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7
Jan

ASUS ZenFone AR hands-on: It will probably be great once it works


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This is where my ZenFone AR hands on would be, if that were possible.

ASUS hopped on stage and announced two thin, light, and beautiful new phones for everyone to enjoy. We’ve spent some time with the ZenFone Zoom and look forward to seeing what that new camera and snappy new software can do in the real world, but the ZenFone AR isn’t quite as ready to be used as its sibling. That makes some sense when you consider this phone isn’t coming to market until much later than the ZenFone Zoom, but it also means most of the really cool things this phone is supposed to be capable of aren’t quite ready for evaluation.

We’ve got some photos for you to look at, and some thoughts on the design of the exterior, but it’ll be a little while before we can fully appreciate everything this phone is capable of.

The outside

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A lot of the exterior of this phone is not exactly standard for ASUS. The back of the phone is a textured material that feels somewhere in between faux leather and plastic, which is a good thing. It doesn’t seem likely to get scuffed up like Moto leather, and there’s no squish to take away from how solid the phone feels. The aluminum band around the outside is polished smooth and helps the phone feel thinner than it is, with a plastic rim in between the glass front and the bezel so you’re not setting the phone on anything that could scratch the display when you set it face down.

ASUS built all of the Tango functionality on Android 6.0, and when the upgrade to 7.0 happened none of those AR-related features survived.

The things that are most interesting about this phone, as the name suggests, are on the inside. This is the first phone with a Snapdragon 821 processor that has been optimized to handle Google Tango, complete with a camera array that differs wildly from Google’s first Tango partner, Lenovo. As the first phone that can handle both Daydream and Tango, there’s a lot of testing to be done to see how well all of this comes together. Unfortunately, none of the Tango stuff is available to try out yet. ASUS built all of the Tango functionality on Android 6.0, and when the upgrade to 7.0 happened none of those AR-related features survived. It’ll be a while before that changes.

The potential

While Tango isn’t ready to be tested, there are some interesting software decisions being made that are worth talking about. For example, ASUS has a separate notification setting for when you’re using VR that switches over immediately when Daydream is launched. This is a huge deal if you’ve ever had a standard Android notification drop down and totally disorient you when you’re in the middle of a Daydream app, and like any other notification setting it can be set to allow specific users to interrupt if they’re really needed.

It’ll be a little while before we’re able to see if a phone really needs 8GB of RAM.

It’ll be a little while before we’re able to see if a phone really needs 8GB of RAM and how well a phone so much thinner than the Lenovo PHAB 2 Pro handles Tango before things like heat become a problem. Despite that, ASUS set out to make a Tango phone you’d actually want to carry around and use as your personal phone, and that’s a massive step forward for Tango. Where other Tango have been clearly purpose built for specific use cases, the ZenFone AR is shaping up to be a decent phone that also does cool VR and AR things. Assuming the performance really does work out, this could be a fantastic phone to own.

7
Jan

Google Home: What’s fit for the web isn’t always something that should be read aloud


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Reading something is very different from hearing it spoken by a creepy robot.

I’ve been thinking about something Phil showed me a while back. If you have a Google Home, ask it “What do sea otters do to baby seals?” and listen to the reply — but not with kids in the room.

The family room means family friendly and not all families are the same.

You get a long drawn out answer about how they drown them by trying to mate with them. Using words that can’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) be applied to animals that aren’t human. A discussion of rape that is simply not fit for every living room.

I know why it says what it says — because it’s working as intended. If you enter the same search at Google on the web or from your phone, you’ll find that the featured snippet at the top of the page is an excerpt from an article at IFLScience titled Animals can be Jerks which reads exactly as described by the title. It’s an interesting article, and probably something a teacher of appropriately aged children would appreciate even with the bit of anthropomorphism they include. The key is the appropriate age part.

Now imagine it coming from a speaker in the middle of your living room with a 4-year old child listening.

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That’s not something every parent would approve of, and probably enough for some families to pull the cord, put it back in the box and return it or let it collect dust in the closet. I can’t blame those parents — descriptions of violent behavior is something a parent should be able to protect their child from in the way they think is appropriate. I’m not sure how I would have reacted if my kids were still very young, but I know I wouldn’t think it was very cool for Google to just do that out loud with no warning since they probably know the ages of my kids based on my email or web history.

