Tech Letter

Straightforward Tech Reporting

Author: Robert Vinet (page 2 of 23)

Could this be the start of a technology backlash among young people

The study is published by Deloitte, one of the world’s big consultancies.

Jakob Moll, Nieman Lab »

A recently published survey looking at smartphone usage in the Nordic countries contained an astonishing number. In the 18- to 24-year-old age group, only 87 percent said they “own or have ready access to” a smartphone. That was the lowest of all the other adult age groups surveyed — including 65- to 75-year-olds.


87 out of 100 is a high proportion, mind you. But it’s still surprising to many of us that a significant proportion of the youngest adults turn their backs on a device most consider an extra limb.

Chinese government-linked hacker group has been hacking and bypassing two-factor authentication

Cyber security researchers at Dutch firm Fox-IT has found evidence showing a Chinese government sponsored hacking group APT20 has been bypassing two-factor authentication (2FA) in a recent wave of attacks against government entities and managed service providers.

Catalin Cimpanu, ZDNet »

According to researchers, the hackers used web servers as the initial point of entry into a target’s systems, with a particular focus on JBoss, an enterprise application platform often found in large corporate and government networks.

APT20 used vulnerabilities to gain access to these servers, install web shells, and then spread laterally through a victim’s internal systems.

While on the inside, Fox-IT said the group dumped passwords and looked for administrator accounts, in order to maximize their access. A primary concern was obtaining VPN credentials, so hackers could escalate access to more secure areas of a victim’s infrastructure, or use the VPN accounts as more stable backdoors.

Colleges are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines, tracking their locations, and grading them on class attendance

Drew Harwell, Washinton Post (paywall) »

When Syracuse University freshmen walk into professor Jeff Rubin’s Introduction to Information Technologies class, seven small Bluetooth beacons hidden around the Grant Auditorium lecture hall connect with an app on their smartphones and boost their “attendance points.

And when they skip class? The SpotterEDU app sees that, too, logging their absence into a campus database that tracks them over time and can sink their grade. It also alerts Rubin, who later contacts students to ask where they’ve been. His 340-person lecture has never been so full.

“They want those points,” he said. “They know I’m watching and acting on it. So, behaviorally, they change.”

Apparently, neither professors or the schools take any issue surveilling and invading the privacy of their students.

Knowing that you are being watched, doesn’t make it more correct.

Short-range phone sensors and campuswide WiFi networks are empowering colleges across the United States to track hundreds of thousands of students more precisely than ever before. Dozens of schools now use such technology to monitor students’ academic performance, analyze their conduct or assess their mental health.


The students who deviate from those day-to-day campus rhythms are flagged for anomalies, and the company then alerts school officials in case they want to pursue real-world intervention.

But then there’s the optics of it all »

Carter said he doesn’t like to say the students are being “tracked,” because of its potentially negative connotations; he prefers the term “monitored” instead. “It’s about building that relationship,” he said, so students “know you care about them.”

US Defense Department warns military service members against using DNA kits as they pose ‘personal and operational risks’

The Pentagon is advising it’s military service members against using popular at-home DNA testing kits due to the possible “unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

DIY home DNA test kits might be able to show where your ancestors may have come from, but they can also compromise the privacy of your descendants for generations yet to come.

Jenna McLaughlin and Zach Dorfman, Yahoo News »

The boom in popularity of such kits has raised ethical and legal issues, since some companies have shared this data with law enforcement or sold it to third parties. The Defense Department is now expressing its own concerns about these kits.

“Exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties poses personal and operational risks to Service members,” says the Dec. 20 memo signed by Joseph D. Kernan, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and James N. Stewart, the assistant secretary of defense for manpower.

The whole story is available at Yahoo News »

More » Axios, The Verge

iPhone XR remains the best-selling smartphone of 2019 worldwide

Not Apple’s latest flagship, the iPhone 11.

According to Counterpoint Research, Apple’s iPhone XR was again the best-selling smartphone in the third quarter of 2019. Last year’s model, the iPhone XR has been the best-selling model every quarter so far this year.

The research also found that the iPhone 11 only took 5th spot in its own launch quarter.

Where Canada is concerned, could price be the bigger decider? iPhone 8 starts at C$600. iPhone XR starts at C$800. iPhone 11 starts at C$980.

Ben Lovejoy, 9to5Mac »

The company said that the iPhone 11 managed fifth place in its own launch quarter.

According to Counterpoint Research’s Market Pulse, the iPhone XR was the top-selling model globally in Q3 2019, capturing 3% market share. In fact, except for the launch quarter in September 2018, iPhone XR has been the top-selling model globally in every quarter since Q4 2018. The XR alone contributed to over one-quarter of the total Apple sales during the quarter, making it the best-selling model for Apple across all regions. Apple also adjusted the price of the iPhone XR in China and several other markets, which helped keep demand strong during the quarter. The iPhone 11 also made its debut in the top 10 within the launch quarter.

