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Industry & Technology

AT&T considers getting rid of DirecTV as TV business tanks, WSJ reports

Ars Technica - 5 hours 31 min ago

Enlarge / An AT&T store in Chicago. (credit: Getty Images | jetcityimage)

AT&T is considering whether to "part ways" with DirecTV, just four years after buying the satellite company, the Wall Street Journal reported today. The Journal report doesn't use the word "sale" to describe what AT&T is considering, but the end result could be AT&T no longer owning DirecTV.

"The telecom giant has considered various options, including a spinoff of DirecTV into a separate public company and a combination of DirecTV's assets with Dish Network, its satellite-TV rival," the Journal report said, citing "people familiar with the matter."

It's still early in the process, so AT&T could end up sticking with DirecTV. "AT&T may ultimately decide to keep DirecTV in the fold. Despite the satellite service's struggles, as consumers drop their TV connections, it still contributes a sizable volume of cash flow and customer accounts to its parent," the Journal reported.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Booking.com still duping customers, says watchdog

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 36 min ago
The consumer watchdog claims the website is still using 'pressure-selling' tactics.

The cheat hackers ‘ruining’ gaming for others

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 1 min ago
The use of cheats is a major problem in video games and it’s becoming increasingly lucrative as esports take off. We meet a teenage hacker’s making thousands.

Instagram clamps down on diet and cosmetic surgery posts

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 36 min ago
Some posts will now be hidden from under 18s while "miraculous" remedy posts will be banned.

50% of US homes still won’t have fiber broadband by 2025, study says

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 10:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | metamorworks)

Fiber broadband is now available to more than 30% of households across the US, and fiber networks should reach 50% of homes by 2025, a new study says.

But 50% coverage would obviously leave another 50% of homes without access to the fastest wireline broadband technology. Reaching 80% of homes instead of just 50% would require an additional cash infusion of $52 billion over the next 10 years, the study says. Going from 80% to 90% would then require another $18 billion. Going from 90% to 100% would be far more cost-prohibitive because it would require wiring up the least populated parts of the country, which make up "the vast majority of US land," the study said.

The study was commissioned by the Fiber Broadband Association, whose members include municipal broadband providers, private ISPs such as Verizon and Sonic, and various vendors that sell equipment to the broadband industry. The industry group hired consulting firm Cartesian to conduct the study and submitted it to the Federal Communications Commission last week (see full study).

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

More evidence points to Iranian cruise missiles, drones in attack on Saudi oilfield

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 9:31pm

Debris gathered from the drones and missiles used to attack an oil field and refinery in eastern Saudi Arabia increasingly lends credence to US and Saudi accusations that Iran was in some way behind the attacks. Other evidence presented thus far also suggests that the attacks may have been launched from Iran rather than Yemen, as the leadership of the Houthi militia fighting Saudi Arabia there has claimed.

A total of 25 drones and missiles were used in the attack. The missiles appear to have been identical to the Quds-1 cruise missile revealed by Ansar Allah (the Houthi militia) in a weapons display on July 7. The drones were delta-winged, propeller-driven unmanned aircrafts with stabilizer fins at the tips of each wing.

Quds it be?

An Ansar Allah video of the unveiling of the Quds-1 cruise missile and other Houthi drones and weapons on July 7, 2019.

The Quds-1 is a smaller missile than the Soumar—Iran's clone of a Soviet-era cruise missile obtained from Ukraine in 2001—and its latest iteration, the Hoveyzeh. The Quds-1 uses what appears to be a Czech-built turbojet engine, the PBS Aerospace TJ100 (which PBS advertises as "especially suitable for unmanned aerial vehicles") stuck onto its upper fuselage for propulsion.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Who needs qubits? Factoring algorithm run on a probabilistic computer

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 9:18pm

Enlarge / The correct answer is a matter of probabilities, so some related wrong answers also appear with some frequency.

The phenomenal success of our integrated circuits managed to obscure an awkward fact: they're not always the best way to solve problems. The features of modern computers—binary operations, separated processing and memory, and so on—are extremely good at solving a huge range of computational problems. But there are things they're quite bad at, including factoring large numbers, optimizing complex sets of choices, and running neural networks.

Even before the performance gains of current processors had leveled off, people were considering alternative approaches to computing that are better for some specialized tasks. For example, quantum computers could offer dramatic speed-ups in applications like factoring numbers and database searches. D-Wave's quantum optimizer handles (wait for it) optimization problems well. And neural network computing has been done with everything from light to a specialized form of memory called a memristor.

