General Tech News · Software News For Professionals · Tech For Travelers · Uncategorized

Wider Laptops Aren’t Always The Best Option. Especially When Flying.

For the past several days, frequent travelers have been dreading something far worse than being stuck in a middle seat: having to check their laptops and tablets before flying home from Europe.

That’s the fear invoked by news reports that the Department of Homeland Security will expand its current ban on large electronic devices in the cabins of flights to the U.S. from the initial 10 airports across Africa and the Middle East to all U.S.-bound flights coming from anywhere in Europe.

Until we see the details of this plan’s implementations, we’ll have to hold off on some questions about a policy that almost no other country imposes.

Still, you should wonder what airlines might do to cope with such a ban, and what that might mean for your safety and the safety of your data.

Checking your laptop

The cardinal rule of checking baggage is not to put anything valuable into a bag that will spend hours in the custody of strangers, many of whom don’t work for the airline you fly.

Some foreign airlines blindsided by the electronics ban announced in March responded by setting up systems to check laptops at the gate or even on board, then keeping them with airline staff members until reuniting the devices with their owners after the flight.

That’s what Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines have done. The first three also offer loaner devices — laptops at Emirates and Qatar, iPads at Etihad — to passengers in business or first class.

People who have used these airlines’ laptop-check services — see, for instance, travel-blog reports on flights with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and Turkish — have generally had positive things to say about them.

Note that this service may not alleviate the fire hazard posed by their lithium-ion batteries, which are already banned from being shipped as cargo on passenger aircraft.

Analyst Bob Mann, president of the airline-consulting firm RW Mann & Company, warned that leaving this work to passengers would be even worse: “Given passengers cannot be presumed to know how to properly pack spare and in-use batteries and devices, this proposed order has very serious safety implications for every flight on which it is imposed.”

And flights from the U.S. to the Middle East involve far fewer people: 9,753,172 passengers in the 12 months ending last June, versus 59,401,505 travelers between the U.S. and Europe over that period, according to Department of Transportation statistics.

Protect your data if you can’t protect your device

Should the current ban be extended across Europe, travelers with gadgets would have to hope that their airlines would provide some sort of gadget-concierge service like those Mideast carriers.

But U.S. airlines — none of which fly out of the 10 airports covered by the current ban — have yet to say how they might deal with a wider prohibition on in-cabin electronics.

Neither United Airlines (UAL) nor Delta Air Lines (DAL) responded to requests for comments on the matter. A representative with American Airlines (AAL) referred me to the trade group Airlines for America, which wouldn’t set individual baggage policies.

If your airline will gate-check your laptop, you should not have to worry about baggage handlers stealing it. But you should still be ready for consequences worse than, say, nine hours of unproductive boredom between Frankfurt and Washington.

The cost of a lost laptop or tablet may not be an issue with devices worth less than thecap on liability for luggage (currently, about $1,550). But the data on them is another issue.

“We recommend that people that can, travel with a Chromebook,” advised Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology. Those cheap, light laptops backup your data automatically to Google (GOOG, GOOGL), allowing you to wipe one before handing it over, then restore it on arrival.

If you must carry a “real” laptop, Hall advised setting a “reasonably complex” password and powering the device down before checking it.

Another tech-policy expert had similar advice about bringing hardware you can’t quickly reset and restore once you get home.

“Ultimately, travelers should be more careful with the devices they choose to bring across borders under these new regulations,” wrote Amie Stepanovich, a policy manager and counsel with Access Now. “In many cases the best advice will be to leave the laptop at home.”

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General Tech News · Uncategorized

Here’s Why Tv Streaming Services Are Worth Your Time And Money

Hulu finally announced its $40 per month live TV streaming service. And with 50 channels of live TV, the aptly-named Hulu with Live TV, is just one more reason you should fire your cable or satellite TV provider — a task some 762,000 subscribers undertook in the first quarter of 2017, according to analyst Craig Moffett. That’s great news if you care about customer choice, also known as having a functioning and competitive marketplace.

Unfortunately, you are also likely to see bogus arguments claiming streaming TV services like the Hulu’s don’t actually represent a fundamental break with cable and won’t save you much money. Here’s why those claims are simply wrong.

