The privacy tool used by millions of people doesn’t actually protect your privacy.
Marriott has announced what appears to be one of the larger data breaches in history, a compromise that affects as many as 500 million people and stretches back to an intrusion in the company’s network in 2014.
The breach is staggering in regard to both the number of people potentially affected and the length of time the attackers were on the network. Marriott officials said the intrusion occurred on the Starwood network some time in 2014 and the company only became aware of the compromise in September. Marriott and Starwood merged in 2016, and Marriott officials said the attackers were able to access a database on the Starwood guest reservations system.
The company learned of the intrusion after an internal security system threw an alert about an unauthorized access attempt to the Starwood guest reservation system on Sept. 8. For 327 million people, information compromised in the breach includes names, home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, some passport numbers, dates of birth, and some payment card information. For the other affected customers, the attackers only had access to names and some address and email address data.
“Marriott learned during the investigation that there had been unauthorized access to the Starwood network since 2014. The company recently discovered that an unauthorized party had copied and encrypted information, and took steps towards removing it. On November 19, 2018, Marriott was able to decrypt the information and determined that the contents were from the Starwood guest reservation database,” the Marriott statement says.
The company said that the payment card data stolen was encrypted, but Marriott officials aren’t sure whether the attackers were able to steal the private keys needed to decrypt the data.
“For some, the information also includes payment card numbers and payment card expiration dates, but the payment card numbers were encrypted using Advanced Encryption Standard encryption (AES-128). There are two components needed to decrypt the payment card numbers, and at this point, Marriott has not been able to rule out the possibility that both were taken,” Marriott said.
It’s highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for a company to signal publicly that encryption keys were taken as part of a data breach. Typically, companies will say that stolen data was either encrypted or in plaintext, but the mention of the possible theft of the encryption keys themselves is rare.
Sophisticated adversaries can dig into networks and stay hidden for some time, as the Marriott attackers appear to have done, and study the environment as they look for valuable information to grab.
"It all boils down to how intelligent the adversary is. If the adversary knew what he or she was targeting and had information about the behavior and environment and behavior patterns, it significantly reduce the chances of getting caught," said Itzik Kotler, CTO of SafeBreach, said.
In today's atmosphere, everyone understands that they're a target. There's no downside for the attackers in owning your laptop or your network. There's always a reason for the bad guys to hack you. It's always valuable, one way or the other.
Starwood has been affected by data breaches in the past, including one in 2015 that involved attackers planting malware on some point-of-sale terminals in some of the company’s hotel properties. That incident only involved a subset of properties in North America and the attackers were able to get payment card data from hotel front desks, gift shops, and restaurants.
As many as 100,000 devices could be sold to the Army; the deal highlights Microsoft efforts to target augmented reality at the enterprise users.
Microsoft has won a $480 million contract to provide US Army soldiers with HoloLens devices for training and combat missions – a significant step forward in the adoption of augmented reality technology.
The deal is part of the army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System project, which aims to develop a headset that will increase “lethality, mobility, and situational awareness” for soldiers in action.
The devices used by the Army will differ from consumer versions of HoloLens and must be compatible with helmets already used by soldiers. Among the list of requirements are night vision, thermal sensing and concussion detection, as well as the ability to monitor and display an individual’s heart and breathing rate.
The contract covers the initial supply of 2,500 prototypes within two years, with potential to ramp up production after that period. The total number of devices could reach 100,000 devices, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the deal.
Microsoft was awarded the contract following a bidding process, with Army officials eventually selecting HoloLens over systems from rival Magic Leap.
The deal follows the publication in October of an open letter from Microsoft staffers that demanded the company’s technology not be used for military purposes – a response to Microsoft’s bid for a $10 billion Pentagon Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. (The company responded in a blog post.)
HoloLens gains enterprise traction
HoloLens, launched in 2016, is already being used by a variety of large organizations, including automotive, aerospace and construction firms. The devices have been used for military purposes in the past, but for training purposes rather than combat missions.
