Archive for October, 2017

BlackBerry Ltd Chief Executive John Chen said on Monday the company’s strategy for generating licensing revenue from its patent portfolio remains on track following the recent departures of two people from the team negotiating deals.

“I’m confident. I’m on top of this,” Chen said in an interview with CNBC when asked about the departures.

Reuters on Friday reported attorney Victor Schubert said he had left BlackBerry. Last month, Mark Kokes, who led BlackBerry’s overall patent strategy, joined a health technology company.

“We have over 80 people in that group and very senior people,” Chen told CNBC. “All our IP (intellectual property) licensing are managed by myself, the CFO, our legal counsel and the president of the group.”

The company’s shares were down 1 percent at $11.45 in Monday morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.



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Microsoft Corp’s secret internal database for tracking bugs in its own software was broken into by a highly sophisticated hacking group more than four years ago, according to five former employees, in only the second known breach of such a corporate database.

The company did not disclose the extent of the attack to the public or its customers after its discovery in 2013, but the five former employees described it to Reuters in separate interviews. Microsoft declined to discuss the incident.

The database contained descriptions of critical and unfixed vulnerabilities in some of the most widely used software in the world, including the Windows operating system. Spies for governments around the globe and other hackers covet such information because it shows them how to create tools for electronic break-ins.

The Microsoft flaws were fixed likely within months of the hack, according to the former employees. Yet speaking out for the first time, these former employees as well as US officials informed of the breach by Reuters said it alarmed them because the hackers could have used the data at the time to mount attacks elsewhere, spreading their reach into government and corporate networks.

“Bad guys with inside access to that information would literally have a ‘skeleton key’ for hundreds of millions of computers around the world,” said Eric Rosenbach, who was US deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber at the time.

Companies of all stripes now are ramping up efforts to find and fix bugs in their software amid a wave of damaging hacking attacks. Many firms, including Microsoft, pay security researchers and hackers “bounties” for information about flaws – increasing the flow of bug data and rendering efforts to secure the material more urgent than ever.

In an email responding to questions from Reuters, Microsoft said: “Our security teams actively monitor cyber threats to help us prioritise and take appropriate action to keep customers protected.”

Sometime after learning of the attack, Microsoft went back and looked at breaches of other organizations around then, the five ex-employees said. It found no evidence that the stolen information had been used in those breaches.

Two current employees said the company stands by that assessment. Three of the former employees assert the study had too little data to be conclusive.

Microsoft tightened up security after the breach, the former employees said, walling the database off from the corporate network and requiring two authentications for access.

The dangers posed by information on such software vulnerabilities became a matter of broad public debate this year, after a National Security Agency stockpile of hacking tools was stolen, published and then used in the destructive “WannaCry” attacks against UK hospitals and other facilities.

After WannaCry, Microsoft President Brad Smith compared the NSA’s loss to the “the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen,” and cited “the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities.”

Only one breach of a big database from a software company has been disclosed. In 2015, the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation – which develops the Firefox web browser – said an attacker had gotten access to a database that included 10 severe and unpatched flaws. One of those flaws was then leveraged in an attack on Firefox users, Mozilla disclosed at the time.

In contrast to Microsoft’s approach, Mozilla provided extensive details of the breach and urged its customers to take action.

Mozilla Chief Business and Legal Officer Denelle Dixon said the foundation told the public about what it knew in 2015 “not only inform and help protect our users, but also to help ourselves and other companies learn, and finally because openness and transparency are core to our mission.”

The Microsoft matter should remind companies to treat accurate bug reports as the “keys to the kingdom,” said Mark Weatherford, who was deputy undersecretary for cyber-security at the US Department of Homeland Security when Microsoft learned of the breach.

Like the Pentagon’s Rosenbach, Weatherford said he had not known of the Microsoft attack. Weatherford noted that most companies have strict security procedures around intellectual property and other sensitive corporate information.

“Your bug repository should be equally important,” he said.

Alarm spreads after internal probe
Microsoft discovered the database breach in early 2013 after a highly skilled hacking group broke into computers at a number of major tech companies, including Apple Inc, Facebook Inc, and Twitter Inc.

The group, variously called Morpho, Butterfly and Wild Neutron by security researchers elsewhere, exploited a flaw in the Java programming language to penetrate employees’ Apple Macintosh computers and then move to company networks.

The group remains active as one of the most proficient and mysterious hacking groups known to be in operation, according to security researchers. Experts can’t agree about whether it is backed by a national government, let alone which one.

More than a week after stories about the breaches first appeared in 2013, Microsoft published a brief statement that portrayed its own break-in as limited and made no reference to the bug database.

