In brief: Apple is said to have its eyes set on the skies with a new project to build satellite technology that could provide wireless connectivity with iPhones, as well as better maps and location tracking. The company has already put together a small team to direct the new effort, which appears to be high on the priority list.
When it’s not pouring $250 million into making better glass for iPhone, Apple is busy exploring more daring ideas in its labs. According to a report from Bloomberg, the company is reportedly working on satellite tech to beam down internet service to its mobile devices, possibly as a way to reduce its reliance on wireless carriers and improve mapping and geolocation.
To that end, Apple has been secretly building a dedicated team to work on the new project, which is said to be in the very early stages of planning. The staffing effort has already brought in a dozen aerospace, satellite, and antenna design engineers, and Apple CEO Tim Cook is said to have shown a keen interest in the new development, coinciding with a noticeable 14 percent increase in R&D spending this year.
Michael Trela and John Fenwick will lead the team, both former heads of Google’s satellite and spacecraft engineering operations, until 2017. Apple also added Matt Ettus, who directed a National Instruments-owned company that specializes in wireless networking hardware into the mix.
The project isn’t a sure deal at this point and could be scrapped at any time in the future. However, there are reasons to believe Apple isn’t entering a crowded satellite market to try and battle the leading contenders. SpaceX is close to rolling out its Starlink broadband satellites, and Amazon is also scrambling to get approvals for its Kuiper System alternative.
Both companies plan a staggered rollout for swarms of thousands of satellites in orbit, which has astronomers a bit concerned about the implications for space visibility. This means that Apple may as well chose to tap into these systems and develop just the missing links to make it work well with its mobile devices.
TechCrunch notes Apple’s idea has been done before by Lynk (formerly Ubiquitilink), who developed something it describes as “the first cell tower in space.” Specifically, it made components for a prototype satellite and assembled them on the International Space Station. The first successful test was performed by attaching it to the nose of the Cygnus resupply spacecraft earlier this year.
The technology is perfect. It has many limitations that will make it much more effective as a fallback solution or as a way to ensure coverage in areas not well-covered by ground cellular infrastructure. Think of it as more of a global roaming network that wireless carriers will tap into and offer it as an option in their mobile plans.
One such limitation is that geosynchronous satellites can’t be used. Low-orbit (under 310 miles) satellites are required, meaning there has to be thousands of them to have “no signal for 55 minutes, then signal for five.” Lower-frequency signals are used since they travel longer distances with lower distortion – but that also means lower bandwidth.
For example, Lynk was only able to demonstrate 2G communication, and the most that can be achieved on 4G right now is 180 kbps. In any case, NASA engineers were surprised to see it work at all, but this proves Apple’s dream to establish satellite connections on standard phones is indeed possible.
The space industry is currently valued at $350 billion. It is expected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2040, mostly driven by companies like SpaceX, Amazon, and even Facebook, who wants to provide internet in rural areas using a swarm of low-orbit satellites that will operate as close as 100 miles off the ground.
Google's Making It Easier to Sync Photos, Wi-Fi Passwords to Chromebooks – PCMag
Google is taking a few pages from Apple’s playbook with the release of Chrome OS 103.
The company says(Opens in a new window) the operating system update will introduce the ability to automatically sync photos and share Wi-Fi settings between a Chromebook and a paired Android smartphone. The former sounds a lot like iCloud Photos, which syncs images between Apple devices, but Google is actually planning to make the feature a lot more powerful than its competitor’s offering.
“With the latest update, you’ll now also have instant access to the latest photos you took on your phone — even if you’re offline,” Google says. “After taking a picture on your phone, it will automatically appear within Phone Hub on your laptop under ‘recent photos.’ Just click on the image to download it, then it’s ready to be added to a document or email.”
The company’s answer to sharing Wi-Fi settings between devices seems a bit less compelling. Google says that users will have to follow a multi-step process on their Android phone to share the information to a nearby Chromebook; Apple’s offering prompts users to share a Wi-Fi password if their device is unlocked and connected to the network in question.
But Google has another trick planned for Chrome OS. It’s called Fast Pair, and the company says that it will allow Chromebooks to “automatically detect when a new pair of Bluetooth headphones are on, are nearby, and are ready to be set up.” The devices can then be paired with a single press (or tap) on a pop-up that appears whenever those conditions are met.
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“Whether you want to use new headphones to watch a video, join a virtual meeting or listen to music, Fast Pair will make it hassle-free,” Google says. “This feature will be compatible with hundreds of different headphone models — and counting.” The company says that it plans to release Fast Pair in a separate update to Chrome OS “later this summer.”
