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Industry & Technology

Facebook removes altered Conservative advertisement

BBC Technology News - September 14, 2019 - 4:40pm
The Tories "misused" the platform when they changed the headline on a BBC News story, the company says.

Saudi Arabia oil facilities ablaze after drone strikes

BBC Technology News - September 14, 2019 - 2:08pm
The fires are under control, state media say, as Yemen's Houthi group says it deployed the drones.

How a basement hacker transformed Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600

Ars Technica - September 14, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / If you're unfamiliar with the name, "Atari 2600," fellow kids, have a gander at this piece of hardware. (It actually worked, promise.) (credit: Wahyu Ichwandardi / Getty Images)

The following excerpt comes from Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room by David L. Craddock.

Sickly green light washed over the stubble and pale complexion of the man hunched in front of his computer monitor. Beside it sat a television, black except for five horizontal, crimson-colored bands running from top to bottom like lines on notebook paper.

Garry Kitchen closed his eyes, but the straight red lines were burned into the backs of his eyelids. Behind him came a steady pounding: poundpound-pound-pound. He didn’t rise to the bait. He knew what he’d see. On the arcade cabinet’s screen, a giant ape the size of King Kong had just scaled a construction site made of straight red girders. With every stomp, the platforms had twisted and bent until they were slanted like ramps. Standing tall at the top, the ape intoned his grating, mechanical laugh.

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Trampoline mirror may push laser pulse through fabric of the Universe 

Ars Technica - September 14, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / Pictured: Definitely not a possible universe-altering fancy trampoline. (credit: Nazar Abbas Photography / Getty Images)

Scientists want to rip the Universe apart. At least that is what a Daily Mail headline might read. Lasers can now reach power in the petawatt range. And, when you focus a laser beam that powerful, nothing survives: all matter is shredded, leaving only electrons and nuclei.

But laser physicists haven’t stopped there. Under good experimental conditions, the very fabric of space and time are torn asunder, testing quantum electrodynamics to destruction. And a new mirror may be all we need to get there.

On average, the amount of power used by humans is about 18 terawatts. A petawatt is 1,000 times larger than a terawatt. The baddest laser on the planet (currently) produces somewhere between 5 and 10 petawatts, and there are plans on the drawing board to reach 100 petawatts in the near future. The trick is that the power is not available all the time. Each of these lasers produces somewhere between 5-5000 J of energy for a very very short time (between a picosecond—10-12s—and a few femtoseconds—10-15s). During that instant, however, the power flow is immense.

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New clues show how Russia’s grid hackers aimed for physical destruction

Ars Technica - September 14, 2019 - 1:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Joshua Lott/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For nearly three years, the December 2016 cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid has presented a menacing puzzle. Two days before Christmas that year, Russian hackers planted a unique specimen of malware in the network of Ukraine's national grid operator, Ukrenergo. Just before midnight, they used it to open every circuit breaker in a transmission station north of Kyiv. The result was one of the most dramatic attacks in Russia's years-long cyberwar against its western neighbor, an unprecedented, automated blackout across a broad swath of Ukraine's capital.

But an hour later, Ukrenergo's operators were able to simply switch the power back on again. Which raised the question: Why would Russia's hackers build a sophisticated cyberweapon and plant it in the heart of a nation's power grid only to trigger a one-hour blackout?

A new theory offers a potential answer. Researchers at the industrial-control system cybersecurity firm Dragos have reconstructed a timeline of the 2016 blackout attack [PDF] based on a reexamination of the malware’s code and network logs pulled from Ukrenergo’s systems. They say that hackers intended not merely to cause a short-lived disruption of the Ukrainian grid but to inflict lasting damage that could have led to power outages for weeks or even months. That distinction would make the blackout malware one of only three pieces of code ever spotted in the wild aimed at not just disrupting physical equipment but destroying it, as Stuxnet did in Iran in 2009 and 2010 and as the malware Triton was designed to do in a Saudi Arabian oil refinery in 2017.

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Little Mix's Jesy Nelson doc: Online bullying and what to do about it

BBC Technology News - September 14, 2019 - 9:41am
What can you do if you're being cyber-bullied? Hannah Adams, from Jesy Nelson's new doc, tells us.

