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Amazon Finally Goes Two-Factor

November 25, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



AMD Appears To Be Pushing It’s Boltzmann Plan

November 25, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Troubled chipmaker AMD is putting a lot of its limited investment money into the “Boltzmann Initiative” which is uses heterogeneous system architecture ability to harness both CPU and AMD GPU for compute efficiency through software.

VR-World says that stage one results are finished and where shown off this week at SC15. This included a Heterogeneous Compute Compiler (HCC); a headless Linux driver and HSA runtime infrastructure for cluster-class, High Performance Computing (HPC); and the Heterogeneous-compute Interface for Portability (HIP) tool for porting CUDA-based applications to C++ programming.

AMD hopes the tools will drive application performance from machine learning to molecular dynamics, and from oil and gas to visual effects and computer-generated imaging.

Jim Belak, co-lead of the US Department of Energy’s Exascale Co-design Center in Extreme Materials and senior computational materials scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said that AMD’s Heterogeneous-compute Interface for Portability enables performance portability for the HPC community.

“The ability to take code that was written for one architecture and transfer it to another architecture without a negative impact on performance is extremely powerful. The work AMD is doing to produce a high-performance compiler that sits below high-level programming models enables researchers to concentrate on solving problems and publishing groundbreaking research rather than worrying about hardware-specific optimizations.”

The new AMD Boltzmann Initiative suite includes an HCC compiler for C++ development, greatly expanding the field of programmers who can leverage HSA.

The new HCC C++ compiler is a key tool in enabling developers to easily and efficiently apply the hardware resources in heterogeneous systems. The compiler offers more simplified development via single source execution, with both the CPU and GPU code in the same file.

The compiler automates the placement code that executes on both processing elements for maximum execution efficiency.



Dyreza Trojan Appears To Be Targeting Windows 10

November 25, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

A infectious banking trojan has been updated so that it supports financial mayhem on the freshly baked Windows 10 operating system and supporting Microsoft Edge browser.

Microsoft reckons that Windows 10 is installed on over 100 million machines, and this suggests prime picking for people who deploy banking trojans, not to mention the fact that most people will still be getting used to the software and its services and features.

The newest edition to the Windows 10 spectrum is a variant of the Zeus banking malware known as Dyreza. It is related to Dyre, a threat that we reported on earlier this year.

The warning at the time was that as many as one in 20 online banking users could be exposed to the threat, and things look as bad this time around. Heimdal Security said in a blog post that the malware has been strengthened in scale and capability.

“The info-stealer malware now includes support for Windows 10. This new variant can also hook to Microsoft Edge to collect data and then send it to malicious servers,” said the post.

“Moreover, the new Dyreza variant kills a series of processes linked to endpoint security software in order to make its infiltration in the system faster and more effective.”

The threat already has a footprint, and the people behind it have increased it. Heimdal said that, once Dyreza is done with your bank account, it will move you into position on a botnet. The firm estimates that this botnet is currently 80,000-strong.

“By adding support for Windows 10, the Dyreza malware creators have cleared their way to growing the number of infected PCs in their botnet. This financial trojan doesn’t only drain the infected computers of valuable data, it binds them into botnets,” said Heimdal.



Will Microsoft Debut A Lumia Business Phone Next Year?

November 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

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

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

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

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

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

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




Amazon To Use Wind Farm To Power Web Services

November 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Mobile OS Sailfish Continues To Struggle, Layoffs Loom

November 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

With Android and iOS controlling most of the mobile operating system market, it’s tough going for alternatives like Sailfish, now in survival mode as its maker, Jolla, moves to lay off a large part of its workers.

The first smartphone with the Linux-based OS shipped at the end of 2013. Adoption of Sailfish has been weak, however, and Jolla is selling only one smartphone model, via the company’s website, for about $303. It’s a Jolla-branded phone, made by a third-party contract manufacturer. A tablet is also available for preorder.

Jolla is restructuring debt in its home country, Finland, after a round of funding fell through. The company announced Friday that it will lay off “a big part” of its staff, without giving many details of future plans. The company did say it would be tailoring the OS to fit the needs of different clients, and that it has several “major and smaller potential clients.” It also said Sailfish is stable and ready for licensing.

