Google buys solar-powered drone company Titan Aerospace

Just a month after word came that Facebook was interested in the 20-person drone maker, Google snatches it up for an undisclosed sum.



An artist rendering of a Titan Aerospace Solera 50 drone.Titan Aerospace

Technology companies are expanding beyond the Net and taking to the skies — literally, with solar-powered drones that will beam broadband Internet access to the developing world, which houses growing numbers of newly minted Web users these companies want desperately to get their hands on.

Facebook recently purchased Ascenta, a UK-based startup that makes solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — or simply called drones — for $20 million. Now, Google has entered the fray, purchasing drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed sum, according to a posting on Titan’s now barebones Web site: “We’re thrilled to announce that Titan Aerospace is joining Google.”

In fact, Google scooped up the roughly 20-person startup, based in New Mexico and headed up by former Symantec CEO Vern Raburn, after it was widely reported that Facebook was interested in buying it.

Raburn will stay in charge of Titan Aerospace, Google told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the acquisition. His team will work closely with Google’s Project Loon, the outlandish initiative — born out of Google’s in-house “moon shot” facility Google X that brought us Glass and the self-driving car — to deliver Internet via air balloon. The drone company says it expects “initial commercial operations” to start in 2015.

Titan Aerospace, similar to Facebook-owned competitor Ascenta, is developing two insect-like drones — the smaller of the two with a wingspan a tad larger than a Boeing 767 — with wing-mounted solar panels that will power the aircraft’s batteries to keep it afloat at night. The aircraft, which will fly as high as 12 miles in the sky, are expected to have a long-term aerial lifespan of five years.


An artist rendering of the Solera 50, the smaller of two Titan Aerospace drones that — with a wingspan of 164 feet — will be slightly larger than a Boeing 767. Titan Aerospace

The drones’ primary function will be to help send Internet to places without a current connection at speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second, which — matching the speeds of fiber-delivered Internet — outranks many developed countries. The US averages only 7.2 megabits per second as of 2014, according to the most recent Akamai “State of the Internet” report.

Titan Aerospace also will be outfitting its drones with imaging technology that could bolster the efforts of other Google initiatives like Maps. This includes high-resolution imaging of the Earth, alongside atmospheric sensors and other satellite-provided cellular functions like data and voice call connection.

“It’s still early days for the technology we’re developing,” in particular “atmospheric satellites,” Titan said on its Web site. “There are a lot of ways that we think we could help people, whether it’s providing Internet connections in remote areas or helping monitor environmental damage like oil spills and deforestation.”

Beyond the seemingly humanitarian-geared goals of creating a satellite network of drones lies the next big technology arms race: turning the citizens of developing countries all over the world into not only active Web users, but consumers of products from the very same companies bringing them online. Google has Android and its slew of low-cost handsets that run on it to help in that effort, while Facebook has been working to make its social network function in areas of limited data connectivity bycreating a text-only version.

For Facebook, the plan is to ultimately create more users of its social network. For Google, it’s a more visible cycle of creating new users of its products and services and search engine, which drives advertising revenue that gets funneled back into projects like Loon that facilitate greater access to the Internet that, in turn, creates new users in the Google ecosystem.

From here on out, the battle between tech giants is no longer just over your smartphone and its OS, your search engine of choice, or the destination of your online social life’s most valuable, ad-targeted assets. The fight has gone to space, and it’s not likely to remain so uncrowded as more and more large corporations start snatching up companies like Titan Aerospace and Ascenta in the future.

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Here’s Amazon’s phone: six cameras and a 4.7-inch screen


Rumors of an Amazon-made phone are nothing new, but today the rumors enter reality more firmly: what you see above is what BGR claims is the Amazon’s first phone. “Whoa, that’s super ugly!” you might be saying. Cool it, that’s just an enclosure around the device itself preventing prying eyes (like our own) from seeing the actual design. The good news is we can still learn a few things about the device without the enclosure removed: five cameras up front (reportedly a sixth out back) and a trio of buttons along the left side handle power and volume. The screen is reportedly of the 4.7-inch variety — which lines upwith previous rumors — and puts Amazon’s first phone on the same scale as Motorola’s Moto X (among others).

Before we move on, we should probably address that whole six cameras thing, huh? Well, the rear one is a standard phone camera for taking photos, and apparently one of the five on the front is also just a standard camera. The four other face cameras, though, are apparently for something especially unique: the phone’s 3D interface. All those cameras reportedly enable the phone to track the position of your head and where you’re looking, thus enabling glasses-free 3D from any angle. BGR says the four face cams are low-power infrared sensors.

So, what’s powering that effect besides cameras? 2GB of RAM and an unnamed Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, apparently. Rather than going 1080p, the handset is also said to push 720p (also similar to the Moto X).

If that’s not enough, the report also says that a less flashy, more affordable version will arrive this year as well. That’s two Amazon phones potentially leaked without Amazon acknowledging or even teasing either. Don’t expect shock on our faces when an ambiguous event invite shows up in the next few weeks.

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The Heartbleed Bug

The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic Heartbleed Bugsoftware library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. SSL/TLS provides communication security and privacy over the Internet for applications such as web, email, instant messaging (IM) and some virtual private networks (VPNs).

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.

What leaks in practice?

We have tested some of our own services from attacker’s perspective. We attacked ourselves from outside, without leaving a trace. Without using any privileged information or credentials we were able steal from ourselves the secret keys used for our X.509 certificates, user names and passwords, instant messages, emails and business critical documents and communication.

How to stop the leak?

As long as the vulnerable version of OpenSSL is in use it can be abused. Fixed OpenSSL has been released and now it has to be deployed. Operating system vendors and distribution, appliance vendors, independent software vendors have to adopt the fix and notify their users. Service providers and users have to install the fix as it becomes available for the operating systems, networked appliances and software they use.

