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Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Investing for Beginners

Posted in Computers by Joe Colburn on the November 29th, 2017

If you haven’t heard of Bitcoin (BTC) by now, you’re one of the rare few. In 2017, its rise in value from just under $1,000 to over $11,000 so far has everybody talking about it. It also has a lot of people asking me questions about how to invest and where, so here’s what I’m doing with Bitcoin and cryptocurrency investing in general. Before I get started, though, this post isn’t about what Bitcoin is, its history, what it means to mine a cryptocurrency, or any of the technical details. This is more for people who see the investment potential and want to dive in.

Bitcoin

My Rules For Investing
The first thing I tell people who ask me about buying Bitcoin is that it’s an extremely volatile, high risk/high reward gamble. In fact, the level of volatility is what makes it so enticing and exciting to me, but it’s also what limits how much I’ve invested so far. Do not put anything in that you can’t afford to lose. This is my number one rule for crypto, Reg A funding, and anything else with this level of risk.

Next, keep emotions in check. Many people I know, myself included, feel a lot of regret about ignoring Bitcoin or spending all our coins when they were $1 each. Leave the past in the past and look forward. It’s also too easy to see people currently making money hand over fist and feel the need to throw your 401k at this shiny new thing with the hopes of retiring as a millionaire in a few years. The fact is that you can get incredible returns, but nothing is a guarantee. Be thoughtful in your choices and know and respect the risks.

How To Buy Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked when I talk about Bitcoin is how to buy it. My exchange of choice so far is Coinbase because it’s stable, sticks to the basics, and has a good grip on security. (Disclaimer: My link to Coinbase earns us both $10 if you sign up and buy $100 or more). Many other popular exchanges are listed here. Not every exchange will have every coin listed. For this reason, I have assets in several exchanges. If you plan to diversify into several alt-coins as well as your Bitcoin, you’ll want to buy Bitcoin and then send some of it from your main exchange wallet to an alternate exchange where you can trade it for the alt-coin of your choosing.

I’m no expert, but I have a loose strategy for my buying. I’m holding Bitcoin, Etherium, and about 15 different alt-coins. I won’t go into how much I have invested, but for the alt-coins, I try to buy 100 or more of each. Some I have 100 of that cost me around $100 and it goes all the way up to one I have 1,000,000 of. Most of them will price out of my radar, turning $100 into just pennies or will vanish entirely. Others have already returned 200% to 500%. I plan to hold most of what I buy for years. Whatever you buy, CoinMarketCap is a great place to get a glimpse of just about every coin and do a little research.

How To Mine Bitcoin
When Bitcoin was the only kid on the block several years ago, you could download a program known as a miner and put it to work, earning several hundred Bitcoin a day. These days, the mining complexity for Bitcoin makes mining on a home computer a fruitless effort, but there are still many ways to mine for digital gold.

The easiest (and cheapest) way to get your feet wet with mining is by mining on your existing computer. While you can’t (effectively) mine Bitcoin directly with your home machine, you can mine one of the many alt-coins or just grab the NiceHash Miner. Nice hash will mine something else (like Monero) and convert the mined asset to BTC for you. I run it on my home desktop and it trickles in tiny fractions of BTC daily. It can be hard to watch it earn so slowly, but if you leave your computer on like I do, you might as well let it work for you. If you want to mine an alt-coin directly, that will require a little work and is more involved than I’m prepared to go into in this post.

With some capital investment, you could opt for your own mining rig. Depending on how fast you want to mine, you can spend as little as a couple hundred dollars or upwards of thousands. The more you spend, the faster you can mine. As an example, you could spend around $3,500 on an AntMiner S9 which gives you about 14TH/s (TeraHash per second) and at today’s calculations you should be able to mine around 0.00261 BTC ($27.08 USD) per day. Of course, mining at home consumes electricity that you’ll need to factor in and if you want to maximize your profits, you’ll need to be aware of all the settings and tweak them as you go. Eventually, too, the hardware may be outweighed by the growing mining difficulty and become obsolete. It still can be quite profitable and is generally passive income as a little machine just makes money for you all day.

Although I trickle-mine on my home PC and I like the idea of having an AntMiner humming away in my basement, I recently started cloud mining with HashFlare at 2.5TH/s. This way, I can still get the benefits of computing power that is designed for mining Bitcoin while starting out a little slower. I’ve seen a lot of people earning this way, so I suspect I’ll end up re-investing until I’m bringing in a lot of profit from this one source. If I end up not liking my results, I just won’t buy more hashing power. In short, you pay a set amount of BTC once for a pre-defined amount of hashing power for a 1 year contract. Throughout the contract, you get paid back whatever was mined which you can then reinvest or cash out if you’d like. Another well-established cloud mining site is Genesis (get 3% bonus hash power if us use my code: MTQemq).