The US Army’s latest deal appears to be the largest planned rollout of HoloLens yet, said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, with others “dwarfed by it in terms of size and importance.”
Annette Jump, a research director at Gartner, said that a high-profile deal such as this pact will help “increase awareness about MR [mixed reality]” among business buyers in the US and further afield.
“This is a major announcement for Microsoft and big milestone for MR technology adoption,”
However, Jump noted that some barriers must be overcome for wider adoption to be realised. For instance, there is little choice of devices to support MR, beyond HoloLens and Magic Leap – both of which are expensive. And designing 3D interfaces is a costly process for businesses, requiring a specialized interface or experience to be built for each use case.
Jump added: “[The t]echnology is not mature yet and there is more focus on immersive experiences that can be enabled via smartphones, as it is often a cheaper alternative and an easy starting point for starting with immersive technologies.”
Big challenges. Shifting landscapes. And deepening worry lines. Welcome to the detailed breakdown of what keeps the tech C-suite up at night.
New HoloLens expected in '19
Sag called the deal a “shot in the arm” for HoloLens adoption, which has stagnated recently as an updated version nears release. A new model of the headset is expected to launch in 2019.
An overhaul of the technology could help drive adoption among large organizations. “I'm constantly seeing interest and uptake in HoloLens,” said Sag. “The issue is that those that are unfamiliar with it are put off by the admittedly dated hardware.”
He sees Microsoft as leading the nascent AR market and becoming the de facto standard for development.
“I believe that HoloLens will be the enterprise standard for augmented reality and that's really all that Microsoft wants. It's already the first platform most developers think of when wanting to build an enterprise AR app.”
This story, "Microsoft's $480M HoloLens deal with US Army could boost AR adoption" was originally published by Computerworld.
BY WENYAO XU FENG LIN AND ZHANPENG JIN
Your brain is an inexhaustible source of secure passwords–but you might not have to remember anything. Passwords and PINs with letters and numbers are relatively easily hacked, hard to remember and generally insecure. Biometrics are starting to take their place, with fingerprints, facial recognition and retina scanning becoming common even in routine logins for computers, smartphones and other common devices.
They’re more secure because they’re harder to fake, but biometrics have a crucial vulnerability: A person only has one face, two retinas and 10 fingerprints. They represent passwords that can’t be reset if they’re compromised.
Like usernames and passwords, biometric credentials are vulnerable to data breaches. In 2015, for instance, the database containing the fingerprints of 5.6 million U.S. federal employees was breached. Those people shouldn’t use their fingerprints to secure any devices, whether for personal use or at work. The next breach might steal photographs or retina scan data, rendering those biometrics useless for security.
INSIDE THE MIND
When a person looks at a photograph or hears a piece of music, her brain responds in ways that researchers or medical professionals can measure with electrical sensors placed on her scalp. We have discovered that every person’s brain responds differently to an external stimulus, so even if two people look at the same photograph, readings of their brain activity will be different.
This process is automatic and unconscious, so a person can’t control what brain response happens. And every time a person sees a photo of a particular celebrity, their brain reacts the same way–though differently from everyone else’s.
We realized that this presents an opportunity for a unique combination that can serve as what we call a “brain password.” It’s not just a physical attribute of their body, like a fingerprint or the pattern of blood vessels in their retina. Instead, it’s a mix of the person’s unique biological brain structure and their involuntary memory that determines how it responds to a particular stimulus.
MAKING A BRAIN PASSWORD
A person’s brain password is a digital reading of their brain activity while looking at a series of images. Just as passwords are more secure if they include different kinds of characters–letters, numbers and punctuation–a brain password is more secure if it includes brain wave readings of a person looking at a collection of different kinds of pictures.
