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India, Japan flex cyber-defence muscles as China seethes • The Register

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India and Japan have each flexed their cyber-defence muscles in ways that China can’t miss.

Japan’s flex was the Monday launch of a national cyber-security policy that for the first time names China, Russia, and North Korea as sources of heightened threat. The policy also calls for Japan’s Self Defence Force to increase its digital capabilities.

The new plan was released as expected under Japan’s policy of refreshing its defensive plans every three years. The theme for the policy is “Cybersecurity for all” and chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said its aim is to ensure that no part of Japanese society goes without the protections it needs.

Kato said the plan was also developed because Japan’s government “recognised a threat” and therefore a need to strengthen its online defences. The policy documents list many recent infosec incidents – such as the attack on SolarWinds and Microsoft’s Exchange flaw – as the sort of thing Japan needs to counter.

India’s flex came from vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who on Monday visited a military museum and remarked that India’s security forces should “prepare themselves to dominate not only in a conventional war but also establish their superiority in the new and emerging areas of conflict such as information and cyber warfare along with the increasing use of robotics and drones in the battlefield”.

“The nation is assured that any misadventure by an adversary will be given a befitting reply by the Indian Army,” Naidu said.

While the position of vice-president is largely ceremonial – the officeholder is backup to the head of state, but actual power resides with Parliament – Naidu’s words have weight. Doubly so as he stated India faces “both symmetric and asymmetric threats from outside and within” and then asserted India’s sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir and argued that previous arrangements that gave the territory autonomy were temporary.

Mentioning Jammu & Kashmir is significant, as the disputed India/China border is in the territory. The territory is also the subject of a dispute with Pakistan.

Kashmiri separatists, which India labels Pakistan-supported terrorists, and China, will all have noticed the veep urging India to arm itself in the kinetic and digital realms.

China has certainly noticed last week’s meeting of “The Quad” – the grouping of Australia, the USA, Japan, and India – and its announcement of plans to develop infosec standards it hopes the world will follow.

China’s foreign ministry has labelled The Quad a “closed and exclusive clique” informed by “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and ideological bias”.

Spokesperson Hua Chunying addressed the issue at a press conference in response to a question from Russian news agency TASS. “For some time, these countries have been keen on insinuating China with the so-called ‘rules-based order’, playing up and inciting the so-called ‘China threat’ theory, and driving a wedge between regional countries and China.”

Te actions of Japan and India actions suggest the wedge is working. ®

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ICO to step in after schools use facial recognition to speed up lunch queue | Facial recognition

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The Information Commissioner’s Office is to intervene over concerns about the use of facial recognition technology on pupils queueing for lunch in school canteens in the UK.

Nine schools in North Ayrshire began taking payments for school lunches this week by scanning the faces of their pupils, according to a report in the Financial Times. More schools are expected to follow.

The ICO, an independent body set up to uphold information rights in the UK, said it would be contacting North Ayrshire council about the move and urged a “less intrusive” approach where possible.

An ICO spokesperson said organisations using facial recognition technology must comply with data protection law before, during and after its use, adding: “Data protection law provides additional protections for children, and organisations need to carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of collecting biometric data before they do so.

“Organisations should consider using a different approach if the same goal can be achieved in a less intrusive manner. We are aware of the introduction, and will be making inquiries with North Ayrshire council.”

The company supplying the technology claimed it was more Covid-secure than other systems, as it was cashless and contactless, and sped up the lunch queue, cutting the time spent on each transaction to five seconds.

Other types of biometric systems, principally fingerprint scanners, have been used in schools in the UK for years, but campaigners say the use of facial recognition technology is unnecessary.

Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, told the Guardian the campaign group had written to schools using facial recognition systems, setting out their concerns and urging them to stop immediately.

“No child should have to go through border-style identity checks just to get a school meal,” she said. “We are supposed to live in a democracy, not a security state.

“This is highly sensitive, personal data that children should be taught to protect, not to give away on a whim. This biometrics company has refused to disclose who else children’s personal information could be shared with and there are some red flags here for us.”

The technology is being installed in schools in the UK by a company called CRB Cunninghams. David Swanston, its managing director, told the FT: “It’s the fastest way of recognising someone at the till. In a secondary school you have around about a 25-minute period to serve potentially 1,000 pupils. So we need fast throughput at the point of sale.”

