Online Education from Stanford University – and it’s free

Friday, November 25th, 2011 | Gene Teo | 2 Comments

In October 2011, Standford University offered a class – Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI) – online, for free.The instructors, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, are well-known in the AI field. 3 million people visited the website, and 35,000 signed up and are doing the course right now.

It’s different compared to other online classes (e.g. MIT OpenCourseware) that just post course content online. The Standford classes also involve interaction with the teaching staff – online students can submit questions and attend office hours via Google Hangouts (video conferencing powered by the Google Plus social networking platform).

The good news – there are more online courses coming, with teaching starting in January 2012:

Computer Science 101
Design & Analysis of Algorithms I
Game Theory
Software Engineering for Software as a Service
Probabilistic Graphical Models
Machine Learning
Natural Language Processing
The Lean Launchpad
Technology Entrepreneurship

You don’t get course credit for completing a course, but the personal satisfaction should be more than sufficient!

The easiest way to detect a phishing email

Monday, November 21st, 2011 | Gene Teo | Comments Off on The easiest way to detect a phishing email

There are a number of ways to decide if an email is genuine. Often, people sending phishing emails are not native English speakers, thus there may be basic spelling and grammatical errors. Or the fake website they built is not entirely convincing. Or the URL (i.e. the website address) in the address bar looks suspicious.

All of those problems can be fixed with enough attention to detail. They could hire a freelance proofreader to check for errors and build a more accurate fake website.

In my opinion, the best way to decide if an email is legitimate or not is to ask. Make direct contact with the organisation or person the email is supposedly from, and see if they know about it. Don’t reply to the original email, as the return address often leads back to the scammers. Instead, look up contact details in an online phonebook, or by going directly to an organization’s website.

Not only does this give you an authoritative answer, you are also alerting the organization that’s being targeted, giving them more time to react.

Which emails should you be cautious about? Any that request personal information (e.g. passwords, addresses) or money.


Porn and gore posted to Facebook? [updated 21 Nov 2011]

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 | Gene Teo | Comments Off on Porn and gore posted to Facebook? [updated 21 Nov 2011]

Update (21 Nov 2011, 12:54pm NZST): This may be caused by malicious Javascript that is being copied and pasted into browsers address bars. It is speculated that people are being tricked into doing so.

Many reports are surfacing that pornographic or disturbing images are appearing on Facebook, via news feeds. On Facebook, a news feed is a list of someone’s activity that is seen by their friends (or the entire internet, for posts that are public).

Often, these events are caused by inadvertently giving permission to a malicious Facebook Application to post on your behalf. Often people are tricked into doing this by clicking on a link that promises something else – like a free iPad.

The Sophos blog post about this problem suggests that the people whose news feeds have been hijacked don’t seem to be aware of what is being posted under their name. As far as I can tell, it’s impossible to hide a post from the person who posted it – you should always be able to see what you, or any apps you’ve authorized, are posting. Just click on your name at the top right of the Facebook page to see what is in your news feed.

To revoke permissions from any rogue Facebook applications, click the down arrow at the top right, then go to Account Settings > Apps

The price of your identity: USD$0.25

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 | Gene Teo | Comments Off on The price of your identity: USD$0.25

IT Security reporter Brian Kerbs notes that there is a website selling “identities” (that is, all the information required to pretend to be someone else) for around 25 US cents each.

That princely sum gets you:

first name, last name, middle name, email address, email password, physical address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security number, drivers license number, bank name, bank account number, bank routing number, the victim employer’s name, and the number of years that individual has been at his or her current job

Apparently 300-400 new identities are available for purchase each day.

Usually this sort of information is used to fraudulently obtain credit cards, loans, or overdrafts in the victims name, most of whom don’t find out until credit agencies contact them for repayment.

American identities have traditionally been targeted due to the ease of obtaining US Social Security Numbers (SSN), and because US financial institutions often treat the SSN as identifying information.

It is entirely possible that New Zealand has featured less prominently in the ID theft arena simply because of our smaller population and lower global prominence. Regardless, take basic steps to protect your personally identifying information. Don’t disclose birthdays, maiden names, IRD numbers, or bank account numbers (among other things) to people or organizations that don’t need that information.