Election (in)security: What you may have missed

As Election Day draws near, here’s a snapshot of how this election cycle is faring in the hands of the would-be digitally meddlesome

We’ve been talking about election security for months now. With the current pre-election fever pitch in the U.S., there almost couldn’t be a stronger focus on getting it right; indeed, it could only be matched closely by the magnitude of interest from shady actors trying to make sure it doesn’t.

Officials are pulling out all the stops to deter threats, including via a Fed-sponsored $10 million bounty for information about individuals aiding election interference. That hefty amount hasn’t stopped hacking attempts, including from aspiring hackers. From accidents to low-level stunts, like changing the home address of the Florida Governor, to a tad more sophisticated attempts, here’s the current summary of how this election cycle is faring in the hands of the would-be digitally meddlesome.

First off, two tales that hit rather close to home, giving this all a touch of personal experience:

  • On October 16th, less than 24 hours after submitting his ballot, ESET researcher Aryeh Goretsky received a scam text message from a non-existent company, Public Opinion Research, from a phone number that showed up as (855) 550-0317 using spoofed Caller ID. The domain mentioned in the message, ballotverify[.]net, was registered anonymously on the previous day, Thursday, October 15th, according to DomainTools. The web site is hosted at 52.72.49.79 along with over 32,000 others by Rebrandly, a link redirection service. The domain redirects to thevotersurvey[.]com, which was registered a year ago and is hosted on AWS infrastructure at 63.234.29.71 along with ten other domains, most of which contain words like “survey” or “study” in the domain name. This may be an attempt to impersonate ballottrax[.]net, a legitimate website used by county governments to confirm ballot receipt.

  • My friend has received a mail-in ballot for her husband, who’s (sadly) been dead for three years now due to an illness. So there are still issues with mail-in ballots. During the last election cycle, I got two ballots in the mail in my name. I notified local election officials.
  • In early October, a ransomware attack disrupted an election administration system in Hall County, Georgia. The attack took out the county’s online precinct map and a database that the county uses for verifying voter signatures on absentee ballots. As has been quite common recently, the extortionists also stole some documents before dumping a sample of them online in a bid to coerce the victim into paying up.
  • In mid-October, an accidentally severed internet cable in Virginia took down the state’s website for online voter registration on what happened to be the last day for voters to register before Election Day. Everything was later back up and running, though, and the deadline was extended.
  • At around the same time, the government of Chenango County, New York, suffered a ransomware attack that hit around one-half of its 400 computers, including those used by the board of elections. The incident caused potential issues with the processing of absentee ballot applications, but state officials gave assurances that voting shouldn’t be affected overall.
  • Just days ago, a Florida man altered the home address of the Sunshine State’s governor Ron DeSantis in the voter registration database, preventing the governor from voting. The problem was fixed in short order and the perpetrator was charged with felony voter fraud.
  • Also this week, it was reported that local election officials in several states have apparently been targeted by a wave of suspicious emails, at least some of which impersonated state elections directors and attempted to send the recipients to phishing sites.
  • The FBI and CISA recently warned of campaigns that chain vulnerabilities in Windows and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to target various government agencies, critical infrastructure and election organizations, including apparently to gain unauthorized access to elections support systems.

Indeed, the same two agencies recently put out another warning – that in order to “manipulate public opinion, sow discord, discredit the electoral process, and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions”, threat actors will attempt to spread false information around hacked voter information.

This implies orchestrated efforts that often rely on social media bots acting as deliberate and serial purveyors of deception, spewing false narratives in coordinated fashion. Misleading claims can also gain traction in other ways; rumors – think the one about thousands of mail-in ballots allegedly discarded in a dumpster – can also spread like wildfires and ultimately undermine trust in the democratic process.

No matter what, next week a large chunk of the electorate will be celebrating, matched by a similarly-sized group working on a strong hangover. While we don’t have a specific recommendation for the latter, we hope this is just the start of teeing up serious and meaningful steps toward truly secure election cycles to come.

