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Facebook

Facebook Messenger Hits 1B Monthly Active Users, Accounts For 10 Percent Of All VoIP Calls (techcrunch.com) 55

Speaking of instant messaging and VoIP call apps, Facebook announced on Wednesday that Facebook Messenger has hit the 1 billion monthly active users milestone. The company adds that Messenger is just more than a text messenger -- in addition to the ambitious bot gamble, a digital assistant, and the ability to send money to friends -- Messenger now accounts for 10 percent of all VoIP calls made globally. Messenger's tremendous growth also underscores Facebook's mammoth capture of the world. The social network is used by more than 1.6 billion people actively every month. WhatsApp, the chat client it owns, is also used by more than one billion people.

TechCrunch has a brilliant story on the growth of Messenger from the scratch.
Microsoft

Skype Finalizes Its Move To the Cloud; To Kill Older Clients -- Remains Tight Lipped About Privacy (arstechnica.com) 74

When it was first created, Skype network was built as a decentralized peer-to-peer system. PCs that had enough processing muscle and bandwidth acted as "supernodes," and coordinated connections between other machines on the network. This p2p system was generally perceived as being relatively private, a belief that has since been debunked. There were several technical challenges, which led Microsoft to move most of Skype's operations to the cloud. Ars Technica is reporting that the company has finalized the switch. From the article: Microsoft has developed a more conventional client-server network, with clients that act as pure clients and dedicated cloud servers. The company is starting to transition to this network exclusively. This transition means that old peer-to-peer Skype clients will cease to work. Clients for the new network will be available for Windows XP and up, OS X Yosemite and up, iOS 8 and up, and Android 4.03 and up. However, certain embedded clients -- in particular, those integrated into smart TVs and available for the PlayStation 3 -- are being deprecated, with no replacement. Microsoft says that since those clients are little used and since almost every user of those platforms has other Skype-capable devices available, it is no longer worth continuing to support them.The issue, as the report points out, is that Microsoft is strangely not talking about privacy and security concerns. The article adds: The Ed Snowden leaks raised substantial questions about the privacy of services such as Skype and have caused an increasing interest in platforms that offer end-to-end encryption. The ability to intercept or wiretap Skype came as a shock to many, especially given Skype's traditionally peer-to-peer infrastructure. Accordingly, we've seen similar services such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and even Facebook Messenger, start introducing end-to-end encryption. The abandonment of Skype's peer-to-peer system can only raise suspicions here.Matthew Green, who teaches cryptography at Johns Hopkins, said: "The surprising thing here is not that Microsoft can intercept Skype calls (duh) but that they won't just admit it."
Cloud

Amazon Isn't Saying If Echo Has Been Wiretapped (zdnet.com) 85

An anonymous reader writes from a report via ZDNet: Since announcing how many government data requests and wiretap orders it receives, Amazon has so far issued two transparency reports. The two reports outline how many subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders the company received to cloud service, Amazon Web Services. The cloud makes up a large portion of all the data Amazon gathers, but the company does also collect vast amounts of data from its retail businesses, mobile services, book purchases, and requests made to Echo. The company's third report is due to be released in a few weeks but an Amazon spokesperson wouldn't comment on whether or not the company will expand its transparency report to include information regarding whether or not the Amazon Echo has been wiretapped. There are reportedly more than three million Amazon Echo speakers out in the wild. Gizmodo filed a freedom of information (FOIA) request with the FBI earlier this year to see if the agency had wiretapped an Echo as part of a criminal investigation. The FBI didn't confirm or deny wiretapping the Echo. Amazon was recently awarded a patent for drone docking and recharging stations that would be built on tall, existing structures like lampposts, cell towers, or church steeples.
Television

Star Trek CBS Series To Be Streamed Internationally On Netflix (variety.com) 161

An anonymous reader writes: Netflix has announced that it has secured a deal to stream every episode of the new Star Trek TV series within 24 hours of its original network broadcast. However, neither the U.S. nor Canadian subscribers are included in the deal, which otherwise covers every territory that Netflix operates in worldwide. Stateside viewers will be able to stream the new show via CBS's own All Access digital subscription video-on-demand and live streaming service, with Canadian streaming provisions yet to be announced. The deal represents a potential major step forward in the company's determination to bypass regional licensing, and at one stroke eliminates the typical years of delay that occur when a U.S. program seeks foreign audiences.
Businesses

