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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 17 min 48 sec ago

E-commerce site is infected not by one, but two card skimmers

November 20, 2018 - 10:26pm

Enlarge (credit: Mighty Travels)

Payment card skimming that steals consumers’ personal information from e-commerce sites has become a booming industry over the past six months, with high-profile attacks against Ticketmaster, British AirwaysNewegg, and Alex Jones’ InfoWars, to name just a few. In a sign of the times, security researcher Jérôme Segura found two competing groups going head to head with each other for control of a single vulnerable site.

The site belongs to sportswear seller Umbro Brasil, which as of Tuesday morning was infected by two rival skimmer groups. The first gang planted plaintext JavaScript on the site that caused it to send payment card information to the attackers as customers were completing a sale. The malicious JavaScript looked like this:

The first skimmer using unobfuscated JavaScript.

A second gang exploited either the same or a different website vulnerability as the first. The second group then installed much more advanced JavaScript that was encoded in a way to prevent other programs from seeing what it did. This is what it looked like:

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ajit Pai wants to raise rural broadband speeds from 10Mbps to 25Mbps

November 20, 2018 - 10:12pm

Enlarge (credit: Steve Johnson / Flickr)

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to raise the rural broadband standard from 10Mbps to 25Mbps in a move that would require faster Internet speeds in certain government-subsidized networks.

The FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF) distributes more than $1.5 billion a year to AT&T, CenturyLink, and other carriers to bring broadband to sparsely populated areas. Carriers that use CAF money to build networks must provide speeds of at least 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. The minimum speed requirement was last raised in December 2014.

Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he's proposing raising that standard from 10Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps. "[W]'re recognizing that rural Americans need and deserve high-quality services by increasing the target speeds for subsidized deployments from 10/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps," Pai wrote in a blog post that describes agenda items for the FCC's December 12 meeting.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA concerned about culture of “inappropriateness” at SpaceX

November 20, 2018 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine must continue to rely on Dmitry Rogozin of Roscosmos while US commercial crew vehicles remain under development. (credit: Alexei Filippov / TASS via Getty Images)

In addition to spurring problems for the car company Tesla, Elon Musk's puff of marijuana in September will also have consequences for SpaceX. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that NASA will conduct a "safety review" of both of its commercial crew companies, SpaceX and Boeing. The review was prompted, sources told the paper, because of recent behavior by Musk, including smoking marijuana on a podcast.

According to William Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief human spaceflight official, the review will be "pretty invasive" and involve interviews with hundreds of employees at various levels of the companies, across multiple worksites. The review will begin next year, and interviews will examine "everything and anything that could impact safety," Gerstenmaier told the Post.

The reviews will come as both SpaceX and Boeing are racing to conduct human test flights of their rockets and spacecraft in mid-2019. Both companies have yet to meet critical milestones, including abort tests and uncrewed test flights, before the first crews fly on SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner vehicles.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Israeli tomb contains a tasty surprise: Vanilla extract

November 20, 2018 - 9:28pm

Enlarge / Tel Megiddo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (credit: Liorca / Wikimedia Commons)

Vanilla may have been used in Israel long before its domestication in Mesoamerica, according to a new find in an ancient tomb. The monumental stone tomb stands near the palace from which ancient kings once ruled the Canaanite city-state of Tel Megiddo, in modern-day northern Israel. Later, the ancient Greeks knew the city by another name: Armageddon. Yes, that Armageddon. But Tel Megiddo is a major archaeological site for reasons that have nothing to do with the theological cloud that hangs over it.

In 2016, archaeologist Melissa Cradic of the University of California, Berkeley, and her colleagues excavated a 3,000- to 4,000-year-old tomb near the palace. Along with the remains of at least nine people, the tomb contained lavish decorations and funerary goods, including four small jugs. When archaeologist Vanessa Linares of Tel Aviv University analyzed the organic residues left behind on the insides of the jugs, she found something surprising: three of the four contained organic compounds called vanillin and 4-hydroxbenzaldehyde, which are the major compounds found in vanilla extract; they’re the chemicals that give vanilla its familiar taste and scent. After Linares and her colleagues ruled out other possible sources of contamination, they determined that the residue left behind on the offering jugs could only have come from the seed pods of the vanilla orchid.

