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Government

New US 'Secret' Clearance Unit Hires Firm Linked To 2014 Hacks (reuters.com) 9

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A U.S. government bureau set up to do "secret" and "top secret" security clearance investigations has turned for help to a private company whose login credentials were used in hack attacks that looted the personal data of 22 million current and former federal employees, U.S. officials said on Friday. Their confirmation of the hiring of KeyPoint Government Solutions by the new National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) comes just days ahead of the bureau's official opening, scheduled for next week. Its creation was spurred, in part, by the same hacks of the Office of Personnel Management that have been linked to the credentials of KeyPoint, one of four companies hired by the bureau. The officials asked not to be named when discussing sensitive information. A spokesman for OPM said the agency in the past has said in public statements and in congressional testimony that a KeyPoint contractor's stolen credentials were used by hackers to gain access to government personnel and security investigations records in two major OPM computer breaches. Both breaches occurred in 2014, but were not discovered until April 2015, according to investigators. One U.S. official familiar with the hiring of KeyPoint said personnel records were hacked in 2014 from KeyPoint and, at some point, its login credentials were stolen. But no evidence proves, the official said, that the KeyPoint credentials used by the OPM hackers were stolen in the 2014 KeyPoint hack. OPM officials said on Thursday one aim for NBIB is to reduce processing time for "top secret" clearances to 80 days from 170 days and for "secret" clearances to 40 days from 120 days.
Music

USB-IF Publishes Audio Over USB Type-C Specifications (anandtech.com) 24

An anonymous reader quotes a report from AnandTech: The USB Implementers Forum this week published the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 (direct download) specification, which standardizes audio over USB Type-C interface. The new spec enables hardware makers to eliminate traditional 3.5mm mini-jacks from their devices and use USB-C ports to connect headsets and other audio equipment. Makers of peripherals can also build their audio solutions, which use USB-C instead of traditional analog connectors. Developers of the standard hope that elimination of mini-jacks will help to make devices slimmer, smarter and less power hungry. As reported, the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification supports both analog and digital audio. Analog audio is easy to implement and it does not impact data transfers and other functionality of USB-C cables since it uses the two secondary bus (SBU) pins. The USB ADC 3.0 defines minimum interoperability across analog and digital devices in order to avoid confusion of end-users because of incompatibility. In fact, all ADC 3.0-compliant hosts should support the so-called headset adapter devices, which allow to connect analog headsets to USB-C. However, digital audio is one of the primary reasons why companies like Intel wanted to develop the USB-C audio tech on the first place, hence, expect them to promote it. According to the USB ADC 3.0 standard, digital USB-C headphones will feature special multi-function processing units (MPUs), which will, to a large degree, define the feature set and quality of headsets. The MPUs will handle host and sink synchronization (this is a key challenge for digital USB audio), digital-to-analog conversion, low-latency active noise cancellation, acoustic echo canceling, equalization, microphone automatic gain control, volume control and others. Such chips will also contain programmable amplifiers and pre-amplifiers, which are currently located inside devices. Besides, USB ADC 3.0-compatible MPUs will also support USB Audio Type-III and Type-IV formats (the latest compressed formats), but will retain compatibility with formats supported by ADC 1.0 and 2.0. Finally, among the mandated things set to be supported by USB-C Audio devices are new Power Domains (allows devices to put certain domains in sleep mode when not in use) as well as BADD (basic audio device definition) 3.0 features for saving power and simplified discovery and management of various audio equipment (each type of devices has its own BADD profile).
Republicans

Newsweek Website Attacked After Report On Trump, Cuban Embargo (talkingpointsmemo.com) 72