While you have to be age appropriate to sign into Google Home and use it, everyone within earshot can hear it. It’s the responsibility of the owner to use Google Home properly in all situations, but come on — were you really expecting what you heard when you asked that question? I wasn’t. I’m sure even worse featured snippets are out there if someone really wanted to look.

There has to be a new middle ground between private and public for a product like Google Home.

The proper way to address this according to Google is to report the featured snippet as inappropriate. The problem is that it’s not inappropriate on a website that doesn’t read it aloud. I don’t think the search is made better by removing an interesting result featured at the top as long as a creepy female robotic voice isn’t reading it out loud to the kids. And Google Home is designed to be out in the open in front of everyone doing its thing. It’s no longer private once it comes out of the speaker.

I don’t know what needs to be done. That’s OK, there are people who are paid to know what to do. I just think that Google needs to do something to give everyone a way to make sure that the things being spoken by Google Home are appropriate for everyone who can hear it. Add it to the rest of the settings as an option and people who don’t care won’t even know it’s there. The only solution I can come up with right now is to consider Google Home as not family friendly in all situations, which isn’t very good for something designed for the living room.

7
Jan

Six new technologies that will enable faster, better internet to the world


By Cat DiStasio

The internet is one of the most important inventions of the modern era. However, current estimates say that only 40 percent of people around the globe have access. As internet connectivity becomes ever more important, new technologies are emerging to connect the entire globe with better, faster service. On several continents, research and development projects are underway to provide internet connectivity via high-altitude balloons — not unlike those used to capture weather data, unmanned solar-powered drones and next-generation wireless routers. Each offers higher speeds and more reliability than current modes, plus the obvious benefit: getting the world online, all at the same time.

Facebook aims for solar-powered internet-beaming drone

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is famous for expressing a desire to connect the entire globe to the internet, and the company wants to launch giant soaring drones to beam out internet access around the world. Facebook’s own Connectivity Lab has developed a solar-powered drone with a wingspan as large as that of a Boeing 747. Dubbed Aquila, the drone took its first test flight in June 2016 and, while not equipped with internet technology at the time, the flight was a huge success. The actual flight lasted a whopping 96 minutes (66 minutes longer than planned), and helped the research team tackle the next phase of innovation. Someday, Facebook hopes the highly energy-efficient drones will fly in a 60-mile radius while simultaneously beaming out internet access wherever needed.

MIT’s 330 percent faster WiFi

Just a few months ago, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) announced a breakthrough in new wireless internet that is 330 percent faster and twice the bandwidth of existing technology. Dubbed MegaMIMO 2.0, the technology uses multiple transmitters and receivers to relay data simultaneously, increasing the amount of data in a given bandwidth. This development could someday lead to better, faster internet in public spaces and large gatherings like concerts and sporting events. The new technology could also address the issue of spectrum crunch by distributing data differently so that backups and congestion on the network simply don’t occur.

Li-Fi leaves WiFi in the dark?

Last year a French startup developed a wireless internet technology based on LEDs that they claim is 100 times faster than existing WiFi. The so-called “Li-Fi” exploits the flicker rate of LED lamps, which is typically imperceptible to the naked eye. That frequency is much higher than the radio waves conventional wireless internet employs. Li-Fi requires light to work, so it can’t pass through walls like WiFi, but it can be used to specifically target a specific user. What’s more, its secure nature makes it a potential fit in places like hospitals or schools where speed and privacy are high priorities.

Project Loon floats balloon-based internet access

Long before Facebook launched its own drone to beam internet through the sky, Google began Project Loon, a similar initiative that relies on balloons. The high-altitude internet-equipped balloons are designed to spread connectivity in rural parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, plus anywhere else that access is spotty. The project gained traction in 2013 when Google tapped residents of California’s Central Valley to volunteer to let the team install an antenna on their home in order to test the beaming balloons. Three years and many tests later on several continents, Project Loon (now operating under X, formerly Google X) continues to perfect its internet-beaming technology in the hopes of someday filling in the empty spots in the data coverage map.

