Why do I consider a digital fax vault an important feature for multifunction printers?

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer – an example of a fax-capable multifunction that implements flash memory and fax-vault functionality

Nearly every multifunction printer that is pitched towards small businesses and SOHO operations is equipped with basic Group 3 fax functionality at least. Most will have the high-speed Super Group 3 functionality while most multifunctions that print colour will support colour faxing.

This is a feature still considered of value by people who work in the legal, medical and allied professions because they see it as the preferred way to exchange documents “over the wire”, especially in the context of requiring other parties to sign and send the documents.

But inbound documents that arrive via these machines can be seen by people other than the intended recipients which is something that can betray the required confidentiality that most of these documents require. This is an important issue as far as client confidentiality and privacy are concerned when it comes to legal, medical or similar issues; but can also be of concern with the intellectual property that most organisations accrue such as customer / member lists or financial reports.

This can be of concern in traditional workplace environments like clinics where you have people like late-night workers or contract cleaners existing in the office beyond normal business hours. It can also be exacerbated for small-time professionals who share or sub-let office space or use serviced offices.

It can also extend to people who maintain a home office, something that is an increasing trend for small-time practitioners or people who maintain a small public storefront at other premises. In this case, even though the business operator’s household respects the business’s confidentiality requirements, there is the issue of houses being occupied by house-sitters, couch-surfers and the like who may not respect that level of confidentiality even though you trust them. It includes tradespeople who come in to your home to perform work that you require.

What is a “fax vault” and how could this feature answer these situations?

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J5730CDW fax-equipped multifunction which can be set up to forward incoming faxes to Dropbox or OneDrive

A “fax vault” function stores all incoming fax documents to a digital storage medium of some sort rather than printing them out. Then the user enters a code and selects a “print stored faxes” function to print out the documents. Such setups could allow functions like printing out selected faxes such as those that relate to the work they are dealing with, or forwarding the documents to another fax machine like the one installed at a convenience store or newsagent to be collected there. Some machines also provide a “forward to email” function where they send the received fax document via email as a TIFF-FAX file or a PDF file.

Some of these setups may provide PIN-protected dial-in access to allow users to enable or disable this function or forward documents to a nominated fax machine from the nearest telephone like their home phone. The functionality could also be facilitated through a Web page or mobile-platform app for a granular operating experience.

The most basic form of this kind of storage is in RAM memory in the machine, but a power failure can have you lose all the documents you have received. Better implementations of this storage can be in the form of non-volatile storage like a hard disk or solid-state storage device including an SD card or flash memory installed in the machine, or the data is held on a network storage like a NAS.

For example, HP implemented integrated flash memory within the LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw that I reviewed. This was in lieu of using RAM which is vulnerable to power failure, also leading to that printer implementing a comprehensive “fax vault” function,

Brother have come close to this ideal by equipping some of their printers with “Fax Forward To Cloud” functionality provided as a machine app where documents can be held in a Dropbox or similar online-storage account. But this feature still requires the user to have documents printed out as they come in.

As I review a fax-capable multifunction printer, I applaud manufacturers who offer this function in the proper manner in their products especially if it is feasible not to print documents that are held on the storage. As well, I applaud manufacturers who implement non-volatile memory technology, preferably user-upgradeable technology or use of external, network or common cloud-based storage for incoming faxes.

The feature is important to prevent others from seeing confidential faxes which come in through the machine thus assuring client confidentiality and privacy along with intellectual-property protection for professionals.

How to achieve this better

The manufacturers could implement flash memory in their fax-capable MFCs to avoid risk of document loss during power failures.

This can be taken further with the ability for the user to install standard-form storage devices like SDXC cards, M.2 or 2.5” SATA storage devices within the machine to allow the user to install higher-capacity storage devices at a later time; or a USB port to allow the connection of USB Mass-Storage devices like memory keys or external hard disks. SD-based cards or M.2 SSD sticks can work well with the manufacturer’s desire to maintain a compact design for their desktop multifunction printer devices.

Similarly, simplified resource-discovery protocols for NAS devices could make these devices discoverable by equipment other than regular computers. This could be facilitated through a Samba (open-source SMB implementation) client on the multifunction that implements the SMB protocol most of the NAS units use.

To protect the data on the mon-volatile storage device against further snooping should the non-volatile media unit be stolen, the fax-enabled multifunction printer could implement encrypted storage or simply encrypt the files associated with fax operation. File-based encryption can also work with data stored on a NAS unit.

The large capacities offered by newer cost-effective storage media would cater to businesses in the legal profession who are having to deal with large legal documents as a matter of course, or doctors who receive graphically-rich documents like medical imaging.

It also encourages the use of the non-volatile storage medium in these machines for storing fax documents yet to be transmitted such as with scheduled faxing or attempting to transmit a document to a machine that is busy or not answering. The benefit also applies when your machine is busy printing large documents and wants to keep itself available for other incoming faxes.

For regular printing from a network, the non-volatile storage option can allow for enqueued printing where each job waits on the storage medium until it is printed out. This can also work well with secure print-job release where you enter a code that you predetermine to collect your job before the job is turned out. It can also allow manufacturers to implement remote printing, public-printing facilities and the like as part of a multifunction’s feature set.

