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Posted by Delete Delete on Mon 17th Feb 2014


That's the vision of a hotel chain that plans to send digital keys to guests' phones via an app instead of making them check in and get the traditional (and famously lose-able) plastic swipe cards. Arriving guests could bypass the front desk and go straight to their rooms.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which owns more than 1,150 hotels in nearly 100 countries, plans to debut the system in the next three months at two of its Aloft hotels -- in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City and Cupertino, California.

Cupertino is likely no accident -- being, of course, the home of Apple's headquarters.
If all goes well, the company says it could have the feature in all of its hotels by next year.
A spokeswoman said the app will initially be compatible with recent iPhone models (4S and newer) and newer Android phones. The app will use Bluetooth technology to unlock the room with a tap.
"We believe this will become the new standard for how people will want to enter a hotel," Frits van Paasschen, Starwood's CEO, told The Wall Street Journal. "It may be a novelty at first, but we think it will become table stakes for managing a hotel."
Starwood, a chain that's heavy on boutique hotels, has a history of tech innovation and employs its own digital team.

Just last year, the company launched a plan to develop solar power at its hotels, offered discounts during a "Cyber Monday" sale and premiered an iPad-specific mobile app. Starwood also announced Instagram integration on its websites, which lets visitors see images that guests have posted.

Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/28/tech/mobile/smartphone-hotel-keys/index.html

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Posted by Delete Delete on Mon 17th Feb 2014

The revived online black market Silk Road says hackers took advantage of an ongoing Bitcoin glitch to steal $2.7 million from its customers.
The underground website's anonymous administrator told users Thursday evening that attackers had made off with all of the funds it held in escrow. Silk Road serves as a middleman between buyers and sellers, temporarily holding on to funds in its own accounts during a deal. Buyers put their money into Silk Road's accounts, and sellers withdraw it.

At the time of the attack, there were about 4,440 bitcoins in Silk Road's escrow account, according to computer security researcher Nicholas Weaver.
The news has shaken confidence in Bitcoin. Prices dropped sharply overnight, though they've since bounced back to about $660.

Silk Road can only be accessed on the deep Web using Tor, a special program that hides your physical location. The FBI shut down Silk Road and arrested its alleged founder in October, but shortly thereafter, tech-savvy outlaws started Silk Road 2.0 in its place.
It is primarily used to buy and sell drugs. Bitcoins are the only kind of currency accepted on the site, because they are traded electronically and are difficult to trace to individuals. But Bitcoin accounts also lack protections that most bank accounts have, including government-backed insurance.
That means the bitcoins stolen from the Silk Road users are gone forever.

The new site's administrator, a faceless persona known only as Defcon, posted a nerve-racking message Thursday night that began with, "I am sweating as I write this."
He said hackers took advantage of the same flaw in Bitcoin that knocked major exchanges Bitstamp and Mt.Gox offline over the past two weeks. That glitch allowed Silk Road hackers to repeatedly withdraw bitcoins from the site's accounts until they were empty.
In detailing the alleged hack, Defcon listed the online identities of the three supposed attackers and shared records of the transactions. And in an example of the kind of dark, dangerous world of illegal drug trade, Defcon called on the public to "stop at nothing to bring this person to your own definition of justice."
"I failed you as a leader and am completely devastated by today's discoveries," Defcon wrote, adding that the website should have followed the approach of other major Bitcoin exchanges and halted withdrawals due to the Bitcoin system flaw. Silk Road has since temporarily shut down.
Many have accused the site's administrators of faking the hack and stealing the money themselves. But in a world where drugs are outright illegal -- and there's little to no regulation of Bitcoin transactions -- it's difficult to prove anything.
It's just his kind of bad news that smears Bitcoin's credibility and keeps the currency from going mainstream.
Computer developers around the world have been working on software updates that allow exchanges to make up for the security hole in Bitcoin. The largest exchange, the Slovenia-based Bitstamp, said it was implementing a fix as early as Friday.

