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Tech gets in touch with human – and animal – needs

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The annual IFA tech expo in Berlin delivered both the usual cut and paste slew of copycat devices and some truly new technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

One of the standout features of the annual IFA technology trade expo in Berlin, Germany, is how much effort brands make to stand out. The result is that many of the big launches happen two or even three days before the main event, to avoid getting lost in the noise.

As a result, the likes of Huawei, Sony, Acer and Lenovo had all made their big announcements well before the crowds began arriving on Friday morning.

Huawei in particular stood out, with its most aggressive assault yet on the high end of the smartphone market. Until recently, it was best known for its network infrastructure, from base stations to 3G and 4G wireless Internet devices. As Glory Cheung, chief marketing officer of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, put it, “We have base stations as far north as the Arctic Circle and as high as the Himalayas. The smartphone is the human extension of what we do.”

Huawei unveiled its new Mate S, a 5.5-inch device that packs in every gram of the company’s innovation in an effort to demonstrate that it is no copycat manufacturer. There were numerous cut-and-paste phone and TV makers at IFA, with one very average brand plastering its stand with the overused and meaningless slogan “Game changer”.

Huawei-Force-Touch-Huawei-ForceTouch-Technology-Huawei-IFA-Berlin-Mate-S-Smartphone-602471

For Huawei, if the game is about positioning it alongside the market leaders like Apple and Samsung rather than the entry-level copycats, the Mate S does indeed change its own game.

It introduces several new and enhanced features around touch and control of the device, starting with what may be the best fingerprint recognition technology on a phone today. Dubbed Fingerprint 2.0, it allows the fingerprint pad on the back of the phone to be used not only for quick and accurate biometric identification – and therefore secure mobile payments – but also as an additional control and navigation mechanism. This means that it becomes a trackpad on which the user can swipe down or across to activate various functions.

More impressive but still a feature in search of a function is a technology called “force touch”, which makes the screen pressure sensitive – to the extent that it can be used as a scale to weigh small items.

And then there is Knuckle Control 2.0, which appears to combine the knock code of LG phones with the drawing function of Samsung Note devices, and then takes it to a new practical level. With a knuckle, the user can draw a crop line around any shape in a photo – whether a shoe or a ship – and crop out only that shape, rather than be confined to the usual geometric shapes. The knuckle can also be used to activate shortcuts by drawing, for example, a C for Camera or W for Weather.

Huawei’s slogan for the launch, “Touch. Made powerful.”, was one of a handful that did not come across as mere hype.

Another brand that has tried to keep pace with the smartphone leaders through its own innovation, Sony, also got in ahead of IFA to launch its new Xperia range in Berlin. Its direct competitor to the Mate S, the Xperia Z5 Premium, is a world first. It is the first handset to feature 4K display and recording – linking the phone to the current high-end in TV display.

Translated into numbers, that means 3840×2160 resolution. Translated into English, it means a dazzlingly sharp display that is almost outrageous in its visual quality.

The handset features a 5.5-inch screen and 3400 mAh battery, addressing Sony’s consumer research finding that battery life is currently the number one concern of phone buyers. Sony also launched a standard Z5 with 5.2-inch display and a Z5 Compact, with a 4.6-inch screen that is likely to retain the enthusiasm that the similarly sized Z3 Compact generated in the market.

But Sony and Huawei showed off the latest iterations of their wearable technology, joining Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit, Runtastic and Withings, among many others, in the race for attention.

Once again, Huawei surprised, taking a leaf out of Apple’s marketing book by calling its new device simply the Huawei Watch. But it was also no cut-and-paste job: the watch has an elegant, round face that gives it the appearance of a regular fashion watch rather than a geek tool.

Under the surface, though, it pushes the Android Wear standard for wearables to the limits. It’s not only a full activity tracker – with 6-axis motion sensor – and heart-rate monitor, but is also compatible with both Android and iOS devices. That’s a first for a major smartphone manufacturer.

While the big names compete for share in such intensively competitive segments, new niches are also emerging within these segments. For example, health-monitoring

One of the most intriguing is activity tracking for dogs and cats. A company called Tractive used IFA to showcase its GPS pet tracking device. While the initial focus was on locating lost animals, it raises fascinating possibilities, like solving the mystery of where cats go wandering in the course of a day. Some of the Tractive devices also measure body temperature, warning the owner when the pet needs water, shade or rest.

It’s a great example of technology getting in touch with more than just human needs.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Lenovo unveils world’s smallest desktop PC

ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is powered by 8th generation Intel processors and SSD storage, catering to flexible working

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Lenovo has introduced the world’s smallest desktop PC, the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano, to the South African Market. It says it is designed to support diverse workplaces with the power of a full-size desktop and the space-saving convenience of a laptop.

“The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is further proof of Lenovo’s commitment to helping small businesses drive efficiency in their operations,” says Thibault Dousson, General Manager at Lenovo South Africa. “In South Africa, SMEs make up a third of the country’s GDP and play an integral part in boosting the economy and creating jobs. Lack of capital, investment, resources or support are among the major challenges faced by our country’s entrepreneurs. 

