tech news

HUMMINGBAD MALWARE COULD BE A GATEWAY FOR ADDITIONAL ROOTKITS
August 12, 2016 9:12 am

There has been a lot of buzz in the tech community recently about a particularly bad piece of Android malware called HummingBad. The malware infects Android phones when users accidentally download a malicious third-party app, or opt for an unverifiable download on a website which comes loaded with the HummingBad package.

Once HummingBad has infected the device, it establishes a persistent rootkit and takes over its native functions.  According to Check Point, an I.T. security company, once HummingBad has infected a device it can install fraudulent apps and even generate false revenue by tricking users into clicking fake ads and links. Check Point estimated that HummingBad was able to yield cyber-criminals nearly $300,000 a month, through this process of click fraud.

The group effectively controls an arsenal of over 85 million mobile devices around the world. – Check Point

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These types of click fraud campaigns are common, although often not as financially successful, and can present real issues when it comes to security. Rootkits are packets of malware that establish themselves at the core of the device, or “root,” and they are dangerous because they often hide their existence by maintaining the appearance of something that is not harmful. 

Many people whose devices have been infected with this type of malware are entirely unaware that they are being victimized by a cyber-attack, while at the same time their information is being stolen and sold to the highest bidder.

According to Check Point, the dangers of these types of malware go beyond individual users. Malware packages like HummingBad could be used to target government agencies and businesses. 

Emboldened by financial and technological independence, [cybercriminals’] skillsets will advance putting end users, enterprises, and government agencies at risk. – Check Point

According to Check Point, this malware attack was part of an elaborate scheme by the Chinese Yingmob, in which the malware was sending notifications to the Umeng tracking and analytics service.  Devices have been infected world-wide, with the primary number of infected users in China.

Malware attacks like this that rely on click fraud and that are money-generating are certainly dangerous, but what is perhaps even more frightening is the potential that these rootkits, and the access to your device, has the potential to be sold.  We are entering a time when access to certain peoples’ or companies’ device root is a highly valued black-market commodity.

“Check Point believes this dangerous trend will escalate as other groups learn from Yingmob and find new ways to achieve the independence they need to launch larger and more sophisticated attack campaigns in the future.” – Check Point

Regardless, taking the necessary precautions to ensure that a device does not become infected with malicious malware in the first place is the best step towards protection. Stay away from unverified third party apps, and make sure you know the source of files that you are downloading.

TOR PROJECT COMBINES WITH HOME ASSISTANT TO PROTECT INTERNET OF THINGS
July 26, 2016 11:58 am

Many people know of Tor, and the Tor Network, as a way to preserve anonymity online.  What is less known is that Tor began as a U.S intelligence communications tool, but was repurposed in 2006 by the nonprofit The Tor Project

Since this transition, Tor has developed into a service that is used by multitudes of internet users across the globe.  Tor users can download The Tor Browser, which is free and open-source, to connect to the Tor Network and browse the web, or send messages, while keeping their information private and anonymous. 

Some people associate Tor with the dark web, and people who wish to browse hidden, unmonitored areas of webspace for official purposes, whether malicious or benevolent.  In actuality, many people that use Tor are simply normal, everyday individuals surfing the web.  The reasons behind using Tor are many: protecting against identity theft, maintaining online privacy, avoiding censorship, discussing socially sensitive information, etc.

According to The Tor Project FAQ, regular users include, but are not limited to: journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, military officials, business owners, bloggers, IT professionals, whistleblowers and many more. 

Using Tor protects you against a common form of Internet surveillance known as “traffic analysis.” Traffic analysis can be used to infer who is talking to whom over a public network. Knowing the source and destination of your Internet traffic allows others to track your behavior and interests. – The Tor Project

Now, The Tor Project is expanding its functionality to include privacy for “The Internet of Things” (IoT).  The Internet of Things is a term used to reference the interconnection of anything that has the potential to be connected to the internet, or that functions in a digital space.

