The borders of security

The borders of security

It's becoming more common for agents at some borders to demand your device passwords so they can check what you have on them. Given the power of the modern smartphone, partially indicated by the cost of the top-end models, this makes sense, as they are basically mini notebook computers. If you really want to protect your data, keep it elsewhere.

Militaries in more advanced nations with a decent budget are investing in AI-based technologies and in particular smarter remote devices. The semi-good news is that we are still a long way away from what is now called natural intelligence, or what the original target of AI advances was aiming at, being human-like intelligence. There is an increasing focus on smart, swarm, drone technology rather than a single larger unit with, say, a machine gun or missile. Smaller units are far less expensive and more disposable than their larger cousins. Machines have better reflexes, and as more autonomy is given over to them, humans can spend more time analysing behaviour and success or failures. As long as they remember to always include a kill switch that cannot be overridden. Expect to see more of this in plane technology but hopefully without the recent Boeing flaws.

There were several significant data breaches over the past few months. For example, 40% of Australians' data was grabbed in the past three months. In another incident, 275 million records were exposed in India through an unsecured MongoDB database in AWS. After discovery, the whole repository was grabbed by a hacker group. If you need your data back, you'll need to contact them. If you haven't been told about them, then why worry, as to be perfectly honest, there is not a lot you can do other than perhaps change a password or two or pay up.

It also turns out that a panic alarm used to protect the elderly and small children has a security hole allowing the not-so-nice to track and record the wearers. The device comes out of China as a generic unit that has been rebranded by a number of providers. It is used by companies in the UK, US, Australia and other places under names such as Pebbell 2, Ownfone, SureSafeGo and others. The devices use a SIM card for communication, but an SMS message can be sent to reset the device and take control. If you have such a device, contact the manufacturer and check, as I've seen a lot of similar-looking devices under different names on eBay.

All you can be really sure of these days is that if you have any online presence, a security event is eventually going to happen to you if it hasn't three times already. Welcome to the digital age.

Intel has issued more fixes for their processors. Those Spectre-related issues just don't seem to be going away anytime soon. AMD is not spared, as it turned out that some older generation AMD processors fail to generate random numbers in hardware after waking up from suspend, which has negative effects with Systemd on Linux devices.

It turns out that Google searches favour news outlets like CNN over those from the other side of the fence. This discovery surprised no one. The US has blocked another Chinese telco, China Mobile, from operating in the country. Huawei is preparing its own AI database product to run on ARM processors. Don't expect to see this in the US, either. Japan has expressed a desire to mine Mars. If they can get there and make it profitable to send stuff back, then more power to them.

The US has finally decided to find out why Apple charges so much more than Android for its apps. Part of the problem is the 30% cut Apple takes on every sale. Many find this a bit steep, and it turns out that the Supreme Court in the US agrees. Big lawsuit to follow, and see if the legal community in district court agrees. Apple stock dropped on the news, and Google and others are also wondering what they will do if cases against Apple are successful.

Some have suggested that Microsoft's GitHub package registry could create a challenge to the open-source industry in general. Mike Milinkovich of the Eclipse Foundation is one of them. Eclipse is one of the most popular integrated-development environments for Java developers worldwide. Microsoft's Virtual Studio Code is a challenger for cross-platform development and it is highly ranked by the respected Stack Overflow. I think any fears at this stage that open-source will be taken over by Microsoft are very premature.

James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at

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