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United Kingdom

British Companies Are Selling Advanced Spy Tech To Authoritarian Regimes (vice.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Since early 2015, over a dozen UK companies have been granted licenses to export powerful telecommunications interception technology to countries around the world, Motherboard has learned. Many of these exports include IMSI-catchers, devices which can monitor large numbers of mobile phones over broad areas. Some of the UK companies were given permission to export their products to authoritarian states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt; countries with poor human rights records that have been well-documented to abuse surveillance technology. In 2015, the UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) started publishing basic data about the exportation of telecommunications interception devices. Through the Freedom of Information Act, Motherboard obtained the names of companies that have applied for exportation licenses, as well as details on the technologies being shipped, including, in some cases, individual product names. The companies include a subsidiary of defense giant BAE Systems, as well as Pro-Solve International, ComsTrac, CellXion, Cobham, and Domo Tactical Communications (DTC). Many of these companies sell IMSI-catchers. IMSI-catchers, sometimes known as "Stingrays" after a particularly popular brand, are fake cell phone towers which force devices in their proximity to connect. In the data obtained by Motherboard, 33 licenses are explicitly marked as being for IMSI-catchers, including for export to Turkey and Indonesia. Other listings heavily suggest the export of IMSI-catchers too: one granted application to export to Iraq is for a "Wideband Passive GSM Monitoring System," which is a more technical description of what many IMSI-catchers do. In all, Motherboard received entries for 148 export license applications, from February 2015 to April 2016. A small number of the named companies do not provide interception capabilities, but defensive measures, for example to monitor the radio spectrum.
Data Storage

Intel Launches Flurry of 3D NAND-Based SSDs For Consumer and Enterprise Markets (hothardware.com) 127

MojoKid writes: Intel launched a handful of new SSD products today that cover a broad spectrum of applications and employ 3D NAND technology. The SSD 600p Series is offered in four capacities ranging from 128GB, to 256GB, 512GB and 1TB. The drivers are targeted at consumer desktops and notebooks and are available in the M.2 form-factor. The entry-level 128GB model offers sequential reads and writes of up to 770 MB/sec and 450 MB/sec respectively. At higher densities, the multi-channel 1TB model offers sequential reads and writes that jump to 1,800 MB/sec and 560 MB/sec respectively. The 128GB SSD 600p weighs in at $69, while the 1TB model is priced at $359, or about .36 cents per GiB. For the data center, Intel has also introduced the DC P3520 and DC S3520 Series SSDs in 2.5-inch and PCIe half-height card form-factors. Available in 450GB to 2TB capacities, the range-topping 2TB model offers random reads/writes of 1,700 MB/sec and 1,350 MB/sec respectively. Finally, Intel launched the SSD E 6000p (PCIe M.2) and SSD E 5420s Series (SATA). The former supports Core vPro processors and is targeted at point-of-sale systems and digital signage. The latter is aimed at helping customers ease the transition from HDDs to SSDs in IoT applications.
Communications

FCC Proposes 5G Cybersecurity Requirements, Asks For Industry Advice (fedscoop.com) 29

Presto Vivace quotes a report from FedScoop: "Cybersecurity issues must be addressed during the design phase for the entire 5G ecosystem, including devices. This will place a premium on collaboration among all stakeholders," said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler during a National Press Club event on June 20. "We continue to prefer an approach that emphasizes that industry develop cybersecurity standards just as we have done in wired networks." The FCC published a request Wednesday for comment on a new set of proposed 5G rules to the Federal Register focused on adding specific "performance requirements" for developers of example internet-connected devices. If a company hopes to secure a license to access higher-frequency 5G spectrum in the future then they will need to adhere to these specific requirements -- in other words, compliance is non-negotiable. Notably, these FCC "performance requirements" now include the submission of a network security plan. The report adds: "A quick review of the FCC's proposed 5G cybersecurity plan shows a six category split, organized by a companies' security approach, coordination efforts, standards and best practices, participation with standards bodies, other security approaches and plans with information sharing organizations. Security plans must be submitted to the commission at least six months before a 5G-ready product enters the market, according to the notice."
The Internet

