Russian ships may be preparing to attack the global internet

US government sources have revealed to the New York Times growing concerns that Russian naval vessels may be threatening the global internet infrastructure. Russian ships have been seen tracing out the routes of the trans-oceanic cables that carry the vast majority of the world’s internet traffic around the world. Russian ships seem to be deliberately staying close enough to these cables to use their attached submersibles, which the US says could descend and sever the lines — or perhaps tap them. The sheer number of ships involved has been described by senior diplomats as comparable to the Cold War.

The issue stems from the fact that these ships seem to be threatening these deep-sea cables in the deep sea, as opposed to near shore where the vast majority of natural or accidental damage occurs. A piece of the internet backbone, severed miles undersea, could potentially take weeks or months to find and repair. Analysts did say that the ships could be trying to find the location of secret cables laid down, mostly the US, for military or other private uses. Ships don’t necessarily need to be anywhere near a deep sea cable to cut it, so in a way the cables are safest from Russian tampering while Russian ships still float directly above them.

Tactical_exercises_of_the_Russian_NavyOn the other hand, take this piece of news in concert with another one from earlier in the month: Russia is running tests on the feasibility of cutting itself off from the global internet. In other words, Russia may be actively researching whether it can maintain certain modern abilities with a a Russian-bloc intranet and only semi-permeable junctions of interaction with the outside world. With ships now seemingly looking into the possibility of creating such a reality, it’s a troubling situation.

If this is indeed anything more than saber rattling, it could be intended to function in one or both of two ways: as a long-term cultural tactic, or as a short-term military one.

Vladimir Putin could be looking into the possibility of re-creating some version of the Iron Curtain (Silicon Curtain? Digital Curtain?) to cut his people off from outside influences. He’s been very outspoken about what he calls the imperialism of the West in the former Soviet countries, both military and cultural. More to the point, it’s difficult to maintain a narrative of victimhood when your citizens can readily consume the internal cultural offerings of a population that genuinely has no interest in conflict. Despite firewall and filtering efforts, Western European and US media are far more accessible to modern Russians than 30-40 years ago.

russia internet 3

The problem with that plan, of course, is that in the modern world, connection is synonymous with success. At the extreme end of the path of censorship is North Korea, a country where radio transceivers come welded so they can only receive the government channel, and where it’s thought millions may currently be starving. Russia has had trouble stabilizing its economy in recent years, so any move to further cut off the outside world will be risky. At the least, it forces the country to double down on old-world pillars like oil and gas, or good old fashioned goods production. Neither of those seem like safe bets in the short or long term.

Satellite internet may be expensive, but it could ease this worry.

Satellite internet may be expensive, but it could ease this worry.

On the other hand, you can be sure there are some American generals getting quite antsy at the prospect of a much more aggressive severing of the cables. Whether a purely malicious move meant to sow economic chaos, or a strategic prelude to some more direct military action, shutting down the global internet could be an incredibly powerful move. Just the possibility of such an attack might push the US and others to start looking longing to some recently proposed plans for global satellite internet.

Still, we’re a long way from any sort of outright military move for World War Three — which severing the internet backbone would be, given its importance. It’s worth noting, though, that just running the ships along a certain route has made the US Navy sit up and take notice, and it’s once again put Russia in the driver’s seat in international affairs. The US has once again shifted into wait-and-react mode — absolutely not the sort of place that the US likes to be.


Report claims Samsung could manufacture OLED screens for next-generation iPhone

A new report claims that Apple could tap Samsung’s manufacturing expertise for future generations of the iPhone. In and of itself, that’s nothing new, but instead of manufacturing an SoC with the Korean company, Apple might want to buy into Samsung’s OLED display technology. That would be a marked shift from several years ago, when Tim Cook blasted OLED technology as fundamentally inferior to the iPhone’s display.

Then again, at the time, Cook was right. OLED technology has continued to evolve in the nearly three years since Cook made his statements. The best way to evaluate the relative position of each technology is through the extensive database of information available at DisplayMate. While Dr. Soneira hasn’t directly compared the Galaxy Note 5 against the iPhone 6 / 6 Plus, he uses a standard series of tests that allow for some homegrown comparison between the two.

