Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .
Creating an account online is easier than ever before thanks to multiple open-id providers like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. In most cases you don’t even have to provide a username and password, and even for the rare cases where you’re forced to type in all the details, there are automated tools like Lastpass and Keepass. However, things often get a lot more confusing and obscure when you want to do the reverse. Whether you just want to delete your data from the company’s servers because you no longer trust them or you want to break free from your past and start afresh, cleaning up your online identity is a lot harder than you might think.
Some services like Facebook have the account deletion link buried deep within their interface, while others like Skype don’t even offer an automated option. An annoyingly large number of services including Skype, Amazon, and Adobe force you to call or email them for deleting your account. Even worse, some web apps like Evernote don’t allow you to delete your account, and only offer a temporary deactivation after making you jump through several hoops. Manually figuring out how to delete dozens of accounts can be a painfully slow and laborious process. Thankfully, there are a couple of websites that can lend you a helping hand.
JustDeleteMe is a directory of Account Deletion/De-activation page of various web services. It categorizes all entries into four buckets (Easy, Medium, Hard, and Impossible) based on how easy it is to delete your account. Often, it also has a brief snippet or a note about the account you’re trying to delete. JustDeleteMe also provides a Chrome extension, which adds a color-coded dot to the omnibar whenever you visit a website that’s in the database. The dot indicates how easy it is to delete your account on the website, and clicking on it directly takes you to the account deletion page.
AccountKiller isn’t as pretty as JustDelete, and doesn’t have a browser extension. However, it does seem to have a bigger database. AccountKiller classifies websites into White, Grey, and Black categories depending upon the ease of account deletion or deactivation. It also provide a bookmarklet called SiteCheck. Clicking on this bookmarklet makes a bar appear at the top of your screen, which indicates which category the website that you’re currently surfing belongs to.
If you are looking to clean-up your online profile, then another web app that you might find handy is KnowEm. This website has over 500 services in its database, and when provided with a username, it instantly lets you know which services that username has been registered on.
Web browsers have come a long way over the past decade. They’ve morphed from being applications that displayed static content to being applications which enable other applications to run. Whether it is TweetDeck or Gmail or Aviary, the web apps of today are as powerful as many of its desktop counterparts. However, even as browsers have become more capable than ever before, they’ve also been trimmed down. In keeping with the trend of minimalism, web browsers have focused on becoming lighter and faster and cleaner than ever before. Even Opera, which once aimed to be the complete web productivity suite, changed tactics and killed of several features – IRC client, RSS client, Mail client, Torrent client Unite, and Widgets to name a few. Modern day browsers aim to include only what they believe is essential, and offer the rest through third-party extensions. However, if you want a browser, which does a little bit more out of the box, you’re not entirely out of options. Among the most promising new options is a little-known browser from Israel called Torch Browser.
Torch Browser is based on Chromium, and looks and feels like pretty much Google Chrome. Once you login with your Google account, it will sync all of your Chrome settings, including your extensions. At the time of writing, the latest version of Torch is based on Chromium 29, while the latest stable channel release is Chromium 34. This difference might leave the Torch Browser vulnerable to security and performance issues that Google might have already patched. So, this is definitely something you should weight before opting for Torch.
Unlike Opera, Torch doesn’t try to cater to the power users by adding niche features like IRC clients and web servers. Instead, all of the stuff that it adds are stuff that almost everyone will find useful. Chances are, you already have a dedicated, third-party app or extension for doing the same.
Torch provides out of the box sharing through a button that allows you to push content to Facebook and Twitter. There’s also another less-obvious, but way more useful way to share links, images, text, or and other content on the page. Just grab hold of the object you want to share, and drag left. It will display buckets where you can just drop the object. If you drag to the right, something similar happens. However, instead of getting options to share, you’ll be provided options to search for the selected content on Wikipedia, Google, Google Images, and YouTube.
The media grabber allows you to download embedded videos from YouTube, Dailymotion, and other websites. Torch also ships with an audio extractor, which can just extract the audio from a video.
