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You Don’t Really Own Your Hardware: The War on Electronics Repair

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The ways that companies like Apple try to extract more cash from their customer base are many. The notion of planned obsolescence is defined by the Oxford dictionary like so:

A policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of nondurable materials.

The dictionary definition obviously doesn’t cover it all, but suffice it to say that releasing a new model every year with improvements only sufficient to make older models not capable of running updates is one good example. But getting customers to buy new hardware is not the only way to make more from them. You can also make it nearly impossible for the common person to repair their own stuff, so that they then either a) buy new hardware or b) bring it back to you for repair. The ways this is done are myriad, as Motherboard writer Jason Koebler notes in his recent report on the subject.

Pentalobe screw

The Pentalobe screw design. Courtesy: iFixit

Koebler caught up with the CEO of iFixit, Kyle Wiens. iFixit is a company which has helped people repair their own hardware by developing tools to counterbalance the complicated designs that Apple has implemented. A particular gripe among consumers is the Pentalobe screw, a screw for which there are not widely available screwdrivers.

Koebler recounted how he personally discovered the Pentalobe after breaking his Macbook screen and deciding against the $600 Apple replacement plan, as well as the $500 independent
repairman replacement. He wanted to do it himself. In a bygone generation, this urge would have been commonplace. This is to say that it didn’t used to be the realm of “hardware hackers” to fix your own stuff. It was just smarter, since repair people value their time like anyone else and rightly charge fair labor rates.

Wiens told Koebler that Apple and other companies have been on a mission to eliminate consumer access to their own devices, from software to hardware. The DMCA has been used to make code virtually off-limits, and there’s not a lot that can be done about that at this point in history. But on the hardware side, the companies must find more creative ways to combat user creativity. Speaking of his company’s production of a consumer grade Pentalobe screwdriver, Wiens said:

That was the first screwdriver in the world outside of Apple that would remove the pentalobe screw. Apple was literally screwing their customers, and because we had a heads up, we were able to sell a screwdriver as soon as it came to the United States.

iFixit also offers other help to consumers, such as the ability to fix the red ring of death – a rather common occurrence for Xbox users. One has to wonder if it was always this way, and for the purpose of this investigation, we will focus on Apple.

Also read: Most of America’s 100M+ Active iPhones Are iPhone 6 or Later

Cultural Shift

iPhone Unscrewing

Apple was not always the major conglomerate it is now. Without the help of countless retail outlets, third-party repair people, and even open source software (BSD is the basis for OS X, which can be seen as a major part of Apple’s resurgence), Apple may never have been a household name. The company didn’t open its first retail outlet until 2001, decades after its founding. Koebler notes that in 2010, Apple started with the Pentalope screws. Before that, it was mostly Philips and other industry-standard kit.

But Wiens doesn’t see it as merely a consumer rights issue. He also considers it an environmental one, in that many devices which don’t get fixed are destined for massive landfills in Africa and elsewhere. He believes that the people who live near these e-waste dumps are lacking crucial information on how to fix the wealth of electronics which have been dumped there. This is not to mention the mercury and other toxins which eventually seep out of dumped electronics, part of the reason there are special methods of disposing them in the West. Wiens said:

What’s really the problem is there are products that are complex and the manufacturers are sharing none of the information on how to fix them. You make a million printers, they’re used in a million different ways. At the end of their life, they also get thrown away or discarded in a million different ways. That’s the lever we can pull by teaching people to fix things. We had accidentally stumbled across the solution to a really big problem.

Laptop fanApple and other companies employ numerous other methods to keep the repairmen at bay, including imprinting their logo everywhere they can in hopes that a judge will consider trademark infringement. But in the end, Apple doesn’t need to earn money this way, and as long as there are barriers, there will be tunnel diggers.

Chinese parts which cost a fraction of list price and do the job just as well abound. To further solidify their position, companies have begun making deals with phone carriers to have “leasing” programs as opposed to ownership. And given all the ways they seem to desire that people don’t work on their own stuff, it certainly seems they don’t believe it matters that you bought the product with the expectation of having ownership of it. For Apple posted record smashing profits this year and brought in more than 90% of all smart phone profits. So in their eyes, the status quo is working.

Featured image from Shutterstock. Additional images from iFixit.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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5 stars on average, based on 2 rated postsP. H. Madore has covered the cryptocurrency beat over the course of hundreds of articles for Hacked's sister site, CryptoCoinsNews, as well as some of her competitors. He is a major contributing developer to the Woodcoin project, and has made technical contributions on a number of other cryptocurrency projects. In spare time, he recently began a more personalized, weekly newsletter at http://ico.phm.link




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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. englishvinal

    November 25, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Simple remedy… STOP handling Apple you money… and yes, go without that “cute” device, whatever it may be.
    People lived their lives perfectly adequately 30 years ago WITHOUT Apple… or “texting”.. or even email (as much as I enjoy email).. Microsoft has always been a deliberate rip off… and Apple has joined the band of thieves.

