North Korea manufacturing crystal meth on an industrial scale

Paul Alcorn | Business, Politics & Money | Dec 18, 2014 3:52 PM CST

Poor economy got you down? Well, you can always just cook up some crystal meth. Reality is stranger than fiction, and that trend continues with the news that North Korea is manufacturing crystal meth in industrial facilities. This isn't your garden variety crystal meth either, according to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. US officials have verified that the meth, which landed in the US cities of New York and Boston, tests at 96-98% purity. That's a benchmark even the characters on Breaking Bad would consider impressive.

North Korea is no stranger to resorting to illegal activities to cover budgetary shortfalls. Kim Jong-un inherited this illicit lineage from his forefathers, who began dabbling in international crime in the 1970's. During the 1990's a famine engulfed the reclusive country, and over a million people died. During the famine North Korea turned their attention to growing opium, instead of the staples that might have saved innumerable lives. The rationale was that opium could generate far more money for the beleaguered regime, which at the time had just began a round of tough sanctions.

The transition to crystal meth began as the popularity of the drug increased in the international market in the 2000's. North Korean crystal meth has been found in China, Japan, and the US. The drugs are distributed through organized crime syndicates, but apparently North Korean officials have no issue with delivering the goods themselves. Several of their ambassadors have been expelled from host countries due to smuggling activities.

Continue reading: North Korea manufacturing crystal meth on an industrial scale (full post)

PMC-Sierra joins OpenPOWER foundation

Paul Alcorn | IT/Datacenter & Super Computing | Dec 18, 2014 2:30 PM CST

PMC-Sierra has joined the OpenPOWER Foundation, which is dedicated to developing advanced server, networking, storage and acceleration technology, along with open source software. The open source movement is radically altering the design of hyperscale and cloud data centers by providing more efficiency at lower cost.

The OpenPOWER group makes POWER hardware and software available to open development for the first time, as well as making POWER intellectual property licensable to others, greatly expanding the ecosystem of innovators on the platform. PMC will leverage their deep knowledge of SAS and NVMe controllers to help develop new I/O interfaces by sponsoring a new I/O workgroup, along with IBM, Emulex, QLogic and Mellanox.

"Participating in the I/O workgroup with IBM and integrating our products into the OpenPOWER platform ensures that our customers have access to the latest cloud and big data storage technology," said Kurt Chan, vice president of storage technology and strategy for PMC's Enterprise Storage Division. "As a market leader in SAS and NVMe controllers, working with the industry to define new I/O interfaces and being at the forefront of new developments enables PMC to deliver the most advanced products for open architectures."

Continue reading: PMC-Sierra joins OpenPOWER foundation (full post)

Crossbar touts latest breakthrough in RRAM technology, due in 2016

Paul Alcorn | IT/Datacenter & Super Computing | Dec 18, 2014 11:44 AM CST

Crossbar has recently made some encouraging gains in the path to commercializing 3D RRAM by 2016. 3D Resistive RAM (RRAM) promises to break the barriers associated with the reduced endurance of NAND as the lithography shrinks. While the best-in-class SLC NAND can pull off 100,000 write-erase cycles, 3D RRAM can deliver an exponential gain to a mind-boggling 100 million write cycles. 3D RRAM is also denser, up to 10X per chip compared to NAND, and provides speeds up to 20 times that of flash. As an added bonus, it draws less power. Seems to be too good to be true, right? Basically unlimited endurance, faster performance, lower power consumption, and it's all wrapped up in one amazingly dense 1TB chip the size of a postage stamp? Providing a product with the performance of RAM, but the persistence of NAND, is the Holy Grail. But is it feasible?

Crossbar believes they are on the cusp of delivering this almost too good to be true product. Crossbar outlined some of the latest advancements at the 2014 International Electron Devices Meeting. Crossbar has patented their Field Assisted Superlinear Threshold Selector, which overcomes the limitations of a sneak path current issue. Sneak path current disrupts the reading of data from RRAM's cells. By eliminating the problem Crossbar has made a huge breakthrough that will see wearable products entering the market in 2016, at least by their estimates, and SSDs roughly 18 months after. We would assume they mean late 2016.

Bringing a new memory technology to market is fraught with obstacles. Reliability comes first, but then there has to be a method of producing the product with decent yields on a cost-effective basis. Even the most promising of storage products isn't going to be successful if it cannot be productized at a reasonable cost. SSDs still fall to the venerable HDD in terms of cost-per-GB, even as prices continue to decline. Competing with NAND is going to be tough as RRAM comes out of the gate. NAND is a proven, mature, and refined technology that can deliver cost-competitive products. One positive aspect is that RRAM is completely compatible with standard manufacturing techniques employed in NAND fabrication, which should speed manufacturing and reduce initial product investments.

Continue reading: Crossbar touts latest breakthrough in RRAM technology, due in 2016 (full post)

Toshiba launches 6TB 7,200 RPM MG04 HDD

Paul Alcorn | IT/Datacenter & Super Computing | Dec 18, 2014 10:19 AM CST

Toshiba has announced the release of their latest datacenter HDD, the 6TB MG04 series. The MG04 comes in SAS and SATA flavors and also touts a 30% increase in the sustained data rate. The models also feature Toshiba's persistent write cache technology. This technology persists data to the storage medium by utilizing the rotation of the disk platters during a power loss event to generate enough power to flush the data. This power loss protection technique lends another layer of protection for key business-critical storage systems.

The MG04 spins at 7,200 RPM to deliver nearline-class seek performance, and the increased storage density delivers 50% better power efficiency, on a watts-per-TB basis, than previous 4TB models. The drives use 4K native and 512e sector lengths, and models are available with ISE (Instant Secure Erase) functionality. The SAS drives also sport a 12Gb/s connection for compatibility with the latest hardware. The competition in the HDD arena is heating up as we move to denser HDD storage solutions, and the continued advances in HDD technology compliment Toshiba's vast flash-based product portfolio.

