Tag Archives: Hackers

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate, weather, fire storms, penguins, trade war, hackers, ransoms, facial recognition, begging robots, money choked off, French harassment, meat


The weather — US car companies knew about climate change 30 years ago and did nothing. The New York Times Magazine has been teasing out its upcoming issue in recent days, as it’s dedicated to a single story that focuses on how we had an opportunity to address climate change in the 1980s, but failed to do anything. Coinciding with the current administration’s proposal to roll back fuel economy targets, expected to be unveiled this week, the timing couldn’t be any better. [Coz money literally trumps everything else.]
And just when you thought this situation couldn’t get any worse, the Trump administration announced it would be putting Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards on hold and moving to replace them with watered-down regulations.
Penguin colony in steep decline — The last time scientists visited Ile aux Cochons in 1982, an island that is part of an archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, the king penguin population was booming. Over 500,000 breeding pairs (around two million penguins total) huddled together there, making the island the largest king penguin colony in the world. New research shows their numbers have been on a stiff decline since then — by as much as 88%
Firenado — California’s Carr fire, one of the most destructive fires in the state’s history, was burning in Redding, when conditions aligned to create a massive whirl of smoke and fire. It lasted for an hour and a half, and the people who caught it on video called it the ‘Firenado.’

It’s war! Trade war … China has announced a plan to impose new tariffs on $60 billion of American goods, in retaliation for the latest tariff threats from the Trump administration.
The White House said it was considering boosting tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, raising those tariffs from 10% to 25%.

Hacking recognition and all that — A recent review by UK cybersecurity firm Sophos in partnership with cryptocurrency firm Neutrino has concluded that the crew — or possibly one extremely proficient black hat hacker — behind the SamSam ransomware attacks have rolled in at least $US5.9 million in ransom payments, according to BleepingComputer. [And they can work from home.]
Amazon proves why it shouldn’t give it’s face recognition tech to the police — Days after the ACLU released a damning report on Amazon’s face recognition product ‘Rekognition’, Amazon’s general manager of AI, Dr Matt Wood, countered its findings in a blog post. The ACLU used Rekognition to scan the faces of all 535 members of US Congress, finding the software mistook 28 of them for suspected criminals. Dr Wood notes first that the ACLU doesn’t reveal its methodology or dataset in the report, then punctuates Amazon’s original response – that it encourages higher confidence thresholds for law enforcement.
But conspicuously missing from the blog was a specific rebuttal to the enormous racial disparity uncovered by the ACLU. For Congress as a whole, the error rate was only 5%,, but for non-white members of Congress, the error rate was 39%.
It’s harder to turn robots off when they beg you not to — A recent experiment by German researchers demonstrates that people will refuse to turn a robot off if it begs for its life. In the study, published in the open access journal PLOS One, 89 volunteers were recruited to complete a pair of tasks with the help of Nao, a small humanoid robot. In roughly half of experiments, the robot protested, telling participants it was afraid of the dark and even begging: “No! Please do not switch me off!” When this happened, the human volunteers were likely to refuse to turn the bot off. Of the 43 volunteers who heard Nao’s pleas, 13 refused. And the remaining 30 took, on average, twice as long to comply compared to those who did not not hear the desperate cries at all.

General malfeasance — Secretly tracking airline passengers: some Americans have been trailed and closely monitored by undercover air marshals as they travelled on US flights, as part of a previously undisclosed Transportation Security Administration program called Quiet Skies. The marshals take notes on the targeted traveler’s behaviour, sending detailed reports to the TSA.
Distraught parents going on hunger strike — Recent news stories have been filled with the joyous reunions of migrant parents who had been separated from their children at the Southwest border. Yet hundreds of families were reunited only to be detained again, this time together. Inside one of those detention centers in Texas, weary fathers are now staging a hunger strike to highlight their plight.
Scientists stunned as non profit halts research money — On 24 July, 37 grant recipients received an email from the March of Dimes Foundation in New York City informing them their 3-year grants had been cut off, retroactively, starting 30th June. Many of the researchers were only a year into their projects, and had had just enough time to hire and train staff, purchase supplies and generate preliminary results. Now, several say that they might need to lay off employees, euthanise lab animals and shelve their research projects if they cannot find other funding – fast.
Apple’s dick move — Apple, which just became the world’s first trillion dollar company, has announced it will punish some of the people who helped build its success. Affiliates who’ve promoted apps and taken a small cut of the purchase price are being pushed out because they’re apparently no longer useful, since Apple had built better ‘discovery’ into its App Stores. [Apple, you really, really suck for this.]

