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Scientists Show You Can Collect DNA From the Air

Tue, 06/04/2021 - 03:02
Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London have shown that you can collect "environmental DNA" (eDNA) from the air. Engadget reports: The team used a peristaltic pump combined with pressure filters to grab samples of naked mole rat DNA for five to 20 minutes, and then used standard kits to find and sequence genes in the resulting samples. This method not only pinpointed the mole rats' DNA (both in their housing and in the room at large), but caught some human DNA at the same time. Lead author Dr. Elizabeth Claire said the work was originally meant to help conservationists and ecologists study biological environments. With enough development, though, it could be used for considerably more. Forensics units could pluck DNA from the air to determine if a suspect had been present at the scene of a crime. It might also be useful in medicine -- virologists and epidemiologists could understand how airborne viruses (like the one behind COVID-19) spread.

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Irish Regulator Probes 'Old' Facebook Data Dump

Tue, 06/04/2021 - 02:25
A data leak involving personal details of hundreds of millions of Facebook users is being reviewed by Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC). The BBC reports: The database is believed to contain a mix of Facebook profile names, phone numbers, locations and other facts about more than 530 million people. Facebook says the data is "old," from a previously-reported leak in 2019. But the Irish DPC said it will work with Facebook, to make sure that is the case. Ireland's regulator is critical to such investigations, as Facebook's European headquarters is in Dublin, making it an important regulator for the EU. The most recent data dump appears to contain the entire compromised database from the previous leak, which Facebook said it found and fixed more than a year and a half ago. But the dataset has now been published for free in a hacking forum, making it much more widely available. It covers 533 million people in 106 countries, according to researchers who have viewed the data. That includes 11 million Facebook users in the UK and more than 30 million Americans. The DPC's deputy commissioner Graham Doyle said the recent data dump "appears to be" from the previous leak -- and that the data-scraping behind it had happened before the EU's GDPR privacy legislation was in effect. "However, following this weekend's media reporting we are examining the matter to establish whether the dataset referred to is indeed the same as that reported in 2019," he added.

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Android 12 Adds a New Device Search API For Third-Party Launchers

Tue, 06/04/2021 - 01:45
The developers behind Niagara Launcher, a popular third-party home screen replacement app, have found new evidence in the Android 12 preview documentation, which suggests that Google is adding a new device search API in Android 12 that will let third-party launchers offer a similar universal search feature. XDA Developers reports: [T]he feature will give third-party launchers "access to the centralized AppSearch index maintained by the system." It further highlights that the AppSearch index is a search library for managing structured data featuring: A fully offline on-device solution; A set of APIs for applications to index documents and retrieve them via full-text search; APIs for applications to allow the System to display their content on the system UI surfaces; and Similarly, APIs for applications to allow the System to share their content with other specified applications. This feature will essentially provide a native alternative to universal search apps like Sesame, giving users the option to search for almost anything on their device in an instant.

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LexisNexis To Provide Giant Database of Personal Information To ICE

Tue, 06/04/2021 - 01:02
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Intercept: The popular legal research and data brokerage firm LexisNexis signed a $16.8 million contract to sell information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to documents shared with The Intercept. The deal is already drawing fire from critics and comes less than two years after the company downplayed its ties to ICE, claiming it was "not working with them to build data infrastructure to assist their efforts." Though LexisNexis is perhaps best known for its role as a powerful scholarly and legal research tool, the company also caters to the immensely lucrative "risk" industry, providing, it says, 10,000 different data points on hundreds of millions of people to companies like financial institutions and insurance companies who want to, say, flag individuals with a history of fraud. LexisNexis Risk Solutions is also marketed to law enforcement agencies, offering "advanced analytics to generate quality investigative leads, produce actionable intelligence and drive informed decisions" -- in other words, to find and arrest people. The LexisNexis ICE deal appears to be providing a replacement for CLEAR, a risk industry service operated by Thomson Reuters that has been crucial to ICE's deportation efforts. In February, the Washington Post noted that the CLEAR contract was expiring and that it was "unclear whether the Biden administration will renew the deal or award a new contract." LexisNexis's February 25 ICE contract was shared with The Intercept by Mijente, a Latinx advocacy organization that has criticized links between ICE and tech companies it says are profiting from human rights abuses, including LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters. The contract shows LexisNexis will provide Homeland Security investigators access to billions of different records containing personal data aggregated from a wide array of public and private sources, including credit history, bankruptcy records, license plate images, and cellular subscriber information. The company will also provide analytical tools that can help police connect these vast stores of data to the right person. In a statement to The Intercept, a LexisNexis Risk Solutions spokesperson said: "Our tool contains data primarily from public government records. The principal non-public data is authorized by Congress for such uses in the Drivers Privacy Protection Act and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act statutes." They declined to say exactly what categories of data the company would provide ICE under the new contract, or what policies, if any, will govern how agency agency uses it.

