Leaked ARM memo suggests Huawei's losing access to yet more essential technology

The hits keep coming for Huawei. Following the revocation of its license to use Google apps and the Play Store on its Android phones and a ban by several major chipmakers, including Intel, Broadcom, and Qualcomm, a leaked memo obtained by the BBC has revealed that ARM has ordered its employees to cease “all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with the beleaguered China-based tech giant.

While ARM is a UK-based company, its chip designs contain technology that originated in the U.S. and subsequently are believed to be subject to the Commerce Department’s blanket ban. The memo says ARM employees are no longer able to “provide support, delivery technology (whether software, code, or other updates), engage in technical discussions, or otherwise discuss technical matters.”

While Google’s revocation of Huawei’s Android license might seem like a bigger story, losing ARM could be just as devastating to the company. Huawei is one of the few phone makers that doesn’t use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips in its phones. Its homegrown Kirin processors have made the P30 and Mate 20 handsets among the fastest around. The Kirin chips also include didactic image signal processors that aid in things like low-light and portrait photography. 

huawei p30 pro cameras Huawei

The ARM-based Kirin processors are part of what makes Huawei’s cameras so great.

However, those chips are built using the ARM foundation, which could put future releases in jeopardy. What’s more, it means Huawei may have lost access to the only two chipset architectures supported by Android: ARM and x86. So even if it were able to design a completely new chip devoid of ARM’s intellectual property, there’s no guarantee that it would work with the Android Open Source Project code. While this year’s crop of processors are likely already designed, losing ARM would mean Huawei would have to design a completely new chip architecture and OS within the next year, which seems like an impossible task.

The move would also affect Honor phones, which is an affordable product line made by Huawei. Just this week, Honor launched the 20 Pro powered by Huawei’s top-of-the-line Kirin processor.

In a statement, Huawei expressed optimism over the issue and took a shot at the U.S.-led campaign: “We value our close relationships with our partners, but recognize the pressure some of them are under, as a result of politically motivated decisions. We are confident this regrettable situation can be resolved, and our priority remains to continue to deliver world-class technology and products to our customers around the world.”

Based on the memo, ARM seems unsure whether it falls under the U.S. ban, so it’s possible Huawei could be granted a reprieve. Plus, the U.S. government has signaled it may be willing to bend in the interest of consumer safety. Following the Android license revocation, it granted a 90-day temporary general license so Huawei could continue to ensure existing handsets receive security updates.

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This 200GB SanDisk Ultra microSD card is less than $30 on Amazon today

Here at PCWorld, we know how important extra space is for your Android phone or Nintendo Switch, so we’re always on the lookout for great deals on microSD cards. And we found another one: Amazon is selling the 200GB SanDisk Ultra microSDXC for $27.29Remove non-product link, down from a list price of $85 and extremely close to an all-time low.

This tiny memory card, which works best with Android devices, is pretty fast, with transfer speeds up to 100MB/s. Speed Class 10, UHS Speed Class U1, and A1 ratings signify its ability to handle Full HD video and apps smoothly. In addition, protections against water, extreme temperatures, and X-rays will keep your data safe in any condition.

We haven’t tried this particular microSDXC ourselves, but we’re big fans of SanDisk memory cards. Plus it’s a popular pick on Amazon, with 4.5 stars out of 5 across nearly 16,300 user reviews.

[Today’s deal: 200GB SanDisk Ultra microSDXC card for $27.29 on AmazonRemove non-product link]

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Google exposes G Suite issue that stored plain-text passwords on its servers for 14 years

Google has begun forcing “a subset of our enterprise G Suite customers” to change their passwords after an issue that inadvertently left passwords exposed for more than a decade.

In a post to its Google Cloud blog Tuesday, the company outlined an error made back in 2005 that stored a copy of actual user passwords rather than the usual scrambled “hashed” version, thus making it possible for an outside attack to gain access to usable passwords. Google explains that the issue has been fixed and the company has “seen no evidence of improper access to or misuse of the affected passwords.”

Google says the passwords were still stored on its “secure encrypted infrastructure,” so the likelihood of an outside attack was low.

Google blames a legacy feature set for the issue. Back in 2005, G Suite domain administrators were given the ability to set and recover passwords on the client side for their own users, so they needed access to unhashed passwords. Google has since jettisoned this functionality and requires all G Suite passwords to be reset rather than recovered, just like Gmail.

Additionally, Google unearthed a separate issue that started in January that also led to unhashed passwords being stored for up to 14 days. Like the other issue, Google has fixed the problem and hasn’t found any evidence of “improper access to or misuse of the affected password.” 

