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Friday, July 19th, 2019
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11:20 pm
QuickBooks Cloud Hosting Firm iNSYNQ Hit In Ransomware Attack
Cloud hosting provider iNSYNQ says it was hit with a ransomware attack that shut down its network and left customers unable to access their accounting data for the past three days. "Unfortunately for iNSYNQ, the company appears to be turning a deaf ear to the increasingly anxious cries from its users for more information about the incident," reports Krebs On Security." From the report: Gig Harbor, Wash.-based iNSYNQ specializes in providing cloud-based QuickBooks accounting software and services. In a statement posted to its status page, iNSYNQ said it experienced a ransomware attack on July 16, and took its network offline in a bid to contain the spread of the malware. "The attack impacted data belonging to certain iNSYNQ clients, rendering such data inaccessible,"; the company said. "As soon as iNSYNQ discovered the attack, iNSYNQ took steps to contain it. This included turning off some servers in the iNSYNQ environment." iNSYNQ said it has engaged outside cybersecurity assistance and to determine whether any customer data was accessed without authorization, but that so far it has no estimate for when those files might be available again to customers.

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10:40 pm
Chrome 76 Prevents NYT and Other News Sites From Detecting Incognito Mode
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google Chrome 76 will close a loophole that websites use to detect when people use the browser's Incognito Mode. Over the past couple of years, you may have noticed some websites preventing you from reading articles while using a browser's private mode. The Boston Globe began doing this in 2017, requiring people to log in to paid subscriber accounts in order to read in private mode. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers impose identical restrictions. Chrome 76 -- which is in beta now and is scheduled to hit the stable channel on July 30 -- prevents these websites from discovering that you're in private mode. Google explained the change yesterday in a blog post titled, "Protecting private browsing in Chrome." Google wrote: "Today, some sites use an unintended loophole to detect when people are browsing in Incognito Mode. Chrome's FileSystem API is disabled in Incognito Mode to avoid leaving traces of activity on someone's device. Sites can check for the availability of the FileSystem API and, if they receive an error message, determine that a private session is occurring and give the user a different experience. With the release of Chrome 76 scheduled for July 30, the behavior of the FileSystem API will be modified to remedy this method of Incognito Mode detection." If websites find new loopholes to detect private mode, Google said they will close those, too. "Chrome will likewise work to remedy any other current or future means of Incognito Mode detection," Google's blog post said.

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10:05 pm
Smart Money Said 'Skip Bitcoin, Bet on Blockchain.' Not Any More
As cryptocurrency prices tumbled across the board last year, venture capitalists focused their attention on the promise of the underlying technology, the ledger known as blockchain. That, many said, was the smarter bet. Now, the tables have turned. From a report: While Bitcoin's price has rebounded this year, a fresh batch of data shows the flow of cash into blockchain startups dropped dramatically. So far, traditional venture capital investments in blockchain companies have totaled $784 million via 227 deals, according to CB Insights. At that pace, businesses focusing on that technology may only draw $1.6 billion this year, down roughly 60% from a record $4.1 billion in 2018, the research firm said. Money coming from corporations is on "an even sharper decline," despite interest from companies such as Facebook in creating their own digital coins, CB Insights said. Maturing startups are drawing less support, while young startups are faring better, it said.

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9:26 pm
Arctic Summer Melt Shows Ice Is Disappearing Faster Than Normal
Ice covering the Arctic Ocean reached the second-lowest level recorded for this time of year after July temperatures spiked in areas around the North Pole. From a report: The rate of ice loss in the region is a crucial indicator for the world's climate and a closely-watched metric by bordering nations jostling for resources and trade routes. This month's melt is tracking close to the record set in July 2012, the Colorado-based National Snow & Ice Data Center said in a statement. This year's heatwave in the Arctic Circle has led to record temperatures in areas of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, extending long-term trends of more ice disappearing. Ice flows are melting faster than average rates observed over the last three decades, losing an additional 20,000 square kilometers (12,427 miles) of cover per day -- an area about the size of Wales. Ice begins melting in the Arctic as spring approaches in the northern hemisphere, and then it usually starts building again toward the end of September as the days grow shorter and cooler. The U.K.'s Met Office said that the chance of a record low by September "is higher than it has been in the previous few years." This summer, several dramatic images showing the pace and extent of Arctic ice melt have been seen around the world underlining the harsh reality of global warming and the struggle governments face in trying to slow it down. Globally, June was the hottest year on record, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

