All posts in “Business”

Driverless technology may be on the rise, but Lyft has a place for humans

Why it matters to you

Many of us may be worried about robots and machines taking over our jobs, but Lyft wants to assuage some of those fears.

Despite the burgeoning interest in driverless cars and autonomous technology, there will always be a place in this world (and in cars) for humans. That, at least, is the stance that Lyft is taking according to its interview with Recode. In a recent episode of the publication’s podcast, the company’s director of product, Taggart Matthiesen, noted that while Lyft is certainly focusing on self-driving automobiles, their human counterparts will not be forgotten in the face of technological progress.

“Drivers have always been part of our family, they have been core to our service,” Matthiesen said. “As far as I’m concerned, they will continue to be that. Over time, technology will give us the opportunity to provide additional services on our platform, whether that is a concierge service, whether that is an in-vehicle experience … these are all things that we will slowly evolve and work with our drivers on.”

This certainly comes as encouragement and reassurance to those who fear that their jobs may soon be obviated by the rise of the machine. After all, robots have previously been estimated to have the capacity to replace some 5 million jobs in the next three years. However, given that most of these jobs will likely be lower level, administrative roles, this replacement could also herald the dawn of a more creative and innovative era in the human workforce.

In any case, Lyft is making clear that it has no intentions of completely turning to robots and machines when it comes to its own driving fleet. Already, Matthiesen said, the company has formed an “advisory council” tasked with “proactively reaching out about the future of human workers in self-driving cars.” And ultimately, the director noted, Lyft might “never be 100 percent” autonomous. Why? Because when push comes to shove, there are some scenarios in which human empathy and understanding are necessary.

“If I need to go to the doctor’s office and my leg is in a cast, and I can’t drive, we have a service for that,” Matthiesen said. “If you get into the world of autonomous, we may need someone in that vehicle to help that person. There are things we’re doing beyond getting a passenger from point A to point B, additional services that we as a company can look at.”

All the Apple iMac Pro news you can handle: Xeon inside and a star-studded GPU

Why it matters to you

Here’s all the Apple iMac Pro news you can chew on to better understand what’s inside Apple’s upcoming all-in-one workstation with a $5,000 starting price.

On June 5, 2017, Apple revealed the iMac Pro, the next installment in its family of iMac workstations. Starting at a meaty $5,000, the all-in-one device will sport an Intel Xeon processor with up to 18 cores, an AMD professional graphics card with up to 22 teraflops of graphics computations, and an attractive new Space Gray enclosure seemingly ripped out of the future. That said, here is all the current Apple iMac Pro news we could dig up.

Xeon inside

First, we’re not entirely sure what processors Apple will be using in December. The company lists Intel “Xeon” chips with eight, 10, and 18 cores, but no specific models. For a while, signs have pointed to the possibility that Apple may be using Intel’s just-announced Xeon “Purley” processors based on the Skylake-SP architecture. The belief is that if Apple relied on Intel’s existing crop of Haswell-based Xeon E5 and E7 chips, then the iMac Pro would already be on the market.

But a leaked slide regarding Intel’s three-year Xeon processor roadmap positions the “Basin Falls” one-socket workstation platform for the end of 2017. It will be based on the Skylake Server Socket R, aka Socket R4, or better known as LGA 2066, the same socket used by Intel’s latest X-Series chips for the enthusiast desktop market. This socket only supports four memory modules, which is what we see in product images of the iMac Pro’s internals provided by Apple (shown below).

Apple iMac Pro News

Meanwhile, the new “Purley” Platinum and Gold Xeon processors rely on the LGA 3647 socket (Socket P). Those chips are meant for scalable, datacenter servers with two processors or more, and the CPU family itself doesn’t even offer a 10-core model at the time of this publication. Adding to that, the LGA 3647 socket supports six memory modules, which would be overkill for Apple’s all-in-one workstation.

The latest rumor, then, is that the three Xeon processors installed in Apple’s upcoming iMac Pro will be based on three Intel X-Series processors. According to Apple’s own website, iMac Pros will have “Turbo Boost speeds up to 4.5GHz,” matching the maximum speeds of two of the three chips listed below. This rumor stems from digging around in the source code of the MacOS High Sierra developer beta, which lists the “Basin Falls” and “Purley” code-names.

But Apple says the iMac Pro’s Xeon processors will have up to 42MB in cache, indicating that the X-Series chip foundation will outfitted for the professional workstation environment. But again, all of this is mere speculation, and we won’t know any solid Xeon details until the iMac Pros hit the market in December.

