Genki’s Covert Dock is the perfect dock for the Nintendo Switch – and other gadgets, too

The Nintendo Switch’s ability to quickly transition from portable to home console is definitely one of its major selling points, but Nintendo’s official dock never really made much sense with the portable nature of the Switch itself. Luckily, third-party accessory maker Genki created the Covert Dock, a device no larger than a smartphone USB charger that easily connects your Switch to any TV. Plus, it actually is a USB charger for all your devices, too.

The basics

The Covert Dock includes a USB Type-C port that’s rated for the Power Delivery 3.0 standard, which means it can charge not only the Switch, but also an iPhone, Android smartphones, the iPad Pro and even a MacBook (though its max output is 30w, so you won’t get full-speed charging for any power-hungry large devices). It also includes a USB-A port, which you can use not only for charging, but also for connecting controllers, microphones, mice, Ethernet adapters, and more to devices connected via USB-C. Finally, there’s an HDMI port, which you can use to connect your Switch (or other devices that support USB-C video out) to your TV or display.

The HDMI port supports a maximum resolution of 1080p at up to 60hz, so it can easily handle the 720p output of the Switch. The Genki Covert Dock also features folding power prongs for maximum portability – and it’s extremely compact, coming in smaller than a MacBook Air charger despite all of its capabilities.

Image Credits: Genki

Genki also provides a set of global power adapters that slide on to the folded prongs for easy travel compatibility, adding to its versatility. There’s also a six-foot USB-C 3.1 charging cable included in the box, so you have everything you need to begin using it right away. When you don’t have an HDMI cable plugged in, it can also power your Switch while you play just like with any other standard USB-C charger.

At $74.99, the Genki Covert Dock actually comes in under the retail price of Nintendo’s official dock set for Switch – and it’s a much more versatile device thanks to its ability to act as a hub for a wide range of devices that support display output over USB-C. Combine that with the travel adapter set, and the Covert Dock is really replacing two or three devices in your bag, rather than just a Switch dock.

Performance

Genki’s Covert Dock feels very sturdy and well-built, not at all like many of the third-party dock alternatives that you can find on Amazon. Inside, it uses Gallium Nitride technology to enable its small size while still making sure it can provide good power output without overheating.

It worked flawlessly both for charging my Switch (and other devices) and for connecting the Switch to my TV. As soon as you plug in an HDMI cable, the Switch behaves just as it would when using the official dock, switching off the built-in display and outputting to the television in HD resolution.

Image Credits: Genki

Ditto with plugging in an iPad Pro, and a MacBook Pro. Both automatically detect the HDMI connection and behave just like they would using any other display adapter.

Users of other third-party Switch display docking solutions might be hesitant to trust another one, given how frequently third-party hardware has led to issues including console bricking. But Genki has a great and thorough explanation of why their dock shouldn’t encounter such issues, and it mostly relates to their proper implementation of the PD 3.0 specification. Over the course of testing on an up-to-date Switch console over a couple of weeks, I definitely haven’t encountered any issues.

Bottom line

If you own a Switch (not the Switch Lite, sadly, since it doesn’t support video out), then there’s no question that you should also own a Genki Covert Dock. It’s the dock that the console should’ve shipped with, since it respects the Switch’s portability and offers a way to connect to a TV that takes up no more space than the Switch USB charger itself.

Even if you don’t own a Switch, the Genki Covert Dock might be something you need – it’s a great way to power an iPad while presenting during a meeting, for instance, and also a fantastic travel charger even when you’re not using the display features. Genki has done a tremendous job of packing a whole lot of versatility into a unique and well-built device, and at a price that’s very reasonable when you consider how many other potential gadgets and dongles it’s replacing.

Google-Fitbit deal to be scrutinized in Europe over data competition concerns

In a set-back for Google’s plan to acquire health wearable company Fitbit, the European Commission has announced it’s opening an investigation to dig into a range of competition concerns being attached to the proposal from multiple quarters.

This means the deal is on ice for a period of time that could last until early December.

The Commission said it has 90 working days to take a decision on the acquisition — so until December 9, 2020.

Commenting on opening an “in-depth investigation” in a statement, Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager — who heads up both competition policy and digital strategy for the bloc — said: “The use of wearable devices by European consumers is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. This will go hand in hand with an exponential growth of data generated through these devices. This data provides key insights about the life and the health situation of the users of these devices.Our investigation aims to ensure that control by Google over data collected through wearable devices as a result of the transaction does not distort competition.”

