Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Please don’t use these passwords. Sincerely, the Internet

You may have protected your personal data with strong passwords, but when hackers seize control of other computers, the resulting “botnets” can cause plenty of collateral damage. The depressing part is that one of the biggest holes is the easiest to fix: terrible passwords. SplashData has just released its annual list of the worst ones (gleaned from hacked file dumps), and things haven’t changed much over last year. The most common stolen password is still “123456,” which edged out perennial groaner “password.” Other top picks in the an alphanumeric hall of shame are “12345678,” “qwerty,” “monkey” and new this year, “batman.” According to security expert Mark Burnett, the top 25 (below) represent an eye-popping 2.2 percent of all passwords exposed.

The good news is that fewer people are using bad passwords than in 2013, perhaps thanks to some well-publicized data breaches at Sony, Target and elsewhere. SplashData reminds folks to create passwords with at least eight mixed characters — preferably more — not based on easy-to-brute-force dictionary words. As pointed out by Buffer Open, other methods include pass phrases, mnemonic devices and other memory tricks — including a gem from XKCD. You shouldn’t use the same password on more than one site, so if you have a lot, it’s a good idea to use one of the many password managers out there, like LastPass or SplashID. Those let you access your entire collection of passwords with just a single passphrase — one that had better be a lot stronger than “123456.”

Rank Password Change from 2013

1 123456
2 password
3 12345
4 12345678
5 qwerty
6 123456789
7 1234
8 baseball
9 dragon
10 football
11 1234567
12 monkey
13 letmein
14 abc123
15 111111
16 mustang
17 access
18 shadow
19 master
20 michael
21 superman
22 696969
23 123123
24 batman
25 trustno1


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How colleges are failing their students

Some colleges and universities haven’t caught on to the fact that if students don’t have the skills they need to land a job a degree isn’t worth much.

Most traditional four-year colleges are great at teaching students theoretical knowledge, critical thinking, history, literature and even computer science, but where these institutions fall short in a key area: teaching graduates the skills they need to land jobs after school and manage their careers.

“There’s a major disconnect between what colleges believe their students need to get a job and what those students actually need. The job market and the economy have changed so drastically in the last 20 or 30 years, but at many traditional colleges, it may as well be 1985 – or 1955,” says career management coach, consultant, resume expert, author and speaker Rick Gillis.

A Degree Is No Longer Enough

Based on his experience coaching and assisting clients in their job searches, Gillis finds major disconnect between what many career services departments promise and what they can actually deliver.

“The myth that simply having a degree is enough to land a job hasn’t been true for decades; it’s an oversell that is really harmful to graduates. What college career services should be are liaisons between the student body and the job market, helping students learn the practical skills and processes of going through a job hunt, networking, interviewing,” Gillis says.

There’s certainly a need for teaching those basics, but in today’s economy graduates need job search tactics, tricks, hacks and strategies to help them succeed in landing a role, Gillis says. “What happens all too often is that these departments fall short; they’ll show you how to make a cookie-cutter resume, shake hands properly and tell you to dress appropriately before patting you on the back and ushering you out the door,” says Gillis.

“My younger clients tell me that what they really could have used were courses on networking; on how to write a strategic resume that can beat applicant tracking systems; how to use keywords; social media do’s and don’ts; strategic internships,” Gillis says.

“Instead, they’ve paid their tuition — a cut of which went to the career services department — got their degree, and they still had to hire me after graduation because they didn’t have the skills they need,” says Gillis.

A Winning Partnership

To bring those practical job search and career management strategies to students, Missouri’s Webster University is forging a partnership with Right Management, the workforce consulting arm of ManpowerGroup, to offer career management and coaching services to students and alumni of the university’s Walker School of Business & Technology, says Mary Haskins, regional vice president and practice leader at Right Management.

“With the rising cost of degrees, parents and students should have the expectation that graduates will land a job after graduation. Schools are starting to understand that they have to shift their paradigms, and better prepare their students for these opportunities,” says Haskins.

The new Career Management and Coaching Program at Webster University, launching in July 2015, will offer a for-credit course on career management, one-on-one career coaching and lifetime access to Right Management’s career resources, alumni network and job bank.

The approach turns the traditional career services model on its head by tapping the expertise of career management professionals from Right Management and integrating their knowledge and experience into the curriculum, helping students perform an effective job search that will land them a role.

“So many career services departments are not equipped to support students the way they need to in today’s job market. They need to know how to create an effective resume, how to develop a ‘personal brand,’ how to prepare for an interview, how to negotiate salary if a job offer is made – these aren’t topics traditionally taught in college, but they are certainly necessary. As experts on career management, we’re uniquely equipped to do that for students,” says Haskins.
Colleges Should Give Graduate an Edge

Programs like the Webster University and Right Management partnership are a great example of how innovative institutions can help better prepare students for life after graduation. By acknowledging the need for these practical skills and leveraging outside experts to bring that information on campus, institutions can give their graduates a significant edge in a tight market.

“There are so many talented career management, coaching and job search resources out there that colleges and universities should be taking advantage of. They can focus on education and we can focus on our area of expertise — it’s a winning situation for everyone,” says Gillis.


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Wireless charging — McDonald’s is lovin’ it

Prior to the rollout, only nine McDonald’s offered wireless charging

McDonald’s is installing 600 wireless charging stations for enabled mobile devices in 50 restaurants in the U.K.

The announcement represents a major expansion of wireless charging technology that’s still in the early stages of deployment in public places.

The charging stations from Aircharge are based on the Qi (pronounced “chee”) wireless standard, which is backed by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC).

Of the 20 million consumer devices estimated to have shipped in 2013 with wireless charging capabilities, nearly all were built with the Qi specification, said market research firm IHS.

According to IHS, 80% of consumers want wireless charging in public places.

Prior to this latest announcement, only nine McDonalds restaurants in Hannover, Germany had installed Qi chargers in its tables.

“This is a major step for McDonalds, but in a way, they are catching up with other restaurants across the world who have already deployed Qi in their establishments, ” said John Perzow, vice president of market development for the WPC.

Other restaurants, such as Kitchen 67, based in Michigan, and the Kanga Café, Balzacs Coffee Bar, Sense Appeal and Thor — all in Toronto — have also installed Qi-standard wireless charging.

