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Has Sony Lost The Handheld Gaming Market?

October 6, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Sony’s Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida was only stating the obvious when he told the audience at EGX that the “climate is not healthy” for a successor to the company’s struggling handheld console, the PlayStation Vita, but sometimes even the obvious makes for an interesting statement, depending upon who’s stating it.

The likelihood of another handheld console from Sony turning up in the foreseeable future is considered to be incredibly low by almost everyone, and it’s notable that there’s never been so much as a whisper about what such a successor might look like or comprise; it’s so vanishingly unlikely to come to pass, why even bother speculating on what might be? Yet for commentators and analysts to dismiss the notion of Sony carrying on in handheld is one thing; for such a senior figure at the company to seemingly join in that dismissal is another. The final step of the long and strange handheld journey which Sony started with the announcement of the PSP’s development all the way back in 2003 won’t come until the Vita reaches its official end-of-life, but Yoshida’s statement is the moment when we learned for certain that the company itself reckons the handheld market is past saving.

It’s not that there’s any lack of affection for the Vita within Sony, including Yoshida himself, whose Twitter feed confirms that he is an avid player of the system. Even as weak sales have essentially rendered AAA development for the Vita financially unsustainable, the firm has done a great job of turning it into one of the platforms of choice for break-out indie hits, and much of the success of the PS4 as a platform for indie games can be traced back to the sterling work Sony’s team did on building relationships and services for indies on the Vita. For that alone, it’s a shame that the console will apparently be the last of its line; there are some games that simply work better on handhelds than on home consoles, and some developers who are more comfortable working within the limitations of handheld systems.

Yoshida is right, though; mobile phones are the handheld killer. They may not be as good at controlling the kind of games that the PSP and Vita excelled at, but mobile devices are more powerful, more frequently updated, carried everywhere and heavily subsidised by networks for most users. Buttons and sticks make for wonderful game controllers, as Yoshida noted, but when the competition has a great multi-touch screen and accelerometer, a processor faster than most laptops only a few years ago, and is replaced every couple of years with a better model, the best set of buttons and sticks on earth just can’t compete for most consumers. Even if Sony could release a Vita 2 tomorrow which leapfrogged the iPhone 6S, within a year Apple, Samsung and others would be back out in front.

That’s not to say that this battle can’t be won. Nintendo has still managed to shift a dramatic number of 3DS consoles despite the advent of the smartphone era – though in typically Nintendo style, it chose not to play the competition at their own game, favouring a continuation of the DS’ odd form-factor, a 3D screen and a low-cost, low-power chipset over an arms race with smartphones (and, indeed, with the Vita). Crucially, Nintendo also pumped out high quality software on the 3DS at a breathtaking pace, at one point coming close to having a must-buy title on the system every month. Nintendo’s advantage, as ever, is its software – and at least in part, its longevity in the handheld market is down to the family-friendly nature of that software, which has made the 3DS popular with kids, who usually (at least in Japan, the 3DS’ best performing market) do not carry smartphones and generally can’t engage with F2P-style transactions even if they do. Vita, by comparison, aimed itself at a more adult market which has now become saturated with phones and tablets.

So; is that the end of Sony’s handheld adventure? Trounced by Nintendo twice over, first with the DS’ incredibly surprising (if utterly obvious in hindsight) dominance over the PSP, then with the 3DS’ success over the Vita, Sony nonetheless carved out an impressive little market for the PSP, at least. Vita has failed to replicate that success, despite being an excellent piece of hardware, and 12 years after news of the PSP first reached gamers’ eager ears, it looks like that failure and the shifting sands of the market mean Sony’s ready to bail out of handhelds. With the stunning success of PS4 and the upcoming PlayStation VR launch keeping the company busy, there’s seemingly neither time, nor inclination, nor resources to try to drive a comeback for the Vita – and any such effort would be swimming against the tide anyway.

I would not go so far as to say that Sony is dropping out of handheld and portable gaming entirely, though. I think it’s interesting, in the context of Yoshida’s comments, to note what the company did at TGS last month – where a large stand directly facing the main PlayStation booth was entirely devoted to the Sony Xperia range of phones and tablets, and more specifically to demonstrating their prowess when it comes to interacting with a PS4. The devices can be hooked up to a PS4 controller and used for remote play on the console; it’s an excellent play experience, actually significantly better in some games than using the Vita (whose controls do not perfectly map to the controller). I use my Vita to do simple tasks in Final Fantasy XIV on my PS4 while the TV is in use, but it wouldn’t be up to the task of more complex battles or dungeons; I’d happily do those on an Xperia device with a proper controller, though.

