Current and Future Trends Archive

Amnesty International reports on recent email phishing attacks

Article

How Hackers Bypass Gmail 2FA at Scale | Motherboard

Hacker spoofing bypasses 2FA security in Gmail, targets secure email services | ZDNet

My Comments

Recently, it has been revealed that hackers were attacking users of secure email sites by compromising the two-factor authentication that these sites implement.

This has been found to be an attack perpetrated by nation-states against journalists, human-rights defenders, non-government organisations and their allies in the Middle East and North Africa over 2017 and 2018. Here, this user base were using GMail and Yahoo Mail Webmail services and Protonmail and Tutanota secure Webmail services that were compromised. This is because the Webmail setup typically allowed for a client-independent portable email front.

What was going on was that a phishing page was asking for the users’ email and password but this would trigger the software’s two-factor authentication routine. But the user interface was “steered” via a fake page asking for the one-time password that the user would transcribe from their mobile phone which would receive this value via text messaging. It then led to the creation of an app password, typically used for third-party apps to use the service, but was used by the hacker to sustain control of the user’s email account.

Oh yeah, there was the SSL authentication which would show a “green padlock” icon on the user’s Web browser, making the user think that they were safe. But the phishing that took place was facilitated using fake domain names that sounded and looked like the real domain names.

This loophole exploited the use of the “intact key” or “green padlock” symbol in a Web browser’s user-interface to indicate that the SSL certificate was intact and that the interaction with the Website is safe thanks to HTTPS. But users may not know they are with the wrong Website, which is the breeding ground for phishing attempts.

The other weakness that was called out was the requirement for end-users to transcribe the one-time password from an SMS message, software token app or hardware token in order to phish the account. This was aggravated through the use of an app password to allow third-party app access to the service. What is being preferred as a secure 2FA solution was a security key kept in the possession of the end-user that connects to the user’s host device via USB, Bluetooth or NFC.

Most of us can easily relate this process to using an ATM to take cash out of our account or a payment terminal to pay for goods or services using our plastic cards. Here, to facilitate the transaction, you have to present your card by inserting it in or touching it on an identified spot on the ATM or payment terminal then enter your PIN number in to the same machine.

Extended Validation SSL site as identified on Microsoft Edge address bar -

Extended Validation SSL site as identified on Microsoft Edge – notice the organisation’s legal name appearing in green text

The Websites that high-risk end-users rely on can use Extended Validation SSL or Organisation-based SSL certificates and other authentication measures to verify the Website they are visiting is the correct one. Extended Validation SSL has a stronger certificate that verifies the organisation it is associated with and implements the strongest encryption available for HTTPS. The user experience here will have a green bar in the browser’s address bar along with the typical padlock icon while the organisation’s legal name is written in the address bar before the URL. The Organisation-based SSL certificate doesn’t have the green bar or text on the user interface but lists the organisation’s legal name in the address bar. But some browsers like recent Chrome versions don’t implement the green highlighting of the legal name for EV SSL certificates.

This also includes the organisations keeping tabs on their Internet “real estate” of domain names to identify typosquatting risks and, perhaps, make further “land grabs” of domain names if they can afford it.  This is in conjunction with efforts like what Amnesty International were doing with Protonmail and Tutamota where they are made aware of fake sites and are given legal assistance to take them down.

Then browsers and similar user agents could highlight domain names in a more distinct manner so users can know where they are at. This would be more important with email clients or browsers implemented on “reduced-user-interface” platforms like mobile operating systems. As well, end-users in high-security-risk user groups could be trained to be aware of the domains associated with Websites they are visiting. Mobile browsers pitched to smartphones can also implement a way to show the organisation’s legal name on the user interface such as a caret-identified drop-down interface that comes alive with Organisational Validated or Extended Validated SSL certificates.

Webmail-based user interfaces and similar high-risk online services could move towards use of “transcription-free” two-factor authentication like FIDO-U2F-compliant security keys including software keys run on mobile platforms to provide a secure login user experience.

Similarly, token-based authentication could be the way to go for app-to-service authentication especially as we use native-client software to interact with online services. This avoids the creation of persistent “app passwords” to facilitate native client access to online services. Here I would see this as being important as something to be investigated as part working towards secure client-based email setups, especially as the client-based email provides a platform-native user interface for your email.

Each of these approaches has to be looked at in a manner to work with small and medium organisations who don’t have their own IT staff. This is more so as this class of organisation sees itself as “grown up” when it uses cloud-based line-of-business software. The issue here is to assure that authorised users have secure access to the proper service they are authorised to use.

This situation that Amnesty International raised could also bring forward the idea of non-profit entities that underscore data security for independent media and civil society. Here, it could be about extending and bolstering the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s efforts or building up legal-action funds and lawyer teams to provide legal remedies against cyber-attacks.

What is now being realised is data security has now become a human-rights issue rather than an economic necessity.

