Ransomware threat grows as April sets a new record



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Ransomware is the latest phase in online fraud. Think of it as an old-time mafia shake-down. It amounts to protection money. Your data gets encrypted and you have to pay to unlock your own files. It’s a deplorable practice, but unfortunately also a lucrative one.

And it’s that promise of money that keeps the market for these things going. In fact, a new report claims April was the biggest month yet for this sector of malware.

Enigma Software Group did a study of all infections, covering more than 65 million since April 2013. The results were disturbing. It claims it “found that ransomware in April 2016 more than doubled the total from March 2016. Additionally, ransomware made up a larger percentage of overall infections in April than in any other month in the last three years”.

The trend has resulted in some high-profile attacks, including a hospital being hit. In many cases, it’s both individual users as well as businesses.

“It’s not just businesses that are being hit by ransomware”, says ESG spokesperson Ryan Gerding. “Every day thousands and thousands of people turn on their personal computers only to find their most precious photos and other files have been locked up by bad guys”.

The best defense against these attacks is to backup your data, either in the cloud or on an external drive that you can disconnect from the network, a it propagates across drives and computers to ensure that you have no access to it. There is also the usual advice — think before you click links and keep your system up to date, both OS and software.

Image Credit: Bigstock


Samsung SmartThings IoT System Vulnerable to Security Breaches



SmartThings logoThe Internet of Things and by extension, the connected home, is here. But is the world really ready for every facet of our daily lives to be connected to the internet? That smart toaster that notifies you via smartphone when your breakfast is ready might be a cool, convenient addition to your kitchen. But it’s a potential attack vector for hackers to breach your home network. And while it may be nothing more than a harmless prank for a hacker to reset your IoT-connected toaster to the “scorched earth” setting, the reality of this kind of security breach is much worse. Once an experienced hacker gets in thru the toaster, the home security system or front door lock could be their next targets.

That’s exactly what researchers discovered when testing out Samsung’s SmartThings IoT system of products. The test was conducted by computer scientists at the University of Michigan. What they found may come as shocking news to anyone considering outfitting a home with connected devices. The research team devised several exploits that worked against a SmartThing network by taking advantage of intrinsic flaws in the network’s design. One of the exploits was even able to extract the PIN from a connected door lock and send that PIN via text message to an outside recipient.

Most of the exploits were created by taking advantage of how Samsung’s SmartThings control apps interact with a network. Researchers were able to find multiple ways to intercept or redirect data being transmitted between these apps and the network. These processes made it possible to eventually gain entry to almost anything on the network.

It might be a good idea to hold off awhile on purchasing that shiny new SmartFridge. I suppose if you have only one device like this on your network, it could be OK. But once you’re adding door locks and security systems to your network, you’re potentially opening yourself up to these kinds of exploits.


Nintendo to Release Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem on Smart Devices



Nintendo logoNintendo revealed that it will be releasing its popular Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem games on smart devices. This news was part of a Financial Results Briefing for Fiscal Year ending March 2016.

Nintendo is planning to release both Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem as their next steps in their smart device business. Both are popular games and are anticipated to do well on smart devices.

Fire Emblem is described in the Briefing as “a pioneering role-playing simulation game series, combining the tactical elements of a simulation game with the character customization elements of a role-playing game.”

Fifteen titles have been released in the Fire Emblem series since 1990. Nintendo notes that “the series has many passionate fans, particularly among gamers in their 20s and 30s.”

“We are currently developing an application for smart devices based on Fire Emblem. We expect that many consumers will experience Fire Emblem for the first time on their smart device, so this application will offer a more accessible style of gameplay compared to the titles for dedicated video game systems. At the same time, we still aim to provide a fully engaging experience as a role-playing simulation game.”

Animal Crossing debuted in 2001 and is described in the Briefing as one of Nintendo’s “evergreen titles”. In the Animal Crossing series “your avatar is the main character and you can live as you please, experiencing life in real time and enjoying events across all four seasons with delightful animal companions.” Nintendo notes that Animal Crossing is popular with female and young consumers in particular.

“We are currently developing a new application for smart devices based on the characters and world of Animal Crossing. As I mentioned before, the Animal Crossing series for dedicated video game systems is well-loved for its long-term playability, so we want to offer a connection between the smart device application and the world of Animal Crossing on dedicated video game systems. This will make it even more fun to play both ways, while offering a new style of play for smart devices.”

In the Financial Results Briefing, Nintendo said it plans to release both of these applications in the fall of 2016.


