Improve Dropbox and Gmail Security With Two-Step Authentication

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In the wake of Mat Honan’s massive, worst-case scenario hacking a couple weeks ago, a number of cloud services have introduced two-step authentication, a feature that drastically improves the security of your online accounts.

Two-step (also called “two-factor”) authentication refers to two independent ways of verifying your identity when attempting to log into an account: a typical username/password combination plus some other method, usually a temporary code sent to your smartphone via SMS or a special app. This way, a potential hacker would have to physically have possession of your smartphone, in addition to your username/password combo, in order to get into your account.

For many people, especially those who have sensitive emails, documents, or other data in the cloud, enabling two-step verification is a no-brainer. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it pales in comparison to the headache and expense of having your online life compromised. Just ask Mat Honan.

Gmail has had this feature for some time, though most people don’t use it or don’t know it exists. As of today, Dropbox now has a two-step verification option as well.

To get started, follow Macworld’s step-by-step guide (you’ll need your smartphone and the latest preview release of the Dropbox software).

How Mat Honan Recovered From His Epic Hacking

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In a follow piece for Wired, Mat Honan, whose online life was basically wiped out when hackers socially engineered their way into his Amazon and iCloud accounts, describes the process of piecing things back together:

When my data died, it was the cloud that killed it. The triggers hackers used to break into my accounts and delete my files were all cloud-based services — iCloud, Google, and Amazon. Some pundits have latched onto this detail to indict our era of cloud computing. Yet just as the cloud enabled my disaster, so too was it my salvation.

If you haven’t read the original piece yet, go ahead and do so. It should be required reading for anyone with cloud-based accounts such as Dropbox, iCloud, and Gmail/Google Apps.

A Letter from Mark Zuckerberg

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Mark Zuckerberg issues a plea to help Facebook “make money”:

It seems like just yesterday that Facebook had its historic I.P.O. and, thanks to you, my net worth soared to a staggering $20 billion. What an awesome day that was for both of us.
Today was a different kind of day. Facebook shares are plunging because the geniuses on Wall Street expect us to, and I quote, “make money.” That’s why your Facebook friend Mark needs your help.
Facebook only makes money if people click on its ads. Do you know what Facebook ads are? They’re those things on your Facebook page that you have never clicked on even once.

Of course, if they just keep running ads with their users recommending 55-gallon drums of personal lubricant, I don’t see how they wouldn’t make money.

AOL’s Dial-Up Access Business

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Tucked away in AOL’s quarterly earnings announcement this week is a fascinating tidbit, as reported by Dan Frommer:

But did you know that AOL still has 3 million dialup “access” subscribers — generating a third of the company’s revenue and likely most of its profit? That might be more paying U.S. subscribers than Spotify and Hulu Plus have combined.

The term “dialup ‘access’ subscribers” refers to anyone paying for the clunky, bloated, “You’ve Got Mail!” AOL software from the 90s, whether they’re actually using a dialup connection or not. They could be connecting to it with a fast Time Warner Cable connection, while paying $10-15/month for AOL’s version of the internet, instead of just using a free web browser.

Isn’t this why people have children? To one day keep them from being one of the 3 million people paying good money for 20-year old technology long made obsolete by a flood of free content and apps?

AT&T Follows Verizon’s Lead, Introduces Shared Data Plans

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As expected, AT&T has launched their ‘Mobile Share’ data plans, which are intended to shift customers from individual, per-device data packages to a single pool of data to be shared with multiple family members and devices.

In response to the explosion of smartphone data usage and the huge drop in text messaging and voice calling, Verizon and AT&T are both offering unlimited voice and texting as well as free tethering with all shared data plans.

Whether or not this is a good deal for you will depend on how many smartphones you’re feeding and how much data you’re using:

The plans, like Verizon’s, are somewhat complicated, but the price per gigabyte goes down as you increase the bucket and add users. The plans begin with a 1GB option that costs $40, but there’s a $45 monthly fee to connect each smartphone. Options include a $70 4GB plan with a $40 smartphone fee, and a $90 6GB plan with a $35 fee. The higher end $120 10GB plan, $160 15GB plan, and $200 20GB plan all have a $30 smartphone fee.
If you go over the limit, each additional gigabyte is $15.

If you’re like me and are holding on tight to that unlimited data plan you’ve had for 4 years, there’s no need to worry yet – unless you’re on Verizon. AT&T will let you keep it even if you buy a new subsidized phone, but Verizon is taking a harder line:

AT&T stressed key differences in its plans, including no requirements for new customers to adopt a shared-data plan. Instead, they can choose one of AT&T’s existing plans. In addtion, all current AT&T customers can keep their existing phone plans and still upgrade their devices with a subsidized price, even if they still have unlimited data.

In contrast, Verizon Wireless only will allow customers to keep their unlimited data plans if they buy an unsubsidized phone, which often costs hundreds of dollars more than a phone subsidized by the carrier. Also, new Verizon subscribers are required to sign-up for a shared data plan.