News Roundup: WannaCry, Google I/O, and Chelsea’s free
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News Roundup: WannaCry, Google I/O, and Chelsea’s free

A roundup of the week’s tech new including drone base jumping, Chicken VR, and Sina Weibo.

WannaCry

Last week, what started as a major ransomware attack on the UK’s NHS quickly spread to be a major attack across Europe and further afield.

The WannaCry ransomware – which uses a Windows XP zero day exploit originally found but not publicly revealed by the NSA – gains entry via the network, not the traditional phishing email, and demands $300 in bitcoin payments, but those who have paid have apparently had their files decrypted. Security experts, however, always advise not to pay the ransoms.

The Shadow Brokers – the group which leaked the original NSA exploit last month – has threatened to release more of the agency’s hoarded exploits in the near future.

Fresh instances of the attack were stopped by a UK security blogger known as Malware Tech, who registered a domain found within the WannaCry code as a sinkhole. MT turned out to be 22-year-old Marcus Hutchins, who works for US threat intelligence company Kryptos Logic. A second wave of attacks was stopped via a similar sinkhole method.

So far, the ransomware has made around $91,000, according to Elliptic.co. Given the relatively small amount for such a headline-generating attack, current theories either point to a state-sponsored  attack – some suggest North Korea – designed to create more carnage than profit, or possibly an amateur attack far more effective than its creators could have hoped for.

In an effort to further prevent fresh infections, Microsoft has issued patches for Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003, systems the company had hoped to have stopped worrying about. As our own Phil Muncaster points out however, China’s large (and mostly unlicensed) XP install base could pose a big problem if it starts to spread. Over 20,000 IP addresses in China are reported to have been affected so far.

Many were critical of the NSA’s hoarding of such vulnerabilities in the first place, with Ed Snowden saying that if the NSA had told Microsoft about the exploit when they found it, hospitals could have had far longer to patch their systems. Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith likened the scenario of exploits stolen from the NSA to “the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen”.

Former NSA Director Keith Alexander defended the agency’s actions, saying it needs tools and releases 90+% of what they find, “but to go after a terrorist you need an exploit.”

Chelsea walks free

After seven years in prison, Chelsea Manning is now free to walk the streets. Manning served 2,545 days in military captivity – often in solitary confinement – after leaking information to WikiLeaks in 2010. Barack Obama granted Manning clemency in January just before leaving office.

On the subject on WikiLeaks, Sweden has officially dropped its investigation into Julian Assange. However, the London Metropolitan police has said there is still an arrest warrant against him for failing to surrender to the court on the 29 June 2012.

Google I/O

Google held its annual I/O developer conference this week. Although there was little in the way of major new products, the search giant announced plenty of incremental improvements.

Android O is now in beta. the company also revealed Android Go; a lightweight version of the OS designed to run on low-spec devices.  Project Tango is being used as the basis for VPS - visual positioning system – which could enable incredibly accurate indoor location mapping.  There will be standalone DayDream VR headsets that don’t need phones. The Kotlin programming language is now supported as a first class language for Android. Job listings sites are likely to take a hit after the launch of Google for Jobs; a job search engine due to launch in the coming weeks.

AI-related technology was obviously a major part of IO. All its AI efforts will now be housed in Google.ai. The company announced a new generation of its custom machine-learning specific Tensor Processing Units (TPUs). Tensorflow Lite will enable deep learning models to be run on Android smartphones. Google Lens is an image recognition app which will not only identify what image you’re photographing – including what kind of flower you’re looking at - but can parse information such as Wi-Fi connection details from images. Google’s Assistant AI helper is now on 100 million devices, and available on iOS, while Google Home will be able to connect to Whirlpool’s home appliances.

Non-Google news

It’s not all about Google and hacking Windows this week. You can now get voice adverts on Amazon Alexa thanks to a startup called VoiceLabs.

Samsung’s own Bixby digital assistant is coming to the company’s own kitchen appliances, as is a new version of its Tizen Operating System.

Microsoft has beaten Google and Amazon to the punch and will open two datacentres in Africa. Available from 2018, the two centres - in Johannesburg and Cape Town – will offer Azure and other Cloud services.

Two announcements from Facebook this week – plus one large fine over its acquisition of WhatsApp. The social network released ParlAI, an open source platform to test conversation bots and other AI. While that’s useful and innovative, Instagram went in the other direction and launched face filters – an exact copy of Snapchat filters. Here’s a video of CEO Mark Zuckerberg shamelessly showing it off:

Snapchat, meanwhile, announced new 3D advertising capabilities. But if Instagram is already bigger than Snapchat, and has all the same features, surely it can’t last?

M&A

Apple has acquired Lattice Data, VMWare has bought Apteligent, Accenture has snapped up Media Hive, Spotify now owns AI statup Niland, Tibco has purchased Statistica, DMI has snaffled IoT startup Lochbridge, and Prezi has got its hands on Infogram.

Sina vs. Twitter

Although Twitter has steadied the ship somewhat of late, President Trump’s favourite medium is still losing ground to rivals. Sina Weibo – aka “China’s Twitter” – has now overtaken Jack Dorsey’s social network. Weibo now has 340 million active monthly users, having grown some 30% in the last year. At what point do we start calling Twitter the “American Weibo”?

Chicken  Reality

Agritech is hot stuff right now. So is Virtual Reality. So why not combine the two? That’s just what Austin Stewart, an assistant professor of design at Iowa State University, had done. Second Livestock envisions giving battery chickens VR headsets to give them the illusion of living a free range life. 

Drone base Jumping

You can now skydive from a drone. Skydiver Ingus Augstkalns was lifted to a height of 330 metres by 28-propeller Aerones drone, from which he jumped. Don’t try this with your piddly DJI drones though.

Meanwhile, scientists at the Carnegie Mellon University have been teaching drones to fly autonomously by letting them bump into things around the house. The poor UAVs were left to crash around 11,000 times in order to learn how to fly properly.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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