Finally, some good news: French lawmakers have approved a measure outlawing sexual harassment in the street, rendering catcalling and lewd or degrading comments a crime punishable by on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros — or more than US$870. The country’s Senate passed the legislation late Wednesday as part of a broader package of measures targeting sexual violence, which the lower house of Parliament advanced earlier this year.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “As a further drain on the environment, each litre (about two pints) of milk produced requires up to 1000 litres of water. Large-scale meat production leads to high greenhouse gas emissions – another factor that might lead, or at least add to, an apocalypse.
However, I don’t believe meat is bad for humans per se – I have always believed that good meat is good for you. But overconsumption (not uncommon) of meat is definitely not great for people – eating too much processed meat, including bacon, salami and sausage, is linked to heart disease; too much red meat is linked to cancer.”

Advertisements

The Apocalypticon ~ Tech support, people, nature, Cheese Zombies, water


‘Tech support’ — A team of scammers recently sneakily filmed dozens of Australians by remotely accessing their webcams, then uploaded those videos onto YouTube, according to Australian news outlet ABC.
Unfortunately for customers of MyHeritage, a genealogy and DNA testing service, a researcher uncovered 92 million account details related to the company sitting on a server, according to an announcement from MyHeritage. The data relates to users who signed up to MyHeritage up to and including October 26, 2017 – the date of the breach.
Journalist’s data seized — According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump, according to The Hill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the number under the Obama administration, which had already prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.
Zuckerberg grilled at angry shareholders meeting — One investor compared the social network’s poor stewardship of user data to a human rights violation. Another warned that scandal is not good for Facebook’s bottom line, and one advised Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to emulate George Washington, not Vladimir Putin, and avoid turning Facebook into a “corporate dictatorship.”
Apple set on ‘jamming’ Facebook — The next version of iOS and macOS will frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users. At the company’s developer conference, Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi said, “We’re shutting that down,.” He added that Safari – you know, the FREE SECURE BROWSER ON EVERY APPLE DEVICE (see below), would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity.
Apple also declared war on ‘browser fingerprinting‘.
Why you should ditch Chrome —
 Unlike Chrome, Firefox is run by Mozilla, a nonprofit organisation that advocates for a ‘healthy'” internet. Its mission is to help build an internet in an open-source manner that’s accessible to everyone – and where privacy and security are built in. Contrast that to Chrome’s privacy policy, which states that it stores your browsing data locally unless you are signed in to your Google account, which enables the browser to send that information back to Google … [Honestly, the amount of Apple users I have met who insist on using Chrome as a browser and worse, Gmail accounts when there’s privacy-protecting Safari on every Mac and Apple device already, and secure, encrypted free iCloud email! Grrr! Bloody madness!]
Psychopathic AI — A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a psychopathic algorithm named Norman, as part of an experiment to see what training artificial intelligence on data from “the dark corners of the net” would do to its world view. Unlike most “normal” algorithms by AI, Norman does not have an optimistic view of the world. [I almost wish that was running the US instead of Trump – at least there’d be some logic to it.]
Chinese government hackers have compromised the computers of a US Navy contractor, stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare – including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on US submarines by 2020, according to American officials. The breaches occurred in January and February, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
At least five cryptocurrencies have recently been hit with an attack in the last month– one that used to be more theoretical than actual.
Carbon bubble burst will hurt — The existence of a “carbon bubble” – assets in fossil fuels that are currently overvalued because, in the medium and long-term, the world will have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – has long been proposed by academics, activists and investors. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that a sharp slump in the value of fossil fuels would cause this bubble to burst, and posits that such a slump is likely before 2035 based on current patterns of energy use.