Scroll through each report, and you’ll find that each device has a few areas where it wins out over the other. OLED displays have excellent off-angle viewing, the iPhone’s image contrast is slightly better, but the Galaxy Note 5 has better color accuracy. Overall, the Note 5 takes home an A in this category, compared to the iPhone 6 Plus’s A-. The iPhone 6 family is much brighter (good for direct sunlight), and reflects very slightly less light.

iPhoneDisplayPower The iPhone family vs. the Galaxy Note


Power consumption is where things get particularly interesting. According to Dr. Soneira’s data, the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 5 are fairly well matched. Note that the displays are of two different sizes — the Note 5’s total screen area is 13.7 sq. inches, compared to 12.9 sq. inches for the iPhone 6 Plus. Even so, the two compare well — the Galaxy Note 5 has an average power level far lower than that of the iPhone 6 Plus. True, Apple’s current LCD technology wins the maximum power comparison, but how many people regularly set their device to a blank white background? Not many.

We contacted Dr. Soneira for additional information on this potential match-up. He notes that “The OLED / LCD Power Efficiency Crossover is currently at 67 percent APL (Average Picture Level): The OLED display on the Galaxy Note 5 is more power efficient for APLs less than 67 percent, and the LCD display on the iPhone 6 Plus is more power efficient for APLs greater than 67 percent.” Power efficiency will also be different between the red, green, and blue primaries, which is why Dr. Soneira compares peak whiteness as opposed to a different color.

It’s interesting to note how the Note displays have evolved compared to the iPhone. The Note 5 uses 6% less power than the Note 4 at the same brightness level and 17% less power at maximum brightness. Overall efficiency is roughly 21% better at the same screen size. The iPhone 6 Plus, in contrast, was slightly less efficient than the iPhone 5 (relative to screen size).

Given that Apple already uses LTPS (low temperature polysilicon) for its iPhone displays, the company may well be looking for additional advances that can cut power consumption and improve overall display quality. Whether that will translate into tapping Samsung for future displays remains to be seen. Hypersatured backgrounds and vibrant colors are a hallmark of Samsung’s Galaxy and Note products, while Apple typically prefers a color balance that tilts slightly towards blue. We suspect that any agreement between the two would require that Apple not tune its LCDs to look overly much like Samsung’s hardware (not that Cupertino is likely to wish to do so in any case).

Of course, the flip side to this is that evaluating OLED technology is something that Apple likely does on a regular basis. Manufacturers regularly test new hardware developments as they become available, and with the iPhone 6S / 6S Plus having recently launched, the time is right for Apple to be investigating new technologies it could introduce in the next 12-24 months.


Microsoft Edge will not get extension support until next year

The browser battle has heated up again with the advent of Microsoft Edge and the release of Windows 10.  So far, Microsoft’s new browser has received accolades for its immaculate interface and speedy performance. However, one of its major drawbacks is that it lacks support for third-party extensions. At the time of release, Microsoft promised that it will soon be bringing the feature on-board, but it turns out that it has been delayed to mid-2016. It will most probably be rolled out with the Windows 10 “Redstone” update.

As per the latest statistics, Chrome is the most-used browser, with a foothold of around 65% in the market. It was an instant hit among users for its speed, accuracy, and user-friendly interface. While Chrome initially lacked extension and add-on support as well (at least, when compared to the already-established Firefox), Google remedied that problem in fairly short order. Edge is debuting against stiffer competition, and Microsoft’s delays may prove a further setback. One reason for the delay is that Edge doesn’t support the Internet Explorer 11 extension style, and will instead use HTML5 and Javascript. That’s something Chrome has done for quite some time, but it’s a significant shift for Microsoft.


Talking about the issue with WinBeta, Microsoft said in a statement, ”We’re committed to providing customers with a personalized web experience, which is why bringing extensions to Microsoft Edge continues to be high priority. We’re actively working to develop a secure extension model to make the safest and most reliable browser for our customers, and look forward to sharing more in a future Windows 10 update in 2016.”

