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Cat vs best and worst robot vacuum cleaners  – TechCrunch

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If you’ve flirted with the idea of buying a robot vacuum you may also have stepped back from the brink in unfolding horror at the alphabetic soup of branded discs popping into view. Consumer choice sounds like a great idea until you’ve tried to get a handle on the handle-less vacuum space.

Amazon offers an A to Z linklist of “top brands” that’s only a handful of letters short of a full alphabetic set. The horror.

What awaits the unseasoned robot vacuum buyer as they resign themselves to hours of online research to try to inform — or, well, form — a purchase decision is a seeming endless permutation of robot vac reviews and round-ups.

Unfortunately there are just so many brands in play that all these reviews tend to act as fuel, feeding a growing black hole of indecision that sucks away at your precious spare time, demanding you spend more and more of it reading about robots that suck (when you could, let’s be frank, be getting on with the vacuuming task yourself) — only to come up for air each time even less convinced that buying a robot dirtbag is at all a good idea.

Reader, I know, because I fell into this hole. And it was hellish. So in the spirit of trying to prevent anyone else falling prey to convenience-based indecision I am — apologies in advance — adding to the pile of existing literature about robot vacuums with a short comparative account that (hopefully) helps cut through some of the chaff to the dirt-pulling chase.

Here’s the bottom line: Budget robot vacuums that lack navigational smarts are simply not worth your money, or indeed your time.

Yes, that’s despite the fact they are still actually expensive vacuum cleaners.

Basically these models entail overpaying for a vacuum cleaner that’s so poor you’ll still have to do most of the job yourself (i.e. with a non-robotic vacuum cleaner).

It’s the very worst kind of badly applied robotics.

Abandon hope of getting anything worth your money at the bottom end of the heap. I know this because, alas, I tried — opting, finally and foolishly (but, in my defence, at a point of near desperation after sifting so much virtual chaff the whole enterprise seemed to have gained lottery odds of success and I frankly just wanted my spare time back), for a model sold by a well-known local retailer.

It was a budget option but I assumed — or, well, hoped — the retailer had done its homework and picked a better-than-average choice. Or at least something that, y’know, could suck dust.

The brand in question (Rowenta) sat alongside the better known (and a bit more expensive) iRobot on the shop shelf. Surely that must count for something? I imagined wildly. Reader, that logic is a trap.

I can’t comment on the comparative performance of iRobot’s bots, which I have not personally tested, but I do not hesitate to compare a €180 (~$200) Rowenta-branded robot vacuum to a very expensive cat toy.

This robot vacuum was spectacularly successful at entertaining the cat — presumably on account of its dumb disposition, bouncing stupidly off of furniture owing to a total lack of navigational smarts. (Headbutting is a pretty big clue to how stupid a robot it is, as it’s never a stand-in for intelligence even when encountered in human form.)

Even more tantalizingly, from the cat’s point of view, the bot featured two white and whisker-like side brushes that protrude and spin at paw-tempting distance. In short: Pure robotic catnip.

The cat did not stop attacking the bot’s whiskers the whole time it was in operation. That certainly added to the obstacles getting in its way. But the more existential problem was it wasn’t sucking very much at all.

At the end of its first concluded ‘clean’, after it somehow managed to lurch its way back to first bump and finally hump its charging hub, I extracted the bin and had to laugh at the modest sized furball within. I’ve found larger clumps of dust gathering themselves in corners. So: Full marks for cat-based entertainment but as a vacuum cleaner it was horrible.

At this point I did what every sensible customer does when confronted with an abject lemon: Returned it for a full refund. And that, reader, might have been that for me and the cat and robot vacs. Who can be bothered to waste so much money and time for what appeared laughably incremental convenience? Even with a steady supply of cat fur to contend with.

But as luck would have it a Roborock representative emailed to ask if I would like to review their latest top-of-the-range model — which, at €549, does clock in at the opposite end of the price scale; ~3x the pitiful Rowenta. So of course I jumped at the chance to give the category a second spin — to see if a smarter device could impress me and not just tickle the cat’s fancy.

