It’s official: NSA spying is hurting the US tech economy; Bloatware: Why computer makers fill your PC with junk, and how to get rid of it; Android for Work: what is it? Google now lets you upload 50,000 songs to the cloud for free; The five best iOS notification center widgets; Ubuntu 14.04.2 arrives; Hands On with Microsoft’s wireless charging pad; Microsoft opens Garage door, shows off experimental apps; Plex: Hey, it’s not just for pirates anymore; The 7 Best Facebook Alernatives You Didn’t Know About; Car Owners Find High-Tech Systems Unreliable; Facebook fixed 61 high-severity flaws last year; Iran, U.S. Locked in Escalating Cyberwar; The best Android games you need to play (right now); Citing encryption, FBI lobbying to keep phone metadata spying powers.
Chinese government continues dropping foreign tech in favor of local products – China’s interest in moving toward products made within the country appears to be twofold: it removes security concerns around foreign products and bolsters its own tech industry. It’s not clear which is more important to the country. The sources Reuters spoke with seem to believe that security concerns may just be a cover story, but it’s not an entirely unreasonable one, particularly in light of the ongoing revelations about how far US spy agencies are willing to go for information. The US, too, has shown an unwillingness to trust foreign tech, with much being made of its frequent restrictions on the large Chinese telecom firm Huawei.
It’s official: NSA spying is hurting the US tech economy – A new report confirmed key brands, including Cisco, Apple, Intel, and McAfee — among others — have been dropped from the Chinese government’s list of authorized brands, a Reuters report said Wednesday. – Although a number of reasons were cited, domestic companies were said to offer “more product guarantees” than overseas rivals in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. Some reports have attempted to pin a multi-billion dollar figure on the impact of the leaks. In reality, the figure could be incalculable.
Windows 365 will be Windows, plus a little bit more – There’s been rumor and speculation about Microsoft switching the Windows operating system to a subscription-based model since it launched Office 365. When Microsoft unveiled the latest preview build of Windows 10, executives referred to it as Windows-as-a-Service. Now, Microsoft has all but confirmed that some sort of subscription model is coming, since it trademarked Windows 365. Some customers are vehemently opposed, but before you freak out, let’s back up a step and consider what a Windows 365 subscription might entail.
Personally, I would refuse to be part of a subscription based operating system. Should Microsoft attempt to force the issue, my focus would switch from running with Linux 20% of the time to running with Ubuntu, for example, full time. The idea that a Linux distro is clunky or otherwise handicapped, or difficult to use, is sheer propaganda – this is not 1999.
If you’re using an Android smartphone – then, you’re already running with a variation of Linux. How hard was that?
Android for Work: what is it? – Today Google revealed their newest Android-based initiative: Android for Work. This system brings several work-related technology to the Android software universe for businesses of all kinds. Four key technology components are included: Google Play at Work, the Android for Work app, Work profiles, and built-in productivity tools of all kinds. This system is launching with a large collection of industrial technology partners that have Google scoring big with potential for business-related engagement through Android – this includes smartphones, tablets, and everything in-between.
Bloatware: Why computer makers fill your PC with junk, and how to get rid of it – Lenovo’s Superfish debacle has thrust bloatware back into the limelight. Here’s why PC makers intentionally make your PC experience worse, and how to blast the crap off your computer.
The five best iOS notification center widgets – You may have been one of the many to shout “Finally!” when widgets came to iOS. Whether you’ve used them before on Android or were just waiting for that kind of flexibility on iOS, you finally have one touch access to key apps. It’s taken developers a while to fully utilize this new functionality to its potential, but we’re finally seeing the fruits of their labor. Here is a roundup of some of the apps that put widgets to their best use.
Google now lets you upload 50,000 songs to the cloud for free – Google’s taking a big step out in front of its music streaming competitors today. The company has just announced that effective immediately, you’ll be able to upload up to 50,000 songs from your personal music collection and store them in the cloud through Google Play Music — all for free. The previous limit was 20,000.
Facebook suicide prevention tool update inbound – Cries for help come in many forms, and in our digital age, many of them take place online. Facebook, being one of the biggest social networks out there, is peppered with depressed, suicidal, and otherwise troubling statuses making one’s personal anguish known to a larger audience. The social network has previously had a tool that aimed to help those who might be suicidal, and now the network is updating it to be more robust. With the update, those who may be suicidal are temporarily locked out of their account. Posts flagged as being suicidal will be shuttled off to Facebook workers trained in suicide prevention. That user’s account will be temporarily blocked, and the user won’t be able to get access again until they are presented with a Facebook page showing information on preventing suicide, a suicide hotline, and an option to contact one’s friends over it.
