Monthly Archives: December 2014

ITC opens investigation into Samsung’s patent suit against Nvidia

Nvidia and Samsung have accused each other of infringing patents used in mobile devices, with Nvidia first filing suit against Samsung and chipmaker Qualcomm in September.

The battle between Nvidia and Samsung over patents rages on, with the US International Trade Commission on Tuesday saying it will look into Samsung’s claims against Nvidia.

The ITC said it would open an investigation into claims by Samsung that Nvidia violated its patents in many of Nvidia’s graphics chips and devices.

David Shannon, Nvidia’s general counsel, in a blog post called the decision “typical legal ping pong.” Nvidia first filed suit against Samsung in September, and Samsung lodged its own complaints shortly thereafter. Shannon added that Nvidia’s ITC suit against Samsung likely will be the first decided by the courts.

“Nvidia remains focused on ensuring that we receive fair compensation from Samsung for using our technology in Galaxy phones and tablets,” Shannon wrote. “We won’t allow ourselves to get sidetracked by the company’s attempts to intimidate our partners who have nothing to do with the unlicensed use of our IP. We look forward to the court setting this right.”

Samsung didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The battle started in September when Nvidia sued Samsung and mobile-chip maker Qualcomm in a Delaware federal court for allegedly infringing its graphics patents. At the same time, it called for the ITC to block shipments of some of Samsung’s best-selling smartphones and tablets into the US, including the Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S4 smartphones, and the Galaxy Tab S and Tab 2 tablets.

Nvidia’s litigation has moved forward, with the ITC in Octoberagreeing to investigate Nvidia’s complaint.

Samsung’s ITC complaint, filed in late November, asked the agency to investigate Nvidia and 11 of its partners for allegedly infringing four patents involving chip structures, memory arrays and other chip-related technologies. It asked the commission to permanently bar from the US dozens of Nvidia products, including its Shield tablet computers, GeForce graphics processors, Tegra mobile chips, Quadro graphics cards, Tesla accelerator cards, and Grid computing boards, as well as several partners’ tablet computers and gaming consoles using Nvidia chips.

If it’s successful in the ITC complaint, Samsung will have prevented a large amount of Nvidia’s products — touching just about every one of Nvidia’s businesses — from entering the US, potentially delivering a disastrous blow to Nvidia’s finances.

In addition to Nvidia, the companies named in Samsung’s ITC suit are Biostar Microtech, Elitegroup Computer Systems, EVGA, Fuhu, Jaton, Mad Catz, Ouya, Sparkle Computer, Toradex, Wikipad and ZOTAC, which all sell products using Nvidia technology.

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The Sony hack: 9 more things you didn’t know

It was another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week for Sony, and we learned even more as reporters sifted through a trove of stolen documents from the Hollywood studio.

Fallout from the destructive breach of Sony Pictures’ computer network on November 24 and the struggle against the deluge of leaked internal documents has stretched from Tinseltown to DC and beyond.

President Obama on Friday said Sony “did the wrong thing” when pulling the movie at the heart of the breach, “The Interview,” from theaters. Earlier in the day, the FBI said it had concluded North Korea was behind the attack. Hackers had broken into Sony’s computer network and leaked thousands of emails and financial documentsrevealing the Hollywood studio’s secrets, demanding that the comedy about assassinating North Korea’s leader be kept from release.

Some of the revelations have been merely interesting, a few have been shocking invasions of privacy, while others could damage individual reputations.

From backbiting executives to backroom deals, here are nine more things we learned about Sony. These revelations have been reported previously in a variety of publications.

1) Hell hath no fury like a Google scorned

Google was apoplectic at the prospect of Sony and the other Hollywood studios attempting to resurrect proposed Internet content-restriction laws — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Google general counsel Kent Walker wrote a scathing blog post.

“[O]ne disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part ‘to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists’ right to free expression,'” Walker wrote. “Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?”

2) Google will fight The Law — but will it win?

