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LaptopMD+ Blog

Spectre and Meltdown: Processing Problems

by LaptopMD Posted January 11, 2018 in Knowledge Base, News, TechBuzz

You may have heard recently that many of Intel’s Central Processing Units (CPUs) have a design flaw that could allow malicious attackers to steal private information.  Passwords, emails, etc. could be stolen because of “kernel memory areas” in the CPUs.

However, even though the focus is on Intel’s screw-up, it’s believed that CPUs sold by other vendors may have the same problems. Intel is just taking the heat because they’re the biggest and most reputable name.

What is a CPU?

processor

If you’ve ever seen a CPU (above) – also casually known as a processor – you would know it’s probably the strangest-looking part of a computer.  It’s relatively inconspicuous, but it is regarded as the “brain” of the computer, because pretty much everything needs to run through the CPU.  That’s why keeping the CPU at a low temp takes a lot of work, but is very important (if your computer is overheating it will probably shut down to protect the CPU).

What are the security flaws?

 

The two main “vulnerabilities” have cool names: Spectre and Meltdown.  They both can be exploited by malicious programs on your computer to get secret information from your currently running programs (password managers, emails).  The nitty-gritty details of it are complicated but the gist of it is pretty simple.

Your processor wants to act quickly and it makes information readily available, in an attempt to give you a faster and more fluid user experience so you don’t need to wait for the information.  These flaws take advantage of that optimization and the software patches to fix it might affect that.

Okay cool, it’s being fixed.

 

The initial reports from PC Mag were saying that the software fix would be a big problem, and that it could potentially slow down your computer up to 30%.  Intel has pushed back at that statement saying “any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant”.

So, if you’re a really intensive computer user you might notice your machine slowing down every now and then, but hopefully you won’t.

The Moral: Nobody is Perfect

 

Everything seems like it can be hacked. The Equifax security breachthe Showtime cryptocurrency mining scandalthe OTHER Equifax security breachKRACK attacksRansomware… there’s a lot of bad hacking-related issues lately and it seems like it might not get better.

Unfortunately, this is just the age we live in right now. We can just stick with our personal best practices. Use a virus removal you trust, keep an eye out for phishing attempts, and update your software frequently.


Pre-order your iPhone X Now!

by LaptopMD Posted October 27, 2017 in Newsletter

Many people have said (somewhat justifiably) that the newest iPhone is the same thing as the last one, with a new number.  In fact, some of the newer iPhones have had LESS features than previous iterations cough cough iPhone 7 audio jack cough.

However, my over-used joke aside, the iPhone 7 was incredibly popular and Apple added it to their tally of successful bold moves.  The next bold move is supposed to be the iPhone X.

Forward Progress Must Continue

 

With Apple releasing two different branches of iPhones at once, people may wonder why?  Well it seems that the iPhone 8 might fit into the typical category of iPhones – it’s the new one but it’s not that special. It’s basically a nicer, newer iPhone 7 with a few more added features that probably won’t affect your daily life too much.

However, the iPhone X is to be their next big step up.  Among a host of other improvements, it has facial recognition software, which is also the main reason you might need to pre-order the iPhone X if you want to get it soon.

Apparently, Facial Recognition Software Requires Precision

It’s the Facial Recognition bit that has production slowing.  It makes sense, given that this truly is a huge step forward.  According to PC Mag, Apple may have had to lower their facial recognition accuracy to make it easier to produce enough iPhones on time.  That means if you want to get the new iPhone X soon, you probably need to pre-order!

Apple Has Denied This

 

Apple has made a statement about their facial recognition software, saying that they are not compromising its quality and that they fully expect it to become the new “gold standard” in facial recognition technology.

Obviously, they don’t want to admit if they are providing a sub-optimal product, but it is hard to expect the first iPhone to come with this technology to have it perfect.  Just look at how far we’ve come when viewing the iPhone 3 to the iPhone 5, and then from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 7.

I was just saying how the new iPhone is often just like the old one with some new shine on it, but those subtle changes do ramp up quite quickly. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that in a few years we might look at the iPhone X’s facial recognition capabilities as buggy and imperfect when compared to the iPhone XII, or whatever we’re calling it then.


Trade in your old iPhone for credit toward your new one!

by LaptopMD Posted October 5, 2017 in News, Newsletter

If you’re looking forward to snagging one of the new iPhones (whether that be the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, or X) and have an older version, you can trade that in for some credit toward your new phone with most cell providers (or other places like Amazon and Best Buy) will just buy the phone off of you! However, they only accept working phones so if you’ve just been dealing with a cracked screen, make sure to get it fixed first!

Apple doesn’t mind anymore.

 

People are often hesitant to get their screen repaired through a 3rd party provider because Apple used to void the warranty on the phone then.  However, they changed their stance back in February and as long as the repair is done well (do your research and look at the reviews!) they won’t void your warranty.

It’s a small step, but it’s a nice gesture from Apple to notice that it’s unfair to consumers who might not live near an Apple store to get their phone fixed – and we’re all just replacing the screens anyway!