MIT Scientists Develop New Wi-Fi That's 330% Faster (msn.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MSN: Scientists at MIT claim to have created a new wireless technology that can triple Wi-Fi data speeds while also doubling the range of the signal. Dubbed MegaMIMO 2.0, the system will shortly enter commercialization and could ease the strain on our increasingly crowded wireless networks. Multiple-input-multiple-output technology, or MIMO, helps networked devices perform better by combining multiple transmitters and receivers that work simultaneously, allowing then to send and receive more than one data signal at the same time. MIT's MegaMIMO 2.0 works by allowing several routers to work in harmony, transmitting data over the same piece of spectrum. MIT claimed that during tests, MegaMIMO 2.0 was able to increase data transfer speed of four laptops connected to the same Wi-Fi network by 330 percent. Paper co-author Rahul said the technology could also be applied to mobile phone networks to solve similar congestion issues. "In today's wireless world, you can't solve spectrum crunch by throwing more transmitters at the problem, because they will all still be interfering with one another," Ezzeldin Hamed, lead author on a paper on the topic, told MIT News. "The answer is to have all those access points work with each other simultaneously to efficiently use the available spectrum."
Mars

NanoRacks Plans To Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats (ieee.org) 130

An anonymous reader writes from a report via IEEE Spectrum: A couple of weeks ago NASA announced it has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. One of the six companies, called NanoRacks, is attempting to take empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turn them into space habitats on-orbit. IEEE Spectrum reports: "A rocket like the the Atlas V, which can deliver payloads of nearly 19,000 kg to low Earth orbit, consists of three primary pieces: on the bottom, you've got the first stage booster, which consists of a huge engine and some big tanks holding kerosene fuel and oxidizer. Above that, there's the second stage, which consists of one or two smaller engines, a big tank for storing liquid hydrogen fuel, and a smaller tank for oxidizer. The payload, which is what all of the fuss is about, sits on top. The first stage launches the rocket off of the pad and continues firing for about four minutes. Meanwhile, the second stage fires up its own engine (or engines) to boost the payload the rest of the way into orbit. On the Atlas V, the second stage is called Centaur. Once Centaur gets its payload where it needs to go, it separates, and then suicides down into Earth's atmosphere. Getting a payload into space is so expensive because you have to build up this huge and complicated rocket, with engines and guidance systems and fuel tanks and stuff, and then you basically use it for like 15 minutes and throw it all away. But what about the second stage? You've got a whole bunch of hardware that made it to orbit, and when getting stuff to orbit costs something like $2,500 per kilogram, you then tell it to go it burn itself up in the atmosphere, because otherwise it's just useless space junk." NanoRacks thinks this is wasteful, so they want to turn these tanks into deep space habitats. IEEE notes that the hydrogen fuel tank on a Centaur upper stage has a diameter of over 4 meters, and an interior volume of 54 cubic meters, while the inflatable BEAM module that arrived at the ISS earlier this year has an interior volume of 16 cubic meters. For more details, IEEE Spectrum spoke with Jeff Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, and Mike Johnson, NanoRacks' Chief Designer. You can read their responses here.
Medicine

Startup Aims To Commercialize a Brain Implant To Improve Memory (ieee.org) 85

the_newsbeagle writes: Neuroscientist Ted Berger has achieved some remarkable feats in his work on an implanted brain prosthetic to boost memory. Working with rats, he recorded the electrical signals associated with a specific memory from one animal's brain, then inserted that signal -- and thus the memory -- into another animal's brain. Working with monkeys, the implanted device enhanced the animals' recall in difficult memory tasks.

