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text 2017-09-12 15:22
How To Make Smartphones Secure In A World Of Increasing Cyber-Risks

Consistently the big brands will bring out a new smartphone, loaded with new exciting technology, but these smartphones come with risks. The rise of mobile phones, especially in business use, has led to cyber-criminals targeting companies and prominent people through vulnerabilities in their latest iPhone or Android. So how can we protect against them?


Firstly, the goal of these criminals is often to break the security system in a phone to have access to and steal high-value personal or sensitive information that they can then ransom back for big sums of money. Also, the criminals can listen to private conversations, track SMS or find out about important decisions taken by senior executives.



Pegasus spyware


The revelation in August 2016, that Pegasus spyware could be installed on a phone only by clicking a disguised link still shocked many. Pegasus is a spy software which can be installed on devices running certain versions of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system.


This piece of malware is capable of SMS tracking, collecting passwords, tracing the phone's location, tracking calls, and collecting data from applications, including iMessage, Gmail, Viber, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype.


The Steps We Can Take


First of all, passwords need to be changed from factory settings, as anyone who recalls the UK’s phone-hacking scandal should know. Whether in private hands or part of an organization’s IT estate, devices need solid passwords that are constantly changed. 


Given the critical relationship between mobility and cloud apps, confirmation for application accounts in the cloud should likewise be solid. For businesses supervision of these accounts is better to be under their direct control rather than the control of employers. For businesses, it is also required the patching of their mobile phone management systems, which can themselves become gateways to the phones.


Although mobile operating systems sellers have constructed their products to shut out cyber criminals, the reality is that new weaknesses are constantly found. It is important the users ensure all the patches and updates. Patches make it harder for hackers, requiring them to invest more energy and effort to find new zones of weakness to exploit.


Also, a big advantage for businesses if they utilize the latest versions of the operating systems utilized by their smartphones. While this may be costly, it surely gives them the assurance from security architecture created to combat the recent dangers. It is important too, to get endeavors from vendors that security updates will continue to be provided for a set period and when that terminates, those devices should be decommissioned.



Securing your applications


With Google and Apple having roughly two million applications available, criminals are prepared to abuse their coding weaknesses or to assemble completely malicious versions. 


Users should be aware with legitimate new applications that the typical pattern is for security to be remiss when they are first launched and afterward increase consistently to uptake. The best practice obviously requires the buy of applications from only legitimate vendors, along with the acceptance of all security updates.


These are all steps users and businesses can take to secure themselves, however telecommunications companies need to have their impact as well by testing their networks for weaknesses using the target security expertise of consultancies. Specialists who are a master in telecommunications will join their abilities with ethical hackers to recreate a full-scale cyber-attack, uncovering the weaknesses and giving the specialized expertise to settle the problems.


With the multiplication of cybercrime and state-sponsored hacking, it is important that users and businesses take the security far more seriously. Neglect could be equivalent to leaving the doors unlocked.


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text 2017-08-23 07:14
Thousands of Android Tracking Apps: What to Do About Them

Android users have a new threat to be aware of: tracking applications that take information from the devices they attack. Some apps made their way to Google Play, however, most by far are coming from other online sources.


These tracking applications can collect almost any type of data, including SMS tracking, and other personal information like internet surfing habits, user logins, and bank or credit account information.


Analysts from SophosLabs and other organizations have discovered three cases of SonicSpy-infused apps in Google Play: Troy Chat, Soniac, and Hulk Messenger - messaging applications that cover their tracking performance and wait for orders from command-and-control servers.


Google removed the applications from its store after they were found. Researcher Chen Yu said the Google Play versions had “small installation numbers and remained for a brief time”. In spite of the fact that three were found on Google Play, SophosLabs has counted 3,240 SonicSpy applications in the world. A few reports put the number at 4,000. According to various reports, a single bad actor, listed on Google Play as Iraq web service, has delivered these applications since February.


How do they work?


