United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement (axios.com) 116

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.


Amazon Passes Alphabet To Become the World's Second Most Valuable Company (cnbc.com) 33

Amazon has passed Alphabet to become the second most valuable company in the world. Apple remains the only other company more valuable than Amazon. CNBC reports: The e-commerce giant rose 2.7 percent on Tuesday lifting its stock market value to $768 billion. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 0.4 percent and is now valued at $762.5 billion. While the U.S. tech mega-caps have rallied in the past year, Amazon's performance has dwarfed them all, with the stock surging 85 percent over the past 12 months, including 35 percent to start 2018. Investors have been piling into Amazon, betting that the company's growing and very profitable cloud computing business will provide the cash needed for investments in original content, physical stores and continuing to build data centers and warehouses.

The Road to Deep Decarbonization (bnef.com) 160

Michael Liebreich, writing for Bloomberg New Energy Finance: In the past fifteen years we have witnessed several pivotal points along the route towards clean energy and transport. In 2004, renewables were poised for explosive growth; in 2008, the world's power system started to go digital; in 2012, it became clear that EVs would take over light ground transportation. Today I believe it is the turn of sectors that have resisted change so far -- heavy ground transportation, industry, chemicals, heat, aviation and shipping, agriculture. One after the other, or more likely as a tightly-coupled system, they are all going to go clean during the coming decades.

Astonishing progress is being made on super-efficient industrial processes, connected and shared vehicles, electrification of air transport, precision agriculture, food science, synthetic fuels, industrial biochemistry, new materials like graphene and aerogels, energy and infrastructure blockchain, additive manufacturing, zero-carbon building materials, small nuclear fusion, and so many other areas. These technologies may not be cost-competitive today, but they all benefit from the same fearsome learning curves as we have seen in wind, solar and batteries. In addition, in the same way that ubiquitous sensors, cloud and edge-of-grid computing, big data and machine learning have enabled the transformation of our electrical system, they will unlock sweeping changes to the rest of our energy, transportation and industrial sectors.


Ford's Badly Needed Plan To Catch Up On Hybrid, Electric Cars (arstechnica.com) 181

Ford supposedly has a plan to adapt to the changing world of transportation. The company recently announced that it's "going all-in on hybrids," readying six new battery electric vehicles by 2022, with the first due in 2020, and adding more performance versions of its SUV line up. "Additionally, by the end of 2019, every new Ford will have 4G LTE connectivity, and the company is developing a new cloud platform that will deliver over-the-air updates," reports Ars Technica. From the report: New hybrids: "Hybrids for years have been mostly niche products but are now on the cusp of a mainstream breakout," said Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets. "The valuable capability they offer -- plus fuel efficiency -- is why we're going to offer hybrid variants of our most popular and high-volume vehicles, allowing our loyal, passionate customers to become advocates for the technology." So America's best-selling truck (the F-150) will get the ability to act as a mobile generator, something that should come in handy on job sites. Meanwhile, the Mustang will have performance to match the 5.0L V8 version but with more low-down torque, according to Ford. The company says that these new hybrids will be cheaper and more efficient than its current hybrids, via "common cell and component design and by manufacturing motors, transmissions, and battery packs."

New BEVs: We have to wait for those new BEVs, too. The first of these -- an electric performance SUV -- also shows up in 2020, but with five more planned between then and 2022. Ford says that it's "rethinking the ownership experience" as part of this and that over-the-air software updates to add new features will be part of the $11 billion investment plan.

More SUVs, more commercial vehicles, a super Mustang: Other new vehicles on the way include a reborn Ford Bronco SUV and an as-yet unnamed small SUV, but before then we'll get redesigned Explorers and Escapes, due in 2019. Next year, Ford will also bring a new Transit van to the US, and it says advanced driver-assistance systems, like automatic emergency braking and others, will be added to future commercial vehicles like the future E-Series, F-650, F-750, and F59-based vehicles.


Intel Says 'Partitions' in New Chips Will Correct the Design Flaw that Created Spectre and Meltdown (geekwire.com) 68

Intel said on Thursday it is introducing hardware protections against the Spectre CPU flaw that was discovered last year. From a report: Starting with the Cascade Lake version of its Xeon server processors later this year, Intel will incorporate "protective walls" in its hardware that prevent malicious hackers from using speculative execution techniques to steal private information from the secure part of the processor. These fixes will also ship with the PC version of the Cascade Lake chips, but the tech industry has been much more concerned about the effect of these design flaws on server processors running in data centers and cloud vendors.