“Lenovo wants to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses through giving them better access to critical tools and services, such as our financial services offering and leasing option. The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is ideal for small business owners as it is reliable and powerful yet compact and easily transportable.”

Delivering powerful performance in an ultra-portable size, the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is the most compact commercial desktop series in the world. Compact models are one-third the size of the ground-breaking ThinkCentre Tiny, at just 0.35L in volume.

With fully functional USB Type-C Gen2 and USB 3.1 Gen2 ports located on the front and back of the device, multiple displays, docks and other hardware options can further boost productivity. The ability to be powered using just one cable to a USB Type-C monitor makes the M90n-1 Nano ideal for a clutter-free workspace, whether it be placed behind a screen or under a desk.

The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is MIL-810G SPEC tested – built to withstand extreme conditions including shocks, drops, dust and humidity. The desktop’s HW TPM 2.0 chip encrypts data to keep sensitive data secure, while its Kensington lock slot enables users to physically secure the device to an immovable object, protecting it from theft.

With its Modern Standby feature, users can receive emails, VoIP calls and instant messages while remaining in standby mode. When ready to commence work, the M90n-1 Nano resumes full functionality in under one second.

These features make the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano an easy fit across all office environments, or wherever space is limited, and staff are mobile. The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano also reduces energy consumption by as much as 30 percent annually over the ThinkCentre Tiny. 

Powered by the 8th generation Intel processors and backed by SSD (solid state drive) storage, the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano offers diverse connectivity and multi-user options to keep users connected.

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Hackers target hotels

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Kaspersky’s research of the RevengeHotels campaign aimed at the hospitality sector, has confirmed over 20 hotels in Latin America, Europe and Asia have fallen victim to targeted malware attacks. Even more hotels are potentially affected across the globe. Travelers’ credit card data, which is stored in a hotel administration system, including those received from online travel agencies (OTAs), is at risk of being stolen and sold to criminals worldwide.

RevengeHotels is a campaign that includes different groups using traditional Remote Access Trojans (RATs) to infect businesses in the hospitality sector. The campaign has been active since 2015 but has gone on to increase its presence in 2019. At least two groups, RevengeHotels and ProCC, were identified to be part of the campaign, however more cybercriminal groups are potentially involved.

The main attack vector in this campaign is emails with crafted malicious Word, Excel or PDF documents attached. Some of them exploit CVE-2017-0199, loading it using VBS and PowerShell scripts and then installing customised versions of various RATs and other custom malware, such as ProCC, on the victim’s machine that could later execute commands and set up remote access to the infected systems.

Each spear-phishing email was crafted with special attention to detail and usually impersonating real people from legitimate organisations making a fake booking request for a large group of people. It is worth noting that even careful users could be tricked to open and download attachments from such emails as they include an abundance of details (for instance, copies of legal documents and reasons for booking at the hotel) and looked convincing. The only detail that would reveal the attacker would be a typosquatting domain of the organisation.

phishing email sent to a hotel impersonating a booking request from an attorney’s office

Once infected, the computer could be accessed remotely not just by the cybercriminal group itself — evidence collected by Kaspersky researchers shows that remote access to hospitality desks and the data they contain is sold on criminal forums on a subscription basis. Malware collected data from hospitality desk clipboards, printer spoolers and captured screenshots (this function was triggered using specific words in English or Portuguese). Because hotel personnel often copied clients’ credit card data from OTA’s in order to charge them, that data could also be compromised.

Kaspersky telemetry confirmed targets in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Thailand and Turkey. However, based on data extracted from Bit.ly, a popular link shortening service used by the attackers to spread malicious links, Kaspersky researchers assume that users from many other countries have at least accessed the malicious link – suggesting that the number of countries with potential victims could be higher.

“As users grow wary of how protected their data truly is, cybercriminals turn to small businesses, which are often not very well protected from cyberattacks and possess a concentration of personal data. Hoteliers and other small businesses dealing with customer data need to be more cautious and apply professional security solutions to avoid data leaks that could potentially not only affect customers, but also damage hotel reputations as well,” comments Dmitry Bestuzhev, Head of Global Research and Analysis Team, LatAm.

To stay safe, travelers are recommended to:

  • Use a virtual payment card for reservations made via OTAs, as these cards normally expire after a single charge
  • When paying for a reservation or checking out at hotel desks, use a virtual wallet, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay, or a secondary credit card with a limited amount of debit available

Hotel owners and management are also advised to follow these steps to secure customer data:

  • Conduct risk assessments of the existing network and implement regulations regarding how customers data is handled
  • Use a reliable security solution with web protection and application control functionality, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. Web protection helps to block access to phishing and malicious websites while application control (in white list mode) allows to make sure that no application except the white listed ones can run on hospitality desk computers.
  • Introduce staff security awareness training to teach employees how to spot spear-phishing attempts and show the importance of remaining vigilant when working with incoming emails.

Read the full report, RevengeHotels: cybercrime targeting hotel desks worldwide, on Securelist.

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