Security

US's Greatest Vulnerability is Ignoring the Cyber Threats From Our Adversaries, Foreign Policy Expert Says (cnbc.com) 43

America's greatest vulnerability is its continued inability to acknowledge the extent of its adversaries' capabilities when it comes to cyber threats, says Ian Bremmer, founder and president of leading political risk firm Eurasia Group. From a report: Speaking to CNBC from the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the prominent American political scientist emphasized that there should be much more government-level concern and urgency over cyber risk. The adversarial states in question are what U.S. intelligence agencies call the "big four": Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. "We're vulnerable because we continue to underestimate the capabilities in those countries. WannaCry, from North Korea -- no one in the U.S. cybersecurity services believed the North Koreans could actually do that," Bremmer described, naming the ransomware virus that crippled more than 200,000 computer systems across 150 countries in May of 2017.

Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, weighed in, stressing the economic cost of cyber crimes. "It is very hard to attribute cyberattacks to different actors or countries, but the cost is just unbelievable. Annually more than a thousand billion U.S. dollars are lost for companies or countries due to these attacks and our economy is more and more based on internet and data."

Facebook

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers (reuters.com) 93

Facebook will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday. From a report: The postcard verification is Facebook's latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia's use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
China

How Does Chinese Tech Stack Up Against American Tech? 141

The Economist: China's tech leaders love visiting California, and invest there, but are no longer awed by it [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. By market value the Middle Kingdom's giants, Alibaba and Tencent, are in the same league as Alphabet and Facebook. New stars may float their shares in 2018-19, including Didi Chuxing (taxi rides), Ant Financial (payments) and Lufax (wealth management). China's e-commerce sales are double America's and the Chinese send 11 times more money by mobile phones than Americans, who still scribble cheques.

The venture-capital (VC) industry is booming. American visitors return from Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen blown away by the entrepreneurial work ethic. Last year the government decreed that China would lead globally in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. The plan covers a startlingly vast range of activities, including developing smart cities and autonomous cars and setting global tech standards. Like Japanese industry in the 1960s, private Chinese firms take this "administrative guidance" seriously.
Businesses

Labor Board Says Google Could Fire James Damore For Anti-Diversity Memo (theverge.com) 572

According to a recently disclosed letter from the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, Google didn't violate labor laws by firing engineer James Damore for a memo criticizing the company's diversity program. "The lightly redacted statement is written by Jayme Sophir, associate general counsel of the NLRB's division of advice; it dates to January, but was released yesterday, according to Law.com," reports The Verge. "Sophir concludes that while some parts of Damore's memo was legally protected by workplace regulations, 'the statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected.'" From the report: Damore filed an NLRB complaint in August of 2017, after being fired for internally circulating a memo opposing Google's diversity efforts. Sophir recommends dismissing the case; Bloomberg reports that Damore withdrew it in January, and that his lawyer says he's focusing on a separate lawsuit alleging discrimination against conservative white men at Google. NLRB records state that its case was closed on January 19th. In her analysis, Sophir writes that employers should be given "particular deference" in trying to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, since these are tied to legal requirements. And employers have "a strong interest in promoting diversity" and cooperation across different groups of people. Because of this, "employers must be permitted to 'nip in the bud' the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a 'hostile workplace,'" she writes. "Where an employee's conduct significantly disrupts work processes, creates a hostile work environment, or constitutes racial or sexual discrimination or harassment, the Board has found it unprotected even if it involves concerted activities regarding working conditions."
Social Networks

US Charges Russian Social Media Trolls Over Election Tampering (cnet.com) 476

The US Justice Department has filed charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. From a report: In an indictment [PDF] released on Friday, the Justice Department called out the Internet Research Agency, a notorious group behind the Russian propaganda effort across social media. Employees for the agency created troll accounts and used bots to prop up arguments and sow political chaos during the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Google have struggled to deal with fake news, trolling campaigns and bots on their platforms, facing the scorn of Capitol Hill over their mishandlings. The indictment lists 13 Russian nationals tied to the effort.
Medicine

Concussions Can Be Detected With New Blood Test Approved by FDA. (nytimes.com) 21

The Food and Drug Administration this week approved a long-awaited blood test to detect concussions in people and more quickly identify those with possible brain injuries [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The test, called the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator, is also expected to reduce the number of people exposed to radiation through CT scans, or computed tomography scans, that detect brain tissue damage or intracranial lesions. If the blood test is adopted widely, it could eliminate the need for CT scans in at least a third of those with suspected brain injuries, the agency predicted. Concussion-related brain damage has become a particularly worrisome public health issue in many sports, especially football, affecting the ranks of professional athletes on down to the young children in Pop Warner leagues. Those concerns have escalated so far that it has led to a decline in children participating in tackle sports.
United States

