Security

Games Organizers at Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Confirm Cyber Attack, Won't Reveal Source (reuters.com) 73

Pyeongchang Winter Olympics organizers confirmed on Sunday that the Games had fallen victim to a cyber attack during Friday's opening ceremony, but they refused to reveal the source. From a report: The Games' systems, including the internet and television services, were affected by the hack two days ago but organizers said it had not compromised any critical part of their operations. "Maintaining secure operations is our purpose," said International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams. "We are not going to comment on the issue. It is one we are dealing with. We are making sure our systems are secure and they are secure."
Education

Cryptocurrency Classes Are Coming To Campus (nytimes.com) 81

While the price of Bitcoin has dropped since Christmas, the virtual currency boom has shown no signs of cooling off in the more august precincts of America's elite universities. The New York Times: Several top schools have added or are rushing to add classes about Bitcoin and the record-keeping technology that it introduced, known as the blockchain. Graduate-level classes this semester at Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Duke, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland, among other places, illustrate the fascination with the technology across several academic fields, and the assumption that it will outlast the current speculative price bubble. "There was some gentle ribbing from my colleagues when I began giving talks on Bitcoin," said David Yermack, a business and law professor at New York University who offered one of the first for-credit courses on the topic back in 2014. "But within a few months, I was being invited to Basel to talk with central bankers, and the joking from my colleagues stopped after that." For a class this semester, Mr. Yermack originally booked a lecture hall that could fit 180 students, but he had to move the course to the largest lecture hall at N.Y.U. when enrollment kept going up. He now has 225 people signed up for the class.
Science

A Chemical Bath and a Hot-press Can Transform Wood Into a Material That is Stronger Than Steel, Researchers Find (nature.com) 251

The process, and others like it, could make the humble material an eco-friendly alternative to using plastics and metals in the manufacture of cars and buildings, Nature reported this week. From the report: "It's a new class of materials with great potential," says Li Teng, a mechanics specialist at the University of Maryland in College Park and a co-author of the study published on 7 February in Nature. Attempts to strengthen wood go back decades. Some efforts have focused on synthesizing new materials by extracting the nanofibres in cellulose -- the hard natural polymer in the tubular cells that funnel water through plant tissue. Li's team took a different approach: the researchers focused on modifying the porous structure of natural wood. First, they boiled different wood types, including oak, in a solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite for seven hours. That treatment left the starchy cellulose mostly intact, but created more hollow space in the wood structure by removing some of the surrounding compounds. These included lignin, a polymer that binds the cellulose. Then the team pressed the block -- like a panini sandwich -- at 100C (212F) for a day. The result: a wooden plank one-fifth the thickness, but three times the density of natural wood -- and 11.5 times stronger. Previous attempts to densify wood have improved the strength by a factor of about three to four.
Businesses

Searching For Lithium Deposits With Satellites (economist.com) 49

A group led by Cristian Rossi, an expert on remote sensing, is using satellites already in orbit to detect and map geological and botanical features that might betray the presence of subterranean lithium. Though satellite prospecting of this sort has been employed before, reads a new report in The Economist, to look for metals such as gold and copper, using it to search for lithium is new. From the report, which may be paywalled: The searchers are not searching blind. They know, from mining records dating from the mid-1800s, that there is lithium in Cornwall's rocks. Those records tell of underground springs containing salts of lithium -- at that time quite a recently discovered element. Back then these springs were seen, at best, as curiosities, and at worst as flooding risks, because there was then no market for the metal. Today, there is. In particular, lithium is the eponymous component of lithium-ion batteries. These power products ranging from smartphones to electric cars, and are being tested as a means of grid-scale electricity storage which could make the spread of renewable energy much easier. No surprise, then, that prices have been rising. In 2008 a tonne of lithium carbonate cost around $6,000. Now it would set you back more than $12,000.
Open Source

How the First Open Source Software and Hardware Satellite UPSat Was Built (fosdem.org) 25