Remember when the Vita launched and much of the buzz Sony tried to create was about how it was going to interact with the PS4? That functionality, a key selling point of the Vita, is now on Xperia, and it’s even better than it was on the devoted handheld. Sony’s phones also play Android games well and will undoubtedly be well-optimized for PlayStation Now, which means that full-strength console games will be playable on them. In short, though the Vita may be the last dedicated handheld to carry the Sony brand, the company has come a long way towards putting the core functions of Vita into its other devices. It’s not abandoning handheld gaming; it’s just trying to evolve its approach to match what handheld gaming has become.

It’s not a perfect solution. Not everyone has or wants an Xperia device – Japan is the best performing market for Sony phones and even here, Apple is absolutely dominant, with iPhones holding more than half of the market share for smartphones. If Sony is being clever, though, it will recognize that the success of the PS4 is a great basis from which to build smartphone success; if the Xperia devices can massively improve the user experience of the PS4, many owners of those devices may well consider a switch, if not to a new phone then at least to one of the Xperia tablets. It might also be worth the company’s time to think a little about the controllers people will hook up to the Xperia to play games; I love the PS4 controller, but it’s bulky to carry in a bag, let alone a pocket. If the firm is serious about its phones and tablets filling the handheld gap, a more svelte controller designed specifically for Xperia (but still recognizably and functionally a PS4 pad) would be an interesting and worthwhile addition to the line-up.

Nonetheless, what’s happening with Xperia – in terms of remote play, PS Now, and so on – is an interesting look at how consoles and smartphones might co-exist in the near future. The broad assumption that smart devices will kill off consoles doesn’t show any sign of coming true; PS4 and Xbox One are doing far, far better than PS3 and Xbox 360 did, and while the AAA market is struggling a little with its margins, the rapid rise of very high quality indie titles to fill the gap left by the decline of mid-range games in the previous generation means the software market is healthier than it’s been for years. If consoles aren’t going away, then we need to be thinking about how they’ll interact with smart devices – and if that’s what Sony’s doing with Xperia and PlayStation, it’s a strategy that could pay off handsomely down the line.

DRAM Prices Appear To Be Falling Fast

October 6, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Beancounters from DRAM Exchange have added up some numbers and divided by their shoe size and worked out that sales of DRAM for notebooks and PCs suffered a downturn in September.

Analyst VP Avril Wu said that notebook shipments in the third quarter didn’t reach expectations, with the Windows 10 free upgrade hitting potential sales of new notebooks.

She added that sales of smartphones and servers were not much chop either and this eroded the margins of DRAM suppliers.

“If the global economy continues to stagnate, the end market will not generate the demand needed to effectively consume the new DRAM chips produced on advanced processes,” she muttered.

After shuffling her Tarot cards and chewing on a laurel leaf she predicted that prices will continue decline in the first half of next year in a way which is even worse than 2015.

Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron rule the DRAM market and they are moving production of the chips to 17 nanometres, meaning higher densities and better power efficiency next year. If the figures are this pants it will make their investment in the technology pretty wasted.


Sprint Says More Job Cuts Likely

October 5, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Sprint will likely further reduce its 31,000-person workforce as part of up to $2.5 billion in cost cuts in the next six months, a company spokesman said Friday.

“It’s likely some jobs will be impacted by this [cost-cutting] process, but it’s premature to talk about details,” said Sprint spokesman David Tovar in a telephone interview on Friday.

In addition to 31,000 workers, the company also employs about 30,000 contractor employees, he said. Sprint, with 57.7 million customers, fell to the nation’s fourth largest wireless carrier in August, behind T-Mobile.

The cost-cutting plan of $2 billion to $2.5 billion was described in an internal memo to employees, sent by new chief financial officer Tarek Robbiati. “We just want to make sure employees know what’s happening,” he said.

Robbiati’s memo was first reported by The Wall Street Journal last week.

The memo was distributed a few days after Sprint said it would not participate in an auction of low-frequency wireless spectrum. But Tovar contended that the two announcements are not connected with any sudden changes in Sprint’s long-term restructuring plan, which CEO Marcelo Claure has described many times since taking over a year ago.

