Friday, September 6, 2013

NSA Subverts Most Encryption, Works With Tech Organizations For Back-Door Access, Report Says

The National Security Agency’s most wanted man and newly minted Russian resident, Edward Snowden, has revealed new details about the ability of intelligence agencies to crack supposedly secret communications. “The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents,” reports the New York Times. According to the documents, the NSA “has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption” algorithms and technologies used to keep banking, email, commerce, and data transfers secret. Here are the essentials of the story: For at least three years, British and American spy agencies worked to gain back-door access to major Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, And Microsoft. “By 2012, GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] had developed ‘new access opportunities’ into Google’s systems, according to the document” (Google has repeatedly denied that the NSA gets any special access). According to Snowden, the NSA spends roughly $250 million to weaken international encryption standards and products so that they can be cracked by the NSA. In one instance, a fatal security flaw discovered by Microsoft engineers in 2007 was first “pushed” on an international standards group by the NSA. There is a tight inner circle of intelligence officials around the world who have full access to the cracking technologies. “The full extent of the N.S.A.’s decoding capabilities is known only to a limited group of top analysts from the so-called Five Eyes: the N.S.A. and its counterparts in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.” The NSA argues that decrypting messages from the likes of Syria and al-Qaeda leaders are essential for national security. According to the story, authorities asked the Times not to publish the article. The Times withheld some information for security purposes, but (obviously) went ahead with the piece. As we’ve written about before, the NSA tried a similar strategy in the 1990 with a hardware product that would permit backdoor access to cell phones, the failed “Clipper Chip.” Apparently, the NSA found a new way to gain back-door access. “They went and did it anyway without telling anyone,” cryptographer Paul Kocher told The Times. Snowden still says that “strong” encryption can’t be decoded by the NSA. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.” So apparently, there are still ways of keeping messages safe. It is important to note that all of the legal requirements for search still apply to decrypted information.

Rotten Tomatoes Founder Positions New Site To Be “Google News For Movies”

Rotten Tomatoes founder Senh Duong has redesigned his new site, Movies With Butter, to be the “Google News for movies.” Movies With Butter originally launched with more of a Digg/Reddit strategy, allowing users to vote which stories would be on the homepage, but Duong says it didn’t work because the site couldn’t gain enough users to vote on the stories. He founded Rotten Tomatoes in 1998 and was quickly joined by a few of his friends, including Binh Ngo with whom he started Movies With Butter. Duong and company sold Rotten Tomatoes in 2004 to IGN Entertainment for an undisclosed amount (the property has since been sold several times, and is currently owned by Warner Brothers). The duo quietly launched Movies With Butter in 2011. Duong says he and Ngo think they can build a better algorithm than Google News, which doesn’t have a film-specific section, based on their knowledge from Rotten Tomatoes. The site is all algorithm-based right now and updates every 15 minutes, moving stories up and down as they become more and less popular. Duong points out that so many movie news sites have a lot of overlapping news stories, and hardcore fans and industry types could use an aggregator to more easily digest different news stories, the same way that many in the tech industry use Techmeme to filter through overlapping stories from the various tech blogs. “Rotten Tomatoes is more aggregation of movie reviews. Movies With Butter is an extension of that–it’s an aggregation of movie news,” Duong tells me. In addition to the news aggregator and staff blogs, the site has a film database that focuses on upcoming and very recent movies, a Tomato Meter that shows what fans are reviewing over on Rotten Tomatoes, and a Facebook Meter that tracks the Facebook likes that film’s Pages are getting from fans. The pair have bootstrapped the site so far, and Duong says they aren’t looking to raise right now but may be open to funding in the future. He says the team is adding more stats, especially social media stats, so that fans can gauge what the buzz is on upcoming movies across a range of platforms.

