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Former Anonymous Spokesperson's Memoir Called 'Deranged, Hyperbolic, and True'

Slashdot - Sun, 2024-07-21 05:34
Slashdot covered Barrett Brown back in 2011 and 2012. The New York Times calls him "an activist associated with the hacker group Anonymous, and a political prisoner recently denied asylum in Britain, all of which sounds a bit dreary until we hear tell of it through Brown's unhinged self-regard." They're reviewing Brown's "extraordinary" new memoir, My Glorious Defeats: Hacktivist, Narcissist, Anonymous," a book they call "deranged, hyperbolic, and true." A "machine" that focuses attention on little-known social issues, Anonymous has gone after the Church of Scientology, Koch Industries, websites hosting child pornography and the Westboro Baptist Church. The public tends to be confused by nebulous digital activities, so it was, in the collective's heyday, helpful to have Brown act as a translator between the hackers and mainstream journalists. "The year 2011 ended as it began," he writes, "with a sophisticated hack on a state-affiliated corporation that ostensibly dealt in straightforward security and analysis while secretly engaging in black ops campaigns against activists who'd proven troublesome to powerful clients." This particular corporation was Stratfor, a company that spied on activists for the government... Brown waited for the feds to come back and drag him to jail. He also says he tried to get off suboxone in order to avoid the painful possibility of prison withdrawal, and stopped taking Paxil, inducing a manic state, all of which is given as explanation for his regrettable next move, which was to set up a camera and start talking. The feds had threatened his mother, he told the internet, and in response he was threatening Robert Smith, the lead agent on his case. He found himself in custody the same night. Brown was then subjected to the kind of nonsense the Department of Justice is prone to inflicting on those involved in shadowy internet activities that, in fact, almost no one in the legal process understands. He was charged with participating in the hack of Stratfor, though he was not really involved and cannot code, and although the whole thing was organized by an F.B.I. informant. Brown had also retweeted a Fox News host's call to murder Julian Assange; the prosecution presented this as if he were himself calling for the murder of Assange. But generally, Brown's primary victim is himself. "My thirst for glory and hatred for the state," he writes, "were incompatible with an orthodox criminal defense, in which the limiting of one's sentence is the sole objective." In his cell, with an eraser-less pencil he needs a compliant guard to repeatedly sharpen, he writes "The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail." His mother types it up; The Intercept publishes. He develops the character he will play in his memoir: a self-aware narcissist and addict. He wins a National Magazine Award, and is especially pleased that his column "Please Stop Sending Me Jonathan Franzen Novels," wins while Franzen is in attendance. "The state is an afterthought here — a litany of absurdist horrors too stupid to appall..." the review concludes. "We're left with a man who refuses to look away from the deep structure of the world, an unstable position from which there is no sanctuary. My Glorious Defeats is deranged, hyperbolic and as true a work as I have read in a very long time."

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CNN Investigates 'Airbnb's Hidden Camera Problem'

Slashdot - Sun, 2024-07-21 03:34
2017 Slashdot headline: "People Keep Finding Hidden Cameras in Their Airbnbs." Nearly seven years later, CNN launched their own investigation of "Airbnb's hidden camera problem". CNN: "Across North America, police have seized thousands of images from hidden cameras at Airbnb rentals, including people's most intimate moments... It's more than just a few reported cases. And Airbnb knows it's a problem. In this deposition reviewed by CNN, an Airbnb rep said 35,000 customer support tickets about security cameras or recording devices had been documented over a decade. [The deposition estimates "about" 35,000 tickets "within the scope of the security camera and recording devices policy."] Airbnb told CNN a single complaint can involve multiple tickets. CNN actually obtained the audio recording of an Airbnb host in Maine admitting to police that he'd photographed a couple having sex using a camera hidden in a clock — and also photographed other couples. And one Airbnb guest told CNN he'd only learned he'd been recorded "because police called him, months later, after another guest found the camera" — with police discovering cameras in every single room in the house, concealed inside smoke detectors. "Part of the challenge is that the technology has gotten so advanced, with these cameras so small that you can't even see them," CNN says. But even though recording someone without consent is illegal in every state, CNN also found that in this case and others, Airbnb "does not contact law enforcement once hidden cameras are discovered — even if children are involved." Their reporter argues that Airbnb "not only fails to protect its guests — it works to keep complaints out of the courts and away from the public." They spoke to two Florida attorneys who said trying to sue Airbnb if something goes wrong is extremely difficult — since its Terms of Service require users to assume every risk themselves. "The person going to rent the property agrees that if something happens while they're staying at this accommodation, they're actually prohibited from suing Airbnb," says one of the attorneys. "They must go a different route, which is a binding arbitration." (When CNN asked if this was about controlling publicity, the two lawyers answered "absolutely" and "100%".) And when claims are settled, CNN adds, "Airbnb has required guests to sign confidentiality agreements — which CNN obtained — that keep some details of legal cases private." Responding to the story, Airbnb seemed to acknowledge guests have been secretly recorded by hosts, by calling such occurrences "exceptionally rare... When we do receive an allegation, we take appropriate, swift action, which can include removing hosts and listings that violate the policy. "Airbnb's trust and safety policies lead the vacation rental industry..."

