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Cloudflare says cutting off customers like 8chan is an IPO ‘risk factor’

By Zack Whittaker

Networking and web security giant Cloudflare says the recent 8chan controversy may be an ongoing “risk factor” for its business on the back of its upcoming initial public offering.

The San Francisco-based company and former Battlefield finalist, which filed its IPO paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, earlier this month took the rare step of pulling the plug on one of its customers, 8chan, an anonymous message board linked to recent domestic terrorist attacks in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, which killed 31 people. The site is also linked to the shootings in New Zealand, which killed 50 people.

8chan became the second customer to have its service cut off by Cloudflare in the aftermath of the attacks. The first and other time Cloudflare booted one of its customers was neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer in 2017, after it claimed the networking giant was secretly supportive of the website.

Cloudflare, which provides web security and denial-of-service protection for websites, recognizes those customer cut-offs as a risk factor for investors buying shares in the company’s common stock.

“Activities of our paying and free customers or the content of their websites and other Internet properties could cause us to experience significant adverse political, business, and reputational consequences with customers, employees, suppliers, government entities, and other third parties,” the filing said. “Even if we comply with legal obligations to remove or disable customer content, we may maintain relationships with customers that others find hostile, offensive, or inappropriate.”

Cloudflare had long taken a stance of not policing who it provides service to, citing freedom of speech. In a 2015 interview with ZDNet, chief executive Matthew Prince said he didn’t ever want to be in a position where he was making “moral judgments on what’s good and bad,” and would instead defer to the courts.

“If a final court order comes down and says we can’t do something… governments have tanks and guns,” he said.

But since Prince changed his stance on both The Daily Stormer and 8chan, the company recognized it “experienced significant negative publicity” in the aftermath.

“We are aware of some potential customers that have indicated their decision to not subscribe to our products was impacted, at least in part, by the actions of certain of our paying and free customers,” said the filing. “We may also experience other adverse political, business and reputational consequences with prospective and current customers, employees, suppliers, and others related to the activities of our paying and free customers, especially if such hostile, offensive, or inappropriate use is high profile.”

Cloudflare has also come under fire in recent months for allegedly supplying web protection services to sites that promote and support terrorism, including al-Shabab and the Taliban, both of which are covered under U.S. Treasury sanctions.

In response, the company said it tries “to be neutral,” but wouldn’t comment specifically on the matter.

Democratic Senate campaign group exposed 6.2 million Americans’ emails

By Zack Whittaker

A political campaign group working to elect Democratic senators left on an exposed server a spreadsheet containing the email addresses of 6.2 million Americans.

Data breach researchers at security firm UpGuard found the data in late July, and traced the storage bucket back to a former staffer at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, an organization that seeks grassroots donations and contributions to help elect Democratic candidates to the U.S. Senate.

Following the discovery, UpGuard researchers reached out to the DSCC and the storage bucket was secured within a few hours. The researchers shared their findings exclusively with TechCrunch and published their findings.

The spreadsheet was titled “EmailExcludeClinton.csv” and was found in a similarly named unprotected Amazon S3 bucket without a password. The file was uploaded in 2010 — a year after former Democratic senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whom the data is believed to be named after, became secretary of state.

UpGuard said the data may be people “who had opted out or should otherwise be excluded” from the committee’s marketing.

screenshot

A redacted portion of the email spreadsheet. (Image: UpGuard/supplied)

Stewart Boss, a spokesperson for the DSCC, denied the data came from the Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and claimed the data had been created using the committee’s own information.

“A spreadsheet from nearly a decade ago that was created for fundraising purposes was removed in compliance with the stringent protocols we now have in place,” he told TechCrunch in an email.

Despite several follow-ups, the spokesperson declined to say say how the email addresses were collected, where the information came from, what the email addresses were used for, how long the bucket was exposed, or if the committee knew if anyone else accessed or obtained the data.

We also contacted the former DSCC staffer who owned the storage bucket and allegedly created the database, but did not hear back.

Most of the email addresses were from consumer providers, like AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail, but the researchers found over 7,700 U.S. government email addresses and 3,400 U.S. military email addresses, said the UpGuard researchers.

