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Qatar National Bank Admits Customer Data Released By Hackers Is Authentic

May 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Qatar National Bank has confirmed that its systems were hacked but said that the information released online was a combination of data picked up from the attack and from other sources such as social media.

The incident will not have a financial impact on the bank’s customers, whose accounts are secure, the bank said — without providing details of how its systems were hacked, the possible identity of the hackers and what information was harvested.

The announcement Sunday by one of the leading financial institutions in the Middle East follows the posting online last week of leaked documents. The attack targeted only a portion of Qatar-based customers, the bank said, claiming the hack attempted to target the bank’s reputation rather than specifically its customers.

“QNB Group’s Risk Team monitored abnormal activity in our system environment; this was immediately communicated to relevant authorities,” the bank said in a statement. “We also took immediate steps and our systems are fully secure and operational.”

The 1.4GB trove of documents leaked online included both financial information such as customer transaction logs, personal identification numbers and credit card data. But on closer scrutiny the data was found to have folders with detailed profiles on specific individuals, including what appeared to be files on members of the Qatari royal family, employees of media outlet Al Jazeera and people listed as working for the British MI6 and some other intelligence agencies, security firm Trend Micro said on Wednesday.

The attackers used an open-source SQL injection tool to extract all of the customer data they needed, wrote Simon Edwards, cyber security expert at Trend Micro. SQL injection is used against against websites that use SQL (structured query language) to query information from a database server.

The log file suggests that the attack could have started about nine months ago in July last year, Edwards said.

QNB said Tuesday that it would not comment on reports in social media of “an alleged data breach,” but sought to assure all concerned that there was no financial impact on the bank or its clients.

 

 

Twitter Troubles Continue, Misses Revenue Estimates

April 28, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Twitter Inc  disappointed investors once again with first-quarter results that revealed stagnant revenue growth as the microblogging service struggles to grab new users amid efforts to improve its complicated interface with several new features.

Twitter’s user base grew modestly to 310 million monthly active users in the quarter ended March 31 from 305 million in the fourth quarter, above analysts’ expectations. But investors were let down by the revenue miss since outlining a turnaround plan.

“It’s obvious Twitter is having trouble,” said Arvind Bhatia, analyst with CRT Capital. “It’s not growing anywhere close to where people expected a while back.”

On a call with analysts, executives said advertisers, especially in Europe, held back spending ahead of major events, including the Olympics and the European Champions League. They also said users were spending more time watching and sharing video, but that advertisers’ budgets had not yet shifted from legacy advertising products such as promoted tweets.

Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto said Twitter’s long-term goal was to have “millions of advertisers like our competitors.” Facebook Inc has more than 3 million advertisers.

Twitter has struggled with stagnant user growth as its complex interface makes it less attractive to new users.

As part of its turnaround plan, the company has emphasized its live offerings, including live commentary and video streaming through its Periscope app, to attract new users. But it faces fierce competition from Facebook Inc  which has recently ramped up its live video product, Facebook Live.

Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said that talent recruitment was a top priority for the year, especially on the engineering and product teams. Twitter lost several top executives earlier this year and has since added two new board members and a new chief marketing officer.

The company forecast revenue of $590 million to $610 million for the second quarter. Analysts on average were expecting $677.57 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

First-quarter revenue rose 36 percent from a year earlier to $594.5 million, but widely missed the average analyst estimate of $607.8 million.

 

 

Google Says A.I. Is The Next Big Thing In Computing

April 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Every decade or so, a new era of computing comes along that influences everything we do. Much of the 90s was about client-server and Windows PCs. By the aughts, the Web had taken over and every advertisement carried a URL. Then came the iPhone, and we’re in the midst of a decade defined by people tapping myopically into tiny screens.

So what comes next, when mobile gives way to something else? Mark Zuckerberg thinks it’s VR. There’s likely to be a lot of that, but there’s a more foundational technology that makes VR possible and permeates other areas besides.

