How to Fake an Email From Almost Anyone in Under 5 Minutes

"Fraud" photo by Michele HubacekIn my day job as the communications guy for ValiMail, I spend a lot of time explaining how easy it is to create fraudulent emails using an email address that doesn’t belong to you.

A faked “from” address, in fact, how the majority of email attacks happen. And email attacks (aka phishing) are how the majority (actually the vast majority) of cyberattacks begin. So the ease of faking emails from people is a major vulnerability.

But, you ask, why would I bother faking an email from “company.com” when I could just register a fake lookalike domain (like c0mpany.com) and use that? Or create a Gmail account (randomaddress1347356@gmail.com) and give it a friendly name that looks like the CEO of a company?

Well, actually, it’s significantly easier to forge the address of a real person at a real company than it is to register a fake domain, or even to create a throwaway Gmail account.

Here’s how easy it is.

Website mailer

Find a website like deadfake, which describes itself as “a site that lets you send free fake emails to anyone you like.” Or anonymailer.net. Or spoofbox.com. There are dozens. Many of them are free, some cost a little money to send mail. Then:

  1. Enter your recipient’s email address in the To: field.
  2. Put whatever email address you want in the From: field.
  3. Craft your message and press the Send Now! Button.

Here’s a message I sent to myself using President Trump’s address. Note that Gmail is a suspicious of the source — that’s why it put a little red question mark next to the address.

Unix command line

If you have a computer that’s set up with mail services — or you can telnet or SSH to a computer that has mail services — you can forge a from address with one line. Just type this:

mail -aFrom:whatever@anydomain.com

That creates a message that says “whatever@anydomain.com” in the From field. Type in a subject line and the rest of your message, press Ctrl-D when you’re done, and off the message goes.

This doesn’t work in every version of Unix, and whether it works at all depends on how your system is set up (whether it’s connected to Sendmail, etc.). Still, this is the basic idea and it works in many systems.

PHP

Because I’m not very sophisticated about programming I use PHP when I need to code stuff for my personal websites. It’s fast, easy, and used by about 90% of the people (like me) who don’t know any more about programming than they were able to pick up through Google searches and by stealing snippets of code published on various public forums. (Which is also why PHP is often accused of being insecure.) Hey, I built a whole website content management system in PHP. If I can figure it out, how hard can it be?

Without getting into all the pros and cons of PHP, I will say that it is perfect for email purposes. You can forge emails with five lines of very simple PHP code:

<?php
$to      = 'nobody@example.com';
$subject = 'the subject';
$message = 'hello';
$headers = 'From: webmaster@example.com' . "\r\n";
mail($to, $subject, $message, $headers);
?>

Note: These are actual lines of code used as an example in the online manual for PHP’s mail() function. I took out a couple of lines you don’t actually need.

Again: configurations vary; maybe this won’t work on every version of PHP on every server.

Email Is a Very Trusting Place

The email world, until quite recently, was an entirely trusting place. Most of it still is. No matter who I am, if I use the Unix mail command or PHP mail(), the email goes off into the internet and the internet obligingly delivers it to whomever, with the exact headers that I specified. Nobody checks to see if I own the address I used in the from field. Nobody cares.

Well, almost nobody: As I noted above, Gmail and some other mail clients are starting to flag mail that looks suspicious, like my anonymailer message. Still, that’s dependent on the client you use and/or the receiving mail server.

Granted, these spoofing tools are pretty simplistic. If I want to do some fancier formatting and make my messages look even more realistic, it takes a little more work. But the basic forgery is just that simple.

The only thing truly stopping fake From addresses is email authentication using a standard called DMARC. But that only works if the domain you’re trying to fake has published a DMARC record and set it to an enforcement policy. Then, and only then, will almost all email servers that receive messages (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.) block the faked emails.

Fortunately for fraudsters, most of the Internet’s domains haven’t done this yet. For example, only about 4% of .gov domains have protected themselves.

As for other  96%? Fraudsters can forge emails from those domains all day long with no repercussions.

Domains like justice.gov. House.gov. Senate.gov. Whitehouse.gov.

And also domains like democrats.org, dnc.org, gop.com, rnc.org. And DonaldJTrump.com.

All of them can be easily faked by email scammers with access to a Unix command line or some rudimentary PHP skills. And, as we are learning, scammers have been taking advantage of that vulnerability. For instance, according to one source, one in four email messages from .gov domains are fraudulent.

And that’s why I am trying to get the message out: It’s way too easy to fake emails from most sources. We need to start authenticating our email, today.