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Does the Crowdstrike Outage Prove the Dangers of a Cashless Society?

Slashdot - Sun, 2024-07-21 00:34
"If there is no alternative, then the whole thing can collapse around you," says Ron Delnevo. He's the chair of The Payment Choice Alliance, "which campaigns against the move towards a cashless society." He's part of those arguing "the chaos caused by the global IT outage last week underlines the risk of moving towards a cashless society," writes the Observer: Authorities in China and the US have fined businesses for not accepting cash. Delnevo said the U.K. should have a law requiring all businesses to take cash. Martin Quinn, campaign director for the PCA, said using cash allowed for anonymity. "I don't want my data sold on, and I don't want banks, credit card companies and even online retailers to know every facet of my life," he said. Budgeting by using cash is also easier for some, he added. The article includes some interesting statistics from a U.K. bank trade association. "The number of people who never use cash, or use it less than once a month, reached 23.1 million in 2021, but declined to 21.6m last year." The GMB [general trade] Union said the outage reinforced what it had been saying for years: that "cash is a vital part of how our communities operate". "When you take cash out of the system, people have nothing to fall back on, impacting on how they do the everyday basics."

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In SolarWinds Case, US Judge Rejects SEC Oversight of Cybersecurity Controls

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 23:34
SolarWinds still faces some legal action over its infamous 2020 breach, reports NextGov.com. But a U.S. federal judge has dismissed most of the claims from America's Securities and Exchange Commission, which "alleged the company defrauded investors because it deliberately hid knowledge of cyber vulnerabilities in its systems ahead of a major security breach discovered in 2020." Slashdot reader krakman shares this report from the Washington Post: "The SEC's rationale, under which the statute must be construed to broadly cover all systems public companies use to safeguard their valuable assets, would have sweeping ramifications," [judge] Engelmayer wrote in a 107-page decision. "It could empower the agency to regulate background checks used in hiring nighttime security guards, the selection of padlocks for storage sheds, safety measures at water parks on whose reliability the asset of customer goodwill depended, and the lengths and configurations of passwords required to access company computers," he wrote. The federal judge also dismissed SEC claims that SolarWinds' disclosures after it learned its customers had been affected improperly covered up the gravity of the breach... In an era when deeply damaging hacking campaigns have become commonplace, the suit alarmed business leaders, some security executives and even former government officials, as expressed in friend-of-the-court briefs asking that it be thrown out. They argued that adding liability for misstatements would discourage hacking victims from sharing what they know with customers, investors and safety authorities. Austin-based SolarWinds said it was pleased that the judge "largely granted our motion to dismiss the SEC's claims," adding in a statement that it was "grateful for the support we have received thus far across the industry, from our customers, from cybersecurity professionals, and from veteran government officials who echoed our concerns." The article notes that as far back as 2018, "an engineer warned in an internal presentation that a hacker could use the company's virtual private network from an unauthorized device and upload malicious code. Brown did not pass that information along to top executives, the judge wrote, and hackers later used that exact technique." Engelmayer did not dismiss the case entirely, allowing the SEC to try to show that SolarWinds and top security executive Timothy Brown committed securities fraud by not warning in a public "security statement" before the hack that it knew it was highly vulnerable to attacks. The SEC "plausibly alleges that SolarWinds and Brown made sustained public misrepresentations, indeed many amounting to flat falsehoods, in the Security Statement about the adequacy of its access controls," Engelmayer wrote. "Given the centrality of cybersecurity to SolarWinds' business model as a company pitching sophisticated software products to customers for whom computer security was paramount, these misrepresentations were undeniably material."

