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'OK Google' could be coming soon to a Chromebook near you

Written By kom nampuldu on Senin, 22 Desember 2014 | 16.00

Google's software engineers are looking at bringing a little bit of Android to the Chromebook. François Beaufort, who works on Google's Chromium open-source browser, announced on Friday that new developer builds of the Chromebook's software let you ask it whatever you want using the "OK Google" voice commands.

According to Beaufort, the Chromebook's support for "OK Google" queries is only included in Dev Channel builds and it's "experimental" for now. 

It's also pretty well hidden. Beaufort describes:

"Try out the experimental new version of the 'Ok Google' experience by toggling the chrome://flags/#enable-hotword-hardware flag. Restart your device, go to Chrome OS Settings and check 'Enable "Ok Google' to start a voice search" to train your device to respond to the sound of your voice by saying three times 'Ok Google'."

Once you get it up and running, though, Beaufort says you can speak questions whenever your Chromebook's screen is awake and unlocked.

Keep in mind that this is still just an experimental feature in a developer version of the Chromebook's software, and there's no telling when it'll make it into the consumer version of the Chromebook OS, if at all, so don't get too excited just yet.

The story behind the story: Google isn't the only company looking to bring its virtual assistant system from its mobile OS to its PC OS: Leaks suggest that Windows 10 will include a desktop version of Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant, although it isn't nearly ready to use yet. (There's no word from Apple about whether Siri will ever jump from iOS to the Mac.)

Whether many people will actually use virtual assistants on their PCs remains to be seen, of course, but bringing them to PCs should up the competitive ante and, hopefully, result in better results from these tools.


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Sony hack was 'cyber vandalism,' not act of war, says Obama

The hack of Sony Pictures, blamed on North Korea by the FBI, was not an act of war, President Obama said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

"I don't think it was an act of war," he told CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" in an interview that was recorded on Friday. "I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately, as I said."

Obama's remarks are important for framing what might come next.

One of the possibilities, he said, was a return of North Korea to the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list, which automatically imposes certain sanctions on the country and restrictions on interaction with U.S. organizations.

But that's not a decision that he can make alone. It's decided by the State Department and weighs a history of support for terrorist acts.

"We're going to review those through a process that's already in place," Obama said. "I'll wait to review what the findings are."

Hours before broadcast of the TV interview, North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission issued a statement that again denied any link with the Sony hack but repeated praise for the action of the hacker group, which used the name "Guardians of Peace."

"The NDC of the DPRK highly estimates the righteous action taken by the "guardians of peace," though it is not aware of their residence," it said, using the official name of the country, The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The statement was typical of North Korean style, full of indignation that it could be accused of such an attack and, equally in keeping with style, contained a threat to the U.S. government.

"Nothing is more serious miscalculation than guessing that just a single movie production company is the target of this counteraction. Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans," it said. "The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels."

The National Defense Commission controls the country's army and has under it several cyber warfare divisions, including Unit 121, which is thought to employ the bulk of North Korea's hackers and operates from bases inside the country and overseas.


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Tor warns of possible disruption of network through server seizures

The Tor project said it could face attempts to incapacitate its network in the next few days through the seizure of specialized servers.

The project did not name the group or agency that may try to seize its directory authorities, which guide Tor users on the list of distributed relays on the network that bounce communications around.

"We are taking steps now to ensure the safety of our users, and our system is already built to be redundant so that users maintain anonymity even if the network is attacked. Tor remains safe to use," wrote "arma" in a post Friday on the Tor project blog. The "arma" developer handle is generally associated with project leader Roger Dingledine.

Rather than take a direct route from source to destination, data packets on the Tor network, designed to mask people's Internet use, take a random path through several relays that cover user tracks.

Unless an adversary can control a majority of the directory authorities, he can't trick the Tor client into using other Tor relays, according to the Tor project website. There are nine directory authorities spread across the U.S. and Europe, according to arma.

There were no reports of a seizure by late Sunday. The project promised to update the blog and its Twitter account with new information.