The hobbyists competing to make AI human

BBC Technology News - September 14, 2019 - 12:46am
The Loebner Prize, one of the few real-life Turing Tests, comes to Swansea this weekend.

Instagram fact-check: Can a new flagging tool stop fake news?

BBC Technology News - September 14, 2019 - 12:21am
Users can now flag false Instagram content to fact-checkers but experts believe there is more to do to fight disinformation.

XDA-developers’ first look at Google Camera 7, leaked from the Pixel 4

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 10:55pm

Android developer site xda-developers got its hands on a pre-release copy of the Camera app designed for Google's upcoming Pixel 4—so naturally, the site then sideloaded it on a Pixel 2XL.

The majority of the settings exposed in the screenshots already existed in Camera 6.x, but even long-time Pixel users could be forgiven for not knowing they existed. Where Camera 6.x hid them in five separate menus—each squirreled away behind a tiny, unintuitive icon at the top of the viewfinder—Camera 7.0 combines them into a single, much easier-to-read menu. This one context-sensitive settings menu (its options differ between, for example, Night Sight mode and regular Camera mode) can be accessed either by tapping a drop-down arrow or by swiping down on the viewfinder itself.

Behind the scenes, xda-developers reports finding new scene-detection code that integrates with an extended "Camera coaching" feature that offers tips for taking better pictures. If you're sick and tired of seeing "try Night Sight mode" or "try Portrait mode" popping helpfully up while taking pictures, you'll also be able to disable the feature entirely—whereas, at least so far as we can tell, in Camera 6.x you're stuck with them.

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Meet the three North Korean hacking groups funding the country’s weapons programs

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 10:36pm

Enlarge / Hacking for their home country, we guess.

The Trump administration is sanctioning three North Korean hacking groups widely accused of carrying out attacks that targeted critical infrastructure and stole millions of dollars from banks in cryptocurrency exchanges, in part so the country could finance its weapons and missiles programs.

All three of the groups are controlled by North Korea’s primary intelligence agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, or RGB, officials with the US Department of Treasury said in a statement published on Friday. Collectively, the groups are behind a host of cyber attacks designed to spy on adversaries and generate revenue for nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in Friday’s statement. “We will continue to enforce existing US and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks.”

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CDC refines definition of vaping-linked illnesses, lowers case count

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 9:55pm

Enlarge / A man smokes an e-cigarette. (credit: Getty | Picture alliance)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated and revised the national tally of illnesses linked to the use of e-cigarettes, aka vaping, dropping the count from 450 possible cases to 380 confirmed and probable cases, the agency announced late Thursday.

The new figure follows a clearer clinical definition for the illness as well as further investigation into individual cases. The 380 confirmed and probable cases now span 36 states and still include six deaths, as reported earlier. The CDC added that the current number of cases “is expected to increase as additional cases are classified.”

While health investigators are clearing the air around the clinical aspect of the cases, the cause is still foggy. Though all the cases are associated with vaping, investigators have struggled to identify specific vape products or ingredients that tie all the cases and symptoms together.

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Conservative Party Facebook advert altered BBC headline

BBC Technology News - September 13, 2019 - 9:30pm
The party says it is reviewing its Facebook advertising after criticism of the way a BBC story was used.

Verizon plans 5G Home Internet in every city where it deploys mobile 5G

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 8:13pm

Enlarge / A Verizon ad for its 5G Home service. (credit: Verizon)

Verizon says it will bring its "5G Home" Internet service to every market where it deploys 5G mobile service.

That might not be saying much, given how limited Verizon's early 5G deployments are. But it would mean that at least some people in each 5G mobile market would be able to buy the 5G fixed Internet service, which offers an alternative to wired Internet.

"You should expect that every market that opens a 5G mobility market will in due course be a 5G fixed wireless [market] because it is one network," Verizon Consumer Group CEO Ronan Dunne said Wednesday at an investor conference (link to webcast and transcript).

