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James Bond Was Going To Fight Robot Sharks With Nukes In New York's Sewers

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 21:03
dryriver writes: The line "sharks with fricking lasers" was once popular on Slashdot. It sounds like a joke, but a never-made James Bond movie co-written back in the day by Sean Connery was actually going to feature robotic sharks carrying stolen NATO nukes in order to attack New York. Bond was going to stop the sharks inside the New York sewer system, waterski out of the sewers, paraglide up to the Statue of Liberty's head, then fight a Bond villain inside said head, with the villain's "blood trickling out of the Statue of Liberty's eye like tears" at the end of the fight. All this was going to happen without the consent of Cubby Broccoli, the official producer of the Bond movies. Why did the movie never get made? The producers of competing Bond movies were fighting in court over who has what rights to the franchise and characters. In the end, "Bond fights robot sharks with nukes" was scrapped, and "Never Say Never," a remake of "Thunderball," was made instead. This featured stolen nukes as well, but unfortunately no robot sharks or other "Austin Powers" style silliness.

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A California Bill Could Destroy Uber's Unsustainable Business Model

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 20:25
Last week, the California Senate's Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee held a hearing and passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which promises to make it harder for companies to claim workers are independent contractors and increase the operating expenses of Uber, Lyft, and other on-demand companies that already find themselves unable to turn a profit. Motherboard reports: Written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzelez (D-San Diego), AB5 codifies the California Supreme Court's unanimous May 2018 ruling in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles where an "ABC test" was introduced to determine whether a worker was an employee or an independent contractor. Individuals with sufficient control over how and when they did their work are independent contractors, while workers without much control are employees. While AB5 easily passed in the Assembly this May, 53-11, it has a long and ugly fight ahead of as it must pass multiple votes in the Senate then be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. Each step of the way is an opportunity for companies like Uber and Lyft to intervene and extract concessions. Uber has never made a profit and has actually lost over $14 billion in the last four years alone. In the prospectus, Uber insists that these five major metropolitan markets are essential to its path to profitability. In reality, what Uber actually relies on is the $20 billion in funding raised over the past decade and the $8 billion in new investments after going public in May. This investor welfare covers the cost of low prices that render each rideshare trip unprofitable, of driver incentives to combat the high turnover rate of drivers, and of promotions used to drive up demand. Equity research analysts at Barclays project Uber is on track to lose $3.9 billion in 2019 and if AB5 were passed, it would cost the company upwards of an additional $500 million. A drop in the bucket. But if AB5 were to become law and other states follow California's example and pass similar laws, it could constrict these companies' already narrow paths to profitability.

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New York Signs Biggest Offshore Wind Project Deal In the Nation

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 19:45
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: New York has signed the biggest-ever deals for offshore wind power in U.S. history, a key part of the state's plan to get all of its power from emissions-free sources by 2040. On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded contracts for two projects off Long Island that will total 1,700 megawatts in capacity. Equinor ASA and a joint venture between Denmark's Orsted A/S and Massachusetts-based Eversource Energy were chosen to build the farms, which will supply enough power to light up a million homes. Cuomo is counting on the wind projects to achieve the most aggressive clean energy goal in the U.S., and signed the state's 100% renewable energy target into law right after announcing the wind contracts. New York's ultimate plan is to get enough turbines erected off its shores to generate 9,000 megawatts by 2035. The contracted wind farms will be completed by 2024, he said. Based on cost estimates from BloombergNEF, the projects may be valued at more than $5 billion.