These tracking applications, known as SonicSpy, share the capacity to:


  • Silently record audio
  • Take photos with the mobile phone’s camera
  • Send SMS to whatever telephone numbers the attacker wants
  • Make calls and pilfer data
  • Recover information from contacts, Wi-Fi access points, and call logs


On the devices it attacks, SonicSpy removes its launch icon to cover itself and then connects to a control server.


Protective methods


Since these tracking Android applications continue to exist, we must utilize an Android antivirus like the free Sophos Mobile Security for Android. By blocking the installation of the tracking applications, regardless of the possibility that they originate from Google Play, you can save yourself much trouble.


In the bigger picture, the average Android user wouldn’t recognize what performances the malware used to achieve their phone’s doorstep, yet they can do much to secure it from getting in, particularly with regards to the applications they pick. With that in mind, here’s some more general advice:


Keep away from applications with a low reputation. In the event that nobody knows anything about a new application yet, don’t install it on a work phone! You will be accused if something turns out badly, and your IT department definitely won’t be happy.


  • Always stick to Google Play. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but Google puts much effort into avoiding tracking application arriving in the first place or cleansing it from the Play Store if it appears. Conversely, various alternative markets are almost a free for all, so application creators can upload anything they want, and much of the time do.


  • Fix early, fix frequently. When purchasing a new mobile phone, check the vendor’s attitude to updates and the speed with which the patches arrive. Why not put “quicker, more effective fixing” on your list of desirable features, alongside or before the equipment advances like “better camera” and “higher-res screen”?
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text 2017-07-26 22:08
Android App: "Spinner Portuguese Style" by MySelfie


If you're into Android Apps, read on.

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review 2017-07-18 03:27
The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku (book) story by Muya Agami and cosMo@BousouP, art by Yuunagi
The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku - Yunagi,cosMo@BousouP,Muya Agami

You have no idea how excited I was to learn that 1) a Vocaloid light novel existed and 2) it was available in English. I ordered a copy for myself a few weeks after finding out about it.

A few years ago I was really into Vocaloid (singing synthesizer software). I wasn’t interested in using it myself, just in listening to other people’s songs and reading about the various Vocaloid and UTAUloid avatars. I gradually found a few Vocaloid/UTAUloid tuners I particularly liked (kyaami is my top favorite) and developed a few Vocaloid/UTAUloid preferences (Kaito was probably my first favorite Vocaloid, and Ritsu continues to be my favorite UTAUloid).

I went into this book with an okay background knowledge of Vocaloid in general and Hatsune Miku in particular. Also, I was familiar with the song the book was based on (here's one version on YouTube), enough to know that the book probably wouldn’t have a happy ending.

The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku stars Shinosato Asano, an ordinary university student who spends his days going to class and doing tedious work at a robotics lab and his nights working as a bartender at a nightclub. He’s shocked when the professor in charge of his research lab singles him out to do a field test of a very special new android named Hatsune Miku. The professor wants a student like Asano, who’s responsible, can keep a secret, and doesn’t know too much about artificial intelligence, to see how well Miku can pass for human out in the real world. He’s not supposed to tell anyone, not even his family members, what Miku really is, and he has to make sure Miku goes back to the professor for regular data collection and weekly maintenance.

Miku’s speech and behavior is a little odd and stilted at first, but it rapidly improves. Asano introduces her to everyone as his very intelligent cousin from England (in order to explain why a 16-year-old girl whose Japanese is still a bit rough is suddenly attending university classes), takes her on a tour of the university, and invites her out to lunch. Lunch becomes their regular activity together, and Asano gradually incorporates activities relating to music once he realizes that Miku particularly enjoys it. He starts to realize, to his dismay, that he might be falling for her. What will happen once the field test is over?

I really wanted to love this. I’m generally drawn to android-human romances, and I was already looking forward to the Vocaloid aspects. Miku has never been my top favorite Vocaloid, but she had a lot of cute moments in the book, and I really felt for her. The way the author used Vocaloid-related details in the story was absolutely wonderful. The realization that Asano’s over-the-top love of green onions was a reference to the way Miku is often depicted holding green onions was nice, but there was one revelation further on in the book that I thought was particularly clever and unexpected.

