Keylogger Found on HP Laptops; Is Facebook Out of Touch?

Posted May 11th, 2017 at 12:43 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE – The Hewlett-Packard (HP) logo is seen as part of a display at the Microsoft Ignite technology conference in Chicago, Illinois. (Reuters)

‘Keylogger’ Found on Several HP Laptops

A security researcher at Swiss firm Modzero has uncovered an audio driver on HP laptops with a keylogger feature that records every keystroke. Anyone with local access to the affected computer could comprise passwords and other data. The logging activity was discovered in the Conexant HD audio driver package on HP business and enterprise models. Those include HP Elitebook, ProBook, ZBook, and the Folio G1 laptop.

Microsoft Build 2017 Day 2

The Microsoft Build 2017 developer conference entered its second day Thursday, with a focus on the Fall Creators Update for Windows 10, new cloud-based features, mixed reality systems, and universal apps. In Wednesday’s session, Microsoft focused on its Azure cloud platform, artificial intelligence, and cross-device integration.

Facebook’s Mobile App Has Gotten Too Complicated for Old People Like Me

Writer Chris O’Brian argues Facebook has lost sight of simplicity with the latest version of its mobile app, making even the act of taking a photo much more complicated than it needs to be. The app used to be “relatively simple and elegant,” says O’Brian, but now it is a “hyperactive Snapchat clone” for people who don’t use Snapchat. Writer Jack Morse goes further by suggesting that users should delete their Facebook app. In his view, Facebook has become “shockingly out of touch with what it means to be human.”

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Microsoft Conference Digs Deep Into AI; Malawi First to Use OpenTrial

Posted May 10th, 2017 at 12:30 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A Microsoft logo is seen next to a cloud in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters)

FILE – A Microsoft logo is seen next to a cloud in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters)

Microsoft Fully Dives Into Artificial Intelligence

CEO Satya Nadela kicked off Microsoft’s Build 2017 developer conference in Seattle, Washington,  Wednesday, with a call for technological empowerment. The Azure cloud platform and artificial intelligence are part of the company’s push to create smarter interactions between technology and users across multiple devices. The three-day conference will feature presentations about Windows 10 S operating system, bots, object recognition, and virtual and mixed reality, among other things.

Malawi to Use OpenTrial App for Citizens to Access Justice System

Malawi is about to become the first country to use a smartphone and tablet app to give citizens access to their justice system. The app, OpenTrial, informs users of their basic rights, lets them find out if someone they know is being detained and report incidents they witness. The NGO OpenTrial, which launched the app, hopes it will help keep the legal system open and subject to public scrutiny.

Nvidia CEO: ‘AI Is Going to Infuse All of Software’

The CEO of Nvidia, Jen-Hsun Huang, said artificial intelligence (AI) will infuse all software as it drives automation, with huge implications. The U.S. company, which manufactures graphics processors, has already announced it plans to train 100,000 developers this year on deep learning technology to prepare them for work in an AI-driven firm.

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Android’s App Permissions Flaw; Assistive Tech Gets Smarter

Posted May 9th, 2017 at 12:30 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

A Google carpet is seen at the entrance of the new headquarters of Google France before its official inauguration in Paris, France. (Reuters)

Serious App Permissions Flaw Will Not be Fixed Until Android O

Google’s Android operating system might get a lot of unwanted attention from hackers because of its popularity, but research from Check Point security firm points to deeper problems. Google Play’s app permission model grants apps downloaded from the store extensive access, putting users at risk of malware, ransomware and other threats. Google does not intend to address the issue until it releases its new Android O operating system.

Ransomware Remains Profitable as Victims Fall Prey to Attacks

New research from Barracuda networks found that 47 percent out of more than 1,000 respondents have been victimized by ransomware attacks. Among those attacked, 59 percent could not identify the source of the ransomware and 75 percent of those who found the source said it came via email.

Assistive Tech Gets Smart

Smart assistive technologies increasingly are coming to the aid of people with disabilities, from AI-enabled eyesight services to smart hearing aids and other connected devices. Writer Michelle Donahue looks at some of the new technologies that are opening a world of accessibility to the disabled.

