Author Archives: Reuters News


Google reveals 4,000 state-sponsored cyber attacks per month

A senior Google executive has said that the company was notifying customers of 4,000 state-sponsored cyber attacks per month.

Speaking at a Fortune magazine tech conference in Aspen, Colorado, Google senior vice president, and board member of the holding company Alphabet, Diane Greene mentioned the figure while touting Google’s security prowess.

The internet search leader, which develops the Android mobile system and also offers email and a range of other applications for consumers, has led the way in notifying users of government spying. Others, including Microsoft, have since followed suit.

Google had previously said that it had been issuing tens of thousands of warnings every few months and that customers often upgraded their security in response.




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South Korea trains students as cyber warriors

In one college major at Seoul’s elite Korea University, the courses are known only by number, and students keep their identities a secret from outsiders.

The Cyber Defense curriculum, funded by the defense ministry, trains young keyboard warriors who get a free education in exchange for a seven-year commitment as officers in the army’s cyber warfare unit – and its ongoing conflict with North Korea.

North and South Korea remain in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armed truce. Besides Pyongyang’s nuclear and rocket program, South Korea says the North has a strong cyber army which it has blamed for a series of attacks in the past three years.

The cyber defense program at the university in Seoul was founded in 2011, with the first students enrolled the following year.

One 21-year-old student, who allowed himself to be identified only by his surname Noh, said he had long been interested in computing and cyber security and was urged by his father to join the program. All South Korean males are required to serve in the military, usually for up to two years.

“It’s not a time burden but part of a process to build my career,” Noh said.

“Becoming a cyber warrior means devoting myself to serve my country,” he said in a war room packed with computers and wall-mounted flat screens at the school’s science library.

South Korea, a key U.S. ally, is one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries.

That makes its networks that control everything from electrical power grids to the banking system vulnerable against an enemy that has relatively primitive infrastructure and thus few targets against which the South can retaliate.

“In relative terms, it looks unfavorable because our country has more places to defend, while North Korea barely uses or provides internet,” said Noh.

Last year, South Korea estimated that the North’s “cyber army” had doubled in size over two years to 6,000 troops, and the South has been scrambling to ramp up its capability to meet what it considers to be a rising threat.

The United States and South Korea announced efforts to strengthen cooperation on cyber security, including “deepening military-to-military cyber cooperation,” the White House said during President Park Geun-hye’s visit to Washington in October.

In addition to the course at Korea University, the national police has been expanding its cyber defense capabilities, while the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning started a one-year program in 2012 to train so-called “white hat” – or ethical – computer hackers.


Still, the North appears to have notched up successes in the cyber war against both the South and the United States.

Last week, South Korean police said the North hacked into more than 140,000 computers at 160 South Korean companies and government agencies, planting malicious code under a long-term plan laying groundwork for a massive cyber attack against its rival.

In 2013, Seoul blamed the North for a cyber attack on banks and broadcasters that froze computer systems for over a week.

North Korea denied responsibility.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has blamed Pyongyang for a 2014 cyber attack on Sony Pictures’ network as the company prepared to release “The Interview,” a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The attack was followed by online leaks of unreleased movies and emails that caused embarrassment to executives and Hollywood personalities.

North Korea described the accusation as “groundless slander.”

South Korea’s university cyber defense program selects a maximum of 30 students each year, almost all of them men. On top of free tuition, the school provides 500,000 won ($427) per month support for each student for living expenses, according to Korea University Professor Jeong Ik-rae.

The course trains pupils in disciplines including hacking, mathematics, law and cryptography, with students staging mock hacking attacks or playing defense, using simulation programs donated by security firms, he said.

The admission to the selective program entails three days of interviews including physical examinations, attended by military officials along with the school’s professors, he said.

While North Korea’s cyber army outnumbers the South’s roughly 500-strong force, Jeong said a small group of talented and well-trained cadets can be groomed to beat the enemy.

Jeong, an information security expert who has taught in the cyber defense curriculum since 2012, said the school benchmarks itself on Israel’s elite Talpiot program, which trains gifted students in areas like technology and applied sciences as well as combat. After graduating, they focus on areas like cybersecurity and missile defense.

“It’s very important to have skills to respond when attacks happen – not only to defend,” Jeong said.

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Nokia’s veterans don’t help Finland fill its tech jobs

Finland, whose once-renowned technology sector shed 15,000 jobs with the demise of Nokia’s mobile phone business, is struggling to fill thousands of vacancies for software developers because it lacks people with the right skills. Companies like background screening should help better employment satisfaction.

