The Internal Revenue Service, which confirmed rumors of a breach of 100,000 taxpayer accounts, has been consistently reducing the size of its internal cybersecurity staff as it increases its security spending. This may seem paradoxical, but one observer suggested it could signal a shift to outsourcing.
In 2011, the IRS employed 410 people in its cybersecurity organization, but by 2014 the headcount had fallen by 11% to 363 people, according to annual reports about IRS information technology spending by the U.S. Treasury Department Inspector General.
Despite this staff reduction, the IRS has increased spending in its cybersecurity organization. In 2012, the IRS earmarked $129 million for cybersecurity, which rose to $141.5 million last year, an increase of approximately 9.7%.
This increase in spending, coupled with the reduction in headcount, is an indicator of outsourcing, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute. Paller sees risks in that strategy.
“Each organization moves at a different pace toward a point at which they have outsourced so much that the insiders do little more than manage contracts, and lose their technical expertise and ability to manage technical contractors effectively,” said Paller.
An IRS spokesman was not able to immediately answer questions about the IRS’s cybersecurity spending.
This breach is drawing congressional scrutiny. On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who heads the Senate Finance Committee, called the breach “unacceptable.”
The IRS’s total IT budget in 2014 was $2.5 billion, an increase from the prior year’s $2.3 billion, with 7,339 employees last year, little change from 7,303 reported in 2013.
The agency’s IT budget has fared better than the agency overall. Congress has been cutting spending at the agency. IRS funding has been reduced by $1.2 billion over the last five years, from $12.1 billion in 2010 to $10.9 billion this year. An IRS official told lawmakers earlier this year that the budget cuts have delayed critical IT investments of more than $200 million, which includes replacing aging IT systems.
At Sony’s 2015 Investor Relations Day today, Sony Computer Entertainment president and global CEO Andrew House detailed the company’s strategy for the coming year, including how it will address some shortcomings.
House began his presentation on a positive note, talking up PlayStation 4 as “the fastest selling hardware platform in our history,” showing better-than expected growth and pushing PlayStation Plus subscriptions to twice what they were in fiscal year 2013. He said the company has a competitive advantage for the moment, and laid out three ways it hopes to maintain that. In addition to next year’s launch of the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset and continued cost reduction efforts, House said the company needs quality software.
“We are working very hard to continue very strong support from third-party pubs and devs,” House said. “Our first-party lineup is a little sparse this year, so I think this places even greater emphasis on getting good third-party support.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean exclusive third-party support. To date, House said Sony has been primarily trying to get multiplatform developers to simply take advantage of features the PS4 has over the competition, like SharePlay, or maybe include extra content in the PS4 version or give players early access to add-on content. Third-party exclusives are still an option, just not a frequently used one.
“I will admit that these are, in the current publishing landscape, few and far between, but we were able to announce a full exclusive around a franchise like Street Fighter so that Street Fighter 5 is a complete exclusive for PlayStation 4,” House said, adding, “Although given publishing dynamics and development costs, those are increasingly difficult to secure.”
House also talked about the decline in Sony’s other platforms. As much as the PS4′s growth has exceeded expectations, so too has the PlayStation 3′s decline. House said the system’s price simply isn’t as competitive in the market as the PlayStation 2 and PSone were after their successors launched, and added that the shift toward more connected console experiences has also made less capable offerings less attractive.
House also cast a dim view of the company’s handheld business. While he noted that the Vita platform remains “strong and vibrant” in Asia and Japan, his outlook for the current fiscal year included declines in the US and Europe. Additionally, he referred to the PlayStation Vita and its microconsole counterpart the PlayStation TV as “legacy platforms” when discussing a write-off of hardware components for the two.
“I would characterize 2015 as the beginning of a harvest period for the PlayStation 4 platform,” House said. “The beginning of a harvest period. That being said, we are also undertaking to invest in the future, and 2015 will also be a year of investment.”
That investment will be focused on a few areas. There’s the Morpheus, of course, as well as continued spend on original PlayStation entertainment content like the TV show Powers (which was recently greenlit for a second season). On top of that, House said Sony would be investing in the expansion of its PlayStation Vue television streaming platform and a continued re-architecture of its PlayStation Network with an eye toward increasing stability and reducing maintenance downtime.
The Lenovo Z51 is a 15-inch Windows 8.1 notebook that’s meant to be both a workstation and a home entertainment center, the company said Wednesday. The PC also has room to fit an optional RealSense camera, which can offer gesture controls like ones found in Microsoft’s Kinect gaming device.