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Immersive Education Has Promise, but a Long Way to Go

Posted May 5th, 2017 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

USA Department of the Interior (DOI) National Park Service (NPS) rangers work together with Immersive Education Club college students and high school students to recreate historic Bent's Old Fort in Virtual Reality (VR) for American culture and history. (IED)

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) National Park Service (NPS) rangers work together with Immersive Education Club college students and high school students to recreate historic Bent’s Old Fort in Virtual Reality. (IED)

Virtual reality (VR) technologies are slowly, albeit selectively, showing up in U.S. schools as educational tools. And there are efforts to bring them to schools in developing countries as well. But given the challenges, some experts say it is too early to even consider their impact on education.

Spearheading the effort to bring virtual reality technologies to classrooms around the world is VR First, a global program that aims to provide VR labs and related headgear and hardware to interested educators and developers.

The initiative marks “a new era of immersive technologies,” said co-founder Ferhan Ozkan, similar in its adoption and transition periods to “technology waves like computer[s], internet and mobile.” But the biggest challenge, he added in an email, is creating awareness and educating developers about these technologies.

That will take time. Eventually, though, he believes “immersive technologies will be embraced worldwide,” including in developing countries.

Michael Trucano, the World Bank’s Senior Education and Technology Policy Specialist, sees potential promise in immersive technologies for education in developing regions, particularly augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). But for now, they are surrounded by “undeniable hype.”

Adoption has been slow, even in the U.S. Some schools, in partnership with nonprofits and government agencies, are just beginning to use virtual reality to recreate historical sites like Colorado’s Bent’s Old Fort, or overlay the real world with a virtual layer to teach anatomy or a foreign language.

Students at Otero Junior College in Colorado scan 3-D humans & objects for the the Virtual Reality recreation of Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site. (IED)

Students at Otero Junior College in Colorado scan 3-D humans and objects for the Virtual Reality recreation of Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. (IED)

Part of the reason is that standards and basic design principles for educational applications still have to be figured out. One group working to define standards and best practices is the Immersive Education Initiative (IED), a nonprofit international collaboration of educators, researchers, and various public and private groups.

Any successful educational applications will have to “take advantage of and fit nicely into existing infrastructures and teaching and learning practices,” said Trucano. So far, the applications he has seen are “poor fits.”

It seems like I am pitched an idea about ‘using VR to transform learning in developing countries every other week. None has seemed to me to be particularly compelling or practical — yet – Michael Trucano

“Are there compelling VR software applications today that would enable teachers and learners in developing countries to do things that couldn’t already be done well enough using other means and at much lower price points?” he asked. “Not that I have seen. But it’s still very early.”

The interest is there, IED director Aaron Walsh told Techtonics, noting that a number of educators and organizations from India have expressed interest in learning how to use VR technologies for immersive education in their classrooms.

Bringing these technologies into the classroom can be done quickly and easily, he said, provided the infrastructure and applications already exist, which isn’t always the case in developing countries. Virtual reality experiences require high-speed networks, access to computing systems and affordable devices, all of which remain prohibitively expensive for use on a massive scale.

Prices would have to “fall precipitously” for VR applications to become “anything more than a novelty ‘extra’ for small numbers of schools in developing countries,” said Trucano.

Training will also be necessary to get the most value out of the VR experience, said Walsh. “The teacher has to be trained on how to use these technologies. And the problem a lot of teachers face is … they don’t have enough experience to realize some of the things they’re doing are ineffective and sometimes counterproductive.”

And traditional approaches and behavior also need to change – a much more difficult task than resolving software and hardware issues.

“These are all very real challenges – especially if we are talking about using VR ‘at scale’ in an education system,” added Trucano. “It is always possible to have small ‘hothouse flower’ projects, where you can ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place, and can devote resources to related teacher training and support. But to do something in a sustained way, over time, in lots of places, in a way that has a real impact — that is a much taller order.”

Given software and hardware challenges, both Walsh and Trucano believe mobile phones, increasingly in use among students in developing countries, should be the power that drives VR, AR, and MR in the long-term, provided all the other requirements are met.

