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Main article: Computing

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Google Cloud gets a Secret Manager

23:35 | 22 January

Google Cloud today announced Secret Manager, a new tool that helps its users securely store their API keys, passwords, certificates and other data. With this, Google Cloud is giving its users a single tool to manage this kind of data and a centralized source of truth, something that even sophisticated enterprise organizations often lack.

“Many applications require credentials to connect to a database, API keys to invoke a service, or certificates for authentication,” Google developer advocate Sath Vargo and product manager Matt Driscoll not in today’s announcement. “Managing and securing access to these secrets is often complicated by secret sprawl, poor visibility, or lack of integrations.”

With Berglas, Google already offered an open-source command-line tool for managing secrets. Secret Manager and Berglas will play well together and users will be able to move their secrets from the open-source tool into Secret Manager and use Berglas to create and access secrets from the cloud-based tool as well.

With KMS, Google also offers a fully managed key management system (as do Google Cloud’s competitors). The two tools are very much complementary. As Google notes, KMS does not actually store the secrets — it encrypts the secrets you store elsewhere. The secret Manager provides a way to easily store (and manage) these secrets in Google Cloud.

Secret Manager includes the necessary tools for managing secret versions and audit logging, for example. Secrets in Secret Manager are also project-based global resources, the company stresses, while competing tools often feature manage secrets on a regional basis.

The new tool is now in beta and available to all Google Cloud customers.

 


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Google Cloud lands Lufthansa Group and Sabre as new customers

21:37 | 21 January

Google’s strategy for bringing new customers to its cloud is to focus on the enterprise and specific verticals like healthcare, energy, financial service and retail, among others. It’s healthcare efforts recently experienced a bit of a setback, with Epic now telling its customers that it is not moving forward with its plans to support Google Cloud, but in return, Google now got to announce two new customers in the travel business: Lufthansa Group, the world’s largest airline group by revenue, and Sabre, a company that provides backend services to airlines, hotels and travel aggregators.

For Sabre, Google Cloud is now the preferred cloud provider. Like a lot of companies in the travel (and especially the airline) industry, Sabre runs plenty of legacy systems and is currently in the process of modernizing its infrastructure. To do so, it has now entered a 10-year strategic partnership with Google “to improve operational agility while developing new services and creating a new marketplace for its airline,  hospitality and travel agency customers.” The promise, here, too, is that these new technologies will allow the company to offer new travel tools for its customers.

When you hear about airline systems going down, it’s often Sabre’s fault, so just being able to avoid that would already bring a lot of value to its customers.

“At Google we build tools to help others, so a big part of our mission is helping other companies realize theirs. We’re so glad that Sabre has chosen to work with us to further their mission of building the future of travel,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai . “Travelers seek convenience, choice and value. Our capabilities in AI and cloud computing will help Sabre deliver more of what consumers want.”

The same holds true for Google’s deal with Lufthansa Group, which includes German flag carrier Lufthansa itself, but also subsidiaries like Austrian, Swiss, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines, as well as a number of technical and logistics companies that provide services to various airlines.

“By combining Google Cloud’s technology with Lufthansa Group’s operational expertise, we are driving the digitization of our operation even further,” said Dr. Detlef Kayser, Member of the Executive Board of the Lufthansa Group. “This will enable us to identify possible flight irregularities even earlier and implement countermeasures at an early stage.”

Lufthansa Group has selected Google as a strategic partner to “optimized its operations performance.” A team from Google will work directly with Lufthansa to bring this project to life. The idea here is to use Google Cloud to build tools that help the company run its operations as smoothly as possible and to provide recommendations when things go awry due to bad weather, airspace congestion or a strike (which seems to happen rather regularly at Lufthansa these days).

Delta recently launched a similar platform to help its employees.

 


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Chrome gets global media controls

20:55 | 16 January

Here is a small but useful new feature in Google Chrome: global media controls that allow you to control all of the audio and video sources in your current tabs from a single widget. With this, you can switch to the next song from your favorite web-based music streaming service, start and stop a YouTube video that’s playing the background or switch back and forth between what’s playing in multiple tabs without having to hunt around your browser for the right tab. It’s not going to rock your world, but it’s a useful new feature.