Household Products Now Rival Cars As a Source of Air Pollution, Say Scientists (theguardian.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution as strict controls on vehicles have reduced road traffic emissions, scientists say. Researchers in the US looked at levels of synthetic "volatile organic compounds", or VOCs, in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from industrial and household products refined from petroleum as from vehicle exhaust pipes. The compounds are an important contributor to air pollution because when they waft into the atmosphere, they react with other chemicals to produce harmful ozone or fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. Ground level ozone can trigger breathing problems by making the airways constrict, while fine airborne particles drive heart and lung disease. Writing in the journal Science, De Gouw and others report that the amount of VOCs emitted from household and industrial products is two to three times higher than official US estimates suggest. The result is surprising since only about 5% of raw oil is turned into chemicals for consumer products, with 95% ending up as fuel.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Urges US Copyright Office To Reject Proactive 'Piracy' Filters (torrentfreak.com) 55

TorrentFreak: As entertainment companies and Internet services spar over the boundaries of copyright law, the EFF is urging the US Copyright Office to keep "copyright's safe harbors safe." In a petition just filed with the office, the EFF warns that innovation will be stymied if Congress goes ahead with a plan to introduce proactive 'piracy' filters at the expense of the DMCA's current safe harbor provisions. [...] "Major media and entertainment companies and their surrogates want Congress to replace today's DMCA with a new law that would require websites and Internet services to use automated filtering to enforce copyrights. "Systems like these, no matter how sophisticated, cannot accurately determine the copyright status of a work, nor whether a use is licensed, a fair use, or otherwise non-infringing. Simply put, automated filters censor lawful and important speech," the EFF warns.
Medicine

Hospitals May Turn To Algorithms To Fight Fatal Infections (scientificamerican.com) 54

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines.

The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program. Shenoy and Wiens' CDI algorithm analyzed a data set from 374,000 inpatient admissions to Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Michigan Health System, seeking connections between cases of CDI and the circumstances behind them. The records contained over 4,000 distinct variables. As it repeatedly analyzes this data, the ML process extracts warning signs of disease that doctors may miss -- constellations of symptoms, circumstances and details of medical history most likely to result in infection at any point in the hospital stay.

Privacy

Seattle To Remove Controversial City Spying Network After Public Backlash (seattletimes.com) 83

schwit1 shares a report from Activist Post: Following years of resistance from citizens, the city of Seattle has decided to completely remove controversial surveillance equipment -- at a cost of $150,000. In November 2013, Seattle residents pushed back against the installation of several mesh network nodes attached to utility poles around the downtown area. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and privacy advocates were immediately concerned about the ability of the nodes to gather user information via the Wi-Fi connection. The Seattle Times reports on the latest developments: "Seattle's wireless mesh network, a node of controversy about police surveillance and the role of federal funding in city policing, is coming down. Megan Erb, spokeswoman for Seattle Information Technology, said the city has budgeted $150,000 for contractor Prime Electric and city employees to remove dozens of surveillance cameras and 158 'wireless access points' -- little, off-white boxes with antennae mounted on utility poles around the city."

The nodes were purchased by the Seattle Police Department via a $3.6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The Seattle Police Department argued the network would be helpful for protecting the port and for first-responder communication during emergencies. As the Times notes, "the mesh network, according to the ACLU, news reports and anti-surveillance activists from Seattle Privacy Coalition, had the potential to track and log every wireless device that moved through its system: people attending protests, people getting cups of coffee, people going to a hotel in the middle of the workday." However, by November 2013, SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb announced, "The wireless mesh network will be deactivated until city council approves a draft (privacy) policy and until there's an opportunity for vigorous public debate." The privacy policy for the network was never developed and, instead, the city has now opted to remove the devices at a cost of $150,000. The Times notes that, "crews are tearing its hardware down and repurposing the usable parts for other city agencies, including Seattle Department of Transportation traffic cameras."

Earth

Trump Administration Wants To Fire 248 Forecasters At the National Weather Service (fortune.com) 523

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fortune: After a year that saw over $300 million in damages from hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters, the Trump administration is proposing significant cuts to the National Weather Service (NWS) and hopes to eliminate the jobs of 248 weather forecasters. The idea, which is part of the 2019 fiscal budget proposal and caught the agency by surprise, is being derided by the NWS's labor union, which says the cuts will impact the reliability of future weather forecasts and warnings. All totaled, the Weather Service faces cuts of $75 million in the initial proposal. Some or all of those cuts could be jettisoned before the bill is voted upon. "We can't take any more cuts and still do the job that the American public needs us to do -- there simply will not be the staff available on duty to issue the forecasts and warnings upon which the country depends," said Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

Further reading: The Washington Post
Advertising

Huawei Got People To Write Fake Reviews For An Unreleased Phone (theverge.com) 39

