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Wireless Performance Still Not So Great In Big Cities Of LA, NYC

March 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

The two biggest cities in the U.S. — New York City and Los Angeles –still fall below many smaller U.S. cities in overall wireless performance, according to millions of field tests performed by RootMetrics in the second half of 2016.

The New York metro area, with 18 million people, ranked just 66th in the latest round of tests of the nation’s largest 125 metro areas. Meanwhile, L.A., with 12.1 million people, ranked 49th. In testing done by RootMetrics in the first half of last year, New York finished 59th, L.A., 99th.

L.A. improved in two of six measurements: call and data performance. New York’s drop was largely driven by a “steep decline” in network speed and data performance, RootMetrics said.

The reasons for New York’s decline — and declines in other cities — depend on multiple factors. “These metro rankings are relative; the most common reason for a ranking drop is not that performance is declining in a particular city, rather than performance is improving faster in other cities,” said Annette Hamilton, director at RootMetrics.

RootMetrics evaluates the nation’s four largest carriers using actual phones the carriers sell in tests conducted outdoors and inside buildings. Sometimes a carrier will temporarily take down service in a cell tower while improvements are made; also, a recent increase in the number of users and the rich video content they download could burden a cell tower’s capacity and affect performance. As some cities improve in overall performance, they can displace other top-ranked cities.

“While mobile performance is generally strong across most areas of the country, our data shows that not all metro areas are created equal when it comes to network performance,” RootMetrics said in a report.

Besides New York, other large metro areas dropped in several categories from the first half of 2016. Boston, the 10th largest in population, fell from 17th to 97th, finishing in the bottom on network reliability and call performance. Miami, fourth in population, dropped from 84th to 89th, due to a decline in network reliability and call performance.

Both Atlanta and Chicago declined from their top five finishes in early 2016. Chicago finished 8th overall in the latest tests, and dropped to 65th in text performance. Atlanta dropped from third to 23rd, with declines in all six categories that RootMetrics measures: overall performance, network reliability, network speed, data performance, call performance and text performance.

Hamilton said while Atlanta placed 23rd, it had a “stellar reputation for speed and data performance” with Verizon showing the fastest median download speed of 37.7Mbps. Further, while Boston came in 97th, three of the four wireless carrier there clocked median download speeds above 20Mbps, which she described as “more than fast enough to easily complete typical mobile tasks.”

In 2017, she added, “We expect to see metro rankings shift again as carriers continue to deploy new capabilities to meet mobile demands.”

Houston, the seventh-largest metro area, improved — moving from 51st to 18th. RootMetrics reported that all four carriers showed “superb” rates of getting connected and staying connected to the network during data reliability testing and saw a big leap in call performance.

The top five metro areas by overall performance were Indianapolis; Richmond, Va. ; Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; and Minneapolis. The bottom five of the 125 measured were Hudson Valley, N.Y., in 121st place, descending to Springfield, Mass.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Worcester, Mass.; and Omaha.

AMD’s Vega Benchmarks Continue To Leak

March 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

An alleged SiSoft benchmark result leak that has been spotted recently has revealed a bit more information on what appears to be at least one version of the upcoming AMD Vega GPU.

According to the data provided by the benchmark result, which was originally spotted by Videocardz.com, the GPU features 64 CUs for a total of 4096 Stream Processors as well as comes with 8GB of VRAM on a 2048-bit memory interface (two HMB2 stacks, each with 4GB and 1024-bit memory interface).

Despite the obviously wrong 344MHz GPU clock, the results are quite impressive, outperforming the Geforce GTX 1080 in the same benchmark. Of course, these are just compute results and probably done on an alpha driver version so it is still too early to talk about the actual real world performance but at least it gives a general idea regarding the GPU.

Earlier rumors suggested that there will be at least two versions of the Vega GPU and it is still not clear if this is the slower or the faster one.

As confirmed by AMD earlier, its Radeon RX Vega graphics cards should be coming in the first half of this year, with the most likely launch at Computex 2017 show which opens its doors on May 30th.

