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January 17, 2019
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Google raises its G Suite prices

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Google today announced that it is raising the price of its G Suite subscriptions for the first time. In the U.S., the prices of G Suite Basic and G Suite Business editions will increase by $1 and $2 per user/month, respectively, while increases in other regions will be adjusted according to the local currency and market. G Suite Enterprise pricing will remain the same.

The new pricing will go into effect on April 2; those on annual plans will pay the new price when their contract renews after that date.

Usually, a $1 or $2 price increase wouldn’t be a big deal, but this is the first time Google has raised the price of its G Suite subscriptions. The company argues that it has added plenty of new services — like video conferencing with Hangouts Meet, team messaging with Hangouts Chat, increased storage quotas and other security and productivity tools and services — to the platform since it first launched its paid service with its core productivity tools back in 2006.

That seems like a fair argument to me, though a 20 percent price increase may be hard to swallow for some small businesses. It’s also worth remembering that G Suite is now big business for Google. There are now more than 4 million businesses on G Suite, after all, and while some of them are surely on enterprise plans with a price point their teams negotiated privately, the vast majority of them are surely on the standard monthly or annual plans.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Byju’s buys Osmo for $120M to add blended learning to its $4B digital education business

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Weeks after it raised a massive $540 million funding round, Indian education unicorn Byju’s is on the M&A path. The company announced today it has snapped up U.S-based Osmo, a startup that develops apps for kids that use offline input, in a deal worth $120 million.

Osmo has raised over $30 million from investors that include Mattel, Sesame Workshop, Upfront Ventures, K9 Ventures and Accel. They were offered a cash option but elected for an all-stock payout, Osmo CEO Pramod Sharma told TechCrunch in an interview. That, he added, is a “validation of the level of confidence” that they have in Osmo combining its resources with Byju’s, which is valued at nearly $4 billion from that recent funding round that featured Naspers, Tencent and others.

Founded by former Googlers Sharma and Jerome Scholler, the Osmo service was launched at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in 2013, when it was initially called Tangible Play. The company combines the benefits of digital and offline learning using a dozen or so apps that tie into customized hardware, that’s a base designed for iPads or Amazon Kindle Fire tables alongside a red reflector and game pieces — as pictured above.

The result is ‘blended learning’ apps that integrate offline activities, varying from drawing to math, spelling and even making pizza, to help children aged between 5 and 12 learn. Currently, Sharma said, it is used in around 20,000 schools and it has reached around a million families, 90 percent of which are in the U.S.

That puts it squarely into the bracket of companies that Byju’s founder Byju Raveendran told TechCrunch that his company was seeking to snap up using its newly-acquired war chest.

In an interview announcing the fund last month, Raveendran said he wanted “product-based acquisitions that will be value-adds on top of our core product.”

Byju Raveendran founded Byju’s as an offline learning center business in 2008, today it is worth nearly $4 billion thanks to a thriving digital education business with over a million paying customers. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

In that respect, Osmo is an ideal complement to Byju’s existing business, which covers educational courses for grades 4-12 using a combination of videos, games and other materials and counts. It currently counts 30 million registered students to date and 1.3 million paying users with a specific focus on India. But, with its new funding in the bank, it is preparing a new service that will offer a number of courses in English for children aged 3-8 based across the world.

Raveendran and Sharma said that the immediate plan post-acquisition will see a huge increase in content for the Osmo platform, while the price of the hardware — which currently ranges from $99-$189 — may also be reduced to help grow the audience beyond its current base.

“For us to grow, we need to invest in content,” Sharma said. “We have a lot of ideas [and] have proven a set of interactions, [but] a lot can be expanded with more content and levels. We’ve proven this is a compelling platform for learning, and we are nowhere close to scaling it… our goal is to get it to every child.”

Osmo offers three different packages to customers wishing to buy its equipment for children

Echoing those comments, Raveendran said Osmo can “reach its maximum potential” with more content while he stressed that there is plenty of cross-pollination potential between the two companies.

“We’re asking: ‘How can we bring some of the offline learning kids do, is there a way to capture that back onto the app and personalize the learning experiences further?’” he said. “There’s overlap between Osmo users and the products we are building [so] how we can use that for multiple education use scenarios, even possibility for higher grades?”

Ten-year-old Byju’s started out in offline learning before moving into digital courses in 2015. Its push online has seen it do a number of deals and Osmo represents its fourth acquisition. But beyond being its most expensive, Raveendran hailed the acquisition as his company’s “most important” deal to date.