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‘Heartbleed’ bug could undermine years of work to build public trust

Companies that rely on an encryption technology to safeguard consumer data are scrambling to fix the gaping hole discovered last week.

A gaping hole in an encryption technology left by the Heartbleed bug puts consumers’ data at risk. Above, people use computers at a library in Washington. (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press / MCT)

By Chris O’Brien

The “Heartbleed” software flaw that triggered alarm bells around the world could fundamentally undermine two decades’ worth of efforts to persuade consumers they could trust the Web to securely handle such tasks as buying a pair of shoes and applying for a job.

The discovery of a gaping hole in a piece of software that was supposed to protect personal information from hackers left websites rushing to fix the bug while consumers struggled to understand what kind of risks they suddenly faced by venturing online.

That angst intensified, in part, because no one knows for sure just how much damage the Heartbleed bug had caused, or how widely hackers had managed to exploit it. Security researchers fear that it could take years to repair not just the bugs but also the trust of users.

“This is very bad, and the consequences are very scary now that it has been disclosed,” said Phil Lieberman, president of Los Angeles security management firm Lieberman Software. “The fact that this code is on home and commercial Internet-connected devices on a global scale means that the Internet is a different place today.”

Heartbleed is a flaw that was found in OpenSSL, a technology that provides encryption for about two-thirds of all servers on the public Internet. For most people, the technology shows up as a tiny green padlock icon next to the address field in a Web browser. It is supposed to signify that the password or credit card information typed on the website is secure.

But the bug essentially enables any hacker with the most basic of skills to use a simple piece of software to gain access to the IDs and passwords of a site’s users in just a few minutes. Word of the flaw burst into widespread public view Tuesday when Tumblr, which is owned by Yahoo Inc., disclosed that it had been affected and urged users to change their passwords.

In fact, the flaw was discovered several weeks ago by Neel Mehta, a security researcher at Google Inc., and a team of security engineers at Codenomicon, a security website that has since created a website with information about Heartbleed.

According to a person familiar with the details, Google immediately patched its own site and began notifying partners and the open-source community about the problem. In the meantime, two Google developers, Adam Langley and Bodo Moeller, helped develop a fix that was released Monday.

It appears the bug was introduced into OpenSSL by a simple programming mistake that then got pushed out as websites around the world updated the version of OpenSSL they were running. The security hole may have existed for at least two years, security experts said.

In addition to updating OpenSSL, websites will need to revise many pieces of their security protocols known as keys and certificates that help them confirm the identity of users.

On Wednesday, consumers started to receive a trickle of notices from services they use online warning them about the potential issue and recommending steps, such as changing their passwords.

SoundCloud, an online music sharing site, said it logged everyone off its service and asked users to sign back in and change their pass codes. Firebase, a mobile app development service, sent an email to users alerting them that the company had patched the software hole and updated its security protocols.

“We do not have any evidence that passwords or any other private information has been compromised,” Firebase said. “However, given that this exploit existed in the wild for such a long time, it is possible that an attacker could have stolen passwords without our knowledge. As a result, we recommend that all Firebase users change the passwords on their accounts.”

Michael Dominguez, of Austin, Texas, began reading about Heartbleed on Tuesday and found himself growing increasingly nervous. He called customer service for his bank, Chase, to see if it knew whether its website was vulnerable, but a representative hadn’t heard about Heartbleed. Dominguez said he also called his insurance company, USAA, and its customer service representative told him that its site was not vulnerable.

For now, Dominguez said he’s limiting his activities online and will continue watching for notifications from Web services he uses.

“Maybe this is a wake-up call,” he said. “Maybe we’ve all been lulled into this false sense of security. We rely on these websites to ensure they’ve taken all the precautions. So much of our lives are digital these days, and we take this stuff for granted.”

The bug is also raising questions about the wisdom of relying on an “open source” software that is developed and maintained by a community of developers, rather than by a single company.

“Having common technology is typically viewed as a good thing. But it can also lead to assumptions,” said Jonathan Sander, vice president of research and technology for Stealthbits Technologies. “People assume the parts they use are safe if everyone uses them. If deep testing isn’t being done by the good guys to make sure those parts stay safe over time, then you can be sure the bad guys will find the faults first.”

Twitter: @obrien

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Assassin’s Creed Unity Teaser Trailer

Following rumors and leaked screenshots, Ubisoft has officially confirmed the existence of Assassin’s Creed Unity with a brief teaser trailer for the upcoming game. Set in 18th century France, the game is the first Assassin’s Creed installment to be developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – a separate game, codenamed Assassin’s Creed Comet, is rumored to be making its way to the PlayStation 3and Xbox 360 – features a brand new black-clad assassin, and is rumored to employ a modified take on the series’ signature parkour-like navigation system. Check out the brief glimpse of the game above and stay tuned for additional looks ahead of its Holiday 2014 release.

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Amazon said to be negotiating Prime streaming music service

By Chris Welch

Amazon is said to be holding talks with record labels about a potential music streaming service. A new report from Recode claims these discussions are still in the early stages; Amazon hasn’t yet come close to finalizing the deals it would need to take on Spotify, Rdio, Beats Music, and Google Play Music All Access. Last year, we reported thatAmazon was talking to the labels about an on-demand music service, and Recode has essentially confirmed that a dialog is ongoing.

At this point, the novelty of music streaming services has largely worn off, but Amazon’s business approach could prove interesting. Just as it does with movies and TV shows, the company would likely include music streaming as part your Amazon Prime subscription. And while all of that content may seem like a lot when you factor in Prime’s $79 fee, Amazon has recently said it’s considering upping the annual cost by as much as $40. Having both music and video at your fingertips could help make a price hike easier to swallow.