Amazon Blocking Non-Prime Members From Buying Certain Games

Amazon Prime started off as giving you quick one-day delivery options, expanding into the market for Video and music streaming, and with its latest offer of a monthly subscription system, its popularity keeps growing. That may change if you are a fan of big time games, with the latest news revealing that certain games may be locked behind the “prime wall”.

If you go on the Amazon site now and check out games like Grand Theft Auto 5 or Fallout 4, you may find yourself welcomed by a small blue button on the right-hand side. Replacing the welcoming yellow button that said buy now, the blue button instead asks you “join Prime”. Above the buttons it states that the games are “Exclusively for Prime Members”, giving you no option but to either seek them on different sites or use Amazon Prime to order your games from Amazon.

While you will still be able to buy the games through other sellers on Amazon, if you want to buy it directly from Amazon you will need Prime membership. With a yearly membership getting you 20% off pre-orders and new releases, if you like buying big releases when they come out it may be worth checking out the deals they offer.

For gamers and non-gamers alike, do you think its fair to have your ability to buy what you enjoy locked to an exclusive membership group or does the one-day delivery (or even one-hour delivery) tempt you to grab those new games that little bit sooner?

It should be noted that while the block originally seemed to affect both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com sales, some of the listings on Amazon.co.uk are now unrestricted, suggesting that the initial backlash may already have been enough to sway Amazons opinion on the “prime wall”. Currently, you can see the option featured on Amazon.com’s Grand Theft Auto 5 page.

Image courtesy of Engadget.

Drones and Anti-Missile Systems Being Used to Protect Tanks

When it comes to technology and tanks, we often think of one of two extremes. Firstly the original tanks from years ago, with the large cannons mounted to tracks and then we think to our idea of the future, with giant floating armoured platforms. It would seem the marines are looking to go somewhere inbetween, but not with flying tanks but ones equipped with more systems to help protect tanks from their enemies.

The U.S. Marine Corps is looking at using technology, not additional armour, to help protect their vehicles. First up on the list of technologies is the use of electronic anti-missile systems, or active protective systems, that will detect and intercept anything from a guided anti-tank rocket to the likes of a rocket propelled grenade (such as those used in RPG’s). The system in place would be the Israli Trophy Active Protection System (APS), with four systems being mounted to both Stryker combat vehicles and M1A2 tanks.

With jammers and missile interception components working together the hardware is commonly designed to protect ships or airplanes, but with threats changing the military wants to be one step ahead. That isn’t all, with the Marines also looking at “unmanned aerial systems” (Drones) to help spot enemies before they can even launch the attack.

Combining knowledge about threats before they happen with active and passive defence systems is a nice way to protect soldiers from unwanted threats at a moments notice.

US Newspapers Threaten Legal Action Against Brave Browser Over Ad Blocking

The Brave Browser was created to offer a more streamlined user-experience by automatically blocking intrusive adverts and software which tracks user history. This allows pages to load faster and reduces the possibility of your PC being subjected to malware. Unfortunately, this didn’t sit well with a large number of major US newspaper publishers and they’ve now decided to threaten Brave Software with legal action. Seventeen publishers produced a letter to Brave Software’s founder and CEO, Brendan Eich which reads:

“Your plan to use our content to sell your advertising is indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own website [emphasis in original],”

Clearly, the publishers are unhappy that the Brave Browser replaces their adverts with the company’s own alternatives. They feel it’s effectively stealing and allowing them to make money from other people’s content. If Brave decided to resist the demand, the publishers are prepared to take legal action:

“We stand ready to enforce all legal rights to protect our trademarks and copyrighted content and to prevent you from deceiving consumers and unlawfully appropriating our work in the service of your business,” the letter stated. “We reserve the right to seek all remedies for this infringement, including but not limited to statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work. We believe your planned activities will also constitute unfair competition and misappropriation under relevant federal, state and common law. By engaging in Brave’s plan of advertising replacement, Brave is liable for breach of contract, unauthorized access to our websites, unfair competition, and other causes of action.” 

According to Computerworld, Brave’s ad revenue model works by:

“Brave will scrub websites of most of their ads and all tracking, then replace those now-empty slots with ads it sells. Seventy percent of the revenue from Brave’s ad sales would be shared with publishers (55%) and users (15%). The latter will be able to turn that money — in Bitcoin form — over to their favorite sites or keep it. Brave will retain 15%, with the remaining 15% going to advertising partners.”

Do you think the Brave Browser employs a fair business strategy?

US Congress Bill Plans to Make Effective Encryption Illegal

In the wake of the FBI’s feud with Apple over bypassing the encryption of San Bernardino shooting suspect Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the US Congress is proposing a new bill that aims to outlaw effective encryption, what is termed “technical assistance”, requiring any company or entity to build in backdoors to its security systems for law enforcement to exploit.