The download manager in Torch seems to be exactly the same as that in Chrome, but it claims to speed up the download rate of your media files with a powerful download accelerator. I didn’t find any noticeable difference during my testing, but your mileage might vary.
Torch comes with a fully featured torrent downloader, that’s tightly integrated with the browser. Explaining torrents to your grandparents is never easy, but having it integrated with the browser does help things.
Torch even has built a Spotify-like online music streaming service called TorchMusic. It seems to be using videos available on YouTube to power its service. All the basic features including music discovery, tending section, music library, and playlists are available. And, it works everywhere in the world.
This tool basically allows you to apply user styles to Facebook. You can chose from several existing themes, or create your own yourself by changing colours, editing fonts, and adding a background image. The theme that you apply, will only be visible to you, and other people who visit your profile using Torch browser.
Hola for Torch
This is essentially the Hola Unblocker extension, which allows you to access region restricted websites like Hulu.
Torch Browser promises to respect your privacy, and has been certified as 100% safe by Softpedia. However, I did find it installing an extension called Torch Shopping without explicitly asking me. I’m not sure what it does, but I’d recommend removing it before using Torch Browser. There’s also a malware named Torch Toolbar, but Torch Browser seems to have no connection with it. The only other annoyance that I’ve discovered while using Torch is that the omnibar (the address bar), is not resizable. This means that most of the extensions I’ve are hidden behind a drop-down list.
On the whole, Torch is a pretty interesting package. It retains almost all of the benefits of Chrome, and cleverly packages a few neat goodies of its own. A power user will probably have dedicated utilities or third-party extensions that they prefer for a lot of the stuff that Torch offers. However, I’m sure there are plenty of folks who would appreciate having all the essentials integrated within the browser itself.
Taking printouts of webpages can be an insanely wasteful exercise. Even though you might be only interested in a snippet of text, you can end up being forced to print everything including pictures and advertisements. Thankfully, there are a few nifty tools which can clean-up the content before you send it to the printer. By using these tools not only will you be able to cut down your printing costs, but you’ll also be responsible for fewer dead trees.
This is my favourite tool since it allows me to manually select and retain the sections of the web page that I’m interested in. I can scroll through a page, delete elements I don’t want, and even tweak the appearance by changing color, width, and fonts. There’s also an AutoFormat option, but that can produce unexpected results. Thankfully, there’s also an Undo button to quickly revert any unwanted changes. Another handy option is the “Next Page” button, which leverages the PageZipper tool.
If you prefer something more automated, you can use either PrintFriendly or CleanPrint. I prefer PrintWhatYouLike because automated tools can often go wrong. However, for most web pages, these tools will work well enough. CleanPrint is available as a browser extension for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. PrintFriendly is available as a web service, as a bookmarklet, and as Chrome and Firefox extensions.
This tool is likely to be an overkill for most people; however, if printing websites and documents is something that you do on a daily basis, then priPrinter might be worth exploring. This utility installs itself as a Printer driver, and allows you to preview and edit absolutely anything you print on your system. priPrinter has a strikingly feature packed document editor that allows you to reformat your data and remove unnecessary elements. It also comes with an ink saving mode, and can further save costs by printing multiple pages on a single sheet of paper. And if you are still not satisfied, this tool has its own scripting language, with which you can create buttons with custom actions, automate repetitive tasks, make custom layout or even automatically change pages before print preview.
Earlier today, Mozilla officially released Firefox 29 for desktop as well as mobiles. Although the rapid release cycle has accustomed us to small incremental changes, this release contains several significant user-facing changes to make it interesting. Mozilla has made a determined effort to make Firefox more consistent, intuitive, and personal. This release is the culmination of more than two years of work on project Australis. Here are the most noticeable changes in Firefox 29 for desktop.