Let’s not forget scanning, where an efficient workflow can be created. Here, a user could scan many originals at the machine then go to their computer or mobile device to take them further by “picking them up” from the machine’s storage. A multifunction with advanced abilities could even have the ability to, for example, recognise many small originals like snapshot photos, business cards or till receipts that are scanned at once and create separate files for each original.

Conclusion

Having a digital fax vault as part of a small-business or SOHO-grade fax-capable multifunction’s feature set can be of value to professionals who place high value on client confidentiality.

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6GHz Wi-Fi technology moving towards room-by-room Gigabit Wi-Fi

Article

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

Distributed Wi-Fi setups like this NETGEAR Orbi will be heading towards the Gigabit Wi-Fi goal on the 6GHz waveband

ARRIS: How 6 GHz Wi-Fi will revolutionise the connected home | Wi-Fi Now

My Comments

ARRIS who make home-network equipment for the American market, are pushing the idea that the 6 GHz Wi-Fi network is a major evolution for the home network.

This is coming about due to various national government departments who have oversight over radiocommunications use within their jurisdiction working on regulatory instruments to open up unlicensed low-power indoor use of the 6 GHz radio waveband. Such regulation is expected to be passed by the FCC in the US by mid-year 2020 and OFCOM in the UK by 2021 with other jurisdictions to follow suit over the next few years.

It will open up seven new 160MHz channels for the Wi-Fi 6 technology with the feasibility to open up a Gigabit Wi-Fi network. This is expected to lead to the evolution of the self-configuring distributed Wi-Fi setup with a Gigabit Wi-Fi backbone plus each access point offering a 160MHz Wi-Fi 6 channel alongside support for low-power narrower-bandwidth 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels for legacy equipment.

There will be the implementation of Wi-Fi EasyMesh and Wi-Fi EasyConnect standards to permit secure setup and an open-frame heterogenous distributed-wireless network.

One limitation I do see confronting this ideal that Arris put forward is the short-wavelength Wi-Fi backbone which can be a hindrance with certain building materials and construction approaches like double-brick walls. There will also be the requirement to run many access points to make sure the average home is covered properly. Here, the wired backbone whether “new wires”  like Ethernet or “no new wires” like HomePlug AV2 powerline or MoCA TV-antenna coaxial still has toe be considered for a multiple-access-point network.

ARRIS was even positioning for the evolution of the distributed Wi-Fi network to have each room with its own access-point node capable of yielding Gigabit bandwidth. They also put forward ideas like having these access points mounted on the ceiling. But I would also prefer the idea of a normally-sessile endpoint device like a network printer, Amazon-Echo-style smart speaker or a smart TV being its own access point that is part of the distributed Wi-Fi network. It then avoids the need to equip a room with an extra access point if you are intending to have this kind of device in that room.

The use of Wi-Fi 6 technologies will also be about working with environments that are congested as far as Wi-Fi wireless networking is concerned. These environments like multiple-premises buildings, airports or hotels are likely to have many Wi-Fi devices operating on many Wi-Fi networks which with prior technologies leads to poor performance especially on the throughput and latency side.

It may have to take a few years for the Wi-Fi wireless network to hit the Gigabit throughput mark as the 6 GHz band opens up and more access-point and client devices come on the market.

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Creative Labs introduces a desktop soundbar speaker as part of an entry-level soundbar range

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Creative Labs

Stage Air desktop soundbar (Product Page)

Stage soundbar (Product Page)

Press Release

My Comments

Creative Labs recently launched a small desktop soundbar that is being positioned as a viable single-piece alternative to the traditional computer speakers setup. If you did want a right-sized single-piece speaker setup for your computer, you would have used a small Bluetooth speaker or a boombox with a line input.

Here, it is being pitched towards desktop computer users who either are using an all-in-one desktop computer; or a traditional “three-piece” computer setup with the monitor, system unit and keyboard.

Creative Labs Stage soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage entry-level soundbar

This capitalises on Creative Labs pedigree in relationship to computer audio – who remembers themselves or a computer enthusiast they know installing a Sound Blaster sound card made by this firm in their computer through the years? It also includes their merger with Cambridge Soundworks who designed different “personal” speaker products advertised in American magazines through the 1990s.

This soundbar, known as the Stage Air, is a stereo device with a full-range speaker driver per channel along with a passive radiator to provide improved bass response. That speaker-arrangement technique had been used with some boomboxes made during the 1980s and 1990s as a way of improving their bass response in a power-efficient manner for portable applications. It is rated by Creative for 5 watts RMS per channel with a 20 watt peak output.

The Stage Air soundbar can fit underneath your computer monitor or all-in-one computer and connects to the host computer using a line-level connection with a 3.5mm stereo jack. But it has Bluetooth connectivity and a battery that can run for six hours on a charge allowing it to be a Bluetooth speaker for your laptop, tablet or smartphone. There is also the ability to connect a USB memory key to the Stage Air soundbar to have it play MP3 audio files held on that memory key.

There are controls on the speaker to regulate the volume so you don’t have to fuss around with your operating system’s sound icon to quickly adjust the sound. When it serves as your desktop speaker, you can have it normally powered by a USB power source like your computer or a USB charger.

From all of the material that I have read about this product, it is being pitched as something that can fill a small office or similar space with sound, something that would be akin to typical desktop computer speakers or a small boombox.

It is being offered as the junior brother to the Stage soundbar which has more power output and can fill a larger area with sound. Some press material even described this soundbar as being better than most low-priced entry-level soundbars. This unit uses a midrange speaker for each stereo channel and works alongside an external narrow-profile subwoofer for the bass.