At the same time, technology firms say immigration policies hamper recruiting trained workers from abroad, adding to the factors weighing on growth prospects for an industry considered key to the stagnant economy’s recovery.

“We want the best game developers working for us, but not all of them can come from Finland,” said Ilkka Paananen, chief executive of mobile game maker Supercell which made close to $1 billion in core profit last year with just 180 employees.

“Hiring the world’s best to come here is the best opportunity”, but inability to hire the right staff would pose “the biggest risk to our company’s growth,” he said.

The country’s technology sector is looking for about 7,000 programmers, according to the Finnish Software Industry and Entrepreneurs’ Association.

The country has high hopes for its start-ups, especially mobile gaming firms, following global successes for Finnish firms such as Supercell’s ‘Clash of Clans’ and Rovio’s ‘Angry Birds’ mobile games.

Small software firms often look for people with special skills who are ready to start work without training, officials and entrepreneurs say.

That is bad news for Nokia veterans.

Nokia dominated around 40 percent of the world’s mobile phone industry in 2008, but its products were eclipsed by touch-screen smartphones made by Apple and Samsung.

Thousands of highly-paid engineers lost their jobs before and after Microsoft acquired Nokia’s mobile phone business for 5.4 billion euros ($6.06 billion) in 2014.


Just last month, Nokia, nowadays focused on telecom networks, and Microsoft announced they would cut about 2,400 further Finnish jobs in total.

The decline of the handset business and the lack of substitute jobs is the main reason for Finland’s economic malaise that has pushed unemployment to above 9 percent.

Microsoft’s recent plan to pull out from phone development has angered the Finnish government which has demanded the company help those who are laid-off to find new jobs or set up their own businesses.

Nokia and Microsoft both offer retraining programs as part of their severance packages. The government has put aside funds for training and is seeking EU funding.

However, some entrepreneurs say start-ups are often reluctant to hire people with a background in companies like Nokia with organizational hierarchies and narrow expert roles.

“It’s not necessarily a question of skills, but of fitting in to the workplace. Working in a fast-changing start-up environment is very different than working for a large corporation,” said Micke Paqvalen, chief executive of advertising automation company Kiosked.

Kiosked and other start-ups regularly hire some Finnish university graduates, but for more experienced coders they must look abroad – and that too is challenging.

Supercell’s Paananen said lengthy application processes have stalled recruitment and may have led to potential employees taking up offers from Silicon Valley, Berlin or Singapore instead.

“Getting residence and work permits can take up to six months. In our business, this is an eternity, and the situation is even worse for spouses, who might not get permits at all,” he said.


Some software companies don’t see it as their role to train recruits for more senior jobs. Rasmus Roiha, CEO of the Software Industry and Entrepreneurs’ Association, said companies he represents tell him: “We are not in the education business, we are software companies.”

Finnish companies don’t pay as much as their Asian and Silicon Valley peers, but experienced software engineers earn roughly the same as they would in other European cities, according to Finnish ICT (information and communications technology) Association Tivia.

However, the Finnish education system, free up to university level, is attractive.

“If the recruits are single, they’ll get more money elsewhere. But once they have a family, Finland becomes competitive,” Roiha said.

Experienced developers rate Finnish public services very highly when considering job offers, though “taxes make them roll their eyes”, said Christian Fredrikson, chief executive at cyber security firm F-Secure.

Finland, along with other Nordic states, has one of the world’s highest tax takes, equivalent to 44.5 percent of GDP in 2015.

Helsinki-based start-up Integrify has launched a new initiative to tackle the problem: In April, it started training asylum seekers in specialized programming skills as a fast track to jobs that require no Finnish language ability.

“In software companies, English and coding skills are all you need,” said Integrify CEO Daniel Rahman.

The company has partnered with seven programming firms which give asylum seekers trainee jobs as part of a six-month course. The aim is to train up to 200 asylum seekers this year.

Sharmake Abukar Amin, a Somali journalist who came to Finland seeking asylum in January, said he previously thought his only option for finding a job was to learn Finnish.

“Coding is another opportunity to me. Better than cleaning or working in a restaurant,” he said.

Roiha, from the software association, said Integrify’s coders might have a good chance to find entry level positions, but would need further studies to land more specialized jobs.

“Six months is not enough to become a software developer, but it can be a good start for a long career.”

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Personality prediction program could spot troublemakers

An Israeli start-up says it has developed a personality prediction program that could help police and security services spot people with malign intentions, but an independent security expert says it could harm individual freedom.