The pillars of Australis are: consistency, precision and refinement. Mozilla has attempted to evolve and polish the existing user interface, while eliminating idiosyncrasies, and unifying various aspects of design including borders, colours, and spacing. With this re-skinning, Firefox now looks even more like Chrome, but that’s not really a bad thing. The Firefox button has been nixed in favour of a menu button in the address bar. The tab bar has been redesigned so that the active tab is now more prominent, while the others recede into the background. However, unlike Chrome and Opera, Firefox has retained the separate ‘Search Bar’.
The new menu bar houses all the commonly used options, but looks a lot cleaner and is undoubtedly a lot easier to use. It’s also entirely customizable, but I’ll discuss that a little later.
New Bookmarks Manager
Once again, taking a leaf out of Chrome’s book, Firefox has simplified its bookmarks manager. Now you can open, delete, move and perform most of the stuff you want to do with your bookmarks without having to open the Bookmarks Library.
One of the many reasons, I used to love the old Opera was the flexibility of its user interface. While Opera ditched all of its strengths during the migration to the Chromium engine (Blink), Firefox is building on top of its solid foundation. Firefox always had a ‘Customize Toolbar’ option, but it was pretty limited. Firefox 29 replaces that with an extremely powerful and intuitive customization mode. Once in this mode you can easily add or remove buttons from the address bar as well as the menu. Buttons available include the ones that are bundled with Firefox, as well as the ones added by extensions.
Sync with Firefox Account
The Firefox Sync option has passed through many iterations. With Firefox 29, you get the ability to set up Firefox Sync by creating a Firefox account. All you need to create a Firefox account is to enter your email address and set a password. This is a lot simpler than the previous mechanism which forced you to use a random sequence of characters as your identification.
Of course, these five are the biggest and the most visible changes in Firefox 29. There are a bunch of other changes including a new Gamepad API and multiple developer oriented enhancements. Firefox 29 is undoubtedly a major step forward for the browser, which was once dubbed as the ‘Internet Explorer killer’. However, it might have to move faster than it has in the recent past if it hopes to catch up with Chrome – the current market leader.
Hard disk prices have plummeted over the years, and within a remarkably short span of time we’ve progressed from talking about storage space in gigabytes to terabytes. Recovering every little megabyte of disk space from the operating system is no longer as crucial as it might have been a few years back. Nevertheless, it still makes sense from a performance point of view to give your system a little spring cleaning. Of course, if you have shelled out the big bucks to get a Solid State Disk, disk space might still be a scarce resource for you. SSDs are now more affordable than ever before, but still expensive enough for storage space to be a constraint. Here are three free utilities to help you remove junk from your system.
There are plenty of junk cleaners, but CCleaner is probably the most popular and trusted one. I’m not going to dwell a lot on this tool, because chances are that you already know about it. Piriform CCleaner cleans up temp files, junk files, log files, memory dumps, and other unnecessary system files as well as temporary files left behind by third party apps. It supports over a dozen third party applications including Adobe Acrobat, WinRAR, Nero, Microsoft Office, and all popular browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Flock, Rockmelt, Maxthon, Avant, and more).
DiskMax is another disk clean-up tool. I reserve this for the times when I’m really short on space. It cleans up stuff that CCleaner leaves behind. They say that with more power comes responsibility, and that’s definitely applicable for DiskMax. The Detailed Scan deletes unused hibernation and page files, Microsoft Office installer cache, logs, .sav files, memory dumps, windows update backups, and more. If you want to reclaim even more space, it even offers a Deep Scan mode which cleans up files based on extension from all folders. However, I would advise against employing Deep Scan unless absolutely necessary. Even without Deep Scan I often end up reclaiming several gigabytes of storage space with DiskMax. You can find an earlier review here.
If the sheer number of installed apps overwhelm you, then this tool is for you. It identifies and highlights apps that you can and should remove from your system. It lists all installed apps along with an average user rating and the percent of users that have decided to remove it. This can be really handy in identifying crapware, malware, and even apps that are just not very good or necessary. There’s also a “What is it?” button which opens up a webpage with more detailed information about a program, including the features offered by it and the risks presented. Here’s a sample information page. ‘Should I Remove It’ also supports real time monitoring. Once enabled, it will quietly run in the background, and alert you as soon as you try to install an app with a low rating.
