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Industry & Technology

Users alarmed by undisclosed microphone in Nest Security System

Ars Technica - 1 hour 19 min ago

Enlarge / You can't see it, but there is actually a microphone in here. (credit: Nest)

Google's Nest smart home brand is in hot water this week after news surfaced (via Daring Fireball) that its home security system, Nest Secure, shipped with an undisclosed microphone. Google activated the microphone earlier this month for Google Assistant functionality, but that meant the device sat in users' homes for up to a year as an unknown potential listening device.

Nest Secure launched last year as a $500 home security system. It's just a collection of door, window, and motion sensors, along with a small desktop box that acts as a hub for the devices and a security code keypad. It has a speaker for alarms and other sounds, but it isn't something you would ever expect to have a microphone.

Google gave a statement to Business Insider yesterday, saying, “The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part.” According to the company, "the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.”

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft, Paradox allow open game modding on Xbox One for the first time

Ars Technica - 1 hour 26 min ago

Enlarge / Surviving Mars will be the first Xbox One game to allow the upload of user-created mods without pre-approval.

In a console industry first, Paradox Interactive and Microsoft are allowing Xbox One players to get direct access to game modifications created on the PC without any pre-approval from the console maker or publisher.

This isn't the first time players have been able to add their own modified content to a console game. Bethesda enabled Fallout 4 mods on Xbox One back in May 2016 and on PlayStation 4 months later. Paradox itself followed with a similar modding program for the Xbox One version of Cities: Skylines early last year.

But the player-made mods made available on those and other console games in the past had one major distinction from their PC cousins: they had to be individually and manually approved by the platform holder and game publisher for potential content and security issues.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla’s top lawyer leaves after two months—but don’t worry

Ars Technica - 2 hours 14 min ago

Enlarge / Elon Musk in 2018. (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Tesla announced Wednesday that it is replacing general counsel Dane Butswinkas, who had been on the job for only two months. Tesla Legal Vice President Jonathan Chang will take the job.

The groundbreaking electric carmaker has suffered a number of senior executive departures in the last couple of years—and some were of surprisingly short tenure. Last September, Chief Accounting Officer Dave Morton announced that he was leaving after less than a month on the job.

Tesla short-sellers have revelled in this kind of news. Especially last year, as Tesla was struggling to ramp up Model 3 production and Musk was dealing with the fallout from several self-inflicted problems, critics portrayed each departure as the latest sign that rats were fleeing a sinking ship.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple reportedly planning to combine iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps by 2021

Ars Technica - 2 hours 54 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Samuel Axon)

A new report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman suggests that Apple is serious about combining apps across the iOS and macOS App Stores. The iPhone maker is reportedly planning on expanding Project Marzipan, a multistep initiative that will allow developers to create one app that works across iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices. Apple may reveal the first steps of this program as early as June 2019 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

We first heard about Marzipan back in 2017, but this is the first hint of Apple's tentative schedule for its rollout and application. The company may debut an SDK later this year that will allow developers to port iPad apps to Mac computers. While developers will still have to submit two separate apps to the iOS App Store and the Mac App Store, the SDK reportedly makes it so developers only have to write the underlying code once.

By next year, Apple plans to expand the SDK to include iPhone apps, meaning developers could port iPhone apps to Macs in the same way. By 2021, developers may be able to merge iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps, creating one application that works across all of those Apple devices (what the report calls a "single binary"). At this stage, developers will not have to submit multiple versions of apps to different app stores—and Apple may be able to merge its separate stores into one all-encompassing app store.

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Russia bans smartphones for soldiers over social media fears

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 4 min ago
The decision comes after social media use by soldiers raised national security issues.

Nasty code-execution bug in WinRAR threatened millions of users for 14 years

Ars Technica - 3 hours 20 min ago

Enlarge / Evert (credit: iStock / Getty Images)

WinRAR, a Windows file compression program with 500 million users worldwide, recently fixed a 14-year-old vulnerability that made it possible for attackers to execute malicious code when targets opened a booby-trapped file.

The vulnerability was the result of an absolute path traversal flaw that resided in UNACEV2.DLL, a third-party code library that hasn’t been updated since 2005. The traversal made it possible for archive files to extract to a folder of the archive creator’s choosing, rather than the folder chosen by the person using the program. Because the third-party library doesn’t make use of exploit mitigations such as address space layout randomization, there was little preventing exploits.

Researchers from Check Point Software, the security firm that discovered the vulnerability, initially had trouble figuring out how to exploit the vulnerability in a way that executed code of their choosing. The most obvious path—to have an executable file extracted to the Windows startup folder where it would run on the next reboot—required WinRAR to run with higher privileges or integrity levels than it gets by default.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

With the best air pressure sensor ever on Mars, scientists find a mystery

Ars Technica - 4 hours 6 min ago

Enlarge / An artist's image of InSight on the surface of Mars, showing the location of its weather sensors. (credit: NASA)

There's a new meteorologist on Mars. Although NASA's InSight spacecraft landed on the red planet late in 2018 to measure the planet's geology—primarily by listening for Mars quakes—it also brought some sophisticated meteorology equipment with it.

