The Coming Internet-Of-Things Horror Show

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in internet on (#1NNSC)
Like many others, Bruce Schneier is sounding the alarm that the Internet of Things security nightmare isn't just about things like poor or non-existent security for thermostats: rather, that "software control" of an ever-widening pool of interconnected devices and systems designed to act without human intervention creates an urgent threat the likes of which we've never seen.

Schneier says, "A recent Princeton survey found 500,000 insecure devices on the internet. That number is about to explode. Autonomy. Increasingly, our computer systems are autonomous. They buy and sell stocks, turn the furnace on and off, regulate electricity flow through the grid, and—in the case of driverless cars—automatically pilot multi-ton vehicles to their destinations. Autonomy is great for all sorts of reasons, but from a security perspective it means that the effects of attacks can take effect immediately, automatically, and ubiquitously."

Yahoo sells internet business to Verizon in $4.8B deal

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in internet on (#1NFC8)
Yahoo has sold off its operating business for about $4.8 billion to Verizon Communications in a cash deal that will reduce the storied tech company to mainly holding its cash, valuable stake in Alibaba, Yahoo Japan and non-core patents. Once a mainstay of the internet, Yahoo steadily declined in popularity and relevance as it failed to keep up with its competitors. For $4.8 billion, Verizon will get Yahoo’s 1 billion monthly active users, its internet properties and key applications like search, email, and Yahoo's advertising systems. Yahoo will get yet another chance to reinvent itself and possibly find a way to make itself relevant in today's market. No word on if president and Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer will be retained.

Low earth orbit Is getting crowded and no one is directing traffic

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in space on (#1NF9E)
story imageCompanies around the globe are launching an increasing number of satellites, crowding Earth’s orbit in an effort to satisfy the ravenous on-demand desire for more broadband, satellite television and communications, but there's nobody directing the traffic. Although the Pentagon tracks objects orbiting the globe and warns of close approaches, some members of Congress say a civilian agency, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, should be made responsible for managing satellite traffic.

There have only been three relatively minor collisions from space junk in the last 20 years, and only once have two intact satellites crashed into one another by accident. The problem is expected to get worse as more companies scramble to expand their fleets of satellites. For example, Boeing filed an application last month with the FCC that would allow it to send up nearly 3,000 satellites for broadband services.

In an effort to help manage the rapid expansion of satellites, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) has introduced legislation that would give the FAA authority to monitor objects in space and play the role of traffic cop. “As space becomes more congested and contested and competitive, there needs to be an agency with unambiguous authority that can compel somebody to maneuver,” Bridenstine said. Douglas Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, agrees: “It’s clear that we’re going to need a way to regulate that traffic just as we have a way to regulate air traffic,” he said.

Google tweaks Play Store algorithm to shrink app updates by up to 50 percent

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in code on (#1NCXD)
Google is claiming that updates to apps in the Android Play Store may soon become much smaller due to their use of a new algorithm named “Courgette” developed from bsdiff. The algorithm can reduce the size of patches by up to 50% according to Google, and they have previously been using it for updates to the desktop Chrome browser.

Previously when an app needed to be updated the entire app would have to be downloaded and installed, essentially replacing the existing version. Google has been using diff versioning since 2012, but this new algorithm takes advantage of the ways in which compiled native code changes between versions. This is most effective when libraries are stored uncompressed, but even compressed code can still potentially see a 5% decrease in data usage. Although a 5% savings isn't a dramatic change, every little bit helps, especially with limited data plans.

Scorching Kuwait weather sets Eastern Hemisphere's all-time high record

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in environment on (#1NA1N)
story imageIt was a historic day in the annals of meteorology on Thursday, July 21, 2016 in the Middle East, where the temperature in Mitribah, Kuwait soared to an astonishing 54°C (129.2°F). If the reading is verified, this would be Earth's hottest temperature ever reliably measured outside of Death Valley, California. The temperature is likely to be verified, since Thursday's incredible heat also extended into Iraq, which set their local all-time heat record of 128°F (53.4°C) at Basrah. A temperature of 129.2°F has now also been reported in Basrah, Iraq, for July 23, possibly tying Kuwait's new record.

The official world record high temperature is 56.7 °C (134.1 °F) set on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek Ranch, California, in Death Valley. The previous all-time world record of 136 °F on September 13, 1922 in El Azizia, Libya was ruled invalid in 2012 by the World Meteorological Organization. More recently recorded temperatures at Death Valley include a 54.0 °C (129.2 °F) reading on June 30, 2013--tied with recent measurements in Kuwait and Iraq.

This year's heat waves are certain to result in speculation about the connection between global warming and extreme weather. Scientists are increasingly willing to connect climate change to extreme heat waves, at least those “that appear out of the norm in some way.” It will be interesting to see how many more years of warming are needed until the century-old world's record is finally surpassed.

Seagate introduces new 10TB Barracuda hard drives

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in hardware on (#1MW3S)
story imageSeagate is pushing the boundaries on magnetic spinning media with a new suite of 10TB hard drives — and is relaunching the familiar Barracuda brand name for the new product line. In 2013 the company unofficially retired the name, choosing instead to refer to its desktop drives as “Desktop HDD.” Seagate is similarly rebranding its solid state-hybrid hard drives (SSHD) as FireCuda. These new launches come as the company is prepping for significant rounds of layoffs. Seagate has previously announced plans to fire roughly 8,100 people over the next 12 months, or 14% of its current global workforce. The company also plans to build 20 million fewer hard drives per quarter, down 33%.

