Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – September 7, 2016

These second-screen apps make NFL games even more fun to watch;  How to control your privacy in Chromebooks vs. Windows 10;  The 20 best free PC games;  HacBook Elite is an unofficial Mac laptop for $329;  How much it costs to charge a smartphone for a year?  Galaxy Note 7 recall costs expected to top $1 billion;  4 mind-mapping tools for better brainstorming;  Warner Bros. flags own site for piracy, orders Google to censor pages – and much more news you need to know.

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It’s football season! These second-screen apps make NFL games even more fun to watch – We’ve rounded up six of the best second-screen apps to enhance your football viewing. Take them for a spin when the season kicks off Thursday, September 8, and we’re sure you’ll be reaching for them along with your remote every week until the end of Super Bowl LI.

The Best Free Antivirus Protection of 2016 – Did you grab your free Windows 10 upgrade before the deadline expired? Or maybe you even paid for one. If so, you probably noticed that it boasts built-in antivirus protection in the form of Microsoft Windows Defender. If you stuck with Windows 8, you still have the same Windows Defender. But just because it’s included with the OS doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it. The best free antivirus products outperform many commercial competitors. We’ve collected them here to help you choose which is right for you.

The Best Printers of 2016 – Picking the right printer can be tough, with so many features to choose from, and individual printers with almost any possible combination of those variations available. Here are some pointers to help you find both the right category of printer and the right model within that type, along with our top-rated reviews.

How to control your privacy in Chromebooks vs. Windows 10 – By default, both platforms collect a variety of data about your usage, but the way they go about it is often different. While Microsoft presents users with a long list of privacy-related toggles, Google’s controls are less granular. Both companies, however, make you jump through additional hoops to disable the kind of personalized ads that help them turn a profit. PCWorld recently broke down all the ways Microsoft grabs at your data in Windows 10, so it’s only fair we compare that to Google’s computing platform. Here’s how Chrome OS and Windows 10 measure up on privacy and data collection.

How much does it costs to charge a smartphone for a year? – How much does the electricity needed to charge a smartphone over the course of a year cost? Under a dollar? A few dollars? Tens of dollars? Hundreds of dollars? Let’s find out.

It’s Microsoft’s fault cheap Windows laptops don’t use better hardware – If you look at the low-end ($200-$300) Windows laptop market in 2016 you’ll notice that the hardware spec is mostly the same regardless of which brand name is on the casing. We get the same low-end processors, RAM limited to no more than 4GB (but usually 2GB), and those infuriating 32GB SSD/eMMC drives that are quite slow and way too small to be useful. You may think the spec is so limited because manufacturers have to hit a target price to retain a profit margin while still being able to sell in the $200 range. While that’s true, it’s actually Microsoft who is imposing a strict upper limit on the hardware available in this category of laptop.

iPhone 7: Why do we even care? – With tomorrow’s big Apple event about to use up more worldwide bandwidth than Netflix, David Gewirtz asks the one brave question we’re all afraid to utter: “Why do we even care?”

Facebook tests a Twitter-like feature to encourage more conversation – Facebook makes a habit of borrowing features from Twitter such as hashtags, a live feed, verification badges, and followers. Now, the company is testing a new feature that is about as close as Facebook could get to creating a version of Twitter. The new feature is currently dubbed “What friends are talking about” and is being tested with a small subset of users. It was first spotted by Mashable on Friday in Facebook for Android.

4 mind-mapping tools for better brainstorming – Mind mapping is a technique for visualizing and developing ideas. Unlike linear note taking, mind mapping mimics the way our brain radiates ideas and connects them through natural associations. That makes them ideal for brainstorming, planning complex projects, and writing everything from business plans to novel plots. In the pre-digital world, you had to do this on paper with colored pencils. But today there a many fantastic computer and web apps that do the heavy lifting for you. Here are four of our favorites.