Clearly the price difference here, at the top vs the bottom of the range, is substantial. And yet, if you bought a car that was 3x times cheaper than a Ferrari you’d still expect not just that the wheels stay on but that it can actually get you somewhere, in good time and do so without making you horribly car sick.

Turns out buyers of robot vacuums need to tread far more carefully.

Here comes the bookending top-line conclusion: Robot vacuums are amazing. A modern convenience marvel. But — and it’s a big one — only if you’re willing to shell out serious cash to get a device that actually does the job intended.

Roborock S6: It’s a beast at gobbling your furry friend’s dander

Comparing the Roborock S6 and the Rowenta Smart Force Essential Aqua RR6971WH (to give it its full and equally terrible name) is like comparing a high-end electric car with a wind-up kid’s toy.

Where the latter product was so penny-pinching the company hadn’t even paid to include in the box a user manual that contained actual words — opting, we must assume, to save on translation costs by producing a comic packed with inscrutable graphics and bizarro don’t do diagrams which only served to cement the fast-cooling buyer’s conviction they’d been sold a total lemon — the Roborock’s box contains a well written paper manual that contains words and clearly labeled diagrams. What a luxury!

At the same time there’s not really that much you need to grok to get your head around operating the Roborock. After a first pass to familiarize yourself with its various functions it’s delightfully easy to use. It will even produce periodic vocal updates — such as telling you it’s done cleaning and is going back to base. (Presumably in case you start to worry it’s gone astray under the bed. Or that quiet industry is a front for brewing robotic rebellion against indentured human servitude.)

One button starts a full clean — and this does mean full thanks to on-board laser navigation that allows the bot to map the rooms in real-time. This means you get methodical passes, minimal headbutting and only occasional spots missed. (Another button will do a spot clean if the S6 does miss something or there’s a fresh spill that needs tidying — you just lift the bot to where you want it and hit the appropriate spot.)

There is an app too, if you want to access extra features like being able to tell it to go clean a specific room, schedule cleans or set no-go zones. But, equally delightfully, there’s no absolute need to hook the bot to your wi-fi just to get it to do its primary job. All core features work without the faff of having to connect it to the Internet — nor indeed the worry of who might get access to your room-mapping data. From a privacy point of view this wi-fi-less app-free operation is a major plus.

In a small apartment with hard flooring the only necessary prep is a quick check to clear stuff like charging cables and stray socks off the floor. You can of course park dining chairs on the table to offer the bot a cleaner sweep. Though I found the navigation pretty adept at circling chair legs. Sadly the unit is a little too tall to make it under the sofa.

The S6 includes an integrated mopping function, which works incredibly well on lino-style hard flooring (but won’t be any use if you only have carpets). To mop you fill the water tank attachment; velcro-fix a dampened mop cloth to the bottom; and slide-clip the whole unit under the bot’s rear. Then you hit the go button and it’ll vacuum and mop in the same pass.

In my small apartment the S6 had no trouble doing a full floor clean in under an hour, without needing to return to base to recharge in the middle. (Roborock says the S6 will drive for up to three hours on a single charge.)

It also did not seem to get confused by relatively dark flooring in my apartment — which some reviews had suggested can cause headaches for robot vacuums by confusing their cliff sensors.

After that first clean I popped the lid to check on the contents of the S6’s transparent lint bin — finding an impressive quantity of dusty fuzz neatly wadded therein. This was really just robot vacuum porn, though; the gleaming floors spoke for themselves on the quality of the clean.

The level of dust gobbled by the S6 vs the Rowenta underlines the quality difference between the bottom and top end of the robot vacuum category.

So where the latter’s plastic carapace immediately became a magnet for all the room dust it had kicked up but spectacularly failed to suck, the S6’s gleaming white shell has stayed remarkably lint-free, acquiring only a minimal smattering of cat hairs over several days of operation — while the floors it’s worked have been left visibly dust- and fur-free. (At least until the cat got to work dirtying them again.)

