News of the Week

Here’s the latest consumer tech news for this week & info we think you should know (updated continuously).

groove-music-screenshotSenior Moment: Microsoft gives up on Groove Music Your Windows 10 computer came with Groove Music installed and set as the default music player. Some folks just fell into using it for playing music. But now Microsoft announced that they are discontinuing supporting it as of the end of 2017. Microsoft will transition users who signed up for the Groove Music Pass to Spotify if they wish. This doesn’t mean that the app will no longer work, it will continue to play music you downloaded or have locally on your computer or device. Just that you won’t be able to buy any more music or do much with it. It seems like Microsoft has yielded music services to the two leaders in the market, Spotify and Apple Music.

new-alexa-powered-devices-image-from-engadgetdotcomHot Flash: Amazon releases new Alexa products and service improvements This week Amazon announced some new Alexa-powered products, some shipping now and some forthcoming soon. This includes a new smaller, better Echo (plus an improved full-size “Echo Plus”), an alarm-clocky thing called a “Spot”, and a new Echo Button for playing games like Trivia. But the show-stealer (imo) is a device called “Echo Connect” to connect your Alexa-powered device(s) to your home phone line, so you can answer incoming calls using Alexa. Side note: Alexa also got a new skill – can now call out to any North American telephone (land-line or mobile) even without the Echo Connect. Before, you could only call other Alexa-powered devices. So Amazon is set to take over telephony tasks and free you from having to station cordless extensions all over the house (if you have an Alexa-powered device in every room of course).

macos-high-sierra-screenshotHot Flash: Apple MacOS High Sierra update released Apple has released the next version of it’s Mac operating system, High Sierra (MacOS 10.13). Most of the improvements are ‘under-the-hood’ with one that’s going to be a welcome addition. Safari will now auto-mute those videos that play on webpages. Apple is finally upgrading the file system, and there are new formats for video and photos, and a slew of security upgrades (which make the upgrade worthwhile no matter what else). There’s also new graphics support (Metal 2) which paves the way for virtual and augmented reality apps. Safari also gets tracking prevention, always-on Reader mode, and lots of improvements to the Photos app. For many/most consumers, it would be prudent to wait a month or so before upgrading, since there are always bugs that need to be identified by early adopters and squashed by Apple.

iOS-11-image-from-appledotcomHot Flash: Apple iOS and WatchOS Updates released As promised, Apple released major updates to iOS and WatchOS for existing device users. If your iPhone and iPad aren’t too old, you can (and should) update to iOS 11, but perhaps wait a week and watch the news (and this space) for any gotchas or embarrassing (to Apple) bugs in the rollout. Apple Watch wearers can also update to WatchOS 4, but not till their iPhone has already been upgraded. while there are a bunch of new features and improvements, the real reason to update your devices is for security. Don’t be surprised if your device appears slower than it was before, especially if you’re still using an iPhone 5s or 6. You’ll have to live with it, because it’s just too risky to your digital life to skip the updates.

apple-watch-series-3-ordering-page-screenshotSenior Moment: You can order Apple iPhone and more now If you want to be one of the first to sport a new iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, an Apple Watch Series 3, or an Apple TV, you can now (as of Sept. 15th) pre-order them. Slated for delivery and in-store purchase on Sept. 22nd. Expect them all to be in short supply and sold out in many places including Apple Stores, your cellular carrier stores and other outlets like Best Buy. If you’re holding out for the iPhone X, pre-ordering starts Oct. 27th, with shipping starting on Nov. 3rd. I don’t expect any of these babies to be available in-store anytime soon. If you want to be one of the first to get one, you’ll want to start trying to pre-order at midnight PST Oct. 27th. Two good ways are through the Apple Store app on your iPhone/iPad or through the website. For those who can’t wait, you can buy an iPhone 8/8+, a 7/7+, a 6S/6s+ or the SE version anytime. For every iPhone/iPad user, iOS 11 becomes available on Sept. 19th. You must have an iPhone 5s and newer, the iPad Mini 2, iPad, and Pro versions or newer, or the iPod touch 6th generation. Everyone who can should upgrade to iOS 11 as soon as possible. Not just to gain the new features (not all available on all older devices), but for the security enhancements that come with every new version. Two noticeable improvements, a more natural-sounding Siri, and a new files app that (for the first time) gives you direct access to files stored on your iOS device. Your iPhone 8/8+ will come with iOS pre-installed. Your Watch Series 3 will come with WatchOS 4 pre-installed. WatchOS 4 will also be available for existing users to upgrade on Sept. 22nd.

