December 8, 2017 brianradio2016

Many malware researchers were surprised to find an unexpected patch on their machines yesterday. It didn’t arrive through the front door — Windows Update wasn’t involved. Instead, the new version of mpengine.dll arrived automatically, around the back, even if you have Windows Update turned off.

This vulnerability is particularly nasty. If the Malware Protection Engine scans a jimmied file, the file can take over your computer and run whatever it wants. Since the MPE routinely runs all the time, in the background, that means a bad file could infect your computer in myriad ways. To quote Microsoft’s Security Vulnerability notice:

There are many ways that an attacker could place a specially crafted file in a location that is scanned by the Microsoft Malware Protection Engine. For example, an attacker could use a website to deliver a specially crafted file to the victim’s system that is scanned when the website is viewed by the user. An attacker could also deliver a specially crafted file via an email message or in an Instant Messenger message that is scanned when the file is opened. In addition, an attacker could take advantage of websites that accept or host user-provided content, to upload a specially crafted file to a shared location that is scanned by the Malware Protection Engine running on the hosting server.

… and that, my friend, is one whopper of a security hole. It’s easily on a par with the bug in the Malware Protection Engine’s JavaScript engine that I talked about on May 9.

The list of affected systems reads like a who’s who of the Windows world: All versions of Win10, 8.1 and 7, Win RT 8.1, Server 2016, Forefront Endpoint Protection, Exchange Server, Server 2008 R2 with Desktop Experience. Those are only the supported versions of Windows. WinXP appears to be vulnerable as well, although there’s no fix being distributed.

December 8, 2017 brianradio2016

The Apple iPhone X starts at $1,000, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 at $950, and the Google Pixel 2 XL at $849. These manufacturers and wireless carriers tend to offer monthly payment plans to help people accept these high prices, but no matter how you slice it the price of flagships is still huge.

Thankfully, there are some outstanding low cost alternatives and these alternatives have significantly improved over the past few years. Various manufacturers, including many from China and Korea, have compelling products and these products are finding their way into the mainstream market. Amazon has its Prime Exclusive Phone program that even offers lower prices through lockscreen offers and ads, which is a fair trade-off to save some cash.

‘My First Phone’: CNET editors look back at their first phones

Most of these low cost phones are GSM phones that work on T-Mobile, AT&T, MetroPCS, and other low cost carriers. Some can be found at Sprint and Verizon stores, but there is less availability and price competition when it comes to the CDMA networks.

It’s tough to justify a $1,000 iPhone X as your first phone, but any of these ten phones may be great to get started, to get work done without forking over serious cash, or to have a second phone in case of an emergency.

We just received word this morning that Amazon is offering even more discounts on selected phones that are part of its Prime Exclusive Phones program, including:

  • Starting today until December 24, Nokia 6 is an additional $30 off–just $149.99
  • Starting 12:01 a.m. on December 10 until December 23, Moto G5 PLUS 64GB is an additional $40 off–only $199.99
  • Starting 12:01 a.m. on December 10 until December 23, Moto X4 is an additional $50 off–just $279.99, the lowest price offered yet (including Black Friday and Cyber Monday)
  • Starting at 12:01 a.m. on December 10 until December 23, LG X Charge is an additional $30 off–only $119.99
  • Starting 12:01 a.m. on December 10 until December 23, LG Q6 is an additional $50 off–only $179.99

These ten are in order from lowest to highest price, with Amazon ad-supported prices listed, as applicable.

1. ZTE Blade V8 Pro ($140)

cnet-zte-blade-v8-pro.jpg Image: CNET

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro has a full retail price of $199.98, but it is currently priced at just $139.99 on Amazon. This large 5.5 inch Android phone with Gorilla Glass 3 offers dual rear 13 megapixel cameras, front fingerprint scanner, microSD expansion card support, and a rather large 3,140 mAh battery with Quick Charge 2.0 support.

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It’s quite a powerful mid-range phone at one of the lowest prices you will find on any smartphone today.

CNET reviewed the device and gave it a respectable 7.4/10 rating. It was knocked for being heavy and having slightly buggy performance, which leads me to recommend looking at paying a bit more for another phone in our low cost list.

2. LG X Charge ($150)

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Image: LG

LG is known for making high end camera phones, especially the G and V series devices. The LG X Charge is the lowest priced LG device in the Amazon Prime Exclusive lineup at $149.99. The word Charge is in the device, but it means you will rarely have to charge it up with its massive 4,500 mAh battery that is unheard of in the smartphone world.

Unlike most of these low priced phones, the LG X Charge also works on the Sprint network, in addition to AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM networks.

The LG X Charge is powered by a MediaTek 1.5 Ghz octa-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB internal storage, and a microSD card. It has a rear 13 megapixel camera and 5 megapixel front-facing camera.

