Google, Dutch Institute Crack SHA-1 Internet Security Standard

A collaboration between Google’s research unit and a Dutch institute on Thursday cracked a widely used cryptographic technology that has been one of the key building blocks of Internet security.

Google, Dutch Institute Crack SHA-1 Internet Security Standard

The algorithm, known as Secure Hash Algorithm 1 or SHA-1, is currently used to verify the integrity of digital files and signatures that secure credit card transactions as well as Git open-source software repositories.

Researchers were able to demonstrate a “collision attack” using two different PDF files with the same SHA-1 fingerprint, but with different visible content, according to a paper published by Amsterdam-based Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica.

“Moving forward, it’s more urgent than ever for security practitioners to migrate to safer cryptographic hashes such as SHA-256 and SHA-3,” according to a post by the collaborators on Google’s security blog.

“For the tech community, our findings emphasise the necessity of sunsetting SHA-1 usage. Google has advocated the deprecation of SHA-1 for many years, particularly when it comes to signing TLS certificates. As early as 2014, the Chrome team announced that they would gradually phase out using SHA-1. We hope our practical attack on SHA-1 will cement that the protocol should no longer be considered secure,” the blog post added.

Microsoft, Qualcomm, Sony Climb Aboard Drones Software Firm AirMap

AirMap, a start-up which has become the world’s top supplier of air traffic management software for drones, is raising $26 million in new financing from a group of industry investors led by the venture capital investment arm of Microsoft.

Microsoft, Qualcomm, Sony Climb Aboard Drones Software Firm AirMap

The group led by Microsoft Ventures also includes the venture capital unit of aerospace giant Airbus, chipmaker Qualcomm, Japanese tech firms Rakuten and Sony and China’s Yuneec, a top drone maker.

AirMap said it provides real-time traffic management services for 80 percent of all drones, including millions of robotic aircraft from hundreds of manufacturers, allowing drones and their controllers to share data needed to fly safely at low altitudes.

The company was founded only two years ago. Its software works on both piloted and autonomous drones used in both commercial and recreational applications.

The new round of financing will enable AirMap to expand into markets worldwide, while opening offices in Berlin and at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, the firm now counts just 50 employees.

“This round is all about finding a set of partners to help us globalise,” AirMap Chief Executive Ben Marcus said in an interview.

Existing investors General Catalyst Partners and Lux Capital also took part in the round, bringing AirMap’s total funding to more than $43 million since its founded in early 2015.

Marcus, who previously co-founded jetAVIVA, one of the largest US brokers for small business jets, also serves as the industry co-chair for the US Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team which works with the air industry.

AirMap’s data and services are already embedded in drones, ground control stations and flight apps from top drone makers including China’s DJI, U.S. chipmaker Intel, Switzerland’s senseFly, a unit of Parrot SA, US-based 3D Robotics (3DR) and Canada’s Aeryon Labs.

More than 125 airports use AirMap’s management dashboard to open surrounding airspace to drones, view past and current drone flights, track digital flight notices, and communicate with drone operators.

In a statement, Microsoft Ventures said its investment would allow AirMap to make use of Microsoft’s resources, software and artificial intelligence tools, as Microsoft seeks to get involved in the burgeoning drone aviation market.

Airbus said it would collaborate with AirMap to ensure that autonomous airborne vehicles ranging from delivery drones to the “flying taxis” it is developing itself can operate safely in the vicinity of other aircraft.

Lenovo third-quarter net profit falls 67 pct, blames weak macroeconomic environment

Lenovo Group Ltd, the world’s largest personal computer (PC) maker, on Thursday posted a 67 percent slide in third-quarter net profit, lagging analyst estimates, as supply constraints and a weak macroeconomic environment weighed.

Profit fell to $98 million over the three months through December, from $300 million in the same period a year earlier. That compared with the $159.53 million average of 14 analyst estimates in a Thomson Reuters poll.

Revenue fell 6 percent to $12.2 billion.

