Voice assistants — the demo targeted Siri, Google Assistant, and Bixby — are designed to respond when they detect the owner’s voice after noticing a trigger phrase such as ‘Ok, Google’.
Ultimately, commands are just sound waves, which other researchers have already shown can be emulated using ultrasonic waves which humans can’t hear, providing an attacker has a line of sight on the device and the distance is short.
What SurfingAttack adds to this is the ability to send the ultrasonic commands through a solid glass or wood table on which the smartphone was sitting using a circular piezoelectric disc connected to its underside.
Although the distance was only 43cm (17 inches), hiding the disc under a surface represents a more plausible, easier-to-conceal attack method than previous techniques.
Have you ever run out of storage on your phone? Mobile phones come with limited storage and with the multiplication of apps and large video files, many of you are running out of space.
In this article, we explain how we measure and reduce the storage footprint of the Grab App on a user’s device to help you overcome this issue.
The wakeup call
Android vitals (information provided by Google play Console about our app performance) gives us two main pieces of information about storage footprint.
15.7% of users have less than 1GB of free storage and they tend to uninstall more than other users (1.2x).
The proportion of 30 day active devices which reported less than 1GB free storage. Calculated as a 30 days rolling average.
This is the ratio of uninstalls on active devices with less than 1GB free storage to uninstalls on all active devices. Calculated as a 30 days rolling average.
Instrumentation to know where we stand
First things first, we needed to know how much space the Grab App occupies on user device. So we started using our personal devices. We can find this information by opening the phone settings and selecting Grab App.
For this device (screenshot), the application itself (Installed binary) was 186 MB and the total footprint was 322 MB. Since this information varies a lot based on the usage of the app, we needed this information directly from our users in production.
Disclaimer: We are only measuring files that are inside the internal Grab app folder (Cache/Database). We do NOT measure any file that is not inside the private Grab folder.
We decided to leverage on our current implementation using StorageManager API to gather the following information during each session launch:
Application Size (Installed binary size)
Cache folder size
We began analysing this data one month after our users’ updated their app and found that the cache size was anomaly huge (> 1GB) for a lot of users. Intrigued, we dug deeper.
We added code to log the top largest files inside the cache folder, and we found that most of the files were inside a sub cache folder that was no longer in use. This was due to a usage of a 3rd party library that was removed from our app. We added a specific metric to track the size of this folder.
In the end, a lot of users still had this old cache data and for some users the amount of data can be up to 1GB.
Root cause analysis
The Grab app relies a lot on 3rd party libraries. For example, Picasso was a library we used in the past for image display which is now replaced by Glide. Picasso uses a cache to store images and avoid making network calls again and again. After removing Picasso from the app, we didn’t delete this cache folder on the user device. We knew there would likely be more third-party libraries that had been discontinued so we expanded our analysis to look at how other 3rd party libraries cached their data.
Freeing up space on user’s phone
Here comes the fun part. We implemented a cleanup mechanism to remove old cache folders. When users update the GrabApp, any old cache folders which were there before would automatically be removed. Through this, we released up to 1GB of data in a second back to our users. In total, we removed 575 terabytes of old cache data across more than 13 million devices (approximately 40MB per user on average).
The following graph shows the total size of junk data (in Terabytes) that we can potentially remove each day, calculated by summing up the maximum size of cache when a user opens the Grab app each day.
The first half of the graph reflects the amount of junk data in relation to the latest app version before auto-clean up was activated. The second half of the graph shows a dramatic dip in junk data after auto-clean up was activated. We were deleting up to 33 Terabytes of data per day on the user’s device when we first started!
This is the first phase of our journey in reducing the storage footprint of our app on Android devices. We specifically focused on making improvements at scale i.e. deliver huge storage gains to the most number of users in the shortest time. In the next phase, we will look at more targeted improvements for specific groups of users that still have a high storage footprint. In addition, we are also reviewing iOS data to see if a round of clean up is necessary.
Concurrently, we are also reducing the maximum size of cache created by some libraries. For example, Glide by default creates a cache of 250MB but this can be configured and optimised.
We hope you found this piece insightful and please remember to update your app regularly to benefit from the improvements we’re making every day. If you find that your app is still taking a lot of space on your phone, be assured that we’re looking into it.
Grab is more than just the leading ride-hailing and mobile payments platform in Southeast Asia. We use data and technology to improve everything from transportation to payments and financial services across a region of more than 620 million people. We aspire to unlock the true potential of Southeast Asia and look for like-minded individuals to join us on this ride.
If you share our vision of driving South East Asia forward, apply to join our team today.
Abstract: In the 2018 midterm elections, West Virginia became the first state in the U.S. to allow select voters to cast their ballot on a mobile phone via a proprietary app called “Voatz.” Although there is no public formal description of Voatz’s security model, the company claims that election security and integrity are maintained through the use of a permissioned blockchain, biometrics, a mixnet, and hardware-backed key storage modules on the user’s device. In this work, we present the first public security analysis of Voatz, based on a reverse engineering of their Android application and the minimal available documentation of the system. We performed a clean-room reimplementation of Voatz’s server and present an analysis of the election process as visible from the app itself.
