News Roundup: Some of America's largest tech companies lobby for Huawei ban reversal Credit: Editorial credit: jakkapant turasen / Shutterstock.com
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News Roundup: Some of America's largest tech companies lobby for Huawei ban reversal

Huawei gets a bit of support from US chipmakers

A cohort of American chipmakers including Intel, Qualcomm, and Xilinx are pressing the US government to ease its sales ban on Huawei, according to a report from Reuters this week. Citing ‘people familiar with the situation', the report says executives from Intel and Xilinx attended a meeting with the Commerce Department in May to discuss the placement of Huawei on the governments ‘entity list', which effectively bans US companies from selling to it without special approval.

Qualcomm also discussed the issue with the Commerce Department, as they reportedly want to continue to sell chips to Huawei for common devices like phones and smart watches, as these pose less of a security risk than 5G networking equipment. Reuter's sources indicated that the issue was less about Huawei, and more about preventing harm to US companies, with $11 billion of Huawei's $70 billion spend on components in 2018 going to US firms.

The report comes as Huawei revealed the extent of its expected top-line damage as a result of the trade bans, forecasting a $30 billion reduction in revenue. While revenues continued to soar in Q1 - with a 39% increase during this period - the company now expects revenue to decline to $100 billion, from $107 billion last year. The figures were revealed by Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, who directly blamed the US's ban on the company for the downgraded forecast. Ren said he was surprised by the severity of the US's actions, but does not blame US companies for their compliance.

Meanwhile, US senator Marco Rubio filed legislation on Monday that would prevent Huawei from seeking damages in US patent courts, after the company demanded that Verizon pay $1 billion to license the rights to patented technology. The legislation was filed as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) but must still pass several stages before becoming law.

 

Facebook cryptocurrency

After many swirling rumours and predictions, Facebook finally unveiled its cryptocurrency to the world this week. Dubbed ‘Libra', the digital currency is aimed at shaking up the world's banking system, connecting people who do not have access to traditional banking platforms. Libra will allow consumers to send money to each other and pay for goods and services using Libra in lieu of traditional currencies. Facebook says users will be able to make transactions with Libra through a standalone application, as well as through Facebook and WhatsApp, as early as 2020.

Facebook's idea for Libra is that it will be a replacement for paper money and possibly credit cards, creating a more efficient payment system that consumers will be able to use with more immediacy and accessibility, directly from their applications. It expects this to be perhaps most useful in developing nations or those without steady access to banking services.

Facebook created Libra from the ground up, building it on a native blockchain and giving it the backing of several currencies designed to mitigate the impact of price volatility. It is quite different to many cryptocurrencies and blockchains that currently exist, even prompting some to argue that it isn't a blockchain at all. Overall, it is designed to operate more like cash than a traditional cryptocurrency, offering an easier transaction experience and faster throughput and validation times.

Of course, given Facebook's pretty abysmal recent track record regarding privacy, it didn't take long for regulators and privacy advocates to speak up. Congresswomen Maxine Waters quickly called on Facebook to halt the project until regulators could review it. Meanwhile, Bank of England governor Mark Carney and Reserve Bank chief Phillip Lowe both expressed their concerns, with the former pledging to push for globally co-ordinated regulation through G20 and other forums.

In many ways, putting Facebook at the helm of a globally pervasive and significant financial system - via a blockchain-enabled cryptocurrency - sounds like it could be a complete disaster. Although, successful or otherwise, it should make for an absolutely captivating series of events. 

 

Mergers and acquisitions

Amazon's Twitch platform buys Bebo, Onapsis acquires cyber security firm Virtual Forge, Blue Prism acquires Thoughtonomy for £80 million, Microsoft picks up Pull Panda, Cognizant acquires Zenith Technologies, Accenture announces acquisition of Deja vu Security, Github buys Pull Panda, Roomba creator iRobot acquires Root Robotics, Lloyds Pharmacy parent McKesson buys medication management platform Echo, AGL withdraws proposal to buy Australian telco Vocus, Druva raises $130 million in funding round and acquires CloudLanes, Nordic Capital buys majority stake of US Healthcare software provider ArisGlobal, Finnish IT services company Tieto acquires Norwegian peer Evry, Infineon Technologies sells (USD) 1.7 billion in new shares to fund Cypress acquisition, Fluent acquires social advertising specialists AdParlor.

 