“As reported by Facebook and Apple, Microsoft can confirm that we also recently experienced a similar security intrusion,” the company said on February 22, 2013.

“We found a small number of computers, including some in our Mac business unit, that were infected by malicious software using techniques similar to those documented by other organizations. We have no evidence of customer data being affected, and our investigation is ongoing.”

Inside the company, alarm spread as officials realized the database for tracking patches had been compromised, according to the five former security employees. They said the database was poorly protected, with access possible via little more than a password.

Concerns that hackers were using stolen bugs to conduct new attacks prompted Microsoft to compare the timing of those breaches with when the flaws had entered the database and when they were patched, according to the five former employees.

These people said the study concluded that even though the bugs in the database were used in ensuing hacking attacks, the perpetrators could have gotten the information elsewhere.

That finding helped justify Microsoft’s decision not to disclose the breach, the former employees said, and in many cases patches already had been released to its customers.

Three of the five former employees Reuters spoke with said the study could not rule out stolen bugs having been used in follow-on attacks.

“They absolutely discovered that bugs had been taken,” said one. “Whether or not those bugs were in use, I don’t think they did a very thorough job of discovering.”

That’s partly because Microsoft relied on automated reports from software crashes to tell when attacks started showing up. The problem with this approach, some security experts say, is that most sophisticated attacks do not cause crashes, and the most targeted machines – such as those with sensitive government information – are the least likely to allow automated reporting.



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Moto X4, the latest X-Series smartphone from Lenovo brand Moto, was originally set to launch in India on October 3, following its global unveiling at IFA 2017. However, the company then announced a postponement to the launch, without confirming a new date. That has changed – on Monday, the Moto India Twitter handle revealed that the smartphone would now launch in India on November 13.

To recall, the Moto X4 features both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa as voice-based virtual assistants. With the launch of Echo devices and Amazon Alexa Voice Services in India earlier this month, we can now expect the smartphone to come bundled with a fully-functional Alexa in India as well. The Moto X4 price in Europe was set as EUR 399 (roughly Rs. 30,300).

Moto X4 specifications, features
The Moto X4 sports a metal unibody design that was unveiled in Super Black and Sterling Blue colour options. It sports a fingerprint scanner under the home button on the front, while the USB Type-C port and 3.5mm audio jack are found on the bottom of the handset.

As far as specifications are concerned, the Moto X4 runs on on Android 7.1 Nougat out of the box and supports a single-SIM slot (Nano). It sports a 5.2-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) LTPS IPS display with 424ppi pixel density and Corning Gorilla Glass protection. Powering the smartphone is a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 octa-core SoC coupled with 3GB of RAM.

The Moto X4 highlights a dual rear camera setup that comprises of a one 12-megapixel dual autofocus sensor with f/2.0 aperture and 1.4-micron pixels; and another 8-megapixel ultra-wide angle sensor with 120-degree field of view, f/2.2 aperture, and 1.12-micron pixels. Additional features include ultra-wide angle shot, professional mode, depth detection and depth effects, selective Focus, selective Black & White (beta), among other things. The front camera sees a 16-megapixel selfie sensor with flash support, f/2.0 aperture, and 1-micron pixels.

The smartphone packs a 3000mAh battery with support for fast charging. Connectivity options include NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11ac (dual band, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), GPS, GLONASS, 4G LTE, and FM radio support. The Moto X4 measures 148.35×73.4×7.99mm and weighs 163 grams.

Notably, while the Moto X4 supports both Alexa and Google Assistant, the former won’t be available for the Indian audience just yet.



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Google Photos can now tell when a picture has a dog or any other pet, the company said, adding that it will also be sorting them into their own groupings. The announcement further concretes the machine learning advancements Google is making as it improves its services.

According to Google, users will now be able to see photos of their dogs and cats grouped alongside people. Users can also label them by name, as well as quickly look up for their dogs or cats, or the photos in which all of them are together.

The company says it is rolling out the new feature in “most countries.” Google began creating car and dogs videos from the photos people shared in Google Photos library in May this year. Creating movies or photo book starring the pet is also easy. Users are required to tap on the new photo group featuring their pet, select photos and click on the “+” button.

Used by over 500 million users, Google Photos is one of the most popular smartphone apps out there. It was introduced in 2015, and several of its top selling features, such as the ability to recognise a person, are quickly trickling down to other services. Apple’s Photos app, for instance, also offer this functionality.

As for the pets recognition feature, Google tells BuzzFeed News that it should be able to differentiate between different breeds of an animal, however, it might run into an issue telling between, say, three Dalmatians. In such case, Google suggests users to have a look at the app and remove photos of a misgrouped pet.



