Security researcher to illustrate MacBook batteries’ vulnerabilities to malware

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Date: Monday, July 25th, 2011, 04:19
Category: battery, News, security

In the category of “weird but interesting and mildly disturbing”, a prominent security researcher has discovered a vulnerability in the batteries of Apple’s MacBook line of portable computers that could allow hackers to ruin the batteries or install malware on them that could corrupt a Mac.

Per Forbes, Charlie Miller, a renowned white-hat hacker who works for security firm Accuvant, plans to reveal and offer a fix next month for a MacBook battery vulnerability he has discovered. Miller uncovered default passwords, which are used to access the microcontroller in Apple’s batteries, within a firmware update from 2009 and used them to gain access to the firmware.

Apple and other laptop makers use embedded chips in their lithium ion laptop batteries to monitor its power level, stop and start charging and regulate heat.

During the course of his tests, the researcher “bricked” seven batteries, rendering them unusable by rewriting the firmware. Of more concern is the possibility that hackers could use the vulnerability to install difficult to remove malware, or, in a worst case scenario, cause the batteries to explode.

“These batteries just aren’t designed with the idea that people will mess with them,” he said. “What I’m showing is that it’s possible to use them to do something really bad.” According to him, few IT administrators would think to check the battery, providing hackers with an opportunity to hide malicious software on a battery that could repeatedly implant itself on a computer.

Miller admitted that he hasn’t tried to blow up any batteries, but he did say it might be possible. “You read stories about batteries in electronic devices that blow up without any interference,” he noted. “If you have all this control, you can probably do it.”

Another researcher, Barnaby Jack, who works for antivirus software maker McAfee, also looked into the battery issue a couple years ago, but said he didn’t get as far as Miller did.

Miller, who is a regular winner of security contests demonstrating Mac, Safari and iPhone exploits, has notified Apple and Texas Instruments of the issue. Despite requests from several other researchers not to proceed, he plans to unveil the vulnerability, along with a fix he calls “Caulkgun,” at the Black Hat security conference next month.

“Caulk Gun” will change a battery’s default passwords to a random string of characters. While the fix will prevent hackers from breaking into the battery, it would also block any future firmware updates from Apple.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple may incorporate Sharp’s next-gen p-Si LCDs in iPhone 6, see a launch next spring

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Date: Wednesday, April 27th, 2011, 04:13
Category: iPhone, News

It never hurts to plan ahead.

Apple has reportedly selected Sharp to create next-generation low-temperature poly-silicon LCD displays, which will allow a thinner and lighter design for the anticipated sixth-generation iPhone in 2012.

Per Japanese newspaper Nikkan, Sharp will begin manufacturing of the displays in the spring of next year. The company is said to have already begun preparing equipment at its Kameyama Plant No. 1, which is primarily used for building LCD TVs.

The liquid crystal display on the anticipated “iPhone 6″ is said to feature “low-temperature poly-silicon” technology, a next-generation display format that allows for thinner and lighter screens that consume less power than traditional LCD screens.

In a “p-Si LCD,” the thin film transistor, or TFT, of the screen is made of polycristalline silicon. With this method, the display drivers can be mounted directly onto the glass substrate, shrinking the TFT section and allowing for a thinner LCD display.

This technology has allowed companies to create “system on glass” devices, in which the optical sensors, signal processing circuits and other components are located directly on the glass substrate. This negates the need for additional components in a device like an iPhone, saving space within the device and even improving battery life with increased efficiency.

Other advantages of a p-Si display are said to be a higher aperture ratio, which allow for more vivid images onscreen, and enhanced durability, with the amount of connecting pins reduced.

The display of the iPhone 4 is a major selling point of the device, with the high-density 326ppi screen dubbed a “Retina Display” by Apple. Apple also pushed the in-plane switching screen of the iPad last year, a feature that allows enhanced viewing angles, and one that returned again for the new iPad 2.

The rumors of a p-Si LCD would suggest that Apple is not considering organic LED displays, an alternative low-power technology that has been pushed in iPhone-competing devices like the Samsung Galaxy S. Numerous rumors have suggested that Apple has shown interest on OLED, but the iPhone maker has not utilized the technology in any of its devices.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and let us know what you think in the comments.

Apple may be looking into creating external “quick charge” battery packs for devices

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Date: Friday, April 1st, 2011, 03:26
Category: Patents

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Apple has apparently shown an interest in developing an integrated external battery pack into its standard charging cable, providing extra power for devices like a MacBook or iPhone when a power outlet isn’t available.