HacBook Elite is an unofficial Mac laptop for $329 – Apple does not look kindly on any company attempting to copy their hardware, just look at how long Samsung has been in court facing off against Apple’s lawyers. But when a company decides to develop a laptop that runs OS X without first getting Apple’s approval, which we all know they’d never give… well, don’t expect that company to be around for very long. The creators of the HacBook Elite must know what’s going to happen, but they either know something we don’t or they simply don’t care. Whatever the case, you can now pre-order a HacBook Elite, which promises to run OS X out the box, and for as little as $329. That’s $570 cheaper than a MacBook Air, and nearly a $1,000 cheaper than the entry level MacBook or MacBook Pro.

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About.com launches The Balance, a personal finance website for everyone – In a quest to dismantle itself and become more relevant in the 21st Century, IAC-owned About.com is launching another standalone vertical in the form of The Balance, a personal finance website tailored to today’s millennial. The Balance is focused on making personal finance easy to understand, no matter where you are in life. The site will launch with more than 34,000 pieces of content written by 70 writers, all organized under the topics of personal finance, investing, money hacks, career advice, and small business tips.

ComScore: Half of All Smartphone Time is Spent on Apps – There’s an app for everything, and it seems that more people are turning to their smartphone apps for information and fun versus their tablets or their computers.

Are you too fat? Samsung’s WELT smartbelt will have the answer when it hits waistlines in Jan – Samsung’s WELT has reached its Kickstarter funding target and will now ship to backers in January.

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The WELT smart belt is designed to monitor your girth, steps taken, and time spent sitting. Image: WELT/Samsung

Google’s Fuchsia OS is out in the open and shrouded in mystery – Because Fuchsia is open-source, anyone can take a look at its code, even though Google isn’t saying much about its new operating system.

The Ultimate Guide to Car Connectivity – Whether it’s Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or another infotainment system, getting the right tech in your new vehicle is key. Here’s what you need to know.

Small businesses are fleeing to cloud computing and mobile apps, says new study – The mobile revolution has reached mom-and-pop shops. According to a new Intuit study, 64% of small businesses across the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK now run their operations in the cloud—up from just 37% in 2015. And 68% of these enterprises use mobile or web-based apps in their day-to-day business, compared to just half last year.

Why the advertising industry needs to embrace AdBlock – The advertising industry is wringing its hands and shaking its fist at the use and growth of ad-block technology, but I am not above temptation. I installed it. I love it and probably won’t ever fully abandon it. So instead of excoriating people for using them, it’s time we reflect on how we got here, what its inevitability means and whether this might even be a trend worth embracing.

Security:

Sophos Windows users face black screens after false positive snafu – Users of Sophos’s security software were confronted with a black screen on starting up their Windows PC over the weekend as the resulted of a borked antivirus update. The botched update meant that the Windows 7 version of winlogon.exe was incorrectly labelled as potentially malicious, resulting in chaos and confusion all around. The problem was limited to users running a specific version of 32-bit Windows 7 SP1, according to Sophos.

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Russian internet giant Rambler.ru hacked, leaking 98 million accounts – Russian internet portal and email provider Rambler.ru has become the latest victim in a growing list of historical hacks. Breach notification site LeakedSource.com, which obtained a copy of an internal customer database, said the attack dates back to February 17, 2012. More than 98.1 million accounts were in the database, including usernames, email addresses, social account data, and passwords, the group said in a blog post. Unlike other major breaches, those passwords were stored in unencrypted plaintext, meaning anyone at the company could easily see passwords. The last time a breach on this scale was found using plaintext password storage was Russian social networking site VK.com, which saw 171 million accounts taken in the breach.

Nearly 800,000 Brazzers Porn Site Accounts Exposed in Forum Hack – Nearly 800,000 accounts for popular porn site Brazzers have been exposed in a data breach. Although the data originated from the company’s separate forum, Brazzers users who never signed up to the forum may also find their details included in the dump. Motherboard was provided the dataset by breach monitoring site Vigilante.pw for verification purposes. The data contains 790,724 unique email addresses, and also includes usernames and plaintext passwords. (The set has 928,072 entries in all, but many are duplicates.)