Google has responded to the EU brake on its ambitions with a blog post in which its devices & services chief seeks to defend the deal, arguing it will spur innovation and lead to increased competition.

“This deal is about devices, not data,” Google VP Rick Osterloh further claims.

The tech giant announced its desire to slip into Fitbit’s data-sets back in November, when it announced a plan to shell out $2.1BN in an all-cash deal to pick up the wearable maker.

Fast forward a few months and CEO Sundar Pichai is being taken to task by lawmakers on home turf for stuff like ‘helping destroy anonymity on the Internet‘. Last year’s already rowdy antitrust drum beat around big tech has become a full on rock festival so the mood music around tech acquisitions might finally be shifting.

Since news of Google’s plan to grab Fitbit dropped concerns about the deal have been raised all over Europe — with consumer groups, privacy regulators and competition and tech policy wonks all sounding the alarm at the prospect of letting the adtech giant gobble a device maker and help itself to a bunch of sensitive consumer health data in the process.

Digital privacy rights group, Privacy International — one of the not-for-profits that’s been urging regulators not to rubberstamp the deal — argues the acquisition would not only squeeze competition in the nascent digital health market, and also for wearables, but also reduce “what little pressure there currently is on Google to compete in relation to privacy options available to consumers (both existing and future Fitbit users), leading to even less competition on privacy standards and thereby enabling the further degradation of consumers’ privacy protections”, as it puts it.

So much noise is being made that Google has already played the ‘we promise not to…’ card that’s a favorite of data-mining tech giants. (Typically followed, a few years later, with a ‘we got ya sucker’ joker — as they go ahead and do the thing they totally said they wouldn’t.)

To wit: From the get-go Fitbit has claimed users’ “health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads”. Just like WhatsApp said nothing would change when Facebook bought them. (Er.)

Last month Reuters revisited the concession, in an “exclusive” report that cited “people familiar with the matter” who apparently told it the deal could be waved through if Google pledged not to use Fitbit data for ads.

It’s not clear where the leak underpinning its news report came from but Reuters also ran with a quote from a Google spokeswoman — who further claimed: “Throughout this process we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data.”

In the event, Google’s headline-grabbing promises to behave itself with Fitbit data have not prevented EU regulators from wading in for a closer look at competition concerns — which is exactly as it should be.

In truth, given the level of concern now being raised about tech giants’ market power and adtech giant Google specifically grabbing a treasure trove of consumer health data, a comprehensive probe is the very least regulators should be doing.

If digital policy history has shown anything over the past decade and where data is concerned it’s that the devil is always in the fine print detail. Moreover the fast pace of digital markets can mean a competitive threat may only be a micro pivot away from materializing. Theories of harm clearly need radically updating to take account of data-mining technosocial platform giants. And the Commission knows that — which is why it’s consulting on giving itself more powers to tackling tipping in digital markets. But it also needs to flex and exercise the powers it currently has. Such as opening a proper investigation — rather than gaily waving tech giant deals through.

Antitrust may now be flavor of the month where tech giants are concerned — with US lawmakers all but declaring war on digital robber barons at last month’s big subcommittee showdown in Congress. But it’s also worth noting EU competition regulators — for all their heavily publicized talk of properly regulating the digital sphere — have yet to block a single digital tech merger.

And it remains to be seen whether that record will change by December.

“The Commission is concerned that the proposed transaction would further entrench Google’s market position in the online advertising markets by increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalisation of the ads it serves and displays,” it writes in a press release today.

Following a preliminary assessment process of the deal, EU regulators said they have concerns about [emphasis theirs]:

  • “the impact of the transaction on the supply of online search and display advertising services (the sale of advertising space on, respectively, the result page of an internet search engine or other internet pages)”
  • and on “the supply of ‘ad tech’ services (analytics and digital tools used to facilitate the programmatic sale and purchase of digital advertising)”

“By acquiring Fitbit, Google would acquire (i) the database maintained by Fitbit about its users’ health and fitness; and (ii) the technology to develop a database similar to Fitbit’s one,” the Commission further notes.

