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Weekend Roundup: CES kicks off 2013, Red October cyber-espionage network uncovered, UK entertainment retailers go bust

CES kicks off 2013

Last week’s CES saw the introduction of a series of new products, technologies and trends that are set to define what 2013 will look like for both consumers and manufacturers. While we noticed that there was a dearth of mobile phone news at this year's event, with companies ostensibly waiting for Mobile World Congress to unveil their major handsets, smartphones and tablets were still highlighted as being some of the year's banner products.

One technology that impressed us, and we hope to see in a major handset this year, is Tactus’ morphing tactile surface, which allows real physical buttons to rise up from a touchscreeen surface. In CES’ Eureka Park startup zone, the company demonstrated its technology on a 7in Android tablet, but insisted that the technology can be scaled up to larger devices (including televisions) and to different platforms. A company executive told ITProPortal that Tactus is working directly with OEMs to integrate its virtual keyboards into third-party devices, with production set to begin this year. We’re still waiting for more details, but it wouldn’t be an understatement to describe Tactus as a potentially game-changing addition to the mobile sphere.

We also spoke to ARM, whose increasingly powerful mobile chip architecture is set to continue making waves this year. According to Jeff Chu, the company’s director of segmented marketing in the client computing department, 125 ARM-powered devices are sold every second - nearly four billion units shipped globally per year. But the company has its eyes set on even more growth - ARM will reach about 50 per cent of the worldwide mobile computing market by the end of the year, Chu said.

We’ve catalogued all of our CES-related news and analysis in this handy hub, so be sure to check it out for a recap of the world’s biggest consumer electronics tradeshow. And stay tuned to ITProPortal for even more mobile news from next month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Red October cyber-espionage network uncovered

But this week wasn’t just about new gadgets. Early on in the week, details about a long-running cyber-espionage network - one whose repercussions could prove to be as serious as last year’s Flame virus - emerged. Red October, as it’s being called, had operatives hacking into workstations and stealing highly sensitive data from governments, diplomatic bodies, research centres, oil companies, military organisations and more, since 2007 and was only detected five years later in October of 2012.

Will Dalton dug deep into how such a far-reaching network went on undetected for so long and spoke to a Kaspersky research director get the dirt on Red October.

“Spying on so many things for more than five years really shows that they knew what they were doing,” said Director of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis, Magnus Kalkuhl, when discussing the work of the Red October attackers with ITProPortal. The perpetrators were meticulous in their harvesting of information and user credentials, using the data for specifically customised (targeted) attacks that were few in number and clinical in execution, and thus extremely hard to trace.

There were sophisticated tricks and manipulation involved, highlighting just how high-level the network was. However, unlike Flame and Stuxnet before it, there’s no evidence that Red October was a state-sponsored affair, Kahkuhl said. But its very existence suggests there are likely similar plots out there, and that 2013 may very well be the year more of them are uncovered.

UK entertainment retailers go bust

Security wasn’t the only topic to bring bad news this week, however. Over the past few days, the last remaining bastions of a high street entertainment revealed plans to shut their doors.

Following last week’s news of the collapse of Jessops, HMV, Britain’s single major entertainment retail chain, followed suit, announcing that it is also going into administration as it struggles to keep up with competition from online sales. Accounting firm Deloitte has taken over as its administrator, with plans to sell off assets go under way. GAME, the video game retailer that nearly went bust last year, is rumoured as a potential bidder, though the acquisition process is likely to be a complicated one. In the meantime, HMV has stopped online trading and has put vouchers and returns on an indefinite suspension.

Fellow high street retailer Blockbuster’s days were numbered, too. As online film streaming and rental sites like Netflix and Lovefilm edged their way into the video rental market, Blockbuster struggled to compete. The American company’s British arm announced this week that it is also going into administration, with its 528 stores facing foreclosure and 4,200 employees likely to lose their jobs. Deloitte has taken over its fiscal affairs, with the company hoping to follow the lead of its American counterpart, which was sold to Dish Network in 2011 after filing for bankruptcy the year before.

“The core of the business is still profitable and we will continue to trade as normal in both retail and rental whilst we seek a buyer for all or parts of the business as a going concern. During this time gift cards and credit acquired through Blockbuster’s trade-in scheme will be honoured towards the purchase of goods,” explained Deloitte’s joint administrator Lee Manning, suggesting that Blockbuster may be better off than appearances suggest.