We find that Voatz has vulnerabilities that allow different kinds of adversaries to alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote,including a sidechannel attack in which a completely passive network adversary can potentially recover a user’s secret ballot. We additionally find that Voatz has a number of privacy issues stemming from their use of third party services for crucial app functionality. Our findings serve as a concrete illustration of the common wisdom against Internet voting,and of the importance of transparency to the legitimacy of elections.
Today we are excited to announce that Netflix has started streaming AV1 to our Android mobile app. AV1 is a high performance, royalty-free video codec that provides 20% improved compression efficiency over our VP9† encodes. AV1 is made possible by the wide-ranging industry commitment of expertise and intellectual property within the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia), of which Netflix is a founding member.
Our support for AV1 represents Netflix’s continued investment in delivering the most efficient and highest quality video streams. For our mobile environment, AV1 follows on our work with VP9, which we released as part of our mobile encodes in 2016 and further optimized with shot-based encodes in 2018.
While our goal is to roll out AV1 on all of our platforms, we see a good fit for AV1’s compression efficiency in the mobile space where cellular networks can be unreliable, and our members have limited data plans. Selected titles are now available to stream in AV1 for customers who wish to reduce their cellular data usage by enabling the “Save Data” feature.
Our AV1 support on Android leverages the open-source dav1d decoder built by the VideoLAN, VLC, and FFmpeg communities and sponsored by the Alliance for Open Media. Here we have optimized dav1d so that it can play Netflix content, which is 10-bit color. In the spirit of making AV1 widely available, we are sponsoring an open-source effort to optimize 10-bit performance further and make these gains available to all.
As codec performance improves over time, we plan to expand our AV1 usage to more use cases and are now also working with device and chipset partners to extend this into hardware.
† AV1-libaom compression efficiency as measured against VP9-libvpx.
dSploit APK Download is a Hacking & Security Toolkit For Android which can conduct network analysis and penetration testing activities. It aims to offer to IT security experts the most complete and advanced professional toolkit to perform network security assessments on a mobile device.
Once dSploit is started, you will be able to easily map your network, fingerprint alive hosts operating systems and running services, search for known vulnerabilities, crack logon procedures of many TCP protocols, perform man in the middle (MiTM) attacks such as password sniffing (with common protocols dissection), real-time traffic manipulation and more.
There are dozens of apps available online today that act as straightforward players of IPTV streams. These usually cause no copyright infringement issues for their operators as they come with no pre-loaded content.
While many can be configured with a premium subscription so that infringing content can be received at the direction of users, others blur the lines by attempting to aggregate links to streams that exist in open form on the Internet.
One of these players was known as UlangoTV. Previously available via Google Play, Amazon, CNET, and many other third-party download sites, variants of the UlangoTV app acted as a search engine for live IPTV streams, which were color-coded to provide additional information.
“Every day thousands of new stream URLs are found, analyzed and classified,” the publisher’s description on CNET reads.
“For the safety of users and for the protection of the content owners, the search results are flagged with color codes: Yellow streams have been known to us for more than 6 months. Typically these ‘official’ streams are without license problems. All registered users can see these streams freely. Blue streams have been known to us for more than 6 weeks. Also these are usually ‘official’ streams without license problems.”
However, as acknowledged by its publisher, not all streams made available in the app could be considered trouble-free.
“Magenta streams are usually short-lived and have only been known to us recently. These streams are likely to originate from unlicensed sources,” the developer noted.
This type of link aggregation teeters fairly close to the edge of legality but with UlangoTV+, a premium and premium plus subscription option offered by the same developer, broadcasters may have considered the line had been crossed.
“So in this app UlangoTV+ we introduced a new option called Premium Plus, which is only available to a few users who want to pay a premium price and now receive handpicked streams with tightly controlled connectivity,” the marketing added.
With no user shortage for the popular app, during October last year an unexpected message appeared on UlangoTV’s Twitter account which indicated that the project had come to an end.
The tweet gave no clear indication of the reason behind the decision to close but now, several months later, we have the strongest message yet that legal threats from entertainment industry groups played a key role.
Users who visit the Ulango.TV domain today get an all-too-familiar message that due to claims of copyright infringement, the site and associated app have been shut down by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment.
After the usual countdown timer expires, visitors are redirected to the ACE anti-piracy portal. There is no mention there of the shutdown which tends to suggest that a relatively peaceful agreement was reached with the app’s developer, which would’ve included shutting down and handing over the Ulango domain.
Indeed, domain records show that Ulango.tv is now owned by the Motion Picture Association, which adds to a growing list of dozens of domains taken over as part of the Alliance’s ongoing anti-piracy activities.
