An audio spectrum representing voice hacking.

Cyber Security Finds a Way to Stop Voice Hacking

An audio spectrum representing voice hacking.

Voice hacking grants others unwanted access to your devices.

There appears to be no rest for the world of cyber security. Hackers are vigilant and in order to keep the personal and private information of the public safe, cyber security experts must be as well. A popular target for hackers are smartphones and other mobile devices. As people rely more and more on this form of technology for everyday task, the more likely they become a victim of security threats. The companies who create these devices constantly update them to prevent such events. However, hackers are crafty. For example, their newest method to hack your phone involves using cutting-edge voice hacking.

Mimicking You Through Voice Hacking

While still in its infancy, sending commands to your smartphone or mobile device via voice controls is on the rise. Digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and others are becoming an essential part of the user experience. Even Apple has dedicated their time to updating Siri with a better intelligence.

What’s troublesome is that hackers can record audio samples while you are engaging with these digital assistants. They are able to mimic your voice, convincing other that they are you. This malicious technology allows hackers access to personal accounts and security mechanisms.

In an interview with Forbes, Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at AVG, warns against using speech recognition apps, recommending that users disable them right away. “At the moment, leaving biometric technology as it is today is like leaving a computer without a password and just allowing anyone to walk by, click and take an action,” says Ben-Itzhak.

Stopping Voice Hacking in Its Tracks

The researchers at the University at Buffalo have the same thoughts as Ben-Itzhak. That’s why they’ve developed a way to detect and prevent hackers from using obtaining your voice patterns. The engineers were able to create an app that stops voice hacking using a smartphone’s existing components.

“Technology is advancing so fast; we have to think of different ways. The strategy is using multiple lines of defense. We call that defense in depth,” says Kui Ren, Ph.D., director of the Ubiquitous Security and Privacy Research Laboratory (UbiSeC) at UB, and one of the study’s lead authors.

Ren and his team’s study focused on hackers replaying someone’s voice to access a device. Hackers will use speakers to perform such a task. The app uses the following tools:

  • A magnetometer in a phone to detect the speaker’s magnetic field.
  • The phone’s trajectory mapping algorithm to measure the distance between the speaker and the phone.

The app also uses movement to detect the difference between a person and a replayed voice, the latter’s magnetic field changes when moved.

“We cannot decide if voice authentication will be pervasive in the future. It might be. We’re already seeing the increasing trend,” Ren said. “And if that is the case, we have to defend against voice replay attacks. Otherwise, voice authentication cannot be secure.”

This research is crucial to keeping digital users safe. Some technology already exists that prevent other forms of voice hacking from occurring. Hopefully, people will soon be able to add the University at Buffalo’s app to their phone’s security.

The Password of Tomorrow — A Simple Scribble?

Why struggle to remember a password that is increasingly more complicated when you can use a simple scribble to unlock your phone? That could be the direction smartphone protection will go after a recent study.

Advantages of a Scribble Password

The study established 3 primary advantages:

  1. Drawing a line with your finger is faster than typing in a password.
  2. People find remembering a scribble pattern easier than remembering a password.
  3. It is more difficult for hackers to crack than a standard password.

Phone manufacturers have experimented in the past with connecting a few dots on the screen in a certain pattern to unlock a phone. However, there are only so many patterns, and it is all too easy to see someone’s pattern when a phone is unlocked. However, the study we are referencing involved free-form drawing rather than connecting a few dots that allow only a certain number of combinations.

People struggle to remember their endless list of passwords and pins that are needed for everything from email to getting money from an ATM. Because of this, the search is on to eliminate the use of passwords every place possible. The scribble is one method being examined.

According to the study, the lines would not only be used to unlock the phone. They could also be a way to log in to various apps, much like Apple uses a fingerprint ID both for unlocking an iPhone and for certain apps that require additional security. This would be an Android alternative to developing a competing form of Touch ID.

Smartphone Protection Is a Must

Nowadays, people keep everything on their smartphones. Many apps keep a user automatically logged into an account such as email and social media. If someone can guess your unlock code, you can be in for a long-term identity battle.

Compounding the problem is that we can’t seem to keep our smartphones in our possession. Whether it is left at a restaurant or in a taxicab, lost phones open the way to loss of personal information. In fact, most stolen phones start out as lost phones that have disappeared by the time a person realizes where it had been left. For a person carrying a company phone, this can create more than just personal loss.