Users who live under repressive regimes look to Tor as a way to escape surveillance and censorship. But the network has also been used by illegal websites including online sellers of drugs, like the underground drug market Silk Road. A second version of the market, Silk Road 2.0, was launched a few weeks after the first was seized by law enforcement in October 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Millions use the Tor network at their local Internet cafe to stay safe for ordinary Web browsing, as also banks, diplomatic officials, members of law enforcement, bloggers and others, according to the Tor project.

"Attempts to disable the Tor network would interfere with all of these users, not just ones disliked by the attacker," it added.

An exit node cluster operator for the Tor network reported unusual network activity late Sunday. But that was not seen as an indication of the expected attack. "No, this is an exit relay operator, not a directory authority operator," wrote arma in a comment.


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North Korea wants joint probe into Sony hack, warns of consequences if not

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 21 Desember 2014 | 16.00

Denying responsibility for a major hack on Sony Pictures, North Korea has proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. but promised "serious consequences" should its offer be rejected.

On Friday, the FBI said it had concluded North Korean responsibility because of several similarities in the malware code, the computer control network used and the software tools used against Sony and that used in previous attacks in South Korea that had been blamed on North Korea.

North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, said in a statement Saturday that it needed to see "clear evidence" and said comparisons with previous cyberattacks were irrelevant to the Sony case.

"Reference to the past cyber-attacks quite irrelevant with the DPRK and a string of presumptive assertions such as 'similarity' and 'repetition' can convince no one," the Foreign Ministry said.

The Foreign Ministry proposed a joint investigation into the incident with the U.S.

"The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasure while finding fault with the DPRK."

The hack was presumed to be targeted at Sony because of the planned Dec. 25 release of "The Interview," a satirical movie in which two showbiz reporters go to North Korea on a secret mission to kill leader Kim Jong Un. Earlier in the week before Sony said that is would cancel release of the movie, hackers threatened to attack movie theaters that show the film. The Foreign Ministry statement appeared to make an effort to ensure its strong language wouldn't be interpreted as a further threat of action on movie theaters.

"We will never pardon those undesirable elements keen on hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK," it said, using the acronym for the country's office name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "In case we retaliate against them, we will target with legitimacy those responsible for the anti-DPRK acts and their bases, not engaging in terrorist attack aimed at the innocent audience in cinemas."

It's not the first time that North Korea has demanded a joint investigation into international allegations against it.

Earlier this year, the country wanted such after it was accused by South Korea of being responsible for several drones that were found crashed near South Korea's border with North Korea. And in 2010, when the South Korean naval vessel the Cheonan was torpedoed and sank with the loss of 46 lives, the country wanted to be part of a South Korean investigation. In both cases, North Korea was deemed ultimately responsible.

The FBI's report into the hacking investigation was published on Friday, a day after the United Nations General Assembly voted to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity. The allegations refer to the brutal way in which the ruling regime cracks down on dissent and jails prisoners in labor camps under inhumane conditions.


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Boeing, BlackBerry working on a smartphone that would 'self-destruct'

It seems like something out of an old episode of Mission Impossible or Inspector Gadget—an ultra-secure phone that self destructs. But such a phone might be close to reality, courtesy of Boeing and BlackBerry.

According to Reuters (via Recode), Boeing and BlackBerry are currently jointly developing a super-secure smartphone geared toward governments and other groups or individuals who require high security standards. And if someone goes and tampers with the device, it'll render itself inoperable.

We're not talking about something that burns itself or explodes or anything like that, though; instead, Slashgear says that "all data will be erased" from the phone "if the tamper-proof casing is taken apart." So it's not as dramatic as, say, something from spy movies, but it certainly sounds effective.

We don't yet know when this phone will be available, but Reuters says that "Boeing has begun offering the phone to potential customers."

Why this matters: It should go without saying, but smartphone security is kind of a big deal, and smartphone owners have countless options for keeping their data safe. iPhone owners have the Touch ID fingerprint sensor and Apple's Find My iPhone location and data security services at their disposal, for example, and Android users can sign up for one of countless phone security services.

Although Boeing and BlackBerry designed its phone with governments in mind, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect smartphone makers to try and bring similar "self-destruct" security mechanisms to consumer-level devices.

Of course, the self-destruct mechanism isn't all this phone offers: According to Recode, the phone will also work with biometric sensors and be able to connect to satellites, presumably for secure lines of communication. It'll also use BlackBerry Enterprise Service 12, a phone management and security platform for use in businesses, and come with dual SIM cards so it can connect to a wider array of wireless networks.