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Intel MacBook Pro Owner Adds Water Cooling To Silence Noisy Fans, Boost Performance

Tue, 06/04/2021 - 00:20
An inventive MacRumors forums member has successfully retrofitted a water-cooling system to their 15-inch Intel-based MacBook Pro, thereby eliminating fan noise and boosting performance. From the report: MacRumors forums member "theodric" explained that the noise of their MacBook Pro's fans had become disruptive during conference calls, so amid ordering an M1 MacBook Air, they decided to fit a water cooling system to their machine. theodric used inexpensive parts such as Bitcoin ASIC miner blocks from AliExpress, an Aquastream XT Ultra water pump, and a Zalman radiator and reservoir from 2005 to create the system. High-transmissivity thermal pads were added between the case shell and various motherboard components to conduct heat away from the MacBook Pro and into the water cooling system. The thermal shielding from the bottom of the case was also removed, as well as the feet, to ensure full contact with the new cooling plates. The pump, which requires Windows software to operate, was run via a virtual machine, and a Raspberry Pi was used for monitoring. theodric says that they have "hardly heard the fan since I started using it" and have seen benchmark scores significantly improve under the system. See theodric's full post for more information about the ambitious project.

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Microsoft Edge User Numbers Keep Growing As Firefox Falls

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 23:40
Last year, NetMarketShare showed that Edge's 7.59% desktop market share pushed it past Firefox in March last year. Now, StatCounter reports that Edge has been adding users over the last few months as Firefox's userbase shrinks. TechSpot reports: While the data doesn't prove Firefox users have been leaving for Edge, we see that Microsoft's browser has seen its market share jump from 7.81% to 8.03% this year, while Mozilla's product declined from 8.1% to 7.95%. That's an all-time high for Edge, according to StatCounter. Edge's gain in users hasn't secured it the second position. That honor goes to Safari, which now has a 10.11% share, though its numbers have been falling since December, so Edge could overtake it soon enough. Like Windows 7, it seems some people are having trouble letting go of the now-discontinued Internet Explorer. It has a 1.7% share that is declining very slowly. The data is only for the desktop market. Looking at all platforms -- desktop, tablet, and mobile -- iPhones and iPads make Safari's second spot more secure with a 19.03% share, while Firefox moves ahead of Edge, albeit by just 0.23%.

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What We're Expecting From Google's Custom 'Whitechapel' SoC In the Pixel 6

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 23:02
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: It sounds like this custom Google SoC-powered Pixel is really going to happen. Echoing reports from about a year ago, 9to5Google is reporting that the Pixel 6 is expected to ship with Google's custom "Whitechapel" SoC instead of a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. The report says "Google refers to this chip as 'GS101,' with 'GS' potentially being short for 'Google Silicon.'" It also notes that chip will be shared across the two Google phones that are currently in development, the Pixel 6 and something like a "Pixel 5a 5G." 9to5 says it has viewed documentation that points to Samsung's SLSI division (Team Exynos) being involved, which lines up with the earlier report from Axios saying the chip is "designed in cooperation with Samsung" and should be built on Samsung's 5nm foundry lines. 9to5Google says the chip "will have some commonalities with Samsung Exynos, including software components." XDA Developers says it can corroborate the report, saying, "According to our source, it seems the SoC will feature a 3 cluster setup with a TPU (Tensor Processing Unit). Google also refers to its next Pixel devices as 'dauntless-equipped phones,' which we believe refers to them having an integrated Titan M security chip (code-named 'Citadel')." A "3 cluster setup" would be something like how the Snapdragon 888 works, which has three CPU core sizes: a single large ARM X1 core for big single-threaded workloads, three medium Cortex A78 cores for multicore work, and four Cortex A55 cores for background work. The Pixel 6 should be out sometime in Q4 2021, and Pixel phones always heavily, heavily leak before they launch. So I'm sure we'll see more of this thing soon. "I think the biggest benefit we'll see from a Google SoC is an expanded update timeline," writes Ron Amadeo. "Android updates go a lot smoother when you get support from the SoC manufacturer, but Qualcomm abandons all its chips after the three-year mark for major updates. This lack of support makes updates significantly harder than they need to be, and today that's where Google draws the line at updates." "Beyond easier updates, I don't know that we can expect much from Whitechapel," adds Amadeo, noting that lots of Android manufacturers have made their own chips but none of them have been able to significantly beat Qualcomm. "It's hard to be bullish on Google's SoC future when the company doesn't seem to be making the big-money acquisitions and licensing deals that Apple, Qualcomm, and Samsung are making. But at least it's a start."

