Windows 10 Shines with These 11 New Features

K – I admit it. I am a Windows 10 apologist. I believe Windows 10 is the future of the modern operating system. Although there is still much to improve Windows 10 is well on it’s way to being the first truly modern operating system. I can prove this by talking a little bit about 11 great new featured brought to us bu Windows 10.

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Groove Music Player

It looks like Microsoft will compete with Apple’s Garageband home music creation software with a new Groove Music Maker app. The sizzle reel showed an app for mixing instrumental and vocal tracks, plus apply basic effects like reverb.

A Better Windows Defender

Microsoft has been focused heavily on improving the security of Windows 10, and it looks like that’s getting a further upgrade with a redesigned Windows Defender coming in the Creators Update.

In addition to virus protection, the app also includes firewall and network protection, computer performance and health, and family safety features.

Rich Tab Previews with Edge

Microsoft Edge will get a feature designed to make it easier to flip through a bunch of browser tabs. The video shows a user able to scroll through a horizontal carousel of rich tab previews that show the contents of pages before they’re opened.

Tabs in Edge

In a similar tab management vein, Edge will also get a feature that looks like a way for users to save their browser tabs to access later. It’s reminiscent of features like Apple’s Reading List in Safari, which also lets users keep a list of articles and sites they want to hold on to for later.

Collections of Maps

Microsoft’s Maps app is getting a new section called Collections, which appear to be exactly what they sound like — groupings of places. It also seems like there will be some mechanism in the app for sharing those collections between friends, but it’s not immediately clear how that will work.

New Live Tiles

The new Start menu shows a new Cortana live tile, along with an icon for a Battery Level Live tile.

The former seems like a good way for people to get contextual information from Microsoft’s virtual assistant, and the latter seems like a useful tool for people with laptops and tablets.

Customizing Accent Colors

People who want to further customize the way Windows looks will be able to pick from a full palette of accent colors, rather than the handful of swatches that Microsoft allows today. It also looks like Windows will tell users when the color they picked might be unreadable.

Windows Store

It looks like the Windows Store will get support for selling in-app purchases directly from its home screen. Microsoft is showing both Minecraft IAPs and digital items from League of Legends in this screenshot, which could mean that there’s a partnership afoot between the two firms.

That would make sense, considering that Windows and Devices Group chief Terry Myerson name-checked the League of Legends World Championship on stage at the event on Wednesday.

Gaming Limits – Yes Gaming Limits

It looks like the Windows Store will get support for selling in-app purchases directly from its home screen. Microsoft is showing both Minecraft IAPs and digital items from League of Legends in this screenshot, which could mean that there’s a partnership afoot between the two firms.

That would make sense, considering that Windows and Devices Group chief Terry Myerson name-checked the League of Legends World Championship on stage at the event on Wednesday.

Better Quick Actions

 It looks like the Action Center, which houses notifications and quick access to settings, will also start giving users the chance to get access to files they have been working with on other devices.

It seems like an attempt to better compete with Apple’s Continuity features in MacOS and iOS, which also let people pick up where they left off on their iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Macs.

Android Users Beware “Godless”

If you are an Android user – you have have reason to fear “Godless”, a new
family of malware targeting Android mobile devices that has been detected by digital security firm Trend Micro. The malware, named after the ANDROIDOS_GODLESS.HRX filename it uses, uses multiple exploits to root users’ devices.

New 'Godless' Malware Targets Android Mobile Devices

Godless can target virtually any Android device running on Android 5.1 (Lollipop) or earlier. Today almost 90 percent of Android devices run on Android 5.1 or earlier. Apparently malicious apps related to this threat can be found in all over Android app stores, including Google Play, and has affected over 850,000 devices worldwide.

Godless is similar to an exploit kit. Both use a type of open source rooting framework called android-rooting-tools. The framework has various exploits in its arsenal that it can use to root a number of different Android-based devices. The two most prominent vulnerabilities targeted by the rooting kit are CVE-2015-3636 (used by the PingPongRoot exploit) and CVE-2014-3153 (used by the Towelroot exploit).

