The UpStream

Attorney General Barr says tech firms can and must break encryption

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Attorney General Barr says tech firms can and must break encryption

The topic of encryption may seem simple, but in reality, there are a lot of nuances involved. At first look, the idea of encryption is all about protecting your data from prying eyes. It's what makes things like authentication and banking systems possible, protecting your passwords, personal data, and transaction history. It is also the basis for blockchain, the technology changing how digital audit trails are maintained.

There are some who see encryption as a threat to everything from advertising research to national security. There are certainly some legitimate issues when it comes to legal challenges. For example, there was the San Bernadino case, where Apple refused to decrypt a device that locked because of a police officer's mistake. The government believed the phone held important information about the attack, but Apple's dedication was to its users.

A month ago, the US followed Australia's lead by discussing a law requiring a back door into encryption. Now, they are upping their campaign against strong security, with a visit by Attorney General William Barr to a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University. In his remarks, he said,

There have been enough dogmatic pronouncements that lawful access simply cannot be done. It can be, and it must be.

This is likely just the beginning of a public "hearts and minds" type campaign to win approval from the general public. Without the support of the public, there is little to no chance of getting a law that puts their privacy at risk through the legislature. However, it is important to remember that this is exactly what it will do. As was Apple's argument, once you create a back door, it exists. Period. The government will argue that they can keep the details of that security bypass protected, but you only have to look at WikiLeaks to know that is far from the case.

The key will leak, and all legally encrypted data in the country will be decryptable and available to everyone. This idea is simply one that allows the government to access your data without your permission. It is a law that punishes the law-abiding public and will do nothing to change what data is available to law enforcement when needed. Criminals, by definition, don't follow the law, and will not use legally encryption services. They will, instead, use services that don't implement a back door for law enforcement, designed specifically for the dark web. Therefore, the only data that will be available to law enforcement will be yours, and the government knows that.

Why choose a team when you can go for the Big O?

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The biggest decision of every videogame console generation is which platform to choose? Do you go with the whimsey of Nintendo, the general use of Xbox, or the exclusive games of PlayStation? Fortunately, custom PC builder Origin has made it so that you could theoretically skip the choice with the Big O gaming rig. This beast includes a full gaming PC, an Xbox One X, a PlayStation 4, and a Nintendo Switch.

The Xbox and PlayStation implementations are special, as they actually conform to the consoles' original but abandoned specs, with no optical drives. To compensate, Origin added 2TB SSDs to each console. In addition to opening up the hardware, they also liquid-cooled both consoles within the case. The Switch works very differently since the hardware works very differently. Rather than opening up the console, losing the portability, the standard docking station is what is built into the box.

As for the gaming PC, it is a real beast. It features an Intel Core i9-9900K processor, an NVIDIA TITAN RTX graphics card, 64GB of RAM, 2 Samsung 2TB SSDs, plus a 14TB Seagate hard drive. Of course, the PC also features the same liquid cooling treatment that the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro received. More than the other two, this aspect of the build is definitely in need of liquid cooling.

If you're excited to crack open your wallet and get one for yourself, there's some bad news. This build was done as a celebration of the company's 10th anniversary and not as a sellable product. It's not terribly surprising, considering the legal challenges from Microsoft and Sony regarding the consoles being opened, plus the immense cost of integrating all of these unrelated pieces of hardware together. If you want something similar, you're going to have to build it yourself.

Sprint's spiral is almost over as DoJ approves T-Mobile merger

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Sprint's spiral is almost over as DoJ approves T-Mobile merger

The story of Sprint has been long and often tragic. That saga could be coming to an end, however, as the Department of Justice has approved the purchase of Sprint by T-Mobile USA. The FCC has already approved the merger. At this point, the only thing standing in the way of the $26.5 billion deal is a lawsuit filed by a dozen attorneys general claiming that the merger would reduce competition and raise prices.

The agreement with the DoJ will likely help alleviate some of the fears of these state representatives. While the combination of the #3 and #4 would reduce the number of current carriers, a new challenger has appeared in the form of DISH Network. The company has purchased spectrum in several auctions, with rumors circulating that the company planned to launch its own wireless network, but that has never come to fruition. This deal, however, brings the rumors to fruition, with DISH purchasing Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint prepaid from Sprint.

In addition to purchasing existing customers, in the form of the prepaid brands, DISH has also made some promises of their own. Between now and 2023, the company has promised to build out a 5G network that will cover 70 percent of the population. They will also gain access to T-Mobile's networks for 7 years, which will allow them to continue to operate the existing prepaid business, and even begin building out their own service in the short term. T-Mobile has also made promises, including holding pricing for both the Sprint and T-Mobile sides of the merger steady for at least 3 years. In addition, everyone involved promises to allow phone unlocking following a pretty liberal set of rules.

Ironically, this merger will leave T-Mobile in a familiar position, and one that began the downfall of the Sprint brand nearly 15 years ago. T-Mobile's current network is 5G, 4G LTE, and 3G and voice on GSM, while Sprint's network structure is 5G, 4G LTE, and 3G and voice on CDMA. This means that T-Mobile will have to maintain two competing networks for many of Sprint's existing users, while some Sprint phones (like iPhone) will be able to be migrated seamlessly. T-Mobile has experience with this, as their purchase of MetroPCS came along with CDMA technology (the PCS in MetroPCS), which they eventually retired.