Hardware Is Eating The World

It’s clear more than ever that hardware is in vogue. The rise of crowdfunding graciously coincided with the shrinking of processors and sensors. It’s never been easier to create a smart device. And on Wednesday, September 11, hardware companies will fill the halls of The Concourse at San Francisco Design Center for Disrupt SF. The atmosphere takes on a distinctly science fair vibe, with drones flying around, LEDs flashing, 3D printers churning out models of TC East Coast Editor John Biggs’ head. TechCrunch events have always featured hardware companies. FitBit launched with us. Lit Motors. Gtar. Tovbot. We strive to find the very best startups for Startup Battlefield and that often includes guys and gals that build tangible objects. This year is no different. Some amazing hardware companies will launch on the Disrupt stage. The hardware theme runs throughout the conference, and it all starts with the Hackathon. Chevy is asking attendees to build applications for its in-vehicle infotainment systems. Meanwhile, Pioneer — the folks that make radios and speakers — will be onsite looking for teams building applications for its AppRadio platform. LiveBolt, a sort of DIY Lockitron, won the hackathon last year. Don’t shy away from making hardware at the hackathon. I’m also excited to have several notable leaders in hardware at Disrupt next week. I’ll kick off the final day of Disrupt with Nick Woodman, the 36-year self-made billionaire behind GoPro cameras. The company was called Half Moon Bay for the better part of its life, but recently outgrew its digs on the beach and moved inland to San Mateo (but not before opening half a dozen offices around the world). Pebble’s Eric Migicovsky will join John Biggs on stage afterwards to no doubt nerd out about the joys of watches, Kickstarting and rapid prototyping. This isn’t the first time we’ve brought hardware companies to Disrupt. But this the first time we’ve gone so big with the theme. Silicon Valley is returning to its roots in a way by building things, objects you can touch and physically hold in your hand. Sure, software is still dominant in the Valley and there’ll be no shortage of it at Disrupt, but this year, expect hardware to make a prominent appearance. And that makes this DIYer from Michigan very happy.

How To Get In On The New York Fashion Week Action, Techie Style

It’s baaaack. New York Fashion Week, that is. And if you’re a user of the Internet, it’s pretty hard to miss this season. As Women’s Wear Daily put it, ramped-up social media and live streaming have led Fashion Week to become a veritable “digital spectator sport.” In the last few years, tech has begun to carve out an increasingly large presence at Fashion Week, and this year marks an unprecedented degree of involvement from both tech companies and designers. In 2009, Alexander McQueen live streamed his Spring/Summer 2010 show through SHOWstudio. Then came Marc Jacobs, Emporio Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana for Fall/Winter 2010. Today, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week has a live stream trained in on all of its shows. Gone are the days of dressing in all black and pretending to be a PR assistant to get into the tents. As I write this, there is a camera panning around the Nicholas K show as the seats slowly fill up. Diane von Furstenberg just sent out an email blast telling us we can watch her September 8 show on Facebook. Facebook! It’s democratization, and it’s also excellent advertising. Fashion voyeurs, here are your resources for getting in on the action from afar. The Mercedes-Benz Live Stream Open a window on your computer and let it roll. As a consumer, a universal live stream is a major upgrade from having to wait around for images and video to load on On the flip side, it raises further questions about the necessity of editors attending shows, the schedule for which has become increasingly packed and unrealistic. On a personal note, I’m still looking for bars in New York that are showing the stream, so if you know of one, please leave a comment below. Pinterest Pinterest has launched a Fashion Week hub featuring boards from magazines, designers, beauty companies and models. The images are a combination of professional shots and behind-the-scenes snaps. If you’re going to be pinning, it’s a well-organized catalogue from which to pull. Google Glass Fashion insiders are again donning Google Glass this season to give viewers a first-hand look at their world, which is, if you think about it, a truly good use of the tool. Following on the heels of von Furstenberg, who wore a pair and put them on her models last year, Nina Garcia is providing an editor’s-eye (and front-row) view of the action for Marie Claire (#benina). Netrobe is also releasing Google Glass videos on their blog taken by the blogger Style Heroine. Instagram Since not every makeup artist, designer, and editor is going to be wearing Google Glass, Instagram is in some ways as backstage as you can get. Plug in #NYFW, or some iteration thereof (#MBFW, #SS14), and have at it. Into the Gloss shared some great recs when it comes to models, photogs, and stylists who will undoubtedly be making some especially pretty pictures for the next month. Tumblr X Sony Exhibit Call it Fashion Week blogger tech art, sponsored by Sony. According to Mashable, Tumblr has paired 20 New York-based bloggers with 18 designers and two organizations for “apprenticeships” in the two weeks leading up to Fashion Week. Miguel Yatco of Living in the Stills with Oscar de la Renta and Sara Zucker with Anna Sui, for instance. The exhibit, which opens tonight at Milk Studios and runs through the week, is the result of those partnerships. Since it’s Tumblr, odds are the work will take the form of photos and GIFs.

