Amazon expands in Cape Town, stepping up cloud rivalry with Microsoft

Amazon.com is expanding its presence in the emerging tech hub of Cape Town, upping the ante in its regional battle with cloud computing rival Microsoft.

Amazon will be the sole tenant in a new, modern eight-story office building that’s nearing completion in the South African city, multiple sources familiar with the project told Reuters. The company is advertising dozens of jobs in Cape Town, which played a key role in the early development of its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-computing business.

The adverts include one for a software development engineer that says Amazon is assembling a team for a “green-field project” dealing with machine learning, big data analysis and cloud computing, which are among the fastest-growing areas in the technology industry.

The company’s expansion shows how fierce competition in the cloud business and rising demand for computing power are driving activity even in relatively undeveloped corners of the technology universe.

AWS is the global leader in cloud computing with 32% of the market, versus 16% for second-placed Microsoft in the first quarter of 2018, according to research firm Canalys. Microsoft has been growing faster.

The global cloud infrastructure services market was worth nearly $55 billion in 2017 and is expected to exceed $155 billion by 2020, Canalys said. AWS accounted for 73% of Amazon’s $1.9 billion operating profit in the first quarter, but just 11% of its revenue.

Amazon’s new Cape Town building is due for completion in August, according to a source familiar with the matter. It sits near an existing Amazon technical centre and customer support operation.

Amazon did not offer details about the new building in Cape Town, or what its function might be.

“As more South African customers and partners continue to choose AWS as their cloud provider we continue to hire more staff into our offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg,” Geoff Brown, AWS’ Sub-Saharan Africa regional manager, told Reuters in a statement.

In another sign of Amazon’s cloud-computing drive in South Africa, it is offering start-ups free cloud trials for one year, according to local entrepreneur Tumi Menyatswe – a deal that prompted her to switch to AWS from Google’s cloud.

“This allows me to focus on my business and to grow until I can pay them,” said Menyatswe, CEO of two-year-old business Minderz, which pairs pet owners with people able to look after cats and dogs during holidays.

Edge in Africa

It is difficult to measure the relative success of the big cloud-computing players in Africa, as they do not break out financial results for the continent. However, according to analysts, data centres are one measure of growth.

Despite its history on the continent, Amazon has yet to build a data centre in Africa. Microsoft, by contrast, announced last year that it was building two data centres in South Africa, one in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg, both due to launch later this year.

Microsoft said in a statement that the plans were on track but would not specify when the data centres would be launched in 2018.

Local data centres offer advantages, in part by reducing “latency”, or delays, in data transmission. “Closer is almost always better,” said Carl Brooks, an analyst at 451 Research.

Clifford De Wit, former chief innovation officer at Microsoft South Africa, said a local data centre was a big advantage.

“Having the actual data centre close has so many implications,” said De Wit, now chief technology officer at start-up Dexterity Digital. He cited privacy regulations that require banks and some other companies to store data locally, among other benefits.

Amazon’s Brown told Reuters that South Africa was “one of the many possibilities that we are currently looking at” globally for opening a new data centre.

He said the company launched new “Edge” locations -infrastructure that boosts transmission speeds from primary data centres outside the continent – in Johannesburg and Cape Town in the past two months. This will reduce latency for South African customers and bring other benefits, he said.

Famous for its Table Mountain and sandy beaches, Cape Town is emerging as a continental tech hub, with some 35 000 people employed in the sector, according to Wesgro, a trade and investment agency. The city boasts one of the largest publicly available fibre optic networks in Africa, local economic development officials say.

Amazon has played a key role in the city’s internet industry from the start. Two South Africans, Chris Pinkham and Willem van Biljon, led a small Cape Town-based team that developed the key technical underpinnings of AWS, a software architecture known as EC2, and helped build the business plan for the service.

“We knew it was going to have a large impact,” Van Biljon, who left Amazon more than a decade ago and still lives in Cape Town, told Reuters. “The rate at which the growth occurred outstripped even our best expectations.”

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Cryptocurrency Mining : Will It Damage My GPU After All?

Interest in mining cryptocurrency has skyrocketed lately. This has caused a major wave of sales of PC graphics cards, which has actually driven up the price of many mid-range cards. Mining with a GPU may even turn a profit if one has access to cheap electricity. However, this process is known to damage graphics cards and affect their longevity. People considering mining should keep these factors in mind, particularly if they plan on reselling their cards later on.

MINING IS TOUGH ON GPUS

It makes a lot of sense to mine cryptocurrency with a graphics card. They are easy to come by, are not overly expensive in most cases, and can result in excellent hashpower after making some initial adjustments. In fact, the AMD Vega Frontier edition may soon mine Ethereum at 70MH/second, assuming the rumors are true. Setting up a GPU mining rig requires doing some tweaking, and getting multiple cards to mine using the same motherboard can be tricky at times.

