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What That Means for Your Privacy

We thought VPNs were secure, but with an increasing number of secure services reporting server breaches, that seems not to be the case. But how do these secure services get hacked in the first place, and how do hackers capitalize on it?

Here’s how VPNs get hacked and what it means for your privacy.

The VPN’s (Seemingly) Unbreakable Security

A diagram showing how a VPN works
Image Credit: vaeenma/DepositPhotos

If we take a brief look at how a VPN works, it looks unhackable. This is the primary draw of a VPN, as people feel they can trust the service to maintain their privacy.

For one, your computer encrypts the connection before it leaves for the internet. This encryption makes a VPN a solid layer of defense against spying, as anyone snooping on the connection can’t read what you’re sending. Hackers can use public Wi-Fi connections to steal your identity

5 Ways Hackers Can Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity

5 Ways Hackers Can Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity

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, but a VPN can protect you from all attacks bar someone looking over your shoulder.

Even your ISP can’t see the packets you send, which makes VPNs useful for hiding your traffic from a strict government.

If a hacker manages to break into a VPN’s database, they may leave empty-handed. Many top VPNs hold a “no-logging policy,” which states that they won’t save records of how you use their service. These logs are a potential goldmine for hackers, and refusing to keep them means your privacy is maintained even after a database leak.

From these points, it’s easy to assume that a VPN is “unhackable.” However, there are ways that hackers can breach a VPN.

How VPNs Are Susceptible to Hacking

A hacker’s best point of entry is near the outer reaches of the VPN network. VPN companies sometimes opt not to set up servers in all the countries they want to support. Instead, they’ll hire out data centers established within the target country.

This plan often doesn’t introduce any complications and the VPN service adopts the servers without any issues. However, there is the rare chance that there is a hidden oversight in the data center that the VPN company isn’t aware of. In one reported case, a server that NordVPN rented out had a forgotten-about remote connection tool installed.

This tool was insecure and hackers used it to break in.

From there, the hacker found some additional files. The Register reports that this includes an expired encryption key and a DNS certificate. The key didn’t allow the hacker to snoop on traffic, and if they did, NordVPN says they’d only see the same data an ISP would see.

How Hackers Can Capitalize on a VPN Attack

This flaw is the main weakness that a hacker will try to exploit. Because the VPN doesn’t store logs of connections, a hacker’s best bet is to watch the data flow in real-time and analyze the packets.

This tactic is called the “man-in-the-middle

What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack? Security Jargon Explained

What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack? Security Jargon Explained

If you’ve heard of “man-in-the-middle” attacks but aren’t quite sure what that means, this is the article for you.
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” (MITM) attack. It’s when a hacker gets their information from monitoring data as it passes through.  It’s not easy to pull off, but it’s not impossible to achieve. Should a hacker get their hands on an encryption key, they can reverse the VPN’s protection and peek at the packets as they pass through.

Of course, this doesn’t give hackers free rein over the traffic. Any data encrypted with HTTPS won’t be readable, as the hacker won’t have the key for it. Anything that’s plaintext, however, will be readable and potentially editable, which would be a severe privacy breach.

Should You Be Concerned About Your VPN Privacy?

While this does sound terrifying, don’t worry just yet. Before you panic, consider why you use or would use a VPN service. At the base level, a hacker monitoring a VPN connection would only see what an ISP would see. For some, this kind of breach doesn’t affect them at all; for others, it’s a severe breach of trust.

On one end of the spectrum, let’s assume you use a VPN so you can get around geo-blocks. You don’t boot up the VPN often, and when you do, it’s to watch shows on Netflix that aren’t available in your home country. In this case, do you mind that a hacker knows you’re watching the newest Labyrinth series?

If not, you may not want to protect yourself further—although some would argue that surrendering any part of your privacy is never right!

On the other side, VPNs are more than just a way to watch TV shows from overseas. They’re a way to browse the internet and speak freely without intervention from the government. For these people, a breach of their privacy could have severe ramifications.

If the thought of your privacy leaking in an attack is too much to bear, it’s worth taking the extra steps to protect yourself.

How to Protect Your Privacy With Additional Security

To start, it’s essential to realize that these breaches aren’t commonplace. Also, the hacker in the NordVPN case only gained access to one of the 5000+ servers. This means that the majority of the service was safe, and only a small section of users was under threat. As such, a VPN is still a useful way to protect your privacy.

However, if you’re very serious about staying anonymous, a VPN shouldn’t be your only line of defense. The attacks on VPNs have shown that they do have flaws, but that doesn’t mean that they’re entirely useless. The best way to maintain your privacy is to add another layer of privacy to what the VPN provides. That way, you’re not wholly dependent on your VPN service to protect you.