Source: http://discus.co.uk/2014/02/drug-site-silk-road-wiped-out-by-bitcoin-glitch

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 11th Feb 2014

Warwick Ashford  - 10th February 2014 - www.computerweekly.com

UK engineering firm Dyson is to invest £5m in a robotics lab at Imperial College, London that could pit a UK team against Google in the quest to become the world leader in artificial intelligence.

Google has completed a string of acquisitions of robotics and artificial intelligence firms, including London-based machine learning startup DeepMind.

The lab at Imperial College will focus on vision systems that can help domestic robots understand and adapt to the world around them, Dyson said.

The announcement comes just weeks after Dyson announced a £250m investment to double the size of its research centre in Wiltshire and hire 3,000 more engineers.

The five-year investment in the robotics lab – combined with an additional £3m from other sources – will fund a research team of 15 scientists, including some of Dyson's own engineers, the company said.

The team will be led by Andrew Davison, an expert in Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (Slam) systems, and currently head of robot vision at Imperial's department of computing.

The Slam technique is used to create a 3D map of a space with a single camera.

Despite developing several prototypes, Dyson is yet to bring a robot vacuum cleaner to market.Company founder James Dyson is reported to have been dissatisfied with prototypes' ability to navigate around a typical room.

Investment in the new lab aims at building UK expertise in solving the navigation problems that face domestic robot developers.

James Dyson is critical of DeepMind for selling its intellectual property (IP) to Google. "It seems a pity to me to sell out, as I don't quite understand the urge to give up," he told the Guardian.

"Long-term thinking is essential to new technology. We should be encouraging UK companies to invest in R&D and take on armies of engineers, so that they can grow and become UK world-beaters.”

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 11th Feb 2014

The Independent - 11 February 2014

Richard Osley Sunday 09 February 2014

Flappy Bird taken down: App creator removes addictive smartphone hit from app store

But don't worry - the game is still available to play if you have already downloaded it.
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A A A Email Addictive and irritating in equal measure, Flappy Bird has proved to be a surprise hit in the competitive mobile phone game market, attracting more than 50 million downloads and hooking users into a time-consuming challenge now renowned for its difficulty.

In a series of tweets yesterday, Vietnam based Dong Nguyen told fans of the game: “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore. It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore. I also don’t sell ‘Flappy Bird’, please don’t ask. And I still make games.” The timing of his messages would map out an apparent deadline of early on Sunday evening.

Sure enough, at 5.15pm the game became unavailable to download - first appearing on the app store with an error message, then gone from search results altogether.

Nguyen had previously suggested that his life had become overrun by the success of the game, which has achieved a global following despite its basic graphics – often likened to the old Mario Nintendo games – and simple premise of flying a bird past a sequence of pipe obstacles. The revenue from advertising in the game, which is free to download for iOS and Android users, has been estimated at close to £30,000 a day

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 11th Feb 2014

WhatIs.com - IoT botnet

An IoT botnet (Internet of Things botnet) is a group of hacked computers, smart appliances and Internet-connected devices that have been co-opted for illicit purposes.
A conventional botnet is made up of computers that have been remotely accessed without the owners' knowledge and set up to forward transmissions to other computers on the Internet. The Internet of Things (IoT) is made up of not only dedicated computers but also cardiac implant monitors, household and industrial appliances, automobiles, mechanical sensors and other devices equipped with IP addresses and the ability to transmit data over a network. In the IoT context, these are known as things.
In late December 2013, a researcher at Proofpoint (a California-based enterprise security company) noticed that hundreds of thousands of malicious emails logged through a security gateway had originated from a botnet that included not only computers, but also other devices -- including smart TVs, a refrigerator and other household appliances.

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 11th Feb 2014

by Chris Matyszczyk |February 9, 2014 - cnet.com

Russian snowboarder Alexey Sobolev decides to put his phone number on his helmet. This move was not welcomed by his iPhone.

(Credit: The Fumble/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET) 

 The lovely thing about snowboarders at the Winter Olympics is that they're devoid of political correctness.

They're just as full of "dude" and "cool" as they would be on a normal, pot-filled day in the mountains.