Security roundup

  • India has pressured WhatsApp to provide the capability of making messages exchanged on the platform traceable, without breaking its end-to-end encryption. The Indian government wants to ‘digitally fingerprint' messages, providing the ability to identify where a message originated, and how many people have read/forwarded messages, without seeing the actual content of messages. The push is in relation to the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service being used as a platform for hate speech, spreading child abuse videos, and the circulation of misinformation that has led to several lynchings.  WhatsApp has thus far refused to comply with the requests, previously stating that they would serve to ‘undermine end-to-end encryption and create potential for serious misuse'. 
  • Firefox issued patches for two new zero-day exploits that were reportedly being actively exploited in the wild. The first of the two zero-days was described as a ‘remote code execution' vulnerability, which could allow remote hackers to run malicious code inside Firefox's native process, as ZDNet reports. The second, which was used in unison with the first, was described by Mozilla as a ‘sandbox escape', allowing threat actors to escape from the native process and execute code on the underlying OS. The two zero-days were combined to create an exploit that was used to target the staff of crypto exchange Coinbase, as well as other cryptocurrency organisations. While these attacks have been reported as unsuccessful, they had the potential to provide access to Coinbase's backend network, allowing hackers to steal funds from the exchange.
  • The personal data of approximately 2.9 million people has been exposed after a data breach at Canada's largest credit union, Desjardins. Roughly 40% of the Quebec-based company's clients and members have been affected, including 173,000 business. Leaked information includes names, addresses, birth dates, social insurance numbers, email addresses and information about transaction habits. Desjardins CEO says the breach was not related to a cyberattack, but rather an employee with 'ill-intention' who improperly accessed and shared the information.
  • Cisco has issued two critical security warnings regarding its SD-WAN and Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Center software packages, with the worse of the two scoring a Common Vulnerability Scoring System rating of 9.3 out of 10. The more alarming warning is the DNA vulnerability, which has the potential to let an unauthenticated attacker connect an unauthorised network device to the subnet designated for cluster services, subsequently allowing attackers to reach internal services that aren't cut out for external access. The more critical flags were part of a dumping of nearly 30 security advisory warnings, alongside software patches issued to fix them.
  • In the latest of the ‘just pay the guy' ransomware stories, a city in Florida has turned a few heads this week, as it agreed to pay out a ransomware charge of (USD) $600,000 to hackers holding its systems hostage. As AP reports, the council of Rivera Beach voted unanimously to submit to the cybercriminals' demands,  as they looked to secure important records and solve attack-related issues of a disabled email system, employees and vendors unable to be paid by direct deposit, and 911 dispatchers unable to enter call into the computer. Unsurprisingly, the attack is thought to be the result of an employee clicking on a phishing link in an email.

 

Russian cyberwar

Russia has warned that US-operated digital incursions on its electric power grid could lead to a ‘cyberwar' between the two countries if continued. The warning comes as the New York Times reported that an arm of the Pentagon - the US Cyber Command - was increasingly targeting Russia's power grid, taking steps to place ‘potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before'.

The NYT report itself has been criticised by some analysts, particularly in regard to its suggesting that the US has put ‘implants' inside Russia's grid. Political scientist Thomas Rid was one such sceptic, tweeting that it made no sense to reveal any potent ‘implants', as this would prompt the ‘adversary' to go into ‘intense search mode', sharply decreasing the shelf life of the implants themselves.

Regardless, threats of cyberwar are not something to take likely, as the trend escalates to new heights around the world. This is particularly true noting Israel's recent response to a cyber-attack with an actual physical attack. In short, not a thought you necessarily want to entertain where Russia and the US are concerned.

 

Apple considering moving production away from China

Apple may be considering moving the final assembly of some products out of China, in a move aimed at avoiding the Trump administration's recently imposed hike on tariffs in the country. While the organisation has not made a final decision on the matter, it has reportedly asked suppliers to figure out the feasibility of moving final assembly for some devices to places such as Southeast Asia, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The impact of such a move could indeed be an increase in the price of iPhones, if Apple is unable to find a cost-effective alternative. Considering consumers are already getting fed up with the constant price hikes of Apple's handsets, this could make for a few nervous executives at Apple HQ. Although considering the company is now selling $1,000 monitor stands, maybe they're not so worried.

 

Python to overtake Java and C

The rise of Python in the world of software development is seemingly set to continue, as new figures surfaced this week indicating that the programming language is shaping up to overtake Java and C to take top spot in the next few years. Programming language index Tiobe are behind the forecasts, as Python picked up a rating of 8.5% in the index this month, which is up by 2.77% compared to this time last year. According to Tiobe analysts, if growth continues at this rate, it will eclipse Java and C, which have ratings of 15% and 13.3% respectively.  

Tiobe says Python is picking up a lot of steam in software engineering, with popularity governed by usability when compared to Java and C. The open source language is also the top extension in Microsoft's Visual Studio Code marketplace and is used by companies like Netflix for a variety of use-cases.

 

Deepfakes get more advanced

Let's face it, Deepfake technology is fundamentally terrifying. There really aren't a whole heap of actively utilised use-cases for Deepfake tech that isn't incredibly sketchy, whether legally or morally. Regardless though, the technology continues to get better and more advanced, requiring less and less to accurately portray an individual, living or dead, in a variety of ways.

That was the case this week, as new research from London's Imperial College and Samsung's UK-based AI research centre demonstrated how a single photo and audio file can be used to create a singing or talking video portrait. One of the truly interesting ways this was used was to link a real audio file of Albert Einstein to his photo, eerily almost bringing him back to life. Similarly, yet more insane by an order of magnitude, is a clip of Gergori Yefimovich Rasputin performing ‘Halo' by Beyoncé.

If this doesn't show the extent of what's possible with the technology, the research also showed the linking of audio clips to photos, but altered to denote certain emotions. Remarkable stuff really.

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Pat Martlew

Patrick Martlew is a technology enthusiast and editorial guru that works the digital enterprise beat in London. After making his tech writing debut in Sydney, he has now made his way to the UK where he works to cover the very latest trends and provide top-grade expert analysis.

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