As spotted by 9to5Google, Huawei has apparently posted fake reviews on Best Buy for its new Mate 10 Pro, which is available for pre-order in the U.S. despite not having any deals with U.S. carriers. "The fake reviews, which are exclusively on the Best Buy website, are likely the result of a contest Huawei ran on Facebook," reports The Verge. From the report: On January 31st, the company posted to a Facebook group with over 60,000 members, asking for people to leave comments on the Best Buy pre-sale page in exchange for a chance to beta test a Mate 10 Pro. The original post has been deleted, but 9to5Google obtained a screenshot before it went down. "Tell us how to why (sic) you WANT to own the Mate 10 Pro in the review section of our pre-sale Best Buy retail page," the post states. On the Best Buy site, there are currently 108 reviews for the phone, 103 of which were written on or after January 31st, the day Huawei posted the contest. Many of the comments directly reference not having any actual hands-on experience with the product itself, but give the phone a five star rating. "I can't wait to get my hands on this phone and demonstrate how amazing it is to people," reads one. "This device looks exciting and beautiful and it would be amazing to have a chance to beta test it," another reads. It seems Huawei is betting that loads of high ratings early on will make people trust the product and lead to higher sales. That's all well and good except that these types of reviews are strictly against Best Buy policy, as 9to5Google points out. "Huawei's first priority is always the consumer and we encourage our customers to share their experiences with our devices in their own voice and through authentic conversation," a Huawei representative told The Verge in a statement. "While there are reviews from beta testers with extensive knowledge of the product, they were in no way given monetary benefits for providing their honest opinions of the product. However, we are working to remove posts by beta testers where it isn't disclosed they participated in the review program."
The Internet

Trump's Infrastructure Plan Has No Dedicated Money For Broadband (arstechnica.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President Trump's new 10-year plan for "rebuilding infrastructure in America" doesn't contain any funding specifically earmarked for improving Internet access. Instead, the plan sets aside a pool of funding for numerous types of infrastructure projects, and broadband is one of the eligible categories. The plan's $50 billion Rural Infrastructure Program lists broadband as one of five broad categories of eligible projects.

Eighty percent of the program's $50 billion would be "provided to the governor of each state." Governors would take the lead in deciding how the money would be spent in their states. The other 20 percent would pay for grants that could be used for any of the above project categories. Separately, broadband would be eligible for funding from a proposed $20 billion Transformative Projects Program, along with transportation, clean water, drinking water, energy, and commercial space. Trump's plan would also add rural broadband facilities to the list of eligible categories for Private Activity Bonds, which allow private projects to "benefit from the lower financing costs of tax-exempt municipal bonds." The plan would also let carriers install small cells and Wi-Fi attachments without going through the same environmental and historical preservation reviews required for large towers.

China

US Senators Voice Concern Over Chinese Access To Intellectual Property (reuters.com) 115

Leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said on Tuesday they were concerned about what they described as China's efforts to gain access to sensitive U.S. technologies and intellectual property through Chinese companies with government ties. From a report: Senator Richard Burr, the committee's Republican chairman, cited concerns about the spread of foreign technologies in the United States, which he called "counterintelligence and information security risks that come prepackaged with the goods and services of certain overseas vendors. The focus of my concern today is China, and specifically Chinese telecoms (companies) like Huawei and ZTE that are widely understood to have extraordinary ties to the Chinese government," Burr said. Senator Mark Warner, the committee's Democratic vice chairman, said he had similar concerns. "I'm worried about the close relationship between the Chinese government and Chinese technology firms, particularly in the area of commercialization of our surveillance technology and efforts to shape telecommunications equipment markets," Warner said.
AI

In the Wake of Fake News, Several Universities Including MIT and Harvard Introduce New Course On Ethics and Regulation of AI (nytimes.com) 177

The medical profession has an ethic: First, do no harm. Silicon Valley has an ethos: Build it first and ask for forgiveness later. Now, in the wake of fake news and other troubles at tech companies, universities that helped produce some of Silicon Valley's top technologists are hustling to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science, the New York Times reporter. From the report: This semester, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. The University of Texas at Austin just introduced a course titled "Ethical Foundations of Computer Science" -- with the idea of eventually requiring it for all computer science majors. And at Stanford University, the academic heart of the industry, three professors and a research fellow are developing a computer science ethics course for next year. They hope several hundred students will enroll. The idea is to train the next generation of technologists and policymakers to consider the ramifications of innovations -- like autonomous weapons or self-driving cars -- before those products go on sale.
The Courts

Comcast Sues Vermont Over Conditions On New License Requiring the Company To Expand Its Network (vtdigger.org) 180