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Staff panic buttons to drive networks to handle the Internet of Things

Article

Ekahau Wi-Fi Pager Tag panic button

Emergency-alert buttons like this Ekahau Wi-Fi name-tag panic-button setup will be influencing network architecture for the Internet Of Things

The Hotel Panic Button Could Redefine Hospitality Networking | IoT World Today

My Comments

In some workplaces where staff work alone at night or other times where they are in danger, portable emergency-call buttons are often used. Initially they were the same size as an older garage-door opener but they are becoming the size of a pendant, badge or fob. As well, rather than these devices lighting up a separate alert panel, they light up a message or “throw up” a map with an indicator on a regular computer running building-security software to show where the danger is.

Initially, they were being positioned for very-high-risk workplaces like psychiatric care or the justice and allied settings. But other workplaces where staff work alone are seeing these devices as an important safety measure, usually due to various occupational health-and-safety requirements.

For example, hotels in the USA are moving towards having Housekeeping staff use these devices in response to workplace agreements, industry safe-work safe-premises initiatives or city-based legal requirements. But these systems are being required to work in conjunction with the Wi-Fi networks used by staff and guests for business and personal data transfer.

A device of the kind that I had covered previously on HomeNetworking01.info was the Ekahau Real Time Location System. This was a pendant-style “panic-button” device, known as the T301BD Pager Tag which had an integrated display and call button. It also had a setup that if the tag was pulled at the nexkstrap, it would initiate an emergency response.  I also wrote an article about these Ekahau devices being deployed in a psychiatric hospital as a staff emergency-alert setup in order to describe Wi-Fi serving a security/safety use case with the home network.

This application is being seen as a driver for other “Internet-of-Things” and smart-building technologies in this usage case, such as online access-control systems, energy management or custom experiences for guests. As I have said before when talking about what the smart lock will offer, the hotel may be seen as a place where most of us may deal with or experience one or more of the smart-building technologies. Also I see these places existing as a proving ground for these technologies in front of many householders or small-business owners who will be managing their own IT setups.

One of the issues being drummed up in this article is quality-of-service for the Internet Of Things whereupon the device must be able to send a signal from anywhere on the premises with receiving endpoints receiving this signal with no delay. It will become an issue as the packet-driven technologies like the Internet replace traditional circuit-based technologies like telephone or 2-way radio for signalling or machine-to-machine communication.

The hotel application is based around the use of multiple access points, typically to provide consistent Wi-Fi service for staff and guests. Such a setup is about making sure that staff and guests aren’t out of range of the property’s Wi-Fi network and the same quality of service for all network and Internet use cases is consistent throughout the building. Here, concepts like mesh-driven Wi-Fi, adaptive-antenna approaches, load-balancing and smart smooth roaming are effectively rolled in to the design of these networks.

Wi-Fi access points in the smart-building network will also be expected to serve as bridges between IP-based networks and non-IP “Internet-of-Things” networks like Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart), Zigbee, Z-Wave or DECT-ULE. These latter networks are pushed towards this application class due to the fact that they are designed to support very long battery runtimes on commodity batteries like AA Duracells or coin-style watch batteries. There will be an emphasis on localised bridging and the IP-network-as-backbone to provide better localisation and efficient operation.

These systems are being driven towards single-screen property-specific dashboards where you can see the information regarding the premises “at a glance”. I would reckon that operating-system-native applications and, perhaps, Progressive Web App versions will also be required to use operating-system-specific features like notification-panels to improve their utility factor in this context.

As far as the home network is concerned, I do see most of these technological concepts being rolled out to the smart home with an expectation to provide a similar service for householders and small businesses. This is more important as ISPs in competitive markets see the “Internet of Things” and improved Wi-Fi as a product differentiator.

The use of multiple Wi-Fi access points to cover an average home being made real for a home network thanks to HomePlug wireless access points, Wi-Fi range extenders and distributed-Wi-Fi systems that will bring this kind of localised Wi-Fi to the smart home. Typically this is to rectify Wi-Fi coverage shortcomings that crop up in particular architecture scenarios like multi-storey / split-level premises and use of building materials and furniture that limit RF throughput. It is also brought about thanks to the use of higher-frequency wavebands like 5GHz as Wi-Fi network wavebands.

There will be an industry expectation to require access points and similar devices to provide this kind of “open-bridging” for Internet-of-Things networks. This is more so where battery-operated sensor or controller devices like thermostatic radiator valves and smart locks will rely on “low-power” approaches including the use of Zigbee, Z-Wave or similar network technology.

It will also be driven typically by carrier-supplied routers that have home-automation controller functionality which would work with the carrier’s or ISP’s home-automation and security services.

To the same extent, it may require “smart-home / building-automation” networks to support the use of IP-based transports like Wi-Fi, HomePlug and Ethernet as an alternative backhaul in addition to their meshing or similar approaches these technologies offer to extend their coverage.

In some cases, it may be about Zigbee / Z-Wave setups with very few devices located at each end of the house or with devices that can’t always be “in the mesh” for these systems due to them entering a “sleep mode” due to inactivity, or there could be the usual RF difficulties that can plague Wi-Fi networks affecting these technologies.

DECT-ULE, based on the DECT cordless-phone technology and is being championed by some European technology names, doesn’t support meshing at all and IP-based bridging and backhauls could work as a way to extend its coverage.

Such situation may be rectified by access points that use a wired backbone like Ethernet or HomePlug powerline.

