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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Evil is Alive and Well

Here are a couple of quick items on cyber-security:

CryptoLocker:  First, here is a link to blog post about CryptoLocker, a malicious spam attack:  Appriver blog post.  The attack is fairly basic.  You get an email that wants you to click on delivered fax or file.  Once you do, the program spreads through your system and encrypts all of your files, locking you out.  To get them unlocked, you have to pay the bad guys, who like are halfway around the world and care very little about restoring your files once they have your money.

This is a big threat to businesses and professional offices, where the files are essential to carrying on business.

While spam filtering software tries to keep ahead of this kind of spam, the perpetrators generally can reconfigure quickly to keep ahead of the filters.  Thus, the best advice is common sense:  Do not open email or attachments that look suspicious, come from unknown sources, or are unexpected.  If you think it might be real, do not open it or respond to the sender; instead, check it out first by independent means: call the sender (particularly if the sender appears to be your bank or credit card company, etc.) or research the sender online and check any spam alert service you are using for warnings.  When in doubt, pass.

Online Privacy:  In the wake of Edward Snowden's disclosures about the National Security Agency, everyone should be worried about online privacy. There is a lot of discussion about the NSA's activities, their purpose and its use information gathered and the legality these efforts by the government to balance security concerns with privacy rights.

What is less well understood is just how easy it is to get information on someone from online sources.  Here an excellent report on National Public Radio,

wherein the reporter, John Henn, with assistance Sean Gallagher of Ars Technica and Dave Porcello of Pwnie Express, explored just how much information can be gathered on someone from there travels on the web.  The results are startling, particular when you look at the representations of many major online services as to encryption of your identity.  Go listen to the full reports and consider carefully what you do online.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Mini-Byte: Cyber-Security: Spy vs. Spy.

We live in interesting times -- a dangerous age with respect to cyber-security.  Peter Lewis reminds us that some things that we think of as new revelations really trace back to an earlier era.  The song remains the same . . . China's PLA Unit 6139 and the NSA: Breaking Into the Rich Neighbor’s House.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mircosoft: Changing of the Guard (Have Things Changed?)

"Your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards." Bob Dylan

It seems to be the time to talk about Microsoft and whether a changing of the guard really means things have changed.  The key road signs for this question that have been widely reported already.

First, after having known only two masters in its existence, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, earlier this year Microsoft named its third CEO, Satya Nadella.  From his official corporate curriculum vitae, Mr. Nadella certainly looks like a departure from his predecessor, Steve Ballmer.
Second, Microsoft officially has parted company with what one commentator has called "the last great operating system," the now aged "XP."  On April 8, 2014, Microsoft officially stopped supporting XP.  This milestone departure prompted some foreign governments to ramp up their own support operations for the beloved OS.  Security analysis are left pondering the fate of practically all of the ATMs in the US, which operate on XPXP also is the operating system for many commercial transaction systems used by large retailers; recently, Target had a significant loss of consumer credit card data from its aging XP based transactional network.

We certainly have reason to debate what information the NSA and other governmental agencies have collection on us, but we should be equally concerned with whether the United States can keep its computer systems, governmental and private, safe from increasingly prevalent hackers.

Third, while leaving behind a significant piece of Microsoft's past, Satya Nadella has embarked on a new direction for Microsoft software.  Microsoft is still fundamentally a software company.  It has built commercial success on its widely used Windows operating systems for consumers and businesses and its suite of application software, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and it accompanying web browser Explorer and Bing search engine.  By contrast, Microsoft's most tenacious rival, Apple primarily manufactures hardware (Macs, iPads, iPods, etc.) that runs native Apple software.

From time to time, Microsoft has dabbled with the idea of moving into the hardware side of the technology world.  The results have been fitful.  In earlier columns, I have discussed that fact that Microsoft was an earlier pioneer in the field of software for tablet computing, but it drifted out of that picture and let Apple and Google realize the success of both tablet hardware and tablet software.  Microsoft tried to enter the market for portable music players that Apple created with the iPod.  Remember the Zune?  Again, Microsoft failed to stay the course.