The expanded rollout comes after a successful initial market test between Aircharge and McDonald.

The largest rollout of wireless charging technology has been at Starbucks, where last year the coffee shop conglomerate announced a nationwide rollout.

Starbucks, which like McDonald’s spent months testing the technology in city locations, is deploying Duracell Powermat chargers.

Duracell ‘Powermat Spots’ are being placed in designated areas on tables and counters where customers can place their devices to charge wirelessly.

Duracell Powermat is a member of the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), one of the three consortiums rolling out products. The PMA last year also announced a deal to share technologies with the third consortium, the Alliance For Wireless Power (A4WP).

Earlier this week, the PMA and A4WP announced a merger that pits them squarely against the WPA.

The A4WP is backed by more than 140 companies, including Intel and Samsung Electronics, and the PMA has 70-members that include ATT on its board. The WPA consortium, however, is the largest; it has 217 members that include Philips, Qualcomm and Nokia.


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10 predictions for IT in 2015

If I am right, this will be a tough year for tech and everyone else.

With the year coming to a close, a lot of people are making their predictions for 2015. So naturally I had to join the party. A whole lot of issues seem to be coming to a head and will need to be addressed in the next year, and I think it will happen all at once. So heed the words of Patridamus.
forecast 2015

1) Wearables continue to tank
This is yet another case of the industry looking for new growth opportunities and a chance to expand by driving something the public doesn’t really want. People don’t want another device to carry or remember to wear, they are often inaccurate, and the newness wears off quickly and they get tossed in the drawer.

2) IoT proves a hard sell
Take what I said above and multiply it by 10. I don’t know anyone screaming for an Internet-connected refrigerator. Then again, Steve Jobs did famously say “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” But with concerns about privacy by government and corporate snooping, security from all the hacks and general public tech illiteracy (the Silicon Valley is so myopic about this), IoT will be a hard sell.

3) BYOD chickens come home to roost
Many firms established BYOD rules when the trend first began, and they never revisited them. Eventually, there will be a reckoning where companies have to set down rules concerning data security and loss prevention, not to mention who pays the bills. It’s only a matter of time before we get stories of employees giving up on BYOD and telling their boss to just provide a device.

4) Stock market crash and burn
The stock market has been going gangbusters, but it won’t last. Every seven years, the stock market melts down like Chernobyl. We all remember 2008, and the recent “Cromnibus” budget deal in Washington has set us up for a repeat. In 2001, it hit the skids due to the Dot Bomb crash and 9/11. In 1994, the bond market went into the toilet. And in 1987 we had Black Monday with the massive sell-off. And if you don’t believe me, maybe this guy’s words will carry weight.

5) AMD finally bottoms out, Qualcomm acquires it for IP protection
AMD is in a real tough spot. Its CEO change caused a collapse in confidence and stock, neither of which has bounced back. Nvidia is gaining market share and is now over 70%, according to Jon Peddie Research. There are hints of big things to come but nothing concrete, and the company has been through endless rounds of layoffs.

Nvidia wouldn’t be allowed to buy the company, unless it was torn in half and it got the x86 business (and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has repeatedly said he doesn’t want an x86 business), with the GPU side going to Intel. A more likely outcome is Qualcomm grabbing the company primarily for IP protection against Intel.

6) IT continues to dump its own data centers in favor of the cloud
The trend of shutting down an on-premises data center in favor of a cloud solution has been going on for some time, but it will take off in 2015 for one very good reason – Windows Server 2003 is reaching its end of life and there are 10 million 2003 server installations out there that need upgrading. Many companies may decide it’s easier to move to the cloud than buy new servers and go through a rip-and-replace routine.

7) Windows 10 is a hit, mostly
Windows 10 seems to have a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings around it, and it will likely revive PC sales, especially in the enterprise. The only thing that will mute Windows 10 at this point is declining interest in PCs. If the trend toward tablets as PC replacements continues, well, there’s nothing Microsoft can do about that except get the tablet experience right, which it seems to have done with Surface 3.

8) Big Data’s growth will be hampered by talent shortages
Big Data is an important new trend in tech, but it’s also a significant change in how computer science is done. It requires people with specialized, advanced degrees, and there are not a lot of them on the market. In fact, there have been repeated predictions of talent shortages of data scientists and other people to make Big Data work. The people who have that kind of experience, however, will make some serious money.

9) Tablets will crash and burn
Tablet sales are already slowing down and the trend likely won’t reverse in 2015. Some experiments have failed, like the Los Angeles Unified School District’s $1.3 billion tablet boondoggle. I expect as the batteries start to die on these things and they are not replaceable, that will also hurt. The main problem, though, is that tablets don’t have an advocate. Steve Jobs was the big champion of the tablet and no one has stepped forward to take up the mantle.

10) MMOs start dying off
My one consumer prediction. For some time now, every game company and a whole bunch of startups had massively multiplayer online games in the works. Then they all started failing. “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” “Final Fantasy XIV,” and “Elder Scrolls Online” all bombed recently, and when an “Elder Scrolls” game bombs, that’s a big warning. Many other MMOs have faded into nothing. And Blizzard killed its MMO codenamed “Titan” after seven years of R&D. The reality is these games demand too much time and people who play them frequently suffer from health problems for their addictions.\


 

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SDN in 2014: A year of non-stop action

Review of dozens of SDN moves may hint at what’s in store for 2015

The past year was a frantic one in the SDN industry as many players made strategic and tactical moves to either get out ahead of the curve on software-defined networking, or try to offset its momentum.

December
Juniper unveils a version of its Junos operating system for Open Compute Platform switches, commencing a disaggregation strategy that’s expected to be followed by at least a handful of other major data center switching players in an effort to appeal to white box customers.

November
Cisco declares “game over” for SDN competitors, and perhaps the movement itself, prompting reaction from two industry groups that the game has just begun; Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper also virtualize their routers for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) requirements; AT&T and other unveil ONOS, an open source SDN operating system viewed as an alternative to the OpenDaylight Project’s code.

