What You Need to Know About The Intel Flaw Everyone’s Freaking Out About


Practically every PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone is affected.

Silicon Valley is abuzz about ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ – new ways for hackers to attack Intel, AMD, and ARM processors that were first discovered by Google last year, and publicly disclosed Wednesday.

Meltdown and Spectre, which take advantage of the same basic security vulnerability in those chips, could hypothetically be used by malicious actors to “read sensitive information in [a] system’s memory, such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications,” as Google puts it in an official FAQ.

The first thing you need to know: Pretty much every PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone is affected by the security flaw, regardless of which company made the device or what operating system it runs.

The vulnerability isn’t easy to exploit – it requires a specific set of circumstances, including having malware already running on the device – but it’s not just theoretical.

And the problem could affect much more than just personal devices. The flaw potentially could be exploited on servers and in data centres and massive cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud.

In fact, given the right conditions, Meltdown or Spectre could be used by customers of those cloud services to actually steal data from one another.

Although fixes are already being rolled out for the vulnerability, they often will come with a price. Some devices, especially older PCs, could be slowed markedly by them.

Here’s what Meltdown and Spectre are. And, just as importantly, here’s what they’re not.

Am I in immediate danger from this?

There’s some good news: Intel and Google say that they have never seen any attacks like Meltdown or Spectre actually being used in the wild. And companies including Intel, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are rushing to issue fixes, with the first wave already out.

The most immediate consequence of all of this will come from those fixes. Some devices will see a performance dip of as much as 30 percent after the fixes are installed, according to some reports. Intel, however, disputed that figure, saying the amount by which computers will be slowed will depend on how they’re being used.

The Meltdown attack only seems to work on Intel processors. You can guard against it with software updates, according to Google. Those are already starting to become available for Linux and Windows 10.

Spectre, by contrast, appears to be much more dangerous. Google says it’s been able to successfully execute Spectre attacks on processors from Intel, ARM, and AMD. And, according to the search giant, there’s no single, simple fix.

It’s harder to pull off a Spectre-based attack, which is why nobody’s completely panicking. But the attack takes advantages of an integral part of how processors work, meaning it will take a new generation of hardware to stamp it out for good.

In fact, that’s how Spectre got its name.

“As it is not easy to fix, it will haunt us for quite some time,” says the official Meltdown/Spectre FAQ.

What are Meltdown and Spectre, anyway?

Despite how they have been discussed so far in the press, Meltdown and Spectre aren’t really “bugs”. Instead, they represent methods discovered by Google’s Project Zero cybersecurity lab to take advantage of the normal ways that Intel, ARM, and AMD processors work.

To use a Star Wars analogy, Google inspected the Death Star plans and found an exploitable weakness in a small thermal exhaust port.

In the same way that two precisely-placed proton torpedoes could blow up the Death Star, so too can Meltdown and Spectre take advantage of a very specific design quirk and get around (or “melt down”, hence the name) processors’ normal security precautions.

In this case, the design feature in question is something called speculative execution, which is a processing technique most Intel chips have used since 1995, and one that’s common in ARM and AMD processors, too.

With speculative execution, processors essentially guess what you’re going to do next. If they guess right, then they’re already ahead of the curve, and you have a snappier computing experience. If they guess wrong, they dump the data and start over.

What Project Zero found were two key ways to trick even secure, well-designed apps into leaking data from those returned processes. The exploits take advantage of a flaw in how the data is dumped that could allow them – with the right malware installed – to read data that should be secret.

This vulnerability is potentially particularly dangerous in cloud computing systems, where users essentially rent time from massive supercomputing clusters. The servers in those clusters may be shared among multiple users, meaning customers running unpatched and unprepared systems could fall prey to data thieves sharing their processors.

What can I do about it?

To guard against the security flaw and the exploits, the first and best thing you can do is make sure you’re up to date with your security patches. The major operating systems have already started issuing patches that will guard against the Meltdown and Spectre attacks.

In fact, fixes have already begun to hit Linux, Android, Apple’s MacOS, and Microsoft’s Windows 10. So whether you have an Android phone, or you’re a developer using Linux in the cloud, it’s time to update your operating system.

Meanwhile, Microsoft told Business Insider it’s working on rolling out mitigations for its Azure cloud platform. Google Cloud is urging customers to update their operating systems, too.

It’s just as important to make sure you stay up-to-date. While Spectre may not have an easy fix, Google says that there are ways to guard against related exploits. Expect Microsoft, Apple, and Google to issue a series of updates to their operating systems as new Spectre-related attacks are discovered.

Additionally, because Meltdown and Spectre require malicious code to already be running on your system, let this be a reminder to practice good online safety behaviours.

Don’t download any software from a source you don’t explicitly trust. And don’t click on any links or files claiming you won $US10 million in a contest you never entered.

Why could the fixes also slow down my device?

The Meltdown and Spectre attacks take advantage of how the “kernels”, or cores, of operating systems interact with processors. Theoretically, the two are supposed to be separated to some degree to prevent exactly this kind of attack. However, Google’s report proves the current precautions aren’t enough.

Operating system developers are said to be adopting a new level of virtual isolation, basically making requests between the processor and the kernel take the long way around.

The problem is that enforcing this kind of separation requires at least a little extra processing power, which would no longer be available to the rest of the system.