Courtesy-Fud

Samsung Reveals More Details About Personal Digital Assistant ‘Bixby’

March 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung has revealed that Bixby, an intelligent voice assistant, will run on the Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone scheduled to be announced March 29 in New York.

Bixby will be activated using a special physical button on the side of the phone, differentiating it from some other assistants that rely on a trigger word, like “Alexa” or “Siri.” Samsung also said Bixby will eventually work on millions of Samsung-made devices, potentially including TVs and washing machines.

The S8 will come with a subset of preinstalled apps that are Bixby-enabled, according to Injong Rhee, executive vice president of software and services for Samsung Electronics. Over time, this set of apps will expand; Samsung will release a software toolkit to allow third-party developers to Bixby enable their apps and services.

“Bixby will be our first step on a journey to completely open up new ways of interacting with your phone,” Rhee said.

Gartner analyst Werner Goertz said Bixby is a late-comer to the digital assistant game, arriving two years after Amazon’s Alexa and behind Google Assistant, which already have rich databases of voice inquiries and searches to add context to queries.

Alexa is well known for working with Echo room units. However, just last week, Amazon announced that Alexa works in its Amazon app on iOS devices.

Bixby is going to be playing catch up,” Goertz said. “Samsung faces a complete greenfield with its knowledge base.”

Even Alexa is in its “very early stages” in terms of how well a user can get an answer to a complicated question. “Everybody has a good time trying to trick these digital assistants, but if you bring in Bixby it’s going to be even easier to trip up Bixby.”

The functions of converting speech to text with digital assistants “works relatively well unless you trip it up with accents and background noise,” he said. The more critical issue is the knowledge base needed to find accurate information.

Still, Samsung argued that Bixby will offer a “deeper experience.” The company said that the feature in a Bixby-enabled app will support almost every task the app is capable of performing, including touch commands. By comparison, most agents currently only support a few selected tasks, which can confuse users about what works by voice command in an app.

Samsung also said Bixby will know the current context and state of an app to allow users to carry out work in progress. Users will be able to weave touch with voice interactions, depending on what they like.

And Bixby will also be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information to the best of its knowledge, then ask for more information. “This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use,” Rhee added.

Even though Samsung is getting a late start with Bixby, Goertz said it stands to gain traction quickly, partly because Samsung is so large.

 

 

BlackBerry’s Secusmart To Roll Out Updated SecSuite Smartphone Product

March 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Secusmart, a BlackBerry subsidiary, plans to introduce a version of its SecuSuite security software that will be compatible with Samsung Electronics’ Knox platform later this year.

That means that organizations looking for smartphones offering government-grade security will be able to buy the Samsung Galaxy S7 or, soon, the S8 rather than the now-discontinued BlackBerry OS smartphones.

In addition to encrypting communications and data stored on the device, the new SecuSuite also secures voice calls using the SNS standard set by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Organizational app traffic is passed through an IPsec VPN, while data from personal apps can go straight to the internet. Encrypted voice calls go through a different gateway, not the VPN.

When it goes on sale, likely around July, an S7 running SecuSuite for Samsung Knox will cost around €1900, said BlackBerry Secusmart managing director Christoph Erdmann. That’s the same price as the existing BlackBerry 10 version, and includes the phone, a microSD smartcard to secure the encryption keys, and the first year of service.

Secusmart is demonstrating the new system on its stand at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany this week.

This is not Secusmart’s first collaboration with Samsung: Two years ago at Cebit, in conjunction with IBM, the companies unveiled an ultrasecure (and ultra-expensive) version of the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 tablet, called the Secutablet. It cost $2,300.

Users of SecuSuite for Samsung Knox will see the icons of applications managed by their employer tagged with a small padlock. When these applications are launched, they will ask for a PIN to authorize use of the encryption keys in the microSD card. Without these, neither the app nor its associated data can be accessed.

Other applications, including popular messaging platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, can be installed in accordance with the employer’s security policies: Some organizations, like the German government, will allow only limited whitelists, while others may allow full access to the Google Play Store.