Toshiba currently had topped out at 5TB with the MG04 series, and the inclusion of the 6TB model places them on equal footing with their main competitors. The new drives will begin sampling to OEM customers in Q1 2015. For the latest competitive performance analysis of the datacenter HDD segment head to our HDD category in the IT/Datacenter section.

Continue reading: Toshiba launches 6TB 7,200 RPM MG04 HDD (full post)

Lenovo will call upon Intel to power two 4G smartphones in early 2015

Intel may have been late to the smartphone game, but is quickly picking up allies to promote its mobile hardware. The company is working with Lenovo, a top-five ranked smartphone manufacturer, and the companies will have two new devices announced by the end of February 2015.

Intel will reportedly offer its 64-bit Atom CPU and LTE-Advanced modem chips for the devices, with one phone aimed for China - and the other mobile device will be available in emerging markets.

Even if these devices aren't going to be high-priced models available in the US, it's an important step forward for Intel. The company still isn't in the same neighborhood as Qualcomm when it comes to smartphones and tablets, but shows Intel is ready to fight for everything it can gain in 2015. The 4G system-on-a-chip platform from Intel, being promoted as SoFIA, indicates Intel's seriousness in providng a processor and modem together.

Continue reading: Lenovo will call upon Intel to power two 4G smartphones in early 2015 (full post)

Engineers mess up causing Microsoft Azure downtime

Chris Smith | Software & Apps | Dec 18, 2014 1:48 AM CST

Due to gaps in the deployment policies produced by engineers, Microsoft's Azure cloud service was taken offline during a period of time throughout November 2014. This information has been discovered thanks to a detailed mea culpa analysis by Microsoft themselves.

Jason Zander, Azure team member, conducted a final root cause analysis (RCA) and published it recently, claiming that the engineers intended to push software changes to improve performance and reduce processor load of the services' front-end system. However an outage was caused, meaning customers being unable to connect to Azure's storage, virtual machine, website, Active Directory or management portal functions.

The coding succeeded well in improving performance in the testing phases, however the full roll-out was discovered to encounter two main issues. Usually Microsoft deploys these updates in waves, slowly increasing the updated infrastructures bit by bit rather than a full roll-out. However an engineer saw this update as a low risk exercise after a small testing phase and pushed it to everyone in one hit. Thanks to this blunder and subsequent outage, Microsoft are heavily enforcing staged deployments from now on.

Continue reading: Engineers mess up causing Microsoft Azure downtime (full post)

ICANN hit by spear phishing attack, employee credentials compromised

Michael Hatamoto | Hacking, Security & Privacy | Dec 18, 2014 1:26 AM CST

ICANN employees have fallen victim to a suspected spear phishing cyberattack that began in late November 2014, the group confirmed in a blog post. The social engineering attack mimicked emails that closely resembled communications from its own domain and targeted ICANN employees. Unfortunately, the attack was successful and several ICANN staff members had their credentials compromised.

The compromised credentials were used to access ICANN's Centralized Zone Data System, providing criminals with access to names, postal addresses, email addresses, fax and phone numbers, usernames and passwords. The breach also hits the ICANN GAC Wiki, with only public information accessible to the cybercriminals.

Earlier in the year, ICANN boosted its cybersecurity, which the group said likely helped keep unauthorized access to a minimum from this attack.

Continue reading: ICANN hit by spear phishing attack, employee credentials compromised (full post)

Coolpad builds Android backdoor into devices sold in China

Michael Hatamoto | Hacking, Security & Privacy | Dec 18, 2014 12:25 AM CST

Chinese mobile manufacturer Coolpad is building backdoors into high-end Google Android-powered smartphones, according to Palo Alto Networks' Unit 42. The "CoolReaper" backdoor has been found on a variety of ROMs that were downloaded by security researchers. Coolpad is the No. 6 largest smartphone manufacture in the world, No. 3 inside of China, so this is an extremely troubling development.

CoolReaper is able to download, install, or activate Android applications without needing owner consent or notification. It can also clear user data, uninstall applications, and disable system applications. Researchers also found that it can dial arbitrary phone numbers and send SMS or MMS messages from the phone.

"CoolReaper is the first malware we have seen that was built and operated by an Android manufacturer," according to the Palo Alto Networks' Unit 42 blog. "The changes Coolpad made to the Android OS to hide the backdoor from users and anti-virus programs are unique and should make people think twice about the integrity of their mobile devices."

Continue reading: Coolpad builds Android backdoor into devices sold in China (full post)

Additional retailers, companies adopting Apple Pay mobile pay system

Michael Hatamoto | Business, Financial & Legal | Dec 17, 2014 11:35 PM CST

Major retailers, banks and start-ups are reportedly jumping on the Apple Pay mobile payment bandwagon, according to recent media reports. TD Bank, USAA, Commerce Bank, Barclaycard and SunTrust are financial institutions willing to test Apple Pay, while Staples, Albertsons and Winn-Dixie are retailers also interested.

"Retailers and payment companies see Apple Pay as the implementation that has the best chance at mass consumer adoption, which has eluded prior attempts," said Patrick Moorhead, president f Moor Insights & Strategies, in a statement to the New York Times. "They believe it will solve many of the problems they had before with electronic payments."

Apple keeps its numbers confidential, but it appears there is growing adoption among iPhone owners - Whole Foods says there have been more than 150,000 Apple Pay transactions in the past three months. Meanwhile, Apple Pay has accounted for 50 percent of McDonald's mobile payment transactions last month.

Continue reading: Additional retailers, companies adopting Apple Pay mobile pay system (full post)