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Update August 2017


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Update August 26, 2017

The TV-streaming paradox: Why you may miss the cable bundle

The future of TV may well be a mishmash of streaming services that could wind up costing pretty close to a $100 cable bundle, but that are way too difficult to use. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Tali Arbel

New York (AP) - The future of TV may well be a mishmash of streaming services that could rival the cost of a $100 cable bundle - but that are way more difficult to use.

Disney’s plan for two new streaming services (and possibly more) is just the latest sign that everyone is jumping into the streaming business. It intends to launch a kids-oriented movie and TV streaming service in 2019 that will pull Disney and Pixar films from Netflix, as well as an ESPN sidekick service (minus pro football and basketball) expected early next year. The company is even exploring the possibility of separate streaming services for its Star Wars and Marvel superhero films.

All of that will simply add to a cacophony of existing Netflix-style video services that let you watch what you want, when you want. More are probably on their way, as entertainment companies see profits in controlling not only the creation of their films and shows, but also their distribution.

The downside? Potentially bigger bills, and more work for people who just want to find something to watch. “Ultimately for consumers, it means that experience is dreadful,” says Paolo Pescatore, a vice president with research firm CCS Insight.

Problem One: Finding stuff to watch

New Yorker David Berkowitz still pays for cable, streams from Netflix and Amazon, and sometimes buys individual movies from Amazon; his three-year-old daughter already watches “Finding Dory” and “Finding Nemo” on two separate services. The prospect of a new Disney-only service isn’t reassuring. “Having a third thing in the mix seems like a lot to juggle,” he says.

To find stuff to watch, Berkowitz’s family uses a Roku box attached to their TV, which suggests streaming channels the family may like and lets them search for the shows and movies he wants to watch. There are also websites to guide streamers, like justwatch.com.

That’s fine if you know what you’re looking for. But the modern-day channel surfer has it much harder. “There’s going to be a proliferation of niche content,” says Colin Petrie-Norris, CEO of Xumo, a streaming-channel provider for smart TVs. “The way for it to be managed, findable for a user - that has not emerged yet.”

Problem Two: Paying the price

People quit cable because they can’t justify a $100-and-always-climbing monthly payment, especially with so much good stuff on cheaper services. But the cost of multiple streaming services adds up, too.

A $30 TV antenna gets you local channels - CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, Univision - for free, though you have to watch whatever’s on at the moment unless you have a DVR. If you want to see the edgy shows everyone talks about, then Netflix is, for most, $10 a month; Amazon is $8.25 a month if you sign up for a year. Hulu starts at $8. HBO Now, $15.

Tickled by ads for a specific network show? “The Sinner,” an eerie-looking new Jessica Biel vehicle on USA, costs $20 on Amazon for the season. All that together is already more than $60 a month. It’s even worse if you’re a sports fan. MLB.TV is $113 for the year, and you won’t get home team games.

Berkowitz says he’s curious about the Disney service, especially since he expects to save money by cutting cable. “For us, if it’s $5 a month it’ll almost be like that impulse buy, go to a store and pick up a candy bar,” he says.

Disney hasn’t settled on prices yet, saying only it wants an affordable service that’s broadly appealing. Its DisneyLife streaming video app in the U.K. launched at 10 pounds a month in November 2015 and now costs half that - about $6.50.

Of course, Disney might still bundle Marvel movies and the Star Wars franchise into its service, which would help it appeal to a wider demographic. For kid’s programming, there’s already a lot out there. Much of it is free.

Darcy Hansen, a communications consultant and stay-at-home mom in the Dallas suburbs, has two kids under age 5 whose favorite show - “Sheriff Callie’s Wild West” - is a Disney series on Hulu. But a Disney app isn’t a must-have for her.

Her kids already watch “all sorts of things” on YouTube and on the free PBS Kids app, and they have Netflix too, Hansen says. “I don’t think Disney has a monopoly on children’s programming, in our house at least.”


Facebook anonymously launched an app in China

Alexandra Olson

New York (AP) - Facebook anonymously launched a new photo-sharing app in China in a new effort to make inroads in the world’s most populous country.

China’s ruling Communist Party controls internet traffic across the country’s borders and tries to keep the public from seeing thousands of websites including Facebook.

The app, called Colorful Balloons, was launched in China earlier this year and does not carry Facebook’s name. Facebook confirmed Saturday that it launched the app.

The social media company’s connection to the app was first reported Friday by The New York Times, which said it was released in China through a separate local company called Youge Internet Technology.

The launch of the app comes as China is cracking down on technology that allows web surfers to evade Beijing’s online censorship.

Last month, users of Facebook’s What’sApp messaging service, which normally operates freely in China, were no longer able to send images without using a virtual private network. That came amid official efforts to suppress mention of the death of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate.