The controls are imposed by the organization’s MDM (mobile device management) and MAM (mobile applications management) servers, typically BES 12 and EASE respectively.

Even if a user inadvertently downloads and installs one of the malicious apps that occasionally sneaks into the Google Play Store, data in the work-related apps is still securely protected, said Erdmann.

“Every good OS has to have a way to stop processes reading other processes’ memory,” he said, adding that the Android OS is one of the ones that does.

So far, only a couple of Android manufacturers offer devices with secure boot systems: Samsung, and TCL, the company that now manufactures BlackBerry-brand Android phones under license.

“There’s great potential” for running SecuSuite on non-Knox Android phones, Erdmann said, but it won’t happen right away.

Windows On ARM Ready To Debut

March 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

After months of rumors, Windows is finally fully functional on ARM based chips and the Wintel alliance is in tatters.

Microsoft officials told Bloomberg that the company is committed to use ARM chips in machines running its cloud services.

Microsoft will use the ARM chips in a cloud server design that its officials will detail at the US Open Compute Project Summit today. Microsoft has been working with both Qualcomm and Cavium on the version of Windows Server for ARM.

Microsoft joined the Open Compute Project (OCP) in 2014, and is a founding member of and contributor to the organisation’s Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) project.

The OCP publishes open hardware designs intended to be used to build cheaper datacentres. The OCP has released specs for motherboards, chipsets, cabling, and common sockets, connectors, and open networking and switches.

Vole’s cloud server specification is a a 12U shared server chassis capable of housing 24 1U servers. Microsoft is also releasing its Chassis Manager under the open-source Apache license.

Project Olympus is the codename for Vole’s next-generation cloud hardware design that it contributed last autumn Fall to the OCP.

Vole is also expected to use ARM processors in its Olympus systems which will be headed to its data systems by Christmas.

The winner appears to be Qualcomm which says it is working on a variety of cloud workloads to run on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform powered by Qualcomm Centriq 2400 server solutions.

Qualcomm said it had been working with Vole for several years on ARM-based server enablement and has onsite engineering at Microsoft to collaboratively optimise a version of Windows Server, for Microsoft’s internal use in its data centres, on Qualcomm Centriq 2400-based systems.

There’s no word from Microsoft when it will begin offering Windows Server on ARM to external customers or partners, but that is only a matter of time. With less power the need for Intel’s use in the server room becomes less important and if ARM designs become more established because of Microsoft’s blessing, it is unlikely that anyone will want Intelthere.

Courtesy-Fud

New FCC Chairman Pledges Faster Response On New Technologies

March 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

U.S. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has pledged his agency will implement quicker response times regarding new technology proposals, a move that might influence the direction of 5G development around the world.

Pai was appointed by President Donald Trump in January. In his first major policy address on Wednesday, Pai directed Federal Communications Commission staff to follow a little-known section of U.S. communications law that says the agency should decide within a year whether a new technology or service is in the public interest.

“Going forward, if a petition or application is filed with the FCC proposing a new technology or service, we’ll supply an answer within a year,” Pai said in his speech at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

With carriers and equipment vendors racing to test and deploy new 5G mobile technologies over the next few years, regulators are under pressure to act quickly. Europe, China, the U.S., Japan and South Korea each want to lead the next generation of mobile, and the regulators in these leading countries often follow each others’ leads, said analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics. A commitment to quick decisions can only help the U.S. in that race, he said.

The FCC has already opened nearly 11GHz of spectrum in high-frequency millimeter-wave bands for use in 5G mobile services, and has signed off on a number of 5G trials, Pai said. He thinks faster FCC decision-making could help to make even higher frequencies above 95GHz available for new uses. He favors opening up those bands to experimentation by letting companies try out new ideas.

Spectrum above 95GHz may be useful for high-speed backhaul connections in places where it’s expensive to lay fiber, or as an emergency backup in case fiber gets cut by natural disasters like earthquakes, said Michael Marcus, an independent spectrum technology and policy consultant and former FCC official. Some companies that want to use it have waited years for the FCC to review their applications, he said. Marcus hopes that Pai’s pledge is the start of a major shift at the agency. But the impact remains to be seen.

