News Roundup: Why was one hacker arrested after Def Con?

A roundup of the week’s technology news including IoT salt shakers, tech companies as utilities, and HoloLens plague masks.

WannaCry and Def Con

After a period of relative quiet, WannaCry is back in the news. Whoever was behind the attack finally emptied the Bitcoin wallet victims were paying into. August 3rd saw seven withdrawals from the wallet, with the total valued at around $140,000 at current prices.

The recent Bitcoin fork – which essentially saw a new concurrent cryptocurrency created with the same transaction history as actual Bitcoin but with some slight tweaks relating to scalability – may have had something to do with it. The fork means the culprits gained around an extra $15,600 (at time of writing BTC Cash is running at $300 a coin compared to original BTC’s $2,800, but is fluctuating a lot) without actually doing anything.

Meanwhile, Marcus Hutchins – aka Malware Tech, aka the man who accidently prevented WannaCry from spreading further – has been arrested by the FBI. Hutchins was collared en route home from Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas and is accused of developing the Kronos malware; a Trojan attack which targeted banks. Hutchins could face imprisonment for up to 40 years if found guilty. According to a statement from the DOJ, the alleged activity occurred “in or around July 2014 and July 2015.”

In other Def Con news, researchers demonstrated how to create anti-virus defeating malware using Elon Musk’s OpenAI Machine Learning framework, one of the founders of the Tor Project claimed the Dark Web “doesn’t exist”, and at Black Hat, a car wash was hacked so it actively attacked your car.


Smart walls and tech utilities

Both Presidents Trump and Peña Nieto have agreed Mexico isn’t paying for any wall. But that hasn’t stopped a new bill being proposed that would turn the proposed wall into a ‘Smart wall’. The Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology (or SMART) Act, put forward by Texas Representative Will Hurd, would require the wall to have sensors, radar, LIDAR, fibre optics, drones and cameras to detect and then track incursions.

Elsewhere, a new law in the US aims to improve Internet of Things security. The Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act would require that all IoT devices bought by government would not be shipped with any known security vulnerabilities or defects, can be updated remotely via the vendor, and does not include any fixed or hard-coded credentials. While it seems sensible, it would be harder to pass such a bill if it included commercial and consumer IoT devices.

White House adviser Steve Bannon wants to class technology companies as utilities. It’s unclear what exactly such regulation would involve, but it would almost certainly see the government having a greater say in how companies such as Facebook and Google operate.


Rudd vs encryption (again)

In the UK, Home Secretary Amber Rudd again attacked encryption over the idea it protects terrorists.  Writing in the Telegraph just a week after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was espousing the benefits of encryption, Rudd claimed that ‘real people’ don’t care about encryption.

"Real people often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security,” she wrote. “Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way to keep in touch with friends and family?”

“Companies are constantly making trade-offs between security and 'usability’, and it is here where our experts believe opportunities lie.”

As is often the case, Rudd suggested it’s possible to have back doors and end-to-end encryption.

“I know some will argue that it’s impossible to have both – that if a system is end-to-end encrypted then it’s impossible ever to access the communication. That might be true in theory. But the reality is different.”


Amazon’s next target?

E-Commerce. Cloud. Voice. Physical Retail. Food. Is there anything Amazon won’t try and disrupt? It seems that healthcare is the next industry in the sights of Jeff Bezos & Co. CNBC has reported that the company has a secret team codenamed 1492 dedicated to health care tech. A separate CNBC report suggests the company is also looking at whether it should break into the pharmacy market as well.

The company has also launched a new version of its Amazon lockers, but designed for private residences. Amazon Hub provides safe package drop-off for apartment buildings and housing complexes.


More VPN woes and rogue chatbots

The crackdown on personal VPNs continues. Apple this week pulled over 60 VPNs from its Chinese App Store because they ‘did not meet new regulations’ about licenses from the government.

"We would obviously rather not remove the apps,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. "But like we do in other countries we follow the law wherever we do business.”