Hacker takes down CEO wire transfer scammers, sends their Win 10 creds to the cops – The director of SEC Consult’s Singapore office has made a name striking back at so-called “whaling” scammers by sending malicious Word documents that breach their Windows 10 boxes and pass on identity information to police. Whaling is a well-oiled social engineering scam that sees criminals dupe financial controllers at large lucrative organisations. Whalers’ main method is to send emails that appear to originate from chief executive officers, bearing instructions to wire cash into nominated bank accounts. It works. The FBI estimates some $2.2bn (£1.7bn, A$2.9bn) in losses have arisen from nearly 14,000 whaling cases in the seven months to May this year. Some $800m (£601m, A$1bn) in losses occurred in the 10 months to August 2015.

Company News:

Galaxy Note 7 recall costs expected to top $1 billion – Just as things were looking really good for Samsung with the launch of its popular Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, it all went wrong. Reports of Note 7 smartphones catching on fire while charging started coming in and then Samsung officially announced a recall on all of the Note 7 smartphones that had been sold. Analysts are now chiming in on what the recall is expected to cost Samsung, and the number is massive at $1 billion.

Intel is buying the computer vision company that powers Tango and DJI’s drones – You might not have heard of Movidius — even though we said it was a chipmaker to keep your eye on back in March. It makes computer vision chips that allow devices to see and respond to the world around them. It’s a capability that Intel is increasingly interested in, so Intel purchasing the company for an undisclosed amount. In a post about the acquisition, Movidius CEO Remi El-Ouazzane says that plan is combine his company’s expertise in on-device hardware with Intel’s cloud computing and AI. He also says that Movidius will “remain focused,” and a spokesperson for Intel tells us that all of Movidius’ 180 employees will be “integrated” into Intel’s Perceptual Computing group.

Dell Technologies posts Q2 results – The company reported revenue of $13.1 billion, an increase of 1 percent year over year, with a non-GAAP operating income of $752 million — up 32 percent from the previous year. Cash flow from operations for the quarter came to $1.9 billion. On a trailing 12-month basis, it was $3.2 billion, an improvement of 50 percent.

PayPal expands partnership with MasterCard – PayPal on Tuesday announced it’s expanding its partnership with MasterCard, positioning the digital payments provider to compete against other point-of-sale payment options. The deal, similar to one that PayPal struck with Visa in July, will make MasterCard a payment option within PayPal and allow Braintree merchants to use Masterpass. Additionally, consumers and small businesses will be able to instantly transfer funds from a PayPal account to a MasterCard debit card.

Google switches on new undersea cable for faster internet speeds in Asia – Google is speeding up its internet services in Asia once again. Fresh from expanding its data centers in the region — which are located in Singapore and Taiwan — last year, the company said today that it has switched on a new undersea cable that will quicken services like YouTube and its cloud computing platform. The cable connects Google’s facility in Taiwan with a location in Japan, which itself is connected to the U.S. via an undersea cable from the FASTER Consortium which has the honor of being the planet’s fastest fiber optic undersea cable. Google said the Japan-Taiwan cable supports speeds of up to 26 terabits per second.

Truckin’ USA: Volkswagen buys up stake in Navistar – The German automaker will supply engines to Navistar International Corporation, formerly known as International Harvester Company, Reuters reports. In exchange for those engines, Volkswagen will receive a 16.6 percent stake in the company. At VW’s purchase rate of $15.76 a share, the deal will be worth about $256 million.

Games and Entertainment:

The 20 best free PC games – There are innumerable free-to-play games available for the PC, and with that comes positives and negatives alike. The large selection means that there’s something to fit just about any taste, but the signal-to-noise ratio is truly atrocious. Instead of trudging through dozens of clones and halfhearted cash grabs, let us separate the wheat from the chaff for you. Today, we’re highlighting 20 of the best free games on the PC. There’s a lot to cover, so follow along, and something here is bound to strike your fancy.