Still, it's startling to learn that a startup is ready to commercialize Berger's work, and is trying to build a memory prosthetic for humans suffering from Alzheimer's, brain injuries, and stroke. The new company, named Kernel, will fund human trials and develop electrodes that can record from and stimulate more brain cells.
"An implanted memory prosthetic would have electrodes to record signals during learning, a microprocessor to do the computations, and electrodes that stimulate neurons to encode the information as a memory," writes Eliza Strickland via IEEE Spectrum.
Communications

Next Generation of Wireless -- 5G -- Is All Hype (backchannel.com) 90

Many people have promised us that 5G will be here very soon. And it will be the best thing ever. To quote Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon, 5G is "wireless fiber," and to quote SK Telecom, thanks to 5G we will soon be able to "transfer holograms" because the upcoming standard is "100 times faster" than our current communications system 4G LTE. But if we were to quote Science, the distant future isn't nearly as lofty as the one promised by executives. Backchannel explains: "5G" is a marketing term. There is no 5G standard -- yet. The International Telecommunications Union plans to have standards ready by 2020. So for the moment "5G" refers to a handful of different kinds of technologies that are predicted, but not guaranteed, to emerge at some point in the next 3 to 7 years. (3GPP, a carrier consortium that will be contributing to the ITU process, said last year that until an actual standard exists, '"5G' will remain a marketing & industry term that companies will use as they see fit." At least they're candid.) At the moment, advertising something as "5G" carries no greater significance than saying it's "blazing fast" or "next generation" -- nut because "5G" sounds technical, it's good for sales. We are a long way away from actual deployment. [...] Second, this "wireless fiber" will never happen unless we have... more fiber. Real fiber, in the form of fiber optic cables reaching businesses and homes. (This is the "last mile" problem; fiber already runs between cities.) It's just plain physics. In order to work, 99% of any "5G" wireless deployment will have to be fiber running very close to every home and business. The high-frequency spectrum the carriers are planning to use wobbles billions of times a second but travels incredibly short distances and gets interfered with easily. So it's great at carrying loads of information -- every wobble can be imprinted with data -- but can't go very far at all.
Government

FBI Forced To Release 18 Hours of Spy Plane Footage (vice.com) 242

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes a report from Motherboard: It's been just over a year since amateur aviation sleuths first revealed the FBI's secret aerial surveillance of the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, in response to a FOIA request from the ACLU, the Bureau has released more than 18 hours of aerial footage from the Baltimore protests captured by their once-secret spy planes, which regularly fly in circles above major cities and are commonly registered to fake companies.

The cache is likely the most comprehensive collection of aerial surveillance footage ever released by a US law enforcement agency... The footage shows the crowds of protesters captured in a combination of visible light and infrared spectrum video taken by the planes' wing-mounted FLIR Talon cameras. While individual faces are not clearly visible in the videos, it's frighteningly easy to imagine how cameras with a slightly improved zoom resolution and face recognition technology could be used to identify protesters in the future.

The FBI says they're only using the planes to track specific suspectds in serious crime investigations, according to the article, which adds that "The FBI flew their spy planes more than 3,500 times in the last six months of 2015, according to a Buzzfeed News analysis of data collected by the aircraft-tracking site FlightRadar24."
Businesses

Nigerian Scammers Infect Themselves With Own Malware, Reveal New Fraud Scheme (ieee.org) 38

"A pair of security researchers recently uncovered a Nigerian scammer ring that they say operates a new kind of attack...after a few of its members accidentally infected themselves with their own malware," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Over the past several months, they've watched from a virtual front row seat as members used this technique to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from small and medium-sized businesses worldwide." Wave723 writes: Nigerian scammers are becoming more sophisticated, moving on from former 'spoofing' attacks in which they impersonated a CEO's email from an external account. Now, they've begun to infiltrate employee email accounts to monitor financial transactions and slip in their own routing and account info...The researchers estimate this particular ring of criminals earns about US $3 million from the scheme.
After they infected their own system, the scammers' malware uploaded screenshots and all of their keystrokes to an open web database, including their training sessions for future scammers and the re-routing of a $400,000 payment. Yet the scammers actually "appear to be 'family men' in their late 20s to 40s who are well-respected, church-going figures in their communities," according to the article. SecureWorks malware researcher Joe Stewart says the scammers are "increasing the economic potential of the region they're living in by doing this, and I think they feel somewhat of a duty to do this."
The Internet