GNC #1113 Road Show



Road Show today with an Audio only. Lots of hot tech topics in this episode and a little more laid back show today.

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Néit Collapsible Luggage at Gadget Show Live



Neit LogoAlthough the march of technology has been towards miniaturisation and making gadgets smaller, there are some things that need to be big and there’s no value in making them smaller. For example, luggage and suitcases need to be big enough to get enough clothes and belongings in for the trip. This is perfect while the bags are needed on travel, but once home the bulk is unnecessary and a waste of space for those unfortunate enough not have storage in a garage, loft or attic. Nicky and the team at Néit have the answer with collapsible luggage.

Neit Collapsible Luggage

Winning a “Highly Commended” at the British Inventors’ Project, Néit’s collapsible luggage folds from a rigid suitcase to only 9 cm / 3″ wide. Once folded, the case can be stored anywhere convenient – upright in a cupboard, flat on top of wardrobe or hung from a clothes rail. Made from a polycarbonate shell and aircraft-grade aluminium, the picture shows the Néit case folded (the blue light strip is for effect only). In addition to space-saving, the Néit luggage has a couple of other tricks too. The handle has built-in scales, so there are no surprise excess weight charges at check-in. There’s GPS tracking too, so if the airline mislays the bag, the Néit smartphone app can track its location almost anywhere in the world.

The collapsible luggage comes in two sizes, a 90 litre hold bag and 38 litre carry-on and they’re available for pre-order from Néit’s webstore. Currently priced from GB£229 and £189 respectively, the bags are expected to ship in December 2016.

And in case you were wondering about Néit: he’s the Celtic god of War.


NASA Captures Dramatic Supersonic Images



NASA planeSupersonic (traveling faster than the speed of sound) flight has been possible for about 70 years. The auditory results of cracking the sound barrier are sometimes heard (and felt) in the form of sonic booms. But what does it look like when an object reaches Mach 1? Often, aircraft are photographed with a visible plume of moisture erupting around them when they reach supersonic speeds. But that’s just part of the picture, as NASA observed with a recent photographic experiment.

NASA used an unlikely process to capture images of supersonic shockwaves created by an Air Force T-38C test plane. Researchers employed a 150-year old technique called schlieren photography. Wikipedia describes this style of photography as:

…a visual process that is used to photograph the flow of fluids of varying density. Invented by the German physicist August Toepler in 1864 to study supersonic motion, it is widely used in aeronautical engineering to photograph the flow of air around objects.

Having access to plenty of modern technology and techniques, NASA used an updated version of this technique called background oriented schlieren (BOS):

First, researchers obtain an image of a speckled background pattern. Next, they collect a series of images of an object in supersonic flow in front of the same pattern. Shock waves are deduced from distortions of the background pattern resulting from the change in refractive index due to density gradients. This method requires very simple optics and a variety of background patterns, including natural ones, may be used. The complexity with this method is in the image processing and not the hardware or positioning, thus making BOS an attractive candidate for obtaining high-spatial-resolution imaging of shock waves in flight.

Detailed explanations of the project (and a few more images) are available at the link above.

Image credit: NASA


Disney Infinity Dropped From Apple TV



Disney Infinity LogoWhen Apple released the latest version of its set-top AppleTV box, much hype was focused on the device’s ability to run third-party apps. This development was a departure from the closed-off nature of previous iterations of the Apple TV. The addition of third-party app support meant that Apple TV could now be used as more than just a media-consumption box. It could also be used to play games. Many game developers have taken advantage of the opportunity and ported existing games to the platform. Of course, the diminutive Apple TV doesn’t have the internal horsepower of a major modern gaming console like Xbox One or Playstation 4. And that lack of muscle may cause the device some issues in the long run, as game developers focus on those other platforms for their big titles.

That was exactly the case when Disney dropped support for its popular Disney Infinity title from Apple TV. Disney Infinity is an “open-world” style game that allows users to unlock playable characters by purchasing real-world figurines that come with in-game unlock codes. Disney Infinity has been around for a few years and its current iteration (Disney Infinity 3.0) is compatible with Playstation 3, 4 and PSVita, Xbox One and Xbox 360, Nintendo WiiU, Windows-based PC’s, and Steam.

No word has come from Disney as to whether or not Infinity may return to Apple TV. But losing a title like this may cause Apple to reconsider the role of Apple TV as a media consumption device, and give it enough power to run more complex apps like these types of games.