China’s biggest internet service provider, China Telecom Ltd., sent a letter to corporate customers last month saying that VPNs, which create encrypted links between computers and can be used to see sites blocked by Beijing’s web filters, would be permitted only to connect to a company’s headquarters abroad. The move could block access to news, social media or business services that are obscured by China’s “Great Firewall.”

Chinese authorities have long blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, arguing that foreign social media services operating beyond their control pose a threat to national security.


Update August 19, 2017

Take down: Hackers looking to shut down factories for pay

This undated photo provided by AW North Carolina shows production operations inside the company’s Durham, N.C., factory. Malware entered the North Carolina transmission plant’s computer network via email last August, spreading like a virus and threatening to lock up the production line until the company paid a ransom. They refused and no money was paid. (AW North Carolina via AP)

Emery P. Dalesio

Durham, N.C. (AP) - The malware entered the North Carolina transmission plant’s computer network via email last August, just as the criminals wanted, spreading like a virus and threatening to lock up the production line until the company paid a ransom.

AW North Carolina stood to lose $270,000 in revenue, plus wages for idled employees, for every hour the factory wasn’t shipping its crucial auto parts to nine Toyota car and truck plants across North America, said John Peterson, the plant’s information technology manager.

The company is just one of a growing number being hit by cyber-criminals looking for a payday.

While online thieves have long targeted banks for digital holdups, today’s just-in-time manufacturing sector is climbing toward the top of hackers’ hit lists.

Production lines that integrate computer-imaging, barcode scanners and measuring tolerances to a hair’s width at multiple points are more vulnerable to malevolent outsiders.

“These people who try to hack into your network know you have a set schedule. And they know hours are meaningful to what you’re doing,” Peterson said in an interview. “There’s only a day and a half of inventory in the entire supply chain. And so if we don’t make our product in time, that means Toyota doesn’t make their product in time, which means they don’t have a car to sell on the lot that next day. It’s that tight.”

He said that creates pressure on manufacturers to make the criminals go away by paying the sums demanded.

“They may not know what that number is, but they know it’s not zero. So what is that number? Where do you flinch?”

Last August at the 2,200-worker Durham transmission factory, the computer virus coursed through the plant’s network, flooding machines with data and stopping production for about four hours, Peterson said.

Data on some laptops was lost, but the malware was blocked by a firewall when it tried to exit the plant’s network and put the hackers’ lock on the plant’s computer network.

The plant was hit again in April, this time by different crooks using new malware designed to hold data or devices hostage to force a ransom payment, Peterson said. The virus was contained before affecting production, and no ransom was paid to either group, he said.

Manufacturers, government and financial firms are now the top targets globally for illicit intrusions by criminals, foreign espionage agencies and others up to no good, according to a report this spring by NTT Security.

A survey of nearly 3,000 corporate cybersecurity executives in 13 countries last year by Cisco Systems Inc. found about one out of four manufacturing organizations reported cyberattacks that cost them money in the previous 12 months.

Since 2015, U.S. manufacturers considered “critical” to the economy and to normal modern life, like makers of autos and aviation parts, have been the main targets of cyberattacks - outstripping energy, communications and other critical infrastructure, according to Department of Homeland Security incident response data. The numbers may be imprecise because companies in key industries often don’t report attacks for fear of diminished public perception.

But attacks demanding ransom against all U.S. institutions are spiraling higher. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 2,673 ransomware reports in the year ending last September - nearly double from 2014.

While manufacturers are increasingly prey to these cyber-stickups, it may just be because criminals are playing the odds and striking as many enterprises of all types as they can across a targeted region, said John Miller, who heads a team at cybersecurity firm FireEye that tracks money-driven online threats.

Attackers “aren’t necessarily going after manufacturing to the exclusion of other sectors or with a preference above other sectors. It’s more that, ‘OK, we’re going to try to infect everybody in this country that we can,’” Miller said.

One high-profile example came in May and June, when auto manufacturers including Renault shut down production after they were swept up in the worldwide onslaught of the WannaCry ransomware virus.

But attackers also are increasingly injecting ways to remotely control the robots and other automated systems that control production inside targeted factories.

The threat of computer code tailored to hit specific targets has been around since researchers in 2010 discovered Stuxnet, malware apparently designed to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program by causing centrifuge machines to spin out of control. Stuxnet is widely believed to be a covert American and Israeli creation, but neither country has officially acknowledged a role in the attack.

Malicious software that attacked Ukraine’s electricity grid last December was built to remotely sabotage circuit breakers, switches and protection relays, researchers said.

Cyberattacks that reach into industrial control systems have doubled in the past two years in the U.S. to nearly four dozen so far in the federal fiscal year that ends in September, outstripping last year’s total, according to DHS data.