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8:05 pm
A Rust-Based TLS Library Outperformed OpenSSL in Almost Every Category
A tiny and relatively unknown TLS library written in Rust, an up-and-coming programming language, outperformed the industry-standard OpenSSL in almost every major category. From a report: The findings are the result of a recent four-part series of benchmarks carried out by Joseph Birr-Pixton, the developer behind the Rustls library. The findings showed that Rustls was 10% faster when setting up and negotiating a new server connection, and between 20 and 40% faster when setting up a client connection. But while handshake speeds for new TLS connections are important, most TLS traffic relies on resuming previously negotiated handshakes. Here, too, Rustls outperformed the aging OpenSSL, being between 10 and 20% in resuming a connection on the server-side, and being between 30 and 70% quicker to resume a client connection. Furthermore, Rustls also fared better in sheer bulk performance -- or the speed at which data is transferred over the TLS connection. Birr-Pixton said Rustls could send data 15% faster than OpenSSL, and receive it 5% faster as well.

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8:45 pm
My Browser, the Spy: How Extensions Slurped Up Browsing Histories From 4M Users
Dan Goodin, reporting for ArsTechnica: When we use browsers to make medical appointments, share tax returns with accountants, or access corporate intranets, we usually trust that the pages we access will remain private. DataSpii, a newly documented privacy issue in which millions of people's browsing histories have been collected and exposed, shows just how much about us is revealed when that assumption is turned on its head. DataSpii begins with browser extensions -- available mostly for Chrome but in more limited cases for Firefox as well -- that, by Google's account, had as many as 4.1 million users. These extensions collected the URLs, webpage titles, and in some cases the embedded hyperlinks of every page that the browser user visited. Most of these collected Web histories were then published by a fee-based service called Nacho Analytics, which markets itself as "God mode for the Internet" and uses the tag line "See Anyone's Analytics Account." Web histories may not sound especially sensitive, but a subset of the published links led to pages that are not protected by passwords -- but only by a hard-to-guess sequence of characters (called tokens) included in the URL. Thus, the published links could allow viewers to access the content at these pages. (Security practitioners have long discouraged the publishing of sensitive information on pages that aren't password protected, but the practice remains widespread.) Further reading: More on DataSpii: How extensions hide their data grabs -- and how they're discovered.

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7:25 pm
Researchers Have Teamed Up in India To Build a Gigantic Store of Texts and Images Extracted From 73M Journal Articles
A giant data store quietly being built in India could free vast swathes of science for computer analysis -- but whether it is a legal pursuit remains unclear. From a report: Carl Malamud is on a crusade to liberate information locked up behind paywalls -- and his campaigns have scored many victories. He has spent decades publishing copyrighted legal documents, from building codes to court records, and then arguing that such texts represent public-domain law that ought to be available to any citizen online. Sometimes, he has won those arguments in court. Now, the 60-year-old American technologist is turning his sights on a new objective: freeing paywalled scientific literature. And he thinks he has a legal way to do it. Over the past year, Malamud has -- without asking publishers -- teamed up with Indian researchers to build a gigantic store of text and images extracted from 73 million journal articles dating from 1847 up to the present day. The cache, which is still being created, will be kept on a 576-terabyte storage facility at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. "This is not every journal article ever written, but it's a lot," Malamud says. It's comparable to the size of the core collection in the Web of Science database, for instance. Malamud and his JNU collaborator, bioinformatician Andrew Lynn, call their facility the JNU data depot. No one will be allowed to read or download work from the repository, because that would breach publishers' copyright. Instead, Malamud envisages, researchers could crawl over its text and data with computer software, scanning through the world's scientific literature to pull out insights without actually reading the text. The unprecedented project is generating much excitement because it could, for the first time, open up vast swathes of the paywalled literature for easy computerized analysis. Dozens of research groups already mine papers to build databases of genes and chemicals, map associations between proteins and diseases, and generate useful scientific hypotheses. But publishers control -- and often limit -- the speed and scope of such projects, which typically confine themselves to abstracts, not full text. Researchers in India, the United States and the United Kingdom are already making plans to use the JNU store instead. Malamud and Lynn have held workshops at Indian government laboratories and universities to explain the idea. "We bring in professors and explain what we are doing. They get all excited and they say, 'Oh gosh, this is wonderful'," says Malamud. But the depot's legal status isn't yet clear. Malamud, who contacted several intellectual-property (IP) lawyers before starting work on the depot, hopes to avoid a lawsuit.