“We have plenty of spectrum, the most of any other U.S. company, and we don’t need to participate in the auction,” Tovar added. “We’re going full speed ahead on our network plan and the decision not to participate in the auction has nothing to do with what you’re hearing about cost reductions.”



Google Unveils Two New Nexus Smartphones

October 1, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google Inc has rolled out its new Nexus phones in its latest attempt to thwart Apple’s dominant share of the smartphone market.

The launch of the phones, the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X, comes a day after Apple Inc reported record first-weekend sales of its new iPhones.

The Nexus 5X 16 GB model will be priced at $379, while the Nexus 6P 32 GB will cost $499, Google said at an event live-streamed on YouTube.

Apple’s 6s and 6s Plus start at $199 and $299, respectively, with a two-year service-provider contract.

Nexus devices, which typically do not sell as much as iPhones or iPads, are a way for the tech giant to showcase its latest advancements in mobile hardware and software.

Google also unveiled a tablet built entirely by the company based on its Android operating system.

The latest version of Android, dubbed Marshmallow, will be available to existing Nexus customers from next week.

The Android mobile platform is a key element in Google’s strategy to maintain revenue from online advertising as people switch from Web browser searches to smartphone apps.

The Nexus 5X is made by South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc and the Nexus 6P by China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd . Both phones feature Google’s new fingerprint sensor, Nexus Imprint, which is located on the back.

The fingerprint sensors will help quickly authorize purchases made through Android Pay, the one-touch payment app on Android devices that competes with Apple Pay.

The phones are available for pre-order on the Google Store from a number of countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Japan.

The Pixel C tablet will cost $499 for the 32 GB model and can be bought with a detachable keyboard, which will cost $149.

The tablet will be available in time for the holiday season on the Google Store.



Instagram Dethrones Twitter As Second Biggest Social Network

September 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Instagram celebrated a milestone this week, logging more than 400 million monthly users, solidly blowing past rival Twitter.

Instagram, a five-year-old site for posting and photos and video online, has solidly surpassed rival Twitter to claim the No. 2 spot in the social networking world – behind parent company Facebook.

“Given that Facebook owns Instagram, that certainly makes them the king of the social networking mountain,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. “Instagram is aimed squarely at mobile devices, and that makes it very easy for users to shoot and post very quickly. It also has the patina of ‘cool’ with hip users — mainly arising from young users adopting it as their own.”

Instagram is gaining momentum. In December of last year, the company said it reached the 300 million monthly user mark. Less than a year later, the site has added another 100 million active users.

Despite the surge in monthly users, Instagram is still far behind Facebook, the world’s largest social network with more than 1 billion worldwide users.

However, the numbers put Instagram beyond Twitter, which in June reported316 million active monthly users. Instagram is also well ahead of Google+, which reportedly has about 300 million active monthly users.

“While milestones like this are important, what really excites us is the way that visual communication makes the world feel a little bit smaller to every one of us,” Instagram wrote in a blog post. “Our community has evolved to be even more global, with more than 75% living outside of the U.S. To all the new Instagrammers: welcome!”

Among the last 100 million to join, more than half live in Europe and Asia, the company noted. The countries that added the most Instagram users include Brazil, Japan and Indonesia.



Does AVG Respect Your Privacy?

September 22, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

AVG has been answering questions about its new privacy policy after accusations that the firm is about to sell its users down the river.

A Reddit discussion has heard from furious users who spotted that the simplified policy effectively gives the company permission to sell its mailing lists to third parties for fun and profit.

AVG stated under ‘Do You Share My Data?’ in the Q&A about the new policy, which is automatically enforced on 15 October: “Yes, though when and how we share it depends on whether it is personal data or non-personal data. AVG may share non-personal data with third parties and may publicly display aggregate or anonymous information.”

AVG has hit back at the criticism in a blog post today, by which we mean confirmed that its stance is correct, explaining: “Usage data allows [AVG] to customize the experience for customers and share data with third parties that allow them to improve or develop new products.

“Knowing that 10 million users like a certain TV program gives broadcasters the data to get producers to make more of that type of program.

“This is also how taxi firms know how to distribute their fleets, and how advertisers know where to place banners and billboards, for example. Even at AVG, we have published non-personal information that we have collected regarding app performance.”

But AVG added in big, bold type: “We do not, and will not, sell personally identifiable data to anyone, including advertisers.”

