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Security

The 'USB Killer' Has Been Mass Produced -- Available Online For About $50 (arstechnica.com) 115

New submitter npslider writes: The "USB Killer," a USB stick that fries almost everything that it is plugged into, has been mass produced -- available online for about $50. Ars Technica first wrote about this diabolical device that looks like a fairly humdrum memory stick a year ago. From the report: "The USB Killer is shockingly simple in its operation. As soon as you plug it in, a DC-to-DC converter starts drawing power from the host system and storing electricity in its bank of capacitors (the square-shaped components). When the capacitors reach a potential of -220V, the device dumps all of that electricity into the USB data lines, most likely frying whatever is on the other end. If the host doesn't just roll over and die, the USB stick does the charge-discharge process again and again until it sizzles. Since the USB Killer has gone on sale, it has been used to fry laptops (including an old ThinkPad and a brand new MacBook Pro), an Xbox One, the new Google Pixel phone, and some cars (infotainment units, rather than whole cars... for now). Notably, some devices fare better than others, and there's a range of possible outcomes -- the USB Killer doesn't just nuke everything completely." You can watch a video of EverythingApplePro using the USB Killer to fry a variety of electronic devices. It looks like the only real defense from the USB Killer is physically capping your ports.
AI

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs (businessinsider.com) 326

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines. Automation will, "in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," Hawking wrote. "The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive." He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: "We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent." Combined with other issues -- overpopulation, climate change, disease -- we are, Hawking warns ominously, at "the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity." Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
United Kingdom

UK Homes Lose Internet Access After Cyber-Attack (theguardian.com) 32

More than 100,000 people in the UK have had their internet access cut after a string of service providers were hit by what is believed to be a coordinated cyber-attack, taking the number affected in Europe up to about a million. From a report on The Guardian, shared by reader JoshTops: TalkTalk, one of Britain's biggest service providers, the Post Office and the Hull-based KCom were all affected by the malware known as the Mirai worm, which is spread via compromised computers. The Post Office said 100,000 customers had experienced problems since the attack began on Sunday and KCom put its figure at about 10,000 customers since Saturday. Earlier this week, Germany's Deutsche Telekom said up to 900,000 of its customers had lost their internet connection as part of the same incident.
United States

US Economy Added 178,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Rate Drops To 4.6 Percent (washingtonpost.com) 488

The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent the previous month, according to new government data released (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source) Friday morning. From a report on the Washington Post: Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected U.S. employers to create 180,000 new jobs last month -- roughly in line with the average number added in the first 11 months of the year. The first release after a contentious election in which the candidates disputed the health and direction of the economy, the data showed a job market that is continuing to steadily strengthen from the recession. The unemployment rate fell to levels not seen since August 2007, before a bubble in the U.S. housing market began to burst. The fall was driven partly by the creation of new jobs, and partly by people retiring and otherwise leaving the labor force. The labor force participation rate ticked down to 62.7 percent. Average hourly earnings declined by 3 cents to $25.89. The decrease pared back large gains seen in October, but over the year average hourly earnings are still up 2.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
Piracy

UK ISPs To Start Sending 'Piracy Alerts' Soon (torrentfreak.com) 67

Beginning next year, internet service providers in the UK will send email notifications to subscribers whose connections have been allegedly used to download copyright infringing content. In what is an attempt to curtail piracy rates, these alerts would try to educate those who pirate about legal alternates. TorrentFreak adds: Mimicking its American counterpart, the copyright alert program will monitor the illegal file-sharing habits of UK citizens with a strong focus on repeat infringers. The piracy alerts program is part of the larger Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative which already introduced several anti-piracy PR campaigns, targeted at the general public as well as the classroom. The plan to send out email alerts was first announced several years ago when we discussed it in detail, but it took some time to get everything ready. This week, a spokesperson from CCUK's "Get it Right From a Genuine Site" campaign informed us that it will go live in first few months of 2017. It's likely that ISPs and copyright holders needed to fine-tune their systems to get going, but the general purpose of the campaign remains the same.
Movies