The Z51 has a 1080p display, and can be configured to have up to a fifth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of HDD or SSHD (solid-state and hard drive combination) memory. It weighs 2.3 kilograms (approximately 5 pounds) and offers 4 hours of battery life. It can be upgraded to include an AMD R9-M375 graphics card.
The Z51 has a smaller sibling called the Z41 that has a 14-inch screen, but no support for Intel’s RealSense camera. Both products will have a starting price at $499.
But the Z51, when configured with the RealSense Camera, and equipped with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, will start at $599.
Consumers wanting an even cheaper alternative can look at Lenovo’s ideapad 100, which the PC maker also introduced on Wednesday.
The ideapad 100, comes in both 14 and 15-inch display versions, and will start at $249. The affordable laptop runs an Intel BayTrail-M N3540 processor, which has four cores. It can have up to 128GB of SSD (solid-state drive) memory, runs Windows 8.1 and has a 1366 by 768 screen.
It has a battery life of 4 hours, and the 15-inch version weighs 2.3 kg, while the 14-inch version comes at 1.9 kg (approximately 4.2 pounds). The SSD memory can also be swapped for 500GB of HDD memory.
The OS will be in the spotlight at Google’s massive I/O conference in San Francisco later this week. As well as pushing into home appliances, it could also be extended to play a deeper role in virtual reality, allowing Android developers to build apps for smartphones or VR headsets.
Google hasn’t confirmed any of those plans yet, but as usual, the rumor mill has been in motion. Extending Android to even more devices could help Google draw more people to its online services, and by putting the software in home appliances, Google could gather further valuable insights into people’s behavior.
Google already has its Works with Nest program, which lets appliances talk to its thermostat and smoke alarm for certain energy-related tasks. But according to a report last week in The Information, Google is developing new technology called Brillo that will run on low-powered devices independent of Nest with as little as 64MB or 32MB of memory.
That means just about any appliance around the home — the lights, the air conditioner, a Crock-Pot — could be running Brillo and hooked up to the Web, so you could control them remotely from a smartphone or a PC. It’s a well-worn path that Microsoft and many other vendors also are treading, as they try to provide software and connectivity for tomorrow’s Internet of Things.
At I/O, Google may also push Android deeper into virtual reality. In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was developing a VR version of Android.
There will likely be a version of Android that runs virtual reality applications. Such a system could make it easier for developers to use the sensors and other capabilities in smartphones to create VR apps, or else support multiple displays for an immersive experience. The Google I/O schedule lists some sessions focused on designing and developing VR apps.
For years people have been moaning that Firefox keeps taking their RAM and refusing to give it back, well now it appears that Chrome suffers from a similar problem.
Chrome creates a new process for each tab and instance of the browser opened. This can make the browser sluggish on some machines and a battery life nightmare for mobile users.
However Google is aware of the problem and is coming up with a fix, Speaking during a Reddit AMA session a Chrome for Android engineer said: “We are actively working on reducing battery usage and we are looking into when Chrome is in the foreground and in the background.”
“Since its inception Chrome has been focusing on security and performance of the web across all supported platforms. Performance sometimes has come at the cost of resource usage, but given the importance of the mobile platform this is one of the top things we are looking into.”
On the desktop side, Google is currently trying to fight memory leaks: “We are profiling Chrome to improve our start-up speed and proactively fighting memory bloat and memory leaks. For example, this year the first gesture latency and mean input latency has decreased steadily.”
According to Digitimes, heading into the second quarter of 2015, Taiwan touch panel makers have sudden got conservative outlooks and some are even predicting that their revenues will drop another 15-20 per cent.
he reason is that consumers don’t want game changing tablets and despite the claim that they are moving over to phablets instead the smartphone market is still pretty pants.
While Taiwan’s overall shipments are expected to grow in the second quarter, with makers expected to ship 41.579 million smartphone-use touch panels, increasing 23.5 per cent on quarter but decreasing 22.3 per cent on year. The 8.941 million tablet-use units, are up 7.2 per cent on quarter but down 15 per cent on year.
Tablet makers are hurting the most. Those who focus on the application such as TPK are expected to see a 15-20 per cent decline in revenues during the second quarter before rebounding in the second half of the year when product mixes are adjusted and new orders from customers arrive.
Young Fast Optoelectronics company chairman Pai Chih-chiang said that they were also having to face price competition and this will get worse.
