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Power

'Star In a Jar' Fusion Reactor Works, Promises Infinite Energy (space.com) 110

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: For several decades now, scientists from around the world have been pursuing a ridiculously ambitious goal: They hope to develop a nuclear fusion reactor that would generate energy in the same manner as the sun and other stars, but down here on Earth. Incorporated into terrestrial power plants, this "star in a jar" technology would essentially provide Earth with limitless clean energy, forever. And according to new reports out of Europe this week, we just took another big step toward making it happen. In a study published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Communications, researchers confirmed that Germany's Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion energy device is on track and working as planned. The space-age system, known as a stellerator, generated its first batch of hydrogen plasma when it was first fired up earlier this year. The new tests basically give scientists the green light to proceed to the next stage of the process. It works like this: Unlike a traditional fission reactor, which splits atoms of heavy elements to generate energy, a fusion reactor works by fusing the nuclei of lighter atoms into heavier atoms. The process releases massive amounts of energy and produces no radioactive waste. The "fuel" used in a fusion reactor is simple hydrogen, which can be extracted from water. The W7-X device confines the plasma within magnetic fields generated by superconducting coils cooled down to near absolute zero. The plasma -- at temperatures upwards of 80 million degrees Celsius -- never comes into contact with the walls of the containment chamber. Neat trick, that. David Gates, principal research physicist for the advanced projects division of PPPL, leads the agency's collaborative efforts in regard to the W7-X project. In an email exchange from his offices at Princeton, Gates said the latest tests verify that the W7-X magnetic "cage" is working as planned. "This lays the groundwork for the exciting high-performance plasma operations expected in the near future," Gates said.
Communications

Silly Putty Makes For Super-Sensitive Sensors (popsci.com) 24

Jonathan Coleman's research group at Trinity College Dublin discovered that Silly Putty "becomes an incredibly sensitive strain detector that can track blood pressure, heart rate, and even a spider's footsteps" when mixed with graphene. Popular Science reports: That graduate student, Connor Boland -- who has since earned his doctorate -- made a batch of graphene in water and added the Silly Putty polymer. As he mixed them, the graphene sheets stuck to the polymer, creating a black goo the researchers dubbed "g-putty." When they ran an electrical current through the g-putty -- graphene-infused polymers can conduct electricity -- they discovered an extraordinary sensitivity. "If you touch it even with the slightest pressure or deformation, the electrical resistance will change significantly," Coleman says. "Even if you stretch or compress the Silly Putty by one percent of its normal size, the electrical resistance will change by a factor of five. And that's a huge change." That change makes g-putty about 500 times more sensitive than other deformation-detecting materials, which would respond to a similar compression with a mere one-percent change in electrical resistance. The results were published in the journal Science.
Government

DHS Tried To Breach Our Firewall, Says Georgia's Secretary of State (cyberscoop.com) 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CyberScoop: Georgia's secretary of state has claimed the Department of Homeland Security tried to breach his office's firewall and has issued a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asking for an explanation. Brian Kemp issued a letter to Johnson on Thursday after the state's third-party cybersecurity provider detected an IP address from the agency's Southwest D.C. office trying to penetrate the state's firewall. According to the letter, the attempt was unsuccessful. The attempt took place on Nov. 15, a few days after the presidential election. The office of the Georgia Secretary of State is responsible for overseeing the state's elections. "At no time has my office agreed to or permitted DHS to conduct penetration testing or security scans of our network," Kemp wrote in the letter, which was also sent to the state's federal representatives and senators. "Moreover, your department has not contacted my office since this unsuccessful incident to alert us of any security event that would require testing or scanning of our network. This is especially odd and concerning since I serve on the Election Cyber Security Working Group that your office created." "The Department of Homeland Security has received Secretary Kemp's letter," a DHS spokesperson told CyberScoop. "We are looking into the matter. DHS takes the trust of our public and private sector partners seriously, and we will respond to Secretary Kemp directly." Georgia was one of two states that refused cyber-hygiene support and penetration testing from DHS in the leadup to the presidential election. The department had made a significant push for it after hackers spent months exposing the Democratic National Committee's internal communications and data.
Transportation