With 100K Titles In Tow, Oyster Brings Netflix To Book Lovers With New All-You-Can-Read Subscription Service

While the pace has slowed of late, thanks to Kindles, Nooks, iPads and the steady advance of mobile technology, the eBook market (and the demand for all shades of digital prose) has grown exponentially over the past few years. According to one estimate from the LA Times, the total revenue generated from eBook sales in the U.S. topped $3 billion in 2012, which equates to a 44 percent jump from the year before. Meanwhile, across the pond, eBook sales in the UK quietly turned in a record year, leaping 134 percent from 2011 to 2012. Judging by how long it’s probably been since your friendly neighborhood teenager picked up one of those “analog content consumption mechanisms” fondly known as a “print book,” and considering the continuing maturation of distribution channels and services for digital video and music, it’s no surprise books are following a similar path. On the other hand, with the success companies like Netflix and Spotify have had in making enormous libraries of digital media accessible (and affordable) for Average Joes, it seems surprising, then, that similar mobile-friendly subscription models and social discovery/sharing technology hasn’t yet been applied to books (to nearly the same extent). Well, Literati and book lovers rejoice. Thanks to Oyster, a plucky young, NYC-based startup, the wait is over. As confessed technologists and bookworms, co-founders Eric Stromberg, Andrew Brown and Willem Van Lancker began work on Oyster last year after becoming fed up with trying to find a quality, all-in-one mobile reading experience and library. While eReaders and digital books are hardly in short supply — thanks to the Amazons of the world — Oyster wants to create the first, real dedicated subscription service for books, while offering the same kind of personalized, social content discovery one has come to expect from Netflix and Amazon. After raising $3 million from Founders Fund, SV Angel, Founder Collective, Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital, Chris Dixon and Sam Altman (among others) last fall, the startup is finally ready to begin pulling back the curtain on its new book-happy subscription service. Starting today, Oyster will be rolling out invitations to its platform, which is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. After signing up for a membership, users will be able to access Oyster’s library and mobile reader through its new iPhone app (with versions for iPad and Android on the way). What does that mean? In short, Oyster’s appeal is its straightforward subscription model, which offers unlimited access to its library of 100,000 titles for $9.95/month. From there, members can peruse its library, check out recommendations from its Editorial Staff if in need of some guidance and be off and reading with a few quick taps. At launch, Oyster’s library offers titles from a wide range of genres, from sci-fi to biographies, including both classics and bestsellers. While 100K titles on-demand is a good start, the founders know that — at least at the outset — they’re competing for mindshare with the likes of Amazon’s colossal marketplace. As a result, the founders are focused on continuing to beef up selection and will be adding new titles every week as they move forward. Thanks to its size and reach, Amazon and iTunes cast a hefty shadow over the market, but part of the reason we haven’t seen a book-focused subscription service like this is due to the leg work that’s required to give readers access to premium content at any sort of scale. When news of Oyster’s plans to offer an unlimited subscription model began to emerge last year, this was the one big piece that was missing. But since then, the founders have inked deals with a handful of big names in the publishing world, like Harper Collins, Houghton Mifflin, Worman, Melville House, Rodale, Open Road Media, RosettaBooks and F+W Media. As it moves forward, the team will look to continue adding to its list of publishers both big and small. On the other end, in an effort to create an awesome reading experience and increase stickiness, Oyster has baked a social discovery layer into its platform, allowing readers to keep up with what their friends are reading (and recommending) while curating their own “Reading List” on their personal profile. Much like Netflix, the app allows readers to peruse its library by genre and title, while offering personalized recommendations and suggestions on topics based on what’s playing in theaters and what’s getting buzz in the news. Like many of today’s recommendation enginers, Oyster learns as it goes, parsing