    Personally I really honestly believe it is way past time for people to WAKE UP and take a long look at what is being done to them. And fight back the only way that makes a difference, with their pocketbooks.

    • P. H. Madore

      November 30, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      Indeed. The author runs Linux exclusively, I’m told, and only pays for software licenses when commercially necessary.

  2. Jensi

    February 2, 2016 at 8:19 am

    In generally the apple only gives the brand name otherwise
    it makes more expensive in maintenance.

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Altcoins

Ledger Making Major Announcement On January 7 as the Case for Cold Storage Grows

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2017 was a breakthrough year for cryptocurrencies.  Many traders were able to generate incredible, life-changing profits.  And while not everyone was able to maintain those profits, the excitement led many to seek out the safest ways to protect their assets.  Even now, after experiencing a massive drop in crypto valuations, asset protection is still a major issue.  This is especially true given all the wallet and exchange hacks that have occurred during the past 12 months.  A few of the most notable hacks that have occurred are:

  • Coincheck – January 2018 – $530 million loss
  • BitGrail – February 2018 – $195 million loss
  • Bithumb – June 2018 – $31 million loss

These are just a few examples of significant losses that have crypto traders have suffered.  A report from blockchain security firm, CipherTrace, estimated that hackers stole $927 million from cryptocurrency related platforms during the first nine months in 2018.  Although the lack of regulation is normally cited as a benefit by cryptocurrency proponents, it also creates major security concerns for those with valuable crypto portfolios.  So, what’s the best way for traders to protect themselves?  Cold storage.

What is Cold Storage?

The one place that traders should not keep their assets is direct on the exchanges.  Given all the exchange hack attacks, especially the ones cited in this article, a better option is available.  Cold storage means keeping digital assets offline (i.e. away from internet access).  By storing assets offline, the assets are significantly less susceptible to being hacked and/or stolen.

While there are several cold storage options available, the two most popular are the Ledger Nano S and the Trezor.  Although the Trezor hardware wallet was designed by the highly respected SatoshiLabs, the Ledger Nano S has emerged as the most popular.

Ledger Nano S

The Ledger Nano S is the most widely used multi-currency hardware wallet in the cryptoverse.  It’s the only hardware wallet that features a secure chip with a custom operating system.  While many other hardware wallets do contain a “simple chip,” the Ledger Nano comes with a “smartcard chip.”  This smartcard chip is used for applications that require extreme measures of security such as passport biometric data and credit card details.

Since its inception in 2014, the company has grown by leaps and bounds.  The Ledger Nano now supports over 1,100 currencies thanks to its compatibility with other mainstream wallets such as MyEtherWallet and MyCrypto.

Major Announcement on January 7

Ledger is known for being on the cutting edge of blockchain and crypto security.  Therefore, many expect the announcement this coming Monday to be a big deal.

While it’s not yet clear what the announcement is regarding, many are speculating on the possibility of a new and improved Ledger device.  Perhaps one that comes with additional storage capacity and an enhanced screen.  A few reddit posters even mentioned the possibility of fingerprint authentication which, would be quite interesting.

Another hint that an improved device is coming is the fact that Ledger is currently offering a 30% discount on Ledger Nano S wallets.

Conclusion

I’m not sure yet what the announcement will be but I’m certainly eager to find out given that I’m a huge fan of their products.  While the Ledger Nano S is my go-to cold storage wallet, it isn’t perfect.  There are things I would love to see improved and fingers are crossed that Monday will be when that happens.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Altcoins

Cardano (ADA) Has Big Security Boost as Trezor Ready to Support ADA

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  • Hardware wallet manufacturer set to support Cardano’s ADA, which is a big security boost.
  • ADA/USDT still demonstrates some near-term vulnerabilities to the downside. 

Trezor Set to Support Cardano’s ADA

IOHK were very much pleased to announce, that Trezor are currently undergoing preparation to support Cardano (ADA). Trezor are a globally known hardware wallet, which facilitates cryptocurrencies to be stored. They are renowned for the security and being able to store the key to the wallet safely. The company is a large manufacturer of hardware wallets. A huge boost in security for the foundation’s native token, something token holders should be pleased about.

The update came from the Cardano founder, Charles Hotkinson, via his Twitter account, indicating this could be the case before the month of November. Separately, Trezor themselves tweeted, “have you ever wondered what we are working on? Have a look at our newly created roadmap, where you can see all the new stuff that is coming up! https://wiki.trezor.io/Roadmap It lists other tokens which will be receiving support in addition to Cardano’s ADA that day. This includes the likes of Monero (XMR), Stellar (XLM), Ripple (XRP), Zencash (ZEN) and Zcash (ZEC).

What Next for Cardano?

The Cardano Founder, Charles Hoskinson, was recently speaking about how the team is going to be providing more insightful updates. He noted that they will soon start the creation and posting of videos with their future projects.