How to Fake an Email From Almost Anyone in Under 5 Minutes

Talk loudly and carry a big schtick

No matter how you slice it, the media is in trouble.

Fake news. Guest “experts” who don’t tell the truth. Clickbait headlines. A President who calls the media the “enemy of the American people.” No wonder public trust in the media is at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, news organizations are continuing to lay people off, even after decades of cuts. Ad revenues continue to drop, and few publications are able to make up the difference through subscription revenues.

Reporters are required to cover larger beats, produce more stories, and generate more pageviews than ever before. And everyone hates them.

It’s a stressful job, as I can tell you: I worked in daily online news from 2007 to 2015, and each year the demands on me and my team ratcheted up while the overall media business looked worse and worse.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 54,400 working journalists in the U.S., and the total is declining. If you look at just full-time daily journalists, the count is down to just 33,000, about half of what it was in 2000.

Meanwhile, BLS counts 306,500 public relations specialists and PR managers. That means the people who are paid to get corporate messages across outnumber daily news journalists by nearly 10 to 1.

That’s not even a fair fight.

This imbalance explains why reporters’ inboxes are overflowing with email pitches, and it also explains why it’s so hard to get a reporter to reply to a pitch, even to say “No thanks.”

Understanding that, how should companies and the PR pros who represent them respond? As I see it, there are two main options.


Note: I’ll be discussing this topic onstage at the PR Summit in Austin, Texas on March 8, together with PR entrepreneurs Josh Jones-Dilworth and Conrad Egusa. I’d love to see you there. And if you want discount codes on tickets, let me know!


Option One: Be Like Donald

Ignore the press. Forge your own, direct connections with your target audiences. Create a strong social media presence on Facebook (which will cost you, because Facebook doesn’t promote brands without getting paid) and on Twitter (where anything goes and you can easily reach a targeted, polarized audience at low cost). Your independence from the dying media is directly proportional to the size of the audience you have built. Accordingly, focus on building that audience.

Own your own media. Build a rich website full of interesting things to watch and read, because you don’t want to be totally dependent on Facebook, and you need a way to deliver your message to all comers. Or create a YouTube channel, or a Snapchat channel.

You will need an authentic voice and you’ll need to have something interesting to say on a regular basis: weekly or daily. If you’ve got an outrageous personality, so much the better. People on social media love to be entertained.

If your brand is not outrageous, all hope is not lost. You can still carve out a niche by being dependable, interesting, informative, or useful. Decide what your advantage is and deliver that constantly.

Focus on the metrics. Unless the polls go against you–then forget the metrics and say something that will get people talking.

This isn’t rocket science: It’s storytelling and showmanship. Talk loudly and carry a big schtick.

Option Two: Be More Useful

Double down on the idea that PR and press have a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship. Too often communications pros give lip service to this idea but don’t actually deliver. Instead, take the role as a facilitator seriously, and figure out how you can help the journalists you talk to, not just your clients.

Prioritize quality engagements and understand how your client fits into bigger-picture stories, rather than just touting the latest big fundraise or the newest product features.

Become a bridge to the business community and be more useful to individual journalists by bringing them context and information they actually want.

Help promote stories that journalists write. You’ve got the ability to help amplify stories. Use it. More page views and more RTs are always welcome.

Develop more thoughtful op-eds and bylines, because most publications are starved for informed perspectives that aren’t horribly written and self promotional. Your goal should be to get your executives recognized as smart, interesting people worth paying attention to, not to promote their brands. This isn’t direct response marketing, it’s indirect response PR.

Support institutions that defend freedom of the press, like the ACLU and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Subscribe to a newspaper. Or three. Seriously, spend money to support quality journalism.

And if you’re wealthy enough, buy the whole paper. Just don’t expect to make a lot of money out of it–owning a publication is more like philanthropy than it is like capitalism.

Remember, if the press goes away, PR people don’t have a job any more either. It’s time for public relations to step up and take responsibility for helping support the fourth estate.

Note: This post first appeared as an op-ed on PRWeek, with the headline “What responsibility does PR have to the dying media?

Top photo: Old news, by David Bleasdale/Flickr

Talk loudly and carry a big schtick

Money 20/20 recap: Jack Dorsey, blockchain, and the future of financial services

Also published on VentureBeat and LinkedIn

In the financial services industry, blockchain looms as a large but distant and somewhat mysterious presence. A few forward-thinking bankers take it seriously and are trying to figure out how to turn it to their own advantage. Everyone else has heard about it, knows little about it, and is taking a wait-and-see approach.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on: They don’t want to make the same mistake with blockchain that they did a decade ago with PayPal, which was ignore it completely, wait for it to go away, and then get surprised when it grows up and becomes a threat.