Coursera Relaunches Classic Computer Science Courses (i-programmer.info) 17

"Many of the Computer Science courses that we feared had been assigned to the scrapheap have reappeared in Coursera's catalog," reports i-programmer.info. Slashdot reader mikejuk shares this update on his original story: Coursera has a list of 90 courses that have transitioned to the new platform since the old one shut on June 30th and it includes 25 Computer Science ones and the all important [Geoffrey] Hinton course on neural networks. Most of the courses are free but there are no certificates of completion or anything else. While they have specified start dates and cohorts of students will be encouraged to complete them within a set number of weeks, without graded assignments there may not be the same impetus as for the original courses or as for newer courses designed specifically for the new platform.
Coursera says "As has always been our intention, we are working diligently to relaunch the vast majority of the courses from our old platform on the new one." i-programmer.info has apparently removed their original article, and their reporter writes that "I am now willing to retract my accusation of 'cultural vandalism'... Why [Coursera] managed to convey the opposite impression for such a long time may just have been a failure of communication."
Communications

Elon Musk: Autopilot Feature Was Disabled In Pennsylvania Crash (latimes.com) 166

An anonymous reader writes: In response to the third reported Autopilot crash, which was the first of three where there were no fatalities, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that the Model X's Autopilot feature was turned off. He tweeted Thursday afternoon that the onboard vehicle logs show that the semi-autonomous driving feature was turned off in the crash. "Moreover, crash would not have occurred if it was on," he added. The driver of the Model X told police he was using the Autopilot feature, according to the Detroit Free Press. The vehicle flipped over after hitting a freeway guardrail. U.S. auto-safety regulators have been investigating a prior crash that occurred while Tesla's Autopilot mode was activated. Late Thursday afternoon and into early Friday, Musk made some comments on the improvements made to its radar technology used to achieve full driving autonomy. "Working on using existing Tesla radar by itself (decoupled from camera) w temporal smoothing to create a coarse point cloud, like lidar," he tweeted. "Good thing about radar is that, unlike lidar (which is visible wavelength), it can see through rain, snow, fog and dust." Musk has rejected Lidar technology in the past, saying it's unnecessary to achieve full driving autonomy. Consumer Reports is calling on Tesla to "disable hands-free operation until its system can be made safer."
Microsoft

Microsoft To Begin Reducing Your Free OneDrive Cloud Storage Starting Today (betanews.com) 212

For those of you who forgot -- or didn't bother -- to keep the 15GB worth of OneDrive storage, starting today you will see a big change in your account. On Thursday, Microsoft will begin shrinking your 15GB OneDrive free storage to 5GB, and also cancel the 15GB storage it gave you as part of camera roll backup bonus. For its part, Microsoft did warn about the changes to people a couple of times over the past few months. It all started when Microsoft gave Office 365 subscribers unlimited OneDrive storage space. Many people abused this, uploading over 75TB worth of movies and other files in some cases. BetaNews reports: If you log into your OneDrive account and find that you still have the full storage quota available, don't be lulled into a false sense of security. The cuts are actually being spread out between July 13 and July 27. Unless you opted out of the change, you're out of luck.
Bitcoin

Ex-Google Engineer Launches Blockchain-Based System For Banks (reuters.com) 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A former Google engineer, whose speech recognition software is used in more than a billion Android smartphones, has launched a company that uses blockchain technology to build a new operating system for banks. Paul Taylor, a Cambridge University academic with an expertise in artificial intelligence, speech synthesis and machine learning, started working on the system, called Vault OS, two years ago in a basement in London's Shoreditch district, known for being a tech start-up hub. The technology, which underpins the digital currency bitcoin, creates a shared database in which participants can trace every transaction ever made. The ledger is tamper-proof and transparent, meaning that transactions can be processed without the need for third-party verification. The system also negates the need for costly in-house data centers, as it uses cloud-based systems, which banks can use on a "pay-as-you-go" basis, which means that there is no single point of failure. Taylor said major high-street banks were spending around a billion pounds ($1.3 billion) a year on computer technology, much of which he said was being used for propping up the current "legacy" systems rather than on any innovative technology. The start-up has been working with about ten banks, Taylor said, at least one of which would be starting a trial using the new system in August. He expects the system to be up-and-running within about a year. In banking-related news, a Congressional report shows that China's spies hacked into computers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) from 2010 until 2013 and American government officials tried to cover it up.
Microsoft

Microsoft Announces Surface as a Service, Windows 10 Enterprise E3 for $7 Per User Per Month (zdnet.com) 157

