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Ford is building an all-electric Transit cargo van for the US market

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford said it will produce and sell an all-electric version of its popular Ford Transit cargo van for the North American market starting with the 2022 model year as part of the automaker’s broader bet on electrification.

The all-electric Transit, which will be assembled in the U.S., is part of Ford’s more than $11.5 billion investment in electrification through 2022. Ford’s EV plan includes an all-electric Transit for the European market that it announced in April 2019, the Mustang Mach-E SUV and an electric F-150 truck.

Ford’s decision to include commercial vans into its EV strategy is linked to sales in U.S. and the company’s outlook on future growth. The company’s U.S. truck and van fleet sales have grown 33% since 2015. Ford said it expects continued growth of van sales in the U.S. as e-commerce and “last mile” delivery increase.

Ford said it expects electric vehicles to grow to 8% of the industry in 2025 in the United States.

“Commercial vehicles are a critical component to our big bet on electrification,” Ford chief operating officer said Jim Farley said in a statement. “As leaders in this space, we are accelerating our plans to create solutions that help businesses run better, starting with our all-electric Transit and F-150. This Ford Transit isn’t just about creating an electric drivetrain, it’s about designing and developing a digital product that propels fleets forward.”

Ford will focus on tech features like in-vehicle internet and driver assistance.

“The world is heading toward electrified products and fleet customers are asking for them now,” Farley said. “We know their vehicles operate as a connected mobile business and their technology needs are different than retail customers. So Ford is thinking deeply on connectivity relationships that integrate with our in-vehicle high-speed electrical architectures and cloud-based data services to provide these businesses smart vehicles beyond just the electric powertrains.”

These built-in “smart” features could help customers optimize fleet efficiency and reduce waste or improve driver behavior, according to Ford, an indication that fleets will be able to access data collected through Ford’s telematics system using an embedded FordPass Connect modem featuring a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot with connectivity for up to 10 devices. Ford said managers can use Ford’s data tools like live map GPS tracking, geofencing and vehicle diagnostics to see key performance indicators at a glance for vehicle and driver.


Legal services giant Epiq Global offline after ransomware attack

By Zack Whittaker

Legal services giant Epiq Global has been hit by a ransomware attack.

The law firm, which provides legal counsel and administration that counts banks, credit giants, and governments as customers, confirmed the attack hit on February 29.

“As part of our comprehensive response plan, we immediately took our systems offline globally to contain the threat and began working with a third-party forensic firm to conduct an independent investigation,” the statement read. “Our technical team is working closely with world class third-party experts to address this matter, and bring our systems back online in a secure manner, as quickly as possible.”

The company’s website, however, says it was “offline to perform maintenance.”

A source with knowledge of the incident but who was not authorized to speak to the media said the ransomware hit the organization’s entire fleet of computers across its 80 global offices. According to an internal communication sent to staff that was obtained by TechCrunch, the law firm said staff should “not go” to their local offices without managerial approval. Staff in offices were advised to avoid connecting any device to the network. The communication also said that staff should “turn off the Wi-Fi on your laptop before entering the parking lot of the building” in an effort to prevent the spread of the ransomware.

Many of the computers were running old versions of Windows, the source said. “Nothing is a up to date,” the source said.

The source came forward because, in their words, “we were told not to tell clients anything until we are back in.”

It’s not immediately clear which kind of ransomware was used in the attack, but Epiq Global said in its statement that there was “no evidence” that data was stolen. Although ransomware typically infects computers, spreads, and encrypts files across a network in exchange for a ransom, some newer and more advanced ransomware families also exfiltrated corporate data before encrypting the files and threatened to publish the files unless a ransom is paid.

Just this week, Visser, a parts manufacturer for Tesla and SpaceX, was hit by a more advanced, data exfiltrating ransomware. A portion of the files stolen from the company were published by the ransomware group.

Epiq spokesperson Catherine Ostheimer declined to disclose the details of the ransomware, nor did she provide a percentage of the data or computers impacted by the attack. Ostheimer also declined to confirm the contents of the email obtained by TechCrunch.

None of our specific questions were addressed, including if the law firm had contacted its clients impacted by the attack.

“Our offices globally are open for business and we’re working with third party experts to address this matter, and to bring our systems back on line in a secure way as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

Google ends its free Wi-Fi program Station

By Manish Singh

Google said on Monday that it is winding down Google Station, a program that rolled out free Wi-Fi in more than 400 railway stations in India and “thousands” of other public places in several additional pockets of the world. The company worked with a number of partners on the program.

Caesar Sengupta, VP of Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, said the program, launched in 2015, helped millions of users surf the internet — a first for many — and not worry about the amount of data they consumed. But as mobile data prices got cheaper in many markets, including India, Google Station was no longer as necessary, he said. The company plans to discontinue the program this year.