Component supply constraints across the industries in which Lenovo operates impacted performance, in addition to a challenging macro environment and global markets, the company said in a filing.

Shooting with Sony’s latest portrait-perfect lenses

One of the biggest moans we’ve had with Sony’s mirrorless cameras is the lack of lenses available compared to some other systems.

But that’s becoming less of an issue as Sony continues to release more glass, andlast week the Japanese manufacturer introduced the 20th and 21st additions to its FE lens family in the shape of the FE 100mm f/2.8 STF G-Master OSS and FE 85mm f/1.8.

Both lenses are specialized for portraiture photography, though very differently priced for professional and amateur photographers. We got a chance to take both of Sony’s latest lenses for a spin – in the very different settings of New York and an English Country House – so let’s take a look at how they perform.

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The FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS is officially the fourth lens in Sony’s G-Master line, the company’s series of pro lenses. It comes sporting a new advanced optical structure, an 11-bladed circular aperture and an apodization filter to help it render truly creamy bokeh – more on this in a bit.

Externally, the FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS features a few additional controls over your everyday Sony lens. On the side there’s a custom function button, along with two switches to toggle manual focusing and image stabilization.

The Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS does things a little differently. The STF (Smooth Trans Focus) designation means that while it’s an f/2.8 geometrically (i.e. in depth of field terms), it’s maximum T (transmissive) value is f/5.6, thanks to its built-in apodization (APD) element.

This apodization filter is essentially an ND-filter with a ring-shaped gradient pattern. Think of the element as a piece of glass with a smoked ring that’s clearer towards its center which gives it its unique bokeh.

This apodization filter or APD element helps to feather the out-of-focus areas in the frame. However, as a consequence the lens losses two stops of light from the get-go – thus resulting in the lens starting at t/5.6 when wide open.

You may be asking why in the world would you give up a stop of light for this apodization filter? The reason is for smooth, creamy bokeh.

Normally, light entering a lens can cut off on the edge of the sensor, causing the out-of-focus areas to become like cat’s eyes. The APD element prevents this from happening by decreasing the amount of light streaming through on the edges. This results in rounder bokeh balls, and focus areas that better hold their shape without distortion.

On top of creating nearly perfect bokeh, the Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS looks like it could be one of the sharpest lenses we’ve used. We shot the lens with aSony Alpha A7R II , and as the images show you can capture plenty of detail from the center of the frame to the corners.
The Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS can also be used to capture extreme close-up images with a minimum focusing distance of 0.57m (1.87-feet). Rather than having a focus range limiter switch, users will have to turn a ring behind the aperture ring to enable macro mode. From there, the lens offers a 0.25x magnification to capture the finest of detail.

The Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS will be available by the end of March, priced at $1,499 / £1,699 (Australia pricing tbc).

For amateur and enthusiast photographers, Sony also introduced a new FE 85mm f/1.8. Although it doesn’t feature an APD element or macro mode, it offers a great focal length to shoot portraits.

The lens also includes nine aperture blades, and an extra-low-dispersion element to help reduce chromatic aberration.

Without an APD element, oval-shaped bokeh balls are extremely evident in images shot with the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8. However, in certain cases we actually prefer this effect; combined with the barrel distortion, it makes the background look like it’s almost swirling around our model in the shot above.

Without an APD element, the FE 85mm f/1.8 also gains over three more stops of light than Sony’s latest G-Master lens, which will come in handy for low-light shooting.

Home improvement tips

Residential homes are often the target of break-ins, which can threaten the safety of homeowners. Although you may not know when a burglar is targeting your home, there are a few ways to reduce the risk of a break-in. To protect yourself and safeguard the property, there are several tips to follow.

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Get a Guard Dog

A guard dog will monitor the premises and can scare away possible intruders by barking at anyone who comes in close proximity to the home. Get a guard dog that can be kept outside, which will warn burglars that they’re in danger of being attacked if they target the home.

Keep the Lights On

Make it a point to keep your home’s lights on when you leave the house to make it look like the property is occupied. Leaving the porch light on will also prevent intruders from hiding in dark shadows as they attempt to get through the front door. Many people also install motion sensor lights, which will detect someone that walks by and will make them visible to other neighbors.

