Author: Nick Farrell

Dropbox buys CloudOn

dropboxOnline document-sharing outfit Dropbox has acquired US-Israeli firm CloudOn.

CloudOn is a developer of tools to simplify creating and editing documents on mobile devices.

Financial details were not disclosed but money is believed to have changed hands.

CloudOn will become Dropbox’s first Israeli office and will focus on R&D. Dropbox plans to hire more engineers in Israel following the purchase.

Dropbox is waxing lyrical about what CloudOn brings to the company. It says that the CloudOn team will help build collaboration capabilities into Dropbox.

This means that Dropbox might be moving into end user content creation tools. So far it has Mailbox, a mobile email client, and Carousel, a mobile image viewing application. But nothing like compare to Google Docs or Microsoft’s mobile Office.

CloudOn customers have been told that the service will shut down in the next two months and that no new users will be accepted after today.

What is not clear is where this leaves Dropbox’s developing relationship with Microsoft.
In November, Dropbox teamed up with Microsoft to allow Office software users to manage and share files through Dropbox’s website and mobile app.

Microsoft has its own file sharing solution, OneDrive and did not really need Dropbox. However if Dropbox is heading into application land, one wonders why either side would find a relationship attractive.


Facebook cracking down on fake news

UhCNNFacebook announced that it will update its news feed software to flag stories that might be false and limit their spread.

The social notworking site has been a key spreader of fake news, including celebrity deaths, fake science reports mostly because some seem to think that “satire” is the same as “made up news”.

Instead of looking at the comments on a given post, it has added an option for Facebook users to flag it as “a false news story” when they run across it in their feeds.

Facebook will also look at how often it has been deleted by the people who posted it. The theory is that a widely deleted post may be one that many users regretted posting because they realized it was bogus.

The site will not remove such stories from its feed. Instead, the company said it will reduce their distribution and add an annotation warning news feed readers that they may contain false information. A post that has been either widely deleted or flagged as false news by a large number of users will now come with a note like this when it appears in your feed:

“Many people on Facebook have reported that this story contains false information.”

It is not a big technology deal. Facebook’s software will not be analysing the actual content or substance of stories to suss out the fake ones. Instead, it thinks that relying on explicit feedback from human users—is far simpler and makes more sense. Humans are collectively better than bots at recognising bogus stories when we see them, although given the number of people who think that climate warming is untrue, vaccination gives kids autism, UFOs buzzed the International Space Station and President Obama is a Muslim we would not think that humans are doing that good a job.

To make matters worse so called “satirical” articles from sites like The Onion will not be flagged . The company found in its testing that these sorts of posts are not often flagged as false by users.  Goodness knows what this will do to Fox News’ presence on Facebook.

This is not the first time that something like a hoax-flagging algorithm has been tried on Facebook.  It had a “war on clickbait” which was based on the same ideas and it did not exactly end  Upworthy’s reign of terror even when it still runs stories with intros like “you will never believe what happened next”.

Police seize Swiss druggie robot

Robbie_Forbidden_PlanetA Swiss art project entitled “The Random Darknet Shopper” has been spending $100 in Bitcoins to buy random products off the Darknet.

The project used a Darknet-surfing robot and apparently managed to buy 10 ecstasy tablets and a bogus Hungarian passport scan.

The London-based Swiss artists !Mediengruppe Bitnik – Domagoj Smoljo and Carmen Weisskopf  wrote on their blog that the robot’s artistic habits did not impress Swiss coppers.

After the exhibition in Switzerland closed,  the public prosecutor’s office of St. Gallen seized and sealed their work with the purpose of “impeding an endangerment of third parties through the drugs exhibited by destroying them.”

The artists describe their medium as the use of hacking as an artistic strategy and say that they programmed The Random Darknet Shopper to answer the basic human questions like what does it mean for a society, when there are robots which act autonomously?

They are also curious to see who is liable, when a robot breaks the law on its own initiative.

Apparently the artists have discovered that it is them.

“We are the legal owner of the drugs – we are responsible for everything the bot does, as we executed the code. But our lawyer and the Swiss constitution says art in the public interest is allowed to be free,” they said.

Swiss prosecutors have yet to decide that point. But it does seem that the robot managed to have an interesting stash of illegal goods. This included a counterfeit pair of Diesel jeans, A Sprite stash can that you can hide drugs or cash in, a decoy letter, a baseball cap with a hidden, remote control, mini video camera, and a platinum Visa card, a carton of Chesterfield cigarettes from Moldavia and a master set of fire brigade keys.