Why You Need to Keep Apple Devices Updated

While Apple devices may suffer from far fewer viruses and malware than Windows products, they still have some vulnerabilities. For example, one recent update protects your iOS devices from password theft while on a public wireless network.

Another recent update involved six code errors that allowed malware total access to a Mac without any pop-up appearing to give the user a chance to enter a password or decline an activity. But that’s actually the lesser evil compared to what mobile users lacked before the latest iOS 9 update.

If you use an iPhone 4S, an iPad 2, or any of the newer apple devices—basically anything capable of running iOS 9—your cookies can be accessed by a captive portal unless you update the device. What is a captive portal?

Have you ever tried to get on the free Wi-Fi at a McDonald’s? When you open your browser, you get redirected to that screen that makes you agree to their terms of service, right? That’s a captive portal; at least, that is the really simple version.  So why is it a big deal for the portal to access your cookies?

Most of us leave our smartphones and tablets logged into accounts such as email and social media. When that is the case, the credentials are stored in a cookie. If the portal has access to your cookies, then whoever created the portal has access to your login information for all of those accounts.

While Wi-Fi providers at public locations are not in the business of identity theft, the security issues in iOS 9 left apple devices open to anyone who created such a portal and set up in the area. So a hacker may be sitting in the corner of the library, restaurant, coffee shop, or other location—and stealing your usernames and passwords while you are using the free Wi-Fi.

How Do I Fix This on My Apple Devices?

Good question. Even if you don’t get an alert that an update is available, you should regularly check by opening your Settings, clicking on the General option, and then selecting Software Update. From here, you can check for new updates and force them to install.

Kill Switch Legislation

Kill Switch Legislation: Billions for Consumers or Companies?

The wireless industry makes a metaphorical killing each year in a couple of areas related to smartphone theft. They make money by selling insurance plans to consumers who are concerned about having their cellphones stolen. They also profit by selling replacement phones to those who actually have had their smartphone stolen. A simple technological fix, but one that probably will not become ubiquitous without kill switch legislation, is to add a kill switch to cell phones. This feature has the potential of taking profits away from cell phone companies, but giving billions back to consumers.

This figure is not a typo. Research from a recent study has shown that adding a kill switch to cellular devices could pump billions of dollars back into the pockets of consumers, on an annual basis. For example, in just one year, from 2012 to 2013, the number of stolen smartphones grew from 1.6 million to 3.1 million units. What does this mean in costs to consumers, including inconvenience and lost productivity?

In the United States alone, people spend nearly $6 billion per year insuring their cell phones. They spend more than $1 billion paying for the replacement of stolen phones (which, by the way, isn’t covered by basic cellphone insurance). If kill switches were built into cell phones, consumers could retain that $1 billion plus in replacement costs. They could also realize over $2 billion per year in savings by switching to the less expensive insurance plans that don’t cover theft or loss.

If legislation makes the kill switch a requirement, theft would certainly decrease because the phones would no longer have a resale value. Obviously, cellphone providers would be the biggest losers—if such a mandate were to go into effect. Thus, you can expect them to fight any such notion as long as they can. Consumers, on the other hand, want their billions back.

Smartphone theft has become one of the most common crimes in the United States. Many devices are stolen when a person leaves them in a public place, such as at a restaurant or gym. For now, there are services that can disable your device if it is stolen. However, since thieves know most people don’t pay for extra services like this, their existence doesn’t act as much of a deterrent. By requiring a kill switch on smartphones, thus rendering a stolen phone virtually valueless, kill switch legislation would provide one.

iPhone 6 Plus is Big

iPhone 6 Plus is Big: Tech Company’s First Foray Into Phablets

Samsung has been the master of the ‘phone that’s so big it’s almost a tablet’ genre, until now that is. The iPhone 6 Plus is big; bigger than any phone that Apple has ever built and nearly as big as the Galaxy Note 4. Let’s see how the two devices stack up side by side.

Let’s set size aside for a moment, since the two devices are rather similar in both dimensions and weight. We’ll start with the backing of the device. The iPhone 6 Plus has Apple’s classic aluminum backing making it the far prettier of the two. By comparison, the Galaxy Note 4 is backed with fake leather. Of course, the faux leather may be the more comfortable to hold, but either way, you’ll have a protective case on your device, right? As for color options, the iPhone offers silver and gray while Samsung offers black, white, and pink. If you want a gold colored device, you can select either.

