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Submission + - Microsoft Kills Off Security Bulletins (computerworld.com)

An anonymous reader writes: ComputerWorld reports: "Microsoft this week retired the security bulletins that for decades have described each month's slate of vulnerabilities and accompanying patches for customers — especially administrators responsible for companies' IT operations. One patch expert reported on the change for his team. "It was like trying to relearn how to walk, run and ride a bike, all at the same time," said Chris Goettl, product manager with patch management vendor Ivanti. The move to a bulletin-less Patch Tuesday brought an end to months of Microsoft talk about killing the bulletins that included an aborted attempt to toss them."

Submission + - Why Uber Won't Fire Its CEO (backchannel.com)

mirandakatz writes: As negative press about Uber has piled up, multiple people have called for the ridesharing giant to fire its CEO, Travis Kalanick. But that's so much more easily said than done: The only person who can decide Uber needs a new CEO is Travis himself. At Backchannel, Jessi Hempel unpacks the dual-class share structure that has become so popular among savvy tech founders in recent years, as it allows them to maintain control over decisions the company makes, even if their ownership in the company is significantly reduced. As Hempel writes, "The argument for allowing a small set of founders complete control over their boards is the same one to be made for enabling benevolent dictatorships. Benevolence, however, does not come with a permanent guarantee."

Submission + - Japanese Company Develops a Solar Cell With Record-Breaking 26%+ Efficiency (arstechnica.com)

An anonymous reader writes: The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it’s just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won. Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In the Nature Energy paper, the researchers described building a 180.4 cm2 cell using high-quality thin-film heterojunction (HJ)—that is, layering silicon within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can’t exist. Controlling heterojunctions is a known technique among solar cell builders—Panasonic uses it and will likely incorporate it into cells built for Tesla at the Solar City plant in Buffalo, and Kaneka has its own proprietary heterojunction techniques. For this record-breaking solar cell, the Kaneka researchers also placed low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximized the number of photons that collected inside the cell from the front. And, as is common on many solar cells, they coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell’s components and collect photons more efficiently.

Submission + - Strong FBI Ties for Next Generation Quantum Computer (nextplatform.com)

kipperstem77 writes: It is a good time to be the maker of a machine that excels in large-scale optimization problems for cybersecurity and defense. And it is even better to be the only maker of such a machine at a time when the need for a post-Moore’s Law system is in high demand.

We have already described the U.S. Department of Energy’s drive to place a novel architecture at the heart of one of the future exascale supercomputers, and we have also explored the range of options that might fall under that novel processing umbrella. From neuromorphic chips, deep learning PIM-based architectures, ultra-hybrid machines with a combination of FPGA, GPU and non-X86 elements, and of course, quantum computers, there are a rich set of options. While these are important possibilities for the world’s top supercomputing sites, the defense and intelligence space is watching keenly as well—and with an eye on systems that can target their exact workloads.

Submission + - These Failed Apps Discovered a Hidden Rule of the Web (backchannel.com)

mirandakatz writes: Anonymous apps like Secret and Yik Yak set out to make social media more authentic, but despite a collective $200 million in funding, anonymity has remained a kind of kryptonite for social apps. The reason is simple: An online social network serves one purpose, to connect people. Without names attached, people’s words become either mean—or meaningless. At Backchannel, a look at the rise and fall of anonymous social media, and why pure anonymity will never be enough to build a multibillion dollar business.

Submission + - Verizon Wireless Wades Right Back Into the Net Neutrality Debate With Fios Deal (theverge.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Verizon is taking a page out of AT&T’s book by zero rating its Fios cable TV service for all Verizon Wireless customers. That means that if you purchase your mobile data plan from Verizon Wireless and your cable TV plan from Fios, you can now use the Fios Mobile app to stream live channels and on-demand shows and not have it count against your monthly data cap. This builds on Verizon’s previous decision to zero rate its Go90 mobile app for customers of its own wireless service, which net neutrality advocates see as prioritizing its own products to the detriment of those from competitors and upstarts. One notable exception here is for customers with unlimited mobile data plans. Streaming Fios Mobile content will in fact count toward the unlimited plans’ 22GB a month cap, after which Verizon will cap speeds. This caveat is not made clear in Verizon’s marketing language, and instead is found only in the App Store release notes.