Broadly speaking, torrent clients come in two flavors; closed source (such as uTorrent or BitTorrent Mainline) or open-source, such as qBittorrent or BiglyBT, for example.
Many experienced torrent users often favor the latter, since the code of open-source clients is not only open to scrutiny but can give others the ability to learn about or further develop software. So of course, it’s never great when something bad happens to an open-source project.
Yaroslav Pronin, a student and Russia-based developer of Android torrent client LibreTorrent, is an advocate of Free Software. He informs TF that he began work on his tool in 2016 because he believed there wasn’t a “complete freedom” torrent client available for the platform.
Pronin says that he was also motivated by the fact that BitTorrent has been under pressure, with sites blocked both in Russia and overseas due to copyright issues.
“A Free Software torrent client is an important step in supporting BitTorrent technology for the free (as in Freedom) exchange of information between people,” he explains.
As a result, Pronin went down the open-source route (GNU GPLv3) for LibreTorrent and gathered a decent-sized following. But despite all his good intentions, he still found his software deleted from Google Play recently for a somewhat unusual reason.
What happened behind the scenes here is something of a mystery. Pronin says that he first became aware of an issue in early October when Google advised him that his software had been marked as ‘spam’, which indicates the client is considered “non-original” content.
“It was the morning of October 8, 2019, when I read the e-mail from Google that LibreTorrent was deleted. They wrote the reason: ‘Violation of Spam policy’,” Pronin explains.
“I was shocked, because I didn’t violate anything of the kind. Therefore, I turned to Google with the first appeal, so that they could clarify the situation, and also figure out that I didn’t violate the spam policy.”
It turned out that Google wasn’t interested in reconsidering its position.
Status of app LibreTorrent (org.proninyaroslav.libretorrent): Suspended from Google Play due to policy violation.
I’ve reviewed your appeal request and found that your app still violates Google Play Policy. During review, we found that your app violates the policy for Spam. We don’t allow apps that spam users or Google Play, such as apps that are duplicative and low-quality.
“As I can think, this was due to the fact that there were many LibreTorrent clones on Google Play and Google just uninstalled all the apps without understanding the essence of what was happening,” he says, commenting on the app’s deletion from Google Play.
Pronin informs TorrentFreak that thus far, Google has only responded to him once, informing him of the reason for deletion. He says he sent information confirming him as the developer of the original LibreTorrent but that achieved nothing.
“I filed an appeal, but in response I was told that they can not help in any way and the only option is to rename the application and lay it out again,” he explains.
Completely renaming an app and losing an established brand seems a draconian measure to force on a developer. Sadly, it may be that other developers who took LibreTorrent’s source and decided to abuse it may be to blame.
“Since 2016, a lot of LibreTorrent clones have appeared on Google Play. I understand that LibreTorrent is open source, but those who published these clones on Google Play didn’t modify the source code,” he says.
“They only added ads and changed the name of the application. Yes, there were authoring developments based on LibreTorrent, but there are much fewer of them than clones with advertising. Most of the clones were removed last year at my request, but they appear again and again.
“Google just decided that LibreTorrent is an application with non-original content, as many LibreTorrent clones are located on Google Play. It’s also possible that the author of one of the clones filed a complaint for the removal of the original LibreTorrent. We can only guess about it.”
Pronin is understandably upset and disappointed with Google. He says that the company has made no effort to understand the situation yet, meanwhile, leaves up actually malicious software for download until someone complains.
More importantly for him, however, is that with the removal of LibreTorrent, fewer people overall will learn about Free Software. He acknowledges that Google services are both non-free and have privacy problems but getting the Free Software message out to as many people as possible was one of his key goals.
It’s also a shame since after a year in development, LibreTorrent 2.0 is almost ready for launch. The source code has been rewritten to increase stability and there are around 20 new features, including an updated UI.
Whether Google will eventually relent remains to be seen but in the meantime, anyone wanting to download LibreTorrent can do so here and here.
Researchers have discovered and revealed 146 vulnerabilities in various incarnations of Android smartphone firmware. The vulnerabilities were found by scanning the phones of 29 different Android makers, and each is unique to a particular phone or maker. They were found using automatic tools, and it is extremely likely that many of the vulnerabilities are not exploitable — making them bugs but not security concerns. There is no indication that any of these vulnerabilities were put there on purpose, although it is reasonable to assume that other organizations do this same sort of scanning and use the findings for attack. And since they’re firmware bugs, in many cases there is no ability to patch them.
xHelper is not interesting because of its infection mechanism; the user has to side-load an app onto his phone. It’s not interesting because of its payload; it seems to do nothing more than show unwanted ads. it’s interesting because of its persistence:
Furthermore, even if users spot the xHelper service in the Android operating system’s Apps section, removing it doesn’t work, as the trojan reinstalls itself every time, even after users perform a factory reset of the entire device.
How xHelper survives factory resets is still a mystery; however, both Malwarebytes and Symantec said xHelper doesn’t tamper with system services system apps. In addition, Symantec also said that it was “unlikely that Xhelper comes preinstalled on devices.”
