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How to check your identity hasn’t been sold to the hackers

September 16th, 2014 by Steve Cassidy

Database breaches, in which giant corporates such as Adobe, eBay, or Sony lose track of copies of their user and billing databases, are becoming almost weekly news items in late 2014.

Sometimes this is given a hacker spin, other times it’s just a dull case of not knowing where all those USB keys or backup tapes have gone.

Consumers are meant to respond to the news – which manages to be simultaneously both worrying and vague – by meekly changing their passwords, even if they don’t think they’re included in the database that’s been stolen. eBay’s alleged database theft triggered a mandatory password change for everyone, right across the system.

I have some problems with this approach, because, to be honest, I have a whole lot of different web identities. Once you’ve signed up to enough services for review, this becomes inevitable: I have a slew of login names and emails, and figuring out which one goes with which service becomes a daily trial.


This is partly down to disorganisation on my part, but it’s also a matter of personal security: just because the entire IT service business has declared that a single email address ought to be the arbitrator of identity, doesn’t mean that this approach is in my best interest. You’d be hard-pressed to deduce my username for my principal online banking account from the one I use to divert the inevitable marketing spam that follows a trial software download these days.

This approach puts me in a very rarefied group. Most people are encouraged by both daily advice from lazy e-commerce operators, and their own memory limitations, to have only one username/email combination and maybe a few different passwords, reused over and over again on various services.

As this count rises (and industry studies show a straightforward trend –  one service 3 years ago, between four and six now, and nine or more in 3 years’ time), so does the insecurity. The nasty black-hat hackers know this very well, and this increases the value of a stolen list of usernames: not because the hackers want to sign in to your Adobe account (to cite the largest recent breach as of the time of writing), but because they want to hit your Mastercard login, on the assumption you’ve reused the same credentials.

So it really does become essential to know whether your name(s) feature on those stolen lists. But how to check?

Enter Troy Hunt – he’s the operator of Type your email or user ID into his site and it looks through his cached copies of the stolen lists to see if you’re at risk. As is becoming habitual for me with this type of investigation, none of my identities trip the alarm, but I made a wild guess and put in a former client’s email address to produce the screengrab you see here.


I know what you’re thinking: why should you trust a site that a) has no www, and b) uses hacker-speak as part of its domain name? Aren’t all these people in it together? Who is this guy? Mr Hunt, however, has an easily traceable identity on the net and a very useful blog where he discusses the curiosities and vicissitudes of running such a thing as a public service. He is, in the jargon of this field, a “white hat”.

This is a vital role, given how e-commerce and customer relations have developed – certainly none of the affected businesses have taken steps of this nature to help you figure out whether your personal security plan has actually ended up working against your interests.

In an ideal world, the likes of Adobe and eBay would be paying Troy Hunt’s hosting charges on Azure (which is where lives), because most breaches appear to be failures of duty of care, and most of the cleanup processes seem to be left to a loose alliance of commentators, rumour-spreaders, paranoids and white-hatted hackers.

In fact, has been around for a few years already, but Troy has been adding further lists to the resource as the thefts and breaches continue, which makes it a progressively more useful and relevant utility – although I suspect that the way the man in the street reacts to technology and the mixture of risks from hacking won’t change very much, even if you do the public-spirited thing and let them know if their name comes up as being in the at-risk group.

This is one of those classic “you know you’re a nerd if…” moments, where the most you can hope for is that some of the people you put through the checks might go so far as to change their passwords, a little bit more often.

Tim Cook: this is how much TV has changed since the 70s

September 15th, 2014 by Barry Collins

The stress of last week’s big Apple announcements must be getting to Tim Cook. The man needs a holiday. That can be the only explanation for some bizarre comments he made over the weekend on a US television show, when he was asked about Apple’s TV plans.

“TV is one that we continue to have great interest in – I choose my words carefully there – TV is one of those things that, if we’re really honest, it’s stuck back in the seventies,” Cook said on the Charlie Rose show.

“Think about how much your life has changed, and all the things around you that has changed. And yet TV, when you go in your living room to watch the TV, or wherever it might be, it almost feels like you’re rewinding the clock and you’ve entered a time capsule and you’re going backwards. The interface is terrible. I mean, it’s awful!”

Just to jog the Apple boss’s memory, here are a few examples of how television has changed over the past 40 years.

