Monday, February 21, 2022

Contemplating the End of the World -Two Reviews

 

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY


 

Have been a bit busy in the real world this week so just a couple of reviews for today. One is about the new book “Full Circle – a search for the world that comes next” by former Greens Senator Scott Ludlum which was released last week. The other is about the new Hollywood blockbuster “Don’t Look Up” which has just come out on Netflix, but had a much too short a run in cinemas here a couple of weeks ago. Both are directly or indirectly related to saving the world, so they are not entirely off topic. Let’s start with the film and finish with the book because it has a more positive outlook.

 

Don’t Look Up,” has a stellar cast which includes Leonardo Di Caprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchette. It's a dark tale about an approaching comet which threatens to end all life on earth. By and large it’s regarded as a metaphor for Climate Change in that we have an imminent global disaster of the sort which wiped out the dinosaurs. Unfortunately no one takes it seriously except for a couple of astronomers until it serves as a momentary distraction from a political scandal.

Suddenly the humble scientists are swept up in a media frenzy which is more interested in their entertainment value than the message. The politicians make reassuring noises – they have the matter in hand, preparations are being made and so forth. I don’t think I can tell you more without giving away too much of the plot but mostly it’s a satire with a rather ironic twist at the end, but underneath there are some urgent messages such as don’t necessarily rely on media or politicians for the facts. By the time you find out the truth for yourself, it may be too late. It highlights how helpless and unprepared most individuals are in the face of cataclysmic events and how to deal gracefully with things over which we have no control. You might not agree with my interpretation. My friend thought it was about the pandemic, but definitely thought -provoking and worth a watch. You may even get the odd laugh.

 

 

"Full Circle- a search for the world that comes next "

 

Copyright 2021  Available from Black inc. in paperback edition ( $AU 34.99) or as an eBook  ($AU 14.99) 384 pp. Blackinc.Books


Scott Ludlam’s book is also about where the world is headed, but is more serious in tone and yet somewhat more optimistic. Scott Ludlam was Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens and a Senator from 2008 -2017 until his citizenship was challenged and he was forced to resign. [Ludlum was born in NZ and came to Australia as a child]. Experienced in media and communications, he spent the intervening years travelling and studying and trying to find answers to some of the world's biggest challenges.

His book traces the great arc of the earth’s history as a minor agglomeration of debris and gas in a vast universe, through the emergence of life on earth, to the eventual and rather recent arrival of humans with their increasing propensity to destroy themselves, along with almost everything else. If that sounds a bit depressing, Ludlam does not believe that this is inevitable. This is a book about hope, not despair. He argues that though humans may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, we do not have to be helpless witnesses to our own demise. To support his case he shows us a number of practical examples from around the world where people have changed the trajectory of their lives for the better. Indeed, he argues that despair itself is our worst enemy. He quotes Nobel Prize winner and human rights activist Alice Walker right there in the first Chapter.

“The most common way people give up their power

is by thinking that they don’t have any.”

The book's other saving grace is that Ludlum is also an excellent writer. We can literally see the stars above and smell the smoke as protesters sit around a long ago fire in a remote valley trying to prevent giant trees being felled and whole ecosystems being destroyed. We can also visualise the quiet house in the quiet street where everyone diligently recycles, but now we can also see the threads which bind it to  the surrounding economy – the physical structures -its hidden pipes and wires, but also the bank loan and the economic system that underpins them and its enormous environmental impact.

If there's one phrase which sums up the book, it's this one seen on a nameless footpath:

 

“Stop imagining the apocalypse

Start imagining the revolution”

 

If you don’t read another book this year, read this one.

 

 

 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Spammers, Scammers and Hackers - 3 Ransomware and Identity Fraud

 

A Screenshot to strike fear into any computer users heart

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

Ransomware

 

If there’s anything scarier than the blue screen of death telling you your hard drive has died, it’s getting this message on your screen. It means that your data and all your files have been captured unless you pay up to get them back. These days, even if you do pay, chances are only around half the time that you will so its not advised and paying the extortionists just encourages them, so this section is mostly about preventing data capture in the first place. Very occasionally professionals can rescue your data with or without paying the ransom – so listen to Leo explain how it’s done here. However, prevention is far better and gives you the best chance of being able to recover it if they do.