“What will be really exciting,” he said, is when we can “do things with VR that weren’t possible or perhaps even conceivable using ‘old’ technologies. We’re not there yet.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

May 4 Is World Password Day; Malware Is Coming to a Mac Near You

Posted May 4th, 2017 at 12:35 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - The word 'password' on a computer screen is magnified with a magnifying glass in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, Germany. (Reuters)

FILE – The word ‘password’ on a computer screen is magnified with a magnifying glass in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, Germany. (Reuters)

On World Password Day, Here Are 4 Tips to Secure Online Accounts

In case you didn’t now, May 4 is World Password Day. And if you’ve been recycling the same tired password for numerous accounts, stop. To mark the occasion, writer Conner Forrest has a few tips to help you secure your online accounts, starting with strong passwords.

Google: Fake Google Doc Worm Affected Fewer than 0.1% of Gmail Users

A nasty spam worm making email rounds Wednesday with a fake Google Doc link went viral when unsuspecting users clicked the phishing link, thinking it was shared by one of their contacts. Once the link was clicked, the bug emailed itself to all of the user’s contacts. Google said the worm affected a small number of Gmail accounts and has been disabled. The company also introduced additional security measures to protect users.

Mac Malware: Coming Soon to a Computer Near You

If you thought you were safe from viruses and vicious hackers just because you have a Mac, think again. Malware targeting Macs jumped 744 percent in 2016, according to a recent report form McAfee Labs. The security firm identified nearly 460,000 malware instances for the Mac in 2016, most of them propelled by adware bundled with software that came with their computers.

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

The Trouble With Android; ‘Instant Apps’ Coming to Android JellyBean

Posted May 3rd, 2017 at 12:13 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

An Android mascot is seen in front of a displayed logo of Apple in this illustration taken in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 5, 2015. (Reuters)

FILE – An Android mascot is seen in front of a displayed logo of Apple in this illustration taken in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Reuters)

Can Google Win Its Battle With Android Malware?

The Android operating system continues to get the lion’s share of malware and ransomware by virtue of its large market dominance, according to recent data. Unlike Apple, which does not encourage non-Apple apps, Google allows Android users to download apps from other stores, in addition to its own. But these apps are vulnerable to manipulation or could come from suspect websites. Rogue apps have made it to the official Google store either because hackers exploited Google’s open-source philosophy or because the company’s app-vetting process is less rigorous than Apple’s. Google has started securing its store, but experts say more needs to be done.

Scientists Are Turning Amazon’s Alexa into an Automated Lab Helper

Amazon’s AI voice assistant Alexa can turn down the lights, play music, order a pizza, and respond to a host of other tasks. But software developer James Rhodes, whose wife is a microbiologist, has found a new use for it as a lab assistant. Rhodes created a new skill for Alexa called Helix that can help with simple calculations, reading aloud, or researching scientific stuff.

‘Instant Apps’ That Don’t Require a Download Are Coming to Android

A new feature from Google called “Instant Apps” could change the way Android smartphone owners use apps. The feature runs apps immediately without downloading them in their entirety to the phone, which could save space and make the user experience smoother. The product, designed for Android JellyBean 4.1 and up, is being tested and could be released soon. Writer Trevor Mogg suggests Instant Apps could “dramatically transform the way we interact with apps on our Android devices.”

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Facebook Denies Mood-based Ad Tools; ‘Minecraft’ to Teach Coding

Posted May 2nd, 2017 at 1:09 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE -A man walks past a mural in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California.

FILE -A man walks past a mural in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California.

Facebook Denies Selling Ad-targeting Based on Users’ Emotions

Facebook has denied a report from The Australian that claimed the social media giant gives advertisers tools to target users whenever they are in emotionally-vulnerable moods. The newspaper claimed that includes insecure teenagers as young as 14. A Facebook spokesman called the claims “misleading” and denied that the company gives advertisers tools to target its users based on their emotions.

GOP’s ‘Internet Freedom Act’ Permanently Guts Net Neutrality Authority

A new bill pushed by nine Republican U.S. senators would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from ever attempting to impose net neutrality regulations. The aptly-named ‘Restoring Internet Freedom Act’ would prevent the classification of internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers. The classification prevented ISPs from blocking or prioritizing internet content in exchange for payment. This is not the first time such a bill is introduced in Congress.