This will placate some, but others fear that the lack of choice over this matter, which requires an active decision to opt out, is too clandestine. As ever, there are threats to move to everything from Linux Mint to the Commodore 64, some more serious than others.

Several Redditors have likened it to similar warnings in Windows 10′s Insider Programme which essentially say: ‘we can track you … but we won’t, unless we do.’


Is Russia Behind US Malware Attacks?

September 21, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

It would appear that while the US has been blaming China for all its cyber break-ins it appears to be ignoring Tsar Putin’s elite hacking team for the last seven years.

For the past seven years, a cyberespionage group operating out of Russia on the orders of Tsar Putin have been conducting a series of malware campaigns targeting governments, political think tanks and other organizations.

Researchers at F-Secure have been looking into the antics of an outfit called “the Dukes” which has been active since at least 2008. The group has evolved into a methodical developer of “zero-day” attacks, pulling together their own research with the published work of other security firms to provide a more detailed picture of the people behind a long-running family of malware.

The Dukes specialize in “smash and grab” attacks on networks, but have also used subtle, long-term intrusions that harvested massive amounts of data from their targets.

The group’s targets do include criminal organisations operating in the Russian Federation, which suggest there is some form of policing element to it. But they are mostly interested in Western governments and related organisations, such as government ministries and agencies, political think tanks and governmental subcontractors.

F-Secure team wrote. “Their targets have also included the governments of members of the Commonwealth of Independent States; Asian, African, and Middle Eastern governments; organisations associated with Chechen terrorism; and Russian speakers engaged in the illicit trade of controlled substances and drugs.”

The group was named after its earliest-detected malware, known as PinchDuke. Its targets were associated with the Chechen separatist movement. Later that year they were going after Western governments and organisations in search of information about the diplomatic activities of the United States and the NATO.

Most of the attacks used spear phishing emails as the means of injecting malware onto targeted systems, one of their attacks have spread malware through a malicious Tor exit node in Russia, targeting users of the anonymising network with malware injections into their downloads.

The targets have always followed Russian government interests. There are a number of Russian-language artifacts in some of the malware, including an error message in PinchDuke. GeminiDuke also used timestamps that were adjusted to match Moscow Standard time.

Before the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, the group began using a number of decoy documents in spear phishing attacks that were related to Ukraine. They included a letter undersigned by the First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

However, after the crisis happened the attacks dropped off suggesting that it was an intelligence gathering operation. It is also a big operation, which, if operating in Russia would most likely require state acknowledgement, if not outright support.


Canon Show Off 250 megapixel Image Sensor

September 10, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Technology

Canon has introduced a 250-megapixel image sensor capable of fitting into DSLR cameras.

Dubbed the APS-H CMOS sensor, Canon claims it can snap the “lettering on the side of an airplane flying at a distance of approximately 19 km (11 miles) from the shooting location.

Quite how that would make a good photo, we are uncertain, but nevertheless the technology is there.

Canon claims the sensor has more pixels for its size than any other on the market and can shoot images at five frames per second with a readout of 1.25 billion pixels per second. All this makes it handy for purvey paparazzi trying to snap pictures of B list celebrities getting out of cars after forgetting to put on their pants.

The sensor can fit in consumer-grade DSLR cameras, but it probably will not end up there. It is going to be targeted at “specialized surveillance and crime prevention tools, ultra-high resolution measuring instruments and other industrial equipment.” We would have thought it would be handy for drone surveillance.

To put this development into some perspective, in 2007 Canon’s big announcement was the creation of a 50-megapixel CMOS prototype sensor.



Verizon Gearing Up For 5G Trials In 2016

September 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Verizon is gearing up to begin lab tests of elements that might go into 5G, the next generation of cellular technology, and plans to start field trials next year.

A 5G standard is not expected until 2020, but mobile operators in some countries, including Japan and South Korea, have already started trials of technologies that might go into it.

Verizon sees some of the same kinds of goodness coming from 5G as others do: 50 times the network throughput of 4G LTE, lower latency and the capability to handle more devices, including the so-called “Internet of Things.” Very high ”millimeter-wave” frequencies are expected to help make those breakthroughs possible.

The carrier is setting up indoor “sandbox” lab environments at its Innovation Centers in Waltham, Mass., and San Francisco, where mobile vendors will work together on parts of what may become standard 5G technology. Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent, Qualcomm, Samsung and Cisco are already working with Verizon on 5G.

