Monday, December 28, 2015

The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V Is the Best Sedan America Can Offer (BusinessWeek)

When was the last time you heard an engine and knew it was a Cadillac coming down the road?

Not lately, I’d imagine. The Escalade and ATS aren’t exactly the roaring type.

The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V sedan, on the other hand, is. Coming up the driveway or around a bend, that supercharged 6.2-liter V8 sounds like a grizzly bear.

The 2016 CTS-V is the third generation of Cadillac's high-performance sedan.

It shouldn’t be too surprising. The third-generation CTS-V shares the same angry engine as the Corvette Z06. It gets 640 horsepower on its 8-speed, automatic, rear-wheel driver, with a 60-mile-per-hour sprint time of 3.6 seconds and an honest-to-goodness top speed of 200mph.

Pushing up the highway last week outside New York, the CTS-V ravaged the road wherever I pointed it. Push the gas and it’ll bound forward, all four corners at once, and devour asphalt as if it’s storing protein for a long winter ahead. It feels big and square to drive; this is no sport coupe. The rear-wheel drive feels powerful, if a little heavy, in a way that could soon define a nouveau Detroit opulence. This would be a good thing.
The CTS-V comes with high-intensity headlamps and angular styling based on the racetrack.
In fact, those stats put the CTS-V on par with the best sedans from Europe—the $94,100 BMW M5, the $101, 700 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, the $141,300 Porsche Panamera Turbo. While it neither performs as excellently as the Panamera nor looks as elegant as the Benz, it belongs right in the thick of the group as the best sedan America can offer. 

What You Can Get

The CTS-V is the high-performance version of the CTS sedan, Cadillac’s foray into the luxury sedan market that has been dominated by the Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and, to a lesser extent, Lexus and Jaguar. There were two additional body styles besides the sedan—a coupe and a wagon, currently unavailable—and the three constitute Cadillac’s current best hope at full brand revitalization after years of stagnation. (Its formerly-of-Audi boss and upcoming XT5 will have a lot to do with it, too.) 

The interior of the CTS-V looks cool but can be distracting to use.

Plenty has been said about the CTS-V’s abilities on the track. (Yes it has launch control; no, it doesn’t have an option for manual transmission.) The steering could be a little more responsive, but the performance traction management, magnetic ride control, limited-slip differential, and massive Brembo brakes manage the car with ease. You’re not going to do any acrobatics with this car (symbolically speaking, that is), but it is straightforward and eager, with body roll almost nil. There is no guile under this hood.

The real question is whether you’re going to want to drive it around town. Are you under the age of 40? If you are, Cadillac is hoping—betting—the answer is yes.

Cadillac is hoping the CTS-V will appeal to younger, cool buyers. So far, so good.

The Looks and the Price 

The sticker price will be the first obstacle you’ll face: MSRP on the 2016 model is $84,000, but that number will quickly jump to $90,000-plus once you add certain essentials ($2,300 performance seats, $900 19-inch wheels, $595 red brake calipers). Are you okay with that? It still costs less than its German competitors, but it’s by far the most expensive car Caddy sells. Its entry price beats even the Escalade and is surpassed only by the Platinum edition of that SUV.

Next up is the face. How do you feel about angles? The CTS-V has high-intensity headlamps shaped like long triangles at front; the rear is characterized by a small sport spoiler tilted up at a 45-degree angle and a bottom fender pointing slightly out in the center, like an arrow or the roof of a house. The Cadillac badge just above it has been blown up, sans wreath, more than in previous years—quite the enormous bit of Americana.

The CTS-V quickly exceeds the $90,000 mark with upgrades and extras packages.

Look at the car straight-on, and you’ll see a narrow lattice front grille and long, horizontal air slats that sit between lines bulging up in the carbon fiber hood to accommodate the engine underneath. They form the shape of an H before shooting back past the dorsal fin toward the rear of the car. Steel quad tailpipes at the very back hint at the beautiful sound potential within. (While the angular side mirrors complement the effect, they don’t afford enough visibility.) The look is edgy like a razor, rather than curved, as with the more feline Panamera. CTS-V looks pleasingly modern and unique. You won’t mistake this for anything but a Cadillac. I like it.

Inside the Machine

Inside the car is a different matter. The 8-inch touchscreen and interchangeable instrument cluster certainly look cool, but there’s nothing like repeatedly pushing the inept “touch” screen buttons on the center console—which demand increasingly more frantic bumps in order to take any action—to make you feel insane. Trying to adjust something so simple as the volume proves distracting at best and dangerous at worst. The standard-issue heads-up display, heated mirrors, and auto-dimming mirrors provide some small solace, as do the curbside and rear-view cameras that help with parking.

The CTS-V shares its V8 engine with the Corvette Z06.

