This strange VR accessory claims to help fight anxiety and help you sleep better

There are a number of unique virtual reality accessories out there. Sure, there’s your standard ones like the Oculus Touch and Vive Tracker which have very obvious applications in VR. But then you have some more nebulous products like, for example, the Kortex.

The device popped up on IndieGoGo and claims to help fight anxiety, manage stress and help you sleep better after using it for 20 minutes during your next VR gameplay session.

The Kortex straps onto any VR headset including the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift , though it looks like the Samsung Gear VR is where it will find the most success thanks to its low-cost ticket to entry. Back the device while it’s still on IndieGoGo and you’ll receive a discounted price and a copy of the game Land’s End.

We’ll let you watch the video for more specifics, but the idea here is that the Kortex uses alternating current via an electrode strapped to your temple to stimulate the production of serotonin and reduce cortisol in the brain. Two 20-minute sessions a day and its creators, a medical technology company called Fisher Wallace Labs, say you’ll be sleeping better.

While we don’t put a ton of stock in faux-medical devices, there are some potentially exciting applications here – either to enhance your mood while you play games or to help you wind down and relax when you’re feeling a bit too stressed out. Less anxiety and a free copy of a game? Sign us up.

Sophos CEO sounds the alarm on enterprise ransomware attacks

Ransomware is increasingly becoming a problem for companies, and the CEO of a leading computer security company says he fears 2017 could see entire companies shut down until they pay up, or risk losing all their data.170214 hagerman

Ransomware works by infiltrating a computer with malware and then encrypting all the files on the disk. The user is presented with a limited time offer: Lose all your data or send money with the promise your data will be unlocked. The fee typically varies from a few tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars and often has to be transmitted in Bitcoin.

The problem began on a fairly small scale, targeting individual users, but has been growing. Last year, a hospital in Los Angeles admitted to paying $17,000 to get its system unlocked, and a report in October said ransomware cases were on course to quadruple in 2016 over the previous year.

But Kris Hagerman, CEO of Sophos, fears this is only the tip of an iceberg.

“It’s not inconceivable you could see a bank get targeted and they could say I want $10 million overnight or I’ll delete your files,” he said in an interview at the RSA security conference in San Francisco.

Ransomware presents companies with an extra level of complexity: a ticking clock that provides only a limited amount of time to try to disable the attack and retrieve data or risk is all being lost.

“It can bring an organization to its knees,” he said. “There are plenty of organizations that are not up to date in their backups and have not taken the full comprehensive approach to security to be able to combat this thing.”

One of the things making matters worse is the proliferation of websites that offer attack tools to anyone with a credit card.

“Today, you can be a very successful cybercriminal and not know a single thing about computer code,” he said.

Some even offer a money-back guarantee, if would-be criminals are not completely satisfied with the results, said Hagerman.

Sophos sees a stunning 300,000 to 400,000 unique pieces of malware each day running through its systems, and each of those presents a potential problem for companies that don’t have the right defense.

And at the end of the day, it’s all about building a high enough wall that cybercriminals go elsewhere, said Hagerman.

“The way that you really fight cybercrime is you make it more expensive for them,” he said. “When it becomes hard and less profitable, they take their advanced skills and do something else.”

Hagerman said laws against cybercrime had a limited effect because of the problems with identification and pursuit, especially across borders.

“For [criminals], it’s an ROI as well,” said Hagerman. “If you make it harder, they’re going to find another target or find another line of work.”

A.I. faces hype, skepticism at RSA cybersecurity show

Vendors at this week’s RSA cybersecurity show in San Francisco are pushing artificial intelligence and machine learning as the new way to detect the latest threats, but RSA CTO Zulfikar Ramzan is giving visitors a reality check.artificial intelligence ai a.i.

“I think it (the technology) moves the needle,” he said on Wednesday. “The real open question to me is how much has that needle actually moved in practice?”

It’s not as much as vendors claim, Ramzan warned, but for customers it won’t be easy cutting through the hype and marketing. The reality is that a lot of the technology now being pushed isn’t necessarily new.

In particular, he was talking about machine learning, a subfield in A.I. that’s become a popular marketing term in cybersecurity. In practice, it essentially involves building algorithms to spot bad computer behavior from good.

rsa cto

Ads by Kiosked

Michael Kan

RSA CTO Zulfikar Ramzan speaking at RSA 2017 in February.

