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Main article: Internet of Things

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 42

Now even the FBI is warning about your smart TV’s security

22:47 | 1 December

If you just bought a smart TV on Black Friday or plan to buy one for Cyber Monday tomorrow, the FBI wants you to know a few things.

Smart TVs are like regular television sets but with an internet connection. With the advent and growth of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services, most saw internet-connected televisions as a cord-cutter’s dream. But like anything that connects to the internet, it opens up smart TVs to security vulnerabilities and hackers. Not only that, many smart TVs come with a camera and a microphone. But as is the case with most other internet-connected devices, manufacturers often don’t put security as a priority.

That’s the key takeaway from the FBI’s Portland field office, which just ahead of some of the biggest shopping days of the year posted a warning on its website about the risks that smart TVs pose.

“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router,” wrote the FBI.

The FBI warned that hackers can take control of your unsecured smart TV and in worst cases, take control of the camera and microphone to watch and listen in.

Active attacks and exploits against smart TVs are rare, but not unheard of. Because every smart TV comes with their manufacturer’s own software and are at the mercy of their often unreliable and irregular security patching schedule, some devices are more vulnerable than others. Earlier this year, hackers showed it was possible to hijack Google’s Chromecast streaming stick and broadcast random videos to thousands of victims.

In fact, some of the biggest exploits targeting smart TVs in recent years were developed by the Central Intelligence Agency, but were stolen and published online by WikiLeaks two years ago.

But as much as the FBI’s warning is responding to genuine fears, arguably one of the bigger issues that should cause as much if not greater concerns are how much tracking data is collected on smart TV owners.

The Washington Post earlier this year found that some of the most popular smart TV makers — including Samsung and LG — collect tons of information about what users are watching in order to help advertisers better target ads against their viewers and to suggest what to watch next, for example. The TV tracking problem became so problematic a few years ago that smart TV maker Vizio had to pay $2.2 million in fines after it was caught secretly collecting customer viewing data. Earlier this year, a separate class action suit related to the tracking again Vizio was allowed to go ahead.

The FBI recommends placing black tape over an unused smart TV camera, keeping your smart TV up-to-date with the latest patches and fixes, and to read the privacy policy to better understand what your smart TV is capable of.

As convenient as it might be, the most secure smart TV might be one that isn’t connected to the internet at all.

 


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Amazon Sidewalk is a new long-range wireless network for your stuff

21:25 | 25 September

At its annual hardware event in Seattle, Amazon today announced Sidewalk, a new low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol the company is developing to connect all of the IoT devices in and around your house.

Amazon argues that Bluetooth and WiFi don’t have enough range, while 5F takes too much power and is too complex.

“We came up with something that we call Amazon Sidewalk,” Amazon’s device chief Dave Limp said at the event today. “Amazon Sidewalk is a brand new low bandwidth network that uses the already existing free over the air 900 megahertz spectrum. We think it will be great for keeping track of things, keeping things up to date — but first and foremost, it will extend in the distance at which you can control these kinds of simple, low-cost, easy-to-use devices.

The details here remain a bit vague, but Amazon says that you may be able to use Sidewalk to connect to devices that can be up to a mile away, depending on how the base station and devices are positioned.

Image from iOS 3 1

Amazon already sent out 700 test devices to households in L.A. to test the access points — and once you have a lot of access points, you create a network with some pretty broad coverage.

Amazon says it’ll publish the protocol so that other device makers can also integrate it into their devices.

The first product that uses Sidewalk? A dog tag, so that you’ll hopefully see fewer lost dogs on your local Nextdoor in the near future because if your dog now leaves the perimeter, you’ll get an alert. This new tag, the Ring Fetch, will launch next year.

download

 


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Researchers developed a sensing system to constantly track the performance of workers

23:01 | 29 June

Researchers have come up with a mobile-sensing system that can track and rate the performance of workers by combining a smartphone, fitness bracelets and a custom app.

The mobile-sensing system, as the researchers call it, is able to classify high and low performers. The team used the system to track 750 U.S. workers for one year. The system was able to tell the difference between high performers and low performers with 80% accuracy.

The aim, the researchers say, is to give employees insight into physical, emotional and behavioral well-being. But that constant flow of data also has a downside, and if abused, can put employees under constant surveillance by the companies they work for.