In the context of the staff panic button use-case, it will roll out to the home network as part of a variety of applications. The common application that will come about will be to allow the elderly, disabled people, convalescents and the like who need continual medical care to live at home independently or with support from people assuming a carer role.

This will be driven by the “ageing at home” principle and similar agendas that are being driven by the fact that people born during the post-war baby boom are becoming older as well as the rise of increased personal lifespans.

Similarly, this application may also be underscored as a security measure for those of us who are concerned about our loved ones being home alone in a high-risk environment. This is more so in neighbourhoods where the risk of a violent crime being committed is very strong.

But I would see this concept work beyond these use cases. For example, a UK / European central-heating system that is set up with each radiator equipped with a “smart” thermostatic radiator valve that is tied in with the smart-home system. Or the use of many different control surfaces to manage lighting, comfort and home-entertainment through the connected home. This is something that will rise up as most of us take on the concept of the smart home as the technology standardises and becomes more affordable.

What is being highlighted is the requirement for high quality-of-service when it comes to sending “Internet-of-Things” signalling or control data as our networks become more congested with more gadgets. Similarly, it is about being able to use IP-based network technology as a backhaul for non-IP network data that is part of the Internet-of-Things but providing the right kind of routing to assure proper coverage and quality-of-service.

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5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi can complement each other

Article

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

Why You’ll Still Need Wifi When 5G Is Everywhere, According To The Wi-Fi Alliance | Gizmodo

Wi-Fi Alliance: Wi-Fi, 5G will be complementary | FierceWireless

My Comments

There is some hype being driven by organisations defending the 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi wireless LAN technologies about their technology being the only one for our connected lives.

Some existing devices use 5G mobile-broadband technology but connect to endpoint devices like mobile phones using Wi-Fi. Initially they are routers being deployed by mobile carriers as a proof of concept or for network trials while AT&T were offering a “Mi-Fi” for retail sale in the USA that implements 5G technology. At the moment, 5G hasn’t been rolled out in the form of a smartphone or a mobile-broadband modem that is integrated in or connected by USB to a host computer.

Both Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac and prior technologies) and 4G LTE mobile broadband have seen widespread deployment with each technology being seen by mobile users as offering a complementary role. Networks and equipment running the newer technologies (5G and Wi-Fi 6) will be backward compatible and offer a best-case approach to this compatibility. That is if both the network and end-user equipment run the same technology, the user gains the most benefit from what the new technology offers.

It has been identified that both technologies at their latest specification can complement each other. Here, 5G will earn its keep in the outdoors and in a mobile context while the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) technology will earn its keep indoors. This is although public-access Wi-Fi networks will be seen by mobile carriers as a cost-effective data-offload tool.

Wi-Fi also has supporting technologies like WiGig and Wi-Fi HaLow. The former one will match 5G for speed but uses a short range equivalent to an ordinary room in the house, while the latter benefits from long range and power efficiency but doesn’t have the speed. Wi-Fi HaLow will then end up in the smart-home, smart-building, connected-car and smart-city application spaces where data throughput isn’t all that necessary. This is while WiGig will end up with virtual reality, augmented reality, 4G video and other bandwidth-intensive applications.

Then there is also the kind of spectrum available for each technology. Wi-Fi technologies primarily rely on unlicensed radio spectrum which makes them popular for households and businesses to deploy. It is in contrast to 5G which, like other cellular mobile telecommunications technologies, relies on licensed radio spectrum which the mobile carrier has to deal with the national radiocommunications authority organise and purchase a license to use.

There is also a trend regarding wireless-network equipment design where there is a software-defined approach towards the media-level components. This is facilitated with small-footprint high-capability computing power and can allow the same piece of equipment to honour newer standards.

Another factor that is never raised is the concept of the local network where data can be transferred between co-located devices at the same premises. 5G is really positioned as a wireless “last mile” setup for providing telecommunications and Internet service to the end-user. This is while Wi-Fi is intended primarily to work as a local network but is used to distribute a single broadband service to multiple endpoint devices.

What really is now seen is that the new 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) LAN technologies can complement each other in a horses-for-courses manner.

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Your local library now facilitates a video-on-demand service

Article

Kanopy independent cinema page

Kanopy works with your local library to offer independent video content to stream

The Totally Free Streaming Service You Didn’t Know You Have | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Kanopy

Home Page

My Comments

I am keeping an eye out for video-on-demand services that are offering niche content like foreign-language content. This is in response to recent market consolidation in the video-on-demand market and is able to easily survive that kind of activity in the mainstream sector.

A part of the home-video era was the fact that your local library stocked video movies and made them available for loan to its members. In most cases, this was from a government-funded or private film repository that primarily offered educational content along with some locally-produced classic and historic film content. Subsequently, these libraries offered some family-friendly and niche content from the main video distributors whom they had a lending agreement with.

This has fallen away thanks to the rise of video-on-demand services that work via the Internet. But an Australian startup began to partner with various film studios, especially those out of the current mainstream, to offer a video-on-demand service that works in tandem with the local libraries and universities. Examples of this include some classic films as well as a plethora of indie material released over the years, typically material that would have been offered by some of the video distributors during home video’s early years or syndicated by TV stations when they had the ability to choose what they could ran with.

