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The Intensifying Battle for Africa’s Burgeoning Tech Landscape

Posted: 25 Feb 2018 09:31 AM PST

Monique Maddy at TechCrunch has an overview of Africa's technical growing pains and related challenges. As anywhere else, the future depends on connectivity. However, the continent represents only 10 percent of the total Internet users in the world, despite representing 16 percent of the world population.

The scale and complexity of Africa's technical landscape sits at the heart of the problem, and connectivity issues are particularly prevalent. Internet users in Africa represent only 10 percent of the total users in the world, despite representing 16 percent of the world population, according to Internet World Stats. And only 31 percent of the total population has access to the internet, which represents a penetration that is well below the rest of the world at 52 percent.

[...] Africa is at a technical tipping point. To survive and thrive in this diverse and highly complex marketplace, we need businesses that are flexible and capable of adapting both their products and their business models, which can most effectively work with local companies and talent to develop and promote local content and digital solutions while leveraging the power of the smartphone and widespread connectivity.

Barriers to growth include use of zero-rating by some of the world's largest players as they try to both push into the region while setting up obstacles to entry by competitors. She also asks how large Western companies plan to see a return on investment or whether Chinese companies will beat them to the punch.

Source : The intensifying battle for Africa's burgeoning tech landscape

See also :
Madhvi Gokool - AFRINIC Update (2017)
Michele McCann - iGDP in Africa (2014)

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UPS is Working on a Fleet of 50 Custom-Built Electric Delivery Trucks

Posted: 25 Feb 2018 07:23 AM PST

UPS will work with partner Workhorse, a battery-electric transportation technology company, to develop and deploy a fleet of 50 custom-built plug-in electric delivery trucks with zero emissions.

The goal is to make trucks that cost as much to buy as do traditional fuel-based delivery vehicles — even without taking into account subsidies. The Workhorse-designed vehicles will be all-electric, and are designed to run on a single charge throughout a normal delivery day and then charge back up overnight.

Workhorse says they'll have a 100-mile range, which is a good fit for in-city routes, and the trucks will first enter testing in urban areas in various parts of the U.S., including Atlanta, Dallas and LA. The test will lead to fine-tuning, which will lead to a larger fleet deployment targeting 2019.

Source: TechCrunch

Also at The Verge, Reuters and Cincinnati.com

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NRA Gives Award to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai while Facing Public Outcry after Parkland, Florida Attack

Posted: 25 Feb 2018 05:11 AM PST

We had submissions from three Soylentils with different takes on the NRA (National Rifle Association) and the public response in the wake of an attack at a Parkland, Florida high school.

Public Outcry Convinces National Companies to Cut Ties with NRA

Common Dreams reports:

In the latest sign that the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida tragedy may be playing out differently than the fallout from other mass shootings, several national companies have cut ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

[Car rental companies] Alamo, Enterprise, and National--all owned by Enterprise Holdings--announced late on [February 22] that they would end discounts for the NRA's five million members. Symantec, the security software giant that owns Lifelock and Norton, ended its discount program on Friday as well.

The First National Bank of Omaha also said it would stop issuing its NRA-branded Visa credit cards, emblazoned with the group's logo and called "the Official Credit Card of the NRA". The institution is the largest privately-held bank in the U.S., with locations in Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota.

Additional coverage on TheHill, MarketWatch, Independent and Politico.

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SEC Urges Clearer Disclosures About Cybersecurity Risks

Posted: 25 Feb 2018 02:50 AM PST

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

The US Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday issued new guidance on how and when public companies should disclose cybersecurity risks and breaches.

The "interpretive guidance" document (PDF) urges informing investors of risks in a timely fashion, including vulnerabilities that have not yet been targeted by hackers. The guidance also says executives should refrain from trading in the company's stock while in possession of nonpublic information about significant cybersecurity attacks.

The commission, which unanimously approved the updated guidance, believes the document will help "promote clearer and more robust disclosure by companies about cybersecurity risks and incidents, resulting in more complete information being available to investors," SEC Chairman Jon Clayton said in a statement.

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One-Stop Counterfeit Certificate Shops. For All Your Malware-Signing Needs

Posted: 25 Feb 2018 12:29 AM PST

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

The Stuxnet worm that targeted Iran's nuclear program almost a decade ago was a watershed piece of malware for a variety of reasons. Chief among them, its use of cryptographic certificates belonging to legitimate companies to falsely vouch for the trustworthiness of the malware. Last year, we learned that fraudulently signed malware was more widespread than previously believed. On Thursday, researchers unveiled one possible reason: underground services that since 2011 have sold counterfeit signing credentials that are unique to each buyer.