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6:45 pm
YouTube Executive Says the Video Service Doesn't Drive Its Users Down the Rabbit Hole
YouTube has defended its video recommendation algorithms, amid suggestions that the technology serves up increasingly extreme videos. On Thursday, a BBC report explored how YouTube had helped the Flat Earth conspiracy theory spread. But the company's new managing director for the UK, Ben McOwen Wilson, said YouTube "does the opposite of taking you down the rabbit hole". From a report: He told the BBC that YouTube worked to dispel misinformation and conspiracies. But warned that some types of government regulation could start to look like censorship. YouTube, as well as other internet giants such as Facebook and Twitter, have some big decisions to make. All must decide where they draw the line between freedom of expression, hateful content and misinformation. And the government is watching. It has published a White Paper laying out its plans to regulate online platforms. In his first interview since starting his new role, Ben spoke about the company's algorithms, its approach to hate speech and what it expects from the UK government's "online harms" legislation. [...] YouTube has never explained exactly how its algorithms work. Critics say the platform offers up increasingly sensationalist and conspiratorial videos. Mr McOwen Wilson disagrees. "It's what's great about YouTube. It is what brings you from one small area and actually expands your horizon and does the opposite of taking you down the rabbit hole," he says.

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6:05 pm
Russian Lawmakers Propose Making Local Software Mandatory on Smartphones
Russian lawmakers want to make it a legal requirement for all smartphones, computers and smart TV sets sold in Russia to come pre-installed with certain Russian software in a bid to support domestic software producers, according to a draft bill. From a report: The bill, tabled at the lower house of parliament on Thursday, would allow authorities to draw up a list of mandatory, locally-made software. If passed, it would come into force in July 2020. Russia's cell-phone market is dominated by Apple, Samsung and Huawei products. Those who do not abide by the rule, the proposed law says, would have to pay a fine.

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5:25 pm
Huawei Says Hongmeng OS Isn't Designed as an Android Replacement
Huawei reportedly wants to keep using Google's Android operating system in its phones instead of jumping to its self-developed Hongmeng system. From a report: Company senior vice president Catherine Chen told reporters in Brussels this week that the Hongmeng OS isn't even designed for phones, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Chen apparently said Hongmeng is for industrial use, noting that it contains far fewer lines of code than a phone OS, and has much lower latency than a phone, meaning it can process a very high volume of data messages with little delay. Latest episode in a confusing narrative about what Huawei even intends to do. The company's executives have previously said on record that its homegrown operating system is designed to replace Android on its handsets. One executive said the operating system would be released by last month -- a target that Huawei has missed.

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4:06 pm
Tech Unemployment Hits 19-Year Low
New submitter SpaceForceCommander writes: Tech unemployment hasn't been this low since the turn of the century, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data crunched by CompTIA. As of May, tech's unemployment rate sat at 1.3 percent. "There is now the very real prospect of tech worker shortages affecting industry growth," Tim Herbert, executive vice president for research and market intelligence at CompTIA, wrote in a statement accompanying the data. "Firms seeking to expand into new areas such as the Internet of Things, robotic process automation or artificial intelligence may be inhibited by a lack of workers with these advanced skills, not to mention shortages in the complementary areas of technology infrastructure and cybersecurity." Tech's unemployment rate previously hit 1.4 percent, in April 2007 and March 2018. (The BLS began measuring occupation-level employment data in January 2000.) However, not all segments within tech are adding jobs at the same rate; although custom software development and computer systems design gained 8,400 new positions in May, for example, both information services and telecommunications saw modest losses. Meanwhile, new data from PayScale suggests that wages within the tech industry grew 2.3 percent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2019. That's an indicator that the low unemployment rate is forcing employers to pay more in order to secure the talent they need.

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4:46 pm
Kazakhstan Government is Now Intercepting All HTTPS Traffic
Artem S. Tashkinov writes: Starting Wednesday, July 17, 2019, the Kazakhstan government has started intercepting all HTTPS internet traffic inside its borders. Local internet service providers (ISPs) have been instructed by the local government to force their respective users into installing a government-issued certificate on all devices, and in every browser. The certificate, once installed, will allow local government agencies to decrypt users' HTTPS traffic, look at its content, encrypt it again with their certificate, and send it to its destination. Kazakh users trying to access the internet since yesterday have been redirected to web pages that contained instructions on how to install the government's root certificate in their respective browsers, may it be a desktop or mobile device.