Still, here are the processors Intel may be refitting and re-branding for use in workstations:

Cores /
Cache Power
Core i9-7980XE 18 / 32 2.60GHz 4.40GHz 24.75MB 165 watts
Core i9-7900X 10 / 20 3.30GHz 4.50GHz 13.75MB 140 watts
Core i7-7820X 8 / 16 3.60GHz 4.50GHz 11MB 140 watts

Note that the eight-core ($600) and 10-core ($1,000) models are available on the enthusiast desktop market now. The 18-core model won’t arrive until September 25 for $2,000.

Apple iMac Pro News

Keeping the processor, graphics chip, and memory inside cool are two blowers mounted in the upper half of the iMac Pro. These two blowers turn in opposite directions to pull air into the workstation through a long slit running across the bottom of the back plate. This air is pulled up across the memory and storage, and then pushed down across the massive heatsink covering the processor . The warm air appears to be pushed out through a discrete vent hidden from view by the iMac Pro’s stand. Heatpipes appear to connect the heatsink to the system memory, Radeon Pro Vega graphics chip, and storage as well.

Performance graphics pulled from the stars

With the introduction of the upcoming iMac Pro came a quiet reveal that they would have options for two unannounced graphics cards by AMD: the Radeon Pro Vega 64, and the Radeon Pro Vega 56. They’re currently not on the market, nor has AMD provided any information about these two cards. But the names indicate they’re closely related to the two add-in cards released for the desktop PC gaming market on August 14 – the Radeon RX Vega 64, and the Radeon RX Vega 56. There are a few similarities to AMD’s upcoming Radeon Pro WX 9100 cards for workstations, too.

Here’s how they fit into AMD’s Vega-based graphics chip lineup (not including the Radeon Pro SSG):

Radeon Pro WX 9100 4,096 TBD 1,500MHz 16GB
12 TFLOPS 25 TFLOPS Sept. 13
Radeon Pro Vega 64 4,096 TBD TBD 16GB HBC (HBM2) 13 TFLOPS 25 TFLOPS December
Radeon RX
Vega 64
4,096 1,247MHz (air)
1,406MHz (liquid)
1,546MHz (air)
1,677MHz (liquid)
13 TFLOPS 25 TFLOPS Available
Radeon Pro Vega 56 3,584 TBD TBD 8GB HBC (HBM2) 11 TFLOPS 21 TFLOPS December
Radeon RX
Vega 56
3,584 1,156MHz 1,471MHz 8GB
11 TFLOPS 21 TFLOPS Available

As the chart shows, the “Pro” Vega 64 model will supposedly have twice the on-board memory than the “RX” 64 version, which is already available. We don’t know its base and boost speeds just yet, and both performance numbers appear to be carbon copies of the “RX” numbers for now, until AMD releases official information. How the Pro Vega 64 and the Pro WX 9100 card will differentiate from each other could be in their feature sets.

OK, so what else is in the iMac Pro?

Glad you asked! Here is the current full list of specifications:

Screen size: 27 inches
Screen type: In-Plane Switching (aka Retina)
Screen resolution: 5,120 x 2,880
Screen brightness (max): 500 nits
Color depth: 10-bit
Color support: One billion
Pixel count: 14.7 million
Processor: 8-core Intel Xeon
10-core Intel Xeon
18-core Intel Xeon
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 (8GB HBM2)
AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 (16GB HBM2)
Memory: 32GB DDR4 ECC @ 2,666MHz
64GB DDR4 ECC @ 2,666MHz
128GB DDR4 ECC @ 2,666MHz
Storage: 1TB SSD
Audio: 2x Stgereo speakers
4x Microphones
Connectivity: Wireless AC
Bluetooth 4.2
Ports: 1x Headphone jack
1x SD card slot
4x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
4x Thunderbolt 3 Type-C
1x 10Gb Ethernet
External display support: 2x 5,120 x 2,880 @ 6GHz (1B colors)
4x 3,840 x 2,160  @ 60Hz (1B colors)
4x 4,096 x 2,304 @ 60Hz (16.8M colors)
Included input: 1x Space Gray Megic Keyboard with Numerica Keypad
1x Space Gray Magic Mouse 2
Optional Space Gray Magic Trackpad 2
Dimensions: 25.6 (W) x 20.3 (H) 8 (D) inches
Weight: 21.5 pounds
Operating system: MacOS High Sierra

The specifications really speak for themselves. There’s enough hardware to optimally run a virtual reality headset, such as the HTC Vive shown on the product page. There are no physical video outputs, so adding external displays must be done through the provided Thunderbolt 3 ports, which support the DisplayPort protocol. One Lightning-to-USB cable is provided, but you’ll need to purchase Type-C cables/adapters supporting Thunderbolt 3 and your external display’s port (VGA, HDMI, DVI, or DisplayPort).