Per AppleInsider, the potential future accessory was revealed this week in a new patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The filing for “Power Adapter with Internal Battery” describes a wall charger with an integrated battery pack, allowing users to charge a device at home and give that device extra juice when on the go.

Apple’s application acknowledges that rechargeable external battery accessories do already exist. However, it notes that such accessories are not as advantageous as one that might be integrated with a standard charging cable.

“Such external batteries are generally cumbersome to use, at least because they must be unpacked for use and then repacked for storage,” Apple’s filing states of current options available on the market. “In addition, many users forget to bring the external battery in addition to the adapter while in transit.

“What is needed is a way to combine a power adapter and a battery so that a user does not have to carry an additional battery while traveling with a portable electronic device.”

Apple’s solution would include a “smart” charger with an integrated processor. This would allow the charger to intelligently determine how to distribute charge between the integrated adapter battery, and the battery on a device like a MacBook.

The hardware would also include the ability to share the status of the battery with the device it is charging. This way, users would be able to check the status of the external adapter battery and how much power it has left.

Such a device could be augmented by a “trickle source” for power, such as solar. And it could also include a USB port for charging a device like an iPhone or iPod. The accessory could also include a wireless adapter, allowing a MacBook or other device to access the power adapter even when it is not physically connected.

Apple’s application also notes that its external battery solution could employ current power adapter features, such as its patented MagSafe connector.

The need for such third-party external battery makers could be significantly lessened if Apple were to follow through on its pursuit of power adapters with integrated rechargeable batteries.

Apple first filed the patent application made public this week in September of 2009, and the proposed invention is credited to Duncan Kerr, David Robbins Falkenburg and Michael Nugent.

Rumor: Next-Gen MacBook Pros to have improved batteries, will see the end of the white model

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Date: Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011, 10:39
Category: MacBook Pro, Rumor

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The rumors are coming in a bit more rapidly now with details emerging that the upcoming MacBook Pros will sport larger trackpads, weigh slightly less than the current models and have a 8 – 16 GB SSD boot drive to house Mac OS X (everything else will be stored on a separate HDD). Per MacRumors, tt’s also been reported that the new MacBook Pros will come with a custom all-SSD option at a higher price point.

French Mac site MacGeneration has thrown in its two cents to claim that the new MacBook Pros will feature a SSD (16GB mSATA) boot drive, providing faster startup times and performance improvements. It also claims that new MacBook Pros will weigh 200 – 300 grams less than the current versions: 1.8 kg for the 13-inch model, 2.3 kg for the 15-inch model and 2.65 kg for the 17-inch model.

The site also expects HD resolution displays (1,440 x 900 for the 13-inch model and 1,680 x 1,050 for the 15-inch model), plus a newer Core i3 chip, an extra USB port and 12 hours of battery life for the 13-inch model. The 15-inch model will have 10 hours of battery life.

The article also claims that customers will be able to order the 15- and 17-inch models with additional storage (a solid-state drive replacing the SuperDrive). The 17-inch model is expected to have 8 GB of RAM and the high-end 13-inch model will apparently have a matte screen order option, too. The site claims the MacBook Pros will see the introduction of a “new technology” (most likely, Light Peak, a.k.a “Thunderbolt”.

Finally, MacGeneration has claimed that the white MacBook model will be discontinued, though the memories will always remain…

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple exploring technique for dense lithium battery cell creation

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Date: Thursday, February 17th, 2011, 10:27
Category: battery, News, Patents

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It’s a good day for patent stuff and that counts for something.

According to AppleInsider, Apple is investigating techniques to increase the energy capacity of rechargeable lithium battery cells without increasing the size of the battery, allowing longer battery life in future devices.

The proposed invention is detailed in a new patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week. The filing, titled “Increasing Energy Density in Rechargeable Lithium Battery Cells,” describes charging a battery using a “multi-step constant-current constant-voltage (CC-CV) charging technique.”

The CC-CV charging technique would allow the thickness of the anode active material inside a battery cell to be increased in both “volumetric and gravimetric energy density.” But while the density of the power capacity would be increased, the size of the battery, as well as its maximum charging time and minimum life cycle, would remain unchanged.

