SiliconIndia Stealing Content from Lighthouse Insights: Livebloggers Battle the Scourge of Plagiarism

Just under a day ago, I found an appalling phenomenon in my Facebook timeline – A leading online technology magazine focussing on the Indian domain, SiliconIndia, was caught stealing portions of a recent interview published by rising social media blog Lighthouse Insights.

Lighthouse Insights was started in late 2010 by Prasant and Vinaya Naidu with the aim of bonding the community of social media users. I first met Prasant at a meet-up in Pune, and instantly liked the knowledge he had built on the social media scene in India.

You can read the complete account of the theft in one of their posts.

Do News Sites Have the Liberty to Steal?

When the founders of Lighthouse Insights confronted SiliconIndia on Twitter, an incredibly shocking explanation appeared: Plagiarism            

Only the most juvenile of writers could possibly put up such an explanation; I had to remind myself that this was emerging from a well-established media organization that has been around since 1997. The tweet was subsequently deleted, but it was too late as it was retweeted several times and its screenshot began to float around on Facebook.

The founders of Lighthouse Insights decided to battle it out on Twitter to expose the high-profile content thieves after appeals to their CEO and content managers fell on deaf ears. The complete blow-by-blow description of the fight has now appeared in a new blog post on their site.

The battle-cry hashtag #OccupySiliconIndia began to pick up momentum during the early part of the 14th of August, and hit the list of top ten trending hashtags in India by evening. That forced SiliconIndia to sit up and take notice, offering Lighthouse Insights either of two options, of providing due credit, or removing the copied post completely.

The result? The offending post vanished while supporters of the campaign continued discussing possible outcomes. The fight isn’t over; after receiving a bloody nose, SiliconIndia have simply disappeared from the scene instead of announcing an unconditional public apology for the theft and the subsequent distress caused to ardent followers of an insightful new social media blog.

The Scourge of Plagiarism and the Hope from Social Media

Plagiarism has been a perpetual enemy for writers and publishers ever since the introduction of the printing press in the Middle Ages. The matter has become much worse with the arrival of the Information Age, now that just a few keystrokes and mouse-clicks are all that one needs to lift thoroughly-researched material and claim its ownership.

Many web publishers conscious of the lurking thieves invest a significant amount of their time in filing Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) reports to get Google to de-index plagiarised content, but the cat-and-mouse game continues. Even when such reports are not filed or delayed, search engines are sophisticated enough to ascertain the real thieves. Unfortunately, webmasters may end up on the losing side when their sites are restructured or migrated to new domains, since such changes can confuse search engines.

The Wrath of the Connected World

Will social media come to our rescue? The signs are positive, with the victory of #OccupySiliconIndia – even after SiliconIndia decides to undertake major damage-control exercises, Lighthouse Insights is likely to present this story as one of the most potent case studies showcasing the vast power of social media. Publishers, no matter how big or small, must now realize the importance of original content and think twice before facing the wrath of the masses in a connected world.

What are your thoughts about the battle against plagiarism? Please feel free to use the comment form below and speak your mind!

6 Ways to Defend Yourself Against Viruses and Malware

Which virus protection is the best?

Well, to protect yourself against malicious software, the six defensive ways detailed below can work better than the best anti-virus software left to act alone.

1) Be aware of virus symptoms, and attack vectors

This piece of advice might sound something beyond the realm of non-techies. However, non-techies had to learn how to use computers anyway, and learning a little about the basics of viruses won’t hurt. The information contained in this article is a good start.

(i) Be wary of suspicious, new process names in the list of running processes

Sometimes these processes have the same names as legitimate ones to disguise themselves (svchost.exe is an example). Sometimes they have similar names, like svvchost.exe and _services.exe (the legitimate ones have the names svchost.exe and services.exe). The username that’s running the process sometimes gives an indication of whether it’s a legitimate system process or not – a virus usually runs under the currently logged-in user’s name. If you’re a power user, you’d want to use Process Explorer, which will allow you to dive in more deeply when inspecting processes, such as figuring out which exact executable on the file system is responsible for the running process.