“It’s too early to say it’s a sea change,” analyst Entner said. “Like everything in Washington, there are intentions and then there is the reality of what actually happens.”

In the speech, Pai also called for efforts to bring broadband to underserved communities, through both federal programs like the Universal Service Fund and streamlined regulation of private carriers. He tied that goal, one he’s frequently promoted since joining the agency he now leads in 2012, to Trump’s call for investment in national infrastructure like roads and bridges.

“If Congress moves forward with a major infrastructure package, broadband should be included,” Pai said.

New York City Sues Verizon Over Unfinished FiOS Rollout

March 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Nine years after inking a deal with Verizon to bring fiber-optic internet and television service to the city’s 3.1 million households — and nearly three years after the 2014 deadline to finish the job — New York City officials have become less patient. The city filed a lawsuit Monday that alleges breach of contract.

“Verizon must face the consequences for breaking the trust of 8.5 million New Yorkers,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “Verizon promised that every household in the city would have access to its fiber-optic Fios service by 2014. It’s 2017 and we’re done waiting. No corporation — no matter how large or powerful — can break a promise to New Yorkers and get away with it.”

Verizon’s response reiterates that it is well within the terms of the contract:

“In negotiating the agreement, both parties understood and agreed that Verizon would generally place its fiber-optic network along the same routes as had been used for its copper network, and would use similar strategies for accessing individual buildings,” Verizon General Counsel Craig Silliman wrote to Anne Roest, commissioner of NYC’s Department of IT and Telecommunications (DoITT), in a letter seen by Ars Technica. Verizon confirmed the letter’s authenticity to CNET.

According to Verizon’s letter, the agreement with the city omits traditional language specifying that a household is “passed” only when fiber-optic cables are installed in front of a house or apartment. Absent that language, Verizon apparently believes it has more wiggle room for its Fios rollout than the city acknowledges.

Fios, which offers television, high-speed internet and telephone services, has been Verizon’s effort to expand beyond traditional phone service and take on cable and satellite companies.

Both NYC’s lawsuit and Verizon’s defense grind down into the fine logistical details of a citywide fiber-optic installation, a massive undertaking by any stretch.

On Verizon’s end, a company spokesperson pointed out that the telecom provider has already invested $3.7 billion into the Fios roll-out, and plans on investing an additional $1 billion to help complete the job. “At a time when communities across the country are seeking and encouraging broadband investments like these, the City is inexplicably turning its back on this investment and its residents by pursuing foolish litigation that will harm jobs, business growth and technology competition throughout all five boroughs,” the spokesperson tells CNET, adding:

“The De Blasio administration is disingenuously attempting to rewrite the terms of an agreement made with its predecessor and is acting in its own political self-interests that are completely at odds with what’s best for New Yorkers. We plan to vigorously fight the city’s allegations.”

Google Launches ‘Always Free’ Cloud Services

March 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google is offering its customers a taste of its cloud for free, without a time-limited trial. The company quietly launched a new “Always Free” tier last week that grants users  small amounts of its public cloud services without charge, beyond the company’s limited-time trial.

The tier includes — among other things — 1 f1-micro compute instance, 5GB per month of Regional Storage and 60 minutes per month of access to the Cloud Speech API. Using the free tier requires users to provide a credit card that Google can automatically bill for any use over the limits.

In addition, the cloud provider expanded its free trial so that users get $300 in credits that they can use for up to 12 months. Google will halt users’ workloads if they eat up all of the credits before the end of 12 months.

The free offerings are meant to help attract users to Google Cloud Platform at a time when the company is competing against Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and other public cloud providers for developers’ time and attention.

Google’s Always Free tier is somewhat similar to what AWS offers its customers. For example, both platforms allow users to run workloads using their respective event-driven compute services, AWS Lambda and Google Functions.

One thing that sets Google apart is its willingness to hand out a free virtual machine.

Google previously offered a 60-day free trial with $300 in credits. An extended trial was one of the cloud provider’s most-requested features, since the short time limit often wasn’t enough for a full proof-of-concept test.