“This is a significant blow to human rights in China," said Simon Migliano, Head of Research at Top10VPN.com. “This restriction of access to VPNs is likely to have a chilling effect on activism given just how severe the consequences for dissidence are in China.”

In other news, two chatbots were pulled from Tencent’s messaging app QQ after denouncing communism. BabyQ from Beijing-based Turing Robot and Microsoft’s XiaoBing were removed after answering politically sensitive questions in surprising ways. According to the FT, BabyQ ansered “No” when asked if it loved the Communist party and that “Democracy is a must!”, while XiaoBing claimed “My China dream is to go to America.”

Tencent’s statement on the matter was brief: “The group chatbot services of QQ are provided by an independent third-party supplier. We are now working on adjusting the service, and it will be resumed after these adjustments are concluded.”



Both GitHub and Facebook have recently released their latest diversity reports. GitHub is 63% male (2% identify as transgender or genderqueer ), and 60% white. FB is 65% male and 49% white overall, but in leadership positions skews massively to white and male.


What’s Facebook working on?

Is Facebook making a major push into hardware? In recent weeks there have been reports from Business Insider that Mark Zuckerberg’s company is working on a modular phone, Bloomberg says the social network is developing a standalone video chat device, while DigiTimes is claiming a smart speaker. Whether these would represent commercial FB-branded products or merely open-sourced designs as we’ve previously seen from the company is unknown.


Is your Roomba spying on you?

Precise indoor mapping and tracking is becoming an increasingly hot topic in certain spaces such as factory robotics or retail. But the idea of that your Roomba is creating a precise floor plan of your home apparently wasn’t something people liked the idea of.

In an interview with Reuters, CEO of Roomba maker iRobot Corp Colin Angle said; “There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared.”

This hit the headlines in a big way, and kicked up such a stink Angle had to do a follow up interview with ZDNet promising that the map of your home will remain your own.

“iRobot will never sell your data. Information that is shared needs to be controlled by the customer and not as a data asset of a corporation to exploit. That is how data is handled by iRobot today. Customers have control over sharing it. I want to make very clear that this is how data will be handled in the future.”

“You may also want your robot to work with other connected devices in your home. For this to work, we will also require your permission, and we will always ensure secure means of communication between devices.”



It’s been a busy couple of weeks for acquisitions: Facebook has acquired chatbot startup Ozlo, Cisco now owns Viptela, Accenture has made a double swoop for Search Technologies and Brand Learning, DigiCert has taken over Symantec’s Web Security and PKI business, Red Hat has snapped up Permabit, LogMeIn has got its hands on chatbot startup Nanorep, Will.I.Am’s i.am+ has snaffled smart home startup Wink, and OpenText has purchased Guidance Software.

Snap Inc is rumoured to be in talks to acquire Chinese selfie drone Zero Zero Robotics. AltVR has announced it is shutting up shop.


Remind me to patent reminders

Remember that time IBM tried to patent Out of Office replies? The EFF has given HP the ‘Stupid Patent of the Month’ award for its attempts to patent ‘Reminder messages’. So, HP now owns the idea of a computer reminding you to buy a cake for someone’s birthday – as shown in the patent – or in fact anything that pops up on your phone or computer telling you that you’re meant to do something.


IoT salt shakers

What do you call a smart salt shaker? Don’t think too hard about it. Because the people behind Smalt didn’t. Yep, that’s right, Smalt. This terribly over-engineered device comes with Bluetooth speakers, mood lighting, Alexa embedded (yes, really), and lets you control how much salt you release via an app. An app. To dispense salt. It’s on IndieGoGo now if you have too much money.

It’s almost as baffling as Buzzfeed releasing a smart hot plate.


Tech as art

While usually the domain of the nerdy, occasionally tech can become something arty. Artist Shawn Hunt has created a terrifying HoloLens mask which looks like some sort of futuristic plague mask. 

Meanwhile Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Barbara Davidson partnered with Volvo to create a photo exhibition using images taken from the safety cameras on board the Swedish company’s cars.


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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