As a result, Google is informing all affected clients to change impacted passwords and will reset any that aren’t manually changed. Google apologized for the issue and promised it “will do better” in the future.

While this particular issue doesn’t affect Gmail users (outside of G Suite subscribers), it drives home the need to use strong, unique passwords for every critical site and service you use. If you aren’t using a password manager yet, you should be. Our roundup of the best password managers can get you on the right track if you need help selecting one.

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Ramp up your old PC's performance with these mouth-watering SSD bargains

Adding a solid state drive is still the single best upgrade you can give an aging PC. If you have a newer desktop or laptop with an M.2 NVMe slot, then that’s even better. But for older devices still rocking a standard (and slow) mechanical hard drive, a SATA III SSD provides an amazing improvement in speed and responsiveness. Seriously: The difference between a hard drive and an SSD can’t be overstated. 

Today, we’ve got two stunning SSD deals for your consideration.

First up: The 1TB WD Blue 3D is on sale for $97Remove non-product link with the checkout code EMCTAVU23 at Newegg. That’s $18 cheaper than Newegg’s current price of $115, and under 10 cents per gig! This drive is one of the best SSDs for most people, trailing behind only the Samsung 860 EVO, which currently sells for $147 for the same 1TB capacity. Don’t miss out.

WD’s SSD offers sequential read speeds up to 560 Megabytes per second, and write speeds up to 530 MB/s. We really liked this drive when we reviewed the M.2 SATA III version thanks to its excellent performance on sustained writes, which is often a shortcoming of triple-layer cell (TLC) drives like this one. Be aware: To get this deal, you’ll may have to sign-up for Newegg’s daily email newsletter.

If 1TB is too much, how about the 500GB Crucial MX500 for $60 at Amazon? This is another TLC NAND drive with the same write speed claim as the WD Blue 3D, but a slightly slower read speed of 510 MB/s. This drive also packs AES 256-bit hardware encryption for locking down your data.

[Today’s deals: WD Blue 3D 500GB for $97 with checkout code EMCTAVU23Remove non-product link at Newegg and Crucial MX500 500GB for $60 at Amazon.]

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Phyn Plus smart water valve review: Sophisticated leak detection and water use analysis—for a price

If all you want from a smart water valve is for it to turn off your main water supply if it detects a potentially devastating leak anywhere in your plumbing, the $499 Flo by Moen is the better value. But for $200 more, the Phyn Plus will do that and provide you with a moment-by-moment analysis of how you’re using water—something that Flo expects you to pay an additional $5 per month for in perpetuity.

You can purchase a Phyn Plus through Phyn’s co-parent Uponor’s network of plumbers (Uponor Pro Squad), who will handle the install; or you can purchase it directly and either install it yourself or have your own plumber handle the job. For the record, Phyn recommends having a pro do the job, and the company hired a local firm to install mine.

(Note: This review is part of our ongoing coverage of smart water leak detection devices. You’ll find all our related coverage here.)

As with the Flo by Moen, this smart valve is installed on your main water supply and is fully weatherized for either outdoor or indoor installations. Because the Phyn Plus is a motorized valve, you will need an electrical outlet within 15 feet of the valve to plug in its power supply (it should be a GFCI outlet protected by a bubble cover if it’s outside). I have a tankless water heater in an exterior closet near the water main, so I plugged it in there. Unlike Flo, Phyn doesn’t offer an electrical extension for the Phyn Plus.

phyn plus tool side Michael Brown / IDG

No power? Undock the tool shown in the right-hand side, and you can shut off the valve manually.

You’ll also want to make sure your Wi-Fi network has sufficient range to reach the Phyn Plus. My own network is based on a three-node Velop system, and I have one node in a bedroom that’s about 25 feet from the valve. There were times when I took the Velop system down to test other Wi-Fi routers that Phyn reported being unable to reach the network (even though I used the same SSID for those routers). I’d recommend measuring your Wi-Fi signal strength where you’ll be installing the Phyn.

Phyn Plus sensors

The Phyn Plus is equipped with sensors that measure the current water temperature and—if you’re using water anywhere in your home—the current water flow. More importantly, the device is equipped with ultrasonic sensors that measure the water pressure in the line as many as 240 times each second.

Temperature, pressure, and flow rate (in gallons per minute) are reported in very near real time to the Phyn app, which is available for Android and iOS. When I would turn on a faucet in the house, the app would report the flow rate and show a slick animation in less than a second.

