Tech Thoughts Net News – Friday – August 12, 2016

Test the security of your apps with Verify.ly;  10 killer PC upgrades that are shockingly cheap;  Windows 10: The best tricks, tips, and tweaks;  12 of the best software utilities for your Mac;  Top 10 apps: the most downloads so far this year;  Windows 10: More free upgrade and activation questions answered;  McAfee outs malware dev firm with scores of Download.com installs;  Now even your sex toys are spying on you – and much more news you need to know.

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Test the security of your apps with Verify.ly – Verify.ly, which launched in public beta last week, offers detailed rundowns of the third party code libraries and software development kits used in an app, links to source code, and information about the app’s transport security enforcement settings and system APIs. For someone with a little bit of technical knowhow, it’s an information goldmine. But even if the world of SDKs and APIs is completely foreign to you, Verify.ly breaks down the important points so they’re easy to understand. For example, the Verify.ly page for Snapchat shows when the app will encrypt your content in transit and when it won’t. Although you probably expect Snapchat to access your location data and contact list, you might not know that Snapchat also has access to your calendar and can read telephone call-related information.

Windows 10: The best tricks, tips, and tweaks – Windows 10, Microsoft’s back-to-basics re-embracing of the PC, is brimming with handy new features, and with all the new goodies come a legion of new tweaks and tricks—some of which unlock powerful functionality hidden to everyday users. Others simply let you mold some of Windows 10’s new features into the shape you see fit. Here are some of the most useful Windows 10 tweaks, tricks, and tips we’ve found, including a spate of fresh finds from August’s massive Anniversary Update.

10 killer PC upgrades that are shockingly cheap – Looking to put more pep in your PC’s step? These surprisingly cheap PC upgrades and accessories do the trick without breaking the bank.

Top 10 apps: These boast the most downloads so far this year – Survey Monkey has released its list of the most popular downloaded apps in the US on iOS and Android for the first six months of 2016. Pokemon Go was released in July so did not make it here.

12 of the best software utilities for your Mac – There’s little doubt that OS X ‘El Capitan’ is a fully-featured operating system that helps you to get a lot done, but by adding a few extra utilities will allow you get an awful lot more from the platform with very little extra effort.

10 must-have Android apps to make your Chromebook more useful – Ever since Google introduced Chrome OS on the CR-48 prototype laptop back in 2011, Chromebooks have relied on web apps and simple Chrome extensions to get things done. Now, Chromebooks are getting access to the Play Store with heaps of Android apps. Not all of them work well on Chromebooks, and others don’t really add to the experience, but some of them can give your Chromebook a big boost. We tested dozens of popular apps on an Acer R11 to see which are which—here are the ones you should install on your Chromebook.

Sick of NBC’s vapid Olympics coverage? Use Opera’s built-in VPN and you can watch the BBC’s coverage instead – A free, unlimited VPN feature within Opera’s latest developer browser makes watching the Olympics through the eyes of foreign broadcasters a snap.

I like the Olympics better without announcers – Probably like you, I’ve been watching quite a lot of the Olympics. Possibly unlike you, I’ve been watching very little on my TV. Why would I, when an app from NHK — Japan’s public broadcaster — is giving me such a better experience? What the NHK app, and other regional equivalents, do is untie themselves from the leash of traditional TV restrictions and offer video coverage of pretty much everything going on in Rio. This is usually just the raw footage provided to all official broadcasters around the world to do with what they see fit; NHK doesn’t have the budget nor the viewer interest to give each sport the full production treatment with commentary and on-site reporting, so most of these events are only able to be streamed unadorned by announcers or studio banter. Which, as it happens, I actually prefer.

Windows 10: More free upgrade and activation questions answered – Here are a few more answers to some nagging questions about Windows 10 upgrades and activation in the post-Anniversary-Update era.

Windows 10 tip: Find your PC’s original product key – If you’ve purchased a new PC with Windows pre-installed in the past few years, chances are it has a product key embedded in its BIOS. With a little PowerShell wizardry, you can find that well-hidden key and learn more about your current licensing status.

