Killing passwords and whistleblowing hackers: top stories you need to read

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Online security

Passwords are safe. Hackers have nefarious motives. App design is the next cash cow. All Microsoft’s hopes rest on Windows 8. Apple is practically untouchable. Well, yes and no — reality is not always so black and white, as a number of the stories we’ve selected as part of this instalment of top tech stories from around the web point out:

Kill the password: why a string of characters can’t protect us anymore

Who is the best person to point out that your password isn’t as safe as you thought it was? Someone who has been comprehensively hacked — like Wired’s Mat Honan, who watched as he was locked out of his Google and Apple accounts and his phone, tablet and laptop were wiped just before someone took over his Twitter account earlier this year.

In a piece that will have you trying to de-link all your accounts and rush to turn on two-step authentication, Honan argues that the trend towards storing vast amounts of personal information online, coupled with the desire for easy password resets all sent to one web-based email account, is making the password nothing more than a minor challenge for a determined hacker.

No matter how many words, numbers and symbols you squeeze in, the fact is that passwords can be bypassed, tracked and conned out of you with relative ease… and a number of ‘extra’ security measures don’t make your accounts bullet-proof either.

No more lulz: should Weev, the world’s most notorious troll, go to jail for ‘hacking’?

Where is the line between noble whistle-blower and malicious hacker? Consider the case of Andrew Auernheimer, who has claimed responsibility for a range of controversial hacks, and has recently been convicted for exposing the email addresses of hundreds of thousands of iPad owners after he and an accomplice found and exploited a security flaw in a carrier’s database in 2010.

But while white hat hackers would have reported the flaw to the company, they took the findings to the media — and although no full addresses were made publicly available, he did discuss the possibility of using the information for his own gain. Does that make him a dangerous hacker or someone performing a public service? It’s an interesting grey zone that is further complicated by his history as a troll, vague and outdated laws that govern unauthorised access to computers and the idea that companies who do not protect their users’ data need to be called out.

As boom lures app creators, tough part is making a living

In an alternative move to all the omgee-look-how-much-this-app-developer-is-making stories out there, this piece by the New York Times takes a look at the realities faced by many programmers who quit their day jobs in the hopes of creating the next killer app that can sustain them financially.

Despite the positive stats (Apple said recently that it’s paid out over US$6.5-billion to app developers so far), an increasing number of jobs ads for app developers and the growing proliferation of app-hungry mobile devices, it’s sometimes difficult for developers to make a living from the revenues from app stores, let alone sell their apps to Facebook for a couple of hundred million dollars. The article discusses why the early players in the space had it easier, and suggests why a creative idea and serious skill is becoming more important in competitive app ecosystems.

What Sinofsky’s departure suggests about the current state, and likely future, of Microsoft

He was the man who lead the team behind Windows 8, and stood at the Surface launch, proudly demonstrating Microsoft’s new baby… and then, just days after its launch, he left the company. This article discusses what went on in Microsoft in the lead up to the release of the most recent versions of its operating systems, Sinofsky’s controversial management style and what Microsoft has to do in an era where the PC market is slowly declining and mobile devices are taking over.

Apple and Twitter

This blog post by Patrick Gibson — who was part of the team that built the original iPad — considers one of the problems Apple is facing at the moment: he says that essentially, Google is getting better at design faster than Apple can improve its web services.

What can it do about that? Perhaps acquire a company which is very good at all things web… like Twitter. Gibson’s argument is that while Apple may not need to jump on the social media bandwagon, they do need to attract talented web engineers, of which the micro-blogging service has many. Twitter’s team and technology could help mend Apple’s weakspot — but as Twitter gets bigger, are the chances of an acquisition are becoming more unlikely?

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