For instance, you can boot up your VPN, then use the Tor browser

Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor

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to browse the web. The Tor browser connects to the Tor network, which uses triple-encryption for its traffic. This encryption is applied before your computer sends it, much like a VPN.

If a hacker performs a MITM attack on your VPN connection, The Tor network’s encryption keeps your data safe. On the other hand, if your connection is compromised on the Tor network, the trail leads back to the VPN. If the VPN doesn’t store logs, the trail back to you goes dead.

As such, using two layers of security is an effective way to protect your privacy. Regardless of which side suffers a breach, the other one will pick up the slack.

How to Use a VPN Properly

VPNs can help secure your connection, but they’re not impenetrable. As we’ve seen from these incidents, hackers can infiltrate a VPN server and use keys to initiate a MITM attack. If you’re concerned about your privacy, it’s worth backing up a VPN with another layer of defense. That way, if one layer falls, the other is there to back you up.

Invulnerability behind a VPN service is one of the common VPN myths you shouldn’t believe

5 Common VPN Myths and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them

5 Common VPN Myths and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them

Planning to use a VPN? Not sure where to start, or confused about what they do? Let’s take a look at the top five myths about VPNs and why they’re simply not true.
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, so it’s worth knowing what’s true and what’s fake.

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Why 5G means new business models and user benefits

While everyone is focused, and rightly so, on what 5G will mean to the billions of users of smartphones, there is a less visible but equally as important side to 5G that will have profound effects on consumers and enterprises.

5G will enable new business models that will bring new services to a vast number of people and companies. Further, it will provide a profitable adjunct to network operators that can add a significant contribution to their bottom line and may even be able to partially subsidize consumer services that will be highly price competitive longer term. And, finally, it will open up new competitive markets for internet services that have long been non competitive or marginally competitive.

5G makes a compelling case for wireless broadband

Although about 90 percent of the U.S. population is covered by some sort of wired broadband internet connectivity (via cable modem, DSL or fiber), there is a substantial number of people who can’t get internet broadband due to lack of a viable financial model for operators making a major investment in wired infrastructure in those locations.

[ Related: When should you move to 5G? ]

Further, in many areas, it’s a monopoly situation where you can get broadband service from only one provider. Wireless broadband access has recently emerged as an alternative to both the lack of rural connectivity and as a competitive option to monopoly solutions. However, previous attempts to deploy extended Wi-Fi or even 4G solutions for this purpose were not optimal. With the availability of 5G, there is a real opportunity to create a compelling wireless broadband experience, with the high capacity, high speed and low latency necessary for modern broadband uses (e.g., entertainment, gaming, multimedia, etc.).

How attractive is this? Recently Qualcomm announced that more than 30 manufacturers of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)

While everyone is focused, and rightly so, on what 5G will mean to the billions of users of smartphones, there is a less visible but equally as important side to 5G that will have profound effects on consumers and enterprises.

5G will enable new business models that will bring new services to a vast number of people and companies. Further, it will provide a profitable adjunct to network operators that can add a significant contribution to their bottom line and may even be able to partially subsidize consumer services that will be highly price competitive longer term. And, finally, it will open up new competitive markets for internet services that have long been non competitive or marginally competitive.

Although about 90 percent of the U.S. population is covered by some sort of wired broadband internet connectivity (via cable modem, DSL or fiber), there is a substantial number of people who can’t get internet broadband due to lack of a viable financial model for operators making a major investment in wired infrastructure in those locations.

Further, in many areas, it’s a monopoly situation where you can get broadband service from only one provider. Wireless broadband access has recently emerged as an alternative to both the lack of rural connectivity and as a competitive option to monopoly solutions. However, previous attempts to deploy extended Wi-Fi or even 4G solutions for this purpose were not optimal. With the availability of 5G, there is a real opportunity to create a compelling wireless broadband experience, with the high capacity, high speed and low latency necessary for modern broadband uses (e.g., entertainment, gaming, multimedia, etc.).

How attractive is this? Recently Qualcomm announced that more than 30 manufacturers of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) commercial systems will be adopting its Snapdragon X55 5G modem solutions in 2020, and will be creating customer premise equipment (CPE), which is essentially a cable modem box equivalent. [Disclosure: Qualcomm is client of the author.] The companies include major suppliers like LG, Linksys, Netgear, Nokia, Samsung, ZTE, etc. Indeed major carriers like Verizon and AT&T have already started to deploy 5G-based FWA equipment for internet broadband connectivity to users in select areas. I expect this to be a major growth area over the next two-three years, as the 5G network gets built out, and price competition drives adoption.