Samsung considers split

axeSamsung is considering a stock split in a bid to keep its investors happy as the outfit experiences sliding profits.

Samsung head of investor relations Robert Yi told reporters the company had been considering a stock split for some time but it was too early to make a decision. A split would make Samsung shares easier to buy and could attract more retail investors.

The world’s top smartphone maker has launched a $2 billion share buy-back program and promised to increase its 2014 year-end dividend by up to 50 percent in a bid to lift its share price and placate investors.

However, Samsung shares are well below last year’s peak of $1,380 mostly because of a string of quarterly profit declines. In fact, the only thing that stopped them sinking lower was the buyback and a planned dividend increase.

Apple saw its shares end up 37.7 percent last year, thanks in part to a seven-for-one split, so it might be another case where Samsung is emulating Jobs’ Mob.


Apple’s Siri in data heist

tim-cook-glareApple’s voice activated personal assistant Siri is being used to steal sensitive information from iOS based smartphones.

Luca Caviglione of the National Research Council of Italy and Wojciech Mazurczy of the Warsaw University of Technology warn that “malicious actors” could use Siri for stealthy data exfiltration by using a method that’s based on steganography, the practice of hiding information.

Clearly the malicious actors are hacked off that people have been stealing their pictures from the iCloud and posting them online and have taken Siri hostage.

iOS malware is also increasingly common, as the popularity of the iPhone is matched by the company’s misplaced belief in its own security vulnerability.

Mazurczy and Caviglione have demonstrated that iOS malware could become difficult to detect.

When users talk to Siri, their voice is processed with the Speex Codec, and the data is transmitted to Apple’s servers where the voice input is translated to text.

Using an attack method called iStegSiri, the “shape” of this traffic embeds sensitive data from the device. This covert channel could be used to send credit card numbers, Apple IDs, passwords, and other sensitive information from the phone to the criminals.

First, a secret message is converted into an audio sequence based on voice and silence alternation. Then, the sound pattern is provided to Siri as input through the internal microphone. Finally, the recipient of the secret message inspects the traffic going to Apple’s servers and extracts the information based on a decoding scheme..

In their experiments, Mazurczy and Caviglione managed to use this method to exfiltrate data at a rate of 0.5 bytes per second. At this speed, it would take roughly 2 minutes to send a 16-digit payment card number to the attacker.

It only works on jail broken devices and attackers somehow need to be able to intercept the modified Siri traffic. However, the researchers highlighted that the purpose of iStegSiri is to help the security community with the detection of malware on the iOS platform.

The researchers told IEEE Spectrum that they have not made specific details on iStegSiri public to prevent cybercriminals from using their work. We guess that Apple have not modified anything in the iOS to stop it happening if someone works it out.

Google only forgets in Europe

thanks-for-the-memory-movie-poster-1938-1020198195Search engine Google has decided to incur the wrath of the EU and only remove search results from European websites when individuals invoke their “right to be forgotten”, contrary to regulators’ guidelines.

The company’s chief legal officer David Drummond said that Google is reviewing that policy but it has not changed since November.

“We’ve had a basic approach, we’ve followed it, on this question we’ve made removals Europe-wide but not beyond,” he said.

Google has consistently argued that it believes the ruling should only apply to its European websites, such as in Germany or in France.

However, privacy watchdogs from EU countries, the Article 29 Working Party, concluded in November that they want search engines to scrub results globally because it is easy to swap from to

Google feels that there has to be limits to the rules because it really is a European concept. In the US, it is considered OK to libel someone and then have the smear hang around for decades.

Since the ruling in May, Google has received more than 200,000 requests from across Europe affecting over 700,000 URLs, according to its online transparency report.

Citizens whose removal requests have been refused by a search engine can appeal to their national data protection regulator, who can then take action against the company.

Facebook is worth $227 billion to the globe

globe-museum03Social not working site Facebook is worth $227 billion worth to the world and created 4.5 million jobs in 2014.

A report from beancounters Deloitte & Touche, which was commissioned by Facebook, claimed that with 1.35 billion users of its Internet social network, Facebook  would rank as the world’s second-most populous nation if it were a country.