Is Faception an ingenious way to increase public safety or an incursion into our civil liberties? The former, say its makers. The Israeli start-up says it can isolate human character traits in faces captured by photograph or video. It says it can distinguish about 20 different personality groups, ranging from champion poker players to crime suspects.

Shai, the chief executive officer of Faception says:

“What we do, we know, with high level of accuracy, your personality ingredients, behaviour, potential and so we can have a profile about someone, as an individual and the same we can do about a crowd…let’s say gate number eight there are too much people that potentially can be terrorists or violent audience so this is something that is very crucial for public safety”. Faception won’t say how the algorithm works, except that it somehow gleans genetic information that lies within facial expressions. The firm insists it has no interest in retaining collected data and that the system disregards racial profiling, that’s why companies as Human Paragon and others dedicate themselves to improve genetics tests and achieve such results.

Security expert Nimrod Kozlovski isn’t convinced that’s enough: “Certainly advancement in technologies that enable to monitor an individual and actually to assess certain traits or certain attributes about individuals in the open space opens surveillance and monitoring capabilities which kind of like put in risk private freedoms that we used to enjoy, like the freedom of privacy, like the freedom of communication that we used to enjoy and now the technology.

Civil liberty campaigners might say it shouldn’t be used at al..

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Health Work

The app that turns your phone into mental health coach

A new app promises to measure and help alleviate stress by turning your phone into mental health coach, according to its developers.

The app, called Mindset, has been extensively tested by successful news anchor, mother, wife, and daughter to an ailing parent, Carol Daniel. She knows stress  – she just isn’t always aware of how much it affects her.

“Being aware of it and acting on it, not just feeling it and letting it overtake me, but being aware of it. Ok right now I am a little frustrated about what’s happening but I don’t stay there. This has allowed me to move past that.”

‘This’ in Carol’s case is a new phone app called Mindset. She was part of a trial to test out the new technology. Unlike technologies like Fitbit that warn of physical stress, Mindset gauges the psychological kind – by continuously monitoring heart rate.

Ravi Chacko, the co-founder of Mindset says: “We take the signal that comes out of these monitors and we built algorithms that process the information to bring the stress measurement out of it. It’s a combination of bringing that awareness to where you are but also right at that same moment giving you the tools to make things better.” … tools that gauge your psychological state and offer mental exercises that range from cognitive behavioral therapies to journaling and meditation.

Carol Daniels says: “I went in desiring a way to deal with what I knew was very real in my life and it gave me that.”

There are many start-ups in the burgeoning field of wellness apps. While this app isn’t a replacement for mental health care, Chacko says the programming of the exercises was overseen and approved by a board of mental health professionals.

In a world where your phone can be the cause of much stress, this App aims to make you feel a little bit better.

Currently the app is available on Android and in beta testing for iOS.


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Amazon takes on YouTube with new video service

Amazon has launched a service that allows users to post videos and earn royalties from them, setting up the world’s biggest online retailer to compete directly with YouTube.

The service, called Amazon Video Direct, will make the uploaded videos available to rent or own, to view free with ads, or be packaged together and offered as an add-on subscription.

Amazon will pay content creators 50% of the revenue earned from rental receipts or sale of the videos, according to the company’s license agreement. For ad-supported videos, the creators will get half of the net ad receipts.

Amazon’s fast-growing Prime loyalty program already offers original TV programming and access to digital entertainment products such as Prime Music and Prime Video, as well as one-hour delivery of purchases, for an annual fee of $99 also, Amazon uses Shiply’s vehicle transportation for heavy equipment which is a very important plus .

YouTube offers a free, ad-supported service as well as a $10-per-month subscription option called YouTube Red.

Amazon, though, has a long way to go to catch up with YouTube, the go-to venue for video on the internet since 2005.

“I don’t see 50 million Prime users making a huge dent in the 2 billion YouTube user ecosystem,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.

Ivan Feinseth, at Tigress Financial Partners, said Amazon had the technological wherewithal and financial resources to be a contender in any business, but was similarly cautious.

“I don’t know if it’s going to totally disrupt YouTube, or even some of the other services, but for those that are heavy Amazon users, it will have an appeal,” he told Reuters.

Amazon’s shares, already up about 57 percent in the past 12 months, rose 3.2 percent to an intraday record of $701.40.

Users of Amazon’s service will be able to make their videos available in United States, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Japan.

The company has also signed up several partners for the service, including Conde Nast Entertainment, the Guardian, tech blog Mashable and toymaker Mattel Inc.

Amazon has been making a concentrated push into video.