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Persian Gulf Experiences Record (and Life-Threatening) Heat Index

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 22:34
Parts of the Persian Gulf "have seen the heat index, or how it feels when factoring in the humidity, reach 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit (60 to 65 Celsius)," reports the Washington Post, "fueled by an intense heat dome, the warmest water temperatures in the world and the influence of human-caused climate change." Temperatures at the Persian Gulf International Airport in Asaluyeh, Iran, climbed to 108 (42 C) on Wednesday and 106 (41 C) on Thursday, with both days recording a peak heat index of 149 (65 C). In Dubai, the temperature topped out at 113 (45 C) on Tuesday and the heat index soared to 144 (62 C). Other extreme heat indexes in recent days include 141 (61 C) in Abu Dhabi and 136 (58 C) at Khasab Air Base in Oman. Last August, this same region experienced even more extreme heat indexes, climbing as high as 158 degrees (70 C). The maximum air temperatures this week — generally between 105 and 115 (41 and 46 C) — have only been somewhat above normal. But the dew points — which are a measure of humidity — have been excessive, climbing well into the 80s (27 to 32 C). In the United States, any dew point over 70 degrees (21 C) is considered uncomfortably humid. It's the very high dew points that have propelled heat indexes up to 30 degrees (16 C) above actual air temperatures. The extreme humidity levels are tied to bathtub-like water temperatures in the Persian Gulf, the warmest in the world. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, sea surface temperatures are as warm as 95 degrees (35 C). Largely because of the high humidity, nighttime minimum temperatures have also remained exceptionally warm, in many cases staying above 85 (29 C). Temperatures in Iranshar, Iran, only dropped to 97 (36 C) on Wednesday night, its hottest July night on record. "Researchers have identified the Persian Gulf among the regions most likely to regularly exceed life-threatening heat thresholds during the next 30 to 50 years," the article adds. And it also cites new heat records reported for the region by weather historian Maximiliano Herrera. "The United Arab Emirates saw a scorching high temperature of 123 while Adrar, Algeria, tied its record of 122 (50 C). Cities in both Kuwait and Iraq reached 126 (52 C), and Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, notched a record of 124 (51 C)... "The same heat dome that's in the Persian Gulf region has spread record heat northward into Eastern Europe, westward into northern Africa, and eastward into India, Pakistan and Indonesia. In Eastern Europe, high temperatures surpassed 104 (40 C), with some locations staying above 85 degrees (29 C) at night."

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Are There Gaps in Training for Secure Software Development?

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 21:34
A new report "explores the current state of secure software development," according to an announcement from the Linux Foundation, "and underscores the urgent need for formalized industry education and training programs," noting that many developers "lack the essential knowledge and skills to effectively implement secure software development." The report analyzes a survey of nearly 400 software development professionals performed by and the Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) and Linux Foundation Research: Survey findings outlined in the report show nearly one-third of all professionals directly involved in development and deployment — system operations, software developers, committers, and maintainers — self-report feeling unfamiliar with secure software development practices. This is of particular concern as they are the ones at the forefront of creating and maintaining the code that runs a company's applications and systems. "Time and again we've seen the exploitation of software vulnerabilities lead to catastrophic consequences, highlighting the critical need for developers at all levels to be armed with adequate knowledge and skills to write secure code," said David A. Wheeler, director of open source supply chain security for the Linux Foundation. "Our research found that a key challenge is the lack of education in secure software development. Practitioners are unsure where to start and instead are learning as they go. It is clear that an industry-wide effort to bring secure development education to the forefront must be a priority." OpenSSF offers a free course on developing secure software (LFD121) and encourages developers to start with this course. Survey results indicate that the lack of security awareness is likely due to most current educational programs prioritizing functionality and efficiency while often neglecting essential security training. Additionally, most professionals (69%) rely on on-the-job experience as a main learning resource, yet it takes at least five years of such experience to achieve a minimum level of security familiarity. "The top reason (44%) for not taking a course on secure software development is lack of knowledge about a good course on the topic," according to the announcement — which includes this follow-up quote from Intel's Christopher Robinson (co-chair of the OpenSSF Education SIG). "Based on these findings, OpenSSF will create a new course on security architecture which will be available later this year which will help promote a 'security by design' approach to software developer education."

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Netflix is Axing Its Cheapest Ad-Free Plan in the US

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 20:34
An anonymous reader shared this report from CNN: Netflix will start phasing out its Basic plan, its cheapest advertising-free plan, which costs $11.99 per month in the United States, the company said on Thursday. The company had previously stopped accepting new sign-ups for the Basic plan, instead pushing customers to Netflix's ad-supported plan, which costs $6.99 per month. However, existing users were allowed to keep the basic plan. In January, the company said it would retire its cheapest ad-free tier in Canada and the UK. On Thursday, the company said the US and France are next. Basic users in the US who want an ad-free viewing experience on Netflix will now have two choices: Netflix's Standard plan, which costs $15.49 per month, and its Premium plan, which costs $22.99 per month... The company reported a record-high 277.65 million subscribers on its streaming platform Thursday, far outpacing streaming competitors like Disney+, Peacock and Max... Overall, Netflix added 8.05 million new subscribers in its second quarter. Netflix's surge in new subscribers has been fueled in part by the company's effort to push users who share passwords to create their own accounts. The article adds that Netflix's stock has climbed more than 35% in 2024.

