Skype finally getting end-to-end encryption

Since its inception, Skype has been notable for its secretive, proprietary algorithm. It’s also long had a complicated relationship with encryption: encryption is used by the Skype protocol, but the service has never been clear exactly how that encryption was implemented or exactly which privacy and security features it offers.

That changes today in a big way. The newest Skype preview now supports the Signal protocol: the end-to-end encrypted protocol already used by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Allo, and, of course, Signal. Skype Private Conversations will support text, audio calls, and file transfers, with end-to-end encryption that Microsoft, Signal, and, it’s believed, law enforcement agencies cannot eavesdrop on.

Presently, Private Conversations are only available in the Insider builds of Skype. Naturally, the Universal Windows Platform version of the app—the preferred version on Windows 10—isn’t yet supported. In contrast, the desktop version of the app, along with the iOS, Android, Linux, and macOS clients, all have compatible Insider builds. Private Conversations aren’t the default and don’t appear to yet support video calling. The latter limitation shouldn’t be insurmountable (Signal’s own app offers secure video calling). We hope to see the former change once updated clients are stable and widely deployed.

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The strong case for a citizens’ wealth fund | Letters

Professor Steve Schifferes says a citizens’ wealth fund in the UK could be the key to boosting productivity, tackling inequality, and giving citizens a new sense of control over their lives. Plus Michael Gold says that if the tech giants paid tax properly there would be no $1tn company on the horizon

I strongly endorse your editorial (30 December) suggesting that a UK citizens’ wealth fund could make a major contribution to reversing the worrying growth in inequality, particularly wealth inequality, in the last few decades. The estimates by my project team suggest that it would be feasible to create a £1tn citizens’ wealth fund within a generation, partly based on making better use of our estimate of £3tn in publicly owned assets. In our view, such a “Next Generation Fund” could make an important contribution to reducing intergenerational inequality as well, and ensure that an increased level of public spending and public investment can be afforded in the future when the revenue that can be raised from taxation will be constrained by the increase in the number of older people relative to those in work.

As well as the successful implementation of such schemes in countries as diverse as Norway, Singapore and Australia, they also exist on a smaller scale in the UK, including the Shetland and Orkney trusts and the crown estate. I believe that introducing a citizens’ wealth fund in the UK – not run by the government but by the people – could be the key to boosting productivity, tackling inequality, and giving citizens a new sense of control over their lives. The idea deserves cross-party support.
Professor Steve Schifferes
City, University of London; Director, UK Social Wealth Fund Project

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Bad docs and blue screens make Microsoft suspend Spectre patch for AMD machines

Microsoft has suspended delivering the latest Windows update to certain systems with AMD processors after reports that the update was causing the machines to crash with a blue screen of death when booting. The update contains countermeasures against both the Meltdown and Spectre attacks; although AMD systems are not affected by Meltdown, they’re vulnerable to Spectre.

Withdrawing or suspending delivery of Windows Updates is not uncommon; while there is some testing done by Microsoft, releasing things to a wider audience does from time to time unearth incompatibilities or bugs within the update. What is uncommon is that Microsoft is not merely suspending this update; the company has also outlined why. Specifically, Microsoft writes that:

After investigating, Microsoft has determined that some AMD chipsets do not conform to the documentation previously provided to Microsoft to develop the Windows operating system mitigations to protect against the chipset vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown.

This is an unusual act of buck-passing.

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A look back at the year that the Sub-Saharan African startup scene found its stride

 African tech in 2017 was about the normalization of market events mostly absent even a decade ago. There were acquisitions, multiple investment rounds, lots of expansion, big strategic partnerships, and some surprise failures. Africa is fast becoming home to a dynamic tech sector. Here’s a snapshot of the news that shaped that transition over the last year. Investment Andela’s… Read More

Meltdown and Spectre: Here’s what Intel, Apple, Microsoft, others are doing about it

The Meltdown and Spectre flaws—two related vulnerabilities that enable a wide range of information disclosure from every mainstream processor, with particularly severe flaws for Intel and some ARM chips—were originally revealed privately to chip companies, operating system developers, and cloud computing providers. That private disclosure was scheduled to become public some time next week, enabling these companies to develop (and, in the case of the cloud companies, deploy) suitable patches, workarounds, and mitigations.

With researchers figuring out one of the flaws ahead of that planned reveal, that schedule was abruptly brought forward, and the pair of vulnerabilities was publicly disclosed on Wednesday, prompting a rather disorderly set of responses from the companies involved.

There are three main groups of companies responding to the Meltdown and Spectre pair: processor companies, operating system companies, and cloud providers. Their reactions have been quite varied.

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Cloud infrastructure vendors begin responding to chip kernel vulnerability

 Several cloud vendors began responding to the chip kernel vulnerability that has the industry reeling today. Each Infrastructure as a Service vendor clearly has a stake here because each one is selling CPU cycles on their platforms. TechCrunch sent a request for comment to six major cloud vendors, including AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Rackspace and DigitalOcean. Read More

RIP Kinect: 2010-2017(ish)

Microsoft is no longer producing the USB Kinect Adapter needed to hook the latest version of the depth-sensing camera’s proprietary connection to an Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or PC.

The adapter, which was briefly offered for free to Xbox One S purchasers through last March, was subsequently sold for $40 to users who still wanted to use the camera and voice-activated microphone array on more modern hardware. But Microsoft has now confirmed to Polygon that the adapter is no longer being produced, so Microsoft can “focus attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming accessories across Xbox One and Windows 10.”

While the adapter can still be purchased second-hand (often at a significant premium), and the Kinect can still be used with original Xbox One hardware (or in Microsoft’s Redmond campus store), the move is a clear, final nail in the coffin regarding any continued Kinect support on Microsoft’s part.

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Apple leads race to become world’s first $1tn company

Tech giants likely to pass record valuation if share price rises echo 2017 performance with Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook in with a chance

The race is on to become the world’s first trillion-dollar company, with all eyes fixed on tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

Financial commentators and investors predict 2018 will herald the first firm with a stock market valuation of $1tn (£738bn) or more, if technology share prices continue to rise as strongly as in 2017.

The race to become the first $1tn company has opened. Apple has the best shot to be the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Requires just a 17% rise in market value from $860bn. The 5 other contenders are Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Tencent.

Related: As Amazon opens a guerrilla store, has the internet beaten the high street?

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