Microsoft warns iOS isn't as secure as you think

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Microsoft has warned customers that iOS is no more secure than Android, contradicting commonly held beliefs about the relative security of the two platforms. The company said that recent attacks targeting iOS prove it's as vulnerable as Android.

Brad Anderson, Microsoft's corporate vice president for enterprise and client mobility, set out his views in a company blog post last week. He used the Pegasus iOS spyware, revealed last month, as an example of severe vulnerabilities present in iOS. Pegasus is capable of monitoring everything a user does on their device, leaving them vulnerable to further attack.

The malware was analysed by Lookout Security, a Microsoft partner. In its report, Lookout described Pegasus as "the most sophisticated attack we've seen on any endpoint." Since it originates from a leading iOS security firm, Anderson said the statement reveals a lot about the state of security on Apple's platform.

Anderson is attempting to challenge the trust that consumers typically place in Apple. Android threats are far more numerous and gain more widespread attention than attacks on iOS. iOS is not immune to potentially devastating malware though, in contradiction of the views of some customers. Anderson said Pegasus should be a "pretty startling wake-up call" that everyone is "under constant persistent attack" on every platform.

Microsoft executives have reportedly indicated "unwavering implicit trust" in Apple's iOS "countless times," revealing how strong the association between Apple and security has become. The belief that Apple's platform is stronger than Android appears to derive from iOS' closed nature. Because it's a more controlled ecosystem, the attack surface is lower than for Android malware.

This view is dangerous, according to Anderson. Every mobile device is at constant risk of attack, regardless of the platform it runs. "I know for a fact that all the providers of mobile operating systems go to superhuman lengths to harden their platforms and do everything they can to deliver the most secure operating system possible," said Anderson.

However, iOS, Android and Windows all have vulnerabilities that expose them to potentially devastating attacks. Some platforms are targeted more frequently than others but this shouldn't influence people to make assumptions about a platform's security. Pegasus demonstrates that even a closed ecosystem can be infiltrated by some of the most complex mobile malware ever observed.

Coming from Microsoft, Anderson's argument represents a powerful message to businesses and consumers that iOS may not be all it seems. Pegasus has proven iOS presents a viable attack vector to cybercriminals. It has also demonstrated that malware has been commercialised to the point that it's an off-the-shelf product, available for purchase from the secretive NSO Group. According to Microsoft, the idea of a single platform being more secure than others is an urban myth. In real-world terms, any device can be hacked and every user is a target.

Microsoft's new service makes app developers out of everyday employees

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Work is growing increasingly mobile thanks to smartphones, but companies can have a hard time coping with demand for apps that let their workers take corporate data on the go. Mobile developers are expensive, and getting new applications tested and then pushed out to users can be a time-consuming process.

Microsoft just unveiled a new beta service on Monday that's supposed to help ease that tension by allowing anyone to build an app - no software development experience required. PowerApps combines a cloud application backend with easy-to-use tools that make creating a mobile app a drag-and-drop affair.

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PowerApps applications can pull in information from a variety of data sources including Office 365, Dynamics, Google Drive, Workday and other services. Developers can also build connections for PowerApps in their own services if there isn’t a connector already available.

Once the data connection is set up, users can then start building an application interface from one of Microsoft’s pre-built templates, or plug key data into PowerApps and let the service suggest the right designs for their purposes. Those people who have a strong idea for what they want their app to look like can create it from scratch.

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Once users have built the apps they want, they can then use Microsoft's service to share their newly created tools with coworkers who have the PowerApps application installed on their smartphones.

The system is currently limited to building software that runs inside the PowerApps app on mobile devices, however, so employees won’t be able to push their creations to the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Bill Staples said during a press briefing that Microsoft will consider feedback from its customers when determining if the company should make it possible to create standalone applications using PowerApps.

