets you encrypt data in such a way that you can run programs on it without ever decrypting it. This means that the computer running the program has no access to the underlying data while running the program—neither via intermediate computed values, nor even the result. In particular, if a nefarious human had access to the machine’s raw memory, they still could not learn any information about the underlying data (without breaking the cryptography). A user sends the program an encrypted input, and when the program is done, the encrypted result is sent back to the user to decrypt.

Running a program on encrypted data sounds magical. It works by choosing an encryption scheme that is “compatible” with addition and multiplication in the following sense:

Adding ciphertexts gives you an encryption of the sum of the underlying plaintexts.
Multiplying two ciphertexts give you an encryption of the product of the underlying plaintexts.

Given this power, you can encrypt your data bit by bit, express your program as a boolean circuit—an XOR gate is addition and an AND gate is multiplication—and simulate the circuit. Since XOR and AND form a universal basis for boolean logic, you can always decompose a circuit this way.

Check it out if you are curious about Homomorphic Encryption and want to learn more.

– Suramya

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