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Private firms can’t protect us from digital attacks. Government must step in.

For the last 30 years various forms of criminality and nation state aggression against Americans and America has been a staple of daily life. Despite the efforts of a number of multibillion dollar companies to protect us, they’ve failed to do so. The government must act.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that our digital infrastructure is under attack. ZDNet’s excellent security coverage has daily updates, usually with names I’ve never heard of before. As the ZDNet security tagline says, “Let’s face it. Software has holes. And hackers love to exploit them. New vulnerabilities appear almost daily.”

Sadly, that’s not hyperbole. “SolarWinds attack is not an outlier, but a moment of reckoning for security industry, says Microsoft exec” is a recent headline.

Vasu Jakkal, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of security, compliance and identity, said,

“These attacks are going to continue to get more sophisticated. So we should expect that. This is not the first and not the last. This is not an outlier. This is going to be the norm. This is why what we do is more important than ever. I believe that SolarWinds is a moment of reckoning in the industry. This is not going to change and we have to do better as a defender community and we have to be unified in our responses.”

But Ms. Jakkal is wrong. Private enterprise can’t handle serious, nation state digital aggression. Nations have the resources and patience to pursue long term strategies. Even the largest corporations lack the heft of a nation.

Microsoft estimates that at least 1,000 engineers were needed to develop the SolarWinds hack. What company, what consortium of companies, could devote similar resources?

We don’t send defense contractors to fight wars. We send armed forces, backed by intelligence agencies and diplomacy – as well as the weapons defense contractors develop – to defeat the enemy.

Digital aggression is aggression

Scale changes everything is a Silicon Valley truism. Back when the Internet’s predecessor, ARPAnet, was five nodes, there was no money in digital crime.

Now the Internet is five billion nodes. Deep into the transition to a digital civilization, crime is following the money. The thieves, gangs, and nation-state bad actors are stealing everything that isn’t locked down. Money, industrial secrets, intelligence assets, and personal data.

There’s no end in sight since “software engineering” is an oxymoron. As Randall Munroe had a software writer say on xkcd.com: “. . . our entire field is bad at what we do, and if you rely on us, everyone will die.” We don’t know how to build a digital dike that doesn’t leak. We can only plug holes after the bad guys find them.

Strategically, deterrence seems to be the only option for persuading nation states to back off. And only a strong nation can persuade another nation to chill, as the Cold War showed.

Likewise, today’s Internet needs a police force as well. The Internet is borderless, so a global force is needed to bring the criminals to heel.

Despite massive private investment in digital security, the stakes keep rising and the hacks are getting worse. Private enterprise isn’t working. Private efforts to coordinate across organizations to record and analyze attacks are not enough.

Can the US government take this on?

Don’t reflexively dismiss the idea that government could handle this. Consider the US armed forces, the world’s most powerful fighting force. Handsomely funded, well-trained, and constantly analyzing the threats America faces. That’s a blueprint for US Digital Defense Force.

Perhaps you recoil at the thought of higher taxes to pay for the DDF. But the choice isn’t between no taxes and higher taxes. Criminals and nation-states – in Russia, they may be one and the same – are already collecting massive taxes to fund their aggression. The choice is essentially between paying for digital order and security, or paying the criminals.

The take

America’s adversaries are actively probing our infrastructure for vulnerabilities. America’s superiority in conventional forces – for now anyway – makes a big shooting war unlikely. But crippling America’s government, power, water, energy, and medical systems all at once would help even the odds if someone wanted to take us down.

The current model of digital security isn’t working, nor is there a plan to fix it. Sorry Microsoft, you – and the rest of the private firms – don’t have the chops to take on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

We’ve been here before. London in the early 1800s was a city of 1.3 million people with no central police force. In 1829 Parliament established the Metropolitan Police to bring order and security. Private firms and wealthy individuals had guards, but that was not enough.

Like 1820s London, we need to be a well-funded and trained force to stop digital muggers, gangs, and conspiracies, whether private or nation sponsored. And our government to make it clear that countries that mess with our digital infrastructure will face painful consequences.

Comments welcome. If you don’t like the government idea, what would you do instead?