“This is based on the profuse quantity of vanillin found in the juglets that could have only derived from the abundant amount of vanillin yield from the vanilla orchid pods,” wrote Linares in an abstract for her presentation at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting. She pointed out three species as the most likely sources: one native to central East Africa, one from India, and one from Southeast Asia.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hacker Ben Heck is back to fix the flawed Neo-Geo Mini

November 20, 2018 - 7:50pm

When the worlds of retro gaming and customized hacks collide, chances are, you'll find Benjamin Heckendorn (better known as Ben Heck) standing by with a soldering iron.

Ben Heck

Longtime Ars readers are no strangers to Heck's history of making incredible—and often portable—versions of classic computer and gaming hardware from scratch. He most recently popped up in larger nerd culture by helping bring a one-of-a-kind Nintendo PlayStation system back to life.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Chinese customers hate “new car smell,” so Ford files a patent to bake it out

November 20, 2018 - 7:43pm

Enlarge / Bake off that new car smell. (credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In the US, "new car smell" is a beloved scent. People even try to make their cars smell new with after-market cleaning products. But in China, customers find the same odor repulsive. As the Chinese auto market grows, car makers are looking for a way to make the aroma of their new vehicles more amenable to Chinese tastes.

Early this month, Ford filed a patent to reduce the odor of some of the adhesive, leather, and other materials that produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to new car smell. The patent appears to include software that senses the car's location and the weather it's experiencing, then it possibly detects whether the owner has "requested volatile organic compound removal from the vehicle." Next, on a sunny day, the car will roll down a window and turn on the engine, the heater, and a fan in order to bake off the VOCs and their accompanying smell.

The Ford patent explains: "new vehicles typically have an odor often referred to as a 'new car smell'... This odor typically persists for several months after the manufacture of a new vehicle. Some customers do not like this smell, and even become irritated or sick from the VOCs in the interior of a new vehicle" [emphasis Ford's].

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: Uber self-driving team was preparing for CEO demo before fatal crash

November 20, 2018 - 7:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Uber)

We've known since May that serious flaws in Uber's self-driving software contributed to the fatal crash that killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, back in March. For example, Uber had disabled emergency braking on its vehicles to make its cars' driving behavior less erratic. A new report from Business Insider's Julie Bort sheds light on why Uber's software may have been so flawed at the time of the March crash.

In early 2018, Uber's Advanced Technology Group—the team developing self-driving cars—was focused on getting ready for a forthcoming demo ride with Uber's recently hired CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi. Business Insider reports that in November 2017, Uber circulated a document asking engineers on the self-driving car team to think about "rider experience metrics." Engineers were encouraged to try to limit the number of "bad experiences" to one per ride.

Two days later, another email went out announcing that Uber was "turning off the car's ability to make emergency decisions on its own like slamming on the brakes or swerving hard."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Scientists spot two massive stars creating a pinwheel of dust

November 20, 2018 - 7:10pm

Enlarge / An image of Apep taken in the infrared. (credit: University of Sydney/European Southern Observatory)

Figuring out what powers the Universe's largest explosions can be a real challenge, as the explosion wipes out evidence of what caused it. Archival data can sometimes provide hints of what was in the area where things went boom, but a lot of the progress we've made comes down to physicists modeling some of the more extreme objects out there and seeing if they can recapitulate the details of the explosion.

That's where we're at with long gamma ray bursts (where "long" in this case means a couple of seconds). We've seen them happen, and astrophysicists have calculated that they could be emitted from a rapidly rotating, massive star. But we don't have a lot of examples of this sort of star to study in order to see if the physics of their explosions match up with our models. Now, a team of researchers thinks it has spotted one that, in combination with a second massive star, created the fantastic-looking pinwheel shown above. But detailed observations of the system suggest that the pinwheel is formed by materials that originated on a single star yet are moving at two different speeds—something we can't explain.

The serpent god

Technically, the new object goes by the absurdly memorable name 2XMM J160050.7–514245. Surveys spotted it because it was an oddity: unusually bright at certain infrared wavelengths. Follow-up observations revealed its sinuous form, which led the researchers to rename it from the "cumbersome" 2XMM J160050.7–514245 to Apep, which is the name of a serpent deity in Egyptian mythology.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Now it’s Office’s turn to have a load of patches pulled

November 20, 2018 - 6:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Benjamin)

After endless difficulties with the Windows 10 October 2018 update—finally re-released this month with the data-loss bug fixed—it seems that now it's the Office team's turn to release some updates that need to be un-released.

