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New Android Adware Almost Impossible to Uninstall, Auto-Roots Devices

posted Sunday Nov 8, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

New Android Adware Almost Impossible to Uninstall, Auto-Roots Devices

It's well known that the Android platform is loaded with malware. In fact, it is the most vulnerable and infection-ridden mobile operating system. It gets even worse than that, however. This week, researchers have identified a new adware that has hit the Android marketplace. This new bug makes it practically impossible to uninstall the app, and also masks itself as a popular app like Facebook or Twitter in order to gain access to as much data as possible.

Over 20,000 samples of the malicious apps were uncovered and the apps actually just take code from official apps and repackage them with a similar name, and are distributed through third-party app stores. The creators of the adware hope that users will be confused by the similar name. The psuedo-official apps are often times complete replicas of the original, and even function as such. But behind the scenes, the app is gaining root access to the mobile device, allowing more trojans to be installed and uploading all of the device's data to a server. All of this happens without the user's knowledge in less than a minute.

Mobile security company Lookout posted a blog entry about the newly discovered malware.

For individuals, getting infected with Shedun, Shuanet, and ShiftyBug might mean a trip to the store to buy a new phone. Because these pieces of adware root the device and install themselves as system applications, they become nearly impossible to remove, usually forcing victims to replace their device in order to regain normalcy.

Lookout adds that the app may only look like it's displaying an ad or two, but assured that it grabs administration rights to a device and then proceeds to avoid being extracted or uninstalled once it's in. Currently, the company says that the highest amount of detections are coming from the US, but they have also picked up traces of the infection in Germany, Iran, Russia, India, Jamaica, Sudan, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia. Currently these apps aren't on the Google Play store directly, but that isn't too far off the horizon, considering that Google Play breaches happen about a dozen times a year, with malicious apps flooding the market within seconds.

While it's not surprising to hear of more trash apps filling the Android world, it is worth revisiting the idea that one should always be cautious of what app they're downloading. Additionally, it is imperative to check the developer or publisher of the app, to ensure its authenticity.

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MPAA Shuts Down Torrent Platforms, Including PopcornTime.io

posted Sunday Nov 8, 2015 by Scott Ertz

MPAA Shuts Down Torrent Platforms, Including PopcornTime.io

The end of this story was written the day the Motion Picture Association of America sued users of Popcorn Time - the MPAA has officially shut down several torrent-related sites, including the system that powers Popcorn Time. This was accomplished through court cases in Canada and New Zealand, and resulted in the shutdown of PopcornTime.io, which happened on October 9th, and YTS, which ended min-October.

Chris Dodd, MPAA Chairman said,

Popcorn Time and YTS are illegal platforms that exist for one clear reason: to distribute stolen copies of the latest motion pictures and television shows without compensating the people who worked so hard to make them.

The problem for the MPAA with a move like this is, while the website that serves the apps might have been shut down, it is easy enough to register another domain and update the software. In fact, that appears to be exactly what happened. The apps have been updated and continue to operate, and the website has a note reminding people to ensure they are using the latest version. This is likely because it is now interacting with a new torrent system instead of popcorntime.io.

If the MPAA is actually interested in preventing, or at least reducing piracy of its content, they might want to reconsider their tactics. This type of brute force approach has never worked. Copy protection on cable, VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray have always been easy to circumvent using cables available at almost any electronics retailer. In fact, many people never even knew that recording movies and television off of television was technologically prevented because of how easy circumvention has been.

Pulling down websites is the same kind of brute force approach. The web isn't the simple place that the MPAA thinks that it is. In fact, it is a very complicated place, where software is easy to move and software is easy to update. It is more like the Hydra of ancient Greece, where you cut off its head and 2 more grow back. It is likely that the newest version of the software has a collection of domains it checks looking for content, all with the same back-end software. So, all they have accomplished here is to make the beast stronger than before.

How might they successfully combat the problem? I'm not sure, but perhaps less expensive licensing agreements could be a start, allowing companies like Hulu and Netflix to keep their costs down, or increase their overall catalog size. What are your ideas? Let us know in the comments.

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Sprint Forced to Delay WiMAX Cutoff by Court

posted Saturday Nov 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Sprint Forced to Delay WiMAX Cutoff by Court

As the US carriers began implementing 4G technologies, Sprint was first to market, but took a different path from the rest of the pack. While Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all decided to go the GSM route with LTE, Sprint decided to stick with the technology that had served them well since the beginning, CDMA, opting for WiMAX technology. That choice ended up not sticking, and the company transitioned to LTE as well. Two years ago, though, Sprint purchased Clearwire (their WiMAX provider) in an attempt to keep their WiMAX network operational long enough to fulfill outstanding contracts.

