Iranian Hackers Found Way Into Encrypted Apps, Researchers Say
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times:
Iranian hackers, most likely employees or affiliates of the government, have been running a vast cyberespionage operation equipped with surveillance tools that can outsmart encrypted messaging systems -- a capability Iran was not previously known to possess, according to two digital security reports released Friday. The operation not only targets domestic dissidents, religious and ethnic minorities and antigovernment activists abroad, but can also be used to spy on the general public inside Iran, said the reports byCheck Point Software Technologies, a cybersecurity technology firm, andthe Miaan Group, a human rights organization that focuses on digital security in the Middle East.
The reports, which were reviewed by The New York Times in advance of their release, say that the hackers have successfully infiltrated what were thought to be secure mobile phones and computers belonging to the targets, overcoming obstacles created by encrypted applications such as Telegram and, according to Miaan, even gaining access to information on WhatsApp. Both are popular messaging tools in Iran. The hackers also have created malware disguised as Android applications, the reports said. [...] According to the report by Check Point's intelligence unit, the cyberespionage operation was set up in 2014, and its full range of capabilities went undetected for six years. Miaan traced the first the operation to February 2018 from a malicious email targeting a Sufi religious group in Iran after a violent confrontation between its members and Iranian security forces. It traced the malware used in that attack and further attacks in June 2020 to a private technology firm in Iran's northeast city of Mashhad named Andromedaa. Miaan researchers determined that Andromedaa had a pattern of attacking activists, ethnic minority groups and separatist opposition groups but also had developed phishing and malware tools that could target the general public.
The hackers appeared to have a clear goal: stealing information about Iranian opposition groups in Europe and the United States and spying on Iranians who often use mobile applications to plan protests, according to the Miaan report. [...] According to Check Point, the hackers use a variety of infiltration techniques, including phishing, but the most widespread method is sending what appear to be tempting documents and applications to carefully selected targets. [...] The spyware enabled the attackers to gain access to almost any file, log clipboard data, take screenshots and steal information. According to Miaan, one application empowered hackers to download data stored on WhatsApp. In addition, the attackers discovered a weakness in the installation protocols of several encrypted applications including Telegram, which had always been deemed relatively secure, enabling them to steal the apps' installation files. These files, in turn, allow the attackers to make full use of the victims' Telegram accounts. "Although the attackers cannot decipher the encrypted communications of Telegram, their strategy makes it unnecessary," the report adds. "Rather, they use the stolen installation files to create Telegram logins to activate the app in the victims' names on another device. This enables the attackers to secretly monitor all Telegram activity of the victims."
Facebook Accused of Watching Instagram Users Through Cameras
Facebook is again being sued for allegedly spying on Instagram users, this time
through the unauthorized use of their mobile phone cameras. Bloomberg reports:
The lawsuit springs from media reports in July that the photo-sharing app appeared to be accessing iPhone cameras even when they weren't actively being used. Facebook denied the reports and blamed a bug, which it said it was correcting, for triggering what it described as false notifications that Instagram was accessing iPhone cameras.
In the complaint filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco, New Jersey Instagram user Brittany Conditi contends the app's use of the camera is intentional and done for the purpose of collecting "lucrative and valuable data on its users that it would not otherwise have access to." By "obtaining extremely private and intimate personal data on their users, including in the privacy of their own homes," Instagram and Facebook are able to collect "valuable insights and market research," according to the complaint.