In some cases, users said that even when they removed the xHelper service and then disabled the “Install apps from unknown sources” option, the setting kept turning itself back on, and the device was reinfected in a matter of minutes after being cleaned.
We first began seeing Xhelper apps in March 2019. Back then, the malware’s code was relatively simple, and its main function was visiting advertisement pages for monetization purposes. The code has changed over time. Initially, the malware’s ability to connect to a C&C server was written directly into the malware itself, but later this functionality was moved to an encrypted payload, in an attempt to evade signature detection. Some older variants included empty classes that were not implemented at the time, but the functionality is now fully enabled. As described previously, Xhelper’s functionality has expanded drastically in recent times.
We strongly believe that the malware’s source code is still a work in progress.
It’s a weird piece of malware. That level of persistence speaks to a nation-state actor. The continuous evolution of the malware implies an organized actor. But sending unwanted ads is far too noisy for any serious use. And the infection mechanism is pretty random. I just don’t know.
China is being blamed for a massive surveillance operation that targeted Uyghur Muslims. This story broke in waves, the first wave being about the iPhone.
Earlier this year, Google’s Project Zero found a series of websites that have been using zero-day vulnerabilities to indiscriminately install malware on iPhones that would visit the site. (The vulnerabilities were patched in iOS 12.1.4, released on February 7.)
Earlier this year Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) discovered a small collection of hacked websites. The hacked sites were being used in indiscriminate watering hole attacks against their visitors, using iPhone 0-day.
There was no target discrimination; simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack your device, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant. We estimate that these sites receive thousands of visitors per week.
TAG was able to collect five separate, complete and unique iPhone exploit chains, covering almost every version from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12. This indicated a group making a sustained effort to hack the users of iPhones in certain communities over a period of at least two years.
This upends pretty much everything we know about iPhone hacking. We believed that it was hard. We believed that effective zero-day exploits cost $2M or $3M, and were used sparinglyby governments only against high-value targets. We believed that if an exploit was used too frequently, it would be quickly discovered and patched.
None of that is true here. This operation used fourteen zero-days exploits. It used them indiscriminately. And it remained undetected for two years. (I waited before posting this because I wanted to see if someone would rebut this story, or explain it somehow.)
Google’s announcement left out of details, like the URLs of the sites delivering the malware. That omission meant that we had no idea who was behind the attack, although the speculation was that it was a nation-state.
So now this is a story of a large, expensive, indiscriminate, Chinese-run surveillance operation against an ethnic minority in their country. And the politics will overshadow the tech. But the tech is still really impressive.
According to the company, starting today, a zero-click (no user interaction) exploit chain for Android can get hackers and security researchers up to $2.5 million in rewards. A similar exploit chain impacting iOS is worth only $2 million.
EDITED TO ADD (9/6): Apple disputes some of the claims Google made about the extent of the vulnerabilities and the attack.
Many governments around the world regularly complain that their countries are negatively affected by piracy. The only thing that differs is how seriously the problem is treated on the ground and how far they’re prepared to go in order to deal with unlicensed consumption.
There are many strategies available but the government in Malaysia is currently considering something unheard of anywhere on the planet. While it hasn’t shied away from ordering ISPs to block pirate sites, it now wants to hit consumers of content too, specifically those using Android-style set-top boxes.
Malaysia already has legislation in place which typically requires such devices to comply with national standards, with the Standard and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM) responsible for product quality assurance and subsequent certification.
Without certification from SIRIM, devices are considered illegal and those found in breach of the rules could be fined or handed up to six months in prison. This is a big deal because many imported devices, which are often used for piracy purposes, do not have the necessary certification. But Malaysia is now planning to step things up another notch.
The mission of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) is sometimes compared to that of the MPAA in the US. Unlike the MPAA, however, FINAS is a government department within the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia. Its chairman, Datuk Hans Isaac, says that it’s time to hold the public accountable for piracy.
“I’m putting a paper together to propose that the owner of the house is responsible for the use of illegal Android TV boxes,” he said at the Fast Track 2019 Creative Digital Economy Forum in Cyberjaya.
In the United States, Europe and elsewhere it’s not uncommon for copyright trolls to blame Internet subscribers (often the homeowner) for Internet piracy. However, it seems that FINAS wants to take things a whole lot further by placing the responsibility for piracy on those who may be innocent and/or completely absent.
“It doesn’t matter if the person is renting the house to another person who bought the device,” the FINAS chairman clarified.
According to The Star, FINAS is planning to set up a “war room” at its offices to deal with online piracy. It’s unclear how the department will obtain the ability to determine whether citizens are using pirate boxes in their homes (or indeed someone else’s home) but the department is certainly talking tough.
“[The war room is] where we will discuss what to do when we receive reports about digital piracy so we can take action immediately,” Hans said. “A day of the content being illegally streamed online is a loss of income for the investors or stakeholders.”