Hands On with Microsoft’s wireless charging pad, the DT-903 – A few weeks back, Microsoft started shipping the DT-903, a wireless charging pad and we have gotten our hands on one; after the jump is a gallery of the new device.
Twitter Finally Launches An Official WordPress Plug-In – There are hundreds upon hundreds of Twitter-related plug-ins for WordPress. Seriously, go look. And yet, in its nine years since launch, Twitter has never released an official plug-in to make WordPress and Twitter play friendly. Until today.
Google officially launches Flights, their Search-friendly travel tool – As the travel booking game tightens up via acquisitions, Google is set to muscle their way in. Though Expedia and Travelocity are toeing the line, Google is also ready to get involved with Google Flights, a new Search item that finds you the best deal on your travel. Flights works as you might expect, too: put in your departure city, an arrival destination, and Flights will find you the best deal. Flights is also neat because you don’t even need to know where you’re headed.
Ubuntu 14.04.2 arrives with updated hardware support and a new Linux kernel – Canonical just released Ubuntu 14.04.2, the second point-release of the Ubuntu 14.04 LTS series. As always, this point release brings hardware support updates so you can continue installing Ubuntu 14.04 on new PCs. You won’t get the hardware support updates on existing PCs, though—if your computer’s hardware doesn’t all work properly, you’ll want to update it yourself. Let’s dig in.
Panasonic’s new 4K VIERA LED TV line to run Firefox OS – The platform wars are moving to smart TVs. Don’t believe it? Samsung is putting Tizen on all its smart TVs this year. LG’s own sets already have webOS inside. Now Panasonic is joining the fray, but not with an operating system that it has developed itself. As it showed at CES last month, the consumer electronics maker is betting big on Firefox OS and it is announcing that all the members of its new 4K VIERA TV line will be employing the web-based platform for its user interface.
Plex: Hey, it’s not just for pirates anymore – Plex doesn’t exactly hide the fact that it’s a killer app for pirated video. Just look at the marketing materials for the media server software, and you’ll see how easy it is to stream your collection of movies and TV shows to all your devices. Hey, I’m not here to judge. But I was interested to see if Plex could be a valuable tool for law-abiding cord cutters as well. After playing around with the software and asking some kind folks on Reddit, I’ve found some legal uses for Plex that are worth checking out.
Microsoft opens Garage door, shows off experimental apps – The Garage incubator releases apps for Windows Phone and Android that range from giving you reports on air quality in China to connecting you to conference calls using voice commands.
Car Owners Find High-Tech Systems Unreliable – Modern cars have more high-tech bells and whistles than ever before, but technologies like Bluetooth connectivity and voice recognition rank as the least dependable vehicle systems, according to a new study by J.D. Power.
The 7 Best Facebook Alernatives You Didn’t Know About – Your Facebook friends are boring. Your Twitter followers sound like a bunch of parrots. And your LinkedIn contacts, well, who wants to talk about work all day, anyway? Amazingly, in 2015, it’s still possible to feel like you’ve reached the end of the Internet, especially if you rely on your social networks for news and amusement. But there are more ways to connect with people online than the three most popular social networks. In fact, smaller networks are some of the best places to dig into topics you care more deeply about. So sign up and check out at one of these great alternative social networks:
EFF unearths evidence of possible Superfish-style attacks in the wild – It’s starting to look like Superfish and other software containing the same HTTPS-breaking code library may have posed more than a merely theoretical danger to Internet users. For the first time, researchers have uncovered evidence suggesting the critical weakness may have been exploited against real people visiting real sites, including Gmail, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, and Gpg4Win.org, to name just a few. Until now, that danger was nothing more than a troubling hypothetical, but no more. On Wednesday, researchers presented evidence attackers have exploited the weaknesses in Superfish and the other programs to launch real man-in-the-middle attacks on end users as they visited some of the most sensitive HTTPS-protected websites on the Internet.
Lenovo’s bad week gets worse: website hacked by Lizard Squad – After publicly admitting to poor business decisions regarding the pre-loaded Superfish software on Lenovo machines, Lizard Squad decides the company could use a good hacking as punishment.
Europol and security vendors disrupt massive Ramnit botnet – European law enforcement agencies seized command-and-control servers used by Ramnit, a malware program that steals online banking credentials, FTP passwords, session cookies and personal files from victims. Researchers from antivirus vendor Symantec described the malware program as “a fully-featured cybercrime tool” in a blog post Wednesday and said that it infected over 3.2 million computers over its five years of existence.