You’ll find that Bluetooth, Bose surround sound, wireless charging, dual-zone climate settings, passive entry, and remote vehicle start are all standard, as they should be for a car in this price range. Cadillac also includes 20-way heated and ventilated seats in the front, though it would be better if they were totally leather, not just “trimmed.” I am not a fan of “suede” microfiber inserts along the seats and headliner; they feel soft, as if they should be in something a little more sedate, not something with such a serious, aggressive exterior. Other interior dichotomies include the sport alloy pedals that look race-worthy and come standard and the suede microfiber-covered steering wheel and shifter that cost $300 extra and seem out of place.

Still with me? Good. Here’s a further obstacle for you, one that has more to do with convenience than with cash. The car gets 14 miles per gallon in the city. Aside from the cost to your wallet (including the $1,000 federal gas-guzzler toll) and to the environment, that means you’ll be taking frequent stops to replenish fuel. I hate having to stop for gas—just get me in the car, and let’s go—and I suspect you feel the same. This is 2016, very nearly. 

There is no excuse for producing such a thirsty turkey
The CTS-V gets 640 horsepower on its 8-speed automatic rear-wheel drive.

How to Use It

I will note that while that a 14mpg rating lags behind the E63 AMG and even the $79,400 Corvette, it does no worse than the M5 and Panamera Turbo, and it beats the $89,000 Dodge Viper by 2mpg. It certainly beats anything even nearly comparable from the U.S. in terms of performance and practicality.

This is a real American sport sedan that will work admirably as a daily driver while more than keeping up with the Euro whips on the track. And so far, so good: Steve Martin, head of product communications at Cadillac, told me recently that sales of the CTS-V this year have “far exceeded” initial expectations and that “every single” one the company is building right now has someone’s name on it.

“It doesn’t look like that will change any time soon,” he said. 

Indeed. If you can stomach the interior inconveniences and you want to get in early on something verging on American greatness, this is the one for you. 

This is a real American sport sedan that will work admirably as a daily driver and more than keep up with the Euro whips on the track.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Can the cloud really do it all ?

Tech chiefs aren't convinced
Can you put all you tech infrastructure into the cloud?

Moving applications into the cloud can make a lot of sense: no need to look after cranky hardware, no updates or patches to apply. As such it's no surprise that for some the cloud tipping point - when using cloud becomes the default choice - has been reached.

But does that mean that all enterprise computing should move to the cloud? When asked 'Is software as a service (SaaS) now the default choice for all new IT projects?' the TechRepublic/ZDNet CIO Jury was evenly split: while many tech chiefs are exploring the benefits of cloud options, it seems that many still see significant benefits to keeping at least some applications a little closer to home.

Cloud is taking over, especially in commodity spaces, said Delano Gordon, CIO at Roofing Supply Group: "It is the answer if you need to quickly scale up and are constrained by resources. There is still a place for on-premise applications but it is becoming more of a novelty outside of specialized or custom applications."

Matt Mielke, director of IT at Innovations Federal Credit Union said software as a service and cloud service providers are on the table when looking at new vendors. "However, we like to keep our options open and look at on-premise as well. In some instances, security requirements dictate that we look at on-premise applications for sensitive data."

There's a definite direction of travel towards cloud in the UK public sector said Rob Neil, head of communications and technology at Ashford Borough Council. But he said in the short and medium term there will still be a place for on-premise applications, especially in the SME — or district council — space, as most business applications will be on rolling annual maintenance agreements.

"It will take time for these organisations to adapt to the new opex based funding model for XaaS as traditionally it's been anathema to load support costs onto the taxpayer whereas periodic injections of capital investment haven't been so problematic," he said.

Dan Gallivan, director of IT at Payate said that while CIOs will still consider non-cloud options if it makes sense, cloud options are definitely in favour: "It seems to be the trend for most application providers to move to cloud, the benefits are great; scalable, flexible and accessible."

There is still room for on-premise options, said Shawn Beighle, CIO of the International Republican Institute, but he said: "It really depends on the results of the needs assessment, but I almost always look for SaaS solutions first before considering an on-prem solution."

Dirk De Busser, IT manager at Fashion Club 70, said where possible his organisation tries to use a SaaS option. "When there isn't a SaaS alternative, or the SaaS offering doesn't provide the needed features, we continue to use on premise."

Not all tech chiefs are convinced though. Jeff Focke, director of IT Shealy Electrical Wholesalers said: "SaaS is great in certain situations, however there are still a large number of enterprise applications that are still best operated on-premise. Each project/application is evaluated based on numerous aspects to determine if still better to host on-premise or viable for the cloud with a large evaluation facet revolving around DR planning."

And John Gracyalny, VP of IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said that while he uses SaaS for a couple of things, by and large core processing is done in house. "I feel my network and consumer data is more secure with this approach."

