Category Archives: Technology

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Mobile security: Risks of 2014 and beyond

Mobile security: Risks of 2014 and beyond

These days the vast majority of us own mobile phones with some of us owning more than one, not to mention all of the PCs, laptops, tablets and watches that keep us connected to the wide world on a daily basis; we live our lives online, we chat online, meet new friends online and, more importantly, we bank and shop online. 

We do all of these things without much of a second thought, but how safe are we and well protected is our personal data?

With more and more of our lives being controlled by the internet and mobile phones, are we right to rely on technology and to assume that what we do is safe and protected, or our we putting our fortunes, our safety and our livelihoods at risk?

Preventing theft and accidental loss of your mobile phone

One of the biggest risks mobile phone owners face is losing their phone or having it stolen, putting all of their internet activity, emails, phone data and even financial information in the hands of a stranger or a thief. But the phone manufactures have recognised this risk and have gone some way to reducing it. Apple recently installed kill switches on all of their phones and tablets, which allows the user to “kill” the device if it is stolen or lost, removing all of the data and giving the user an idea of where their device is. This was done at a time when muggings and phone thefts were on the rise, and since then these figures have fallen drastically, proving it to be an effective safeguarding technology as well as a deterrent.

The Filipino company MyPhone have developed a similar technology called Theft Apprehension and Asset Recovery, or TARA for short which renders a mobile phone useless in the event of a theft and can be installed on a range of devices.

Taking a slightly more futuristic look into mobile security, you may have noticed an increase in talk about wireless smartphone charging and power stations popping up in the likes of cafes and waiting rooms. This could be a bigger risk than we are currently aware of.  Although the resonant inductive power technology is still somewhat in it’s infancy, wireless charging will undoubtedly only increase the use of hand held and mobile devices on a regular bases. This would naturally increases the likeliehood of theft and opportunity on all levels.

Cyber security considerations

These advances are promising and statistics show that they are working, but thieves don’t need to have your phone in their possession in order to ruin your day, hackers can also infiltrate you device. If you regularly connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi, such as those available in high-streets shops, hotels and restaurants, then you’re exposing yourself and your data to everyone else on that network. The same also applies if you have Bluetooth on your phone and leave this open at all times. Hackers can connect to your device through this unsecured network, or through Bluetooth, and extract bank account information, passwords, emails and more without you knowing. There is no way effective way to stop this from happening, other than to make sure you only connect to private and/or secure networks at all times.

Software exploits – mobile malicious code and you

Viruses, which have attacked personal computers for over 20 years, have evolved into malicious mobile code that attacks mobile phones.

Malware that attacks mobile phones is here and something that not only consumers have to contend with but also hospitals and commercial organizations that are struggling with the challenge of BYOD – bring your own device to work.

As our lives turn to our phones, the criminals are doing the same. They see a market in our private information and online activity, and are trying to exploit this by infecting mobile phones. For now many of these infections are the same viruses that have infected our PCs for many years – often no more than minor annoyances that serve to frustrate us when we browse or spam our friends without our knowledge – but the viruses are getting smarter and the big software developers have yet to create a reliable antivirus that works reliably for mobile phones.

Is your mobile browsing safe?

The future is bright, and in the world of technology it has never been brighter, but where there is opportunity for advancement and for improved devices that help us with every aspect of our lives, there is also opportunity for exploitation.

Robert Kramers is a freelance journalist from New Zealand.

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Out of control with BYOD in your hospital?

The number of bring your own device (BYOD) workplaces is increasing.

Hospitals are certainly no exception with nursing staff, doctors and contractors bringing their own mobile devices into the hospital – and in many cases, jacking into WiFi networks in the hospital premises.

With mobile access points via  your smart phone – you don’t even need the courtesy of a hospital-provided WiFi network – you can jack in via your phone.

This is a real threat to data security in a hospital.  So the question is – Can the IT department of your hospital rein in wide use of personal mobile devices?

Nearly one third of CIOs surveyed said they support employees accessing the company network with their personal devices, writes IT World. But many IT departments remain resistant to such policies. BYOD has been around for awhile in one way or another. Now IT can get it under control, and here are a few reasons why it’s good for them.

BYOD is an Old Problem

People have been bringing their own tech gadgets to work for years, notes the Digital Workplace Forum. External hard drives, thumb drives, DVD burners, music players and personal laptops have shown up in employee offices for a long time. It has always been a headache of IT departments to maintain security in environments where people bring their personal digital tools.