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Yahoo Answers, a Repository for Stupid Questions, Is Shutting Down

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 22:21
After 16 years of asinine questions and dubious answers, Yahoo Answers is shutting down next month. From a report: The company announced that starting April 20, users won't be able to post new questions or answer other people's questions; on May 4, the site will become inaccessible, and will redirect to the Yahoo homepage. Users who've posted questions and answers in the past can download their data via request before June 30, 2021, here. "While Yahoo Answered was once a key part of Yahoo's products and services, it has become less popular over the years as the needs of our members have changed," an announcement that went out to users, as spotted by the good people of the r/DataHoarder subreddit, said.

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Cloudflare Says New hCaptcha Bypass Doesn't Impact its Implementation

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 21:45
Web infrastructure and website security provider Cloudflare told The Record last week that a recent academic paper detailing a method to bypass the hCaptcha image-based challenge system does not impact its implementation. From the report: The research paper, published last month by two academics from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, targets hCaptcha, a CAPTCHA service that replaced Google's reCAPTCHA in Cloudflare's website protection systems last year. In a paper titled "A Low-Cost Attack against the hCaptcha System," researchers said they devised an attack that uses browser automation tools, image recognition, image classifiers, and machine learning algorithms to download hCaptcha puzzles, identify the content of an image, classify the image, and then solve the CAPTCHA's challenge. Academics said their attack worked with a 95.93% accuracy rate and took around 18.76 seconds on average to crack an hCaptcha challenge.

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String Theorist Michio Kaku: 'Reaching Out To Aliens is a Terrible Idea'

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 21:05
An excerpt from a wide-ranging interview of String theorist Michio Kaku in which he talks about Newton finding inspiration amid the great plague, how the multiverse can unite religions, and why a 'theory of everything' is within our grasp: The Guardian: You believe that within a century we will make contact with an alien civilisation. Are you worried about what they may entail? Kaku: Soon we'll have the Webb telescope up in orbit and we'll have thousands of planets to look at, and that's why I think the chances are quite high that we may make contact with an alien civilisation. There are some colleagues of mine that believe we should reach out to them. I think that's a terrible idea. We all know what happened to Montezuma when he met Cortes in Mexico so many hundreds of years ago. Now, personally, I think that aliens out there would be friendly but we can't gamble on it. So I think we will make contact but we should do it very carefully. The Guardian How close do you believe science is to accomplishing a theory of everything? Kaku: Well, I think we actually have the theory but not in its final form. It hasn't been tested yet and Nobel prize winners have taken opposite points of view concerning something called string theory. I'm the co-founder of string field theory, which is one of the main branches of string theory, so I have some "skin in the game." I try to be fair and balanced. I think we're on the verge of a new era. New experiments are being done to detect deviations from the Standard Model. Plus, we have the mystery of dark matter. Any of these unexplored areas could give a clue as to the theory of everything.

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US Indicts California Man Accused of Stealing Shopify Customer Data

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 20:24
A grand jury has indicted a California resident accused of stealing Shopify customer data on over a hundred merchants, TechCrunch reported Monday. From the report: The indictment charges Tassilo Heinrich with aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by allegedly working with two Shopify customer support agents to steal merchant and customer data from Shopify customers to gain a competitive edge and "take business away from those merchants," the indictment reads. The indictment also accuses Heinrich, believed to be around 18-years-old at the time of the alleged scheme, of selling the data to other co-conspirators to commit fraud. A person with direct knowledge of the security breach confirmed Shopify was the unnamed victim company referenced in the indictment. Last September, Shopify, an online e-commerce platform for small businesses, revealed a data breach in which two "rogue members" of its third-party customer support team of "less than 200 merchants." Shopify said it fired the two contractors for engaging "in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants." Shopify said the contractors stole customer data, including names, postal addresses and order details, like which products and services were purchased. One merchant who received the data breach notice from Shopify said the last four digits of affected customers' payment cards were also taken, which the indictment confirms. Another one of the victims was Kylie Jenner's cosmetics and make-up company, Kylie Cosmetics, the BBC reported.

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Amazon Illegally Fired Activist Workers, Labor Board Finds

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 19:45
Amazon illegally retaliated against two of its most prominent internal critics when it fired them last year, the National Labor Relations Board has determined. From a report: The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, had publicly pushed the company to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about its warehouse workers. The agency told Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case, according to correspondence that Ms. Cunningham shared with The New York Times. "It's a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law," Ms. Cunningham said. The two women were among dozens of Amazon workers who in the last year told the labor board about company retaliations, but in most other cases the workers had complained about pandemic safety. Claims of unfair labor practices at Amazon have been common enough that the labor agency may turn them into a national investigation, the agency told NBC News. The agency typically handles investigations in its regional offices.

