Category: Technology

Government Bans Huawei Kit from Core UK 5G Mobile Networks

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Mobile operators Three UKVodafoneEE(BT) and O2 will today be officially told by the Government that they will be banned from deploying hardware and software from Chinese tech giant Huawei into the core of their future 5G based mobile broadband network, although non-core 5G kit (antennas etc.) will be exempt.

The final decision was taken by the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, although it’s understood that a number of her cabinet colleagues (e.g. Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson MP) had been calling for a much more aggressive total ban.

The move follows a recent report from the oversight board of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), which warned that “further significant technical issues” had been identified in Huawei’s engineering processes, leading to “new risks in the UK telecommunications networks” (full summary). At the same time, it also said that “no material progress has been made by Huawei in the remediation of the issues.”

The board said it could “only provide limited assurance” that all risks to national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks could be sufficiently mitigated long-term. Naturally, Huawei has always denied accusations that they are a security threat and in a public letter said, “Huawei has never and will never use UK-based hardware, software, or information gathered in the UK or anywhere else globally, to assist other countries in gathering intelligence. We would not do this in any country.”

However, critics of the company often point toward China’s new National Intelligence Law, which was passed in 2017 and demands that organisations “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work.” The absence of true democracy in China might thus, they argue, makes it very difficult for any company to refuse such a request.

Margot James, UK Minister for Digital, said:

“The National Cyber Security Centre is respected the world over, their advice is that we can manage/minimise any risk Huawei might pose to telecoms infrastructure and Theresa May is absolutely right to act on that advice.”

The move puts the UK at odds with the USA, which has taken a much stricter line and even threatened to cease the exchange of secret intelligence information with countries that allow kit from Huawei into their core networks. The PM will no doubt be hoping that her partial ban is enough to avoid such an outcome.

The difficulty for telecoms operators is that Huawei makes a very good and affordable kit. A lot of operators and broadband ISPs had already planned to work closely with the Chinese firm in order to deploy new networks (e.g. 5G and fibre broadband) and any new restrictions would thus impact their plans (i.e. the potential for much higher costs, worse performance and significantly slower roll-out).

On the other hand, BT (EE) has already confirmed that they’re removing the related kit from their core mobile network (here) and Vodafone has “paused” deployments, albeit reluctantly, into their core network (here). So far none of the operators has applied such measures to the less sensitive non-core part of their networks.

On the surface, today’s announcement doesn’t appear to mention existing 4G deployments, although operators have long warned that they can’t do 4G without 5G and any impact on the supply chain would thus have far-reaching consequences. We’ll be asking for the mobile operator’s feedback on this decision and will update again later.

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Federal regulators investigating Facebook over data lapses set their sights on Mark Zuckerberg

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Federal regulators investigating Facebook for mishandling its users’ personal information have set their sights on the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, exploring his past statements on privacy and weighing whether to seek new, heightened oversight of his leadership.

The discussions about how to hold Zuckerberg accountable for Facebook’s data lapses have come in the context of wide-ranging talks between the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook that could settle the government’s probe of more than a year, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because the FTC’s inquiry is confidential under law.

Such a move could create new legal, political and public-relations headaches for one of Silicon Valley’s best-known — and most image-conscious — corporate leaders. Zuckerberg is Facebook’s co-founder, chief executive, board chairman and most powerful stock owner, and a sanction from the federal government would be seen as a rare rebuke to him and the tech giant’s “move fast and break things” ethos.

In recent weeks, Zuckerberg has promised to reorient Facebook into a “privacy-focused communications platform” as the company looks to change its “reputation” and focus instead on secure, intimate communications between users along with content that “won’t stick around forever.”

But just this week, Facebook revealed another privacy mishap, admitting it mishandled millions of users’ passwords for Instagram, the company’s photo-sharing app. Facebook tucked news of the development into an old blog post Thursday as Washington scrambled over the release of the US government’s findings from its probe of Russia and the 2016 election.