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Southwest Airlines Avoids Cloudstrike Issues - Thanks to Windows 3.1?

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 19:34
Slashdot reader Thelasko shared Friday's article from Digital Trends: Nearly every flight in the U.S. is grounded right now following a CrowdStrike system update error that's affecting everything from travel to mobile ordering at Starbucks — but not Southwest Airlines flights. Southwest is still flying high, unaffected by the outage that's plaguing the world today, and that's apparently because it's using Windows 3.1. Yes, Windows 3.1 — an operating system that is 32 years old. Southwest, along with UPS and FedEx, haven't had any issues with the CrowdStrike outage. In responses to CNN, Delta, American, Spirit, Frontier, United, and Allegiant all said they were having issues, but Southwest told the outlet that its operations are going off without a hitch. Some are attributing that to Windows 3.1. Major portions of Southwest's systems are reportedly built on Windows 95 and Windows 3.1...

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Firefox 128 Criticized for Including Small Test of 'Privacy-Preserving' Ad Tech by Default

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 18:34
"Many people over the past few days have been lashing out at Mozilla," writes the blog Its FOSS, "for enabling Privacy-Preserving Attribution by default on Firefox 128, and the lack of publicity surrounding its introduction." Mozilla responded that the feature will only run "on a few sites in the U.S. under strict supervision" — adding that users can disable it at any time ("because this is a test"), and that it's only even enabled if telemetry is also enabled. And they also emphasize that it's "not tracking." The way it works is there's an "aggregation service" that can periodically send advertisers a summary of ad-related actions — again, aggregated data, from a mass of many other users. (And Mozilla says that aggregated summary even includes "noise that provides differential privacy.") This Privacy-Preserving Attribution concept "does not involve sending information about your browsing activities to anyone... Advertisers only receive aggregate information that answers basic questions about the effectiveness of their advertising." More from It's FOSS: Even though Mozilla mentioned that PPA would be enabled by default on Firefox 128 in a few of its past blog posts, they failed to communicate this decision clearly, to a wider audience... In response to the public outcry, Firefox CTO, Bobby Holley, had to step in to clarify what was going on. He started with how the internet has become a massive cesspool of surveillance, and doing something about it was the primary reason many people are part of Mozilla. He then expanded on their approach with Firefox, which, historically speaking, has been to ship a browser with anti-tracking features baked in to tackle the most common surveillance techniques. But, there were two limitations with this approach. One was that advertisers would try to bypass these countermeasures. The second, most users just accept the default options that they are shown... Bas Schouten, Principal Software Engineer at Mozilla, made it clear at the end of a heated Mastodon thread that "[opt-in features are] making privacy a privilege for the people that work to inform and educate themselves on the topic. People shouldn't need to do that, everyone deserves a more private browser. Privacy features, in Firefox, are not meant to be opt-in. They need to be the default. "If you are 'completely anti-ads' (i.e. even if their implementation is private), you probably use an ad blocker. So are unaffected by this." This has already provoked a discussion among Slashdot readers. "It doesn't seem that evil to me," argues Slashdot reader geekprime. "Seems like the elimination of cross site cookies is a privacy enhancing idea." (They cite Mozilla's statement that their goal is "to inform an emerging Web standard designed to help sites understand how their ads perform without collecting data about individual people. By offering sites a non-invasive alternative to cross-site tracking, we hope to achieve a significant reduction in this harmful practice across the web.") But Slashdot reader TheNameOfNick disagrees. "How realistic is the part where advertisers stop tracking you because they get less information from the browser maker...?" Mozilla has provided simple instructions for disabling the feature: Click the menu button and select Settings. In the Privacy & Security panel, find the Website Advertising Preferences section. Uncheck the box labeled Allow websites to perform privacy-preserving ad measurement.