Watch the evolution of stop-motion film in this 3-minute video – Stop-motion animation has been a mainstay in cinematic special effects for almost as long as movies have been around. Filmmaker Vugar Efendi recently posted a video that charts the history of the technique, and shows just how far it has come since it was first introduced over a century ago. Starting with 1900’s The Enchanted Drawing and running all the way up through 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings,short video is a fascinating look at how the technique has evolved over the years, and include some of cinema’s best-known moments, from King Kong atop the Empire State Building to the AT-AT attack in The Empire Strikes Back.

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FOX Sports Go app arrives on Roku – Following its arrival on Apple TV on August 26, FOX Sports has announced the availability of FOX Sports Go on Roku devices, saying it is now available on both the set-top-boxes and Roku smart TVs. FOX Sports Go provides access to FOX Sports’ “full slate” programming, which amounts to more than 3,000 live events plus access to original content and studio content. All of this depends, though, on whether you have a pay-TV subscription already.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Warner Bros. flags own site for piracy, orders Google to censor pages – Warner Bros. ordered Google to remove several of its own Web pages from search results on the grounds they infringed the media giant’s copyright. A posting on the Lumen database of cease and desist letters revealed the bizarre requests, which were sent by monitoring company Vobile on behalf of Warner Bros. It asked for the official pages of Batman: The Dark Knight and The Matrix films to be censored by Google under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA.) A few days earlier,  according to TorrentFreak, Warner Bros. had requested that the official Web page for movie The Lucky One should be removed from Google’s search results in the same way. The takedown demands from the company went beyond erroneously targeting itself. It also told Google to remove legit movie streaming links from Amazon, Sky, and IMDb.

The UK Wants Swarms of Drones for Defence Missions – The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has launched a public competition this week to evaluate how swarms of tiny drones could be used in future warfare. The “Many drones make light work” competition, in partnership with government agency Innovate UK, calls for proposals on how lone drone operators could command UAS (Unmanned Air Systems) swarms in “contested environments.” The swarms would be tasked with jamming enemy communications, tracking targeted individuals, and area mapping.

Finally, a map of all the Knobs in Australia – Yes, Australia may be filled with such antipodean delights as several of the most venomous animals on Earth, but it’s hard to take the country seriously sometimes. Especially when you look at what places there are called. British mapmaker Strumpshaw, Tincleton & Giggleswick has designed a carefully curated map of ridiculous Australian place names. Expect to find such locations as Misery Knob, Yorkeys Knob, Big Knob and Wallaby Knob. Yes, they’re all real.

Take a digital dive into the grisly sunken remains of Henry VIII’s flagship – 3D technology is doing amazing things for archaeologists and palaeontologists. As we’ve seen, it allows precious and fragile artefacts to be scanned, recreated and shared so that others can study them all around the world. Now Swansea University, the Mary Rose Trust and Oxford University in the UK are getting in on the action, with a new website that shares artefacts salvaged from Henry VIII’s sunken flagship, the Mary Rose.

Something to think about:

“I have a new philosophy. I’m only going to dread one day at a time.”

–      Charles M. Schulz (1922 – 2000), Charlie Brown in “Peanuts” 

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Watch How Government Spyware Infects a Computer in This Leaked Demo Video – Just like any regular tech company, vendors such as Hacking Team or NSO Group, which sell software designed to spy on computers and cellphones, have to convince potential customers that their product is worth the thousands of dollars, or sometimes millions, that it costs.

For that, companies often set up controlled live demos, showing the potential buyers, usually police departments and intelligence agencies, how their technology works and just how great their spyware is. Unless you are a police agent, a middleman who resells this type of software, or you’ve worked in one of these companies, you’ve probably never seen one of these demos—until today.

