Android software puts Google at heart of mobile life

People take pictures of a statue during the launch a new version of the Android operating system called Android 7.0 or Nougat on September 21, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2018
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Android software puts Google at heart of mobile life

  • Google, the revenue-pumping heart of corporate parent Alphabet, makes Android available free to device makers
  • Android is ‘open source,’ meaning that device makers can use it free of charge and customize it as they wish

SAN FRANCISCO: The Google Android operating system, the target of a long-running EU antitrust investigation, powers the vast majority of the world’s smartphones and firmly rules the mobile world.
Android software acts as the brains for mobile devices, coordinating tasks from phone calls and map directions to games, Twitter posts, or online searches.
Google, the revenue-pumping heart of corporate parent Alphabet, makes Android available free to device makers, earning money from ads, content or subscriptions at online services crafted to work smoothly with the operating system.
According to industry-tracker Gartner, Android dominated the smartphone market with a share of 85.9 percent last year, to around 14 percent for Apple’s iOS.
Some 1.3 billion Android smartphones were sold last year, compared with approximately 215 million running on iOS and 1.5 million with other operating systems, according to the research firm.
The first version of Android was released a decade ago.
In a playful way, Google has named Android iterations after tasty treats including Kit Kat, Marshmallow and Nougat. A fresh version, Android P, is in beta testing mode and is expected to be given a yummier moniker before it is officially released.
Android is “open source,” meaning that device makers can use it free of charge and customize it as they wish.
This led to complaints that the world of Android was “forked,” with compatibility of applications inconsistent and device makers slow or reluctant to push updated versions or security patches to users.
Apple, in contrast, tightly controls its software and hardware, so an application that works on one device works on all. Apple also prides itself on pushing the most up-to-date version of iOS out to mobile devices.
While Android operating system software is free, EU authorities claim Google uses its leverage to get mobile device makers to install its other mobile apps like YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Maps and Translate to cement its dominant position.
Android is used by a host of mobile device makers, including South Korea-based Samsung, which is the world’s top smartphone maker in terms of volume.
Before Google shook up the market with Android, gadget makers paid to license operating systems or relied on their own.
Microsoft took that approach with the operating system for Windows Phone, before surrendering the market in the face of runaway success by Android and Apple.
Google makes its own premium Pixel smartphones, which showcase the capabilities of Android and are kept up to date with software improvements. Pixel smartphones account for only a small sliver of the market.
According to EU investigators, Google has required device makers to install its search engine and the Google Chrome browser on phones, and to set Google Search as the default, as a condition for licensing some Google apps.
The California tech giant disputes this, saying mobile device manufacturers, if they wish, can install applications that compete with those offered by Google.
For example, Samsung smartphones can come new with Chrome and another web browsing program built-in, or offer both Google Pay and Samsung Pay digital wallets for use.
Android users are free to patronize online venues other than the Google Play Store for apps, games, music or other digital content.
Google does promote its own services as being optimized for Android, and backed by “cloud” computing capabilities for backing up data and being able to shift seamlessly between devices such as smartphones and laptop computers.
Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank, said Google’s strategy tries to “limit fragmentation across Android devices” so as to attract application makers and protect the reputation of the brand.


Warning issued over attacks on Internet infrastructure

ICANN headquarters in Los Angeles. (Supplied)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Warning issued over attacks on Internet infrastructure

  • The list of targets included website registrars and Internet service providers, particularly in the Middle East

SAN FRANCISCO: Key parts of the Internet infrastructure face large-scale attacks that threaten the global system of web traffic, the Internet’s address keeper warned Friday.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) declared after an emergency meeting “an ongoing and significant risk” to key parts of the infrastructure that affects the domains on which websites reside.
“They are going after the Internet infrastructure itself,” ICANN chief technology officer David Conrad told AFP.
“There have been targeted attacks in the past, but nothing like this.”
The attacks date back as far as 2017 but have sparked growing concerns from security researchers in recent weeks, which prompted the special meeting of ICANN.
The malicious activity targets the Domain Name System or DNS which routes traffic to intended online destinations.
ICANN specialists and others say these attacks have a potential to snoop on data along the way, sneakily send the traffic elsewhere or enable the attackers to impersonate or “spoof” critical websites.
“There isn’t a single tool to address this,” Conrad said, as ICANN called for an overall hardening of web defenses.
US authorities issued a similar warning last month about the DNS attacks.
“This is roughly equivalent to someone lying to the post office about your address, checking your mail, and then hand delivering it to your mailbox,” the US Department of Homeland Security said in a recent cybersecurity alert.
“Lots of harmful things could be done to you (or the senders) depending on the content of that mail.”

DNSpionage attacks might date back to at least 2017, according to FireEye senior manager of cyber espionage analysis Ben Read.
The list of targets included website registrars and Internet service providers, particularly in the Middle East.
“We’ve seen primarily targeting of email names and passwords,” Read said of what is being dubbed “DNSpionage.”
“There is evidence that it is coming out of Iran and being done in support of Iran.”
ICANN held an emergency meeting and is putting out word to website and online traffic handlers to ramp up security or leave users vulnerable to being tricked into trusting the wrong online venues.
DNSpionage hackers appeared intent on stealing account credentials, such as email passwords, in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, according to Crowdstrike cybersecurity firm vice president of intelligence Adam Meyers.
Similar attacks took place in Europe and other parts of the Middle East, with targets including governments, intelligence services, police, airlines, and the oil industry, cybersecurity specialists said.
“You definitely need knowledge of how the Internet works you and have to handle a lot of traffic being directed to you,” Meyers said of the DNSpionage hackers.
“With that access, they could temporarily break portions of how the Internet works. They chose to intercept and spy on folks.”