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Volkswagen’s bold plan to create a new car operating system

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 8:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—The cars we drive are increasingly defined as much by the software they run as their engines or chassis. It started slowly. Discrete electronic control units started to appear under the hood, controlling fuel management or anti-lock brakes. New functions required new code, run on new little black boxes, metastasizing to the point where today, a new car might have up to 70 different modules, with software from as many as 200 different vendors. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it can be. Which is why Volkswagen Group—parent company to brands like VW, Audi, and Porsche—is saying "enough!"

Internal competition versus economies of scale

"Software is extremely complex nowadays. Each function is connected with everything—in the car, in the cloud, with the dealers—and we see that too many projects are in too much trouble. The process chain is not stable anymore; there's so much inefficiency to this process," explained Christian Senger, who is responsible for VW Group's Digital Car and Services division. The problem is partly one by design; Ferdinand Piech specifically wanted Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen to each develop software independently, the idea being that internal competition could improve the breed.

But it has led to balkanization. "Today, we build more than 10 million cars a year. But they are running on roughly eight different electronic architectures. In mechanical engineering, I would call us a platform champion," Senger said, referring to VW Group's strength in using a small number of common architectures—MQB for transverse-engined vehicles, MLB Evo for premium models, and now MEB for smaller electric vehicles—across multiple brands. "We defined how global industrialization of brands and markets really works. In software, there is no reason for having eight different architectures," he said, contrasting VW Group's current situation with the Android OS, where the same software runs on $60 smartphones as well as $1,000 smartphones.

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The Midnight Society is back in trailer for Are You Afraid of the Dark? reboot

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 7:50pm

There's a new Midnight Society of scary storytellers in the Nickelodeon reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark.

Hot on the heels of this summer's adaptation of Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, Nickelodeon has dropped the first trailer for its reboot of the popular 1990s series, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, featuring a group of teens telling each other scary campfire stories that then come to life.

The original Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a Canadian "dark fantasy" (aka YA horror) anthology series that aired on Nickelodeon in the US from 1990 to 1996, followed by a second run from 1999 to 2000. At the start of each episode, the members of the Midnight Society would gather around a campfire in the woods, and one member would be chosen tell a story—typically an urban legend or something involving ghosts, werewolves, vampires, witches, and the like. The storyteller would announce the title and toss a handful of "midnight dust" into the campfire—producing white smoke for extra ambience—before launching into the tale.

The rest of the episode would dramatize the story for the viewers. There was a fair share of humor mixed in with the jump scares and creepy moments, often courtesy of several colorful recurring characters like mad scientist/sorcerer Dr. Vink ("Vink. With a va-va-va!"), and magic shop owner Sardo ("No mister; accent on the doh!"). And few fans of the original series will soon forget terrifying monsters like the Ghastly Grinner.

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Congress wants Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon emails as probe heats up

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 7:30pm

Enlarge / The dome of the United State Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Phil Roeder)

The long summer recess for Congress is at last well and truly over. The House Judiciary Committee has ramped up for the fall season, issuing demands for huge piles of documentation from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google as its antitrust probe into Big Tech grows.

The committee launched the bipartisan inquiry in June, seeking in part to determine "whether existing laws are adequate" to the task of regulating the sprawling tech titans that power the 21st century economy. As part of that probe, the committee has now issued lengthy requests for information to the four companies digging deeply into the question of competition.

The tech sector is facing scrutiny from all sides at the moment. The House investigation is separate and distinct from the various antitrust probes against the same four companies the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and nearly all the states currently have in progress.

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Amazon will announce new hardware on September 25

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 7:26pm

Enlarge / An Amazon Echo device. (credit: Amazon)

Amazon has announced that it will hold an event on September 25 to announce new hardware products. The company's invitations indicate that it will discuss "new things from the Amazon Devices and Services team" at the event.

Amazon held a similar event around the same time last year, when it announced a plethora of new devices, including a new Echo Dot, Sub, Show, and more—the majority of the Echo line was refreshed. That seems like a more likely focus for this year's event than the Fire TV, as Amazon announced new Fire TVs and a new Fire TV Cube at IFA just recently. However, Fire TV tablets are a possibility.

We're not sure whether it will be quite the gauntlet that last year's event was—Amazon announced more than a dozen products then. And there isn't a strong case to be made that the company's lineup is as in need of refreshes as it was then. But if you've bought into the Amazon ecosystem and Alexa, this is the event you'll want to keep an eye on to learn what new gear you can add to your setup.