Apple announces iOS 9, release later this year

apple-wwdc-20150044Apple has just announced the next version of iOS, unsurprisingly called iOS 9. With the latest version of its mobile platform, Apple is focusing on making it smarter and more powerful, starting with a major upgrade to the Siri virtual assistant. Siri now has a feature called Proactive that can offer app suggestions and more based on context such as time of day or location. It's a lot like Google Now, Google's version of the virtual assistant, telling you how far away your next appointment is based on traffic or starting music when you plug headphones into your phone. Proactive lets Siri see what apps you have on your phone and suggest useful ones based on what you're trying to do. Apple says that Siri can also look into your inbox to ID incoming calls that aren't in your address book. All of this is wrapped into a new user interface for Spotlight that appears when you swipe down on a home screen in iOS.

ios9-1iOS 9 also introduces deep linking within Spotlight searches, letting you access content within apps whenever you do a system-wide search, instead of just opening the app's main page. Spotlight also can do unit conversions without opening a web search, something that Siri has done for a while, but now queries can be typed in addition to spoken. Apple says that all of this new intelligent processing happens on the phone itself, meaning your data isn't being sent to a server in the cloud. It's a different stance than Google or Microsoft take, which leverage cloud processing to power their virtual assistants on Android and Windows Phone.

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Apple's mobile payments service, Apple Pay, is also getting significant updates in iOS 9. First, it's launching in the UK, and will be compatible with more banks and credit card providers. It is also gaining support for store credit cards and loyalty cards. And finally, Apple is killing the Passbook name in favor of a new app called Wallet, which integrates credit cards, debit cards, store cards, and loyalty cards in one place.

The basic Notes app that's been included in iOS since the beginning is getting some new features, such as image insertion, checklists, and sketches. It's a lot closer to an Evernote competitor than ever before.

Apple's oft-criticised Maps app is getting some much-requested upgrades, including support for transit directions. The transit directions feature supports trains, buses, subways, and is launching in more than 20 cities, including New York, San Francisco, Beijing, London, Berlin, and more.

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New for iOS 9 is an app called News, which, as you might expect from its name, is a place to get news content from a variety of sources. Articles are presented in a mobile-formatted layout that loads quickly and has informative animations and full-bleed images. Apple has partnered with a number of news organizations to provide content for the new app, such as CNN, Time, Wired, ESPN, Buzzfeed, and yes, The Verge. The app also can display articles from any web link, but Apple says the best experience is with those that have been specifically built for the app, much like Facebook's new Instant Articles. News is very similar to Flipboard and a number of other mobile reading apps that have been in the App Store for years. Apple claims the app will get smarter the more its used and will suggest content and articles based on what you prefer to read. News will be first available in the US, UK, and Australia.

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iOS 9 also introduces new power-user features designed specifically for the iPad. The on-screen keyboard includes shortcuts for cut, copy, paste, and more, as well as a new mode that turns the keyboard into a trackpad. Perhaps the biggest change to the way iOS works is in the new multitasking mode for the iPad. iOS 9 now lets you run two apps side-by-side at the same time, a feature that's been a hallmark in Microsoft's Surface tablets and Samsung's Galaxy tablets for a long time. A redesigned task switcher lets you swipe apps in to the same screen, much like Windows 8, and both apps remain fully active on the screen at the same time. Apps can be split 50-50 or 70-30 on the screen, and the iPad's existing multi-finger touch gestures work in either side. Videos can be watched in a picture-in-picture viewer that can be moved around the screen. Apple says that the split-screen mode will only be available on the iPad Air 2 (and presumably new iPads announced later this year), while picture in picture and the ability to swipe in apps from the side will come to older iPads.

At a system level, Apple says iOS 9 is more efficient and smaller than ever. The new software only requires 1.8GB of free space to install, much less than the 4.6GB iOS 8 needed. Apple also says iOS 9 has a new "low power mode" that can squeeze another three hours of battery life out of a single charge. Details about how the new low power mode works are scant, but it's likely that Apple will limit background processes even further than it normally does when it's engaged. iOS 9 will also include a new system font, likely based off of the San Francisco font on the Apple Watch.

iOS 9 also brings upgrades to Apple's HomeKit and CarPlay services, with more devices and cars gaining support. CarPlay will support apps from automakers, ostensibly letting users control car-level things like climate control and seating positions, and it will also work wirelessly in future vehicles. Apple first introduced wireless CarPlay support with iOS 8.3, but there aren't any vehicles or head units that yet support it.

Apple will first release iOS 9 to registered developers today, followed by a public beta in July. It will be available as a final release this fall and is compatible with devices as old as the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 from 2011.