It’s still a bundle of channels, not à la carte

This frequent complaint — see, for instance, this November Wall Street Journal piece — makes a legitimate but unimportant point. Whether you sign up for Sling TV, Hulu’s new offering, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV or any other live-TV service, you probably wind up paying for some channels you don’t want.

But the amount of money you pay and the number of unwanted channels you get should both still be lower for streaming services than what you’d get from cable or satellite.

At Comcast (CMCSA), for example, the “Economy” TV bundle — starting at $60 a month when bundled with 25-mbps broadband and HBO — includes more than 100 channels. But since those don’t include ESPN and AMC, among many other name-brand channels, you’ll probably need to pay an extra $10 for a package with the “Starter” bundle of 140-plus channels.

At DirecTV, the floor is even higher. The AT&T (T) subsidiary’s $50 “Select” bundle packs in more than 150 channels.

Dish Network’s (DISH) service Sling, meanwhile, includes just 30 channels in the basic$20 per month Sling Orange bundle. DirecTV Now’s $35 starter service bundles 60-plus channels. YouTube TV—note that this $35 per month Google (GOOG) service is only available in a few cities—includes 40 channels. And the Sony (SNE) PlayStation Vue service doesn’t make you buy more than 45 or so channels in its $30 per month basic tier.

And those bundles, unlike the cheaper options on many traditional pay-TV services, do include ESPN, with regional sports networks available for just $5 or so more a month.

So, yeah, it’s a bundle, but it’s less bloated and better balanced.

It costs almost as much as a cable when you add up all the different services

A November Bloomberg Businessweek story provides a typical example of this argument by suggesting that a cord cutter would need to sign up for Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, Sling, Amazon (AMZN) Prime, YouTube Red and HBO Now, for a total monthly cost of $71.21.

It’s true that online TV services each have their own gaps. Some don’t have Comedy Central. Some don’t include local channels. Some have exclusive content you can’t get elsewhere, Netflix being the canonical example.

Comcast’s pricing, for example, punishes internet-only subscribers by turning the $40 monthly rate for a 25 Mbps connection to $75 after the first year — Hulu’s service, already on the expensive side, may not save you any money unless you watch it on multiple TVs.

But most of the time, you can cover your bases with just two or three services. In my case, we pay for Sling and Netflix, for a total cost of $29.99. We also watch the occasional show on Amazon Prime — but the real reason we pay for that is the service’s free two-day shipper. Our local channels are free via over-the-air broadcasts.

The lack of contracts in online-TV services also allows you to sign up for one, binge-watch a favorite series, then drop that service.

But wait, there’s more — all the add-on fees with cable or satellite. With Comcast, for example, “Broadcast TV” and “Regional Sports” fees add another $9.95. An HD tuner is free for the first TV, but a DVR will run $10 a month extra — and adding a second TV incurs a $9.95 “HD technology fee” and a $5.99 rental fee for a second box.

Traditional pay-TV companies are strangely reluctant to mention these fees. I have probably received 100 pounds of flyers in the mail from Comcast and Verizon (VZ) touting their TV offerings since we cut the cord in 2009, and I can’t recall any of these promotional mailings breaking out their add-on costs.

And the promotional rates you usually see generally rise after a year unless you’re consistently good at threatening to quit the service if they don’t keep that discount in place. That $60 Comcast price I quoted jumps another $15 a month, while the DirecTV rate ascends to $90 a month.

Don’t forget the cost of the broadband service you need

“It still requires internet service from a cable or telco provider” was one of the lines questioning Sling TV’s chances in a January 2015 Variety piece. I see this all the time, and it is by far the silliest objection to online TV.

Broadband is pretty much a requirement of modern life at this point. Suggesting it’s an extra we’d only get for online video is like writing a recipe that warns that you’ll need to pay for electricity or gas.

It is true that many cable companies price standalone internet service to minimize your savings compared to taking a bundle of internet and TV service. It’s also true that many people don’t like their cable company, so continuing to pay them for one service can feel like a form of defeat.

