News Roundup: How did Kaspersky get hold of NSA code? Credit: Image via Wikimedia
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News Roundup: How did Kaspersky get hold of NSA code?

A roundup of the week’s tech news including ageism, autonomous bulldozers, and IoT Ramen forks.

 

Just how did Kaspersky get NSA code? Hookie Microsoft products

Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky Labs has had a rough time of it lately. The company was recently accused of allowing Russian Intelligence to extract classified NSA documents from its servers. Although the company denied part of these claims, it has admitted that it did obtain NSA documents, albeit accidently.

In short: a worker (possibly NSA, possibly a hacker) took some NSA-created malware home, and when Kaspersky’s AV detected a backdoor in a product-key generator for Microsoft Office, it also detected the as-then-unknown Equation APT malware, which was then uploaded automatically to Kaspersky’s severs. The company claims that once CEO Eugene Kaspersky was informed of what was found he ordered the deletion of the archived data. It says it has found no evidence of hacking by Russian intelligence on its systems.

When asked if he would delete such nation-state source code if it appeared in front of him, F-Secure’s Mikko Hyppönen said he, “might dream about telling everyone that I deleted it.”

Kaspersky has also said it will be opening up its source code for review by independent third parties, and claims it has “nothing to hide”. Former NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett said however that this would not be enough, and instead said all communications from the company’s servers should go through an “independent monitoring center”.

 

Security

  • McAfee, meanwhile, has joined Symantec in saying it will no longer allow foreign governments to review its source code
  • A new report says China’s National Vulnerability Database is better at disclosing vulnerabilities than its US counterpart
  • The NHS could have prevented the damage caused by WannaCry "if only it had taken simple steps to protect its computers” and had a year’s notice it needed to improve its security posture, according to a government audit
  • The US Department of Justice (DOJ) will reduce the number of secrecy orders when accessing personal data, thanks to pressure from Microsoft
  • A new bill being considered in the US would allow companies to take the offensive when it comes to cybersecurity. Dubbed the “Hack Back” bill, it would allow companies to legally hack any intruders in its networks as retaliation

 

Ageism

It’s no secret that tech is largely an industry of white guys. But those white guys are also young. And maybe even ageist. A new study from Indeed found that millennials make up the majority of employees in around 46% of tech companies.

The study found that 43% of the 1,000 tech workers surveyed worry about losing their job because of their age. 18% say they worry about it “all the time”, and 36% say they’ve had at least one instance during which they weren’t taken seriously by colleagues and managers due to age.

 

Open Source

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) (Canada’s equivalent to the NSA or GCHQ) likes Open Source. The CSE recently released AssemblyLine, a malware detection and analysis tool, to the world. Unlike the NSA or GCHQ, however, CSE released it to BitBucket.

AWS and Microsoft have released Gluon, a new API for prototyping, building, and training deep learning models. Facebook has released RacerD, which detects race conditions in Java code. Google and others have released Grafeas, which is designed to standardize auditing and governing of the software supply chain.

System 76, a company known for selling Open Source hardware, has created its own Linux distribution called POP! OS.

 

Lobbying

The latest US lobbying figures for Q3 of 2017 are out, and it was another quarter of big spending. Google again spent the most trying to whisper in the ear of policy makers, spending $4.17 million. Oracle has ramped up its spend lately, to $3.82 million, while Amazon continues to up its influence ($3. 41 million). Facebook, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Apple were the other tech companies that spent more than $1 million this quarter.

Issues, as ever, were varied, but there were common themes around security, tax, immigration, sex trafficking laws (which have wider implications around liability), plus issues such as energy, drones, autonomous vehicles, and government use of technology.

 

Mac Mini still alive?

There was a point Mac Minis were quite popular. They were cheaper than MacBooks or iMacs, and had ok performance. However, once the iPad came along, they lost their niche. The device has been languishing ever since; it’s been three years since any updates to the product.

But it’s not dead, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In an email obtained by MacRumours, Cook said he plans for the Mini to “be an important part of our product line going forward,” but now was not the time to share any details. 

 

2018: The year we finally get flexible smartphones?

Samsung has been promising us foldable smartphones for years. Concept videos, demos, and patents have been circulating for ages, but never come to fruition. That hasn’t stopped the Korean giant recently filing yet another foldable phone patent, although this one has hinges reminiscent of the Surface Book.