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Alaska's Engineering Colleges Prepare To Slash Programs, Lay Off Faculty

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 19:25
In response to Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy's dramatic budget cuts to the state's only public institution of higher education, the University of Alaska's engineering colleges in Fairbanks and Anchorage are preparing to cut faculty members and slash a number of programs. "Dozens of engineering faculty, researchers, and staff could see their positions eliminated, and even tenured faculty members could lose their jobs. Students may not be able to finish their degrees in the programs or locations in which they started," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Many engineering students have already lost merit-based scholarships promised to them via the Alaska Performance Scholarship program." From the report: On 28 June, Gov. Dunleavy vetoed US $130 million in state funding for the University of Alaska system for the fiscal year that began on 1 July -- a step he said was necessary to contend with the state's $1.6 billion budget deficit, inflicted in large part by sluggish oil prices. Those cuts came on top of a $5 million reduction proposed by Alaska's legislature. Overall, state funding for the University of Alaska has been reduced by $136 million [PDF], or 41 percent, for the fiscal year that began 1 July. That translates to a 17 percent reduction to the University of Alaska's total operating budget. Citing reputational damage caused by these cuts, the University of Alaska's Board of Regents expects tuition, grant funding, and charitable donations to also drop, adding to a total loss of more than $200 million [PDF] in funding for the current fiscal year. The University of Alaska is now widely expected to declare financial exigency [PDF], an emergency status that would allow administrators to take extreme measures to reduce costs by closing campuses, slashing salaries and programs, or laying off tenured faculty. However, closing the university's flagship Fairbanks campus would still not be enough to cover the shortfall. In response to budget cuts in previous years, the university has already suspended or discontinued more than 50 degree programs and certificates, including its MS in Engineering Management program.

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Emotion-Detection Applications Are Built On Outdated Science, Report Warns

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 19:03
maiden_taiwan writes: Can computers determine your emotional state from your face? A panel of senior scientists with backgrounds in neuroscience, psychology, computer science, electrical engineering, biology, anthropology, psychiatry, pediatrics, and public affairs spent two years reviewing over 1,000 research papers on the topic. Two years later, they have published the most comprehensive analysis to date and concluded: "It is not possible to confidently infer happiness from a smile, anger from a scowl, or sadness from a frown, as much of current technology tries to do when applying what are mistakenly believed to be the scientific facts.... [How] people communicate anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise varies substantially across cultures, situations, and even across people within a single situation." Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of the book How Emotions are Made and behind a popular TED talk on emotion, who was an author on the paper, further elaborates: "People scowl when angry, on average, approximately 25 percent of the time, but they move their faces in other meaningful ways when angry. They might cry, or smile, or widen their eyes and gasp. And they also scowl when not angry, such as when they are concentrating or when they have a stomach ache. Similarly, most smiles don't imply that a person is happy, and most of the time people who are happy do something other than smile." The American Civil Liberties Union has also commented on the impact of the study. "This paper is significant because an entire industry of automated purported emotion-reading technologies is quickly emerging," writes the ACLU. "As we wrote in our recent paper on 'Robot Surveillance,' the market for emotion recognition software is forecast to reach at least $3.8 billion by 2025. Emotion recognition (aka 'affect recognition' or 'affective computing') is already being incorporated into products for purposes such as marketing, robotics, driver safety, and (as we recently wrote about) audio 'aggression detectors.'"

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QuickBooks Cloud Hosting Firm iNSYNQ Hit In Ransomware Attack

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 18:20
Cloud hosting provider iNSYNQ says it was hit with a ransomware attack that shut down its network and left customers unable to access their accounting data for the past three days. "Unfortunately for iNSYNQ, the company appears to be turning a deaf ear to the increasingly anxious cries from its users for more information about the incident," reports Krebs On Security." From the report: Gig Harbor, Wash.-based iNSYNQ specializes in providing cloud-based QuickBooks accounting software and services. In a statement posted to its status page, iNSYNQ said it experienced a ransomware attack on July 16, and took its network offline in a bid to contain the spread of the malware. "The attack impacted data belonging to certain iNSYNQ clients, rendering such data inaccessible,"; the company said. "As soon as iNSYNQ discovered the attack, iNSYNQ took steps to contain it. This included turning off some servers in the iNSYNQ environment." iNSYNQ said it has engaged outside cybersecurity assistance and to determine whether any customer data was accessed without authorization, but that so far it has no estimate for when those files might be available again to customers.

