Weekly Tech Recap - № 201 - IoT objects in the trash, facebookless for a month, autonomous lawnmower, etc.
Beware the trashed connected objects
Gadgets and gizmos have gradually worked their way into our homes. When they break down or need upgrading, we discard them. But there are unforeseen hazards to throwing out (or recycling, if you have a green conscience) a connected object such as a light bulb or a camera. Even without an electrical current or a connection to the internet, these gadgets hold important information, such as your Wi-Fi network’s password. Because these objects are all-too-often developed without much concern for security, these data are usually unencrypted (shocked gasps).
For example, Limited Results dismantled a “smart” bulb, the LIFX Mini White that is sold by Best Buy, Amazon, Apple Store, etc., for US$ 20-25. The writer discovered, among other vulnerabilities, that the password was stored unencrypted in the flash memory. What’s worse, the SoC that was used, an ESP32, can encrypt the data in the flash memory. Which means the designers were just careless. “Seriously, 90 percent of IoT devices are developed without security in mind. It is just a disaster,” wrote Limited Results in an email to TechCrunch. “In my research, I have targeted four different devices: LIFX, Xiaomi, Tuya and Wiz (not published yet, very unkind people). Same devices, same vulnerabilities, and even sometimes exactly same code inside.” TechCrunch’s reporter suggests putting this kind of device on an isolated subnet or a guest network. One commentator adds, “The best way to avoid problems with IoT gadgets is to leave them in the store.”
⇨ Limited Results, “Pwn the LIFX Mini white.”
Facebookless for a month
Researchers at New York University and Stanford University convinced Facebook users to take a break from the social network for four weeks. Nearly 3,000 users accepted the challenge and completed detailed questionnaires about their daily routine, political opinion and general mood. Randomly selected users were offered financial compensation. The dollar amount of the compensation asked was of great interest to researchers too: how much is a month’s worth of access to photos, comments, Facebook groups, friends and news feeds? On average, about US$ 100, according to the study. At the end of the four weeks, the test subjects were again questioned in detail. This revealed that they had spent more time off-line with family and friends, in front of the television, etc.
In general, the subjects of the experiment felt a little happier and more content with life. Each gained 15 minutes to more than 2 hours of free time per day (the average being one hour). An interesting detail: people were less aware of political events, but were also less polarized. Facebook is an important source of information, but it tends to deepen partisanship.
⇨ The New York Times, “This Is Your Brain Off Facebook.”
Phone memory in the terabytes
1 To eUFS. © Samsung.
Samsung has announced the arrival of a eUFS storage chip (embedded Universal Flash Storage) for phones, with a capacity of one terabyte, which is a worldwide first. This new chip is the same size as the previous one, which was 512 GB, and offers up to 1,000 megabytes per second in read speed, which is ten times faster than a typical microSD card. The first phone to offer such a storage capacity will probably be the Galaxy S10 whose release is imminent.
⇨ Circuit Breaker, “Samsung is making 1TB storage chips for phones.”
⇨ Ars Technica, “Terabyte smartphones are coming, thanks to new Samsung storage chip.”
The Terra. © iRobot.
iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced Terra, its first autonomous lawnmower. While most autonomous lawnmowers require buried wires in order to define the boundaries of the area to be mowed, the Terra only requires wireless beacons around the perimeter of the lawn, which is much simpler and more adaptable. Someone will have to guide the mower once around the lawn using a mobile application, to teach it where to go and what to avoid (typically, a flower bed). The battery life lasts one hour and a full recharge takes two hours. If the battery drains midway, Terra will return to its charger and resume later where it left off. Naturally, the robot is impervious to bad weather and impact. iRobot says Terra will first launch in Germany this year. The price hasn’t been announced yet, but Terra's comparable devices range from US$ 1,000 to US$ 3,000.
⇨ Ars Technica, “The Roomba lawnmower is finally happening.”
Razer Blade Stealth 13. © Razer.
When you think of computers or accessories by Razer, black immediately comes to mind--not pink. But this is a special, limited-series operation for Valentine’s. The company will not charge the notorious “pink tax”: the price is the same as for the non-gendered variant. The Razer Blade Stealth Rose Quartz will cost US$ 1,600. For this price, you have an 8th generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, an Nvidia MX 150 GPU and a Full HD (1920 x 1080) 13.3 inch display. These pink Razer products will be available in the United States, China and ... Canada!
⇨ Circuit Breaker, “Razer is selling its first pink laptop.”
⇨ Ars Technica, “An AI crushed two human pros at StarCraft—but it wasn’t a fair fight.”
⇨ Ars Technica, “Windows setup error messages will soon be much less useless.”
⇨ IEEE Spectrum, “Rebuilding a Piece of the First Digital Voice Scrambler.”