People — More than 50,000 union workers in Las Vegas are set to go on strike if new contracts are not settled and at the top of the list of concerns for the Culinary and Bartenders Unions is protection against robot replacements.
Suicide rates are up by 30% across the US — Amidst all the name calling and straw man arguments about the overall health of America, sometimes it helps to look at data from people who sacrificed everything based on their perception of reality. Whatever politics you subscribe to, the feeling of hopelessness is evidently real, and frightening. Suicide rates are up by 30% across the nation since 1999, federal health officials have reported.
Opioids caused 1 In 5 deaths of young people in the US in 2016 — A new study published by JAMA Network Open highlights just how devastating the crisis has been to certain age groups. In 2016, it found, opioid overdoses were responsible for a fifth of all deaths among people in their mid-20s to 30s — a fivefold increase from 15 years ago.

Nature — Biggest iceberg ever set to break up: the  iceberg is so large that even smaller chunks of it were behemoths in their own right. By 2014, the largest remnant was B-15T, which was so thick it kept running aground. One of those last-made icebergs, B-15Z, may now be nearing the end of its life. At the end of May 2018, the International Space Station crew captured an image of B-15Z that showed a crack running right down its middle. It’s ten miles by 5!
How microbes survive in ‘sterile’ spacecraft — Rakesh Mogul, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of biological chemistry, was the lead author of an article in the journal Astrobiology that offers the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason contamination persists. The research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities, finding that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly …
Asteroid strikes Africa soon after it was detected — A meteor lit up the sky over Botswana, Africa, early Saturday evening local time. Scientists discovered the 2m-wide asteroid just hours before it reached – and struck – Earth.
Hurricanes are slowing down and that’s a bad thing. The pace at which hurricanes move across the planet is slowing, according to new research. This suggests Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas last year, may not have been an anomaly, and that highly destructive, slow-moving tropical storms are becoming more common.

Finally, some good news: Cheese Zombies! In the late 1950s, a school district in Washington’s Yakima Valley received an excess of subsidized cheese. Faced with the abundance of dairy, the food services supervisor (or, by other accounts, a local cafeteria cook) invented a new sandwich that soon appeared on cafeteria menus: the Cheese Zombie.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “There’s more to water than meets the eyes, of course. Cities like London, New York and Moscow have entire teams and systems dedicated to pumping water away from underground systems built deep underground.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Hackers, water, China, Space-X hole, medical, stupidity, apocalypse


But wait! There is more from the a-holes at Cambridge Analytica — Cambridge Analytica got its hands on millions of people’s Facebook likes in 2014 by getting an academic, Aleksander Kogan, to design an app with a personality test that hoovered up data from the 250,000 or so Facebook users that took it, as well as from their millions of friends. Cambridge Analytica then used all those likes combined with the magic of big data to help put Donald Trump in the White House. But that’s only the half of it ….
It may be a while since you’ve heard the handle Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who took responsibility for the infamous DNC hack of 2016. Reports from the intelligence community at the time, as well as common sense, pegged Guccifer 2.0 not as the Romanian activist he claimed to be, but a Russian operative. He messed up once, and now Guccifer 2.0 has been fingered as a particular GRU officer working out of the Russian agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.
AI outsmarting its creators — A paper recently published to ArXiv highlights just a handful of incredible and slightly terrifying ways that algorithms think.

Gyre-normous — The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is filled with 79,000 metric tonnes (87,000 tons) of plastic, and that’s between 10 to 16 times higher than previous estimates, according to new research.
Marine researchers say recent sea star wasting disease epidemic defies prediction. Some sea star communities on the west coast could recover, but marine scientists still can’t pinpoint the environmental factors behind the unprecedented disease outbreak.
The number of people short of water could rise to 5.7 billion people by 2050. Currently, about 3.6 billion people are estimated to be living in areas with a potential for water scarcity for at least one month per year.

China’s terrifying “social credit” system isn’t planned to be fully implemented until 2020, but we’re already seeing facets of it being put in place. In May, people who have committed acts of “serious dishonor” will reportedly be unable to travel on trains or flights for up to a year.
And China has approved the creation of one of the world’s largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image. [Greetings from George Orwell, and good luck with that.]