After Newsweek published a report titled "How Donald Trump's Company Violated The United States Embargo Against Cuba," the site found itself on the receiving end of a "massive" denial-of-service attack that managed to shut down the site for several hours. TPM reports: Editor-In-Chief Jim Impoco noted that the attack came as the story earned national attention. "Last night we were on the receiving end of what our IT chief called a 'massive' DoS (denial of service) attack," Impoco wrote in an email to TPM. "The site was down most of last evening, at a time when Kurt Eichenwald's story detailing how Donald Trump's company broke the law by violating the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba was being covered extensively by prominent cable news programs. Our IT team is still investigating the hack." Later Friday afternoon, Impoco emailed TPM that in an initial investigation, the "main" IP addresses linked to the attack were found to be Russian. It should be noted that it is possible to fake an IP address. "As with any DDoS attack, there are lots of IP addresses, but the main ones are Russian, though that in itself does not prove anything," he wrote. "We are still investigating." Eichenwald tweeted Friday morning: "News: The reason ppl couldnt read #TrumpInCuba piece late yesterday is that hackers launched a major attack on Newsweek after it was posted."
Government

Researchers Ask Federal Court To Unseal Years of Surveillance Records (arstechnica.com) 17

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Two lawyers and legal researchers based at Stanford University have formally asked a federal court in San Francisco to unseal numerous records of surveillance-related cases, as a way to better understand how authorities seek such powers from judges. This courthouse is responsible for the entire Northern District of California, which includes the region where tech companies such as Twitter, Apple, and Google, are based. According to the petition, Jennifer Granick and Riana Pfefferkorn were partly inspired by a number of high-profile privacy cases that have unfolded in recent years, ranging from Lavabit to Apple's battle with the Department of Justice. In their 45-page petition, they specifically say that they don't need all sealed surveillance records, simply those that should have been unsealed -- which, unfortunately, doesn't always happen automatically. The researchers wrote in their Wednesday filing: "Most surveillance orders are sealed, however. Therefore, the public does not have a strong understanding of what technical assistance courts may order private entities to provide to law enforcement. There are at least 70 cases, many under seal, in which courts have mandated that Apple and Google unlock mobile phones and potentially many more. The Lavabit district court may not be the only court to have ordered companies to turn over private encryption keys to law enforcement based on novel interpretations of law. Courts today may be granting orders forcing private companies to turn on microphones or cameras in cars, laptops, mobile phones, smart TVs, or other audio- and video-enabled Internet-connected devices in order to conduct wiretapping or visual surveillance. This pervasive sealing cripples public discussion of whether these judicial orders are lawful and appropriate."
Yahoo!

Yahoo Open Sources a Deep Learning Model For Classifying Pornographic Images (venturebeat.com) 72

New submitter OWCareers writes: Yahoo today announced its latest open-source release: a model that can figure out if images are specifically pornographic in nature. The system uses a type of artificial intelligence called deep learning, which involves training artificial neural networks on lots of data (like dirty images) and getting them to make inferences about new data. The model that's now available on GitHub under a BSD 2-Clause license comes pre-trained, so users only have to fine-tune it if they so choose. The model works with the widely used Caffe open source deep learning framework. The team trained the model using its now open source CaffeOnSpark system.
The new model could be interesting to look at for developers maintaining applications like Instagram and Pinterest that are keen to minimize smut. Search engine operators like Google and Microsoft might also want to check out what's under the hood here.
The tool gives images a score between 0 to 1 on how NSFW the pictures look. The official blog post from Yahoo outlines several examples.
China

The Smog-Sucking Tower Has Arrived in China (vice.com) 114

Jamie Fullerton, reporting for Motherboard:Daan Roosegaarde reached into the pocket of his suit jacket, pulled out a plastic bag filled with black powder, and waved it around. "This is Beijing smog," Roosegaarde said, before gesturing to the seven-metre tall, gently humming metal tower we are stood next to in the Chinese capital's art district, 798. "We collected it from the tower yesterday. Incredibly disgusting." Dutch designer Roosegaarde's smog souvenir may be disgusting, but it's the byproduct of an invention that he has touted as a potential alleviator of China's pollution problems. His "smog-free tower" sucks air, filters it with ion technology, with Roosegaarde having explained: "By charging the Smog Free Tower with a small positive current, an electrode will send positive ions into the air. These ions will attach themselves to fine dust particles. A negatively charged surface -- the counter electrode -- will then draw the positive ions in, together with the fine dust particles. The fine dust "is collected together with the ions and stored inside of the tower." With the dust collected, the tower then spews out cleaner air through vents, creating a "bubble" in the area surrounding it that contains, according to Roosegaarde, up to 70 percent fewer pollution particles than the pre-cleaned air.
Chrome