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VTDigger: Cable television giant Comcast is suing the Vermont Public Utility Commission over the panel's decision to require the company to expand its network and step up support for community access TV if it wants to continue doing business in Vermont. A key issue is the services Comcast must provide to local community access systems that carry municipal government and school board meetings and other local events. The 26 community access systems have been pushing -- against resistance by Comcast -- for high-definition video, greater ability to operate from remote locations, and inclusion in the interactive program guides that Comcast customers can use to decide what to watch. The PUC -- formerly known as the Public Service Board -- in January issued a new 11-year permit for Comcast to operate in Vermont. In July the panel rejected the company's request to drop some of the conditions attached to the permit.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Comcast argued that the PUC "exceeded its authority under federal and Vermont law" by imposing "numerous conditions on Comcast's continued cable operations in the state that are arbitrary, unprecedented and will ultimately harm local cable subscribers by resulting in millions of dollars in increased cable costs." It said the commission "did so despite overwhelming record evidence that Vermont cable subscribers do not want to incur any additional costs or fees for the kinds of conditions imposed" in the commission's January order.

Facebook

Facebook Lost Around 2.8 Million US Users Under 25 Last Year (recode.net) 145

According to new estimates by eMarketer, Facebook users in the 12- to 17-year-old demographic declined by 9.9 percent in 2017, or about 1.4 million total users. That's almost three times more than the digital measurement firm expected. There were roughly 12.1 million U.S. Facebook users in the 12- to 17-year-old demographic by the end of the year. Recode reports: There are likely multiple reasons for the decline. Facebook has been losing its "cool" factor for years, and young people have more options than ever for staying in touch with friends and family. Facebook also serves as a digital record keeper -- but many young people don't seem to care about saving their life online, at least not publicly. That explains why Snapchat and Instagram, which offer features for sharing photos and videos that disappear, are growing in popularity among this demographic. Overall, eMarketer found Facebook lost about 2.8 million U.S. users under 25 last year. The research firm released Facebook usage estimates for 2018 on Monday, and expects that Facebook will lose about 2.1 million users in the U.S. under the age of 25 this year.
Government

Trump's New Infrastructure Plan Calls For Selling Off Two Airports (politico.com) 405

The Trump administration has released an infrastructure plan on Monday that proposes that the federal government considers selling off Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. According to Trump's blueprint, the administration wants to allow federal agencies to divest assets if they "can demonstrate an increase in value from the sale would optimize the taxpayer value for federal assets." It also includes the George Washington and Baltimore Washington parkways, the Washington Aqueduct and the transmission assets of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bonneville Power Administration on the list for "potential divesture." Politico reports: State and local agencies or the private sector may be better at managing assets currently owned by the federal government, the administration argues, and federal agencies should be able to "identify appropriate conditions under which sales would be made." They should also "delineate how proceeds would be spent." Under the administration's proposal, federal agencies would have to complete an analysis demonstrating an "increase in value from divestiture." Though technically owned by the federal government, both airports are operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority under a long-term lease agreement. The 53-page infrastructure plan lays out a vision to turn $200 billion in federal money into $1.5 trillion for fixing America's infrastructure by leveraging local and state dollars and private investment. "The White House says its plan will create $1.5 trillion for repairing and upgrading America's infrastructure," reports CNNMoney. "Only $200 billion of that, however, would come from direct federal spending. The rest is supposed to come from state and local governments, which are expected to match any federal allocation by at least a four-to-one ratio. States have gradually assumed more of the responsibility for funding infrastructure in recent years, and the White House says it wants to accelerate that trend."

As for how the money would be split up, the plan says that half of the new federal money, $100 billion, "would be parceled out as incentives to local government entities," reports CNNMoney. "An additional $20 billion would go toward 'projects of national significance' that can 'lift the American spirit,'" while another $50 billion will be designated "for rural block grants, most of which will be given to states according to a formula based on the miles of rural roads and the rural population they have," reports CNNMoney. "The rest of the money would support other infrastructure-related undertakings..."
Businesses

Amazon Is Cutting Hundreds of Corporate Jobs (techcrunch.com) 61

According to a Seattle Times report, Amazon is laying off hundreds of corporate workers in its Seattle headquarters and elsewhere. "The corporate cuts come after an eight-year hiring spree, taking the company from 5,000 in 2010 to 40,000 in its Seattle headquarters and gobbling up several retail businesses throughout the country," reports TechCrunch. From the report: However, according to the report, Amazon's rising employee numbers over the last two years left some departments over budget and with too many staff on hand. In the last few months, the company implemented hiring freezes to stem the flow of new workers, cutting the number of open positions in half from the 3,500 listed last Summer. The layoffs will mainly focus on Amazon's Seattle office, but there have already been cuts in some of its retail subsidiaries in other parts of the country, such as the Las Vegas-based online footwear retailer Zappos, which had to lay off 30 people recently. And the company behind Diapers.com, Quidsi, had to cut more than 250 jobs a year ago. The moves suggest Amazon may be trying to rein in spending and consolidate some of its retail businesses.
ISS

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report (techcrunch.com) 235

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.

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