By gaining root privilege, Godless can connect to a command-and-control (C&C) server capable of delivering remote instructions that force the device to download and install additional apps without the user’s knowledge. At best, an iunfected user receives unwanted apps on the phones. At worst, the same technique can be used to install a backdoor on the phone in order to spy on the user.

Google is apparently aware of the threat, and has stated that they are taking “appropriate actions”. I would recommend that should review the developers listed for apps whenever you download new programs from any app store. You should also be suspicious about unknown developers. All apps should also be downloaded from trusted stores such as Google or Amazon.

Office Arrives to Android Phones

If you are a Microsoft Office user and a Android user today will be a happy day for you.

That is because last November, Microsoft released mobile versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint office apps on Android, but they were only compatible with tablets.

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Today, they have added phone support for beta testers.. These are those users who joined the Microsoft Office Preview Community on Google+ and have signed up for the apps you want to try. Once you do this you are then able to find them on the Google Play Store, where the apps have dropped “for tablet” from their name.

It is about time that Android Phone support has come to Microsoft’s awesome Office apps and it finally brings Android to parity with iOS and Windows Phone.

You can learn more about how to check these apps out below.

Microsoft’s Clutter Wants to Help Your Inbox

Last November, I reported that Microsoft made a new service, “Clutter” available to Office 365 users. Of course I had to check it out back in November and found it an extremely useful tool to de-clutter my inbox. I have been using it ever since.

I am glad to see that Microsoft is now enabling the de-cluttering feature by default as part of its email experience for Office 365 users. I bet many users do not even know this existed because it had been off by default and not promoted very well by Microsoft. However enabling this by default soon, default users will probably come to love it.

What is Clutter?

As mentioned previously, “Clutter” was a service introduced by Microsoft for Office 36 last November. The service utilizes machine learning to help keep your inbox organized; Clutter can learn from the user and tailor the email inbox allowing for a more productive experience.

Everyday email like newsletters and advertisement may not be spam but they certainly can clutter up your inbox. With clutter messages like these automatically go into a special “Clutter” folder where you can look at them when you want to. This keeps your inbox cleaner and you will be less likely to miss important email messages.

More Enhancements & Control of Your Email Clutter

Starting June 1st, Clutter will be activated by default for those in the First Release program. This will be followed up by a release to standard participants on June 15th. With the mainstream release, Microsoft will also introduce administrative controls and status reports for Clutter. These reports will show you exactly how Clutter is organizing your email and inform you when new email is being moved.

Although Clutter will be enabled by default, users will still have the ability to opt-out and disable the service on Outlook’s webpage, Outlook 2016 Preview, or clicking the the disable link at the bottom of each status report.

Check out my original November 14, 2014 article when “Clutter” was first introduced by Microsoft.

3G Continues to Cause Security Issues for 4G

Many smartphones operate on LTE networks that offer upgraded security features. However they still need to interact with outdated networks that are full of security holes. In fact, the old SS7 network, originally designed in the 1980s, has several flaws that could be used by hackers or governments that want to track or listen in on your calls.

Hackers can use SS7’s built-in functions to steal your communication information. For instance, they can request temporary keys through SS7 to unlock calls made through more secure and encrypted networks like 3G.

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers improve the security of their systems, they still need to communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network.

Anyone with the right tools and skills can use the SS7 network to track calls, listen in on conversations and steal texts. They can even record encrypted calls and decode them at a later date.

While German researches are just now making this threat known to the public, some believe that government intelligence groups have known, and used, the flaws for some time now.

“Many of the big intelligence agencies probably have teams that do nothing but SS7 research and exploitation,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the ACLU and an expert on surveillance technology. “They’ve likely sat on these things and quietly exploited them.”

Your cell carrier could more then likely prevent these hacks by refusing to provide the encryption keys needed to unlock calls made from 3G networks. But, so far the hacks have worked against more than 20 worldwide networks tested by the researchers.

Since the hack uses the SS7 cellular network, you are likely safe with [text] messaging systems that avoid it altogether and employ end-to-end encryption like Apple’s iMessage. When making a call, you could use an Internet-based VoIP system like Skype – as long as your Internet network is secure. You could also take German Senator Thomas Jarzombek’s advice.