3. Nokia 6 ($180)

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Nokia 6

HMD Global

Nokia is back with a full Android lineup and earlier this summer I took a look at the Nokia 6. It’s a solid device powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor, 3GB RAM, and 32GB internal storage. The 5.5 inch display looks great and is composed of Gorilla Glass 3.

The Nokia 6 is also available as an Amazon Prime Exclusive phone for $179.99 and can be purchased in black or blue.

CNET awarded the Nokia 6 a 6.7/10 rating with the lower level processor taking away some points for performance.

4. Moto G5 Plus ($185)

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Back in March, I stated that the Moto G5 Plus was the best sub-$300 smartphone available at the time. The Amazon Exclusive price now has this phone even lower, down at $184.99.

There is very little compromise on this device with snappy performance from the Snapdragon 625 processor and a very stock Android experience. It has splash resistant nano coating and a large 3,000 mAh battery. The 5.2 inch display device fits well in your pocket and even works on Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and others.

CNET awarded the Moto G5 Plus an 8.3/10 rating, making it the highest rated lowest priced phone available today.

5. Honor 7X ($199.99)

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Image: Honor

The Honor 7X was just announced last week and I offered up some first impressions. If you are looking to spend $200 or less, I highly recommend this phone as a first choice and know a few friends who already ordered one based on my recommendation.

It’s rather stunning that the Honor 7X is only priced at $199.99 as it looks and feels like a device priced at least twice this cost. It’s all metal body has an excellent fit and finish with minimal bezels, dual rear cameras, a fast Kirin 659 processor, and more.

You can purchase the Honor 7X in black or blue and it will be available starting next week. Like most of these low cost devices, storage can be inexpensively expanded via a microSD card too.

6. LG Q6 ($230)

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The LG Q6 appears to be a flagship LG G6 in mini form factor with many similar design features, including a fantastic FullVision 18:9 aspect ratio display.

The LG Q6 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a microSD card slot (notice the pattern here below $300?).

Like the LG G6, the LG Q6 is built to pass the MIL-STD 810G drop tests so it has more durability than others. There is a 13 megapixel rear camera and 5 megapixel front camera on the Q6.

7. Alcatel Idol 5S ($280)

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The Prime Exclusive version of the looks to be unavailable, but for $279.99 you can still buy one without offers and ads. I tested the Alcatel Idol 5S in July and loved it. Alcatel has been making some high quality phones for the last couple of years and has a familiar looks and feel to all of its phones.

The Alcatel Idol 5S is powered by a Snapdragon 625 processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It has a glass back and front with loud stereo speakers.

8. Apple iPhone SE (32GB) ($280)

iPhone SE

iPhone SE

While the iPhone SE got a storage bump in March 2017, the underlying hardware remains the same as the original hardware released in March 2016.

You probably didn’t expect to ever see an Apple iPhone in this sub-$330 list, but the 32GB Apple iPhone SE is available now on Amazon for $278.28.

Many people keep buying this iPhone because its the last of the small devices with a 4 inch display, but it still has all of the great iOS functionality. Other specs include a rear 12 megapixel camera, a front 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera, a fingerprint scanner integrated into the front home button, and 32GB of internal storage.

The Apple iPhone SE is powered by the Apple A9 chip and M9 motion coprocessor for a fast experiences with a standard 3.5mm headset jack still present on the phone.

9. Moto G5S Plus ($300)

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The Moto G5S Plus.

Motorola

Moto recently released a successor to the Moto G5 Plus in the Moto G5S Plus. This upgrade offers a dual rear camera setup, a larger 5.5 inch display, more RAM, and an improved front-facing camera for a $299.99 price.

NFC is nearly always something left out of these lower priced devices and that is the case here as well. microUSB is also used as the charging standard, instead of the new USB Type-C port.

Thankfully, Moto offers a very stock Android experience with some Moto enhancements that make the device very responsive and efficient in daily use. This phone also supports Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and prepaid partners so you can use it without carrier bloatware.

10. Moto X4 ($330)

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The Moto X line started off the modern Moto Androids a couple years ago and the Moto X4 may be the best in this list of ten affordable phones. It offers an excellent glass sandwich design with a solid dual rear camera experience, IP68 dust and water resistance, and hands-free Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support.

The Moto X4 also supports Project Fi so if you are looking for a way to have an affordable carrier, you have this option available on the X4. You can also use it with other GSM carriers, of course.

The Moto X4 uses the new USB Type-C port for charging and still retains a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. It has a front fingerprint scanner and that button can also be enabled for single button navigation in the settings. This is also one of the lower priced phones that has NFC so you can use it for Android Pay. You can have a lot of fun with the dual rear cameras too.

December 8, 2017 brianradio2016

The expression “safe as houses” will become a thing of the past if tech firms don’t get connected home security right, and the need to be incredibly watchful was visible in Apple’s latest security blunder this week.

