News Roundup: Oracle unofficially kills off Solaris
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News Roundup: Oracle unofficially kills off Solaris

A roundup of the week’s technology news including Facebook ads controversy, the Librem 5 smartphone, and the UNITEDRAKE vulnerability.

 

Oracle all but calls time on Sun’s legacy

It’s coming up to eight years since Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems for the not insignificant sum of $7 billion. But all good things must come to an end, and it looks like Java is the only part of that acquisition that is still alive.

Reports are circulating that Oracle has laid off 2,500 people in the SPARC and Solaris departments. The company had already announced that there were only plans for Solaris 11.Next in lieu of version 12 on the horizon. Expect whatever remains to be Cloud-first from here on in.

Creator of Java and former Sun employee James Gosling called the layoffs “a bullet in the head” for Solaris while another former Sun staffer (and now CTO of Joylent) Bryan Cantrill labelled it “a cut so deep as to be fatal”. Meshed Insights has done a lengthy overview of Oracle’s slow dismantling of Sun over the years if you’re interested.

 

Encryption for everyone – as long as we know who you are

Encryption is fine, but only if the government can confirm your identity, according to the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism laws. “A discussion I have had with some of the tech companies is whether it is possible to withhold encryption pending positive identification of the internet user,” Max Hill QC told the London Evening Standard this week.

“If the technology would permit that sort of perusal, identification and verification, prior to posting that would form a very good solution… and would not involve wholesale infringement on free speech use of the internet.”

In other security news, German hacker group the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) has found numerous vulnerabilities in voting software used within German elections.  “The analysis showed a number of security problems and multiple practicable attack scenarios,” the CCC wrote. “Some of these scenarios allow for the changing of vote totals across electoral district and state boundaries.” The CCC has previously demonstrated how to hack iris recognition scanners using a camera, laser printer, and a contact lens.

Meanwhile in China a man has been arrested for selling unlicensed VPNs. Deng Jiewei, a 26-year-old from Dongguan in Guangdong province, was convicted of “providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system”, according to the South China Morning Post. China banned consumer VPNs in January, with Apple removing dozens of VPN services from its Chinese App Store in July.

The Shadow Brokers – aka the group which released the NSA EternalBlue vulnerability used in WannaCry – has released a new exploit. UNITEDRAKE reportedly targets Windows machines and enables users to completely take over a device. The Group themselves are promising more dumps over the next few months.

 

Facebook ads under fire

It’s been a tough week for Facebook’s ads business. The company was accused of overstating its ad reach both in the US and abroad. In a note to clients, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser said the company claimed to reach more 16-39-year-olds than actually exist.

“Through Facebook's Ads Manager we can see that Facebook claims a potential reach within the US of 41 million 18-24 year-olds, 60 million 25-34 year-olds and 61 million 35-49 year-olds,” he wrote.  “By contrast, US Census data indicates that last year there are a total of 31 million 18-24 year-olds, 45 million 25-34 year-olds and 61 million 35-49 year-olds.”

The company made similar exaggerated claims for other countries including the UK, France, Ireland, and Australia. In a statement, Facebook said these were ‘estimators and campaign planning tools and not the business’ actual reach or campaign reporting.’

Following some internal investigation, Facebook has found that Russian-linked propaganda accounts have bought around $100,000 worth of ads between June 2015 and May 2017. The post said roughly 3,000 ads were bought by 470 “inauthentic accounts and Pages.”

As a result, Democrat Senator Mark Warner said laws may need updating to make them consistent with rules governing television advertising.

A new study suggests Facebook code – primarily its Javascript SDK - represents around 16% of the total size of all JavaScript on the average web page. It seems Facebook is looking at allowing Instagram users to post their Snapchat-like Stories directly to Facebook, and is testing Tinder-like features.

In addition to the verified business accounts we told you about last week, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has announced it is launching Business apps. According to the press release, businesses will be able to use the apps to “provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates.”

 

M&A

Tractor maker Deere has acquired Machine Learning crop spraying startup Blue River Technologies, Aveva has merged with Schneider Electric’s industrial software business, HPE has snapped up Cloud Technology Partners, DigiCert now owns Symantec’s Web Security business, Accenture has made a double swoop for MATTER and IBB Consulting, Amazon’s Souq business has bought delivery startup Wing.ae, Cloudera has snaffled Fast Forward Labs, Datadog has  got its hands on Logmatic.io.

Google has announced that its retiring Google Drive and replacing it with Backup and Sync or Drive File Stream. The search giant is also rumoured to be interested in HTC’s phones business – possibly to have more control over manufacturing of the Pixel phone - despite offloading a perfectly good mobile business not even four years ago.

OtherMachine Co. – a desktop CNC mill manufacturer Connect has talked to in the past and that was acquired by Makerbot co-founder Bre Pettis earlier this year – has rebranded as Bantam Tools. Apparently they named themselves after a small chicken because they’re “known for competing well above their weight class”.

