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Why you should care about the Apple-FBI legal fight

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By now, you’ve probably heard of the San Bernardino shooting. If you haven’t, then let me refresh your memory. On December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured in an apparent terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California.

It’s one of the more prominent acts of terrorism that have hit the U.S. because of one important evidence: the Apple iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters that was found on the scene. It may or may not contain information, but the significance of that piece of technology is not about what it holds but what it represents.

Setting a bad precedent

A few weeks ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that they couldn’t unlock the iPhone 5c through sheer brute force, i.e., constantly guessing the 4-digit passcode until they get it right. The agency said they couldn’t risk wiping the data with more tries, a security feature built into the device by Apple.

And because the data on the 5c wasn’t synced with iCloud, the FBI had to find alternative methods of accessing it. Their idea — a radical one — was to ask Apple to create a special tool that:

  • allows the FBI to guess as many passwords as they like without the data on the phone being wiped; and
  • lets the iPhone connect to an external device, such as a desktop or laptop, where the FBI can run a script that guesses passwords quickly.

With the advancement of technology, it was only a matter of time before information security became a national security issue. The problem here is that Apple no longer has the ability to access encrypted data on iDevices running iOS 8 or higher.

Even if they could, Apple firmly believes they shouldn’t, as explicitly stated on their website via an open letter penned by CEO Tim Cook:

In today’s digital world, the ‘key’ to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

The FBI invoked the All Writs Act of 1789 — a century-old U.S. federal statute that has been used to practically force technology companies to cooperate with the government — to get a court order.

Personal data in the wrong hands

Our phones hold an unbelievable amount of information. They have become windows to our lives. Our location, our messages, our pictures, bank records, statements, emails, and everything else in between? Chances are, all of them can be found on our phones.

In the wrong hands, that data could destroy our lives. Which is why the biggest smartphone OS developers — namely Google, Apple, and Microsoft — have made data security a big, if not the biggest, part of their respective feature lists.

With the FBI asking Apple to create a special system to bypass the tech company’s security setup, that system will be out there. That’s partly why Apple is afraid; even if they could create one, it would undermine everything they worked hard for. Once the system is created, nothing is stopping the FBI — or anybody who gets their hands on the software — to use it for personal or criminal reasons.

The FBI suggested solutions to the problem:

  • there will be a custom ID, i.e., each custom OS can only be installed on a specific phone;
  • operation of the software will be done only at Apple’s HQ in Cupertino, California; and
  • any software update needs Apple’s approval to install.

But most security experts agree this isn’t just going to be about one phone. From the Verge:

That’s a nervous-making thought for security professionals, since no single system is ever thought to be entirely impenetrable. New vulnerabilities pop up in software all the time, and for the iPhone, they can sell for as much as $1 million. iPhone security expert Jonathan Zdziarski says there’s a real concern that an undisclosed vulnerability or existing exploit could be used in a way that Apple and the FBI can’t predict. Even if the signature system isn’t broken outright, the same tricks used by the FBI’s tool could be repurposed to give malware a stronger foothold on a targeted iPhone. ‘It’s not about just stealing one tool,’ says Zdziarski. ‘There’s a lot going on in software like this, and having a direct tap into how Apple can disable functions moves [attackers] along at light speed.’

But more than the system going into the wrong hands, it’s about that system ever existing in the first place. Because once the FBI wins the legal battle, it will set a terrible precedent for all tech companies. It tells them that the government, in their infinite benevolence, will be able to ask for the court order again and again. Once that’s possible, no matter what the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, or the National Security Agency says, they’ll have the power to lord over everyone’s privacy just because they’re the government.

And remember Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who leaked evidence of the U.S. government practically spying on everybody? Yeah.

That’s why you should care. If the court order holds and Apple can’t fight it back legally, then say goodbye to actual privacy, at least whatever is left of it anyway.

Whether you’re here in the Philippines or not, your privacy will be compromised. Whether it’s the government or some crooks who are spying on you, it won’t matter. Unless you stop using smartphones or any other devices that connect to the Internet, your privacy and your personal life will not be your own.

So pray that Apple wins this injunction and hope that you still hold control over your life after all of this is said and done. Because if they don’t, hackers will be the least of your worries.

Features

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15: Is the ScreenPad worth it?

Two screens for double the fun

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At first glance, the new ZenBook Pro 15 (UX580GE) may look like an ordinary laptop. There’s nothing out of the ordinary on its solid chassis, and both the keyboard layout and screen are as plain as can be.

On the inside, my unit has some of the best specs around: an Intel Core i9-8950HK processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics, 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD storage, and a mouthwatering 15.6-inch 4K touchscreen — but those still aren’t this notebook’s coolest feature.

