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Amazon Finally Goes Two-Factor

November 25, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Technology

Amazon is making it a little, or a lot, harder for miscreants to make off with user accounts by adding two-factor authentication.

It has taken Amazon some time to fall into line on this. Two-factor authentication has become increasingly popular and common in the past couple of years, and it is perhaps overdue for a firm that deals so heavily in trade.

Amazon is treating it like it’s new, and is offering to hold punters’ hands as they embrace the security provision.

“Amazon Two-Step Verification adds an additional layer of security to your account. Instead of simply entering your password, Two-Step Verification requires you to enter a unique security code in addition to your password during sign in,” the firm said.

The way that the code is served depends on the user, who can choose to get the extra prompt in one of three ways. They may not appeal to those who do not like to over-share, but they will require a personal phone number.

As is frequently the case, Amazon will offer to send supplementary log-in information to a phone via text message or voice call, and even through a special authenticating app.

It’s an option, and you do not have to enable it. Amazon said that users could select trusted sign-on computers that spare them from the mobile phone contact.

“Afterward, that computer or device will only ask for your password when you sign in,” explained the Amazon introduction, helpfully.

There are a number of other outfits that offer the two-factor system and you might be advised to take their trade and do your business through them. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook and many others offer the feature.

A website called TwoFactorAuth will let you check your standing and the position of your providers.



Will Microsoft Debut A Lumia Business Phone Next Year?

November 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Microsoft surprised the world when its new phone range failed to contain anything to interest business users – now it seems it is prepared to remedy that.

Microsoft promised that its Lumia range would cover the low end, business and enthusiast segments but while the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 650 should cover the low-end segment as well nothing has turned up for business users.

This was odd, given that business users want phones that play nice with their networks, something that Redmond should do much better than Google or Apple.

Microsoft’s CFO Amy Hood told the UBS Global Technology Conference that business versions of the Lumia were coming. She said:

“We launched a Lumia 950 and a 950 XL. They’re premium products, at the premium end of the market, made for Windows fans. And we’ll have a business phone, as well.”

There were no details, but we have been hearing rumours of a Surface phone being sighted on benchmarks. It was thought that his would be a Microsoft flagship, but with the launch of the Lumia 950/950 XL, it is possible that this Surface phone could be aimed at the business user. The word Surface matches nicely with Microsoft’s Surface Pro branding.




Amazon To Use Wind Farm To Power Web Services

November 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced that it will build and operate a 100-megawatt (MW) wind farm in Ohio that will power its current and future cloud service data centers.

The project, called the Amazon Wind Farm US Central, is expected to generate about 320,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of wind power per year beginning in May 2017; that’s enough electricity to power more than 29,000 U.S. homes a year.

While AWS’s latest wind farm is dwarfed by previously announced projects, it is still large compared to those typically built by non-utility businesses.

For example, one of the largest wind farms to be completed this year was the 300MW Jumbo Road wind project located about 50 miles southwest of Amarillo, Texas. The project was commissioned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary BHE Renewables, an electricity utility that sells power to Austin Energy. That wind farm cost more than $1 billion to build.

Amazon has launched a handful of wind farm projects and other renewable energy initiatives over the past two years as it moves toward a goal of 100% renewable energy use.

In April 2015, AWS announced that it was getting about 25% of its power from renewable energy sources; it plans to increase that level to 40% by the end of 2016.

In January 2015, Amazon announced a renewable project with the Amazon Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) in Benton County, Indiana, which is expected to generate 500,000MWh of wind power annually.

Along with the new Amazon Wind Farm US Central, Amazon said its renewable projects will deliver more than 1.6 million MWh of renewable energy into electric grids across the central and eastern U.S., or roughly the equivalent amount of energy required to power 150,000 homes.




Samsung Boots Two-Thirds Of It’s R&D Staff

November 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Samsung Electronics is about to decrease personnel at its Samsung Seoul R&D Campus by as many as two-thirds in order to restructure its business model and operations

A new report from ChosunBiz said that Samsung originally aimed to house around 10,000 personnel on the site. However the majority of the decreases will be applied to Samsung’s Digital Media & Communication (DMC) and Media Solutions Centre (MSC).

