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Ransomware gang is auctioning off victims’ confidential data

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 10:18pm

Enlarge (credit: RichLegg/Getty Images)

Ransomware operators say they’re auctioning off victims’ confidential data in an attempt to put further pressure on them to pay hefty fees for its safe return.

The Happy Blog, a dark Web site maintained by the criminals behind the ransomware known by the names REvil, Sodin, and Sodinokibi, began the online bidding process earlier on Tuesday. Previously, the group published limited details of selected victim data and threatened to air additional confidential material if the owners didn’t pay. Besides stealing the data, the group also encrypts it so that it’s no longer accessible to the owners.

Combining the threat of publishing the data while simultaneously locking it from its rightful owner is designed to increase the chances of a payout. The new tactic furthers the pressure, possibly because previous practices haven’t yielded the desired results. The ransoms demanded are frequently high, sometimes in the millions of dollars. Affected companies have also been loath to encourage further attacks by rewarding the people behind them. Added to that reluctance are new financial pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Last of Us Pt. 2 hands-on: You can’t pet the dog—but you can expect terror

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 9:58pm

Ahead of our June 12 review of The Last of Us Pt. 2, Naughty Dog has given us the green light to describe a small portion of the PlayStation 4 game. The content in question is a 1.5-hour mission that takes place roughly 12 hours into the full campaign.

For many games, this would be an inconsequential way to set fans' expectations of what's to come. Think of a Halo game, where the shooty-shoot in a later mission is representative of the whole game. Standard game-preview stuff, you might say.

The Last of Us Pt. 2 is not necessarily that kind of video game. Using this preview to make that point is difficult, as Naughty Dog has held members of the press to an incredibly high standard of secrecy, enough to make me debate whether to post this impressions article at all. Ultimately, I can say quite a bit about this game by pointing out what I cannot mention, and why the "allowed" content makes me excited to share more about this game with you. Smarter readers may very well notice what I mention about this single mission and read between the lines. (This is a particularly safe article to read if you're spoiler-averse.)

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COVID-19 privacy protection bill introduced with bipartisan support

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 8:38pm

Enlarge / A global pandemic is no excuse for sticking your nose in other people's private data. (credit: Getty Images)

A group of lawmakers from both parties is putting forth legislation that aims to protect Americans' privacy and personal data while advancing public health initiatives in the face of COVID-19.

Well over 100,000 people in the United States have died as a result of the current pandemic, which is far from over. Mitigating the further spread of the disease will require robust contact tracing, among other efforts. The scale of tracing required, however, is enormous and difficult to manage.

In the modern era, any issue of scale is met with the promise of an app, and contact tracing is no different. Apple and Google worked together on an API for contact tracing, which was recently deployed to phones. But public confidence in contact-tracing apps is already mixed at best, and recent statements by state and local governments conflating public health contact tracing with police investigation of protesters have sown further distrust.

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Facebook's Zuckerberg accused of setting dangerous precedent over Trump

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 8:32pm
Civil rights chiefs say they are "disappointed and stunned by Mark's incomprehensible explanations".

The Apple Watch Series 5 is down to its lowest price yet today

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 7:57pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a sizable discount on the Apple Watch Series 5, the most recent entry in Apple's smartwatch lineup. Amazon currently has select 40mm models available for $300, which is $100 off Apple's MSRP and about $85 its usual going rate online. You'll see a notice on eligible product pages that says the full discount is visible at checkout. While we've seen the Series 5 hit this price before, this is tied for the largest discount we've seen to date.

The Apple Watch Series 5 earned the "Ars Approved" badge in our review last fall and currently sits as the top option in our guide to the best smartwatches. We like it for offering an always-on display, fall detection, NFC for Apple Pay, and several fitness tracking features like an always-on heart rate monitor and an onboard GPS, all in a comfortable and clean design with unobtrusive software.

You'll still have to charge it every other day, it's still mainly for iPhone owners, and you still have to be in on the idea of having a mini-smartphone on your wrist. If you own an Apple Watch Series 4 or are happy with your Apple Watch Series 3, there's less of a reason to upgrade, especially with an inevitable Series 6 likely arriving later this year. But if you've been interested in taking the plunge, this is a good price for a great wearable.

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Rare miniature rock art found in Australia

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 7:46pm

(credit: Brady et al. 2020)

Ancient artists used several techniques to paint images on rock. Sometimes they drew by hand, but other times they would place an object like a hand, a leaf, or a boomerang against the wall and spatter it with paint, leaving behind a spray of color surrounding a silhouette of the object. This may sound like a simple way to produce art, but there's new evidence that it could be a fairly complex process. People in northern Australia seem to have used beeswax to shape miniature stencils to paint on the walls of Yilbilinji Rock Shelter in Limmen National Park.

Welcome to Marra Country

The miniature images are part of a veritable gallery of rock art on the roof and rear walls of Yilbilinji. Over thousands of years, people came here to paint people, animals, objects, tracks, dots, and geometric motifs in striking red, yellow, black, and white. There’s even a European smoking pipe in the mix, which shows that at least some of the paintings must have been created after the colonists arrived.

Out of 355 images painted on the walls, only 59 are stencils—outlines of full-sized hands and forearms surrounded by sprays of white pigment (probably made with local kaolin clay). But 17 of those stencils are too small to have been done the usual way, by spattering an actual object with paint to leave a life-sized outline on the wall. They depict people—sometimes holding boomerangs and shields or wearing headdresses—crabs, echidna, at least two species of turtle, kangaroo pawprints, and geometric shapes.