(ii) Emails from your friend may not have been actually sent by them

Be wary of opening email attachments, unless you were expecting them – even seemingly innocuous video files could cause your data to disappear. Take your precautions even when the attachment is expected – the anti-virus scanners embedded with the popular email providers provide a good defense.

On a similar note, be careful when downloading files randomly from the Internet. Executable (.exe or .com on Windows) files are the ones that can cause most harm.

(iii) Do not leave the Windows’ auto-run option enabled for portable drives

Auto-run has long been one of the most popular ways in which viruses spread – ensure that you keep it disabled. Never, ever, trust a portable drive that had been previously inserted into a machine that you don’t own, even if it has an anti-virus. Use your anti-virus to scan data that has arrived from external sources. Viruses won’t usually spread through text editors, so you can use these if you’re just inspecting simple files and don’t have an anti-virus at hand.

(iv) Watch out for typical virus symptoms, and gear up to protect yourself

These include:

  1. Access disabled to Task Manager, the Registry Editor1, or msconfig2.
  2. Spikes in CPU or GPU usage – these can be observed either through monitoring tools, such as the Task Manager for the CPU, or GPU-Z for the GPU, or by noticing the hardware fans spinning faster when there is no processor intensive program running.

A good tactic is to run anti-virus scans, preferably from outside your OS, such a Live CD, whenever you detect suspicious activity. Live CDs allow you to boot into them without having to load your OS, which might end up running the virus before any anti-virus can take effect (assuming that the anti-virus failed to detect the malware when it loaded itself onto the machine). Bitdefender Rescue CD is one such option. In addition to regular viruses, Bitdefender scans for rootkits – malware that reside deep within the core of the OS, evading detection while carrying out malicious activity.

(v) Safe online banking

Most Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, support booting from a Live CD and are great for providing added protection when banking online, since viruses cannot write to these disks permanently. Live CDs offer no compromise when it comes to your online browsing experience. These Linux distributions can also be installed on bootable USB sticks.

2) Choose to manually enable the running of plugins in your browser

Chrome and Firefox have the option of enabling “Click to Play” for plugins (i.e. either Flash or Java) within websites so that they run each time only with your permission which you provide by clicking on the area of the page in which . This will help prevent drive-by attacks from malicious code embedded in such plugins, which are almost always hidden from view, or use some sort of social engineering to trick users into downloading malware.

In Chrome, copy and paste chrome://chrome/settings/content into your address bar, and choose “Click to play” under “Plugins”.

Chrome Plugin Settings

In Firefox, go to about:plugins, and turn on the plugins.click_to_play option.

3) Update your OS, focusing on the security updates

They are called “security” for a reason. This is especially important for the Windows OS. Because of Windows’ popularity, hackers have been known to target security holes in Windows on unpatched machines by studying the fixes Microsoft sends out. This is becoming true even for Mac’s OS X; the recent Java malware is an example –though Apple actually released the update and fix after the Trojan was out in the wild. A Windows example: If you updated before Sasser arrived, you’d be 100% secure.

4) Use a firewall

This doesn’t offer much more protection from Internet worms than a NAT, but will be useful if you connect your laptop to a public network. It will also protect yourself from infected machines on your own network. A firewall would protect you from Sasser even if you didn’t install security updates at the time, and would offer partial protection against MSBlast.

While the built-in Windows Firewall provides decent protection, you could try out third-party solutions like ZoneAlarm for better control over what moves in and out of your computer.

5) Use an Anti-virus

This is important, but you must know where it stands – it cannot protect you against everything. In fact, most people skip it on the Mac and Linux, though it’s always recommended for Windows. Remember, you are worse off if you use an anti-virus but don’t know how viruses work.

I bet if you brush up your knowledge of viruses and run Windows without an anti-virus, you’d be infected fewer times than a noob running an anti-virus on a Windows and not knowing a thing about viruses. Anti-virus software are perfect if you realize that they work best for protecting against viruses that the software already knows about, and not so good at protecting new ones.

6) Backups

Whatever precautions you take, you might still lose the fight. Always ensure that you have important data backed-up, so that you can easily restore it in the case of an infection.

Even if there was no danger of infection, backups come in handy in the case of hardware failure, for which you should be prepared for anytime.