Further, 5G wireless will make it much more attractive to supply rural and non-densely populated areas that are not financially attractive for wired investments, opening broadband to millions of underserved consumers. Finally, with significant available capacity, 5G will allow a compelling user experience not available over other wide area wireless access.

Network Slicing (NB IoT)

IoT and smart devices of all types can create an opportunity for having a truly smart environment around us in consumer and industrial situation. Indeed, smart cities with sensors for traffic control, smart lighting, public safety and so on is a major growth area of IoT. Industries like shipping/transportation, healthcare, retail and agriculture can all benefit from a more sensor-installed and data-driven environment, particularly as back-end processing fueled by machine learning and AI systems become more accessible. But the key challenge is creating low-cost and reliable wireless connectivity for the many millions of devices that will be deployed — many of them being mobile. Connecting each sensor to a wire may not be financially feasible, even if it’s possible.

5G is built on a network function virtualization (NFV) model that allows operators to segment the wireless network into as many “slices” as needed and with varying characteristics. Essentially, this means that operators can create a limited services and speed but very affordable connection for those millions of devices that actually transmit very little data, but could be connected if the fees were in the low dollar per month range or even less.

Older cellular systems really didn’t have the capability to do this efficiently. But narrow band IoT, an easy-to-implement feature of NFV-based systems, can provide this feature, and 5G has the capacity to extend this to millions of devices even in densely populated areas. I expect a proliferation of NB IoT devices in commercial settings over the next two-to-three years as operators make connectivity cost effective, and cities and industries see the compelling benefits in deployments.

Private networks (enterprise managed networks)

Many companies already outsource their internal wireless networks (typically built on some version of Wi-Fi), to alleviate the necessity for them to manage and maintain that asset. They find it both expedient and a better use of limited resources. While 5G has been primarily influenced by the need for mobile, it also offers major potential in private managed networks, particularly for higher frequency mmWave systems.

Having a 5G private network will not always be a viable or attractive replacement for an internally deployed (or even externally managed) Wi-Fi. But managed network services do offer enterprises a way to achieve a cloud-like capability in their wireless networks that gives them new flexibility and opens more competitive services from a variety of providers, and often without creating a lock-in that is typical with internally deployed systems. Many companies see installing and managing their own provide networks (typically Wi-Fi) as a burden and it’s not always very easy to upgrade to new technology. Indeed, most enterprise Wi-Fi are two or three generations behind the latest standards, which can cause security, capacity and bandwidth challenges.

I expect to see operators of 5G networks push to deploy managed private networks in a variety of enterprise and public sector markets, Further, since these may be built on top of existing, broader-based 5G, they can be priced competitively. Even proprietary solutions unique to specific companies/venues can still be priced affordably due to the advanced management capabilities inherent in 5G. This will be a growth area over the next two or three years.

Bottom line: 5G is an important upgrade to mobile networks and offers a compelling user experience. But we shouldn’t forget that it also opens up a number of new services that network operators can provide, and that these services will likely grow quickly. Enterprises, in particular, should evaluate if these new service offerings can provide a compelling new business model to advance services, and/or offer a way to upgrade and improve internal infrastructure for cost savings and/or enhanced performance.

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What It Means When Find My iPhone Is Offline and How to Find It Anyway

If you’ve lost your iPhone or iPad, how can you find your device? If you had the foresight to activate Find My iPhone, you should be able to find your smartphone easily. However, upon logging in, you notice a problem: Find My iPhone is offline.

What does “Offline” mean on Find My iPhone? How can you still locate your device? And if it’s been stolen, how do you stop others from accessing your personal data? We’ll walk you through it.

How to Activate Find My iPhone

So what exactly is Find My iPhone? As you might have inferred, it’s a feature that helps you find your device if it goes missing. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve lost it while out and about, or if you still think it’s somewhere at home. Activating Find My iPhone means you can log into your Apple ID on a PC or tablet and locate your device on a map.

You can also use it to remotely lock your phone, erase all content (in case you think it’s irretrievable), or play a sound to lead you to it.

All you need to do is open Settings, then tap on your name at the top. Next, go to iCloud > Find My iPhone. (We’ll come back to why this screen holds extra significance if your phone reads Offline.)

You need to make sure this setting is turned on. It’s not possible to enable it remotely, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s a wise idea to prepare for the worst but hope you never need it.

What Does “Offline” Mean on Find My iPhone?

To location your smartphone with Find My iPhone, you need to sign into your iCloud account using a different device. There are numerous iterations of the Find My app, including Find My iPad and Find My Apple Watch. All of these use iCloud.

