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Are… are our devices about to start whispering data to each other?

(TECH NEWS) Bluetooth has been around for years, but will smartphones and other devices soon use audio to transmit data?

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Wireless technology has branched off into several different avenues over the past couple of decades, with wireless Internet, cellular data, and Bluetooth all providing similar means of information delivery. Thanks to work by Lisnr, a startup based in Cincinnati, we may soon be using a new option: sound.

Principally, delivering information via sound isn’t as bizarre as it—well, sounds. Things like dial-up have been transcoding digital information into perceptible sound and then back into information since the 90s, and the practice itself most likely goes back farther than that.

More recently, the process of pairing your phone with a Chromecast device is also reliant on data-over-sound.

The key difference between dial-up and Lisnr’s approach is that, unlike the majority of past instances of information over sound, information will be transmitted over the air rather than through a hardwired connection.

This approach would make things like scanning a card at a restaurant or a pass at a venue much more efficient, as people wouldn’t have to worry about their phones failing to use properly the Bluetooth NFD feature. Similarly, the process would likely be as quick as using Bluetooth, and it might even be more ubiquitous.

Transmitting data via sound would be a relatively cost-effective solution as well, since the bulk of card readers that can handle Bluetooth also come equipped with external microphones that would allow for audio reception if given a minor set of tweaks. This means that the average business wouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars upgrading their equipment just to meet an upcoming trend.

Two large concerns come to mind when considering this technology, the first of which is the security aspect. It’s easy to understand why people might be skeptical about sending information—encrypted or otherwise—across radio waves, though preliminary assessments concluded that transmitting data over sound is as secure as (if not more so than) using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

As with any emerging technology, we’ll have to see how quickly the world can respond and adapt to its nuances.

The other concern is that data-over-sound transmissions will be too simple to differentiate between different devices, but Google’s Chromecast pairing is definitive proof that this won’t be an issue – data transmission via audio has already been proven to be more accurate than Bluetooth recognition.

Audio data transmission is still a ways off, but don’t be too surprised if you find yourself paying for your meal with radio waves instead of Bluetooth in the not-too-distant future.

This story was first published in January, 2018.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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Domino’s asks Supreme Court to take up web accessibility case

(TECHNOLOGY) Domino’s is going all the way to the top to ask the Supreme Court to decide if ADA applies to their (and your) website.

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As long as your company is following the rules and regulations set by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), customers with disabilities should be able to access your brick-and-mortar store. The ADA ensures that stores have parking spots, ramps, and doors wide enough for folks in wheelchairs.

But does the ADA also extend to your business’s website? That’s a question that the Supreme Court may soon have to answer.

As an increasing number of services and opportunities are found online in this day and age, it’s quickly becoming a question that needs answering. Several New York wineries and art galleries, Zillow, and even Beyoncé have been sued because their websites were unusable for people who are blind.

In 2016, Domino’s Pizza was sued by a blind customer who was unable to order a pizza on Domino’s website, even while using the screen reading software that normally help blind people access information and services online. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that Domino’s was in violation of the ADA and that the company was required to make their sites and apps accessible to all. Three years later, Domino’s is petitioning SCOTUS to take on the case.

Domino’s argues that making their sites and apps accessible would cost millions of dollars and wouldn’t necessarily protect them or any other company from what their lawyer called a “tsunami” of further litigation.

That’s because the ADA was written before the internet had completely taken over our social and economic lives. While the ADA sets strict regulations for physical buildings, it has no specific rules for websites and other digital technologies.

The Department of Justice apparently spent from 2010 to 2017 brainstorming possible regulations, but called a hiatus on the whole process because there was still much debate as to whether such rules were “necessary and appropriate.”

The Domino’s case proves that those regulations are in fact necessary. UsableNet, a company that creates accessibility features for tech, reports that there were 2,200 court cases in which users with disabilities sued a company over inaccessible sites or apps. That’s a 181 percent increase from the previous year.

While struggling to buy tickets to a Beyoncé concert or order a pizza may seem like trivial concerns, it’s important to consider how much blind people could be disadvantaged in the modern age if they can’t access the same websites and apps as those of us who can see. Christopher Danielsen from the National Federation of the Blind told CNBC that “If businesses are allowed to say, ‘We do not have to make our websites accessible to blind people,’ that would be shutting blind people out of the economy in the 21st century.”