Target Says Credit Card Data Breach Cost It $162M In 2013-14 – Target today said that it has booked $162 million in expenses across 2013 and 2014 related to its data breach, in which hackers broke into the company’s network to access credit card information and other customer data, affecting some 70 million customers. The figure, revealed in the company’s Q4 earnings published today, includes $4 million in Q4, and $191 million in gross expenses for 2014, as well as $61 million gross for 2013. Target says that the gross number was offset in part by insurance receivables of $46 million for 2014 and $44 million for 2013.
Apple patent reveals tracking capabilities even if phone appears off – Apple is getting a bit of interest over patent news today, and not just because of a patent lawsuit the company lost in court yesterday. A new patent filed in January could allow for stolen iPhones and iPads to be tracked even when they are powered down. The patent, titled “Apparatus and Method for Determining a Wireless Device’s Location after Shutdown” looks to tie into the Apple “Find My iPhone” app that works to triangulate the position of an iPhone to help its owner recover a lost/missing device. This new technology, if functioning properly, would allow iPhone and perhaps iPad owners to see the current location of their devices even if the units are powered down.
Facebook fixed 61 high-severity flaws last year through its bug bounty program – In 2014, the company paid bug bounties totaling $1.3 million to 321 researchers from 65 countries, according to a newly published annual report. The average reward was $1,788 and the top three countries where valid bug reports originated were India, with 196 submissions; Egypt, with 81 and the U.S. with 61. It’s worth noting that, based on the statistics released by the company, finding a critical bug is not that easy. Facebook received 17,011 bug submissions in 2014 and those resulted in only 61 high-risk bugs being identified.
Iran, U.S. Locked in Escalating Cyberwar – Cyberwarfare between the U.S. and Iran has been accelerating at an alarming rate since 2012, according to a recently disclosed document from the NSA. The top-secret and classified document confirms that the two countries have developed and deployed technology for spying and sabotage, a situation that has escalated dramatically in the last three years.
Apple ordered to pay half a billion dollars for patent infringement – A federal jury in Texas has ordered Apple to pay more than half a billion dollars after the company was found guilty of infringing three patents held by a local company. The patents, held by Smartflash LLC, relate to digital rights management, data storage and access through payment systems. They were seemingly infringed upon by Apple’s iTunes and some of the apps found in the App Store, though the plaintiff also mentioned the Mac App Store, and iAd as avenues for infringement.
Samsung faces complaint in US FTC over Smart TV ‘surveillance’ – A complaint filed by a privacy group to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission charged that Samsung’s Smart TVs intercept and record private communications of consumers in their homes, violating a number of rules including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has asked the FTC to investigate and stop the practice by Samsung of collecting private communications and transmitting the recordings to a third party.
Despite a billion viewers, YouTube has zero profit – It’s hard to image that YouTube, as ubiquitous and gigantic as it is, has never turned a profit. But that’s exactly what a new report explains, alongside the myriad challenges that the site faces.
Big Deal! YouTube has always been positioned as a “loss leader” for Google. Why the fuss now?
Google chairman Eric Schmidt will reportedly meet EU antitrust commissioner next week – After recent discussions with Microsoft, Axel Springer and other complainants against Google, the EU’s antitrust chief will meet with Schmidt in the latest stage of Europe’s 4-year investigation.
Uber goes free in Seoul as pressure from city government mounts – The car-hailing service has been operating despite the city’s argument that it’s illegal. It says its latest move is an effort to establish “a consensus” with government officials.
Games and Entertainment:
The best Android games you need to play (right now) – Finding a good game to play is hard — so many options! Fret not, I’m here to help with a with a heap of games you should probably toss onto your Android phone or tablet, posthaste. Stow your pitchforks: the games here aren’t listed in any particular order, and while I’d love to play everything under the sun, pesky responsibilities get in the way. These are just my current favorites, and it’s likely I missed some of yours. Here’s an idea: post your favorites in the comments, as I’ll be updating this regularly and don’t want to miss too many gems. Also, note that all prices are in US dollars.
The New Razer Blade Is The Gaming Laptop To Beat – Like its predecessor, this year’s Razer Blade packs in a 14-inch, 3200 x 1800 pixel screen. It looks pretty from most angles and can get quite bright, and has a touch screen if you’re one of the Windows 8 users who actually takes advantage of touch-friendly menus. Photos and video really pop on the display — it’s not quite 4K, but considering it’s already past the point of not being able to discern pixels at reasonable distances, that’s not something anyone is going to miss.
