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posted by mrpg on Friday August 17, @12:39AM   Printer-friendly
from the caught-with-their-hands-in-the-cookie-jar dept.

A popular Firefox add-on is secretly logging users' browsing history, according to reports from the author of the uBlock Origin ad blocker and Mike Kuketz, a German privacy and security blogger. The add-on in question is named Web Security and is currently installed by 222,746 Firefox users, according to the official Mozilla Add-ons Portal. The add-on's description claims Web Security "actively protects you from malware, tampered websites or phishing sites that aim to steal your personal data."

Its high install count and positive reviews got the add-on on a list of recommended security and privacy add-ons on the official Firefox blog last week.

But this boost of attention from the Mozilla team didn't go down as intended. Hours after Mozilla's blog post, Raymond Hill, the author of the uBlock Origin ad blocker pointed out on Reddit that the add-on exhibited a weird behavior.

"With this extension, I see that for every page you load in your browser, there is a POST to Hill said. "The posted data is garbled, maybe someone will have the time to investigate further."

Hill's warning went under the radar for a few days until yesterday, when Kuketz, a popular German blogger, posted an article about the same behavior. Hours later, a user on Kuketz's forum managed to decode the "garbled" data, revealing that the add-on was secretly sending the URL of visited pages to a German server. Under normal circumstances, a Firefox add-on that needs to scan for threats might be entitled to check the URLs it scans on a remote server, but according to a format of the data the add-on was sending to the remote server, Web Security appears to be logging more than the current URL.

The data shows the plugin tracking individual users by an ID, along with their browsing pattern, logging how users went from an "oldUrl" to a "newUrl." This logging pattern is a bit excessive and against Mozilla's Addon Portal guidelines that prohibit add-ons from logging users' browsing history.

Source: Firefox Add-On With 220,000+ Installs Caught Collecting Users' Browsing History

Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Thursday August 16, @11:06PM   Printer-friendly
from the flintstones dept.

Winged reptiles thrived before dinosaurs

Palaeontologists have found a new species of pterosaur - the family of prehistoric flying reptiles that includes pterodactyl. It is about 210 millions years old, pre-dating its known relatives by 65 million years.

Named Caelestiventus hanseni, the species' delicate bones were preserved in the remains of a desert oasis. The discovery suggests that these animals thrived around the world before the dinosaurs evolved.

[...] Finding a pterosaur in an ancient Triassic-aged sand dune is a hugely pleasant surprise. What makes this discovery so remarkable is that very few pterosaurs are known from the entire Triassic Period, which means that we have few fossils that tell the story of how these strange winged reptiles evolved during the first 30 million years of their history.

It's a trifecta: a Triassic pterosaur from a new place, preserved in an immaculate way, and found in rocks from an environment that we didn't think they lived in so early during their evolution. What this means is that pterosaurs were already geographically widespread and thriving in a variety of environments very early in their evolution.

Dinosaurs first appeared during the Triassic period, between 243 and 233.23 million years ago.

Caelestiventus hanseni gen. et sp. nov. extends the desert-dwelling pterosaur record back 65 million years (DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0627-y) (DX)

Original Submission

Pterosaurs are the oldest known powered flying vertebrates. Originating in the Late Triassic, they thrived to the end of the Cretaceous. Triassic pterosaurs are extraordinarily rare and all but one specimen come from marine deposits in the Alps. A new comparatively large (wing span >150 cm) pterosaur, Caelestiventus hanseni gen. et sp. nov., from Upper Triassic desert deposits of western North America preserves delicate structural and pneumatic details not previously known in early pterosaurs, and allows a reinterpretation of crushed Triassic specimens. It shows that the earliest pterosaurs were geographically widely distributed and ecologically diverse, even living in harsh desert environments. It is the only record of desert-dwelling non-pterodactyloid pterosaurs and predates all known desert pterosaurs by more than 65 Myr. A phylogenetic analysis shows it is closely allied with Dimorphodon macronyx from the Early Jurassic of Britain.

posted by mrpg on Thursday August 16, @09:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the green-go-home dept.