“The Internet of Things” is the remote control and networking of everyday devices ranging from a family’s lawn sprinkler or babycam to a corporation’s entire HVAC system.” – The Tor Project

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By using Home Assistant, an automation platform that runs on the programming language Python 3, Tor is incorporating privacy technology into everyday life, rather than exclusively online. In regard to the digitization of everyday tasks, jobs and items, as well as the IoT, taking measures to ensure privacy now demands attention beyond monitoring your web presence.

This project was developed by Nathan Freitas, Executive Director of The Guardian Project, which also focuses on maintaining privacy through mobile device customization and the development of encrypted mobile applications.

Too many ‘Things’ in our homes, at our hospitals, in our businesses and throughout our lives are exposed to the public Internet without the ability to protect their communication. Tor provides this, for free, with real-world hard ended, open-source software and strong, state of the art cryptography. – Nathan Freitas

It may be a while before Tor users and people browsing regularly on the Tor Browser rival the number of people using more popular web browsers like Chrome, Safari or Firefox. That said, in regard to the speed at which technology changes, the development of Tor Home Assistant may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ensuring privacy for everything, not just your computer.

For more information check out the Home Assistant page for Tor setup, dubbed “Home Assistant Cookbook.”

TWITCH.TV EXPANDS FUNCTIONALITY TO INCLUDE PERFORMANCE ART
July 21, 2016 5:25 pm

Since its launch in 2001, Twitch.tv has exploded in popularity and is now viewed by many gamers, artists and talented individuals as the pinnacle in online video-streaming. With the use of a webcam, Twitch users stream their interests online for other Twitch users to see, follow or subscribe for a small fee, which goes to the streamer. Some Twitch streamers offer additional perks to subscribers, or “subs,” such as access to private chats or shout-outs on streams. 

Each month, more than 100 million community members gather to watch and talk about video games with more than 1.7 million broadcasters. – Twitch

Most people know of Twitch.tv in regards to gaming and people who stream live video of playing popular video games while narrating and providing commentary over top.  This extends to game development, events and larger e-sports spectacles, such as the 2016 Evolution Championship Series (EVO). 

In October of 2015, Twitch launched Twitch Creative, a platform to expand their functionality to all kinds of broadcasters, not just gamers. This opened the floor for almost any type of creative arts, allowing for things like tutorials, live-creation, interaction with fans and live-streams of the development of popular projects.

To name a few, of the many, things users can broadcast on Twitch Creative: Photo Editing, Model Making, Brewing, Construction, Cooking, Video Editing, Programming, Jewelry Making, etc. The list goes on and on, and is really limited only by imagination (within the Twitch broadcast guidelines of course).

Now, Twitch.tv is expanding Twitch Creative to include performance art.  Up until this point Twitch Creative focused primarily on the creation of art, not the demonstration. With this addition streamers will have a new way to share and perform their art.

We are evolving Twitch Creative to become a central place for these acts of creation, including performance and music. – Twitch

According to Twitch, this addition includes the ability to stream live Magic tricks, Comedy performances, Theatre, Music, Voice Acting and Dramatic Readings.

Performers, and people broadcasting within the Twitch Creative platform, have the option to join a “Community,” which is a group of other streamers with similar interests. Users also have the option to create their own Community for others to be a part of.

As a way to commemorate the addition of performance art streaming capabilities, TwitchCon is hosting an online talent show. 

We are looking for the best acts in theatre, comedy, dance, music, poetry, magic, and art. Think you got what it takes? – Twitch

For more information check out the audition page. 

Featured Image Source – Twitter, @TwitchCreates 

NO MAN’S SKY SLATED FOR RELEASE AUGUST 9, 2016
July 5, 2016 11:43 am

Gamer anticipation is building for the upcoming release of the Sci-Fi adventure survival game, No Man’s Sky. Developed by indie game studio Hello Games, No Man’s Sky has people on the edge of their seats, eager to test out the game’s essentially infinite open-world platform.

No Man’s Sky was originally scheduled for release in June 2016, but was pushed back because Sean Murray, Managing Director of Hello Games and programmer on No Man’s Sky, felt that the game needed to be “polished” slightly before a full release.

“I have had to make the tough choice to delay the game for a few weeks to allow us to deliver something special.” – Murray

Now, nearly three years after the initial announcement of No Man’s Sky at the VGX in December 2013, the game is slated for worldwide release on August 9, 2016 for both PS4 and Microsoft Windows.

