The Almighty Buck

How a PhD Student Unlocked 1 Bitcoin Hidden In DNA (vice.com) 58

dmoberhaus writes: A 26-year-old Belgian PhD student named Sander Wuytz recently solved a 3-year-old puzzle that had locked the private key to 1 Bitcoin in a strand of synthetic DNA. Motherboard spoke with the student about how they managed to crack the puzzle, just days before it was set to expire. From the report: "As detailed by Nick Goldman, a researcher at the European Bioinformatics Institute, in his pioneering Nature paper on DNA storage, to encode information into DNA you take a text or binary file and rewrite it in base-3 (so rather than just ones and zeroes, there are zeroes, ones, and twos). This is then used to encode the data in the building blocks of life, the four nucleobases cytosine, thymine, adenine and guanine. As Wuyts explained to me, coding the data as nucleobases depended upon which nucleobase came before. So, for instance, if the previous base was adenine and the next pieces of data is a 0, it is coded as cytosine. If the next piece of data is a 1, it's coded as guanine, and so on. After the data is encoded as synthetic DNA fragments, these fragments are used to identify and read the actual files stored in the DNA. In the case of the Bitcoin challenge, there were a total of nine files contained in the DNA fragments. The files were encrypted with a keystream, which is a random series of characters that is included with the actual plain text message to obfuscate its meaning. The keystream code had been provided by Goldman in a document explaining the competition.

After running the code, Wuyts was able to combine the DNA fragments in the correct order to form one long piece of DNA. After working out some technical kinks, Wuyts was able to convert the DNA sequence into plain text, revealing the private key and unlocking the bitcoin (as well as some artefacts, including a drawing of James Joyce and the logo for the European Bioinformatics Institute). He had cracked the puzzle just five days before it was set to expire."

Operating Systems

Fitbit Will End Support For Pebble Smartwatches In June (arstechnica.com) 93

Today, Fitbit announced that it will extend its support of the Pebble smartwatch ecosystem, including devices, software, and forums, until June 30, 2018. "During this time, we invite the Pebble community to explore how familiar highlights from the Pebble ecosystem are evolving on the Fitbit platform, from apps and clock faces to features and experiences," the company's blog post states. Ars Technica reports: Fitbit's invitation is a hopeful one for the company itself. After the buyout, members of the Pebble team helped Fitbit develop its own smartwatch OS that debuted on the $300 Fitbit Ionic last year. Fitbit is likely hoping that diehard members of the Pebble community, many of which developed apps and programs for the smartwatch platform, will try making similar programs for Fitbit's new wearable operating system. The Fitbit SDK is already quite accessible, allowing developers to sign up and start building programs using all-online tools. But in addition to the accessibility of the SDK, Fitbit wants to entice Pebble users with a discount: users with a valid Pebble device serial number can get $50 off a Fitbit Ionic smartwatch. It's currently the only device that runs Fitbit OS, and it's useful to have if you want to test out any apps made with the SDK. But for those who want nothing to do with Fitbit OS development and only care about how long their Pebbles will last, this news is bittersweet. According to Fitbit's announcement, Pebble devices will continue to work after June 30, but these features will stop working: the Pebble app store, the Pebble forum, voice recognition features, SMS and email replies, timeline pins from third-party apps (although calendar pins will still function), and the CloudPebble development tool.
Google

Google X Is Launching a Cybersecurity Company Called Chronicle (techcrunch.com) 31

Google's parent company Alphabet today announced the launch of Chronicle, a new cybersecurity company that aims to give companies a better chance at detecting and fighting off hackers. "Chronicle is graduating out of Alphabet's X moonshot group and is now a standalone company under the Alphabet umbrella, just like Google," TechCrunch reports. From the report: Stephen Gillett, who joined X from Google Ventures and was previously the COO of Symantec, will be the new company's CEO. To get started, Chronicle will offer two services: a security intelligence and analytics platform for enterprises, and VirusTotal, the online malware and virus scanner that Google acquired in 2012. Gillett writes that the general idea behind Chronicle is to eliminate a company's security blind spots and allow businesses to get a better picture of their security posture. "We want to 10x the speed and impact of security teams' work by making it much easier, faster and more cost-effective for them to capture and analyze security signals that have previously been too difficult and expensive to find," writes Gillett. "We are building our intelligence and analytics platform to solve this problem."

What exactly this new platform will look like remains to be seen, though. Gillett notes that it will run on Alphabet's infrastructure and use machine learning and advanced search capabilities to help businesses analyze their security data. Chronicle also says that it will offer its services in the cloud so that they can "grow with an organization's needs and don't add yet another piece of security software to implement and manage."

