‘Smart’ Ovens May Turn On and Preheat Themselves Overnight, Which Is Totally Safe


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The June Oven is part of a new wave of kitchen gadgets promising to combine modern Silicon Valley technology with cutting-edge design. On paper, these products promise to deliver a new wave of efficient, simple device interaction. In reality, they often come with fine print attached. In the June’s case, the fine print may involve a tendency to turn on and preheat itself overnight.

Multiple June owners have complained about this happening to them when they were sleeping, according to The Verge. One owner with a Nest pointed at the oven caught the moment when the device snapped on at 4 AM and cranked itself up to 400 degrees. Two other owners have posted about similar incidents — one person actually left food in the oven that they’d cooked earlier, and woke up to discover it burned to a crisp.

According to June CEO Matt Van Horn, these problems can all be squarely chalked up to user error. “We’ve seen a few cases where customers have accidentally activated their oven preheat via a device, figure your cell phone,” he told The Verge.

So imagine if I were to be in the June app clicking recipes and I accidentally tapped something that preheated my oven, we’ve seen a few cases of that. It’s a really wonderful feature to be able to remotely preheat your oven, and it’s a completely new world that’s very exciting, and there’s things that happen…People have always joked about the butt-dial, like I didn’t mean to call you, and so these are just the types of things in software that we just have to be mindful of and build great features around to make our customers happy.

June has a problem here, whether the company wants to acknowledge it or not. Obviously it matters if the company’s oven has a flaw causing it to active and preheat without anyone ordering it to do so. But it matters just as much if customers are inadvertently performing this action without intending it. Unattended cooking accounts for a significant percentage of total house fires.

Smart Products Have a Knowledge Problem

Up until now, an oven has been an appliance that you started while you were standing in front of it. While it’s always been a good idea to keep flammable things away from an oven, every single one of us has, at one time or another, left something flammable near a stove. You’ve probably done so deliberately, especially if you’ve ever been dealing with a sudden rush of company or were short on counter space for food prep. The rule for managing the risk of an oven fire is to check if the oven is on before putting flammable things near it.

An oven that can turn itself on remotely is a different risk than an oven that can’t. There are many steps that June can (and possibly has) taken to reduce the potential threat, including building a good oven that isn’t overly prone to external hot spots. At the same time, however, it’s an oven — it’s going to have hot spots by definition. A human standing in front of the oven would automatically clear the area for any debris that might have built up around it. The oven does not “know” that it needs to perform this function. And people can die when computers make mistakes about what they know. Autonomous vehicles drive into stationary objects. Aircraft drive themselves into the ground, resisting every effort their pilots make to pull their noses skyward.

One important distinction between various autonomous vehicle problems or the 737 Max’s MCAS system, of course, is that the June Oven may not be doing this because of some baked-in AI capability. But this is less important than it might seem. What Matt Van Horn calls “user error,” I would call something else: Bad app design. And since June develops both its app and its oven, the responsibility for the issue lands in the same place.

If the problem is that end-users are mistakenly triggering the “Preheat” function in the app, the app needs to be designed in a manner that makes it much more difficult to tell the oven to preheat without being aware of doing so. It should not be possible to accidentally turn on the oven while looking through the app’s recipe book. June will distribute an app update in September that allows consumers to disable the remote preheat functionality, but allowing it will still be the default. Next year, the June Oven will be updated to recognize whether there is food in the device and will turn off after a set period of time if the end-user does not flag the oven to stay on.

The point in comparing the June Oven situation to the situation with autonomous cars or the 737 Max is not to pretend they are equivalent. It’s to highlight how integrating new capabilities into products requires manufacturers to think about how humans use them. A product that has the capability to upend common assumptions about how an appliance works needs to take particular care to guard against any risk of harm the change creates. Adding a little intelligence to a washer or dryer doesn’t increase the risk of harm, but anything that generates enough heat to potentially start a fire needs to be treated with care. The June’s growing pains are a small example of how companies and consumers are both going to need to adjust how they think about products if they want to change the ‘defaults’ people are used to living with.

The June doesn’t appear to be a very well-rated product in the first place — it’s a $600 toaster oven and the Wirecutter found its cooking subpar in comparison with the Cuisinart TOB-260N1. As added bonuses, the Cuisinart lacks Wi-Fi, has no integrated camera, and doesn’t appear to offer a recipe app that costs ~$50 per year to subscribe to.

