Samsung makes a killing

Samsung had earnings which were stronger than a Sardinian cheese after posting a solid first quarter profit boosted by its memory chip business.

While the first quarter was miserable for Samsung as its boss Jay Y. Lee was swept up in a political corruption scandal, the world’s top maker of memory chips, smartphones and televisions still managed to book a profit that supports expectations for record earnings in 2017.

First quarter operating profit for Asia’s most valuable company by market capitalization was $8.75 billion, matching Samsung’s earlier guidance. Revenue rose two percent.

Samsung Electronics shares were up 2.6 percent at a record high in a flat wider market.

“Looking ahead to the second quarter, the company expects to achieve growth on the back of continued robust memory performance together with improved earnings from the mobile business,” following the global rollout of the new Galaxy S8 smartphone, Samsung said in a statement.

Samsung’s chip business remained the top earner, thanks to price gains for both DRAM and NAND memory chips.

The mobile division reported January-March operating profit of $1.82 billion, down from $3.4 billion year earlier. To be fair, though, Samsung had no new premium product generate meaningful sales in the January-March period.

Pre-orders for the Galaxy S8 launched in April were better than many analysts had expected.

Hackers exploited a Word hole for months

Hackers exploited a hole in Microsoft Word while Vole effectively tried to get more detail on the flaw.

The flaw, CVE-2017-0199, was dangerous but not difficult to fix but allowed a hacker to seize control of a personal computer with little trace. After nine months, it was fixed in Microsoft’s last regular monthly security update.

While Vole “investigated”, hackers found the flaw and manipulated the software to spy on unknown Russian speakers, possibly in Ukraine. It was also used by a group of thieves used it to bolster their efforts to steal from millions of online bank accounts in Australia and other countries.

Last July, Ryan Hanson found a weakness in the way that Microsoft Word processes documents from another format. That allowed him to insert a link to a malicious program that would take control of a computer. He told Microsoft in October after working out that the vulnerability could be mixed with something which made it even nastier.

Microsoft could have fixed the problem – all it took was a quick change in the settings on Word, but if it  notified customers about the bug and the recommended changes, it would also be telling hackers about how to break in. It could have patched the flaw but it thought it would be better to “dig deeper”, since no one was using Hanson’s method, and it wanted to be sure it had a comprehensive solution.

Microsoft performed an investigation to identify other potentially similar methods and ensure that our fix addresses more than just the issue reported.

It was complex – a little too complex. Because while Vole was going deeper the unknown hackers initially found Hanson’s bug and started using it.

The first known victims were sent emails enticing them to click on a link to documents in Russian about military issues in Russia and areas held by Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, researchers said. Their computers were infected with eavesdropping software made by Gamma Group, a private company that sells to agencies of many governments.

It appears that one of Gamma’s customers was trying to get inside the computers of soldiers or political figures in Ukraine or Russia,  either of those countries, or any of their neighbours or allies, could have been responsible. Such government espionage is routine.

In March, security researchers at FireEye noticed that a notorious piece of financial hacking software known as Latenbot was being distributed using the same Microsoft bug.

FireEye probed further, found the earlier Russian-language attacks, and warned Microsoft. The company, which confirmed it was first warned of active attacks in March, got on track for an April 11 patch.

McAfee saw some attacks using the Microsoft Word flaw on April 6. It established that the flaw had not been patched, contacted Microsoft, and then blogged about its discovery on April 7. McAfee Vice President Vincent Weafer admitted that leaking the information was “a glitch in our communications with our partner Microsoft”.

The blog post contained enough detail that other hackers could mimic the attacks.

By April the 9th, a program to exploit the flaw was on sale on underground markets for criminal hackers.

Finally, on Tuesday, about six months after hearing from Hanson, Microsoft made the patch available.

It is unclear how many people were ultimately infected or how much money was stolen.

German hackers ask cash for their work

You have to admire the balls of a group of German hackers who dub themselves XMR Squad.

The outfit spent all last week launching DDoS attacks against German businesses and then contacting the same companies to inform them they had to pay $275 for ‘testing their DDoS protection systems.