To alleviate this, some places put tight controls in place that limit an employee’s access to the company’s computer resources. The result is frustrated employees, lower productivity, and a problem that still exists. One solution is to establish policies and controls that allow IT to manage all of the devices that employees use to access the system.

More Controls Allow Greater Flexibility

The development of mobile device management (MDM) systems allows IT to support a workplace with multiple, different devices. Employees are no longer satisfied with just their company desktop computer to do their jobs. Forrester Research cites that 74 percent of employees use two or more devices to complete their tasks and 52 percent use three or more.

MDMs allow employees to bring their own devices to work, connect them to the network, and maintain the integrity and security of the company’s resources. Solutions such as the BlackBerry MDM let various types and brands of devices to be registered and recognized by the system. Once a device is registered, IT can track the device’s activity and amount of use. This is more visibility than IT has typically had of employee devices.

Security is the First Priority

The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 80 percent of the younger employees polled said they brought in to work and used their own devices regardless of the company policy. More than 60 percent of the older employees replied the same way. Getting more controls in place is a way IT departments can finally keep their systems secure.

MDMs give visibility to the devices using the system. They can track the applications used so that unauthorized apps can be limited or restricted entirely. In the event that an employee reports a lost device, or when employees leave the company, the device can be wiped of any company apps and data. The tablet stolen from a hotel room during a conference is no longer a threat to the company’s security.

By controlling the apps available to the employee, IT can ensure that malware is not introduced to the system by people downloading apps from unauthorized sites. A central repository of custom in-house apps, commercial off the shelf (COTS) programs and app store products gives employees a selection of tools without risking the system security.

Creating virtual work spaces when people log into the system isolates their activity to a small portion of the system. Cloud services such as Dropbox and Skydrive help by creating collaborative workspaces outside of the company’s resources. The more that IT can move unpredictable activities to separate work areas, the more secure they can keep their company resources.

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Protecting your blackberry

How to Save Your Data and Reputation if You Lose Your BlackBerry

5 years ago, an analysis we did of 150 data breach events showed that over 40% of the data breach events were due to stolen or lost hardware devices (Download the free research article on data breach here Business Threat Modeling Study).

Stolen or lost devices were in a close second place to data being stolen from systems by hackers who exploit system and application software defects (49%).

5 years ago – it was your PC.  Now it is your smart phone.

Your bank account is emptied. Photos of your weekend clubbing showed up on some “drunk and stupid” website. Your contacts are gone and your Facebook friends hate you due to the nasty status updates you appear to be posting from your account. Yes, the world has pretty much ended all because you lost your phone.

But if your device happens to be one of the cell phones from BlackBerry, you just happen to be in luck. BlackBerry offers a host of preventative measures you can take as well as a number of apps and gadgets that can help protect your data and even retrieve your phone. Here are some smart and slick preventative measures to keep in mind before this scenario happens to you.

Password Protection

Protecting your phone with a password is a wise idea. Like most devices, BlackBerry lets you create a password to gain access to your phone’s functions and data, making your phone useless to whomever finds it. If it’s useless to them, they may as well return it, right?

While password protection may seem obvious, Investopedia reports that a Javelin Strategy & Research study says only 38 percent of cell phone users enact it.

Logging out

Log out of your apps when you’re done using them. Leaving access open to anything, even Facebook, is inviting trouble.

BlackBerry Protect

Installing BlackBerry Protect software is another wise move. This free software locates the last known location of your phone if the phone is on and the SIM card is still inserted. The BlackBerry website also notes the software can do a remote backup of the data, wipe your phone clean if you didn’t protect it with a password and even send a “return me for a reward” message to your phone’s screen, wherever it may be.

BlackBerry Protect lets you do regular backups even without a lost phone, as does Desktop BlackBerry Software. You can then restore your backed-up data to your new BlackBerry phone.

Wireless Leash

ZOMM. ZOMM is a handy protection gadget in the form of a wireless leash for your phone. Pair the device with your BlackBerry and you have an automatic alert system that lets you know if you and your phone are ever separated. The ZOMM website recommends taking the wireless leash protection up a notch by downloading the ZOMM app to your PC. The app lets you keep track of the leash itself, the last paired location of your BlackBerry and allows you change audible settings.

Creepy or Useful?