October
Cisco joins the Open Compute Project, 16 months after criticizing it as a one-trick white box commodity pony that has “weaknesses” and is destined to “lose;” Internet2 demonstrates a nationwide virtualized multitenant network, formed from SDN and 100G, that operates as multiple discrete, private networks; increased competition, largely as a result of VMware’s $1.26 billion acquisition of network virtualization start-up Nicira, goads Cisco into selling most of its stake in the VCE joint venture to EMC; Dell increases its participation in OpenDaylight after initially having doubts about the organization’s motivations; Start-up SocketPlane emerges to establish DevOps-defined networking; Cisco invests $80 into a cloud venture with Chinese telecom vendor TCL.

September
Cisco boosts its Intercloud initiative, an effort to interconnect global cloud networks, with 30+ new partners, 250 more data centers, and products to facilitate workload mobility between different cloud providers; HP opens its SDN App Store; Brocade becomes perhaps the first vendor to unveil an OpenDaylight-based SDN controller; Cisco loses two key officials in its Application Centric Infrastructure and OpenStack efforts; Cisco acquires OpenStack cloud provider Metacloud; Infonetics Research says the SDN market could hit $18 billion by 2018; SDN’s contribution to the Internet of Things becomes clearer.

July
A Juniper Networks sponsored study finds 52.5% yay, 47.5% nay on implementing SDNs; Cisco ships its ACI controller, and announces pricing and packaging of its programmable networking lineup; The IEEE forms a 25G Ethernet study group after a number of data center switching vendors with considerable operations in SDN and cloud form a consortium to pursue the technology; Big Switch Networks unveils its Cloud Fabric controller; The Open Networking User Group establishes working groups to address what it sees as the biggest pain points in networking, and issues a white paper describing the current challenges and future SDN needs; After initially claiming it wasn’t SDN, Cisco now says ACI is the “most complete” SDN; Cisco says its acquisition of cloud orchestrator Tail-f will complement its own Intelligent Automation for Cloud product.

June
Facebook unveils its homegrown “Wedge” SDN data center switch; Cisco acquires cloud orchestrator Tail-f, which gives it entrée into AT&T’s SDN project; HP unveils an SDN switch with a midplane-free chassis, similar to Cisco’s Nexus 9500; Market researchers find that SDN “hesitation” is slowing spending on routers and switches; Avaya, citing its experience at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, describes a plan to ease implementation of SDN and other environments using its fabric technology.

May
HP clarifies its views on open source SDNs; A Goldman Sachs report concludes that Cisco’s ACI provides a 3X better total cost of ownership than VMware NSX; Cisco CEO Chambers dashes talk of Cisco acquiring cloud provider Rackspace; Cisco offers products to allow earlier generation Nexus switches to participate in a programmable ACI environment; SDN prompts more questions than answers at a Network World conference; Seven months after dismissing OpenDaylight and open source SDNs, HP raises its investment and participation in OpenDaylight; Cisco’s Noiro Networks open source project is revealed as a contributor to a policy blueprint approved for the OpenStack Neutron networking component.

April
CloudGenix debuts as the latest SDN start-up targeting enterprise WANs; Michael Dell shares his views on SDNs after his namesake company allies with SDN companies Big Switch Networks and Cumulus Networks; Juniper appears ready to accept OpenDaylight after initially dismissing it when it develops a plugin to link its own OpenContrail SDN controller to the open source code; Cisco and VMware take the SDN battle to the policy arena; Cisco unveils the OpFlex policy protocol, largely viewed as an alternative to OpenFlow and other southbound protocols, for ACI and SDNs.

March
New certifications are expected as SDN takes hold in the networking industry; three years after pledging not to enter cloud services and compete with its customers, Cisco enters cloud services through its $1 billion Intercloud initiative; Dell unveils a fabric switch and SDN controller designed to scale and automate OpenStack clouds; Cisco rolls out new chassis configurations for its Nexus 9000 switches, the hardware underlay of its ACI programmable networking response to SDN; OpenDaylight commissioned study concludes that everyone wants open source SDNs; Cumulus garners additional support for its bare metal NOS; SDN preparation may require 11 steps; Goldman Sachs says there’s nothing really new to SDNs; AT&T, NTT and others share SDN implementation experiences at Open Networking Summit 2014; Brocade becomes an early provider of OpenFlow 1.3; NEC looks to scale OpenFlow SDNs.

February
HP Networking head Bethany Mayer is tapped to lead the company’s new Network Functions Virtualization effort; Juniper expands its carrier SDN portfolio with controller and management products at Mobile World Congress; Research finds that enterprise adoption of SDNs lags that of service providers due to several factors, primarily the criticality of the network itself; Big Switch explains why it is optimistic after rebooting its SDN business; OpenDaylight announces that its “Hydrogen” SDN release is now available, after a delay; SDN start-up Pluribus Networks ships its server-switch product.

January
IBM is reported to be looking to sell its SDN business for $1 billion; JP Morgan downgrades Cisco stock based on challenges in emerging markets, and on the potential impact of SDNs; Cisco announces ACI Enterprise Module, a version of its ACI SDN controller for enterprise access and WAN programmability; ACG Research finds that sales of SDN products for live service provider deployments will reach $15.6 billion by 2018, while those that have live deployment potential will reach $29.5 billion; SDN startup Anuta Networks unveils a network services virtualization system for midsize and large enterprises; Reports surface that an SDN schism has developed at Juniper, pitting Junos and OpenDaylight programmers against CTO and Founder Pradeep Sindhu and prompting the exit of many engineers; AT&T determines that Cisco’s ACI is too complex and proprietary for its Domain 2.0 SDN project, according to an investment firm’s report.


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The future is now: The 10 biggest tech innovations of 2014

A hoverboard. A virtual reality headset. A PC with a drawing board and 3D imaging capabilities. Believe it or not, all these things are real today. See them for yourself right here.

It’s amazing and it’s real

Perhaps the most noticeable story in consumer hardware in 2014 was what didn’t ship. Intel’s 14nm Broadwell chips suffered massive delays. AMD never introduced a new line of graphics cards. Valve’s hotly anticipated Steam Machines failed to launch whatsoever. Blech.

But don’t let the no-shows fool you. Some staggering technological innovation hit the streets in 2014—tremendously powerful gear that seemed like futuristic fantasy but is sitting on store shelves today.