If it’s working properly, you should see an icon on a map to show where your missing device is. In some cases, however, it reads “Offline”. It may also say “No location available” or “Location Services Off”.

iCloud lets you find your smartphone on a map

There are a few reasons for this, but they all have the same meaning: your iPhone cannot check in to Find My iPhone. It doesn’t have access to Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Why is your iPhone offline? The most likely reason is that the battery has died. You could also have left it turned off. Either way, if your phone has no power, Find My iPhone won’t give you its whereabouts.

The app will only work if your device is connected to iCloud, of course, and signed into your Apple ID. To activate the feature in the first place, you’ll have already signed into these. However, it’s possible to switch both off, severing the connection to Find My iPhone.

Your device may also have Airplane Mode switched on. We’ve explained how Airplane Mode works on your iPhone

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if you’re not sure. Essentially, it cuts off all wireless signals like Wi-Fi and cellular data.

If your smartphone has been stolen, the thief may have taken out its SIM card. This disconnects it from mobile internet, making it more difficult—but not impossible—to track.

There’s also the small possibility that your iPhone has been lost in a country without Find My iPhone. This is because the feature needs to access maps and Apple simply doesn’t have that capability in some regions.

How to Find an iPhone That Is Offline

When you open Find My iPhone, you’ll see three options. While it may seem futile, click on Play Sound first. It’s unlikely this will work, especially when your iPhone shows as Offline. However, you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you do find your smartphone this way. (We’ll return to the other two options on this screen. You need to look into other methods before using those two.)

The main way to locate your device is, again, by preparing ahead of time. When setting up your device, you need to navigate to Settings, select your name, then go to iCloud > Find My iPhone > Send Last Location. This sends the location data of your device to Apple when the battery is critically low.

Turn on Last Location if Find My iPhone is Offline

This is your best chance of retrieving your device, but won’t help if someone moved it to another located, or if the function is switched off.

If you use Google Maps on your phone, you may be able to track its location via the Maps Timeline. You can see which apps access your geographical data via Settings > Privacy > Location Services.

It’s also worth contacting your mobile service provider. If you have the serial number or International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, your carrier may be able to trace its position.

You can revisit where you’ve been recently and hope you find your smartphone without the need of further technology. Otherwise, you need to wait and keep your fingers crossed that someone finds and charges it. Keep signing into Find My iPhone in case this does happen.

How to Protect Your Data If Your iPhone Is Offline

Let’s suppose that you still can’t find your device. You fear that someone has stolen it, or that whoever locates it could access your private information. What can you do to stop this from happening?

Even when Find My iPhone says “Offline”, you can still use some of its functions. Most notably, Activation Lock comes standard when using Find My iPhone. This means that nobody can turn off Find My iPhone or erase your phone’s data without your Apple ID.

iCloud map Erase iPhone, Play Sound, and Lost Mode

Two further options are useful:

  • Lost Mode: This lets you remotely lock your device and present a custom message on the screen. You should include a means of contacting you to return the smartphone. As an extra layer of security, this disables Apple Pay. Plus, notifications won’t show up, so no one can snoop on your activities. Once you get your device back, you can unlock it by simply using your passcode.
  • Erase iPhone: This should only be used in dire situations—it erases all data on your phone. It’s a final measure, not to be taken lightly. Try everything you can think of to find it again. If you do take this path, you’ll need to restore your iPhone from a backup

    How to Restore Your iPhone or iPad From a Backup

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    or will unfortunately lose all your information.

These modes only activate once your iPhone switches on and connects to the internet again.

Should You Choose to Erase Your iPhone?

Hopefully, these tips helped you find your iPhone, even if it says it’s offline. However, you may have to consider erasing your device if you really can’t find it.

Taking this option means you’ve entirely given up hope. In most cases, we think it’s better to use Lost Mode. It doesn’t matter if you lost your phone 24 hours ago or six months ago. If someone finds it and turns it on, they will be able to see your message and hopefully return it to you. You may consider offering a reward too.

The main advice for anyone who has lost their phone is simply not to panic. With today’s always-on world, someone will hopefully find it and get it back online. Speaking of which, make sure you know what to do if you find a lost iPhone

Found a Lost or Stolen iPhone? Here’s What to Do

Found a Lost or Stolen iPhone? Here’s What to Do

Found a lost or stolen iPhone? You can do plenty to help return the device to its rightful owner.
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What Microsoft’s latest Windows 10 update upheaval means

Microsoft’s latest update upheaval will have long-term impact on Windows 10, affecting enterprise and small business upgrade scheduling and pushing consumers to continue working as free testers for the company.