But Ms. Jakkal is wrong. Private enterprise can’t handle serious, nation state digital aggression. Nations have the resources and patience to pursue long term strategies. Even the largest corporations lack the heft of a nation.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/private-firms-have-failed-to-protect-our-digital-lives-we-need-the-government/

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ZDNET

Adobe Flash: Microsoft lays out plans to remove it from Windows 10 PCs for good

Microsoft’s July Patch Tuesday security update will include the Flash removal update for all versions of Windows 10.

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Microsoft is preparing to issue two more Windows 10 updates in June and July that will eliminate unsupported Adobe Flash Player from Windows PCs for good.

The update KB4577586 called “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player” has been available as an optional update since October and now looks set for a broader deployment.

Flash Player officially reached end of life on December 31, 2020 as per an announcement by Adobe and major browser makers in 2017.

SEE: Windows 10 Start menu hacks (TechRepublic Premium)

Via Windows Latest, Microsoft in late April updated an old blogpost detailing its Flash removal plans that it now says will culminate in the update rolling out in the upcoming Patch Tuesday security updates targeting older versions of Windows 10.

In June Microsoft plans to release KB4577586 as part of the preview Windows 10 updates ahead of the next month’s Patch Tuesday update. These updates are not optional, so it should roll out to all Windows 10 machines via Windows Update and WSUS.

“Starting in June 2021, the KB4577586 “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player” will be included in the Preview Update for Windows 10, version 1809 and above platforms. It will also be included in every subsequent Latest Cumulative Update,” Microsoft said.

“As of July 2021, the KB4577586 “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player” will be included in the Latest Cumulative Update for Windows 10, versions 1607 and Windows 10, version 1507. The KB will also be included in the Monthly Rollup and the Security Only Update for Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Embedded 8 Standard,” it added.

SEE: Back to the office in 2021? Here are ten things that will have changed

Also, Windows 10 version 21H1 or the May 2021 Update is due out any day now, possibly with the May Patch Tuesday update. Of course, this version won’t be shipping with Flash Player. Microsoft notes that when users update to 21H1 or later, Flash will be removed.

KB4577586 remains an optional update to install for now. However, Microsoft will eventually mark it as a “recommended update”. Once installed, the Flash removing update cannot be uninstalled.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/adobe-flash-microsoft-lays-out-plans-to-remove-it-from-windows-10-pcs-for-good/

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Samsung tried to get customers excited. Then the lawyers spoiled it all

The launch of Samsung’s new Galaxy Book Pro laptops should have been an unqualified hosanna. But then I observed the caveats.

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Even the thickness may vary? What?

Screenshot by ZDNet

The minute I got up, I felt that frisson.

Samsung had decided to do something it’s rarely done: Follow Apple.

Here were new Galaxy Book Pro laptops that were excitingly light and brightly colored.

I rushed to learn more. Surely there was already a pulsating unboxing video with a white background, there to tempt me.

Yes, there was.

Here was a white box remarkably like the one Apple uses for its MacBooks. In fact, here was a presentation remarkably Apple-like. Or, the grudging would offer, Apple-lite.

The music may have been a little more clubland, but this was an unboxing for a new era, with pretty colors too.

Soon, though, my eyes kept twitching. The left one, in particular. It kept being dragged away to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

I stopped and restarted the video to see if I’d been (yet again) imagining things. But no, there went my eyes again.

Here, you see, were more disclaimers than in your average online terms of service.

“Available components may vary, depending on model, country or region,” said the tiny words, as the Galaxy Book Pro was being removed from its box. So, in some regions, my Book Pro may have lesser bits than in others?

Then, as Samsung showed off its fast charging plug and adapter, some more chilly water was being hosed upon me, before I’d even protested: “Adapter type may vary by region.”

Even the poor cable had to be qualified with: “Data cable type may vary by country.”

Three disclaimers within the first 14 seconds was a little much. What sort of spirit-dampening lawyers does Samsung employ? Do they get out enough?

No sooner had I observed the lovely mystic blue, pink and silver colors than Samsung’s lawyers told me: “Color availability may vary by country.”

Oh please, Samsung. There are only three colors. Surely it’s not too much to deliver them to everyone.

I’d like to tell you things got better. We were nineteen seconds in and my spirit was descending.

But here was the glorious, Air-like thinness being displayed. Surely there could be no qualifier to that.

Oh, but there could: “Thickness may vary depending on display size, model, graphic configuration, and other factors.” What other factors? The temperature? The government in power? The mood of the country or region?