Install a Security System

Security systems are one of the most effective tools to use when you want to prevent someone from stealing valuables from inside of the building. The alarm will sound if a window or door is opened from the outside, which will immediately alert the authorities of the break-in.

Arm Yourself

Protect yourself by getting a gun that can scare off the intruder and will also harm the individual if it’s necessary. Wear a concealment shirt that will allow you to carry the gun on you when answering the door or if suspicious activity takes place on the property.

You’ll need to practice using the gun and feeling comfortable with handling the weapon to ensure that it’s only used to defend yourself.

Add a Screen Door

Most break-ins occur at front doors that are kicked in, making it important to install a screen door that is durable. The screen door can come with a sturdy lock that will work as an extra barrier to the inside of the building.

When you want to protect your home and prevent theft, there are several ways of guarding the home and avoid making the property a target. You can have peace of mind knowing that you’re safe while spending time in the setting to ensure that you and your family aren’t at risk of being confronted with a burglar.

Google and Amazon Said to Be Considering Adding Voice Calling to Home and Echo Respectively

Google and Amazon might soon add a very useful feature to Google Home and Amazon Echo smart speakers as the companies are said to be mulling bringing voice-calling functionality to their respective devices. Turning the voice-activated speakers into home phone, as one would expect, comes with some complications and even though the companies are reportedly ready to launch the service as soon as this year, the plans are reportedly stalled due to concerns over user privacy and telecom regulations.

Google and Amazon Said to Be Considering Adding Voice Calling to Home and Echo Respectively

Allowing Google Home or Amazon Echo to place phone calls is the next logical step for the AI-powered smart home devices, The Wall Street Journal said in a report citing sources close to the matter. One of the major concerns over rolling out the feature is users’ anxiety over conversations being recorded, as per the report.

Even though smart speakers from both Amazon and Google already locally record audio continuously before replacing it with the new audio files after hearing their activation word, users might not be as comfortable when their telephonic conversations are recorded in cloud.

This is why Amazon will only collect metadata, which includes dialled numbers and duration of the calls, but not the calls themselves if it does introduce the calling functionality, one of the sources familiar with the matter told WSJ. It is unclear if Google will also follow the same route but as Google Voice app also collects only metadata and calls that users voluntarily recorded, it is likely that it might take the same approach, as pointed out in the report.

Even though the smart speakers are likely to get the ability to call through VoIP (voice over internet protocol) like Microsoft Skype, Amazon is said to be considering options such as providing the smart speaker with its own number with a call forwarding feature to allow smartphones to take their calls remotely and vice versa. Another option can allow users to sync their existing phone number and contacts with the Echo smart speaker.

Other complications regarding the feature’s implementation include difficulty in switching phone conversations from smart speakers to phone and vice versa. Further, ending the calls might require a trigger word that can potentially be used in the conversation. Another issue that has been mentioned in the report is placing 911 emergency calls.

As most Internet calling services don’t allow calling 911, it might become tricky to restrict a device that is meant to be a home phone from using an emergency number. Due to the fact that there is certain amount of fees that is paid to place 911 calls, it is unclear if Google and Amazon will ask consumers to pay this cost, WSJ points out in its report.

Further, even if these complications are set aside, it will still need to be seen if law enforcement agencies will be allowed to wiretap the calls made from these smart speakers with help from the federal laws. As Internet calling services are safe from this complication as they are app-to-app, Google and Amazon will have to find a way around this issue. Even if the calls are not wiretapped, the metadata regarding the calls can be handed over to the enforcement agencies with a simple warrant, WSJ says in its report citing experts.

It will be interesting to see if and when the two US giants are able to find a solution for these issues and roll out the functionality to their smart speakers but it is sure to add more utility to these already successful devices.

