Geekly Update - 23 January 2020

Category: Tech-News

Can you get a decent Android smartphone for around a hundred bucks? Is your DirecTV satellite dish about to explode? Is it okay to open a WhatsApp message from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia? What factor was the root cause of one third of all ransomware infections in 2019? And will this 35-year-old cure for smartphone addiction work for you? Get answers in today's Geekly Update -- it's jam-packed with the latest tech news. This issue is guaranteed to make you 146% smarter -- you'll see why. Read, think, and, comment!

The AskBobRankin Geekly Update

Google has released three new apps to help you spend LESS time with your phone. "Envelope" will temporarily transform your smartphone into a simpler "feature phone" device that only allows phone calls, photos and videos.

If you realize you need something more than a home-made paper envelope to tame your smarpthone addiction, you'll find this article by NY Times writer Lisa Wells very interesting. In I Quit My Smartphone, Wells starts off with "About a year ago, I noticed a distressing tendency in myself to drift off while the people I loved were talking." Wells had quit smoking previously, and used the same technique from Allen Carr's 1985 book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, to beat her smartphone addiction.

The United Nations has released forensic evidence linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the hacking of an iPhone owned by Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post newspaper. A WhatsApp message sent to Bezos contained a photo indicating that the Prince had knowledge of Bezos' secret affair, and allegedly contained malware that exposed both photos and text messages on the phone for months.

Geekly Update 01-23-2020

Voters in King County, Washington, this week were able to vote via their smartphones. It was the first election in the country in which any registered voter could cast a ballot online. The experiment was only for the election of the King Conservation District Board of Supervisors, but if it is deemed a success, we can assume it will open the floodgates to massive voter fraud be used a model for other online voting initiatives.

A hacker has published a list of login credentials for more than 500,000 servers, home routers, and "smart" devices. It didn't take any devious or advanced hacking skills to compile the list. The hacker simply ran a scan for devices that were exposing their login port, and then attempted to gain access via default or commonly-used usernames and passwords. So-called "Internet of Things" devices that may be at risk include thermostats, video doorbells, smart door locks, light bulbs, power outlets, and speakers. Changing the factory-supplied password for any connected device is the solution to this problem.

Are you thinking about getting a home security system, but not too sure what features you need, or how much it will cost? SafeHome just reviewed all the major home security options, both do-it-youself and professionally installed models, to help you determine which is the best system for you. See their report on the Best Home Security Systems of 2020.

According internet guru Dave Taylor, you needn't spend $750 or more for a smartphone, if you're willing to sacrifice a few bells and whistles. See Dave's review of the XGODY Mate 30 Android smartphone, which does a lot and sports a surprisingly low $118 price tag.

According to a report by PreciseSecurity, weak passwords were responsible for 30% of ransomware infections last year. Other factors were phishing scams, lack of cybersecurity training, user gullibility, malicious websites, and clickbait.

Two years ago, Apple reportedly cancelled plans to allow users to fully encrypt iCloud backups of their iPhones, bowing to pressure from the FBI that it would slow down criminal investigations. The iPhone itself has encryption that can only be unlocked by the user. Apple does not store the encryption keys for the physical devices. But the iCloud backups (which can contain almost all of the data stored on a phone) are different -- they are encrypted but can be unlocked by Apple. Apple turned over data for 90% of the 18,000 law enforcement requests it received in the first half of 2019. The fact that iCloud backups are accessible by Apple is not disputed, but one Apple watcher makes a credible argument that the FBI had nothing to do with that decision.

The “Apple Watch Connected” gym initiative is a partnerships with fitness facilities that makes it easier for Apple Watch owners to earn rewards for working out. One gym chain offers a discount of $3 to $4 per week on memberships if Watch-wearers meet workout goals for the month. Just think, you could recoup the cost of your $1400 Hermes Stainless Steel Apple Watch in 7 years!

Microsoft has revealed that a "misconfigured" customer support database was accessible for 14 years to anyone, no password required. Almost 250 million Customer Service and Support records were exposed to the world, some containing customer email addresses, IP addresses, locations, and internal notes marked as confidential. Maybe this is why we have such a big problem with scammers posing as Microsoft support reps.

One DirecTV satellite in geostationary orbit is likely to explode soon, due to battery issues. The company must take the Spaceway-1 satellite out of service within a month, so it doesn't nuke other nearby satellites if it goes boom.

Your thoughts on these topics are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Geekly Update - 23 January 2020"

Posted by:

23 Jan 2020

sure intersted in the 118. smartphone!!

