By msmash from Slashdot's stranger-than-fiction department
On May 7, hackers infected about 10,000 of Baltimore city government's computers with an aggressive form of ransomware called RobbinHood, and insisted the city pay 13 bitcoin (then $76,280, today $102,310) to cut the computers loose. The hackers claimed the price would go up every day after four days, and after the tenth day, the affected files would be lost forever. From a report: "We won't talk more, all we know is MONEY!" the ransom note read. "Hurry up! Tik Tak, Tik Tak, Tik Tak!" But the city has not paid. In the two weeks since, Baltimore citizens have not had access to many city services. The city payment services and email systems are still offline. A May 7 Baltimore Sun report stated the Robbinhood ransomware used in this attack encrypts files with a "file-locking" virus so the hackers can hold the files hostage. Among the departments that have had issues with their email and phone systems are the Department of Public Works, the Department of Transportation, and the Baltimore Police Department.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Health Department's epidemiologists aren't able to use the network that allows them to alert citizens of certain which types of drugs are causing recent overdoses. Many services have resumed through phone, and vital emergency systems like 911 and 311 reportedly continued to function. The ransomware froze the system the city uses for executing home sales, which reportedly hurt the local market, but the city began implementing a manual workaround earlier this week.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's moving-forward department
This week the world's first and only digital circuit breaker was certified for commercial use. The technology, invented by Atom Power, has been listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the global standard for consumer safety. This new breaker makes power easier to manage and 3000 times faster than the fastest mechanical breaker, marking the most radical advancement in power distribution since Thomas Edison.
From a report: Picture the fuse box in your basement, each switch assigned to different electrical components of your home. These switches are designed to break a circuit during an electrical overload to protect your lights and appliances. When this happens, you plod down to your mechanical room and flick the switches on again. Now multiply that simple system in your home to city high rises and industrial buildings, which might have 250 circuit breakers on any given floor, each one ranging from 15 to 4000 amps at higher voltages. At this scale, the limitations and dangers of a manually controlled power system become much more evident -- and costly.
Ryan Kennedy, CEO of Atom Power, has been working to build a better electrical system since he began his career 25 years ago, first as an electrician and then as an engineer and project manager on large, high profile commercial electrical projects. His experienced based inquiry has revolved around a central assertion that analog infrastructure doesn't allow us to control our power the way we should be able to. That idea has led to some pretty critical questions: "What would it take to make power systems controllable?" and "Why shouldn't that control be built in to the circuit breaker itself?"Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's marching-forward department
UK mobile carrier EE announced its plans to launch 5G in the UK on Wednesday. The network will be switched on on May 30, with the first 5G phones available to preorder from today. From a report: EE's initial 5G rollout will focus on six cities (London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester), with promises to expand to 19 cities by the end of the year. EE CEO Marc Allera promised EE 5G customers would experience average download speeds of 156 Mbps. It will be "like having a lane of the motorway all to yourself," he said, speaking at an event in London. The first devices EE will offer on its 5G plans include the OnePlus 7 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S10, the Oppo Reno 5G, the LG V50 ThinQ, a 5G home router and an HTC Wi-Fi device. Plans start from $68 per month (for 10GB of data) and extend up to $94 per month (for 120GB of data). Earlier this month, EE announced it would offer the Huawei Mate 20 X as one of the first 5G phones it offered to customers, but due to the developments earlier this week calling into question the future of Android on Huawei phones, the network has pulled them from its initial 5G device lineup. "We've put the Huawei devices on pause until we've got a bit more information on that," said Allera.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Two Amazon shareholder proposals about the company's controversial facial recognition technology failed to pass Wednesday, following a concerted push by civil rights groups and activist investors. From a report: One proposal would have banned Amazon from selling its Rekognition technology to government agencies unless it first determines the software doesn't infringe on civil liberties. The other proposal called for an independent study of the potential privacy and human rights violations caused by Rekognition. Both proposals were presented at Amazon's annual shareholder meeting in Seattle on Wednesday. The company said it isn't disclosing the vote tallies until this Friday.