The Gizmodo article called this service out due to the loss of the Filmstruck video-on-demand service which focused on classic cinema, typically material from the Criterion collection. They were lamenting the reduced availability of evergreen video content available to see on cable TV or stream via a video-on-demand service.

You have to be a student or faculty at one of the participant universities or be a member of one of the participating local libraries. As well, in the case of library memberships, you have to make sure your membership is current and correct before you create your account or add them to your account. That includes things like overdue fines and other obligations and you may have to check if that dusty library card has expired or not, including whether it needs to be “brought forward” to their current IT setup. It does support multiple library memberships such as students at a university using a local library card or people living on the border of two different municipalities.

Kanopy works on regular computers with your Web browser but has native clients for the iOS and Android platforms. As far as smart-TV and set-top applications are concerned, they also have native clients for the Android TV, Apple TV (tvOS) and Roku platforms including the Telstra TV repackaged Roku client.  This can be improved upon through the support for Netflix-style “download to view” to allow offline viewing of content during the loan period. Here, it would come in handy with long roadtrips or flights where you don’t have reliable access to the Internet for streaming.

At the moment, Kanopy works on the same principle as the “public lending rights” that libraries pay to authors and publishers for the right to lend out the content. Typically a participating library will pay Kanopy to allow its members to view a certain number of titles per month and this will be paid to the film studios to “lend out” the content.

Kanopy could go further by approaching the public-service broadcasters around the world like the ABC, BBC and SBS to offer their homegrown content catalogues to library members through this platform.  Typically these broadcasters have built up a large amount of content that they have commissioned through the years and most of this content would fit in with Kanopy’s remit. It is already happening with the ABC and some of their shows but can easily go further. Companies and other organisations who create their own educational and training content could offer this to the Kanopy platform for public viewership.

Similarly, Kanopy could approach other organisations to expose their service to their membership. One group would be the primary and secondary schools who would use some of this material as part of their curriculum. Similarly, they could “knock on the door” of more independent studios and quality film distributors to make your local library a viable alternative to what Hollywood puts out. As well, the travel industry could benefit from having access to the Kanopy platform for in-flight or in-room entertainment that is enriching and thought-provoking.

What at least is happening is that Kanopy is bringing the concept of the videos or DVDs made available for loan through the public library systems into the 21st century thanks to online streaming via your home network.

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Orange to launch their own smart speaker platform in Europe

Article

Freebox Delta press photo courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

Freebox Delta as an example of a European voice-driven home assistant

Orange adds smart speaker to control TV | Advanced Television

My Comments

Some European companies are working on their own voice-driven assistant platforms. At the moment, Movistar and Free have platforms that are part of their triple-play set-top-box services while the BMW Group are working towards one for the automotive context.

But Orange who have a foothold in France and Spain as far as multiple-play telecoms services are concerned are intending to release a voice-driven smart speaker known as Djingo. It is an alliance between themselves and Deutsche Telekom but will integrate Amazon Alexa technology. The French will benefit from Djingo in the European Spring of 2019 while the Spanish will benefit later in the year.

On this site, I have called out for the European tech firms to work towards one or more highly-capable voice-driven assistant platform that can effectively compete with Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri.

It is also about having the European voice-driven assistant platforms work towards European values such as a competitive market, end-user privacy and service transparency, including having the data kept on European soil.

But the problem with Orange’s and Free’s deployment is that they are implementing Amazon’s technology rather than creating their own technology. This may be to avoid the so-called “Video 2000” problem where Philips and Grundig developed a highly-capable videocassette platform. But this platform, only adopted by some European names, didn’t succeed due to the popularity of the affordable VHS platform. In this case, most of the videocassette recorders based on the Video 2000 platform were sold in to the European markets and most of that platform’s marketing was focused within Europe.

This is compared to a large number of commercial passenger airlines maintaining the European-built Airbus aircraft in their fleet alongside American-built Boeing aircraft.

If a European voice-driven assistant platform is to succeed, it has to be offered around the work as a viable competitor to what Silicon Valley offers but with the values Europeans cherish. This is because there are consumers, service providers and enterprises who also underscore these values and want to benefit from AI-driven voice assistant software.

As I have said before, the European Commission could encourage the development of European-based IT that honours the European values and market it around the world. This is rather than always engaging in court battles and antitrust investigations to deal with Silicon Valley’s market dominance.

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The successor to the Freebox Révolution has arrived in France

Articles Freebox Delta press photo courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

Xavier Niel unveils new Freebox with Alexa, Devialet, Sigfox, Netflix | TechCrunch

French Language / Langue française

Free annonce ses nouvelles Freebox : la Freebox Delta et la Freebox One | FreeNews

Freebox One : pour les accros à Netflix (et c’est tout) | ZDNet.fr

Freebox Delta : voici la box qui doit sauver Free | ZDNet.fr

From the horse’s mouth

Free.fr (French Language / Langue française)

Freebox Delta (Press Release / Communiqué de presse – PDF)

Freebox One (Press Release / Communiqué de presse – PDF)

My Comments

While the “gilets jaunes” were protesting about the cost of living in France, Free.fr had just launched a long-awaited successor to the Freebox Révolution modem-router and media player setup.