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Pepper Spray Sales Soar On Amazon

Slashdot - June 2, 2020 - 7:45pm
Categories: Geek, Opinion

Google fixes Android flaws that allow code execution with high system rights

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 7:35pm

(credit: Ron Amadeo)

Google has shipped security patches for dozens of vulnerabilities in its Android mobile operating system, two of which could allow hackers to remotely execute malicious code with extremely high system rights.

In some cases, the malware could run with highly elevated privileges, a possibility that raises the severity of the bugs. That’s because the bugs, located in the Android System component, could enable a specially crafted transmission to execute arbitrary code within the context of a privileged process. In all, Google released patches for at least 34 security flaws, although some of the vulnerabilities were present only in devices available from manufacturer Qualcomm.

Anyone with a mobile device should check to see if fixes are available for their device. Methods differ by device model, but one common method involves either checking the notification screen or clicking Settings > Security > Security update. Unfortunately, patches aren’t available for many devices.

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AT&T exempts HBO Max from data caps but still limits your Netflix use

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 7:26pm

Enlarge / AT&T executive John Stankey at a presentation for investors at Warner Bros. Studios on October 29, 2019, in Burbank, California. (credit: Getty Images | Presley Ann)

AT&T's new HBO Max streaming service is exempt from the carrier's mobile data caps, even though competing services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ count against the monthly data limits. This news was reported today in an article by The Verge, which said that AT&T "confirmed to The Verge that HBO Max will be excused from the company's traditional data caps and the soft data caps on unlimited plans."

The traditional data caps limit customers to a certain amount of data each month before they have to pay overage fees or face extreme slowdowns for the rest of the month. "Soft data caps on unlimited plans" apparently is a reference to the 22GB or 50GB thresholds, after which unlimited-data users may be prioritized below other users when connecting to a congested cell tower.

"According to an AT&T executive familiar with the matter, HBO Max is using AT&T's 'sponsored data' system, which technically allows any company to pay to excuse its services from data caps," The Verge wrote. "But since AT&T owns HBO Max, it's just paying itself: the data fee shows up on the HBO Max books as an expense and on the AT&T Mobility books as revenue. For AT&T as a whole, it zeroes out. Compare that to a competitor like Netflix, which could theoretically pay AT&T for sponsored data, but it would be a pure cost."

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Incredible fossil find is the oldest known parasite

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / Artist's depiction of what this brachiopod—and its parasites—would have looked like. (credit: Zhifei Zhang (Northwest University))

From the perspective of a legacy-seeking critter deep in Earth’s history, there's little chance of you hitting the big time. The odds of getting fossilized are low enough. You need to die in the right kind of place, get buried before you are picked apart or decay, and encounter the right kind of chemistry underground that replaces your fleshy bits with enduring stone.

This unlikely chain makes capturing common life events like your last meal or developing embryos even more rare. But in the case of a newly published study, researchers were lucky enough to find what appear to be the earliest known parasites, still stuck to the hosts they targeted some 510 million years ago.

The find comes from Yunnan, China, where a sedimentary rock layer called the Wulongqing Formation is chock full of tiny fossil brachiopods of a species named (quite sensibly) Neobolus wulongqingensis. Back in the Cambrian Period, shortly after multicellular animal life bloomed into incredible variety, these creatures were living on the seafloor. A team led by Zhifei Zhang at China’s Northwest University discovered that N. wulongqingensis was not alone in the rock—many were adorned with whitish tubes on the exteriors of their shells.

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The Atlantic’s third storm has formed in record time, and it’s a threat

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 6:36pm

Enlarge / Tropical Storm Cristobal formed in the Southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. (credit: NOAA)

Last year's Atlantic hurricane season ranked among the top five most-active years on record. Its third named storm, Chantal, did not form until August 20.

By contrast, today is June 2, and the Atlantic's third named storm of the year just formed. At around noon Eastern, the National Hurricane Center named Tropical Storm Cristobal—a system wobbling around the Southern Gulf of Mexico with 40mph winds.

This is the earliest ever in the Atlantic season (which, however imperfect, has records dating back to 1851) that the third named storm has formed in a given year. The previous earliest "C" storm was Colin, on June 5, 2016.

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Android: Why this photo is bricking some phones

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 5:23pm
An atmospheric landscape photograph set as wallpaper seems to confuse the handsets.

After Crew Dragon soars, some in Congress tout benefits of commercial space

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 5:14pm

Enlarge / Sen. Ted Cruz, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and US Rep. Brian Babin stand in front of a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket at Space Center Houston on Sunday. (credit: Space Center Houston)

Although the saying probably originated with one of the greatest Roman historians, Tacitus, President John F. Kennedy popularized the phrase—"Success has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan." This aphorism can be applied to commercial space now that SpaceX has successfully launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket inside Dragonship Endeavour.

Since this flight, several congressional leaders have begun speaking more about commercial space, an approach in which private companies self-invest in their hardware, own their vehicle, and sell services to NASA. Prior to Dragon's flight, no private spacecraft had ever flown humans into orbit before—only large government space programs in the United States, Russia, and China had done it. Now, private companies such as SpaceX are demonstrating their capabilities.

US Rep Brian Babin, a Texas Republican whose district includes Johnson Space Center, offered fulsome praise for SpaceX and its achievement after Dragon's flight. "Congratulations to SpaceX, who have never quit, and who have really revolutionized the launch business, and bringing costs down," he said. "These are going to be a great boon to our space program going into the future."

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