Stay tuned – chances are we haven’t seen the last of election shenanigans…

Apple One services bundles are now available

You can now choose to pay one flat fee for a number of Apple services, such as Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and extra iCloud storage, with Apple One.

As announced at Apple’s “Time Flies” event in September — and confirmed in Apple’s latest earnings call — the new Apple One bundle is now available to buy in one of three different tiers. Apple has said that it will recommend the best tier for existing users, based on what services they currently use.

However, you can elect to buy an of the three, or you can decide to continue paying for each service separately. Although each of the available tiers does offer savings, you may well want to continue as you are, because the options don’t save money for everyone.

Apart from the amount of iCloud storage you get, the next tier is identical except that it’s a Family Sharing one. For $19.95 per month, you get all of the same services as the individual one, but they can be shared with the family — and you get 200GB iCloud storage.

This is one example where you might prefer to pay separately for each services. If you don’t happen to have a family to share with, the 200GB iCloud storage is attractive but it costs you $4.95 per month above the Individual Plan. And you could get that storage on its own for $2.99 per month.

The third tier is the Premier one, which costs $29.95 per month. It too is meant for family sharing, and it too increases the amount of iCloud storage you get. This time, you have 2TB of extra iCloud storage, which would otherwise cost you $9.99 per month.

However, alongside all of the services that are included in the Individual and Family Sharing plans, the Premier one adds two more services. Premier includes the full Apple News+, and also the new Apple Fitness+.

Those both cost $9.99 apiece, if bought separately. So if you are going to use them, Apple One’s Premier plan could genuinely save you money each month.

All three plans have potential savings, so long as you are already using — or will definitely make use of — everything in the bundle. A user buying the Individual Plan is going to save $6.01 per month, for instance.

Family Plan users will save $8.01 per month. And Premiere Plan users will save $24.99 per month.

That does make the Premiere plan the most beneficial, but it’s only a benefit if you’re using all of the services. Apple doubtlessly hopes that you’ll actually end up increasing how much you spend on its services, because you’re temped into using more of them.

Of course, your needs change, and to help you explore what an Apple One bundle can give you, there are free trial options available. If you already have a service like, for instance, Apple News+, then you won’t get a free trial of that, but you will for the other ones in your bundle.

Apple may also add to the bundles in the future — for instance, the Apple Fitness+ service has been announced but it isn’t available until later in 2020. So now that Apple One is available, it’s worth examining what it can offer you — and maybe checking back as your needs and usage change.

The Apple One subscription option is under a user’s Apple ID, iCloud, Media & Purchases subscription tab. It is gradually rolling out now to all users.

Users can buy iCloud storage in addition to Apple One plans, for up to 4TB

Apple One subscribers have the ability to purchase cloud-based storage space beyond what’s included in their plan, meaning that users can get up to 4TB of iCloud storage for the first time.

Previously, the largest iCloud storage plan that Apple offered was 2TB. With the release of Apple One on Friday, users have the opportunity to purchase additional iCloud storage space beyond the amount included in an Apple One plan.

As Apple notes in new iCloud Settings text, “you can purchase iCloud storage in addition to your 2TB Apple One plan.” That means an Apple One Premier subscriber, for example, can nab up to 4TB of total iCloud storage.

Credit: AppleInsider

Credit: AppleInsider

Apple maintains its standard prices for this additional iCloud storage space. That means paying for an additional 2TB of space will cost users $9.99. With an Apple One Premier plan, that’s a total of $39.94 a month. While that bodes well for users who need to maximize the amount of cloud storage space, it could also be a useful option for those who subscribe to Apple One Family or Individual plans.

Notifications repeatedly tell iOS 14 beta testers to download nonexistent update

Users evaluating the latest iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 beta versions are encountering an apparent bug that instructs the download of a new software version, though such an update does not exist.

