Russian hackers might have gamed Brexit

A website which allowed Britons to register to vote in last year’s European Union referendum might have been targeted by Russian hackers who crashed it before the deadline.

A committee of British MPs said that more than a million potential voters applied to register online in the run up to the deadline two weeks before last June’s vote and the government extended the cut-off point after the website crashed, blaming it on a late rush by mainly young citizens.

But parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said it did not rule out the possibility that the crash was caused by a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) cyber attack.

“PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference,” said the report.

The committee said that the interference would not have changed the outcome, but it was rather disconcerting anyway.

Russia has been accused of trying to influence the 2016 U.S. election and the committee said the government needed to ensure future elections and referendums were monitored with plans in pace to respond to and contain any cyber-attacks.

The report said that Russia and China use a cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals.

“The implications of this different understanding of cyber-attack, as purely technical or as reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion, for the interference in elections and referendums are clear.”

The committee was also critical of the government’s failure to prepare for a vote for Brexit and former Prime Minister David Cameron’s motives for calling the referendum in the first place, saying using plebiscites as a “bluff call” to close “unwelcome debate” was questionable.

“There was no proper planning for a Leave vote so the EU referendum opened up much new controversy and left the prime minister’s credibility destroyed,” the report said.

Songs are getting shorter

A new study finds that pop songs themselves are getting faster as listeners’ attention spans diminish  and young people have the attention span of goldfish

The study was penned by Hubert Leveille Gauvin, a doctoral student in music theory at the Ohio State University who looked at the year-end top 10 on the US Billboard chart between 1986 and 2015.

He found that instrumental openings to songs have shrunk dramatically over the past three decades and, to a lesser extent, the average tempo of hit singles has been speeding up.

In 1986, it took roughly 23 seconds before the voice began on the average hit song. In 2015, vocals came in after about five seconds, a drop of 78 percent, he found.

His study was published in Musicae Scientiae, the Journal of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music. He linked the trend to the rapid rise of Spotify and other streaming sites that give listeners instant access to millions of songs.

“It makes sense that if the environment is so competitive, artists would want to try to grab your attention as quickly as possible and the voice is one of the most attention-grabbing things that there is.”

Apparently if you like to concentrate, you like instrumental music.

As an example of the shift, Leveille Gauvin pointed to Starship’s 1987 hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” which takes 22 seconds for the vocals to begin and more than a minute for the chorus.

On the 2015 hit “Sugar” by Maroon 5, Adam Levine gets to the point within seven seconds with the lines: “I’m hurting baby / I’m broken down.”

Leveille Gauvin doubts that many pop stars are clamouring in the studio for shorter intros, he just thinks it is a steady evolution in songwriting conventions.

He connected the trend to scholar Michael H. Goldhaber’s concept of the “attention economy”—the quest to hold attention in an internet overflowing with information.

“You can think of music as this double role. Music has always been a cultural product, but I think that more and more songs are also advertisements for the artists,” Leveille Gauvin said.

Berners-Lee fears AI monster

The bloke who created the world-wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee,  said he is worried that artificial intelligence (AI) could become the new ‘masters of the universe’ by creating and running their own companies.

Speaking at the Innovate Finance Global Summit today, Berners-Lee envisioned a world where AI systems start to develop decision-making capabilities and the impact this will have on the fairness of our economic systems.

He said that AI could decide which companies to acquire: “So when AI starts to make decisions such as who gets a mortgage, that’s a big one. Or which companies to acquire and when AI starts creating its own companies, creating holding companies, generating new versions of itself to run these companies.

“It becomes difficult to understand how to ensure they are being fair, and how do you describe fairness to a computer anyway.”

The scenario does threaten to wipe out an entire industry and raises some fundamental questions about how fair a financial system without any human involvement can be.

Berners-Lee also slammed the Trump administration’s rollback of net neutrality protections.

He recently published a letter on the 28th anniversary of the world wide web, detailing what he views as the three main challenges for the web: loss of control over personal data, the spread of misinformation across the web and the need for transparency with online political advertising.

 

Fitbit’s first true smartwatch hits snags

Fitbit was planning to release its first “proper” smartwatch but the project has been blighted by a series of production mishaps.

