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IBM and ExxonMobil are building quantum algorithms to solve this giant optimization problem

ExxonMobil and IBM’s researchers have been working together to find quantum algorithms that could manage the global fleet of merchant ships.

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Research teams from energy giant ExxonMobil and IBM have been working together to find quantum solutions to one of the most complex problems of our time: managing the tens of thousands of merchant ships crossing the oceans every day to deliver the goods that we use every day.

The scientists lifted the lid on the progress that they have made so far and presented the different strategies that they have been using to model maritime routing on existing quantum devices, with the ultimate goal of optimizing the management of fleets.

ExxonMobil was the first energy company to join IBM’s quantum Network in 2019, and has expressed a keen interest in using the technology to explore various applications, ranging from the simulation of new materials to solving optimization problems.

Now, it appears that part of the energy company’s work was dedicated to tapping quantum capabilities to calculate journeys that minimize the distance and time traveled by merchant ships across the globe.

On a worldwide scale, the equation is immense – intractable, in fact, for classical computers. About 90% of world trade relies on maritime shipping, with more than 50,000 ships, themselves carrying up to 200,000 containers each, moving around every day to transport goods with a total value of $14 trillion.

The more the number of ships and journeys increase, the bigger the problem becomes. As IBM and ExxonMobil’s teams put it in a blog post detailing their research: “Logistically speaking, this isn’t the ‘traveling salesperson problem.'”

While this type of exponentially growing problem can only be solved with simplifications and approximations on classical computers, the challenge is well-suited to quantum technologies. Quantum computers can effectively leverage a special dual state that is taken on by quantum bits, or qubits, to run many calculations at once; meaning that even the largest problems could be resolved in much less time than is possible on a classical computer.

“We wanted to see whether quantum computers could transform how we solve such complex optimization problems and provide more accurate solutions in less computational times,” said the researchers.

Although the theory behind the potential of quantum computing is well-established, it remains to be found how quantum devices can be used in practice to solve a real-world problem such as the global routing of merchant ships. In mathematical terms, this means finding the right quantum algorithms that could be used to most effectively model the industry’s routing problems, on current or near-term devices.

To do so, IBM and ExxonMobil’s teams started with widely-used mathematical representations of the problem, which account for factors such as the routes traveled, the potential movements between port locations and the order in which each location is visited on a particular route. There are many existing ways to formulate the equation, one of which is called the quadratic unconstrained binary optimization (QUBO) technique, and which is often used in classical computer science.

The next question was to find out whether well-known models like QUBO can be solved with quantum algorithms – and if so, which solvers work better. Using IBM’s Qiskit optimization module, which was released last year to assist developers in building quantum optimization algorithms, the team tested various quantum algorithms labeled with unbeatably exotic names: the Variational Quantum Eigensolver (VQE), the Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm (QAOA), and Alternating Direction Method of Multiplier (ADMM) solvers.

After running the algorithms on a simulated quantum device, the researchers found that models like QUBO could effectively be solved by quantum algorithms, and that depending on the size of the problem, some solvers showed better results than others.

In another promising finding, the team said that the experiment showed some degree of inexactness in solving QUBOs is tolerable. “This is a promising feature to handle the inherent noise affecting the quantum algorithms on real devices,” said the researchers.

Of course, while the results suggest that quantum algorithms could provide real-world value, the research was carried out on devices that are still technically limited, and the experiments can only remain small-scale. The idea, however, is to develop working algorithms now, to be ready to harness the power of a fully-fledged quantum computer when as soon as the technology develops.

“As a result of our joint research, ExxonMobil now has a greater understanding of the modelling possibilities, quantum solvers available, and potential alternatives for routing problems in any industry,” said the researchers.

What applies to merchant ships, in effect, can also work in other settings. Routing problems are not inherent to the shipping industry, and the scientists confirmed that their findings could easily be transferred to any vehicle optimization problem that has time constraints, such as goods delivery, ride-sharing services or urban waste management.

In fact, ExxonMobil is not the first company to look at ways to use quantum computing techniques to solve optimization problems. Electronics manufacturer OTI Lumionics, for example, has been using QUBO representations to find the most optimal simulation of next-generation OLED materials. Instead of using gate-based quantum computers to run the problem, however, the company has been developing quantum-inspired algorithms to solve calculations on classical Microsoft Azure hardware, with encouraging results.