Bill Gates On the Difference Between Elon Musk and Steve Jobs
an interview with Bloomberg, Bill Gates was
asked whether his contemporary Elon Musk could be considered the "next Steve Jobs," due to the advancements his companies Tesla and SpaceX have made in electric cars and reusable rockets, respectively. CNBC reports:
"If you know people personally, that kind of gross oversimplification seems strange," Gates told Bloomberg in the interview published Thursday. There are some key differences between the way Musk and Jobs operate, Gates said. "Elon's more of a hands-on engineer. Steve was a genius at design and picking people and marketing," Gates said. "You wouldn't walk into a room and confuse them with each other." [...] As for Jobs, he "was such a wizard at over-motivating people ... I could see him casting the spells, and then I would look at people and see them mesmerized," Gates told podcast host Dax Shepard Aug. 20. Musk and Gates also have their differences. CNBC adds:
In August, Gates wrote a blog post about electric vehicles, saying that they will "never be a practical solution" for replacing trucks and long-haul vehicles. Musk responded to Gates' comments on Twitter Sept. 11, saying that "he has no clue" about electric trucks. (Gates said in the Bloomberg interview that Musk's electric car "is a huge contribution to the climate change effort," that Tesla "did it with quality" and that "other car companies, seeing his success, will come [into the market].") [...] Of course, Gates own reputation has evolved. In the early Microsoft days, Gates was known for setting high standards for the company and being very tough on his team. "I certainly wasn't a sweetheart when I ran Microsoft," he said on Shepard's podcast.
Fortnite: Save the World For Mac Is Shutting Down Because of Epic's Battle With Apple
says Fortnite: Save the World
will no longer be playable on macOS beginning on September 23rd because Apple is preventing the game from receiving new updates. The Verge reports:
The co-op action shooter was initially released as a paid early access title in 2017. Epic's far more popular free-to-play battle royale will still be playable on Mac, the company says. Epic says Apple is blocking new updates and patches for the macOS version of Save the World, and an upcoming update going out to other platforms will cause bugs and "a very poor experience" for players stuck on the current version.
In late August, Apple terminated Epic's developer account, meaning users cannot download or reinstall games developed by Epic, including Fortnite, and Epic can no longer validate updates for distribution. The studio said that it will issue refunds to "all players who purchased any Save the World Founder's or Starter Packs (including Upgrades) and played Save the World on macOS between September 17, 2019, and September 17, 2020." Epic Games says it may take until October 2nd for players to receive refunds.
Tesla Wins Lawsuit Against Whistleblower Accused of Hacks
An anonymous reader writes:
The US District Court of Nevada awarded Tesla a win in its lawsuit against a former employee, filed two years ago. You may recall CEO Elon Musk referred to this incident in a previously leaked email calling on employees to be "extremely vigilant." Martin Tripp, who worked at the company's Nevada Gigafactory, was accused of hacking the automaker and supplying sensitive information to unnamed third parties. Reuters reported Friday the court ruled in Tesla's favor and dismissed Tripp's motion to file another reply to the court. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but according to Reuters, the court will grant Tesla's motion to seal the case.
Tripp originally entered the spotlight two years ago after seeking whistleblower protections and accusing Tesla of "some really scary things." He told The Washington Post he was the individual who provided information to the media and accused Tesla of building Model 3 sedans with punctured batteries. Tesla, in turn, accused Tripp of making false claims to the media. Tripp also denied any allegations he hacked Tesla, saying, "I don't have the patience for coding." The automaker previously named Tripp as a disgruntled employee angry after not receiving a promotion and accused him of aiding the theft of confidential photos and videos documenting Tesla's manufacturing process.
Lord of the Rings Special Effects Company 'Weta Digital' Launches Inquiry Into Toxic Workplace Claims
AmiMoJo shares a report from The Guardian:
Weta Digital, the special effects company behind the orcs, dragons and battle scenes of the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, has launched an independent investigation into allegations of a toxic work culture including sexism, bullying and pornography being shared on its intranet. The investigation was ordered by the company's majority owners, who include the director Peter Jackson, his wife, Fran Welsh, and screenwriter Phillipa Boyens. It followed a months-long investigation by local television station TVNZ that found complaints had been ignored by senior management at Weta Digital, and long-standing issues raised by staff had been covered up. "The world's most beautiful toxic waste dump," is how one former employee described the award-winning company. Allegations from former staffers include sexism, bullying, and harassment, as well as "pornographic mailing lists,'" hosted on Weta Digital's intranet, in addition to staff openly viewing pornography in the studio.
