Before I get started, I just want to say how shocked and sad I am about the death of Bernie Mac. It's one thing when comedians like Rodney Dangerfield die who hit their prime before your time, but Bernie Mac has been getting better and better in recent years (especially loved him in Ocean's Thirteen). I know there's no chance his family reads by small-time blog, but my condolences still go out to them.
Apple's Secret URL
Apple always encourages so much positive buzz for the iPhone and enough people like it that I feel it's my duty to do my duty to help Apple down a notch. The most alarming thing I came across is that a developer (and book writer) discovered a URL built into the iPhone OS that lets Apple see what apps are installed on your phone and delete them, if they're on a blacklist. This is probably for security reasons (Apple claims that it's to protect your privacy), but this is kind of a privacy breach, I think. Plus, it's kind of shady that they weren't upfront about it. Their model of tight control doesn't translate well to phones, where smartphone users are not so used to having all these restrictions imposed on them. My Treo 650 may suck, but at least I can install what I want on it without it going through some approval process and I know that no one but me can get delete it. I wonder if they'd refund you the money for an application you bought and was subsequently deleted by them.
That's not the other iPhone 3G disappointment, there's also the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that is tying developers' hands behind their backs. Basically, developers of the iPhone applications are not allowed to get help from one another and, as with any new platform, they're running into plenty of issues that they're not allowed to tell anyone about or get help with. There's even a website dedicated to the frustration. I can't even begin to say how terrible a move this is. If you do this to the people the help make your phone a success, they're not going to do as well for your platform. The software quality will be degraded and they'll probably put more effort and churn out better products for competing platforms. The Blackberry OS really isn't that bed, and the Android is still on its way (though its relationship with developers also needs to improve), so Apple should really watch out.
PCs Get Even Cheaper Than Macs
While I'm taking pot shots at apple, how about one more? When I got this computer, it was my first (and still my only) Vista machine, and the more I used it the more I realized that you can do everyone on a PC that you can on a Mac (I played around with Macs a lot in the Spring when doing my Net Neutrality movie). The biggest difference between a Mac and a PC, besides the interface style, is the price, and that difference has gotten even bigger. You can get an Inspiron with comparable hardware to an iMac for more than $400 less. Apple brings in the big bucks with high profit margins on their hardware, especially with absurd margins on RAM. So think twice the next time you shop for a Mac.
I keep meaning to mention that the Department of Homeland Security has decided that it can conduct searches of laptops at borders without probable cause. As you can guess, I'm appalled by this. Think Progress articulates things better than I can, but the bottom line is that the difference between them searching your bags and searching your laptop is extremely sensitive data. For example, if they wanted to search my laptop then I'd either be sued for resisting or sued for letting them and giving free access to non-public Amazon.com data. Also, would your luggage contain your financial records or your personal photos? All it takes is one corrupt officer for people to get their identities stolen under the veil of a legal search without probable cause. If you're similarly appalled, then get involved.
I'm not sold on metering the Internet, which would be you paying for bandwidth based on how much content you download. You know how you have to pay for the minutes you use on your cell phone? Imagine having to do that for your Internet. Don't you hate shopping for cell phone plans that all seem like a rip off? I worry that it won't be as simple as a 5 GB limit per month, but rather would get more complicated like your phone bill is. Theoretically, it could be cheaper for most people because they don't use the Internet a whole lot, but if more people use less of the Internet then they'd probably end up paying the same as they do right now (due to the greed of the ISPs) while the rest of us would have to pay exorbitant rates. A lot of dorms have stuff like this and if you ask the students they'll tell you how much they hate it. As an example of the problem already starting, the NBC Olympics site warns you of consuming their content too much if your broadband is metered. Can you imagine monitoring how much video you watch on sites like YouTube or television networks so that you don't go over? I'm pretty surprised the Vint Cerf, the Father of the Internet, supports broadband caps.
Why would ISPs want to do this? Because all these years they've been making money by adding people to the same infrastructure, but now that people are starting to use the Internet more they didn't have the foresight to use their massive profits to improve their network and are trying to squeeze more money out of us. Frankly, I'm not biting on their whining that they need the money to boost innovation and crap like that, and I don't know why Cerf is either.
Google's offices in Mountain View have become the stuff of legend now for a lot of developers. The employees take a salary hit for the perks, but the principle is that it leads to higher productivity because the employees are happier and want to stay at work longer. Personally, I think it's a noble idea that Google has become a little too arrogant about, and staying at work for more than 40 hours a week isn't necessarily a good thing. Regardless, I can't argue that their campuses are pretty cool. I think if Amazon dropped that kind of cash on its campus the customers would feel like they weren't getting the best prices on products and a competitor would cut corners to drop their prices even lower, but Google has no such problem with plenty of eyes (for now, at least) on their search engine.
The point of all this is really just a pictorial of their offices around their world, which I had no idea there were so many of (I don't know how they operate with so many offices like that, but I'm sure they're good at it). They've definitely got some style, and I think my favorite office is in Zurich:
Most Bank Sites Insecure
A study from the University of Michigan has revealed something that most security experts probably already knew: the majority of websites for banks are not quite secure. A shocking half of the banks observed did not transmit login information over SSL, which means that an eavesdropper could see what you were sending to your bank and while you probably weren't transmitting your user name and password in plaintext it would probably leave you vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack or a similar attack since the "bank" doesn't have to verify its identity to you. Another big no-no is redirecting users to outside sites without warning. If you get redirected somewhere while banking online, be very afraid and call your bank's support immediately. Anyway, the study is an interesting read and will probably make you pretty paranoid about checking your bank statements for strange activity. I don't know what a better alternative would be since it seems like no matter how you bank you're susceptible to fraud and identity theft (eavesdropping at a branch, mail tampering, phone taps, etc), but hopefully more banks will ramp up their online security.
Just a couple of quick things before I sign off here. Facebook has re-designed their site and I actually like it. I'm usually pretty hard on them, but this actually shows some understanding of the clutter that the site has been accumulating and takes a stab at organizing things intuitively.
The other thing is that Olympus and Panasonic are working on developing smaller SLRs (the big, high-end cameras that produce excellent quality pictures and are designed for pros) so that more people can use them. I would personally love an SLR, but I'm too used to the convenience of an ultracompact (my PowerShot Digital ELPH).
I'm going to finish watching Black Snake Moan (an excellent movie so far) and hit the sack (I finally got a bedding set!). Have a great week, everyone!
Security Now 655: Pwn2Own 2018
6 hours ago