The new fixes allow Intel to still benefit from the performance advantages of speculative execution -- in which a processor guesses which upcoming instructions it will need to execute in order to speed things up -- without the security risks. The hardware changes address Variants 2 and 3 of the Spectre and Meltdown issues first disclosed in early January, and software fixes should continue to address Variant 1, Intel said.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

New Bill In Congress Would Bypass the Fourth Amendment, Hand Your Data To Police (medium.com) 247

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Medium: Lawmakers behind a new anti-privacy bill are trying to sneak it through Congress by attaching it to the must-pass government spending bill. The CLOUD Act would hand police in the U.S., and other countries, extreme new powers to obtain and monitor data directly from tech companies instead of requiring a warrant and judicial review. Congressional leadership will decide whether the CLOUD Act gets attached to the omnibus government spending bill sometime this week, potentially as early as tomorrow... If passed, this bill would give law enforcement the power to go directly to tech companies, no matter where they or their servers are, to obtain our data. They wouldn't need a warrant or court oversight, and we'll be left with no protections to ensure law enforcement isn't violating our rights. A recent report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how the CLOUD Act circumvents the Fourth Amendment. "This new backdoor for cross-border data mirrors another backdoor under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an invasive NSA surveillance authority for foreign intelligence gathering," reports the EFF. "That law, recently reauthorized and expanded by Congress for another six years, gives U.S. intelligence agencies, including the NSA, FBI, and CIA, the ability to search, read, and share our private electronic messages without first obtaining a warrant. The new backdoor in the CLOUD Act operates much in the same way. U.S. police could obtain Americans' data, and use it against them, without complying with the Fourth Amendment."

Google and Ubisoft Are Teaming Up To Improve Online Multi-Player Video Games (fortune.com) 52

Google and Ubisoft announced on Tuesday they have a new project intended to improve the performance of fast-paced, online multi-player video games. From a report: The search giant said it teamed with Ubisoft -- the publisher of popular video games like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry -- to create a gaming developer framework intended for coders that work on online video games. The project is called Agones, which is Greek for "contest" or "gathering," and it will be available in open-source, meaning developers can use it for free and also contribute to the underlying technology. Google pitches Agones as a more cutting-edge way for developers to build multi-player games that don't crash or stutter when thousands of video gamers play at the same time.

Each time people want to play their favorite first-person shooter or other computer resource-heavy online video game with others, the underlying infrastructure that powers the online video game must create a special gaming server that hosts the players. The Agones framework was designed to more efficiently distribute the computing resources necessary to support each online gaming match, thus reducing the complexity of creating each special server while helping coders better track how the computing resources are being used.


China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon (technologyreview.com) 30

Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China's two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country's researchers to dominate the field by then. But Alibaba's ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report: Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries' big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China's tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used.

[...] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba's progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. [...] One advantage China's tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government's commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai's metro kiosks are likely to be in the country's future. One of Alibaba's cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.


Businesses Under Pressure To 'Consumerize' Logins (betanews.com) 47

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of IT leaders say their security teams are considering implementing consumer-grade access to cloud services for employees. From a report: According to the 2018 Identity and Access Management Index from digital security company Gemalto 54 percent of respondents believe that the authentication methods they implement in their businesses are not as good compared to those found on popular sites including Amazon and Facebook. Authentication methods applied in the consumer world can be applied to secure access to enterprise resources 70 percent of IT professionals believe. But despite this, 92 percent of IT leaders express concern about employees reusing personal credentials for work. This comes as 61 percent admit they are still not implementing two-factor authentication to allow access to their network, potentially leaving themselves vulnerable to cyber criminals.

The Slow Death of the Internet Cookie (axios.com) 97

Sara Fischer, writing for Axios: Over 60% of marketers believe they will no longer need to rely on tracking cookies, a 20-year-old desktop-based technology, for the majority of their digital marketing within the next two years, according to data from Viant Technology, an advertising cloud. Why it matters: Advertising and web-based services that were cookie-dependent are slowly being phased out of our mobile-first world, where more personalized data targeting is done without using cookies. Marketers are moving away from using cookies to track user data on the web to target ads now that people are moving away from desktop. 90% of marketers say they see improved performance from people-based marketing, compared with cookie-based campaigns.

Microsoft To Offer Governments Local Version of Azure Cloud Service (reuters.com) 28

Microsoft on Monday said it will soon make it possible for government clients to run its cloud technology on their own servers as part of a concerted effort to make Azure more appealing to local and federal agencies. From a report: The pairing of Azure Stack, Microsoft's localized cloud product, and Azure Government, the government-tailored version of Microsoft's cloud, comes as competition against Amazon.com Inc for major clients in the public sector ramps up. The new offering, which will be made available in mid-2018, is designed to appeal to governments and agencies with needs for on-premise servers, such as in a military operation or in an embassy abroad, said Tom Keane, Microsoft Azure's head of global infrastructure.