British Film Institute To Digitize 100,000 Old TV Shows Before They Disappear (bbc.com) 122

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Thousands of British TV programs are to be digitized before they are lost forever, the British Film Institute says. Anarchic children's show Tiswas and The Basil Brush Show are among the programs in line for preservation. The initiative was announced as part of the BFI's five-year strategy for 2017-2022. "Material from the 70s and early 80s is at risk," said Heather Stewart, the BFI's creative director. "It has a five or six-year shelf life and if we don't do something about it will just go, no matter how great the environment is we keep it in. "Our job is make sure that things are there in 200 years' time." The BFI has budgeted $14.3 million of Lottery funding towards its goal of making the UK's entire screen heritage digitally accessible. This includes an estimated 100,000 of the "most at-risk" British TV episodes and clips held on obsolete video formats. The list includes "early children's programming, little-seen dramas, regional programs and the beginnings of breakfast television." The issue for the BFI, Ms Stewart added, was also to do with freeing up storage space. "We have a whole vault which is wall-to-wall video. If we digitized it, it would be in a robot about the size of a wardrobe," she said.
Advertising

No Man's Sky's Steam Page Didn't Mislead Gamers, Rules UK Ad Watchdog (arstechnica.com) 75

Shortly after it officially launched in August on PlayStation and Windows, No Man's Sky -- the game that sees the protagonist explore space and experience uncertain places -- was accused of false advertising. Players felt that the pictures and videos used to promote the game on its Steam page didn't represent the sort of things players might expect to encounter in the game. Today, a UK advertising regulator has ruled the opposite -- the game didn't mislead gamers. Ars Technica reports: The complainants -- who had been part of a semi-organized campaign upset with the state of the game at release -- insisted that the screenshots on the storefront had seemed to promise various features that turned out to be absent from the final game. These included things like the appearance and behavior of animals, large in-game buildings, large-scale space combat, loading screens, a promised system wherein the different factions contested galactic territory, and general graphical polish. Hello Games' defense rested on the fact that No Man's Sky is procedurally generated, and that while players would not enjoy the exact experience shown in promotional images, they could reasonably expect to see similar things. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed, saying: "The summary description of the game made clear that it was procedurally generated, that the game universe was essentially infinite, and that the core premise was exploration. As such, we considered consumers would understand the images and videos to be representative of the type of content they would encounter during gameplay, but would not generally expect to see those specific creatures, landscapes, battles, and structures." It also ruled that the developers hadn't misled customers over graphics: "We understood the graphical output of the game would be affected by the specifications of each player's computer, and considered that consumers would generally be aware of this limitation."
Communications

The UK Is About to Legalize Mass Surveillance [Update] (vice.com) 394

From a report on Motherboard: On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office. The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months. Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications. "The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight," a statement from the Home Office reads. Much of the Act gives stronger legal footing to the UK's various bulk powers, including "bulk interception," which is, in general terms, the collection of internet and phone communications en masse. In June 2013, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, The Guardian revealed that the GCHQ taps fibre-optic undersea cables in order to intercept emails, internet histories, calls, and a wealth of other data. Update: "Snooper's charter" bill has become the law. The home secretary said:"The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation, that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. "The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe. The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight."
Power