Medicine

Apple Adds Medical Records Feature For iPhone (cnbc.com) 101

On Wednesday, Apple released the test version of a new product that lets users download their health records, store them safely and show them to a doctor, caregiver or friend. "We view the future as consumers owning their own health data," Apple COO Jeff Williams said in an interview with CNBC. From the report: It all works when a user opens the iPhone's health app, navigates to the health record section, and, on the new tool, adds a health provider. From there, the user taps to connect to Apple's software system and data start streaming into the service. Patients will get notified via an alert if new information becomes available. In June, CNBC first reported on Apple's plans, including early discussions with top U.S. hospitals. The company confirmed that it has contracts with about a dozen hospitals across the country, including Cedars-Sinai, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Penn Medicine and the University of California, San Diego. The medical information available will include allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals. The information is encrypted and protected through a user's iPhone passcode.
The Courts

Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand For $6.8 Billion In Damages Over Erroneous Arrest (torrentfreak.com) 216

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the U.S. to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Mr Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. He is seeking damages for destruction to his business and loss of reputation. Accountants calculate that the Megaupload group of companies would be worth $10 billion today, had it not been shut down during the raid. As he was a 68% shareholder in the business, Mr Dotcom has asked for damages going up to $6.8 billion. He is also considering taking similar action against the Hong Kong government. As stated in documents filed with the High Court, Mr Dotcom is also seeking damages for: all lost business opportunities since 2012, his legal costs, loss of investments he made to the mansion he was renting, his lost opportunity to purchase the mansion, and loss of reputation.
The Internet

New York Governor Signs Executive Order To Keep Net Neutrality Rules After FCC's Repeal (theverge.com) 131

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that he has signed an executive order that would require internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality rules, even though the FCC recently voted to repeal those rules last month. Cuomo's announcement comes a couple days after Montana's governor signed essentially the same order. The Verge reports: [Both executive orders] require service providers with contracts to abide by the widely agreed upon tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, throttling, or otherwise favoring content. But the more populous New York could now become a key battleground over net neutrality. According to the order, any service provider receiving or renewing a contract after March 1st in New York will be required to sign an agreement saying they will adhere to net neutrality principles. Major companies, including Verizon and AT&T, have signed contracts with the state. That, however, doesn't mean the executive order will stand. When it passed its repeal of net neutrality rules late last year, the FCC specifically included a provision blocking states from passing their own rules. New York, like other states that attempt similar plans, will likely face a legal challenge.
Communications

'Memes Have Rights Too': Grumpy Cat Wins $710,000 In Copyright Lawsuit (thewrap.com) 62

Zorro shares a report from TheWrap: The Grumpy Cat Limited company was awarded $710,001 in damages on Monday when a California jury decided that the beverage company Grenade was guilty of infringing on its copyright and trademark. Grumpy Cat Limited, formed by Tabatha Bundesen to monetize the viral fame of her sour-faced cat (real name, Tardar Sauce), sued Grenade in 2015, claiming the company used the cat's image on several of its products, despite only having the rights to sell a line of iced coffees called "Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino." The Grumpy Cat image appeared on Grenade's roasted coffee line and tee-shirts, neither of which were part of the original deal. Grenade filed its own countersuit, claiming Grumpy Cat didn't hold up its end of the bargain and failed to promote the brand as outlined under the terms of the deal. However, the jury wasn't moved by its argument and ultimately decided in favor of the meme. "It's important precedent when you have something like a meme online," David Jonelis of Lavely & Singer, Grumpy Cat's lawyer, told TheWrap. "It's the first verdict ever rendered in favor of a viral meme. Memes have rights too."
China

Two Twin Long-Tailed Macaque Monkeys Are the First Primates Cloned Using the Dolly Method (arstechnica.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The twin long-tailed macaque monkeys are the first primates cloned using the same method that created the world's most famous sheep in 1996 -- a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. The twins' genetic blueprints were swiped from fetal cells of another monkey. Researchers then popped the DNA into egg cells that they had also cleared of their DNA-containing nuclei. With a dash of compounds that spur embryo development, the reprogrammed cells developed into healthy baby monkeys in surrogate mother monkeys. The two were born about seven weeks ago in China and are developing normally so far, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Cell. Though the overall SCNT method is the same as what was used for Dolly, researchers struggled for years to tweak it to work in primates. The procedure is delicate and required a lot of optimization -- not to mention DNA-swaps.