Google's Slack Competitor 'Hangouts Chat' Comes Out of Beta (techcrunch.com) 52

Frederic Lardinois reports via TechCrunch: Hangouts Chat, Google's take on modern workplace communication, is now generally available and is becoming a core part of G Suite. Hangouts Chat was first announced at Google Cloud Next 2017, together with Hangouts Meet. While Meet went right into public availability, though, Chat went into an invite-only preview. Now, Google is rolling Chat out to all G Suite users over the course of the next seven days (so if you don't see it yet, don't despair). For all intents and purposes, Hangouts Chat is Google's take on Slack, Microsoft Teams and similar projects. Since Google first announced this project, Atlassian also joined the fray with the launch of Stride. Like its competitors, Chat is available on iOS, Android and the web.

Chat currently supports 28 languages and each room can have up to 8,000 members. What's maybe just as important, though, is that Google has already built an ecosystem of partners that are integrating with Chat by offering their own bots. They include the likes of Xero, RingCentral, UberConference, Salesforce, Zenefits, Zoom.ai, Jira, Trello, Wrike and Kayak. There's even a Giphy bot. Developers can also build their own bots and integrate their own services with Chat.


Apple Confirms It Uses Google's Cloud For iCloud Services (cnbc.com) 46

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: A file that Apple updated on its website last month provides the first acknowledgment that it's relying on Google's public cloud for data storage for its iCloud services. The disclosure is fresh evidence that Google's cloud has been picking up usage as it looks to catch up with Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud infrastructure business. Some media outlets reported on Google's iCloud win in 2016, but Apple never provided confirmation. Apple periodically publishes new versions of a PDF called the iOS Security Guide. For years the document contained language indicating that iCloud services were relying on remote data storage systems from Amazon Web Services, as well as Microsoft's Azure. But in the latest version, the Microsoft Azure reference is gone, and in its place is Google Cloud Platform. Before the January update, Apple most recently updated the iOS Security Guide in March. The latest update doesn't indicate whether Apple is using any Google cloud services other than core storage of "objects" like photos and videos. The document also doesn't make it clear when Apple started storing data in Google's cloud.

Office 365 Growth Opportunity 'a Lot Bigger Than Anything We've Achieved', Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Says (cnbc.com) 153

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Monday suggested that Microsoft could grow more from its Office 365 line of cloud productivity apps than anything in the company's 43-year history. From a report: With business editions of Office 365, Microsoft faces competition from Google, as well as younger players like Box and Dropbox, in the race to get companies collaborating in apps running on remote cloud servers. "The growth opportunity for what is Office 365 is a lot bigger than anything we've achieved, even with our high penetration in the client-server world," Nadella said at the Morgan Stanley Technology Media and Telecom conference in San Francisco. When companies transition from Microsoft's traditional licensing business to cloud-based subscriptions, it's "not a one-for-one move," Nadella told Morgan Stanley analyst Keith Weiss at the event. Microsoft recently introduced the Microsoft 365 bundle, which includes Office as well as Windows, along with enterprise security and mobility services. Nadella also talked up the company's potential in the Azure public cloud infrastructure business, where it competes with Google as well as Amazon Web Services. "We had a good business in our server business, but this business is orders of magnitude bigger than what used to be a successful server business," he said.
Data Storage

Dropbox Shows How It Manages Costs By Deleting Inactive Accounts (cnbc.com) 29

Dropbox employs a somewhat unusual technique to lower its costs, the cloud software company revealed on Friday in its filing to go public . From a report: In a process the company calls "infrastructure optimization," Dropbox said it deletes users' accounts if they don't sign in for a year and don't respond to emails. That keeps the company from incurring storage costs for inactive users, a tactic Yahoo has used in the past. Dropbox said that the costs of revenue dropped 6 percent in 2017 to $21.7 million, mostly due to a $35.1 million reduction "in our infrastructure costs." As it prepares to lure public market investors, Dropbox is paying particularly close attention to its expenses. The company operates in an intensively competitive market against vendors including Apple, Amazon, Box, Google and Microsoft. Once reliant on Amazon Web Services , Dropbox has moved away from public cloud in recent years and has been building its own data center infrastructure to store the majority of user data. Another way it's managed costs is by making sure that there weren't too many copies of users' files on third-party infrastructure.