The Freebox Révolution was a device symbolic of the highly-competitive telecommunications and Internet-service market that exists in France. It is a xDSL modem-router with an Ethernet connection and a NAS that is also a DLNA-compliant media server. It works with a set-top media player that has an integrated PVR and Blu-Ray player. But over the years, these units took on new functionality that was extraordinary for carrier-provided equipment such as VPN endpoint and Apple AirPlay functionality. Infact I saw it as a benchmark for devices supplied by telcos and ISPs for Internet access when it came to functionality.

Here, there are two systems – one called the Freebox Delta which is positioned at the premium end of the market, and the other called the Freebox One which is positioned as an entry-level offering.

The Freebox Delta has a server unit which combines a modem-router and a NAS that is equivalent to a baseline 4-bay standalone NAS. The WAN (Internet) side can work with a 10Gb fibre connection, an xDSL connection or a 4G mobile broadband connection. But it is the first modem-router that can aggregate the bandwidth of an xDSL connection and a 4G mobile broadband connection for increased throughput.

On the LAN side, there is a Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) connection working across three bands and implementing MU-MIMO wireless connectivity. It is in conjunction with an integral four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch. There is the ability to link to the Freebox Delta Player in another room using the FreePlugs which are Gigabit HomePlug AV2 adaptors that Free.fr provides but these are actually network adaptors that use the USB-C peripheral connection approach.

The VoIP functionality that any “box” service offered by the French carriers provides has an RJ11 endpoint for a telephone as well as a DECT base station. There is a USB-C connection along with NFC support.

But Free.fr are even having the Freebox Delta as part of a home-automation system by providing hardware and software support for home-automation hub functionality. It is thanks to Free’s partnership with the Sigfox smart-home software platform. This is based around Zigbee technology with Free.fr and others supplying “smart-home” devices complying with this technology.

The Freebox Delta Player is effectively a connected speaker made by Devialet, a French hi-fi name of respect when it comes to speaker.  But it is a soundbar that uses 6 drivers to yield effectively a 5.1 surround-sound experience.

It works with a French-based voice-driven home assistant (OK Freebox) that handles basic commands but can work with Amazon Alexa which gives it access to the Amazon Alexa Skills library. This is achieved through a four-microphone array and is another way for a European company to effectively answer Silicon Valley in the field of voice-driven assistant platforms.

It can yield pictures to the 4K HDR 10 standard using an HDMI 2.1 socket compliant with the HDCP 2.2 standard and supporting eARC audio transfer that allows for best use with 4K UHD TVs. There is also a DVB-T2 tuner for over-the-air digital TV. You can control the Freebox Delta Player using a wirelessly-charged touchscreen remote which charges on a Qi-compliant wireless charging plate integrated in this media player. Let’s not forget that this device is up-to-date by implementing USB-C peripheral connectivity for two peripherals.

The Freebox Delta will cost EUR€480 to buy, with payment options of  EUR€120 per month over 4 months, EUR€10 per month over 48 months or the full upfront price being paid. The service will cost at least EUR€49.99 per month.

Freebox One press picture courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

Freebox One – the entry-level solution

The Freebox One is an entry level single-piece multimedia player and modem-router unit. This will have a Gigabit Fibre and xDSL connectivity on the WAN (Internet) side and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the LAN side. There will be the DECT VoIP base for the telephony function along with a DVB-T connection for digital TV. It can work with 4K HDR 10 via an HDMI 2.1 (HDCP 2.2 compliant) port for your 4K UHDTV.

It has a front-panel display that is similar to the previous generation of Freebox systems.  You can get this device for EUR€29.99 per month for first year, EUR€39.99 per month as a Freebox hardware-and-services package of the kind you get in France.

With both Freebox systems, I would expect that Free.fr will regularly release new firmware that will add extra functionality to these devices over the years. When you get these “boxes”, you will find that there is more of an incentive to visit the “mis à jour” part of the user interface and frequently update their software.

By offering the Freebox Delta for sale rather tied with a multiple-play service package, Free.fr wants to be able to sell this unit as a device you can use with other services. This means that they can put themselves on the same footing as AVM by being another Continental-European source of highly-capable always-updated consumer premises equipment for your home network.

But what needs to happen is for the European consumer IT firms to create hardware and software platforms that can effectively answer what Silicon Valley has to offer. Who knows which European companies will end up as the “Airbus” or “Arianespace” of consumer and small-business IT?

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Are we to expect laptops to be mobile phones?

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

Ultraportables soon to serve the same role as smartphones

Cellular voice could be the next step in merging phones and PCs | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing trend we are seeing with regular desktop and laptop computers is that they are being used for voice and video telephony. Thu is being driven by messaging apps of the Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber kind being ported to desktop operating systems; along with softphone applications that provide telephony functionality being made available for these operating systems. The softphone applications, along with Skype are even legitimising this usage case with laptops in the business environment turning them in to secondary or replacement phone extensions.