This uses an infra-red remote control so you can select different frequency-response curves to adjust how it sounds. This has the Bluetooth and line-in connectivity but also has an optical input and HDMI-ARC TV connection, but it could also have an HDMI input so you can connect a video peripheral to it incase you displaced one that was connected to your TV’s ARC-enabled HDMI socket.

What I see of these products is that Creative Labs are filling in gaps for high-quality single-piece soundbar speakers that can answer your needs whether as something for your desktop or laptop computer or as an entry-level soundbar setup for your Smart TV.

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing Dell’s value-priced 2-in-1 laptop computer, the Inspiron 14 5000 which is positioned as a mid-tier computer for this class.

There is a model in the lineup that costs under AUD$1000 which has the Intel i3 CPU,  4Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage. I would see this as being of value for most users who are dabbling in the idea of a Windows-based 2-in-1.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 - viewer arrangement at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

 

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1398
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor Intel i5-8265U
cheaper option:
Intel i3-8145U
better option:
Intel i7-8565U
RAM 8GB
cheaper option: 4GB
Secondary storage 256GB SSD
cheaper option: 128Gb
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics
better option:
NVIDIA GeForce MX130 Discrete graphics with Optimus (2Gb)
Screen 14” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements MaxxAudio Pro
Network Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)
2 streams
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with DisplayPort alt and PowerDelivery
2 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 1.4b
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Digital via HDMI or DisplayPort
Authentication and Security
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 has a very similar styling to most of today’s laptops with the grey housing and black keys and screen escutcheon. It doesn’t come across with a cheap-looking finish.

This computer doesn’t come across as being flimsy. It can work smoothly between the different setups whether it be a tablet, tent mode or the traditional laptop setup. Here, you don’t need to exert much pressure on the lid and it moves very smoothly. A problem that can occur if you use it in viewer mode is that if you put a bit too much pressure on the screen, you can find that the screen collapses too quickly. This may be of concern for those of us who attempt to type with the on-screen keyboard.

There is venting along the back and on the bottom of the keyboard unit. In normal use in all modes, I have noticed that the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 hasn’t built up any heat or become too hot to be comfortable.

User Interface

The illuminated keyboard on the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 looks like what is expected for most of the value-priced consumer-grade laptops. It has the tactile feel that is expected for most modern keyboards and you still have the ability to touch-type accurately. The illumination could be improved through the use of an “on-demand” mode to prevent the keyboard lighting up longer after you stop interacting with it and this could come in to play while the unit is running on batteries.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

The trackpad on this Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 has the full precision ability which allows for multi-touch operation as expected for relatively-modern laptops. The touchscreen is also responsive and accurate as expected and isn’t easily triggered by you typing on the keyboard.

Unlike some very cheap Chinese-built 2-in-1 convertible laptops, the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 disables the keyboard and trackpad when it is placed in a tablet, viewer or tent mode. This means it fulfils the expectations of a 2-in-1 convertible and you don’t have accidental operation.

An improvement that I would like to see for use in any of the “tablet” modes would be to have a power switch and volume buttons located on one of the sides of the screen. This could allow the user to quickly shut the unit down or adjust the sound output when it is used as a tablet or a viewer setup.

Audio / Video

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell has implemented the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning but this doesn’t really improve the sound quality especially for music when you use this computer’s speakers. This is still a problem with laptops because of the shallow cramped design that is part of their construction. Here, I would recommend the use of headphones ore external speakers if you want more out of these computers.

The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics performed properly for handling Web video but I have done further research on this graphics subsystem. Here, it is able to be an all-rounder for most tasks including some gaming where you aren’t critical about its performance. The high-end variant with the NVIDIA discrete graphics infrastructure would come in handy if you are wanting performance for gaming or photo and video editing.

Dell has done the right thing for battery life by keeping the display resolution for the integrated display at Full HD rather than offering a configuration with a 4K UHDTV screen resolution. The DisplayPort via USB-C connection option can come in to its own for higher resolution computing needs when you have this computer teamed with an external monitor or TV of that resolution.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

This computer, like most of the configurations of the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 comes with the 256Gb solid-state storage. This is while one of the configurations equipped with 8Gb RAM comes with 128Gb. It can work well for most “secondary-computer” applications but could be made as an across-the-board baseline. As well, a 512Gb solid-state drive could be offered as a premium option.

The solid-state storage that serves as the Dell Inspiron’s system disk is augmented by a full SD card reader that can work with the standard SD cards. This means that you could load your photos from your digital camera in to your computer without the need for using an SD-card reader.

The RAM capacity satisfies most needs but a 16Gb RAM specification could be offered as a premium option especially for units kitted with the i7 CPU.

The Wi-FI does come across as being strong and quick for most of today’s Wi-Fi networks and hasn’t been much of a worry. The Bluetooth connection also worked properly with my JBL headphones and is a feature that is to be made use of on a laptop for private listening or wireless keyboards and mice.

The USB connectivity does suit most needs including having a USB-C connection with DisplayPort alt and Power Delivery support. Here, it can play well with setting up a USB-C monitor or dock as the heart of a laptop-centric desktop workspace where you are implementing an external monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The two traditional Type-A connections on the left work to USB 3.0 specifications while the right-had Type-A connection works to the 2.0 specification. This can come up as a problem if you are using high-performance plug-in USB peripherals like USB modems that answer high-bandwidth mobile broadband services or USB memory keys with high storage capacity and high performance.