The mathematical formulas and solution algorithms are described in detail in the research paper, and the ExxonMobil/IBM team stressed that their use is not restricted. The researchers encouraged their colleagues to reproduce their findings to advance the global field of quantum solvers.

On a worldwide scale, the equation is immense – intractable, in fact, for classical computers. About 90% of world trade relies on maritime shipping, with more than 50,000 ships, themselves carrying up to 200,000 containers each, moving around every day to transport goods with a total value of $14 trillion.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/ibm-and-exxonmobil-are-building-quantum-algorithms-to-solve-this-giant-optimization-problem/

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National Australia Bank keeping staff connected with Google Pixel rollout

More than 2,000 Google Pixel devices were issued to NAB’s customer contact teams to enable them to support customers remotely.

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15664-android-nab-blog-v2-max-1000x1000.png Image: Google

When National Australia Bank (NAB) recently revised its device strategy to look at new ways it could support the mobility of its employees and reduce the time and cost of support legacy devices across multiple platforms, the big bank partnered with Google to issue more than 2,000 Pixel devices to its customer contact teams.

Each device, managed with Android enterprise, was rolled out by Vodafone using “zero-touch” enrolment to set up the devices and configure each one with the necessary applications.

“With zero-touch enrolment, each Pixel setup was 20 minutes faster than our previous device enrolments, saving our IT team and colleagues over 500 hours during the initiative. With our communication and collaboration apps available right out of the box, our teams could get to work right away to help customers,” NAB Mobility manager Simon Thoday said.

Another consideration of the rollout was how customer data was going to remain secure, with Thoday pointing out that using Android Enterprise provided the solution to that question.

“Pixel security updates from Google provide a reliable cadence of ongoing protection as threats evolve, and the work profile hits the right balance between security and privacy for our teams,” Thoday said.

“Our contact centre teams use Pixel devices that are fully managed, which allows us to provide the necessary security controls, and wipe and re-enroll them when transferred to a new employee,” he said.

“Branch managers use Pixels with the work profile, separating work and personal applications. This gives employees the ability to use the device in a personal capacity while our IT team manages and ensures data security over the work profile.”

Additionally, with managed Google Play, NAB can assign the apps that are necessary on its managed devices.

“Providing our teams the flexibility to assign apps to the right teams is a major time saver and ensures everyone has the resources they need,” Thoday said.

“Branch managers can look up customer service records or answer a ping more quickly from their Pixel, instead of returning back to their desk and logging back on to their desktop computer. Android Enterprise has been a catalyst in a more mobile and responsive environment for our various teams.”

Earlier this month, the red and black bank completed its transition to TPG to deliver fixed and mobile network services across the bank.

The transition follows a deal struck between the two companies in September for the newly merged telecommunications giant to deliver fixed network services across NAB’s corporate offices, business banking centres, and branches, as well as providing mobile connectivity to the majority of the NAB workforce.

Vodafone delivered the solution to more than 80% of NAB’s mobile fleet across corporate offices and branches in metro and major regional areas. The company said Vodafone, alongside Google, would also be providing those who opt for a company phone with the Pixel 4a.

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Another consideration of the rollout was how customer data was going to remain secure, with Thoday pointing out that using Android Enterprise provided the solution to that question.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/national-australia-bank-keeping-staff-connected-with-google-pixel-roll-out/

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Crackonosh malware abuses Windows Safe mode to quietly mine for cryptocurrency

The malware is thought to have generated millions of dollars in just a few short years.

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Researchers have discovered a strain of cryptocurrency-mining malware that abuses Windows Safe mode during attacks.

The malware, dubbed Crackonosh by researchers at Avast, spreads through pirated and cracked software, often found through torrents, forums, and “warez” websites.

After finding reports on Reddit of Avast antivirus users querying the sudden loss of the antivirus software from their system files, the team conducted an investigation into the situation, realizing it was due to a malware infection.

Crackonosh has been in circulation since at least June 2018. Once a victim executes a file they believe to be a cracked version of legitimate software, the malware is also deployed.

The infection chain begins with the drop of an installer and a script that modifies the Windows registry to allow the main malware executable to run in Safe mode. The infected system is set to boot in Safe Mode on its next startup.

