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Industry & Technology

Huawei UK 5G ban 'should happen sooner'

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 5 min ago
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith calls the Chinese telecoms firm a 'risk' to national security.

This device keeps Alexa and other voice assistants from snooping on you

Ars Technica - 1 hour 14 min ago

Enlarge / LeakyPick as it monitors a network that has an Amazon Echo connected. (credit: Mitev, et al.)

As the popularity of Amazon Alexa and other voice assistants grows, so too does the number of ways those assistants both do and can intrude on users' privacy. Examples include hacks that use lasers to surreptitiously unlock connected-doors and start cars, malicious assistant apps that eavesdrop and phish passwords, and discussions that are surreptitiously and routinely monitored by provider employees or are subpoenaed for use in criminal trials. Now, researchers have developed a device that may one day allow users to take back their privacy by warning when these devices are mistakenly or intentionally snooping on nearby people.

LeakyPick is placed in various rooms of a home or office to detect the presence of devices that stream nearby audio to the Internet. By periodically emitting sounds and monitoring subsequent network traffic (it can be configured to send the sounds when users are away), the ~$40 prototype detects the transmission of audio with 94-percent accuracy. The device monitors network traffic and provides an alert whenever the identified devices are streaming ambient sounds.

LeakPick also tests devices for wake word false positives, i.e., words that incorrectly activate the assistants. So far, the researchers' device has found 89 words that unexpectedly caused Alexa to stream audio to Amazon. Two weeks ago, a different team of researchers published more than 1,000 words or phrases that produce false triggers that cause the devices to send audio to the cloud.

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Huawei 5G kit must be removed from UK by 2027

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 19 min ago
The government is also banning telecoms firms from buying new Huawei 5G kit after 31 December.

Malware stashed in China-mandated software is more extensive than thought

Ars Technica - 1 hour 28 min ago

(credit: Pixy)

Three weeks ago, security researchers exposed a sinister piece of malware lurking inside tax software that the Chinese government requires companies to install. Now there’s evidence that the high-stealth spy campaign was preceded by a separate piece of malware that employed equally sophisticated means to infect taxpayers in China.

GoldenHelper, as researchers from security firm Trustwave dubbed the malware, hid inside the Golden Tax Invoicing software, which all companies registered in China are mandated to use to pay value-added taxes. The malware is able to bypass the User Account Control, the Windows mechanism that requires users to give their approval before software can install programs or make other system changes. Once that’s done, GoldenSpy can install modules with System-level privileges. Trustwave published its findings on Tuesday here.

GoldenHelper employs other tricks to conceal its malicious behavior and evade detection from endpoint protection systems and software. The tricks include:

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Ocado says switch to online shopping is permanent

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 13 min ago
The online grocer saw "years of growth in months" amid the lockdown and says the retail world has changed.

Ford brings back the Bronco SUV with a dizzying array of options

Ars Technica - 14 hours 29 min ago

On Monday night, in a coordinated advertising blitz across ABC, ESPN, and the National Geographic channel, as well as on YouTube and social media, Ford debuted its new Bronco SUV. The company is reviving the Bronco nameplate after a hiatus of 24 years, with new two-door, four-door, and Bronco Sport models on offer, all with four-wheel drive designed for off-road ability.

The two- and four-door Broncos come in seven different trim levels, with another five trims available for the Bronco Sport, and there's a bewildering array of customization available to suit just about every possible taste. Well, almost every—we're sad to report there are no plans to offer the range as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric vehicle. So if you were hoping for some electrification, now's the time to head to the comments instead of reading on.

The big Bronco

Whether two-door (starting at $29,995) or four-door ($34,995), the Bronco comes equipped with Ford's 2.3L EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine as standard. That sends 270hp (201kW) and 310lb-ft (420Nm) to all four wheels via a seven-speed manual Getrag transmission. I mean, we say seven-speed, but it's more like a six-speed plus an extra-low 6.588:1 ratio for use when the blacktop has run out and you want to go rock climbing without getting out of the vehicle.

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Female gamers are on the rise in the 'world capital of gaming'

BBC Technology News - 14 hours 40 min ago
Female gamers in Asia are growing at a faster rate than their male rivals in online video games.

As Trump pushes to have schools open, CDC’s cautious approach leaks

Ars Technica - 14 hours 54 min ago

Enlarge / CDC Director Robert Redfield at an event focused on discussing how to safely reopen schools. (credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The United States has seen a dramatic surge in coronavirus infections with less than two months to go before the start of the school year. With little indication that the country has even started to flatten the curve, there are serious questions about which areas of the country are positioned to open schools safely. But, for reasons that remain unclear, the Trump administration has a firm answer: all of them.

Over the past couple weeks, the administration exerted pressure on the Centers for Disease Control, instituted restrictive rules for foreign college students, and had several senior administration figures, including Trump himself, join in the push to have schools open. The push places the administration at odds with public health experts and its own CDC, which advises a far more cautious approach, as revealed in an internal document that leaked over the weekend.

