Warner Bros. unveils the first trailers for ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Shazam’

Today at Comic-Con, Warner Bros . gave fans a first peek at the first DC Comics films post-Justice League.

Warner Bros. and DC had a bumpy 2017. There was the astonishing critical and commercial success of Wonder Woman, followed by the box office disappointment of Justice League — leading to an executive shakeup and a general rethinking of its movie strategy.

Will Aquaman, which stars Jason Momoa as the titular superhero and is due out on December 21, turn things around? Director James Wan (who’s best-known for horror titles like Saw and The Conjuring but also directed Furious 7told the Comic-Con audience that his goal is to create a movie that “plays more like a science-fiction fantasy film than a traditional super hero movie.”

Wan previously said there’s been a long wait for the trailer because he wanted to ensure the visual effects were ready — and after watching this footage, you can see what he was talking about.

The trailer does spend some time establishing the relationships between Aquaman, his love interest Mera (Amber Heard), his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his half-brother/rival Orm (Patrick Wilson). My real takeaway, though, is that this is going to be a spectacular, effects-filled movie with plenty of undersea action.

Then there’s Shazam!, which looks like it could be DC’s first outright comedy.

With the film’s release date (April 5, 2019) still nearly a year away, this trailer seems to focus on a few key scenes setting up the premise, with young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gifted by a mysterious stranger with the ability to turn into a big red superhero (Zachary Levi) by just calling out the word “Shazam!” (The character was originally known as Captain Marvel, but I assume that they’ll stick with the Shazam name in the movie.)

Like Wan, director David F. Sandberg has previously helmed horror movies (specifically Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation), but the trailer makes it clear that he’s taking a light-hearted approach to the material. Despite his appearance as an invulnerable superhero, this version of Shazam is still a goofy kid.

And if you were hoping for a glimpse at Wonder Woman 1984, it sounds like the filmmakers did show off footage at Comic-Con, but they don’t have a polished trailer yet to put online.

Director Patty Jenkins said she looks at the movie as less of a sequel and more a standalone story with the same character: “We can make a whole new movie that’s as strong and unique as the first. It’s not more of anything; it’s its own thing.”

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Weekly Roundup: July 21

Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, Blue Origin, performed its most critical test to date, Prime Day had some ups and downs but ultimately broke records and major tech companies are uniting to help you move data across apps.

Here’s your weekly roundup of the top stories from the tech world: 

1. Blue Origin successfully lands both booster and crew capsule after test launch

Blue Origin crossed a major milestone on Wednesday as it successfully executed a live separation test. This sent the rocket’s crew capsule higher than it’s ever gone before, while the rocket’s booster coasted back down to earth unscathed. The critical achievement marks a big win for Jeff Bezos’ company and the prospect of commercial space flights.

2. What Amazon lost (and made) on Prime Day 

Widespread glitches on Amazon’s site during the first two hours of Prime Day are estimated to have cost the e-commerce giant $1.2 million per minute. The total loss is difficult to nail down, in part because the exact span of the outage varied; however, multiple reports put the loss in the $90 million range. And yet, these setbacks didn’t dampen the day. Prime Day broke a number of records, making it the biggest sales day in Amazon history, beating out Cyber Monday, Black Friday and the previous Prime Day in 2017.

3. Google gets slapped with $5 billion EU fine for Android antitrust abuse

Google has been fined a record-breaking €4.34 billion (~$5 billion) by European antitrust regulators for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system. The European Commission is arguing the tech giant dominates markets for general internet search services, licensable smart mobile operating systems and app stores for the Android mobile operating system. Google responded stating it will appeal the fine and argued Android brings more choice to the market, not less.

4. Living with the new 15-inch MacBook Pro 

After spending some quality time with the latest MacBook Pro, it’s obvious  Apple is tipping its cap to its core user base of creative professionals. The 2018 model is the most substantial upgrade (at least regarding performance) since the introduction of quad-core processors in the 2011 MacBook Pro.

5. Midwest rising 

Emerging venture capital firms in smaller American cities are increasingly attracting larger funding as investors see opportunities for returns beyond the coasts. But the Midwestern investment scene isn’t just defined by Valley transplants, and many success stories are home-grown.

6.Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps 

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services.