But the list of alternative computing architectures that have been proposed is actually larger than the list of things that have actually been implemented in functional form. Now, a team of Japanese and American researchers have added an additional entry to the "functional" category: probabilistic computing. Their hardware is somewhere in between a neural network computer and a quantum optimizer, but they've shown it can factor integers using commercial-grade parts at room temperature.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Advanced hackers are infecting IT providers in hopes of hitting their customers

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 8:40pm

(credit: Pixabay)

A previously undocumented attack group with advanced hacking skills has compromised 11 IT service providers, most likely with the end goal of gaining access to their customers' networks, researchers from security firm Symantec said on Wednesday.

The group, dubbed Tortoiseshell, has been active since at least July 2018 and has struck as recently as July of this year, researchers with the Symantec Attack Investigation Team said in a post. In a testament to Tortoiseshell’s skill, the new group used both custom and off-the-shelf hacking tools. At least two of the 11 compromises successfully gained domain admin level access to the IT providers’ networks, a feat that gave the group control over all connected machines.

Tortoiseshell's planning and implementation of the attacks was also notable. By definition, a supply chain attack is hacking that compromises trusted software, hardware, or services used by targets of interest. These types of attacks require more coordination and work. Taken together, the elements suggest that Tortoiseshell is likely a skilled group.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Viking berserkers may have used henbane to induce trance-like state

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 8:31pm

Enlarge / Sixth century Viking matrix used in the manufacture of helmet plaques, depicting Odin accompanied by a Berserker. (credit: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

The legendary Viking warriors known as berserkers were renowned for their ferocity in battle, purportedly fighting in a trance-like state of blind rage (berserkergang), howling like wild animals, biting their shields, and often unable to distinguish between friend and foe in the heat of battle. But historians know very little about the berserkers apart from scattered Old Norse myths and epic sagas. One intriguing hypothesis as to the source of their behavior is that the berserkers ingested a specific kind of mushroom with psychoactive properties. Now an ethnobotanist is challenging that hypothesis, suggesting in a recent paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology that henbane is a more likely candidate.

Accounts of the berserkers date back to a late ninth-century poem to honor King Harald Fairhair. The 13th-century Icelandic historian/poet Snorri Sturluson described Odin's berserkers as being "mad as dogs or wolves" and "strong as bears or wild oxen," killing people with a single blow. Specific attributes can vary widely among the accounts, often veering into magic or mysticism. There are claims that berserkers were not affected by edged weapons or fire, but they could be killed with clubs. Other claims say they could blunt the blades of their enemies with spells or just by giving them the evil eye. Most accounts at least agree on the primary defining characteristic: a blind ferocious rage.

The onset of berserkergang purportedly began with bodily chills, shivering, and teeth chattering, followed by swelling and reddening of the face. Then the rage broke out, and once it abated, the berserker would experience both physical fatigue and emotional numbness for a few days. Several hypotheses have been proposed for why the warriors would have behaved this way, including self-induced hysteria—aided by biting their shields and howling—epilepsy, ergot poisoning, or mental illness. One of the more hotly contested hypotheses is that the berserkers ingested a hallucinogenic mushroom (Amanita muscaria), commonly known as fly agaric, just before battle to induce their trance-like state.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook plans launch of its own “Supreme Court” for handling takedown appeals

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 8:17pm

Enlarge / The Facebook logo is displayed on a TV screen on September 9, 2019 in Paris, France. (credit: Chesnot | Getty)

Facebook, which has managed to transcend geographic borders to draw in a population equal to roughly a third of all human life on Earth, has made its final charter for a "Supreme Court" of Facebook public. The company pledges to launch this initiative by November of next year.

The new Oversight Board will have five key powers, according to a charter (PDF) Facebook released yesterday. It can "request that Facebook provide information" it needs in a timely manner; it can make interpretations of Facebook standards and guidelines "in light of Facebook's articulated values"; and it can instruct the company to allow or remove content, to uphold or reverse a decision leading to content being permitted or removed, and to issue "prompt, written explanations of the board's decisions."

"If someone disagrees with a decision we've made, they can appeal to us first, and soon they will be able to further appeal this to the independent board," company CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a letter (PDF). "As an independent organization, we hope it gives people confidence that their views will be heard and that Facebook doesn't have the ultimate power over their expression."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

RF Chirp tech: Long distance, incredible penetration, low bandwidth

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 7:05pm

The first pitch I saw for Sure-Fi pegged the meter pretty hard. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

At Ars, we get daily product pitches that range on a scale from "must review" through "no thanks" to "WTF." So when a representative for a small company's PR firm reached out with a pitch for a "radio signal that's thousands of times more robust than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi" and invited us to "take the Wi-Fi challenge," it pegged my BS meter—but I took a closer look anyway.