"The fact that there needed to be a vote on this is an embarrassment for Amazon's leadership team. It demonstrates shareholders do not have confidence that company executives are properly understanding or addressing the civil and human rights impacts of its role in facilitating pervasive government surveillance," Shankar Narayan, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington's Technology and Liberty Project director, said in a statement. "While we have yet to see the exact breakdown of the vote, this shareholder intervention should serve as a wake-up call for the company to reckon with the real harms of face surveillance and to change course." Both proposals, which were non-binding, were long shots to pass, since Amazon's board said it was against the proposals. Major shareholders typically follow such positions to show support for the board. Also, CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon's board chairman, is the company's biggest shareholder, controlling about 16% of its stock, and wasn't expected to vote for either proposal.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's checking-up department
On May 14, San Francisco became the first US city to ban police and government agencies from using facial recognition. On May 22, Amazon shareholders will vote on whether to restrict the company's sale of its own facial recognition software. But at cruise operator Royal Caribbean, facial recognition still has plenty of potential. From a report: Like some airlines, Royal Caribbean has started to roll out facial recognition and other technologies to streamline its boarding process. The company's SVP of digital, Jay Schneider, tells Quartz that the typical wait time to board is 10 minutes with a mobile boarding pass; less if the passenger opts into facial recognition by uploading a "security selfie." Before those additions, he says the typical wait time was around 90 minutes. "We wanted it to be a welcoming experience, such that the agent knows who you are when you're getting there," Schneider says, adding that the company wants to turn facial recognition "not into a stop and frisk moment, but into a way to welcome you on vacation, answer any questions, and let me just get you on your way." As people churn through the line faster with mobile boarding passes and facial recognition, the rest of the line benefits as well -- that 90-minute wait will average more like 20 minutes for even those passengers boarding the old-fashioned way. Schneider says Royal Caribbean deletes security selfies at the end of each trip, to avoid storing data any longer than necessary. Royal Caribbean has also rolled out mobile boarding to board its crew members; Schneider says the technology saves the company 50,000 crew hours each year.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's tussle-continues department
Indonesia is the latest nation to hit the hammer on social media after the government restricted the use of WhatsApp and Instagram following deadly riots yesterday. From a report: Numerous Indonesia-based users are today reporting difficulties sending multimedia messages via WhatsApp, which is one of the country's most popular chat apps, and posting content to Facebook, while the hashtag #instagramdown is trending among the country's Twitter users due to problems accessing the Facebook-owned photo app. Wiranto, a coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, confirmed in a press conference that the government is limiting access to social media and "deactivating certain features" to maintain calm, according to a report from Coconuts. Rudiantara, the communications minister of Indonesia and a critic of Facebook, explained that users "will experience lag on Whatsapp if you upload videos and photos." Facebook -- which operates both WhatsApp and Instagram -- didn't explicitly confirm the blockages , but said it has been in communication with the Indonesian government.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
Qualcomm illegally suppressed competition in the market for smartphone chips by threatening to cut off supplies and extracting excessive licensing fees, a U.S. judge ruled, a decision that could force the company to overhaul its business practices. From a report: The decision issued late Tuesday night by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, caused Qualcomm shares to plunge 9.5 percent in early trading on Wednesday. "Qualcomm's licensing practices have strangled competition" in parts of the chip market for years, harming rivals, smartphone makers, and consumers, Koh wrote in a 233-page decision. She ordered the San Diego-based company to renegotiate licensing agreements at reasonable prices, without threatening to cut off supplies, and ordered that it be monitored for seven years to ensure its compliance. Qualcomm said it will immediately ask Koh to put her decision on hold, and also seek a quick appeal to the federal appeals court in California. "We strongly disagree with the judge's conclusions, her interpretation of the facts and her application of the law," general counsel Don Rosenberg said in a statement.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's another-one-bites-the-dust department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: The U.S. administration is considering limits to Chinese video surveillance firm Hikvision's ability to buy U.S. technology, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, in a move that deepens worries about trade frictions between the world's two top economies. The move would effectively place Hikvision on a U.S. blacklist and U.S. companies may have to obtain government approval to supply components to Hikvision, the paper said. The U.S. Commerce Department blocked Huawei Technologies from buying U.S. goods last week, effectively banning U.S. companies from doing business with the Chinese firm, a major escalation in the trade war, saying Huawei was involved in activities contrary to national security.
