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Industry & Technology

Tinder to add panic button and anti-catfishing tech

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 19 min ago
The move comes after criticism over the lack of safety issues offered by dating apps.

What can you use instead of Google and Facebook?

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 40 min ago
More and more companies are promising privacy online and an alternative to the big internet firms.

Sonos CEO says speakers will work "as long as possible"

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 45 min ago
The company said it was sorry for the confusion caused by plans to stop sending updates to legacy speakers.

Mac users are getting bombarded by laughably unsophisticated malware

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 11:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Kaspersky Lab)

Almost two years have passed since the appearance of Shlayer, a piece of Mac malware that gets installed by tricking targets into installing fake Adobe Flash updates. It usually does so after promising pirated videos, which are also fake. The lure may be trite and easy to spot, but Shlayer continues to be common—so much so that it’s the number one threat encountered by users of Kaspersky Labs’ antivirus programs for macOS.

Since Shlayer first came to light in February 2018, Kaspersky Lab researchers have collected almost 32,000 different variants and identified 143 separate domains operators have used to control infected machines. The malware accounts for 30 percent of all malicious detections generated by the Kaspersky Lab’s Mac AV products. Attacks are most common against US users, who account for 31 percent of attacks Kaspersky Lab sees. Germany, with 14 percent, and France and the UK (both with 10 percent) followed. For malware using such a crude and outdated infection method, Shlayer remains surprisingly prolific.

An analysis Kaspersky Lab published on Thursday says that Shlayer is “a rather ordinary piece of malware” that, except for a recent variant based on a Python script, was built on Bash commands. Under the hood, the workflow for all versions is similar: they collect IDs and system versions and, based on that information, download and execute a file. The download is then deleted to remote traces of an infection. Shlayer also uses curl with the combination of options -f0L, which Thursday’s post said “is basically the calling card of the entire family.”

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Time check: Examining the Doomsday Clock’s move to 100 seconds to midnight

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 10:58pm

Enlarge / The Doomsday Clock reads 100 seconds to midnight, a decision made by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, during an announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on January 23, 2020. (credit: EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

Today, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released a statement that the group's Science and Security Board had moved the hands on the symbolic Doomsday Clock forward by 20 seconds to 100 seconds before midnight. Since the advent of the Doomsday Clock—even in the peak years of the Cold War—the clock's minute hand has never before been advanced past the 11:58 mark.

In a statement on the change, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists President and CEO Rachel Bronson said:

As far as the Bulletin and the Doomsday Clock are concerned, the world has entered into the realm of the two-minute warning, a period when danger is high and the margin for error low. The moment demands attention and new, creative responses. If decision makers continue to fail to act—pretending that being inside two minutes is no more urgent than the preceding period—citizens around the world should rightfully echo the words of climate activist Greta Thunberg and ask: "How dare you?"

Before 2017, the clock had not been at that mark since 1953—the year in which the United States and the Soviet Union both conducted atmospheric tests of their first thermonuclear bombs. Even during the Reagan years—during which the world came the closest it had ever come to a nuclear war—the clock was advanced only as far as three minutes before midnight. And in the fictional world of the original Watchmen comic books, the clock never advanced past five minutes to midnight.

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CenturyLink, Frontier took FCC cash, failed to deploy all required broadband

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 10:21pm

Enlarge / A CenturyLink repair truck in Estes Park, Colorado, in 2018. (credit: Tony Webster / Flickr)

CenturyLink and Frontier Communications have apparently failed to meet broadband-deployment requirements in numerous states where they are receiving government funding to expand their networks in rural areas.

CenturyLink notified the Federal Communications Commission that it "may not have reached the deployment milestone" in 23 states and that it hit the latest deadline in only 10 states.

Frontier similarly notified the FCC that it "may not have met" the requirements in 13 states. Frontier met or exceeded the requirement in 16 other states.

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EPA reasoning for gutting fuel-economy rule doesn’t hold up, senator finds

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 10:08pm

Enlarge / Traffic moves through an interchange along Interstate 580 on July 25, 2019, in Oakland, California. (credit: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images)

The Trump administration has for several years been working to weaken federal vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. To justify these changes, regulatory agencies argued that more stringent standards would both cost consumers more and reduce road safety. A draft version of the new final rule, however, seems to directly contradict those lines of reasoning.