That said, the romance was utterly terrible. It wasn’t so much Asano’s blandness - as much as I disliked how boring he was, it wasn’t unexpected. I did find myself wishing that Asano had more ideas about what to do with Miku than constantly taking her out to eat. I mean, right from the start he was told that she couldn’t eat much, and yet almost all of their outings involved food. It didn’t have to be anything special or expensive - they could have gone for a walk in a park, or gone out grocery shopping, or watched a movie. Pretty much anything they might have done would have been a new experience for Miku and would have provided the professor with more data.

I had two main problems with the romance. First, the way Miku based so many of the things she liked on things that Asano liked. For example, I don’t think she was able to taste food, and yet she’d tell Asano that a particular food tasted good because he liked it and therefore it must taste good. Asano just accepted these statements and was happy about them, but they bothered me - it was one of the reasons why I liked Miku’s budding love of music, because it seemed more purely hers than anything else she’d said she liked.

Second, it gradually became clear that Asano wasn’t so much a nice guy as he was a “nice” guy. His reactions and feelings were more important than hers. Later on in the book, for example, there were strong indications that something was wrong with Miku, to the point that it affected her physically. Rather than noticing this and worrying about her, Asano instead focused on how he felt when he held her and her statement that she wanted the two of them to be together forever. When something drastic either happened to Miku or was done to her, all Asano could think about was how much it hurt him that Miku no longer behaved as warmly towards him as she used to. His first instinct was to abandon the field test rather than investigate what had happened to her and why.

It did eventually dawn on the idiot that he was being a selfish jerk, but it took much, much longer than it should have. I was left feeling like Miku would have been better off leaving Asano in her dust and going on to become a massively popular superstar. Considering what was done to her during the course of the story, maybe leaving all of humanity behind wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Asano continued to be useless as the sci-fi suspense storyline became more prominent, and pretty much the only reason he was able to get anywhere was because his two friends, Aika and Juuhachi, weren’t as utterly useless as he was. The various sci-fi developments near the end of the book were pretty bonkers, and the big climactic scene was way too over-the-top and ended up feeling silly rather than dramatic or tragically romantic. Although the Vocaloid fan in me did love the bit with the mysterious file.

One last thing: although the writing/translation wasn't terrible, it wasn't great either. I noticed that the author tended to be a bit repetitive. A character would do or say something and then Asano would tell readers what that character had done or said, even though the text had just described it. Once I started noticing this, I realized it happened a lot.

If you’re a huge Vocaloid fan, this might be worth giving a shot. Like I said, the way Vocaloid details were incorporated was wonderful. Everyone else would probably be better off trying something like CLAMP's Chobits or maybe even William Gibson’s Idoru (not romance, and I don’t recall the AI having much of a speaking role, but Rei Toei is practically another incarnation of Hatsune Miku).


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-07-17 23:30
Visual novel review - This, My Soul


This, My Soul is a free sci-fi visual novel. The first time I saw it, it was listed as “in development.” I was cautiously excited - it looked slick and the android main character interested me, but there was no guarantee it’d ever be completed. I prefer to play finished products rather than demos.

Thankfully, this is now out of “in development” limbo. I’ve played it through three or four times since downloading it, and my final verdict is...meh. It has some really nice and ambitious aspects, but it doesn’t entirely follow through with all of them, and the android-human romance could have been better.

Backing up a bit, the story: You play as a woman who is the sole survivor of a spaceship accident of some sort. The game allows you to choose the woman’s name - if I remember right, the default is “Kyndle.” Kyndle was rescued by a laborer-class android named Silas, who put her in cryogenic sleep. Because the cryogenic pod is old, Kyndle can’t stay asleep for the entire trip back to civilization, but she also can’t stay awake for the full trip. The plan is for her to be awake at the beginning and then go back to sleep near the end.

