The UpStream (Page 18)

Facebook Messenger adds Rooms feature to free you from Zoom security

posted Saturday Apr 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Messenger adds Rooms feature to free you from Zoom security

One of the biggest things to come out of this quarantine has been the need to communicate. While there are already a lot of useful communication platforms, it seems that people always want to be the ones using the new thing. That new thing, in this case, happens to be Zoom. Unfortunately for users, Zoom has had a history of security issues which has sent people looking for alternatives.

Other big tech companies have worked hard to answer the call. Skype has changed the way you initiate calls and added customizable backgrounds. Microsoft Teams, Skype's big brother aimed at business users, now has a family version as part of Microsoft 365. But Facebook has made the biggest change to its platform, introducing Facebook Messenger Rooms. This feature will be a replication of Zoom's most loved feature - the camera grid.

Messenger Rooms is available now and is usable with or without a Messenger account. Like Zoom, a Messenger Room is created by a user and a pink, public or private, can be sent to others to join. Those with the link can join the Room, which includes video, audio, and chat. At the initial launch, the number of participants might be limited while they work out the technical details. The plan is to allow for up to 50 participants for an unlimited amount of time at no cost. This is a big difference from Zoom, which limits the length of free calls to 45 minutes.

Of course, Facebook is not without its own issues. Over the past few years, Facebook has come under fire for privacy issues, data breaches, and more. Just this week, a federal judge approved the company's agreement to pay a $5 billion fine over the Cambridge Analytica issues. The company has promised to not listen to conversations or watching the video through the service. The company does collect information about users, though. Whether using a Messenger account or not, the app collects usage data, which they say is intended to help them make the service better.

So, users will now have to make a decision on whether to use a product from a company that has demonstrated a lack of user security or a company that has demonstrated a lack of user privacy. Not the ideal scenario for users.

Nintendo suffers data breach, exposing up to 160k accounts to issues

posted Saturday Apr 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo suffers data breach, exposing up to 160k accounts to issues

This week, Nintendo users started complaining on social media about unauthorized logins to their accounts. There was mounting evidence that a lot of Nintendo accounts were being accessed around the world. After a short silence, Nintendo confirmed (Japanese) that their system had been accessed and as many as 160,000 Nintendo Network ID accounts had been accessed. The company announced that emails, nicknames, date of birth, and region data had been accessed, but that no credit card information had been accessed.

Data breaches are an everyday part of life. We seem to hear about a new data breach every day. However, the one thing that tends to bind them all together is something to be gained from it. Sometimes it is data, sometimes it is money. In the case of Nintendo's breach, it was about buying things from the Nintendo eShop. While many users complained about logins, some users had evidence that these logins were making purchases through these logins. As it turns out, the benefit for the hackers came in the form of gift cards. Once an account was breached, the hackers would purchase Fortnite in-game currency cards and other digital goods.

Nintendo has currently disabled the ability to login using a Nintendo Network ID and has initiated a password reset process on ever affected account. They have also reached out to all affected users via email and have recommended turning on two-factor authentication for their accounts. The company said,

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused and concern to our customers and related parties. In the future, we will make further efforts to strengthen security and ensure safety so that similar events do not occur.

Whether you are affected or not, this is a good step to take to protect your account. In fact, for platforms that offer this feature, it is usually a good idea to use it because it can help mitigate these account hijackings. It's not 100% foolproof, but it's a good additional step of protection.

Contact tracing becomes exposure notification as privacy issues grow

posted Saturday Apr 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Contact tracing becomes exposure notification as privacy issues grow

As the fear over the Coronavirus threat grows and the need for the world to begin spinning again, in one fashion or another, becomes more important, solutions are being developed around the world. One of the most publicized tools being developed has been the Apple and Google partnership for contact tracing.

The concept is that phones would talk to one another and, if one phone knew that its owner had been infected, it would report that to the phone that came in contact with it. From there, the idea of tracing contact would spider out with each subsequent contact. The reason for the process is to stem the spread. The virus shows no signs of symptoms for around 48 hours and many people never show signs, but you are still highly contagious.

While the concept has real-world value, it also has been met with concern, mostly around privacy. Apple and Google do not have a great track record of protecting user privacy. Combining that with medical information, even second-hand, and data sharing has raised the attention of privacy organizations. As a result, the two companies have made changes to the way the system works even before it releases.

To get started, the contact data will now be encrypted. Why this wasn't part of the original design is a mystery, and lends credence to the concerns raised. To address concerns raised by Avram and me on last week's show, the API being made available for this project will report Bluetooth signal strength. This allows the app developers to make an educated decision about whether the contact is valid. Bluetooth is strong enough to go from house to house, apartment to apartment, or office to office. Reporting the signal strength will allow for decisions about the actual distance. The keys will also reset every 15 minutes, which addresses my concerns over being able to create a false Bluetooth beacon to incorrectly spread data.

In addition to the changes to the API structure, the system is getting a new name. Since "contact tracing" has been met with such strong negative emotions, the pair have rebranded the process to "exposure notification." This new name does more accurately describe the goal as opposed to the process, an issue that Silicon Valley has long struggled with.

