TIME Drones

Buyer’s Guide: How to Pick Your First Drone

DJI Phantom Drone
A Phantom drone buzzes above Gaviota State Beach at sunset on November 26, 2014, in Santa Barbara, California. George Rose—Getty Images

Find the quadcopter that's right for you

It’s a good bet 2014 will be remembered as the year drones really took off.

I’m not talking about the controversial military kind, but rather the hobbyist-friendly quadcopters you’ve probably seen buzzing over beaches, parks, races and other open-sky areas.

Why the sudden ubiquity of these flying machines? Simple: It’s the cheapest first-class flight you can book, and the views are incredible. Companies like 3DRobotics, DJI, Parrot, and Syma have introduced a wide range of consumer-friendly quads, touting anyone-can-fly simplicity, high-resolution onboard cameras, and impulse-buy prices.

As sales soared like so many drones, YouTube overflowed with spectacular eye-in-the-sky video clips — the kind you’d normally expect to see from big-budget filmmakers with professional helicopter crews. (And when was the last time a helicopter pilot dared to venture inside a fireworks display?) These new toys afford us the freedom to go where birds go, with much of the same exhilarating speed and maneuverability.

For anyone interested in taking to the skies, the only challenge is deciding which drone to buy. Peruse your local or online hobby shop and you’re likely to find dozens of different models on display, with no clear indication of what’s best for different demographics.

Fortunately, I’ve flown a ton of them this year; here are my recommendations:

For Kids

Let’s see, a fast-moving flying object with sharp, spinning blades — what could possibly go wrong? Um, everything?

Drones are dangerous, no doubt about it, so adult supervision is a must for any young flyer. As for the drone itself, you’ll want something inexpensive, yet sturdy, with blade guards that can protect walls, pets, siblings, and other hazards against less-coordinated pilots.

Parrot’s $100 Rolling Spider is an indoors-friendly (arguably indoors-only) mini-drone with big, removable plastic wheels. Installed, they serve dual functions: protection and, true to its name, rolling. The Spider can “drive” across the floor, up walls, and even along ceilings. Just note that kids will need a smartphone or tablet to fly the drone, snap photos (and only photos — this model doesn’t do video), perform tricks, and so on.

For a more traditional RC experience, look to the outdoor-ready Syma X5C, which comes with a dual-stick controller and offers much better range. It’s a big, fast, sturdy flier, with bright downward-facing LEDs to help track it from below. Plus, it comes with a high-def camera that can shoot video. Perhaps most amazingly, it’s routinely available on Amazon and from hobby stores for around $60.

First-Time Adults

Truth be told, the aforementioned Syma X5C offers a great experience for grown-ups, too: lots of features, forgiving design, and a low enough price tag that it’s not a tragedy if you plow it into a tree. Likewise, check out the Hubsan X4 H107 series, which packs amazing speed and maneuverability into tough, palm-size plastic shells. The higher-end H107C HD sells for around $80 and includes a high-def, front-facing camera.

For something a little more sophisticated, to say nothing of stylish, Parrot’s colorful new Bebop features a 180-degree fisheye camera, automatic flight-stabilization, and built-in GPS that can guide the drone right back to your launch site in case it gets out of range (or sight). Plus, it can fly for about 12 minutes on a charge, versus the typical 7-8 minutes. Parrot’s original AR.Drone pretty much started the quadcopter craze, and this third-generation model proves the company knows how to engineer serious flying fun.

HOBBYISTS

Want to do more than just see what your neighborhood looks like from 100 feet up? You’ll need to take a leap into the hobbyist realm of quadcopters — and the place to start is DJI. The company is to drone enthusiasts what Gibson is to guitar players; its Phantom series is responsible for many, if not most, of the aforementioned YouTube vids (including the fireworks one). If there’s a poster child for drone popularity in 2014, it’s the DJI Phantom.

The company’s latest, the Phantom 2 Vision+, retains the same friendly, non-intimidating white design as the original Phantom FC40, but adds a 25-minute battery and gimbal-stabilized, GoPro-style camera you can actually control from the remote. And not only does it have return-to-home GPS features, you can actually plot out flight paths for it using your tablet. Only the price leaves you feeling grounded: The Vision+ sells for $1,299.

