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When Nvidia launched its RTX A6000 48GB professional graphics card last October, the company said that it would offer at least twice the performance of the company's previous-gen Quadro cards. These types of claims are not unusual, but how fast is the $4,650 RTX A6000 really in real-world benchmarks? (Interestingly, that's only $650 more than Galax's flagship RTX 3090 GPU.) Workstation maker Puget Systems decided to find out and ran multiple professional-grade benchmarks on the card.  Nvidia's RTX A6000 48GB graphics card is powered by its GA102 GPU with 10,752 CUDA cores, 336 tensor cores, and 84 RT cores, and a 384-bit memory bus that pairs the chip with a beefy 48GB slab of GDDR6 memory. In contrast, Nvidia's top-of-the-range GeForce RTX 3090 consumer board based on the same graphics processor features a different GPU configuration containing 10,496 CUDA cores, 328 tensor cores, 82 RT cores, and a 384-bit memory interface for its 'mere' 24GB of GDDR6X memory. While the Nvidia RTX A6000 has a slightly better GPU configuration than the GeForce RTX 3090, it uses slower memory and therefore features 768 GB/s of memory bandwidth, which is 18% lower than the consumer graphics card (936GB/s), so it will not beat the 3090 in gaming. Meanwhile, because the RTX A6000 has 48GB of DRAM on board, it will perform better in memory-hungry professional workloads. While all GeForce RTX graphics cards come with Nvidia Studio drivers that support acceleration in some professional applications, they are not designed to run all professional software suites. In contrast, professional ISV-certified drivers of the Quadro series and Nvidia RTX A6000 make them a better fit for workstations. Not all professional workloads require enormous onboard memory capacity, but GPU-accelerated rendering applications benefit greatly, especially when it comes to large scenes. Since we are talking about graphics rendering, the same programs also benefit from GPU capabilities. That said, it is not surprising that the Nvidia RTX A6000 48GB outperformed its predecessor by 46.6% ~ 92.2% in all four rendering benchmarks ran by Puget. Evidently, V-Ray 5 scales better with the increase of GPU horsepower and onboard memory capacity, whereas Redshift 3 is not that good. Still, the new RTX A6000 48GB is tangibly faster than any other professional graphics card in GPU-accelerated rendering workloads. Modern video editing and color correction applications, such as DaVinci Resolve 16.2.8 and Adobe Premiere Pro 14.8, can also accelerate some of the tasks using GPUs. In both cases, the Nvidia RTX A6000 48GB offers tangible performance advantages compared to its predecessor, but its advantages look even more serious when the board is compared to graphics cards released several years ago. Like other modern professional graphics applications, Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop can take advantage of GPUs. Yet, both programs are CPU bottlenecked in many cases, which means that any decent graphics processor (and not necessarily a professional one) is usually enough for both suites. Nonetheless, the new Nvidia RTX A6000 64GB managed to show some speed gains compared to the predecessor in these two apps as well. More facts and figures along with possible pricing can be found on OUR FORUM.

