Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Proper Hardware Disposal

In one of my classes last week, we discussed the proper way to get rid of old computer hardware, to avoid privacy issues.

I've gotten rid of old computers, but I generally either keep the hard drives (to destroy) or use software to do a thorough wipe of the drive's data When I say "thorough wipe", I am not talking about deleting files, because data can easily be recovered from a hard drive, EVEN AFTER YOU DELETE IT. Really. As a matter of fact, Microsoft's pre-Windows operating system, DOS, used to include an undelete tool which could recover deleted files easily.

eBay is one place people can purchase used hard drives, and they even provide information on why you need to thoroughly wipe a hard drive before you sell it. You can see that the site shows that social security numbers, credit card numbers, and all sorts of stuff can be found on these hard drives. This means your identity can be stolen even if you do nothing wrong, if a company you have purchased from does not follow good procedures for hard drive disposal. Aside from eBay, there are sites like Craigslist where people get rid of old hardware, and there are always garage sales. In the corporate environment, many colleges and companies pay companies to dispose of old hardware (such as eRevival locally). If you go with a cut-rate company, you may find that though they promise to clean hard drives, they may not do so thoroughly. Any of these are ways that data can be leaked if the hard drives are not wiped.

One way you can provide a level of security is to physically destroy the hard drive, though someone could pick it out of the trash and recover something. The best way is to do a full wipe of the hard drive, or what we used to call a "zeroize" at the company I used to work for. We were putting defense systems in military crafts, and one of the requirements was that the pilot needed to have a button to wipe all the data in the system, to prevent classified data from falling in to the enemy's hands. (Yes, that information is public.)

The Department of Defense has pretty high standards for data wiping, and there are a number of tools that meet their standards. The problem is most of these tools cost money. The one that I recommend is a free tool called Darik's Boot and Nuke (available for download at www.dban.org). Despite the informal name, it is a legitimate program (referenced by CNN and the BBC). There are commercial tools that do this sort of thing as well, but the major difference is not function, it is speed (DBAN has a reputation for being slow - the BBC article says it took two hours for an 80GB drive). DBAN is cool because it gives you a CD to boot off of, and you select the depth of the wipe you want. The more depth you want, the longer it will take to run. If you are going to do this, I would recommend choosing the most in-depth wipe, doing it before you go to bed (as a home user) or before you leave work in the evening (at work), and just letting it run overnight. That way, there is no time wasted waiting for wipe to be completed. In a professional environment, having a DBAN CD around is not a bad thing, especially so your company does not end up in violation with the standards that govern your industry (Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, FACTA, etc.).

A larger company may want to invest in faster, packaged software for this, or a hard drive sanitizer (such as this one - though I am certain their claim of 7 minutes per drive is for the simple wipe and not the seven-pass version).

Any of these options are better than the ol' sledgehammer method, because who wants to clean up that mess?

Spring 2011 Schedule

I just wanted to post my tentative Spring 2011 schedule at Bergen.

I am scheduled to teach:
INF 163 001 (Monday/Wednesday 3:55 PM to 5:50 PM)
INF 101 009 (Tuesday/Thursday 3:55 PM to 5:50 PM)

I may also be teaching a Summer I 2011 course, if that information is solidified, I shall announce it here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Gmail Killer

Facebook is preparing to come out with a new email service, where users can get email sent to an email address @facebook.com. There were a number of headlines that advertised this as "the Gmail killer", though it could just as easily be "the Hotmail killer" or "the Yahoo! Mail killer".

First, Facebook started to try to be your "one true login". They seem to be succeeding in this, because a number of sites have started to give you the option to sign in using Facebook instead of creating an account. For example, here are some random sites that came up when I Googled "Facebook Connect":


Facebook even has taken so much of Myspace's market that they are introducing a "connect with Facebook" option. That's the ultimate admission on Myspace's part that Facebook has won the war.

Facebook has succeeded there, so they are looking to expand. The next horizon seems to be Facebook email, which they've announced plans to implement. Facebook's CEO says that this email will be even better because they know who your friends are. No, really.

"Because we know who your friends are," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, "we can do some really good filtering for you."

There is something a little creepy about that, but I do think this idea will take off. The interesting part is this: back in the early 2000's, sites like AOL had email and chat services, and tried to expand in to profiles...same with Yahoo! and MSN. None of those transitions worked well. However, Facebook starting with profiles and expanding to chat and then email might actually work.

So, Facebook vs. Google...who wins? Time will tell.

Link to story

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Keeping up with the Jobses

There's a saying "Keeping up with the Joneses" which goes back to the early 1900's (thanks Wikipedia). It basically has to do with people needing to keep up with the neighbors (in this case, the generic Joneses). I feel like Microsoft has this same symptom at points.

According to recent numbers, Microsoft Windows Mobile was only on 2.8% of cell phones, according to Gartner Research. Compare this with 36.6% for the open-source Symbian OS, 25.5% for the Android OS, 16.7% for iPhone OS, and 14.8% for the Blackberry OS. In other words, Microsoft Windows Mobile just is not cutting it.

Since Microsoft needs to keep up with the Jobses (Steve Jobs is often considered the Face of Apple), Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 last month. Microsoft basically redesigned the operating system, because as we see it wasn't working. According to USA Today, the first phone to run this OS is the Samsung Focus through AT&T, which was released on November 8.

According to cNet reviews, Microsoft does seem to have done a nice job on the operating system, but as they point out, it is an uphill battle to overtake some of the companies above them on the list. One interesting feature that jumped out from the review (since I haven't used it myself yet) was the integration with Xbox Live. That could be something that sets this phone apart, if it gives people access to their games and accounts in a mobile fashion.

We'll see how it shakes out, but Microsoft does have a long way to go.

Thanks to Kevin for the heads-up!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Twitter and Poor NBA Etiquette v2.0

Charlie Villanueva, an NBA player, recently played against Kevin Garnett. During the game, Villanueva claims Garnett called him a cancer patient. Garnett, for what it is worth, said he called Villanueva "a cancer", which isn't as far fetched as it sounds. According to urbandictionary, the term cancer "[is] often used as an insult when referring to someone who is a pathelogical [sic] source of trouble and discord within a group."

Now, who knows what happened and what did not, but I can see someone exaggerating because they are annoyed. Either way, the point is he came out and put it out there, and as we know about Twitter, there is no undo button.

If this guy's name sounds familiar, it is because he is the same guy who was benched for tweeting during halftime of a game in 2009. I blogged about that here. I would think the guy would have learned his lesson about Twitter, but nope. If it is getting in the way of your professional life, perhaps it is time to let someone else serve as your filter.