Transportation Department Proposes Allowing In-Flight Phone Calls (go.com) 101

Yesterday, France's Le Monde newspaper issued a report, citing documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, that says American and British spies have since 2005 been working on intercepting phone calls and data transfers made from aircraft. Assuming the report is accurate, national security agencies may soon have their hands full if a new proposal by the Department of Transportation becomes official, which would allow each airline to decide whether its passengers will be permitted to make in-flight phone calls using the aircraft's onboard Wi-Fi system. ABC News reports: The Department of Transportation's proposal leaves it up to airlines whether to allow the calls. But carriers would be required to inform passengers at the time they purchase a ticket if the calls are allowed. That would give passengers the opportunity to make other travel arrangements if they don't want to risk the possibility of sitting near passengers making phone calls. The Federal Communications Commission prohibits using mobile phones to make calls during flights, but not Wi-Fi calls. There is a minimum 60-day comment period and the proposal leaves the door open to an outright ban. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the proposal.
Privacy

Watchdog Group Claims Smart Toys Are Spying On Kids (mashable.com) 67

The Center for Digital Democracy has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission warning of security and privacy holes associated with a pair of smart toys designed for children. Mashable reports: "This complaint concerns toys that spy," reads the complaint, which claims the Genesis Toys' My Friend Cayla and i-QUE Intelligent Robot can record and collect private conversations and offer no limitations on the collection and use of personal information. Both toys use voice recognition, internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with children in conversational manner and answer questions. The CDD claims they do all of this in wildly insecure and invasive ways. Both My Friend Cayla and i-QUE use Nuance Communications' voice-recognition platform to listen and respond to queries. On the Genesis Toy site, the manufacturer notes that while "most of Cayla's conversational features can be accessed offline," searching for information may require an internet connection. The promotional video for Cayla encourages children to "ask Cayla almost anything." The dolls work in concert with mobile apps. Some questions can be asked directly, but the toys maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to the dolls so they can also react to actions in the app and even appear to identify objects the child taps on on screen. While some of the questions children ask the dolls are apparently recorded and sent to Nuance's servers for parsing, it's unclear how much of the information is personal in nature. The Genesis Privacy Policy promises to anonymize information. The CDD also claims, however, that My Friend Cayla and i-Que employ Bluetooth in the least secure way possible. Instead of requiring a PIN code to complete pairing between the toy and a smartphone or iPad, "Cayla and i-Que do not employ... authentication mechanisms to establish a Bluetooth connection between the doll and a smartphone or tablet. The dolls do not implement any other security measure to prevent unauthorized Bluetooth pairing." Without a pairing notification on the toy or any authentication strategy, anyone with a Bluetooth device could connect to the toys' open Bluetooth networks, according to the complaint.
Wireless Networking

Microsoft Wants To Enable Cellular PCs, But Will Carriers Bite? (computerworld.com) 137

Microsoft is aiming to enable the installation of non-removable programmable SIM cards and data radios in PCs and Windows tablets. In the company's vision, users will then be able to purchase cellular data for those cards through the Windows Store. The announcement was made at the company's WinHEC conference for device manufacturers in Shenzhen, China. From a report on ComputerWorld: Users would also get settings to help them better manage the use of data plans, so it's easier for them to control how much data apps can suck up. But there's a wrinkle in that plan: Cellular carriers will have to get on board with selling plans through the Windows Store, which will likely be a tougher sell.
Wireless Networking

