Weekend news round-up: first look at Galaxy Gear watch; drug agents as cyber sleuths

2 Sep 2013

In our round-up of the main tech events and happenings from the weekend: first images emerge of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch; more revelations about the scale of the US intelligence apparatus’ investment in cyberspying; New Zealand abolishes software patents; more changes at the top for Microsoft; and the sale of its stake in Verizon will mean a US$130bn payday for Vodafone.

Get into the Gear

VentureBeat carried a story showing what could be the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch due to be unveiled at IFA in Berlin later this week. Images showed a blocky industrial slab of technology attached to a wrist that appears to function as a health tracker with a camera on board.

The author of the report, Christina Farr, was shown an internal promotional marketing video for the watch.

Future Human

“Health and fitness junkies will be intrigued. My initial impression was that it’s a new wearable fitness device to rival a Nike Fuelband or Fitbit Flex – a smartphone companion rather than a smartphone alternative.

“At about 3 inches diagonally, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch is quite large. Although its screen is square, large bezels on the top and bottom give it a chunky, rectangular shape, with rounded corners.”

Spies like US

The Washington Post reported that US intelligence agencies carried out 231 offensive cyber operations in 2011, describing the operations as “the leading edge of a campaign that embraces the internet as a theatre of spying, sabotage and war.”

Top secret documents obtained by the newspaper, and budget documents provided by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, “provide new evidence that the Obama administration’s growing ranks of cyberwarriors infiltrate and disrupt foreign computer networks.”

They continue: “Additionally, under an extensive effort code-named GENIE, US computer specialists break into foreign networks so that they can be put under surreptitious US control. Budget documents say the US$652m project has placed ‘covert implants’, sophisticated malware transmitted from far away, in computers, routers and firewalls on tens of thousands of machines every year, with plans to expand those numbers into the millions.”

New Zealand abolishes software piracy

Also in The Washington Post was a report that New Zealand abolished software piracy in a move that could be bad news for patent trolls. Why, because according to the country’s Government Accountability Office, patents on software don’t work.

It reported that the number of software patents account for the majority of all patents issued. “The overall number of defendants in [patent] cases increased from 2007 to 2011 by about 129pc over the five-year period,” the GAO reports. “Lawsuits involving software-related patents accounted for about 89pc of the increase in defendants during this period.”

Drugs agents make ruthless cyber sleuths

The New York Times reported that law-enforcement agencies in the US have been just as ruthless as the National Security Agency (NSA) in accessing phone and internet records to corner their quarry. It reported on the Hemisphere Project, an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls.

“The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.

“The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.”

More revelations expected to come from Microsoft

Just over a week ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement plans, but it now seems that long-time observers and shareholders are sharpening their spears to ensure the software giant’s future direction is more to their liking.

AllThingsD reported that activist shareholder group ValueAct has amassed a 0.8pc stake in Microsoft, enough shares to get them a seat on Microsoft’s board.

“Now, according to numerous sources close to the situation, brace yourself for the next of many shoes to drop, in what appears to be a sequencing of events related to new management and perhaps a new configuration for the company itself.

“In fact, it’s that ‘what’s next?’ that is the big question winging around Microsoft, as insiders await another move in what is adding up to be a massive change at the company, a change that will eventually drastically reshape it.”

Mobile money image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years