Big Tin

Big tin: IT infrastructure used by organisations to run their businesses. And other stuff too when I feel like it…

Happy birthday Simon the smartphone

IBM Simon

IBM Simon

Today, 23 November 2012, is the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first smartphone. The IBM Simon was a handheld cellular phone and PDA that ended up selling some 50,000 units. This was impressive as, at the time, publicly available cellular networks were a rarity.

In fact, at the London launch of the device, I remember wondering how many people would buy one given the high costs of both a subscription and the phone. In the USA, BellSouth Cellular initially offered the Simon for US$899 with a two-year service contract or US$1099 without a contract.

As well as a touch screen, the widget included an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, electronic note pad, handwritten annotations, and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.

Measuring 203mm by 63.5mm by 38mm, it had a massive 35mm by 115mm monochrome touch screen and weighed a stonking 510g, but was only on the market for about six months. The UK never saw it commercially available.

So while it never really took off, this was largely down to timing: it was ahead of its time and it was soon overtaken by smaller, less well-featured devices that were more affordable.

But when you contemplate which shiny shiny is your next object of desire, think about the Simon, and remember, Apple didn’t invent the smartphone: IBM did.

Filed under: Business, Consumer, Product, Product launch, Smartphone, Technology, , , , , ,

New developments in open source security

I just spent some time talking to Claudio Guarnieri, European security researcher for Rapid7, about some interesting new open source security developments. Guarnieri is responsible for Cuckoo Sandbox, a malware analysis system. His website reckons that “you can throw any suspicious file at it and in a matter of seconds Cuckoo will provide you back some detailed results outlining what such file did when executed inside an isolated environment.”

But he was also talking about a USB threat detection software which appears to be unique. Ghost USB Honeypot is a honeypot for malware which spreads via USB storage devices. The aim is to fool malware into infecting a fake device, from which point you can trap and/or analyse the malware.

It works by emulating a USB device so that, if a computer is infected by malware which propagates using USB flash drives, as so much of it does, the honeypot will trick the malware into infecting the emulated device, where it can be detected without compromising the host system. This kind of attack can particularly difficult to detect because it can attack high security machines that aren’t network-connected. Stuxnet was one such.

To anyone looking at it from user space or from higher levels in the kernel-mode storage architecture, the Ghost drive appears to be a real removable storage device, that strives to behave exactly like disk.sys, the operating system’s disk class driver. The key to its operation is that malware should not be able to detect that it’s not a real USB device.

You can drive it from a GUI or from the command line, and the aim is for companies to be able to deploy the software on standard client machines without the user having to get involved.

In fact, ideally, according to Ghost’s developer, Bonn University student Sebastian Poeplau, the best way to get this to work successfully is to hide it from the user so they don’t try to write to it. In this way, any write access can be assumed to be malware, and the data written is copied into an image file and can be copied off for later analysis. There’s a video of a recent presentation Poeplau gave about the project, its rationale and how it works, here.

Filed under: Business, desktops, Enterprise, Product, Security, , , , , , , , ,

AVM Fritz!Box 7390 review

I’ve just acquired a handful of home/small business networking products – the AVM Fritz!Box Fon WLAN 7390 router, AVM Fritz!WLAN Repeater, and AVM Fritz!Powerline 500E Set – and I’d like to share the experience.

AVM Fritz!Box Fon WLAN 7390

Like any broadband router, the 7390 connects your local area network (LAN) to an ADSL-enabled phone line – but there’s far more to it than that. It’s probably the fullest featured product of its kind.

At its heart, the 7390 runs Linux but you never need to know that unless you like tinkering. It provides a huge range of information about your DSL connection, not just speed but signal to noise ratio, error stats, and a graphical representation of the line’s carrier frequency spectrum.

If your line is noisy, you can adjust the sensitivity of the device to accommodate that, in order to trade off stability for speed. My phone line was very crackly for a few days which at first resulted in the router disconnecting and retraining frequently. Using the 7390’s line settings, I was able to achieve a stable, albeit slower connection until the line cleared.

And as well as the more common ADSL/ADSL2+, it will also connect to a VDSL line, useful for small businesses with a need for high speed uploading.

Telephony is one of the 7390’s fortés. It includes a DECT base station that allows all GAP-compatible cordless phones to connect to it, and you can also use with a SIP service to call over the Internet, with full logging and call quality data available. The telephony module includes an answering machine, a phone book, alarms, call blocking and diversion, and a call logging screen.

WiFi support includes all modern 2.4GHz standards, plus the 5GHz 802.11a standard, all with a full set of security controls, as well as the ability to avoid channels being used by nearby WLANs. Its four LAN ports are now Gigabit Ethernet enabled – its predecessor supported only 100Mbps – so the 7390 is now useful as a full participant of a home or small business network. It also includes a USB port into which you can plug storage, such as a NAS containing video and audio files, to be shared over the LAN via UPnP.

Other features include an energy saving mode, a night service, and daily, weekly or monthly email reports.

Any downsides? It’s expensive at around £185 from Amazon, and some users have complained of poor English language support from the German parent company.

There’s a lot more the device can do but in summary, it’s a highly capable router and a whole lot more.

AVM Fritz!WLAN Repeater 300E

A simple-to-use device, this extends the WLAN, connected either via the WLAN itself or using a wired network connection. Connection is simple, using push buttons on both the router and repeater, and the link is fully encrypted so, unlike some products, you don’t have to drop strong encryption to extend the WLAN. A good way to get a wireless connection in the workshop.

AVM Fritz!Powerline 500E Set

Fritz!Powerline adapters are an alternative to running network cables: instead, use the mains system for networking. The main drawback compared to a standard Ethernet connection is speed: the max theoretical throughput is 500Mbps but much less than that in practice. A batch file-driven data transfer showed a data rate over the Powerline network of 171Mbps, compared to a rate using gigabit Ethernet of 392Mbps.

The pair of devices in the box each sport an Ethernet port, and a security button which enables 128-bit encryption. You must use this or your data could be visible to everyone else connected to the same circuit – including your neighbours. You also get a pair of Ethernet cables, and the adapters are IEEE P1901 compliant, and so should be compatible with adapters from other vendors.


Both the Powerline devices and repeater are useful for extending your network, or you could combine both for a faster, more robust connection.

Filed under: Consumer

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