kaspersky-lab-logoHot Flash: US  Govt. bans Kaspersky Software This doesn’t apply to consumers, just federal agencies. But US consumers (and other cautious netizens) might want to think about the why of the US action, and make their own decisions accordingly. The US Govt. has concerns that Kaspersky has ties to state-sponsored cyber espionage activities. Likely this isn’t directed specifically at you (the consumer), but it opens the possibility of your computer being used to conduct attacks. Hackers routinely harness thousands of computers in a ‘botnet‘ to conduct their attacks. The owners of these computers don’t have any clue that their computer has been compromised, other than perhaps it is working a bit slower than it used to. Personally, I’d stay away from Kaspersky software, and would also research the source country of any software I do use. From a cyber perspective, it’s time to hunker down and reduce your potential exposure.

credit-bureau-logosHot Flash: Equifax Hack and what you should do about it It hit the news with a bang, so I won’t elaborate on it here except to say that all the safe digital life advice I’ve been advising for years still applies. For your credit and financial safety: You should be monitoring all your financial transactions in real-time (banking and credit card apps help). You should be monitoring your credit, since the breach, Equifax is offering 1-year free credit monitoring. You should have a fraud alert placed on your credit file, and you should be getting and scrutinizing your free annual credit report every year. This applies to just about anyone from 18-100. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got good or bad credit, your identity is at risk now that Equifax let almost everyone’s name, SSN, birth dates and lots more information get into the hands of hackers. Your risk of identity theft has grown exponentially and will remain high for decades to come.

iphone-2017-new-products-image-from-appledotcomHot Flash: Apple announces new products But you can’t get them yet. First announced, the Apple Watch Series 3, which is waterproof (like the Series 2) and adds cell phone service and a barometer. Available for pre-order on Sept. 15th 2017. iPhone 8 and 8Plus (with TouchID) represent the next step in iPhone development, available for pre-order Sept. 15th. Another model, the iPhone X can be pre-ordered Oct. 27th. Both these have wireless charging and the usual upgrades. The iPhone X replaces TouchID with FaceID and eliminates almost all the bezel, so mubh more screen size in about the same dimensions as the iPhone 7 & 8. Apple also announced a forthcoming wireless charging pad and a wireless charging case for the Airpods, so you could wirelessly charge iPhone, Apple Watch and Airpods. This is coming ‘soon’. Right now you can get a few wireless charging pads (Mophie, Belkin) that will work with the new iPhones. And the new Apple TV with 4k HDR capability will be available for pre-order Sept. 15th as well. No mention of iOS 11, but it’s expected to be released Sept. 19th, which is when the first new iPhones will be shipping.

google-drive-to-backup-and-sync-logosSenior Moment: Google Drive ending, time to switch With a long lead-time, Google announced that is is ending the Google Drive app next year, and has already reaplaced it with Google Backup & Sync on the download page. If you still have the original Google Drive icon on your Mac or PC, you can either upgrade now or later. On March 12th, 2018 Google Drive will stop working. The new app also replaces the Google Photos app. At this point, Google has yet to make any changes to the smartphone and tablet apps, which still show both Google Drive and Google Photos apps on the Google Play Store and the Apple Apps Store. Don’t worry though, your files stored on Google Drive won’t disappear, you’ll just use a different app to get to them next year.

apple-logo-from-appledotcomSenior Moment: Gear Up for Apple Apple’s next big new product announcement is set for September 12, 2017 and everybody expects one or more new iPhone models, a new Apple Watch, and more. Given that many folks have put off replacing their aging iPhone 6 & 6s models, Apple should expect a healthy upgrade season. Along with the upgrade to the ubiquitous iPhone, expect the release of iOS 11, which will bring quite a bit of change (Apple will only say ‘improvement’) to every facet of your iPhone experience. Android fans will likely not be swayed by Apple’s latest and greatest smartphone, especially with the recent (and impending) release of a number of very good Android-powered smartphones like the Pixel and Samsung Galaxy. But one thing’s for certain, the prices of our already pricey smartphones is going to continue to rise.

amazon-alexa-image-from-amazondotcomHot Flash: Amazon Echo/Alexa now integrated with itself If you own multiple Alexa devices (Echo, Dot, Tap, Dash Wand, Show, Look, Firestick, Fire TV and more), then you might be interested to know that now you can control all those devices in a household from any one of them. Folks are discovering that they can use the Amazon devices to have a multi-room intercom, push music throughout the house (synchronized across all the Alexa-powered speakers), and controlling other connected devices from any Alexa device. What’s not yet integrated across the Alexa devices are alarms & timers, sounds, and Bluetooth connections.

