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Biometrics hit the mainstream
Passwords are terrible ways to protect confidential data. The list of stupid things we do with passwords is, frankly, shocking.
- We choose bad passwords. A recent hack revealed millions of passwords from Adobe customers, and one analysis showed that the top two passwords in that list were “123456” and, of course, “password.” Others in the top 10 included “qwerty,” “111111,” and “adobe123.”
- We reuse passwords. Because remembering complex passwords is a pain, we reuse passwords at different sites. Which means if one site gets compromised, the bad guy now has the keys to every other site where those credentials were used.
- We’re easily fooled. Social engineering and phishing attacks exploit human nature, with users voluntarily handing over the keys to valuable things.
The obvious solution is two-factor authentication: something you have plus something you know. And the best accompaniment to a password is biometric proof that you are who you say you are. Apple’s TouchID, integrated into the iPhone 5S this year, was noteworthy as the first example of fingerprint reading technology integrated into a mainstream tech product. (A publicity stunt involving an alleged hack got far more coverage than it should have.)
Windows 8.1, which was released to manufacturing a month before iOS 7, has similar technology. A biometric framework and fingerprint registration application designed for use with the same type of reader as is found in the new iPhone (a big improvement over older swipe-based fingerprint readers) is built into Windows 8.1. It can be combined with the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) in a Windows 8.1 device to create a virtual smartcard that makes spoofing of enterprise network credentials very difficult. Look for this technology to become much more common next year.
— Ed Bott
Cheap tablets that don’t suck
In the beginning, there was the iPad. Then there were a few Android tablets from Samsung and Google. Then Amazon got into the act with the Kindle Fire, and Microsoft released Windows 8.1, which enabled a whole class of tablet-sized devices. The result is a glut of great tablets to choose from.
Yes, there are plenty of dirt-cheap Android devices that deliver an awful experience, but they’re easy enough to avoid in favor of very good brand-name devices. There’s the 7-inch Google Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX. Dell has a pair of 8-inch tablets, one running Android and the other running Windows 8.1. And there are plenty of iPad alternatives in the 8.9-inch-and-up form factor, including Microsoft’s Surface and Surface 2. If you’re happy with last year’s technology, the Kindle Fire HD and the original Surface are seriously discounted.
There are so many tablets, in fact, that manufacturers are falling over themselves to offer eye-popping discounts. Those Dell tablets, for example, have been offered for as little as $129 (Venue 8, Android) and $99 (Venue 8 Pro, Windows 8.1), and Amazon is aggressively comparing its $379 price tag on the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 to the much pricier iPad Air.
Those prices are really good news for consumers, although it’s doubtful that any of the companies involved are making much of a profit at those prices. It’s even good news for business buyers, because many of these devices are perfectly capable of doing work as well as play.
— Ed Bott
ARM becomes the engine of the Internet of Things
When you use a modern smartphone or a tablet, chances are good that it’s powered by a microprocessor or System on a Chip (SOC) based on a design created by ARM Holdings. That UK-based firm is the acknowledged leader in embedded, low-power processor designs that are required by virtually all consumer mobile devices.
PCs and laptops may still use Intel’s chips for raw power and application compatibility, but when it comes to mobile and consumer electronics, ARM is king.
What’s most amazing about ARM is that it doesn't even make chips; instead, it licenses chip reference designs and intellectual property to companies like Samsung, nVidia, Qualcomm, and Apple. Those companies in turn create their own chips, and that silicon eventually ends up in products you recognize, like iPhone and iPads, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, and countless Android devices. Even Microsoft has gotten into the game with its Surface devices and Windows Phones from its soon-to-be-subsidiary Nokia.
But ARM-based chips also end up in products you don't directly interact with, like your Wi-Fi router, your Internet-connected TV, and streaming media devices like the Roku and Apple TV. ARM technology is in smart home products like the NEST thermostat, in home appliances, and, of course, in your car. Collectively, ARM powers an amazing percentage of "The Internet of Things," which will eventually be interconnected with apps and services in unexpected (and, we hope, delightful) ways.
— Jason Perlow