There is also an HDMI connection for existing flatscreen TVs and monitors when you want the second screen, while you have the 3.5mm audio jack for connecting headphones or speakers for better sound.

Battery Life

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1’s integral battery can satisfy a workday of ordinary text-based computing. This is even if you do your computing totally online such as Web-surfing on your home network or at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Online video streaming for 90 minutes with full-screen video and the sound via a Bluetooth headset allowed the battery to run from full capacity to half capacity. You may find that you have to use an external power supply like a USB-C PD battery pack or the computer’s supplied battery charger if you are considering full-on binge-viewing or similar activity for over two to three hours flat-out.

Other Usage Notes

I showed the Del Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible to the chairman of the Men’s Shed that I go to regularly and he found that the screen size was “just right” – not to small or too big. Another person who is involved in business IT saw this computer as being suitable as a general-purpose household or personal computer where you are not asking for anything special in performance or security.

As well, I had used the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 during the broadcast of the Australian Federal Election vote count. Here, I found that the tablet mode worked very well for using the computer as a “second screen” in this context.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A feature that I would like to see with the Dell Inspiron family of value-priced 2-in-1 laptops is for one or more variants to be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connector. This is more so on machines that are targeted towards affordable price segments due to the fact that they could be optioned up for better graphics with an external graphics module.

It could also be a good idea to implement USB 3.0 for all of the Type-A connections on this computer. Here, it can be of benefit to users who are likely to use two unwieldly-sized plug-in USB 3.0 peripherals that have a large form factor like some mobile-broadband modems or high-capacity USB memory keys.

Another feature that would work well for this class of laptop is to have a power switch and volume buttons installed on the edge of the screen. This can simplify the process of regulating the volume or quickly turning off the laptop when you are done.

The illuminated-keyboard feature could have an option to work only while you are working with the keyboard with it turning off a few seconds after you stop using the keyboard. This can be a way to allow for improved battery runtime.

Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 series 2-in-1s fills the gap for a convertible notebook that suits the needs of most householders without sacrificing performance for most computing tasks. This includes using it as a second screen or viewing online video, with the fact that the 14” screen keeps the idea of a highly portable computer alive while maintaining a larger screen.

This model even has some configurations that suit a budget user, someone who wants an all-round performer and someone who is after improved graphics performance.

I would make sure that Dell keeps the Inspiron 14 5000 series of 2-in-1 laptop computers as a value-priced product that suits most users and to keep one model with some desirable specs at an affordable price point. Here, it could be about preserving a lineup of 2-in-1 convertible laptops of different screen sizes, powertrains (CPUs, graphics processors, chipsets), RAM capacities and storage capacities under the Inspiron banner in order to make this computer class affordable for most users.

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USB-C displays are coming in droves–what should you look for?

Article

Dell S2718D 27" slimline monitor press image courtesy of Dell

Dell’s slimline 27″ monitor with its electronics in its base is an example of a USB-C monitor

Best USB-C Monitors for PC in 2019 | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing number of standalone display monitors are becoming equipped with the USB-C connection as a path for connecting your computer to them.

This connection works uses the DisplayPort alt path offered by the connection standard for video transfer from the host computer as a minimum feature. This is part of the USB-C standard that allows different host-peripheral connection paths like DisplayPort to be run via the same physical cable along with the USB-based host-peripheral data transfer. But most of these monitors will support being a power source compliant to the USB Power Delivery device class so they can provide power to and charge a laptop that is connected to them as a host. Better implementations of this standard will even support being their own powered USB 3.x hub and have two or three traditional USB 3.0 ports.

These USB-C plugs are now another connection path for linking your computer to a display monitor

There will be at least some HDMI or standard DisplayPort input connections for legacy setups such as desktop or laptop computers that don’t come with USB Type-C connections. But you can exploit the hub functionality in those monitors that implement it if you use a USB cable that has a Type C connector on one end and a traditional Type A connector on the other end.

If the monitor has any sort of audio functionality, this will be facilitated through the DisplayPort or HDMI connections. In the case of the USB-C setup, the sound will be transferred using the DisplayPort alt ability that this connection provides. Most of the monitors with this function will have a 3.5mm stereo audio-output jack that can work to headphone or line-out specifications and may have integral speakers.

You will need to have your computer use the “display audio” driver rather than its audio chipset to use the monitor’s audio abilities via the USB-C, DisplayPort or HDMI connections. As well, don’t expect much in sound quality from the integral speakers and it may be a better idea to use a set of good active speakers or your favourite stereo setup for the sound.

Like with monitors that don’t come with the USB-C connection, buying a USB-C monitor will be more of a “horses for courses” approach. Here you will come across 4K UHDTV screens with wide colour gamut and HDR support which will come in handy if you engage in photo or video editing. This is while there will be monitors optimised to work with the latest high-performance discrete display subsystems for those of us who like playing the latest high-end games.

Another question that will come up if your computer has a Thunderbolt 3 output is how these screens will fit in with external graphics modules that you may use. Most of these modules will require you to connect their video output to the monitor’s HDMI or DisplayPort connections as if you are connecting a legacy host computer but some may use a secondary Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C connection to allow you to connect your USB-C monitor with its video coming from the module’s graphics infrastructure.