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3:23 pm
Researchers Easily Trick Security Firm Cylance's AI-Based Antivirus Into Thinking Programs Like WannaCry and Other Malware Are Benign
By taking strings from an online gaming program and appending them to malicious files, researchers were able to trick Cylance's AI-based antivirus engine into thinking programs like WannaCry and other malware are benign. From a report: AI has been touted by some in the security community as the silver bullet in malware detection. Its proponents say it's superior to traditional antivirus since it can catch new variants and never-before-seen malware -- think zero-day exploits -- that are the Achilles heel of antivirus. One of its biggest proponents is the security firm BlackBerry Cylance, which has staked its business model on the artificial intelligence engine in its endpoint PROTECT detection system, which the company says has the ability to detect new malicious files two years before their authors even create them. But researchers in Australia say they've found a way to subvert the machine-learning algorithm in PROTECT and cause it to falsely tag already known malware as "goodware." The method doesn't involve altering the malicious code, as hackers generally do to evade detection. Instead, the researchers developed a "global bypass" method that works with almost any malware to fool the Cylance engine. It involves simply taking strings from a non-malicious file and appending them to a malicious one, tricking the system into thinking the malicious file is benign. The benign strings they used came from an online gaming program, which they have declined to name publicly so that Cylance will have a chance to fix the problem before hackers exploit it. "As far as I know, this is a world-first, proven global attack on the ML [machine learning] mechanism of a security company," says Adi Ashkenazy, CEO of the Sydney-based company Skylight Cyber, who conducted the research with CTO Shahar Zini. "After around four years of super hype [about AI], I think this is a humbling example of how the approach provides a new attack surface that was not possible with legacy [antivirus software]."

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2:43 pm
China's Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People
Tencent and Alibaba are among the firms that assist authorities in hunting down criminal suspects, silencing dissent and creating surveillance cities. From a report: Alibaba Group's sprawling campus has collegial workspaces, laid-back coffee bars and, on the landscaped grounds, a police outpost. Employees use the office to report suspected crimes to the police, according to people familiar with the operation. Police also use it to request data from Alibaba for their own investigations, these people said, tapping into the trove of information the tech giant collects through its e-commerce and financial-payment networks. In one case, the police wanted to find out who had posted content related to terrorism, said a former Alibaba employee. "They came to me and asked me for the user ID and information," he recalled. He turned it over. The Chinese government is building one of the world's most sophisticated, high-tech systems to keep watch over its citizens, including surveillance cameras, facial-recognition technology and vast computers systems that comb through terabytes of data. Central to its efforts are the country's biggest technology companies, which are openly acting as the government's eyes and ears in cyberspace. Companies including Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings and Baidu, are required to help China's government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

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2:00 pm
NSO Spyware 'Targets Big Tech Cloud Services'
The Israeli company whose spyware hacked WhatsApp has told buyers its technology can surreptitiously scrape all of an individual's data from the servers of Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, Financial Times reported on Friday. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source] From the report: NSO Group's flagship smartphone malware, nicknamed Pegasus, has for years been used by spy agencies and governments to harvest data from targeted individuals' smartphones. But it has now evolved to capture the much greater trove of information stored beyond the phone in the cloud, such as a full history of a target's location data, archived messages or photos, according to people who shared documents with the Financial Times and described a recent product demonstration. The documents raise difficult questions for Silicon Valley's technology giants, which are trusted by billions of users to keep critical personal information, corporate secrets and medical records safe from potential hackers. NSO denied promoting hacking or mass-surveillance tools for cloud services. However, it did not specifically deny that it had developed the capability described in the documents.

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1:00 pm
Locally Run ISPs Offer the Fastest Broadband In America
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Using data from 356,925 broadband speed tests conducted over a year, PCMag recently compiled a list of the fastest ISPs in America. ISPs were then affixed a PCMag Speed Index score based on a combination of line performance, upload, and download speeds. When all regional ISPs were compared side by side, the fastest ISP in America was independent California ISP Sonic, with a score of 610.6. Sonic has been working with select California communities to leverage their publicly-owned fiber networks. All told, six of the ten fastest ISPs in the States were either directly run by a local community, or involved some form of partnership between the public and private sectors.

