Monthly Archives: December 2013

Favorite Apps 2013

Since today is the last day of 2013, I figured it would be appropriate to write a blog post about some of my favorite iPhone apps that I have been using over the past year, as well as some of the apps that have been popular over during 2013, as well.

In no particular order, here is my list of my favorite iPhone apps of 2013:

Tweetbot 3 by Tapbots

$4.99 – iPhone/iPod Touch

Tweetbot 3 is the latest version of a Twitter application that enables users to view tweets from multiple timelines, as well as view and reply to tweets using various gestures throughout the app. Additionally, Tweetbot features nice graphics and aesthetics, with the option to view your timeline(s) in either a lighter “daytime” theme and a darker “nighttime” theme.

Instagram

Free – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

Another app that has appeared on this list in previous years, Instagram is a social photo-sharing application that enables users to post photos for their followers and other users to like and comment on. Recently, in the most recent version of the app, users were given the ability to send photos to other users directly, and before that, and earlier in the year, the ability to post videos to their Instagram account.

Snapchat by Snapchat, Inc.

Free – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

Snapchat is a popular app, that enables users to send photos and short video clips to one another, with the option to add text and drawings to them. Recently, Snapchat Stories were added to the app, which allows users to post multiple photos to their “Stories”, which are available for a period of 24 hours, unlike a regular Snapchat, which only lasts for up to 10 seconds.

YouTube by Google, Inc.

Free – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

The official YouTube application essentially “replaced” the previous YouTube app, created by Apple, that came as one of the pre-installed apps on iOS 6. The YouTube app lets users sign in with their Google or YouTube accounts, as well as view, comment on, and like or dislike videos from the users that they are subscribed to, and also offers suggested videos, like the YouTube website does. Additionally, users can view their YouTube channels and even use the “Capture” app (or the iOS camera app) to record and upload videos to YouTube, as well.

Tinder by Tinder, Inc.

Free – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

Tinder is a social/dating application that allows users to “meet” new people by displaying a photo of a user, and allowing them to either swipe right and “like” the user, or swipe left and “dislike” the user. If two users swipe right or “like” each other’s profiles, they will be matched and given the ability to chat with each other within the app.

Additionally, Tinder enables users to post multiple photos to their profiles, should users wish to view more about a user, as well as displays some text and what the two users have in common. Most of this information, including photos and common interests is taken from users’ Facebook profiles.

Plants vs. Zombies 2, by PopCap

Free- iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

The second version of the popular tower-defense game, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a game where the goal is to prevent hoards of zombies from attacking your house. In order to do this, users can plant a variety of plants, each with their own abilities (some shoot peas, others freeze the zombies, etc.), in order to deter and kill the zombies before they gain access to your house.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 adds some new features, including power-ups, new plant and zombie types, and more, with the ability for users to purchase coins and other features via  in-app purchases, which can be used to buy more power-ups, unlock new areas, unlock new plants, and more!

Mint by Mint.com

Free – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

The Mint app, as well as the Mint.com website, both of which are owned by Intuit, Inc., are two great tools that enable users to view and manage their personal finances.

Mint enables users to connect their bank, credit card, and other types of accounts to their accounts on the Mint website, where they can then view their spending using a variety of useful tools, including graphs, and also enables users to create and manage budgets, as well as see where their money has been spent over time. Mint does not allow users to actually “move” or access their money, but is a useful tool to help users manage their personal finances.

NetFlix by NetFlix, Inc.

Free – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

While I’m sure most people are familiar with NetFlix and their great streaming service, I figured I would include this app on the list of my favorite apps of 2013 because it can be quite useful for watching movies and TV shows, especially if you are traveling or not around a TV, or if you, like me, can’t really see a TV without wearing your glasses!

The NetFlix app works with NetFlix’s streaming service, which costs $7.99 a month, and enables users to watch a variety of movies, documentaries, TV shows, and more! (If you want a free trial of NetFlix, you can go to http://netflix.com/woody!)

Dropbox by Dropbox

Free – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad | Android

Dropbox is another app that is probably more well-known, but is still an app that is useful for storing files between multiple computers and devices, including iOS and Android devices. With Dropbox, if you want to make a file accessible to your variety of devices, you can do simply by placing it in your “Dropbox” folder, which will store it in the cloud and make it accessible across all of your devices via the Dropbox app or web interface.

Dropbox provides 2 GB of storage space for free accounts (with the ability to have up to 16 GB of space for free), and offers plans that allow more storage, starting at $9.99 a month. There are also business plans available, starting at $15 per user.

Calcbot by Tapbots

[Price] – iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad

Calcbot is a calculator app for iOS devices that is a great alternative to Apple’s Calculator app that comes with iOS. Calcbot features the ability to view and use past expressions and calculations or answers, as well as perform a variety of standard and scientific calculations and operations.

Do you have any experiences with these apps? Are there any apps that you like that were not included? If so, please feel free to let us know what you think in the comments!

I hope everyone has a happy, healthy, fun, and safe new year!

Amazon Prime Air

Amazon, known for being one of the Internet’s most popular retailers, has recently reveled a new method of delivery, known as Amazon Prime Air, which is different than any shipping method seen before, from either online or brick-and-mortar retailers.

