You can already use Google Pay in Malta!

UPDATE: Some users have reported that Revolut was not allowing them to add cards to their Google Pay accounts in Malta. So, your mileage may vary. Users whose cards are already added will still work fine. This was working as intended at the moment of writing.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ll know that Apple Pay is now supported in Malta, through Revolut. But little did Android users know that Google Pay has been supported by Revolut for more than a year now!

According to an article on Android Police, around mid-July 2018, Revolut rolled out support for Google Pay. This means that using any NFC enabled Android device, you can start paying locally with your phone!

What is Revolut?

Revolut is an online bank based in the UK – you can get a free debit card to be used locally and comes with a great Android app. It’s the only card that works with Google Pay in Malta – BOV, HSBC, BNF and any other local bank do not support Google Pay, so Revolut is your only choice in this case. You can sign up with Revolut for free here (note that with each successful sign-up, I get a small kick-back, as described here).

How to I get Google Pay?

Easy – using your Android Phone, just search for Google Pay on Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.walletnfcrel

Can’t find the app on the store, or it says something like “This app is incompatible with all of your devices”? Just download the APK from some APK Mirror, like https://apkpure.com/google-pay-pay-with-your-phone-and-send-cash/com.google.android.apps.walletnfcrel. Of course, side-loading applications can be risky so proceed with caution.

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How do I add my card?

Adding the card is very easy – just follow the setup on screen. If you ever used your Revolut card with Google, you’ll find it right there. If not, just add your details. Have your Card No, Expiry Date and CVV at hand though. You’ll need to confirm a code by SMS as well. No screenshots for this section as Google Pay doesn’t allow you to take screenshots when adding cards. You can find a video guide here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zS6aR22QZM

Anything I should know?

Yes – keep in mind that these transactions are considered Online transactions. Therefore, you’ll need to enable Online Transactions in the Card Security section. Don’t worry, if it’s turned off by default, Revolut will warn you about this.

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How will my transactions appear?

This is the nice part – they will show up like all other transactions. The payment will not be towards Google; it will point to the retailer you’ve just purchased from.

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How can I use Google Pay to pay?

Very easy! Firstly, make sure that NFC is turned on. Then, just unlock your phone and tap the payment machine when the retailer asks you to do so. Your phone will vibrate when you get tour phone close enough and Google Pay will activate itself. You may be asked to verify your identity, such as by supplying a PIN, Fingerprint or lock pattern. By, the way, lock patterns are bad and you should avoid them.

Take that, Apple Pay!

Security by Obscurity – in real life!

We were discussing security by obscurity in the office today – it’s always a topic that we end up having a laugh at. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read about security by obscurity here.

That’s all fine and funny, until you witness it. Us Maltese just witnessed it, last weekend, with a twist. Instead of being in some poorly written software, this was in a shop. Basically, a local Jewellery shop was robbed by professionals and they removed / deleted all security footage in the process!

You might say that this is not IT related – but I’m afraid that it’s very relevant. This got me thinking – how did they get access to the security footage? Was it there, exposed, just waiting for some person to meddle and delete with the footage? It seemed that these people thought so. Although I don’t have much details on how this was done, I would assume that these shops don’t have another site where these footage are kept just in case accidents like these happen.

So, what do I propose? Simple – it’s a bit illogical to keep the security footage at the same site where it’s being recorded. Ideally, this footage would be (instantly) moved to some off-site storage, making use of the cloud. Is there any provider doing this? A quick Google Search says yes: I’ve found examples such as CamCloud. Of course, I have no idea what the company offers since I’m not affiliated with it.

Given that today’s world is moving to the cloud, I can’t help but wonder if incidents like these can be mitigated by using such cloud services.

We need HTTPS – Today more than ever! – Avoiding the KRACK Wi-Fi Attack

Any decent tech guy knows that WPA2 has been officialy broken using an attack called KRACK. What does this mean? It means that any WPA2 network can be attacked with a Man in the Middle Attack, providing that the attacker is close (or has a device close) to you. Ouch!

This reminds me back in the day where FireSheep was still a thing. This allowed any user to Hijack any unsecured Wi-Fi and browse the user’s session. This now means that WPA2 is now as secure as Unsecured Wi-Fi since any data travelling on WPA2 can potentially be sniffed out.

