Android users suffer random app crashes

Android users around the world have reported problems with apps crashing randomly, following a widespread fault with WebView.

In particular, the problem seems common to email clients including Google Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo! Mail and more – with one early warning sign being the repeated display of messages warning that apps ‘keep closing’.

It’s as yet unclear how the bug found its way into the live build of so many users’ hardware. In a statement, Google acknowledged they are aware of the fault, and advised users looking to self-fix the problem to uninstall Android System WebView.

A further fix was issued to Android as of 11pm Pacific Time on Monday which updates WebView directly. Webview is a piece of software which helps load content from the web and receives regular updated alongside Google Chrome.

So far only Google and Samsung support have acknowledged the issue directly, although it’s likely to affect all recent Android phones not yet updated to Chrome version 89.0.4389.105.

 

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Securing the NHS C19 Contact Tracing App

The combined NHS Digital Taskforce, NHSX, recently beta tested the new UK Covid-19 contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight, and have released code to the cyber security community to review.

The app logs interactions with other bluetooth-enabled smartphones each day, and allows the NHS to notify users who have been in contact with self-reporting Covid-19 cases that they should re-enter isolation as a precaution.

A recent blog post by the UK National Cyber Security Centre identified a number of areas for improvement, with the contact tracing app itself expected to be officially released in June 2020.

 

The Pairing Problem

NHS servers ping the app every 8 seconds to confirm active connections, and the app itself records received signal strength indicators (RSSI) via Bluetooth to gauge where users have been in contact with each other. Users then upload their records if they experience symptoms.

Any attacker with access to this upload traffic, (which does not include the user ID but is unencrypted) could begin comparing submissions via start/end times and signal strength readings, and would theoretically be able to pair these users together.

This problem of uniquely identifiable pairs potentially compromises the identity of the individuals using the app, as well as their location history relative to each other.

The NCSC have confirmed that in the release version, even ‘anonymised’ RSSI data will itself be encrypted, to stop any third-parties attempting to ‘re-identify’ either or both of the users.

 

Intercepting the Public Key

In beta testing, the Authority’s Public Key was not transferred to the user’s phone via TLS encryption (like a secured web-page) raising the possibility that although the app could be downloaded successfully, this important piece of information used for submitting data could be compromised.

This would be akin to a kind of ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack, where a user’s encrypted uploads could be (even if not unencrypted) sabotaged or withheld during transmission back to NHS systems.

Security researchers have suggested that since this key is not secret, it should be wrapped into the installation of the app itself.

The NCSC have since confirmed that intermediate certificate pinning has been used to reduce the risk of this happening, and that this limitation will be fixed once the Isle of Wight trial ends.

 

Bluetooth Broadcast Values

The app operates via broadcast values with change every 24 hours to prevent a device being tracked by Bluetooth over longer periods of time. This is significantly longer than the industry standard 15 minutes.

However, more controversially, a predictable ‘KeepAlive’ counter is used to connect old and new broadcast values, raising the potential for an attacker to re-identify the user beyond the 24-hour limit.

The NCSC defends the longer-term tracing as necessary to establish social interactions more accurately, but has resolved to randomise the counter to stop broadcast values being easily matched or the user re-identified endlessly.

 

Whistleblowing

Under beta testing, the app’s original policy documentation contained the line: “You may not publicly disclose any details of the vulnerability [that you’re reporting] without consent from NHSX.”

This would have run counter to the NCSC’s own vulnerability disclosure policy, which suggests that members of the technology community should be encouraged to highlight system weaknesses (particularly during public consultation beta-tests) for correction.

This line is to be removed from the public release version.

 

For cybersecurity support & IT expertise, please contact our team today.


Mid-market iPhone SE relaunched by Apple

Apple have launched a new mid-market iPhone, the iPhone SE, to popular aclaim.

Similar to the iPhone 7 in appearance, this more baseline model of iPhone is designed to broaden the user-base of Apple’s popular iPhone range into the territory of more budget Android smartphone alternatives.

Not that Apple have scrimped on the technology – even the more basic SE includes an A13 Chip, 4.7-inch Retina HD display, and the ‘best single camera’ system on an iPhone ever (as opposed to the multi-lens affairs on more premium iPhones.)