Attacks were reported against DHL, Hermes, AldiTalk, Freenet, Snipes.com, the State Bureau of Investigation Lower Saxony, and the website of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The attack against DHL Germany was particularly effective as it shut down the company’s business customer portal and all APIs, prompting eBay Germany to issue an alert regarding possible issues with packages sent via DHL.

While the group advertised on Twitter that its location was in Russia, a German reporter who spoke with the group via telephone said: “The caller had a slight accent, but spoke perfect German.”

Following the attention it got in Germany after the attacks, the group had its website and Twitter account taken down.

Hackers mocked the group for failing to extract any payments from their targets. DDoS extortionists have been particularly active in Germany, among any other countries. Previously, groups named Stealth Ravens and Kadyrovtsy have also extorted German companies, using the same tactics perfected by groups like DD4BC and Armada Collective.

Nokia sees Finnish of bleak sales

Finnish network equipment maker Nokia reported a slowing rate of sales decline, saying the global networks market was showing signs of recovery.

Nokia and its rivals, Sweden’s Ericsson and China’s Huawei Technologies, have struggled in recent years as telecom operators’ demand for faster 4G mobile broadband equipment has peaked, and upgrades to next-generation 5G equipment are still years away.

Nokia said the business momentum was now improving: first-quarter network sales fell six percent from a year earlier to $5.3 billion, compared with a decline of 14 percent in the previous quarter.

Chief Executive Rajeev Suri said: “We slowed the rate of topline decline and generated healthy orders in what is typically a seasonally weak quarter for us… We saw encouraging stabilization in Mobile Networks topline… “I am optimistic about the year ahead, even if cautiously so.”

Nokia repeated that it expects its networks sales to decline in the full year, in line with the market.

Its first quarter group earnings before interest and taxes fell one percent from a year earlier to $371 million, slightly ahead of analysts’ average forecast.

Last year, Nokia bought Franco-American networks firm Alcatel-Lucent in response to industry changes, and is currently axing thousands of jobs.

That deal helped Nokia outperform rival Ericsson, which earlier this week posted a quarterly operating loss.

Google is Home alone

Google OgleI’m not too sure just which phrase sums up the internet of things (IoT). In these early days, perhaps it’s the Wild West of legend or maybe it’s like Sicily during the bad old days of the Mafia. Is it gunslinging or a quick shot to the back of the head by one of the families?

The whole question has become very real to me in the last few days since Currys sent me Google Home to review.

Let me first of all describe my own internet setup here in Oxford and that will give you some idea of my conundrum. Or is it a dilemma? You can ask Google H to define a conundrum. And a dilemma. Oh and sometimes it uses Britannica as a source and at other times Wikipedia. There’s some kind of editorial judgment going on here but who is the editor, or team of editors? That is another Google puzzle. But as the lady says – and more of this later – “she is still learning”.

Google Home unitI run a fast Virgin Media broadband connection here with several devices depending on it, including a PC in the mancave at the end of my garden. I am a subscriber to Amazon Prime, have a Roku TV connected to the interweb and a smarty pants phone or two. I’ve also got Philips’ Hue lighting upstairs, downstairs and in my mancave. This Google stuff doesn’t half open up some braincells. But, let me tell you definitively, the Google robot does sometimes get it wrong. Yesterday I asked the lady of the house – that’s Google Home – whether it would rain. She came back with a pretty firm “no”. So I walked four yards and stood outside the back door where it was pouring it down.

It took me a day or two to decide my attitude to the new lady in my house. At first I was talking to her in a rather nasty tone and sometimes shouting too. But I decided to be nice to robots – they’re people too. Or some people are robots. The lines are getting blurred.

Right now Google Home in the UK comes with only one voice, coming with received pronunciation. It would be nice if in the future the designers could tweak the voice so that you could have, for example, a man or a woman speaking in a Brummy, Glaswegian or Cockney voice. A USA version now supports the ability for the machine to recognise up to six different voices – apparently we’ll get that upgrade here soon enough.

There’s a bit of a security problem too. A neighbour of mine, for example, managed to shout a command through my letterbox turning on a Barry Manilow album remotely – he’s not my favourite artist. But once you’ve got music playing you do really need to shout to turn it off – she couldn’t do that from outside my front door. I can imagine domestics too, where different members of a family override requests made by another.

