Windows 10 Creators Update now available to all, November Update end-of-life’d

Some four months after its initial release, Microsoft says it has opened the floodgates and is now pushing out Windows 10 version 1703, the Creators Update, to every compatible PC (a category that excludes systems using Intel’s Clover Trail Atoms).

Earlier this month, AdDuplex, which tracks the penetration of the different Windows 10 versions, reported that as of July 18, the Creators Update had just passed 50 percent of Windows 10 systems. Forty-six percent are on the previous version, 1607 (aka the Anniversary Update).

Until now, the deployment of the Creators Update has been throttled to stage its rollout. That throttle is now removed, so most of that 46 percent should now start upgrading. Microsoft is also saying that with this full rollout, enterprise customers should have confidence deploying the update. With Microsoft getting rid of the “Current Branch” and “Current Branch for Business” nomenclature, this is the closest thing to a signal that the version is enterprise-ready.

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Stealthy Google Play apps recorded calls and stole e-mails and texts

Google has expelled 20 Android apps from its Play marketplace after finding they contained code for monitoring and extracting users’ e-mail, text messages, locations, voice calls, and other sensitive data.

The apps, which made their way onto about 100 phones, exploited known vulnerabilities to “root” devices running older versions of Android. Root status allowed the apps to bypass security protections built into the mobile operating system. As a result, the apps were capable of surreptitiously accessing sensitive data stored, sent, or received by at least a dozen other apps, including Gmail, Hangouts, LinkedIn, and Messenger. The now-ejected apps also collected messages sent and received by Whatsapp, Telegram, and Viber, which all encrypt data in an attempt to make it harder for attackers to intercept messages while in transit.

The apps also contained functions allowing for:

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Microsoft rationalizes and rebrands Windows 10, Office updates again

One of the more visible aspects of Windows as a Service is that Microsoft has been learning as it goes along, and didn’t come straight out the gate with a clear vision of precisely how Windows updates would be delivered, or when. Initially the plan was to push each release out to consumers as the “Current Build” (CB),  and a few months later bless it as good for businesses, as the “Current Build for Business” (CBB).

A clearer plan has been crystalizing over the last few months, first with the announcement in April that Windows and Office would have synchronized, twice-annual releases, and then June’s announcement that Windows Server would also be on the semi-annual release train.

Today, Microsoft has put all the pieces together and delivered what should be the long-term plan for Windows, Windows Server, and Office updates. It’s not a huge shake-up from the cobbled together plan before, but the naming is new and consistent.

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Cable lobby claims US is totally overflowing in broadband competition

Are you ever frustrated about a lack of choice for home Internet providers? Well, worry no more. The nation’s top cable lobby group is here to let you know that the US is simply overflowing in broadband competition.

In a new post titled, “America’s competitive TV and Internet markets,” NCTA-The Internet & Television Association says that Internet competition statistics are in great shape as long as you factor in slow DSL networks and smartphone access.

Competition isn’t just the rule in television, it defines broadband markets as well. In spite of living in one of the largest and most rural nations, 88 percent of American consumers can choose from at least two wired Internet service providers. When you include competition from mobile and satellite broadband providers, much of America is home to multiple competing ISPs leveraging different and ever-improving technologies. This competition has led to rapid progress in the quality of consumer internet connections with average peak speeds in America quadrupling over the last five years, from 23.4 Mbps to 86.5 Mbps and the average price per megabit dropping 90 percent in 10 years, from $9.01 per megabit per second to $0.89 per megabit per second.

Many Americans who feel that they have only one viable choice for home broadband might think that cable lobbyists are describing an alternate reality. But it’s easy to see the difference between NCTA marketing and Internet users’ actual experiences. Yes, if you factor in any wireline home Internet provider offering any speed, then US customers can generally choose between a fast cable network and a slow DSL one. But if one of your two options isn’t fast enough to meet your needs, then there’s really just one choice.

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Microsoft expands bug bounty program to cover any Windows flaw

Microsoft today announced a new bug bounty scheme that would see anyone finding a security flaw in Windows eligible for a payout of up to $15,000.

The company has been running bug bounty programs, wherein security researchers are financially rewarded for discovering and reporting exploitable flaws, since 2013. Back then, Microsoft was paying up to $11,000 for bugs in Internet Explorer 11. In the years since then, Microsoft’s bounty schemes have expanded with specific programs offering rewards for those finding flaws in the Hyper-V hypervisor, Windows’ wide range of exploit mitigation systems such as DEP and ASLR, and the Edge browser.