Through the success of its hardware devices, Apple has established a significant presence for its software. Apple software like iTunes and its Safari browser now run on other devices.  iTunes has become ubiquitous on computers otherwise using Microsoft software.

Until Nadella's ascendancy, Microsoft has steadfastly resisted the idea of letting its prized office software package (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) reside on anything other than a Microsoft operating system.  Unfortunately, Microsoft is not dominant in the hardware world of portable devices made by others.

Mobile devices are the future, not only for personal computing, but for business and professional work.  Although Microsoft still has a strong presence in the business and professional world of desktop computing, the business and office workers increasingly want to take their computing outside the office and the desktop, out on the road and at home.  Once upon a time, that happened through laptop computing, with native Microsoft software.  Now, increasingly, business and consumers are  migrating to Apple and Android devices and using work-around software to access their Microsoft Word and Excel files.  I do this on my iPad with an application called QuickOffice.

Trying to contain this migration, Microsoft launched its own very promising tablet computer, the Surface, packaged with Microsoft software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) and tried to make the Surface its flagship hardware product to win back customers.  This was the right move and one which I hope Microsoft does not abandon (as it abandoned tablet computing once before in its infancy), because the competition from the Surface will cause all mobile devices to improve.  Microsoft has a fundamental advantage by putting its integrated Office software package on a mobile device, because it will retain many users whose in-office or in-home computing is done on Microsoft Office software.

Nadella's predecessor, Steve Ballmer resisted a wider distribution of Microsoft software beyond Microsoft operating systems.  Somewhere in the transition, strategists at Microsoft seemed finally to have realized that there is a much bigger market out there for software than the pure office and business core purchasers.  Within days of becoming CEO, Nadella first significant announcement was that Microsoft's Office software suite would be available on other platforms.

As I wrote this (in mid-April, 2014), I went to the iTunes App store on my iPad and downloading, for free, Microsoft Word for iPad.  It enables you to read Word documents in their native format.  Microsoft wants you to buy a full version of Word, however, if you want to edit those documents and perform other functions of Word.  It will be interesting to see how sales of the Word (and Excel and other Microsoft software) application go.  If you are an office user of Microsoft software, you may know that Microsoft has made great strides in integrating its Office software suite.  Microsoft's email and calendar program, Outlook, in particularly is now a center piece for other applications in the Microsoft suite.

 As Microsoft moves these programs onto more mobile platforms, a particularly interesting synergy to watch will be whether the Office suite becomes even more integrated.  Last year, with a new version of Outlook and the rest of the Office suite on my desktop, I experimented with a lesser known part of the Office suite, OneNote.  This is a program that allows you to take notes or otherwise save information in files, organized like a file cabinet in your office.  It is pretty easy to use and has advantages in its integration with other Office programs like Word.  In addition, OneNote was already available free on mobile devices like my iPad.

I was comparing OneNote to a non-Microsoft application that I was already using on my iPad, Evernote.  I like Evernote because it allows you to do a wide variety of things in the office or on the road:  take notes at meetings and conferences, receive email as a note (whether to save the text of the email for future reference or to attach documents that you wanted to send to your mobile device), and handle both work and personal chores.  As a web-based program, the app on my iPad and my desktop at work could access the same files, allowing for editing and revision back and forth, inside or outside the office.

I found OneNote very competitive with Evernote in many ways, but lacking a true advantage that would lead me to replace Evernote.  Now, with the availability of other Microsoft applications on mobile devices, Microsoft does have a potential advantage that it can exploit:  if it can develop true integration among it desktop software applications and their mobile counterparts, that synergy may bring together many users who want such integration.  Instead of looking for Microsoft work-around applications like QuickOffice on mobile devices, as users, whether for professional purposes, we can have a more seamless option.

Nadella's initiative in make in making the Microsoft Office suite available on all mobile platforms is groundbreaking and hopefully a signal the Microsoft intends to develop, improve, and market its software for mobile consumers.  This too will be good for all consumers, because it will bring more competition to the mobile device market.  Another key indication that Microsoft is going to take mobile devices more seriously can be seen in its acquisition of mobile phone maker Nokia.  This seems to foreshadow an announcement that Microsoft software soon will have a native cellular device to compete with the iPhone and Android cellphones.

