Feds Bust CEO Allegedly Selling Custom BlackBerry Phones To Sinaloa Drug Cartel ( 115

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard report: For years, a slew of shadowy companies have sold so-called encrypted phones, custom BlackBerry or Android devices that sometimes have the camera and microphone removed and only send secure messages through private networks. Several of those firms allegedly cater primarily for criminal organizations.Now, the FBI has arrested the owner of one of the most established companies, Phantom Secure, as part of a complex law enforcement operation, according to court records and sources familiar with the matter. "FBI are flexing their muscle," one source familiar with the secure phone industry, and who gave Motherboard specific and accurate details about the operation before it was public knowledge, said. Motherboard granted the sources in this story anonymity to talk about sensitive developments in the secure phone trade. The source said the Phantom operation was carried out in partnership with Canadian and Australian authorities.

Are The Alternatives Even Worse Than Daylight Saving Time? ( 322

The New York Times notes an important caveat to Florida's recently-approved law observing daylight savings time year-round: it specifies that their change will only go into effect if "the United States Congress amends 15 U.S.C. s. 260a to authorize states to observe daylight saving time year-round."

"In other words: Even if the governor signs the bill, nothing will happen now... States can choose to exempt themselves from daylight saving time -- Arizona and Hawaii do -- but nothing in federal law allows them to exempt themselves from standard time." Meanwhile one California legislator exploring the idea of year-round standard time discovered that "youth sports leagues and families worried that a year-round early sunset would shut down their kids' after-school games." But the Times also acknowledges problems in the current system. "In parts of Maine, for example, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the sun sets before 4 p.m. -- more than an hour earlier than it does in Detroit, at the other end of the Eastern time zone." So is there a better alternative?

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: has a unique suggestion. Their proposal has only two time zones in the continental U.S. that are two hours apart, which The Atlantic calls "a simple plan to fix [DST]"... Johns Hopkins University professors Richard Henry and Steven Hanke have come up with yet another possible fix: worldwide adoption of a single time zone. They argue that the internet has eliminated the need for discrete time zones across the globe, so we might as well just do away with them...

No plan will satisfy everyone. But that doesn't mean daylight-saving time is good. The absence of major energy-saving benefits from DST -- along with its death toll, health impacts, and economic ramifications -- are reason enough to get rid of the ritual altogether.

The article associates Daylight Saving Time with "a spike in heart attacks, increased numbers of work injuries, automobile accidents, suicides, and more." And in addition, it also blames DST for an increased use of gasoline and air conditioners -- adding that it will also "rob humanity of billions of hours of sleep like an evil spacetime vampire."

Chinese Police Begin Tracking Citizens With Face-Recognizing Smart Glasses ( 107

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects. The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized "blacklist".

The test -- which coincides with the annual meeting of China's parliament in central Beijing -- underscores a major push by China's leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country... Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China's authorities were using the equipment for "noble causes", catching suspects and fugitives from the law. "We trust the government," he told Reuters at the company's headquarters in Beijing.

This weekend while China's President Xi Jinping is expected to push through a reform allowing him to stay in power indefinitely, Reuters reports that the Chinese goverment is pushing the use of cutting-edge technology "to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world... A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists...

"The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online," Reuters reports, citing one Hong Kong researcher who argues that China now sees internet and communication technologies "as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control."

Lawmakers Continue Fighting For Net Neutrality in the US Senate, Courts, and States ( 57

Here's the latest developments in the ongoing fight over net neutrality rules:
  • CNET reports that Democrats in the Senate "have been pushing to use the Congressional Review Act to roll back the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules. They've gotten the support of 50 senators for the measure, including one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. Sen. John Kennedy from Louisiana , who's been undecided in his support of the CRA bill, was being courted by Democrats as the tie-breaking vote to pass the measure in the Senate...

    "On Wednesday, Kennedy introduced a piece of legislation that would ban companies like AT&T and Comcast from slowing down or blocking access to websites or internet services. But the bill wouldn't prevent these broadband and wireless companies from offering paid prioritization, which many critics fear could lead to so-called internet 'fast lanes.'"
  • The Associated Press reports that on Monday, Washington became the first state to set up its own net-neutrality requirements. But they add that governors in five states -- Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana and Vermont -- "have signed executive orders related to net-neutrality issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Montana's order, for instance, bars telecommunications companies from receiving state contracts if they interfere with internet traffic or favor higher-paying sites or apps."


FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites 127

Back in January, the FCC pulled permission from Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies to launch four satellites into space after what it says was an "apparent unauthorized launch." IEEE Spectrum reports that the unauthorized launch consisted of four experimental satellites that the FCC had decided were too small to be noticed in space -- and hence pose an unacceptable risk of collision -- but which the company may have launched anyway, using a rocket based in India. The federal regulator has since issued a letter to Swarm revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission to launch four new, larger versions of its "SpaceBee" satellites. From the report: Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network. Swarm believes its network could enable satellite communications for orders of magnitude less cost than existing options. It envisages the worldwide tracking of ships and cars, new agricultural technologies, and low cost connectivity for humanitarian efforts anywhere in the world. The four SpaceBees would be the first practical demonstration of Swarm's prototype hardware and cutting-edge algorithms, swapping data with ground stations for up to eight years.
The FCC told the startup that the agency would assess "the impact of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites... on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee." If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists. An unauthorized launch would also call into question the ability of secondary satellite "ride-share" companies and foreign launch providers to comply with U.S. space regulations.

China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon ( 30

Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China's two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country's researchers to dominate the field by then. But Alibaba's ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report: Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries' big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China's tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used.

[...] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba's progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. [...] One advantage China's tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government's commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai's metro kiosks are likely to be in the country's future. One of Alibaba's cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.


Downloads of Popular Apps Were Silently Swapped For Spyware in Turkey: Citizen Lab ( 29

Matthew Braga, reporting for CBC: Since last fall, Turkish internet users attempting to download one of a handful of popular apps may have been the unwitting targets of a wide-reaching computer surveillance campaign. And in Egypt, users across the country have, seemingly at random, had their browsing activity mysteriously redirected to online money-making schemes. Internet filtering equipment sold by technology company Sandvine -- founded in Waterloo, Ont. -- is believed to have played a significant part in both.

That's according to new research from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, which has examined misuse of similar equipment from other companies in the past. The researchers say it's likely that Sandvine devices are not only being used to block the websites of news, political and human rights organizations, but are also surreptitiously redirecting users toward spyware and unwanted ads. Using network-filtering devices to sneak spyware onto targets' computers "has long been the stuff of legends" according to the report -- a practice previously documented in leaked NSA documents and spyware company brochures, the researchers say, but never before publicly observed.
Citizen Lab notes that targeted users in Turkey and Syria who attempted to download Windows applications from official vendor websites including Avast Antivirus, CCleaner, Opera, and 7-Zip were silently redirected to malicious versions by way of injected HTTP redirects. It adds: This redirection was possible because official websites for these programs, even though they might have supported HTTPS, directed users to non-HTTPS downloads by default. Additionally, targeted users in Turkey and Syria who downloaded a wide range of applications from CBS Interactive's (a platform featured by CNET to download software) were instead redirected to versions containing spyware. does not appear to support HTTPS despite purporting to offer "secure download" links.

Florida Lawmakers Approve Year-Round Daylight Saving Time ( 393

JustAnotherOldGuy writes: It seems like we're seeing a sudden outbreak of common sense from one of the most unlikely places. Florida might become the third state -- after Hawaii and Arizona -- to be done with the hassle of changing their clocks twice a year. Yesterday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Sunshine Protection Act in under one minute, with only two dissenters. The House had already passed it 103-11 last month. Now it has to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott. If Scott passes it, however, it still has to go through Congress before Florida has Daylight Savings Time all year long.

Bay Area Cities Consider Rideshare Tax On Uber, Lyft ( 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A local city council member is beginning to float the idea of taxing ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft as a possible way to raise millions of dollars and help pay for local public transportation and infrastructure improvements. If the effort is successful, Oakland could become the first city in California -- Uber and Lyft's home state -- to impose such a tax. However, it's not clear whether Oakland or any other city in the Golden State has the authority to do so under current state rules. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told the East Bay Express that she wants the city council to put forward a ballot measure that would tax such rides. A similar proposal in nearby San Francisco, projecting a fee of $0.20 to $1 per ride, would allow the city to collect an estimated $12.5 to $62.5 million annually. However, an October 2017 city analysis noted that San Francisco "cannot initiate locally without state authorizing legislation" and that the fee "may disproportionately impact lower-income households."
United States

Trump's Meeting With The Video Game Industry To Talk Gun Violence Could Get Ugly ( 498

Anonymous readers share a report: President Trump is set to pit the video game industry against some of its harshest critics at a White House meeting on Thursday that's designed to explore the link between violent games [Editor's note: the Washington Post article may be paywalled], guns and tragedies such as last month's shooting in Parkland, Fla. Following the attack at Marjory Stoneman High School, which left 17 students dead, Trump has said violent games are "shaping young people's thoughts." The president has proposed that "we have to do something about maybe what they're seeing and how they're seeing it." Trump has invited video game executives like Robert Altman, the CEO of ZeniMax, the parent company for games such as Fallout; Strauss Zelnick, the chief executive of Take Two Interactive, which is known for Grand Theft Auto, and Michael Gallagher, the leader of the Entertainment Software Association, a Washington-focused lobbying organization for the industry.

