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Your phone could be giving hackers all of the info they need

(TECH NEWS) A study in Newcastle UK has found that your phone data maybe be what sells you out to hackers.

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How do you hold your phone?

Hackers can get hold of your cell phone pin numbers and other passwords just from the tilt of the device when you type it in, a new research study shows.

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The culprit: your smartphone’s motion sensors.

Newcastle’s new discovery

The study, by computer scientists and security experts at United Kingdom’s Newcastle University, is causing an uproar in the entire tech community for its alarming findings.

In a report released this week, the study found that hackers can analyze your motion sensors and figure out your four-digit PIN with very high accuracy.

Researchers could correctly guess the pin 74% of the time on their first attempt, which increased to 94% accuracy after three tries. With only five attempts, the accuracy of the team was 100%.

Hackers love loopholes

This theoretical hack is possible because of a loophole in how web browsers share data between smartphones and websites. While highly sensitive information, such as location require explicit user permission, other data, such as device orientation, or size of the device screen (not seen as sensitive information) is shared with websites freely so that webpages can be responsive and interactive.

As shown by the researchers, such information is enough for a malicious website to hack into your device and decode your PIN.

Of the 25 sensors found to be playing a part in this issue, only a few require user permission before activating for certain apps. The rest are always on by default.

The devices

Dr Maryam Mehrnezhad, a research fellow in the School of Computing Science, said: “On some browsers, we found that if you open a page on your phone or tablet which hosts of these malicious codes and then open [another one], then they can spy on every personal detail you eventually enter.”

“And worse still, in some cases, unless you close them down completely, they can even spy on you when your phone is locked.”

Not practical

The public need not worry too much about this latest news, however. It seems that the methods used by the experts in the study itself faces many significant hindrances “in real life,” that would make the hack unlikely to be successful in the real world.

For example, the researchers needed a lot of data to train its hacking system, an artificial neural network, to acceptable accuracy levels.

Each user had to type 50 known pin numbers in, five times over, before the system learned enough about how users hold their phones to guess a hidden pin with 70% accuracy—a very unlikely scenario in the real world.

Stopping hackers early

Research studies like these are usually welcome by the tech world, as loopholes can easily be fixed before malicious parties can take advantage of such web weaknesses.

In 2014, for instance, hackers at the Hamburg Chaos Communications Congress demonstrated how pin codes could be extracted by simply taking a video of the user’s cornea movements, dubbed the “corneal keylogger,” as they entered data. Similarly, Firefox had loopholes that allowed hackers to track user activities via their battery status.

The latest sensors scare, although overhyped, shall need a sophisticated solution.

There seems to be no practical solution readily available. Apple and Google have been contacted about the issues by the university researchers, but there has been no official statements from either company.

#Sensorscare

Barnil is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.

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Tech News

Favor founders’ foray into real estate tech yields serious questions

(TECH NEWS) As Favor’s founders launch Sunroom, we have unanswered questions that will reveal the company’s intentions once answered.

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Popular delivery startup, Favor, was acquired by Texas grocer HEB in February for an undisclosed sum, freeing up the founders Ben Doherty and Zac Maurais up for their next venture. Enter Sunroom which makes property rental tours on-demand.

Sunroom seeks to improve the property rentals process – renters can search available properties, select the addresses they’d like to tour, and then order a “tour guide,” which is a licensed Sunroom agent that is paid an average of $20 per hour, kind of like Uber for property rentals.

The company currently serves Austin but has expressed publicly that they intend to expand.

Property managers pay Sunroom if a qualified tenant is placed, and renters never pay for the app (just like apartment locators, a common practice in Texas). At launch, the company differentiated itself as a tech contender with a $1.5M round of seed funding from heavy hitters like Tim Draper of Draper Associates, and Joshua Baer of Capital Factory.

Maurais told AustinInno, “We knew we wanted to do something inside of the rental market because it’s so massive and affects a lot of people. I’ve had bad landlords in the past and have been renting for the past decade. So I understand first hand.”

He also said that renters can keep application info saved in the app for their next rental experience, “almost like you’re building out your renter’s resume.” Perhaps the long game is building an alternative credit rating for renters? Now that would actually be interesting.

Technologists are inquisitive by nature – put a bunch in a room for a weekend hackathon and with technology, they’ve solved a problem that they hadn’t even thought about prior to the weekend. Thus, the industry is prone to inherently believe they have the answers to everything, and they’re accustomed to make decisions quickly and move nimbly which is something I personally admire.

But if you go to any tech meetup (we’ve hosted one monthly for 10+ years), and mention real estate, their beautiful brains flip into action mode, and there is an instinct that they can fix real estate. As a whole. What sucks about real estate? Not sure, but they know it sucks, and they can fix it.

That combination doesn’t mean they’re stupid or evil, just that they’re fixers. But it also means that endless attempts at “disruption” come from technologists rather than industry insiders with technology experience. And most efforts inevitably fail. Or they pivot into a modified version of the traditional model they sought to innovate in the first place (like Redfin).

Speaking of Redfin, that’s what first comes to mind when we see Sunroom (regarding how they potentially pay agents). But what also comes to mind is the model the founders created with Favor (compete with a national brand locally where they have a soft spot, seek acquisition by a large company to suit their tech needs).