Footnotes

  1. ^The Registry is a database of configuration settings and options related to the Microsoft Windows operating systems. It can be accessed by pressing Ctrl+R, typing regedit.exe and pressing Enter
  2. ^MSConfig is a Microsoft Windows utility you can use to troubleshoot issues related to processes that are loaded on startup. Viruses often register themselves to start up automatically – you can remove the easier ones using msconfig or by editing the registry.

Converting Multiple VMDK (Virtual Machine Disk) files into one

To convert multiple VMDKs into a single file, I used the following command (LinuxVM.vmdk is the name of the first VMDK file – i.e. the one attached to the VM):

$ vmware-vdiskmanager -r LinuxVM.vmdk -t 0 LinuxVMSingleDisk.vmdk

Note that vmware-vdiskmanager is bundled as part of VMware Workstation. I couldn’t locate that as a separate download, so I ended up downloading the trial version of Workstation.

The above operation takes a while, but not too long. It shows its progress as it completes.

Next, I had to modify the VM settings so that it would use the new disk. I couldn’t find this option in the GUI, so I had to modify the vmx file manually (use an appropriate editor on a Windows system):

$ vi LinuxVM.vmx

I modified the scsi0:0.fileName property to point to the new disk:

scsi0:0.fileName = "LinuxVMSingleDisk.vmdk"

Next, I double checked the VM settings in the GUI to check if the disk had changed, and then booted it up to confirm everything is fine. I then deleted all the old, multiple vmdk files.

The Motivation for Doing This

I’d been using a few heavy applications in my VM: an HTTP server, an Application Server behind it running a couple of large applications, and a database. When doing intensive work, my hard disk would make grinding noises and my Ubuntu host would suddenly exit to the login screen. I’d lose all data in my current session, though oddly, some background applications would continue to run.

So I decided to implement VMware’s suggestion to use a single file for better performance:

VMware Workstation - Creating a virtual disk

Did it really work? The host did crash once, but that was when another heavy application was running on the host itself. In my entirely subjective assessment, I do think there’s been an improvement in performance – though I still need to be a little careful with certain applications.

WordCamp Cuttack 2012: An Evergreen Memory for WordPress Lovers

The WordCamp Cuttack 2012 concluded on the 11th of March in the most positive of ways for everyone who got an opportunity to be part of it, whether as an organizer, attendee or speaker.

WordCamp CuttackI was fortunate to be there as a special guest, a result of a generous giveaway by the key initiator of this event, Soumya Pratihari. Soumya leads a locally-based web development company called iDev, which also runs a number of popular blogs that cater to several verticals.

My first pleasant experience came well before the event itself. While I was being driven to iDev, I expected the company to be housed in a more or less snazzy office block, when in fact it was a simple, two-storeyed building situated in possibly one of the quietest corners of Cuttack. Lesson: You don’t have to work in a gleaming glass-and-steel structure to attain heights!

The venue was Ajay-Binay Institute of Technology, and the vice president of the college Mr. A. Mohapatra was the chief guest.

On Super Charging Your Career with Blogging and WordPress

After the encouraging words sent out by the chief guest, seasoned entrepreneur Mohit Pawar took charge of the proceedings.

It began with several seconds of a soothing deep-breathing exercise that clearly rejuvenated all the listeners.

On the subject of blogging and WordPress, the first step, in Mohit’s words was to make a start. He strongly recommended the use of WordPress because of its ease and quickness of use, availability of plugins and their ease of modification. He stressed on the contributions of the WordPress community and their never-ending quest to make the platform better and better.

Looking for keyword rich domains is a thing of the past, said Mohit. Additionally, he was in favor of looking for a brandable domain name, and not one based on the personal name.

On of the key thrusts of Mohit’s presentation was a call to use your blog as a resume. “Written words can be easily scaled”, said the lively and humorous businessman. “I haven’t ever made a resume in my life, it is my blog that has served as a resume!” Paradoxically, Mohit’s newest venture is a resume writing service called FreshResume, that promises users to help them stand out in the job market.

Mohit gave examples of how his blog helped him spread word about things ranging from his thoughts to his latest ventures. A key example was that of a blog post titled 13 tips on organizing a TEDx event which ranks pretty high in SERPS, and attracts enquiries from all over. Another instance to note was that of Paras Chopra using his blog to promote his “visual website optimizer”.

