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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.

Retailers Possibly To File Lawsuit Over Chip Cards

October 6, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. retailers are considering filing lawsuits against banks and credit card companies over the slow implementation of chip-based card technology and the possible financial liability merchants began facing that started Oct. 1.

Retailers that did not install newer chip-enabled point of sale terminals in stores, restaurants and hotels as of Oct. 1 have to pay an extra fee to cover counterfeit fraud. Before banks were liable for consumers’ use of magnetic stripe credit and debit cards. The liability shift deadline on Oct. 1 was set by banks four years ago to prompt the use of more secure chip technology to help lower the cost of fraud.

The passing of the deadline didn’t apparently cause any significant problems for store operations, according to comments from five national retail and credit card officials. That’s partly because consumers can still use magnetic stripe cards and might not even possess the newer chip cards.

For merchants, the situation is often more dire. Many retailers — with the notable exceptions of Walmart and some other big chains — have complained of backlogs of six to nine months in getting card companies to certify their new card terminals for use. Without the certification, retailers can’t use their new chip card payment terminals and face extra costs for fraud insurance.

The backlog is unfair to retailers, and is likely to lead to a lawsuit by one or more of the affected merchants, said Mark Horwedel, CEO of Merchant Advisory Group. MAG has 97 members, including some of the nation’s largest retailers, that collectively represent $2.6 trillion in annual sales.

“We’ve been the leading complainer about how the card brands are implementing [chip] cards in the U.S.,” Horwedel said in an interview. Card providers and banks “picked the Oct. 1 date without providing a blueprint to merchants on how to process debit transactions with chip cards.”




Scottrade Unaware Of Hacking Until Notified By Feds

October 6, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

When an organization gets hacked, hopefully they’ll realize it promptly and warn their customers immediately. Scottrade, an investment brokerage company, is different, and not in a good way.

The company confirmed that it suffered a security breach over a period of several months from late 2013 to early 2014, affecting approximately 4.6 million customers. But in a statement, Scottrade said it had no idea that the breach had occurred until law enforcement officials told them about it.

The FBI notified Scottrade of the breach in August but asked that the company hold off on disclosing the attack until it had wrapped up another part of its investigation. The company was cleared to disclose the breach at the end of last week and began informing customers last Friday.

To its credit, Scottrade said that it believes attackers obtained only clients’ names and street addresses — not the social security numbers, email addresses and other sensitive data stored in the compromised system. According to the company, the attackers didn’t compromise Scottrade’s trading platforms, and clients’ funds were untouched.

People who had a Scottrade account prior to February 2014 may have been affected by the breach. Those people who Scottrade knows were affected will be notified of that by email. The company isn’t suggesting that users change their passwords, since it believes that they remained encrypted during the attack.

As is expected in these sorts of cases, Scottrade is offering affected customers a free year of identity theft protection. It’s not clear how much good that will do, since the data was taken more than a year ago, but offering that sort of service is something consumers expect from a breach response at this point. 

Looking forward, the company said that it has secured the intrusion point the attackers used to get into its systems, and conducted an internal investigation with the help of an unnamed computer security firm. The company also said that it has further secured its network.




AMD Giving More People The Boot

October 5, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

While we want AMD to do well to balance the Intel and Nvidia empires, it does seem that the outfit cannot get a break.  Today it announced that it is letting 500 staff go and will begin another wave of restructuring.

Of course, we predicted  this would happen. The company is betting the farm on its coming Zen chip, but this will not appear until next year.  Meanwhile it is facing shrinking sales and nearly impossible competition.

Under the restructuring AMD will outsource some IT and application development services.  It will give 500 people, or five percent of its staff, their pink slips and P45s. The company will take a charge of $42 million, with $41 million of that recorded in the just-ended third quarter. AMD said it expected savings of about $58 million in 2016 from the restructuring plan.

This is about the same time AMD hopes to clean up with its Zen chips.

AMD said it will cut white-collar jobs and is not shutting or idling any fabricating operations. The jobs will be lost across AMD’s global operations, including Austin, Texas, and company headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. AMD only has 9,700 employees at the end of last year, so 500 is rather a chunk.

AMD reported its second-quarter revenue fell 35 percent from the year-earlier period, claiming that no one wanted to buy PCs.