7. Microsoft caps off a fine fiscal year seemingly without any major missteps in its last quarter 

In the past year, Microsoft’s stock has gone up more than 40 percent. In the past two years, it’s nearly doubled. In addition, Microsoft passed $100 billion in revenue for a fiscal year. That Microsoft is even in the discussion of being one of the companies chasing a $1 trillion market cap is likely something we wouldn’t have been talking about just three or four years ago.

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Now is the time for Walmart to strike at Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime has been an enormous influence on e-commerce, but this online juggernaut is beginning to show cracks. Now is the time for arch-rival Walmart to swoop in with a Prime-like offering that strikes at the weaknesses Amazon has introduced into its formidable loyalty program: price, a lack of focus, and competing subscription services.

Here’s the problem. Amazon has invested in its Prime program continuously, adding feature after feature in an obvious bid to make the service appear as valuable as possible. But while these additions are superfluous to many a user’s needs, everyone pays for them whether they’re used or not.

That’s part of the strategy, of course — if you know your customer won’t stop paying for a subscription, you can use that to squeeze the life out of other subscriptions they might pay for, and redirect that money to yourself. Prime Video and Music, for example, are clearly meant to take the place of Netflix or HBO and Spotify or Apple Music. Why pay for two? And if you have to choose, well, it’s easier to quit HBO than Prime.

This only goes so far, though. For years users have been subject to these pressures, watching the price of Prime rise all the while, and meanwhile other services are getting better and better. Streaming services and exclusive content have multiplied, and Prime users are frequently left out in the cold.

Photo storage? Isn’t that free everywhere? Twitch Prime? Is that really useful for millions of working families? Prime Originals? Not exactly raking in the Emmys. But still… it’s Prime. It’s necessary.

The only one who can realistically break this deadlock is Walmart. Not by providing the same thing as Amazon, but by providing something simpler and more focused, taking over the workhorse duties of Prime (shipping, sales, some basic media of opportunity) at a much lower price, granting the customer freedom to pursue their own choice in subscriptions while not meaningfully affecting their online retail experience.

What would this Walmart offering consist of? They already offer free shipping on a lot of items, free store pickup, and so on. You don’t need to use your imagination here. What would make this better? Free 2-day shipping on all items with no minimum amount; grocery and secure package delivery; a set of basic TV and music streams or even just a partnership with a couple existing products; and lastly some in-store benefits like members-only promotions and perhaps even early access on Black Friday. (Plus extra perks at sub-chains like Sam’s Club.)

Leveraging Walmart’s brick and mortar presence is important, but it’s hard to say what they have the leeway to try there, as it’s likely a delicate balance. But it’s a major advantage to have regular visitors to major retail locations, whereas Amazon has to either home-deliver or install lockers.

There are already indications this is happening — a pilot with a smart-lock company for home delivery, a rumored streaming service, cashierless(ish) checkout (even easier with an account), revamping of existing grocery delivery partnerships, emphasis on cloning or promoting existing services that match or exceed Amazon’s… it looks a lot like a shift to an end-to-end loyalty service.

There are rumors of a Microsoft-powered standalone smart device, but that might conflict with existing voice-ordering partnership with Google. Still, voice assistants are hot and Walmart needs an answer to Alexa if it wants to compete directly with Amazon in the living room. A possible acquisition of Shopify could conceivably broaden the company’s reach considerably as well.

How much would it cost? I’d say if they go about $50 per year they’re asking for trouble. It’s one of those magic numbers not just on its own, but in relation to Amazon’s $120 per year. $60 would be merely half price — $50, why that’s positively generous!

And the considerable savings opens up a bit of cash for secondary subscriptions like Netflix, which ends up, ironically, causing consumers to lock themselves into Walmart just as they were with Amazon, since once again they can’t switch easily! But they will almost certainly be getting more for their money.

Naturally $50 won’t pay for all that stuff on Walmart’s side — but building brand loyalty on the scale of years, while sucking a customer from a competitor… that’s worth spending a little cash for.

Timing-wise they’d want to announce this well ahead of the holidays — at least three months. First three months free if you sign up now and all that. It’ll be a big cash outlay but you don’t unseat a titan like Amazon on a shoestring budget. You do what it takes to put items in carts and go from there.