“The data collected via wrist-worn wearable devices appears, at this stage of the Commission’s review of the transaction, to be an important advantage in the online advertising markets. By increasing the data advantage of Google in the personalisation of the ads it serves via its search engine and displays on other internet pages, it would be more difficult for rivals to match Google’s online advertising services. Thus, the transaction would raise barriers to entry and expansion for Google’s competitors for these services, to the ultimate detriment of advertisers and publishers that would face higher prices and have less choice.”

The Commission views Google as dominant in the supply of online search advertising services in almost all EEA (European Economic Area) countries; as well as holding “a strong market position” in the supply of online advertising display services in a large number of EEA countries (especially off-social network display ads), and “a strong market position” in the supply of adtech services in the EEA.

All of which will inform its considerations as it looks at whether Google will gain an unfair competitive advantage by assimilating Fitbit data. (Vestager has also issued a number of antitrust enforcements against the tech giant in recent years, against Android, AdSense and Google Shopping.)

The regulator has also said it will further look at:

  • the “effects of the combination of Fitbit’s and Google’s databases and capabilities in the digital healthcare sector, which is still at a nascent stage in Europe”
  • “whether Google would have the ability and incentive to degrade the interoperability of rivals’ wearables with Google’s Android operating system for smartphones once it owns Fitbit”

The tech giant has already offered EU regulators one specific concession in the hopes of getting the Fitbit buy green lit — with the Commission noting that it submitted commitments aimed at addressing concerns last month.

Google suggested creating a data silo to hold data collected via Fitbit’s wearable devices — and where it said it would be kept separate from any other dataset within Google (including claiming it would be restricted for ad purposes). However the Commission expresses scepticism about Google’s offer, writing that it “considers that the data silo commitment proposed by Google is insufficient to clearly dismiss the serious doubts identified at this stage as to the effects of the transaction”.

“Among others, this is because the data silo remedy did not cover all the data that Google would access as a result of the transaction and would be valuable for advertising purposes,” it added.

Google makes reference to this data silo in its blog post, claiming: “This deal is about devices, not data. We’ve been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads. We recently offered to make a legally binding commitment to the European Commission regarding our use of Fitbit data. As we do with all our products, we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move or delete their data. And we’ll continue to support wide connectivity and interoperability across our and other companies’ products.”

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with the European Commission on an approach that addresses consumers’ expectations of their wearable devices. We’re confident that by working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together our experience in AI, software and hardware, we can build compelling devices for people around the world,” it adds.

Apple’s partners and Samsung apply for India’s $6.6 billion local smartphone production program

South Korean giant Samsung, Apple’s contract manufacturing partners Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron, and Indian smartphone vendors Micromax and Lava among others have applied for India’s $6.6 billion incentive program aimed at boosting the local smartphone manufacturing, New Delhi said on Saturday.

The scheme, called Production-Linked Incentive Scheme, will offer a range of incentives to companies including a 6% financial incentive on additional sales of goods produced locally over five years, with 2019-2020 set as the base year, India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a press conference.

22 companies have applied for the incentive program — that also includes manufacturing of electronics components — and have agreed to export 60% of their locally produced units outside of India, said Prasad. He said the companies estimate they will produce smartphones and components worth $153 billion during the five-year duration.

The Production-Linked Incentive Scheme is aimed at turning India into a global hub of high-quality manufacturing of smartphones and support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to make the country self-reliant, said Prasad.

As part of their applications, the companies have also agreed to offer direct and indirect employment to roughly 1.2 million Indians, the Indian minister said.

The interest of Samsung and Apple, two companies that account for more than 50% of the global smartphone sales revenue, in India is a testament of the opportunities they see in the world’s second largest internet market, said Prasad. “Apple and Samsung, India welcomes you with attractive policies. Now expand your presence in the country,” he said.

Missing from the list of companies that the Indian minister revealed today are Chinese smartphone makers Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus, and Realme that have not applied for the incentive program.

The Indian government did not prevent companies from any country from participating to the program, Prasad insisted in a call with reporters Saturday noon. Chinese smartphone vendors command roughly 80% of the Indian handset market, according to research firm Canalys.

“We are optimistic and looking forward to building a strong ecosystem across the value chain and integrating with the global value chains, thereby strengthening electronics manufacturing ecosystem in the country,” he said. The deadline for applying to participate in India’s program, which began in April, ended on Friday this week.

