Author: Nick Farrell

Malaysian IT uses forced labour

oliverMalaysian electronics companies are routinely using forced labour systems to get products to market, a human rights group claims.

The report is the result of a two-year study funded by the US Department of Labour and undertaken by Verité, a nonprofit organisation focused on labour issues.

More than 500 migrant workers at around 200 companies in Malaysia’s IT manufacturing sector were surveyed and one in three were working under conditions of forced labour.

Dan Viederman, CEO of Verité, said workers were lured to the company using deceptive adverts. The job looks good enough that they pay a broker to apply, often borrowing money from friends and family to do so.

When they arrive, their passport is taken by their employer and they’re threatened with deportation if they don’t work overtime. Since they are broke, and do not have a passport and with little knowledge of the legal process, they accept the increased workload.

The fees paid to brokers to obtain the overseas work are crippling and more than 90 per cent say that they pay them. Three quarters said they borrowed money to do so. More than half said it took more than a year of work to clear the debt, and they cannot leave Malaysia until it was paid.

Many of the factories were operated by subcontractors or suppliers to major brand-name companies, and Viederman said that all companies sourcing from Malaysia should audit their supply chain.

Companies should amend their codes of conduct for suppliers to ban the payment of fees to brokers and ensure workers are allowed to keep their identity documents when they arrive, he said.

The US Department of State said the situation in Malaysia had worsened in its annual report on human trafficking. The government there made “limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime” despite assurances it would work to solve the problem.

Scientists twist to get more radio bandwidth

twistScientists from three international universities have twisted again, like they did last summer, and  managed to transfer data at the speed of 32 gigabits per second.

This is 30 times faster than 4G LTE wireless technology.

The team, led by Alan Willner, of the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, successfully demonstrated data transmission rates of 32 gigabits per second across 2.5m of free space in his basement.

He pointed out that this is one of the fastest data transmission via radio waves that has been demonstrated.

Dubbed “High-capacity millimetre-wave communications with orbital angular momentum multiplexing” is published in the latest issue of journal Nature Communications.

This speed can only be eclipsed by twisting light, Willner did this two years ago, and achieved data transmission speeds of 2.56 terabits per second. But radio is more reliable because it uses wider, more robust beams. Wider beams are better able to cope with obstacles between the transmitter and the receiver, and radio is not as affected by atmospheric turbulence as optics.

Millimetre waves occupy the 30GHz to 300GHz frequency bands.. They are found in the spectrum between microwaves, which take up the 1GHz to 30GHz bands, and infrared waves, which are sometimes known as extremely high frequency (EHF).

Mobile operators are becoming interested in millimetre waves as they seek to create faster 4G LTE networks and beat congestion from too many users accessing the internet on their phones at one time.

The next plan is to extend the twisted radio beams’ transmission range and capabilities. The technology could have potential applications in data centres, where large bandwidth links between computer clusters are required.


British Micro Focus merges with Attachmate

Merge-AheadMainframe software outfit Micro Focus has started proceedings to merge with Attachmate, owners of Novell and Suse Linux, for approximately US$1.2 billion.

The combined company should have yearly revenue of $1.4 billion, with more than 4,500 employees and more than 30,000 customers, Micro Focus said.

Analysts say that it is a good merger as both are established enterprise software vendors with global marketing reach and little overlap in either products or customers.

Attachmate hit the headlines in 2011 when it bought enterprise software vendor Novell in 2011 for $2.2 billion.

Attachmate’s parent company, Wizard Parent, will exchange with Micro Focus all of Attachmate’s 86 million public shares, traded on the London Stock Exchange and now worth about £729.6 million ($1.18 billion), for approximately 40 percent of shares in the combined company.

Based in Houston, the Attachmate Group controls what is left of Novell’s employee productivity, printing and networking software. It also has Attachmate’s own line of advanced software for terminal emulation, legacy modernization and managed file transfer and Suse, a line of enterprise Linux and Linux-based cloud software that was part of the Novell acquisition.  Also from its Novell buy out it controls NetIQ which is a line of identity, access and security management software.

Micro Focus is based in Newbury and sells software products for the enterprise, including an IBM mainframe modernisation software, COBOL development kits and a range of testing tools.

Micro Focus expects the deal to close by November.