Additionally, it had become difficult for Google to find a sustainable business model to scale the program, the company said, which in recent years expanded Station to Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, Nigeria, Philippines, Brazil and Vietnam. The company launched the program in South Africa just three months ago.

Over the years, Google also explored ways to monetize the Google Station program. The company, for instance, began showing an ad when a user signed in to connect to its internet service.

In an interview early last year, Gulzar Azad, who spearheads connectivity efforts for Google in India, told me that the company was thinking about ways to scale Station to more markets, but noted that as far as deployment at Indian railway stations was concerned, Google had reached its goal (to serve 400 railway stations).

A year after Google announced its efforts to offer free Wi-Fi in India, the country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his telecom network Reliance Jio. Jio offered customers the bulk of 4G data at no charge for an extended period of time, forcing other telecom operators to slash their tariffs.

The move ushered millions of Indians to the internet, access to which was too expensive for many, for the first time. In a separate interview, I asked Azad if Google Station’s relevance had somewhat diminished because of Reliance Jio’s entrance. At the time, he said plenty of people were still signing up for the company’s program and that they were continuing to show a great appetite to consume voluminous data.

Google works with a number of companies to enable free Wi-Fi for users in public places. In India, for instance, Google has built the software stack, while RailTel, a state-owned telecom infrastructure provider, delivers the free internet line.

RailTel delivers Wi-Fi in more than 5,600 railway stations, and over the years has developed the capability to offer its own software stack. “We are working with our partners to transition existing sites so they can remain useful resources for the community,” said Sengupta.

TechCrunch has reached out to a RailTel spokesperson to check whether the company plans to keep offering Wi-Fi in the 400 odd railway stations where it worked with Google. Update: RailTel will continue to service free Wi-Fi in all those railway stations. “We sincerely value the support we received from Google in this journey,” the spokesperson added.

“The challenge of varying technical requirements and infrastructure among our partners across countries has also made it difficult for Station to scale and be sustainable, especially for our partners. And when we evaluate where we can truly make an impact in the future, we see greater need and bigger opportunities in making building products and features tailored to work better for the next billion user markets,” said Sengupta.

Google isn’t the only tech giant that has worked to offer free internet to users in developing markets. Facebook’s successor to — the program that was banned in India for violating net neutrality regulations — launched in the country in 2017.

Proxyclick raises $15M Series B for its visitor management platform

By Frederic Lardinois

If you’ve ever entered a company’s office as a visitor or contractor, you probably know the routine: check in with a receptionist, figure out who invited you, print out a badge and get on your merry way. Brussels, Belgium- and New York-based Proxyclick aims to streamline this process, while also helping businesses keep their people and assets secure. As the company announced today, it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by Five Elms Capital, together with previous investor Join Capital.

In total, Proxyclick says it’s systems have now been used to register over 30 million visitors in 7,000 locations around the world. In the UK alone, over 1,000 locations use the company’s tools. Current customers include L’Oreal, Vodafone, Revolut, PepsiCo and Airbnb, as well as a number of other Fortune 500 firms.

Gregory Blondeau, founder and CEO of Proxyclick, stresses that the company believes that paper logbooks, which are still in use in many companies, are simply not an acceptable solution anymore, not in the least because that record is often permanent and visible to other visitors.

Proxyclick’s founding team.

“We all agree it is not acceptable to have those paper logbooks at the entrance where everyone can see previous visitors,” he said. “It is also not normal for companies to store visitors’ digital data indefinitely. We already propose automatic data deletion in order to respect visitor privacy. In a few weeks, we’ll enable companies to delete sensitive data such as visitor photos sooner than other data. Security should not be an excuse to exploit or hold visitor data longer than required.”

What also makes Proxyclick stand out from similar solutions is that it integrates with a lot of existing systems for access control (including C-Cure and Lenel systems). With that, users can ensure that a visitor only has access to specific parts of a building, too.

In addition, though, it also supports existing meeting rooms, calendaring and parking systems and integrates with Wi-Fi credentialing tools so your visitors don’t have to keep asking for the password to get online.

Like similar systems, Proxyclick provides businesses with a tablet-based sign-in service that also allows them to get consent and NDA signatures right during the sign-in process. If necessary, the system can also compare the photos it takes to print out badges with those on a government-issued ID to ensure your visitors are who they say they are.

Blondeau noted that the whole industry is changing, too. “Visitor management is becoming mainstream, it is transitioning from a local, office-related subject handled by facility managers to a global, security and privacy driven priority handled by Chief Information Security Officers. Scope, decision drivers and key people involved are not the same as in the early days,” he said.

It’s no surprise then that the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its roadmap. Specifically, it’s looking to integrate its solution with more third-party systems with a focus on physical security features and facial recognition, as well as additional new enterprise features.