Average Broadband Speed in US Rises Above 50 Mbps For First Time (techcrunch.com) 108

Internet speeds are getting faster in the United States, especially in cities such as Kansas City, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and Phoenix, according to a new Speedtest Market Report. The report, by Ookla's popular service, found that fixed broadband customers saw the biggest jump in performance this year with download speeds achieving an average of over 50Mbps for the first time ever. The result marks a 40 percent increase since July 2015. From a TechCrunch report: That average, 54.97 megabits per second is 42 percent higher than the same period last year, and upload jumped even more -- 18.88 is 51 percent higher year over year. This is all based on the 8 million or so daily tests conducted on Speedtest's website and apps, by the way, so the data is pretty sound. Comcast Xfinity took the honors for fastest speed on average, but its 125 megabits wasn't that much higher than the competition: Cox with 118 and Spectrum with 114. [...] On mobile, Verizon and T-Mobile are tied for first place with 21 megabits and change download speed on average, though the latter beats the competition by a long shot with upload speeds averaging 11.59 megabits. Poor Sprint, though.
Books

CP/M Creator Gary Kildall's Memoirs Released As Free Download (ieee.org) 157

An anonymous reader writes from IEEE Spectrum: The year before his death in 1994, Gary Kildall -- inventor of the early microcomputer operating system CP/M -- wrote a draft of a memoir, "Computer Connections: People, Places, and Events in the Evolution of the Personal Computer Industry." He distributed copies to family and friends, but died before realizing his plans to release it as a book. This week, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, with the permission of Kildall's children, released the first section and it is available for a free download. The rest of it, which they say did not reflect his true self, will not be made public.
Java

C Top Programming Language For 2016, Finds IEEE's Study (ieee.org) 315

IEEE Spectrum, a highly regarded magazine edited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has released its annual programming languages list, sharing with the world how several languages fared against each other. To assess the languages the publication says it worked with a data journalist and looked into 10 online sources -- including social chatter, open-source code production, and job postings. The publication has rated C as the top programming language this year, followed by Java, Python, C++, and R. From their article:After two years in second place, C has finally edged out Java for the top spot. Staying in the top five, Python has swapped places with C++ to take the No. 3 position, and C# has fallen out of the top five to be replaced with R. R is following its momentum from previous years, as part of a positive trend in general for modern big-data languages that Diakopoulos analyses in more detail here. Google and Apple are also making their presence felt, with Google's Go just beating out Apple's Swift for inclusion in the Top Ten. Still, Swift's rise is impressive, as it's jumped five positions to 11th place since last year, when it first entered the rankings. Several other languages also debuted last year, a marked difference from this year, with no new languages entering the rankings.The publication has explained in detail the different metrics it uses to evaluate a language.
Hardware

Transistors Will Stop Shrinking in 2021, Moore's Law Roadmap Predicts (ieee.org) 133

Moore's Law, an empirical observation of the number of components that could be built on an integrated circuit and their corresponding cost, has largely held strong for more than 50 years, but its days are really numbered now. The prediction of the 2015 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which was only officially made available this month, says that transistor could stop shrinking in just five years. From an article on IEEE: After 2021, the report forecasts, it will no longer be economically desirable for companies to continue to shrink the dimensions of transistors in microprocessors. Instead, chip manufacturers will turn to other means of boosting density, namely turning the transistor from a horizontal to a vertical geometry and building multiple layers of circuitry, one on top of another. These roadmapping shifts may seem like trivial administrative changes. But "this is a major disruption, or earthquake, in the industry," says analyst Dan Hutcheson, of the firm VLSI Research. U.S. semiconductor companies had reason to cooperate and identify common needs in the early 1990s, at the outset of the roadmapping effort that eventually led to the ITRS's creation in 1998. Suppliers had a hard time identifying what the semiconductor companies needed, he says, and it made sense for chip companies to collectively set priorities to make the most of limited R&D funding.It still might not be the end of Moore's remarkable observation, though. The report adds that processors could still continue to fulfill Moore's Law with increased vertical density. The original report published by ITRS is here.
Security