As The New York Times notes, researchers are concerned that the fixes could slow down computers by as much as 20 percent to 30 percent. Microsoft is reported to believe that PCs with Intel processors older than the two-year-old “Skylake” models could see significant slowdowns.

Intel disputes that the performance hits will be as dramatic as The Times suggests.

Some of the slowdowns, should they come to pass, could be mitigated by future software updates. Because the vulnerability was just made public, it’s possible that workarounds and new techniques for circumventing the performance hit will come to light as more developers work on solving the problem.

What happens next?

Publicly, Intel is confident the Meltdown and Spectre bugs won’t have a material impact on its stock price or market share, given that they’re relatively hard to execute and have never been used (that we know of).

Meanwhile, AMD shares are soaring on word that the easier-to-pull-off Meltdown attack isn’t known to work on its processors.

However, as Google is so eager to remind us, Spectre looms large. Speculative execution has been a cornerstone of processor design for more than two decades. It will require a huge rethinking from the entire processor industry to guard against this kind of attack in the future.

The threat of Spectre means the next generation of processors – from all the major chip designers – are going to be a lot different than they are today.

Even so, the threat of Spectre is likely to linger with us far into the future. Consumers are replacing their PCs less frequently, which means older PCs that are at risk of the Spectre attack could be in use for years to come.

Meanwhile, there’s been a persistent problem with updating Android devices to the latest version of the operating system, so there’s likely to be lots of unpatched smartphones and tablets in use for as far as the eye can see. So would-be Spectre attackers are likely going to have their choice of targets.

It’s not the end of the world. But it might just be the end of an era for Intel, AMD, ARM, and the way processors are built.

The smartphone is eventually going to die, and then things are going to get really crazy.


One day, not too soon – but still sooner than you think – the smartphone will all but vanish, like beepers and fax machines before it.

Make no mistake, we’re still probably at least a decade away from any kind of meaningful shift away from the smartphone. (And if we’re all cyborgs by 2027 , I’ll happily eat my words. Assuming we’re still eating at all, I guess.)

Yet, piece by piece, the groundwork for the eventual demise of the smartphone is being laid by Elon Musk , by Microsoft, by Facebook, by Amazon, and a countless number of startups that still have a part to play.

And, let me tell you: If and when the smartphone does die, that’s when things are going to get really weird for everybody. Not just in terms of individual products, but in terms of how we actually live our everyday lives and maybe our humanity itself.

Here’s a brief look at the slow, ceaseless march towards the death of the smartphone – and what the post-smartphone world is shaping up to look like.

The short term

People think of the iPhone and the smartphones it inspired as revolutionary devices – small enough to carry everywhere, hefty enough to handle an increasingly large number of our daily tasks, and packed full of the right mix cameras and GPS sensors to make apps like Snapchat and Uber uniquely possible.

But consider the smartphone from another perspective. The desktop PC and the laptop are made up of some combination of a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. The smartphone just took that model, shrunk it down, and made the input virtual and touch-based.

So take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S8 , unveiled this week. It’s gorgeous with an amazing bezel-less screen and some real power under the hood. It’s impressive, but it’s more refinement than revolution.

Samsung Galaxy S8

Tellingly, though, the Galaxy S8 ships with Bixby , a new virtual assistant that Samsung promises will one day let you control every single feature and app with just your voice. It will also ship with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality headset, developed in conjunction with Facebook’s Oculus.

The next iPhone, too, is said to be shipping with upgrades to the Siri assistant, along with features aimed at bringing augmented reality into the mainstream .

And as devices like the Amazon Echo , Sony PlayStation VR , and theApple Watch continue to enjoy limited but substantial success, expect to see a lot more tech companies large and small taking more gambles and making more experiments on the next big wave in computing interfaces.

The medium term

In the medium-term, all of these various experimental and first-stage technologies are going to start to congeal into something familiar, but bizarre.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and the Google-backed Magic Leap are all working to build standalone augmented reality headsets, which project detailed 3D images straight into your eyes. Even Apple is rumored to be working on this, too .

Microsoft’s Alex Kipman recently told Business Insider that augmented reality could flat-out replace the smartphone, the TV, and anything else with a screen. There’s not much use for a separate device sitting in your pocket or on your entertainment center, if all your calls, chats, movies, and games are beamed into your eyes and overlaid on the world around you.

apple airpods in ear

Meanwhile, gadgetry like the Amazon Echo or Apple’s own AirPodsbecome more and more important in this world. As artificial intelligence systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana get smarter, there’s going to be a rise not just in talking to computers, but having them talk back.

In other words, computers are going to hijack your senses, more so than they already do, with your sight and your hearing intermediated by technology. It’s a little scary. Think of what Facebook glitches could mean in a world where it doesn’t just control what you read on your phone, but what you see in the world around you .

The promise, though, is a world where real life and technology blend more seamlessly. The major tech companies promise that this future means a world of fewer technological distractions and more balance, as the physical and digital world become the same thing. You decide how you feel about that.

The really crazy future

Still, all those decade-plus investments in the future still rely on gadgetry that you have to wear on you, even if it’s only a pair of glasses. Some of the craziest, most forward-looking, most unpredictable advancements go even further – provided you’re willing to wait a few extra decades, that is.