Minecraft: Education Edition Gets Upgrade to Teach Kids Coding

The education version of the popular game of Minecraft is getting a new feature that lets kids learn how to code. Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition will now include an add-on to access a variety of learning platforms, including MakeCode, which lets players learn JavaScript

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Hype Aside, Blockchain Could Empower Developing World

Posted April 28th, 2017 at 11:35 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

If you believe all the hype, blockchain is the next revolution that will change the world as mobile technology did in early 2000. It might. But a few hurdles need to be cleared before this digital platform can potentially empower some of the world’s poorest citizens.

Simply put, blockchain is a data application or ledger that is permanent and can be shared without a central operator.

‘It’s a technology for audit trails,” said Ryan Singer, CEO of Blockchain Health Company, which uses cryptocurrency Bitcoin and the blockchain platform to make it harder to introduce fraud in clinical trials. “… For the first time ever, you have records on the internet that are more auditable than paper. And that’s crucial.”

But at the moment, the only two blockchain networks “in production use and with real money in large amounts are just Bitcoin and Etherium,” both of which are digital currencies.

Blockchain is the technology that underlies Bitcoin or, as Singer put it, the technology inspired by Bitcoin. And while there are plenty of initiatives looking to use blockchain, most of them, according to Singer, “seem to be more hype than substance.”

“And they seem to be in many ways a way of avoiding the conversation about meaningful disruption,” he said. That’s the kind of technology that “changes power structures, that takes formerly disempowered people and makes them more powerful, and takes formerly empowered people and makes them normal.”

The “disempowered,” according to Peter Nichol, CIO Healthcare Business and Technology Executive, are two and a half billion unbanked people, or three quarters of the world’s poor, by World Bank estimates – those who live on less than $2 a day, typically in rural areas. With this little money to live on, let alone save, they can’t afford a bank account.

“It really starts with identification and knowing how to provide that in the quickest way,” he said. “And a lot of folks who live in different rural areas, they don’t have the means to get there to provide – even if they had … an identification card. Many don’t even have a card.”

Proof of identity is key to accessing financial services such as savings accounts and microfinance. And it is the first step toward unlocking health care and other services. In countries like India, for example, an identity card is necessary for propane rations. “If they don’t have that identity, it’s very difficult to provide any services,” added Nichol, author of The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare.

There already are blockchain-powered economic identity systems in developing countries, such as remittance platform Oradian in Nigeria, where “over 300,000 people already can transfer money,” he said, 90 percent of them are projected to be women.

BanQu also provides unbanked individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions with economic identities to empower women farmers, for example, by making them visible on the supply chain and establishing their economic credentials so that they can get better prices for their goods.

Blockchain’s public ledgers make it easier to track these transactions and harder to falsify documents, said Dr. Adrian Gropper, Chief Technology Officer for Patient Privacy Rights, a Texas nonprofit organization. That makes it ideal for supply chain management and tracking identities when multitudes of people descend on a crisis scene, for example, where “it is a fairly significant problem.”

Gropper, who is part of an effort to mint a new model of decentralized identity called Rebooting Web of Trust, believes the technology can help indirectly as institutions and governments start to issue digital identities linked to the blockchain to citizens and refugees.

Having public documents on blockchain that help identify people across borders or in a developing country where they could be subject to corruption “can be a very big win,” he said. “And this issue of identity – standardized blockchain identity for refugees – is one of our primary use cases.”

A Syrian woman fills out a document as she waits to register at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees headquarter in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 30, 2017. (AP)

A Syrian woman fills out a document as she waits to register at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees headquarter in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 30, 2017. (AP)

Several countries have experimented with national identification systems, with varying degrees of success. In Britain’s case, for example, care.data, a program aimed at providing country-wide unified access to providers, ran into trouble because people were reluctant to sign up.

“They don’t trust that they will have a protected identity,” said Nichol. And as blockchain gets into providing this type of access, he said the challenge then will be how to “incentivize” people to get involved in the process. “It’s a very tough challenge.”

“Privacy is not an inherent property of a distributed ledger like a blockchain,” added Gropper. “Basically, what you’re doing is you’re taking information and literally spreading it everywhere, by definition. That’s what makes it work. So when you have situations where privacy is important, like health records, it’s much more complicated. … It has to be carefully privacy-engineered.”