Game of Thrones is back on TV, and has wasted no time in delivering the shocking game changers that it’s famous for. Over the past three seasons, the show has managed to amass a massive and vocal fan base. The HBO original based on the fantasy books “A Song of Ice and Fire” invariably manages to trend every week soon after it airs. However, for those of us who haven’t read the books and don’t watch the show during its initial broadcast, this poses a big challenge. Short of completely avoiding Twitter and Facebook, it’s almost impossible to remain spoiler free among all the #redwedding and #purplewedding chatter. Thankfully, as always, there’s a better and an easier solution!
The first option is an Android and iOS app called Spoiler Shield. It is actually a Twitter and Facebook client, which automatically hides everything on your stream about the TV series that you don’t want to get spoiled about. Spoiler Shield also supports NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL, and other sports and live events. It ships with a list of shields, and all you need to do is enable the ones that you want.
Spoiler Shield is well designed, intuitive, and easy to use. However, quite obviously, it can’t replace dedicated Facebook and Twitter clients. It probably isn’t even meant to do so. You should probably only use it when you’re weary of getting spoiled. For example, the day of the Academy Awards, the day Netflix releases House of Cards, and of course the day Game of Throne airs. All the essential options including tweeting and retweeting for Twitter, and liking and replying for Facebook are included. Blocked posts are replaced with a shield, and in case you can’t hold your curiosity, you can double tap to reveal the hidden content.
Spoiler Shield promises that a Google Chrome extension is also in the works. However, there’s another similar solution called Silencer that desktop users can use in the meanwhile. Silencer is a Google Chrome extension, which promises to filter spoilers from your social media feed. Like Spoiler Shield, it also comes with pre-configured block lists. Here, they are called Mute Packs. Once again, both TV shows and live events (AFC and NFC matches) are supported. The number of filter packs in Silencer is fewer than Spoiler Shield, but you can manually add terms that you wish to block.
No automated filtering technology is going to be perfect. However, these two free utilities should make it easier to avoid accidentally spoiling yourself. Take them for a spin, and don’t forget to let us know how well they worked for you.
Earlier today, the FTC announced the terms of its settlement with the free torch app “Brightest Flashlight”, which had surreptitiously collected real-time location data of its users and sold to advertisers. Although Android doesn’t allow you to modify the permissions that an installed app has, Google does display the permissions that an app is requesting before you install the app. A privacy breach like the “Brightest Flashlight” incident can easily be avoided by paying attention to the permissions that an app requests. For example, there is no valid reason for a torch app to access your location. If you find that an app requests more permissions than justifiable, it might be best to simply avoid it and pick a less nosy alternative.
The trouble is that if you have been using Android for a while, you must have already installed dozens of apps. Manually reviewing their permissions is a cumbersome process that very few users will be willing to undertake. This is where a new app called TruePlex can help.
TruePlex is a new app which does one simply thing. Once installed, it cross-references the apps installed on your phone with its database, and generates a report with a rating (lower is better) for each identified app. The rating is based on the amount of access the app has to private data. A higher rating doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something is wrong, but it does indicate that you should take a closer look at the permissions the app is requesting. Tapping on any of the app icons in the report opens up a new page which lists all the permission an app has. While it makes sense that your SMS app will have access to your messages and contacts, be wary if a random game requests the same permission.
TruePlex looks and feels like something hacked together over a weekend. The app basically has a single screen, and all it does is prepare a report of the permissions that apps installed on your device have. Quite appropriately, TruePlex itself doesn’t request any special permission. This will perhaps instantly make it As soon as you hit the “Let’s Go” button, you are taken to your web browser, where your report is displayed. You also have the option of creating an account on the TruePlex website. This will allow you to compare you device score with other users.