Even though Mashable.com calls this software “potentially creepy,” it doubles as a potential life saver. StealthGenie quietly hangs out in the background of your BlackBerry, secretly collecting data on your phone activity and sending the info to a secure web account. This way you can keep tabs on any texts, calls or other activity that happens after your phone goes missing. Opt for the gold subscription and you can delete phone information remotely and find out if the SIM has been changed.

Not losing your BlackBerry in the first place is, of course, the best option. But if your phone does get lost, your bank account, friends and reputation certainly doesn’t have to go with it.

Guest post courtesy of  Bobby Charles. Bobby is a mobile app designer and tech wizard from the East Coast. He loves writing, Web designing and jogging with his dogs.

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Anatonme – a hand held device for improving patient-doctor communications

From a recent article in Healthcare Global.

Studies suggest that 30-50 percent of patients are likely to give up treatments early.  Microsoft Research has developed an innovative, hand-held medical device called Anatonme to help patients understand their issue and complete their treatment plan more often.

We’ve been doing research and development into private, controlled social networking to reinforce private communications between doctor and patient. It’s gratifying to see Microsoft Research doing work in this area.

Private social networking for doctors and patients provides highly effective secure data sharing between doctors and patients. It allows patient-mediated input of data before visits to the office, making the clinical data more accurate and complete and boosting the trust between doctor/healthcare worker and patient.

A private social network has a controlled 1 to N (doctor to patients) topology and physiological and emotional context, unlike Facebook that has a distracting social graph and entertainment context.

A private social network for doctors and patients also provides powerful information exchange and search:

  1. Capture critical events on a timeline (for example blood pressure, dizziness etc) that enables the doctor to respond in a timely fashion.
  2. Reconciles differences between what the doctor ordered and what the patient did.
  3. Granular access control for sharing of data between doctor, patient and referrals.

If you’re interested in hearing more – contact us.

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Apps vs. the Web, enemy or friend?

Saw this item on Gigaom.

George Colony, the chairman and CEO of Forrester Research, re-ignited a minor firestorm recently, with a presentation at the LeWeb conference in which he argued that the web is dead, and being replaced by the app economy — with mobile and smartphone apps that leverage the cloud or other services rather than the open web.

I have written here and here about the close correlation between Web application security and Web performance.

I know that Mr. Colony has sparked some strong sentiment in the community, in particular from Dave Winer:

If I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don’t need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it.

Of course, that is neither true nor relevant.

Many apps are indeed well connected, and the apps that are not wired-in, don’t have to be wired; the app is simply doing something useful for the individual consumer (like iAnnotate displaying a PDF file of music on a iPad or Android tablet).

iAnnotate turns your iPad into a world-class productivity tool for reading, annotating, organizing, and sending PDF files. Join the 100,000s of users who turn to iAnnotate for their PDF annotating needs. We designed iAnnotate to suit your individual workflow.

I became even more cognizant that apps may overtake the open Web over the past 2 weeks when Google Apps was going through some rough spots and it was almost impossible to read email to  software.co.il or access or calendars…except from our Android tablets and Nexus S smartphones.   Chrome and Google Apps was almost useless but Android devices just chugged on.

There is a good reason why apps are overtaking the open browser-based web.

They are simply more accessible, easier to use and faster.

This is no surprise as I noted last year:

The current rich Web 2.0 application development and execution model is broken.

Consider that a Web 2.0 application has to serve browsers and smart phones. It’s based on a heterogeneous server stack with 5-7 layers (database, database connectors, middleware, scripting languages like PHP, Java and C#, application servers, web servers, caching servers and proxy servers.  On the client-side there is an additional  heterogeneous stack of HTML, XML, Javascript, CSS and Flash.

On the server-side, we have

  • 2-5 languages (PHP, SQL, tcsh, Java, C/C++, PL/SQL)
  • Lots of interface methods (hidden fields, query strings, JSON)
  • Server-side database management (MySQL, MS SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL)

On the client side, we have

  • 2-5 languages ((Javascript, XML, HTML, CSS, Java, ActionScript)
  • Lots of interface methods (hidden fields, query strings, JSON)
  • Local data storage – often duplicating session and application data stored on the server data tier.

A minimum of 2 languages on the server side (PHP, SQL) and 3 on the client side (Javascript, HTML, CSS) turns developers into frequent searchers for answers on the Internet (many of which are incorrect)  driving up the frequency of software defects relative to a single language development platform where the development team has a better chance of attaining maturity and proficiency. More bugs means more security vulnerabilities.

