Is Symform Cloud Storage a Scam?

Doesn’t it look quite so difficult to believe if someone offered you cloud storage for hundreds of gigabytes absolutely free? Symform is a cloud storage company that offers exactly that. You have to pay no money to get cloud storage from Symform; all you pay them is extra storage space available on your computer.

Symform has created this revolutionary idea of storing others’ files right on your computer as a means of networked storage (which is known as cooperative storage cloud). I have got questions in my inbox from people asking whether this is really true or if any scam is involved. It seemed to most too good to be true. Let’s look at the details in this post.

The Basic Idea

 

It’s an interesting idea. Let’s assume you need 10 GB of cloud storage. To get that 10 GB free, you have to sign up with Symform and allocate 20 GB from your computer for the Symform network. That is a 2:1 ratio that you have to maintain. Symform takes twice the amount of space you need in cloud from your system’s free storage space.

The 20 GB you are giving is most probably from hundreds of GBs you have remaining on your computer. As long as you can give twice the amount of space you need from Symform, you can get completely free cloud service from them.

The advantages as quoted by Symform are many. They state that they provide high level of security, availability, backup, etc. Initially, when you sign up, Symform gives you 10 GB of free space.

How Cooperative Cloud Works

 

Imagine Symform has currently 10 customers, each contributing 20 GB each for a total of 200 GB in the cooperative cloud. In exchange, each of these ten customers can have 10 GB of storage each, for a total of 100 GB. You are one among them.

Now here is how the system works:

    1. 1. Your 20 GB goes into Symform’s storage pool.

 

  • 2. Imagine you store 5 GB of data initially; this data is then broken down into parts and sent over to five other systems.

 

 

  • 3. Symform also adds redundancy to the data. That means, copies of a few of your data blocks are stored on extra systems to ensure data availability.

 

 

  • 4. When you require the data, even if one or two of the ten systems are not available, your data can be retrieved from other systems in which your data is stored redundantly.

 

 

That was the basic idea of cooperative cloud. Symform takes it to another level, in which data is stored in many different computers, making the chances of corruption and availability at the minimum. Take a look at the image below that illustrates the actual system:

Symform cloud storage steps

 

With encryption and breaking down the data into many blocks of small size, the integrity and security of the data are preserved.

The redundancy added is 1.5x. That means, if you have 5 GB of data, Symform actually stores 5X1.5=7.5 GB in the cloud. 2.5 GB of the data is in redundancy. That means, even if a number of systems fail (a very remote chance in the actual implementation), your data can be retrieved properly.

Now, Is It Really a Scam?

 

Now the big question, is Symform doing any illegal business there? The idea of cooperative cloud has been around for some time now. It is a legitimately good idea for proper cloud storage. In the world where big companies like Google and Apple are creating huge data centers around the world to store user files, cooperative cloud makes a difference.

Huge data centers take up huge amounts of power to operate, some take up the entire power required by a small city to operate. In such a world, building a cooperative cloud system gives you not only security and availability, but also makes the environment clean.

Symform is not a scam at all. The idea of cooperative cloud is real. It is an efficient and perfectly legitimate way of storing your files.

With that said, I have no idea how popular Symform has become or how successful the service has gone. It needs to be seen in the coming days. It depends on how they operate the company and how they manage the data.

[Image credit: Symform]

What Is NFC (Near Field Communication)?

Have you been hearing a lot about NFC (Near Field Communication) technology lately? To a layman, this is just another technology, like ‘Super’ AMOLED, ‘Retina’ Display, ‘PureView’ camera, ‘multi-core’ processor, and probably you think this is another marketing gimmick to get the device sold at the end of the day. You may haven’t paid much attention to it either.

However, there is a group of people who are very optimistic about NFC. Let the myths be busted! Let me explain to you in simple terms what NFC is and what it does.

Near Field Communication is a set of wireless standards that enables radio communication between two electronic devices by bringing them in close proximity

 

Well, that doesn’t sound so easy to understand, does it? In layman’s terms, with NFC, you can connect two devices (wirelessly) by tapping them together. That’s right! Just tap your phone to another and they have established an invisible link.

The prospective applications of this technology will astound you—with a tap of your smartphone you can pay for products and services, you can establish Wi-Fi connection with a router, you can get music and small videos transferred to your phone, you can exchange electronic business cards, you can travel in train or on air without your wallet, you can get movie tickets delivered to your phone, you can review restaurant menus and pay for meals, and much more.