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Chrome 76 Prevents NYT and Other News Sites From Detecting Incognito Mode

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 17:40
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google Chrome 76 will close a loophole that websites use to detect when people use the browser's Incognito Mode. Over the past couple of years, you may have noticed some websites preventing you from reading articles while using a browser's private mode. The Boston Globe began doing this in 2017, requiring people to log in to paid subscriber accounts in order to read in private mode. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers impose identical restrictions. Chrome 76 -- which is in beta now and is scheduled to hit the stable channel on July 30 -- prevents these websites from discovering that you're in private mode. Google explained the change yesterday in a blog post titled, "Protecting private browsing in Chrome." Google wrote: "Today, some sites use an unintended loophole to detect when people are browsing in Incognito Mode. Chrome's FileSystem API is disabled in Incognito Mode to avoid leaving traces of activity on someone's device. Sites can check for the availability of the FileSystem API and, if they receive an error message, determine that a private session is occurring and give the user a different experience. With the release of Chrome 76 scheduled for July 30, the behavior of the FileSystem API will be modified to remedy this method of Incognito Mode detection." If websites find new loopholes to detect private mode, Google said they will close those, too. "Chrome will likewise work to remedy any other current or future means of Incognito Mode detection," Google's blog post said.

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Smart Money Said 'Skip Bitcoin, Bet on Blockchain.' Not Any More

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 17:05
As cryptocurrency prices tumbled across the board last year, venture capitalists focused their attention on the promise of the underlying technology, the ledger known as blockchain. That, many said, was the smarter bet. Now, the tables have turned. From a report: While Bitcoin's price has rebounded this year, a fresh batch of data shows the flow of cash into blockchain startups dropped dramatically. So far, traditional venture capital investments in blockchain companies have totaled $784 million via 227 deals, according to CB Insights. At that pace, businesses focusing on that technology may only draw $1.6 billion this year, down roughly 60% from a record $4.1 billion in 2018, the research firm said. Money coming from corporations is on "an even sharper decline," despite interest from companies such as Facebook in creating their own digital coins, CB Insights said. Maturing startups are drawing less support, while young startups are faring better, it said.

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Arctic Summer Melt Shows Ice Is Disappearing Faster Than Normal

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 16:26
Ice covering the Arctic Ocean reached the second-lowest level recorded for this time of year after July temperatures spiked in areas around the North Pole. From a report: The rate of ice loss in the region is a crucial indicator for the world's climate and a closely-watched metric by bordering nations jostling for resources and trade routes. This month's melt is tracking close to the record set in July 2012, the Colorado-based National Snow & Ice Data Center said in a statement. This year's heatwave in the Arctic Circle has led to record temperatures in areas of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, extending long-term trends of more ice disappearing. Ice flows are melting faster than average rates observed over the last three decades, losing an additional 20,000 square kilometers (12,427 miles) of cover per day -- an area about the size of Wales. Ice begins melting in the Arctic as spring approaches in the northern hemisphere, and then it usually starts building again toward the end of September as the days grow shorter and cooler. The U.K.'s Met Office said that the chance of a record low by September "is higher than it has been in the previous few years." This summer, several dramatic images showing the pace and extent of Arctic ice melt have been seen around the world underlining the harsh reality of global warming and the struggle governments face in trying to slow it down. Globally, June was the hottest year on record, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

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My Browser, the Spy: How Extensions Slurped Up Browsing Histories From 4M Users