On November's Patch Tuesday two weeks ago, Microsoft released a bunch of updates for Office to update its Japanese calendars. In December 2017, Emperor Akihito announced that he would abdicate and that his son Naruhito would take his role as emperor. Each emperor has a corresponding era name, and calendars must be updated to reflect that new name. The Office patches offer updates to handle this event.

Two of these updates, KB2863821 and KB4461522, both for Office 2010, are apparently very broken, causing application crashes. The company has suspended delivery of the patches, but the problem is so severe that Microsoft is recommending that anyone who has installed the updates already should uninstall them pronto (see instructions for KB2863821 here and for KB4461522 here).

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amazon trying to buy 22 cable TV sports channels, including Yankees network

November 20, 2018 - 6:14pm

Enlarge / A YES logo banner. (credit: Getty Images | Michael Heiman)

Amazon is trying to buy 22 regional sports TV networks (RSNs) from the Walt Disney Company, according to a CNBC report today.

In June, Disney received Department of Justice approval to buy 21st Century Fox properties on the condition that it divest Fox-owned regional sports networks (RSNs). Together, these networks have programming rights for 44 Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League teams.

"In addition to Amazon, Apollo Global Management, KKR & Co, The Blackstone Group, Sinclair Broadcast Group and TEGNA also made first round bids for the full slate of networks," CNBC wrote, citing anonymous sources.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Samsung reportedly planning five flagship phone models for early 2019

November 20, 2018 - 6:02pm

Samsung

We're rapidly approaching 2019, and that means it will soon be time for Samsung's yearly Galaxy S flagship launch. The company has been facing declining smartphone sales for some time now, and if the latest Wall Street Journal report is to be believed, it seems Samsung's 2019 strategy will be to launch a whole bunch of high-end smartphone models and let the market decide.

The Journal's report claims the Galaxy S10 launch should happen sometime in February, and instead of the usual two smartphone models (one big, one small), Samsung will launch three variants of the Galaxy S10 at once. The report says the three models will have "displays that range in size from 5.8 inches to 6.4 inches"—so instead of "big" and "small," it sounds like we're getting "small," "medium," and "large." After similar designs for the S8 and S9, the S10 is expected to be all new.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ukraine detects new Pterodo backdoor malware, warns of Russian cyberattack

November 20, 2018 - 5:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Mira Mechtley )

The Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine (CERT-UA) and the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine have detected a new strain of the Pterodo Windows backdoor targeting computers at Ukrainian government agencies, leading officials in Kiev to warn of a pending large-scale cyber attack.

In an alert posted to the organization's website, a CERT-UA official wrote:

CERT-UA together with the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine found new modifications of Pterodo-type malware on computers of state authorities of Ukraine, which is likely to be the preparatory stage for a cyber attack. This virus collects system data, regularly sends it to command-control servers and expects further commands.

Pterodo, also known as Pteradon, is associated with the Gamaredon threat group, a group of attacks based largely on off-the-shelf software that have focused on Ukrainian military and government targets. Pterodo is a custom backdoor used to insert other malware and collect information. The latest version activates only on Windows systems with language localization for Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Tatar, and other languages associated with former Soviet states; this makes it more difficult to perform automated analysis of the malware with certain tools.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Video: How an 11th-hour decision made Aliens versus Predator a classic

November 20, 2018 - 5:05pm

Video shot by Justin Wolfson and edited by Lee Manansala. Click here for transcript.

Welcome to the latest edition of "War Stories," where we sit down with video game developers and cajole them into talking about the gameplay design elements that almost broke their brains. In this episode, we're chatting up Tim Jones, the lead artist and producer of 1999's Aliens versus Predator.

Jumping on the brand wagon

The Aliens versus Predator brand is a childhood fever dream brought to life—who hasn't had playground arguments over who'd win in a fight between some of the biggest and baddest bad guys of them all? The idea of watching supernal figures battle it out is both fun and endlessly attractive, because everyone likes a spectacle, and the biggest spectacle of all comes from watching one irresistible alien force slam into another unmovable alien object. Sparks fly, things explode, and we're happy.

