Posts tagged Wireless
You’ve installed antivirus software on your computers, configured your operating system to update its security automatically and password-protected your Wi-Fi. So your home network is safe against hackers, right?
Guess again. And then take a long look at your wireless router.
What Can Happen (Hint: It’s Bad)
For years, manufacturers of home routers have all but ignored security issues, at least when it comes to making sure that consumers update their firmware to close exploitable vulnerabilities. Let’s put it this way: Have you ever updated the firmware on your router? If not, odds are good that it’s got one or more security holes through which a properly motivated hacker could slip.
Attacks on routers aren’t common, partly for logistical reasons that make them uneconomical for hackers. But that could change as technology evolves, criminal incentives shift and security tightens up in other areas. One big potential trouble spot: the embedded Web browsers that many routers use for managing their settings — including, of course, security.
Router manufacturers have done a lousy job informing users about firmware updates that would patch security flaws, and are even worse making it easy for users to obtain and install those updates. Such patches are seldom available through automatic services, forcing users to look up the fixes on manufacturer websites.
“These are low-priced, low-power devices,” Tod Beardsley, a researcher with application security vendor Rapid7, said. Manufacturers “may not have the margins on these devices to provide ongoing software support.”
To see what can happen when a flaw remains unpatched, look no further than a major intrusion in Brazil in 2011, when hackers broke into 4.5 million home DSL modems over the Internet. The modems were reconfigured to send users to malware-carrying imposter websites, primarily so thieves could steal their online banking credentials.
From Brazil With Love
That exploit in Brazil was similar to one that application security tester Phil Purviance recently employed against a wireless Linksys EA2700, which was released about a year ago. Called a cross-site request forgery, the technique allowed Purviance to break into the router’s embedded management Web site. Once in, Purviance found he could change the login information and remotely manage the hardware.
“What I found was so terrible, awful, and completely inexcusable!” Purviance wrote in his blog. “It only took 30 minutes to come to the conclusion that any network with an EA2700 router on it is an insecure network!”
Purviance found a total of five vulnerabilities in two Linksys routers, the EA2700 and WRT54GL. Separately, flaws recently found in Linux-based routers from D-Link and Netgear could enable a hacker on the network to gain access to the command prompt on the operating system, Rapid7 reported.
D-Link and Netgear didn’t respond to requests for comment. Belkin, which bought Linksys from Cisco last month, said in an email sent to ReadWrite that the EA2700 was fixed in a firmware update released last June. Called Smart Wi-Fi, the firmware is available through an opt-in update service.
What Hackers Want
Manufacturers have gotten away with sloppy security practices because breaking into wireless routers usually requires physical proximity. That made it far harder for hackers to bust into multiple computers, because they’d have to move from network to network in order to target them. Thus hackers have tended to favor blasting out malware-carrying spam from a single location over attacking individual wireless routers.
But that could change. Industrial control systems that run manufacturing operations, power grids and other critical infrastructure are increasingly under pressure from cyberespionage campaigns. Vulnerabilities in these systems are as bad as in home routers. You can see just how bad is is via the search engine Shodan, which collects information on 500 million connected devices, such as routers, printers, webcams and servers, each month.
In time, hackers will develop better tools and malware for breaking into hardware, and this technology will eventually find its way into the criminal underground.
How To Safeguard Your Router
In other words, it makes sense to safeguard your router now. Here are a few steps you can take to make your home network a less inviting target:
- In your router security settings, make sure you’ve changed any default usernames and passwords. These will be the first things any hacker tries, much the way a burglar jiggles a doorknob to see if it’s unlocked.
- Disable wireless access to your router’s management console, which allows you to manage its settings by pointing a Web browser to an address such as 192.168.1.1. Disabling wireless access means you’ll have to be physically plugged into the router in order to manage it, making it far more difficult to hack.