The biggest news from Microsoft’s July 1 announcement about the-until-then-ignored Windows 10 1909 – the second upgrade of 2019, tagged with the firm’s yymm format – was that the company is scaling back feature upgrades, true feature upgrades, to just one a year. What had been the fall refresh would, in fact, shrink to the equal of an old-school “service pack,” last used with Windows 7.

Each spring, Microsoft was implicitly telling customers, it would issue a Windows 10 upgrade filled with new features and functionality; each fall, it would deliver a performance and reliability update based on the spring upgrade. That fall update would essentially be a more polished version of the spring feature upgrade, nothing more, with new features either absent or reduced to a minimum.

But the one-upgrade-a-year-is-enough revelation – as important as that is, what with Microsoft’s harping that its Windows-as-a-service (WaaS) strategy rested on multiple upgrades annually – was not the end of it.

Yes, 30 is more than 18

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What the latest iOS passcode hack means for you

A mobile device forensics company now says it can break into any Apple device running iOS 12.3 or below.

Israeli-based Cellebrite made the announcement on an updated webpage and through a tweet where it asserted it can unlock and extract data from all iOS and “high-end Android” devices.

On the webpage describing the capabilities of its Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) Physical Analyzer, Cellebrite said it can “determine locks and perform a full file- system extraction on any iOS device, or a physical extraction or full file system (File-Based Encryption) extraction on many high-end Android devices, to get much more data than what is possible through logical extractions and other conventional means.”

This isn’t the first time Cellebrite has claimed to have been able to unlock iPhones. Last year, it and Atlanta-based Grayshift said they had discovered a way to unlock encrypted iPhones running iOS 11 and marketed their efforts to law enforcement and private forensics firms worldwide. According to a police warrant obtained by Forbes, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security tested Cellebrite’s technology.

Grayshift’s technology was snapped up by regional law enforcement agencies and won contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Secret Service.

Shortly after the two companies announced their ability to bypass iPhone passcodes, Apple announced its own advances to further limit unauthorized access to locked iOS devices through a USB Restricted Mode. In iOS 12, Apple changed the default settings on iPhones to shutter access to the USB port when the phone has not been unlocked for one hour.

While the passcode hack may be unsettling to iPhone owners, Cellebrite’s technology doesn’t work via the cloud; it requires physical access to a device, according to Jack Gold, principal analyst with J. Gold Associates.

“I am speculating of course, but if you can work below the phone BIOS level, you can do lots of stuff (think of it as a root kit like on a PC),” Gold said via email. “If this is indeed their penetration method, then the level of OS almost doesn’t matter, since they are breaking in below the OS level and it’s more about the actually hardware inside the phone.”

Vladimir Katalov, CEO of Russian forensic tech provider ElcomSoft, described Cellebrite’s technology as based on a brute-force attack, meaning their platform tries various passcodes until it unlocks the phone. And, he said, both Cellebrite and Grayshift say they have “a kind of” solution to USB Restricted Mode. But any details are kept secret and made available only to customers who are under a strict NDA, Katalov said.

“From what I know, both companies [Cellebrite and Grayshift] are now able to extract most of the data even from locked iPhones running iOS 11 and older – without recovery of the passcode (though some data remains encrypted based on the real passcode). The limitation is the phone should be unlocked at least once after last reboot,” Katalov said via email. “From what we heard, it is about 10 to 30 passcodes per second in AFU (After First Unlock) mode, and just one passcode in 10 minutes in BFU (Before First Unlock).”

The iPhone Xr and Xs models (based on A12 SoC) are harder to break because the password recovery for it always runs at BFU speed (even if the phone was unlocked once), Katalov claimed. “Cellebrite does not support these models in their on-premise solution though, but it is available from their [Cellebrite Advanced Services],” he said.

Both Cellebrite and Grayshift’s technology not only try all possible passcode combinations but they start with most popular passcodes first, such as 1234; it is especially important in BFU mode, where only about 150 passcodes per day can be tried. Custom dictionary (wordlist) can be also be used, Katalov said.

In general, iOS devices are very well protected, while some Android devices provide an even better level of security, Katalov said.

To protect your smart phone, Katalov recommends the following:

  • Use at least a 6-digit passcode
  • Make the passcode complex
  • Enable USB restricted mode
  • Know how to activate it (S.O.S.)
  • Best of all, use an iPhone Xr or Xs model or newer

“For normal users, I think there is no risk at all,” Katalov said. “Though, of course, I am looking for better iOS security in the future. At the same time, forensic investigations should be still performed on a regular basis. Honestly, I do not see the perfect solution here, to find a good balance between privacy and security and having an ability to break into locked devices to find evidence.”