The "Aliens versus Predator" concept first appeared in graphic novel form, but it was catapulted into mainstream consciousness by a series of films in the 2000s. Though definitely spectacular in the most literal sense of the word, the movies all ultimately fall short in just about every other area; only the first, released in 2004, is (arguably) watchable without the aid of alcohol or other drugs.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ivanka Trump used personal email for official White House business

November 20, 2018 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner on the South Lawn of the White House. (credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

First daughter and presidential advisor Ivanka Trump used a personal email account dozens of times to conduct official White House business, The Washington Post reports, citing an internal White House investigation. It's an ironic revelation given her father's obsession with Hillary Clinton's own use of a private email server during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Federal law requires government officials to preserve written records of their activities—and that includes email. Government email systems are set up to comply with these laws, and federal IT guidelines require government officials to use their official email accounts for all official business. The use of official email accounts may also reduce the risk of sensitive communications being intercepted by foreign intelligence agencies.

But senior government officials have not always been scrupulous about following these rules. Hillary Clinton famously did work as secretary of state using a personal email address linked to an email server located in her home in Chappaqua, New York. Republicans turned this records-management snafu into a prominent issue in the 2016 campaign.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

What is going on with SpaceX and all these Big Falcon Rocket changes?

November 20, 2018 - 4:47pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk speaks near a Falcon 9 rocket during his announcement that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be the first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard the BFR launch vehicle. (credit: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)

SpaceX and Elon Musk have been in the news a lot in recent days, both because of financial disclosures and the rocket company founder's musings on Twitter about his current space obsession—the Big Falcon Rocket or BFR. There has been a lot to process, so here's our best attempt to make sense of what Musk has said and what it may really mean. Musk started breaking news about SpaceX rocket designs about two weeks ago, so we'll start there.

Mini BFR Ship

On Wednesday, November 7, Musk tweeted that the "Falcon 9 second stage will be upgraded to be like a mini-BFR Ship." He added that this upgraded second stage could be ready to fly by June 2019. This prompted a flurry of speculation that SpaceX may be taking steps toward making the second stage of its Falcon 9 rocket—the part of the booster that presently inserts a payload into orbit and then burns up upon reentry to Earth's atmosphere—fully reusable.

However, this was not to be the case. Later, Musk clarified that this upgraded "mini-BFR Ship" will essentially be a small test version of the Big Falcon Spaceship, the spacecraft intended to fly on top of the Big Falcon Rocket booster. Currently, he said, the company cannot test features such as an "ultra light heat shield" and "high Mach control surfaces" without doing an orbital reentry. The company still intends to build a Big Falcon Spaceship for supersonic reentry and landing tests at SpaceX's facility in Boca Chica, Texas. It is not clear how many missions the mini-BFR Ship will fly.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Valve quietly discontinues Steam Link hardware production

November 20, 2018 - 4:32pm

(credit: Valve)

Valve is quietly discontinuing Steam Link, the in-home streaming box it first launched in late 2015. A low-key announcement on Valve's Steam Link news page suggests that production of new units has ceased and that Valve is currently selling off the rest of its "almost sold out" inventory in the US, after selling out completely in Europe. Valve says it will continue to offer support for existing Steam Link hardware.

The $50 Steam Link was designed for streaming games from a local gaming PC to an HDTV in the same house, a job it did pretty well provided your networking hardware was up to it. In recent months, though, Valve has shifted its focus away from dedicated streaming hardware and toward mobile apps that can provide the same feature.

Apple is currently blocking the release of a Steam Link app designed for Apple TV and iOS devices, but similar apps are available for Samsung Galaxy devices and other Android phones (in beta). Steam users have been able to stream to laptops on the same network since 2014, as well.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hang on to your magical tridents, the final Aquaman trailer is here

November 20, 2018 - 3:18am

Enlarge / Jason Momoa stars as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman: half human, half Atlantean. (credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

We're just one month away from the release of Director James Wan's Aquaman, the first full-length feature film centered around Jason Momoa's Justice League superhero. Now the final trailer has dropped, with all the magical tridents, warrior princesses, and epic CGI battles you'd expect from a superhero movie about averting a mythological war between two very different worlds.