Speaking of the future, let’s kick this off by getting back to it.

Hendo Hover
Eat your heart out, Marty McFly. You’re looking at a real-life hoverboard. No, this isn’t the next chapter in that hoverboard prank from Funny or Die—this thing is legit and already fully functional in prototype.

From the Kickstarter description: “The magic behind the hoverboard lies in its four disc-shaped hover engines. These create a special magnetic field which literally pushes against itself, generating the lift which levitates our board off the ground.”

Whoa. The Hendo Hover isn’t expected to ship until 2015, but for now we have an oh-so-sweet video of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk riding a real-life hoverboard.

Samsung Gear VR
Lawnmower Man is finally real. After several fits and false starts in previous eras, affordable, truly compelling virtual reality has at long last materialized. Only it wasn’t Oculus Rift that pulled us into the future—it was Samsung.

Samsung’s $200 Gear VR headset uses the company’s Galaxy Note 4 phablet as its brains and display to create believable, wire-free virtual reality. The software inside is actually powered by Oculus, and the headset itself outshines the Rift in some ways. Sure, the need for a Note inherently limits Gear VR’s potential audience, but you can buy it today—while the launch of the consumer version of Oculus Rift is still months off.

SSDs get faster, stronger
Solid-state drives rock, period. Even the crappiest, oldest SSD can make your PC feel like greased lightning. Two innovations in 2014 cranked SSDs to yet-higher speeds.

Samsung’s 3D V-NAND technology—which stacks flash cells rather than laying them side-by-side—was used to create the effixient and expeditious 850 Pro series SSDs. Then Samsung applied V-NAND techniques to three-bit-per-cell “TLC” flash to create the 850 EVO, which brought insane SSD longevity to the masses.

If the 850 Pro’s SATA-saturating speeds aren’t enough, crazy-fast M.2 PCIe SSDs started hitting the shelves in 2014, delivering respective read-write speeds north of 700MB/s and 500MB/s, depending on the model. Daaaaaaaang.

The future of Wi-Fi
Speaking of blistering fast speeds, the next generation of Wi-Fi—802.11ac—became the current generation of Wi-Fi early in 2014, when the standard was officially ratified. Using a mixture of beamforming, packing more data into each spatial stream, and other improvements, 802.11ac delivers significantly more than double the transfer speed of previous-gen 802.11n routers in PCWorld’s real-world testing—and that’s using a 2×2 802.11ac adapter. You can nearly triple that speed using an 802.11ac bridge.

In fact, 802.11ac is so fast that groups are scrambling to create new Ethernet standards just so wired networks can keep up. Check out PCWorld’s networking section for a slew of 802.11ac router reviews.

Intel’s power play
Okay, so Intel didn’t ship Broadwell on time. Hardcore PC types probably didn’t even notice, since Chipzilla tossed enthusiasts two mighty enticing bones in the form of Haswell-E and its new Devil’s Canyon chips.

Haswell-E is Intel’s most powerful consumer CPU ever; the flagship 3.0GHz Core i7-5960X rocks eight cores (16 processor threads), 20MB of cache, and 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes. It’s Intel’s first-ever octa-core consumer chip, and it’ll set you back a cool grand. Then there’s Devil’s Canyon. The quad-core Core i7-4790K comes clocked at 4.0GHz, with a 4.4GHz turbo clock—the first Intel chip to ever crack the 4GHz barrier.

Sure, AMD chips have cracked 5GHz and had eight cores for a while now—but they’re just not as beefy as Intel’s top-end processors.

DDR4
Haswell-E dragged another cutting-edge tech into stores shelves along with it: DDR4, the next generation of RAM. Faster and far stingier with energy than DDR3, DDR4’s arrival has been long-awaited—though currently available DDR4 kits cost an arm and a leg and don’t really provide a jaw-dropping performance boost over their older brethren.

PCWorld’s DDR4 primer can explain what all the hub-bub is about. (Hint: It’s all about power.)

USB Type-C
OK, OK, one more connection technology and I’m done, I promise!

I’m drooling just thinking about USB Type C, and I’m not normally a “drool over networking” kind of guy. Why? Because Type-C is reversible—no more fumbling around to plug your USB cable in the right way! Because Type-C USB will deliver USB 3.1’s blazing 10Gbps speeds and up to a whopping 100 watts of power. Whoa. But that’s not all! Type-C will also be able to deliver DisplayPort audio/video signals. That’s some kind of wonderful.

USB Type-C was finalized and entered production this summer. We maaaay see compatible products squeeze onto shelves before the end of the year, but 2015 appears more likely.

5K displays
Did you finally splurge for 4K display this year, now that prices are coming down to semi-reasonable levels? Congratulations! Your fancy new display is already obsolete.

Apple released a Retina iMac with a “5K” display in October, while Dell released a standalone 5K monitor of its own in December. The 5120×2880-resolution screens pack the equivalent of 14.7 megapixels, which is almost twice as many as a 4K display and seven times the resolution of a typical 1080p monitor.

Each will set you back $2,500, but at least Apple tosses a fully functional computer in for that price.

Minority Report lite
Hardware makers also tinkered with fancy concepts that blurred traditional PCs, touchscreens, voice commands, and even 3D scanners into singular workstations that blend the physical with the digital.

Both HP’s Sprout and Dell’s Smart Desk rock regular monitors in their usual positions, but each also puts a touchscreen “mat” on the desk, where a keyboard would normally go. There, you can manipulate objects with your hands. HP’s Sprout goes a step further with its “Illuminator” atop the traditional monitor, which gazes down at your tactile work area and can make 3D scans of objects you place on the mat.

Will these hybrid devices ever take off? Who knows. But Dell and HP deserve props for taking PCs in an imaginative direction.

Smartwatches
Yeah, yeah, smartwatches technically existed before this year, but they truly seemed to come alive in 2014.

Android Wear, with its colorful displays and Google Now-powered smarts, sparked an unprecedented flood of smartwatches and only got better as the year went on. The long-rumored Apple Watch emerged from the shadows, complete with incredibly intriguing “Taptic” technology. Even stalwarts like Pebble upped their game after Apple and Android appeared in force.