Based on Apple’s live diagram, the iMac Pro’s speakers are mounted towards the top near the two cooling fans. But the company has designed the internals to where the output audio is directed downwards and through the long slit lining along the bottom back of the all-in-one PC. Apple says these two speakers deliver “broad frequency response, rich bass, and more volume” even though they’re packed under the iMac Pro’s rear hood.

“We re engineered the whole system and designed an entirely new thermal architecture to pack extraordinary performance into the elegant, quiet iMac enclosure our customers love — iMac Pro is a huge step forward and there’s never been anything like it,” said John Ternus, Apple’s vice president of Hardware Engineering.

What’s not crystal clear is what type of SSD Apple is using in the iMac Pro. For starters, any SSD will be faster than using a clunky mechanical drive, because they don’t rely on spinning discs for reading information like a compact record player. But the fastest SSDs can access data lanes typically used by add-in-cards (PCI Express), which are around five times faster than lanes typically used by storage devices (SATA 3).

For instance, a 2.5-inch hard drive with platters moving at 7,200RPM typically have a read speed of 80 to 160MB per second. A decent 2.5-inch SSD using the same SATA 3 connection can have a read speed of around 540MB per second. That’s a huge performance increase, but a stick-sized SSD using a PCI Express-based connection could have read speeds of around 2,500MB per second or higher.

Apple’s standard iMacs have been somewhat disappointing in storage performance because they come standard with a “Fusion” hard drive, that matches a small solid state storage cache with a large mechanical hard drive. However, Apple’s MacBook line has some of the quickest storage options around, so the company does know how to use the latest storage tech. Given it’s price and purpose, we think it’s a good bet the iMac Pro will come standard with a solid state drive connected over PCI Express.

Apple iMac Pro News

Finally, as previously reported, the iMac Pro will ship with a keyboard and mouse in a unique Space Grey color, and they won’t be made available to purchase as standalone peripherals.

Apple gets high with MacOS

Powering the iMac Pro will be Apple’s MacOS High Sierra operating system. Apple provides a glimpse of the platform here, such as a new file system with a not-so-creative name (Apple File System), support for the high-definition HEVC (H.265) video codec, Metal 2 graphics, and support for high-definition VR headsets. Other features include a handful of revamped apps, a better Safari browser, and improvements to Siri.

“Siri has a more natural voice, with more changes in expression, intonation, and emphasis based on what it’s saying. In other words, your personal assistant sounds more like a person — whether it’s telling a joke or helping you find that presentation from last week,” Apple says.

You can actually give MacOS High Sierra a run now by heading here. Just sign up for the Apple Beta Software Program to download and use a pre-release of the platform. Enrollment also provides you with access to the latest preview builds of iOS and tvOS as well.

So how much is the workstation and when can I get it?

Right now, Apple doesn’t provide an exect date, but merely states that the iMac Pro will be available in December. The starting price will be a massive $5,000, so you’ll have to smash your piggy bank to afford it.

Hackers just broke into HBO’s Twitter accounts amidst weeks of security breaches

Panel for HBO's 'The Deuce' TV show.
Panel for HBO’s ‘The Deuce’ TV show.

Image: Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The HBO hackers strike again — this time taking control of the network’s official social media accounts.

According to tweets posted on HBO’s Twitter, a group identifying themselves as OurMine breached HBO’s main account, claiming to be “testing” the security and encouraging the network to reach out for an upgrade.

The tweets were deleted shortly after being posted, and there doesn’t seem to have been any severe damage to the company this time around.

According to The New York Times, Twitter accounts for some of the network’s most popular shows like Game of Thrones and Girls were also hacked

OurMine, the group responsible for the breach, is infamous for targeting social media, and has successfully hacked Twitter accounts of Netflix, the WWE, and Marvel, to name a few. 

However, this hack is just one of many security troubles HBO has had to face in recent history. Last month, hackers successfully breached HBO’s security to gather 1.5 terabytes of data. Also, the network has endured weeks of leaked television episodes, scripts, and other significant data — the latest including everything from West World Season 2 shooting schedules to 27 separate Game of Thrones Season 7 “shooting [diaries].”

Variety reported that an exec offered a “bounty payment” $250,000 to hackers last month, however the hackers demanded around $6.5 million in Bitcoin from the network.