But the lack of competition in American broadband is a much deeper problem than the pricing details of TV and internet services, and it’s not something you’re going to be able to fix yourself—especially not when Washington acts like that’s not really a problem.

But saving money by cutting the cord is something you can do on your own, and it will probably be easier than you think.

Gaming News · General Tech News · Software News For Professionals

The First 3 Screen Laptop Will Change How You Play Games!

Have you ever wondered what a 17-inch laptop would look like if someone strapped two extra screens to its sides? Well, that’s both an oddly specific thought, and exactly what the insane folks at PC gaming company Razer have dreamt up with their new Project Valerie concept laptop.

Debuting at CES 2017, this behemoth of a gaming rig features a brilliant 17-inch, 4K-resolution display with 100% Adobe RGB color accuracy that ensures everything from movies to the latest games look absolutely gorgeous.

Flip the onboard switch, though, and out slide two additional 17-inch, 4K-resolution panels. Aggressively unnecessary? You bet. Ridiculously cool? You know it!

The idea behind Project Valerie is to give gamers the ability to use multiple monitors without having to deal with a rat’s nest of wires on their desks. Of course, the feature comes in handy at work, too. With three screens you can multitask with a number of programs at once without having to search through a million tabs and minimized apps.

Razer’s over-the-top laptop also virtually guarantees that you’ll be the most hated person at your local Starbucks when you deploy its massive screens.

That much added mass also means that the Project Valerie will weigh just a bit more than your MacBook Air. According to Razer, the system is expected to weigh less than 12 pounds, which isn’t exactly lightweight.

Naturally, Project Valerie will be an absolute performance monster. Razer says it will equip the laptop with Nvidia’s (NVDA) latest GeForce GTX 1080 graphics chip, which means the system will be able to handle VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Like every Razer laptop, Project Valerie’s keyboard will include the company’s Chroma lighting system, so you can show off your gaming bona fides whether you’re pounding out TPS reports or pounding n00bs in “Overwatch.”

Since Project Valerie is still just a concept device, there’s no guarantee it will ever hit the market. Even if it does, it will likely cost a good chunk of change thanks to its high-end displays. Still, I’m holding out hope that I’ll one day own a ridiculous three-screen laptop just like I’ve always dreamed.

Gaming News · General Tech News

Microsoft’s Xbox One X Is Amazing Yet It Still Faces Steep Competition

After months of anticipation, Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled its newest game console, the Xbox One X, at E3 2017 in Los Angeles, California, over the weekend.

Microsoft is pushing the One X as the world’s most powerful system. And that power will cost you a pretty penny: $499 to be exact.

Officially slated for release on Nov. 7, the One X faces some stiff competition in Sony’s (SNE) incredibly popular PlayStation 4 and VR-ready PS4 Pro, not to mention the still hard to get Nintendo (NTDOY) Switch. And while the One X might be more powerful than the PS4 and Switch, its biggest features probably won’t benefit the majority of gamers.

The Xbox One X basics

Previously known by its code name Project Scorpio, the Xbox One X is a new console, but it’s not considered a full-fledged next-generation system. Instead, the One X is a member of the Xbox One family, which includes the $249 Xbox One S.

The One X is designed to be a premium offering with a 30% faster CPU and 4.6 times more powerful graphics chip than the standard Xbox One. Microsoft says the One X uses that horsepower to run games at native 4K resolutions and with high-dynamic range (HDR) images at as much as 60 frames per second, which means titles will look sharper and offer brighter, more saturated colors.

Microsoft is using a slew of buzzwords like True 4K and teraflops in its marketing of the One X. But those don’t mean much to the average consumer. See, “True 4K” and, I guess we’ll call it “regular 4K,” are the same thing.

4K is simply a measure of screen resolution. Whereas a game running at 1080p can display 1,920 x 1,080 pixels on a screen, a 4K game can push 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. That’s a good thing for gamers, as more pixels makes for crisper images.

But there’s a problem. You’ll only benefit from the Xbox One X’s 4K capabilities if you have a 4K-capable TV. Microsoft says the console will also improve the image quality of games on 1080p televisions, but don’t expect the same level of visuals. The same issue comes up with HDR. If you don’t have an HDR-capable TV, you won’t see any image improvements.