A number of beta testers are seeing incessant prompts to upgrade from iOS 14 beta despite running the most up-to-date version, according to reports on Twitter, Reddit and other social media outlets.

“A new iOS update is now available. Please update from the iOS 14 beta,” the pop-up reads.

Selecting “Close” will disable the notification, at least for a short time. Some users report the alert reappears upon unlocking iPhone or when visiting Notification Center. Apple has not commented on the issue, though it is assumed that current beta versions include a faulty expiration date.

The problem has been sporadic over the past weeks, but seemingly increased in intensity today.

Beta testers faced an identical situation in 2018 with iOS 12 beta variants. That issue was caused by an apparent coding error that assigned an incorrect expiration date to then-current betas. Reading the expiry date as valid, the operating system would automatically prompt users to download a newer version.

With the iOS 12 beta, users found a workaround by disabling automatic time settings and rolling back their handset’s internal clock. Whether the drastic technique works with iOS 14 beta’s bug is unknown.

How to subscribe to Apple One services bundles

Apple has launched its Apple One bundle. Here’s how to find the right version for you, and how to subscribe to it.

As promised, Apple has now launched its Apple One bundle of services. There are three tiers available, each potentially saving you money depending on which Apple services you already use. Apple has added the ability to switch from paying separately for each of those services like Apple Music, or extra iCloud storage, and instead pay one single price.

To do this, you need to choose what tier you want, then elect to move to it. Apple helps you along the way by recommending what it believes is right for you, based on your existing subscriptions.

How to subscribe to Apple One

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings
  2. Tap on your name at the top
  3. Then tap on Subscriptions
  4. You may have to wait a few seconds, but Apple One will appear as an option
  5. Tap on that and Apple will display the three pricing tiers with details
  6. Apple also highlights which tier it recommends
  7. Tap pick a tier, then make sure you read the details
  8. Tap on Start Free trial

That last section about a free trial is potentially confusing. You certainly get a month’s free trial of any service that you do not current use, but beyond that, you don’t. So you may very well find that in each description of the pricing tiers, there’s a line saying “Your existing subscriptions are not eligible for trial.”

Go to Settings, then tap on your name and choose Subscriptions

Go to Settings, then tap on your name and choose Subscriptions

If you do, you still get the button marked Start Free Trial. Tap on it.

What’s happening is that Apple is charging you for the first month when you subscribe, but it then prorating what you’ve already spent. So after you’ve confirmed your purchase, you can see pricing details on each of your previously separate subscriptions.

For instance, you may see “Apple News+ (Monthly) This subscription will be included in Apple One starting on 30 November 2020.”

As part of this business of transferring from separate subscriptions, which may very well have different renewal dates, you will find that Apple refunds you part of your payment immediately.

Changing your mind

Once you’ve gone through this special new signup process, Apple One gets listed alongside all your other subscriptions on your iPhone. Go to Settings, tap on your name, then choose Subscriptions.

While you will still see all your prior Apple services listed, at least until their renewal date occurs, you can tap on Apple One in the list to get more details.

Next, pick your Apple One tier and confirm

Next, pick your Apple One tier and confirm

Those details include all the regular information about your renewal date, but also repeats the three tiers. You can tap on Plan Details to find out more about what each offers, or you can tap to change to a different tier.

If you really change your mind, then this section in Settings also has the option to either Cancel Apple One, or Choose Individual Services.

You may well decide to go back to individual services. Apple One potentially represents a saving, but if you don’t use all of services in each tier, it will make more sense to pay for them individually.

Rather than joining up and cancelling, though, it’s better to work out in advance whether Apple One truly saves you money each month.

If you’ve already made that calculation, too, you should still consider it carefully because Apple One’s pricing plans include an option that Apple hadn’t previously mentioned. A key difference between the tiers is how much extra iCloud storage you get, but it turns out that you can choose any tier and then elect to add more storage on top of it. So you could choose the lowest-price plan, the Individual tier, which gets you 50GB, but then separately add on another 50GB, 200GB, or 2TB for $0.99, $2.99, or $9.99 on top of your regular Apple One tier.

