Buying a Chromebook? Don't forget to check that best-before date

It is unlikely to be printed on the box, but every Chromebook has an "Auto Update Expiration (AUE) Date" after which the operating system is unsupported by Google.

The authoritative document on the subject is here, where Google explains that it "provides each new hardware platform with 6.5 years of Auto Update support". While 6.5 years sounds reasonable, Google starts the clock ticking "when the first device on the platform is released". The exact definition of a "hardware platform" is not provided, but it presumably relates to the motherboard used. Later models may use the same hardware platform, which means they are not supported for as long. It is nothing to do with the purchase date.

What happens when the dreaded AUE date passes? This means there will be no more automatic software updates from Google, no technical support from Google, and "business and education customers... should not expect that they can manage their devices as expected using the Google Admin console".

A user complains about a Chromebook expiring when less than three years old
A user complains about a Chromebook expiring when less than three years old



If you happen to buy your Chromebook late in the product's life cycle, you may be surprised how soon the AUE date arrives. "My Dad just got a big FU notification on the Chromebook he bought new less than 3 years ago that it is now out of support under the Google AUE policy," complainedTwitter user Martin Woodward (yes, veep of the Microsoft-supported .NET Foundation, though that is not relevant here).

One of the problems for users is that discovering how long your Chromebook has got can be a challenge. HP Chromebooks, for example, have model numbers like 14-ca050na, but Google's list of models has "Chromebook 14 G1" and so on. So you get pleas like this, posted to Google's community support but not answered:

I went to look up the auto update expiration date but my exact model is not listed. The closest one I found is the HP Chromebook 14 that has an expiration date of 6/2019 which just passed. Tried HP customer service but they have no idea and is going to research it and get back to me.



Here is a tip. Open up your Chromebook, and Chrome, and go to chrome://version. Check the Platform section, at the end of which is a code name. For example, an HP 14-ca050na has "stable channel snappy". Then head here, look up the codename, and note that it matches HP Chromebook 14 G5. This is listed in Google's table with an AUE date of November 2023.

Determining the platform codename on a ChromebookDetermining the platform codename on a Chromebook



You can continue to use your Chromebook after the AUE but the OS will be frozen in time and Google's warnings above will apply. The device will show a notification along the lines of: "This device will no longer receive the latest software updates. Please consider upgrading."

You would be lucky to get updates for so long for a typical Android device, but it is in contrast to a traditional laptop where you can carry on updating as best you can until it falls apart or becomes too slow to endure. Security is an issue, though a Chromebook is one of the more secure devices out there thanks to the sandboxing of applications and other techniques, so it is less serious than it would be for, say, a Windows PC.

It would be good if manufacturers would make it obvious how long your shiny new Chromebook has before the expiry date, though understandable that this is something they do not wish to highlight. Buyer beware.

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10 ways to keep yourself secure online against cyber attacks

Have you ever received emails from unknown sources claiming to offer insurance, lottery tickets or advertisements? You may have noticed that such emails always have a link that they prompt you to click. What lies on the other side of the link can be any one of many ways to phish users into giving away their important login credentials. 

You obviously don’t want any confidential information such as credit card numbers or account passwords to be misused or imagine a scenario where you have downloaded a file which turned out to be malware and now your system is infected with nasty ransomware.

In this article, you’ll find effective tips that can help you stay secure online. 


#1. Set Robust Passwords

The most basic mistake that users make is setting easily guessed passwords so they don’t forget them and the attackers happily use this as a weakness by figuring out commonly used passwords. Don’t make it easy for hackers to get access to your online accounts and set strong passwords with different combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters along with numerals and special characters. 

Make a logical function or method to set passwords for each site so that you don’t have to remember every single password, just apply the function and recall your password using logic. If you still have trouble with this, use password managers that help you organize your passwords and remind you to change them frequently. Never use the same password again.


#2. Enforce Email Security

Emails are one of the common ways used by attackers to send you phishing and malicious links to download viruses and other malware. Most users send substantial information via emails. Emails also remain open to future attacks as they are stored in the cloud. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance to keep your emails secure and protected from attacks and infiltrations. 

You can go to settings of your email account and modify them to allow you further control over sent emails such as set a time period until which you can undo sending an email and get notified instantly when an unknown device accesses your emails. 

You can even seek the aid of online security services such as EPRIVO that provide a private email account to secure your email accounts from phishing or malicious/compromised websites without accessing any of your emails. 


#3. Beware of Unknown Links

Keep your mouse pointer away from links which look suspicious. Attackers try to present fake links as secure and use phishing techniques to get your sensitive information such as bank account details or login id and password. 