Once a rig is up and running, most people simply leave their hardware hashing away. If needed, it will switch mining pools on its own. Most miners will hardly pay attention to the hardware itself, choosing to monitor things from a distance. That does not mean your hardware does not need checking up on, however, as it remains under a lot of stress while mining cryptocurrencies. This level of stress is often underestimated.

When you start mining cryptocurrency, your GPUs are constantly under a full load at all times, and their fans typically spin at the highest RPM. That might sound less stressful than spinning up and cooling down again, but that is not necessarily the case. Keeping GPU fans running at a constant speed at all times will serve to wear them out comparatively quickly. Even though fans are designed to spin quite a bit, their longevity is severely affected by the rate at which they are forced to run. However, not using fans while mining cryptocurrency is most definitely a bad idea.



Thermal cycling is also something to think about when mining cryptocurrency using GPUs. Although one would expect mining to entail relatively low thermal cycling, that is not the case by any means. That said, some tweaking of each card’s power limit setting may make this a trivial issue more often than not. Reapplying thermal paste on a GPU every so often does wonders to keep the card cool and avoid major damage. Note that the process should not have to be repeated too often; it can be done less than once per month.

Pushing a graphics card to its full load on a constant basis can always result in card failure. In most cases, the card would have to run at full speed for over a year for this to happen, although your mileage may vary based on the model, maker, and general condition of the card. Electronics are always prone to manufacturing issues, which often only appear after the device has been put through the proverbial wringer. That being said, there are plenty of miners who have seen their cards fail over time and even catch fire as well.

Contrary to games and other computational tasks, cryptocurrency mining runs a GPU at full capacity almost constantly. Even stress tests only keep this up for so long before they risk damaging cards. Cryptocurrency mining of any sort will stress a card to its limit for as long as it is running. Granted, most models can handle that with ease, but it will always impact the card in one way or another. Those effects may not become apparent immediately. One of my own cards worked fine for months after a year of mining altcoins and then started artifacting suddenly.

Whether or not the upcoming line of AMD and NVIDIA GPUs dedicated to cryptocurrency mining will suffer from these issues remains to be seen. There has to be a reason why these cards are better suited for the job compared to regular GPUs. So far, very few specifics have been unveiled to the public regarding these GPUs. They will be more efficient, of course, but they may also improve in other ways like handling loads better and degrading slower. As a rule, people who take good care of their GPUs will rarely encounter issues.

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WhatsApp expands file-sharing options

whatsappdocsl.jpgThe latest update to WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, will allow users to share any file type.
In version 2.17.40 of WhatsApp, files can be sent uncompressed. However, there will be a limit of 100MB per file.

"You can now send documents of any type. To send a document, open a chat, tap attach – document," the app details in its update description.

More than five photos shared at once will now be displayed in a gallery within the message.

Users should be aware that sending files to other users incurs data costs for the receiver.

The new update, released to iOS yesterday, also allows users to pin chats to the top of the user's contact list. This feature is accessed by swiping right on the chat and selecting the pin icon. Another update allows users to forward or delete multiple photos.The new features will be available to Android and iOS users when the WhatsApp app is updated.

Earlier this year, WhatsApp hit one billion users worldwide, and introduced an ‘Instagram Stories'-like feature, which allows users to update their status with pictures and videos that disappear after 24 hours.

Rival messaging app Telegram also updated its messaging service yesterday and now lets users send ‘disappearing' media to each other. The feature was first made popular by Snapchat.

Photos and videos sent in one-on-one chats can be set to self-destruct after they have been viewed in Telegram.

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ProtonMail lauds Google's EU fine after falling victim to firm's shady search practices

protoLLL.jpgFirm says decision means no other firm will have to relive its 'nightmare scenario'

SWISS-BASED EMAIL AND VPN OUTFIT ProtonMail has welcomed the European Union's decision to fine Google a record-breaking £2.1bn over its practice of downgrading the search results of competitors, saying that it was the victim of these practices last year.

In spite of ProtonMail's growing profile and an increased interest in encrypted email in general, the company's position had dropped inexplicably in Google's page rankings throughout most of 2016, making it virtually invisible to people looking for secure email providers. The company consulted a number of SEO experts who could find nothing amiss, and no obvious reason why Google should punish the firm.

ProtonMail first became aware of the issue (which only affected Google results and not those of other search engines) in November 2015, and in spite of repeated calls on Google to check its algorithms, the problem remained until finally in August last year the firm took to Twitter to complain, after which it was fixed.



"For nearly a year, Google was hiding ProtonMail from search results for queries such as 'secure email' and 'encrypted email', wrote CEO Dr Andy Yen in his blog in October 2016. "This was highly suspicious because ProtonMail has long been the world's largest encrypted email provider."