“Swatting” Could Get You a 20-Year Prison Sentence



Image by AJ Montpetit on StockSnap ioThere is a bill going through Congress that could attach a 20-year prison sentence to the act of “swatting”. The bill passed the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, and its next step is a floor vote in the House.

“Swatting”, for those who are unaware, is when a person calls the police to notify them of a bomb threat, a kidnapping, a hostage situation, or other criminal activity going on at someone else’s house (when no such activity has taken place). It is a form of harassment.

The result is that a fully armed SWAT team, that has no way of knowing if the reported threat was real or fake, goes to the target’s home. The assumption is that the call was legitimate. There is potential for an innocent person, who was a victim of a “swatting”, to end up injured or killed.

The Washington Post reports that people who play video games are often the victims of “swatting” and that the perpetrator might also be a gamer. There has been a situation where a SWAT team was called on a gamer who was streaming because someone apparently thought it would be funny to watch a streamed “swatting”.

In addition, journalists, celebrities, and politicians have been the targets of “swatting”. A bill called HR 2031 could attach legal consequences to “swatting”. The full title of the bill is: “To amend the Communication Act of 1934 to provide for enhanced penalties for the transmission of misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to trigger a response by a law enforcement agency.” The short title is: “Anti-Swatting Act of 2015”.

In short, the bill identifies “swatting” as a criminal violation. A person who does it could be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 5 years. Or, if serious bodily injury results, the perpetrator could be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 20 years. A court could require the perpetrator to reimburse law enforcement, fire, rescue, and emergency services that were called in on the “swatting”.

The bill has not yet been made into a law. It has passed a House committee, but has not yet been voted on in the House of Representatives.


Texting while walking? German city has a solution



We’ve all seem people walking while staring down at their phones, even resulting in some hilarious videos. Even one that went viral a while back when a surveillance camera captured footage a woman in a shopping mall falling into a fountain while staring at the device in her hand.

Now a city in Germany thinks it may have found a solution, or at least a partial one. The town of Augsburg is embedding traffic lights in its sidewalks in hopes that pedestrians may notice while looking down and then not walk out into traffic.

This comes on the heels of a report that showed that 17 percent of pedestrians use their smartphone while in road traffic. To nobody’s surprise, it’s the younger generation that is affected by this phenomena the most. The study also reveals that Amsterdam has the lowest statistics, while Stockholm the highest.

The reports points out that “Across all cities and age groups, just under 8 percent of pedestrians were seen texting while crossing the street. A further 2.6 percent made calls, and around 1.4percent did both at the same time. Around 5 percent wore earplugs or headphones without speaking, so were probably listening to music. As expected, younger pedestrians tended to use their smartphone more frequently than older ones, with use being most intensive in the 25-to-35 age group at 22 percent. Gender-specific differences were apparent: While texting was most common among female pedestrians, men listened to music much more”.

Security firm Sophos points out that “Augsburg’s new pedestrian lights — which the city’s just trialing, at this point — eight LEDs begin to flash red when a tram approaches”.

We’ll see how this works. If it’s effective then we may see it implemented elsewhere, both in Europe and perhaps in the US.


Apple Watch: Now with… Windows 95?



Win95 logoIf the most-often used question when it comes to technology is simply, “Why?,” then the most common answer has to be, “Why not?” That’s what one developer must’ve been thinking when he figured out how to run Windows 95, Microsoft’s cutting-edge mid-90’s operating system, on an Apple Watch.

For those too young to remember, Windows 95 was Microsoft’s much-hyped successor to the ever-popular Windows 3.1. Windows 95 was a break from tradition in a few ways for Microsoft. It was the first time the company moved away from its standard numbering system. Instead of calling its newest Windows build simply “Windows 4.0,” Microsoft chose to brand the software package with the year of release. Thus beginning a cycle that would be repeated with Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. (That trend was ended with the release of Windows 7.) Windows 95 introduced a few things that became centerpieces of the OS, most notably the beloved Start Button.

Most PC’s running Windows 95 at the time of its release were big, beige desktop units that definitely didn’t fit over your wrist. Perhaps that’s a testament to the computing horsepower of modern devices. Even something as small as an Apple Watch has enough power to emulate an entire operating system that used to require (for its time) lots of disk space and RAM. One drawback of this emulation is that it apparently takes about an hour for the OS to be fully usable on an Apple Watch. So, it might not be the best way to relive your fond memories of playing Solitaire and surfing the web on Netscape 3.0. To see the emulation in action, check out this time-lapse video.