GPRS Cracked

I mentioned the work of Karsten Nohl to expose how insecure cell phones really are back in 2009. It’s great work since many people assume cell phones are secure, while they likely aren’t nearly as secure as one would think or hope. He’s done a lot more since then as The Register reports:

“The interception software to be released tomorrow puts GPRS operators with no encryption at an immediate risk,” he told The Register on Tuesday evening. “All other GPRS networks are affected by the cryptanalysis that will be presented but not released at tomorrow’s conference. Those operators will hopefully implement stronger encryption in the time it takes others to re-implement our attacks.”

As the article goes on to say, most use none or weak encryption.

In 2010, he bundled many of the various tools he helped develop into a comprehensive piece of software that gave amateurs the means to carry out many of the attacks. That same year, other cryptographers cracked the encryption scheme protecting 3G phone calls before the so-called Kasumi cipher had even gone into commercial use.

So your best bet to make a secure call right now is to use Skype on a smart phone. So far it doesn’t seem anyone has cracked Skype’s security. If Skype has a backdoor or known vulnerabilities is questionable. If they were considered a phone company (they insist they aren’t) they would be subject to CALEA.

Bottom line: Don’t assume a cell phone call is secure.

Skype For iPhone

I’ve been a Skype user since 2004 when I first fell in love with the service. I used it a fair amount in college as a way to study for tests and work on programming projects with other classmates without having to sit in a library for hours. It was convenient to each code from home or dorm rooms, have a TV on, talk without a librarian getting upset etc. I can recall 7hr plus Skype to Skype sessions that didn’t cost anyone a dime.

I still find myself using Skype from time to time because it’s convenient, other people use/prefer it, and quite frankly, it “just works”. Not to mention a PC headset is often cheaper than one for your landline phone making it great for long calls when you want to be hands free and not use speakerphone.

iChat doesn’t compare either since it doesn’t support calling phones and isn’t nearly as good at dealing with firewalls and poor bandwidth, two frequent problems in college.

Skype for iPhone is rumored for next week. I expect it will only work when connected to WiFi and will otherwise be pretty similar to the desktop client. I’d also expect it to be in “beta” until the summer when push notification is released.

If it works, it will be awesome.

For anyone wondering: Yes, I tried Fring, and no it never worked for me. From what I can tell I’m not the only one.

Wengo Preview

Daniel Glazman hooked me up a few days ago with a preview of the OpenWengo extension for Firefox he’s been working on. It didn’t work with a build of mine (likely my fault), but did of course work with Firefox 1.5.0.1 which I tested with. I’m on very limited bandwidth here, and voice quality was very good in the limited testing I did. That was not only subject to my terrible connection, but had a trans-Atlantic hop, so it’s likely the worst case scenario most users will ever experience when using VoIP. It seems stable, and has a very well designed UI. The Dialpad UI (featured below) did strike me as a little basic (just regular buttons for numbers), but it’s an early build, I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets a little better looking over time. Address book is similar to Thunderbird in what it includes. Personally I’d love to see it support reading Thunderbird’s address book.

At this point the UI option for chat and SMS are implemented, but the feature itself doesn’t exist. He’s now working on chat right now, so I suspect we’ll see that soon. It looks like it’s pretty standard from the screenshot he provides.

Hopefully OpenWengo will work with GoogleTalk in the near future.

Overall, I think it’s got strong potential to beat Skype. I haven’t yet tested it’s Firewall skills (I’ll post again when I see how it does in this test). Provided it can meet/beet Skype with Firewalls, the biggest problem would be getting enough users to be useful. Working with Google Talk would be a big step in that direction.

Below are some screenshots I took:

Login Menu Wengo Address Card 20060131_wengo_buddies.png 20060131_wengo_dialpad.png

Nokia 770

After seeing Doug’s post on the new Nokia 770, I totally want one. $350 is a little steep for 3hr battery life, though still extremely cool. Being Mozilla based makes it even cooler.

Checking out Maemo Planet shows some really interesting stuff is going on in the Maemo Platform. There’s already quite a few things ported. I think there is serious potential here. I imagine it’s only a matter of time until Skype ports it’s software to this device as well.

Everything but that price, and the battery life sounds perfect. I think I want one.

As usual Engadget has some pretty pictures.