Media and entertainment company KRU Studios is a supporter of government proposals to target consumers who support online piracy.
“What the industry expects of the government now is to address the real problem, not just the pirates online. It is high time that the users are also punished. What is illegal offline, should be illegal online too,” says executive president Datuk Norman Abdul Halim.
Norman believes that when tackling the problem, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) should consider restricting Internet access to those who utilize pirate services.
Again, it remains unclear how the government could determine who these people are. The main problem cited isn’t easily-trackable BitTorrent users but those who frequent streaming sites, portals, and other services.
The MCMC, which earlier this year claimed to have blocked 246 sites supplying pirate boxes, also supports a change in the law, noting that it has already expended a lot of its resources dealing with piracy.
However, according to recent reports, the MCMC has also been spending its money where it shouldn’t, including “donating” around US$24,000 to buy 50,000 copies of former prime minister Najib Razak’s books.
Criminals in 2017 managed to get an advanced backdoor preinstalled on Android devices before they left the factories of manufacturers, Google researchers confirmed on Thursday.
Triada first came to light in 2016 in articles published by Kaspersky here and here, the first of which said the malware was “one of the most advanced mobile Trojans” the security firm’s analysts had ever encountered. Once installed, Triada’s chief purpose was to install apps that could be used to send spam and display ads. It employed an impressive kit of tools, including rooting exploits that bypassed security protections built into Android and the means to modify the Android OS’ all-powerful Zygote process. That meant the malware could directly tamper with every installed app. Triada also connected to no fewer than 17 command and control servers.
In July 2017, security firm Dr. Web reported that its researchers had found Triada built into the firmware of several Android devices, including the Leagoo M5 Plus, Leagoo M8, Nomu S10, and Nomu S20. The attackers used the backdoor to surreptitiously download and install modules. Because the backdoor was embedded into one of the OS libraries and located in the system section, it couldn’t be deleted using standard methods, the report said.
On Thursday, Google confirmed the Dr. Web report, although it stopped short of naming the manufacturers. Thursday’s report also said the supply chain attack was pulled off by one or more partners the manufacturers used in preparing the final firmware image used in the affected devices.
This is a supply chain attack. It seems to be the work of criminals, but it could just as easily have been a nation-state.
BuzzFeed is reporting on a scheme where fraudsters buy legitimate Android apps, track users’ behavior in order to mimic it in a way that evades bot detectors, and then uses bots to perpetuate an ad-fraud scheme.
After being provided with a list of the apps and websites connected to the scheme, Google investigated and found that dozens of the apps used its mobile advertising network. Its independent analysis confirmed the presence of a botnet driving traffic to websites and apps in the scheme. Google has removed more than 30 apps from the Play store, and terminated multiple publisher accounts with its ad networks. Google said that prior to being contacted by BuzzFeed News it had previously removed 10 apps in the scheme and blocked many of the websites. It continues to investigate, and published a blog post to detail its findings.
The company estimates this operation stole close to $10 million from advertisers who used Google’s ad network to place ads in the affected websites and apps. It said the vast majority of ads being placed in these apps and websites came via other major ad networks.
Lots of details in both the BuzzFeed and the Google links.
The Internet advertising industry is rife with fraud, at all levels. This is just one scheme among many.
Intercepter-NG is a multi functional network toolkit including an Android app for hacking, the main purpose is to recover interesting data from the network stream and perform different kinds of MiTM attacks.
Specifically referring to Intercepter-NG Console Edition which works on a range of systems including NT, Linux, BSD, MacOSX, IOS and Android.
The Windows version is the one with the most powerful feature-set, but the Android app is fairly handy too.
Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”
That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.
For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like “chocolate chip cookies,” or “kids science kits,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude - accurate to the square foot - and save it to your Google account.
On the one hand, this isn’t surprising to technologists. Lots of applications use location data. On the other hand, it’s very surprising — and counterintuitive — to everyone else. And that’s why this is a problem.
I don’t think we should pick on Google too much, though. Google is a symptom of the bigger problem: surveillance capitalism in general. As long as surveillance is the business model of the Internet, things like this are inevitable.
Hey folks, Rob here with good news about the latest edition of The MagPi! Issue 71, out right now, is all about running Android on Raspberry Pi with the help of emteria.OS and Android Things.
Android and Raspberry Pi, two great tastes that go great together!
Android and Raspberry Pi
A big part of our main feature looks at emteria.OS, a version of Android that runs directly on the Raspberry Pi. By running it on a touchscreen setup, you can use your Pi just like an Android tablet — one that’s easily customisable and hackable for all your embedded computing needs. Inside the issue, we’ve got a special emteria.OS discount code for readers.
We also look at Android Things, the official Android release for Raspberry Pi that focuses on IoT applications, and we show you some of the amazing projects that have been built with it.
On top of that, we’ve included guides on how to get started with TensorFlow AI and on building an oscilloscope.
We really loved this card scanning project! Read all about it in issue 71.