There is much anticipation from token holders regarding the imminent 1.4 update. Given Cardano’s growing number of users, this is said to be a large factor to the development of a new update from the foundation. This 1.4 update is expected to help Cardano gain further traction in bringing in more users to its platform and the use of its native token.

Technical Review ADA/USDT – 4-hour Chart

ADA/USDT 4-hour chart

Downside pressure continues to keep ADA/USDT at bay. The lack of announcement from Cardano with regards to its ecosystem update, as mentioned above, perhaps could be also taking its toll on the price. It is currently running within its 8th consecutive trading session in the red. No sign of bounce yet.

ADA/USDT price action remains stuck and dictated within this triangular pattern formation. The market bears, with the current losing streak, are set to test the key near-term support to the downside. This is seen at the lower part of the above-mentioned pattern, tracking at $0.0728 area, also within a touted demand zone. A breach potentially seen here, could see a very fast move back down to 18th September low area, around $0.0620. As a result, it is hard to ignore that the current technical set up, suggest of vulnerabilities.

In terms of resistance, this can be seen at the upper part of the pattern, tracking at $0.0800 mark. Enough upside momentum could see a breakout higher, back towards $0.0950 territory, price last within this proximity on 23rd September. Further north, any breach of the mentioned areas, $0.10000, will quickly be back in the picture.

ADA/USDT daily chart

To conclude as mentioned above, the near-term support $0.0728, is vital for ADA/USDT to hold. A failure of comfort here, could open the doors to a fresh wave of selling pressure.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 124 rated postsKen has over 8 years exposure to the financial markets. During a large part of his career, he worked as an analyst, covering a variety of asset classes; forex, fixed income, commodities, equities and cryptocurrencies. Ken has gone on to become a regular contributor across several large news and analysis outlets.




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Cybersecurity

Israeli Researchers Turn Speakers/Headphones Into Eavesdropping Microphones

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In the current age, even the most secure software and the best security practices might not be enough to prevent someone from being spied upon. Researchers continue to find novel and inventive ways to gather more data on everyday computer users, and the latest research from Israel’s Ben Gurion University is exceptional in this regard.

Using software alone, Mordechai Guri, Yosef Solewicz, Andrey Daidakulov, and Yuval Elovici were able to convert a given pair of headphones or speakers into Orwellian microphones beyond the user’s control or ability to patch. Their method [PDF] exploits a flaw in RealTek hardware chips, which are one of the most widely used chips in motherboards around the world. Companies like Dell, HP, and Compaq regularly utilize RealTek’s industry standard audio chips in their products. Beyond that, motherboards sold to consumers wishing to build their own systems often also include the hardware.

A simple patch or firmware upgrade will not fix this flaw, making the exploit particularly delightful to intelligence agencies, profit-motivated hackers (think boardroom conference calls), and others. Basically, anywhere a computer has an audio output, which in the case of laptops is everywhere, audio can now be intercepted and then relayed with roughly the same quality as if a microphone itself had been compromised. The images of people like Mark Zuckerberg covering up their webcam and microphone with electrical tape now seem trivial.

Jack re-tasking – the process of converting an output jack to either an input or a two-way port – has long been a possibility, but few developers make use of it. Most laptops and desktops will have separate ports for each, while smartphones and the like often require hardware that can do both. But the innovation on the part of Ben Gurion’s researchers involves making any regular output hardware capable of doing as much with only software. They write:

The fact that headphones and earphones are physically built like microphones, coupled with the fact that an audio port’s role in the PC can be altered programmatically from output to input, creates a vulnerability which can be abused by hackers.

The researchers noticed that the design of most audio input and output hardware was basically identical at the metal, drawing the following illustration for clarification:

Source: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Cyber Security Research Center

Source: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Cyber Security Research Center

One saving grace is that the audio output device must be “passive,” or unpowered. This means that if your speakers require power to work, they are not currently able to use these to listen to you. However, the vast majority of laptop speakers and earbuds are, by nature and necessity, passive. The researchers note that while they focused on RealTek codec hardware because of their popularity, other manufacturers also have the ability to retask jacks, which is the heart of the exploit.

While this may seem scary at first, it should be noted that, like anything else on your computer, audio input and output are data. They can therefore be encrypted with keys that are local to the machine, and it would seem that this new exploit opens up a new avenue of research for cryptographic researchers to institute audio encryption in the same way that full-disk encryption has become normalized.

Here is a demonstration of the method in action:

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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5 stars on average, based on 2 rated postsP. H. Madore has covered the cryptocurrency beat over the course of hundreds of articles for Hacked's sister site, CryptoCoinsNews, as well as some of her competitors. He is a major contributing developer to the Woodcoin project, and has made technical contributions on a number of other cryptocurrency projects. In spare time, he recently began a more personalized, weekly newsletter at http://ico.phm.link




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