Motherboard has obtained a never-before-seen 10-minute video showing a live demo for a spyware solution made by a little known Italian surveillance contractor called RCS Lab. Unlike Hacking Team, RCS Lab has been able to fly under the radar for years, and very little is known about its products, or its customers.

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The video shows an RCS Lab employee performing a live demo of the company’s spyware to an unidentified man, including a tutorial on how to use the spyware’s control software to perform a man-in-the-middle attack and infect a target computer who wanted to visit a specific website.

German spies violated law, must delete XKeyscore database—watchdog – Germany’s spies seriously violated the country’s laws multiple times, according to a secret report from its federal data protection commissioner, Andrea Voßhoff.

The legal analysis, leaked to Netzpolitik, was made in July 2015 following a visit by data protection officials to Bad Aibling in southern Germany in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about surveillance activities there. Bad Aibling is jointly run by Germany’s intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), and the NSA.

As well as listing 18 serious legal violations and filing 12 formal complaints—the German data watchdog’s most severe legal instrument—the secret report said that the BND created seven databases without the appropriate legal approval. As a result, commissioner Voßhoff said that all seven databases should be deleted, and could not be used again.

Significantly, one of the illegal databases used the XKeyscore software, sometimes called the NSA’s Google. As Ars reported last year, it was known that the BND had a copy of this program, but the Netzpolitik leak appears to provide details of the huge scale on which it was used:

Activists to FBI: Show Us Your Warrant for Mass Hack of TorMail Users – Mass hacking is now one of the FBI’s established tactics for fighting crime on the dark web. In February 2015, the agency hit at least 4,000 computers all over the world in an attempt to identify visitors of a child pornography site.

But questions remain about another FBI operation from 2013, in which the agency may have hacked users of a dark web email service called TorMail even if they weren’t suspects of a crime. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to unseal the court docket sheet containing the search warrant used to deploy malware against users of the service. If the ACLU were then to get access to the warrant itself, it may reveal the true scale of the FBI’s controversial hacking campaign.

TorMail was a site based on Freedom Hosting, a web host that provided easy-to-set-up Tor hidden services. In 2013, the FBI seized Freedom Hosting; according to media reports at the time, anyone visiting a Freedom Hosting site was met with a “Down for Maintenance” message. Researchers soon found that that page contained malicious code designed to de-anonymise users of the Tor Browser. The error page was also displayed to users of TorMail, one former user previously told Motherboard.

“The sealing of docket sheets with warrants authorizing the use of malware prevents … critical public debate from happening”

The Washington Post recently confirmed that the FBI used a “network investigative technique” or NIT—the agency’s term for a hacking tool—on the TorMail site. According to the article, the FBI had obtained a warrant to hack the owners of certain email accounts suspected of being involved in child pornography, and anonymous sources claimed that, with this approach, only suspects who had been linked to child pornography would be hacked.

But journalists, dissidents, and other individuals used TorMail too, and it seems that the error page was presented to every TorMail user—raising questions about how broad the operation really was.

Automated systems fight ISIS propaganda, but at what cost? – The spread of ISIS propaganda online has put social media companies in a tough position. Governments are urging Facebook, Twitter, and Google to more aggressively remove extremist content, in the hopes of reducing the terrorist group’s influence. But the companies’ self-moderation systems have struggled to keep pace, and terrorist material continues to spread online.

Now, a nonprofit organization has developed an algorithm that it says can automate the removal of terrorist-related content. But there are concerns that it could infringe on freedom of speech, and some question whether automated content removal would mitigate radicalization.

The algorithm, called eGLYPH, was announced in June by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), a New York-based nonprofit organization that tracks extremist groups. eGLYPH uses so-called “hashing” technology to assign a unique fingerprint to images, videos, and audio that have already been flagged as extremist, and automatically removes any versions that have been uploaded to a social network. It will also automatically delete other versions as soon as users attempt to upload them.