In the meantime, Silas helps Kyndle get her strength and full range of movement back, and makes sure she regains some of the weight she lost. At times, Kyndle can’t even move without Silas’s help.

Players have several ways they can approach the game: they can be suspicious of Silas and resistant to the idea of being attracted to an android; they can be friendly towards Silas and more than a little attracted; they can be openly flirtatious; or they can be some combination of all three. There are three possible endings, which the developer/author called the Normal end, Friendship end, and Romance end. However, those aren’t really the best way to describe them.

The “normal” end is the one where Kyndle doesn’t really give a crap about Silas and his fate. The “friendship” end is bittersweet - I’d like to think that everything works out for the best, but it isn’t guaranteed. There can be a strong thread of romance leading up to this ending, depending on the options you choose, so it’s not strictly a “friendship” end. The “romance” end definitely ends with Silas and Kyndle together and is probably the best ending for Silas overall, but I still had some issues with it. It doesn’t require that you hit all of the story’s “romantic” scenes, and it presents readers with a happy ending but doesn’t bother to explain how Kyndle and Silas are supposed to achieve that happy ending in the long term.

There were some things I really liked about this visual novel. First, it made an effort at adjusting to reader choices. Early on in the story, readers could decide which job Kyndle had, out of five possible choices. Later conversation options then adjusted to these choices. If Kyndle was a medical officer, then she knew a bit more about cryogenic sleep. If she was a mechanical engineer, she understood a bit more about the ship’s functions. This was kind of nice, but it wasn’t carried out as thoroughly as it could have been. For example, I got really annoyed when medical officer Kyndle became outraged at Silas feeding her high calorie meals in order to increase her weight. I forget her exact words, but it amounted to “women don’t like to gain weight, why didn’t you ask me first.” But as a medical officer she should have understood that her time in cryogenic sleep had left her underweight and that she’d have to gain that weight back before going back to sleep.

This is technically a fairly short visual novel, but its numerous decision points and choices made it feel longer. The sheer number of decisions overwhelmed me at first, but I came to like them more during subsequent playthroughs. The “skip” button definitely helped - as in many visual novels, you could set it to skip text you’d seen before.

That said, I haven’t played through all the possible story choices yet, and I doubt I ever will. I tried, I really did, but some of them really didn’t appeal to me. Like I said earlier on in this review, you could opt to play this game several ways. I preferred being neither hostile/suspicious nor very flirty. The flirty options sometimes made me uncomfortable because Silas seemed so taken aback. In one instance, he even went as far as to remind Kyndle that he was a laborer-class android and not built for anything sexual. To me, his response came across as discomfort, and I really wanted Kyndle to just back off. I had similar problems forcing myself to choose the hostile/suspicious options all the way through.

It was weird how the game was so adaptable in some ways (different wording at certain points depending on the job Kyndle had) and yet so rigid in other ways. For example, during one of my playthroughs I tried to made Kyndle as suspicious as possible. I found myself unable to carry this through all the way to the end, so she became friendlier later in the game. Considering how she had behaved towards Silas up to that point, I’d have expected him to respond coldly or neutrally to almost anything she said, but that wasn’t the case.

There were times when it felt like the romance aspects were being laid on too thick. The worst was probably the massage scene (which I later figured out was skippable without any noticeable effect on the ending). How did a laborer-class android even learn to give a proper massage? I’d have expected medical officer Kyndle to have some questions about that, but nope. I did like the scene in the control room (navigation room?), though.

Art-wise, this was a mixed bag. The sprites looked great, but the CG art was nowhere near as slick and pretty. I wish the person who had done the sprite art had also done the CG art. Also, the music, while appropriate to the setting, wasn’t very memorable.

All in all, this wasn’t bad, but it didn’t work for me nearly as well as I’d hoped it would. Too many points in Kyndle and Silas’s romance made me uncomfortable, and even the happiest of the three endings left me feeling worried that society and/or the corporation that created Silas would tear them apart.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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