The researchers behind the cute clones, led by Zhen Liu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, first tried using DNA from adult monkey cells. They created 192 embryos this way, implanting 181 of them into 42 surrogates, leading to 22 pregnant monkeys. But this resulted in the live birth of only two monkeys, both of which died within hours. Next, the researchers tried using DNA from fetal tissue. They created 109 embryos, implanted 79 of them into 21 surrogates, leading to pregnancy in six of them. Two female monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, resulted. The researchers attribute their success to new cell-imaging methods, tweaking the right mix of reprogramming compounds, and lots of practice.

AT&T

AT&T Calls For Net Neutrality Laws After Fighting To End FCC Rules (engadget.com) 126

Few people would call AT&T a champion of net neutrality, but that isn't stopping it from trying to claim the title. From a report: CEO Randall Stephenson has posted an open letter calling on Congress to write an "Internet Bill of Rights" that enforces "neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection" for American internet users. They would not only defend consumer rights, Stephenson argues, but establish "consistent rules of the road" that give internet companies and telecoms an idea of what they can expect. The company chief also insisted that AT&T honored an open internet and doesn't block, throttle or otherwise hinder access to content.

The problem, as you might suspect, is what the company isn't saying. The US already had protections for net neutrality that do what it's asking for, but AT&T and other telecoms have spent years fighting net neutrality regulation whenever it comes up. The carrier spent over $16 million in lobbying just in 2017, and it maintained its anti-regulatory stance throughout the FCC's repeal process.

Microsoft

Windows 10 Will Soon Let Users Track the Data Microsoft Collects (thurrott.com) 148

Windows 10 will soon get a new application that will allow users to keep track of the data that Microsoft collects from their device. From a report: Ahead of the Data Privacy Day, Microsoft today introduced a new Diagnostic Data Viewer app for Windows 10 -- first coming to Windows Insiders -- that enables users to view all the diagnostic data that's being collected by Windows 10. The new Diagnostic Data Viewer will display different types of diagnostic data collected by the OS. This includes Common Data (your OS version, device ID/type, etc.), Device Connectivity and Configuration data (device capabilities, user settings, peripherals and network info), Product and Service Performance (device health, performance, reliability data), Product and Service Usage (data on usage of device, apps, OS), and Software Setup and Inventory (update information). The app includes a search feature that lets you search for specific items.
Government

Net Neutrality Comment Fraud Will Be Investigated By Government (arstechnica.com) 79

Last month, a number of US Representatives sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asking it to investigate fraudulent comments submitted to the FCC's proposal to repeal net neutrality. Multiple groups found evidence that millions of the comments submitted during the FCC's public comment period were linked to fake email addresses, were fraudulently posted under others' names and addresses and were even attributed to people known to be dead. ArsTechnica reported on Wednesday that the GAO has agreed to investigate the issue. From the report: The GAO will do just that, having told Democrats in a letter that it will "review the extent and pervasiveness of fraud and the misuse of American identities during federal rulemaking processes." The investigation was requested by nine Democrats led by Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). GAO investigations do not happen quickly. "At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about five months," the office said.
AI

An AI-Powered App Has Resulted in an Explosion of Convincing Face-Swap Porn (vice.com) 222

Samantha Cole, reporting for Motherboard: In December, Motherboard discovered a Redditor named 'deepfakes' quietly enjoying his hobby: Face-swapping celebrity faces onto porn performers' bodies. He made several convincing porn videos of celebrities -- including Gal Gadot, Maisie Williams, and Taylor Swift -- using a machine learning algorithm, his home computer, publicly available videos, and some spare time. Since we first wrote about deepfakes, the practice of producing AI-assisted fake porn has exploded. More people are creating fake celebrity porn using machine learning, and the results have become increasingly convincing. A redditor even created an app specifically designed to allow users without a computer science background to create AI-assisted fake porn. All the tools one needs to make these videos are free, readily available, and accompanied with instructions that walk novices through the process.
Businesses

Tax Change Aims to Lure Intellectual Property Back to the US (wsj.com) 186

U.S. companies rich in intellectual property are looking at a new tax-friendly regime: the U.S (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). From a report: A provision in the newly revised U.S. tax code slashes the income tax companies pay on royalties from the overseas use of intellectual property or so-called intangible assets, such as licenses and patents. The new tax break, for what is dubbed foreign-derived intangible income, effectively reduces tax on foreign income from goods and services produced in the U.S. using patents and other intellectual property to 13.125% until the end of 2025, after which the rate rises to 16.4%. Previously, royalties paid to a unit in the U.S. would have been taxed similarly to other U.S. income, for which the top corporate tax rate was 35%. The new headline corporate rate is 21%. The deduction is meant to induce companies with large U.S. operations and significant foreign income from patent royalties to base more of those assets in the U.S. Such companies, especially in technology and pharmaceutical sectors, often hold foreign rights for their IP in a company based in a low-tax country.
Google

