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Twitter now supports hardware security keys for iPhones and Android

By Zack Whittaker

Twitter said Wednesday that accounts protected with a hardware security key can now log in from their iPhone or Android device.

The social media giant rolled out support for hardware security keys in 2018, allowing users to add a physical security barrier to their accounts in place of other two-factor authentication options, like a text message or a code generated from an app.

Security keys are small enough to fit on a keyring but make certain kinds of account hacks near impossible by requiring a user to plug in the key when they log in. That means hackers on the other side of the planet can’t easily break into your account, even if they have your username and password.

But technical limitations meant that accounts protected with security keys could only log in from a computer, and not a mobile device.

Twitter solved that headache in part by switching to the WebAuthn protocol last year, which paved the way for bringing hardware security key support to more devices and browsers.

Now anyone with a security key set up on their Twitter account can use that same key to log in from their mobile device, so long as the key is supported. (A ton of security keys exist today that work across different devices, like YubiKeys and Google’s Titan key.)

Twitter — and other companies — have long recommended that high-profile accounts, like journalists, politicians, and government officials, use security keys to prevent some of the more sophisticated attacks.

Earlier this year Twitter rolled out hardware security keys to its own staff to prevent a repeat of its July cyberattack that saw hackers break into the company’s internal network and abuse an “admin” tool, which the hackers then used to hijack high-profile accounts to spread a cryptocurrency scam.

In the wake of the attack, Twitter hired Rinki Sethi as its new chief information security officer, and famed hacker Peiter Zatko, known as Mudge, as the company’s head of security.

AWS launches new services for its industrial customers

By Ron Miller

One of the areas that is often left behind when it comes to cloud computing is the industrial sector. That’s because these facilities often have older equipment or proprietary systems that aren’t well suited to the cloud. Amazon wants to change that, and today the company announced a slew of new services at AWS re:Invent aimed at helping the industrial sector understand their equipment and environments better.

For starters, the company announced Amazon Monitron, which is designed to monitor equipment and send signals to the engineering team when the equipment could be breaking down. If industrial companies can know when their equipment is breaking, it allows them to repair on it their own terms, rather than waiting until after it breaks down and having the equipment down at what could be an inopportune time.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy says, an experienced engineer will know when equipment is breaking down by a certain change in sound or a vibration, but if the machine could tell you even before it got that far, it would be a huge boost to these teams.

“…a lot of companies either don’t have sensors, they’re not modern powerful sensors, or they are not consistent and they don’t know how to take that data from the sensors and send it to the cloud, and they don’t know how to build machine learning models, and our manufacturing companies we work with are asking [us] just solve this [and] build an end-to-end solution. So I’m excited to announce today the launch of Amazon Monotron, which is an end-to-end solution for equipment monitoring,” Jassy said.

The company builds a machine learning model that understands what a normal state looks like, then uses that information to find anomalies and send back information to the team in a mobile app about equipment that needs maintenance now based on the data the model is seeing.

For those companies who may have a more modern system and don’t need the complete package that Monotron offers, Amazon has something for these customers as well. If you have modern sensors, but you don’t have a sophisticated machine learning model, Amazon can ingest this data and apply its machine learning algorithms to find anomalies just as it can with Monotron.

“So we have something for this group of customers as well to announce today, which is the launch of Amazon Lookout for Equipment, which does anomaly detection for industrial machinery,” he said.

In addition, the company announced the Panorama Appliance for companies using cameras at the edge who want to use more sophisticated computer vision, but might not have the most modern equipment to do that. “I’m excited to announce today the launch of the AWS Panorama Appliance which is a new hardware appliance [that allows] organizations to add computer vision to existing on premises smart cameras,” Jassy told AWS re:Invent today.

In addition, it also announced a Panorama SDK to help hardware vendors build smarter cameras based on Panorama.

All of these services are designed to give industrial companies access to sophisticated cloud and machine learning technology at whatever level they may require depending on where they are on the technology journey.

 

The Trump administration will add SMIC, China’s largest chipmaker, to its defense blacklist: report

By Catherine Shu

SMIC, one of largest chip makers in the world, is among several companies that the Department of Defense plans to designate as being owned or controlled by the Chinese military, reports Reuters. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, set to go into effect on January 11, that would bar U.S. investors from buying securities from companies on the defense blacklist.

In a statement to Reuters, SMIC said it continues “to engage constructively and openly with the U.S. government” and that it “has no relationship with the Chinese military and does not manufacture for military end-users or end-uses.”

The largest semiconductor maker in China, SMIC holds about 4% of the worldwide foundry market, estimates market research firm TrendForce. Its U.S. customers have included Qualcomm, Broadcom and Texas Instruments.

There are currently 31 companies on the defense blacklist. SMIC is one of four new companies that the Department of Defense plans to add, according to Reuters. The others are China Construction Technology, China International Engineering Consulting Corp and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC).

The company delisted from NYSE in May 2019, but it said that the decision was prompted by the limited trading volume and high administrative costs, not the U.S.-China trade war or the U.S. government’s blacklisting of Huawei and other Chinese tech companies.

SMIC has already been impacted by export restrictions that prevent them from purchasing key equipment from American suppliers. At the beginning of October, it told shareholders that export restrictions set by the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security could have “material adverse effects” on its production.

The executive order, and the possible addition of new companies to the defense blacklist, is in-line with the Trump administration’s hard stance against Chinese tech companies, including Huawei, ZTE and ByteDance, that it claims are a potential national security threat through their alleged ties to the Chinese government and military. But the future of a lot of the current administration’s policies after the Joe Biden assumes the presidency on January 20 is uncertain.

TechCrunch has contacted SMIC for comment.

 

Approaching commercialization for its autonomous radar nav system, Lunewave raises $7 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Lunewave, the Arizona-based startup developing a novel technology for radars for autonomous vehicles, has raised $7 million in financing as it gets ready for the commercial rollout of its systems.

The company’s latest financing came from Proeza entures, Blue 9 Capital, Tsingyuan Ventures and Intact Ventures, the company said.

With the latest funding Lunewave will continue to work with Tier 1 suppliers to establish strategic partnerships and jointly manufacture the company’s radar sensor, according to chief executive and co-founder John Xin.