Walmart won’t risk its business on this, but it makes sense to do it now and do it with vigor. Walmart doesn’t get by on word of mouth — it needs a full court press ahead of Amazon’s busiest period, in which it can unequivocally say “This is the better option for you. Switch now and you’ll never look back.”

The real question is: what will they call it? MartLand? WalSmart? Or perhaps… Wal Street?

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While tech waffles on going public, biotech IPOs boom

For people who make investment decisions based on revenues and projected earnings, biotech IPOs are kind of a non-starter. Not only are new market entrants universally unprofitable, most have zero revenue. Going public is mostly a means to raise money for clinical trials, with red ink expected for years to come.

That pattern may be one reason the venture capital press, Crunchbase News included, tends to devote a disproportionately small portion of coverage to biotech IPOs. It’s more exciting to watch a big-name internet company pop in first-day trading or poke fun at an underperforming dud.

But with our fixation on all things tech, we’re missing out on the big picture. There are actually a lot more biotech and healthcare startup IPOs than tech offerings. In the second quarter of this year, for instance, at least 16 U.S. venture-backed biotech and healthcare companies went public, compared to just 11 tech startups. In three of the past four years, bio offerings outnumbered tech IPOs, according to Crunchbase data.

In the following analysis, we attempt to get up to speed on the pace of biotech offerings, assess where we are in the cycle and spotlight some of the rising stars.

Biotech outpaces tech

As mentioned above, U.S. bio IPOs outnumber tech offerings in most years. However, the bio cohort raises less total capital, partly because the largest technology IPOs tend to be much bigger than the largest bio IPOs. In the chart below, we compare the two sectors over the past four years.

Globally, the numbers are much higher. Using Crunchbase data, we’ve put together a chart looking at global VC-backed biotech and healthcare IPOs over the past four years. While we’re just over halfway through 2018, biotech and health IPOs have already raised more money than in any of the prior three full calendar years.

Fundamentals driven, cycle amplified

It’s pretty clear we’re in an upcycle for all things startup-related. VCs are flush with cash, late-stage rounds are ballooning in size and IPO and M&A action is picking up, too.

So what does that mean for bio IPOs? Is the uptick in the pace and size of offerings mostly a result of bullish market conditions? Or is the current slate of pre-IPO candidates more compelling than in the past?

We turned to Bob Nelsen, co-founder of ARCH Venture Partners, one of the top-performing biotech investors, for his take, which is that it’s a “fundamentals driven, cycle amplified” IPO boomlet.

More companies are launching well-received IPOs because the pace of startup innovation is faster than in the past. Nelson calls it “the result of the previous 30 years of investment and innovation in biotech that has finally led to essentially data-driven innovation.” That’s leading to more curative treatments, disease-modifying therapies and preventative technologies.

Yet we’re also in a bullish segment of the market cycle for biotech. That’s prompting companies that might have stayed private under other conditions to give going public a shot. It’s also providing bigger outcomes for emerging companies that were already on the IPO track.

The latest example of a big outcome IPO is Rubius Therapeutics, which develops drugs based on genetically engineered red blood cells. This week, the five-year-old company raised $241 million at an initial valuation of over $2 billion, making it the largest bio offering of 2018. The Cambridge, Mass. company, which previously raised nearly a quarter-billion-dollars in venture funding, is still in the pre-clinical trial phase.

This year has delivered several other good-sized offerings as well, including drug developers Eidos Therapeutics and Homology Medicines, recently valued around $800 million each, along with Tricida, valued around $1.2 billion. (See the full list of 2018 global bio and health offerings here.)

As for aftermarket performance, that’s been up and down, but includes some big ups. Last year, biotech led the pack for best-performing IPOs on U.S. exchanges. The sector accounted for four of the six top spots, according to Renaissance Capital, led by drug developers AnaptysBioArgenx and UroGen, along with Calyxt, an agbio startup.

Looking ahead

While things are already up, bio VCs, generally an optimistic bunch, see several reasons why bio IPOs could go higher.

Nelson points to what he sees as the lagging pace of in-house innovation at big pharma and biotech players. Increasingly, they need to acquire startups and recently public companies to stay competitive and build out new product pipelines.

