6.23.2017

Record $1 Million Payed to Ransomware

South Korean Firm Gives in to Demands


A South Korean web-hosting firm has paid out a record $1 million to ransomware. The company in question, Nayana, revealed that the attackers initially asked for $4.4 million in bitcoin, but managed to haggle it down to less than a quarter of the amount.

Ransomware is on the rise, no doubt in part to the publicity it has been getting. Some companies have payed ransomware makers without going public, so who knows whether $1 million is really a record. Ironically, the spread of the internet and social media has created almost a valid business model for hackers, requiring a degree of trust. Failing to unencrypt a victim's data could stop anyone else from paying their demands.

“Some companies have payed ransomware makers without going public, so who knows whether $1 million is really a record.”

The particular ransomware in this case is called Erebus. Originally, the virus affected Windows machines, but has been modified to affect Linux systems. It is believed the ransomware encrypted data on 153 Linux servers and 3,400 customer websites.

Nayana posted an update Saturday saying they were in the process of recovering data, but that it would take time. The company’s chief executive apologized for the “shock and damage” stemming from the event. 

Despite warnings from security experts not to pay ransoms, many multi-million dollar firms will gladly pay rather than lose hours or days of production. For some firms, a single hour could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. With the potential of multi-million dollar payouts now a reality, companies will have to take a good long look at their security.

6.20.2017

LG Iterates Flagship Smartphone with G6+

Hi-Fi DAC, optical finish, and face unlock make their way to the G6


LG, who claims to “never… stop innovating” has announced a revamped version of its LG G6 flagship smartphone. Evidently, the innovative qualities of the Korean tech giant do not extend to its naming schemes, as the product is called the LG G6+.

The G6+ will be available starting next month and will come in four colors: Astro Black, Ice Platinum, Marine Blue, Terra Gold, the latter two of which are new options. All G6+ models will sport an optically finished “lenticular film” not unlike the HTC U11’s “Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition.” 

The LG G6+ will also sport High-Res Audio out of the box. Last year’s G5 could play 24-bit sound when fitted with the proper module. Official pricing and availability have yet to be announced, making it uncertain as to whether or not this souped up smartphone will make its way stateside. 

As discussed previously on D&theJM, “early adopters must deal with lesser performance in spite of owning essentially the same product, save these spec bumps.” This is a classic example of loyal customers being burned by the iterative nature of consumer electronics. Fair weather buyers lukewarm towards the G6 have been rewarded for their caution with a better option while LG diehards have been left with an outdated phone just three months after release.

6.10.2017

Apple Quietly Updates Aging MacBook Air

WWDC did little to revitalize the trailblazing ultrabook


Apple’s held its yearly Worldwide Developers Conference this past week. In addition to new versions of macOS, watchOS, and iOS, Apple unveiled several new hardware products. By virtue of its name, the event is supposed to be a showcase of new features and tools for developers of iPhone, Mac, and other Apple software. WWDC17 wasn’t the first time that Apple used the event to unveil new hardware, however. In the first Conference of the post-Jobs era, the Retina MacBook Pro was announced at the 2012 event. Other clamshells were updated in that announcement, too.

Much like the Retina MacBook hogged the spotlight five years ago, the focus of this year’s event on the hardware front was rightly on the iMac Pro, a $5,000 workstation scheduled for release in December. A 10.5 inch iPad Pro with a 120Hz refresh rate was also announced, as well as spec bumps to the MacBook Pro and 12-inch MacBook.

"The focus of this year’s event on the hardware front was rightly on the iMac Pro."

Least notably, the MacBook Air got a processor upgrade. It is unforgivably still of the fifth-generation Broadwell architecture, while Apple’s other laptops saw a revision from generation 6 to 7 for their CPUs. The update for the Air is quite modest, representing a 12.5% boost in clock speed. If your workflow was hampered by the 2015 MBA’s 1.6Ghz processor, this year’s 1.8Ghz chip is unlikely to change matters.

As discussed previously on D&theJM, a TN panel on a modern $1,000 computer offers terrible value. Other ultrabooks, some of which undercut the Air’s price tag, have full HD IPS displays. These notebooks, including the Dell XPS, HP Spectre x360, and Lenovo Yoga 910, all put the 900p screen on the MacBook Air to shame.

"The exterior of the machine hasn’t been changed since 2010."

It’s no surprise that these thin-and-lights trounce the Air’s screen. The exterior of the machine hasn’t been changed since 2010. The chassis design has aged gracefully, with many other laptops paying homage to its rounded corners and aluminum wedge shape. It is still a top seller and there is no compelling reason to tweak the tried and true formula of this once great computer. 