However, Ramzan pointed out that machine learning in cybersecurity has been around for well over a decade. For instance, email spam filters, antivirus software and online fraud detection are all based on this technique of detecting the bad from good.

Certainly, machine learning has advanced over the years and it can be particularly useful at spotting certain attacks, like those that don’t use malware, he said. But the spotlight on A.I. technologies also has to deal with marketing and building up hype.

“Now all of a sudden, we’re seeing this resurgence of people using ‘the how’ as a marketing push,” he said, after his speech.

The result has created a “lemons market,” where clients might have trouble distinguishing between useful security products. Not all are equal in effectiveness, Ramzan claimed. For example, some products may generate too many false positives or fail to detect the newest attacks from hackers.

“There’s no doubt you can catch some things that you couldn’t catch with these techniques,” he said. “But there’s a disparity between what a vendor will say and what it actually does.”

Nevertheless, A.I. technologies will still benefit the cybersecurity industry, especially in the area of data analysis, other vendors say.

“Right now, it’s an issue of volume. There’s just not enough people to do the work,” said Mike Buratowski, a senior vice president at Fidelis Cybersecurity. “That’s where an A.I. can come in. It can crunch so much data, and present it to somebody.”

One example of that is IBM’s latest offering. On Wednesday, the company announced that its Watson supercomputer can now help clients respond to security threats.

Within 15 minutes, Watson can come up with a security analysis to a reported cyber threat, when for a human it might have taken a week, IBM claimed.

Recorded Future is another security firm that’s been using machine learning to offer intelligence to analysts and companies about the latest cybercriminal activities. The company’s technology works by essentially scanning the internet, including black market forums, to pinpoint potential threats.

That might include a hacker trying to sell software exploits or stolen data, said Andrei Barysevich, director of advanced collection at the company.

“When you cover almost a million sources and you only have 8 hours a day, to find that needle in the hay stack, you have to have some help from artificial intelligence,” he said.

dsc05793

Ads by Kiosked

Michael Kan

The RSA 2017 show floor.

Customers attending this week’s RSA show may be overwhelmed with the marketing around machine-learning, but it’ll only be a matter time, before the shoddier products are weeded out, Barysevich said.

“We have hundreds of vendors here, from all over the country. But among them, there are five or ten that have a superior product,” he said. “Eventually, the market will identify the best of the best.”

Apple joins Wireless Power Consortium, charging up iPhone 8 rumor

Apple has joined the consortium behind the Qi wireless charging system, supercharging rumors that owners of future an iPhone could live tangle-free.apple member wpc

Last week, a financial analyst claimed Apple will release three new iPhones with wireless charging capabilities this year, reviving an on-again, off-again rumor about the next-generation iPhone’s capabilities.

The appearance of Apple’s name on the membership list of the Wireless Power Consortium, Qi’s creator, over the last week adds credence to that rumor. Its name was not on the list cached by Google’s search engine last Tuesday.

“After several years of increasing rumor, Apple’s membership with the Wireless Power Consortium points strongly to the expectation that the next iPhone will include wireless charging technology,” said Vicky Yussuff, an analyst at market watcher IHS Technology.

Don’t expect too much, though: That’s pretty much what IHS analysts said about the last iPhone, too.

In fact, Apple’s membership of the WPC may have nothing to do with phones. The magnetic charging adapter supplied with the Apple Watch will charge Qi devices (although the Watch itself is programmed not to work with just any Qi charger, only those supplied or approved by Apple) so membership may just be a delayed recognition of that usage.

Nine in 10 consumers want wireless charging on their next phone, according to Yussuff. The technology is now so widely adopted that it’s no longer something Apple can ignore, she added.

IHS expects around 350 million wireless-chargeable devices to ship this year, in a market largely driven by Samsung Electronics, which has included the capability in its top-of-the-range phones since the launch of the Galaxy S6 in 2015. Samsung also sells wireless charging covers for the older S4 and S5.

In fact, Samsung included not one but two wireless charging systems in its S6 and S7 phones: Qi and the rival Powermat technology from the Power Matters Alliance.

The PMA has since merged with another wireless charging consortium, the Alliance for Wireless Power (AW4P) to form the Airfoil Alliance. That organization does not list Apple among its members, however.

Samsung has put off its next phone launch until late March, while Apple is not expected to announce new models until September.