There is also tons of fresh capital earmarked for healthcare startups. In the U.S. in 2017, healthcare-focused venture capitalists raised $9.1 billion. That figure was up 26 percent from 2016, per Silicon Valley Bank.

More dollars also are flowing from venture firms that invest in a mix of tech and life sciences through a single fund. That list includes well-established VCs with dry powder to invest, including Polaris PartnersFounders FundKleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital.

Still, Nelson observes, deep into an IPO bull market, the average quality of offerings does tend to decline. That said, he’s been through similar inflection points in previous cycles and “for the same point in the cycle, the quality is markedly higher.”

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With its goofy video loops, YC backed Splish wants to be the ‘anti-Instagram’

Is there any space on kids’ homescreens for another social sharing app to poke in? Y Combinator backed Splish wants to have a splash at it (😊) — with a super-short-form video and photo sharing app aimed at the under-25s.

The SF-based startup began bootstrapping out of their college dorm rooms last July, playing around with app ideas before settling on goofy video loops to be their social sharing steed of choice.

The Splish app pops content into video loops of between 1-5 seconds. Photos can be uploaded too but motion must be added in the form of an animated effect of your choice. So basically nothing on Splish stays still. (Hence its watery name.) But while wobbly, content on Splish is intended to stick around — rather than ephemerally pass away (a la snaps).

Here are a few examples of Splishes (embedded below as GIFs… but you can see them on its platform here, here and here):

 

It’s the first startup for the four college buddy co-founders: Drake Rehfeld, Alex Pareto, Jackson Berry and Zac Denham, though between them they’ve also clocked up engineering hours working for Snapchat, Facebook and Team 10.

Their initial web product went up in March and they landed a place on YC’s program at the start of May —  when they also released their iOS app. An Android app is pending, and they’ll be on the hunt for funding come YC demo day.

The gap in the social sharing market this young team reckons it’s spotted is a sort of ‘anti-Instagram’ — offering a playful contrast to the photo sharing platform’s polished (and at times preening) performances.

The idea is that sharing stuff on Splish is a bonding experience; part of an ongoing smartphone-enabled conversation between mates, rather than a selectively manicured photoshoot which also has to be carefully packaged for public ‘gram consumption.

Splish does have a public feed, though, so it’s not a pure messaging app — but the co-founders say the focus is friend group sharing rather than public grandstanding.

“Splish is a social app for sharing casual looping videos with close friends,” says Rehfeld, giving the team’s elevator pitch. “It came out of our own experience, and we’re building for ourselves because we noticed that the way you socialize right now in real life is you do activities with your friends. You go to the beach, you go to the bar, the bowling alley. We’re working to bring this same type of experience online using Splish through photo and video. So it’s more about interaction and hanging out with your friends online.”

“When you use Instagram you really feel like you’re looking at a magazine. It’s just the highlights of people’s lives,” he adds. “And so we’re trying to make a place where you’re getting to know your friends better and meeting new people as well. And then on the other side, on Snapchat, you’re really sharing interesting moments of your lives but it’s not really pushing the boundaries or creating with your friends. It’s more just a communication messaging tool.

“So it’s kind of the space in between broadcast and chat — talking and interacting with your close friends through Splish, through photo and video.”

Users of the Splish app can apply low-fi GIF(ish) retro filters and other photographic effects (such as a reverse negative look) to the video snippets and photos they want to send to friends or share more widely — with the effects intended to strip away at reality, rather than gloss it over. Which means content on Splish tends to look and feel grungy and/or goofy. Much like an animated GIF in fact. And much less like Instagram.

The team’s hope is the format adds a bit of everyday grit and/or wit to the standard smartphone visual record, and that swapping Splishes gets taken up as a more fun and casual way of communicating vs other types of messaging or social sharing.

And also that people will want to use Splish to capture and store fun times with friends because they can be checked out again later, having been conveniently packaged for GIF-style repeat lols.

“Part of the power here in Splish is that relationships are built on shared experiences and nostalgia and so while [Snapchat-style] ephemerality reduced a lot of the barriers for posting what it didn’t do is strengthen relationships long term or over time because the chats and the photos disappeared,” says Rehfeld.

The idea is a content format to gives people “shared experience that lasts”, he adds.