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Hot Flash: Malwarebytes 3 new version released If you’re using Malwarebytes 3, then it’s time to update your program. Unlike most security software, Malwarebytes is slow to advise existing users when they release a new version. Most folks are using version 3.1.2, and on August 22, 2017 Malwarebytes released version 3.2.2. If you’re using a version 2 of Malwarebytes, you’re really out-of-date and should download and install the new version immediately. Since hackers can and do purchase and re-engineer protection software, the only way to remain protected is to install the latest version as soon as it’s released. Don’t wait, do it now.

lastpass-callout-screenshotSenior Moment: LastPass doubles its price My favorite password manager, LastPass has doubled its cost from $12/year to $24/year for one user (it’s $48/year for families). This sounds more horrible than it really is. Yes, doubling the cost of something is significant, but LastPass is still less expensive than most of the other good password managers out there. And for what you get, it’s still a stellar value. Of course I’m talking about the premium version, the one-platform/one-user version is still free. For anyone with a computer and a smartphone (or tablet), the premium version makes sense. I can tell you that I’ve tried other password managers, and found LastPass to be the easiest to use. Not saying that it’s totally easy, just that it’s less hard-to-use than others.

ios-10point3point3-update-screenshotHot Flash: Apple Updates Apple has released an update to iPhones and iPads, version 10.3.3. To update, visit Settings > General > Software Update. Everyone should install this update asap because it plugs a serious security vulnerability. A Wi-Fi vulnerability was discovered that could let an attacker take complete control of your device. This affects all iOS devices with Broadcom Wi-Fi chip, from iPhone 5 and newer, 4th generation iPads, and 6th generation iPod Touch devices. Of course, Apple also included a bunch of bug fixes and other minor improvements, and some other less-serious security fixes. This may very well be the last iOS update before the next major version, iOS 11 which is due out sometime in the last quarter of 2017. If you have an Apple Watch, it gets updated to 3.2.3, and MacOS Sierra gets updated to 10.12.6.

photobucket-3rd-party-hosting-broken-imageSenior Moment: Photobucket starts charging – a lot  If you use Photobucket to host your photos and have any photos linked to other sources (like your blog, Amazon store, or CraigsList), the company surreptitiously added in a new ‘feature’ to its terms of service. They want you to pay $400 a year or they won’t display your photos. Now all your photos stored on Photobucket won’t display on any other website. Your photos are instead swapped for another one by Photobucket exhorting you to pay money to restore the image. Those images are still on Photobucket, but you can’t use them elsewhere without having to pay the…what some folks are calling “ransom”. Lots of complaints on Photobucket’s facebook page and twitter feeds, it’s unknown whether the folks who run Photobucket will walk back on this or just keep plowing forward. Many Photobucket users are switching to an alternative service like Imgur.

petya-ransomare-screenshotSenior Moment: Cyberattack sweeping the world  For many consumers, the cyberattacks that keep on coming aren’t going to bother you. The target is mostly government, infrastructure, big business, banking and other juicy targets that are (unfortunately) ripe for being hacked. The New York Times has a story that you might find worthwhile reading – it lays out how the most recent ransomware attack is spreading quickly from Russia to Britain. It looks like it might continue to grow and threaten the entire world. This latest attack, called “Petya” is similar to the WannaCry ransomware already out there, but doesn’t include a self-destruct feature (that helped stop WannaCry). Active for over a week now, Petya is starting to look like a much bigger threat to everyone.

eternal-blue-double-pulsar-example-screenshotHot Flash: Ransomware is gunning for you Ransomware is turning out to be the hacker attack du jour for 2017. WannaCry and variants are exploding all over the internet, and new and significantly more dangerous attacks are also being deployed by hackers daily. Hackers are making use of some pretty potent vulnerabilities exposed by the Shadow Brokers from a trove of US NSA hacking tools, including EternalBlue and DoublePulsar. All computers are at risk (including you Mac users), and the two steps you need to take are to keep your operating system and installed software up-to-date (check often), and keep a good backup of your system and/or personal files. Don’t leave yourself open to victimhood, act today.