The 3D printed Luneburg lens pitches features like broad bandwidth, high gain, and a capacity for forming multiple high-quality beams in all directions. The company said two of its sensors could replace 20 radar sensros used today.

The Lunewave radar has already gone through several pre-development projects with original equipment manufacturers and with ride hailing companies. “We’re very close to establishing a formal contractual partnership to commercialize our product,” said Xin. “By the end of the first quarter we will be able to announce a strategic partnership with a global tier 1 supplier.”

For Xin, the big pillars within sensors are cameras, lidar and radar, and he says that radar is the only one that works well in inclement weather conditions. “In the industry these days it’s becoming a philosophical discussion,” said Xin. “But we believe in sensor fusion. The more safety the better. Our job is to be the vendor choice for radar solutions.”

Xin said the new financing would go to staff up the company’s product development and sales teams as it looks to continue to refine its technology. The company’s product development currently operates on two tracks. One is a pure “a-dash” system and the other is geared toward level three, four, and five autonomy in vehicles.

The company is also hoping to continue its penetration of the industrial vehicle market — another area where Xin says the Lunewave is beginning to see real traction.

“We believe that ADAS and AV systems will continue to make their way into vehicles, leading to a strong growth in radars as they are a core component of both systems,” said Rodolfo Elias Dieck, managing director, Proeza Ventures. 

The company boasts that its technology offers 180-degree field of view in the horizontal plane and can detect objects surrounding a car with 6 times the resolution available today — even at long range and in poor weather.

As part of the funding, former BMW director Peter Schwarzenbacher and former Delphi executive James Zizelman will be taking seats on the company’s board of directors. Zizelman, who currently serves as the president of Stoneridge Contro Devices, was previous the vice president of engineering for Aptiv and an exec at Delphi Automotive.

“The technology that Lunewave is bringing to market provides the ultimate in value proposition,” said Zizelman. “Not only does this innovation bring truly superior technical capability in field of view, resolution, and other attributes, it also offers the opportunity to replace multiple radar units with a single Lunewave device—better and more cost effective.”

 

Resilience raises over $800 million to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19

By Jonathan Shieber

Resilience, a new biopharmaceutical company backed by $800 million in financing from investors including ARCH Venture Partners and 8VC, has emerged from stealth to transform the way that drugs and therapies are manufactured in the U.S.

Founded by ARCH Venture Partners investor Robert Nelsen, National Resilience Inc., which does business as Resilience was born out of Nelsen’s frustrations with the inept American response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a statement the company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.

Resilience’s founders identified problems in the therapeutic manufacturing process as one of the key problems that the industry faces in bringing new treatments to market — and that hurdle is exactly what the company was founded to overcome.

“COVID-19 has exposed critical vulnerabilities in medical supply chains, and today’s manufacturing can’t keep up with scientific innovation, medical discovery, and the need to rapidly produce and distribute critically important drugs at scale. We are committed to tackling these huge problems with a whole new business model,” said Nelsen in a statement.

The company brings together some of the leading investment firms in healthcare and biosciences including operating partners from Flagship Pioneering like Rahul Singhvi, who will serve as the company’s chief executive’ former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a partner at New Enterprise Associates and director on the Resilience board; and Patrick Yang, the former executive vice president and global head of technical operations at Roche/Genentech .

“It is critical that we adopt solutions that will protect the manufacturing supply chain, and provide more certainty around drug development and the ability to scale up the manufacturing of safe, effective but also more complex products that science is making possible,” said Dr. Gottlieb, in a statement. “RESILIENCE will enable these solutions by combining cutting edge technology, an unrivaled pool of talent, and the industry’s first shared service business model. Similar to Amazon Web Services, RESILIENCE will empower drug developers with the tools to more fully align discovery, development, and manufacturing; while offering new opportunities to invest in downstream innovations in formulation and manufacturing earlier, while products are still being conceived and developed.”

Other heavy hitters in the world of medicine and biotechnology who are working with the company include Frances Arnold, the Nobel Prize-winning professor from the California Institute of Technology; George Barrett, the former chief executive of Cardinal Health; Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the former president of product development at Genentech; Kaye Foster, the former vice president of human resources at Johnson and Johnson; and Denice Torres, the former President of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical and Consumer Companies.

Investors including Microsoft’s climate fund back hyperlocal environmental monitoring tech developer Aclima

By Jonathan Shieber

Mitigating the effects of climate change and pollution is a global problem, but it’s one that requires local solutions.

While that seems like common sense, most communities around the world don’t have tools that can monitor emissions and pollutants at the granular levels they need to develop plans that can address these pollutants.

Aclima, a decade-old startup founded by Davida Herzl, is looking to solve that problem and has raised $40 million in new funding from strategic and institutional venture capital investors to accelerate its growth.

“We’ve built a platform that enables hyperlocal measurement. We measure all the greenhouse gases as well as regulated air pollutants. We deploy sensor networks that combine mobile sensing where we use fleets of vehicles as a roving network. And we bring that all together and bring that into a back end,” Herzl said. 

The networks of air quality monitoring technology that exists — and is subsidized by the government — is costly and lacking in the kinds of minute details on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis that communities can use to effectively address pollution problems.

“A typical air quality monitoring station would cost somewhere between $1 million to $2 million. Here in the Bay Area, the regulator is paying less than $3 million for access to all of this for the entire Bay Area,” Herzl said. 

Aclima’s technologies are already being deployed across California, and some of the company’s largest customers are municipalities in the Bay Area and down south in San Diego. 

GettyImages 1155300963

Image Credits: Getty Images under a license.

The company has two main offerings: an enterprise professional software product that’s geared toward regulators, experts, and businesses that want to get a handle on their greenhouse gas emissions and environmentally polluting operations and a free tool that’s available to the public.

A third revenue stream is through partnerships with companies like Google, which have attached Aclima’s sensors to its roving mapping vehicles to capture climate and environmental quality data alongside geographic information.

“You’re seeing a lot of large companies in traditionally who are now investing significant amount into really trying to understand their emissions profile and prioritize emission reductions in a data driven way,” Herzl said.

The company’s data is also providing real world tools to communities that are looking to address systemic inequalities in locations that have been hardest hit by industrial pollution.