The draft of the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule has not been released publicly, but Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) has seen it. In a letter (PDF) to the White House, Carper says not only is the rule "replete with numerous questionable legal, procedural, and technical assertions," as well as "apparent typographical and other errors," but it also completely fails to provide the safety or economic benefits initially claimed.


The SAFE rule is part of a back-and-forth that hasn't literally been going on since the dawn of time, but it kind of feels that way. The kerfuffle all began in 2012 when the Obama administration adopted a fuel-economy standard that would gradually increase the average miles-per-gallon rating for most cars to 54.5mpg by 2025 (about 40mpg under real-world conditions). The Environmental Protection Agency finalized that standard in December 2016.

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Microsoft’s sneaky plan to switch Chrome searches from Google to Bing

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 9:26pm

Microsoft announced today that, beginning in February 2020, Office365 Pro Plus installs and updates will include a Chrome extension that forcibly changes the default search engine to Microsoft's own search engine, Bing.

The change takes place beginning with Version 2002 of Office 365 Pro Plus, and it will affect both new installations and existing installations as they're automatically updated. If your default search engine is already Bing, Office365 will not install the extension. Users who don't enjoy the arbitrary unrequested change to their defaults can opt out by finding and changing a toggle which the extension also adds to the browser, or the extension itself can be removed, either manually or programmatically.

This new policy only takes places in specific geographic areas, as determined by a user's IP address. If you aren't in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, the UK, or the United States, you should be safe—for now, at least, and assuming you don't take your laptop on holiday or work-related travel to one of those countries during a time an Office update rolls out. Microsoft says it may add new locations over time but will notify administrators through the Microsoft 365 admin center if and when it does.

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Rocket League will drop support for Mac, Linux versions in March

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 8:52pm

Enlarge (credit: Epic Games)

For anyone who clings to Linux or MacOS as a preferred gaming platform, Epic Games and Psyonix offered a rare kind of bad news on Thursday. The companies confirmed that their mega-hit game Rocket League would no longer receive updates for either platform following a "final" patch for all non-Windows versions on PC coming in "early March."

This "end-of-life" version of Rocket League on Linux and MacOS will still function in a wholly offline state, and affected players will be able to access whatever cosmetics and add-ons they'd previously earned through the game's economy system (but no more new ones). Additionally, those platforms will be able to use Steam Workshop content, but only if it's downloaded and applied to the game before the March patch goes live.

Otherwise, if any function in the game connects even in the slightest to the Internet—from item shops to matchmaking to private matches to friends lists—it will stop working once the March patch goes live, and any future modes, maps, or other game-changing content won't come to their platforms, either.

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After a decade of drama, Apple is ready to kill Flash in Safari once and for all

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 8:39pm

Enlarge / Safari is the default browser on all of Apple's devices. (credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Release notes for the latest version of the Safari Technology Preview, essentially the beta version of the macOS Web browser, explicitly state that the update ends support for Adobe Flash. This marks the end of the line for that Web technology on Macs.

The change happened in Safari Technology Preview 99 and is likely to hit the public release sometime in the near future.

Apple already disabled Flash by default in a previous Safari version, and the practice of including Flash on each Mac from initial installation ended a decade ago. But if users wanted to download Flash to their Macs and manually activate it, doing so was still possible. Soon, it won't be—at least, not in the system's default browser.

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Sick of Big Pharma’s pricing, health insurers pledge $55M for cheap generics

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 8:25pm

Enlarge / A pharmacy technician grabs a bottle of drugs off a shelf at the central pharmacy of Intermountain Heathcare on September 10, 2018 in Midvale, Utah. IHC along with other hospitals and philanthropies are launching a nonprofit generic drug company called "Civica Rx" to help reduce cost and shortages of generic drugs. (credit: Getty | George Frey)

Fed up with the exorbitant price tags on old, off-patent medications, 18 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are partnering with a nonprofit dedicated to manufacturing and selling affordably priced generic drugs.