All this, along with our usual varied selection of project showcases, excellent tutorials, and definitive reviews!
Get The MagPi 71
You can get The MagPi 71 today from WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda. If you live in the US, head over to your local Barnes & Noble or Micro Center in the next few days for a print copy. You can also get the new issue online from our store, or digitally via our Android or iOS apps. And don’t forget, there’s always the free PDF as well.
New subscription offer!
Want to support the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the magazine? We’ve launched a new way to subscribe to the print version of The MagPi: you can now take out a monthly £4 subscription to the magazine, effectively creating a rolling pre-order system that saves you money on each issue.
You can also take out a twelve-month print subscription and get a Pi Zero W plus case and adapter cables absolutely free! This offer does not currently have an end date.
Internet censors have a new strategy in their bid to block applications and websites: pressuring the large cloud providers that host them. These providers have concerns that are much broader than the targets of censorship efforts, so they have the choice of either standing up to the censors or capitulating in order to maximize their business. Today’s Internet largely reflects the dominance of a handful of companies behind the cloud services, search engines and mobile platforms that underpin the technology landscape. This new centralization radically tips the balance between those who want to censor parts of the Internet and those trying to evade censorship. When the profitable answer is for a software giant to acquiesce to censors’ demands, how long can Internet freedom last?
The recent battle between the Russian government and the Telegram messaging app illustrates one way this might play out. Russia has been trying to block Telegram since April, when a Moscow court banned it after the company refused to give Russian authorities access to user messages. Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, works on both iPhone and Android, and there are Windows and Mac desktop versions available. The app offers optional end-to-end encryption, meaning that all messages are encrypted on the sender’s phone and decrypted on the receiver’s phone; no part of the network can eavesdrop on the messages.
Since then, Telegram has been playing cat-and-mouse with the Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor by varying the IP address the app uses to communicate. Because Telegram isn’t a fixed website, it doesn’t need a fixed IP address. Telegram bought tens of thousands of IP addresses and has been quickly rotating through them, staying a step ahead of censors. Cleverly, this tactic is invisible to users. The app never sees the change, or the entire list of IP addresses, and the censor has no clear way to block them all.
A week after the court ban, Roskomnadzor countered with an unprecedented move of its own: blocking19million IP addresses, many on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The collateral damage was widespread: The action inadvertently broke many other web services that use those platforms, and Roskomnadzor scaled back after it became clear that its action had affected services critical for Russian business. Even so, the censor is still blocking millions of IP addresses.
More recently, Russia has been pressuring Apple not to offer the Telegram app in its iPhone App Store. As of this writing, Apple has not complied, and the company has allowed Telegram to download a critical software update to iPhone users (after what the app’s founder called a delay last month). Roskomnadzor could further pressure Apple, though, including by threatening to turn off its entire iPhone app business in Russia.
Telegram might seem a weird app for Russia to focus on. Those of us who work in security don’t recommend the program, primarily because of the nature of its cryptographic protocols. In general, proprietary cryptography has numerous fatal security flaws. We generallyrecommendSignal for secure SMS messaging, or, if having that program on your computer is somehow incriminating, WhatsApp. (More than 1.5 billion people worldwide use WhatsApp.) What Telegram has going for it is that it works really well on lousy networks. That’s why it is so popular in places like Iran and Afghanistan. (Iran is also trying to ban the app.)
What the Russian government doesn’t like about Telegram is its anonymous broadcast feature — channel capability and chats — which makes it an effective platform for political debate and citizen journalism. The Russians might not like that Telegram is encrypted, but odds are good that they can simply break the encryption. Telegram’s role in facilitating uncontrolled journalism is the real issue.
Iran attempts to block Telegram have been more successful than Russia’s, less because Iran’s censorship technology is more sophisticated but because Telegram is not willing to go as far to defend Iranian users. The reasons are not rooted in business decisions. Simply put, Telegram is a Russian product and the designers are more motivated to poke Russia in the eye. Pavel Durov, Telegram’s founder, has pledged millions of dollars to help fight Russian censorship.
For the moment, Russia has lost. But this battle is far from over. Russia could easily come back with more targeted pressure on Google, Amazon and Apple. A year earlier, Zello used the same trick Telegram is using to evade Russian censors. Then, Roskomnadzor threatened to block all of Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud; and in that instance, both companies forced Zello to stop its IP-hopping censorship-evasion tactic.
Russia could also further develop its censorship infrastructure. If its capabilities were as finely honed as China’s, it would be able to more effectively block Telegram from operating. Right now, Russia can block only specific IP addresses, which is too coarse a tool for this issue. Telegram’s voice capabilities in Russia are significantly degraded, however, probably because high-capacity IP addresses are easier to block.