Sprint's similar situation did not go as well. In 2005, the company purchased Nextel. Calling it a merger of equals, the two companies became Sprint Nextel, and both networks were maintained. At the time, Sprint was running entirely on CDMA, while Nextel was running on a completely incompatible system called iDEN. Sprint was an entirely digital network, while Nextel was entirely analog. This mistake cost the company dearly, causing network quality issues for both networks, ultimately damaging the brand image of Sprint, from which it never really recovered. The Nextel network was eventually retired, dinging the image even more.

At the dawn of 4G technology, the company wanted to get out ahead of the trend. Since the current network was based on CDMA, they decided to continue down that path, supporting the 4G WiMax standard. While Sprint was first with 4G, they bet on the wrong horse, meaning that they couldn't make any agreements with the other network for 4G roaming, nor could they participate in shared towers and repeaters. Eventually, they had to abandon the WiMax network and build a second 4G infrastructure, this time supporting the LTE standard, based on GSM technology.

So, while dueling networks caused Sprint's current troubles, T-Mobile's experience supporting and retiring Metro's CDMA network suggests that this could ultimately work in everyone's favor. However, it is far from a sure thing, and could still be shot down by the collection of states still fighting.

Netflix saw slow subscriber growth, believes they have a turnaround plan

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Netflix saw slow subscriber growth, believes they have a turnaround plan

Over the past year or so, the number of streaming video services has expanded dramatically. Not long ago, we had Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Today we've got new services like CBS All Access, DC Universe, and more. In the near future, we'll see the addition of Disney+, NBC's new service, AT&T's new service, and more.

More choice means more decisions to be made, and customers are making those decisions to the detriment of Netflix's subscriber growth. The company added 2.7 million paid subscribers, which is a far cry from their expected 5 million growth for the quarter. The company attributes some of this to their recent price increase but also sees a way forward.

Addressing two issues at once, Netflix pointed to the recent announcement that NBC would be reclaiming the rights to The Office and Friends as a good thing. According to their research, when Netflix loses licensed content, subscribers tend to simply gravitate to other available programming, often focusing on original programming. With that, it tracks that the loss of The Office will encourage subscribers to check out original programming from the company. In addition, it will free up a ton of financial resources to allow for new Netflix Originals.

The company has also committed to subscribers and investors to make better decisions about their Originals. Netflix has had a very open policy with its green light, approving some real bombs. For every Stranger Things there's at least one Girlboss. For every Bird Box there's a Gypsy. Going forward, they plan to be more careful with the money they spend on Originals. That move will be good for everyone, because it means that sifting through the Originals category should return far fewer disasters like Chealsea and more hits like Big Mouth, plus they won't be wasting money. A win-win situation.

Google has canceled controversial censored Chinese search engine

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Google has canceled controversial censored Chinese search engine

Since word broke on Google's censored search engine Dragonfly, intended for China, the response has been incredibly negative. The product, which has been in development for over a year, immediately began raising questions about user privacy, government censorship, and corporate culture. China has demanded that search engines remove results about human rights, democracy, peaceful protest, and more. Years ago, Google pulled out of China over censorship concerns, and Dragonfly indicated a change in corporate responsibility.

This week, during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Karan Bhatia, Google's vice president of public policy, said,

We have terminated Project Dragonfly.

The company claims that this is not a new development, pointing to a statement from March that said that the company was not actively working on the project and employees have been moved to other projects. However, testifying before the Senate and the word "terminated" are significantly more firm. Not currently working on a project is not the end of the project, but termination indicates a certain finality.

As the battle between the West and China heats up, confirming the end of this project is a smart move. As it was, policymakers and employees have expressed their dislike of the project. A letter was sent to Google, encouraging the company to reconsider the project, while unhappy employees resigned over the human rights implications. Things heated up when privacy concerns were exposed, ending with even veteran executives leaving.

Google's China ties have already become a problem for the company when exports to Huawei were recently banned. This meant that Google could not provide updates for Android devices produced by the company. While the ban is partially suspended, the uncertainty could definitely have played a role in this decision. Hopefully, however, the decision was made after reconsidering the human rights, privacy, and censorship concerns.

Nintendo Switch has longer battery model coming with Switch Lite

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Switch has longer battery model coming with Switch Lite

The past 2 weeks have been big for Nintendo announcements. It started last week with the announcement of the Nintendo Switch Lite, a smaller version of the existing Switch. The new model has been anticipated for months and hit all of the expected notes. The most important change is the price, dropping $100 off of the standard model, coming in at $199. A 33% price reduction is a big benefit for many who have held off on the current generation Nintendo console.

Unfortunately, the company has made a lot of sacrifices to reduce the price. The Lite model does not feature the iconic Joy-Con controllers, meaning that multiplayer games will require purchasing additional hardware. With a retail price of $79 for Joy-Con controllers, just adding this capability will bring the price in line with the standard hardware. However, you will also be sacrificing two other major features of the Switch: the TV mode and the tabletop mode. The Switch Lite does not have the kickstand of the original, nor does it have the docking capability, allowing you to use it on the television.

This means that the Switch Lite is far less like its bigger cousin, and more like the Nintendo 3DS. What this means for the 3DS family is unknown, as the company affirmed its commitment to the hardware earlier in the year, but this launch could change that. It has been expected that 2019 would be the final year of sales for the 3DS family, and a direct replacement more than adds credence to the expectations.

Not to be outdone, however, Nintendo also confirmed a new model (HAC-001-01) of their flagship Switch hardware. The new model will be essentially unchanged from an external perspective but will feature altered internals that will deliver up to 80% additional battery life. The new model could see as much as 9 hours compared to the maximum of 6.5 hours of the current model. This new model is expected to hit the street in August, and will directly replace the existing HAC-001 device.

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