Author: Matthew Finnegan

Scientists create piña colada tree

Australian scientists have taken a step towards creating the world’s first piña colada tree, successfully breeding a coconut flavoured pineapple.

A group of Queensland researchers have spent the best part of a decade attempting to create a new variety of pineapple, telling ABC that it is now in the final stages of production with its AusFestival fruit.

“Taste tests tell us that AusFestival is a winner – it has this lovely coconut flavour, which you won’t find in any other pineapple in Australia,” senior horticulturist at the Australian Department of Agriculture Garth Senewski told the newspaper.

Senewski said that his team of researchers had not been intentionally looking to form the basis of the famous rum based piña colada, but had merely been looking to develop a variety that is “sweet, low acid and aromatic”.  Senewski has previously created pineapples with ulta-high levels of vitamin C using cross breeding techniques.

It is now expected that the AusFestival plant will be commercially available within two years, at which point we expect sales of Maraschino cherries and miniature umbrellas will skyrocket.

The AusFestival plant is not the first reported ‘experimental fruit’ that has combined the flavours of two separate fruits through genetic modification. Israeli scientists have also given the world a lemon / tomato hybrid with the “lemato”, while the “tangelo” has benefited busy mixologists by combining the properties of tangerines and grapefruits.

Hopefully the endeavours of the Australian scientists are only the start, because we’re crossing our fingers for the day when we can have a Tequila Sunrise patch at the bottom of the garden.

Samsung boss hands son and heir vice chairman role

Samsung Electronics has promoted Jay Y. Lee to vice president, a move that puts the current chairman’s son closer to the top role.

Lee’s father, Lee Kun Hee, has presided over the firm for the past 25 years, helping to grow the Korean company to one of the biggest consumer electronics companies in the world.

Lee, aged 44,  will be promoted from his previous role as chief operating officer at the company. His promotion to vice president is being seen as a “major step” towards the top role, a Samsung exec told Reuters.

“As Vice Chairman, Lee will build on his existing responsibilities and take a broader role in managing Samsung Electronics’ businesses,” Samsung said in a statement. “Lee will continue to play a critical role in transforming Samsung’s business model – the set (product) business into one based on a platform and the component business into a total solution provider.”

The move follows the promotion of Choi Gee-sung, known to be Jay Lee’s mentor, to the second most powerful position at the company next to the chairman.  This was believed to pave the way for Jay Lee to eventually take the top job himself.

Although chairman Lee Kun Hee is keen to promote his son and heir into the role, the family running the giant corporation has been far from harmonious in the past.

The Samsung chairman has been sued by older brother Lee Maeng-hee, who claims to be the first of late Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull, demanding that he is owed more inheritance money.

Sister Lee Sook-hee has also been ostracised, apparently due to a relationship with a member of the family running the rival LG Electronics corporation.

Autonomy founder Mike Lynch slams HP in new website

Former Autonomy boss Mike Lynch has launched a website to help fight back in a very public battle with Hewlett Packard.

The site, autonomyaccounts.org, is said to be maintained by Lynch on behalf of the former management team of the British software company.   

According to a statement, the site will be used to provide “relevant information pertaining to the accusations made by Hewlett Packard[…]of financial impropriety at Autonomy”. 

HP has accused Autonomy of financial foul play, alleging that staff inflated the value of the company in a number of ways, including ‘channel stuffing’, the practice of accounting for sales to resellers which had not yet reached customers.  

HP made a $5 billion write-down in its most recent financial results following the acquisition of the company during the ill-fated tenure of former CEO Leo Apotheker.   

Lynch and his former colleagues have continually stated their innocence, though have faced a stream of high profile accusations from HP.  The US firm has released a number of notices to the press, including issuing statements through its website

The website, spearheaded by Lynch, is aimed at providing a platform for former Autonomy staff to fire off missives in retaliation to HP’s claims, and is the latest step in an escalating PR war between the two.   