West Oakland, for instance, has used Aclima’s data to develop community intervention plans to reduce pollution in the communities that have been most impacted by the regions industrial economy.

“The interconnected crises of climate change, public health and environmental justice urgently require lasting solutions,” said Herzl, in a statement. “Measurement will play a key role in shaping solutions and tracking progress. With this coalition of investors, we’re expanding our capacity to support new and existing customers and partners taking bold climate action.”

As a result of the new round of funding, led by Clearvision Ventures, the fund’s founder and managing partner, Dan Ahn will take a seat on the board of directors.

Photo: Greg Epperson/Getty Images

“They are the clear category leader in an important and emerging field of data and standards at the intersection of climate, public health and the economy,” Ahn said in a statement. “Both governments and industry will need Aclima’s critical data and analytics to benchmark and accelerate progress to reduce emissions.”

Other investors in Aclima’s latest round include the corporate investment arm of the sensor manufacturer Robert Bosch, which views the company as a strategic component of its efforts to use sensor data to combat climate change. 

“Aclima has built an expansive mobile and stationary sensor network that generates billions of measurements about our most critical resources every week,” says Dr. Ingo Ramesohl, Managing Director of RBVC, in a statement. “Bosch invents and delivers connected solutions for a smarter future across transportation, home, industrial, and many other fields. What Aclima has achieved in connected environmental sensing is an impressive feat. Together, we can accelerate Aclima’s ability to support customers in taking decisive and data-driven climate action.”

Another key investor is Microsoft, which has backed the company through one of the first direct investments from the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund. 

“We established our Climate Innovation Fund earlier this year to accelerate the development of environmental sustainability solutions based on the best available science,” said Brandon Middaugh, Director, Climate Innovation Fund, Microsoft, in a statement. “We’re encouraged by Aclima’s pioneering approach to mapping air pollution sources and exposures at a hyperlocal level and the implications this technology can have for making data-driven environmental decisions with consideration for climate equity.”

Other investors also adding Aclima to their portfolios in this round include Splunk Inc. GingerBread Capital, KTB Network, ACVC Partners, and the Womens VC Fund II. Existing shareholders participating in the round include Social Capital, Rethink Impact, Kapor Capital, and the Schmidt Family Foundation, the company said in a statement.

 

Portugal’s Faber reaches $24.3M for its second fund aimed at data-driven startups from Iberia

By Mike Butcher

Portuguese VC Faber has hit the first close of its Faber Tech II fund at €20.5 million ($24.3 million). The fund will focus on early-stage data-driven startups starting from Southern Europe and the Iberian peninsula, with the aim of reaching a final close of €30 million in the coming months. The new fund targets pre-series A and early-stage startups in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Science.

The fund is backed by European Investment Fund (EIF) and the local Financial Development Institution (IFD), with a joint commitment of €15 million (backed by the Investment Plan for Europe – the Juncker Plan and through the Portugal Tech program), alongside other private institutional and individual investors.

Alexandre Barbosa, Faber’s Managing Partner, said “The success of the first close of our new fund allows us to foresee a growth in the demand for this type of investment, as we believe digital transformation through Intelligence Artificial, Machine Learning and data science are increasingly relevant for companies and their businesses, and we think Southern Europe will be the launchpad of a growing number.”

Faber has already ‘warehoused’ three initial investments. It co-financed a 15.6 million euros Series A for SWORD Health – portuguese startup that created the first digital physiotherapy system combining artificial intelligence and clinical teams. It led the pre-seed round of YData, a startup with a data-centric development platform that provides data science professionals tools to deal with accessing high-quality and meaningful data while protecting its privacy. It also co-financed the pre-seed round of Emotai, a neuroscience-powered analytics and performance-boosting platform for virtual sports.

Faber was a first local investor in the first wave of Portugal’s most promising startups, such as Seedrs (co-founded by Carlos Silva, one f Faber’s Partners) which recently announced its merger with CrowdCube); Unbabel; Codacy and Hole19, among others.

Faber’s main focus is deep-tech and data science startups and as such it’s assembled around 20 experts, researchers, Data Scientists, CTO’s, Founders, AI and Machine Learning professors, as part of its investment strategy.

In particular, it’s created the new role of Professor-in-residence, the first of whom is renowned professor Mário Figueiredo from Lisbon’s leading tech university Instituto Superior Técnico. His interests include signal processing, machine learning, AI and optimization, being a highly cited researcher in these fields.

Speaking to TechCrunch in an interview Barbosa added: “We’ve seen first-time, but also second and third-time entrepreneurs coming over to Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid and experimenting with their next startup and considering starting-up from Iberia in the first place. But also successful entrepreneurs considering extending their engineering teams to Portugal and building engineering hubs in Portugal or Spain.”

“We’ve been historically countercyclical, so we found that startups came to, and appears in Iberia back in 2012 / 2013. This time around mid-2020, we’re very bullish on what’s we can do for the entrepreneurial engine of the economy. We see a lot happening – especially around our thesis – which is basically the data stack, all things data AI-driven, machine learning, data science, and we see that as a very relevant core. A lot of the transformation and digitization is happening right now, so we see a lot of promising stuff going on and a lot of promising talent establishing and setting up companies in Portugal and Spain – so that’s why we think this story is relevant for Europe as a whole.”

Construction rental startup YardLink raises funding from Speedinvest

By Mike Butcher

YardLink allows construction companies to obtain critical equipment faster than traditional equipment rental companies. It’s now raised a £1.7m seed round, bringing the total it’s raised to date to £2.4m. The round was led by Speedinvest Network Effects, with participation from FJ Labs.

Construction sites often have to hire equipment, but the centralized nature of the traditional hire market means suppliers can be slow to deliver, leading to downtime on-site, and delayed projects. Traditional suppliers include HSS Hire, Travis Perkins, Speedy Hire, Sunbelt Rentals. But YardLink aims to speed this process up with a digital-first, marketplace approach. It has a network of 100 suppliers with over 1,400 equipment depots across the UK.

The construction industry faces new guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as having to provide portable site cabins and accommodation for its workforce. This, coupled with tight availability in the market and more demand for renting equipment, rather than buying it.