In a draft of the proposed bill, written by a committee led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and leaked by politics news outlet The Hill, businesses are required to release “information or data” if served with a court order – meaning that they are legally obligated to have access to that data in the first place – or provide law enforcement agencies with “technical assistance as is necessary to obtain such information in an intelligible format or to achieve the purpose of the court order.”

While talk suggests that the leaked draft of the bill is close to its final iteration, its final draft could still change, especially since it does not have the support of President Obama. It is not yet known if this version of the bill has been submitted to Congress.

“While the bill claims that it in no way is designed to force companies to redesign their products, this is a subtle hypocrisy,” Jonathan Zdziarski , a computer forensics and encryption expert, wrote in a blog post. “The reality is that there is no possible way to comply with it without intentionally backdooring the encryption in every product that may be used in the United States.”

“This bill would not only be surrendering America’s cybersecurity but also its tech economy, as foreign competitors would continue to offer—and bad guys would still be able to easily use!–more secure products and services,” Kevin Bankston, Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, told Vice Motherboard. “The fact that this lose-lose proposal is coming from the leaders of our Senate’s intelligence committee, when former heads of the NSA, DHS, the CIA and more are all saying that we are more secure with strong encryption than without it, would be embarrassing if it weren’t so frightening.”

Cyber Warfare Could Become A Specialist Combat Unit In The US

The saying goes that “to be prepared is half the victory”, this is never more the case in the modern day when everything can change in a split second. With the modern day battle happening months and even years before the first shot is fired, warfare happens every day on the internet attacking the minds and systems of countries with no warning. In response to this growing threat, cyber warfare could soon become a specialist combat unit within the United states military.

Currently, anything relating to cyber warfare is united as part of a “sub-unified command” beneath the U.S. strategic command, but reports are coming in that Defence Secretary Ash Carter may be looking at turning the cyber command unit into a full combatant command.

This would put cyber warfare on bar with the nine that currently operate within the U.S. military including six commands based on their geographical areas (Pacific, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Central and Southern command) and three based on their areas of specialty, such as the transportation command, strategic command (those in charge of nuclear forces) and special operations command groups. Moving out from strategic command to become the 10th COCOM (Combat Commander Exercise combatant command) would be a big step in realising the threat of cyber warfare and the steps that countries need to take to protect people beyond the lines of maps.

Suspect In The UK Told To Decrypt His Devices For The US

Apple vs the FBI may be over but that doesn’t mean the question about decryption and the law is over. In the most recent case to catch our ears a suspect from the UK being asked to decrypt his devices for the US authorities.

Lauri Love is a British computer scientist, who is a suspect in the breach of US government networks, which are claimed to have caused “millions of dollars in damage”. After being initially arrested in 2013, and then released, Love was re-arrested back in 2015 and is facing extradition to the US for the suspected crime. While he has not been charged with any crimes, Love has been asked as part of a Section 49 RIPA notice (doesn’t sound that bad does it?) to decrypt his devices by providing them with the passwords and keys required to unlock his devices.

With his devices confiscated, something that Love is now fighting in a counter-sue in civil court, the authorities want to access the data on his devices which include, a Samsung Laptop, a Fujitsu Siemens laptop, a Compaq computer tower, an SD card and a Western Digital hard drive. Alongside this, the National Crime Authority, the UK branch that has demanded the devices be decrypted, are interested in files located on the SD card and external drive that are encrypted using TrueCrypt.

What is most worrying is that if Love was to provide the keys, and this evidence is used against him in the US, then it would breach his fifth amendment rights within the US. The fifth amendment can be described as allowing someone to present evidence against themselves, meaning that you can’t be forced to prove your guilt, by unlocking a computer for example.

In his argument, Love states that “the NCA are effectively arguing that any information that cannot be read and comprehended by the police has a presumption of guilt”. An argument that if extended to other circumstances, could be seen as worrying for any groups that share information and protect journalists, whistleblowers and anyone within the legal profession.