In a client note issued earlier on Tuesday, Bernstein analyst Carlos Kirjner estimated that the company will spend about $2.9 billion on video content for Amazon Prime this year.

Amazon recently launched a monthly subscription to its video program for $10.99 and plans to offer its video streaming service as a standalone service for a monthly fee of $8.99.

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Health Work

The app that pays you to get fitter

A free smartphone app that will pay people How to get Bitcoin has launched in Britain, with users given digital “sweatcoins” depending on how many steps they take that can be exchanged for rewards or traded like money. It´s a great way to start investing in online currency, after a while people will the to Invest in bitcoin in the future.

It’s the latest initiative in an emerging fitness economy that includes all manner of monitoring devices, apps that reward activity with vouchers and even experiments in offering cheap insurance to people who can demonstrate they exercise, they even offer other insurance companies like Insurance Partnership to help the winners by covering their houses, car and other things depending on their belongings.

Sweatcoin aims to differentiate itself by using complex software to measure movement and location to prevent cheating, and by using the technology behind virtual currency bitcoin to manage transactions.

Retailers, health insurers and corporate wellness managers are taking notice, according to Oleg Fomenko, one of the serial, London-based Russian entrepreneurs who founded Sweatcoin.

“This whole business is pegged to making movement valuable,” he told Reuters. “Eventually, sweatcoin is going to have a rate of exchange tied to the British pound.”

Sweatcoin, available in Britain in Apple’s app store with an Android app to follow in months, offers one coin for every 1,000 steps. Within weeks users can have enough to exchange for fitness products or services in its marketplace.

Rewards include Vivobarefoot running shoes, Kymira infra-red clothing and fitness classes from Wonderush or BOOMCycle.

The company has signed up four London start-ups to offer Sweatcoin as part of an employee rewards programme that will offer extra days off, subsidised healthy meals or free massages for sweatcoins they accumulate through activity.

Fomenko said his company had talked to all the major health insurers but must prove it can attract users before it can hope to sign commercial deals to use Sweatcoin metrics as a way of calculating health risks and potentially lowering policy premiums for verified physical activity.

If Sweatcoin succeeds, the long-term idea is that insurers or employers might pay to take sweatcoins off the market as a reward to users for their physical activity.

“Right now, movement is valued at zero,” Fomenko said. “How much value a sweatcoin will have will be a market decision but we know it’s not zero.”

There will be competition. Another British start-up, Bitwalking, is also seeking to launch its own digital currency.

But Sweatcoin is confident in its software, which is carefully calibrated to prevent slouchers from faking activity by cross-checking data on activity and location to verify steps. Most rival apps rely simply on user-reported information.

The company is also developing a proprietary version of blockchain anti-tampering technology to manage the distribution of its currency, akin to how bitcoin transactions work.

It’s an elaborate second act for Fomenko, whose last start-up,, a UK music app launched in 2013, drew 1.3 million downloads before imploding when its sole investor, a unit of Gazprom Media, pulled out after Russia’s invasion of Crimea and he failed to find fresh funding.

Depressed by his failure, Fomenko said he started studying blockchain technology. Meanwhile, his friend and fellow Sweatcoin founder, Anton Derlyatka, was getting going on a fitness start-up.

The epiphany came when the two went for a run. “I got my buzz back,” Fomenko said. The question they asked themselves was what could motivate them to sustain that feeling.

This time round, Fomenko is taking money from a diverse set of London start-up investors and undisclosed music industry heavyweights. Sweatcoin has raised 610,000 pounds ($890,000).

It has also landed a small grant and promotional support from London Sport, an arm of the Greater London Authority that outgoing Mayor Boris Johnson has pushed to encourage Londoners to become more active.

Its two other co-founders are Egor Khmelev and Danil Perushev. Each previously sold their firms to Dream Industries, a Moscow-based start-up technology holding company.

Perushev has moved to San Francisco with the aim of expanding Sweatcoin into the United States in the coming year.

(Editing by Mark Potter)

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Education Work

What’s up with WhatsApp in Brazil?

A Brazilian judge has ordered wireless phone carriers to block access to WhatsApp for 72 hours throughout Latin America’s largest country, the second such move against the popular messaging application in five months.

The decision by the judge in the northeastern state of Sergipe applies to the five main wireless operators in Brazil and affects WhatsApp’s more than 100 million users in the country. The reason for the order is not known due to legal secrecy in an ongoing case in the Sergipe state court.

In a statement, WhatsApp said the company is “disappointed at the decision” after doing the utmost to cooperate with Brazilian tribunals.