Adblock Plus has already defeated Facebook’s new ad blocking restrictions – Facebook’s plan to stop ad blockers has already been foiled. Adblock Plus has found a way to strip ads from Facebook, even when they’re served up in Facebook’s new ad blocker-proof format. Anyone with a fully updated version of Adblock Plus should once again be able to avoid ads in Facebook’s sidebar and News Feed. The method may be flawed, however: Facebook says that in its attempt to remove ads, Adblock Plus is also removing regular posts. “We’re disappointed that ad blocking companies are punishing people on Facebook as these new attempts don’t just block ads but also posts from friends and Pages,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “This isn’t a good experience for people and we plan to address the issue.”

Box extends its global push with new Zones in Canada and Australia – Box has made no secret of its global ambitions, and on Wednesday it advanced them another step by announcing two new regional “Zones” in Canada and Australia.

Facebook tweaks News Feed to show more informative stories to users – Facebook’s News Feed is an interesting beast, and it’s been receiving a lot of tweaking recently. From offering up personally relevant advertisements to limiting the number of clickbait articles that make it through, the News Feed has been changing quite a bit this summer. Facebook isn’t done with its adjustments, today announcing a new update that will hopefully show more relevant and informative stories to its users.

Microsoft Azure … in less than two minutes – Wondering what makes Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform unique? Find out in less than two minutes!

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This App Helps You Pick Out the Right Strain of Medical Weed – The future of medical marijuana might be at your fingertips. PotBot, a mobile app developed by the company Potbotics, helps users find out the best weed for their body, and recommend the right strain of marijuana for your particular medical condition.

This New App Proves Mobile Payments Are a Mess – Retailers’ resistance to adopt Apple Pay and similar services is making life harder for customers.

Hands on: MyScript Nebo is what Windows Ink should be – MyScript’s Nebo app for Windows 10 transforms digital ink into text as you write, which is what Windows Ink needs to become. From editable text to equations, Nebo offers it all. And for a short time, it’s free.

Must-have essential smart office tech in 2016 – Office work doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom — and there are some interesting gadgets out there which can make your life more organized and efficient.

Security:

McAfee outs malware dev firm with scores of Download.com installs – McAfee says a software company with more than 50,000 downloads on sites such as Download.com is distributing web browser hijacking and fraud malware. Researcher Santosh Revankar says Lavians Inc is pushing the Bing.vc browser redirect and home page hijacker which creates seeming problems that the company then attempts to fix at a cost. The technique is straight out of the black hat fraud handbook and is used by low level and lowly web scum who take advantage of the proliferation of trash software to inject advertisements, and drop all manner of malware on user machines. Lavians Inc has 19 uploads currently hosted on Download.com and 24 on Brothersoft.com, along with applications on its own site.

Linux bug leaves USA Today, other top sites vulnerable to serious hijacking attacks – Computer scientists have discovered a serious Internet vulnerability that allows attackers to terminate connections between virtually any two parties and, if the connections aren’t encrypted, inject malicious code or content into the parties’ communications. The vulnerability resides in the design and implementation of RFC 5961, a relatively new Internet standard that’s intended to prevent certain classes of hacking attacks. In fact, the protocol is designed in a way that it can easily open Internet users to so-called blind off-path attacks, in which hackers anywhere on the Internet can detect when any two parties are communicating over an active transmission control protocol connection. Attackers can go on to exploit the flaw to shut down the connection, inject malicious code or content into unencrypted data streams, and possibly degrade privacy guarantees provided by the Tor anonymity network.

Why haven’t we seen the smartphone security apocalypse in iPhone and Android – Finally, the mobile security apocalypse is upon us. A recent BBC headline warned: “Android bug fear in 900 million phones.” For those of us who lived through Windows 95, widespread, catastrophic malware and security vulnerabilities were the norm, not the exception, which is why one of life’s great mysteries has been the apparent absence of massive mobile security threats. Despite everyone carrying around multitudinous attack vectors 24/7, when was the last time a friend or family member called you up to ask how to remove a virus on their phone? Something like the extremely destructive Chernobyl virus that plagued Windows 95? Probably never.

