Tech news roundup: 28th July

Jul 28, 2023
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In this week's tech news, we cover OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman’s Worldcoin, update on Threads, Citrix security flaw, North Korean Fingerprints on JumpCloud Breach, Akooda Secures $11M, Venmo Arrives at Xbox Store, ****Arc: The Next Generation Browser, Updates on Twitter or X.

Eyeballing the Future: Worldcoin’s Global Rollout Begins

In the fascinating world of tech, we’re no strangers to the occasional eyebrow-raising innovation, and this one's got our attention. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's pet project, Worldcoin, has started its global rollout, and it's all about eyeballs. Yes, you read that right - your eyeballs could be your ticket to this new digital frontier.

Worldcoin's mission is twofold: to tell us humans apart from our AI counterparts in the online world, and to foster global democratic processes. Not to mention the tantalizing promise of broadening economic opportunities. With backing from industry bigwigs like Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, and Reid Hoffman, the startup has amassed an impressive $250 million so far. Now, they're ready to take their identity tech and unique crypto token worldwide.

Keen to hop on board? Here's how it works. You download the World App, visit an Orb - a sci-fi worthy, helmet-shaped eyeball scanner - and voilà, you're handed your World ID. As part of this audacious initiative, Worldcoin aims to put a crypto wallet in the hands (or rather, phones) of every human on earth. The catch? You have to prove you're a unique individual.

The project, despite its occasional brush with controversy over supposed exploitative practices in poorer nations, has been gathering steam. Between May 2021 and July 2023, more than 2 million folks from over 30 countries have secured their World IDs.

The implications for Worldcoin are pretty exciting, from bulletproofing loyalty programs and coupon systems against fraud, to battling bots through ID checks, and even facilitating worldwide democratic governance. The startup holds on to 20% of all its tokens, with a total supply cap of 10 billion WLD tokens for the first 15 years. The initial circulating supply clocked in at 143 million. And who knows? If this crypto venture takes off, we could see the first steps toward an AI-funded Universal Basic Income (UBI). Now, wouldn't that be a sight for sore eyes?

Threads Spins Out Exciting Features Amid User Decline

Meta’s Threads, the text-based social networking platform, has thrown down the gauntlet to its rivals with a bundle of new updates, all aimed at creating a more streamlined and intuitive user experience. First off, the eagerly awaited Following feed has been unveiled. This particular feature, much sought-after since Threads' inception, offers a chronological view of the posts from the accounts users follow.

In addition to this, Threads is ramping up its user-friendly appeal with a host of other enhancements. An update will allow users to sift through their Activity feed by Follows, Quotes, and Reposts, making the tracking of interactions much smoother. There's also a spanking new Follow button on the follower's list, which is designed to make following other accounts a breeze.

And that's not all! For those with private accounts, an "approve all" option has been introduced, enabling users to accept a large number of follow requests in one fell swoop. To crown it all, Threads has integrated automatic translation features, which operate according to the language in which the post is written and the user's language preferences. To take advantage of these novelties, users must upgrade to the latest version of Threads.

Despite these exciting updates, Threads has experienced a dip in usage numbers recently, falling to 13 million daily active users from an impressive initial uptake of over 100 million users shortly after launch. But never fear - the introduction of the Following feed may well be the spark to reignite user engagement.

As Threads rolls out these new features, Twitter (or should we say 'X'?) is undergoing its own transformation, courtesy of Elon Musk. As Twitter ventures into new territories, Threads is standing by to offer those yearning for a classic Twitter-like experience a cozy digital nook to call home.

When Tech Gets Tricky: Citrix Hit by a Major Security Flaw

In the blink-and-you'll-miss-it world of tech, Citrix, a big name in the business of secure application delivery and VPN connectivity, recently sounded the alarm bells. A serious security flaw has been discovered in their NetScaler ADC and NetScaler Gateway devices, both of which are go-to tools for many corporations. Known as CVE-2023-3519, this glitch scores a rather alarming 9.8 out of 10 on the severity scale. So, what's the worry? Well, this loophole allows an unverified, remote hacker to run their own code on a device, a significant threat to thousands of organizations worldwide, especially those working in crucial infrastructure sectors.