Bluetooth 5 Is Here (betanews.com) 111

Reader BrianFagioli writes: Today, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announces the official adoption of the previously-announced Bluetooth 5. In other words, it is officially the next major version of the technology, which will eventually be found in many consumer devices. So, will you start to see Bluetooth 5 devices and dongles with faster speeds and longer range in stores tomorrow? Nope -- sorry, folks. Consumers will have to wait until 2017. The Bluetooth SIG says devices should become available between February and June next year.In a statement, Bluetooth SIG reminded the specifications of Bluetooth 5 -- "Key feature updates include four times range, two times speed, and eight times broadcast message capacity. Longer range powers whole home and building coverage, for more robust and reliable connections."
Businesses

T-Mobile CFO: Less Regulation, Repeal of Net Neutrality By Trump Would Be 'Positive For My Industry' (tmonews.com) 158

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TmoNews: T-Mobile CFO Braxton Carter spoke at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York City, and he touched a bit on President-elect Donald Trump and what his election could mean for the mobile industry. Carter expects that a Trump presidency will foster an environment that'll be more positive for wireless. "It's hard to imagine, with the way the election turned out, that we're not going to have an environment, from several aspects, that is not going to be more positive for my industry," the CFO said. He went on to explain that there will likely be less regulation, something that he feels "destroys innovation and value creation." Speaking of innovation, Carter also feels that a reversal of net neutrality and the FCC's Open Internet rules would be good for innovation in the industry, saying that it "would provide opportunity for significant innovation and differentiation" and that it'd enable you to "do some very interesting things."
Communications

Fake News Prompts Gunman To 'Self-Investigate' Pizza Parlor (arstechnica.com) 785

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A rifle-wielding North Carolina man was arrested Sunday in Washington, DC for carrying his weapon into a pizzeria that sits at the center of the fake news conspiracy theory known as "Pizzagate," authorities said Monday. DC's Metropolitan Police Department said it had arrested 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch on allegations of assault with a dangerous weapon. "During a post arrest interview this evening, the suspect revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate 'Pizza Gate' (a fictitious online conspiracy theory," the agency said in a statement. "Pizzagate" concerns a baseless conspiracy theory about a secret pedophile group, the Comet Ping Pong restaurant, and Hillary Clinton's campaign chief, John Podesta. The Pizzagate conspiracy names Comet Ping Pong as the secret headquarters of a non-existent child sex-trafficking ring run by Clinton and members of her inner circle. James Alefantis, the restaurant's owner, said he has received hundreds of death threats. According to Buzzfeed, the Pizzagate theory is believed to have been fostered by a white supremacist's tweets, the 4chan message board, Reddit, Donald Trump supporters, and right-wing blogs. The day before Thanksgiving, Reddit banned a "Pizzagate" conspiracy board from the site because of a policy about posting personal information of others. Alefantis, the pizzeria's owner, told CNN, "What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away."
Network

Millions In US Still Living Life In Internet Slow Lane (arstechnica.com) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Millions of Americans still have extremely slow Internet speeds, a new Federal Communications Commission report shows. While the FCC defines broadband as download speeds of 25Mbps, about 47.5 million home or business Internet connections provided speeds below that threshold. Out of 102.2 million residential and business Internet connections, 22.4 million offered download speeds less than 10Mbps, with 5.8 million of those offering less than 3Mbps. About 25.1 million connections offered at least 10Mbps but less than 25Mbps. 54.7 million households had speeds of at least 25Mbps, with 15.4 million of those at 100Mbps or higher. These are the advertised speeds, not the actual speeds consumers receive. Some customers will end up with slower speeds than what they pay for. Upload speeds are poor for many Americans as well. While the FCC uses 3Mbps as the upload broadband standard, 16 million households had packages with upload speeds less than 1Mbps. Another 27.2 million connections were between 1Mbps and 3Mbps, 30.1 million connections were between 3Mbps and 6Mbps, while 29 million were at least 6Mbps. The Internet Access Services report released last week contains data as of December 31, 2015. The 11-month gap is typical for these reports, which are based on information collected from Internet service providers. The latest data is nearly a year old, so things might look a bit better now, just as the December 2015 numbers are a little better than previous ones.
Crime

BMW Traps A Car Thief By Remotely Locking His Doors (cnet.com) 368

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Seattle police caught an alleged car thief by enlisting the help of car maker BMW to both track and then remotely lock the luckless criminal in the very car he was trying to steal... Turns out if you're inside a stolen car, it's perhaps not the best time to take a nap. "A car thief awoke from a sound slumber Sunday morning (November 27) to find he had been remotely locked inside a stolen BMW, just as Seattle police officers were bearing down on him," wrote Jonah Spangenthal-Lee [deputy director of communications for the Seattle Police Department].

