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A tale of two cities: Why ransomware will just get worse

Ars Technica - June 21, 2019 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Baltimore, Maryland; Riviera Beach, Florida. Both got ransomware, and the outcomes were... the worst of times, and the worst of times.

Earlier this week, the city of Riviera Beach, Florida, faced a $600,000 demand from ransomware operators in order to regain access to the city's data. The ransom was an order of magnitude larger than the ransom demanded by the attackers that struck Baltimore's city government in May. Against the advice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, the Riviera Beach city council voted to pay the ransom—more than $300,000 of it covered by the city's insurance policy.

Baltimore had refused to pay $76,000 worth of Bitcoin despite facing an estimated ransomware cost of more than $18 million, of which $8 million was from lost or deferred revenue. Baltimore lacked cyber insurance to cover those costs.

Riviera Beach is much smaller than Baltimore—with an IT department of 10 people, according to the city's most recent budget, and an annual budget of $2.5 million to support a total city government of 550 employees. (Baltimore has about 50 IT staffers supporting more than 13,000 employees by comparison.) It's not a surprise that Riviera Beach's leadership decided to pay, given that a full incident response and recovery would have likely cost two to three times what they've agreed to pay the ransomware operators, and half of that price tag is covered by insurance. So, Riviera Beach's decision to pay looks like the easiest way out. It's a decision that has been made by many local governmental organizations and businesses alike over the past few years.

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Slack: Why is this loss-making tech firm worth $20bn?

BBC Technology News - June 21, 2019 - 10:33pm
The messaging app has investors piling in on hopes it can replace email for workplace communication.

We’re one step closer to atomic radio

Ars Technica - June 21, 2019 - 9:35pm

Enlarge / Physicist C.J. Holloway in his atomic recording studio at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland. (credit: J. Burras/NIST)

Scientists at the National Institute for Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, have brought us one step closer to "atomic radio" by using an atom-based receiver to make a stereo recording of music streamed into the laboratory—namely, Queen's "Under Pressure." They described their work in a new paper in AIP Advances.

So-called "Rydberg atoms" are atoms that are in an especially excited state well above their ground (lowest-energy) state. This makes them extra-sensitive to passing electric fields, like the alternating fields of radio waves. All you need is a means of detecting those interactions to turn them into quantum sensors—like a laser. That means, in principle, that Rydberg atoms could receive and play back radio signals.

This isn't the first time Rydberg atoms have been used for audio recording. Last September, we reported on the development of a new type of antenna capable of receiving signals across a much wider range of frequencies (more than four octaves) that is highly resistant to electromagnetic interference. Scientists at Rydberg Technologies zapped vapor cells filled with excited cesium atoms with laser light tuned to just the right critical frequency, essentially saturating the atoms to prevent them from absorbing any more light. The critical frequency at which this transition happens will change in response to a passing radio wave, so the light from that second laser beam will flicker in response.

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Wizards Unite is a bloated, slow, Harry Potter-ified Pokémon Go

Ars Technica - June 21, 2019 - 6:45pm

Three years ago, Nintendo and Niantic released Pokémon Go, and the resulting game became an instant cultural phenomenon on hundreds of millions of mobile phones. In retrospect, the formula seems simple enough: combine a beloved children's series with a wander-and-collect-with-your-phone gameplay hook, and everyone will fall in love, right?

This week, Niantic returns with an entirely new game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and it proves that the above formula isn't necessarily an instant winner.

Wizards Unite tries to expand the Pokémon Go formula with a few new features and a completely new visual and gameplay theme. But its barrage of timers, currencies, missions, and screens full of text does something interesting: it proves in its failures how much more elegant and focused Pokémon Go really was. Getting this particular AR gaming formula right isn't as simple as slapping fan-favorite characters on a go-anywhere phone game.

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Physics indicates some of Earth’s earliest animals helped each other feed

Ars Technica - June 21, 2019 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / The result of a fluid mechanics simulation with multiple Erniettas. (credit: Dave Mazierski)

What drove the evolution of the earliest animal life? In modern animals, it's easy to infer a lot about an organism's lifestyle based on its anatomy. Even back in the Cambrian, with its large collection of bizarre looking creatures, these inferences are possible. Anomalocaris may have had a freakish, disk-shaped mouth, but it clearly was a mouth.

Go back to Earth's earliest animals in the Ediacaran, however, and things get much, much harder. There's only one species known so far that appears to have the right body plan to act as a predator of sorts. Beyond that, it's all a collection of soft-looking fronds and segments that are difficult to ascribe any obvious function to. Faced with a lot of questions without obvious answers, biologists turned to an unlikely source of help: physicists and engineers who understand fluid mechanics.

All of these creatures lived in an aquatic environment, so tracing how fluid flows across them can provide some hints as to how food might have arrived. Now, the same sort of research indicates that a strange cup-shaped species grew in communities because it improved the feeding of some of the community members.

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New Stranger Things S3 trailer teases: What if the Mind Flayer never left?

Ars Technica - June 21, 2019 - 5:17pm

The plucky teens from Hawkins, Indiana, are back in Netflix's hotly anticipated Stranger Things season 3.

You know that annoying houseguest who overstays their welcome and just won't leave? It looks like the interdimensional monster known as the Mind Flayer, from Stranger Things, may be one of those guests. That's the big takeaway from the latest trailer for season 3 of the popular Netflix series.

(Some spoilers for the first two seasons below.)

Stranger Things was an instant hit when it debuted on Netflix in the summer of 2016. Set in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the early 1980s, it was a refreshing love letter to a bygone era, when kid-centric films like The Goonies, Ghostbusters, and E.T. led the box office. But all was not normal in this sleepy little town: an accident at a secret government lab opened an inter-dimensional portal and unleashed a supernatural threat from a different dimension.

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Manufacturing memory means scribing silicon in a sea of sensors

Ars Technica - June 21, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / How it's made: silicon wafers! (credit: Micron)

At Micron's memory chip fabrication facility in the Washington, DC, suburb of Manassas, Virginia, the entire manufacturing area is blanketed in electronic detectors in all their various forms. But the primary purpose isn't to keep intruders out or anything so prosaic. "A lot of them are microphones,” a spokesman for Micron said. “They listen to the robots."

It turns out that there are thousands of microphones throughout the facility, or "fab," as silicon manufacturing plants are commonly known. There are microphones inside the giant $70 million cameras that imprint the component layout on the silicon surface of a memory chip. There are microphones lining the tracks of the robot controlled railways that carry colorful plastic FOUPs (front opening universal pods) along the ceiling throughout the plant. There are microphones near essentially every moving part in the facility.

All those thousands of microphones are listening for signs of wear—for variances to develop in the noises made by the machines—so that maintenance can be scheduled before anything breaks and causes downtime. Downtime, as you might imagine, is about the worst thing that can happen to an automated chip-making facility.

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