More bugs in this complex, broken execution stack means more things will go wrong and as devices and apps are almost universally accessible now; it means that customers like you and me will not tolerate 2 weeks of downtime from a Web 2.0 service provider.  If we have the alternative to use an app on a tablet  device, we will take that alternative and not look back.

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The top 10 mistakes made by Linux developers

My colleague, Dr. Joel Isaacson talks about the top 10 mistakes made by Linux developers. It’s a great article and great read from one of the top embedded Linux programmers in the world.

The Little Engine That Could

Copyright 2004 Joel Isaacson. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

I  try to explain what are the top 10 mistakes made by Linux developers as I see it. I’m aware that one person’s mistake is another person’s best practice. My comments are therefore subjective.

I will use an embedded Linux device, the WRT54GS, a wireless router as an illustration of an embedded Linux device.An interesting article about this device can be found in: http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20040527.html.

“The Little Engine That Could” How Linux is Inadvertently Poised to Remake the Telephone and Internet Markets – By Robert X. Cringely

So what are the top 10 mistakes made by Linux developers?

10 – Pick a vendor.
9 – Then pick a platform.
8 – We are not in Kansas anymore.

Support Issues

10 – Pick a Vendor

  • In my experience picking a large foreign company for support is not the best way to go for various reasons.
  • More about this later.

Continue reading

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Is network PVR the best direction for the big studios ?

The distribution of video over multicast-broadcast networks and content storage at by users with Windows PCs and PVRs has created a huge threat surface for digital content.

Typical to flawed security countermeasures, HDCP and AACS exacerbate and enlarge the threat surface rather than enhance revenues and reduce risk.

In this article we will show that Network PVR services may be an effective strategy for studios to mitigate the risk of content piracy.

Background

NetFlix, Vudu and Universal Studios Home Entertainment are skipping over HD-DVD/Blu-ray formats in favor of what some industry observers say is inevitable – download-only distribution.

Beginning November 23 2007, Vudu started giving new buyers “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy” pre-loaded on their set-top boxes in HD. Buyers can purchase a downloaded copy of “The Bourne Ultimatum”, for $25 starting December 11, 2007.

The VUDU box and services sounded pretty cool to me when I first saw it – until I realized that the price of the “The Bourne Ultimatum HD” on Amazon is $27.99 with free Super Saver Shipping and the I don’t need to buy the Vudu and commit to their service. It’s two bucks less with Vudu but the VUDU STB sets you back $250 (reduced from $400). The Vudu business model does not seem extremely compelling. Although you have a hard disk – you cannot go back and view a movie if you ran out of time in a single sitting. The Netflix business model of having 3-5 movies for unlimited usage still seems a winner and in comparison, Vudu just doesn’t seem to have all the movies we’d want to see.

The price of SD (standard definition) DVDs is between USD2-5, depending on where you live and HD DVD seems to be going for about USD25-30, depending on the movie and season of the year. It’s cheaper and more convenient for a consumer to rent or buy a DVD from NetFlix or Blockbuster then to pay Vudu. if you want to see the latest episode ofDexter you can’t even get it on Vudu, and BitTorrent is more accessible not to mention, free.

While Vudu seem to have done some impressive engineering work on their STB, if they get any widespread traction, it may only be a matter of time until some irritated user cracks their box or bypassess the content protection.

What is HD (High Definition) video?

There is a good deal of confusion regarding exact definitions and consumer electronics product requirements for HD (high definition). HD refers to the quality of the picture (not to the means of digital content protection). Digital HDTV broadcast systems are defined by the number of lines in the vertical display resolution, the scanning system: (progressive (p) or interlaced (i) and the number of frames per second. The 720p60 format is 1280×720 pixels, with progressive encoding at 30 frames per second. The 1080i50 format is 1920×1080 pixels, with interlaced encoding at 25 frames per second. For commercial naming of the product, either the frame rate or the field rate is dropped, e.g. a “1080i television set” label indicates only the image resolution.

