Privacy

Hackers Vandalize Vegas Pool Party Club in 'All Out War' (cnet.com) 32

From a CNET report: Next to DJ Tiesto's loud image on Wet Republic's website sits a photo of a bikini model with a beard and an eye patch, with a simple message: "It's all out war." Not exactly the type of message you'd expect from a spot that advertises itself as a dance club that doubles as a pool party, but when hackers are in town for Defcon, everything seems to be fair game. The hacker convention, which is in its 25th year in Las Vegas, typically has hotels on alert for its three days of Sin City talk, demos and mischief. Guests are encouraged not to pick up any flash drives lying around, and employees are trained to be wary of social engineering -- that is, bad guys pretending to be someone innocent and in need of just a little help. Small acts of vandalism pop up around town. At Caesars Palace, where Defcon is happening, the casino's UPS store told guests it was not accepting any print requests from USB drives or links, and only printing from email attachments. Hackers who saw this laughed, considering that emails are hardly immune from malware. But the message is clear: During these next few days, hackers are going to have their fun, whether it's through a compromised Wi-Fi network or an open-to-mischief website. Wet Republic's site had two images vandalized, both for the "Hot 100" party with DJ Shift. The digital graffiti popped up early Friday morning, less than 24 hours after Defcon kicked off.
Bitcoin

US Indicts Suspected Russian 'Mastermind' of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (reuters.com) 98

schwit1 shares a report from Reuters: A U.S. jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the U.S. Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. U.S. officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011. They alleged Vinnik and his firm "received" more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. U.S. authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik "obtained" funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.
Communications

Why Your Call Center is Only Getting Noisier (mckinsey.com) 103

From a report by research firm McKinsey & Company: Organizations have been investing in all manner of customer-facing technology solutions to replace live calls. Of all operational call-center technologies, digital solutions were ranked as one of the most important over the next five years by four out of five executives. Only agent desktop tools ranked higher. These technologies begin with websites, chat bots, and apps and extend to artificial-intelligence robots that simulate human conversations -- redefining the way organizations interact with customers -- as well as more tried-and-tested functionalities such as improved web, app, or self-service capabilities in interactive voice-response (IVR) systems. And yet, despite this plethora of technology solutions, we see that calls are not going away and instead are catching call-center executives off guard in their efforts to reduce volumes. It's not that a spike in call volumes is necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, the proliferation of digital tools can awaken previously dormant customers, sparking new inquiries from an engaged customer base. But in many instances, we've also observed that the volumes of unwanted calls exceed what would be expected during a learning period, or remain constant or rise over time, defeating strategic goals and leaving managers bewildered and unable to tie tech investments to improved operational outcomes. Why are so many organizations struggling with reaping the full benefits from these investments? In our experience, the answer often lies in two core areas. First, as companies turn to technology to address call-center volumes, they allow customer experience to take a back seat to digital technology in their operations, creating dissonance in direct customer interaction, where the objective is harmony and efficiency. Second, by counting on technology to solve their call-center issues, executives lose focus on core operations and upset the balance between human interaction and automation in an era of evolved customer service.
Bitcoin

SEC Rules That ICO Tokens Are Securities (vice.com) 96

schwit1 shares a report from Business Insider: On Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said that "ICOs" (Initial Coin Offerings) can sometimes be considered securities -- and as such are subject to strict laws and regulations. For the uninitiated, ICOs are a fancy new way of fundraising enabled by digital currencies like Ethereum -- participants invest money and receive digital "tokens" in return. Thus far, it has been largely unregulated, with some ICO crowdfunding events raising hundreds of millions of dollars -- leading some observers to argue that it is a massive bubble. But the SEC's warning means that this free-for-all may not last forever.

"Going forward, according to the SEC, companies that are issuing tokens as part of an ICO (if they are considered securities) need to register with the commission," reports Motherboard. "This will force companies to comply with regulations that ask them to reveal their financial position and the identities of their management. The SEC also concluded that online exchanges where tokens are bought and traded may have to register as security exchanges."

schwit1 adds a quote from Benito Mussolini: "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state."