Mary Jo Foley, reporting for ZDNet: Microsoft plans to make its recently renamed Windows 10 Enterprise product available as a subscription for $7 per user per month, or $84 per year. Microsoft took the wraps off the pricing of one of the two renamed versions of Windows 10 Enterprise at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto on July 12. Windows 10 Enterprise E3 is the name of the lower-end of two different versions of Windows 10 Enterprise. Windows 10 Enterprise E5 is the new name of the Windows 10 Enterprise version that also will include Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, a new Microsoft service for detecting and responding to attacks. Microsoft announced the renaming of Windows 10 Enterprise last week, and said the E3 and E5 versions will also be available as part of "Secure Productive Enterprise" bundles.Microsoft also announced a subscription service for Surface tablet. The company says that its Cloud Solution Providers and Surface Authorized Distributors can now sell Surface as a Service.
Democrats

17,000 Leaked Names From DNC Hack Appear To Be Ticket Purchasers (thehill.com) 25

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: The database of leaked names from the Democratic National Committee hack appears to be anyone who went to see the president, the vice president or other official DNC events dating back to 2013.
"When things like this happen, they are going to be losing support," says one woman who purchased a ticket to see President Obama speak in Texas. "I'm not going to be buying any more tickets. There should be much better safeguards in place."
Oracle

Oracle Asks Judge To Throw Out Java/Google Verdict...Again (siliconvalley.com) 122

Just when you thought the six-year, $9 billion lawsuit was over, an anonymous reader quotes this report from the Bay Area Newsgroup: Oracle has asked a judge -- again -- to throw out the verdict that found Google rightfully helped itself to Oracle programming code to create the Android operating system... A judge already rejected a bid in May by Oracle to get the verdict thrown out. But the software and cloud company hasn't given up. On July 6, Oracle filed a motion in San Francisco U.S. District Court again asking the same judge, William Alsup, to toss the verdict.

The company cited case law suggesting use is not legal if the user "exclusively acquires conspicuous financial rewards'' from its use of the copyrighted material. Google, said Oracle, has earned more than $42 billion from Android. "Google's financial rewards are as 'conspicuous' as they come, and unprecedented in the case law," Oracle's filing said. Oracle wants the judge to adhere to the narrower and more traditional applications of fair use, "for example, when it is 'criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching ... scholarship, or research.'"

Java

Oracle Says It Is 'Committed' To Java EE 8 -- Amid Claims It Quietly Axed Future Development (theregister.co.uk) 66

Media reports, citing anonymous Oracle engineers, noted earlier this week that development of Java EE (Enterprise Edition) projects at Oracle had been "practically ceased" since last fall. This led many to wonder about the future of Java. Well, it's all cosy, says Oracle. The software firm assures that it is "committed" to Java. The Register reports: The Redwood City titan said it will present fresh plans for the future of Java EE 8 at its JavaOne conference in San Francisco in September. Version eight is due to be released in the first half of 2017. However, over the past six months, it appeared Oracle had pretty much ceased development of the enterprise edition -- a crucial component in hundreds of thousands of business applications -- and instead quietly focused its engineers on other products and projects. Oracle spokesman Mike Moeller tonight sought to allay those fears, and said a plan for the future of Java EE is brewing. "Oracle is committed to Java and has a very well defined proposal for the next version of the Java EE specification -- Java EE 8 -- that will support developers as they seek to build new applications that are designed using micro-services on large-scale distributed computing and container-based environments on the Cloud," said Moeller.
Music

That Digital Music Service You Love Is a Terrible Business (fortune.com) 240

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes an article from Fortune: Rdio goes bankrupt, Pandora hangs out a 'For Sale' sign and then gets rid of its CEO, artists and labels ramp up their criticism of YouTube. Now we have Tidal in acquisition talks with Apple, while Spotify complains about Apple treating it unfairly... the digital music business is becoming an industry in which only a truly massive company with huge scale and deep pockets can hope to compete... Rdio went bankrupt last year in large part because it couldn't afford to make the licensing payments the record industry requires of streaming services. Deezer, a European service, postponed a planned initial public offering partly because its business is financially shaky for the same reason... [Rhapsody] is still racking up massive losses... Spotify has found it almost impossible to make money, primarily because of onerous licensing payments...