To set the password, the person would be authenticated some other way–such as coming to work with a passport or other identifying paperwork, or having their fingerprints or face checked against existing records. Then the person would put on a soft comfortable hat or padded helmet with electrical sensors inside. A monitor would display, for example, a picture of a pig, Denzel Washington’s face and the text “Call me Ishmael,” the opening sentence of Herman Meville’s classic “Moby-Dick.”
The sensors would record the person’s brain waves. Just as when registering a fingerprint for an iPhone’s Touch ID, multiple readings would be needed to collect a complete initial record. Our research has confirmed that a combination of pictures like this would evoke brain wave readings that are unique to a particular person, and consistent from one login attempt to another.
Later, to login or gain access to a building or secure room, the person would put on the hat and watch the sequence of images. A computer system would compare their brain waves at that moment to what had been stored initially–and either grant access or deny it, depending on the results. It would take about five seconds, not much longer than entering a password or typing a PIN into a number keypad.
AFTER A HACK
Brain passwords’ real advantage comes into play after the almost inevitable hack of a login database. If a hacker breaks into the system storing the biometric templates or uses electronics to counterfeit a person’s brain signals, that information is no longer useful for security. A person can’t change their face or their fingerprints–but they can change their brain password.
It’s easy enough to authenticate a person’s identity another way, and have them set a new password by looking at three new images–maybe this time with a photo of a dog, a drawing of George Washington and a Gandhi quote. Because they’re different images from the initial password, the brainwave patterns would be different too. Our research has found that the new brain password would be very hard for attackers to figure out, even if they tried to use the old brainwave readings as an aid.
Brain passwords are endlessly resettable, because there are so many possible photos and a vast array of combinations that can be made from those images. There’s no way to run out of these biometric-enhanced security measures.
As researchers, we are aware that it could be worrying or even creepy for an employer or internet service to use authentication that reads people’s brain activity. Part of our research involved figuring out how to take only the minimum amount of readings to ensure reliable results–and proper security–without needing so many measurements that a person might feel violated or concerned that a computer was trying to read their mind.
We initially tried using 32 sensors all over a person’s head, and found the results were reliable. Then we progressively reduced the number of sensors to see how many were really needed–and found that we could get clear and secure results with just three properly located sensors.
This means our sensor device is so small that it can fit invisibly inside a hat or a virtual-reality headset. That opens the door for many potential uses. A person wearing smart headwear, for example, could easily unlock doors or computers with brain passwords. Our method could also make cars harder to steal–before starting up, the driver would have to put on a hat and look at a few images displayed on a dashboard screen.
Other avenues are opening as new technologies emerge. The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba recently unveiled a system for using virtual reality to shop for items–including making purchases online right in the VR environment. If the payment information is stored in the VR headset, anyone who uses it, or steals it, will be able to buy anything that’s available. A headset that reads its user’s brainwaves would make purchases, logins or physical access to sensitive areas much more secure.
Wenyao Xu is Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. Feng Lin is Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Colorado Denver; and Zhanpeng Jin is Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. This post was originally published on The Conversation.
See the biggest changes coming to Windows 10.
Microsoft is launching its collaborative Whiteboard app on Windows 10 today, and promising versions for iOS and the web soon. The app has been in preview for Windows 10 for the past seven months, and it’s now being made widely available on PCs alongside a new version for the web and iOS devices. Whiteboard lets users make notes on a virtual whiteboard that can be shared and edited with others in real time across devices.
DTPHX is one of our awesome partners located in the heart of downtown Phoenix (Like us!). After a recent upgrade, DTPHX donated workstations for us to upgrade and roll back out as donations to non-profits around the valley!
We (along with our other non-profit partners) want to take a moment to thank DTPHX for their generous donation to the non-profit community. Click here to learn more about DTPHX: http://dtphx.org
The FBI is advising users of consumer-grade routers and network-attached storage devices to reboot them as soon as possible to counter Russian-engineered malware that has infected hundreds of thousands devices.