It turns out that Sure-Fi isn't intended to replace Wi-Fi at all. When Ars spoke to Sure-Fi president Mark Hall, he clarified that the company's gear is high tech RF for industrial controls, and it's not intended for a consumer audience. It uses 900MHz spectrum RF chirp communications to establish a low-bandwidth, high-reliability connection between industrial equipment (such as HVAC systems or electronic security gates) and their controllers.

Sure-Fi's RF chirp tech is about as fast as this 300 baud Tandy DCM-3 modem. I bought one of these cheap in 1984 and rewired an RS-232 cable to convert between its pinout and my Apple //c's.

With a typical throughput of around 300 bits per second, you definitely wouldn't want to browse the Internet across a Sure-Fi bridge. That's roughly equivalent to the external dial-up modem I used to connect to BBSes in the mid-1980s—and it would take more than an hour to load Ars Technica's current front page. But you can get a lot done in 300 bits per second if you don't need graphics. For industrial controllers that really only need to relay simple commands and occasional meter readings, it's more than enough. It would also make one heck of an RC drone controller!

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

This new eco-friendly game packaging could save tonnes of plastic every year

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 5:27pm

Sega and Sports Interactive have announced that Football Manager 2020 will be sold in new eco-friendly package that uses much less plastic, and they're pushing for the rest of the entertainment industry to follow suit.

The new packaging replaces the now-standard plastic DVD case used for most game discs with a folded, reinforced cardboard sleeve made of 100% recycled fiber. The shrinkwrap surrounding that package has also been replaced with a low-density LDPE polyethylene that's highly recyclable. Even the ink on the cardboard has been changed out for a vegetable-and-water-based version (so it's technically vegan if you're desperate for a snack).

The new packaging does cost a bit more to produce—about 20 (British) cents per unit (or 30 percent), according to an open letter from Sports Interactive Studio Director Miles Jacobson. But those costs are somewhat offset by reduced shipping and destruction costs for excess units, he added. And as Spanish footballer Hector Bellerin says in a video accompanying the letter, "if there's no Earth, there's no money to spend."

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: Google Wifi 2 is half Wi-Fi router, half Google Home

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 5:20pm

Enlarge / The first-gen Google Wifi. (credit: Google)

With Google's big 2019 hardware event set for October 15, we're starting to zero in on what exactly to expect from the show. Besides the heavily leaked Pixel 4, we're also expecting a new Google Home Mini, maybe a new Pixelbook, and today's subject: a sequel to Google's mesh Wi-Fi router, the Google Wifi.

A report from 9to5Google claims that the new Google Wifi will be the long-rumored hybrid device, combining a Google Wifi's mesh router capabilities with a Google Home's microphone and speaker that integrates the Google Assistant for voice commands and music playback. Rather than call this device the "Google Wifi 2," the Wifi line will reportedly fall under Google's reworking of Nest into a Google-wide smart home sub-brand. Thus, it will be called the "Nest Wifi." It's also going to come in a selection of three colors, which would be in line with the Google Home Minis.

Unlike the current generation Google Wifi, which uses multiple identical devices, the report says the new Nest Wifi will have a larger primary router and smaller satellite routers that extend the mesh network. The primary router won't have any Assistant features, according to the report—only the smaller satellites would have speakers, microphones, and the Google Assistant. For users of the current Google Wifi, you'll be able to mix and match new and old hardware.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Los Angeles partnership launches platform to help people catch phishes

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 4:35pm

Enlarge / The City of Los Angeles is getting some help from a DHS-funded nonprofit in the fight against phishing. (credit: Getty Images)

The relentless march of ransomware, business email compromises, and other attacks against small private and public organizations over the past few years has demonstrated the hazard of operating below the information security poverty line—the point at which local governments, small and midsize businesses, and other institutions lack the expertise and budget required to implement basic computer and network security best practices needed to protect the organizations against cybercrime.

So on September 17, a Los Angeles-based cybersecurity nonprofit organization unveiled a new effort to help end that cycle, at least locally. Partnering with IBM Security and enterprise intelligence management provider TruStar, LA Cyber Lab has launched two initiatives to help organizations spot and stop malware and phishing attacks—a Web portal for sharing threat data and a mobile application targeted at helping small businesses detect and avoid email-based attacks like spear phishing.

