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Qualcom makes visual leap

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Qualcomm Technologies has introduced two new mobile platforms it says are designed to support a leap in performance to enable advanced photography and enhanced gaming, in addition to long battery life and fast LTE speeds. 

The Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms include the Snapdragon 660 and 630 SoCs (systems on chip), which encompass the baseband functionalities, as well as software and hardware components, including RF front end, integrated Wi-Fi, power management, audio codec and speaker amplifier, all to support a comprehensive mobile solution.

“With the introduction of the Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms, we are thrilled that features such as improved image quality and fast LTE speeds will now be available in a wide array of devices without sacrificing performance or quality,” said Kedar Kondap, vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “This ensures that a greater number of consumers will be able to take advantage of higher quality user experiences in camera, audio and visual processing, connectivity, improved CPU and GPU performance, fast charging, security and machine learning.”

The Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms focus on seven categories of features:

  • Camera: The Qualcomm Spectra 160 premium camera ISP supports improved photographic image quality for more natural skin tones, superior low light photography, as well as better power efficiency and higher throughput for dual camera smartphones.  Also supported are features like smooth optical zoom, bokeh effects, dual pixel autofocus, and improved camcorder video stabilization;
  • Audio/Visual Processing: The Qualcomm Hexagon 680 DSP featuring vector extensions (HVX) on the Snapdragon 660 Mobile Platform enables high performance, power efficient processing of imaging, computer vision, and machine intelligence workloads, another first in the 600 tier. Optimized software libraries include support for TensorFlow and Halide. Both platforms also support Qualcomm All-Ways Aware technology with support for the Google Awareness API. This technology provides Qualcomm Technologies’ next generation of always-on contextual experiences and uses very low power running on the Hexagon DSP;
  • Connectivity: The Snapdragon 660 and 630 both feature a Snapdragon X12 LTE Modem, paired with the new SDR660 RF transceiver, which support peak downlink data rates of 600Mbps to the 600-tier lineup of SOCs for the first time. The Snapdragon 660 supports 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi for twice as much data throughput and 60 percent lower download power consumption as the Snapdragon 652. It also offers improved coverage, especially in homes, and offices with hard to penetrate brick and concrete walls as well as advanced features such as LTE/Wi-Fi antenna sharing, and Dual Band Simultaneous (DBS) operation. Both platforms also come with advanced RF front-end support including Qualcomm TruSignal adaptive antenna tuning with carrier aggregation, designed to dynamically optimize signal quality in varying user conditions for wide network coverage and more consistent data and voice experience. The Snapdragon 660 and 630 are the first 600-tier chipsets with envelope tracking technology, including high-power user equipment (HPUE) support, for superior power efficiency and thermal performance. Both platforms also integrate powerful location engines with better sensitivity and support for new constellations (Galileo and QZSS) for faster location fix, enhancements to support mandatory emergency service requirements, as well as smoother pedestrian navigation with up to 50 – 75 percent lower power consumption (compared to previous generation). Both platforms also feature Bluetooth 5 support, which doubles the amount of data that devices can transfer compared to the previous iteration;
  • Improved CPU and GPU: The Snapdragon 660 Mobile Platform is the successor to the Snapdragon 653 and features a 20 percent improvement in the Qualcomm Kryo 260 CPU and 30 percent improvement in the Qualcomm Adreno 512 GPU performance, ensuring a better gaming and multimedia experience for end users. The Snapdragon 630, which succeeds the Snapdragon 625, offers a 30 percent increase in the Adreno 508 GPU performance over its predecessor, as well as a 10 percent increase in CPU performance over its predecessor. Both platforms are designed to offer excellent battery life;
  • Qualcomm Quick Charge 4: The Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms feature the latest innovations in Quick Charge technology, which supports up to 5 hours of talk time in just 5 minutes of charging and up to 50 percent battery life in just 15 minutes of charging;
  • Security: Both platforms support Qualcomm Mobile Security, which provides security focused hardware-based protection, user authentication and device attestation on the mobile device;
  • Machine Learning: OEMs and developers can also power immersive and engaging user experiences with machine learning on the Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms using the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine SDK. This heterogeneous software framework offers support for Caffe/Caffe2 and TensorFlow, making it easy to target and run neural networks on the Snapdragon core that matches the power and performance profile of the desired feature – CPU, GPU or DSP/HVX.

The Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms share the same modem and camera architecture, and are pin and software compatible, making it simpler and easier for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build, test and calibrate their devices. Both platforms use a 14nm FinFET process and provide 4K video capture and playback capabilities, along with 8GB maximum memory and Vulkan API support. Additionally, the Snapdragon 660 Mobile Platform supports displays up to QHD (2K) resolution, whereas the 630 supports FHD/QXGA (1080p).

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Which IoT horse should you back?

The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.

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But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.

Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).

Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:

SIGFOX 

SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.

It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.

LORA 

LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.

Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.

RPMA 

Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.

It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.

LTE-M 

LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.

It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.

Key features include:

·       Voice functionality via VoLTE

·       Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over

·       Low power consumption

·       Extended in‑building range

NB-IOT 

Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.

NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.

MY FORECAST

The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:

1.     Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations

2.     The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies

3.     A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again

So, which horse should you back?

I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.

The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.

So: do your homework. And good luck!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.

Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.

The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.

The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.

After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.

For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.

“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
  • 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
  • Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
  • Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
  • Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
    • 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
    • 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).

To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:

  • Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
  • Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.

  • Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.
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