Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Just to make the update history complete: my Samsung Galaxy S7 has been updated yesterday with the February 2018 Security Patch. The current version is now called NRD90M.G930FXXU2DRB6. There’s still no sign of a real Android update to version 7.1 or 8.0…


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From time to time, I spend some time (sometimes way too much) to check out the applications I’m using. Certainly on mobile devices the available options for a given function can change quickly, and it’s always useful to see if you’re missing out on something a newer application has to offer.

My most important app on any platform is, of course, a password manager. I have already spoken out in favour of the KeePass family of tools. Currently on the iPad Mini I’m using MiniKeePass, which is not very sexy to look at (or to use). But the app can read your database when stored in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.), and the source code is available on Github – so we are reasonably certain that the app does what it is supposed to do, nothing less and certainly nothing more.

The MiniKeePass settings screen

My search for ‘Keepass‘ on the App Store turned up another candidate: KeePass Touch. Glancing over the specs made me want to try it out. Indeed, the “Touch” part of the name indicates that you can unlock access to the passwords by using Touch ID, and I must admit that I have grown fond of that functionality on multiple mobile devices.

However, a bit of study stopped me from switching from MiniKeePass. Here’s why:

  • KeePass Touch displays ads, that can only be avoided by paying.
  • KeePass Touch claims to be “Open Source”, but I’m guessing the quotes are there for a reason: I wasn’t able to find the source code of this app, nor did I even find any website for the company that publishes the app.
  • As I found out by comparing both apps, MiniKeePass can also be unlocked by Touch ID. That’s perfect for use on my new iPad Pro ;-)

I’m very suspicious of KeePass Touch, since there are no guarantees that your passwords are safe from the eyes of its developers.

I would be very happy if someone made MiniKeePass read and write its files directly from/to Dropbox, Google Drive or a similar cloud service. But even without that I will continue to use MiniKeePass – if only to prove that real Open Source is important to me.

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Yes, Samsung distributed another update for my Samsung Galaxy S7. No, it wasn’t an update to Android 7.1, and certainly not Android 8. Just security patches, I suppose – but no word on which holes were effectively taken care of. I hope that the famous KRACK attack vector of November 2017 is taken care of; I’m not betting on any resolution, partial or complete, for Spectre and Meltdown. I guess we’ll just have to be happy with the fact that security patches do come through, no?

Build G930FXXU1DRA3 for SGS7 looks like this ;-)

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Considering the number of mobile apps dedicated to the subject I know I’m not alone in wanting to know the fuel consumption of my vehicles. Like my father, I have been doing that as long as I have driven motor vehicles on two and four wheels. Since 2013 or so I am using AndiCar (on Android): it has the features I want, and it’s a piece of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). Keeping an eye on your fuel consumption is always a good idea, since a rise in numbers can be the first indicator of a problem with your vehicle.

When we bought a bi-fuel car, however, things got complicated. In November 2017, as far as I could tell, there were no apps that had full support for “hybrid” or bi-fuel vehicles. I had no choice but to start experimenting a bit, and I settled on testing an app called Fuelio as a possible alternative for AndiCar. I won’t do a complete comparative review of these two: let me just explain that AndiCar is faster for data entry (at least in my situation: I enter the data in the evening or in the weekend, when I’m at home, not in the gas station), and Fuelio is the better looking app.

Some of the statistics available in the apps I mentioned (AndiCar on the left, Fuelio on the right). The numbers do not correspond because the periods are different, not because of errors ;-)

So I mailed Miklós, the author of AndiCar, explaining my situation. I probably wasn’t the first one to mention the “multi-fuel problem” to him. Nevertheless I’m quite impressed with the fact that six weeks later he already published a new version of AndiCar that allows detailed data entry for hybrid vehicles like mine. To top it off, he also mailed me to tell me about the new version!

One of the advantages of AndiCar is that it allows you to define your own fuel types. I actually use three types of fuel, since we have two types of CNG in Belgium: low caloric content (L) and high caloric content (H) gas. AndiCar is perfectly capable of handling that.

As a happy person I simply had to respond to Miklós – here’s the code of my mail:

Good work, man! You impressed me with the speed with which you implemented the support for alternative fuel vehicles. I’m not just giving you last version “a look”: I have copied all the fill-ups of my new car into AndiCar, of course.

For the moment I will continue to compare AndiCar with Fuelio, if only to get a feeling for what might constitute a good solution for the “fuel consumption/efficiency calculation” issue, as you call it. The Fuelio solution is not good enough: it just uses the distance between the two latest fillings for that type of fuel. But that results in silly numbers when driving most kilometers with one type of fuel, interspersed with an occasional fill-up of the alternative fuel (and that’ what I try to do: run mostly on CNG because it’s cleaner, just switching to petrol when no CNG is available).

What is probably needed, is a system whereby it is possible to indicate for each fill-up whether it can be used for a consumption calculation based on the previous fill-up of the same fuel type. Or perhaps an extra odometer field ? Or …? I realise that my situation is different from that of people with electric hybrid cars: my g-tron runs on CNG as long as there is enough of it in the tank, and switches to petrol with an explicit warning the moment that switch happens. In e-hybrids the rules are completely different, and I have no ideas about how AndiCar (or any other app) could support such calculations – I suppose those cars can do it themselves ;-)

Oh well. I’m already quite happy with the work you’ve done, so thanks again!