LA Cyber Lab, a 501(c) nonprofit organization, received $3 million in funding from the US Department of Homeland Security in 2017. The organization is a "private-public partnership," LA Cyber Lab executive director Joshua Belk told Ars, "which works with the City of Los Angeles and the business committee of the Greater Los Angeles area." The lab's mission is helping Los Angeles area organizations "protect themselves and be more aware of cyberattacks and just different things that are happening in that realm," Belk explained.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Protocol found in webcams and DVRs is fueling a new round of big DDoSes

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Akamai)

Hackers have found a new way to amplify the crippling effects of denial-of-service techniques by abusing an improperly implemented tool found in almost 1 million network-connected cameras, DVRs, and other Internet-of-things devices.

The technique abuses WS-Discovery, a protocol that a wide array of network devices use to automatically connect to one another. Often abbreviated as WSD, the protocol lets devices send user datagram protocol packets that describe the device capabilities and requirements over port 3702. Devices that receive the probes can respond with replies that can be tens to hundreds of times bigger. WSD has shipped with Windows since Vista and is one of the ways the operating system automatically finds network-based printers.

IoT strikes again

The WSD specification calls for probes and responses to be restricted to local networks, but over the past few months, researchers and attackers have started to realize that many Internet-of-things devices allow devices to send probes and responses over the Internet at large. The result: these improperly designed devices have become a vehicle capable of converting modest amounts of malicious bandwidth into crippling torrents that take down websites. Depending on the device, responses can be anywhere from seven to 153 times bigger, an amplification that puts WSD among the most powerful techniques for amplifying distributed denial of service attacks.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The world’s best bush plane is destroyed on takeoff in Reno

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 1:15pm

Mike Patey, the Utah entrepreneur who transformed his Polish-built Wilga 2000 short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft into a million-dollar "ultimate bush plane" called DRACO, crashed on takeoff leaving the Reno National Championship Air Races on Monday.

Patey was attempting to depart Reno (where DRACO had been featured in a static display) the day after the races were over, seeking to beat a fast-moving weather front. With him aboard DRACO were his wife and best friend. All three escaped the crash without injury.

The incident

The crash occurred at about 10:12 pm local time. According to the Meteorological Aerodrome Report (METAR), the winds at Stead Airport were out of the southwest, blowing steady at 24 knots (28mph, or about 45km/h) and gusting to 38 knots (44mph, or about 71km/h). Patey was taking off on runway 26 with a crosswind from his left.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New algorithms aim to stamp out abuse on Twitter

BBC Technology News - September 18, 2019 - 11:00am
US researchers develop a tool that can detect abuse with "90% accuracy".

The debate over facial recognition technology

BBC Technology News - September 18, 2019 - 10:55am
Some MPs have called for UK police and companies to stop using live facial recognition for public surveillance.

HP debuts Elite Dragonfly 2-in-1 with ultra-light chassis, 24-hour battery life

Ars Technica - September 18, 2019 - 7:00am

The commercial PC space can be slow to catch up to the consumer space when it comes to design and next-gen features. But HP thinks it has a solution for business users who want a laptop that looks just as good as it works and doesn't sacrifice pro features to do so. The HP Elitebook Dragonfly, despite its playful name, doesn't play around with its top-tier specs, and at just 2.2 pounds, it's one of the lightest business notebooks you'll find.

The "dragonfly" name refers to the device's ultra-light weight and its color, which HP calls dragonfly blue. The 13-inch Dragonfly is certainly one of the lightest business notebooks I've touched, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that HP still managed to include one USB-A port and an HDMI port on the convertible's slim frame. Those ports are accompanied by two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack, and a security lock slot.

The Dragonfly's modern design would make it seem like a good competitor for machines like Dell's XPS 13 or even the now-discontinued MacBook, but it is part of the Elitebook family, so it has a number of features that pro- and business-users will require standard. The machine has a chassis made of magnesium alloy and ocean-bound plastic material and is MIL-STD 810G certified, so it will withstand drops and shocks better than most of its consumer counterparts. In addition to a shutter-able webcam, the Dragonfly can be equipped with an IR camera, and it comes with a fingerprint reader standard for Windows Hello. The Dragonfly will also support vPro Intel CPUs, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 2TB of storage, Wi-Fi 6, and optional 4x4 LTE connectivity.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Live facial recognition surveillance 'must stop'

BBC Technology News - September 18, 2019 - 5:51am
Campaigners say the technology is inaccurate, intrusive and infringes on an individual's right to privacy.

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