Friday, December 20, 2013

BlackBerry bringing Channels and Voice Chat to BBM for Android and iOS next year

Remember how excited you were for BBM to hit Android and iOS and then BlackBerry continued to fake us all out with imminent releases? Thankfully, that's now all in the past and BBM is a reality for those of us not on BB10 devices, but still its feature set leaves something to be desired. The good news is that BlackBerry intends to flesh out BBM in 2014, though not just for the app.

So what's up ahead? Arguably, the most significant changes are coming to Android and iOS users in the form of BBM Voice and BBM Channels. Think of BBM Voice as you would Skype or Google Hangouts -- it's essentially a way for you to chat with your contacts without touching your allotment of minutes. And Channels, if you'll remember from our preview this past summer, is basically BlackBerry's spin on the social network. Both are already available for current BBM users running BB10, so this addition really just brings the rest of BBM's outsider base up to speed.

BlackBerry's also looking to make sharing with BBM a less cumbersome process in the new year. Though the company hasn't elaborated fully on just how it intends to make photo and voice note sharing that much speedier, it seems as if the process will soon require less fussy UI interactions. Users will even be able to divulge their whereabouts with BBM, albeit on a temporary basis and make use of over 100 new emoticons. All of this is coming "in the next couple of months," so if you need something to sate your curiosity now, check out the video after the break.

Source: engadget

Cyanogen gets $23 million for 'Android on steroids' operating system

You can add all the apps in the world to that phone in the palm of your hand.

But the device manufacturer still has more say over how your phone looks and works than you do.

Some people in the tech community don't think it should be that way.

"I am a big believer that if you buy one of these devices, you should have the freedom to do what you want with it," said Steve Kondik, co-founder of Cyanogen.

Kondik, with co-founder Kirt McMaster, takes the open source code Google makes freely available to create CyanogenMod, an alternative to the Android software that manufacturers put on mobile devices that is itself built on Android.

You don't have to be a hardcore geek to want to personalize your phone. More people are exploring modifying their phone's operating system to extend the life of older devices or breathe new life into devices with buggy software. Others are looking for features they can't currently get on their devices.

Kondik says Cyanogen can get rid of unnecessary software installed by device manufacturers so that Android phones run faster and batteries last longer.

Cyanogen also offers features that some Android phones don't, such as mobile Wi-Fi hot spots, a new theme or look for the phone or putting your name, not the wireless carrier’s name, on the home screen.

It also has its own bells and whistles. One app lets you see at a glance all of your most recent conversations, whether on text, email or social networks. A privacy feature keeps apps from snooping on your personal information. And for true NSA-phobes, there’s a feature that encrypts text messages so you can have secure communications.

"We are like Android on steroids and LSD. There are a bunch of features we enable that Google does not enable," McMaster said.

The company, which has offices in Seattle and Palo Alto, announced Wednesday it has raised $23 million from venture capitalists. It said in September it had raised $7 million.

Cyanogen, which currently has 22 staffers, plans to hire as many as 60 more over the next nine to 12 months as it ramps up its operations and looks to break into the mainstream, McMaster said.

Andreessen Horowitz and other investors are betting the average Android user is going to see the benefits of breaking free from their phone's preinstalled operating system.

"Because consumers are clamoring for increased personalization and customization options, the Android open source community has been happily taking up the task of fulfilling that demand," said Andreessen Horowitz general partner Peter Levine. "We believe that [CyanogenMod] has the opportunity to become one of the world's largest mobile operating systems."

Analysts say it will be some time before the concept of modifying your phone goes mainstream.

"Mainstream consumers are not comfortable with installing system software unless it is packaged in a bulletproof manner and supported by the device maker," said wireless industry analyst Charles Golvin. "While these cooperative development efforts deliver meaningful benefits they will remain attractive largely to those who possess the technical chops to understand and be comfortable with the implications of installing a system-level update like Cyanogen."

Kondik started building Cyanogen in 2009 when he was developer in Pittsburgh. He said he was simply trying to "scratch my own itch" and add some features to his own Android phone.

