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Apple files patent claims v. Samsung to ban the Nexus 'iPhone-killer'
Category: Technology

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that." Lewis Carroll

With the iPad 3 due to appear in weeks and iPhone 5 already on plan, Apple [AAPL] has extended its litigation against former ally Samsung, just days after laying the smackdown against Motorola's attempt to subvert industry standards in that company's Google-sponsored war against the iPhone. This time Apple is seeking to get Samsung's Galaxy Nexus banned in the USA.

[ABOVE: Co-developed between Google and Samsung, will the Nexus find itself banned in the USA?]

Innovation, imitation, fair use?

In a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for Northern California, Apple has claimed the Nexus infringes four of its patents that relate to:

  • Touching a number on a Web page to dial (data tapping).
  • Word placement
  • Siri
  • The 'swipe to unlock' function.

While three of the patents were granted relatively recently, the data tapping patent was recently upheld by the ITC and caused HTC to remove the feature from its devices without further struggle.

Apple is claiming -- correctly -- that allowing sales of Samsung's derivative device would "cause Apple to lose market share to Samsung that could support a finding of irreparable harm."

That the platform war continues unabated is made clear in a second statement from the company, in which it says: "The smartphone market is at a critical juncture, as the overwhelming majority of consumers move to smartphones, and the consumers' long-term preferences and purchases may be determined to a great extent by the operating system on their first smartphone."

Doublespeak and double standard

This is the real deal behind Apple's attempt to draw a line in the sand between its own user interface and design ideas and those of its copyist competitors. Apple is insisting its own ideas are respected, while imitators are attempting to secure a foothold in the rapidly-expanding smartphone market by aping ideas used within the iPhone.

Apple puts it this way, saying Samsung's attempts to emulate its patent-protected user interfaces are designed to secure that foothold, this is: "Precisely why Samsung copies Apple's products and incorporates Apple's patented features, i.e., in order to lure crucial first-time purchasers away from Apple."

Launched in the US in October 2011, the Nexus runs Android 4.0 (the stupidly-named 'Ice Cream Sandwich'). Samsung's response to Apple's salvo is typical. In the response the company -- currently under EU investigation for alleged anti-competitive behavior in the smartphone industry as evinced in its partial commitment to FRAND licensing agreements -- said:

"We continue to assert our intellectual property rights and defend against Apple's claims to ensure our continued innovation and growth in the mobile communications business."

Don't underestimate the significance of these battles. Apple has so far sold over one million iPads in South Korea (Samsung's home turf). Apple and Samsung are fighting over 20 legal battles across 10 or more countries as they battle for leadership of the smartphone industry.

[ABOVE: Those heady days in 2007 when Steve Jobs' launched the iPhone. Back then, Google's Schmidt still sat on Apple's board, and the Android OS was apparently a little like a BlackBerry. How things change.]

What makes it unique?

Apple's fight is to convince the courts that its patented user interface technologies must be considered proprietary and should not be imitated without license by competitors. Competitors remain tied to Android, and until Google delivers a truly unique version of that OS, then the proxy war between Apple and Google will continue.

An open battle between Apple and Google in the courts seems ever more likely. Many of the user interface features Apple is fighting others over are included within the Google-developed Android OS. This drives FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller to state: "In this case, stock Android itself is at issue. This means that Google cannot deny its undivided responsibility for any infringement findings."

Mueller also points out that much of the previous and existing litigation seems a little ineffective, but with Apple now facing systemic Google-supported abuse of the nature with which IP holders are required to honor FRAND patents, he now concedes:

"Because of the need for Apple to respond to FRAND abuse by companies like Motorola and Samsung, wholeheartedly endorsed by Google, I now accept the fact that Apple needs to ratchet up and accelerate its enforcement of standard-unrelated patents."

Make a stand for FRAND

What those firms fighting Apple with what seem to me to be clear abuses of the standards of behavior which govern the FRAND licensing systems should be aware of its that Cupertino counts a horde of similar patents of its own.

Should Apple's enemies prevail in their FRAND fights, then what's to stop Apple beginning similar actions against them? And if that event were to transpire, what damage would it make to the many agreed industry standards on which we all depend in order to ensure devices from different manufacturers interoperate?

I believe it's important to stand up for transparent and un-prejudiced handling of FRAND licensing agreements, and feel those firms who are using FRAND patents as part of an attempt to combat Apple are setting in motion wheels which could imperil future evolution and technology advancement.