The Always Free benefits are available from Google’s us-west-1, us-central-1 and us-east-1 regions. It’s unclear if the company plans to offer them in other countries.

Google Drive Gets Update, Allows Users To Stream From The Cloud

March 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Drive users will be able to view all the files they have stored in the company’s cloud service on their desktop without downloading them, thanks to a new feature the company has announced.

The Drive File Stream offering will — as the name implies — show placeholder files on a user’s desktop, then download them only when a user needs to look at them. It’s similar to Dropbox’s Smart Sync feature, which recently entered beta.

Google also made a pair of its key enterprise-focused Drive features generally available last Thursday. Team Drives is a feature that lets administrators create shared folders for groups inside their organizations. Vault for Drive lets companies manage data retention and legal hold policies for content stored in the service.

To help enterprises move to Drive, Google acquired AppBridge , a partner that has helped enterprises migrate to the service. The company offers migration services from sources like SharePoint, Exchange and on-premises file storage.

These moves are aimed at making Google Drive more appealing to customers who might consider another competing enterprise file sync and share service like Dropbox or Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business.

Team Drives are important for enterprises, since they give administrators the ability to create shared storage spaces for groups without having one particular user own that space or the files shared within it. That way, if someone on the team leaves, all of their contributions stay with the other people who need them.

The news is part of the company’s suite of project announcements at its Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco. Google also announced major changes to its Hangouts services and cloud price cuts.

Is AMD Rebranding The Radeon Series Next Month?

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

According to the newest report, AMD’s upcoming RX 500 series will be completely made of RX 400 series rebrands, based on Polaris 10 and Polaris 11, as well as possible new Polaris 12 GPU, while Radeon RX Vega won’t launch before late May.

According to a report written by Martin Fischer from Heise.de, which is pretty much what we have been hearing and able to confirm with our sources, AMD is planing to launch its Radeon RX 500 series in early April. While this would usually sound interesting, the entire lineup will be compromised from RX 400 series rebrands, but with slightly higher GPU clocks.

According to the report, Polaris 10-based RX 580 and RX 570, should be launching on April 4th, while Radeon RX 560 and RX 550, based on Polaris 11, should launch on April 11. According to a similar report from Videocardz.com, the Radeon RX 550 could be based on a new Polaris 12 chip, while the rebranded Radeon RX 560 could get the fully-enabled Polaris 11 GPU with 1024 Stream Processors, similar to RX 460 seen in China.

The big question is the newly named Radeon RX Vega, which, according to AMD, should be available in the first half of this year, so the most likely launch is at the Computex 2017 show which starts on May 30th. It appears that the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti will have to wait to get its competitor as simple rebrands just won’t be enough.

Courtesy-Fud

Microsoft To Introduce ‘Teams’ Slack Competitor On March 14th

March 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft’s debut into the workplace chat app market will become  available in about a week. The company announced  on Tuesday it will mark the occasion with a webcast to discuss what’s new since the service was announced last year.

The Teams product is Microsoft’s answer to group chat apps like Slack and HipChat. The service provides Office 365 customers with shared workspaces they can use to discuss work with one another. It connects with Office 365 to let users collaborate on notes, documents, spreadsheets and more while discussing work in the same place.

Teams’ marquee features at the time of launch were its support for threaded conversations and rich third-party integrations that let companies bring the functionality of their services into Microsoft’s chat app. Teams has been in public beta since early November, but general availability is expected to bring new functionality to the service.

A Spiceworks survey released earlier this year showed that Teams drew the most interest from IT pros looking to deploy a group chat app in the future. One of the key advantages Microsoft has over its competition is that Teams will be included in Office 365, meaning that customers won’t have to pay an extra fee for group chat.

What remains to be seen is how Teams will fare in the market after launch. It’s missing features compared to Slack and other competitors, but it’s in the early days for Microsoft’s group chat app.

