Friday roundup: A week in tech

Russia

The Russian government was behind a large-scale cyber assault last year, the British government reckons.

According to defence minister Gavin Williamson, Russia deployed the NotPetya virus against Ukraine – which subsequently spread around the world costing global firms an estimated $1.2 billion, though how that figure was arrived at is anybody’s guess.

Unsurprisingly, the Russians have denied all of this, pointing out that Russian firms also took a kicking from the NotPetya ransomware.

Mr Williamson MP has claimed that the Russians are ‘ripping up the rule book’ – no, I have no idea what rule book he’s talking about either.

Lord Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister, has also chimed in, saying that the UK government will not countenance ‘malicious cyber activity’. No, of course not.

In summary: isn’t it nice that we’re all getting on so well?

***

The new bad boy of the money universe, crypto-currency, has claimed another victim, as it continues on its mission to relentlessly baffle the world’s financial journalists.

Miffed radio-astronomers have claimed that the yobbish virtual coinage is hindering their search for extraterrestrials – and can there be a more damning indictment than that?

The folks at SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) are desperate to expand their explorations but a global dearth of graphics processing units (GPUs) is spoiling things.

Alien seeker Dr Dan Werthimer said: ‘We’d like to use the latest GPUs and we can’t get ’em. That’s limiting our search for extraterrestrials…This is a new problem, it’s only happened on orders we’ve been trying to make in the last couple of months.’

Crypto-miners use processing power to unravel complicated mathematics, which validates purchases made with the likes of Bitcoin. Similarly, those searching the galaxy for life need large amounts of computing power to process the huge amount of data their sweepings of the heavens generate.

The situation is somewhat similar to billionaire industrialist Max Zorin’s scheme to hoard microchips in the 1980s, which was covered in this documentary.

***

The UK government believes it is in possession of software that will help to thwart the spread of jihadists’ online propoganda.

The generally tech-illiterate Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced the artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can apparently detect extremist material and automatically block it – and she also threatened to make it a legal requirement for firms to apply it.

London-based ASI Data Science received £600,000 from the government towards the creation of the jihadi-foiling app, which the firm says can be shaped to identify 94% of Islamic State’s online films.

Speaking in Silicon Valley for some reason when I’m pretty sure she could have done it from somewhere in the UK where she governs, Mrs Rudd said: ‘It’s really nice and hot here today, now where’s that kid with my latte?’

No, she didn’t. What she really said was: ‘It’s a very convincing example of the fact that you can have the information you need to make sure this material doesn’t go online in the first place.

‘The technology is there. There are tools out there that can do exactly what we’re asking for. For smaller companies, this could be ideal. We’re not going to rule out taking legislative action if we need to do it.

‘But I remain convinced that the best way to take real action, to have the best outcomes, is to have an industry-led forum like the one we’ve got.’

Friday roundup: A week in tech

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