“We have video as a format, games as a format, and we think of Cosmo like a format… we could have thousands of supported apps,” he told TechCrunch by phone. “Education is not purely an online experience, especially for younger kids [so] the potential is huge if there’s a clear online-to-offline application.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

DuckDuckGo debuts map search results using Apple Maps

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DuckDuckGo has a new, unlikely partner in search: Apple.

The privacy-focused search engine that promises to never track its users said Tuesday it’s now using data provided by Apple Maps to power its map-based search results. Although DuckDuckGo had provided limited mapping results for a while using data from open-source service OpenStreetMap, it never scaled its features to those of its search engine rivals, notably Google and Bing.

Now, DuckDuckGo will return addresses, businesses, geographical locations, and nearby places using Apple Maps by default. (When we tested, directions and transit times open up in Apple Maps on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad — but on non-Apple devices, the directions defaults to and opens in Bing.)

In using Apple’s mapping data, DuckDuckGo will become one of the biggest users of Apple Maps to date, six months after Apple said it would open up Apple Maps, long only available on Macs, iPhones and iPads, to the web.

“We’re excited to work closely with Apple to set a new standard of trust online, and we hope you’ll enjoy this update,” said the search engine in a blog post.

DuckDuckGo in the Tor browser, using the new Apple Maps feature. (Screenshot: TechCrunch)

In reality, the partnership isn’t that unsurprising at all.

Apple faced flak for ditching Google Maps in iOS and rushing its overhauled Maps service out to the market, prompting a rare mea culpa from chief executive Tim Cook, apologizing for the disastrous rollout. At its most recent Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple promised a do-over, offering reliability and stability — but more importantly, privacy.

Where Google tracks everything you do, where you go and what you search for, Apple has long said it doesn’t want to know. Any data that Apple collects is anonymous, said Eddy Cue, Apple internet software and services chief, in an interview with TechCrunch last year. “We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B,” said Cue. By anonymizing the data, Apple doesn’t know where you came from or where you went, or even who took the trip.

DuckDuckGo finally brings a much-needed feature to the search engine, while keeping true to its privacy-focused roots as a non-tracking search rival to Google.

“At DuckDuckGo, we believe getting the privacy you deserve online should be as simple as closing the blinds,” the company said. “Naturally, our strict privacy policy of not collecting or sharing any personal information extends to this integration.”

“You are still anonymous when you perform map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo,” the search engine said.

In a separate note, DuckDuckGo said users can turn on their location for better “nearby” search results, but promises to not store the data or use it for any purposes. “Even if you opt-in to sharing a more accurate location, your searches will still be completely anonymous,” said DuckDuckGo.

“We do not send any personally identifiable information such as IP address to Apple or other third parties,” the company said.

DuckDuckGo processes 30 million daily searches, up by more than 50 percent year-over-year, the company said last year.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Flaws in Amadeus’ airline booking system made it easy for hackers to change passenger records

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You might not know Amadeus by name, but hundreds of millions of travelers use it each year.

Whether you’re traveling for work or vacation, most consumers book their flights through one of a handful of bespoke reservation systems used across the commercial aviation industry. Amadeus is one of the largest reservation systems, serving customers of Air France, British Airways, Icelandair, and Qantas and more. And each reservation system has to be able to talk to each other through the global distribution system backchannel.

Without these interconnected systems, most governments have no idea who’s coming and going.

Even in this day and age of passwords for everything and facial recognition at the departure gate, all that sits between you and someone rebooking a flight is a passenger’s surname and the booking reference on your ticket, known as the passenger name record — or PNR.

But these outdated and archaic passenger records systems needed to share travelers’ data internationally never considered security on the scale that’s needed today, and are woefully inadequate in keeping passenger records safe.

Israeli security researcher Noam Rotem knows all too well.

He found that any airline using Amadeus made it easy to edit and change someone’s reservation with just their booking reference number. No surname needed. In some cases, he didn’t even need to obtain someone’s booking number.

Rotem explained in a write-up, shared with TechCrunch before his public disclosure, that he could plug in anyone’s booking reference in a buggy web address on Israeli airline El Al’s website — in spite of being required to enter a surname on the website’s check-in page.

That not only lowers the bar for someone wanting to manipulate a person’s booking, such as changing seats and rerouting frequent miler numbers, said Rotem, but it’s also easy to obtain a person’s personal information, such as their phone number, and email and home addresses, from the airline.

How secure is the six-digit booking reference itself? History says that it’s still far too easy to obtain.