Headsets like the JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset are used with laptops to make voice calls with messaging apps and soon this will happen for mobile telephony

With these setups, you can talk with the caller using the computer’s integrated or attached microphone and speakers. Or, should you want the same level of privacy associated with holding a handset up to your ear, you can talk to the caller using a wired or Bluetooth headset, of which I have reviewed many on HomeNetworking01.info.

Microsoft and others in the “open-frame” computing world are pushing along with the Always Connected PC which runs ARM RISC microarchitecture rather than the traditional Intel-based CISC kind. These ultraportable computers will also be equipped with a wireless broadband modem that is authenticated using eSIM technology.

The idea is to eventually have these computers become like a smartphone with them linked to the cellular mobile network. It is also alongside the fact that today’s smartphones are effectively pocket computers running a mobile operating system.

It could be easy to say that the Always Connected PC concept is irrelevant because one can “tether” a computer to a smartphone to have access to the mobile broadband service, whether through a USB connection or a Wi-Fi-based “hotspot” function that mobile operating systems support. Or we can simply connect our computers and phones to Wi-Fi networks including publicly-accessible networks like hotspots. For that matter, computers can also be connected to other network types like Ethernet or HomePlug AV networks.

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones now are pocket computers

Let’s not forget that the GSM Association and the Wi-Fi Alliance are looking at Wi-Fi networks as a way of providing data-offload functionality. This is through mobile carriers like BT and Telstra offering FON-style community Wi-Fi networks and the Wi-Fi Alliance using Passpoint / Hotspot 2.0 as a way to provide hands-off login to public-access networks.

The Wi-Fi functionality is also being taken further in the context of smartphone-based voice telephony with the use of VoWLAN as another call-transport option for these devices. Some mobile telcos like Telstra even use this as a way to provide voice telephony continuity to their customers if they can’t reach the cellular network but can use Wi-Fi-based Internet.

The focus now is towards the concept of always-connected portable computing with a secure and consistent connectivity experience. This is being brought on through the use of 5G mobile-broadband technology and the interest in edge computing which provides support for localised data processing and storage in a cloud environment.

The eSIM is being pitched as a way to provision mobile service in an online manner, especially to vary the service to suit one’s needs or switch to a competing mobile telco. It also is placing pressure upon mobile telcos to adopt a “service-focused” approach with the idea of having multiple devices on the same mobile account and plan, ringing to the same mobile number and using the same data allowance. The goal with mobile telephony will then be to make or take a voice or video call or send and receive messages on the device that you currently are using rather than changing to a different device for that task.

Connected cars even to be another logical device for one’s mobile service account.

This concept has been driven by the Apple Watch and will be pushed on with smartwatches that have built-in mobile broadband modems. But it will be extended through other devices like smartphones, Always Connected PCs and connected vehicles. There is also the idea of implement the equivalent of a local area network across devices tied to the same service and this will be driven by the trend towards ubiquitous ambient computing.

A question that will come about is the ability to maintain multiple different services on the same physical device whether from the same telco or different telcos. This will be about maintaining separate services for business and private use. Or it could be about travellers who want to maintain a local service while at their destination along with their “home” service. This is a feature that is of relevance in countries where cross-border commuting is the norm thanks to land borders or short affordable ferry rides.

This could be addressed through support for multiple services including the ability to provision a cluster of multiple devices with the one service simultaneously. This same issue can also address the ability for us to use the conventional Internet service based around a hardwired broadband service with a Wi-Fi and / or Ethernet local network in the premises.

What I see out of this new trend is that if your computing device has mobile broadband or connection to the Internet via a local-area network, along with a speaker and microphone, it will become the one-stop computing and communications device. It doesn’t matter what shape or size it is in, being a smartphone, laptop or whatever. As well, the right-sized computing device will serve your computing and communications needs as you see fit.

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Big Mouth Billy Bass to become the start of Alexa-driven novelties

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Your Amazon Echo will soon be expected to work with a wide range of toys and novelties

The latest Big Mouth Billy Bass is made to be a rockstar with built-in Alexa support | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Big Mouth Billy Bass – Compatible With Alexa (Product Page)

Alexa Gadgets Toolkit page

My Comments

Amazon had just polished their Gadgets Toolkit which is an application programming interface for interlinking devices of various kinds with the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform. This has opened up a path for doing things like interlinking novelties that can show off when you ask Alexa for them to do so.

The first of these is the latest take on the Big Mouth Billy Bass phenomenon of the late 90s and early 2000s.

This novelty is a toy fish that is mounted on a board and starts singing songs like “Don’t Worry Be Happy” or “Take Me To The River” at the touch of a button. This is with the fish’s face swinging around to face the audience and its mouth moving in sync to the lyrics. It brought about other singing-and-dancing novelties that performed to pre-recorded songs in a funny manner.

But this latest iteration of the Big Mouth Billy Bass fish interlinks with any Amazon Echo device via Bluetooth and acts as a speaker for that Echo device. It is programmed to move the mouth in response to speech that comes through the Echo device, be it Alexa, a singer or a podcast author. The fact that it is designed to work tightly with the Alexa ecosystem will mean that if Amazon issues updates, this peripheral will gain these updates.