Scientists Turn Nuclear Waste Into Diamond Batteries (newatlas.com) 154

Scientists at the University of Bristol have found a way to convert thousands of tons of nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current for thousands of years. New Atlas reports: How to dispose of nuclear waste is one of the great technical challenges of the 21st century. The trouble is, it usually turns out not to be so much a question of disposal as long-term storage. Disposal, therefore is more often a matter of keeping waste safe, but being able to get at it later when needed. One unexpected example of this is the Bristol team's work on a major source of nuclear waste from Britain's aging Magnox reactors, which are now being decommissioned after over half a century of service. These first generation reactors used graphite blocks as moderators to slow down neutrons to keep the nuclear fission process running, but decades of exposure have left the UK with 104,720 tons of graphite blocks that are now classed as nuclear waste because the radiation in the reactors changes some of the inert carbon in the blocks into radioactive carbon-14. Carbon-14 is a low-yield beta particle emitter that can't penetrate even a few centimeters of air, but it's still too dangerous to allow into the environment. Instead of burying it, the Bristol team's solution is to remove most of the c-14 from the graphite blocks and turn it into electricity-generating diamonds. The nuclear diamond battery is based on the fact that when a man-made diamond is exposed to radiation, it produces a small electric current. According to the researchers, this makes it possible to build a battery that has no moving parts, gives off no emissions, and is maintenance-free. The Bristol researchers found that the carbon-14 wasn't uniformly distributed in the Magnox blocks, but is concentrated in the side closest to the uranium fuel rods. To produce the batteries, the blocks are heated to drive out the carbon-14 from the radioactive end, leaving the blocks much less radioactive than before. c-14 gas is then collected and using low pressures and high temperatures is turned into man-made diamonds. Once formed, the beta particles emitted by the c-14 interact with the diamond's crystal lattice, throwing off electrons and generating electricity. The diamonds themselves are radioactive, so they are given a second non-radioactive diamond coating to act as a radiation shield.
Google

Morgan Stanley: Pixel Phone Will Generate Google Almost $4 Billion In Revenue Next Year (9to5google.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from 9to5Google: With initial Pixel pre-orders exceeding expectations and promising activation numbers from Verizon, Google is on track to sell three million phones with revenues of $2 billion in 2016. The Morgan Stanley estimate comes as the Pixel reportedly captured 10% of the premium smartphone market in India. Unsurprisingly, the 128GB Pixel XL has the largest gross profit margin at 25%, while the cheapest 32GB Pixel is at 22%. Morgan Stanley also estimates that, compared to the iPhone, the Pixel will be half as profitable. Morgan Stanley expects Google to sell 5-6 million Pixel and Pixel XL devices in 2017 to the tune of $3.8 billion in revenue. Google is also expected to make money from increased usage of services like Android Pay and mobile search. Google's big gains were possibly due in part to Samsung's Note 7 debacle, with the company's marketshare falling to 23%. Apple captured the number one position at 66%. Additionally, Google benefitted from running a number of promotions, including cashback and exchange programs. The company also heavily advertised in newspapers, with billboards, and for the first time displays in large retail stores.
Microsoft

Microsoft Update Servers Left All Azure RHEL Instances Hackable (theregister.co.uk) 35

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Register: Microsoft has patched flaws that attackers could exploit to compromise all Azure Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) instances. Software engineer Ian Duffy found the flaws while building a secure RHEL image for Microsoft Azure. During that process he noticed an installation script Azure uses in its preconfigured RPM Package Manager contains build host information that allows attackers to find all four Red Hat Update Appliances which expose REST APIs over HTTPS. From there Duffy found a package labeled PrepareRHUI (Red Hat Update Infrastructure) that runs on all Azure RHEL boxes, and contains the rhui-monitor.cloud build host. Duffy accessed that host and found it had broken username and password authentication. This allowed him to access a backend log collector application which returned logs and configuration files along with a SSL certificate that granted full administrative access to the four Red Hat Update Appliances. Duffy says all Azure RHEL images are configured without GPG validation checks meaning all would accept malicious package updates on their next run of yum updates.
United Kingdom

48 Organizations Now Have Access To Every Brit's Browsing Hstory (zerohedge.com) 250

schwit1 quotes a report from Zero Hedge on Great Britain's newly-enacted "snoopers' charter": For those who missed our original reports, here is the new law in a nutshell: it requires telecom companies to keep records of all users' web activity for a year, creating databases of personal information that the firms worry could be vulnerable to leaks and hackers. Civil liberties groups say the law establishes mass surveillance of British citizens, following innocent internet users from the office to the living room and the bedroom. They are right. Which government agencies have access to the internet history of any British citizen? Here is the answer courtesy of blogger Chris Yuo, who has compiled the list
Click through to the comments to read the entire list.
The Media