“While the Windows system is in safe mode antivirus software doesn’t work,” the researchers say. “This can enable the malicious Serviceinstaller.exe to easily disable and delete Windows Defender. It also uses WQL to query all antivirus software installed SELECT * FROM AntiVirusProduct.”

Crackonosh will scan for the existence of antivirus programs — including Avast, Kaspersky, McAfee’s scanner, Norton, and Bitdefender — and will attempt to disable or delete them. Log system files are then wiped to cover its tracks.

In addition, Crackonosh will attempt to stop Windows Update and will replace Windows Security with a fake green tick tray icon.

The final step of the journey is the deployment of XMRig, a cryptocurrency miner that leverages system power and resources to mine the Monero (XMR) cryptocurrency.

Overall, Avast says that Crackonosh has generated at least $2 million for its operators in Monero at today’s prices, with over 9000 XMR coins having been mined.

Approximately 1,000 devices are being hit each day and over 222,000 machines have been infected worldwide.

In total, 30 variants of the malware have been identified, with the latest version being released in November 2020.

“As long as people continue to download cracked software, attacks like these will continue and continue to be profitable for attackers,” Avast says. “The key take-away from this is that you really can’t get something for nothing and when you try to steal software, odds are someone is trying to steal from you.”

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Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

Crackonosh has been in circulation since at least June 2018. Once a victim executes a file they believe to be a cracked version of legitimate software, the malware is also deployed.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/crackonosh-malware-abuses-windows-safe-mode-to-quietly-mine-for-cryptocurrency/

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South Australia splashes out on space, defence, and cybersecurity in 2021-22 Budget

The South Australian government believes tech-focused sectors such as defence, space, and cybersecurity will have a key role to play in the state’s future.

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In taking a forward-looking approach into what the future of South Australia will look like, the South Australian government has announced it will bolster investment in tech-focused sectors such as defence, space, and cybersecurity as it hands down the 2021-22 Budget [PDF].

“This Budget is our blueprint for a stronger South Australia, creating jobs, building what matters and delivering better services to further secure our growing global reputation as one of the safest and most attractive places in the world to live, work, and raise a family,” Treasurer Rob Lucas said on Tuesday.

Some of the specific funding announcements include AU$20.8 million to upgrade the existing buildings at Lot Fourteen to make way for the expansion of space, digital, hi-tech, and cyber companies, with a particular focus on companies involved in small satellite development.

Separately, AU$6.6 million will be contributed over five years to assist with the SASAT1 Space Services Mission, which will see a local manufacturer launch a small satellite in mid-2022 as well as deliver space-derived services to the state.

South Australia’s Defence and Space Landing Pad program has also received a boost, with the state government saying it will deliver AU$860,000 over three years for the program that is used to support international defence and space companies that bring new, sought-after capability to South Australia.

Local artificial intelligence and health technology companies are set to receive additional support through a AU$1.6 million allocation delivered over four years. Under this investment, AU$985,000 will be used for grants to support AI and health technology companies through matching co-funding for health application pilots, and $589,000 to deliver project support activities, including investment concierge services.

Meanwhile, AU$2.6 million will be earmarked to support small businesses developing digital and cyber security capabilities as well as other capabilities to enter the national market.

The Budget papers also indicated AU$21.1 million over three years will be dedicated towards the implementation of stages three and four of the South Australia Police Shield project, which involves linking South Australia Police’s data and records management system directly with other justice sector agencies. The state government touted the move will improve collaboration and data sharing capabilities.

In a bid to boost bushfire response, the 2021-22 Budget revealed that it will contribute AU$7.7 million over four years towards the ongoing management, support, and maintenance of automatic vehicle location systems (AVL) used by the emergency services sector. AVL provides real time location information of firefighting and other emergency response vehicles during incidents. AVL is expected to be installed in approximately 1,400 vehicles at a total cost of AU$12.7 million.

Additionally, the 2021-22 Budget indicated support for the state government’s commitment to improving digital services for citizens remains ongoing through its AU$120 million Digital Restart Fund, noting that AU$4.3 million in 2021-22 will be put towards the South Australian government’s online services portal, AU$5.5 million over two years for the expansion of the residential aged care enterprise system, AU$1.3 million over two years for the child and family services information systems, and AU$500,000 in 2021-22 for the Safeguarding smartphone app.

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/south-australia-splashes-out-on-space-defence-and-cybersecurity-in-2021-22-budget/

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