- If you’re sufficiently technically minded, consider replacing your router’s doubtless buggy internal software with an open-source alternative such as DD-WRT, Tomato or OpenWRT. While these options aren’t particularly consumer friendly, their firmware is less likely to contain obvious vulnerabilities — and will probably offer you some cool new features, too.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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Think of energy hogs in IT, and you’ll probably think of data centers. With their sprawling poured-concrete buildings, massive backup generators and evil-looking Segways, you just know they’re sucking down more power than a small country.
A new study from Australia’s Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) highlights another, rather unexpected villain for the latest episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Dr. Wireless and his dastardly 4G minions. Wireless networking, it seems, is the biggest power-waster in the use of cloud computing.
This runs counter to what many observers have been saying. Environmental activist Greenpeace International has criticized cloud computing’s energy use, but they specifically pointed out data centers as the main problem. If the CEET report is correct, then Greenpeace was off the mark.
It’s easy to target the data centers. They’re the low-hanging fruit, because they are centralized and they do pull in a lot of local power. Wireless networks, on the other hand, consume very little power locally, and they are diffused across the entire world.
And the number of networks is growing fast.
“Wireless, local and mobile, is fast becoming the standard access mode for cloud services. Global mobile data traffic overall is currently increasing at 78% per annum and mobile cloud traffic specifically is increasing at 95% per annum,” according to the new CEET whitepaper, all driven by rapid adoption of cloud services tailor made for these mobile devices.
Use of Wi-Fi and 4G LTE networks to access the cloud is exploding, and that’s a problem. According to CEET, a joint effort by Bell Labs and the University of Melbourne, wireless networks are very energy inefficient. It takes a lot of power to deliver good connectivity, it seems. Not to mention the sheer redundancy of so many networks. Even in a small city, I can stand in many places and detect several public and private Wi-Fi networks in range of my device, all blanketed by 4G coverage from multiple phone carriers.
All of these little sips of power can add up to one big gulp. In 2012, total energy consumption of cloud services accessed by wireless networks was around 9.2 terawatt/hours. In 2015, the report estimates, that consumption will be anywhere from 32 to 43 TWh. Of that cloud computing power consumption, data centers only account for about 9% of total use – 90% of the power is used by wireless networking technology. (The actual power use of the devices themselves is negligible, the report indicates.)
In the grand scheme of things, wireless-networking power consumption may not seem like a lot: it’s only 0.03% of the total power use of the planet (based on 2008 figures). But it’s enough to generate 30 megatons of CO2 by the year 2015, which is equal to the amount of emissions from 4.9 million new cars.
There are ways to mitigate this excessive energy use. The adoption of newer equipment would help increase power efficiency, as well as more use of wired connectivity, the report suggests.
Rising technologies like software-defined networks could also come into play: active automated monitoring of network traffic that would add more hardware resources when needed and leave them idle or even off when not required.
Data centers have been the visible target for power wasting for quite some time, and while there’s no harm in trying to increase energy efficiency in these perceived supervillains, the real energy crooks may be the cell tower up the road or the Wi-Fi router sitting on your desk.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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Google is apparently getting into the business of radio, but it’s not to spin the discs and play all the hits.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Mountain View search giant has applied for an experimental license from the Federal Communications Commission that would allow Google to set up an experimental radio service in a two-mile radius around its headquarters.
The Journal article goes on to speculate about what this new radio service might entail and what its impact could be. Theories from using the bandwidth as a wireless network within urban areas to supplementing its wired Google Fiber service that Google’s Access unit is rolling out in Kansas City.
These are all pretty good guesses, and I would not be surprised if one of them hits the mark. But it also seems that these ideas may be thinking a little too small, and if there’s one thing that Google doesn’t do often, it’s small.
Given the challenges and capital required to wire homes and offices on high-speed fiber, I’m wondering if Google may be thinking along the lines of a nationwide wireless Internet service someday.
It’s big and ambitious, to be sure. But imagine how much revenue Google could make if they bypassed the cellular carrier’s data offerings and got the subscription fees from the end users directly. Heck, knowing Google, they might give the access to the wireless away, in exchange for advertising placement and maybe some personal data from users.