Instead of a single company, blockchain is a whole category of technologies – a movement embraced by thousands of people and hundreds of companies. The threat is actually much larger than that posed by PayPal (which, after all, is just another kind of bank now). It’s just that few in the financial services industry quite know what to do about it yet.

That’s the message I took from Money 20/20, a conference focused on financial technology taking place this week in Las Vegas. It was my first time at the event, which has grown to enormous proportions in the four years since it was founded: 11,000 attendees and more than 400 exhibitors filled up the Venetian and Sands conference facilities. At $3,000 per ticket, roughly, that’s a lot of revenue—even before sponsorships. No wonder that the founders were able to sell the event to i2i a year agofor a reported $100 million price tag.

Most of the event was not focused on blockchain. The transition to EMT (chip cards) and mobile apps are far more top of mind for most bankers. But there were plenty of sessions featuring blockchain companies and discussions of the technology and its future.

Blockchain, the technological concept behind Bitcoin, is real. In many ways, its approach to storing data in a transactional database that is distributed across many machines is reminiscent of the cloud approach to computing, as Square CEO Jack Dorsey noted in his keynote at Money 20/20: Both are “distributed, redundant, failsafe, and ubiquitous.”

People talk about “the blockchain” but unless they’re referring to Bitcoin’s blockchain, there is not one single blockchain. Instead, each cryptocurrency or smart contracts platform uses its own blockchain. A blockchain, simply put, is a public, distributed ledger of transactions. Because it’s public, transactions can’t be repudiated and people can’t spend the same value more than once: The public ledger records it and anyone can check it. Because it’s distributed (copies are maintained all over the internet), there’s no single point of control or failure.

And it’s quite secure—in principle. It’s worth pointing out, as several speakers at Money 20/20 did, that Bitcoin’s own blockchain has never been compromised in the eight or so years it has existed. Applications or exchanges that use Bitcoin have been compromised (and millions of dollars have been lost in the process), but the underlying blockchain has remained online, and intact, continuously. That might sound like a technicality to outsiders but it is significant.

In fact, Bitcoin itself appears to have matured somewhat. It is still a fairly volatile currency, so buy and hold it at your own risk. But as a medium for exchange it seems to be working quite well. Sonny Singh of BitPay, which powers a huge proportion of Bitcoin payments around the world, told me that Bitcoin accounts for roughly 99 percent of the blockchain transactions market, despite the rise of alternative currencies. And many of BitPay’s customers don’t even touch Bitcoin at all: they just use BitPay as a payment processor, like Visa: People pay in Bitcoin, BitPay clears the transaction and deposits dollars into the client’s account. Singh says BitPay’s volume of merchant transactions has tripled in the last year, to one transaction every 15 seconds.

So what does the future hold?

Bitcoin- and blockchain-based stock exchanges. For regulatory reasons, you can’t technically call them “exchanges,” but I don’t know what other word you would use for a place where you can buy and sell equities, like you can on T0. Overstock.com, an early Bitcoin adopter and the creator of T0, announced this week that it would start trading some of its stock on the T0 platform. (I wrote about Overstock’s plansyesterday.) The advantage: Trades can settle in 10 minutes, instead of 3 days, like on traditional equities markets.

Is that a threat to traditional stock exchanges? Absolutely. “We’re taking a burn it down and start over approach,” said Judd Bagley of Overstock.com

Big banks using blockchain for international payments. Visa announced a new product, called Visa B2B Connect, at the show. It’s powered by Chain, a maker of blockchain technologies. Details are fuzzy on how it works, but it is a custom blockchain network, operated by Visa, for corporate clients to conduct B2B transactions across borders.

It’s not just Visa: At least 2/3 of major financial institutions are working on blockchain-based products for deployment sometime in the next three years.

The potential here, of course, is cost savings. Most international bank transfers cost several percentage points of the total transaction value; if you use Western Union, be prepared to pay up to 8%. PayPal itself is about 3.5%. A blockchain-based transaction system could be much, much cheaper. (BitPay, for instance, charges just 1% for any transaction anywhere in the world.)

Companies are working on tying together different blockchains. Bitcoin isn’t the only blockchain out there. Ethereum has sprouted up as a significant alternative, although most people are looking at it as a tool for enabling smart contracts, not just currency transactions. And many other cryptocurrencies exist. How do you facilitate transfers of value between different blockchains? Right now you need to use an exchange, which is a clearinghouse using some intermediary currency or store of value. A better approach would be some kind of protocol that allows blockchains to talk directly to one another. Ripple has created one such protocol, the now-open-sourceInterledger Protocol. But others are certainly in the works. Whoever can decisively solve this ledger interconnection problem will have accomplished something comparable to the invention of TCP/IP–the foundation of the internet.