This information is uploaded to the cloud, where Phyn’s algorithms analyze the data (pressure change, flow rate, and water temperature) to determine if it seems to be normal water use or something that could be a problem, such as a leaky pipe, faucet, valve, or toilet. Phyn will push an alert to your smartphone if anything looks amiss, including if the water temperature drops too low, indicating the possibility of a frozen pipe that could burst and cause catastrophic damage (a situation I’m personally all too familiar with).

phyn text message 2 Michael Brown / IDG

In addition to pushing notifications to the app, Phyn will also send you text messages when it detects what it thinks might be a problem with your water supply.

While I like the Phyn Plus more than the Flo by Moen overall, Flo offers one significant advantage. If the Flo by Moen detects what could be a water emergency, the company will robo-call you informing you that it has detected an anomaly with your plumbing and warn that your water is about to be shut off. If you push a button on your phone in response to signal that you know what the unusual water flow is, the valve will ignore the alert for a few hours. If you don’t do anything, or if you miss the call, the valve will shut off your water.

The Phyn Plus will do the same thing if you don’t respond to its push notification, but its alerts are much easier to miss than a phone call is.

The Phyn Plus’s alerts are very informative, reporting the time the anomalous water flow started, the number of gallons that has flowed so far, and asking if you know what the event is. Your answers will determine whether the valve gets closed or remains open, and you’ll have an opportunity to categorize the flow to help Phyn’s algorithm recognize similar events in the future.

The Phyn Plus app

It is Phyn’s algorithms and water-use analysis—and the fact that they are included in the price of the valve, versus a pay-forever subscription—that give the Phyn Plus the biggest edge over the Flo by Moen. Phyn provides so much information that it’s split into two sections in the Phyn app: Water Use and Water Use Plus. The Water Use section uses bar charts to report the number of gallons of water you’ve used for the month. Select any date on the chart and you’ll be presented with an hour-by-hour breakdown.

The second report is more detailed—and far more informative. It is also, however, labeled as being in beta. Dubbed Water Use Plus, it presents your monthly water consumption in a calendar format (and as a heat map) and tracks each water-use event.

phyn app use classification Michael Brown / IDG

The screenshot on the right displays the results of the Phyn Plus’s daily plumbing checks. The shot in the middle shows Phyn’s analysis of your home’s water consumption. The app allows you to edit individual events if you determine that the algorithm got it wrong.

Click on any day of the month, and the app will show how many gallons were consumed on that day, the number of water-use events that were logged on that day, and Phyn’s best guess as to how much water each device in your home—toilet, shower, sink, outdoor spigot, washing machine, dishwasher, and so on—consumed. If you want even more detail, you can click on each device and drill down to see the time each water event occurred, how long it lasted, and how many gallons were consumed during that event.

If you wanted to help improve the accuracy of the Phyn Plus you could jot down every water-use event, compare it to Phyn’s log, and either report it as being accurate or re-categorize any event that Phyn gets wrong.

There’s a long list of devices for which you can log events, ranging from bidets to swamp coolers. Personally, I can’t imagine taking the time to do that level of micromanagement, but it is an option. I think most people will use Water Use Plus to identify water waste: over-watering your lawn or garden; taking excessively long showers; washing your clothes or dishes in smaller, more frequent loads, rather than fewer, bigger loads; and so on.

phyn plus Michael Brown / IDG

The electric Phyn Plus must of course be plugged into an outlet to function.

One other feature that the Flo by Moen offers that the Phyn Plus doesn’t is a means for setting water-consumption goals and measuring your performance against them. The Phyn app doesn’t suggest how much water your household should consume, either. Neither device incorporates sensors that detect water in places it shouldn’t be—around the base of a leaky toilet, for instance, or next to a malfunctioning washing machine.

phyn app leak detection Michael Brown / IDG

The Phyn app screenshot on the left is what you want to see most of the time. The middle screenshot shows the Phyn Plus identifying what might be a leak and asking you to help identify it. The shot on the right shows the conclusion of the interaction.

Because of that, neither the Flo nor the Phyn Plus smart valve will react immediately to a water leak, because they monitor patterns versus the physical presence of water. If you think you’d be better served by a product that reacts more quickly, take a look at the Sinopé Sedna leak-protection kit. The downside of the Sedna, of course, is that water could leak from a whole lot of other places than where you’ve placed sensors. A slow leak from a pipe inside your home’s wall, for instance, could cause a great deal of damage, and Sinopé’s sensor might never detect it.

Which is better: Phyn Plus or Flo by Moen?

It’s a close call, but I give the edge to the Phyn Plus smart water valve. I do like the way that Flo Technologies’ service will robo-call if the valve detects a possible leak, and the app’s water-usage goals might help you reduce your consumption of one of our most precious resources. But Phyn’s algorithms seem more sophisticated, its app is more elegant, and the company won’t make you pay for a subscription to get the full use of the product.

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