The standardised physical appearance of new devices showcased at the IFA expo in Berlin this week belies the innovation lurking ‘under the hood’, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
The annual IFA expo in Berlin, drawing to a close this week, has always been Europe’s poor relation to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Where CES kicks off the year by playing host to the biggest array of product announcements at any technology event in the world, IFA tends to wrap up the year by bringing many of those same products to market.
The result is that many observers tend to yawn about the seen-it-all-before sense they get from IFA. However, there is a vast difference between what is seen and what is experienced. Many of the products on display may look like variations on what has gone before, but their capability or functionality has advanced dramatically.
In other cases, new technology is not of the dazzling, stand-out variety, but seamlessly and surreptitiously integrated with existing technology.
The best example is the smartphone, which offers little room for superficial innovation. The last big shift in format came 18 months ago, when Samsung introduced the curved screen to its Edge devices.
This year LG launched a “modular” phone with a slide-out bottom to allow the battery to be replaced by the likes of camera and sound modules. Lenovo followed up with a razor-thin Motorola Moto Z handset that allows sound, battery and projector “Mods” to be clamped to the rear.
However, the emphasis on the physical shape of the devices – and the recent absence of format innovation from a market leader like Apple – has meant that the innovation happening under the hood has largely gone unnoticed.
The best case in point from IFA 2016 was the new flagship smartphone from Sony, the Xperia XZ with 5.2” screen. Along with Huawei and Alcatel, Sony was one of the few manufacturers to use IFA for the launch of a major new smartphone.
Predictably, casual visitors to the Sony stand primarily saw a more sleek design and little else. Those who picked it up and played with it may well have got a sense of the fast and dazzling clarity provided by the phone’s camera. This is made possible by a 23MP rear camera and a dedicated shutter release button, which means going “from standby to capture in 0.6 seconds”, as Sony put it.
The electronics giant rightly claims that its new new models, including a 4.6” trimmed down version of the flagship called the Xperia X Compact, feature “one of the most advanced cameras in a smartphone”. Along with an already powerful image sensor, it includes two additional assisting sensors that add up to what Sony labels “triple image sensing technology”.
“This allows you to capture beautiful images in motion with true to life colours in virtually any conditions,” according to the company’s announcement of the new phone. “The technology is comprised of Sony’s original Exmor RS for mobile image sensor, which provides a powerful blend of high quality image and autofocus (AF) speed, combined with Predictive Hybrid AF to intelligently predict and track subjects in motion for blur-free results.
“Added to this is the Laser AF sensor with distance sensing technology, which captures beautiful blur-free photos in challenging low light conditions. And … true to life colours thanks to the RGBC-IR sensor with colour sensing technology which accurately adjusts the white balance based on the light source in the environment.”
That combination of technical and marketing speak does add up to one truth: this is probably the most complex camera system yet built into a smartphone. Manual settings for shutter speed and focus control add to the sense of this being a photographer’s phone.
But an even more remarkable innovation is built into the handset. Drawing on a legacy of image stabilisation developed for Sony’s Handycam camcorders under the SteadyShot brand, the technology has been enhanced on the XZ with “five-axis stabilisation”. This means it compensates for movement in any direction, allowing for smoother videos when filming while walking. Video can also be shot in 4K – currently the highest resolution that can be displayed on any but the most advanced displays in the world.
The front camera is also one of the best in the smartphone market, with a 13MP and 22mm wide angle lens. High light-sensitivity up to ISO 6400 allows for exceptional low-light performance.
For Sony – and many other smartphone manufacturers – the real problem with such innovation in the mechanics of a device is that it has to be experienced to be believed. The device has to prove itself in the field rather than in the showcase.
When word of mouth eventually kicks in and the world wakes up to inner beauty, such invisible innovation will come into its own.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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!
Ms Office hack attacks up 4X
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.
· 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.