Deloitte & Touche based its figures on the businesses that maintain pages on  Facebook as well as the mobile apps and games that consumers play on Facebook and measures all the economic activity that result. It also considered the demand for gadgets and online connectivity services that are generated by Facebook.

Some of the cash, such as when a company advertises to customers on Facebook, can be directly attributed to Facebook. However, when consumers donated $100 million for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis during this summer’s Ice Bucket challenge, Facebook’s auto-play video ads were a key factor.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg claimed Facebook was helping create a new wave of small businesses in everything from fashion to fitness. She cited a group of young women in Bengaluru, India, who started a hair accessory business using Facebook and a mother in North Carolina who started the Lolly Wolly Doodle line of clothing, selling to customers through Facebook.


Elon Musk wants to build internet in space


Elon Musk, the bloke behind Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity wants to build a second internet in space.

The idea is that it will connect people on Mars to the Web.

The big idea is to launch a vast network of communication satellites to orbit earth. The network would do two things: speed up the general flow of data on the Internet and deliver high-speed, low-cost Internet services to the three billion-plus people who still have poor access to the Web.

This will create a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date.

Space Internet will see hundreds of satellites would orbit about 750 miles above earth, much closer than traditional communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit at altitudes of up to 22,000 miles.

The lower satellites would make for a speedier internet service, with less distance for electromagnetic signals to travel.

Musk’s cunning plan is to set up a system that would rival fibre optic cables on land while also making the internet available to remote and poor regions that don’t have access.

Internet data packets would no longer have to go through dozens of routers and terrestrial networks. Instead, the packets would go to space, bouncing from satellites until they reach the one nearest their destination, then return to an antenna on earth. Relay satellites could connect the system to Moon or Mars bases.

The office will start with about 60 people and may grow to 1,000 within four years. The employees will also work on SpaceX’s Falcon rockets, Dragon capsules, and additional vehicles to carry various supplies and people into space.

New Snowden documents released

Edward_SnowdenJacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras have just published another massive collection of classified records obtained by Edward Snowden.

Many of them, published on Der Spiegel , show that the National Security Agency and its allies are methodically preparing for future wars carried out over the internet.

Der Spiegel reports that the intelligence agencies are working towards the ability to infiltrate and disable computer networks — potentially giving them the ability to disrupt critical utilities and other infrastructure.

The NSA and GCHQ think they’re so far ahead of everyone else, they’re making jokes about it.
One of the major themes from the new documents involves the ability of Five Eyes intelligence agencies to exploit the methods of its adversaries — efforts to “steal their tools, tradecraft, targets, and take.” The NSA calls this impressive capability “fourth party collection” which sounds like a 1970’s prog rock band.

NSA and GCHQ have cracked jokes about it in top-secret slide decks. In an NSA presentation titled “fourth party opportunities,” the first slide references Daniel Day-Lewis’ “I drink your milkshake” monologue from the 2007 film There Will Be Blood.  Der Spiegel says that a NSA unit traced an attack on the Department of Defence back to China and covertly listen in on future Chinese spying efforts, including one digital infiltration of the United Nations.

GCHQ can exploit “leaky mobile apps” using a tool called “BADASS.” In it, the spy agency walks through its ability to glean personal information from metadata sent between users’ devices and mobile ad networks and analytics firms.

This is data that’s not supposed to contain personally identifiable information. Several slides are titled “Abusing BADASS for Fun and Profit.” One slide boasts: “We know how bad you are at Angry Birds.”

Der Spiegel commented: “It’s absurd: as they are busy spying, the spies are spied on by other spies. In response, they routinely seek to cover their tracks or to lay fake ones instead.”

Google to buy Softcard

google-IC Google is having a quiet word with the mobile-payments company Softcard with a view to buying the outfit.

The move would link  Google with the largest US wireless carriers to battle Apple and its much hyped but mostly ignored Apple Pay service.

The deal may be valued below $100 million, the report said citing sources.

Softcard is jointly owned by AT&T, Verizon Communication, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US.

So far it is seen as rumour and speculation and no one is commenting on the record about it.  However, if Google does buy the outfit it will give it significant clout in the payment markets.  However, at the moment most of the focus is on the bigger retailers coming up with payment systems of their own.

The fear with Google or Apple getting their paws on transaction data is that you can be bothered by advertising based on your buying  history, which could be embarrassing if you went to a stripper club once.