Whatever its current frustrations, Russia might well win in the long term. By demonstrating its willingness to suffer the temporary collateral damage of blocking major cloud providers, it prompted cloud providers to block another and more effective anti-censorship tactic, or at least accelerated the process. In April, Google and Amazon banned — and technically blocked — the practice of “domain fronting,” a trick anti-censorship tools use to get around Internet censors by pretending to be other kinds of traffic. Developers would use popular websites as a proxy, routing traffic to their own servers through another website — in this case Google.com — to fool censors into believing the traffic was intended for Google.com. The anonymous web-browsing tool Tor has used domain fronting since 2014. Signal, since 2016. Eliminating the capability is a boon to censors worldwide.
Tech giants have gotten embroiled in censorship battles for years. Sometimes they fight and sometimes they fold, but until now there have always been options. What this particular fight highlights is that Internet freedom is increasingly in the hands of the world’s largest Internet companies. And while freedom may have its advocates — the American Civil Liberties Union has tweeted its support for those companies, and some 12,000 people in Moscow protested against the Telegram ban — actions such as disallowing domain fronting illustrate that getting the big tech companies to sacrifice their near-term commercial interests will be an uphill battle. Apple has already removed anti-censorship apps from its Chinese app store.
In 1993, John Gilmore famously said that “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” That was technically true when he said it but only because the routing structure of the Internet was so distributed. As centralization increases, the Internet loses that robustness, and censorship by governments and companies becomes easier.
Hey folks, Rob here! It’s the last Thursday of the month, and that means it’s time for a brand-new The MagPi. Issue 70 is all about home automation using your favourite microcomputer, the Raspberry Pi.
Home automation in this month’s The MagPi!
Raspberry Pi home automation
We think home automation is an excellent use of the Raspberry Pi, hiding it around your house and letting it power your lights and doorbells and…fish tanks? We show you how to do all of that, and give you some excellent tips on how to add even more automation to your home in our ten-page cover feature.
Upcycle your life
Our other big feature this issue covers upcycling, the hot trend of taking old electronics and making them better than new with some custom code and a tactically placed Raspberry Pi. For this feature, we had a chat with Martin Mander, upcycler extraordinaire, to find out his top tips for hacking your old hardware.
Upcycling is a lot of fun
But wait, there’s more!
If for some reason you want even more content, you’re in luck! We have some fun tutorials for you to try, like creating a theremin and turning a Babbage into an IoT nanny cam. We also continue our quest to make a video game in C++. Our project showcase is headlined by the Teslonda on page 28, a Honda/Tesla car hybrid that is just wonderful.
We review PiBorg’s latest robot
All this comes with our definitive reviews and the community section where we celebrate you, our amazing community! You’re all good beans
An amazing, and practical, Raspberry Pi project
Get The MagPi 70
Issue 70 is available today from WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda. If you live in the US, head over to your local Barnes & Noble or Micro Center in the next few days for a print copy. You can also get the new issue online from our store, or digitally via our Android and iOS apps. And don’t forget, there’s always the free PDF as well.
New subscription offer!
Want to support the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the magazine? We’ve launched a new way to subscribe to the print version of The MagPi: you can now take out a monthly £4 subscription to the magazine, effectively creating a rolling pre-order system that saves you money on each issue.
You can also take out a twelve-month print subscription and get a Pi Zero W plus case and adapter cables absolutely free! This offer does not currently have an end date.
Over the past several years, anyone looking for a piracy-configured set-top box could do worse than search for one on Amazon or eBay.
Historically, people deploying search terms including “Kodi” or “fully-loaded” were greeted by page after page of Android-type boxes, each ready for illicit plug-and-play entertainment consumption following delivery.
Although the problem persists on both platforms, people are now much less likely to find infringing devices than they were 12 to 24 months ago. Under pressure from entertainment industry groups, both Amazon and eBay have tightened the screws on sellers of such devices. Now, however, both companies have received requests to stem sales from a completetey different direction.
In a letter to eBay CEO Devin Wenig and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first spotted by Ars, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly calls on the platforms to take action against piracy-configured boxes that fail to comply with FCC equipment authorization requirements or falsely display FCC logos, contrary to United States law.
“Disturbingly, some rogue set-top box manufacturers and distributors are exploiting the FCC’s trusted logo by fraudulently placing it on devices that have not been approved via the Commission’s equipment authorization process,” O’Rielly’s letter reads.
“Specifically, nine set-top box distributors were referred to the FCC in October for enabling the unlawful streaming of copyrighted material, seven of which displayed the FCC logo, although there was no record of such compliance.”
While O’Rielly admits that the copyright infringement aspects fall outside the jurisdiction of the FCC, he says it’s troubling that many of these devices are used to stream infringing content, “exacerbating the theft of billions of dollars in American innovation and creativity.”
As noted above, both Amazon and eBay have taken steps to reduce sales of pirate boxes on their respective platforms on copyright infringement grounds, something which is duly noted by O’Rielly. However, he points out that devices continue to be sold to members of the public who may believe that the devices are legal since they’re available for sale from legitimate companies.
“For these reasons, I am seeking your further cooperation in assisting the FCC in taking steps to eliminate the non-FCC compliant devices or devices that fraudulently bear the FCC logo,” the Commissioner writes (pdf).