The sci-fi-sounding term teraflops, meanwhile, is actually a measure of performance for a system. It stands for a trillion floating-point operations per second. The Xbox One X is capable of 6 teraflops, while the standard Xbox One could perform 1.31 teraflops. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro is capable of 4.2 teraflops.

Basically, the more teraflops, the greater the performance developers can wring out of a console. That translates to smoother running, better looking games.

Is it worth $499?

Well, that depends on what you’re looking for in a game console. The less expensive Xbox One S isn’t as powerful as the One X, but still upscales 1080p resolutions to 4K and supports HDR images. That’s not the same as native 4K, but it’s better than standard 1080p.

What’s more, Microsoft hasn’t shown off any games exclusive to the One X. That means any new games that come out for the One X will run on the Xbox One S as well.

What about the PS4 Pro and Switch?

Microsoft isn’t the only console maker offering a premium mid-cycle refresh of its console. Sony did the same thing when it released its more powerful PlayStation 4 Pro, which is also designed for 4K, HDR gaming, as well as virtual reality.

But instead of charging $499 for the system, Sony dropped the price of the original PS4 to $249 and set the price of the PS4 Pro at $399. Granted, the Xbox One X is more powerful than the PS4 Pro. But I’m not sure how much of a difference that will make for most gamers — especially when you consider that Sony’s console is easily the most popular of this generation.

Then there is Nintendo’s Switch. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo doesn’t design its systems to outperform its competitors in terms of pure performance. Instead, the company tries to create unique use cases for its consoles.

For the Switch, that means a system that can be used as both a traditional home console and handheld unit. The Switch won’t blow you away with its performance, but the fact that you can play high-end console games on the road makes it an intriguing purchase. Its $299 price tag is also $200 less than the One X.

Is more power worth it?

That’s all relative. If you’re thinking about getting an Xbox and have a 4K, HDR capable TV, then the One X certainly seems like it could be worth the investment. Microsoft also revealed a slew of interesting and downright cool-looking games during its One X unveiling, so the system will have plenty of offerings. What’s more, Microsoft says the One X will be compatible with Xbox 360 and original Xbox games.

That said, Sony’s PS4 Pro is $100 less expensive than the One X, offers many of the same games and has a virtual reality system. The Switch is also a solid proposition, though it’s currently suffering from a dearth of high-quality games outside of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.”

Until I get my hands on the One X, I can’t say whether it will be worth the $100 premium over the One S or PS4 Pro. But I’m absolutely excited to see what the One X can do.

Federal Tech News · General Tech News · Tech Overseas

The Tech Industry Is Worried About What Trump Will Do Next!

Much of the Collision conference that wrapped up here Thursday was filled with the sort of optimistic banter about The Future you can hear at many other confabs. But part of it doubled as therapy for tech types anxious and angry over what President Trump and the Republican majorities supporting him in the House and the Senate might do to shape that future.

As investor Chris Sacca put it in a talk Wednesday afternoon: “I have a very sincere fear for the plight of the United States of America right now.”

In general, participants at Collision seemed largely concerned about two aspects of the Trump administration’s agenda: immigration reform and the ongoing battle over net neutrality. At the same time, Sacca and other speakers at the conference noted their own responsibilities for Trump’s election win.

Borders and Immigration

A panel Thursday afternoon on the importance of immigration to the tech industry pointed out some competitiveness the U.S. would face if officials make it harder for foreign-born techies to bring their talents here.

“I think we’re on the wrong side of the trend,” said Hired founder Matt Mickiewicz. “In Singapore, you can literally get a work permit in one week [….] By June of this year in Canada, you’ll be able to get a work permit in just two weeks.”

As a result, he observed later in the discussion, tech companies “are now hiring a lot more engineers in Canada.”

Another panelist, Aspect Ventures managing partner Theresia Gouw, predicted a cut in the number of H-1B visas, the relatively small number of work permits provided to foreign engineers hired by U.S. companies that say they can’t find enough qualified employees among citizens.

“We certainly won’t be getting more of them,” she said, calling out that category of visa as “a priority of this administration.”