Apple censors unsightly bulge in iPhone 6

blue-appleIt seems that the fruity cargo cult Apple has been taking a leaf from the Stalinist handbook and is re-touching pictures that are a little difficult for its fanboys to swallow.

The iPhone 6 has an unsightly bulge which breaks the streamlining of the design.  It is caused by the fact that Apple had to put in a camera. While many think this is no big deal, Apple is deeply embarrassed, knowing that it would not have gotten away with that sort of thing under Steve Jobs.

But rather than send its designers back to the drawing board, Apple decided on an easier route.  Figuring out that once its fanboys actually owned the gadget they would not return it, Apple decided to simply airbrush the unsightly bulge from history.

You will not see the bulging rear camera if you were browsing Apple’s website though. While some images display the bulge clearly, there’s a number where it has simply vanished from sight.  If this sort of thing keeps up Apple could sell its fanboys a brick but give them an artist’s impression of something sleek and shiny.

It would have got away with it had it not been for those people at the Verge.



Harry Potter dumps Hogwarts for Cambridge

HarryPotterSorc01Muggles at Cambridge University have worked out a way of creating Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility claiming that it could have military uses against You Know Who.

Ventsislav Valev, who we thought was one of the competitors in the Goblet of Fire, is apparently behind the idea. He said that the finished product will more likely resemble a rigid, externally powered suit of armour than Harry’s magical cloak.

At this point, the cloak is a little small for anyone to wear. The Cambridge researchers constructed nanoscale building blocks called “metamaterials.” These nanoparticles that, due to their geometry, are capable of controlling the way light interacts with them.

Valev has made a lot of them in water, which effectively makes them invisible to mermaids and Durmstrang Ships.

The metamaterials alter the way the object is seen. Light is guided around the object as if it was never there.

The technology makes it possible to not only hide something but also make it appear as something else.

Needless to say this cloak of invisibility is a long way off so it will be a while before anyone says mischief made on this one.

Micron releases super dense SSD

mircon ssdMicron announced  a new SSD that uses its densest process and has an onboard chip that can program the memory to act as high performance SLC or high-capacity MLC flash.

Dubbed the M600 SSD, the drive uses Micron’s new 16 nanometer (nm) lithography with 128Gb NAND density.

Thanks to the greater density, the company could drop the cost per gigabyte to as little as 45 cents. The fact you can program the flash also reduces power use and improves write performance as much as 2.8 times over models without the feature.

Jon Tanguy, Micron’s senior technical marketing engineer said the M600 flash drive draws less than two milliwatts of power in sleep mode and averages 150mW during active use.

It has a sequential read rate of 560 MBps and can write at 510MBps. Its random read rate is up to 100,000 I/Os per second (IOPS) and it can write at 88,000 IOPS.

The SSD is based on an eight-channel Marvell controller that comes with government-grade hardware encryption using the 256-bit AES protocol.

Micron is selling the drive to manufacturers of corporate notebooks and ultra-thin netbooks, workstations and desktop PCs.

It comes in three form factors, a 2.5-in. SSD, an mSATA card and an M.2 memory stick. The mSATA and M.2 form factors come in capacities of 128GB for $80, 256GB for $140 and 512GB for $260. The 2.5-in. SSD comes in all those capacities and an additional 1TB version which will set you back $450.


Virgin too fast and loose for ASA

rbransonAdvertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a TV, website and several press adverts for Virgin Media’s cable broadband service saying that they were misleading punters.

Rivals BT and Sky Broadband (BSkyB), moaned that the Virgin promotions “misled” consumers by claiming the service offered Internet download speeds that were “5x faster than Sky and BT’s regular broadband”.

Virgin Media’s TV promotion claimed that customers would be able to “download five times faster than BT’s regular broadband. It invited viewers to visit “for verification“.

BT said that the webpage in question did not provide sufficient information for viewers to verify the comparison that had been made.

Both BT and Sky Broadband complained against several almost identical claims made in other ads. Both ISPs described the “5x faster than Sky and BT’s regular broadband” claim as “misleading”.

They said that not all Virgin Media customers would always be able to “download 5x faster” than Sky’s and BT’s broadband customers.

Virgin Media and its advertising partner, Clearcast, felt that the webpage listed above did provide “all of the necessary information to allow viewers to verify the comparisons” and that the “5x faster” statement would understood by viewers not to be “absolute”.