What financial analysts thought about Apple's Q4 2020 earnings report

Apple on Thursday reported September quarter revenue higher than Wall Street expectations, despite iPhone sales being down. Here’s what analysts expected, and what they thought about the results.

Although revenues for the iPhone during the quarter were down year-over-year, that was largely because of the later-than-usual iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro launch. Apple handset shipments during the quarter didn’t miss as much as some were expecting, suggesting that the iPhone SE and other models outperformed during the period.

Apple also reported that its revenue in China was $7.9 billion in sales, down significantly year-over-year from $11.1 billion. The company did not provide guidance for the December quarter.

Here’s what analysts thought about the Thursday results, and what they were expecting going in.

JP Morgan

JP Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee believes that the September quarter earnings results suggests that Apple is set up for sustainable revenue growth across its businesses.

Despite the fact that no new iPhones were released during the period and iPhone revenues came in flat, the analyst added that legacy iPhones drove an “outperformance relative to typical seasonal trends.”

More than that, Chatterjee says that Services outperformed during the quarter despite investor concerns, and that benefits from new work-at-home and remote learning trends are “likely to be sticky.”

“While iPhone revenues in F4Q did miss consensus estimates modestly, we see limited reason to perceive the results as anything but exceptionally strong on a stand-alone basis,” Chatterjee wrote.

Prior to the earnings report, Chatterjee predicted that Apple would modestly beat Wall Street expectations with revenue of $64.7 billion during the quarter. He maintains the bank’s $150 AAPL Dec. 2021 price target.

Cowen

Cowen analyst Krish Sankar believes that the fact that the iPhone 12 lineup released later than usual in 2020 could set Apple up for an “especially strong [December quarter] for iPhone shipments.”

Sankar added that Apple’s other business segments, including Mac and iPads, saw record-setting growth despite the fact that many Apple Stores were shuttered and supply of product was constrained.

“Investors might take pause at the Sep Q iPhone units and China region demand, but we think Dec Q shipments could restore confidence in the earnings power of the 5G

upgrade cycle,” Sankar wrote.

Looking ahead, the analyst believes that the iPhone 12 will drive revenue growth in the December quarter; that the Mac and iPad segments will continue to benefit from tailwinds; and the current and expanding lineup of Services bodes well for the business.

Cowen expected Apple to report earnings of $64.9 billion, slightly higher than consensus. Sankar maintains the bank’s APPL price target of $133.

Piper Sandler

Piper Sandler analysts, including lead analyst Harsh Kumar, came away from Apple’s September quarter earnings results “extremely bullish.”

Kumar points to the fact that Apple set records in every category except iPhone. And despite iPhone weakness during the period, traction for that product category was “still strong through mid-September.”

However, the analyst believes that the stock could be unduly pressured by the fact that “management was somewhat guarded about iPhone 12 commentary.” He notes that Apple only has one week of data regarding the released iPhone models, and no data for the iPhone 12 mini or iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Looking ahead, Piper Sandler believes that two major questions came out of the earnings call. For one, “what drove the decline in China during the September quarter?” and “whether iPhone revenue will grow double-digits year-over-year in the December quarter.”

Kumar expected Apple to report revenue of $60.9 billion during the September quarter. The analyst maintained his 12-month AAPL price target of $135.

Wedbush

Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote on Friday that Apple “reported headline numbers that beat Street expectations but importantly came up shy on the all-important iPhone segment.”

He added, however, that the slight iPhone revenue miss shouldn’t come as a surprise because of the later-than-usual availability of new models. Despite weakness during the September quarter, Ives said that the iPhone 12 is off to a robust start.

The analyst maintains that Apple has a “once-in-a-decade” opportunity with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro lineups, with an estimated 350 million out of 950 million devices within a window of upgrade opportunity.

