Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – November 2, 2016

TIME: The 50 Best Apps of the Year;  4 Windows 10 tools that will kickstart your productivity;  The Best Free Antivirus Protection of 2016;  Google Drive dumps Windows XP and Vista;  Microsoft to patch Windows security flaw under attack next week;  Google Play Store hardened: here’s how to protect yourself;  Tor: The smart person’s guide;  5 Android navigation apps for those who are sick of Google Maps – and much more news you need to know.

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TIME: The 50 Best Apps of the Year – We’re increasingly reliant on the smartphones in our pockets to keep in touch with friends, watch movies and TV shows, and get work done. But the phones themselves would be meaningless without the software that, almost like magic, imbues them with new powers even their creators never thought possible. In that spirit, these are TIME’s 50 best iPhone and Android apps of the year. These are apps that were either released, had a notable redesign, or took off in popularity this year. The list is unranked, as the different functionality of each app makes them impossible to fairly compare.

4 Windows 10 tools that will kickstart your productivity – There are apps for everything from tracking your to-do’s to curing you of your procrastination. But when it comes to productivity tools, look no further than your PC’s operating system. Windows 10 boasts many new features and improvements on old ones that can help you work much more efficiently. Here are a few you should start taking advantage of today.

The Best Free Antivirus Protection of 2016 – Whether you run Windows 8 or Windows 10, your computer is theoretically under the protection of the built-in Microsoft Windows Defender. However, our hands-on tests and independent lab tests show that you’re better off with a third-party solution. Fortunately, you’ve got plenty of free choices, and the best of them are better than many competing commercial products. Which one is best for you? We’ve rounded them up to help you choose.

Tor: The smart person’s guide – Tor is complex, yet easy to install and operate. The tool is widely used by reporters, political dissidents, hackers, and Dark Web profiteers to communicate anonymously. Tor enabled the Arab Spring, is used by millions of Chinese users to skirt the Great Firewall, and helps sources and whistleblowers safely share vital information with reporters. Conversely, the encrypted browser also allows hackers to snoop safely, and has helped illicit Dark Web markets flourish. TechRepublic’s smart person’s guide is a routinely updated “living” precis loaded with contemporary information about about how the onion router works, who Tor affects, and why privacy-enhancing software is important.

5 Android navigation apps for those who are sick of Google Maps – There are plenty of other navigation apps on the market, and most of them are just as speedy and accurate as Google Maps (some are more so). Google Maps is a good general maps app, but if you commute all day long or you primarily use public transit, it may not be the best app for you. Here are five other Android navigation apps you might want to check out:

Google Play Store hardened: here’s how to protect yourself – In an ideal world, users will only install software from, usually a single, blessed source, like a repository or app store, containing only trustworthy and quality software. But we don’t live in an ideal world and even with app stores like Google Play or iTunes, some questionable apps still manage to get through the cracks. In an attempt to protect the integrity and image of its Play Store, Google has announced new security measures to weed out fraudulent or downright malicious apps. But users also have a role to play in protecting themselves from such “soft” attacks.

Google Drive dumps Windows XP and Vista, now what? – Google Drive is dumping official support for Windows XP and Vista. Here are some options for anyone running those systems.

Five Android apps that will teach you new skills in your spare time – There are always a few moments during the week spent staring at a smartphone to kill time. Why not learn something in those spare moments with these five Android apps?

Chrome 53 on Windows promised to be 15% faster – Web browsers have become more and more critical to modern computing that for many users, they have practically become the operating system, an idea that Google turned into practice with Chrome OS. As such, there is always a need to make web browsers more and more optimized, in performance as well as power usage. As one of the major web browser makers, Google is always looking for ways to improve its performance, which has borne fruit in the latest version 53 and 54 of Chrome for Windows.