This week, we got our first look at Neuralink, a new company cofounded by Elon Musk with a goal of building computers into our brains by way of “neural lace,” a very early-stage technology that lays on your brain and bridges it to a computer. It’s the next step beyond even that blending of the digital and physical worlds, as man and machine become one.

Assuming the science works – and lots of smart people believe that it will– this is the logical endpoint of the road that smartphones started us on. If smartphones gave us access to information and augmented reality puts that information in front of us when we need it, then putting neural lace in our brains just closes the gap.

Ray Kurzweil

Musk has said that this is because the rise of artificial intelligence – which underpins a lot of the other technologies, including voice assistants and virtual reality – means that humans are going to have to augment themselves just to keep up with the machines. If you’re really curious about this idea, futurist Ray Kurzweil is the leading voice on the topic .

The idea of man/machine fusion is a terrifying one, with science fiction writers, technologists, and philosophers alike having very good cause to ask what even makes us human in the first place. At the same time, the idea is so new that nobody really knows what this world would look like in practice.

So if and when the smartphone dies, it’ll actually be the end of an era in more ways than one. It’ll be the end of machines that we carry with us passively and the beginning of something that bridges our bodies straight into the ebb and flow of digital information. It’s going to get weird.

And yet, lots of technologists already say that smartphones give us superpowers with access to knowledge, wisdom, and abilities beyond anything nature gave us. In some ways, augmenting the human mind would be the ultimate superpower. Then again, maybe I’m just an optimist.

Make no mistake, we’re still probably at least a decade away from any kind of meaningful shift away from the smartphone. (And if we’re all cyborgs by 2027 , I’ll happily eat my words. Assuming we’re still eating at all, I guess.)

Yet, piece by piece, the groundwork for the eventual demise of the smartphone is being laid by Elon Musk , by Microsoft, by Facebook, by Amazon, and a countless number of startups that still have a part to play.

And, let me tell you: If and when the smartphone does die, that’s when things are going to get really weird for everybody. Not just in terms of individual products, but in terms of how we actually live our everyday lives and maybe our humanity itself.

Here’s a brief look at the slow, ceaseless march towards the death of the smartphone – and what the post-smartphone world is shaping up to look like.

The short term

People think of the iPhone and the smartphones it inspired as revolutionary devices – small enough to carry everywhere, hefty enough to handle an increasingly large number of our daily tasks, and packed full of the right mix cameras and GPS sensors to make apps like Snapchat and Uber uniquely possible.

But consider the smartphone from another perspective. The desktop PC and the laptop are made up of some combination of a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. The smartphone just took that model, shrunk it down, and made the input virtual and touch-based.

So take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S8 , unveiled this week. It’s gorgeous with an amazing bezel-less screen and some real power under the hood. It’s impressive, but it’s more refinement than revolution.

Samsung Galaxy S8

Tellingly, though, the Galaxy S8 ships with Bixby , a new virtual assistant that Samsung promises will one day let you control every single feature and app with just your voice. It will also ship with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality headset, developed in conjunction with Facebook’s Oculus.

The next iPhone, too, is said to be shipping with upgrades to the Siri assistant, along with features aimed at bringing augmented reality into the mainstream .

And as devices like the Amazon Echo , Sony PlayStation VR , and theApple Watch continue to enjoy limited but substantial success, expect to see a lot more tech companies large and small taking more gambles and making more experiments on the next big wave in computing interfaces.

The medium term

In the medium-term, all of these various experimental and first-stage technologies are going to start to congeal into something familiar, but bizarre.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and the Google-backed Magic Leap are all working to build standalone augmented reality headsets, which project detailed 3D images straight into your eyes. Even Apple is rumored to be working on this, too .

Microsoft’s Alex Kipman recently told Business Insider that augmented reality could flat-out replace the smartphone, the TV, and anything else with a screen. There’s not much use for a separate device sitting in your pocket or on your entertainment center, if all your calls, chats, movies, and games are beamed into your eyes and overlaid on the world around you.

apple airpods in ear

Meanwhile, gadgetry like the Amazon Echo or Apple’s own AirPodsbecome more and more important in this world. As artificial intelligence systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana get smarter, there’s going to be a rise not just in talking to computers, but having them talk back.

In other words, computers are going to hijack your senses, more so than they already do, with your sight and your hearing intermediated by technology. It’s a little scary. Think of what Facebook glitches could mean in a world where it doesn’t just control what you read on your phone, but what you see in the world around you .

The promise, though, is a world where real life and technology blend more seamlessly. The major tech companies promise that this future means a world of fewer technological distractions and more balance, as the physical and digital world become the same thing. You decide how you feel about that.

The really crazy future

Still, all those decade-plus investments in the future still rely on gadgetry that you have to wear on you, even if it’s only a pair of glasses. Some of the craziest, most forward-looking, most unpredictable advancements go even further – provided you’re willing to wait a few extra decades, that is.

This week, we got our first look at Neuralink, a new company cofounded by Elon Musk with a goal of building computers into our brains by way of “neural lace,” a very early-stage technology that lays on your brain and bridges it to a computer. It’s the next step beyond even that blending of the digital and physical worlds, as man and machine become one.

Assuming the science works – and lots of smart people believe that it will– this is the logical endpoint of the road that smartphones started us on. If smartphones gave us access to information and augmented reality puts that information in front of us when we need it, then putting neural lace in our brains just closes the gap.