If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, it could set an important precedent for the future of accessibility in web design.

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Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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Want to know how your passwords could get hacked?

(TECH NEWS) While we all know that passwords can be hacked, it is rare that we know how they’re hacked.

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Ever wonder how passwords get stolen? I like to imagine a team of hackers like The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files, all crowded in some hideout conducting illegal computer business based on tips from rogue FBI Agents.

Turns out there’s a little more to hacking than waiting for Fox Mulder to show up with hints.

Most of the common tactics involve guessing passwords utilizing online and offline techniques to acquire entry. One of the main methods is a dictionary attack.

This method automatically tries everything listed in a small file, the “dictionary,” which is populated with common passwords, like 123456 or qwerty. If your password is something tragically simple, you’re out of luck in a dictionary attack.

To protect yourself, use strong single-use passwords for each individual account. You can keep track of these with a password manager, because no one is expecting you to remember a string of nonsensical numbers, letters, and characters that make up a strong password.

Of course, there are still ways for hackers to figure out even complex passwords.

In a brute force attack, every possible character combination is tried. For example, if the password is required to have at least one uppercase letter and one number, a brute force attack will meet these specifications when generating potential passwords.

Brute force attacks also include the most commonly used alphanumeric combinations, like a dictionary attack. Your best bet against this type of attack is using extra symbols like & or $ if the password allows, or including a variety of variables whenever possible.

Spidering is another online method similar to a dictionary attack. Hackers may target a specific business, and try a series of passwords related to the company. This usually involves using a search “spider” to collate a series of related terms into a custom word list.

While spidering can be devastating if successful, this kind of attack is diverted with strong network security and single-use passwords that don’t tie in easily searchable personal information.

Malware opens up some more fun options for hackers, especially if it features a keylogger, which monitors and records everything you type. With a keylogger, all your accounts could potentially be hacked, leaving you SOL. There are thousands of malware variants, and they can go undetected for a while.

Fortunately, malware is relatively easy to avoid by regularly updating your antivirus and antimalware software. Oh, and don’t click on sketchy links or installation packages containing bundleware. You can also use script blocking tools.

The delightfully named (but in actuality awful) rainbow table method is typically an offline attack where hackers acquire an encrypted list of passwords. The passwords will be hashed, meaning it looks completely different from what you would type to log in.

However, attackers can run plaintext passwords through a hashtag algorithm and compare the results to their file with encrypted passwords. To save time, hackers can use or purchase a “rainbow table”, which is a set of precomputed algorithms with specific values and potential combinations.

The downside here is rainbow tables take up a lot of space, and hackers are limited to the values listed in the table. Although rainbow tables open up a nightmare storm of hacking potential, you can protect yourself by avoiding sites that limit you to very short passwords, or use SHA1 or MD5 as their password algorithms.

There’s also phishing, which isn’t technically hacking, but is one of the more common ways passwords are stolen. In a phishing attempt, a spoof email requiring immediate attention links to a fake login landing page, where users are prompted to input their login credentials.

The credentials are then stolen, sold, used for shady purposes, or an unfortunate combination of all the above. Although spam distribution has greatly increased over the past year, you can protect yourself with spam filters, link checkers, and generally not trusting anything requesting a ton of personal information tied to a threat of your account being shut down.

Last but certainly not least, there’s social engineering. This is a masterpiece of human manipulation, and involves an attacker posing as someone who needs login, or password, building access information. For example, posing as a plumbing company needing access to a secure building, or a tech support team requiring passwords.

This con is avoidable with education and awareness of security protocol company wide. And also you know, not providing sensitive information to anyone who asks. Even if they seem like a very trustworthy electrician, or promise they definitely aren’t Count Olaf.

Moral of the story? Your passwords will never be completely safe, but you can take steps to prevent some avoidable hacking methods.

Always have a single-use password for each account, use a password manager to store complex passwords, update malware, keep your eye out for phishing attempts, and don’t you dare make your password “passoword.”

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