As part of the efforts to resurrect SOPA’s intent through nonlegislative means, Google revealed that Mississippi state attorney general Jim Hood sent the search giant a 79-page subpoena. Google says it is similar to subpoenas discussed in leaked Sony emails, and the company plans to fight back.

3) State Department gave two thumbs up to “The Interview”

Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, aware of the sensitive nature of some of the material in “The Interview,” screened the comedy to a US State Department official and received a stamp of approvalmonths before it was due in theaters. The unnamed official even signed off on the ending, depicting the assassination of Kim Jong-Un.

4) Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel needed a hug

Spiegel was so upset when his personal emails to Lynton, who sits on Snapchat’s board of directors, were exposed he had to go for a walk. “I felt like I was going to cry all morning,” he said in a statement to Snapchat employees and on Twitter, so he said he went for a walk where he ran into a high school teacher. “She gave me a huge hug. I really needed it.”

5) Even Kanye must pitch

Apparently, Kanye West is in “The Interview” for a hot minute. Perhaps it’s connected to West’s creative director Elon Rutberg pitching Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal on a film. “[W]e have a major film project coming up that involves both cinematic and technological innovation, so I naturally thought Sony and wanted to reach out,” he said, according to the Daily Beast.

6) QR codes are worth more than Google Glass

More Sony emails revealed Snapchat acquired several startups, including $15 million for one making an Internet-connected headset similar to Google Glass, and another for $50 million whose technology reads iBeacons and those pixelated black-and-white boxes called QR codes. QR codes, really.

7) Mark Zuckerberg really, really hated “The Social Network”

We knew Zuckerberg was no fan of the movie about Facebook’s origins, but we didn’t know until Sony’s emails were exposed that Zuck tried to kill the flick outright. “I said to Zuckerberg when he tried to stop ‘The Social Network,’ ‘No one wants their sophomore year in college examined or portrayed,'” Lynton is said to have written in one email, reported Business Insider.

8) And for my next witness, your honor

Next up in court: Sony employees, both current and former. The first lawsuit alleging Sony mishandled the personal information of employees by not having better computer security has been filed.

9) Costliest “Interview” ever?

The stars of the movie that led to the hack that kicked this whole thing off were well-compensated. Seth Rogen was paid $8.4 million, and James Franco got $6.5 million. All told, $44 million was spent on a movie that may never be seen, according to Bloomberg.

Or will it? Following President Obama’s comments on Friday that Sony made a mistake by cancelling the film’s scheduled release, Sony Pictures sent a statement to the press saying it was looking at “a different platform” for making sure “The Interview” isn’t left on the cutting-room floor.

Facebook and Snapchat declined to comment. Sony Pictures didn’t return requests for comment.

Apple updates Macs for first time without asking – to foil hackers

Apple is pushing out its first automatic security update to protect your computer from being taken over.

Apple is updating its Macs to guard against hackers taking control — the first time a Mac update has been sent out automatically without requiring your permission.

The automated security update protects Apple laptops and desktops from newly discovered security vulnerability CVE-2014-9295, which affects OS X and other Linux and Unix distributions.

Speaking to Reuters, Apple spokesperson Bill Evans described Monday’s update as “seamless” and noted that Mac users don’t even need to restart their computers.

Apple isn’t the only company that could be vulnerable to the security bug, which was revealed Friday by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute. Researchers warn that vulnerabilities in a computer’s network time protocol (NTP), which sync a computer’s clocks, could allow hackers to take control of a computer remotely.

“Apple’s proactive steps to automatically remediate this particular vulnerability shows the need to quickly patch remotely exploitable vulnerabilities,” says security analyst Ken Westin of Tripwire. “However, the use of Apple’s automatic deployment tool is not without risks, as even the simplest update can cause problems for some systems. In this case the update may have been so minor the risk of affecting other applications and processes was minimal.”

Previously, Apple’s security updates have required a computer user to accept the update. The company has actually had a method to automatically update computers for two years but is only now using it for the first time.