They’re also directly nudging users to get creative via a little gamification, adding a new feature (called Jams) that lets users prompt each other to make a Splish in response to a specific content creation challenge.

And filming actual (playful) physical shoulder pokes has apparently been an early thing on Splish. That’s the merry-go-round of social for ya.

Being a fair march north of Splish’s target age-range, I have to confess the app’s loopy effects end up triggering something closer to motion sickness/vertigo/puking up for me. But words are my firm social currency of choice. Whereas Rehfeld argues the teenager-plus target for Splish is most comfortable with a smartphone in its hand, and letting a lens tell the tale of what they’re up to or how they’re feeling.

“We started with that niche first because there’s a population in that age range that really enjoys this creative challenge of expressing yourself in pretty intuitive ways, and they understand how to do that. And they’re pretty excited about it,” he tells TechCrunch.

“There’s also been a little bit of a shift here where users no longer just capture what they have in real-life using the camera, but the camera’s used as an extension of communication — especially in that age range, where people use the camera as part of their relationship, rather than just capturing what happens offline.”

As with other social video apps, vertical full screen is the preferred Splish frame — for a more “immersive experience” and, well, because that’s how the kids do it.

“It’s the way users, especially in this age range, hold and use their phones. It’s pretty natural to this age range just because it’s what they do everyday,” he says, adding: “It’s just the best way to consume on the phone because it fills the whole screen, it’s how you were already using the phone before you clicked into the video.”

Notably, as part of the team’s soft-edged stance against social media influencer culture, Rehfeld says Splish is choosing not to bake “viral components” into the app — ergo: “Nobody’s rewarded for likes or ‘re-vines’. There’s no reblog, retweet.”

Although, pressed on how firm that anti-social features stance is, he concedes they’re not abandoning the usual social suite entirely — but rather implementing that sort of stuff in relative moderation.

“We have likes and we have a concept of friends or follows but the difference is we’re building those with the intention of not incentivizing virality or ‘influencership’,” he says. “So we always release them with some sort of limit, so with likes you can’t see a list of everybody who’s liked a post for example. So that’s one example of how we’ve, kind of, brought in a feature that people feel comfortable with and love but with our own spin that’s a little bit less geared towards building a following.”

Asked if they’re trying to respond to the criticism that’s been leveled at a lot of consumer technology lately — i.e. that it’s engineered to be highly and even mindlessly addictive — Rehfeld says yes, the team wants to try and take a less viral path, less well travelled, adding: “We’re building as much as possible for user experience. And a lot of the big brands build and optimize towards engagement metrics… and so we’re focused on this reduction of virality so that we can promote personal connections.”

Though it will be interesting to see if they can stick to medium-powered stun guns as they fight to carve out a niche in the shadow of social tech’s attention-sapping giants.

Of course Splish’s public feed is a bit of a digital shop window. But, again, the idea is to make sure it’s a casual space, and not such a perfectionist hothouse as Instagram.

“The way the product is built allows people to feel pretty comfortable even in the more public feeds, the more featured feeds,” adds Rehfeld. “They post still very casual moments, with a creative spin of course. So it’s stayed pretty similar content, private and public.”

Short and long

It’s fair to say that short form video for social sharing has a long but choppy history online. Today’s smartphone users aren’t exactly short of apps and online spaces to share moving pictures publicly or with followers or friends. And animated GIFs have had incredible staying power as the marathon runner of the short loop social sharing format.

On the super-short form video side, the most notable app player of recent years — Twitter’s Vine — sprouted and spread virally in 2013, amassing a sizable community of fans. Although Instagram soon rained on its video party, albeit with a slightly less super-short form. The Facebook-owned behemoth has gatecrashed other social sharing parties in recent years too. Most notably by cloning Snapchat’s ‘video-ish’ social sharing slideshow Stories format, and using its long reach and deep resources to sap momentum from the rival product.

Twitter voluntarily threw in the towel with Vine in 2016, focusing instead on its livestreaming video product, Periscope, which is certainly a better fit for its core business of being a real-time social information network, and its ambition to also become a mainstream entertainment network.

Meanwhile Google’s focus in the social video space has long been on longer form content, via YouTube, and longer videos mesh better with the needs of its ad network (at least when YouTube content isn’t being accused of being toxic). Though Mountain View also of course plays in messaging, including the rich media sharing messaging space.