The DSCC security lapse is the latest in a string of data exposures in recent years — some of which were also discovered by UpGuard. Two incidents in 2015 and 2017 exposed 191 million and 198 million Americans’ voter data respectively, including voter profiles and political persuasions. Last year, 14 million voter records on Texas residents were also found on an exposed server.

Although the DSCC’s data exposure contains less damaging information than similar exposed sets of voter data, it represents another embarrassing lapse around political campaign data security.

“This list contained only email addresses, but other political data sets contain far more information on individuals, down to psychographic information such as their habits, behaviors, and likely beliefs,” said UpGuard. “The same things that make this data valuable to political campaigns makes it valuable to malicious actors — intel on individuals that can be used to contact and influence them.”

“If political data can be exposed for ten years, the risk created by that data has an unknown half-life,” the researchers said.

SpaceX details launch and landing plans for Starship and Super Heavy in new document

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has prepared a draft environmental assessment around its plans for the new Starship and Super Heavy spacecraft launches it intends to begin, in a test capacity, very soon. Preparing and finalizing this environmental assessment is a key ingredient in actually launching both Super Heavy, the first stage for SpaceX’s forthcoming fully reusable, high-capacity launch system, and Starship, the second stage spacecraft component of said system.

Already, SpaceX is working towards getting a prototype of Starship in the air, with planned launches coming in just “2 to 3 months,” if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk manages to meet his optimistic timeline. It completed an untethered ‘hop’ low-altitude test flight of StarHopper, a sub-scale demonstration version of the Starship design meant to help it test that craft’s Raptor engine. But SpaceX must also show that it has fully considered the potential consequences that its planned launch operations will have on the surrounding environment.

Starship and Super Heavy will launch from Florida, with the current plan to build a second launch mount at its current LC-39A launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, which it leases from NASA and currently uses for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. After launching from LC-39A, the current plan is to have Starship return back to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), which is SpaceX’s current landing area for Falcon first-stage boosters at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Super Heavy would land downrange, aboard a drone barge ship, like the twin ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ and ‘Just Read The Instructions’ ships that SpaceX uses now depending on mission conditions on both its East and West coast launches.

Eventually, SpaceX hopes to also be able to build a landing zone within the existing confines of its LC-39A launch pad area, with the intent of landing Starship back much closer to where it launches – this will require more study to determine its viability and impact, however, so SpaceX has left that consideration for future investigation for now.

SpaceX says in the draft assessment that it also considered potentially launching and landing Starship and Super Heavy from its SLC-40 and SLC-4 launch sites, which are at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base respectively, but these would not offer enough space in the case of SLC-40, or would require too long a trip back to the launch site in the case of SLC-4 (which would be an overland cross-country U.S. road trip for a huge rocket).

Finally, SpaceX also notes that it may, in future, “develop and launch the Starship/Super Heavy from its facility in Cameron County, TX.” A Texas-based launch site would have benefits in terms of proximity to one of SpaceX’s key rocket/engine development facilities, and if it’s successful in making its reusable launch and landing system extremely consistent in performance, the downsides of not being near a large body of water could be mitigated. These plans, however, will also merit separate consideration, so don’t expect full-scale launches for Starship from Texas in the near future.

SpaceX succeeds with first untethered StarHopper low altitude ‘hop’ test

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is racking up wins this week, after a successful second launch attempt for its CRS-18 mission earlier this evening, and now with a first short-hop free flight for its StarHopper prototype spacecraft on Thursday night, again on its second try after a scrub earlier this week.

This test involved flying StarHopper to the relatively modest height of just 20 meters (around 65 feet, which is roughly how tall it is to begin with), where it moved around only very slightly, guiding itself under its own navigation. The StarHopper then returned to Earth as planned, so all indications are that this was a good test that went exactly as intended by the SpaceX crew.

Starhopper flight successful. Water towers *can* fly haha!!

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 26, 2019

 

StarHopper is a scaled down test vehicle designed to help SpaceX run crucial preparation trials for the new Raptor engine ahead of building its full-scale Starship reusable spacecraft. Starship is the next launch vehicle SpaceX is developing, which is intended to be fully reusable (its current rockets are only partially able to be refurbished and reflow) and which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk envisions eventually being able to take over all mission activity for the company, including transfer of crew and cargo to Mars. Once ready, it’ll be paired with SpaceX’s future ‘Super Heavy’ launch rocket for extra-orbital launch capabilities.