To make matters worse, just earlier this week on Wednesday, HBO learned that Game of Thrones episode 6, which is due to air this Sunday, had leaked online, and this time that leak appears to be HBO’s own fault. (HBO Spain accidentally made the episode available to subscribers for an hour before it was removed.)

While HBO’s latest Twitter breach isn’t necessarily related to the massive data dumps that have been occurring, the timing certainly isn’t great.

Though no financial action appears to have been taken yet to prevent additional leaks, HBO should probably figure out how to get its sh*t together soon.

Mashable reached out to HBO for comment.

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The War Room: Experiential Security Planning

Ask any security practitioner about ransomware nowadays, and chances are good you’ll get an earful. Recent outbreaks like Petya and WannaCry have left organizations around the world reeling, and statistics show that ransomware is on the rise generally.

For example, 62 percent of participants surveyed for ISACA’s recent “Global State of Cybersecurity” survey experienced a ransomware attack in 2016, and 53 percent had a formal process to deal with it. While ransomware is already a big deal, it is set to become an even bigger deal down the road.

One of the questions organizations ask is what steps they can take to keep themselves protected. Specifically, what can organizations do to make sure that their organization is prepared, protected and resilient in the face of an outbreak?

A strategy that can work successfully is the long-tested “tabletop exercise” — that is, conducting a carefully crafted simulation (in this case, a ransomware situation) to test organizational response processes and validate that all critical elements are accounted for during planning.

This strategy works particularly well for ransomware because it encourages direct, frank and open discussions about a key area that is often a point of contention during an incident: the ransom itself.

What Is a Tabletop Exercise?

Invariably, in the context of an actual ransomware incident, someone will suggest paying the ransom. Sometimes it’s a business team that sees the ransom as a small price to pay to get critical activities back on track. In other cases, it might be executives who are eager to defer what is likely to be a long and protracted disruption to operations. Either way, paying the ransom can seem compelling when the pressure is on and adrenaline is high.

However, most law enforcement and security professionals agree that there are potential downsides to paying the ransom. First, there is the possibility that attackers won’t honor their end of the deal. A victim might pay them but lose its data anyway. Even if the attacker should follow through, there is the danger of creating a perception that the organization is a soft touch, which could induce attackers to retarget it down the road.

An organization might make a decision when feeling ransomware pressure that it would not make when thinking it through calmly in the abstract. That is why working through the issues ahead of time can be valuable.

The exercise prompts discussions about these topics and fosters calm and rational decision-making. Further, it helps familiarize critical personnel with response procedures, pre-empting “hair on fire” behavior if an actual crisis should occur.

Ransomware is only one area where a tabletop exercise can provide value. In fact, many aspects of an organization’s security posture can be tested in this way. An organization can employ tabletops to examine everything from business continuity to disaster preparedness to distributed attacks, using a structure tabletop exercise. It’s also possible to test general response communication channels for unplanned situations with no explicit response procedures established — for example, the kidnapping of key personnel traveling abroad.

Fighting in the War Room

Assuming that an organization wants to use this method, what’s the best way to set it up? The process isn’t difficult, but there are a few things to keep in mind. A few critical elements can separate a useful, productive event from a less-than-valuable one.

First, take time to fully bake the exercise plan. It should be based on something that actually could happen to your organization. Leverage areas that you might be concerned about, areas that participants will be familiar with from the news or outside sources (such as ransomware), or areas where you suspect you have potential issues.

Create a scenario that is plausible, that contains components that play out over time (for example, in response to actions that the participants may or may not take) and that is complex enough to give all participants a way to engage. Note that you may not wish to share all information with all participants — one of the things you may wish to test is communication pathways, so it’s in bounds to expect participants to communicate between themselves.

As you develop your plan, keep in mind that the one of the goals should be immersion: You want the participants to feel like there is something on the line as the exercise unfolds. Bits of realism can add significant value here. For example, depending on the exercise you’re planning, you could use simulated screen captures, snippets of prerecorded audio or video (such as a reporter behind a desk conducting a news report), an on-camera interview with a key executive, etc. There’s no need to break the bank to do this: You simply want to add enough verisimilitude to get people hot under the collar and feel like there’s something actually happening.

Likewise, enlist participation from all levels of the organization, including — and in particular — senior leadership. Leaving key stakeholders or decision-makers out (for example, excluding a highly placed executive because of availability limitations or level of interest) can detract significantly from the value of the exercise.

Counterbalance the urge to cast too wide a net, though, as physical proximity to the exercise can be valuable, too. Having all the players in one room during the exercise can lead to conversations that wouldn’t happen otherwise. A useful technique is to set up a “war room,” or central meeting place where you can have everyone together to conduct open discussions.