“This site is designed to be a public point of contact for Dr Mike Lynch and other former managers at Autonomy with the wider world,” a statement on the site read. “It will contain information about Autonomy and any public statements made on behalf of the former management team related to these issues.”

It continued: “The Autonomy team are committed to providing clear and transparent information during this process, and would like to see the issue resolved as quickly as possible.

In one post, Lynch writes a letter to HP demanding that it provide details to support the allegations it has made. This follows steps from HP to report Autonomy staff to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

“HP should provide me with the interim report and any other documents which you say you have provided to the SEC and the SFO so that I can answer whatever is alleged, instead of the selective disclosure of non-material information via background discussions with the media,” the letter reads.

Lynch claims HP had full sight of the financial condition of the firm prior to its purchase.   Autonomy used independent auditors Deloitte and LLC to check its accounts, with current HP CEO Meg Whitman part of the board which gave the go-ahead to the acquisition deal at the time of the buy.

HP has so far refused to engage directly with Lynch over the allegations.

“While Dr. Lynch is eager for a debate, we believe the legal process is the correct method in which to bring out the facts and take action on behalf of our shareholders,” a recent HP statement read. “In that setting, we look forward to hearing Dr. Lynch and other former Autonomy employees answer questions under penalty of perjury.”

HP told TechEye in a briefing session last week that the company is committed to selling Autonomy products following the major write down, and will be increasing its attempts to integrate the analytics software into its range of products.

Nokia raises €170 million by selling off HQ

Nokia is to sell of its headquarters at its Finnish base, raising €170 million for the struggling company.

Phone maker Nokia has agreed a sell and lease plan on its property in Espoo, Finland, creating extra cash for the firm in the short term. 

“We had a comprehensive sales process with both Finnish and foreign investors and we are very pleased with this outcome,”  said Nokia CFO, Timo Ihamuotila. “As we have said before, owning real estate is not part of Nokia’s core business and when good opportunities arise we are willing to exit these types of non-core assets.” 

He added: “We are naturally continuing to operate in our head office building on a long-term basis.”

Selling and then leasing its property back is a tactic also used by another struggling firm, AMD, last week, and will raise cash that can be used to support the company’s restructuring. 

Nokia has operated in the 48,000 square metre building since its late 90s heyday.

The firm has since seen its sales dramatically drop off, as the likes of Samsung and Apple stole the market. Nokia had been the number one phone maker since 1998, according to analysts at IHS iSuppli, before being knocked from its perch earlier this year.

In attempts to turn its business around, Nokia has put in place major restructuring, committing to cut over 40,000 staff since Stephen Elop took over as CEO in late 2010.

However, despite striking an allegiance with Microsoft to support the Windows Phone operating system, the company has failed to set the crowded smartphone market alight, despite generally favourable reviews of its products such as the recently released Lumia 920.

Time, and indeed cash, is beginning to run out for the firm.  In its most recent financial results the company showed that its cash reserves are quickly dwindling. Net cash during the third quarter was €3.5 billion, a 30 percent drop from the same point last year, when the company had over €5 billion in cash and assets.

Power detection could point to malicious code

Virus detection could be improved with technology developed by a US startup, detecting tiny increases in power consumption to reveal the presence of malicious code.

With the growing sophistication of threats, there is scepticism over whether conventional antivirus protections will provide adequate defence in the future.  

For many years, much of the detection of virus and other malicious code has been achieved by a signature based approach. This has meant identifying code using software and automatically attacking it, an approach which has been largely effective.

However, there is an increasing feeling that such methods are not strong enough to deal with evolving threats. The Flame attack earlier this year highlighted the ease with which malware operators can circumvent systems, and the cost to businesses can be huge.

The startup, Power Fingerprinting, with its roots in US university Virginia Tech, is developing a new approach to threat detection, checking the power consumption to reveal any unwanted presences.

According to TechnologyReview, the antivirus system makes a detailed analysis of a processor’s power consumption, detecting any additional power draw that would point to malicious code being present.