Longtime Google Engineer Quits; Says Company Can No Longer Innovate, Is Mired in Politics, and Has Become Absolutely Competitor-Focused (medium.com) 392

Steve Yegge, a longtime Google engineer who gained popularity after his rant on Google+ went viral, wrote another rant on Wednesday, in which he announced he has left Google. His rationale behind leaving Google, in his own words: The main reason I left Google is that they can no longer innovate. They've pretty much lost that ability. I believe there are several contributing factors, of which I'll list four here. First, they're conservative: They are so focused on protecting what they've got, that they fear risk-taking and real innovation. Gatekeeping and risk aversion at Google are the norm rather the exception. Second, they are mired in politics, which is sort of inevitable with a large enough organization; the only real alternative is a dictatorship, which has its own downsides. Third, Google is arrogant. It has taken me years to understand that a company full of humble individuals can still be an arrogant company. Google has the arrogance of the "we", not the "I". Fourth, last, and probably worst of all, Google has become 100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused. They've made a weak attempt to pivot from this, with their new internal slogan "Focus on the user and all else will follow." But unfortunately it's just lip service.

You can look at Google's entire portfolio of launches over the past decade, and trace nearly all of them to copying a competitor: Google+ (Facebook), Google Cloud (AWS), Google Home (Amazon Echo), Allo (WhatsApp), Android Instant Apps (Facebook, WeChat), Google Assistant (Apple/Siri), and on and on and on. They are stuck in me-too mode and have been for years. They simply don't have innovation in their DNA any more. And it's because their eyes are fixed on their competitors, not their customers.

IOS

Apple Will Soon Let Users Turn Off its iPhone-slowing Software (cnet.com) 124

Following an uproar from customers last month, Apple on Wednesday said it's adding a feature to its latest iOS update that will let customers turn off software that slows down their iPhones. From a report: Apple in December revealed that it released software a year earlier that makes your phone run more slowly to prevent problems with its aging lithium ion battery, such as unexpected shutdowns. As part of the new iOS 11.3 update, iPhone users will get a recommendation if a battery needs to be serviced. Plus, they will be able to see if the power management feature that slows the phone's performance is on and can choose to turn it off, the company said Wednesday.
Security

NSA Deletes 'Honesty' and 'Openness' From Core Values (theintercept.com) 263

An anonymous shares a report: The National Security Agency maintains a page on its website that outlines its mission statement. But earlier this month, the agency made a discreet change: It removed "honesty" as its top priority. Since at least May 2016, the surveillance agency had featured honesty as the first of four "core values" listed on NSA.gov, alongside "respect for the law," "integrity," and "transparency." The agency vowed on the site to "be truthful with each other." On January 12, however, the NSA removed the mission statement page -- which can still be viewed through the Internet Archive -- and replaced it with a new version. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency's new top value is "commitment to service," which it says means "excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission." Those are not the only striking alterations. In its old core values, the NSA explained that it would strive to be deserving of the "great trust" placed in it by national leaders and American citizens. It said that it would "honor the public's need for openness." But those phrases are now gone; all references to "trust," "honor," and "openness" have disappeared.
EU

EU Fines Qualcomm $1.2 Billion for Paying Apple To Use Its Microchips (apnews.com) 112

The European Union on Wednesday slapped a $1.23 billion fine on U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm for abusing its market dominance in the lucrative sector of components in smartphones and tablets for half a decade. From a report: EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that San Diego-based Qualcomm "illegally shut out rivals from the market" for more than five years by paying key customer Apple to not use chips made by Qualcomm's rivals. Vestager said Qualcomm paid "billions of dollars" to Apple and in the process helped establish itself as the dominant force.
Youtube

YouTube's Support for Musicians Comes With a Catch (bloomberg.com) 41

YouTube has asked musicians to agree not to disparage the streaming-video service in exchange for promotional support, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: In recent months, YouTube has given a handful of musicians a couple hundred thousand dollars to produce videos and promoted their work on billboards, part of a larger campaign to improve the site's relationship with the music industry. Yet such support comes with a catch, with some musicians required to promise the won't say negative things about YouTube, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private business transactions. Non-disparagement agreements are common in business, but YouTube's biggest direct competitors in music don't require them, the people said.
HP

Dell and HP Advise All Their Customers To Not Install Spectre BIOS Updates (bleepingcomputer.com) 88

