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Nokia Launches New Handsets and Expanded Product Line

posted Friday Feb 28, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Nokia Launches New Handsets and Expanded Product Line

On the heels of the launch of the new Lumia Icon and ahead of its merger with Microsoft, Nokia showed off a collection of new handsets at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The phones covered a wide range of capabilities and markets, but entirely skipped Microsoft's platform.

Nokia Series

The low-end of Nokia's handsets line, intended for pre-emerging markets, got a leap of capabilities with the announcement of the Nokia 220. Designed to be the upgrade to last year's Nokia 105, which Nokia announced sales of 1 million per week, this new handset adds 2G Internet access and some built-in applications, such as Facebook. The 220 launched immediately at the reasonable price of 30 euros.

Nokia Asha

The Asha series, which was a transition from the Nokia N-series devices, is intended for emerging markets. With smartphone capabilities and incredibly low prices, the Asha handsets are a great place for new markets to get their hands on their first advanced devices. Certainly a fair upgrade from the standard Nokia Series.

This year brought us another entry in the family, the Asha 230. Priced at only 45 euros and featuring some of the great new features of the family, this dual-SIM quad-band GSM phone is a great basic phone. Speaking of new features, the Asha family will be introducing Microsoft OneDrive, MixRadio and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), available to all Asha devices.

Fortunately Nokia has dropped the iPod retail packaging design style they introduced just 4 months ago. This phone looks much more like a standard Nokia, available in a collection of bright colors with matching accessories. Nokia certainly hopes that it will sell.

Nokia X

This is the handset everyone knew was coming and no one expected. In fact, the Nokia X is not a new handset, but a new platform from the company. Based on the Android Open Source Project (different from Android proper), this series of devices actually boasts 3 handsets: Nokia X, Nokia X+ and Nokia XL.

The bridge device from the low-end Asha smartphones to the high-end Lumia smartphones takes much of its design inspiration from its big brother, Windows Phone, while incorporating many of the best features from Asha. Sporting a home screen with huge, customizable live tiles with easy to find notifications, as well as at-a-glance information, this is the most usable Android derivative yet.

Coming over from Asha is Fastlane, the quick-access notification area where a Facebook-style feed of information from your social networks, news apps, photo sites, etc. all roll into one place. You can also add quick-access app links to the Fastlane, but you won't need that with the live tiles on the home screen.

The Nokia X lock screen will look familiar to our webOS friends, as the notifications and even the default wallpaper are straight out of Palm/HP/LG's ill-fated mobile operating system. To top it all off, the family can run Android apps, though not installed from Google Play. Instead, Nokia will be curating its own app catalog, similar to the Kindle Fire. App creators can convert their app from Android to Nokia X quickly, though.

While well thought out design-wise, the hardware is not going to make anyone's head spin. As one news outlet showed, an app load can take longer than a Vine video - yikes. But, the important question is: will this be enough for a market who is entering a high-capability smartphone for the first time?

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Netflix Strikes Deal with Comcast to Connect Directly to ISP

posted Sunday Feb 23, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Netflix Strikes Deal with Comcast to Connect Directly to ISP

If you've been having problems streaming Netflix lately, you're not the only one. As we've covered in the past, ISPs are to be blamed for the slow speeds. So even if you want to watch House of Cards in Super HD on your ridiculously fast connection, it still might not be possible because of Internet providers throttling bandwidth and slowing speeds to Netflix. However, Comcast users can now rejoice as a deal has been struck to eliminate that nagging problem.

Comcast, ending up near the bottom of the recent Netflix stream speed test, has come to an agreement with the video-streaming service to make sure that the customer user experience between the two companies are top notch. Netflix will be paying Comcast directly to make sure more bandwidth is allocated towards Netflix streaming. Specific details have not been disclosed, but what we do know is that it's a long-term deal that pits Comcast customers directly with Netflix servers that will be housed in third-party, off-site data centers.

This change is a big one, because it eliminates the need for Netflix to have to rely on exchange services like Cogent, which essentially creates bottlenecks, causing the lag and buffering issues we're all likely familiar with. Also, this decision was already in place last week, as customers were reporting better speeds and connections, so it seems Comcast has confirmed the reason why with this announcement. However, the direct connection was only available in certain test markets and will now be rolled out nationwide over the next few weeks.