At the time, you had to be pretty technically adept to customize your phone. Not anymore, Kondik said.

And that's why he and McMaster have taken what was at first an open-source project and turned it into a commercial venture.

Now they are looking to reach beyond Android hobbyists to people who are increasingly interested in personalizing their phones.

Cyanogen's basic service will be free of charge, they said. In the future, the company plans to charge for premium features. It's also shipping preinstalled on the Oppo N1 and Cyanogen says its operating system will ship on more devices.

But can Cyanogen break into the mainstream?

Though Cyanogen has ambitions of becoming a major force in mobile as an alternative to Apple's iOS and Google's Android, it's for now still a niche player. It says it tracks nearly 11 million users but thinks that's a conservative estimate.

Cyanogen has had some hiccups. It launched its installer app in the Google Play store in November. But Google asked Cyanogen to remove it because of concerns that it encouraged users to void their warranty by gaining root access to their Android phone and not giving consumers an easy way to return the device to its original state.
"We are actively talking" to Google, Kondik said. In the meantime, you can still download it from the website 

Android customizer Cyanogen notches $23M


Talk about a mobile revolution.

A growing software movement is quietly taking hold on Android-based devices, allowing people to customize smartphones and tablets more to their liking.

What's known as Android "software mods" can soup up devices with mobile Wi-Fi hot spots, new looks, alternative text messaging and more. Personalizing Google's operating system has morphed beyond geeky obsession as a means to add new features.

Startup Cyanogen is leading the way. With "tens of millions" of installs, today it announced $23 million in funding for its popular CyanogenMod mobile software.

"Currently, we're like Android on steroids and LSD. There's a bunch of features that you can't get on stock Android ... that you just can't do with any other OS," says CEO Kirt McMaster.

Formed in 2009, Cyanogen is the brainchild of founder Steve Kondik, who launched his Android modification, now dubbed CyanogenMod, into the open-source software community. Developers can make their own modifications to the code to bring new features, and such enthusiast ideas can be adopted by Cyanogen.

"There's kind of a whole underworld," says Gartner analyst Brian Blau of those modifying operating systems. "It totally makes sense, but they have a lot of competition."

Cyanogen's development team wants to make customizing Android phones more accessible to the masses. The startup last month launched an installer in an effort to automate the installation process that was otherwise reserved for the ultra-tech savvy.

"The market is speaking, a revelation is under way here in the sense that users want a 100% compatible OS that is all about customization and personalization," says Peter Levine, a partner with Andreesen Horowitz. "I believe that trend will only continue."

Cyanogen's McMaster says the startup's variant of Android can boost battery life on devices. But he also says that there are a lot ways that apps will be able to communicate and work together to enhance device capabilities in ways standard Android versions and Apple's iOS can't.

Andreessen Horowitz led the funding round in Cyanogen and included participation from Benchmark Capital, Repoint Capital and China's Tencent. The investment in Cyanogen will be used to hire developers to boost the software's functions and ease of use. The investment round brings Cyanogen's total funding to $30 million.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Facebook deletes controversial privacy policy language

Facing public pressure, Facebook removed a line from its privacy policy on Friday that related to teen users and advertising.

The line was in reference to Facebook's practice of showing a user's public profile picture, comments, and "likes" with ads. Opponents said the language assumed that minors had previously discussed the terms of the site with their parents or guardians, according to The Wall Street Journal. The issue ultimately landed with the Federal Trade Commission in the form of a complaint.
Facebook argued that the language was not intended to expand its marketing reach.

"We also proposed an update that we thought would help facilitate conversations between teens and their parents about using Facebook," Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote in a blog post. "Specifically, we added a sentence that said if you are under the age of 18 you have talked to your parent or guardian and they also agree to some of our terms. This language was about getting a conversation started; we were not seeking and would not have gained any additional rights as a result of this addition. We received feedback, though, that the language was confusing and so we removed the sentence."