The participation of Wistron, Foxconn, and Pegatron is also indicative of Apple’s future plans to produce locally in India. Apple’s contract manufacturing partner, Taiwan-based Wistron, first began assembling older iPhone models in 2017. Last month, Foxconn kickstarted assembly of a small batch of iPhone 11 units. This was the first time any Apple supplier assembled a current-generation iPhone model in the country.

The road to recurring revenue for hardware startups

If you look at the most successful startups today, you’ll find plenty of proof that the hardware-enabled service (Haas) model works: Peloton, Particle, Latch and Igloohome all rely on subscriptions along with product sales. Even tech giants like Apple are rapidly reinventing themselves as service companies.

Yet, if you currently rely on device sales, the prospect of changing your entire business model might seem daunting.

At Minut, we are building smart home monitors (privacy-safe noise, motion and temperature monitoring) and recently made the transition despite the lack of resources on the process. Here are the seven lessons we learned:

  1. It is a question of when  —  not if.
  2. The transition will have company-wide impact.
  3. Your current and future target audience may differ.
  4. Price should reflect the value for the customer. Your revenue should grow with theirs.
  5. Avoid your free offer competing with your premium ones.
  6. Be transparent (internally and externally) about the changes. Over-communicate.
  7. Start the process early, check regularly with your team and set measurable targets.

Why subscriptions are the future of industry (and your startup)

Hardware has one advantage over software: customers understand there is a cost to your product. Now, this allows hardware startups to generate revenue with their first iteration, but it’s unsustainable as the company grows and needs to innovate: the software and user experience need continuous improvement and excellent support, just like in a software-only startup.

That’s why we see most hardware startups eventually launching a subscription model and limit what’s available for free. Even established companies  —  think Strava or Wink  —  often end up having to radically limit free features after years of operations.

Experienced founders and financial markets favor subscription models and recurring revenue. Market valuation multiples are typically much higher for companies that benefit from service revenue in addition to sales.

Where is voice tech going?

2020 has been all but normal. For businesses and brands. For innovation. For people.

The trajectory of business growth strategies, travel plans and lives have been drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a global economic downturn with supply chain and market issues, and a fight for equality in the Black Lives Matter movement — amongst all that complicated lives and businesses already.

One of the biggest stories in emerging technology is the growth of different types of voice assistants:

  • Niche assistants such as Aider that provide back-office support.
  • Branded in-house assistants such as those offered by BBC and Snapchat.
  • White-label solutions such as Houndify that provide lots of capabilities and configurable tool sets.

With so many assistants proliferating globally, voice will become a commodity like a website or an app. And that’s not a bad thing — at least in the name of progress. It will soon (read: over the next couple years) become table stakes for a business to have voice as an interaction channel for a lovable experience that users expect. Consider that feeling you get when you realize a business doesn’t have a website: It makes you question its validity and reputation for quality. Voice isn’t quite there yet, but it’s moving in that direction.

Voice assistant adoption and usage are still on the rise

Adoption of any new technology is key. A key inhibitor of technology is often distribution, but this has not been the case with voice. Apple, Google, and Baidu have reported hundreds of millions of devices using voice, and Amazon has 200 million users. Amazon has a slightly more difficult job since they’re not in the smartphone market, which allows for greater voice assistant distribution for Apple and Google.

Image Credits: Mark Persaud

But are people using devices? Google said recently there are 500 million monthly active users of Google Assistant. Not far behind are active Apple users with 375 million. Large numbers of people are using voice assistants, not just owning them. That’s a sign of technology gaining momentum — the technology is at a price point and within digital and personal ecosystems that make it right for user adoption. The pandemic has only exacerbated the use as Edison reported between March and April — a peak time for sheltering in place across the U.S.

Pre-orders for the Analogue Pocket retro portable game console start August 3, ships May 2021

Analogue has repeatedly proven that it’s the gold standard when it comes to retro gaming, delivering extremely faithful, but modern hardware to play original NES, SNES, Sega cartridges and more. The company revealed its forthcoming Analogue Pocket last October, and now it’s about to kick off pre-orders for the portable classic console, which can play Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games out of the box, and works with even more classic handheld game systems via adapters.