Chromification Continues: Firefox May Use Chrome's PDF and Flash Plugins (softpedia.com) 82

An anonymous reader writes: Mozilla announced today Project Mortar, an initiative to explore the possibility of deploying alternative technologies in Firefox to replace its internal implementations. The project's first two goals are to test two Chrome plugins within the Firefox codebase. These are PDFium, the Chrome plugin for viewing PDF files, and Pepper Flash, Google's custom implementation of Adobe Flash. The decision comes as Mozilla is trying to cut down development costs, after Firefox took a nose dive in market share this year. "In order to enable stronger focus on advancing the Web and to reduce the complexity and long term maintenance cost of Firefox, and as part of our strategy to remove generic plugin support, we are launching Project Mortar," said Johnny Stenback, Senior Director Of Engineering at Mozilla Corporation. "Project Mortar seeks to reduce the time Mozilla spends on technologies that are required to provide a complete web browsing experience, but are not a core piece of the Web platform," Stenback adds. "We will be looking for opportunities to replace such technologies with other existing alternatives, including implementations by other browser vendors."
Businesses

New iPhone 7 Case Brings Back the Headphone Jack (thenextweb.com) 315

Apple removed the headphone jack in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, forcing users to use either Bluetooth, the Lightning port or included Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adaptor in order to listen to music through headphones. However, one company took it upon themselves to create an iPhone 7 case with a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack. The company is called Fuze and they recently launched an Indiegogo campaign that promises to bring the audio port back to the iPhone 7. The Next Web reports: To achieve this, the company is taking Apple's Lightning to 3.5mm adapter and building it straight into a case, where you can plug your headphones with "no dongles, no adapters, no problems." In addition to the audio port, the Fuze Case will also serve as a battery pack as it adds 2,400mAh of extra battery life to the iPhone 7 and 3,600mAh to the 7 Plus. It will be available in five different colors including white, black, gold, rose gold and blue. The case is currently available for $49 to "super early bird" backers, but will increase to $59 once more people have chipped in and will eventually sell for $69 in retail. The company expects to start shipping the accessory in December later this year.
Earth

Oscar Winners, Sports Stars and Bill Gates Are Building Lavish Bunkers (hollywoodreporter.com) 293

turkeydance quotes a report from Hollywood Reporter: Given the increased frequency of terrorist bombings and mass shootings and an under-lying sense of havoc fed by divisive election politics, it's no surprise that home security is going over the top and hitting luxurious new heights. Or, rather, new lows, as the average depth of a new breed of safe haven that occupies thousands of square feet is 10 feet under or more. Those who can afford to pull out all the stops for so-called self-preservation are doing so -- in a fashion that goes way beyond the submerged corrugated metal units adopted by reality show "preppers" -- to prepare for anything from nuclear bombings to drastic climate-change events. Gary Lynch, GM at Rising S Bunkers, a Texas-based company that specializes in underground bunkers and services scores of Los Angeles residences, says that sales at the most upscale end of the market -- mainly to actors, pro athletes and politicians (who require signed NDAs) -- have increased 700 percent this year compared with 2015, and overall sales have risen 150 percent. Any time there is a turbulent political landscape, we see a spike in our sales. Given this election is as turbulent as it is, "we are gearing up for an even bigger spike," says marketing director Brad Roberson of sales of bunkers that start at $39,000 and can run $8.35 million or more (FYI, a 12-stall horse shelter is $98,500). Adds Mike Peters, owner of Utah-based Ultimate Bunker, which builds high-end versions in California, Texas and Minnesota: "People are going for luxury [to] live underground because they see the future is going to be rough. Everyone I've talked to thinks we are doomed, no matter who is elected." Robert Vicino, founder of Del Mar, Calif.-based Vivos, which constructs upscale community bunkers in Indiana (he believes coastal flooding scenarios preclude bunkers being safely built west of the Rockies), says, "Bill Gates has huge shelters under every one of his homes, in Rancho Santa Fe and Washington. His head of security visited with us a couple years ago, and for these multibillionaires, a few million is nothing. It's really just the newest form of insurance."
NASA

