Report: U.S. ranks 31st in broadband speed tests

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According to the latest numbers from Ookla’s Net Index, the United States ranks 31st among every other country for internet download speeds, and 42nd for upload speeds. The data was gathered from the average of the past 30 days of speed tests done on Seattle-based Ookla’s Speedtest.net site.

While that still puts the U.S. in the top 20 percent of countries, there’s a lot of room for improvement. As Internet-connected devices continue to drive economic growth, increasing broadband speeds to keep up with the rest of the world is key.
The expansion of fiber networks, including Google Fiber and Seattle’s effort to bring fiber connectivity to parts of the city brings the promise of improving the U.S.’s standings.

But overall, the U.S. is in a tough spot, because of its size compared to some of the other countries on the list. Bringing effective Internet infrastructure to a country that spans almost 3.8 million square miles is a much different challenge, compared to 4th place South Korea, which measures 38,691 square miles.

Click here for the graphic on internet connectivity for 186 countries in report.

Source: GeekWire

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Want to protect your Android phone? Here’s how to kill its crapware

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Crapware can open up big security holes in Android. Killing it isn't as hard as you think.

The pre-installed crapware that fills many Android phones is more than just annoying — it also frequently opens up big security holes. Here’s how to kill the crapware and keep your phone safe and in tip-top shape.

The crapware problem is much worse than you think. New research by the Department of Computer Science at North Carolina State University found that many popular Android phones are vulnerable because of security holes introduced by pre-installed apps you don’t want.

The researchers examined ten Android phones, looking for how much crapware is on each, although they preferred the gentler and more academic-sounding term “vendor customizations.” They then examined the crapware to see if it made the phones more vulnerable. The phones they studied were Google’s Nexus S and Nexus 4, HTC’s Wildfire S and One X, Samsung’s Galaxy S2 and S3, Sony’s Xpreia Arc S and Xperia SL, and LG’s Optimus P350 and P8880. The results are sobering — and scary. Here’s the summary of their findings:

“Our results also show that vendor customizations are responsible for a large proportion of the vulnerabilities in each phone. For the Samsung, HTC, and LG phones, between 64.71% and 85.00% of the vulnerabilities were due to vendor customizations. This pattern was largely stable over time, with the notable exception of HTC, whose current offering is markedly more secure than the last-generation model we evaluated.”

The core of the problem are apps that the researchers call “over-privileged.” That means that apps get more access to the phones’ various systems, data, and resources than they actually use. That leaves the phone open to exploitations.
Of the phones, which are the least and most secure? Here are the findings:

“The HTC Wildfire S is still the least secure pre-2012 device, but only by a hair — the Samsung Galaxy S2 has only one fewer vulnerability. The Sony Xperia Arc S is tied with the Google Nexus S for the most secure pre-2012 device. Meanwhile, there is a complete shake-up among the post-2012 devices: the Samsung Galaxy S3 has 40 vulnerabilities to the LG Optimus P880’s 26, while the HTC One X (at 15 vulnerabilities) falls to mid-pack, behind the Nexus 4 (at three) and the Sony Xperia SL (at eight).”

Even if you don’t have one of those phones, pre-installed crapware is making your phone less secure. So to make your phone safer, you should disable or kill the crapware. There’s the easy way and the hard way. The easy way disables the apps but doesn’t remove them from the device. And to use it, your phone has to have Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0 or above). The hard way requires you to root your phone, then use a free app.

If you’ve got Android 4.0 or above and want to disable the crapware without rooting the phone, here’s how to do it. Note that many manufacturers have customized Android, so the instructions here might differ a bit from what you’ll see on your phone. But the general instructions and principles are the same.

First, go to Settings. You’ll find the Settings menu in the App Menu , or else you can get there by pulling down the notification drawer and tapping Settings. Once you’re there, go to “Apps.” Depending on your phone, it might be called “Manage Apps,” or even “Application Manager.”

Now swipe to the All apps list. Scroll to find an app you want to disable. Tap it. The App Info page appears. If the app isn’t true crapware, there will be an Uninstall button. Simply tap the button to uninstall the app. But if it is crapware, an Uninstall button won’t be there. There will, however, be a button that reads either “Uninstall updates” or Disable. If there’s an “Uninstall updates” button, tap it. The button will change to read Disable.

Tap the Disable button. That will disable the app, and from now on, the app won’t launch in the background. If you want to enable the app, head back to the All apps list. You’ll find disabled apps at the bottom. Tap any you want to enable, then tap the Enable button.

Disabling the app, won’t actually remove it from your system, which means it will take up hard disk space. That shouldn’t be a problem. But if you absolutely, positively want to get the app off your system, you’re going to have to root your phone, then use a free piece of software called NoBloat Free. There are plenty of ways to root your phone, and my suggestion is to do an Internet search. Keep in mind that it can prove to be problematic, and you’ll void your phone’s warranty if you do it, so make sure it’s really something you want to do. A few good starting points are this page from Android Central and this page from LifeHacker. Once you’ve rooted the phone, run NoBloat Free.

Source: IT World

Bitcoin is vulnerable to an attack that could have devastating effects

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Bitcoin is vulnerable to an attack that could have devastating effects on the virtual currency, but it can be fixed with a software update, according to researchers from Cornell University.