New Zealand bans sales of homes to foreigners

New Zealand's parliament has banned many foreigners from buying existing homes in the country - a move aimed at making properties more affordable. The ban only applies to non-residents. Australians and Singaporeans are exempt because of free-trade deals.

New Zealand is facing a housing affordability crisis which has left home ownership out of reach for many. Low interest rates, limited housing stock and immigration have driven up prices in recent years.

[...] [Foreigners] are now banned from purchasing most types of homes - but they will be able to make limited investments in new apartments in large developments.

[...] Chinese investors have been among the biggest and most active offshore buyers of property in the New Zealand market. Also, some wealthy Americans - like Silicon Valley tech billionaire Peter Thiel - have become New Zealand citizens or have bought property in the country. Average prices in New Zealand have risen more than 60% in the past 10 years, while in Auckland - the country's largest city - they have almost doubled.

Original Submission

posted by takyon on Thursday August 16, @07:50PM   Printer-friendly
from the opt-out-of-your-commute-and-job dept.

Submitted via IRC for Fnord666

LA to become the first city to use body scanners in rail transit systems

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority just announced its plans to become the first city to use portable body scanners in its subway and light-rail systems to help detect the presence of explosive devices.

"We're dealing with persistent threats to our transportation systems in our country," TSA administrator David Pekoske in a statement. "Our job is to ensure security in the transportation systems so that a terrorist incident does not happen on our watch."

The portable scanners will begin rolling out in a few months, the executive director of security for the LA Metro Alex Wiggins said yesterday. According to the AP, the scanners will be able to conduct full-body scans from 30 feet away and are capable of scanning more than 2,000 passengers per hour.

[...] The city is one of several in which the TSA has piloted these new body scanners, although LA will be the first to fully adopt them. The agency has also worked with public transit officials from San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit, New Jersey's transit system, as well as Amtrak stations at New York's Penn Station and DC's Union Station. Wiggins assured passengers that screenings in the LA Metro would be well-marked and that those choosing to opt out could do so by leaving the station.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Thursday August 16, @05:44PM   Printer-friendly
from the wine-on-steroids? dept.

Submitted via IRC for Fnord666

Valve appears to be working on a set of "compatibility tools," called Steam Play, that would allow at least some Windows-based titles to run on Linux-based SteamOS systems.

Yesterday, Reddit users noticed that Steam's GUI files (as captured by SteamDB's Steam Tracker) include a hidden section with unused text related to the unannounced Steam Play system. According to that text, "Steam Play will automatically install compatibility tools that allow you to play games from your library that were built for other operating systems."

Other unused text in the that GUI file suggests Steam Play will offer official compatibility with "supported tiles" while also letting users test compatibility for "games in your library that have not been verified with a supported compatibility tool." That latter use comes with a warning that "this may not work as expected, and can cause issues with your games, including crashes and breaking save games."

Tools that let users run Windows apps in Linux are nothing new; Wine has existed for decades, after all. But an "official" Steam-based compatibility tool, with the resources and backing of Valve behind it, could have a huge impact on the Linux development space that could reach well beyond games. Assuming it worked for a wide range of titles, the Steam Play system could also help ameliorate one of SteamOS' biggest failings—namely, the relative lack of compatible games when compared to Windows.

With all that said, some caution is warranted before getting too excited about these possibilities. For one, we don't know what specific form Steam Play will take. Valve could simply be preparing a wrapper that lets users run existing emulation tools like Wine and DOSBox on top of SteamOS without actively advancing the state of that emulation directly.


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Thursday August 16, @04:14PM   Printer-friendly
from the what's-that-up-there? dept.

A mysterious Russian satellite displaying "very abnormal behaviour" has raised alarm in the US, according to a State Department official. "We don't know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it," said assistant secretary Yleem Poblete at a conference in Switzerland on 14 August.