data on your reading habits and preferences to offer better suggestions to your reading list. The more active you are within the app, the more you read, the better its recommendations become. The same can also be said of its social discovery layer; as more users sign up and begin reading, the more they will begin to see recommendations and selections from friends pop up on their radar. Readers can follow their friends to get quicker access to their reading lists and recommendations (and vice versa), and, like Spotify, they can also flip on a privacy mode to keep your behavior and selections from being broadcast to Oyster’s network. However, unlike Netflix and Spotify, it’s not clear as of yet how Oyster is structuring its deals with publishers — in other words, whether it’s paying publishers or authors every time their book is selected (like Spotify) or whether the content is paid for up-front a la Netflix. The other potential appeal for the more casual readers out there is that Oyster enables you to choose specific chapters from titles, making it easier to skim through that self-help or cooking 101 manual and find what you’re looking for. Or move onto the next. This makes browsing much easier, so that when you’re not sure about whether or not a certain title is what you’re looking for, you can peruse without having to pay full price. Combining the ability to go anonymous when browsing and reading with how Oyster has optimized its app for the mobile reading experience, from its typeface to using vertical swiping for page-turning (rather than the usual horizontal model), which ultimately makes way more sense if you’re going to be reading a book on your phone. It’s these little things, along with the promise of more targeted and personalized recommendations (especially of the social variety) as its network expands and a library that offers impressive selection for a new platform, that makes Oyster an awesome option for avid readers. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Salesforce Renames Chatterbox To Salesforce Files, Uses EntropySoft Acquisition To Add Support For Box And Other Services has renamed Chatterbox, the file-sharing service it launched as a competitor to Box and other services. The new service is called Salesforce Files and this time the company is positioning it as a way to connect files from internal and external sources, such as Google Drive, SharePoint and Documentum. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff unveiled Chatterbox at TechCrunch Disrupt last year. It was originally designed for companies to share files and collaborate, but it did not offer integration with third-party services, which is what customers said would be more useful and fit with their Salesforce integrations, said Nasi Jazayeri, EVP and GM of Salesforce Chatter at a press event today. For background, Chatter is the activity stream service that Salesforce has developed and has made a core aspect of its technology offering. The Chatterbox name is a portmanteau combing the Chatter brand name with “box”which was largely viewed as a shot across the bow at the Box service. The Salesforce Files technology gathers files from internal and third-party services and integrates them all in one place. Much of the technology is borrowed from EntropySoft, a company Salesforce acquired in February. The EntropySoft technology offered a network of connectors that orchestrates the integration of files from enterprise content management and file-sharing services. These connectors also integrate with repositories and applications. It’s that integration with applications such as Chatter that will be instrumental to the success of Salesforce Files. The service is not yet available and no launch date has been set, showing that this is a product going through a major reboot. It was announced last year but this is the first time the company has made a major announcement about the service. Adding to the skepticism is the lack of integration Chatterbox has with cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). Salesforce Files is reflective of the company’s efforts to be the CRM system of record for the enterprise. Companies create all sorts of documents that need to be accessed under any variety of use cases. Dropbox, Box and services like Egnyte all offer this capability and have a lead in the market. Microsoft is taking a similar approach to Salesforce by integrating Yammer with its storage service formerly known as SkyDrive, Office365 and other services. Salesforce has its massive platform to leverage but the news today reflects a service going through a major transition and no proof of any significant presence in the market.