There seems to me to be a case to demand that patents held under FRAND agreements be ceded to a neutral third-party body (most likely the relevant standards organizations) for licensing and collection of fees.

That's because a growing list of companies (Motorola and Samsung, for example) are proving themselves -- at least to my eyes -- as being untrustworthy in their handling of FRAND licensing.

This also means consumers need to look to products from such companies and firmly analyze the small print of their guarantees to ensure after sales support is rubber-clad -- will firms incapable of handling tech licensing in an honest and transparent manner be capable of honoring your device guarantee in the event the product fails? It's all a truly dreadful business.

Hackers to target and cyberattack high tech cars?
Category: Technology

Forget about hackers targeting smartphones or your home computer because "hackers have scopes set on your automobile," according to The Montreal Gazette. From a lab, security researchers were able to "send nasty messages to their test car's display board, start and stop the engine, disable the brakes and even make two cars 1,000 miles apart perform in unison. Could any basement-dwelling computer geek do the same thing?"

Some security researchers warn that any electronic system in a car is a potential target for hackers, from the brakes to the radio. In fact there are all kinds of sweet spot automotive attack surfaces [PDF]. We are incorporating more entertainment-related computers in cars, entertainment systems that can be hacked to tell safety computers what to do. Yet we continue forward so we can be connected to the Internet and social media while driving -- cause that Facebook status update just can't wait.

Last month the Transportation Research Board (TRB) published a report about the "challenges arising from the expanding functionality and use of automotive electronics." There are hundreds of sensors, circuits and "microprocessors running on increasingly complex software and exchanging information through one or more communication networks." The TRB report advised the biggest issue of concern is car hacking or "automotive vulnerabilities to cyberattack."

The last few years, in demonstrations, security researchers "hacked into a test car's electronic braking system and prevented a test driver from braking a moving car -- no matter how hard he pressed on the brakes. In other tests, they were able to kill the engine, falsify the speedometer reading, and automatically lock the car's brakes unevenly, a maneuver that could destabilize the car traveling high speeds. They ran their test by plugging a laptop into the car's diagnostic system and then controlling that computer wirelessly, from a laptop in a vehicle riding next to the car."

The TRB report continued, "Some failures of software and other faults in electronics systems do not leave physical evidence of their occurrence." Bluetooth, GPS, and entertainment-related embedded systems will become increasingly complex. "In the more distant future, features such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications will likely require further increases in software complexity, new sensor technologies and other hardware that will require dependability assessments, and the deployment of additional technologies such as wireless connections that could increase vehicle susceptibility to cyberattack."

Lynda Tran, an NHTSA spokeswoman, told Bloomberg, "The agency recognizes there are potential vulnerabilities, especially those related to future connected vehicles, that need to be fully understood and addressed."

Then Stefan Savage, a University of California-San Diego computer science professor, told Bloomberg, "Car thieves could exploit security weaknesses to remotely open and start a car, or a spy could listen to conversations inside a car. Unlike automotive standards that specify performance minimums, a security standard would have to specify what systems shouldn't do. Such as not allowing a CD to send signals to the brakes." 

"We found that basically anything under computer control in a car is vulnerable to malicious attack," says computer scientist Stephen Checkoway. "This includes the brakes, engine, lights, radio, wipers and electronic display. If a computer controls it, it can be controlled by an attacker." According to the National Post, Checkoway warned, "They could seize control remotely through the panoply of wireless devices attached to the car, such as cellular, Bluetooth, radio and tire pressure monitoring system. If you can take over the radio, you can use it to reprogram all the other computers."

Tom Clancy-like scenarios included:

Numerous cars could be jointly infected, perhaps using audio files. This could be used to prompt mass brake failure at a particular time or location. Tire pressure monitors could also be used as a triggering mechanism. And while his test car lacked self-parking capabilities, the possibility of driving a remotely-steered car off a cliff via Bluetooth seems viable.

Or an enterprising hacker could use a combination of wireless devices to seek out specific vehicles, disable their anti-theft devices, unlock the doors, start the engines and then sell the locations to eager car thieves. And it seems like child's play to eavesdrop on in-car conversations using built-in microphones and an Internet connection, or to lift personal information off connected cell phones, a sure boon to corporate espionage.

Freaked out yet? SANS Technology Institute reported on 2012 - 2013 security predictions, including malware that morphs into scareware and attacks embedded systems in your vehicle. A potential scareware example might be "physical hostage malware: Your car doors will not unlock until you pay $X. You'll either be locked in or out of your vehicle. Your smartphone's e-pay function can pay a small ransom and release the doors instantly. Out of desperation, many would immediately pay a token amount (less than 3 dollars, perhaps)."