The pornography mailing lists are alleged to have existed from at least 2002 to 2015, when they were shut down. "There was a tradition at the time called Porn Friday. Every Friday staff members would email round porn images to the whole team," a female former Weta employee told TVNZ. "The first Friday I worked there I was so surprised, intimidated and uncomfortable. You could opt out of receiving them, which I did. "But there were still conversations amongst the team in my office every Friday about what images were sent round." Another alleged that pornography was openly shared and watched in Weta offices. There were also allegations of sexual overtures and in some cases harassment. It was also alleged that some chose not to complain because the company is a world leader in the special effects industry, and those who experienced issues feared being blacklisted.
Bacterial Outbreak Infects Thousands After Factory Leak In China
schwit1 shares a report from CNN:
Several thousand people in northwest China have tested positive for a bacterial disease, authorities said on Tuesday, in an outbreak caused by a leak at a biopharmaceutical company last year. The Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, confirmed that 3,245 people had contracted the disease brucellosis, which is often caused by contact with livestock carrying the bacteria brucella. Another 1,401 people have tested as preliminarily positive, though there have been no fatalities reported, the city's Health Commission said. In total, authorities have tested 21,847 people out of the city's 2.9 million population.
Brucellosis had been much more common in China in the 1980s, though it has since declined with the emergence of vaccines and better disease prevention and control. Still, there have been a smattering of brucellosis outbreaks around the world in the past few decades; an outbreak in Bosnia infected about 1,000 people in 2008, prompting the culling of sheep and other infected livestock. In the US, brucellosis has cost the federal government and livestock industry billions of dollars. About 60% of female bison at Yellowstone National Park carry the bacteria, according to national park authorities.
CEO of Cyber Fraud Startup NS8 Arrested By FBI, Facing Fraud Charges
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Forbes:
The CEO of a startup that sold fraud prevention software is facing fraud charges after he was arrested Thursday by the FBI in Las Vegas. Adam Rogas, who abruptly resigned from NS8 earlier this month, is accused of misleading investors who poured in $123 million to his company earlier this year, a deal in which he allegedly pocketed more than $17 million. "Adam Rogas was the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse," acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a press statement. "While raising over $100 million from investors for his fraud prevention company, Rogas himself allegedly was engaging in a brazen fraud."
NS8 launched in 2016 to provide online fraud detection and prevention software for small businesses. More than 200 NS8 employees were laid off last week after executives told them the company was under investigation by the SEC for fraud. The news was startling for many, considering the company had announced a $123 million Series A funding round in June, led by global VC firm Lightspeed Venture Partners. In a statement, NS8 said that its board "has learned that much of the company's revenue and customer information had been fabricated by Mr. Rogas." The company added that no other employees or stakeholders had been charged and that it is cooperating with federal investigators. In its complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, the Justice Department alleged that from January 2019 to February 2020, between 40% and 95% of NS8's assets were made up. During that period, the agency alleged, Rogas presented doctored bank statements to reflect over $40 million in fictitious revenue. Charges by the Justice Department carry penalties up to 20 years in prison. Rogas is expected to face a judge in Nevada on Friday.
Wikipedia Edits Have Massive Impact on Tourism, Say Economists
Forget glossy travel brochures and whizzy online sites; one of the most cost-effective ways tourism chiefs can drive business to their towns or cities is by
updating their Wikipedia page. From a report:
An experiment by economists at the Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin, Italy, and ZEW in Mannheim, Germany, found that a few simple edits to a Wikipedia page could lead to an extra $130,000 a year in tourism revenue for a small city, underscoring the power of the free online encyclopaedia. The researchers randomly selected cities across Spain to receive targeted improvements to their Wikipedia pages, adding a few paragraphs of information on their history and local attractions, as well as high-quality photos of the local area.
It didn't take an expert, either. Most of the content added was simply translated over from the Spanish Wikipedia into either French, German, Italian or Dutch. Doing so had an immediate and remarkable effect: adding just two paragraphs of text and a single photo to the article increased the number of nights spent in the city by about 9% during the tourist season. In some instances, the increase was even larger. For cities with barely anything on their Wikipedia pages, a minor edit could raise visits by a third.