The campus will instead house about 3,500 staff who have master and PhD degrees and specialise in software, design and digital media development.

The move is odd as it is coming at a time when Samsung is really desperate for killer innovation to steal the march on the competition. However reading between the lines it looks like it is reducing work in its content creation side.

We are surprised that it is doing anything with its Media Solutions centre. Originally, it was established to operate as a Korean version of the App Store. But the company announced on December 10 last year that it was dissolves the organisation.

At the time it was admitted that the content business has not been as successful as the hardware business. Moreover, the worsening performance of the smartphone business arising from the increasingly saturated market forced the company to speed up the break-up process.



IBM Introduces New Technology For Data Protection

November 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

At the beginning of the year IBM announced Identity Mixer, a new technology for protecting users’ personal data during authentication. On Friday, it announced that the technology is now available to developers on its Bluemix cloud platform.

It’s common for apps to require that users prove their identity and other credentials, but all too often that authentication process exposes a raft of unnecessary and potentially sensitive personal information along the way.

To access an online streaming-movie service’s app, for example, users might have to prove that they have a paid subscription and are over 18 years old. Traditionally, that would mean revealing their full date of birth along with assorted other personal details that aren’t necessary for the proof, such as first and last name, address, etc.

When a breach happens, there’s all that much more potentially sensitive information exposed.

Identity Mixer is designed to protect users’ privacy by focusing just on the essentials of the proof. Thanks to a set of algorithms based on cryptography work done at IBM Research, the tool allows developers to build apps that can authenticate users’ identities using what’s known as a “zero-knowledge proof” that collects no personal data.

Specifically, Identity Mixer authenticates users by asking them to provide a public key. Each user has a single secret key, and it corresponds with multiple public keys, or identities. Each transaction a user makes receives a different public key and leaves no privacy “breadcrumbs.”

So, in the streaming service example, users would have both identity and subscription credentials stored in a personal Credential Wallet. To access a movie, they could use that electronic wallet to prove that they’re entitled to watch the selected content without having to expose any other details.

The result, according to IBM, is that users’ privacy is better preserved, and the service provider is spared the need to protect and secure all that extraneous data.




Apple Acknowledges Issue With iPad Pro

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Some iPad Pro owners have reported strange behavior in their new 12.9-inch tablets. Normally when you charge a device, unless the battery has completely died, the screen remains responsive. But some iPad Pros are completely freezing, then dying, after a recharge. The problem appears to be widespread — Apple’s support communities are filled with complaints about the issue.

Apple knows about the problem, but hasn’t said why it’s happening. There doesn’t seem to be a real fix for it, either — at least not yet. The company published a support document on Thursday advising Pro users to force restart their tablets to bring them back to life, but that’s not really a long-term solution, because the issue is ongoing.

“When I connect my iPad Pro to the charger for more than an hour, it goes dead,” one iPad Pro owner reported in the Apple support forum. “It takes multiple hard resets to bring it back to life.”

MacRumors first reported the iPad Pro issue last Monday, just days after the supersized tablets began shipping, and even experienced the problem with one of its own tablets. Apple employees are reportedly advising a range of solutions, from using iTunes to restore settings to performing a hard restart, as Apple is now officially recommending.

We’ll update this story when Apple pushes out a fix for the problem.


IBM Says 2015 Was The Year Of Ransomware

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM has claimed that sophisticated criminals are responsible for 80 percent of cyber attacks, and that there are probably a lot of kids and amateurs accounting for the remaining 20 percent.

The IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Quarterly 4Q 2015 (PDF) described this 20 percent as “script kiddies”, claiming that the attacks reveal their amateurishness. However, when people are not messing about they are able to carry out some catastrophic and expensive hacktrocities.

“The script kiddies scour the internet for ‘low hanging fruit’, the servers that can be compromised quickly and easily, and they use them for a limited time to send spam and scan other servers on the internet,” said the report.

“Or they deface the website and move on to other targets once they are discovered. These script kiddies give little thought to covering their tracks.