Keith Golden, CIO of Econolite Group, said that while his organization sees the cloud as the first choice when deploying new enterprise applications, "it still has to make sense in comparison to the available on-prem apps — we are far from mandating cloud-only".

Cloud-based apps work great when there's uncertain or dynamic user demand for a standard service, but not everything fits that profile, he said. "We'll replace our existing ERP a few years from now — if we were doing that today I'm far from certain that a hybrid manufacturer/software/services company such ours could go to the cloud for that. The inherent complexity of such an installation doesn't lend itself well to cost-effective multi-tenancy. [It] will be interesting to see how that develops."

This week's CIO Jury was:

Jeff Focke, director of IT Shealy Electrical Wholesalers
Abby Hosseini, CTO of Mercury General Corporation
Dale Huhtala, executive director for enterprise technology infrastructure services at Service Alberta
John Gracyalny, VP of IT, SafeAmerica Credit Union
Rob Neil, head of communications and technology at Ashford Borough Council
Dan Gallivan, director of Information Technology Payate
Richard Storey, head of IT at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
Dirk De Busser, IT manager, Fashion Club 70
Delano Gordon, CIO, Roofing Supply Group
Matt Mielke, director of IT, Innovations Federal Credit Union
Keith Golden, CIO of Econolite Group
Shawn Beighle, CIO, International Republican Institute

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Work in IT? Here are the jobs that earn most money

A survey of IT workers has revealed the roles that benefit from the best pay - and where wages are rising fastest.

IT workers in the UK enjoyed some of the largest pay rises of any professional group last year.

In one third of firms, IT staff received pay rises of more than 2.5 percent, the Hays UK Salary and Recruiting Trends 2016 report found.

Those working in IT who were best compensated in 2015 were those that Hays classifies as CIOs and IT leaders, followed by those working on "cloud", project management and security.

Similarly the largest pay rises from 2014 to 2015 went to those working on "cloud" and project management. However, even though developers weren't the highest paid group, their pay was among the fastest rising in 2015.
The percentage change in salary by IT between 2014 and 2015.
Source: Hays

Average salary by IT role in the UK in 2014 and 2015
Source: Hays
While Hays doesn't delve into which developers are the best paid, a StackOverflow survey of European developers from earlier this year found that developers most in demand are those focusing on Ruby, Objective-C, node.js and C#.
The best paid programming languages in Western Europe
Image: StackOverflow

In 2015 the average IT salary rose by 2.8 percent, higher than the national average increase of 2.3 percent identified in the report. However, in spite of the pay rises for IT workers, more than two thirds, 63 percent, plan to change roles in 2016, the survey of more than 1,200 employees and employers found.

Almost one-third, 31 percent, of those planning to move jobs cited pay and a similar proportion, 30 percent, a lack of career opportunities.

There should be greater competition for IT staff next year, with 72 percent of IT employers planning to hire new staff next year to meet an expected increase in demand.

A minority of employers are suffering from a skills shortage, with one third saying they don't have the talent to achieve business objectives.

"Economic confidence is fuelling optimism within the IT sector as we go into 2016 and staff are reaping the rewards, with many enjoying high salary increases," said James Milligan, director of Hays Information Technology.

"Firms that cannot offer substantial salaries will find it difficult to attract and retain the most skilled employees and many organisations will be working hard to ensure their appeal goes beyond pay alone."

One surprising finding, given reports about an IT security skills shortage, is the flat pay for security workers, which Hays' Milligan says is related to companies' reliance on temporary staff to fill these roles.

"Security salary growth appears to have halted, however this masks a significant rise in rates paid to freelance IT security professionals and consultancies," said Milligan.

"Many firms have relied on contractors to solve security issues during a crisis. High profile incidents such as the TalkTalk and Vtech hacks have caused many businesses to re-evaluate their IT security protocols and there are growing calls to invest in permanent security staff.

"We would expect to see salaries for security professionals grow significantly over the next year as employers seek to attract more permanent staff to this vital function and realise higher salaries will be essential to doing so."

Fed Ends Zero-Rate Era; Signals 4 Quarter-Point Increases in 2016

  • Fed monitoring `actual and expected' progress on inflation
  • Officials see economy warranting `only gradual' increases

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time in almost a decade, a widely telegraphed move that Chair Janet Yellen said would be followed by “gradual” tightening as officials watch for evidence of higher inflation.

The Federal Open Market Committee unanimously voted to set the new target range for the federal funds rate at 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent, up from zero to 0.25 percent. Policy makers separately forecast an appropriate rate of 1.375 percent at the end of 2016, the same as September, implying four quarter-point increases in the target range next year, based on the median number from 17 officials.

“The economic recovery has clearly come a long way, although it is not yet complete,” Yellen told a press conference following the conclusion of the FOMC’s two-day meeting in Washington. “The committee currently expects that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will continue to expand at a moderate pace and labor market indicators will continue to strengthen.”

