Apple's iPhone Siri voice-recognition "virtual assistant" is loathed by some, loved by others. If it correctly recognisies your voice, it can make your life easier. The hard work is done not by the handset, but by Apple's servers. To do that, the iPhone sends your digitised voice query over its data connection.Arstechnica has measured that if you use Siri 2-3 times per day (light usage), you might expect to use 126KB to 189KB per day (depending on the length/complexity of your query), or 3.7 to 5.5MB per month. For 4-6 times a day, that might come out to 252KB to 378KB per day, or 7.4 to 11MB per month. If you use it 10-15 times per day, you might end up using 630KB to 945KB per day, or 18.5 to 27.7MB per month. Which is fine if you are at home, or in a WiFi area. But when roaming overseas, at say Optus' $20 per MB roaming rate, that works out to be anywhere from $72 to (ahem!) $554. Just for Siri. But we doubt she'll tell you that.
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The Internet Crime Complaint Centre, (affiliated to the FBI) warns hackers are now targeting travellers using hotel internet connections because security was often lax.
"Recent analysis from the FBI and other government agencies demonstrates that malicious actors are targeting travellers abroad through pop-up windows while establishing an internet connection in their hotel rooms," the ICCC said in its alert.
Because hotels are often franchises, with the same system used in different hotels, and even in different countries and continents, the hackers could hack one connection and then apply that to all the other sites. What made it worse was that one of the most common hotel system passwords used was "password1" because it met the security requirements of many systems ("at least 8 digits including one number").
Once in the hotel's system, the hackers upload malware that appears as a common and innocent-looking software update. The hotel guest logs on and a pop-up window appears (often while the traveller was attempting to setup the hotel room internet connection) offering a routine update (often Flash or Acrobat).
If clicked to accept and install the update, instead malicious software was installed on the laptop. However, it's not only hotel internet connections that hackers are targeting — other franchises such as coffee chains and restaurants that have public Wi-Fi connections are also easy targets.
The FBI says travellers should take steps to protect their computers, and the obvious first one is to wait until you get back to download that software update. Also you should perform software updates on laptops immediately before travelling, and download software updates directly from the software vendor's website if they are really necessary while abroad.
Changing SMS habits
The first in a series on how our phone habits are changing profoundly.SMS is dying. We constantly hear about the death of SMS and this is one of those cases where the reality is certainly matching the hype. The demise of SMS is playing out in front of our eyes and at a cost of $1,000,000 per GB, why wouldn’t it? We looked at 120,000 mobile phones and found that in 2010, 41 per cent of all mobile phones sent SMS and in 2011 that number had fallen to 32 per cent. The average number of messages sent per device in 2010 was 57 per month and in 2011 it was 54 SMS – this is a decrease of five per cent. It’s not dead yet, but the writing is on the wall. The cause? Replacement by e-mail, Facebook updates, chat services (eg BlackBerry Messenger). And the cost is definitely an issue - if you can e-mail on a modern smartphones the incremental cost is usually less than a cent, compared to the 30-40 cents of a typical SMS. Of course with roaming the situation is often reversed - texts can be cheaper than the amazing data cost many networks change. But for now, if you really want a message to get through, SMS is the way - a 98% open rate versus a 22% e-mail open rate.