An untethered hop is a key milestone in SpaceX’s planned development, and it’s been trying to get this done for a couple of weeks now. Musk has already said that he anticipates flying the full-scale Starship prototype. Mark 1 and Mark II of which are both in simultaneous development at both Boca Chica in Texas, and at SpaceX’s Florida facility.

SpaceX untethered StarHopper ‘hop’ test flight aborted after engines briefly flare

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX encountered a snag in an attempted test key to the development of its next-generation Starship spacecraft. Specifically, the StarHopper sub scale demonstration and testing craft it’s using to work on the Starthip’s propulsion system fails to undertake its first untethered test flight at a testing site in Boca Chica Beach in Texas,

The plan was to have the demonstration craft take off and fly to a height of 20 meters before returning to Earth, all under tis own power and directed by its own guidance system. Instead, It seemed to fire rockets and then was engulfed in smoke, before venting fire out of the top of the test craft for a few minutes prior to extinguishing, with StarHopper looking relatively unscathed. We’re still waiting on official confirmation of what happened from SpaceX, but they characterized this as an “abort” on a livestream of the test.

Last week during a static test fire, the StarHopper vehicle was engulfed in a large ball of flame. This wasn’t a planned event, but did not result in significant damage to the spacecraft, SpaceX later said.

StarHopper succeeded in flying its first tethered flight at the beginning of April, and has undergone further testing since then to prepare for its untethered trip. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month that a successful untethered test would pave the way for a full presentation of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft plans at the end of July, but the test has encountered a few issues since then.

The reason SpaceX and other companies run tests like these is to identify potential issues early in the development process, so it’s good to see them making progress even if that doesn’t mean a “success” in the traditional sense of actually having achieved untethered flight.

SpaceX designed Starship will be fully reusable once complete, unlike Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, so it’ll reduce the cost of launches, and the company hopes to eventually use it to fly all its missions, though it’ll keep Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy in service for its paying customers as long as there’s appetite.

Udelv partners with H-E-B on Texas autonomous grocery delivery pilot

By Darrell Etherington

Autonomous delivery company Udelv has signed yet another partner to launch a new pilot of its self-driving goods delivery service: Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B Group. The pilot will provide service to customers in Olmos Park, just outside of downtown San Antonio where the grocery retailer is based.

California-based Udelv will provide H-E-B with one of its Newton second-generation autonomous delivery vehicles, which are already in service in trials in the Bay Area, Arizona and Houston providing deliveries on behalf of some of Udelv’s other clients, which include Walmart among others.

Udelv CEO and founder Daniel Laury explained in an interview that they’re very excited to be partnering with H-E-B, because of the company’s reach in Texas, where it’s the largest grocery chain with approximately 400 stores. This initial phase only covers one car and one store, and during this part of the pilot the vehicle will have a safety driver on board. But the plan includes the option to expand the partnership to cover more vehicles and eventually achieve full driverless operation.

“They’re really at the forefront of technology, in the areas where they need to be,” Laury said. “It’s a very impressive company.”

For its part, H-E-B Group has been in discussion with a number of potential partners for autonomous deliver trials, and according to Paul Tepfenhart, SVP of Omnichannel and Emerging Technologies at H-E-B, but it liked Udelv specifically because of their safety record, and because they didn’t just come in with a set plan and a fully formed off-the-shelf offering – they truly partnered with HEB on what the final deployment of the pilot would look like.

Both Tepfenhart and Laury emphasized the importance of customer experience in providing autonomous solutions, and Laury noted that he thinks Udelv’s unique advantage in the increasingly competitive autonomous curbside delivery business is its attention to the robotics of the actual delivery and storage components of its custom vehicle.

“The reason I think we’re we’ve been so successful, is because we focused a lot on the delivery robotics,” Laury explained. “If you think about it, there’s no autonomous delivery business that works if you don’t have the robotics aspect of it figured out also. You can have an autonomous vehicle, but if you don’t have an automated cargo space where merchants can load [their goods] and consumers can unload the vehicle by themselves, you have no business.”

