Mark Wilson writes: Microsoft is no stranger to pissing people off, particularly when it comes to Windows 10. There have been endless cries about forced updates, complaints about ads, moaning about privacy, and now the CEO of Vivaldi has lashed out at the company for its anti-competitive practices with Microsoft Edge.
Jon von Tetzchner says that Microsoft has forgotten about the "actual real-life people that use technology in their daily lives." He takes particular umbrage at Windows 10's continued insistence of resetting the default browser to Edge.
Indicating that his patience has now run out, von Tetzchner points to a 72-year-old friend who was confused by the change and unable to reverse things. He says that Microsoft is failing to respect the decisions made by users, and this is something that needs to stop.
Mark Wilson writes: A key obstacle that mobile users encounter is clicking a link only to be greeted by the offer to install an app. The relatively slow process of visiting Google Play to download and install an app means that many people simply don't bother — and this is something that Instant Apps should help with.
The Instant Apps feature was announced last year at Google I/O, and there was much excitement at the prospect of 'streaming' apps on demand. Now Google has started live tests of Instant Apps for Android so you can try out the feature with the likes of BuzzFeed, Wish, Periscope and Viki.
Instant Apps works by breaking down apps into small chunks so they can be downloaded and run on-the-fly — only those components that are needed have to be downloaded, meaning that with a reasonable connection speed the process should be all but seamless
Mark Wilson writes: Samsung has finally revealed the long-awaited results of its investigation into the problematic Galaxy Note7. Having issued an apology and pushed out OTA updates to disable phones which had been banned from flights because of the risk of them catching fire, the South Korean company says that two separate battery problems were to blame.
The first problem stemmed from the fact that the battery was physically too small for the Note7 leading to a short-circuit. Replacement batteries suffered from a combination of insulation problems and an issue that cause positive and negative electrodes to touch. Samsung also indicated that the Galaxy S8 would not be unveiled at Mobile World Congress (MWC) next month.
Mark Wilson writes: The Electronic Frontier Foundation has set out its plans for the first 100 days under Trump, during which time it says it will continue to fight for the rights of internet and technology users.
The digital rights group has already drawn up a wishlist for covering its privacy and security dreams for 2017, but the 100-day plan sees the EFF setting out its agenda for the first few months under Trump. Having claimed that "our civil liberties need an independent defense force" and that "free speech and the rights to privacy, transparency, and innovation won’t survive on their own", EFF is prepared to go to court — again — to hold the new administration to account when necessary.
The group plans to continue its fight against "wrongful surveillance and censorship orders", and says that it will make full use of Freedom of Information Act requests to "force transparency on our secretive government". This is something that will be happening right from the get-go: "we intend to wield this tool from the earliest days of Trump's presidency".
Mark Wilson writes: There was a craze that started a few years back for tracing one's family tree. Rather than fizzling out, the interest in genealogy continued, and there are still many websites out there that will help you to research your family history and build up a picture of the past.
While genealogists of the past may have scoured public records and libraries for information about their family, these days people want things handed to them on a plate. One website is taking full advantage of this — as well as the fact that the internet can act as a use data base of personal information — and there's a high chance it has vast amounts of data about you that can be accessed by anyone. The site is FamilyTreeNow.com, and you need to jump through a few hoops to get your details removed from the site.
Mark Wilson writes: Facebook has long-claimed that its WhatsApp messaging service is completely secure and messages cannot be intercepted thanks to its use of end-to-end encryption. But researchers have unearthed a serious security flaw that makes it possible to read encrypted messages.
Based on Open Whisper Systems' Signal Protocol, the unique security keys used to implement end-to-end encryption should keep messages secure. But WhatsApp can force offline users to generate new keys and this could allow Facebook — and third parties — to read messages.
The problem is a serious one, as WhatsApp's supposed security has earned it a good deal of respect, and it is a communication tool that those who wish to remain anonymous have come to rely upon. Tobias Boelter, a security researcher at the University of California, discovered the security problem. He says: "If WhatsApp is asked by a government agency to disclose its messaging records, it can effectively grant access due to the change in keys".
Mark Wilson writes: With Donald Trump about to take over the reins from Barack Obama, privacy groups have expressed concern about what the incoming president will do with surveillance laws. But before that happens, President Obama is still a cause for concern. In the final days of his leadership, his administration has granted permission for the NSA to share the data it intercepts with no fewer than 16 other intelligence agencies.
While this will alarm many, what is particularly troubling is the fact that privacy protections are not applied until after this data has been shared between agencies. The changes in rules amount to a major relaxation of restrictions on NSA activities, meaning that a far greater number of officials will have access to unfiltered, uncensored data about innocent people around the world.
Mark Wilson writes: D-Link is facing a lawsuit brought against it by the US Federal Trade Commission for the poor security of its routers and connected cameras. The FTC says the company failed to take reasonable steps to protect users from hackers.
