A few years at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, I was intrigued by the numbers of both prototype and production items that were evolving into what is now known as “the “Internet of Things”, or “IoT”. For the majority of us, when we think of the internet, we think of our internet connected computers, tablets, and smart phones. What many of us are not well aware of is that the Internet of Things is beginning to be much more common, and the IoT is already around us in a big way.
Some of you might remember my column from several weeks ago where I wrote about the newly available Google Project Fi cellular phone service. For those who may not be aware, Project Fi is a cell phone service created and promoted by Google that is intended to offer cell phone voice and data service that seamlessly combines the networks of multiple carriers (currently Sprint and T-Mobile) along with secured Wi-Fi service consisting of over a million Google approved hotspots. Project Fi’s service is generally priced below similar offerings from other cell phone companies, with unlimited talk and text for $20 per month, and cellular data costing $10 per month per gigabyte. The actual charge for cellular data used is prorated at only a penny per megabyte, with any unused data charges automatically credited to the following month’s bill. There are no charges for data usage or calls made over Wi-Fi hotspots. There is no contract required in order to utilize Project Fi, and users can pause or cancel the plan at any time without any penalties.
Recent purchasers of smart devices, including many new phones, laptops, Apple devices, and other new high tech electronics probably noticed that the USB cable used to charge the device and transfer data between devices is the same on the “big” end, but slightly different on the “small” end. The traditional “Micro-B” (the “small”) end of the USB cable that has been widely used for several years to connect chargers and data devices to billions of smart devices is a somewhat asymmetric shape resembling a flattened trapezoid. Because of its shape, the common micro USB cable can only be inserted in one direction, which countless users have found as an inconvenience, but engineers intentionally designed so as to assure that the tiny conductors in the plug could only mate with appropriate matching connectors within the device. Likewise, millions of Apple device users have been using the popular, but somewhat fragile “Lightening” connector connected to an otherwise somewhat identical USB cable to charge their devices and to connect to external devices.
Several months ago, Microsoft offered millions of users of Windows 7 and 8.1 a free online update to the then newly released Windows 10. While Microsoft has claimed that as many as 110 million Windows 7 and 8.1 users did accept the free offer to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft has also expressed some concern that as many as a billion other Windows 7 and 8.1 users have not yet upgraded to Windows 10. According to several published reports, Microsoft has expressed concerns that the rate of Windows users upgrading from the older versions of Windows to Windows 10 has slowed, and this decline in the rate of people upgrading to Windows 10 may cost Microsoft substantial potential revenues.
This past few weeks have been as busy for cyber security professionals as it has been for bargain shoppers. While there have been several stories in the national and local media about shopping safety and security, cyber crooks are also well aware that that the seasonal shopping frenzy creates illicit financial opportunities for those ingenious enough to create malware to again attack our “POS” (Point of Sale) payment systems, as well as to infect popular Android tablets with malware at the time of manufacture.
Hardly a week goes by that an acquaintance does not ask me about recovering data from a lost, damaged, or otherwise dead smart phone. Just as the three most important words in computing are “Backup!, Backup!, and Backup!”, the absolute necessity of backing up the contents of a smart phone may be even more imperative than for a desktop computer. Unlike a desktop computer, smart phones and tablets of any operating system (Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows, and others) are far more prone to breakage, loss, or theft than the more stationary desktop computers. While many smart phone users do not faithfully back up their important content, those who do can better handle the inevitable disasters that face all users of smart devices.
Another coordinated malware attack on Android devices has been detected. This particular family of malware has evolved through at least three modifications, each apparently to evade the defenses and tools that have been created to prevent their infection of Android devices, and make their removal very difficult, if not impossible. These three related malware threats are known as Shuanet, Shiftybug (also called “Kemoge”), and Shedun (also known as “GhostPush”), and are known as a type of malware “Adware”, which is designed to generate revenue for the malware authors by generating paid advertisements on Android devices. While adware is generally considered more of an irritant than a threat, Android devices thus infected can later become vulnerable to more nefarious types of threats.
Some of us look forward to the rancor of shopping on Black Friday, and some of us avoid the crowds at all costs. With the inevitable traffic jams at our favorite locations, those of us planning on shopping on that day may be able to better plan our stops if we happened to know in advance what each store had to offer, such that we could prioritize our search. In past years, it was a family tradition for us to all devour the thick Thanksgiving newspaper, pouring over the myriad sale books weighing down the paper. As if we were in a dream or a trance, we each individually contemplated our plan for that noble day. While perusing the multitude of sale books in the Thanksgiving newspaper is still one of the pleasures of life, the necessity for that exercise in wishful thinking has diminished over recent years as a variety of “deals” websites are actively compiling so called “leaked” copies of the Black Friday sale books, often weeks before the big day.
In a recent column here, I wrote about the insecurity of many of the passwords that we commonly use. Most users still use the easy to guess passwords, with about one in seventeen still using “password”, and about the same number of users have “123456” as their passwords. According to a recent report released by the password manager “LastPass”, only about one percent of users have passwords that are properly complex and relatively secure. Usernames and passwords are often targeted by hackers when they break into the servers used by online financial service organizations, retailers, auction websites, online payment services, and other financially attractive targets. What is especially striking about personal password vulnerability is the fact that the majority of online users use the same password on multiple websites; this can create a cascading type of identity theft whereby a hacker in possession of a single password and username can access multiple online services, wreaking financial havoc on the victim.
One of the annoyances of modern telecommunications technology is its penchant for having inadequate coverage or dead spots in areas other than the major metropolitan areas. When traveling with family and friends, who in aggregate have smart phones and other devices from T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, the one constancy is that we all do not have the same level and degree of broadband wireless coverage at any given time. For example on a recent trip through the Piney Woods to a final destination in northern Louisiana, we had two of the above carriers represented in the car, and while both services each had some data connectivity during most of the trip, at different locations only one or the other had data connectivity, with several areas of dead spots for both. The data connection results from the Louisiana trip somewhat matched the varying degree of connectivity we had with multiple carriers on an earlier trip through central and southern Mississippi by way of southern Louisiana. It has become obvious to us that there are distinct qualitative gaps and coverage dead spots in each of the individual carriers’ coverage, often in contradiction to those carriers online coverage maps.