Higher suction power, better brushes and a higher quality integrated filter appear to make all the difference. The S6 also does a much better cleaning job a lot more quietly. Roborock claims it’s 50% quieter than the prior model (the S5) and touts it as its quietest robot vacuum yet.

It’s not super silent but is quiet enough when cleaning hard floors not to cause a major disturbance if you’re working or watching something in the same room. Though the novelty can certainly be distracting.

Even the look of the S6 exudes robotic smarts — with its raised laser-housing bump resembling a glowing orange cylonic eye-slot.

Although I was surprised, at first glance, by the single, rather feeble looking side brush vs the firm pair the Rowenta had fixed to its undercarriage. But again the S6’s tool is smartly applied — stepping up and down speed depending on what the bot’s tackling. I found it could miss the odd bit of lint or debris such as cat litter but when it did these specs stood out as the exception on an otherwise clean floor.

It’s also true that the cat did stick its paw in again to try attacking the S6’s single spinning brush. But these attacks were fewer and a lot less fervent than vs the Rowenta, as if the bot’s more deliberate navigation commanded greater respect and/or a more considered ambush. So it appears that even to a feline eye the premium S6 looks a lot less like a dumb toy.

Cat plots another ambush while the S6 works the floor

On a practical front, the S6’s lint bin has a capacity of 480ml. Roborock suggests cleaning it out weekly (assuming you’re using the bot every week), as well as washing the integrated dust filter (it supplies a spare in the box so you can switch one out to clean it and have enough time for it to fully dry before rotating it back into use).

If you use the mopping function the supplied reusable mop cloths do need washing afterwards too (Roborock also includes a few disposable alternatives in the box but that seems a pretty wasteful option when it’s easy enough to stick a reusable cloth in with a load of laundry or give it a quick wash yourself). So if you’re chasing a fully automated, robot-powered, end-to-cleaning-chores dream be warned there’s still a little human elbow grease required to keep everything running smoothly.

Still, there’s no doubt a top-of-the-range robot vacuum like the S6 will save you time cleaning.

If you can justify the not inconsiderable cost involved in buying this extra time by shelling out for a premium robot vacuum that’s smart enough to clean effectively all that’s left to figure out is how to spend your time windfall wisely — resisting the temptation to just put your feet up and watch the clever little robot at work.

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Feds list the top 30 most-exploited vulnerabilities. Many are years old

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Government officials in the US, UK, and Australia are urging public- and private-sector organizations to secure their networks by ensuring firewalls, VPNs, and other network-perimeter devices are patched against the most widespread exploits.

In a joint advisory published Wednesday, the US FBI and CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency), the Australian Cyber Security Center, and the UK’s National Cyber Security Center listed the top 30 or so most-exploited vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities reside in a host of devices or software marketed by the likes of Citrix, Pulse Secure, Microsoft, and Fortinet.

“Cyber actors continue to exploit publicly known—and often dated—software vulnerabilities against broad target sets, including public and private sector organizations worldwide,” the advisory stated. “However, entities worldwide can mitigate the vulnerabilities listed in this report by applying the available patches to their systems and implementing a centralized patch management system.”

What, me patch?

Four of the most-targeted vulnerabilities last year resided in VPNs, cloud-based services, and other devices that allow people to remotely access employer networks. Despite the explosion in work-from-home employees driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, many VPN gateway devices remained unpatched during 2020.

Discovery dates of the top 4 vulnerabilities ranged from 2018 to 2020, an indication of how common it is for many organizations using the affected devices to withhold applying security patches. The security flaws include CVE-2019-19781, a remote code-execution bug in Citrix’s application delivery controller (which customers use to perform load balancing of inbound application traffic); CVE 2019-11510, which allows attackers to remotely read sensitive files stored by the Pulse Secure Pulse Connect Secure VPN; CVE 2018-13379, a path-traversal weakness in VPNs made by Fortinet; and CVE 2020-5902, a code-execution vulnerability in the BIG-IP advanced delivery controller made by F5.