Posted by:

James M
23 Jan 2020

Why do you say "Is your DirecTV satellite dish about to explode?" when the actual story you later relate is about a satellite that may explode? How is that going to make the dish on my rooftop explode? Are you doing clickbait now, Bob?

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the Geekly Update, I try to mix equal parts of humor, irony and satire. Some of the best writing advice I got was from Jack Rickard, former publisher of Boardwatch Magazine. He said "If you want to throw a joke in your article, don't worry if people will 'get it' or not. If you think it's funny, do it!"

Posted by:

23 Jan 2020

I fear that I must intercede and in the process of doing so explain that Bob here is not doing clickbait. Besides the fact that clickbait either is or is not, and a further fact remains that clickbait can not actually be done the suggestion is silly. Clickbait either exists or does not exist. If one(like Bob) were to try to actually "do" clickbait the entire fabric of the universe would instantly unravel. This universal unraveling would be so i immense that it would start and stop ant the exact same time. That would confuse everyone except for the Uooogahthorms who are an alien race living on the dark side of a moon that orbits the planet KL477722b. (They have an intellect so gargantuan that nothing in (or out) of creation has confused them for 600 billion years.
((That is not quite true as they never have gotten the hang of Facebook.))

But back to the exploding satellite dish; the laws of infinite improbability suggest that an explosion of a satellite in space while connected to a dish on a rooftop could both disappear from existence in a mere millionth of an nth of second.

Keep your eyes on the skies.

Posted by:

Graham Cluley
24 Jan 2020

Hi Bob. Minor correction to your summary of the Microsoft data breach - it was not exposed for 14 years. It was actually less than a month.

But the data *exposed* stretched back 14 years. Hope that helps. Thanks for linking to my article.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks for clarifying that.

Posted by:

top squirrel
24 Jan 2020

The NY Times article on how to end your smartphone addiction require you to register and sign up for a newsletter or access it through your Facebook or Google account.
If you care about your privacy, none of these should be acceptable to you. And the link to the book's method of how to stop smoking led to an amazon page through which one can buy the book.
There was no way to find out about that writer's method that did not compromise your privacy.
I suggest Bob may head paragraphs like that with something like "you can read the article if you don't mind linking thru Google or FB or sign up for a free NYT newsletter subscription."
The former monetizes your NYT tropism and the latter sets you up for unending requests to subscribe to the newspaper. For money (what else?).

EDITOR'S NOTE: That's odd. I don't have a NYT subscription, and there were no roadblocks to viewing the article.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2020

top squirrel just to let you know if it is privacy you want the best and only sure way is to disconnect from the internet and go off grid in my opinion.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2020

REALLY good information in this issue, Bob. Thanks !

Posted by:

24 Jan 2020

I feel compelled to point out that Jims comment regarding the exploding satellite dish has an unclosed paren which caused a compile error in the Uooogahthorms megacosmic supercomputer.
I also was presented with the NY Times offer?

Posted by:

26 Jan 2020

Weak passwords are, of course, the cause of many problems as they allow others to access to your accounts. But I don't see the direct connection between weak passwords and ransomware, as was casually mentioned on the page you linked to. Unlike clicking on a link in email, or visiting an infected website, a hacker who has discovered your password still does not have access to your computer itself. Your computer, tablet or phone is where the ransomware payload would have to be downloaded in order to infect you, just like other malware.

So am I missing something? Granted, if your password was compromised, and you don't know it yet, hackers can gain information that makes it easier to pose as someone you trust. Then they can craft phishing emails that will be especially effective because your guard will be down. But even then, it's only when you finally click a link that you shouldn't have, whether in an email or on a web page, that you opened the door to ransomware. That short article should really not have muddied its otherwise correct advice by blaming 30% of ransomware infections on "weak password" practices. Instead, the blame lies with the other weaknesses most of us have: hasty thoughtlessness and the constant craving for new and exiting things to click for.

Posted by:

05 Feb 2020

Ordered a Mate 30 on Jan 24. Changing my mind I IMMEDIATELY responded (as instructed) to the confirmation email asking to cancel. No response. I emailed again. No response. Typical of Chinese companies who never respond until it is to their benefit to do so.

Feb 4 I get an email that the Mate 30 is "out of storage" (translation: out of stock) and asking if I want to cancel or wait. I request cancel and immediate refund. Much to my surprise they promptly process a refund to PayPal. That's a pleasant surprise, but overall I would not order from them again.

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