While the device sizes are comparable, Samsung still gives you 7% more screen size. Leave it to Apple to always have a slightly smaller screen than the competition. Samsung also has the advantage in pixels with 515 ppi versus 401 on the iPhone. Don’t forget that Samsung uses super AMOLED displays for darker blacks and better contrast.

Samsung also has the advantage with some of the extras the device offers. Power-saving features add life to the battery, which is great because Samsung usually loses out to Apple in battery life in most smartphone and tablet categories. The device also charges quickly. Reports say you should be able to take your Note from 0 to full in around an hour. The cameras are also a selling point. The Note has a 16 MP camera and a 3.7 MP front-facing camera, which is great for HD video chat and selfies. Plus, the Note comes with a micro SD slot.

Don’t count Apple out just yet. The iPhone 6 Plus is big, but that is not the end of the story. There are a lot of nice Apple features like Apple Pay, and there will be more internal hard drive options. Samsung, however, definitely has more experience in phone-tablet crossover devices

Smartphone Hotspots From Any Platform

Smartphone Hotspots From Any Platform: In Case of Emergency

When an Internet connection goes down we might need to depend on our smartphones to connect. Being able to turn that mobile connection into a hotspot is very advantageous. In order to benefit from that process, first you need to learn how to do it. Here is how you can make a smartphone hotspot from any platform.

In order to create a hotspot from your android phone, you may need to check with your service provider. This is especially true if you live with in the United States. However, there are some apps that let you create a hotspot without having the right type of plan from your carrier. Please keep in mind, however, that doing this might violate the terms of your contract with your phone provider.

After you have resolved this question go to the settings menu on your android. While menu settings may be different on each phone, generally the place to go is the wireless settings section. Find the button that allows you more options, then, look for different options for tethering. You will also find how to encrypt your hotspot. This is recommended, especially if you are in an unsafe public area. Later, you can change the network ID and password to something that will be easy for you to recall.

To create a hotspot from an iOS device, first select settings and then select cellular. Switch on ‘Personal Hotspot.’ If you are living in the United States, you will definitely need a plan that allows tethering. If you jailbreak your phone, not recommended, there are options for bypassing the tethering plan.

To make a hotspot on a Windows phone go to the settings page. Once there go to the sharing option. Turn the ability to share on, then change the login information to something you can easily recall.

Once you have the hotspot turned on from your mobile device, it is very easy to connect a tablet or a laptop. Simply open up the Wi-Fi connection and connect.
No matter what device you use, the first thing is to check with your provider to understand your options. You certainly do not want to get hit with unexpected fees. How well the hotspot works can depend on how good your mobile connection is. This will also take a toll on your data plan.

You can make a smartphone hotspot from any platform. This may not be a complete replacement for real Wi-Fi, but it will work in a pinch.

iPhone Fingerprints Must Be Live

Sorry Bad Guys – An iPhone 5S Can’t Be Unlocked By a Severed Finger or a Corpse

You’ve seen it in spy movies. The villain doesn’t need a live human to unlock the biometric safety features. They just take a finger or use one from a person they’ve just offed. Well, Apple says that won’t work with the iPhone 5S. It’s good news for people with sensitive data on their phones. Now that the word is out, bad guys are less likely to come after your finger in the night. Of course, if they want something bad enough, they may be willing to force someone at gun point to unlock the phone, but we are talking about the most extreme of espionage.

By the way, this also means that someone can’t just steal your fingerprint off of the glass you used in the hotel bar – a far more likely espionage tactic. Why won’t it work? The iPhone doesn’t just rely on your fingerprint to identify you. The radio frequencies that it scans with need to detect the sublayers of your skin. If it isn’t attached to your hand, your fingerprint simply won’t open the device, and that includes if the body the finger is attached to is no longer alive.

You don’t hear a lot of manufacturers talking about the idea of persons being killed for their finger or even having it cut off. It’s morbid, and we don’t want to imagine that things like that happen outside of the movies. But that doesn’t mean they don’t take such things into consideration when making devices. The fact is that Apple developers made sure that in order for your device to be unlocked your fingerprint has to be produced from your finger, attached to your living body. There’s no other way that it will work.

Now that the technology has reached this point, you can expect to see it start to become more universal. After all, the last thing that device manufacturers want is for their customers to be killed in order to unlock their devices. It’s simply not good for business.