“After all the NSA and Snowden things we’ve heard, I guess nobody believes it’s possible to have a truly private conversation on a mobile phone,” he said. “When I really need a confidential conversation, I use a fixed-line” phone.

The morale of this story that today, do not consider any conversation on your mobile device truly private.

Microsoft Drops Nokia Branding

Microsoft’s march to controlling the “devices” side of their new “devices and services” business model continued this week.

Microsoft this past year completed its acquisition of Nokia’s Devices and Service’s and this week it was reported that the manufacturer name “Nokia” is being removed from all product references and of course will be replaced with “Microsoft”.

 

There has not actually been any phones released with the new branding so far, but this week Microsoft stated “we are looking forward to unveiling a Microsoft Lumia device soon”. I am predicting that by the upcoming holiday season you will start seeing one or two “Microsoft Phones” released.

The Nokia name, especially outside of the United States has been a very popular smartphone manufacturer and their branding, again outside of the United States has been very successful. With this being understood, Microsoft’s vision of building their own devices like the Xbox and Surface line needed to move to smartphones as well and Nokia was the right choice to purchase because Nokia also was the biggest supplier of Windows Phones worldwide.

Considerations for the Surface

I was just thinking about the Microsoft Surface Pro 2. I know that makes me a little weird, but it is – what it is.  The sales for Microsoft’s Surface line have been up and down and no one really knows how good or bad they are. But I can tell you this. I own a Surface Pro 2 and I really like it. I have been using a Surface Pro since October 2012, when they first arrived on the scene.

With this hybrid tablet/laptop the person wanting to merge fun and work really can, with one device. With the Surface Pro I am able to use it in both my offices, on my easy chair, on the deck relaxing, on vacation and in meetings. It has enough power to act as a really good laptop and is small enough, especially with the magnetic keyboard removed to act as a tablet.

With the keyboard attached you really can get some serious work done on your Surface Pro tablet. Unlike the iPad you have no limitations here. Any Windows application can be installed and it acts just like a laptop or PC, just a lot smaller and mobile.

Now do not get me wrong, there is a place for the ipad and in fact I use one. But my use of the iPad is limited to email, reading articles and a game from time to time. When there is real work to be done especially when mobile, I turn to my Surface Pro every time.

FAA Changing Gadget Rule

It seems I have been complaining for years about the silly requirement of turning off our mobile devices at landing and take off of airplanes. Good news may be just around the corner because we will eventually be able to continue using our mobile devices on takeoff and landing, according to the FAA. The American government organization overseeing air travel today announced that travelers won’t face regulations that are as strict as we have been accustomed to when it comes to electronics on planes.

However this does not mean you can continue playing Candy Crush or in my case Mahjong while waiting for your takeoff just yet. The roll out and specifics of the changes will vary depending on each airline since there are differences between types of planes and how things are run at each different carrier, but the FAA anticipates that most will allow passengers to use their mobile devices “in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.”

Passengers can use e-book readers, play games and watch videos on devices, and can hold gadgets during both take-off and landing, or else stow them in the seatback pocket. These gadgets need to be in Airplane Mode or have cell service turned off during both landing and taxi/take-off, but you can actually use Wi-Fi during your flight and continue to use Bluetooth accessories connected to your phone.

Soon I will be able to finish watching Star Trek as the plane lands!

My personal  belief on this long time rule is that the FAA simply wanted the passengers to pay attention during take off and landing and that no iPhone has the ability to take down a airplane. I am glad that finally this out dated and unnecessary regulation is about to end. Do you know how many times I had about 10 minutes left on my Star Trek episode when the announcement is made to turn off all electronic devices and my wife starts hitting me in the arm repeatability saying “Turn it off Bill!”

I will talk about “airplane mode” in more detail in a future article.

SIM Card Security Flaw Discovered

It took a long time but the humble SIM card that sits within your phone, along with at least seven billion others, has finally been hacked. Of the seven billion modern SIM cards in circulation, it is suspected that hundreds of millions (yes, hundreds of millions) are susceptible. What does this mean? The hacks allow a would-be attacker to infect your SIM with a virus that sends premium text messages, or records your phone calls — and, in some cases, access the secure, sand boxed details stored on your SIM by mobile payment apps, giving a hacker access to your bank and credit card details.