Be a Bitcoin Lender
The first time I saw BitConnect it sounded complicated, but it’s a pretty simple concept. BitConnect is a coin (BCC), but it’s also a platform. To earn on the platform, you deposit your own Bitcoin, which is then converted to BCC. Essentially, you’re lending them your Bitcoin which their trading robots will buy and sell with, taking advantage of all the volatility. While your BTC is on loan to the platform, you earn back up to 2% per day, depending on the market. People are making quite a bit here, but like anything else, I started low and will work my way up if the results are favorable enough. The downside here is that you don’t get your initial BTC amount back for 129 to 299 days. If you plan to just hold it for years like me, that’s not a problem, though.

No More Waiting
No matter which of the options above seems to make the most sense, stop waiting around to get into cryptocurrencies. I believe Bitcoin has another 1,000% plus yet to climb and it’s bringing a lot of alt-coins up with it. Many of us look back today at 2010 and wish we’d paid more attention. I won’t be looking back at 2018 the same way and neither should you.

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I Have Your Deleted Files and Photos and Passwords – Memory Card Edition

Posted in Computers by Joe Colburn on the August 19th, 2017

“You’re going to delete that, right?”

If you’ve ever said that after someone who took a video or photo of you that you’d prefer didn’t leave that camera, you probably felt comfort in watching them delete it in front of you. But what if it wasn’t really gone?

I’ve often felt a little paranoid when I’ve decided to keep a broken phone or buy a used hard drive ro replace one in a laptop I’m selling. I have long held a strict policy of not letting anything that stores files leave my possession when I’m done with it for fear that someone could recover files that could lead to anything from mild embarrassment to identity theft. I may be paranoid, but with good reason.

I bought some SD cards

This week, I bought two auctioned lots of formatted memory cards, but what I found may surprise you. Keep in mind that these were specifically listed as “formatted”, meaning that someone went trough the effort of trying to wipe all the data to protect the privacy of the previous owners, but failed to do it in a secure way. More on that in a minute. First, here’s a breakdown of what I bought:

  • 3 Sony Memory Sticks (about 4.5 GB)
  • 8 SD cards (about 17 GB)
  • 7 MicroSD cards (about 50 GB)

In total, I went through about 70 GB of recovered files in a day.

Thousands of private files uncovered

The goal of this experiment was to figure out what types of files I could uncover from all of these cards, but more specifically, I wanted to know if it was possible to get enough off a card to compromise someone’s online account or steal their identity. After all, hackers don’t care much about that photo of you in your underwear. They want something that can generate a profit. In all, I recovered over 15,000 files. Most of the files were photos with video and audio files making up a large portion of the remainder. In the minority were PDFs, XML, DOC, and system files. Of all these, here’s essentially what was uncovered.

  • thousands of photos
  • hundreds of videos
  • medical documents
  • personal information
  • plenty of selfies
  • strange screenshots
  • lots of pet photos!
  • photos of documents, lists, and notes

I started with the PDFs and XML, but came up empty-handed with a couple menus, some instructions, and a couple software configuration files. Next, I skimmed the photos for anything that included a computer screen in the background, hand-written notes, or printed materials. Mostly, I found myself sifting through tons of blurry photos and pictures of pets, family events, and what looks like items people were photographing to sell, but I did land on a few interesting items.

On one SD card, I found photos of medical records for a guy I’ll call “Phil” (I changed the name). Those photos included personal medical details and his home address. On the same card were plenty of photos of him and a girl who I imagined must be his girlfriend alongside screenshots from dating applications like Zoosk. There was enough on the card for me to find him on Facebook in under a minute and confirm that they’re still together. It’s creepy how much you can learn about a person with only an old formatted SD card as a starting point.

On another card, a younger gentleman captured a snapshot of the email on his computer that contained his username, password, and the URL to log into a specific site.

Login Details

A third card included hundreds of photos that mostly just showed a college girl and her friends, her dog and the usual cellphone photo subjects. Looking closely at computer screens and other details in the photos, however, it wasn’t hard to determine her full name, dorm room number classes studied, place of employment, and more.

Less interesting were reminders, shopping lists, a school paper, and one recipe that looked worth trying.