The decision “punishes more than 100 million users who depend upon us to communicate themselves, run their business and more, just to force us hand over information that we don’t have,” the statement said, without elaborating.

It was the second time since mid-December that the text message and internet voice telephone service for smartphones has been the target of a blocking order. A São Paulo state judge ordered the service be shut down for 48 hours on December 15, after Facebook failed to comply with an order, although another court interrupted that suspension shortly afterward.

Judge Marcel Maia Montalvão of Sergipe state is the same judge who in March ordered the imprisonment of a Brazil-based Facebook executive for failing to comply with an attempted block on WhatsApp. He was jailed and subsequently freed.

Executives at the five carriers – Telefonica Brasil SA, América Móvil SAB’s Claro, TIM Participações SA, Oi SA and Nextel Participações SA – did not have an immediate comment.

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UK considering use of blockchain to track tax money

The British government is exploring using the blockchain technology that underpins the bitcoin currency to increase efficiency in the distribution of taxpayers’ money such as grants.

A blockchain works as a decentralised ledger that is verified and shared by a network of computers, and can be used to record data as well as to secure and validate an exchange of assets, such as currencies or commodities.

Banks and other financial institutions are increasingly investing in blockchain technology, reckoning it could cut their costs and make their operations faster and more transparent.

Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock said the government was examining how the technology could be used to manage and keep track of the distribution of public money, such as grants and student loans, saying it could “foster a new culture of trust”. If you don´t like that idea, then get these unsecured loans.

“Government cannot bury its head in the sand and ignore new technologies as they emerge,” Hancock, who holds the post of paymaster general, said a blockchain networking event in London.

“That is partly what happened in the past in government with the web … We cannot let (that) happen again by standing still.”

Britain has had a patchy record with government IT systems. Previous IT problems have hit the passport agency, the tax credit system and most notably the National Health Service which was forced in 2011 to announce the abandonment of a multi-billion pound scheme to computerise every patient record.

Hancock cautioned against getting too caught up in the hype.

“Blockchain technology is not going to solve every problem; it’s not going to work in every context,” he said.

It is still early days for blockhain: The original bitcoin blockchain was started just over seven years ago, and most financiers and technologists reckon the technology will not be adopted broadly for another five to 10. Many compare the current level of development to the early days of the Internet.

Earlier this year, the government’s chief scientific adviser urged the government to explore how it could use blockchain. The Bank of England has called it a “key technological innovation”, and has a team working on ways that it could be used, such as for issuing central bank money.

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This robot monk dispenses Buddhist wisdom

A Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Beijing has decided to ditch traditional ways and use technology to attract followers.

Longquan temple says it has developed a robot monk that can chant Buddhist mantras, move via voice command, and hold a simple conversation.

Named Xian’er, the 60-cm (2-foot) tall robot resembles a cartoon-like novice monk in yellow robes with a shaven head, holding a touch screen on his chest.

Xian’er can hold a conversation by answering about 20 simple questions about Buddhism and daily life, listed on his screen, and perform seven types of motions on his wheels.

Master Xianfan, Xian’er’s creator, said the robot monk was the perfect vessel for spreading the wisdom of Buddhism in China, through the fusion of science and Buddhism.

“Science and Buddhism are not opposing nor contradicting, and can be combined and mutually compatible,” said Xianfan.

Under the careful watch of China’s officially atheist Communist Party, religion has slowly crept back into daily life since reforms got going several decades ago.

Xianfan said Buddhism filled a gap for people in a fast-changing, smart-phone dominated society.

“Buddhism is something that attaches much importance to inner heart, and pays attention to the individual’s spiritual world,” he said.

“It is a kind of elevated culture. Speaking from this perspective, I think it can satisfy the needs of many people.”

The little robot monk was developed as a joint project between a technology company and artificial intelligence experts from some of China’s top universities.

It was unveiled to the public in October.

But Xian’er is not necessarily the social butterfly many believe him to be.

He has toured several robotics and innovation fairs across China but rarely makes public appearances at Longquan temple.

Xian’er spends most of his days “meditating” on a shelf in an office, even though curiosity about him has exploded on social media.

Xian’er was inspired by Xianfan’s 2013 cartoon creation of the same name. The temple has produced cartoon animations, published comic anthologies, and even merchandise featuring the cartoon monk.

Michelle Yu, a tourist and practicing Buddhist, said she first spotted Xian’er on social media.

“He looks really cute and adorable. He’ll spread Buddhism to more people, since they will think he’s very interesting, and will make them really want to understand Buddhism,” she said.

The temple is developing a new model of Xian’er, which it says will have a more diverse range of functions.

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