Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – December 7, 2016

Five new malware programs are discovered every second;  Microsoft still has work to do when it comes to malware security;  Video: The top 5 reasons you should care about privacy;  My favorite Netflix secrets: hidden genres, customized subtitles and more;  These Are the Most Popular iPhone Apps of 2016;  Surface Book i7 vs. MacBook Pro;  Google WiFi review: Wi-Fi that works;  How to get rid of image burn-in on an LCD display;  Setting up Secret Conversations in Messenger;  The 10 Most Pirated Movies – and much more news you need to know.

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Five new malware programs are discovered every second – The numbers are in, and they don’t look too good. A new report from the respected independent testing agency reveals some scary-sounding facts about the state of malware today. According to, it has 578,702,687 malware samples in its testing database – with over 115 million discovered so far during 2016 alone. That translates to 4-5 new malware samples every second of every day.

Video: The top 5 reasons you should care about privacy – Here are five things that might convince you to care about your personal data, even if you think you don’t.

Microsoft still has work to do when it comes to malware security – Tests performed by show Microsoft’s malware solutions work–but they’re far from the best. The company needs to do better.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creators Update Will Go All-In on Security – Just one month after patching 68 Windows 10 security vulnerabilities, Microsoft drops a raft of new enterprise security features.

These Are the Most Popular iPhone Apps of 2016 – Of the two million apps that currently inhabit the App Store, Apple has singled out 20 that have proven to be the most popular in 2016. The company just published its annual best of the year lists, which include a compilation of the top 10 free and paid apps that dominated the App Store this year.

Facebook encrypted messages: Setting up Secret Conversations in Messenger – Even Facebook lets you have a little privacy, letting you send encrypted messages using the Secret Conversation feature in Facebook Messenger. Here’s how it works.

Google’s new “Trusted Contacts” app lets you keep tabs on family – Today Google launched a “personal safety app” for Android called “Trusted Contacts.” The new app offers another location-sharing service from the company, one that Google envisions for use in emergency situations. After installing the app, you can flag some of your contacts as “trusted.” Then you’ll be able to send your location to a trusted contact or ask for their location. The whole app is built around the “emergency” use case, complete with a dead man’s switch for location requests. When someone asks for your location, you’ll get a full screen pop up allowing you to approve or deny the request. You only have five minutes to do this, though—after five minutes, your location will be shared automatically. The idea is that if you’re unable to use your phone, your trusted contacts will still be able to find you.

How to make the rechargeable battery in your smartphone, tablet or laptop last for years – There’s a lot of voodoo written about how to take care of the rechargeable batteries inside smartphones, tablets or notebooks. While a bit of care can make all the difference, you don’t need to treat the battery like a sick pet. It’s been designed and built to do a job, so most of the time you can just let it get on with that job. But with a little bit of care, a rechargeable battery can last years. How much of a difference can taking care of the battery actually make? In my experience, the answer is “a lot.”

How to Make Calls on Your iPhone Without Cell Service – Thanks to apps like Facebook Messenger and Skype, it’s possible to call nearly anyone regardless of whether or not you have a carrier plan or even know the recipient’s phone number. But an increasing number of phones and carriers are beginning to support Wi-Fi calling too. As its name implies, Wi-Fi calling is a feature that makes it possible to place a call so long as your phone is connected to Wi-Fi. This means if you’re stuck in an area with poor cell reception, you’ll still be able to make a phone call by connecting to a Wi-Fi network.

Android distribution in 2016: updates are still a mess – Google has just updated its Android developer dashboard, the last time it will do so before the year ends, and the numbers are in. Android 5.0 and 5.1 Lollipop, not 6.0 Marshmallow, has the largest piece of the pie. Android 7.0 Nougat, which was released to the public back in August, is only installed on 0.4% of the devices in the market, mostly Nexus and some third-party ROMs. While it might seem good, at a glance, that devices and OEMS are converging on just two to three versions nowadays, the numbers show one undeniable fact. Eight years into its existence, Google and its partners still can’t get updates right.