Hikvision and Dahua Technology which produce audio-visual equipment that can be used for surveillance were specifically cited in a letter to Trump's top advisers last month, signed by more than 40 lawmakers. The lawmakers said China's actions in its western region of Xinjiang "may constitute crimes against humanity" and urged tighter U.S. export controls to ensure that U.S. companies are not assisting the Chinese government's crackdown there. The issue stems around the facilities in China that "U.N. experts describe as mass detention centers holding more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims," reports CNBC. "Beijing has said its measures in Xinjiang, which are also reported to include widespread surveillance of the population, are aimed at stemming the threat of Islamist militancy. The facilities or camps that have opened are vocational training centers, the government has said."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's grab-your-popcorn department
SpaceX is planning to launch test flights of its Starhopper test vehicle to a height of up to 16,400 feet. "The short tests, which will take place out of SpaceX's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, will send the rocket to just under 1,640 feet (500 meters) high for its low-altitude flights and up to 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) high for its high-altitude flights," reports The Verge, citing a modified application filed with the FCC. The heights match those that the company indicated in a similar filing last year. From the report: The Starhopper is a very basic version of Starship, the massive passenger rocket that SpaceX wants to build to send people to the Moon and Mars. In order to prepare for the first Starship's flight to space, SpaceX has been tinkering with the test Starhopper in Boca Chica. The vehicle boasts a similar structure to the final rocket, though it's slightly smaller in size. Starhopper's most important task is to test out the new, powerful Raptor engines that SpaceX has developed for the future deep-space rocket.
SpaceX fired up a Raptor engine on the bottom of the Starhopper for the first time in April. It only lifted a few inches since the vehicle was tethered to the ground. But now, SpaceX plans to perform what are known as "hop" tests with the vehicle (hence the nickname Starhopper), which will send the rocket to a low altitude above the Earth. The company will then attempt to touch the Starhopper back down on the ground with the vehicle's three landing legs. The idea is to test out the landing capabilities the rocket's going to use to touch down on Earth and other worlds. SpaceX performed similar tests with a vehicle known as Grasshopper back in 2012 and 2013 to try out the landing technique its Falcon 9 rockets now use.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's natural-processes department
Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation Tuesday making Washington the first state to approve composting as an alternative to burying or cremating human remains. The Associated Press reports: It allows licensed facilities to offer "natural organic reduction," which turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into about two wheelbarrows' worth of soil in a span of several weeks. Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they might spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated -- or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree.
Supporters say the method is an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation, which releases carbon dioxide and particulates into the air, and conventional burial, in which people are drained of their blood, pumped full of formaldehyde and other chemicals that can pollute groundwater, and placed in a nearly indestructible coffin, taking up land. State law previously dictated that remains be disposed of by burial or cremation. The law, which takes effect in May 2020, added composting as well as alkaline hydrolysis, a process already legal in 19 other states. The latter uses heat, pressure, water and chemicals like lye to reduce remains.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's privacy-matters department
Bill Hanvey, president and CEO of the Auto Care Association, argues that car owners (or lessees) should be the only ones who can control their car's data. "He or she should be aware of the data the car transmits, have control over it and determine who can see it," Hanvey writes. Many have argued this position for the privacy angle, but Harvey takes a different facet of this conversation, pointing out that carmakers control our data to limit where we get repairs or services done. If policymakers don't act on behalf of consumers, Hanvey writes, car and truck owners may be forced to go to select service centers for repairs, circumventing the more than 180,000 independent repair shops across the country that have all the tools needed to work on today's newest cars, but lack access to the necessary diagnostic information needed to complete the job. An anonymous reader shares the report: Because of the increasing complexity of cars and the Internet of Things, data is critical to repair and service. When carmakers control the data, they can choose which service centers receive our information. They're more likely to share our data exclusively with their branded dealerships than with independent repair shops, which could have the edge in price and convenience. However, independent repair shops currently make 70 percent of outside warranty repairs throughout the country. There are more than 180,000 independent repair shops across the country; most have all the tools needed to work on today's connected and complex cars, and most of today's highly trained service technicians can perform anything from basic tuneups to sophisticated electronic diagnostics. But without access to car data, they're working blindfolded, unable to see the diagnostic information they need. The solution is simple. The only person who should control car data is the car owner (or lessee). He or she should be aware of the data the car transmits, have control over it and determine who can see it.