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Every game should copy Death Stranding’s “Very Easy Mode”

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 6:32pm

Enlarge / Settle in, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the game. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Last week, the team behind Death Stranding discussed the game's "Very Easy Mode" publicly for the first time. The mode, according to Director Hideo Kojima's assistant Ayako Terashima, is designed for "[people] who usually don’t play game[s], movie fans or RPG fans. Normal or Hard Mode is for action game fans." Kojima later added that the new mode was designed for "movie fans since we have real actors [starring]. Even [writer Kenji Yano], who never completed the 1st stage of Pac-Man, was able to complete the game on Very Easy Mode."

The news was treated with its fair share of derision in certain corners. Some poked fun at Kojima's not-so-hidden desire to be a movie director (as usual, the Onion did it first). Others said such a mode was below their dignity and only appropriate for babies (or for those lousy game journalists, of course).

But Death Stranding's Super Easy mode is part of a trend toward extreme difficulty tuning that's slowly seeping into the industry at large. And, frankly, it's a trend we hope picks up more steam going forward.

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ThinkPad X1 Carbon 7th-gen mini-review: Minor updates made to a stellar machine

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 5:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

There are some people who would never buy a ThinkPad, and there are others who flock to Lenovo's flagship business family every time the company makes an update. The latest release will be no exception, even if the updates it brings are relatively small. The seventh-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon will look familiar to ThinkPad fans, and in this case, familiarity is a good thing.

Most of the improvements and updates come in optional add-ons or internal changes that make the laptop even better than it was before. We spent about a week using it to get a feel for the updates and see which (if any) are worth spending at least $1,400 to get this upgrade.

What’s new

Lenovo has typically gone against the grain with the design of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The X1 Carbon doesn't look like any other premium Windows notebook, much less any of the flagship laptops that are vying for your attention and dollars with fancy, ultra-slim profiles. The fundamentals of the X1 haven't changed, but Lenovo did make it nearly one millimeter thinner, which is a feat considering the previous model was already a svelte 15.95mm. It's also still a MIL-SPEC tested machine, so it will take up less space in your bag, but it won't crack or bend easily if that bag has an accident.

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Check the scope: Pen-testers nabbed, jailed in Iowa courthouse break-in attempt

Ars Technica - September 13, 2019 - 4:35pm

Enlarge / The Dallas County, Iowa courthouse, the site of a penetration test gone spectacularly wrong. (credit: By Iowahwyman - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Two security contractors were arrested in Adel, Iowa on September 11 as they attempted to gain access to the Dallas County Courthouse. The two are employees of Coalfire—a "cybersecurity advisor" firm based in Westminster, Colorado that frequently does security assessments for federal agencies, state and local governments, and corporate clients. They claimed to be conducting a penetration test to determine how vulnerable county court records were and to measure law enforcement's response to a break-in.

Unfortunately, the Iowa state court officials who ordered the test never told county officials about it—and evidently no one anticipated that a physical break-in would be part of the test. For now, the penetration testers remain in jail. In a statement issued yesterday, state officials apologized to Dallas County, citing confusion over just what Coalfire was going to test:

State court administration (SCA) is aware of the arrests made at the Dallas County Courthouse early in the morning on September 11, 2019. The two men arrested work for a company hired by SCA to test the security of the court’s electronic records. The company was asked to attempt unauthorized access to court records through various means to learn of any potential vulnerabilities. SCA did not intend, or anticipate, those efforts to include the forced entry into a building. SCA apologizes to the Dallas County Board of Supervisors and law enforcement and will fully cooperate with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office and Dallas County Attorney as they pursue this investigation. Protecting the personal information contained in court documents is of paramount importance to SCA and the penetration test is one of many measures used to ensure electronic court documents are secure.

The case is an example of the legal risks faced by security testing firms, particularly when the scope of such tests is vague. Even the most basic electronic security tests, when done outside of the bounds of a contractual agreement, could land the testers in trouble, as Ars reported when Gizmodo reporters attempted to phish Trump administration and campaign figures in 2017.

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