Tomlia Services > 2017 > September

Here’s the latest security bug your computer could be exposed by

A newly discovered firmware vulnerability could leave countless Windows and Mac computers at risk from a hack, according to security researchers from Duo Labs. The vulnerability could be used by malware to gain deep access to systems.The bug involves the extensible firmware interface, or EFI, which is the first bit of code that runs when you hit the power button – part of its responsibilities include validating the software that’s running on the machine.Based on tests on 74,000 Apple Macs, the Duo Labs team found that the EFI firmware was not always being updated at the same time as the operating system, leaving a security hole that could potentially be exploited. The vulnerability could also affect Windows PCs, the researchers say.
Risk assessment
The good news is that a hack taking advantage of the EFI vulnerability would need to be quite a complex one, and it’s only really worth the trouble if you’ve got some pretty important data locked away on your machine.What’s more, Duo Labs says it hasn’t spotted anyone actively making use of this security loophole yet – it’s working with Apple and other computer makers to get the bug patched. “For most people in most situations, the risk is currently not severe,” the researchers say.If you’re on a Mac machine, updating to the latest version of the software (macOS High Sierra) is enough to squash the vulnerability. For more details about how the security vulnerability works and how to guard against an attack, see the Duo Labs blog.
After some security software? Here are our picks

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Future Macs and MacBooks may come with Apple-made ARM processors

Apple is looking at producing its own ARM processors for its notebooks Rather than relying on Intel CPUs for MacBooks. In the same self-reliant way it already makes in-house CPUs for the iPad and iPhone – it seems the company intends to produce all the chips for its devices.ARM-powered Macs is something we’ve heard chatter about for a long time now, but Apple is getting serious about the move according to this new report in The Nikkei.It quotes the usual industry sources saying that Apple is ‘interested’ in building its own ‘core processors’ for notebooks – as well as modem chips for iPhones, plus a single chip that takes care of multiple duties: touch, fingerprint and display driver functions.Modem chips for Apple smartphones are one thing, but building an entirely new processor for MacBooks is another entirely, because macOS is based on x86 architecture – it would require a huge amount of work to switch the operating system over to play nice with ARM CPUs.
Opportunity knocks
That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, though, the sources The Nikkei spoke with believe this is exactly what’s on the horizon.One anonymous ‘chip industry executive’ commented: “Notebooks are becoming thinner, while consumers are demanding better mobility and longer battery life. That gives ARM’s architecture, which is known for its power efficiency, a very good opportunity.”Although Intel, too, is driving hard for power efficiency and greater performance in its mobile processors these days – as evidenced by the recent announcement of Kaby Lake Refresh. But of course this move would also bring about independence for Apple. Also being able to bind hardware and software more tightly together, would help extract the maximum performance and efficiency from the firm’s laptops.If this is indeed a vision of the Mac’s future, Intel wouldn’t be the only supplier to get the cold shoulder from Apple. Back in the spring, Imagination Technology was told that its GPU tech would no longer be needed, because Apple will be working on its own independent graphics design down the line.Still, as we mentioned at the outset of this story, this particular ARM-comes-to-Mac rumor has been rattling around the net for a long time now, so forgive us if we don’t get too excited about the specter of big change at this point.Via iPhone Hacks
Will we ever see ARM-driven MacBooks on our best laptops list?

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Windows 10’s Cortana deals with queries way better than Siri

Over the last year, Microsoft has been seriously polishing its speech recognition chops – and improving Cortana – but how good is the firm’s digital assistant, really? Pretty darn good, and certainly streets ahead of Siri, claims some freshly produced research.According to the report from digital marketing outfit Stone Temple (highlighted by Business Insider UK), Cortana successfully answered 2,825 questions out of a sample set of 5,000 factual knowledge queries, and of those questions answered, it got 82% of them right.That’s a pretty good hit rate, and up there with the top-performing virtual assistant, namely Google Assistant which answered 3,405 questions and got 91% correct. Amazon’s Alexa was able to answer far fewer questions with a tally of 1,035, but did well when it came to getting 87% of those answers correct.The worrying news for Apple was that Siri came last, only managing to answer 1,085 questions – barely more than Alexa – but doing way worse than Amazon with only 62% answered correctly.Looking at the overall perspective, then, Cortana is really second only to Google Assistant, because while Alexa might have achieved a slightly higher percentage of correct answers than Microsoft’s AI assistant, Cortana was able to answer far more questions (almost treble Alexa’s tally).
Bing dinged
Apple will be hoping that things improve with its switch from Bing to Google as the default search engine used by Siri, a move announced earlier this week. The theory is that access to Google’s Search API and Knowledge Graph database will bolster Siri’s accuracy considerably, although that’s only speculation right now.Meanwhile, it’s doubtless the case that Microsoft will further refine its speech technology, following the firm having set a ‘new industry milestone’ in terms of a low word-error-rate when it comes to voice recognition last month.That might not help the accuracy of Cortana’s answers, but it will help her understand what you’re saying, and thus be more likely to comprehend and deliver an answer. It’s also part of Microsoft’s push to eventually enable ‘human-like’ natural conversations with Windows 10’s assistant – the Holy Grail when it comes to these digital entities.Via: On MSFT
Some of our best laptops of 2017 use Windows 10 and Cortana

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