Source: CNET

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BlackBerry Messenger for Android, iPhone delayed

BlackBerry said it will be at least next week until it relaunches the BlackBerry Messenger service for Android and iOS.

The delay comes amid some drastic problems that are hitting BlackBerry, including slow smartphone sales, layoff plans and an offer by an investment firm to take the company private.

In a blog post late Monday, BlackBerry Messenger head Andrew Bocking said workers are now trying to completely block an unreleased version of the BBM for Android app that first appeared on Saturday.

The unreleased app "resulted in volumes of data traffic orders of magnitude higher than normal for each active user and impacted the system in abnormal ways," he said.

About 1 million active users of the unreleased app suddenly appeared on Saturday, and BlackBerry quickly realized that the "only way to address the issue was to pause the rollout for both Android and iPhone."

Both rollouts had been scheduled for the weekend.

In addition to trying to completely block the unreleased app, BlackBerry is adjusting the system to avoid a similar scenario down the road. "While this may sound like a simple task, it's not," Bocking said. "This will take some time. I do not anticipate launching this week."

BBM has about 60 million monthly users on BlackBerry devices and the product is considered a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for the Canadian smartphone maker.

On Friday, BlackBerry said it plans to take a nearly $1 billion write-off in its second fiscal quarter because of poor sales of smartphones, primarily the Z10, and would lay off 4,500 workers out of more than 12,000.

In August, BlackBerry created a special committee to study a possible sale of the company, and on Monday, the company announced that Fairfax Financial Holdings of Toronto has offered to buy Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry for $4.7 billion and take the company private. The deal is expected to close by Nov. 4.

Fairfax already owns 10% of BlackBerry shares. Its CEO, Prem Watsa, resigned from BlackBerry's board when the formal search for buyers kicked off in August.

In a statement released Monday, Watsa said that Fairfax would execute a long-term strategy at a privately-held BlackBerry "with a focus on delivering superior and secure enterprise solutions to BlackBerry customers around the world."

BlackBerry had said last Friday that it planned to focus its smartphone business on enterprise and "prosumer"-centric devices, and that its product portfolio would be cut from six to four devices.

The Z10, which first shipped in the U.S. in March, is a full-screen touchscreen phone marketed as a consumer-centric product. BlackBerry's move into the consumer market represented a clear departure from the company's long-held reputation as a provider of smartphones to business users, especially those seeking a physical qwerty keyboard.

BlackBerry attributed slow sales of devices like the Z10 to the high level of competition in the smartphone market, where BlackBerry products are pitted against many popular Android phones, such as the new Galaxy S4, and Apple's iPhone, including the brand-new 5S and 5C models.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said BlackBerry is "going through massive losses and it is unclear how long [Fairfax] can keep the company afloat with no sales and a new product [the Z10] that flopped."


Google fixes lengthy, widespread Gmail glitch

A Gmail glitch that took about 10 hours to fix and hit close to 50 percent of the webmail service's users has been fixed, ending one of the longest, most widespread Gmail disruptions in years.

Affected users endured email delivery delays and difficulties downloading attachments due to a still unexplained bug first acknowledged by Google at around 10:30 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time Monday. The company declared it patched at 10 p.m.

On its Google Apps Status site, the company pegged the start of the problem at close to 9 a.m. and its resolution at 6:30 p.m.


On Tuesday, Google offered more details about the cause of the problem and the steps it's taking to prevent it from happening again.

The cause was a "very rare" dual network failure, which brought down two separate, redundant network paths, according to a blog post from Sabrina Farmer, senior site reliability engineering manager for Gmail.

"The two network failures were unrelated, but in combination they reduced Gmails capacity to deliver messages to users," she wrote.

Over the next few weeks, Google staffers will work on bulking up network and backup capacity for Gmail, as well as on making Gmail's message delivery more resilient in the event of a network crash, according to Farmer.

"Finally, were updating our internal practices so that we can more quickly and effectively respond to network issues," she wrote.

The issue affected individuals who use the free version of Gmail as well as businesses, schools and government agencies that pay for it as part of the Google Apps cloud collaboration and email suite.