“I do think in the long run we will evolve in computing from a mobile-first to an A.I.-first world,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, answering an analyst’s question during parent company Alphabet’s quarterly earnings call Thursday.

He’s not predicting that mobile will go away, of course, but that the breakthroughs of tomorrow will come via smarter uses of data rather than clever uses of mobile devices like those that brought us Uber and Instagram.

Forms of artificial intelligence are already being used to sort photographs, fight spam and steer self-driving cars. The latest trend is in bots, which use A.I. services on the back end to complete tasks automatically, like ordering flowers or booking a hotel.

Google believes it has a lead in A.I. and the related field of machine learning, which Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt has already pegged as key to Google’s future.

Machine learning is one of the ways Google hopes to distinguish its emerging cloud computing business from those of rivals like Amazon and Microsoft, Pichai said.

 

 

 

 

EU Seeks Greater Transparency In Web Search Results

April 18, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The European Union’s digital chief wants search engines such as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft’s Bing to be more transparent about paid ads in web search results but ruled out a separate law for web platforms.

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, who is overseeing a wide-ranging inquiry into how web platforms conduct their business, said on Friday the EU executive would not take a horizontal approach to regulating online services.

“We will take a problem-driven approach,” Ansip said. “It’s practically impossible to regulate all the platforms with one really good single solution.”

That will come as a relief to the web industry, dominated mainly by big U.S. tech firms such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, who lobbied hard against new rules for online platforms and what they saw as an anti-American protectionist backlash.

“We praise the Commission for understanding that a horizontal measure for all platforms is practically impossible,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, director of the Computer & Communications Industry Association which represents the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon.

“While a lot of online platforms enable economic growth, their business models differ widely.”

However Ansip said he was worried about how transparent some search engines are when displaying ads in search results.

The Commission is also looking into the transparency of paid-for reviews as well as the conditions of use of services such as Google Maps, Apple Inc’s IoS mobile operating system and Google’s Android.

“Maybe it’s not too much to ask for more transparency talking about search engines,” Ansip said.

The EU executive is looking into making rules on taking down illegal content clearer and more effective without making hosting websites such as YouTube directly liable.

“Now musicians ask, please, take it down and keep it down,” Ansip said. “We want to make those rules more clear.”

But the Commission will not change a provision where websites such as Amazon, eBay and Google’s YouTube are not held liable for illegal content that is uploaded on to their systems. They do, however, have a responsibility to take it down once they are notified of it.

The Commission will publish a communication detailing its plans on web platforms in June.

 

 

Facebook Announces Two Wireless Projects For Internet Connectivity

April 15, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook’s mission to improve Internet access has come down to Earth with experimental wireless gear for cities and rural areas.

At the company’s F8 conference on Wednesday, Facebook networking chief Jay Parikh introduced a super-high-frequency wireless backbone called Terragraph and a 96-antenna cellular base station named Aries. Facebook won’t sell these systems but wants to make the technologies available to others.

The world’s biggest social networking company has as much motivation as anyone does to make Internet access available to everyone. That’s the mission of its Connectivity Labs, which has so far made headlines with projects like satellites and a giant solar-powered airplane that would beam wireless signals down to users on the ground.

With its latest effort, the labs are taking it to the streets.

The Terragraph system is a collection of small radios designed to be installed around a city at close intervals (about 250 meters or 273 yards apart) as a cheaper alternative to laying fiber.

It’s based on WiGig, an extension of Wi-Fi that uses unlicensed spectrum in the 60GHz band to deliver gigabit speeds within a room. Using beam-forming and steering techniques, Facebook is using the same technology to shoot multigigabit signals between light poles or other nodes, forming a distribution network as a backbone for other services.

Terragraph can steer around buildings and other urban sources of interference, Parikh said. A software-defined networking controller, derived from work Facebook has done on its own data center networks, helps Terragraph find the best routes and recover when a node goes down.