“In contrast, stealthy attackers might gain access to a system by exploiting the same vulnerability as the script kiddies, but they use a far more sophisticated combination of commercial tools, malware/rootkits and backdoors to increase their access level on the client’s network and compromise additional systems over several weeks of expansion.”

There is plenty to worry about, naturally, and IBM has plenty of things to spook us with. The report starts with saying that 2015 has been the year of ransomware. The FBI has already reported that such exploits have bagged attackers $18m over the period, and that it expects the problem to extend into 2016.

Take a look around your office before you read alert number two. This is the insider danger. The report said that this trend has played out since 2014, and that 55 percent of all attacks in 2015 were down to insiders, or at least people with inside information.

Perhaps as a result of this – we are not data analysts – IBM has also seen an increase in boardroom involvement and spending. Some 88 percent of respondents to a survey said that their relevant budgets had increased over the period.


Facebook Testing Work Chat App For Businesses

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it was developing a work-focused version of its social networking tools to try and convert its consumer success into a new stream of revenue from businesses.

On Friday, the company continued that push by quietly launching its new Work Chat app for Android, which lets users message workmates using an interface that’s almost identical to Facebook Messenger. Users can send messages to individuals or groups of co-workers, and include cute stickers to punctuate their point.

Work Chat also lets users place voice calls to colleagues in their network. As with Messenger, those calls use Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection rather than the telephone network, but it should connect coworkers without requiring them to use a shared telephone directory or make international calls.

The app is available for download on the Google Play Store, but people can only log into it if they have a Facebook at Work account. The only way to have one of those is to work for a company that Facebook has allowed into the private testing of its new enterprise-focused tools. According to an article from TechCrunch, 300 companies are testing the enterprise social network, and the company plans to launch it officially by the beginning of next year.

Facebook at Work will be a major entry by the social networking company into the crowded space of business collaboration. It’s going head-to-head with established players like Microsoft’s Yammer and upstarts like Slack.



Qualcomm May Be Facing Anti-Trust Issues Abroad

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Qualcomm can’t really get a lucky break anywhere. The chipmaker has just confirmed that it is facing an anti-trust probe in South Korea.

The company said it had recently received the Korea Fair Trade Commission’s staff-generated case examiner’s report (ER), which starts a process that allows Qualcomm to defend itself.

It seems that the allegation is that the company’s practice of licensing patents only at the device level and requiring that its chip customers be licensed to its intellectual property violate South Korean competition law.

“The ER alleges, among other things, that we do not properly negotiate aspects of our licenses,” Qualcomm said in a statement.

The investigation by the South Korean authorities was first reported in February, but no one confirmed it.

Qualcomm has faced investigations about its business and licensing practices in the U.S. and in the European Commission. It said in February it had settled with China’s National Development and Reform Commission in connection with the agency’s investigation of Qualcomm under the country’s anti-monopoly law.

In China Qualcomm had to pay a fine of $975 million and not condition the sale of baseband chips on the chip customer signing a license agreement with terms that the NDRC found to be unreasonable.

Qualcomm would also offer licenses to its current 3G and 4G essential Chinese patents separately from licenses to its other patents, and present a patent list during negotiations. Under the deal, the company also agreed to calculate royalty fees on 65 percent of the net selling price of the device.

The company on Tuesday defended device-level licensing as an industry norm worldwide and said its patent licensing practices were “lawful and pro-competitive
Samsung, LG and Pantech are key Qualcomm customers in South Korea.

The KFTC in 2009 ordered Qualcomm to pay $208 million for allegedly charging discriminatory royalties and offering conditional rebates in connection with its CDMA technology.



Will Dell Sell Parts Of EMC Post Merger?

November 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Michael Dell has confirmed that the has no intention to asset strip EMC and flog off small bits of it.

Reuters had reported that the company could sell off $10bn of assets to reduce the $49.5bn of debt it will be taking on to fund the acquisition.

