Tech Thoughts Net News – Friday – July 1, 2016

Why antivirus programs have become the problem, not the solution;  Free Wi-Fi connections put business travellers at risk;  Stop or roll back a Windows 10 upgrade;  Here’s a big list of all the “Ok, Google” commands;  The Case for Buying an Unlocked Phone;  Cracking Android’s full-disk encryption is easy on millions of phones – and much more news you need to know.

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Judge says IP address alone can’t prove copyright infringement – Faced with the hordes on the Internet downloading their content without paying, some copyright holders have adopted a very aggressive tactic. Armed with teams of lawyers, film studios have taken to filing lawsuits against alleged infringers. One judge in Oregon seems to have gotten fed up with the practice. These infringement cases usually proceed in the same basic way. A copyright holder files suit against a batch of IP addresses without names attached. They get a subpoena forcing the ISPs that assigned those addresses to reveal the subscriber details. Once they have that, copyright holders can try to extract cash with vague threats and good old-fashioned lawsuits. One of the arguments against this practice is that an IP address isn’t a person, it just describes an endpoint of the ISP’s network. This appears to be the perspective of Magistrate Beckerman.

Why antivirus programs have become the problem, not the solution – This week, Tavis Ormandy of Google’s Project Zero security research team disclosed a major vulnerability in security products by Symantec (and their consumer-targeted Norton brand) which arguably make users of these products less secure than they would be without an antivirus program at all. This vulnerability is particularly bad—exploiting the vulnerability requires no user interaction. The vulnerability exists in a default configuration, and code execution occurs at the highest privilege level, if not the kernel itself. According to Ormandy, open source libraries used in the products such as libmspack and unrarsrc had not been updated “in at least 7 years.”

Free Wi-Fi connections put business travellers at risk – Kaspersky – A Kaspersky Lab survey of almost 12,000 international business travellers reveals that four out of five use free Wi-Fi services, and that senior managers assume their work devices are secure. If they fall victim to cybercrimes, it’s the IT department’s fault.

Director of National Intelligence tells US travelers to use a burner phone overseas – Watch the news on any given day in 2016 and there will be a segment about unrest in other countries, terrorist attacks, and specific areas being on high alert because intelligence service believe an attack is imminent. With that in mind, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has weighed in to ensure any US traveler going abroad is suitably paranoid and prepared. Recommending the use of a burner phone and throwaway email account, though? That’s the next level of travel and personal security. It is sound advice, and it is advice your typical business traveler probably doesn’t even understand (unless they watch a lot of spy movies) let alone consider doing.

Google wants to show you all the data it’s collected about your online habits – The web giant’s new tool lets you review the sites you visit, the searches you make and the videos you watch, among other things.

How to Stop Animated GIFs From Auto-Playing in Your Browser – Hate visiting a Web page and being inundated with animations you didn’t want to play? Here’s how to stop the GIFs!

Stop or roll back a Windows 10 upgrade – Windows 10 has been installing itself on PCs with Windows 7 or 8.1. If you want to stick with a previous version of Windows, you can in a few easy steps.

The top 5 Android Nougat features I’m excited about – Today has been a big day for Android, with Google finally announcing the name of Android 7.0 as Android Nougat. With just the name alone, I already feel like we’re closing in on release (though realistically Android Nougat likely won’t be out for another couple of months), so I thought I’d put together a list of the Nougat features I’m most excited about. Keep in mind that isn’t going to be a comprehensive list of all the new features coming in Android Nougat, just the ones I’m looking forward to the most.

Android Nougat? Really? Here are at least eight better names – The Googleplex has christened the next version of Android to be nougat, after a sweet treat not all people understand. Surely we could do better?

The Case for Buying an Unlocked Phone – Unlocked phones are still only a small part of the US market, but they’re growing. Here are five good reasons to jump on board.

Here’s a big list of all the “Ok, Google” commands you’ve probably forgotten – It’s the challenge that invisible voice interfaces like Android’s “Ok, Google” and Apple’s Siri face — how do you show users what they can ask without throwing a massive, not-so-magical text list of commands at them? When the interface learns new commands, how are users supposed to know that? Alas, this can mean that most people (me!) end up remembering three or four commands that they use regularly — and everything else gathers dust. Does that sound like you? Bookmark this one:

Google Keep gets improved search, Docs gains comment notifications in round of updates – Keep will automatically sort your notes, while Docs gets better notifications on both Android and the web.

