Friday, April 26, 2013

Windows update for ACTPrinter

Houdah has re-designed the installer for ACTPrinter for Windows and made many programming changes to the program.  It is now available at:

Some of the changes include:
-Direct import of Word, Excel and Power Point files (Drag and Drop or use the '+' button)
-Redesigned printer queue for increased performance
-Automatic PDF Printer testing and repair
-Program and Installer are now digitally signed
-Redesigned installer with less prompts

They plan on releasing some new features in the near future, so keep an eye out for an update in the App Store.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

ACTPrinter: print to your mobile device

ACTPrinter virtual printer for your iPhone

ACTPrinter from Houdah does one thing, does it well, and cost one buck.  Yes, it's worth it if you have a Mac and iOS device.

There is a Windows version, but still some bugs to work around.  I suggest you wait for the next version if you're a Windows user.

On iPhone, you already have Passbook, a great place for boarding passes, but there are lots of other pages you might want to print to take with you: hotel reservations, on-line order confirmation, or maybe a quick page or two of speaking notes.

You don't necessarily want to have that bit of paper stored on your cloud service.  It's of transient use to you, but you do want it with you.  A few years ago, you would print it and jam it into your pocket.

That's what this little app will do for you:  it will print it on your phone, so you can jam it in your pocket.  You have to have your mobile device on the same wireless network as your computer, so this is not for remote access.  It is, however, hands down the smoothest way to get that note onto your iOS device.

And if you are still suspicious of the cloud, well, here you can "print" files right to your phone without using the cloud in any way.

You purchase the US$0.99 app from the App Store.  One purchase works for both iPhone and iPad.  You download the free ACTPrinter for your computer.

Next time you want to print a note, make sure you have your mobile device on the same wireless network, and the ACTPrinter app open on the device. From the print window on your Mac, click "PDF" and choose "Print using ACTPrinter" on the drop-down menu.  The document will appear on your mobile device in the ACTPrinter app.  Done!  Or, if you really want to, you can open it in another app on your device (if for example you want to be able to add annotations).  Bueno.

That's the one thing it does well.


1. The menu bar at the bottom of your document (see below) is so dark that at first I didn't realise there was anything there.

2.  If you print from Google Chrome (instead of Safari), you have to print using the system dialog, not the normal print menu for Chrome.  To get there, instead of using "command + P" to print, use "option + command + P".  Or follow this screencast that the friendly folks at Houdah put together:

3.  As above, give them a chance to fix the Windows issues before you start using this.  There are a lot of troubleshooting tips for Windows in the Help section, but the point of the app, after all, is to make your life simpler

Oh, and the other thing they do well is support.  I had answers within minutes to my emails about problems.  I am optimistic that they'll polish this up and it'll be a great little app for saving paper.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Note Taker HD for iPad: almost paper, only better

Note Taker HD by Software Garden turns your iPad into a yellow notepad, and no, I don't mean that one that comes loaded on your iPad.  This one is for handwriting.  While you can use the keyboard to write in this app, really this is the app for the person for whom the soft keyboard on the iPad is not exactly a natural fit.  Thanks to the zoom window for written entry, you have a big space for writing with your finger (or a stylus), and then the app shrinks it down so that it looks like normal handwriting as it appears on the page.

My favourite is using it to complete PDF forms from the web, and then fax or email them without ever printing.  I use to send the fax right from my iPad.  

Right there, that's worth the five bucks for Note Taker HD.

Link here to iTunes purchase

But wait... there's more.

You can also insert images, draw (with colours and variable width of line), and choose from 138 different useful pre-set shapes, including time stamps, architectural shapes, and musical charts.

It also does some PDF annotation, but there are more robust annotation apps out there.  Where this one really shines is in nearly honouring the experience of paper for those who still have that strong attachment, especially a need to have the feeling of writing with a pen.

There is a file structure and a tag structure, so although your notes won't have OCR search capability, you can find them by tags.  You can back-up to DropBox, and use the "open in" function to import and export.

Finally, your "handwritten" note taking is less intrusive than on a laptop, as the input is silent:  no tapping or clicking.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Critique of the Law Society of BC Cloud Computing Report

(twitter topic: #BCLawCloud)

On January 27, 2012, the Law Society of British Columbia released its Report of the Cloud Computing Working Group.  

The report deals with the issues arising from lawyers using third parties to store and process confidential client information.

These are vital concerns to the profession. An examination of the methods of electronic transmission and storage of privileged and confidential information is needed, and the profession needs guidelines from the Law Society.

While the report has the facts straight, it has missed the meaning and implications of these facts. The report sees the trees and misses the forest.

There are two areas to address: privacy and access. Encryption is a key issue common to both. While passwords are touched on, encryption is entirely absent from the report. Passwords at best imply encryption; it is easy - and commonly done - to "password protect" something without any protection whatsoever.  This post focuses on access. I will address privacy in a future post.

The LSBC sees the use of cloud storage as a static concept. For them, it is the equivalent of putting all your paper files into a truck and having them delivered to Iron Mountain -- not a local Iron Mountain but one that is outside of the LSBC jurisdiction. In this paradigm, the LSBC has lost the ability to carry out its responsibilities as the governing body of the legal profession in British Columbia, in particular, the ability to audit British Columbia lawyers' client files.

This static storage paradigm is wrong. Computers are all about copying. When you look at a web page, a copy is made from server and put on your computer. When a document is saved to Dropbox (one of the most popular cloud services), it is copied to the Dropbox part of the cloud - and a copy is left on your computer. When a document is copied to a cloud server, it is then copied to back-up drives and redundant mirror systems - which might not even be in the same physical location (this is done so you can enjoy 24/7-always-up access). If you use that old DOS command "move", the data is copied and then the original is deleted. In short you don't store your data, you manage copies.