Can Iris-Scanning ID Systems Tell the Difference Between a Live and Dead Eye? (ieee.org) 93

the_newsbeagle writes: Iris scanning is increasingly being used for biometric identification because it's fast, accurate, and relies on a body part that's protected and doesn't change over time. You may have seen such systems at a border crossing recently or at a high-security facility, and the Indian government is currently collecting iris scans from all its 1.2 billion citizens to enroll them in a national ID system. But such scanners can sometimes be spoofed by a high-quality paper printout or an image stuck on a contact lens.

Now, new research has shown that post-mortem eyes can be used for biometric identification for hours or days after death, despite the decay that occurs. This means an eye could theoretically be plucked from someone's head and presented to an iris scanner. The same researcher who conducted that post-mortem study is also looking for solutions, and is working on iris scanners that can detect the "liveness" of an eye. His best method so far relies on the unique way each person's pupil responds to a flash of light, although he notes some problems with this approach.

Communications

Facebook Pitches Laser Beams As The High-Speed Internet Of The Future (pcworld.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PCWorld: Facebook says it has developed a laser detector that could open the airwaves to new high-speed data communications systems that don't require dedicated spectrum or licenses. The component, disclosed on Tuesday in a scientific journal, comes from the company's Connectivity Lab, which is involved in developing technology that can help spread high-speed internet to places it currently doesn't reach. At 126 square centimeters, Facebook's new laser detector is thousands of times larger. It consists of plastic optical fibers that have been "doped" so they absorb blue light. The fibers create a large flat area that serves as the detector. They luminesce, so the blue light is reemitted as green light as it travels down the fibers, which are then bundled together tightly before they meet with a photodiode. It's described in a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Optica. Facebook says there are applications for the technology both indoors and outdoors. Around the home, it could be used to transmit high-definition video to mobile devices. Outdoors, the same technology could be used to establish low-cost communications links of a kilometer or more in length. In tests, the company managed to achieve a speed of 2.1Gbps using the detector, and the company thinks it can go faster. By using materials that work closer to infrared, the speed could be increased. And using yet-to-be developed components that work at wavelengths invisible to the human eye, the speed could be increased even more. If invisible to humans, the power could also be increased without danger of harming someone, further increasing speed and distance.
Communications

FCC OKs Sweeping Spectrum Frontiers Rules To Open Up Nearly 11 GHz Of Spectrum (fiercewireless.com) 64

Monica Alleven, reporting for FierceWirelessTech: In one fell swoop, the FCC today put the U.S. in a 5G leadership position, voting 5-0 to approve its Spectrum Frontiers proceeding and make spectrum bands above 24 GHz available for 5G. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, noting his previous remarks on the proceeding, kept his remarks brief to avoid repeating himself. But he summed it up this way before the final vote: "This is a big day for our nation. This is a big day for this agency," he said. "I do believe this is one of the, if not the most, important decision this agency will make this year. By becoming the first nation to identify high-band spectrum, the United States is ushering in the 5G era of high capacity, high-speed, low-latency wireless networks. By not getting involved in the technologies that will use the spectrum, we're turning loose the incredible innovators of this country," he said. The new rules open up nearly 11 GHz of high-frequency spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband -- 3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum and 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum. The rules create a new Upper Microwave Flexible Use service in the 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz) and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands, and a new unlicensed band at 64-71 GHz. The FCC will continue to seek comment on bands above 95 GHz.
Robotics