Later this month, though, mobile phone manufacturers will gather in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress. Yussuff expects the show will see at least one major phone maker unveil a new device with wireless charging.

The Core i5 Surface Pro 4 just got even cheaper at $950

The Surface Pro 4 was impressive when it rolled out in late 2015, and even today it’s still a solid choice as a grab-and-go PC—as long as the price is right. Right now is a good time to grab one, as Best Buy’s selling the silver Core i5 Surface Pro 4 with an 256GB solid-state drive for $950. Normally, it goes for $1,200 MSRP.surface pro 4

This particular model sits just one notch down from the top of the line, offering a 12.3-inch display with 2736-by-1824 resolution, dual-core Skylake Core i5 chip, 256GB SSD, and 8GB RAM. Best Buy does force you through the whole “we’ll show you the sale price in the cart” charade, but if you can stomach that annoyance this deal is well worth it. Microsoft also has this same Surface Pro 4 on sale, but not nearly for such a good price: At its store, you’ll spend $1,049.

Savvy readers will notice that Microsoft hasn’t updated its Surface Pro line since 2015. That means you’ll lose out on the modest performance gains that Kaby Lake—the current generation of Intel Core chips—offers over Skylake. However, anyone hoping to see a “Surface Pro 5” loaded with Kaby Lake may be waiting a few weeks if not longer. There are rumors floating around that we could see new devices roll out around the release of the Creators Update in the spring. That said, a fancy new Surface Pro would likely roll out with an equally new price.

For now, the still-premium Surface Pro 4 is well worth a look at Best Buy’s much more affordable price.

Surface Pro 4 Core i5 version at Best Buya

Google crams machine learning into smartwatches in AI push

Google is bringing artificial intelligence to a whole new set of devices, including Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches and the Raspberry Pi board, later this year.LG Watch Sport

A cool thing is these devices don’t require a set of powerful CPUs and GPUs to carry out machine learning tasks.

Google researchers are instead trying to lighten the hardware load to carry out basic AI tasks, as exhibited by last week’s release of Android Wear 2.0 operating system for wearables.

Google has added some basic AI features to smartwatches with Android Wear 2.0, and those features can work within the limited memory and CPU constraints of wearables.

Android Wear 2.0 has a “smart reply” feature, which provides basic responses to conversations. It works much like how predictive dictionaries work, but it can auto-reply to messages based on the context of the conversation.

Google uses a new way to analyze data on the fly without bogging down a smartwatch. In conventional machine-learning models, a lot of data needs to be classified and labeled to provide accurate answers. Instead, Android Wear 2.0 uses a “semi-supervised” learning technique to provide approximate answers.

“We’re quite surprised and excited about how well it works even on Android wearable devices with very limited computation and memory resources,” Sujith Ravi, staff research scientist at Google said in a blog entry.

For example, the skimmed down machine-learning model can classify a few words — based on sentiment and other clues — and create an answer. The machine-learning model introduces a streaming algorithm to process data, and it provides trained responses that also factor in previous interactions, word relationships, and vector analysis.

The process is faster because the data is analyzed and compared based on bit arrays, or in the form of 1s and 0s. That helps analyze data on the fly, which tremendously reduces the memory footprint. It doesn’t go through the conventional process of referring to rich vocabulary models, which require a lot of hardware. The AI feature is not intended for sophisticated answers or analysis of a large set of complex words.

The feature can be used with third-party message apps, the researchers noted. It is loosely based on the same smart-reply technology in Google’s messaging Allo app, which is built from the company’s Expander set of semi-supervised learning tools.

The Android Wear team originally reached out to Google’s researchers and expressed an interested in implementing the “smart reply” technology directly in smart devices, Ravi said.

AI is becoming pervasive in smartphones, PCs, and electronics like Amazon’s Echo Dot, but it largely relies on machine learning taking place in the cloud. Machine-learning models in the cloud are trained, a process called learning, to recognize images or speech. Conventional machine learning relies on algorithms, superfast hardware, and a huge amount of data for more accurate answers.

Google’s technology is different than Qualcomm’s rough implementation of machine learning in mobile devices, which hooks up algorithms with digital signal processors (DSPs) for image recognition or natural language processing. Qualcomm has tuned DSPs in its upcoming Snapdragon 835 to process speech or images at higher speeds, so AI tasks are carried out faster.