An anonymous reader writes: The Spectre and Meltdown mess continues with Dell now recommending their customers to not install the BIOS updates that are supposed to resolve the Spectre (Variant 2) vulnerabilities. These updates have been causing numerous problems for users including performance issues, boot issues, reboot issues, and general system stability. Due to this, Dell EMC has updated its knowledgebase article with a statement advising customers to not install the BIOS update and to potentially rollback to the previous BIOS if their computers are exhibiting "unpredictable system behavior". ZDNet reports that HP too has issued a similar advisory. The computer manufacturer pulled its softpaqs BIOS updates with Intel's patches from its website, and said it would be releasing a BIOS update with a previous version of Intel's microcode on Thursday.
Australia

1.7-Billion-Year-Old Chunk of North America Found Sticking To Australia (livescience.com) 122

walterbyrd shares a report from Live Science: Geologists matching rocks from opposite sides of the globe have found that part of Australia was once attached to North America 1.7 billion years ago. Researchers from Curtin University in Australia examined rocks from the Georgetown region of northern Queensland. The rocks -- sandstone sedimentary rocks that formed in a shallow sea -- had signatures that were unknown in Australia but strongly resembled rocks that can be seen in present-day Canada. The researchers, who described their findings online Jan. 17 in the journal Geology, concluded that the Georgetown area broke away from North America 1.7 billion years ago. Then, 100 million years later, this landmass collided with what is now northern Australia, at the Mount Isa region.

"This was a critical part of global continental reorganization when almost all continents on Earth assembled to form the supercontinent called Nuna," Adam Nordsvan, Curtin University doctoral student and lead author of the study, said in a statement. Nordsvan added that Nuna then broke apart some 300 million years later, with the Georgetown area stuck to Australia as the North American landmass drifted away.

Google

Official: No One Is Going To Win the Google Lunar X Prize Competition (theverge.com) 33

The X Prize Foundation announced today that no one is going to win the foundation's competition to send a spacecraft to the Moon. "Only five finalists remained in the Google-sponsored Lunar X Prize competition, and in order to win any grand prize money, the teams had to launch and complete their missions to the Moon before March 31st, 2018," reports The Verge. "But with only two months until the deadline, no team is ready to launch, so Google will keep the prize money instead." From the report: The Google Lunar X Prize was established in 2007 as a way to help lower the cost of getting to space. So far, only government agencies have landed on the lunar surface, with missions that have cost many millions and even billions of dollars. That's why the X Prize Foundation, which sets up global competitions, challenged teams with developing and launching robotic lunar landers using mostly private funding. The idea was to make them come up with creative methods for getting to the Moon on the cheap. Landing on the lunar surface was only part of the challenge. Teams had to travel up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) on the Moon too, as well as do live broadcasts. The first to fulfill all these requirements before the deadline would receive $20 million, while the second place team would get $5 million. Other smaller purses would be awarded to teams that did special tasks, such as completing an orbit around the Moon before landing. "As a result of this competition, we have sparked the conversation and changed expectations with regard to who can land on the Moon," the X Prize Foundation said in its statement. "Many now believe it's no longer the sole purview of a few government agencies, but now may be achieved by small teams of entrepreneurs, engineers, and innovators from around the world." A Google spokesperson also told CNBC that the company is "thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years."
Earth

Half-Assed Solar Geoengineering Is Worse Than Climate Change Itself (vice.com) 164

New submitter beccaf writes: Ecologists and climate scientists investigated the consequences of rapid initiation of solar geoengineering (pumping sulfuric aerosols into the atmosphere) in 2020 and then rapid termination of this solar geoengineering fifty years later. It provides only short-term benefits to biodiversity, and, if stopped abruptly, temperatures will soar faster than they would with climate change alone and the consequences to all living things will be even worse than if humans had never interfered in Earth's natural processes at all. The study has been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Rebecca Flowers via Motherboard summarizes the effects of solar geoengineering, according to research conducted by Christopher Trisos, an ecologist at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, and his colleagues: "Initially, organisms stop having to change habitats in response to rising temperatures. Highly mobile species that had already moved, like migratory birds, might return to their original ecosystems, and species that were too slow to move before, like corals, have a higher chance of survival than they did before the geoengineering project began. After mere decades, though, living things in highly biodiverse areas like the Amazon Basin have to start moving again, as much as they would have to in a non-geoengineering scenario."

"Suddenly, it's 2070," Flowers continues. "Governments begin to disagree on how to handle climate change, and, besides, they can no longer afford to pump aerosols into the atmosphere. As a result, we stop pumping aerosols into the atmosphere. Then things really go to hell. The amount of warming that would have happened without geoengineering over fifty years is essentially squished into a decade..."

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