It is good to see that the company is trying to create something without drawbacks, but the wait might turn its user base to already available browsers in the market. The extension support for Edge is presently being run for internal tests. Windows Insider program members will be among the first few to use the Edge extension support for Windows 10 previews builds.

Microsoft earlier mentioned that it wants to make the transition to Edge by Chrome and Firefox users easier. Just like Windows Mobile 10 is compatible with Android and iOS codes, Edge will also be compatible with extensions for other browsers.


Netgear Zing LTE hotspot for $39.99 with free mobile data from FreedomPop

Need an affordable way to stay connected while you’re away from your desk? Check out today’s deal from FreedomPop. For just $39.99, you’ll get a pre-owned Netgear Zing LTE hotspot, free shipping, and access to 500MB of free data every month.

Zing As for the hotspot itself, it features a 2.4-inch color touchscreen, support for up to ten WiFi devices, over ten hours of battery life, and a GPS-over-WiFi feature. And since it’s small enough to fit in your pocket or purse, you can easily take it with you when you leave the house.

With your order, you’ll get a free trial of the $19.99 2GB data plan and the $29.99 premier services. And while shipping usually costs $14.99, that’s included here for free. Keep in mind, the 2GB data plan and premier services are recurring fees, so you’ll need to cancel them before your trial period is over if you want to avoid additional monthly costs.

Whether you choose the free or paid plans, you should keep an eye on how much data you’re using. If you go over your data allotment, you’ll end up having to pay for more. But as long as you’re prudent about your data usage, you’ll be good to go.

Need even more data? You can earn an additional 500MB of free monthly data if you refer your friends to FreedomPop. And if you’re willing to complete promotional offers, you can earn even more.

Our commerce group sources the best deals and products for the ET Deals posts. We operate independently of Editorial and Advertising and may earn a percentage of the sale, if you buy something via a link on the post. If you are interested in promoting your deals, please contact us at

For more great deals head over to TechBargains.


Is the NSA trying to warn us that cryptography is dead?

Back in August, the NSA released an updated advisory that was at once interesting and expected: It said that the world had to prepare for the oncoming impact of quantum computers, and the possibility that these devices could render existing computer cryptography almost completely obsolete. They called for the cryptographic community to invest heavily in developing so-called post-quantum cryptographic solutions that could survive this hypothetical watershed invention. And, as you might imagine, this advisory has very nearly driven the internet insane. Now, two security researchers have published a paper compiling all the various theories surrounding this advisory, and trying to make sense of the situation.

Remember that quantum computers have obsessed internet weirdos for as long as the concept has existed. Try really looking into the Deep Web sometime, and you’ll quickly come up against the idea of a quantum deep web, a deep deep deep web, that can only be accessed by/through Illuminati-style quantum networks that, of course, don’t actually exist. Much of this lore is simply gleeful trolling by people who love to mislead noobs, but don’t kid yourself — many of the most entrenched People Of The Internet really do believe this crap.

NSA logoSo, unsurprisingly, now they believe this crap. The biggest issue springs for a single passage (emphasis mine):

For those partners and vendors that have not yet made the transition to Suite B algorithms, we recommend not making a significant expenditure to do so at this point but instead to prepare for the upcoming quantum resistant algorithm transition.

The reason this has surprised so many people is that the NSA has been a long-time supporter of several of what we might call pre-quantum cryptographic solutions, new and highly advanced algorithms that shore up problems with current solutions, but which would probably not be secure in the event of real quantum computing. In particular, NSA has been a booster of Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC), which makes this back-pedaling announcement a bit confusing. They’re now saying that this ECC is a stopgap solution waiting to be made obsolete by quantum research — but that’s what it’s always been, so what’s changed?

DWave's (alleged) quantum computing chip.

DWave’s (alleged) quantum computing chip.

However, while it’s certainly possible that NSA has a secret, super-successful quantum computer behind closed doors, that looks very unlikely at this point. Not only does NSA seem to lack the sheer volume of pure-science research talent that would be necessary to compete with the major, openly admitted research bodies, but the Edward Snowden leaks revealed absolutely no indication that NSA has or soon expects to have access to post-quantum capabilities.