Live facial recognition, technology that scans crowds to identify faces, has been challenged by civil rights campaigners because of concerns about consent. CRB Cunninghams said the system being installed in UK schools was different – parents had to give explicit consent and cameras check against encrypted faceprint templates stored on school servers.

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire council said its catering system contracts were coming to a natural end, allowing the introduction of new IT “which makes our service more efficient and enhances the pupil experience using innovative technology”.

They added: “Given the ongoing risks associated with Covid-19, the council is keen to have contactless identification as this provides a safer environment for both pupils and staff. Facial recognition has been assessed as the optimal solution that will meet all our requirements.”

The council said 97% of children or their parents had given consent for the new system.

A Scottish government spokesperson said that local authorities, as data controllers, had a duty to comply with general data protection regulations and that schools must by law adhere to strict guidelines on how they collect, store, record and share personal data.

Hayley Dunn, a business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There would need to be strict privacy and data protection controls on any companies offering this technology.

“Leaders would also have legitimate concerns about the potential for cyber ransomware attacks and the importance of storing information securely, which they would need reassurances around before implementing any new technology.”

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Apple debuts MacBook Pro with M1 Pro and M1 Max Arm chips • The Register

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Apple on Monday announced 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models armed with its Arm-compatible Apple Silicon chips, extending its platform architecture transition, and Intel exodus, for its high-end notebooks.

Cupertino’s web-streamed presentation, which also featured new music products and services, was highly anticipated by Apple customers because, as expected, it addressed long-standing complaints about recent MacBook Pro models, namely its failure-prone keyboard, its unasked-for TouchBar, and its finicky USB-C power connector.

Though Apple’s disastrous Butterfly-design keyboard has already been dealt with, the first aspect of the new MacBook Pro models that product manager Shruti Haldea discussed was the keyboard.

“The new MacBook Pro has been reimagined in every way,” said Haldea during the streaming video presentation. “Let’s start with the keyboard. Users value the full height function row on the standalone Magic Keyboard, And we brought it to the MacBook Pro. The physical keys replaced the TouchBar, bringing back the familiar tactile feel of mechanical keys that Pro users love.”

Apple MacBook Pro keyboard

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But that reassurance took a back seat to Apple’s execs crowing about the company’s artisanal silicon. The new MacBook Pro models bring new chips: the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, Apple’s followup to the Apple Silicon M1 chip that debuted last year.

“Building a pro laptop has meant using a power-hungry CPU and discrete GPU,” said Johny Srouji, SVP of hardware technologies at Apple. “But a two-chip architecture requires more power and cooling. It also means the CPU and GPU have separate pools of memory, so they have to copy data back and forth over a slow interface.

“Not one has ever applied a system-on-a-chip design to a pro system, until today. And we did this by scaling up M1’s groundbreaking architecture to create a far more powerful chip with M1 Pro.”

The M1 Pro relies on 5nm process technology. It sports 33.7bn transistors, twice as many as the M1. The chip has a 10-core CPU – eight high-performance cores and two high efficiency cores. Apple claims it’s up to 70 per cent faster than M1, depending on the workload, delivers up to 1.7x better CPU performance than the latest 8-core PC laptop chip when using comparable amounts of power, and at equal performance levels uses 70 per cent less power than the PC chip.

Apple M1 Pro/Mac performance chart

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The M1 Pro has an up-to-16 core GPU that’s said to be twice as fast as the M1 and 7x faster than an 8-core PC with integrated graphics. It’s available with up to up to 32GB of memory and up to 200GB/s of memory bandwidth.

The M1 Max is what you get when you take the M1 Pro’s 10-core CPU and double its GPU cores to 32. The result is 4x better GPU performance and the original M1, which debuted last year. Built with 57bn transistors, it supports up to 64GB of memory – compare that to the 16GB of video memory commonly available to PC laptops – and offers 400GB/s of memory bandwidth.

Apple claims the 14-inch model gets 17 hours of video playback while the 16-inch model gets 21 hours – 10 more than on prior Mac notebooks.

The other gubbins

The M1 Max also has an enhanced media engine capable of editing up to 30 4K ProRes video streams or up to seven 4K ProRes video streams in Final Cut Pro. The M1 Pro supports up to two Pro Display XDRs (Apple’s $5K monitor) while the M1 Max can handle up to three ProDisplay XDRs and a 4K TV at once.