Use Cases

One main use case would be for those of us who have a laptop-based working environment. Here, you would use a USB-C monitor with integrated hub functionality and connect your wired peripherals to the monitor while your laptop is connected to your monitor using one cable. You then end up dealing with just one cable when you bring your computer to or remove it from that workspace.

Another main use case is if you are dealing with a “next unit of computing” midget computer or other small-form-factor computer that implements this connection type. Where manufacturers see the USB-C connection type as a way to reduce the computer’s size, these monitors can earn their keep as a preferred display type for these systems.

Do I need to replace my existing monitor for one with a USB-C connection

At the moment, you don’t need to replace your existing monitor with one that has a USB-C connection if your existing monitor serves your needs well. This is more important for those of us who have existing computer equipment that isn’t equipped with this connection or aren’t buying equipment that will have this connection.

But if you are replacing an existing monitor with something that better suits your needs or adding one to a multiple-display setup, this connection type can be a valid feature to be aware of when comparing the feature lists of each candidate unit. Here, it will be about having one that is future-proof especially when you use computer equipment that has this connection type.

What to look for

Make sure the monitor you are after has the display size, aspect ration and other abilities that suit your key usage scenario. For example, gamers should look for monitors that work tightly with their preferred high-performance graphics cards.

Look for a USB-C monitor that has a USB hub with plenty of USB 3.0 downstream connections. Another USB-C downstream connection can be an asset worth considering. But at least one of the USB sockets must be easily discoverable and accessible from your operating position.

The USB-C monitor should have be able to work as a power source compliant to the USB Power Delivery specification with an output of 45 watts or more. This will mean that you don’t need to use your laptop computer’s battery charger to run your laptop at home or work.

Audio-equipped USB-C monitors must have an external line-level or headphone audio output so you can use them with your favourite audio devices.

If the monitor has an integrated Webcam, it may be an asset for your privacy to have a user-operated shutter across the camera lens or the Webcam to be of a “pop-up” design that is concealed when not in use.

Conclusion

Over this year, the appearance of display monitors with a USB-C connection will become more common as the number of laptop and small-profile computers kitted out with this or the Thunderbolt 3 connection increases.

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What will passwordless authentication be about?

Facebook login page

You soon may not need to remember those passwords to log in to the likes of Facebook

The traditional password that you use to authenticate with an online service is in the throes of losing this role.

This is coming about due to a lot of security risks associated with server-based passwords. One of these is for us to use the same password across many online services, leading towards credential reuse and “stuffing” attacks involving “known” username/password or email/password pairs. As well, the password is also subject to brute-force attacks including dictionary attacks where multiple passwords are tried against the same account. It also includes phishing and social-engineering attacks where end-users are tricked in to supplying their passwords to miscreants, something I had to rectify when an email account belonging to a friend of mine fell victim to phishing. This is facilitated by users creating passwords based on personal facts that work as aide-memoires. Passwords can also be stolen through the use of keyloggers or compromised network setups.

Managing multiple passwords can become a very user-unfriendly experience with people ending up using password-vault software or recording their passwords on a paper ore electronic document. As well, some applications can make password entry very difficult. Examples of these include connected-TV or games-console applications where you pick each character out using your remote control’s or game controller’s D-pad to enter the password.

You will be able to set your computer up to log you in to your online services with a PIN, fingerprint or other method

The new direction is to implement passwordless authentication where a client device or another device performs the authentication role itself and sends an encrypted token to the server. This token is then used to grant access to the account or facilitate the transaction.

It may be similar to multifactor authentication where you do something like enable a mobile authenticator app after you key in your online service’s password. But it also is very similar to how a single-sign-on or social-sign-on arrangement works with the emphasis on an authenticated-session token rather than your username and password as credentials.

The PIN will be authenticated locally nd used to enable the creation of a session token for your online service

There will be two key approaches which are centred around the exchange of an asymmetric key pair between the client and server devices.

The first of these will be the primary client device like your laptop computer or a smartphone that you are using the online service on. Or it can be a secondary client device like your smartphone that is holding the private key. You authenticate with that device using a device-local PIN or password or a biometric factor like your fingerprint or face.

Android security menu

The same holds true for your Android or other smartphone

The second will involve the use of a hardware token like a FIDO2-compliant USB or Bluetooth access key or an NFC-compliant smart card. Here, you activate this key to pass on the credentials including the private key to the client computer for your online session.

It is being facilitated through the use of FIDO2, WebAuthN and CTAP standards that allow compliant Web browsers and online services to implement advanced authentication methods. At the moment, Windows 10 is facilitating this kind of login through the use of the Windows Hello user-authentication functionality, but Android is in the process of implementing it in the mobile context.

There is effectively the use of a form of multifactor authentication to enable the cryptographic key pair between the client and server devices. This is based around the device you are using and the fact you are there to log in.

HP Elitebook 2560p business notebook fingerprint reader

The fingerprint reader on this HP Elitebook and similar laptops will become more important here

If the authentication is to take place on the primary client device like a laptop or smartphone, the device’s secure element like a TPM module in a laptop or the SIM card in a smartphone would be involved in creating the private key. The user would enter the device-local PIN or use the fingerprint reader to enable this key which creates the necessary session token peculiar to that device.