Getting an Android phone this holiday season? Here’s how to migrate from iOS to the Google world – The iPhone 7 was enough of a letdown to push plenty of people into Google’s arms. If you’re hoping for a new device this holiday season here’s how to make your transition easy.

Surface Book i7 vs. MacBook Pro: Fight! – We pit the newest and best PC laptops against Apple’s latest models in a knock-down, drag-out benchmark brawl.


Google WiFi review: Wi-Fi that works – Google says that the Wifi system is the product of three-and-a-half years of work — and it has previously released a router, called the OnHub. But Google Wifi is different from what Google did before. First of all, Google is making it directly. Google Wifi also leverages both clever hardware design and cloud-based intelligence to make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi signal throughout your home, no matter its size, construction, or layout. In addition, Google designed the product so that it can be easily set up via a smartphone and managed and controlled remotely. Easy guest network setup and parental controls are also part of the Wifi pitch. Google Wifi, which is hitting stores today, is sold individually ($129) or as a three-pack ($299).

Plume’s ‘routerless’ mesh network blankets your home in Wi-Fi with an army of tiny pods – Plume wants to put a pod in every room of your house, with most router functions controlled by the cloud.


Dropbox provides offline folder support – Users who need to make sure they can get access to files stored in Dropbox while they’re on the go and away from the web have a new feature to help with that. The company announced Tuesday that users of its mobile apps will soon be able to save files locally for use offline.

Instagram will soon let you turn off comments and boot followers from private accounts – With images as its main form of social currency, Instagram’s problems with abuse have never been quite as visible as those of other social networks. Nevertheless, the Facebook-owned company has been pretty quick to roll out new tools that make its app — in the words of CEO Kevin Systrom — “a safe place for self-expression.” (Twitter, take note.) The latest announced update will introduce the ability for users to turn off comments on specific posts, like others’ comments, and remove followers from private accounts. All of these will be made available over the “coming weeks.”

WhatsApp releases new update for your holiday GIF-giving – If you haven’t been running the WhatsApp Messenger beta on your phone, you might not know that you’ve been missing out on the wide world of GIFs. The feature’s been available since November for iOS users and in beta testing for several months on Android, but the FaceBook-owned company has just unlocked the feature for everyone in its latest Play Store update.

Zuckerberg shows off upcoming Facebook features – Created in corporate hackathons, features like GIFs for comments, offline communications and shared photo albums are likely soon.

EU Threatens New Laws to Combat Online Hate Speech – European lawmakers on Sunday accused Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft of dragging their feet when it comes to combating online hate speech, and threatened to pass new laws if the companies don’t make good on their promise to remove hateful comments within 24 hours.

Windows 10: Ten missing and highly anticipated features due in 2017 – A look at the most significant changes due to hit Microsoft’s evolving OS in the coming year.

How to Check Out Early Versions of Windows 10 – To shape Windows 10 with new features and functionality, Microsoft enlists the aid of people who are part of the Windows Insider Program. Through this free program, you can install early pre-release editions, or builds, of Windows 10 as Microsoft continues to update the OS. You’ll be able to check out and test potentially cool new stuff. You can also help Microsoft improve Windows 10 by offering your feedback on what you think of each major change and minor tweak. How do you get these pre-release builds of Windows 10? Read on.


Millions exposed to malvertising that hid attack code in banner pixels – Millions of people visiting mainstream websites over the past two months have been exposed to a novel form of malicious ads that embed attack code in individual pixels of the banners. The malicious script is concealed in the alpha channel that defines the transparency of pixels, making it extremely difficult for even sharp-eyed ad networks to detect. After verifying that the targeted browser isn’t running in a virtual machine or connected to other types of security software often used to detect attacks, the script redirects the browser to a site that hosts three exploits for now-patched Adobe Flash vulnerabilities.