In a nod to the World’s current Coronavirus difficulties, the SE also contains the original TouchID fingerprint sensor, so that users can still unlock the screen without removing facemasks.

Like it’s experimental predecessor, the 2nd-generation SE will also be available at more affordable prices: including £10.99 a month, or £279 upfront via Apple trade-in, suggesting there will soon be some very cost-effective deals reaching customers on the high street. To thin Apple’s extensive iPhone range, the iPhone 8 will also be discontinued.

Apple’s physical high-street stores remain closed due to Covid-19 lockdown – however online preorder begins from Friday 17th April, starting at £419.

For technical expertise and business mobile, please contact Lineal today.


Hands on with the new Office Mobile App

Microsoft have combined the mobile versions of its Office programs into a single new Office app, uniting Word, Excel and Powerpoint under a single banner.

It’s true that Microsoft would prefer you use their whole Office 365 suite of apps, but the combination isn’t just strategic – the new mobile Office includes a whole toolkit of new abilities better optimised for mobile.

A number of typical tasks people might tackle when using a smartphone, such as PDF signing, reading QR codes, photo-to-document conversion or scanning PDFs with Microsoft Lens, are all ‘baked in’ to the new mobile Office version, with Microsoft clearly trying to maximise awareness of these lesser-known extras.

Such tools are activated from a new ‘Actions’ menu aimed at simplifying the controls users have to input to complete common tasks, as part of Microsoft’s Fluent design scheme.

Microsoft Word comes with a new dictation ability (which may be familiar to those using the desktop app) that supports speech to text. It’s hard to imagine users writing lengthy documents this way unless forced not to type, although assembling plain text into a OneDrive file for others to collate, or editing changes into an existing project might be more practical.

Excel is, of course, not a natural fit on mobile – where individual cells remain a bit fiddly on a touchscreen. Even so, there are improvements here too: Excel ‘cards’ simplify wide Excel rows into a simple summary, which ensures the user doesn’t have to open an unwieldy spreadsheet to find information.

 

Again, there’s an awareness here – that very few users will seriously attempt heavy editing via mobile, but access and convenience is critical for a workforce that increasingly operates on the move. Powerpoint presentations can also be created from a bullet-point list: not a work-of-art perhaps, but potentially a lifesaver at short notice.

Outlook, Teams, OneNote and the other Office 365 apps remain independent (for now) although it’s easy to imagine some of these also being merged into the combined app in future, as Microsoft seeks to build a seamless experience between the different productivity apps of the popular Office package.

In a diplomatic move, Office also includes support for popular third-party storage apps including Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud and Box.

Microsoft Office is available for iOS via the App Store here: (https://apps.apple.com/app/id541164041) and for Android via Google Play here: (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.microsoft.office.officehubrow)

Try it today!

 

Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for IT support and expertise, please contact us today.


Crowdfunding Launched to Pay Eagles’ Roaming Bill

An online crowdfunding campaign has been launched to pay the mobile roaming bill of migrating eagles being tracked the Russian Wild Animal Rehabilitation Team at the Siberian Environmental Centre.

The thirteen tagged Steppe Eagles, being tracked via bi-hourly SMS messages containing GPS coordinates, ran up a hefty data roaming bill after migrating across countries as far afield as Egypt, Georgia and India.

One eagle, named ‘Min’ by researchers, unexpectedly flew from Kazakhstan via Iran, initially losing signal but then sending a backlog of messages at high rates, before crossing into Saudi Arabia and reaching as far South as the Yemen.

At a cost of 7,000 roubles (£85 per day), Min quickly used up the programme’s entire budget for tracking all 13 Eagles, forcing the Russian team of environmentalists to turn to social media for financial support.

Considered endangered by the IUCN, the Steppe Eagle once commonly reached as far afield the Ukraine, but researchers were unprepared for expensive data charges across the Middle East, which can be three-times higher than those in the Russian Federation.

The centre’s crowdfunding campaign has raised more than 250,000 roubles (roughly £3,000), although Russian telecoms provider MegaFon has since agreed to write-off the wayward Eagles’ data roaming bill debt as a gesture of goodwill.

Modern business mobile packages offer in-built policies to support data roaming limits across multiple countries worldwide, and to allow data ‘pooling’ across an entire organisation to offer some protection against any one individual breaking their data limit. Even if you migrate South for the Winter.