Beloved VLC media player releases a robust universal Windows 10 app – Two years ago, VLC-maker VideoLan rolled out a version of its popular open source media player for the Windows Store. Now the group is back with a new beta version of VLC for the Windows Store built on the universal Windows platform (UWP) for Windows 10. Even better, the app actually takes advantage of the UWP to bring VLC to multiple Windows 10 device types, including PCs, tablets, Windows 10 Mobile, and even the HoloLens augmented reality headset.

Facebook simplifies confusing chatbots with buttons, not text commands – “What do I type?” is the big question making chatbots hard to use. So today Facebook Messenger is giving chatbot developers new “Quick Reply” buttons and persistent menu options to make their bots easier to navigate. Messenger bots can also now send videos, audio, GIFs, and files so they can encompass wider range of use cases.

Facebook throws out the news Paper – Facebook has pulled the Paper app from the app store and will discontinue support for existing downloads of it on July 29th, according to a message show to all user. Despite it’s eye-catching, progressive design, the experience proved unnecessary for most and too unfamiliar for those that tried it. Part of the app will live on, though, as design elements and features in Facebook’s Instant Articles. For example, Facebook pioneered the tilt-to-pan method of exploring wide landscape images in Paper when it was launched in 2014.

Sengled Pulse Solo review: You can put a JBL speaker in your lamp. Question is, should you? – In 2016, the idea of controlling a light bulb from your smartphone is old hat. Controlling said bulb and streaming music to its built-in speakers is, apparently, all the rage. The $59 Sengled Pulse Solo ($43 from Amazon as of this story’s writing) is one such product. Using Sengled’s companion Android or iOS app, you can control the LED bulb’s brightness and adjust volume as needed. So, is a Bluetooth-connected, 550-lumen (50-watt equivalent), dimmable, warm white (2700K) LED bulb with an integrated speaker you can stream your favorite tunes to all it’s cracked up to be? Kind of.

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Security:

Norton, Symantec security software riddled with critical vulnerabilities – Google’s latest Project Zero report found multiple devastating bugs in Symantec and Norton products. You’ll want to update immediately if you use them in enterprise or consumer flavors.

1.2 million infected: Android malware ‘Hummer’ could be biggest trojan ever – Security researchers recently issued warnings against a trojan family known as Hummer, which affects more than a million phones by installing malware and unwanted apps.

This mobile Trojan from China fills your phone with porn apps – Malware that secretly installs porn apps on your phone is infecting devices by the millions, becoming the world’s largest mobile Trojan.

Skyrocketing Android ransomware has quadrupled over past year, says new report – A Kaspersky Lab reports Android ransomware is booming, quadrupling over the past year alone, shedding light on the growing problem of non-PC ransomware.

Cracking Android’s full-disk encryption is easy on millions of phones – with a little patience – Android’s full-disk encryption on millions of devices can be cracked by brute-force much more easily than expected – and there’s working code to prove it. Essentially, if someone seizes your Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered phone, they can potentially decrypt its file system’s contents with a friendly Python script without knowing your password or PIN.

Blocking JavaScript can stop some Windows malware – Email attachments are probably the most common mechanism for infecting a Windows computer. As potential victims get wise to the tried and true infection schemes, bad guys have a relatively new wrinkle — the attached malicious file is JavaScript. JavaScript, or more correctly in this case, JScript files, are plain text files that end in “.js.” JavaScript files are normally found in web pages where your web browser interprets the instructions and executes them. By and large, JavaScript inside a web page is safe as the browser limits the fish bowl where it lives to a single web page. But, JavaScript let loose on a Windows machine is an entirely different matter.

Over 100 DDoS botnets built using Linux malware for embedded devices – LizardStresser, the DDoS malware for Linux systems written by the infamous Lizard Squad attacker group, was used over the past year to create over 100 botnets, some built almost exclusively from compromised internet-of-things devices.

Company News:

Google’s offices in Spain raided by tax authorities – The raid on Google’s Madrid headquarters and its Google Campus workspace are related to VAT payments and non-residence tax, according to Spanish press. The company is suspected of not declaring part of its business activity performed in Spanish territory and therefore of failing its local tax obligations. A Google spokesperson declined to answer specific questions about the raid, but did provide the following statement: “We comply with the tax law in Spain, as in every other country in which we operate. We are cooperating fully with the authorities in Madrid to answer their questions, as always.”