Apple Moves To Store iCloud Keys in China, Raising Human Rights Fears (reuters.com) 33

Apple will begin hosting Chinese users' iCloud accounts in a new Chinese data center at the end of this month to comply with new laws there. The move would give Chinese authorities far easier access to text messages, email and other data stored in the cloud. From a report: That's because of a change to how the company handles the cryptographic keys needed to unlock an iCloud account. Until now, such keys have always been stored in the United States, meaning that any government or law enforcement authority seeking access to a Chinese iCloud account needed to go through the U.S. legal system. Now, according to Apple , for the first time the company will store the keys for Chinese iCloud accounts in China itself. That means Chinese authorities will no longer have to use the U.S. courts to seek information on iCloud users and can instead use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users, legal experts said.

Dropbox Files To Go Public 41

Ten years after its launch, Dropbox has filed to go public. The cloud storage company has been around since 2007 and has raised more than $600 million in funding. TechCrunch reports: We knew that it had already filed confidentially, but the company has now unveiled its filing, meaning the actual IPO is likely very soon, probably late March. The company says it will be targeting a $500 million fundraise, but this number is usually just a placeholder. The filing shows that Dropbox had $1.1 billion in revenue last year. This compares to $845 million in revenue the year before and $604 million for 2015. The company is not yet profitable, having lost nearly $112 million last year. This shows significantly improved margins when compared to losses of $210 million for 2016 and $326 million for 2015. Dropbox has been cash flow positive since 2016.

More Than 40% of Global Log-in Attempts Are Malicious (infosecurity-magazine.com) 61

More than 40% of global log-in attempts are malicious thanks to bot-driven credential stuffing attacks, according to the latest report from Akamai. From a report: The cloud delivery provider's latest State of the Internet/Security report for Q4 2017 comprised analysis from over 7.3 trillion bot requests per month. It claimed that such requests account for over 30% of all web traffic across its platform per day, excluding video streaming. However, malicious activity has seen a sharp increase, as cyber-criminals look to switch botnets from DDoS attacks to using stolen credentials to try to access online accounts. Of the 17 billion login requests Akamai tracked in November and December, over two-fifths (43%) were used for credential abuse. The figure rose to a staggering 82% for the hospitality industry.

Hackers Hijacked Tesla's Amazon Cloud Account To Mine Cryptocurrency 29

An unidentified hacker or hackers broke into a Tesla-owned Amazon cloud account and used it to "mine" cryptocurrency, security researchers said. The breach also exposed proprietary data for the electric carmaker. From a report: The researchers, who worked for RedLock, a 3-year-old cybersecurity startup, said they discovered the intrusion last month while trying to determine which organization left credentials for an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account open to the public Internet. The owner of the account turned out to be Tesla, they said. "We weren't the first to get to it," Varun Badhwar, CEO and cofounder of RedLock, told Fortune on a call. "Clearly, someone else had launched instances that were already mining cryptocurrency in this particular Tesla environment." The incident is the latest in a string of so-called cryptojacking attacks, which involve thieves hijacking unsuspecting victims' computers to generate virtual currencies like Bitcoin. The schemes have seen a resurgence in popularity as cryptocurrency prices have soared over the past year. In a statement, Tesla said, "We maintain a bug bounty program to encourage this type of research, and we addressed this vulnerability within hours of learning about it. The impact seems to be limited to internally-used engineering test cars only, and our initial investigation found no indication that customer privacy or vehicle safety or security was compromised in any way."

Microsoft Finally Documents the Limitations of Windows 10 on ARM (thurrott.com) 121

For over a year we've been treated to the fantasy that Windows 10 on ARM was the same as Windows 10 on x86. But it's a bit more nuanced than that. Paul Thurrott: 64-bit apps will not work. Yes, Windows 10 on ARM can run Windows desktop applications. But it can only run 32-bit (x86) desktop applications, not 64-bit (x64) applications. (The documentation doesn't note this, but support for x64 apps is planned for a future release.)
Certain classes of apps will not run. Utilities that modify the Windows user interface -- like shell extensions, input method editors (IMEs), assistive technologies, and cloud storage apps -- will not work in Windows 10 on ARM.
It cannot use x86 drivers. While Windows 10 on ARM can run x86 Windows applications, it cannot utilize x86 drivers. Instead, it will require native ARM64 drivers instead. This means that hardware support will be much more limited than is the case with mainstream Windows 10 versions. In other words, it will likely work much like Windows 10 S does today.
No Hyper-V.
Older games and graphics apps may not work. Windows 10 on ARM supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, and DirectX 12, but apps/games that target older versions will not work. Apps that require hardware-accelerated OpenGL will also not work.

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