“Moreover, if your company is made aware by the Commission, with supporting evidence, that a particular device is using a fraudulent FCC label or has not been appropriately certified and labeled with a valid FCC logo, I respectfully request that you commit to swiftly removing these products from your sites.”
In the event that Amazon and eBay take action under this request, O’Rielly asks both platforms to hand over information they hold on offending manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers.
Amazon was quick to respond to the FCC. In a letter published by Ars, Amazon’s Public Policy Vice President Brian Huseman assured O’Rielly that the company is not only dedicated to tackling rogue devices on copyright-infringement grounds but also when there is fraudulent use of the FCC’s logos.
Noting that Amazon is a key member of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) – a group that has been taking legal action against sellers of infringing streaming devices (ISDs) and those who make infringing addons for Kodi-type systems – Huseman says that dealing with the problem is a top priority.
“Our goal is to prevent the sale of ISDs anywhere, as we seek to protect our customers from the risks posed by these devices, in addition to our interest in protecting Amazon Studios content,” Huseman writes.
“In 2017, Amazon became the first online marketplace to prohibit the sale of streaming media players that promote or facilitate piracy. To prevent the sale of these devices, we proactively scan product listings for signs of potentially infringing products, and we also invest heavily in sophisticated, automated real-time tools to review a variety of data sources and signals to identify inauthentic goods.
“These automated tools are supplemented by human reviewers that conduct manual investigations. When we suspect infringement, we take immediate action to remove suspected listings, and we also take enforcement action against sellers’ entire accounts when appropriate.”
Huseman also reveals that since implementing a proactive policy against such devices, “tens of thousands” of listings have been blocked from Amazon. In addition, the platform has been making criminal referrals to law enforcement as well as taking civil action (1,2,3) as part of ACE.
“As noted in your letter, we would also appreciate the opportunity to collaborate further with the FCC to remove non-compliant devices that improperly use the FCC logo or falsely claim FCC certification. If any FCC non-compliant devices are identified, we seek to work with you to ensure they are not offered for sale,” Huseman concludes.
As Internet-capable set-top boxes pour into homes across all populated continents, authorities seem almost powerless to come up with a significant response to the growing threat.
In standard form these devices, which are often Android-based, are entirely legal. However, when configured with specialist software they become piracy powerhouses providing access to all content imaginable, often at copyright holders’ expense.
A large proportion of these devices come from Asia, China in particular, but it’s relatively rare to hear of enforcement action in that part of the world. That changed this week with an announcement from Hong Kong customs detailing a series of raids in the areas of Sham Shui Po and Wan Chai.
After conducting an in-depth investigation with the assistance of copyright holders, on May 25 and 26 Customs and Excise officers launched Operation Trojan Horse, carrying out a series of raids on four premises selling suspected piracy-configured set-top boxes.
During the operation, officers arrested seven men and one woman aged between 18 and 45. Four of them were shop owners and the other four were salespeople. Around 354 suspected ‘pirate’ boxes were seized with an estimated market value of HK$320,000 (US$40,700).
“In the past few months, the department has stepped up inspections of hotspots for TV set-top boxes,” a statement from authorities reads.
“We have discovered that some shops have sold suspected illegal set-top boxes that bypass the copyright protection measures imposed by copyright holders of pay television programs allowing people to watch pay television programs for free.”
Some of the devices seized by Hong Kong Customs
During a press conference yesterday, a representative from the Customs Copyright and Trademark Investigations (Action) Division said that in the run up to the World Cup in 2018, measures against copyright infringement will be strengthened both on and online.
The announcement was welcomed by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia’s (CASBAA) Coalition Against Piracy, which is back by industry heavyweights including Disney, Fox, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Premier League, Turner Asia-Pacific, A&E Networks, Astro, BBC Worldwide, National Basketball Association, TV5MONDE, Viacom International, and others.
“We commend the great work of Hong Kong Customs in clamping down on syndicates who profit from the sale of Illicit Streaming Devices,” said General Manager Neil Gane.
“The prevalence of ISDs in Hong Kong and across South East Asia is staggering. The criminals who sell ISDs, as well as those who operate the ISD networks and pirate websites, are profiting from the hard work of talented creators, seriously damaging the legitimate content ecosystem as well as exposing consumers to dangerous malware.”
Malware warnings are very prevalent these days but it’s not something the majority of set-top box owners have a problem with. Indeed, a study carried by Sycamore Research found that pirates aren’t easily deterred by such warnings.
Nevertheless, there are definite risks for individuals selling devices when they’re configured for piracy.
Recent cases, particularly in the UK, have shown that hefty jail sentences can hit offenders while over in the United States (1,2,3), lawsuits filed by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) have the potential to end in unfavorable rulings for multiple defendants.
Although rarely reported, offenders in Hong Kong also face stiff sentences for this kind of infringement including large fines and custodial sentences of up to four years.
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