Not so ideal home

The latest iOS 11.2 update held a zero-day vulnerability attackers could exploit to control smart home devices, including connected locks, 9to5Mac explains. While the vulnerability was difficult to exploit, and Apple has acted very swiftly to close this security gap, its existence exposes the risk of smart homes.

Apple’s swift response is two-fold:

  • It has made a change to its HomeKit servers to temporarily prevent the problem, though this has disabled remote access to shared users.
  • It will ship an update next week that restores such access and closes the door (sic) on the vulnerability.

To address a problem like this fast is exactly what must be demanded from any smart home solution manufacturer – nothing less is acceptable. Smart locks must really be locks, and not subject to being undone by opportunistic hackers with time on their hands.

December 8, 2017 brianradio2016

I’m a believer in the concept of the Always Connected PC largely because it fits very well into the way I work. I prefer a desktop system when I’m at home and even build my own systems. But when I’m on the road, I mostly write, browse the web and consume content. The reduction in performance for this platform doesn’t bother me as a result because I need the thing to be light, have long battery life and be something I can be proud of.

This Always Connected PC is a huge joint initiative by both Qualcomm and Microsoft (disclosure, both are clients of the author), but often efforts like this are defined by what they don’t do well as opposed to what they do well. The real promise of the Always Connected PC is its ability to be a true 2-in-1 and not what we have had in this class up till now – good laptops that suck as a tablet. This is potentially the first product that could be a good laptop and a good tablet but, to get there, it needs a couple of things. 

Better Edge or Chrome support

These products will ship with Windows 10 S, with an upgrade option to Windows 10 Pro. Now, Windows 10 S potentially provides a much more Apple-like, locked-down experience. The last machine I got with Windows 10 S, however, didn’t last a day because the Edge browser wouldn’t work well with several of the media sites I frequent. Additionally, a recent problem with Edge is that it isn’t working with printers for some reason, forcing many of us to use Chrome as our default instead to print things like boarding passes or pictures off the web.

I know Chrome support is one of the top reasons that Windows S isn’t more popular. So, they either must find a way to improve Edge (there is some irony here because IE was once the gold standard with browsers) or provide Chrome support. Not having either will offset much of the advantage of Windows S being unusually virus-resistant and stable, because folks will be forced to move to Windows 10 Pro which likely won’t perform nearly as well on this class of device.

December 8, 2017 brianradio2016

More than a year after Microsoft changed its decades-long security updating practices, enterprises running Windows 7 continue to struggle with the new system, patch experts said today.

“I still see people asking for individual updates, even on the [Windows] 10 operating system,” said Susan Bradley in an email reply to questions. Bradley is known in Windows circles for her expertise on Microsoft’s patching processes: She writes on the topic for the Windows Secrets newsletter and moderates the PatchMangement.org mailing list, where IT administrators discuss update tradecraft.

Bradley was referring to Microsoft’s debut last year of radically-different cumulative updates for Windows 7 and 8.1, a change to the long-established practice of letting customers choose which patches they applied. From October 2016 on, updates for the two older Windows versions were comprehensive wholes, not collections of separate patches that could be selectively applied.

The model, which Microsoft first used with Windows 10, requires that updates not only be cumulative in the sense that they include everything from all past updates, but in that they cannot be broken into parts, as had been the case prior.

December 8, 2017 brianradio2016

Unikernels promise fast boots, tiny memory footprints, and high performance, but they must be developed from scratch for each application. NEC is working to remove this barrier to unikernel adoption with a configurable unikernel code base called Unikraft.

Developed under the auspices of the Linux Foundation’s Xen Project, Unikraft will address unikernel development issues by providing libraries of operating system components that users can pick and choose from, using a menu to build a working image. Among the goals is to support multiple target platforms including Xen, KVM, and bare metal without having to do additional work to accommodate them.

Unikraft will provide two basic components:

  • Library pools for creating unikernels. These include libraries specific to computer architectures such as x86_64 and Arm32, libraries that target platforms such as Xen and KVM, and a library of operating system elements such as device drivers, file systems, network stacks, and runtimes.
  • A build tool for compiling the application and selected libraries to build a binary for a specific platform and hardware architecture.

NEC describes a unikernel as a minimalistic virtual machine. A unikernel is typically used to provide the minimal operating system functionality needed for a single application to work. Offering performance and security benefits and memory footprints in the hundreds of kilobytes, they are suitable for embedded systems and resource-constrained devices. Docker purchased Unikernel Systems last year in pursuit of new application-packaging efforts via unikernels.

December 7, 2017 brianradio2016

It has taken longer than expected, but three years after Intel unveiled its 14nm technology at IEDM and nearly one year after it demonstrated a Cannon Lake laptop at CES, the company is finally ready to discuss its 10nm process in detail. In a talk at this year’s conference, Intel explained how it has for the first time packed 100 million transistors in one square millimeter of die area–which it said is the densest CMOS transistor density to date–and increased performance.