The suspect found a key fob mistakenly left inside the BMW by a friend who'd borrowed the car from the owner and the alleged crime was on. But technology triumphed. When the owner, who'd just gotten married a day earlier, discovered the theft, the police contacted BMW corporate, who tracked the car to Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood.

The 38-year-old inside was then booked for both auto theft and possession of methamphetamine.
United Kingdom

UK Health Secretary Urges Social Media Companies To Block Cyberbullying And Underaged Sexting (betanews.com) 71

Mark Wilson shares his article on Beta News: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has made calls for technology companies and social media to do more to tackle the problems of cyberbullying, online intimidation and -- rather specifically -- under-18-year-olds texting sexually explicit images. Of course, he doesn't have the slightest idea about how to go about tackling these problems, but he has expressed his concern so that, in conjunction with passing this buck to tech companies, should be enough, right?
Hunt apparently believes there's already a technology which can identify sexually explicit photos, and that social media networks should now also develop algorithms to identify and block cyberbullying, an idea the Guardian called "sadly laughable."

"Is the blanket censorship of non-approved communications for all under 18s -- something that goes far further than even the Great Firewall of China -- really the kind of thing a government minister should be able to idly suggest in 2016?"
Encryption

Encryption Backdoor Sneaks Into UK Law (theregister.co.uk) 137

Coisiche found a disturbing article from The Register about the U.K.'s new "Snoopers' Charter" law that has implications for tech companies around the world: Among the many unpleasant things in the Investigatory Powers Act that was officially signed into law this week, one that has not gained as much attention is the apparent ability for the U.K. government to undermine encryption and demand surveillance backdoors... As per the final wording of the law, comms providers on the receiving end of a "technical capacity notice" will be obliged to do various things on demand for government snoops -- such as disclosing details of any system upgrades and removing "electronic protection" on encrypted communications. Thus, by "technical capability," the government really means backdoors and deliberate security weaknesses so citizens' encrypted online activities can be intercepted, deciphered and monitored... At the end of the day, will the U.K. security services be able to read your email, your messages, your posts and private tweets, and your communications if they believe you pose a threat to national security? Yes, they will.
The bill added the Secretaries of State as a required signatory to the "technical capacity" notices, which "introduces a minor choke-point and a degree of accountability." But the article argues the law ultimately anticipates the breaking of encryption, and without customer notification. "The U.K. government can certainly insist that a company not based in the U.K. carry out its orders -- that situation is specifically included in the new law -- but as to whether it can realistically impose such a requirement, well, that will come down to how far those companies are willing to push back and how much they are willing to walk away from the U.K. market."
Communications

'Fatal' Flaws Found in Medical Implant Software (bbc.com) 38

Security researchers have warned of flaws in medical implants in what they say could have fatal consequences. The flaws were found in the radio-based communications used to update implants, including pacemakers, and read data from them. From a BBC report:By exploiting the flaws, the researchers were able to adjust settings and even switch off gadgets. The attacks were also able to steal confidential data about patients and their health history. A software patch has been created to help thwart any real-world attacks. The flaws were found by an international team of security researchers based at the University of Leuven in Belgium and the University of Birmingham.
Piracy

UK ISPs To Start Sending 'Piracy Alerts' Soon (torrentfreak.com) 71

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.
Java

Muni System Hacker Hit Others By Scanning For Year-Old Java Vulnerability (arstechnica.com) 30