Man Pleads Guilty To Leaking US Military Aircraft Blueprints

When it comes to security and privacy, there is little more protected than military details. As a result, the information is often protected by several layers of protection, and even if these are breached the chances of it going unnoticed are even slimmer than being able to gain access in the first place. Something Su Bin found out the hard way when he pleaded guilty to leaking US military aircraft blueprints. Su Bin, a Chinese national, has pleaded guilty to illegally accessing sensitive military data and distributing this material to China for financial gain. Bin’s role in the scheme was to obtain access to Boeing and other companies servers, in the process retrieving information about their military aircraft

Su Bin, a Chinese national, has pleaded guilty to illegally accessing sensitive military data and distributing this material to China for financial gain. Bin’s role in the scheme was to obtain access to Boeing and other companies servers, in the process retrieving information about their military aircraft such as the C-17 and even fighter jets. Once he obtained access, he told two associates, un-named in his plea deal, which servers to hack and what information was useful on the projects. He even provided a translating service, converting the documentation from English to Chinese before sending it back to China, all at a cost.Sending both server details and names of US executives (and their emails)

After being caught in Canada in 2014 and then extradited to the US last month, Bin will now be charged with stealing data listed on the US Munitions List contained in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

With countries becoming more and more aware of the risks and dangers regarding the digital world, catching anybody is a stark warning that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you will get away with it.

Former CIA Director Thinks EU “Gets in the Way” of Security Services

Security is a big issue with companies and governments alike having issues raised when it comes to people’s data. With the UK soon to take part in a referendum, the EU is at the heart of debates about security, both digital and physical. It would seem that some think the EU doesn’t quite help security services.

Retired General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, seems to think that the EU wasn’t “a natural contributor to national security”. The EU proposed late last year a set of guidelines for its member countries to follow in cybersecurity, with specialist teams designed to help track and address issues, countries would be expected to share information and help each other learn about the new threat that can be found in the digital world.Digital

Digital security became a big topic when Edward Snowden revealed the extent that the US government (and other governments around the world, including the UK) monitored and tracked people’s information. Europe is currently debating how the new data sharing policy it has with the US should look like, a decision that will change how much information both Europe and America will be allowed to store, save and access.

Mr. De Backer of the Belgian Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe has stated that members of the EU need to forget the “old concept of sovereignty” and understand that sharing information and pooling resources could only be beneficial to security services, something that is all too true for global systems like the internet.

John McAfee Wants China to Handle US Cybersecurity

Crackpot plutocrat and self-professed “cybersecurity legend” John McAfee believes that the US is doing such a terrible job of protecting its cybersecurity interests, and that it should outsource the task to a country better equipped at dealing with technological threats: China. Yes, McAfee thinks a nation that wants to use an AI system to monitor its citizens’ every move should bring its expertise to American shores.

“China,” McAfee writes in a Business Insider op-ed, “has already stolen top secret information of everyone who worked for the US Government for the past 50 years, accessed critical information from the Pentagon. Homeland Security and the FBI, has everyone’s phone number, address and habits – and this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as we know. China has done the same thing to nearly every nation on earth.”

“I can assure you that the first word of an attempted attack against China, from any quarter, any person or any agency, would be heard, analyzed and dealt with within minutes of its utterance,” he argues. “In China, encryption is controlled by the Office of State Commercial Cryptography Administration (OSCCA). However, items such as wireless telephones, standard computer operating systems and internet browsers are not included under their regulations.”

Therefore, McAfee posits, China should be given the keys to the US cybersecurity initiative: “It would be better to subcontract our security to the Chinese, eat crow and swallow our pride, until we can stand on our own as a nation in this sea of cyber security chaos which we are clearly incapable of navigating.”

Obligatory reminder that McAfee is running for US President as the Libertarian candidate, presented without further comment.

Autobraking Set To Be A Standard By 2022

Cars these days are as much technology as they are mechanical, with everything from your indicator and dashboard to the radio and pedals attached to a computer which helps you organise and drive as much as your driving teacher did when you first started learning. A new agreement could see autobraking set as a standard as soon as 2022.

Back in 2012, the EU made some legislation which saw automatic electronic brakes (AEB) a required standard on new cars. A group of automakers look to speed up this process within the US by avoiding the legislation part of the issue and instead agree to do the project on their own.

Some of the 20 companies involved, including the likes of Honda, Ford, Volvo and Toyota, have made a pact with the US department of transportation’s national highway traffic safety administration alongside the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that looks to bring AEB’s to cars in America as soon as 2022.

The reason for avoiding the government rule aspect of the pact is that it is expected to be “three years faster than could be achieved through the formal regulatory process”. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that could help prevent as many as 28,000 crashes and over 12,000 injuries.

The full list of companies involved in the pact can be found below, and features some of the biggest names in car manufacturing:

  • Audi
  • BMW
  • FCA US LLC
  • Ford
  • General Motors
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Jaguar Land Rover
  • Kia
  • Maserati
  • Mazda
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Mitsubishi Motors
  • Nissan
  • Porsche
  • Subaru
  • Tesla Motors Inc.
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen
  • Volvo Car USA

If you drive something bigger than your average car (anything between 8,501 pounds and 10,000 pounds) companies have until 2025 to adapt AEB’s for your vehicle.

