News roundup: Intel wins Pentagon semiconductor contract, Nvidia-Arm deal in jeopardy, Samsung unveils $205 billion investment plan and more

A round-up of this week’s technology news, including Intel’s new Pentagon semiconductor contract, Nvidia-Arm acquisition faces regulatory challenge, Samsung’s $205 billion investment plan and more.


Intel wins Pentagon semiconductor contract

US semiconductor giant Intel has won a major contract to design and build electrical chips for the US Department of Defense, as reported by ZDNet.

The contract forms the first phase of the Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes - Commercial (RAMP-C) program, led by the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL. This initiative aims to help establish a US semiconductor ecosystem that can furnish critical Pentagon defense systems with domestically built computer chips. Intel will work in partnership with technology giants like IBM, Cadence, Synopsys and other companies on the RAMP-C project. 

It comes as a global semiconductor shortage continues to slow down the production of electronics, automotive and other products that depend on computer chips.

Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, said: “One of the most profound lessons of the past year is the strategic importance of semiconductors, and the value to the United States of having a strong domestic semiconductor industry. Intel is the sole American company both designing and manufacturing logic semiconductors at the leading edge of technology. 

“When we launched Intel Foundry Services earlier this year, we were excited to have the opportunity to make our capabilities available to a wider range of partners, including in the U.S. government, and it is great to see that potential being fulfilled through programs like RAMP-C.”

Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm in jeopardy

Nvidia’s $40 billion acquisition of Cambridge-based chipmaker Arm could be derailed due to “serious competition concerns” identified by UK antitrust regulators.

As reported by Verdict, the UK Competition and Markets Authority has published a report warning that the proposed acquisition could affect the supply of products in industries such as datacentres, the internet of things, automotive and gaming.

The CMA believes that the Nvidia-Arm deal could reduce competition and stifle innovation across the technology sector while also affecting the prices and quality of products. 

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “We’re concerned that Nvidia controlling Arm could create real problems for Nvidia’s rivals by limiting their access to key technologies, and ultimately stifling innovation across a number of important and growing markets. This could end up with consumers missing out on new products, or prices going up.”

But despite these concerns, US chipmaker Nvidia defended the planned acquisition and promised to work with regulators to resolve their concerns. 

A spokesperson for Nvidia told Verdict:  “We look forward to the opportunity to address the CMA’s initial views and resolve any concerns the government may have. We remain confident that this transaction will be beneficial to Arm, its licensees, competition, and the UK.”

Samsung unveils $205 billion investment plan

Samsung has unveiled a $205 billion (240 trillion won), three-year funding boost for its semiconductor, biopharmaceutical and telecommunication departments.

According to a report by TechCrunch, the South Korean tech giant hopes the funding will help it become a leader in industries like next-generation telecommunications and robotics.

The firm will spend most of the investment (154.3 billion/180 trillion won) in its home nation, South Korea, and wants to generate 40,000 new jobs over the next three years.

As part of its ambitious investment plan, Samsung plans to increase its merger and acquisition activity in a bid to boost its technology and market leadership.

This news coincides with the recent release of Samsung Group vice chairman Jay Y. Lee, who is now on parole after serving a jail sentence for bribery and embezzlement. 

In a statement used by Reuters, Samsung Electronics said: "The chip industry is the safety plate of the Korean economy... Our aggressive investment is a survival strategy in a sense that once we lose our competitiveness, it is almost impossible to make a comeback.”

South Korea to ban Apple and Google in-app payments commission charges

South Korea could soon ban Apple and Google from making software developers pay commission for in-app purchases after passing a crucial law on Wednesday, as reported by Reuters.

Apple and Google have both created their own payment systems that take a certain percentage of revenue from in-app purchases. 

However, an amendment to South Korea’s Telecommunications Business Act would stop both firms from forcing app developers to use these systems.

Both US tech giants have strongly criticised the new South Korean law. In a statement, Apple said:  “The proposed Telecommunications Business Act will put users who purchase digital goods from other sources at risk of fraud, undermine their privacy protections, make it difficult to manage their purchases, and features like ‘Ask to Buy’ and Parental Controls will become less effective. 

“We believe user trust in App Store purchases will decrease as a result of this proposal—leading to fewer opportunities for the over 482,000 registered developers in Korea who have earned more than KRW8.55 trillion to date with Apple.”

Wilson White, senior director of public policy at Google, has also found fault with the bill. He called it a “rushed process” that “hasn't allowed for enough analysis of the negative impact of this legislation on Korean consumers and app developers"

Zoom to offer employees a hybrid working approach 

Video conferencing platform Zoom plans to take a hybrid approach when its employees gradually return to the office, as reported by BBC. 

The firm has revealed it’ll offer a combination of hybrid and in-office working after just 1% of its employees said they’d like to go back to office-based working on a full-time basis.

After running an internal poll, Zoom found that half of its workforce would rather hybrid working. Meanwhile, a quarter of Zoom employees want to work remotely full-time. 

In a blog post, Zoom CFO Kelly Steckelberg wrote: “Given this remote success, we are not rushing our office reopenings. We don’t plan to open any given office until we can do so without personal protective equipment or social distancing.

“So at Zoom, we’re preparing a hybrid approach — strategically mixing remote and in-office work — but we’re still experimenting with how that even looks. Admittedly, it’s not easy.”