Ebay Buys Skype

Please oh please don’t ruin it like you did PayPals. Well, the news is out, eBay is going to buy Skype. For some reason, I have this belief that eBay will either stop letting it continue development (like PayPals seems somewhat frozen in time), or just start crippling it so people use the pay service (which I won’t). Would have been great if Google bought them, which I’ve been hoping for a while.

Baby Bell’s Nightmare: Google

According to Google:

Google believes that users should have a choice in what applications they use for communication. Built to support industry standards, Google Talk enables Google users to connect to the Google Talk service and exchange IMs using any client that does the same, including Trillian, Adium, iChat, GAIM, and Psi.

The company is also committed to working with other service providers to create a federation model that enables users on any member network to talk to users on any other member network in a secure and abuse-free manner. Google is currently working with EarthLink to federate with their Vling communications service and with Sipphone on federating their Gizmo Project.

A very interesting statement. First we know it’s based on Jabber, a popular open source IM product. It’s open, many products support it. What’s more interesting is the Business side of things:

Could Google be the one to unite the currently fragmented Instant Messaging market? It seems entirely possible. Google is the only company who sees that as a good idea, and currently the only company who has suggested it, and has enough market power to possibly push for that to happen. If Google could get 2 out of the big 3 (AOL, MSN, Yahoo) to sign on and unify: the other would be forced to participate or face a declining market. Personally I think not only AOL would be the biggest win, but the most likely to participate (mainly because of ICQ).

I’m still surprised Google didn’t buy Skype, I still wouldn’t be surprised to hear it happen any day. Not for their IM, but for their amazing voice chat capability. The quality and compatibility has yet to be beat (I haven’t had a chance to try Google Talk, but from what I hear it’s on the level of SIP). Skype is cross platform and has a rather well designed client. A perfect item for Google’s arsenal. If I were Google, I’d buy it. Skype is to IM what Keyhole is to Mapping (Google bought Keyhole a little less than a year ago and renamed it Google Earth, as well as integrated it with their mapping service).

On it’s own, I don’t see much value to Google Talk. Jabber is cool, but why another client? I have GAIM anyway, so no extra client for me, but I still wonder what the selling point for Google Talk is right now. Unless this is just a taste of what’s to come. Personally, I think this is just the start of what we will be seeing from this. I expect integration with existing services, and new services to be based on it. This is just an extension to the Google Platform.

Best for Consumers?

The thing I hope for is Google buying Skype and freeing up their paid services, and making it ad supported. Skype voice mail, perhaps even SkypeOut (at a much lower rate). There is so much potential for Google in the VoIP arena it’s amazing. It even makes a Tellme a potential target for acquisition. Integrate that with VoIP, instant messaging, and Google’s capacity (bandwidth, and servers), and you have a massive communications platform that rivals any communications company.

David Tenser has the issue of multiple VoIP/SIP clients (same as we had with IM). Google peering with other VoIP providers, and unifying by perhaps acquiring Skype and opening things up a bit would greatly resolve this. If all of Skype’s users could co-exist with other VoIP solutions VoIP would stand a chance. Right now, the market has potential but no real chance of taking off mainly because of this issue. Not many will settle for a phone that can only call certain people. Nobody would buy a cell phone if you can only call people with the same plan. Why? Because that’s stupid.

Making money? Oh there are plenty of ways. VoIP opens the doors to many things. Take a look at 1-800-555-TELL (TellMe’s free demo). Imagine Google Adwords integrated into that. Could be done very tastefully. Next look at Google’s SMS effort. Think how well voice services and Cell phones go together (check your gmail on the phone, get directions via phone, etc.). Google could essentially take the phone companies by surprise virtually over night.

Who will Google buy next?

I suggest the following:

  • Skype
  • Tellme
  • perhaps one or two more other VoIP providers.

OK, I’m done talking about Google… for now.

SIP/VoIP

I’ve been a big fan of Skype for some time now. I’ve raved about it ever since I tried it for the first time. It’s simple, fast, reliable, low bandwidth, and the audio quality is great.

Glazou today recommend SIPphone (in particular PhoneGaim). He mentioned this a while back about SIP. I tried PhoneGaim, but couldn’t get it to launch on my XP laptop. So I instead got X-ten2.0 lite, and gave glazou a quick call. Some observations:

  • Audio quality is surprisingly clear. I think marginally better than Skype, though both are very good
  • I love the interoperability of SIPphone. 411 goes to TellMe, I can call landlines for a low rate, free to other SIP phones.
  • I like having a number rather than a username.
  • What happens if the company goes out of business? New number?
  • Slight delay (not bad) at times. I noticed this when making a test call to my house. Again, not bad, but it’s sometimes there

Overall, I’m pretty impressed. What do I prefer? I’m really not sure. I’m kind of mixed. One one hand, it’s easier for someone to get setup with Skype. Takes less time, and it’s UI is less confusing. But SIPphone feels more complete and real.