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Remembering Bob Newhart, Legendary Comedian - and Commodore PET Owner

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 17:34
Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: Bob Newhart, whose stammering, deadpan unflappability carried him to stardom as a standup comedian and later in television and movies, has died at age 94. He remains best known for the television shows, "The Bob Newhart Show" (1972-78) and "Newhart" (1982-90), both of which were built around his persona as a reasonable man put-upon by crazies. A younger crowd may remember Newhart from his roles in the movie "Elf" (2003) and TV's "The Big Bang Theory" (2013-18). Less known about Newhart is that he was an early Commodore PET owner, recalling for the LA Times in 2001: "I remember leafing through a copy of Popular Science magazine and seeing an ad for a Commodore computer that had 8- or 16 kilobytes [in 1977]. It had an awful-looking screen, and it was $795. I thought I'd better get one because I had sons who were going to be in high school and might want to know about computers. Later, I moved up to the 64 KB model and thought that was silly because it was more memory than I would ever possibly need. "I got them for the kids and then found I was fascinated by them. The first ones had tape drives. You would get a program like a word processor, put the tape in and then walk away for about a half an hour while the computer loaded it. But the first time I used a spell checker and it corrected a word, I thought, 'We are getting close to God here."

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Wind Turbine Blade Breaks, Washes Ashore. Power Production Shut Down as Company Faces Investigation and Litigation

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 16:34
"More pieces of a broken wind turbine off the coast of Massachusetts are falling into the Atlantic Ocean," reports CBS News on Thursday. "The CEO of Vineyard Wind was at Nantucket's Select Board meeting Wednesday evening, apologizing and answering questions about the initial break when he suddenly had to leave because the situation is getting worse." CNN reports the debris has been "prompting beach closures and frustrating locals at the peak of the summer season" since the blade broke a week ago, and then folded over: Since then, foam debris and fiberglass — including some large and dangerously sharp pieces — have washed onto beaches. A "significant part" of the remaining damaged blade detached from the turbine early Thursday morning, Vineyard Wind said in a news release. The US Coast Guard confirmed to CNN it has located a 300-foot piece of the blade. There are few answers to what caused the turbine to fail, and the incident has prompted questions and anger from city officials and Nantucket residents... The shards of turbine forced officials to close beaches earlier this week, though they have since reopened. [Nantucket select board chair Brooke Mohr] said the town would monitor for additional debris and adjust schedules accordingly. "Public safety is our most immediate concern, these fiberglass pieces are quite sharp," Mohr said, making swimming unsafe... The federal government is conducting its own investigation and has ordered Vineyard Wind to stop all its wind turbines producing electricity until it can be determined whether any other blades were impacted, a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement spokesperson said in a statement. The federal government has also ordered the companies to preserve any equipment that could help determine the cause of the failure. The federal suspension order effectively halts further construction on Vineyard Wind, the first large-scale wind farm being installed in the US. The wind farm, a joint venture of Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, has 10 turbines up and running so far with plans to install 62 total... The project was set to double the number of turbines spinning off the East Coast, and state leaders in Massachusetts have viewed it as a big boost to the state's ability to generate electricity. Now the project is in limbo, and could remain so until the investigation is complete. The article quotes the head of government affairs at wind blade manufacturer GE Vernova as saying a breaking wind turbine is "highly unusual and rare." But Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Skoust Møller called it a "very serious situation" and apologized to local residents. Meanwhile, the Boston Herald reported Friday that the Nantucket Select Board "is set to pursue litigation against the wind energy company in connection to the blade failure..." Town officials, residents and local mariners have all said they didn't learn of the incident until Monday evening, roughly 48 hours after the fact and just hours before debris started to wash ashore, prompting beaches to close Tuesday... The "significant portion" of the 107-meter blade that detached from the turbine Thursday morning sunk to the ocean floor. Crews were slated to recover the fiberglass "in due course," town officials wrote in a Friday update... Residents are not taking kindly to Vineyard Wind's assertion that the debris — fiberglass fragments ranging in size from small pieces to larger sections, typically green or white — is not toxic. Vineyard Wind has deployed a crew of 56 contractors to assist in the cleanup of the island's beaches, and town officials said Friday that no town staff are actively engaged in removing the debris. The wind energy company reported Wednesday that crews had removed 17 cubic yards of debris, enough to fill more than six truckloads. "The joint venture of Connecticut-based Avangrid and Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners is developing a plan to test water quality around the island while working on a process for financial claims."

