News Roundup: Should hackers require a licence to work?

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Trump’s Impenetrable Cyber Units, W3C & DRM, and the Umbrella Sharing Economy.

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Trump’s impenetrable cyber units, W3C & DRM, and the umbrella sharing economy.


Impenetrable cyber units

Though it’s since been swallowed up with headlines about his son, President Donald Trump at the start of the week promised a cyber détente with Russia to create a new “impenetrable Cyber Security unit”. In a Tweet following a meeting with President Putin, Trump promised this new unit would ensure that “election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..”

He was quickly rounded on for his comments before backtracking on the idea entirely. “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a cybersecurity unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't,” he Tweeted the next day.

In other Trump news, the group which said Trump blocking people on Twitter is unconstitutional is now suing the President. After threatening to sue if he didn’t unblock users, the Knight First Amendment Institute has now filed a suit in the Southern District of New York on the grounds his social media account is a public forum for speech and therefore protected.



This week the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) approved digital rights management as a new  HMTL5 web standard. Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) allow DRM-wrapped content such as video to be played without the need for plugins like Adobe Flash.

“The Encrypted Media Extensions specification remains a better alternative for users than other platforms, including for reasons of security, privacy, and accessibility, by taking advantage of the Web platform,” said W3C Director and creator of the web, Tim Berners-Lee.

“We're dismayed to see the W3C literally overrule the concerns of its public interest members, security experts, accessibility members and innovative startup members, putting the institution's thumb on the scales for the large incumbents that dominate the web, ensuring that dominance lasts forever,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation advisor Cory Doctorow in a statement. The EFF has launched an official appeal against the decision.


Licence to hack

Security researchers often operate in murky legal grounds when it comes to testing. Hacking products is usually ok, but testing systems that you’ve not been invited to prod and poke can often lead to trouble. But a new draft bill in Singapore would add a whole new bureaucratic layer and require hackers to have a licence to operate.

The new laws would forbid “any investigative cybersecurity service without licence” and companies or individuals found breaking the law could face a fine of up to $50,000 or two years in prison. What qualifies one for a licence doesn’t really go beyond ‘having the right qualifications and experience’.


The week in security

Governments vs encryption

Former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan has spoken out against governments trying to crack encryption. ”Encryption is overwhelmingly a good thing,” he told Today. ”It keeps us all safe and secure. You can't un-invent end-to-end encryption, you can't legislate it away.”

Meanwhile Australia has said it is looking to bring in new security powers based on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act [aka the ‘Snooper’s Charter’]. As well as the usual talk about making sure there’s no safe place for bad guys, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also claimed legislation can overcome mathematics. When asked how legislation could overcome the fact many companies don’t have the encryption keys, he replied:

“The laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only laws that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

Kaspersky vs Fake news

Another bad week for Kaspersky. The Russian security firm was removed from two lists of approved vendors used by government agencies and the company was again accused of cooperating with the Russian government after emails leaked showing the company developed products for the FSB.

In response, Kaspersky labelled the article inaccurate and said it does not have inappropriate ties with any government.

“In the internal communications referenced within the recent article, the facts are once again either being misinterpreted or manipulated to fit the agenda of certain individuals desperately wanting there to be inappropriate ties between the company, its CEO and the Russian government, but no matter what communication they claim to have, the facts clearly remain there is no evidence because no such inappropriate ties exist.”

China vs VPNs

Following on from the shutting down of GreenVPN last week, Chinese telcos are reportedly being told to block access to all personal VPNs by February. These would include the state-owned China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, which have around 1.4 billion subscribers between them.

”VPN providers based outside mainland China have been evading Chinese authorities' attempts to block their traffic for years,” said Simon Migliano, Director of Top10VPN. “This new crackdown will no doubt cause some services to stop working but the best VPN providers will innovate in how they obfuscate their customers' traffic to continue to give them free access to the internet.”

India vs GPS

Strategy Analytics predicts that India’s incoming rules forcing all phones in the country to have integrated GPS technology from  1st January 2018 could kill the country’s featurephone market as it would increase the price around 30%. The country sold over 30 million feature phones in just one quarter last year.


More updates from the recent NotPetya attack:

  • A tool designed to scan and patch NotPetya vulnerabilities has identified more than 60,000 endpoints that are still vulnerable.
  • A security researcher says there may be a way to recover files after all (which don’t include paying the ransom)
  • A report from Booz Allen says the whole attack may have been a distraction operation covering up an information gathering scheme.