On the other hand, if it is to take place on a secondary device like a smartphone, the authentication and session-token generation occurs on that device. This is typically with the user notified to continue the authentication on the secondary device, which continues the workflow on its user interface. Typically this will use a Bluetooth link with the primary device or a synchronous Internet link with the online service.

The online service has no knowledge of these device-local authentication factors, which makes them less likely to be compromised. For most users, this could be the same PIN or biometric factor used to unlock the device when they switch it on and they could use the same PIN across multiple devices like their smartphone or laptop. But the physical device in combination with the PIN, fingerprint or facial recognition of that user would be both the factors required to enable that device’s keypair and create the session token to validate the session.

A hardware token can be in the form of a USB or Bluetooth security key or a NFC smart card. But this device manages the authentication routines and has private keys kept in its secure storage.

There will be the emphasis around multiple trusted devices for each service account as well as the same trusted device supporting multiple services. Some devices like hardware tokens will have the ability to be “roaming” devices in order to do things like enabling a new device to have access to your online services or allow ad-hoc use of your services on shared equipment such as the public-use computers installed at your local library. They will also work as a complementary path of verification if your client device such as a desktop PC doesn’t have all the authentication functionality.

Similarly, when you create a new account with an online service, you will be given the option to “bind” your account with your computer or smartphone. Those of us who run online services that implement legacy-based sign-in but are enabled for passwordless operation will have the option in the account-management dashboard to bind the account with whatever we use to authenticate it with and have it as a “preferred” authentication path.

Some of the passwordless authentication setups will allow use with older operating systems and browsers not supporting the new authentication standards by using time-limited or one-use passwords created by the authentication setup.

Questions that will arise regarding the new passwordless Web direction is how email and similar client-server setups that implement native clients will authenticate their sessions. Here, they may have to evolve towards having the various protocols that they work with move towards key-pair-driven session tokens associated with the particular service accounts and client devices.

There will also be the issue of implementing this technology in to dedicated-purpose devices, whether as a server or client device. Here, it is about securing access to the management dashboards that these devices offer, which has become a strong security issue thanks to attacks on routers and similar devices.

IT WILL TAKE TIME TO EVOLVE TO PASSWORDLESS

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It will be easy to use your voice to delete what you previously said to Alexa

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

You will be able to use your voice to delete instructions you said to your Amazon Echo

Articles

How to See and Delete Alexa’s Recordings of You | Tom’s Guide

You Can Now Tell Alexa To Delete Your Conversations | Lifehacker

My Comments

An issue that anyone with a voice-driven home assistant device will be wanting to have control of is what the device’s platform has recorded when they spoke to that device. It also includes the risk of your device being accidentally triggered by situations such as an utterance of the wake word in a recording or broadcast. A previous article that I have written describes how to achieve this kind of control with your Amazon Echo or similar Alexa-based device.

But Amazon have taken this further for the Alexa platform by allowing you to speak to your Alexa-based device to delete recordings left on the platform during particular time ranges.

How to enable this function

You have to use the Amazon Alexa app or Website to enable this feature but you don’t have to install another Alexa Skill in to your account for this purpose. Once you are logged in to your Amazon Alexa app or Website, enter the Settings section which would be brought up under a hamburger-shape “advanced-operations” menu.

Then you go to your “Alexa Account” option in that section and bring up the “Alexa Privacy” menu. Go to the “Review Voice History” screen and you will see the  “Enable Deletion By Voice” option that you can toggle on or off. Having this feature on will allow you to use the voice commands that will be listed below. When you enable it, you will see a warning that anyone with access to your Alexa-based devices will be able to delete what was said to the Alexa ecosystem.

Commands

“Alexa, delete everything I said today” will cause your Alexa-based device to delete anything you said to it from midnight (0:00) of the current day to the time you gave that instruction.

For greater control, Amazon will roll out this other command: “Amazon, delete what I just said”. This will delete what was last said to your Alexa device and can be of use when handling a nuisance-trigger situation for example.

Conclusion

I would see the other voice-driven assistant platforms provide the ability to delete what you said under your voice control as a user-enabled option. This will be more so as the light shines brightly on what the Silicon Valley establishment are up to with end-user data privacy amongst other issues like corporate governance.

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NewsGuard to indicate online news sources’ trustworthiness

Articles

Untrustworthy news sites could be flagged automatically in UK | The Guardian

From the horse’s mouth

NewsGuard

Home Page

My Comments

Google News screenshot

Google News – one of the way we are reading our news nowadays

Since 2016 with the Brexit referendum and the US Presidential Election that caused outcomes that were “off the beaten track”, a strong conversation has risen up about the quality of news sources, especially online sources.

This is because most of us are gaining our news through online resources like online-news aggregators like Google News, search engines like Google or Bing, or social networks like Facebook or Twitter. It is while traditional media like the newspapers, radio or TV are being seen by younger generations as irrelevant which is leading to these outlets reducing the staff numbers in their newsrooms or even shutting down newsrooms completely.

What has been found is that this reliance on online news and information has had us become more susceptible to fake news, disinformation and propaganda which has been found to distort election outcomes and draw in populist political outcomes.