“I think the emerging threat you’re going to see in the future now is really custom ransomware that’s going to be targeted more toward individual companies,” said Neil Hershfield, the acting director of the DHS team that handles emergency response to cyberattacks on industrial control systems.


Update August 12, 2017

SoftBank CEO sees massive data, AI as key to future advances

Boston Dynamics Chief Executive Marc Raibert, right, gestures beside his four-legged robot SpotMini as SoftBank Group Corp. Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son, left, watches him on stage during a SoftBank World presentation at a hotel in Tokyo, Thursday, July 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Yuri Kageyama

Tokyo (AP) - Masayoshi Son, chief executive of SoftBank Group Corp., says artificial intelligence combined with data gathered by billions of sensors will bring on an “information revolution,” that will benefit people more than the 19th Century Industrial Revolution.

Son, Japan’s richest person, told Softbank customers and partners gathered at a Tokyo hotel on Thursday that he believes massive data will help treat cancer, deliver accident-free driving and grow safer food.

SoftBank, the first carrier to offer the Apple iPhone in Japan, has bought leading British semiconductor company ARM, and its acquisition of U.S. robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics, announced last month, is undergoing regulatory approval. Its investments have included Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba and Yahoo Japan.

Son set up a private fund last year for global investments in the technology sector, called Vision Fund, with the potential to grow to as much as $100 billion. He has won praise from President Donald Trump for promising to invest $50 billion in U.S. startups to create 50,000 jobs.

This week Softbank announced it will invest in Encored, a U.S. company specializing in IoT technology in the energy sector.

During a nearly three hour presentation, Son introduced some of the ventures he is partnering, including OneWeb, whose founder and chairman Greg Wyler wants to offer affordable internet access for everyone using satellites instead of underground cables.

Son also brought on stage Spot, a four-legged robot that can climb steps and dance. Other robots will be able to carry heavy loads, said Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics chief executive.

“Marc, we are going to change the world together,” Son said on stage.

SoftBank already offers one of the most sophisticated companion robots on the market, the chatty, childlike Pepper. Son seemed a bit protective of his flagship robot, saying those who have criticized it as “not too smart” haven’t seen what he has planned.

Another of Son’s partner ventures, Guardant Health, offers blood biopsies, which are safer and quicker than tissue biopsies, to detect cancers in their early stages.

Son noted the prevalence of ARM’s chips in nearly all smartphones and wearables. Sensor technology can enhance a doctor’s surgical skills or help train doctors in an emergency room with virtual reality, said ARM Chief Executive Simon Segars.

Data gathered from such omnipresent sensors will be far greater than what can be gotten from mobile phones or computers, Son said, opening up all kinds of possibilities for delivering better human life.

“Those who rule chips will rule the entire world. Those who rule data will rule the entire world.” Son said. “That’s what people of the future will say.”


China announces goal of AI leadership by 2030

In this Oct. 21, 2016 photo, an autonomous vehicle is put through its paces at the World Robot Conference in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Joe McDonald

Beijing (AP) - China’s government has announced a goal of becoming a global leader in artificial intelligence in just over a decade, putting political muscle behind growing investment by Chinese companies in developing self-driving cars and other advances.

Communist leaders see AI as key to making China an “economic power,” said a Cabinet statement on Thursday, July 20. It calls for developing skills and research and educational resources to achieve “major breakthroughs” by 2025 and make China a world leader by 2030.

Artificial intelligence is one of the emerging fields along with renewable energy, robotics and electric cars where communist leaders hope to take an early lead and help transform China from a nation of factory workers and farmers into a technology pioneer.

They have issued a series of development plans over the past decade, some of which have prompted complaints Beijing improperly subsidizes its technology developers and shields them from competition in violation of its free-trade commitments.

Already, Chinese companies including Tencent Ltd., Baidu Inc. and Alibaba Group are spending heavily to develop artificial intelligence for consumer finance, e-commerce, self-driving cars and other applications.

Manufacturers also are installing robots and other automation to cope with rising labor costs and improve efficiency.

Thursday’s statement gives no details of financial commitments or legal changes. But previous initiatives to develop Chinese capabilities in solar power and other technologies have included research grants and regulations to encourage sales and exports.

“By 2030, our country will reach a world leading level in artificial intelligence theory, technology and application and become a principal world center for artificial intelligence innovation,” the statement said.

That will help to make China “in the forefront of innovative countries and an economic power,” it said.

The announcement follows a sweeping plan issued in 2015, dubbed “Made in China 2025,” that calls for this country to supply its own high-tech components and materials in 10 industries from information technology and aerospace to pharmaceuticals.