Your Android™ Device and Maximizing Its Battery Life

Maximizing Your Android Device’s Battery Life

Do you leave your Android™ phone or tablet on at all times? You probably find yourself having to charge it every day. Sure, we’re making better batteries all the time, but we’re also designing new apps and more powerful devices. The result is that battery life still remains relatively similar to previous devices. Short of buying a spare, how does one eke out a little extra battery life from your phone or tablet?

Some apps waste battery life. To find out which ones take up most juice, check your settings and look at battery usage. From this menu option you can select various features and apps and choose to shut them off or at least change their specs. Stopping apps from running can be rough on your device, so it may mean more resets if you resort to closing them. The better option is to simply uninstall apps that you don’t need or use.

You’ll probably notice that your display is consuming more power than anything else. That makes your brightness setting the number one determining factor in how long your battery lasts. Turning down the brightness too far can result in eyestrain, though, so try to find a happy medium.

Another thing to consider is your device’s wallpaper. Using animated wallpapers drains the battery because they’re constantly running. A static wallpaper is much less intensive for the system. Also, the amount of time that the system waits to sleep can be tweaked. Don’t set it too short lest it hibernates while you’re still using your phone or tablet, but don’t leave it active too long, either, as this wastes battery life as well.

Bluetooth™ or WiFi™ should both be switched off when not in use, as both drain the battery even when you don’t use them. The same is true about location-based services. Anything that continually tries to connect to a satellite or other device is going to use up energy.

As a last resort, you may want to download an app that helps conserve battery life. Look for one with good reviews.

Will Your Next Mobile Device Disinfect Itself?

Which is safer: The flusher on the public toilet you just used or the mobile device you currently hold in your hand? Shockingly enough, the toilet lever is cleaner, and it’s not even a close comparison. Your mobile device likely has 1,800% as much harmful bacteria on it, according to a recent study. Not every study has shown the same level of bacteria, but every study has revealed the mobile device to be the dirtier object of the two. Fortunately, Corning plans to have antimicrobial glass ready for mobile devices within a couple of years.

According to the company, the glass is intended to kill both harmful viruses and bacteria that come in contact with your mobile device’s screen. The screen was already in the works before studies showed a commercial need, since it was being developed for use in the medical industry. Some of the research is now being repurposed to aid in commercial development.

How does it work? Corning isn’t saying, and no one else knows yet. Initial tests show that the glass does what it is supposed to do, though. E. coli was the bug of choice for the test. While it has no problem living on a regular piece of glass, the new self-cleaning glass killed the bug within two hours.

It’s still a closely guarded secret which company will get access to antimicrobial glass first. According to Corning, we’ll know within the next two years when the first device is released using this new technology. In the meantime, you may want to think twice about what you do with your hands after you touch your mobile device screen. Make sure to sanitize your devices properly and regularly.

Send Texts from Literally Anywhere

It’s nice to get away from it all on vacation or extreme sports adventures, but it’s also great to have a link to the outside world for emergencies. Well, now there is a better way to survive a bad situation than having to saw off your own arm or drink your own urine. Text Anywhere lives up to its name via satellite link.

With Text Anywhere, you don’t even need cell phone service. It simply increases your phone’s range to virtually anywhere. Any device that can use Wi-Fi can be linked up. So you can message using your phone, tablet, or laptop. It’s also web-based instead of operating system-based, so it works well with nearly any device. If you don’t have a clear sky view, you may not get reception. Plus, certain countries like North Korea and Cuba block the signal. Otherwise, you should be okay from virtually anywhere.

You don’t get enough bandwidth to anything beyond text. And you won’t get a media message like an image through, so keep your text to fewer than 160 characters. Emails that only use text will also work. Text Anywhere is a two-way street, so you can receive as well as send. You connect to it just like you would any other wireless signal, and then you are all set to send and receive text messages.

Don’t confuse this device with inReach, which was specifically designed to be able to get rescued in an emergency situation. While you can use the device to contact someone in an emergency, it doesn’t send off the same kind of homing signal for would-be rescuers. It’s really more for keeping in touch when you are out of civilization and not in an emergency.

Don’t forget the batteries. You’ll need four AA batteries for this device. Without the batteries, it weighs less than half of a pound. Also, if you are traveling by car, you have the option to plug it in and use your car’s power instead of battery life.

All the fees are pretty straightforward. You pay a one-time fee to get the device and 100 messages. Then you pay per message after that. Rates are a little steep, but you get what you pay for.

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