Ray Kurzweil

Musk has said that this is because the rise of artificial intelligence – which underpins a lot of the other technologies, including voice assistants and virtual reality – means that humans are going to have to augment themselves just to keep up with the machines. If you’re really curious about this idea, futurist Ray Kurzweil is the leading voice on the topic .

The idea of man/machine fusion is a terrifying one, with science fiction writers, technologists, and philosophers alike having very good cause to ask what even makes us human in the first place. At the same time, the idea is so new that nobody really knows what this world would look like in practice.

So if and when the smartphone dies, it’ll actually be the end of an era in more ways than one. It’ll be the end of machines that we carry with us passively and the beginning of something that bridges our bodies straight into the ebb and flow of digital information. It’s going to get weird.

And yet, lots of technologists already say that smartphones give us superpowers with access to knowledge, wisdom, and abilities beyond anything nature gave us. In some ways, augmenting the human mind would be the ultimate superpower. Then again, maybe I’m just an optimist.

Source:businessinsider.in

Your smartphone is the most dangerous thing you own – don’t take it with you if you travel to America


The legal loophole that allows the US border to be classified as “outside” normal US constitutional protections should be cause for concern. Your important private data is simply not safe if you wish to travel to the US.

Here’s a fun game to help you make new (weird) friends. In the pub, hand your wallet and your phone to a complete stranger. Ask them to pass their wallet and phone to you. Which item were the pair of you most nervous about handing over? Unless your phone is a Nokia 3310, almost everyone will want their smartphone back immediately.

Your smartphone is more or less a window into your soul. The apps on it will contain a list of everyone you know (their numbers and email addresses), photos of all of your close family and associates, your internet browsing history (stored in the cache forever) and data that could help identify your sexuality, your home address, and who you bank with. As the Open Rights Group points out: “The difference between your phone and your laptop is your mobile will often keep your entire location history – that’s everywhere you have visited from the moment you first switched the device on.”

I once had to advise a very important person on what they should do when visiting Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship. My first, and arguably most important, piece of advice was leave the smartphone and laptop at home. I knew this was a good idea from experience. While I was in Minsk my phone was disconnected in the middle of the street while I was speaking to my then boss. I was trying to tell her that the opposition activist I was supposed to be meeting in Belarus had been found dead. Later that evening, I made a second mistake and left my phone in the hotel room (it had been disconnected anyhow). When I returned, the phone didn’t switch on and there was a hairline crack behind the battery. The KGB love to screw with you.

 Now the US is copying the tactics of the dictators. The new Trump administration is flexing its muscle at the border and getting people like you to hand over their smartphones to US Homeland Security officials. In January this year, NASA scientist Sidd Bikkannavar was forced to hand over his work mobile phone, even though it was technically a US government device. As technology commentator Quincy Larson notes on his blog, commercially available software can clone your contacts, photos and the passwords to every account you hold (from email to social media accounts) in a matter of minutes. Once your data is cloned, it is no longer private.

This is just the start. Trump appointee John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, told the US Congress that “extreme vetting” for arrivals to the US may get even more extreme. Plans under consideration include forcing people to hand over their social media passwords and refuse them entry to America if they decline to do so.

Not to be outdone, Republican congressman Jim Banks is introducing a bill that would require US officials to trawl through the social media activity of any foreign citizen who wants to visit the US. Banks’ plan would require the American Department of Homeland Security to audit the social media accounts of the 67 million foreign travellers to the US every year. It isn’t clear whether his plan is even workable.

Currently, the primary target of this state-sanctioned harassment are the citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Anyone from any country who is currently a refugee is also banned from the US for the next four months, and all Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely.

With US immigration officials given a broad remit to discriminate, mission creep will begin. Once the seizure of smartphones is normalised, it will become increasingly commonplace. The reason is simple: the more random data you can acquire, the more likely you are to stumble across social media connections that can help you map the entirety of all connections online. It also gives a Trump administration which is threatening the press and journalists a highly effective way to track journalists’ sources as they travel in and out of the US.

For business people and politicians, the legal loophole that allows the US border to be classified as “outside” normal US constitutional protections should be cause for concern. Your important private data is simply not safe if you wish to travel to the US.

Cardinal Richelieu supposedly said, “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” Our smartphones all contain the seeds of data that could be used by malicious government officials to blackmail or threaten us.

If you don’t want your most private data to find its way into the hands of the border guards of foreign governments you don’t trust, then leave your smartphone at home. It may be time to bring back the trusty Nokia 3310.

Will Keeping A Smartphone in Your Pocket Affect Sperm Count? 


With the rise of smartphones and mobile technology, it was natural that people began to wonder what sorts of long-term effects these devices might be having on the body. Pressing a radio frequency receiver against the side of your head for hours every day seemed like it might be a bit of a risk, and most attention has focused on potential brain tumors and cancer caused by excessive cell phone use.

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However, for all the gentlemen out there, a much larger problem could be brewing in your pants – but only if you tend to keep your cell phone in the pocket of your trousers. Smartphones vs. Sperm As we all know, smartphones do have a certain elevated temperature to them, and they’re constantly receiving information and social media updates in the form of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation, and that sort of energy doesn’t just disappear. It seems like common sense to keep your phone in your pocket for easy access, but it also makes sense to do a bit of research and find out what interactions are happening below your belt. A number of studies have been conducted across the world, and the results have been published in Environment International to the Journal of Andrology, and everywhere in between.