Some, though, don't always think through the consequences of their free style.

Take Russian slopestyle snowboarder Alexey Sobolev. His iPhone wishes you would. For Sobolev had the, um, cool idea of putting his phone number on his helmet.

Why would he do that? The Daily Mail suggests that he was merely bored. And when a 22-year-old snowboarder is bored, he seeks action.

Perhaps he thought that he'd move too quickly for anyone to note it down. Sadly, with the joys of DVR, freeze frame, and highly advanced photography, his particulars drifted far and wide.

As Yahoo Sports reports, so many people contacted him that there were unforeseen consequences.

The first of these was that he received a handsome number of images that featured comely women in a state of absolute nudity.

Oddly, this didn't seem to disturb him at all.

Indeed, Yahoo Sports quoted him as saying of one picture: "Yeaaaaah. She is really good."

You will be stunned into returning to your bed when I tell you that the International Olympic Committee ordered Sobolev to cover up the phone number. (He didn't make Saturday's finals, but we all know that the IOC is always most concerned with decorum.)

The other consequence? It seems his iPhone was so appalled with his behavior that it went on strike. It was reportedly so overwhelmed with the number of messages and images (more than 2,000 in total) that it swooned and seized up.

Once it had taken a rest, it restarted, so that he could appraise the various images and share his opinions with reporters.

I'm not sure whether other sportsmen should follow his path. There might be difficult consequences if, say, a bored Tom Brady wore his phone number on his Patriots helmet. I am not sure that his wife, Giselle Bundchen, would approve.

Moreover, who sends naked pictures of themselves to sportsmen they don't know?

There seems a peculiar level of desperation on both sides, one that boredom can't quite excuse.

"Love me! Love me!" both parties seem to be screaming. The trouble is, deserving that love takes a lot more than screaming.

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 11th Feb 2014

Paul Thurrott -  Feb 09, 2014 - m.winsupersite.com

Is it better to burn out than fade away?

When critics described Windows 8.1 as a step backwards, I disagreed: Responding to customer complaints is never wrong, I argued, and the new version of the OS made it more acceptable on the many different types of PCs and devices on which Windows now runs. With Update 1, however, I'm beginning to question the validity of this new direction, and am now wondering whether Microsoft has simply fallen into an all-too-familiar trap of trying to please everyone, and creating a product that is ultimately not ideal for anyone.

If you look back over the decades at the many high-level complaints that have been leveled at Windows, one in particular sticks out: Unlike Mac OS, in particular, Windows has always attempted to satisfy every possible customer need, and as such it often provides multiple ways to accomplish the same thing. The result is a messy product, if you will, one that lacks the singular vision that is typically associated with the Mac and Apple's other products.

There's no reason to mince words: This criticism has always been valid. And if you were to simplify the issue down to a sound bite, you might make the following claims: Windows was designed by a committee. The Mac, by contrast, often feels like it was designed by a single person.

I sort of excused this reality in the past by noting that Microsoft with Windows targeted a much bigger and more diverse audience than did Apple with the Mac. (This is what made those "I'm a PC" advertisements seem so appropriate and correct.) But with Apple's iOS now hitting Windows-style usage and audience diversity levels, this excuse is getting harder to sell. Apple, despite its ever-growing iOS audience, has never veered from its singular vision, and that's even more notable when you consider that the creator of that vision, Steve Jobs, passed away over two years ago.

God knows, Microsoft tries. It's a wonderful observer and follower. After watching Windows Vista get mismanaged and then slapped around by Apple, it tapped Steven Sinofsky to reimagine Windows. It's fair to say that this man shares many of the same character traits—and flaws—that defined Steve Jobs. He was belligerent and one-sided, didn't work well with others, had no qualms about tossing out features and technologies that didn't originate with his group, and had absolutely zero respect for customer feedback. Here, finally, was a guy who could push through a Steve Jobs-style, singular product vision.

And he did. Sadly, the result was Windows 8.