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A key attorney executing BlackBerry Ltd’s patent licensing strategy has left the company, the second recent departure from the team tasked with making money from the Canadian company’s intellectual property.

Victor Schubert, who was a licensing director for BlackBerry, told Reuters in a brief LinkedIn message that he was no longer with the company. He did not say when he left or why.

Monetizing the company’s intellectual property is a key part of Chief Executive John Chen’s plan for turning around the company whose revenues have declined for six straight years as sales of its once ubiquitous smartphones have tumbled.

Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Schubert. Two switchboard operators at the Canadian company said his name was not in a global employee directory.

News of his exit follows the recent departure of Mark Kokes, who lead BlackBerry’s overall patent strategy. Kokes last month joined a health technology company.

Schubert joined BlackBerry in March 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile, as the company was embarking on a major push to boost licensing revenue.

BlackBerry is trying to persuade other companies to pay licensing royalties to use its trove of some 40,000 global patents on technology including operating systems, networking infrastructure, acoustics, messaging, automotive subsystems, cybersecurity and wireless communications.

Schubert has created and executed patent-licensing programs for at least four companies, including BlackBerry, dating back to 1992, according to his LinkedIn profile. It lists portfolio mining, patent valuation and negotiating patent sales as areas of expertise.

He was due to represent BlackBerry at a Seattle-area patent conference next month to discuss how operating companies can make money off their intellectual property, according to an agenda posted on the conference website in August. He is no longer listed as a panelist.

BlackBerry disclosed it had secured royalty-bearing deals with Cisco Systems Inc and another company that it did not name soon after Schubert joined. It also filed patent infringement lawsuits during his tenure against Nokia and Avaya Inc that are ongoing.

BlackBerry on Thursday disclosed that it had settled another lawsuit, filed against low-end Android phone manufacturer BLU Products Inc.

Both companies declined to disclose terms of the deal.


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In the backdrop of protest, #WomenBoycottTwitter, sparked by actor Rose McGowan, Twitter has decided to roll out new safety rules in the “next few weeks”.

Large number of women participated in the campaign to protest the silencing of their voices on the microblogging site. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that the social media platform will be issuing new safety rules around “unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence.”

“Today we saw voices silencing themselves and voices speaking out because we’re *still* not doing enough. “We’ve been working intensely over the past few months and focused today on making some critical decisions. We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them,” Dorsey tweeted.

The co-founder said that more information regarding the rules will be shared next week. #WomenBoycottTwitter gained momentum after Twitter locked McGowan’s account for violating the rules when she posted a personal phone number in one of her tweets.

The “Charmed” actor had spoken out about being raped by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. McGowan shared posts from other users who said her account was locked for speaking out against powerful male actors, such as Ben Affleck, in the wake of sexual harassment allegations surrounding Weinstein.

Alyssa Milano, Gina Rodriquez, Ava DuVernay, Kathy Griffin, Chrissy Teigen and Amber Tamblyn were among the stars who joined McGowan in the protest. Following Dorsey’s announcement, McGowan asked Twitter to set an example by revoking white supremacist leader, Richard Spencer’s verification.

“Start by immediately removing Richard Spencer’s verification,” she tweeted.



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OnePlus recently faced public backlash after a researcher discovered that the company’s devices were collecting unanonymised user data without user consent. Chinese handset maker responded in no time claiming that it was collecting data to improve its service, and that it was standard practice in OEMs. The company, however, has now taken some prompt decisions which include a new “opt-in” option for the user experience program.

OnePlus Co-Founder Carl Pei in a forum post has addressed issues, and vow to stop collecting information like telephone numbers, MAC addresses and Wi-Fi information. “We’d like to emphasise that at no point have we shared this information with outside parties. The analytics we’re discussing in this post, which we only look at in aggregate, are collected with the intention of improving our product and service offerings,” Pei added.

He stressed that users can at any point opt out of usage analytics collection by navigating to Settings > Advanced > Join user experience program. Pei further confirmed that OnePlus devices by end of October will have the prompt in the setup wizard which will ask whether they want to join the company’s user experience program. Pei said that the setup wizard will clearly indicate that the program collects usage analytics.

“In addition, we will include a terms of service agreement that further explains our analytics collection,” he added.

The privacy issue on OnePlus devices was first reported back in January though an in-depth report surfaced last week. Security researcher and developer Christopher Moore discovered that OnePlus was collecting unanonymised analytics data from its users including specific user patterns to a company server without prior user permission. The details allegedly being collected included the phone number, IMEI number, mobile serial number, MAC address, mobile network names, and battery status more.



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To help its employees gain creativity, focus and happiness, Microsoft has built treehouse workspaces with embedded tech at its Redmond campus that will serve as meeting spaces and a more casual work environment.