Only time will tell, but these may be a clear signals that things have changed at Microsoft.

Postscript:  As I finish this post and work on another about the Heartbleed vulnerability, Microsoft announced a major vulnerability in its Explorer browser that could result in hackers gaining access to your computer, a so-called zero-day bug.  The wide spread use of Explorer makes this a major issue.  Microsoft even goes so far as to suggest that Explorer users may want to use another browser until a patch for Explorer closes this vulnerability.

This news also is significant to anyone still using the XP operating system, as Microsoft's discontinuation of support for its XP operating system means that there will be not a fix for this bug for those who continue to use XP.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Googling Google - MSBA Tech Talk

As some readers know, Reality Bytes originates from blog posts online at

It takes a while for these posts to reach print readers in the Maryland State Bar Association ("MSBA") Section of Estate and Trust Law Newsletter, which can be found online at the MSBA website at this link:, under the section labeled "Media."  You can also find a link the Reality Bytes blog there if you want to sign up.

If you have gotten this far, what I really wanted to tell you is that the MSBA also has a wonderful technology resource called Tech Talk, which appears periodically in the MSBA's electronic newsletter Bar Brief, found at this URL:  Look for the link to Tech Talk at the bottom of each issue of Bar Brief.

As I write this post, the current edition of Tech Talk ( (March, 2014) features a very informative and practical guide to certain more obscure features of Google.  For example:

Google Public Data Explorer - The Google Public Data Explorer allows users to upload their own data sets for visualization and exploration. It makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate.
 Undo a Sent Message – (One of the Experiments) You can set Gmail to wait 10 seconds before sending a message in case you want to stop it. Go to Settings, Labs and scroll down to Undo Send and click on Enable.
There are other tips on using Google. Google is an important part of our lives, perhaps in more ways that we realize.  Whether we are using it or not, we likely have a digital presence and others use Google to find out things about us.  So, go to Tech Talk and see other Google Tips for yourself.  Then, go Google yourself and see what you find!

If you are an MSBA member and like Tech Talk, you should be getting a periodic email each month from the MSBA alerting you to new editions of Tech Talk (unless you opt out of receiving the email).  If you would rather check out new Tech Talk posts on your own, it comes out every fourth Tuesday of the month.  Go to the links above for the Bar Brief and check it out.

And, if you are tired of trying to write down all these long URLs, consider reading this column as a blog online (, where you can find hyperlinks. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Nano-Byte: Words

Even in cyberspace, words are still important and cyberspace is contributing to our language every day.  So check out an interesting post from Peter Lewis, who covers this point and more much better than I could:  The 2013 Word of the Year.

Notice how language is being expanded by technology.  Please be warned of sensitive material when you get to "twerkette", a word my spellchecker does not recognize yet.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blawg Time - Vote for Your Best Legal Blog (Blawg).

Forget the legislative stalemate in Washington.  Forget Obamacare.  It is time to vote for something important - the best of the American Bar Association's selection of law and law related blogs (which the ABA has dubbed "blawgs"). Click on the to the following link to ABA,s webpage where you a review the ABA's choices and vote.  ABA Top 100 Blawgs.

These are likely all great blogs.  I have followed a few and may follow a few more after looking at this year's list.  Here are a sample of what caught my attention (without endorsement, except for Taxgirl and Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog, both of which are very good):

While this blog's most popular posts help female readers steer clear of the fashion police, former Wall Street lawyer Kat Griffin also takes questions from young lawyers and others about how to avoid career pitfalls. Posts written with empathy cover business etiquette, troubles with co-workers, interviewing, networking and more.

The Droid Lawyer
"The Droid Lawyer provides practical tips that help attorneys sort through the ever-growing mountain of apps and hardware upgrades and identify those that can actually make life easier. Whether I'm making a checklist of documents for closing a deal or a list of books that I want to read on my tablet during vacation, the Droid Lawyer helps me find the right tool for the job." —Jim Singer, Fox Rothschild, Pittsburgh

iPhone J.D.
New Orleans lawyer Jeff Richardson lines up to get his hands on the latest Apple products on the day they are released, shares his experiences in great detail (focusing on the lawyerly uses of these devices) and rounds up Apple coverage from all over the Web. So if you want the skinny on iOS 7, the iPhone 5S, and the recently released iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina display, this is the blog to visit.