For its part, Aries is a wireless base station that can serve 24 client devices on the same spectrum at the same time. At F8, Parikh showed it sending 24 separate video streams simultaneously. It’s a proof-of-concept project to show how wireless networks could use scarce spectrum and energy more efficiently. Facebook sees Aries as a faster and cheaper way to bring Internet access to rural communities.

Facebook doesn’t plan to build Terragraph or Aries networks itself but will make these technologies available through the Telecom Infra Project, formed in February and modeled after the company’s Open Compute Project. It now has more than 300 members, including Nokia, Intel and SK Telecom.

 

 

Facebook Gives Its Live Streaming Service A Boost

April 14, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is increasing its focus on video with a new tool that will help hardware makers build devices to stream live to the social networking service.

The new Facebook Live API will let publishers and hardware makers build tools that connect with the social network’s live video streaming feature. That means broadcasters will be able to stream video from hardware that integrates with the service like DJI drones and the new Mevo camera, along with broadcast software like Livestream, ffmpeg and Xsplit.

It’s a move to help video producers bring live video to Facebook without having to do something extreme like strap an iPhone to a camera rig, which is what they currently have to do. With the new tool, Facebook also makes it easier for developers and broadcasters to bring higher quality video to Live, too.

Users will also have the ability to share a live broadcast with members of a group, or people who are registered for an event, in addition to broadcasting to their friends or to the world at large. People watching a live broadcast can add live emoji reactions, similar to adding reactions to a news feed.

The functionality is a push by Facebook to compete with other live streaming services like Periscope, which is owned by rival social network Twitter. With the rise of pervasive, high-speed mobile connectivity, live streaming is becoming more prevalent. Facebook is likely feeling the pressure from its competition, but it’s in a strong position, according to Forrester analyst Nick Barber.

“Paired with its active users and algorithm, Facebook stands to create a new revenue stream with live events,” he said in an email. “It makes Facebook a one-stop shop for users who want to consume news, live events and connect with family and friends.”

Improving live streaming may make the platform more appealing to people who know they want to stream their event to the Web somehow, but haven’t yet decided how to do it. If Facebook can become the de facto home for live broadcasts from celebrities and big brands, that could put the company in a lucrative position.

“Recorded video is very engaging on social channels, and live creates even more opportunities for brands and individuals,” Barber said.

 

 

 

Get Ready For Facebook Chatbots

April 13, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is widely expected to unveil chatbots, among other things, at its annual F8 developer conference in San Francisco this week, in pursuit of its continuing goal of luring back younger users.

Chatbots are programs that largely use artificial intelligence to simulate conversations with humans; the technology will likely be included in the company’s Messenger app. The goal is to change the way we communicate with businesses, and with each other, on the Internet.

“Bots are conversational so they are a natural extension of how we like to communicate and what we like to do,” said Julie Ask, an analyst with Forrester. They’re “like having an assistant. You can chat with the bot, ask the bot to do things for you, like order take-out or get a new lipstick.”

Since F8 is a developer conference, Facebook will also likely show off API tools so enterprises and third-party developers can build chatbots and Live Chat plug-ins for business users. These announcements are not getting as much buzz as the chatbots at this point.

Think of chatbots as digital assistants that could help enterprises do away with 1-800 numbers, by taking customer questions, helping users find products and even handling problems.

“Bots will give consumers, who are more comfortable chatting with someone, the ability to buy products and services and get customer service,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “I personally don’t like getting on the phone and would love for Messenger to be able to validate my identity and provide information I need. It would be a time saver.”

Moorhead added that he expects chatbots first to work only in Messenger and then to be expanded to Facebook’s search service.

“And I believe Facebook will also integrate chatbots in their ads so consumers can interact directly on Facebook versus moving off the site,” he said.