Senate Holds Online Ad Company ‘Backpage’ in Contempt of Congress

The internet can be a wonderful thing and lets you view everything from your favourite show several days early to downloading the latest games on their day of release. The problem being though is that not all content on the internet should be there, with several groups using it to advertise less than legal practices. In a recent vote, the Senate has held an Ad company in contempt of congress for failing to provide details when asked for them.

The vote (96-0) finds Backpage, a classified ads company, in contempt of congress. Previously Homelands Security Permanent Subcommittee requested documentation on how it screens the ads the company was being asked to provide. The company in return shared general documentation, avoiding the specifics that the subcommittee wanted.

The company is currently being investigated after allegations that it allows ads advertising illegal practices through, even going to far as to edit the ads and using keywords that would help avoid the ad being flagged up for its content.

Backpage has apparently been waiting for the issue to go to congress, saying that their adverts are posted under the first amendment that protects free speech and that the law itself protects companies that post third-party content (that is content provided by someone else). It should also be noted that this is the first time the Senate has issued a contempt of congress charge since 1995, so it’s not an everyday action by any standard.

Segway Patent Looks To Ban Hoverboards

Segways are the next best thing when it comes to showing off your technology in public. The end result though was the creation of “hoverboards” or swagboards as some call them. A device that operates in a similar fashion just without the handlebars that you find in Segways. A Segway patent could see away with the competition though as it looks to ban Hoverboards and other such devices.

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) has accepted a patent complaint that Segway filed in 2014 that is now going to be enforced by a general exclusion order. A general exclusion order is considered the most powerful remedy the ITC can issue, even involving people not directly involved in the complaint.

US Patent No 8,830,048 describes a device with wheels, a drive, and sensors to detect the pitch of the user support among other things. The second claim then carries this on by mentioning the use of a handlebar extending the features previously mentioned.

While the second claim covers the segway, the first claim would effectively cover devices such as the hoverboard which have been received and purchased by the public in far greater quantities than the original Segway.

President Obama has 60 days to accept the exclusion (something that is rarely blocked) and if it is accepted the exclusion order will then need enforcing, blocking imports and sales of anything that would infringe on Segway’s patent.

Volkswagen’s US Chief “Stepping Down”

Volkswagen (VW) is a well-known car manufacturer, or more recently due to the revelation that their cars had a system in place to produce “lower emissions” if it was tested at the time. The latest in a string of events for the company, the head of the United States branch of the company, Michael Horn, is stepping down.

With the revelation that at least 30 people knew about the illegal practise of fixing text results and the result being that certain cars are having to be pulled from the market before a “fix” can be implemented, losing the head of a branch isn’t a good sign for the company.

It should be noted that Horn isn’t listed in any of the investigations being carried out regarding this matter, and VW is still saying that senior management didn’t know about the software update that would cause it to produce “better” results for emission tests.

Following on from the concept that they could “fix” the cars that were producing illegal amounts of nitrogen oxide (including removing the illegal software update), the chief of California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) stated that it “may not be possible” to actually fix these vehicles.

With more and more cars being pulled and banned from sale due to the illegal software, one can only imagine the impact these vehicles are having both on the company and the environment.

China’s Not Happy About US Sanctions On ZTE

ZTE is a well-known manufacturer of telecom equipment, and while they have seen success in the past they are more than worried about the future with the US looking to impose sanctions on the company. As you can imagine, China’s not happy about this turn of events and are looking to hopefully stop this action before it goes too far.

Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, stated that “China is opposed to the US citing domestic laws to place sanctions on Chinese enterprises”. The restrictions were only announced yesterday and were made on the back of allegations that the company planned have sold US-made equipment to Iran in 2012. This is in violation of the US export restrictions with Iran, but this move may have an impact on other companies just as much.

Intel, Qualcomm and Microsoft all supply parts and equipment to ZTE, something which will now require paperwork which will “generally be denied”. ZTE are obviously worried that, since they cooperated with the US since the trading with Iran first surfaced in 2012, they are going to be hit badly by the restrictions, ultimately causing “significant supply problems to ZTE”. The company has already taken a hit with the trading of company shares being halted.

US Police Group: iPhone “Device of Choice” for Criminals

Three US police groups have filed a brief in court that Apple’s iPhone has become the “device of choice” for criminals, due to its strong encryption, and are aware of “numerous instances” in which suspects have switched from traditional “burner” phones to iPhones – though failed to provide any evidence of this claim – according to Vice News.

The brief does, though, cite the anecdotal tale of a New York jail inmate calling Apple’s smartphone “a gift from God” during a phonecall in 2015.