Google started these media controls last year when it enabled it for Chromebook users, but it’s now live in the stable channel for all Chrome users across desktop platforms.

This seems to work with as many media tabs as you can handle, though from what I have seen, Google’s own services like YouTube and YouTube Music tend to get more extensive control options with thumbnails while Spotify only showed three controls to go back, skip to the next song and pause.

To give it a try. Simply play media in any of your tabs and look for the new media control icon to pop up to the right of the URL field.

It’s worth noting that the new Chromium-based Microsoft Edge, which came out of preview yesterday, features the exact same media controls (down to the icon) in its pre-release channels, though they haven’t made it into the stable release yet. Firefox does not currently have a similar built-in feature.

 


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The US government should stop demanding tech companies compromise on encryption

01:12 | 16 January

In a tweet late Tuesday, President Trump

for refusing “to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements.” Trump was specifically referring to a locked iPhone that belonged to a Saudi airman who killed three U.S sailors in an attack on a Florida base in December.

It’s only the latest example of the government trying to gain access to a terror suspect’s device it claims it can’t access because of the encryption that scrambles the device’s data without the owner’s passcode.

The government spent the past week bartering for Apple’s help. Apple said it had given to investigators “gigabytes of information,” including “iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts.” In every instance it received a legal demand, Apple said it “responded with all of the information” it had. But U.S. Attorney General William Barr accused Apple of not giving investigators “any substantive assistance” in unlocking the phone.

 


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Google Cloud gets a premium support plan with 15-minute response times

21:29 | 15 January

Google Cloud today announced the launch of its premium support plans for enterprise and mission-critical needs. This new plan brings Google’s support offerings for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in line with its premium G Suite support options.

“Premium Support has been designed to better meet the needs of our customers running modern cloud technology,” writes Google’s VP of Cloud Support, Atul Nanda. “And we’ve made investments to improve the customer experience, with an updated support model that is proactive, unified, centered around the customer, and flexible to meet the differing needs of their businesses.”

The premium plan, which Google will charge for based on your monthly GCP spent (with a minimum cost of what looks to be about $12,500 per month), promises a 15-minute response time for P1 cases. Those are situations when an application or infrastructure is unusable in production. Other features include training and new product reviews, as well as support for troubleshooting third-party systems.

Google stresses that the team that will answer a company’s calls will consist of “content-aware experts” that know your application stack and architecture. Like with similar premium plans from other vendors, enterprises will have a Technical Account manager who works through these issues with them. Companies with global operations can opt to have (and pay for) technical account managers available during business hours in multiple regions.

The idea here, however, is also to give GCP users more proactive support, which will soon include a site reliability engineering engagement, for example, that is meant to help customers “design a wrapper of supportability around the Google Cloud customer projects that have the highest sensitivity to downtime.” The Support team will also work with customers to get them ready for special events like Black Friday or other peak events in their industry. Over time, the company plans to add more features and additional support plans.

As with virtually all of Google’s recent cloud moves, today’s announcement is part of the company’s efforts to get more enterprises to move to its cloud. Earlier this week, for example, it launched support for IBM’s Power Systems architecture, as well as new infrastructure solutions for retailers. In addition, it also acquired no-code service AppSheet.

 


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Google finally brings its security key feature to iPhones

17:00 | 15 January

More than half a year after Google said Android phones could be used as a security key, the feature is coming to iPhones.

Google said it’ll bring the feature to iPhones in an effort to give at-risk users, like journalist and politicians, access to additional account and security safeguards, effectively removing the need to use a physical security key like a Yubico or a Google Titan key.

Two-factor authentication remains one of the best ways to protect online accounts. Typically it works by getting a code or a notification sent to your phone. By acting as an additional layer of security, it makes it far more difficult for even the most sophisticated and resource-backed attackers to break in. Hardware keys are even stronger. Google’s own data shows that security keys are the gold standard for two-factor authentication than other options, like a text message sent to your phone.