The basic features of the 10nm technology have been known since Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Day earlier this year. The space between the fins measures 34nm, the gate pitch measures 54nm, and the minimum metal pitch is 36nm. Intel continues to scale the SRAM cell size by 0.5x with each generation since 180nm and the smallest cell at 10nm measures 0.0312 square microns. These dimensions are similar to those of the competing 7nm processes from the leading foundries that manufacture chips for fabless customers such as Apple, Nvidia and Qualcomm.

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At IEDM, Intel provided more details on the manufacturing steps, features and materials. The 10nm process is based on Intel’s third generation of 3D transistors, first introduced at 22nm and known as FinFETs because the channel of ‘fin’ sits on top of the substrate with multiple gates wrapped around it. The thinner and taller the fin, the better the performance. At 10nm, the fin is just 7nm wide and 46nm tall (the latter is interesting because Intel had previously said that the 10nm fin measured 53nm). The fin height is also ‘tunable’ within a range of plus or minus 5nm depending on the application.

This aggressive scaling with standard 193nm immersion lithography tools is enabled by introducing a multi-patterning process known as Self-Aligned Quadruple Patterning (SAQP) to create the fins, a process that adds four additional steps in exchange for higher density. Intel is also using fewer fins in the standard cell and introduced two new tricks to further increase the density. The first was to eliminate a dummy gate at boundary of active cells. The second, known as Contact Over Active Gate (COAG), lands the vias directly on the top of active gate area, a technique that requires three extra steps but delivers a 10 percent reduction in cell area.

In the past, Intel has referred to these additional measures by the somewhat gimmicky name of ‘hyperscaling,’ but the bottom line is that density is scaling at or even beyond historical rates. Based on Intel’s new metric, which it said is a more accurate measure of the density of modern processors that primarily consist of random logic, the rate of density increase of Intel’s technology as actually been accelerating from twice the transistors per generation from 45nm through 22nm to 2.7x at 14nm and now 10nm.

It is important to note, however, that Intel is not plotting this over time. Intel has abandoned its tick-tock cadence and it is taking longer to get to each new generation, so over time Intel is roughly in line with the doubling of transistor density every two years, according to Chris Auth, a vice president in Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group and Director of Advanced Transistor Development.

The tighter fin pitch, Intel’s latest generation of strained silicon, and contacts with lower resistance (in part by replacing tungsten metal with cobalt) deliver higher transistor performance. Intel had previously said that in comparison to 14nm, 10nm would deliver a 25 percent increase in performance or cut power nearly in half. At IEDM, the company said 10nm increases drive current by 71 percent for NMOS transistors and 35 percent for PMOS.

The interconnects include 12 metal layers and support multiple voltages for different applications. Intel is using SAQP at the two lowest metal layers (M0 and M1) and SADP (double-patterning) at the next four layers to maximize density. It has also swapped copper for cobalt at the M0 and M1 layers to reduce resistance and improve reliability.

What Intel did not say is when exactly the first 10nm processors will be available (the IEDM paper states that it has demonstrated yield on its 204Mb SRAM test chip and on microprocessors, without providing any further details). The first 10nm family, known as Cannon Lake, should show up in laptops in early 2018. This will be followed by a 10+ process, used for a processor family code-named Ice Lake, and a 10++ process that will further boost performance.

December 7, 2017 brianradio2016

Microsoft is bringing its Whiteboard ‘digital canvas’ app to Windows 10 users, providing a new way for employees to collaborate on creative work and share ideas.

Whiteboard, aimed at Surface owners, makes use of the device’s stylus and touch inputs to share drawings. Users can jot down notes, make precise illustrations or search for images on the web from the app. It can also create tables, diagrams and flowcharts, which are updated in real time and automatically saved to the cloud.

“It’s designed for teams that need to ideate, iterate, and work together both in person and remotely, and across multiple devices,” the Microsoft Whiteboard team wrote in a blog post.

“This is certainly a step in the right direction for a more modern and natural style of collaboration,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

December 7, 2017 brianradio2016

Ah, memories. With the frenetic pace at which Android has evolved over the past decade, the experience of using the platform today is pretty darn different from the Android-using adventure of even just a few years ago.

And it’s not just the operating system itself that’s changed. As mobile tech in general has matured and Android’s native features have bit by bit expanded, the types of apps we rely on have also shifted considerably. Priorities have shuffled, standards have changed, and developers have come and gone. As a result, some of the most popular titles from Android’s earlier days are now mere memories — and pretty fuzzy ones, at that.

As part of our jog down memory lane this week, it’s time to look back at some of the apps that once defined Android but have since slipped out of the spotlight — or even out of existence entirely.

Let the reunion begin!