8.18.2017

The Essential Phone is Dead on Arrival Because of the iPhone

iPhone 8 leaks tease similar design to Andy Rubin’s new Android flagship


So-called “bezeless” phones are all the rage this year. This newfound obsession with screen-to-body ratio started in South Korea with reveals of the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy 8, respectively. Relatively obscure Chinese brands including DODGEE and UMIDIGI have also hopped on the bandwagon. The trend has since made its way westward, with Android founder Andy Rubin’s new company, Essential, debuting a ‘Droid-based smartphone with hardly any border around the display.

A mainstay in the upper tier of smartphones, the next iPhone (as usual) has been making headlines for months as leak after leak make their way to the press in spite of Apple’s secretive culture. In a vacuum, the leaked design of the iPhone 8 is a radical departure from the roughly 65% screen-to-body ratio of the past three iPhones. However, as mentioned, several bezeless Android smartphones from both household name companies and anonymous Shenzhen-based startups have come to market in recent months.

"Several bezeless Android smartphones have come to market in recent months."

This is what makes the inevitability of Apple being lauded for the iPhone 8’s design so hard to stomach. Like the MP3 player, smartphone, and tablet computer, Apple won’t be the first to market with this idea. Cupertino will be rewarded for its infamous “wait and see” approach, profiting off the ideas and hard work of others. If nothing else, I’m sure it’ll be a great phone.

The first wave of reviews are out and opinions of the Essential Phone are mostly positive. It’s basically a sleeker Google Pixel with a worse camera. But then again, so is the Galaxy S8. And while Samsung is a well-established brand, Essential is a newcomer that is leaning too heavily on the notoriety of its CEO and inventor of Android, Andy Rubin. Despite rumors of $300,000,000 in investment, Essential only managed to make a carrier deal with Sprint, the laggard of the US mobile big four.

Maybe this is the 2010s equivalent of the 2007 exclusive agreement between Apple and AT&T (then Cingular). The big difference is that AT&T was a rising star in those days and Sprint is a sinking ship. Essential may be mooring itself to that doomed vessel with a desperate out-of-the-gate $260 discount when activated on Sprint with an 18-month plan. The phone is unlocked, meaning it’ll work on the other national carriers and most MVNOs, but it’s a bad look for a new company (or any company).

8.17.2017

8 Chrome Browser Extensions Hijacked

Nearly 5 million users potentially affected



Cybersecurity firm Proofpoint has published a report naming 8 Chrome extensions which have been hacked. Over the course of four months, these extensions have been hijacked from their developers and used to serve malicious code and ads to their users. In previous cases, attackers used phishing techniques to steal login information.

The affected extensions are Copyfish, Web Developer, Chrometana, Infinity New Tab, Web Paint, Social Fixer, TouchVPN and Betternet VPN. Total installs for these apps comes to almost 4.8 million users. Tech site Bleeping Computer also reported about phishing attempts against the developer for two other Chrome extensions. Google has also been sending alert emails to developers warning them to expect a rise in phishing attempts.

Once attackers have stolen a developer’s login information, they take over the extension’s code repository, add malicious code, repackage the extension and push out an update with the corrupted code. These attacks started in May, but Proofpoint researcher Kafeine linked some of the infrastructure to another malicious extension using cookie content scripts back in June 2016.

Kafeine made several observations about the recently affected extensions. The extensions wait at least ten minutes after installing or updating, fetch a JavaScript file from a random DGA-generated domain and then harvest Cloudflare credentials from the browser. Next, they replace legitimate ads with malicious ones, show a popup alerting users about an error and redirect them to a new website (as part of a redirect affiliate program). Most ad replacements occurred on adult sites, and for 33 specific banner sizes. 

For now, users with the affected extensions should remove them from Chrome. Some of the developers are still trying to regain access to their accounts, so there could be no telling when these extensions will be safe again. Kafeine stated that although there is no direct proof linking all of these attacks, it is still possible that the same group is behind them. The researcher is more worried about the stolen Cloudflare credentials, believing that they could become a new platform for launching attacks.

8.15.2017

Davis & the Jake-Man 11: Hungover at the Registry with Verizon and IBM Watson





Davis and the Jake-Man is a New England-based "monthly" podcast
hosted by two certified computer technicians.


In episode eleven of their ‪technology podcast, Davis and Jake discuss the #technews for the month of July, including:

  • Verizon Wireless throttling mobile video
  • Concerns about IBM Watson and AI in general
  • Former Zenimax employee joins Oculus and allegedly gives new employer trade secrets
  • USB 3.2 doubles connection speed while keeping same USB-C port

8.08.2017

US Appeals Court Strikes Down Podcast Patent

Electronic Frontier Foundation Wins Again


On Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a ruling invalidating a “podcasting patent”. The patent’s holding company, Personal Audio LLC, threatened podcasts with lawsuits in late 2013, seeking damages. In April 2015, after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) crowdfunded an inter partes review (IPR) challenge to the patent, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office invalidated it. 