Hackers actively stealing Wi-Fi keys from vulnerable routers – Hackers have graduated from planting malware on the vulnerable routers supplied to consumers by various ISPs towards stealing Wi-Fi keys. Andrew Tierney, a security researcher at UK consultancy Pen Test Partners, noticed the switch-up in tactics in attacks against its honeypot network over the weekend. Customers of UK ISP TalkTalk are among those at the most immediate risk of having their Wi-Fi credentials stolen. The TalkTalk router firmware fix fails to solve this problem because it reverts customers back to a default password hackers might already have snatched, Pen Test Partners warns.

Millions of Dailymotion accounts exposed in hack – The video-sharing site strongly advises its users to reset their passwords.

You should probably still avoid toys that talk with your kids – A complaint to the FTC filed by consumer watchdog groups highlights ongoing privacy and security concerns with this creepy class of toy. Now, I hate FUD as much as the next guy, and I seriously doubt that these toy makers and software companies are in a shady scheme to secretly record toddlers worldwide. But when it comes to protecting groups who can’t protect themselves, we can’t be too vigilant — and on the other side of the equation, companies can’t be too transparent or explicit about how information is used and protected at every step.

Company News:

YouTube pays music industry $1 billion from ads – YouTube, the music industry’s No. 1 enemy earlier this year, said Tuesday it has paid more than $1 billion in advertising revenue to artists, labels and publishers in the last 12 months. The figure, released in a blog post by YouTube business chief Robert Kyncl, is part of the video giant’s effort to mend fences with its critics in the music industry. Or at least, YouTube hopes to convince some of them that the massive amount of free listening on its site is a valuable complement to music subscriptions, the industry’s main area of growth right now.

Amazon Go grocery store replaces cashiers with automation and AI – Amazon recently announced Go, a brick-and-mortar concept store that uses technologies like artificial intelligence to eliminate the need for cashiers.

Tim Cook disputes analyst report that Apple Watch sales have tanked – A new report from IDC shows Apple Watch sales have slumped since last year. The report estimates that Apple has sold 1.1 million Watch units in the third quarter of 2016, down 71 percent from a year ago. However, Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly told Reuters that sell-through, or the number of Apple Watches that reach consumers rather than the number on store shelves, reached a new high. “Sales growth is off the charts,” Cook said. “In fact, during the first week of holiday shopping, our sell-through of Apple Watch was greater than any week in the product’s history. And as we expected, we’re on track for the best quarter ever for Apple Watch.”

A third of wearable devices abandoned by consumers: Gartner – Consumers are initially drawn to shiny new wearable devices, but a good portion abandon them after they get bored of them, a study by Gartner has found.

Samsung gets another chance to reduce Apple’s $400 million patent win – The Supreme Court has overturned Apple’s $400 million award in its long-running patent lawsuit against Samsung. Apple won the case in 2012, convincing a federal court that a number of Samsung devices had infringed upon iPhone design patents — including one for a rectangular device with rounded corners and bezels, and another for a home screen comprised of a grid of colorful apps. The Supreme Court’s decision today does not reverse Apple’s win, but does mean that the case will be returned to the Federal Circuit so that the damages can be reassessed.

GoDaddy is buying rival Host Europe Group for $1.8B to accelerate its international expansion – GoDaddy is on a shopping spree. Yesterday we reported that the domain and hosting company had bought WP Curve, a WordPress services startup to expand its WordPress support team. And today the company has just announced a much bigger deal. GoDaddy has acquired European rival Host Europe Group (HEG) for $1.8 billion — including €605 million paid to existing Host Europe shareholders, and €1.08 billion in assumed debt. HEG has 1.7 million customers throughout Europe, with more than 7 million domains under management. For comparison, GoDaddy’s most recently reported quarter ended with about 14.5 million customers and manages more than 63 million domains.

Apple Music hits 20 million paying subscribers – Apple Music is continuing to pick up subscribers at a strong pace, as the company confirms to Billboard that the streaming service has crossed the milestone of 20 million paying subscribers. Apple said it had 17 million subscribers three months ago, 13 million in April, and 11 million in February. Spotify is still significantly ahead with over 40 million users, but Apple Music has only been available for a year and a half.

