16 July 2014 ~ 1 Comment

Saving phone battery to beat the TSA

mobile phone battery life

The big news from last week is that US Transportation Security Agency (TSA) have banned people from taking mobile phones on flights if they have run out of battery. Ostensibly as part of new “security” measures, if your phone is dead when checked by airport staff, they can confiscate your device. We’ve come up with the ultimate battery-saving guide to make sure you extend your smartphone’s battery life as much as possible so that the TSA goons can’t confiscate it.

We’ve all been in situations when your phone doesn’t have as much juice as we’d like. Maybe you’ve been rushing around enjoying yourself on the last days of your holiday and haven’t had a chance to plug in the charger? Or perhaps you’ve been staying in a busy hostel with few power sockets to go round or even are camping or staying in a remote jungle lodge with no generator. And of course, we know what it’s like making the long arduous journey to catch your flight home only to find that listening to music on the way has killed your battery.

We know, they know, everyone knows: it’s a completely useless policy and excessively rigid that does nothing to make any of us safe. It’s just pointless security theatre designed to appease and perpetuate fearmongering. Don’t forget that electronics are already swabbed with explosive detectors.

In fact, if anything, this new measure probably makes us less safe. Nearly all of the security workforce will be mindlessly waving through passengers with working phones as that’s the way they are taught to work with an inflexible list of blanket security directives. Meanwhile, it’s not the most challenging project to modify a battery so that it delivers power but still has room to conceal other components.

But unfortunately, we have no choice. While these new measures allow arrogant and bullying airport staff additional opportunities to abuse us, we still need to make sure that our phones are charged and working if we want to make that flight. So how do you get the most battery life out of your phone?

Use an external battery pack

A simple solution. Buy an external battery to ensure you can always top up your mobile phone and keep it going for longer. We recommend the Mophie Powerstation Pro which will handle any phone or tablet and has a massive 6,000 mAh cell which will give you multiple full charges. n better, it has an output of over 2 amps meaning it will recharge your phone as fast as possible. It is also impact and splash resistant.

Don’t turn it off – use Airplane mode even when on the ground

In our tests, it turns out that most smartphones munch a huge chunk of battery booting up. Airplane mode, however, is the next best thing to having your phone completely off and can be triggered quickly and easily. Unless you’re waiting for an urgent call, keeping your phone in Airplane mode can easily multiply your battery life and you can still turn it off to send a quick email when needed.

Turn the screen brightness down and reduce screen time

Especially with the big screens that are now popular, the display is one of the most power-hungry aspects of a smartphone. Reducing the brightness can make a massive difference to how long you can go between charges. Try to resist the temptation to constantly check your phone too as every second of screentime chips away at your battery life. Another good tip is to use a static wallpaper instead of CPU-intensive active wallpapers.

Turn off automatic uploads and updates

Many phones are sending data over the internet in the background even when you’re not actively using them. Turn off automatic updates and background processes and especially watch out for apps like Google+ and Dropbox that might have been configured to automatically suck dry your battery life by uploading photos and videos.

Don’t use mobile data at all

The mobile internet radio on your phone is a big power sink. If possible, always choose Wifi over mobile data or use switch to 2G only .

Turn off other radios such as GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Unsurprisingly, communicating remotely with radio signals sent over several miles requires a lot of power. GPS can almost be as bad as mobile data especially when trying to get a location lock. Turn it off when you’re not using it and also think about turning off other short-range communications such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Don’t watch videos or play games

Decoding video and playing games are terrible for battery life. Not only are they highly CPU-intensive but they also require the screen to be constantly on. Avoiding both of these activities will make a huge difference if you’re struggling to eke out the last few drops of power.

Use something else for music

Dig out that old mp3 player. Using your phone as music device also saps its power pretty quickly.

Use a battery saving app or mode

Android also has plenty of other great options. Many phone shave a battery saving mode that minimised power-hungry actions. And you can use automation apps such as Tasker to profile your phones usage to automatically only use battery-sapping features when necessary. It’s also worth looking into apps such as Juice Defender.

Carry a spare battery

The simplest option! No use for people with crappy phones with non-removable batteries but if you’re smart, you can just have a spare charged battery in your pocket to instantly boost your charge and ensure you always have a bit of juice spar.e

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27 February 2014 ~ 0 Comments

#9 Using mobiles on flights (and hacking planes!)

Welcome to video #9 in our countdown of the Top Ten Tech Stories from 2013.

Every Thursday we’re going to bring you a new post looking back on our picks from 2013. There were lots of great things happening last year starting at the very beginning of the year when Samsung announced they had sold over 100 million Galaxy S smartphones.

We also had a lot of stories about mobile operating systems starting with the first glimpse of Canonical’s Ubuntu Phone operating system at the Mobile World Congress. April saw the first devices running the HTML5-based Firefox OS and of course iOS 7 came out soon afterwards. Google even surprised everyone in September by not going with Key Lime Pie for its next version of Android and instead teaming up to brand version 4.4 as Android KitKat.

Other big stories from last year include the release of a BBM app in October and Giffgaff starting to sell handsets themselves in November. But what do you think were the biggest tech stories from last year?

