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Remember Tapplock, the 'unbreakable' smart lock that was allergic to screwdrivers? The FTC just slapped it down for 'deceiving' folks

And you can still open its improved version with a strong magnet


The manufacturer that claimed its Bluetooth-connected fingerprint-reading smart lock was “unbreakable,” only to find it being opened in seconds by someone armed with nothing more than a mount and a screwdriver, has been slapped down by a US watchdog.

Tapplock “did not take reasonable measures to secure its locks, or take reasonable precautions or follow industry best practices for protecting consumers’ personal information,” the FTC alleged [PDF] in its formal complaint. “In fact, [TappLock] did not have a security program prior to the discovery of the vulnerabilities.”

Yes, it wasn’t just the fact the back of the $100 metal smart lock could be twisted off with a suitable mount and unscrewed with a normal screwdriver to defeat it. Its Canadian maker, which was funded through an Indiegogo campaign, had also failed to protect its online user accounts, did not encrypt the connection between its smartphone app and backend servers, and introduced a security hole that allowed anyone nearby to sniff Bluetooth packets between the app and lock, and use that info to unlock the gizmo.

The FTC accused the company of "deceiving" folks by falsely claiming the lock was “unbreakable” and not having taken “reasonable steps” to secure user data. The biz has settled with the federal watchdog, agreeing to “implement a comprehensive security program and obtain independent biennial assessments of the program.”

Unbreakable smart lock devastated to discover screwdrivers exist

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Under the usual FTC settlement [PDF] terms, the manufacturer “neither admits nor denies any of the allegations” but there is long list of requirements it now has to follow.

These include naming a specific employee to be in charge of its new security program, providing reports on any future security incidents, training all its employees once a year on data privacy, putting in place various technical measures to protect users’ personal information, and running an annual review on its systems and security, including penetration testing.

Three holes

Infosec experts had found that one security hole in Tapplock’s API enabled them to bypass its account authentication process and gain full visibility of all user accounts, including usernames, email addresses, profile photos, location history, and precise geolocation of smart locks.

A second vulnerability could be exploited to lock and unlock any nearby Tapplock smart lock: its firmware broadcast its Bluetooth MAC address over the airwaves, and used that same MAC address to calculate the key used to lock and unlock the device. Anyone within radio range could thus figure out its digital key and unlock it. A third vulnerability prevented users from revoking access to their smart lock once other users had access to it, making the device permanently unsafe. It also did not use HTTPS between the app and its API servers.

To its credit, when faced with the deluge of criticism and bad press back in 2018, Tapplock did immediately try to fix things, and a year later, in July 2019, released a redesigned lock that it challenged people to hack. And it had some success with it. But then, just a week ago, the new lock was again bypassed by someone using nothing more than a $25 strong magnet, which you can see below:

Despite avoiding a big fine, the FTC made it clear that it will be keeping an eye on Tapplock. The regulator's director of consumer protection Andrew Smith noted that the biz had failed to even test its security boasts. “Tech companies should remember the basics – when you promise security, you need to deliver security,” he said. ®

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Chat among yourselves: New EU law may force the big IM platforms to open up

Send an iMessage to Facebook, and we'll talk

The European Parliament's new Digital Markets Act, adopted as a draft law this week, could compel big platforms owned by large firms including Apple, Google, and Facebook to make their tech interoperable.

Among other things, this might mean forcing the tech vendors' messaging apps to allow communication with other services.

If the EU deems a company to be what it calls a "gatekeeper", it could impose "structural or behavioural remedies" – compelling the largest outfits to allow interoperability, or imposing fines. The Act would also restrict what companies could do with personal data – not the first time it's tried.

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Sweden asks EU to ban Bitcoin mining because while hydroelectric power is cheap, they need it for other stuff

Lighting and warming homes in winter, or ransoming encrypted files and buying drugs? Hmmm

The directors general of Sweden's Financial Supervisory Authority and Environmental Protection Agency have called upon both the EU and Sweden's government to ban cryptocurrency mining.

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The rocky road to better Linux software installation: Containers, containers, containers

Let's be real: Everyone is trying to catch up with Apple

Analysis Linux cross-platform packaging format Flatpak has come under the spotlight this week, with the "fundamental problems inherent in [its] design" criticised in a withering post by Canadian software dev Nicholas Fraser.

Fraser wrote in a blog published on 23 November that "these are not the future of desktop Linux apps," citing a litany of technical, security and usability problems. His assertions about disk usage and sharing of runtimes between apps were hotly disputed by Will Thompson, director of OS at Endless OS Foundation a day later in a post titled: "On Flatpak disk usage and deduplication," but there is no denying it is horribly inefficient.

Most people don't care about that any more, one could argue. But they should.

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EU needs more cybersecurity graduates, says ENISA infosec agency – pointing at growing list of master's degree courses

Skills gap needs filling somehow

The EU needs more cybersecurity graduates to plug the political bloc's shortage of skilled infosec bods, according to a report from the ENISA online security agency.

The public sectors of EU countries should "support a unified approach" to infosec-focused higher education, it says, addressing an issue that is by no means unique to the bloc.