Increasingly we are seeing the rise of fact-checking groups that are operated by newsrooms and universities who verify the kind of information that is being run as news. We are also seeing the electoral authorities like the Australian Electoral Commission engage in public-education campaigns regarding what we pass around on social media. This is while the Silicon-Valley platforms are taking steps to deal with fake news and propaganda by maintaining robust account management and system-security policies, sustaining strong end-user feedback loops, engaging with the abovementioned fact-check organisations and disallowing monetisation for sites and apps that spread misinformation.

Let’s not forget that libraries and the education sector are taking action to encourage media literacy amongst students and library patrons. With this site, I even wrote articles about being aware of fake news and misinformation during the run-up to the UK general election and the critical general elections in Australia i.e. the NSW and Victoria state elections and the Federal election which were running consecutively over six months.

Google News on Chrome with NewsGuard in place

NewsGuard highlighting the credibility of online news sources it knows about on Google News

But a group of journalists recently worked on an online resource to make it easy for end-users to verify the authenticity and trustworthiness of online news resources. NewsGuard, by which this resource is named, assesses the online news resources on factors like the frequency it runs with false content; responsible gathering and presentation of information; distinguishing between news and opinion / commentary; use of deceptive headlines and proper error handling. Even factors that affect transparency like ownership and financing of the resource including ideological or political leanings of those in effective control; who has effective control and any possible conflicts of interest; distinction between editorial and advertising / paid content; and the names of the content creators and their contact or biographical information.

NewsGuard in action on Google Chrome - detail with the Guardian

The NewsGuard “pilot light” on Chrome’s address bar indicating the trustworthiness of a news site

End-users can use a plug-in or extension for the popular desktop browsers which will insert a “shield” behind a Weblink to a news resource indicating whether it is credible or not, including whether you are simply dealing with a platform or general-info site or a satire page. They can click on the shield icon to see more about the resource and this resource is even described in an analogous form to a nutrition label on packaged foodstuffs.

For the Google Chrome extension, there is also the shield which appears on the address bar and changes colour according to how the Web resource you are reading has been assessed by NewsGuard. It is effectively like a “pilot light” on a piece of equipment that indicates the equipment’s status such as when a sandwich toaster is on or has heated up fully.

NewsGuard basic details screen about the news site you are viewing

Basic details being shown about the trrustworthiness of online news site if you click on NewsGuard “pilot light”

It is also part of the package for the iOS and Android versions of Microsoft Edge but it will take time for other mobile browsers to provide this as an option.

NewsGuard is a free service with it gaining a significant amount of funding from the Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program. This is a program that is about protecting democratic values like honest and fair elections.

It is also being pitched towards the online advertising industry as a tool to achieve a brand-safe environment for brands and advertisers who don’t want anything to do with fake news and disinformation. This will be positioned as a licensable data source and application-programming interface for this user group to benefit from. Libraries, educational facilities, students and parents are also being encouraged to benefit from the NewsGuard browser add-ons as part of their media-literacy program and curriculum resources.

Detailed "Nutrition Label" report from NewsGuard about The Guardian

Click further to see a detailed “nutrition label” report about the quality and trustworthiness of that online news resource

But I see it also of benefit towards small newsrooms like music radio stations who want to maintain some credibility in their national or international news coverage. Here, they can make sure that they use news from trusted media resources for their news output like the “top-of-the-hour” newscast. Students, researchers, bloggers and similar users may find this of use to make sure that any media coverage that they cite are from trustworthy sources.

The UK government are even considering this tool as a “must-have” for Internet service providers to provide so that British citizens are easily warned about fake news and propaganda. It is in the same approach to how users there can have their ISPs provide a family-friendly “clean feed” free of pornography or hate speech.

It is now being rolled out around the rest of Europe with France and Italy already on board with this service for their mastheads. Germany is yet to come on board but it could be a feasible way to have other countries speaking the same language climbing on board very quickly such as having Germany, Austria and Switzerland come on board very quickly once German presence is established.

As NewsGuard rolls out around the world, it could effectively become one of the main “go-to” points to perform due-diligence research on that news outlet or its content. It will also become very relevant as our news and information is delivered through podcasts and Internet-delivered radio and TV broadcasts or we use Internet-connected devices to receive our news and information.

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AVM earns Connect awards for their routers

Article – From the horse’s mouth

AVM FRITZ!Box 3490 - Press photo courtesy AVM

AVM earns more industry recognition for their Fritz!Box devices

AVM

AVM is delighted to win two Connect awards (Press Release)

My Comments

AVM has just earned two Connect awards for their German-designed home-network technology.

The first of these was for the Fritz!Box routers and mesh setup. No wonder they would earn industry recognition for their home-network products especially since they were the first company to break the mould regarding home-network routers by supplying self-updating firmware.

The issue of self-updating firmware became very important due to the fact that most of us aren’t updating our home-network router’s firmware regularly and it was a security hole. This is thanks to the “out-of-the-box” software coming with bugs and weaknesses that can be exploited by hackers against the typical home network.

Another step in the right direction was to implement distributed-wireless networking through a free software update rather than requiring customers to replace their AVM home-network devices. This was about providing a function update to the Fritz!Box modem router’s FritzOS firmware to open up this functionality. There was even the ability to roll out the functionality to Fritz!WLAN Repeaters and Fritz!Powerline access points to bring on the simplified distributed-wireless functionality to them all. It also applied to some recent-model Fritz!Box modem routers to cater for the reality that an older router can be “pushed down” to be an access point while the new router works as the edge of your home network.

