This Week in Tech
This week Intel announced a new CPU with 28 cores that runs at 5 Ghz. A day later AMD announced a CPU with 32 cores (no speed specified). Both announcements are a clear indication of the direction CPU development is taking for the future. Though no prices were announced these top of the range CPUs are likely to cost around R20 000 or R30 000 (just for the CPU). Maybe one day when I'm all grown up I'll get me one of those....
Microsoft moves under the sea
If you ever need proof that servers are designed not to be accessed directly by humans (but rather only through the network) then look no further than Microsoft's new data centre. It contains only 864 servers but, to save on energy costs it is submerged beneath the ocean off the Scottish shore. The sea keeps it cool without power hungry air conditioning - and it completely powered by renewable energy. Motherboard has the details.
Just because you see a 'deal' online don't believe that it's all that it's cracked up to be. MyBroadband investigates 'deals' on Takealot and finds that they come up seriously short... Remember always do some research and price comparisons before you click that 'buy' button.
Apple vs the plunderers of privacy
At its WWDC conference keynote held on Monday, Apple announce that its OS and browser (Safari) will take some serious measures to counter the way that you (the user) are tracked online by data vendors such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc. There are TWO main prongs to this defence:
On top of that, law enforcement (and therefore anyone else who can lay their hands on the technology) has been able to 'crack' and log into phones by using a box that connects to the phone by USB cable and brute forces its way through the password. No more. The new version of iOS will allow you to disable USB access if the phone has been inactive for an hour.
Here are some relevant links:
Apple and your digital health
Apple didn't stop with privacy. People have also been complaining that our devices are too addictive and demanding that manufacturers do something about it. Well Apple took these complaints to heart. The new iOS has a feature called Screentime which will allow you to track how much you use your device - in detail. You will be able to see how often you look at your phone or tablet, which apps take up most of your time (precisely measured). More than that, you will be able to set time limits for usage - and even specify these limits by app. So, for example, you can allocate yourself 15 minutes a day for Facebook. The OS will track the time you use (on your phone and tablet together), show you how much tome you have used, how much is left and in the end cut you off (obviously they do allow you to override the cutoff and continue). This could be a shocking eye opener for some of us...
Hacks, cracks and malware
Robots, Drones, etc.
That's it for this week....
Cartoon from: http://www.cagle.com/2016/02/apple-lock/ used under 'Fair use' provisions for this non-commercial, educational blog.
A backdoor is a method, often secret, of bypassing normal authentication in a product, computer system, cryptosystem or algorithm etc. Backdoors are often used for securing unauthorized remote access to a computer, or obtaining access to plaintext in cryptographic systems. - from Wikipedia
Apple vs The FBI
Next Tuesday (22 March) is a very important day for Apple - and for users of technology around the world. Not because Apple is launching any new products (that happens the day before), but because they will start fighting an incredibly important case in US Federal court. In case you missed it, here's a quick summary what is happening and what is at stake:
Full disclosure: This author is very biased in favour of Apple's case.
On 2 December 2015 San Bernardino (in California) was the site of a mass shooting that killed 14 and seriously injured 22 people. Four days later President Obama declared that the shooting was actually a terrorist attack.
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were declared 'home-grown terrorists' not linked to any specific terrorist organisation but inspired and motivated by terrorist groups such as ISIS or Al Quaeda. They became 'radicalised' (i.e. religious extremists prepared to commit acts of terror in the name of their faith) through the internet.
Four hours after the attack the couple (they were married) was killed in a shoot-out with the police.
During their investigation the FBI found an iPhone 5C that Farook used but which belonged to San Bernardino county (Farook's employer). It was the only one of three phones which the couple had not destroyed.
The FBI wants access to the data on the phone.
iOS 9 (the Apple operating system installed on the phone) allows the user to protect the phone and its contents by using a 4 digit passcode. The security has the following features:
The FBI asked Apple for help and Apple provided them with the phones iCloud backups - the only data that Apple had access to. The FBI was not happy with this because:
There was a way to try to get the phone to make a new backup, which Apple offered to do - but the FBI / San Bernardino law enforcement thought they were being clever and changed the iCloud password - which now no longer matched the password on the phone. So no new backup was possible.
Then, on 16 February 2016, the FBI got a Federal judge to issue an order to Apple to write a SPECIAL NEW VERSION of iOS to disable the security features on the phone so that they could hack it.
This was not a subpoena (telling Apple to appear in court / provide information) but an order issued under the All Writs Act of 1789. Apple was being told to write new software so that the government could hack a product that they make.
Apple refused to do what the FBI wanted. They decided instead to fight the FBI and the Federal judge's order in court.
Reasons for Apple's refusal to co-operate include:
Anyone who says that Apple should just do this for 'this one time' to fight terrorism does not understand how technology works. Once done, this can never be undone - and the US government has a pretty poor record of defending itself from hacks and leaks, so they can't claim that they can keep the backdoor safe and secret.
(The FBI will say that Apple is not a 'carrier' but a manufacturer - but that clearly goes against the spirit and intention of the law). Perhaps this is why they are trying to use a law that is over 200 years old and not really applicable to get their way?
Author's opinion: There has long been a struggle between government and technology companies over encryption. I remember a time when some software was not allowed to be sold outside the USA because it contained encryption - and then a little later, when foreign versions of software had to contain 'weaker' 64 bit encryption instead of the 128 bit encryption used in the USA. The US government became so desperate to control encryption that in the 1990's they tried to force all makers of computer equipment to include a piece of hardware called the 'Clipper chip' that would perform all encryption but which would also allow the US government to decrypt and read any data they wanted to by having a built in 'Back door' to which the government would have the key. At the time there was a huge debate about the need for encryption vs the Governments need to access data for law enforcement. The government lost and the Clipper chip never became reality.
Today, far more people are using encryption because it is built into their personal devices and, to a large extent, automated. Government and Law enforcement hates this. The FBI wants to force all tech companies to build in a back door that will give them access to anyone's data whenever they want. They saw the San Bernardino issue as the perfect opportunity to cloud the issue with fear and emotion and the 'bogeyman' of terrorism so that they could get their way. They are also now using bullying tactics to try to force the issue before it gets to court: they have threatened Apple that if they don't co-operate they will take the source code for iOS!
It is interesting to note that not one security / tech expert has come out in support of the FBI's case. The list of Apple's supporters is large, with even their competitors (Google, Facebook, Microsoft) filing briefs to the court in support of Apple's position. They even have the support of an ex director of the NSA!
It is also worth bearing in mind that encryption is maths - anyone can do it and even if the USA bans it people will be able to obtain encryption software from other sources. Even if the FBI wins and can access all Apple devices and software, there is nothing to stop someone installing 3rd party encryption software and using that instead of Apple's built in messaging, e-mail etc.
For the classroom:
The outcome of this process (not likely to be resolved on Tuesday - that's just when it starts) will have an effect on your learner's lives - especially if the FBI wins. it's a great basis for a class discussion about the value of privacy, what encryption is, what type of data is on your phone, who should have access to that data - etc, etc. The cartoons are also great for printing and putting on your noticeboard!
Read more about this:
Time magazine: Apple vs FBI, Apple: Message to customers 16 February 2016, Apple employees may quit (The Verge), Apple's brief hits the FBI with a withering fact check (Wired magazine), What a backdoor is (Wikipedia), In the Apple encryption fight, the FBI is now on Chinas side (The Verge), John Oliver's 20 minute video covers the issue well, There is a nice image of fbiOS and a cartoon that summarises the gob-smacking stupidity of the order here, Another cartoon here.
What else happened this week?
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