Music

SoundCloud Halts Volunteer Archiving Project (vice.com) 48

Slashdot reader nielo tipped us off to more SoundCloud news. Motherboard reports: Last week, a group of volunteer digital preservationists known as The Archive Team announced they would be attempting to independently archive a 123.6 million track, 900-terabyte swath of SoundCloud, the popular streaming music and audio service that recently announced mass layoffs and office closures, sparking fears of an imminent closure. But just as the volunteer archive of SoundCloud was due to be getting started, it's been abruptly called off at the behest of the company... I reached out to SoundCloud for more information, and a spokesperson responded with the following written statement: "SoundCloud is dedicated to protecting the rights and content of the creators who share their work on SoundCloud. We requested the Archive Team halt their efforts as any action to take content from SoundCloud violates our Terms of Use and infringes on our users' rights... SoundCloud is not going away -- not in 50 days, not in 80 days or anytime in the foreseeable future..." But that hasn't stopped some individuals on Reddit's r/datahoarder subreddit from attempting to gather their own personal archives of as much of SoundCloud as they want and can afford to host.
Math

A New Sampling Algorithm Could Eliminate Sensor Saturation (scitechdaily.com) 135

Baron_Yam shared an article from Science Daily: Researchers from MIT and the Technical University of Munich have developed a new technique that could lead to cameras that can handle light of any intensity, and audio that doesn't skip or pop. Virtually any modern information-capture device -- such as a camera, audio recorder, or telephone -- has an analog-to-digital converter in it, a circuit that converts the fluctuating voltages of analog signals into strings of ones and zeroes. Almost all commercial analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), however, have voltage limits. If an incoming signal exceeds that limit, the ADC either cuts it off or flatlines at the maximum voltage. This phenomenon is familiar as the pops and skips of a "clipped" audio signal or as "saturation" in digital images -- when, for instance, a sky that looks blue to the naked eye shows up on-camera as a sheet of white.

Last week, at the International Conference on Sampling Theory and Applications, researchers from MIT and the Technical University of Munich presented a technique that they call unlimited sampling, which can accurately digitize signals whose voltage peaks are far beyond an ADC's voltage limit. The consequence could be cameras that capture all the gradations of color visible to the human eye, audio that doesn't skip, and medical and environmental sensors that can handle both long periods of low activity and the sudden signal spikes that are often the events of interest.

One of the paper's author's explains that "The idea is very simple. If you have a number that is too big to store in your computer memory, you can take the modulo of the number."
Businesses

Nolan's Cinematic Vision in 'Dunkirk' is Hollywood's Best Defense Against Netflix (marketwatch.com) 196

There's nothing quite like filming a movie on film, according to the director Christopher Nolan. His new WWII film, Dunkirk, was shot entirely on epic 65mm, as opposed to digital. And it's receiving the widest release of that film format in recent history. But Nolan's views on doing things the way "they're meant to be done," isn't limited to just making a film. He also wants you watch the movie in the theatre, and not on streaming service Netflix, which he says he rarely uses. From a report: "Dunkirk," director Christopher Nolan's big budget war epic, is a filmmaker's film and a movie buff's dream with its wide, high-resolution 70mm format. It's like an expressionist painting, said ComScore media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. The Hollywood Reporter even said "Dunkirk" could launch a 70mm film renaissance. "I would always prefer and really recommend that everyone see it on Imax 70mm," Dergarabedian said. "People talk about 'they don't make movies like that anymore.' Well, this is that movie." Dunkirk, which opens across the U.S. this weekend, is a film that everyone will tell you has to be seen on the big screen. And that has rekindled the debate about the pros and cons of films opening in a theater versus being streamed by Netflix. In an interview with Indiewire ahead of the film's premiere, Nolan criticized Netflix for its "bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films." Netflix, despite doubling down on its film business and looking to make inroads in the industry, has continued its controversial stance against Hollywood's theatrical window model. To the film industry's dismay, Netflix is still adopting a day and date release model -- dropping a movie on the streaming service the same day it hits theaters. Hollywood relies on the money moviegoers spend at the box office, and the industry is reluctant to give up the exclusive window of time that films are only in theaters, fearing it would cripple that income stream. "Dunkirk" is an impressive $150 million argument on behalf of cinema.
Movies

Disney Facing VFX Firm's Injunction Bid on Three Blockbuster Films (hollywoodreporter.com) 95

From a report: 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' and 'Beauty and the Beast' are now under the microscope for use of facial capture technology. Upping the stakes over a technology called "performance motion capture," Rearden LLC is going after The Walt Disney Company in a lawsuit filed this week. The plaintiff, a firm incubated by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Perlman, is demanding an injunction prohibiting Disney from distributing Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Beauty and the Beast. The new lawsuit comes a year after Rearden scored a startling injunction against two Chinese firms that purchased allegedly stolen technology known as MOVA, which was being licensed by Digital Domain 3.0. At the time, some legal observers were reading the ruling as notice to Hollywood studios that the facial motion capture technology was out of play. According to Rearden's latest lawsuit in California federal court, Disney didn't listen. "Disney used the stolen MOVA Contour systems and methods, made derivative works, and reproduced, distributed, performed, and displayed at least Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Beauty and the Beast, in knowing or willfully blind violation of Rearden Mova LLC's intellectual property rights."
IOS