Udelv also thinks that it has an advantage when it comes to its business model, which aims to generate revenue now, in exchange for providing actual value to paying customers, rather than counting on being supported entirely through funding from a wealthy investor or deep-pocketed corporate partners. Laury likens it to Tesla’s approach, where it actually has over 500,000 vehicles on the road helping it build its autonomous technology – but all of those are operated by paying customers who get all the benefits of owing their cars today.

“We want to be the Tesla of autonomous delivery,” Laury said. “If you think about it, Tesla has got 500,000 vehicles on the road […] if you think about this, for of all the the cars in the world that have some level of automated driver assistance (ADAS) or autonomy, I think Tesla’s 90% of them – and they get the customers to pay a ridiculous amount of money for that. Everybody else in the business is getting funding from something else. Waymo is getting funding from search; Cruise is getting funding from GM and SoftBank and others, Nuro is getting funding from SoftBank. So, pretty much everybody else is getting funding from a source that’s a different source from the actual business they’re supposed to be in.”

Laury says that Udelv’s unique strength is in the ability the company has to provide value to partners like HEB today, through its focus on robotics and solving problems like engineering the robotics of the loading and customer pick-up experience, which puts it in a unique place where it can fund its own research through revenue-generating services that can be offered in-market now, rather than ten years from now.

Doctours offers packaged medical tourism for U.S. customers

By Jonathan Shieber

Doctours, a Los Angeles-based online platform for booking trips and treatments for medical and dental care around the world, is expanding its services to 35 countries.

Founded by serial travel entrepreneur Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, whose last company TripScope was acquired by Travefy, Doctours aims to connect patients with doctors to receive access to quality, affordable healthcare around the world.

The cost of care in the U.S. continues to climb, leading patients with few options but to travel to the best facilities offering the lowest cost care. Some companies that provide insurance benefits to their employees, like Walmart, are opting to pay for better care upfront by transporting their workers to facilities to receive appropriate care, rather than pay later for shoddy treatment.

Doctours sort of expands that thesis in an international context.

“When it comes to medical and dental treatment, there is no longer any reason to limit ourselves based on where we live,” said O’Shaughnessy, in a statement. “There is an increasingly advantageous global marketplace available with highly trained practitioners offering quality healthcare solutions at affordable prices and, although medical and dental tourism is a safe and cost-efficient solution, the current market is extremely fragmented and challenging to navigate. Doctours eliminates this fragmentation and allows anyone to easily and affordably access international medical and dental treatments and procedures.”

Katelyn Headshot 2

Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, founder, Doctours

The company, which is backed by investors including investors in Doctours include the former CEO of Expedia, Erik Blachford, Texas billionaire and CEO of multi-strategy holding company, Cathexis, William Harrison, and Charles Cogliando of Mosaic Advisors, offers more than 330 different medical and dental procedures and has a global service area that includes Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean, Thailand, Dubai, Brazil, Germany and Costa Rica. 

Currently working out of Quake Capital’s Austin incubator, the company helps patients search for and compare the cost of procedures, connect with doctors and book everything from in vitro fertilization to stem cell therapy, cosmetic and reparative plastic . surgery, weight loss surgery, dental work and Lasik. 

Once the procedure is booked, Doctours puts together itineraries that provide different options for flights and hotels based on the needs of the patient,  the company said.

The company also offers specialized medical tourism insurance to all of its customers, according to O’Shaughnessy. And the company vets its doctors by ensuring that they are Joint Commission International accredited physicians. Roughly 70% of the company’s doctors were trained at universities and medical schools in Europe or the U.S., O’Shaughnessy wrote in an email.

Doctours is certainly entering a lucrative market. Medical and dental tourism is a $439 billion global market growing at a rate of 25% per year, according to data provided by Doctours. In 2018 alone, 14 million patients traveled abroad to seek healthcare, according to the company.

Small fire breaks out and is extinguished at SpaceX’s Florida Starship facility

By Darrell Etherington

A small fire broke out Monday at SpaceX’s Florida facility focused on development of Starship, the company’s next generation rocket. The facility is one of two SpaceX development centres for Starship, which is intended to be a new, entirely reusable spacecraft that will help the company move closer to its goal of reaching Mars.