Asia, Europe and North America all want to play a role in the development of 5G, which is expected to be approved in 2020 by the 3GPP, the same organization that signed off on 4G LTE. U.S. carriers got LTE rolling on a large scale, led by Verizon’s launch of that technology in 39 metropolitan areas in December 2010.

In the run-up to 5G, some European players are trying to make sure that region plays a significant role in the standard’s development. And some in the mobile world have already jumped into the fray by testing potential elements of the emerging standard. NTT DoCoMo plans to have a commercial network up and running at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and earlier this year joined with Nokia to demonstrate some of what it expects to use into that network. Samsung has said it will develop 5G technology with South Korean operator LG U+ with a goal of commercial deployment in 2020.

Verizon started out the same way with 4G as it is now with 5G. It established the two innovation centers to help develop a 4G ecosystem with vendor partners, and in 2008 set up a “sandbox” network of 10 cells around Boston.




Huawei Goes After High-end Smartphone Market With Mate S

September 4, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

China’s Huawei Technologies has introduced a new smartphone , taking aim at the high end of the market, which is dominated by Apple and Samsung Electronics.

The Mate S, launched on the sidelines of Europe’s biggest consumer electronics show, IFA, in Berlin, has a 5.5-inch display, a 13 mega pixel rear camera and fingerprint security. Huawei says it is one of the first smartphones to include a Force Touch display, which can distinguish between a light tap and deep press, enabling access to more functions just by pressing harder.

Huawei became the world’s third-biggest smartphone company by sales last month, according to research firm Gartner, overtaking Chinese rival Lenovo, and aims to become the first Chinese firm to sell more than 100 million smartphones this year.

But it is still far behind Samsung, which had 21.9 percent of the market in the second quarter, and Apple, on 14.6 percent. Huawei’s share rose to 7.8 percent from 5.4 percent in the first quarter.

Huawei’s Mate S phone will retail for 649 euros ($732) — comparable to some higher-end Apple iPhone 6 series models — with a premium version for 748 euros, the Chinese company said.

“Huawei aspires to be the next Samsung, successful with both premium design and by shipping large numbers of smartphone models,” said IHS analyst Ian Fogg, who expects Huawei to ship about 109 million smartphones this year.

“2015′s Huawei smartphone launches show the company is finally coming close to meeting these market goals which Huawei set some years ago.”

The top of the smartphone market is a tough environment, as Samsung has experienced. While it remains the world’s biggest smartphone maker, Apple is reaping most of the rewards. The U.S. company is estimated by some analysts to earn 90 percent or more of the industry’s profits.

Huawei has its roots in telecoms equipment gear where it competes with the likes of Ericsson and Nokia, but it has invested heavily in consumer devices in recent years.

Its Mate S will be available in more than 30 countries including China, Germany, Israel,Japan, France, Germany and Spain and can be pre-ordered in Western Europe from Sept. 15.





Drones To Have Intel Inside

August 31, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Chipmaker Intel is taking its competitive game up a notch by investing in its own drones.

Intel has written a check for more than US$60 million to Yuneec International, a Chinese aviation company and drone maker.

This is not the first time that the Chipmaker has invested in drones. It has written smaller amounts for the drone makers Airware and PrecisionHawk. The Yuneec deal is its largest investment in a drone company yet.

Apparently Intel thinks that drones are potential computing platforms for its processors.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said he believed in a smart and connected world. And one of the best ways to bring that smart and connected world to everyone and everywhere has been drones.

Amazon and Google are developing drones as they seek new ways to deliver items to consumers, Intel just wants to make sure that its chips are delivering the payload. There is no indication that it is building a secret airforce which it will use to take down competition – that would be silly.

Yuneec makes a range of drones built for aerial photography and imaging. Its technology also powers manned electric aircraft.


IBM Thinks Businesses Should Block TOR

August 28, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM security research has found that people are using the so-called dark net to launch cyber attacks, force ransomware demands on punters and make distributed denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

The dark net, accessed via Tor, is often tagged as a threat. The IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Quarterly 3Q 2015 report identifies a spike in bad traffic and leads with a warning.

The report introduces Tor as the network that takes people to the dark net. We might start calling it the ferryman and the passage across the river Styx, but things are complicated enough.

IBM said that Tor is used by “non-malicious government officials, journalists, law enforcement officials” and bad people alike. It is the latter that should concern us.