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 15:45
Dan Goodin, reporting for ArsTechnica: When we use browsers to make medical appointments, share tax returns with accountants, or access corporate intranets, we usually trust that the pages we access will remain private. DataSpii, a newly documented privacy issue in which millions of people's browsing histories have been collected and exposed, shows just how much about us is revealed when that assumption is turned on its head. DataSpii begins with browser extensions -- available mostly for Chrome but in more limited cases for Firefox as well -- that, by Google's account, had as many as 4.1 million users. These extensions collected the URLs, webpage titles, and in some cases the embedded hyperlinks of every page that the browser user visited. Most of these collected Web histories were then published by a fee-based service called Nacho Analytics, which markets itself as "God mode for the Internet" and uses the tag line "See Anyone's Analytics Account." Web histories may not sound especially sensitive, but a subset of the published links led to pages that are not protected by passwords -- but only by a hard-to-guess sequence of characters (called tokens) included in the URL. Thus, the published links could allow viewers to access the content at these pages. (Security practitioners have long discouraged the publishing of sensitive information on pages that aren't password protected, but the practice remains widespread.) Further reading: More on DataSpii: How extensions hide their data grabs -- and how they're discovered.

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A Rust-Based TLS Library Outperformed OpenSSL in Almost Every Category

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 15:05
A tiny and relatively unknown TLS library written in Rust, an up-and-coming programming language, outperformed the industry-standard OpenSSL in almost every major category. From a report: The findings are the result of a recent four-part series of benchmarks carried out by Joseph Birr-Pixton, the developer behind the Rustls library. The findings showed that Rustls was 10% faster when setting up and negotiating a new server connection, and between 20 and 40% faster when setting up a client connection. But while handshake speeds for new TLS connections are important, most TLS traffic relies on resuming previously negotiated handshakes. Here, too, Rustls outperformed the aging OpenSSL, being between 10 and 20% in resuming a connection on the server-side, and being between 30 and 70% quicker to resume a client connection. Furthermore, Rustls also fared better in sheer bulk performance -- or the speed at which data is transferred over the TLS connection. Birr-Pixton said Rustls could send data 15% faster than OpenSSL, and receive it 5% faster as well.

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Researchers Have Teamed Up in India To Build a Gigantic Store of Texts and Images Extracted From 73M Journal Articles

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 14:25
A giant data store quietly being built in India could free vast swathes of science for computer analysis -- but whether it is a legal pursuit remains unclear. From a report: Carl Malamud is on a crusade to liberate information locked up behind paywalls -- and his campaigns have scored many victories. He has spent decades publishing copyrighted legal documents, from building codes to court records, and then arguing that such texts represent public-domain law that ought to be available to any citizen online. Sometimes, he has won those arguments in court. Now, the 60-year-old American technologist is turning his sights on a new objective: freeing paywalled scientific literature. And he thinks he has a legal way to do it. Over the past year, Malamud has -- without asking publishers -- teamed up with Indian researchers to build a gigantic store of text and images extracted from 73 million journal articles dating from 1847 up to the present day. The cache, which is still being created, will be kept on a 576-terabyte storage facility at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. "This is not every journal article ever written, but it's a lot," Malamud says. It's comparable to the size of the core collection in the Web of Science database, for instance. Malamud and his JNU collaborator, bioinformatician Andrew Lynn, call their facility the JNU data depot. No one will be allowed to read or download work from the repository, because that would breach publishers' copyright. Instead, Malamud envisages, researchers could crawl over its text and data with computer software, scanning through the world's scientific literature to pull out insights without actually reading the text. The unprecedented project is generating much excitement because it could, for the first time, open up vast swathes of the paywalled literature for easy computerized analysis. Dozens of research groups already mine papers to build databases of genes and chemicals, map associations between proteins and diseases, and generate useful scientific hypotheses. But publishers control -- and often limit -- the speed and scope of such projects, which typically confine themselves to abstracts, not full text. Researchers in India, the United States and the United Kingdom are already making plans to use the JNU store instead. Malamud and Lynn have held workshops at Indian government laboratories and universities to explain the idea. "We bring in professors and explain what we are doing. They get all excited and they say, 'Oh gosh, this is wonderful'," says Malamud. But the depot's legal status isn't yet clear. Malamud, who contacted several intellectual-property (IP) lawyers before starting work on the depot, hopes to avoid a lawsuit.