What if someone doesn’t want automatic updates? Westin advises: “If you have a Mac system where an automatic update might introduce a problem — or you are the paranoid type — it can be disabled by going to the Apple Menu > System Preferences > App Store and unchecking Install system data files and security updates.”

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET’s request for comment.

Amazon Fire Phone Gets Major Updates

PHOTO: Amazons first smartphone, the Fire Phone, is displayed during a demonstration at the companys Fire Phone launch event, June 18, 2014 in Seattle.

Amazon is refusing to give up on its Fire phone and the users who snapped up the device, despite its lackluster debut over the summer.

Six months after its release, Amazon has rolled out a software update for the phone that brings with it a number of new and smarter features.

Among those are text translation in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. The upgrade also enables the phone’s much-hyped Firefly feature to be able to recognize 2,000 famous paintings.

Another new feature is “best shot,” which takes three versions of a photo, allowing the user to choose their favorite.

In September, the Fire phone, which featured what Amazon called “breakthrough” technology, was being sold for 99 cents with a contract.

Amazon revealed in its quarterly earnings call in October that it took a charge of $170 million for “inventory evaluation and supplier commitment costs” for the Fire, after it failed to create a spark in the smartphone market.

Critics have said the Fire is less a phone and more a “shopping machine” designed to capture more Amazon customers.

If you’re still intrigued by the Fire phone, it’s not too late to order one in time for Christmas.

Amazon announced today it will give free two-day shipping on most Amazon devices, including the Fire phone, through Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. ET.

Screens mess with your sleep, even if you’re getting 8 hours

Screens mess with your sleep, even if you're getting 8 hours

Your iPad or smartphone could well be hurting your sleep patterns, even if you’re getting in a full eight hours of shuteye, researchers say—and the effects could be long-term.

Over a five-night period, researchers in Boston had some subjects read for four hours a night on an iPad; others did their reading on printed books, with the lights low, the Washington Post reports.

Among members of the iPad group, levels of melatonin, a chemical behind sleepiness, decreased. It took them longer to drift off by an average of 10 minutes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

And once they did, their periods of rapid eye-movement sleep were shorter. The effects weren’t limited to the nighttime. Their circadian rhythms were affected, and the next day—even if they’d slept eight hours—they reported being more tired.

And in the long term, reduced melatonin may boost the risk of various forms of cancer (prompting the rather frightening headline “Reading an iPad in Bed May Increase Cancer Risk,” the Atlantic notes).

At issue is what’s known as “blue light,” the kind often given off by backlit gadgets, the Journal adds. “We introduce these devices that have medical and biological effects without requiring any health studies on their impact … They don’t have to go through any evaluation like a drug would, for safety and efficacy,” says a researcher.

Sony hack: Questions to ask your employer about data security

The hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment was a reminder to many people that every company, big or small, can be the target of devastating attacks. It’s natural to be worried — but you can put your mind to rest, and perhaps even spur change at your own workplace, by asking the powers that be a few of the following questions. No technical knowledge required!

Could this kind of hack happen to us?

The answer is almost certainly yes. “While Sony may have been a target ‘ripe for hacking’ according to industry reports, the fact is that a number of well-armed companies have also fallen victim to IT security hacks,” Feris Rifai, CEO of security outfit Bay Dynamics, said in an email.

But while breaches may not be preventable (and your company should admit as much), the damage they do can be minimized.

What are we doing to prevent or mitigate hacks?

“At a minimum, companies need to have proper access control around sensitive data,” Craig Williams, security outreach manager at Cisco Talos, said in an email. That means password protecting anything worth stealing. After all, if anybody can see or modify sensitive files, that means anybody’s compromised computer can leak them.

Sony appears to have failed to do this, leaving everything from unreleased films to financial data open for anyone to peruse, experts say. “This is a cautionary tale for companies who, if they are not already doing it, need to reevaluate their security policies and architecture,” said Williams.

Is there a detailed, concrete plan in place should the worst happen and hackers gain access?

