Hackers infect 500,000 consumer routers all over the world with malware

Hackers infect 500,000 consumer routers all over the world with malware

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A Linksys WRVS4400N, one of more than a dozen network devices targeted by VPNFilter.

Hackers, possibly working for an advanced nation, have infected more than 500,000 home and small-office routers around the world with malware that can be used to collect communications, launch attacks on others, and permanently destroy the devices with a single command, researchers at Cisco warned Wednesday.

VPNFilter—as the modular, multi-stage malware has been dubbed—works on consumer-grade routers made by Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, TP-Link, and on network-attached storage devices from QNAP, Cisco researchers said in an advisory. It’s one of the few pieces of Internet-of-things malware that can survive a reboot. Infections in at least 54 countries have been slowly building since at least 2016, and Cisco researchers have been monitoring them for several months. The attacks drastically ramped up during the past three weeks, including two major assaults on devices located in Ukraine. The spike, combined with the advanced capabilities of the malware, prompted Cisco to release Wednesday’s report before the research is completed.

Expansive platform serving multiple needs

“We assess with high confidence that this malware is used to create an expansive, hard-to-attribute infrastructure that can be used to serve multiple operational needs of the threat actor,” Cisco researcher William Largent wrote. “Since the affected devices are legitimately owned by businesses or individuals, malicious activity conducted from infected devices could be mistakenly attributed to those who were actually victims of the actor. The capabilities built into the various stages and plugins of the malware are extremely versatile and would enable the actor to take advantage of devices in multiple ways.”

Sniffers included with VPNFilter collect login credentials and possibly supervisory control and data acquisition traffic. The malware also makes it possible for the attackers to obfuscate themselves by using the devices as nondescript points for connecting to final targets. The researchers also said they uncovered evidence that at least some of the malware includes a command to permanently disable the device, a capability that would allow the attackers to disable Internet access for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide or in a focused region, depending on a particular objective.

“In most cases, this action is unrecoverable by most victims, requiring technical capabilities, know-how, or tools that no consumer should be expected to have,” Cisco’s report stated. “We are deeply concerned about this capability, and it is one of the driving reasons we have been quietly researching this threat over the past few months.”

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via Ars Technica https://arstechnica.com

May 23, 2018 at 03:18PM

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Comcast confirms plan to buy 21st Century Fox and control of Hulu

Comcast confirms plan to buy 21st Century Fox and control of Hulu

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Comcast today said it is preparing an offer to buy major portions of 21st Century Fox, which would give it majority control of Hulu and other media properties.

Walt Disney Company already has a $52.4 billion all-stock deal to buy the 21st Century Fox properties. But Comcast was rumored to be lining up $60 billion in financing in order to make a hostile bid for the Fox assets, and Comcast’s announcement today confirms it.

Comcast “is considering, and is in advanced stages of preparing, an offer for the businesses that Fox has agreed to sell to Disney,” Comcast’s announcement said. Comcast is working on the offer in preparation for shareholder meetings in which the Disney/Fox deal will be considered.

The Fox properties for sale do not include assets such as the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, and Fox Broadcasting Company. Those properties would be spun off into a company being referred to as “New Fox,” and Comcast would acquire 21st Century Fox after the spinoff.

The Fox sale to either Disney or Comcast would include 21st Century Fox’s film and television studios; cable entertainment networks; the Fox Sports Regional Networks; and international properties including Star in India and Fox’s 39-percent ownership of Sky across Europe.

Comcast seeks control of Hulu

The sale would also include Fox’s 30-percent stake in Hulu, the popular online video streaming service. Comcast already owns 30 percent of Hulu, so a deal with Fox would give the nation’s largest cable company majority control over the online video provider.

Comcast said its offer for Fox “would be at least as favorable to Fox shareholders as the Disney offer.”

“While no final decision has been made, at this point the work to finance the all-cash offer and make the key regulatory filings is well advanced,” Comcast also said.

Separately, Comcast is trying to buy Sky, the British pay-TV company. After an initial review, a British government official said the government is unlikely to challenge a Comcast/Sky merger.

In the US, a Comcast/Fox deal would face scrutiny from the Department of Justice, which is trying to stop AT&T from buying Time Warner Inc. A judge is expected to rule on the AT&T/Time Warner merger by June 12, and Comcast was reportedly waiting for the outcome of that trial before proceeding with a bid for Fox assets.

“Comcast made the announcement Wednesday about its preparations because its executives were worried that Fox and Disney might rush a shareholder vote before the decision on the AT&T/Time Warner deal came down, according to people close to Comcast,” The Wall Street Journal reported today.