Google said it was bringing the technology to iPhones as part of an effort to give at-risk groups greater access to tools that secure their accounts, particularly in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, where foreign interference remains a concern.

 


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Cloudflare is giving away its security tools to US political campaigns

15:30 | 15 January

Network security giant Cloudflare said it will provide its free security tools and services to U.S. political campaigns, as part of its efforts to secure upcoming elections against cyberattacks and election interference.

The company said its new Cloudflare for Campaigns offering will include distributed denial-of-service attack mitigation, load balancing for campaign websites, a website firewall, and anti-bot protections.

It’s an expansion of the company’s security offering for journalists, civil rights activists and humanitarian groups under its Project Galileo, which aims to protect against disruptive cyberattacks. The project later expanded to smaller state and local government sites in 2018, with an aim of protecting servers containing voter registration data and other election infrastructure from attacks.

Now the company is offering its security services to 11 of the 17 presidential campaigns, it said, but wants to ensure that its offering is “available to the largest campaigns are also available to smaller campaigns as well.”

Cloudflare’s co-founder and chief executive Matthew Prince said there was a “clear need” to help campaigns secure not only their public facing websites but also their internal data security.

The company said it’s working with the non-partisan, non-profit organization Defending Digital Campaigns to provide its services to campaigns. Last year the Federal Elections Commission changed the rules to allow political campaigns to receive discounted cybersecurity assistance, which was previously a campaign finance violation.

 


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Kubernetes gets a bug bounty program

20:55 | 14 January

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) today announced its first bug bounty program for Kubernetes, the ubiquitous container orchestration system originally built by Google. To run this program, the CNCF is partnering with Google and HackerOne and bounties will range from $100 to $10,000.

Kubernetes already has a Product Security Committee that includes engineers from Google’s own Kubernetes security team and there are obviously plenty of eyes on the code. A bounty program, however, will get more (and new) security researchers to examine the code and help reward those who are already doing this work.

Kubernetes already has a robust security team and response process, further cemented by the recent Kubernetes security audit,” said Maya Kaczorowski the Product Manager for container security at Google. “We have a stronger and more secure open-source project than we’ve ever had before. By launching a bug bounty program, we’re putting our money where our mouth is – and most importantly, rewarding the researchers already doing this important work. We hope to attract additional security researchers to get more eyes on the code, shakeout security bugs, and back up our work on Kubernetes security with financial support.”

The bounty includes all of the core Kubernetes components in its GitHub repository. Specifically, the team notes, it is interested in authentication bugs, potential privilege escalations and remote code execution bugs in the kubelet and API server. The CNCF also stresses that researchers are encouraged to look at the overall Kubernetes supply chain. You can find the exact details of how the program and rewards are structured here.

 


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Google wants to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome within two years

19:00 | 14 January

Google today announced its plans to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome within the next two years. The fact that Google will drop support for these cookies, which are typically used to track users across the web, doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, given Google’s announcements around privacy in Chrome, including its proposed ‘privacy sandbox.’  But this aggressive timeline is new and puts the company on a track that will have repercussions for a lot of other industries as well.

“This is our strategy to re-architect the standards of the web, to make it privacy-preserving by default,” Justin Schuh, Google’s director for Chrome engineering, told me. “There’s been a lot of focus around third-party cookies, and that certainly one of the tracking mechanisms, but that’s just a tracking mechanism and we’re calling it out because it’s the one that people are paying attention to.” Preventing fingerprinting, among other things, is also something Google’s team is working on.

Starting this February, Google will already implement some techniques for limiting cross-site tracking by enforcing its new SameSite rules and by requiring that cookies that are labeled for third-party use can only be accessed over an HTTPS connection. The new SameSite rules, which Google had already tested with a subset of users in Chrome over the last few months, are somewhat complex, but the over idea here is that developers who want others to be able to use their cookies will have to explicitly label them as such.

