6PR Tech Hour

Microsoft Announces a new range of hardware

Just over 30 years ago, Microsoft started in the hardware business with mice and keyboards. Yesterday, Microsoft announced a line of tablet computers under the name of Surface. The Surface tablets are 10.6 inches, 16:9 Widescreen HD displays that come in two variants. Starting with the entry level model, the Surface RT will be Running Windows 8 RT to suit its ARM based processor. This is around 500g and a little under 10mm thick. The Surface Pro is an intel based tablet (I am really interested to see how hot this runs AND how long the battery lasts) running Windows 8 Pro, weighs in at around 1Kg and is 13.5mm thick.
The devices are made from a Magnesium Alloy called Vapor-Mg (pronounced Vapour Mag), have at least 1 USB port, a Micro SD card slot, an integrated kickstand and can support an optional cover that doubles as a keyboard and touchpad.
This Tablet does not have prices yet nor are specifics given on the screen (720p or 1080P) and the battery life is also an unknown but I am pretty sure that this not only is aimed at the iPad and Galaxy Tab but also looks like the missing link for the Windows 8 operating system. As a PC user I am pretty excited to see something like this that bleeds from the laptop world into the tablet world and seems to complete the circle of products that Microsoft is trying to cater for.
This also puts existing hardware partners with Microsoft on notice to lift their game or risk getting crushed. Looking back on Microsoft’s history in hardware I have a good feeling about this.

To take a closer look at what Microsoft is up to, click here.

Mozilla announces Thimble. Learn how to make web pages.

The great people from the Mozilla Foundation has announced a new site called Thimble. This is a HTML and CSS editor that can teach you how to write code that makes web pages. You can either start from scratch or pick up a project which is semi-guided. The cool thing about Thimble is that the screen is split in two. On the left you have the code and on the right you have a preview of the screen so you can play with bits of code and see almost instantly how the change impacts the finished product.
I am all for learning new skills and when a really cool (and free) service like this comes along I love sharing the news. Take a look at Thimble here.

Errata – yes I get things wrong sometimes.

Last week, I made references to Salting a Hashed password as an index of values or algorithms used to scramble or hash a value. It is in fact much simpler than that. Values are Salted prior to scrambling or hashing by adding a unique number or sequence of characters to the value to be hashed. An example would be wanting to scramble a password like M@st@hk0d3 (we need strong passwords right?) but before we scramble it we can do something like  adding something to the password that we can work out like the date we first entered our password which could look like 19062012. Smash them together and we get M@st@hk0d319062012 which makes a pretty impressive password even before we start scrambling it.
Why is Salting important?
Imagine a hacker breaks into a database and copies all the encrypted data off. “No problem,” you say “its encrypted.” Not quite. It is pretty safe to assume that at least a couple of people have chosen really bad passwords like “password” or “facebook”. Now the hacker can start putting bad passwords through the same (publically known) encryption algorithm and see what comes out the other side. Lets assume that “password” when run through the encryption looks like “*9)$*Ddfoawodlg9$^%%”. Now with that encrypted value the hacker now runs a search in the file for a match of the result of the encrypted “password”. When he has a match, he can now identify all the accounts that have the same terrible password.
If we add Salting to the passwords, even a really lousy password is made unique as it is no longer “password” but now it is “password19062012” or similar. Now the result of encrypting two different “password” is vastly different and so much harder to crack.
Salting is something we can do ourselves to fix bad passwords. Simply add a unique something to the password like the name of the service you are using (eg. “password” can become  “I’mnottellingmyFACEBOOKpassword!”).
In light of recent security breaches, this is not a bad idea.

The importance of checking backups.

I had something not work out great for a customer this week. This customer was referred to me by Chris Ilsley at 6PR. She had a terrible story about how her hard drive died and how she paid to have it recovered and replaced by another business. Nothing was successfully recovered so she went to restore from her backups only to find that the backups were empty. The directories were there but there were no files in them. The backups were effectively useless. We held out hope that I could breathe life into the old hard drive long enough to recover her photos. Unfortunately, the hard drive surfaces were beyond rescue and those valuable images were gone. There was really nothing we could do.
If you have not checked your backups recently I recommend you get them checked as soon as possible. You can either do it yourself or you can contact a professional to check it for you. A few minutes of testing could save yourself the grief of losing years of work, precious photos or other vital, irreplaceable data.
If you don’t have a backup, you should really call me. I can help you with that.