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Huawei Reveals HarmonyOS, a Possible Replacement for Android


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Huawei has a new tool that might help it survive in the face of an oppressive US trade ban. After months of uncertainty, Huawei has unveiled its custom operating system, which it calls HarmonyOS. Previously known only as Hongmeng, HarmonyOS uses a completely new microkernel that is more dynamic and customizable than Linux. Huawei sees HarmonyOS as the future of wearables, IoT, laptops, and yes, smartphones. 

Huawei ramped up its efforts to make HarmonyOS a reality earlier this year when the US Commerce Department added the company to its “Entity List.” This list tracks individuals and companies that work against the interests of the US and prevents US firms from exporting technology to them without government approval. 

Many have accused the US government of using the Huawei ban as a political weapon in the ongoing Chinese trade war, but the motivation doesn’t matter — the effect is the same. Huawei can’t partner with Google to get the closed source parts of Android that everyone wants like the Play Store and Gmail. HarmonyOS gives Huawei a base on which to build new products that are not reliant on a US company. 

HarmonyOS is open source, but it is only localized for the Chinese market right now. Or rather, it will be when people can get it. Huawei has yet to show off the actual functionality of interface of the OS. Huawei is talking a big game when it comes to security. CEO Richard Yu says HarmonyOS is “more powerful and secure than Android.” Whether or not that is true is impossible to say right now. Huawei’s execution on security has been called into question in other contexts; the British government released a report on the company’s security practices earlier this year. While it found no evidence of a plot to introduce backdoors or other spyware into British telecommunications services, Huawei was criticized for poor source code security and an inability to guarantee that the code running on devices is the code it intended to load on them. 

Huawei claims HarmonyOS’ microkernel has only one-thousandth the code present in the Linux kernel. It’s unified multi-device IDE also means the same underlying code can run on many different devices. So, device makers wouldn’t have to modify code for each hardware configuration. It’s more like Google’s experimental Fuchsia OS than it is like Android. HarmonyOS also lacks Android app compatibility, but the company says it will be simple for developers to modify their code for HarmonyOS. 

The first HarmonyOS devices will be TVs, and they’ll be available later this year. Huawei says it will expand the use of HarmonyOS gradually, but it’s planning to keep using Android on phones for now. However, Yu claims the company will be able to switch over the HarmonyOS in a matter of days if it becomes impossible to use Android.

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Microsoft: Russian Hackers Targeted Companies Through IoT Hardware


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The ever-growing network of the internet of things (IoT) can make life more convenient by automating your home and delivering data wherever you are. However, all those internet-connected devices can also provide a massive attack surface for online criminals. We’ve already seen malware that targets IoT hardware, but now Microsoft says it has uncovered a coordinated hacking campaign focused on government, political groups, and charities via devices like printers and VoIP phones. 

Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center says a new wave of IoT hacks began in April of this year. It points the finger at a group known as Fancy Bear or Strontium, which is best known as the perpetrator of high-profile hacks supporting the Russian government. Naturally, Fancy Bear is linked to Russian military intelligence (GRU). Fancy Bear stole files from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 — those documents later appeared on Wikileaks, helping to damage Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Later, it conducted the NotPetya ransomware attack on Ukraine and other countries. 

The new hacking operation takes aim at popular internet of things devices because they often escape normal security scrutiny. According to Microsoft, the hackers went after three popular devices: a VOIP phone, an office printer, and a video decoder. In many cases, these devices connect to the internet but have a default password or outdated security patches. That makes them an ideal entry point for an attacker to gain access to a larger network. From there, Fancy Bear used access to steal high-value data from other computers. 

Don’t pick up — it’s the hackers.

Microsoft only spotted this attack because it has insights into so many corporate networks via Windows software. It detected around 1,400 intrusions via IoT hardware. About 20 percent of the infiltrations have been at non-government organizations, think tanks, and other political organizations. The remaining 80 percent focused on government, military, technology firms, and other entities. The campaign even targeted Olympic organizing committees and anti-doping agencies, both of which have been problems for Russian interests. 

Microsoft offers a raft of suggestions for improving IoT security, which starts with securing approval before plugging in new IoT devices. Unauthorized hardware can circumvent many security measures on a network, as NASA found out recently. Microsoft also suggests setting up secure networks specifically for IoT hardware and monitoring the connections for unusual activity. You can see the full list in Microsoft’s blog post. 

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