The global market for construction equipment rental is around $70bn.

The team consists of Neeral Shah (Founder and CEO), Matt Bloor (CCO) and Daniel Morris (CTO) .

Deep Vision announces its low-latency AI processor for the edge

By Frederic Lardinois

Deep Vision, a new AI startup that is building an AI inferencing chip for edge computing solutions, is coming out of stealth today. The six-year-old company’s new ARA-1 processors promise to strike the right balance between low latency, energy efficiency and compute power for use in anything from sensors to cameras and full-fledged edge servers.

Because of its strength in real-time video analysis, the company is aiming its chip at solutions around smart retail, including cashier-less stores, smart cities and Industry 4.0/robotics. The company is also working with suppliers to the automotive industry, but less around autonomous driving than monitoring in-cabin activity to ensure that drivers are paying attention to the road and aren’t distracted or sleepy.

Image Credits: Deep Vision

The company was founded by its CTO Rehan Hameed and its Chief Architect Wajahat Qadeer​, who recruited Ravi Annavajjhala, who previously worked at Intel and SanDisk, as the company’s CEO. Hameed and Qadeer developed Deep Vision’s architecture as part of a Ph.D. thesis at Stanford.

“They came up with a very compelling architecture for AI that minimizes data movement within the chip,” Annavajjhala explained. “That gives you extraordinary efficiency — both in terms of performance per dollar and performance per watt — when looking at AI workloads.”

Long before the team had working hardware, though, the company focused on building its compiler to ensure that its solution could actually address its customers’ needs. Only then did they finalize the chip design.

Image Credits: Deep Vision

As Hameed told me, Deep Vision’s focus was always on reducing latency. While its competitors often emphasize throughput, the team believes that for edge solutions, latency is the more important metric. While architectures that focus on throughput make sense in the data center, Deep Vision CTO Hameed argues that this doesn’t necessarily make them a good fit at the edge.

“[Throughput architectures] require a large number of streams being processed by the accelerator at the same time to fully utilize the hardware, whether it’s through batching or pipeline execution,” he explained. “That’s the only way for them to get their big throughput. The result, of course, is high latency for individual tasks and that makes them a poor fit in our opinion for an edge use case where real-time performance is key.”

To enable this performance — and Deep Vision claims that its processor offers far lower latency than Google’s Edge TPUs and Movidius’ MyriadX, for example — the team is using an architecture that reduces data movement on the chip to a minimum. In addition, its software optimizes the overall data flow inside the architecture based on the specific workload.

Image Credits: Deep Vision

“In our design, instead of baking in a particular acceleration strategy into the hardware, we have instead built the right programmable primitives into our own processor, which allows the software to map any type of data flow or any execution flow that you might find in a neural network graph efficiently on top of the same set of basic primitives,” said Hameed.

With this, the compiler can then look at the model and figure out how to best map it on the hardware to optimize for data flow and minimize data movement. Thanks to this, the processor and compiler can also support virtually any neural network framework and optimize their models without the developers having to think about the specific hardware constraints that often make working with other chips hard.

“Every aspect of our hardware/software stack has been architected with the same two high-level goals in mind,” Hameed said. “One is to minimize the data movement to drive efficiency. And then also to keep every part of the design flexible in a way where the right execution plan can be used for every type of problem.”

Since its founding, the company raised about $19 million and has filed nine patents. The new chip has been sampling for a while and even though the company already has a couple of customers, it chose to remain under the radar until now. The company obviously hopes that its unique architecture can give it an edge in this market, which is getting increasingly competitive. Besides the likes of Intel’s Movidius chips (and custom chips from Google and AWS for their own clouds), there are also plenty of startups in this space, including the likes of Hailo, which raised a $60 million Series B round earlier this year and recently launched its new chips, too.

With $29M in funding, Isovalent launches its cloud-native networking and security platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Isovalent, a startup that aims to bring networking into the cloud-native era, today announced that it has raised a $29 million Series A round led by Andreesen Horowitz and Google. In addition, the company today officially launched its Cilium platform (which was in stealth until now) to help enterprises connect, observe and secure their applications.

The open-source Cilium project is already seeing growing adoption, with Google choosing it for its new GKE dataplane, for example. Other users include Adobe, Capital One, Datadog and GitLab. Isovalent is following what is now the standard model for commercializing open-source projects by launching an enterprise version.

Image Credits: Cilium

The founding team of CEO Dan Wendlandt and CTO Thomas Graf has deep experience in working on the Linux kernel and building networking products. Graf spent 15 years working on the Linux kernel and created the Cilium open-source project, while Wendlandt worked on Open vSwitch at Nicira (and then VMware).

Image Credits: Isovalent

“We saw that first wave of network intelligence be moved into software, but I think we both shared the view that the first wave was about replicating the traditional network devices in software,” Wendlandt told me. “You had IPs, you still had ports, you created virtual routers, and this and that. We both had that shared vision that the next step was to go beyond what the hardware did in software — and now, in software, you can do so much more. Thomas, with his deep insight in the Linux kernel, really saw this eBPF technology as something that was just obviously going to be groundbreaking technology, in terms of where we could take Linux networking and security.”

As Graf told me, when Docker, Kubernetes and containers, in general, become popular, what he saw was that networking companies at first were simply trying to reapply what they had already done for virtualization. “Let’s just treat containers as many as miniature VMs. That was incredibly wrong,” he said. “So we looked around, and we saw eBPF and said: this is just out there and it is perfect, how can we shape it forward?”

And while Isovalent’s focus is on cloud-native networking, the added benefit of how it uses the eBPF Linux kernel technology is that it also gains deep insights into how data flows between services and hence allows it to add advanced security features as well.

As the team noted, though, users definitely don’t need to understand or program eBPF, which is essentially the next generation of Linux kernel modules, themselves.

Image Credits: Isovalent

“I have spent my entire career in this space, and the North Star has always been to go beyond IPs + ports and build networking visibility and security at a layer that is aligned with how developers, operations and security think about their applications and data,” said Martin Casado, partner at Andreesen Horowitz (and the founder of Nicira). “Until just recently, the technology did not exist. All of that changed with Kubernetes and eBPF.  Dan and Thomas have put together the best team in the industry and given the traction around Cilium, they are well on their way to upending the world of networking yet again.”

