Weekend News Round-up: The new digital arms race, a born-again Apple

9 Jun 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech news, tech giants are making it harder for spy agencies like the NSA to snoop on their users; wireless drones may hack your web TV; and a born-again Apple has fun and confidence at its core.

The new digital arms race

The New York Times has reported that more and more technology giants are erecting barriers to make it harder for the National Security Agency to snoop on their users and customers.

“Just down the road from Google’s main campus here, engineers for the company are accelerating what has become the newest arms race in modern technology: They are making it far more difficult — and far more expensive — for the National Security Agency and the intelligence arms of other governments around the world to pierce their systems.

“As fast as it can, Google is sealing up cracks in its systems that Edward J. Snowden revealed the NSA had brilliantly exploited. It is encrypting more data as it moves among its servers and helping customers encode their own emails. Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo are taking similar steps.

“After years of cooperating with the government, the immediate goal now is to thwart Washington — as well as Beijing and Moscow. The strategy is also intended to preserve business overseas in places like Brazil and Germany that have threatened to entrust data only to local providers.”

Cyber security disaster for web-connected TVs

Forbes reported on a red button flaw that could expose millions of web-connected TV owners to a major security vulnerability.

“No one sees the hack coming. The drones, launched from the roof of a tall apartment building, have a clutch of electronic gear aboard that can capture incoming digital broadcasts, inject a bit of malicious code to the data portion of the stream, and send it back out on the same frequency.

“Within a minute or two, residents’ printers are spewing out unwanted coupons and phony Yelp reviews and Facebook posts are being created using their login credentials.

“Without any trace or sign of vandalism, an entire neighborhood’s smart TV sets have been compromised. The home owners don’t know it yet, but the hackers are already moving deeper into the home, sniffing for weakly or unprotected Wi-Fi routers and PCs that may be attached. The hackers can lurk around as long as no one turns off the set or changes the channel, and when the hackers decide to go there’s no way to retrace their steps.”

Mobile ransomware hack migrates to Android

Continuing with the security theme, just weeks after iPhone owners found themselves locked out of their own devices via a ‘Find My iPhone’ hack, Ars Technica has reported that a similar exploit has found its way onto Android smartphones.

“Security researchers have documented another first in the annals of Android malware: a trojan that encrypts photos, videos, and documents stored on a device and demands a ransom for them to be restored.

“The crudeness of Android/Simplocker, as the malicious app has been dubbed, suggests it’s still in the proof-of-concept phase, Robert Lipovsky, a malware researcher for antivirus provider Eset, said in a recent blog post. The malware also addresses users in Russian and demands that payments be made in Ukrainian hryvnias, an indication that it targets only people in Eastern Europe. Still, the trojan—with its combination of social engineering, strong encryption, and robust Internet architecture—could be a harbinger of more serious and widespread threats to come. After all, the first Android trojans to make hefty SMS charges also debuted in the same region.”

Born-again Apple has fun at its core

Joshua Topolsky from The Verge nailed what a lot of people had been thinking in the days since Apple’s recent WWDC where CEO Tim Cook and Craign Federighi bounded onto the stage exuding an infectious mixture of fun and confidence. It was a statement: we’re back and we’re ready to play.

“In recent years — and let’s be honest, probably since just after Steve Jobs’ death in 2011 — there has been a sense of hesitation, of standoffishness, and maybe even a little bit of fear in the tone of Apple events. That tone has carried over to the company’s approach to the outside world, and has left a lot of people wondering just whether there’s been a plan at all. You could feel a palpable sense of Apple being closed off, in a huddle, trying to figure out what kind of company it wants to be (and can be) in a post-Jobs world. Because whether you agreed with his style, decisions, or philosophies, it’s impossible to deny that Jobs was the voice of Apple and the holder of the keys to the company roadmap.

“It feels like for several years we’ve been living with an Apple in a period of recovery and rediscovery. Just listen to Tim Cook answer questions on several occasions about future plans and roadmaps — he’s hesitant, speculative. And I don’t believe it was just about secrecy and timing. It was about Apple finding its new voice, waiting to speak with that voice. And the company has a voice again.”

Google gets you home

It’s happened to every one of us at some point – you fall asleep on the bus or train and miss your stop and wake up miles from where you should be. Well no more! According to Android Police Google has developed an alarm that can wake you up and to prevent you missing your stop.

“If this situation sounds familiar to you, you’ll love the newest feature added to Google Now on Android. If you open Google Now when you’re using public transportation, it may offer an integrated alarm for saved locations like home and work. The alarm knows where and approximately when you should exit – just tap it, and it will alert you before you get there, overcoming the drinking you did earlier in the evening (or previous evening) and saving you a missed stop.

“This is an interesting addition to Google Now – it doesn’t seem to hook into the alarm function of the standard Clock app. Just tap it once to set the alarm, then again to disable it if necessary. Your mileage may vary, quite literally, since public transit support isn’t available in all areas.”

Internet spying image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years