Apple too has been adding more powerful and personalized visual effects for its iMessage users — such as face-mapping animoji. So smartphone users are indeed very, very spoiled for sharing choice.

Vine’s success in building a community did show that super-short loops can win a new generation of fans, though. But in May its original co-founder, Dom Hofmann, indefinitely postponed the idea of reviving the app by building Vine 2 — citing financial and legal roadblocks, plus other commitments on his time.

Though he did urge those “missing the original Vine experience” to check out some of the apps he said had “sprung up lately” (albeit, without namechecking any of the newbs). So perhaps a Splish or two had caught his eye.

There’s no doubt the space will be a tough one to sustain. Plenty of apps have cracked in and had a moment but very few go the distance. Overly distinctive filters can also feel faddish and fall out of fashion as quickly as they blew up. Witness, for example, the viral rise of art effect photo app Prisma. (And now try and remember the last time you saw one of its art filtered photos in the wild… )

So sustaining a novel look and feel can be tough. Not least because social’s big beast, Facebook, has the resources and inclination to clone any innovations that look like they might be threatening. Add in network effects and the story of the space has been defined by a shrinking handful of dominant apps and platforms.

And yet — there’s still always the chance that a new generation of smartphone users will shake things up because they see things differently and want to find new ways and new spaces to share their personal stuff.

That’s the splash that Splish’s team is hoping to make.

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Data breach exposes trade secrets of carmakers GM, Ford, Tesla, Toyota

Security researcher UpGuard Cyber Risk disclosed Friday that sensitive documents from more than 100 manufacturing companies, including GM, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, ThyssenKrupp, and VW were exposed on a publicly accessible server belonging to Level One Robotics.

The exposure via Level One Robotics, which provides industrial automation services, came through rsync, a common file transfer protocol that’s used to backup large data sets, according to UpGuard Cyber Risk. The data breach was first reported by the New York Times.

According to the security researchers, restrictions weren’t placed on the rsync server. This means that any rsync client that connected to the rsync port had access to download this data. UpGuard Cyber Risk published its account of how it discovered the data breach to show how a company within a supply chain can affect large companies with seemingly tight security protocols.

This means if someone knew where to look they could access trade secrets closely protected by automakers. It’s unclear if any nefarious actors actually got their hands on the data. At least one source at an affected automaker told TechCrunch it doesn’t not appear that sensitive or proprietary data was exposed.

UpGuard’s big takeaway in all of this: rsync instances should be restricted by IP address. The researchers also suggest that user access to rsync be set up so that clients have to authenticate before receiving the dataset. Without these measures, rsync is publicly accessible, the researchers said.

The breach exposed 157 gigabytes of data—a treasure trove of 10 years of assembly line schematics, factory floor plans and layouts, robotic configurations and documentation, ID badge request forms, VPN access request forms. The breach even included sensitive non-disclose agreements, including one from Tesla.

Personal details of some Level One employees, including scans of driver’s licenses and passports, and Level One business data, including invoices, contracts, and bank account details.

The security team discovered the breach July 1. The company successfully reached Level One by July 9 and the exposure was closed by the following day.

via Click on the link for the full article

Data breach exposes trade secrets of carmakers GM, Ford, Tesla, Toyota

Security researcher UpGuard Cyber Risk disclosed Friday that sensitive documents from more than 100 manufacturing companies, including GM, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, ThyssenKrupp, and VW were exposed on a publicly accessible server belonging to Level One Robotics.

The exposure via Level One Robotics, which provides industrial automation services, came through rsync, a common file transfer protocol that’s used to backup large data sets, according to UpGuard Cyber Risk. The data breach was first reported by the New York Times.

According to the security researchers, restrictions weren’t placed on the rsync server. This means that any rsync client that connected to the rsync port had access to download this data. UpGuard Cyber Risk published its account of how it discovered the data breach to show how a company within a supply chain can affect large companies with seemingly tight security protocols.

This means if someone knew where to look they could access trade secrets closely protected by automakers. It’s unclear if any nefarious actors actually got their hands on the data. At least one source at an affected automaker told TechCrunch it doesn’t not appear that sensitive or proprietary data was exposed.