The company has been shifting to gaming consoles and low-power servers, but it really has not moved fast enough or come up with the sort of “wow” technology which is needed to see off Intel.



Windows 10 Breaks 100M Device Mark

October 5, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Windows 10′s user share growth slowed considerably in September, but by the month’s end approximately 110 million customers were running the new OS, data released today signaled.

According to U.S. analytics company Net Applications, Windows 10′s user share — a measure of the fraction of unique users who ran the OS when they went online — grew 1.4 percentage points in September to 6.6%.

Microsoft launched Windows 10 on July 29, making September the second full month that the upgrade for Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 devices was available to download and install.

September’s user share increase was substantially smaller than August’s record setting 4.8 percentage points.

Windows 10 accounted for 7.3% of all Windows devices in September, a slightly higher number than its raw user share number because Windows powered “just” 90.5%, not 100%, of all systems tallied by Net Applications. During September, Windows 10′s share of all Windows devices climbed by 1.6 percentage points.

Net Applications’ data represented 110 million Windows 10 PCs, assuming a total of 1.5 billion Windows devices globally, the figure Microsoft typically trumpets.

Microsoft has not publicized a Windows 10 download or installed data point since late August, when it said that 75 million devices worldwide were running the OS.

Net Applications’ Windows 10 user share portrait backed up the findings of another analytics developer, Ireland’s StatCounter, which has also portrayed the OS’s growth as slowing after its first month of availability.

By StatCounter’s measurements, Windows 10 gained 5.9 percentage points ofusage share — more of an activity indicator, as it counts web page views by OS — in the first four weeks after its launch. During the most recent four weeks, or from Aug. 31 to Sept. 27, Windows 10 grew by a much smaller 1.4 points.

Net Applications’ numbers also validate the slowdown in a different way. During the final three weeks of August, an average of 1.8 million devices were added to Windows 10′s rolls daily. But in September, the average daily increase dropped to less than half of that, to about 794,000 devices.

Even so, Windows 10 continued to best Windows 7′s performance during a similar stretch. In 2009, the then-new OS had accumulated a 6.2% share of all Windows personal computers through its second full month, or more than a point under Windows 10 at the same post-launch moment.

With about 110 million devices now running Windows 10, Microsoft is at the 7% mark toward reaching its goal of putting the OS on 1.5 billion systems by mid-2018.




IBM Makes Carbon Nanotube Breakthrough

October 5, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM’S research and development department has announced “a major engineering breakthrough” in transistor technology that could transform the mobile device space as we know it, especially wearables.

IBM scientists demonstrated a new way to shrink transistor contacts in chips, thus speeding up the replacing of silicon transistors with carbon nanotubes which the firm has been working on for several years.

The company said that the breakthrough brings it closer to creating fully scaled carbon nanotube technology that will power future computing technologies while increasing performance and “opening a pathway to dramatically faster, smaller and more powerful chips”.

Carbon nanotube chips have many benefits over traditional silicon. Transistors in silicon are approaching a point of physical limitation. They have been made smaller year after year, but shrinking the size of the transistor, including the channels and contacts, without compromising performance is becoming increasingly difficult.

Carbon nanotube chips could improve the capabilities of high-performance computers because they allow these contacts to be so small that they are virtually transparent.

This means that the size of the semiconductor can decrease dramatically, while the substrate of carbon nanotubes makes the chip more energy efficient and is a soft and flexible material that could allow new device form factors.

Shu-jen Han, IBM’s manager of nanoscale science and technology, told us in an interview that wearable technology is one of the most exciting areas that this technology could transform owing to the unique property of the substrate, allowing new form factors with better performance and battery life.

However, the breakthrough isn’t about the carbon nanotube material being a better replacement for silicon, but more of an engineering innovation that addresses part of the problem in successfully rolling out better performing and more efficient chips.

“We know what the issue has been, and the limits of the technology, for years. What we solved here is a device-level issue, a one-dimensional structure. We need to make a wafer of them, a high-quality wafer, which does not exist yet,” Shu-jen said.

The next stage for IBM’s research group is to scale up the carbon nanotube technology to make reliable mass produced chips before they can make a difference to businesses and consumers.