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As it turns out, researchers have found conclusive evidence that cell phone proximity to male testicles can have a negative impact on a man’s sperm count and motility. One of the more prestigious studies found an 8% decrease in sperm motility and an approximate 9% decrease in sperm viability. Those two words – motility and viability – may be new to some of you. Essentially, motility means the ability of the sperm to swim, which is important if fertilization of the egg is meant to happen. Viability, on the other hand, describes a man’s fertility, essentially measuring the number of living vs. non-living sperm. An 8% drop in speed may not seem like a huge percentage, but when you realize that cell phones are not only slowing your sperm down, but also killing them, it may be cause for alarm.
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What’s Actually Happening Down There? Cell phone radiation is nearly unavoidable in today’s plugged-in world, but keeping it close to such vital organs (like the head or genitals) isn’t the best idea. There are a number of restrictions and regulations on the amount of EMR that a cell phone can emit (typically below 2.0 W/kg), but that is still a measurable amount of radiation, which could be damaging DNA by increasing the amount of free radicals present in the testicles. This can lead to infertility and inviable sperm, as these studies have shown, and may increase your risks of testicular cancer, although conclusive research for that prediction is still ongoing. Too Close for Comfort Furthermore, when you keep a cell phone in your pocket, pressed against your skin, it tends to raise the base skin temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius. The male testicles have carefully adapted to maintain an ideal temperature for the growth and health of sperm, and this small increase in temperature next to the testicles may be enough to incapacitate or kill sperm. Other studies have identified significant drops in sperm count, and heightened levels of oxidative stress in the testicles and changes in sperm morphology. Some of these changes were seen in lab-dish experiments where sperm were exposed to EMF radiation for one hour. A percentage of the sperm changed to an abnormal shape or lost the ability to attach to an egg – thereby making it impossible for fertilization to occur.

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Furthermore, when you keep a cell phone in your pocket, pressed against your skin, it tends to raise the base skin temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius. The male testicles have carefully adapted to maintain an ideal temperature for the growth and health of sperm, and this small increase in temperature next to the testicles may be enough to incapacitate or kill sperm. Other studies have identified significant drops in sperm count, and heightened levels of oxidative stress in the testicles and changes in sperm morphology. Some of these changes were seen in lab-dish experiments where sperm were exposed to EMF radiation for one hour. A percentage of the sperm changed to an abnormal shape or lost the ability to attach to an egg – thereby making it impossible for fertilization to occur.

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None of this is good news for prospective parents who are also on-the-go tech lovers that hardly ever leave their smartphone behind. Infertility already affects more than 10% of men 25 and over, and it is hardly a surprise that infertility rates are rising. While many people blame environmental pollutants, stress levels, changing cultural norms, and natural infertility, increasing the amount of male cell phone users by about 1.5 billion in the past decade could also have an effect on those rising numbers. How to Keep the Swimmers Safe The amount of time being exposed to cell phone EMF radiation was cited as a major factor, as was proximity to the “affected area”. The best solution for this problem would obviously be to keep your cell phone somewhere besides your belt or pocket – perhaps in a bag or a shirt pocket, on your desk at work, or even left at home entirely! Certain phone brands also emit higher levels of EMF radiation, and therefore have more of an impact on sperm production and function. Smartphones and Blackberries, for example, emit more EMF than traditional phones.

The amount of radiation absorbed by the body decreases by 15% with every millimeter of distance, so even adding a case to your smartphone, or keeping the phone in a coat pocket, could make a major difference to your sperm count, motility, and viability.

Or, you could just do this…. It has become second nature to slip our phones into our pocket when we’re done using them, but for any men who are interested in fathering a child (next week, next year, next decade…), avoiding excessive “pocket exposure” to EMF radiation is extremely important!

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3 tips for protecting your smartphone from hackers


Woman and Man Texting

Phones are becoming a prime target for hackers.

From 2013 to 2015, new mobile vulnerabilities increased from 127 to 528, or about 214%, according to Symantec’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report.

And some of the vulnerabilities are downright terrifying.

A recent 60 Minutes report recently highlighted one particular  exploit that gives hackers access to your phone call and messages by just having your phone number.

So how can you protect yourself?

We asked Dr. Anup Ghosh, CEO of the security firm Invincea, for some tips on how consumers can keep their smartphones safe from cyber criminals.

Ghosh, who is also a former DARPA scientist, told Tech Insider there are three simple things you can do to help protect your smartphone from hackers.

Use encrypted messaging services for communications

iMessage.JPG

As the 60 Minutes report pointed out, there is a vulnerability in a network protocol called SS7 that makes it possible for hackers to listen to your phone calls, read your messages, and even track your location.

While this kind of attack is rare, it’s harder to protect yourself from because the security flaw exists in the network, which is outside of your control.

However, you can use encrypted messaging systems like Apple’s iMessage, Facebook Messenger, or Wickr Me to help keep your information away from prying eyes.

“There are also apps for secure voice, but they typically require the person you are calling to be on the same app. They will encrypt the data/phone calls making it difficult to capture and analyze,” Ghosh said.

Some of these services include Silent Circle and Open Whisper Systems.