Pro open

At an event on Monday, President Trump reiterated his administration's message, saying, "Schools should be opened—kids want to go to schools." But, in keeping with his administration's approach to health policy, he followed that up with an evidence-free and likely false statement: "You're losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed."

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The perfume makers that can't smell a thing

BBC Technology News - 15 hours 27 min ago
Perfumers are using AI to create millions of scents, but will it replace the traditional methods?

How to upgrade your bike into an electric bicycle

BBC Technology News - 15 hours 28 min ago
If you already own a bicycle but want the benefits of an e-bike, a new kit may provide the solution.

Pediatricians walk back school-reopening stance as WHO gives dire warning

Ars Technica - 16 hours 14 sec ago

Enlarge / American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Sally Goza (center) attends a meeting with US President Donald Trump, students, teachers, and administrators about how to safely reopen schools during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the East Room at the White House July 07, 2020, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla )

The American Academy of Pediatrics has clarified its stance on school reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic after the Trump administration repeatedly used the academy’s previous statement to pressure school systems to resume in-person learning in the fall.

The AAP, in a joint statement with three large education organizations, emphasized that school reopening should be driven by science and safety—“not politics.” It also directly responded to President Trump’s threat of withholding funding from schools that did not reopen, calling the move a “misguided approach.”

The point was echoed Monday by Michael Ryan, an infectious disease expert with the World Health Organization, who implored countries not to let school reopening become “yet another political football.”

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Russian space chief questions NASA plans, praises partnership with China

Ars Technica - July 13, 2020 - 8:20pm

Enlarge / China's Vice Premier Wang Yang (standing) and Russia's then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin at Russian-Chinese talks at Constantine Palace in 2016. (credit: Alexander AstafyevTASS via Getty Images)

The chief of Russia's space corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, offered less-than-flattering comments about NASA's Moon program in a recent interview with a Russian tabloid newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Asked about Russia's interest in sending humans to the Moon and possibly partnering with NASA, Rogozin dismissed the Artemis program. He responded: "Frankly speaking, we are not interested in participating in such a project."

The Russian space chief has publicly complained for some time that NASA has chosen a 2024 landing date for political reasons. He has also compared US efforts to build a sustainable program of exploration on the surface of the Moon to American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Disappointed by Formula E’s plan for its next car? Here’s an alternative

Ars Technica - July 13, 2020 - 8:09pm

Enlarge / The future Formula E car will look almost nothing like this. (credit: Matthias Kulka/Getty Images)

Formula E only adopted its second-generation electric race car at the beginning of last season, but the motorsport is finalizing plans for the next iteration—called Gen3—set to debut in season nine (2022/2023). The plan is to make the car more powerful and lighter, with more ability to regenerate energy under braking. It will even adopt mid-race fast-charging. All of that is an improvement on the Gen2 car, but here at Ars, we can't help but feel that Formula E is missing an opportunity to be bolder. And we're not alone. Lucas di Grassi—season 3's champion—has his own idea for the direction Gen3 should take, and it's one the EV crowd will probably like.

Formula E’s plan

Formula E's plan for the Gen3 car is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Power is going up, with 350kW (469hp) available in qualifying, compared to the current 250kW (335hp), which will put speeds somewhere between Formula 3 and Formula 2. (Power output during the 45-minute races is capped at 300kW/402hp.) The battery is going to get considerably lighter, weighing 397lbs (180kg) compared to the current 547lbs (248kg), albeit with a slight reduction in capacity to 51kWh.

The battery will be able to charge at 600kW, more than twice the power of even the best EVs on sale today. That will enable mid-race fast charging, which will add 4kWh in 30 seconds. And the cars will be able to regenerate energy under deceleration at the same power level, thanks to a front-axle 250kW generator unit that works in conjunction with the 350kW motor-generator unit (MGU). However, the front wheels will only regenerate energy—there's no plan to allow the cars to deploy power to the front wheels, unlike just about every high-performance electric road car on sale or in development.

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This 1.4 million-year-old hand axe was chipped off a hippo femur

Ars Technica - July 13, 2020 - 8:00pm

Enlarge (credit: By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Hand axes are fairly common finds at sites dating between 2 million and 1 million years old. These sturdy tools have two sides (also called faces) and a sharp edge at one end. But hand axes are usually made of stone, so archaeologists working at the Konso Formation in southern Ethiopia were surprised to find a hand axe worked from a large chunk of bone buried in a 1.4 million-year-old layer of sediment. When Tohoku University archaeologist Katsuhiro Sano and his colleagues compared the bone to a collection of bone samples from large mammals, they found that their ancient hand axe had once been part of a hippopotamus femur (thigh bone).

From hippopotamus to hand axe

The Konso find is only the second bone hand axe archaeologists have ever found, and one of just a handful of bone tools from sites older than 1 million years. Based on fossils found at Konso, the hominin who flaked off a chunk of hippo femur and worked it into a nice, sharp hand axe was probably a Homo erectus. Members of the species walked upright and were built a lot like modern humans, and they eventually spread from Africa, across Europe and Asia, and all the way to modern Indonesia.