Young Fast aims to reduce spending and cut costs in order to react to this trend, which arose largely due to competition from China. The company will also focus on developing larger-size products in addition to wearable solutions while increasing utilization rates, said Pai, adding it will lower its emphasis on consumer-based products.
Reform Government Surveillance, an organization that represents technology giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft, is pushing the U.S. Senate not to delay reform of National Security Agency surveillance by extending expiring provisions of the Patriot Act.
The House of Representatives voted 338-88 last week to approve the USA Freedom Act that would, among other things, stop the controversial bulk collection of phone records of Americans by the NSA, including by placing restrictions on the search terms used to retrieve the records.
The bill has run into opposition in the Senate from some Republican members who are backing renewal of the current Section 215 of the Patriot Act that provides the legal framework for the phone data collection.
The urgency for Congress to pass legislation comes from the upcoming expiration on June 1 of certain parts of the Patriot Act, including Section 215. Under a so-called “sunset” clause, the provisions will lapse unless reauthorized in the same or modified form by legislation.
A bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month would extend the surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act until 2020. To apparently buy time as pressure builds for reform, another bill has been placed on the Senate calendar to extend Section 215 and other expiring provisions in the current form up to July 31.
The technology companies said that the USA Freedom Act prevents the bulk collection of Internet metadata under various authorities, and provides for transparency about government demands for user information from technology companies, besides assuring that the appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place.
Dropbox previously released its cloud storage service on Windows phones and tablets, and on Tuesday the company followed up with a universal app that expands the feature sets for both types of devices.
The update automatically adapts to the user’s screen size and delivers a number of new features, including the ability for Windows Phone users to upload videos directly from their devices.
In the interests of multitasking, Windows Phone users can also now upload multiple files at once. And they can download files straight to their device or SD card, making the information available for offline access; there’s a way to mark files as favorites for offline use as well.
The new update also brings the ability to save and open files to and from Dropbox while working within other apps.
On Windows tablets, Dropbox users can now invite new members to a shared folder from their contacts list and manage folder settings from their device. New keyboard shortcuts for selecting and searching enable a faster workflow.
Now available free for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.0 or 8.1, the software promises better performance as well, according to Dropbox.
Separately Tuesday, Dropbox rolled out new features for its main service that target designers and others who work frequently with images. Specifically, it debuted a new image viewer for better online previews as well as better support for Photoshop, Illustrator and scalable vector graphic files. Users can now also preview PostScript images in their browser rather than having to download them first.
Scammers are running wild through British oil company networks without needing to use malware, according to Panda Security.
Hacking is not new, stealing information and data from firms is not new, but doing so without using malware is unusual.
Panda has dubbed the scam Operation Oil Tanker (PDF), which it said has made its way into systems through a socially engineered email and a lone staffer. The security firm said that antivirus systems failed to stop the attacks, but that its own demo software did.
Panda explained that a worker called Susan at a company called Black Gold Ltd was presented with an email on a Monday morning.
The email contained a 4MB attachment apparently related to the oil market which the employee clicked on and opened. While this could have been big trouble, it was not. Why? Because of Panda.
“Neither the mail server antivirus nor the antivirus on her workstation had
found anything anomalous in it. Susan double-clicked the attachment. A blank PDF opened,” the firm explained.
“1,700km away from Susan’s computer, an alarm was triggered. An unknown threat had just been detected and blocked when it tried to steal credentials from Susan’s computer and send them out.”
Panda, which was the blocker, said that there are some 250,000 malware threats a day, but that this one was special.
“There was something really unique about this threat: it didn’t use any kind of malware. That’s why we decided to call it the ‘Phantom Menace’,” it added.
Panda studied the incident, picking apart the email and its PDF and finding that it included an executable. That executable showed no suspicious behaviour, so was not picked up in regular scans. However, it ran a file called dcp.exe, which allows for file encryption.
Files are picked up at the target and sent to a remote location. Panda found files dating back to 2013, and reported that it had gone undetected for some six months. The scammer was able to use the information to fraudulently broker oil sales.
“In short, the scam works like this: the scammer contacts a broker/middleman and offers them a large amount of BLCO [Bonny Light Crude Oil], one to two million barrels, at a very competitive price,” said Panda.
“To close the deal, the buyer must pay a significant amount of money – from $50,000 to $100,000 – in advance. However, once they pay the money they
are met with the nasty surprise that there is no oil.”