Shu-jen said this could take five to 10 years, but could enable big data to be analysed faster and allow cloud data centres to deliver services more efficiently and economically.



Can IBM Beat Moore’s Law?

October 5, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Big Blue Researchers have discovered a way to replace silicon semiconductors with carbon nanotube transistors and think that the development will push the industry past Moore’s law limits.

IBM said its researchers successfully shrunk transistor contacts in a way that didn’t limit the power of carbon nanotube devices. The chips could be smaller and faster and significantly surpass what’s possible with today’s silicon semiconductors.

The chips are made from carbon nanotubes consist of single atomic sheets of carbon in rolled-up tubes. This means that high-performance computers may well be capable of analysing big data faster, and battery life and the power of mobile and connected devices will be better. The advance may enable cloud-based data centres to provide more efficient services, IBM claims.

Moore’s law, which has for years governed the ability of the semiconductor industry to double the processing power of chips every 24 months is starting to reach the limits of physics when it comes to doubling the power of silicon chips. This could mean a slowing of significant computing performance boosts unless someone comes up with something fast.

IBM researchers claim to have proved that carbon nanotube transistors can work as switches at widths of 10,000 times thinner than a human hair, and less than half the size of the most advanced silicon technology.

The latest research has overcome “the other major hurdle in incorporating carbon nanotubes into semiconductor devices which could result in smaller chips with greater performance and lower power consumption,” IBM said.

Electrons found in carbon transistors move more efficiently than those that are silicon-based, even as the extremely thin bodies of carbon nanotubes offer more advantages at the atomic scale, IBM says.

The new research is jump-starting the move to a post-silicon future, and paying off on $3 billion in chip research and development investment IBM announced in 2014.



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.”



GE Jumping Into Science Fiction

October 5, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

General Electric Co has decided to produce its own science fiction podcast series in an effort to raise its profile among a younger, tech-savvy audience.

GE, in partnership with The Slate Group’s podcast network Panoply, is running “The Message,” a fictional eight-episode podcast that will follow the decoding of a 70 year-old message from outer space. The cryptologists decoding the message turn to a real ultrasound technology developed by GE to decode the messages.

“It’s science fiction meets real science,” said Andy Goldberg, GE’s global creative director.

The idea for the series stemmed from the company’s historic “GE Theater” television series, which was hosted by Ronald Reagan, then an actor, in the 1950s.

GE is producing its own podcast series, rather than running ads on other podcasts because it specifically does not want the shows to come off as advertising, but rather as a way to raise brand awareness, Goldberg said. The 40-60 minute spots, which begin Oct. 4, will be advertisement-free and will be available for download for free. Goldberg declined to comment on how much GE is spending on the podcasts.

GE is among a number of firms whose interest in podcasts has increased since last year’s airing of “Serial,” the hit podcast chronicling a murder investigation.

“It flipped a switch for us that podcasting was no longer going to be informational pieces but could be entertainment,” Goldberg said.

Podcasts are a small, but growing part of the digital media marketplace. Seventeen percent of teens and adults listen to one podcast per month, up from 15 percent last year, according to Edison Research.

The medium has gotten so much initial interest, that the Interactive Advertising Bureau held its first “podcast upfronts,” for companies to promote their podcasts to advertisers in September.

While GE’s move is novel, it is likely that more advertisers will follow rather than just run ads during podcasts, said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna. It is like the next iteration of “native advertising,” where companies create sponsored content to promote their offerings, he said.



Microsoft, Google Cease Fire In Global Patent Deal

October 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft has been pursuing a more collaborative approach under CEO Satya Nadella, engaging longtime rivals like Salesforce, VMware and Apple. There hasn’t been much love between Microsoft and Google, but an announcement on Wednesday points towards an easing of those tensions.

Google and Microsoft have reached a broad agreement on patent matters, with a legal settlement ending some 20 lawsuits between the companies in the U.S. and Germany. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but the deal brings a laundry list of lawsuits to a close.

“Microsoft and Google are pleased to announce an agreement on patent issues,” they said in a joint statement. “As part of the agreement, the companies will dismiss all pending patent infringement litigation between them, including cases related to Motorola Mobility.”