The API is scheduled to become public next month, but it will still require an opt-in process to make it work.

Bad Robot to bring three original series to HBO Max streaming service

posted Saturday Apr 18, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Bad Robot to bring three original series to HBO Max streaming service

Last September, WarnerMedia inked a deal with JJ Abrams and his production company Bad Robot to produce a wide variety of content, including TV, movies, and videogames through 2024. The full details of the deal were not revealed, but the beginning of the company's plans have been revealed this week, with three original programs being announced. The shows will be produced by Bad Robot, with Abrams acting as Executive Producer. The three new shows will all be distributed by Warner Bros. International Television Distribution and released under the HBO Max streaming service, which recently announced a partnership with Charter. The three announced shows are DC Justice League Dark, Overlook, and Duster.

The new entry in the DC comics family will be focused on the more mystical side of the Justice League stories. This will include a number of occult-based characters like John Constantine and Zatanna. Beyond this, very little official information is known about the series, as WarnerMedia has been very controlling of the details.

The next series, Overlook, is based on Stephen King's work The Shining. This series will not be Abrams' first foray into the world of Stephen King, as Bad Robot was previously involved in the successful Castle Rock series on Hulu. King's work is a perfect pairing for Abrams' as the projects that made him a household name, like Lost and Cloverfield were in a similar genre.

The final series, Duster, will be a collaboration between Bad Robot and WarnerMedia itself and is setting the 1970s American Southwest. Unlike the other two, this one appears to be an original story and not based on an existing popular franchise.

The HBO Max service is expected to release next month, but these new shows are just entering their early production phase. There is no announced release dates for the shows, but expect them to be published on a staggered schedule.

Libra is changing its plans for launch to avoid regulatory nightmares

posted Saturday Apr 18, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Libra is changing its plans for launch to avoid regulatory nightmares

It's been almost a year since Facebook first announced its intentions to release a cryptocurrency called Libra. Almost immediately, the plan was met with concern from nearly everyone. Governments around the world saw the stable coin as a threat to their own control over the value of currencies. This was caused by the intent of the project - to tie the value of the stable coin to a bucket of investments, such as the US dollar, the Euro, as well as treasuries and securities. The move could reduce some of the control that central banks exert over their population through the controlled value of money, which might have been part of the plan.

The Libra Association, which oversees the project, has announced that it will scale back its intentions. Rather than a single coin based upon the values of various other exchanges, they will produce a variety of coins, each tied to a single point. That will move the concept from a single, global currency to a virtual equivalent of each nation's physical currency. In addition to the overall change in policy, the Libra Association plans to work with governments that require a license to operate payment businesses.

This change in the business model comes after months of problems for the organization. Facebook's ubiquity with the internet, including its 2.5 billion active users, could create a global central bank more powerful than any in existence. They also saw partners jump ship as the likelihood of a timely launch became lessened with the growing scrutiny. In fact, over a quarter of the founding members of the Association have left, including high profile companies like Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal.

The organization plans to launch before the end of 2020, though that timeline will be highly influenced by the governments of the world. The Association says that they will not launch until they have the approvals required to do so.

Crysis Remastered is coming. Will it become the new gaming benchmark?

posted Saturday Apr 18, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Crysis Remastered is coming. Will it become the new gaming benchmark?

For many years, the unofficial test of a gaming PC's power was its ability to play the game Crysis. For a while, it was simply whether the game could be run on the system at all, but over time it became a test of what settings the game could be run on, and what framerate the game would then play at. That statistic quickly became a badge of honor among the gaming community. All of this was because of the incredible graphics - something that was far ahead of its time. It was almost as if the game was a time traveler, showing what the future of gaming might look like.

However, with time, the game caught up with the future it might have come from, and the "can you run it" phrase became a meme rather than a boast. In fact, the original game can now run on a Nintendo Switch - far from the most powerful computing system. But, another time jump might be in our immediate future, as Crytek has announced Crysis Remastered is coming this summer. The timing is far from coincidental, as the first two titles in the franchise take place in the far off year of 2020.

The game will release on the PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch. While it might seem that a remaster coming to the Xbox One and PS4 would suggest a game with lessened capabilities, that is far from a certainty. The original title, which once tested the boundaries of PC hardware, was made to run on consoles only a few years later. Today, the ability to build a game that can scale to console hardware is far easier than it was at the time, meaning that a remaster on PC could be a different experience than the one on these significantly older consoles.

According to Crytek,

Crysis Remastered will focus on the original game's single-player campaigns and is slated to contain high-quality textures and improved art assets, an HD texture pack, temporal anti-aliasing, SSDO, SVOGI, state-of-the-art depth fields, new light settings, motion blur, and parallax occlusion mapping, particle effects will also be added where applicable. Further additions such as volumetric fog and shafts of light, software-based ray tracing, and screen space reflections provide the game with a major visual upgrade.

So, will the new version of the game become the benchmark by which all future computers are measured? Probably not, but one can hope that "Can it run Crysis?" will become a part of the gaming landscape once again.

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