Weekly tech bulletin for week ending 2015-05-24. Apple verdict reversed, NSA malware plans and more.

Published: Mon, 25 May 2015 by Rad

1. Appeals court reverses part of $930M verdict Apple won vs Samsung in 2012

Published: May 18, 2015 money, mobile

A U.S. appeals court on Monday reversed part of the $930 million verdict that Apple won in 2012 against Samsung Electronics, saying the iPhone maker's trade dress could not be protected.

Out of the $930 million judgment against Samsung, the appeals court ordered the court in San Jose to reconsider the $382 million portion awarded for trade dress dilution.

In a highly anticipated ruling stemming from the global smartphone wars, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., upheld the patent infringement violations found by a federal jury in a court in San Jose, California, as well as the damages awarded for those violations.

The appeals court said the features Apple sought to trademark were not eligible for this kind of legal protection because they are essential to the functioning of the phone. To grant such protection would give Apple a monopoly on these features forever, the court said.

Follow   www.cnbc.com to read more.

2. New NSA documents reveal plans to deliver malware through the Google Play store

Published: May 21, 2015 security

The NSA developed a plan to deliver malware through Google and Samsung app stores, according to newly published documents obtained by Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept. The documents details a program called IRRITANT HORN, which delivers malware by intercepting web traffic to and from mobile application servers.

Both Samsung and Google employ TLS encryption to protect against man-in-the-middle attacks like this, but cryptographers have been speculating for years that the NSA has found a way to break or circumvent those protections.

One slide details Samsung's update protocol, while another pinpoints the Google Play servers in France, used to deliver updates to phones throughout northern Africa.

Once the path to those servers was established, the NSA could intercept traffic before it reached the servers, injecting malware to specific users through a man-in-the-middle attack.

The files would appear to come from a trusted app store, but they would really be coming from the NSA. From there, the NSA could deliver tools from its extensive catalog of surveillance programs, including pulling a user's contact list or reporting their location in near-real-time.

Follow   www.theverge.com to read more.

3. This was Sony Music's contract with Spotify - up to $42mil in advances

Published: May 19, 2015 legal

A contract between Sony Music Entertainment and Spotify giving the streaming service a license to utilize Sony Music's catalog. The 42-page contract was signed in January 2011, a few months before Spotify launched in the US.

According to a music industry source, labels routinely keep advances for themselves

More interestingly, the contract details how Sony Music uses a Most Favored Nation clause to keep its yearly advances from falling behind those of other music labels

In section 4(a), Spotify agrees to pay a $25 million advance for the two years of the contract: $9 million the first year and $16 million the second, with a $17.5 million advance for the optional third year to Sony Music. The contract stipulates that the advance must be paid in installments every three months, but Spotify can recoup this money if it earns over that amount in the corresponding contract year.

Section 13 essentially makes every major aspect of the contract amendable if any other label has a better deal or interpretation of that aspect than Sony Music. Section 13(2) lists the provisions which can be amended in Sony Music's contract if a better deal is obtained by another music label, including what constitutes an "active user," the definition of gross revenue, and any improved security provisions. Sony Music can call on an independent auditor once a year to determine whether Spotify has struck a more agreeable deal with any other labels.

Follow   www.theverge.com to read more.

4. Efficiency record for black silicon solar cells jumps to 22.1%

Published: May 18, 2015 tech

Researchers have obtained the record-breaking efficiency of 22.1 percent efficiency on nanostructured silicon solar cells. An almost 4 percent absolute increase to their previous record was achieved by applying a thin passivating film on the nanostructures and by integrating all metal contacts on the back side of the cell.

Finland's Aalto University's researchers improved their previous record by over three absolute % in cooperation with Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.

The researchers have obtained the record-breaking efficiency of 22.1% on nanostructured silicon solar cells as certified by Fraunhofer ISE CalLab. An almost 4% absolute increase to their previous record is achieved by applying a thin passivating film on the nanostructures by Atomic Layer Deposition, and by integrating all metal contacts on the back side of the cell.

The new record cells consists of a thick back-contacted structure that is known to be highly sensitive to the front surface recombination. The certified external quantum efficiency of 96% at 300nm wavelength demonstrates that the increased surface recombination problem no longer exists and for the first time the black silicon is not limiting the final energy conversion efficiency.

Follow   www.sciencedaily.com to read more.

5. The internet is running out of room – but we can save it

Published: May 18, 2015 tech

Are we running out of internet? It might sound like an odd question, but researchers met at the Royal Society in London this week to discuss a coming internet "capacity crunch", and what we might do about it. The crunch is real, caused by fast growth of online media consumption through the likes of Netflix and Youtube, but physics and engineering can help us escape it. The internet just needs a few tweaks.

Fear of a capacity crunch stems from a hard physical truth - there is a limit to the amount of information you can cram down any communications channel, fibre-optic cable or copper wire. Discovered in 1940 by Claude Shannon, this limit depends on the channel's bandwidth - the number of frequencies it can transmit - and its signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).

Digital traffic jam

The information capacity of optical fibres - the light-carrying pipes that form the backbone of the internet - can be increased simply by increasing the power of the light beamed through them. This boosts the signal that encodes, say, a Netflix show so that it dominates over the inherent noise of the fibre, making it easier to read at the other end.

If you up the power beyond a certain point, the fibre becomes saturated with light and the signal is degraded. This limit means fibres as we currently use them are nearing their full capacity. "You can't get an infinite amount of capacity in a fibre," Andrew Ellis at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, who organised the meeting, told New Scientist.