"Contrary to a common belief that the security certificates circulating in the criminal underground are stolen from legitimate owners prior to being used in nefarious
campaigns, we confirmed with a high degree of certainty that the certificates are created for a specific buyer per request only and are registered using stolen corporate identities, making traditional network security appliances less effective," Andrei Barysevich, a researcher at Recorded Future, reported.

Barysevich identified four such sellers of counterfeit certificates since 2011. Two of them remain in business today. The sellers offered a variety of options. In 2014, one provider calling himself C@T advertised certificates that used a Microsoft technology known as Authenticode for signing executable files and programming scripts that can install software. C@T offered code-signing certificates for macOS apps as well. His fee: upwards of $1,000 per certificate.

[...] "Although code signing certificates can be effectively used in widespread malware campaigns such as the distribution of banking trojan or ransomware, the validity of the certificate used to sign a payload would be invalidated fairly quickly," [Barysevich] explained. "Therefore, we believe that the limited number of power-users specializing in more sophisticated and targeted campaigns, such as corporate espionage, is the main driving force behind the new service."

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AnandTech Interview With the CTO of GlobalFoundries: 7nm EUV and 5 GHz Clock Speeds

Posted: 24 Feb 2018 10:08 PM PST

AnandTech's Ian Cutress interviewed Dr. Gary Patton, CTO of GlobalFoundries. A number of topics were discussed, including the eventual use of ASML's extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) for the "7nm" node:

Q13: With EUV still in the process of being brought up, and the way it is with counting masks and pellicle support coming through, is there ever a mentality of 7nm not getting EUV, and that 7nm could end up a purely optical transition? Do you fully expect EUV to come in at 7nm?

GP: I absolutely believe that EUV is here. It's coming, I absolutely believe it so. As you've seen with the machines we are installing in the clean room, we have placed a big bet on it. As Tom (Thomas Caulfield) was saying, it's a pretty high scale investment. I think if you look at the tool itself, for example, ASML has demonstrated 250W with it. This is pretty repeatable, so I think that it looks in good shape. There are some challenges with the collector availability. They are getting close, I think around 75% availability now is pretty solid, but they have to get to 85%, and they are cranking these tools out. Even with this as a work in progress, there are going to be a lot of tools out on the field, and that is going to also help with improving the performance and control of the tools. The tools we have here are the ultimate tools, the ultimate manufacturing versions.

The lithographic resist is a little bit of a challenge, but we are still trying to optimize that. I don't see that as a show stopper, as we are managing throughout bring up. I think the real challenge is the masks, and I feel very good about the pellicle process. They have made a lot of progress, and they have shown it can handle 250W. The biggest issue has been that you lose a bit of power - so you've done all this work to get to 250W, and then you just lost 20% of that. So it has to go up another 10%, so it's closer to 90%, in terms of a loss to be viable. For contacts and vias, we can run without pellicles. We have the right inspection infrastructure to manage that, and then bring the pellicles in when they are ready.

[...] Q17: Does the first generation of 7LP target higher frequency clocks than 14LPP?

GP: Definitely. It is a big performance boost - we quoted around 40%. I don't know how that exactly will translate into frequency, but I would guess that it should be able to get up in the 5GHz range, I would expect.

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Facebook Removes VR Shooting Game From its Booth at CPAC

Posted: 24 Feb 2018 07:47 PM PST

Facebook removes VR shooting demo at top conservative conference out of 'respect for the victims' of Florida shooting

Facebook has removed a virtual reality shoot-em-up experience from a tech demo at a top American conservative conference after recieving criticism for being "tone deaf" following last week's deadly school shooting in Florida. The social network has a presence at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) conference in Maryland, this week, including a booth running a demo of its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. This demo included a first-person shooting game.

People on Twitter have criticised Facebook for running this demo so soon after the deadly shooting attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.

The game, Bullet Train, was just one of a number of standard Oculus games/demos that Facebook has included at public events. In fact, Bullet Train has been around since 2015, and the team that made it released a full game called Robo Recall, funded by Oculus:

The game will be an Oculus exclusive — that company is funding its development — and the five-to-ten-person team that created Bullet Train has ballooned into a full 15 person team at Epic in order to turn this into a real game with a release date in "early 2017." It will include a number of graphical jumps from Bullet Train, and this benefits Epic in other ways as well.

Yet, Facebook still tried to distance itself from the original demo:

The demo for the game, called "Bullet Train," is being developed by a third-party game-maker, not Oculus, the company said.

Why is Facebook at CPAC? Probably as part of an ongoing effort to placate conservatives angry at the platform.