ZappRx Lands $1M To Rethink Prescription Processing With A Pharmacy-Agnostic Mobile Checkout Platform

Today, technology is in the process of transforming healthcare. The whole nine years: From software, medicine and insurance to fitness, care delivery and the very science behind all of it. By now, this probably sounds like a familiar refrain, and for good reason. Whether it’s the adoption of EMRs, Quantified Self-inspired wearable tech, social health communities or new digital medicines like Proteus’ FDA-approved ingestible sensors and “smart pills,” change is coming fast. Of course, future promise notwithstanding, big problems remain. Outdated business models, misaligned incentives and archaic infrastructure abound in healthcare. The system’s focus is shifting from treatment to prevention and towards a patient-centric model, towards better outcomes and lower costs but progress is slow. Ask ZappRx founder Zoe Barry about the inefficiency and need for better tech in healthcare, and she’ll probably point you in the direction of your local pharmacy. Most people have experienced firsthand how frustrating the simple process of filling and picking up a prescription can be. Usually, it starts with a long line, before you learn that there’s been a miscommunication between pharmacist and your doctor, or that you don’t have health insurance, there’s a problem — oh wait, everything’s fine, just wait over there for 10 minutes. The whole process is slow, dumb, inefficient and hasn’t changed much since the Millard Fillmore administration. Barry founded ZappRx after witnessing a college student looking to fill prescriptions before heading back to school be subjected to an unusually inept and frustrating version of the Pharmacy Shuffle. The young woman was even attempting to pick up an ePrescription, but still, the process failed. Yes, doctors are increasingly turning to ePrescribing solutions to digitize the process, but how much good does an electronic prescription do if it’s being used on top of archaic infrastructure and one-way APIs? The data-flow is still pretty much one-sided. Spend 10 minutes in your local pharmacy and you’ll see most prescription verification, confirmations, ordering, fulfilling and so on happen over the phone or via the fax machine. Just as Y Combinator and Rock Health grad, Eligible, wants to do with APIs to help reduce the time it takes for hospitals and insurance companies to confirm coverage and eligibility (for surgery and other procedures), Barry has built ZappRx to take the giant pain in the ass out of pharmacy visits. Recently, I’ve begun to notice what has seemed like a step in the right direction. Some of the big pharmacy chains now offer mobile apps to help people manage their prescriptions. My local Walgreens, for example, sends me SMS alerts when a prescription is ready to be picked up. It’s a step in the right direction, sure, but a small one. In reality, consumers don’t want to get roped into one particular app or proprietary system. They want to download one app and use it any pharmacy they go to, and that’s what ZappRx offers. Furthermore, most of the major pharmacies offer little to no security in their mobile apps, if they do offer them. This is another place Barry believes ZappRx can offer a better solution, as the startup’s platform and apps are HIPAA-compliant, meaning you get control of your data — not your pharmacy — and you won’t find ads, coupons or promotions sitting right next to your medical data. On the other hand, the current system, being largely phone and fax-based, offers doctors very little real visibility into what happens after they write the prescription — or into medication history. Did their patient fill the prescription? The only way is to call the pharmacy. ZappRx wants to offer pharmacies that backend processing they don’t currently have, and transactions, while making it easier for doctors to track pickup and fulfillment and communicate electronically with the pharmacy. The app also enables pre-processing, which is huge time saver on both sides. Pharmacies can get a jump start on filling prescriptions, dealing with any hiccups and working more around their schedule, rather than on deadline while an angry customer screams at them and their doctor. And, meanwhile, customers get to skip the line. It’s like OrderAhead for pharmacies. And while this may all sound like minutuae and like something that has a negligible effect on service quality, ZappRx estimates that the inefficiencies in this model cost drug stores an average of $1.2 billion every year. Of course, with the largest pharmacy chains in the country, like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Target, owning the lionshare of the market (and tens of thousands of stores collectively), as good as ZappRx’s solution may sound, pharmacies still need to get on board. The startup is currently in the process of working on deals with a few of the big players, although the founder declined to comment on specifics. Meanwhile, as it works to secure key revenue-generating partnerships with pharmacies, ZappRx’s model has nonetheless scored some validation, as the startup this week announced that it has raised $1 million in seed funding led by Atlas Ventures, Life Sciences Angel Network, Hakan Satiroglu and a handful of other angel investors. ZappRx also added Jay Silverstein, a founding member of Oxford Health, NaviNet founder and CEO, Will Cowen and founder George Kassabgi as advisors.