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YouTube Executive Says the Video Service Doesn't Drive Its Users Down the Rabbit Hole

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 13:45
YouTube has defended its video recommendation algorithms, amid suggestions that the technology serves up increasingly extreme videos. On Thursday, a BBC report explored how YouTube had helped the Flat Earth conspiracy theory spread. But the company's new managing director for the UK, Ben McOwen Wilson, said YouTube "does the opposite of taking you down the rabbit hole". From a report: He told the BBC that YouTube worked to dispel misinformation and conspiracies. But warned that some types of government regulation could start to look like censorship. YouTube, as well as other internet giants such as Facebook and Twitter, have some big decisions to make. All must decide where they draw the line between freedom of expression, hateful content and misinformation. And the government is watching. It has published a White Paper laying out its plans to regulate online platforms. In his first interview since starting his new role, Ben spoke about the company's algorithms, its approach to hate speech and what it expects from the UK government's "online harms" legislation. [...] YouTube has never explained exactly how its algorithms work. Critics say the platform offers up increasingly sensationalist and conspiratorial videos. Mr McOwen Wilson disagrees. "It's what's great about YouTube. It is what brings you from one small area and actually expands your horizon and does the opposite of taking you down the rabbit hole," he says.

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Russian Lawmakers Propose Making Local Software Mandatory on Smartphones

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 13:05
Russian lawmakers want to make it a legal requirement for all smartphones, computers and smart TV sets sold in Russia to come pre-installed with certain Russian software in a bid to support domestic software producers, according to a draft bill. From a report: The bill, tabled at the lower house of parliament on Thursday, would allow authorities to draw up a list of mandatory, locally-made software. If passed, it would come into force in July 2020. Russia's cell-phone market is dominated by Apple, Samsung and Huawei products. Those who do not abide by the rule, the proposed law says, would have to pay a fine.

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Huawei Says Hongmeng OS Isn't Designed as an Android Replacement

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 12:25
Huawei reportedly wants to keep using Google's Android operating system in its phones instead of jumping to its self-developed Hongmeng system. From a report: Company senior vice president Catherine Chen told reporters in Brussels this week that the Hongmeng OS isn't even designed for phones, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Chen apparently said Hongmeng is for industrial use, noting that it contains far fewer lines of code than a phone OS, and has much lower latency than a phone, meaning it can process a very high volume of data messages with little delay. Latest episode in a confusing narrative about what Huawei even intends to do. The company's executives have previously said on record that its homegrown operating system is designed to replace Android on its handsets. One executive said the operating system would be released by last month -- a target that Huawei has missed.

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Kazakhstan Government is Now Intercepting All HTTPS Traffic

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 11:46
Artem S. Tashkinov writes: Starting Wednesday, July 17, 2019, the Kazakhstan government has started intercepting all HTTPS internet traffic inside its borders. Local internet service providers (ISPs) have been instructed by the local government to force their respective users into installing a government-issued certificate on all devices, and in every browser. The certificate, once installed, will allow local government agencies to decrypt users' HTTPS traffic, look at its content, encrypt it again with their certificate, and send it to its destination. Kazakh users trying to access the internet since yesterday have been redirected to web pages that contained instructions on how to install the government's root certificate in their respective browsers, may it be a desktop or mobile device.

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Tech Unemployment Hits 19-Year Low

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 11:06
New submitter SpaceForceCommander writes: Tech unemployment hasn't been this low since the turn of the century, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data crunched by CompTIA. As of May, tech's unemployment rate sat at 1.3 percent. "There is now the very real prospect of tech worker shortages affecting industry growth," Tim Herbert, executive vice president for research and market intelligence at CompTIA, wrote in a statement accompanying the data. "Firms seeking to expand into new areas such as the Internet of Things, robotic process automation or artificial intelligence may be inhibited by a lack of workers with these advanced skills, not to mention shortages in the complementary areas of technology infrastructure and cybersecurity." Tech's unemployment rate previously hit 1.4 percent, in April 2007 and March 2018. (The BLS began measuring occupation-level employment data in January 2000.) However, not all segments within tech are adding jobs at the same rate; although custom software development and computer systems design gained 8,400 new positions in May, for example, both information services and telecommunications saw modest losses. Meanwhile, new data from PayScale suggests that wages within the tech industry grew 2.3 percent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2019. That's an indicator that the low unemployment rate is forcing employers to pay more in order to secure the talent they need.