Instapaper Premium goes free for everybody – According to the company’s Brian Donohue, the company is able to make Premium open and free because the Pinterest acquisition has enabled the team to “focus on just delivering the best product to our users.” Instapaper is a “Save anything, read anywhere” service not unlike Pocket, and it has a premium version that comes with its own perks. Pinterest acquired the company back in late August, and now we’re getting the fruits of that business deal: premium for everybody, no strings attached, and no ‘catch,’ per Donohue.

iOS 10.1.1 released: What you need to know – An update bringing iOS to version 10.1.1 is coming down the pipeline today, just about a week after we received the update to iOS 10.1. Being such a quick follow up to the rather significant iOS 10.1 update, the patch notes for 10.1.1 aren’t exactly long. However, 10.1.1 does bring with it a rather important fix for the Health app.

iOS 10 tip: Built-in iOS apps you should replace with third-party apps – iOS 10 gives iPhone and iPad users the ability to delete built-in apps such as Mail, FaceTime, and Music and replace them with third-party apps. But which apps should you choose? Deleting a built-in app is the same as deleting any other app, just press and hold on the icon on the Home screen until they jiggle, and then tap the X. Press the Home button when you’re done.

A simple fix for the new MacBook Pro’s big problem – Apple’s decision to ditch almost all the legacy ports on its flagship notebook was done in the name of ushering in widespread adoption of Thunderbolt 3 and enabling a thinner machine. However, while Thunderbolt 3 may undoubtedly be a better connector than the bevy of sockets along the edge of the old MacBook Pro, the Cupertino firm’s decision to go slim has frustrated many who have legacy devices to plug in, and who were hoping for a more significant power upgrade.

A dozen, faster, better or cheaper alternatives to the Raspberry Pi – The Raspberry Pi might be the name that springs to mind when people think of single board computers for homebrew projects, but there are other boards out there worth considering. (Updated Nov 1, 2016)

Samsung bundles free Watch Dogs 2 with select SSDs and curved monitors – We’re a few weeks out from the release of Watch Dogs 2, and if you’ve had your eye on it, you might like to know that Samsung has launched new hardware bundles that include a free copy of the game. These bundles feature a range of Samsung solid-state drives and some of the company’s newer curved gaming monitors. So, if you’ve been in the market for some new PC hardware, you might want to give these bundles a look.

Instagram makes e-commerce push with new shop tags in photos – New ‘shoppable’ photos will have a shopping tag next to items to identify the product as available for purchase.

Microsoft ends OEM sales of Windows 7 Pro and Windows 8.1 – If you can get Dell, HP Inc, Lenovo or any other PC-maker to sell you a PC running Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1, please let us know how you did it because Microsoft no longer sells the operating system to OEMs. Redmond’s Windows lifecycle webpage has long-since flagged October 31, 2016 as the date on which Windows 7 Pro would “no longer [be] shipped to retailers or Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).” Seeing as we’re into November, from now on Redmond will only send copies of Windows 10 to the world’s PC builders.

Security:

Google issues warning of critical Windows vulnerability in wild – Recently, Google’s Threat Analysis Group discovered a set of zero-day vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash and the Microsoft Windows kernel that were already being actively used by malware attacks against the Chrome browser. Google alerted both Adobe and Microsoft of the discovery on October 21, and Adobe issued a critical fix to patch its vulnerability last Friday. But Microsoft has yet to patch a critical bug in the Windows kernel that allows these attacks to work—which prompted Google to publicly announce the vulnerabilities today. “After 7 days, per our published policy for actively exploited critical vulnerabilities, we are today disclosing the existence of a remaining critical vulnerability in Windows for which no advisory or fix has yet been released,” wrote Neel Mehta and Billy Leonard of Google’s Threat Analysis Group.”This vulnerability is particularly serious because we know it is being actively exploited.”

Microsoft to patch Windows security flaw under attack next week – Microsoft said it will fix a security vulnerability in Windows next week as part of the company’s usual patching schedule. The company confirmed the move in a blog post on Tuesday, in which it accused a Russian hacking group of being behind the spearphishing campaign that exploits a newly discovered security flaw in the operating system. Details of the flaw were first revealed on Monday after Google said it would forego its usual disclosure policy of three months, citing the severity of the “critical”-rated flaw.

Google to untrust WoSign and StartCom certificates – Following similar decisions by Mozilla and Apple, Google plans to reject new certificates issued by two certificate authorities because they violated industry rules and best practices.