Ethereum is still a work in progress. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin is clearly a genius. He’s also very young and sort of awkward. But despite the scope of his ambitions he’s fairly modest about how far Ethereum has come so far. In an onstage chat with author Don Tapscott, Buterin was sanguine about the controversial patch he made to Ethereum in order to reverse the weakness that allowed someone to hijack $50M of a decentralized $160M investment fund called the DAO. Critics viewed that as an assault on the immutability of the blockchain, thus compromising the trustworthiness of the Ethereum system. But for Buterin, “immutability is not absolute,” and needs to serve a social purpose. At present, the need to evolve Ethereum is a greater good than the need to preserve its blockchain unchanged, he said. Ethereum will eventually mature, he said, but “until then it should be viewed as an evolving ecosystem, not a fixed work of art.”

Governance is a grey area. Buterin seems to be coming around to the idea that some kind of governance—by groups of people working together—is necessary in any system. You can’t just create the perfect protocol and assume that it will take care of everything from that point on. Politics is necessary and unavoidable, he acknowledged. Like others in the blockchain space, he is coming up against the real world: One in which regulators may eventually catch up to what’s going on and impose real restrictions.

What’s more, it’s important to note that anonymity is not one of the essential properties of blockchain transactions. In fact, the immutability of transactions in blockchains works against anonymity, as the operator of the Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, discovered to his regret a few years ago. The blockchain is a paper trail. That cuts in multiple directions, as Jamie Smith of The BitFury Group pointed out in one panel: “If you have an immutable record, authoritarian governments might find that very interesting, too.”

Still, while regulators around the world are generally far more enthusiastic about blockchain than they were about earlier cybercurrencies (like E-Gold), there will come a time when the world’s financial regulations start to impinge on the blockchain world. Operators of cross-border transaction platforms, for instance, will need to provide the same assurances as banks do that they’re not being used for drug deals, money laundering, etc. At least, they will have to do this if they want to remain operating within the law.

The opportunity is huge. “Every 20 years, something really cool comes along, and this is it,” said BitFury’s Smith. In the next few years, everyone on the planet will have some kind of mobile device. And there will be some kind of ubiquitous, planet-wide internet access. Combine those two things, she said, and why wouldn’t the world gravitate towards fast, convenient, low-transaction-cost payments?

As for Bitcoin itself, who knows? One panelist, Eric Martindale of Blockstream, predicted that Bitcoin would increase 10x in value, to more than $6,000, in the next 12 months. (The current value of Bitcoin is about USD $653.) I don’t know if he was joking, trying to hype up the value of his own holdings, or if he really believe that. It seems unlikely to grow that much. Bitcoin itself could in fact wind up getting bypassed by more flexible, more scalable blockchains. But the underlying technology seems sound, according to many who have looked deeply into it, and there seems little doubt that there will be more many more blockchain-based companies in the future, with or without Bitcoin in their business plans.

The biggest obstacle is usability. Bitcoin and blockchain have a long way to go before they’re easy enough to understand and use for the majority of bankers, let alone consumers. But with lots of people working on tying them into existing financial systems, that’s the direction that they seem to be headed.

Photo: Bobby Lee of BTCC wears a hat that says “Make Bitcoin Great Again.”

Money 20/20 recap: Jack Dorsey, blockchain, and the future of financial services

Overstock.com could begin first Bitcoin-based stock trades

I’m a stringer for VentureBeat this week at the #Money2020 conference, looking for good stories about blockchain. Here’s one about how Overstock.com is about to offer stock (in itself) via T0, its Bitcoin-based equities trading platform. (Just don’t call it an exchange, even though it is.) Official news announcement to come tomorrow.

Overstock.com could begin first Bitcoin-based stock trades

 Overstock.com has had it with the inefficiency of today’s equity markets, and it’s not going to take it anymore.

The company announced a new blockchain-based platform for trading equities(stocks and bonds) called T0 last year. Today, at the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas, Overstock.com’s communications director, Judd Bagley, detailed T0’s advantages over traditional equities trading systems and made statements that lead to the conclusion that a company — likely Overstock.com itself — would soon begin selling its stock on the T0 platform.

While other financial technology innovators might tread lightly for fear of offending the Wall Street types they eat lunch with every day, Bagley said Overstock is not going to hold back.