In the U.S., the disruption covered most of the workday on both coasts, which heightened the impact of the bug for millions.

People who depend on Gmail for critical tasks took to Twitter, discussion groups and other online forums to express their frustration.

The last time Google gave an official figure for active Gmail users was more than a year ago, when it said there were more than 425 million.

Assuming conservatively that the service now has about 450 million active users, Monday's disruption likely affected more than 200 million users, plus senders on other email platforms whose messages weren't received in a timely fashion.

Even Google gets data outages

Google said that the severity and length of the impact varied among users. About 29 percent of messages received were delayed by an average of 2.6 seconds, but some mail was "severely delayed."

"We apologize for the duration of today's event; we're aware that prompt email delivery is an important part of the Gmail experience, and today's experience fell far short of our standards," the company wrote on the status site.

The incident is a big deal for both Google and those affected, but it shouldn't on its own dissuade CIOs from using the suite, said Forrester Research analyst TJ Keitt.

"Data centers hosting multi-tenant collaboration services aren't immune to disruptions. So, when they happen, the way to judge the vendor is on how well they identify and resolve the problem, and then inform the public to how they resolved the issue," Keitt said.

Using that criteria, Google's updates throughout the duration of the incident could have been more transparent and detailed regarding the nature of the problem and the strength of the fix that was put in place, he said via email.

"They have clearly not communicated this publicly, so I hope they've been forthcoming with this information with their clients," Keitt said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Cain, a Gartner analyst, said the incident raises fundamental questions about what is considered downtime, especially as it relates to service-level agreements from cloud application vendors.

"If message delivery is delayed 15 minutes, is that considered downtime? What about 2 hours?," he said via email. "The move to cloud email puts a spotlight on these essential questions about how to meter and compensate for subpar messaging performance that is not traditionally classified as 'downtime.'"

Updated 10:15 a.m. 9/24/2013 with information from Google's Sabrina Farmer


A Constitutional Primer from Google

Whether you’re a high school student struggling through U.S. history class or a legal expert helping a budding nation write a new constitution, Google’s new tool for examining and comparing founding documents from around the globe is a neat new resource.

Launched Monday, Constitute is a digitized archive of founding documents from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe that also helps visitors examine hundreds of constitutional themes, such as rights, duties, culture and identity. As Google’s Brendan Ballou explains, “If you are writing a constitution and want to know what African constitutions have to say about the rights of women after 1945, you can do that in just a few clicks.”

Using seed funding from Google Ideas, the internet conglomerate partnered with researchers from the Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP), who hatched the idea to source and reference the content in 2008.

With the turmoil in Somalia, Syria and Egypt leading to either new constitutions or or revised ones in those nations, exploring the international landscape of constitutions feels especially timely.

Watch the Google video below to learn more about how it works:


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hackers use Dropbox, WordPress to spread malware

The Chinese cyberspies behind the widely publicized espionage campaign against The New York Times have added Dropbox and WordPress to their bag of spear-phishing tricks.

The gang, known in security circles as the DNSCalc gang, has been using the Dropbox file-sharing service for roughly the last 12 months as a mechanism for spreading malware, said Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer for Cyber Squared. While the tactic is not unique, it remains under the radar of most companies.

"I wouldn't say it's new," Barger said on Thursday. "It's just something that folks aren't really looking at or paying attention to."

The gang is among 20 Chinese groups identified this year by security firm Mandiant that launch cyberattacks against specific targets to steal information. In this case, the DNSCalc gang was going after intelligence on individuals or governments connected to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN is a non-governmental group that represents the economic interests of ten Southeast Asian countries.

The attackers did not exploit any vulnerabilities in Dropbox or WordPress. Instead, they opened up accounts and used the services as their infrastructure.

The gang uploaded on Dropbox a .ZIP file disguised as belonging to the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council. Messages were then sent to people or agencies that would be interested in the draft of a Council policy paper. The paper, contained in the file, was legitimate, Barger said.