The Legal Geeks
NEW Jessica Mederson and Josh Gilliland— lawyers and lovers of pop culture—are perhaps the nation's foremost experts on the legal issues that can be studied from John Cusack movies. Don't miss their irreverent video and audio podcasts, in which you can learn about everything from Renaissance fairs and comic-cons to torts and tortes. (You may remember Gilliland from past Blawg 100s as the author of Bow Tie Law's Blog. The bow ties still make an appearance.)

The Not-So Private Parts
HALL OF FAME With this year's revelations about NSA surveillance, Kashmir Hill's privacy blog on should find itself with even more readers. While many posts are labeled "Headline Grab" and are more akin to tweets, Hill also composes substantive posts about topics such as how long-forgotten Facebook posts might come back to haunt you and why your baby monitor's webcam should be password-protected.

Small Firm Innovation
Solos and small-firm practitioners—many of whom are established bloggers—write from personal experience at this group blog where posts are loosely centered on a monthly theme. The lawyers share specific problems they've encountered (and how they solved them) as well as pet peeves, favorite books and tech tips. Some themes from this year have delved into inspiring books, "outsourcing the small stuff" and the grating pop jargon of law practice management.

Supreme Court Haiku Reporter
What can we say that
Has not already been said?
You should read this blog.
Providing us with
SCOTUS cases in haiku
Is a true service.

HALL OF FAME Philadelphia lawyer Kelly Phillips Erb finds the tax angles of the day's major stories, sometimes consulting experts and sometimes sharing her own opinions on U.S. tax policy. Celebrities' tax woes often make appearances. This year, she also did a series of "back to school" posts that answered tax questions tied to the beginning of the academic year: Are tutoring services deductible? How do you document school-supply donations for tax purposes? Can you deduct expenses related to kids' sports?

TaxProf Blog
HALL OF FAME Paul Caron, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, covers tax reform in the news and scholarship related to U.S. tax law, and he notes celebrity tax disasters. But we like TaxProf at least as much for Caron's exhaustive coverage of news and debates covering legal education. He became the sole owner of the Law Professor Blogs Network and a makeover of that group of blogs soon followed.

Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog
El Paso, Texas, lawyer Richard Mattersdorff writes that he's learned a lot about estate planning for digital assets from law professor Gerry Beyer's blog. "Professor Beyer is also accessible," Mattersdorff writes. "Sporadically, I have emailed him, and he always answers helpfully, privately and/or in the blog itself."
Go check out the entire 100.  You will find something to follow.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Resources on Digital Assets and Estate Planning


Following up on my last post, The Drum Beat of Estate Planning for Digital Assets, I am posting here some sample language and a listing of digital asset resources online and in print.

Sample Language

Here are some digital asset provisions presented in an attempt to focus our thoughts about a generic definition:

            (18)    To access, take control of, handle, conduct, continue, distribute, dispose of, or terminate digital assets and digital accounts.  The term “digital assets” means, but is not limited to, data files (including but not limited to, emails, documents, images, audio, video, and similar digital files) that currently exist or may exist as technology develops or such comparable items as technology develops, stored on digital devices (including, but not limited to, desktops, laptops, tablets, peripherals, storage devices, mobile telephones, smartphones, and any similar digital device that currently exists or may exist as technology develops or such comparable items as technology develops), regardless of the ownership or location of the physical device upon which the digital asset is stored.  The term “digital accounts” means, but is not limited to, email accounts, software licenses, social network accounts, social media accounts, file sharing accounts, financial management accounts, domain registration accounts, domain name service accounts, web hosting accounts, tax preparation service accounts, accounting service accounts, data storage or back-up accounts, online stores, affiliate programs, other online accounts that currently exist or may exist as technology develops or such comparable items as technology develops.  The powers granted herein shall include the right to possess, receive and control any password, security code or other mechanism or device or means by which access to digital assets or digital accounts is achieved.[1]

. . . . . .