This comes a few months after the Puerto Rico hurricane VR debacle.

Also at The Guardian and The Hill.

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U.S. has 62nd Ranking in LTE Speeds in the World, about 1/3 the Speed of Singapore

Posted: 24 Feb 2018 05:26 PM PST

According to OpenSignal's latest State of LTE report, the average 4G download speed in the United States was 16.31 Mbps in Q4 2017. That's little more than a third of the speed that mobile device users in Singapore enjoy and ranks the U.S. at a disappointing 62nd place in the global ranking.
Where Smartphone Users Surf the Fastest

The Full Open Signal Report, The State of LTE (February 2018):

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Report On Device Encryption Suggests A Few Ways Forward For Law Enforcement

Posted: 24 Feb 2018 03:05 PM PST

Techdirt covers a new paper published by the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine regarding the general access that the FBI and DOJ want to encrypted communications.

Another paper has been released, adding to the current encryption discussion. The FBI and DOJ want access to the contents of locked devices. They call encryption that can be bypassed by law enforcement "responsible encryption." It isn't. A recent paper by cryptograpghy expert Riana Pfefferkorn explained in detail how irresponsible these suggestions for broken or weakened encryption are.

This new paper [PDF] was put together by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. (h/t Lawfare) It covers a lot of ground others have and rehashes the history of encryption, along with many of the pro/con arguments. That said, it's still worth reading. It raises some good questions and spends a great deal of time discussing the multitude of options law enforcement has available, but which are ignored by FBI officials when discussing the backdoors/key escrow/weakened encryption they'd rather have.

The paper's suggestions have not been rigorously investigated by those with domain expertise, yet.

Source : Report On Device Encryption Suggests A Few Ways Forward For Law Enforcement

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Algorithm Creates "Movies" From Text Descriptions

Posted: 24 Feb 2018 12:44 PM PST

A machine learning algorithm has created tiny (64×64 pixels) 32-frame videos based on text descriptions:

The researchers trained the algorithm on 10 types of scenes, including "playing golf on grass," and "kitesurfing on the sea," which it then roughly reproduced. Picture grainy VHS footage. Nevertheless, a simple classification algorithm correctly guessed the intended action among six choices about half the time. (Sailing and kitesurfing were often mistaken for each other.) What's more, the network could also generate videos for nonsensical actions, such as "sailing on snow," and "playing golf at swimming pool," the team reported this month at a meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence in New Orleans, Louisiana.

[...] Currently, the videos are only 32 frames long—lasting about 1 second—and the size of a U.S. postage stamp, 64 by 64 pixels. Anything larger reduces accuracy, says Yitong Li, a computer scientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and the paper's first author. Because people often appear as distorted figures, a next step, he says, is using human skeletal models to improve movement.

Tuytelaars also sees applications beyond Hollywood. Video generation could lead to better compression if a movie can be stored as nothing but a brief description. It could also generate training data for other machine learning algorithms. For example, realistic video clips might help autonomous cars prepare for dangerous situations they would not frequently encounter. And programs that deeply understand the visual world could spin off useful applications in everything from refereeing to surveillance. They could help a self-driving car predict where a motorbike will go, for example, or train a household robot to open a fridge, Pirsiavash says.

An AI-generated Hollywood blockbuster may still be beyond the horizon, but in the meantime, we finally know what "kitesurfing on grass" looks like.

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San Francisco's Community Broadband Could Solve Net Neutrality and Privacy Issues

Posted: 24 Feb 2018 10:23 AM PST

San Francisco: Building Community Broadband to Protect Net Neutrality and Online Privacy

Like many cities around the country, San Francisco is considering an investment in community broadband infrastructure: high-speed fiber that would make Internet access cheaper and better for city residents. Community broadband can help alleviate a number of issues with Internet access that we see all over America today. Many Americans have no choice of provider for high-speed Internet, Congress eliminated user privacy protections in 2017, and the FCC decided to roll back net neutrality protections in December.

This week, San Francisco published the recommendations of a group of experts, including EFF's Kit Walsh, regarding how to protect the privacy and speech of those using community broadband.

This week, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Municipal Fiber released its third report, which tackles competition, security, privacy, net neutrality, and more. It recommends San Francisco's community broadband require net neutrality and privacy protections. Any ISP looking to use the city's infrastructure would have to adhere to certain standards. The model of community broadband that EFF favors is sometimes called "dark fiber" or "open access." In this model, the government invests in fiber infrastructure, then opens it up for private companies to compete as your ISP. This means the big incumbent ISPs can no longer block new competitors from offering you Internet service. San Francisco is pursuing the "open access" option, and is quite far along in its process.

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