Apple’s application notes that the conventional method for increasing the battery capacity, or ampere-hour (mAh), of a lithium-ion or lithium-polymer battery involves increasing the lengths of the anode and cathode current collectors, as well as their coating materials But increasing the area of current collectors results in lower volumetric energy density, and results in a larger battery.

“What is needed is a technique for increasing the energy capacity of a rechargeable lithium battery without increasing the size of the battery sell,” the filing states.

Apple’s application notes that the company intends to make battery cells smaller, allowing the “limited space available in portable electronic devices to be used more efficiently.” The company noted it could use the space savings to add more features, or more battery capacity.

But one issue with employing the multi-step CC-CV charging technique is battery life can be significantly decreased depending on temperature. For example, using the same current-charge density at 10 degrees celsius will lower the cycle life “substantially” when compared to a higher temperature such as 45 degrees.

In addition, current-charge densities further reduce the battery’s cycle life if it is at a higher state of charge, between 70 percent and 100 percent.

Apple’s solution would reduce the charge currents for a mobile device when its battery is at a higher state of charge, or a lower temperature. This would avoid degradation in the cycle life of the battery, and potentially even increase it, without any required change in battery chemistry.

The multi-step charging technique would be compatible with the new battery design and would increase battery life by dynamically adjusting the rate of charge when the battery is at different states of charge, or different temperatures.

The patent application was first filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Aug. 22, 2009. It is credited to Ramesh C. Bhardwaj and Taisup Hwang.

Verizon iPhone dissected, interesting chipset, revised battery found

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Date: Tuesday, February 8th, 2011, 05:50
Category: iPhone, News

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If there’s any doubts as to a new Apple product, just let the cool cats at iFixit tear it apart and they’ll tell you all about it.

This is exactly what’s happened with the company’s teardown of the new Verizon iPhone. The procedure located several interesting things including Qualcomm’s MDM6600, a chipset that can handle not just the CDMA and EVDO needed for the network but also GSM and up to 14.4Mbps HSPA+. The part suggests Apple could have designed a dual-mode phone but didn’t for the iPhone 4, likely due to space constraints in the existing frame.

The examination also showed that Apple is using a different battery. Although it has the same capacity, the new battery is over a gram lighter and should lead to a slightly easier to carry phone. The absence of a SIM slot also expectedly helps reduce the weight and changes the layout inside. The mechanical vibrator has been removed. Since a vibrator still exists, it’s likely the vibrator has been pulled or built into another part.

An empty solder contact point on one side of the board is unusual, but it may be the SIM slot’s connection.

Other details are still being determined as the teardown continues, but the phone doesn’t have any known fundamental changes so far underneath apart from the cellular hardware. Apple’s redesign has mostly focused on tuning reception and adjusting for the newly shuffled components.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

iOS 4.3 may hit on February 13th, could bring Personal Hotspot feature to AT&T users

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Date: Thursday, February 3rd, 2011, 06:35
Category: iPhone, News

Apple is set to launch iOS 4.2.6 for Verizon’s CDMA iPhone 4 on February 10, but a 4.3 update may be made available just days later, bringing Personal Hotspot WiFi sharing to AT&T users.

Per AppleInsider, David Pogue of the New York Times noted that the new Personal Hotspot feature would come to existing AT&T iPhone users on February 13, a date that no longer appears in his review.

The reader said that Pogue’s review originally stated, “the single new feature in Verizon’s iPhone is Personal Hotspot, where the iPhone becomes a Wi-Fi base station. Up to five laptops, iPod Touches or other gadgets can get online, using the phone as a glorified Internet antenna.

“That’s incredibly convenient. Many other app phones have it — AT&T’s iPhone gets it on Feb. 13 — but Apple’s execution is especially nice. For example, the hot spot shuts itself off 90 seconds after the last laptop disconnects. That’s hugely important, because these personal hot spot features are merciless battery drains.”

The review now simply states, “AT&T says its iPhone will get it soon” without mentioning a date. While the February 13 date falls oddly on a Sunday, making it an unlikely date for an iOS release, it appears that iOS 4.3 will at least be released around that day.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent application shows interest in developing solar as a power source for mobile devices

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Date: Friday, January 14th, 2011, 06:44
Category: News, Patents

A recently revealed patent application shows that Apple is continuing to research solar power as a potential secondary power source for its mobile devices.

Per freepatentsonline, the application, which describes an auxiliary solar cell that interfaces with a device’s battery, was published earlier this week.