The increase draws to a close an unprecedented period of record-low rates that were part of extraordinary and controversial Fed policies designed to stimulate the U.S. economy in the wake of the most devastating financial crisis since the Great Depression. The FOMC lowered its benchmark rate to near zero in December 2008, three months after the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and 10 months before unemployment in the U.S. peaked at 10 percent.

Inflation Outlook

"The one phrase that I think is notable is that the committee is confident that inflation will rise, and that was the key criterion that changed," said Guy LeBas, managing director and chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia. 

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of U.S. stocks jumped 1.5 percent to 2,073.07 in New York, rising for three consecutive days for the first time since October while erasing losses for the year. The dollar fluctuated against the euro after the decision, falling as much as 0.7 percent. It later recouped losses, climbing 0.3 percent to $1.0902 per euro as of 4:14 p.m. in New York. 

While the vote was unanimous, the rate forecasts show that two officials among the full group of voters and non-voters saw no rate increases as appropriate in 2015, without identifying them.

“The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate,” the FOMC said. “The actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.”

Balance Sheet

The FOMC said it expects to maintain the size of its balance sheet “until normalization of the level of the federal funds rate is well under way.”

The quarter-point increase in the target fed funds rate, the overnight interbank lending rate that influences other borrowing costs in the economy, was forecast by 102 of 105 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.

The Fed gave a largely positive assessment of the U.S. economy, saying that expansion continued at a “moderate pace” and that a “range” of job-market indicators “confirms that underutilization of labor resources has diminished appreciably since early this year.”

The central bank also said that the risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market are now “balanced,” changing from a previous reference to being “nearly balanced.”

Hiking Without a Map

The U.S. Federal Reserve voted Wednesday to lift interest rates after 7 years at near-zero. Economic conditions barely resemble the last time the Fed raised rates, leaving policy makers without comparable experience to guide their way as they try to determine a path forward for stable economical growth.

Federal funds target rate

NOTE: The Federal funds rate shown is the upper bound. Only rate hike cycles following a recession are highlighted. The 1994 and 2004 indicator figures are from the same month a hiking cycle began or from the preceding quarter for quarterly data. The figures for 2015 are most recent data. First published Sept. 17, 2015.SOURCES: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, International Monetary Fund
Sustainable Improvement

“Americans should realize that the Fed’s decision today reflects our confidence in the U.S. economy,” Yellen said. “While things may be uneven across regions of the country and different industrial sectors, we see an economy that is on a path of sustainable improvement.”

Still, the recovery has been disappointing for many. Household incomes remain lower than they were a decade ago when adjusted for inflation, and wages have climbed only sluggishly even as firms hired back workers. Hourly earnings have risen by about an average 2.2 percent annual pace over the past seven years, compared with 3.3 percent in the 20 years through 2008.

The Fed said monetary policy is still “accommodative after this increase, thereby supporting further improvement in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation.”

The central bank acknowledged the state of low inflation, saying that it plans to “carefully monitor actual and expected progress toward” its 2 percent target.

As part of the decision, the Fed increased the interest it pays on overnight reverse repos to 0.25 percent from 0.05 percent to put a floor at the lower end of the range. It also raised the interest it pays on excess reserves held at the Fed to 0.5 percent from 0.25 percent to mark the upper end of the range.

In a related move, the Fed’s Board of Governors unanimously voted to raise the discount rate, which covers direct loans to banks, by a quarter point to 1 percent.

In addition to setting rock-bottom short-term interest rates during the crisis, the Fed engaged in three rounds of bond purchases aimed at suppressing long-term rates to stimulate borrowing and spending. Officials also provided unusually explicit guidance, assuring investors for years they intended to keep rates low well into the future.

Prior to 2008, the effective fed funds rate had never dropped below 0.63 percent, according to data compiled by the St. Louis Fed dating back to 1954.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Virgin Galactic to Hurl Rockets to Space From Boeing 747 Jet


  • `Cosmic Girl' to fling 200-kilogram satellites to orbit
  • Space tourist craft to resume test flights next year

Richard Branson is finding a new use for an old Virgin Atlantic jumbo jetliner: to fling rockets to orbit.

Virgin Galactic, the commercial space company founded by the billionaire, plans to send small rockets inflight from the Boeing 747-400 nicknamed “Cosmic Girl” that it purchased from Branson’s airline.

Branson is among the entrepreneurs vying to shake up the $6 billion commercial launch business known for years-long waits to loft $200 million satellites. Instead of firing large boosters from conventional pads, the new rocketeers are working to loft smaller craft from planes and remote locations in Texas or the South Pacific.

“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive officer, said in a statement Thursday.

The commercial jet replaces WhiteKnightTwo, a twin-hulled carrier vehicle that will still be used to hoist a suborbital tourist craft. Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo venture has been grounded since a training accident killed a pilot last year. A second spaceship is slated to debut in February, with ground and flight tests resuming “soon after,” said Michelle Mendiola, a Virgin spokeswoman.