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Researchers Easily Trick Security Firm Cylance's AI-Based Antivirus Into Thinking Programs Like WannaCry and Other Malware Are Benign

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 10:23
By taking strings from an online gaming program and appending them to malicious files, researchers were able to trick Cylance's AI-based antivirus engine into thinking programs like WannaCry and other malware are benign. From a report: AI has been touted by some in the security community as the silver bullet in malware detection. Its proponents say it's superior to traditional antivirus since it can catch new variants and never-before-seen malware -- think zero-day exploits -- that are the Achilles heel of antivirus. One of its biggest proponents is the security firm BlackBerry Cylance, which has staked its business model on the artificial intelligence engine in its endpoint PROTECT detection system, which the company says has the ability to detect new malicious files two years before their authors even create them. But researchers in Australia say they've found a way to subvert the machine-learning algorithm in PROTECT and cause it to falsely tag already known malware as "goodware." The method doesn't involve altering the malicious code, as hackers generally do to evade detection. Instead, the researchers developed a "global bypass" method that works with almost any malware to fool the Cylance engine. It involves simply taking strings from a non-malicious file and appending them to a malicious one, tricking the system into thinking the malicious file is benign. The benign strings they used came from an online gaming program, which they have declined to name publicly so that Cylance will have a chance to fix the problem before hackers exploit it. "As far as I know, this is a world-first, proven global attack on the ML [machine learning] mechanism of a security company," says Adi Ashkenazy, CEO of the Sydney-based company Skylight Cyber, who conducted the research with CTO Shahar Zini. "After around four years of super hype [about AI], I think this is a humbling example of how the approach provides a new attack surface that was not possible with legacy [antivirus software]."

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China's Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 09:43
Tencent and Alibaba are among the firms that assist authorities in hunting down criminal suspects, silencing dissent and creating surveillance cities. From a report: Alibaba Group's sprawling campus has collegial workspaces, laid-back coffee bars and, on the landscaped grounds, a police outpost. Employees use the office to report suspected crimes to the police, according to people familiar with the operation. Police also use it to request data from Alibaba for their own investigations, these people said, tapping into the trove of information the tech giant collects through its e-commerce and financial-payment networks. In one case, the police wanted to find out who had posted content related to terrorism, said a former Alibaba employee. "They came to me and asked me for the user ID and information," he recalled. He turned it over. The Chinese government is building one of the world's most sophisticated, high-tech systems to keep watch over its citizens, including surveillance cameras, facial-recognition technology and vast computers systems that comb through terabytes of data. Central to its efforts are the country's biggest technology companies, which are openly acting as the government's eyes and ears in cyberspace. Companies including Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings and Baidu, are required to help China's government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

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NSO Spyware 'Targets Big Tech Cloud Services'

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 09:00
The Israeli company whose spyware hacked WhatsApp has told buyers its technology can surreptitiously scrape all of an individual's data from the servers of Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, Financial Times reported on Friday. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source] From the report: NSO Group's flagship smartphone malware, nicknamed Pegasus, has for years been used by spy agencies and governments to harvest data from targeted individuals' smartphones. But it has now evolved to capture the much greater trove of information stored beyond the phone in the cloud, such as a full history of a target's location data, archived messages or photos, according to people who shared documents with the Financial Times and described a recent product demonstration. The documents raise difficult questions for Silicon Valley's technology giants, which are trusted by billions of users to keep critical personal information, corporate secrets and medical records safe from potential hackers. NSO denied promoting hacking or mass-surveillance tools for cloud services. However, it did not specifically deny that it had developed the capability described in the documents.

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