 

 

Britain’s Daily Mail Said To Be Bidding For Yahoo

April 12, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Britain’s Daily Mail is holding discussions with potential partners to mount a joint bid for Yahoo’s internet assets, eyeing a plan to acquire the troubled U.S. Internet pioneer to help boost advertising revenues from the Mail’s globally popular online news site.

The parent company of the British newspaper, the Daily Mail & General Trust, said on Monday that it was in early stage discussions with several parties about a possible bid for Yahoo, confirming a Wall Street Journal report it had approached private equity buyers to team up.

“We have been in discussions with a number of parties who are potential bidders,” a spokeswoman for DailyMail.com said in an emailed statement, declining to name the private equity firms or give any financial details.

DailyMail.com and MailOnline are the celebrity-focused news websites of the right-leaning London-based Daily Mail newspaper. Globally the websites attract 14 million visitors a day, putting them among the world’s most popular English language news sites.

Buying Yahoo’s assets – which range from search and email to news, sports, photos and other properties – would expand DailyMail.com’s reach and improve its digital ad revenues, which for its 2015 financial year came in at 73 million pounds ($104 million), a tenth of the company’s overall annual turnover.

Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker said a deal with Yahoo would be positive for the company, helping it sell more U.S. advertising and reducing its dependence on shrinking advertising sales from its newspaper business in Britain.

“The U.S. has been the main driver of digital growth for Daily Mail & General Trust, whilst traffic has grown well they haven’t quite monetized this traffic as successfully as they would have liked,” Whittaker said.

Daily Mail & General Trust PLC’s  potential bid could take one of two forms, according to the WSJ report, citing people familiar with the matter. In one scenario, a private-equity partner would acquire Yahoo’s core web business, with the Mail taking over the news and media properties.

In the other scenario, the private-equity firm would acquire Yahoo’s core web business and merge its media and news properties with the Mail’s online operations. The merged units would form a new company that would be run by the Mail and give a larger equity stake to the Mail’s parent company than under the first scenario, the report said.

Bids for Yahoo are due on April 18, in an auction which is likely to be hotly-contested.

 

 

 

WhatsApp Gives Users End-to-End Encryption

April 7, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has strengthened the encryption of its wildly popular instant messaging app, a development that in theory makes it harder for law enforcement to gain access to communications.

WhatsApp’s founders said that the application now implements end-to-end encryption, which means only authorized users can decrypt messages.

“The idea is simple: When you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to,” Jan Koum and Brian Acton wrote in a blog post. “No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”

The move by WhatsApp comes after fierce debate over the increasing use of encryption and how it affects law enforcement investigations. WhatsApp said in February it had 1 billion users.

In February, a federal magistrate judge ordered Apple to create a special version of its mobile operating system that would help the FBI get into a phone used by one of the San Bernardino mass shooters. Apple objected, setting off a widespread debate.

The order was vacated after the FBI said it had found a way to unlock the phone with the help of a third party. But there are similar cases outstanding.

Devices using WhatsApp hold the encryption and decryption keys to messages sent over the service. That means law enforcement could not go to WhatsApp or another service provider to obtain the keys.

Alternatively, law enforcement could get access to WhatsApp messages if a suspect divulged his or her phone’s passcode or the passcode could be obtained another way.

It is also possible that a software vulnerability in the app could allow law enforcement access. Experts believe that may have been how the FBI unlocked the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.

WhatsApp’s encryption uses an open-source protocol called Signal, which is also used in an encrypted messaging app of the same name. Signal was developed by Open Whisper Systems.

 

NFL, Twitter Partner Up To Live Stream Games

April 7, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The National Football League has selected Twitter as its exclusive global partner for streaming its Thursday night games during the 2016 regular season, both parties announced, a deal that could help the social media site expand its user base.

CBS Corp and Comcast Corp unit NBC, which won the broadcast rights in February, could also gain more viewers via Twitter, TV executives said.

Twitter Inc spokesman Brian Poliakoff declined to disclose the financial terms, or elaborate on how the games would be streamed. But technology news website Re/code, citing people familiar with the bidding process, reported that Twitter paid less than $10 million for the streaming rights.