Apple and Samsung are competitors… Right?

by LaptopMD Posted in News, Newsletter, Water Cooler

Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy series are probably the most popular phones on the market, in a general sense.  I mean it’s really the iPhone by some margin, then the Galaxy is leading the pack left behind Apple’s top seller.  However, while Samsung probably wishes they were leading the market, or at least at a 50/50 split with Apple, don’t worry about them.

Samsung makes money from iPhone sales

In addition to being a massive manufacturer of their own phones, Samsung creates a lot of parts that get used in the iPhone.  This is extremely relevant right now because according to PC Mag, Samsung will get approximately $110 for every iPhone X sold.  So, the new iPhone that is going to keep Apple moving forward, is going to be paying Samsung’s bills too, keeping the iPhone’s closest competitor in the race.

In fact, there are projected to be approximately 50 million Samsung Galaxy S8 sales (which are thought to net Samsung $202) but 130 million iPhone X sales.  You can do the math, that means Samsung would legitimately make more money off of iPhones than their own Galaxies.

But whyiphone x screen

In the simplest of explanations, it’s really a result of supply-and-demand.  Apple wouldn’t be paying Samsung for their parts if they didn’t have to – they probably wish they could be manufacturing every part required for use in their iPhones, but they can’t.  And every recent iPhone uses parts from other manufacturers, the real problem is the iPhone X’s OLED screen.

The iPhone X’s screen is huge and Samsung may be the only potential manufacturer for it due to the enormous demand Apple is needing to fill.  If the iPhone X wasn’t expected to achieve such high sales numbers, they could probably go to a different manufacturer, or try to keep the entire process inside their company.

Samsung wins either way

Samsung stands to lose a lot if they stop providing parts for iPhones, and they can’t guarantee that their phones would then skyrocket in popularity (if the iPhone’s quality suffered as a result).  For the time being, it seems the two competitors are tied together.

Samsung wins either way. Either the iPhone outperforms the Galaxy by a huge margin like expected, and they still make a lot of money from both their own phone and the iPhone.  If the iPhone X doesn’t reach the high projections, the most likely candidate to replace the iPhone X in a consumer’s hand might be the Galaxy S8, which Samsung won’t be upset about either.

 


CBS’s Showtime and The Pirate Bay get Caught Mining Cryptocurrency… on their Consumers’ Computers

by LaptopMD Posted September 28, 2017 in News

Online advertising has become a really tricky game to get into.  Monetizing a popular website that generates a lot of online traffic used to be much, much easier than it is now.  The simple answer used to be advertising, but nowadays you would need to generate OVER A MILLION pageviews in a month just to generate $5,000.  Without those users having an Adblocker installed on their browser.

$5,000 a month is nothing to scoff at, but generating that much traffic is a very, very tall task.  So online streaming websites like CBS’s Showtime and the infamous Pirate Bay are doing something else in an attempt to monetize their considerable traffic: mining cryptocurrency on their viewers’ computers.

They’re Mining Cryptocurrency… What Does That Even Mean

 

We’ve written about cryptocurrencies before, but to keep it simple: mining cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum takes considerable amounts of processing power and electricity which is what makes it so hard to “mine” and it gets harder as time goes on.  That’s why people often say it’s a better to just invest into a cryptocurrency rather than mine it yourself if you’re late to the game.

So, these two websites were caught using their viewers’ computers to mine the cryptocurrencies for them, putting the burden onto customer’s (and pirates) computers to avoid racking up their own significant electricity costs and using their own processers.

How They Can Do It

 

If you don’t have an adblocker, it’s pretty simple for them to be able to run a script from your browser that would just mine cryptocurrency in the background.  However, using the viewer’s processing power in the background is also a really easy way to hurt the quality of your product.  The stream isn’t going to buffer and load as quickly, and the quality is very likely to suffer because of that – not to mention that it could overheat computers if they’re not too careful.

It’s easy to see why they would want to find an alternative to advertisements to turn their considerable online traffic into money, but it’s pretty shady to be using the consumers that are ALSO being shown endless advertisements like that.

I’m Not Mad, I’m Just Disappointed

 

The Pirate Bay doing something like this isn’t that surprising, because they are an illegal streaming site.  People aren’t likely to complain to the authorities about something like this because you really shouldn’t be using their service anyway.  They also owned up to it already, and getting ahead of the bad publicity is pretty ironic given who they are.

It is very concerning that Showtime is the other big-name website that just got caught doing it, because not only do customers PAY for Showtime, they are also given small advertisements while on the site.  They’re not double-dipping, they’re TRIPLE-dipping.

That’s like Hulu on steroids (disclaimer – I don’t mind that Hulu charges customers and still gives advertisements because for just $4 more a month you are able to avoid those ads altogether, but that’s beside the point).

It’s… an Interesting Development

 

At the end of the day, this is an intriguing situation to watch unfold.  Pirate Bay said it was a test, basically saying that mining on consumers’ computers could potentially be used as an alternative to advertising altogether – which has been met with mixed reviews. It’s actually a pretty good idea.

If I had a transparent choice between ads and dedicating some of my processing power to them (for a very limited time) I might consider the latter. The biggest question now though, is just how many of these websites are doing this?  Doing something like this is debatable even when completely transparent, but the fact that such large websites didn’t let their customers know (okay, so maybe I’m just talking about Showtime here) is very concerning.