Even if your phone is new, make sure the OS is updated

Android phones

You should always keep your phone’s operating system updated so hackers can’t take advantage of any vulnerabilities in old software.

But you should also check to make sure software on any new mobile device, especially those that have an Android operating system, are up-to-date, as well.

“You see this a lot more on Android than on Apple, the Android operating system that you get from your carrier on your phone tends to be out of date on day one, sometimes by years,” Ghosh said.

“So that means that adversaries could take advantage of those vulnerabilities on those devices to be able to exploit them. Making sure your device OS whether iOS or Android is updated to the most recently supported version could help close some of those known vulnerabilities.”

Be careful what apps you download

App Store icon

Apps you download can collect all kinds of information about you, so it’s important that you are only downloading apps from reputable sources, Ghosh said.

“If you look at how do these devices get compromised in the first place, it’s almost always untrusted content that you are putting on it,” Ghosh said.  “Some apps collect your movements, like your GPS, others mine your contacts for information, and then others might actually do malicious things to your device itself. So I would say the number one thing you can do as an individual is make sure you’re only downloading apps from an app store where the app has been vetted.”

In fact, Symantec analyzed 10.8 million apps in 2015 and found that 3.3 million of those apps classified as malicious.

Because Apple has a closed ecosystem and vets all of the apps before allowing them into its App Store, apps for iPhones tend to be more secure, he said. So Android users need to be especially aware of where they are getting their apps and they should always make sure the maker is a trusted company.

Take a deep breath, now check your smartphone.


SMARTWAY TO HEART: Clockwise fromleft: The Eko Core handheld device that can be attached to a normal stethoscope; a doctor uses Eko Core stethoscope to check a young patient; the readings of heart sounds transmitted aswaveforms to a smartphone. EKO DEVICES

The stethoscope, that quintessential tool of doctors, has been upgraded several times since it was invented two centuries ago. Eko Devices, a startup led by three recent graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, is betting that it is time for another innovative overhaul.

The company received approval last Friday from the Food and Drug Administration to market its Eko Core, a digital device that attaches to a conventional stethoscope and allows it to record, amplify and wirelessly send audio and sound wave images to an iPhone application.

Its software meets federal standards for privacy and security, the founders say, and it can transmit its heart sounds and waveforms to the electronic health records used in hospitals and clinics. An Android app is scheduled to be released early next year. The Eko Core device went on sale two weeks ago, priced at $199. A complete stethoscope with the same capabilities will sell for $299.

Cardiologists at the Mayo Clinic, Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco, who have seen and sampled the Eko technology, are initially impressed.

“This is probably one of the most important innovations in the plain old stethoscope in recent years,” said Dr Charanjit S Rihal, chairman of the department of cardiovascular diseases at the Mayo Clinic.

The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by a French physician, Dr Rene Laennec. His first version was essentially a hollow wooden tube, and embarrassment, it seems, was the impetus for his invention. He was apparently uncomfortable putting his ear on women’s chests to hear their heartbeats.

The device’s materials and acoustics have improved steadily over the years, and digital stethoscopes have been available for about two decades. But the previous generation of digital models, cardiologists say, was often bulky and complicated to use and was not able to send recordings and data wirelessly to a smartphone.

The Eko technology, said Dr Robert Harrington, a cardiologist and chairman of the department of medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, has “the potential to improve a physician’s diagnostic acumen” by enabling a doctor to hear and see the pattern of a patient’s heart rhythms in greater detail. He also identifies a benefit in the ability to store the heart sounds in a patient’s electronic record, so doctors can compare sounds from a recent visit with ones from a year or two earlier.

Harrington plans to use the Eko technology as a teaching tool at the Stanford medical centre with the next crop of physician residents, making use of the digital recording and wireless sharing capabilities. “They can hear while I listen and describe different heart sounds,” he explained.

The seed of the idea that became Eko was planted at a class that Connor Landgraf, a bioengineering major, attended in his senior year at Berkeley. A researcher from the University of California, San Francisco, spoke to the class about gaps in modern medical technology.

In particular, he pointed to the challenge of interpreting heart sounds and accurately detecting abnormalities, especially for most physicians, who do not spend years listening to heart rhythms, as cardiologists do.

Landgraf, now 25, who has experienced occasional heart palpitations, was intrigued. “It was the inspiration for this company,” he recalled. He persuaded two undergraduates – Jason Bellet, 23, a business major, and Tyler Crouch, 23, an engineering major and software developer – to join him. The pitch, Bellet recalled, was the opportunity to “bring the stethoscope into the 21st century.”

There are cardiologists who regard the stethoscope as a relic that should be jettisoned, given the scientific precision of ultrasound technology and echocardiograms.

At first, members of the Eko team thought that they would reimagine heart sound detection in a way that would be less costly than ultrasound but with a device that would look very different from a traditional stethoscope. An early prototype resembled a hockey puck, Landgraf recalled.

When they took their idea to doctors, they learned a lesson. “Physicians love their stethoscopes,” Landgraf said. “It was shocking to us, but really important.” After seven months, in early 2014, the Eko team had a prototype that resembled its current product.

Other ventures
Beyond its devices and mobile app, the company is developing a decision-support software algorithm that compares a patient’s heart rhythms with a cloud-based data library of he-art sounds. The smartphone app then classifies the patient’s result as normal or abnormal.