Logically this would mean Perot Systems, Dell’s own service arm, acquired for $3.9bn in 2009, Quest, which it bought for $2.7bn in 2012; and SonicWall, which it reportedly acquired in 2012 for $1.2bn would be logical sales. Dell’s Equalogic service must also be in doubt given that it overlaps with EMC’s SAN portfolio.

However Dell appeared to deny this.

When asked if he would sell off EMC assets where there was found to be comparable Dell products, Dell said:

“The portfolios of products are highly complementary. There are some overlaps in storage, but Dell product lines and EMC storage product lines are somewhat different. We are going from seven to nine [product lines], which is not a problem, and we’ll continue to enhance them.”

Of course he was not talking about VMware. Dell confirmed that the company has no plans to tie in VMware with Dell.

“We believe in choice and openness. VMware will remain an independent public company. We are not going to disadvantage VMware partners in respect to their relationship with VMware,” he said.



Sprint Introduces New ‘Half Off’ Rate Plan

November 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Sprint has introduced a new simplified wireless plan offering 50% off competitors’ rates — part of an effort to lure consumers to try its faster LTE Plus network, which promises speeds of 128Mbps or more.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said the costs of the new program will be more than offset by revenues from new customers. “There’s absolutely no way anybody can beat this offer,” he said during a briefing with reporters.

Sprint, the nation’s fourth largest carrier with about 59 million customers, has said it must cut up to $2 billion or more in operating expenses for the next fiscal year starting in April and will eliminate thousands of jobs to do so.

Even against that dreary backdrop, Claure said the new rate plan will bring in more customers. He didn’t indicate how many more are expected.

“There’s been a lot of skepticism on our network and the only way to convince them is to have them try,” he said. “Rest assured, we’ve done sufficient analysis and this is very accretive to Sprint” profits.

Sprint’s newest deal allows customers to take 50% off the price of most Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile rate plans. The only rate plan excluded is T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan, which costs $90 a month. Sprint will still offer a $70-a-month unlimited data plan.

Businesses are not included in the deal, a spokeswoman said.

The offer goes into effect for activations beginning this Friday, Nov. 20 until Jan. 7, 2016; the 50% off deal remains in effect until Jan. 8, 2018. Claure said that with a free tablet and a free year of service, along with the half-off pricing, “that’s the bet we’re making” to get new customers.





Survey Says Amazon Is Top Destination For Online Holiday Shopping

November 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A majority of U.S. consumers plan to go to for most of their online holiday shopping, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, even after traditional retailers have collectively spent billions of dollars to try to capture Web demand.

The survey of 3,426 adults conducted from November 12 to 18 found that 51 percent plan to do most of their online shopping at Amazon this holiday season, compared to 16 percent at Walmart, 3 percent at Target and 2 percent at Macy’s.

A little more than a quarter of respondents said they would use another retailer not listed in the poll.

The poll underscored the hurdles that traditional retailers faced in expanding online. Their own sales data this week showed that such efforts were falling short.

Target Corp said on Wednesday its digital sales grew 20 percent in the latest quarter, missing its expectations for a 30 percent gain. The discount retailer cited weakness in electronics demand.

A day earlier, Wal-Mart Stores Inc reported quarterly online sales growth of 10 percent, slower than its target growth in the mid-to-high-teens this fiscal year. Wal-Mart pointed to sluggish market conditions in China, Britain and Brazil, and said it fared better in the United States.

In contrast, Inc had posted a 28 percent jump in North American sales in its quarterly report last month.

“The Big Kahuna that continues to grab market share is Amazon,” said Craig Johnson, head of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners. “Both Wal-Mart and to some extent Target have simply not kept pace enough.”

Johnson added that sluggish spending overall contributed to the weaker-than-expected online sales at Target and Wal-Mart, which also faced increased competition from other online retailers, such as Wayfair Inc.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, 8 percent of adults said they plan to shop only online this year, compared to 6 percent a year earlier. The proportion of respondents who said they would shop mostly online remained steady at 17 percent.

All major retailers are investing in e-commerce.

Miles Can Be Used For In-flight Wifi Says United

November 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

United Airlines will begin allowing travelers to redeem frequent-flier miles for Wifi on flights, company officials said.