UPSat is the first open source -- both hardware and software -- satellite to have ever been launched in orbit. Pierros Papadeas, the Director of Operations for Libre Space Foundation, which helped build the UPSat, talked about the project at FOSDEM, a non-commercial, volunteer-organized European event focused on free and open-source software development. You can watch the talk here; and read an interview of him with folks at FOSDEM ahead of the talk here. Two excerpts from the interview: Q: What challenges did you encounter while designing, building, testing and eventually launching UPSat in orbit?
PP: The challenges where numerous, starting with the financial ones. Lack of appropriate funding led us to invest heavily in the project (through Libre Space Foundation funds) to ensure its successful completion. Countless volunteer participation was also key to the success. On the technical side, with minimal documentation and knowledge sharing around space projects we had to re-invent the wheel and discover many procedures and practices in a really short time-frame (6 months - unheard for a space mission). Lack of tools and equipment made our building process a creative exploration as we had to figure out ways to achieve specific tasks resorting to purpose-built projects in our local lab (hackerspace.gr). Testing and verification facilities where also a challenge mainly as we had to undergo much more extensive tests than other missions, having none of our components already "flight proven". Again creativity and countless hours of negotiations and documentation got us to the final delivery point. Launching UPSat in orbit was secured once the delivery happened, but as any typical space mission it came with long delays and timeline push-backs.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?
Through this talk we would like to raise awareness for open source initiatives in space, and inspire open source technologists (engineers, programmers, analysts, makers) to engage in an open source project. We would also love to gather feedback and ideas on next steps and provide contribution opportunities for interested parties.

Businesses

Hackers Hijack Government Websites To Mine Crypto-Cash (bbc.com) 48

BBC reports: The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) took down its website after a warning that hackers were taking control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency. Security researcher Scott Helme said more than 4,000 websites, including many government ones, were affected. He said the affected code had now been disabled and visitors were no longer at risk. The ICO said: "We are aware of the issue and are working to resolve it." Mr Helme said he was alerted by a friend who had received a malware warning when he visited the ICO website. He traced the problem to a website plug-in called Browsealoud, used to help blind and partially sighted people access the web. The cryptocurrency involved was Monero -- a rival to Bitcoin that is designed to make transactions in it "untraceable" back to the senders and recipients involved. The plug-in had been tampered with to add a program, Coinhive, which "mines" for Monero by running processor-intensive calculations on visitors' computers. The Register: A list of 4,200-plus affected websites can be found here: they include The City University of New York (cuny.edu), Uncle Sam's court information portal (uscourts.gov), Lund University (lu.se), the UK's Student Loans Company (slc.co.uk), privacy watchdog The Information Commissioner's Office (ico.org.uk) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (financial-ombudsman.org.uk), plus a shedload of other .gov.uk and .gov.au sites, UK NHS services, and other organizations across the globe.
Businesses

Where Old, Unreadable Documents Go to Be Understood (atlasobscura.com) 44

From a report: On any given day, from her home on the Isle of Man, Linda Watson might be reading a handwritten letter from one Confederate soldier to another, or a list of convicts transported to Australia. Or perhaps she is reading a will, a brief from a long-forgotten legal case, an original Jane Austen manuscript. Whatever is in them, these documents made their way to her because they have one thing in common: They're close to impossible to read. Watson's company, Transcription Services, has a rare specialty -- transcribing historical documents that stump average readers. Once, while talking to a client, she found the perfect way to sum up her skills.

[...] Since she first started specializing in old documents, Watson has expanded beyond things written in English. She now has a stable of collaborators who can tackle manuscripts in Latin, German, Spanish, and more. She can only remember two instances that left her and her colleagues stumped. One was a Tibetan manuscript, and she couldn't find anyone who knew the alphabet. The other was in such bad shape that she had to admit defeat. In the business of reading old documents, Watson has few competitors. There is one transcription company on the other side of the world, in Australia, that offers a similar service. Libraries and archives, when they have a giant batch of handwritten documents to deal with, might recruit volunteers.

Businesses

How Delivery Apps May Put Your Favorite Restaurant Out of Business (newyorker.com) 269

In a piece this month, The New Yorker argues that online food discovery and delivery platforms are bad for restaurants. From the report: In recent years, online platforms like Uber Eats, Seamless, and GrubHub (which merged with Seamless, in 2013) have turned delivery from a small segment of the restaurant industry, dominated by pizza, to a booming new source of sales for food establishments of all stripes. When the average consumer logs in to the Caviar app to order a Mulberry & Vine salad for the office or a grain bowl on the way home from work, she might reasonably assume that her order is benefitting the restaurant's bottom line. But Gauthier, like many other restaurant owners I've spoken to in recent months, paints a more complicated picture. "We know for a fact that as delivery increases, our profitability decreases," she said. For each order that Mulberry & Vine sends out, between twenty and forty per cent of the revenue goes to third-party platforms and couriers. (Gauthier initially had her own couriers on staff, but, as delivery volumes grew, coordinating them became unmanageable.) Calculating an order's exact profitability is tricky, Gauthier said, but she estimated that in the past three years Mulberry & Vine's over-all profit margin has shrunk by a third, and that the only obvious contributing factor is the shift toward delivery.
Android