Twitter may be cracking down on ISIS, but white nationalists are still thriving – Twitter has publicly touted its efforts to suspend accounts linked to ISIS, but according to a new study, white nationalists and neo-Nazis continue to use the social network “with relative impunity.” The study, published last week by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, found that major white nationalist groups have seen a surge in Twitter followers since 2012, while ISIS has seen its influence decline on the social network. The findings were first reported by Reuters.

The report analyzed 18 Twitter accounts operated by prominent white nationalist groups and leaders, with followers mostly based in the US. The analysis found that self-identified Nazi sympathizers and white nationalists had “substantially higher follower counts than ISIS supporters, and tweeted more often.” The median follower count for Nazi-linked accounts was nearly eight times higher than ISIS-affiliated handles, and their average count was more than 22 times greater.

“On Twitter, ISIS’s preferred social platform, American white nationalist movements have seen their followers grow by more than 600% since 2012,” reads the study, which was authored by J.M. Berger. “Today, they outperform ISIS in nearly every social metric, from follower counts to tweets per day.”

Last month, Twitter announced that 360,000 accounts have been suspended for promoting terrorism since mid-2015, including 235,000 suspensions since February. Authorities in Europe and the US have called on Facebook, Twitter, and other major tech companies to crack down on ISIS propaganda and online recruitment, raising concerns that their efforts may infringe on free speech. Germany, in particular, has pressured social networks to more swiftly remove xenophobic content and other hate speech directed toward refugees. But Berger’s report says that policing white nationalist and Nazi content is more challenging, because the communities are “less cohesive than ISIS networks, and less concentrated on Twitter.”

“While the extreme violence of ISIS has understandably elevated concerns about the threat the organization presents, other extremist groups are able to watch its success and learn from its tactics, both on social media and offline,” the report says. “Studies of ISIS activity, while useful, examine only a fraction of the violent extremist landscape.”

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5 Comments

Filed under Latest Tech News

5 responses to “Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – September 7, 2016

  1. Mal

    Hey Bill,

    Re: The Best Free Antivirus Protection of 2016

    I think I told you before I was using ESET paid version for the last few years. Very good product but I decided to give a free av another whirl.

    For about the last month, I’ve been using Panda Free AV. Quite impressive, not quite as high detection rates as other good free ones, but pretty good. Only concern I have is it has trouble detecting viruses in Sandboxie, but as we know, a layered security approach is best practice, so I have some other good security programs running as well.

    Just today, I decided to run the trial of Panda Internet Security (Zone Alarm is really starting to piss me off). I really like it, very configurable firewall and I think my system is running a tad more smoothly too. Anyway, I have it for 30 days, so will see how it goes.

    Cheers

    • Hey Mal,

      I’ve been a long time supporter of Panda (I first reviewed Panda 8/10 years ago – the first of many). So many (I suppose 🙂 ) that Panda invited me on an all-expenses paid (plus $1000 US spending money) weekend, in Barcelona. I still regret having to turn down the invitation.

      They’ve had their ups/downs of course during that time (haven’t they all) – but, they are highly innovative and very solid. I’ve always held the opinion that they deserve far more market share.

      I’m running a Win 10 Pro box (I mainly use this one to run a series of cameras) that has Windows Defender up front – I’ll give Panda a run instead.

      Best,

      Bill

      • Mal

        Hey Bill,

        Good stuff, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

        Also, in Panda AV console, there is a link to Panda Cloud Cleaner,which apparently is an advanced detection tool, nabbing malware that traditional AV’s don’t catch. I’ve used it a few times and I like it, a lot.

        Cheers

  2. Mal

    Hey Bill,

    Re: Knobs in Australia

    I had a laugh at that one. Actually, Canberra could be called Knob City, as all our pathetic lying scumbag pollies are there. I probably wouldn’t use Knob though, I’d call them something I can’t repeat here.

    Cheers