Malwarebytes: How to beat ransomware: prevent, don’t react – Picture this: You’ve spent the last few weeks working on a tribute video for a friend’s 30th wedding anniversary. You collected photos and video clips and edited them together, laying over a soundtrack of their favorite songs. It was a real labor of love. When you finally finish the project, you go to copy the file onto a DVD and—what the?—a strange message pops up. “Unfortunately, the files on this computer have been encrypted. You have 96 hours to submit payment to receive the encryption key, otherwise your files will be permanently destroyed.” You’ve been hit with ransomware. You didn’t back up the anniversary video. In fact, you haven’t backed up any of your files in months. What do you do?

Shadow Brokers Releases Second Trove of Spying Tools – Shadow Brokers, a secretive online group that in August published details of hacking tools allegedly belonging to the NSA, released new leaks this week that appear to expose more of the agency’s cyber strategies, as well as those from multiple foreign countries. The leak discloses NSA-style code names, including “Jackladder” and “Dewdrop,” the Associated Press reports. It also appears to offer a list of servers compromised by the Equation Group, a separate hacking organization with ties to the NSA. In a post on Medium in broken English, Shadow Brokers referenced Equation Group twice and suggested that its motivation for exposing the server information was related to the US presidential election. The post also demands a ransom payment, although it does not suggest a specific amount of money.

Researchers build undetectable rootkit for programmable logic controllers – Researchers have devised a new malware attack against industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that takes advantage of architectural shortcomings in microprocessors and bypasses current detection mechanisms.

Delete unused Android apps now, or risk a security nightmare – Your Android device most likely contains unused apps that could still use data or fall prey to vulnerabilities. The solution to this potential security problem: delete those apps.

Company News:

BlackBerry signs deal with Ford to work on cars of the future – BlackBerry has made a deal with Ford to produce software that could power the first generation of mass-market self-driving cars. The Canadian company announced yesterday that it was dedicating a team of engineers to help the car manufacturer incorporate a range of BlackBerry software — including its QNX Neutrino operating system, its Certicom security tech, and audio processing software — into future Ford cars.ing from a hardware company to a software one.

Nintendo reportedly calls quits on Wii U production – The days of the Wii U have been numbered ever since Nintendo announced the Switch, but the company may be looking to pull the plug long before the Switch hits the scene in March. Multiple sources have confirmed to Eurogamer that Nintendo will halt Wii U production at the end of this week. Given the console’s slow sales, these reports aren’t really all that shocking.

Sony’s profit down 86% but its costly mobile business has been shored up – Sony’s profit dropped 86 percent year-on-year as the strong performance of the Japanese Yen, fallout from the Kumamoto earthquake and company restructuring weighed on its Q2 2016 earnings. The Japanese electronics giant posted a small $48 million (4.8 billion JPY) profit in its Q2 2016 financial period, down from $205 million last year. On the positive side, though, its mobile business again showed that it has stopped bleeding cash.

Giphy Has Almost No Revenue But Is Worth $600 Million – These little mini-clips may be fun, but does that justify giving one of the companies that create them a market value of $600 million? By way of comparison, that’s more than twice what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid for the Washington Post. Giphy, which was created in 2013 as part of the New York-based venture fund/incubator Betaworks, got this valuation by raising a Series D funding round of $75 million from a series of venture capital investors. That doubled the amount the company has raised so far, and coincidentally also doubled its valuation to $600 million. If you’re wondering what Giphy’s valuation works out to as a multiple of revenue, the answer is that it’s almost infinite — because the company doesn’t really have any revenue to speak of.

Samsung to invest $1 billion in Austin plant to make mobile chips – Samsung is still sorting out the mess connected to the recalled Galaxy Note7, but is nevertheless ramping up mobile chip manufacturing by investing $1 billion in an Austin, Texas, factory. The investment will be applied early next year, and will also be used to expand manufacturing of semiconductors for electronics, the company said on Tuesday.

Games and Entertainment:

Facebook officially announces Gameroom, its PC Steam competitor – After losing mobile gaming to iOS and Android, Facebook is making a big push into playing on PC with today’s developer launch of its Gameroom Windows desktop gaming platform. After months of name changes, beta tests and dev solicitation, Facebook opened up the beta build for all developers and officially named it Gameroom. The app is openly available for users to download on Windows 7 and up. Gameroom let users play web, ported mobile and native Gameroom games in a dedicated PC app free from the distractions of the News Feed.

