Security, Development and other ramblings...

Looks like a bargain - The real cost of using unbranded consumer electrical products?

The article was written by Matthew Anthony Pace and was published as the feature article on the Sunday Times Tech-Sunday (19th April 2015)

Over the last decade there has been an increase in online retailers selling cheaper unbranded electrical products as their main business focus, these products are being manufactured and supplied all over the world.

Unbranded products or Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) products are meant to be used for creating a branded product, whether for a lower quality brand or even higher quality brands with minor changes done by the brand owner to label the product as their own.

The standard way for both unbranded and branded product manufacturing process, when it comes to producing a new product such as a wireless router or network connected security camera system  is finding a suitable base chipset with most of the required features built in to a single integrated circuit. The chipset manufacturer provides a number of items which help the OEM and brand owners get a product to market quicker, these include development manuals, code examples, demo boards and overall best practices.

With these items a shippable product can with relative ease be pieced together, based entirely off the chipset manufacturer's work at a much lower cost to the OEM and brand owner. With this lower cost though, certain steps can be skipped to keep the price down, such as no additional quality assurance, removing of test features, fixing any accidental bugs that where done by the chipset manufacturer. All these skipped steps can lead to security holes and broken functionality in the end product.

Higher quality branded products still follow the same processes as there cheaper alternatives but include design improvements and additional quality assurance checks to ensure that the product will perform as advertised, no possibility of broken functionality and no security holes. All these added steps done increases the overall production costs, which in turn are then passed to the end user after manufacturing is complete.

As the chipset manufacturers provide the above items to anybody willing to use their chipsets in products, many products can exist with the same functionality as they are literal the same internally as they are based off the same recommended components and layouts provided by the demos and examples, the brand owner can simply redesign the enclosure to match their brands image.

While most higher quality brands perform additional quality assurance processes, some manufacturers have been known to skip these processes for some of their products. One particular example of this was due to an OEM producing a wireless networking product being used by a number of respected brands, that contained an accidental security backdoor, which affected millions of users worldwide and is still visible in Malta. This issue was caused due to the OEM forgetting to disable a feature to shorten the time it takes to bulk upload the firmware to the product at the manufacturing stage, this feature should have been closed on releasing the product to market, with this security hole enabled still, it is possible for a malicious user to enter and gain unlawful access to the users entire networked systems to steal confidential information or damage other systems.

While the use of unbranded or even lower quality products maybe appealing for normal non-technical users to use out of the box, it should be done with caution in mind as the product may not be properly secured which could lead to security surprises while being in use in the future. While a more technical user will able to setup the product securely and possibly flash a custom aftermarket firmware which in most cases has been securely and openly developed by many experienced users from around the world. Custom aftermarket firmware also in most cases contain additional software and features which are not available in the factory stock firmware to give added functionality to the original product.

As with any idea or product, there will always be someone or company who will create a knock off or clone of it. If the product originated from an OEM, this makes it much more easier for the cloner, as the cloner only has to purchase the same or closest match to the unbranded version of the product and make minor or no additional changes to give the appearance of the genuine original product.

When online retailers and even normal retail shops are aware of the products that they are promoting and selling are knock offs and not genuine, it can be detrimental to the original product's brand as this would reduce earned profits for them and also give the brand a bad name if the clone is unstable or performs not up to the original's specifications.

With higher named brands, the brand owner will in most cases patent protect their product designs with an OEM, to prevent competitors and cloners from copying the products designs. While law enforcement does enforce patent infringements, it usually only applies to the same country as the patent was requested. It does not protect the product in foreign countries unless an additional patent has been requested in that country.

Electronic devices that are being sold and exported across the globe must contain certification and licensing markings which are used for products that have gone under specialist testing for radiation and any radio frequencies that could be emitting and conflicting with other devices. Cheaper unbranded devices in most cases skip these certifications and testing and illegally use the markings on the enclosure. Although some manufacturers do undergo testing for the initial prototype, then can sometimes exchange and drop components for cheaper alternatives, thus invalidating all previous testing, as the radiation and radio frequencies outputted from the device will no longer be the same as the prototype and could possibly cause interference with other devices, such as medical equipment.