Microsoft has announced that Windows 10, version 2004 has now been added to the broad deployment channel and will be available to everyone via Windows Update. "Windows 10, version 2004 is designated for broad deployment," the company says in a status update on the Windows Health dashboard. "The recommended servicing status is Semi-Annual Channel." Microsoft officially started rolling out Windows 10 2004 (aka the Windows 10 May 2020 Update) in May 2020, but for many people, it wasn't yet being offered when checking via Windows Update. When Windows Feature Updates are first released, they are released under targeted deployment in order to test the quality of the build on targeted machines in an organization. "Targeted deployment refers to the phase immediately following the release of a new Windows version when it is recommended to conduct your organization's piloting process and to begin deployments to select devices, such as those with the most modern chipsets and capabilities," Microsoft explains. After Microsoft determines that the Windows version is ready for deployment on most or all devices, they change the Windows version to have a "broad deployment" classification. This means that all devices can be updated to Windows 10, version 2004 via Windows Update, unless they're affected by compatibility holds that block the update due to hardware issues. The release of Windows 10 2004 was not as bad as the one of Windows 10 1809, which many still see as arguably the buggiest Windows 10 version ever to see the light of day. However, Windows 10 2004 still managed to get out the gates with ten know issues under investigation, many of which are now already fixed. Microsoft added the known issues to the health dashboard right after starting the new release's rollout process, together with nine compatibility holds to prevent users of affected devices from being offered the Windows 10 2004 update. After addressing issues triggering blue screens when plugging or unplugging Thunderbolt docks, boot failures caused by the Disk Cleanup maintenance utility, as well as compatibility issues with numerous systems and hardware configurations, Microsoft has finally decided that Windows 10 2004 is ready for broad release to all customers. If you are not offered the Windows 10, version 2004 update via Window Update, then you should check the Windows 10 Health Dashboard for any known hardware blocks affecting your computer. According to the Windows 10 Health Dashboard, the only known blocks for Windows 10 2004 updates are for devices with Conexant ISST audio drivers. As Home, Pro, Pro Education, Pro for Workstations editions of Windows 10 1909 are reaching the end of service on May 11, 2021, Microsoft is now allowing a limited set of customers (with devices running Windows 10 1903 and higher to upgrade to the latest released version, Windows 10, version 20H2. These customers are known as "seekers," which is short for users who are manually seeking to update to the latest Windows version by clicking "Check for updates" via Windows Update. Microsoft says that it's also "slowly throttling up availability over the coming weeks to ensure a reliable download experience." If you are running older Windows 10 versions, you are strongly advised to update to a newer version to continue receiving timely security updates.

Apple says it will roll out a new privacy control in the spring to prevent iPhone apps from secretly shadowing people. The delay in its anticipated rollout aims to placate Facebook and other digital services that depend on such data surveillance to help sell ads. Although Apple didn't provide a specific date, the general timetable disclosed Thursday means a long-awaited feature known as App Tracking Transparency will be part of an iPhone software update likely to arrive in late March or some point in April. After delaying the planned September introduction of the safeguard amid a Facebook-led outcry, Apple had previously said it would come out early this year. Apple released the latest update as part of Data Privacy Day, which CEO Tim Cook will salute during a speech scheduled Thursday at a technology conference in Europe. Apple has been holding off to give Facebook and other app makers more time to adjust to a feature that will require iPhone users to give their explicit consent to being tracked. Analysts expect a significant number of users to deny that permission once it requires their assent. Currently, iPhone users are frequently tracked by apps they install unless they take the extra step of going into iPhone settings to prevent it. Facebook stepped up its attacks on Apple’s new privacy control last month in a series of full-page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other national newspapers. That campaign suggested some free digital services will be hobbled if they can’t compile personal information to customize ads. On Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg questioned Apple's motives with the changes, saying the iPhone maker “has every incentive” to use its own mobile platform to interfere with rivals to its own messaging app. “Apple may say that they are doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests,” Zuckerberg said. Google, which also relies on personal data to power the internet's biggest ad network, hasn't joined Facebook in its criticism of Apple's forthcoming controls on track. Google profits from being the default search engine on the iPhone, a prized position for which it pays Apple an estimated $9 billion to $12 billion annually. But Google warned in a Wednesday blog post that Apple’s new controls will have a significant impact on ad revenue generated from iPhones in its digital network. Google said a “handful” of its iPhone apps will be affected by the new requirement, but did not identify which ones. “We remain committed to preserving a vibrant and open app ecosystem where people can access a broad range of ad-supported content with confidence that their privacy and choices are respected,” wrote Christophe Combette, group product manager for Google Ads. Follow this and other developments on OUR FORUM.