 

For Business Mobile expertise, please contact our team today.


Huawei Announces Harmony OS to rival Android

Chinese technology giant Huawei have announced the development of Harmony OS, a smartphone operating system designed to replace its reliance on Google’s Android platform.

The news, which was announced at the 2019 Huawei Developer Conference, is the latest twist in a series of events which saw Google’s official suspension of Huawei’s Android license in May 2019, in response to a security warning from the US Government.

Much like its rivals, Harmony OS is designed to run across a wide range of devices beyond smartphones, including tablets, wearables and smart screens. Built from scratch, Huawei also claims developers will be able to develop and deploy new apps across multiple device-types and screen sizes much more easily.

Huawei’s focus on developers may seem a little niche, but may be shrewder than first thought – in light of the difficulty Microsoft experienced seeking to establish Windows Mobile as a rival to Android and iOS, and the declining spiral of app availability, hardware sales and popularity.

Harmony OS may be at an early stage (concept images were noticeably absent from Huawei’s media release) although the move may signal a realignment of the smartphone world into the 2020s – with three operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Huawei’s Harmony going head to head.

 

For Business Mobile expertise and support, please contact our team today.


South West Among Worst Regions for 3G / 4G Mobile Signal

4g mobile signal

New data has suggested the South West is among the worst regions in the UK for poor quality 3G / 4G mobile signal.

Research by OpenSignal, in a pioneering coverage study using data crowdsourced from phones across the UK, reported the South West as among the worst three scoring regions for both 3G and 4G mobile signal availability (alongside Wales & Scotland). All three regions reported 3G availability below 80%.

Average 3G speeds of 11.48Mbps also placed the South West as one of the slowest in the UK, although 4G speeds were significantly better, possibly reflecting less intensive usage by comparison to urban areas.

Indeed, high availability of 4G signal in London appears to have resulted in the worst average speeds in the UK at under 19Mbps. OpenSignal attribute this shortfall to ’higher levels of congestion’ from data hungry users accustomed to reliable 4G signals.

Unreliable mobile signal availability and slow speeds presents serious challenges to those needing to work remotely or overly-reliant on cloud-based services for business continuity, although the study notes that some networks have significant plans to boost capacity.

For now, businesses in the South West seeking more reliable signals for mobile working should consider the installation of enterprise-grade signal boosters (available for both buildings and vehicles) or the much anticipated release of cost-effective ‘Multi-net’ on the new Gamma Mobile platform: permitting business phone users to automatically jump networks to help obtain signal, at no extra cost.

 

For unified communications expertise and support, contact Lineal today: 01271 375999


Don’t fall for it: how 1970 will destroy your iPhone

 

An unfortunate hoax is catching out iPhone users this week, Lineal have learned, after many users discovered resetting the date will completely destroy their iPhone.

Despite what a website may promise you – DO NOT reset the clock on any iOS device to January 1st 1970 under any circumstances. This will permanently break (or ‘brick’) your device.

A device broken in this way will simply display the Apple iOS loading screen forever, permanently stuck. The bug, which prevents the phone counting Unix time (a count of seconds since 00:00 01.01.1970) if the clock is set ‘before’ this using local time (UTC-1), is impossible to fix without hardware support from Apple to remove the battery.

You have been warned!

 

For expert apple support from Lineal, contact us today: 01271 375999 or click here.


Is mobile phone coverage in North Devon set to improve?

 

Mobile phone coverage across the UK may be about to improve, with mobile operator O2 seeking a controversial merger with rival Three. 

The £10.25bn deal looks set to merge coverage patterns, potentially providing shared coverage to customers of either network in more rural areas, and comes just two weeks after BT took similar ownership of EE, the UK’s single biggest mobile operator.

Of course, whilst consumers may be set to enjoy improved signal from shared infrastructure, this may come at greater expense. Both the European Commission and Ofcom have raised numerous monopoly fears about the merger, arguing that fewer than four mobile providers in the UK risks less competitive pricing for customers.

Three’s parent company, CK Hutchinson, has attempted to counter by promising in a public letter to the Financial Times that prices will not increase for at least five years.