No Man’s Sky is built on a procedurally generated universe. Planets, and the unique flora and fauna that occupy them, are generated from a deterministic algorithm, creating a massive, and truly random system of explorable planets. 

Hello Games developers have estimated that there are over 18-quintillion explorable worlds, each with unique life, environments and resources to gather. This immense amount of options allows players to approach No Man’s Sky in a way that caters to their imagination and fits their individual style of gameplay.

Players can spend time exploring new worlds aboard a starship, collecting resources and discovering new species on distant planets, or even engaging in combat with first-person weapons on a planet’s surface or dogfights in a spaceship. If you wish, you can even kill the local wildlife on individual worlds, but be wary, too much destruction will attract sentinels that will attack, forcing you to flee or fight for your survival. 

As Murrary said in the IGN First: 18-minute Gameplay Demo, “That’s another way you can play the game. You can, you know, not come in peace.” – Murray

Another significant feature of No Man’s Sky is The Atlas, a player-submitted database of information of the discoveries they make during the game. This allows No Man’s Sky players to share the coordinates of the worlds they locate and info about things they unearth within them. Players can choose to play either offline locally, or online in a universe shared with other players. 

No Man’s Sky is designed similarly to a real solar system. Planets located the optimal distance from a sun will have more varied life and potential for interaction with other players, whereas planets that are too close or on the outer rim may be barren and devoid of life. 

“As much as we can possibly manage, this needs to feel real, and true to what it is, which is a galaxy.” – Murray

Nevertheless, these barren planets may still have some valuable resources as well as hidden secrets for players to discover as they explore. 

No Man’s Sky presents many of the signifying aspects of the adventure-survival genre such as character development, acquiring items and artifacts, and learning new skills such as a better knowledge of Alien languages.

All in all, No Man’s Sky is an ambitious venture in open-world gaming. Come August, we will see if the game can deliver the rich world of deep space exploration and discovery that we are hoping for. 

THE PHILANTHROPIC POETRY OF NAS
June 30, 2016 1:26 pm

Who’s World is This? (The World is Yours The World is Yours) It’s Mine It’s Mine It’s Mine, Who’s World is This?

This year, the world clearly belongs to Nas. Everyone else is just living in it.

Nasir Jones–better known by his stage name Nas–is consistently ranked among the top rappers of all time. He’s been spitting bricks about social justice for minorities and growing up in the Queensbridge housing projects since he dropped his 1994 Illmatic, an essential hip-hop classic. Since then seven of his records have been certified platinum–he is an undisputed master, an urban poet laureate.

Even Harvard University can’t deny his profound impact on culture.

In 2013, Nas forged a partnership with the Ivy League School, thus establishing the Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellowship with the broad intention of funding scholars and artists who demonstrate exceptional creative ability in the arts, in connection with Hip Hop. Now I know what your thinking–Harvard?! But hip-hop is less than 50 years old, has introduced sampling to the general collective conscious, and has been a key factor in not only enabling people of all backgrounds to think critically about society, but also acting as a tool for minorities to offer a strong sense of community and an expression of life through the eyes of the silenced. The Hip Hop Archive & Research Institute and the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute will utilize the fellowship to bring in hip hop talent, fund projects, and allow the next generation of underprivileged poets to reach the pinnacle of academic achievement. It doesn’t stop there. In addition to helping pave the way for the next generation of hip-hop talent, Nas also wants to shake up the white and male-dominated tech sphere.

Nas isn’t alone in his assertion that Silicon Vally doesn’t have a diverse enough workplace–especially when you factor in that California is also one of the most diverse states in the country. Even Google admitted they needed to work on diversity when they released this report a few years ago. Then in 2014, the Internet services giant, along with Nas and software mainstay Microsoft, began collaboratively funding an initiative by The General Assembly (GA). The New York-based vocational program specializes in providing scholarships to underrepresented African Americans, Latinos and women that want to persuit a career in software engineering and web design. Pretty cool stuff Nas.