Some links, when clicked, start executing code which gets your device’s network information and can alter the metadata in the header as well as the content whenever you send information. Fuertmore,  attackers can attach download links to emails or web pages which drop malware on your computer. 

Make sure you don’t click on any link that seems untrustworthy and do keep track of your downloads, so your device is not being slowed down by malware running in the background. Also, use VirusTotal to scan malicious links and files for free. 


#4. Use a Reliable Antivirus Software

Like it or not, a reliable anti-virus software protects your device from various kinds of malicious attacks. There are several antivirus software that are available for free, but if you invest in paid services, it’ll definitely be worth the money as your device will be more secure from pinging unreliable websites and downloading from unknown sources. 

#5. Secure Your Network Details with a VPN

VPN (Virtual Private Network) shields your network’s true identity and protects your device from being tapped into for sniffing data. Whenever you’re using an unknown Wi-Fi network from the airportcoffee shop or a hotel, it’s safer to turn on a VPN before surfing on the internet. 

This way, no one will be able to find out your device’s IP address or location and your communications will be encrypted and routed through the VPN’s server and remain secure. 
See: Is Your VPN Provider in a 14 Eyes Country? (What is 14 Eyes?)


#6. Perform Periodic Data Backups

In the unfortunate event
 of a malware corrupting the data on your device or in case of a ransomware attack, you will not be vulnerable to any loss if you perform periodic backups and upload your data to a trusted and secure cloud server or save it in some external storage. You can simply reset your device and restore your data from your backup source and the problem will be solved. 


#7. Use Security Tools

There are various OS-based security tools available online that you can install on your device. These tools help you keep track of all the activity in your network, encrypt all the data you send and receive, scan files for malware before downloading them, look for potential points of attacks, and much more.

You can even perform testing by attacking your own device and identifying the weaknesses post which the tools will guide you on what steps to take to secure your device. 


#8. Clear Cache and Browsing History

Browsers constantly store information that will make things run faster should you ever perform the same action again such as revisiting a website or keeping your account status logged in for days or weeks. 

Your passwords and user ids are stored in cookies, web pages are stored as cache and browsers conveniently use this information for their own analysis purposes. Therefore, it’s recommended that you clear cache, cookies and browsing history on a regular basis and erase all such information for good. 


#9. Use an Account Manager

Some websites subscribe you to their newsletters or advertisement emails when you sign up. Sometimes, you want to access a document or a video which prompts you to sign up and you do so while disregarding the security risks. 

To avoid your email being spammed by such websites, you can create a separate email id that you use for unsafe websites and don’t associate this email with other recovery numbers or email ids so your primary email id will be free from such spam emails. You can use some account managing software that keeps track of which email you have used to sign up on which website, so things don’t get complicated for you to organize. 


#10. Employ Multi-factor Authentication 

Multi-factor authentication means that you have to go through multiple phases of authentication before you can access your accounts. This strengthens the process of authentication noticeably and you can rest assured that a simple brute force attack can’t hurt your privacy. 

You don’t have to worry about data corruption or leaking of confidential information. There are several companies who have adopted this method of authenticating their employees. Instead of making logging in a complicated process, multi-factor authentication is secure enough that it can be used as a single login point and as a result, you will be logged in to multiple applications on your device. 

Conclusion

With the fast-growing internet services, online threats are ever-increasing. You never know how your data is being used for analysis by giants like Facebook and Google. You must’ve surely noticed that just one search of a product on Amazon results into that same product being advertised to you on Facebook and Instagram. While this is acceptable for receiving recommendations, your privacy is of utmost importance. Therefore, be sure that you do your part by following the above guidelines and securing yourself on the internet. 

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Google still keeps a list of everything you ever bought using Gmail, even if you delete all your emails

Google and other tech companies have been under fire recently for a variety of issues, including failing to protect user datafailing to disclose how data is collected and used and failing to police the content posted to their services.

Companies such as Google have embedded themselves in our lives with useful services including Gmail, Google Maps and Google Search, as well as smart products such as the Google Assistant which can answer our questions on a whim. The benefits of these tools come at the cost of our privacy, however, because while Google says that privacy should not be a “luxury good, ” it’s still going to great lengths to collect as much detail as possible about its users and making it more difficult than necessary for users to track what’s collected about them and delete it.

Here’s the latest case in point.

In May, I wrote up something weird I spotted on Google’s account management page. I noticed that Google uses Gmail to store a list of everything you’ve purchased, if you used Gmail or your Gmail address in any part of the transaction.

If you have a confirmation for a prescription you picked up at a pharmacy that went into your Gmail account, Google logs it. If you have a receipt from Macy’s, Google keeps it. If you bought food for delivery and the receipt went to your Gmail, Google stores that, too.

You get the idea, and you can see your own purchase history by going to Google’s Purchases page.