The wearable revolution is on in full force now—but is this uprising coming from the people, or from electronics companies hungering for a new hit category now that smartphone and tablet sales are starting to taper? We’ll likely know more after the Apple Watch’s launch in early 2015.


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Will Microsoft sue the makers of Adblock Plus?

European publications claim Microsoft could go after the ad-blocking service, but without citing sources.

Microsoft, Google, and a group of French publishers are reportedly planning to sue developers of ad-blocking software because it has been a bit too effective and popular.

Adblock Plus, a simple add-on to Chrome and Firefox, has about 144 million active users, up 69% in a year, according to a September report from software publisher Adobe and PageFair, a company that helps publishers see which ads are being blocked. It’s detailed in a report (PDF) that discusses “How Adblock Plus is changing the Web.”

There are other ad blockers, and according to the Adobe/PageFair report, 54% of male survey respondents said they use some kind of ad blockers. There was no mention of female users.

Since many sites depend on ads for revenue, those missing out on the advertising dollars aren’t happy about this. The online version of French newspaper L’Equipe, one of the companies that could file a suit against Adblock Plus and other developers, will not let anyone access its site at all if they have Adblock Plus installed.

“This is no small matter; it affects all publishers. Our members have lost an estimated 20-40% of their advertising revenue,” Laure de Lataillade, CEO of GESTE, an association of web publishers in gaming, media, music and other domains, told AFP.

Microsoft’s involvement is not much of a surprise. It has some big online sites, like MSN and Bing, and it provides ads to other sites through Bing. The Adobe/PageFair report says Microsoft’s Internet Explorer only accounts for 4% of the ad blocking, with Chrome at 63% and Firefox at 26%. Much of that is due to the fact that IE doesn’t have an add-on market like Chrome and Firefox.

Microsoft declined to comment. Normally they offer up some kind of canned quote, but not this time. I’m reluctant to read too much into this, mostly because I’d hate to think it’s come to this conclusion. But if the CESTE CEO comments are indeed true, they have a legitimate gripe. I just have no idea what the law is on this subject.


 

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Your cell phone number: To give or not to give

More and more companies assume your phone is your second-factor authentication, raising potential for abuse

I was updating my company 401(k) information last week, and the website wanted me to provide my cellphone number. It didn’t say why, nor did it explain how it would use that information. A conference I signed up for also wanted my cellphone number, again with no explanation or context.

In both cases, I left the field blank, but it’s getting harder to do so these days, as more and more services require a cellphone number, ostensibly to text confirmations such as for second-factor authentication or call if suspicious activity is detected on your account. Fortunately, it is illegal for businesses to require customers to furnish a cellphone number to complete an order, notes Federal Trade Commission analyst Bikram Bandy. But some companies may still make the cell number a required field in their forms.

That may be good for security, but it raises a host of privacy and sanity issues that the industry at large has not figured out — and some are abusing.

One issue is that as people are abandoning landlines for cellphones, direct marketers are unable to reach people to hawk their services, legit and otherwise. Federal law prohibits soliciting any phone numbers — landline or cellular — via autodialers, even if that phone is not on the Do Not Call registry.

I asked the FTC about what can be done with your cellphone number if you provide it. According to analyst Bandy and spokesman Mitch Katz, despite tight restrictions on abusive telemarketing, loopholes remain to be exploited. My outreach to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whose rules are very similar to the FTC’s, resulted in some of the same loopholes.

At the FTC, Katz’s personal advice is never to give out your cellphone number “because it will end up in a database somewhere.” The FCC’s official advice: “Be careful about giving out your mobile phone number, email address, or any other personal information.”

Here’s what a company can and cannot do with your phone number, whether a landline or cellphone:

If you have done business with the company and provided your phone number, the company or its agents can call you for 180 days, even if your number is on the FTC’s Do Not Call registry. That’s the “business relationship” exemption. It cannot use an autodialer to place robocalls, however — only make human-dialed calls to you.

The Do Not Call registry applies to personal phones, not business units. But many of us use the same phone for both, one of the muddying consequences of BYOD and COPE, as well as of working from home. As a result, a phone used for business — no matter who owns it — is less protected against telemarketing than one used for personal calls only; the Do Not Call registry does not apply to business solicitations. Still, FTC rules restricts the types of telemarketing calls that can be made to “business” numbers: The calls must be to sell a good or service related to that specific business, so unrelated telemarketing is not allowed. A seed company can call a farmer at his office or home number if that number is on the Do Not Call registry, for example, but a vacation cruise company cannot, Bandy says.

It has been illegal since September 2009 to use autodialers to call any phone, whether cell or landline, unless you agree in advance to such calls in writing, which hardly anyone knowingly does. But we still get them from less-scrupulous marketers.

If the company has your cellphone number, per FTC rules, it can text you all it wants — the Do Not Call registry only applies to voice calls — as long as the texts are not misleading or otherwise fraudulent. Per FCC rules, texts may not be sent by an automated system unless you agree to that in writing in advance for business relationships and orally for informational purposes (such as with nonprofits). The texts must include an opt-out link and ID from the sender. As we all know, few comply with the FCC’s rules.

The federal rules don’t apply to calls or texts made from other countries, so those Indian “we’ll fix your PC” scam callers can call as much as they want.

In a nutshell: Once you’ve released that cell number, you are fair game for telemarketing. How much telemarketing you’re setting yourself up for depends on how strictly a company follows the FTC’s and FCC’s rules. Lots of boiler-room operations don’t, enforcement is low, and even when caught all a company has to do is set up shop under a new name.

Basically, given that you have a cellphone with you all the time, it would be idiocy to turn it into a telemarketing venue. But you may have no realistic choice. For example, Apple’s iCloud uses your cell number to send texts to authorize certain changes to your iTunes account, iCloud access, and Apple ID. Google will do the same if you let it, as will some banks.

The FTC’s Bandy says that if you provide your cell number, such companies could call on your cellphone for purposes other than verification and authorization. However, they would have to use human-dialed calls, which are costly, lessening the chances of spam calls.

