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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Air Force ready to work on Trump’s Space Force idea, but…

8 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Gen. David L. Goldfein, right, Chief of Staff, prepare for a Senate Armed Services Committee in 2017. (credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On Monday, President Trump went off script and announced that he would remove responsibilities for the space domain from the US Air Force and create a sixth branch of the armed forces he calls the Space Force. "We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal," Trump said Monday, at the outset of a meeting of the National Space Council. "It is going to be something. So important."

The idea isn't new. For several years, some members of the US Congress have talked about creating a new discipline in the Air Force dubbed the "Space Corps" to focus exclusively on developing "warfighter" capabilities in space. The Air Force and some allies in Congress have pushed back against this idea, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis prefers to keep management of space activities as they are within the Air Force.

Air Force letter

On Tuesday, in a letter to US Air Force personnel obtained by Ars, the Air Force's leadership responded to Trump's proposal. The letter—signed by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein, and Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth O. Wright—noted that the president's announcement emphasizes the Air Force's important role in meeting potential adversaries in space and recognizes the significance of space as a warfighting domain.

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Jurassic World Evolution review: Genetic dead ends

June 19, 2018 - 9:40pm

Enlarge / She does, in fact, eat the goat. (credit: Frontier Developments)

Jurassic World might just be the worst movie I ever paid money to see. It wasted a perfectly fine premise (rich people doubling down on past mistakes for profit) on a soulless, oddly sadistic “adventure” that wiped out whatever hope I had left that there will ever be a great sequel to the wonderful 1993 original Jurassic Park.

Which is why I’m thrilled that, despite sharing a name, Jurassic World Evolution has nearly nothing to do with that infuriatingly profitable nightmare. There are nods here and there: you can eventually build those hideous bubble cars, for instance. Bryce Dallas Howard seemingly contributed about 30 seconds of voice acting. There’s a Chris Pratt soundalike to match a photo of his face that occasionally advises you. Other than that, though, this park management sim is its own scaly beast.

As well it should be. When it comes to good premises, planning and operating your own version of Jurassic Park is definitely one. And I’m happy to say Evolution uses that potential much better than its namesake film—at least for a while.

Managing managers

The plot of Evolution basically ignores the events of both World films. You’re just a faceless, nameless manager selected to make a new dinosaur park profitable. That means cloning terrible lizards, arranging gift shops and restaurants for audiences, and keeping your corporate departments happy. That last item is especially important. Managing park attendance earns cash, but playing nice with your heads of science, entertainment, and security is how you progress through the game.

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Dealmaster: Get a Samsung T5 portable SSD for $128

June 19, 2018 - 7:55pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is led by a deal on Samsung's T5 portable solid-state drive, with the 500GB version now up for $128 on Amazon. The speedy SSD has typically gone in the $150-170 range for most of the year; this deal price is a new low.

Not everyone needs something like this, but backing up your data is always a good idea, and a portable hard drive makes it easy to transport that data on the go. A portable SSD is more durable, compact, and much faster than a portable HDD, but they typically come at a significant price premium. This deal price, however, brings things closer to genuine parity.

The T5 here comes with USB-C to C and USB-C to A cables, a three-year warranty, and 256-bit hardware encryption. Samsung advertises read speeds of up to 540MB/s and write speeds of 515MB/s; just know you'll need to a device with USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports to get close to that. Provided your device isn't that old, though, it should be fast either way.

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Verizon and AT&T will stop selling your phone’s location to data brokers

June 19, 2018 - 7:14pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | skaman306)

Verizon and AT&T have promised to stop selling their mobile customers' location information to third-party data brokers following a security problem that leaked the real-time location of US cell phone users.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) recently urged all four major carriers to stop the practice, and today he published responses he received from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Sprint.

Wyden's statement praised Verizon for "taking quick action to protect its customers' privacy and security," but he criticized the other carriers for not making the same promise.

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Microsoft’s new diverse avatar editor represents more body types, disabilities

June 19, 2018 - 6:37pm

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

In its E3 presentation last year, Microsoft announced that it was making a major overhaul to the Xbox avatar system. The goal of the new system is to make the avatars much more representative, showcasing not just our style and tastes, but also our body types, disabilities, and genders. Today, the first public preview of the new avatar editor is finally being rolled out to members of the Xbox Insider preview program some time around 3pm Eastern/noon Pacific.