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Bitcoin is Trading Near $66,000 in South Korea as 'Kimchi Premium' Returns

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 19:11
Bitcoin is trading near $66,000 levels in South Korea as "Kimchi Premium" has returned. From a report: Kimchi Premium is the spread between bitcoin's price on South Korean crypto exchanges and Western exchanges. Bitcoin is currently trading at around $66,200 on Bithumb, according to TradingView. That is whopping about 15% or $9,000 higher than bitcoin's price of around $57,000 on Coinbase. Ether (ETH) is also trading higher at around $2,350 on Bithumb compared to $2,020 on Coinbase, according to TradingView. The Kimchi Premium suggests rising demand for bitcoin and ether in South Korea as the cryptocurrency market continues to soar worldwide.

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Insider-Trading Indictment Shows Ties To Bloomberg News Scoops

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 18:32
For more than six months, federal prosecutors say, a New York man used inside information to make illegal profits in the stock market -- and a core element of his alleged scheme was his interaction with Bloomberg News, which published several stories shortly after the trader arranged to make significant purchases of the companies' shares. From a report: Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Jason Peltz on multiple counts of securities fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and lying to the FBI. Peltz, 38, is accused of working with over a half-dozen unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators to learn about impending takeovers and other market-moving news, and to move money between accounts as a way to hide his role and profits. The indictment notes that Peltz's moves were timed closely to stories that ran at "a financial news organization." While the newsroom isn't named, federal officials cite five stories and their timestamps -- all of which match precisely to pieces that ran on Bloomberg News' website. Each of those stories had shared bylines, but only one reporter is identified as an author for all of the articles: Ed Hammond, who worked at the Financial Times before coming to Bloomberg more than six years ago to cover mergers and acquisitions. In 2017, Hammond was named Bloomberg's senior deals reporter in New York -- a highly prestigious post in that newsroom. The feds allege that Peltz used disposable "burner" phones and encrypted apps to communicate with a journalist, and that the reporter provided "material nonpublic information about forthcoming articles" which Peltz used to trade in the market "just prior to publication of an article about each company written by the reporter." The indictment describes "numerous contacts" between Peltz and a reporter, including at least one in-person meeting. Neither Hammond nor Bloomberg is named in the indictment; the filing says a financial-news reporter's identity was made known to the grand jury that heard the case. No one at Bloomberg is accused by prosecutors of wrongdoing or of being aware that these stories might be linked to an insider-trading scheme. Prosecutors make no allegation that the stories contained any inaccurate information, nor do any of the stories display corrections.

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Soviet TV Version of Lord of the Rings Rediscovered After 30 Years

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 17:52
A Soviet television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings thought to have been lost to time was rediscovered and posted on YouTube last week, delighting Russian-language fans of JRR Tolkien. From a report: The 1991 made-for-TV film, Khraniteli, based on Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, is the only adaptation of his Lord of the Rings trilogy believed to have been made in the Soviet Union. Aired 10 years before the release of the first instalment of Peter Jackson's movie trilogy, the low-budget film appears ripped from another age: the costumes and sets are rudimentary, the special effects are ludicrous, and many of the scenes look more like a theatre production than a feature-length film. The score, composed by Andrei Romanov of the rock band Akvarium, also lends a distinctly Soviet ambience to the production, which was reportedly aired just once on television before disappearing into the archives of Leningrad Television. Few knew about its existence until Leningrad Television's successor, 5TV, abruptly posted the film to YouTube last week [part one | part two], where it has gained almost 400,000 views within several days.

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US Forges Ahead on $1 Billion Tariff Plan Over Digital Taxes

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 17:16
The U.S. is pressing ahead with plans to hit six nations that tax Internet-based companies with retaliatory tariffs that could total almost $1 billion annually. From a report: Goods entering the U.S. -- ranging from Austrian grand pianos and British merry-go-rounds to Turkish Kilim rugs and Italian anchovies -- could face tariffs of as much as 25% annually, documents published by the U.S. Trade Representative show. The duties are in response to countries that are imposing taxes on technology firms that operate internationally such as Amazon.com and Facebook. In each of the six cases, the USTR proposes to impose tariffs that would roughly total the amount of tax revenue each country is expected to get from the U.S. companies. The cumulative annual value of the duties comes to $880 million, according to Bloomberg News calculations. There have been efforts to replace each individual country's digital taxes with one global standard -- to be brokered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- but a deal has yet to be reached. The U.S. says it's committed to the OECD process, but will maintain its options, including tariffs, in the meantime, USTR Katherine Tai said in a statement on March 26.