The space agency has set up a website to share that information, which includes not only daily high and low temperatures, but unprecedented hourly data on wind speed, direction, and air pressure for InSight's location near the equator in Elysium Planitia. "We thought it was something that people might have some fun with," Cornell University's Don Banfield, who leads InSight's weather science, told Ars.

Other spacecraft have brought comparable temperature and wind sensors to Mars before, but none have carried such a precise air pressure sensor. The new sensor is 10 times more sensitive than any previous instrument because InSight needs to detect slight movements in the Martian ground, and from such movements infer details about the red planet's interior. For this, weather matters.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

UK 4G 'slower than most of EU when busy'

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 15 min ago
In a table of 77 countries, the UK ranked 35th for download speeds, a report finds.

Happy Death Day 2 U, Russian Doll give us time loops with a multiverse twist

Ars Technica - 4 hours 25 min ago

Enlarge / (left) Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in Russian Doll. (right) Jessica Rothe as Theresa "Tree" Gelbman in Happy Death Day 2 U. Both women find themselves caught in a time loop where they die over and over on their birthday. (credit: Netflix/Blumhouse Productions)

The time loop is pretty much a classic science fiction trope, thanks in large part to the enormous success of the 1993 film Groundhog Day. It's been used so often, in fact, that it's challenging to come up with a fresh take. But the Netflix series Russian Doll and the new film Happy Death Day 2 U manage to do just that, giving us time loops with a multiverse twist.

Wikipedia has amassed an impressive list of films featuring time loops: 49 so far, and that's not counting TV shows, like The X-Files episode "Monday" (in turn referenced on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Life Serial"). The earliest film dates back to 1933: Turn Back the Clock, in which a tobacconist named Joe is killed in a hit-and-run and wakes up 20 years earlier. But it's not a true time loop tale, having more in common with It's a Wonderful Life.

A 1987 Russian film, Zerkalo dlya geroya (Mirror for a Hero), does have a lot of the key elements in place. But the real original source material is probably Richard A. Lupoff's 1973 short story, "12:01 PM," adapted into an Oscar-nominated short film in 1990 and a full-length feature in 1993—the same year Groundhog Day came out. (Lupoff definitely noticed the similarities and considered suing for plagiarism, but eventually dropped the idea.) It's pretty much been a sci-fi mainstay ever since.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hard-to-detect credential-theft malware has infected 1,200 and is still going

Ars Technica - 9 hours 20 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Kit / Flickr)

A deceptively simple malware attack has stolen a wide array of credentials from thousands of computers over the past few weeks and continues to steal more, a researcher warned on Tuesday.

The ongoing attack is the latest wave of Separ, a credential stealer that has been known to exist since at least late 2017, a researcher with security firm Deep Instinct said. Over the past few weeks, the researcher said, Separ has returned with a new version that has proven surprisingly adept at evading malware-detection software and services. The source of its success: a combination of short scripts and legitimate executable files that are used so often for benign purposes that they blend right in. Use of spartan malware that's built on legitimate apps and utilities has come to be called "living off the land," and
it has been used in a variety
of highly effective campaigns over the past few years.

The latest Separ arrives in what appears to be a PDF document. Once clicked, the file runs a chain of other apps and file types that are commonly used by system administrators. An inspection of the servers being used in the campaign show that it, so far, has collected credentials belonging to about 1,200 organizations or individuals. The number of infections continues to rise, which indicates that the spartan approach has been effective in helping it fly under the radar.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The app that can turn you into a fashion model

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 17 min ago
The app Superpersonal can capture a user's face and movements to create a realistic moving image.

Cyber-thieves set sights on hijacking payment data

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 19 min ago
Cyber-crime gangs are injecting their own code on to websites to steal payment data, an annual study suggests.

The McLaren 600LT Spider: A lighter, more focused track supercar

Ars Technica - 15 hours 10 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Although we make every effort to cover our own travel costs, in this case McLaren flew us to Phoenix to drive the 600LT (and the 720S Spider; more on that next week) and provided two nights in a hotel.

I'll admit it: I wasn't sure if I was going to like the McLaren 600LT Spider. I wasn't the biggest fan of the McLaren 570S, the car it's based on—unlike almost everyone else who's driven one, I'd pick an Audi R8 as my daily drivable mid-engined supercar. While the 570S made concessions to practicality, I never gelled with the way it looks, and it had enough electronic foibles that they became one of my overriding memories of my time with the car. But the 600LT makes many fewer compromises in the name of everyday use, and it's all the better for it.

Veteran McLaren watchers will know from just the name that there's something special about this one: in McLaren-speak, LT means "long tail." The first long-tail McLarens—ten F1 GTR race cars and three F1 GT road cars—appeared in 1997, with new bodywork that extended the nose and tail to increase downforce at speed.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Drone no-fly zone to be widened after Gatwick chaos

BBC Technology News - 15 hours 16 min ago
It will be illegal to fly a drone within three miles of an airport, following drone disruption at Gatwick.