The deal comes as sports fans are increasingly relying on the Internet to watch video at the expense of traditional cable and satellite connections. Livestreaming the games would give Twitter a new avenue to attract users as it tries to catch up with rival social networks like Facebook Inc, which has over a billion users.

The NFL partnership helps cement Twitter’s position as a destination for live video, said Tom Richardson, president of consulting firm Convergence Sports & Media.

“I don’t think it’s going to cannibalize viewership at all,” CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said. “I don’t see people turning off their televisions and watching the game on Twitter.”

“The fact that our national commercials are running on the Twitter feed is a big benefit,” he said.

An NBC spokesman declined to comment.

Twitter will livestream 10 games for free to the more than 800 million people who use its service, as well as non-registered users.

 

Facebook Introduces New Feature To Help Visually Impaired

April 6, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

With pictures an ever-increasing proportion of what we share on social networks, Facebook fears that users with visual impairments may be missing out.

As of Tuesday, the company is tweaked its timelines so that users of screen readers can hear not just the text on a page, but also a brief description of what any images may contain. Until now, they’ve heard only the name of the person who posted the photo.

To describe the images, Facebook built a computer vision system with a neural network trained to recognize a number of concepts, including places and the presence of people and objects. It analyzes each image for the presence of different elements, and then composes a short sentence describing it that is included in the web page as the “alt” text of the image.

Users might hear, for example, “Image may contain: two people, smiling, sunglasses, sky, tree, outdoor.”

Facebook hedges its description with “may contain,” but for more than half the photos on its site, the company reckons it can identify at least one relevant concept with 80 percent accuracy or better.

The new feature is only available in English for now, and can be accessed via the screen reader function on iOS devices.

 

 

Tesla Model 3 Orders Hit $10 billion In First 36 hours

April 5, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Tesla Motors Inc  announced that orders for its new Model 3 electric sedan topped 253,000 in the first 36 hours — a fast start for the company’s first mass-market vehicle, which may not begin to reach customers for another 18 months or more.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted that the Model 3, which is slated to go into production in late 2017, will sell at an average price of $42,000, including the price of options and additional features, which would give the initial flurry of orders an estimated retail value of $10.6 billion.

That intense interest, fanned in part by a steady stream of tweets by Musk, could help boost Tesla’s stock price, which closed Friday at $237.59, up 3.4 percent. The stock has soared more than 60 percent since hitting a 12-month low in February.

The car’s average selling price projected by Musk is well above the $35,000 base price. Analysts earlier had estimated the first Model 3s off the factory line in Fremont, California, could be loaded with extra equipment and sell for $50,000 to$60,000.

Tesla has undertaken a costly expansion of the Fremont plant, aiming to boost annual capacity to 500,000 by 2020, with production of the Model 3, the company’s first mass-market car, ramping up slowly through 2019.

Some analysts said the company could have trouble filling all the initial Model 3 orders, which are accompanied by a refundable $1,000 deposit, until 2020.

Barclays analyst Brian Johnson on Friday said the heavy influx of Model 3 orders “sets the stage for an equity offering” later this year by Tesla, much of which would go toward factory construction and product development.

Johnson had estimated Tesla could take 250,000-300,000 orders for the car by the end of June.

 

 

FCC Votes To Tighten Broadband Providers Privacy Rules

April 4, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is moving toward major new regulations requiring ISPs to get customer permission before using or sharing their Web-surfing history and other personal information.

The FCC voted 3-2 last week to approve a notice of proposed rule-making, or NPRM, the first step toward passing new regulations, over the objections of the commission’s two Republicans.

The rules, which will now be released for public comment, require ISPs to get opt-in permission from customers if they want to use their personal information for most reasons besides marketing their own products.

Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly complained that the regulations target Internet service providers but not social networks, video providers and other online services.

