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April 21, 2019

Mueller says use of encrypted messaging stalled some lines of inquiry

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A single paragraph in the Mueller report out Thursday offers an interesting look into how the Special Counsel’s investigation came head-to-head with associates of President Trump who used encrypted and ephemeral messaging to hide their activities.

From the report:

Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated-including some associated with the Trump Campaign — deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.

The report didn’t spell out specifics of whom or why, but clearly Mueller wasn’t happy. He was talking about encrypted messaging apps that also delete conversation histories over a period of time. Apps like Signal and WhatsApp are popular for this exact reason — you can communicate securely and wipe any trace after the fact.

Clearly, some of Trump’s associates knew better.

But where prosecutors who have faced similar setbacks with individuals using encrypted messaging apps to hide their tracks have often attacked tech companies for building the secure apps, Mueller did not. He just stated a fact and left it at that.

For years, police and law enforcement have lobbied against encryption because they say it hinders investigations. More and more, apps are using end-to-end encryption — where the data is scrambled from one device to another — so that even the tech companies can’t read their users’ messages. But just as criminals use encrypted messaging for bad, ordinary people use encrypted messaging to keep their conversations private.

According to the report, it wasn’t just those on the campaign trail. The hackers associated with the Russian government and WikiLeaks, both of which were in contact following the breaches on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, took efforts to “hide their communications.”

Not all of Trump’s associates have fared so well over the years.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, learned the hard way that encrypted messaging apps are all good and well — unless someone has your phone. Federal agents seized Cohen’s BlackBerry, allowing prosecutors to recover streams of WhatsApp and Telegram chats with Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort.

Manafort, the only person jailed as part of the Mueller investigation, also tripped up after his “opsec fail” after prosecutors obtained a warrant to access his backed-up messages stored in iCloud.

Uber, Lyft implement new safety measures

Uber and Lyft instituted new safety features and policies this week.

The move follows the death of Samantha Josephson, a student at the University of South Carolina, who was kidnapped and murdered in late March. She was found dead after getting into a vehicle that she believed to be her Uber ride. The murder, which has garnered nationwide media attention, seems to have spurred action by the ridesharing behemoths.

In response, Uber is launching the Campus Safety Initiative, which includes new features in the app. Currently, the features are in testing, and they remind riders to check the license plate, make and model of the car, as well as the driver’s name and picture, before ever entering into a vehicle. The test is running in South Carolina, in partnership with the University of South Carolina, with plans to roll out nationwide.

Lyft, which went public on March 29, has implemented continuous background checks for drivers this week. (Uber has had this in place since last year.) Lyft also enhanced its identity verification process for drivers, which combines driver’s license verification and photographic identity verification to prevent driver identity fraud on the platform.

Uber, prepping to debut on the public market, is taking the safety precautions seriously. The new system reminds riders about checking their ride three separate times: the first is a banner at the bottom of the app once the ride has been ordered, the second is a warning to check license plate, car details and photo, and the third is an actual push notification before the driver arrives reminding riders to check once more.

Alongside the reminder system, Uber is also working to build out dedicated pickup zones in the Five Points district of Columbia, with plans to roll out dedicated pickup zones at other U.S. universities.

That said, Uber has also warned investors ahead of its IPO about a forthcoming safety report on the company, which could be damaging to the brand. The report is supposed to be released sometime this year, and will give the public its first comprehensive look at the scale of safety incidents and issues that occur on the platform.

“The public responses to this transparency report or similar public reporting of safety incidents claimed to have occurred on our platform … may result in negative media coverage and increased regulatory scrutiny and could adversely affect our reputation with platform users,” said Uber in its April 14 IPO paperwork.

Indeed, the issue of safety on platforms like Uber and Lyft, or really any app that asks you to be alone with total strangers, goes well beyond any single incident. A CNN investigation found that 103 Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the last four years.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft delves deeper into IoT with Express Logic acquisition

Microsoft has never been shy about being acquisitive, and today it announced it’s buying Express Logic, a San Diego company that has developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) aimed at controlling the growing number of IoT devices in the world.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

Express Logic is not some wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky startup. It has been around for 23 years, building (in its own words) “industrial-grade RTOS and middleware software solutions for embedded and IoT developers.” The company boasts some 6.2 billion (yes, billion) devices running its systems. That number did not escape Sam George, director of Azure IoT at Microsoft, but as he wrote in a blog post announcing the deal, there is a reason for this popularity.

“This widespread popularity is driven by demand for technology to support resource constrained environments, especially those that require safety and security,” George wrote.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, says that market share also gives Microsoft instant platform credibility. “This is a key acquisition for Microsoft: on the strategy side Microsoft is showing it is serious with investing heavily into IoT, and on the product side it’s a key step to get into the operating system code of the popular RTOS,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The beauty of Express Logic’s approach is that it can work in low-power and low-resource environments and offers a proven solution for a range or products. “Manufacturers building products across a range of categories — from low-capacity sensors like lightbulbs and temperature gauges to air conditioners, medical devices and network appliances — leverage the size, safety and security benefits of Express Logic solutions to achieve faster time to market,” George wrote.