Microsoft Secure Boot key leak shows why backdoors are bad – There is an oft quoted adage called “Murphy’s Law” (not to be confused with Moore’s Law) that, simplified, goes like this: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Well, that proverbial thing may have just hit the fan, as far as Microsoft’s operating system and devices are concerned. The “golden key”, that is, a key to a hallowed backdoor, to Microsoft’s Secure Boot implementation has just been leaked. It’s a double-edged sword that allows power users to install operating systems and software on previously locked down devices but also gives unsavory characters the power to install malware such as rootkits and bootkits.

Thieves can wirelessly unlock up to 100 million Volkswagens, each at the press of a button – Security researchers will demonstrate how crooks can break into cars at will using wireless signals that can unlock millions of vulnerable vehicles. The hack can be used by thieves to wirelessly unlock as many as 100 million VW cars, each at the press of a button. Almost every vehicle the Volkswagen group has sold for the past 20 years – including cars badged under the Audi and Skoda brands – is potentially vulnerable, say the researchers. The problem stems from VW’s reliance on a “few, global master keys.”

Google makes Gmail safer with new security warnings to fight phishing – On Wednesday, Google announced security warnings that display if an email sender is authenticated, in its latest initiative to welcome business users to the app platform.

Now even your sex toys are spying on you – Fusion was first to report the story that the We-Vibe 4 Plus tells its maker, Standard Innovation Corporation, the exact time and date when the device is being used, its temperature, and the type of vibration mode being used. That data is said to be used for hardware diagnostics to ensure the device remains safe. There are two problems.

Company News:

Russia fines Google $6.75 million for pre-installing apps on Android (Less than what Google makes in an hour) – Google has been hit by a $6.75 million antitrust fine in Russia for requiring phone manufacturers to pre-install its apps on Android mobile devices. The majority of smartphones and tablets solid in Russia run on Android, and domestic search engine rival Yandex filed a complaint last year that the US company was abusing its position. The fine itself is small — less than what the company makes in an hour, notes Recode — but the decision shows increasing enmity to Google in Europe.

Bleeping Computer countersues maker of SpyHunter – Bleeping Computer, a longstanding popular discussion forum that helps people rid their computers of malware, has now countersued Enigma Software Group (ESG), which makes an antivirus software known as SpyHunter. Bleeping now claims that ESG has been violating Bleeping’s trademarks by registering new domain names that include “bleepingcomputer” and posting some of the company’s webpage’s source code on other websites without its authorization, among other allegations. ESG had sued Bleeping for libel earlier this year over a series of messages that it claims disparaged SpyHunter and the company as a whole.

Macy’s will close 100 stores so it can spend more on digital tech – The retailer on Thursday said it’s working to align its in-store and online shopping experiences by allocating more funds to its digital businesses and ongoing stores. There will also be a greater focus on digital technology, including natural language search capabilities, improved online ordering and fulfillment systems, capacity building on its sites and mobile apps, and an upgrade to its “Buy Online, Pickup in Store” service. Macy’s is also planning to close around 100 stores in order to focus spending on its highest-growth-potential locations and new digital tech.

Acer sees net profit surge as operating income heads south – Acer has released its financial results for the second quarter of the year, reporting an operating loss of NT$279 million. The result comes after the PC maker pulled an NT$866 million operating profit in quarter one. Revenue for this quarter was NT$56.1 billion, down from NT$60 billion in the same quarter last year. Realised gross profit also saw a 19 percent decrease quarter-on-quarter, coming in at NT$5.4 billion. The non-operating income of NT$1.05 billion was largely due to foreign exchange gains, Acer said, while net income — profit after tax — reached NT$538 million, up from NT$2 million at the same time last year.