They also agreed to collaborate on patent matters and work together “to benefit our customers.”

The suits that have been settled include those related to mobile phones, video encoding and Wi-Fi technologies. That doesn’t mean Microsoft has given up its campaign to collect royalties from Android device makers for the mobile operating system’s alleged infringement of Microsoft patents.

It’s not clear from the statement what patent matters the companies will be working on together in the future, but changes have already begun. The two companies agreed earlier this month to work together (alongside other firms like Netflix and Mozilla) on a royalty-free video codec.

It remains to be seen if the settlement will lead to more work between Microsoft and Google in other areas. A major sticking point for consumers has been the lack of a Google-made YouTube app for smartphones and tablets running Windows.



Stagefright 2.0 Exploits Android Vulnerabilities

October 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Newly found vulnerabilities in the way Android handles media files can allow attackers to compromise devices by tricking users into visiting maliciously crafted Web pages.

The vulnerabilities can lead to remote code execution on almost all devices that run Android, starting with version 1.0 of the OS released in 2008 to the latest 5.1.1, researchers from mobile security firm Zimperium said in a report published Thursday.

The flaws are in the way Android processes the metadata of MP3 audio files and MP4 video files, and they can be exploited when the Android system or another app that relies on Android’s media libraries previews such files.

The Zimperium researchers found similar multimedia processing flaws earlier this year in an Android library called Stagefright that could have been exploited by simply sending Android devices a maliciously crafted MMS message.

Those flaws triggered a coordinated patching effort from device manufacturers that Android’s lead security engineer, Adrian Ludwig, called the “single largest unified software update in the world.” It also contributed to Google, Samsung and LG committing to monthly security updates going forward.

One of the flaws newly discovered by Zimperium is located in a core Android library called libutils and affects almost all devices running Android versions older than 5.0 (Lollipop). The vulnerability can also be exploited in Android Lollipop (5.0 – 5.1.1) by combining it with another bug found in the Stagefright library.

The Zimperium researchers refer to the new attack as Stagefright 2.0 and believe that it affects more than 1 billion devices.

Since the previous attack vector of MMS was closed in newer versions of Google Hangouts and other messaging apps after the previous Stagefright flaws were found, the most straight-forward exploitation method for the latest vulnerabilities is through Web browsers, the Zimperium researchers said.

Zimperium reported the flaws to Google on Aug. 15 and plans to release proof-of-concept exploit code once a fix is released.

That fix will come on Oct. 5 as part of the new scheduled monthly Android security update, a Google representative said.





MediaTek Building Ecosystem To Power IoT

October 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

MediaTek is quietly building an ecosystem to drive IoT strategy to push its System on Chip shipments across multiple devices.

The fabless chipmaker is signing partnerships with Amazon, Tinitell, Apple, and People Power.

MediaTek is starting to come out of the shadows in the West with its SoC designs. It sees the IoT as a way to push more of its chips.

It has put in a tender to buy power management outfit Richtek Technology to expand its leadership in Power Management Integrated Circuits (PMIC) to strengthen its overall capabilities for the IoT business model. The deal is expected to close in Q2 2016.

It has provided funding to People Power, a user engagement company providing apps, cloud and mobile services for IoT to further accelerate its penetration in the IoT market in both the U.S. and China, develop new IoT products based on its Fabrux and Influx software architecture

Release of two software development kits (SDKs) for Apple HomeKit, the framework in iOS 8 for communicating with and controlling connected accessories in a user’s home.

This is on top of its partnership with Amazon for the latest devices – Amazon Fire TV is powered by MediaTek’s MT8173, a 64-bit quad-core processor and the world’s first multimedia SoC with ARM’s Cortex-A72 cores; Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets powered by MT8135, an up to 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, resulting in a fast and fluid user interface, and smooth running HD videos and high frame-rate games.

Chief Marketing Officer, Johan Lodenius said the company’s cunning plan was to innvovate widely available technology that provides integrated connectivity, while investing in and nurturing developers and the maker community to deliver practical yet innovative solutions.



Ghost Push Malware Giving Android A Hard Time

October 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Put your Android whatever back in its sand bucket. It is facing another threat. This one is spooky sounding and has been dubbed Ghost Push by Yang Yang and Jordan Pan of the Trend Micro security labs outfit.