Submission + - Confide App Full of Security Holes, Researchers Find

Trailrunner7 writes: Researchers at IOActive have uncovered a number of serious security flaws in the Confide secure messaging app, some of which could allow an attacker to hijack a user’s session or impersonate a target user.

Confide is one of the group of encrypted chat apps that have emerged in the last few years and promises end-to-end encryption and self-destructing messages. But the team at IOActive discovered a group of vulnerabilities in the app that make users susceptible to a range of attacks that could result in account compromises, message disclosure, and other problems. The vulnerabilities are across a number of different areas in the app, but one of the main issues is the way Confide handles SSL certificates.

“The application’s notification system did not require a valid SSL server certificate to communicate, which would leak session information to actors performing a man-in-the-middle attack,” the IOActive bulletin says.

Submission + - Unsecured Rsync Backup Exposes Global Spam Farm

An anonymous reader writes: Damning records which detail the inner workings of a spam empire sending up to 1 billion unwanted emails a day have been exposed to security researchers due to an improperly configured Rsync backup which left the details of 1.4 billion spam victims online — along with an incriminating chain of documentation and chat records about the methods used to subvert anti-spam measures.

Submission + - Google Pulls the Plug On Its Pixel Laptops (engadget.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Although its new flagship phones have been doing brisk sales, Google's high-end, $1,299 Pixel-branded Chromebooks won't be seeing much love from the search giant in the near future. According to TechCrunch, reporting from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, Google's SVP of hardware Rick Osterloh has announced the second version of the Pixel laptop will be the last of its kind. As TechCrunch notes, Google is trimming down the Pixel line to just the smartphones and the Pixel C tablet for now. Although there may be other devices carrying the name in the future, Osterloh said it was unlikely that its own laptops would be one of them.

Submission + - Malaysian Police: VX nerve gas killed N Korea leader's brother in airport attack (reuters.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Malaysian police have announced their finding that Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jon Un, was killed by assassins using VX nerve gas in an attack in the busy Kuala Lumpur airport. Malaysian authorities plan to decontaminate the airport and other sites visited by the attackers. Police are holding the two female attackers, one of whom was affected by the chemical agent, as well as two other men. They are seeking seven more North Koreans connected to the case. VX is the most toxic of the nerve gasses and the UN has declared it a weapon of mass destruction. The manufacture and stockpiling of more than 100 grams of VX per year is prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. It has no commercial uses. The Malaysian police are trying to discover if it was smuggled into their country, or manufactured there. The Malaysian government has recalled its ambassador to North Korea for consultation. North Korea is blaming the death of Kim Jong Nam on Malaysia. North Korea is believed to have major stockpiles of chemical weapons, and is alleged to conduct experiments on prisoners and social undesirables.

Submission + - Climate Models Are Warming Earth Two Times Faster Than Reality (dailycaller.com)

schwit1 writes: “So far in the 21st century, the GCMs are warming, on average, about a factor of 2 faster than the observed temperature increase,” Dr. Judith Curry, a former Georgia Tech climate scientist who now runs her own climate forecasting company, wrote in a report for the U.K.-based Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Curry has been one of the foremost critics of climate models, arguing that while they can be useful, there are too many uncertainties and issues to rely on models for public policy decisions.

Curry’s report gives a detailed rundown of why models can be useful for modeling complex climate systems, but also points out that GCMs fail to capture natural variability in the climate.

“The reason for the discrepancy between observations and model simulations in the early 21st century appears to be caused by a combination of inadequate simulations of natural internal variability and oversensitivity of the models to increasing carbon dioxide,” wrote Curry.

Submission + - Lockheed Martin screwup delays delivery of Air Force GPS satellites (bloomberg.com)

schwit1 writes: Incompetence by a Lockheed Martin subcontractor will delay the delivery of 32 new Air Force GPS satellites and will likely cost the government millions.

Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System used for everything from the military’s targeting of terrorists to turn-by-turn directions for civilians’ smartphones. The program’s latest setback may affect a pending Air Force decision on whether to open the final 22 satellites to competition from Lockheed rivals Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. “This was an avoidable situation and raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management,” Teague said in a Dec. 21 message to congressional staff obtained by Bloomberg News.

The parts in question are ceramic capacitors that have bedeviled the satellite project. They take higher-voltage power from the satellite’s power system and reduce it to a voltage required for a particular subsystem. Last year, the Air Force and contractors discovered that Harris hadn’t conducted tests on the components, including how long they would operate without failing, that should have been completed in 2010.

Now, the Air Force says it found that Harris spent June to October of last year doing follow-up testing on the wrong parts instead of samples of the suspect capacitors installed on the first three satellites. Harris “immediately notified Lockheed and the government” after a post-test inspection, Teague said in his message.

So, the subcontractor first failed to do the required tests, then it did the tests on the wrong parts. Sounds like the kind of quality control problems we have seen recently in Russia and Japan.

The worst part? The contract is a cost-plus contract, which means the US tax payer has to absorb the additional costs for fixing the screw-up, not Lockheed Martin or its subcontractor.

Submission + - Adblock-Blockers 'Ineffective', Adblocking Up 30% Globally In Two Years

An anonymous reader writes: A new survey reveals that the countermeasures taken by various publishers in response to the rise of adblocking cause nearly three-quarters of users to simply abandon the sites which block adblockers. The report, from pro-ad organisation Playfair, estimates that adblocking has risen by 30% in two years, and by 40% in Asia in 2016 alone. The report predicts that a growing trend towards pre-service agreements by providers and hardware manufacturers will cause adblocking usage to rise further, practically becoming a 'default' position, unless the ad industry responds practically to users' dislike of unpopular ad formats such as unskippable video and autoplaying audio ads.

Submission + - GitLab.com Melts Down After Wrong Directory Deleted, Backups Fail (theregister.co.uk)

An anonymous reader writes: Source-code hub Gitlab.com is in meltdown after experiencing data loss as a result of what it has suddenly discovered are ineffectual backups. On Tuesday evening, Pacific Time, the startup issued the sobering series of tweets, starting with "We are performing emergency database maintenance, GitLab.com will be taken offline" and ending with "We accidentally deleted production data and might have to restore from backup. Google Doc with live notes [link]." Behind the scenes, a tired sysadmin, working late at night in the Netherlands, had accidentally deleted a directory on the wrong server during a frustrating database replication process: he wiped a folder containing 300GB of live production data that was due to be replicated. Just 4.5GB remained by the time he canceled the rm -rf command. The last potentially viable backup was taken six hours beforehand. That Google Doc mentioned in the last tweet notes: "This incident affected the database (including issues and merge requests) but not the git repos (repositories and wikis)." So some solace there for users because not all is lost. But the document concludes with the following: "So in other words, out of 5 backup/replication techniques deployed none are working reliably or set up in the first place." At the time of writing, GitLab says it has no estimated restore time but is working to restore from a staging server that may be “without webhooks” but is “the only available snapshot.” That source is six hours old, so there will be some data loss.

Submission + - Delta Airlines grounds all domestic flights due to IT issues again (cnbc.com)

SonicSpike writes: Delta Air Lines U.S. domestic flights were grounded on Sunday evening due to automation issues, according to an advisory from the Federal Aviation Administration.

International flights were exempt from the halt.

Passengers stranded in airports took to social media, where a representative on Delta's official Twitter page told users the systems were down and that its IT department was working to rectify the situation.

The airline later put out a statement.

"Delta teams are expeditiously working to fix a systems outage that has resulted in departure delays for flights on the ground," the airline said in the statement. "Flights in the air remain unaffected. Delta apologizes to customers for the inconvenience."

This is the second time in 6 months this has happened, with a power outage at DAL HQ in August grounding all DAL traffic worldwide.

Last week, a computer problem forced United Airlines to ground all domestic flights for about an hour.

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