From what we hear from sources familiar with the deal, both CEOs have been discussing this since International CES 2013. Now that Comcast has struck a deal with Netflix, what else is in store for the company? It would appear that the telecom giant is on a path of goodwill lately, especially after the announced Time Warner acquisition. Comcast needs some positive news surrounding what could be a problem for consumers, so by having things like better video-streaming experiences and bringing back popular TV shows like Heroes, it might quell some of the naysayers. Only time will tell, but for now, Comcast users can enjoy less lag in SuperHD for their favorite Wings episodes. I love Wings.

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Fitbit Issues Voluntary Recall of All Force Wristbands Due to Skin Irritation

posted Sunday Feb 23, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Fitbit Issues Voluntary Recall of All Force Wristbands Due to Skin Irritation

For those who own a Fitbit device, you may no longer use the Force, the company's health-tracking and pedometer wristband. The company issued a statement this week, in which it recalled all of the inventory of the device, citing skin irritant problems.

Complaints have come in from so many customers that Fitbit was forced to stop selling the Force and has issued a voluntary recall for the wristband. Any customer owning one of the gadgets can return it for a full refund.

In the announcement, CEO James Park said,

Recently, some Force users have reported skin irritation. While only 1.7% of Force users have reported any type of skin irritation, we care about every one of our customers. On behalf of the entire Fitbit team, I want to apologize to anyone affected.

From the beginning, we have taken this matter very seriously. We hired independent labs and medical experts to conduct a thorough investigation...All Force materials are commonly used in consumer products. However, some users may be reacting to the nickel present in the surgical grade stainless steel used in the device. Other users are likely experiencing an allergic reaction to the materials used in the strap or the adhesives used to assemble the product.

So what happened? While independent test results did not notice any problems with electrical or battery systems, the tests do show users are probably experiencing allergic contact dermatitis. This means that something in the device is causing a huge irritation. For it to affect 1.7 percent of the Force users though is pretty outstanding.

As someone who has skin allergies, I can tell you that I am allergic to things that have nickel mixed in, so I can attest to the issue here. I'm only able to wear pure metals like silver or gold, and forget about watches; I'm only able to buy ones that have non-metals straps and have to put a special coating on the back of the face. It's why I've held off buying devices like this or even the mostly plastic and non-metal Nike Fuel Band. However, in my years of being around people, I've yet to run into another person who has the same level of severity of this as I do, which is why, to me, 1.7 percent is such a huge number to be affected by this.

Perhaps there's a certain mix of materials that are in the Fitbit devices and Park doesn't want to go into detail. Or maybe some anomaly got into the blend during production. Either way, I'm glad to see the company doing something about even the slightest skin irritation.

Those needing assistance can reach out to Fitbit's dedicated page on the matter to get their Force processed and refunded.

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Irrational Games to Shut its Doors, Fold Into 2K Games and Take-Two Interactive

posted Sunday Feb 23, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Irrational Games to Shut its Doors, Fold Into 2K Games and Take-Two Interactive

While the game industry is booming and expanding faster than ever, the space as a whole is slightly shifting to better suit an onslaught of new gamers from all walks of life. Irrational Games, creators behind such masterpieces like BioShock and BioShock Infinite, is laying off the majority of its developers and other staff and is bringing the remainder of the talent to a different studio.

Founder Ken Levine announced in a blog post that the rest of the crew that will stay on with Irrational will be folded into a smaller developer inside game publisher Take-Two Interactive. All of this is going down while Irrational Games, a company that's been around for 17 years, is currently working on releasing the additional two, final chapters for BioShock Infinite that was released back in 2013.

Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one. And working with the incredible team at Irrational Games is indeed the best job I've ever had. While I'm deeply proud of what we've accomplished together, my passion has turned to making a different kind of game than we've done before. To meet the challenge ahead, I need to refocus my energy on a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers. In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience.

I am winding down Irrational Games as you know it. I'll be starting a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two. That is going to mean parting ways with all but about fifteen members of the Irrational team. There's no great way to lay people off, and our first concern is to make sure that the people who are leaving have as much support as we can give them during this transition.

So it looks like Levine is wanting to get back to his roots of what the studio used to be, which could be a great thing for the team. He can focus on making the games, and let Take-Two fully handle publishing and distribution for him. This isn't a big shift for the studio, as 2K Games and Take-Two have been involved with the publishing process for Irrational Games for a while now. The BioShock series has brought in over $500 million in revenue for Take-Two. This means we should also see more BioShock in the future. Levine said he is handing over the reigns for the creation of the BioShock universe over to 2K Games.

For those being let go, Irrational Games will be offering financial support and job-placement assistance. Levine even said that there are some job openings within Take-Two for which he will personally help employees set up meetings.