Google says it does this so you can use Google Assistant to track packages or reorder things, even if that’s not an option for some purchases that aren’t mailed or wouldn’t be reordered, like something you bought a store.



At the time of my original story, Google said users can delete everything by tapping into a purchase and removing the Gmail. It seemed to work if you did this for each purchase, one by one. This isn’t easy — for years worth of purchases, this would take hours or even days of time.

So, since Google doesn’t let you bulk-delete this purchases list, I decided to delete everything in my Gmail inbox. That meant removing every last message I’ve sent or received since I opened my Gmail account more than a decade ago.

Despite Google’s assurances, it didn’t work.



Like a horror movie villain that just won’t die

On Friday, three weeks after I deleted every Gmail, I checked my purchases list.

I still see receipts for things I bought years ago. Prescriptions, food deliveries, books I bought on Amazon, music I purchased from iTunes, a subscription to Xbox Live I bought from Microsoft -- it’s all there.



CNBC Tech: Google Purchases
Google continues to show me purchases I’ve made recently, too.

I can’t delete anything and I can’t turn it off.

When I click on an individual purchase and try to remove it — it says I can do this by deleting the email, after all — it just redirects to my inbox and not to the original email message for me to delete, since that email no longer exists.

So Google is caching or saving this private information somewhere else that isn’t just tied to my Gmail account.

When I wrote my original story, a Google spokesperson insisted this list is only for my use, and said the company views it as a convenience. Later, the company followed up to say this data is used to “help you get things done, like track a package or reorder food.”

But it’s a convenience I never asked for, and the fact that Google compiles and stores this information regardless of what I say or do is a bit creepy.

A spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on this latest development.

But it shows once again how tech companies often treat user privacy as a low-priority afterthought and will only make changes if user outrage forces their hand.

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DNA Data Storage Is Closer Than You Think

Every minute in 2018, Google conducted 3.88 million searches, and people watched 4.33 million videos on YouTube, sent 159,362,760 e-mails, tweeted 473,000 times and posted 49,000 photos on Instagram, according to software company Domo. By 2020 an estimated 1.7 megabytes of data will be created per second per person globally, which translates to about 418 zettabytes in a single year (418 billion one-terabyte hard drive’s worth of information), assuming a world population of 7.8 billion. The magnetic or optical data-storage systems that currently hold this volume of 0s and 1s typically cannot last for more than a century, if that. Further, running data centers takes huge amounts of energy. In short, we are about to have a serious data-storage problem that will only become more severe over time.  

An alternative to hard drives is progressing: DNA-based data storage. DNA—which consists of long chains of the nucleotides A, T, C and G—is life’s information-storage material. Data can be stored in the sequence of these letters, turning DNA into a new form of information technology. It is already routinely sequenced (read), synthesized (written to) and accurately copied with ease. DNA is also incredibly stable, as has been demonstrated by the complete genome sequencing of a fossil horse that lived more than 500,000 years ago. And storing it does not require much energy.

But it is the storage capacity that shines. DNA can accurately stow massive amounts of data at a density far exceeding that of electronic devices. The simple bacterium Escherichia coli, for instance, has a storage density of about 1019 bits per cubic centimeter, according to calculations published in 2016 in Nature Materials by George Church of Harvard University and his colleagues. At that density, all the world’s current storage needs for a year could be well met by a cube of DNA measuring about one meter on a side.

The prospect of DNA data storage is not merely theoretical. In 2017, for instance, Church’s group at Harvard adopted CRISPR DNA-editing technology to record images of a human hand into the genome of E. coli, which were read out with higher than 90 percent accuracy. And researchers at the University of Washington and Microsoft Research have developed a fully automated system for writing, storing and reading data encoded in DNA. A number of companies, including Microsoft and Twist Bioscience, are working to advance DNA-storage technology.
Meanwhile DNA is already being used to manage data in a different way, by researchers who grapple with making sense of tremendous volumes of data. Recent advancements in next-generation sequencing techniques allow for billions of DNA sequences to be read easily and simultaneously. With this ability, investigators can employ bar coding—use of DNA sequences as molecular identification “tags”—to keep track of experimental results. DNA bar coding is now being used to dramatically accelerate the pace of research in fields such as chemical engineering, materials science and nanotechnology. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, James E. Dahlman’s laboratory is rapidly identifying safer gene therapies; others are figuring out how to combat drug resistance and prevent cancer metastasis.

Among the challenges to making DNA data storage commonplace are the costs and speed of reading and writing DNA, which need to drop even further if the approach is to compete with electronic storage. Even if DNA does not become a ubiquitous storage material, it will almost certainly be used for generating information at entirely new scales and preserving certain types of data over the long term.

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