Computing Pioneers Endorse Biden, Citing Trump Immigration Crackdown
Two dozen award-winning computer scientists, in a rebuke of President Trump's immigration policies, said on Friday that they were
endorsing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in November's presidential election. From a report:
The scientists, including John Hennessy, the executive chairman of Google's parent company, Alphabet, are all winners of the Turing Award, which is often called the Nobel Prize of computing. In a group interview, four of the scientists said the Trump administration's restrictive immigration rules were a threat to computer research in the United States and could do long-term damage to the tech industry, which for decades has been one of the country's economic engines. "The most brilliant people in the world want to come here and be grad students, but now they are being discouraged from coming here, and many are going elsewhere," said one of the scientists who organized the endorsement, David Patterson, a Google distinguished engineer and former professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Turing winners are the latest members of the scientific community to find their political voice as the election nears. The research journal Scientific American also endorsed Mr. Biden this week, citing, among other criticisms, Mr. Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic and his skepticism of climate change. It was the first time in its 175 years that the publication endorsed a presidential candidate. The Turing winners' endorsement -- also a first for them -- was made against the backdrop of the Trump administration's increasingly antagonistic relationship with the tech industry. Several federal agencies are investigating the business practices of tech's biggest companies, and the Justice Department could bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as this month.
NBC Threatens To Black Out Apps on Roku in Dispute Over Peacock
plans to black out more than 11 channels on Roku's streaming platform Saturday morning, escalating a standoff with the company over its refusal to carry a new video app, Peacock. From a report:
NBC's Peacock and AT&T's HBO Max have been unable to secure spots on Roku and Amazon.com's Fire TV since launching their streaming services earlier this year. Roku is demanding, among other things, a cut of the advertising inventory on those apps to sell on its own. Comcast's NBC and WarnerMedia, the AT&T division that runs HBO Max, are rejecting that push because they want to make money from ads on their streaming services. In a statement Friday, NBC said Roku's "unreasonable demands ultimately hurt both their consumers and their consumer equipment partners to whom they've promised access to all apps in the marketplace." Roku used similar wording in a statement. "Comcast is removingâthe channels in order to try to force Roku to distribute its new Peacock service on unreasonable terms,," a spokesperson said.
AT&T Considers Cellphone Plans Subsidized by Ads
AT&T is considering offering wireless phone plans partially
subsidized by advertising as soon as a year from now, Chief Executive John Stankey said in an interview on Tuesday. From a report:
The consideration, which has not been previously disclosed, underscores AT&T's commitment to the advertising business as the U.S. phone carrier reviews its portfolio to identify assets to sell in order to reduce its debt load. AT&T is considering selling its advertising-technology unit Xandr, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters. "I believe there's a segment of our customer base where given a choice, they would take some load of advertising for a $5 or $10 reduction in their mobile bill," Stankey said. Various companies including Amazon.com, Virgin Mobile USA and Sprint's Boost Mobile have tested advertising supported phone services since the early 2000s but they have not caught on. AT&T is hoping that better advertising targeting could revive the idea.
Bill To Tear Down Federal Courts' Paywall Gains Momentum in Congress
The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the Open Courts Act -- legislation to overhaul PACER, the federal courts' system for accessing public documents. The proposal would
guarantee free public access to judicial documents, ending the current practice of charging 10 cents per page for many documents -- as well as search results. From a report:
The bill must still be passed by the full House and the Senate and signed by the president. With Election Day just seven weeks away, the act is unlikely to become law during this session of Congress. Still, the vote is significant because it indicates the breadth of congressional support for tearing down the PACER paywall. The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), whose bill we covered in 2018, and a fellow Georgian, Democrat Hank Johnson. Prior to Tuesday's vote of the House Judiciary Committee, the bill received a strong endorsement from Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). "It is indefensible that the public must pay fees, and unjustifiably high fees at that, to know what is happening in their own courts," Nadler said.