“Taking a step back, we believe Apple is on the cusp of its largest iPhone product cycle since iPhone 6 in 2014 and we would be buyers on any weakness,” Ives wrote.

Ives expected Apple to report “at least modest upside to the Street’s $64 billion top-line estimate.” He maintains Wedbush’s $150 AAPL price target.

Morgan Stanley

On Thursday, Apple reported earnings that significantly beat Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty’s expectations. Prior to the earnings call, Huberty said that iPhone consensus was “too high.”

She initially expected iPhone revenue to come in at $22.9 billion. Apple actually reported iPhone revenue of $26.4 billion during the September quarter, higher than Huberty’s expectations but lower than Wall Street consensus.

Looking ahead to the December quarter, the analyst writes that “all signs point to a supercycle.” Huberty expects significant upside to 2021 iPhone estimates, largely driven by the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models.

She also notes that “Apple is in the midst of the broadest product cycle in its history,” which could translate to accelerating growth,” and she added that the strength of Services highlights the ecosystem’s strength. Lack of guidance for some segments indicates supply, not demand, she added.

Huberty initially forecast that Apple would report earnings around $60 billion. After Thursday’s report, she maintained her 12-month AAPL price target of $136.

Loup Ventures

Loup Ventures partner and analyst Gene Munster attributed a 4% drop in AAPL share price to investors misinterpreting Apple reporting iPhone revenue below expectations.

But he points out that the iPhone revenue miss was because of the lack of new models. “If the the timing of iPhone 12 was similar year-over-year, it’s likely that double-digit iPhone growth would have been reported for the full quarter,” he wrote.

Munster continues to believe that Apple is “stepping into a new growth cycle,” and that its broad lineup of products are essential to a new normal during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As evidence of the strength of Apple’s business, the September quarter concluded a year in which the company had record revenue, EPS, and free cash flow despite the uncertainty,” Munster wrote.

Munster applies a 35x multiple on an Apple 2022 earnings estimates, resulting in a price target of $200.

Here's how much money you can save with an Apple One services bundle

Apple One Services bundles are here, and it can save you a lot of money per month. Here’s a look at some scenarios of Apple subscriptions versus what you get in each tier of Apple One bundles, and what to expect.

There are three Apple One tiers: an Individual plan that costs $14.95 a month; a family sharing option at $19.95 a month; and a Premier plan that include more services for $29.95 a month. The first two feature Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and iCloud storage, while the latter tier throws in Apple News+ and the newly announced Apple Fitness .

Read on for how each tier breaks down, and how much you could save compared to purchasing each service individually.

Individual plan

  • Apple Music: $9.99
  • Apple TV+: $4.99
  • Apple Arcade: $4.99
  • iCloud storage, 50GB: $0.99
  • Total cost: $20.96
  • Apple One plan: $14.95
  • Savings per month: $6.01

The individual plan includes the core of Apple’s entertainment lineup, as well as 50GB of iCloud storage. It’ll save individuals about $6 a month if they already subscribe to Apple’s music, TV and game subscriptions.

Note that the individual plan won’t let you share your Apple Music or iCloud storage with family members.For that, you’ll need the Family or Premier plans.

Family plan

  • Apple Music Family: $14.99
  • Apple TV+: $4.99
  • Apple Arcade: $4.99
  • iCloud storage, 200GB: $2.99 a month
  • Total cost of individual services: $27.96
  • Apple One plan: $19.95
  • Savings per month: $8.01

The Apple One savings get larger as you go up in tiers, and the Family plan will let families of up to six members save about $8 a month on Apple’s entertainment services.

Unlike the Premier plan, Apple One Family doesn’t include Apple News+ or the newly announced Fitness+. It does allow for family sharing.