It's not just a theoretical risk, either. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) revealed that an American infrastructure organization already fell prey to this vulnerability back in June. The hackers used this backdoor to delve into the organization's Active Directory, hauling out data as they pleased. But there's a silver lining – the compromised device was cordoned off within the network, keeping the rest of the system safe.

The situation demands urgent action, and The Shadowserver Foundation is leading the charge. This non-profit organization found that unless patches are quickly applied, over 15,000 Citrix servers worldwide could be left hanging in the wind. The most exposed are in the U.S., with Germany, the U.K., and Australia not far behind.

As for who's pulling the strings behind this cyber menace? That remains a mystery. Past Citrix vulnerabilities have attracted both dollar-chasing cybercriminals and state-sponsored groups, some with ties to China. Mandiant researchers even noted a Chinese footprint in this incident, although no definitive link could be established. Regardless, the exploit demonstrates the continuing risk posed by technology without robust endpoint detection and response capabilities – a frequent target of data-thirsty spies.

Cyber Sleuthing Unveils North Korean Fingerprints on JumpCloud Breach

In the continually evolving landscape of cybersecurity, a startling development has emerged this week. The leading security firm, Mandiant, has unwrapped the mystery behind a recent security breach at JumpCloud, pointing their digital detective fingers at North Korean hackers. And boy, it seems like they left quite the digital footprint!

The hacker group, christened UNC4899, has ties to North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau. And their modus operandi? Stealing cryptocurrency, of course, a favoured tactic aimed at bankrolling North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions. But even the most crafty hackers have an off day, right?

This time around, our clandestine friends from Pyongyang had a little hiccup. They left their real IP addresses out in the open. In the tech equivalent of not wiping their footprints, they either had an 'oops' moment with their VPN services or just plain forgot to use them. The electronic breadcrumbs even lead back to infrastructures previously linked with North Korean hacks. You might say they left their signature on the crime scene.

Security firms are unanimous in their verdict: North Korea was behind the JumpCloud intrusion. Mandiant’s CTO, Charles Carmakal, sent out a warning shot about the relentless North Korean hackers, who are tirelessly honing their skills to steal cryptocurrency through a variety of tactics, from insidious supply chain attacks to weaponising legitimate software and developing custom malware.

As for JumpCloud, the enterprise software company is at the centre of this cyber storm. With a client roster exceeding 200,000 corporations, the breach targeted less than a handful of them and under ten devices. JumpCloud took the breach on the chin, resetting its customer API keys post-haste after the June incident. It's a stark reminder that even the giants of industry like GoFundMe, ClassPass, and Foursquare are not immune to such cyber plots.

Game-Changer Alert: Akooda Secures $11M, Rethinks Business Comms

Meet Akooda, a burgeoning AI startup that's just burst onto the scene with a cool $11 million in seed funding. Their vision? To streamline your work processes, saving you from those never-ending meetings and offering crisp insights into your company's operations. Imagine a choir of all your company's software tools - think Slack, Salesforce, HubSpot, Confluence, and JIRA tickets - belting out in perfect unison, offering you need-to-know info, no filler. That's the Akooda experience.

At the helm of Akooda is CEO Yuval Gonczarowski, a stickler for data privacy. The platform isn't sifting through your company's confidential data to train its AI. Instead, it's using statistical modeling to decode the unique language of each organization - those "rare words" you might typically find in company-wide emails or chat groups. This clever tactic allows Akooda to tailor its service to each individual company, industry no bar.

But Akooda's not stopping there. This ever-evolving platform isn't content with simply answering your questions; it's working on introducing an anomaly detection feature to autonomously pinpoint potential issues. Imagine being alerted that a less profitable client is monopolizing your resources. With Akooda, you'll be armed with data-backed insights to make sound decisions, sans the grunt work.

At its core, Akooda is about amplifying human decision-making through AI, not replacing it. This philosophy is reflected in their commitment to diversity and equality. They're actively part of an initiative to recruit Russian and Ukrainian immigrants in Israel. Akooda is undeniably a force to be reckoned with. They're reimagining AI and corporate communication, and underpinning it all is their commitment to creating a positive societal impact.