The FTC is seeking to improve the security of all IoT (internet of things) devices in the wake of compromised devices being used to launch high-profile DDoS attacks such as Marai and Leet Botnet. D-Link argues that the charges brought against it are "unwarranted and baseless" and plans to "vigorously defend itself".
The Taiwanese company says that the FTC "fails to allege, as it must, that actual consumers suffered or are likely to suffer actual substantial injuries".
Mark Wilson writes: The hatred WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange feels towards Hillary Clinton is far from being a secret. During the election campaign, the non-profit organization leaked Clinton emails in the hope that it would destroy her presidential hopes — and we all know the result of the election.
As we slide gently into 2017, the WikiLeaks Twitter account has turned on the ignition and is about to hit the accelerator. The tweet says: "If you thought 2016 was a big WikiLeaks year 2017 will blow you away". On top of this, Assange himself is due to appear in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, denying Russia's involvement in hacking DNC emails.
WikiLeak's tweet comes as part of a plea for donations, but it promises that this will be the year of a 'showdown'.
Mark Wilson writes: We are less than 48 hours into 2017, and Samsung is already on the ball with a series of new smartphone announcements. Kicking things off for the new year is the updated Galaxy A series — comprising the Galaxy A7, Galaxy A5, and Galaxy A3.
Available in Black Sky, Gold Sand, Blue Mist and Peach Cloud, the handsets feature 5.7-, 5.2- and 4.7-inch screens respectively. The main focus of the product line refresh is the enhanced camera, but Samsung also highlights the metal frame and 3D glass back which it says draws on the company's "premium design heritage".
All three phones in the range feature cameras that Samsung is pushing hard. The A7 and A5 benefit from front and rear 16MP shooters, while the bottom-of-the-range A3 has a 13MP rear camera, and an 8MP camera on the front. Samsung is clearly keen for users to take full advantage of the cameras in all conditions, as this is the first time the Galaxy A series has IP68 water and dust resistance.
Mark Wilson writes: Earlier in the year, a huge DDoS attack was launched on Krebs on Security. Analysis showed that the attack pelted servers with 620 Gbps, and there were fears that the release of the Mirai source code used to launch the assault would lead to a rise in large-scale DDoS attacks. Welcome Leet Botnet.
In the run-up to Christmas, security firm Imperva managed to fend off a 650 Gbps DDoS attack. But this was nothing to do with Mirai; it is a completely new form of malware, but is described as "just as powerful as the most dangerous one to date". The concern for 2017 is that "it's about to get a lot worse".
Clearly proud of the work put into the malware, the creator or creators saw fit to sign it. Analysis of the attack showed that the TCP Options header of the SYN packets used spelled out l33t, hence the Leet Botnet name.
Mark Wilson writes: Drones have become incredibly common in the last couple of years, and they have proved to be popular Christmas presents. But new drone owners are being warned that they are probably blissfully ignorant of the responsibilities of their new toys — and this ignorance could prove costly.
There are very strict laws in place governing where, and how, drones can be flown. Failure to comply with these rules could lead to time in prison or an "unlimited fine" — for people in the UK, at least. So what do you need to know before you take your drone for its maiden flight?
Drones are potentially dangerous pieces of kit, both for people and other airborne objects, so it is little wonder that there are regulations in place. The risks for drones to interfere with the flight of aircraft, for instance, is a danger that could hardly be overstated.
Mark Wilson writes: The Congressional Encryption Working Group (EWG) was set up in the wake of the Apple vs FBI case in which the FBI wanted to gain access to the encrypted contents of a shooter's iPhone. The group has just published its end-of-year report summarizing months of meetings, analysis and debate.
The report makes four key observations, starting off with: "Any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest". This is certainly not a new argument against encryption backdoors for the likes of the FBI, but it is an important one. EWG goes on to urge congress not to do anything to weaken encryption.
The group says: "Congress should not weaken this vital technology because doing so works against the national interest. However, it should not ignore and must address the legitimate concerns of the law enforcement and intelligence communities".
Mark Wilson writes: Facebook has released its Global Government Requests Report for H1 2016, and it shows that there has been a significant increase in the number of government requests for account data.
Compared to the first half of 2015, Facebook received 27 percent more requests globally. Most of these 59,229 requests came from the US government, and more than half of them (56 percent) included a gagging order preventing Facebook from notifying the affected users.
Request for "content restriction" due to local law violations dropped dramatically — down a massive 83 percent from 55,827 to 9,663. All is not as it seems here, however.
Perhaps more worrying is the fact that Evernote says that it is not possible to opt out of having employees possibly accessing your unencrypted notes. The only way to fully protect your privacy is to delete all your notes and close your Evernote account.