The new avatar system includes new customization options such as fingernails, limbs, and moods. There are also new gender neutral clothing options. On top of that, most elements can be further customized, with skin and hair color (among other things) being customizable so that they can look however you choose. This means there's a much greater ability to make an avatar that looks like you—or if realism isn't your thing, you can pick exactly the right shade of green for your alien alter ego. This customization extends to new props such as wheelchairs, which can similarly be customized to match your stylistic preferences.

In addition to being more customizable, the new avatars are also more poseable; there's a photo booth for taking still pictures of your avatar. You'll be able to pick the exact frame of an avatar's animation to get the facial expression and positioning that you want.

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More than one in three drivers doesn’t know when their tires are bald

June 19, 2018 - 6:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The most important safety feature on your car isn’t its airbag or even the seat belts—it’s the tires. This should be obvious; those four round black things are the only part of the vehicle to actually touch the road, after all. Sadly, most American drivers fail to take care of their tires, with 35 percent of drivers not able to tell if their tires are bald. When you consider that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that vehicles with worn out tires were three times more likely to end up in a crash, you can see the problem.

That data is from a 2015 survey conducted by the US Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA), which held its annual National Tire Safety Week in May. "[The Tire Safety Week] was born as a way to allow us to talk about tire safety to consumers," Kimberly Kleine, USTMA's vice president of public affairs, told me recently. The trade group has been running the program since 2001 to promote consumer awareness about checking tire pressure, suspension alignment, and tread depth, as well as the need to rotate tires.

When we spoke, Kleine and her colleague Tracey Norberg, senior VP and general counsel at USTMA, shared some other scary statistics. In addition to so few people knowing when their tires are out, 40 percent think they can tell if a tire is under-inflated just by looking at it. And just 17 percent knew how to check their tire pressures. You'd think that in the age of government-mandated tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), this would be a thing of the past. Not so. "Even if a car has TPMS, the warning light will only go on once a tire is 25 percent below its recommended pressure," Norberg explained.

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Gallery: Take a tour of E3’s video game theme park

June 19, 2018 - 5:00pm

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is a chance for the gaming press and industry to get an early peek at some of the best games of the coming months. But E3 also serves as a sort of video game-based theme park, with colorful and entertaining booths designed to grab attendee attention. That has become even more true in recent years, now that the show floor is open to the public, which is looking for more than just a tired old trade show.

This year's E3 show floor delivered plenty of eye candy, from statuary designed for selfie photo opps to classic gaming oddities from the Videogame History Museum exhibit to some truly out there product ideas hiding in the back rows of the hall. Check out the above gallery to get a feel for what it was like to spend a week in video game wonderland.

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Google launches a Web client for Android’s SMS app

June 19, 2018 - 4:52pm works now, but you'll need the phone app to get the feature, too. (credit: Google)

Android's default messaging client for 2018—"Messages"—is getting a Web client today. Google announced the feature launch on the official Google blog, which says "Messages for Web" will roll out to everyone over the next week. Android Messages started as a simple SMS app, but, with the Web client, it is turning into Google's ninth messaging service after (deep breath) Google Talk, Google Voice, Buzz, Google+ Messenger, Hangouts, Spaces, Allo, and the Slack-like Hangouts Chat.

We first heard about Messages for Web two months ago when it was announced that Google messaging service #7—Google Allo—was going to be abandoned after just a year and a half after launch. With Allo dead, the team moved over to Android Messages to focus on beefing up the app with some of the better Allo features, like this Web interface. Since Android Messages is just an SMS/RCS app, this meant Google would essentially cede control of Android messaging to the cell carriers and give up on building an over-the-top messaging service.

Messages for Web.

The website for Android Messages,, is out today, and if the corresponding server-side update is live for your phone app, you'll be able to tap on the menu button in Messages and open "Messages for Web." Just like Google Allo, Android Messages bizarrely uses a QR-code based login system instead of your Google account, which comes with the major downside of only being able to log into one computer at a time. It's tied to your phone number, so you'd better keep ahold of those 10 digits if you switch carriers. You also can't use it if your phone is dead, since you won't be able to log in.