Allright then, what does it mean for me, as a consumer? This means that at the moment, one cannot fully trust that no-one is listening on his WPA2 network. This also means that we need HTTPS now, more than ever! Why? Simple, because this means that if the user does indeed get a hold of your traffic, he still would not make any sense of it since it’s being encrypted! VPNs now also play a good role here; one can use a VPN to make sure that any traffic that he generates (even HTTP traffic) is indeed encrypted.

If you’re connected to a network and not using HTTPS (or the HTTP protocol in general), unfortunately, you’re out of luck. You can’t safely rely that no-one is listening on your data. This means that if you’re running some Wi-Fi enabled camera, make sure that it’s either running a secure (HTTPS based for example) protocol, or just turn it off.

Fortunately, this issue is not persistent – a software update can be handed out in order to address this issue. Software vendors have already been notified on how to address this issue, it’s just a matter of waiting for said vendors to issue a fix.

In short, don’t assume that you’re safe if you’re running WPA2; the only way to encrypt your traffic is by encrypting it (HTTPS / VPN). Read more in depth on this hack here.

On blindly trusting Software Vendors (and discussing CCleaner’s hacking)

By now, any software enthusiast is aware that CCleaner and CCleaner Cloud (Piriform) has been a victim of hackers. These hackers have injected malicious code in the release versions of such software and ended up on (roughly) 2 million end user machines.

For those who are not familiar with CCleaner, it allows the user to remove unwanted files, browser caches, registry keys cleanup and such. This means that it basically has access to all your system files and data on your drives. It’s a free software (with premium subscription available) and it’s installed on millions of machine all over the world.

Given the fact that this software has permission to modify system files on your machine by default, one can only imagine what a compromised installation is able to do on your machine.

From a consumer point of view, there is no way that we could have known that the software was compromised. I mean, even if they provided hashes to verify that the downloaded software is indeed the version they intended to, this would have NOT prevented anything! Why? It’s because the breach has occurred internally! In the sense that someone went into their private code repository, changed some code in their CRT and went unnoticed. How this has been done; that’s a story for another day (Piriform has not how this happened).

Anyway, the guys from Piriform has publicly acknowledged this, without being a coward or trying to cover anything up. They have also taken any measures necessary to assure that the threat is now over and issued updates to such software. This does not change the fact they’ll be losing trust from their loyal customers.

This of course left me a bit skeptical, sometimes I download applications from third party vendors, without thinking twice (and trusting them by default). This has definitely been a wake-up call to all of us, in the sense that you can never fully trust third party vendors. Can a similar thing happen in the future? Maybe. Is it avoidable some how? Well no, (or at least, maybe!)

Let’s talk about something a bit different now: Windows Apps (Universal Windows Platform Apps)!

One might ask: how is this relevant! Oh, but they are very relevant. You see, the execution of these apps works a bit different than your traditional desktop applications. These applications run in a Sandbox i.e they do not have direct access to your system. You can read more about Sandbox applications here. My point is that these apps are far safer; in case these applications get compromised, their damage is significantly reduced due to the nature of how they execute.

These applications have disadvantages of course; given that they are sandboxed, there are simply actions that they cannot do. For example, I simply cannot imagine CCleaner living as a UWP, given the fact that one of it’s capabilities is making changes to the registry. That definitely requires a “full trust” application in order to do so!

Let’s just hope that Piriform (and similar software vendors) get their act up and avoid such fiascos in the future!

Program something different during the weekend

If you, the reader, are like me, chances are you spend your fair share of your time programming during the weekend. It’s in us; it’s a passion. But, I believe that some of us are doing it wrong. Some people work on the same line of technologies during the weekend as they do during the week. They do not expose themselves to new technologies; always stuck with the same comfortable boundaries. It’s time to push yourself.

There is nothing wrong by doing programming during the weekend. For me, it’s an itch that needs to be scratched. Though, I try to avoid using technologies that I use at work, to expose myself to the ever changing world of programming. Sometimes, it’s not easy to expose yourself to new technologies. There are several barriers that hinder this.  Here are a few.