These quarries supplied the stones that built Stonehenge

Ars Technica - 16 hours 23 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Parker Pearson et al. 2019)

Excavations at two ancient quarry sites in western Wales suggest how ancient people probably quarried some of the stones now standing at Stonehenge.

The 42 stones in question are some of the smaller parts at Stonehenge, relatively speaking: they still weigh two to four tons each. They're called the bluestones, and they came all the way from western Wales. Chemical analysis has even matched some of them to two particular quarries on the northern slopes of the Preseli Hills.

One, an outcrop called Carn Goedog, seems to have supplied most of the bluish-gray, white-speckled dolerite at Stonehenge. And another outcrop in the valley below, Craig Rhos-y-felin, supplied most of the rhyolite. University College London archaeologist Michael Parker Pearson and his colleagues have spent the last eight years excavating the ancient quarry sites, and that work has revealed some new information about the origins of Stonehenge.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fortnite Live Norwich festival to be sued by game creator

BBC Technology News - February 19, 2019 - 11:48pm
Epic Games says it has filed a claim in London's High Court against Exciting Events.

Qualcomm is already announcing next year’s 5G chips: Meet the Snapdragon X55

Ars Technica - February 19, 2019 - 11:40pm

Enlarge / Qualcomm's new QTM525 5G mmWave antenna module and Snapdragon X55 5G modem. (credit: Qualcomm)

Two months ago, Qualcomm held the Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii. That's where the company talked for two days about how the Snapdragon X50 modem would usher in the era of 5G mmWave. That was all for this year, and while there still isn't a single product readily for sale with the X50 modem, Qualcomm is already talking about its 5G solution for next year.

Today, Qualcomm announced its "second-generation 5G solution," the Snapdragon X55 5G modem. To go along with the new modem is a new 5G mmWave RF antenna called the QTM525, which obsoletes the QTM052 the company was pairing with the X50 modem. Overall, it's a faster, smaller, and more-compatible version of Qualcomm's 5G chip solution. We tore into Qualcomm's first-generation 5G parts after Qualcomm's big tech show, and while these "second-generation" components don't really address the issues raised in that article, they are a step in the right direction.

Qualcomm says these new chips won't be out until "late 2019." That means the X50 and QTM052 will still be filling smartphones and sucking down batteries for the majority of 2019. With Mobile World Congress happening at the end of February, a bunch of OEMs are going to announce 5G hardware this week and next week, and those devices should run previously announced X50 hardware. The X55 is more like "Next year's 5G hardware," but Qualcomm likes to talk about these things a year in advance.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Blood of the young won’t spare rich old people from sadness and death, FDA says

Ars Technica - February 19, 2019 - 10:35pm

Enlarge / Not so fast, says the FDA. (credit: Getty | Silver Screen Collection)

The US Food and Drug Administration issued an alert Tuesday, February 19, warning older consumers against seeking infusions of blood plasma harvested from younger people. Despite being peddled as anti-aging treatments and cures for a range of conditions, the transfusions are unproven and potentially harmful.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks, wrote:

Simply put, we're concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies.

Establishments in several states are now selling young blood plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood that contains proteins for clotting. The sellers suggest that doses of young plasma can treat conditions ranging from normal aging and memory loss to dementia, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the FDA.

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EA opts Origin users out of “real-name sharing” after complaints

Ars Technica - February 19, 2019 - 10:09pm

Enlarge

Electronic Arts is opting all users out of the "real name sharing" option on its Origin gaming service following complaints that some users may have been entered into the program without their consent.

The option to "show my real name on my profile" (as opposed to just sharing an online handle) is buried in the privacy settings for every EA Origin account, as it is for many other gaming networks. But Randi Lee Harper, the founder of the nonprofit Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, recently noted in a Twitter thread that her real name was being shared via the account without any opt-in.

Harper said anecdotal reports and spot checks of others with Origin accounts showed that the setting "has been seemingly randomly enabled" for a number of other Origin users. Accounts created between 2013 and 2015 seem to have more likelihood of having the option enabled by default, Harper said, but she added that she "can't find any kind of commonality in the data. It seems so random." (New accounts created today default the real name sharing to be off.)

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Hollywood tries to cripple several alleged pirate TV services in one lawsuit

Ars Technica - February 19, 2019 - 9:09pm

Enlarge / Marketing material for SkyStream TV, which uses video from Omniverse. (credit: SkyStream TV)

Most of the major Hollywood movie studios are trying to cripple multiple alleged pirate TV services with a single lawsuit.

The studios last week filed a copyright infringement suit against Omniverse One World Television Inc., which provides streaming video to several online TV services. Omniverse claims to have legal rights to the content, but the studios say it doesn't.

The complaint was filed Thursday in US District Court for the Central District of California by Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The studios previously used lawsuits to shut down the maker of a streaming device called the Dragon Box and another called TickBox. The studios' new lawsuit says that Omniverse supplied content to Dragon Box and to other alleged pirate services that are still operating.

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