It will become the first of many toys and novelties that work in conjunction with the Alexa ecosystem. This includes short-form electronics modules that will be pitched to artisans who make giftware such as cuckoo clocks or Christmas decorations for them to include in their projects. Let’s not forget that Google, Apple and others will look towards extending their “smart-home” or similar platforms to work with this class of device.

An issue that will be raised regarding this product class is the fact that connected novelties and toys are being designed with very little thought for household privacy and data security. Infact a lot of IT security experts even suggest that people don’t use or give these devices at all. But this device is designed to work as if it is a peripheral for an Amazon Echo device and only connects to it via Bluetooth.

There will still be issues regarding the design of connected novelties and toys including data security and ease of connectivity. This is more so if they are to be sold through the toy and giftware retail sector where most staff are not likely to have a clue regarding the technicalities associated with these devices.

One way is that if the gadgets are to work alongside a voice-driven home assistant platform or regular computer / mobile operating system, they have to work using a “gadget API” associated with that platform or operating system and developed by the platform’s or operating-system’s developer. This is without the need to write a hefty app to gain the most out of the device. The use of APIs rather than a custom app or skill can also limit the kind of data that is collected via the novelty or toy and provide the end-user with greater control over what the device does.

As well, the “gadget API” has to also support a simple but secure setup process including permissions for various activities like use of microphones, cameras or speakers. This may be a similar process to installing or using an app on your smartphone or mobile-platform tablet where the operating system will ask whether to use the camera, microphone or sensors.  Other issues that will also come about include a “secure by design” approach for the gadget’s firmware including regular update cycles to rectify software vulnerabilities.

Let’s not forget that the “gadget APIs” would also need to support the use of the connected device as a “master clock” if the gadget is to display or react to the current time or date. This is to avoid the need to reset the clock on these devices whenever Daylight Saving Time starts or ends or worry about that clock losing time.

What I see coming about is a relentless push to offer toys, novelties and giftware that are intended to work with the home network and the Internet. But there needs to be a secure simple approach to how these gadgets are designed.

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NetID and Verimi to become Europe’s single-sign-on answer to Silicon Valley

Articles

Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Europe takes steps towards its own single sign-on services

German online ID startups ready to take on US titans | Handelsblatt Global

European netID Foundation Launches; Turner Establishes Unified Ad Sales Unit T1 | ExchangeWire

netID provides a single portal where European consumers will be able to manage their data privacy | Videonet

RTL Group, ProSieben.Sat1 form European netID Foundation | TVB Europe

From the horse’s mouth

European NetID Foundation (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Homepage (Startseite)

netid.de

My Comments

Social sign-on concept diagram

Social sign-on and single-sign-on concept diagram – relationship between the social network and online service

A situation that I am regularly watching is whether European companies are running consumer-facing online service that answer what the Silicon Valley establishment can provide yet maintain the European values of privacy and data-handling transparency. This is rather than the European Commission always tackling the Silicon Valley

Flag of Germany

It’s all kicking off within Germany thanks to RTL and ProSiebenSat1

titans with the big stick when they get out of control.

Here, the European values about democracy, user privacy and data-handling transparency have been moulded and established due to Continental Europe passing through some of the darkest periods in history. Through these eras, a significant number of European nations were run as police states with their national-security services were conduction mass surveillance at the behest of the nations’ dictators.

Infact the German-speaking countries of Europe have become strong defenders of this ideal by enacting strong data-privacy laws. It was also underscored with Germany showing strong concern regarding their Chancellor Angela Merkel being spied on by the NSA which led to European government having their information and communications technology business run by local businesses.

Initially, there have been some European companies operating in the online file-storage, Web-search and online-audio spaces like with CloudMe, Qwant, Spotify and SoundCloud. Also France is taking steps towards a YouTube competitor in the form of a peer-to-peer video-streaming service known as PeerTube. As well, there have been a few privacy-centric Webmail providers hosted within Europe like Protonmail. Lately the BMW Group worked on its own voice-driven personal assistant platform for its vehicles and I had valued this as a possible base for a European-base voice-driven assistant platform answering Alexa and co.

But the latest service class to have a European answer is single-sign-on for online services. This has been facilitated in a consumer-facing manner as a “social-sign-on” facilitated by social networks, mainly Facebook and Google. Such systems also implemented a simplified provisioning process with the data that you used to establish your Facebook or Google presence being used to create your account as you come onboard to a new online service.

The main European competitor has come in the form of NetID, created by the European NetID Foundation. This startup has been established by the RTL Group, ProSiebenSat1, and United Internet but is partnering with some other German brands like the Suddeutsche Zeitung and Spiegel newspapers along with the Scout24 online classifieds Websites.

Another is Verimi which is established by Allianz, Deutsche Bank and Lufthansa. This is based on the WebID video legitimisation service to facilitate verification of customers when they establish bank accounts or credit cards. This company is wanting to underscore the quality ethos behind the “Made In Germany” brand.

They offer a single-sign-on experience and a “hardened identity” service to facilitate online transactions. But the end-users have greater control over their own data and this is being driven by the GDPR and other European data-privacy regulations. Let’s not forget that the data is kept on servers that are within Europe.