The University of California, San Francisco, medical school has begun enrolling patients for a clinical trial to test the diagnostic reliability of the Eko algorithm. In the trial, the predictions of the Eko algorithm will be compared with echocardiograms for the same patients.

The principal investigator in the clinical trial, Dr John Chorba, is the researcher who spoke to the Berkeley class and inspired Landgraf two years ago. “You have all this data collected by the device, but the question is whether the software can identify pathological heart sounds,” Chorba said.

“I’m not a big-data person or a computer scientist,” he said, “but as the device gets used, you get more data, and accuracy should improve.”

Chorba said the clinical trial would most likely take about a year. The decision-support software will undergo a separate review by the FDA. Chorba, Harrington and Rihal are all unpaid advisers to Eko Devices.

YOUR SMARTPHONE COULD BE GOOD FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH


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When it comes to mental health, technologies such as smartphones and social media networks are almost always discussed in terms of the dangers they pose. Alongside concerns expressed in the media, some experts believe that technology has a role in the rising rates of mental health problems. However, there is also evidence to suggest your smartphone could actually be good for your mental health.

The brain is a sensitive organ that reacts and adapts to stimulation. Researchers have looked into smartphone usage and the effects on the day-to-day plasticity of the human brain. They found that the finger movements used to control smartphones areenough to alter brain activity.

This ability of technology to change our brains has led to questions over whether screen-based activity is related to rising incidence of such conditions as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or an increased risk of depression and insomnia. Technology has also been blamed for cyber-bullying, isolation, communication issues and reduced self-esteem, all of which can potentially lead to mental ill health.

Positive potential

However, focusing only on the negative experiences of some people ignores technology’s potential as both a tool for treating mental health issues and for improving the quality of people’s lives and promoting emotional well-being. For example, there are programmes for depression and phobias, designed to help lift people’s moods, get them active and help them to overcome their difficulties. The programmes use guided self help-based cognitive behavioural principles and have proven to be very effective.

Computer games have been used to provide therapy for adolescents. Because computer games are fun and can be used anonymously, they offer an alternative to traditional therapy. For example, a fantasy-themed role-playing game called SPARXhas been found to be as effective as face-to-face therapy in clinical trials.

Researcher David Haniff has created apps aimed at lifting the mood of people suffering from depression by showing them pleasing pictures, video and audio, for example of their families. He has also developed a computer game that helps a person examine the triggers of their depression. Meanwhile, smartphone apps that play subliminal relaxing music in order to distract from the noise and worries of everyday living have been proven to be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety.

Technology can also provide greater access to mental health professionals through email, online chats or video calls. This enables individuals to work remotely and at their own pace, which can be particularly useful for those who are unable to regularly meet with a healthcare professional. Such an experience can be both empowering and enabling, encouraging the individual to take responsibility for their own mental well-being.

This kind of “telemedicine” has already found a role in child and adolescent mental health services in the form of online chats in family therapy, that can help to ensure each person has a chance to have their turn in the session. From our own practice experience, we have found young people who struggle to communicate during face-to-face sessions can be encouraged to text their therapist as an alternative way of expressing themselves, without the pressure of sitting opposite someone and making eye contact.

Conditions such as social anxiety can stop people seeking treatment in the first place. The use of telemedicine in this instance means people can begin combating their illness from the safety of their own home. It is also a good way to remind people about their appointments, thus improving attendance and reducing drop-out rates.

New routes to treatment

The internet in general can provide a gateway to asking for help, particularly for those who feel that stigma is attached to mental illness. Accessing information and watching videos about people with mental health issues, including high-profile personalities, helps to normalise conditions that are not otherwise talked about.

People can use technology to self-educate and improve access to low-intensity mental health services by providing chat rooms, blogs and information about mental health conditions. This can help to combat long waiting times by providing support earlier and improving the effectiveness of treatment.

More generally, access to the internet and use of media devices can also be a lifeline to the outside world. They allow people to connect in ways that were not previously possible, encouraging communication. With improved social networks, people may be less likely to need professional help, thus reducing the burden on over stretched services.

Research into the potential dangers of technology and its affect on the brain is important for understanding the causes of modern mental health issues. But technology also creates an opportunity for innovative ways to promote engagement and well-being for those with mental health problems. Let’s embrace that.

No vacation from the smartphone


Do you check work emails on vacation? If yes, then you are not alone.

 

A recent survey has found 55 per cent of Indian holidayers check their mails and take work calls on vacation, and around 17 per cent are completely hooked to their phones throughout their holiday. This is despite 42 per cent of travellers planning their vacations ahead, and booking tickets one to three months in advance.

The survey, conducted by travel portal Yatra.com in February and March, had 15,000 respondents across the country.

Maaria Kulsum Tanveer, owner of Café Adoniya in the city, says during her last vacation, she continued to work — giving orders to her staff, staying in touch on social media and responding to clients’ comments.

“It’s difficult for entrepreneurs to take off, especially if they are in the food business. Sometimes, you just want to switch your phone off but it’s not possible,” she says, adding she is planning a vacation in May, but will probably be working then too.

Several studies have shown that unplugging is necessary for good health, as are vacations. There are a number of ailments — from eye problems to insomnia and unrelenting stress — that can crop up with excessive use of technology.