MeWe, a social media app centered around data privacy, has seen a surge in downloads in recent weeks as Big Tech companies crackdown on user content. The app that calls itself the "anti-Facebook" added 2.5 million new users last week, bringing its total userbase to 16 million -- 50% of which live outside the U.S., MeWe spokesperson David Westreich told Fox Business. "People all over the world are leaving Facebook and Twitter in droves because they are fed up with the relentless privacy violations, surveillance capitalism, political bias, targeting, and newsfeed manipulation by these companies," Westreich said. "MeWe solves these problems." He added that the platform "is the new mainstream social network with all the features people love and no ads, no targeting, no newsfeed manipulation, and no BS." MeWe, which said it surpassed 8 million users in June, ranked No. 7 overall and No. 4 among social media apps by U.S. iPhone downloads on Jan. 10, according to mobile data and analytics provider App Annie. The week prior to that date, MeWe sat outside the top 1,400 apps overall and at No. 66 among social apps, App Annie found. The app on Thursday sat at No. 14 among social media apps on the App Store and No. 13 among all free apps on Google Play after several days of skyrocketing downloads. The app told ZDNet that its users spikes frequently when people are looking for an alternative social media app to Facebook, Twitter, and the like that does not infringe on the privacy of its users. The website's "About" tab says MeWe users have control over their own interaction and privacy settings, and the platform does not sell or share user data with advertisers. "The big technology companies, you know who they are, had reverted to treating [users] as commodities," MeWe's website states. "They somehow mistook people signing up to use their services as a welcome invitation to target, track, spy, and sell our information to advertisers and the government. All in all, it felt pretty creepy." MeWe aims to offer an alternative to those websites by offering "decency, privacy, and respect for social media users." Other social media and communication apps with a focus on privacy have also seen surges in downloads over the last two weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Big Tech companies including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube have made a number of policy changes and updates since the riot in an effort to quell violent or conspiratorial rhetoric on their platforms. The policy changes have promoted social apps that do not censor content or emphasize data privacy like Parler, DuckDuckGo, Signal, and Telegram to see spikes in user numbers. Encrypted messaging app Signal, for example, ranked No. 1 among overall and social media apps by U.S. iPhone downloads on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10. The week prior, it ranked No. 927 among overall apps and No. 45 among social apps, according to App Annie. DuckDuckGo, a search engine and Google alternative that does not profit from user data hit No. 1 among overall U.S. iPhone downloads and No. 1 among utility apps on Jan. 10, up from No. 308 and No. 14, respectively, the week before. "These types of shifts in messaging and social networking apps are not unusual," Amir Ghodrati, director of market insights at App Annie, said in a statement. "Due to the nature of social apps and how the primary functionality involves communicating with others, their growth can often move quite quickly, based on current events. We’ve seen growing demand over the last few years for encrypted messaging and apps focused on privacy." Learn more at OUR FORUM.

