Grab launches a bike-sharing service in Southeast Asia

After much speculation, Southeast Asian Uber rival Grab has jumped into the bike-sharing space after it launched a service in Singapore.

GrabCycle Beta will offer services from a range of services, including bike-sharing services oBike — which includes Grab as an investor — GBikes and Anywheel, plus electric scooter rental Popscoot. The project is the first to launch under GrabVentures, Grab’s new “innovation arm” which is focused on projects in verticals beyond taxi rides such as payments and transportation.

The project ties into Grab’s payment efforts because GrabPay credits, its virtual currency, are used to pay to rent a cycle.

While dock-less bikes have their fans for making access to bikes easier, they have also adopted criticism for large cycle ‘dumps’ which have become commonplace across China. Grab is looking to mitigate that concern by partnering with Singapore island resort Sentosa, which will feature dedicated parking stations for bikes. The company plans to add other partners to help avoid “polluting public spaces” with cycles.

“In Singapore, approximately one in five car commutes are three kilometers and under. There is huge potential to convert this segment of commuters into bike-sharing users, in support of the country’s car-lite ambition,” Grab wrote in an announcement that was distributed to press today.

In adopting a marketplace-style model from the get-go, Grab is avoiding the issues that Didi — a Grab investor — encountered in China when it invested in bike-sharing company Ofo. As demand for bike-sharing rocketed, Ofo found itself becoming a potential threat to Didi. Throw in some internal politics between investor and investee, and Didi moved to counter the younger company by introducing a marketplace that served bikes of its own, alongside those from Ofo and Bluegogo.

The move was essentially aimed at relegating Ofo to a feature within Didi’s app in a bid to remove the need for consumers — and potential Didi customers — to install Ofo’s own app. That’s important because Mobike, an Ofo rival, has moved into taxi services and there is the potential for Ofo to do the same at some point.

Back to Southeast Asia, Grab’s service is initially operational in Singapore, where the firm is headquartered, but there is the potential to expand it to other markets in Southeast Asia, a spokesperson confirmed. Right now, the core Grab service is present in eight countries across the region with 86 million downloads and 2.6 million drivers.

Rumors persist that Grab is on the brink of agreeing to a deal that will see it acquire Uber’s Southeast Asia business in exchange for equity, according to Bloomberg. Any such deal would make it the dominant player across the region bar Indonesia, where local unicorn Go-Jek remains top of the pile.

Uber has moved into bike-sharing in the U.S. but it has not done the same in Southeast Asia despite its head of the region admitting to TechCrunch that the company is studying space.

Source: TechCrunch

Hackers infect thousands of websites to mine cryptocurrencies

Researchers warn about a kind of malware that can deliver profits without being obvious to users. — AFP Relaxnews

The attack is the first major incident made public in which a new breed of hackers took over a large numbers of websites to effectively create currencies like bitcoin which are generated by using computing power.

The attacks made public over the weekend by British security researcher Scott Helme showed more than 4,000 website were infected in this manner, including those of the British data protection and privacy watchdog and the US federal courts system.

Unlike traditional attacks, these infections do not contain “ransomware” or steal data, but operate in stealth mode to make profits from the shadowy world of cryptocurrencies.

Helme said in a blog post that the hackers were able to reach large numbers of websites by infecting a commonly used “plug-in,” or software which helps a site run better. In this case, the hackers used the malicious software to create Monero, one of several new cryptocurrencies which are making a splash in financial markets.

“If you want to load a crypto miner on 1,000 websites you don’t attack 1,000 websites, you attack the one website that they all load content from,” he said.

The creator of the plug-in, the British software firm TextHelp, said it took the affected software offline after it discovered the “attempt to illegally generate cryptocurrency”. “This was a criminal act and a thorough investigation is currently underway,” the company said in a statement.

Researchers have been warning in recent weeks about this kind of malware, which can deliver profits without being obvious to users. Security researchers at Cisco Talos warned last month that this kind of hacking activity “has exponentially increased”.

Because of the huge financial gains in cryptocurrencies, Cisco researchers said this has become a prime target for hackers. “At a high level mining is simply using system resources to solve large mathematical calculations which result in some amount of cryptocurrency being awarded to the solvers,” Cisco researchers wrote in a research note.

Security researcher Graham Cluley said the latest attack highlights vulnerabilities in websites which may have weaknesses in third party components.

“Things could have been much worse,” Cluley said in a blog post. “Imagine if the plug-in had been tampered with to steal login passwords rather than steal CPU resources from visiting computers.” — AFP Relaxnews

Source: The Star Online

Meltdown & Spectre – Computer chip ‘flaw’ sparks security debate amid scramble for fix

Intel said it was working with AMD and ARM Holdings and with the makers of computer operating software “to develop an industry-wide approach to resolve this issue promptly and constructively.” — Reuters

WASHINGTON: A newly discovered vulnerability in computer chips raised concerns Jan 3 that hackers could access sensitive data on most modern systems, as technology firms sought to play down the security risks.

Chip giant Intel issued a statement responding to a flurry of warnings surfacing after researchers discovered the security hole which could allow privately stored data in computers and networks to be leaked.