The Analogue Pocket will be available to pre-order for $199.99 on August 3, starting at 8 AM PST (11 AM EST). The actual ship date is quite a while after that, however: Analogue estimates that the hardware should actually start to be delivered to customers in May, 2021. That’s due to “the unfortunate global state of affairs and supply chain challenges outside of our control,” according to the company, and they’re hardly the only indie hardware outfit feeling the pinch of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on tech suppliers.

Image Credits: Analogue

The good news is that so long as you’re patient, the Pocket will almost certainly deliver the goods. Analogue isn’t new to this, having successfully shipped multiple products in the past, including the Nt mini, the Super Nt and the Mega Sg. Each of these more than delivered on their promises, offering fantastic performance in bringing classic games to modern TVs and displays – without relying on emulation.

Analogue Pocket has changed a bit since it was originally introduced last year, with the start and select button relocated to the base of the front of the device, a design change designed for “optimal comfort” according to the company. The Dock that you can use to connect the Pocket to your TV for a big-screen gaming experience also now features a recessed USB-C port to make the connection more stable.

True to form in terms of combining classic gameplay with modern conveniences, Analogue has designed Pocket with a sleep and wake function that’s much more like what you’d expect from today’s smartphones and tablet: Press the power button once and the console enters a low-power suspended state – press it again and it wakes to right where you left off. That’s an awesome perk for games that often lack their own internal save mechanisms.

Image Credits: Analogue

The Analogue Dock ($99.99) can support up to four controllers at once, using either wired, Bluetooth or 2.4ghz wireless connectivity. You can also use separately available multilink cables to connect up to four Pockets for local multiplayer action.

Analogue is also offering a range of other accessories for the Pocket, including a transparent hard case for storage and transportation, a USB-C fast-charging power brick, adapters to provide compatibility with Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color and Atari Lynx games, and MIDI and Analog sync cables for connecting to Mac, PC and music peripherals for use with the company’s Nanoloop music creation software.

Image Credits: Analogue

The company has also revealed some new software features for the Pocket, including ‘Original Display Modes’ which provides faithful representations of the displays (quirks and all) of the original hardware consoles these games where available for. The display itself is made of Gorilla Glass for extra resilience, and offers variable refresh rates and 360-degree custom rotation control.

Analogue Pocket has a 4,300 mAh built-in rechargeable battery that offers between 6 and 10 hours of play time, and over 10 hours of sleep when not in active use.

This definitely looks like Analogue’s most impressive product yet, and one that will be truly amazing for portable console gaming.

VCs and startups consider HaaS model for consumer devices

I’ve been following consumer audio electronics company Nura with great interest for a few years now — the Melbourne-based startup was one of the first companies I met with after starting with TechCrunch. At the time, its first prototype was a big mess of circuits and wires — the sort of thing you could never imagine shrunk down into a reasonably-sized consumer device.

Nura managed, of course. And the final product looked and sounded great; hell, even the box was nice. If I’m lucky, I see a consumer hardware product once or twice a year that seems reasonably capable of disrupting an industry, and Nura’s custom sound profiles fit that bill. But the company was unique for another reason. A graduate of the HAX accelerator, the startup announced NuraNow roughly this time last year.

Hardware as a service (HaaS) has been a popular concept in the IT/enterprise space for some time, but it’s still fairly uncommon in the consumer category. For one thing: a hardware subscription presents a new paradigm for thinking about purchases. And that is a big lift in a country like the U.S., which spent years weaning consumers off contract-based smartphones.

That Nura jumped at the chance shouldn’t be a big surprise. Backers HAX/SOSV have been proponents of the model for some time now. I’ve visited their Shenzhen offices a few times, and the topic of HaaS always seems to come up.

In a recent email exchange, General Partner Duncan Turner described HaaS as “a great way to keep in contact with your customers and up sell them on new features. Most importantly, for start-ups, recurring revenue is critical for scaling a business with venture capital (and will help appeal to a broad set of investors). HaaS often has a low churn (as easier to put onto long-term contracts).”

Garmin global outage caused by ransomware attack, sources say

An ongoing global outage at sport and fitness tech giant Garmin was caused by a ransomware attack, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident.

The incident began late Wednesday and continued through the weekend, causing disruption to the company’s online services for millions of users, including Garmin Connect, which syncs user activity and data to the cloud and other devices. The attack also took down flyGarmin, its aviation navigation and route-planning service.

Portions of Garmin’s website were also offline at the time of writing.