Attackers hid inside Windows systems by wearing the skins of legit processes. The SolarWinds hackers triggered one of their Cobalt Strike implants in the firm's network through a cunning VBScript that was activated by a routine system process, Microsoft has said. Microsoft's deep dive, published yesterday following SolarWinds' own take on the malware, repeated earlier findings that the hackers went to unusual lengths to disguise their intrusion and avoid detection. Specifically, the compromised DLL file was quietly deployed onto targeted systems by mimicking legitimate file names – and the attackers worked between 8 am and 5 pm to increase the odds of not being spotted. It continued: "Applying this level of permutations for each individual compromised machine is an incredible effort normally not seen with other adversaries and done to prevent full identification of all compromised assets inside a network or effective sharing of threat intel between victims." Much of the infosec commentary around the SolarWinds supply chain attack has reused the tired old clichés of stating the attackers were sophisticated, advanced, cunning, soft, strong, thoroughly absorbent, and so on. In this case, the clichés appear to be true because the attackers "first enumerated remote processes and services running on the target host" and only moved through the target network "after disabling certain security services." Those techniques included editing the Windows registries of target machines to disable autostarting of security processes – and then waiting until the target machine was rebooted before moving in for the kill. "The combination of a complex attack chain and a protracted operation means that defensive solutions need to have comprehensive cross-domain visibility into attacker activity and provide months of historical data with powerful hunting tools to investigate as far back as necessary," Microsoft sighed. The analysis includes indicators of compromise and techniques used by the attackers to skate around SolarWinds's networks but, unusually for infosec research, expresses them in plain English that any averagely skilled IT pro can follow. It's well worth a read. The attackers also used the mildly unusual reflective DLL loading attack technique. A full explanation can be read here, also from Microsoft. Briefly, the technique allows malicious DLL files to be loaded into a process without first having been registered with it – and does so from memory, via a custom loader deployed by the attacker, rather than pulling it from a potentially detectable disk location. Relatedly, custom Cobalt Strike loaders developed by the hackers strongly resembled "legitimate Windows file and directory names, once again demonstrating how the attackers attempted to blend in the environment and hide in plain sight," said MS. The autopsies of the biggest supply chain attack for years will doubtless continue, but one thing's for sure: whichever nation-state was behind it, they really knew what they were doing and really didn't want to be caught in the act.  Follow this thread and more on OUR FORUM.

The data regulator for the German state of Lower Saxony has fined a local laptop retailer a whopping €10.4 million ($12.5 million) for keeping its employees under constant video surveillance at all times for the past two years without a legal basis. The penalty represents one of the largest fines imposed under the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) not only in Germany but across Europe as well. The recipient is notebooksbilliger.de AG (doing business as NBB), an online e-commerce portal and a retail chain dedicated to selling laptops and other IT supplies. The State Commissioner for Data Protection (LfD) for the state of Lower Saxony said that the company installed two years ago a video monitoring system inside its warehouses, salesrooms, and common workspaces for the purpose of preventing and investigating thefts and tracking product movements. Officials said the video surveillance system was active at all times, and recordings were saved for as much as 60 days in the company's database. But while the retailer thought it was running a banal video monitoring solution, as found in many other businesses across Germany and all over the world, the German data regulator found it to be a gross encroachment on the rights of German workers. "We are dealing with a serious case of video surveillance in the company," said Barbara Thiel, head for LfD Lower Saxony, in a press release earlier this month. "Companies must understand that with such intensive video surveillance they are massively violating the rights of their employees." The German data regulator argued that employees do not have to give up their right to privacy because their employer puts them under suspicion of potentially committing a crime in the future. "If that were the case, companies could extend surveillance without limit," Thiel said. The German official claimed that video surveillance was not to be used as a "deterrent" to prevent crime but only when an employer had justifiable suspicion against certain employees. In those cases, employees could be monitored for limited periods of time until the suspicion was confirmed, and not for years in a row. "Video surveillance is a particularly intensive encroachment on personal rights, because, theoretically, the entire behavior of a person can be observed and analyzed," Thiel said. The LfD head said that because of the constant video monitoring, employees are under continuous stress and pressure to behave as inconspicuously as possible in order to avoid being criticized for their behavior. Furthermore, the German data regulator said that NBB also recorded customers while testing devices in its salesrooms without their knowledge or consent, which represented another major privacy breach. But in a PDF statement published on its website, NBB CEO Oliver Hellmold said the fine and accusation that it monitored employees were unfounded. "At no point was the video system designed to monitor employee behavior or performance. It wasn't even technically equipped for it," Hellmold said. The NBB CEO accused the LfD Lower Saxony office of misconduct. He argued that officials didn't visit its premises during the three-year investigation and that NBB previously made adjustments to its video surveillance system at the office's request in order to become compliant. Furthermore, Hellmold called the fine disproportionate to the company's size and said that they plan to appeal. "It is absurd that authority imposes a fine of more than 10 million euros without sufficiently investigating the matter. Apparently, an example is to be made here at the expense of our company," he said. Continue reading on OUR FORUM.