Linus Torvalds rejects calls to be nice

torvaldsThe creator of Linux,  Linus Torvalds, has been explaining his comments to a New Zealand conference about having to be nice.

Torvalds shocked the conference when he fielded  a question from Nebula One developer Matthew Garrett that accused Torvalds of having an abrasive tone in the Linux kernel mailing list. “Some people think I’m nice and are shocked when they find out different,” Torvalds said in response. “I’m not a nice person, and I don’t care about you. I care about the technology and the kernel—that’s what’s important to me.”

Apparently this was deeply shocking as apparently open sourcers secretly believed that Torvalds really loved them and they were heart broken.

Torvalds sent a lengthy statement to Ars Technica  responding to statements he made in Auckland, New Zealand earlier that day about diversity and “niceness” in the open source sector.

“What I wanted to say [at the keynote]—and clearly must have done very badly—is that one of the great things about open source is exactly the fact that different people are so different,” Torvalds wrote via e-mail.

“I think people sometimes look at it as being just ‘programmers,’ which is not true. It’s about all the people who are more oriented toward commercial things, too. It’s about all those people who are interested in legal issues—and the social ones, too!”

Torvalds then seems to have made matters worse by daring to point out that Open Source is not a religion and you don’t need to have faith.

“‘Open source’ as a term and as a movement hasn’t been about ‘you have to be a believer.. It’s not a religion. It’s not an ‘us vs them’ thing. We’ve been able to work with all those ‘evil commercial interests’ and companies who also do proprietary software. And I think that was one of the things that the Linux community (and others—don’t get me wrong, it’s not unique to us) did and does well,” he said.

He sent a second e-mail to Ars about the topic of “niceness”.

“I don’t know where you happen to be based, but this ‘you have to be nice’ seems to be very popular in the US,” Torvalds continued, calling the concept an “ideology.”

Torvalds lambasted the “brainstorming” model of having a criticism-free bubble to bounce ideas around.

“Maybe it works for some people, but I happen to simply not believe in it… I’d rather be really confrontational, and bad ideas should be [taken] down aggressively. Even good ideas need to be vigorously defended.”

He admitted that maybe it was just because he liked arguing and was not a huge believer in politeness and sensitivity being preferable over bluntly letting people know your feelings.

“I understand that other people are driven away by cursing and crass language when it all gets a bit too carried away.” But he thinks that the open source movement might simply need more “people who are good at mediating rather than just asking developers to calm their own tone or attitude.

Obama joins British calls for encryption back-doors

 revolutionPresident Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David “One is an Ordinary Bloke” Cameron are singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to the matter of encryption.

Obama has issued a statement that he can’t see why police and spies should not be locked out of encrypted smartphones and messaging apps.  Clearly he has not been paying much attention to the Snowden affair where it appears that the lack of encryption gave US and UK snoops huge powers over the lives of the great unwashed, while not making much difference to terrorists or criminals.

Apple, Google  and Facebook  have introduced encrypted products in the past half year that the companies say they could not unscramble, even if faced with a search warrant. That’s prompted vocal complaints from spy chiefs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In fact Obama’s comments came after two days of meetings with Cameron, and were made with his loyal lapdog at his side.

“If we find evidence of a terrorist plot… and despite having a phone number, despite having a social media address or email address, we can’t penetrate that, that’s a problem,” Obama said.

He insisted that US tech-giants are on the side of the spooks.

He said that “They’re patriots.”  Standing next to a British Prime Minister claiming that people who are publically claiming they are working to stop UK and US spooks are actually working for them is a hugely ironic piece of disinformation.

Google, Apple and Microsoft have spent a fortune encrypting links to their networks to keep “tyranny” out. If they are patriots then they are unlikely to side with the British, if US history is anything to go by.

In the US, governments have long been able to access the contents of electronic communication, including phone calls, consumer email and social media, with warrants, through wiretaps and from technology companies themselves.

But the law that governs these practices is dated and doesn’t mandate tech firms incorporate such features into modern apps.

The president wants a technical way to keep information private, but ensure that police and spies can listen in when a court approves. He is on a hiding to no-where with this one. Bill Clinton tried for a “clipper chip” that would allow only the government to decrypt scrambled messages.

Security experts have long argued such systems would tigger anti-hacking tools, leaving computers exposed. An encryption algorithm with a master key, it is inherently weaker because it’s possible for an outsider to steal that master key and crack the code.