A blessed rest ensued. Until, that is, the 30th second. This was the moment when Samsung boasted of the unbearable lightness of its Book Pros.

And the lawyers said: “Weight may vary depending on display size, model, graphic configuration or other factors.”

This had become a little too much. I watched the rest of the video in a cross-eyed haze, as the disclaimers came thicker and faster than the Galaxy Book Pro. Were there 15? Were there 20? It certainly felt like it.

Some shots had three or four disclaimers, all stacked one upon another and the ultimate effect was of an odd comedy sketch where a newsreader is speaking and his co-anchor keeps interrupting with: “What he really means….”

I’m entirely prepared to believe these laptops are a large step forward for humankind.

I’m not sure I can say the same for Samsung’s lawyers.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/samsung-tried-to-get-customers-excited-then-the-lawyers-spoiled-it-all/

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Google Assistant can now be taught how to pronounce and recognise names

Google Assistant will no longer mispronounce names, if taught, based on the latest update Google has made to the platform.

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google-asssitant-names.jpg Image: Google/Screenshot

Google announced it has made a number of upgrades to Google Assistant so that the artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant no longer mispronounces people’s names, especially those that are less common, and can better understand the context of conversations.

Users can now teach Google Assistant to enunciate and recognise the names of their contacts, by listening to a user pronounce them. Google assured its Assistant would not keep a recording of user voices.

The feature is initially available in English, but Google says it plans to expand it in other languages “soon”.

Google added it rebuilt Assistant’s natural language learning models and improved its reference resolution using its BERT machine learning model, so it can process words in relation to one another in a sentence, instead of one-by-one in order.

The company noted in a blog post that making those changes means Assistant can understand context and respond “nearly 100% accurately”. The first features the improvement will apply to are alarm and timer tasks on Google smart speakers in English in the US, with plans to bring the capability to other uses cases and expand it to phones and smart displays.

“Assistant’s timers are a popular tool … you might fumble and stop mid-sentence to correct how long the timer should be set for, or maybe you don’t use the exact same phrase to cancel it as you did to create it. Like in any conversation, context matters and Assistant needs to be flexible enough to understand what you’re referring to when you ask for help,” Google said.

The tech giant has also used AI as part of study to see if technology could be used to help non-specialist clinicians, such as nurses, improve the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions.

As part of the study, which was published in JAMA Network Open, 40 non-specialist clinicians interpreted over 1,000 de-identified images of patients’ skin conditions from a telemedicine dermatology service, identified the condition, and made recommendations. For half of the cases, the clinicians had access to the AI tool, while the other half didn’t.

The results showed that using the AI tool, clinicians improved their ability to interpret skin conditions and arrived at the same conclusion as the diagnosis of dermatologists.

“The chances of identifying the correct top condition improved by more than 20% on a relative basis, though the degree of improvement varied by the individual,” Google said about the study.

Elsewhere within Google, the company’s Android earthquake detection system that was announced in August is now available in New Zealand and Greece. At the time of launch, Google only made the earthquake alert available to Android users in California but said there were plans to roll it out to other parts of the US and other countries.

The system relies on the accelerometers that are built into smartphones to detect signals for earthquakes.

If the phone detects an earthquake, it will send a signal to Google’s earthquake detection server, along with a course location of where the tremor occurred. The server will then combine the information it has received from multiple Android phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening.

Eventually, if an earthquake is detected, the system will automatically send warning alerts to Android devices so people can find cover or safer ground.

The company has also made updates to Search, pre-empting that the frequency of international travel will increase. It has introduced a feature to notify users when they search for travel information such as flights, hotels, or things to do, they are also provided access to COVID-19 related travel advisories or restrictions.

Information could include whether travellers will need to quarantine on arrival or provide proof of immunisation records or test results, as well as when restrictions are added, lifted, or reduced, Google said.

The updates are country-specific, while state-specific information is available in the US.

Other travel-related updates that Google has made include enabling Maps to make pit stop suggestions for road trips and allow people to use Explore to browse destinations based on interest filters such as outdoors, beaches, or skiing.

Related Coverage

Google added it rebuilt Assistant’s natural language learning models and improved its reference resolution using its BERT machine learning model, so it can process words in relation to one another in a sentence, instead of one-by-one in order.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/google-assistant-can-now-be-taught-how-to-pronounce-and-recognise-names/

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