NASA gears up to beam internet into deep space

During his 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station, American astronaut Scott Kelly became somewhat of an Instagram star, posting jaw-dropping views of the Earth (and beyond) from his outpost in the stars. So, people probably take for granted the notion that astronauts have internet access. In reality, sending data through space is nearly as complicated as space travel itself, but NASA deployed new tech to the ISS in 2016 that could eventually be used to relay internet service even farther into deep space. If Elon Musk and Richard Branson ever find themselves living on Mars, they’ll surely be grateful to the good folks at NASA for making sure they can still tweet from their new homes on the Red Planet.

Samsung’s satellite idea

Consumer electronics company Samsung has a big idea for stretching the interwebs around the globe — using satellites. In 2015, the company proposed a global network of 4,600 satellites floating in low-Earth orbit that could beam up to 1 zettabyte (1 trillion gigabytes) a month. The plan would fly satellites closer to Earth than previous schemes to provide access at speeds internet users are already accustomed to at home. Will Samsung’s satellite web ever actually happen? It’s not likely, but wild ideas like this keep the conversation going.

7
Jan

Lofelt Basslet is more than just a subwoofer for your wrist


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This vibrahaptic wearable has more potential than simply shaking along to your tunes.

Honestly, I’m not into the idea of wearing a smartwatch full-time. I’ve never been a watch person and having something on that big feels almost intrusive. But weirdly, I found myself excited about the Lofelt Basslet, despite the fact that all it does is vibrate on your wrist.

It sounds kooky, I know. Why the hell would anyone want anything as plain and simple as this little wristlet that buzzes along to your music? Well, I hate to offer this kind of explanation, but it’s not for everyone — it’s for enthusiasts.

See, I’m really enthused by electronic music. Trance, techno, house, drum and bass, goa psy — if it’s got a hard beat and a weird-looking dude from Europe behind the turntable, I’m there. I love going to concerts and shows, but they’ve become less frequent as my life has become busier. The Basslet can imitate that sort of experience, though, so I can easily transcend to that place with the actual vibrating subwoofers. That sort of feedback helps me get into the groove and feel that atmosphere. And if you flip this thing so it’s on the bottom of your wrist, it’s even more effective.

If it’s got a hard beat and a weird-looking dude from Europe behind the turntable, I’m there.

All this is possible due to the vibrotactile LoSound engine featured in the Basslet. The wearable produces frequencies up to 250Hz that, Lofelt claims, still remain silent to the outside world. Your seat partner on the train will have no idea you’re secretly raving. The music is transmitted to the Basslet through a separate wireless connector, which plugs into a 3.5mm headphone jack. The two snap together with a pair of magnets and charge at the same time with any Micro-USB cable.

There’s also the more practical way of using the Basslet — if you’re a virtual reality head, that is. Leave the adapter plugged into the headphone jack and then pop into a game like Gunjack 2: End of Shift on the Daydream View. Every time you get hit, you’ll feel feedback from the game on your wrist. It adds an almost-tangible element to even the most entry-level VR experience.

I’ve yet to try the Basslet for an extended period of time, so I can’t speak yet to how comfortable it is to actually walk and wear. But I do like the idea of added immersion when you’re just trying to get through the day. Isn’t it better to walk and jam out instead of sulking about everything that’s wrong?

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It’s also worth considering the real world application of this sort of technology. The Basslet’s clever way of shoving all that vibrahaptic feedback into such a small package means it can be used in cars. One major auto manufacturer, which Lofelt has not yet disclosed, has already invested in bringing this technology into its cars. It could be used in situations like helping you navigate the road without looking at a screen, or shaking the seat if there’s an accident up ahead. Human beings are visceral; regardless of whether the world features more touch screens, we’ll always want that haptic feedback. Might as well figure out a way to do so efficiently and unobtrusively.

7
Jan

How to make a fitness app part of your daily routine


Technology is transforming fitness.