Comcast already owns NBCUniversal thanks to a 2011 acquisition; it was the NBC purchase that gave Comcast its minority stake in Hulu. US regulators imposed merger conditions that prevent Comcast from exercising operational control over Hulu, but those conditions will expire on September 1 of this year.

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via Ars Technica https://arstechnica.com

May 23, 2018 at 01:22PM

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Echoes Of Cuba? U.S. Employee In China Hit With ‘Sensations Of Sound And Pressure’

Echoes Of Cuba? U.S. Employee In China Hit With ‘Sensations Of Sound And Pressure’

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An employee of the U.S. government in Guangzhou, China, has reported mysterious symptoms similar to those experienced by State Department employees in Cuba. Here, the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou.

U.S. Department of State


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U.S. Department of State

An employee of the U.S. government in Guangzhou, China, has reported mysterious symptoms similar to those experienced by State Department employees in Cuba. Here, the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou.

U.S. Department of State

The State Department said that a U.S. government employee assigned to Guangzhou, China, has reported experiencing “vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that “the medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent” with the symptoms reported by Americans working at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. “We have medical teams that are moving to be on the ground there. We are working to figure out what took place both in Havana, and now in China, as well.”

The federal employee reported experiencing physical symptoms from late 2017 through April 2018, when he or she returned to the U.S. for medical evaluation. That evaluation found that the employee’s symptoms were similar to those of someone with a head concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.

The U.S. operates a consulate in Guangzhou, a sprawling commercial city and port in southern China. The Chinese government has assured the U.S. that it is investigating the matter and taking appropriate measures, according to a State Department spokesperson.

Suspected “sonic attacks” affecting more than a dozen U.S. diplomats and family members in Havana beginning in November 2016 led to the U.S. pulling all nonessential staff from the embassy and expelling 15 Cuban diplomats last year. Cuba has denied any involvement in the attacks.

Though some experts expressed doubt when the possibility of a sonic attack in Cuba was first raised, the State Department points to a study by independent medical personnel published earlier this year in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

That study found that 21 U.S. government employees in Havana experienced “persistent cognitive, vestibular, and oculomotor dysfunction, as well as sleep impairment and headaches, were observed … associated with reports of directional audible and/or sensory phenomena of unclear origin. These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.”

Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, the State Department’s medical director, told a Senate subcommittee in January that the employees “associated the onset of these symptoms to their exposures with unusual sounds or auditory sensations. Various descriptions were given: ‘a high-pitched beam of sound’; an ‘incapacitating sound’; a ‘baffling sensation’ akin to driving with the windows partially open in a car; or just an intense pressure in one ear.”

The State Department says it doesn’t know what caused the reported symptoms in Guangzhou, and isn’t aware of any other similar cases in China.

But it did issue a warning Wednesday: “While in China, if you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, do not attempt to locate their source. Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present.”

The U.S. government has about 2,000 employees posted to China. The mysterious incident comes at a time of tension between the U.S. and China over trade disputes.

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May 23, 2018 at 11:53AM

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Scientists Are Using AI to Painstakingly Assemble Single Atoms

Scientists Are Using AI to Painstakingly Assemble Single Atoms

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Forget ruby-encrusted swords or diamond-tipped chainsaws. The scanning probe microscope is, quite literally, the sharpest object ever made. Hidden under its bulky silver exterior is a thin metal wire, as fine as a human hair. And at one end, its point tapers to the width of a single atom.

Scientists wield the wire not as a weapon, but as an intricate paintbrush—using its needlelike tip to position single atoms on a tiny semiconductor canvas. Ever since scientists at IBM invented the scanning probe microscope some 35 years ago, researchers have used it to create designs both goofy and groundbreaking. They’ve written nanometer-sized letters and Chinese characters. They’ve produced a stop-motion film out of individual carbon monoxide molecules. And they’ve used the machine to make the tiniest transistor of all time—out of a single atom.

A tungsten wire, a quarter milimeter at its base, sharpened to a single atom wide.

Robert Wolkow/University of Alberta

But it’s hard to use the scanning probe microscope. Single atoms are finicky, so using the machine requires patience and precision. Over the last few years, Bob Wolkow has been working to tame this temperamental tool—and now, he thinks he’s streamlined its operation enough for manufacturing. His grand plan: use the machine to make new types of chips that could usher in a new era of computing.