In the late 90’s, Personal Audio founder Jim Logan sought to create, "a handheld MP3 player that could download off the Internet some kind of personalized audio experience," but his company flopped. While trying to recoup his investments, Logan started sending legal demand letters to podcasters and companies, seeking licensing fees or threatening lawsuits. Some efforts were successful, such as the case of podcaster Adam Carolla who raised $500,000 as part of a legal defense fund, and then settled out of court.

“As is typical in patents, overbroad wording could have covered not only podcasts, but any type of episodic content.”

The original patent described a "system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence." As is typical in patents, overbroad wording could have covered not only podcasts, but any type of episodic content. Filing a patent in the U.S. requires an invention to be useful, novel (new), and nonobvious. Personal Audio’s patent had a priority date of 1996, but the EFF was able to show that they were not the first “episodic content” on the web. 

Back in 2015, two key prior examples helped the EFF beat the patent. First was CNN’s “Internet Newsroom”, which patent judges decided had "(1) episodes; (2) an updated compilation file; and (3) a 'predetermined URL' for the compilation file." EFF’s second example was a number of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts, including a science show titled Quirks & Quarks.

The Appeals Court’s affirming the ruling is great news for the web. Podcasts (such as ours) have one less thing to worry about going forward. Portable Audio has not filed any new lawsuits since suing Google in September 2015 over two other patents, so hopefully this is the end of the so-called “podcast-patent”.

8.01.2017

Apple Removes VPN Services from Chinese App Store

Cupertino helps Communist Party fortify Great Firewall


With its stated purpose to “strengthen the qualification [of] management [and] investigate and deal with illegal business,” China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) requires that all providers of VPN services “obtain the corresponding telecommunications business license certificate.” VPN is short “Virtual Private Network” and is a commonly used way to mask one’s physical location through the use of (an) intermediary IP address(es). 

In compliance with China’s new rules, Apple has cracked down on this popular method of circumventing state censorship. China’s Communist Party has taken innumerable steps in curtailing their people’s desire to express themselves freely online, with government attempts to muffle internet dissent dating back as far as 1999. Apple, who seeks to be seen as a humanitarian and compassionate corporation, is enabling a state power in suppression of its citizens’ human rights. This is not the first time Apple Inc. has turned a blind eye to to the mistreatment of Easterners. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the China Development Forum 2017

Apple’s official position on the matter is that they “have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations,” and defends their actions by pointing out that “these apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.” The principled thing to would be to allow these services to remain on the Chinese App Store in spite of their violation of the MIIT crackdown, but with more iPhones being sold in China than the United States, the Cupertino tech giant does not want to gamble with its access to such a massive market.

Echoing Apple’s sentiment, ExpressVPN (which was one of the apps removed) recommends users looking to bypass Beijing’s decree “access a different territory’s App Store” in order to install their service. This is yet another hoop for the censored people to jump through into order to gain access to the uncensored web. Presumably, users tech savvy enough to use a VPN are capable of changing their App Store billing address, but this new requirement further raises the bar for people looking to leapfrog the Communist Party’s Great Firewall.

Metroid: Samus Returns Will Have Amiibo Exclusive Content

And It’s Not Just Cosmetic


Nintendo revealed Metroid: Samus Returns during this year’s E3, and with it, a return to the series’ 2D roots. The new 3DS title is set to launch September 15, and fans are excited to play the reimagining of the 1991 Gameboy classic (Metroid II: Return of Samus). Less exciting however, is the news that pieces of the game will be locked behind Nintendo’s Amiibo functionality.

"Pieces of the game will be locked behind Nintendo’s Amiibo functionality."

Two new Amiibo figures are set to launch alongside the game, Samus herself and the escaped Metroid with its broken container (a cool nod to the beginning of Super Metroid). The figures, (pictured below) along with the Super Smash Bros. Samus and Zero-Suit Samus figures, will unlock additional exclusive content. 

Players with the new crouching Samus Amiibo will receive an additional energy tank and unlock exclusive Metroid II art after completing the game. Meanwhile, the Metroid Amiibo will allow players to reveal the location of any Metroids on their map. Completing the game with the Metroid Amiibo will unlock the new “Fusion” difficulty, and a wearable suit from the Metroid Fusion Game.

The Super Smash Bros. Samus Amiibo will give players an extra missile tank, and completing the game will unlock exclusive concept art. Zero Suit Samus will unlock another energy tank, along with a sound test mode for completing the game. These are great additions to the game, but the Amiibo-lock is very troublesome, with features like those in Metroid: Samus Returns having been free in other games. 

“Nintendo could have used DLC, but instead bet on its Amiibo figurines in spite of supply issues.”

The base version of Metroid: Samus Returns will retail at $39.99 for the standard edition, (not the definitely-will-be-scalped $49.99 special edition) while Amiibo figures typically retail for $13.99 each. Those who don’t already own the Smash Bros. Amiibos will have to spend around $56 to unlock all of the extra content (or pirate it). Nintendo could have gone the traditional DLC route, but instead bet on its Amiibo figurines, in spite of supply issues and rampant scalping. Nintendo is soon to have more unhappy fans.