Since Google is by far the most widely used search engine in Europe, ProtonMail's non-appearance on the first couple of pages of search results was enough to almost put it out of business, the firm claimed.

At the time, ProtonMail was reluctant to blame the search giant of deliberate sabotage, citing a lack of conclusive proof and saying that the issue could have been due to a bug. Now, however, as a result of the EU's anti-trust ruling and record-breaking fine, the gloves are off.

"As a recent victim of Google's search practices, we are glad the EU is doing more to ensure accountability and transparency in search,"  said Yen in a statement emailed to INQ. 

"In doing so, we believe the EU is taking an important step towards protecting consumers and ensuring healthy competition online."

Yen continued: "The 2016 incident where ProtonMail was dramatically lowered in Google search results illustrated vividly the dangers of an unregulated monopoly. Because of Google's dominant position in search (over 90 per cent market share in Europe), Google holds the power of life and death over large and small businesses.

"Any other industry with that level of control, such as the financial sector for example, is subject to extensive regulations, and agree with the EU that search should be no different."



Yen added: "We hope that today's landmark ruling will pave the way for further reform, such as providing a formal way to report incidents so that no other company will have to relive the nightmare scenario that ProtonMail encountered.

"The EU's ruling today shows that no company, no matter how large or influential, can escape the obligation to play fair online, and ultimately, this is a victory for consumers worldwide." µ 

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Tuesday’s massive ransomware outbreak was, in fact, something much worse

WIPERL.jpg

Tuesday's massive outbreak of malware that shut down computers around the world has been almost universally blamed on ransomware, which by definition seeks to make money by unlocking data held hostage only if victims pay a hefty fee. Now, some researchers are drawing an even bleaker assessment—that the malware was a wiper with the objective of permanently destroying data.

Initially, researchers said the malware was a new version of the Petya ransomware that first struck in early 2016. Later, researchers said it was a new, never-before-seen ransomware package that mimicked some of Petya's behaviors. With more time to analyze the malware, researchers on Wednesday are highlighting some curious behavior for a piece of malware that was nearly perfect in almost all other respects: its code is so aggressive that it's impossible for victims to recover their data.In other words, the researchers said, the payload delivered in Tuesday's outbreak wasn't ransomware at all. Instead, its true objective was to permanently wipe as many hard drives as possible on infected networks, in much the way the Shamoon disk wiper left a wake of destruction in Saudi Arabia. Some researchers have said Shamoon is likely the work of developers sponsored by an as-yet unidentified country. Researchers analyzing Tuesday's malware—alternatively dubbed PetyaWrap, NotPetya, and ExPetr—are speculating the ransom note left behind in Tuesday's attack was, in fact, a hoax intended to capitalize on media interest sparked by last month's massive WCry outbreak.

Researchers at antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab, in a blog post published Wednesday, labeled the previous day's malware a "wiper." They explained that for attackers to decrypt a paying victim's computer, they need a "personal infection ID" that's displayed in the ransom note. In the 2016 version of Petya, the ID contained crucial information for the key recovery. Tuesday's malware, by contrast, was generated using pseudorandom data that was unrelated to the corresponding key. Kaspersky Lab researchers Anton Ivanov and Orkhan Mamedov wrote:

If we compare this randomly generated data and the final installation ID shown in the first screen, they are the same. In a normal setup, this string should contain encrypted information that will be used to restore the decryption key. For ExPetr, the ID shown in the ransom screen is just plain random data.

That means that the attacker cannot extract any decryption information from such a randomly generated string displayed on the victim, and as a result, the victims will not be able to decrypt any of the encrypted disks using the installation ID.

What does it mean? Well, first of all, this is the worst-case news for the victims – even if they pay the ransom they will not get their data back. Secondly, this reinforces the theory that the main goal of the ExPetr attack was not financially motivated, but destructive.

In an e-mail, they stated the problem this way:

Our analysis indicates there is little hope for victims to recover their data. We have analyzed the high-level code of the encryption routine, and we have figured out that, after disk encryption, the threat actor could not decrypt victims' disks. To decrypt a victim's disk, threat actors need the installation ID. In previous versions of "similar" ransomware like Petya/Mischa/GoldenEye, this installation ID contained the information necessary for key recovery. ExPetr does not have that, which means that the threat actor could not extract the necessary information needed for decryption. In short, victims could not recover their data.

Researcher Matt Suiche of Comae Technologies, in his own blog post published Wednesday, also called Tuesday's malware a wiper. But rather than focus on the pseudo-randomly generated installation ID, he highlighted the overwriting of key files stored on the infected hard drive.

"The ransomware was a lure for the media," he wrote. "This version of Petya actually wipes the first sectors of the disk like we have seen with malwares such as Shamoon." He went on to write: "We believe the ransomware was in fact a lure to control the media narrative, especially after the WannaCry incidents, to attract the attention on some mysterious hacker group rather than a national state attacker like we have seen in the past in cases that involved wipers such as Shamoon."

