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This week, as revelations about the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) spying continued to unfold, Ryan Gallagher brought us an article about the types of hardware that agencies outside of the NSA use to gather information from mobile devices. These agencies, which include local law enforcement as well as federal groups like the FBI and the DEA, use highly specialized equipment to gain information about a target. Still, the details about that hardware is largely kept secret from the public. Gallagher summed up what the public knows (and brought to light a few lesser-known facts) in his article, Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data.

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Fnord666 writes with this excerpt from Tech Crunch "Twitter has enabled Perfect Forward Secrecy across its mobile site, website and API feeds in order to protect against future cracking of the service's encryption. The PFS method ensures that, if the encryption key Twitter uses is cracked in the future, all of the past data transported through the network does not become an open book right away. 'If an adversary is currently recording all Twitter users' encrypted traffic, and they later crack or steal Twitter's private keys, they should not be able to use those keys to decrypt the recorded traffic,' says Twitter's Jacob Hoffman-Andrews. 'As the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, this type of protection is increasingly important on today's Internet.'"

Of course, they are also using Elliptic Curve ciphers.

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin

greyweed

Recently discovered malware targeting Android smartphones exploits previously unknown vulnerabilities in the Google operating system and borrows highly advanced functionality more typical of malicious Windows applications, making it the world's most sophisticated Android Trojan, a security researcher said.

The infection, named Backdoor.AndroidOS.Obad.a, isn't very widespread at the moment. The malware gives an idea of the types of smartphone malware that are possible, however, according to Kaspersky Lab expert Roman Unuchek in a blog post published Thursday. Sharply contrasting with mostly rudimentary Android malware circulating today, the highly stealthy Obad.a exploits previously unknown Android bugs, uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections to spread to near-by handsets, and allows attackers to issue malicious commands using standard SMS text messages.

"To conclude this review, we would like to add that Backdoor.AndroidOS.Obad.a looks closer to Windows malware than to other Android trojans, in terms of its complexity and the number of unpublished vulnerabilities it exploits," Unuchek wrote. "This means that the complexity of Android malware programs is growing rapidly alongside their numbers."

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Original author: 
Sam Byford

Dscf0504_large

It's hard to remember life before we were bombarded with notifications throughout the day on all manner of devices, for everything from Twitter replies to earthquake alerts in Japan. With very few exceptions, though, these all have one limiting factor in common: you're relying on someone else's software to interpret data and relay it to you. What if you could program your own notifications from objects or conditions in your physical environment, set to tell you anything you want to know, when you need to know it?

That’s the proposition offered by Supermechanical's Twine, a small turquoise box crammed with sensors. Launched on Kickstarter last year, it takes standard accelerometers, thermometers, and other sensors, and fits them into...

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Original author: 
samzenpus

An anonymous reader writes "Facebook on Friday released its Android launcher called Home. The company also updated its Facebook app, adding in new permissions to allow it to collect data about the apps you are running. Facebook has set up Home to interface with the main Facebook app on Android to do all the work. In fact, the main Facebook app features all the required permissions letting the Home app meekly state: 'THIS APPLICATION REQUIRES NO SPECIAL PERMISSIONS TO RUN.' As such, it’s the Facebook app that’s doing all the information collecting. It’s unclear, however, if it will do so even if Facebook Home is not installed. Facebook may simply be declaring all the permissions the Home launcher requires, meaning the app only starts collecting data if Home asks it to."

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Malware used to spy on Tibetan activists and other ethnic groups in China is nothing new. But a new Trojan discovered by researchers at Kaspersky Labs has widened the scope of this digital espionage and intimidation. The malware uses a combination of e-mail hacking, "spear phishing," and a Trojan built specifically for Android smartphones. Kaspersky claims this is the first discovery of a targeted attack that uses mobile phone malware.

On March 25, the e-mail account of a Tibetan activist was hacked and then used to distribute Android malware to the activist's contact list. The e-mail's lure was a statement on the recent conference organized by the World Uyghur Congress that brought together Chinese democracy activists and Tibet, Southern Mongolia, and East Turkestan human rights activists. The e-mail claimed to have an attachment that was a joint letter from WUC, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, and the Society for Threatened Peoples. If the targets opened the attachment, however, they received malware packaged in an Android APK file.

When opened, the Trojan installs an app called "Conference" on the Android devices' desktops. If the app is launched, it displays a fake message from the chairman of the WUC—while sending back a message to a command and control server to report its successful installation. The malware provides a backdoor to the device via SMS messages sent by the server. On command, it returns the phone's contact lists, call logs, data about the smartphone, its geo-location data, and any SMS messages stored on it to a server via a Web POST upload.

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I’ll admit it: I still use a BlackBerry. I also use an iPhone and an Android phone, but I don’t mind being teased by friends when I need to crank out a long email in seconds, because the BlackBerry keyboard is still the best. My thumbs can speed along on its tactile keys without forcing me to look down as I walk, and it never makes an embarrassing word change using autocorrect.

But really, typing on glass keyboards — like those found on iPhones, Android phones and Windows Phones — should be much easier by now. This week I took a look at a few technologies that gave me hope.

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BlackBerry 10 | The keyboard on RIM’s newest smartphone will suggest words right on the keyboard; swipe up on a word to add it to a sentence.