LG G6’s FullVision Display and UX 6.0 Previewed

With less than 10-days to go in the launch of the LG G6, the company is leaving no stone unturned in creating excitement around its flagship. LG is releasing ‘teasers’ almost on a daily-basis, and the latest one teases the G6’s UX changes alongside the all-new FullVision display.

LG G6's FullVision Display and UX 6.0 Previewed

LG on Thursday released yet another teaser that showcases the all-new UX 6.0 for the first time. We already know that the LG G6 will sport a 5.7-inch QHD+ (1440×2880 pixels) display with an aspect ratio of 18:9. The company has now confirmed that the LG G6 will come with what the company calls FullVision display, which will take advantage of the entire screen. The UX is said to be designed in a way that fills the front of the smartphone.

LG stresses that the FullVision display in the G6 will offer “new viewing experience” to users. Both the top and bottom part of the screen will offer more information when surfing the Web, reading e-books, and when watching videos or playing games. LG G6 will come with a feature that will allow users to view existing 16:9 ratio content in 18:9 format.

LG UX 6.0 will come with a Square Camera feature which will divide the 18:9 display into two identical perfect squares that will allow users to shoot image as well as review them in the adjacent window. This particular feature has been available in apps such as Instagram. The UX 6.0 will also offer a new Food Mode and will also let users create GIF images by combining anywhere between 2 and 100 pictures in a loop. The LG G6 will also let users combine multiple square photographs and set them as a Collage Wallpaper on the lock screen. LG is also teasing “advanced multi-tasking” features which will allow users open multiple apps simultaneously in split-screen mode.

Magic Leap Catches Flak Over Tricky Video

It turns out the awe-inspiring video Magic Leap unveiled last year is not a demo of its still-secretive mixed reality technology, but a bit of sleight of hand from special effects firm Weta Workshop, which is credited at the beginning and end of the clip.

Magic Leap’s post — titled “Just another day in the office at Magic Leap” — claims the video shows a game being played around the office.

The true nature of the video was exposed last week in a report published by The Information.

“Most of us thought that video was a demo of the technology — not a film created by a special effects company,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

magic-leap“I expect some of the folks that invested in the company likely thought so as well, and that could be considered fraud,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The ray guns shown in the video apparently are Dr. Grordbort’s Infallible Aether Oscillators, which exist in designer Greg Broadmore’s satirical parallel universe.

Weta CEO Richard Taylor, a founding director of Magic Leap, reportedly is collaborating with the firm on a mixed reality game set in the world of “Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders.”

Perception Is the Key

In the fashion industry, designers show pieces on the runway that “were never intended for real-world production, but that’s made clear,” observed Cindy Zhou, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“There’s a difference between fact and being transparent that the [Magic Leap] video was meant to be aspirational,” she told TechNewsWorld.

However, there’s a precedent, suggested Enderle. Steve Jobs “fooled a lot of very smart people doing similar things, first with NeXT and then with the iPhone, which was basically a pretty brick when he first showed it.”

Big Name Boosters

Magic Leap has raised US$1.4 billion in funding without anyone seeing its technology. Investors include Google and Andreessen Horowitz.

Google’s Sundar Pichai and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson sit on its board, and Magic Leap has signed a deal with LucasFilm.

Why were companies with strong technical expertise attracted to Magic Leap?

“The people at the top who do the deals are often under pressure to do the deal before the required amount of due diligence can occur,” said Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Pace University.

“I doubt that the most senior people even personally had the time or the skills to do the due diligence needed,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Potential Fallout

Microsoft’s HoloLens and Facebook’s Oculus currently lead the augmented reality market, and it’s not clear whether Magic Leap can catch up.

On the other hand, the tech market “is quick to forgive if you can deliver something that’s truly transformational,” noted Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“If Magic Leap can develop a compelling game that has at least some of the advertised functionality,” he told TechNewsWorld, “they could still be successful.”

Apple AirPods Finally Good to Go

Apple’s new wireless AirPods are finally available.

The company on Tuesday began taking orders for AirPods at its online store, and said it would start delivering the US$159 earphones to customers, Apple Stores, resellers and carriers next week.