< article continued at Slashdot's privacy-matters department
>Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's time-to-get-out-and-about department
"Loneliness is rampant, and it's killing us," writes Kasley Killam for Scientific American. "Anywhere from one quarter to one half of Americans feel lonely a lot of the time, which puts them at risk for developing a range of physical and mental illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression." Killam surfaces several studies that found volunteering to be an effective strategy to help combat this widespread health problem. From the report: In a recent survey of over 10,000 people in the UK, two-thirds reported that volunteering helped them feel less isolated. Similarly, a 2018 study of nearly 6,000 people across the US examined widows who, unsurprisingly, felt lonelier than married adults. After starting to volunteer for two or more hours per week, their average level of loneliness subsided to match that of married adults, even after controlling for demographics, baseline health, personality traits, and other social involvement. These benefits may be especially strong the older you are and the more often you volunteer.
< article continued at Slashdot's time-to-get-out-and-about department
>Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's streaming-vs-cable department
Netflix and other online video services have expanded their customer-satisfaction lead over cable and satellite TV, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found in its annual telecommunications report released today. Ars Technica reports: Streaming-video services averaged a score of 76 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up from 75 last year. Meanwhile, the traditional subscription-TV industry's score remained unchanged at 62. "For the past six years, customer satisfaction with subscription TV has languished in the mid-to-low 60s, not recovering enough to effectively compete with streaming services," the ACSI report said. "In 2018, subscription sales declined 3 percent to $103.4 billion. Customer service remains poor, and cord cutting is accelerating. As video-streaming services gain traction, a growing number of households may never subscribe to pay TV in the first place."
Pay-TV and broadband -- two services that are generally offered in bundles by the same companies -- each posted an industry average of 62, which is again in "last place among all  industries tracked by the ACSI," the report said. Pay-TV's satisfaction score peaked at 68 in 2013 and has dropped steadily since. Streaming services rated significantly higher than cable and satellite in many categories, including the ease of understanding bills, mobile app quality and reliability, and call-center satisfaction. Comcast remained near the bottom of pay-TV rankings with a score of 57, while AT&T's U-verse led the ranking despite dropping from 70 to 69. Coincidentally, AT&T's streaming service -- DirecTV Now -- also fell from 70 to 69. But while the AT&T U-verse TV score of 69 was good enough to lead all cable and satellite TV providers, the DirecTV Now score of 69 was in second-to-last place among streaming providers. Netflix took the top spot in streaming satisfaction by raising its score from 78 to 79.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's safety-first department
Chevrolet is introducing a feature, specifically for teen drivers, that will temporarily block the auto from shifting into gear if their seat belt isn't buckled. A message will alert the driver to buckle up in order to shift into gear. After 20 seconds, the vehicle will operate normally. NPR reports: The feature, which Chevrolet says is an industry first, will come standard in the 2020 models of the Traverse SUV, Malibu sedan and Colorado pickup truck. It will be part of the "Teen Driver" package, which can also be used to set speed alerts and a maximum speed, among other controls, and give parents "report cards" tracking a teen's driving behavior. Chevrolet explains how it works: "To use Teen Driver mode, a parent can enable the feature by creating a PIN in the Settings menu that allows them to register their teen's key fob. The Teen Driver settings are turned on only when a registered key fob is used to start the vehicle."Read Replies (0)