Chat App Viber Opens Its Games Service To All Users Worldwide – Messaging app Viber has quietly made its games service available for all users worldwide following a two month pilot in five countries. The company, which was bought by Rakuten for $900 million a year ago, initially launched three games for users in Belarus, Malaysia, Israel, Singapore and Ukraine in December 2014. The titles — Viber Candy Mania, Wild Luck Casino and Viber Pop, links to which popped up in my app today — are standalone apps that link up to Viber to let users share scores, battle and generally interact with friends on the service.
Netflix Expands Its Kids’ Lineup With Five New Shows, Including An “Inspector Gadget” Reboot – Netflix this morning announced it’s preparing to expand its lineup of original and exclusive programs aimed at children with an order of five new kids’ shows, including remakes of well-loved classics like Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse. While children today may not be familiar with these titles themselves, their Gen X and millennials parents likely are – and they’re Netflix’s paying subscribers.
Nickelodeon Unveils “Noggin,” A Mobile Subscription Service For Preschoolers Arriving In March – Nickelodeon today unveiled its new mobile streaming subscription service called Noggin, which will be aimed at preschoolers and priced at $5.99 per month when it launches next month. Parent company Viacom had previously announced the forthcoming service’s arrival in January, noting also that the service would not require households to have a cable or satellite TV subscription in order to access its content.
Sub-$100 Gaming Headset Roundup – Having only ever bought relatively cheap headsets with proportionally cheap audio quality, it seems about time for me to upgrade. In the process of settling on a new headset, I’ve acquired six sub-$100 gaming-oriented models from separate hardware manufacturers to compare in a roundup. I have models from Kingston, Polk, Gigabyte, Razer, Logitech and Tesoro. Most of these companies are not known for their audio products, so it’ll be interesting to see what they deliver. It goes without saying but we will anyway: audiophiles may want to bail now because these headsets aren’t for you.
Amazon shuttering Unbox on March 29th; download your movies now – Amazon notified customers that Unbox, the tool used to download and play movies offline, is officially closing on March 29th, at which time customers will lose all access to their purchased content.
Off Topic (Sort of):
Alan Turing’s Family Wants Britain to Pardon All 49,000 Gay Men Convicted of ‘Gross Indecency’ – The family of Alan Turing, the legendary mathematician who helped crack the Nazi Enigma code and hasten the end of World War II, is championing a campaign to pardon nearly 50,000 men who were convicted of “gross indecency” under antiquated laws banning gay sex in Britain. Turing, whose story inspired the 2015 Oscar-winning movie The Imitation Game, was himself convicted of indecency in 1952. He was chemically castrated and two years later, at the age of 41, died in an apparent suicide, after taking a bite of a cyanide-laced apple. While Turing was offered a royal pardon in 2013, campaigners argue that the Queen should have extended the measure to include all those affected. An estimated 15,000 men who were convicted under the outdated law are thought to be alive today.
Curiosity Mars rover takes its most impressive selfie yet – Curiosity continues to be one of the most successful robotic missions in the history of space exploration, but it’s not all work for this Mars rover. Sometimes it likes to have a little fun up there and take some selfies. The latest Curiosity selfie was taken at the “Mojave” site at the base of Mount Sharp, and it’s an amazing view. This camera has a resolution of just 1600 x 1200, or about 2 megapixels. If you piece together enough images taken with the MALI camera, though, you can create massive images. This mosaic is an example of that with a total resolution of 18,029 x 9,233. It’s the equivalent of more than 166 megapixels. You can download the full resolution image here, but be aware it’s a 32MB JPEG. That’s gigantic by image standards. Many programs and computers will choke on it.
NASA satellite shows how much sand from the Sahara is in the atmosphere – NASA is using one of its satellites to determine how much sand from the Sahara Desert in Africa ends up helping the Amazon rainforest in South America to grow. While the two locations are on different continents, the amount of dust from the desert that makes its way to the rain forest will surprise you. NASA used one of its satellites to quantify how much dust from the desert makes it to South America for the first time.
Vintage X-rays reveal the hidden effects of corsets – In 1908, a doctor used X-rays to highlight the damaging effects of tight corsets on a woman’s body.
Google’s AI wins Space Invaders, proves “human-level control” – A new study has been published this week which suggests that artificial intelligence can now learn “human-level control.” The team of researchers come from Google’s DeepMind, where they’re using Space Invaders – the video game – to show how the search for truly human artificial intelligence isn’t too far off. The machine learns to play the video game, learns to win at the video game, and dominates all humans at the game they’ve created to help us defend our planet against the alien hordes.
Something to think about:
“A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.”
– Dorothy C. Fisher
Today’s Free Downloads:
X-Mouse Button Control – X-Mouse Button Control is a windows application to remap your mouse buttons.
You are able to provide an application specific mappings, which means one application can use the mouse differently from another. This is useful for games which do not inherently support the extended mouse buttons, because you can map keys to each button.