GDPR headlines this week aren’t great: the majority of UK businesses incorrectly think that GDPR is not relevant to them, while AlienVault predicts the threat of massive fines is going to lead to lots of companies trying to cover up the fact they’ve been breached.



Google has launched a new Venture Capital fund targeting Artificial Intelligence called Gradient Ventures, while parent company Alphabet is spinning out its geothermal energy project Dandelion into a separate standalone company.

After failing to make a dent in China, Uber chose to roll its operations into the local winner, DiDi. It seems the company is doing the same in Russia with the announcement that it will join forces with Yandex’s car-hailing service to form a new company. NewCo will combine the two companies’ operations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus and Georgia, and be head up by current Yandex/Taxi CEO Tigran Khudaverdyan.

Google has acquired Halli Labs, Cisco has snapped up Observable Networks, Samsung now owns Innoetics, Symantec has bought Skycure, Accenture has purchased Clearhead and Logitech has got its hands on Astro.

After a long and drawn out struggle, luxury phone maker Vertu has gone out of business. Seems there just wasn’t a market for incredibly costly low-spec phones covered in diamonds and snake skin.

Also going out of business is Jawbone. The Fitbit competitor – which raised close to $1 billion from investors – has reportedly gone into liquidation while much of the team involved has moved to a new company called Jawbone Health Hub, which will be equally health focused.


Microsoft ends support for Windows Phone

It shouldn’t come as much surprise considering its market share was less than 1%, but Microsoft is ending support for Windows Phone. The Redmond company announced that version 8.1 will no longer be supported from the end of July. Windows 10 Mobile still exists, but isn’t exactly taking the world by storm. 8.1 made up a significant proportion of what little market Microsoft had left in the mobile world, so expect that to shrink even further even quicker now updates have stopped.

This week saw the first major vulnerability in Microsoft HoloLens being found. CVE-2017-8584 is a remote code execution vulnerability which takes advantage of how the Augmented Reality device’s firmware handles Wi-Fi packets. An attacker could then  install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.

Satya Nadella’s company has also announced this week a new AI research hub to help it compete with the likes of Google’s DeepMind. Microsoft Research AI’s 100-strong team will “tackle some of the hardest problems in AI and accelerate the integration of the latest AI advances into products and services that benefit customers and society.”


Open source

Red Hat has announced that Fedora 26 is now generally available.

Ride-hailing startup Lyft has promised to release some of its Machine Learning algorithms to the world in the near future. The company already has a few projects such as the proxy tool Envoy and authentication tool Confident on GitHub.

Facebook has released Elf; a new platform for game research. It enables researchers to test algorithms in various game environments, including board games, Atari games, and custom-made, real-time strategy games.


Criminals rarely use Bitcoins

Despite often being billed by certain outlets as the criminal’s currency of choice, a new report suggests that’s not actually the case. The European Commission’s most recent report on money laundering found few examples of ‘virtual currencies’ being used by criminal or terrorist organisations. It suggested that while such payment methods might have attractive characteristics such as anonymity, the technological barrier means they are “rarely used by criminal organisations.”


New & cool stuff

Infor has become the latest company to have an AI-powered chatbot thing embedded into its technology. The new service will be called Coleman, which isn’t nearly as cool as Saleforce’s Einstein.

KFC has released a phone. It’s actually just a Huawei phone with a KFC logo on the back, but what better way to show off your love of fried chicken. It obviously comes with the KFC app pre-installed as well as K-Music, which lets you pick songs heard at China’s KFC restaurants.

A number of companies are looking at storing information in DNA. And now some very clever researchers at Harvard have embedded a GIF into bacteria DNA. The five-frame GIF of a horse has been embedded into the genome of living Escherichia coli bacteria.

The Alibaba-owned Taobao has launched its own cashier-less store, similar to Amazon’s Fresh concept. It’s not on wheels like that Moby Mart concept store though.


Drone refunds

Following a court ruling that the FAA’s drone registration requirements were unlawful, the FAA is now offering refunds and removing people’s names from its database. More than 800,000 people paid the $5 to register their drones since December 2015, generating some $4 million in fees.


Umbrella sharing economy

I’ve written before about how I don’t put much stock in the ‘sharing economy’ outside Uber-like services and AirBnB. The umbrella sharing market is proof of this failing. China’s Sharing E Umbrella has reportedly had nearly all of its 300,000 umbrellas stolen within the first few weeks of launching. The service, which runs in 11 cities across China, charges just 7 cents for every half hour of use with a deposit of $2.80. The company lost $9 for each umbrella stolen. But instead of throwing in the towel, the Sharing E plans to ship 30 million more of the things before the end of the year.