At the iPhone 7 launch in September, Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller said the AirPods would be available in October, but the company missed that target time frame due to unexplained delays.

Missing the deadline for release of any hot product is bad news for a company, but what made the AirPods miss worse was that the they were supposed to offset some of the sting consumers felt over Apple’s decision to omit the traditional headphone jack in the iPhone 7.

“Someone clearly dropped the ball, because without something like this with the iPhone 7 the attached sales for the earbuds were stalled, and it made it harder to sell iPhone 7s,” noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Both products should have shown up at the same time,” he told TechNewsWorld.


Missed Opportunity

However, the absence of AirPods doesn’t seem to have affected iPhone 7 sales that much.

“Sales of the iPhone 7 seem to be doing well,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“The absence of AirPods hasn’t been a deal breaker for consumers interested in the phone,” he told TechNewsWorld.

On the other hand, the late release certainly will impact sales of the AirPods.

“Apple missed an attractive cross-sell opportunity when the new iPhones were released,” Rubin noted, “and they missed the Black Friday opportunity, when there would have been increased traffic going through stores.”

AirPods still could be a popular item this Christmas, though.

“It’s a relatively small product, easy to pick up online, easy to ship,” Rubin pointed out. “It could still wind up in stockings or under trees.”

Chip Trouble

Apple is being mum about what caused the delay in bringing the AirPods to market, but several reports link it to the new W1 wireless chip in the headphones.

“There’s definitely been a problem with the supply chain, and the best I can figure it was related to the custom Apple W1,” said Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst at Tirias Research.

If that’s the case, though, it wouldn’t explain why Apple could ship the Beats Solo 3 and Powerbeat 3 headphones, which also use the chip. Another Beats model, however, the X BT, also is experiencing delays and may not reach retail shelves until next year.

“It could be that Apple needed more time fine-tuning the chip for rated battery life,” Krewell told TechNewsWorld.

Battery life is one of several drawbacks that have dampened demand for products similar to the AirPods.

“There aren’t a lot of products like this in this segment, largely because they are expensive, easy to lose, have poor battery life, and the sound quality isn’t in line with their cost,” Enderle said. “Most folks in this price band prefer headphones, because they provide a much better experience at the same price and they are harder to lose.”

Sync Challenges

Some reports have blamed sync problems for the delay.

“It’s rumored that the AirPods were receiving signals slightly out of sync,” said Jeff Orr, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research. “The stereo effect was not working right.”

In most Bluetooth earbuds, the signal from a device is transmitted to one of the buds and transmitted to the other via some kind of wired connection between them.

AirPods don’t have any wires so the signal is sent to each bud separately and must be received by them simultaneously. If not, the signal is out of sync, which scotches the audio experience.

If there were sync problems with the AirPods, though, those problems didn’t appear in the demo units, noted Orr, who attended the Apple event when the earphones were announced.

“It’s hard to know what caused the delay, and I don’t know if we’ll ever know what the cause was,” he told TechNewsWorld.

More Than Music Buds

The AirPods offer more than just a new way to listen to music, which is why Apple had to make sure it made the product right from the time it left the starting gate, observed Ian Fogg, a senior director at IHS Markit.

“AirPods is part of Apple’s vision for mobile,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It isn’t just a Bluetooth headset that you listen to music on or answer phone calls. It’s a voice interface for not only listening but for also speaking so you can interact with your watch or phone seamlessly without having to pair or reconnect them,” Fogg explained. “It’s an extension of the Apple Watch and iPhone experience.”

One of Apple’s historic strengths has been perceiving when and how to nudge the consumer market to accept new user interfaces, said Brad Russell, a research analyst at Parks Associates.

“AirPods are major move forward for hearables, wireless audio technology and voice control interfaces,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“They don’t have to be great — just good enough to add value to the smartphone,” Russell continued. “Apple EarPods were never the best earbud on the market, but their stylish design, comfortable fit and inline remote added significant value at the time to become an iconic symbol of the iPhone brand.”