And so, those viewing the situation have slid down to a possible explanation that’s at once more and less realistic: a conventional computer algorithm that can break modern computer encryption through sheer mathematical efficiency. This is more realistic, since it could theoretically come from the mind of just a single brilliant analyst, and thus it could come from the NSA, out of the blue and with no help from the private sector. On the other hand, conventional wisdom in cryptography says that such a classical code-breaking system is impossible, with a digital computer.

The fact is that “NSA Has Quantum!” is a bit like the tech-world’s equivalent of “Half Life 3 Confirmed” — it’s basically a joke at this point, but beneath the sarcasm lies an understanding that the cliche does have to come true eventually, even if not for a very, very long time. That’s why both memes have been so long-lived: Quantum computers seem like they will come into existence at some point, so no matter how many times they cry (or hint) wolf, you’ve still got to be wary — every single time.


New York State launches inquiry into Verizon, Cablevision, Time Warner

The New York State attorney general has informed Verizon, Cablevision, and Comcast that it has launched a probe into whether or not these companies are delivering promised Internet speeds. All three companies promise high performance (and commensurately high prices), and the NYS AG has questions about whether or not customers are being sold a bill of goods.

“New Yorkers deserve the Internet speeds they pay for. But, it turns out, many of us may be paying for one thing, and getting another,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

All three companies, of course, are protesting that they deliver exactly what they promise, but the AG is particularly interested in the interconnection agreements that have been controversial before. We’ve previously covered how paying for Internet performance doesn’t always mean what customers might think it does. Last year, multiple Internet providers artificially reduced Netflix’s performance when they wanted to force the company to pay more for connecting it to customers. We previously covered how using a VPN could improve Netflix performance, even though my ISP and Netflix weren’t actually in a dispute at the time. Furthermore, companies like Verizon have been perfectly willing to misrepresent the requirements for basic services, even going so far as to tell customers that they needed 75Mbps service for Netflix.


Studies of ISP behavior and network allocation have previously concluded that these performance reductions are caused by business-related throttling intended to force Netflix to pay more rather than any technical issue. The NY AG is moving on the issue later than one might expect, since the last study on the topic came out a year ago, but evidently customer complaints have continued to pile up since then.

Verizon, in particular, can expect close scrutiny. The company is already under investigation for its attempts to break its agreement to wire New York City for FiOS, and for its behavior in neighboring New Jersey. Ars reports that an FCC report found that Verizon delivered 83% of its advertised speed during peak usage periods, below the average 91% average for the entire country. New York state-specific figures for each ISP are not available.

Apparently the AG service will focus at least on part on higher-speed plans; the AG office told Ars it wants to find out if high-speed 300Mbps service is actually faster than 50Mbps service and, if so, by how much. Companies often charge extortionate rates for higher speed tiers, so discovering whether or not those speeds are actually delivered is something buyers would likely want to know.


Halo 5: Guardians sacrifices graphical fidelity for 60fps gameplay

Halo 5: Guardians has arrived, and it seems to deliver well on the promise of a current generation Halo game. Mobility has been improved, the game plays faster than previous entries, and the reviews are mostly positive. Months back, 343 Industries made it clear that a 60fps target frame rate was more important than anything else — even beloved features like split-screen multiplayer. As it turns out, that wasn’t the only thing that had to be sacrificed in the name of frame rate this time around. But was it all worth it in the end? Let’s take a look.

Based on 45 reviews, Halo 5 currently has an 85/100 rating on Metacritic. Our sister site IGN is waiting to see how well the multiplayer holds up before a score is assigned, but the review in progress is unambiguously positive. From the gameplay end, there’s a lot to like here, but the technical side of this game is a bit more complicated.

In nearly all circumstances, Halo 5 stays locked at 60fps. There are occasionally tiny hiccups at checkpoints, but those are so minor, it’s safe the say that 343 Industries achieved its goal of offering a 60fps Halo experience. To accomplish that feat on the Xbox One, dynamic resolution scaling is used throughout the entire game. Over at the Digital Foundry, the lowest detected resolution was 1152×810 (11,520 more pixels than a 720p image), but numerous oddball resolutions have been observed as well. While this scaling works seamlessly, it does negatively impact the overall image quality.