To be fair, the app is very basic, the report is ugly, the website is buggy, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. The database is still small, and not all of your apps are rated. I’m sure that if it gains popularity, we’re going to see a lot more polished app in the coming weeks. I’d definitely want to see it automatically figuring out what permissions my installed apps have, and generating a report even if the app isn’t in the TruePlex database. Nevertheless, the app is already quite useful and worth a download. The app is essentially similar to BitDefender’s Clueful app. However, TruePlex is a lot more lightweight, and requires no permissions for itself. On the flip side, the report lacks the succinct one line summary that Clueful provides.
The interwebs is awash with reports and speculations about the Heartbleed. Post-Y2k it’s difficult to recall any occasion when a security vulnerability managed to gain such widespread attention. But, exactly what is Heartbleed? Here’s a quick summary of everything you need to know about Heartbleed.
What is Heartbleed?
Heartbleed is a critical vulnerability in the OpenSSL library. The official designation of this bug is CVE-2014-0160. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and is a standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This bit of technology essentially ensures that no one can peek into the data sent between you and the webserver. Every website with an URL that begins with https:// (often indicated by a padlock in your browser’s address bar) uses SSL to keep data, including the authentication information that you key in, private. OpenSSL is an extremely popular open source implementation of this protocol.
Heartbleed is a bug in the OpenSSL code, which can be theoretically be leveraged by an attacker to gain access to data transmitted between you and the webserver. This means that theoretically the attacker can see all of the data that you enter into an affected website, including your username and password. There has also been speculation that the bug can enable the attacker to gain access to a server’s private key. This would essentially allow the attacker to impersonate any web service and conduct MTM (man in the middle) attacks. This would force every affected website to revoke and reissue their certificates. However, there’s still debate about whether this worst case scenario is possible or not. CloudFlare has declared that after extensive testing it has been unable to grab private SSL keys by exploiting Heartbleed.
Update: The CloudFlare challenge has been cracked. So, it’s possible to access a server’s key with this exploit.
How did this happen?
Contrary to the conspiracy theories buzzing around the social media websites and discussion boards, there is a very simple explanation behind how the Heartbleed vulnerability was introduced. It was a simple coder oversight.
The bug was introduced by Dr Seggelmann, a German contributor to the OpenSSL project. He was working on patching existing bugs and adding new features. Unfortunately, in one of the new features, he forgot to validate a variable containing a length. The same mistake was also overlooked by the code reviewer Dr Stephen Henson, and thus the bug made its way into the production code of OpenSSL.
How does this exploit work?
As mentioned earlier, the Heartbleed vulnerability is due to a missing validation on a variable size. One of the reasons why the bug has been named as Heartbleed is that it occurs in the heartbeat stage of the protocol. A heartbeat is essentially a technique that enables a computer at one end of the SSL connection to double check that the recipient is still alive. The following XKCD comic does a pretty good job at explaining the issue in simple terms. Essentially, the hearbeat mechanism sends a key and requests a response from the recipient to confirm that the recipient is still active. However, the length of the request isn’t validated. So, you can send a key that is just 3 characters long, but request an acknowledgement that is up to 65536 characters long. Since, the server isn’t checking the length of the response requested, it would send you all of the requested characters, which will include whatever characters that are stored in the memory after your key. With some luck and persistence, you can exploit this oversight to gain access to confidential information.
Who discovered it?
The Heartbleed bug was introduced two years ago; however, in a strange co-incidence, it was discovered and reported by two parties on the same day. One of those parties was Google’s Neel Mehta, who quietly reported the bug to OpenSSL. The other party was a Finnish security research firm called Codenomicon. Realizing that the discovered bug was extraordinary in its impact and severity, Codenomicon decided to create a campaign to make sure everyone took notice of the issue. They registered the domain heartbleed.com, came up with the compelling name, designed a logo, and created the initial narrative. Both researchers collaborated with OpenSSL to ensure that the vulnerability wasn’t disclosed before an official patch was released.
What can you do?