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It used to be that fitness apps were primarily used to count calories, and check in after workouts. That’s no longer the case. There are dozens of fantastic apps out there, and they cater to what you are specifically looking for. Whether you’re always looking for a new fun app to help motivate you along, or you’ve never been inclined to look into them at all, fitness apps can help make your average day healthier.

Keeping fit is easier than ever

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Most of us get some amount of exercise every day, just by living our lives. We walk around, in some cases all day long. Plenty of fitness apps will track this and let you know what your activity level is like each day, including the number of steps taken and calories burned based off of your height and weight. There are apps which do this without ever even needing to be opened after you initially set them up.

Fitness doesn’t have to be a chore, at least not with these apps.

If you’re just starting a fitness routine, there are apps that can help build workout plans, count calories, give you videos so you can workout at home and much more. It might seem a little strange at first to have an app tracking your fitness level. By integrating these apps into your day you can see how active you already are, without ever having to hit the gym. That isn’t to say that all fitness apps are made for that purpose. They’ve branched out, and the abundance of choice lets you determine what you need out of a fitness app.

More: 4 interactive apps that will keep you entertained

If you’re looking for something that turns fitness into a game there is Zombies, Run!, The Walk, or even Pokémon Go. Nexercise is an app that turn fitness into an actual game, letting you earn experience points, level up, add friends and win prizes. Charity Miles donates money to a charity of your choice for the distance you run. Fitness doesn’t have to be a chore, at least not with these apps. They take what you’re already doing, and put a spin on it to make it fun and encourage you to do more.

One size fits all fitness is a thing of the past

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Even if you aren’t particularly fitness-minded, integrating an app into your life can be a benefit. With unobtrusive tracking apps, you can see your daily activity levels. While that might not seem like much, if you’re a city dweller you could be walking miles every day without ever realizing it. These apps can help with your health as well, outlining when you have more energy for activity, or what your stamina is like. Some games even have fitness benefits that are purely accidental, like Ingress where walking around to capture portals is a game mechanic. Apps like Aqualert can even help to make sure you’re drinking enough water. Fitness apps are no longer just for the people who live and breathe getting, and staying in shape. They’re built now to be friendly to everyone no matter what your level of motivation might be.

With the ways that fitness apps have diversified, there really is something out there for absolutely everyone.

  • Sleep Trackers: Sleep as Android, Sleepbot
  • Calorie and Water Trackers: Aqualert: Water Reminder H20, Cron-O-Meter
  • Activity Trackers: Google Fit, Moves
  • Pedometers: Noom Walk Pedometer: Fitness, Accupedo Pedometer
  • Games that require walking around: Ingress, The Walk, Pokémon GO
  • Run Trackers: Run Keeper, Runtastic
  • Apps that make fitness fun: NexTrack:Making Exercise Fun, Zombies,Run!

These aren’t the apps from years ago which were tailored for a specific type of person to use. Rather, they have spread their influence and tried to find new niches for people who might not usually use a fitness app. The analytics and data can be fantastic if you’re a fan of graphs and charts, but even better is the fact that using these apps can actually help you to live a healthier life. We only get one body, so why not treat it right with the help of technology?

It doesn’t matter what your activity level is like on a day to day basis. Everyone can benefit from having a fitness app in their life. It can be something small like simply tracking your activity levels, or detailed down to your caloric intake and workout intensity. No matter where you sit on the fitness spectrum, there is an app for you. So are you using any of these apps, or is there a fitness app that you stand by already? Tell us all about it in the comments!

7
Jan

Best Micro-USB cables


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Wherein we help you pick a great Micro-USB cable.

Whether you have a smartphone, tablet or wearable, odds are that you’ve got a Micro-USB cable (or three) laying around. They’re ubiquitous. Just in case you don’t, here are some of our favorites.

  • EZOPower Micro-USB cable
  • ReTrak Premier Series Retractable Micro-USB cable
  • Anker 10-foot Nylon Braided Micro-USB cable
  • Monoprice Premium Micro-USB cable
  • Anker PowerLine Micro-USB cable

EZOPower Micro-USB cable

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If you need a longer yet inexpensive Micro-USB cable, the EZOPower Micro-USB cable works very well.

