Groundbreaking light-based photonic processor could lead to ultra-fast data transfers

light chip11ga

University researchers are claiming a bandwidth breakthrough with the first light-based microprocessor that communicates with conventional electronic circuitry.

While optical computing is hardly a new concept, researchers at University of Colorado-Boulder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University of California, Berkeleyclaim to have made it work on a more practical level. The photonic transmissions are built onto a single chip that also integrates traditional electronics, so it could in theory work with other standard electronic components and integrate into current manufacturing processes.

“It’s the first processor that can use light to communicate with the external world,” Vladimir Stojanović, the University of California professor who led the collaboration, said in a press release. “No other processor has photonic I/O in the chip.”

light processor

The big benefit of light-based computing is that it’s faster at transferring data within the space it’s given, with the new chip touting a density of 300 gigabits per second per square millimeter. That’s 10 to 50 times better than traditional electrical microprocessors. Light-based processors also promise to be more energy efficient, as they can transfer data over longer distances without using more power.

The lab processor isn’t especially powerful, as it packs just two computing cores, but researchers are hoping it could be a boon for networking chips, and could pave the way for faster computing overall. As such, they’ve set up a pair of startups to help commercialize the technology. But like so many other exciting university research projects, the timeframe for seeing light-based processors in actual products is murky at best.

Why this matters: Granted, CPU bandwidth is just one of many potential bottlenecks that computing systems can run into, and it always pays to be a bit skeptical of lab-based technological breakthroughs. But by slotting photonics into places where electronics would normally go, it sounds like the researchers are on a path faster networking with far lower energy consumption.

The next wave of cybercrime will come through your smart TV

smart TV

Smart TVs are opening a new window of attack for cybercriminals, as the security defenses of the devices often lag far behind those of smartphones and desktop computers.

Running mobile operating systems such as Android, smart TVs present a soft target due to how to manufacturers are emphasizing convenience for users over security, a trade-off that could have severe consequences.

Smart TVs aren’t just consumer items, either, as the devices are often used in  corporate board rooms. Sales of smart TVs are expected to grow more than 20 percent per year through 2019, according to Research and Markets.

While attacks against smart TVs are not widespread yet, security experts say it is only a matter of time before cybercriminals take note of the weaknesses.

“Many of the solutions aren’t even adapting the best practices that are already known in the IT world,” said Phil Marshall, chief research officer for Tolaga Research. “The ecosystem is fragmented, and there is an emphasis on getting the solution to market quickly.”

Smart TVs are essentially computers, with USB ports, operating systems and networking capabilities no different than smartphones. But unlike computers and mobile devices, smart TVs often don’t require any authentication.

“Basically with these TVs, if you are in the same room, you’re always going to be treated like you’re the owner of the TV,” said Craig Young, a computer security researcher with Tripwire.

Young, who has been researching security issues with smart TVs, also said some models don’t confirm whether someone sending commands over the network is the same person who can actually physically control the TV.

This means an attacker from afar could potentially cause a smart TV to show something far more risque than the latest sales figures during a meeting.

“If someone in the board room is doing a presentation, that can lead to some embarrassing situations or some unexpected situations,” Young said.

Many of the major manufacturers—Samsung, LG and Sony—have built app stores for smart TVs, a model pioneered by Apple for smartphones. But users can also be convinced to download malicious apps from third-party app stores, an attack method used against smartphones that could also be used against smart TVs.

Candid Wueest, a threat researcher with Symantec, deliberately infected his brand-new, Android-powered TV with ransomware, which is malware that encrypts files and demands a ransom to be paid in bitcoin.

Wueest’s experiment was a bit rigged: he modified the DNS (Domain Name System) settings on his own router in a mock man-in-the-middle attack and directed the TV to download the malicious app from a dodgy source. But such an attack would not be beyond the capabilities of attackers, he said.

Wueest has also noted many other issues with smart TVs revolving around software updates. Some models do not use encryption known as SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) when downloading updates.

That would make it possible to trick a TV into downloading malicious firmware, which is low-level code that bridges a computer’s hardware and operating system at startup. Some models of smart TVs don’t even verify the integrity of the downloaded firmware.

Security for smart TVs “is more sprinkled on at the end as an afterthought,” Wueest said in a phone interview from Switzerland.

All of these issues pose vexing problems, particularly as smart TVs become more integrated with commerce and people increasingly enter payment card details into their TVs.

“My wife likes to do Black Friday shopping on the TV,” said Scott Wu, co-founder of 0xID, a Seattle-based company that specializes in mobile device security. “You are closely tied to your financial information on your TV.”

Smart TVs don’t run antivirus software, and it’s questionable whether that would be a practical solution to stopping cyberattacks.

While antivirus software could work, it also could degrade performance, and the question becomes “whether running security software on the TV is going to mean your Netflix is going to become choppy,” Young said. “That would be a big deal breaker.”

At least for Android, Wu said that its permissions model limits what apps can do without explicit approval from a user, blunting the capabilities of a malicious app on a smart TV. But users might just mindlessly click away warnings to continue watching TV.