It’s a new programming language

Chances are that if you’re trying a new technology, it’s backed up by a different programming language. This means that you’ll likely to get stuck in very trivial problems, such simply forgetting syntax or lacking the knowledge of the underlying APIs. You’ll end up re-implementing features that probably already exist and provided natively by the language’s supporting libraries. That’s OK though, you’ll likely to end up Google-ing problems whilst doing so, and learning new techniques whilst doing so.

It’s a new programming paradigm

This is a bit tougher. You’ll be leaving the typical train of thought that you usually think with. A typical example is a C# / Java developer having a crack at some C programming. Although C# / Java are indeed influenced by C, they live in a separate programming paradigm. C# / Java are object-oriented languages, whilst C is a procedural language. You’ll need to think quite differently when programming in these languages.

It’s a different programming genertion

This is similar to the point above, but simply different classification. One might work a lot with 3GL languages, such as C# / Java / C or your typical run-off-the-mill language. You want to have a crack at some good SQL. It’s a different programming generation on it’s own. The definition might be a bit stumped, but the differences certainly exist. 3GL languages deal with general-purpose langues and 4GL deal with table structures. One is not meant to replace the other; they are simply complementing each other.

It’s a different application type

Most of us developers normally work targeting a type of application such as Web Applications or desktop applications. Designing an application to target any one of these types require a very different train of thought. Writing a desktop application? You need to think about having a fluid experience, whist probably being fairly portable. Writing a web application? It needs to work across browsers and different types of clients. Each of these applications require a very different tool-set (and potentially, programming language). Also, even if you’re targeting the same type of applications, there are very different types of solutions that lie in the same application paradigm.

It’s a different approach of the same application type

If I’m honest, I could not come up with an appropriate title for this category. I’ll try to explain. Let’s consider the desktop programming side for this category. There are numerous different applications that live in the application type. These are: your typical desktop application, a background service / daemon, a 3D application, a driver, you name it! For each type of desktop application, a very different tools and skillset is required.

What can we conclude from these previous points? We can see that there are loads of different areas that as programmers, we have probably never experimented with. If you pick one of the points that I mentioned above and apply it to your weekend programming, it will be a totally new experience for you.

Where can one start? Well, it’s easy! One can apply one of the different approaches that I just mentioned above and take it to Google / YouTube! You can also experiment with other premium providers such as Pluralsight and such. These paid platforms do not come cheap, but most of their content come from very reputable people and provide excellent material to learn.

Am I the only guy who says this? No, and most of the people are sticking with this trend. An article from StackOverflow illustrate my points mentioned above, basically they checked what people are searching for during the week, and compared them to the results people are searching during the weekend. One can see that for example, SharePoint is clearly a topic that is only worked on during the weekend and Haskell is a weekend project! Check the full article here.

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Topics during the week vs during the weekend. Courtesy of StackOverflow

 

What’s in it for you in the end of the day? Let’s highlight some points.

Expand your professional career.

Getting stuck in the same technologies over and over again is obviously not helping you expanding your career. Your CV will never grow; it’ll just show that you’ve stuck in the same comfortable zone forever, showing that you’re probably not willing to step out of your comfort zone. On the other hand, showing experiences in vast areas show that you are never tired of learning, always up for a new challenge and you can step out of your comfort zone.

Gather new skills.

Sometimes seeing different languages, tutorials or simply different approaches to solving different tasks will enrich your mind. Even if you capture a single skill from a weekend’s worth of development, it makes you a better developer.

Gain a new outlook.

Sometimes, you’re stuck thinking that your way is the only way, or the best way to solve a task. Then, you’re following a new technique in a completely different language or paradigm and realise that there exists a totally different solution to your everyday task that you can apply.

Contribute to the community.

We’ve all used projects that have been written by the community, for the community. Have you ever contributed back If you’re stuck with the same skill-set, probably not. Learning new stuff will enable you to do just so. Plus the satisfaction of giving back the community is simply a great feeling.

Have fun!

Last, and probably the most important, is having fun! Doing something that you don’t love doing so is pointless. This is work that you may never get to use in your professional life it’s just work that needs to get your programming juices flowing and enjoying oneself learning and experimenting with new things.