This is the second instalment in the video series and we’re looking at the news of FAA approval to use mobile phones and other portable electronic devices on flights. This is one of the most exciting pieces of news (at least for mobile addicts). We also look at a way to use your phone to hack into aeroplanes and control them through a simple Android app.

Phones/Wi-Fi in-flight

aeroplaneWe feel more than anything it’s a victory for common sense, as even those with the most rudimentary physics know there is minimal if any risk from electromagnetic interference caused by tablets, phones and laptops. Previously, regulations had meant that personal electronic devices could only be used once the plane is cruising above 10,000 feet but the new guidelines allow you to listen to music or reading a book including on the ground and during takeoff and landing approaches.

The year also saw many carriers introducing in-flight Wi-Fi to their planes which can really those long haul flights that much more bearable. At the end of the year, the Federal Communications Commission also finally agreed to consider lifting its ban on using mobile phones in-flight. By a narrow margin, the FCC voted 3 to 2 in favour of the proposal. The chairman, Tom Wheeler pointed out that the ban is more or less redundant by now and stated that he strongly wanted to see mobile phone use allowed some time in 2014. While his impartiality is somewhat dubious he has links to the mobile industry, everyone must be relieved that he’s finally calling out the nonsensical arguments regarding interference as scaremongering pseudoscience.

In much of the rest of the world, voice calls are already allowed only the US is yet to catch up. However, don’t get too excited too soon – individual airlines and the FAA would have the final say on allowing voice calls on aeroplanes. Delta Airlines have already announced that regardless of the FAA approval, they would not allow people to use phones on their aeroplanes.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has officially approved the use of 3G and 4G mobile Internet on flights allowing planes to carry their own mobile cell transmitters which will be linked to the ground via satellite connections. We thought this news was really worth a mention as a highlight of 2013 but it’s worth noting that British company AeroMobile have been able to use voice and text services in flights since September 2004. They even launched their roaming service for mobile phones on aeroplanes way back in April 2007, so for much of the world this is old news but it’s great to hear that the US finally realising how outdated these regulations are.

Would you like to be able to make calls when on a flight? Or can you think of nothing worse than the person next to not only hogging the armrest and the windows eat but also having a detailed, high-volume conversation with their gastroenterologist throughout your entire trip?

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12 April 2013 ~ 1 Comment

Hacking planes with phones

aeroplaneNew research suggests that passenger jets could potentially be “hacked” with little more than a mobile phone. The disturbing news comes from security research and former pilot Hugo Teso who works in Mainz, Germany. The exploit shows how a hacker could actually influence the movement of a commercial airliner.

Teso presented his research at the Hack In The Box conference held in Amsterdam, Netherlands this week. His exploit involves the use of a Android smartphone app called PlainSploit which allows him to control the aircraft’s Flight Management Systems.

Modern aeroplanes have two major systems for communicating with other aircraft and with ground-based air traffic controllers:

The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), sends information about each aircraft (identification, current position, altitude, and so on) through an on-board transmitter to air traffic controllers, and allows aircraft equipped with the technology to receive flight, traffic and weather information about other aircraft currently in the air in their vicinity.

The Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), is used to exchange messages between aircraft and air traffic controllers via radio or satellite, as well as to automatically deliver information about each flight phase to the latter.

The problem is that these technologies are old and dated and, as a result, incredibly insecure. Using both together, an attacker can gather information for a aeroplane’s on-board computer and even spoof signals that allow a hacker to affect the behaviour of the aircraft. Teso has developed an entire framework that allows you to control a ‘plane’s Flight Management System – it’s so complete there’s even scope for adding your own custom plug-ins.

Using live flight trackers such as Flightradar24, you can even hack into any aeroplane that is in range of your phone. The app is very advanced and you can dynamically change the aircraft’s course simply by tapping on a location on a map. You can also set conditional filters that will only activate when certain requirements are met. For example, you can wait until an aircraft is in its cruise phase over the ocean or above a certain ASL altitude and the crew are relaxing to activate certain commands. One of the most interesting features is that you can even control the lights and alarms in the aeroplane and the “Be Punkish” command allows a hacker to trigger lots of these at once. There’s even a humorously named “Visit Ground” command which caused the ‘plane to crash.

Don’t worry too much though next time you get on a flight. Each model of plan is different and only some commands will work on each one even though the app and framework does have a way of detecting what’s available. The other thing is that these commands only work when the ‘plane is set to autopilot so the pilots can always get complete control back and then flying using manual analogue control inputs. Most importantly, of course, Teso hasn’t publicly released the mechanism for all the exploits and has been working with the aviation industry to close the security flaws that allow this hack. The framework he developed was purposely restricted to virtual environments and cannot be used on real-life ‘planes.

However, having said that, on more modern digitised aeroplanes, it’s harder to detect the hacking in the first place and it’s uncommon to fly a plane without any automated assistance. And it’s certainly rather terrifying to learn how poor the security is on all these legacy systems. This is especially the case as aviation is an industry that prides itself on the importance of safety and security as well as redundant systems. Luckily, it does seem that manufacturers are keen to work on fixing the holes in their systems.

What do you make of this crazy story? Are you scared that people could control your flight with just a mobile phone? Why do you think that aircraft security is so poor? And do you expect to see more stories similar to this in the future? Let us know your thoughts below.

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