Last, deliberately introduce elements that ramp up the adrenaline in the room. It may sound strange, but to some degree you actually want to cultivate some heat — that is, exchanges that might be contentious between participants. Why? Because a disagreement that happens during the exercise (and can be worked through there) is a disagreement that won’t happen when an actual event transpires.

A tabletop exercise can be a great way to hone your security response capabilities and make an incident (should it occur) much more manageable than otherwise would be the case. By planning through responses, by testing methods for information sharing and communication, and by getting disagreements out of the way in advance, the tabletop can be both an important and a fun way to improve your organization’s security posture.

Ed Moyle is Director of Thought Leadership and Research for
ISACA. His extensive background in computer security includes experience in forensics, application penetration testing, information security audit and secure solutions development.

Fulfilling the Omnichannel Shopping Imperative

The omnichannel approach to customer contact has become a byword in customer service, but retailers need to do more to make it happen, based on a recent study from Kibo.

Researchers tested 57 metrics across desktop, mobile and in-store buying touchpoints to evaluate the end-to-end omnichannel experience at 30 popular and growing retailers.

They focused on four major categories: fulfillment and inventory; personalization; pricing consistency; and in-store signage.

The State of the Omnichannel Experience

Among the study’s conclusions:

  • 87 percent of retailers provided a product locator on their website that indicated whether an item was in-stock or available;
  • Only 35 percent displayed the quantity of inventory available;
  • Ninety-seven percent of store associates could access inventory levels, but only 33 percent were equipped with handheld or mobile technology to do so;
  • Only 25 percent of store associates could place an order for a customer; of those, 92 percent had to do it at a register or customer service counter, and not in an aisle;
  • Sixteen percent of retailers had inconsistent pricing between their e-commerce site and their brick-and-mortar locations;
  • Only 60 percent of retailers showed website visitors their recently viewed items;
  • Only 53 percent of study participants could show personalized recommendations without the customer signing into the store’s account.

Competing With E-Commerce

Here’s the problem: E-commerce absolutely is killing brick-and-mortar stores, and Amazon, in particular, has taken personalization to a high degree. Change is vital for retailers.

“More than 1,000 stores went away in 2016, and 10 to 12 percent of shopping malls will simply go away this year, because they can’t compete effectively with etail,” observed Michael Jude, a research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan. “It’s appalling.”

Nationwide, between 20 percent and 25 percent of shopping malls will undergo change, predicted Brian Andrus, president of the Florida Gulfcoast Commercial Association of Realtors.

They will “either close completely, close and reopen with a change in tenants and in property upgrades, or be demolished and change into a different type of retail component — including new entertainment, movie houses and so on,” he told CRM Buyer.

“Or they’ll be demolished and change in use to warehousing or apartments or condos and so on,” Andrus continued.

Consumers’ shopping habits — going online instead of to a brick-and-mortar store — “play a huge part” in the devolution of the shopping mall, he noted.

Embarking on the Omnichannel Journey

Kibo’s study recommends that retailers take the following steps:

  • Invest in machine learning technology to better personalize customer experiences;
  • Deliver an in-store experience that matches the best of technology with strong associate support;
  • Allow access to inventory across the enterprise with the ability to place an order efficiently;
  • Have an awareness of pricing models internally and competitively; and
  • Provide customer service access that answers questions in a timely fashion whenever and wherever required.

Enabling store associates to place orders on the spot will beat out developing in-house apps.

“We found that most people are going ahead and buying what they’re looking at in the store after checking it out on the Web,” Jude told CRM Buyer. “What doesn’t seem to be happening is people using applications provided by the retailers to do their shopping.”

Sell the Experience, Not the Product

Brick-and-mortar retailers “have lost the war for online commerce because they can’t match the scope and scale of online players like Amazon,” Jude remarked.

Retailers have to use the same sort of data that etailers use, but provide a customized sales experience if they wish to survive, he suggested.

“If you base your approach on how quickly and cheaply you can process a transaction, you’re doomed if you’re going up against an etailer,” Jude said. “Retailers have to sell an experience — like the Cheers experience, where everybody knows your name.”

Some retailers already have developed facial recognition technology. When customers walk into their stores, they are recognized, and sales associates address them by name.

“That lets customers deal with human beings, not machines — and people like dealing with human beings,” Jude said.

This approach will require retailers to redesign their supply chain, inventory control and other processes, Jude pointed out — and, most importantly, hire staff for their emotional intelligence, or EQ.

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.