If your six-digit booking reference isn’t already on your boarding pass, ticket or luggage tag, you’ll still find it embedded in the barcode. That barcode, decrypted several years ago, can be easily read by most mobile barcode apps, making it easy for criminals to walk around the check-in area or departure’s lounge and scan a photo of your ticket when you’re not looking.

Worse, the average hacker wouldn’t have to leave their house. Dozens of people post their boarding passes — and their barcodes — to Twitter and Instagram every day, under the hashtags #boardingpass and #planetickets.

Some of the many boarding passes posted to Twitter and Instagram in a single day. (Image: TechCrunch)

But Rotem said that inherent weaknesses in how reservation systems generate passenger name record numbers in the first place made it easy to brute-force any Amadeus-linked airline website with a hacker’s own generated booking references.

Because Amadeus’ system didn’t limit how many requests could be processed at any given time, Romet could run a script generating booking references at random, which he says were “simply guessed,” then plugging them into the vulnerable web address and waiting for a positive response to return.In some cases, the script found booking references attached to real customers. Because parts of each Amadeus-generated booking references are sequential, it makes it easy to continue the attack on passengers with similar or the same surname. And, there were no rate limits, allowing the researcher to run as many requests each minute as he wanted, speeding up the process. (TechCrunch saw a short video of the script generating booking reference numbers, but didn’t verify any as logging in with someone else’s booking reference would be unlawful.)

A skilled attacker could, for example, use this technique to book their own flights or siphoning off accumulated air miles. A bored hacker, however, could wreak havoc on any number of passengers’ credit cards.

In all, Amadeus’ website claims it supports more than 200 airlines. We were curious how far the vulnerability went.

Using cookie data collected from El Al, TechCrunch was able to find dozens of other affected airlines using data collected by RiskIQ, a cyber threat intelligence firm, which scours the web for information. “During RiskIQ’s crawls, our crawlers act like the browser they are instructed to emulate, which means they will maintain cookies and other site-specific metadata,” said Yonathan Klijnsma, a threat researcher at RiskIQ.

We reached out to several of the larger airlines believed to be affected by the vulnerability, but nobody from Air France, British Airways, Icelandair, and Qantas commented when reached prior to publication.

When reached, Amadeus confirmed it was alerted to an issue and took “immediate action,” said a spokesperson. “We are working closely with our customers and we regret any disruption this situation may have caused.”

“We work with our customers and partners in the industry to address PNR security overall. The airline industry relies on IATA standards that were introduced to improve efficiency and customer service on a global scale. Because the industry works on common industry standards, including the PNR, further improvements should include reviewing and changing some of the industry standards themselves, which requires industry collaboration,” the statement added. “At Amadeus, we give security the highest priority and are constantly monitoring and updating all of our products and systems.”

Rotem suggested bot protection mechanisms and limits to how many requests can be submitted during a certain period of time could prevent automated attacks in the future, but that the underlying problems remain. That isn’t likely to change without an industry-wide effort to change how reservations are made.

In reality, we’re stuck with PNR for a while — and it’s a problem that’s not going away any time soon.


Got a tip? You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755–8849. You can also send PGP email with the fingerprint: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google cans the Chromecast Audio

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The Chromecast Audio is no more. Google has decided to stop manufacturing the audio dongle that allowed you to add any ‘dumb’ speaker to your Google Cast setup. If you still want one, you’ll have to hurry — and to entice you to buy a discontinued product, Google is now selling its remaining inventory for $15 instead of $35.

“Our product portfolio continues to evolve, and now we have a variety of products for users to enjoy audio,” Google told us  in a statement. “We have therefore stopped manufacturing our Chromecast Audio products. We will continue to offer assistance for Chromecast Audio devices, so users can continue to enjoy their music, podcasts and more.”

While the Chromecast turned out to be a major hit for Google, the Chromecast Audio was always more of a niche product.

Google is clearly more interested in getting people to buy its Google Home products and Assistant- or Cast-enabled speakers from its partners. It’s also worth noting that all Google Home devices can connect to Bluetooth enabled speakers, though plenty of people surely have a nice speaker setup at home that doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth support. “Bluetooth adapters suck,” Google told us at the time, though at this point, it seems a Bluetooth adapter may just be the way to go.

The Chromecast Audio first launched back in 2015, in conjunction with the second-generation Chromecast. Over the years, the Chromecast Audio received numerous updates that enabled features like multi-room support. Google says it’ll continue to support Chromcast Audio users for the time being, so if you have already invested in this ecosystem, you should be set for a few more years.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

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