Improvising is not a good idea when there are federal laws, medical and payroll information, and perhaps customer data involved! A company’s cybersecurity plan should detail how and when a breach will be disclosed, who it will be disclosed to, and any services that may need to be provided, such as identity theft or credit protection for those affected.

If we do get hacked, what data of mine is at risk?

Every company operates differently, and every hack is different. If all your email is kept on company servers, for instance in your Outlook account, then a breach could easily encompass that. The same goes for cloud accounts you share with your company — a Dropbox folder, Google calendar, or web email address used for work purposes.

What about my insurance, medical, and bank records?

If they’re tracked internally, this is something you’ll want to know ahead of time, so you can act fast should they be compromised.

Am I under any legal restraints regarding hacks and leaked data?

This might sound a little weird, but some companies make you sign a contract that prevents you from suing in the case of a hack or other incident. On the other hand, they may have measures in place to protect those same employees or provide free services.

What can I do to keep myself safe?

“The human element is critical in cyber security,” Ian Amit, vice president of ZeroFOX, said in an email. “Security teams need to be educating their people on safe practices, testing their organization for behavioral vulnerabilities.” You’re a very important element of the security system, whatever your title at work, because every user can potentially help or harm the whole company. If they have advice for you, better take it.

Does everyone know what to watch out for?

Strange email attachments, links from unknown senders, sudden requests to change or provide passwords — all could mean trouble. Sophisticated threats like phishing can easily resemble official emails, so your company’s IT department should help you learn the difference.

Who at your company should you tell if your computer starts acting weird, or if you think it’s been infected with malware?

Hacks don’t always replace your desktop with a scary picture, like at Sony — in fact, that’s pretty rare. Small changes may indicate major problems behind the scenes, so don’t hesitate to bring them up.

On that note: don’t use work computers or services for personal purposes. That means no storing photos on your work laptop, no ordering things online from your desk, and no sending selfies with your work phone! If a breach were to occur, all this information would be out in the open.

Does your company enforce strong passwords?

The Sony hack revealed extremely poor password discipline at the company: important accounts were reportedly accessed with “123456” or “password,” and many passwords were stored or emailed in plain text for anyone to see. Bad idea! Use strong passwords and change them regularly, including after any breach or malware is detected. You don’t even need to remember them all — that’s why there are password managers like LastPass.

Uber ‘truly sorry’ for price rise during Sydney siege

Uber mobile app

Taxi booking firm Uber has apologised for raising fare prices during a deadly cafe siege in Sydney last week.

The firm raised fares by as much as four times its normal rate when demand shot up during the siege that left three people dead.

Its “surge pricing” algorithm increased fares during the peak period as people rushed to leave the area.

Meanwhile in South Korea, prosecutors have charged the firm with running an illegal taxi service.

They have accused Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick, along with the firm’s South Korean business partner, a local car rental firm.

Car rental firms in the country are banned from running taxi services with their own vehicles.

It is the latest in a string of legal challenges around the world to the rapid expansion of Uber, whose smartphone app lets a passenger hail a taxi while simultaneously letting the driver calculate the fare.

Motives ‘misunderstood’

On the day of the Martin Place siege in Sydney, Uber came under heavy criticism on social media for raising its fares, so it started offering free rides out of the city.

It also said it would refund the cost of the rides that had been affected by the higher fares.

“The events of last week in Sydney were upsetting for the whole community and we are truly sorry for any concern that our process may have added,” Uber said in a blog post on Tuesday.

“We didn’t stop surge pricing immediately. This was the wrong decision.”

The 16 hour siege ended with three people dying, including the gunman Man Haron Monis.

The company said that its priority was to help as many people get out of the central business area safely, but that was “poorly” communicated, and led to a lot of misunderstanding about its motives.

“This [surge pricing] encourages more drivers to the area where people are requesting rides,” when demand outstrips the supply of cars on the road, Uber said.