This power fingerprinting method has demonstrated a 93 percent detect rate for single malicious instruction changes, improving to 99.9 percent for multiple changes, and has been shown to be effective on Android devices.

Although the technology may not alert which type of malware was present in the way that an antivirus scanner would, such a system would have benefits where conventional antivirus protection had failed to become aware of a threat at all.

With the increasing reliance on IT in a range of infrastructure, and a large increase in the number and sophistication of threats, the power detection tool could help stay one step ahead of attackers.

Qualcomm invests $120 million in struggling Sharp

Fast-growing wireless chip maker Qualcomm is set to move into the LCD screen market with a $120 million investment in struggling Sharp.

The Japanese manufacturer announced that it had reached an agreement with Qualcomm subsidiary Pixtronix to develop indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) displays following the investment.The deal will benefit Qualcomm by improving the display technology, enabling the production of lower powered displays targeted at mobile devices.

The deal will see also see Sharp accelerate its strategy for growth in small to medium sized LCD display sales, the firm said in a statement.

Sharp has been in major difficulties over continued losses due to TV sales slowing and other factors, such as the strong yen. But it has managed to woo the San Diego firm with the prospect of developing the display technology. The two will also use the investment to commercialise MEMS, integrating Sharp’s IGZO technology.  

Sharp is in desperate need of investment. Its credit rating was recently downgraded to junk status, and executives have reportedly been in talks with Intel and Dell to inject some cash into the firm – which threatens to post yet more record losses.

Qualcomm is the largest producer of wireless chips for smartphones, and also produces ARM based processors. It, by contrast, is doing very well for itself.

The company is set to see 27.2 percent in semiconductor revenue during 2012, despite the market as a whole falling 2.3 percent, according to analysts at IHS iSuppli.

According to the report, Qualcomm has leapfrogged Texas Instruments, becoming the third placed chip firm worldwide. TI has struggled in the wireless market and recently announced that it would be exiting the business to concentrate on system on chip products.

Qualcomm has performed well in tough economic conditions largely due to the sustained growth in smartphone sales. The company is predicting 10 percent compound annual growth over the next five years, with plenty of room to increase revenues as smartphone penetration across emerging markets continues.

Qualcomm’s fourth quarter results saw revenues increase 18 percent compared to the same time last year, up from $4.12 billion to $4.87 billion.

HP refreshes Converged Storage product range

Hewlett Packard has announced additions to its Converged Storage, with updates to the 3PAR StoreServ and StoreAll storage systems, as well as StoreOnce backup products.

HP introduced its Converged Storage back in 2011, with the aim of creating a single architecture that covers storage products of different sizes, at the same time creating common data services for block object and file applications.   HP said that legacy storage systems are not equipped to help enterprises adapt to new workloads, with too many architectures creating problems with integration, and upping administration time.

This range is now being updated, with a midrange focus, continuing the strategy of providing a single architecture across a wide range of storage systems. 

The 3PAR StoreServ range is updated with the 7200 and larger 7400, supporting both block and file data, and available as SSD-only systems, capable of 320,000 IOPS.

StoreAll is a scalable platform for big data retention that HP said will provide simplified environments for big data retention and cloud storage.   The system will be integrated with Autonomy’s IDOL software, with HP telling TechEye that there will a greater emphasis on integrating its acquired firm’s software into its hardware in future.

StoreOne 2000, 4000 and 6200 Backup will support StoreOne Catalyst software to improve data movement and deduplication.   The new models are said to perform backup operation three times faster than competitive systems.

HP saw its storage revenues fall by 13 percent in its most recent financial results,  but David Chalmers, CTO and VP of HP Enterprise Group EMEA, said that the company’s strategy will be to continue to develop and invest in new products in the growth areas of the market to turn this around.

Chalmers said it is HP’s older midrange technologies which have been falling off, and are being replaced by 3PAR systems growth. He said that 3PAR products are the “fastest growing” storage in the market, doubling the revenue stream from last year.  