Aquaman first entered the DC Comics universe in a 1941 anthology and later turned into a solo comic book series. He was a founding member of the Justice League during the "Silver Age" of the 1950s and 1960s. But he was never among the most compelling superheroes in the DC stable, often serving as the butt of jokes because of his supposedly inferior super powers. Hey, telepathically communicating with fish is cool, right?

So there was some initial skepticism about introducing the character into DC's rebooted cinematic universe. Casting Momoa, who was so riveting as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones' first season, was an inspired choice, and the initial artwork showing an Aquaman reimagined for the 21st century looked promising. For the reboot, DCU wisely played down the talking-to-fish thing (it's more a form of telepathic compulsion) and focused instead on Aquaman's superhuman strength, ability to breathe underwater, super fast swimming, and so forth.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Russia’s Cozy Bear comes out of hiding with post-election spear-phishing blitz

November 20, 2018 - 2:30am

Enlarge / Russian President Vladmir Putin in St. Petersburg today for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, acknowledged today that Russian hackers may have interfered in the US election. (credit: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Attackers suspected of working for the Russian government masqueraded as a US State Department official in an attempt to infect dozens of organizations in government, military, defense contracting, media, and other industries, researchers from security firm FireEye warned on Monday.

The spear-phishing campaign began last Wednesday. This is almost exactly two years after the Russian hacking group known under a variety of monikers, including APT29 and Cozy Bear, sent a similar barrage of emails that targeted many of the same industries, FireEye said in a blog post. The tactics and techniques used in both post-election campaigns largely overlap, leading FireEye to suspect the new one is also the work of the Russian-government-controlled hacking arm. FireEye researchers Matthew Dunwoody, Andrew Thompson, Ben Withnell, Jonathan Leathery, Michael Matonis, and Nick Carr wrote:

Analysis of this activity is ongoing, but if the APT29 attribution is strengthened, it would be the first activity uncovered from this sophisticated group in at least a year. Given the widespread nature of the targeting, organizations that have previously been targeted by APT29 should take note of this activity. For network defenders, whether or not this activity was conducted by APT29 should be secondary to properly investigating the full scope of the intrusion, which is of critical importance if the elusive and deceptive APT29 operators indeed had access to your environment.

“Secure” communications

At least 38 FireEye clients have been targeted so far in the spear-phishing campaign, Carr told Ars. The emails purport to deliver an official US State Department document from a known public-affairs official at the same US agency. The messages were designed to appear as a secure communication that’s hosted on a webpage linked to the official’s personal drive. To further appear legitimate, the message delivers a legitimate State Department form.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Charter, Comcast don’t have 1st Amendment right to discriminate, court rules

November 20, 2018 - 12:20am

Enlarge / Entertainment Studios Networks founder Byron Allen. (credit: Getty Images | Noel Vasquez )

A US appeals court ruling today said that cable companies do not have a First Amendment right to discriminate against minority-run TV channels.

Charter, the second-largest US cable company after Comcast, was sued in January 2016 by Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), which alleged that Charter violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by refusing to carry TV channels run by the African-American-owned ESN. Allen, a comedian and producer, founded ESN in 1993 and is its CEO; the lawsuit seeks more than $10 billion in damages from Charter.

Charter argued that the case should be dismissed, claiming that the First Amendment bars such claims because cable companies are allowed "editorial discretion." But Charter's motion to dismiss the case was denied by the US District Court for the Central District of California, and the District Court's denial was upheld unanimously today by a three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA picks a landing spot on Mars for its 2020 rover

November 19, 2018 - 11:40pm

Enlarge / The delta within Jezero Crater. (credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University)

On Monday, NASA announced that it had chosen a landing spot for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover. The site (more or less at center here) is called Jezero Crater, and it contains a delta formed by flowing water. NASA says that landing in its difficult terrain requires new technology that allows increased steering in the atmosphere.

Mars 2020 will be based on the design of the Curiosity rover, which is currently operating in Gale Crater, but it will have a different suite of instruments. The mission will have two focuses: to give us a better perspective on whether Mars has ever hosted life and to cache rocks for a sample return mission.

The details of how to get rocks back off the Red Planet are still being worked out. But there has been a steadily growing body of evidence that Mars had large amounts of liquid water on its surface in the distant past, and Mars 2020 will be about sampling some of what that water left behind in order to determine if it could have hosted lifeforms similar to those on Earth.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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