To be honest there isn’t much you can do. A fix for the vulnerability has already been issued by OpenSSL. Most major websites, including banks and other financial service providers, have already updated their OpenSSL installation. Given the massive publicity this bug has received, it’s likely that most websites will implement the patch in the coming days. Mashable has published a massive list of popular websites affected by this vulnerability. It’s wise to change your password at any website that was affected by the bug, but you should do so only after that website has patched the vulnerability. Otherwise, you risk exposing yourself further. As always, folks using unique passwords are considerably safer.
Lastpass, one of the most popular password managers, has updated its Security Challenge tool to include Heartbleed related information. It automatically scans websites in your vault and lists all the websites that have been affected. It also lets you know which websites have been patched, so that you can go ahead and change your password.
Close on the heels of the website refresh, Facebook is pushing out a major revamp of its Android app. I am not a very big fan of the recent Facebook website redesign; it took an already cluttered user interface and made it even worse. Fortunately, the changes on the Android front are a lot more positive.
The new app feels a lot more vibrant and cheerful, mainly due to the use of lighter and brighter shades throughout the UI. Everything is also distinctively flatter.
The top bar has been split into two, and the navigation drawer on the left has been removed. The new layout is not only more visually appealing, but also more intuitive.
The upper half has just two buttons – one for Search and the other for accessing phone contacts. The second half contains all the navigation options including Friend Requests, Messages, Notifications, and Profile and Settings.
The new Android interface is more compliant with the Android design philosophy, and is definitely a step in the right direction for Facebook. Unfortunately, it’s still not ready for prime time. It’s currently only available for the Facebook alpha testers. If you want it right away, there are a few hoops you’ll have to jump through.
Go to the Facebook Alpha Testers group and signup with your Google account. This needs to be the same one that you’re using for the Play Store.
Once you’ve signed up successfully, you should be able to see the following page.
Follow this link to become an alpha tester. If all goes well, you’d be able to see a message stating “You are a tester”.
Now open the Play Store on your mobile phone, and you should be able to see an option to update Facebook. Download and install the update.
Go to Settings –> Apps –> Facebook. The current version of the Alpha build is 18.104.22.168.19. Your version should be same or higher.
‘Force Stop’ the app, and ‘Clear Data’.
Launch the Facebook app. You will have to sign in once again. Once you login, you should be able to see the new Facebook layout.
Please keep in mind that Facebook builds released in the alpha channel are expected to be buggy. They might be buggy, crash-prone, or might not work at all. If you want to go back to the normal build, simply “Quit the Test“, and un-install and re-install the Facebook app from the Play Store.
PayPal might not be the most loved online payment processor, but it’s still the biggest. And that means that if you buy a lot of stuff online, it’s kind of hard to avoid.
One of the many pain points of PayPal is its transaction log. PayPal’s transaction reporting system is better than my bank’s, but that’s not saying much. Its sluggishness coupled with the lack of meaningful filters makes it a major annoyance for frequent PayPal users. This is where a new web service called SlowPal comes in.
SlowPal pitches itself as a tool to free your PayPal account from reporting hell. It indexes your PayPal transaction logs and presents them in a clean and smart interface. It supports filtering based on transaction types (Authorization, Currency Conversion, Donation, Payment, Refund etc.), transaction status, and currency, in addition to date. Perhaps most crucially, SlowPal makes your transaction log completely searchable.
SlowPal might not be useful to all customers, since anyone but heavy PayPal users are unlikely to feel the need to analyze their PayPal spending in detail. However, it’s going to be a boon for merchants who typically process hundreds and thousands of transactions every day and have a pressing need to keep an eye on their transaction logs.
Right now SlowPal’s biggest shortcoming is that it doesn’t feature any graphical analysis. Since, its focus is on reporting, graphs and trend reports are two features that should be no brainers. Nevertheless, SlowPal is still a large improvement over PayPal’s transaction log. PayPal users will no longer have to take the trouble of manually exporting logs into Excel to perform the simplest of analysis.