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10:00 am
Chinese Space Station Tiangong-2 Is About To Fall From Space
The Chinese space station Tiangong-2 is scheduled to drop out of orbit on July 19 and fall into the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Chile. New Scientist reports: Tiangong-2 -- which translates as "heavenly palace" -- was launched in September 2016, and it was never intended to be a permanent fixture in orbit. Instead, its purpose was to test technologies for China's larger planned space station, whose main module is scheduled to launch in 2020. That space station is planned to be about one-fifth the size of the International Space Station. Tiangong-2 is far smaller. In 2018, Tiangong-2 began to lower its orbit to prepare for the end of its mission. On 19 July, it will fire its thrusters again to aim its descent toward the Pacific Ocean. Most of the craft will probably burn up as it enters the atmosphere, but any parts that survive should splash into the water harmlessly. Its predecessor, Tiangong-1, lost power in April 2018 and crashed in an uncontrolled fashion.

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7:00 am
Google and Facebook Might Be Tracking Your Porn History, Researchers Warn
Researchers at Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 22,484 porn sites and found that 93% leak user data to a third party. Normally, for extra protection when surfing the web, a user might turn to incognito mode. But, the researchers said, incognito mode only ensures that your browsing history is not stored on your computer. CNET reports: According to a study released Monday, Google was the No. 1 third-party company. The research found that Google, or one of its subsidiaries like the advertising platform DoubleClick, had trackers on 74% of the pornography sites examined. Facebook had trackers on 10% of the sites. "In the U.S., many advertising and video hosting platforms forbid 'adult' content. For example, Google's YouTube is the largest video host in the world, but does not allow pornography," the researchers wrote. "However, Google has no policies forbidding websites from using their code hosting (Google APIs) or audience measurement tools (Google Analytics). Thus, Google refuses to host porn, but has no limits on observing the porn consumption of users, often without their knowledge."

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3:30 am
Google Glass May Have an Afterlife As a Device To Teach Autistic Children
While Google stopped selling its augmented-reality glasses to customers due to privacy concerns, Google Glass lived on as something to be used by researchers and businesses. The New York Times reports of a new effort from Stanford researchers to use Google Glass to help autistic children understand emotions and engage in more direct ways with those around them. The glasses could also be used to measure changes in behavior, something that has historically been difficult to do. An anonymous Slashdot reader shares an excerpt from the report: When Esaie Prickett sat down in the living room with his mother, father and four older brothers, he was the only one wearing Google Glass. As Esaie, who was 10 at the time and is 12 now, gazed through the computerized glasses, his family made faces -- happy, sad, surprised, angry, bored -- and he tried to identify each emotion. In an instant, the glasses told him whether he was right or wrong, flashing tiny digital icons that only he could see. Esaie was 6 when he and his family learned he had autism. The technology he was using while sitting in the living room was meant to help him learn how to recognize emotions and make eye contact with those around him. The glasses would verify his choices only if he looked directly at a face. He and his family tested the technology for several weeks as part of a clinical trial run by researchers at Stanford University in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently detailed in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics, the trial fits into a growing effort to build new technologies for children on the autism spectrum, including interactive robots and computerized eyewear.

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2:03 am
Startup Aims To Tackle Grid Storage Problem With New Porous Silicon Battery
New submitter symgym writes: Recently out of stealth mode is a new battery technology that's printed on silicon wafers (36 million "micro-batteries" machined into 12-inch silicon wafers). It can scale from small devices to large-scale grid storage and promises four times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries for half the price. There should also be no issues with fires caused by dendrite formation. "When you use porous silicon, you get about 70 times the surface area compared to a traditional lithium battery... [and] there's millions of cells in a wafer," says Christine Hallquist of Cross Border Power, the startup that plans to commercialize the battery design developed by Washington-based company XNRGI. "It completely eliminates the problem of dendrite formation." If all of this is true, it's a massive disruptive invention. Hallquist also notes that the new batteries are 100% recyclable. "At the end of the life of this product, you bring the wafers back in, you clean the wafer off, you reclaim the lithium and other materials. And it's essentially brand new. So we're 100 percent recyclable." "Hallquist says the battery banks that Cross Border Power plans to sell to utility companies as soon as next year will be installed in standard computer server racks," reports IEEE Spectrum. "One shipping container worth of those racks (totaling 40 racks in all) will offer 4 megawatts (MW) of battery storage capacity, she says. Contrast this, she adds, to a comparable set of rack-storage lithium ion batteries which would typically only yield 1 MW in a shipping container."

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