Would such a network be viable? It depends on the experiments they’re running, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Gilder’s Law suggests that bandwidth will grow exponentially, and even developing nations have bypassed the whole wired-phone problem by just installing cheaper cellular service. If Google could eliminate the proverbial last mile of cable or fiber to homes and businesses, they most definitely would get a lot of customers even more tightly connected to their services.
And those are some revenue hits that would just keep on coming.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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There is nothing like a disaster to bring people together. In a rare show of decency, AT&T and T-Mobile have teamed up to provide their networks to people affected by Superstorm Sandy this last week. How long will the partnership last and what does it mean for the future of cellular collaboration – during natural disasters and otherwise?
AT&T and T-Mobile will combine networks to offer non-roaming calls and data on whichever network happens to be available in a given area of the Sandy-ravaged East Coast. Consumers will not notice the difference as the service will be managed by AT&T and T-Mobile on the back end. All consumers of T-Mobile and AT&T need to do is dial out, and the carriers will take care of the rest.
AT&T and T-Mobile can achieve this temporary integration because the carriers share a common standard for their 2G/3G cellular services. Both are built on the ubiquitous GSM/UMTS standard and their networks are very similar from a tower and spectrum standpoint. Those similarities are one of the reasons that AT&T bid $39 billion to take over T-Mobile in 2011 before the Department of Justice and Federal Communication Commission expressed reservations and AT&T withdrew its offer.
Something Needed To Be Done
According to the FCC, a quarter of cell towers in 10 Mid-Atlantic to North Eastern states from Virginia to Massachusetts were knocked out due to Sandy. Some were damaged by wind, while others, such as several from Verizon in New York City, were affected by flood waters. For its part, Verizon has deployed four Wireless Emergency Communication Centers in New York (on Staten Island) and New Jersey. Verizon also has several mobile “stores on wheels” in the area. The company is offering device charging and free domestic phone calls to local residents. Verizon said that as of this afternoon that 96% of its service sites in the area of Sandy are operational.
The collaboration between AT&T and T-Mobile could present a blueprint for how mobile carriers handle future natural disasters. Verizon and Sprint also share a common cellular standard and could team up when needed to strengthen network coverage during emergencies.
A Painful Case Study
Hurricane Sandy provides an interesting case study in how the cellular infrastructure of the U.S. can withstand disaster situations. The good news is that most of the carriers’ towers and infrastructure survived – providing a semblance of coverage for most people. In addition, the carriers have mobilized quickly to repair service outages. The collaboration between T-Mobile and AT&T shows that, for at least a couple of days, the carriers can put aside their differences for the common good.
The bad news is that the parts of the carrier’s networks that did not go down, quickly became congested with voice and data transmissions. So even many people with serve got “circuits busy” messages or loss of data connections during and after the storm.
It is hard to imagine a storm much worse than Sandy, stretching out over such as wide and populated area. If there was truly a storm to test the carrier’s capability to provide service during times of distress, Sandy was it.
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Baseball has one. Football has one. Even rock and roll has one. The mobile industry has one, too: The Wireless Hall of Fame. Last night this geek pantheon inducted four new members at an event in San Diego on the eve of CTIA MobileCon. Shall we take a peek inside?
The Wireless Hall of Fame is a project of the Wireless History Foundation, a nonprofit trade organization supported by the telecommunications industry. With four new inductees this year, the Wireless Hall of Fame has 36 members, a lineup of cellular pioneers in wireless infrastructure, device development and business.
This virtual hall – it no physical location, perhaps appropriately for an institution that celebrates commercialization of electromagnetic energy - celebrates a vibrant spectrum of unsung geek deities. Past honorees include Marty Cooper, founder of the modern cellphone. (I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cooper earlier this year at the Google Motorola event announcing the new generation of Droid Razr smartphones. He is extremely gracious and affable and still has great ideas concerning the advancement of smartphones.)
Another Hall-of-Famer is Edward “Ted” Rogers, founder of Rogers Communications, which controls a good portion of the wireless industry in Canada. Robert Galvin was chairman and president of Motorola from 1956-1990 and was essential in the creation of modern telephony. Irwin Jacobs was the co-founder and chairman Qualcomm and a professor at both MIT and UC San Diego.