Panda has contacted the Spanish National Guard with its evidence and discoveries.
The security firm said that the force has a good history in dealing with cybercrime, and has worked with Panda before. However, it added that no victims are prepared to come forward. Which does not help anyone.
Apple, which has been focusing efforts on beefing up its mapping technology since ditching Google Maps in 2012, has acquired Coherent Navigation, a startup offering a high-accuracy GPS navigation service.
Coherent’s navigation system is used in the Iridium satellite network, according to the LinkedIn profile of Paul Lego, who was CEO of the company before going to work for Apple. Coherent, which was founded in 2008 and is based in the San Francisco area, counts the U.S. government as a customer and had been aiming its technology at the mining, construction, energy and agriculture industries. Coherent had fewer than 10 employees, according to its LinkedIn page, which states that the company “has ceased operations.”
Coherent joins a string of businesses Apple has purchased in recent years to beef up its mapping service. Until 2012, Apple’s mapping technology was based on Google Maps. Other mapping and location companies Apple has acquired include PlaceBase, Locationary and BroadMap.
In a statement released to the media, Apple said it occasionally purchases small companies and doesn’t discuss its acquisition plans. The timing, price and terms of the deal, which was first reportedby MacRumors, weren’t disclosed.
However, several former Coherent executives became Apple employees in recent months. Coherent CEO Paul Lego began working at Apple in January while co-founders William Bencze and Brent Ledvina joined the company in April, according to their LinkedIn profiles. Lego is on the Maps Team and Bencze and Ledvina work on location technologies.
Analyst at IDC have consulted their tarot cards and are predicting that tablets will survive in the business area.
The overall tablet market in Western Europe remained challenged in the first quarter of 2015, declining 10.5 percent on year with shipments totaling 8.5 million units. The contraction, was the result of consumers realising that tablets were a fad and had no actually use at all.
But IDC sees a feature for the technology in the commercial space with volumes increasing 51.3per cent from the same period in 2014. This is particularly in the area of 2-in-1s which are essentially a re-incarnation of netbooks with a touch screen.
In terms of product category, the share of 2-in-1s, albeit growing, remains in single-digit territory at 5.9 per cent. Nevertheless, the popularity of these devices continued to increase among consumers as well as enterprises, driving shipments up 44.4 per cent.
Chrystelle Labesque, research manager, IDC EMEA Personal Computing said that the fact there were no major product launches, the beginning of 2015 failed to stimulate stronger consumer demand.
“Growth opportunity, however, clearly continues to come from enterprises and professional segments. Vendors have significantly expanded their product portfolio with devices optimized for business usage. Demand for 2-in-1 devices is gathering momentum driven by improved hardware offers as well as adjusted price points that are attracting private users as well as professionals,” she said,
Marta Fiorentini, senior research analyst, IDC EMEA Personal Computing claimed that tablet usage for professional purposes was a reality.
“Deployment is no longer limited to a few early adopting countries or businesses. Adoption is far from being mainstream but we now see companies of all sizes choosing tablets and 2-in-1s to support their normal business activities.
The UK, France, Germany, and Northern Europe countries remain at the forefront of this trend as tablet adoption has become part of mobility and digital strategies in the private as much as public sector.
Windows 10 is likely to resolve most of the infrastructure legacy and integration problems that have so far hindered tablet and 2-in-1 adoption in some existing enterprises. The growth of the commercial segment is therefore expected to continue in the coming quarters, supporting overall market volumes in 2015 and beyond.”
Android devices account for the majority of the market thanks to the large number of vendors offering tablets running on this OS. The largest vendor, Samsung, under-performed the market in the consumer segment in the first quarter of 2015, but showed strong commercial results.
The rest of the market is represented by Windows devices, which posted strong double-digit growth for the third quarter in a row.
The changes, announced Thursday, come less than a month after Google started prioritizing mobile-optimized sites in its search results. Both companies are looking to attract more users by providing a better search experience on smartphones and tablets.
Microsoft said it expects to roll out the changes in the coming months. Sites that display well on smaller screens will also be flagged with a new “mobile friendly” tag.
In the U.S. last year, Bing had roughly 6 percent of the mobile search market, compared with Google’s 83 percent, according to figures from StatCounter.
The changes don’t mean mobile-optimized sites will necessarily appear at the top of results. “You can always expect to see the most relevant results for a search query ranked higher, even if some of them are not mobile friendly,” Microsoft said.