Both the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models come with macOS Monterey, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an SDXC card slot, an HDMI port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Apple’s magnetic power connection system MagSafe has returned under the name MagSafe 3. Both sport a Liquid Retina XDR display and a built-in anodized black Magic Keyboard and have two fans for chip chilling, unlike the fanless M1-based MacBook Air, but Cupertino claims Apple Silicon is so efficient most users will never hear them.

“With this introduction, we’ve taken another huge step forward in the Mac’s transition to Apple Silicon,” said John Ternus, VP of hardware engineering at Apple.

Apple did not respond to a request to say whether the M1 Pro and M1 Max resolve the M1RACLES oversight reported for the M1 chip in May, 2021, and a reported second blunder identified over the weekend.

In a message to The Register, Hector Martin, founder and project lead of Ashai Linux and the finder of the initial M1 flaw and of the supposed second one, said Apple cannot address the M1 design error except through new silicon. He said he didn’t know whether Apple has done so in the M1 Pro and M1 Max. And he declined to provide further details about his second alleged bug, which has not yet been publicly disclosed.

Apple also announced its third-generation AirPods, “new bold and expressive colors” for its Home Pod mini mic-speaker thingy, the Apple Music Voice Plan (a $4.99 Siri-focused starter plan for Apple Music), and updates to Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro so that they can take advantage of Apple’s latest chips.

Apple is now taking orders for the new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models and they’re expected to be available on Tuesday, October 26, or sometime thereafter if customized with more memory and SSD storage. The 14-inch MacBook Pro model starts at $1,999, and $1,849 for education custoemrs. The 16-inch MacBook Pro model starts at $2,499, and $2,299 for the student market. ®



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German fintech N26 banks $900m in Series E funding round

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Digital banking company N26 is on track to process around $90bn in transaction volume this year, having amassed 7m customers in 25 markets.

German online banking company N26 is now valued at around $9bn having secured more than $900m in latest funding round.

To date, N26 has raised close to $1.8bn from high-profile investors, including Third Point Ventures, Coatue Management LLC, Dragoneer Investment Group, Insight Venture Partners, GIC, Tencent, Allianz X, Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures, Earlybird Venture Capital, Greyhound Capital, Battery Ventures, in addition to members of the Zalando management board, and Redalpine Ventures.

The latest funding round was led by Third Point Ventures and Coatue Management. Goldman Sachs Bank Europe acted as a placement agent for the round.

“This recent financing round solidifies the fact that retail banking as we know it has changed. With our fresh capital, we are in pole position to become one of the biggest retail banks in Europe, all without a single branch,” said Valentin Stalf, CEO and co-founder of N26.

Last year, N26 raised $100m in an extension of its Series D funding round. Its founders attributed the success to people embracing online banking during the pandemic.

The fintech will use its latest funding boost to significantly expand its mobile banking offering. This will involve expanding its global team further. N26 aims to bring on board 1,000 new team members in the coming years, with a particular focus on the areas of product, technology and cybersecurity.

It will also significantly expand its employee equity pool, while broadening its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) participation to 100pc of employees as part of one of the largest ESOP programmes in Europe.

According to the company’s co-founder and co-CEO Maximilian Tayenthal: “It is hugely important to us that we can share the success of N26 with our employees. Without them, we would not be the company we are today.”

N26 has a 1,500-strong team of 80 nationalities based across the world. It has offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Belgrade, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Vienna, New York and São Paulo.

Since the mobile bank’s founding in 2013 and subsequent service launch in 2015, it has amassed more than 7m customers in 25 markets worldwide. It currently operates in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. It also operates in the US through its New York-based subsidiary, N26 Inc.

Heath Terry, partner at Third Point Ventures commented: “N26 has established itself as a leading tech-forward global digital bank. We are excited to provide capital and strategic support to accelerate N26’s work to make digital retail banking accessible to millions.”

The banking company said it’s on course to process around $90bn in transaction volume in 2021 alone. To aid future growth, N26 has agreed with the German regulator to temporarily onboard a maximum of 50,000 to 70,000 customers per month to cope with demand. This agreement will be published in an upcoming order.

With the demand for the company’s services, it is possible that new customers in certain markets may be temporarily redirected to a waiting list. Existing customers will not be affected, or have any changes to their accounts, according to the company.

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