The fitness tracker company’s smartwatch project was supposed to be released in the spring, but production problems have forced Fitbit to push the launch to the autumn.

In one of the more final prototypes, the GPS didn’t work because the antenna wasn’t in the right place. Designers had to go back to the drawing board to redesign the product so the GPS got a strong signal.

Then there was the problem of making the watch fully waterproof so that it could compete with Apple’s Watch Series 2. At the moment, it is unclear if Fitbit will make the watch fully waterproof in time for the launch.

The Tame Apple Press is dancing in the street over the delays. The smartwatch market is limited and Apple has sewn up the numbers of clients who want one. Fitbit was a possible contender to take the market away from Jobs mob. It already has a good reputation in the fitness tracker market.

Canadians refuse bail for “Yahoo hacker”

A Canadian judge denied bail to a 22-year-old man whom the United States wants to extradite to face charges of involvement in a massive hack of Yahoo email accounts.

Karim Baratov, a Canadian citizen who was born in Kazakhstan, was considered a flight risk by Justice Alan Whitten, who remanded Baratov in custody until May 26.

The United States claims that Baratov worked with Russian intelligence agents who paid him to break into at least 80 email accounts, including those of specific targets with non-Yahoo accounts.

The judge said that Baratov had no reason to stick around as he could continue his wealth-generating activities anywhere in the world.

Baratov faces US charges including conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and identify theft, and could face decades in a US jail if found guilty on all charges.

His lawyer Amedeo DiCarlo says that it was not him, and he would consider appealing the bail decision if the court is unable to schedule a expeditious extradition hearing.

Federal prosecutor Heather Graham told the court that the attorney general of Canada will be ready to proceed with an extradition hearing by June 12, according to media reports.

The United States last month charged two Russian intelligence agents, Baratov and another alleged hacker over the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts, the first time the US government had criminally charged Russian spies for cyber offenses.

The other alleged hacker is Alexsey Belan, one of the FBI’s most-wanted cyber criminals, who was arrested in Europe in June 2013 but escaped to Russia before he could be extradited to the United States, according to the US Justice Department.

Brexit Blighty bets on batteries

The UK government has awarded millions of pounds to help boost manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries, including a project to build the country’s second purpose-built electric battery plant and another to make the tech more powerful.

Williams Advanced Engineering has received funding from the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) and will make batteries for the likes of luxury car-maker Aston Martin.

APC’s Director of Technology and Projects Jon Beasley said the project will further develop and make available battery systems in order to overcome significant supply chain gaps in the UK.

Carmakers want to build greener cars and improve charge times in a bid to meet rising customer demand and fulfill air quality targets, but since the UK’s manufacturing was destroyed in the 1980s, Britain lacks sufficient manufacturing capacity.

Now the government wants to build that up again. Nissan builds batteries and its electric Leaf model at its north of England plant in Sunderland but others have opted to build their low-emissions models elsewhere, including Britain’s biggest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover.

In a separate project, the motorsports division of Germany’s BMW will partner with the University of Warwick and another firm to design, develop and produce power dense batteries in Britain, the APC said.

BMW’s Mini brand is due to decide this year whether to build its first electric model at its southern English plant in Oxford.

Britain’s business ministry said it had allocated over £100 million ($124 million) in investment in multiple projects including with U.S. carmaker Ford and in the development of lightweight technologies at Jaguar Land Rover.

Russian “spammer” and Trump suspect finds pain in Spain

Inspector Knacker of the Barcelona yard has fingered the collar of a Russian programmer following US allegations of large-scale hacking.

Pyotr Levashov was held in Barcelona and has been remanded in custody.

Spanish coppers claim Levashov controlled a botnet called Kelihos, hacking information and installing malicious software in hundreds of thousands of computers.

The arrest was part of a “complex inquiry carried out in collaboration with the FBI”, police said.

Levashov is subject to a US international arrest warrant and a Spanish court will hear whether he can be extradited.

Much of his activity involved ransomware – blocking a computer’s access to certain information and demanding a ransom for its release.

Levashov’s wife Maria told Russian broadcaster RT that the arrest had been made in connection with allegations that Russians had hacked the US presidential election.