In a new report titled "Addressing the EU Cybersecurity Skills Shortage and Gap Through Higher Education", academics Jason Nurse and Konstantinos Adamos, together with ENISA's Athanasios Grammatopoulos and Fabio Di Franco, said the European Union needs to get more students signing up for cybersecurity degrees.

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Nuclear fusion firm Pulsar fires up a UK-built hybrid rocket engine

A win in the rocketry world: 'Flames came out of the right end'

UK nuclear fusion outfit Pulsar Fusion has fired up a chemical rocket engine running on a combination of nitrous oxide oxidiser, high-density polyethylene fuel and oxygen.

The acceptance tests of the UK-built rocket were conducted at COTEC, a UK Ministry of Defence site at Salisbury Plain in southern England.

We spoke to CEO of the company, Richard Dinan, in 2018, when he discussed the prospects for fusion power, and the use of the technology for space travel as well as electricity generation. In 2020 he was showing off an ion thruster with plasma running at several million degrees and particles fired at speeds over 20km per second.

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Bad news for Tencent: Chinese companies steer employees away from Weixin or WeChat

Middle Kingdom's internet giant: It's a switch to enterprise apps. Try ours?

Managers of large Chinese state-run companies have told employees to delete, shutdown and discontinue use of Tencent messaging app Weixin for work purposes, citing potential security breaches, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The news outlet named China Mobile, China Construction Bank and China National Petroleum among nine companies that confirmed the communication policy change, although none have officially gone on record.

Employees have reportedly also been warned to beware Weixin's sister app, WeChat. No details were given regarding what communication tools personnel were directed to use instead.

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Privacy Sandbox saga continues: UK watchdog extracts more commitments from Google over ad tech

Roll up, roll up. Come and be the CMA-approved trustee to keep an eye on the Chocolate Factory's antics

The torrid tale of Google's Privacy Sandbox took another turn today with the UK's Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) saying it has "secured improved commitments" from the ad giant over the cookie crushing tech.

The CMA's claims come in the wake of yesterday's call by the UK's data watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), for Google and co to sort out the privacy risks posed by ads. The ICO continues to work with the CMA to review the plans of the Mountain View gang.

The investigation by the competition regulator kicked off in January amid worries that Google's intention to change its Chrome browser and phase out third party cookies in favour of a so-called Privacy Sandbox would, in fact, strengthen the megacorp's grip on the online ad ecosystem.

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Government-favoured child safety app warned it could violate the UK's Investigatory Powers Act with message-scanning tech

Redesigned SafeToNet feature highlights tech law mess

A company repeatedly endorsed by ministers backing the UK's Online Safety Bill was warned by its lawyers that its technology could breach the Investigatory Powers Act's ban on unlawful interception of communications, The Register can reveal.

SafeToNet, a content-scanning startup whose product is aimed at parents and uses AI to monitor messages sent to and from children's online accounts, had to change its product after being warned that a feature developed for the government-approved app would break the law.

SafeToNet was hailed this week by senior politicians as an example of "new tech in the fight against online child abuse," having previously featured in announcements from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport over the past 12 months.

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Reviving a classic: ThinkPad modder rattles tin to fund new motherboard for 2008's T60 and T61 series of laptops

When vendors don't update old models, someone must step up

The range of Thinkpads you can modernise is getting wider. XyTech is trying to crowdfund a new mainboard for the 2008 T60/T61 so fans can upgrade the much-loved noughties laptop.

"The goal is to recreate the TP experience as much as possible, while incorporating the latest CPUs and technology," XyTech's Xue Yao writes. "As the motherboard is not from [Lenovo], it will require quite a bit of hands-on from the user to get the best experience out of the machine. It will be as stable as any other computer motherboard but will not have original TP software support and features."

XyTech is not alone. CnMod is another small Chinese business that updates teenaged – and by laptop standards, that's positively geriatric – ThinkPads. The replacement motherboards come from cottage-industry scale manufacturers on the forums at 51NB.com. They offer replacement motherboards for various classic ThinkPads, including the X200, X201 and X62, updating them with modern processors, memory and storage. There's also the X330, which combines the classic keyboard of the X220 with the faster mainboard of an X230.

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You forced me to use this fancypants app and now you're asking for a printout?

'Just take the meds, Mr Sloper, and enjoy your holiday'

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I could just do with some popcorn right now.

I am loitering among the sick and deranged. The selfish fools decided to pile into the chemist's at 9am, the very moment I sensibly chose to visit. Half of them seem to be loitering around the entrance, jabbing urgently at their smartphones and muttering to themselves.

The popcorn? It will not cure my ailment but, despite research from the Rotterdam School of Management that claims otherwise, popcorn would enhance my user experience (UX) of waiting in the queue.

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<abbr title="Bastard Operator from Hell">BOFH</abbr>: What if International Bad Actors designed the vaccine to make us watch more Steven Seagal movies?

Pipe down – Nicolas Cage could be listening

Episode 21 I've got nothing against conspiracy theories in general because if they didn't exist the PFY would probably have to join a book club or a sewing circle. But even the PFY will admit there's a limit, and at lunch today we think we found it ...

"So let me get this straight," I say. "The vaccine contains tiny … robots …"

"Nanobots," the bloke across the table from me chips in.

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