For analysts, Jolla’s collapse wasn’t a surprise. In a copycat market, Sailfish offers cool customization features, for example. But it doesn’t have the backing of device makers or carriers, which is crucial for survival.

The China market was a big focus for Jolla, but Xiaomi took the country by storm with end-to-end offerings including OS, user interface and hardware, along with the creation of a developer ecosystem, said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

Many alternative mobile OSes like Ubuntu, Firefox, WebOS, Blackberry and others are in the same boat as Sailfish, trying to find a niche in a market ruled by Apple and Google. The biggest competitor to Android and iOS is Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which had just a 1.7 percent market share in mobile handsets, with 5.87 million units shipping during the third quarter this year, according to Gartner.

A Gartner analyst said Windows Phone could find adopters in the enterprise market. But Jolla doesn’t have the resources of Microsoft, of course, and this raises questions about the future of Sailfish.





Apple Acknowledges Issue With iPad Pro

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

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

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

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

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

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


Samsung Debuts 10nm FinFET S-RAM

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Samsung appears to have stolen a march on Intel and TSMC by coming up with a 10-nano FinFET processed S-RAM

According to Electronic Times Intel and TSMC’s products are still being processed at 14-nano and 16-nano so Samsung’s 10-nano S-RAM, will open the way for a generation of Giga-Smartphones. S-RAM is faster than D-RAM and is used for CPU’s cache memory.

It means that Samsung’s 10-nano technology will be mass-produced on full-scale in early 2017. The theory is that 10-nano AP will combine Gigabyte modem chips into one faster chip.

Samsung is showing its plans to the ISSCC. They will have a 128 Megabyte (MB) capacity and a cell area of 0.040 µm2. This compares to the 14-nano S-RAM (0.064 µm2) that Samsung Electronics introduced in the past, its cell area is reduced by 37.5 per cent.

In an ISSCC scientific paper, Samsung said that it built a large-scale fast cache memory in the smallest area. An AP for a smartphone with S-RAM, can minimize Die’s area and improve its performance.

All this means that Samsung Electronics has surpassed Taiwan’s TSMC and developed the next-generation system semiconductor.

Intel postponed its schedule for developing next-generation 10-nano system semiconductor from 2016 to 2017 due to increase of production costs. Samsung Electronics is targeting end of next for commercialising 10-nano processing.

Samsung Electronics has also developed 14-nano flat-surface NAND-Flash, and this is also first ever in industries. Toshiba, Micron and others have announced that after they finish developing 15 to 16-nanos, they are giving up on flat-surface NAND-Flash.

It had been thought that 14-nano NAND-Flash, which reduces area of Floating Gate by about 12.5% compared to 16-nano, will greatly contribute to Samsung Electronics in reducing production cost of NAND by reducing Silicon Die’s area.



IBM Says 2015 Was The Year Of Ransomware

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Facebook Testing Work Chat App For Businesses

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

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

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

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

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

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



FAA Task Force To Police Drone Registration

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A Federal Aviation Administration task force submitted recommendations for registering drone operators on Saturday, setting the stage for regulators next month to propose regulations intended to help reverse a surge in rogue drone flights.

A final version of the panel’s recommendations was expected to receive approval from 25 task force members on Friday. It would signal broad agreement among stakeholders, including drone makers, pilots, hobbyists and regulators, on a free and user-friendly registration process for recreational users of unmanned aerial systems, or UAS.

Registration is one of several steps the FAA and other government agencies are considering to address a disturbing rise in reckless drone use this year, including near-misses with commercial airliners near airports.

Officials are concerned that safety and security risks could rise in coming years as drone sales continue to soar, with more than 1 million drones expected to be sold in the United States this year.

The task force report was not expected to be released to the public until next week, according to people familiar with the matter. But they said the recommendations would require drone operators to register on a website or via a phone app, if they own UAS weighing as little as 8.8 ounces (250 grams), and attach their registration number to their drones.

“On Saturday, the task force will deliver its report to the Federal Aviation Administration,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a blog posted to a federal website on Friday.