In the past we looked at 'War Texting,' an SMS attack to steal a car, hacking to pwn a cop car, and how the Nissan Leaf secretly leaks driver location, speed to websites. So I'm sure we'll be hearing more about car hacking, how vehicles may be vulnerable to cyberattack, and other ways attackers can target and exploit your high tech car.


High tech police gadgets to fight crime
Category: Technology

Would you have a problem with a police van being parked in your neighborhood? This same armored vehicle has large red letters painted on the side that state, "Warning: You are under video surveillance." The front bumper taunts, "Whatcha gonna do when we come for you?" This is the "The Peacemaker," the Fort Lauderdale Police Department's new surveillance weapon to fight crime.

The first Peacemaker served its previous life as a Brinks' armored truck which was discontinued and then purchased for $10 by Florida law enforcement. The newest Peacemaker is a converted SWAT vehicle. These are unmanned crime fighting vehicles that are parked in problem or high-crime neighborhoods, or parked in front of houses where suspected drug dealers live. According to the SunSentinel, Detective Travis Mandell  stated, "Make no mistakes about it. We want people to know that we are watching the bad guys."

The SunSentinel reported, "Mixing high tech with simplicity, the in-your-face strategy is straightforward: load an out-of-service armored truck with some of the latest surveillance equipment available and decorate it with police emblems. Then, simply leave it parked in front of trouble spots." Peacemakers are fitted with surveillance cameras that stream live video to police headquarters. Up to eight cameras are attached to each bullet-proof window in order to film panoramic footage for up to 700 hours.

In the video, one man who "loves" the Peacemaker being parked in his neighborhood said, "You have people complaining that they don't want that on this block, so I think that's a red flag and I think the police should focus on those people." That seems to imply if you do not like a surveillance truck parked in your neighborhood, then you are a potential criminal (or worse a potential terrorist), one of "those people."

If those people happen to be "anti-social" juveniles who are loitering or creating graffiti, then there's a high tech tool for that as well. In fact, it discourages all "anti-social behavior" such as loitering, graffiti, and any "unwanted gatherings of youths and teenagers in shopping malls, around shops and anywhere else they are causing problems." It's a sonic deterrent security device called the Mosquito. It emits a high-frequency sound that can be heard for 114 to 131 feet by people younger than 25. Anyone, not just the police, can purchase one. The Mosquito device "usually takes between 5 and 15 minutes to take effect." Groups and individuals who are exposed to "The Mosquito device's persistent high frequency noise will only endure it for a short period of time before leaving the area."

Those youths may shriek as they run away, which brings us to "sound DNA." The Public Journal pointed out that the Department of Acoustics Criminology use "sound DNA," which are recordings of voices that can be checked against more than 4,000 offenders and then spit out a name in seconds. By using the IdentitysVox program, it creates a sound "lineup" of suspects based off the voice prints. The sound of suspects' voices are compared and contrasted with a "hundred voices with identical features." Then the "system reveals a statistical value similar to that expressed in the DNA and allows you to set whether the similarity between them is strong, moderate or mild." A computer screen also shows a curved dotted red, green and blue graph with details of how well the voice matches. Voice biometrics and forensic acoustics are not new and voice prints are used as evidence in court. How reliable is sound DNA? "There is only 1 chance in 28 million that this DNA belongs to someone else."

If that makes your heart beat hard, hoping you are not the 1 the DNA voice print is wrong about, then that brings us to the heartbeat detector which "works like a seismograph that records the vibrations produced by the heart." It is often used to detect illegal immigrants hiding in trucks. It not only detects heartbeats, but distinguishes between humans and animals and "even indicates the area of the vehicle where the immigrant is hidden" and if they move. "It's located immigrants hidden in a mattress or in the structure of the pilot's seat."

The same heartbeat detection may make passwords obsolete. Gizmodo reported the technology is in the works to "unlock your hard drive by simply touching your keyboard. Your unique heartbeat, emitted through your fingertip, would be your password." Even with your own unique heartbeat, no two heartbeats are quite the same. Taiwan researchers have "translated a human heartbeat into an encryption key using an electrocardiograph reading from an individual's palm. Their unique series of thump-thumpa generated a secret key."  Right now it's a proof of concept, but "the goal is to build the system into external hard drives and other devices that can be decrypted and encrypted simply by touching them."



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