It’s six feet long, so you have plenty of length to play with, whether you’re charging your phone in your car or at home. With charging speeds of 2.1A, you’ll top up your battery in no time at all.

Additionally, with its data transfer rate of 480Mbps, you can sync music or other files from your computer to your phone in seconds.

See at Amazon

ReTrak Premier Series Retractable Micro-USB cable

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If you’re tired of dealing with messy cables while traveling, the ReTrak Retractable Micro-USB cable may be the one for you.

Available in black in addition to seven bright colors, this Micro-USB cable retracts neatly into a small case — forget about wasting time winding and unwinding cables — a light tug pulls the cable into its casing. When expanded, this Micro-USB cable reaches a length of 3.2 feet in total.

Also, it has a transfer speed of 480Mbps, so you can sync music, pictures, or anything else from your computer to your phone in no time at all.

See at Amazon

Anker 10-foot Nylon Braided Micro-USB cable

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Anker’s 10-foot Nylon Braided Micro-USB cable is a good choice if you have limited power outlets in a large room and you need the reach.

Constructed of braided nylon, this cable is strong, durable, and resists tangling. Anker claims that this cable has a lifespan of more than 4,000 bends, and customer reviews seem to back this up. Its gold-plated connectors aid in resisting corrosion as well.

Another benefit of this cable is that it gives you a 480Mbps data transfer speed, as well as fast charging.

If you want a durable, extra-long Micro-USB cable that’s fast, the Anker 10-foot Nylon Braided Micro-USB cable is the one for you.

See at Amazon

Monoprice Premium Micro-USB cable

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The Monoprice Premium Micro-USB cable is well-rated by consumers for its durability and speed.

Sheathed in polycarbonate housing, its gold-plated connectors resist corrosion, and are durable besides. The housing is also slim, making this cable easy to use in tight spaces and easy to store as well.

Additionally, its 28/23 AWG wire means that it will charge up your device quickly because of its wider diameter — and with six feet of cable, you’ll have enough play to connect your phone, whether you’re in your bedroom, living room, or in the car.

If you’re looking for a longer Micro-USB cable that’s long-lasting, capable of fast charging speeds, and has a slimmer form factor, look no further than the Monoprice Premium Micro-USB cable.

See at Amazon

Anker PowerLine Micro-USB cable

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The Anker PowerLine Micro-USB cable is rated highly by consumers because it is very durable and performs its job well.

Made of Kevlar — the same stuff that bulletproof vests are made from — this cable isn’t going to fray or otherwise break down any time soon. In fact, Anker boasts that it has a 10,000 bend lifespan, which customer reviews appear to confirm.

Additionally, its heavier-gauge wires are able to charge your device fast.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive Micro-USB cable that will last for years without fraying and coming apart at the ends, the Anker PowerLine Micro-USB cable might be your best choice.

See at Amazon

And you?

We’ve laid out our picks for best Micro-USB cables, but how about you? What Micro-USB cables are you using and why are they awesome? Let us know in the comments below.

7
Jan

ICYMI: The Sleep Number bed keeps you cozy all night long


ICYMI: The Sleep Number bed keeps you cozy all night long

Today on In Case You Missed It: There were more beds at CES this year than we’ve ever seen before, but I was seduced, yet again, by the new model for the Sleep Number bed. Even though I’m a bit of an everything-connected-to-the-internet hater. Last year’s Sleep Number model introduced a plethora of sleep-tracking sensors, integrated inside the mattress. But the 2017, Sleep Number 360 version kicks it all up a notch. It can use that data to adjust the firmness of the bed as you turn during the night, as well as pre-heat the foot bed warmer just before your usual bedtime. Probably best of all for couples: It raises the side of an offending nighttime snorer and ends the noise, no elbows required. The bed will run $1099 and start rolling out in the spring.

As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

And click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.

7
Jan

Netflix made a game featuring some of its top shows


When Netflix isn’t commissioning award-winning programming and movies, some members of its team dedicate some of their time to building fun little projects. We’ve already The Switch, a Netflix and Chill button that can automatically dim the lights, activate your phone’s Do Not Disturb feature and prepare Netflix for the streaming ahead, but its latest proposition isn’t about watching what it has to offer, it’s all about gaming. Netflix Infinite Runner, as the name suggests, is an endless running game that features the most popular characters from four popular original shows: Narcos, Marco Polo, Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things.