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The best mobile MMORPG games of 2016 – As smartphones become more powerful, Internet access move ubiquitous, and mobile users mode engaged, MMORPGs have started to make a comeback, but on a smaller screen and with somewhat fewer controls. Here are our top picks for this year’s best MMORPGs, with some dating back even older, proving their massively multiplayer appeal.

Google Daydream View worldwide release detailed – This morning Google revealed the pricing and release date of their first non-cardboard VR headset, Daydream View. This accessory works with any Daydream-ready smartphone – first Google Pixel and Pixel XL. It’ll be available starting on the 10th of November, 2016, both online and at several retailers around the world.

Microsoft launches Minecraft: Education Edition for schools – Microsoft wants kids playing Minecraft in class, and it’s hoping that schools will not just let them, but support them. It’s launching a version of Minecraft today called Minecraft: Education Edition that includes some classroom tools and a way to roll out accounts to every student in a class or district. Despite the new name, Education Edition isn’t dramatically different from regular Minecraft. It’s pretty much the same game, just with some tools that’ll make things easier for teachers — there’s a way to see where all their students are on a map, give students different resources, and teleport people to specific locations. There are also a few new in-game items, including a camera and a chalkboard.

Hulu’s live TV streaming service will have channels from Fox & Disney, including ABC, ESPN & more – Hulu said today it has partnered with Disney and 21st Century Fox for its upcoming live TV streaming service, launching next year. The deals involve Fox’s news, entertainment, sports, and other properties, along with Disney’s portfolio of networks from is ABC Television Group and ESPN, among other things. In total, the two agreements will bring more than 35 TV networks to Hulu’s live TV service. What this means for consumers who are considering cutting the cord with pay TV is that they’ll gain access to two of the top broadcast networks, Fox and ABC, on Hulu’s new streaming platform.

Roku TV sets can now pause live TV – Today, Roku TVs from TCL, Sharp, and others are being updated with version 7.5 of Roku OS. If you’ve got an antenna running into your TV, you can now pause content for up to 90 minutes. A USB drive (with at least 16GB of free storage) must also be plugged in for this feature to work, since Roku needs somewhere to store the parts of shows you’re missing. This is nothing close to a full-fledged DVR; it’s really just a simple, convenient feature that’s there if you’re interrupted in the middle of a show or sports game.

Seagate 512GB SSD Game Drive for Xbox One arrives in November – Seagate has taken the wraps off a new SSD drive for the Xbox One called the Game Drive for Xbox. According to Seagate, the Game Drive was designed specifically for Microsoft’s video game console, offering gamers an expansion option for storing games beyond the limit of the Xbox’s internal drive. The drive comes in a 512GB capacity and will be available starting next month.

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EVGA GTX 1080s and 1070s allegedly exploding due to improper VRM cooling – Most of the time, which OEM you choose to buy a GPU from isn’t seen as having a huge impact on the performance of the card, though added value and included goodies often vary between manufacturers. Every now and then, however, design differences between companies do play out in a more significant way, and that may be what has happened to EVGA and its GTX 1080 and 1070 lineups. Reports from Reddit and the EVGA forums suggest that a number of cards have failed catastrophically and in high-profile fashion.

NFL without cable: A cord cutter’s guide for the 2016 season – Watching sports without a big cable TV bundle has gotten a lot easier in the last year; NFL games are no exception.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Mobile internet use passes desktop for the first time, study finds – More users around the world are accessing the internet from mobile devices than from desktop computers for the first time, according to internet monitoring firm StatCounter. The combined traffic from mobile and tablet devices tipped the balance at 51.2 percent, vs. 48.7 percent for desktop access, marking the first time this has happened since StatCounter began tracking stats for internet usage. It’s a huge moment for the web overall: this means going forward, companies that haven’t yet decided to focus on a mobile-first approach to their internet services and web properties really should, as the trend line is unlikely to reverse.

Could Facebook actually be good for you? – People who are well liked on Facebook may also be healthier, according to a study that linked people’s activity on the social network to their lifespans. This could be another blow against the increasingly unstable position that digital media is inherently dangerous. The study looked at the association between the Facebook use of 12 million people between the ages of 27 and 71 and their longevity, using records from the California Department of Public Health. Led by William Hobbs — who at the time was a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego — the researchers found that Facebook activity that indicated a rich offline social life tracked with improved longevity. They published their results yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How Obama will pass his Twitter account to next president, and what you can learn from it – The White House recently came up with a transition strategy for presidential social media accounts and other properties. Here’s what your business can learn.