Researchers from Cisco’s Talos security team first disclosed the existence of the malware on Wednesday. The detailed report said the malware infected more than 500,000 devices made by Linksys, Mikrotik, Netgear, QNAP, and TP-Link. Known as VPNFilter, the malware allowed attackers to collect communications, launch attacks on others, and permanently destroy the devices with a single command. The report said the malware was developed by hackers working for an advanced nation, possibly Russia, and advised users of affected router models to perform a factory reset, or at a minimum to reboot.
Later in the day, The Daily Beast reported that VPNFilter was indeed developed by a Russian hacking group, one known by a variety of names, including Sofacy, Fancy Bear, APT 28, and Pawn Storm. The Daily Beast also said the FBI had seized an Internet domain VPNFilter used as a backup means to deliver later stages of the malware to devices that were already infected with the initial stage 1. The seizure meant that the primary and secondary means to deliver stages 2 and 3 had been dismantled, leaving only a third fallback, which relied on attackers sending special packets to each infected device.
The redundant mechanisms for delivering the later stages address a fundamental shortcoming in VPNFilter—stages 2 and 3 can’t survive a reboot, meaning they are wiped clean as soon as a device is restarted. Instead, only stage 1 remains. Presumably, once an infected device reboots, stage 1 will cause it to reach out to the recently seized ToKnowAll.com address. The FBI’s advice to reboot small office and home office routers and NAS devices capitalizes on this limitation. In a statement published Friday, FBI officials suggested that users of all consumer-grade routers, not just those known to be vulnerable to VPNFilter, protect themselves. The officials wrote:
The FBI recommends any owner of small office and home office routers reboot the devices to temporarily disrupt the malware and aid the potential identification of infected devices. Owners are advised to consider disabling remote management settings on devices and secure with strong passwords and encryption when enabled. Network devices should be upgraded to the latest available versions of firmware.
In a statment also published Friday, Justice Department officials wrote:
Owners of SOHO and NAS devices that may be infected should reboot their devices as soon as possible, temporarily eliminating the second stage malware and causing the first stage malware on their device to call out for instructions. Although devices will remain vulnerable to reinfection with the second stage malware while connected to the Internet, these efforts maximize opportunities to identify and remediate the infection worldwide in the time available before Sofacy actors learn of the vulnerability in their command-and-control infrastructure.
The US Department of Homeland Security has also issued a statement advising that "all SOHO router owners power cycle (reboot) their devices to temporarily disrupt the malware."
As noted in the statements, rebooting serves the objectives of (1) temporarily preventing infected devices from running the stages that collect data and other advanced attacks and (2) helping FBI officials to track who was infected. Friday’s statement said the FBI is working with the non-profit Shadow Foundation to disseminate the IP addresses of infected devices to ISPs and foreign authorities to notify end users.
Authorities and researchers still don’t know for certain how compromised devices are initially infected. They suspect the attackers exploited known vulnerabilities and default passwords that end users had yet to patch or change. That uncertainty is likely driving the advice in the FBI statement that all router and NAS users reboot, rather than only users of the 14 models known to be affected by VPNFilter, which are:
Mikrotik RouterOS for Cloud Core Routers: Versions 1016, 1036, and 1072
QNAP TS439 Pro
Other QNAP NAS devices running QTS software
The advice to reboot, update, change default passwords, and disable remote administration is sound and in most cases requires no more than 15 minutes. Of course, a more effective measure is to follow the advice Cisco gave Wednesday to users of affected devices and perform a factory reset, which will permanently remove all of the malware, including stage 1. This generally involves using a paper clip or thumb tack to hold down a button on the back of the device for 5 seconds. The reset will remove any configuration settings stored on the device, so users will have to restore those settings once the device initially reboots. (It's never a bad idea to disable UPnP when practical, but that protection appears to have no effect on VPNFilter.)