When a recipient unzipped the file, they saw another one that read, "2013 US-ASEAN Business Council Statement of Priorities in the US-ASEAN Commercial Relationship Policy Paper.scr." Clicking on the file would launch a PDF of the document, while the malware opened a backdoor to the host computer in the background.

Once the door was open, the malware would reach out to a WordPress blog created by the attackers. The blog contained the IP address and port number of a command and control server that the malware would contact to download additional software.

Dropbox is a desirable launchpad for attacks because employees of many companies use the service. "People trust Dropbox," Barger said.

For companies that have the service on its whitelist, malware moving from Dropbox won't be detected by a company's intrusion prevention systems. Also, communications to a WordPress blog would likely go undetected, since it would not be unusual behavior for any employee with access to the Internet.

In general, no single technology can prevent such an attack. "There's no silver bullet here," Barger said.

The best prevention is for security pros to share information when their companies are targeted, so others can draw up their own defense, he said.

In The New York Times attack, the hackers penetrated the newspaper's systems in September 2012 and worked undercover for four months before they were detected.

The attack coincided with an investigative piece the newspaper published on business dealings that reaped several billion dollars for the relatives of Wen Jiabao, China's prime minister.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Malware-like program lets your Android phone spy on you

A security firm has figured out how to turn an Android smartphone into a surveillance device that would make Q, the fictional gadget master in the James Bond movies, proud.

The Security Labs of Kindsight, a part of Alcatel-Lucent, has built a proof-of-concept program capable of tracking the user's location, intercepting messages, recording conversations, and taking pictures.

"Effectively, it turns the Android device into a spy phone," Kevin McNamee, lab director for Kindsight, said Friday. McNamee plans to present the espionage tool at the Black Hat USA conference next month.
Runs inside any app

The technology, codenamed DroidWhisper, can be hidden as a component within any Android app and run covertly in the background, booting up automatically when the device is turned on.

Once installed, the spyware would receive instructions from a command-and-control (C&C) server, which could communicate either over the Internet or through the phone's Short Message Service used for text messaging.
spyware privacy

From a control panel on the server, criminals or government spies would be able to control the phone's camera, video and still, and make use of its microphone and recording capabilities. The panel also would be used to collect all the recorded content and images, as well as any personal information on the phone.

"The smartphone is an excellent platform, if you want to launch an insider attack against a corporate network or government network," McNamee said. "The device has all the capabilities that it needs. It has Internet access over the air, it can take pictures [and] it can record sound—a very powerful surveillance platform."

While not part of the proof-of-concept, the spyware platform could be used to download tools for scanning a corporate network for vulnerabilities when an employee logs into a Wi-Fi network, McNamee said.

"[The phone] has a completely fully functional network stack, so if it has access to the corporate Wi-Fi, yes, it can scan the network," he said.
Anti-malware programs may halt it

The most likely ways the spyware could be installed secretly is through an email-carried link to a malicious website, or an app provided through an online store. For example, the component could be injected in a bogus version of a popular game.

While Google Play, the official Android store, scans for malware, most third-party stores do not. Roughly three in five of such stores originate in China and Russia, notes the latest mobile threat report from Juniper Networks.

As of March 2013, more than 90 percent of the mobile malware detected by Juniper targeted the Android platform, nearly double the percentage in 2011.

To install and run Kindsight's component on a device, the criminal would have to find a way to bypass Android's built-in security features. By default, applications do not have the permission needed to perform operations impacting other apps or the device in general. Such permissions would have to be granted by the user.

Assuming that the spyware penetrated those defenses, then the next mode of detection for businesses would be in catching the network traffic between the component and the command-and-control servers.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Facebook moves to remove ads that display controversial content

 Facebook is launching an aggressive strategy for better detecting violent, graphic, sexual, and otherwise controversial content across its site and for removing ads that appear alongside that content.

The changes follow other recent developments involving hate speech appearing on the site, which Facebook has vowed to better combat, though that has not stopped some marketers from pulling their ads in response.