As more companies adopt Kubernetes, they are now reaching a stage where they have the basics down but are now facing the next set of problems that come with this transition. Those, almost by default, include figuring out how to isolate workloads and get visibility into their networks — all areas where Isovalent/Cilium can help.

The team tells me its focus, now that the product is out of stealth, is about building out its go-to-market efforts and, of course, continue to build out its platform.

JumpCloud raises $75M Series E as cloud directory service thrives during pandemic

By Ron Miller

JumpCloud, the cloud directory service that debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in 2013, announced a $75 million Series E today. The round was led by BlackRock with participation from existing investor General Atlantic.

The company wasn’t willing to discuss the current valuation, but has now raised over $166 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Changes in the way that IT works have been evolving since the company launched. Back then, most companies used Microsoft Active Directory in a Windows-centric environment. Since then, things have gotten more heterogeneous with multiple operating systems, web applications, the cloud and mobile and that has required a different way of thinking about directory structures.

JumpCloud co-founder and CEO Rajat Bhargava says that the pandemic has only accelerated the need for his company’s kind of service as more companies move to the cloud. “Obviously now with COVID, all these changes made it much more difficult for IT to connect their users to all the resources that they needed, and to us that’s one of the most critical tasks that an IT organization has is making their team productive,” he said.

He said their idea was to build an “independent cloud directory platform that would connect people to really whatever it is they need and do that in a secure way while giving IT complete control over that access.”

The product which includes a free tier for 10 users on 10 systems for an unlimited amount of time, has 100,000 users. Of those, Bhargava says that about 3000 are paying.

The company has 300 employees with plans to add 200-250 in the next year with a goal of adding 500 in the next couple of years. As he does that, Bhargava, who is South Asian, sees diversity and inclusion as an important component of the hiring process. In fact, the company tries to make sure it always has diverse candidates in the hiring pool.

“Some of the things that we’ve tried to do is make sure that every role has some diversity candidates involved in the hiring process. That’s something that our recruiting team is working on and making sure that we’re having that conversation with every single hire,” he said. He acknowledges that it’s a work in progress, and a problem across the entire tech industry that he and his company continue to try and address.

Since the pandemic, the company, which is based in Colorado, has made the decision to be remote first and they will be hiring from across the country and across the world as they make these new hires, which could help contribute to a more diverse workforce over time.

With a $75 million investment, and having reached Series E, it’s fair to ask if the company is thinking ahead to an IPO, but Bhargava didn’t want to discuss that. “We just raised this $75 million round. There’s so much work to be done, so we’re just looking forward to that right now,” he said.

Bob Iger goes from managing Mickey to directing a milk replacement startup as new Perfect Day boardmember

By Jonathan Shieber

Bob Iger, the chairman and former chief executive at Walt Disney is trading his mouse ears for milk substitutes as the new director of massively funded dairy replacement startup Perfect Day.

Milk substitutes are a $1 trillion category and Perfect Day is angling to be the leader in the market. Iger’s ascension to a director position at the company just affirms that Perfect Day is a big business in the big business of making milk replacements.

Unlike almond milk or soy milk companies, Perfect Day is angling to be a direct replacement for bovine dairy using a protein cultivated from mushrooms.

The move comes as Perfect Day ramps up its development of consumer products on its own and through investments in startups like the Urgent Company. That’s the consumer food company Perfect Day backed to commercialize technologies and create more sustainable food brands.

For Iger, the Perfect Day board represents the first new board seat the longtime entertainment powerbroker has taken since he left Apple.

“Innovation and leadership are both key to world changing ideas,” said Iger, in a statement. “Perfect Day has established both innovation in its use of technology and novel approach to fighting climate change, and clear leadership in building a category with a multi-year head start in the industry they’re helping to build. I’m thrilled to join at this pivotal moment and support the company’s swift growth into new categories and markets.”

Iger joins Perfect Day’s co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, and representatives from the company’s international backers and lead investors, Aftab Mathur, from Temasek Holdings, and Patrick Zhang, of Horizons Ventures.

Until yesterday, Perfect Day was the most well-capitalized protein fermentation company focused on dairy in the world. That’s when Impossible Foods, the alternative meat manufacturer which has raised $1.5 billion from investors, unveiled that it, too, was working on a dairy product.

Perfect Day, by contrast, has raised $360 million in total funding to-date.

“We’re thrilled to have Bob Iger join our team, and are confident his tenured operational expertise and visionary leadership style will further help us scale our ambitions,” said Ryan Pandya, the chief executive and co-founder of Perfect Day, in a statement. “We’re focused on rapid commercialization in the U.S. and globally. But we know we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’re excited and humbled to have a proven leader like Bob to help us thoughtfully transform our purpose-driven aspirations into tangible and sustainable impact.”

As Blizzard sunsets StarCraft II, some of its key creators raise cash for a new gaming studio

By Jonathan Shieber

Even as Blizzard pulls the plug on new updates for its StarCraft II game, nearly a decade after its launch, gaming investors are financing the next new thing coming from key members of the game’s early development team.

Blizzard vets Tim Morten, the former production director for StarCraft II; and Tim Campbell, the lead campaign designer for WarCraft III; have launched a new studio with a number of colleagues from Blizzard to bring real time strategy games to a bigger audience.

The new company, Frost Giant Studios, has picked up $4.7 million in seed funding from the gaming and synthetic media focused investment firm, Bitkraft Ventures, along with participation from 1 Up Ventures, GC Tracker, Riot Games, and Griffin Gaming Partners, the company said.

“Frost Giant Studios is on a mission to bring one of the most beloved genres to a broader audience,” said Scott Rupp, Founding General Partner at Bitkraft Ventures. “We are excited to see some of the most experienced leaders in real-time strategy game development come together to build a game that will secure the future growth of the RTS genre while staying true to the core player fantasy of RTS.”

Building on their experience developing StarCraft II over the past ten years, the Frost Giant Studios strategy is focused on making gameplay better, easier, and more collaborative.

Think of it as taking some of the best elements of the battle royal genre and bringing them into real-time strategy games with an eye toward playability and competitive opportunities in esports.