Crowdsourced Volunteers Search For Solutions To Fake News (wired.co.uk) 270

Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser is leading a group of online volunteers hunting for ways to respond to the spread of fake news. An anonymous reader quotes Wired UK: Inside a Google Doc, volunteers are gathering ideas and approaches to get a grip on the untruthful news stories. It is part analysis, part brainstorming, with those involved being encouraged to read widely around the topic before contributing. "This is a massive endeavour but well worth it," they say...

At present, the group is coming up with a list of potential solutions and approaches. Possible methods the group is looking at include: more human editors, fingerprinting viral stories then training algorithms on confirmed fakes, domain checking, the blockchain, a reliability algorithm, sentiment analysis, a Wikipedia for news sources, and more.

The article also suggests this effort may one day spawn fake news-fighting tech startups.
Medicine

Scientists Believe There's Finally A Cure For The Common Cold (dailymail.co.uk) 193

schwit1 writes: After decades of research, the fabled cure for the common cold could be on its way in the form of a nasal spray called SynGEM, the brainchild of a Dutch biotechnology company. After successful tests on mice and rats (yes, they get colds too), 36 human volunteers at London's Imperial College are now trying out the spray.
While colds can be caused by hundreds of different viruses, just three viruses are responsible for 80% of them -- and yet colds are responsible for 40% of the sick days taken in the U.S., according to another article, as well as 75 million doctor visits (costing $7.7 billion) every year, plus another $2.9 billion for cold medications. One experimental medicine professor at London's Imperial College London has spent the last 30 years researching colds and flu, and though a cure has never been found, he now tells the Daily Mail, "I think we are on the verge of it. I really do."
United Kingdom

Black Friday Protest Sites Included An Amazon Warehouse (thecourier.co.uk) 163

An anonymous reader writes: Friday a group of protesters picketed Amazon's warehouse in Dunfermline, Scotland, alleging workers there face "up to 60 hours per week for little more than the minimum wage," according to an article in The Courier. "They also claim that new workers are tracked and monitored every minute of their working day and sacked if they fail to meet targets... Amazon has dismissed the claims, insisting that the firm values its employees and maintains a 'culture of direct dialogue' with them."

But around the world, more than 1 million people celebrated Buy Nothing Day on Friday, according to the editor in chief of Adbusters, saying their event has now spread to more than 60 countries. The Adbusters.org site suggested protesters stage zombie walks to parody the mindlessness of consumerism, and urged credit card-cutting ceremonies as well as "Whirl-Marts," where large groups of people "silently drive your shopping carts around in a long, inexplicable conga line without ever actually buying anything." The site is also sharing downloadable images which can be printed out for posters "to insert into public spaces."

One prominent retailer even closed both its physical and online stores Friday and gave all of its 12,000 employees the day off, according to USA Today. REI, which sells outdoor recreational equipment, was encouraging people to take advantage of Friday's free admission to many state parks for the second year in a row, and as many as 2.7 million people "pledged to participate" using the company's hashtag, #OptOutside.
Education

Has The 'Hour of Code' Turned Into a Giant Corporate Infomercial? (theregister.co.uk) 88

It happens every December. During "Computer Science Education Week," schools around the world dedicate a special hour towards getting kids excited about programming. But theodp writes: With Microsoft, Apple, and Google vying for the opportunity to put their products in front of tens of millions of K-12 students, The Register's Andrew Orlowski opines that the Hour of Code is turning into a giant corporate infomercial for kids. "Parents, such as the late Steve Jobs, tend to ration their children's use of technology," notes Orlowski. "But would Jobs, who consistently praised the value of broad liberal arts, approve of an hour of [Microsoft] Minecraft? It's doubtful." Google, he adds, is keen on dishing out its VR headsets to students and, not to be undone, Apple is also muscling in with an hour of code [and offering free workshops at Apple Stores].
This year Microsoft is even introducing a special online 'Hour of Code' edition" of Minecraft, according to the article, which points out that last year 31 million schoolchildren just spent their "Hour of Code" playing Minecraft.
Advertising