Public Service Announcement: You Should Not Force Quit Apps on iOS (daringfireball.net) 285

John Gruber, writing for DaringFireball: The single biggest misconception about iOS is that it's good digital hygiene to force quit apps that you aren't using. The idea is that apps in the background are locking up unnecessary RAM and consuming unnecessary CPU cycles, thus hurting performance and wasting battery life. That's not how iOS works. The iOS system is designed so that none of the above justifications for force quitting are true. Apps in the background are effectively "frozen", severely limiting what they can do in the background and freeing up the RAM they were using. iOS is really, really good at this. It is so good at this that unfreezing a frozen app takes up way less CPU (and energy) than relaunching an app that had been force quit. Not only does force quitting your apps not help, it actually hurts. Your battery life will be worse and it will take much longer to switch apps if you force quit apps in the background. [...] In fact, apps frozen in the background on iOS unfreeze so quickly that I think it actually helps perpetuate the myth that you should force quit them: if you're worried that background apps are draining your battery and you see how quickly they load from the background, it's a reasonable assumption to believe that they never stopped running. But they do. They really do get frozen, the RAM they were using really does get reclaimed by the system, and they really do unfreeze and come back to life that quickly.
AI

Researchers Have Figured Out How To Fake News Video With AI (qz.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A team of computer scientists at the University of Washington have used artificial intelligence to render visually convincing videos of Barack Obama saying things he's said before, but in a totally new context. In a paper published this month, the researchers explained their methodology: Using a neural network trained on 17 hours of footage of the former U.S. president's weekly addresses, they were able to generate mouth shapes from arbitrary audio clips of Obama's voice. The shapes were then textured to photorealistic quality and overlaid onto Obama's face in a different "target" video. Finally, the researchers retimed the target video to move Obama's body naturally to the rhythm of the new audio track. In their paper, the researchers pointed to several practical applications of being able to generate high quality video from audio, including helping hearing-impaired people lip-read audio during a phone call or creating realistic digital characters in the film and gaming industries. But the more disturbing consequence of such a technology is its potential to proliferate video-based fake news. Though the researchers used only real audio for the study, they were able to skip and reorder Obama's sentences seamlessly and even use audio from an Obama impersonator to achieve near-perfect results. The rapid advancement of voice-synthesis software also provides easy, off-the-shelf solutions for compelling, falsified audio. You can view the demo here: "Synthesizing Obama: Learning Lib Sync from Audio"
Android

Samsung's 'Bixby' Voice Assistant Finally Launches In US (theverge.com) 40

After 3 months, Samsung announced that the voice capabilities of its digital assistant are now rolling out to U.S. Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners. Now, if you happen to own a Galaxy S8 or S8+, the physical Bixby button on the lefthand side of your phone will be able to actually do something somewhat useful. The Verge reports: Bixby's voice capabilities have been available in the US as part of an opt-in beta test, and Samsung says that feedback has led to faster response times, improved comprehension of varied phrasing around the same question, better hands-free operation, and more. Over 100,000 users of the flagship devices have enrolled in the early access program and issued over 4 million voice commands. Also, Samsung says Bixby can now read aloud your latest SMS messages and emails -- if you use its stock apps on the Galaxy S8. Bixby can be activated with a push of the dedicated Bixby button located on the side of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, or by saying "hi Bixby." Like Siri and Google Assistant, Bixby can handle alarms, send texts, and so on, but its real power lies in the ability to access granular phone settings or -- in supported apps -- automatically move through several menu screens to perform commands that Google Assistant simply can't do. Samsung says that deep learning should allow Bixby to improve over time as it begins to recognize users' preferences and ways of speaking. Here's a video showing some of the voice commands Bixby can respond to.
Security

US To Create the Independent US Cyber Command, Split Off From NSA (pbs.org) 104

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PBS: After months of delay, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to revamp the nation's military command for defensive and offensive cyber operations in hopes of intensifying America's ability to wage cyberwar against the Islamic State group and other foes, according to U.S. officials. Under the plans, U.S. Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency. The goal, they said, is to give U.S. Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet and other intelligence data from around the world -- a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces. Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space. The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups and hackers, and comes as the U.S. faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow's efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.
Bitcoin

Hacker Allegedly Steals $7.4 Million In Ethereum After Hijacking ICO (vice.com) 64