The real risk to users, Gold said, is that bad actors could get their hands on the technology and use it.

“Cellebrite claims it’s got everything under control, but I’ve seen some rumors saying that they’ve lost some systems and that could lead to a reverse engineering scenario where bad actors duplicate the tech for bad purposes,” Gold said. “Of course, there’s also a privacy issue – once public agencies have the tech, will they use it to invade our privacy? It will be hard to do on a large scale, as it requires a physical connection to the phone. But in select situations it could be an issue.”

Gold doesn’t believe Apple, Google or any other phone manufacturer will be able to completely secure their devices because encryption is a game of “advances” where vendors make security advances and hackers find a way to evolve their break-in efforts.

Andrew Crocker, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed with Gold, saying it’s nearly inevitable that dedicated attackers, “including Cellebrite,” will find a way around security features.

“That leads to a kind of cat-and-mouse game between security teams at Apple and Android and companies like Cellebrite and GrayKey,” Crocker said. “We should remember that dynamic the next time we hear law enforcement officials who want to mandate encryption backdoors talk about ‘unhackable’ devices and ‘zones of lawlessness.'”

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What the End of “Works With Nest” Means For You

"Doesn't work with nest" style logo in front of a home.

Google announced the end of “Works With Nest” at Google I/O 2019. Many companies, from IFTTT to Philips Hue, use Works With Nest to automate your smarthome. Those automations will break soon.

The “Works With Nest” program is an API third-party companies used to integrate your Nest devices with your smarthome. That shutdown doesn’t happen until August 31, 2019, but after that date, any company or service that uses the program to access data and work with your Nest devices will be cut off. What does that mean for you? It depends on both the companies’ willingness to move to Google’s new program and your willingness to make use of new integrations.

“Works With Nest” Automated Nest Devices

Works with Nest information showing Vivint, Lutron, and Chamberlain integrations

If you own a Nest thermostat or camera, you might have set up Works with Nest integrations without realizing it. The program allowed third-party devices to talk to your Nest devices so they could work together. The list of supported devices is extensive and covers everything from Control4 smarthomes to Lifx and Philips Hue Lightbulbs, to August Locks, Lutron, and more.

The idea is straight forward. For example, if your smarthome-enabled garage door opened, it could reach out to your thermostat and inform it you arrived home. It could tell Nest to adjust the thermostat or start recording with your Nest Camera.

The Program Gave Your Data to Outside Companies

Magic Mirror app showing Nest temperature info.
Josh Hendrickson

Google sees a fundamental issue with this form of integration. Under the current API, adjusting your thermostat gave full access of your Nest data to your smart garage opener and the company who makes it. That makes some sense. Before telling your thermostat to turn your heat up or down, the other company needs to know how it’s currently set. Once that data leaves Google’s servers, Google can’t make any guarantees that it will be adequately secured or used appropriately.

You can see this in action with a custom made app we made for a home-built smart mirror. The app displays the current and set temperatures along with humidity data. It isn’t showing on a Nest or Google device, so we’re extracting the data from Google’s servers (and technically making the data available on a local server).

From a privacy standpoint, that may be fine as we own the data. But, if an individual can pull all this information using the Works with Nest program, so can a company. Technically speaking, this one-off app could be published, and anyone could use it by signing in with a Nest Account, thus handing over the data of anyone who used the app to a single developer.

Sure, it’s each user’s decision—but does everyone really understand the decision they’re making and how much data they’re handing over?

Works With Nest is Going Away, But All Is Not Lost

Two people in a living room with a nest in the background and the words "What's happening with nest?"

If your smart devices or services talk to your Nest products through Works with Nest, they’ll lose that capability after August 31st. Any integration you set up, such as a door lock telling your Nest camera to record, will stop working.

Google is offering a replacement service called “Works with Google Assistant.” The replacement service isn’t Works for Nest renamed; it will require effort for companies to switch over. The experience will be different, both for the companies that implement it and you.

While Works with Nest handed data and control of Nest products to third-party companies, Works with Google Assistant does not. Instead, Google handles everything from data to control. Your data stays with your Google account. On the one hand, that provides more privacy and security for your data. On the other hand, it does offload some work to you.

Your locks, garage door openers, and lights won’t be able to decide what the temperature of your house should be. And they’ll lack the access to make any changes. Instead, you’ll be required to set up routines in Google Assistant to accomplish those tasks. You choose to have the thermostat adjusted and by how much, or the camera started because someone turned on a light or opened a door.

