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Chrome 85 to erase ads that hog network, CPU resources

Google last week said that this summer Chrome will remove resource-hogging web advertisements from websites, including ads that mask unauthorized crypto-mining operations.

Arguing that a very small number of online ads – three-tenths of a percentage point of all on the web – disproportionately account for major portions of total network and CPU consumption, Google plans to scrub sites of such ads starting with a Stable build of Chrome near the end of August.

Chrome 85 is scheduled to release on Aug. 25, and would be the most likely version to debut the feature.

“These ads (such as those that mine cryptocurrency, are poorly programmed, or are unoptimized for network usage) can drain battery life, saturate already strained networks, and cost money,” Marshall Vale, a Chrome product manager, wrote in a May 14 post to the Chromium blog.

When Chrome detects one of the über-aggressive ads, the browser will unload the content from the ad’s frame – the portion of the page in which it’s displayed – and refill the space with an error message stating “Ad removed,” along with a link to more information.

After copious measurements, Google decided to strip out any ad that consumed 4MB of network data, used the CPU during half of any 30-second span or tallied a total of 60 seconds of CPU usage. Those bars were so high that they affected only 0.3% of all ads, but, Google contended, such ads accounted for 27% of all ad-generated network traffic and 28% of all ad-related CPU usage.

Other browsers have addressed bad actors, including crypto-miners, using different approaches. Mozilla’s Firefox, for example, blocks crypto-miners by targeting domains known to harbor such scripts. (Mozilla relies on domain lists produced by Disconnect.) It’s not surprising that Google took a metrics-based route here; it typically bases decisions, or says it does, on data collected by Chrome and/or its search engine.

Chrome users can try out this “Heavy Ad” detection and removal prior to version 85 via the chrome://flags option page. Set the Heavy Ad Intervention flag (which also goes by #enable-heavy-ad-intervention) to Enabled and relaunch the browser.

Site developers and ad content creators should use the time between now and late August to test and, if necessary, alter first-party advertisements, Google said. “Our intent with this extended rollout is to give appropriate time for ad creators and tool providers to prepare and incorporate these thresholds into their workflows,” said Vale.

Detailed instructions on how to track removed ads using an API as well as how to test the resource usage of ad content were provided in this support document.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Podcast: How to secure and speed up your home Wi-Fi network


With most of (if not everyone in) your household now working from home, you’re perhaps asking more of your home network than ever before. Multiple devices may now be hosting a video conference, streaming and using chat tools all at the same time. On top of those demands, you may also be accessing sensitive company data from home. Your home Wi-Fi network needs to be both fast and secure. PCWorld/Macworld’s Michael Simon joins Juliet and gives tips on how to prioritize certain traffic on your home network, boost speeds and secure it all without leaving your house.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Flashback Friday: Your traffic is just going to degrade our perfect network link

This IT pilot fish and his co-workers have spent a week in heated discussions with the networking group. The subject: some major network problems between two particular sites. Why heated? Networking swears it can’t see any problems on the lines, so the problem must be with IT’s servers.

But fish and friends know better; at some points, the line between the two sites is dropping out completely.

It’s impossible to know how long the impasse might have lasted if someone at one of the sites hadn’t asked the networking people the right question: “Are we running on the emergency standby route?”

The reply: “Err, yes; shall we switch you back to the primary route now?”

Turns out that two weeks before, while the networking group was improving the link between the two sites, the sites were switched to the standby route. The improvements were completed, the network tested out perfectly — and no one remembered to switch the sites back to the original route.

“Every time we complained about the network fault,” sighs fish, “they were checking the primary route, which was saying everything was fine — especially since it had no traffic on it.”

After making the switch, the networking group checked the standby route, fish reports — and found a fault.”

The primary route to Sharky is through my inbox. Send me your true tales of IT life at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Walmart launches ‘world’s largest’ blockchain-based freight-and-payment network

The Canadian division of Walmart has launched a blockchain-based supply chain that includes freight tracking and payment processing for 70 trucking companies whose goods are transported to more than 400 retail stores.

The system is now live and all of Walmart Canada‘s third-party freight carriers are scheduled to be on the network by Feb. 1, 2020, the company said in a statement. Walmart claims the blockchain network is the largest of its kind in the world, a claim not disputed by industry analysts.

For example, TradeLens is a blockchain-based supply chain launched by Maersk and IBM with more than 100 participants. Those participants include four of the world’s largest ocean carriers, three inland carriers and 61 ports around the globe. But for all its participants, it purportedly has only 14 blockchain distributed nodes.

Meanwhile, Cisco runs a track-and-trace system for hundreds of its suppliers worldwide, reportedly with 12 nodes.

Walmart’s new private blockchain, in contrast, has 27 distributed nodes, some of them on premise, others in the cloud – provided by a blockchain vendor.

“It probably is the largest,” said Avivah Litan, a Gartner vice president of research.

The distributed ledger network, called DL Asset Track, was created by Walmart and its tech partner, Toronto-based DLT Labs. The system automates the tracking of freight shipments and invoice creation; it uses IoT sensors and GPS tracking in semi-trailer trucks as well as a web portal and a mobile app where information can be input manually by operators and suppliers.

While Walmart’s blockchain may be industry leading, it’s not without vulnerabilities. Unlike a public blockchain-based network such as those used by Bitcoin or Ethereum, which can have thousands of nodes, a permissioned or private blockchain like Walmart’s only contains dozens of nodes. The rule of thumb for blockchain is the more distributed nodes you have, the most secure the system is because each node gets an immutable copy of the data, so gaming the system is nearly impossible.

“It means your network can tolerate corruption,” Litan said. “The more nodes, the more the consensus” that the data being shared is accurate and hasn’t been tampered with.