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'Smart Soil' Grows 138% Bigger Crops Using 40% Less Water

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 12:00
Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a "smart soil" that can keep plants better hydrated and provide a controlled release of nutrients. As reported by New Atlas, tests found that it "drastically improved crop growth while using far less water." From the report: The soil gets its "smart" moniker thanks to the addition of a specially formulated hydrogel, which works to absorb more water vapor from the air overnight, then releasing it to the plants' roots during the day. Incorporating calcium chloride into the hydrogel also provides a slow release of this vital nutrient. The team tested the new smart soil in lab experiments, growing plants in 10 grams of soil, with some including 0.1 g of hydrogel. A day/night cycle was simulated, with 12 hours of darkness at 25 C (77 F) and either 60% or 90% relative humidity, followed by 12 hours of simulated sunlight at 35 C (95 F) and 30% humidity. Sure enough, plants growing in the hydrogel soil showed a 138% boost to their stem length, compared to the control group. Importantly, the hydrogel-grown plants achieved this even while requiring 40% less direct watering. In future work, the team plans to try incorporating other types of fertilizers, and conducting longer field experiments. The research was published in the journal ACS Materials Letters.

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May Solar Superstorm Caused Largest 'Mass Migration' of Satellites In History

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 09:00
A solar superstorm in May caused thousands of satellites to simultaneously maneuver to maintain altitude due to the thickening of the upper atmosphere, creating potential collision hazards as existing prediction systems struggled to cope. Space.com reports: According to a pre-print paper published on the online repository arXiv on June 12, satellites and space debris objects in low Earth orbit -- the region of space up to an altitude of 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) -- were sinking toward the planet at the speed of 590 feet (180 meters) per day during the four-day storm. To make up for the loss of altitude, thousands of spacecraft began firing their thrusters at the same time to climb back up. That mass movement, the authors of the paper point out, could have led to dangerous situations because collision avoidance systems didn't have time to calculate the satellites' changing paths. The solar storm that battered Earth from May 7 to 10 reached the intensity of G5, the highest level on the five-step scale used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to assess the strength of solar storms. It was the strongest solar storm to hit Earth since 2003. The authors of the paper, however, pointed out that the environment around the planet has changed profoundly since that time. While only a few hundred satellites were orbiting Earth twenty years ago, there are thousands today. The authors of the paper put the number of "active payloads at [low Earth orbit]" at 10,000. [...] The new paper points out that space weather forecasts ahead of the May storm failed to accurately predict the duration and intensity of the event, making satellite collision predictions nearly impossible. On the upside, the storm helped to clear out some junk as defunct satellites and debris fragments spiraled deeper into the atmosphere. The authors of the report estimate that thousands of space debris objects lost several kilometers in altitude during the storm. More powerful solar storms can be expected in the coming months as the peak of the current solar cycle -- the 11-year ebb and flow in the number of sunspots, solar flares and eruptions -- is expected in late 2024 and early 2025. The paper can be found here.

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US Will Fall Behind In the AI Race Without Natural Gas, Says Williams Companies CEO

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 05:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: The U.S. will fall behind in the artificial intelligence race if it does not embrace natural gas to help meet surging electricity demand from data centers, the CEO of one of the nation's largest pipeline operators told CNBC. "The only way we're going to be able to keep up with the kind of power demand and the electrification that's already afoot is natural gas," Williams Companies CEO Alan Armstrong said in an interview Thursday. "If we deny ourselves that we're going to fall behind in the AI race." Williams Companies handles about one-third of the natural gas in the U.S. through a pipeline network that spans more than 30,000 miles. Williams' network includes the 10,000 mile Transcontinental Pipeline, or Transco, a crucial artery that serves virtually the entire eastern seaboard including Virginia, the world's largest data center hub, and fast growing Southeast markets such as Georgia. The tech sector's expansion of data centers to support AI and the adoption of electric vehicles is projected to add 290 terawatt hours of electricity demand by the end of the decade in the U.S., according to a recent report by the energy consulting firm Rystad. This load growth is equivalent to the entire electricity demand of Turkey, the world's 18th largest economy. Executives at some the nation's largest utilities have warned that failure to meet this surging electricity demand will jeopardize not just the artificial intelligence revolution, but economic growth across the board in the U.S. The role natural gas in helping to meet that demand is controversial as the country is simultaneously trying to transition to a clean energy economy through the rapid expansion of renewables. "We are going to run right up against a brick wall here and pretty quickly in terms of not having enough power available to do what we want to do on the AI side," Armstrong said. "I actually see this as a huge national security issue," the CEO said. "We're going to have to get out of our own way or we're going to accidentally keep ourselves from being the power we can be in the AI space." "Those groups that have very much had their brand be all green have come to us and said, 'We got to work with you guys. We've run out of alternatives -- we can't meet the needs of our customers without using natural gas,'" Armstrong said. "We're completely out of capacity ourselves," Armstrong added. "So we just have to kind of beg, borrow and steal from other people's capacity to do our best to make gas available."