The hall includes no women.
This year’s inductees represent four different aspects of the wireless industry: service providers, technology, industry associate and pioneer:
Wayne Perry (service provider): Founded two wireless companies in McGraw Cellular and Edge Wireless, both of which merged or were acquired by AT&T. Served as Vice-Chairman of AT&T Wireless Services. Also the national president of Boy Scouts of America.
Richard Lynch (technology): A fellow at the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and a member of both the CDMA Development Group and GSM Association boards. Lynch has been a driver in the creation of cellular data and infrastructure that have paved the way to today’s smartphones.
Raj Singh (industry associate): Founded LCC International and Appex, a wireless roaming clearinghouse. A wireless industry consultant that has helped develop the business of the cellular industry.
Amos Joel (pioneer) – Awarded posthumously. Joel was the “father of switching” and was the inventor of automated mobile switching, which changed the nature of the wireless industry. He was awarded 70 patents in his life. He had designs for early digital computers and “cryptanalysis” that helped the Allies with communication and code breaking in World War II. He is also a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Joel passed away in 2008 at the age of 90.
It takes a lifetime of achievement in business or innovation to get into the Wireless Hall of Fame. In the future, the inductee list may include more software developers and industrial designers, such as Google’s Andy Rubin (co-founder of Android) or Apple’s Jonathan Ive, the man that is credited with designing the iPhone. Ive has been knighted in England – Sir Jonathan Ive to you and me – and holds 596 design and utility patents. Inducting him is a no-brainer.
If you are working in the wireless industry (as a software developer, wireless provider or industry associate) ask yourself this: What can you do that will be worthy of entrance into the Wireless Hall of Fame? Are you on the cusp of creating the next giant business in the mobile industry? Are you working on the next-generation smartphone operating system? Perhaps developing the infrastructure for the next round of wireless communication, such as Advanced Long Term Evolution?
Making the world a more connected, intelligent place and is reward in and of itself. But, hey, why not aim for the Hall of Fame?
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If you have been using various forms of wired data connections, you might want to take a closer look at the various 4G wireless networks and their phones.
Based on informal tests here at ReadWriteWeb and more extensive tests elsewhere, going wireless now could be a way to speed up your Internet connection!
In my quick tests, Charter’s 15Mbps cable-modem connection delivered about 9Mbps for downloads and about 3MB for uploads. That is plenty fast, though sometimes it is a lot slower than that, which is what you would expect from a shared cable modem connection. Of course, Charter offers faster services, including packages with up to 100Mbps downloads but still only 5Mbps uploads.
That compares very favorably to my tests using an AT&T 3G iPhone, which delivered about 1Mbps down and half a meg up. You could tell it was a lot slower. But the real champ was an AT&T LG Nitro 4G phone: It clocked in at nearly 19Mbps down and more than 5Mbps up! Those are pretty impressive speeds for a mobile device – the download speed is nearly twice as fast as my wired connection.
And it isn’t just me: PC World found multiple megabit-per-second speeds on the various 4G networks that it tested this week as well, with AT&T reaching close to 10Mbps averaged across 10 cities.
With those kinds of speeds, your mobile device can do everything your wired devices can do. Watch a video? No problem and no pauses as it streams to the phone. Download a big fat file? Don’t give it a second thought.
At least until the wireless bills come in.
That’s the rub with 4G wireless: While the performance is unprecedented, you have to be very careful how you use it. As those “unlimited” data plans bite the dust in favor of expensive pay-per-MB plans, truly taking advantage of 4G speed could end up costing you hundreds of dollars per month. More than one tech columnist has reported burning through his monthly data allotments in the first day or so of usage. Not good.
Now, not all American wireless carriers are eliminating their unlimited data plans. Sprint, for example, will sell you an unlimited 4G data plan for as little as $70 a month, including 450 talk minutes. But Sprint has the poorest coverage of the four carriers here in St. Louis. And the other carriers offering “unlimited plans” are less generous, or have restrictions and lots of fine print.