“This latest report reveals that more than 150,000 malicious events have originated from Tor in the US alone thus far in 2015,” the report said.

“Tor has also played a role in the growing ransomware attack trend. Attackers have evolved the use of encryption to hold data hostage and demand payment/ransom for the decryption code.”

We have been here before, and ransomware has been a feature of many a security alert this year already. We heard, courtesy of Bitdefender, that ransomware charges start at £320, and are a real pain to deal with. We also heard that it is Android mobile users in the UK who get the worst of the hackers’ grabbing-for-money treatment.

Back at the IBM report, and we find IBM X-Force on the issue. X-Force, which is nothing like X-Men, said that hackers push internet users who are easily fooled by flashy online advertisements into installing the new cyber nightmare. Ransomware, it warns, will separate you from your cash.

“A surprising number of users are fooled by fake/rogue antivirus [AV] messages that are nothing more than animated web ads that look like actual products. The fake AV scam tricks users into installing or updating an AV product they may never have had,” it explains, adding that in some cases people pay the money without thinking.

“Afterward, the fake AV keeps popping up fake malware detection notices until the user pays some amount of money, typically something in the range of what an AV product would cost.”

This establishes the subject as a mark, and the hackers will exploit the opportunity. “Do not assume that if you are infected with encryption-based ransomware you can simply pay the ransom and reliably get your data back,” said IBM.

“The best way to avoid loss is to back up your data. Regardless of whether your backup is local or cloud-based, you must ensure that you have at least one copy that is not directly mapped visibly as a drive on your computer.”

Tor nodes in the US spewed out the most bad traffic in the first half of this year, according to the report, adding up to about 180,000 attacks. The Netherlands is second with around 150,000, and Romania is third with about 80,000.

The bulk of this negative attention lands at technology and communications companies. You might have assumed the financial markets, but you were wrong. IBM said that ICT gets over 300,000 Tor thwacks every six months, manufacturing gets about 245,000, and finance gets about 170,000.

IBM said that the old enemy, SQL injection attacks, is the most common Tor-led threat to come at its customers. Vulnerability scanning attacks are also a problem, and IBM said that the use of the network as a means for distributed DoS attacks should “Come as no surprise”. It doesn’t.

“These attacks combine Tor-commanded botnets with a sheaf of Tor exit nodes. In particular, some of the US-based exit nodes provide huge bandwidth,” explained the report.

“Employing a handful of the exit nodes in a distributed DoS orchestrated by the botnet controller and originating at dozens or hundreds of bot hosts can impose a large burden on the targeted system with a small outlay of attacker resources, and generally effective anonymity.”

There is a lot more. The bottom line is that bad things happen on the dark net and that they come to people and businesses through Tor. IBM said that concerned outfits should just block it and move on, which is along the lines of something that Akamai said recently.

“Corporate networks really have little choice but to block communications to these stealthy networks. The networks contain significant amounts of illegal and malicious activity,” said Akamai.

“Allowing access between corporate networks and stealth networks can open the corporation to the risk of theft or compromise, and to legal liability in some cases and jurisdictions.”

That sounds fine to us, but won’t someone give a thought to those non-malicious government officials out there?


Alibaba Ads Artificial Intelligence To Its Cloud Service

August 26, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Alibaba’s cloud computing business is attempting to gain enterprise customers with a new artificial intelligence service designed for data mining and analysis.

The Chinese e-commerce giant has announced DT PAI, a platform designed to comb through a client’s data and analyze it for useful information.

The service could help companies find key trends within their customer data, or even recommend goods to users, according to Alibaba. For example, online shoppers could take a picture of an item they like, upload the image and then receive the e-commerce listing about where they can buy the product.

Alibaba had been experimenting with this concept back in 2011 through its own e-commerce search engine.

Alibaba’s DT PAI platform now aims to streamline AI development for the enterprise market, reducing the time and expertise needed. Interested customers can simply “drag-and-drop” what functions they want, before proceeding to application development, the company said.

“What used to take days can be completed in minutes,” said Xiao Wei, senior product expert with Alibaba’s cloud business, in a press release.

Alibaba isn’t exactly known for AI development, but there are other factors to consider. In China, the company dominates as the country’s leading e-commerce player, and its initial public offering in the U.S. was the world’s largest at US$25 billion.

In addition, the company has a fast-growing cloud computing business, which is expanding globally. It has already opened a data center in Silicon Valley, and more are slated for other markets such as Europe and Japan.