It considers a variety of elements to decide which sites display best on smartphones and tablets. For example, sites with large navigational elements that are spaced well apart will be prioritized, as well as sites that don’t require a lot of zooming and lateral scrolling. Bing will also favor sites with mobile-compatible content. That means pages with Flash content, which doesn’t work well on iOS devices, might get demoted.
Microsoft highlighted Fandango’s mobile site as one that will be prioritized under the changes, more so than Movies.com.
The company has also developed a tool to help webmasters assess the mobile friendliness of their sites. It will be made available in a few weeks.
Mac and Linux fans you are out of luck. Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, the headset that perhaps more than any other device has ignited public interest in virtual reality, will run almost exclusively on well-appointed Windows PCs, at least in the near future.
The process that most laptops use to output video doesn’t work with the Rift, and Oculus has temporarily halted development for hardware running Apple and Linux. That’s the takeaway from the spec informationOculus published Friday detailing what type of computer would be compatible with its headset.
Graphics cards need to be equivalent to or more powerful than the AMD Radeon R9 290 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, while the processor needs to match or exceed an Intel i5-4590 chip, the virtual-reality headset maker said in a blog post. Systems need at least 8GB of RAM, two USB 3.0 ports and must be able to handle HDMI 1.3 video output. They also need to be running at least Windows 7 with Service Pack 1.
Having common specs will simplify the development process and allow programmers to create apps and games that offer a consistent experience, said Oculus chief architect Atman Binstock in a blog post. This is important, since hardware that isn’t up to par will deliver a negative experience, he said.
The specs will stay consistent, but in theory, the cost of components that support the technology will decrease over time, allowing a broader range of PCs to work with the Rift, Binstock said.
Laptop owners who hoped to use the Rift are out of luck, at least for now. Many laptops have external video outputs connected to an integrated GPU (graphic processing units), said Binstock said. However, in those scenarios the video output is handled by “hardware and software mechanisms that can’t support the Rift,” he added.
Reviewing a laptop’s spec would not reveal this information, and Oculus is working on a method “to identify the right systems,” Binstock said.
Google will add a “buy” button in its search results on mobile devices in the coming weeks, according to a report last Friday in the Wall Street Journal, a move that could give online shoppers an easier way to buy products on small screens.
The change might also give consumers an alternative to mobile apps from companies like Amazon and eBay, though it might jeopardize retailers’ ability to directly market to their customers.
The buy button will appear on Google’s search results pages when people search for certain products on mobile devices, said the report, which cited unnamed sources. If users click on the buttons, they’ll be taken to another Google page where they can choose among sizes and colors, select shipping options and complete the purchase, the report said.
Google reportedly will let shoppers enter their payment information just once, store it, and automatically load it for future purchases on Google’s shopping pages.
The products will still be provided and sold by the retailer and not by Google. Macy’s is in talks with Google to take part in the launch of the button, according to the Wall Street Journal report.
Representatives of Google and Macy’s did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The buttons will accompany only sponsored search results, not regular results driven by Google’s basic search algorithm, the report said. At first they will only appear with a small percentage of Google’s search traffic.
Over time, the buttons could help Google expand its search service beyond information and links to also encompass an online storefront.
Hackers from Brazil have managed to discover a new exploit for the PS4 which enables them to bypass the DRM on any software and games.
A couple of weeks ago, a number of electronic stores in Brazil had been advertising the means to copy and run a series of ripped retail games on the console.
At the time little was known about the hack back then, but information gradually began to trickle out from customers and make its way around the web. Please see below for commentary from Lancope.
Gavin Reid, VP of threat intelligence, Lancope said that Sony was playing an arms race against groups that benefit from the abilities to copy and share games.
The hack originates from a Russian website and has been pushed into the public by Brasilian retailers. The hack isn’t necessarily a jailbreak for the PS4, nor is it really a homebrew technique.
What they did was use a retail PS4, with several games installed on it, with it’s entire game database and operating system (including NAN/BIOS). This was then dumped onto a hacked PS4 via Raspberry Pi.
The entire process costs about $100 to $150 to install 10 games and $15 per additional game.
“Open source groups like Homebrew with more altruistic motivations of extending the functionality of the console alongside groups selling modified consoles specifically to play copied games and of course the resell of the games themselves at fraction of the actuals costs. This has happened historically with all of the major consoles. It would be highly unlikely not to continue with the PS4,” he said.