Test Flights

Virgin expects to begin test flights of its LauncherOne rocket in 2017. It will be mounted under the 747’s left wing, adjacent to a position used by other jumbos to ferry a fifth engine, the company said. The spacecraft’s payload has been doubled to ferry 200-kilogram (440-pound) payloads to orbit for less than $10 million.

Newcomers like Virgin Galactic have the potential to slash prices in a field attuned to government contracts and dominated by traditional aerospace powers like United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin Corp. venture, and Europe’s Arianespace SA, according to Marco Caceres, director of space studies for Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant Teal Group.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Navy's $864 Million Underwater Drones Still Don't Work (BusinessWeek)

  • Pentagon test data show 24 major failures since September 2014
  • Crippled Lockheed drones towed to port seven times this year
Remote Minehunting System
Remote Minehunting System

The U.S. Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship would be ineffective at hunting for mines because an underwater drone made by Lockheed Martin Corp. that’s supposed to find them often fails to work, the Pentagon’s weapons-testing office found.

While mine-hunting is intended to be the primary combat mission of the ship, the drones required to detect underwater explosive devices from a safe distance have failed 24 times since September 2014, according to Navy test data provided to the Defense Department’s Office of Operational Test & Evaluation.

Most recently, the drones failed 14 times over 300 hours in a five-month round of preliminary trials at sea that ended Aug. 30, according to the data. Crippled drones were towed to port seven times, and the intense combat testing required for increased purchases has been delayed. The Navy plans to spend $864 million buying 54 drones from Lockheed, the biggest U.S. contractor.

Frank Kendall, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, has scheduled a Jan. 19 review of the drone’s reliability woes, the latest setback for the troubled Littoral Combat Ship program. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of combat testing, prepared a 41-page classified assessment dated Nov. 12 for the review.

An independent team named by the Navy also is reviewing the drone program because the service realizes “reliability performance has not been acceptable,” Captain Thurraya Kent, a spokeswoman for the service, said in an e-mail.

Lockheed’s Response

Lockheed spokesman Joe Dougherty said in an e-mail that the drone “exceeded or met key performance parameters during a Navy-led development test conducted in early 2015.’’ He said the Remote Minehunting System is “the only system on track for delivery that can fill” an “imminent capability gap.”

Equipped with a mobile sonar made by Raytheon Co., the drone is supposed to provide the ship with a system that can spot underwater explosive devices without sailing near them, as current Avenger-class mine-hunting ships must do.

“We remain confident the RMS is the most mature system to identify and destroy mines,” Dougherty said. A Lockheed brochure posted online and dated 2014 says the drone “meets or exceeds all key performance parameters and is available today.
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the new report “only furthers my concerns about the testing and reliability performance of the Littoral Combat Ship’s troubled mine countermeasures capability. ”

The Arizona Republican said decisions over the next few months will set the course for U.S. maritime anti-mine capabilities for decades so“there should be no rush to failure.”

Previous Questions

The drone failures add to previous questions about how much value the U.S. will get from what’s now supposed to be a $23 billion program to build 32 Littoral Combat Ships in two versions made by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed and Austal Ltd. based in Henderson, Australia. Both versions depend on the drones to detect mines from a safe distance.

The Remote Minehunting System
The Remote Minehunting System

The Navy spent $109 million buying the first eight drones, spare parts and logistics services from Lockheed in 2005. The drone was supposed to complete combat testing and be declared ready for combat by September of this year. Lockheed stands to gain more than $700 million in orders for the remaining 46 drones. That includes as much as $400 million in February for the next order of 18 that Kendall will review.

Gilmore, the testing chief, found there’s “sufficient information available, based on testing to date, to conclude” the Littoral Combat Ship “would not be operationally effective” or maintainable if deployed in combat with the current mine-sweeping modules, Marine Corps Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, Gilmore’s spokesman, said in an e-mail describing the study’s unclassified conclusions.

The system’s “reliability remains far below what is needed to support” the mine-hunting mission, Rankine-Galloway said. It’s unclear whether the drone “will ever achieve its reliability goals” of operating 75 hours between major failures, “but given the history of the program, it may require more design changes than the Navy has been considering,” Rankine-Galloway said.

The Navy’s program to date “has not substantially grown the reliability,” he said. The conclusion was based on data showing not only that critical mine-hunting systems were unreliable but also that the drone was vulnerable to mines and possessed limited communications capability. 

Airborne System

Further, the Littoral Combat Ship’s separate, airborne-based AN/ASQ-235 mine neutralization system currently can’t disable “most of the mines contained in the Navy’s own real-world threat scenarios,” Rankine-Galloway said. The system, which would be deployed on MH-60S helicopters, is intended to destroy the mines found by the drones.