Intel labelled as incorrect reports describing a “bug” or “flaw” unique to its products.

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich told CNBC that “basically all modern processers across all applications” use this process known as “access memory,” which was discovered by researchers at Google and kept confidential as companies work on remedies.

Google, meanwhile, released findings from its security researchers who sparked the concerns, saying it made the results public days ahead of schedule because much of the information had been in the media.

The security team found “serious security flaws” in devices powered by Intel, AMD and ARM chips and the operating systems running them and noted that, if exploited, “an unauthorised party may read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications.”

“As soon as we learned of this new class of attack, our security and product development teams mobilised to defend Google’s systems and our users’ data,” Google said in a security blog.

“We have updated our systems and affected products to protect against this new type of attack. We also collaborated with hardware and software manufacturers across the industry to help protect their users and the broader web.”

Spectre and Meltdown

The Google team said the vulnerabilities, labelled “Spectre” and “Meltdown,” affected a number of chips from Intel as well as some from AMD and ARM, which specializes in processors for mobile devices.

Intel said it was working with AMD and ARM Holdings and with the makers of computer operating software “to develop an industry-wide approach to resolve this issue promptly and constructively.”

Jack Gold, an independent technology analyst, said he was briefed in a conference call with Intel, AMD and ARM on the issue and that the three companies suggested concerns were overblown.

“All the chips are designed that way,” Gold said.

The companies were working on remedies after “some researchers found a way to use existing architecture and get into protected areas of computer memory and read some of the data,” he added.

Microsoft said in a statement it had no information suggesting any compromised data but was “releasing security updates today to protect Windows customers against vulnerabilities.”

But an AMD spokesman said that because of the differences in AMD processor architecture, “we believe there is near zero risk to AMD products at this time.”

ARM meanwhile said it was “working together with Intel and AMD” to address potential issues “in certain high-end processors, including some of our Cortex-A processors.”

“We have informed our silicon partners and are encouraging them to implement the software mitigations developed if their chips are impacted,” the SoftBank-owned firm said.


Earlier this week, some researchers said any fix – which would need to be handled by software – could slow down computer systems, possibly by 30% or more.

Intel’s statement said these concerns, too, were exaggerated.

“Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time,” the company statement said.

Tatu Ylonen, security researcher at SSH Communications Security, said the patches “will be effective” but it will be critical to get all networks and cloud services upgraded, Ylonen said.

British security researcher Graham Cluley also expressed concern “that attackers could exploit the flaw on vulnerable systems to gain access to parts of the computer’s memory which may be storing sensitive information. Think passwords, private keys, credit card data.”

But he said in a blog post that it was “good news” that the problem had been kept under wraps to allow operating systems such as those from Microsoft and Apple to make security updates before the flaw is maliciously exploited. — AFP

Source: The Star Online

Apple plans to combine iPhone, iPad, Mac apps

Apple is reportedly planning to give people a way to use a single set of apps that work equally well across its family of devices: iPhones, iPads and Macs. — Bloomberg

Apple Inc’s iPhone and iPad introduced a novel way of interacting with computers: via easy-to-use applications, accessible in the highly curated App Store.

The same approach hasn’t worked nearly as well on Apple’s desktops and laptops. The Mac App Store is a ghost town of limited selection and rarely updated programs. Now Apple plans to change that by giving people a way to use a single set of apps that work equally well across its family of devices: iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

Developers currently must design two different apps – one for iOS, the operating system of Apple’s mobile devices, and one for macOS, the system that runs Macs. That’s a lot more work. What’s more, Apple customers have long complained that some Mac apps get short shrift.

For example, while the iPhone and iPad Twitter app is regularly updated with the social network’s latest features, the Mac version hasn’t been refreshed recently and is widely considered substandard. With a single app for all machines, Mac, iPad and iPhone users will get new features and updates at the same time.

Unifying the apps could help the iOS and macOS platforms “evolve and grow as one, and not one at the expense of the other,” says Steven Troughton-Smith, an app developer and longtime voice in the Apple community. “This would be the biggest change to Apple’s software platform since iOS was introduced.”

Apple is developing the strategy as part of the next major iOS and macOS updates, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter. Codenamed “Marzipan,” the secret project is planned as a multiyear effort that will start rolling out as early as next year and may be announced at the company’s annual developers conference in the summer. The plans are still fluid, the people said, so the implementation could change or the project could still be cancelled.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Apple wouldn’t be first to bring mobile and desktop apps closer together. Before it discontinued Windows software for smartphones, Microsoft Corp pushed a technology called Universal Windows Platform that let developers create single applications that would run on all of its devices – tablets, phones, and full-fledged computers. Similarly, Google has brought the Play mobile app store to some laptops running its desktop Chrome OS, letting computer users run smartphone and tablet apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

It’s unclear if Apple plans to merge the separate Mac and iOS App Stores as well, but it is notable that the version of the store running on iPhones and iPads was redesigned this year while the Mac version has not been refreshed since 2014.