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google-chrome-about-screenshotSenior Moment: Chrome Update It’s time to click the Google Chrome settings ellipsis (three vertical dots at the top-right of your window) and visit Help > About Google Chrome in order to kick off the update to version 59.0.3071.86. If you use Chrome (or any alternative web browser), then you must make sure to keep it up-to-date as neither Microsoft Windows nor Apple’s MacOS will do that for you. Sometimes the web browser will inform you about an available update, sometimes not. Keeping your operating system and all installed software (especially including web browsers) is very important to keeping your digital life safe and secure. Don’t put this off, do it now.

eternalrocks-smb-worm-image-from-ibtimesdotcodotukHot Flash: Ransomware round 2 coming There’s a new ransomware attack starting to spread, this one called “EternalRocks” that purports to use 7 different hacking tools that were leaked from the US NSA trove. This one aims to be much more potent than WannaCry, and has a better chance of remaining undetectable until it strikes and locks up your computer. Currently spreading with a less-harmful payload of simply spreading malware, it is considered much more dangerous since it can stealthily open a path to the more harmful types of payload with a 2-stage infection process. First, it infects your computer, downloads the TOR browser and starts broadcasting itself to the dark web. After 24-hours, the 2nd stage kicks in when the dark web responds and starts depositing malware on your computer. All this while avoiding detection. One big difference from WannaCry: there is no kill switch, and EternalRocks can be easily weaponized with ransomware and other threats. Like WannaCry, the best avoidance defense is to update your operating system, avoid clicking on email links and attachments, and avoiding dodgy websites. The best protection also remains to have a recent backup of your system offline and ready to use in case your computer gets locked up by ransomware (instead of paying the ransom).

wannacry-screenshotHot Flash: Ransomware takes the planet by storm Use Microsoft Windows? Update your system right now. I’ll wait. Ok good. The latest ransomware infection, dubbed WannaCry, takes advantage of a vulnerability in Windows that surfaced a few months ago when NSA hacking tools were released on the internet. Microsoft patched that vulnerability awhile ago, but millions of Windows computers haven’t been updated and are still vulnerable. This particular variant surfs the internet looking for vulnerable computers and infects them – you don’t even need to click a link to get infected and your personal files encrypted. So far, the infection has spread to 100 countries, over 75 thousand computers and it’s still spreading. Any unpatched Windows computer is at risk, and any network such computers are connected to as well.

amazon-echo-apps-image-from-amazondotcomSenior Moment: Alexa learns a new trick The popular Amazon Echo has a new capability in 2-way communication: Alexa can have speakerphone-like conversations with other Echo, Dot and Tap owners. You can also send voicemail messages! Anyone with an Amazon account and the free Alexa app can use these features. This is particularly useful for low-vision & elderly folks to whom dialing a telephone is a challenge. Since this new capability makes use of VOIP (think Vonage and other IP telephony), I think it’s going to be just a short reach for Alexa to be able to replace your landline with a voice-activated and voice-controlled telephone system. Here’s hoping that’s sooner than later! Oh, and Amazon has announced the impending release of a new, clunky-looking box with speakers and a screen that works in the Echo, Dot and Tap world. Two such devices could engage in video teleconferencing.

ms-surface-laptop-2017-image-from-microsoftdotcomSenior Moment: New Microsoft Laptops with Windows 10S In what looks like direction answer to Apple Macbooks (not really to Google’s Chromebooks), Microsoft announced they’re selling new ‘personal’ laptops that run a variant of Windows 10, with the “S” designation. These are touted to be more secure and give better performance. The critical thing about these new laptops: The default browser is Edge and the default search engine is Bing and you can’t change this, even if you install another web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Opera). Purportedly these new laptops will come with a free-through-2017 upgrade to the regular Windows 10, but I’ll bet a number of buyers will neglect to do this before the free upgrade expires. They start at $999 which puts them at about three times the cost of a Chromebook, and about $300 less than a baseline new Macbook.

web-browser-logosSenior Moment: Old vulnerability-new attempt If you’ve never heard of Punycode, it’s a way of using alphabet characters from other languages in the URL of a website. Abuse of this is possible with some web browsers (I’m looking at you Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera) Punycode uses ‘unicode’ characters and makes it possible to register domain names with foreign characters. For example, it’s possible to register domains such as “xn--pple-43d.com”, which is equivalent to “аpple.com”. So you may see a trusted web address in your browser’s URL bar, but you’re really at another website. See https://www.xudongz.com/blog/2017/idn-phishing/ for a fuller description and a proof-of-concept link. For Google Chrome users, Google has already fixed this problem in Chrome version 58 (click the ellipsis for settings and choose Help > About Google Chrome to verify and/or get the latest version). Mozilla has their head in the sand on this, and Opera is just looking at it now that Xudong Zheng has posted about the problem. Until Mozilla fixes Firefox, you should use a different web browser.

Looking for older news? Check out: Archive News of the Week and experience history in consumer technology!

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