Premier

  • Apple Music Family: $14.99
  • Apple TV+: $4.99
  • Apple Arcade: $4.99
  • iCloud storage, 2TB: $9.99 a month
  • Apple News+: $9.99
  • Apple Fitness+: $9.99
  • Total cost of individual services: $54.94
  • Apple One plan: $29.95
  • Total savings: $24.99

The Premier plan includes Apple’s entire slate of services, even Apple News+ and the newly debuted Apple Fitness+. Its price of $29.95 represents about a $25 savings per month compared to subscribing to all the services separately.

Premier is also the only option if either the Fitness+ or News+ services are crucial for you. Apple does note that Premier isn’t going to be available everywhere because News+ is restricted to Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. Similarly, Fitness+ won’t be available until later in 2020, meaning Premier subscribers won’t get access to it until it’s added.

Conclusions

The individual tier, with about $6 of monthly saving, may make sense for users who needed an excuse to try Apple’s other services. But Apple One really shines in the family options.

Most of Apple’s services, with the exception of Apple Music, offer family sharing with up to five other family members. But for Apple-centric families who already subscribe to the company’s various services, that $8-a-month savings is going to add up. Especially since some of Apple’s services, like the Apple Music Family Plan, aren’t available as annual purchases.

Although the most expensive tier, Premier unlocks Apple’s newest fitness service and only costs $29.95 a month.

Apple’s fitness service is still new (it isn’t even out yet), but it could gradually become a serious contended in the wellness space. Compared to existing subscriptions, like Peloton’s $39-a-month All Access Membership, it’s also significantly cheaper.

While $6 or $8 a month may not seem like that much, it’s helpful to look at how much money you’ll be saving a year if you get an Apple One subscription. For example:

  • Individual: $72 a year
  • Family:$96 a year
  • Premier: $299 a year

If you’re an Apple Card holder, then you could stand to save even more money with 3% Daily Cash back. For example, 3% of $29.95 for Premier works out to be about .90 cents a month, or savings of more than $10 a year.

Put another way, whether Apple One is going to save you any money depends on what Apple subscriptions you keep active. If you already pay for all of Apple’s services individually, then that $300 a year is significant.

iPhone 12 camera module cannot be replaced by third-party repair technicians

The iPhone 12 family introduces another repair obstacle that could limit third-party repairs even further with a new authorization step in changing out camera modules.

Apple has increasingly designed its devices with restrictions on what can be replaced or repaired by non-certified technicians. The iPhone 12 introduces a new hurdle for repair facilities which could impact a user’s ability to seek out third-party repair options.

Technicians coordinating with iFixit have discovered that the iPhone 12 camera requires a software authorization after a part swap in order to function properly. Previous iPhones could have their camera swapped easily with no additional steps. iFixit says that the camera and display are among some of the most frequent parts needing repair or replaced by users.

This software authorization can only be carried out by using a proprietary Apple app called System Configuration. The app is only available to official repair facilities like the Apple Store or Best Buy. Such a change could further impact the third-party repair market, private repairs, and parts scavenging and resale.

The iPhone 12 camera, when replaced without Apple’s official software authorization, appears to work fine at launch, but begins to fail in regular use. iFixit notes that the camera failed to switch to ultra wide, would only respond in certain camera modes, and would become completely unresponsive.

A technician performing a camera swap (source: iFixit)

A technician performing a camera swap (source: iFixit)

The issue was at first considered a bug, but has since been confirmed to be a point of practice suggested by Apple’s repair manual. Requiring software authorization was previously reserved for repairs that could affect the security or safety of the device, and not the camera.

The camera is increasingly tied to the SoC for computational photography, which could indicate why Apple is forcing more precautions in software. iFixit is concerned that this is yet another attempt to force people away from repairing their own devices, and call on users to contact their legislators to force Apple’s hand.

The right to repair movement is a complicated one, as they believe that any and all devices purchased by a consumer should be fully accessible, repairable, and have access easily sourced parts. The increasing complexity of hardware and software, and Apple’s own control over the entire hardware stack and software experience get in the way of this belief.