If you’re still unimpressed, Nas isn’t done giving back quite yet either. Nas will be hosting a free music festival for you New Yorkers this summer! In collaboration with his own Mass Appeal Magazine, Live At The BBQ will feature Ty Dolla $ign, DJ Shadow, Danny Brown, and Machine Gun Kelly.

DRONE RACING ON THE RISE AS COMPETITIVE SPORT

June 16, 2016 5:16 pm

In the last few years, personal drones have surged in popularity. In addition to being a pastime for hobbyists and people interested in RC technology, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are now being used in a variety of fields including film-making, package delivery, agriculture, news and even health care.

One group of drone enthusiasts have embraced the competitive potential of RC piloting, leading to the rise of a new sport: drone racing.

In drone racing, pilots race high-speed quadcopters around a predetermined course. The drones are equipped with on-board cameras that stream live video to pilots wearing FPV (first person view) goggles. This allows pilots to react quickly, and in real time, to the events of the race. The pilots complete laps while flying through brightly lit LED gates and around markers at speeds of up to 120mph.

Given that drones have the ability to hover, and move in 3-dimensional space, race courses are not limited to a circular arena. Drone races often take place in abandoned buildings, through the inside of stadiums or even around popular monuments or event expos. This presents an interesting dynamic for spectators, who will be equipped with similar video goggles allowing them to view firsthand what the pilots are seeing as they navigate the race course.

The drones are created as lightweight as possible using carbon fiber components and innovative engineering to keep them fast and agile. Some race series, such as those by the Drone Racing League (DRL), are restricted to the specially designed DRL Racer2, a 255mm high-speed quadcopter built for agility and endurance. Other competitions allow the use of multiple types of drones, as well as fully customized RC functionality.

DRL is taking drone racing to the next level as a competitive sport. The league combines the best FPV drone pilots in the world, advanced drone piloting technology and high-quality media coverage, giving the sport the same feeling as other major spectator sporting events. The DRL brings pilots from all over the globe, with top pilots from areas including the USA, Australia, Mexico and Brazil. 

According to ESPN, in the coming months drone racing has the potential to gain notoriety comparative to that of other major racing series such as Formula 1 and NASCAR. This August, as a result of a partnership between the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) and ESPN, drone racing will be internationally distributed as the first IDRA event showcased by a major sporting network.

This event will take place on Governors Island, and has the potential to bring out the best of the best drone pilots as the winner will receive the title of the fastest drone pilot in the United States. In addition, ESPN3 will stream the upcoming 2016 World Drone Racing Championships, which offers drone pilots the chance to win prestige and a $200,000 cash prize.  

In many ways drone racing gives the same sensation as competitive e-sports; it’s entertaining, futuristic, has a devoted fan base and it’s hard to believe that it’s actually a sport. Who knows, in the next few years drone racing could really take off as the sport of the future.

Featured Image Source – Drone Racing League

JBL EVEREST ELITE 300 HEADPHONES REVIEW
June 7, 2016 2:56 pm

If you have been following the tech industry, you have probably heard of TechCrunch Disrupt. For those who are unfamiliar, Disrupt is an event that brings tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and companies together for a three day expo of competition, networking and fun activities.  

At an event in Brooklyn, New York on MAY 9-11, 2016, TechCrunch Disrupt incorporated item giveaways, where some startup competitors received some pretty legit “swag.” 

One of the items given out by Harman, an audio technology and connected product engineering company, was the JBL Everest Elite 300 Headphones, which are now used regularly by Atypical Beasts Agency founder and ATYPICAL SOUNDS Executive Producer Kimberley Gantz.

The JBL Everest Elite 300 headphones have some slick functions. A Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity option allows you to use the headphones wirelessly, and they can be charged via Micro USB. The built-in microphone is equipped with echo cancellation for voice calls. A sculpted ear cushion makes the headphones comfortable to wear, while delivering studio-quality sound.

“They feel like heaven, they’re so soft and cushion-ey around the ear,” Kim said. 

The headphones can connect to the MY JBL app, in which listeners can use their phones to customize settings for the headphones, and use the NXTGen Active Noise Canceling Technology to adjust how much outside noise they let in. The app is available for both iOS and Android platforms.  