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Justice Thomas Argues For Making Facebook, Twitter and Google Utilities

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 16:36
Last fall, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that it was time to rein in Section 230 immunity. Now, Justice Thomas is laying out an argument for why companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google should be regulated as utilities. From a report: On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling in finding that President Trump had acted unconstitutionally by blocking people on Twitter. That case, which the justices deemed moot, hinged on the idea that the @realdonaldtrump account was a public forum run by the President of the United States, and therefore, was constitutionally prohibited from stifling private speech. In his concurrence, Justice Thomas agrees with the decision, but argues that, in fact, Twitter's recent ban of the @realdonaldtrump account suggests that it's platforms themselves, not the government officials on them, that hold all the power. "As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms," Thomas writes. "The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions." homas argues that some digital platforms are "sufficiently akin" to common carriers like telephone companies. "A traditional telephone company laid physical wires to create a network connecting people," Thomas writes. "Digital platforms lay information infrastructure that can be controlled in much the same way." Thomas argues that while private companies aren't subject to the First Amendment, common carriers are unique to other private businesses in that they do not have the "right to exclude." Thomas suggests that large tech platforms with substantial market power should be bound by the same restrictions. "If the analogy between common carriers and digital platforms is correct, then an answer may arise for dissatisfied platform users who would appreciate not being blocked: laws that restrict the platform's right to exclude," Thomas writes.

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Google Wins Oracle Copyright Fight as Top Court Overturns Ruling

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 15:48
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alphabet's Google didn't commit copyright infringement when it used Oracle's programming code in the Android operating system, sparing Google from what could have been a multibillion-dollar award. From a report: The 6-2 ruling, which overturns a victory for Oracle, marks a climax to a decade-old case that divided Silicon Valley and promised to reshape the rules for the software industry. Oracle was seeking as much as $9 billion. The court said Google engaged in legitimate "fair use" when it put key aspects of Oracle's Java programming language in the Android operating system. Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer said Google used "only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program." Each side contended the other's position would undercut innovation. Oracle said that without strong copyright protection, companies would have less incentive to invest the large sums needed to create groundbreaking products. Google said Oracle's approach would discourage the development of new software that builds on legacy products.

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LG To Shut Down Smartphone Business

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 15:00
LG has become the latest legacy phone-maker to exit "the incredibly competitive mobile phone sector" as it struggles in a market dominated by Apple, Samsung and growing Chinese manufacturers. From a report: The South Korean company said it will close its mobile business unit by the end of July. Instead of smartphones, it will focus on smart home products -- an area where it's one of the biggest providers -- as well as electric vehicle components, robotics, artificial intelligence, business-to-business products and other connected devices. LG's decision to wind down its phone business reflects the struggles faced by many companies in the market. Apple and Samsung have long been the only companies that make significant amounts of money from smartphones, and even they have struggled at times. Consumers are holding onto their phones longer than before, and they're increasingly seeking out less expensive models, like Samsung's Galaxy A lineup instead of its Galaxy S flagship devices.

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Why IBM is Pushing 'Fully Homomorphic Encryption'

Mon, 05/04/2021 - 12:34
VentureBeat reports on a "next-generation security" technique that allows data to remain encrypted while it's being processed. "A security process known as fully homomorphic encryption is now on the verge of making its way out of the labs and into the hands of early adopters after a long gestation period." Companies such as Microsoft and Intel have been big proponents of homomorphic encryption. Last December, IBM made a splash when it released its first homomorphic encryption services. That package included educational material, support, and prototyping environments for companies that want to experiment. In a recent media presentation on the future of cryptography, IBM director of strategy and emerging technology Eric Maass explained why the company is so bullish on "fully homomorphic encryption" (FHE)... "IBM has been working on FHE for more than a decade, and we're finally reaching an apex where we believe this is ready for clients to begin adopting in a more widespread manner," Maass said. "And that becomes the next challenge: widespread adoption. There are currently very few organizations here that have the skills and expertise to use FHE." To accelerate that development, IBM Research has released open source toolkits, while IBM Security launched its first commercial FHE service in December... Maass said in the near term, IBM envisions FHE being attractive to highly regulated industries, such as financial services and health care. "They have both the need to unlock the value of that data, but also face extreme pressures to secure and preserve the privacy of the data that they're computing upon," he said. The Wikipedia entry for homomorphic encryption calls it "an extension of either symmetric-key or public-key cryptography."

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