Chinese Phone Maker Xiaomi Deletes a Public MIUI vs Android One Twitter Poll After Voting Didn't Go Its Way (betanews.com) 61

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which sells handsets at razor thin margins, is increasingly dominating in its home market and emerging places such as India and Indonesia. To make money, the company relies on a range of homegrown software features in its Android-based MIUI operating system. In a surprising move earlier this week, the company asked its Twitter followers to choose between MIUI and Android One (which runs pure Android OS). Things didn't go as it had planned. From a report: Presumably the company was rather hoping that Twitter users would vote for its own MIUI which it could then rub in Google's face -- but the poll actually went against Xiaomi. Rather than leave the results of the vote up for anyone to see, the company decided to simply delete it and pretend it never happened. Take a look at the Xiaomi account on Twitter, and you'll see no hint that any such poll has ever taken place. But over on Reddit, there's a thread which was started by someone posting a link to the poll. In the comments, one Redditor noticed after a period of voting that: "So far it's 53-47 for android one."
Apple

HomePod Repairs Cost Almost as Much as a New HomePod (theverge.com) 130

This may not come as a huge surprise, but it's going to be pricey if you break Apple's fully sealed and densely packed new speaker. From a report: Repair pricing for the HomePod was posted to Apple's website this week, and the number is high enough that it's clear you should invest in a warranty if you're worried about breaking one: an out-of-warranty repair from Apple will cost $279 in the US, which is 80 percent of the price of a brand-new HomePod. So you're not so much repairing it as getting a small discount on a new one.
Security

Sandboxed Mac Apps Can Record Screen Any Time Without You Knowing (bleepingcomputer.com) 59

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Malicious app developers can secretly abuse a macOS API function to take screenshots of the user's screen and then use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to programmatically read the text found in the image. The function is CGWindowListCreateImage, often utilized by Mac apps that take screenshots or live stream a user's desktop. According to Fastlane Tools founder Felix Krause, any Mac app, sandboxed or not, can access this function and secretly take screenshots of the user's screen. Krause argues that miscreants can abuse this privacy loophole and utilize CGWindowListCreateImage to take screenshots of the screen without the user's permission.
Facebook

Facebook 'Likes' Are a Powerful Tool For Authoritarian Rulers, Court Petition Says (qz.com) 63

A Cambodian opposition leader has filed a petition in a California court against Facebook, demanding the company disclose its transactions with his country's authoritarian prime minister, whom he accuses of falsely inflating his popularity through purchased "likes" and spreading fake news. From a report: The petition, filed Feb. 8, brings the ongoing debate over Facebook's power to undermine democracies into a legal setting. The petitioner, Sam Rainsy, says that Hun Sen, the prime minister, "has used the network to threaten violence against political opponents and dissidents, disseminate false information, and manipulate his (and the regime's) supposed popularity, thus seeking to foster an illusion of popular legitimacy." Rainsy alleges that Hun had used "click farms" to artificially boost his popularity, effectively buying "likes." The petition says that Hun had achieved astonishing Facebook fame in a very short time, raising questions about whether this popularity was legitimate.
AI

Facial Recognition Is Accurate, if You're a White Guy (nytimes.com) 284

Facial recognition technology is improving by leaps and bounds. Some commercial software can now tell the gender of a person in a photograph. When the person in the photo is a white man, the software is right 99 percent of the time. But the darker the skin, the more errors arise -- up to nearly 35 percent for images of darker skinned women, the New York Times reported, citing a new study. From the report: These disparate results, calculated by Joy Buolamwini, a researcher at the M.I.T. Media Lab, show how some of the biases in the real world can seep into artificial intelligence, the computer systems that inform facial recognition. In modern artificial intelligence, data rules. A.I. software is only as smart as the data used to train it. If there are many more white men than black women in the system, it will be worse at identifying the black women. One widely used facial-recognition data set was estimated to be more than 75 percent male and more than 80 percent white, according to another research study.
It's funny.  Laugh.