Rosetta Spacecraft Prepares To Land On Comet, Solve Lingering Mysteries (sciencemag.org) 40

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: All good things must come to an end, and so it will be tomorrow when the Rosetta spacecraft makes its planned soft landing onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the culmination of 2 years of close-up studies. Solar power has waned as 67P's orbit takes it and Rosetta farther from the sun, and so the mission team decided to go on a last data-gathering descent before the lights go out. This last data grab is a bonus after a mission that is already changing theorists' views about how comets and planets arose early in the solar system. Several Rosetta observations suggest that comets form not from jolting mergers of larger cometesimals, meters to kilometers across, but rather from the gentle coalescence of clouds of pebbles. And the detection of a single, feather-light, millimeter-sized particle -- preserved since the birth of the solar system -- should further the view of a quiet birth. The report concludes: "A slew of instruments will keep gathering data as Rosetta approaches the surface at the speed of a gentle stroll. For team members whose instruments have already been turned off to conserve power, the ending is bittersweet -- but their work is far from over. Most instrument teams have only examined their own data, and are just now thinking about combining data sets. "We've just started collaborating with other teams," [Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, chief of Rosetta's main camera,] says. "This is the beginning of the story, not the end."
Earth

The Americas Are Now Officially 'Measles-Free' (theverge.com) 224

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Americas are now free of measles and we have vaccines to thank, the Pan American Health Organization said earlier this week. This is the first region in the world to be declared measles-free, despite longtime efforts to eliminate the disease entirely. The condition -- which causes flu-like symptoms and a blotchy rash -- is one of the world's most infectious diseases. It's transmitted by airborne particles or direct contact with someone who has the disease and is highly contagious, especially among small children. To be clear, there are still people with measles in the Americas, but the only cases develop from strains picked up overseas. Still, the numbers are going down: in the U.S. this year, there have been 54 cases, down from 667 two years ago. The last case of measles that developed in the Americas was in 2002. (It took such a long time to declare the region measles-free because of various bureaucratic issues.) Health officials say that credit for this victory goes to efforts to vaccinate against the disease. Though the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended for all children and required by many states, anti-vaxxers have protested it due to since-discredited claims that vaccines can cause autism. NPR interviewed Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of GAVI, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve and provide vaccine and immunization coverage to children in the world's poorest countries. She says that 90 to 95 percent of people in a given region need to be vaccinated in order to stop transmission in a region. The rate worldwide is about 80 percent for measles, which means that 20 percent of people around the world are not covered.
Security

The Psychological Reasons Behind Risky Password Practices (helpnetsecurity.com) 177

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: Despite high-profile, large-scale data breaches dominating the news cycle -- and repeated recommendations from experts to use strong passwords -- consumers have yet to adjust their own behavior when it comes to password reuse. A global Lab42 survey, which polled consumers across the United States, Germany, France, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, highlights the psychology around why consumers develop poor password habits despite understanding the obvious risk, and suggests that there is a level of cognitive dissonance around our online habits. When it comes to online security, personality type does not inform behavior, but it does reveal how consumers rationalize poor password habits. My personal favorite: password paradox. "The survey revealed that the majority of respondents understand that their digital behavior puts them at risk, but do not make efforts to change it," reports Help Net Security. "Only five percent of respondents didn't know the characteristics of a secure password, with the majority of respondents understanding that passwords should contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Furthermore, 91 percent of respondents said that there is inherent risk associated with reusing passwords, yet 61 percent continue to use the same or similar passwords anyway, with more than half (55 percent) doing so while fully understanding the risk." The report also found that when attempting to create secure passwords, "47 percent of respondents included family names or initials," while "42 percent contain significant dates or numbers and 26 percent use the family pet."
Businesses