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Alexa for hotels lets guests order room service, control in-room smart devices [Updated]

June 19, 2018 - 2:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Amazon)

Hotel rooms will serve as the newest homes for Amazon's Alexa starting this summer. Amazon announced a special version of its virtual assistant, Alexa for Hospitality, that will live across Echo devices placed in hotels, vacation rentals, and other similar locations.

Alexa in these devices will be able to do special things for both hospitality professionals and their customers. Amazon claims its Alexa for Hospitality experience will let hotel professionals "deepen engagement" through its voice controls that customers can use. Hotels can also customize some of the experience that they want their customers to have by choosing default music services, creating special Alexa Skills that only their guests can use, and monitor device online status and other connectivity issues.

Guests staying in a room with an Echo device will likely find the experience either convenient or invasive. Guests can ask Alexa to do things like order room service, answer questions about hotel services, control some in-room connected devices like lights and blinds, and more. Alexa Skills will also be available, so guests can use a Skill such as Flight Tracker to check the status of their flight before checking out.

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Tesla CEO: New “tent” assembly line is “way better” than conventional factory

June 19, 2018 - 1:54pm

Enlarge / The view of the new Tesla Sprung tent, shot from the Warm Springs BART station. (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

FREMONT, Calif.—Tesla’s new tented facility isn’t just a new temporary "assembly line" but is seemingly the first phase of an entirely new building, dubbed "Factory 2.0."

On June 16, CEO Elon Musk publicly announced a "new general assembly line" made with "minimal resources." However, a January 2018 geotechnical investigation report newly on file with the city building permit office notes that Tesla has plans to build a 500,000 square foot "multi story building north of the existing North Paint Building."

Amazing work by Tesla team. Built entire new general assembly line in 3 weeks w minimal resources. Love u guys so much! Pic of 1st Model 3 dual motor performance coming off the line …

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 16, 2018

The tent is easily visible from the nearby Warm Springs BART station platform. When Ars visited on Monday afternoon, there appeared to be cranes and forklifts moving around the site. We could not easily see inside the long white temporary structure, but there did not appear to be any newly completed vehicles rolling off the lines in the adjacent parking lot.

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Senate rejects Trump’s plan to lift ZTE export ban

June 19, 2018 - 1:47pm

Enlarge / Trump meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in China last year. (credit: Thomas Peter - Pool/Getty Images)

The US Senate on Monday voted to block implementation of a settlement that would lift a sweeping ban on US technology being exported to ZTE. The export ban, which the Trump administration imposed on ZTE in April, amounts to a de facto death sentence for the Chinese company, which is heavily dependent on American-made chips and software.

The Trump administration recently signed a deal that would lift the export ban in exchange for a $1 billion fine and the firing of all of ZTE's senior leadership. But a bipartisan group of senators believes the deal was too lenient.

"The death penalty is an appropriate punishment for their behavior," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week.

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The top ten games from E3 2018

June 19, 2018 - 12:30pm

In spite of countless leaks and pre-show announcements, this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) still managed to surprise us. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the presence of so many well-crafted, single-player delights. We were also happy to see way fewer battle royale cash-ins than we’d feared—though maybe they are just taking longer to develop.

Since attending the show last week, our E3 brain trust (Kyle Orland, Sam Machkovech, Samuel Axon) has been arguing over our favorite hands-on and hands-off demos. We managed to settle on this definitive top-ten list, along with a slew of honorable mentions.

Our selected games are listed in alphabetical order, not ranked.

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Air Force tests two turboprops as potential A-10 “replacements”

June 19, 2018 - 12:04pm

(video link)

The US Air Force has kicked off the procurement for another round of wing replacements for A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, known affectionately by many as the Warthog. With new wings, the A-10s will help fill a gap left by the delayed volume delivery of F-35A fighters, which were intended to take over the A-10's close air support (CAS) role in "contested environments"—places where enemy aircraft or modern air defenses would pose a threat to supporting aircraft. For now, the A-10 is being used largely in uncontested environments, where the greatest danger pilots face is small arms fire or possibly a Stinger-like man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) missile. But the Warthog is also being deployed to Eastern Europe as part of the NATO show of strength in response to Russia.