I tested two apps for Android phones that use very different approaches: the $3.99 SwiftKey 3 by TouchType Ltd., which is available now, and Snapkeys Si by Snapkeys Ltd., which will be available free in the Google Play Store Jan. 16. (Apple doesn’t allow third-party companies to take over core features, like the keyboard, on devices running its iOS mobile operating system.) I also got to briefly try out the smart predictive keyboard technology on Research In Motion’s upcoming BlackBerry 10.

Of the two new apps, I had an easier time adjusting to SwiftKey 3, which uses a traditional on-screen keyboard and guesses what you’ll type next by using a predictive language algorithm. It also incorporates touch gestures, like a right-to-left swipe across the keyboard to delete the last word and left-to-right swipe from the period button to insert a question mark.

Snapkeys Si was a tougher adjustment: It abandons the traditional keyboard altogether, forcing users to type on just four squares that hold 12 letters; all other letters are produced by tapping in the blank space between these four squares. Like SwiftKey 3, it uses some swipe gestures, like a right-side diagonal swipe down to create a period. Snapkeys Si aims to solve fat-finger syndrome, giving people’s fingers bigger targets and guessing the words they mean to type.

The BlackBerry 10 is scheduled to be launched on Jan. 30. I got some hands-on time with its on-screen keyboard, and was impressed by its suggested words, which users can swipe up to throw into sentences. This is designed to make the device easy to use with one hand. The BlackBerry 10 keyboard also reads and learns exactly where a user taps each key to better predict which letter to type, so clumsy fingers make fewer mistakes.

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Snapkeys Si | The traditional QWERTY keyboard layout is abandoned in this app, replaced by just 12 letters displayed in four squares.

SwiftKey 3 for Android is an app that has a healthy understanding of how language is used in everyday conversation, and supports 54 languages, including variations like American, British and Australian English. Creator TouchType scraped Internet language data from around the world to understand how people speak in real-life situations — not by studying a dictionary. It then used this knowledge to create a predictive algorithm that guesses what you’re likely to type next, suggesting three options above the keyboard as you go.

This app can also detect where you meant to add a space, automatically adding it in for you. I found this feature to be a handy time saver as I typed since I could just keep going rather than stopping to tap the space key after each word.

During setup, SwiftKey 3 users can opt to give the app access to their Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and SMS interactions so that it can study a user’s language to further understand how the person talks. For example, if someone always preferred to spell “thanks” as “thx,” SwiftKey 3 would learn this behavior and add “thx” in as a word rather than continuously trying to correct it. A TouchType spokesman says later this year the company may add a feature allowing users to customize the app to write out complete words when they type abbreviations, like typing “abt” to get “about.”

For privacy purposes, the app only stores this data locally on your phone rather than sending it back to the company for making improvements. And you can erase the app’s personalized data at any time in Settings, Personalization, Clear Language Data.

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SwiftKey 3 | This app supports more than 50 languages, and remembers how you use words, like knowing to type ‘MacLaren’s’ above.

SwiftKey 3 is free for the first month, and then costs $3.99 to continue using it. The app will remember all of your custom language settings when you upgrade, so you don’t have to reteach it.

Snapkeys Si, made by Israeli startup Snapkeys, lets you see more of your smartphone screen while you’re typing by using just four squares containing 12 letters instead of the traditional keyboard. Although these bigger finger targets made it so I never accidentally typed the wrong square, it took me a while to get used to knowing where each letter was and which letters weren’t in squares at all.

Typing words with letters that aren’t in squares requires using the blank space in the middle of these squares. So to type the word “wish,” I’d find the first three letters in squares, selecting each of them. But the “h” isn’t in a square, so I’d tap the blank space between these squares. In the case of “wish,” Snapkeys Si got it right, but other words were more challenging to type, which frustrated me. Suggested words appear on the right side of the four squares, and tapping one of them adds it to a sentence. Once a new word is added to Snapkeys Si dictionary, it will be suggested from then on.

Like SwiftKey 3, Snapkeys Si only saves your personalized language settings on the phone.

The space key is to the right side of these four squares, and the backspace key is to the left. I added periods to the end of sentences by swiping diagonally down from right to left, and added commas by swiping diagonally down left to right.

Snapkeys Si is worth a try if you’re looking for a fresh alternative to traditional keyboards. But I found that it was a lot of work to learn after years of using the traditional QWERTY keyboard layout. The app is still in its beta, or first version, and the company says it will continue to improve.

Smart keyboard apps like SwiftKey 3, Snapkeys Si and others make typing on glass less painful and more intuitive. Just beware of the steep learning curve you may have to climb to start using them.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.

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Canonical

Ubuntu is coming to phones near the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014, as we reported earlier today. After the announcement, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth spoke to the media about why he thinks Ubuntu will be great on phones and, more specifically, why it will be better than Android.

Somewhat confusingly, Ubuntu has two phone projects. One of them is called "Ubuntu for Android," which allows Android smartphones to act as Ubuntu PCs when docked with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. The version of Ubuntu for phones announced today is just Ubuntu, no Android required, allowing devices to run Ubuntu in both the phone and PC form factor, with different interfaces optimized for the different screens. Canonical is keeping Ubuntu for Android around, even as it touts its own phone operating system as a better alternative.

The smartphone market is already dominated by iPhone and Android, with RIM losing prominence, Windows Phone making a charge at third place, and various other operating systems aiming for elusive name recognition. So why should carriers and handset makers warm to Ubuntu, and why should anyone buy an Ubuntu phone?

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