Writing in a blog post to his customers announcing the deal, Express Logic CEO William E. Lamie, expressed optimism that the company can grow even further as part of the Microsoft family. “Effective immediately, our ThreadX RTOS and supporting software technology, as well as our talented engineering staff join Microsoft. This complements Microsoft’s existing premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” he wrote.

Microsoft is getting an established company with a proven product that can help it scale its Azure IoT business. The acquisition is part of a $5 billion investment in IoT the company announced last April that includes a number of Azure pieces, such as Azure Sphere, Azure Digital Twins, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Maps and Azure IoT Central.

“With this acquisition, we will unlock access to billions of new connected endpoints, grow the number of devices that can seamlessly connect to Azure and enable new intelligent capabilities. Express Logic’s ThreadX RTOS joins Microsoft’s growing support for IoT devices and is complementary with Azure Sphere, our premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” George wrote.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Daily Crunch: Samsung responds to Galaxy Fold concerns

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Samsung responds to reviewer complaints about its Galaxy Fold phone

Samsung has issued a statement about its new folding phone. Apparently a number of reviewers either mistakenly destroyed their phone screens or had the screens bork on them after a few days of use.

In response, the company said it “will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.”

2. Pinterest prices IPO above range

The company will sell 75 million shares of Class A common stock at $19 apiece in an offering that should attract $1.4 billion in new capital for the visual search engine.

3. Apple expands global recycling programs, announces new Material Recovery Lab in Austin

Apple says it’s building a new, 9,000-square-foot Material Recovery Lab based in Austin, Texas, focused on discovering future recycling processes.

Special counsel Robert Mueller (L) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

4. The Mueller Report

Granted, this isn’t primarily a tech story, but it’s obviously going to be the big news of the day, and tech plays a key role. Check out all our coverage of the latest developments at the link above.

5. Twitter acqui-hires highlight-sharing app Highly

The company is scooping up the team behind highlight-sharing app Highly. This talent could help Twitter build its own version of Highly or develop other ways to excerpt the best content from websites and get it into the timeline.

6. Phantom Auto raises $13.5M to expand remote driving business to delivery bots and forklifts

Autonomous vehicles are hard and everyone seems to be waking up to that fact. Companies like Phantom Auto are expanding into new areas as they wait for autonomous vehicle developers to catch up.

7. Salesforce is buying MapAnything, a startup that raised over $84M

MapAnything helps companies build location-based workflows, something that could come in handy for sales or service calls.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Soylent now sells solid snack bars

Soylent is leaving liquids behind as it journeys deeper into the packaged food business with a selection of snack sized bars.

The 100 calorie bar has 5 grams of plant protein, 36 nutrients and probiotics for digestive health. Snack bars come in three flavors — chocolate brownie,  citrus berry and salted caramel.

It’s the second new product launch for Soylent this year. In January the company came out with a single sized version of its pre-packaged meal replacement shakes called the “Soylent Bridge”.

Pitching snack-sized bars opens the company up to an even bigger market than its shakes and liquids. Data from Research and Markets indicates that snack bar sales in the U.S. alone could reach $8.8 billion by 2023.

“It’s very much a step on the road. It’s a  big one for us and one that we’re extremely excited for given the focus for better for you sustainable nutrition. We’re moving into the chewable bar space in a more disruptive way,” says chief executive, Brian Crowley. “We’re on this journey of moving from a morning meal replacement in drink, ready to drink and powder to a complete nutrition platform you can enjoy throughout the day.”

Soylent snack bars

Its expansion into the snack bar scene also serves to differentiate Soylent (whose name is derived from the soy bean and lentil food featured in the 1960’s novel “Make Room! Make Room!” and not the better known version which made its way into the big screen adaptation) from competitors like Huel.

Launched in the UK, but with a strong presence in Los Angeles now, Huel raised $26 million (GBP 20 million) from Highland Europe to expand sales of its powders and packaged drinks into new geographies (chiefly, it would seem, in the U.S.).

Meanwhile, French consumers are already enjoying solid snacks and shakes from Feed — a Soylent-like startup that’s selling in Europe.

Soylent consumers shouldn’t expect to see the company move into some of the more arcane arts practiced by the “self-optimization” crowd. “Look at the Bulletproofs and the functional supplements and the nootropics… There is good science behind them, but it’s serving an affluent audience,” Crowley says.

Crowley wants Soylent to be a low-cost highly nutritional option for every consumer.

The company says all the bars contain the same ingredients as the company’s lines of ready-to-drink liquids and powders — macronutrients combined with 26 vitamins and minerals, 9 amino acids, 2 essential fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6.

The bars do add probiotics to support digestive health and contain 3 grams of sugar.

Currently, the bars are only sold online by the case — and each case holds 30 squares.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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