These new 10TB drives don’t appear to use helium like other high-capacity drives, and they aren’t based on Shingled Magnetic Recording, either. These drives use more-conventional perpendicular recording, which means they won’t take a performance hit when writing data, though still certainly no match for the solid-state competition. These also aren't the largest capacity hard drives available, either. If you've got the money to spend, Samsung sells a 14TB SSD for upwards of $5,000.

Free VP10 video compression standard benefits from HEVC licensing troubles

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in internet on (#1KVXE)
story imageLast July, HEVC Advance announced onerous licensing terms which cast a shadow on HEVC/H.265 video compression technology. Encoder/decoder pricing of $0.80 to $1.50 per unit, with no minimum and no maximum cap, even backdated to the technology's first use! They also demanded a 0.5 percent royalty on HEVC-encoded content. Industry reaction to the proposed royalty was universally negative.

This seems the motivation for the big news in August, when a new consortium called the Alliance for Open Media announced that it will begin work on a free video compression standard. The group includes tech giants Amazon, AMD, ARM, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia and more, while Apple is conspicuously absent. These large companies currently pay hundreds of millions in royalties for video patents and would greatly benefit from widespread adoption of a free and open standard.

Within the next six months Google expects to turn over its work on VP10 to the Alliance, which will blend Google’s contributions with those from others to create a final royalty-free video codec standard. In addition, the Internet Engineering Task Force started development of a video codec standard called NetVC, of which VP10 is one candidate, so "some harmonization will be needed," between the two organizations.

Comcast nearly has service disruption for failure to pay utility pole fees

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in internet on (#1K44X)
With just one day remaining before tiny Tennessee-based electric co-op Duck River claimed it would rip Comcast’s equipment and wiring off its utility poles for non-payment of pole attachment fees, Comcast showed up with a check. Had Comcast not come up with a payment, Duck River was prepared to start removing Comcast’s wiring and equipment from its poles, and cut power to Comcast’s equipment, which would have killed service for about 7,000 Comcast customers.

Comcast claims Duck River is using their position as a monopoly to gouge customers with high rates. Duck River officials dispute that and say Comcast was behind (again) on its pole attachment fee payments and is the only utility company complaining about the price. “If you don’t pay your Comcast cable TV or internet bill, they’re going to do what?” The answer, said Steve Oden, director of member services at Duck River, is they “cut you off.” The two are now talking (again) about securing a long-term contract that will stabilize pole attachment rates and keep Duck River’s local power co-op from having to make collection calls in the future.

Senate report calls out Time Warner, Charter cable for over-billing customers

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in legal on (#1K43Y)
story imageA U.S. Senate hearing last week examined billing practices for five major pay-TV companies serving some 71 million subscribers. Senators honed in on overcharges from Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications. Charter estimates it has annually overcharged 5,897 customers a total of $494,000 each year. “And rather than correct the mistake by refunding the overcharges, the company just kept the money,” said Sen Rob Portman.

Sen. Claire McCaskill commented: “We found that customers are being charged a host of fees that are not included in advertised pricing, some of which are for programming that used to be included in a customer’s video package. We also found that, just as many customers have long believed, some of these fees, like the HD and DVR service fees, aren’t a true reflection of the cost to the company of the service, but rather are based on the revenue goals of the company, and the price a customer is willing to stomach. In fact, some of these fees are charged to old customers while new customers get the same services free of charge.”

“As a result of this investigation, both Time Warner Cable and Charter have taken steps to address these issues. Time Warner Cable will not, however, investigate when it began overcharging customers unless customers bring specific concerns to the company’s attention, nor will it provide a full refund dating back to when the overcharge began.”

Walmart, Home Depot suing Visa, MasterCard over not allowing use of chip+PIN

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in legal on (#1J34H)
story imageHome Depot filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court this week against credit card giants Visa and MasterCard for blocking the adoption of chip-and-PIN on credit card transactions. Instead, the companies adopted the less secure chip-and-signature method, which does not prevent lost and stolen cards from being used. Merchant groups, consumer advocacy groups and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) called attention to the need to adopt chip-and-PIN in order to take full advantage of EMV security. According to data compiled by the U.S. Federal Reserve, transactions routed over Visa's or MasterCard's signature debit networks cost retailers more than twice as much as transactions routed over PIN networks.

Home Depot's case against Visa and MasterCard is similar to one Walmart recently filed against Visa. In that case, Walmart says that Visa is precluding the retailer from requiring PINs on all debit card transactions. As a result, Walmart is forced to pay the fees associated with signature-based networks. For the world's largest retailer, that figure is in the billions.

Visa and MasterCard, along with groups such as the American Bankers Association, have said that requiring PINs with credit card transactions could cause confusion for consumers. Visa has also said that newer, better authentication technologies (such as biometric and geo-location verification) are just over the horizon.
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