What’s more, the list of functions available to map to is somewhat more comprehensive than the 32bit MS Intellimouse Software can handle, including things like:
Media Player control
Send a custom keystroke sequence
Launch your email (or any other) application.
Capture screen (or active window) image to clipboard.
Click-Drag [Sticky Buttons].
Save and restore desktop icon positions.
Vista (and Windows 7) support including some Vista/7 only featurs such as ‘Flip 3D’.
SoftPerfect Network Scanner – SoftPerfect Network Scanner is a free multi-threaded IP, NetBIOS and SNMP scanner with a modern interface and several advanced features. It is intended for both system administrators and general users who are interested in computer security. The program pings computers, scans for listening TCP ports and displays which types of resources are shared on the network (including system and hidden).
In addition, it allows you to mount shared folders as network drives, browse them using Windows Explorer, filter the results list and more. SoftPerfect Network Scanner can also check for a user-defined port and report back if one is open. It can also resolve host names and auto-detect your local and external IP range. It supports remote shutdown and Wake-On-LAN.
Does not require administrative privileges.
Detects hardware (MAC) addresses even across routers.
Detects hidden shared folders (normally invisible on the network) and write accessible shares.
Detects your internal and external IP addresses.
Scans for listening TCP ports and SNMP services.
Retrieves currently logged-on users.
You can mount and explore network resources.
Can launch external third party applications.
Exports results to HTML, XML, CSV and TXT
Supports Wake-On-LAN, remote shutdown and sending network messages.
Retrieves potentially any information via WMI.
It is absolutely free, requires no installation, and does not contain any adware/spyware/malware.
In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:
Canadian Spies Collect Domestic Emails in Secret Security Sweep – Canada’s electronic surveillance agency is covertly monitoring vast amounts of Canadians’ emails as part of a sweeping domestic cybersecurity operation, according to top-secret documents.
The surveillance initiative, revealed Wednesday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, is sifting through millions of emails sent to Canadian government agencies and departments, archiving details about them on a database for months or even years.
The data mining operation is carried out by the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the National Security Agency. Its existence is disclosed in documents obtained by The Intercept from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The emails are vacuumed up by the Canadian agency as part of its mandate to defend against hacking attacks and malware targeting government computers. It relies on a system codenamed PONY EXPRESS to analyze the messages in a bid to detect potential cyber threats.
Last year, CSE acknowledged it collected some private communications as part of cybersecurity efforts. But it refused to divulge the number of communications being stored or to explain for how long any intercepted messages would be retained.
Now, the Snowden documents shine a light for the first time on the huge scope of the operation — exposing the controversial details the government withheld from the public.
Gemalto Doesn’t Know What It Doesn’t Know – Gemalto, the French-Dutch digital security giant, confirmed that it believes American and British spies were behind a “particularly sophisticated intrusion” of its internal computer networks, as reported by The Intercept last week.
This morning, the company tried to downplay the significance of NSA and GCHQ efforts against its mobile phone encryption keys — and, in the process, made erroneous statements about cellphone technology and sweeping claims about its own security that experts describe as highly questionable.
Gemalto, which is the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, launched an internal investigation after The Intercept six days ago revealed that the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ hacked the company and cyberstalked its employees. In the secret documents, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the intelligence agencies described a successful effort to obtain secret encryption keys used to protect hundreds of millions of mobile devices across the globe.
The company was eager to address the claims that its systems and encryption keys had been massively compromised. At one point in stock trading after publication of the report, Gemalto suffered a half billion dollar hit to its market capitalization. The stock only partially recovered in the following days.
Citing encryption, FBI lobbying to keep phone metadata spying powers – The law that the Obama administration cites to allow bulk telephone metadata collection expires on June 1, and the FBI has already begun lobbying to keep Section 215 of the Patriot Act from expiring. Bad guys “going dark” using encryption, the FBI says, is one of the reasons why the government needs to collect the metadata of every phone call made to and from the United States.
Robert Anderson, the FBI’s chief of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, told reporters during a roundtable discussion Tuesday that the Patriot Act is necessary because encrypted communications are becoming more commonplace in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures.
“In the last two to three years, that whole ‘going dark’ thing went from a crawl to a flat-out sprint because the technology is changing so rapidly,” Anderson said.
Joseph Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, told reporters that if Section 215 expires, “Obviously it’s going to impact what we do as an organization and certainly on cyber.”
The comments, especially as they relate to encryption, are part of a growing chorus of calls—from as high as President Barack Obama—that the government needs Silicon Valley’s assistance for backdoors into encrypted tech products like the iPhone.