There’s another, and in my view, more serious security problem. My neighbour, the one who shouted through my letterbox and according to Google Home is only 26 feet from my house – by car. I don’t use the car I don’t have to sometimes go over there but if I do need to access the internet, she has given me a password for her wi-fi system. Because the security is so poor, so far, on this device it means that I can access her device, play music on her machine, access the requests she’s made. Google really needs to address this problem.

And it would also be useful to be able to customise requests to the machine. Now, you have to start a request by saying “OK Google” or “Hey Google”. I’d like to say things like “Hi Darling”. Oh well, maybe not.

It does feel strange talking to a machine at first, but these days, of course, it’s very common to see people walking down the street apparently talking to themselves. When I was a kid, we used to think people like that were nutters. But everybody is a nutter in the 21st century.

The number of devices supported is really quite limited so far but include smart thermostats, lighting and other gizmos. I have a Roku system running on my TV, but Google doesn’t support this and I expect it never will, considering that it sells its own TV system, Chromecast. Which is supported, surprise, surprise. While it supports Spotify, Google Play and Tune In, currently it only supports Youtube in the USA.

You won’t be surprised to learn that it doesn’t support Amazon Music.

The device list includes Nest thermostats, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Belkin Wemo, Osram, TP-Link and a few others. Streaming devices supported include Vizio, Toshiba, Philips, Sony, Bang & Olufson, Grundig, and Pol Audio.
There are some other third party services available in the USA, but not here yet, according to the Google Home page.

Hue lighting systems are pretty expensive but I have several lights in my little house. It’s neat to be able to turn upstairs lights on by simply saying, “OK Google, turn upstairs on”. Google Home is downstairs in my back room, but if you shout commands down the stairwell she does listen to you.

Some of the features are really pretty good. You can build a shopping list but, as yet, you can’t delete it by voice command, only by using the app. And her recognition is a bit wobbly for some artists. She just couldn’t handle Yves Montand nor Françoise Hardy – but the Spotify app on your smartphone is a good way to browse for the gazillions of titles available on the service.

She/He/It also does a pretty fair job translating into other languages, as far as we can tell. The same neighbour who shouted through my letterbox is pretty fluent in Italian and was happy with the results.

Setup
This is a piece of cake. You plug Home into a spare socket, and download the Home app for either your Android or IOS device. When you run the app, it prompts you to enter different details – for example your wi-fi connection. When you’re done, you simply talk to the little blighter prefacing the request with either “OK Google” or “Hey Google”. Currently, Home supports both Spotify and Google Play – with Google enticing you to try a free subscription for the latter. If you want to use Spotify, you’ll have to upgrade to its Premium service. That costs £10 a month.

Cost
The basic Google Home system costs £129 here. But if you want to customise your gizmo by, for example, having a purple colour base, you can spend an extra £18 or so to do just that. Buying a system including Hue lighting, a smart TV, Chromecast and so on will cost you a pretty penny.

Conclusion
Google Home is a bright idea but there are some problems. Why, for example, does it not have access to the full search facilities of Google itself? For example, if you search for a person using a browser you get a wide range of results – but Home appears only to come up with Wikipedia and occasionally Brittanica results. Narrowing things down is a little bit tricky unless you’re confining yourself to running your Hue lights or finding out the weather rather than just looking out of the window. Google hasn’t migrated all the services to UK customers that it offers in the US, but perhaps when that happens the search facilities will be better. Oh, and the faster your internet connection, the better…

Thyssenkrupp sets up 3D printing centre

German industrial group Thyssenkrupp is to open a 3D printing centre this year to manufacture products for its customers.

For those who came in late, Thyssenkrupp is famous for making steel, submarines and elevators, and supplies thousands of tonnes of metal and plastic products and provides supply-chain management services to a quarter of a million customers worldwide.

Some industrial components such as airline or wind-turbine parts can now be made by 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, in which objects are printed in layers directly from a computer design instead of being cut out of blocks of material.

This saves money on material costs by reducing the number of parts needed tenfold or more, and also saves time from design to manufacturing, allowing objects to be produced in small batches in a cost effective way.

Hans-Josef Hoss, an executive board member of Thyssenkrupp Materials Services division, said the company had invested already into the machines and the people.