That prompted complaints Beijing might block access to promising industries to support its fledgling suppliers. The Chinese industry minister defended the plan in March, saying all competitors would be treated equally. He rejected complaints that foreign companies might be required to hand over technology in exchange for market access.

China has had mixed success with previous strategic plans to develop technology industries including renewable energy and electric cars.

Beijing announced plans in 2009 to become a leader in electric cars with annual sales of 5 million by 2020. With the help of generous subsidies, China passed the United States last year as the biggest market, but sales totaled just over 300,000.


Update August 5, 2017

What drug-dealing ‘darknet’ sites have in common with eBay

This screen grab provided by the U.S. Department of Justice shows a hidden website that has been seized as part of a law enforcement operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and European law enforcement agencies acting through Europol. (U.S. Department of Justice via AP)

Anick Jesdanun

New York (AP) - AlphaBay, the now-shuttered online marketplace that authorities say traded in illegal drugs, firearms and counterfeit goods, wasn’t all that different from any other e-commerce site, court documents show.

Not only did it work hard to match buyers and sellers and to stamp out fraud, it offered dispute-resolution services when things went awry and kept a public-relations manager to promote the site to new users.

Of course, AlphaBay was no eBay. It went to great lengths to hide the identities of its vendors and customers, and it promoted money-laundering services to mask the flow of bitcoin and other digital currencies from prying eyes.

Such “darknet” sites operate in an anonymity-friendly internet netherworld that’s inaccessible to ordinary browsers. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering just how they really work, a U.S. criminal case unveiled Thursday offers an eye-opening look.

What is AlphaBay?

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls it the largest darknet marketplace shut down in a sting. Darknet refers to the use of various technologies to mask the site’s operators and users, allowing buyers and sellers to connect anonymously - to each other and to law enforcement.

Authorities say the site trafficked drugs such as heroin and cocaine, fake and stolen IDs, computer hacking tools, firearms and counterfeit goods. The site also facilitated services such as money laundering and swatting - the practice of making bomb threats and other false reports to law enforcement, usually to harass perceived enemies.

AlphaBay went so far as to hire scam watchers to monitor and quash scams on the site. It had a public-relations manager responsible for outreach to users and the broader illicit-trade community. The site also employed moderators to resolve disputes and refund payments when necessary.

Staying hidden

AlphaBay hid its tracks with Tor, a network of thousands of computers run by volunteers. With Tor, traffic gets relayed through several computers. At each stop, identifying information is stripped, so that no single computer knows the full chain. It would be like one person passing on a message to the next, and so on. The 10th person would have no clue who the first eight people are.

Tor has a number of legitimate uses. Human rights advocates, for instance, can use it to communicate inside authoritarian countries. But Tor is also popular for trading goods that eBay and other legitimate marketplaces won’t touch.

To further promote secrecy, AlphaBay accepted only digital currencies such as bitcoin and monero. In doing so, participants skirted reporting requirement that come when moving $10,000 or more in a single transaction. While bitcoin can be traced when converted back to regular currencies, AlphaBay offered “mixing and tumbling services” to shuffle bitcoin through several accounts before the conversion.

Vendors were also required to use encryption for all communications to keep them safe from spies.

Money matters

Buyers funded their accounts with digital currencies, similar to loading an Amazon gift card with money. When making a purchase, buyers moved money from their accounts to an escrow. The payment was released to sellers once buyers confirmed receipt of the goods.

AlphaBay took a 2 percent to 4 percent commission, and that added up. The suspect behind the site, Alexandre Cazes, had amassed a fortune of $23 million. As part of the case, authorities sought the forfeiture of properties in Thailand, bank accounts and four vehicles, including a Lamborghini and a Porsche.


Russian parliament bans use of proxy Internet services, VPNs

Moscow (AP) - Russia’s parliament has outlawed the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, and other Internet proxy services, citing concerns about the spread of extremist materials.

The State Duma on Friday unanimously passed a bill that would oblige Internet providers to block websites that offer VPN services. Many Russians use VPNs to access blocked content by routing connections through servers outside the country.

The lawmakers behind the bill argued that the move could help to enforce Russia’s ban on disseminating extremist content online.

The bill has to be approved at the upper chamber of parliament and signed by the president before it comes into effect.

Russian authorities have been cracking down on Internet freedoms in recent years. Among other things they want Internet companies to store privacy data on Russian servers.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

The TV-streaming paradox: Why you may miss the cable bundle

Facebook anonymously launched an app in China


Take down: Hackers looking to shut down factories for pay


SoftBank CEO sees massive data, AI as key to future advances

China announces goal of AI leadership by 2030


What drug-dealing ‘darknet’ sites have in common with eBay

Russian parliament bans use of proxy Internet services, VPNs


 



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