Text spam is not prohibited by the FTC, but the FCC regulates texted commercial solicitations: As previously noted, automated texts are banned, and texts must include an opt-out method and a return address. That’s pretty much it — there’s no equivalent to the Do Not Call registry for texts. As you can see, the FCC’s text spam regulations are not as stringent as the FTC’s phone spam regulations.

Apple uses privacy protection as a competitor differentiator, and I trust it not to abuse me via texts or calls; Google, not so much, despite assurances from the company that it won’t use for other purposes or share my number. Google’s business is all about mining and selling personal data, so at some point I believe it will change those policies.

FTC rules restrict its ability to sell those numbers to others, and Do Not Call registry rules still apply. However, a real risk of text spam and a smaller risk of increased phone solicitations to your cellphone remain.

Likewise, I’m leery of my bank or other financial institution having my cellphone number, despite FTC and FCC rules. That industry is a master at spam, after all. The same goes for my Kaiser health plan; the constant robocalls to my home landline phone got so bad that I provided a fax number to stop the barrage of calls and voicemails that boiled down to “we have useful information for you; please call to see what it might be.” And Kaiser wants my cell number? Nuh-uh.

Another issue is cost — on many cellphone plans, texts cost 20 cents each. You could spend a fortune — or be forced to buy a text plan on top of the already-high cost of a data plan — if your cellphone number gets out. This issue is waning, though, as the cellular carriers have herded most people into their higher-priced “everything” plans. Most users no longer face an economic loss from telemarketing via cellular, only a loss of time and quiet.

The third issue is, as I mentioned previously, that many of us have one number — our cell — for both business and personal use. We don’t have two-line cellphones in the United States, and if there were they’d be confined to the same carrier and probably cost twice as much as a single-line plan.

That commingling means you can’t easily manage calls and texts from legitimate but off-hours sources. iOS and Android have do-not-disturb features, but they don’t work per user. In some cases, you can filter out notifications based on contacts groups, but it’s a lot of work to manage, as I discovered when I tried using Google Voice for that purpose, and it’s hardly exact.

As a journalist, I’m barraged by PR people across the globe, who don’t respect time zones or weekdays. My phone literally rings 24/7 as PR peons dial numbers from one of a half dozen databases they use to track the media. (That’s allowed as a business-to-business solicitation.)

I had to retire my old home number once I got on the PR telemarketing databases — I naively provided it to one PR person, who added it to the firm’s media database, which then propagated everywhere. Long ago, I also stopped answering my office landline due to the constant PR spam calling, so this issue is acute for me. But it’s acute for many professionals, especially anyone targeted by a vendor for a sales pitch. Ask any CIO.

What to do? Probably the best option is a federal law that disallows all marketing calls and texts from a company and all its affiliates and partners to cellphones when those numbers are provided for use as second-factor authentication or as a verification method. Furthermore, no marketing call or text should be allowed to hide its originating number (as many do), so abusers can be more easily identified.

There should be no exceptions — after all, they can always email their pitches, since most people now have phones that do email.

A federal law won’t stop abuse. Who doesn’t still get marketing calls for personal landlines or cellphones you’ve added to the federal Do Not Call registry, even a decade after its launch? But the law has reduced telespam hugely and has been effective.

Maybe Apple or Google will figure out smarter ways to filter incoming calls and texts to block abuse before it wakes you up at 2 a.m., interrupts your dinner, or raises your monthly bill. Or maybe the industry will support two-line phones in a way the carriers don’t abuse.

I’m not holding my breath for a technology solution: Look at how ineffective technology has been in dealing with email spam.

I suspect the only way for our cellphones to not reach that state is to keep off the telemarketing grid in the first place. When asked to provide my cellphone number, I say no 99 percent of the time. Security is important, but sanity is more crucial.


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The top infosec issues of 2014

Security experts spot the trends of the year almost past

There is still time for any list of the “top information security issues of 2014” to be rendered obsolete. The holiday shopping season is just getting into high gear, after all, and everybody knows it was from late November to mid-December last year when the catastrophic Target breach occurred.

But this list is about more than attacks and breaches – it is about broader infosec issues or trends that are likely to shape the future of the industry.

Several experts offered CSO some thoughts on their top picks, what can be learned from them and whether that knowledge can help organizations improve their security posture in the coming year.

Cyber threats trump terrorism
An Associated Press story this past week on the federal government’s $10-billion annual effort to secure its multiple agencies noted, almost in passing, that, “intelligence officials say cybersecurity now trumps terrorism as the No. 1 threat to the U.S.”

That makes sense to Sarah Isaacs, managing partner at Conventus. While cyber attacks have been expanding and evolving for decades, Isaacs said there has been a qualitative change: It is not just criminals trying to steal money – it is nation states using it for espionage and even military advantage.

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In May, “the Department of Justice indicted five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army on felony hacking charges for stealing industrial secrets,” she said. “We’ve never seen that before.”

Then in September, “NATO agreed that a cyber-attack could trigger a military event,” she said. “This is about more than protecting credit cards. This is escalating to new levels.”
“Everyone is oversharing everything. The threats are broad and potentially catastrophic.”
sarah isaacs

Sarah Isaacs, managing partner, Conventus
Author, security guru and Co3 Systems CTO Bruce Schneier, would likely agree. In a recent blog post, he wrote that increasingly sophisticated attacks, especially advanced persistent threats (APT) that are not about financial theft, are coming from, “a new sort of attacker, which requires a new threat model.”

There is evidence of that in a recent study by ISACA on APTs. CEO Rob Clyde said 92% of respondents, “feel APTs are a serious threat and have the ability to impact national security and economic stability.”

Clouds – private, public and hybrid – are not new. But the steady increase in the use of cloud storage services is posing larger risks to businesses.

Schneier, in his blog post, said the continuing migration to clouds means, “we’ve lost control of our computing environment. More of our data is held in the cloud by other companies …”

While experts say cloud service providers frequently provide better security, that may not be true of so-called “shadow” or “rogue” use of clouds by workers who believe that is an easier way to do their jobs than going through IT.

Internet of Everything (IoE) – a hacker frontier

The Internet of Things (IoT) is so last year. It is now the IoE. Smart, embedded devices in homes, cars, electronics, machines, and worn by individuals are now mainstream. They already number in the billions, and estimates of their growth range from 50 billion by 2020 to more than a trillion within the next decade.