So the future of Sunroom relies heavily on the answers to the following questions that we have sent to them multiple times, without answer:

  1. The 8 agents you have licensed under your broker, are they the only agents on demand?
  2. Who gets the commission on the rental, and what is the split for the $20/hr agent that showed the property?
  3. Do consumers sign any locator representation agreement with you?
  4. Are the agents on salary, hourly, or commission with a bonus of hourly pay for touring properties?
  5. Ben and Zac are now licensed agents – do either of you intend on being the broker when eligible? How’d you find the current broker? What’s the plan there?
  6. Do you guys intend on expanding beyond Austin? Which cities are next, and what does the growth plan look like?
  7. Has Redfin’s model been of inspiration for your model?
  8. What am I missing in why you’re so disruptive?

Further, what does the fiduciary relationship look like? Does Sunroom represent the renter or the property manager, or are they attempting dual agency? Are the agents employees or do they remain independent contractors? See how things can get hairy?

We’ve seen a bajillion startups come and go where outsiders try to get a cut of a commission via a slick app that implies representation, and even more than that seeking to manage the contract portion of rentals, and even MORE that offer showings on demand, but where I see disruption is in the pay model for agents (and the potential to cut agents out of the rental market), but until Sunroom answers basic questions, we simply won’t know.

Stay tuned – they’re either the first exciting disruption to hit the real estate market in so many years, or they’re another group of technologists that see a profit opportunity.

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Tech News

A visual guide to the Dark Web to get you up to date

The Dark Web isn’t new, but most people don’t know of its existence or what happens in this anonymous corner of the world.

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There’s the internet that you and I use. The “Surface Web,” which is comprised of the usual sites such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and everything else a search typically shows. But this only makes up about 10 percent of the whole internet. Think about that. Only 10 percent.

Then, there is the other 90 percent of the Internet that we don’t use. The hidden side of the internet, known as the Dark Web.

While it is technically a public space, it can only be accessed via a specific browser called Tor. Despite attempts to index the Dark Web, much is still unknown about its contents. What we do know is that it is the infinitely secret side of the internet.

The Dark Web is full of hidden services including buying/selling drugs, black market sites, whistleblowing, pornography, blogs, abuse and other things that aren’t meant to be public. Hackers often hide under the anonymity provided by the Dark Web.

Likewise, fraud runs rampant, with numerous sites and forums dedicated to scamming and counterfeiting.

Entrepreneurs need to understand the dark web because of its implications for businesses. Many of the services offered via the dark net may pose a threat to your company. It is very easy for your information to be stolen, duplicated and quickly sold, all done in total anonymity and little risk of consequence.

On the Dark Web, a Social Security number costs just $1.00 and medical records go for around $50. Just think about if your credit card or bank details were to be put up for sale.

For the most part, you won’t ever encounter the Dark Web directly. Occasionally, Dark Web links make it onto popular sites such as Youtube, Twitter, Reddit and online forums. However, it isn’t recommended that you start browsing around the Dark Web on your own. Government agencies have long known about the Dark Web and have taken steps to reduce its criminal activity. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently working to index the Deep Web.

It’s not all shady activity.

The Dark Web isn’t totally full of criminal activity. The Dark Web was initially developed so that protestors being muzzled by their government abroad could communicate to fight for their freedom. Others, such as whistleblowers, activists, or cryptocurrency users take also advantage of the anonymity. Regardless, you should be aware that the internet, be it Dark or otherwise, is unfathomable and mysterious.

Beyond the confines of most people’s online lives, there is a vast other internet out there.

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Tech News

The number of digital assistants is rising quickly #robotapocalypse

(TECH NEWS) Anyone remember iRobot? A recent survey shows that the robot apocalypse could happen sooner than later via digital assistants.

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Outnumbered

Seven and a half billion. That’s a number that’s been on a lot of people’s minds lately. It raises some formidable questions, to be sure. Can our infrastructure conceivably support such a vast population? What shifts in markets and demographics, philosophies and principles can we expect from that kind of rise in scale? Where in heaven’s name are we going to get all that white plastic and swipable glass?

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Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think I was talking about human population? That’s adorable.

Robots! Everywhere!

As a robot apocalypse aficionado, I note with horrified glee that Ovum, highly regarded research and consulting firm, predicts that by 2021, four whole years from now, the world will contain 7.5 billion digital assistants.

That is to say, more robots than people.

Awesome. I’m super psyched about that. As I recall from my steady diet of dystopian science fiction, having more robots than folks and ceding control of our lives to them always ends super well.

But seriously

What Ovum is really tracking is a sea change in the nature of applied tech. The big paradigm shift, go figure, was the smartphone. That was where the active process of integrating a seamless digital interface into the tasks of daily life got going, where the assumption became that consumers would handle a given task digitally rather than not.

Go figure, the 3.5 billion digital assistants that already existed as of 2016 mostly lived in phones.

That number is doubling itself because we want that functionality in the rest of our lives. I jest about the robot apocalypse, but the rise of the smartphone led to nothing more apocalyptic than mild irritation of dudes with boundary issues. That’s because the point of smartphones, the point of digitization in general, is to provide consumers with more control over their lives, not less. It’s the opposite of conquest. It’s the claiming of power.

Likewise the rise of the digital assistant

It’s all about exporting smartphone-level interactivity to more stuff. Ovum predicts the rise will come primarily in the form of assistant enabled cars and in-house tech like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The big winner will be Google Assistant, because Google is primarily a service provider.

So at the risk of coming in on the side of our steel overlords, I’m calling this one a good thing.

This isn’t another step toward a Matrix pod. It’s how you get deeper, clearer and more directly interactive with less-than-revolutionary tech like your house and car.

#BringOnTheBots

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