IBM Buys Promontory Financial Group (zdnet.com) 20

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: IBM said Thursday it plans to acquire compliance consulting firm Promontory Financial Group to bring more financial regulatory expertise to Watson's cognitive computing platform. Promontory is a global consulting operation with an aim of helping banks manage the ever-increasing regulation and risk management requirements in the financial sector. With that in mind, IBM wants to use the industry expertise of Promontory's workforce -- which is made up of ex-regulators and banking executives -- to teach Watson all about regulation, risk and compliance. IBM is also using the deal to create a new subsidiary called Watson Financial Services, which will build cognitive tools for things things like tracking regulatory obligations, financial risk modeling, surveillance, anti-money laundering detection systems. "This is a workload ideally suited for Watson's cognitive capabilities intended to allow financial institutions to absorb the regulatory changes, understand their obligations, and close gaps in systems and practices to address compliance requirements more quickly and efficiently," IBM said in a press release.
Security

The Yahoo Hackers Weren't State-Sponsored, Security Firm Says (csoonline.com) 33

itwbennett writes from a report via CSO Online: After Yahoo raised eyebrows in the security community with its claim that state-sponsored hackers were responsible for the history-making breach, security firm InfoArmor now says it has evidence to the contrary. InfoArmor claims to have acquired some of the stolen information as part of its investigation into "Group E," a team of five professional hackers-for-hire believed to be from Eastern Europe. The database that InfoArmor has contains only "millions" of accounts, but it includes the users' login IDs, hashed passwords, mobile phone numbers and zip codes, said Andrew Komarov, InfoArmor's chief intelligence officer. Earlier this week, Chase Cunningham, director of cyber operations at security provider A10 Networks, called Yahoo's claim of state-sponsored actors a convenient, if trumped up, excuse: "If I want to cover my rear end and make it seem like I have plausible deniability, I would say 'nation-state actor' in a heartbeat." "Yahoo was compromised in 2014 by a group of professional blackhats who were hired to compromise customer databases from a variety of different targeted organizations," Scottsdale, Arizona-based InfoArmor said Wednesday in a report. "The Yahoo data leak as well as the other notable exposures, opens the door to significant opportunities for cyber-espionage and targeted attacks to occur."
News

Slashdot Asks: The Washington Post Says It Publishes Something Every Minute -- How Much Is Too Much? (washingtonian.com) 86

Media outlets are increasingly vying for your attention. But they are also feeding Google's algorithm. Some of them churn hundreds of news articles every day, hoping to offer a diverse range of articles to their readers, and also increase their "search space." The Washington Post is currently running a promotional offer -- letting people get a six-month digital subscription for $10 (pretty good if you ask me). But the Washington Post also mentions that is now publishes a new piece of content every minute. That's like 1,440 articles, videos and other forms of content in one single day. This raises a question: how much content is too much content? How many stories can a person possibly find time to read in a day? Do you feel that perhaps outlets should cut down on the number of things they publish? Or are you happy with the way things are?
AI

