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.


Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Updated 21 August 2018
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Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

  • The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election
  • The company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the US Senate.
Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.
The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.
The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”
The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.
Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from US special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.
Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.
Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.
Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.