Kent, the Navy spokeswoman, said the mine-hunting system “has demonstrated the ability to meet operational requirements.” Still, “reliability performance has not been acceptable during the most recent” evaluation.

Since September 2014, the drone has experienced 24 “operational mission failures” blamed on poor workmanship, design deficiencies, wear and tear or training procedures, Kendall was told Nov. 3 in a memo from David C. Brown, his deputy for development testing.

“Considering the focused effort put into improving” the drone’s reliability since 2010, the latest poor performance “puts into question whether the current” design “will ever meet the Navy’s reliability requirement,” Brown wrote.

Monday, December 7, 2015

FBI seeks hacker after 1.2 billion logins are stolen (BBC)

The hacker had advertised Facebook and Twitter logins for sale
The hacker had advertised Facebook and Twitter logins for sale

The FBI has linked a hacker to the theft of 1.2 billion internet credentials - the largest heist of its kind.

A hacker known as "mr.grey" is named in court documents filed by the bureau last year, according to the Reuters news agency.

The hacker was linked to the stolen logins via a Russian email address.

Previously, "mr.grey" had advertised the credentials to Facebook and Twitter accounts for sale online.

It was the American cyber security firm Hold Security that initially reported the theft of the credentials and an additional 500 million email addresses last year.

The Russian crime ring responsible for stealing the data - dubbed CyberVor - had breached more than 420,000 websites, according to Hold Security.

In August, the firm said, "To the best of our knowledge, they mostly focused on stealing credentials, eventually ending up with the largest cache of stolen personal information, totalling over 1.2 billion unique sets of e-mails and passwords."

Hold Security then began marketing a "breach notification service" to users concerned that their details had been affected, for $120 (£71) per month.

Botnet breach

Whatever the identity of the perpetrator behind the CyberVor breach, the method used was something of a departure from how botnets - large networks of computers linked together maliciously - are usually used, according to Dave Palmer, director of technology at security firm Darktrace.

"What's interesting about this is botnets are usually used to harness their massive scale to attack an individual target - like taking computer games consoles down last Christmas for example," he told the BBC.

"It's instead been used as a massive scanner scanning websites all around the world for weaknesses."

Mr Palmer added that the vulnerabilities which allowed computers to be drafted into such botnets as well as the flaws in websites which meant login details could be hacked were preventable.

"We're still getting caught out by these attacks," he said.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Tech Giants Say Verizon’s New Cellular Tech Could Wreck Wi-Fi (BusinessWeek)