Microsoft Forms New AI Research Group Led By Harry Shum (techcrunch.com) 43

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A day after announcing a new artificial intelligence partnership with IBM, Google, Facebook and Amazon, Microsoft is upping the ante within its own walls. The tech giant announced that it is creating a new AI business unit, the Microsoft AI and Research Group, which will be led by Microsoft Research EVP Harry Shum. Shum will oversee 5,000 computer scientists, engineers and others who will all be "focused on the company's AI product efforts," the company said in an announcement. The unit will be working on all aspects of AI and how it will be applied at the company, covering agents, apps, services and infrastructure. Shum has been involved in some of Microsoft's biggest product efforts at the ground level of research, including the development of its Bing search engine, as well as in its efforts in computer vision and graphics: that is a mark of where Microsoft is placing its own priority for AI in the years to come. Important to note that Microsoft Research unit will no longer be its on discrete unit -- it will be combined with this new AI effort. Research had 1,000 people in it also working on areas like quantum computing, and that will now be rolled into the bigger research and development efforts being announced today. Products that will fall under the new unit will include Information Platform, Cortana and Bing, and Ambient Computing and Robotics teams led by David Ku, Derrick Connell and Vijay Mital, respectively. The Microsoft AI and Research Group will encompass AI product engineering, basic and applied research labs, and New Experiences and Technologies (NExT), Microsoft said.
Cellphones

FCC Votes To Upgrade Emergency Smartphone Alerts (cnn.com) 96

After recent bombings, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to update the four-year-old emergency smartphone alerts system, which is used by officials to ping smartphones to alert people of severe weather, missing children, terror attacks or other danger. Some of the new changes allow the system to send texts with links to pictures, maps and phone numbers. CNNMoney reports: The agency also voted to allow longer messages -- 360 characters, up from 90 -- and to require wireless providers to support Spanish-language alerts. Wireless carriers will be allowed to support embedded links later this year. They'll be required to next year. The system's limits were on display last week when millions of New Yorkers received a text alert seeking information on Ahmad Khan Rahami, suspected in bombings in New York and New Jersey. "See media for pic," the alert said. Emergency alerts still won't include embedded photos, but commissioners said they're open to the idea. "Vague directives in text about where to find information about a suspect, just as we saw in New York, are not good enough," said Jessica Rosenworcel, an FCC commissioner. "As we move into the 5G future, we need to ensure that multimedia is available in all of our alert messages." Not everyone was so sure. Michael O'Rielly, another commissioner, said adding links and multimedia could jam cell networks during emergencies.
The Courts

Four States Sue To Stop Internet Transition (thehill.com) 268

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Republican attorneys general in four states are filing a lawsuit to block the transfer of internet domain systems oversight from the U.S. to an international governing body. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Nevada Attorney General Paul Laxalt filed a lawsuit on Wednesday night to stop the White House's proposed transition of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. The state officials cite constitutional concerns in their suit against the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. government and the Department of Commerce. "The Obama Administration's decision violates the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution by giving away government property without congressional authorization, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by chilling speech, and the Administrative Procedure Act by acting beyond statutory authority," a statement released by Paxton's office reads. The attorneys generals claim that the U.S. government is ceding government property, pointing to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review that "concluded that the transition does not involve a transfer of U.S. government property requiring Congressional approval." Paxton also echoed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's warnings that the transition could harm free speech on the internet by giving Russia, China and Iran a voice on the international governing body that would oversee internet domain systems. "Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy," Paxton said. "The president does not have the authority to simply give away America's pioneering role in ensuring that the internet remains a place where free expression can flourish."
Democrats

Comey Denies Clinton Email 'Reddit' Cover-Up (politico.com) 434

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Politico: The FBI concluded that a computer technician working on Clinton's email was not engaged in an illicit cover-up when he asked on the Reddit website for a tool that could delete a "VIP" email address throughout a large file, FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday. Republican lawmakers have suggested that the July 2014 Reddit post from a user believed to be Platte River Networks specialist Paul Combetta showed an effort to hide Clinton's emails from investigators. However, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Comey said FBI agents concluded that all the computer aide was trying to do was replace Clinton's email address so it wouldn't be revealed to the public. "Our team concluded that what he was trying to do was when they produced emails not have the actual address but have some name or placeholder instead of the actual dot-com address in the 'From:' line," Comey said. Comey said he wasn't sure whether the FBI knew about the Reddit posting when prosecutors granted Combetta immunity to get statements from him about what transpired. However, he added that such a deletion wouldn't automatically be considered an effort to destroy evidence. "Not necessarily ... It would depend what his intention was and why he wanted to do it," the FBI director said.

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