Netflix has confirmed that the game is totally them, but it’s currently only being promoted on its Spanish and Indian social media accounts. Each “level” is set in the world of the show in question, so you’ll jump through the jungles of Columbia with Pablo Escobar and hurdle prison guards as Piper Chapman. The Hawkins National Laboratory also makes an appearance, complete with a low-res version of the Stranger Things theme tune (the same can be said for all shows).

Before you get too excited, the game is very basic. Jumping isn’t super responsive and the hitboxes on the non-playing characters are a lot bigger than they need to be, so you’ll likely find yourself restarting the game over and over, at least to begin with. But if you’ve got a few minutes spare and fancy trying your hand at Netflix’s new side-scroller, you can get involved here.

Source: Netflix Infinite Runner

7
Jan

Streaming topped all forms of US music consumption in 2016


Remember in early 2013 when Apple hit 25 billion iTune song downloads? And Tim Cook said it took Sony 30 years to sell 220,000 Walkmans? Well, fast-forward just under four years, and Billboard has revealed that Americans streamed 431 billion songs in 2016 alone, surpassing total digital sales of songs and albums for the first time in history. That’s thanks to a large of choice of sites, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play, Deezer and others.

In fact, folks in the US streamed more songs per day (1.2 billion) than the 734 million that were downloaded during the entire year, the ratings company said. As with similar increases in the UK, streaming increased 76 percent from last year, a figure that helped the music industry grow a solid three percent over 2015. “The music industry continues to grow at a healthy rate, and 2016 showed us that the landscape is evolving even more quickly than we have seen with other format shifts,” said Nielsen SVP David Bakula.

The music industry continues to grow at a healthy rate, and 2016 showed us that the landscape is evolving even more quickly than we have seen with other format shifts.

Six songs alone, including Desiigner’s “Panda” and Rihanna’s “Work,” accounted for 500 total on-demand streams. Drake led everyone by a long way, however, with 5.4 billion total streams, and also sold the most digital songs and albums. A big part of the increase is because of Hip-hop and R&B, genres that accounted for 22 percent of music consumption, but a disproportionate 28 percent of streams.

Rounding out the good news, physical album sales also increased as a share of total album sales for the first time in a decade, and vinyl sales hit 13 million — the most since 1991, the year Nirvana’s Nevermind came out. The latter stats are the most surprising, as you’d expect physical album sales to be on a strong downward curve, and that’s clearly not the case. Despite warnings from the RIAA, it seems that having a better alternative to piracy has not only increased industry profits, but passion for music overall.

Via: Pitchfork

Source: Neilsen

7
Jan

Homeland Security classifies election infrastructure as critical


The Department of Homeland Security has officially classified election systems as critical infrastructure in order to keep them safe from tampering. Election infrastructure includes storage facilities, polling places, voter registration databases, voting machines and other systems that help manage the election process and report and display its results. DHS’ announcement came after US intelligence confirmed that Russia influenced the presidential elections, mostly by hacking into the country’s computers. If you’ll recall, cyberattackers infiltrated not just the Democratic National Committee’s machines, but also over 20 states’ election systems. However, none of the machines that were compromised were used for vote tallying.

It took a couple of months for DHS to come up with an official stance, since some states were opposed to it. They were (and still are) worried that it could lead to increased federal regulation and oversight. Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp, one of its biggest critics, called the action “a federal overreach into a sphere constitutionally reserved for the states.”

The classification would allow the government to offer more federal help to state and local governments that need it. Plus, it would require DHS’ secretary to conduct security checks for emerging and imminent threats. It gives Homeland Security the power to withhold information from the public to prevent information about vulnerabilities from leaking to the wrong people. If the Obama administration’s international cyber rule proposal passes, it would create an additional layer of security, as well. Its addition to the rule list would forbid countries from conducting online activities targeting others’ critical infrastructure.

Source: Homeland Security (PDF), AP

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