But what makes blockchain effective at deterring manipulation also presents a “significant” downside” – the lack of a recoverability mechanism when mistakes occur in the official record.

“You can go to court or you can go to the government, or you can go to a group of companies, and they are responsible for making the change or correcting an error in a ledger,” he added. “But when you implement these systems, especially when the systems are based on public blockchains, you often give up the ability to have a … recovery mechanism or an error-correcting mechanism when something goes wrong.”

This is where blockchain application development is at right now for those working in this field, said Gropper. The key is “striking that balance between having recoverability when you want it or recourse to the courts if you can get it, and having systems which are inherently not subject to human corruption or intervention.”

Challenges aside, blockchain already has “changed a lot of the world” since it emerged in 2008, said Nichol. And he believes its “wave” will continue to grow even as awareness of what it can do lags behind the hype.

Recalling the early days of the internet, mobile technology, and cloud computing, he said people did not grasp the full potential of these technologies at first, but then they explored and experimented to learn more about their capabilities and business utility.

In the next 24 months, Singer expects blockchain to make “major inroads in some very important cases in the health care industry” and drive a ” lot of very important, very necessary change.”

And he believes developing countries will leapfrog to blockchain, skipping traditional systems and databases that often are owned or run by transacting parties, just as they did when mobile technology disrupted their world.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Apple Eyes Money-transfer Service; Cyber Threats Haunt US Agencies

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 12:56 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

A customer makes a transaction at a money transfer point that offers services through Wari and other transfer companies in Dakar, Senegal, March 15, 2017. (Reuters)

A customer makes a transaction at a money transfer point that offers services through Wari and other transfer companies, in Dakar, Senegal, March 15, 2017. (Reuters)

Apple in Talks to Launch Its Own Money-transfer Service

Apple has been flirting with the idea of building its own money-transfer service for a while. But recent discussions with partners in the payments industry seem to put it back on this track in a market dominated by traditional players like PayPal. According to sources familiar with the talks, the suggested service would allow iPhone users to send and receive money digitally.

Up to 34 Percent of US Government Agencies Saw Data Breaches Last Year

A new report from security firms Thales e-Security and 451 Research says 65 percent of U.S. federal agencies experienced some sort of data breach in the past and 34 percent reported at least one last year. Up to 48 percent of federal respondents polled for the 2017 Data Threat Report said they consider themselves “extremely vulnerable.”

VR for Change Summit Shines Spotlight on Impactful Virtual Reality Projects

Games for Change, an organization that promotes positive social impact, is adding virtual reality to its annual Games for Change Festival this year. The VR for Change Summit, to be held July 31-August 2 in New York City, will also look at augmented and mixed reality realities and how they can be used for social change

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Ransomware Payouts on the Rise; STEM Stigmas Start as Early as Age 6

Posted April 26th, 2017 at 12:55 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An illustrations shows a man typing on a computer keyboard in Warsaw, Poland. (Reuters)

FILE – An illustrations shows a man typing on a computer keyboard in Warsaw, Poland. (Reuters)

Symantec: Cyber Extortion Demands Surge as Victims Keep Paying

Hackers are getting bolder as more of their victims are willing to pay hefty sums to free their computers from malicious software, according to cybersecurity firm Symantec. The trend is encouraging cybercriminals to demand increasingly hefty sums from users. The average amount tripled last year to $1,077 from $294 and continues to rise in 2017. Up to 69 percent of targeted devices in 2016 were consumer PCs.

Amazon Wants to Put a Camera and Microphone in Your Bedroom

Amazon’s plan is to rig its voice assistant Echo with cameras and a microphone to help users decide what to wear. When unsure, users can take a picture of their outfit and share it with friends for an opinion. On top of that, a new app called StyleCheck also offers help to style-challenged users. The fate of the personal pictures and data Echo collects remains unclear.

By Age 6, Kids Already Think Boys Are Better in Programming, Robotics

New research from the University of Washington shows that children start adopting stereotypes that boys are better than girls in programming and robotics by the first grade. That includes girls with a strong negative impression about their gender’s tech abilities who also have the least interest in programming and robotics. But further research also suggests a girl can be encouraged to develop skills and more positive attitudes toward computing.

More:

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.