His chip design involves assembling minute circuits, atom by atom, on conventional silicon computer chips. These circuits offer many perks for the next generation of computers, says Wolkow, a physicist at the University of Alberta in Canada—including energy efficiency.

Currently, transistors in computer chips represent binary information by holding onto electrons (a “1”) or dumping them to ground (“0”). This means that as you write and record information, your computer has to shuttle a lot of electrons around, which uses a lot of energy. Wolkow’s team has developed a circuit design that encodes information in the atoms’ patterns. Atoms arranged in different ways correspond to different binary numbers. So to record data, you just need enough energy to rearrange the atoms, which is much less than what you’d need to move around torrents of electrons,.

They know how to perform most of the steps for efficiently assembling these circuits now. So here’s Wolkow’s pitch: Give his team $20 million to buy a fleet of scanning probe microscopes, and they’ll put all the steps together, plopping single atoms on chips at scale. “For the first time, I’m openly saying that I think I can manufacture a million chips per year,” says Wolkow, who also serves as the chief technology officer at an Alberta-based company, Quantum Silicon. “I couldn’t make one per year a few years ago.”

So what’s changed? Wolkow has, in some form, worked to make single atom circuits for 30 years now—studying promising materials to death, tinkering with his microscope, and making incremental progress. But in the last few years, researchers have developed tools to streamline the scanning probe microscope. Wolkow’s group has developed what they call “atomic whiteout,” a technique for correcting errors when laying single atoms. Dallas-based company Zyvex Labs has created software packages for automating the atom-plopping. And publishing in ACS Nano on Wednesday, Wolkow’s research group has developed an automated method for sharpening the machine’s wire tip using machine learning. This moment, he says, could be a turning point where companies could actually start to make viable products, atom by atom.

Wolkow’s machine learning algorithm distinguishes between a wire tip that is a single atom wide (left) and a blunted tip (right).

Robert Wolkow/University of Alberta

Wolkow’s not alone in his excitement. European scientists have used scanning probe microscopes to construct computer memories from single atoms. Australian researchers have made quantum computer components by precisely positioning phosphorus atoms on a silicon chip. Chemists want to use the machine to manufacture catalysts from individual atoms. And in the last few years, the Department of Energy has singled out projects that use atomically precise technology for funding. “People are taking this much more seriously,” says engineer John Randall of Zyvex Labs.

These automated processes could benefit other realms of science, too. In addition to its atom-arranging capabilities, the machine can capture high-resolution magnified images when you hover its delicate wire tip over cells and molecules. But it’s boring work, says physics graduate student Sara Mueller of Ohio State University, who uses the machine to research properties of new materials. She spends a lot of time examining the end of her microscope tip, to make sure it’s a single atom thick. An automated sharpening process would speed her work significantly.

The scanning probe microscope.

Robert Wolkow/University of Alberta

But not everybody is convinced that single-atom mass manufacturing is imminent. Chemist Paul Ashby of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who studies molecules with scanning probe microscopes and works on the machinery itself, says that the instrument has some significant hardware limitations. Right now, with a single wire tip, you can only arrange atoms on a tiny 0.1 millimeter square. To draw a circuit bigger than that, you’d need multiple wire tips next to each other in close proximity, which would interfere with each other and lower the precision of the entire machine. Researchers don’t know how to fix that yet, and it’s the key bottleneck, says Ashby. “Automation does not address this at all,” he says.

Still, Wolkow is optimistic. “People still say, ‘Bob’s crazy,’” he says. “But we have so much single atom control now, and the tools have advanced so much.”

And even if Wolkow doesn’t pull off his manufacturing vision, he’s making it easier for other researchers to use scanning probe microscopes. Right now, Mueller has to keep checking—and double-checking—that the machine tip is operating properly before she can trust the data she takes. “There’s no high-level thinking involved,” she says. “It’s just tedious.” Automation frees researchers from the most mind-numbing tasks—so they can focus on the cool stuff.


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May 23, 2018 at 07:06AM

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Boeing’s new 777x planes have wings so wide they need to fold just to fit at the gate

Boeing’s new 777x planes have wings so wide they need to fold just to fit at the gate

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When airborne, the forthcoming Boeing 777x aircraft will have a majestic wingspan of 235 feet. Unfortunately, that’s too big to fit at the type of airport gate intended for 777s. So rather than clipping the plane’s wings—or asking airports to make bigger gates—Boeing engineers gave them hinges, so the tips could fold up and down. That reduces the wingspan to a mere 212 feet.