Venmo Arrives at Microsoft's Xbox Store

In an exciting move for gaming and tech enthusiasts, Microsoft and PayPal have broadened their alliance to bring Venmo, a popular payment platform, into the mix for Xbox users in the United States. Now, the purchasing of games, movies, TV shows, apps, and Xbox Game Pass subscriptions can be as easy as a Venmo transaction. Even more conveniently, this integration introduces the possibility for customers to subscribe or divide payments at the time of purchase.

But it's not just Xbox fans who get to enjoy this development - the Microsoft Store itself is opening its doors wider. PayPal's "Pay Later" option, which lets eligible shoppers split their payments over a set duration, is being rolled out across multiple locations. So, whether you're in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, or Italy, you'll have this payment alternative at your disposal.

Microsoft's Vice President of Global Payments, Ajith Thekadath, spoke out about this significant development, underscoring Microsoft's steadfast dedication to providing an optimum customer experience. Thekadath asserts that the inclusion of flexible payment options like Venmo and PayPal Pay Later reaffirms Microsoft's customer-centric approach, offering users tools that are tailored to their needs.

Interestingly, this Venmo expansion isn't an isolated incident. It follows a similar move made by Amazon in October 2022, signaling a larger strategy by Venmo to extend its reach beyond peer-to-peer transactions. This Venmo evolution certainly presents intriguing prospects for users and other potential partnering platforms.

Introducing Arc: The Next Generation Browser

Stepping into the world of browsing, The Browser Company has taken off the wraps from its once invite-only project, the Arc browser. Now at version 1.0, this hot new browser is open to the public and set to revolutionize how we surf the web. It's the brainchild of former Facebook employees Josh Miller and Hursh Agrawal, who with the backing of top-tier investors, have raised a cool $5 million to build this fresh, innovative web browsing experience.

One of the exciting features of Arc is its Chromium base, meaning you can easily import your beloved bookmarks, logins, and extensions. But here's where things get interesting - Arc presents a novel approach to tabs. Imagine your tabs looking more like applications, neatly organized into various "Spaces" such as "Work," "Entertainment," "Vacation," or "Notetaking." Quite a game-changer, isn't it?

And the innovation doesn't stop there. Although Arc is designed as a desktop browser, they've already rolled out a nifty iPhone app that assists in sorting tabs into Spaces. It doesn't end there, though. Arc introduced a unique feature, "Boosts," allowing users to modify the look and layout of websites, including the ability to strip away unwanted elements, and all without a single line of code.

Arc's recent updates promise even more user-friendly tools, such as an easily accessible toolbar at the top of the browser window, picture-in-picture support for Google Meet, a per-site control center, developer mode, and multi-window support. Plus, they've boosted the speed! Looking to the future, the company is eyeing AI integration, stepping into the ring with big guns like Microsoft Edge, Opera, and Sigma OS. For all the Windows users out there, don't fret - your version is set to roll out later this year.

Twitter or X’s New Updates and Controversial Tactics

In an effort to maintain its dynamism and appeal to a broad audience, Twitter, one of the giants in social media, has unveiled a fresh, updated logo featuring the letter X. In addition to this aesthetic revamp, its Android app also sports the new logo.

However, this change is not without its fair share of controversy. According to reports, Twitter allegedly annexed the "@X" handle without any prior notification or compensation to its original owner. This move has sparked concerns among the community, putting Twitter's dispute resolution process regarding usernames under the microscope. The lack of transparency in handling such matters raises questions about the platform's fairness and respect for user rights.

Adding fuel to the controversy, the brand X, perhaps capitalizing on the heightened usage of the platform, is reportedly threatening to strip brands of their verification status unless they shell out a hefty $1,000 per month. This startling move has left many questioning the ethical implications, equating it to digital extortion. Businesses and brands, big and small, are now potentially under the gun to preserve their verified status on the platform.

In the midst of this turbulence, Twitter's CEO, Linda Yaccarino, revealed in a staff memo that Twitter's usage has spiked to unprecedented levels, indicating a silver lining in this tumultuous period. Yet, the summary lacked specifics about the memo's contents, leaving us thirsty for more insights into this intriguing claim. Is the increased user engagement a reaction to these controversial practices, or is it indicative of a broader trend? Only time will tell.

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