“We’re from Utah. We don’t care. We’re really taking a ‘burn it down and start over’ approach,” Bagley said.

After the panel, Bagley clarified that for regulatory reasons, T0 cannot be called a “stock exchange.” It is, he said, a platform for trading “widgets,” and the first use case will be equities (stocks and bonds).

Bagley did not actually say that stock trading would begin on T0. All he said onstage was that T0 would be in operation some time this year, and pointed to an upcoming Tuesday morning announcement by Overstock.com.

However, circumstantially, it seems quite likely that “being in operation” means trading stock, and that it would likely start with the stock of Overstock.com itself, which started accepting Bitcoin as a payment method a couple of years ago and has received SEC approval to sell stock for Bitcoin via T0.

Overstock.com’s beef with current equities trading processes came about a few years ago, when the company was on the receiving end of some stock market manipulation. Investigating the problem, it found that the trouble came in part because of the complexity of settling trades. This is a complex process that involves many intermediaries and is aimed at ensuring that the transaction is legitimate. However, the complexity introduces vulnerabilities — and also means that trades aren’t fully settled for three days. (After the Trade is Made describes the process in detail, although Bagley said the book is unreadably dense.)

“It shouldn’t take three days in this day and age,” agreed panelist Emmanuel Aidoo, who heads up cryptocurrency and blockchain strategy at Credit Suisse.

By contrast, blockchain-based equities transactions can complete in 10 minutes.

Yolanda Goettsch, a VP and associate general counsel at NASDAQ, begged to differ. “Our markets are very liquid, very efficient,” she told the panel, pointing to the extreme speed of the exchange’s electronic trading system. However, she did seem to acknowledge the three-day span required for full settlement, when it’s necessary to validate that the parties to a transaction have the funds, have the rights to the stock, and are meeting regulatory requirements.

In other respects, all of the panelists agreed on one thing: Banks and exchanges can, and should, take blockchain technology very, very seriously.

“Everybody’s in active trials,” said Jacob Farber, general counsel for R3, referring to financial services companies testing blockchain technologies. “There’s an assumption now that it will be deployed. The question is how and when.”

R3 is a consortium of 75 financial institutions and is building an open-source platform for distributed ledgers, called Corda.

NASDAQ, for its part, is testing a blockchain-based proxy voting system in Estonia, a country noted for its openness to fintech and digital identity technologies.

The panel reflects a broader trend. There’s robust interest in blockchain in the financial services industry, according to a recent study by IBM, which found that15 percent of top global banks plan blockchain products in 2017. Sixty-five percent are planning blockchain products within three years, IBM’s study found. And 80 percent of exchanges are testing blockchain, Goettsch noted.

Updated 10/24/2016 to clarify details about T0 launch.

Overstock.com could begin first Bitcoin-based stock trades

AppDynamics CEO: Don’t call my $2B company a unicorn (podcast)

VB_WhatToThink_Innovation_1200w400

This week’s guest is David Wadhwani, the (relatively) new CEO of AppDynamics. My interview with him is in this week’s podcast.

David Wadhwani

Above: David Wadhwani

Image Credit: AppDynamics

Wadhwani joined AppDynamics as its CEO and president in late 2015, after a storied career at Adobe. AppDynamics, which provides application monitoring services for developers and enterprises, recently raised $150 million in a round that reportedly valued the company at close to $2 billion. Note: Wadhwani wouldn’t confirm the valuation and didn’t want to talk about it too much, which is not surprising, given how much downward pressure unicorn valuations have come under lately. Still, he gets some points for foresight and prudence: I recorded the conversation with him in December, well before this month’s valuation and stock market downdraft.

I talked with Wadhwani about the investment climate, application performance monitoring in general, DevOps, and about how he helped Adobe manage its transition from packaged software to cloud services.

Plus, Jordan Novet and I tell you what to think about:

  • the possible bursting of the “unicorn” bubble in 2016
  • Apple abandoning its iAd platform
  • Google’s AMP platform for faster mobile pages, and
  • Jordan Novet’s home-built Oculus Rift-compatible PC.

You can listen to this episode in the embedded player below:


Or, click here to get the MP3 of this episode of What to Think.

You can also listen to this episode of What to Think on SoundCloud.

And please subscribe to What to Think in iTunes, where you’ll get every episode delivered to the device of your choice as soon as it’s released!

AppDynamics CEO: Don’t call my $2B company a unicorn (podcast)

Dylan’s Desk: At CES, the ridiculous never goes out of style

Segway robot at CES 2016

A lot of us sort of expected CES 2016 to reveal a new, more practical side to the consumer electronics industry.