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The attacker who infected servers and desktop computers at the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Agency (SFMTA) with ransomware on November 25 apparently gained access to the agency's network by way of a known vulnerability in an Oracle WebLogic server. That vulnerability is similar to the one used to hack a Maryland hospital network's systems in April and infect multiple hospitals with crypto-ransomware. And evidence suggests that SFMTA wasn't specifically targeted by the attackers; the agency just came up as a target of opportunity through a vulnerability scan. In an e-mail to Ars, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said that on November 25, "we became aware of a potential security issue with our computer systems, including e-mail." The ransomware "encrypted some systems mainly affecting computer workstations," he said, "as well as access to various systems. However, the SFMTA network was not breached from the outside, nor did hackers gain entry through our firewalls. Muni operations and safety were not affected. Our customer payment systems were not hacked. Also, despite media reports, no data was accessed from any of our servers." That description of the ransomware attack is not consistent with some of the evidence of previous ransomware attacks by those behind the SFMTA incident -- which Rose said primarily affected about 900 desktop computers throughout the agency. Based on communications uncovered from the ransomware operator behind the Muni attack published by security reporter Brian Krebs, an SFMTA Web-facing server was likely compromised by what is referred to as a "deserialization" attack after it was identified by a vulnerability scan. A security researcher told Krebs that he had been able to gain access to the mailbox used in the malware attack on the Russian e-mail and search provider Yandex by guessing its owner's security question, and he provided details from the mailbox and another linked mailbox on Yandex. Based on details found in e-mails for the accounts, the attacker ran a server loaded with open source vulnerability scanning tools to identify and compromise servers to use in spreading the ransomware, known as HDDCryptor and Mamba, within multiple organizations' networks.
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."
Communications

NASA X-Ray Tech Could Enable Superfast Communication In Deep Space (space.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: New technology could use X-rays to transmit data at high rates over vast distances in outer space, as well as enable communications with hypersonic vehicles during re-entry, when radio communications are impossible, NASA scientists say. The technology would combine multiple NASA projects currently in progress to demonstrate the feasibility of X-ray communications from outside the International Space Station. The radio waves used by mobile phones, Wi-Fi and, of course, radios, are one kind of light. Other forms of light can carry data as well; for instance, fiber-optic telecommunications rely on pulses of visible and near-infrared light. The effort to use another type of light, X-rays, for communication started with research on NASA's proposed Black Hole Imager. That mission is designed to analyze the edges of the supermassive black holes that previous research suggested exist at the centers of most, if not all, large galaxies. One potential strategy to enable the Black Hole Imager was to develop a constellation of precisely aligned spacecraft to collect X-rays emitted from the edges of those black holes. Keith Gendreau, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, thought of developing X-ray emitters that these spacecraft could use as navigational beacons to make sure they stayed in position relative to one another. The system would keep them aligned down to a precision of just 1 micron, or about one-hundredth the average width of a human hair. Gendreau then reasoned that by modulating or varying the strength or frequency of these X-ray transmissions on and off many times per second, these navigational beacons could also serve as a communication system. Such X-ray communication, or XCOM, might, in theory, permit gigabit-per-second data rates throughout the solar system, he said. One advantage that XCOM has compared to laser communication in deep space is that X-rays have shorter wavelengths than the visible or infrared light typically used in laser communication. Moreover, X-rays can penetrate obstacles that impede radio communication.
Microsoft

Newest Skype For Linux Enables SMS Text Messages From The Desktop (betanews.com) 176

BrianFagioli writes: Microsoft has delivered an incredible feature to Linux-based desktop operating systems by way of the latest Alpha version of its Skype client... The newly-released Skype for Linux 1.13 allows users to send SMS test messages from the operating system! True, web-based solutions such as Google Voice have long allowed the sending of text messages, but needing to use a web browser can be a chore. There is convenience and elegance in using the Skype for Linux client.
United Kingdom

48 Organizations Now Have Access To Every Brit's Browsing Hstory (zerohedge.com) 251

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.

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