She voiced fears that it was impossible to say if the object may be a weapon.

Russia has dismissed the comments as "unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicious" [sic].

The satellite in question was launched in October last year. "[The satellite's] behaviour on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities," Ms Poblete told the conference on disarmament in Switzerland.

"Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development," she added, citing recent comments made by the commander of Russia's Space Forces, who said adopting "new prototypes of weapons" was a key objective for the force. Ms Poblete said that the US had "serious concerns" that Russia was developing anti-satellite weapons.

[...] [Ms Stickings (Royal United Services Institute - RUSI) said] "The narrative coming from the US is, 'space was really peaceful, now look at what the Russians and Chinese are doing' - ignoring the fact that the US has developed its own capabilities."

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Thursday August 16, @02:43PM   Printer-friendly
from the tracking-device-which-also-happens-to-make-calls dept.

Soldiers stupid and disobedient enough to carry their own tracking devices into the field on operations are teaching their units harsh lessons when entering combat. The Association of the United States Army, the U.S. Army's professional association and lobbying group, has an article on how mobile phones are used against soldiers carrying them in the field. This includes, but is not limited to, psychological operations, artillery strikes, monitoring, or all three at once. Given the lax discipline about leaving the mobile phones behind, the attacks built on phone info have been increasingly successful both physically and mentally.

[Ed Note: The second link details how Russian backed separatists are using advanced EW and psyops tactics against the Ukrainian Armed Forces]

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday August 16, @01:11PM   Printer-friendly
from the railing-against-racists dept.

The state of Victoria, Australia has banned broadcasting of Sky News from the underground loop stations in Melbourne's train network.

The ban comes after Sky (owned by Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp) broadcast an interview with far-right activist Blair Cottrell. Cottrell, the leader of the United Patriots Front, has convictions for arson, burglary and racial vilification, has advocated violence against women and has called for portraits of Adolf Hitler to be hung in school classrooms.

Victoria's transport minister, Jacinta Allen, has defended the decision against claims of censorship, stating that "Hatred and racism have no place on our screens or in our community." ... "If people want to watch Sky News in their own homes, they can do that to their heart's content," she said. "Any material that uses our public transport assets to promote itself needs to be appropriate."

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday August 16, @11:34AM   Printer-friendly
from the try-getting-a-'leaner'-with-one-of-those dept.

Alex Meyer continues to be in awe of the treasure trove that is Vindolanda.

For years, the former Roman auxiliary fort, located just south of Hadrian's Wall in northern England, has yielded a number of finds unique to the site and to the former empire. To date, excavations have yielded well-preserved artefacts such as ink tablets, shoes, combs, swords and textiles.

Meyer, a Roman historian and Classical Studies professor at Western, was recently part of a team that unearthed four early Roman hipposandals – shoes worn by horses – at Vindolanda.

"The most interesting thing about this is we found all four of the hipposandals. It's rare and remarkable to find one, but to find all four, deposited like this, is really cool. I've seen one other set of four in all my days," Meyer said.

[...] Vindolanda, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, which housed some of the most famous documents of the Roman world, has been a location of study for Classical Studies students since 2012, when Western's Field School at Vindolanda was developed by professors Meyer and Elizabeth Greene, a Roman archeologist. Over the years, the pair has acted as supervisors for excavations and volunteer programs at the fort. The school provides training in field excavation, archaeology and history of Roman Britain for students through excavations and the first-hand study of Roman artefacts unearthed at the site.

It is believed that Romans did not use actual horseshoes, which are nailed into the hoof of the horse, Meyer explained. The unearthed hipposandals are more like actual shoes, resembling "soup ladles," which would wrap around the sole of a horse's foot.

[...] "This shows that the use of hipposandals is not just isolated to rocky terrain in the mountains where horses' feet would have to be protected, but in Vindolanda, where there is little rock and lots of grass fields, there is still a use for hipposandals."