In October of last year the company announced their intentions to shut down the WiMAX network on November 6, 2015. They gave everyone with a dog in the fight 13 months to make arrangements to transition off of the older technology onto LTE. The date was chosen because it put everyone with a WiMAX phone out of contract and eligible for a new device. It also gave larger network partners time to transition as well.

As it turns out, some organizations did not take the opportunity to prepare for the shutdown. In fact, a group of nonprofit organizations were caught so off-guard that they sued Sprint to prevent the shutdown. The group claimed that the technology shutdown violated their contract with Clearwire and they asked for an injunction to prevent the shutdown.

A Massachusetts Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction, preventing Sprint from ending service on their WiMAX network in certain areas used by the plaintiffs, Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen. The judge said the "plaintiffs have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits," leading to the injunction. It gives those involved an extra 90 days to try and solve the problem or further the lawsuit.

In this instance, they do seem to have a case. Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen have a 30 year contract with Clearwire for WiMAX coverage with unlimited data, but Sprint wants to enhance their LTE coverage using the current WiMAX spectrum and wants to throttle the speeds after 6GB. The groups said,

(It's a) near lethal blow to plaintiffs' non-profit users whether they be educational institutions, which educate children in traditional brick and mortar schools, or children who attend cyber schools because they do not have access to brick and mortar schools, or the senior or disabled person whose lifeline to medical care and other benefits is through the Internet.

Sprint responded saying,

We do hope that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen will take this time to work cooperatively with Sprint to resolve the contract dispute. Our goal is to ensure that our EBS partners and our subscribers can use Sprint's best 4G LTE advanced broadband services as soon as possible.

It's likely that this will be resolved quickly one way or another, as Sprint's near- and long-term network upgrades depend on recapturing this spectrum, and will likely not let this sit for long.

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Microsoft Cuts Storage Options, Free Storage on OneDrive

posted Wednesday Nov 4, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Cuts Storage Options, Free Storage on OneDrive

Almost exactly a year ago, Microsoft announced that they would be offering unlimited OneDrive storage to subscribers of Office 365. The feature rolled out fairly quickly to Office 365 Business customers, but it took a while to roll out to the consumer-level subscribers. As you would expect, offering unlimited storage to users resulted in some users storing A LOT of stuff in the cloud. The company said,

Since we started to roll out unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 consumer subscribers, a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average.

That's a lot of data, but that's why it's unlimited, right? Wrong, apparently. When Microsoft saw that some users were using so much storage of their advertised unlimited storage, the company panicked. In fact, they panicked A LOT.

We're no longer planning to offer unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscribers. Starting now, those subscriptions will include 1 TB of OneDrive storage.

100 GB and 200 GB paid plans are going away as an option for new users and will be replaced with a 50 GB plan for $1.99 per month in early 2016.

Free OneDrive storage will decrease from 15 GB to 5 GB for all users, current and new. The 15 GB camera roll storage bonus will also be discontinued. These changes will start rolling out in early 2016.

What this means is that a few bad apples ruined it for all of us. An average user who syncs their photos to OneDrive will lose 25GB of storage because of the unrelated actions of other people. The good news is that there are some options to help keep you afloat. If you are a free user who is currently using more than 5GB of storage, you can take advantage of a promotion to get a free year of Office 365 Personal, giving you a full year to figure out how to get under quota, or keep it past the year and continue to get 1TB of storage. You can also purchase an additional 50GB of storage for $1.99 per month.

For those who had their Office 365 Personal account mostly for the unlimited storage, you have the ability to cancel your subscription with a prorated refund. For the rest of us, though, 5GB is enough to store all of our pictures, and probably a ton of documents, as well.

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Activision Blizzard Purchases King for $5.9 Billion

posted Wednesday Nov 4, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Activision Blizzard Purchases King for $5.9 Billion

The world of casual games has changed a lot in the past few years. While not long ago companies like PopCap and Yahoo! Games ruled the marketplace, today the landscape is dominated by companies like Zynga and King. But, while Zynga has had trouble keeping on top, losing that position to King in 2013, the latter has continued to see successes. In fact, 2014 saw $1.4 billion in revenue from their Candy Crush franchise.

In 2009, Electronic Arts saw the writing on the wall and purchased Playfish for $300 million, and PopCap 2 years later for $750 million (base). 2 years later, though, EA shut down Playfish, upsetting many with the loss of games like SimCity Social. While many saw this as an attempt by EA to exit the casual space, it actually turned out that they were attempting to focus their efforts into the more popular and profitable PopCap.