Powers/Other Provision re Digital Assets
To access, take control of, conduct, continue or terminate my accounts on any website, including, but not limited, to any social networking site, photo sharing site, blogging, micro-blogging, e-mail or short message service website, financial, multimedia, personal, or other online account, or comparable items as technology develops. All such websites may release my log-on credentials, including username and password, to my [Personal Representative][Trustee], and the website shall be indemnified and held harmless by my [estate][trust] for any damages, causes of action or claims that may result from this disclosure.

[ALTERNATIVE] Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets.  The [Personal Representative][Trustee]may properly access, take control of, handle, conduct, continue, distribute, dispose of, or terminate the interests in my digital property unless such actions are contrary to the terms of this [Trust Agreement][will] or applicable law.  
My “digital property” shall include any digital asset and digital account owned by me, and shall consist of the ownership and management interests in the digital asset and account.  For purposes of this Article “digital account” means, but is not limited to, an electronic account containing a digital asset and includes any social networking site, photo sharing site, blogging, micro-blogging or short message service website, email, financial, multimedia, personal, or other online account or comparable items as technology develops.  “Digital asset” means any text, images, multimedia information, or personal property stored in a digital or analog format, whether stored on a server, computer, or other electronic device, regardless of whether it is remotely stored, which currently exists or may exist as technology develops, and regardless of the ownership of the device upon which the digital asset is stored.  Digital assets include, without limitation, any words, characters, codes or contractual rights necessary to access the digital asset, including any related intellectual property rights.  
In furtherance of the foregoing, the [Trustee][Personal Representative] is authorized to take any step necessary to terminate [or continue] any personal Web site operated by me at the time of my death.  Any website or entity controlling or sponsoring a digital asset may release my log-on credentials, including username and password, to my [Personal Representative][Trustee], and the website or entity shall be indemnified and held harmless by my [estate][trust] for any damages, causes of action or claims that may result from this disclosure.[2]
. . . . . . .
(8) “Digital asset” means information created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means on a digital device or system that delivers digital information. The term includes a contract right.[3]

. . . . . .

Digital assets are defined as electronic content and/or media and the right to use that content or media, including: email accounts, smartphones, tablets, netbooks and computers, online sales accounts, online purchasing accounts, online storage accounts, webpages, domain names, blogs, social network accounts, and intellectual property rights in such digital assets.[4]

[1]               Used with permission.
[2]               Used with permission.
[3]               National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Draft, See Section IV.L, infra.
[4]               Estate Planning and Administration with Digital Assets, Karin Praugley, Krasnow Sanders, LLP, Chicago, Illinois.  May 2013 Maryland State Bar.  Association Estate & Trust Law Section Dinner.


Here are some additional resources on digital assets and estate planning for digital assets:

Estate Planning in the Digital Age, Gerry W. Beyer, Texas Tech University School of Law, April 21, 2013

Estate Planning and Administration with Digital Assets, Karin Prangley, Krasnow Sanders, LLP, Chicago, Illinois.  May 2013 Maryland State Bar.  Association Estate & Trust Law Section Dinner.

Estate Administration in Cyberspace - Colin Korzec and Ethan A. McKittrick
Trusts & Estates, September 2011

Helping Clients Reach Their Great Digital Beyond - Evan E. Carroll, John W. Romano and Jean Gordon Carter
Trusts & Estates, September 2011

Virtual Assets - Michael walker and Vitoria Blachly
Tax Management Estates, Gifts & Trusts Journal 2011, page 253

Digital Death: Estate Planning for Passwords, Online Accounts, and Digital Property - James D. Lamm - San Francisco, CA - 2012

Digital Passing - A blog authored by James D. Lamm

Pixar for Estate Planners: Animating Your Practice Through Social Media and Forever Friending Your Clients Digital Assets - The Do’s, Don’ts and How To’s of New Communication Channels - Robert Kirkland

'Til Death Do Us Part:  A Proposal for Handling Digital Assets After Death, Chelsea Ray, Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal, Winter 2013, Vol.47, No. 3., page 583 et seq.

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