UpGuard’s big takeaway in all of this: rsync instances should be restricted by IP address. The researchers also suggest that user access to rsync be set up so that clients have to authenticate before receiving the dataset. Without these measures, rsync is publicly accessible, the researchers said.

The breach exposed 157 gigabytes of data—a treasure trove of 10 years of assembly line schematics, factory floor plans and layouts, robotic configurations and documentation, ID badge request forms, VPN access request forms. The breach even included sensitive non-disclose agreements, including one from Tesla.

Personal details of some Level One employees, including scans of driver’s licenses and passports, and Level One business data, including invoices, contracts, and bank account details.

The security team discovered the breach July 1. The company successfully reached Level One by July 9 and the exposure was closed by the following day.

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Indie gem Stardew Valley will get multiplayer on August 1st

Stardew Valley, the popular indie farming simulator (it’s more fun than “farming simulator” makes it sound, I promise) is quite possibly the chillest game of all time. But, without any multiplayer aspect, it can get … a bit lonely. From farming, to fishing, to exploring mines, it’s always felt like a game that would be better with friends.

We’ll soon find out if thats true. After about year of work has been put into the feature, the game will get cooperative multiplayer starting on August 1st.

There’s a slight catch: multiplayer will be limited to PC/Mac/Linux, at first. The trailer (below) says support will roll out to Nintendo Switch/PS4/Xbox One “soon”, but doesn’t get into specifics.

Multiplayer Stardew Valley will support up to 4 players on the same farm, with all players sharing the same money and farmland. According to this page on the Stardew Valley fan wiki, groups will be able to tweak the game a bit to their tastes (specifically, they can scale things like profit margins and in-game item costs) to account for the added ease of having four players doing the work that was previously designed for one.

Stardew Valley is surprisingly in-depth for a game built primarily by just one person; while it’s published by a company, the vast majority of the work — from the pixel art, to the musical composition, to the programming — is done by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone. By the beginning of this year, it was reported that the game had sold over 3.5 million copies. GQ did a profile on Barone and how he built the game back in March.

Barone clarified a few things on Twitter shortly after the trailer went live:

  • If you’ve already found your way into the multiplayer beta, there won’t be any major changes in the public releases besides a “few last-minute bug fixes”
  • While work on the console builds is underway, he doesn’t have any release dates in mind yet
  • No split-screen or shared screen co-op — if you want multiplayer, you’ll need your own device to play on

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CowryWise micro-savings service opens high yield government bonds to everyday Nigerians

In emerging market countries where economic volatility is a way of life, there aren’t a lot of relatively safe options for members of the burgeoning middle class to park their money.

For instance, countries like Nigeria have experienced a tremendous growth in the number of citizens entering the middle class, which now accounts for about 23% of the population (it’s around 50% in the U.S.), according to a recent article citing the African Development Bank.

While Nigeria now faces some significant headwinds from a weak domestic currency (the naira), high interest rates and a manufacturing recession, there are ways that local investment can both protect the wealth that’s been created and encourage investment domestically to potentially spur development.

At least, that’s the conclusion that college friends Razaq Ahmed and Edward Popoola came to while they were thinking about opportunities for new financial services options in their home country of Nigeria.

The two men, Ahmed with a background in finance and Popoola in computer science, are launching a company called CowryWise that gives Nigerian investors a way to save their money by investing in high yield government bonds. The rates on those products are high enough to absorb the wild swings in value of the naira and still provide a healthy return for investors, according to Ahmed.

Set to present at this year’s demo day from Y Combinator, CowryWise is one of a number of startups that Y Combinator has backed coming from the African continent and an example of the wellspring of entrepreneurial talent that is flourishing in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using CowryWise a customer would just have to sign up with their email address and phone number and link their bank account up to the CowryWise platform.

There are already roughly 57 million savings accounts in Nigeria and 32 million unique bank users. By investing in the bonds, these savers gain access to interest rates that range between 10% and 17%, according to Ahmed.

“The bonds… are similar to the treasuries issued by the U.S. government, which is A rated,” says Ahmed. Even if there were foreign currency risk from investing in the Naira, the inflation rate is currently around 11%, according to Ahmed. Given that most of the bonds are yielding interest rates on the higher end, it’s just a better deal for consumers, he said.