Is HD for digital TV only? (no)

If you have have an older TV set with an analog RCA interface, you’re in luck – the issues of digital HDTV are eliminated by connecting your TV set to a DVD player using the analog HD signal output with RCA connectors instead of HDMI. The analog outputs of most HD devices will replicate the resolutions of the digital outputs i.e. 720p and 1080i, so fidelity of the picture is maintained. Connectivity is via standard VGA HD15 connector or high-resolution component video output using 3 x RCA connectors. Analog HD signals can also be distributed over standard Cat5 cable up to a few hundred meters, which is pretty convenient if you have a large house or a small hotel.

What is HDCP?

High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is a proprietary DRM scheme for protecting premium HD content. HDCP was developed by Intel Corporation to control digital audio and video content transmitted on DVI (digital video) and HDMI (high definition media) interfaces in consumer electronics devices such as DVD, STB, TV Sets. Compliance with HDCP requires a license from Digital Content Protection LLC, a subsidiary of Intel. In addition to paying fees, manufacturers agree to downgrade quality when interfacing to non-HDCP compliant devices. For example, HD video is downgraded to DVD quality on a non-HDCP compliant TV set. HDCP also incorporates a black-listing scheme of cracked devices using a key-revocation scheme where the black list is stored on the DVD media.

HD content protection – fundamentally flawed

The HDCP black-listing scheme defies the laws of physics and reason. For example, you may be a perfectly law-abiding citizen, but if someone in Timbuktu hacks your model XY500 DVD player, the device key is revoked, and you will never be able to play discs that came out after the date the device was compromised. If a hacker taps into the HDMI / HDCP signal copies a movie enroute to your model TV Set, the HDCP device key can be revoked and your 80 inch TV will never play high-definition again.

Continue reading

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Where your living room meets your PC

I recently got a new notebook (a Lenovo Thinkpad X-Series) and it’s great (my old Acer Travelmate dual core is still chugging along and refuses to die although the screen is beginning to fade – so the time had come to update personal technology).
The first thing I noticed was that it comes with an HDMI interface with no VGA support – and I was reminded of some research I did for a client.This is an essay I did about 5 years ago based on that research. I present it here unedited:
  • Why are big companies like Microsoft, Sony, Sanyo, NEC and Intel involved in PC-living room integration.
  • Do consumers really want Web services on their TV set?
  • Why are the big Telecom service providers driving deployment of IP (Internet Protocol) TV?
  • What will happen with DRM? Will it happen or will it break?
  • Will digital asset protection become a central issue ?

Summary

Back in 2005, I looked at three technology directions for PC-TV living room integration. The article goes on to examine how the technology fits into a competitive marketing strategy. We follow Michael Porter’s model of strategy as resting on a tightly fitting system of unique activities.

The three technology directions examined are:

  • PC and media extender that relays content from the PC to the TV
  • A media station that attaches directly to the Internet and transmits to the TV
  • An IP TV set top box that enables transmission of content to the TV set over an IP network (either the public Internet or a private network).

An analysis of competitive strategies suggests that generally speaking, this is a game for big players with a strong presence in consumer markets. However, small players may find opportunities in niche markets using unregulated TV over Internet or Web to TV content delivery. For example, a media station is an excellent way of serving up interactive Web content to underserved segments such as the retired persons market that watch a lot of TV, have general interests and a need to socialize.

Background


What are the market drivers?

  • Why are big companies like Sony and Intel involved?
  • Is this consumer electronics gadget?
  • Are we witnessing the beginning of TV-PC-Web convergence?

To understand the answers to these questions and others, we need to look at the motivation for change inside three groups: consumers, Telco service providers and content providers.
From the standpoint of the consumer, the home PC stores growing quantities of digital media assets, but the living room experience remains the preferred choice when it comes to watching video or DVD or listening to music. As a result, there is a need to convert PC content to the living room TV set. Consumers also want to listen to music and watch video anywhere in the home without being tethered down to the PC. Therefore it is necessary to establish a Home Wifi network. Such networks are becoming prevalent, CE (consumer electronics) firms have capitalized on that need. One of the most important things for the cosumer is his freedom of choice, nobody wants to pay for content they don’t want. In Israel and elsewhere, it is generaly true, that consumers hate the cable companies and tolerate their ISP’s. Check your email; you may have received an offer like this recently:

Dear Digital-Cable-TV Member Did you know cable-TV-filters Permits consumers to get any-amount of in-demand-Payperview-movies, mature channels and sports for nothing. Click here: http://www.100100008159441947.resent.59.haynetsv.com

 

Telco service providers are threatened by cable operators; and in response are rolling out next generation IP-TV networks that require new (incompatible) IP set top boxes.
From the standpoint of the content creators and providers, distribution of video and TV programs is much easier and chieper on an IP network than on a broadcast TV network. The creation of interactive Web content is much cheaper than developing interactive TV programs using current generation of set top boxes.