Filmmakers

“Lights! Camera! Drone!” Don’t laugh; that’s exactly what a budding J.J. Abrams might call out the next time he shoots an aerial scene. Unlike camera-equipped airplanes, drones don’t need to fly in a straight line. Unlike helicopters, they can turn on a dime and skate right next to dangerous obstacles.

And thanks to the latest technology, the drone can do some of the heavy lifting, piloting-wise. 3DRobotics’ IRIS+ is the first consumer-oriented drone that can follow — from above! — a target carrying a paired smartphone. So for your next chase scene, you no longer have to worry whether the cameraman got the shot — especially if you’re the cameraman and you’re in the shot. Not bad for a $750 drone with up to 22 minutes of flight time and a gimbal-stabilized camera.

With so many new ways to take the skies and capture what’s up there, we’ve never been closer to wiping out bird-envy. In your face, feathered friends!

TIME Security

Why Your Passwords Are Easy To Hack

Passwords
Symbol of a secure website, https, on a computer screen on August 08, 2014, in Berlin, Germany. Thomas Trutschel—Photothek via Getty Images

If you can remember it, someone else can figure it out

Social media accounts, banking, online shopping. We all have to keep more passwords than we can count, and that makes it tempting to use passwords that are easy to remember.

But if you have an easy-to-remember password, it’s also simple enough for hackers to figure out what it is, says Emmanuel Schalit, CEO of password management service Dashlane.

“The only solution that can resist the type of attacks that hackers have been able to mount is to have really, really random passwords which are by definition impossible to remember,” he says.

If you don’t believe him, just look at the math. According to Schalit, Dashlane has close to 3 million users, 75% of whom are from the U.S. Shallot says research has shown people only have the ability to remember up to 10 passwords, though users with incredible memories (or if their passwords are very simple) could recall up to 20.

But it’s not just about remembering the passwords, says Schalit, it’s about remembering which one goes with which website. And here’s the kicker: Dashlane users average between 50 and 60 different online accounts each. How many do you have?

Password Patterns: Predictable or Foolproof?

If you’re going to try to remember your 50-plus passwords but still make them unique, you might be tempted to have some sort of a pattern, like using the website’s name in your password, for example. Bad move, says Schalit, because cyber crooks are already onto you. That was a solution that could have worked two or three years ago, he says, but today it’s something hackers routinely crack.

“They actually built specialized hardware designed just for that,” he says. “They can almost instantly guess what variations you’ve come up with for other websites and test that very, very quickly.”

Another password pattern people try is using the first letter of words in a sentence or from favorite song lyrics. Again, says Schalit, this pattern is likely to fail because you’ll use that password on more than one site — which is a very dangerous thing to do.

Schalit likens passwords to keys to enter your digital home. When you use a password for a website, you are giving that key to whomever runs that website — and if they get hacked or aren’t trustworthy, you’re potentially giving it to everyone else on the web, too. But if that particular key opens other locks (or, more accurately, is used as a password on other websites), you’re letting anyone — hackers, rogue employees of the first website — run rampant in your digital home. Also, depending on how sites collect your information and maintain security, people could even use your information to gain access to your email, which could be devastating.

The Solution: Forget Your Password

While it may seem counter-intuitive, the best way to remember your passwords is to create ones that you’re going to forget. Random strings of characters are the hardest thing for hackers to crack, and are the best way to have a different password on every website. “Unfortunately in today’s world, given the number of devices and the number of accounts we have, you need a system and a tool to do that,” says Schalit.

In fairness to him, he did not recommend his company’s service for this story, but I will. Dashlane, like its competitors 1Password and LastPass, collects and locks down users’ passwords in an encrypted database accessible by one password (or in the case of their iOS apps, a fingerprint on the Touch ID scanner). All three are great for managing not just the dozens of logins that most users have these days, but they work across multiple devices, too.