(During the campaign, Trump pledged to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program”; in April, he signed an executive order supporting reform of that program.)

In a separate panel, Electronic Frontier Foundation executive director Cindy Cohn said that the civil-rights group planned to challenge another growing threat: Customs and Border Protection agents demanding that people arriving from overseas surrender their phones and even the passwords to them.

“We’re looking for a good test case,” she said — preferably a U.S. citizen subjected to this treatment.

Net neutrality

The swift moves by Trump’s newly appointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to undo the net-neutrality rules passed by the commission under President Obama were no more popular among Collision speakers.

“I was stunned at the way net neutrality and all of the things we have fought for in terms of the internet just got blown away,” Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson said in an onstage interview Thursday. “We’ve had these massive changes in the past few weeks, and I just keep saying, ‘where’s the outrage?’”

Dozens of tech firms paid for exhibit space in the convention center here in the hope of getting attention from investors or journalists, and many of their services involve sending large amounts of data across the internet.

Without regulations banning internet providers from blocking or slowing sites or just charging them for priority delivery of their data to their subscribers, those firms could risk shakedowns from internet providers. As Isaacson put it, “Half the companies trying to start-up in that hall are going to have problems if you eliminate net neutrality.”

Lessons learned?

The Trump talk wasn’t all gloom and rage. Some speakers observed that they’d had some long looks into the mirror to see what they’d missed.

In the immigration panel, Felicis Ventures founder Aydin Senkut said his firm had been working to broaden where it invests in startups: “We’re trying to back a lot more companies in cities that are not Silicon Valley, New York, and L.A.”

When asked how much responsibility the tech industry bore for Trump’s use of Twitter as a megaphone, Sacca pled guilty on behalf of the business for ignoring the possibility of abuse.

“I think we have all of the responsibility,” he said. “I think generally we’re naive.”

In a talk that closed out the conference, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian noted two memes that had trended across different parts of the Internet: people protesting Trump’s travel ban, and a FedEx guy rescuing an American flag about to be burned.

He noted that only the first got any discussion among people in his orbit, while the second drew a comparable amount of attention without his notice at the time.

“We have gotten really, really good at seeking out things that we enjoy,” he said. But that triumph of personalized Internet culture has inflicted a cost: “It’s given us these blind spots.”

Apple News · General Tech News · Software News For Professionals · Virus News

Mac Users Are NOT Safe From Ransomware!

Hundreds of thousands of Windows PCs around the world have been hit by a nasty strain of ransomware called WannaCry 2.0.

Ransomware is a form of malware that completely encrypts your PC. The only way to get the key to unlock your photos, documents and music is to erase your hard drive or pay a ransom.

This particular type of ransomware is only affecting Windows computers, but that doesn’t mean Apple’s (AAPL) Macs and MacBooks are immune from these types of attacks.

See, contrary to popular belief, Apple’s desktops and laptops aren’t inherently safer than those running Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows operating systems.

Yes, WannaCry 2.0 does exploit a vulnerability in older versions of Windows, but Microsoft issued a patch to deal with the problem well before this malware exploded across the web.

Windows is hurt by its popularity

None of this points to Microsoft’s current operating system, Windows 10, being more susceptible to malware than Apple’s macOS or OS X. In fact, the real reason hackers and criminals attack Windows is that it’s the most popular desktop operating system in the world.

“Cyber criminals are generally looking for a scenario that will maximize the return on their investment,” explained McAfee CTO Steve Grobman. “What that means is they will invest in creating a malware or ransomware campaign that they believe will generate the maximum amount of ransom payment by the victim.”

One of the key elements to a successful ransomware attack is the use of social engineering to trick victims into downloading infected files in dubious emails.

To sucker enough people into doing that, though, criminals have to cast an incredibly wide net. And since Windows is far more popular in the world than Apple’s OS X and macOS, hackers go after Microsoft’s operating system.

“Given that the vast majority of deployed platforms in corporate environments are Windows, there is a lot of attention on looking for exploitation vectors of the Windows platform,” Grobman explained.

In other words, if Apple’s macOS and OS X were as popular as Windows, we’d see a heck of a lot more malware designed to attack Apple’s machines.