Oracle owes HP $3 billion in damages for breach of contract, jury says – Oracle must pay HP $3 billion in damages, a California jury has ordered, for breaching a contract relating to HP’s servers. HP says Oracle broke an agreement to keep developing software for servers based on Intel’s Itanium chips, while Oracle had argued that Intel made it clear in 2011 that the chip type was on its way to obsolesce, and that it didn’t have a contract to keep developing the software forever. The jury’s order comes four years after judge James Kleinberg originally ruled that the two companies did indeed have a contract in place.

Seagate to cut 1,600 jobs amid weak demand – Seagate said it will cut about 1,600 jobs — or 3 percent of its workforce — as part of a restructuring plan that should be complete by the end of September. The company added in a regulatory filing that it expects to take a charge of $62 million in its fiscal fourth quarter. Charges will cover employee termination costs. However, Seagate also said it will save about $100 million a year. The storage company has been struggling with weak growth, and in April, cut its outlook. For its fiscal third quarter, Seagate reported a net loss of $21 million, or 7 cents a share, on revenue of $2.6 billion. On a non-GAAP basis, Seagate reported earnings of $66 million, or 22 cents a share, for the third quarter.

Spotify cries foul again over Apple’s anti-competitive ploy – Apple has been known to exercise an iron hand when it comes to apps in its iTunes Store, sometimes rejecting updates or even entire apps based on what some claim to be whimsical or downright anti-competitive rules. That is the picture that Spotify is painting in a letter addressed to Apple’s general counsel over Apple’s recent rejection of an update to Spotify’s iOS app. According to the music streaming giant, Apple cites “business model rules” as the reason for the rejection. Which is just another way of saying that it wants Spotify to reinstate in-app billing via iTunes, which would require Spotify to fork over 30% of subscription fees to Apple.

Dell gets out of the Android business, and everything old is new again – There’s a lot of competition and not a lot of profit in the Android ecosystem, so it’s not exactly surprising to hear that Dell plans to exit the Android business in order to focus on its Windows PCs and convertibles. According to The Verge, the company will continue to honor warranties and service contracts for Venue Android tablets, but it will no longer sell or develop new hardware and will stop releasing software updates for current devices. This means no more updates for relatively recent releases like the odd but relatively well-reviewed Venue 8 7000.

IBM and Cisco team up on enterprise collaboration to stave off rivals like Slack and Microsoft – IBM and Cisco said they will now work together in a wide-ranging partnership, in which they will build apps that integrate Watson and other IBM services with Cisco apps, such as collaboration platform Spark (aka Cisco’s competitor to Slack and Yammer) and conferencing service WebEx (aka Cisco’s rival to join.me, Skype, and others).

Walmart puts pressure on Amazon with ShippingPass expansion – Walmart has thrown down the gauntlet in its battle with Amazon, announcing today that ShippingPass – Walmart’s version of Amazon Prime, which offers free two-day shipping for online orders – is now available to all customers in the US. Previously, ShippingPass was available to a select number of customers, but Walmart has determined that there’s enough benefit to rolling out the program on a nationwide scale.

Games and Entertainment:

Best movies for celebrating the Fourth of July – The Fourth of July, Independence Day, celebrates our country’s rebellion from tyrannical rule, and our establishment of a system of government by the people, for the people, and of the people. Though we often take it for granted, our country—for all its flaws—bestows more rights and freedoms on its citizens than anywhere else in the world. Here are 12 movies that remind us what we’re celebrating. Each of these patriotic films demonstrates the ideals and the spirit that made this country great, from the impulse to chip in and help out, to our legal systems, inventions, and freedom of the press. We have the power to think, fight, dream, and laugh without the urge to look over our shoulder too see who might be watching. These movies remind us that we can look up in the sky, breathe the summer air, maybe see some fireworks, and think, “It’s good to be free.”

NBC will offer 85 hours of VR Olympics programming, courtesy of Samsung – The plan revolves around Gear VR — exclusively, in fact. Owners of Samsung’s headset (and compatible Galaxy phones, naturally) will get access to 85 hours of VR content, accessible through the NBC Sports app. The list includes the opening and closing ceremonies and a decent cross-section of sports, including men’s basketball, track and field, gymnastics, boxing, beach volleyball, fencing and diving. All the content will be available on a delay of a day or so, throughout the games.