In expanding, however, Alibaba will have to contend with better-known cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, according to analysts.





Sony Going After Drone Market With New Aerosense Device

August 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Sony is making a play for a piece of the growing drone market, unveiling newly developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from its just-launched drone venture, Aerosense.

In addition to the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) craft hinted at last month, Aerosense on Monday exhibited a quadcopter that makes use of Sony’s lens-type camera, the QX30.

The camera, which resembles a lens for a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera and can link to smartphones, is attached to the belly of the quadcopter, where it can take high-resolution images.

Designed for use in urban areas such as construction zones, the AS-MC01-P quadcopter weighs about 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) and can fly for about 15 to 20 minutes on a battery charge.

It can operate autonomously, flying within a preset zone, and is equipped with GPS, Wi-Fi and an inertial navigation system. It also has a high-speed data transfer module that uses Sony’s TransferJet technology.

In a presentation in Tokyo, Aerosense showed how photography from the camera can be turned into 3D imagery, showing, for instance, the volumes of piles of gravel at a construction site.

The venture’s other craft, the AS-DT01-E winged VTOL drone, has a rotor system that allows it to fly like a helicopter or a plane. The advantage of the winged format is that it can fly at much higher speeds than most non-military drones — up to 170 kilometers per hour (106 miles/hour) compared to high-speed quadcopters that fly at 75 kph (47 mph).

Weighing 7kg (15 pounds), it can carry a 3kg payload (6.6 pounds) and operate for at least two hours on a battery charge.

Aerosense will target enterprise customers when it begins to offer drones for monitoring, surveying and inspection next year.






Did VW Sit On Megamos Crypto Security Issue?

August 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Volkswagen (VW) has watched as a security vulnerability in a key system on a range of vehicles has been released from the garage and put on the news road.

VW was first notified about the problem two years ago, but has worked to keep it under the bonnet. Well, not all of it, just a single line – not a yellow line – has been contentious. The line is still controversial, and has been redacted from the full, now released, report.

VW secured an injunction in the UK high court two years ago. The firm argued at the time that the information would make it easy to steal vehicles that come from its factories and forecourts. That might be true, but that is often the case with vulnerabilities.

The news that VW has suppressed the report for this amount of time is interesting, but it does remind us that not everyone in the industry appreciates third-party information about weaknesses.

VW has a lot of cars under its hood and, according to the report, a lot of different vehicles are affected. These run from Alfa Romeo through to Volvo, and take in midlife crisis mobility vehicles like the Maserati and Porsche.

The report is entitled Dismantling Megamos Crypto: Wirelessly Lockpicking a Vehicle Immobilizer (PDF), and is authored by Roel Verdult from Radbound university in the Netherlands and Flavio Garcia from the University of Birmingham in the UK.

Megamos Crypto sounds like a sci-fi bad guy, maybe a rogue Transformer, but it is actually designed to be a good thing. The security paper said that it is a widely deployed “electronic vehicle immobiliser” that prevents a car starting without the close association of its key and included RFID tag.

The researchers described how they were able to reverse engineer the system and carry out three attacks on systems wirelessly. They mention several weaknesses in the design of the cipher and in the key-update mechanisms. Attacks, they said, can take as little as 30 minutes to carry out, and recovering a 96-bit encryption key is a relatively simple process.

This could be considered bad news if you are a car driver. It may even be worse news for pedestrians. Concerned car owners should find their keys (try down the back of the sofa cushion) and assess whether they have keyless ignition. The researchers said that they told VW about the findings in 2012, and that they understand that measures have been taken to prevent attacks.

We have asked VW for an official statement on the news, but so far it isn’t coughing. Ready to talk, though, is the security industry, and it is giving the revelation the sort of disapproving look that people give cats when they forget what that sand tray is for.

Nicko Van Someren, CTO at Good Technology, suggested that this is another example of what happens when you go from first gear to fourth while going up a hill (this is our analogy). He described it in terms of the Internet of Things (IoT), and in respect of extending systems before they are ready to be extended.

“This is a great example of what happens when you take an interface that was designed for local access and connect it to the wider internet,” he said.

“Increasingly, in the rush to connect ‘things’ for the IoT, we find devices that were designed with the expectation of physical access control being connected to the internet, the cloud and beyond. If the security of that connection fails, the knock-on effects can be dire and potentially even fatal.”