In an attempt to compete with the more established EA in the social marketplace, Activision Blizzard announced this week that they have acquired King Digital for an astounding $5.9 billion. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said of the acquisition,

The combined revenues and profits solidify our position as the largest, most profitable standalone company in interactive entertainment. With a combined global network of more than half a billion monthly active users, our potential to reach audiences around the world on the device of their choosing enables us to deliver great games to even bigger audiences than ever before.

Riccardo, Sebastian, and Stephane are some of the best minds in the business, and we have long-admired King for consistently creating incredibly fun, deeply engaging free-to-play games that capture the imaginations of players across ages and demographics. Activision Blizzard will provide King with experience, support and investment to continue to build on their tremendous legacy and reach new potential. We share an unwavering commitment to attracting and developing the best talent in the business, and we are excited about what we will be able to accomplish together.

King CEO Riccardo Zacconi added,

We are excited to be entering into this Acquisition with Activision Blizzard. Since 2003, we have built one of the largest player networks on mobile and Facebook, with 474 million monthly active users in the third quarter 2015, and our talented team has created some of the most successful mobile game franchises. We believe that the Acquisition will position us very well for the next phase of our company's evolution and will bring clear benefits to our players and employees. We will combine our expertise in mobile and free-to-play with Activision Blizzard's world-class brands and proven track record of building and sustaining the most successful franchises, to bring the best games in the world to millions of players worldwide. We are very much looking forward to working with Activision Blizzard. We have two teams that, together, will have an amazing footprint, innovative technology, and leadership across platforms, and unique, established IPs to delight one of the largest networks of players in the world.

What will this newly combined company be able to accomplish? There is no real telling, but they are adding a group of incredibly talented developers, designers and game creators to the family. Perhaps it will breathe some creative life into the company - something that is desperately needed as they trudge down the road of annual iterations as opposed to creating new, exciting content.

What do you think? Is this massive purchase good for Activision and King? Let us know in the comments.

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A New Era for IBM Starts Today

posted Monday Oct 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

A New Era for IBM Starts Today

IBM is a company that everyone knows. Everyone has an impression of who the company is and what they represent, and that vision is based on when they were introduced to the company. If you were introduced to the company in the early 1900s, you know them as the company that manufactured time punch machines. If your introduction came in the mid 1900s, you likely think of them as the company that made other machines you used in your daily life, such as typewriters and tabulators. If you learned of the company in the late 1900s, you likely knew them mostly as the term "IBM compatible" when it came to computers. Microsoft hadn't quite made its own name, so instead of a Windows computer or PC, you had Apple, Tandy and IBM-compatible computers. That brand dilution led to the impression of the first 10+ years of the 2000s, that of the company that made antique looking computers, likely the ones you used in school.

If you were to learn about the company today, though, your association is probably with artificial intelligence and machine learning, likely because of Watson. What most people don't know, however, is that IBM has always had a massive interest in artificial intelligence of all sorts. In fact, the first practical usage of AI was demonstrated by Watson's namesake, CEO Thomas Watson Jr. in 1956. That demonstration was of an IBM machine playing checkers against a human player, and learning about the game the more it played. Obviously that technology eventually evolved into Deep Blue, which famously beat a chess master at the game repeatedly. While there were other chess-playing computers, the difference with Deep Blue was it learned lessons about opponents merely by playing.

Today, Deep Blue has evolved into Watson, which famously beat Jeopardy master Ken Jennings. This was done by adding Natural Language Processing to the system, allowing Watson to listen to Alex Trebek and understand the question being asked even though it is posed as a statement. From there, Watson was able to answer in the form of a question. That was about all Watson could do at the time, though, meaning it had no real world application. The point of the outing was to prove the technology, and that they did. Since then, Watson has grown up, learning through machine learning, and enhanced with new APIs.

Today, Watson is capable of analyzing just about any data with Watson Analytics, including powering all of the data for The Weather Company. In fact, because of Watson, TWC has changed their modeling from a 6 hour cycle in 2 million locations to a 15 minute cycle in 2.3 billion locations. This has created a scenario where they can provide hyper localized weather data and forecasts that are up-to-date on mobile. On their previous data model and processing system this would never have been possible. The data is so accurate and localized that both Android and iOS use it as their native data provider.

The problem that IBM has to overcome is the damages of their past. The consumer computer industry tainted the view of a whole generation against IBM. Unfortunately, that is the generation that is leading the charge for the insight economy, and they are currently choosing Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services over the offerings of IBM and Watson. This week's event, IBM Insight 2015, is trying to change that perception. Rather than using Watson as the spokesperson for the company, they are putting real people in front of the attendees who can speak on what choosing Watson has done for their business. In today's technology industry, there is nothing better than a heartfelt success story in selling a product or service.

The question is, can IBM use this event to jump-start a new era of perception for the company and its technology? If the general tone of this event is any indication of the culture change inside of IBM, I think they can pull it off.

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