Research has even found that skipping vacations over several years makes men and women more prone to heart attacks.

Arun Vignesh was working even while holidaying in Thailand. The global head of research management with an IT major, he handles multiple teams across several cities, and says if a crisis is escalated, he has to deal with it.

“It is painful but unavoidable,” he says.

In The Association of Physicians of India’s Medicine Update 2013, a chapter deals with ‘computer-related illnesses and Facebook syndrome’. It points to a number of health problems, including repetitive stress/strain injuries, ‘text neck’, headaches, difficulty in focussing, blurred or double vision, and even depression and loneliness. It recommends a rest from activities and changing of work practices.

Committing to a vacation though seems to be on the rise. The survey finds that people are willing to take breaks more often, with 57 per cent committing to taking a holiday two or three times a year. Not surprisingly, 33 per cent of the survey’s respondents look to social media to finalise their destinations.

“Holidaying once a year is now passé. Indians have definitely started taking frequent breaks and this trend is here to stay. But the one thing most vacation-goers cannot have enough of is their smartphones. This seems unlikely to change,” says Sharat Dhall, president of Yatra.com.

Microsoft designs a lamp that could charge your smartphone .


Microsoft has designed a lamp that will detect your phone and charge it by shining a light onto its surface.

Tests show the light from the lamp can replenish phones fitted with solar panels as rapidly as wired charging. Microsoft Research has built a working prototype but the charging system remains for now a proof-of-concept rather than anything that will appear in a commercially available product anytime soon.

The AutoCharge system would work by using cameras to detect a phone on a desk or in a room and angling the lamp’s beam onto the smartphone’s surface.

A paper written by Microsoft researchers envisions three uses for ‘AutoCharge’: sat on a table charging any phone placed on the surface, hung from the ceiling charging any phone in a room (although Microsoft admits maintaining sufficient beam strength would be challenging), and sat in a box that charges any phone put within it.

To maximise the speed and efficiency of the charger AutoCharge would give off a “straight light beam with little scattering”, the research document says.

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A demonstation of how the AutoCharge system would work Image: Microsoft Research

In the prototype system the phone’s solar panels included an LED that would give off a series of blinks, which could be detected by the AutoCharge cameras, when the device needed charging. It took a maximum of three seconds for the prototype to detect the signal.

Most phones don’t come with integrated solar panels but Microsoft Research suggests a transparent film, such as those provided by Wysips, could be placed over the screen and the rear of existing devices to facilitate charging.

To accurately pick out a phone within a room, the system would include multiple cameras to allow it to extract the depth of objects in its view and determine both the dimensions and volume of handsets. If there are multiple smartphones on the same desk, the charger can charge them one by one, the paper says.

To get around the problem of people being annoyed by the shining of a visible light, the system may use an infra-red light beam, which can’t be seen by the human eye. The beam itself can cut out within 50ms if the cameras detect another object, such as a person, in its path.

The prototype used the head of an UltraFire CREE XM-L T6 Focusing LED Flashlight to generate the beam of light. The strength of the beam would not pose any sort of safety hazard, according to Microsoft researchers.

“It is actually much safer than sunlight because 1) the light beam is cool light and thus causes less heat than sunlight; 2) a large part of the energy of the light beam is converted by the PV [photo-voltaic] panel into electricity and thus generates even less heat,” they state in the paper. The beam’s energy level was about 110 mW/cm2, which is only slightly higher than that of sunlight of AM1.5 spectral irradiance.

“The key idea of the AutoCharge approach is identifying the opportunities of smartphone charging from a user’s existing action of putting a smartphone on a desk and automatically charging the smartphone without requiring explicit effort from the user,” the paper says.

New Device Performs Eye Exams With Smartphone


Around 39 million people in the world are blind, with another 256 million suffering from visual impairments. The World Health Organization estimates that about 80% of these cases could be prevented or reversed if these people had adequate access to visual care. Bringing the necessary ophthalmological equipment to poor and remote areas could soon become a lot easier with the development of Peek Retina: the Portable Eye Examination Kit. This device, currently in development by Peek Vision, connects to smartphones and will allow doctors to easily and affordably complete eye exams. Peek Retina clips onto the camera of smartphones and allow physicians to examine the retina, using the appropriate amount of light intensity pointed at the necessary angle. Because it is combined with a camera, it produces high-quality images that can be referred to later in order to get a second opinion or to track progress if needed. The device assists in identifying conditions like glaucoma and cataracts, allowing patients to receive treatment to slow or reverse the disease. This can also be used to identify complications of diabetes, malaria, and meningitis which can impact vision and indicate swelling of the brain. Understanding the full scope of a patient’s health can impact how doctors proceed with treatments and therapies. Over the last two years, physicians have been testing a prototype of the device in remote locations such as Mali, Botswana, and Kenya, with encouraging results. The company predicts that health care workers could perform about 1,000 eye exams per week with this technology. In addition to using Peek Retina in remote locations, the device is also great for use in industrialized areas at prisons or nursing homes, and by non-health professionals at home. The company is currently undergoing a crowdfunding campaign, seeking to raise £70,000 (US$110,000) to develop the tools needed to manufacture Peek Retina on a larger scale. They hope to begin distribution by October of 2015. Initially, each unit will cost about £60 (US$95), but the price will likely go down over time as more units get manufactured.

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