The top 12 flaws are:

Vendor CVE Type
Citrix CVE-2019-19781 arbitrary code execution
Pulse CVE 2019-11510 arbitrary file reading
Fortinet CVE 2018-13379 path traversal
F5- Big IP CVE 2020-5902 remote code execution (RCE)
MobileIron CVE 2020-15505 RCE
Microsoft CVE-2017-11882 RCE
Atlassian CVE-2019-11580 RCE
Drupal CVE-2018-7600 RCE
Telerik CVE 2019-18935 RCE
Microsoft CVE-2019-0604 RCE
Microsoft CVE-2020-0787 elevation of privilege
Netlogon CVE-2020-1472 elevation of privilege

Breaching the gate

The vulnerabilities—all of which have received patches from vendors—have provided the opening vector from an untold number of serious intrusions. For instance, according to an advisory the US government issued in April, hackers working for the Russian government routinely exploited CVE-2018-13379, CVE-2019-11510, and CVE-2019-19781.

That same month, word emerged that a different set of hackers was also exploiting CVE-2018-13379. In one case, the hackers allowed ransomware operators to seize control of two production facilities belonging to a European manufacturer.

Wednesday’s advisory went on to say:

CISA, ACSC, the NCSC, and FBI assess that public and private organizations worldwide remain vulnerable to compromise from the exploitation of these CVEs. Malicious cyber actors will most likely continue to use older known vulnerabilities, such as CVE-2017-11882 affecting Microsoft Office, as long as they remain effective and systems remain unpatched. Adversaries’ use of known vulnerabilities complicates attribution, reduces costs, and minimizes risk because they are not investing in developing a zero-day exploit for their exclusive use, which they risk losing if it becomes known.

The officials also listed 13 vulnerabilities discovered this year that are also being exploited in large numbers. The vulnerabilities are:

  • Microsoft Exchange: CVE-2021-26855, CVE-2021-26857, CVE-2021-26858, and CVE2021-27065
  • Pulse Secure: CVE-2021-22893, CVE-2021-22894, CVE-2021-22899, and CVE-2021-22900
  • Accellion: CVE-2021-27101, CVE-2021-27102, CVE-2021-27103, CVE-2021-27104
  • VMware: CVE-2021-21985

The advisory provides technical details for each vulnerability, mitigation guidance, and indicators of compromise to help organizations determine if they’re vulnerable or have been hacked. The advisory also provides guidance for locking down systems.

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Apple, AMD, and Intel shift priorities as chip shortages continue

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Enlarge / Sure, it’s cheaply produced clip art… but it’s also a disturbingly accurate picture of the current state of supply and demand in the semiconductor product market.

2021’s infamous chip shortages aren’t only affecting automakers. In a post-earnings conference call Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “We’ll do everything we can to mitigate whatever circumstances we’re dealt”—a statement that likely means the company will ration its chip supplies, prioritizing the most profitable and in-demand items such as iPhones and AirPods, at the expense of less profitable and lower-demand items.

CFRA analyst Angelo Zino told Reuters that Cook’s somewhat cryptic statement “largely reflects the timing of new product releases”—specifically, new iPhone releases in September. Counterpoint Research Director Jeff Fieldhack speculates from the flip side of the same coin, saying the company will likely direct supply chain “pain” to its least lucrative products. “Assuming Apple prioritizes the iPhone 12 family, it probably affects iPads, Macs, and older iPhones more,” Fieldhack said.

Processor manufacturer AMD has also been carefully managing its supply chain in response to pandemic-induced shortages. With flagship products that finally outperform rival Intel’s, AMD is focusing on the more profitable high end of the market while leaving the economy segment—until a few years ago, its strongest performer—to Intel. “We’re focusing on the most strategic segments of the PC market,” CEO Lisa Su told investors on a conference call.

Apple and AMD are two of semiconductor foundry TSMC’s largest customers—but the problem isn’t limited to TSMC. Intel, which operates its own foundries, acknowledges supply problems of its own. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told the BBC that shortages will get worse in the second half of 2021—and that it will be “a year or two” before supplies return to normal.