That’s how it will work if the companies can or will make the switch from Works With Nest to Works With Assistant. IFTTT is silent on the matter. On Twitter, Philips is referring users to Nest’s site for more information, but that doesn’t say anything of the light bulb company’s plans going forward. You can find Philips listed in the Works with Google program, but Philips may have more work to do to take full advantage of the service.

On the other hand, Control4 and Lutron both sent us press releases pledging to make the jump to Works with Google Assistant.

What You’ll Need to Do

In its FAQ, Google explains that to take advantage of the new service, you’ll need to convert your Nest account to a Google account when it sends out invites later this year. If you have both accounts already, you can merge them. But you may not want to do that immediately. The moment you make the switch, your Works with Nest integrations stop working. If the other products in your house aren’t updated yet, you’ll have to wait for added functionality. In its press statement, Control4 advises its users not to make the switch right away:

Control4 is currently working on a new Nest driver through the “Works with Google Assistant” program with the intention to make it available before the shutdown of the “Works with Nest,” however this is dependent on receiving Google certification. Control4 is advising users to wait to make any changes to their “Works with Nest” or Google accounts until after the new driver has been installed.

You should check what integrations you are using, and what those companies are saying before merging your accounts. After you do migrate, you’ll need to set up routines to control your devices. The process to migrate your account isn’t clear at any rate, Google says it will start emailing Nest users over “the next few months” so you have room to wait.

If you never integrated your Nest with other smarthome products, this doesn’t affect you at all. If you have set it up, your data will be in the hands of fewer companies going forward. That’s good for your privacy, even if sole control of your data is also desirable for Google.

While this is inconvenient in the short run, it will make your smarthome more secure in the long run.

RELATED: How to Set Up and Use “Routines” in Google Assistant

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Throwback Thursday: Pretty much what everyone means by it

It’s a few years ago, and this pilot fish is working at a big computer company where he’s getting ready to move into a new position.

“I was leaving a team of highly skilled developers that I had hand-picked,” fish says. “I insisted that, before I left, I got a chance to brief the new manager.”

Fish’s bosses assure him that his replacement is the cream of the crop, and perfectly suited for a dynamic, high-tech development environment.

At the appointed time, everyone sits down together: fish, his replacement and the team leads. Fish begins to explain the goals of the team, including the fact that it was dedicated to providing software that doesn’t require a reboot to install.

Says fish, “At that, my replacement interrupted and said, ‘OK, now, when you say, “Reboot,” what exactly do you mean by that?’

“I’m not sure, but I think I cried.”

Sharky wants the cream of the crop when it comes to true tales of IT life. Send me yours at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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SiriusXM Essential Means You No Longer Need a Car

SiriusXM has launched a new streaming subscription package called SiriusXM Essential. While SiriusXM is best known for offering satellite radio in your car, Essential is just for streaming, meaning you no longer need to own a car to listen to SiriusXM.

SiriusXM Launches SiriusXM Essential

SiriusXM has launched Sirius XM Essential citing the fact that “approximately two-thirds of people in the U.S. (ages 12+) stream their audio entertainment”. SiriusXM has essentially realized it needs to start catering to people who don’t listen in their cars.

Essential is “for people who want to listen on a mobile phone, tablet, desktop, and on connected devices in the home including devices with Amazon Alexa, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku, Sonos speakers, Xbox, Sony PlayStation and more”.

What Do You Get With SiriusXM Essential?

Essential gets you 200+ music channels, 100 SiriusXM Xtra channels, several sports talk channels, plus an “array of entertainment, news and comedy programming choices.” However, there’s no Howard Stern, or the NBA, NHL, and NCAA channels.

In the press release introducing SiriusXM Essential, SiriusXM’s Matt Epstein said:

“We’ve now created the Essential subscription as an appealing option for the many people, particularly younger consumers, who don’t have a car or don’t spend a lot of time in their car. The Essential package offers an attractive bundle of content at a competitively low price among streaming services.”

SiriusXM Essential costs $8/month, but you can try it first for $1/month for three months.

Streaming Is the Future of Everything

This is a good move by SiriusXM. All signs point to streaming being the future of, well, everything. So while there will still be people listening in their cars, offering access to streamers for a reduced price makes absolute sense.

In addition to launching its Essential subscription package, SiriusXM has wasted no time in making use of its acquisition of Pandora. So people only interested in podcasts can now listen to SiriusXM shows on Pandora

You Can Now Listen to SiriusXM Shows on Pandora

You Can Now Listen to SiriusXM Shows on Pandora

Pandora users are gaining access to some of SiriusXM’s most popular talk shows, all of which will be available as podcasts.
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without the need to pay a penny.

Explore more about: Media Streaming, SiriusXM, Streaming Music.

