This week we bring the jam! J.D. offers up alternatives to Photoshop as El Kaiser tries to find something decent to watch on Netflix and answers listener mail. In the news, the U.S. Emergency Alert System might be vulnerable to hackers; Google patches a 4 year old vulnerability in the Android mobile OS; bookseller Barnes & Noble get out of the tablet business; and the Mars rovers continue to do their thing on the Red Planet.
Another week, another collection of software vulnerabilities…For starters, the U.S. Emergency Alert System has a critical security flaw that could allow intruders to break into it and broadcast fake messages across the country. This is according to the security firm IOActive, which discovered the issue. The problem was due to a shared private SSH key for root privileges distributed in publicly available firmware images for the servers and computers that run the alert system. (Hackers are fond of creating messages about zombie attacks over public service signs and systems, so this could be tempting.)
Bluebox Security found a big ol’ hole in Android last week — something about any app potentially turning into a nasty Trojan horse to get all up in your business. Google quickly whipped up a patch and pushed it out to smartphone OEMs for distribution and spokesperson said even though there’s a flaw, most users don’t have to worry about it.
As for Android, new numbers from Google this week that show that the Jelly Bean flavor of the system, (versions 4.1 and 4.2), have now combined to beat out the older Gingerbread 2.3 on active devices, with Ice Cream Sammich (version 4.0) firmly in third place. Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and S4 phones are thought to be behind the surge in Jelly Bean use over the past year or so. So now we wait for a slice of Key Lime Pie.
The Boy Genius Report Web site claims to have news of Amazon’s plans for its next batch of Kindle Fire tablets. According to the BGR, Amazon has three new versions of the Kindle Fire in the works to debut this fall. While Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are doing well, Barnes & Noble Way announced last week that it was getting out of the tablet business and leaving third-party hardware companies to build any future Nook tablets and the B&N CEO has now resigned. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has been mentioned as a potential buyer for the Nook business. Some are speculating that Barnes & Noble ditched the Nook in order to save its brick-and-mortar bookstores from extinction.
As promised earlier this year, Facebook is now rolling out its Graph Search feature across user accounts here in the US. (Graph Search is the new Facebook tool that lets users make very specific searches. If you’ve been on Facebook for a while, this might be a good time to review your privacy settings. In other social-networking news, Twitter updated its mobile apps this week with improvements to its own mobile search tool and direct message sync across all devices and platforms.
Apple TV, which added a few premium channel apps for cable subscribers last month, is reportedly in talks with Time Warner Cable to let subscribers watch their channels on the little black set-top box, according to Bloomberg News. And CNET reports that Beats Electronics is hoping to partner with AT&T for its new music subscription service.
Meanwhile, up on Mars, the Curiosity rover took a video of a Martian moonrise and its older sibling, the Opportunity rover just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its launch toward the Red Planet. While Martians used to be the stuff of fantasy, there’s a recent essay by Judith Shulevitz in the current New Republic magazine called “And the Martians Shall Save the University — Why Do We need the Liberal Arts? Because It Gave Us Sci-Fi.” If you like science, science fiction — or just find it really cool that a writer can dream up fantastic inventions to inspire engineers and researchers to build for real, give it a read. But first, go check your Facebook privacy settings.
Late last week, the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert about a flaw in Oracle’s Java software that could have potentially put 850 million computers at risk. Apple, Mozilla and other companies advised uninstalling or disabling Java until an update was available and Oracle put the pedal to the metal and rushed out a fix over the weekend. Security experts, however, were still dubious about patch, lingering security issues or even the need to still run Java in the first place.
Java security flaws are also suspected in a wave of cyber-espionage attacks on computer networks used by several international governmental, scientific and diplomatic agencies The attack campaign, dubbed “Red October” by security firm Kaspersky Labs, seems to have been active since 2007 and continues — albeit without the brawny Sean Connery-Alec Baldwin star power of the 1990 film that was made from the namesake 1984 Tom Clancy thriller, “The Hunt for Red October.” (The film version is available to stream on Netflix, and if you have a Nintentdo Wii, you can also watch it there since Amazon’s Instant Video service is now available on your game console.)
In case you have too many online friends and can’t keep track of their interests, Facebook just introduced a new feature this week called Graph Search. This future tool lets you match up people on your friends list with things you are looking for, like buddies with similar hobbies — as long as they’ve shared the info publicly. Graph Search is in the beta stage and may cut into LinkedIn’s territory more than Google’s as some have speculated. Also in the social-network news: MySpace made its redesigned site available to the public this week.
John Scully, a former Apple CEO, said the company needs to adapt to a changing world by overhauling its supply chain to meet demand for cheaper smartphones in emerging markets. Competition from Samsung, which has now sold more than 100 million Galaxy smartphones, is probably adding to Apple’s angina. (Some research has even shown that younger buyers consider Samsung’s phones way cooler compared to the iPhone, which may feel like the 1990’s in reverse for the longtime Applefolk.)
But while Samsung and Apple duke it out in the profitability-and-popularity contest, Microsoft is still trying to get developers to write apps for its Windows Phone handsets. Perhaps in a whiff of reality-show excitement, the company launched a contest this week called “Window Phone Next App Star” that invites developers to create and submit their apps for judging and rating by public voters. Research in Motion is also in app-gathering mode and just got 15,000 new apps for the BlackBerry in about 37 hours thanks to a couple of Portathon sessions that invited developers to port versions of their apps for other systems to the BlackBerry OS for fun and prizes.
Meanwhile, up on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover is rocking out and may be doing some drilling up on Mars. Yay, science!
Finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam note the passing of Internet prodigy and programmer Aaron Swartz, who sadly committed suicide at the age of 26 last week. Swartz, who helped create RSS at the age of 14, worked on other Web applications and was an advocate for freedom of information and open access online, was facing a Federal trial this spring for downloading millions of scientific journals, scholarly research and other documents from MIT and the JSTOR archive. While MIT has launched an internal probe of the events leading up to Mr. Swartz’s death, activists like the Electronic Freedom Foundation have called for an overall in computer crime law. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Swartz, and thank you for making the Internet a better place.