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Android: Google knows your Wi-Fi passwords

8 October 2013

Michael Horowitz, an IT security expert, has published an article titled “Google Knows Nearly Every Wi-Fi Password in the World”. The article explains that Google servers currently store unencrypted passwords from nearly all access point that Android devices have ever connected to.

According to research, there are over 1 billion Android devices in the world. Each of these devices stores Wi-Fi access point passwords in a way that allows Google (and, therefore, secret services, for instance) access them.

Moreover, default Android settings allow these passwords to be stored and sent to Google’s servers in an unencrypted plain text form (for backup purposes).

Gaining access to a Wi-Fi network is the least one can do with this information at hand.

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Google Hangouts: a step towards closed protocols

9 July 2013

Corporate SecretsGoogle decided to replace the Google Talk IM platform with Google Hangouts that has very limited XMPP (Jabber) support and no option for disabling the logging of user’s chats.
A number of experts criticized this decision, since, in their opinion, it denotes the transition from free to closed proprietary protocols.

Messengers are already being updated – and that includes both desktop applications, their web counterparts (found in Gmail and Google+, for example) and mobile apps.

The main difference between the protocols is the lack of the server-to-server federation standard support that allowed users to use alternative message exchange servers or even create their own ones to be 100% sure of the confidentiality of their communications. From now on, all messages will be sent via Google’s servers and be logged there as well.

The consequences this may lead to are obvious.

IT security experts are calling to Google to revert to open standards, make the Google Hangouts specifications public and publish the source code for creating a personal server.

Microsoft and Verizon patent user surveillance technologies

9 July 2013

A new patent by Microsoft (patent number 0120278904) describes a surveillance system that uses special camera-like devices to detect the presence of people in a room and calculate their number. The patent describes a possible use case where such a system is used to monitor the number of people watching a movie. When a certain threshold is exceeded, the system requests that an extended content license be purchased. The content can be played only a certain number of times, within a certain time period and for a certain number of viewers of specific ages.

According to the patent, such a system can be used in various types of devices: from tablets, consoles and PC’s to mobile phones.

Verizon has a similar patent, but it provides more details about user monitoring.

The system is based on devices equipped with a microphone, a camera, an infrared camera and a laser sensor. The concept is strikingly similar to existing devices – for instance, Kinect for Xbox.

The described system can not only determine the number of people in a room, but also analyze their activities and identify their behavior (and show relevant ads, for example). The system will recognize the age of specific individuals and detect the presence and type of pets in front of it.

The system can also connect to users’ mobile phones for greater control accuracy.

Google is currently submitting a similar patent for its Google TV service, but little is known about it yet.

The capabilities of such systems are described in patent applications as entirely voluntary user actions. However, this will hardly prevent content providers (game and movie companies) from requiring a connection to such a system.

As in many other similar situations, this news worried lots of users. Blogs and forums were filled with references to Orwell’s “1984” novel and concerns about possible illegal use of such systems for user monitoring.
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Google is developing alternative authorization schemes

12 April 2013

Google employees say they have begun developing new user authentication technologies that do not use passwords.

The company’s security division released a report on the possible ways of lowering the risk that websites’ authorization mechanisms will be broken into. According to the report, user passwords are no longer a sufficient method for protecting information.

Google’s ideas for protecting its e-mail service, Gmail (and connections to it), include miniature cryptographic USB cards that allow users to be authorized after registration without entering a password. It has been suggested that in time the USB interface will move way to wireless technology that would allow any accessory — watches, rings, etc. — to be used to grant access.

Parental control in Google Chrome

15 January 2013

Google announced plans to implement parental control features in the settings of its Chrome browser. These features will help parents efficiently control their children’s web browsing.

This update will enable users to launch the browser with different settings under different accounts. Unlike the full-featured ”parent” account, a “child” account will not allow browsing of blacklisted websites. It will also be possible to restrict browsing only to a “white list” of allowed sites.

Moreover, the “child” account will not support the private browsing mode and deletion of browsing history. The release date of the updated version of Chrome with these features has not yet been confirmed.

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Google: online safety guide for children

10 November 2011

According to a research conducted by the Internet Development Fund, children in Europe and the NIS states usually know more about the Internet than their parents do.

From the one hand, this is a positive and logical thing. From the other hand – we don’t really know how children understand the basics of online security. Regular incidents involving Internet fraud and harassment prove that the problem is very real and the level of online threat awareness among teenagers is very low.

You can try to shield your kids from such threats in many ways, but you must be ready to face the fact that an Internet-savvy teenager won’t have any problems finding a workaround. And that is why you, as a parent, will have to explain the basics of online security to them.

Google has published a guide for parents and teachers that explains how online dangers can be avoided and how the rules of online conduct can be efficiently communicated to minors. All of these materials have been published as “Family Safety Center”.

The guide contains articles written by Google and other companies working on the problems of online security for children.

However, we should not forget than no technology, even the most advanced one, will ever be able to replace parental control and proper upbringing.

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Google to detect user’s age

15 December 2010

Google has developed an algorithm that determines who is using the computer at any given moment — a child or a grown-up.

To do that, the system monitors the user’s actions, analyzes the browsing history and the sites loaded in the browser. The algorithm already demonstrated reliable results in a series of tests, which enabled Google to register an official patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The author of the algorithm, Krishna Bharat, is the head of Google’s research facility in Bangalore, India, and the lead developer of the Google News service. He is also a co-author of another similar patent describing an algorithm for determining the age, literacy and income levels, as well as the ethnicity of a user.

Google: accidental stealing of personal data

11 November 2010

Google is one of the largest internet companies who, in the process of collecting data for its Google Street View service became embroiled in a scandal related to personal data security. Data for this service is collected by cars, installed with special equipment, which drive around city streets.

The scandal began in Germany, whose inhabitants pay rather close attention to their personal information security. They expressed their concern regarding the possible appearance of people, numbers of houses and cars on Street View. Following their demands this data was removed, almost 250 thousand houses disappeared from the service’s database.

The second strand of the scandal began when it was discovered that Google cars accidentally connect to all wireless networks that they encounter and collect some information. Google management confirmed the interception, but described it as an accident. Code from a different program was included, apparently by mistake, in the car antenna algorithm. Meanwhile, the volume of information captured from other Wi-Fi networks was almost 600 gigabytes (a quarter of networks in European towns are completely unsecured).

At the moment, public organisations in more than 30 countries are demanding that the internet company be charged with breaking laws on information security.

In order to help defuse this conflict, Google promised to delete collected data and also appointed Alma Whitten as Director of Privacy to protect the interests of users and their personal data.

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