Trump To Ban US TikTok and WeChat App Store Downloads on September 20
The US Commerce Department has issued a new order to
block people in the US from downloading the popular video-sharing app TikTok as of September 20th,
Reuters first reported Friday. From a report:
The full order was published by the Department of Commerce on Friday morning. "Any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd," the order reads, "shall be prohibited to the extent permitted under applicable law." It is set to take effect on September 20th. Over the last few weeks, TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has been engaged in talks with US companies like Microsoft and Oracle to create a new company, TikTok Global, that would meet the Trump administration's concerns over user data security.
Facebook Issues New Rules On Internal Employee Communication
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday outlined to employees a new set of principles to guide debates and conversations within Workplace, the company's internal social network. Zuckerberg outlined the changes to address "a lot of very tense conversations happening out in the world," according to company spokesman Joe Osborne. The new principles follow a set of similar changes at Google, which is increasing the moderation of its internal message boards, CNBC reported earlier this week.
"We deeply value expression and open discussion. What we've heard from our employees is that they want the option to join debates on social and political issues rather than see them unexpectedly in their work feed," Osborne said in a statement. "We're updating our employee policies and work tools to ensure our culture remains respectful and inclusive." Under the new set of principles, Zuckerberg said, Facebook will ensure all employees feel supported at work, especially the company's Black community, by strengthening the company's harassment policy with more protections for underrepresented employees. The company will also be more specific about which parts of Workplace can be used to discuss social and political issues. This change will be so that employees do not have to confront social issues during their day-to-day work. Facebook's new principles also ask that employees communicate with professionalism and continue to debate about the company's work but do so in a respectful manner.
Sony Makes It Official: PlayStation 5 Won't Natively Support PS1, PS2, PS3
a Wednesday interview, Sony Interactive Entertainment chief Jim Ryan confirmed that the upcoming PlayStation 5 console
won't natively support PS1, PS2, or PS3 games. Ars Technica reports:
Ryan explained that "PS5-specific engineering" meant the design team was mostly focused on "the simultaneous use of high-speed SSDs and the new DualSense controller." This prevented Sony from delivering compatibility with older consoles, Ryan told Famitsu, even though he made clear that Sony wanted to support PlayStation 4's "100 million players" by developing compatibility with "99%" of PS4 games, since "we thought that they would like to play PS4 titles on the PS5, as well."
This announcement doesn't clarify whether PS1 games purchased for use on PS4 will transfer to PS5. It also doesn't mention the existing ability for players to stream older-generation games to PS4 from the PlayStation Now cloud-subscription service or whether we should expect that functionality to seamlessly transfer to PS5 in November. [...] Wednesday's dump of PlayStation 5 news did not go into further detail about additional boosts to PS4 games as played on the upcoming console. Instead, we learned that some major PlayStation 5 games, particularly Horizon: Forbidden West and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, will launch simultaneously on PS5 and PS4. This appears to run somewhat counter to Sony's recent comments about maintaining "generations" instead of supporting an Xbox-style "forward-compatible" plan for its biggest games.
Hubble Captures Crisp New Image of Jupiter and Europa
A unique and exciting detail of Hubble's new snapshot appears at mid-northern latitudes as a bright, white, stretched-out storm moving at 560 kilometres per hour. This
single plume erupted on 18 August 2020 and another has since appeared. From a report:
While it's common for storms to pop up in this region, often several at once, this particular disturbance appears to have more structure behind it than observed in previous storms. Trailing behind the plume are small, counterclockwise dark clumps also not witnessed in the past. Researchers speculate this may be the beginning of a longer-lasting northern hemisphere spot, perhaps to rival the legendary Great Red Spot that dominates the southern hemisphere. Hubble shows that the Great Red Spot, rolling counterclockwise in the planet's southern hemisphere, is ploughing into the clouds ahead of it, forming a cascade of white and beige ribbons. The Great Red Spot is currently an exceptionally rich red colour, with its core and outermost band appearing deeper red. Researchers say the Great Red Spot now measures about 15 800 kilometres across, big enough to swallow the Earth. The super-storm is still shrinking, as noted in telescopic observations dating back to 1930, but its rate of shrinkage appears to have slowed. The reason for its dwindling size is a complete mystery.