How I recovered deleted files with an undelete program

To understand how files are recovered, it helps to first know a little bit about how they’re stored and deleted. When a file is stored, it’s data is stored in one area of your drive and a file pointer points to the first block of that data. When you click a file to open it, your computer simply references that first block and loads that file. When a file is “deleted”, your computer is really just removing the pointer to that file’s data and marking that space as free, but the data remains in tact. A standard “format” operation on a drive or card just removes all the file pointers, making all the space available for writing.

So-called “undelete” programs take advantage of this by scanning the storage space for any blocks of data that do not have file pointers. Such a program will then collect that data to it’s final block, give it a new file name, and store it in your recovery location, which should always be another storage device. Any parts of the data that were overwritten will be lost, so if you have something to recover, the best idea is to disconnect that drive and use recovery software on another computer to save your lost data.

The program I’ve had for years and which I used for this project is called LSoft Active@ Undelete Professional which currently costs about $45, but the standard version is only 20 bucks. There are other programs out there, but I can’t speak to their usefulness.

How to protect your files

If you’re like me, you’ll just never let that storage media out of your possession, but most people would prefer to sell or donate old hardware or drives that still work. So how to you keep your data safe from prying eyes? The key is to overwrite the data. When you overwrite the data, it makes it much harder for someone to recover it if at all. Your success at eliminating data may depend on the method you use. For example, simply deleting files or formatting the drive will leave your data wide open to anyone who knows how to get it back, but overwriting your data with something less private will make it much harder and using the Department of Defense 5220.22-M method (described more plainly here) will make data recovery virtually impossible.

I learned some things along the way

When I decided to conduct this experiment, I had a fairly narrow goal to see if I could find what a hacker would consider a successful haul of personalized information. Admittedly, I chose memory cards to keep the project cheap, allowing me to get storage media from many people affordably. I had not considered the types of information different devices might yield.

In my case, I procured a mix of SD, MicroSD, and Sony Memory Stick cards. Sony’s cards were popular for gaming and photography. SD Cards are often found in cameras and MicroSD cards have a variety of uses, including cell phone storage, small cameras, web/security cameras, etc. With this in mind, it’s not too surprising that the bulk of recovered files were photos.

This lends itself to the idea that a hacker could narrow his or her search by carefully selecting the storage device to sift through. If high-resolution photos were the goal then purchasing used cards that are specifically designed for high-speed storage would be ideal. In fact, the faster the write time, the more likely that card was purchased by its previous owner for video applications. If, on the other hand, a hacker wanted to get his or her hands on financial documents, spreadsheets or browser cookies and cache, desktop and laptop drives would be ideal. A hacker could even go so far as to target drives known to have been used widely in consumer computers to increase the probability of loosely-secured personal data, or server hard drives in search of corporate bounty.

What’s next

Currently, I’m shopping hard drive auctions and will be looking at other items that store information in internal memory for my next experiment. I’ll post on that soon, but in the meantime, be sure to truly wipe any storage media before sending it back out into the world.

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Turn a Tesla Into a Pokémon Go Machine

Posted in Automotive,Gaming,Just Cool by Joe Colburn on the August 1st, 2016

What happens when you pair up the most buzz-worthy car with the most viral game? You get a giant Pokémon Go car that looks awesome and will help you catch them all.

Pokémon  Go Tesla

Pokémon Go Tesla

A guy named Jeff, an editor for Pink Java Media enjoys playing Pokémon Go so much that he threw a little caution to the wind and poked around with his Tesla until he got it to install the popular game, making the most creative use I’ve seen out of the Tesla’s 14 inch display with GPS and a camera built in. “It’s not perfect,” Jeff said. “The Tesla’s display cuts off some of the game; I haven’t been able to fix that.” Probably more challenging is that the built-in camera the Tesla provides is a back-up camera, intended for assisting with, well, backing up. This, of course, means that Jeff must put the car in reverse in order to catch Pokémon.

How Did He Do It?
According to Pink Java, Jeff completed this feat with “a little bit of luck, some old-fashioned ingenuity, and an ethernet cable”, but that’s all the detail provided. I guess we’ll have to wait for him to document the process and just catch Pokémon with our phones like regular folk.

What is Pokémon Go?
Pink Java does a great job of summarising the game in their own article about Jeff’s adventure:

Pokemon GO is a smartphone game in which players chase and capture virtual creatures using geolocation. The phone’s camera makes it seem like these fanciful beasts are right there with the player in the real world, with different creatures appearing in different places.

When asked what Jeff had in mind next for his Tesla, he responded, “Tinder,” he said with a smile. “Going to see if I can swipe right with my turn signal.” I’d like to see how that works out. What would you like to see Jeff hack into his Tesla?

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