The ASA disagreed and concluded the information provided was not sufficient to ensure the details of the comparison could be verified.

In its ruling it said that while consumers were likely to be aware that the speed of broadband services would vary according to factors such as the time of day, claims that consumers would be able to “download 5x faster than Sky and BT’s regular broadband” were not in conditional language.

It was considered they were likely to be understood to mean that Virgin’s superfast service was always five times faster than Sky’s and BT’s regular services, even when normal variations such as the time of day were taken into account, the ASA said.

As a result, Virgin Media has unfortunately seen a bunch of its adverts banned in their current form and the provider has once more been told to “ensure they provided sufficient information about comparisons to allow them to be verified” and warned to stop making absolute claims if they could not be proved.

Swiss watchmakers rubbish Apple’s designs

Swiss Watches the BrandThe Swiss watchmakers, who Apple believes it will put out of business, have mocked Jobs’ Mob’s poor design efforts.

Luxury giant LVMH’s watch guru and industry legend Jean-Claude Biver told AFP  that he expected a bit more from Apple and he was a bit disappointed.

Biver said the gadget, which will be released early next year, is not the “revolutionary product” it claims to be.

The timepiece, with its square touch-screen face and curved edges, lacks “sex appeal” and is too feminine, he said.

But Biver went a bit further and rubbished the abilities of Apple’s hallowed design team, saying it looked like it was done by students in their first semester.

With pricing set to start at $349, Apple’s watch will not be playing in the same league as the Swiss watchmakers who dominate the luxury end of the market.

Jerome Bloch, who heads the men’s fashion unit at Parisian style agency Nelly Rodi, said Swiss luxury watchmakers had nothing to fear and comparing Apple’s new device to many Swiss watch offerings was like comparing a Mini Cooper with an Aston Martin.

Biver added that luxury was eternal, it is perennial and  not something that becomes worthless after five years. Apple watches were “doomed to become obsolete”.




Snowden did not seem too worried about snooping

snowdenThe NSA has poured cold water on the central plank of Edward Snowden’s statements that he was worried about overwhelming government spying and could not make anyone listen.

Snowden said that he had complained to his fellow workers about the snooping programmes but had to take action when no one listened.

The NSA said that it had reviewed all of Edward Snowden’s available emails in addition to interviewing NSA employees and contractors to determine if he had ever raised concerns internally about the agency’s vast surveillance programs.

According to documents the government filed in a federal court last Friday, NSA officials were unable to find any evidence Snowden ever had shared his concerns with anyone.

In a sworn declaration, David Sherman, the NSA’s associate director for policy and records, said the agency launched a “comprehensive” investigation after journalists began to write about top-secret NSA spy programs upon obtaining documents Snowden leaked to them.

The investigation included searches of any records where emails Snowden sent raising concerns about NSA programs “would be expected to be found within the agency.”

Sherman said the NSA searched sent, received, and deleted emails from Snowden’s account and emails “obtained by restoring back-up tapes.”

Still, the agency says it did not find any evidence that Snowden attempted to address his concerns internally — as he has said he did — before leaking the documents.

This is problematic for Snowden’s supporters because VICE News filed a case against the NSA earlier this year seeking copies of emails in which Snowden raised concerns about spy programs he believed were unconstitutional.

However if he did not then some of Snowden’s reputation as a whistleblower suffers. If Snowden was really concerned about the antics of the NSA he never even mentioned his concerns to his colleagues.   Of course that might mean that he simply did not want to end up unemployed, or given a nice walk around a German forest somewhere, but it could also mean that he was not concerned about snooping.

Of course, there is the small matter if you believe the spooks, whose reputation for truth is about on a par with Robert Maxwell’s.

So far, the NSA has found a single email Snowden sent to the NSA’s general counsel in April 2013 in which he raised a question about NSA legal authorities in training materials.

That email poses a question about the relative authority of laws and executive orders — it does not register concerns about NSA’s intelligence activities.


Data centre readies for nukes

atomJust in case you thought that the fear of a nuclear attack was so 1980s it was not worth worrying about, a US data centre is advertising that it can survive a nuclear event.

The centre in Boyers, is a 2,000-sq.-ft. building purpose-built to protect against an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).  To be fair an EMP burst could also come during a solar storm, but it does indicate that someone is still worried about nukes in the US.