Furthermore, Mohit suggested direct advertising as preferable to AdSense, initially, and said the distraction of revenue when starting out would be mostly detrimental.

On the frequency of blogging, he advised making a plan and putting up posts more often in the beginning. He also advised the audience to network with people with the intention of helping, and not winning favors from them.

The conclusion: Write blogs, if you’re looking for opportunities!

The information-filled presentation included interesting glimpses into Mohit’s own blogging-cum-entrepreneurship journey. The man started his first business at age 16 with a small sum of money, and moved on to gain tremendous experience. He admitted to have made the mistake of cramming together too many tasks in his early days, and now believes single-tasking is a far more efficient way of life. On those lines, he stressed on focusing on one domain and then moving on.

He talked about a post titled 17 businesses you can start with little or no money, which looks like a must read for budding entrepreneurs and anyone convinced that blogging can supercharge your career.

‘Google and Facebook are Stalking You’

Sanjib Parida, Co-Founder and CTO of Muvi.com, was the next to take charge. He spoke in detail about better strategies and tactics to rank higher in Google’s SERPS.

Sanjib expressed dislike for the excessive use of SEO, which essentially involves gaming the system to beat competitors. He instead emphatically talked about the use of branding to build trust in the minds of users looking at search result pages. A good example he gave was that of StackOverflow, which is loved by programmers around the world. A programmer is likely to click through if he or she see a StackOverflow result, even if it isn’t at the top.

Sanjib was intensely dismayed at the massive data collection being carried out by both Google and Facebook under the pretext of improving user experiences and presenting more relevant ads, with the frightening reminder, “Google and Facebook are stalking you!” However, he essentially indicated that the pervasiveness of these services made us accept the loss of privacy as a reality of life.

When I asked him about the influence of advocates like Richard Stallman in the fight for web privacy, he was highly skeptical about it and quick to point out that the software freedom pioneer’s supporters had to rely on these ubiquitous services to spread word, which defeated the logic of fighting privacy.

It was interesting to hear this speaker’s view that SEO needs to be a more programming-oriented activity, that will tailor websites better for search-engine-based visitors.

Another statement that caught my attention was the one about gaining the early mover advantage by making the most of the newest bubbles. The fact of the matter, he highlighted, is that we are living in the social bubble.

More Speeches, Followed by a Workshop

I too got a chance to speak about my perspective on WordPress and blogging. I reiterated the views expressed by Mohit and basically had three immediate benefits of blogging to highlight:
1.The learning experience from collective knowledge.
2.A chance to share your knowledge and views.
3.A chance for new opportunities to come knocking on your door.

It’s a good idea to follow role models, and the best I could think of were the key organizer Soumya himself, Arun Prabhudesai of the business blog trak.in, Jeff Atwood of codinghorror.com (a must read for programmers!) and Amit Agarwal of Labnol.org.

Post-lunch, the next speaker Rahul Banker spoke to the audience via Skype, the main essence of his talk being to give up the obsession with money when blogging away your thoughts.

Web entrepreneur Jaydip Parikh, also connecting remotely, spoke about how to choose content for your blog. Jaydip stressed on quality content being the king, not just content. He had some fine suggestions on where to look for the best content that would have the potential to turn viral. Here’s the complete slideshow:

Next, a workshop was conducted by Amit Singh, the director of AmiWorks. He touched on topics ranging right from those concerning fresh starters to the advanced use of WordPress, and was pleased by the enthusiasm exuded by the participants.

Concluding a Memorable Day

Quick contests were conducted by Soumya and T-shirts given away, and the glow in everyone’s faces appeared to promise to spread awareness about WordPress.

Blogger Puneet Jain launched BlogWorkshop.org via video and was aptly applauded.

The concluding moments included a ‘30 seconds of fame’ session in which participants talked about their interests, with one of the most pleasing comments being “I’m now going to blog regularly!”

I’m immensely grateful to the iDev team, the attendees and fellow speakers for having done everything that made this event an evergreen memory. Were you at WordCamp Cuttack 2012, or following the proceedings via Twitter? Feel free to comment about your experiences!