“While the overall number has been about the same as the market, because if you look at the market in storage, similar to the x86 servers, the market itself has been falling – it is not just HP,” Chalmers said, adding that its share of the market actually grew last year.

“But you will see us changing our portfolio so we are no longer riding a declining market, we are now selling growing products, and we believe that will make a substantial difference to us as we go into next year with products in the growth area of the portfolio.”

StoreServ 7200 is available worldwide now starting at $20,000, with the 7400 starting at $32,000.  StoreAll storage will be available from 20 December, with prices starting at $0.91 per GB.  StoreOnce 6200 backup systems start at $250,000.   StoreOnce 2000 and 4000 will start at $10,000 and $30,000 respectively.

DARPA concerned over supply chain malware threat

US government agency Darpa has raised concerns over malicious software entering the supply chain of IT equipment procured by government departments.

IT equipment is made up of components produced in a wide range of countries, so there are potential security risks for hardware that is connected to secure or sensitive networks. This could mean a large amount of compromised mobile phones, network routers or PC workstations –  allowing for data extraction, or even the sabotage of critical operations.

There are many difficulties in adequately protecting against such attacks, with the large volume of commercially procured equipment making spotting security problems a tough job.

DARPA said that the ability to do this on a large scale for the Department of Defense is hampered by the time constraints of checking so many devices.  Developing a method to enable non-specialist technicians to determine that a device is one potential way to reduce risk, but it is by no means easy.

DARPA has proposed a Vetting Commodity IT Software and Firmware programme to look at ways to mitigate the risks posed by backdoors, malware and other vulnerabilities.   

Tim Fraser, DARPA program manager, said that the problems facing government departments is bigger than ever.

“DoD relies on millions of devices to bring network access and functionality to its users,” Fraser said. “Rigorously vetting software and firmware in each and every one of them is beyond our present capabilities, and the perception that this problem is simply unapproachable is widespread.” 

The goal of a vetting programme will be to develop a set of techniques, tools and demonstrations to help make some of these aims more achievable.

Malicious software entering supply chains is an increasing problem. In September, Microsoft claimed that its own investigations had uncovered that hardware sold directly to consumers was, in some cases, pre-loaded with malware. Though Microsoft was able to disrupt some of the attempts to infect computers in this fashion, it highlighted the ease with which supposedly secure supply chains can be compromised.  

David Emm, Senior Security Researcher at Kaspersky Labs, told TechEye that there are many ways malicious software can be hidden on hardware.

“Concern about the dangers of malicious software entering the supply chain of IT equipment is clearly growing, with network devices such as routers, access points and DSL modems providing a perfect hiding place for malware,” Emm said. 

“A recent example of this is a Brazilian attack that focused on just a single firmware vulnerability,” he said. “The Brazilian government confirmed that an estimated 4.5 million modems were compromised in the attack and were being used for different kinds of fraudulent activity.”

With IT equipment spending continuing to rise throughout most of the world there are increasing opportunities for those intent on spying or sabotaging systems to wreak havoc.

“The increasing dependence of individuals and organisations on devices of this sort is likely to mean that they attract more attention in the future,” Emm continued.  

“Unfortunately, while the risks from malicious software are becoming widely known, device security is often overlooked,” he said.

Google hits out at ITU web proposals

Google has hit out at the regulation of the internet proposed by UN spin-off, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), claiming that the legislation could increase internet censorship.

The ITU conference starts today in Dubai, with government representatives from across the world meeting to discuss web freedom. Ahead of the conference, Google vice president Vint Cerf said that the proposals could stifle creativity on the net, and could give greater powers of censorship to governments across the world.

“The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is convening a conference from December 3-14 to revise a decades-old treaty, in which only governments have a vote,” Cerf said. “Some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries”.

Computer scientist Cerf, considered one of the founding fathers of the internet, added that a founding principles of creating the web was one of openness.