The company that built the facility is not disclosing exactly how the data centre was constructed or what materials were used. It appears that the structure has an inner skin and an outer skin that use a combination of thicknesses and metals to provide EMP protection.

So far, the only other data centres that protect against electromagnetic pulses are underground, or offer containers and cabinets that shield IT equipment from EMPs.

While it sounds groovy, it is not clear how concerned people have to be about EMP protection. Most solar storms are not strong enough to hurt electronics, though they could disrupt GPS and radio communications. Sure there could be an apocalyptic storm, but if that were the case, your data might be safe but there would not be a single working PC in the United States.

The last one which happened was the 1859 Carrington Event, a solar storm that disrupted and knocked out the telegraph.

Then there is the question of a nuclear attack, which means you have to start worrying about Russians and Chinese again, which is unlikely. Finally, you have to worry about terrorists getting their paws on enough uranium to build an EMP device. Then you would have to be worried that instead of detonating it in New York, where they would do the most damage, they would chose to drop it in Boyers.

If you are worried about those sorts of things then EMP protection is exactly what you need for your data protection. Of course, you are also the sort of person who wears belt and braces and probably does not leave the building out of a fear of badgers falling from the sky and killing you.



Broadwell will be Intel’s red-headed stepchild

Rupert-Grint-Ron-Weasley-Harry-Potter-GingerBroadwell is set to be the chip that Intel does not want to talk about as it enters next year with two chip line-ups.

Intel says that both Broadwell and Skylake will be in the shops in the same year, something the chip maker has managed to avoid doing before, with very good reason.

Skylake is supposed to be better technology, but having it so close to Broadwell will mean that punters will wait for it rather than buying something out-of-date.  They will not have long to wait. Broadwell will ship in the first quarter next year, but in the second half next year, users will be able to buy PCs with processors based on the newer Skylake architecture.

This sorry state of affairs has come about because Broadwell has been cursed with delayed chip shipments which lead to delayed manufacturing.  The world should have Broadwell machines already, but they are still not around.

Intel appears to have decided to put the whole mess behind it and move to Skylake as planned.

Chipzilla claims that Skylake chips will lead to the biggest PC innovations in the last 10 years. Skylake will bring wireless charging and data transfers, and also a significant increase in performance, battery life and power efficiency. At IDF Intel did not hardly bother showing off any Broadwell chips.

On the plus side, the transition to Skylake will also lead to Intel dumping Broadwell processors, which could help cut laptop prices by year end. That could benefit customers looking for low-cost laptops and prop up PC shipment volumes.


Doom for hacked printer

doom_sprite_wallpaper_by_bobspfhorever78-d6lij4oIn what has to be the best proof of concept hacking of a printer, Context Information Security analyst Michael Jordon managed to get a Canon Pixma printer to run the game Doom.

Jordon said that Canon Pixma wireless printers have a web interface that shows information about the printer, for example the ink levels, which allows for test pages to be printed and for the firmware to be checked for updates.

He found that the interface doesn’t need any sort of authentication to access and while you would think that the worst that anyone could do is print off hundreds of test pages and use up all of the printer’s ink, Jordon found a hacker could do a lot more damage.

The interface lets you trigger the printer to update its firmware. It also lets you change where the printer looks for the firmware update.

A hacker could create a custom firmware that spies on everything that printer prints, it can even be used as a gateway into the network.

To show what was possible Jordon got the printer to run Doom.

Canon offers very little protection against this. If you can run Doom on a printer, you can do a lot more nasty things. In a corporate environment, it would be a good place to be.

Who suspects printers?  Well other than Nigel from accounts and he thinks aliens are trying to take over the coffee machine.

Canon has promised that it is working on a fix and is taking a chainsaw to the problems highlighted by Contecxt.

“All PIXMA products launching from now onwards will have a username/password added to the PIXMA web interface, and models launched from the second half of 2013 onwards will also receive this update, models launched prior to this time are unaffected,” Canon said.


Turin places a shroud on Microsoft

turinThe Italian city of Turin, famous for its medieval Jesus shroud hoaxing, is dumping Microsoft and heading toward something more Open Saucy.

Turin is currently running Windows XP which goes to show that not only is its famous shroud mediaeval.

Apparently Turin thinks that it can save €6 million over five years by switching from Windows XP to Ubuntu Linux in all of its offices.