Designed by renowned builder Pete Nelson, the treehouse is one of the three new branch-based meeting spaces and is part of a larger new system of technology-enabled outdoor districts connected to buildings around campus empowering employees to work in new ways.

During its construction in the summer, the outdoor meeting spaces, which include two enclosed treehouses and one elevated roost called the ‘Crow’s Nest’, created a wave of curiosity.

“While some companies have moved toward the trend of creating green indoor spaces that function as proxies for the outdoors, Microsoft has something unique that most companies located within large metropolitan areas don’t have: a 500-acre campus nestled in the woods, with greenspace and wildlife galore,” a company blog said.

The outdoor meeting space emphasises Microsoft’s long-ago envisioned connection to the environment while increasing opportunities for workers to collaborate-all while maintaining the reliable connectivity of a traditional office.

Twelve feet off the ground, the treehouse features charred-wood walls and a soaring ceiling with a round skylight with cinnamon-coloured shingles and a gingerbread-house feel.

There is no AV system or calibrated climate control.

An outdoor Wi-Fi network allows employees to range; every bench is weatherproof and contains a hatch that reveals electricity sources.

The indoor cafeteria is extended outside, with a barbecue restaurant built into a shipping container. Tactile surfaces help people who are blind or have low vision navigate.

The space has rust-proof rocking chairs, an outdoor gas fireplace that brings the warmth of a ski lodge and attracts an after-work crowd and a weatherproof awning that, when the sun shines, stencils the Microsoft logo onto the manicured lawn.

Two of the three treehouses, which are accessible to all employees, are open. The third, a sheltered lounge space, will be ready later this year.



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Amazon said on Friday it would open a new distribution centre in Bolton, northwest England, in 2018, stepping up its expansion drive in its third-largest market outside North America.

Amazon has 16 distribution centres in Britain and the new centre will be supported by advanced robotics technology to help lift and move products around the plant. It will also employ 1,200 new, full-time permanent people, the company said.

The new jobs mean the online retailer will have created 3,500 jobs in the region, including Bolton and two other centres, one in Manchester set up in 2016 and another in Warrington, which opened this year.

It said that, including operating costs, it had invested GBP 6.4 billion ($8.3 billion) in Britain since 2010 in logistics, order filling, research and development and head office functions.

Following criticism from politicians about weak worker protection, the company has been increasingly employing its warehouse staff directly, rather than indirectly via contract firms which offer little employment security.

On Friday it set out the levels of pay, stock options, pensions and training that would be available for any new employee. Salaries start at GBP 7.65 per hour, but also include a variety of management, engineering and support roles.

Northwest England received a blow on Tuesday when major employer BAE Systems announced the cut of 750 highly skilled jobs at two aircraft manufacturing plants in Lancashire.

The Bolton centre will ship easily sortable items to customers that lend themselves to current robotics technology, including books, toys and kitchenware.

The online retailer has expanded rapidly in Britain in recent years, and is looking for the new distribution plants to expand its product selection and enable more small and medium enterprises to sell their own wares through Amazon Marketplace. Half of all units stocked in British centres are from outside firms.

Separately this week, Booths, a high-end supermarket chain located in the north of England, said it would begin offering a range of its products online through AmazonFresh for home delivery to consumers in London and southeastern England.



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India-born Google CEO Sundar Pichai has pledged $1 billion in new initiatives to prepare people for the next-generation technology jobs. The company will spend the money over the next five years on non-profit organisations helping raise education levels around the world and commit its employees to a million hours of volunteer work doing the same.

Pichai announced the goal Thursday morning in Pittsburgh, the city where he arrived in the US from India 24 years ago. Pichai also unveiled a programme called “Grow with Google” aimed at training Americans how to get jobs or grow their businesses. The program aims to outfit people with computer and entrepreneurial skills.

Google is partnering with online education companies like Udacity and Coursera as well as charitable organisations like Goodwill and 4-H. The partnership Goodwill includes a $10 million grant.

The company said it will fund organisations working in areas like closing the world’s education gap, helping people prepare for the changing nature of work and ensuring that no one is excluded from opportunity.

“We’re always asking how we can make sure the opportunities created by new technology are available for everyone, in any city, in any state,” Pichai was quoted as saying.

As mentioned, Pichai also announced a second programme under which Google employees will be able to donate one million volunteer hours to nonprofits. The Grow with Google programme aims to help US workers by giving them access to Google products and in-person training sessions.

“Sometimes, it’s just showing up to help set up an event. Sometimes, we take a close look at technical issues non-profits might be having and help them innovate more quickly,” Pichai said.



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