Over the next two years, though, Google plans to go far beyond this and completely remove support for third-party cookies from Chrome. That, however, marks a massive change for the advertising industry and the publishers that often depend on marketers’ ability to (for better or worse) track users across the web. Google’s solution to this is the ‘privacy sandbox,’ which would ideally still allow advertisers to show you relevant ads while also allowing you to share as little about you and your browsing history as possible.

What exactly this will look like still remains to be seen, though, as a lot of the ideas are still in flux. Schuh, however, noted that Google doesn’t want to go this alone and that it plans to go through the web standards process for this. He noted that Google plans to start some trials over the next year or so and start migrating advertisers and publishers to some of the new systems it is working on.

This is a massive change, though, and Google will surely face some pushback. “I’m not going to say that everyone has been on board for all of our proposals,” Schuh admitted. “But in all corners, some of the proposals have been received very well. For the ones that haven’t, we’re open to alternative solutions as long as they have the kind of privacy and security properties — as long as they have the same kind of predictability that we expect — because we don’t want to put bandaid solutions on top of the web, we would rather fix the architecture of the web, […] we just don’t see any alternative but to fix the architecture of the web.”

Others, however, will have to get on board — including other browser vendors. Schuh seems optimistic that this will happen, in part because it is also in the best interest of the users. “We don’t want the web to be fragmented,” he said. “We don’t want people to have to figure out every different thing they have to do on every different browser. We want a level of consistency here, even if there are details that browsers choose to be different.”

Right now, a lot of Chrome’s competitors like Mozilla’s Firefox have taken pretty radical approaches to simply blocking many third-party cookies. Google argues that this will be to the detriment of the web and only drive the industry to find workarounds.

As with all of Google’s recent privacy proposals, it’ll be interesting to watch how the industry will react to this one. Given Google’s own role in the advertising ecosystem, Google has some clear financial interests in getting this right — and to keep the advertising ecosystem on the web healthy.

 

 


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US patents hit record 333,530 granted in 2019; IBM, Samsung (not the FAANGs) lead the pack

14:57 | 14 January

We may have moved on from a nearly-daily cycle of news involving tech giants sparring in courts over intellectual property infringement, but patents continue to be a major cornerstone of how companies and people measure their progress and create moats around the work that they have done in hopes of building that into profitable enterprises in the future. IFI Claims, a company that tracks patent activity in the US, released its annual tally of IP work today underscoring that theme: it noted that 2019 saw a new high-watermark of 333,530 patents granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The figures are notable for a few reasons. One is that this is the most patents ever granted in a single year; and the second that this represents a 15% jump on a year before. The high overall number speaks to the enduring interest in safeguarding IP, while the 15% jump has to do with the fact that patent numbers actually dipped last year (down 3.5%) while the number that were filed and still in application form (not granted) was bigger than ever. If we can draw something from that, it might be that filers and the USPTO were both taking a little more time to file and process, not a reduction in the use of patents altogether.

But patents do not tell the whole story in another very important regard.

Namely, the world’s most valuable, and most high profile tech companies are not always the ones that rank the highest in patents filed.

Consider the so-called FAANG group, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google: Facebook is at number-36 (one of the fastest movers but still not top 10) with 989 patents; Apple is at number-seven with 2,490 patents; Amazon is at number-nine with 2,427 patents; Netflix doesn’t make the top 50 at all; and the Android, search and advertising behemoth Google is merely at slot 15 with 2,102 patents (and no special mention for growth).

Indeed, the fact that one of the oldest tech companies, IBM, is also the biggest patent filer almost seems ironic in that regard.

As with previous years — the last 27, to be exact — IBM has continued to hold on to the top spot for patents granted, with 9,262 in total for the year. Samsung Electronics, at 6,469, is a distant second.