What are the directions in product development?

The directions in product development are HT-PC: a Home theater on PC, Media-PC: networked PC, DVD and TV receiver all in one box, Networked DVD: DVD on a home Wifi network and IP-TV: television over an IP network.

What is already happening in the industry?

Major consumer electronics firms (Sony, HP, BenQ, LG, etc) are involved with media PC’s, and Networked DVD’s have been on the market since 2003. Media extenders are sold by Major datacom manufacturers like Cisco and D-Link. Microsoft promotes its Windows XP Media Center 2005, which is based on the notion of taking rich media from the PC in the study to the TV in the living room. Other companies involved in this emerging industry are chip companies (like TI, Intel, Freescale and Sigma Design) as well as an Israeli startup, Softier (www.softier.com) that is working with TI in developing Media Linux.

Technologies


We have identified three main technology trends among vendors in this field.

A1: Media extender that transmits content from the PC to the TV over home Wifi network.


A2: Media station that attaches directly to the Internet using a cable (or ADSL) modem and transmits content from Internet Web servers to the TV.


A3: IP Set top box that attaches directly to a Telco x-DSL modem and transmits content from the Internet Web servers to the TV over the Telco’s all-IP network.


A1: Home wireless network and media extender – how does it work?

Control menus are displayed on the TV set using a 10 foot user interface. Using the remote, the user can choose a file to play on the TV set or an interactive game. In order to play the chosen file, the PC install and run a local Web server that listens for play requests, accesses the local disk and streams the media back to the media extender that converts it into TV format. In order to interact with a multi-media game that runs on the client’s Web server, requests are sent to the PC and routed to the Web server, responses are sent back to the PC and routed to the media extender. The PC server may perform local caching of content in order to improve the end-user experience and reduce network latency. Most media extenders support Internet browsing using the remote and the TV set.
The most important advantage of this technology is that the hardware required is readily available, it is almost off the shelf. On the other hand there are a few down sides to this technology. Most media extenders don’t support Flash and most Web content is not suited for TV. The current systems are not Web-interactive, for example they don’t send a request to the Web and return a response. They use locally downloaded files stored on the PC in order to reduce latency. In general, the software development environment for media extender is poor. The quality of technology damages the user’s satifaction from the product. Browsing experience with the media extender is terrible and Global language support is poor. The media extenders are expensive. Compared to a digital set-top box that costs less than $100, media extenders cost between $250 and $1500 (Linksys).

A2: Home media station-Internet to TV- how does it work?

The media station runs the Linux operating system and can run applications such as a Web browser or an interactive game client that communicates with a Web server. The media station outputs TV grade video supporting standard codecs for Windows Media Player 9, H.264, MPEG4 and MPEG2. The system hooks directly to a cable modem, next to the TV set and accesses content on Web servers using the http protocol and streams the media to the TV. Control menus are displayed on the TV set using a 10 foot user interface. Content is supplied from Internet Web servers; such as digital photos ( www.ofoto.com) and educational games (http://www.renaissanceconnection.org) In order to interact with a multi-media game that runs on the client’s Web server, requests are sent to the media station using a remote and routed to the Web server. The media station may perform local caching of content in order to improve the end-user experience and reduce network latency.
The home media station is a simpler solution compared to the media extender. It does not require integration with the PC or having a home Wifi network. It also provides better value than a media extender, the media station can run videophone, a local Web server and as a CE product it is easier to operate than a PC. Compatibility with future solutions for IP set-top boxes is another important feature of the media station. The application software development environment for media station is excellent and familiar. The media station can OEM client software into potentially very large install base of Telcos. In spite it’s many advantages it is important to remember that the technology used here is new, you might find yourself at the bleeding edge. Home media sation technology does not solve the TV content compatibility issue.

A3: IP Set top box – how does it work?

