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FileMaker 17 launches with a renewed focus on the basics

FileMaker, the wholly owned Apple subsidiary, today launched version 17 of its low-code development platform, following the company’s standard annual release cadence. With today’s release, the company is doubling down on the basics that have lead it to a million active subscribers who now use the service across industries and in both small- and medium-sized companies, as well as large enterprises.

In the last release, the company added a number of tools that helped professional developers bring in outside data through APIs and other more pro-oriented features. Today’s release builds on that, but focuses more on the “lower-end of the tech acumen spectrum,” as FileMaker’s director of platform evangelism Andrew LeCates told me. He did note, though, that the company doesn’t really think about the distinction between professional and more casual users, though, since even professional developers often use it to quickly get a project off the ground.

With this release, FileMaker is launching a number of new starter apps that allow even novice users to quickly build a contacts app, a task management service, or an asset and inventory tracker, for example.

The service always featured starter apps, of course, but as LeCates noted, over time, those became larger and more complex, to the point where new users couldn’t just take them and easily learn from them. With the new starter apps, the FileMaker team focused on making them both easily adaptable to most companies’ needs, but also as a learning tool that gives new users an accessible way to see how the team structured the databases that power those apps, among other things.

Also new in this version is a redesigned layout mode that now makes the overall layout tools more discoverable. And for users who want to create a master-detail layout like in the example below (with the navigation ‘master’ items in a menu on the left and the details in a large pane on the right), FileMaker now offers the tools to do that, too. Until now, that wasn’t really possible because of the way the software handled some of the database queries necessary to build this kind of structure.

With this update, the team also made it easier to capture the sensor data from iPads and iPhones, including barometric pressure or compass headings, for example. That’s a small addition, but it builds upon other features like the addition of iBeacon support in previous versions. And talking about iBeacons, FileMaker now also supports local notifications on iOS that can be triggered when you get close to a beacon or cross into a geofenced area, for example.

Other new features include support for dragging and dropping text, photos and files between apps running on iOS 11.2 and up, as well as improvements to the Admin Console of the self-hosted FileMaker Server and to the more pro-oriented Data API.

It’s worth noting that with this update, FileMaker is also simplifying its product lineup a bit. The company is consolidating the FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Pro Advanced versions into a single product. Quite a few customers were clearly confused as to which version would be best for them (with Pro Advanced offering more hard-core developer features). Now, everybody will get the tools that were already available in the advanced version.


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A simple solution to end the encryption debate

Criminals and terrorists, like millions of others, rely on smartphone encryption to protect the information on their mobile devices. But unlike most of us, the data on their phones could endanger lives and pose a great threat to national security.

The challenge for law enforcement, and for us as a society, is how to reconcile the advantages of gaining access to the plans of dangerous individuals with the cost of opening a door to the lives of everyone else. It is the modern manifestation of the age-old conflict between privacy versus security, playing out in our pockets and palms.

One-size-fits all technological solutions, like a manufacturer-built universal backdoor tool for smartphones, likely create more dangers than they prevent. While no solution will be perfect, the best ways to square data access with security concerns require a more nuanced approach that rely on non-technological procedures.

The FBI has increasingly pressed the case that criminals and terrorists use smartphone security measures to avoid detection and investigation, arguing for a technological, cryptographic solution to stop these bad actors from “going dark.” In fact, there are recent reports that the Executive Branch is engaged in discussions to compel manufacturers to build technological tools so law enforcement can read otherwise-encrypted data on smartphones.

But the FBI is also tasked with protecting our nation against cyber threats. Encryption has a critical role in protecting our digital systems against compromises by hackers and thieves. And of course, a centralized data access tool would be a prime target for hackers and criminals. As recent events prove – from the 2016 elections to the recent ransomware attack against government computers in Atlanta – the problem will likely only become worse. Anything that weakens our cyber defenses will only make it more challenging for authorities to balance these “dual mandates” of cybersecurity and law enforcement access.

There is also the problem of internal threats: when they have access to customer data, service providers themselves can misuse or sell it without permission. Once someone’s data is out of their control, they have very limited means to protect it against exploitation. The current, growing scandal around the data harvesting practices on social networking platforms illustrates this risk. Indeed, our company Symphony Communications, a strongly encrypted messaging platform, was formed in the wake of a data misuse scandal by a service provider in the financial services sector.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So how do we help law enforcement without making data privacy even thornier than it already is? A potential solution is through a non-technological method, sensitive to the needs of all parties involved, that can sometimes solve the tension between government access and data protection while preventing abuse by service providers.

Agreements between some of our clients and the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYSDFS”), proved popular enough that FBI Director Wray recently pointed to them as a model of “responsible encryption” that solves the problem of “going dark” without compromising robust encryption critical to our nation’s business infrastructure.

The solution requires storage of encryption keys — the codes needed to decrypt data — with third party custodians. Those custodians would not keep these client’s encryption keys. Rather, they give the access tool to clients, and then clients can choose how to use it and to whom they wish to give access. A core component of strong digital security is that a service provider should not have access to client’s unencrypted data nor control over a client’s encryption keys.

The distinction is crucial. This solution is not technological, like backdoor access built by manufacturers or service providers, but a human solution built around customer control.  Such arrangements provide robust protection from criminals hacking the service, but they also prevent customer data harvesting by service providers.

Where clients choose their own custodians, they may subject those custodians to their own, rigorous security requirements. The clients can even split their encryption keys into multiple pieces distributed over different third parties, so that no one custodian can access a client’s data without the cooperation of the others.

This solution protects against hacking and espionage while safeguarding against the misuse of customer content by the service provider. But it is not a model that supports service provider or manufacturer built back doors; our approach keeps the encryption key control in clients’ hands, not ours or the government’s.

A custodial mechanism that utilizes customer-selected third parties is not the answer to every part of the cybersecurity and privacy dilemma. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that this dilemma will submit to a single solution, especially a purely technological one. Our experience shows that reasonable, effective solutions can exist. Technological features are core to such solutions, but just as critical are non-technological considerations. Advancing purely technical answers – no matter how inventive – without working through the checks, balances and risks of implementation would be a mistake.

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A senior officer, privy to the probe, said they were studying the report to ascertain the future course of action.

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More than two child rape cases daily in Delhi, experts call for policy for rehabilitation

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