1Password is a great solution for Apple users, as it integrates with the Safari browser and has a well-designed iOS app. LastPass, meanwhile, is a little better for tech-savvy users, especially if they work across multiple platforms — it even has a Blackberry app.

But all three tools (including Dashlane) run on Windows, Android, and Mac/iOS and include password auditing tools that are key for untangling this mess. These tools will look at your password usage across your various accounts, and not only tell you when you’ve used the same password twice, but also when they are overly simple and in-secure. And coming soon, Dashlane has a password changing tool which will allow users to swap out their tired old login information with new, secure strings with only a click. People are lining up to try it out, with more than 50,000 users signed for when it launches soon.

TIME cybersecurity

Obama: Sony Response to Hack Sets Bad Precedent

President Obama Holds End-Of-Year News Conference At The White House
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington D.C. Alex Wong—Getty Images

"All of us have to adapt to the possibility of cyber attacks"

President Obama said he does not believe the Sony hack is an act of war, defending his position that Sony made a mistake in pulling The Interview.

“I don’t think [the hack] was an act of war. I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously,” Obama said during CNN’s State of the Union, which aired Sunday.

Obama said in an earlier press conference Friday that he wished Sony Pictures, which suffered a devastating hack last month, had consulted him before deciding to cancel the film’s slated release. The fictional comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco is about an assassination attempt on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Terror threats surfaced last week targeting theaters who planned to screen the movie.

The FBI said on Friday there was enough intelligence to conclude the North Korean government was responsible for the hack, which North Korea has continued to deny.

Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton appeared on CNN shortly after Obama’s Friday statement, and said that Obama and the public “are mistaken as to what actually happened.” Lynton said that The Interview was pulled because many major theater chains decided not to show the film.

In Sunday’s interview, Obama reinforced his sympathy for Sony’s cancellation of the film for practical reasons, but stressed again that Sony had nonetheless set a precedence for self-censorship in several sectors.

“What happens if in fact there’s a breach in CNNs cyberspace?” Obama said during the broadcast. “Are we going to suddenly say, ‘Well, we better not report on North Korea?’ So the key here is not to suggest that Sony was a bad actor. It’s making a broader point that all of us have to adapt to the possibility of cyber attacks.”

[CNN]

TIME Social Networking

Reddit to Award Lottery Fund to 950,000 Lucky Users

Flush with $50 million in capital, the social media site finds a novel way to give back

Reddit announced new details of a lottery fund that will siphon off one-tenth of the company’s share value and randomly distribute it to roughly 950,000 lucky users, in a bid to encourage contributions to the media-sharing website.

“To celebrate all of you and your contributions, we plan to give away reddit notes in a random lottery,” the company announced in an official blog post on Friday. Reddit relies on users to cull the web for interesting content and submit it to the wider community for an “up” or “down” vote, thereby driving stories of general interest to the top of the site.

Reddit first announced the lottery payout idea in September 2014, shortly after it closed a $50 million round of fundraising. Starting in fall of 2015, Reddit plans to notify the winning users to set up an online wallet, into which the company will deposit a “Reddit Note,” which users will be able to trade on an open exchange.

TIME Media

Sony Chief Says ‘We Have Not Caved’ on The Interview

"We have not given up," Michael Lynton said after his studio cancelled the movie under pressure

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended his company’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview on Friday, even as the company refused to rule out releasing the movie in other ways.

Lynton said Sony’s decision was prompted by movie theaters opting not to show the film after hackers, who U.S. officials believe are linked to North Korea and who have wreaked havoc on the studio by disclosing emails and other company information, threatened 9/11-style attacks. Moments earlier, President Barack Obama had called the move to cancel the Christmas Day release a “mistake.”

“The unfortunate part is in this instance the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton said on CNN. “When it came to the crucial moment… the movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time. We were completely surprised by it.”

Read more: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s film critic did

Sony said in a statement later Friday that its decision was only about the Christmas Day release.

“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform,” the studio said. “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

Obama told reporters he wished Sony had reached out to him before canceling the film’s Christmas day release. It depicts a fictional assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” he said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

Lynton denied the studio had given into the hackers’ threats.