And that means a growing tsunami of data flowing to the Internet, where it can be sold for marketing purposes or stolen for more malicious means.

Isaacs, who says she is among those who uses an exercise wearable, said she used “dummy data” to register it. “So nobody knows it’s my data,” she said. “It can’t be mapped directly to me.”

In general, however, she said, “everyone is oversharing everything. The threats are broad and potentially catastrophic. I’m very nervous about the smart cars I see.

There does seem to be an increasing awareness of the privacy implications of smart cars. The AP reported this week that 19 automakers that make most of the cars and trucks sold in the U.S. signed on to a set of principles, delivered to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that seek to reassure vehicle owners that the information gathered by those vehicles, “won’t be handed over to authorities without a court order, sold to insurance companies or used to bombard them with ads … without their permission.”

The vulnerabilities of “smart” devices to hacking have been demonstrated numerous times, prompting Phil Montgomery, senior vice president of Identiv to call for, “a more regimented standards-based security approach that relies less on outdates processes around username/password technology and more on stronger forms of authentication.”

No parties for third parties
This was the year that the risks of breaches through third-party contractors made it into mainstream consciousness. The Target breach, which exposed 70 million records, was just one of many that came through outside vendors.

Regulatory agencies are trying to maintain that awareness. Stephen Orfei, the new general manager of the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) noted in a recent interview that, “security is only as good as your weakest link – which means the security practices of your business partners should be as high a priority as the integrity of your own systems.”
“Employee negligence was at an all-time high in 2014.”
christine marciano

Christine Marciano, president, Cyber Data-Risk Managers
Christine Marciano, president of Cyber Data-Risk Managers, said that in addition to vetting vendors for rigorous security standards, companies should, “require their vendors to carry and purchase cyber/data breach insurance, to indemnify them for any costs associated with a data breach caused by the vendor’s negligence.”

The porous, sometimes malicious, human OS
While third parties may be a weak link in the security chain, that is less likely due to technology and more due to the human factor.

It was former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden who brought the risks of malicious insiders to international attention in 2013, but the danger to enterprises can be just as great from loyal insiders who are simply “clueless or careless,” and fall for social engineering scams.

Joseph Loomis, founder and CEO of CyberSponse, said he is, “sure there are major companies out there with little controls over their employees and their access rights. Who is watching who and what they’re doing?”

It is also about employees controlling themselves when presented with ever-more persuasive social engineering attacks.

The federal government reported earlier this year that 63 percent of the breaches of its systems in 2013 were due to human error.

According to Marciano, “employee negligence was at an all-time high in 2014,” with the problems ranging from, “failure to perform routine security procedures to lack of security awareness, routine mistakes and misconduct.”

Eldon Sprickerhoff, cofounder and chief security strategist at eSentire, noted that, “phishing emails are getting better and better. I’ve seen some that were so well targeted, so well done that I could not tell the difference.”

And it is not just the average worker who is a problem. Identity Finder CEO Todd Feinman said the problem goes all the way to the top. “Many executives don’t know where their sensitive data is so they don’t know how to protect it,” he said.

Ubiquitous BYOD
While BYOD is now mainstream in the workplace, Isaacs calls the increased focus on mobile computing, “very scary, and it’s going to get even worse.”

BYOD is now bringing, “extremely unreliable business applications inside the walls of corporations,” she said. “There are a lot of software vulnerabilities. Every app that is free or 99 cents, probably doesn’t have great level of security. And people don’t install patches either.”

According to Clyde, “there are now many times more mobile devices than PCs in the world. In fact, in many regions of the world, mobile devices are the only way most users connect to the Internet,” yet security remains a relative afterthought.

ISACA found that, “fewer than half (45%) have changed an online password or PIN code.

And now, connected wearable devices (BYOW) are becoming common in the workplace, yet, “a majority of professionals say their BYOD policy does not address wearable tech, and some do not even have a BYOD policy,” Clyde said.

The age of Incident Response (IR)
All of the above issues have led to an increased focus on IR. According to Schneier, this is not just the year but the decade of IR, following a decade of protection products and another of detection products.

In his blog post, he cited three trends: More data held in the cloud and more networks outsourced; more APTs by nation states and; a continuing lack of investment in protection and detection, leaving the bulk of the burden on response.

But IR has been more on everybody’s lips in 2014 than even a couple of years ago. The mantra of security experts is that it is not a matter of if, but when, an organization will be breached, and that an effective IR plan (combined with detection) can make attacks more of a nuisance than a disaster.

Getting IR right is crucial, but Tom Bain, vice president of CounterTack, calls it, “the hardest job in security. You can have all the technology in place to detect, prevent and analyze, but if your workflow is broken, or the team is so inundated with incident investigation, you are still vulnerable,” he said.

More regulation, please
An industry that generally decries government regulation – retail – is now singing the opposite tune when it comes to cyber security.

A Nov. 6 letter signed by 44 state and national organizations representing retailers, addressed to the leaders of both houses of Congress, called for, “a single federal law applying to all breached entities (to) ensure clear, concise and consistent notices to all affected consumers regardless of where they live or where the breach occurs.”

Sprickerhoff said such a law would be, “a good first step. There are 38 states with different definitions of what is a breach, so things are getting a bit out of hand,” he said. “If you had unifying description of what needs to be done, that’s not a bad thing.”

Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist, FireEye
“I worry that ‘compliance with frameworks’ attracts a lot of attention,” said Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at FireEye. “I would prefer that organizations focus on results or outputs, like what was the time from detection to containment?

“Until organizations track those metrics, based on results, they will not really know if their security posture is improving,” he said.

What to do?
There are, of course, no magic bullets in security. Isaacs said, noting that it’s almost impossible to say what is the biggest threat. “I heard a speech where it was described as, “death by a thousand cuts,” she said.

But experts do have suggestions. Sprickerhoff said more training is crucial, not just the security awareness of employees, but the next generation of IT security experts.

“I don’t think it’s ever been harder to find good people in IT security,” he said. “There’s not much in course work at the college level.”

Eyal Firstenberg, vice president research, LightCyber, said improving security is going to take a combination of technology and training.