Google, Microsoft, and Comcast are fighting a Verizon-led push into unlicensed spectrum.
U.S. wireless carriers send your e-mails and Instagram likes across specific slices of the electromagnetic spectrum: the ones they’re licensing from the government for billions of dollars. But there’s an unlicensed range, and Verizon is leading carriers in a push to equip phones with chips that will let them make use of these free airwaves. The company says doing so will help clear cellular congestion and keep the Internet working at top speed as data use climbs ever higher. “Unlicensed spectrum is going to be an important part of providing a better mobile broadband experience for our customers,” says David Young, Verizon’s vice president for public policy.
That sounds great, say Google, Microsoft, Comcast, and others, except for one thing. The proposed system, called LTE in Unlicensed Spectrum or LTE-U, which relies on a combination of new, small cell towers and home wireless routers, risks disrupting the existing Wi-Fi access most people enjoy. For several months, the three companies have been among a group lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to delay LTE-U’s adoption pending further tests. All three declined to comment for this story, referring instead to an Oct. 23 FCC filing they joined that claims LTE-U “has avoided the long-proven standards-setting process and would substantially degrade consumer Wi-Fi service across the country.”
Both sides say they have research backing their assertions about LTE-U; it’s either effective and foolproof or an impending disaster, depending. Both camps are also criticizing the other’s methodology and assumptions, and it’s tough to find an expert who doesn’t have a stake in this argument. So far, the FCC says it intends to let the companies work things out among themselves, though agency spokesman Neil Grace says his bosses are “closely monitoring” the debate.
In decades past, unlicensed airwaves were mostly known for their use by garage door openers, cordless phones, and the occasional baby monitor. Now they’re full of traffic—Wi-Fi networks that connect smartphones, laptops, set-top boxes, game consoles, and a whole host of smart devices to the Internet. Those gadgets and the traffic they carry, an essential part of how Google, Microsoft, and Comcast make money, pump about $222 billion into the U.S. economy every year, estimates industry lobbyist WiFiForward.
“Folks, you’ve got to come together and resolve this in a broad-based standard.”FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
Verizon and other wireless carriers run central scheduling software that tells each phone when to transmit on a particular bandwidth, like air traffic control for phone signals. Wi-Fi networks typically rely more on a kind of listen-before-talking system, with each device checking a desired slice of spectrum to make sure it’s available.
“Wi-Fi has this inherent politeness,” says Rob Alderfer, vice president for technology policy at researcher CableLabs, which is funded by cable companies. LTE-U “can essentially take over,” he says, crowding out Wi-Fi signals. Cable industry lobbyist Wi-Fi Alliance says LTE-U should undergo a lengthy approval process to make sure it won’t disturb existing networks.
Verizon and other carriers say delay is pointless—as does Qualcomm, which makes the chips that enable LTE-U. “We have a capability that we’ve proven can coexist, and we’re ready to go with it,” says Matt Grob, Qualcomm’s chief technology officer. “We don’t want to wait. Our partners, they don’t want to wait.”
Paul Nikolich, who heads the Wi-Fi committee for the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, a standards-setting body, says Qualcomm and the carriers should submit their evidence to his committee for review. That’s the usual process for mass adoption of new Wi-Fi technologies, which often takes a year or longer. “The people who have looked at it very carefully are very concerned they will gobble up more than their fair share of spectrum,” says Nikolich, a consultant and investor in Essex Fells, N.J.
LTE-U may also act as a disincentive for companies experimenting with Wi-Fi phone calls, including Comcast, and those dabbling in fiber networks, like Google. Cisco Systems is arguing both sides, writing in a June filing to the FCC that regulator interference can lead to unnecessary delays but that companies developing technologies rarely prioritize peaceful coexistence with rival systems.
“Wi-Fi is acting as a counter to the consolidation we see in mobile networks,” says Dean Bubley, founder and head of consulting firm Disruptive Analysis. Regulators should make sure to keep that counterweight in place, he says, especially since carriers haven’t demonstrated serious trouble with cell capacity. “There is a distinct risk of tragedy of the commons here,” he says.
At the end of October, a group of chief technology officers and executives from companies including Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, as well as Google, Microsoft, and Comcast, met with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to show him reports they say prove LTE-U would harm Wi-Fi networks. The agency ultimately may have to make the call, says Paul Gallant, an analyst for investment bank Guggenheim Securities. Google and Comcast are planning to offer data-hungry services that rely on Wi-Fi, and they want the FCC to make sure they’re protected from interference, he says.
“Folks, you’ve got to come together and resolve this in a broad-based standard,” FCC Chairman Wheeler said at a news conference on Nov. 19 in Washington. Says Grace, the agency spokesman: “If necessary, we will step in.”

Uber fundraising drive values app higher than General Motors

Ride-hailing app is valued at $62bn making it the world’s most valuable private start-up and outstripping the US car giant’s $55bn worth

The Uber app

Uber Technologies is raising money to expand its ride-hailing app into Asia and for new services such as food and parcel deliveries

Uber Technologies, the company behind the taxi-hailing app, could be valued at more than $60bn (£40bn) after its latest fundraising round, according to reports.

The San Francisco-based car-booking company hopes to raise as much as $2.1bn in new cash, Bloomberg reported. It has filed paperwork in Delaware detailing the financing plans, which would value the business at $62.5bn. This would exceed General Motors, whose market value is $55.6bn.

In the summer, Uber was valued at $50bn, making it the world’s most valuable private start-up.

Uber, which launched its app more than five years ago, is seeking more funding as it expands into new areas, such as food and package delivery, and rolls out its taxi-hailing service across Asia, particularly in China, where it is spending $1bn. It is working on new technology, including self-driving cars.

Uber faces a growing number of rivals around the world, including Didi Kuaidi in China, Ola in India, GrabTaxi in Singapore and Lyft in the US. Those four companies are teaming up in a global alliance that will make their apps compatible for travellers, they announced on Thursday.

Uber is fighting legal battles around the world, some with its own “driver-partners”, who are seeking the benefits of employees. In London, black-cab drivers have staged protests against Uber, putting pressure on Transport for London to ensure the US firm is subject to the same kind of regulation as them.

Uber has attracted investments from Tiger Global Management and T. Rowe Price as part of this financing round. Microsoft took part in a previous fundraising. Uber had already raised more than $10bn before the latest fundraising. Tiger also backs Uber’s main three Asian rivals.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

This Is What Happens in a World Ruled by Broadband Monopolies

This Is What Happens in a World Ruled by Broadband Monopolies1
An entire town in northern Canada just lost its internet. Not for a few minutes. Not even for a few hours. The area’s one and only internet service provider went out of business, and now the town of Stewart, British Columbia will be without internet for months.
This is what happens when broadband monopolies rule the world.

Monday, November 30, 2015

5 tips for using public Wi-Fi securely

Wi-Fi hotspots are wonderfully convenient, even for hackers; follow these tips to stay safe

The convenience, ease of use, and speed of wireless connectivity have made publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks a basic requirement for working professionals. The odd thing is that these same responsible professionals -- and the companies that employ them -- make so little of the risks of public networks. The vast majority of wireless connections remain unencrypted, and any malicious person within earshot can “sniff” the wireless signal, gaining access to information from confidential company data to financial transactions.