NFC Standardization

 

Unlike ‘Super’ AMOLED or ‘Retina’ display, NFC is not a technology owned by a company. It’s a standard like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi that all manufacturers have to follow. Also, NFC is not a new technology; it is a mere extension of already existing wireless technologies, like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, GSM, etc. In order to create a common standard for all NFC based communication, Nokia, Sony, and Phillips came together in 2004 to create a forum—the NFC Forum.

It is in this forum that everything related to NFC is developed. Now, the forum has 160 members. They include industry heavyweights like Google, AT&T, Intel, Samsung, Microsoft, Toshiba, LG, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, HP, Fujitsu, HTC, Daimler, PayPal, Marvell Studios, and several others.

A lot of big and small technology companies are part of this deal—suspiciously enough Apple is missing! All of the companies out there that manufacture smartphones have come up with NFC-enabled smartphones. Apple iPhone still lacks this technology. And the latest news has confirmed it that Apple won’t be including NFC even in iPhone 5. It’s very sad that Apple wants to build its own mobile payment technology as they ‘feel that there is no common standard in mobile payment systems out there’.

NFC Range

 

The connectivity through NFC is available only in a very short range—shorter than Wi-Fi and even shorter than Bluetooth. The range of NFC is less than 4 centimeters (slightly less than two inches). NFC is at the lowest band of wireless technologies.

The data transferred is in kilobytes level, and it uses globally available band of 13.56 MHz (you don’t need to know the details of this). For detailed specifications, you can download documents from the NFC Forum.

Security Concerns

 

Since it is short range, you cannot be vulnerable unless the attacker is within that range, apparently! Recently, BBC was reporting a demonstration of security attack on NFC (a demonstration by Charlie Miller of security research firm, Accuvant). This may put people into panic mode as several of us now are walking around with NFC smartphones.

However, let me make the things clear here for you. Any device that follows NFC specifications have their communications digitally signed to make them secure. This means, the two devices communicating with each other can identify the other device and can recognize if a third party is intervening in the connection.

The NFC security standard incorporates four layers of security—digital signature, ISO/IEC 13157-1:2010 standard, application security specified by the service provider, and additional security by the carrier or service provider for applications.

In the demonstration by Mr Miller, the hacking of the devices takes advantage of the default security rules of the device, and the default set of security rules is something that the user can configure. Also, the manufacturers will be able to make devices with better defaults for application level security that will make such attacks more difficult (I don’t say impossible as nothing really is; we have all seen people hacking into government websites, and I can’t say NFC being any more secure than such a website). This has been confirmed by the NFC forum itself, following the findings of Mr Miller.

So, there you go. You can trust NFC and get communications done securely through it.

Where Can You Use It?

 

Wherever you see an N-mark! The following is the N-mark.

n-mark

 

This is the official NFC logo developed and promoted by the Forum. This is licensed and can be downloaded from the forum website by accepting to the terms and conditions. The logo can be used on your outlet if you are a service provider with NFC capability.

So far the NFC system is not extensively available. NFC tags can be used to circulate information to handsets worldwide. An NFC tag is a tiny disk with a power-free chip built in. The chip contains a small bit of information, such as the address of a website or some text. Some tags can even contain multimedia content (such as tiny movie posters or trailers). These tags can be stuck to anything and tapping on the tag, your phone will receive the embedded information.

These tags can have a lot of uses. You can program the tag to open a particular website or application on your phone and when you tap on it, the application on your phone will open up; for instance, you can program a tag to open music player on your phone and stick it on your car’s dashboard; every time the phone approaches the tag, it will open the music player and start playing your favorite songs.

Conclusion

 

As you can see, NFC has loads of applications. It’s going to change the world as we know it if used far and wide. However, so far the technology has limited reach. A lot of people have to be made aware of the advantages in order to make it more pervasive.

Dropbox Cloud Storage Service Comes Up With Two-Factor Authentication

image credit to ZDNet

Dropbox is a popular service for cloud storage. The service helps you sync your files into any platform or device with the help of a client-side software application that you can download and install on all major desktop and mobile operating systems.

The most important criterion of any cloud storage service is its security. You are probably going to use the cloud service to store some very important files related to your business. You naturally need high level of security for such classified data.

The good news is that Dropbox has enabled two-step verification to its file storage service, making the service extremely secure.

What Is Two-Step Verification

Two-Step authentication can add security to any web-based service that you access from your client computer. Especially in services like online file storage, cloud computing, and email, you have to have better security.

We have seen people getting their accounts hacked into even after using strong passwords. The reasons for this are many—accessing the account from an unsecure system; having no proper security software installed; social engineering techniques that make people divulge such information to possible attackers; using security question answers that anybody can easily guess; writing down passwords and storing them in unsecure places; etc.

two factor authenticationWith Two-Factor verification, even if you lose your password, you will still be able to access your account—more importantly, anyone that actually gets hold of your password still needs additional information to access your account. The additional information mentioned here could be a secret code you can receive through text message on the mobile phone verified with the service.