The IP STB runs the Linux operating system and can run applications such as a Web browser or an interactive game client that communicates with a Web server. The media station outputs TV grade video supporting standard codecs for Windows Media Player 9, H.264, MPEG4 and MPEG2. It uses the same platform as the media station. The STB hooks directly to the Telco IP network using a x-DSL modem, next to the TV set. iT accesses content on Web servers using http and streams the media to the TV. Control menus are displayed on the TV set using a 10 foot user interface. Content is supplied from Internet Web servers; such as digital photos (www.ofoto.com) and educational games (http://www.renaissanceconnection.org). In order to interact with a multi-media game that runs on the client’s Web server, requests are sent to the media station using a remote and routed to the Web server. The media station may perform local caching of content in order to improve the end-user experience and reduce network latency.
The direct connection of the STB to a digital IP network of a Telco provider is a better and more reliable connection than cable modems. The STB Provides better value than a media extender. IP STB is owned by the Telco, therefore providing and provisioning the box is not your problem. STB Can OEM client software into potentially very large install base.The major problem of this technology is that few Telco service providers are ready with the network. The IP set-top boxes are still quite new and not widely available. Like the home media station, this technology is also new and might place you at the bleeding edge. STB technology does not solve the TV content compatibility issue.

Requirements/Alternative Matrix


Recommended echnology

As described above, there are three technology directions: the media extender + PC approach, the media station and the IP STB (Set top box). Of these options the most recommended one is the media station approach. The system’s instalation and deployment is simpler than the media extender. Since it is based on Web server/browser architecture all software and content is managed centrally, thus reducing cost of operation and customer support. The media station technology is available now, opposed to STB technology, which depends on the Telco to provide an IP-TV service. It Can run local application software and While not a PC, it provides more value than a media extender (as can be seen from the comparison matrix). For Israeli vendors there is the added advantage of working with a local vendor (Softier) as opposed to working with a Korean or US vendor.

Alternatives

Requirements

A1-Media extender

A2-iMedia station

A3-IP STB

Macro-economic
Cost

$200-1500

$200-250

< $100 in large quantity

Availability

Now

3-6 months

12-18 months

Requires home Wifi network

Yes

No

No

Service provider synergy

Arguable

ISP

Telco

TV Content delivery
Serve a number of TV sets in the home

One/TV

One/TV

One/TV

Enable a user to run a PC application and pipe output to TV

Yes

No

No

Support wireless access of 200 square meter living unit

Yes

Enable split screen – TV (normal reception from cable provider) and Internet content

No

Yes

Yes

Video phone option in split screen

No

Yes

Yes

Enable surfing the net without a PC

No

Yes

Yes

Transmit to an unused channel (55, 66, 77)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Ability to send messages between units

PC to Web site

Via Web site

Via Web site

Download TV programs into PC (or PTV) hard disk

Yes

With PVR

With PVR

Remote control
System login starts with operator home page

Yes

Yes

Yes

After login RC startup overrides current TV programming

Yes

Yes

Yes

Switch between Internet, TV, Split screen

TV or PC

Yes

Yes

Optional keyboard and mouse

Yes

Yes

Yes

Optional double remote that can be split into two halves for two people to play games against each other Requires custom remote, PC software and Web server software. Requires custom remote, iMedia station software and Web server software. Requires custom remote, STB software and Web server software.
Optional touch pad, game stick

Yes

Yes

Yes

Indicator lights ON (current user online), OTHERS (other users are online) Requires custom remote, PC software and Web server software. Requires custom remote, iMedia station software and Web server software. Requires custom remote, STB software and Web server software.
USB slot for external attached storage Yes Yes Yes
Web site personalization:

Timed, push content delivery to personal home page for later viewing

Custom PC software, Web server software Custom iMedia station software, Web server software Custom STB station software, Web server software
Web Site
Interactive web site for games

Yes

Yes

Yes

Home page for system users

Yes

Yes

Yes

Personalized home page with Syndicated content, RSS feeds, links to other sites

Yes

Yes

Yes

Site statistics

Yes

Yes

Yes

Scheduled delivery of banner ads to TV or browser or both Custom PC software, Web server software Custom iMedia station software, Web server software Custom STB station software, Web server software
Enable remote disk storage services

Complex

Virtual folder on Web server Virtual folder on Web server

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do (Michael Porter)


The first question: what exactly are we selling and who are our customers?

Entering this field of technology as a vendor requires careful examination of products, markets, positioning and unique activity system in order to compose a competitive strategy. The chosen products and markets need to be a good fit for the vendor’s size and unique capabilities. In today’s highly competitive content market low cost or advanced technology alone are insufficient. The winning combination is of unique content to a highly segmentized market (for example Persians living in LA), delivered to TV over the Web.

