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Top 10 Tech stories 2014: Backlash! Disrupting the disruptors

Marc Ferranti | Dec. 8, 2014
Blowing up entrenched business models and picking up the profits that spill onto the floor is a time-honored tradition in tech, these days known by the cliche of the moment, "disruption."

Apple Pay starts to remake mobile payments

Apple's ascendance to the world's most valuable company came on top of market-defining products like the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad. This year, it was not the iPhone 6 or the as-yet unreleased Apple Watch that came close to redefining a product category — it was Apple Pay. Apple Pay requires an NFC-enabled Apple device, which means an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, but by early next year, Apple Watch as well. Businesses need NFC-equipped payment terminals. With Apply Pay, you can make a credit or debit card payment simply by tapping your iPhone to the NFC chip reader embedded in a payment terminal. As you tap, you put your finger on the iPhone 6's biometric fingerprint reader. Apple was careful to line up partners: while Google stumbled trying to get support for its Wallet, more than 500 banks and all major credit card companies are working with Apple Pay. The potential security benefits top it off: When you enter your credit or debit card number, Apple replaces it with a unique token that it stores encrypted. Your information is never stored on your device or in the cloud. 

Alibaba's IPO marks a new era for Chinese brands

In their first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange in September, Alibaba shares opened at $92.70, 35 percent over the $68 initial public offering price, raking in $21.8 billion and making it the biggest tech IPO ever. Alibaba is an e-commerce behemoth in China, now looking to expand globally. But don't expect a direct challenge to Amazon right away. Its strategy for international dominance depends not only on broad e-commerce, but also on carving out different niche marketplaces. Shares three months after its opening are going for about $10 more, suggesting that shareholders have faith in that strategy. The IPO also marked the ascendancy of Chinese brands. After scooping up IBM's PC business years ago, and this year spending $2.3 billion for IBM's server business as well as $2.9 billion for Motorola, Lenovo is the world's number one PC company and number three smartphone company. Meanwhile Xiaomi, the "Apple of China," has become the world's number-four smartphone vendor.

Regin and the continuing saga of the surveillance state

Symantec's shocking report on the Regin malware in November opened the latest chapter in the annals of international espionage. Since at least 2008, Regin has targeted mainly GSM cellular networks to spy on governments, infrastructure operators, research institutions, corporations, and private individuals. It can steal passwords, log keystrokes and read, write, move and copy files. The sophistication of the malware suggests that, like the Stuxnet worm discovered in 2010, it was developed by one or several nation-states, quite possibly the U.S. It has spread to at least 10 countries, mainly Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as Mexico, Ireland, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Belgium, Austria and Pakistan. If Regin really is at least six years old, it means that sophisticated surveillance tools are able to avoid detection by security products for years, a chilling thought for anyone trying to protect his data.


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