“There is a need for fast and accurate alerts and notifications, which ultimately determine the outcome of these cyber engagements,” he said, but added that, “organizations need more professional diagnosticians on staff who are trained to know what threats are real and need to be addressed, and which ones aren’t.”

Ashley Hernandez, an instructor for Guidance Software, calls for more communication among organizations. “Security professionals need to have a way to share intelligence about patterns or attack types to others in their industry or trusted security groups,” she said.

Clyde notes that ISACA, “has a number of programs, from risk governance frameworks like COBIT 5 to the Cybersecurity Nexus (CSX), to ensure cybersecurity professionals have the skills they need to defend enterprises from the plethora of threats.”

Finally, Loomis offers a short list:
Improve procurement processes. “It takes too long to buy new tools,” he said.
Start educating your staff on what the DHS and NIST Frameworks really are. Read the MITRE book on the 10 strategies to a world-class SOC.
Stop believing the marketing and get real-world feedback on tools. “Security has put a lot of money into marketing, but that doesn’t mean the solution is right for the organization,” he said.
Run simulations. “When was the last time a company ran a real cyber drill?” he asked.
Stop following paper policy, “Militarizing your team, running drills, making it second nature is what will help the response process, not following a check list,” he said.


 

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SDN tools increase WAN efficiency

SDNs can help automate and manage WAN operations
Configuring, maintaining and changing WAN infrastructure can be a nightmare given the distributed nature of the beast and all the remote touch points, but emerging Software Defined Networking (SDN) tools promise to make these operations more efficient.

Usually touted as a data center tool, SDN can be used to automate and manage WAN operations, says Zeus Kerravala, principal of ZK Research. WAN issues are hard to address because of the dispersed nature of the resources, he says. “There’s no perfect way of making changes to the WAN,” but “SDN brings automation and orchestration from a centralized location and allows you to react faster.”

“SDN brings automation and orchestration from a centralized location and allows you to react faster.”

Zeus Kerravala, principal of ZK Research
More than data center nets, the WAN is a bigger headache for customers, especially those that are IT constrained, Kerravala says. And major IT trends such as SaaS, private clouds, BYOD, mobility and voice/data convergence are adding extra WAN stress, according to analyst Lee Doyle of Doyle Research. WAN links now require improved security, lower latency, higher reliability and support for any device in any location to accommodate these trends.

“The WAN or branch is ripe for disruption” through SDN, Doyle says. SDN vendors are “trying to simplify the mess we have with branch operations.”

Indeed, for two years running the members of the Open Network User Group (ONUG) have identified SDN WANs as the No.1 use case, according to Nick Lippis of Lippis Enterprises, a founding member of ONUG.

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And a number of start-ups are intent on using SDN to make WANs more efficient, including the likes of Glue Networks, CloudGenix and Viptela. Here’s a look at their different approaches:

* Glue Networks is targeting Cisco’s installed base of WAN routers with its SDN WAN offering. Glue says its addressable market is the $12 billion worth of 16 million Cisco WAN routers installed globally, which the company expects to reach 23 million in 2017.

Glue’s Gluware orchestration software runs in the cloud and provides a service for turning up remote sites and teleworkers worldwide. It is designed to lower the cost of private WAN networking by automating those operations and handling ongoing maintenance, monitoring, life-cycle management and feature extension.

The software automates the provisioning of voice, video, wireless, LAN networking, IP addressing, PKI security, firewalls, VLANs and ACLs, and allows users to configure a meshed, spoke-to-spoke, low latency infrastructure that is QoS-enabled, the company says.

Glue’s products are essentially a software-defined dynamic multipoint VPN offered as a monthly software-as-a-service subscription. It includes a central policy-based controller, applications with “CCIE intelligence,” and an API to configure the OS using the applications.

Cisco includes Glue products on its price list and will compensate 14,000 sales people for selling them. Cisco also recently invested in SDN WAN company LiveAction, a maker of network traffic visibility and centralized application control software.

* CloudGenix is offering a software-defined enterprise WAN (SDEwan) designed for hybrid clouds and a mobile workforce. SDEwan is designed to virtualize enterprise networks and securely enable access to cloud and data center applications, while reducing remote office infrastructure requirements.

CloudGenix officials said the market for their products is $5 billion in remote branch office WAN infrastructure and operations.

The CloudGenix platform is based on a business policy framework with cloud-based control, designed to automate the rollout of cloud-based applications to remote offices while maintaining regulatory and business practice compliance. SDEwan is intended to enable scale of enterprise WANs based on business intent rather than technology constraints, connecting users to applications rather than connecting locations only.

SDEwan virtualizes networks and assigns application-specific business and IT policies. As applications are delivered from public, private and hybrid clouds, SDEwan allows IT to enforce security, performance and compliance policies in a location-independent manner.

The CloudGenix product virtualizes a hybrid infrastructure of MPLS, best effort Internet and 4G/LTE networks. It also centralizes network functions such as firewalling, threat detection and data leakage prevention, while distributing enforcement of those security policies out to remote sites.

This is intended to reduce the amount of equipment and administration necessary at the branch office, ease management and optimize WAN utilization.

* Viptela notes the need for SDN in the WAN is to help reduce complexity associated with stitching together multiple transport networks, patching security vulnerabilities, and segmenting the network for lines of business and business partners. SDNs and virtual network overlays can also improve WAN performance for cloud and Internet applications, enable use of optimal technology for capacity and scale requirements, and help translate business logic into network and security policies.

Viptela’s products for making WAN operations more efficient are vEdge Routers, vSmart SDN Controller and the vManage network management system for building Secure Extensible Network (SEN). The routers sit at the perimeter of a remote, branch, campus or data center site and provide secure data connectivity over any transport, the company says.

The SDN controller centrally manages routing, policy, security, segmentation, and authentication of new devices that join the overlay network. The vManage system enables centralized configuration and management of the Viptela SEN environment with a dashboard displaying the real-time health of the network.

Kerravala says Viptela is focusing on the implications of today’s WAN architectures, where traffic patterns are becoming less predictable with the advent of mobile and cloud. Traffic is no longer following a well-defined pattern of backhaul to the data center from the branch, he notes.


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