“This afternoon, a small fire occurred at a SpaceX facility in Cocoa, Florida,” SpaceX explained in a statement to TechCrunch. “The fire was contained to a sea van on site and extinguished thanks to the Cocoa Fire Department, which responded within minutes. There were no injuries as a result of the fire, and the cause is under investigation.”

In the background, you can see the tip of a sub scale Starship prototype model at the site, as the fire burns at some kind of building in the foreground. Twitch streams broadcast from the site, via Chris Bergin on Twitter, documented the fire on camera. You can also see news crew cameras on site, and emergency responders including police and firefighters.

SpaceX actually just completed a successful test of its StarHopper Starship prototype at its Texas facility on Sunday. The company is holding an internal competition to develop Starship, with two teams at facilities in both Texas and Florida testing to develop prototypes. This kind of ‘bake-off’ is relatively common in tech and aerospace, and helps generate innovative and complementary solutions that often wouldn’t occur with just one team working on its own.

As SpaceX mentioned in its statement, the cause of this fire is still unclear, and the company will investigate, but it definitely doesn’t look likely to impact its progress on Starship development in its companion Texas facility.

 

With a single wiretap, prosecutors collected 9.2 million text messages

By Zack Whittaker

For four months in 2018, U.S. prosecutors in Texas collected more than 9.2 million messages under a single court-authorized wiretap order, newly released figures show.

The wiretap, granted by a federal judge in the Southern District of Texas, was granted as part of a narcotics investigation and became the federal wiretap with the most intercepts in 2018, according to the government’s annual wiretap report.

Little is known about the case, except that 149 individuals involved in the case were targeted by the wiretap.  The wiretap expired last year, allowing the judiciary to disclose the case.

To date, no arrests have been made

Trailing behind it was another narcotics investigation in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania saw police obtain a three-month wiretap that collected 9.1 million text message from 45 individuals. No arrests were made either.

The two cases represent the largest wiretap cases seen in years.

Wiretaps are some of the most invasive kinds of lawful surveillance in the hands of U.S. prosecutors outside of the federal intelligence community. Where pen registers and trap-and-trace devices allow authorities to see when a call is placed and to whom, wiretaps grant police real-time access to phone conversations and text messages. Given the privacy-invasive nature of real-time listening capabilities, the bar to obtain a court-ordered wiretap is far higher than other surveillance measures.

But the overall number of wiretaps authorized and subsequent convictions “fell sharply” in 2018, the U.S. Courts said in its annual transparency report.

A total of 2,937 wiretaps were authorized in 2018, down 22% on the year prior. The report also said that number of wiretaps using encryption went up, rendering the wiretap ineffective.

SpaceX aims to provide commercial Starship launches by 2021

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is only getting started launching Falcon Heavy commercial missions, but it already has its eyes on the next prize – launching Starship. Now, we know that it’s hoping to start commercial service for this next-generation, fully reusable rocket by 2021, according to SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller.

Hofeller was speaking at a conference in Indonesia (via SpaceNews), and noted that the private space launch company is currently talking to three different telecom companies about selecting which will be the first mission aboard the new spacecraft. Starship, formerly knowns as ‘BFR’ or ‘Big Falcon Rocket’) is currently in development at two separate SpaceX facilities, one in Texas and one in Florida, in what amounts to an internal company ‘bake-off’ to see which team can delivery the better solution faster. An engineering show-down of this kind is not uncommon among tech companies, and often produces results from both efforts that complement or enhance whatever the final product ends up being, rather than being a ‘winner take all’ scenario.

Starship, once complete, will include a launch system propelled to orbit by a ‘Super Heavy’ booster, with even more lift capacity than the existing Falcon Heavy rocket. It’ll be able to delivery as many as 20 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit, or over 100 tons to low-Earth orbit. It’s also intended to be the spacecraft that enables SpaceX to achieve its goal of running crewed missions to Mars.