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday August 16, @09:57AM   Printer-friendly
from the What-would-Emma-Lazarus-say? dept.

CBS News reports:

The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare, four sources with knowledge of the plan told NBC News.

The move, which would not need congressional approval, is part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller's plan to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.

[...] Though its effects could be far-reaching, the proposal to limit citizenship to immigrants who have not used public assistance does not appear to need congressional approval. As the Clinton administration did in 1999, the Trump administration would be redefining the term "public charge," which first emerged in immigration law in the 1800s in order to shield the U.S. from burdening too many immigrants who could not contribute to society.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday August 16, @08:20AM   Printer-friendly
from the but-lets-talk-about-their-aquaducts dept.

A long section of the towering Ponte Morandi Bridge completely collapsed in Genoa, Italy, on Tuesday, sending cars and trucks on the A10 highway crashing down below. Dozens of people died in the bridge failure, officials say.

As news emerged from the chaotic scene, the death toll fluctuated several times Tuesday. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said there were 22 dead, according to public broadcaster Rai News. But Italy's ANSA news agency has reported at least 37 people died, citing the fire brigade.

Workers have found bodies and vehicles in the massive amount of wreckage left by the collapse — and at least 11 people have been pulled from the rubble alive, Italian media report.

[...] The disaster struck shortly before noon, when one of the bridge's central pillars collapsed during a violent rainstorm. A witness told ANSA that lightning had struck the bridge before the collapse.

[...] The bridge was built in the late 1960s, at a length of more than 3,600 feet. It had recently been the subject of renovation and repair efforts. Italian roadway company Autostrade says the most recent work included consolidating the viaduct's base — a project that included installing a bridge crane.

Besides the obvious news value of this event, I'd be curious of any civil engineers or structural engineers could comment on the engineering behind such things. What causes these types of crumblings to happen, and exactly how reliable is infrastructure around the world?

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday August 16, @06:43AM   Printer-friendly
from the trying-to-avoid-skynet? dept.

David Rosenthal has written a blog post on how end users may be affected by tort law. Specifically, he discusses two points in The Internet of Torts raised by Rebecca Crootof:

  • Introducing the Internet of Torts, in which she describes "how IoT devices empower companies at the expense of consumers and how extant law shields industry from liability."
  • Accountability for the Internet of Torts, in which she discusses "how new products liability law and fiduciary duties could be used to rectify this new power imbalance and ensure that IoT companies are held accountable for the harms they foreseeably cause."

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday August 16, @05:06AM   Printer-friendly
from the say-what-you-mean-and-mean-what-you-say dept.

Tesla Is Said to Be Subpoenaed by S.E.C. Over Elon Musk Tweet (archive)

Federal securities regulators have served Tesla with a subpoena, according to a person familiar with the investigation, increasing pressure on the electric car company as it deals with the fallout from several recent actions by its chief executive, Elon Musk.

The subpoena, from the Securities and Exchange Commission, comes days after regulators began inquiring about an Aug. 7 Twitter post by Mr. Musk, in which he said he was considering converting Tesla to a private company. In the post, he said that the financing for such a transaction, which would probably run into the tens of billions of dollars, had been "secured."

Tesla shares, a popular target for so-called short sellers who bet on certain stocks losing value, soared about 11 percent on the day Mr. Musk posted the message.

It has become clear since then that neither Mr. Musk nor Tesla had actually lined up the necessary financing aside from having preliminary conversations with some investors.

Musk tweeted[*] that he wanted to take Tesla private at $420 a share. Azealia Banks claimed[**] to have been in Musk's home and witnessed Elon Musk tweeting while using LSD and making frantic calls to shore up funding for a take-private attempt. Maybe Azealia Banks will be called to testify by the SEC?