The filing, made by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and two other groups, is part of the ongoing case regarding the FBI’s attempts to force Apple to decrypt the iPhone of a suspect in the San Bernardino shootings last year. So far, Apple CEO Tim Cook has refused to allow US law enforcement to bypass encryption on the iOS operating system. Cook has told the court that he will continue to resist the FBI’s court order, saying that it “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the US government,” Cook said. “We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”

While the case continues, France has this week voted in a law designed to punish owners of security software for refusal to allow law enforcement to bypass encryption, Russia Today reports.

Eric Schmidt to Chair US Defense Department Advisory Board

In a statement from the US Department of Defense today, it has been announced that Alphabet’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt will chair a new advisory board. Named the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, it will consist of 12 expert individuals from the private sector who will put their effort together in order to find “quick solutions to DoD problems.”

The Defense Innovation Advisory Board takes after the existing Defense Business Board, just as the Business Board advises the department on the best business practices from the private sector, the Innovation Advisory Board will provide advice and information on the latest and greatest practices in innovation that the department can adopt and emulate. The mandate of the board is to supply DoD leader with independent advice on “innovative and adaptive means to address future organizational and cultural challenges” such as the use of technological alternatives and streamlining management, not including any discussion of military operations or strategy.

The remaining members of the 12-person board are yet to be revealed, however, the DoD stated that those selected will be individuals “who have successfully led large private and public organizations, and excelled at identifying and adopting new technology concepts.” These members will be selected personally by both Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Dr. Schmidt himself, from both those in Silicon Valley and across the US.

While the board still seems far from assembled, it seems wise for the US DoD to make use of the private sector’s technological expertise, so as not to be left behind in a world of growing technology. Many countries around the world may be under threat from attacks both in cyberspace and the real world, and hopefully, this collaboration will develop more informed defenses against cyber-attacks for the US and more.

US Military to Train Marines Using Creepy Robot Targets

Long have soldiers practiced their shooting skills at a firing range, shooting at paper targets to develop their marksmanship. Static paper targets pale in comparison to moving humanoid targets out in the field, however, which is where these slightly creepy four-wheeled robots come in. Designed to simulate more realistic battlefield conditions, these robots will replace the paper targets with moving targets which can drive in and out of cover and move around corners.

Developed by Marathon Targets, these robots are far from attractive to look at (which may be appealing when they are designed to be shot), looking like the upper torso of a dummy attached to a piece of machinery, they are far smarter and more well built than first appears. Using a combination of GPS guidance systems and a laser-based obstacle avoidance system with a range of 25 meters, the bots can easily be controlled from a remote location via laptop and even feedback to the operator when and where they were shot, like a high-tech way of checking the bullet holes in a target. Despite packing all of this technology, their most impressive feat is that the manufacturer reports that each robot can handle being shot thousands of times and still maintain its structure and operability.

Recently, the robots were tested by Marines from the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton in California who provided a positive initial response to their usage. The Department of Defense released footage of the exercises, which shows Marines shooting at the robotic targets, who react to gunshot ‘wounds’ by tipping their ‘body’ at an angle.

Certainly not as cheap as a few pieces of paper down at the firing range, however, these robots show a new way of training the next generation of soldiers to be more effective against moving targets. Let’s just hope they don’t take it personally or we could be facing a robot uprising against bots able to take hundreds of shots and keep going.

Russia Request Permission to Fly Spy Plane Over the US

Today Russia requested permission to allow an advanced surveillance plane with advanced electro-optical imaging sensors to fly over the US. The request is valid as both Russia and the US are signatories of the Open Skies Treaty, which permits unarmed observational flights over any of the 34 member nations, despite the arguments from US officials. These officials believe that the sensors equipped on the plane they wish to use are too advanced and exploit the spirit of the treaty, which is to increase military transparency amongst the nations.

With tension between the west and Russia at its highest since the Cold War, the move seems to be a clear move to see how far they can push their luck. “The treaty has become a critical component of Russia’s intelligence collection capability directed at the United States,” Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, wrote in a letter earlier this year according to the AP. “In addition to overflying military installations, Russian Open Skies flights can overfly and collect on Department of Defense and national security or national critical infrastructure,” Haney continued. “The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize.”

Russia’s chances of its request being approved may be hampered by their recent refusal to allow other nations to engage in surveillance over its own territory. A number of key locations including the capital, Moscow and potential conflict areas such as Chechnya and the areas around Abkhazia and South Ossetia are considered off-limits, despite the treaty.

Due to the nature of the treaty being that of transparency it will be hard for Russia to keep secrets of what it is observing, as the treaty rules that all images taken as part of flights under its regulations must be shared with all of the treaty’s member states. It remains to be seen whether the request will be accepted, but even if it is, Russia’s flight would only take place in summer at the earliest, with the treaty having a 120-day lead time on agreements.