The BCBS companies are providing $55 million in their new partnership with nonprofit Civica Rx, the two organizations announced.

Like the new venture, Civica was born out of frustration with the pharmaceutical industry’s steep price increases as well as perilous shortages of essential drugs. In 2018, numerous health care organizations banded together with three philanthropies to manufacture their own brand of generic drugs, forming Civica and thwarting the generic industry. Their aim was to provide hospitals with injectable generic medications in steady supplies at affordable prices.

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A young couple is trapped in the forever home from hell in Vivarium trailer

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 8:01pm

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots play a house-hunting couple trapped in a suburban nightmare in Vivarium.

A young couple stumbles into the wrong neighborhood while house-hunting and finds themselves prisoners in the forever home from hell in Vivarium, a surreal science fiction film directed by Lorcan Finnegan. The film premiered last year at the Cannes Film Festival and made its way around the festival circuit before being picked up for distribution by Saban Films. And it has been garnering quite a bit of positive word of mouth along the way.

There's only the vaguest official premise: "A young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses." But Wikipedia offers this telling definition of the film's title: "A vivarium is an area, usually enclosed, for keeping and raising animals or plants for observation or research." It translates into "place of life," and it can be a small terrarium, for example, or something much larger, like Biosphere 2. It's pretty obvious that the film's suburban paradise is meant to be just such a place.

Imogen Poots plays Gemma, who is married to Tom (Jesse Eisenberg). They decide to check out the home options in a wholesome development called Yonder ("It has all you'd need and all you'd want"), and a very creepy real estate agent named Martin (Jonathan Aris) shows them around #9. Yonder is basically a large grid of identical streets filled with identical cookie-cutter houses, with the same cookie-cutter backyards. It calls to mind the classic folk song, "Little Boxes," popularized by Pete Seeger in the 1960s, about cheap, tiny suburban houses "made of ticky-tacky" that "all look just the same."

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Doom Eternal hands-on: It’s more, more, more—and maybe just a little bit less, too

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 7:44pm

The portals open, the metal music starts, and the chainsaw revs up. There's something about that moment that, repeated as many times as it was throughout Doom (2016), never got old for me. But Doom Eternal is coming from the point of view that this setup did, in fact, get old, and the way to keep it fresh is to add a lot of new stuff. So much new stuff.

Publisher Bethesda Softworks hosted a 3-hour preview of Doom Eternal for press in Los Angeles this week. I came into the event right off my first playthrough of its immediate predecessor on Nightmare difficulty (I did better than I feared, though I still died a lot!) and amped up by watching an entertaining live speedrun at Awesome Games Done Quick earlier this month. I was ultra-eager to get a taste of the sequel to one of my favorite shooters in years.

I was pleased to find that the frenetic, in-your-face, always-moving combat of the 2016 reboot was still here in full force, as was the tendency of the music to amp up as enemy portals appear in your immediate surroundings. I was surprised, though, to find that much of the pacing and narrative of Doom (2016) have been dropped in the name of pure, video game-y carnage.

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Dealmaster: Our favorite Fitbit fitness tracker is 30% off on Amazon today

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 7:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

In today's Dealmaster, we have a great discount on Fitbit's Inspire HR, which we recently named the best fitness tracker for most people. As part of Amazon's Deal of the Day, the heart-rate-tracking Inspire HR is down to $70 for today only. That's just $1 off the lowest price we've seen from reputable retailers and a good $30 off its usual going rate.

The Inspire HR is essentially an updated version of Fitbit's old Alta HR tracker. It's something like the general-purpose option in Fitbit's lineup: it doesn't have the battery life and altimeter of the pricier Fitbit Charge 3 or the smartwatch-style functionality of the Fitbit Versa series, but it's still good for what most people need from a device like this without breaking the bank.

Compared to the Alta HR, the Inspire HR includes a full-on touchscreen instead of a tap-only panel and a generally more intuitive interface, with the ability to set timers and better change the look of the OS. At its core, it remains a dependable monitor of daily activity, heart rate, and sleep, aided in large part by the ever-useful Fitbit app. Fitbit rates the Inspire HR's battery as lasting up to five days per charge, which is a downgrade from the seven-day rating of the Charge 3 or Alta HR but should still be enough to only require one charge a week.