We’re only human

Vulnerabilities like the one used in the WannaCry ransomware are the result of human error when developing an operating system. Humans, like you and me, are notoriously fallible and are the ones who build and program operating systems like Windows.

Companies like Microsoft and Apple continually work to find these vulnerabilities before criminals can exploit them. But with millions and millions of lines of code to comb through, it’s nearly impossible to find every issue. What’s more, each update to an operating system can introduce new vulnerabilities that didn’t exist beforehand.

Apple does have one advantage over Microsoft when it comes to issues like malware: it builds both its own software and hardware. That means that if Apple finds an issue with a piece of firmware for its MacBooks or Macs it can provide an update that addresses it.

Microsoft’s software is installed on machines built by a slew of companies including Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP and others. Each of those organizations might have their own firmware that can be exploited that would need to be fixed with Microsoft’s help.

So no, Apple’s MacBooks and Macs aren’t more secure than Windows-powered machines. If you’re running a new operating system and are sure to keep it properly updated, your Windows and Apple laptops and desktops will be equally secure.

General Tech News · Virus News

Why These Firms Became Targets of Randsomware

It’s a lot harder for huge companies to update their computer systems.  The WannaCry 2.0 ransomware is still crippling computer systems and networks around the world. The malware, which hit the web, has impacted everything from automakers to the U.K.’s National Health Service, by locking down their Windows PCs and demanding a ransom of $300 in bitcoins in return for the codes to unlock them.

So how did such large companies and public services fall victim to WannaCry 2.0? Well, contrary to popular opinion, it’s certainly not because they’re fools.

Updating isn’t so easy

The WannaCry ransomware is widely believed to use a vulnerability in Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows operating system, which the National Security Agency knew about and kept secret. In April a group of hackers called The Shadow Brokers, said it stole the vulnerability along with a slew others from the agency, and posted them online.

The makers of WannaCry then used that vulnerability and weaponized it in the form of ransomware that spreads through computer systems like a worm, infecting more and more PCs as it moves.

Microsoft, however, released a patch for the vulnerability for most versions of Windows well before WannaCry hit the internet. A follow-up patch was released for its long-discontinued Windows XP after the software giant recognized the scale of the attack.

So, why didn’t every company and institution immediately update their systems? As McAfee CTO Steve Grobman explains, it takes more time for huge organizations to update their computers than it does for you or me.

“Some of the organizations that were negatively impacted by [WannaCry] have delayed releasing patches, because they were still performing compatibility tests, and were working through those before deploying the patch,” Grobman explained.

Organizations like hospitals, for example, run specialized software on top of Windows to do things like keep tabs on patients’ records and medications. So they can’t run the risk of installing a new Windows patch that may or may not be compatible with their own programs.

After all, if you see a Windows update is incompatible with one of your programs, the worst that happens is you have to wait a few days for a new update. A hospital or factory, on the other hand, could be out of commission for days.

“It’s not simply organizations not wanting to patch,” Grobman said. “Sometimes there are real risks of deploying a patch when there are compatibility issues in their environment.”

A perfect storm

According to Grobman, what makes the WannaCry 2.0 ransomware so dangerous is that it’s an almost perfect storm of vulnerabilities and implementations coming together. That makes it extremely contagious.

“What’s unique about this piece of ransomware is it’s taking advantage of a wormable vulnerability that is exploitable on Windows clients,” he said.

Essentially, the malware makers took an known exploit for Windows software and packaged it as a worm that was able to crawl across networks, infecting each computer it touched. The ransomware then locked down those machines when it was activated. The fact that companies weren’t able to deploy Microsoft’s patch for the initial vulnerability was a huge boon for the malware’s creators.

“We haven’t seen those planets align that frequently,” Grobman said.

The good news, if there is any, is that companies unaffected by the WannaCry ransomware might be able to speed up the implementation of the appropriate patches to protect themselves from the software.

Impacted companies, however, aren’t so lucky. If they didn’t have backups of their files that were encrypted by the attack, they may have to simply start from scratch.

The lesson here? Never open emails you aren’t expecting or from people you don’t know.