There's no easy way to know if a router has been infected by VPNFilter. For more advanced users, Cisco provided detailed indicators of compromise in Wednesday's report, along with firewall rules that can be used to protect devices.
phx-IT is proud to announce our newest partnership with Child Crisis Arizona! We’re proud to add them to our list of nonprofits as customers, and are happy to provide them with full-time on-premise service while finding them savings on the latest IT solutions. Find out more at: ChildCrisisAZ.org
Another successful project at Aero-Zone’s newest location in Shannon, Ireland.
We want to thank everybody at Aero-Zone Europe for the hospitality, showing us around County Clare, and for directing us to the best spots to grab a pint. We are proud to have them as clients and we are looking forward to our next visit!
phx-IT is proud to announce our newest partnership with First Place Arizona! We’re proud to have 5 nonprofits as customers, and are happy to provide personable on-site service while finding them savings on the latest IT solutions. Learn more about the work First Place does for our community at: www.firstplaceaz.org
phx-IT is proud to announce our newest partnership with DRA Collective! We’re excited to add them to our growing list of clients, and are thrilled to find them savings on the latest IT solutions while offering stellar personable on-site service. You can learn more about DRA at their website: www.dracollective.com
phx-IT is proud to announce our newest partnership with Creative Business Resources! We’re excited to add them to our growing list of clients, and are thrilled to find
Wow, this is a bad one. On Macs running the latest version of High Sierra — 10.13.1 (17B48) — it appears that anyone can log in just by putting “root” in the user name field. This is a huge, huge problem. Apple will fix it probably within hours, but holy moly. Do not leave your Mac unattended until this is resolved.
Impressed with the new spit and polish of Firefox Quantum? Or ready to return to the warm embrace of Safari? We now carry so much of our digital lives around with us in our browsers that switching isn’t all that straightforward—here’s how to make sure you take everything with you when you jump from one to the other.
We’re going to arrange this guide by the name of the browser you’re switching to, but to a large extent, you’re restricted by the browser you’re switching from—some applications make more data available for export than others.
Switching to Google Chrome
Open up the Chrome Settings tab and click the Import bookmarks and settings link that’s prominently displayed, and you can then choose which browser you’re moving from. Hats off to Firefox, which allows you to transfer browsing history, bookmarks, saved passwords, search engines, and even autofill data.
If you’re (finally!) moving over from the creaking Internet Explorer, then you can move browsing history, bookmarks, and passwords. As far as the newer Microsoft Edge goes though, all you can transfer is bookmarks. Safari, like Microsoft Edge, only allows bookmarks to be moved over.
There’s no option for Opera unfortunately—if you want to carry your bookmarks over, and that’s all you can do, you need to choose Menu, Bookmarks, and Export Bookmarks in Opera first, and then select Bookmarks HTML File in the import window in Chrome.
Switching to Opera
Find the Import bookmarks and settings button under the Basic heading on the Settings tab. Again, you get a choice of browsers, with Chrome and Firefox being the most cooperative. They each allow you to transfer browsing history, bookmarks, passwords, and even stored cookies.
Internet Explorer allows the same four types of data to be moved to your new Opera browser, but Microsoft Edge and Safari restrict you to just bookmarks. Pick your browser from the drop-down menu at the top, then choose your data, then click Import to confirm.
Switching to Microsoft Edge
If Microsoft’s latest attempt at a web browser has caught your eye, you’ll find the data transfer options by opening the app menu then choosing Settings and Import from another browser. You’ll be met with three options, plus the option to import (or export) bookmarks as an HTML file, if you need to.
Internet Explorer is the friendliest of the other browsers, allowing bookmarks, browsing history, cookies, passwords, form data, and settings to be imported into Edge—just about everything then. Microsoft obviously wants to make the transition as easy as possible.
For Chrome, that selection shrinks to bookmarks, browsing history, cookies, passwords, and settings (no form data), though you can’t pick and choose, and on Firefox you can only move over bookmarks. If you’re switching from Opera, you need to export your bookmarks as an HTML file, then import them into Edge—that’s all you can move over.