While Walmart and DLT Labs’ blockchain supply chain may not have the same resilience to attack and fault tolerance as a Bitcoin cryptocurrency network, what it does have over traditional business databases is that it’s a shared, immutable audit trail. Blockchain natively is a write-once, append-many technology; once an entry is made, it cannot be changed.

What also sets Walmart’s blockchain apart from other business blockchains is the deep level of integration with existing corporate data systems, according to Martha Bennett, a vice president of research for Forrester.

“And, we’re talking proper technical integration, not just [electronic] message passing,” Bennett said. “This project also takes an innovative approach to invoice generation and payment, in that Walmart’s payments [are] triggered and executed automatically as part of the smart contract process. I’ve not seen that elsewhere yet in a production system.”

The DL Asset Track is based on an iteration of Hyperledger Fabric – an open source, enterprise-grade, permissioned blockchain platform developed by the Linux Foundation. Through a set of APIs, the blockchain ledger can connect to Walmart and carrier legacy data systems, such as SAP ERP and accounting systems, as well as transportation management systems, according to Louden Owen, CEO of DLT Labs.

dlt labs freight for walmart graphic blockchain DLT Labs

External data sources such as ERP systems or transporation management systems  that feed information into a blockchain are known as “oracles” in the industry.

Because Hyperledger Fabric is open source, it can be readily adapted through APIs to communicate with any electronic data source. “We’re agnostic as to the blockchain, agnostic as to infrastructure, agnostic as to the cloud. Think of it as a complete oracle offering for enterprise blockchain,” Owen said.

The blockchain ensures accuracy because variable information, such as transport time input by freight truckers, is matched against IoT and GPS tracking data automatically uploaded to the blockchain ledger in real time.

Traditionally, supply chain invoices have been generated primarily through third-party EDI (electronic data interchange) systems. They often depend on manual data input. Walmart’s blockchain network will eliminate the need for third-party invoice creation and reduce both processing time, and – perhaps more importantly – invoice disputes and reconciliation.

From 50% to 75% of all invoices experience some form of dispute that requires resolution, and those disputes can take weeks or even up to two months to resolve, according to Louden Owen, CEO of DLT Labs.

“It’s a gargantuan issue for everyone simply to verify these highly complex, highly variable transactions,” Owen said.

Walmart Canada operates 8.75 million square feet of distribution center and moves more than 853 million cases of merchandise a year. The goods are transported by a by a third-party fleet and Walmart Canada’s own collection of 180 tractors, 2,000 trailers and more than 350 drivers. Each third-party trailer tracks approximately 200 data points per shipment. Automating the data collection and management using blockchain can result in a significant cost-saving, the company said.

Transport and shipping systems invariably have both fixed and variable costs. For example, the mileage reimbursement may be a fixed price, but vary depending on the contract. Delivery times can vary between time spent on the road and time spent waiting to offload a shipment once a truck reaches its destination. Often, trucks must wait in line for hours to offload shipments; the reimbursement for that is different than for miles driven and can vary according to the amount of time spent in queue.

Additionally, Walmart has more than 70 carriers and they all have different rates. “What was happening is that Walmart and its carriers had their own set of data. It was getting mismatched and [settlement] was getting delayed,” said DLT Labs CTO Neeraj Srivastava.

DLT Labs took Walmart’s paper-based contracts with its carriers and converted them  into a smart contract, Srivastava said. A smart contract is business software that can be embedded into a blockchain network and automatically executed when certain conditions are met.

Logistics and transportation is an $8 trillion industry and as much as $140 billion per day can be tied up in disputes or settlements between supply chain participants, according to Laurie Tolson, chief digital officer of GE Transportation.

Disputes arise because information between supply chain participants often varies,  depending on who’s in-putting data, as well as poor contract management at the outset of supplier-buyer relationships, according to Sarah Rathke, an attorney with the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Having a real-time, actionable data for invoice creation, and a smart contract with terms for each carrier helps head off any payment disputes, Owen said.

“That’s the real beauty of the system… real-time actionable data,” Owen said. “Walmart and a carrier, together, in real-time, agree on the invoice, which doesn’t need a third-party audit.”

For freight carriers, the blockchain network alleviates the need to find financing as they wait weeks or months to be paid for goods because of invoice disputes.

A single invoice can cost up to $11 to generate and if they’re not resolved, further expenses are incurred by shippers waiting for payment, according to Litan.

More accurate, real-time data can also be used for enhanced analytics and predictive modelling, Owen said.

“They hit all the sweet spots with this [blockchain network]. Invoice and payment resolution is low-hanging fruit because there are so many disputes,” Litan said. “It’s really EDI 5.0. It’s an immutable audit trail and a system of shared processes. Because it’s a private blockchain, it still means you have to trust all the participants.”

Bison Transport was the carrier partner in the pilot for the new freight and payment network. According to Rod Hendrickson, vice president of finance for Bison Transport, the end result is “a mutually beneficial solution.”

“This project is a new paradigm that will greatly improve workflows, reduce paperwork, and make the business we do with Walmart more efficient,” Hendrickson said.

This is not Walmart’s first foray into blockchain-based track-and-trace systems. U.S.-based Walmart and Sam’s Club have asked all their suppliers to come on board an IBM-based blockchain supply chain system for tracking produce from farm to shelf. That project, however, is a proof-of-concept restricted to the shipment of some farm produce, while DL Asset Track will literally track every shipment to Walmart’s Canadian stores.

“Clearly, there are still dependencies on tech providers to ensure that the system is running smoothly,” Forrester’s Bennett said. “Yes, Walmart is the dominant partner; but Walmart Canada has put in a lot of work to ensure that there’s benefit for the whole ecosystem – if ecosystem partners don’t see what’s in it for them, they won’t fully participate.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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