The researchers, including Dartmouth University computer science professor Andrew Campbell, whose earlier work on a student monitoring app provided the underlying technology for this system, see this as a positive gateway to improving worker productivity.

“This is a radically new approach to evaluating workplace performance using passive sensing data from phones and wearables,” said Campbell. “Mobile sensing and machine learning might be the key to unlocking the best from every employee.”

The researchers argue that the technology can provide a more objective measure of performance than self-evaluations and interviews, which they say can be unreliable.

The mobile-sensing system developed by the researchers has three distinct pieces. A smartphone tracks physical activity, location, phone use and ambient light. The fitness tracker monitors heart functions, sleep, stress and body measurements like weight and calorie consumption. Meanwhile, location beacons placed in the home and office provide information on time at work and breaks from the desk.

From here, cloud-based machine learning algorithms are used to classify workers by performance level.

The study found that higher performers typically had lower rates of phone usage, had longer periods of deep sleep and were more physically active.

Privacy experts and labor advocates have long raised concerns about the practice of tracking employees. That hasn’t stopped companies from incentivizing employees to wear fitness tracks in exchange for savings on insurance or other benefits. Startups have popped up to offer even more ways to track employees.

For instance, WeWork acquired in February Euclid, a data platform that tracks the identity and behavior of people in the physical world. Shiva Rajaraman, WeWork’s chief product officer, told TechCrunch at the time that the Euclid platform and its team will become integrated into a software analytics package that WeWork plans to sell to companies that aren’t renting WeWork space but want to WeWork-ify their own offices.

Meanwhile, the team of researchers suggests that while its system of continuous monitoring via wearables and other devices is not yet available, it could be coming in the next few years. It’s unclear if the team is making a calculated guess or if there are designs to try and launch this system as a product.

The team, led by Dartmouth University, included researchers from University of Notre Dame, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Washington, University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Irvine, Ohio State University, University of Texas at Austin and Carnegie Mellon University .

A paper describing the study will be published in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile Wearable and Ubiquitous Technology.

 


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Microsoft gives 500 patents to startups

13:00 | 28 March

Microsoft today announced a major expansion of its Azure IP Advantage program, which provides its Azure users with protection against patent trolls. This program now also provides customers who are building IoT solutions that connect to Azure with access to 10,000 patents to defend themselves against intellectual property lawsuits.

What’s maybe most interesting here, though, is that Microsoft is also donating 500 patents to startups in the LOT Network. This organization, which counts companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, SAP, Epic Games, Ford, GM, Lyft and Uber among its well over 150 members, is designed to protect companies against patent trolls by giving them access to a wide library of patents from its member companies and other sources.

“The LOT Network is really committed to helping address the proliferation of intellectual property losses, especially ones that are brought by non-practicing entities, or so-called trolls,” Microsoft  CVP and Deputy General Counsel Erich Andersen told me. 

This new program goes well beyond basic protection from patent trolls, though. Qualified startups who join the LOT Network can acquire Microsoft patents as part of their free membership and as Andresen stressed, the startups will own them outright. The LOT network will be able to provide its startup members with up to three patents from this collection.

There’s one additional requirement here, though: to qualify for getting the patents, these startups also have to meet a $1,000 per month Azure spend. As Andersen told me, though, they don’t have to make any kind of forward pledge. The company will simply look at a startup’s last three monthly Azure bills.

“We want to help the LOT Network grow its network of startups,” Andersen said. “To provide an incentive, we are going to provide these patents to them.” He noted that startups are obviously interested in getting access to patents as a foundation of their companies, but also to raise capital and to defend themselves against trolls.

The patents we’re talking about here cover a wide range of technologies as well as geographies. Andersen noted that we’re talking about U.S. patents as well as European and Chinese patents, for example.

“The idea is that these startups come from a diverse set of industry sectors,” he said. “The hope we have is that when they approach LOT, they’ll find patents among those 500 that are going to be interesting to basically almost any company that might want a foundational set of patents for their business.”

As for the extended Azure IP Advantage program, it’s worth noting that every Azure customer who spends more than $1,000 per month over the past three months and hasn’t filed a patent infringement lawsuit against another Azure customers in the last two years can automatically pick one of the patents in the program’s portfolio to protect itself against frivolous patent lawsuits from trolls (and that’s a different library of patents from the one Microsoft is donating to the LOT Network as part of the startup program).