Netflix becomes the Top Grossing iPhone app for the first time – Netflix’s decision to introduce an in-app subscription option in its iOS app over a year ago has helped the streaming service steadily gain more subscribers, and surge up the Top Grossing charts in the Apple App Store. Back in November of last year, the app hit the Top Grossing chart for the first time, reaching the No. 9 position. Today, Netflix has reached another milestone, as the app has earned the No. 1 Top Grossing spot on the U.S. iPhone App Store. Its bump up to the top spot was spotted by app intelligence firm Sensor Tower, which has been following its climb since the introduction of in-app subscriptions last fall. Between then and today, Netflix has grown its weekly net revenue from under $50,000 to nearly $2.9 million, its report says.

Games and Entertainment:

How to get rid of image burn-in on an LCD display – Annoying image burn-in on LCD displays can usually be minimized or eliminated.

My favorite Netflix secrets: hidden genres, customized subtitles and more – Netflix is the pinnacle of streaming home entertainment, but even veteran subscribers probably aren’t using it to its fullest abilities. The video streaming service is full of secrets, some more secret than others, and you’re unlikely to stumble upon them unless you go searching for them. Would you like larger, more colorful subtitles? Yes, there’s a setting for that. How about filtering genres down to niche categories? Yep, you can do that, too.

Netflix adds video previews to make it easier to find something to watch – Netflix knows how difficult it is to actually find something you want to watch in its massive streaming catalog. To that end, the company is adding a long-awaited feature to its TV apps: video previews. The previews will show up while you’re browsing through Netflix’s content, allowing you to get an idea of the flavor of the show or movie without having to hit play. Netflix says the previews aren’t trailers, but instead serve as curated experiences for “quickly highlighting the story, characters and tone of a title.”

Netflix goes big on unscripted programming with 20 original shows planned for 2017 – Netflix is making headway on its ambitions to fill half its library with original content. According to Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, the company is planning to release about 20 unscripted series next year, bringing it closer to its goal of having 1,000 annual hours of original programming available on its service in 2017. That’s more than the amount of original programming available on Netflix this year, but even so, Sarandos says that the 1,000-plus hours was a “conservative measure.” (Netflix had earlier said that it was aiming for 600 hours of originals in 2016, up from 450 in 2015.)

Dead Rising 4 improves on past installments, but still lacks polish – Ho, ho, ho! It’s Christmastime in Willamette, and Frank West is here to mow down zombies in the most over-the-top way imaginable. Dead Rising 4 is on store shelves today, so now is your chance to smack, slice, and explode the undead hordes on the Xbox One and Windows 10.


15 unconventional and off-kilter holiday movies – We all know that there are two kinds of holiday entertainment: The kind you watch with your parents (or kids) and the kind you do not watch with your parents (or kids). It’s that time of year again, and we’re starting things right, with an all-new list of 15 slightly off-beat, slightly irreverent streaming holiday films and/or TV specials to help get you into the spirit; these have a little more emphasis on the “naughty” side and less on the “nice.”

The 10 Most Pirated Movies – The utterly unnecessary remake of Ben Hur faces off with The Accountant.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Report: Design Flaws, Not Battery, Caused Note 7 Explosions – An independent test found too little space between the Galaxy Note 7’s battery and other components.

Amazon Go may kill retail jobs but privacy is the real victim – If Amazon Go has taught anybody anything today, it’s shown retail employees exactly what long-distance truckers meant by the sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach when they realized tech could make them obsolete. Just as autonomous semis could cut human drivers out of tomorrow’s haulage, so Amazon’s surprise announcement of an unstaffed store that replaces the checkout line with artificial intelligence could have a big impact on retail and the jobs involved in it. Even if it’s not the person at the register that’s made redundant, an unblinking AI could have big implications for today’s stores.

Say goodbye to the MS-DOS command prompt – It’s quite possible that you have been using Microsoft Windows for years — decades, even — without realizing that there’s a direct line to Microsoft’s earliest operating system or that an MS-DOS underpinning has carried over from one Windows version to another — less extensive with every revision, but still there nonetheless. Now we’re about to say goodbye to all of that.