Guess again. Despite a looming global economic slowdown, the devaluation of tech-company unicorns, and the fact that everybody already has as many smartphones, tablets, and wrist gadgets as they need, CES continued to show us the same cavalcade of craziness and excess that it always has. Smartphone-connected kegel exercisers? A Wi-Fi-enabled Febreze scent dispenser? Modular TV screens? Yeah, baby.

Some of it was even kind of cool.

Facebook’s Oculus division finally announced the price and shipping date for its VR headset, the Oculus Rift. Despite being almost twice as expensive as expected, at $600, eager consumers snapped up all the available preorders almost instantly. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey went onto Reddit to humbly beg forgiveness for understating the price last year, when he led everyone to believe that it would be about $350. Even at $600, it’s still worth it, Luckey said: “I will use whatever credibility I have left to assure you that you are getting a pretty crazy deal.” The Oculus is what most observers regard as the most promising VR headset, and with Facebook’s reach and marketing muscle behind it, we’re sure to hear a lot more about this in the coming year.

Segway announced a combination hoverboard/personal robot, and somehow managed to not get laughed out of Las Vegas. It’s a smallish, self-balancing two-wheeled contraption that rolls around on its own, with a cute little face and optional arms, so it can take photos, carry your stuff, or maybe even act as a tiny personal teleconference robot. When you’re ready to head home, you literally squeeze the robot’s face between your legs and off you scoot.

And several old brands embraced decidedly retro products, in hopes of eking out a few more moments of relevance, perhaps. The most ambitious: Kodak (which went bankrupt a few years back) has re-emerged, teamed up with famed industrial designer Yves Behar, and is planning a revival of the Super 8 camera that launched a thousand film careers. The new Super 8 will shoot movies on film, just like the old one, but will also have some unspecified digital capabilities. We don’t know much, except that it will take film cartridges ($50-$70 each) and will also have a USB port and a slot for an SD card. You may chuckle, you may lust for it, but either way, one thing is certain: Kodak lined up a truly impressive array of Hollywood directors for its press release, with quotes from Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams, and a host of others.

This is all in striking contrast to the realities of the marketplace. As VentureBeat learned earlier this week in a conversation with Accenture, the consumer technology market is in a serious global slowdown. Consumers have reached a saturation point — first noticed a year or two ago when tablet sales started tapering off — and are less likely to buy the latest shiny new thing until it’s demonstrably useful and necessary. (Hello, Apple Watch.) Many gadget categories, like smartphones, have matured to the point where the differences between market leaders are marginal at best, based largely on design and brand.

And, as Accenture noted, consumers are worried about security and privacy. Electronics makers have forged blithely forward into a world where your every step is logged and stored in the cloud, and where even your wall sockets and light bulbs have Internet connections. Yet at the same time, over the past year we’ve seen one horrible security breach after another — 76 million customer records here, 40 million there, 240 million there. No wonder buyers are leery: They’re not idiots.

So in the coming year, will you buy an Oculus headset, a Segway robot, a weird digital/film camera from a failed brand, or a fitness tracker with a color screen? Probably not. You’ll hold out for something more useful — and if you’re smart, you’ll wait until you hear more about how these companies are going to protect the increasingly personal data they have on you. Maybe these things will be useful enough, or cheap enough, to buy in 2017.

In the meantime, enjoy the show.

 

 

originally published on VentureBeat

Dylan’s Desk: At CES, the ridiculous never goes out of style

How GitHub is building a platform and supporting open source (podcast)

Kakul Srivastava, VP of product management at GitHub.

In this week’s episode, we talk with Kakul Srivastava, the VP of product management for GitHub.

We caught up with her recently to talk about how GitHub has evolved into a platform (and what it means to be a platform), how the company figures out which new features and products to build, and the role of open source software in stimulating innovation.

Plus, we tell you what to think about:

You can listen to this episode in the embedded player below:


Or, click here to get the MP3 of this episode of What to Think.

You can also listen to this episode of What to Think on SoundCloud.

And please subscribe to What to Think in iTunes, where you’ll get every episode delivered to the device of your choice as soon as it’s released!

 

originally published on VentureBeat

How GitHub is building a platform and supporting open source (podcast)

How Castlight is using data to transform health care (podcast)

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1424305_798766343473447_743051478_nWe’re investigating the nature of these Innovation Engines in a series of What To Think podcasts, sponsored by Pivotal Tracker, and columns by VentureBeat editor at large Dylan Tweney. Tune in here to learn the secrets behind the tech world’s most successful platforms.