This article should have provided an insight into the overall manufacturing process of OEM electronic products and the cautions of buying the cheaper unbranded or low quality branded products over the more named branded ones.

Original Times of Malta Online Article:


Copy of printed Newspaper:

TCP Socket From the Web Browser/Firefox App

A couple of weeks ago I was testing some new merging technologies that should be coming to future web browsers.

The technology which I am going to write about in this post is Sockets (not Web Sockets), namely TCP Sockets.

This technology will allow developers using JavaScript to launch TCP connections to a remote server and or create a TCP server with only a couple lines of code.

The applications for this technology are endless, but one of them comes to mind that I am interested in is real time multiplayer games via a web browser, this means a developer could write one app and would work across all supported systems without any plugins like Flash.

While for now TCP Sockets are only available to certain user agents, one such is Boot-2-Gecko (Firefox OS), it is currently being standardised by W3 as the Raw Socket API.

The Raw Sockets API also mentions UDP Sockets, but is yet to be made available to the Boot-2-Gecko (Firefox OS), it is possible that is available to other User Agents.

Screenshot of working example App:

I have uploaded the test application source to GitHub and is being released as GNU GPL, so go grab a copy of the source code and try it out, you will need Firefox Developer Edition along with a Firefox OS simulator.






Azure Network Bandwidth Speed

If you try searching for the network bandwidth speed of Azure VMs, you will probably spend a while trying to find even the slightest bit of information, not even the official documentation has any details on the topic. So I decided to publish my own findings and any other source of information I have found.

The tests were performed on a Virtual Machine located in the Europe-West region using Ookla Speedtest.net using their KPN Amsterdam-Netherlands test point.

Download Speed
Upload Speed
A0 - 1 Shared Core 768MB Memory
A1 - 1 Core 1.75GB Memory
A2 - 2 Core 3.5GB Memory
A3 - 4 core  7GB memory
A4 - 8 core  14GB memory


Additional external references:

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Joining the conversation - Social Media and Business Cross Paths

The article was written by Christabelle and was published on the Sunday Times Tech-Sunday (15th February 2015)

Until a few years ago, advertising was just one-way communication: businesses, organisations and retail outlets would tell consumers about their latest products and services and then sit back and wait for a queue of eager buyers to form.

However, through social media, we are moving away from the traditional marketing method of constantly nudging people until they buy a product or service to a model based on conversation.

Social media allows marketers to share content that is interesting, desired and enjoyed by followers. While in the past, advertising only focused on product features, advantages, services and brands, through social media marketers are now focusing on interacting with existing and potential consumers. Moreover, it’s a two-way communication: marketers publish content that keeps consumers interested and informed, while consumers can give their feedback and tell their stories.

An online marketer who participates in ongoing conversations on social media platforms has a greater chance of being noticed, thus adding to a brand’s value and recognition. A brand can also expand its reach because if the content provided has value, then consumers will invite friends and family and introduce them to the brand. Moreover, if a conversation is interactive, it has a greater chance of showing in a consumer’s news feed: this increases the chance of a post to be read, liked and shared.

For marketers to have the best possible conversation, it is important for them to listen to the brand’s followers, show interest in their comments, gather feedback and most importantly, reply and fuel the conversation with content that is constant and which consumers find interesting and valuable. Constant doesn’t mean that new content has to be generated every second just for the sake of it. Marketers must be careful not to overdo it and bother followers with useless updates. The old adage applies: if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything.

There are millions of social media users – however, a brand’s conversation cannot be inclusive of everyone. A marketer has to carefully identify a brand’s existing and potential consumer base and target that.

As in life, in social media conversations, honesty is the best policy. It is only through honesty that a brand can earn consumers’ trust. If the conversation between a brand and consumers is just a thinly disguised marketing pitch, then consumers will quickly see through it and lose interest. However, if a conversation adds value to consumers’ lives, then they will like it, share it and comment positively about it. Positive feedback has a greater chance of encouraging further positive comments.