Image credit to Kremlin.ru

Oculus Confirms Rift Compatible PC Bundles

 

The range of potential possibilities concerning the forthcoming Oculus Rift headset promises to be both exciting and also worth the wait, in theory, the problem lies with headset compatibility for the extensive array of PCs that are currently on the market. It seems Oculus have already thought of this and have recently released details of specially crafted PC bundles that have been tested to ensure the headset will work with the machine.

Oculus have announced the first set of machines from well-known computer manufacturers ASUS, Alienware and Dell; these PCs have been tested and also certified by Oculus. The headset manufacturer has also confirmed that the first bundles will be available to pre-order for consumers starting from the 16th February 2016 at 8 am pacific time.

Other confirmed details include the stockists that will be able to accept pre-orders for the bundle, these are, Best Buy, Amazon and the Microsoft Store. There is no word as yet if the UK will receive these bundles as the company has stated that it will “ship in limited quantities to select countries and regions”  One would have thought these bundles would eventually be available within the UK when you consider the size and also profitability of the market.

Below is a selection of Oculus-ready’ PCs that the company has announced, it has also been stated that consumers who were excited enough to purchase an Oculus Rift without yet owning a compatible PC, the company said pre-order customers will be able to purchase a discounted PC at a later date.

 

The price of these bundles will start at $1,499, for that you will receive an “Oculus-certified PC and everything that comes with Rift – the headset, sensor, remote, an Xbox One controller, EVE: Valkyrie Founder’s Pack, and Lucky’s Tale”.

 

US Select Committee Calls Internet of Things a “Threat” to National Security

Smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) potentially poses an imminent security threat to the United States this year, according to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, presented the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community report [PDF] to the Senate on Tuesday (9th February).

In his annual security assessment, Clapper warned that IoT devices possess insecurities that can be exploited, or used as backdoors into larger systems, by hackers.

“The consequences of innovation and increased reliance on information technology in the next few years on both our society’s way of life in general and how we in the intelligence community specifically perform our mission will probably be far greater in scope and impact than ever,” James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, writes in his report. “Devices, designed and fielded with minimal security requirements and testing, and an ever-increasing complexity of networks could lead to widespread vulnerabilities in civilian infrastructures and US government systems.”

Clapper is also of the opinion that smart devices could be used as a means of surveillance, writing, “In the future, intelligence services might use the loT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Seagate Targeted by Ridiculous Class-Action Lawsuit

It is always great to wake up to some news that makes one laugh and today is one of those days as Seagate is targeted with a ridiculous lawsuit. The Plaintiff Cristopher A. Nelson claims that Seagate has an inability to deliver non-defective hard drives that conform to their express and implied warranties, its breach of consumer protection, unfair competition and false advertising laws as well as its unjust enrichment. So far all sounds good in the sense of the lawsuit and not so good for consumers that might have been misled. However, the plaintiff solely bases his accusations on the misleading Backblaze reports that no one in the industry with respect for themselves take seriously as well as his own failed drive.

BackBlaze is a large-scale data hosting company, but it is one that takes alternate routes in order to provide their customers with cheap storage and that is where the problem lies. They will use any kind of hard disk drive in their large scale servers as long as it’s cheap, but it is far from every drive that suited for this kind of usage. A desktop drive is rated for 6-8 hours usage a day in systems with 1-4 drives installed, yet BackBlaze is using desktop drives in large scale servers that hold up to and above 50 drives while they run 24/7. Not only this, they also purchase the drives from any place they can find, including supermarkets where they most likely haven’t been handled properly before being sold.

So it isn’t really any surprise that BackBlaze is experiencing a lot of failures with these drives. As a farmer you wouldn’t go out and purchase an Opel Corsa or similar car to plow your fields with just because it is cheaper than a tractor. A good farmer knows that and a good hoster should also know what drives to pick. Yet they still use Seagate as they still provide them with cheaper storage than competition despite the failure rate.

Now you might ask yourself, why is it only Seagate that is affected by this and not the other companies that make hard disk drives used by BackBlaze? That is actually a very simple, BackBlaze only seems to purchase consumer drives from Seagate. WD drives in use by BackBlaze, for example, are WD RED drives and while they only are certified for 1-4 drive bays, they are manufactured for 24/7 usage and thereby will hold up better than equivalent desktop drives. In return, this means that the Seagate drives will look worse on their yearly reports.

But let us get back to the class-action lawsuit in question. The plaintiff apparently purchased a Seagate Backup Plus 3TB drive at BestBuy, an external storage drive, which then failed 2 years later. He then got a replacement on warranty which apparently failed about a year after receiving it. This is where the first red flag should pop up, actual multiple ones. But the main one is that he’s basing his lawsuit on two different products, internal and external storage, where the one even is being used wide outside their intended region of operation. I’d also like to question just how he handled that external drive, most people don’t treat external HDDs with as much care as they should.