To privacy advocates and congressional critics, Facebook’s move amounted to the latest sign that the company and its leaders have failed to learn from past mistakes — and should face heightened oversight.

“The days of pretending this is an innocent platform are over, and citing Mark in a large-scale enforcement action would drive that home in spades,” said Roger McNamee, an early investor in the company and one of Zuckerberg’s foremost critics.

In past investigations of Facebook, the US government opted to spare Zuckerberg from the most onerous scrutiny. Documents obtained from the FTC under federal open-records laws reflect that the agency considered, then backed down from putting Zuckerberg directly under order during its last settlement with Facebook in 2011. Had it done so, Zuckerberg could have faced fines for future privacy violations.

Asked about the negotiations, Facebook said in a statement it “hope[s] to reach an appropriate and fair resolution.” The FTC declined to comment.

The FTC began investigating Facebook in March 2018 following reports that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, improperly accessed data on roughly 87 million of the social networking site’s users. The federal probe has focused on whether Facebook violated an agreement, brokered with the FTC in 2011, that required the company to improve its privacy practices. Since then, Facebook has acknowledged a series of additional privacy lapses, including its Instagram admission Thursday.

Change your Instagram password now

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An updated entry made yesterday to a post on the Facebook blog (via TechCrunch) reveals that the company left millions of Instagram passwords in a “readable format.” Originally, Facebook said that “tens of thousands” of Instagram customers were involved. Facebook says that normally its login systems are designed to “mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable.”
The good news is, if you believe Facebook, its investigation has shown that no one from inside or outside the company accessed these passwords. Of course, since Facebook updated its original blog post after one month increased the number of passwords affected, who knows what they might say in another month?
Last month, Facebook admitted that it stored hundreds of millions of passwords in plain text dating back to 2012. At the time, it was estimated that 200 million to 600 million accounts had their passwords exposed to as many as 20,000 Facebook employees.
Facebook purchased Instagram for approximately $1 billion back in 2012. The company suggests that subscribers to Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp use two-factor authentication when signing in. Besides entering a password, a code is sent to the subscriber’s smartphone that is also required for a successful login. To set this up, go to the settings menu from your Facebook app and click on “Security and Login.”

The Windows 10 May 2019 Update is now available on MSDN

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Two weeks ago, Microsoft announced the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, along with some major changes to the way feature updates are delivered. While the May 2019 Update is coming to the general public in May 2019, those with MSDN subscriptions found today that ISOs for the feature update are now available.

It’s a new world for Windows 10 updates, so there’s no real norm to compare this to. On one hand, this is around when previous spring updates would have shown up; however, those shipped in April. Microsoft promised to give Windows 10 version 1903 a whole month to bake in the Release Preview ring this time, which is why it’s coming in May.

Earlier today, Microsoft announced the availability of the Windows 10 May 2019 Update SDK. With that in mind, it probably makes sense to offer ISOs to developers, or at least those with a paid MSDN subscription.

Of course, if you don’t want to shell out the cash for a paid subscription, you can always use the RTM build that’s available via the Slow or Release Preview rings of the Windows Insider Program.

Google brings free streaming music to Google Home

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Not everybody wants to pay $9.99 a month for the Youtube Music Premium service, but Google Home smart speakers now allow users to access free playlists, as long as they are willing to put up with ads.

Google is bringing an ad-supported version of its Youtube Music to the smart speaker. More like Pandora or Spotify’s artist radio, users will not be able to request a track directly, but Google will play music related to the requested artist.

If you would like more control (and no ads of course) you can always pay for full YouTube Music, but this seems to be a great solution for playing background music around your home (multiple speakers are also supported) without taking up any of your Spotify user slots.

Youtube Music is unique to Google Home smart speakers, with Alexa not supporting it, and is available in 16 countries including UK, USA and Australia.

Facebook security lapse affects millions more Instagram users than first stated

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Facebook chose one of the busiest news days in American politics this year to admit that millions more Instagram users were affected by a security lapse that it had previously disclosed.