While the A-10 will keep flying through 2025 under current plans, Air Force leadership has perceived (or was perhaps convinced to see) a need for an aircraft that could take over the A-10's role in low-intensity and uncontested environments—something relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain that could be flown from relatively unimproved airfields to conduct armed reconnaissance, interdiction, and close air support missions. The replacement would also double as advanced trainer aircraft for performing weapons qualifications and keeping pilots' flight-time numbers up.

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Hackers who sabotaged the Olympic games return for more mischief

June 19, 2018 - 11:00am

Enlarge (credit: National Archives Archeological Site)

The advanced hacking group that sabotaged the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February has struck again, this time in attacks that targeted financial institutions in Russia and chemical- and biological-threat prevention labs in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, researchers said.

The new campaigns began last month with spear-phishing emails that were designed to infect targeted companies with malware that collected detailed information about their computers and networks. One of the malicious Word documents referred to Spiez Convergence, a biochemical threat conference that’s organized by the Spiez Laboratory, which played a key role in the investigation of the poisoning in March of a former Russian spy in the UK. UK government officials have said Russia was behind the poisoning. A second document targeted health and veterinary control authorities in Ukraine.

Researchers from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab said that documents in the phishing emails closely resemble those used to infect organizers, suppliers, and partners of the Winter Olympic Games in the months preceding the February Pyeongchang attack. These initial infections allowed the attackers to spend months developing detailed knowledge of the networks supporting the games. One of the key reasons the malware dubbed Olympic Destroyer was so successful in disrupting the Olympics was that it used this knowledge to sabotage the networks. The discovery of a new phishing campaign by the same group raises the possibility that they are intended to support new sabotage hacks.

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Man who allegedly gave Vault 7 cache to WikiLeaks busted by poor opsec

June 19, 2018 - 9:08am

Enlarge (credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

A federal grand jury has formally indicted Joshua Adam Schulte, a former CIA employee who prosecutors say was behind the Vault 7 trove of the agency’s hacking tools, which were sent to WikiLeaks.

Schulte, who had previously been prosecuted for possession of child pornography, has been expected to be indicted on the leaking charges for some time now. The New York-based engineer was arrested in August 2017.

According to the new superseding indictment, which was made public on Monday, Schulte faces numerous charges, including illegal gathering of national defense information, transmission of this information, and obstruction of justice, among others.

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Musk alleges Tesla Model 3 production has been sabotaged, according to CNBC

June 19, 2018 - 12:28am

Enlarge (credit: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has accused a Tesla employee of "quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations," according to an email obtained by CNBC. In the all-hands email to Tesla staff, Musk wrote that the employee had made "direct code changes" to the company's production systems, as well as exporting "large amounts" of Tesla's data to unknown third parties.

According to Musk's email, the unnamed employee claimed he had become disgruntled after failing to receive a promotion. However, the Tesla CEO also suggested the alleged saboteur could have been working with short sellers, oil and gas companies—whom he described as "sometimes not super nice"—or "the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors." Of this last group, Musk reminded his employees that, since the traditional OEMs have been known to cheat emissions tests, "maybe they're willing to cheat in other ways."

On Monday, Musk sent out another email to the company about yet another factory fire—the fifth by our count—alluding to the possibility of sabotage. And in 2016, one of Musk's other companies, SpaceX, asked to inspect the roof of a competitor's building following the explosion on the launchpad of one of SpaceX's rockets.

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President Trump makes news at Space Council meeting by going off script

June 18, 2018 - 9:55pm

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with US Vice President Mike Pence during a National Space Council meeting in the East Room of the White House on Monday. (credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For its third meeting, the National Space Council chose the White House as its venue. This allowed President Trump to stop by the meeting to sign a policy document on space-traffic management and also share a few thoughts. This event was supposed to focus on the relatively sedate topic of space debris, but the freewheeling president had other ideas.

Among his remarks, Trump declared that he was pressing ahead with the creation of a Space Force to become the sixth branch of the US military. Additionally, he mused about the high cost of rockets built by Boeing and Lockheed Martin and suggested they should not work together "because the pricing only goes up."

Space Force

Addressing the space council, with its titular head Vice President Mike Pence standing at his side, Trump said he was directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as a distinct entity outside of the Air Force.