Unlike in many other EU countries, the UK does not enjoy a universal service obligation for mobile phone coverage data strength – lose signal in North Devon and no rival provider’s phone mast has any obligation to offer phone coverage for anything other than 999 emergency calls. Travel abroad and your phone will ‘roam’ to a friendly foreign network to ensure you always have the option of staying connected.

The solution to some coverage blindspots may be right around the corner in the form of fewer, bigger networks for everyone – but don’t rule out paying more for it.

 

For a wide range of IT services right here in North Devon, contact Lineal today: www.lineal.co.uk or 01271 375999


Apple iPhone 6S “3D Touch” Screen can measure ingredients

3D Touch

3D Touch technology shows potential

Apple’s iPhone 6S pressure sensitive 3D Touch screen can even be used to weigh small quantities of materials using a third-party application, users have discovered.

An iPhone 6S screen can be used to hold a measuring container, re-calibrated to zero with a tare function via a web app, and set to display the mass of ingredients placed in the container by measuring the downforce they exert on the 3D Touch screen.

An interesting proof of concept, expect to see this useful bit of technology spread beyond Apple’s iPhone – rumours have been circulating online that Samsung’s next flagship smartphone will also have a pressure sensitive screen.

For now the technology is not necessarily practical for actual cooking (unfortunately illegal uses might be entirely possible) because the maximum accurate weight is only 385 grams.

Expect to see more sensitive screens and wider measurement ranges in future iterations of the 3D Touch, and similar screens from rival smartphone makers as a new standard feature.

Now if only it could mix the ingredients too!

 

With over 25 years of experience – contact Lineal today for Apple IT Support: 01271 375999 or [email protected]


iPhone 6S, 6S Plus and iPad Pro Release: Apple stays ahead of the pack

iPhone6s-RoseGold-BackFront-HeroFish-PR-PRINT

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 14.07.36

This week saw the hotly anticipated release of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, Apple Inc’s flagship smartphone announced in their annual product release that has become as inevitable as the tides.

With the iPhone now accounting for something close to 70% of Apple’s revenue, the 6S and 6S Plus were the main attraction. The new design fixes old durability problems with a stronger case and tougher screen, but added features include the obligatory faster processor, a new rose gold colour choice, and an upgraded 12MP camera – all aimed at keeping ahead of the competition, at least when it comes to performance.

‘3D Touch’ is Apple’s newest technical innovation, making the screen of the company’s newest devices pressure sensitive. This gives users the illusion of screen depth by accurately judging the strength of the screen press, allowing for new capabilities like a ‘peek’ at an app with a gentle touch, and giving Apple another technical edge with which to play the long game.

Not that Apple’s thinking hasn’t been questioned: commercial clients may find the power to shoot high resolution 4k video enticing, but will likely be sceptical at how practical it is to save such high-quality video files on a smartphone.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 14.08.06

iPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle2-PRINTIndeed, for a company whose founder’s dislike of the stylus is well documented, releasing a large tablet with a stylus appears an open invitation for criticism. Nevertheless this is exactly what Apple have now done, introducing the new iPad Pro, a 12.9 inch tablet, ostensibly optimised for creative use by designers, illustrators and other editors needing a larger screen.

The demonstration of the iPad Pro included the new $99 (£65) stylus, the Apple ‘Pencil’ effortlessly photoshopping a woman’s smile on screen, an illustrative but perhaps ill-chosen example that somehow made it through Apple’s press office without ringing media alarm bells. Appropriate use aside, the technology is nevertheless impressive: the Apple pencil combined with 3D Touch allows pressure sensitive brush strokes on screen drawn with great precision.

This year’s releases represent Apple maturing a little, yet still relying on groundbreaking technical features to stay ahead of the curve.  Apple Inc. shares actually slid two percent to close lower on Wednesday, with investors holding their breath to see whether the new products were enough to really ‘impress’ customers. The tech giant has arguably sacrificed some of the flamboyance of previous years’ releases to concentrate on the innovation needed to outpace rivals, and open more important doors for its own future, including in the form of its renewed invasion into our living rooms with the new Apple TV and tvOS complete with the long heralded AppStore.

Lineal has over 20 years of business experience with Apple Mac, including connecting your mobile devices for working on the move – why not get in touch with us today? http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/