As Andresen noted, the team looked at how it could enhance the IP program by focusing on a number of specific areas. Microsoft is obviously investing a lot into IoT, so extending the program to this area makes sense. “What we’re basically saying is that if the customer is using IoT technology — regardless of whether it’s Microsoft technology or not — and it’s connected to Azure, then we’re going to provide this patent pick right to help customers defend themselves against patent suits,” Andersen said.

In addition, for those who do choose to use Microsoft IoT technology across the board, Microsoft will provide indemnification, too.

Patent trolls have lately started acquiring IoT patents, so chances are they are getting ready to making use of them and that we’ll see quite a bit of patent litigation in this space in the future. “The early signs we’re seeing indicate that this is something that customers are going to care about in the future,” said Andersen.

 


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Amazon stops selling stick-on Dash buttons

13:56 | 1 March

Amazon has confirmed it’s retired physical stick-on Dash buttons from sale — in favor of virtual alternatives that let Prime Members tap a digital button to reorder a staple product.

It also points to its Dash Replenishment service — which offers an API for device makers wanting to build Internet connected appliances that can automatically reorder the products they need to function — be it cat food, batteries or washing power — as another reason why physical Dash buttons, which launched back in 2015 (costing $5 a pop), are past their sell by date.

Amazon says “hundreds” of IoT devices capable of self-ordering on Amazon have been launched globally to date by brands including Beko, Epson, illy, Samsung and Whirlpool, to name a few.

So why press a physical button when a digital one will do? Or, indeed, why not do away with the need to push a button all and just let your gadgets rack up your grocery bill all by themselves while you get on with the importance business of consuming all the stuff they’re ordering?

You can see where Amazon wants to get to with its “so customers don’t have to think at all about restocking” line. Consumption that entirely removes the consumer’s decision making process from the transactional loop is quite the capitalist wet dream. Though it does need to be careful about consumer protection rules as it seeks to remove all friction from the buying process.

The ecommerce behemoth also claims customers are “increasingly” using its Alexa voice assistant to reorder staples, such as via the Alexa Shopping voice shopping app (Amazon calls it ‘hands free shopping’) that lets people inform the machine about a purchase intent and it will suggest items to buy based on their Amazon order history.

Albeit, it offers no actual usage metrics for Alexa Shopping. So that’s meaningless PR.

A less flashy but perhaps more popular option than ‘hands free shopping’, which Amazon also says has contributed to making physical Dash buttons redundant, is its Subscribe & Save program.

This “lets customers automatically receive their favourite items every month”, as Amazon puts it. It offers an added incentive of discounts that kick in if the user signs up to buy five or more products per month. But the mainstay of the sales pitch is convenience with Amazon touting time saved by subscribing to ‘essentials’ — and time saved from compiling boring shopping lists once again means more time to consume the stuff being bought on Amazon…

In a statement about retiring physical Dash buttons from global sale on February 28, Amazon also confirmed it will continue to support existing Dash owners — presumably until their buttons wear down to the bare circuit board from repeat use.

“Existing Dash Button customers can continue to use their Dash Button devices,” it writes. “We look forward to continuing support for our customers’ shopping needs, including growing our Dash Replenishment product line-up and expanding availability of virtual Dash Buttons.”

So farewell then clunky Dash buttons. Another physical push-button bites the dust. Though plastic-y Dash were quite unlike the classic iPhone home button — seeming temporary and experimental rather than slick and coolly reassuring. Even as the end of both points to the need for tech businesses to tool up for the next wave of contextually savvy connected devices. More smarts, and more controllable smarts is key.

Amazon’s statement about ‘shifting focus’ for Dash does not mention potential legal risks around the buttons related to consumer rights challenges — but that’s another angle here.

In January a court in Germany ruled Dash buttons breached local ecommerce rules, following a challenge by a regional consumer watchdog that raised concerns about T&Cs which allow Amazon to substitute a product of a higher price or even a different product entirely than what the consumer had originally selected. The watchdog argued consumers should be provided with more information about price and product before taking the order — and the judges agreed. Though Amazon said it would seek to appeal.