What not to do…

Low-cost consumer electronics media extenders will probably not succeed. Don’t enter a low margin or highly competitive market. The client may not have proper distribution channels. Manufacturers are busy developing new products for media extender/station/IP STB; use their work to your best advantage, focus on application software development.
High-tech consumer electronics may not be a wise choice either, for example, a consumer electronics device for Internet media that delivers a better TV experience than a media PC with fewer headaches. Do you want to compete with Sony, Dell, Microsoft and Intel?

The road to success…

The key is to find an underserved segment, such as the retired persons market, and serve their unique needs. Many have money, they watch a lot of TV, they have hobbies, interests and a need to socialize. Provide interactive content, add unique services that can be coded into media station software that would provide P2P game interaction, secure file-storage, presence (are you home?). Deliver content from your Web server to the TV set in the living room. Implement a Web site rich in media and interactive content, remote control and media extender into a single integrated system. Become more efficient by using highly automated operations for advertising, provisioning and billing.

The second question: Whom are we selling to?
Customers and channels

Consumer Market State Market Positioning Product Applications Price Points Customers and their needs Channels and their motivation
Over-priced and over-served Cable TV Media extender from PC $150-250 Households who are angry at cable providers:Get alternative Bezeq:
Compete and preserve their incumbent investments
Under-served,Under-priced PC to TV Media extender from PC to TV $150-250 + Pay per view Early adopters: Techno lust Blockbuster:
Grow sales
Under-served, Under-priced Interactive TV for niche groups Integrated service of home media station and Web content. Media Station: $200-250+ Monthly access fee Retired people: Social outlet and connectivity with others Retirement communities, worker committees:
Grow revenue

The third question: what should be your market positioning?

What not to do…

Blockbuster streaming video servers failed in the past (2001), trying it again would not be a wise step.
File-sharing involves too many digital rights issues, and DRM is too sticky, it is better keep it simple and leverage
an open source approach. It is useful to remember that general media playing has no relative advantage.

The road to success…

Positioning can be either variety-based (interactive content, person to game, person to person) or access-based (ethnic, retired, other segments that use TV intensively). You should provide the network and interactive products, which can be In-house products or obtained through a partnership with a content producer.In addition, provide a standard setup package (media station, software and remote) with no options. Content is provided on a subscription basis, either fixed or pay per use. Subscription with a fixed price per month and unlimited content is a simple scheme but may reduce loyalty since it is too similar to cable providers. Pay per days used may result in lower revenue per consumer but may increase consumer loyalty and total revenue overall. Either way, subscription does not subsidize the setup.

Activity system: tight-fitting, optimized and difficult to copy

Provide interactive games and educational content such as person to game and person to person. Your market needs to be as segmented as possible, sell to carefully selected customer segments, for example retired persons that have a need to socialize and connect and tend to spend more time watching TV. Operating a Web site for customers that includes content, news, forums, and downloads promotes customers involvment and loyalty. Users can access the content using a standard browser (Firefox or Explorer) and use the self-service applications to view their bill and get assistance. Use Web services for provisioning and billing, enable the operator to easily register and activate new users that plug in their new media station and measure system usage. Use standard welcome kit (Media station and remote control), ready to be plugged into a cable modem with no options available. Implement proprietary media station software that processes remote control commands and caches content in order to reduce latency. Utilize distributed file storage based on a decentralized architecture to pool unused disk space on the user’s desktop computers. This is not an absolute requirement for the system, as the file storage can be implemented in a central Web server farm; however it may prove to be an economical way of improving scalability and an attractive feature that enables content users and creators to store files in anonymity.

Graphical view of the activity system


Keywords and Links


IPTV: Television broadcasting over an all IP network

Windows XP Media Center 2005

Home Media Networking

Games for TV http://www.gametime.tv/

On-Line/Internet – PC/TV Combinations

Software and remote control products

Shows and other online resources

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We designed and implemented a large scale IT infrastructure modernization project that was tasked with improving availability, scalability and security of the online diamond trading networks at diamonds.com and diamonds.net. Network DLP appliances were deployed in the US and in EMEA at the company’s hosted server farms in order to help protect sensitive customer and commercial data.

Read the Customer solution case study

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We were called in at a critical stage in project delivery to help manage the development and design the encryption for the digital content protection.

Read more about the VOD IPTV solution

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