The headphones are equipped with TruNote Auto Sound Calibration, which can adjust the sound automatically by measuring how the headphones fit the individual user. The headphones come stock with a dynamic frequency response range of 10 – 22 kHz.  

“I used them as studio headphones to mix the audio from our last event, and they were comparable to my $700 Sennheiser Pro studio headphones,” Kim said.

At a price-point of $249.95, the JBL Everest Elite 300 is an affordable, quality option when shopping around for a set of studio headphones. For those concerned about the bulkiness of the over-the-ear design, (as opposed to earbuds), the JBL Everest Elite 300 can fold into a compact case, making them easy to transport and good for frequent travelers. 

Featured image source – HARMAN

LEARNING TO CODE WITH MINECRAFT
June 2, 2016 2:21 pm

Even if you haven’t played it, you’ve probably heard of Minecraft. For those unfamiliar, Minecraft is an open-world, sandbox game in which players can build 3D environments with various blocks. 

The game exploded in popularity after its release in 2011, and has since attracted a devoted following of players. IGN ranked Minecraft as the #3 best-selling game of all time, with 70 million copies sold over a variety of platforms (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Mobile).

In conjunction with the Hour of Code movement and TeacherGamingMojang, the developers behind Minecraft, have learned ways to incorporate programming into the game. 

Hour of Code is a global initiative designed to introduce students to the fundamentals of computer science. Launched by Code.org and Computer Science Education Week, Hour of Code helps bring programming and computer science to students at the grassroots level. 

When starting out you don’t even have to purchase Minecraft. Simply visit https://code.org/mc, where after a short introductory video by Minecraft’s lead developer “Jeb,” you’ll enter a version of Minecraft. Using Blockly, a visual programming editor that displays bits of code as connected blocks, you will help “Alex” or “Steve” (The two Minecraft characters) navigate the Minecraft world by solving a series of puzzles.

Each time you solve a puzzle, you are given the option to view the code behind what you just created. The code you are writing, while helping Alex or Steve build a house or plant crops, is actually JavaScript, a programming language used for HTML, the Web and various other functions.  JavaScript is a popular language for people new to coding, so by using Minecraft, players can learn JavaScript fundamentals in a fun and interactive environment. 

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Learning programming with Minecraft is not limited to this online coding activity. MinecraftEdu, an independent learning project by TeacherGaming supported by Mojang, uses Minecraft gameplay to teach a variety of subjects. MinecraftEdu has an Hour of Code activity package as well, in which students use a Minecraft mod called ComputerCraft.

Created by modder Dan200, the mod incorporates interactive blocks dubbed “turtles” into Minecraft to teach students programming and computer science through new ways to interact with the game. MinecraftEdu comes equipped with ComputerCraftEdu, or the mod can be downloaded and applied to the regular Minecraft game. If students or teachers want to delve deeper into Minecraft-based learning there is now a full expansion of MinecraftEdu called Minecraft: Education Edition, which will be released as an early access program for educators this summer.   

To account for students without regular access to the internet or Minecraft, there is even an option for a printable MinecraftEdu board game! Another option is the Minecraft edition offered through Raspberry Pi. The Pi 3 comes pre-loaded with a version of Minecraft, that can teach players how to code with the programming language Python

It can be scary to dive into programming, especially if you have no prior experience with computer science. Game-based learning, like learning to code with Minecraft, is helping to alleviate some of these hurdles by making coding fun and interactive. These types of initiatives are changing the norms of not only what we learn, but how we learn. Who knows, in the next few years game-based learning and interactive e-learning activities could become standard over traditional teaching methods. 

BEME APP TAKES FRESH APPROACH TO SHARING ONLINE
May 25, 2016 1:01 pm

Most people use at least one form of social media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or some other platform. Many of us are active on multiple networks. Simply put, the internet has changed the way we interact with others. A byproduct of this interconnectivity is the attention to our online presence. With editing and selection, social media users can create an online identity that may, or may not, accurately represent who we are. 

Bemebemeconcept, a video-sharing application launched as a beta version in July of 2015, is re-envisioning the nature of social media. When sharing on Beme there is no way to edit what you are posting. You don’t even have to look at your phone. 