But they also earned awards for their IP-based telephony equipment which was considered important as European telcos are moving towards IP-based telephony and away from the traditional telephone system. One of the products was a CAT-iQ DECT cordless handset that worked with their Fritz!Box modem routers that had DECT hase-station functionality for VoIP telephony. This had abilities similar to what you would expect of a mobile phone of the “feature phone” class.

What is being shown here is that the European companies are coming through on functionality innovation when it comes to the home-network “edge” router or infrastructure devices for your home network.

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Internet-radio platforms are drifting towards new content directories

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Kogan Internet table radio

You may find that the Internet radio service is not working if you are using the vTuner Internet-radio directory used by most Internet radios

Frontier Silicon

Support Notice regarding changeover (English language / Deutsche Sprache / Langue Française)

Airable by Tune In Gmbh

Product Page regarding Internet radio directory service

Message From The Team (Press Release)

My Comments

Recently, it has been found that vTuner, the Internet-radio directory used by many Internet radios and audio equipment with that functionality including the ones previously reviewed on this Website, has become unreliable as a service. This has caused some of the set manufacturers to receive user complaints about their products through their product-support contact paths.

These manufacturers and Internet-radio platform providers like Frontier Silicon have found that they can’t assure their end users can benefit from proper service continuity. So they are changing their Internet-radio and audio-on-demand service provider to Airable by Tune In. This German company is a different company to the TuneIn Radio app and Website we commonly use to bring Internet radio to our computers, smartphones and tablets.

Revo Domino Internet radio

Check the update options in your Internet radio’s menus for any directory service updates

In a lot of cases, the manufacturer will supply a firmware update which may be delivered via the Internet connection or as a downloadable software package to be transferred to the Internet-radio device via a USB memory stick. Devices based on the Frontier-Silicon platform which includes Roberts, Bush, Kogan, Ruark, Revo or Sangean equipment will simply take on a small configuration update which may require the set to be turned off then on for it to be implemented.

There will be some older audio-equipment models, mainly “big sets” (hi-fi equipment, stereo systems and the like) offered by some of the big names, that may not be able to be updated to newer Internet-radio services. In most cases, these units will lose Internet-radio functionality and this is due to a traditionalist approach towards managing “end-of-life” models by these brands.

The same issue will also apply with equipment like the Ruark R7 Radiogram

If your device is based around a mobile-platform app, something that would be common with Wi-Fi-based multiroom speakers, you may have to update your app from the mobile platform’s app store. Typically this is facilitated using the “Update” option within the app-store menu. The same issue also applies to smart TVs, set-top boxes, games consoles, mobile-platform apps and the like whereupon you would have to visit the platform’s app store or download location to obtain an app update or a substitute Internet-radio app.

Other than that, check with your set’s manufacturer’s support Website for any software updates if you have found that you aren’t benefiting from Internet-radio service continuity.

Once the firmware update or configuration update has completed, you will find that the menu tree for your equipment’s Internet-radio or online services mode has been revised. You will also find that you will have to store your favourite stations using your set’s preset buttons rather than an online resource. This means you will have to rely on your set’s preset-station functionality for this purpose.

Since 5 August, Frontier Silicon have built up a new Web portal for you to manage your favourite stations in addition to using your set’s preset-station buttons. This will work with devices based on their platform like Bush, Roberts, Ruark or Kogan sets that are updated to use Airable.

Speaking of which, you may have to reallocate your favourite Internet-radio stations to your set’s preset buttons. This is because these buttons keep a reference to the station’s entry to the Internet-radio-directory-service’s directory rather than the full URL for that online stream. For example, a reference to Heart London’s Internet stream as a preset button on your set may only point to the reference in the vTuner Internet-radio directory which has all the stream addresses for that “turn up the feel good” London pop-music radio station. But this station would be under a different reference with Airable or another directory.

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

Some of these sets may not be able to benefit from Internet radio thanks to the manufacturer not supplying further software updates

Airable were even stating in their latest press release that they were on the receiving end of various support tickets as each brand was switching over to them to provide Internet-radio service continuity. They were even finding that they had to claw through the support requests while the switchovers were taking place.

If you discover a new online media resource, you may have to share the resource’s stream URL for audio streams  or RSS Webfeed URL for podcasts to Airable’s “suggest content” page. This will be something that podcasters and new Internet-radio broadcasters will have to do as they come on board with online content.

The same issue about Internet radio service continuity can apply to smart TVs, set-top boxes and game consoles that implement an Internet radio app

Companies who are using the Airable internet-radio-directory service on their products have the ability to “link” with audio-content services that implement the Airable.API interface. Here, it avoids the need to add to their device’s firmware many software “hooks” to allow the online service to be available from that device’s control surface. It also avoids the need to refresh device firmware if the content directory has to be amended.

What may also have to happen is for the Airable API to implement RadioDNS as part of their directory and software. It is becoming important where the Internet radio concept is very much about “hybrid radio” operation with “single-dial” tuning and rich displays along with the classic view of Internet radio as the “new shortwave”.

The changeover will take time to complete and will yield useability problems but it will, in most cases, be about continuing to listen to Internet radio. At the same time, Tune In will have to scale up their servers to answer increased demand and keep investing in their service all the time to avoid becoming oversubscribed or running on old data.

Update: 8 August 2019 – Frontier Silicon rebuilding their favourite-stations Web portal that works with Airable for their Internet-radio platforms.

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