While it’s not clear whether or not that legal challenge contributed to Amazon’s decision to shutter Dash, it’s clear that virtual Dash buttons offer more opportunities for displaying additional information prior to a purchase than a screen-less physical Dash button. So are more easily adapted to meet any tightening legal requirements in different markets.

The demise of the physical Dash was reported earlier by CNET.

 


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Swim.ai raises $11M to bring real-time analytics to the edge

14:00 | 18 July

Once upon a time, it looked like cloud-based serviced would become the central hub for analyzing all IoT data. But it didn’t quite turn out that way because most IoT solutions simply generate too much data to do this effectively and the round-trip to the data center doesn’t work for applications that have to react in real time. Hence the advent of edge computing, which is spawing its own ecosystem of startups.

Among those is Swim.ai, which today announced that it has raised an $11 million Series B funding round let by Cambridge Innovation Capital, with participation from Silver Creek Ventures and Harris Barton Asset Management. The round also included a strategic investment from Arm, the chip design firm you may still remember as ARM (but don’t write it like that or their PR department will promptly email you). This brings the company’s total funding to about $18 million.

Swim.ai has an interesting take on edge computing. The company’s SWIM EDX product combines both local data processing and analytics with local machine learning. In a traditional approach, the edge devices collect the data, maybe perform some basic operations against the data to bring down the bandwidth cost and then ship it to the cloud where the hard work is done and where, if you are doing machine learning, the models are trained. Swim.ai argues that this doesn’t work for applications that need to respond in real time. Swim.ai, however, performs the model training on the edge device itself by pulling in data from all connected devices. It then builds a digital twin for each one of these devices and uses that to self-train its models based on this data.

“Demand for the EDX software is rapidly increasing, driven by our software’s unique ability to analyze and reduce data, share new insights instantly peer-to-peer – locally at the ‘edge’ on existing equipment. Efficiently processing edge data and enabling insights to be easily created and delivered with the lowest latency are critical needs for any organization,” said Rusty Cumpston, co-founder and CEO of Swim.ai. “We are thrilled to partner with our new and existing investors who share our vision and look forward to shaping the future of real-time analytics at the edge.”

The company doesn’t disclose any current customers, but it is focusing its efforts on manufacturers, service providers and smart city solutions.

Swim.ai plans to use its new funding to launch a new R&D center in Cambridge, UK, expand its product development team and tackle new verticals and geographies with an expanded sales and marketing team.

 


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AWS introduces 1-click Lambda functions app for IoT

19:14 | 14 May

When Amazon introduced AWS Lambda in 2015, the notion of serverless computing was relatively unknown. It enables developers to deliver software without having to manage a server to do it. Instead, Amazon manages it all and  the underlying infrastructure only comes into play when an event triggers a requirement. Today, the company released an app in the iOS App Store called AWS IoT 1-Click to bring that notion a step further.

The 1-click part of the name may be a bit optimistic, but the app is designed to give developers even quicker access to Lambda event triggers. These are designed specifically for simple single-purpose devices like a badge reader or a button. When you press the button, you could be connected to customer service or maintenance or whatever makes sense for the given scenario.

One particularly good example from Amazon is the Dash Button. These are simple buttons that users push to reorder goods like laundry detergent or toilet paper. Pushing the button connects to the device to the internet via the home or business’s WiFi and sends a signal to the vendor to order the product in the pre-configured amount. AWS IoT 1-Click extends this capability to any developers, so long as it is on a supported device.

To use the new feature, you need to enter your existing account information. You configure your WiFi and you can choose from a pre-configured list of devices and Lambda functions for the given device. Supported devices in this early release include AWS IoT Enterprise Button, a commercialized version of the Dash button and the AT&T LTE-M Button.

Once you select a device, you define the project to trigger a Lambda function, or send an SMS or email, as you prefer. Choose Lambda for an event trigger, then touch Next to move to the configuration screen where you configure the trigger action. For instance, if pushing the button triggers a call to IT from the conference room, the trigger would send a page to IT that there was a call for help in the given conference room.

Finally, choose the appropriate Lambda function, which should work correctly based on your configuration information.