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CrowdStrike Stock Tanks 15%, Set For Worst Day Since 2022

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 03:50
Shares of cybersecurity company CrowdStrike Holdings dropped 15% on Friday after the company's software update resulted in what may turn out to be the largest IT outage ever. CrowdStrike stock "is on pace for its steepest daily loss since November 2022 and its $290 low share price is the lowest intraday mark since April 25," reports Forbes. "CrowdStrike is on track for the third-worst day in its five-year history as a publicly traded company." From the report: Microsoft, which was swept up in the outage as the downed systems are those running CrowdStrike's cybersecurity applications and Microsoft's Windows software, also slumped, with its shares down about 1% to the $3.2 trillion behemoth's lowest share price since June 11. CrowdStrike competitor Palo Alto Networks enjoyed a 4% rally Friday, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite stock index gained about 0.2%, held up by the likes of Microsoft rival Apple's 1% stock gain and a 1% rise for shares of Alphabet, which is reportedly in talks to buy cybersecurity firm Wiz for $23 billion. The CrowdStrike selloff is "an overreaction to a temporary setback," Rosenblatt analyst Catharine Trebnick wrote in a note to clients Friday. It's a "compelling buying opportunity" as it "creates a window for investors to buy into a high-quality, growth-oriented cybersecurity company at a discounted valuation," Trebnick continued. To her point, CrowdStrike stock's relative valuation, according to its price-to-earnings ratio (P/E), which compares its market value to its projected profits over the next four quarters, fell Friday to its lowest number since April. Still, CrowdStrike's P/E of about 70 is very high for a company of its size, meaning investors will need to express significant confidence in the business' ability to grow earnings, a challenge if Friday's incident were to impact CrowdStrike's client base.

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Apple Vision Pro's Content Drought Improves With New 3D Videos

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 03:10
More than a dozen new Immersive Videos are coming to Vision Pro, with the first, titled Boundless, launching last night. "The announcement follows a long, slow period for new Vision Pro-specific video content from Apple," writes Ars Technica's Samuel Axon. "The headset launched in early February with a handful of Immersive Video episodes ranging from five to 15 minutes each. Since then, only three new videos have been added." From the report: Tonight's Boundless episode will allow viewers to see what it's like to ride in a hot air balloon over sweeping vistas. Another episode titled "Arctic Surfing" will arrive this fall, Apple says. Sometime next month, Apple will publish the second episode of its real wildlife documentary, simply titled Wild Life. The episode will focus on elephants in Kenya's Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Another episode is in the works, too. "Later this year," Apple writes in its newsroom post, "viewers will brave the deep with a bold group of divers in the Bahamas, who come face-to-face with apex predators and discover creatures much more complex than often portrayed." In September, we'll see the debut of a new Immersive Video series titled Elevated. Apple describes it as an "aerial travel series" in which viewers will fly over places of interest. The first episode will take viewers to Hawaii, while another planned for later this year will go to New England. Apple is additionally partnering with Red Bull for a look at surfing called Red Bull: Big-Wave Surfing. In addition to those documentary episodes, there will be three short films by year's end. One will be a musical experience featuring The Weeknd, and another will take basketball fans inside the 2024 NBA All-Star Weekend. There will also be Submerged, the first narrative fictional Immersive Video on the platform. It's an action short film depicting struggles on a submarine during World War II.

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The Data That Powers AI Is Disappearing Fast

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 02:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the New York Times: For years, the people building powerful artificial intelligence systems have used enormous troves of text, images and videos pulled from the internet to train their models. Now, that data is drying up. Over the past year, many of the most important web sources used for training A.I. models have restricted the use of their data, according to a study published this week by the Data Provenance Initiative, an M.I.T.-led research group. The study, which looked at 14,000 web domains that are included in three commonly used A.I. training data sets, discovered an "emerging crisis in consent," as publishers and online platforms have taken steps to prevent their data from being harvested. The researchers estimate that in the three data sets -- called C4, RefinedWeb and Dolma -- 5 percent of all data, and 25 percent of data from the highest-quality sources, has been restricted. Those restrictions are set up through the Robots Exclusion Protocol, a decades-old method for website owners to prevent automated bots from crawling their pages using a file called robots.txt. The study also found that as much as 45 percent of the data in one set, C4, had been restricted by websites' terms of service. "We're seeing a rapid decline in consent to use data across the web that will have ramifications not just for A.I. companies, but for researchers, academics and noncommercial entities," said Shayne Longpre, the study's lead author, in an interview.