Garmin has said little about the incident so far. A banner on its website reads: “We are currently experiencing an outage that affects Garmin.com and Garmin Connect. This outage also affects our call centers, and we are currently unable to receive any calls, emails or online chats. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and apologize for this inconvenience.”

The two sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the press, told TechCrunch that Garmin was trying to bring its network back online after the ransomware attack. One of the sources confirmed that the WastedLocker ransomware was to blame for the outage.

One other news outlet appeared to confirm that the outage was caused by WastedLocker.

Garmin’s online services have been down for days. The cause is believed to be ransomware, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident. (Screenshot: TechCrunch)

WastedLocker is a new kind of ransomware, first discovered by security researchers at Malwarebytes in May, operated by a hacker group known as Evil Corp. Like other file-encrypting malware, WastedLocker infects computers, and locks the user’s files in exchange for a ransom, typically demanded in cryptocurrency.

Malwarebytes said that WastedLocker does not steal or exfiltrate data before encrypting the victim’s files, unlike other, newer ransomware strains. That means companies with backups may be able to escape paying the ransom. But companies without backups have faced ransom demands as much as $10 million.

The FBI has also long discouraged victims from paying ransoms related to malware attacks.

Evil Corp has a long history of malware and ransomware attacks. The group, allegedly led by a Russian national Maksim Yakubets, is known to have used Dridex, a powerful password-stealing malware that was used to steal more than $100 million from hundreds of banks over the past decade. Later, Dridex was also used as a way to deliver ransomware.

Yakubets, who remains at large, was indicted by the Justice Department last year for his alleged part in the group’s “unimaginable” amount of cybercrime during the past decade, according to U.S. prosecutors.

The Treasury also imposed sanctions on Evil Corp, including Yakubets and two other alleged members, for their involvement in the decade-long hacking campaign.

By imposing sanctions, it’s near-impossible for U.S.-based companies to pay the ransom — even if they wanted to — as U.S. nationals are “generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” per a Treasury statement.

Brett Callow, a threat analyst and ransomware expert at security firm Emsisoft, said those sanctions make it “especially complicated” for U.S.-based companies dealing with WastedLocker infections.

“WastedLocker has been attributed by some security companies to Evil Corp, and the known members of Evil Corp — which purportedly has loose connections to the Russian government — have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury,” said Callow. “As a result of those sanctions, U.S persons are generally prohibited from transacting with those known members. This would seem to create a legal minefield for any company which may be considering paying a WastedLocker ransom,” he said.

Efforts to contact the alleged hackers were unsuccessful. The group uses different email addresses in each ransom note. We sent an email to two known email addresses associated with a previous WastedLocker incident, but did not hear back.

A Garmin spokesperson could not be reached for comment by phone or email on Saturday. (Garmin’s email servers have been down since the start of the incident.) Messages sent over Twitter were also not returned. We’ll update if we hear back.

Garmin global outage caused by ransomware attack, sources say

An ongoing global outage at sport and fitness tech giant Garmin was caused by a ransomware attack, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident.

The incident began late Wednesday and continued through the weekend, causing disruption to the company’s online services for millions of users, including Garmin Connect, which syncs user activity and data to the cloud and other devices. The attack also took down flyGarmin, its aviation navigation and route-planning service.

Portions of Garmin’s website were also offline at the time of writing.

Garmin has said little about the incident so far. A banner on its website reads: “We are currently experiencing an outage that affects Garmin.com and Garmin Connect. This outage also affects our call centers, and we are currently unable to receive any calls, emails or online chats. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and apologize for this inconvenience.”

The two sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the press, told TechCrunch that Garmin was trying to bring its network back online after the ransomware attack. One of the sources confirmed that the WastedLocker ransomware was to blame for the outage.

One other news outlet appeared to confirm that the outage was caused by WastedLocker.

Garmin’s online services have been down for days. The cause is believed to be ransomware, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident. (Screenshot: TechCrunch)

WastedLocker is a new kind of ransomware, first discovered by security researchers at Malwarebytes in May, operated by a hacker group known as Evil Corp. Like other file-encrypting malware, WastedLocker infects computers, and locks the user’s files in exchange for a ransom, typically demanded in cryptocurrency.