Unfortunately, the resolution isn’t the only compromise here. When the action starts getting hectic, the number of animation frames of some enemies are cut in half. Even when the game is serving up a new frame every 60th of a second, select enemies will only be animating at 30fps. It’s not a big deal in and of itself, but it is a bit jarring once you notice it.

Some environmental textures are glaringly blurry, and alpha effects are often rendered at a low resolution to minimize load on the Xbox One’s underpowered GPU. But worst of all, the sheer amount of pop-in is more than a little distressing. Textures, geometry, and dynamic lighting effects are reduced in quality as you move away from those in-game elements, and the distance needed before this effect kicks in is laughably small.

With all of that said, I’m very pleased with the undying dedication to 60fps. Of course, I’d be happier if it didn’t come at the expense of graphical fidelity, but we don’t live in a perfect world. The hardware inside the Xbox One limits what kind of games can be made, so compromises were inevitable. Let’s just hope that the powers that be at Microsoft allow for a high-quality PC port to happen in the near future.


Physical copies of Fallout 4 will still require a digital download

The overwhelming majority of PC games these days are sold digitally rather than in boxed sets, but there are still users that prefer the solidity of a jewel case, have limited Internet bandwidth, or very slow connections. Given this, it’s still fairly common to see the option to order a boxed copy of a game, or to receive a DVD if you purchase the “Deluxe / Collector’s Edition. Fallout 4, from Bethesda Softworks, bucks this trend — while the game still ships in a physical box, you won’t be able to actually play it unless you log into Steam and download part of the game from online servers.

As our sister site reports, this is different from the consoles, both of which ship the entire game on Blu-ray. On the PC side, the DVD you receive will require an activation code before it can be used. According to Pete Hines, Bethesda’s VP of marketing, there are two reasons for this. Writing on Twitter, Hines stated the following:

“PC requires activation on Steam. Console does not. Console ship on Blu-rays, PC ships on DVDs.”

When pressed for further information, Hines cited piracy as the reason Bethesda decided on this strategy, and elaborated with the below:


I’m sympathetic to Bethesda’s desire to prevent piracy. Games like Fallout 4 are enormous projects that involve the efforts of hundreds of people working for years. The company absolutely deserves to earn an income on its product, and playing a game you didn’t pay for does deprive the creator of the profit of a sale while enriching the pirate, who gains access to the content.

What I’m also for, however, is common sense. Forcing people to download part of a game because you think it will defray piracy for a vanishingly small amount of time is a silly way to safeguard sales. The Pirate Bay is full of ripped copies of every title that Hines mentions. According to a certain major torrent site that rhymes with “Eyelet Spay,” the first ripped versions of Skyrim appeared on 11/11/2011 — the day Skyrim launched. Clearly no one was prevented from downloading Skyrim in any meaningful way.

Requiring a one-time authentication of a game code for a physically purchased copy of a title is annoying, but validating a game CD key isn’t really a problem for any but the most Internet-deprived. Requiring that the consumer download a huge chunk of data from the Internet obviates the point of buying a game copy in the first place. The entire point of having offline installation media is to ensure that you can install and play a game, even if the Internet is unavailable.

If the gap between Blu-ray and DVD is the reason why the title has to ship partly online, Bethesda should’ve either packaged a multi-DVD game or offered a Blu-ray option. Forcing physical customers to jump through multiple hoops just isn’t the way to win goodwill. If you’re going to distribute a physical copy of the game, either distribute the entire title or don’t bother.


NASA completes review of SLS design, adds racing stripes for good measure

NASA has reached an important milestone in its efforts to take humans beyond low-Earth orbit again. A critical design review (CDR) for the Space Launch System (SLS) has been completed, meaning the design is locked down and ready to go into production. The team examined thousands of documents and tests to make sure the engineering was solid, but they also made some color changes. The SLS core stage is ditching the retro Saturn V color scheme and going with a Space Shuttle vibe. They’re also jazzing up the boosters with some sweet racing stripes.