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US rejects North Korea offer to investigate Sony hack, reaches out to China

The U.S. has rejected North Korea's proposal for a joint investigation of a devastating hack on Sony Pictures, and has reached out to China for help blocking future cyberattacks.

North Korea Saturday denied U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation allegations that it was responsible for the Sony hack, and proposed a joint investigation into the incident with the U.S. The U.S., however, is standing firm in its allegations.

"The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions," according to a statement from White House National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh. "If the North Korean government wants to help, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused," according to the statement, cited in published reports Saturday.

The U.S. has reached out to China recently to help block North Koreas ability to launch cyberattacks in the future, according to a report in the New York Times.

"What we are looking for is a blocking action, something that would cripple their efforts to carry out attacks," according to an unnamed official quotes in the story. So far however, China has not responded, according to the report.

One likely reason the U.S. has sought China's help is that North Korean telecommunications are run through Chinese-operated networks, the Times noted.

After a two-week investigation, the FBI said Friday that North Korea was responsible for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures. The breach of Sony's network, which occurred in late November, involved financial documents, executive emails, legal and business agreements as well as personal employee information. Leaks of the emails online have embarrassed Sony.

The FBI pointed out similarities between malware used in the Sony hack and cybertools used in prior attacks attributed to North Korea.

Sony decided earlier this week to cancel the release of "The Interview," a movie about reporters on a mission to kill the leader of North Korea. The hackers threatened reprisals if the movie was released.

President Obama said the U.S. is prepared to respond "proportionally" to the attack, and said his staff was preparing various options. The overture to China was likely part of that response.

In its statement Saturday, North Korea warned that the U.S. would face "serious consequences" if it rejects its proposal for a joint investigation and goes ahead with countermeasures.


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Microsoft's Lumia Denim release is coming for Windows Phone

Written By kom nampuldu on Jumat, 19 Desember 2014 | 16.01

Microsoft confirmed Thursday that it had begun rolling out its Lumia "Denim" update for WIndows Phone, officially bringing Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 and improved camera functionality for supported devices.

Microsoft is pushing Denim somewhat piecemeal across different geographies and phones, however, so some of the features may arrive on different phones at different times. And there's no official timetable to bring it to the United States—although it should arrive on American shores fairly soon.

The Lumia Denim update ships as part of the Lumia 830, the Lumia 730 dual-SIM variant, and the Lumia 735. All other Microsoft Lumia Windows Phone 8 phones will receive Denim sometime before the end of the year—subject to carrier approval, of course.

Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 arrives

Denim includes the official rollout of Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, with the ability to combine apps into folders, merge messages for forwarding and replies in the Messages app, plus improvements like a Store Live Tile and a consumer VPN function. (Some of you have been able to try out Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 via Microsoft's "developer" program.) Microsoft's digital assistant, Cortana, is also arriving in the United Kingdom and China as a "beta" app, as well as to Australia, Canada, and India as an alpha app—all as part of the Denim update.

For those who've been frustrated by the lengthy shot-to-shot and focus performance of the otherwise excellent Lumia camera hardware, Denim's camera improvements will also be welcome. However, they're being deployed as part of a new Lumia Camera app (the older Lumia Camera app is being renamed "Lumia Camera Classic"). 

Lumia Camera, however, will be available only on the newer, higher-end Lumia models: the Lumia 930, Lumia Icon, Lumia 1520 and Lumia 830—not the 1020, with its massive 41MP sensor. Lumia Camera capabilities will include a faster shot-to-shot speed measured in milliseconds, Microsoft said. Moment Capture will trigger 4K video recording via a long press of the button. Rich Capture automatically captures exposures for HDR photos that can be added after the fact, and a Glance Screen can place data from Bing Weather or Bing Health and Fitness on your lock screen.

Phones with the SensorCore technology—the Lumia 930, Lumia Icon, and Lumia 1520—will also be able to trigger Cortana by saying "Hey Cortana" as a trigger phrase.                 