In this week’s episode, we talk with Jonathan Rende, the new chief research officer for Castlight Health.

Rende oversees his company’s new products and brings perspective from a long career in enterprise IT. In this podcast, VentureBeat reporter Mark Sullivan and I talk with him about how Castlight’s data-gathering and analytics tools are helping its clients (companies) offer their employees more insight into the health care options available to them. That, in turn, can help bring more transparency to the market for health care — a market that has been pretty much the opposite of transparent for decades.


From VentureBeat

Customers don’t just get irritated when you screw up cross-channel personalization. They jump ship. Find out how to save your bacon on this free research-based webinar with Insight’s Andrew Jones.

Plus, we tell you what to think about:

You can listen to this episode in the embedded player below:


Or, click here to get the MP3 of this episode of What to Think.

You can also listen to What to Think on SoundCloud.

And please subscribe to What to Think in iTunes, where you’ll get every episode delivered to the device of your choice as soon as it’s released!


The What to Think Innovation Engine podcast is brought to you by Pivotal Tracker, the Agile tool that’s been organizing software teams since 2006. Tracker’s simple drag-and-drop interface and structured workflow have allowed developers, product managers, and designers alike to build and manage better software, one story at a time. Is your team ready to get on track? Go to http://ift.tt/vJlT3G to sign up for your 30-day free trial and start delivering better software now.

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originally published on VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney http://ift.tt/1RcxcjZ

How Castlight is using data to transform health care (podcast)

Tech billionaires tackle politics the way Batman fights crime

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For more than a decade, people who follow Washington politics have wondered when the tech industry was going to start taking politics seriously.

This week, the tech industry made two big moves that show that tech — or at least its most successful billionaire founders — is beginning to understand how much political power it commands.

Characteristically, these tech billionaires are not taking the traditional approach of hiring lobbyists, making donations to Congressional campaigns, and funding Super PACs. They are putting vast sums of capital to work in order to work with governments, or if necessary around them, to solve the global problems they consider most pressing.

Consider first the announcement by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan that they will be donating 99 percent of their Facebook stock to help promote equality and increase human potential around the world. That amounts to about 45 billion dollars, making the newly formed Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as large as the Gates Foundation in eventual capitalization. (It also leaves a healthy $450 million in Facebook stock in the Zuckerberg-Chan’s family pockets, not to mention almost $2 billion in other assets that they already own, so don’t worry too much about young Max being cheated out of a rich inheritance.)

Notably, the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a limited liability corporation, not a nonprofit. Analysts have pointed out that this means it’s not subject to the usual rules of transparency that govern most nonprofits. It’s freer to spend (or not spend) its capital as it sees fit. It can back political candidates and make political contributions. And, for that matter, it’s free to turn a profit, I suppose. All of those differences mean that the CZI will have a good deal more flexibility in pursuing its aims than most philanthropies.

But the Zuckerberg philanthropy news is only the second big move by billionaires this week. At the beginning of the week, a consortium of billionaires, led by Bill Gates, pre-empted the Paris climate talks by announcing a $2 billion pledge to stimulate innovation in clean energy. Joining Gates were Virgin founder Richard Branson, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and HP CEO Meg Whitman. It was a joint announcement, in which 20 governments also pledged to increase their investments in clean energy. But I couldn’t help but notice that the initiative seemed to have been led by Gates, who, as with his philanthropic work on fighting malaria and educating the world’s children, seems eager to “route around” the kind of slow, bureaucratic processes that characterize government work.

Taken together, these two events point to a reinvention of not just philanthropy, but of what it means for billionaires to “give back.” Today’s billionaires are not content to wait until their seventies and then disburse their billions to charities like museums, libraries, and hospitals. They’re not patient with slow change. As with the businesses they built, they want to disrupt things and stimulate rapid, transformative change — and they’re deploying their philanthropic money accordingly.

In short, like Bruce Wayne, they’ve grown frustrated with the official ways of fixing problems of pressing public interest and have invented their own, maverick solutions.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I won’t venture to say, yet. I applaud Zuckerberg and Chan for making such a massive commitment so early in their lives. I welcome the help of Gates and his fellow billionaires in trying to address the most massive planetary change since the dawn of humanity.

There is, I suppose, the possibility that these are cynical power plays and attempts to grow the market for their products, an accusation that has been leveled, fairly I think, at Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. There is also the possibility that philanthropy and politics desperately need to be reinvented, and these guys are doing it.

The proof will be in the execution, and in what kind of difference these organizations actually make in the coming years.