The plan is to install it on 8,300 PCs, which will generate an immediate saving of roughly €300 per machine. This figure is made up by the cost of Windows and Office licences.

Another good reason why Turin did not want to upgrade to Windows 8 is that its computers were so old their designs were found in Leonardo Da Vinci’s scrapbooks and it was not believed that the new Windows would run very well on them.

The switch to Ubuntu was officially approved in early August and is expected to take around a year and a half to complete.

The move has been talked about for two years. The project was temporarily put aside due to economic concerns — it probably would have been too costly switching from XP while Turin still had valid and paid licences running. Now that those Windows licences are expiring, however, the time is ripe to experiment with new products.

Turin is one of the biggest municipalities in Italy to switch to Open Source and it could be an example for other cities to follow.

Pishing Eskimo twitches to steal Steam Wallet

Greenland in the 19th century - picture Wikimedia CommonsA new piece of pishing malware has taken over Twitch’s user pool tempting users to go into a fake sweepstake or lottery, so that it can nick cash from their Steam Wallets.

For those who came in late, Twitch is a video game-centric website on which people show live streams of game play to others. Amazon bought the site and it has about 50 million users, paying $970 million in cash.

Dubbed Eskimo, the malevolent bot does not look out of place to usual visitors to the streaming site — live streamers, who earn cash via viewer subscriptions, frequently use bots in the chat area of their channels to push donations, inspire supporters and run promotions.

However one of the bots has been cleaning out Steam inventories, which might hold rare digital collectibles, and Steam Wallets, which are source by real-world funds to purchase games on Valve’s admired distribution platform.

F-Secure said Eskimo can wipe your Steam wallet, armory, and inventory dry. It even dumps your items for a discount in the Steam Community Market. Earlier variants were selling items with a 12 percent discount, but a recent sample showed that they changed it to 35 percent discount — to sell the items faster.

According to F-Secure, Eskimo requests users to track a link to fill out a form for a raffle, which it claims provides them an opportunity to win digital weapons and collectibles for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

As it has the right to use a Steam account, will get screenshots, add new friends on Steam, accept friend requests, deal with new friends, buy items with Steam funds, send trade offers and accept trades, F-Secure says Eskimo. Once all of a user’s money has been used to purchase collectibles, the malware will trade all of the victim’s digital items to their new “friends.”

F-Secure says, “It might be helpful for the users if Steam were to add another security check for those trading several items to a newly added friend and for selling items in the market with a low price based on a certain threshold. This will help in lessening the damages done by this kind of threat.”


Apple’s iPhone 6 chip is a lemon

CD153It looks like Apple’s new iPhone 6 will have the same performance of its older gizmos according to Hot Hardware benchmarking 

Normally one of the few things that is different about the new model iPhone is a that it comes with a better chip.  Last time it was the A7 System-on-Chip (SoC) which was the world’s first 64-bit smartphone processor.

Even Apple naysayers said that the A7 chip was rather good and dominated benchmark runs and consistently outperformed previous generation iPhone models.

However if Apple fanboys were hoping for a performance bump from the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, both of which sport a custom A8 SoC they are going to be disappointed.

Hot hardware noted only modest gains compared to the iPhone 5s. The dual-core 1.4GHz Cyclone CPU and A8 GPU, the iPhone 6 scored 21,204.26 and a earned a place at the top of the chart, though not by much. The iPhone 5s scored 20,253.80 in the same benchmark so the iPhone 6 is less than 5 percent faster than the iPhone 5s.

What is strange is that not only was everyone expecting a better performance gain the iPhone 6 launch live stream implied that the difference would be huge.

Apple said that the all-new A8 chip is our fastest yet. Its CPU and graphics performance are faster than on the A7 chip, even while powering a larger display and incredible new features. And because it’s designed to be so power efficient, the A8 chip can sustain higher performance.

Well it is sort of true – the chip is faster, but not by enough for anyone to notice.

According to Apple, it offers 84x faster graphics performance than the original iPhone and is up to 50x faster in CPU performance.

Hang on a minute, Apple is comparing its current chip with that of the first iPhone which was released in  June 29, 2007. Of course, the iPhone 6 is going to be faster. However, this means that Apple is aware that its new chip is disappointing and it is trying to pretend it is hot.