The review covered the first three variants of the SLS that will be used by NASA, all of which will carry the Orion crew capsule into space. The first configuration, called Block 1, will have a 77-ton lift capacity powered by two solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 liquid fuel engines. The boosters will be repurposed from the Space Shuttle program, but with an added segment for more power. The Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines are also from the shuttle — they were the main engines on the vehicle itself.

The second SLS variant will be Block 1B, which increases lift capacity to 143 tons with the aid of a more powerful upper stage. Finally, Block 2 will push the lift capacity to 143 tons. This design will make use of advanced solid or liquid external boosters. All three launch configurations will rely upon the same core stage with four RS-25 engines.


NASA also made a decision about the core stage design, but it’s mostly an aesthetic choice. When the SLS was first shown off as a concept, NASA went with a Saturn V paint job. It seemed fitting as that rocket was the last vehicle to take humans outside of low-Earth orbit (and to the moon). Based on the CDR, NASA will make the 200-foot core stage orange instead. Like the Space Shuttle’s main fuel tank, this is the natural color of the insulation used on the core stage. NASA actually painted the tank on the first few shuttle missions, but stopped because of the added weight. The solid rocket boosters will have orange and gray stripes painted on for no reason other than they look cool.

The CDR was the last of four review phases that examined the concepts and design of the SLS. Now the vehicle can be assembled and will undergo final design certification in 2017. The first launch of the SLS is expected to take place in 2018. The first crewed mission with the SLS and Orion capsule is expected to take place in 2023. The Space Launch System might be used to take astronauts back to the moon, a near-Earth asteroid, and even all the way to Mars with the Block 2 configuration.


Study: Voice-activated systems in cars raise the risk of accidents

A golden rule of safe driving asserts to avoid using your smartphone when behind the wheel — hence the recent spate of new traffic regulations and resulting enforcement. The rules paved the way for inventions like the Bluetooth earpiece and voice-activated car systems. While these technologies have transformed the way drivers communicate, they can still make some more prone to accidents. A recent study reveals voice-activated car systems that car makers so dearly promote as a “smarter way to interact” are turning out to be a major cause of distraction while on the road.

As we’ve covered many times on ExtremeTech, voice-activated car systems let drivers interact with the car and their smartphones using voice commands instead of their hands. No matter how easy the systems are to use, though, it turns out they still take your mind off the road. Since voice-activated car systems tend to be pretty complex, they demand more mental work as a result.

Specifically, the American Automobile Association, which sponsored the study, says talking to these voice-activated car systems creates a surprisingly high mental workload for drivers — much more so than what’s normal when talking to, say, a passenger. Thanks to the complex commands required to operate the system, the driver’s attention on the road tends to slip while using them.

AAA study on voice activated systems in cars

Worse, using the system creates a kind of lingering distraction on the driver’s mind, and keeps them in that state for an average of 27 seconds after the completion of interaction. Less-complex systems mentioned in the report were found to still leave the driver distracted for 15 seconds, again even after he or she discontinues using the service.

David Strayer, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah that conducted the study with his team, says the usage of these voice-activated systems demands the same amount of brain power as balancing a checkbook while driving. “When you hang up [from a call], you have to figure out where you are, how fast you’re going, [and] where other vehicles are,” he said.

Safety advocates have long alleged car makers and apps creators are putting profits ahead of safety. The study in this particular case involved numerous cars that come with such voice-activated systems as standard. Strayer found cars from Mazda, Hyundai, Chrysler, Nissan, and Volkswagen come with the most complicated systems. In addition, smartphone software like Microsoft Cortana, Google Now, and Apple’s Siri also came under fire.

The study was conducted on 257 drivers, ranging from age 27 to 70. For drivers above age 50, the risk of an accident is generally higher to begin with.

The study concluded that hands-free doesn’t necessarily mean the driver’s mind is also free. “With the explosive growth in technology, the problem of driver distraction is poised to become much more acute,” the researchers wrote.