Originally published on VentureBeat

Tech billionaires tackle politics the way Batman fights crime

The iPad Pro might point to the future, but that future’s not here yet

Apple's new iPad Pro is a gas giant, the company's photos suggest.


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The iPad Pro is one of the most hotly anticipated products to come out of Apple in quite awhile. The 12.9-inch work-oriented tablet went on sale this week, and the first crop of reviews came out yesterday.

Unfortunately for Apple fans, some of those reviews don’t look so hot. Reviewers who normally rave about Apple products, like John Gruber and Walt Mossberg, are damning it with faint praise, while pointing out its substantial flaws: the substandard keyboard, the interface inconsistencies, the awkwardness of such a large device, and the lack of apps designed for such a large screen.

Both of those reviews are a bit weird. Gruber, while admitting that the iPad Pro is not for him or for many other people, still somehow believes that it is the future of computing.


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Mossberg, while saying that the iPad Pro is not for him because it won’t substitute for a laptop, goes on to say that it can’t really be compared to its most obvious competition (and inspiration), the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, because the Microsoft product really is meant to serve as a laptop.

Wait, what?

It’s almost as if these guys expected Apple to work some kind of magic to keep them from having to make a decision: Do I want a tablet or a laptop?

The problem is, that decision is not going to go away that easily. Microsoft has been throwing its considerable R&D and design resources at the problem for the past three years, starting with its Surface and Surface Pro tablets and more recently with its Surface Book.

I’ve been using the Surface Pro 3 for the past four months and, while I’m impressed by many aspects of it, I am far from a Microsoft fan. I’m constantly running into shortcomings or little glitches of the type that Gruber describes. But where the iPad Pro seems like a tablet that’s being uncomfortably forced to do double-duty as a laptop computer, the Surface Pro feels like a full-blown computer that’s being forced to do double-duty as a tablet. Its screen is gorgeous, its stylus (which comes included in the base price, unlike the iPad Pro) works as intuitively and responsively as anything I’ve seen, and it runs the full range of highly capable Windows software, making it a real workhorse. But the Surface still drives me up the wall nearly every day, with buttons for maximizing or closing windows that are too small to hit with my finger, screen-splitting gestures that work unpredictably, settings that are complex and hidden, and built-in apps that seem half-baked, buggy, or ill-conceived.

Other reviewers differ with Gruber and Mossberg. Federico Vittici at Macstories gushes over the iPad Pro, saying that he’ll never use a Mac as his primary computer ever again. Wired‘s David Pierce loves the hardware, and even though he dings it a bit for not fulfilling everything we need our laptops and desktops to do, he still believes that the iPad Pro — and iOS — represent the future of computing.

Of course, Tim Cook loves it, saying he no longer needs to travel with a MacBook. But he would say that — he’s Apple’s chief executive, and he does nothing but tout his own company’s goods all day long.

And VentureBeat’s Mark Sullivan was duly impressed with the iPad Pro’s size when he first laid hands on it in September.

There’s little doubt that the iPad Pro is a triumph of engineering, with a fantastic, high-resolution screen (2,732 x 2,048 pixels), remarkably light weight (1.6 pounds), and incredible performance, especially given that it’s running an ARM processor, not the more traditional desktop and laptop-style Intel x86 CPU. It also boasts fantastic battery life: 10 to 12 hours’ worth of serious usage, in these reviewers’ tests, which puts my Microsoft Surface Pro 3, with its 4 hours of sustained usage, to shame.

But the iPad Pro is expensive. The model every reviewer tested, with 128GB of storage and cellular data connectivity, sells for $1,079, and with the $99 Pencil and $169 keyboard, you’re looking at  $1,347 to replicate the experience enjoyed by Gruber, Mossberg, and the others. Yes, you can get an iPad Pro for as little as $799, but that will have only 32GB of storage and will lack cellular, a keyboard, and a stylus.

Who’s really going to shell out $1,000 to $1,350 to purchase a big tablet with a halfway decent keyboard and a really nice stylus, even if it does have a great screen and awesome battery life? I imagine there will be quite a few customers here in tech-loving (and cash-rich) Silicon Valley. But it seems like a hard sell for anyone else.

In short, the iPad Pro might represent the future of computing. But Microsoft saw that future almost three years before Apple did. And to both companies’ chagrin, that future isn’t here yet — which means it is still up for grabs.

IPad Pro, Surface Pro, Surface Book: Pick your compromise.

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originally published on VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney http://ift.tt/1QkHX3n

The iPad Pro might point to the future, but that future’s not here yet