I don’t expect this lawsuit to make it past any judge with just a little bit of respect for themselves and that it will be thrown out as soon as the judge finished reading the transcript. The lesson here is, buy products suited for the operation you need them for and treat them properly. Nothing more, nothing less.

18TB of Hacked Data from Largest US Police Union Leaked

A massive cache of private files belonging to the largest police union in America was leaked online following a breach of its website. The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents around 330,000 US police officers, admitted on Friday that its servers had been hacked after around 18TB-worth of data from the organisation was distributed online.

According to The Guardian, the leaked files contain names and addresses of members, controversial city authority contracts, and private forum posts critical of President Barack Obama.

When the hack was traced back to a UK IP address, a British citizen, operating under the pseudonym Cthulhu, admitted responsibility for leaking the data in a post on his website.

“Today I released some files from the Fraternal Order of Police,” Cthulhu wrote, “allegedly the largest union-type body in the US representing sworn-in police officers. Since then, many groups have shared it over social media and other means, for which I thank all who have donated their bandwidth to seed the files over the torrent.”

While Cthulhu refused to reveal how he obtained the data he subsequently leaked, he clarifies that he did not commit the breach himself, saying, “I will not speak on behalf of the source, who has asked to remain anonymous. As this is the wishes of the source, I cannot provide “exclusive” information or a behind the scenes to anyone, no matter how respected you are in the industry or the promises made.”

“My word is my bond, and so I owe the source a degree of protection from the media, as was his/her wishes. If the source wishes to discuss his/her identity, they shall come forth in their own time,” he added.

The FOP has used the attack as evidence of a pervasive “anti-police” sentiment, but Alex Vitale, Associate Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College, argues that it provides a level of transparency into police operations that the public should be entitled to.

““No one really knows what is going on inside police unions,” Vitale told The Guardian. “The most troubling thing is that they have been able to work out disciplinary procedures that shield them from oversight, as in what steps that the employer has to go to discipline or terminate someone.”

The US Snowfall Captured Through a Lense

The recent US snowfall has absolutely hammered the East Coast of America in terms of size and ferocity which has led to the cancellations of thousands of flights as well as leaving tens of thousands without power, below is a selection of stats which conveys the extent of this force of nature.

  • 40 inches of snow – Has been recorded in Glengary, West Virginia; 39 inches fell in Philomont, Virginia; and Redhouse, Maryland, received 38 inches.
  • 11 states declared states of emergency – Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. Washington, D.C., has declared a “snow emergency.
  • 8,569 flights – Have been cancelled for Saturday and Sunday
  • More than 74,000 people – Without power.

Below is a selection of beautiful, fantastic yet thought-provoking images that conveys just how disruptive this storm has been for residents as well as the country as a whole.

Below is the first image of “Henry Street in the Chinatown neighbourhood of New York”, as you can see, this bustling street has rather ground to a halt.

Next Image below is of a “snowball fight at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC”, this image has been captured in pretty good detail.

The next image below conveys a gentleman by the name of “John Mexner who tries to make headway by shoveling  his vehicle out in Washington”. The morning commute looks rather in vain after the size of disruption from the storm.  

The next image below certainly conveys the amount of snow that has been dumped on the US, the gentleman within the photo is “Ben Osborn who walks with a shovel past a line of snowed-in cars in northeast Washington”, each car looks similar to a giant snowball.

The next image below is beautifully shot and conveys an individual who is producing a “snow angel in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C”, the blueness of the sky is a striking contrast to both the memorial and also the snow.

The last image is certainly thought-provoking and shows “Gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia”  being almost completely hidden from snow.

The last image may not be relevant to the US, but it is certainly stunning, it conveys a frozen mast within Fujian Jiuxian China, wow.

Image courtesy of BBC

US Military Personnel Rail Against Netflix VPN Block

Netflix has faced a furious backlash from users since it initiated its new program to prevent users from accessing geoblocked content using VPNs. Amongst this, one the forgotten victims of the VPN ban are military personnel serving abroad. Stars and Stripes reports that US servicemen and women will be left without one of their few comforts because of Netflix’s VPN block.

While Netflix is aware that military personnel use VPNs to access US content when stationed in foreign bases – “Netflix always exempts U.S. military bases around the world,” Anne Marie Squeo, a spokeswoman for Netflix, said. “They will still be able to access the U.S. catalog.” – there are a great number of servicemembers abroad that don’t live on-base.

“For me Netflix is a way of being home. It boosts your morale by letting you watch the things you would be able to see at home,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Shaundell Wright, a quartermaster with Yokosuka Navy Base’s Port Operations Dispatch, said. “We are already in a foreign country and everything is so different. So, to be able to watch Netflix feels good.”

