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Tip of the Week

Office Free For All

Android phone and tablet users should be familiar with Kingsoft Office, which was recently renamed to WPS Office, but in case you haven’t heard, it’s a totally free office suite, fully compatible with MS Office. It includes a very decent word processor, capable of opening and editing Word .doc and .docx files, a fully fleddged spreadsheet program, and a PowerPoint compliant presentation application. Well, what you may not know is that there are Windows, Linux and iOS versions as well. Microsoft Word users will feel immediately at home, the design and layout is so similar you might wonder how they get away with it… Best of all there are no strings, no ads or popups, and as far as we are aware no expiry date or nags to buy a paid for version, though they do exist for business users. How long it will remain free is anyone’s guess so get it while you can and save yourself a bundle.


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News Briefs

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Smart Earphones

Yes, we all know that smartphones have built-in microphones that can listen in on your conversations but now, thanks to Wired, a new threat has been uncovered in the shape of the gyro motion sensor chips installed in most devices. It turns out that the chips, which are used to determine a device’s orientation and motion are also sensitive to vibrations, sufficiently so to be able to pick up speech, albeit in a fairly crude way. Apparently it’s legible enough, researchers have found, to be able to distinguish some words and the speaker’s gender. What makes it really worrying is that unlike a device’s built in microphone, apps do not need a user’s permission to function, nor is there any way to turn it off. It’s still a long way from being a real threat but given time and effort it is possible that it could be developed to the point where is can be used to distinguish numbers, something to bear the next time you’re giving out your credit card details…


Goodbye IE?

Farewell Internet Explorer, at least all versions before IE 11. Don’t worry, it’s not going to happen until January 2016, but according to the Microsoft IE Blog from the 12th of that month security updates and support will be withdrawn. Microsoft are closing the door on old versions of the browser because it says the latest incarnations are much safer, and better able to handle the demands of the latest web standards, which will help developers no end, who often struggle to maintain backwards compatibility, and as an added bonus its faster, has greater compatibility with web apps and future developments and it is more secure. For most users I won’t be an issue as the latest versions of IE are automatically installed during updates but for some commercial users, who, for one reason or another are locked into web pages and apps that rely on older versions Microsoft will continue to develop and support the Enterprise Mode for IE 11 until January 2020, which maintains backwards compatibility with older web standards.



USB = Unsafe Security, Beware?

No need to panic just yet but security experts Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell have discovered a fundamental flaw in the design of USB memory that could allow a contaminated memory stick to take over your computer, redirect internet traffic and alter4 files. It’s deep in the sticks firmware, the software that controls the memory chips and is therefore next to impossible to detect. To make sure they weren’t imagining it they have even created some proof of concept malware, called BadUSB that exploits the vulnerability. So where does this leave USB sticks? So far it hasn’t gone beyond the research lab and it would quite difficult for a memory stick you are using to become infected – it would have to be physically tampered with – but the risk is there and current best advice is not to plug a USB memory stick in your PC unless you are 100 percent sure of its provenance. Even without this new threat this would be good advice, for years spooks and villains have been lacing USB sticks with viruses and malware and leaving them in the lavatories of organisations they want to infiltrate, or sabotage, in the certain knowledge that someone will pick it up and pop it into their work computer…