Advertising Company AppNexus Bans Breitbart News Over Hate Speech (betanews.com) 434

Mark Wilson quotes a report from BetaNews: Right-wing website Breitbart -- the darling of the so-called alt-right movement (which it defines as being "younger people who are anti-globalists, very nationalist [and] terribly anti-establishment") -- has been blocked by a leading ad exchange. The site, home to Milo Yiannopoulos (also known as @Nero and banned from Twitter) will no longer be permitted to sell ad space via AppNexus. The move comes after an audit by AppNexus found that Breitbart was in violation of its policies on hate speech and incitement to violence. AppNexus's spokesperson Joshua Zeitz told the BBC: "We use a number of third-party standards to determine what is and isn't hate speech, and if we detect a pattern of speech that could incite violence or discrimination against a minority group, we determine that to be non-compliant and we simply won't serve ads against it. I'm not going to put the examples out there because I'm not going to engage in a tit-for-tat on what is compliant." Bloomberg, which was the first publication to report on the news, noted that AppNexus' investors included Microsoft, News Corp and Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP.
Facebook

Locky Ransomware Uses Decoy Image Files To Ambush Facebook, LinkedIn Accounts (arstechnica.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A low-tech but cunning malware program is worrying security researchers after it started spreading rapidly in the past week through a new attack vector: by forcibly exploiting vulnerabilities in Facebook and LinkedIn. According to the Israeli security firm Check Point, security flaws in the two social networks allow a maliciously coded image file to download itself to a user's computer. Users who notice the download, and who then access the file, cause malicious code to install "Locky" ransomware onto their computers. Locky has been around since early this year, and works by encrypting victims' files and demands a payment of around half a bitcoin for the key. Previously, it had relied on a malicious macro in Word documents and spam e-mails, but Check Point says that in the past week there has been a "massive spread of the Locky ransomware via social media, particularly in its Facebook-based campaign." Users are advised not to open any file that has automatically downloaded, especially any image file with an unusual extension such as SVG, JS, or HTA -- though benign-looking images could exploit the way Windows hides file extensions by default.
United Kingdom

Police in UK Warn About Dating Apps After Serial Killer Conviction (betanews.com) 40

Mark Wilson, writing for BetaNews: Police are warning people who use dating sites and dating apps to take extra precautions to ensure their safety. The advice comes after serial killer Stephen Port who contacted his victims through apps such as Grindr and Gaydar. While people making use of dating services have always been warned to take safety precautions, police are concerned that sexual predators are increasingly using such sites and apps as a way of finding potential victims. The UK's National Crime Agency has noticed an alarming increase in the number of people reporting cases of rape after meeting someone through a dating site or app. In 2009 the number was just 33, while in 2014 it had jumped to 184. Clearly things such changes to the reporting of sexual assault need to be factored in, as do considerations such as whether the number of reported incidents represents an increase in actual incidents in real terms.
United Kingdom

UK Revises Safe Flying Drone Code (bbc.com) 31

The UK's drone code has been revised and updated to help pilots of the unmanned craft ensure they fly the gadgets safely. From a BBC report: The revised code turns the five main safety tips into a mnemonic, spelling drone, to make it easier to remember. (1) Don't fly near airports or airfields. (2) Remember to stay below 120m (400ft) and at least 50m (150ft) away from people. (3) Observe your drone at all times. (4). Never fly near aircraft. (5) Enjoy responsibly. "Drones are an incredible, inspiring technology but it's vital that people are using them safely," said Andrew Sage from air traffic control body NATS in a statement. "With the number of reported drone incidents on the rise, it's important that people understand their legal obligations and fly safe," he said.

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