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DirecTV races to decommission broken Boeing satellite before it explodes

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 6:31pm

Enlarge / Illustration—not the actual Boeing satellite used by DirecTV. (credit: Getty Images | 3DSculptor)

DirecTV is scrambling to move a broken Boeing satellite out of its standard orbit in order to limit the risk of "an accidental explosion."

As Space News reported today, DirecTV asked the Federal Communications Commission for a rules waiver so it can "conduct emergency operations to de-orbit the Spaceway-1 satellite," which is at risk of explosion because of damage to batteries. The 15-year-old Boeing 702HP satellite is in a geostationary orbit.

DirecTV, which is owned by AT&T, is coordinating with Intelsat on a plan to move Spaceway-1 into a new orbit. DirecTV already disabled the satellite's primary function, which is to provide backup Ka-band capacity in Alaska. The satellite can operate on power reserves from its solar panels, but that won't be possible during the coming eclipse season, DirecTV explained in its FCC filing:

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Swiss hospital drones to take off again

BBC Technology News - January 23, 2020 - 6:19pm
Two crashes prompted an investigation into safety standards, which is now complete.

Deepfakes: A threat to democracy or just a bit of fun?

BBC Technology News - January 23, 2020 - 6:17pm
Deepfakes, or computer-generated images of people, can be dangerous for democracy, warn experts.

Apple says losing Lightning port will create waste

BBC Technology News - January 23, 2020 - 5:01pm
Some members of the European Parliament want all phone-makers to adopt a universal port.

Jewel beetle’s bright colored shell serves as camouflage from predators

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / The brightly colored shell of this jewel beetle is a surprisingly effective form of camouflage, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Bristol. (credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries, and Archives)

Artist and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer became known as the "father of camouflage" with the publication in 1909 of a book on coloration in animals. He was particularly fascinated by the phenomenon of iridescence: many species exhibit bright, metallic jewel tones that shift hues depending on viewing angle. While iridescence is often viewed as a means of sexual selection—think the magnificent peacock, shimmering his feathers to attract a willing peahen—Thayer suggested that in some species, it was also an effective means of camouflage.

Thayer endured a fair bit of mockery for his ideas, most notably from Theodore Roosevelt, a big game hunter who thought Thayer had grossly overstated his case. Indeed, there has been very little empirical support for Thayer's hypothesis in the ensuing century. But researchers from the University of Bristol have now uncovered the first solid evidence for this in the jewel beetle, according to a new paper in Current Biology.

What makes iridescence in nature so unusual is the fact that the color we see doesn't come from actual pigment molecules but from the precise lattice-like structure of the wings (or abalone shells, or peacock feathers, or opals, for that matter). That structure forces each light wave passing through to interfere with itself, so it can propagate only in certain directions and at certain frequencies. In essence, the structure acts like naturally occurring diffraction gratings. Physicists call these structures photonic crystals, an example of so-called "photonic band gap materials," meaning they block out certain frequencies of light and let through others.

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No one hurt in Firefly “anomaly” as company tests its Alpha first stage

Ars Technica - January 23, 2020 - 3:02pm

Enlarge / An earlier image from Firefly showing a nighttime stage test at its Briggs Test Stand in Central Texas. (credit: Firefly Aerospace)

On Wednesday evening at Firefly Aerospace's test site about an hour north of Austin in Central Texas, some sort of anomaly occurred. The Burnet County Sheriff's Office reported that the incident took place at 6:24pm CT (00:24 UTC, Thursday), and that officers had called for evacuations of residences within one mile of the test site.

Earlier in the evening, in a subsequently deleted tweet, the company stated that it was loading liquid oxygen onto the rocket and about to attempt a qualification hot fire test of the first stage of its Alpha booster. This rocket is powered by four Reaver engines and has a reported capacity of 1 metric ton to low-Earth orbit. Firefly has been working toward the inaugural launch of the rocket, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in April.

Later Wednesday night, the company issued a statement about the test, noting that no one had been hurt.

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