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When Gadgets Betray Us by Robert Vamosi

01/06/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy When Gadgets Betray Us in the USA - or Buy When Gadgets Betray Us in the UK

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pub: Basic Books/Perseus Books Group. 222 page indexed small hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), $31.50 (CAN), GBP 18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-465-01958-8).

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The sub-title of Robert Vamosi’s book, ‘When Gadgets Betray Us’, is ‘The Dark Side Of Our Infatuation With New Technologies’, both titles should give you pause for thought if you rely on technology to protect you. The information given here is required reading for anyone concerned about protecting their identity and knowing just how accessible it is. I guess that means most of you. Really, nothing is safe and a lot of the time, the best protection is how many obstacles you can put in the way.

Take, for instance, how the only difference between a standard locking device and a software controlled lock. Much of the time, the design is to hinder the felon long enough that he or she is seen or not worth the effort. We all know about how your plastic cards can be copied, even at a distance, but this applies to so much else as well. I don’t think this book sets out to make you paranoid but I suspect it will make you look long and hard at your car unlock bleeper. The one saving grace with technological locks is that the software can be updated.

The examinations in this book aren’t done by thieves but hackers wanting to show companies the flaws in their technology. At least they have a conscience but the technology is out there. You would think that such things are mandatory but, as Vamosi points out, people place too much trust in codes to think no one will see a lateral way around them. Considering also that so much car technology depends on being hooked into a computer then it also stands to reason that outsiders can get into and influence it as well. The next generation of thief will no doubt be carrying a laptop or smart phone. Even computer software isn’t safe and delays in Microsoft’s Windows Vista’s shipping dates was down to security flaws in their system and contributes to their regular updates to keep your computer safe. It isn’t that Microsoft deliberately left holes, just hackers finding ways to punch into them. Don’t think owning an Apple makes it safe. Complacency has been the biggest failing in any exposed security holes.

The more I read into this book, the more worrying I’m finding the protocols that are used for security and how easy some of them are breeched and I would certainly recommend the chapter about mobile phones to anyone worried about them being overheard because the interception technique is relatively easy to do because it isn’t updated enough. The same radio signals can also be used to intercept e-commerce and there’s a recommendation in the book to change factory settings on that and your computer routers, not to mention especially to protect yourself from bank transactions being scanned. Although I doubt if everyone is being hacked at the same time, I have a feeling chapter three will make you very uneasy. I suspect far too many of you out there take it for granted that the company you buy your mobile phone from knows what they are doing. Those of you using Macs thinking you’re safe won’t like the way its IP addresses can be hooked into because so much is done over the radio waves. The same applies to any who uses Bluetooth instead of wire connections. Any radio signal is open to interception.

Going more deeply into computers, if you think cropping an rif picture for Net use through a mobile phone removes the rest of the picture, Vamosi gives an example where it clearly isn’t. I doubt if you’ll trust photo-booths again after discovering that they can keep a copy of your photos in their buffer. In many respects, this book could also be dangerous in the hands of the criminal although Vamosi wisely doesn’t disclose precise details into how to go about these activities. As his examples are mostly American based, you people over the pond have the most to worry about but we in the UK should also take note.

One thing that affects people the world over is identifying who you are and how imprecise it can be by being badly taken as is pointed out with fingerprints. You would think with the developments in 3D scanning that this would become easier but then I guess it’s all a matter of cost and probably explains why so many companies stay with old technology. This is demonstrated with the travel cards used in America and London’s underground although you need a fancy bit of hardware to do give you unlimited travel. Saying that, with a suitable portable scanner, any plastic cards you carry can have their info swiped within a few yards and Vamosi does suggest keeping them in silver foil as being the only way to protect them from that. In some ways, this looks like how this is done in the films but real life is catching up quickly. Cutting off people’s fingers for fingerprint scanning is no longer an option you’ll be happy to learn as new hardware looks to see if there’s any blood flow. Mind you, licking a lifted fingerprint can give it the requisite moisture for some detectors. If you’re looking for background for storywriting, these chapters are a goldmine.

The real lesson out of all this is you really do need three points of identification with at least one of them not readily available from theft. Putting in passwords and such on the Net might seem a pain but the problems if you don’t use them are easily spotted by empty bank accounts. If anything, reading this book will make you wonder why they don’t do more so don’t object too loudly whenever there’s an update.

Our acceptance and use of technology throughout the world in recent times is bound to up the amount of cyber-crime that can be committed. It isn’t just with bank accounts but anything that has a silicon chip and a radio signal is open for grabs if you know how to do it. This book does not concentrate on how to do but does point out some measures you can take to protect yourself. I would think having your pins and info taken off your credit cards in a walk past swipe should be the biggest concern for many of you. I hope Vamosi does a follow-up book with definite instructions on how to protect yourself but as with all things, soon as you sure up something, another way will always be found. In the meantime, if this worries you, then you really do need to read this book and never leave your mobile phone on stand-by again. A fascinating book.

GF Willmetts

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