The reason this happened is that while Sinofsky had the maniacal power and force of will of a Steve Jobs, he lacked Jobs' best gift: An innate understanding of good design. Windows 8 is not well-designed. It's a mess. But Windows 8 is a bigger problem than that. Windows 8 is a disaster in every sense of the word.

This is not open to debate, is not part of some cute imaginary world where everyone's opinion is equally valid or whatever. Windows 8 is a disaster. Period.

While some Windows backers took a wait-and-see approach and openly criticized me for being honest about this, I had found out from internal sources immediately that the product was doomed from the get-go, feared and ignored by customers, partners and other groups in Microsoft alike. Windows 8 was such a disaster that Steven Sinofsky was ejected from the company and his team of lieutenants was removed from Windows in a cyclone of change that triggered a reorganization of the entire company. Even Sinofsky's benefactor, Microsoft's then-CEO Steve Ballmer, was removed from office. Why did all this happen? Because together, these people set the company and Windows back by years and have perhaps destroyed what was once the most successful software franchise of all time.

The specifics of what's wrong in Windows 8 don't really matter, and of course we've discussed this issue many times. Certainly, some of it isn't even Microsoft's fault: The personal computing market is moving on. But at a high level, the Sinofsky era was of course a reaction to what came before. Likewise, what's happening post-Sinofsky is another reaction, this time to what happened during his tenure. And while Windows 8.1 could be seen as an overdue nod to responding to customer feedback again, what's happened since then, and can be seen more clearly in Windows 8.1 Update 1, is ... troubling.

To be clear, Windows 8.1 Update 1 is not exactly an earth-shattering update, and while it brings many small changes to Windows, it likewise doesn't add any major new features. Windows 7 and 8 represented what the Windows team could deliver in three years, and Windows 8.1 is what they can do in a year. Update 1? That's about three months' worth of work, tops.

The problem with Update 1 isn't in any single small functional addition. It's in the strategic direction that this update implies. You may recall that I previously described Windows 8.1 as an apology, a way to fix Windows as much as possible in one year, and make the Metro environment more hospitable to tablet users (fewer trips to the desktop and Control Panel) and make the desktop more hospitable to traditional PC users (fewer reasons to visit the Metro side of the fence). In that sense, Windows 8.1 is "successful," but only within the confines of the madness of its predecessor. It doesn't do a thing to address the fact that Windows isn't a single OS. It's two of them, mobile and desktop, fused together unnaturally like a Frankenstein's monster.

So what does Update 1 add to the mix? This time around, Microsoft has committed what I consider to be the cardinal sin of Windows: It's a return to that age-old issue where Windows simply grew, spaghetti-like, to accommodate every silly possible need of the system's too diverse user group. Now, there are multiple ways to do different things in Metro, too. These previously consistent environment—like it or loathe it—has finally been put under the committee's knife.

Now, some people will see this as "choice," because these changes—desktop-like context menus in the Start screen, a desktop-like title bar in Metro apps, and so on—will somehow make the system more consistent for them, because they still use traditional PCs. But here's the thing. This mobile environment worked just fine with mouse and keyboard in Windows 8.0 and 8.1, and it was consistent with the touch-based interactions for which the environment was designed. Now? It's a mess.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 again proves that design by committee never works, and that by not strictly adhering to a singular product vision, the solution that is extruded out to customers on the other side is messy, convoluted, and compromised. Say what you will about Sinofsky, but Windows 8 was his baby. I can assure you that no one in Microsoft is particularly eager to claim this mess as their own. And Sinofsky must be beside himself with rage at what they've done to destroy what he created. More isn't always better. Sometimes, it's just ... more.


I do have some advice for the Windows team. And it's as obvious as it is necessary.

I always accepted the messy bits of Windows in the past because the system addressed such a large audience. But given the way things are going, Windows should evolve into a system that is laser targeted to the customers who will in fact continue using it regularly. That's mostly business users, but even when you look at the consumers who will use Windows, that usage is almost entirely productivity related. Windows should focus on that. On getting work done. On an audience of doers. Job one should be productivity.