Google has an ambitious plan to apply machine learning through its entire business. The Google Assistant — which is also in Android Wear 2.0 — is a visible AI across smartphones, TVs, and other consumer devices. The search company has TensorFlow, an open-source machine-learning framework, and has its own inferencing chip called Tensor Processing Unit.

The Humble Freedom Bundle packages over 30 of the best indie games together for $30

If there’s a well-known indie game you’ve wanted to purchase at any time between 2009 and 2017, it’s probably in the new Humble Freedom Bundle. Launched today, it’s a special format for Humble—a single $30 price tier, and it’s only available for one week, but you’ll get something like 40 games in the process.Humble Freedom Bundle

And the list is stunning.  gets top billing just by way of being one of the most expensive games included—it’d cost you $40 to buy from Steam, so the bundle is basically a 25 percent discount on  plus a bunch of other games thrown in.

Those other games aren’t slouches though. Farming game , classic point-and-click, public transit planner  octopus-dad simulator

Okay, if I tack on an explanation to all these games, this article will balloon out to 1000+ words. Just the titles, then:  and the list goes on. Seriously, there are more games than what I listed here. That’s insane.

For $30.

It’s a who’s-who of the decade’s best indie games, and just a stunning deal if you haven’t yet picked up some of the higher-profile titles. All proceeds will be donated to the ACLU (hence the “Freedom” name), and you’ve got from now until February 20 to take advantage.

Experts worried about ransomware hitting critical infrastructure

Expect ransomware to grow more aggressive in the coming years, including higher ransom payments and attempts to go beyond attacking data — by shutting down entire computer systems to utilities or factories.petya ransomware logo

“I see no reason for ransomware to stop,” said Neil Jenkins, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “It’s shown to be effective.”

On Monday at the RSA cybersecurity conference, experts gave a grim outlook on the future of ransomware, which they fear will spread. Through the attacks, cybercriminals have already managed to rake in US$1 billion last year, according to at one estimate.

The computer infections work by first targeting the victim’s data, and encrypting it. The ransomware will then threaten to delete the data, unless a payment, usually in bitcoin, is made.

However, a key concern is that ransomware will start targeting critical infrastructure, said Jenkins, the director of the DHS enterprise performance management office.

He pointed to the recent example of an Austrian hotel hit with ransomware that took out its keycard system for the hotel doors. Future ransomware attacks might try to lockdown control systems for a water utility, threatening its operations, Jenkins said.

“I worry that’s going to be the next step,” he said.

Too many important computer systems are also connected to the internet when they shouldn’t be, said Gal Shpantzer, CEO of Security Outliers. Small businesses are also failing to properly segregate their computers from other processes, like a factory assembly line, he said. When a ransomware infection hits, it has the potential to shut down the entire operation.

“That’s where ransomware is going to go,” Shpantzer said. “I think it’s inevitable. People are going to be injured or lose their life. This is starting to affect things that shouldn’t be on the internet, or are physically moving.”

The hackers behind ransomware infections are also demanding higher and higher payments, some times over $40,000, said Jeremiah Grossman, chief of security strategy at SentinelOne.

There have even been a few ransomware cases where victims had no choice but to pay over seven figures to recover their system, Grossman added, declining to provide details.

“Bottom line, it’s getting worse out there, and it will continue to do so,” he said.

Ransomware infections are already harassing small and medium businesses, according to Robert Gibbons, CTO at security provider Datto. His company conducted a survey that found 60 percent of its partners have experienced one to five ransomware attacks in the last year.

The remainder had experienced over five attacks.  “Ransomware is still an epidemic,” he said.

Experts recommend that businesses and users frequently back up their data and also test to those backups to make sure they work. Security vendors have also published tools that can free computers from some ransomware infections.  

When an attack hits, victims may be tempted to pay the hackers the ransom. But Gibbons warned that one out of four times, the hackers still declined to decrypt the victim’s data, despite receiving payment.

EU solves roaming puzzle by capping wholesale mobile charges

Mobile network operators have grumbled that plans to abolish roaming fees across the European Union were unworkable because the wholesale prices for minutes and megabytes that operators charge one another differ from one country to the next.cell phone roaming telecom network carrier

On Tuesday night, Members of the European Parliament agreed a solution: Regulate wholesale prices too.

For years, the European Commission has been ratcheting down the surcharge that subscribers pay for mobile services consumed outside their home country — so-called roaming fees.

