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The end of the small screen

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The new Samsung Note 8 launched in New York last week heralds the end of the small screen, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s hard to believe that, just six years ago, Apple was mocking smartphone makers who produced handsets with 4-inch displays or larger. At a press conference at the time, Steve Jobs ripped into manufacturers who built phones “you can’t get your hand around”, adding “no one’s going to buy that”.

By 2012, Apple was mocking smartphone makers who produced handsets with 5-inch displays. It’s really easy to make a bigger phone, said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, adding: “The challenge is to make it better and smaller.”

In 2013, new CEO Tim Cook defended the size of the iPhone 5, saying that its 4-inch display “provides a larger screen size for iPhone customers without sacrificing the one-handed ease-of-use that our customers love. So, we put a lot of thinking into screen size and believe we’ve picked the right one.”

Finally, a year later – just three years ago next month – Apple succumbed.  The iPhone 6 emerged with a 4.7-inch display, and its big brother, the 6 Plus, with a “massive” 5.5-inch display.

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It was a given at the time that Apple was responding to the rise of large-screen Android smartphones. But there was one device in particular that had woken it from its slumber: the Samsung Note.

The first version, released in October 2011, really was massive for its time: all of 5.3-inches. It was roundly mocked by Apple as well as other rivals. But it sold a million units in the first 30 days, and 10-million over the next 10 months. The large screen was here for good.

However, it has taken six models, gradually expanding from the initial 5.3-inches to 6.3-inches with the latest iteration, for the small screen to be banished for good.

Last week’s unveiling of the Samsung Note 8 was astonishing for two reasons.

Firstly, coming a year after the disastrous Note 7, which began exploding or catching fire around the world, it represented a complete turnaround from marketing disaster to public relations triumph. Critics and commentators were almost unanimous that this was the best smartphone produced so far in 2017.

Secondly, and more significantly for potential sales, it represented a massive increase in display size without an equivalent increase in phone size. The body is about the same size as that of the iPhone 7 Plus which, like the 6 Plus, carries a 5.5-inch screen. However, the Note 8 fits a 6.3-inch display into that body, thanks to more efficient use of the front of the phone, and what is now an iconic curved screen on high-end Samsung handsets.

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Equally remarkably, the phone feels as comfortable in the hand as any 5.5-inch device, if not more so.

“We’ve succeeded in creating a large-screen phone with a comfortable grip,” says Craige Fleischer, head of mobile at Samsung in Southern Africa. “The curved edge has a sharper drop-off than the previous screens so there is more flat surface.”

The so-called “infinity display” of edge-to-edge screen is expected to become a standard feature in both high-end and mid-range phones. However, the innovative design is geared towards a greater purpose than size for its own sake.

Most obviously, it speaks to the rapid growth of streaming video on the smartphone.  But there is a second factor, as the smartphone becomes the default computer for the average user.

“Millions of people have recognised that the Note was much more than a new smartphone, but a platform for productivity,” said DJ Koh, president of Mobile Communications of Samsung Electronics, at the launch of the Note 8 in New York last week.

The Note has long defined productivity on a smartphone, thanks to the S Pen, an interactive stylus that slides into the phone when not in use. The stylus evolves in tandem with the Note, and can now be used independently from the handset, on other compatible devices.

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The sub-brand has also also pioneered multi-tasking on smartphones, not only opening two apps on the same screen, but now also, with one click, simultaneously opening two apps that are regularly used together. The bigger the screen, the more useful such functions become.

And, of course, the more useful the functions become, the more dependent users will become on large screens.

Already, 2013 in smartphone years looks like the previous century. Another three years from now, it will seem normal that people prefer their smartphones to computers or TV sets for their entertainment and work lives.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Which IoT horse should you back?

The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.

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But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.

Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).

Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:

SIGFOX 

SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.

It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.

LORA 

LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.

Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.

RPMA 

Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.

It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.

LTE-M 

LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.

It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.

Key features include:

·       Voice functionality via VoLTE

·       Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over

·       Low power consumption

·       Extended in‑building range

NB-IOT 

Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.

NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.

MY FORECAST

The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:

1.     Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations

2.     The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies

3.     A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again

So, which horse should you back?

I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.

The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.

So: do your homework. And good luck!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.

Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.

The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.

The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.

After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.

For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.

“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
  • 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
  • Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
  • Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
  • Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
    • 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
    • 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).

To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:

  • Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
  • Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.

  • Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.
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