Uber has defended its surge pricing strategy in other cities, but reached an agreement with regulators in the US to restrict the policy during national emergencies.

Sony’s New Movies Leak Online Following Hack Attack

At least five new movies from Sony Pictures are being devoured on copyright-infringing file-sharing hubs online in the wake of the hack attack that hobbled the studio earlier in the week.

Copies of DVD screeners of four unreleased Sony movies including the upcoming “Annie” are getting some unwelcome early exposure, but nothing compared to the frenzy enveloping “Fury,” the war pic still in theaters since bowing last month.

“Fury” has been downloaded by over 888,000 unique IP addresses since showing up on peer-to-peer networks on Nov. 27, according to piracy tracking firm Excipio. That’s high enough to be the second most downloaded movie currently being pirated, and it’s not out of movie theaters yet.

Another big Sony movie, “Annie,” is also being pirated, this one three weeks ahead of its own wide release. Other Sony movies being downloaded include “Mr. Turner,” “Still Alice” and “To Write Love on Her Arms.” “The theft of Sony Pictures Entertainment content is a criminal matter, and we are working closely with law enforcement to address it,” a Sony spokeswoman said in a statement to Variety.

A source with knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the hacking earlier this week divulged that the multi-title leak is likely related to the hacking. Many of the leaked copies are watermarked.

In the attack on the studio’s corporate systems Nov. 24, an image of a skeleton appeared on company computers with a message that said, “Hacked by #GOP,” with the group behind it calling itself “Guardians of Peace.” The message threatened to release “secrets and top secrets” of the company. Currently being investigated is a connection between upcoming Sony movie “The Interview,” and North Korea.

Sony’s outbreak marks the biggest piracy incident since July, when Lionsgate saw “Expendables 3” pop up online three weeks before its theatrical release. Police arrested two men in London earlier this week in connection with the movie.

While “Fury” has emerged as a hot ticket in file-sharing circles, the other Sony titles aren’t seeing as much sampling. “Annie” has been downloaded by over 184,000 unique IP addresses. Studio is hopeful “Annie” won’t be pirated as much because family films aren’t subject to as much illegal downloading as titles that skew more toward young males.

“Still Alice,” “Mr. Turner” and “To Write Love on Her Arms” are seeing only modest piracy activity, all below 100,000 unique IP addresses since Nov. 27.

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The One Really Important Apple Watch Thing

While the cellphone, with its constantly updated and accurate clock, nearly killed the wristwatch, the Apple Watch gizmo actually will revive it. In fact, I think the attention that the Apple Watch will bring to our wrists will spark sales of traditional watches.

Why?apple-watch

I believe there is a latent desire to have a wristwatch — to have the convenience of the time on your wrist without the need to pull out your smartphone and ignore the world around you. I think — hope — that the Apple Watch actually will lead people to slow down the movement of hand to pocket and pocket to face.

Look Who’s Here

Right now, we’re constantly engaging with people around the world through screens, but utterly ignoring those next us — even our families. We check our weather apps before we think to look at the sky.

Walk through a college campus, a park, a school — and the dominant posture is of a human looking at a smartphone.

A wristwatch, though, is somehow more rooted in the here and now, as well as in the past — was it a gift? Yet watches also speak to the future. A sense of when. A reminder about when you’ll be doing your next thing.

The clock on a smartphone doesn’t command this same effect. Maybe this is too subtle for a generation of kids, but I’m not so sure. Watches are part style, part talisman, part getting dressed for the day and having a broader awareness of what you’re doing — not what you’re messing with on a bright and shiny screen.

I am certain that some men, for instance, will look at the soft and gentle curves of the Apple Watch, at the bouncy emoticons, at the gentle bands, and instead will turn to a more traditional watch. They will choose a watch that is not smart — one that is utterly utilitarian. They will choose one that has been crafted and created to exist as a watch and nothing more.

Personally, I’m a huge Apple fan, and I’m already on the lookout for a watch that is not an Apple Watch. I’ll know it when I see it.