An anonymous reader writes: An unknown hacker allegedly took over the website of an ethereum startup called Coindash, directing investors to send money to his or her own ethereum digital wallet, instead of the one controlled by Coindash. While Coindash noticed the hack almost immediately, the damage was done, and the hacker amassed more than $7 million in stolen cryptocurrency.
United Kingdom

Porn Websites in UK Ordered To Introduce Age Checks From Next Year (bbc.com) 105

Reader dryriver shares an article: A nine-month countdown to the introduction of compulsory age checks on online pornography seen from the UK has begun. The April 2018 goal to protect under-18s was revealed as digital minister Matt Hancock signed the commencement order for the Digital Economy Act, which introduces the requirement. But details as to how the scheme will work have yet to be finalised. Experts who advised ministers said the targeted date seemed "unrealistic". The act also sets out other new laws including punishing the use of bots to snatch up scores of concert tickets, and mandating the provision of subtitles on catch-up TV. The age-check requirement applies to any website or other online platform that provides pornography "on a commercial basis" to people in the UK. It allows a regulator to fine any business that refuses to comply and to ask third-party payment services to withdraw support. The watchdog will also be able to force internet providers to block access to non-compliant services.
AMD

Chipmakers Nvidia, AMD Ride Cryptocurrency Wave -- For Now (bloomberg.com) 57

During California's Gold Rush, it was often the sellers of pickaxes and shovels who made the most money. In the frenzy to get rich quick from cryptocurrencies, some investors are calling computer chipmakers the modern-day equivalent. From a report: Shares of Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices have gained at least 14 percent since the beginning of June, spurred in part by about a 10-fold boom from April to June in a market, known as ethereum, for a currency that can be used to buy computing power over the internet. What's the link between ethereum and these Silicon Valley chipmakers? It lies in the really powerful graphics processors, designed to make computer games more realistic, that are also needed to gain access to encrypted digital currencies. Nvidia and AMD have rallied in the last month and a half even as investors have ignored chip stocks leaving the benchmark Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index up about 1 percent. Nvidia has gained 14 percent and AMD rallied 27 percent. While some of that has come from optimism around new products for other markets, analysts are projecting that sales related to cryptocurrencies will result in a spike in revenue for both companies. Even so, investors shouldn't bank on a lasting impact from the cryptocurrency boom, said Stacy Rasgon, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "This has happened before," Rasgon said. "It lasted about a quarter." [...] Like bitcoin, ethereum is an attempt by an online community to create an economy that doesn't rely on government-backed currencies. Unlike bitcoin, it's focused solely on offering decentralized computing and storage services. Those seeking to use these services -- and speculators looking for a quick profit by creating and then selling ether -- have seized on graphics cards, which excel at performing multiple simple calculations in parallel, as a faster way to claim the blocks of code that act as the currency of the ethereum market. Demand from ethereum miners has created temporary shortages of some of the graphics cards, according to analysts, who cite sold-out products at online retailers. Estimates of additional sales from this demand run as high as $875 million, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Mitch Steves. That would roughly equal AMD's total sales from graphics chips last year, or half of Nvidia's quarterly sales of those components. But Steves and other analysts are also quick to warn that the market opportunity could fizzle out.
Music

EU Sides With RIAA, Says YouTube Underpays For Music Streaming (mercurynews.com) 82

Profits from both CD sales and digital downloads are declining, while online streaming now accounts for the majority of the $7.7 billion U.S. music market, according to a new article. And the music industry's newest complaint is that 25% of music streaming is happening on YouTube, which they believe is paying them too little. An anonymous reader quotes the San Jose Mercury News: Now, the battle is heating up as the European Union is expected to release new rules later this year for how services such as YouTube handle music, potentially upending some of the copyright protections that undergird the Internet... The E.U. has formally recognized that there is a "value gap" between song royalties and what user-upload services such as YouTube earn from selling ads while playing music... How such a law would address the gap is still being decided, but the E.U. has indicated it plans to focus on ensuring copyright holders are "properly remunerated." Even the value gap's existence is disputed.

A recent economic study commissioned by YouTube found no value gap -- in fact, the report said YouTube promotes the music industry, and if YouTube stopped playing music, 85 percent of users would flock to services that offered lower or no royalties. A different study by an independent consulting group pegged the YouTube value gap at more than $650 million in the United States alone. "YouTube is viewed as a giant obstacle in the path to success for the streaming marketplace," said Mitch Glazier, president of the Recording Industry Association of America... YouTube pays an estimated $1 per 1,000 plays on average, while Spotify and Apple music pay a rate closer to $7... The music industry claims YouTube has avoided paying a fair-market rate by hiding behind broad legal protections. In the United States, that's the "safe harbor" provision, which essentially says YouTube is not to blame if someone uploads a copy-protected song -- unless the copyright holder complains.