Huawei has also said its working on a foldable phone. CEO Richard Yu told CNet the company has a working prototype, albeit one that isn’t ready for commercial release yet. Microsoft too is rumoured to be working on a folding smart notepad of some sort. Strategy Analytics says that while foldable devices are likely to be a niche in 2018, they could see larger growth in the same way phablets now make up a sizable chunk of the smartphone market.

In the meantime, ZTE has announced a new dual-screen smart flip phone, which is the closest we’re getting to foldable smartphones for a while. Although most have been lost in time, the Axon M is far from the first such device; there’s been the Docomo Medias W, Kyocera Echo, LG DoublePlay, the Samsung DoubleTime, and the half e-ink YotaPhone.

 

Amazon Key: Resoundingly a terrible idea

Has Amazon gone too far? The company is now offering a combo smart lock and camera service called Amazon Key. This service allows you to unlock your house remotely to allow deliveries, friends, or services such as cleaners into your property. The Cloud Cam camera is made by Amazon, the lock comes from a number of partners. Sounds terrible. 

 

M&A

This year SoftBank raised a massive $100 billion for its Vision Fund. Investments have been large and varied – including WeWork, Roivant Sciences, ZhongAn, ARM, OneWeb, Slack, and others – and have already seen impressive returns according to CEO Masayoshi Son. But that’s just the start.

“The Vision Fund was just the first step, 10 trillion yen ($88 billion) is simply not enough,” Son told  Nikkei Asian Review. “We will briskly expand the scale. Vision Funds 2, 3 and 4 will be established every two to three years.”

“We are creating a mechanism to increase our funding ability from 10 trillion yen to 20 trillion yen ($176 billion) to 100 trillion yen ($880 billion),” he said, adding that he expects to have invested in 1,000 companies within 10 years. For comparison, KPMG reports that $127.4 billion was invested globally in 2016 and $140.6 billion in 2015.

Apple has acquired wireless charging startup PowerbyProxi, Cisco has bought BroadSoft, ServiceNow has snapped up mobile application development company SkyGiraffe, Delphi now owns autonomous car startup NuTonomy, investment firm Elliot Management has got its hands on Gigamon, and Intuit has purchased Exactor.

 

Autonomous stuff

There’s been lots of headlines of late around self-driving cars and the like. Cyanogen – previously known for trying to create an Android mod that didn’t rely on Google services – has pivoted into the autonomous vehicle space. Now going under the Cyngn moniker, the company has been given permission to test autonomous cars on public roads in California.

Elsewhere, Tesla is reportedly developing its own AI chips for its cars, GPS info of over 500,000 cars was leaked online, and a white paper from VC firm Madrona Venture Group suggests that autonomous cars should be given their own lanes on motorways and start with the I-5 freeway between Seattle and Vancouver as a test bed.

A list of vehicles where autonomous versions are being developed:

Boats

Trains [both Rio Tinto and GE are looking at this]

Planes

Bulldozers

Snowploughs

 

Drone strikes

Although there have been plenty of near-misses and a few erroneous claims, it was only a matter of time until a drone actually collided with a plane. Because people are stupid. According to a statement from Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport in Canada, a drone collided with a Skyjet flight on October 12th while inbound to Jean Lesage International Airport in Québec City.

Details about the type of drone or plane have not been revealed, but Skyjet only run smaller, propeller-based planes, the one in question reportedly received “minor damage” and was able to land safely.

 

Pirates

They might not have come to power in Iceland, but the Pirate Party is making gains. Czech Pirate Party (Česká pirátská strana) won 22 seats in a recent election, making them the third largest party with 10.8% of the vote share. In recent elections in Luxembourg, the party gained 3 local seats.

In other political news, President Donald Trump is pushing for a new cybersecurity strategy for the US government, and is looking to give commercial drone operators a boost.

 

Bitcoin

It’s been a while since we had a new Bitcoin record. But last week saw the value reach $6,000 before falling back to the mid-$5,500s.

 

IoT Ramen forks

This week in ‘devices that didn’t need to be connected to anything else’: Ramen forks. Japanese Raman company Nissin has created a fork that detects the sound of noodle slurping, and will tell nearby smartphones to play music to mask the sound slurping. It costs $130, but luckily only 5,000 will be made.

 

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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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