There Are Ajit Pai 'Verizon Puppet' Jokes That the FCC Doesn't Want You To Read (arstechnica.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission is refusing to release the draft versions of jokes told by Chairman Ajit Pai at a recent dinner, claiming that releasing the drafts would "impede the candid exchange of ideas" within the commission. In December, Pai gave a speech at the annual FCC Chairman's Dinner and played a video that attempts to lampoon critics who accuse Pai of doing the bidding of Verizon, his former employer. The video was shown less than a week before the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality rules, a favorable move for the broadband industry requested by Verizon and other ISPs. The satirical skit shows Pai planning his future ascension to the FCC chairmanship with Verizon executive Kathleen Grillo in 2003, the last year Pai worked as a Verizon lawyer. The video shows Pai and the Verizon executive plotting to install a "Verizon puppet" as FCC chair. In response, Gizmodo filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request for "any communications records from within the chairman's office referencing the event or the Verizon executive," the news site wrote yesterday. "Nearly a dozen pages worth of emails were located, including draft versions of the video's script and various edits," Gizmodo wrote. "The agency is refusing to release them, however; it is 'reasonably foreseeable,' it said, that doing so would injure the 'quality of agency decisions.'" The FCC searched for the records in response to Gizmodo's request and "returned no communications whatsoever with Kathy Grillo," the article said.
Software

German Authorities Are Considering a Ban On Loot Boxes (heise.de) 106

Slashdot reader Qbertino writes: Heise reports that German authorities are examining loot boxes in video games and considering banning them in the country. Loot boxes might actually even violate laws against calls-to-purchase aimed directly towards minors that are already in effect. German authorities are also checking that. Loot boxes are randomized in-game item purchases that many people consider a form of gambling. The decision to take action against loot boxes in Germany is expected in March. Germany's Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body has since clarified that Germany authorities are not considering a general ban on loot boxes, but are actually examining regulations of online advertising and purchasing as a whole.

"A closer look at the discussion is taking place, ie., if there are any specific risks and where to locate them legally. As part of that analysis the KJM (governmental institution responsible for youth protection regarding to online content/services) is taking a closer look at permitted and prohibited advertising in shop offerings. However these rules apply to online purchases in general, thus also to loot boxes," the rep said. "In the German debate this term [loot box] refers to a broad variety of different in-game or even just game-related purchase systems with more or less randomized items. Hence one cannot say that 'loot boxes' violate German laws, as each integration has to be evaluated as separate case."
Social Networks

Is Social Media Causing Childhood Depression? (bbc.com) 131

General practitioner Rangan Chatterjee says he has seen plenty of evidence of the link between mental ill-health in children and their use of social media. "One 16 year-old boy was referred to him after he self-harmed and ended up in A&E," reports BBC. Dr. Chatterjee was going to put him on anti-depressants, but instead worked with him to help wean him off social media. "He reported a significant improvement in his wellbeing and, after six months, I had a letter from his mother saying he was happier at school and integrated into the local community," says Dr. Chatterjee. That and similar cases have led him to question the role social media plays in the lives of young people. From the report: "Social media is having a negative impact on mental health," he said. "I do think it is a big problem and that we need some rules. How do we educate society to use technology so it helps us rather than harms us?" A 2017 study by The Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people aged 11-25 to track their moods while using the five most popular social media sites. It suggested Snapchat and Instagram were the most likely to inspire feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. YouTube had the most positive influence. Seven in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about body image and half of 14-24-year-olds reported Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety. Two-thirds said Facebook made cyber-bullying worse.

Consultant psychiatrist Louise Theodosiou says one of the clearest indications children are spending too long on their phones is their behavior during a session with a psychiatrist. "Two or three years ago, it was very unusual for a child to answer their phone or text during an appointment. But now it is common," said the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital doctor. She has seen a rise in cases where social media is a contributing factor in teenage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. These problems are often complex and wide-ranging -- from excessive use of gaming or social media sites to feelings of inadequacy brought on by a constant bombardment of social media images of other people's lives, to cyber-bullying.

Earth

Researchers Discover Efficient Way To Filter Salt, Metal Ions From Water (phys.org) 67

schwit1 shares a report on a new study, published in Sciences Advances, that offers a new solution to providing clean drinking water for billions of people worldwide: It all comes down to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), an amazing next generation material that have the largest internal surface area of any known substance. The sponge like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water. Dr Huacheng Zhang, Professor Huanting Wang and Associate Professor Zhe Liu and their team in the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in collaboration with Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO and Professor Benny Freeman of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, have recently discovered that MOF membranes can mimic the filtering function, or "ion selectivity," of organic cell membranes. With further development, these membranes have significant potential to perform the dual functions of removing salts from seawater and separating metal ions in a highly efficient and cost effective manner, offering a revolutionary new technological approach for the water and mining industries. Currently, reverse osmosis membranes are responsible for more than half of the world's desalination capacity, and the last stage of most water treatment processes, yet these membranes have room for improvement by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumption. They do not operate on the principles of dehydration of ions, or selective ion transport in biological channels.

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