Why are public Wi-Fi networks so insecure? Unfortunately, the first answer to this question is often the following: the network administrator. The second answer: the users.

[ Also on InfoWorld: How to roll your own VPN, the open source, low-cost way. | Get expert networking how-to advice from InfoWorld's Networking Deep Dive PDF special report. ]
On public Wi-Fi networks, every user uses the same encryption key, laying their personal device open to others. Ideally, each person would have a unique encryption key, but this makes the network more complex to use and more difficult to run. And, frankly, the priority of many hotspot administrators is to minimize the number of calls to the support desk. This keeps workloads manageable and users satisfied, but it also means the network is far too open and easy to access.

With the number of public Wi-Fi networks increasing and the number of mobile data transfers keeping pace, the use of public Wi-Fi is a significant and growing security risk. As the number of hotspots and mobile users continue to expand, attacks will increasingly compromise email accounts, passwords, Social Security numbers, and credit cardholder data. Hackers will eavesdrop on communications, steal corporate information, gain access to banking accounts, and infect IT systems with malware.

What precautions can users take to help secure their use of public Wi-Fi networks? Here are five tips for using these networks safely.

1. Implement a VPN

A common step is to implement a VPN capability for all your users. The VPN establishes an encrypted tunnel through which they can not only access company information, but also surf the Internet and engage in personal business. Offering a series of controls to protect both the system and its traffic, the VPN requires an app on each device to encrypt the connection from end to end. However, this also makes it more time-consuming and complex to use and to run.

Because of its inconvenience, many users continue to check Facebook, read the news, and carry out their other personal Internet business without going through the VPN. This is a mistake. As long as they are online, users are exposing their device to hackers on the public Wi-Fi network. If a hacker can get into a machine, they can see every sensitive file, even if it is not open at the time.

2. Use two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication identifies users with a two-step process, combining components from the system and a knowledge factor provided by the user. For example, such security systems are set up in conjunction with a token account to provide a password. However, with these extra steps (which take only a few seconds), most illicit actors can be blocked from the system. If accessing company email and other systems requires two factors, even if a bad guy sniffs a user’s password, the password alone won’t provide access to the company system.

3. Beware Open SSID

One of the hidden challenges of mobile networks is that once a device has joined a specific network, it will jump back onto that network whenever the user is within range. To prevent this, users should turn off network discovery options like “Remember networks this computer has joined,” or get into the habit of deleting the network’s SSID profile after each session. This way, users can’t be coaxed into accidentally accessing a network with a similar name. For example, an iPhone will automatically hop onto any network called “AT&T.” Similarly, many notebooks are set up to advertise their internal SSIDs -- which is why you can walk down a hotel hall and see the hard drive in every room.

In a perfect world, operators of hotspots and guest networks would stop using Open SSIDs. In the meantime, it’s important for users to keep their mobile devices from blindly hopping on networks advertising those SSIDs -- and to stop advertising their own SSIDs. Whenever a device is used on a public network, sharing should be off and the firewall should be on.

Verify the network

Before going online, each user should verify that the network is the provider’s official system. Don’t assume the strongest signal is coming from the trusted network. If there’s any doubt about the proper SSID, ask. This helps prevent a man-in-the-middle attack, where a rogue access point may capture everything the user does. Sometimes scammers even demand a fake fee for access, thus acquiring both credit card information and a payment.

The safest way to “verify” a network is to establish a secure VPN back to a known location (such as an office or a home) and tunnel all your traffic through it. If the VPN tunnel can be established, then you’re likely on a safe network. This is the best practice anyway.

5. Avoid logging in

When on a public network, users should ideally browse only websites that do not require login credentials. However, if they need to log in -- for example, to access personal email -- it is best to go to websites that support the HTTPS protocol, which encrypts the communications between website and browser. Note that images may still be distributed via HTTP since links are not typically encrypted.

Better Wi-Fi security ahead

Creating a security culture within your organization is critical to minimizing abuses. However, users will not always act responsibly. As more users and devices rely on wireless technology, risk will increase at every point of access.

For network operators, the best response to this is a method for each user to associate with the Wi-Fi network using their own unique encryption key. This lets you keep your network secure while allowing for users with an overly casual attitude.

Fortunately, new capabilities are becoming available for users too. IT administrators can now offer their users “encrypted local Wi-Fi” solutions, allowing them to create private networks among multiple devices from any location.

Such solutions allow users to take their personal Wi-Fi network with them, creating a more transparent way to securely access business and customer data while continuing to draw on the convenience of public wireless networks.

Dirk Gates is executive chairman and founder of Xirrus, a provider of high-performance, high-density wireless networking solutions.

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