Nvidia touts record revenue on Q2 earnings beat – Graphics chipmaker Nvidia easily topped second quarter earnings targets Thursday after the bell. As for the numbers, Nvidia reported a net income of $253 million, or 40 cents per share (statement). Non-GAAP earnings were 53 cents per share on a revenue of $1.43 billion, up 24 percent year-over-year. Wall Street was looking for earnings of 37 cents per share with $1.35 billion in revenue.

London transport authority defends English language test for Uber drivers – Uber says the level of English required to be a private hire driver in London will put “thousands” out of work.

Games and Entertainment:

Microsoft is buying a company that lets viewers control video game live streams – Today, Microsoft announced its plans to acquire live streaming service Beam, a Seattle-based company that lets users influence and interact with a video game being streamed by another player. Beam launched in January to compete against well-established game streaming services from Twitch and YouTube. It set itself apart by taking a core concept made popular by streamers — the notion of letting players control a game from afar — and turning into a unique streaming platform.

Reviewed: No Man’s Sky doesn’t live up to the hype, but it does provide a unique thrill – The most hyped game of the year is a bit of a letdown, especially after you realize the planets all share some similarities. It’s also a brilliant match for sci-fi lovers.

Reach the limits of No Man’s Sky with these tips and tricks – No Man’s Sky, the grandest procedurally generated, astronomically massive open world game around, is here. In it, you’ll be mining and crafting (not unlike that other massive procedurally generated open-world game) so you can upgrade your ship, get better gear, and keep trekking the stars. With 18 quintillion planet-sized planets there’s a lot of ground to cover, and if you’re going to go trekking out to the black, you might need some tips to get you started. Here are our best suggestions for players who are just getting started on their own adventures into the great unknown.

Minecraft for Oculus Rift launches next week – We heard in late July that Minecraft for Oculus Rift would be available soon, and now we have a more specific time frame: it will be available next week, leaving only a precious few days of waiting. The information comes from Mojang’s Tommaso Checchi who works on the Minecraft Pocket Edition. According to a tweet from Checchi published a couple days ago, the Oculus Rift version is finished and ready to go live.

Off Topic (Sort of):

17 Ways Tech Could Land You in Jail (Or Worse) – Living in a connected world often bestows a false sense of freedom. Your computer monitor and smartphone screen do not protect you from laws governing privacy, security, or harassment, of course, but sometimes, tech-related activity you thought was legit might land you in a whole lot of trouble. When we unbox a new gadget or download an app, we often hastily discard or dismiss the accompanying pages of dry documentation and fine print. But those pages may come back to haunt us as a lawsuit if they’re not properly heeded.

Online sales of illicit drugs triple since Silk Road closure – Copycats sprang up within weeks of the feds shuttering the online illegal-drug marketplace in 2013, new research finds.

Xbox One S gets its own XBOOK ONE S laptop mod – Well that was quick. The Xbox One S is barely just a few days old in the market and, as expected, it is already getting its first serious mod. Yes, the now famous (among avid gamers, at least) Ed Zarick is at it again, turning what is billed as the smallest Xbox ever into perhaps the most portable Xbox ever. Ed has finished designing and creating the first XBOOK ONE S laptop and is opening the doors to customers who want to enjoy console gaming without being stuck at home. Too much.

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Inside the IBM PC 5150: The first-ever IBM PC – 35 years ago (today), IBM launched the most influential commercial computer system of all time, the IBM PC 5150. Over the past three and a half decades, architectural descendants of this single machine have taken over the desktop, workstation, server, and even game console markets. And despite inroads from ARM-based smartphones, its digital descendants are still relied upon for just about all the heavy lifting in the computer industry. On the anniversary of such a monumentally important computer, I thought it would be instructive to take a deeper look into the machine that started it all. How? By taking apart one of these bad boys on my trusty workbench, of course. And that’s exactly what you’ll see in the slides ahead.