Surges vs. Throbs

Meanwhile, something else is going on with the Apple Watch, and I’ll end up buying one because of my job. Sure, I might have to replace the softly pretty bands with one that I have to hand-forge from barbed wire, but I’ll buy one — and I’ll attempt to use it in all of its high-maintenance gotta-charge-it-every night way.

That’s because it’s the real beginning of something radically new. So what is radically new? What is the innovation that truly matters?

It’s not Apple Pay through a watch. It’s not tickets and passes through a watch. It’s not maps on your wrist with turn-by-turn vibration directions. The most important thing doesn’t have anything to do with HealthKit or the Health app or how many stairs you climb in a day. It won’t even be the ability to monitor blood sugar, or access health or sickness indicators through your skin.

The most important catalyst to come out of Cupertino will be communication. It has to do with bringing humans closer together through touch — Apple’s so-called Taptic Engine will be key.

The Taptic Engine produces haptic feedback through taps and vibrations. The duration and strength of taps and vibrations will produce different kinds of recognizable sensations for different kinds of activities. If you press down on the display, you can feel the Apple Watch react. If you turn the Digital Crown in a particular app, you can feel something aligned with the action you’re performing on the screen in an app.

Apple has combined different kinds of engagement with subtle audio cues, too. It’s this sort of haptic engagement that might keep a good many people from ditching their exercise efforts, for instance.

Today, many people who buy fitness bands abandon them within weeks. If your fitness apps communicate through touch and vibrant sound, the Apple Watch has the potential to create sustainable habits. Think Pavlov’s dogs for humans or Charles Duhigg and The Power of Habit.

It has danger, of course, because walking by a Starbucks could produce a special little tickle and result in a surprising price on a new seasonal cup of coffee that then rewards you with a blast of sugar and caffeine. Pretty soon your coffee habit is even more powerfully connected to your life.

Still, where there is darkness, there also is light. Communication.

Apple is trying hard to turn the Apple Watch into a device people use to communicate with in intimate ways. The ability to send your throbbing heartbeat to a loved one is a good example of that — at once cheesy and stupid… until your wife is laying in bed in a hospital far away while you’re back at home taking children to soccer and struggling to keep the kids engaged with homework.

This sense of remote touch has the power to connect us far more intimately than FaceTime, far more intimately than text and multimedia messages.

Apple’s little drawings that you can send to another Apple Watch user are silly right now, but what about in a few years, when you might be able to run your finger over the wrist band and send the feeling to your spouse while you’re working late at night yet again? What if you could squeeze your wrist so your son could feel it before a big event while you’re traveling on business?

We are so far apart these days, and the Apple Watch will be a catalyst to bring us closer together.

Love and Then Some

Enough with the love, right — there’s far more at play with communication than simply missing someone.

Imagine how Apple’s Taptic Engine could be used to create sensations at a concert. You already can feel the energy in the air and sometimes the music itself, but what if you could feel the beat more directly, in tune with your eyes and ears?

What if you go to a NASCAR race and can feel the thrum of your favorite driver’s engine as the car dives into corners and throttles out to pass?

What if your favorite hockey player’s stick sent tactile feedback to thousands of fans as it tapped and controlled the puck before a powerful goal shot? Tap tap tap, the defense is raging, and BAM — the goal shot.

The Apple Watch is the start of feeling what fans are already seeing.

This sort of immersive communication is far from the masses right now, but the Apple Watch will become the most important catalyst. At some point, a scary movie is going to reach out and touch viewers — even in the comfort of their own homes — to ratchet up the suspense.

The key isn’t retrofitting entire stadiums or movie theaters with vibrating chairs. It’ll come from developers and the Apple app ecosystem, and the size of the Apple Watch market will become the least common denominator that will drive the experience and potential for profit.

Communication through the Apple Watch will start out small and intimate — and then it will percolate into mass communication.

This is why I believe the Apple Watch is such a game changer. Fashion? It’s just a speed bump on the journey to something else entirely.

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