Previously stated target dates for Starship milestones include achieving orbital launches by 2020, though based on this new info those will be test or demonstration missions rather than for paying customers. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also previously said that the company is looking at 2023 as the earliest target date for providing a Moon circuit space trip to his first paying tourist customer, Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa.

AI services startup Hypergiant brings on Bill Nye as an advisor

By Darrell Etherington

Hypergiant, a startup launched last year to address the execution gap in bringing applied AI and machine learning technologies to bear for large companies, has signed on a high-profile new advisor to help out with the new ‘Galactic Systems’ division of its services lineup.

Hypergiant founder CEO Ben Lamm also serves as an Advisory Council Member for The Planetary Society, the nonprofit dedicated to space science and exploration advocacy that’s led by Nye who acts as the Society’s CEO. Nye did some voiceover work for the video at the bottom of this post for Hypergiant through the connection, and then decided to come on in a more formal capacity as an official advisor working with the company. He’ll act as a member of Hypergiant’s Advisory Board.

Nye was specifically interested in helping Hypergiant to work on AI tech that touch on a couple of areas he’s most passionate about.

“Hypergiant has an ambitious mission to address some big problems using artificial intelligence systems,” Nye explained via email. “I’m looking forward to working with Hypergiant to develop artificially intelligent systems in two areas I care about a great deal: climate change and space exploration. We need to think big, and I’m very optimistic about what AI can do to make the world quite a bit better.”

Through its work, Hypergiant has an impact on projects in flight from high-profile customers including Apple, GE, Starbucks and the Department of Homeland Security to name just a few. Earlier this year, Austin-based Hypergiant announced it was launching a dedicated space division through the acquisition of Satellite & Extraterrestrial Operations & Procedures (SEOPS), a Texas company that offered deployment services for small satellites.

Ben Lamm NASA 2

Hypergiant founder and CEO Ben Lamm along with members of the Hypergiant team at NASA. Credit: Hypergiant.

Nye’s role will focus on this division, advising on space, but also equally on advising clients as to climate change in order to ensure that Hypergiant can “make the most of AI systems to hep provide a high quality of life for people everywhere,” Nye wrote.

“Climate change is the biggest issue we face, and we need to get serious about new ways to fight it,” he explained in an email, noting that the potential impact his work with Hypergiant will have in this area specifically is a key reason he’s excited to undertake the new role.

A Better World from HYPERGIANT on Vimeo.

Black Hat scraps Rep. Will Hurd as keynote speaker amid voting record controversy

By Zack Whittaker

Rep. Will Hurd will no longer give the keynote address at the Black Hat security conference amid questions about his voting record on women’s rights.

Hurd, a Texas Republican congressman was scheduled to headline the conference later this year but the board decided to walk back the decision a day later.

“Black Hat has chosen to remove U.S. Representative Will Hurd as our 2019 Black Hat USA Keynote. We misjudged the separation of technology and politics,” said a statement. “We will continue to focus on technology and research, however we recognize that Black Hat USA is not the appropriate platform for the polarizing political debate resulting from our choice of speaker.”

“We are still fully dedicated to providing an inclusive environment and apologize that this decision did not reflect that sentiment,” the statement added.

A new keynote speaker has not yet been announced.

We reported yesterday that some in the security community felt uncomfortable and described their unease with the decision to appoint Hurd as keynote speaker. Hurd has consistently voted against legislation supporting women’s rights, including a bill that would financially support women in STEM fields, but also voting in favor of allowing states to restrict access and coverage to abortions and defunding access to women’s health organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Critics said the move alienated women at a time where diversity in security remains a challenge. Others criticized the choice of speaker on his views, calling access to women’s healthcare a human right.

Several long-time Black Hat attendees said on Twitter that they would not attend the conference following news of Hurd’s keynote.

Hurd’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Will Hurd to keynote Black Hat draws ire for voting record on women’s rights

By Zack Whittaker

A decision to confirm Rep. Will Hurd as the keynote speaker at the Black Hat security conference this year has prompted anger and concern by some long-time attendees because of his voting record on women’s rights.

Hurd, an outspoken Texas Republican who has drawn fire from his own party for regularly opposing the Trump administration, was confirmed as keynote speaker at the conference Thursday for his background in cybersecurity. Since taking office in Texas’ 23rd district, the congressman has introduced several bills that would aim to secure Internet of Things devices and pushed to reauthorize the role of a federal chief information officer.