So what's next for Levine & Co? A lot of it is still under wraps but here's what Irrational's founder had to say so far.

In time we will announce a new endeavor with a new goal: To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable. To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally.

...Initially, I thought the only way to build this venture was with a classical startup model, a risk I was prepared to take. But when I talked to Take-Two about the idea, they convinced me that there was no better place to pursue this new chapter than within their walls. After all, they're the ones who believed in and supported BioShock in the first place.

So, while one door is literally closing, another is opening for the acclaimed gaming studio. We'll have more information about upcoming projects as Ken feels inclined to give it. For now, we wait for the final chapter in the BioShock Infinite saga and hope that 2K Games will take pride in what the series is, and we won't see the series end up like Call of Duty or Guitar Hero.

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Neiman Marcus Suffers Data Breach of 350,000 Credit Card Numbers

posted Sunday Feb 23, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Neiman Marcus Suffers Data Breach of 350,000 Credit Card Numbers

Every week a company is in the news for some sort of data breach or security exploit, where customer information, sometimes including credit card numbers, are stolen in the process. This week leaves no exception as popular retailer Neiman Marcus' credit-card payment system was under attack for the better half of last year.

The hackers who accessed the database were able to get into the system more than 60,000 times over 8 months, digging through the files and installing software to steal credit card numbers. In a 157 page report on the matter, the analysis concludes that on some days, hundreds of alerts were set off while the hackers were in the system. Each day, their installed software that would steal the numbers was deleted, forcing the group to reinstall the package every night. While the crew was in the network for 8 months, card data was stolen from July to October.

The report also says that this attack does not appear to be affiliated with the Target breach that led to the theft of over 40 million credit card numbers.

The code style and the modus operandi look totally different. The attackers were using a specific code for a specific network, and the way they were writing their code doesn't seem to be related to the way that the attackers on the Target breach were.

How did the rogue software go undetected for so long? A spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus says that the hackers gave their software a name that looked almost identical to the retailer's existing payment system. When its security team scanned through alerts and logs, they simply passed over the issues in the sea of data that they looked at. Reports of activity identified the software as "suspicious behavior" over 59,000 times, but Neiman Marcus' security system did not automatically quarantine or remove the malicious program.

Ginger Reeder, the spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus, said,

These 60,000 entries, which occurred over a three-and-a-half month period, would have been on average around 1 percent or less of the daily entries on these endpoint protection logs, which have tens of thousands of entries every day.

It was estimated that 1.1 million cards were compromised in the attack, however after further investigation, Neiman Marcus is reporting that only 350,000 credit cards were taken from the clothier. 9,200 have been used since the breach.

In the past year we've had over a dozen infamous security and data breaches across retail, gaming and other spaces, so it definitely raises a cause for concern over your information and how it's being safely secured. What should retailers do differently to ensure this doesn't happen? What are you doing to protect yourself? We want to know in the comments below.

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Wurm Online Offers $13,000 Bounty for DDoS Conviction

posted Saturday Feb 22, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Wurm Online Offers $13,000 Bounty for DDoS Conviction

On Tuesday, MMORPG Wurm Online suffered an attack, causing their servers to fail completely. The attack, a distributed denial-of-service attack, kept the service offline through Wednesday as the company moved their servers to a new host. The move was planned, but the timeline was changed in light of the attack and their previous host ending their relationship. A representative posted,

Shortly after today's update we were the target of a DDoS attack and our hosting provider had to pull us off the grid for now. will be back as soon as possible but things are out of our hands since their other customers are affected. As we wrote in a previous news post we are planning on changing hosting anyways which should improve things for the future. We can offer 10,000 Euro for any tips or evidence leading to a conviction of the person responsible for this attack.

This bounty, which works out to just over $13,000, is a reaction to the incredible level of attacks lately. The amount of bandwidth that is being consumed during these attacks has gotten to a level that was impossible just a few years ago. CloudFlare, a company that helps defend against these attacks and, therefore is a good source of information on the topic, said they recently defended 400 gigabits per second. The attack was so powerful it was felt through parts of Europe.

Instead of merely defending against the attack, which they did not, Wurm Online is looking to dissuade future attacks by encouraging insiders or relatives to turn against the organizers in a way that leads to a conviction. If more DDoS victims responded in this way, perhaps we would see less of these high-profile attacks, either because of fear or a lack of leadership.

Do you think this plan has a chance of working? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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