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Nigeria Fines Meta $220 Million For Violating Consumer, Data Laws

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 01:50
Nigeria fined Meta for $220 million on Friday, alleging the tech giant violated the country's local consumer, data protection and privacy laws. Reuters reports: Nigeria's Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) said Meta appropriated the data of Nigerian users on its platforms without their consent, abused its market dominance by forcing exploitative privacy policies on users, and meted out discriminatory and disparate treatment on Nigerians, compared with other jurisdictions with similar regulations. FCCPC chief Adamu Abdullahi said the investigations were jointly held with Nigeria's Data Protection Commission and spanned over 38 months. The investigations found Meta policies don't allow users the option or opportunity to self-determine or withhold consent to the gathering, use, and sharing of personal data, Abdullahi said. "The totality of the investigation has concluded that Meta over the protracted period of time has engaged in conduct that constituted multiple and repeated, as well as continuing infringements... particularly, but not limited to abusive, and invasive practices against data subjects in Nigeria," Abdullahi said. "Being satisfied with the significant evidence on the record, and that Meta has been provided every opportunity to articulate any position, representations, refutations, explanations or defences of their conduct, the Commission have now entered a final order and issued a penalty against Meta," Abdullahi said. The final order mandates steps and actions Meta must take to comply with local laws, Abdullahi said.

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OpenAI's Latest Model Closes the 'Ignore All Previous Instructions' Loophole

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 01:30
Kylie Robison reports via The Verge: Have you seen the memes online where someone tells a bot to "ignore all previous instructions" and proceeds to break it in the funniest ways possible? The way it works goes something like this: Imagine we at The Verge created an AI bot with explicit instructions to direct you to our excellent reporting on any subject. If you were to ask it about what's going on at Sticker Mule, our dutiful chatbot would respond with a link to our reporting. Now, if you wanted to be a rascal, you could tell our chatbot to "forget all previous instructions," which would mean the original instructions we created for it to serve you The Verge's reporting would no longer work. Then, if you ask it to print a poem about printers, it would do that for you instead (rather than linking this work of art). To tackle this issue, a group of OpenAI researchers developed a technique called "instruction hierarchy," which boosts a model's defenses against misuse and unauthorized instructions. Models that implement the technique place more importance on the developer's original prompt, rather than listening to whatever multitude of prompts the user is injecting to break it. The first model to get this new safety method is OpenAI's cheaper, lightweight model launched Thursday called GPT-4o Mini. In a conversation with Olivier Godement, who leads the API platform product at OpenAI, he explained that instruction hierarchy will prevent the meme'd prompt injections (aka tricking the AI with sneaky commands) we see all over the internet. "It basically teaches the model to really follow and comply with the developer system message," Godement said. When asked if that means this should stop the 'ignore all previous instructions' attack, Godement responded, "That's exactly it." "If there is a conflict, you have to follow the system message first. And so we've been running [evaluations], and we expect that that new technique to make the model even safer than before," he added.

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Bangladesh Is Experiencing a 'Near-Total' Internet Shutdown Amid Student Protests

Slashdot - Sat, 2024-07-20 01:10
Bangladesh is experiencing a "near-total" nationwide internet shutdown amid government efforts to control widespread student protests against the country's quota system for government jobs. The country's quota system requires a third of government jobs be reserved for relatives of veterans who had fought for independence from Pakistan. According to Reuters, the protests "have opened old and sensitive political fault lines between those who fought for Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971 and those accused of collaborating with Islamabad." Analysts say the protests have also been "fueled by high unemployment among young people" and "wider economic woes, such as high inflation and shrinking reserves of foreign exchange." Engadget reports on the internet disruptions: To control the situation, Bangladeshi authorities shut down internet and phone access throughout the country, a common practice in South Asia to prevent the spread of rumors and misinformation and exercise state control. NetBlocks, a global internet monitor that works on digital rights analyzed live network data that showed that Bangladesh was in the middle of a "near-total national internet shutdown." [...] Bangladesh has frequently blacked out the internet to crack down on political opposition and activists. At the end of 2023, research tool CIVICUS Monitor, which provides data on the state of civil society and freedoms in nearly 200 countries, downgraded Bangladesh's civic space to "closed," its lowest possible rating, after the country imposed six internet shutdowns the previous year. That made Bangladesh the fifth-largest perpetrator of internet shutdowns in 2022, Access Now said. The country's telecom regulator had pledged to keep internet access on through Bangladesh's general elections at the beginning of 2024, but that electoral period is now over. Despite the pledge, Bangladesh blocked access to news websites during its elections.

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