BioShock: The Collection remaster confirmed for Xbox One, PS4, PC – 2K Games is hoping you’ve not grown tired of what feels like an endless sea of remasters, because today the company announced quite the whopper. It will be remastering the BioShock franchise for release on Xbox One, PS4, and PC, bringing the long and storied franchise into the current generation. Officially dubbed BioShock: The Collection, the remaster will span the original BioShock (which is about to turn nine years old if you can believe it) to BioShock Infinite, a game that took the world by storm a few years back.

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AMD RX 480 review: The best budget graphics card—but for how long? – Brave? Foolhardy? Desperate? Whatever you might think about AMD’s decision to cede the top end of the graphics card market (at least for now) to Nvidia and launch the mainstream-focused RX 480 instead, the fact remains that for £180/$200 it’s the best graphics card you can buy. It’s faster than Nvidia’s GTX 970 and (mostly) faster than an R9 390, making it more than powerful enough to meet the minimum spec for virtual reality—and it’ll blitz through demanding 1080p games at a smooth 60FPS, too. It even does a decent job at 1440p, so long as you’re fine with dialling down a few settings.

Pokemon GO is the best game EVER: here’s why – Today is the first day I’m able to speak in public about my experience with Pokemon GO. It’s been about a week and a half since I first started playing in the Field Test – very similar to the Beta most people were playing (likely identical) – and it’s time to let loose. This game is fantastic. Not in the same way a visually spectacular game like Fallout 4 or DOOM are fantastic, but in a new way. A way that’s not like any game I’ve played before. Pokemon GO is a real game-changer.

Sling TV now offers internet viewers more than 100 channels – In the best deal available today for cord-cutters, Sling TV now offers customers their choice of more than 100 channels.

Off Topic (Sort of):

The day the theory of evolution levelled up – A great debate between biologist Thomas Henry Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce played a huge part in the theory of evolution’s spreading through history.

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Vanity Fair caricatures of Samuel Wilberforce (left, July 1869) and Thomas Huxley (right, January 1871). Vanity Fair

A brief history of the QWERTY keyboard – On July 1, 1874, the Remington typewriter hit the market, with the earliest version of what would become the keyboard layout we still use today.

Tesla’s own Autopilot warnings outlined deadly crash scenario – Today’s news that a Tesla driver was killed in early May while driving his Model S with Autopilot engaged will inevitably trigger a series of tough questions — many of which have already been posed — about whether semi-autonomous driving features are ready for prime time, and whether automakers should be putting safety-critical “beta” software into real customers’ hands. For that matter, what does “beta” even mean in this context? Will a self-driving car ever be completely incapable of crashing? (Not likely, but if it is, it’s still decades away, and may require that human drivers stop driving.) But many will be quick to remind that Tesla’s Autopilot is not a fully self-driving system anyway — it’s generally considered Level 2 on NHTSA’s 0-4 scale of autonomy.

Google’s ‘FASTER’ undersea cable goes online with 60 Tbps of bandwidth – You probably have a wireless network at home, but for some applications a wired connection is still more reliable. It’s the same in internet backbone communications — satellites help keep the world in sync, but the best connections across the globe rely upon undersea fiber optic cables. A new undersea cable constructed with Google’s backing has just gone online linking the US west coast with Japan. The cable, which has the fitting name “FASTER,” can transmit 60 terabytes of data per second, more than any other active undersea cable. It’s about 10 million times faster than your home broadband connection on a good day.

Eagle-mounted 360 camera offers stunning bird’s-eye view of Scottish highlands – If you’ve ever wanted a bird’s eye view of the Scottish highlands, wish no more.

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The world’s decision to fix the ozone hole is paying off 30 years later – The ozone hole over the Antarctic has begun to heal, according to a new study, more than 30 years after its discovery. The findings suggest that global efforts to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals have been effective, though scientists still aren’t entirely sure about what’s driving the ozone hole’s recovery. The study, published in the journal Science, combines data gathered from balloons and satellites to measure the area of the ozone layer over Antarctica from 2000 to 2015.

Something to think about:

“Nothing is as far away as one minute ago.”

–     Jim Bishop

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

US courts didn’t reject a single wiretap request in 2015, says report – The number of wiretaps authorized by the courts in 2015 rocketed compared to the year before, says a new report.