“We have not caved. We have not given up,” he said. “We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Read next: Obama Says Sony “Made a Mistake” Pulling ‘The Interview’

TIME Companies

Uber Is Trying to Patent Its Surge Pricing Technology

The practice recently fueled criticism when users in Sydney faced rising prices as they tried to flee the area of a hostage crisis

The fast-growing ride-sharing service Uber wants to patent a pricing technology that has come under fire from critics who accuse the company of price gouging.

The technology, which Uber calls “surge pricing,” is among at least 13 patent applications the company has filed with the U.S. patent office, which typically become public 18 months after filing, Bloomberg reports. So far, most of the applications have been initially rejected for “obviousness” or because they were otherwise ineligible, but there’s been no decision yet on the surge pricing technology.

Read more: This is how Uber’s surge pricing works

The company, which was founded in San Francisco in 2009 and has already expanded to more than 50 countries, has defended the practice, which adjusts prices in real time based on the amount of demand in the area.

But Uber, already under pressure in jurisdictions around the world over regulatory and safety concerns, drew renewed criticism when the service raised prices in Sydney earlier this week as users were trying to leave the area around a hostage crisis.

[Bloomberg]

TIME White House

Obama Says Sony ‘Made a Mistake’ Pulling The Interview

"That’s not who we are," Obama said

President Barack Obama said Friday that Sony “made a mistake” in pulling its film The Interview from distribution following a cyberattack that American officials have linked to North Korea.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama confirmed the FBI’s assessment that North Korea was behind the attack. He said he wished the studio had reached out to him before canceling the film’s release, and that he fears it sets a bad precedent for the nation.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

“That’s not who we are,” Obama added, noting that the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing did not deter runners from running this year. “That’s not what America’s about.”

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, appearing on CNN shortly after Obama spoke, defended the studio. “We have not caved,” he said. “We have not given up. We have persevered and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Obama promised that the United States would respond “proportionally” to the attack, but would not detail those actions publicly.

“We will respond,” he said. We will respond proportionally, and we will respond at a place and time that we choose.”

Read more: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

TIME Mobile

T-Mobile to Pay $90 Million to Settle Cramming Case

T-Mobile
An employee sets up a new Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy 3 smartphone for a customer at a T-Mobile US Inc. retail store in Torrance, California, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wireless carrier had originally called FTC lawsuit "unfounded"

T-Mobile has agreed to pay at least $67.5 million in customer refunds to settle claims that its customers were the victims of cramming, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday. Cramming is a once-common tactic in the telecom industry through which third parties hide unwanted charges for things like horoscopes and love tips in customers’ wireless bills.

In addition to the refunds, T-Mobile will pay $18 million in fines and penalties to attorneys general in every state and Washington D.C., as well as a $4.5 million fine to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more.”

The FTC originally filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile over cramming claims in July. At the time, T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who has staked the company’s reputation on being more fair to customers than rival wireless carriers, called the allegations “unfounded and without merit.” T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

T-Mobile will be required to contact all current and former customers who had unwanted charges crammed into their bills and offer them refunds. The company will also have to get customers’ consent before putting third-party charges on their bills in the future.

The T-Mobile case is the latest in a series of cramming settlements that the FTC has brokered. AT&T agreed to pay $105 million in refunds and fines for cramming charges in October.

TIME intelligence

FBI Accuses North Korea in Sony Hack

North Korean leader Kim inspects the Artillery Company under the KPA Unit 963, in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Artillery Company under the Korean People's Army Unit 963 in Pyongyang on Dec. 2, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

Fallout led Sony to pull The Interview

The FBI on Friday accused the North Korean government of being behind the devastating hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that eventually prompted it to cancel the release of The Interview, the first formal statement that the U.S. government has concluded the isolated nation is responsible for the cyberattack.

“The FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible,” the bureau said in a statement. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart.”