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If You’ve Received HTTP Status Code 418, It Means The Server Is?

3D render of a teapot

Answer: A Teapot

HTTP status codes are usually reserved for serious issues like server faults, missing files, and other matters of importance. Thanks to an April Fools’ Day joke in 1998, however, there’s a particularly curious (and entirely nonsensical) HTTP status code devoted to indicating the device contacted is, in fact, a teapot.

How did such an odd code come about? On April 1, 1998, the Internet Society released a tongue-in-cheek network protocol memo through the Internet Engineering Task Force’s Request For Comments (RFC) system. This memo, RFC 2324, entitled Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol, detailed the HTCPCP protocol, a derivative of HTTP intended for controlling, monitoring, and diagnosing internet-connected coffee pots.

Among the many codes included in the HTCPCP return/error code schema, there is a code, 418 (“I’m a teapot”), that is intended to politely inform the recipient that the device they are attempting to brew coffee with is, in fact, a teapot and incapable of producing the coffee they desire.

As you can imagine, the error code was never formally added to the HTTP error code schema and, should you actually receive the code, you’ve either encountered a webmaster with a sense of humor or an actual internet-enabled brewing machine coded by a tinkerer with a fondness for yesteryear’s April Fools’ Day pranks.

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What the Apple-Qualcomm Settlement Means

Apple and Qualcomm met each other in court this week in what was supposed to be a brutal trial. Turns out that wasn’t the case, as the two companies surprisingly agreed to a settlement yesterday. This means three things.

Firstly, the settlement ends all ongoing legal action across the board—from Apple, Apple’s manufacturing partners, and Qualcomm. While it’s unclear why the two suddenly decided to settle, it’s very likely that neither wanted company secrets made publicly available in court. The longer the trial would’ve gone on, the more likely that would’ve been. Makes sense.

Secondly, Apple will pay Qualcomm an “undisclosed amount,” along with royalties going forward. The companies have also reached a six-year patent licensing agreement with the option to extend it an additional two years, as we as a multiyear chipset deal. In other words: it’s really a win for both companies…but mostly for Qualcomm.

Third, this puts Intel out of the 5G game completely. There’s been a lot of banter about Apple’s lack of confidence in Intel to provide the company with the 5G modems required for a 5G iPhone, which is likely another reason the company decided to settle. With Apple and Qualcomm on good terms and entering into a multiyear agreement for chipsets (read: modems), this means Apple no longer has to rely on Intel. As a direct result of the settlement, Intel has announced that it will be exiting the 5G smartphone modem market. Ouch.

So, what does all this really mean for you? It means that a 5G iPhone will be released sooner rather than later, with the possibility of seeing a model hit with the new iPhones this year (though still unlikely). Apple wouldn’t have been able to deliver a 5G iPhone in a timely manner if it relied on Intel’s 5G modems, which are still in development, while Qualcomm’s are already available. This settlement, well, settles that issue.

In other news, Verizon is going to start charging more to activate phones in stores, the disc-less Xbox One is official, Adblock could cause malicious code to be executed, and a lot more. Here are the biggest stories for this morning:

  • Verizon wants more money: Verizon wants people to buy phones online, so it’s going to start charging more to activate your device in stores. That’s absurd. [The Verge]
  • The Xbox One goes disc-less: The long-rumored Xbox One S without a drive for physical media is official. It’ll be available starting May 7th for $250. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense. [Engadget]
  • AdBlock exploits: A new exploit found in AdBlock, AdBlock Plus, and uBlock could allow malicious code to be executed. Fortunately, the AdBlock devs will be fixing the issue “as soon as technically possible.” [Bleeping Computer]
  • Twitter gets better: Twitter announced new tools to clean up online harassment on its platform, claiming they will flag up to 38 percent of abusive tweets. [Engadget]
  • Google fixes AMP: Well, kind of. If you visit an AMP page, you can’t see the exact URL of the page you’re visiting, as it’s run through Google first. A new change will fix that. [Google Webmaster Blog]
  • One person authored Beowulf: The origins of Beowulf have long been debated: when was it written? Who wrote it? But now researches at Harvard have concluded that a single author most likely penned the piece. Neat. [Ars Technica]

Following up on yesterday’s talk about Notre Dame, Digital Trends had a fascinating story about how the fire, while still terrible destructive, would’ve been significantly worse without the use of DJI Drones and a firefighting robot named Colossus. The drones were used to get an aerial view of the fire and how it was spreading, Colossus features a motorized water cannon, a 360-degree HD camera with 25x zoom and thermal imaging, and the ability to tackle nearly any terrain. So cool.

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