Follow   www.newscientist.com to read more.

6. Logjam TLS vulnerability is academic, not catastrophic

Published: May 20, 2015 security

Logjam is a new weakness in TLS that allows an attacker to downgrade the cryptography on a connection; it is similar to another recent attack on TLS called FREAK. To help us understand why widespread panic is unnecessary, let's look at what a practical attack would get the attacker, and what that attack would require.

An attacker leveraging Logjam could see all the data that the victim thought was protected by TLS.

VPNs are an ideal target for Logjam. An attacker can target a hotel lobby where people are connecting back to their offices via VPN. The connections are long-lived and carry sensitive information, making them worth the trouble.

Attack would require

  • The attacker must be actively listening to the conversation before it starts - lurking on an airport Wi-Fi near the victim is an example. The attacker must select a victim in advance and actively manipulate the victim's connection.
  • Both the victim and the victim's online service must use traditional Diffie-Helman key exchange and "export-grade" ciphers.
  • Both the victim and the victim's online service must use traditional Diffie-Helman key exchange and "export-grade" ciphers.
  • The attacker needs to spend some time and crypto power in advance to precompute values based off of commonly used 512-bit prime numbers.

Follow   www.techrepublic.com to read more.

7. The Senate Fails to Reform NSA Spying, Votes Against USA Freedom Act

Published: May 23, 2015 legal

A last-minute bid to reform NSA spying before lawmakers break for a week-long recess failed early Saturday morning after hours of debate and filibuster overnight when Senate lawmakers voted 57-42 against the USA Freedom Act.

Lawmakers who opposed it, however, said it would handicap the NSA and allow terrorist groups to prosper. However, Bulk collection of phone records from U.S. telecoms is on hold.

The bill called for records to be retained by telecoms and would have forced the NSA to obtain court orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to gain access to them

A companion bill passed in the House earlier this month by a landslide vote of 338 to 88 but encountered trouble in the Senate where opponents said it would handicap the fight against terrorism and harm national security.

Proponents of the bill were pushing to get it passed before lawmakers could vote on whether or not to re-authorize sections of the US Patriot Act. Section 215, which the government has long said legally justifies its collection of phone records, is set to expire at midnight June 1.

Follow   www.wired.com to read more.

8. Tech Coalition Urges Obama to Reject Encryption 'Backdoors'

Published: May 19, 2015 legal

In an open letter sent to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, leading tech firms, privacy advocacy groups and security and policy experts urged against any laws that would require companies to build "backdoors" into their software to provide government agencies access to encrypted data

Big businesses concerned

Letter was signed by many tech companies and security experts including Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, HP, Mozilla, Rackspace, Symantec and Yahoo. Security experts and others appeal to the White House to protect privacy rights as it considers how to address law enforcement's need to access data that is increasingly encrypted.

"We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products...". "We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology."

Open letter to Pesident Obama, leading tech firms, privacy advocacy groups, and security and policy experts

Source: Open letter - PDF

The signatories of the letter argued against those measures. "Whether you call them 'front doors' or 'back doors,' introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government's use will make those products less secure against other attackers.

Follow   www.nbcnews.com to read more.

9. Scientists develop unique laser that could transform medicine... and mobile phones

Published: May 18, 2015 science

World's first multi-use metal-vapour laser can be used to revolutionize operations, create more efficient gadgets, and sense the atmosphere. The only one of its kind, it can cut bones and tissues without burning them or causing them any damage, and glass such as that needed for mobile phones

Everything from medicine to communication technology

The new laser is a strontium vapour laser that can operate with a wavelength of 6.45 microns. It almost wasn't invented after the theory behind it was created years ago and then forgotten about. It was only when asked about the technology by American academics in 2001 that rekindled interest in it. Now it could be adopted by a number of major companies, including Samsung.

It can even analyse the gas composition of the atmosphere around it and could potentially be used as a new device for ecologists. While there are lots of kinds of lasers, particularly gas lasers, there is not a multi-functional one that can be used in different fields.

Developed at Tomsk State University (Russia), the breakthrough is the culmination of decades of work and comes 52 years after researchers devised the first Tomsk laser in laboratories within the facility. Strontium vapor lasers can operate simultaneously at 10-12 different wavelengths. That's an exceptional case for vapor lasers

Follow   siberiantimes.com to read more.

10. Samsung affirms Tizen is here to stay, says it’s "The OS of Everything"

Published: May 18, 2015 mobile

Tizen is a new platform in the smartphone world (though it's been developing for a few years now), and Samsung's connection to it gives the fledgling platform a certain amount of publicity - whether good or bad. Tizen has its share of critics who view iOS, Android, and Windows as sufficient for OS choices; "we don't need another," some have said.

Internet of things in viewfinder

"We are preparing for the Internet of Things, and Tizen as 'The OS of Everything' will be the core platform"

Jong-deok (JD) Choi, Samsung Electronics Software Center VP

Samsung's goal is to have all its devices connected to the Internet of Things by 2017, and to have all devices connected to each other within the next five years (by 2020). The Internet will be at the center of all the excitement within the mobile space, since not only mobile devices, but also the home, will be connected to the Internet. Smart doorknobs, smart refrigerators, smart washers, smart dryers, and smart ovens are part of Samsung's next big thing.

Follow   www.sammobile.com to read more.

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