“Real-time strategy players are an incredibly passionate community, and they deserve not just a great new game, but one they can share broadly with friends. Building a worthy successor will take time, but we’re incredibly excited and grateful to carry real-time strategy forward at Frost Giant Studios,” said Tim Morten, Frost Giant Studios CEO.

Jam raises $3.5 million to Figma-tize product collaboration

By Lucas Matney

The web of collaboration apps invading remote work toolkits have led to plenty of messy workflows for teams that communicate in a language of desktop screenshots and DMs. Tracing a suggestion or flagging a bug in a company’s website forces engineers or designers to make sense of the mess themselves.  While task management software has given teams a funnel for the clutter, the folks at Jam question why this functionality isn’t just built straight into the product.

Jam co-founders Dani Grant and Mohd Irtefa tell TechCrunch they’ve closed on $3.5 million in seed funding and are ready to launch a public beta of their collaboration platform which builds chat, comments and task management directly onto a website, allowing developers and designers to track issues and make suggestions quickly and simply

The seed round was led by Union Square Ventures, where co-founder Dani Grant previously worked as an analyst. Version One Ventures, BoxGroup and Village Global also participated alongside some noteworthy angels including GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia, and former Robinhood VP Josh Elman.

Like most modern productivity suites, Jam is heavy on integrations so users aren’t forced to upend their toolkits just to add one more product into the mix. The platform supports Slack, Jira, GitHub, Asana, Loom and Figma, with a few more in the immediate pipeline. Data syncs from one platform to the other bidirectionally so information is always fresh, Grant says. It’s all built into a tidy sidebar.

Grant and Irtefa met as product managers at Cloudflare, where they started brainstorming better ways to communicate feedback in a way that felt like “leaving digital sticky notes all over a product,” Grant says. That thinking ultimately pushed the duo to leave their jobs this past May and start building Jam.

The startup, like so many conceived during this period, has a remote founding story. Grant and Irtefa have only spent four days together in-person since the company was started, they raised their seed round remotely and most of the employees have never met each other in-person.

The remote team hopes their software can help other remote teams declutter their workflows and focus on what they’re building.

“On a product team, the product is the first tab everyone opens and closes,” Grant says. “So we’re on top of your product instead of on some other platform”

Jam’s interface

Lux-backed Flex Logix announces availability of its fast and cheap X1 AI chip for the edge

By Danny Crichton

In the computing world, there are probably more types of chips available than your local supermarket snack aisle. Diverse computing environments (data centers and the cloud, edge, mobile devices, IoT, and more), different price points, and varying capabilities and performance requirements are scrambling the chip industry, resetting who has the lead right now and who might take the lead in new and emerging niches.

While there has been a spate of new chip startups like Cerebras, SiFive, and Nuvia funded by venture capitalists in the past two years, Flex Logix got its footing a bit earlier. The company, founded in 2014 by former Rambus founder Geoff Tate and Cheng Wang, has collectively raised $27 million from investors Lux Capital and Eclipse Ventures, along with Tate himself.

Flex Logix wants to bring AI processing workflows to the compute edge, which means it wants to offer technology that adds artificial intelligence to products like medical imaging equipment and robotics. At the edge, processing power obviously matters, but so does size and price. More efficient chips are easier to include in products, where pricing may put constraints on the cost of individual components.

In the first few years of the company, it focused on developing and licensing IP around FPGAs, or reprogrammable chips that can be changed after manufacturing through software. These flexible chips are critical in applications like AI or 5G, where standards and models change rapidly. It’s a market that is dominated by Xilinx and Altera, which was acquired by Intel for $16.7 billion back in 2015.

Flex Logix saw an opportunity to be “the ARM of FPGAs” by helping other companies develop their own chips. It built customer traction for its designs with organizations like Sandia National Laboratory, the Department of Defense and Boeing. More recently, it has been developing its own line of chips called InferX X1, creating a hybrid business model not unlike the model that Nvidia will have after its acquisition of ARM clears through regulatory hurdles.

With that background out of the way, Flex Logix unveiled the availability of its X1 chip, which is currently slated to be offered at four speeds ranging from 533Mhz to 933Mhz. CEO Tate stressed on our call that the company’s key differential is price: those chips will be priced between $99-$199 depending on chip speed for smaller orders, and $34-$69 per chip for large-scale orders.

It’s a chip, alright. Ain’t a lot of great stock art. But here is the X1. Photo via Flex Logix.

The reason those chips are cheaper is that they are significantly smaller than competing chips from Nvidia in its Jetson chip lineup according to Tate, up to 1/7 the size. Smaller chips generally have lower costs, since each wafer in a chip fab can hold more chips, amortizing the cost of manufacturing over more chips. According to the company, its chips outperform Nvidia’s Xavier module, although independent benchmarks aren’t available.

“Every customer we talk to wants more processing power per dollar, more processing power per unit of power … and with our die-size advantage we can give them more for their money,” Tate explained.

Customer samples for these new chips are expected to arrive in the first quarter next year, with scale manufacturing in the second quarter.

The company’s plan is to continue both sides of its business and continue to grow and mature its technology. “Our embedded FPGA businesses is now, as a standalone, profitable. The amount of money we’re bringing in exceeds the engineering and business. And now we’re developing this new business for inference which ultimately should be a bigger business because the market is growing very fast in the inference space,” Tate explained.

The company’s board consists of Peter Hébert and Shahin Farshchi of Lux, Pierre Lamond at Eclipse, and Kushagra Vaid, a distinguished engineer at Microsoft Azure. The company is based in Mountain View, California.

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and AR, raises $7.3M from EQT and Blueyard

By Mike Butcher

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and Augmented Reality (AR), has raised a $7.3 million round led by European fund EQT Ventures. Existing investor BlueYard (Berlin) also participated.

Vectary makes high-quality 3D design more accessible for consumers, garnering over one million creators worldwide, and has more than a thousand digital agencies and creative studios as users.

With the coronavirus pandemic shifting more people online, Vectary says it has seen a 300% increase in AR views as more businesses start showcasing their products in 3D and AR.

Vectary was founded in 2014 by Michal Koor (CEO) and Pavol Sovis (CTO), who were both from the design and technology worlds.