[A]ll the available evidence seems to show that the digital-music business, at least the way it is currently structured, simply isn't economic. The only way for anyone to even come close to making it work is to make it part of a much larger company, like Apple or Amazon or Google. That way they can absorb the losses, they have the heft to negotiate with the record industry, and they can find synergies with their other businesses. In other words, music as a standalone business appears to be dead, or at least on life support.

The article links to an essay by a former eMusic CEO arguing high royalty rates make it impossible to have a profitable business, and the music industry "buried more than 150 startups -- now they are left to dance with the giants."
Cloud

Microsoft Will Be Largest Infrastructure As A Service Vendor By 2019, Says Morgan Stanley Survey (geekwire.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes from a report via GeekWire: According to Morgan Stanley's 2016 CIO Survey of 100 CIOs (75 CIOs based in the U.S., and 25 based in Europe), Microsoft's Azure will overtake Amazon Web Services (AWS) by 2019 to become the largest Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). The survey finds that roughly 31 percent of the CIOs will be using Azure for IaaS, compared to roughly 30 percent using AWS. Today, roughly 21 percent are using AWS and 12 percent are using Azure. According to the survey, Azure is already leading AWS in PaaS, used by about 18 percent of the respondents, versus AWS's 16 percent. Azure's lead will grow slightly by 2019, growing 9.8 percent versus 6.4 percent. Nearly 30 percent of all applications will be migrated to the public cloud by the end of 2017, up from 14 percent today, the survey said. On-premises apps will decline to 58 percent, from 71 percent today. Predictably, hardware vendors, including conventional and flash storage makers, will continue to suffer as their market is eaten by the cloud. Hardware spending growth is down this year to 3.2 percent, from 3.4 percent last year. Microsoft recently announced it will be entering the legal marijuana industry. It will partner with Los Angeles-based startup Kind on a system for tracking the legal growing and sale of marijuana, with Microsoft powering the software through its Azure cloud computing service.
HP

HP Rolls Out Device-as-a-Service for PCs, Printers (eweek.com) 75

HP says it plans to provide companies with personal computers and other devices as part of a service. Corporate customers of HP's new initiative dubbed "device-as-a-service" will be able to pay a fixed monthly fee per employee for devices, eliminating the need to pay the retail cost upfront for hardware. From a report on eWeek:The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company unveiled a DaaS (device-as-a-service) initiative, one that has already been up and running with several of its clients for the last few months. As more and more millennials come into the work force, they expect to see light, fast, small, and up-to-date tools to use, because that's what they're used to, and their tools are like a badge of honor, HPI's Vice-President and General Manager of Support Services Bill Avey said. "Older employees might want bigger screen and keyboards. The point is, work tools need to fit the work force, and as workforces become more diverse, the tools must adjust fit the needs," Avey said. Otherwise, Avey said, employees will find workarounds in so-called shadow IT (using their own laptops, smartphones, tablets and applications) to get the job done -- which is always a nightmare for enterprise security professionals.
Businesses

Data Can Help Fix America's Overcrowded Jails, Says White House (cnet.com) 213

An anonymous reader writes from a report via CNET: The White House launched a program called the Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) initiative to help reduce the population of jails. It will allow states to better divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and keep low-risk defendants out of jail while they await trial. The DDJ program could help alleviate the cost and congestion facing many of America's local jails, which costs local governments nearly $22 billion a year for minor offenses and low-level non-violent misdemeanors. Every year, 11 million people move through America's local jails. In local jails, 64 percent of people suffer from mental illness, 68 percent have a substance abuse and 44 percent suffer from chronic health problems, according to the White House. Seven states and 60 communities committed to DDJ. The plan is to use data collected on individuals who are often in touch with the police, emergency departments and other services and link them to health, behavioral health and social services within the community. Law enforcement and first responders will also be trained in how to deal with people experiencing mental health issues to better direct them to the proper services. The administration is developing a toolkit that will guide jurisdictions toward the best practices, policies and programs that have been successful in DDJ communities. DDJ will also put in place pre-trial assessment tools to determine whether the individual can safely return to society while awaiting trial without having to post bond. Amazon Web Services is onboard with the project, planning to bring together data scientists, technologists, researchers and private sector collaborators in a Technology and Research Consortium to identify technology solutions and support DDJ communities. A mapping software company, Esri, has pledged half a million dollars worth of software and solutions to the DDJ communities as well. Meanwhile, AWS is providing the cloud-infrastructure, which should help share data between criminal justice and health care practitioners among DDJ communities.
Databases

