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Microsoft defends itself in the growing attacks on Windows 8

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May 12, 2013

Like just about any other company that cares about its products or the kind of corporate image that its products generate, Microsoft does appreciate some kind of feedback from its customers and the people that use its software.

And that's a good thing. Of course, sometimes this can go a bit out of hand, like it did a few days ago.

Frank Shaw, corporate vice president of corporate communications at Microsoft said this week-- "There is a trend to the extreme."

He was commenting on some of the harsh attacks that the software giant received in relation to Windows 8 and its negative reviews.

Of course, to say that this is the first time we see something like this in relation to a Microsoft product would be a lie. It's not the first time and it sure won't be the last either.

And here's what Shaw added-- "People who want to stand out, opt for sensationalism and hyperbole over nuanced analysis. In this world where page views are currency, heat is often more valued than light. Stark black-and-white caricatures are sometimes more valued than shades-of-gray reality."

After all, his point is well taken. Let's all pause here for a minute and consider the center-stage. In the middle, selling 100 million copies of a product is a good thing. And listening to feedback and improving a product is also a good thing.

So how "extreme" has the criticism been? The Financial Times said the upcoming changes to Windows 8 mark one of the most prominent admissions of failure for a new mass-market consumer product since Coca-Cola's New Coke fiasco nearly 30 years ago."

And the Economist also attacked Microsoft, saying "restoring the Start button will not restore Microsoft to its former glory."

And market research firm IDC recently said-- "There were certain decisions that Microsoft made that were in retrospect flawed. Notably not allowing people to boot into desktop mode and taking away the Start button. Those two things have come up consistently. We've done some research and people miss that."

And IDC continued over the following months to be critical as PC sales stalled. Especially when first-quarter global computer shipments dropped 14 percent from the previous year, much worse than IDC's forecast for a 7.7 percent decline.

It's not like a Start button function is completely absent in Windows 8. For example, the Windows key plus "x" brings up a menu similar to the Start button, replete with a search option. And getting to the Windows 8 desktop is only a matter of clicking "Desktop" on the Metro screen.

Still, if Microsoft got so much criticism in such little time, maybe it's time that it starts paying more attention to what it's customers and users are saying. After all, consumers do have options: Linux or the iMac. Let the people choose what they think is best and let them buy what they like.

In other mobile news

Dish Network is in a heated fight with Japanese wireless carrier SoftBank over whose bid is the best value for Sprint.

However, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen seems very confident that his company has other options for breaking into the wireless industry should Dish lose out.

During Dish’s first quarter conference call late yesterday, Ergen suggested that Dish could simply partner with someone else in the wireless industry, sell its mobile spectrum or just sell the company outright.

Following a somewhat disappointing first quarter report that saw customer growth slowing for the satellite-TV provider, Dish’s urgency to diversify its offerings can only be intensifying.

Worse, the AWS spectrum Dish acquired last year carries an FCC-stipulated time restraint. Dish must deploy wireless services on its 20 MHz spectrum which covers about 40 percent of the U.S. within four years, and 70 percent of the country by 2019.

Building a wireless network from scratch could prove too costly and time-consuming for Dish, which makes Sprint an attractive partner for Dish.

Dish’s wireless spectrum lies just above 2 GHz, close enough to be nearly contiguous with the 1900 MHz PCS band in which Sprint is deploying its LTE network.

During the FCC approval process for allowing Dish to deploy a terrestrial network on its AWS spectrum, Sprint contested Dish’s plans for its AWS spectrum for fear that it would interfere with its 1900 MHz G Block as well as with the H Block that could be auctioned off by the FCC in the future.

This week, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son argued that since his company has already deployed TD-LTE in 2.5 GHz, it would be a better suitor for Sprint seeing at Sprint stands to gain access to a lot of 2.5 GHz spectrum should its bid to buyout Clearwire go through.

Dish has repeatedly said in the past few weeks that the value of its $25.5 billion merger offer to Sprint in terms of a multi-play option, bundling wireless service and broadband with TV.

It’s still unclear who Dish could sell its wireless spectrum or its company to if its proposed Sprint merger goes by the wayside, or if any other suitors might be willing to partner with Dish in its efforts to snatch up Sprint from under SoftBank.

Meanwhile, Sprint shareholders are scheduled to vote on SoftBank’s bid by June 12. So between then and now, Sprint needs to decide if Dish is still a viable suitor.

In other mobile news

In the last six to eight weeks, Apple has received several hundred police demands to decrypt seized iPhones. And now Apple has created a sort of waiting list to handle the flood of requests, and the problem is growing rapidly.

Specific court documents reveal that federal agents were so mystified by the encrypted iPhone 4S of a Kentucky man accused of distributing crack cocaine that they turned to Apple for help in decrypting the device. An agent at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) "contacted Apple to obtain assistance in unlocking the device," U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell wrote in a recent opinion.