Everyone likes to compare Apple or the Mac to BMW and, you know what? Fair enough, and if that's true then Windows is obviously GM, the overly-big messy GM of a decade ago. But Microsoft can't afford for Windows to be like GM anymore—just like GM couldn't, for whatever that's worth. Maybe Windows needs to be more like GMC, the part of GM that only makes trucks (and truck-based SUVs). After all, while many people choose to use a truck for basic transportation, they're really designed and optimized for work. You know, as should be Windows.

You can't please everybody, Microsoft. So stop trying. It's time to double down on the people who actually use your products, not some mythical group of consumers who will never stop using their simpler Android and iOS devices just because you wish they would.

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Thu 6th Feb 2014

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Posted by Delete Delete on Wed 5th Feb 2014


Criminals are once again using Java’s cross-platform design to add Linux and Mac users to their usual Windows target list, Kaspersky Lab’s researchers have discovered.

The malicious Java application recently unearthed by the firm, HEUR:Backdoor.Java.Agent.a, is only the latest example of the opportunistic trend to use the huge potential of Java to get a malware three-for-one in the cause of turning systems into DDoS bots.

Once on the target system after hitting Java flaw CVE-2013-2465 (SE 7 Update 21 and earlier), patched last June, the malware sets up its command and control using IRC. According to Kaspersky, one of the targets on the receiving end of a DDoS might be an unnamed bulk email service.

It also deploys the Zelix Klassmaster obfuscator as a technique meant to frustrate analysis.

“In addition to obfuscating bytecode, Zelix encrypts string constants. Zelix generates a different key for each class – which means that in order to decrypt all the strings in the application, you have to analyze all the classes in order to find the decryption keys,” said Kaspersky Lab researcher, Anton Ivanov.

The cross-platform tactic isn’t new and in truth it’s hard to know whether the criminals behind it are more interested in attacking Linux and Macs or simply targeting Java’s numerous vulnerabilities on the greatest number of systems. In December, DDoS malware targetting both Windows and Linux was reported by Poland's national CERT, albeit without the Java angle.

“Over the past year we have seen many samples of malware with different capabilities, some with DDoS abilities and automation through an IRC command and control,” commented Barry Shteiman, director of security strategy at security firm Imperva.

“The choice of Java in this case does make the malware piece more modern. Java is multiplatform and therefore will allow the malware to run on more platforms. It may also use the fact that hackers are very focused on Java now for vulnerability research, so there is a likelihood that the malware can evolve with new ways to exploit and onboard a system,” he said.


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Posted by Delete Delete on Wed 5th Feb 2014

 Chancellor George Osborne and education secretary Michael Gove will unveil a £500,000 fund to train teachers how to programme as part of a new campaign designed to raise awareness and interest in computer programming called Year of Code.

The funding, set to be announced today at the Royal Society of Arts in Central London this afternoon, will be awarded to businesses who are prepared to match the funding and then use the allocation for projects that train teachers across the UK.

Details of the Year of Code campaign are scarce but there will be a series of events taking place over the next 12 months to promote computing. It will also include a week-long programme in March encouraging all schools across the UK to teach every pupil at least one hour of coding in that week.

Rohan Silva, chairman of Year of Code and former senior policy advisor to the prime minister, said: "Computer coding is the lingua franca of the global technology economy. If the UK is to remain at the vanguard of innovation worldwide, we need to ensure that our workforce is equipped with the skills of the 21st century, not of the past. Year of Code is all about making sure this vital change takes place - and fast."

Mike Warriner, UK engineering director at Google, said: "The UK has a proud computing history but with more and more industries wanting computer scientists, coding has never been in more demand. It's great that teachers will be trained with the skills they need to teach children from a young age and hopefully inspire the next generation of developers and programmers.

The Department for Education is introducing a new national computing syllabus this September, which will be compulsory for all students between the ages of 5 and 16.

The new computing curriculum replaces the old ICT programme of study, which focused on computer literacy, with more up–to–date content teaching children how to code, create programmes and understand how a computer works.

The programme was devised with teachers and experts including the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Royal Academy of Engineering, with input from Microsoft, Google and leaders in the computer games industry.


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