Three people familiar with the White House's planning, but not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed those invitees. A spokeswoman for the White House declined to share a full list of participants on Wednesday. ESA confirmed its attendance this week, but the others did not respond to questions. Opposite of them are expected to be some of the video-game industry's toughest critics, including Brent Bozell, the founder of the Parents Television Council, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, the three people said. After another shooting -- the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. -- they each called on government to focus its attention on violent media rather than just pursuing new gun restrictions.


Amazon Launches a Low-Cost Version of Prime For Medicaid Recipients ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Amazon announced this morning it will offer a low-cost version of its Prime membership program to qualifying recipients of Medicaid. The program will bring the cost of Prime down from the usual $12.99 per month to about half that, at $5.99 per month, while still offering the full range of Prime perks, including free, two-day shipping on millions of products, Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Prime Reading, Prime Now, Audible Channels, and more. The new program is an expansion on Amazon's discounted Prime service for customers on government assistance, launched in June 2017. For the same price of $5.99 per month, Amazon offers Prime memberships to any U.S. customer with a valid EBT card -- the card that's used to disburse funds for assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). Now that same benefit is arriving for recipients of Medicaid, the public assistance program providing medical coverage to low-income Americans. To qualify for the discount, customers must have a valid EBT or Medicaid card, the retailer says.

California Becomes 18th State To Consider Right To Repair Legislation ( 96

Jason Koebler shares a report from Motherboard: The right to repair battle has come to Silicon Valley's home state: Wednesday, a state assembly member announced that California would become the 18th state in the country to consider legislation that would make it easier to repair your electronics. "The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence," Susan Talamantes Engman, a Democrat from Stockton who introduced the bill, said in a statement. The announcement had been rumored for about a week but became official Wednesday. The bill would require electronics manufacturers to make repair guides and repair parts available to the public and independent repair professionals and would also would make diagnostic software and tools that are available to authorized and first-party repair technicians available to independent companies.

FBI Again Calls For Magical Solution To Break Into Encrypted Phones ( 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: FBI Director Christopher Wray again has called for a solution to what the bureau calls the "Going Dark" problem, the idea that the prevalence of default strong encryption on digital devices makes it more difficult for law enforcement to extract data during an investigation. However, in a Wednesday speech at Boston College, Wray again did not outline any specific piece of legislation or technical solution that would provide both strong encryption and allow the government to access encrypted devices when it has a warrant. A key escrow system, with which the FBI or another entity would be able to unlock a device given a certain set of circumstances, is by definition weaker than what cryptographers would traditionally call "strong encryption." There's also the problem of how to compel device and software makers to impose such a system on their customers -- similar efforts were attempted during the Clinton administration, but they failed. A consensus of technical experts has said that what the FBI has asked for is impossible. "I recognize this entails varying degrees of innovation by the industry to ensure lawful access is available," Wray said Wednesday. "But I just don't buy the claim that it's impossible. Let me be clear: the FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. Actually, the FBI is on the front line fighting cyber crime and economic espionage. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don't undermine the lawful tools we need to keep the American people safe."

Leaked Files Show How the NSA Tracks Other Countries' Hackers ( 66

An analysis of leaked tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) gives us a glimpse into the methods used by the organization to detect the presence of other state-sponsored actors on hacked devices, and it could also help the cybersecurity community discover previously unknown threats. The Intercept: When the mysterious entity known as the "Shadow Brokers" released a tranche of stolen NSA hacking tools to the internet a year ago, most experts who studied the material honed in on the most potent tools, so-called zero-day exploits that could be used to install malware and take over machines. But a group of Hungarian security researchers spotted something else in the data, a collection of scripts and scanning tools the National Security Agency uses to detect other nation-state hackers on the machines it infects. It turns out those scripts and tools are just as interesting as the exploits. They show that in 2013 -- the year the NSA tools were believed to have been stolen by the Shadow Brokers -- the agency was tracking at least 45 different nation-state operations, known in the security community as Advanced Persistent Threats, or APTs. Some of these appear to be operations known by the broader security community -- but some may be threat actors and operations currently unknown to researchers.

The scripts and scanning tools dumped by Shadow Brokers and studied by the Hungarians were created by an NSA team known as Territorial Dispute, or TeDi. Intelligence sources told The Intercept the NSA established the team after hackers, believed to be from China, stole designs for the military's Joint Strike Fighter plane, along with other sensitive data, from U.S. defense contractors in 2007; the team was supposed to detect and counter sophisticated nation-state attackers more quickly, when they first began to emerge online. "As opposed to the U.S. only finding out in five years that everything was stolen, their goal was to try to figure out when it was being stolen in real time," one intelligence source told The Intercept. But their mission evolved to also provide situational awareness for NSA hackers to help them know when other nation-state actors are in machines they're trying to hack.