Created by vlogging icon Casey Neistat and former Tumblr VP of Engineering Matt Hackett, Beme is an attempt to bring authenticity back into social media. In the words of Neistat, “[Beme] is a platform to share your perspectives, to share your world with video, and to see other people’s perspectives via video that you can trust, that’s real.”

Here’s how it works: Beme uses the proximity sensor on your phone’s camera to begin recording videos up to 8 seconds long. By covering your phone’s sensor, Beme records what you are actually seeing and then automatically posts it online.  There are no filters, no hashtags and no way to preview clips. To take a selfie, flip the phone around and repeat the process.

You can also record by tapping and holding a camera icon within the app, but the video recording screen remains black until the clip is posted. This helps to counteract issues when recording with devices without a proximity sensor, or if covering the sensor makes it difficult to capture what you want to record, while maintaining Beme’s unfiltered nature.

Beme users can fill up their personal Beme profiles with clips for people to view and share reactions to other people’s videos. The result is a unique, unaltered insight into the way that people experience the world. When other users view your Beme videos the app even notifies you that, “1 person has spent [insert seconds] as you.” 

Beme has a lot of the same flavor as Casey Neistat’s daily Vlog. The videos of his life make a point to maintain an honest relationship with his audience. Although edited in Final Cut Pro X, all of Neistat’s YouTube videos have a raw and unscripted feel, the same sensation you get when using Beme. 

The app’s interface is intuitive, but may be challenging if using Beme is your first foray into social media. Other than a short introductory video and walkthrough after launching the application, Beme doesn’t give you much direction for navigating the app or posting your videos. That said, figuring out Beme’s nuances can be accomplished by tinkering with the app for a few minutes.

After encountering some issues following the initial launch, the Beme team went back to the drawing board and produced a product that is a fresh and innovative approach to social media. Now out of the beta-version, Beme is on full-release for iOS and Android platforms, and can be downloaded in the App Store and Google Play.

Enjoyable Casey Neistat vlog: breaking up is hard to do 

PEERSPACE APP CONNECTS USERS TO CREATIVE SPACES
May 17, 2016 4:27 pm

It is hard to picture the ideal creative space, because artists and event planners are so different in the spaces that inspire them. Whether you’re planning a birthday party or fine art gallery showing, shooting a film or hosting a company mixer, having an appropriate creative space is essential to the event’s success.    

Peerspace, an app launched in 2014, is helping to connect event planners, visionaries and companies with personalized creative spaces. 

Through a website and mobile app, Peerspace links people looking for short-term spaces with hosts who have a space to share. Renting permanent space can be pricey, especially in metropolitan areas like New York where there is high demand.

Peerspace helps alleviate these difficulties by providing a streamlined method of communication.  Event planners can find a place to host gatherings. Production teams can find an off-site work area.  Hosts can bring guests to their space and make some money in the process.

Rather than exclusively offering expensive galleries or production studios, Peerspace provides access to all types of venues. For example, on the Peerspace Blog, one section is devoted to unusual repurposed spaces, offering a selection of locations ranging from a vintage trailer to an unoccupied airport hangar.

For people worried about security, Peerspace has taken measures to ensure that the interaction between hosts and guests remains positive. They offers automatic, free-of-charge liability protection guaranteed up to $1,000,000. That said, this coverage only applies to hosts who make arrangements using the Peerspace platform, so when setting up a host and guest arrangement it is essential to keep communication within Peerspace.

Peerspace does not stop at providing communication between hosts and guests. Guests can use concierge@peerspace.com to supply their events with additional amenities, including furniture rental, event staffing, catering and audiovisual equipment rental. 

The Peerspace interface is sleek and intuitive to use. Users select a location, and the type of event they are planning or workspace they desire, and are provided with an interactive map that shows spaces that match their criteria. 

Users can narrow their specifications by selecting specific price-points and the number of guests that will be attending. After selecting a space, users are directed to a page where they can view information about the space, venue rules, customer reviews and other necessary details.

Peerspace is taking a refreshing approach to venue listing, allowing creative people to explore numerous possibilities when selecting a unique space. For events as diverse as weddings, film-shoots, music video sets or gallery showings, Peerspace is a good place to start.