I think the phone is the next thing to change in our lives. Phone service today sucks.

Apple a Phone Service

Business Week’s Alex Salkever has an interesting article about Apple creating it’s own Skype like system. I’ve talked briefly about Skype before. I’m a huge fan. It’s a solid product. But Apple should take it to the next level. Allow me explain:

Ideally, for anything to become a good communication standard, it must be a standard. Skype is proprietary. While free, it’s not something that will be ported to a billion obscure systems anytime soon. There is also no guarantee it will stay free. We can only hope and trust. We need a standard. Something that can never be taken away. Apple, is an Open Source company these days. Look at how much open source is under the hood of Mac OS X. Clearly standards are a part of Apple’s future. Apple also has a history with communications (AppleTalk, iChat, Rendezvous). Apple has lots of experience with rich media (QuickTime), as well as streaming rich media. Apple is the perfect company for the task.

What’s needed?

An open platform for voice communications that meets the following requirements:

  • Secure
  • P2P
  • Needs to be a Standard
  • Needs to be built on standards (TCP/IP, etc. etc)
  • Nothing proprietary in the protocol
  • Someone with an eye for how to do things “right”
  • Directory Mechanism
  • Method to prevent abuse (spam)

Now if Apple created some protocol with a few partners (Motorola, of a PPC relationship also has a stake in communications) create a standard, it’s got a good shot at taking off. A great place to integrate Rendezvous. Or a similar technology perhaps based upon it.

Advantages for Apple

  1. A vast new communications feature for Mac OS X/iChat. This could serve as the core, as they add features for their release. Able to use what’s contributed by other companies/individuals.
  2. Gain a reputation of not just being a hardware company, but a standards company
  3. The “digital hub” concept so far is pretty encompassing but to date, everyone forgets about the most common electronic device: the telephone
  4. A system that will connect to much more than just Mac users. Any OS where someone wants to support it.

Apple was afraid of being left behind with the Internet, after Microsoft got fussy, so they created Mail.app and Safari, to ensure Mac users always had the Internet (despite Firefox rocking on the Mac). Guess what the next big Application is? That’s right.

But Apple is a Hardware company

True, but there are still advantages. Besides for the fact that the OS is crucial to make a computer worth anything, did you think how much Phones can be worth? That’s right. Who is to say Apple or another company can’t make a landline phone that uses WiFi and/or Ethernet to plug right into the net? No more phone bills. Just use our sleek phone. Using iSync, it keeps in touch with your Address Book on your Mac, so your address book is on every iPhone in your home. It can go anywhere via WiFi using Airport. Use an Airport Express to extend the range so you can be in the backyard with your cordless phone. Does anyone see how much hardware software integration there is here?

This is a market ripe for Apple to pick. Not to mention Apple already has the perfect domain for to host the project: www.iphone.org

Skype is pretty good

I rarely do software reviews, but thought I’d quickly give a mention to Skype.

Skype is not VoIP, but allows you to voice chat with other users. For free. But it’s better than it’s competitors.

AIM has “talk” but it doesn’t work behind any firewalls. Quality isn’t great. Yahoo works behind some firewalls, but quality is even worse. Skype works behind firewalls and has excellent quality. I’d say better than most phones. It’s also encrypted for your protection (using AES) Skype is overall very sexy in performance. Minimal bandwidth, and optimal quality. My hope is that they manage to keep PC to PC calls free forever (without ads).

I do hope however that some open source alternatives become available. This technology will be big in the next year or two. Just as VoIP is kicking off, this going to be something worth looking into for many people. But I hope it will be open protocols like Email, rather than a closed protocol mess like IM. This has the potential to be a real golden internet tool. Hopefully it won’t loose out to patents and proprietary networks.

Anyway. It’s a great product to look at, and give it a shot. I’m personally convinced this concept has finally come of age. It’s just a matter of them opening the protocol so others can build clients to use their network (and perhaps subscribe to their paid services), or if the open source community needs to create their own universal network.