At 10 am ET on Thursday, as the attorney general, William Barr, wrapped up his news conference on the release of the report of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, Facebook updated a 21 March blog post, which revealed it had mistakenly stored the passwords of hundreds of millions of users unencrypted, to include a sentence admitting that millions more Instagram accounts had been affected.

The 21 March post initially said “hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users” had data stored in an insecure way.

In the update, the company said it had discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format. “We now estimate that this issue impacted millions of Instagram users,” it noted.

The clear implication of the timing of its admission is that Facebook is trying to bury this privacy oversight in the midst of its larger scandals of the week, said Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, privacy advocacy non-profit.

“Exactly zero people are surprised that Facebook would try to bury this damning story by releasing their response today,” she said. “It fits their MO of deflecting, downplaying and apologizing without addressing the fundamental problem: that their current business model is incompatible with user privacy and human rights.”

Facebook stored millions of passwords without encryption for years, a story from security reporter Brian Krebs initially reported. It is standard practice in the industry to store passwords with encryption so that even if they are hacked, stolen passwords cannot be read or used. In this case, if passwords were taken they could have more easily been used.

A Facebook spokesman told the Guardian there is no evidence of abuse or misuse of the passwords.

“This is an issue that has already been widely reported, but we want to be clear that we simply learned there were more passwords stored in this way. There is no evidence of abuse or misuse of these passwords.”

The Mueller report released on Thursday mentioned Facebook more than 80 times in relation to potential efforts to affect results of the 2016 elections. It found the Internet Research Agency, an election interference group affiliated with the Russian government, paid more than $100,000 to Facebook for more than 3,500 advertisements.

Fake accounts and advertisements sponsored by the agency reached as many as 126 million Americans, the report found. The IRA also promoted and organized political rallies using Facebook events. Announcing additional security problems in the midst of scrutiny over 2016 election activity was no accident, said Ed Zitron, a tech industry public relations veteran and CEO of EZPR.

“The timing of the announcement was the equivalent of Facebook mumbling it under your breath while someone is playing loud music and hoping no one will hear,” he said. “The crazy thing is that they think they can still do this … They are acting like they’re still a cute startup, but they’re not.”

 

Women to conquer space! NASA astronaut to set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman

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NASA astronaut Christina Koch is going to have her mission on the International Space Station (ISS) extended to 328 days, which would set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, the US space agency said. NASA and its ISS partners have set a new schedule and new crew assignments that will include the first flight of NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and an extended stay for NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan. Koch, who arrived at the space station on March 14, and now is scheduled to remain in orbit until February 2020, will eclipse the record of 288 days set by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2016-17. She will be part of three expeditions — 59, 60 and 61 — during her current first spaceflight, NASA said in a statement.

“Christina’s extended mission will provide additional data for NASA’s Human Research Program and continue to support future missions to the Moon and Mars,” said Jennifer Fogarty, chief scientist of the Human Research Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, US. Her mission is planned to be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut — 340 days, set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission in 2015-16. Koch and fellow NASA astronaut Nick Hague, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will remain aboard the space station and begin Expedition 60.

On July 20, Morgan, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov are scheduled to launch to the space station and join Expedition 60, returning the orbiting laboratory’s crew complement to six. The extended missions of Koch and Morgan will help scientists gather additional data about the effects of long-duration human spaceflight beyond those of the normal six-month station expedition, NASA said. Such research is essential to support future deep space exploration missions to the Moon and Mars, according to the US space agency.

NASA has gathered vast amounts of data on astronaut health and performance over the past 50 years and has focused recently on extended durations up to one year with the dedicated mission of Scott Kelly and extended mission of Peggy Whitson. These opportunities also have demonstrated that there is a significant degree of variability in human response to spaceflight and it is important to determine the acceptable degree of change for both men and women.

“Astronauts demonstrate amazing resilience and adaptability in response to long duration spaceflight exposure,” said Fogarty. “This will enable successful exploration missions with healthy, performance-ready astronauts. NASA is looking to build on what we have learned with additional astronauts in space for more than 250 days,” she said.