The threat presents itself to people who download things from untrusted third-party stores, which is not everyone, and seems to behave in a way that is sophisticated – unlike perhaps people who download things from untrusted sites. Ghost Push is not new and neither is this method of infection.

“Halloween is still a month from now yet Android users are already being haunted by the previously reported Ghost Push malware, which roots devices and makes them download unwanted ads and apps. The malware is usually packaged with apps that users may download from third-party app stores,” said Yang and Pan.

“Further investigation of Ghost Push revealed more recent variants which, unlike older ones, employ routines that make them harder to remove and detect.”

Pan and Yang said that there are some 20 variants of Ghost Push in the wild, and that the threat has been active since April. It has ramped itself up during September and is presenting the worst side of itself in India and Indonesia, where 32 and 24 percent of infected devices can be found.

Trend does not think that this ghost theme is related to the XcodeGhost malware that bothers iOS users, but it does think that someone quite sophisticated is behind the attacks.

“It is likely that a team of cyber criminals are behind Ghost Push and they are not exactly new to the malware creation industry,” the researchers wrote.

“This group has already published 658 different malicious applications (1,259 different versions) in third-party app stores unrelated to Ghost Push. One of these apps has infected more than 100,000 devices, two more than 10,000 and seven more than 1,000.”

Third-party download sites are the reason for most of the affected devices and applications, but Yang and Pan said that a couple made it through to the official Google Play store.

“We also found two legitimate apps unrelated to Ghost Push that the same creators published on Google Play, which have since been removed,” they said, explaining that these apps accumulated some 10,000 downloads before being pulled.

“These show that this group possesses ample technical knowledge to effectively victimise thousands of devices and evade detection,” Yang and Pan said.

Once a device is infected the malware can launch other applications and services and steal personal information.


IBM Will Use Apache Spark To Find E.T.

October 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM is using Apache Sparke to analyse radio signals for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Speaking at Apache: Big Data Europe, Anjul Bhambrhi, vice president of big data products at IBM, talked about how the firm has thrown its weight behind Spark.

“We think of [Spark] as the analytics operating system. Never before have so many capabilities come together on one platform,” Bhambrhi said.

Spark is a key project because of its speed and ease of use, and because it integrates seamlessly with other open-source components, Bhambrhi explained.

“Spark is speeding up even MapReduce jobs, even though they are batch oriented by two to six times. It’s making developers more productive, enabling them to build applications in less time and with fewer lines of code,” she claimed.

She revealed IBM is working with Nasa and Seti to analyse radio signals for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence, using Spark to process the 60Gbit of data generated per second by various receivers.

Other applications IBM is working on with Spark include genome sequencing for personalised medicine via the Adam project at UC Berkeley in California, and early detection of conditions such as diabetes by analysing patient medical data.

“At IBM, we are certainly sold on Spark. It forms part of our big data stack, but most importantly we are contributing to the community by enhancing it,” Bhambrhi said.

The Apache: Big Data Europe conference also saw Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth outline some of the key problems in starting a big data project, such as simply finding engineers with the skills needed just to build the infrastructure for operating tools such as Hadoop.

“Analytics and machine learning are the next big thing, but the problem is there are just not enough ‘unicorns’, the mythical technologists who know everything about everything,” he explained in his keynote address, adding that the blocker is often just getting the supporting infrastructure up and running.

Shuttleworth, pictured above, went on to demonstrate how the Juju service orchestration tool developed by Canonical could solve this problem. Juju enables users to describe the end configuration they want, and will automatically provision the servers and software and configure them as required.

This could be seen as a pitch for Juju, but Shuttleworth’s message was that the open-source community is delivering tools that can manage the underlying infrastructure so that users can focus on the application itself.

“The value creators are the guys around the outside who take the big data store and do something useful with it,” he said.

“Juju enables them to start thinking about the things they need for themselves and their customers in a tractable way, so they don’t need to go looking for those unicorns.”

The Apache community is working on a broad range of projects, many of which are focused on specific big data problems, such as Flume for handling large volumes of log data or Flink, another processing engine that, like Spark, is designed to replace MapReduce in Hadoop deployments.



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.