It’s only when you turn on the device and press a button on the keyboard’s top row when the magic happens.

You can go from this…

… to this!

Yup, the touchpad is a touchscreen called ScreenPad

Besides being able to choose whatever wallpaper you want for it…

You may also play music on it

Check your calendar for upcoming events

Turn it into a handy virtual numpad

Use it as a full-fledged calculator at any time

And add any other function you might need 

It even comes with its very own settings menu

Not impressed yet? Let’s try Extension Display mode

Now you can treat it as a secondary screen!

Perfect for watching videos while “working” 😉

Or simply trying to be more productive

Here I am viewing photos while editing on Photoshop

And choosing the next clip to edit on Premiere Pro

It can even handle Photoshop and Premiere Pro at the same time!

Here’s my favorite trick: watching a YouTube walkthrough while playing games

There are a lot more things you can do with the ScreenPad, but these were the most useful ones in my own workflow. ASUS is opening up the magical touchpad to other apps, so the possibilities here are endless and it’ll only get better through time.

So, is the ScreenPad actually worth it? To be honest, I usually left it on wallpaper mode with my favorite pictures to add style to my workspace; I even turned it off completely while the laptop was unplugged to save on battery power.

It’s one of those things you never knew you needed until you got it. The ScreenPad is an evolution for laptops which have been becoming stale in the past couple of years, but not something you can’t live without.

Do I want a ScreenPad on all future laptops? Yes, definitely! Who wouldn’t want two screens at once?

If you want to learn more about the ZenBook Pro 15 and watch it in action, check out our hands-on video:

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Features

OPPO drops the F9, Motorola copy-pastes: Weekend Rewind

Why innovate when you can recreate, right?

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Here are this week’s top stories on GadgetMatch.

1. OPPO F9 (water)drops!

We were getting teasers of this phone two weeks ago and now it’s finally here! The OPPO F9 is official and it comes with a notch that the company is essentially calling a “waterdrop.” That aside, it’s looking like a lean, mean, midrange machine with its 6GB RAM and 64GB of storage, an AI-enhanced 16MP main shooter with a secondary 2MP depth sensor for portraits, and a 3500 mAh battery.

Our hands-on and unboxing is up on YouTube so make sure you watch it!

2. Motorola copy-pastes

Notches and gradients are all the rage in 2019, so we guess it makes sense that Motorola opted to fuse both the iPhone X and the Huawei P20 Pro. The result is the Motorola P30 because Moto probably couldn’t be bothered to think of another name. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 636 chip with 6GB memory. It will come in both a 64GB and a 128GB variant. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say. Moto must really want to butter up Apple and Huawei.

3. Poco loco!

Xiaomi’s been cooking something but since this is the Internet and tech leaks are totally a thing, we already know what it is. Coming our way officially next week is the Pocophone F1. A leaked video pretty much already told us a lot of what we want to know: 5.99-inch display, Snapdragon 845, and 6GB of memory.

We’ll have our own video on this soon so definitely stay tuned for it.

4. Pies to go

Google is being generous in handing out pies. Android Go, a less data-hungry version of the mobile operating system, will also get Android Pie. The Go edition of the newest Android OS only needs half the storage space and can run fluidly, even with just a gigabyte of memory.


5. Contraceptive app

Not ready for the responsibility of raising a child? There’s an app for that! The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved Natural Cycles. It’s the very first app to be marketed as a method of contraception. It determines whether a woman is fertile or not then advises which days you should “abstain” or “use protection.”

However, the FDA warns that “no form of contraception works perfectly, so an unplanned pregnancy could still result from correct usage of this device.”


Weekend Rewind is our roundup of top news and features you might have missed for the week. We know the world of technology can be overwhelming and not everyone has the time to get up to speed with everything — and that includes us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewind.

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Features

7 best affordable flagship smartphones of 2018

Best specs, lower prices

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Putting the words “affordable” and “flagship” seems like an oxymoron at first, but manufacturers have reached a point wherein this magical combination is actually possible.

Yes, affordable flagships are a thing now, and they’re taking away some of the premium segment’s long-standing thunder. Why wouldn’t you want the best specs and features in a cheaper package?

This year has been kind to us with all the affordable flagships launched thus far. Here are the best ones to date:

OnePlus 6

Let’s begin with the brand that started it all. Originally called the “flagship killer,” the OnePlus line is synonymous with high-end power without the extravagant pricing. The OnePlus 6 is the latest entry, and it’s an absolute stunner from its gorgeous display to the fluid Android interface.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S

This is the one time Xiaomi likes to go a little more premium, and we support it a hundred percent. The Mi Mix 2S combines a ceramic body with a massive, notch-free display and incredible hardware for the price. Each generation improves on the predecessor — this is no exception.

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