“This wasn’t merely philosophical; it was also practical,” he said. Our protocols were designed to make the networks of the Internet non-proprietary and interoperable. They avoided “lock-in,” and allowed for contributions from many sources. This openness is why the Internet creates so much value today.” 

Cerf added:  “Because it is borderless and belongs to everyone, it has brought unprecedented freedoms to billions of people worldwide.”

He pointed out in his blog post that there are 1,000 organisations from 160 countries which have also spoken out against curtailing web freedoms.

The ITU contends that new regulations will enable the free flow of information, and not just the richest nations.

In the build up to the event, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I.Touré said that changes to legislation will help towards a “common goal”, and to “build a Knowledge Society where everyone, whatever their circumstances, can access, use, create and share information.” 

The European Parliament earlier decided with a large majority that member states should oppose the ITU’s proposals at all turns.

Google, Amazon branded "evasive" on UK tax

Amazon and Google have been branded  “unconvincing and evasive” in their responses to questions over unpaid corporation tax.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a report following the grilling of top executives at three multinational companies accused of evading full tax payments.

Representatives of Amazon, Google and Starbucks were brought before a select committee to explain how their organisational structures had enabled them to pay only small amounts of tax, despite the substantial sales they made in the UK.

In a response to the evidence presented by the three companies, PAC chair, Conservative MP Margaret Hodge, said that the lack of payments were an “insult” to taxpaying businesses and individuals in the UK.

“Global companies with huge operations in the UK generating significant amounts of income are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here,” Hodge said. “This is outrageous and an insult to British businesses and individuals who pay their fair share.”

She added: “There is little credible information about what is going on. The evidence we took from large corporations was unconvincing and, in some cases, evasive. HMRC also lacked clarity when trying to explain its approach to enforcing the corporation tax regime”.

Hodge said that the “inescapable conclusion” is that some large multinationals are purposefully using structures to exploit tax legislation, moving profits offshore.   

Amazon, for example, made over £3 billion last year, but paid almost no tax as it based its operations in the low tax country of Luxembourg.   Amazon claims that its UK operation covers distribution and customer services, and therefore is not required by HMRC to pay more tax. At the committee hearing, Hodge said that the company misled its customers, with many believing that buying from Amazon.co.uk meant they were purchasing from a UK based arm of the company.

Starbucks was accused of manipulating its profits, with the company telling MPs that it had drawn a loss in the UK during all but one of the 14 years of operating in the UK.  Despite such a performance the company has maintained a substantial presence in the UK. Hodge highlighted that the head of UK operation was given a promotion to the firm’s global operations in 2006 despite spearheading a seemingly unprofitable move into the UK.

Google’s operations were labelled the most difficult of the three to understand, with the company paying just £6 million in corporation tax on a £396 million turnover. The US firm bases its operations in Ireland, which critics claim makes use of the ‘double Irish’ tax loophole.  Google has indicated in the past that it would be willing to pay more tax in the UK if required to by law.

The report makes recommendations that HMRC should be less lenient on the multinational companies. Hodge said that efforts so far had “lacked determination”.

“It [HMRC] must be more aggressive and assertive in confronting corporate tax avoidance,” Hodge added. “This is essential for the credibility of both the Department and the tax system”.

HMRC currently estimates the amount unpaid tax across the country at £32 billion.

The report claimed that the evasive strategies of large multinationals gave them an unfair advantage over UK businesses which are forced to pay corporation tax. Large UK companies such as Topshop, a British firm run by Sir Philip Green, have come under fire for paying too little tax. English Premier League clubs have also been accused of paying less than £3 million tax on over £150 million profits.

The US companies have come under pressure from other countries, too, with authorities in France investigating Google, while Australia has announced a crackdown on questionable tax practices by multinationals. 

Following the PAC report, Chancellor George Osbourne announced that he would be investing more in enabling the Inland Revenue to clamp down on multinational firms.