However, social media does have its negatives. The qualities that make social media a great tool to spread the good news about a brand can also serve as a vehicle for bad news. For instance, if an unsatisfied customer gives negative feedback about a brand, it won’t be long before further negative stories are exchanged: bad news quickly goes viral.

Marketers should be able to handle negative comments in a positive way. If a consumer posts an unfavourable comment about your brand, don’t ignore it: it will not go away. Moreover, if you ignore it, your message is clear: you don’t care about your followers and their feedback. And never delete negative feedback. Nothing can stop disgruntled consumers from posting on their own wall.

Instead, reply to negative feedback with genuine concern and show honest involvement: moreover, take the necessary action and remedy any fault. It’s only in this way that you can convert negative feedback into a positive story.

Social media conversation may look easy: but it isn’t. It’s not something that anyone can do whenever they have a spare five minutes. Moreover, don’t just create a social media presence and then forget all about it: just imagine what that says about your brand.

A marketer should have a cunning plan to source, generate and present quality content. And don’t just focus on increasing the amount of followers a brand has: rather, build a faithful following and slowly but surely – through recommendations and word of mouth – your audience will increase.

Social media, Friend or Foe?

Nowadays, internet plays an important part of our lives. I wonder how many of you reading this article ever tried spending a couple of days without internet. While I am sure that there are a few individuals who will be able to accept this challenge, I am even more convinced that that the majority will find it even difficult to spend a whole day without internet. What about Social Media? Would you let a day or two pass without logging in to your favorite social networking site/s? I will leave it up to you to answer this question.

In businesses, social media is used to create brand awareness, advertisements, recruitment, generate new business, connect to your customers and even create media analytics. Through social media businesses and employees may benefit from getting reviews on the product/ service being offered and even recommendations. Cool huh!

In terms of your personal and social life, social media amongst other things allows you to connect and share common interests with your family and friends, follow your favorite celebrity, search for products/ services in your area, join groups of people who share common interests, learn how to do new things by reading through articles and watching videos, create awareness such as against violence and much more.

Social Media may be a great tool if used with the right intentions; however it might cause problems if misused. I am sure that we have all heard or read about horrible stories on how individuals have suffered through bullying over these social networking sites, some of which even led to death. This may be prevented by being extra careful on who we accept as internet friends. Sometimes, I feel it’s just a competition especially with younger generations, does it really matter who has the most online friends? Ever stopped to think whether the person you are adding is an impersonator. Why should you sit and accept ungrateful comments, the privacy settings is available for a reason.

I am sure that some of you have found yourselves spending too much time on social networking sites, checking on who liked your latest image or even browsing through other individual profiles to learn some new gossip, which may lead to distraction that keeps you from studying, working, reducing family time and other chores. Besides, using social media to interact with others may also lead to laziness, reduce the ability of face to face communication skills and reduce emotional connection.

Some also feel confident with sharing their current exact location, while this might be a great idea to perhaps meet your friends, it’s not so ideal when unknown individuals view your exact current location, isn’t it kind of a bonus for them to “visit” your house while you are away. What about posting comments, such as how wasted you got at the pub last night or even worse posting your indecent pictures online. Did it ever occur to you that your current/ future employer/ clients might be checking your profile. While I do agree with the saying you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, some do. Remember once it goes up on the internet, it stays on the internet for a very long time.

Another social media threat might be that of hacking. While for some this might be a joke between friends in more serious cases this might lead to identity theft. Why make it easy for identity thieves to find out your birth date, address, telephone number, so on and so forth. After all what more information is required to create a fake ID? What about defamation? How would it feel if someone stole your picture, edit it and use it on unrated websites.

So the question is, how can you prevent your children from accessing such sites, the truth is that you cannot as there are always loopholes so my recommendation is to always keep an eye to help them use best practices when online. I believe that by being overprotective such as blocking, monitoring and tracking each online action, for example chat logs sometimes might do more harm than good so it’s important to find a balance between the two.