At least one member of this species left behind a 13cm-long hand axe that is, according to Sano and his colleagues, an excellent piece of craftsmanship. The toolmaker apparently flaked a large, flattish piece of bone off the side of a hippo femur; you can still see the outer surface of the bone on one side of the hand axe. That fits the standard Acheulean approach to making hand axes and other tools; the first step is to make a large “blank” in the right general shape, then gradually flake off smaller pieces to shape the finished product.

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Ars readers hated this startup’s privacy policy—so the company changed it

Ars Technica - July 13, 2020 - 7:36pm

Enlarge / This isn't the relationship you want to see between a company with access to your private data and its affiliates. (credit: Camerique / Getty Images)

When we covered subscription-based search engine startup Neeva in June, most reader focus wasn't on the search engine itself so much as its privacy policy, which left much to be desired—particularly given the option Neeva gives its users to search their email via the service. Shortly after publication, Neeva CEO Sridhar Ramaswamy reached out to Ars to discuss what went wrong and how the company planned to fix it.

Updated privacy policy

Ramaswamy told Ars that the company's intention was to provide a secure and privacy-respecting platform from the start. But, he added—and we're paraphrasing here—"lawyers will be lawyers," and it was "on him" that he had not inspected the policies drafted by the company's legal counsel closely enough. He told us that he heard our readers' feedback loud and clear, and he pledged to overhaul the policy to bring it in line with the company's actual vision.

The gallery above displays the three areas in the policy that have changed since the call with Ars. Both references to third-party advertising—and tracking technologies associated with such advertising—have been entirely removed. The major impact here lies in expectations for third-party intrusions into the Neeva site itself, and it's an important one—there isn't much point in paying a monthly subscription in return for privacy if your search metadata might be leaking to the public giants you're trying to avoid in the first place.

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How COVID-19 transformed Pokémon Go into “Pokémon stay-at-home”

Ars Technica - July 13, 2020 - 6:54pm

Enlarge / Gotta catch 'em all while not catching coronavirus (TM). (credit: Niantic / Aurich Lawson)

Since its launch in 2016, the premise of mobile titan Pokémon Go has centered on roaming the outdoors in search of mystical little creatures. As a result, it’s a game that’s particularly ill-suited to pandemic-derived restrictions on movement.

In an attempt to remedy this, Pokémon Go developer Niantic has rolled out regular updates to make the game more quarantine-compatible in recent months. This has led to a new era of play among many in the Pokémon Go scene. Call it “stay-at-home, play-at-home.”

Such a systemic change in the way Pokémon Go is played was likely necessary for the game to survive in an era where many (if not most) players were unable or afraid to travel and gather together for their usual raids. By providing players with a way to play from home, Niantic is effectively removing the golden geese taunting them from the park across the road.

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Spreading rock dust on farms could be a major climate action

Ars Technica - July 13, 2020 - 6:06pm

Enlarge / What if we spread finely crushed basalt—or even cement—on cropland? (credit: AgriLife Today)

Eventually (ideally sooner rather than later), efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are going to have to be joined by a technology that actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere. There are a number of options—from re-growing forests to burning biofuels in power plants that capture the emitted CO2—and we'll probably need several of them to get us to net zero emissions. Some of these options involve agriculture, and a new feasibility study suggests that one of them—spreading crushed rock on farm fields—deserves serious consideration.

The study was led by the University of Sheffield’s David Beerling; it estimates both the potential for this method of carbon capture in each country and the cost required to do so.

Carbon crush

Using crushed rocks isn't a new idea. Some common minerals react with water and CO2 as they weather, converting CO2 from the air into bicarbonate dissolved in water. That bicarbonate (along with some calcium and magnesium) may hang out in groundwater or make its way into the ocean. And along the way, it can also turn into solid carbonate. Whatever route it takes, it’s no longer a greenhouse gas in the air.

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UK's first e-scooter trial starts in Middlesbrough

BBC Technology News - July 13, 2020 - 5:49pm
Middlesbrough is the first place to allow e-scooters in a bid to ease pressure on public transport.

Google bans ads for stalkerware apps—with some exceptions

Ars Technica - July 13, 2020 - 4:22pm

Enlarge / Google's corporate headquarters. (credit: Alex Tai | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

Google is trying to make it a little harder for a determined stalker to spy remotely on their spouse, partner, or ex by prohibiting advertising for stalkerware apps on its services—with one giant loophole.

The search giant updated its advertising policy to say that effective August 11, the company will no longer allow "the promotion of products or services that are marketed or targeted with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization." Notably, the ban does not include private investigation services or apps and services designed for parents to track or monitor their minor children.

The change may sound like it addresses only a tiny niche, but the problem of stalkerware is unfortunately widespread. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four women and one in ten men have experienced some form of violence, stalking, or abuse from a partner. About 10 percent of women and 2 percent of men specifically report experiencing stalking by an intimate partner.

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Ubisoft: Sexual misconduct probe sees three senior heads resign

BBC Technology News - July 13, 2020 - 3:09pm
Three more top executives at game-maker Ubisoft step down as the company investigates allegations.

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