All of this obviously requires more than one click and probably involves some testing and reconfiguring to make sure you’ve entered everything correctly, but the idea of having an app to create simple Lambda functions could help people with non-programming background configure buttons with simple functions with some training on the configuration process.

It’s worth noting that the service is still in Preview, so you can download the app today, but you have to apply to participate at this time.

 


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Armis raises $30 million Series B as enterprise IoT security heats up

15:25 | 9 April

When Armis launched in 2015, the company founders looked over the horizon and they saw the Internet of Things requiring a strong security layer. Today, the Israeli IoT security startup announced a $30 million Series B.

The company has attracted a strong group of venture capitalists. The round was led by Bain Capital Ventures and Red Dot Capital. Sequoia Capital and Tenaya Capital, who were investors in earlier rounds, also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $47 million.

The company secures IoT devices without an agent because it’s often impossible to put an agent on a connected device like a video camera, light bulb or sensor. That requires some knowledge of these devices and their expected behavior and Armis has created a growing database of more than 5 million devices to track this information.

Company co-founder and CEO Yevgeny Dibrov says it involves taking that database and combining it with other information about the environment in which the device operates to understand if it’s behaving in an expected fashion. When it’s not they may shut it down and alert the customer, depending on how it’s configured and how severe the problem appears to be.

“To build and agentless platform, we [look at] existing infrastructure, traffic, wireless infrastructure and network infrastructure, to get a huge amount of traffic information. We analyze and detect and get a fingerprint of every device and asset in the environment and leverage the 5 million devices in the knowledge base,” he said.

It’s an approach that attracted investor Jeff Williams, operating partner at Bain Capital Ventures. Williams said he has been researching the IoT security market and has been seeing explosive growth in connected devices, which he sees creating a new attack surface for the enterprise. “Armis’ ability to help enterprises discover, manage and secure these devices is what companies today need to get in front of protecting the new era of IoT. All these forces, plus the pedigree of Armis’ executive team and their impressive research division are setting Armis up for powerful growth,” he said.

And the company is growing quickly with dozens of customers and 50 employees. The startup’s R&D team is 35 strong and is located in Israel, while the remaining employees with a focus on sales and marketing are located in the US.

As the number of IoT devices proliferate in the enterprise, the company will devote a portion of today’s money to increasing their R&D budget to continue building the database of devices.

 


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WICASTR brings data to the edge

18:57 | 4 December

Content distribution is hard. You want to keep enough of it close enough to favorite customers so they don’t have to wait and reduce latency for new data. That’s why WICASTR created the SMART Edge Platform, a system for sending content to the very edges of the network, including compatible local routers and access points.

“WICASTR is an ‘all in one solution’ for edge computing,” said founder Armine Saidi. “We are like Android ecosystem but for access points, routers and other edge devices: we have hardware, operating system and app store solutions to develop or deploy applications at the extreme edge with a simple 1-click solution.”

The company raised $1 million and went through TechStars. Their edge platform was inspired by the events of the Arab Spring. The founders wanted to create a system that would sustain damage caused by governments trying to shut down networks.

“The team embarked on a mission to create technology to facilitate seamless and uninterrupted communications and content distribution via all smart devices in the event of deliberate mobile network shutdown by governments,” said Saidi. This means devices on the network can act as content providers, thereby ensuring data can’t go down during an attack.

The team has been together for seven years and they have “deep domain expertise in IoT, wireless, software, hardware development, manufacturing and distribution.” They’ve launched with over 20 paying clients and work with Intel, Cisco, and Deutsche Telekom to build out powerful edge delivery.

 


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Amazon is previewing an IOT security service

22:26 | 29 November

As one of its last announcement on a day chock-full with new tools and features, Amazon previewed a new security device for the internet of things.

Called IOT Device Defender, the new service will monitor policies around devices to look for anomalies in device activity and support customized rules and auditing policies that a customer would want to put in place.

The service will also provide real-time detection and alerts based on variations from the normal device behavior defined by the rules provided by customers.

Finally, the new service will provide tools like contextual information so customers can investigate and mitigate the damage from any breaches.

Information like device information and device statistics are available through customized alerts, and users can remotely reboot a device, revoke its permissions, reset it or push security fixes through the coming Amazon service.

Featured Image: NicoElNino/Getty Images

 


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