Friday roundup: A week in tech

CPUs

CPU-problem-searchers have been busily searching for problems with CPUs – evidently very busily, as they’re found eight brand new security flaws.

Following the Spectre and Meltdown bugs discovered in Intel chips back in January, eager error buffs have been on the hunt for similar gaping issues – and they’ve been duly rewarded in their errand.

According to interestingly-named German tech mag c’t, the fresh flaws are collectively known as the ‘Spectre Next Generation’, and new patches are currently being developed to shore them up.

Though it has all the juicy details, the mag is, admirably, keeping them secret until chip manufacturers have had a chance to sort the security issues out.

And this is no small gesture, for c’t reckons that one of the ‘SPECTRE NG’ flaws eases attacks across system boundaries to such a degree that ‘we estimate the threat potential to be significantly higher than with Spectre. Specifically, an attacker could launch exploit code in a virtual machine (VM) and attack the host system from there – the server of a cloud hoster, for example.

The whole troubling report’s here (luckily in English).

***

Languid communications outfit BT has announced plans to cut 13,000 jobs, as it aims to slash costs by £1.5 billion.

The gigantic operation, which likes to do things at its own pace, will make around 12% of its staff, mostly managers and back-office workers, redundant over the next three years.

However, those BT customers thinking ‘great, this means it’ll take them even longer to answer the phone’ should be soothed by the firm’s plans to hire 6,000 new people to ‘support network deployment and customer service’ – and that, readers, very much remains to be seen.

A third of the job losses will be made abroad in the company’s Global Services outfit (‘ou est le ingénieur téléphonique?!’), in the wake of a forecast predicting a 2% revenue drop over 2018-19.

Understandably, the national secretary of the Prospect union, Philippa Childs, has said the plans are ‘a devastating blow to managers and professionals represented by Prospect’.

BT CEO Gavin Paterson, who, incidentally, took home £1,057,000 in bonuses in 2015/16 on top of his £969,000 salary, said: ‘We have the UK’s leading fixed and mobile access networks, a portfolio of strong and well segmented brands, and close strategic partnerships.

‘This position of strength will enable us to build on the disciplined delivery and risk reduction of the last financial year, a period in which we delivered overall in line with our financial and operational commitments whilst addressing many uncertainties.’

***

Bad news, expensive-illegal-powder-of-unknown-provenance fans: US researchers claim they have built a cheap chip that can detect cocaine.

The team behind the breakthrough reckons a portable cocaine breathalyser might not be too far away, so users of the drug may soon have to toe the line.

According to Joshua Harris from UK road safety charity Brake, drug-driving played a part in 81 fatal road accidents in 2016. He said: ‘These findings have the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of roadside drug testing.

‘We are calling upon the government to prioritise the type-approval of roadside screening devices that can detect all banned drugs and step up roads policing levels to deter offending.’

So, if you currently enjoy giving £80 to a cagey stranger on a street corner for the pleasure of nasally consuming an obscure and completely unregulated substance before going for a little drive, it may be time to seek a new form of entertainment.

***

The UK’s communications watchdog has finally revealed some good news about the country’s embarrassingly listless home broadband services.

According to OFCOM, download speeds have climbed by 28% since the beginning of 2018 to a national average of 46.2Mbps (which certainly isn’t anywhere near true round my house but bully for everyone else).

Unsurprisingly, rural internet consumers continue to suffer lower speeds than urbanites – but, then, country folk aren’t being slowly poisoned to death by clouds of toxic exhaust fumes, so maybe that evens things out a bit?

In areas with lots of buildings in them (towns etc.), 59% of connections are considered by OFCOM to be ‘superfast’ – that is, they deliver average speeds of over 30Mbps during the hours of 8-10pm – while in areas with lots of fields in them, only 23% of connections can truly be adorned with that sobriquet

On a national level, England leads the pack with average speeds of 47.8Mbps, while Wales lags at the back of the pack with 33.4Mbps.

And that concludes today’s average broadband speeds update. I very much hope you enjoyed it.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

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