While Apple keeping their hands off the iconic design of the MBA is a sound business move, it is equally unsound to leave the laptop with an old processor and washed out screen. The Broadwell architecture also means the MacBook Air must retain the older DDR3 SO-DIMM memory. They could pop in the guts of the entry-level MacBook Pro, use the Pro’s display and be done. The only problem is that would be less profitable.

6.07.2017

Nintendo Direct: New Pokémon Games Coming 2017

Gotta Catch ‘em All


It’s that time of year again. With the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) just around the corner, gamers everywhere are on the edge of their seats waiting for new announcements (official or not). In what has become the norm for Nintendo, they have decided to announce their next few games outside of E3 through one of their Nintendo Directs.

Rumors circulated of a potential Switch follow-up to last year’s Pokémon Sun and Moon (Pokémon Stars), but those rumors have been put to rest. Instead, we will have 3DS sequels Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon. Players will return to the Alola region, expanding more on the world and story of Sun and Moon. The trailer showed off new forms of Sun and Moon’s legendary Pokémon Solgaleo and Lunala, along with a release date of November 17.

If two new handheld titles aren’t enough, Nintendo is also releasing both the original Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver to the 3DS virtual console. The new versions of both games will also support Nintendo’s Pokémon Bank, allowing trainers to transfer their favorites into other compatible Pokémon games. Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver will be available starting September 22.


Nintendo has also announced Pokken Tournament Deluxe (or DX) for the Nintendo Switch. The new version includes the original 16 fighters from the WiiU’s Pokken Tournament, along with Darkrai, Scizor, Empoleon, Croagunk and Decidueye. 3v3 team battles, ranked matches, and friend-only group matches hope to give the game “the deluxe treatment”. Pokken Tournament Deluxe will launch on September 22.

E3 will feature more details and gameplay from Pokken Tournament. Nintendo will also host an invitational tournament to be streamed June 14, 10:30 AM Pacific time. Pokken Tournament will release before Nintendo’s paid online service launches in 2018, so hopefully Nintendo will have dedicated servers in place for launch. 


Releasing a second set of Pokémon games for a handheld console has been a death flag in the past (FireRed/LeafGreen, Black/White 2), leading some to speculate that the Nintendo 3DS is on its last legs. Nintendo also failed to deliver on updates to the first Pokken tournament, updating only the arcade version, which seemed to fail commercially. Still, Pokémon is Pokémon, and I’ll probably be in line launch day as usual.


6.01.2017

Supreme Court Takes Down Printer Ink Monopoly

Private property takes precedent over monopoly


This Tuesday, the U.S Supreme court struck down a rather important lower court decision. The decision gave patent holders the ability to sue customers who paid for an item and then used it in any way the patent owner did not want it used. Specifically, the case involved the refilling and reselling of printer company Lexmark’s printer cartridges, but the decision will have much more reaching benefits to consumers.

First, some background. Printer companies are well known for selling printers on a loss-leader model. They sell their printers at a loss, instead making most of their money through selling proprietary printer ink cartridges. Because of this, the companies have an interest in locking down their printers so that consumers have to go to them to keep using their printer. 

"Companies have an interest in locking down their printers so that consumers have to go to them to keep using their printer."

Some companies offer ink refilling services for much cheaper than the cost of an official cartridge, cutting into the manufacturer’s profits. Last year, HP went as far as sabotaging third-party ink cartridges, and had to rethink the decision only weeks later. Features like HP’s instant ink service or discounts for returning empty cartridges try to disguise the flawed business model. 

Our case in question, Impression Products v. Lexmark International was an appeal from the Fifth Court of Appeals. In March, the court affirmed an earlier precedent allowing patent owners to restrict how consumers may use the products they buy, but the decision has now been struck down. Consumers always assume that any physical products they own are theirs, and the bulk of consumer protection laws tend to agree. 

"The decision allowing patent owners to restrict how consumers may use the products they buy has now been struck down."

The court stated that when the patent owner "chooses to sell an item, that product is no longer within the limits of the monopoly and instead becomes the private individual property of the purchaser, with the rights and benefits that come along with ownership." They further explained that people who purchase things are allowed to use and resell them without being sued through copyright and patent law.

Another key effect of the decision is supporting the rights to tinker and repair. Some may remember that Apple is lobbying against a pending Nebraska bill requiring electronics manufacturers to sell repair parts to consumers and independent repair shops. The bill would also require manufacturers to make diagnostic and service manuals available to the public. Monopolies on repairs are anti-consumer, preventing competition and keeping parts and repair prices absurdly high.

This decision is important, and major players joined in on both sides of the dispute. Companies on the side of Impression Products included Visio, Dell, Intel, LG Electronics, HTC, Costco and Western Digital. Supporting Lexmark’s side of the dispute were major patent holders like Qualcomm, IBM, Nokia, and Adobe. We’ve made a step in the right direction, and I hope that we can reach a similar conclusion once we get to digital goods.

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