Science Confirms the Election Could Ruin Your Facebook Friendships – It’s the last few days of election season, but don’t be surprised if you lose some “friends” for your polling posts. Research shows that in times of conflict, people are more likely to unfriend or unfollow their political adversaries as a political gesture on social media. A recent study published in the Journal of Communication analyzed “political unfriending” on Facebook and found it to be an act of “political disengagement.” The study itself focused on the Israeli-Gaza conflict of 2014, but may have indications for the political conflicts over the election cycle as well.

ACLU sues California over ban on ballot box selfies – Civil rights group says state’s prohibition on taking selfies at the ballot box violates freedom of speech.

Something to think about:

“The real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mold reality in the light of their purposes.”

–       Henry Kissinger

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

As Rule 41 deadline looms, an “expansion” of FBI hacking powers looks likely – Rule 41 might be the least interesting name for one of the most significant factors this year in security and privacy.

Why? Because the rule is about to change, allowing the FBI to vastly broaden its spying powers.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court proposed a new rule that would allow US judges to issue warrants outside their jurisdiction. Under existing rules, judges can only issue orders within their jurisdiction, often only a few miles across or covering a few local districts. The hope was that this rule change would make cases more efficient, such as in cyber-related cases, which typically span multiple districts and even countries.

But civil liberties and privacy groups argue that the change would expand the FBI’s hacking and searching capabilities to any computer or device in the world.

Simply put: all it would take would be for the FBI ask a friendly judge to sign off on a search warrant that would let the agency use its so-called network investigative techniques — or NITs — to carry out hacks and conduct searches on computers and devices potentially anywhere in the world.

We’ve seen good uses of that hacking effort, such as catching users of a dark web child porn site, but one prominent privacy-minded lawmaker said in a statement that the rule change “would allow the government to get a single warrant to hack an unlimited number of Americans’ computers if their computers had been affected by criminals, possibly without notifying the victims.”

Here’s the twist. The proposed rule change will automatically go into effect on December 1 — that’s a month away — unless Congress intervenes.

How Canada’s Anti-Cyberbullying Law Is Being Used to Spy on Journalists – Patrick Lagacé, a columnist for Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, says that police told him he was a “tool” in an internal investigation when they tapped his iPhone’s GPS to track his whereabouts and obtained the identities of everyone who communicated with him on that phone.

Lagacé alleges that this surveillance was designed to intimidate and discourage potential sources within the Montreal police department from approaching him with information for his story.

Police obtained a warrant for this under the hugely controversial Bill C-13, which gave investigators new powers, privacy lawyer David Fraser noted in an interview. The bill was initially sold as combatting cyberbullying and the unwanted publication of intimate images online, also known as “revenge porn.”

“These laws are presented with certain scenarios in mind, but these are laws of general application that can be used for any offence,” Fraser said. “We need to be very careful in parsing, and frankly, not believing, the objectives that politicians use [when selling the public on the need for these laws]. We need to cut through that and look at the substance of the law to see how they can be used, and more importantly, abused.”

According to Citizen Lab researcher Christopher Parsons, these same powers that target journalists can be used against non-journalists under C-13. And the only reason we know about the aforementioned cases is that the press has a platform to speak out.

Facebook hit by civil rights grievances – It’s been a tough week for Facebook when it comes to civil rights allegations against the world’s largest social network.

First, the news site ProPublica alleged that Facebook was enabling advertisers to exclude users based on race.

Now Facebook is dealing with an open letter from 73 civil rights organizations to company CEO Mark Zuckerberg who say they are “deeply concerned” about cases where Facebook allegedly censored posts about possible human rights violations — particularly postings about police violence.

“It is critical that Facebook be a platform that supports the protection of human rights above all else and does not discriminately apply its policies on the basis of race, creed, national origin, gender, and/or sexual orientation,” wrote organizations like the Center for Media Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sierra Club and 350.org. “When the most vulnerable members of society turn to your platform to document and share experiences of injustice, Facebook is morally obligated to protect that speech.”

Facebook confirmed that it got the letter.

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