Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Chrome for Windows helps recover your browser from hijacking

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
samuel-zeller-336980.jpg

Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox are all mainstream browsers that work extra hard to keep you safe in cyberspace. Each company has taken a different approach, but users are more protected than ever before.

Nothing is foolproof though. What happens when badware gets through those defences and takes over your browser making your leisurely stroll through cyberspace painfully slow or dangerous by stealing your passwords?

In the latest version of Chrome for Windows, Google adds more tools to the arsenal. 

Hijacked settings 

Recently we have seen a surge in companies selling reputable browser extensions to other companies and these new owners leveraging the installed base to do bad things like stealthily changing your browser settings.

Chrome now looks out for this type of attack and offers to restore your settings. 

reset-prompt-screenshot.width-1000.png

Chrome cleanup

Many companies bundle crapware in their product installers as a source of additional revenue. In some cases, the user may not even be aware that the crapware was installed. 

Chrome cleanup looks for this type of attack and offers to clean up Chrome (thus returning Chrome to a known good state). 

Google redesigned Chrome cleanup to be more powerful and more straightforward to use.

Prompt_dialog.width-1000.png

Rolling out now

The new version will slowly roll out to users over the next few days and you will benefit from these improvements automagically. 

 

Google blog post

You're going to love the DuckDuckGo Terms of Service

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
duckduckgo.PNG

Terms of service are professionally written notices you agree to every time you use a new smartphone, install a new software or sign up for a new web service. Consumers are rightfully annoyed by 50+ page terms used by large companies.

Sometimes, you stumble on a company that has "good" terms of service in that they actually protect you (the consumer). This write up is about DuckDuckGo because I receive several dozen emails from readers every month asking if they really are a good alternative (from a security perspective to use). 

In this article, I am only tackling their terms of service. As specified on their privacy site "DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information."

DuckDuckGo says they don't save your searches. They don't send your searches or information to any other site. They don't store any personal information about you. 

They only save cookies to your browser if you enable a function that needs it (like persistent settings). 

They save search information but only as aggregated data without any personally identifying information. 

So DuckDuckGo lives up to its promise of personal secure web searching, which is great. I give it an A grade for protection in their TOS.

What is DXO Mark Mobile and should you care?

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
bryan-minear-315906.jpg

Over the span of a couple of weeks, we saw three phones released, and with every release, the manufacturer touted the device's incredible "best ever" DXO Mark Mobile performance rating:

  1. Samsung released the Galaxy Note 8 with a DXO Camera score of 94
  2. Apple released the iPhone 8 Plus with a DXO Camera score of 94
  3. Google released the Pixel 2 / Pixel 2 XL with a DXO Camera score of 98

Manufacturers love touting these scores to "prove" that they have designed the finest camera a distinguished tech user could ask for. For all intents and purposes, technology should get better and this means every new phone released (at the high end) should have better overall performance than its predecessor. Why would you buy an inferior phone?

While most blogs blindly write headlines repeating this single "representative" number, very few actually take the time to read the full DXO reviews and explain the details to their readers. 

It's complicated

The first thing to keep in mind that blending complex factors into a single easy to digest number is complicated and sometimes may mislead some readers. While most blogs only show the single number, DXO actually provides a generous amount of valuable information for the curious reader.

The DXO tests include a slew of carefully controlled tests and other real world tests that are more subjective. 

If we pick on today's "highest ranking" phone, the Google Pixel 2, here is how the rating of 98 is made up:

dxo1.png

DXO provides detailed test results and write-ups for each of these categories. While most blogs will tout that the Pixel 2 has a rating of 98 (the best ever rating for a smartphone), they rarely provide the makeup of that number.

And the make-up of that number is critical to your buying decision. If you will use the camera primarily for video, you may notice it scored 96. You can also check out how DXO made up that score by evaluating what is important to you about video (which attributes are more important to you).

  • Exposure and contrast
  • color
  • Autofocus
  • Texture
  • Noise
  • Artifacts
  • Stabilization

Remeber that the video rating fo 96 is not a straight average but rather a "black box" formulae closely guarded by DXO. 

Is DXO Mark Trustworthy?

The next question is "can you trust the DXO testing methodology"?

Having reviewed the public information made available by DXO, I say yes. They have a well-documented methodology that is as good as it is going to get. I trust their rating but use the detailed review information to make up my mind, not the single number most blogs publicise. 

It is also important to keep in mind that DXO is a for-profit consulting company that manufacturers hire. DXO works with manufacturers to tune their imaging systems and get the best possible performance out of the equipment and software. DXO also sells image quality testing solutions.

I do not believe this consulting arm influences the device ratings in any way but it is still an important fact to keep in mind.

DXO Optics Pro

DXO Optics makes very good photo improvement software because of all this camera/lens knowledge they have accumulated. They know the shortcomings of each of the camera/lens combos and can this build specific correction profiles. 

I own their software and paid for it myself. 

90% of all the questions I receive these days is about comparing the iPhone to the Google Pixel2.  In addition to all the information I have already written and the info provided above, there is one more piece of knowledge you should consider. 

The Google Camera app on the Pixel 2 does not natively support RAW (the iPhone 5s or newer) does. This means DXO Optics Pro has corrective filters for all these iPhone RAW images, but does not for the Google Pixel2. This could be a major deciding factor for more astute or demanding mobile photographer.

Conclusion

I know most users simply don't care about the details. They want one easy to read headline that justifies their belief (Google is better / iPhone is better). My ask is that you, my more knowledgeable readers, take the time to look at the data that makes up the numbers.

It's a worthwhile investment of your time.

Which Smart Assistant is the smartest

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Capture.PNG

Silicon Valley has been promising life-changing personal digital assistants for years, but we all know most are semi-useful at best. 