What is worrying about this particular transatlantic accord is that the UK is more likely to get it into law than the US.

Security experts have warned that you can’t have secure systems with backdoors and that if you bring in such rules you will be making it easier for terrorists to take control of systems.


EU watchdogs suspect that Amazon deal broke law

watchdogEuropean antitrust watchdogs have serious doubts about Amazon’s cosy arrangement with Luxemburg to dodge its taxes.

According to a report released today, the European Commission believes the Amazon deal constituted state aid and doubted that such aid was lawful.

The European Commission, which rules on competition and subsidies in the European Union, announced in October that it had opened an investigation into a tax ruling struck in 2003. It published details of its case on Friday.

The 23-page document, which was penned in October 7, concluded that Luxemburg gave Amazon an unfair advantage over European competition.

“The Commission’s preliminary view is that the tax ruling of 5 November 2003 by Luxemburg in favour of Amazon constitutes state aid… and the Commission has doubts at this stage as to that ruling’s compatibility with the internal market.”

Swedish pirate tricks security experts

0099413191_LSwedish Pirate Party’s youth wing president hacked Sweden’s leading security and military experts as they searched for ‘holidays’ and ‘forest hikes’ during working hours.

Gustav Nipe set up a Wi-Fi network called ‘Open Guest’ at a security conference earlier this week and several high profile officials used the network to log into their email accounts and surf the internet.

The Wi-Fi network was not encrypted which meant that Nipe could track which sites people visited as well as the emails and text messages of around 100 delegates, including politicians and journalists as well as security experts.

He said it was ironic that the security establishment was in Sälen pushing for more surveillance, but its leading figures go and log on to an unsecure W-Fi network.

Some people were looking at Skype, eBay and Blocket and stuff like that, or looking for holidays and where you could go and hike the forest. This was during the day when I suppose they were being paid to be at the conference working, Nipe said.

Nipe said that the stunt was to draw attention to the problem of network monitoring in Sweden, and says he will not be revealing which sites were visited by specific experts.

With insecure networks like these, you can end up getting access even to secure servers because people so often use the same passwords for different sites. So he could have got into the government’s server or used other information to track people in their everyday lives, he pointed out.

However, some think that Nipe’s stunt might have actually broken Sweden’s Personal Data Act.

Martin Brinnen, a lawyer at the Swedish Data Inspection Board told Dagens Nyheter that Nipe had acted without the “explicit consent” of the Wi-Fi network’s users, despite the fact that they had agreed to join an open network.

Nipe told The Local that all the data he had collected would be encrypted so that no-one else could access it and added that it would be erased after it had been analysed.


Virgin Galactic wants to bring internet to have-nots

 article-2546173-1AF57AF200000578-172_634x417Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson announced plans to launch as many as 2,400 micro satellites in an effort to set up a constellation capable of bringing broadband communications to millions of people who do not have it.

Beardie said he plans to launch a low-earth-orbit satellite constellation of 648 satellites to get the project rolling. The internet will be available through a company called OneWeb.

OneWeb is backed by Qualcomm for this planned world-wide Internet service. OneWeb said it plans to work with local partners to provide access. OneWeb terminals act as small cells with the ability to provide access to the surrounding area via a WiFi, LTE, 3G or 2G connection using an operator partner’s licensed spectrum, or only LTE or WiFi on unlicensed spectrum.

Writing in his bog, Beardie said that Virgin is working to build a two-stage rocket, known as LauncherOne that would air-launch launch from the company’s existing WhiteKnightTwo aircraft at about 45,000 to 50,000ft.

WhiteKnightTwo was part of the Virgin Galactic’s space tourism venture which had a major setback in October when the spaceship it launched crashed killing one pilot and injuring the other. However, this one uses a different launcher technology.

LauncherOne will be built using advanced composite structures, and powered by a new family of LOX/RP-1 liquid rocket engines. Each LauncherOne mission will be capable of delivering as much as 225 kilograms (500 pounds) to a low inclination Low Earth Orbit or 120 kilograms (265 pounds) to a high-altitude Sun-Synchronous Orbit, for a price of less than $10M, Beardie wrote.

He said that this was a very efficient way of getting satellites into space. Virgin can take off every three or four hours.

The first batch of satellites will cost around $2 billion which will be very competitive on price, as far as the end-user is concerned.

“We believe that the break-even of this is not enormous. We feel it makes sense economically as well.”