Switching to Firefox
Switching to Firefox
Firefox Quantum has a lot going for it and if you want to move over all your webby possessions to Mozilla’s browser then you need to click the new Library button on the toolbar (it looks like a shelf of books), then Bookmarks and Show All Bookmarks. At the top of the new dialog box, choose Import and Backup, then Import Data from Another Browser.
You can then make your pick of browsers. Chrome allows cookies, browsing history, saved passwords, and bookmarks to be moved across, as do Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge. We couldn’t actually get passwords and browsing history to move across from Edge, despite the option being there, so it’s possibly still a work in progress...
Again, Safari only allows bookmarks to be moved across, and in the case of Opera you you can only move over bookmarks: you need to manually export them as we described above, before choosing Import Bookmarks from HTML in the Import and Backup menu in Firefox.
Switching to Safari
If you’re heading back to Safari on macOS for whatever reason, you’ll find the browser data import option by going to File, Import From, and choosing Chrome or Firefox from the list. Both options let you move over bookmarks and browsing history, but with Firefox you can transfer saved passwords too.
On the same Import From submenu there’s a Bookmarks HTML File option, which you can use to import bookmarks from Opera or any other browser (like Microsoft Edge on Windows). These imported favorites appear in their own “Imported” folder in your Safari bookmarks.
Plugging the Gaps
If your new browser of choice can’t natively transfer all the data from your old browser, then your options are very much on the limited side. You may well just have to bite the bullet and leave your browsing history or your saved passwords behind, if they’re not covered in the options we’ve mentioned above.
You can’t get any browser extensions to plug the gaps, for example—even when export tools are available, like this history exporter for Chrome, you’re not outputting data in a way that other browsers can then import.
However, there are tools that can help you next time you bail from one browser to another: If you want to future-proof your passwords against any browser switching you might want to do in the years ahead, install a dedicated password manager like 1Password, Keeper Security, Dashlane, or LastPass.
These apps work across multiple browsers and multiple platforms, so your passwords are saved independently of your browser, and can move with you. The likes of Dashlane and LastPass can store other form data too, like addresses and payment information.
Finally, if you go all-in with Google, you can take your passwords and browsing history with you from browser to browser, to a certain extent: Your saved passwords are always available at https://passwords.google.com, and your browsing history is at https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity, as long as you were signed into Google when doing the searching.
These web apps of Google’s won’t integrate seamlessly into your new browser, but they can act as a stopgap until your new software is completing your URLs and filling out your login details like you need it to.
PHOENIX - One of Bill Gates' investment firms has spent $80 million to kickstart the development of a brand-new community in the far West Valley.
The large plot of land is about 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix off I-10 near Tonopah.
The proposed community, made up of close to 25,000 acres of land, is called Belmont. According to Belmont Partners, a real estate investment group based in Arizona, the goal is to turn the land into its own "smart city."
"Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs," Belmont Partners said in a news release.
Ronald Schott, executive emeritus at the Arizona Technology Council, says the land Gates' company purchased is in a good spot, in part due to the proposed I-11 freeway, which would run right through Belmont and connect to Las Vegas.
"Bill Gates is known for innovation and those kind of things and I think he picked the right place. He's coming to Arizona," Schott said.
According to Belmont Partners, 3,800 acres will go towards office, commercial and retail space. Then, 470 acres will be used for public schools. Plus, there's room for 80,000 residential units.
"Comparable in square miles and projected population to Tempe, Arizona, Belmont will transform a raw, blank slate into a purpose-built edge city built around a flexible infrastructure model," said Belmont Properties.
"Finally Arizona's getting recognized for being a place for innovation," added Schott.
So far, there's no word on when construction will start.
Aeronautics giant Boeing is acquiring Aurora Flight Sciences, a company focused on the development of autonomous electric aircraft. The move confirms Boeing’s commitment to bringing their first self-flying commercial passenger vehicle to reality.