Facebook and Google make lies as pretty as truth – If you asked Google who won the popular vote just after the election, there’s a chance you would have been sent to a conspiracy blog with bogus results. And the site is likely to have looked as legitimate as any other.

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube are creating a database of ‘terrorist content’ – The United States’ biggest social networks are working together to build a database of photos and videos used to recruit people into terrorism, the companies said. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube will create a shared database that identifies images via a unique digital fingerprint, making it easier for the platforms to identify and remove the imagery.

Something to think about:

“Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.”

–      Voltaire    (1694 – 1778)

In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Court: Secret spying of would-be Christmas tree bomber was OK: ACLU slams ruling, says this surveillance violates the constitution – A US federal appeals court has rejected an effort to overturn the Portland Christmas tree bomber’s conviction on the grounds that the surveillance to initially identify the suspect did not, in fact, require a warrant. On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected an entrapment argument raised by lawyers for suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud.

As Ars reported back in January 2016, the case (United States v. Mohamud) involves a Somali-American accused of trying to blow up a 2010 lighting ceremony in Portland. Undercover FBI agents posed as jihadis and presented Mohamud with the means to conduct the operation, which turned out to be wholly bogus. Mohamud was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

But after the conviction, the government disclosed that it used surveillance under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to collect and search Mohamud’s e-mail. Seeing this, Mohamud’s legal team attempted to re-open the case—but the judge denied their motion. Mohamud’s defense raised this issue on appeal, but they have now been rejected by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Google Is Fighting Global Search Censorship In Canada’s Supreme Court – On Tuesday, Google went in front of the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that the country’s courts shouldn’t have the authority to order the search giant to censor links worldwide. This is because last year a court in the province of British Columbia upheld an order that forced Google to remove search results globally for a company selling counterfeit goods at the behest of a Canadian company. This is despite Google not having any data centres in Canada.

The question under consideration by the Supreme Court, according to the case summary on the court’s site, is: “Do Canadian courts have the authority to block search results outside of Canada’s borders?”

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist is live-tweeting the court proceedings, and based on his tweets, it appears Google’s argument is that if a Canadian court wants to block search results in another country, the court should obtain a court order against the company in the country where it’s based.

Google is also reportedly echoing the concerns of Canadian privacy experts who’ve argued that the ability to block search results worldwide could be used to silence legitimate free speech online.

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Act allows the State to tell lies in court – Blighty’s freshly passed Investigatory Powers Act, better known as the Snoopers’ Charter, is a dog’s dinner of a law. It gives virtually unrestricted powers not only to State spy organisations but also to the police and a host of other government agencies.

The operation of the oversight and accountability mechanisms in the IPA are all kept firmly out of sight – and, so its authors hope, out of mind – of the public. It is up to the State to volunteer the truth to its victims if the State thinks it has abused its secret powers. “Marking your own homework” is a phrase which does not fully capture this.

However, despite the establishment of a parallel system of secret justice, the IPA’s tentacles also enshrine parallel construction into law. That is, the practice where prosecutors lie about the origins of evidence to judges and juries – thereby depriving the defendant of a fair trial because he cannot review or question the truth of the evidence against him.

Dutch police get OK to exploit zero-days: So will that just mean more surveillance? – Last month, the Netherlands government gave its police and central intelligence agency official approval to exploit zero-day vulnerabilities.

These hardware and software flaws, which are unknown to the public and often also to the product makers themselves, are seen by Dutch law-enforcement agencies as key tools in understanding potential cyberattacks.

But critics believe that allowing security agencies to exploit zero-days amounts to a license to conduct covert surveillance programs on the public.

Zero-day vulnerabilities can be unknown or known to manufacturers. In either case, the public is not aware of them until the manufacturer issues a software or firmware patch or update.

Manufacturers usually issue swift updates, but sometimes end users do not download them right away. The Dutch government will also allow law enforcement to exploit known vulnerabilities that users or manufacturers have left untreated for a period.

In a memorandum to parliament, the Netherlands government called the use of hardware and software vulnerabilities by law enforcement an urgent matter of national security, as increasingly more criminals commit crimes via the internet.

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