“We start from the engineering side and deliver the final product with all aftersales and related services,” he said in a speech at an event during the Hannover Messe, the world’s biggest industrial fair.

Hoss said the centre would be inaugurated in September, and would produce both metal and plastic products.

General Electric is investing $109 million to expand a German 3D printing firm it bought last year – one of two it acquired at a total cost of over $1 billion – and would open a 3D printing customer centre in Munich.

Beancounters at Wohlers Associates think the use of 3D technology is surging. Sales reached $1 billion in 2007, jumped to $5.2 billion in 2015 and will hit $26.5 billion by 2021.

 

Wales wants to tackle fake news

A bloke whose online encyclopaedia is checked by fake penis experts, is keen to apply his knowledge to tackle the issue of fake news.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is launching a new online publication which will aim to fight fake news by pairing professional journalists with an army of volunteer community contributors.

Dubbed Wikitribune the site will make sure that you read fact-based articles that have a real impact in both local and global events.

The site will publish news stories written by professional journalists. But in a page borrowed from Wikipedia, internet users will be able to propose factual corrections and additions.

The changes will be reviewed by volunteer fact checkers. Wikitribune says it will be transparent about its sources. It will post the full transcripts of interviews, as well as video and audio, “to the maximum extent possible.” The language used will be “factual and neutral”.

While that would be fair enough, Wikipedia’s volunteer editors have shown an astonishing lack of news sense, or the ability to tell what is real or not. While allowing detailed biographies of porn stars they have a habit of ruling magazines and people as “not significant enough” and embark on crusades to purge the internet of people they do not like.

 

Alibaba’s Ma says Internet should be a utility

Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma said the internet should be a utility available to the whole world.

Ma is putting his weight behind a UN call for e-commerce to boost developing economies and help fight poverty.

Ma has some weight as a UN advisor to its trade and development agency UNCTAD for small business and young entrepreneurs.

He said that the internet should be treated as a utility and should be treated also as the infrastructure of global development.

“Everything will be online and everything online will have data. And data will be the energy for innovation.”

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said he and Ma would meet in Kigali in July with 10 African presidents and young entrepreneurs, aiming to persuade the politicians of their responsibility to help their young populations realise their potential.

Ma said his first trip to Africa would focus on e-commerce payment to support inclusive and sustainable development, as well as education and environmental protection.

He said Alibaba had created 33 million jobs in China because each small business online could create at least three jobs. He met US President-elect Donald Trump in January and said the firm would create a million US jobs.

Earlier, a group of developing countries launched a roadmap for using e-commerce to drive growth, narrow the digital divide and help poorer countries develop.

Canon raises its aim

Japan’s Canon lifted its full year operating profit forecast after reporting strong first-quarter results on the back of earnings from a medical equipment unit it bought from Toshiba last year.

The camera and printer maker forecast profit of $2.43 billion, up from $2.28 billion estimated in January. It reported profit of $2.05 billion in the previous year

The upbeat outlook suggests Canon’s strategy to diversify has begun to reward the company after the $5.8 billion acquisition of the Toshiba unit and the $2.8 billion takeover of Swedish video-surveillance firm Axis AB.

Canon also said the two existing businesses that have long dragged its earnings down – laser printers and cameras – are also showing signs of bottoming out.

Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Toshizo Tanaka told an earnings briefing that recovery in the Chinese and other emerging economies is pushing up demand for laser printers, while continued popularity of so-called mirrorless cameras is driving camera sales.

For the January-March quarter, Canon said operating profit jumped 88.8 percent

Ericsson does worse than expected

Swedish Mobile telecom equipment maker Ericsson has shocked the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street by posting a a slightly bigger than expected first-quarter operating loss.

The outfit said that the current miserable industry trends and business mix in mobile broadband from 2016 were expected to prevail in 2017.

Sweden’s Ericsson posted an operating loss of $1.4 billion as previously announced provisions, write-downs and restructuring costs pushed it deeper into the red.

All this compared to a modest profit in the year-ago quarter and was just below what Wall Street had expected.

Sales at Ericsson, one of the top global mobile networks equipment makers, were $5.23 billion, below a consensus forecast of $5.34 billion, while the gross margin came in at 13.9 percent compared to the 17.9 percent seen by analysts.