Sri Lanka Blocks Facebook, Instagram To Prevent Spread of Hate Speech ( 123

Sri Lanka has blocked social media websites Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to avoid the spread of hate speech in the country, local media reported on Wednesday. From the report: Even though there is no official confirmation from the authorities, the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Wednesday said the government has decided to block access to certain social media. Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) has started to monitor all social media platforms to curb hate speech related to communal riots escalated in Kandy district. Telecommunication service providers (ISPs) have also restricted internet access in Kandy district on the instructions of the TRC.
United States

US Calls Broadcom's Bid For Qualcomm a National Security Risk ( 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): The United States government said Broadcom's proposed acquisition of rival chipmaker Qualcomm could pose a national security risk and called for a full investigation into the hostile bid. The move complicates an already contentious deal and increases the likelihood that Broadcom, which is based in Singapore, will end its pursuit of Qualcomm. Such an investigation is often a death knell for a corporate acquisition. A government panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, noted, in part, that the potential risk was related to Broadcom's relationships with foreign entities, according to a letter from a United States Treasury official. It also said that the deal could weaken "Qualcomm's technological leadership," giving an edge to Chinese companies like Huawei. "China would likely compete robustly to fill any void left by Qualcomm as a result of this hostile takeover," the official said in the letter. The letter and the public call for an investigation reflects a newly aggressive stance by Cfius. In most cases, the panel operates in secret and weighs in after a deal is announced. In this instance, Cfius, which is made up of representatives from multiple federal agencies, is taking a proactive role and investigating before an acquisition agreement has even been signed.

Google Is Helping the Pentagon Build AI for Drones ( 95

Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analyzing drone footage, a move that set off a firestorm among employees of the technology giant when they learned of Google's involvement, Gizmodo reported on Tuesday. From the report: Google's pilot project with the Defense Department's Project Maven, an effort to identify objects in drone footage, has not been previously reported, but it was discussed widely within the company last week when information about the project was shared on an internal mailing list, according to sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the project. Some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.

Microsoft To Offer Governments Local Version of Azure Cloud Service ( 28

Microsoft on Monday said it will soon make it possible for government clients to run its cloud technology on their own servers as part of a concerted effort to make Azure more appealing to local and federal agencies. From a report: The pairing of Azure Stack, Microsoft's localized cloud product, and Azure Government, the government-tailored version of Microsoft's cloud, comes as competition against Inc for major clients in the public sector ramps up. The new offering, which will be made available in mid-2018, is designed to appeal to governments and agencies with needs for on-premise servers, such as in a military operation or in an embassy abroad, said Tom Keane, Microsoft Azure's head of global infrastructure.

Mysterious $15,000 'GrayKey' Promises To Unlock iPhone X For The Feds ( 106

Thomas Fox-Brewster, reporting for Forbes: Just a week after Forbes reported on the claim of Israeli U.S. government manufacturer Cellebrite that it could unlock the latest Apple iPhone models, another service has emerged promising much the same. Except this time it comes from an unkown entity, an obscure American startup named Grayshift, which appears to be run by long-time U.S. intelligence agency contractors and an ex-Apple security engineer. In recent weeks, its marketing materials have been disseminated around private online police and forensics groups, offering a $15,000 iPhone unlock tool named GrayKey, which permits 300 uses. That's for the online mode that requires constant connectivity at the customer end, whilst an offline version costs $30,000. The latter comes with unlimited uses. Another ad showed Grayshift claiming to be able to unlock iPhones running iOS 10 and 11, with iOS 9 support coming soon. It also claims to work on the latest Apple hardware, up to the iPhone 8 and X models released just last year. In a post from one private Google group, handed to Forbes by a source who asked to remain anonymous, the writer indicated they'd been demoed the technology and that it had opened an iPhone X.

Australia Considers Making It Illegal For ISPs To Advertise Inflated Speeds ( 70

The Australian government is currently considering a bill that would make it illegal for internet service providers to exaggerate speeds, or else face a fine of up to $1 million. "One constituent says he's being charged for a 25 megabit per second download speed and a five megabit per second upload and he's actually getting less than one tenth of that," said Andrew Wilkie, the Member of Parliament who introduced the bill. "In other words, people are getting worse than dial-up speed when they've been promised a whizz-bang, super-fast connection." Motherboard reports: Internet speeds can vary based on how many people are on the network and even the hardware you use, but while we can't expect ISPs to deliver maximum speed 100 percent of the time, previous probes into their performance have shown many ISPs in the U.S. aren't delivering even the minimum advertised speeds a majority of the time for the average user. Under the proposed Australian law, ISPs are simply required to be more transparent about what consumers can expect with a specific plan. Rather than advertising only the maximum speeds, they would have to include typical speeds for the average user, indicate busy periods, and clearly list any other factors that might impact service. The bill was only introduced this week, so it's yet to be seen if it will gain traction.

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