The invention includes a “battery charging manager” that can handle power from a “plurality of power sources including a solar power source.”

According to the filing, the patent is for “a solar power package for use with an electronic device, the package comprising: at least one solar cell operable to derive solar power from solar energy; and a power charger operable to provide the derived solar power to the portable electronic device, wherein the derived solar power is provided in a plug-and-play fashion when the portable electronic device is coupled to the package, and wherein the power charge is operative to adjust the amount of power provided to the portable electronic device based on attributes of the portable electronic device.”

Alternate embodiments of the invention include charging the device’s battery or an accessory battery, simultaneously charging a battery and providing power to the device and removable solar cells. The described solar power charging accessory could be used to power “a media player, a notebook computer, a tablet computer, a cellular phone, an image processing device, and a handheld computing device.”

IPBiz has reported that Apple’s patent application hit several snags because of similarities to a patent for a solar charger case and a patent for solar power connector cables, but that Apple maker was able to distinguish its patent because the invention is “plug-and-play” and regulates power levels according to the attributes of the device it is powering.

Apple has been looking into solar power for its portable devices for several years now. Early last year, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published an application describing a portable device such as an iPod or iPhone with solar cells on the front and back that could power the device and recharge the battery.

The patent, which was filed in Feb. 2009, is titled “Portable devices having multiple power interfaces” and replaces a prior application from 2006 with the same title. Wendell B. Sander and Daniel A. Warren are listed as the inventors.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Daniel Warren is an iPod System Integrator for Apple and has previously worked on the iPod Nano, iPod Classic and iPod Shuffle.

Apple’s interest in solar power may be a result of environmentally conscious initiatives that the company has adopted in recent years.

Several years ago, Apple was openly criticized by Greenpeace for the use of toxic chemicals in its products. Last year, Greenpeace praised Apple for its turnaround, honoring the Mac maker with the environmental advocacy group’s top ranking as the greenest electronics marker.

How to make your notebook bag smack of “Tron”-based awesomeness

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Date: Monday, December 27th, 2010, 07:00
Category: Hack, News

Right, this is the nerdiest thing we’ve posted in a while, but it IS “Tron”-related and smacks of the awesome…

The cool cats at lifehacker have thrown together a full guide as to how to take your standard notebook bag and transform it into a cool, “Tron”-esque thing with more than just a little sewing and soldering required.

The cool glowing effect is made possible due to the use of electro-luminescent (EL) wire and a tucked-away small battery pack. If you’re not familiar with EL wire, it’s a relatively cheap, flexible product that glows when a current passes through it. Thankfully, the end result looks pretty neat, meaning you won’t look like this guy.

The videos below show working examples from Ladyada and Alan Yates, who have made a Tron-inspired laptop-bag and backpack respectively.

Give the guide a gander, see what you can do with it and if you get a cool result, please let us know so we can make you famous.

Nokia Siemens: iOS 4.2 update feature helps reduce wireless network congestion

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Date: Wednesday, December 1st, 2010, 06:08
Category: iPhone, News

Electronics outfit Nokia Siemens Networks revealed Tuesday that the company had conducted tests confirming that the iOS 4.2 update for iPhone supports its Network Controlled Fast Dormancy technology, which minimizes network congestion and improves battery life.

Network Controlled Fast Dormancy (NCFD), which was developed by Nokia Siemens Networks, reduces network congestion by keeping smartphones in an “intermediate state” instead of alternating between idle and always active on the network.

From this intermediate state, smartphones can “wake up” more quickly while conserving battery life when not in use. NCFD also reduces the number of signals needed to start a data connection between a smartphone and a network.

The post did not explain what kinds of tests Nokia Siemens Networks ran to confirm the iPhone’s support of the technology, but did state that the iPhone will take advantage of NCFD on networks that support it. Nokia implemented NCFD into its own smartphones earlier this year, the post noted.

Per an unnamed Middle Eastern operator, smartphones on a Nokia Siemens Networks network had 11 hours of battery life compared to 6 hours on a competing network. Testing in North America found that Nokia Siemens Networks’ “smart networks” generate “up to 50% less smartphone signaling.”

It is unclear to what extent NCFD has been implemented on the AT&T network, but the new technology could serve to lighten the load for the sole carrier of the iPhone in the U.S., which has been criticized for poor coverage in major cities such as New York and San Francisco.

If any of you have seen improvements on this end with your iPhone since the iOS 4.2.1 update last week, please let us know.