Brace for More Destructive Cyberattacks

The latest global cyberattack is a harbinger of worse cyber strikes to come. The May 12 attack crippled businesses and governments around the globe, disrupting operations at English hospitals, FedEx, Telefonica and thousands of other organizations. Hackers infiltrated Microsoft Windows computers and held files hostage until a ransom was paid. Their way in? A security flaw buried in machines that lacked the most recent software version. The attack reportedly infected more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries before it was halted.

Cybercriminals are poised to probe other weak spots in the coming months. Criminals and hostile nations have identified security vulnerabilities from data breaches and leaks at U.S. intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency and CIA. Intelligence agencies stockpile flawed code for their own digital intel efforts, and often don’t share the potential security problems with technology vendors. Security experts warn that this practice is dangerous. If hackers get their hands on the flawed code, they can hijack the info for their own cyber strikes. Continue reading “Brace for More Destructive Cyberattacks”

How an Emerging Type of Biometrics Will Thwart Financial Crooks

The way you swipe and press your smartphone will soon add an extra layer of security. Tech companies are building artificial intelligence software that siphons up data on the unique way you fiddle with your sensor-packed smartphone. The systems are fine-tuned enough to detect how you might favor an old wrist injury, stumble over a certain word while typing or press on the screen while using a certain app. The personal profiles that are churned out are highly accurate for identifying the correct user. The underlying technology stems from a Department of Defense research project. Continue reading “How an Emerging Type of Biometrics Will Thwart Financial Crooks”

Three Forecasts After Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Flight

Recently I soared between towering buildings in Manhattan. I saw 3D holograms of downtown Seattle and New York City appear on a barren table in front of me. I rose above the clouds and was greeted by mystical floating people doing yoga-like poses. I walked around a rooftop in a digital world that merged a virtual scene with my real surroundings.

Virtual and augmented reality are already impressive. That’s my clear takeaway from a cable industry event I attended in Washington, D.C., last week, where I got to try out some of the latest and greatest VR and AR technology. (For background, see my previous Alert on the industry.) The cable industry wanted to tout what’s on tap and why their customers will want to upgrade their internet service. Many virtual reality uses, such as live sports games, will require super-fast web connections. Continue reading “Three Forecasts After Taking Virtual Reality for a Test Flight”

Can Cable Companies Compete in the Wireless Business?

A new wireless service from cable and internet giant Comcast will shake up the cellular industry. Comcast is launching a mobile wireless plan that will compete head-to-head with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and regional cell carriers. Industry competition is already heating up, with carriers being forced to offer unlimited data plans, lower prices, free video services, rebates and more. “Promotions such as T-Mobile offering free MLB.TV for a year and AT&T offering a free HBO trial are manifestations of growing competition,” says Mark Stodden, senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service. Now, Comcast will add fuel to the fire.

Better wireless deals are in the cards as carriers respond to new competition. Look for wireless companies to offer more goodies such as free pay TV channels to keep customers from defecting to Comcast. Charter, the second largest U.S. cable provider, is also planning a wireless service in 2018. Continue reading “Can Cable Companies Compete in the Wireless Business?”

How Small Merchants Can Fend Off Costly Cyberattacks

Cyber crooks are increasingly launching attacks at the cash register. The payment terminals and company computer systems used by small businesses are a window into customer credit card data and other sensitive info.

“The bad guys are moving to an easy target: The small- and medium-sized business community,” says Stephen Orfei, the general manager of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council, a group formed in 2006 by the major credit card companies to create payment security standards. A digital attack can be devastating for a small business that lacks the deep pockets and technical prowess of a big company. Continue reading “How Small Merchants Can Fend Off Costly Cyberattacks”

Who Profits from the Next Billion Internet Users?

Tech companies are eyeing a huge new market: The next billion customers coming online for the first time by 2022, mainly in India, China, Indonesia, parts of Africa and other developing regions.

Falling costs and improving technology are making it possible. Low-cost smartphones, running $100 or less, make mobile broadband far more accessible to consumers with little income. Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei, Xiaomi and ZTE are flooding the market with cheap but capable handsets, almost all of them running Google’s Android operating system. Plus, steady advances in wireless radio antennas and other telecom equipment make it cheaper and easier to build mobile networks with faster speeds, more coverage and lower data prices. Continue reading “Who Profits from the Next Billion Internet Users?”

The Spread of Unlimited Data Ignites Cellular Competition

It pays to shop around for cell service, now that Verizon has joined AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint with all-you-can-eat unlimited data plans. Verizon’s move comes as T-Mobile siphons off more and more customers through aggressive marketing and price cuts. “This was actually the first time that Verizon reacted to T-Mobile,” says Roger Entner, telecom analyst and founder of Recon Analytics. The action led to another round of price cuts, too.

Unlimited data plans come with a catch, though. Speeds slow after users hit a monthly data limit. When Verizon’s network is bogged down, its unlimited speeds are ratcheted back for users who have burned up 22 gigabytes in a given month. Other carriers’ plans come with similar fine print. Continue reading “The Spread of Unlimited Data Ignites Cellular Competition”

The Challenge and Promise of Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors

U.S. start-ups are making headway on next-generation nuclear reactors. But companies worry about the big challenges they face to get new designs up and running in the U.S. That’s the message I heard after spending the better part of a day with nuclear industry insiders in Washington, D.C., at the Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase, an event for top nuclear players to tout recent developments and make their pleas to lawmakers. The mood was a mixture of guarded optimism and deep concern over government inaction.

Designs in the works are smaller, cheaper and safer than the current crop of reactors, which account for 20% of America’s electricity mix. Small modular reactors, for instance, can be manufactured at a factory and pieced together at the power plant site. Some novel reactor designs turn trash into treasure by running on spent fuel from conventional reactors in operation today. Other reactors in the works are so small and cheap they could replace diesel generators in off-the-grid areas such as small islands. Continue reading “The Challenge and Promise of Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors”

Battles Loom Between Tech Companies and Trump

A long series of battles between tech companies and President Trump is getting started. Expect flare ups soon over issues that have been on the back burner, including encryption, net neutrality and surveillance. But it was Trump’s early move on immigration that set off an industry with many immigrant workers, including prominent immigrant leaders such as Google founder Sergey Brin, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The now-halted executive order banning travel from seven countries sparked swift opposition from the American tech industry. Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia backed the Washington state lawsuit that led to the travel ban being halted by federal judges. More than 120 technology companies, including Google, Apple, Intel and Facebook, joined a friend-of-the-court filing calling the executive order “unlawful” and “harmful to businesses.” No matter what happens to the travel ban in the future, tech companies are in for a long fight over immigration. Continue reading “Battles Loom Between Tech Companies and Trump”

U.S. Tech Firms Brace for a Tougher Road Ahead

It’s going to get tougher for high-tech firms to do business overseas as protectionist policies increase across the globe. U.S. tech firms are being forced to divulge source code, store data locally, weaken security, reveal data and more to appease foreign countries trying to prop up their own domestic technology sectors. Some nations are blocking U.S. tech firms outright. Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Dell, Amazon, IBM and other American tech companies, large and small, face the problem.

China is especially challenging, imposing rules that hinder U.S. firms in cloud computing, cybersecurity, semiconductors, e-commerce and social media. The nation is dead set on boosting its own high-tech economy, from social media to semiconductors, and is squeezing out more concessions from companies. The longtime concern that China’s policies lead to intellectual property theft will only intensify. Continue reading “U.S. Tech Firms Brace for a Tougher Road Ahead”