Windows 10 can run reworked Android and iOS apps

Microsoft is revealing its plans to get mobile apps on Windows 10 today. While the company has been investigating emulating Android apps, it has settled on a different solution, or set of solutions, that will allow developers to bring their existing code to Windows 10.

iOS and Android developers will be able to port their apps and games directly to Windows universal apps, and Microsoft is enabling this with two new software development kits. On the Android side, Microsoft is enabling developers to use Java and C++ code on Windows 10, and for iOS developers they’ll be able to take advantage of their existing Objective C code. "We want to enable developers to leverage their current code and current skills to start building those Windows applications in the Store, and to be able to extend those applications," explained Microsoft’s Terry Myerson during an interview with The Verge this morning.

 

The idea is simple, get apps on Windows 10 without the need for developers to rebuild them fully for Windows. While it sounds simple, the actual process will be a little more complicated than just pushing a few buttons to recompile apps. "Initially it will be analogous to what Amazon offers," notes Myerson, referring to the Android work Microsoft is doing. "If they’re using some Google API… we have created Microsoft replacements for those APIs." Microsoft’s pitch to developers is to bring their code across without many changes, and then eventually leverage the capabilities of Windows like Cortana, Xbox Live, Holograms, Live Tiles, and more. Microsoft has been testing its new tools with some key developers like King, the maker of Candy Crush Saga, to get games ported across to Windows. Candy Crush Saga as it exists today on Windows Phone has been converted from iOS code using Microsoft’s tools without many modifications.

During Microsoft’s planning for bringing iOS and Android apps to Windows, Myerson admits it wasn’t always an obvious choice to have both. "At times we’ve thought, let's just do iOS," Myerson explains. "But when we think of Windows we really think of everyone on the planet. There’s countries where iOS devices aren’t available." Supporting both Android and iOS developers allows Microsoft to capture everyone who is developing for mobile platforms right now, even if most companies still continue to target iOS first and port their apps to Android at the same time or shortly afterward. By supporting iOS developers, Microsoft wants to be third in line for these ported apps, and that’s a better situation than it faces today.

Alongside the iOS and Android SDKs, Microsoft is also revealing ways for websites and Windows desktop apps to make their way over to Windows universal apps. Microsoft has created a way for websites to run inside a Windows universal app, and use system services like notifications and in-app purchases. This should allow website owners to easily create web apps without much effort, and list those apps in the Windows Store. It’s not the best alternative to a native app for a lot of scenarios, but for simple websites it offers up a new way to create an app without its developers having to learn new code languages. Microsoft is also looking toward existing Windows desktop app developers with Windows 10. Developers will be able to leverage their .NET and Win32 work and bring this to Windows universal apps. "Sixteen million .NET and Win32 apps are still being used every month on Windows 7 and Windows 8," explains Myerson, so it’s clear Microsoft needs to get these into Windows 10.

Microsoft is using some of its HyperV work to virtualize these existing desktop apps on Windows 10. Adobe is one particular test case where Microsoft has been working closely with the firm to package its apps ready for Windows 10. Adobe Photoshop Elements is coming to the Windows Store as a universal app, using this virtualization technology. Performance is key for many desktop apps, so it will be interesting to see if Microsoft has managed to maintain a fluid app experience with this virtualization.

Collectively, Microsoft is referring to these four new SDKs as bridges or ramps to get developers interested in Windows 10. It’s a key moment for the company to really win back developers and prove that Windows is still relevant in a world that continues to be dominated by Android and iOS. The aim, as Myerson puts it, is to get Windows 10 on 1 billion devices within the next two to three years. That’s a big goal, and the company will need the support of developers and apps to help it get there.

These SDKs will generate questions among Microsoft’s core development community, especially those who invested heavily in the company’s Metro-style design and the unique features of Windows apps in the past. The end result for consumers is, hopefully, more apps, but for developers it’s a question of whether to simply port their existing iOS and Android work across and leave it at that, or extend those apps to use Windows features or even some design elements. "We want to structure the platform so it’s not an all or nothing," says Myerson. "If you use everything together it’s beautiful, but that’s not required to get started."

Microsoft still has the tricky mix of ported apps to contend with, and that could result in an app store similar to Amazon's, or even one where developers still aren't interested in porting. This is just the beginning, and Windows universal apps, while promising, still face a rocky and uncertain future.

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