 

How to prevent ransomware attacks

 

1.       BACK UP YOUR DATA  - This used to mean having an external hard drive attached to your computer, but not only can hackers also encrypt that, but you could lose it in other ways such as a fire, a flood or theft. These days it’s wise to kept at least one copy in the cloud as well and to have that happen automatically so you don’t have to remember to back it up.

      It’s good to still have a hard copy, because data breaches, corruption and power outages can happen to big companies too, though perhaps less often. Almost any video on this topic on YouTube is an ad for some type of cloud -based service which comes at various price points. I’m currently trying one on a 14-day free trial but speak to your IT person about the best one for you, especially if you are in business or don’t want to lose your thesis or family photos. Keeping back -ups will also help if your computer dies of natural causes.


2.       MAKE SURE YOUR ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE IS UP TO DATE – always do the recommended scans and updates to prevent malware getting very far.

3.       GET A PASSWORD MANAGER – that way you only have to remember one password and of course DO NOT WRITE IT DOWN.

4.       TAKE THE USUAL PRECAUTIONS with strange emails and messages to avoid your computer being infected. This will also help to protect you against things like identity fraud. 

5.   Since starting to write this I've come across an excellent new site by the Australian Cybersecurity Centre. This covers most of the above in more detail especially how to secure specific devices according to brand, how to secure your emails, bank accounts and social media accounts. One thing which I have omitted is how to set up MULTI FACTOR AUTHENTIFICATION for all those accounts, but you can see how to do it for your devices on this site.

 

 Identity Fraud

 

 

Identity fraud is basically using your data or personal information to secure some advantage. Find out more here. According to European Commission research  between 2018 and 2019, identity fraud was the second most common type of fraud in the EU after monetary scams and accounted for around 32% of  online scams. The report also says that almost 50% of Europeans had experienced some type of cyber crime during that period. While Spam emails were by far the most common source of identity fraud (50%) followed by phone calls (39%)  then ads. (5%), Text messages (4%)  and Social Media (3%), it can also occur via spy cams and data loggers, data breaches or just when shopping at a supermarket. You can also see if your phone or email have been involved in a data breach by checking Have I been Pwned? (Mine have been subject to at least two!) 

Keep a good distance – one of the few blessings of COVID,  and be especially careful when using public WIFI networks and ATMs. Use your hand to shield your password information.  Always shred old bank cards and any letters or notifications with your account or personal details on them. Arrange for your neighbours or family to collect your mail if you go on holiday and check your accounts frequently to make sure that all the charges are legitimate. 

This is how easy it is to steal your information when using public WIFI

 

In the UK police are so concerned that they are advocating AIR -GAPPING. In other words, if you can afford to have a second computer, do all your online transactions on that and keep your other files separate and safe. 

Here's a nice short video about preventing identity fraud from the US Federal Trade Commission. The only thing I'm not sure about is the bit at the end about credit reports. They may not be as readily available outside the USA.

 

 

If you think you’ve been a victim of identity fraud

 

If you suspect that someone is using your name or your accounts, you’ve lost your wallet, or your personal details have been compromised, do the following IMMEDIATELY.

  • Notify the issuing authority about the loss of any important documents or information e.g. credit cards, driver's licence, social security #, passport or account details, medicare cards
  •  Close any compromised accounts

In The USA

The FTC website is very helpful and has a step-by-step guide which deals with many types of fraud including property being rented in your name, investment and securities, tax fraud and so    along with appropriate addresses. Although it’s for the USA, it’s one of the few sites I've found which offers useful information AFTER you have been scammed.

In The UK - Which? 


In the EU - Report to Europol's Cyber Crime Unit
 
I could go on writing about this topic - about Work from Home Scams, Investment Scams, Crypto Currency Scams and Romance Scams, for example, but the list would just go on and on. You should just look over some of the listed sites and get alerts from time to  time. One of the latest is Fake Vaccination Certificates so don't say you haven't been warned, but the rules are the much the same - protect your data, don't give out personal details, be especially wary of clicking on unknowns and of sending people money.