PS. I ran into one issue when entering my fill-ups in AndiCar: trying to “convert” an existing entry to the new fuel type and UOM crashed the app (I tried it several times). But of course, deleting the existing entry and reentering the data in a new entry solved the issue, so no real harm done.

If only all software makers would be so friendly and so quick to react to their users!

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Online security remains a hot topic in 2018. I was alarmed a few days ago, when messages showed up in my RSS feeds about weaknesses in Signal, Threema and WhatsApp. I use Signal almost every day, ever since it replaced its predecessor TextSecure. It’s my default texting app that covers SMS messaging in general and secure messaging with other Signal users. Logic dictates that I pay attention when Signal is mentioned in the news, especially on the subject of its security features.

So I consulted Matthew Green, through his blog post “Attack of the Week: Group Messaging in WhatsApp and Signal“. He writes that things are not as bad as they might have been:

…due to flaws in both Signal and WhatsApp (which I single out because I use them), it’s theoretically possible for strangers to add themselves to an encrypted group chat. However, the caveat is that these attacks are extremely difficult to pull off in practice, so nobody needs to panic.

So one-to-one conversations are still very private, and that’s what I care about most – I don’t think I have ever tried to send a message to a group in Signal.

Still, as Green notes, “The great thing about these bugs is that they’re both eminently fixable“. Now, I trust Open Whisper Systems to correct the issue in a short time (if it hasn’t already been fixed: the issue is seemingly not that complex to solve). But WhatsApp does not seem inclined to do the same, according to Wired’s “WhatsApp security flaws could allow snoops to slide into group chats“. So you have been warned!

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Yes, Samsung sent out another software update for the Galaxy S7 here in Belgium.

But the essential part of the “update” is limited to the Android Security patch level, now at “December 1st, 2017“. That’s just barely good, Samsung. Where are the versions of Android 7.1, Android 8 or Android 8.1 for this device? Is the S7 already destined to be abandoned when it comes to serious software updates?

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I have known for a long time that there is no such thing as ‘perfect online security’. But I do try to apply at least some of the guidance taught by experts. Not just on my computers, but also (and foremost!) on mobile devices – even your phone texts (SMS traffic here in Europe) give away a lot of information to anyone who cares to intercept it. But it’s hard to know what to do exactly, and for a long time advice was scattered all over the internet, in blog posts, articles, etc., each mostly about a single subject.

The last few months, the situation has improved considerably, thanks to the efforts by a number of essential players in the field. I’ll enumerate the most prominent of sources here.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation created the Surveillance Self-Defence website. This site contains a whole series of articles ranging from explanations on how parts of the web work to tutorials on how to manage passwords or using PGP for your email. You’ll need a lot of time to read and digest all the information on this site, but the level of detail provided is certainly worth the effort. In their own words:

SSD includes step-by-step tutorials for installing and using a variety of privacy and security tools, but also aims to teach people how to think about online privacy and security in a sophisticated way that empowers them to choose appropriate tools and practices even as the tools and adversaries change around them.

I hope I don’t have to tell you that the EFF is an essential resource to keep up to date with subjects like digital privacy, free speech, and innovation?

The Security Planner project is an initiative of the Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary group based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The project has a strong academic approach, including peer review of all its publications, and its advisors include Bruce Schneier (whom I have quoted already several times on this blog!).

The principal motivation for Security Planner was our shared experiences (and frustrations) when we are regularly asked the question: “what could average people do to protect themselves online”? Although there are some good guides out there, there is also a lot of conflicting advice.

The advice on Security Planner is organised around themes like ‘Computer’, ‘Online Accounts’ and ‘Phone’, and they clearly indicate what you can gain w<hen you implement their advice. Currently available in English, they are promising versions in Spanish and French soon.

On the WIRED website, you’ll find their ‘Guide to Digital Security’. Just ignore the garish design of the home page, the articles are worthwhile reading.

In this guide, we’ve included a few ways to improve your online security posture based on those different levels of risk. These won’t prevent the next megabreach or banish ransomware from the earth. They’re not all-encompassing. But they’ll help get you in the mindset of the types of steps you should be taking based on your particular situation.

Wired includes a discussion of Google’s Advanced Protection, and talks about the use of Faraday cages and blankets (yes, blankets!) as part of a sophisticated security approach. Specialised stuff, indeed, and overkill for most of us – but it may help you be aware of all the threats that exist in the real world.

You may also have a look at the (long) article titled ‘The Motherboard Guide to Not Getting Hacked’ over at the website of Motherboard (part of Vice). It’s not as comprehensive as the previous sources mentioned here, but it contains a lot of links that may be of use to you. And for my part you can quote them when talking to your employer:

And if your employer asks you to change passwords periodically in the name of security, please tell them that’s a terrible idea. If you use a password manager, two-factor authentication (see below), and have unique strong passwords for every account there’s no need to change them all the time—unless there’s a breach on the backend or your password is stolen somehow.

The above sources are mainly directed towards individuals. If you want some pointers about how to deal with privacy and security for groups, have a look at the ‘Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook’, published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard Kennedy School) in November 2017. The approach here not only includes subjects talked about in the previous sources I mentioned, but includes the ‘human factor’. In their words, when talking about a campaign to get elected for public office:

In today’s campaigns, cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility. Human error has consistently been the root cause of publicized cyber attacks, and it’s up to the candidate and campaign leaders to weave security awareness into the culture of the organization.

That brings us back to the main point in all these publications: if you’re using computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices, be aware of the risks – and act accordingly!

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