Who gets what, and when

Here's what it all boils down to: If you're an American Windows Phone owner, you'll be receiving Denim as part of a carrier update, possibly by the end of the year. But only the Lumia 930, Lumia Icon and Lumia 1520 will get both the Lumia Camera update and the "Hey Cortana" active listening feature. The Lumia 830 will get only the Lumia Camera update.

We haven't had a chance to play around with the Lumia Camera app or the Cortana active listening feature. We'll let you know when those features arrive on one of our phones.  


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Uber temporarily suspends service in Portland

Uber is suspending its service in Portland, Oregon, for the next three months while city regulators there work to reframe local laws around taxis and car hailing apps.

"We are pausing pick-ups within Portland city limits for three months," an Uber spokeswoman said Thursday via email. The company will continue operating in the larger Portland metro area, she said, which includes Beaverton and Hillsboro. Drop-offs from those areas would continue in Portland, she said.

Pick-ups in Portland will continue through this Sunday evening, she said, which Uber also detailed in a blog post.

The development comes just days after a lawsuit from the city of Portland against Uber, which ordered it to halt its service because it did not have the permits to operate there legally.

"Uber is dedicated to curating and continuing a valuable and constructive relationship with Portland's lawmakers, working to create a regulatory framework that works for everyone, not just us," the company said.

A spokesman for Portland Mayor Charlie Hales did not immediately respond to comment.


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Think North Korea hacked Sony? Think about this

North Korea or not? There's still a lot we don't know about the attack on Sony Pictures and those behind it.

After two weeks of investigations, anonymous government officials told some reporters and politicians on Wednesday that North Korea was behind the attacks. But on Thursday, U.S. officials resisted making the same allegations in public and didn't release any evidence to back up the anonymous claims.

North Korean involvement is certainly possible. After all, defectors have spoken about North Korea's cyber attack force and training. But it also plays into a popular and easy-to-believe narrative about the country.

There certainly appears to be circumstantial evidence, but it could be just that. So before calling case closed, here are some reasons to be wary, at least until some evidence is made public.

Unlike any hack attributed to North Korea in the past

North Korea has been blamed for a string of hacks in the past, and it's generally accepted that the country has the capability to hack and attack companies. But no previous attack attributed to North Korea—or any nation-state—has been so public and so noisy. In the past, attacks happened, North Korea was suspected, and then sometimes the country was later blamed. It rarely said anything, except for an initial denial. This time around, the hacker group has posted messages online taunting Sony and telling the FBI they cannot be caught. Early on, they were also interacting with reporters.

It is, however, very similar to plenty of hacker activist attacks made against major corporations and governments and—it's worth noting—against North Korean Internet sites in May 2013. In those attacks, thousands of user names and passwords for North Korean news site "Uriminzokkiri" were leaked by hackers operating under the "Anonymous" banner.

The hackers didn't mention "The Interview" at first

If the hack was all about stopping the release of "The Interview," why didn't that come up earlier? For the first couple of weeks, the messages that accompanied leaked data didn't mention the movie at all. It was much more about Sony and its executives—something underlined by the vindictiveness of the leaks.

Here's a key paragraph from a message sent on Nov. 30 to an IDG News Service reporter from the same email address used to leak the first cache of Sony data:

"Sony and Sony Pictures have made terrible racial discrimination and human rights violation, indiscriminate tyranny and restructuring in recent years. It has brought damage to a lot of people, some of whom are among us. Nowadays Sony Pictures is about to prey on the weak with a plan of another indiscriminate restructuring for their own benefits. This became a decisive motive of our action. We required Sony Pictures to stop this and pay proper monetary compensation to the victims."

The movie wasn't mentioned until a message on Dec. 8, and then it was in addition to previous demands made by the group.

"Do carry out our demand if you want to escape us. And, Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War!"

The movie wasn't mentioned by name until Dec. 10, when the hackers also issued their threat to movie theaters.

North Korea issues threats all the time

The country expressed outrage at "The Interview" on June 25 when, without mentioning it by name, it promised "Those who defamed our supreme leadership and committed the hostile acts against the DPRK can never escape the stern punishment to be meted out according to a law wherever they might be in the world."

If you don't follow North Korea closely—and few do—you'd be forgiven for thinking that's a pretty damning statement of intention. But such threats are business as usual for North Korea.