Space-X made a hole — The Falcon 9 rocket that launched last August reportedly ripped a temporary hole in the ionosphere due to its vertical launch.

Cell tower cancer link — Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy announce that a large-scale, lifetime study (PDF) of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer.
A massive new study concluded that lead is 10 times more dangerous than thought, and that past exposure now hastens one in every five US deaths. Researchers at four North American universities, led by Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official US survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths  had harbored levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe.

People asked to name women tech leaders said ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ — The tech industry has a persistent problem with gender inequality, particularly in its leadership ranks, and a new study from LivePerson underscores just how depressingly persistent it truly is. When the company asked a representative sample of 1000 American consumers whether they could name a famous woman leader in tech, 91.7% of respondents drew a complete blank, while only 8.3% said they could. But wait, it gets worse: Of those 8.3% who said they could name a famous woman tech leader, only 4% actually could — and a quarter of those respondents named Siri or Alexa. [OMFG.]

The duelling visions for how humanity will survive — By 2050, the world’s population will top ten billion. As industrial capitalism evolves across the globe like no time in human history, will our planet’s ecosystem be able to sustain itself during this rapid transformation? Charles C. Mann’s grapples with these problems in The Wizard and the Prophet.
We’re sleepwalking into a mass extinction, say scientists. The most biodiverse aquatic communities may be the most vulnerable to extinction. Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record[But some of us are looking at the stars. We could become a galactic wrecking crew rather than just an Earthbound one.]

But yes, there’s a little good news: A few decades ago, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policies. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What’s left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west. But Kazakhstan’s North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. [Great, huh? Hah!]

Wall Street on Apple earnings, record Mac sales, more Yosemite tips, Spotlight backlash, Hackers in China, Windows backups


No more fiddly phone keyboarding – you can now send Text Messages from your Mac (with Yosemite)
No more fiddly phone keyboarding – you can now send Text Messages from your Mac (with Yosemite)

Wall Street blown away by Apple’s ‘remarkable’ record September quarter — Apple exceeded market expectations this week with the results of its record breaking September quarter, leading analysts to heap praise on the company and raise their price targets as it heads into what is expected to be a blockbuster holiday season.
Apple last quarter sold 5.5 million Macs, more than it’s ever sold in any other quarter in company history. MacObserver weighs in, too.

Apple just sold more Macs than iPods for the first time in a decade — The iPad and iPhone are both selling extremely well these days, but Apple’s other portable, the iPod, is not. Being replaced by smartphones as the default mobile music player of choice, the iPod dipped to under 15 million units sold in fiscal 2014, which means two things: the iPod’s bottom has not yet been reached, and the Mac just outsold Apple’s dedicated media player for the first time since 2003.

Bottom line: should you upgrade to OS X Yosemite? Recently we’ve covered OS X Yosemite up one side and down the other. Read through Macworld’s guides for installing Yosemite; getting familiar with the new operating system’s design; putting Handoff and Continuity to good use; and learning about changes to Safari, Notification Center, Spotlight, and Mail, Messages, and Calendars. And check out How to send and receive SMS text messages in OS X Yosemite.

New in Yosemite: Mail Drop, signatures and annotations in OS X Mail — Mail in OS X hasn’t gotten a lot of love over the last few years, with its feature set remaining pretty inert. Finally, with the release of Yosemite, Mail has received some very nice and useful updates.

Apple responds to Spotlight Suggestions ‘backlash,’ says personal data collection limited — In response to a Monday report alleging Apple has started to automatically collect user search and location data through Spotlight Suggestions, the company has issued a statement clarifying the extent to which customer information is gathered and how it is used.

Hackers targeting Apple iCloud users in mainland China with ‘massive’ attack — Hackers have reportedly begun targeting iCloud users in mainland China, utilising a so-called “man-in-the-middle” approach in an attempt to steal user information, with one group accusing the Chinese government itself of perpetrating the attack.

Paragon Software Group releases Boot Camp Backup Beta — the industry’s first all-in-one Windows system backup, restore and migration solution on OS X. The easy-to-use tool includes incremental sector-level backup and other advancements. The official press announcement follows below. With the beta release, Paragon Software gives away 40 commercial product licenses and a 30% discount on the final product to all beta testers.