The European NetID Foundation do expect to work beyond Germany with the desire to cut in to France, Belgium, Netherlands and Austria at the start. This could be facilitated very easily by the RTL Group who have private commercial TV or other media presence in multiple European countries or ProSiebenSat1 who effectively have private commercial TV presence across German-speaking Europe.

There is the one “data point” for each individual customer to make their data-privacy wishes clear. It is accessible from multiple Websites like those run by the different media providers. But each customer has the ability to have granular opt-in / opt-out control over their data with, for example, the ability to let a company they trust run targeted advertising for them but not allow another company they don’t trust to run that same service. The other key factor behind the European NetID Foundation is that it is an open-platform approach with an open-source codebase.

There is also the concept of customer data being managed by a third-party agent but effectively under the control of these end-users. It is also underscored by an open approach that supports the European transparency value and the data cannot be used by a company until the user grants them consent to that data.

At the moment, the European NetID Foundation is at is early days but it will be needing to approach other sign-on situations including support for devices with limited user interfaces. Here, this would be either be about setting up an account with or signing in to an online video service from a TV using its remote control for example.

Personally, I would like to see these companies offer their alternative single-sign-on services beyond Europe, especially to organisations who support and honour European business values.  But I see it as another step towards Europe creating their own online services that break away from Silicon Valley’s stranglehold on our online life.

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SAT-IP technology to extend to terrestrial and cable TV setups

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Broadcast-LAN setup

This could become the way to distribute cable and terrestrial TV around the home in Europe

AVM

SAT>IP — what is it? (Blog Post relating to DVB-C broadcast-LAN abilities in some AVM FritzBox cable modem routers)

My Comments

In Europe, SAT-IP, properly spelt SAT>IP, has been established as a broadcast-LAN standard for satellite-TV setups. This implements a satellite broadcast-LAN tuner that connects between the satellite dish and your home network, whereupon a a compatible TV or set-top box or a computing device running compatible software “tunes in” and picks up the satellite broadcast.

Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet

A mobile-platform tablet running a SAT-IP client could end up serving as a portable TV for a cable or terrestrial TV setup

At the moment, Panasonic smart TVs pitched to the European market can work with a SAT-IP setup, with Loewe rolling this feature in to their models, but there is a wide range of software including VLC that can work with this setup along with a significant number of set-top boxes.

But this technology is being taken further by extending it to terrestrial and cable TV setups, especially in Germany which has a infrastructure-agnostic policy regarding the distribution of free-to-air and pay TV. That is you could watch Tatort on Das Erste in that country no matter whether you are using the traditional TV antenna, a cable-TV infrastructure or a satellite dish. Some online resources in that country even use the name TV-IP or TV>IP to describe this all-encompassing approach.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

.. as could one of these Windows-based 2-in-1 convertibles

There is still the issue with rented properties and most multi-family developments where there is only one point of entry for the cable-TV service and it becomes more of a hassle to add extra cable-TV outlets around the premises for extra sets. There is also the fact that most of us are using laptops, tablets and smartphones in lieu of the portable TV for doing things like watching “guilty-pleasure” TV around the home.

AVM are releasing Fritz!OS 7 firmware for their Fritz!Box 6490 Cable and Fritz!Box 6590 Cable modem routers that provides a SAT-IP server functionality to extend these devices’ broadcast-LAN abilities, initially facilitated using DLNA. They also are rolling this function to the Fritz!WLAN Repeater DVB-C which is another broadcast-LAN device for cable TV in addition to a Wi-FI repeater.

Once updated, these Fritz!Box cable modem routers and the Fritz!WLAN Repeater DVB-C will present the DVB-C cable-TV and radio signals to any SAT-IP client device or software as if you are using a SAT-IP satellite broadcast-LAN device. I also see this working with those SMATV (shared satellite dish) setups for larger building that repackage satellite TV and terrestrial TV channels as DVB-C-compatible cable-TV channels.

I wouldn’t put it past other broadcast-LAN vendors courting the European market to have their non-satellite devices become SAT-IP servers. But also what needs to happen is that more TV manufacturers to implement SAT-IP-based technologies “out of the box” across their product ranges.

It could appeal to a hassle-free approach to TV-location approach where you have a single entry point for your TV aerial, cable-TV service or satellite dish but you use your home network, be it Wi-Fi 5/6 (802.11ac/ax), HomePlug AV2 or Ethernet, and a SAT-IP compatible broadcast-LAN box to permit you to relocate your TV or add more sets as you please. This is without having to call in a TV-aerial technician to install extra sockets or get the landlord to assent to their installation.

Another factor that would drive SAT-IP or TV-IP further would be to build support for it in to games consoles and similar devices that are expected to be single-box multimedia terminals. Think of devices like the XBox One, PS4, Apple TV and the like, or regular computers running their native operating systems.

But it may be seen as a big ask unless this technology is implemented beyond continental Europe. This is due to the common tech attitude that if a technology isn’t implemented beyond a particular geographic area or isn’t implemented in the USA, it will miss the boat for native operating-system support.

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