Gelsinger played up the importance of building new foundries, as Intel is currently doing in Arizona. But he warns that the foundries will take time to get up to speed and begin alleviating shortages—predicting “a year to two years until we’re back to some reasonable supply-demand balance.” This news arrives on the heels of a delay Intel announced this week for its forthcoming 7 nm process, now not expected until 2022.

In some ways, Intel may actually benefit long-term from the pandemic-related supply chain shortages. Although Intel is falling behind rivals AMD and Apple in both performance and power efficiency, the market can only move so far in the absence of supply.

With all vendors selling essentially every processor they can build, Intel’s long-standing ability to produce 80 percent of the world’s x86 desktop CPUs and 90 percent of x86 data center CPUs cements its place in the market—for now—despite ceding performance crowns to its rivals.

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Here’s what that Google Drive “security update” message means

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“A security update will be applied to Drive,” Google’s weird new email reads. A whole bunch of us on the Ars Technica staff got blasted with this last night. If you visit drive.google.com, you’ll also see a message saying, “On September 13, 2021, a security update will be applied to some of your files.” You can even see a list of the affected files, which have all gotten an unspecified “security update.” So what is this all about?

Google is changing the way content sharing works on Drive. Drive files have two sharing options: a single-person allow list (where you share a Google Doc with specific Google accounts) and a “get link” option (where anyone with the link can access the file). The “get link” option works the same way as unlisted YouTube videos—it’s not really private but, theoretically, not quite public, either, since the link needs to be publicized somewhere. The secret sharing links are really just security through obscurity, and it turns out the links are actually guessable.

Along with Drive, Google is also changing the way unlisted YouTube links work, and the YouTube support page actually describes this change better than Drive does:

In 2017, we rolled out an update to the system that generates new YouTube Unlisted links, which included security enhancements that make the links for your Unlisted videos even harder for someone to discover if you haven’t shared the link with them.

Google knew about the problem of guessable secret links for a while and changed the way link generation works back in 2017 (presumably for Drive, too?). Of course, that doesn’t affect links you’ve shared in the past, and soon Google is going to require your old links to change, which can break them. Google’s new link scheme adds a “resourcekey” to the end of any shared Drive links, making them harder to guess. So a link that used to look like “https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxI1YpjkbX0OZ0prTHYyQ1U2djQ/” will now look like “https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxI1YpjkbX0OZ0prTHYyQ1U2djQ/view?resourcekey=0-OsOHHiQFk1QEw6vIyh8v_w.” The resource key makes it harder to guess.

If you head to drive.google.com/drive/update-drives in a browser, you should be able to see a list of your impacted files, and if you mouse over them you’ll see a button on the right to remove or apply the security update. “Applied” means the resourcekey will be required after September 13, 2021, and will (mostly) break the old link, while “removed” means the resourcekey isn’t required and any links out there should keep working.

Google's "impacted files" interface. Feel free to add or remove that security update.

Google’s “impacted files” interface. Feel free to add or remove that security update.

YouTube already went through this process earlier in the month, with all unlisted links before 2017 going dead, unless the owners of the videos are still active on YouTube and opted out. Drive is doing this with a bit more finesse than YouTube, though. Thanks to account-based sharing, anyone who accessed your unlisted Drive links in the past will still be granted access to them, even if you upgrade the security. No new people will be able to access the old, upgraded link, though. This way, if you have a stable community that uses an unlisted file, it should mostly be able to keep on trucking. Any new members, however, will be locked out and will need to request access. If you don’t want this, at any point the owner of the file can hit the “share” button and change the settings to generate a new link or turn off the link altogether.

Not letting third parties create a list of all your unlisted files is a good thing, but don’t confuse this link change with any actual security. You should never share anything over the “unlisted” or “get link” features on YouTube, Drive, or Google Photos if you actually want it to be private. Secret links are just security through obscurity, and even with Google’s upgrades, they should not be considered secure or undiscoverable. This arrangement is totally fine for casual documents, but always assume that anyone in the world can read an “unlisted” file. If you’re OK with that, fine. But if not, use Google’s actually private account-based sharing options.

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