“Ironically, selectively burdening ISPs, who are nascent competitors in online advertising, confers a windfall on those who are already winning,” Pai said. “The FCC targets ISPs, and only ISPs, for regulation.”

The proposed rules could prohibit some existing practices, including offering premium services in exchange for targeted advertising, that consumers have already agreed to, O’Rielly added. “The agency knows best and must save consumers from their poor privacy choices,” he said.

But the commission’s three Democrats argued that regulations are important because ISPs have an incredible window into their customers’ lives.

ISPs can collect a “treasure trove” of information about a customer, including location, websites visited, and shopping habits, said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “I want the ability to determine when and how my ISP uses my personal information.”

Broadband customers would be able to opt out of data collection for marketing and other communications-related services. For all other purposes, including most sharing of personal data with third parties, broadband providers would be required to get customers’ explicit opt-in permission.

The proposal would also require ISPs to notify customers about data breaches, and to notify those directly affected by a breach within 10 days of its discovery.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Microsoft’s HoloLens Heating Up?

April 1, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft’s HoloLens system is pretty cool, but unfortunately it could turn you into a flaming Michael Jackson, according to one developer.

According to PC World David Dedeine has overseen development of the HoloLens games Young Conker and Fragments, so he’s one of the few people to have obtained meaningful hands-on (or heads-in) time with the HoloLens.

While he praised the physicality of the HoloLens experience compared to standard VR, as well as speaking of reduced motion sickness he was a little worried about the head problem.

Unlike other VR headsets, the HoloLens essentially crams a complete computer into the headset, which means that there’s a heat-emitting CPU within inches of your skull. Microsoft is aware of the issue and has designed its HoloLens to shut down a game if things get too hot.

As for other possible issues, like the HoloLens’s limited field of view, Dedaine says that they’re nothing to worry about.

“People make a big deal about the field of view on the HoloLens, but for real, once you get used to it, you don’t think about it any more,” he said.

Neither is the system’s three-hour battery life much of a worry, Dedaine said. You wouldn’t want to spend any longer with the device in a single sitting. Presumably because it would microwave your brain.

Dedaine was mostly positive about the HoloLens which he thinks heralds a field of immersive gaming that’s beyond VR.

“I say that there is a continent of gaming, and VR is just a new peninsula on that continent. AR is an entirely new continent,” he said.  However it does seem that Microsoft has a bit of work to do on the heat issues.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Microsoft Touts ‘Holoporting’ Participants Into Conversations

March 29, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft wants to transport HoloLens users into a conversation with other people who aren’t in the room, using a technology developed by its research division that enables “holoportation.”

It’s a product of Microsoft Research’s Interactive 3D Technologies group, which released a YouTube video showing different people appearing in a room alongside Shahram Izadi, a partner research manager. While Izadi was being recorded in person, the other people who joined him (including his daughter) were displayed as digital renderings while being recorded in another room.

The system uses a specialized capture rig to map how a person is moving around in real time, and sends a 3D image of them to the wearer of a HoloLens so that the two people can interact with one another.

There are still key parts of human interaction that are missing. Holoportation users can’t touch one another, of course, and it’s possible for one person to walk through the other in the middle of a conversation. There’s also the matter of the HoloLens’s field of view — users will only see their conversation partners through a rectangular window at the center of their vision.

That means people who holoport into conversations could look a bit like they’re floating in midair. It’s hard to know without trying out on the HoloLens hardware itself.

Alex Kipman, the head of the HoloLens project at Microsoft, showed off the capability at the TED conference in Vancouver last month. NASA scientist Jeff Norris joined him on stage digitally with the help of a specialized camera rig, and the two of them discussed the potential of the HoloLens as a tool for science.

Right now, though, it’s unclear if or when holoportation will be commercially available. Because it requires special cameras, it’s not going to be immediately usable by people who are getting the first wave of HoloLens developer kits, which Microsoft is sending out some time this week. Stay tuned.