Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Safeguard Your Wireless Security

Do you use wireless Internet connections at coffee shops, airports, hotels, or at home? If so you should be concerned about about the security of your personal information. Hacking is getting much easier, and new tools, such as the free Firefox add-on Firesheep, allow people with comparatively little expertise to very easily observe your online movements. A recent article in the New York Times, New Hacking Tools Pose Bigger Threats to Wi-Fi Users, provides a great overview of both the threats to your private data and the actions you can take to protect yourself. I encourage you to read the article for more detailed information, but here are some important points:

HTTPS is an encryption method offered by many Web sites, but many do not provide "end-to-end" encryption, meaning that while your password may be protected as you enter a site, your privacy is vulnerable thereafter. The article points to another free Firefox extension, called HTTPS Everywhere, which makes HTTPS the default on Web sites that offer HTTPS as an encryption method. However, this only works with sites that offer HTTPS. A small lock visible in the corner of your browser or within the address bar ensures that your connection is encrypted.

A good rule of thumb noted in the article is to avoid doing anything online with sensitive data in public places. One should also take steps to bolster the security of your home wireless network, which is susceptible to hackers with inexpensive Wi-Fi antennas that can detect signals from home networks two to three miles away. It's wise to select a long and complex alphanumeric password and change the default router name of your home wireless network.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) can encrypt all wireless communications at home or in public places. There are both subscription-based and free versions, although the latter tend to provide more limited protection. If you are a member of the CU-Boulder community, you may freely use the campus VPN service. It encrypts your traffic as it is routed to the campus VPN server, and is unencrypted after that. If you are sitting in a coffee shop and connect through the CU-Boulder VPN, you have some protection from nearby prying Firesheep eyes. This is better than nothing -- it's worth noting that over a million people have downloaded Firesheep since its release just over three months ago.

Image: David Pham, iStillness, 2006. Available from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Once Again, Privacy Settings on Facebook

As you may know, Facebook's privacy settings have changed from time to time in recent years. Do you know exactly what information you are currently sharing with whom, both within and outside of Facebook? If you haven't reviewed your settings for a while, it's worth spending just a few minutes looking them over and make adjustments as necessary. Over at Mashable, Stan Schroeder just shared a must-read post on privacy for Facebook users: Facebook Privacy: 10 Settings Every User Needs to Know.

The topics that Schroeder covers, accompanied by screen shots and easy, step-by-step instructions, are:

1. Sharing on Facebook
2. Existing Photos
3. Checking In to Places
4. Connecting on Facebook
5. Apps You Use
6. Instant Personalization
7. Info Accessible to Your Friends
8. Public Search
9. Friend Lists
10. Enabling HTTPS

Image: Jeremy Brooks, Private, 2008. Available from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Google Art Project: 'Street View' for Museums Plus Artworks in High Resolution

Today Google announced the launch of Google Art Project, an exciting development for anyone interested in art or art museums. From the Official Google Blog: "You’ll find a selection of super high-resolution images of famous works of art as well as more than a thousand other images, by more than 400 artists—all in one place. And with Street View technology, you can take a virtual tour inside 17 of the world’s most acclaimed art museums."

To get started,  just choose a museum from the home page and then select ‘View Artwork’ or ‘Explore the Museum'. From there you can use the drop-down menus at the upper left of the page to select a museum (box on left) or choose among the artworks within a given museum (box on right). You can virtually explore selected portions of museum spaces in 'Street View' mode with the ‘Explore the Museum' option -- note that the resolution in this mode is not particularly high. But in the ‘View Artwork’ mode you can zoom into lovely detail views, and even enjoy truly magnificent, super-high resolution, gigapixel details among selected images (indicated by a 'plus' symbol on the list of artworks).

Note the 'i' button at the top right of the page, which provides valuable information about the selected museum (Web site, floor plan, Google Maps location, museum history, and more works in the museum) or the selected artwork (such as viewing notes, additional artwork information, artwork history, tags, artist information, more works by the artist, and more works in the museum).

Finally, you can also ‘Create an Artwork Collection,’ where you can save and share specific views and comments on any of the 1000+ artworks included in Google Art Project. Note that FAQs can be found here.

The participating museums currently are:
  • Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin - Germany
  • Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC - USA
  • The Frick Collection, NYC - USA
  • Gemäldegalerie, Berlin - Germany
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC - USA
  • MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC - USA
  • Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid - Spain
  • Museo Thyssen - Bornemisza, Madrid - Spain
  • Museum Kampa, Prague - Czech Republic
  • National Gallery, London - UK
  • Palace of Versailles - France
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - The Netherlands
  • The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg - Russia
  • State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow - Russia
  • Tate Britain, London - UK
  • Uffizi Gallery, Florence - Italy
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam - The Netherlands

While it current state is impressive, the relatively small number of museums and artworks is immediately obvious. It is exciting to imagine what this could become in time, with more contributions from these and other institutions around the world. While you can't beat viewing artworks in person, it is not possible for most of us to visit all of the museums that pique our interest. Further collaboration between Google and museums will make more cultural objects accessible to many more people, which will ideally inspire more museum visits and overall support for museums.