“We will consider their recommendations and the public comments as we develop an interim final rule on registration, which will likely be released next month and go into effect shortly thereafter.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who announced the registration initiative last month, had charged the task force with completing its work by Friday.


Qualcomm May Be Facing Anti-Trust Issues Abroad

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Will Dell Sell Parts Of EMC Post Merger?

November 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

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

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

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

However Dell appeared to deny this.

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

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

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

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



IBM Speeds Up Power Architecture With nVidia

November 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM has delivered some significant improvements to its collaborative OpenPower initiative along with its partners, including new technologies that the company said will enable faster and deeper data analysis.

The new offerings bring integration of IBM’s open and licensable Power processors with accelerators and dedicated high-performance processors that can be optimized for computationally intensive software code.

The update also provides collaborations and further investments in accelerator-based tools on top of the Power processor architecture. This includes incorporating Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs to accelerate Watson’s Retrieve and Rank API capabilities to 1.7 times normal speed.

“This speed-up can further improve the cost/performance of Watson’s cloud-based services. For example, a call centre agent responding to an individual’s health and insurance query can leverage Watson’s natural language processing technology to obtain an answer in real time even faster than before, potentially increasing customer satisfaction and lowering service costs,” explained IBM.

The firm said that the GPU acceleration increases Watson’s processing performance by a factor of 10.

IBM has also ported a series of key Internet of Things (IoT), Spark, big data and Power architecture and accelerators.

“The accelerated Power-based offerings come at a time when clients are seeking the ideal server platform for the IoT, machine learning and other cognitive computing applications,” added IBM.

“Through an open, collaborative model, IBM and more than 90 members participating in the OpenPower Foundation’s Accelerators Working Group are developing and delivering a wide range of accelerator-based solutions.”

The update to the OpenPower initiative also brings a multi-year strategic collaboration with Xilinx to jointly develop data centre and network function visualization solutions. This will bring together the systems, software and management components around Xilinx FPGA accelerators as they focus on emerging workloads including high-performance computing, cognitive computing, machine learning, genomics and big data analytics.

And that’s not all. The OpenPower updates bring a new cluster to the University of Texas in Austin. As a new OpenPower Foundation member, the Texas Advanced Computing Centre will install a Power8-based accelerated computing cluster for academic researchers and developers. IBM said the new cluster is currently running successfully in an early user mode, and will begin accepting requests for access sometime this week.

It was only last month that IBM announced the line of Power processor-based, Linux-tuned machines at LinuxCon Europe.

The Power Systems LC line was introduced by Dr Stefanie Chiras, director and business line executive of IBM scale-out Power Systems, as part of her keynote on the subject of “waitless computing”.

The range consists of three products based on Power 8 processors offering scale-out servers in preconfigured, single-click order, and bespoke options to add to the OpenPower servers launched earlier in the year.

The core product is the S812LC, consisting of a single eight-core 3.32GHz processor or 10-core 2.92GHz processor, up to 1TB of system memory and space for up to 14 3.5in drives for internal storage.



Is The Steam OS Really Good?

November 19, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Benchmarks for Valve’s Steam machines are out and it does not look like the Linux powered OS is stacking up well against Windows.

According to Ars Technica the SteamOS gaming comes with a significant performance hit on a number of benchmarks.

The OS was put through Geekbench 3 which has a Linux version. The magazine used some mid-to-late-2014 releases that had SteamOS ports suitable for tests including Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Metro: Last Light Redux.

Both were intensive 3D games with built-in benchmarking tools and a variety of quality sliders to play with (including six handy presets in Shadow of Mordor’s case).

On SteamOS both games had a sizable frame rate hit. We are talking about 21- to 58-percent fewer frames per second, depending on the graphical settings. On our hardware running Shadow of Mordor at Ultra settings and HD resolution, the OS change alone was the difference between a playable 34.5 fps average on Windows and a 14.6 fps mess on SteamOS.

You would think that Valve’s own games wouldn’t have this problem, but Portal, Team Fortress 2, and DOTA 2 all took massive frame rate dips on SteamOS compared to their Windows counterparts.

Left 4 Dead 2 showed comparable performance between the two operating systems but nothing like what Steam thought it would have a couple of years ago.