What makes Amazon Prime Air different than most shipping methods seen before is that this service will use flying drones to deliver packages to customers, with the goal of delivering packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.

Below is a video that describes the Amazon Prime Air service, that even shows an example of what a drone may look like in action.

However, due to FAA rules that are not yet in place, one should not expect to see the Amazon Prime Air drones flying around just yet. According to the FAQ on the Amazon Prime Air webpage, Amazon says “We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time.”

As for the safety aspect of having drones flying around, delivering packages to Amazon customers, the aforementioned FAQ also states “The FAA is actively working on rules and an approach for unmanned aerial vehicles that will prioritize public safety. Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards.” It is good to know that Amazon is taking steps to help ensure the safety of those who may happen to witness a drone flying by, delivering an Amazon order to a customer.

The Amazon website does not appear to have any information about the pricing of a delivery that uses a flying drone, but it will be interesting to see if there is an extra charge, and if so, how much this charge will be, in order to have something shipped via an Amazon Prime Air drone. Though, the convenience of having something at your door in a half hour or less is something that I would guess many people would be willing to pay extra for!

While the Amazon Prime Air service is not quite yet ready (or allowed) to be rolled out, it is still quite an interesting concept and it will be interesting to see how it ends up working out. Though, the idea of ordering something from Amazon.com and having it at your doorstep in 30 minutes or less is pretty nice and probably something that one would like to have!

CryptoLocker Trojan

While listening to an episode of the computer security podcast, “Security Now!”, hosted by Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson on the TWiT Netcast Network, I found out about the CryptoLocker trojan, which has been pretty troublesome to those who’s computers happen to get infected with it.

CryptoLocker Background:

CryptoLocker is the name of a trojan horse that has recently surfaced, within the last few months, and has been causing some interesting issues for those who have been unlucky enough to have had their computers infected with this piece of malware, as it actually can encrypt some of the contents of a user’s hard drive, making it virtually impossible for them to access this encrypted data unless they choose to pay a ransom that has been set by the developers of the trojan.

Specifically, the CryptoLocker trojan encrypts the infected hard drive’s files using RSA public-key cryptography, with the only key available to decrypt the data being stored on the servers that control the CryptoLocker trojan. Making matters worse is that users must pay in order to have their files decrypted, with payment types such as Bitcoin or a pre-paid voucher, and users must make this payment by a specific deadline. (According to Bitcoincharts.com, the price of a Bitcoin at the time of this posting is equal to around $954.34 US dollars!)

Should a user not make the ransom payment by the set deadline, they may still have the option to get their data unencrypted, but the price will be higher than that which was set before the deadline expired.

Although it is possible to scan for and remove the actual CryptoLocker trojan, if it is activated, thus encrypting one’s files, before the program is scanned for and removed, any files that were encrypted will remain encrypted, so a user essentially has no choice but to pay the ransom, unless they have previously backed up their files and can restore them.

Prevention and Dealing with Infection:

Like many computer viruses and other malicious files and programs, it is possible to essentially prevent one’s computer from being infected with programs like CryptoLocker, simply by being security conscious and taking some basic precautions.

Since CryptoLocker can infected computers via an infected ZIP file, sent to the user in an e-mail attachment, it is important to be cautious as to what e-mails and attachments one opens, especially if they appear to be from an e-mail address that you have never seen before or that looks weird or suspicious.

Many spam e-mails (and those that are infected with viruses and such) may appear as though they are from legitimate sources, such as a school, bank, or even the e-mail provider itself, but looking at the e-mail address that the message was sent from can pretty much give away the fact that the e-mail was sent with malicious intent. This is especially true if the e-mail contains an attachment that is in either .zip or .exe form.

Additionally, one can help to keep their computer from getting infected by a number of viruses and other malicious files or programs by running frequent antivirus, antispyware, and/or antimalware scans. Microsoft Security Essentials is an antivirus program, created by Microsoft, that is available as a free download from the Microsoft website, and can help to prevent, as well as pick up and remove, many viruses and other unwanted or harmful programs and files.

MalwareBytes is a free antimalware program, which has the option to be upgraded to a premium version (though the free version works well), and is another way that users can help to keep their computers free from infection by running frequent scans. MalwareBytes can be downloaded from MalwareBytes.org, where the premium version of the program can also be purchased ($24.95 for a lifetime license for one computer).

Example of Infection:

CryptoLocker actually managed to infect the Swansea, MA police department, forcing them to pay $750 in Bitcoins in order to decrypt the data that the trojan had encrypted on them.

In an article from the IBTimes.com website, which talks about the aforementioned infection of the Swansea, MA police department, it is stated that “According to the Security experts and the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team urge people afflicted by CryptoLocker not to pay the ransom, but instead report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Users should regularly back up important files on external hard drives” (Ryan W. Neal).

However, if one happens to have important or necessary files stored on their computer that have not been backed up and have been encrypted by the CryptoLocker trojan, paying the ransom is the only way to get the files back.

This goes to show that even law enforcement agencies are susceptible to their computers becoming infected with viruses and other malicious files and programs, and that everyone should be careful of what is downloaded and allowed on their computers, so as to prevent things like this from happening.

For more information about the CryptoLocker trojan, you should check out this article from Wikipedia, which is where most of the information regarding CryptoLocker in this post was found, along with additional information.