“There’s more value in keeping the money in government treasury bills,” than in the bank, says Ahmed.

For Ahmed and Popoola, the decision to launch CowryWise was a way to bring investment opportunities to a retail investor that hadn’t been able to access the best that the financial system in Nigeria had to offer.

To target these retail investors, meant leveraging technology to scale quickly and cheaply across the country. The two men started developing their service in January and tested it in February and March with friends and family.

CowryWise isn’t without competitors. Another Nigerian company, Piggybank, recently raised $1.1 million for its own automated savings solution. Like CowryWise Piggybank also taps into government bonds to offer better rates to its investors.

That company already has 53,000 registered users — who have saved in excess of $5 million since 2016, according to a release.

There are subtle differences between the two. Piggybank touts its ability to save through bonds, but it is primarily working with banks to get Nigerians saving money. Cowrywise is using Meristem Financial (Ahmed’s old employer) as the asset manager for its investments into the bond market.

Another difference is the time customers’ funds are locked up. Piggybank has a three month savings period required before investors can withdraw funds, while CowryWise will let its customers withdraw cash immediately, according to this teardown of the two services.

Ultimately, there’s a large enough market for multiple players, and a need for better financial services, according to Ahmed.

“We kept having interest from retail investors on why they want to do micro-savings and micro-investment, but they didn’t have the required capital,” Ahmed says. “That was the major reason for staring the company. Why not democratize the assets? And make them available in investments and savings in this traditional instrument?”

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What next? Oh yes, turning a luxury car into a non-fungible token

We’ve seen more than one project use the immutability of blockchain to verify important physical things. So, for instance, a pioneer in the space, Verisart, has brought blockchain certification of high art to leading galleries worldwide, and other players are now entering this growing market. Codex Protocol is a new startup also putting art on the blockchain. The benefits are obvious: reducing the possibility that an artwork could be fake to near-zero. This is an incredibly powerful idea, especially at the high end of the commercial spectrum.

A relatively new idea is to take blockchain to the car market. Automakers are already starting to take an interest. BMW, Ford, Renault and General Motors recently joined a new working group of more than 30 auto companies to employ blockchain technology. The Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative aims to speed up the adoption of blockchain, with use cases ranging from autonomous payments to ridesharing. But that’s not where blockchain adoption for cars ends.

There remains the need for trustworthy assurances of authenticity and condition, especially when it comes to high-end cars. And that’s doubly true of classic and exotic vehicles. Collectible, classic cars can have their documentation forged or misassigned since there’s no one, single, global document standardization for these kinds of cars.

Now a startup hopes to bring their newly-launched platform for tokenization to this market.

Proxeus is a blockchain startup that has launched a user-friendly method to register classic cars collection on the blockchain, making it both unforgeable and verifiable by anyone. The first client is Mercuria Helvetica in Switzerland.

Proxeus’s process verifies the certificates of authenticity and conditions of the vehicles. As an additional step, the car itself could actually be taken to the blockchain as a non-fungible token with an integrated certification library, offering not only proof of ownership and history but also serve as a permanent link to the verified documentation.

It’s now launching the beta version of its engine which has a drag and drop interface affording.

But do we really want to tokenize luxury cars? Proxeus says that’s not the point. They say their technology means someone without specialized programming skills, the ability to deploy blockchain for a wide variety of use cases.

Antoine Verdon cofounder says: “For the first time we are able to show that our technology is real.” Artan Veliju, CTO, says the platform has the “ability to easily build the workflows needed to use blockchain productively without needing to launch a software development project.”

Their idea is to allow anyone to legally incorporate businesses, register assets, and validate certificates on their testnet blockchain. It’s so far been used by the University of Basel’s Center for Innovative Finance course certificates or WWF Switzerland’s tax donation verification system. Test XES tokens will be provided to show how they function within the Proxeus ecosystem and are used to pay for Proxeus’ services.

Shortly after raising $25M as a part of their ICO, Proxeus now plans to complete the functions described in its whitepaper and release a fully-developed solution for enterprise.

Meantime, I’m going to make a, perhaps obvious, observation: The tokenization craze is clearly not going to end here.

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