Young said the issues around smart TVs are the same ones affecting a whole range of devices that are now being networked-enabled, the so-called Internet of things, that experts worry can be abused.

Some companies are addressing the concerns with new products designed to detect anomalies on networks rather than full-scale antivirus software. For example, F-Secure’s Sense product and one from Dojo-Labs monitor home network traffic flowing to many devices for signs of trouble.

“It’s clear that people in the industry are thinking about this problem,” Young said.

The Kyocera Digno Rafre is the world’s first smartphone that can be washed with soap

Japanese telecom operator KDDI in partnership with Kyocera has launched the Digno Rafre, which is the world’s first smartphone that can be washed with soap. The Rafre features an IPX5/8 rating, which allows it be washed using even hot water up to 43-degrees. It’s worth mentioning that hot water is not included in the usual waterproof IP ratings.

Kyocera Digno Rafre

The Kyocera Digno Rafre is resistant to dust, and gets the military-grade MIL-SSTD-810G rating for resistance against impacts like falling from your pocket and more. It also gets a layer of Dragontrail X glass to protect the screen from scratches. The display can be used even when it is wet, and the phone even comes with a rubber ducky dock, which floats in the bathtub.

Coming to the other specs, the Kyocera Digno Rafre offers a 5-inch HD display, and runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. It is powered by a 64-bit quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor, aided by 2GB of RAM. Other features include 16GB of expandable memory, 13MP/2MP cameras, 4G LTE, and a 3,000mAh battery.

The Kyocera Digno Rafre has been priced at the equivalent of Rs 31,000, and will go on sale for KDDI subscribers in Japan on December 11th in Coral Pink, Cashmere White and Marine Navy hues.

Microsoft Azure-based Hug smartwatch with gesture controls unveiled

Hug Innovations, an Indian technology startup, has launched its first smartwatch called the Hug. Unlike most smartwatches that are based on Google’s Android Wear, the Hug smartwatch is built on the Microsoft Azure platform and runs the Nucleous RTOS. The smartwatch lets you control other gadgets with a range of motion gestures, and according to the brand, is world’s first smartwatch to integrate and enhance customer experience in virtual reality with the Oculus Rift.

Hug Smartwatch

The Hug smartwatch allows users to make calls, find devices, and play music from compatible smartphones. It tracks physical activity and nutrition and continuously monitors heart rate as well. The wearable also comes with security features like an SOS button and fatigue detection to ensure personal safety for consumers. The safety features can be activated by a hand gesture. Users can also perform tasks like dimming room lights, playing music and surfing videos online with simple hand gestures.

Coming to the hardware, the Hug smartwatch comes with accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer sensors. It has a 1.6-inch transflective LCD display with a resolution of 240 x 240 pixels and a layer of Asahi Dragontrail glass. Its other features include 2GB of internal storage, a MediaTek MT2502C processor, and 128MB of RAM.

The Hug smartwatch is compatible with Android, iOS and Windows-powered smartphones and tablets. It uses Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity to pair with compatible devices. There’s no word on its price at the moment, but the brand did reveal that the device will be exclusively available on Flipkart.

ASUS Chromebit HDMI stick coming to India in January

Last month, Google started selling the ASUS-made Chromebit accessory in several markets. Today, at the Google for India event, the search engine giant has announced that the Chromebit will go on sale in January for Rs 7,999. Originally launched in April this year, the Chromebit is an HDMI stick that can transform a TV screen to a full-fledged Chrome OS desktop.

Chromebit

The Chromebit brings a full Chrome OS-powered computer on an HDMI stick. It lets you run most web applications, and play movies and TV shows from Google Play, or from other media streaming service providers. The device comes with a USB port, which allows users to attach a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and wired peripherals like a USB hub. The accessory comes with a quad-core Rockchip 3288 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0.

The Chromebit HDMI stick will be available in Cacao Black, Sky Blue and Tangerine Orange hues. It’s worth pointing out that the Chromebit is priced significantly higher in India. The device went on sale in the US and other regions for $85, which is roughly Rs 5,650.

WhatsApp’s upcoming video calling feature spotted in leaked screenshots

It appears that WhatsApp is gearing up to launch its much-anticipated video calling feature. According to a report from Germany, the latest beta versions of WhatsApp for iOS have video calling support built-in. A couple of screenshots leaked by a German website show the video calling feature in action on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp Video Calling leak

As per the leaked images, users will be able to mute their microphone as well as switch cameras during a video call. Similar to the voice calling feature on the app, the video calling interface will have decline and accept buttons with an image of the person making the video call. User will be able to make video calls using Wi-Fi or cellular data connection, as per the report.

The new feature is currently being tested, and will apparently be released to the public in the coming weeks… possibly making its way to iPhones first. The voice calling feature was first leaked during the same time last year, and was rolled out to Android devices in March 2015. The video calling feature is expected to be released in Q1 2016. In addition, reports suggest that WhatsApp will soon be releasing an update with a revamped UI, which will bring some sort of tab-based user interface to make switching between conversations much easier.