Looking for a small gift for the technophile in your life? These are my recommendations for this holiday season:
- Portable Battery Charger: At least one person on your gift list spends their day on the move, whether at work or play, and probably spends the back third of that day babying their mobile device’s dwindling battery while desperately looking for a convenient AC outlet. Give them one of these chargers for their daily carry and they can work or play into the wee hours of the next day without being tethered to a wall socket. They are small, light enough to carry in a jacket pocket and will quickly charge just about any USB powered device and then some.
- Brightly colored, extra-long Lightning charging cable: Everyone and their mother’s brother has an iSomething at home, and you can bet their one power cord is one tug away from an electrical disaster. Why not get them something that is hard to miss and long enough to use comfortably while being plugged into an inconvenient power source? If they have an older model iPad or iPhone with the older connector, this will work for them. Sadly, the color choices aren’t nearly as festive. If they hail from the Android side of the fence, these swanky cables will work for micro-USB devices, and these will work for the ones that come with the new-fangled Type-C connectors (the new Nexus phones, for example).
- Portable 4-port Wall Charger: The best holidays are spent with friends and family, and you can bet a full house will have its share of dying mobile devices looking for a charger. These handy devices are compact with a folding plug for easy storage and portage, and can provide a quick, safe charge for up to 4 devices and with minimal wall-wart eruptions.
- Chromecast TV: Small enough and cheap enough to put one on every HDMI TV in the house, and capable of playing content from both Android and iOS devices. Small warning, they will need Wi-Fi, and cat videos are even more awesome on a big screen in your living room. If you are more into music, they make an audio-only version as well.
- I call this the “Gadget Hound Night Stand Sanity Saver“: Some of us keep our phones and tablets on the night stand by our bed. Every single one of us has at least one charging cable dangling on or about our work space. This handy gadget provides charging for up to 4 USB devices, two AC outlets and a convenient stand that works perfectly for phones or small tablets, and is right at home by the bed or on your desk. Why not have one for every night stand in the house, so your family and guests can charge up right where their devices work and sleep?
- Waterproof Bluetooth Earbuds: While perhaps a little steep for a stocking-stuffer, these might be the perfect gift for that special, active person in your life. I personally find music, audio books and podcasts to be great motivators while engaged in labor-intensive but otherwise mindless endeavors (exercise, yard work, house work, etc), but I hate getting tangled in the cord running to my smartphone. Bluetooth headphones allow you to cut the cord without sacrificing quality audio, and they can double as a headset when the inevitable call comes in right while you are in the middle of your activities.
Once again, Google is blazing a new technology path, not necessarily by innovating, but by having the size and influence to make change happen in an industry that seems at times to get stuck in a vicious circle. In this particular case, technology has been navel-gazing on the password issue for years despite having the solution in hand decades ago: multi-factor authentication. In its most simplistic and well known form, you have probably been using two-factor MFA for years without even realizing it: your ATM card and PIN. In MFA terms, this is “something you have” (your ATM card) and “something you know” (your PIN). Without both present, authentication doesn’t happen.
Using its thousands of employees as guinea pigs since early 2013, Google is testing a technology platform it plans on releasing in 2014 based on MFA. The “something you have” in this case is a small USB FOB that is paired with your user login and a simple 4-digit PIN (“things that you know”) that authenticates you on a computer or an NFC-capable mobile device. If this sounds familiar, it may be because this device I wrote about previously does essentially the same thing. Instead of having to remember a bunch of different passwords, whenever you needed to prove who you are on the web or in an app, you could plug in your Yubikey (or tap your Nymi!) and viola, “Identity Verified!”
What this means for you:
The Yubikey Neo isn’t available yet, and Google hasn’t given a firm date as to when it will be available other than “2014”. Also, the utility of the device is highly dependent on a wide variety of services adopting the authentication platform, so even if they made it available as early as next month, you may find it to be somewhat useless until your favorite providers implement the technology, if they do at all. If you want to show your support for the death of the password, you may want to jump on the Nymi bandwagon, as even if the product never gets widely adopted, you can still accessorize with a wearable conversation-piece!
Portable flash drives, also known as “thumb” drives, are about as common as their physiological namesake. They are readily available, useful for a variety of tasks, and now so cheap as render them nearly disposable. Partly because of their ubiquity and seemingly innocuous profile, they make extremely effective malware vectors and continue to be the bane of information security professionals everywhere:
- As part of a security test conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, USB drives were left in the parking lots of other government agencies and private contractors. After being spotted and picked up by employees, almost two-thirds of the orphaned drives were plugged into networked computers, even though the users had no clue as to the thumb drive’s origins, and if the thumb drive had a faux government logo on them, nearly 90% were accessed via networked computers.
- A survey of 300 IT professionals conducted at the 2013 RSA Security Conference found that almost 80% of respondents have plugged in thumb drives with questionable or unknown origins, despite probably knowing full well the dangers such an action could present.
- Infamous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden purportedly copied digital documents supporting his claims onto a thumb drive that he smuggled without much effort into and out of the National Security Agency.
What this means for you:
Because of their size and capability, thumb drives are not something that will be controlled through simple policy and half-hearted enforcement. Companies with tightly managed technology environments can enforce a ban on non-authorized USB devices through centrally controlled software policies, and some have gone so far as to glue shut open USB ports in an attempt to close this security gap. For smaller companies with less dire security requirements, this may not be a reasonable solution. Instead, you should continue to make sure that you have working anti-malware in place and set to scan any storage device inserted into your computer. On top of this, if you regularly use thumb drives to transport business data, those drives should be encrypted with a strong password to prevent security breaches due to loss or theft, and obviously, they should be backed up regularly for the same reason. And for goodness sakes, don’t pick up some random thumb drive lying on the ground and plug it into your computer. You really don’t know where that thing has been!
Image courtesy of bplanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net