The attacker will be able to change the cell phone number and the password only if he gets access to the account, which he cannot without getting access to the cell phone. This, sort of puts our attacker in a catch-22 situation, only that he can actually get into the account if he can get into your cell phone.

With two-factor authentication procedure, you are given a second chance when your account password is compromised. If you come to know that your password is known to others and your one chance to recapture your account is by getting access with a secret code that you get through your cell phone and changing the password afterwards, you will preserve your cell phone at any cost, won’t you? Google also provides two layers of security, and you should enable it. Dropbox’s move to enable this makes it one of the first choices in file storage.

Enabling Two-Factor Authentication on Dropbox

You can tell Dropbox to send you a secret code by SMS or run a mobile app available for all operating systems out there—Apple iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc. The mobile app supplied include Google Authenticator for Android, Apple iOS, and BlackBerry; Amazon AWS MFA for Android; or Authenticator for Windows Phone 7.

You can set up the SMS authentication using a cell phone number and the service is available internationally. Go to this link to enable Two-step authentication. You can set it up under your account settings page -> security tab.

After enabling it, you will get a one-time password every time you sign into Dropbox, and you cannot get access to your account without entering this secret code.

Conclusion

As you can see how secure it has to be to manage important user files, Dropbox probably will become the first choice of most of the people out there who are looking for good cloud storage services. The only disadvantage of this service is the lower free storage limit and the limit placed on the size of individual files. The free storage available in the server is 2 GB and the limit on file is around 300 MB. I would also suggest that you enable two-step verification on your Google account if you are seriously using it for various services.

Microsoft Outlook.com Vs. Google Gmail

outlook.com vs gmail

Microsoft has rebranded their popular Hotmail service to Outlook.com. As you know, for several years Yahoo.com and Hotmail were extremely popular email services. Along came then, Gmail, and with huge free online storage it swept up the users from both of the other email services. Strong fan following of Gmail also washed away other smaller email services.

Even Facebook’s email service was not a match to the mighty Gmail. An important thing to note here is that ironically enough, Hotmail still has the highest number of users followed by Gmail and Yahoo mail, although the user base of Hotmail contains a lot of inactive and secondary email accounts.

Now, everybody is talking about Outlook.com and whether it will be a sizable competitor to Gmail. In this article, let’s do a rematch between Microsoft and Google email services.

Security

 

security

One of the most important aspects of an email service is its security. You don’t want snooping eyes on your email conversations. As far as security goes, you know already how robust Gmail is. Gmail is the only service that offers two-factor authentication. That is, after you sign in with your password, you have to also enter a text verification code that you can receive through an SMS or a voice call.

On Outlook, however, you have a feature known as ‘single-use codes’. This is available on request when you are on an untrusted computer. You can ask Microsoft to send you an SMS code that you can use only once to sign into the account. This way, you will secure your actual password. In the same way, Outlook helps you prevent account thefts by incorporating your cell phone into your email account. This feature is already available in Gmail.

Winner: Gmail

Message Composition

There are a few differences in message composition on these email services. The reply-to fields are auto-suggested by both Gmail and Outlook. On Outlook, however, you have tiny buttons next to each email address to edit or remove the particular email address.

gmail compose
outlook.com compose

The compose-message window on Gmail has the same look as the entire email interface, while Outlook has come up with a new message window with no sidebar with contacts or folders. The message editor that Microsoft has come up with is simpler with fewer options than Google’s. Copy-pasting text with rich formatting is easier on Gmail’s editor.

Adding attachments to the email is easier on Outlook.com. It gives an option to upload the files you attach to your SkyDrive online storage. Attaching images on Outlook gives an attractive thumbnail list on your message. Also, you can search for images with Bing search and add them directly to the email message. On the other hand, Gmail uses the popular Picasa Web for image management.

Winner: Tie

Social Media Updates

When it comes to Gmail, the only social media site that you can work with is Google+. Don’t worry about others as Google won’t give you any updates from them! No integration to Twitter or Facebook makes Gmail less favored in terms of social media integration. Also, G+ hasn’t yet become anywhere close to Twitter or Facebook in terms of popularity.

On the other hand, Microsoft has made its email service tightly integrated to Facebook and Twitter; hence, you will be able to notice Facebook and Twitter updates of a recognized sender on the sidebar, instead of ads (yes, that’s correct!)

Winner: Outlook

Voice & Video Chat

You may know already that Gmail is the first email service to integrate chatting features through Google Talk. Later on, Google incorporated voice and video chat right from inside the email interface making the service a complete communication solution.