From this June it planned to abolish roaming fees altogether, forcing EU operators to offer voice, text and data services for the same price, whichever EU country their subscriber happened to be traveling in.

That plan ran into trouble when operators pointed out that, without restrictions on country of residence or trip duration, subscribers would be able to pick up a SIM card from a low-cost country and use it year-round in a high-cost country.

That’s bad news for operators in Latvia, for example, who would have to pay operators in Ireland a higher wholesale price for calls made there while roaming than the retail price they charged their own customers for the calls. Without additional limits on roaming or pricing, such operators would go bankrupt within days, European Commissioner for the Digital Economy Günther Oettinger said back in September.

Now the Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament have agreed on a fix: They will limit the wholesale prices operators charge one another to €0.032 per minute and €0.01 per SMS from June 15. The wholesale price cap for data will come down more gradually, beginning at €7.70 per gigabyte on June 15 followed by reductions on Jan. 1 each year until it reaches €2.50 on Jan. 1, 2022.

“This was the last piece of the puzzle,” said Andrus Ansip, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market.

“We have also made sure that operators can continue competing to provide the most attractive offers to their home markets,” he said.

That’s been achieved by allowing operators to continue to apply surcharges to anyone who roams for more than two months out of any four-month period. Those charges, though, will be capped at a little over the wholesale cost, or €0.04 per minute, €0.01 per text message and €8.70 per gigabyte, according to the Commission’s fact sheet on roaming.

MEPs were happy with the compromise reached with the Commission and national telecommunications ministers on the Council.

“It’s not a perfect deal for the wholesale market, but we are satisfied with the compromise,” said Danish MEP Jens Rohde, adding that it “will ensure big operators won’t need to send large bills on to the little ones.”

Those bills were a stumbling block in the negotiations, said Austrian MEP Paul Rübig: “The telecoms ministers of some EU member states still seem to care more about their former state-owned telecom companies than about the benefits for citizens.”

Britons travelling in Europe, and EU citizens visiting the U.K., will see the benefits of the new deal for at least a couple of years.

Once the U.K. leaves the EU, though, charges for roaming to or from the U.K. could soar if no agreement is reached to continue price regulation. For EU citizens roaming in Eastern Europe, some operators charge over €2/minute for calls and €13 per megabyte (€13,000 per gigabyte!) for data, with prices even higher for roaming in other parts of the world.

HPE acquires security startup Niara to boost its ClearPass portfolio

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has acquired Niara, a startup that uses machine learning and big data analytics on enterprise packet streams and log streams to detect and protect customers from advanced cyberattacks that have penetrated perimeter defenses.HP Hewlett Packard Enterprise new signs

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Operating in the User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) market, Niara’s technology starts by automatically establishing baseline characteristics for all users and devices across the enterprise and then looking for anomalous, inconsistent activities that may indicate a security threat, Keerti Melkote, senior vice president and general manager of HPE Aruba and cofounder of Aruba Networks, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

The time taken to investigate individual security incidents has been reduced from up to 25 hours using manual processes to less than a minute by using machine learning, Melkote added.

Hewlett Packard acquired wireless networking company Aruba Networks in May 2015, ahead of its corporate split into HPE, an enterprise-focused business and HP, a business focused on PCs and printers.

The strategy now is to integrate Niara’s behavioral analytics technology with Aruba’s ClearPass Policy Manager, a role and device-based network access control platform, so as to to offer customers advanced threat detection and prevention for network security in wired and wireless environments, and internet of things (IoT) devices, Melkote wrote.

For Niara’s CEO Sriram Ramachandran and Vice President for Engineering Prasad Palkar and several other engineers it is a homecoming. They are part of the team that developed the core technologies in the ArubaOS operating system.

Niara technology addresses the need to monitor a device after it is on the internal network, following authentication by a network access control platform like ClearPass. Niara claims that it detects compromised users, systems or devices by aggregating and putting into context even subtle changes in typical IT access and usage.

Most networks today allow the traffic to flow freely between source and destination once devices are on the network, with internal controls, such as Access Control Lists, used to protect some types of traffic, while others flow freely, Melkote wrote.

“More importantly, none of this traffic is analyzed to detect advanced attacks that have penetrated perimeter security systems and actively seek out weaknesses to exploit on the interior network,” she added.