RWW’s mobile guru Dan Rowinski, who has written about the differences among 3G/4G here, says:
“From a theoretical perspective, the cable carriers still can provide the best speeds with hardline integrations up to 100Mbps downlinks. But those speeds from providers such as Comcast, Time Warner or RCN can become cost prohibitive for the consumer and expensive even for enterprises. When it comes to speed and functionality at a lower cost point for the average user, LTE provides speeds higher than the average cable package tied to a Wi-Fi router. In empirical testing, both Verizon and AT&T’s LTE significantly outperform 3G technologies and will deliver better speeds and reliability than your home wireless. From an individual device perspective, LTE will be more cost efficient and faster than other options.”
A better strategy may be to use one of the Clear.com devices. They offer unlimited WiMax/4G data for $50 a month, slightly more than what I pay for cable-modem service. The advantage is, I can take the little gizmo with me on the road and avoid those annoying wireless data charges at hotels and other hotspots.
Until now, I wasn’t convinced that Clear was clearly for me. But after seeing those 4G performance numbers, I’m beginning to come around. Maybe wireless really is the way to go.
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
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Our future ability to purchase things by waving our phones and ultimately replacing our wallets with them is a hot topic among tech enthusiasts at the moment, but it’s going to be a few years before the technology is widespread enough to be used by a majority of consumers.
Eighty-five percent of point-of-sale (POS) terminals will support near-field communications (NFC) for mobile payments by 2016, according to a recent report by ABI Research.
Currently, only about 10% of POS terminals support contactless payments. That number is expected to increase over the next few years as contactless payment cards and NFC-enabled smartphones proliferate. The technology is already available in a handful of newer Android-based phones as well as a couple of other devices from Samsung, Nokia and Motorola. RIM’s first NFC-supporting device, the Blackberry 9900 just became available as well. Whether or not the next iPhone will include the technology is still unknown, although rumors suggesting exactly that have been swirling for some time. If it does, that may help more rapidly propel NFC toward mainstream usage.
Also by 2016, ABI expects one billion contactless payment cards to ship, according to a post on NFC World.
In addition to POS terminals, ABI expects us to see NFC implemented at ATMs and vending machines everywhere before long. Of course, the potential future applications of this technology go well beyond payments, a topic we have covered in depth here on ReadWriteWeb. The technology is already being used in things like door locks and games, with just about every analyst and expert on the planet expecting its adoption to continue to grow moving forward.
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During my recent visit to Seattle I visited the Bellevue offices of Verizon Wireless, the largest mobile network and wireless phone provider in the U.S., to talk about the Internet of Things. There I met with Bobby Morrison, president of the Pacific Northwest region. The term that Verizon Wireless uses is M2M, machine-to-machine, which means connecting objects together. It is both a subset of the Internet of Things and (in the case where the Internet isn’t used) a separate technology. Either way, M2M is big business for Verizon Wireless and other operators like AT&T, Sprint and Vodafone.
Today the Web, including the rapidly growing mobile Web, is all about connecting people together. But the market for connecting things will likely be much larger. Morrison told me that Verizon Wireless has already seen significant growth in M2M; and it’s still in the very early phase. In this post we explore what Verizon Wireless is working on in the increasingly important field of M2M – and ask whether it’s compelling or maybe just a bit too creepy…
What will M2M mean for people in their everyday lives? Bobby Morrison explained that if you walk to any room now, you can look around it and see many M2M opportunities. Two immediate examples are connecting your lighting and alarm systems.
"You will look at a room and ask: what will be connected?" Morrison explained. "How would it be different if all those things were connected to the network. There will be more M2M connection points than you can shake a stick at."
Your dreams? Or the machines… a Verizon Wireless M2M banner
Morrison described future M2M opportunities as "almost a Minority Report situation." He expects this to happen by about 2020.
In the interim, Verizon Wireless and other operators are focused on creating all of those connection points.
"Now is about finding out how to connect everything together," Morrison told me.
An Overview of Verizon’s M2M Activities
What markets is Verizon Wireless currently targeting with M2M? According to Bobby Morrison, Verizon Wireless is focusing on health, retail, sensor networks and logistics.