Aurora won a significant amount of acclaim in 2016 when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded them a contract to help build the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) X-Plane. Uber also enlisted Aurora Flight Sciences’ help on their Uber Elevate flying taxi project.
The acquisition will bring together the expertise of a proven autonomous electric aircraft maker that has built and operated more than 30 pilot-free vehicles in their 20 years of existence and the financial muscle of Boeing, which has been invested in aeronautics for more than a century. This melding could very well lead to the first fully autonomous electric aircraft.
The development of flying vehicles is likely to continue trending upward, especially now that Boeing has been announced as the sponsorship of a $2 million contest to deliver the next generation of flying machines. Airbus, another aviation giant, is also working on VTOL taxis, which could be flying high as soon as next year, so we shouldn’t have long to wait before personal transportation gets a major lift skyward.
Software as a service(SaaS)? IT as a service(ITaaS)? Anything as a service(XaaS)? Whatever happened to just service? At phx-IT service is what we focus on to make sure your business is running smoothly. Give us a call to find out how we can take care of your IT.
There’s a saying among Russian advertisers: “the best idea is to rent the Moon.” Fortunately, the Moon isn’t for sale, but space itself is up for grabs, so companies and amateurs are now launching dozens of small satellites (smallsats) into orbit at a time.
You can’t see most of these satellites from Earth, but for the next month a smallsat developed by students at the Moscow Polytechnic University may be visible to the naked eye. In fact, if all goes well for the team behind the project, it will be the second brightest object in the night sky, second only to the Moon.
It’s an ambitious, largely crowdfunded endeavor led by a Russian advertising agency 12.digital that says its goals are to inspire interest in space, test science instruments, and perform a bit of advertising for its biggest investor.
“The pyramid is like a parachute for satellites,” Panov said. “It’s a small system and if a satellite finishes working, you can press the button on Earth and the parachute will open and cause the satellite to go down to the atmosphere much faster.”
Mayak received a free ride aboard the Soyuz rocket, thanks to support from Russia’s Roscosmos space program. Roughly 60 percent of the project was supported through crowdfunding, with the rest coming from a sponsorship with a banking startup appropriately named RocketBank. For its sponsorship, RocketBank will brand Mayak as the “Cash Back Star” for its 200,000 users. However, 12.digital insists it’s not just about the advertising.
“The pyramid is like a parachute for satellites”
“We’re an ad agency but we realized we’re interested in some technologies and we met some young engineers and decided to work on this project together,” says 12.digital partner, Nik Ershov.
“We don’t want to move advertisement to space,” he added. “We understand that in the future some companies will use space as an area that people can’t avoid. But we’re scared about that. We don’t want to think in that context.”
Nonetheless, it’s tough to deny the potential for space advertising and the Mayak stands as an example of how companies may capitalize on the open space above us.
The satellite will orbit Earth about sixteen times every day, Ershov estimated, and should be visible from regions around the globe. The team has also released an app to help users track the Mayak in real time.
Atari is on a roll lately. The company made a splash at E3 last month with the announcement of its new Ataribox connected console, and now the classic brand is entering the wearables market with perhaps its oddest product yet: Atari Speakerhats, powered by Audiowear technology.
The first three baseball cap styles will debut at San Diego Comic Con this week, and special edition Blade Runner 2049 Atari Speakerhats will be available in conjunction with the much-anticipated sequel’s release this fall, along with other wearables.
Michael Arzt, COO of the new Atari Connect division of the iconic brand, told Digital Trends that a variety of these hats will launch later this year. The ones debuting at Comic Con include a New Era-style baseball cap with the name “Atari” on the front, available in blue and black, as well as a black-on-black verision featuring the company’s “Mt. Fuji” symbol.
“…a cool and badass hat that will look like it belongs in the 2049 world”
“In addition to the Blade Runner limited edition we’re doing, which is a cool and badass hat that will look like it belongs in the 2049 world, we have a bunch of others we’re involved with,” Arzt said. “We’ll have hats based on some classic Atari franchises.”