On the same day, the state-run news agency hit out at regional U.S. military actions, saying the situation was so grave "that a nuclear war may break out any moment." In the same article, it said "Only merciless punishment and fist, not word, will work on the U.S." And a day later, it lashed out at South Korea, saying its own soldiers were awaiting "the order to be given by the Supreme Command to strike the provocateurs."

It's easy to believe

Because not a lot is known about North Korea, things that really should be questioned are sometimes taken as fact because they neatly fit into the box where many people place North Korean behavior: weird with a touch of crazy.

Take the death of Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un's uncle, who was removed in a purge a year ago. A report, eventually traced back to a Chinese satirical website, said he had been killed by being stripped naked and fed to a pack of ravenous dogs. Newspapers jumped on the story without questioning its source, and it made global headlines for a day until cooler minds noted he was probably killed by a firing squad.

And then there was Kim Jong Un's former girlfriend, Hyon Song Wol, who, according to newspaper headlines in late 2013, had also been purged and killed by firing squad. In May this year she appeared on North Korean television speaking at an event in Pyongyang and looking very much alive.


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Human error root cause of November Microsoft Azure outage

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 18 Desember 2014 | 16.00

Human error was the culprit for a November outage of the Microsoft Azure cloud storage service. The company is hoping that recent updates that automate formerly manual processes will help prevent similar outages in the future.

"Microsoft Azure had clear operating guidelines but there was a gap in the deployment tooling that relied on human decisions and protocol," wrote Jason Zander, Microsoft vice president for Azure, in a blog post Wednesday detailing the outage. "With the tooling updates the policy is now enforced by the deployment platform itself."

This is not the first time Azure has been bedeviled by human failure.

In February 2013, a lapsed security certificate led to a major Azure outage.

Both cases show how even small errors can have a huge impact in a service as large as Azure, and seem to have reinforced for Microsoft the importance of automating manual processes as thoroughly as possible.

This latest Azure outage happened late in the evening of Nov. 18, Pacific Standard Time (Nov. 19 Coordinated Universal Time), due to intermittent failure from some of the company's storage services.

Other Azure services that relied on the storage service also went offline, most notably the Azure Virtual Machines.

The outage stemmed from a change in the configuration of the storage service, one that was made to improve the performance of the service.

Typically, Microsoft, like most other cloud providers, will test a proposed change to its cloud services on a handful of servers. This way, if there is a problem with the configuration change, engineers can spot it early before a large number of customers are impacted. If the change works as expected, the company will then roll the change out to larger numbers of servers in successive waves, until the entire system is updated.

In the case of this particular change, however, an engineer assumed that the update had already been tested in a number of waves (or "flights" in Microsoft parlance), and so went ahead and applied the change across the rest of the system.

The configuration, however, contained an elusive bug that would cause the storage service software to go into an infinite loop, preventing further communications with other components of the system.

Microsoft engineers quickly pinpointed the problem and issued fixes. By 10:50 a.m. UTC, the storage service was completely back online, though restoring all of the virtual machines, a small number of which were isolated from the network due to the outage, would take another two days.

In the weeks that followed, Microsoft investigated in detail what went wrong, as well as looked into ways to make sure the outage wouldn't happen again. As a result, the company has updated its deployment system so that it now enforces the testing and flighting policies before new code or a change goes live across the entire system.

"With the tooling updates the policy is now enforced by the deployment platform itself," Zander wrote.

In the outage of February 2013, a failure in manual protocols was also to blame. Parts of the system went offline due to lapsed security certificates. The process to apply the updated certificates to Azure machines was scheduled with a larger routine update, a decision made by engineers who were unaware that the new certificates would not be delivered until after the old ones had expired.

After investigating the November incident, Microsoft wanted to share its "root cause analysis" with customers, Zander wrote, in hopes that users would find the act of transparency to be proof of Microsoft's commitment to providing quality cloud hosting services.

Overall, the act of posting of the root cause analysis seemed to please at least some Azure users and the IT community as well, despite the additional negative publicity it could bring Microsoft.

"I've seen several companies where analysis like this would be for management only. I guess it's just human nature to want to sweep mistakes and accidents under the rug, but it does also speak volumes about the culture in such companies. Kudos to Microsoft and every other big player that communicates these things," wrote a user on the Hacker News aggregation site.


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