Mozilla’s Firefox Rolls Out Version 52, Bans Nearly All Plug-ins

March 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Mozilla has officially updated Firefox to version 52, which warns users when they put passwords into non-encrypted websites, bars all plug-ins other than Adobe’s Flash Player and adds support for an under-consideration technology standard that claims to run web apps at nearly the same speed as native code.

Firefox 52 also patched 28 security vulnerabilities, a half dozen of them tagged with the “Critical” label. On another security front, the browser now pops up a warning message when users start to type in a password into a page not secured — and encrypted — with HTTPS.

The just-instituted plug-in prohibition applied to NPAPI plug-ins, (Netscape Plug-in Application Programming Interface) a format from the 1990s and Netscape, the browser Microsoft buried in its antitrust-triggering battle over the browser market. NPAPI has now been banned from most browsers; Apple’s Safari is the largest exception.

But Mozilla trumpeted Firefox 52’s support for WebAssembly the loudest.

In a pair of posts — one to a company blog, another to Medium.com, Mozilla executives touted Firefox as the first to support WebAssembly; that wasn’t much of a surprise, since the potential standard stemmed from a Mozilla research project.

“WebAssembly is one of the biggest advances to the Web Platform over the past decade,” contended David Bryant, who leads the company’s platform engineering team.

According to Bryant, WebAssembly will let developers create CPU-intensive apps — such as games, 3D renderers, video editors — that run in near-native speed without relying on plug-ins. Bryant envisioned WebAssembly (which also goes by “wasm”) as leading to both revamped current web apps and new categories that have been stymied by performance issues.

Bryant also called WebAssembly a “game changer.”

Apple (WebKit, the foundation of Safari), Google (Chrome) and Microsoft (Edge) have also signed on to WebAssembly. Google has said it will enable WebAssembly support in Chrome 57, currently slated to ship March 14.

Firefox 52 can be downloaded for Windows, macOS and Linux from Mozilla’s website. Current Firefox users may trigger an update by selecting ‘About Firefox” from the Firefox menu.

Spotify Crosses 50 Million Paid Subscribers Milestone

March 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Spotify announced, via Twitter, that it now has 50 million paid subscribers, a rise of 25 percent in less than six months, and extending the music streaming service’s lead over its closest rival, Apple Music.

Launched in 2008, Spotify had 40 million paid subscribers in September and the company tweeted the 50 million figure on Thursday, the same day messaging app company Snap Inc pulled off its massive share sale that bodes well for other technology companies considering a flotation.

Apple, which launched its music service less than two years ago, had about 20 million subscribers in December and its entry looks to have done little to slow the rapid growth of its older Swedish-based rival.

Spotify, which has yet to show a profit as it spends to grow internationally, is now looking at a possible stock market listing in the United States, online news portal TechCrunch said last month.

A company spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday on when it might seek a listing.

But a partner at a leading investor in Spotify, venture capital firm Northzone, said late last year the company could start to become profitable as early as 2017 after years of focusing squarely on “growth, growth, growth”.

Spotify is the most highly valued venture backed start-up in Europe and according to media reports is considering a listing on Nasdaq and potentially a dual listing on the Nasdaq exchange in Stockholm, where the company is headquartered.

It was last valued at $8.53 billion, according to venture capital market research firm CB Insights. That valuation alone would make a flotation Europe’s biggest technology start-up listing since the market launch of German e-commerce investor Rocket Internet in 2014.

While still loss-making, Spotify has posted rapid subscriber growth since it was created a decade ago by Swedish founders Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon.

Following its announcement  that it had reached 50 million paid subscribers, Ek made a point of retweeting a comment from Wall Street media analyst Rick Greenfield which pointed to how Spotify was adding subscribers at an increasingly rapid rate.

The Stockholm-based company also announced a major expansion in New York last month.

One of Europe’s most highly valued venture-backed start-ups, Spotify will move its New York office to the World Trade Center from the Midtown area of Manhattan, adding more than 1,000 new jobs.

Google Play Removes 132 Android Apps Containing Malware

March 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

More than 130 Android apps on the Google Play store have been found to contain malicious coding, possibly linked to infected PCs the developers were using, according to security researchers.

