Saturday, November 19, 2011

Android leads the pack in mobile malware

Mobile devices have been growing at a rapid scale. Out of the various operating systems powering these devices two of the most popular ones are the Google's Android and the Apple's iOS. According to recent Gartner report on growth of mobile devices worldwide, Android OS accounted for 52.5% of smartphone sales to end users in the third quarter of 2011 doubling its market share of 25.3% from the third quarter of 2010. In the same time period Apple iOS based smartphones lost market share from 16.6% to 15%, though Apple shipped 17 million iPhones, an annual increase of 21 percent.

With the explosive growth has come an unwanted rise in mobile malware and Android is topping this. According to Juniper Global Threat Center post, there has been a 472% increase in Android malware samples since July 2011. In their annual Malicious Mobile Threats Report report, Juniper found a 400% increase in Android malware from 2009 to the summer of 2010. A few months back security firm McAfee quarterly report noted similar findings that Android OS-based malware became the most popular target for mobile malware developers.

Not only the attacks have increased but have also gotten sophisticated, by exploiting the OS vulnerability the malware would gain root access and install even more damaging software packages. This way the attacker gains access to any data on the phone including all communications, location, and other personal identifying information. The mobile malware developers are the same actors who originally wrote malicious code for the legacy platforms of Symbian and older versions of Windows Mobile.

So the key question is how does Android platform fare in terms of security with Apple iOS? There may not be a platform security issue comparing one to the other. The problem lies in how the application stores are managed for Android and iOS. Apple reviews each application and its code before publishing it to Apple application store, this is missing in Android open application store where attackers can easily sneek in their malicious applications without requiring upfront review. Such applications only get removed after the fact that someone discovered and reported the malicious behavior. By that time the attacker has already benefited from its use.

The app store restrictions on Apple hasn't totally kept the malicious apps out, hacker Charlie Miller discovered a method that exploits a flaw in Apple’s restrictions on code signing on iOS devices and demonstrated this by sneaking in an approved malicious app. Apple though quickly reacted to it by removing the bad application, terminating Miller's developer license and fixing the flaw in a software update.

The Android market does provide some free scanners but have been largely unproven and found unreliable. In a test conducted by the most popular of those is Antivirus Free by Creative Apps with over a million installations but scored a miserable 0% on both the manual and real-time scan, the best one Zoner Antivirus Free scoring a mere 32%.

To get an in-depth technical view into the security approaches of Google's Android and Apple's iOS mobile devices, read the report from earlier this year by security firm Symantec.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

HTML5 gaining traction

On November 9 Adobe announced their plans of phasing out development of Flash Player in the browser of mobile devices instead increasing investment in HTML5. The reason cited is the universal support of HTML5 on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively thereby making HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.

Flash was already excluded on Apple iOS devices. In April 2010 Steve Jobs the CEO of Apple then had posted online his reasons for exclusion of Flash on Apple mobile devices. Some of the reasons included Flash's proprietary nature, reliability and security, poor battery life and touchscreen incompatibility.

So why is HTML5 important? HTML5 is a major enhancement over the HTML4 protocol that powers the web. All the modern web browsers already have extensive but varying level of support of HTML5. HTML5 will allow browsers to support interactive multimedia and graphic content easily without requiring proprietary plugins. This is especially very powerful for content developers who can now use HTML5 to develop web applications compatible across a variety of devices - smartphones, tablets and PCs. Also this is becoming an important tool for bypassing online app stores thereby eliminating their shares in the mobile commerce.

One of Zynga's popular game Words With Friends is already coded in HTML5. Other games are Zynga Poker and Farmville Express. Rovio Entertainment released Angry Birds on HTM5. Pandora, the internet radio, just a couple of months back launched an entirely redesigned web interface utilizing HTML5. Amazon recently announced a new file format Kindle Format 8 supporting HTML5. Various publications including Playboy, Rolling Stone and Financial Times are also using HTML5 ensuring multi-device support through web.

Job site indeed reports HTML5 as the #1 job trend in online job postings, more and more jobs are seen with the keyword HTMl5.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

BMW i Concept Cars

Earlier this year BMW introduced the next generation of electric cars as BMW i Concept cars.

BMW i is coming out with two models - BMW i3, the all-electric urban commuter car and BMW i8, plug-in hybrid sports car. They look super cool and also embody a lot of cool innovative features. The LifeDrive architecture divides the body into two modules. The drive module that forms the foundation, combining the battery and drive system, plus a range of structural and basic crash devices into a single lightweight, high-strength compartment. The Life Module, is similar to what one might find in a Formula One car: a high-strength and extremely lightweight passenger cell made from CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic). CFRP is 50% lighter than steel but provides the same strength as steel. The interiors are eco friendly as well. In addition to the extensive use of natural fibers and naturally tanned leather, 25 per cent of the weight of the interior plastic is accounted for by recycled or renewable raw materials for the i3.

The eDrive technology in i3 provides a decent acceleration, from 0 to 60 kmph (37 mph) in under four seconds and from rest to 100 kmph (62 mph) in less than eight seconds. The battery can be charged in 4 hours but a DC charger can accomplish 80% charge in 30 minutes. An optional driving range extender is available which employs a gas engine driving the generator to maintain the battery charge.

The sportier i8 with 220hp hybrid engine will accelerate 0 to 62 mph in under five seconds with a fuel efficiency of 94 mpg. The i8 introduces new laser headlights, they can produce a near-parallel beam with an intensity a thousand times greater than that of conventional LEDs while consuming less than half the energy of LEDs.

Also planned are mobility services to complement the vehicle. Example of services include solutions to make efficient use of existing parking space, intelligent navigation systems that can also offer location-based information, an Intermodal Route Planning service and premium car-sharing services. In addition to offering its own services BMW plans to partner with other companies to come up with new ones.

The BMW i3 Series car will be available in 2013 and the BMW i8 Series car will follow shortly thereafter. Experts guess the price for i3 to be closer to a BMW 5-series (starting at $47000) and the price for i8 closer to a Tesla Roadster (starting at $109,000).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nest - The Learning Thermostat

Thermostats have been around for more than 125 years since its invention in 1883 by Warren S. Johnson. Almost quarter of a billion households and offices in US have them with over 10 million sold each year in US alone. So when Tony Fadell, the brain behind the iPod, launched the company Nest Labs which will make thermostats it baffled everyone.

The idea was born after Tony left Apple in 2008 and began designing his green home in Tahoe. To his dismay he couldn't find a single thermostat in the market that was smart. Looking at its wide usage he decided to turn this seemingly boring device into a gadget that people will love to use. Nest Thermostat was born.

So how is it different? By the looks it resembles the classic round thermostat but that is where the resemblance ends. Like iPod the basic control is by rotating the wheel around it. There is a round LCD at the center which turns blue when in cooling mode, and red when in heating mode. The device programs and adjusts itself monitoring various things like historical use, outside weather through its WiFi connection, turn down when you are not around by detecting through its motion sensors. You can connect to it securely from anywhere even remotely using PCs, tablets and smartphones.

Here is a video that introduces the product:

The gadget sells for $249 and can be self installed. The launch has been quite a blockbuster as it is already sold out through early 2012.