But, she added that the ATF was "placed on a waiting list by Apple." A search warrant affidavit prepared by ATF agent Rob Maynard says that, for nearly three months last summer, he "attempted to identify a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency with the forensic capabilities to unlock" an iPhone 4S.

But after each police agency responded by saying they "did not have the forensic capability," Maynard resorted to asking Apple.

Because the waiting list had grown so long, there would be at least a 7-week delay, Maynard says he was told by Joann Chang, a legal specialist in Apple's litigation group.

It's still unclear for now just how long the process took, but it appears to have been at least four months.

The court documents shed new light on the increasingly popular law enforcement practice of performing a forensic analysis on encrypted mobile devices-- a practice that can, when done without a warrant, raise Fourth Amendment concerns.

In 2012, leaked training materials prepared by the Sacramento sheriff's office included a form that would require Apple to "assist law enforcement agents" with "bypassing the cell phone user's passcode so that the agents may search the iPhone."

Google takes a more privacy-protective approach: it "resets the password and further provides the reset password to law enforcement," the materials say, which has the side effect of notifying the user that his or her cell phone has been compromised.

Ginger Colbrun, ATF's public affairs chief says that "ATF cannot discuss the specifics of ongoing investigations or litigation. ATF follows federal law and DOJ/department-wide policy on access to all communication devices."

In a separate case in Nevada last year, federal agents acknowledged to a judge that they were having trouble examining a seized iPhone and iPad because of password and encryption issues. And the Drug Enforcement Administration has been stymied by encryption used in Apple's iMessage chat service, according to an internal document.

The ATF's Maynard said in an affidavit for the Kentucky case that Apple "has the capabilities to bypass the security software" and "download the contents of the phone to an external memory device."

Chang, the Apple legal specialist, told him that "once the Apple analyst bypasses the password, the data will be downloaded onto a USB external drive" and delivered to the ATF.

It's not clear whether that means Apple has created a backdoor for police, which has been the topic of speculation in the past, whether the company has custom hardware that's faster at decryption, or whether it simply is more skilled at using the same procedures available to the U.S. government.

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Apple declined to discuss its law enforcement policies when contacted this week. Mobile device users should take this as a warning that Google and Apple can provide access to data stored on an encrypted device at least in some circumstances, says Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

"That is something that I don't think most people realize," Soghoian says. "Even if you turn on disk encryption with a password, these firms can and will provide the government with a way to get your data anyway. So decryption in such cases is simply futile."

An August 2012 article in MIT Technology Review by Simson Garfinkel, an associate professor at the U.S. military's Naval Postgraduate School, says that "Apple customers' content is so well-protected that often it's impossible for law enforcement to perform forensic examinations of devices seized from criminals."

Of course, that depends largely on the length of the passphrase or password that someone selects to protect a modern iOS device. Because the original iPhone and iPhone 3G did not use hardware encryption, they were protected only by a passcode that could be easily bypassed, which is not the case of the iPhone 4 and higher versions.

Elcomsoft claims that its iOS Forensic Toolkit can perform a brute-force cryptographic attack on a four-digit iOS 4 or iOS 5 passcode in just twenty to forty minutes. "Complex passcodes can be recovered, but require more time," the company's marketing literature says. But the iPhone 5 doesn't appear in Elcomsoft's list of devices that can be targeted.

Garfinkel estimates that if a user chooses a six-digit passcode, the maximum time required to guess the number would be 22 hours, while a nine-digit PIN would require two and a half years. A 10-digit PIN would take 25 years. Average times, of course, cut those maximum brute-force durations in half, and that could be whittled down much further if it's possible to guess PINs a suspect is more likely to use.

The Kentucky case began when the defendant, 24-year old Mark Edmond Brown, was spotted by Lexington cops smoking the tires of a black Ford F-450 at 3 am behind Tolly-Ho, a 24-hour restaurant on South Broadway known for its quarter-pound burgers.

Lexington police say they approached the truck and noticed two pistols in his lap-- a .40-caliber Taurus and a .357-caliber Glock and recorded the serial numbers before returning them to him.

The next day, police chased a black Cadillac Deville and, when the driver stopped and fled, they say they recovered the same Glock handgun they previously spotted in Brown's possession.

Judge Caldwell granted Brown's request to suppress the results from a search of his earlier phone during the Speedway gas station arrest, in which police copied down the contact list from his phone without a warrant.

But Caldwell would not throw out the results from the federal arrest and search conducted with a warrant-- "The court finds nothing in the record to demonstrate any evidence of bad faith or unnecessary delay in procuring assistance from Apple to unlock the phone."

Lawton pleaded guilty last year to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Brown signed a written agreement last month pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute less than five kilograms of crack cocaine.

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Source: MNT.

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