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Posted in: Hardware | 6 Comments »

Westminster wins the .London battle

September 12th, 2014 by Tim Danton

DotLondon heatmap1&1 and Fasthosts have produced an interesting heatmap of successful .London registrations, which would seem to suggest that the hotbed of web-savvy companies isn’t in Shoreditch or East London’s Tech City: it’s the city of Westminster. Read more


Posted in: Random | 2 Comments »

20 years of PC Pro: from deep pan pizza to virtualisation

September 11th, 2014 by Nicole Kobie

If PC Pro had a heart, it would be the Real Worlders, as we call them. Many of our Real World Columnists have been contributing to the magazine since its early days — some, including Davey Winder and Jon Honeyball, from the very first issue.

We asked Paul Ockenden, Steve Cassidy and Davey Winder for their favourite columns that have been published in PC Pro. Here’s what they picked.

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Five reasons why the Apple Watch leaves me cold

September 10th, 2014 by Barry Collins

Apple Watch

Darien Graham-Smith and his newlywed wife may be casting admiring glances at the Apple Watch from afar, but I don’t share his enthusiasm.

We’re still at the incubation stage of the smartwatch market, but I was hoping that Apple would provide me with a definitive reason to want one of these devices strapped to my wrist. Last night’s announcement singularly failed to push my easily goaded “Buy Now” buttons. Here’s why the Apple Watch currently leaves me cold.

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Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus: Tim Cook’s Apple back with a bang?

September 10th, 2014 by Darien Graham-Smith

You have to hand it to Apple – it knows how to create a buzz. Even though I’m currently honeymooning on the other side of the world, I couldn’t resist sitting up until nearly 3am to watch last night’s announcement.

Of course, this was no ordinary event. Ever since Tim Cook took over the reins, we’ve been waiting for Apple to prove that its vitality hadn’t been lost along with its iconic CEO. The fanfare surrounding last night’s announcement seemed to promise that, at long last, that proof was at hand.

iPhone 6s

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BT Home Hub 5: how to get maximum speed

September 9th, 2014 by Barry Collins

BT Home Hub 5

BT finally got round to installing fibre in my area around a month ago, since when I’ve been enjoying life in the fast lane. However, there’s a distinct problem with the way that BT sets up the router, which wasn’t mentioned in our review of the Home Hub 5 and may prevent you from getting the most out of your fibre connection. Luckily, there’s an easy fix, which I’m going to explain here.

The BT Home Hub 5 is a dual-band router, but the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands share the same SSID by default. In other words, when you go to connect your devices, you’ll see one access point labelled “BT Hub-XXXX” and your device may connect to either of the two bands. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no way of telling a dual-band device to connect to a particular band – although if you know better, please let me know in the comments, below.

This is a problem, since the 5GHz band is much slower than 2.4GHz in my experience, and that of several of my Twitter correspondents. From upstairs, my dual-band laptop can get the full 80Mbits/sec afforded by my Infinity 2 connection over 2.4GHz, but that throughput slumps to around 20Mbits/sec when connected to 5GHz – which is roughly what Jonathan Bray found in his review of the Home Hub 5.

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20 years of PC Pro: one-star reviews (including “the worst tablet we’ve ever seen”)

September 4th, 2014 by Nicole Kobie


There’s nothing like a perfect piece of tech — but even rarer than a six-out-of-six score on a PC Pro review is a one-star rating.

It’s not often we’re so horrified by the uselessness of a piece of kit that we give it our lowest possible score, but here are three times that’s happened in the past ten years. Enjoy. We know we did.

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20 years of PC Pro: our best covers

August 28th, 2014 by Nicole Kobie


There are only so many ways you can photograph a laptop — or so you’d think. PC Pro has been blessed with a talented team of designers and photographers in our 20-year-history, who have come up with glorious ways to make bland desktops and black-rectangle tablets into interesting covers, and to translate more esoteric ideas such as broadband and the web into images.

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Why we’ve closed the PC Pro forums

August 28th, 2014 by Tim Danton

Last night, we reluctantly took the decision to close the PC Pro forums. In short, they had become a security risk and an unpleasant environment due to the amount of spam in them, while the amount of genuine posts had dwindled to a sad few. Read more

Posted in: Random | 24 Comments »






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