Many of these bounty programs were time-limited, covering software during its beta/development period but ending once it was released. This structure is an attempt to attract greater scrutiny before exploits are distributed to regular end-users. Last month, the Edge bounty program was made an ongoing scheme no longer tied to any particular timeframe.

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USB 3.2 will make your cables twice as fast… once you’ve bought new devices

If you’ve invested heavily in USB Type-C cables, the USB Promoter Group has some good news for you. The next version of USB, USB 3.2, will double the speed of existing Type-C cables. Cables currently qualified for USB 3.1 generation 1’s 5 Gbps will be able to operate at 10 Gbps; those qualified for generation 2’s 10 Gbps will be able to run at 20 Gbps.

The only small inconvenience is that to use these new speeds you’ll need brand new devices at each end of the cable. But if you’ve managed to find some Type-C cables that actually properly comply with the specification—something rather harder than it should be—then you can rest assured that they’ll continue to work with the new spec, without holding back the performance of your devices.

As for how the cables are able to double in performance, the explanation is simple enough. One of the most compelling features of USB Type-C is that it can be used for more than just USB signalling; other protocols such as Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort can use the same ports and the same cabling. To support this flexibility, the ports and cables have four pairs of wires used for high-speed data transmission. While some protocols, such as Thunderbolt 3, use all four of these pairs simultaneously, USB 3.1 only uses two of them—one pair for transmitting data, the other pair for receiving it—with the other two going unused.

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Aboard the NS Savannah, America’s first (and last) nuclear merchant ship

BALTIMORE—Alongside a former grain pier in a strangely quiet corner of this cargo port, there’s a ship straight out of the future—the future, that is, as seen from the 1950s. Featuring sleek, modern lines and a giant insignia of an atom, the Nuclear Ship Savannah once sailed the world to demonstrate the peaceful potential of atomic energy.

Constructed at a cost of $46.9 million ($386.8 million in 2016 dollars) and launched on July 21, 1959, the Savannah was the world’s first nuclear cargo ship and the second nuclear-powered civilian ship (coming just two years after the Soviet nuclear icebreaker Lenin). Owned by the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) and operated by commercial cargo companies, for nearly a decade she carried cargo and passengers around the world. She also acted as a floating herald for America’s seemingly inevitable, cool Atomic Age future. Savannah boasted all the latest conveniences, including one of the world’s first microwave ovens.

Many critics have since called the Savannah an expensive Cold War-era boondoggle, but she was in many ways a success. The ship was never intended to turn a profit; rather, Savannah was intended to demonstrate what was possible with nuclear power. Design compromises made to get her into service as a showcase ship with passenger service handicapped her value as a cargo ship, but Savannah did demonstrate the advantages of nuclear propulsion. There was no need to refuel or to take on ballast water as fuel was expended, which meant less time in port and less pollution. Ironically, the Arab oil embargo arrived about two years after her tenure, but Savannah could have turned a profit during the situation despite these compromises.

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Zuckerberg and Musk are both wrong about AI

Back in 2015, a group of business leaders and scientists published an “open letter” about how controlling artificial superintelligence might be the most urgent task of the twenty-first century. Signed by luminaries like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, the letter has defined debates over AI in the years since. Bill Gates said in a Reddit AMA that he agrees with the letter. But, at last, there is a high-profile skeptic: Facebook giant Mark Zuckerberg, who has just come out strongly against the idea that AI is a threat to humanity.

At a backyard barbecue over the weekend, Zuckerberg fielded questions from Facebook Live. One asked about AI, and the social media mogul launched into a passionate rant:

I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic. I think you can build things and the world gets better. But with AI especially, I am really optimistic. And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios—I just, I don’t understand it. It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible

In the next five to 10 years, AI is going to deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives… Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future, I think, “yeah, you know, technology can generally always be used for good and bad, and you need to be careful about how you build it, and you need to be careful about what you build and how it is going to be used.”

But people who are arguing for slowing down the process of building AI, I just find that really questionable. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.

Zuckerberg was clearly referring to Musk and Gates here, and he is trying to set himself up in the reasonable alternative position. He mentioned that AI is right on the cusp of improving healthcare with disease diagnosis and saving lives with self-driving cars that get into fewer accidents. Musk has already replied dismissively on Twitter, saying that Zuckerberg has little understanding of AI.

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