The 132 apps were found generating hidden iframes, or an HTML document embedded inside a webpage, linking to two domains that have hosted malware, according to security firm Palo Alto Networks.

Google has already removed the apps from its Play store. But what’s interesting is the developers behind the apps probably aren’t to blame for including the malicious code, Palo Alto Networks said in a Wednesday blog post.

Instead, the platforms the developers used to build these apps were probably infected with malware that looks for HTML pages and then injects the malicious coding, the company said.

Many of these tainted apps offered design ideas for things like cheesecakes, landscaping a garden, or laying out a patio. The most popular had more than 10,000 downloads.

When installed, the apps would display seemingly benign webpages. However, in reality, the pages shown contain a tiny hidden iframe that links to two suspicious domains.

Both domains were previously involved in hosting Windows malware. But in 2013, a Polish security team took over the domains, and they’ve effectively been shut down, Palo Alto Networks said. Nevertheless, Google still flags them as dangerous to visit.

Why the apps were linking to two malicious, but defunct domains still isn’t clear. However, Palo Alto Networks also came across one peculiar app sample that didn’t contain the problematic iframes, but instead a Microsoft Visual Basic script used for Windows.

It’s an odd thing to include, given that the script won’t harm any Android users. But it’s possible the developers behind these apps had their Windows machines infected with malware.

Some malware, such as the Window-based Ramnit, have been known to search for files on a computer and inject them with malicious coding, Palo Alto Networks said. “After infecting a Windows host, these viruses search the hard drive for HTML files and append iFrames to each document,” the company said.

“If a developer was infected with one of these viruses, their app’s HTML files could be infected,” Palo Alto Networks added.

In another scenario, it’s possible the app makers downloaded developer tools that were already tainted with the malicious coding.

Because these 132 apps linked to two now defunct malicious domains, they actually don’t pose much of a threat. It may be that whoever tampered with these apps did so accidentally.

“File infecting viruses can bounce around for years, even after these domains are taken offline,” Ryan Olson, intelligence director at Palo Alto Networks, said in an email.

“They also typically infect executable files and copy themselves to USB and shared drives,” he added. “The malware that wrote the iframe to these files was probably released before the domains were sinkholed.”

Still, the bigger worry is that someone else might try to replicate the attack to cause actual danger, like secretly infecting developer apps to steal users’ information or drop other strains of malware.

“It’s easy to envision a more focused and successful attack,” Palo Alto Networks said in its blog post.

The developers of the 132 apps come from seven different parties, but appear to all have ties with Indonesia, the security firm said.

Oculus Slashes Price Of Virtual Reality Rift Hardware

March 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook Inc’s virtual reality unit Oculus slashed $200 from the total price of its flagship hardware set, looking to expand the system’s base of video game players.

The virtual reality headset Rift and the motion controllers Touch will together retail for $598, Jason Rubin, Oculus’ vice president of content, said in a statement.

Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus in 2014, believing it to be the next major computing platform. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that Oculus would spend $500 million to fund virtual reality content development.

Oculus and other virtual reality makers are struggling to make their products competitive with other gaming systems that sell for much less.

Oculus believes the lower entry price will attract consumers to virtual reality for personal computers at a faster pace, Rubin said. “This price drop was as inevitable as it is beneficial. This is how the technology business works,” he said.

A larger user base would lead to easier player matching, better communities and the ability to invest more in gaming titles, he said, calling those results “a virtuous cycle.”

Rift used to retail for $599 on its own, while Touch sold for $199.

Rival virtual reality company Vive, a unit of HTC Corp, said it would not match Oculus on price and would not change its “strategy of delivering the best and most comprehensive VR product.” Its system is listed at $799 on its website.

“We don’t feel the need to cut the price of Vive, as we’ve had incredible success, and continue to see great momentum in market,” Vive spokesman Patrick Seybold said in a statement.

Sony Corp joined the race for virtual reality dominance in October with a $399 headset, the PlayStation VR, which was the company’s first major product launch since it emerged from years of restructuring.

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