United, the second-largest U.S. airline by capacity, began testing a web portal on Thursday that lets customers use award miles to access the Internet on their laptops, tablets and smartphones, making it the first U.S. carrier with the feature, a spokesman said.

It hopes to roll out the portal to most U.S. domestic flights by early 2016 and to finish installations on international flights by mid-summer. Regional jets that United contracts for its United Express brand will get the portal later.

The move reflects an ongoing push in the airline industry to treat frequent-flier miles like a currency. Travelers already can redeem miles on U.S. carriers for hotel rooms, theater tickets, goods such as cameras and even identity theft monitoring.

This also marks United’s latest move to win over customers since Oscar Munoz took over as chief executive of parent United Continental Holdings Inc in September.

Munoz has solicited feedback from travelers on how to improve the airline, ranked the lowest in customer satisfaction of the largest North American carriers, according to J.D. Power’s 2015 ranking.

The team overseeing the sale of extra services such as Wifi is now focused on improving travelers’ experience more than maximizing revenue, United’s Vice President of eCommerce and Merchandising Scott Wilson said in an interview.

“There is a bias towards promoting that type of thinking. It’s always existed, but maybe where it was more balanced, it’s shifted a little bit,” he said.




Is Intel Readying It’s Knights Landing Processor?

November 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Intel has started sending out its Knight’s Landing version of Xeon Phi and this one has a 72-core coprocessor solution manufactured on a 14nm process using shiny new 3D Tri-Gate transistors.

The coprocessors use Intel’s’s Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture that stuffs cores into a single chip, which itself is part of a larger PCI-E add-in card solution for supercomputing.

Add-in cards run alongside these engines, such as NVIDIA’s Tesla GPUs to help with the number crunching.

Knight’s Landing succeeds the Knight’s Corner, which has up to 61 cores. Knight’s Landing has double-precision performance which can do more than 3 teraflops and over 8 teraflops of single-precision performance. It also has 16GB of on-package MCDRAM memory, which Intel says is five times more power efficient as GDDR5 and three times as dense.

In making the announcement Charlie Wuischpard, vice president and general manager of HPC Platform Group at Intel said that supercomputing was entering a new era and being transformed from a tool for a specific problem to a general tool for many,”

“System-level innovations in processing, memory, software and fabric technologies are enabling system capabilities to be designed and optimized for different usages, from traditional HPC to the emerging world of big data analytics and everything in between. We believe the Intel Scalable System Framework is the path forward for designing and delivering the next generation of systems for the ‘HPC everywhere’ era.”


Samsung Sells LCD Business

November 19, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung has sold a large LCD display operation in order to concentrate full time on OLED-based products.

A report in Business Korea says that the facility in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, has shut down its L5 line, the fifth generation of LCD displays, and begun selling the equipment to other manufacturers.

The age of the equipment meant it was only suitable for notebook and small monitor displays. With OLED now rolling out in phones such as the recent Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, and big-screen TVs, it seems that the company has decided to make a break with the past.

The Korean manufacturer sold off its fourth generation production line to a Chinese company last year. A spokesman for Samsung Display confirmed: “The company shut down the L5 line last month and is seeking companies that are willing to acquire idle equipment.”

Although the equipment and the products it produces may seem outdated, there is still a huge market for this stuff in lower end electronics. Some analysts believe that there are tens of billions of Korean Won in any sale. Ten billion Won is about £5.6m, which doesn’t sound nearly as much but is still better than poke in the eye.

The Cheonan factory is likely to be converted to make OLED products, with talk of deals for AMOLED phone displays for Huawei and even an acceleration of its on-again-off-again Ernie and Bert relationship with Apple said to be at the heart of the decision to ramp up production.

Samsung still operates three LCD production lines, but analysts question if this is the beginning of a move to OLED production only, and if so, what effect that will have on the company as demand for cheaper LCD screens continues to grow, with production ramping up in China.

Samsung has lost market share in the end user market with recent Galaxy products failing to sell as well as their predecessors. As such these component deals are the lifeblood of the business, with a contract to produce high-end screens for Apple alone worth billions.