She claimed that Spanish coppers had told her that it was all about a “a virus which appears to have been created by my husband and is linked to [Donald] Trump’s victory”.

Agence France-Presse  quoted a source close to the matter in Washington as saying that Levashov’s detention was “not tied to anything involving allegations of Russian interference with the US election”.

Several cybersecurity experts, including Brian Krebs, have also linked Levashov to a Russian spam kingpin, who uses the alias Peter Severa.

LeEco calls off Vizio sale

China’s conglomerate LeEco has abandoned its plans to buy US telly maker Vizio for $2 billion.

The move was announced last year and would have given LeEco a foothold in the Land of the Fee. The company wants to expand its business beyond Chinese market.

Now it seems that the deal has folded due to “regulatory headwinds.”
In a statement, the companies said:”We continue to believe that there is great synergy between the two companies, and are pleased to announce that LeEco and Vizio have reached an agreement that is a win for both companies … LeEco and Vizio will continue to explore opportunities to incorporate the Le app and content within the Vizio connected CE platform, and engage in a collaborative partnership to leverage LeEco’s ecosystem user interface platform, along with the brand’s exclusive content and distribution channels, to bring Vizio products to the China market.”

However there could be other reasons both companies have been getting bad news lately. LeEco is struggling financially and earlier this month it was reported that the company had delayed payroll for its US employees. Vizio was fined the company $2.2 million by the FTC to settle a case involving the TVs’ data collection techniques.

Qualcomm swings handbag at Apple

Chipmaker Qualcomm has replied to the fruity, tax-dodging cargo-cult Apple’s allegation that it has been playing monopoly by swinging a handbag of its own.

It claimed that the iPhone maker breached agreements with the firm and encouraged regulatory attacks on its business in various jurisdictions around the world by making false statements.

Apple had filed the lawsuit accusing Qualcomm of overcharging for chips and refusing to pay some $1 billion in promised rebates. The lawsuit came days after the US government accused the chipmaker of resorting to anticompetitive tactics to maintain a monopoly over key semiconductors in mobile phones.

In a statement, Qualcomm said that Apple has launched a global attack on Qualcomm and is attempting to use its enormous market power to coerce unfair and unreasonable licence terms from Qualcomm.

Qualcomm filed counterclaims to Apple’s lawsuit with the US District Court for the Southern District of California.

The chipmaker said in the statement that Apple interfered in its agreements with licensees that manufacture iPhones and iPads.

Qualcomm also said Apple threatened it in an attempt to prevent it from making any public comparisons about the superior performance of the Qualcomm-powered iPhones, and misrepresented performance differences between iPhones using Qualcomm modems and those using competitor-supplied modems.

Apple has filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm in Beijing, alleging the chip supplier abused its clout in the chip industry and seeking $145.32 million in damages.

Microsoft boosts Windows 10 upgrade savings claims

Microsoft has boosted its claim of how much enterprises can save by deploying Windows 10 by 28 percent.

The revised estimate came from a Microsoft-commissioned analysis first done in mid-2016 by Forrester Research.

Forrester said the per-worker savings over a three-year stretch would be $404. To reach that number, the research firm interviewed four Microsoft customers that had begun moving to Windows 10, then modelled a hypothetical organization with 24,000 Windows devices, and a large number of mobile workers among the 20,000 employees.  It then divided that number by its shoe size and multiplied it by the cheque that Microsoft had given it.

Using that pretend company, Forrester forecast the difference between running Windows 10 and retaining Windows 7.

Late last year, Forrester interviewed another quartet of Windows early 10 adopters, then added that data to what it had originally.

The new per-employee savings: $515 over three years, a jump of almost a third. Forrester’s increase in the number of mobile workers — the total climbed by 460 employees — was the biggest factor in the changed estimate.

Forrester and Microsoft said that the migration to Windows 10 would pay for itself in 14 months.

The report says IT administrators “estimate a 20per cent improvement in management time, as Windows 10 requires less IT time to install, manage, and support with in-place deployment and more self-service functions”, while because of the OSs security software, security events requiring IT remediation are reduced or avoided by 33 percent.