Suiche provided the above side-by-side code comparison contrasting Tuesday's payload with a Petya version from last year. Both pieces of code take aim at two small files—the master boot record and master file table—that are so crucial that a disk won't function if they are missing or corrupted. But while the earlier Petya encrypts the master boot record and saves the value for later decryption, Tuesday's payload, by contrast, was rewritten to overwrite the master boot record. This means that, even if victims obtain the decryption key, restoring their infected disks is impossible.

"Petya 2016 modifies the disk in a way where it can actually revert its modification," Suiche told Ars. "Whereas yesterday's one does some permanent damage to the disk."

Asked if the recovery made possible by Petya 2016 was related to the master boot record tampering, Suiche pointed to this analysis of the ransomware from researchers at Check Point Software. It described three stages:

  • Stage 0 “MBR Overwrite” – Overwrite the hard-drive’s Master Boot Record and implanting custom boot-loader.
  • Stage 1 “MFT Encryption” – Use the custom boot-loader introduced in Stage 0 to encrypt all Master-File-Table (MFT) records, which renders the file system completely unreadable.
  • Stage 2 “Ransom Demand” – Display the Petya logo and the ransom note detailing what must be done to decrypt the hard-drive.
"Both these values will be used further in the encryption process performed at Stage 1," Suiche told Ars. "At this point, Petya encrypts the original MBR by XORing its content with 0x37. It then saves this encrypted value to the 56th Disk Sector. Petya continues to encrypt disk sectors 1-34 (the physical range is 0x200h-0x4400h) with the exact same method."

Tuesday's malware, by contrast, destroys the 25 first sector blocks of the disk. In Wednesday's blog post, Suiche wrote:

The first sector block is being reversibly encoded by XORed with the 0x7 key and saved later in the 34th block. But since it replaces it with a new bootloader (41f75e5f527a3307b246cadf344d2e07f50508cf75c9c2ef8dc3bae763d18ccf) of 0x22B1 bytes it basically sets v19 to 0x19 (25).

16.0: kd:x86> ? 0x22B1 - (0x22B1 & 0x1FF) + 0x1024
Evaluate expression: 12836 = 00003224
16.0: kd:x86> ? 0x00003224 >> 9
Evaluate expression: 25 = 00000019That would mean that 24 sector blocks following the first sector block are being purposely overwritten, they are not read or saved anywhere. Whereas the original 2016 Petya version correctly reads each sector block and reversibly encode them.

Definitely not designed to make money

Another researcher who uses the handle the grugq //medium.com/@thegrugq/pnyetya-yet-another-ransomware-outbreak-59afd1ee89d4" style="box-sizing: inherit; background-color: transparent; transition: all 0.17s; color: rgb(255, 78, 0);">published an analysis that also supported the theory that Tuesday's outbreak wasn't a true ransomware attack. The analysis noted that the malware used a single Bitcoin address to receive ransom payments, a shortcoming that's not found in most professionally developed ransomware because it requires attackers to manually process large numbers of payments. Tuesday's malware also required victims to manually type a long string of human-unfriendly characters into an e-mail address, a hurdle professional ransomware developers avoid because it decreases the likelihood that victims will pay. Tuesday's malware also required victims to contact attackers through an e-mail account that was closed within hours of Tuesday's outbreak, killing any incentive for victims to pay.

In almost all other aspects, Tuesday's malware was impressive. It used two exploits developed by and later stolen from the National Security Agency. It combined those exploits with custom code that stole network credentials so the malware could infect fully patched Windows computers. And it was seeded by compromising the update mechanism for M.E.Doc, a tax-filing application that is almost mandatory for companies that do business in Ukraine. The shortcomings in the ransomware functions aren't likely to be mistakes, considering the overall quality of the malware.

"The superficial resemblance to Petya is only skin deep," the grugq wrote. "Although there is significant code sharing, the real Petya was a criminal enterprise for making money. This is definitely not designed to make money. This is designed to spread fast and cause damage, with a plausibly deniable cover of 'ransomware.'"

The theories are consistent with this post from Wired, which reports that Ukrainian government officials are saying Tuesday's attack was sponsored by a national government. The Ukrainian government has previously blamed Russia for attacks—one in December 2015 and another in December 2016—that both caused blackouts by hacking Ukrainian power facilities. A cover story Wired published last week lays out much of the evidence substantiating the claims of Russian involvement. Asked if Russia was behind Tuesday's attack, a government official told reporter Andy Greenberg: "It’s difficult to imagine anyone else would want to do this."

This post was updated to add details starting in the seventh paragraph, on how the permanent data destruction occurs. It was also edited to remove references to permanent hard drive destruction until those claims can be explicitly confirmed.

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