Accessibility to more countries around the world is great, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse Fowler, a hospital corpsman, added, “but I’m mad if I can’t change where my Internet is so I can’t watch my own shows.”

“My VPN hasn’t been blocked,” Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Cutright, a Navy counselor, agreed. “But if it does, I will be pissed. Netflix Bahrain is trash.”

It remains to be seen if Netflix will take its VPN ban seriously, or whether the move is simply a gesture to placate content providers that are concerned about regional licensing agreements being violated.

Could Hypersonic Air Travel Become a Reality?

Air travel has become the norm within today’s fast past society, from the extremely affordable ticket prices coupled with the package holiday’s that have become part of many people’s yearly quest for adventure. But, what is next for air travel? Can it be developed to the point whereby consumers are able to fly to for example Australia from the UK in less than 22 hrs?

Well, a potentially sizeable development is on the horizon after Orbital in conjunction with NASA has developed and preliminarily tested what is known as a “3D printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Virginia”. This could potentially facilitate air travel at amazing speeds of up to 3,425 mph (5,500km/h) or 4.5 times the speed of sound, which is fast.

Below is an image of a concept hypersonic plane which has been modelled within design software that is used for the purposes of aerodynamics, it certainly looks fascinating for a ground level design. The combustor was created through a manufacturing process known as “powder bed fusion” (PBF). Within this is a layer of “metal alloy powder that is printed before a laser fuses areas together based on the pattern which is fed into the machine by a software program

The combustor has as you would expect been put through a series of hypersonic flight conditions over the course of 20 days. Orbital have also stated that one of the most complex parts with which to develop is the Scramjet combustion system which needs to maintain stable combustion within an extremely volatile environment. This technique could also have the potential to be used within future versions of NASA’s X-43 experimental hypersonic aircraft which is pictured below alongside the Langley Research Centre in Virginia.

In case you’re wondering, the definition of a Scramjet is an air-breathing aircraft that carries only “hydrogen fuel, the aircraft pulls the oxygen needed and burns it from the atmosphere; this is instead of the traditional method of fuel and the required oxygen to provide acceleration

These developments could pave the way for a future whereby consumers could, in theory, be whizzing around the globe by hypersonic power.

Internet To Leave US Control

While it is designed to be independent, avoiding control from any country of government the internet is a little bit different from that dream. Sadly, like with any large system, someone has to be there to help maintain and support the complexity of the system, something connecting the entire world is no different in this respect. Now, the Internet could soon be leaving US control.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit company that manages internet protocols and domain names. With the ability to register custom domain names and with new protocols like IPV6, the internet is expanding with new services and systems taking up everything from bits to petabytes.

The transition from US control, if it goes ahead as planned, will change hands on September 30th. While there will be no change in the fundamental workings of the internet, the control that the US had will be gone leaving for a more global service, something that countries like Russia and China have been requesting goes to a global body like the UN.

Many who use the internet believe in a principle known as Net Neutrality. This principle is that all traffic on the internet, no matter the destination, content or type should be treated the same. This means that if you and your neighbour were both watching content, one football one League of Legends, neither of your connections would be chosen above the other. This leads to everyone and everything on the internet being treated, above all else, equally. Many countries don’t employ this, with giant firewalls and companies looking to find new ways to prioritise connections.

While sharing control all over the world is a good thing, making sure that people don’t use the new control to enforce restrictions, censorship or global monitoring is also important. The freedom of one cannot come at the cost of another.

US Drones Experience Spike in Unexplained Crashes

20 US military drones inexplicably crashed during 2015, and the Pentagon refuses to say why, The Washington Post reports. Half of the unmanned aerial vehicles involved are the US’s new Reaper drone, which cost $14 million (£9.8 million) each. The other 10 accidents involved the older Predator drone.

Unconfirmed rumours suggest that the Reaper could be experiencing problems with its starter generator, since that problem was detected after six crashes prior to 2014. “We’re looking closely at that to determine what is the core issue there,” Lt. Gen. Robert P. Otto, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Surveillance Programs for the US Air Force, acknowledged.

“Once the battery’s gone, the airplane goes stupid and you lose it,” Colonel Brandon Baker, Chief of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities Division, added. “Quite frankly, we don’t have the root cause ironed out just yet.”

The Pentagon has not confirmed nor denied that the starter generator is responsible for the spike in drone crashes last year, refusing to comment on the matter and failing to officially report many of the 20 crashes in 2015. Despite this, it is known that military engineers have been desperately investigating a potential fix for the problem for over a year, with rumours that every military UAV in operation will require upgraded starter generators.