Tech Roundup: October 2019

There were many important technology stories that broke in October, yet some generated more attention than others. From state-sponsored hackers hacking other state-sponsored hackers to risky new facial recognition smartphone technology, here are four of the most prominent tech-related news announcements from October:

Google Pixel 4 released

Google released its newest smartphone line on October 24 – the Pixel 4 – which includes the regular 4 and larger 4XL devices, yet within days of the phone’s release, reports began to surface regarding the vulnerability of their facial recognition locking feature.

According to The Independent, it was found that the facial recognition technology could allow users to unlock their devices with their eyes closed, prompting a quick update that now requires users to have them open instead. One suggestion was the possibility that a phone could be unlocked when held in front of its sleeping owner’s face, The Independent claimed.

In addition to the update, Google has further responded by suggesting that users disable the facial-scanning features on their phones and instead use PIN or pattern-based unlock passwords.

The facial recognition technology used in the Pixel 4 smartphone line was developed using a now-suspended program intended to improve the face-scanning accuracy, according to a Business Insider article. The program was suspended at the end of October after it was found that the company had been “tricking” homeless black Americans into having their pictures taken, the article read. All of those who agreed to have their photographs taken by Google were compensated with $5 gift cards.

Among other reviews, Wired referred to the Pixel 4 and 4XL as “almost the best,” while The Verge claimed that it is “closer” in functionality to an iPhone than any other Android-based smartphone on the market.

Alleged state-sponsored Russian group hacked Iranian cyber espionage operation to carry out attacks

A Russian hacker group was found to have hacked into an alleged Iranian state-sponsored cyber espionage operation and used it as a disguise to execute attacks around the world.

According to Reuters, U.S. and British intelligence agency officials announced in late October 2019 that a Russian group called “Turla” had used “Iranian tools and computer infrastructure” to hack organizations in at least 20 countries over 18 months. The hacker group has been accused by Estonia and the Czech Republic of operating in conjunction with the Russian FSB security service.

Intelligence gathered shows that the Turla group had targeted an Iranian hacking group called “APT34” that cyber security researchers allege works for the Iranian government, according to Reuters. The British GCHQ and the National Security Agency claim that Turla gained access to APT34’s “command and control” systems in order to deploy malware and build its own hacking tools.

The Iranian agency that was hacked did not appear to have knowledge of the Russian hackers’ activities, according to those in the intelligence community, and both countries have denied the allegations, according to Reuters. A City A.M. article claims that Turla – known under aliases including “Waterbug” and “Venomous Bear” – has carried out “numerous” attacks on governments, militaries and commercial enterprises. Most of the alleged attacks were carried out in the Middle East, although several British organizations were found to have been hacked, according to Al Jazeera English.

iTunes elements split up with new version of Mac OS

Users who installed the newest version of the Mac operating system this month may have been surprised to find that their longtime iTunes applications were gone.

Instead, Mac users who installed the macOS Catalina will have to organize, access and play their music, videos and other files on several dedicated applications for different file formats, rather than in the same place on iTunes, according to an Apple support service publication in early October.

The iTunes application still remains on PC, according to an October CNET article.

While the iTunes store remains in name, the music, video, podcast and books features of the application have been split up into respective “Apple” applets, such as Apple Music, for example, according to the company. In the article, CNET paints iTunes as an application that Mac users grew “to love and hate at the same time” due to the fact that it had too many features and often ran slowly because it performed more tasks than it could handle.

Another notable feature of the upgrade includes the fact that an iPhone will now open in a Mac’s Finder program when plugged in using a USB cable, rather than on the iTunes application. This allows Mac users the ability to access files and folders themselves on their iPhones, rather than through the restricted medium of iTunes.

Apple faces backlash after removing map application used by Hong Kong demonstrators

American technology company Apple and CEO Tim Cook found themselves in hot water in October after an application was removed that Hong Kong protesters say was an important tool used to organize pro-democracy demonstrations.

The crowdsourced mapping application (which was later re-added) called could be downloaded from the App Store, according to CNBC, and was widely used by protestors in the Chinese special administrative region as a means of tracking police locations and activity.

Apple removed the application following criticism from Chinese state media regarding its use amongst protesters in which it was referred to as “poisonous”. In its reasoning, the tech giant cited a violation of company policy because it alleged the application was as a danger to public safety and police, according to CNBC.

“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” Apple’s initial statement explaining its reasoning for the app’s removal read. The statement also claimed that the company started an investigation immediately after “many concerned customers in Hong Kong” had expressed public safety concerns.

“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” the statement said.

Domestic criticism of the move came at the hands of those on social media platforms like Twitter, as well as from a bipartisan outcry at the hands of politicians including Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Ted Cruz, after which Apple announced it had put the application back on the App Store, according to The Verge article. In addition, the source stated that Cook would be joining the same advisory board at a Chinese university that the one Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had sat on in previous years.

That concludes this month’s tech round-up, so be sure to check out  Faronics’ blog to learn more about endpoint security and important trends in the industry.

About The Author

Suzannah Hastings

Suzannah is interested in all things digital, from software security to the latest technological advances. She writes about ways in which the increasingly internet-driven landscape and windows technologies like steady state alternative that change our lives, and what we can expect in the future.

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