2 Million-Person Terror Database Leaked Online (thestack.com) 165

An anonymous reader writes from a report via The Stack: A 2014 version of the World-Check database containing more than 2.2 million records of people with suspected terrorist, organized crime, and corruption links has been leaked online. The World-Check database is administered by Thomson-Reuters and is used by 4,500 institutions, 49 of the world's 50 largest banks and by over 300 government and intelligence agencies. The unregulated database is intended for use as "an early warning system for hidden risk" and combines records from hundreds of terror and crime suspects and watch-lists into a searchable resource. Most of the individuals in the database are unlikely to know that they are included, even though it may have a negative impact on their ability to use banking services and operate a business. A Reddit user named Chris Vickery says he obtained a copy of the database, saying he won't reveal how until "a later time." To access the database, customers must pay an annual subscription charge, that can reach up to $1 million, according to Vice, with potential subscribers then vetted before approval. Vickery says he understands that the "original location of the leak is still exposed to the public internet" and that "Thomas Reuters is working feverishly to get it secured." He told The Register that he alerted the company to the leak, but is still considering whether to publish the information contained in it.
Google

Google's 'FASTER' 9000km, 60Tbps Transpacific Fiber Optics Cable Completed (9to5google.com) 73

An anonymous reader writes from a report via 9to5Google: Google and an association of telecom providers have announced that the FASTER broadband cable system that links Japan and the United States is now complete. The system is the fastest of its kind and stretches nearly 9,000 km across the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, starting in Oregon and ending in two landing spots in Japan. The association consists of Google, China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Global Transit, KDDI, Singtel, and supplier NEC Corporation. The estimated construction cost of the project was $300 million in 2014. At 60 terabits per second, FASTER will help "support the expected four-fold increase in broadband traffic demand between Asia and North America." The system uses a six-fiber pair cable and the latest 100Gbps digital coherent optical transmission technology. The service is scheduled to start on June 30, 2016, and will help increase the connectivity between Google's data centers scattered around the globe.
Earth

Google's Satellite Map Gets a 700-Trillion-Pixel Makeover (theatlantic.com) 70

An anonymous reader writes: On Monday, Google Maps has received a makeover with 700 trillion pixels of new data added to the service. The Atlantic reports: "The new map, which activates this week for all users of Google Maps and Google Earth, consists of orbital imagery that is newer, more detailed, and of higher contrast than the previous version. Most importantly, this new map contains fewer clouds than before -- only the second time Google has unveiled a "cloudless" map. Google had not updated its low- and medium- resolution satellite map in three years. The new version of the map includes data from Landsat 8, the newer version of the same satellite (Landsat 7, the U.S. government satellite which supplied the older map's imagery data), letting Google clear the ugly artifacts. Google's new update doesn't include imagery at the highest zoom levels, like the kind needed to closely inspect an individual house, pool, or baseball field. Those pictures do not come from Landsat at all, but from a mix of other public and private aerial and space-based cameras, including DigitalGlobe's high-resolution satellites. The image processing for this most recent map was completed entirely in Google Earth Engine, the company's geospatial-focused cloud infrastructure. In fact, the entire algorithm to create the cloudless map was written in Javascript in the Earth Engine development interface."
Security

Crypto Ransomware Attacks Have Jumped 500% In The Last Year (onthewire.io) 36

Kaspersky Lab is reporting that the last year saw a 500% increase in the number of users who encountered crypto ransomware. Trailrunner7 shares an article from On The Wire: Data compiled by Kaspersky researchers from the company's cloud network shows that from April 2015 to March 2016, the volume of crypto ransomware encountered by users leapt from 131,111 to 718,536. That's a massive increase, especially considering the fact that ransomware is a somewhat mature threat. It didn't just burst onto the scene a couple of years ago. Kaspersky's researchers said the spike in crypto ransomware can be attributed to a small group of variants. "Looking at the malware groups that were active in the period covered by this report, it appears that a rather short list of suspects is responsible for most of the trouble caused by crypto-ransomware..."

It's difficult to overstate how much of an effect the emergence of ransomware has had on consumers, enterprises, and the security industry itself. The FBI has been warning users about crypto ransomware for some time now, and has consistently advised victims not to pay any ransoms. Security researchers have been publishing decryption tools for specific ransomware variants and law enforcement agencies have had some success in taking down ransomware gangs.

Enterprise targets now account for 13% of ransomware attacks, with attackers typically charging tens of thousands of dollars, the article reports, and "Recent attacks on networks at the University of Calgary and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center have demonstrated the brutal effectiveness of this strategy."

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