The Audiowear Speakerhat is designed to be ultra-thin and lightweight, with all the fancy tech seamlessly integrated into the form factor of a cap, an Audiowear representative told Digital Trends. Under the hood you’ll find a set of proprietary high-fidelity stereo speakers, a microphone, and a rechargeable lithium ion battery to keep it all running.
The hat can also connect to any Bluetooth-enabled device (smartphone, tablet, personal computer, etc.) to play music or other audio, initiate or accept phone calls, receive voice commands, and more. Audiowear’s Social Synchronous Broadcast technology will allow multiple Speakerhat users to simultaneously listen to a single audio stream in perfect sync, which Arzt said provides a fundamentally new social audio experience. “Gamers can hear the same thing at the same time and also communicate and hear each other through the hats,” Arzt added.
But of course, there’s still some work to be done. Audiowear says the hats are a work-in-progress, and the company plans to continuously improve the design and engineering until the technology is completely invisible.
While no official release date has been revealed yet, Atari is offering fans a chance to win one of the hats (link) and participate in the beta testing phase.
Arzt said Comic Con was chosen for the global debut of these Speakerhats because the Atari brand is loved by so many creators of pop culture, including TV producers, filmmakers, and musicians.
“We’re constantly getting approached to have our brand and games involved in projects,” Arzt said. “The Atari brand has a great nostalgic value for people who’ve grown up with it. Everyone has a favorite Atari story of opening a console under the Christmas tree or friends getting together to play games in the family room. Today we have the hipsters in SoHo wearing the faded Atari t-shirt. We’ve transcended the gaming-only positioning and aim to be a friendlier digital lifestyle brand.”
This is all just part of the company’s larger comeback plan.
This is all just part of the company’s larger comeback plan. In addition to the Speakerhats, there’s the At Games collection of Atari Flashback plug-and-play consoles with up-rezzed versions of Atari 2600 and 5200 games packed in. A new collection featuring Activision classics is heading to retail this fall. Atari classic games from Centipede to the more recent Rollercoaster Tycoon are making their mark on mobile devices.
“And then spinning off that is a very robust licensing campaign with everything from t-shirts and hats to plastic centipedes and classic posters,” Arzt explained. “That carries a tremendous chunk of the business forward because there’s a lot of love for the franchises and the brand.”
There’s also movement in Hollywood for Atari’s library of over 200 games. Media Fusion is developing “Game On,” a reality game show challenging contestants to navigate life-sized sets based on classic Atari Games in South Africa. They’re also turning “Codebreakers” into a TV series with Discovery in Europe.
“We have a number of projects in development with producers looking to turn Missile Command or Centipede into movies or TV shows,” Arzt said. “We’re also talking to a number of different partners about new games and new things we can do in that space, where we might do a co-branded iteration of our classic games. Some of those deals are not announced yet.”
And the last piece of the business is the hardware.
“Going back 45 years, Atari was not just a game and software developer but also a hardware manufacturer with arcade games, consoles and computers,” Arzt explained. “That’s been left behind for a long time. The decision was made to reinvigorate that and get back into hardware. The Ataribox project we teased prior to E3 got a tremendous amount of attention, and when people start seeing more of that they’ll be very excited.”
Arzt also said that Atari isn’t going to compete directly with the established giants of the video game business like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft.
“The hardware philosophy I’m building is this ‘connected lifestyle’ concept,” he explained. “We don’t need to be the bleeding-edge hardware guys. With the Ataribox, we’ll play a bit more casual in keeping with the types of franchises we have. It’s more about being accessible and presenting products that have that fun element to them.”
Atari is also developing additional wearables, as well as some connected home products that will link to the upcoming Ataribox and other entertainment devices. So don’t be surprised if you start seeing a lot more stuff from Atari rolling out over the next year, as the once-giant video game company reinvents itself with new IOT devices and wearables alongside connected consoles, fashion, and merchandise.