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Snapchat Doesn’t Think Its ‘Yellowface’ Filter Is Racist – We can all agree that Snapchat filters have four primary objectives: to make you look hotter, uglier, fun, or weird as shit. But you know what they shouldn’t do? Paint you as a racist caricature ripped straight out of World War II propaganda. Apparently, Snapchat hasn’t gotten that memo. Yesterday, the four-year-old company was called out by Twitter users for its derogatory “anime” filter that layered slanted eyes, buckteeth, and rounded cheeks over people’s faces, according to Mic. Snapchat has removed the lens, but its digital imprint left many Asians and Asian Americans feeling like targets of casual racism.

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City-funded broadband just lost a big fight in court – Some city-funded broadband networks may be in trouble after a U.S. appeals court struck down Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibited states from restricting those projects. The FCC has no authority from Congress to prohibit state laws that limit municipal funding of broadband networks, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said in a decision released Wednesday.

Slack is now selling emoji-based temporary tattoos – Have you ever looked at an emoji and wished you could print it on your flesh in the style of classic American tattoos? If you answer yes, then Slack has good news for you. The company has added a pack of temporary tattoos to its online store. The tattoos were designed by tattoo artist Jessi Preston and come in sets of half a dozen. This is the latest item in Slack’s online store for physical goods.

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Why Arianna Huffington left the Huffington Post – Huffington’s press release says she left because she had decided she couldn’t work at both HuffPo and also launch Thrive Global, her new “corporate and consumer well-being and productivity” startup. “I thought it would be possible to build a startup and continue as editor in chief of the Huffington Post,” Huffington says in a statement. “Today, it’s clear that was an illusion.” That’s a turnaround from a couple months ago, when she announced her plans to launch Thrive while continuing to run HuffPo, which she launched 11 years ago and sold to AOL five years ago. A more realistic explanation, according to a person familiar with her new venture, is that things have changed at Verizon, which bought AOL last year and is now going to swallow up Yahoo.

Top US Marine says smartphone society has made soldiers soft – General Robert B. Neller, commandant of the US Marines Corps, says soldiers may need to leave their phones at home.

Something to think about:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge…”

–    Albert Einstein

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

The Internet Doesn’t Route Around Surveillance – One of the most famous quotes about the web says that “the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” But what about surveillance? Is it possible to make the internet route around spying?

In the last few years, especially after revelations of pervasive monitoring by the NSA and its British sister spy agency the GCHQ, some countries, Brazil being the most vocal, have publicly announced their intentions to avoid sending internet traffic to the US and the UK in an effort to dodge surveillance.

As it turns out, all internet pipes lead to surveillance. Or, at least, it’s really hard—if not impossible—to avoid routing web traffic through surveillance states like the United States, according to a recent paper by a group of Princeton University researchers.

Judge blasts DOJ’s refusal to explain stingray use in attempted murder case – At a Monday hearing in federal court, US Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu had strong words for prosecutors in an attempted murder and gang case that has dragged on for nearly three years.

“It is stunning to me that at this point in the case, the government cannot tell me very clearly what search has been done and what exists or does not exist, relevant to a stingray,” she said with exasperation.

As Ars reported over a year ago, the case of United States v. Ellis et al involves four men who are charged with the 2013 attempted murder of local police officer Eric Karsseboom. The men are also charged with running an alleged East Oakland gang centered around Seminary Avenue (known as “SemCity”).

But in the process of locating lead defendant Purvis Ellis on the night of January 20, 2013, the Oakland Police Department may have unintentionally opened up a way to challenge evidence in the case. How? Due to the warrantless use of a stingray, or cell-site simulator.

Since Ars last reported on the story, the government has admitted in court filings earlier this year that, not only did the Oakland Police Department have a stingray at the scene, so did the FBI.

Judge tosses suit accusing Twitter of providing material support to ISIS – A US District Judge in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit against Twitter that claimed the social networking platform had provided “material support” to terrorists from ISIS. An American woman whose husband was working as a contractor in Jordan filed the suit after her husband and several others were shot and killed by a terrorist who allegedly was inspired by extremist propaganda disseminated on Twitter.

The lawsuit, Fields v. Twitter, claimed that Twitter violated the Anti-Terrorism Act by providing Twitter accounts to the terrorist group.

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