But several people we’ve spoken to have described their unease that Black Hat organizers have asked Hurd, a self-described pro-life lawmaker, given his consistent opposition to bills supporting women’s rights.

An analysis of Hurd’s voting record shows he supports bills promoting women’s rights only two percent of the time. He has voted against a bill that would financially support women in STEM fields, voted in favor of allowing states to restrict access and coverage to abortions, and voted to defund Planned Parenthood.

Many of those we spoke to asked to be kept anonymous amid worries of retaliation or personal attacks. One person who we asked for permission to quote said Hurd’s voting record was “simply awful” for women’s rights. Others in tweets said the move doesn’t reflect well on companies sponsoring the event.

wow, this is disappointing. @HurdOnTheHill https://t.co/lnIuT5jOrr

— yan (@bcrypt) June 13, 2019

Any lawmaker fighting against women’s rights doesn’t get to claim that he “understands cyber”.

Amplifying women & URC voices is 1 of the most urgent matters facing our industry.

Black Hat should be featuring women, LGBTQI, and POC as their keynotes. It’s 2019. Act like it. https://t.co/Ng8PwrVEqA

— Ray[REDACTED] (@RayRedacted) June 13, 2019

Black Hat says it aims to create an “inclusive environment,” but others have questioned how a political figure with views that cause harm to an entire gender can be considered inclusive. But at a time when women’s rights — including right to access abortions — is being all but outlawed by controversial measures in several states, some have found Hurd’s selection tone-deaf and offensive.

When asked, a spokesperson for Black Hat defended the decision for Hurd to speak:

“Hurd has a strong background in computer science and information security and has served as an advocate for specific cybersecurity initiatives in Congress,” said the spokesperson. “He will offer the Black Hat audience a unique perspective of the infosec landscape and its effect on the government.”

Although previous keynote speakers have included senior government figures, this is the first time Black Hat has confirmed a lawmaker to keynote the conference.

Although abortion rights and cybersecurity are unrelated topics, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate social issues from technology and gatherings. It’s also valid for attendees to express concern that the keynote speaker at a professional security conference opposes what many will consider a human right.

Kat Fitzgerald, chief operating officer of the Diana Initiative, a conference for women in cybersecurity, said Hurd’s choosing was a “painfully poor choice” for a keynote speaker. “Simply put, in 2019 women and minorities continue to be ignored,” she said. “This keynote selection, regardless of the voting record, is just another indication of ignoring the infosec community that exists today.”

The Diana Initiative, which hosts its annual conference in August, is “about inclusion at all levels, especially in today’s charged environment of excluding women and minorities in so many areas, said Fitzgerald.

Hurd’s office did not return a request for comment.

Read more:

Apple reportedly exploring acqui-hire of self-driving startup Drive.ai

By Darrell Etherington

Apple is potentially seeking to acquire Silicon Valley autonomous driving startup Drive.ai, according to a new report from The Information. The report describes the acquisition as in process, and says it will be an “acqui-hire,” which means its primary goal is to bring in the talent of Drive.ai — with presumably special focus on the engineering talent of the self-driving tech company.

Drive.ai got its start in 2016, founded by a crack team of graduates from Stanford’s AI lab. It focused originally on building out not only the functional autonomy of driving systems, but also intelligent communications systems that would help self-driving vehicles better integrate with existing human drivers and pedestrians.

The company later raised more money with a business model shift focused on retrofitting existing fleets of commercial vehicles, and last year began testing its own self-driving pick-up and drop-off service in Frisco, Texas.

The Information reported earlier this year that Drive.ai started seeking potential buyers for the company after finding fewer options in terms of continued funding and independent operation. Apple, for its part, has had a spotty history with its own efforts around autonomous driving, with some high-profile leadership shifts on its so-called “Titan” car project. It’s still actively testing vehicles on roads, but the scope and shape of its approach aren’t entirely clear.

We’ve reached out to both Apple and Drive.ai, which declined to comment to The Information regarding the original report, and will update if we hear back.

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