The complexity of using and sharing content created by traditional 3D design tools has been a barrier to the adoption of 3D, which is what Vectary addresses.

Although Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are making it easier for consumers, the creative tools remain lacking. Vectary believes that seamless 3D/AR content creation and sharing will be key to mainstream adoption.

Designers and creatives can use Vectary to apply 2D design on a 3D object in Figma or Sketch; create 3D customizers in Webflow with Embed API; and add 3D interactivity to decks.

Intel agrees to sell its NAND business to SK Hynix for $9 billion

By Catherine Shu

SK Hynix, one of the world’s largest chip makers, announced today it will pay $9 billion for Intel’s flash memory business. Intel said it will use proceeds from the deal to focus on artificial intelligence, 5G and edge computing.

“For Intel, this transaction will allow us to to further prioritize our investments in differentiated technology where we can play a bigger role in the success of our customers and deliver attractive returns to our stockholders,” said Intel chief executive officer Bob Swan in the announcement.

The Wall Street Journal first reported earlier this week that the two companies were nearing an agreement, which will turn SK Hynix into one of the world’s largest NAND memory makers, second only to Samsung Electronics.

The deal with SK Hynix is the latest one Intel has made so it can double down on developing technology for 5G network infrastructure. Last year, Intel sold the majority of its modem business to Apple for about $1 billion, with Swan saying that the time that the deal would allow Intel to “[put] our full effort into 5G where it most closely aligns with the needs of our global customer base.”

Once the deal is approved and closes, Seoul-based SK Hynix will take over Intel’s NAND SSD and NAND component and wafer businesses, and its NAND foundry in Dalian, China. Intel will hold onto its Optane business, which makes SSD memory modules. The companies said regulatory approval is expected by late 2021, and a final closing of all assets, including Intel’s NAND-related intellectual property, will take place in March 2025.

Until the final closing takes places, Intel will continue to manufacture NAND wafers at the Dalian foundry and retain all IP related to the manufacturing and design of its NAND flash wafers.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Dalian facility is Intel’s only major foundry in China, which means selling it to SK Hynix will dramatically reduce its presence there as the United States government puts trade restrictions on Chinese technology.

In the announcement, Intel said it plans to use proceeds from the sale to “advance its long-term growth priorities, including artificial intelligence, 5G networking and the intelligent, autonomous edge.”

During the six-month period ending on June 27, 2020, NAND business represented about $2.8 billion of revenue for its Non-volatile Memory Solutions Group (NSG), and contributed about $600 million to the division’s operating income. According to the Wall Street Journal, this made up the majority of Intel’s total memory sales during that period, which was about $3 billion.

SK Hynix CEO Seok-Hee Lee said the deal will allow the South Korean company to “optimize our business structure, expanding our innovative portfolio in the NAND flash market segment, which will be comparable with what we achieved in DRAM.”

Here’s the curtain raise on the Sight Tech Global agenda

By Ned Desmond

The goal of Sight Tech Global, a virtual, global event on December 2-3, 2020, is to gather the world’s top experts who are applying advanced technologies, notably AI, to the future of accessibility and assistive tech for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Today we’re excited to roll out most of the agenda. There are another half-dozen sessions and breakouts still to come, notably sessions on AI bias and civil rights. What we’ve discovered over the many weeks of research and conversation is a consistent, strong interest on the part of researchers, technologists and product and design thinkers to convene and talk over the future — its promises, challenges and even threats.

We’re delighted to have top-level talent from virtually every leading technology company, many research universities and some startups ready for fireside chats and small panel discussions with expert moderators. Some sessions will take questions from our audience as well.

When the event dates are closer, we will add dates and times to each of these sessions as well as announce additional speakers. Register today to get a free pass and please browse the first edition of the Sight Tech Global agenda below.

Seeing AI: Where does Microsoft’s blockbuster app go from here?

With ever more powerful computer and data resources available in the cloud, Microsoft’s Seeing AI mobile app is destined to become a steadily better ally for anyone with vision challenges. Co-founder Saqib Shaikh leads the engineering team that’s charting the app’s cloud-enabled future.

Saqib Shaikh, co-founder of Seeing AI, Microsoft
Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

The future according to OrCam

As AI-based computer vision, voice recognition and natural language processing race ahead, the engineering challenge is to design devices that can perceive the physical world and communicate that information in a timely manner. Amnon Shashua’s OrCam MyEye is the most sophisticated effort yet to merge those technologies in a seamless experience on a dedicated device.

Amnon Shashua, co-founder of OrCam and Mobileye
Moderator: Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch

Accessibility from the wheels up: The Waymo self-driving taxi

If people who are blind or visually impaired find Uber and Lyft liberating, imagine how they will feel summoning a self-driving ride from an app on their mobile phones. But wait, how exactly will they locate the cars and what happens when they climb in? Presenter Clem Wright is responsible for the self-driving taxi’s accessibility, and he will be joined by leadership from two organizations closely involved in that effort: The Lighthouse for the Blind SF and the Foundation for Blind Children.

Clem Wright, Accessibility product manager, Waymo
/> Marc Ashton, CEO, Foundation for Blind Children
Bryan Bashin, CEO, Lighthouse for the Blind
Moderator: Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch

Our AI future is already here

Whether it’s Alexa, Tesla or Facebook, AI is already deeply embedded in our daily lives. Few understand that better than Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a scientist who developed the first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, led Google in China and held senior roles at Microsoft and Apple. Today, Dr. Lee runs Sinovation Ventures, a $2 billion fund based in China, is president of the Sinovation’s Artificial Intelligence Institute and has 50 million followers on social media.

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO, Sinovation Ventures
/> Moderator: Ned Desmond, Sight Tech Global

The future of AT devices and the companies that make them

Dedicated devices versus accessible platforms? Victor Reader Stream versus iPhones and Alexa? How will AT companies take advantage of a world with cloud data and edge computational power, AI algorithms and more demanding customers than ever? Humanware, eSight and APH are already looking far into that future.

Gilles Pepin, CEO, Humanware
Greg Stilson, head of Global Innovation, APH
Charles Lim, CTO, eSight
Moderator: Betsy Beaumon, CEO, Benetech

If the Jetsons had screen readers, would they be using keyboard commands?