These numbers, again, don’t tell the whole story: IFI Claims notes that Samsung ranks number-one when you consider all active patent “families”, which might get filed across a number of divisions (for example a Samsung Electronics subsidiary filing separately) and count the overall number of patents to date (versus those filed this year). In this regard, Samsung stands at 76,638, with IBM the distant number-two at 37,304 patent families.

Part of this can be explained when you consider their businesses: Samsung makes a huge range of consumer and enterprise products. IBM, on the other hand, essentially moved out of the consumer electronics market years ago and these days mostly focuses on enterprise and B2B and far less hardware. That means a much smaller priority placed on that kind of R&D, and subsequent range of families.

Two other areas that are worth tracking are biggest movers and technology trends.

In the first of these, it’s very interesting to see a car company rising to the top. Kia jumped 58 places and is now at number-41 (921 patents) — notable when you think about how cars are the next “hardware” and that we are entering a pretty exciting phase of connected vehicles, self-driving and alternative energy to propel them.

Others rounding out fastest-growing were Hewlett Packard Enterprise, up 28 places to number-48 (794 patents); Facebook, up 22 places to number-36 (989 patents); Micron Technology, up nine places to number-25 (1,268), Huawei, up six places to number-10 (2,418), BOE Technology, up four places to number-13 (2,177), and Microsoft, up three places to number-4 (3,081 patents).

In terms of technology trends, IFI looks over a period of five years, where there is now a strong current of medical and biotechnology innovation running through the list right now, with hybrid plant creation topping the list of trending technology, followed by CRISPR gene-editing technology, and then medicinal preparations (led by cancer therapies). “Tech” in the computer processor sense only starts at number-four with dashboards and other car-related tech; with quantum computing, 3-D printing and flying vehicle tech all also featuring.

Indeed, if you have wondered if we are in a fallow period of innovation in mobile, internet and straight computer technology… look no further than this list to prove out that thought.

Unsurprisingly, US companies account for 49% of U.S. patents granted in 2019 up from 46 percent a year before. Japan accounts for 16% to be the second-largest, with South Korea at 7% (Samsung carrying a big part of that, I’m guessing), and China passing Germany to be at number-four with 5%.

  1. International Business Machines Corp 9262
  2. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd 6469
  3. Canon Inc 3548
  4. Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC 3081
  5. Intel Corp 3020
  6. LG Electronics Inc 2805
  7. Apple Inc 2490
  8. Ford Global Technologies LLC 2468
  9. Amazon Technologies Inc 2427
  10. Huawei Technologies Co Ltd 2418
  11. Qualcomm Inc 2348
  12. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co TSMC Ltd 2331
  13. BOE Technology Group Co Ltd 2177
  14. Sony Corp 2142
  15. Google LLC 2102
  16. Toyota Motor Corp 2034
  17. Samsung Display Co Ltd 1946
  18. General Electric Co 1818
  19. Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson AB 1607
  20. Hyundai Motor Co 1504
  21. Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd 1387
  22. Boeing Co 1383
  23. Seiko Epson Corp 1345
  24. GM Global Technology Operations LLC 1285
  25. Micron Technology Inc 1268
  26. United Technologies Corp 1252
  27. Mitsubishi Electric Corp 1244
  28. Toshiba Corp 1170
  29. AT&T Intellectual Property I LP 1158
  30. Robert Bosch GmbH 1107
  31. Honda Motor Co Ltd 1080
  32. Denso Corp 1052
  33. Cisco Technology Inc 1050
  34. Halliburton Energy Services Inc 1020
  35. Fujitsu Ltd 1008
  36. Facebook Inc 989
  37. Ricoh Co Ltd 980
  38. Koninklijke Philips NV 973
  39. EMC IP Holding Co LLC 926
  40. NEC Corp 923
  41. Kia Motors Corp 921
  42. Texas Instruments Inc 894
  43. LG Display Co Ltd 865
  44. Oracle International Corp 847
  45. Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd 842
  46. Sharp Corp 819
  47. SK Hynix Inc 798
  48. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Development LP 794
  49. Fujifilm Corp 791
  50. LG Chem Ltd 791

 


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