Why is this important? This is important because it makes the data location irrelevant. If your documents are in the cloud they are everywhere all at once. If you have the encryption keys you have access. Your access will probably be better than the "forensic copy" that LSBC wants. Why? Because the " forensic copy" only supplies the current document and some document fragments of past edits and deletions. A good cloud service will give you all changes and deletions. On a standard Dropbox account, full history will last for two weeks while a permanent history is an extra service. If the LSBC required the full service they would have far more information than they could ever get from a "forensic copy".

This is also what makes cloud computing so attractive: unprecedented access by instantaneous sharing of data at a fraction of the cost of the paper version.

The other side of this ease of access is that if you are using a service from the USA, but the "storage" is in Ireland (for example, Amazon Web Services), then if an agency of the US government wants to look at your data, it matters not to the agency that the main storage place is out of country, since full access is available here and now.

In short, full historical access is available to anyone with the passwords, regardless of the storage location. This should make LSBC happy because it will have better access to the lawyer's files than ever before, and concerned because of the greater opportunities for breach of confidentiality. Obviously, to maintain security over the data, lawyers need to be concerned about restricting the access codes and not the storage location. 

    Monday, April 23, 2012

    Non-technical Encryption Primer (Simplified)

    Encryption is the art of hiding data in plain sight. It will be private when being transported or simply sitting on a hard drive.

    There are two ways to break an encrypted file: brute force attack or breaking the password. Depending on the level of encryption, the brute force attack might require significant resources so resources that even government probably will not be able to open your encrypted laptop.

    Breaking the password is the easiest. Mostly this is simply cracking weak passwords.

    The lesson here is that you can keep your data very safe, even if you loose possession or control over a copy of the data, by using a good password and up-to-date encryption software.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    Safe and Secure Data (part 3): email, passwords and Paris Hilton's dog

    Email is Not Secure

    If the data you are sending is supposed to be private do not send it unencrypted in an email. Email can be secure, but it generally is not. Email suffers from two problems.

    1. You only can control part of the trip. Even if you set your email to be transmitted on a secure channel (SSL/TLS), that only applies on the trip from your computer to the mail sending server (probably not the receiving server). What happens after that is out of your hands. If you are worried about Homeland Security snooping through your files, then consider that the letter you sent across town in Vancouver, Canada could have quite easily gone went through a US server.
    2. Email is stored. A copy is stored on your computer, a copy on the recipient's. If you are using Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail then they store a copy. So that love letter (or banking information/ passwords)  you sent to someone you trust 5 years ago is sitting on some back-up drive or old computer forgotten about. In a readable form. It happens all the time that someone gets a hold of this old information.

    Password Security

    The number one thing you can do for your data security is to pay attention to your passwords. Some nefarious individual can get hold of your passwords and look at your personal information, run up your long distance bill, run up your credit cards. This can all happen within minutes of your security being compromised. Remember, the hackers are pros with computers. Their stealing is fully automated.

    So, is your password easy to guess? Before you answer that, don't think that the approach will be: "Well I know Jane likes roses so lets try 'Red Rose'." Think that someone high speed password machine with a data base of a couple of million common passwords like: "password", "password123", "p&ssw0rd123", last four digits of your phone number, all of the words in Webster's  Dictionary, and it turns out lots of common phrases are suspect as well.  Don't be scared.  Just follow the rules:
    • Make your passwords long with a mix of case, number and letters.
    • Have multiple passwords: Use different passwords for banking, email, and low-risk situations like customer surveys. 
    • Change your passwords. 
    REMEMBER THIS: when you type a password into a web-site or send it in a email, you have lost control of who has access to it!

    Food for Thought

    The News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK shows how easy it is to get your personal information. The techniques are the same whether you are having your identity stolen, having your long distance bill run up, or just selling newspapers.
    1. Your phone is cloned, and then they use the default auto-connect to get to your voice mail.
    2. Your passwords are compromised by either:
      • Checking the phone's default password.
      • Answer the security question to get the password.
      • More techniques.
    Obviously none of this may work.  But will it work for against you?

    My personal favourite is a scam involving resetting Paris Hilton's mobile phone password by answering the security question. It turns out that Paris Hilton's security question was something like: what is the name of your dog? Yes that dog: the dog she has been photographed with countless times.

    Disclaimer: This blog is about some security issues, not a recipe book on hacking. I know that some of the threats outlined don't work very well as stand-alone techniques, but they have been used to hack into private areas. 

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Safe & Secure Data (part 2): Is it Safe? Update

    At the end of January some Swiss banks handed over encrypted client data to the US Government. They plan on handing over the passwords after they lose some appeals. For me, the US Government beating up Swiss banks is a spectator sport, but the interesting thing is how confident the Swiss banks are that the US will not be able to open the files, at least while the matter is under appeal.

    Moreover, the Swiss obviously are confident that the mighty US will not crack the encryption for many years, because even if the Swiss prevail on the appeal, they have left the encrypted data in the hands of the US.

    Can your e-data be safe?  The Swiss banks think so.

    Lady was ordered to decrypt her laptop by the district court. In other words the government cannot quickly or easily open a encrypted laptop. It could take years and lots of computer time to crack it.

    She probably wished she had installed a hidden encrypted area on her machine. The government would have no way of proving that this area exists and she could then plausibly deny it's existence.

    Maybe she did! If she didn't she (for all I know) has a hard chose on her hands.