Security roundup

  • The White House has vowed to improve cybersecurity guidelines and take action to protect the American economy from cyber attacks, as reported by Reuters. This week, US president Joe Biden and his cabinet members met with leaders from the technology, finance and infrastructure industries to discuss a range of cybersecurity-related issues. Biden urged them “raise the bar on cybersecurity” and stressed that his government “can’t meet this challenge alone”. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna were among the big tech bosses who attended the government meeting. Following the event, Microsoft and Google announced they’ll invest $20 billion and $10 billion on cybersecurity projects in the next five years. 
  • Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting Linux operating systems in their attacks, according to new research from Trend Micro. The cybersecurity firm said it detected 13 million malware events aimed at Linux cloud environments during the first six months of 2021. It found that the most common types of malware affecting Linux systems are coinminers (25%), web shells (20%) and ransomware (12%). Trend Micro blames Linux attacks on “outdated software with unpatched vulnerabilities”.
  • The US State Department recently experienced a cyber attack that resulted in the Department of Defense Cyber Command issuing notifications about a likely serious breach, as reported by CNBC. Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich first reported the news last weekend, writing on Twitter that the breach is “believed to have happened a couple of weeks ago” and that it hasn’t impacted the State Department’s evacuation activities in Afghanistan. She tweeted: “The extent of the breach, investigation into the suspected entity behind it, efforts taken to mitigate it, and any ongoing risk to operations remains unclear.”
  • An NHS Digital project that proposes the sharing of GP patient data with researchers and private companies for planning and research purposes has been postponed, according to a report by the Observer. Over a million people have opted out of the General Practice Data for Planning and Research scheme, which was unveiled in May and would collect information regarding diagnoses, symptoms, test results, sex, ethnicity and more. NHS Digital claims that the project won’t collect personally identifiable information such as names and addresses. But despite this, it’s still faced criticism from privacy campaigners.
  • A hacker known as “Mr. White Hat” stole $610 million worth of cryptocurrency from Poly Network at the start of the week, as reported by Engadget. They were able to hack into Poly Network’s systems and make off with the vast sum after leveraging coding flaws. But in a strange turn of events, the cyber crook said they were “ready to surrender” and gave the stolen cryptocurrency back. Writing in a blog post, Poly Network explained that “all the user assets that were transferred during the incident have been fully recovered”.
  • 38 million user records were left publicly accessible as a result of default configurations in Microsoft Power Apps, according to an investigation by UpGuard Research. The exposed records include coronavirus contact tracing and vaccination appointments, social security numbers, employee IDs, names and email addresses. This data was unknowingly leaked by 47 organisations whose Microsoft Power Apps-based portals were “configured to allow public access”, from private sector companies like American Airlines, Microsoft and J.B. Hunt to government agencies in New York City, Maryland and Indiana. 

M&A roundup

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi is to acquire autonomous driving startup Deepmotion in a $77.3 million deal, as reported by TechCrunch. The announcement comes as Xiaomi has seen its second-quarter revenue increase by 64% year-on-year, reaching $13.56 billion.

Paysafe, an online payments company headquartered in London, has announced plans to acquire German fintech firm Viafintech. It recently acquired digital payment platforms PagoEfectivo and SafetyPay.

Azerion, a Netherlands-based digital gaming and monetisation technology firm, has acquired Swedish mobile advertising company Keymobile. It’s the third acquisition made by Azerion so far this year, following the acquisitions of Strossle and Delta Projects.

Mavenir, which develops mobile and business messaging monetisation products for the services industry, has acquired communications-platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) company Telestax. The firm said the deal will allow it to enhance its cloud-based customer engagement solution, Mavenir Engage.

Elastic, which developed Elasticsearch and the Elastic Stack, is planning to acquire Canada-based infrastructure detection and response (IDR) firm CMD. Elastic said the deal will “help customers take command of their cloud workloads”.

Airbnb announces free housing for $20,000 Afghanistan refugees

Property rentals platform Airbnb has pledged to offer 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan temporary accommodation at no cost, as reported by the Guardian. 

The accommodation costs will be covered by, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and donations received by the Refugee Fund.

Airbnb explained that it will “collaborate with resettlement agencies and partners to go where the need goes, and evolve this initiative and our support as necessary”. It also called on other businesses to “join efforts to provide immediate support to Afghan refugees”. 

Hosts can support these efforts by opening up their homes to Afghanistan refugees for free or at a discounted cost via the Airbnb platform. People can also make donations on the website. 

Chesky said:  “As tens of thousands of Afghan refugees resettle around the world, where they stay will be the first chapter in their new lives. For these 20,000 refugees, my hope is that the Airbnb community will provide them with not only a safe place to rest and start over, but also a warm welcome home.”

Google announces Smart Replies for Docs 

Google has confirmed plans to roll out its artificial intelligence-based Smart Reply feature for Google Docs users. The function is currently available in Gmail, where it automatically makes suggestions as users type out messages.

Using Smart Reply for Google Docs, users will be able to select relevant replies when they want to reply to comments inside the document. But should users wish, they’ll still have the option to write their responses. 

PayPal to let UK customers buy and sell bitcoin 

American fintech giant PayPal this week announced that its UK-based users can buy, hold and sell cryptocurrencies using its platform, as reported by the BBC. 

Initially, it’ll support Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash on its mobile app and website. But these transactions will need to be made via traditional currencies, rather than cryptocurrencies. The firm isn’t allowing customers to pay for things using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.