SIM cards are not merely a piece of laminated memory that stores the data that your phone needs to connect to a cellular network. In actuality, the SIM card in your phone is actually a small computer, with memory, a processor, and even an operating system. As you can see in the diagram below, there is a chip beneath those gold contacts, and on that chip there is a processor, ROM (firmware that stores the OS and SIM apps), EEPROM (which stores your phone book, settings, patches), and RAM (for use by the SIM’s OS and apps). In the photo below of a disassembled SIM card, you can clearly see that this is quite a complex computer chip.

Unfortunately, like any computer chip that runs an operating system and apps, a SIM card can be hacked. In this case, modern SIM cards run a very simple OS that loads up Java Card — a version of the Java virtual machine for smart cards (of which SIMs are a variety of). Java Card essentially runs small Java applets, and each applet is encapsulated and firewalled (sandboxed) by the Java VM, preventing sensitive data from leaking to other apps. Your phone interacts with these apps via the SIM Application Toolkit (STK) to display information on your screen, and to interact with the outside world. To load apps onto the SIM or to update them, hidden text messages are sent by the carrier, containing over-the-air (OTA) programming in binary form. These messages are signed with a cryptographic key, so that the SIM knows that these messages have originated from a trusted source.

Now, German security researcher Karsten Nohl has discovered a way of finding out that all-important cryptographic key. By sending his own OTA (over the air) SMS’s that aren’t signed with the correct key, he discovered that some phones pop up an error message that contains a cryptographic signature. Then, using rainbow tables (a list of plaintext keys/passwords and their encrypted equivalent), Nohl found he could discover the SIM card’s cryptographic key in about one minute. Once he had this key, he could send apps and viruses to the SIM card that can send premium text messages (racking up huge bills), re-route or record calls, collect location data — you name it, with access to the SIM, you can do just about anything.

And if that was not enough Nohl also found a separate bug in Java Card, essentially an out-of-bounds error (asking for the sixth item in a list when the list only contains five items), that can give an app/virus full root access to your SIM card — effectively breaking out of the sandboxing provided by the Java Card VM. With root access, these malicious apps could then obtain any data stored on your SIM, including your address book, or sensitive banking details stored by mobile payment apps.

According to Nohl, he estimates that out of 100 mobile phones, he could gain root access to the SIM card on 13 of them. SIM cards that use newer, stronger encryption (Triple DES), don’t appear to be susceptible to these attack vectors. Verizon and AT&T say they are not vulnerable to the vulnerabilities exposed by Nohl. In essence, mitigation of this attack comes down to the encryption standard used by your SIM card — so if you use a SIM that’s more than a few years old, you should probably get a new one. Most carriers will provide a new SIM if you ask and I would bet especially if you mentioned your knowledge of this new problem.

Cyber Criminals Looks Towards Mobile

Symantec’s 18th annual Internet Security Threat Report is was issued yesterday. The report reveals that cyber criminals are increasingly scouring the Web for personal details in order to target their attacks. Armed with your information they can exploit security gaps in social networks and other sites to infect your system or steal your details.

It is no longer just your PC that’s at risk either; the report shows an alarming 58 percent increase in attacks on mobile devices with just under a third of these aimed at stealing data without the user’s knowledge. Android is the most targeted mobile platform as its open source nature makes it easier to hide malware in apps. Apple users receives a bas news as well because the report notes more than 600,000 Mac systems were infected by a single attack last April.

When it comes to the types of threat, the growth of ransomware continues with infections becoming more aggressive and harder to undo. I have written articles many times regarding ransomware threats and sadly I believe this trend will continue.

Another very scary statistic is that 61 percent of malicious sites are actually legitimate websites that have been compromised so you may be at risk even if you think you’re practising safe surfing.

Another alarming piece of information is the news this week issued by Microsoft that they believe 24 percent of all PCs are not protected by virus software today. This is bad for everyone because users who do not protect their PCs are the first ones to get infected and often complicate and threaten even PCs that are protected. I have written several articles in the past regarding free anti virus solutions so there is really no excuse for this.  You can learn about Microsoft’s free anti-virus solution in my early article dated October 3, 2012.

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