Outlook.com is the property of Microsoft, and so is Skype. Skype will manage voice and chat on Outlook.com. On the top of that, it's a popular service that provides free VoIP.

skype on outlook

Winner: Tie

Organization

The radical innovations created by Gmail in terms of organizing the mail include labels and folders and different colors that can be applied to the labels to archive email messages. Besides the regular email folders, you can create new labels within Gmail and have an email message tagged under multiple labels. The labels can be nested too.

However, the most important and widely used feature of Gmail is probably the ‘starring of messages’. With Google Labs enabled, you can have stars in different colors and designs so that you have a colorful inbox that will give you great organization.

Also, recently Gmail has come up with features like ‘Priority Inbox’, and you can view email according to its importance.

Organization settings on Outlook.com are also comparable. In this area, it’s more or less about personal preferences. Some people want to create folders and others want to use labels.

Winner: Tie

Email Search

You know Google as a search engine rather than an email service. Hence, when the best email service comes from Google, you expect it to have the best search feature as well. Google search within Gmail is spot-on. It will give you the email message that you are looking for quickly. Outlook uses Bing search engine for looking up messages and it’s not as great as Google.

Winner: Gmail (or Google search specifically)

Mobile Features

Gmail is the native email program for Android. It has seamless support on all Android phones and all versions of the operating system. Since Android is the most widely used email platform today, this is a default win for Gmail. Besides this, Google has apps for all the other mobile operating systems for better integration to the Gmail service.

Outlook.com has impressive mobile connectivity with Windows Phone and Apple iOS. However, it’s not a competition to Gmail on mobile.

Winner: Gmail

Other features

Gmail has the Labs feature integrated to the email service. This will enable the email service have extra features—apps running from within email, sidebar gadgets, colorful stars, multiple inboxes, and several others.

spam on gmail and outlook.com

Spam filtering features on Gmail and Outlook are comparable. So far, we had excellent spam filter only on Gmail, but Microsoft has done an impressive job in their email service. Microsoft calls their spam filter ‘SmartScreen’. It also uses the input from users to generate an effective spam filter. You can interact with the spam filter by blocking unwanted email addresses. The advantage with Gmail is that it does all of this automatically and gives you a really intelligent spam filter.

Outlook integrates with MS Office pretty well, while Google Docs manages office documents on Gmail. In terms of features, you will reach a tie here. Both services are great.

Outlook gives you a feature called Active View (similar to ActiveX controls that can be used to embed executable code on a web page). With this feature, you can play videos from YouTube and images from image sharing sites like Flickr, from within a message.

Winner: Tie

Conclusion

In the war between email services, Gmail was a clear winner. Now, however, Outlook.com has come and made it difficult for Google to maintain the upper hand. Yahoo, on the other hand, has probably accepted defeat already. The future will tell us how Outlook progresses in terms of popularity.

Software to Encrypt Your Files and Protect Them From Eavesdropping

Today let me discuss about encryption a little bit. You may know that the government agencies, hackers, and companies are capable of eavesdropping into your communications. It doesn’t matter how you transfer files and emails, they are always under the threat of wiretapping.

How do you hide your data? There is only one way you can safeguard from data stealers. That’s by using a software application to encrypt your files and folders. One of the best encryption software out there is being reviewed in this article. The program is known as Encrypt4All available for trial download.

Encrypt4all is a complete encryption software program that can encrypt and lock files, folders, documents in various formats, etc., into an archive with bit-by-bit encryption methods. One of the major advantages of Encrypt4all is that it has the capability to work with many different file formats, some of which include documents, text files, PDF, mp3, videos, Flash, etc. This is not a big advantage as the software developer would want you to believe. Windows encryption software is also capable of encrypting any type of file.

With Encrypt4all, you can set a password for any encrypted file. It is hence not possible to open encrypted archives without supplying the specific password. The application is available for these Windows versions—98, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, and 7. It also supports 64-bit and 32-bit operating systems. The application requires Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 or later.

The application has a shell interface that integrates to the Windows Explorer. Hence, you can call up the encryption function directly by right-clicking on a file.

You can set a master password to safeguard Encrypt4all as well. Here are two screenshots of the program.

encryption software

 

Encrypt4all program for encryption

 

This encryption software has been regarded to be the best by Brothersoft, Free Downloads Center, FDM, Wareshare.org, etc. In order to protect your files and folders, encryption is the best method out there. With this, you will be able to hide the content by scrambling it with a key, only with which you can unscramble the data at the receiving end. This is the best way to protect sensitive data from getting into the hands of strangers.