The new detection-and-removal policy, which was announced Friday in a blog post, is designed to provide Facebook with a better mechanism for removing ads that appear alongside certain types of questionable content on Groups and Pages.

“While we already have rigorous review and removal policies for content against our terms, we recognize we need to do more to prevent situations where ads are displayed alongside controversial Pages and Groups,” the company said.

“So we are taking action,” Facebook added.

The new review process, beginning Monday, “will expand the scope of Pages and Groups that should be ad-restricted,” the company said. Ads from all Pages and Groups that fall into this more comprehensive restricted list will be removed by the end of next week.

Previously, a Page selling adult products was eligible to have ads appear on its right-hand side but, going forward, those ads will not be displayed next to that type of content, Facebook said. The changes will be applied to Pages and Groups containing violent, graphic, and sexual content that does not otherwise violate the company’s community standards.

 The way Facebook classifies what is offensive content and what is not is complicated. In terms of graphic content, “we understand that graphic imagery is a regular component of current events, but must balance the needs of a diverse community,” the site says in its community standards.

For instance, “sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited,” the site says.
Hate speech policies

Facebook introduced new policies to combat hate speech on the site last month, following the campaign of several high-profile women’s groups including Women, Action and the Media, and the Everyday Sexism Project.

Around the same time, some big-name brands like Nissan and Unilever’s Dove company pulled ads on the site.

The review process will be carried out manually by humans at first, “but in the coming weeks we will build a more scalable, automated way to prevent and/or remove ads” that appear next to controversial content, Facebook said.

“All this will improve detection of what qualifies as questionable content,” the site said, adding, “we will continue to work aggressively on this issue with advertisers.”

The changes will not impact Facebook’s business, the company said.

Facebook’s revenue is derived almost entirely—84 percent in 2012—from ads.

Other ad-dependent companies are also grappling with how to deal with questionable content. Google has recently made moves to remove adult-themed blogs on its Blogger platform that also have adult advertisements.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Google Play Edition devices have a new camera app, drawer, and wallpaper

The new HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4 with stock Android have been released, and with their version of Android 4.2.2 comes a few unique touches to the UI. The camera app, which was rumored to get an update in 4.3, has a new stacked menu system for easier navigation. Another big change is that the app drawer has been switched from a 4×4 layout to a 4×5 layout to take advantage of the different screen sizes of the One and S4.

Other minor changes are the addition of a new red Phase Beam wallpaper to add to the purple and blue versions, and a new custom boot animation. The lockscreen clock on the S4 is a little different from Nexus devices, probably so that the phone correctly works with Samsung’s S-View flip covers.

Source: Computer World

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Facebook security bug exposes 6 million users' contact info

Facebook accidentally exposed 6 million users’ contact information. Watch out for an email alert from the network to find out if you were affected by an apparent security bug.

The bug allowed the emails and phone numbers of some 6 million users to be accessed by contacts or friends of friends as part of the site’s friend recommendation algorithm, the social network’s security team said Friday.

If you upload your contacts or address book to Facebook in order to find friends, Facebook uses that information to determine if your friends are already on the network or if you should invite them to join. That contact information may have been included in account archive information that users can download. In other words, people who have some connection to you may have been able to view your contact information when they downloaded their archive. Facebook said it disabled the Download Your Information tool, fixed it, and turned it back on within a day.

Facebook’s security team said each affected user’s information was downloaded just once or twice, which is a small consolation. The company also noted that no financial information was included and only Facebook users have access to the download tool (so information was probably not sold to advertisers).

“Although the practical impact of this bug is likely to be minimal since any email address or phone number that was shared was shared with people who already had some of that contact information anyway, or who had some connection to one another, it's still something we're upset and embarrassed by, and we'll work doubly hard to make sure nothing like this happens again,” Facebook said in its Friday announcement.

This isn’t the first time Facebook users’ personal information has been exposed. Facebook in 2011 introduced a White Hat bug bounty program, where security experts can file reports about bugs and collect rewards. This most recent bug was discovered by one such researcher.

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