YouTube argues that its automatic Content ID system recognizes 98% of all copyright-infringing uploads -- and that each year they're already paying the music industry $1 billion in royalties.
Businesses

Dark Web Marketplace AlphaBay Shuts For Good After Police Raids (theregister.co.uk) 112

Dark web marketplace AlphaBay's closure last week followed an international law enforcement operation and multiple raids, it has emerged. It has also been reported that a key suspect who was arrested in the raids has died in custody. From a report: The world's biggest online drug bazaar dropped offline on 5 July, sparking fears that its administrators had disappeared taking a swag bag of digital currency with them, pulling an "exit scam" like other dark web marketplace kingpins before them. The Wall Street Journal reports that a Canadian suspected of running AlphaBay was arrested in Thailand on 5 July following an international police operation involving authorities in the US and Canada as well as Thailand. Alexandre Cazes, the 26-year-old who had been accused of being the site's admin, was found dead in a Thai jail cell on Wednesday, the WSJ adds. The Bangkok Post reported that Cazes had been resident in Thailand for about eight years and had a Thai wife. Thai authorities said they'd seized four Lamborghini cars and three upmarket residences with a combined value of $11.7m (400 million Thai Baht). US authorities had apparently been seeking to extradite Cazes at the time of his death.
Movies

Biologists Use Gene Editing To Store Movies In DNA (scientificamerican.com) 87

New submitter elmohound writes: A recent paper in Nature describes how gene editing was used to store a digital movie into a bacterial population. The choice of subject is a nice hommage to Muybridge's 1887 photos. From a report via Scientific American: "The technical achievement, reported on July 12 in Nature, is a step towards creating cellular recording systems that are capable of encoding a series of events, says Seth Shipman, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. To develop such a system, however, his team would need to establish a method for recording hundreds of events in a cell. Shipman and his colleagues, including Harvard geneticist George Church, harnessed the CRISPR-Cas immune system best known for enabling researchers to alter genomes with relative ease and accuracy. Shipman's team exploited the ability to capture snippets of DNA from invading viruses and store them in an organized array in the host genome. In nature, those snippets then target an enzyme to slice up the invader's DNA. The team designed its system so that these snippets corresponded to pixels in an image. The researchers encoded the shading of each pixel -- along with a barcode that indicated its position in the image -- into 33 DNA letters. Each frame of the movie consisted of 104 of these DNA fragments." You can view the movie here, which consists of five frames adapted from Muybridge's Human and Animal Locomotion series.
DRM

EFF Officially Appeals Tim Berners-Lee Decision On DRM In HTML (techdirt.com) 149

Last week, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) decided to officially recommend the use of Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for protecting copyrighted video on the internet. This will enable web surfers to watch media in a browser that requires Digital Rights Management copy protection without the need for browser-based plugins. "It moves the responsibility for interaction from plugins to the browser," the consortium states at the time. "As such, EME offers a better user experience, bringing greater interoperability, privacy, security, and accessibility to viewing encrypted video on the web." TechDirt shares an update: It's been a foregone conclusion that EME was going to get approved, but there was a smaller fight about whether or not W3C would back a covenant not to sue security and privacy researchers who would be investigating (and sometimes breaking) that encryption. Due to massive pushback from the likes of the MPAA and (unfortunately) Netflix, Tim Berners-Lee rejected this covenant proposal. In response, W3C member EFF has now filed a notice of appeal on the decision. The crux of the appeal is the claimed benefits of EME that Berners-Lee put forth won't actually be benefits without the freedom of security researchers to audit the technology -- and that the wider W3C membership should have been able to vote on the issue. This appeals process has never been used before at the W3C, even though it's officially part of its charter -- so no one's entirely sure what happens next.
Google

Google Spared $1.3 Billion Tax Bill With Victory In French Court (bloomberg.com) 56

New submitter Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg: Google won its fight against a 1.12 billion-euro ($1.3 billion) French tax bill after a court rejected claims the search-engine giant abused loopholes to avoid paying its fair share. Google didn't illegally dodge French taxes by routing sales in the country out of Ireland, the Paris administrative court decided Wednesday. Judges ruled that Google's European headquarters in Ireland can't be taxed as if it also has a permanent base in France, as requested by the nation's administration. "Google Ireland isn't taxable in France over the period 2005-2010," the court said in a statement. Google said in a statement: "The French Administrative Court of Paris has confirmed Google abides by French tax law and international standards. We remain committed to France and the growth of its digital economy."

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