Apple’s apps initiative is part of a larger, longer-term push to make the underpinnings of its hardware and software more similar. Several years ago, the company began designing its own processors for iOS devices. It has started doing the same for the Mac, recently launching a T2 chip in the iMac Pro that offloads features like security and power management from the main Intel processor onto Apple-designed silicon. Much the way Apple plans to unify apps, it could also one day use the same main processor on Macs and iOS devices.

That would make it easier to create a single operating system for all Apple gadgets. Will Apple go there? Chief executive officer Tim Cook has resisted doing so, arguing that merging iOS and macOS would degrade the experience. “You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user,” Cook said in 2012. Apple software chief Craig Federighi has called the blending of iOS and macOS “a compromise.”

Maybe so. But Apple has a long history of insisting it would never do something – make a small iPad, say, or a big iPhone – and then doing it anyway. — Bloomberg

Source: The Star Online

Tencent valued over $500B

JIAXING, CHINA – NOVEMBER 16: A speech about WeChat Ecosystem Innovation by Tencent is delivered during the Release Ceremony for World Leading Internet Scientific and Technological Achievements as part of the 3rd World Internet Conference (WIC) at Wuzhen Internet International Conference and Exhibition Center on November 16, 2016 in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province of China. The 3rd World Internet Conference (WIC) – Wuzhen Summit kicks off at Wuzhen township on Wednesday and will last to Nov 18, in Zhejiang Province. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Tencent has become the first Chinese company to be valued at more than $500 billion.

Shares of the 19-year-old company, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, rallied to reach HK$418.80 to give it a market cap of HK$3.99 trillion which takes past the $500 billion mark. Close rival Alibaba is Asia’s second-highest-valued firm at $474 billion.

Entry to the half-a-trillion-dollar club — which includes Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon — comes a week after Tencent posted a profit of 18 billion RMB ($2.7 billion) on revenue of 65.2 billion RMB ($9.8 billion) for Q3 2017. Overall profit was up 69 percent year-on-year and revenue rose by 61 percent thanks to Tencent’s games business

As SCMP pointed out, a US$9,000 investment in the company’s 2004 IPO would now be worth US$1 million.

Just looking at the last twelve months alone, Tencent’s share price has doubled thanks to impressive earnings reports like Q3.

Tencent’s market cap has more than tripled since March 2014 when it reached $150 billion, surpassing Intel in the process. Writing then, The Wall Street Journal opined that the company “isn’t yet a household name in the U.S., but it should be” and that still applies today.

WeChat, its messaging app that is China’s top social service, is closing in on one billion users overall but it has not managed to replicate that success overseas. Tencent has instead focused on investing itself into global positions.

Its lucrative gaming business focuses on PC and mobile and is the heartbeat of revenue, accounting for $5 billion in the last quarter alone, thanks to smash hits like Honour Of Kings, 2017’s top grossing game, and the acquisition of the companies behind hit games Clash Of Clans (Supercell) and League Of Legends (Riot Games).

Tencent’s investment focus seems to have gone into overdrive over the last year. It has bought up stakes in public companies Tesla, Snap, invested in India-based unicorns Flipkart, messaging app Hike, health portal Practo and Uber rival Ola. Other earlier-stage deals include flying cars, lunar drones and asteroid mining, while longer-standing investments like Sogou (search) and China Literature (e-publishing) have gone public over the past month.

If the recent Snap and Tesla deals are anything to go by, Tencent is likely to commit considerable resources to developing a base among U.S. tech companies. Not only does it believe it can learn from their experiences to boost its business in China, but it can add fresh perspective too — particularly around messaging/WeChat.

Source: TechCrunch

Apple is looking into reports of iPhone 8 batteries swelling

Reports from a few iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus buyers have suggested there could be an issue with the battery inside some of the devices swelling, causing the case of Apple’s new iPhone to split open and expose the smartphone’s internals.

Apple has now confirmed it is looking into it, although a spokeswoman declined to comment further when asked how many devices are affected.

From what we’ve heard the number of reports so far is very few.

Yesterday CNET rounded up the handful of reports that have emerged — saying there are at least six different reports in at least five countries of the iPhone 8 splitting along its seams.

Today Reuters also noted a report in Chinese state media of an iPhone buyer claiming a newly purchased iPhone 8 Plus arrived cracked open on October 5, though apparently without any signs of scorching or an explosion.

Apple rival Samsung had big problems with smartphone batteries in its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone. In that instance some Note 7 batteries caught fire, and the problem was extensive enough that it led Samsung to recall all Note 7 handsets — at great expense.

In the case of the iPhone 8 the issue appears to be limited to batteries bloating/swelling, rather than catching fire — at least as reported so far.

Although the phone only went on sale on September 22 so it’s still early days for the device.

Apple did not release figures for the first weekend sales of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, as it has in the past with new iPhones, so it’s also not yet clear how many of these handsets are in the hands of buyers at this point.

Some analysts have suggested consumers may be holding off on upgrading their iPhone to buy the top-of-the-range iPhone X, which Apple also announced at the same time, but with a later release date.

Pre-sales for the iPhone X are due to begin on October 27, with the handset slated to ship on November 3.

Source: TechCrunch