Malwarebytes said that WastedLocker does not steal or exfiltrate data before encrypting the victim’s files, unlike other, newer ransomware strains. That means companies with backups may be able to escape paying the ransom. But companies without backups have faced ransom demands as much as $10 million.

The FBI has also long discouraged victims from paying ransoms related to malware attacks.

Evil Corp has a long history of malware and ransomware attacks. The group, allegedly led by a Russian national Maksim Yakubets, is known to have used Dridex, a powerful password-stealing malware that was used to steal more than $100 million from hundreds of banks over the past decade. Later, Dridex was also used as a way to deliver ransomware.

Yakubets, who remains at large, was indicted by the Justice Department last year for his alleged part in the group’s “unimaginable” amount of cybercrime during the past decade, according to U.S. prosecutors.

The Treasury also imposed sanctions on Evil Corp, including Yakubets and two other alleged members, for their involvement in the decade-long hacking campaign.

By imposing sanctions, it’s near-impossible for U.S.-based companies to pay the ransom — even if they wanted to — as U.S. nationals are “generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” per a Treasury statement.

Brett Callow, a threat analyst and ransomware expert at security firm Emsisoft, said those sanctions make it “especially complicated” for U.S.-based companies dealing with WastedLocker infections.

“WastedLocker has been attributed by some security companies to Evil Corp, and the known members of Evil Corp — which purportedly has loose connections to the Russian government — have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury,” said Callow. “As a result of those sanctions, U.S persons are generally prohibited from transacting with those known members. This would seem to create a legal minefield for any company which may be considering paying a WastedLocker ransom,” he said.

Efforts to contact the alleged hackers were unsuccessful. The group uses different email addresses in each ransom note. We sent an email to two known email addresses associated with a previous WastedLocker incident, but did not hear back.

A Garmin spokesperson could not be reached for comment by phone or email on Saturday. (Garmin’s email servers have been down since the start of the incident.) Messages sent over Twitter were also not returned. We’ll update if we hear back.

Apple begins assembling iPhone 11 in India

Apple’s contract manufacturing partner Foxconn has started to assemble the current generation of iPhone units — the iPhone 11 lineup — in its plant near southern city of Chennai, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

A small batch of locally manufactured iPhone 11 units has already shipped to retail stores, but the production yield is currently limited, the person said, requesting anonymity as matters are private. Apple, in general, has ambitions to scale up its local production efforts in India, the person said.

The local production of current iPhone 11 models illustrates Apple’s further commitment to India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, as it explores ways to cut its reliance on China, which produces the vast majority of iPhone models today.

Apple’s contract manufacturing partner Taiwan-based Wistron first began assembling older iPhone models in 2017. But until now, Apple has not been able to have an assembly partner produce the current generation iPhone model in India.

Wistron, which has locally assembled older iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 7 models in the past in its Bangalore plant, currently assembles iPhone XR units in India. Apple discontinued the local production of iPhone SE and iPhone 6s last year, the person said.

Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, tweeted on Friday that Apple had begun assembling iPhone 11 models in India. Apple did not comment on this story.

Assembling handsets in India enables smartphone vendors — including Apple — to avoid roughly 20% import duty that the Indian government levies on imported electronics products.

Xiaomi, Vivo, Samsung, Oppo, OnePlus, and a range of other smartphone companies, have inked deals with contract manufacturers across India in recent years to produce much of their locally sold smartphones units in the country itself.

Xiaomi, which has been the top smartphone vendor in India since late 2018, said earlier this month that nearly every smartphone it sells in India is produced in the country.

Apple has been exploring ways to ramp up its production in India for years, but the company has struggled to find contract manufacturers that adhered to its safety and quality standards, people familiar with the matter have told TechCrunch.

News outlet The Information reported in March that some of Apple’s other contract manufacturers have attempted to enter — or expand in — India, but have run into regulatory and local laws issues. Pegatron, another assembly partner of Apple, plans to set up a local subsidiary in India and begin operations in the country, according to Bloomberg.

Foxconn, which counts India as one of its biggest markets, plans to invest $1 billion in its operations in the country, Reuters reported earlier this month. New Delhi announced a $6.6 billion plan to attract top smartphone manufacturers in June this year.

Apple plans to launch its online store in India in a few months and open its first brick-and-mortar retail store next year, chief executive Tim Cook announced earlier this year. The online store’s launch in India remains on track despite the pandemic, a person familiar with the matter said.