The attack involves “miners,” or people running computers that verify Bitcoin transactions, said Ittay Eyal, a post doctoral fellow at Cornell University’s Department of Computer Science, who co-authored the study with Emin Gun Sire, a Cornell professor.

Every 10 minutes, miners — who usually collaborate in mining pools — are rewarded with 25 bitcoins for lending their computing power to Bitcoin if they solve a cryptographic puzzle first. Miners process Bitcoin’s transactions, which are recorded in its “blockchain,” or public ledger.

It has long been known that if a mining group controlled more than 50 percent of Bitcoin’s processing power, the network could be subject to a variety of attacks if the group wanted to act maliciously. But the researchers show that small miners may unwittingly join a malicious group.

Miners are supposed to follow Bitcoin’s software protocol. But Eyal and Sire found that Bitcoin could be significantly disrupted if a small group comprising less than 10 percent of Bitcoin’s mining power decided to not follow it.

A malicious mining group, or “selfish miners” as termed in the research paper, could “fork” the blockchain, or split it into a competing chain by only selectively revealing some of the transactions they’ve processed. If the malicious group’s blockchain fork grows larger than the legitimate one, it would begin to collect a greater share of the 25-bitcoin rewards.

Miners, seeing the malicious group gain higher revenue, would join the successful pool, even if it was unaware of its intentions. Eventually, the malicious group could control the transaction chain, Eyal said.

“The discovery here is a mining pool of any size can initiate this attack and are better off doing selfish mining,” Eyal said in a phone interview.

A variety of attacks are then possible, including spending the same bitcoin twice, which the network is currently designed to prevent. If a merchant received a payment in bitcoins, the miners could “roll back” the transaction to allow the bitcoins to be spent again, Eyal said.

“They could also prevent you from ever using your bitcoins” by not allowing certain transactions into the blockchain, Eyal said.

Fortunately, Bitcoin’s protocol can be updated. Eyal said he and Sire have suggested a fix for Bitcoin’s algorithm that would limit mining pools to no more than 25 percent of the total number of nodes on the network.

Some mining pools today already exceed 25 percent, Eyal said. “Obviously, we believe that these pools are honest and they don’t have any incentive to break the protocol, but like I said before, technically they can and we believe this is not a healthy situation for bitcoin, which we believe is destined for great things,” he said.

Gavin Andresen, chief scientist for The Bitcoin Foundation and lead developer for the Bitcoin-QT client, said developers are still digesting the research paper. But he said the consensus in the end will likely be that the attack is not practical.

Although Bitcoin is not controlled by an entity, a team of developers work on its core protocol. Updates to the protocol are periodically released and adopted by the community, although there is no way to force people to upgrade their software.

The update would give people greater confidence in the Bitcoin economy and ensure that people don’t have to count on miners’ “good intentions,” Eyal said.

Source: Network World

Chinese professor builds Li-Fi system with retail parts

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Chinese professor Chi Nan has made a Li-Fi system using retail components.

The equipment is big and expensive, with the research costs at almost $500,000. But by just using retail components, Chinese professor Chi Nan has built her own Li-Fi wireless system that can use LED lights to send and receive Internet data.

“I bought the lights from Taobao,” she said, referring to the Chinese e-commerce site.

The professor from Fudan University showed off the technology on Tuesday at the China International Industry Fair in Shanghai. Unlike traditional Wi-Fi routers that use radio signals, Chi’s system relies on light to send and receive data wirelessly.

Other scientist, especially in the U.K., have also been researching the technology, and dubbed it “Li-Fi”. But rather than develop specialized hardware, Chi bought off-the-shelf retail parts to create her system.

Chi, an expert on optical fibers, said on the side lines of the trade show that she was simply interested in the promise of Li-Fi. “I just wanted to play around,” she said. Funding also came from the local Shanghai government, which has made research in the area a goal.

While Li-Fi is still in its early stages, the technology could provide an alternative to using radio waves for wireless Internet access. Currently, household Wi-Fi routers and mobile telecommunication towers depend on radio signals to send data wirelessly. But the amount of radio spectrum is limited.

Li-Fi, however, could be deployed in everyday LED bulbs, with light-based Internet connections covering the interior of entire homes or buildings. The data connection speeds can also reach several gigabits per second. Chi’s own system runs at 150 Mbps by using a small number of LED bulbs each at one watt.

“With a more powerful LED light, we can reach 3.5 Gbps speeds,” she added. Both the router and receiver are fitted with LED bulbs so that they can send data, and also installed with a chip that can process the signals.

But Li-Fi isn’t without its drawbacks. Because it is dependent on light, the technology can’t penetrate walls or work in complete darkness. In Chi’s case, the Li-Fi receiver must be within three meters of the router, and placed under the LED bulbs so that the sensor can read it.

In addition, her system is not exactly portable. The first model is quite large, with the Li-Fi receiver itself is about the size of a video game console. A second model was made to compact the parts, and that Li-Fi receiver resembles closer to a mini desktop PC. On Tuesday, the receivers were shown connected to two nearby laptops via ethernet cable.

“There are still many problems that need to be resolved,” Chi said, pointing to the need to improve the Li-Fi coverage, and miniaturize the needed components.

Over time, however, the Li-Fi receiver could conceivably take the form of a USB dongle that attaches to a notebook. Chi estimates it will take another five years before the technology can enter the market as consumer products. So far, her team has spent about 18 months on the project.

Source: Network World