According to the annual wiretap report released on Thursday, which outlines how many real-time intercept requests were submitted by state and federal law enforcement agencies, the courts allowed 4,148 wiretaps during the last calendar year, up by 17 percent on the year-ago period.

Most were issued by state courts. The majority of wiretaps were authorized in California, which accounted for 41 percent of all applications.

New York came in second with 17 percent of wiretaps for the year.

But not a single wiretap request was rejected during 2015, the report showed.

ACLU challenges federal hacking law hampering research into online discrimination – The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Attorney General alleging that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is unconstitutional, and as a consequence is preventing critical research into discrimination online.

In particular, it’s the provision of the CFAA that prohibits any action that “exceeds authorized access” to a system — effectively criminalizing violations of a website or app’s terms of service. The ACLU doesn’t want to make abuses of such services legal, but it does say that many actions that should be constitutionally protected would be prosecuted according to current interpretation of the law.

Christian Sandvig and Karrie Karahalios are researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Illinois respectively. The two want to study whether real estate sites are, consciously or unconsciously, discriminating against their users — promoting more expensive properties to a certain gender or race, for instance.

To find out, they must essentially break the terms of service of the website, which were not designed to accommodate well-meaning researchers. But to do so leaves them open to prosecution — as others, like Aaron Swartz, found out the hard way.

Facebook wins privacy case, can track any Belgian it wants – In a somewhat unexpected twist, Facebook has won a legal battle against Belgium’s data protection authority, which had sought to prevent Facebook from tracking non-Facebook (or not-logged-into-Facebook) users, both on the Facebook website itself but also via the company’s Like and Share buttons that can be found in even the darkest depths of the known universe.

The Brussels appeals court dismissed the case on Wednesday, saying that the Belgian CPP (Commission for the Protection of Privacy) had no jurisdiction over Facebook, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to bringing all our services back online for people in Belgium,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“Today’s decision simply and purely means that the Belgian citizen cannot obtain the protection of his private life through the courts and tribunals when it concerns foreign actors,” the CPP said in a statement. The CPP also said that it may launch an appeal to the Belgian Court of Cassation—the court of last resort—which in the past had overruled cases that involved foreign company jurisdiction.

Back in November 2015, a lower court ruled in favour of the CPP and ordered Facebook to quit tracking people who don’t have a Facebook account or who aren’t currently logged into the service. If Facebook didn’t comply, it faced fines of up to €250,000 per day. Suffice it to say, the company complied: in December, Facebook said that it had stopped tracking Belgian visitors who were not logged in.

Inside the global terror watchlist that secretly shadows millions – There is a private intelligence database, packed full of personal details of millions of “heightened-risk” individuals, which is secretly having a devastating effect on those who are on it. Most have no idea they’re under the watchful gaze of some of the world’s largest and most powerful organizations, governments, and intelligence agencies.

But for its worth and value, it wasn’t nearly kept secure enough.

A copy of the database, dating back to mid-2014, was found on an unsecured server hosted by a London-based compliance company, which specializes in “know your customer” profiling and anti-money laundering services.

Chris Vickery, a security researcher at MacKeeper, who found the database, told me that it was stored on a server configured for public access.

Time is short to stop expansion of FBI hacking, senator says – The U.S. Congress has a small window of time to stop proposed changes in federal court rules that will expand the FBI’s authority to hack into computers during criminal investigations, a senator said Thursday.

The rule changes allowing expanded FBI searches of computers, approved by the Supreme Court in April, go into effect in December unless Congress votes against them, and getting Congress to move in a contentious election year will be difficult, said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and a critic of the changes.

“Inaction is easy,” said Wyden, sponsor of a bill to roll back the proposed changes. “Inaction is what Congress does best.”

The proposed changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure would allow the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants to hack into computers even when they don’t know where those computers are located. The changes would, therefore, allow federal judges for the first time to issue search warrants outside their jurisdictions.

So when law enforcement doesn’t know the location of a device, “whether it’s in this country or abroad, it will be allowed to hack into that device,” Wyden said during a speech at the New American Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

In addition, the proposed changes, in an effort to better investigate and shut down botnets, would allow the FBI to get warrants to access computers the agency suspects have been compromised by hackers.

Those proposed changes could have major consequences, Wyden said.

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