Boeing received official approval for the innovative new design on May 18, when the FAA published a document in the Federal Register explaining the “special conditions” the aircraft maker has to follow with the new aircraft design.

Boeing 777 aircrafts are twin-engine, wide-body planes that currently have wings that stretch just under 213 feet. So why endure the added length, and thus the complexity that goes with the folding mechanisms, when making new aircraft?

These longer wings, which are made of carbon fiber, are more fuel-efficient. “It’s all because it lowers the drag,” says Gary Ullrich, an associate professor at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota and a former Air Force pilot. He’s also a coauthor of the textbook Aerodynamics for Aviators.

Longer wings, Ullrich says, cut down on the vortices, or wake turbulence, that can form at the wingtips, which is why these lengthy wings slice through the air with less drag, saving fuel and thus money.

Think of a fighter jet, which has short stubby wings, and compare it to a glider’s, he says. The fighter’s short wings are going to create bigger vortices, and more drag, than the glider’s. “They have a 777, and they want to turn it into a glider,” Ullrich says. In fact, he says that with two identical aircraft, both with wingspans of the same surface area, a longer wing will have less drag, and be more efficient, than a shorter one. (Technically this type of drag is called “induced drag.”)

But since these new 777s—which will be called the 777-8 and 777-9, and will be able to seat as many as 375 and 425 people, respectively—need to fit at the gate, those long wings fold up. But that comes at a cost, one of which is additional complexity, Ullrich says.

The FAA points out in its Special Conditions document that the folding wing ability will only work when the plane is on the ground, and that the company does not plan to store fuel in the folding sections. And since it would be disastrous if the wingtips were to fold in flight, or if the plane were to try to take off with the wings not in the proper position, Boeing has to take the design aspect of this new feature very seriously.

“We think about the redundancy of the actual fold mechanism—the locking pins, the latches—we have a primary and secondary latch system,” Boeing engineer Terry Beezhold said in a video. “We have multiple layers of redundancy, and layers of protection, to ensure that the folding wingtip always remains extended in flight, and only folds when it’s commanded [when the plane is on the ground].”

Military airplanes on carriers have already been using folding wings to take up less space. Ullrich says that he finds its use in the commercial realm “refreshing.”

“This is something that’s been looked at for a long time,” he says. “Due to weight issues, and complexity issues, it’s been hard to implement this in the world of civilian flying.” The plane is scheduled for delivery in 2020.

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May 22, 2018 at 04:43PM

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iPhone owners can now use Yubikey NFC tags to unlock apps

iPhone owners can now use Yubikey NFC tags to unlock apps

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Yubico

Digital security has always been paramount, but the advent of tablets and smartphones has allowed us take much more data with us on the go. A combination of two-factor authentication and effective password management is usually enough to keep nefarious types away from your accounts, but Yubico has introduced an extra layer of safety for iOS that lets you seamlessly log into apps by hovering a YubiKey behind your phone.

YubiKey is a small USB authentication device which acts as a second line of defence. It removes the need to toggle between apps and jot down temporary codes, and reduces the potential risks associated with mobile and SMS notifications. And depending on your typing speed, YubiKey is up to four times quicker than entering a one-time password (OTP) yourself.

While Yubico’s hardware based authentication supported Android devices for a number of years, iPhone support was made possible thanks to iOS 11, which rolled out last year. It enabled NFC (near-field communication) tag reading — a feature which lets developers construct apps that utilize an OTP. To coincide with the launch, password management service LastPass has integrated YubiKey NEO support inside the most recent version of its iOS app.

A large majority of hacking breaches are due to weak passwords, but OTP solutions like YubiKey make your apps significantly harder to crack into. LastPass isn’t the only service taking advantage of YubiKey’s added physical security. Internet giants like Google are fond of it as well, and Facebook and Mozilla have recently opened their platforms to support the hardware security solution.

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via Engadget http://www.engadget.com

May 23, 2018 at 08:54AM

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Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Meet the child of Intel and AMD’s unholy union

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Meet the child of Intel and AMD’s unholy union

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This new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is the first convertible in the XPS 15 line, but that’s not the most interesting thing about it.

Since 2010, Dell’s XPS 15 has been a reliable, 15-inch performance workhorse and a light gaming option for users who aren’t impressed by the over-the-top designs of dedicated gaming laptops. Last year’s model, for example, impressed with strong performance from the discrete GeForce GTX 1050 GPU. But discrete GPUs have many downsides. They take up space, use lots of energy, and generate a lot of heat, which impacts both portability and battery life.

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May 23, 2018 at 06:33AM

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