The screen reader is arguably the most consequential digital technology ever for people who are blind or visually impaired. At the same time, screen readers depend on a dizzying array of keyboard commands, and — when it comes to reading websites in a browser — they struggle with the ugly reality of poor website accessibility. New technologies may lead the way to better outcomes.

Glen Gordon, Software fellow, Vispero; architect, JAWS
James Teh, Accessibility engineer, Mozilla; co-founder, NVDA
Léonie Watson, director, TetraLogical
Moderator: Matt King, Accessibility technical program manager, Facebook

Alexa, what is your future?

When Alexa launched six years ago, no one imagined that the voice assistant would reach into millions of daily lives and become a huge convenience for people who are blind or visually impaired. This fall, Alexa introduced personalization and conversational capabilities that are a step-change toward more human-like home companionship. Amazon’s Josh Miele and Anne Toth will discuss the impact on accessibility as Alexa becomes more capable.

Anne Toth, director, Alexa Trust at Amazon
Josh Miele, principal accessibility researcher, Lab126 at Amazon
/> Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

Augmented reality and perception: What’s the best way to get the message across?

It’s one thing for an AI-based system to “know” when it’s time to turn left, who came through the door or how far away the couch is: It’s quite another to convey that information in a timely fashion with minimal distraction. Researchers are making use of haptics, visual augmented reality (AR), sound and language to figure out the right solutions.

Amos Miller, Product strategist, Microsoft AI and Research
Ashley Tuan, VP Medical Devices, Mojo Vision
Sile O’Modhrain, associate professor, Performing Arts Technology, University of Michigan
Moderator: Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine

Wayfinding: Finding the mark

Map apps on mobile phones are miraculous tools accessible via voice output, but mainstream apps don’t announce the detailed location information (which people who are blind or visually impaired really want), especially inside buildings and in public transportation settings. Efforts in the U.S. and U.K. are improving accessible navigation.

Tim Murdoch, founder and CEO, Waymap
Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine
Moderator: Mike May, chief evangelist, GoodMaps

Computer vision, AI and accessibility: What’s missing from this picture?

For an AI to interpret the visual world on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired, the AI needs to know what it’s looking at, and no less important, that it’s looking at the right thing. Mainstream computer vision databases don’t do that well — yet.

Danna Gurari, assistant professor and director of the Image and Video Computing Group, University of Texas
Patrick Clary, product manager, AI and accessibility, Google
/> Moderator: Roberto Manduchi, professor CS and Engineering, UC Santa Cruz

Keep an out for more sessions and breakouts later this month. In the meantime, registration is open. Get your pass today!

Sight Tech Global is eager to hear from potential sponsors. We’re grateful to current sponsors Amazon, Ford, Google, Microsoft, Mojo Vision, Waymo, Wells Fargo and Humanware. All sponsorship revenues go to the nonprofit Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which has been serving the Silicon Valley area for 75 years.

Special thanks to the Sight Tech Global advisors — Tech Matters Jim Fruchterman, UC Santa Cruz’s Roberto Manduchi, Verizon Media’s Larry Goldberg, Facebook’s Matt King and Be My Eyes’ Will Butler — who are playing an invaluable role on this project.

At Last, Alchemy Arrives in a Burst of Light—From Lasers

By Philip Ball
Researchers have shown how to effectively transform one material into another using a finely shaped laser pulse.

HacWare wants you to hate email security a little less

By Zack Whittaker

Let’s face it, email security is something a lot of people would rather think less about. When you’re not deluged with a daily onslaught of phishing attacks trying to steal your passwords, you’re also expected to dodge the simulated phishing emails sent by your own company all for the sake of checking a compliance box.

One security startup wants that to change. Tiffany Ricks founded HacWare in Dallas, Texas, in 2017 to help bring better cybersecurity awareness to small businesses without getting in the way of the day job.

“We’re trying to show them what they don’t know about cybersecurity and educate them on that so they can get back to work,” Ricks told TechCrunch, ahead of the company’s participation in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield.

Ricks, a former Pentagon contractor, has her roots as an ethical hacker. As a penetration tester, or “red teamer,” she would test the limits of a company’s cybersecurity defenses by using a number of techniques, including social engineering attacks, which often involves tricking someone into turning over a password or access to a system.

“It was just very easy to get into organizations by social engineering employees,” said Ricks. But the existing offerings on the market, she said, weren’t up to the task of educating users at scale.

“And so we built the product in-house,” she said.

HacWare sits on a company’s email server and uses machine learning to categorize and analyze each message for risk — the same things you would look for in a phishing email, like suspicious links and attachments.

HacWare tries to identify the most at-risk users, like those working in finance and human resources, who are more vulnerable to business email compromise attacks that try to steal sensitive employee information. The system also uses automated simulated phishing attacks using the contents of what’s in a user’s inbox already to send personalized phishing emails to test the user.

Email remains the most popular way for attackers to use phishing and other social engineering attacks to try to steal sensitive information, according to Verizon’s annual data breach report. These attackers want your passwords or to try to trick you into sending sensitive documents, like employee tax and financial information.

But as the adage goes, humans are the weakest link in the security chain.

Stronger security features, like two-factor authentication, makes it far more difficult for hackers to break into accounts but it’s not a panacea. It was only in July that Twitter was hit by a devastating breach that saw hackers use social engineering techniques to trick employees into giving over access to an internal “admin” tool that the hackers abused to hijack high-profile accounts and spread a cryptocurrency scam.

HacWare’s approach to email security appears to be working. “We’ve seen a 60% reduction in reducing phishing responses,” she said. The automated phishing simulations also help to reduce IT workload, she said.

Ricks moved the bootstrapped HacWare to New York City after securing a place in Techstars’ accelerator program. HacWare is seeking to raise a $1 million seed round, said Ricks. For now, the company is “laser focused” on email security, but the company has growth in its sights.

“I see us expanding into just trying to understand human behavior and trying to figure out how we can mitigate that risk,” she said.

“We believe that cyber security is an integrated approach,” said Ricks. “But first we definitely need to start with the root cause, and the root cause is we need to really get our people the tools they need to empower them to make sound cybersecurity decisions,” she said.

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