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Businesses to support remote workforce even after offices reopen

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(Reuters) – U.S. businesses have been spending more on technology than on bricks and mortar for more than a decade now, but the trend has accelerated during the pandemic, one more sign that working from home is here to stay.

As spending on home-building has risen, spending on nonresidential construction has dropped, with that on commercial, manufacturing and office space slumping to under 15% of total construction outlays in March, Commerce Department data showed Monday.

Business spending on structures fell in the first quarter, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed last week. It was the sixth straight quarterly decline, showcasing one of the few weak spots in the economy as it regains steam amid a receding pandemic.

Meanwhile, spending on technology rose, with investments in software and information processing equipment contributing more than 1 percentage point to the economy’s overall 6.4% annualized rise in economic output in the quarter, the BEA data showed. Technology spending has added to growth in all but two of the past 32 quarters, back to 2013. Spending on structures has pulled GDP downward in 14 of those quarters.

The implications of the shift are broad: the economy emerging from the depths of the pandemic will be more technology-driven and less reliant on in-person transactions, leaving jobs permanently changed and potentially fewer in number.

Accelerated by the pandemic, the divergence between the two types of business spending is here to stay, says Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom.

“This is the surge in (work-from-home) which is leading firms to spend heavily on connectivity,” Bloom said.

He and colleagues have been surveying 5,000 U.S. residents monthly, and found that from May to December about half of paid work hours were done from home.

Workers’ own spending to equip their home offices with computer connectivity, desks and other necessities comes to the equivalent of 0.7% of GDP, their surveys found, suggesting the business investment data likely underestimates what’s actually being spent on technology.

Those sunk costs are one reason that on average Americans will work one day a week from home even after the pandemic, up from about one day a month before, Bloom says.

American firms’ reliance on hybrid working should continue to lift business spending on technology for the forseeable future, said ING chief international economist James Knightley.

Spending on office buildings particularly will likely remain weak at least until the end of the summer, he predicted, when the return of most kids to school should allow more parents to return to work.

Even then, he said, businesses will need to continue to spend more than ever on connectivity and computers to support the remote, or partially remote, workforce.

“I think there’s still a lot more to do there,” he said.

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A look at misconceptions about bitcoin's energy footprint, including how energy consumption does not equal carbon emissions, its use of unused resources, more (Nic Carter/HBR.org)

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Nic Carter / HBR.org:

A look at misconceptions about bitcoin’s energy footprint, including how energy consumption does not equal carbon emissions, its use of unused resources, more  —  Summary.  —  Today, Bitcoin consumes as much energy as a small country.  This certainly sounds alarming — but the reality is a little more complicated.


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Google is about to start automatically enrolling users in 2FA

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In recent months, vulnerable apps, hacked websites, and zero-day exploits have accounted for an increasing amount of the reporting that we do here at BGR. There is risk in everything we do online, but there are many ways to mitigate that risk, such as turning on two-factor authentication (2FA) for any apps, services, or accounts that offer it. Speaking of 2FA, Google decided to take matters into its own hands on that front, as the company announced Thursday that it will soon enable 2FA by default for anyone with an “appropriately configured” Google account.

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“Today we ask people who have enrolled in two-step verification (2SV) to confirm it’s really them with a simple tap via a Google prompt on their phone whenever they sign in,” Google’s Director of Product Management, Identity and User Security, Mark Risher, said in a blog post. “Soon we’ll start automatically enrolling users in 2SV if their accounts are appropriately configured. (You can check the status of your account in our Security Checkup). Using their mobile device to sign in gives people a safer and more secure authentication experience than passwords alone.”

Basically, your account is “appropriately configured” if you have provided Google with recovery information, which could be a secondary email address, a phone number, or an authenticator app. You should already be using Google’s two-step verification, but if you’re not, at least make sure to visit the Security Checkup site.

As Google notes earlier in the blog post, searches for the phrase “how strong is my password” increased by 300% in 2020. Meanwhile, millions of you are still using passwords like “123456” or “password” or “qwerty,” so the resounding answer to that search query is an unequivocal “NO.” Make your passwords strong and difficult to guess, use different passwords for all of your accounts, and take advantage of Google’s Password Manager, which not only stores all of your passwords, but also lets you know when and if they have been compromised.

Google’s dream of killing passwords once and for all is still just that — a dream — but as we slowly work our way toward that glorious day, do what you can to keep your accounts and your personal data safe.

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Jacob started covering video games and technology in college as a hobby, but it quickly became clear to him that this was what he wanted to do for a living. He currently resides in New York writing for BGR. His previously published work can be found on TechHive, VentureBeat and Game Rant.


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Finding Dark Ships Via Satellite

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It would seem that for as long as there have been ships on the ocean, there’s been smuggling. The International Maritime Organisation requires ships to have AIS, the automatic identification system which is akin to a transponder on an airplane. However, if you don’t want to be found, you often turn off your AIS. So how do governments and insurance companies track so-called dark ships? Using satellite technology. A recent post in Global Investigative Journal tells the story of how lower-cost satellites are helping track these dark ships.

Optical tracking is the obvious method, but satellites that can image ships can be expensive and have problems with things like clouds. Radar is another option, but — again — an expensive option if you aren’t a big military agency with money to spend. A company called HawkEye 360 uses smallsats to monitor ship’s RF emissions, which is much less expensive and resource-intensive than traditional methods. Although the data may still require correlation with other methods like optical sensing, it is still cost-effective compared to simply scanning the ocean for ships.

The post tells the tale of an Iranian crude oil tanker. Noting a long gap in the AIS signal from the ship, HawkEye 360 attempted to locate the ship the next time it went dark. Of course, AIS can be off for other reasons, such as equipment failure or fear of piracy. Simply not squawking AIS isn’t a definite sign of malfeasance.

Using the satellite, radio transmissions on VHF channel 16 (156.8 MHz) — the standard calling frequency — were found from the ship and it appeared they were offloading crude oil to a refinery in Syria. With a specific target in mind, commercial satellite imaging picked up 3-meter resolution images of the ships and — apparently there is a database of ships at that resolution — identified four Iranian flag tankers at the site, three of which had arrived in stealth mode.

The HawkEye 360 satellites can pick up radar, emergency beacons, satellite phones, and VHF radio signals. A map shows the difference between the number of AIS signals in the South China Sea and the number of X-band radar signals. The AIS map looks sparse, whereas the radar map shows 3-4 times the number of vessels.

In another example, uses ESA’s Sentinel 1 satellite and synthetic aperture radar to locate ships going from China to North Korea. ICEYE, another smallsat company, is tracing illegal fishing activity around Argentina and smuggling near the UAE.

It is amazing to see how much satellite tech that would have been deep secret a few years ago is now commercially available. It isn’t just useful for law enforcement, either. The resolution is a far cry from the old weather satellites people tend to eavesdrop on.

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