Robot Stingray Is Powered By Rat Heart Cells (ieee.org) 35

An anonymous reader writes: Harvard researchers report in the journal Science this week that they've built a "bio-inspired swimming robot that mimics a ray fish [and] can be guided by light." The robot's body consists of "a cast elastomer body with a skeleton of gold, along with a single layer of carefully aligned muscle fibers harvested from neonatal rat hearts." The fibers were genetically modified to respond to pulses of blue light and structured along the body of the robot such that contractions result in a repetitive undulating motion, propelling the robot forward. "About 200,000 live rat heart cells form the muscle layer that powers the robot, which has a body 16.3 mm long and weighs just over 10 grams," reports IEEE. "At full tilt, it can swim at a speed of 3.2 mm/s, which isn't bad for such a tiny thing." You can watch the video that shows the robot being led through a 250 mm long obstacle course.
Security

Hackers Can Use Smart Watch Movements To Reveal A Wearer's ATM PIN (ieee.org) 105

the_newsbeagle writes: By gaining access to the sensors in someone's smart watch, hackers could track the person's hand movements at an ATM and figure out his/her pin. The hacker needn't be anywhere near the ATM; data can be lifted from the smart watch by either a discreet wireless sniffer or by malware on the watch that sends info to a server. This is hardly the first demonstration of the security flaws in smart watches. Last year, a research group showed that a watch's sensors can reveal keystrokes on a computer keyboard. The team of researchers, led by Chen Wang and Yingying Chen at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, were able to record movements down to the millimeter and crack private ATM PINs with 80 percent accuracy on the first try. To eliminate the security breach, manufacturers could better secure the data stored in their wearables, and/or add noise so one's physical hand movements cannot be as easily translated. Of course, consumers could simply wear their smart watch on their non-dominant hand.
Businesses

FCC Says TV Airwaves Being Sold For Wireless Use Are Worth $86.4 Billion (reuters.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday the price of 126 MHz of television airwaves taken from broadcasters to be sold for wireless use in an ongoing auction is $86.4 billion. The FCC disclosed the price in a statement after completing the first part of an auction to repurpose low-frequency wireless spectrum relinquished by television broadcasters. The so-called "broadcast incentive" spectrum auction is one of the commission's most complex and ambitious to date. In this round, called a reverse auction, broadcasters competed to give up spectrum to the FCC for the lowest price. In the next stage, the forward auction, wireless and other companies will bid to buy the airwaves for the highest price. If wireless companies are unwilling to pay $86.4 billion, the FCC may have to hold another round of bidding by broadcasters and sell less spectrum than had been expected, analysts said. The Wall Street Journal points out that $86.4 billion is more than the market cap of T-Mobile and Spring combined. It's roughly double the amount raised in the last FCC auction, where ATT spent $18.2 billion and Verizon spent $10.4 billion. It's highly likely we'll see multiple rounds stretching into 2017 that will eventually match the supply with the demand.
Wireless Networking

Wi-Fi Gets Multi-Gigabit, Multi-User Boost With Upgrades To 802.11ac (arstechnica.com) 74

The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced its certification program for IEEE 802.11ac Wave 2, a technology that has been around on the market for more than a year. Wave 2 can deliver up to 6.8Gbps and lets an access point interact with more than one device at a time. Wave 2 features MIMO (or MU-MIMO) which improves the MIMO technology that lets Wi-FI transmit over more than one stream through the air. Wave 2 standard utilizes channels up to 160MHz wide (up from 80MHz channels available with Wave 1). It also creates more spatial streams and uses spectrum more efficiently, the industry group said on Wednesday. Ars Technica adds:On top of MU-MIMO, wider channels, and more streams, the Wi-Fi Alliance says Wave 2 features now being certified bring "support for a greater number of available channels in 5GHz," a change that "makes more efficient use of available spectrum and reduces interference and congestion by minimizing the number of networks operating on overlapping channels." You may have already noticed routers supporting some of these features, since the specification details have been available for a few years. In fact, routers with MU-MIMO started appearing in July 2014, and you can find routers that use 160MHz channels. The certification program takes a while to catch up with real-world implementations, but it ensures compatibility between devices and may spur faster adoption by vendors. End-user devices such as phones, tablets, and laptops must also be updated to take advantage of new features such as MU-MIMO.

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