Juicero – the $400 juice maker that raised an obscene amount of money – has shut down. Seems people didn’t like paying $7 per juice. Refunds are available if for some reason you thought it was a good idea to buy one.

 

Hopper College

Grace Hopper is a key figure in the field of computer programming. Yale University this week announced it was renaming Calhoun College to Hopper College in “honour one of Yale’s most distinguished graduates”.  Calhoun College was named after John C. Calhoun, the former Vice President and staunch supporter of slavery, and the college has decided instead to honour Hopper, who Yale described as a “a visionary in the world of technology.”

“The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly,” said Yale President Peter Salovey in a statement, “but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values.”

 

Silent hacking

Did you know it’s possible to hack a voice assistant without making a sound? Researchers at Zhejiang University have found a vulnerability which enables voice assistants to be hacked by turning vocal commands into ultrasonic frequencies inaudible to human ears.

This can allow an attacker to activate any command or skill the devices are normally capable of; whether making payments, orders, or even locking and unlocking other connected devices. They have dubbed the method DolphinAttack and affects Siri, Google Now, Samsung S Voice, Huawei HiVoice, Cortana and Alexa.

“The more we integrate these devices with our smart homes, the more such attacks may become an issue” Synopsys Director of enterprise solutions Ofer Maor told IDG Connect. “For instance, we see more and more “smart locks” offering voice integration with commands such as “Alexa, open the door””.

In related news, Samsung has launched a bug bounty program which includes rewards of up to $200,000 for vulnerabilities found in its mobile service, including Bixby.

 

Atlassian takes on Slack, FB@Work, Microsoft Teams etc

How many is too many? Remember when every company and their dog offered some Dropbox-like Cloud storage? It seems communication and collaboration tools are now the thing everyone wants to offer. Atlassian this week announced Stride, a Slack-like communication app. It features all the usual communication functionality you’d expect plus a few unique tweaks. As always, there’s free and paid versions depending on scale and feature requirements.

In related news, Microsoft may be planning to merge Skype for Business into Microsoft Teams after a quickly retracted announcement appeared for some SfB users.

 

Open Source

Google has released a style guide for documenting code. It’s more thorough than most newsroom’s style guides. 

Facebook announced version 1.0 of Yarn; a JavaScript package manager. The social network has also partnered with Microsoft to release its Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) format; an open source format for AI models to enable interoperability between different frameworks.

Purism – the company which created an entirely Open Source laptop – is making a move into smartphones. Partnering with project Matrix for Open Source messaging, the Librem 5 smartphone aims to run the company’s own PureOS. The company is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to get the project off the ground and pre-ordering a phone will set you back a minimum of $600.

 

IndieGoGo

Crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo is making efforts to crack down on bad campaigns. The company announced this week that it will now require tech projects to share which Product Stage they are in, from Concept to Shipping, and will explain what each stage means. It also now requires projects to update their backers at least once a month in its T&Cs.

“We value quality, honesty and accountability, so we are committed to verifying that entrepreneurs really are where they say they are in product development, and make changes if necessary.”

 

Bitcoin

Bitcoin hit another high this week, reaching a value of $5,000 a coin, before dropping back to around $4,300. Remember when Bitcoin wasn’t shooting up constantly?

 

Mean words

The co-founder of the Opera and Vivaldi web browsers has claimed Google should face greater regulation.

“A monopoly both in search and advertising, Google, unfortunately, shows that they are not able to resist the misuse of power,” Jon von Tetzchner said in a blog post this week. “I am saddened by this makeover of a geeky, positive company into the bully they are in 2017.”

“It is also fair to say that Google is now in a position where regulation is needed. I sincerely hope that they’ll get back to the straight and narrow.”

Meanwhile, a judge in the US has ruled that its ok to say that Shiva Ayyadurai didn’t invent email. Ayyadurai, who created a program called EMAIL in the 1970s and hosts a site called InventorOfEmail.com, has sued Gawker and TechDirt in recent years after they labelled his claims to be the ‘inventor of email’ fake. However, the judge ruled saying Ayyaduraidi didn’t invent the idea of email as we know it today is protected under freedom of speech because email the concept is a difficult one to define and fully attribute. Ayyaduraidi – who definitely did invent a software program called EMAIL - is planning to appeal the ruling. Connect spoke to Ray Tomlinson back in 2015 about his role in using the @ symbol in today’s email systems. 

 

Code in film

Since 2015 Google has run a Computer Science in media team to help dispel stereotypes about hackers in media vis-à-vie that they’re all fat white guys with neckbeards living in their mum’s basements. And, according to a new study, the team is having a positive impact.

According to the report, media where Google CS in Media were involved were more likely to show characters engaging in computer science, and less likely to be white males (although the majority still fell into this category).

Sadly the research didn’t go in the quality of code being shown onscreen. But there is a blog dedicated to that very thing. Remember the time Jeff Goldblum hacked an entire space armada using a PowerBook?

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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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