With health the focus is on mobile health, hospital systems, critical care and alerts. In particular, reaching rural parts of the population. For example mobile mammogram clinics in rural areas.
With sensor networks, Verizon is working on smart grid deployments and vehicle Internet connectivity such as GM’s OnStar.
In logistics, Verizon Wireless is involved in things like asset tracking and route optimization.
Verizon Wireless is active on both the business backend and consumer-facing fronts. On the B2B side, it partnered with Qualcomm in July 2009 on the nPhase platform. Morrison explained nPhase as "a mobile management platform for M2M integration."
On the consumer side, Verizon Wireless is working with various industries on connecting devices – such as gaming and consumer electronics. An example that Morrison cited is Internet-enabled cameras. He promised that we will see more M2M devices at CES (the huge consumer electronics trade show) next year.
The Verizon Developer Community is where the "bleeding edge of device integration" is happening, according to Morrison.
As well as the network infrastructure, Verizon Wireless provides services on top of the M2M technology (similar to the IBM model). Morrison told me that about 40% of M2M is pretty consistent, the other 60% is custom work.
From all of the above activity, it’s clear that M2M will have a huge impact on our lives – whether or not it’s provided by Verizon Wireless and its network of partners. According to a Juniper Research forecast, M2M will support industry revenues of over $35 billion in 2016.
Compelling or Creepy? You Decide…
Morrison concluded our interview by talking about how a large insurance company could do "usage based insurance." It will be able to track how hard you hit the breaks and other things that you do in your car, using the Internet as the connector between the car and the insurance company. It may also enable parents to monitor how their teenager is driving the family car.
That may sound a bit creepy to you – but on the compelling side it will (theoretically) result in a reduction in insurance premiums.
Putting the privacy issues to one side for a moment, you can see the potential for this technology to improve the way you interact with your car. The next step after usage based insurance may be to manage driver interaction with mobile apps. Morrison talked about scenarios like personalizing functions within the car depending on who puts their key in, for example disabling the txting functionality of the driver.
What do you think about the potential – and privacy challenges – of M2M? You can’t stop progress and connecting everyday things is going to happen whether you like it or not. Much of this is compelling to me, as long as the technology augments our lives and doesn’t control it. Is it compelling or creepy to you, or a bit of both?
Top image: Solo
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Verizon Wireless and mobile payments company Payfone have teamed up today to announce a new partnership which will enable Verizon customers to pay for online purchases using their mobile devices. The online purchases can be paid for using either carrier billing methods, meaning purchases are charged to the customer’s next Verizon bill, or they can be paid for using traditional payment methods provided through financial institutions, like credit or debit cards.
Carrier Billing or Credit Card Billing, via Mobile
The new service brings a “one-click” payment option to any Verizon mobile phones that ship with a Web browser. No upgrades will be required to use the service, says Verizon – the option to pay using your mobile will simply appear as a link on the merchants’ websites.
For larger purchases that a customer may not want to charge to their monthly phone bill, the option to link a Payfone account to a credit card will be made available.
What makes Payfone unique is its security system. Unlike traditional payments network, it leverages the security built into the mobile operator network while processing transactions. To do so, it ties a customer’s SIM card, device ID and location to their account, so that it knows when a different phone is used, or when a phone is used in an unusual location. Payfone also takes advantage of the global SS7 signaling network for connected payment authorization and processing. The end result is a location-based, customer-specific approach to fighting fraud, reducing risk, chargebacks and identity theft.
Other Verizon Initiatives
Verizon is also involved in other payment initiatives including Isis, a mobile payments service launched along with T-Mobile and AT&T that will allow customers to pay at point-of-sale using their mobile phones.
It should be noted that this is not the first carrier billing program provided by Verizon. BilltoMobile, a Verizon partner since March 2010, teamed up with mobile payments companies BOKU and Zong in January, to offer expanded direct carrier billing options to Verizon customers. The new relationship with Payfone does not aim to replace this current partnership or any other initiative, says Verizon, it only serves to complement them.
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