President Barack Obama, asked Friday about Sony’s decision to pull The Interview, said: “Yes, I think they made a mistake”

The FBI said it determined North Korea was responsible based on an analysis of the malware involved and its similarities to previous attacks the U.S. government has attribute to North Korean-allied hackers, including an assault on South Korean banks and media outlets in 2013. These include “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,” the FBI said in its statement. According to the FBI, the malware used in the attack communicated with known North Korean computers. The FBI didn’t furnish evidence to back its assertion that North Korea was involved. North Korea has denied being behind the hack.

Read more: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

Bureau investigators have been working for weeks with Sony executives and private security experts to investigate the scale and origins of the attack. For Sony, the hack has been devastating: It crippled the studio’s infrastructure, leaked sensitive documents about tens of thousands of employees and contractors, embarrassed executives and resulted in the studio’s decision to pull, The Interview, a movie whose plot centers around the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film incensed the North Korean government.

Read more: 4 things every single person can learn from the Sony hack

The FBI did not say whether the attack was coordinated from within North Korea or through allies outside the hermit kingdom. The FBI said it could only provide limited information to the public to protect its sources and methods.

President Barack Obama is expected to address the incident on Friday afternoon in a White House news conference. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was treating the incident as a “serious national security matter.”

White House officials have convened daily meetings to discuss the attack and to devise options for a “proportional response,” Earnest said, not ruling out an American counter-attack on North Korean systems.

“The FBI’s announcement that North Korea is responsible for the attack on Sony Pictures is confirmation of what we suspected to be the case: that cyber terrorists, bent on wreaking havoc, have violated a major company to steal personal information, company secrets and threaten the American public,” Chris Dodd, who heads the trade group Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement. “It is a despicable, criminal act.”

See the full FBI statement:

Today, the FBI would like to provide an update on the status of our investigation into the cyber attack targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). In late November, SPE confirmed that it was the victim of a cyber attack that destroyed systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data. A group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against SPE, its employees, and theaters that distribute its movies.

The FBI has determined that the intrusion into SPE’s network consisted of the deployment of destructive malware and the theft of proprietary information as well as employees’ personally identifiable information and confidential communications. The attacks also rendered thousands of SPE’s computers inoperable, forced SPE to take its entire computer network offline, and significantly disrupted the company’s business operations.

After discovering the intrusion into its network, SPE requested the FBI’s assistance. Since then, the FBI has been working closely with the company throughout the investigation. Sony has been a great partner in the investigation, and continues to work closely with the FBI. Sony reported this incident within hours, which is what the FBI hopes all companies will do when facing a cyber attack. Sony’s quick reporting facilitated the investigators’ ability to do their jobs, and ultimately to identify the source of these attacks.

As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions. While the need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information, our conclusion is based, in part, on the following:

· Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.

· The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. Government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

· Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.

We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States. Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt – whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise – to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.

The FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential business information. Further, the FBI will continue to work closely with multiple departments and agencies as well as with domestic, foreign, and private sector partners who have played a critical role in our ability to trace this and other cyber threats to their source. Working together, the FBI will identify, pursue, and impose costs and consequences on individuals, groups, or nation states who use cyber means to threaten the United States or U.S. interests.

TIME Social Networking

This Is Why You Just Lost a Bunch of Instagram Followers

Instagram
The Instagram logo is displayed on a smartphone on December 20, 2012 in Paris. Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images

Instagram eliminates millions of fake accounts in a matter of hours

Judgement Day came for millions of fake Instagram accounts this week in a crackdown so widespread it’s been dubbed the “Instagram Rapture.”

The mass drop in Instagram followers comes as the platform looks to rid itself of fake accounts, which some users purchase en masse to inflate their apparent follower count.

Instagram’s official profile took the biggest hit in followers, plummeting by 18.9 million accounts in a single day, according to data collected by Zach Allia, a web developer who created a handy graphic of the reckoning. Some of the most followed celebrities on Instagram took the next biggest hits. Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Beyonce lost a following of 3.5 million, 1.3 million and 831,000 respectively. The rapper Mase woke up to find his 1.6 million followers had dwindled to 100,000, prompting him to delete his account for good, Business Insider reports.

An Instagram spokesperson told the New York Times that the company’s recently publicized tally of 300 million active monthly users excluded the fake accounts now being purged.

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