[*] The actual tweets:

Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.
9:48 AM - 7 Aug 2018

Shareholders could either to sell at 420 or hold shares & go private
11:13 AM - 7 Aug 2018

[**] Take Azealia Banks' words with a grain of salt.

Also at Ars Technica, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Bloomberg.

See also: Goldman Sachs says it's advising Tesla
The Real-Life Consequences of Messing Around on Twitter

Previously: Elon Musk Considers Taking Tesla Private
Funding for Tesla to Go Private Could Come From Saudis; Lawsuits and SEC Scrutiny Increase

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Thursday August 16, @03:29AM   Printer-friendly
from the turing-machines dept.

NVIDIA Reveals Next-Gen Turing GPU Architecture: NVIDIA Doubles-Down on Ray Tracing, GDDR6, & More

The big change here is that NVIDIA is going to be including even more ray tracing hardware with Turing in order to offer faster and more efficient hardware ray tracing acceleration. New to the Turing architecture is what NVIDIA is calling an RT core, the underpinnings of which we aren't fully informed on at this time, but serve as dedicated ray tracing processors. These processor blocks accelerate both ray-triangle intersection checks and bounding volume hierarchy (BVH) manipulation, the latter being a very popular data structure for storing objects for ray tracing.

NVIDIA is stating that the fastest Turing parts can cast 10 Billion (Giga) rays per second, which compared to the unaccelerated Pascal is a 25x improvement in ray tracing performance.

The Turing architecture also carries over the tensor cores from Volta, and indeed these have even been enhanced over Volta. The tensor cores are an important aspect of multiple NVIDIA initiatives. Along with speeding up ray tracing itself, NVIDIA's other tool in their bag of tricks is to reduce the amount of rays required in a scene by using AI denoising to clean up an image, which is something the tensor cores excel at. Of course that's not the only feature tensor cores are for – NVIDIA's entire AI/neural networking empire is all but built on them – so while not a primary focus for the SIGGRAPH crowd, this also confirms that NVIDIA's most powerful neural networking hardware will be coming to a wider range of GPUs.

New to Turing is support for a wider range of precisions, and as such the potential for significant speedups in workloads that don't require high precisions. On top of Volta's FP16 precision mode, Turing's tensor cores also support INT8 and even INT4 precisions. These are 2x and 4x faster than FP16 respectively, and while NVIDIA's presentation doesn't dive too deep here, I would imagine they're doing something similar to the data packing they use for low-precision operations on the CUDA cores. And without going too deep ourselves here, while reducing the precision of a neural network has diminishing returns – by INT4 we're down to a total of just 16(!) values – there are certain models that really can get away with this very low level of precision. And as a result the lower precision modes, while not always useful, will undoubtedly make some users quite happy at the throughput, especially in inferencing tasks.

Also of note is the introduction of GDDR6 into some GPUs. The NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000 will come with 24 GB of GDDR6 memory and a total memory bandwidth of 672 GB/s, which compares favorably to previous-generation GPUs featuring High Bandwidth Memory. Turing supports the recently announced VirtualLink. The video encoder block has been updated to include support for 8K H.265/HEVC encoding.

Ray-tracing combined with various (4m27s video) shortcuts (4m16s video) could be used for good-looking results in real time.

Also at Engadget, Notebookcheck, and The Verge.

See also: What is Ray Tracing and Why Do You Want it in Your GPU?

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday August 16, @01:52AM   Printer-friendly
from the alexa,-tell-cortana-to-open-alexa dept.

Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa digital assistants can now talk to each other. The collaboration between the two assistants was announced last year and was originally due to become available by the end of 2017.

Microsoft showed how the integration would work at its Build conference earlier this year, and what's rolling out today seems little changed from that demo. From a Cortana-native device (a Windows 10 PC, an Xbox, the Harman Kardon speaker), "Hey Cortana, open Alexa" will switch you to speaking to Alexa. From there, you have access to Alexa's full range of shopping (not that anyone seems to really care about that), music, weather, and so on.

Original Submission