Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

DOJ Charges 2 Romanians With Hacking of DC Police Surveillance Cameras

The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed details of its case against two Romanians who allegedly hacked computers tied to Washington, D.C., police surveillance cameras.

Police in Bucharest arrested Mihai Alexandru Isvanca and Eveline Cismaru on December 15. U.S. attorneys have charged them with conspiracy to commit computer and wire fraud.

They allegedly hacked into more than 120 computers tied to Washington police surveillance cameras last January. It was part of an alleged scheme to infect personal computers with ransomware.

Ransomware restricts users from accessing their own computers and demands a payment to the ramsomware operator to unlock it.

The Justice Department said the investigation was of the highest priority because the alleged hacking of the surveillance camera computers came just weeks before the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

However, it says there is no evidence anyone’s personal security was threatened or harmed.

If tried in the U.S. and convicted, the Romanian defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.

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With Lineup Widening, Apple Depends Less on iPhone X

In years past, demand for Apple Inc.’s latest flagship phone was critical to the company’s results over the holiday shopping quarter. That dynamic might be changing, however, as Apple’s widening lineup of devices and services more than makes up for any tepidness in demand this quarter for its lead product, the $999 iPhone X.

On Tuesday, Apple’s stock fell 2.5 percent to $170.57 after Taiwan’s Economic Daily and several analysts suggested iPhone X sales in the fiscal first quarter would be 30 million units, 20 million fewer than initially planned by the company.

The cut in the forecast was not confirmed, and the stock regained ground Thursday, hitting $171.82 by midday. The mean revenue estimate for the holiday quarter among 30 analysts remains at $86.2 billion, near the high end of Apple’s forecast of $84 billion to $87 billion.

Apple declined to comment.

Part of the support for Apple may reflect a change in its business strategy.

Releasing two new models and keeping older ones have made

Apple less dependent on its flagship product. Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and

Investment Management in Santa Monica, California, said the higher price and better margins on the iPhone X would reduce fears of a sales decline.

Eye on combined sales

“We know that Apple’s strategy was different this quarter by releasing two phones, the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X, and I think combined sales will be in line with what people expect,” Gerber said.

Apple also has fattened its portfolio of accessories and other devices, from its AirPods wireless headphones to a new Apple Watch with cellular data features.

While none is a runaway hit, collectively they are an important contributor, with Apple’s “other products” segment growing 16 percent to $12.8 billion last year. Customers who buy those add-ons are also likely to buy services from the App Store and Apple Music, part of Apple’s services segment, which grew 23 percent to $29.9 billion last year.

“Ultimately, it will be this multidevice ownership” that will generate further revenue, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

IPhone X sales still matter. Each unit generates nearly twice the revenue of an iPhone 7 and contains technologies like facial recognition that burnish Apple’s brand.

Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research said “hit products” still represent “an enormous amount of the company’s overall value.”

“Will it take hold in the mainstream? That’s the question that still remains,” he said.

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Vietnam Unveils 10,000-strong Cyberunit to Combat ‘Wrong Views’

Vietnam has unveiled a new, 10,000-strong military cyberwarfare unit to counter “wrong” views on the Internet, media reported, amid a widening crackdown on critics of the one-party state.

The cyber unit, named Force 47, is already in operation in several sectors, Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the military’s political department, as saying at a conference of the Central Propaganda Department on Monday in the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

“In every hour, minute and second we must be ready to fight proactively against the wrong views,” the paper quoted the general as saying.

Communist-ruled Vietnam has stepped up attempts to tame the internet, calling for closer watch over social networks and for the removal of content that it deems offensive, but there has been little sign of it silencing criticism when the companies providing the platforms are global.

Its neighbor China, in contrast, allows only local internet companies operating under strict rules.

The number of staff compares with the 6,000 reportedly employed by North Korea. However, the general’s comments suggest its force may be focused largely on domestic internet users, whereas North Korea is internationally focused because the internet is not available to the public at large.

‘Bad and dangerous content’

In August, Vietnam’s president said the country needed to pay greater attention to controlling “news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content.”

Vietnam, one of the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers, has also drafted an internet security bill asking for local placement of Facebook and Google servers, but the bill has been the subject of heated debate at the National Assembly and is still pending assembly approval.

Cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. said Vietnam had “built up considerable cyberespionage capabilities in a region with relatively weak defenses.”

“Vietnam is certainly not alone. FireEye has observed a proliferation in offensive capabilities. … This proliferation has implications for many parties, including governments, journalists, activists and even multinational firms,” a spokesman at FireEye, who requested anonymity, told Reuters.

“Cyberespionage is increasingly attractive to nation states, in part because it can provide access to a significant amount of information with a modest investment, plausible deniability and limited risk,” he added.

Vietnam denies such charges.

Vietnam has in recent months stepped up measures to silence critics. A court last month jailed a blogger for seven years for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

In a separate, similar case last month, a court upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a prominent blogger.

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Securing Your Data in Cloud Storage

Saving digital files in commercial memory banks called cloud storage is a cheap and convenient way for long-term storage of documents, photos, music and video. Private users as well as businesses can access them from anywhere and share them with whomever they give the password to. Providers, such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon S3, claim almost absolute security. But computer scientists say the protection should be in the users’ hands. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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Bitcoin’s Roller-coaster Ride May Get Wilder

What’s a bitcoin worth? Lately nobody knows for sure, but after a wild ride Friday, it’s worth a good deal less than it was Thursday.

After losses over the last few days, the digital currency fell as much as 30 percent overnight in Asia, and the action became so frenzied that the website Coinbase suspended trading. It later made up much of that ground, and slumped 9.5 percent to $14,042 Friday, according to the tracking site CoinDesk.

Experts are warning that bitcoin is a bubble about to burst, but things might get crazier before it does: A lot of people have heard of bitcoin by now, but very few people own it.

“Bubbles burst when the last buyers are in,” said Brett Ewing, chief market strategist for First Franklin. “Who are the last buyers? The general public, unfortunately.”

1,000 people own 40 percent

Ewing said 40 percent of bitcoin belongs to just 1,000 people, and hedge funds and other major investors are going to start buying it soon. But those funds may buy bitcoin and also protect themselves by placing bets that it will fall. Retail investors may just buy it only to see it fall.

“I think investors should approach it with caution and I think many people will dive into it not understanding what it is,” he said.

As bitcoin skyrocketed this month, the volume of trading was unprecedented as investors hoping to catch a ride up piled in. Prices have risen so fast, the fall on Friday returned the price of bitcoin only to where it was trading two weeks ago.

From tea to blockchain overnight

The volatility has created a circuslike atmosphere. Some companies that have added the word “bitcoin” or related terms to their names to get in on the action. The craziest thing is, it’s worked.

Long Island Iced Tea Corp. until this week had been known for its peach-, raspberry-, guava-, lemon- and mango-flavored drinks. Then, on Thursday, the company announced a radical rebranding. It’s changing its name to Long Blockchain Corp., shifting its primary focus from iced tea to “the exploration of and investment in opportunities that leverage the benefits of blockchain technology.”

Blockchain is a ledger where transactions of digital currencies, like bitcoin, are recorded.

Shares in Long Island Iced Tea soared 200 percent in one day.

The Hicksville, New York, company did what investors are doing, hitching a ride on a currency that raced from less than $10,000 at the end of November to almost $20,000 on Sunday. And it cost less than $1,000 at the beginning of the year.

Crash every three months

The rise of price of bitcoin, which is still difficult to use if you actually want to buy something, has led to heated speculation about when the bubble might burst.

The currency has been, if nothing else, highly elastic, bouncing back every time it crashes, which occurs about once every quarter.

It fell 11.5 percent over two days in early December and 21.5 percent over five days in November.

Curiosity has now driven bitcoin to the futures market, where investors bet on which direction it will go.

Bitcoin futures started trading on two major exchanges, the Cboe and CME, this month. Those futures fell about 8 percent Friday.

Investor beware

If people get burned, it won’t be because they were not warned.

The Securities and Exchange Commission put out a statement last week warning investors to be careful with bitcoin and other digital currencies. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission has proposed regulating bitcoin like a commodity, similar to gold or oil.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a financial watchdog, issued a similar warning recently.

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