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New study adds evidence to debate over the only known Clovis burial

June 18, 2018 - 8:00pm

Enlarge / Lorena Becerra-Valdivia used this equipment to extract hydroxyproline from the Anzick site bone samples. (credit: Becerra-Valdivia)

At sites scattered across western North America, long, fluted stone projectile points mark the presence of ancient people from a culture archaeologists now call Clovis. For much of the 20th century, the Clovis people were considered the very first Americans. But more recent data has shown that people arrived in North America several thousand years before the oldest known Clovis projectile points were made. But Clovis appears to be the first widespread culture, and it still represents a key chapter in the story of how people spread across two continents.

Beyond the things they left behind, there’s little trace of the Clovis people themselves. In fact, a lone infant skeleton may be the only known representative of the Clovis culture. Due to some discrepancies in radiocarbon dating, however, archaeologists still aren't sure whether the child's remains are Clovis. Now, a new study adds some evidence to that debate.

Meet Anzick-1

In 1968, construction workers near Anzick, Montana, unearthed the partial skeleton of an infant boy: fragments of his skull, his left collarbone, and a few ribs. At first glance, the boy now known as Anzick-1 seems to be the only member of the Clovis culture found so far. His skeleton was found with Clovis-style artifacts—more than 100 stone and bone objects, all dusted with red ochre. But radiocarbon dating of his remains didn't line up with dates from a pair of antler artifacts from the Clovis materials, raising questions as to how they ended up at Anzick together.

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Reminder: macOS still leaks secrets stored on encrypted drives

June 18, 2018 - 7:39pm

Enlarge (credit: Wardle and Regula)

Unbeknownst to many people, a macOS feature that caches thumbnail images of files can leak highly sensitive data stored on password-protected drives and encrypted volumes, security experts said Monday.

The automatically generated caches can be viewed only by someone who has physical access to a Mac or infects the Mac with malware, and the behavior has existed on Macs for almost a decade. Still, the caching is triggered with minimal user interaction and causes there to be a permanent record of files even after the original file is deleted or the USB drive or encrypted volume that stored the data is disconnected from the Mac. Patrick Wardle and Wojciech Reguła, who are macOS security experts at Digita Security and SecuRing, respectively, said for many people, it’s unnecessarily risky to store snapshots of files related to passwords or other sensitive matters in an unprotected folder. In a blog post published Monday, they wrote:

For a forensics investigation or surveillance implant, this information could prove invaluable. Imagine having a historic record of the USB devices, files on the devices, and even thumbnails of the files...all stored persistently in an unencrypted database, long after the USB devices have been removed (and perhaps destroyed).

For users, the question is: "Do you really want your Mac recording the file paths and 'previews' thumbnails of the files on any/all USB sticks that you've ever inserted into your Mac?" Me thinks not…

As the researchers note, the caching may cause there to be a permanent record of every drive that connects to a Mac. It also creates a thumbnail image that can leak key details about many of the images stored on the drives, as well as password-protected folders or encrypted volumes. The thumbnails will live on in an SQLite database stored indefinitely in the macOS file system.

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Audi CEO connected to diesel scandal arrested in Germany after phone taps

June 18, 2018 - 6:54pm

Enlarge / Rupert Stadler, chief executive officer of Audi AG, speaks during an opening ceremony for the company's new production plant in Puebla, Mexico, on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. German authorities have taken Stadler, chief executive officer of Volkswagen AGs Audi unit, into custody, making his the highest-profile arrest in the group's diesel-cheating probes. (credit: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Monday, Rupert Stadler, the head of Volkswagen Group's Audi unit, was arrested in Germany, marking the first arrest of a VW Group high-ranking official in connection with the diesel scandal that became public in 2015.

Stadler, who took Audi's helm in 2007, had his house raided by German investigators last week. The raid occurred around the same time that VW Group agreed to pay a €1 billion ($1.2 billion) fine for "inadequate oversight" in its powertrain department.

According to local paper Sueddeuschte Zeitung as reported by Bloomberg, the arrest was made after law enforcement tapped Stadler's phone. The executive was taken into custody because prosecutors thought he might tamper with evidence. "Last week, authorities raided his house and named him a suspect in their probe of fraud and falsifying public documents in relation to selling diesel cars in Europe," Bloomberg reported.

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