The top 10 best-selling smartphones in Q3 comprised two iPhones, three low-end Samsung models, and a mix of Chinese brands:

  • iPhone XR
  • Samsung Galaxy A10
  • Samsung Galaxy A50
  • Oppo A9
  • iPhone 11
  • Oppo A5s
  • Samsung Galaxy A20
  • Oppo A5
  • Xiaomi Redmi A7
  • Huawei P30

While Samsung appeared to have pushed buyers up through its range, the reality was that it simply dropped the prices of its former “mid-range” A-series models to become the new low-end phones.

More » PhoneArena

Security flaw in Twitter’s Android App allowed a single researcher to match 17 million phone numbers with users

Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch »

Ibrahim Balic found that it was possible to upload entire lists of generated phone numbers through Twitter’s contacts upload feature. “If you upload your phone number, it fetches user data in return,” he told TechCrunch.

He said Twitter’s contact upload feature doesn’t accept lists of phone numbers in sequential format — likely as a way to prevent this kind of matching. Instead, he generated more than two billion phone numbers, one after the other, then randomized the numbers, and uploaded them to Twitter through the Android app. (Balic said the bug did not exist in the web-based upload feature.)

More » Security Affairs

Russia successfully disconnected from the internet

Russia claims to have successfully completed a series of tests that disconnected the whole country from the internet.

Catalin Cimpanu, ZDNet »

The goal was to test if the country’s national internet infrastructure — known inside Russia as RuNet — could function without access to the global DNS system and the external internet.

Internet traffic was re-routed internally, effectively making Russia’s RuNet the world’s largest intranet.

The government did not reveal any technical details about the tests and what exactly they consisted of. It only said that the government tested several disconnection scenarios, including a scenario that simulated a hostile cyber-attack from a foreign country.

More » TechSpot

Chinese criminal gangs use drones to spread African swine fever

The swine fever epidemic has cut the country’s herds by more than 40 per cent. Photo: AFP

Pork prices have spiked as a result.

Liu Zhen, South China Morning Post »

Chinese criminals have been exploiting the country’s African swine fever crisis by intentionally spreading the disease to force farmers to sell their pigs for a low price before smuggling the meat and selling it on as healthy stock, state media has reported.

Sometimes the gangs spread rumours about the virus, which is fatal to pigs, but in more extreme cases they are using drones to drop infected items into farms, according to an investigation by the magazine China Comment, which is affiliated to state news agency Xinhua,

The disease has reduced the country’s pig herds by over 40 per cent because of mass culls designed to stop it spreading further.

The resulting shortages have seen pork prices more than double, providing opportunities for the criminals to exploit.

The world’s biggest surveillance network gives Chines authorities police vast powers to monitor regular people

Chinese authorities can scan your phones, track your face, and find out when you leave your home. And this is only the beginning.

Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik, writing in The New York Times »

Chinese authorities are knitting together old and state-of-the-art technologies — phone scanners, facial-recognition cameras, face and fingerprint databases and many others — into sweeping tools for authoritarian control, according to police and private databases examined by The New York Times.

Once combined and fully operational, the tools can help police grab the identities of people as they walk down the street, find out who they are meeting with and identify who does and doesn’t belong to the Communist Party.

The United States and other countries use some of the same techniques to track terrorists or drug lords. Chinese cities want to use them to track everybody.

Read the whole story in The New York Times »

Boeing’s push to make training profitable may have left 737 Max pilots unprepared

A simulator at the training center in Miami.

What could possibly go wrong when the emphasis is placed on profits? Decades of productive communication between pilots, engineers, and designers is broken and flying becomes less safe.

Peter Robison and Julie Johnsson, writing in Bloomberg (paywall) »

More than an ironic footnote in the Max saga, the incident is a window into the prideful culture that led to two crashes and 346 deaths, a worldwide grounding of Boeing’s marquee jet, and unprecedented scrutiny of the storied planemaker’s processes. Aviation authorities have weighed in on how Boeing engineers failed to anticipate pilots’ reactions to a cacophony of alerts from misfiring flight control software, how managers pressured engineers to speed the completion of their designs, and how an acquiescent Federal Aviation Administration missed the deadly risk from software changes made late in testing.

But the most fundamental breakdown at Boeing may have been a lack of appreciation of how humans respond under stress—both in the machine it was designing and in its own organization. On aircraft like the Boeing 777, a cadre of pilots had worked closely with engineers to solve problems. By the time the Max entered development, Boeing was pushing hard to turn the unglamorous but all-important business of customer training into a profit center of its own. Many pilots were distracted by a dispute with Boeing over the hiring of outside contractors. They contended the quality of training was slipping.

Read the whole article at Bloomberg »

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