A new research project to measure the IQs of these "smart assistants" concluded that Google is the smartest but has an IQ equivalent to a six-year-old (Google received a score of 47.28 while a typical 6-year-old would receive a 55.5). An average adult would rate between 85-115 points.

Where does the "digital golden child" (aka Siri) score? It received a very disappointing 23.9.  Siri was outsmarted by Microsoft's Cortana and Baidu. 

The results showed that these assistants had made significant improvements over the last two years but that they still have a long way to go before they deliver on their real promise.

Privacy and the digital assistants

Apple triumphantly became the first major tech company to include a digital assistant with every iPhone 4s. As we bought into the dream, we were enthralled by all the wonderful possibilities that this technology would enable. 

Apple went all-in with the privacy chip, and soon Siri was surpassed by Alexa and the Google Assistant. Most notable was the launch of Amazon's Alexa in 2014 which had a much better ability to understand natural language commands and had the first real consumer implementation of far-field microphone technology. Amazon's microphone technology coupled with artificial intelligence in the cloud meant it could pick up commands from a distance even in relatively noisy environments. Something Apple certainly couldn't do. 

While Amazon opened up its skills technology to the world, Apple carefully guarded its assistant enforcing strict privacy controls. In the Snowden era, privacy is important, but consumers are typically more interested in convenience. 

Pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence, Google decided to use its incredibly vast trove of user data to train its artificial intelligence and machine learning engines. This unmatched access to valuable data (think Google Voice, Google Maps driving patterns, likes/dislikes in Gmail, etc.) has allowed the sultan of search to become the king of digital assistants. 

Many believe that Apple's lack of development of Siri caused many prominent employees to leave the Siri program. Most noticeable were the departures of the Siri co-founders Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus. Not wanting to retire and watch from the sidelines, they created a new digital assistant leveraging the most modern technologies, under a new banner "Viv Labs. Viv Labs was supposed to be an independent digital assistant that would work across many products and companies. Helas they sold to Samsung for ~$200M, and now we wait to see how they will use the technology. 

Google is all in with the Google Assitant

On October 4, 2017, most tech analysts watched as Google unveiled its 2017 crop of technologies. They launched two phones, two speaker-assistants, a refreshed VR headset, Bluetooth headphones and a new laptop. We could see how the new MadebyGoogle style was infused in everything they launched. 

Even though everything seemed well designed and manufactured, the most striking message was that Google was embedded it's Google Assistant in everything. 

The Google Assistant now lives in every new Google product and in most cases is the unique differentiator for that product. 

The Google assistant and its unique Artificial Intelligence engines:

  • Allow its Google Home Max speaker to auto-tune its sound profile taking into account the characteristics of the location it is in
  • Allow it's smartphone to use a single camera to generate bokeh and blurred photo backgrounds (which Samsung, HTC, and Apple deliver using two cameras)
  • Allow its Google Buds Bluetooth earphones to break down the communication barrier by making Google translate voice easier to use in the real world
  • Allow its Pixel Chromebook laptop competitor to use Google Lens to identify elements in a picture (aka a famous person on a web page or a landmark in a picture)

Google is gambling that its Assistant will be a key product differentiator and they may be right. I have owned iPhones since the very first version. I owned every Apple Newton Apple every released and spent way too much money on Newton accessories. I am not a fan-boy but loved the tech. 

This is the year I upgrade my personal phone; I opted to jump to the Google Pixel 2XL instead of the iPhone X. 

  • I need a device that is more customizable thank what Apple allows. Think of the Chinese citizens that can no longer install VPN clients on their Apple products because Apple banned these apps from its Chinese app store to comply with Chinese law. To make things worse, Apple does not allow them to sideload any apps, so these customers are stuck. On Android, you can toggle a switch to sideload apps. Sideloading does increase your cyber risk, but sometimes that is an acceptable outcome. 
  • I was also tired and frustrated with Siri and Google can help me be more efficient in more situations. 

I believe that Google CEO Sundar Pichai is right when he says we are entering an AI first world. 

Conclusion

Assistants will be the front end to this new artificial intelligence first world we are entering into. Apple has more money than most countries and could surprise everyone with a significant upgrade to Siri, but without the enormous troves of data Amazon and Google have about users, it will be an arduous journey. Apple is not in trouble. Apple is not dead. Apple is a vibrant company that continues to find new ways to create billion dollar business' (Apple music, Apple watch, etc.). 

In the short term, I doubt the lackluster performance of Siri will hinder its growth, but I am convinced it will have an impact on its longer-term viability (unless it decides to jump all in and spend some of its cash on buying maturity for Siri). 

Skimmer Scanner app for android

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Untitled.png

Real security requires vigilance, even for consumers. One issue we have been hearing a lot over the last couple of years is credit/debit card skimmers.

A skimmer is a cheap hardware device that blends into the credit/debit card processing machine of a retailer. When processing your transaction, the skimmer copies your card information and somehow makes it available to the "bad" guys.

An open-source Android app, called Skimmer Scanner, is promising to help consumers win this battle. The company behind this project, SparkFun, explains why thieves love gas stations. The skimmer equipment costs $10 or less and the master key to open a gas pump is typically easy to get (since there are only a small number of variations). After a couple of days or weeks, the thieves drive by the modified pump and wireless dump all of the credit/debit card information via Bluetooth.

It is this feature that the app leverages to find these skimmers. It looks for a particular kind of Bluetooth signal, attempts to connect to it and thus verifies if there is a skimmer in the area. 

Believe it or not, thieves are lazy so most often they leave the default skimmer configuration on devices.

SparkFun has a great blog post talking about gas station skimmers you'll enjoy reading.

I will be trying this our at local retailers. Download Skimmer Scanner yourself from the Google Play store here