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Google warns of 'hermit spyware' infecting Android and iOS devices – Mashable
As part of Google’s efforts to track the activities of commercial spyware vendors, the company’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) released a report Thursday on spyware campaigns targeting Android and iOS users.
Google TAG researchers Benoit Sevens and Clement Lecigne go into detail about the use of entrepreneurial grade spyware dubbed “Hermit.” This sophisticated spyware tool allows attackers to steal data, private messages and make phone calls. In their report, TAG researchers attributed Hermit to RCS Labs, a commercial spyware vendor based in Italy.
Hermit poses many significant dangers. Due to its modularity, Hermit is quite customizable, allowing the functions of the spyware to be altered to the will of its user. Once fully situated on a target’s phone, attackers can harvest sensitive information such as call logs, contacts, photos, precise location, and SMS messages.
Sevens and Lecigne’s full report details the ways in which attackers can access both Android and iOS devices through the use of clever tricks and drive-by attacks. Potential targets of this scam will have their data disabled through their ISP carrier before sending a malicious link via text to get them to ‘fix’ the issue. If that doesn’t work, targets will be tricked into downloading malicious apps masqueraded as messaging applications.
Just last week, cybersecurity firm Lookout reported the use of Hermit by agents working in the governments of Kazakhstan, Syria, and Italy. Google has already identified victims in these countries, stating that “TAG is actively tracking more than 30 vendors with varying levels of sophistication and public exposure selling exploits or surveillance capabilities to government-backed actors.”
The Milan-based company claims to provide “law enforcement agencies worldwide with cutting-edge technological solutions and technical support in the field of lawful interception for more than twenty years.” More than 10,000 intercepted targets are purported to be handled daily in Europe alone.
When reached out for comment by The Hacker News, RCS Labs said its “core business is the design, production, and implementation of software platforms dedicated to lawful interception, forensic intelligence, and data analysis” and that it “helps law enforcement prevent and investigate serious crimes such as acts of terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, child abuse, and corruption.”
Still, the news of the spyware being used by state government agents is concerning. Not only does it erode trust in the safety of the internet but it also puts at risk the lives of anyone a government considers an enemy of the state such as dissidents, journalists, human rights workers, and opposition party politicians.
“Tackling the harmful practices of the commercial surveillance industry will require a robust, comprehensive approach that includes cooperation among threat intelligence teams, network defenders, academic researchers, governments, and technology platforms,” Google TAG researchers wrote. “We look forward to continuing our work in this space and advancing the safety and security of our users around the world.”
iPhone, Android users ALERT! Google warns of Italian spyware out to hack your phone – HT Tech
An Italian company’s hacking tools were used to spy on Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Android smartphones in Italy and Kazakhstan, informs Google. Check details here.
In a shocking development it has been revealed that your iPhone and Android phones are at risk. As per the information a tool has been developed to spy on personal messages and contacts of the targeted devices. Alphabet Inc’s Google has said in a report that an Italian company’s hacking tools were used to spy on Apple Inc and Android smartphones in Italy and Kazakhstan. According to the report, Milan-based RCS Lab, whose website claims European law enforcement agencies as clients, developed tools to spy on private messages and contacts of the targeted devices. However, Google said it had taken steps to protect users of its Android operating system and alerted them about the spyware.
“These vendors are enabling the proliferation of dangerous hacking tools and arming governments that would not be able to develop these capabilities in-house,” Google said. According to a report by Reuters, commenting on the issue, an Apple spokesperson said the company had revoked all known accounts and certificates associated with this hacking campaign. RCS Lab said its products and services comply with European rules and help law enforcement agencies investigate crimes.
Reuters was further informed via an email, “RCS Lab personnel are not exposed, nor participate in any activities conducted by the relevant customers.” RCS Lab further said that it condemned any abuse of its products.
It can be known that the global industry making spyware for governments has been growing, with more companies developing interception tools for law enforcement. Anti-surveillance activists accuse them of aiding governments that in some cases use such tools to crack down on human rights and civil rights, said Reuters in a report.
As per the report, the industry came under a global spotlight when the Israeli surveillance firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware was in recent years found to have been used by multiple governments to spy on journalists, activists, and dissidents.
Though not as stealthy as Pegasus, RCS Lab’s tool can still be used to read messages and view passwords, said Bill Marczak, a security researcher with digital watchdog Citizen Lab. “This shows that even though these devices are ubiquitous, there’s still a long way to go in securing them against these powerful attacks,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
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