Bitcoin

Bitcoin's Fluctuations Are Too Much For Even Ransomware Cybercriminals (theguardian.com) 2

Bitcoin's price swings are so huge that even ransomware developers are dialling back their reliance on the currency, according to researchers at cybersecurity firm Proofpoint. From a report: Over the last quarter of 2017, researchers saw a fall of 73% in payment demands denominated in bitcoin. When demanding money to unlock a victim's data, cybercriminals are now more likely to simply ask for a figure in US dollars, or a local currency, than specify a sum of bitcoin. Just like conventional salespeople, ransomware developers pay careful attention to the prices they charge. Some criminals offer discounts depending on the region the victim is in, offering cheaper unlocking to residents of developing nations, while others use an escalating price to encourage users to pay quickly and without overthinking things. But a rapidly oscillating bitcoin price plays havoc with those goals, Proofpoint says.
Microsoft

Microsoft Resumes Meltdown and Spectre Updates for AMD Devices (bleepingcomputer.com) 12

Microsoft has resumed the rollout of security updates for AMD devices. The updates patch the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. From a report: Microsoft released these patches on January 3, but the company stopped the rollout for AMD-based computers on January 9 after users reported crashes that plunged PCs into unbootable states. After working on smoothing out the problems with AMD, Microsoft announced today it would resume the rollout of five (out of nine) security updates.
Science

Global Warming Predictions May Now Be a Lot Less Uncertain (wired.com) 90

An anonymous reader shares a report: Humanity must not pass a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperature from pre-industrial levels, so says the Paris climate agreement. Cross that line and the global effects of climate change start looking less like a grave situation and more like a catastrophe. The frustrating bit about studying climate change is the inherent uncertainty of it all. Predicting where it's going is a matter of mashing up thousands of variables in massive, confounding systems. But today in the journal Nature, researchers claim they've reduced the uncertainty in a key metric of climate change by 60 percent, narrowing a range of potential warming from 3C to 1.2C. And that could have implications for how the international community arrives at climate goals like it did in Paris. The metric is called equilibrium climate sensitivity, but don't let the name scare you.
Google

Less Than 1 in 10 Gmail Users Enable Two-Factor Authentication (theregister.co.uk) 131

It has been nearly seven years since Google introduced two-factor authentication for Gmail accounts, but virtually no one is using it. From a report: In a presentation at Usenix's Enigma 2018 security conference in California, Google software engineer Grzegorz Milka this week revealed that, right now, less than 10 per cent of active Google accounts use two-step authentication to lock down their services. He also said only about 12 per cent of Americans have a password manager to protect their accounts, according to a 2016 Pew study.
Security

Senate Passes Bill Renewing NSA's Internet Surveillance Program (reuters.com) 45

From a report: The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program for six years and with minimal changes, overcoming objections from civil liberties advocates that it did too little to safeguard the privacy of Americans. From a report on CNET: The programs, known as Prism and Upstream, allow the NSA to collect online communications of foreigners outside the US. Prism collects these communications from internet services, and Upstream taps into the internet's infrastructure to capture information in transit. Some communications from Americans and others in the US are collected in the process. The vote Thursday renews the programs for six years. The House approved a bill renewing the programs last week. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the programs by leaking information about them to journalists in 2013. After the news coverage, the administration of President Barack Obama declassified much information about the programs.
NASA

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record (npr.org) 125

2017 was among the warmest years on record, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. From a report: The planet's global surface temperature last year was second warmest since 1880, NASA says. NOAA calls it the third warmest year on record, due to slight variation in the ways that they analyze temperatures. Both put 2017 behind 2016's record temperatures. And "both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010," NASA said in a press release. The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA says, as sea ice continues to melt.
Software

Slack Now Available As a Snap For Linux (betanews.com) 95

BrianFagioli writes: Today, yet another wildly popular program gets the Snap treatment, and quite frankly, it is arguably more significant than Spotify. What is it? Slack! Yes, Canonical announces that the ubiquitous communication app can be installed as a Snap. True, Slack was already available on the Linux desktop, but this makes installing it and keeping it updated much easier. "In adopting the universal Linux app packaging format, Slack will open its digital workplace up to an-ever growing community of Linux users, including those using Linux Mint, Manjaro, Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Solus, and Ubuntu. Designed to connect us to the people and tools we work with every day, the Slack snap will help Linux users be more efficient and streamlined in their work. And an intuitive user experience remains central to the snaps' appeal, with automatic updates and rollback features giving developers greater control in the delivery of each offering," says Canonical.
Microsoft

Microsoft Tries To Write the Book On AI (axios.com) 43

When it comes to the ethics and impact of artificial intelligence, Microsoft is literally trying to write the book. From a report: The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society is being made available in digital form tonight, with a forward from longtime lawyer Brad Smith and AI/Research chief Harry Shum. Why it matters: Now is the time when a lot of key decisions are being made about how AI will work and the rules that will govern its development. But the discussion has largely been taking place within the tech sector. Axios chatted with Smith and Shum about the book, AI in general and the questions we all should be grappling with. So, why write a book? Smith: There has been a lot of discussion in the tech sector, as you know. But we think that there's an important role to play in trying to take what the tech sector is talking about and broadening the dialogue.
Science

No More Pancake Syrup? Climate Change Could Bring an End To Sugar Maples (sciencemag.org) 263

An anonymous reader shares a research report: Savor that sticky, slightly nutty sweetness drenching your Sunday morning pancakes now. The trees that make maple syrup will struggle to survive climate change, a new study reveals. Researchers had thought that pollution from cars, factories, and agriculture might buffer sugar maples against an increasingly warm and dry climate by supplying soils with fertilizing nitrogen. But the new analysis, which examined 20 years of tree and soil data in four Michigan locations, finds that extra boost of nitrogen won't be enough. Instead, the researchers report today in Ecology, a lack of water will stunt the trees' growth.
Intel

Intel Says Newer Chips Also Hit by Unwanted Reboots After Patch (zdnet.com) 83

Intel says the unexpected reboots triggered by patching older chips affected by Meltdown and Spectre are happening to its newer chips, too. From a report: Intel confirmed in an update late Wednesday that not only are its older Broadwell and Haswell chips tripping up on the firmware patches, but newer CPUs through to the latest Kaby Lake chips are too. The firmware updates do protect Intel chips against potential Spectre attacks, but machines with Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge, Skylake, and Kaby Lake architecture processors are rebooting more frequently once the firmware has been updated, Intel said. Intel has also updated its original Meltdown-Spectre advisory with a new warning about the stability issues and recommends OEMs and cloud providers test its beta silicon microcode updates before final release. These beta releases, which mitigate the Spectre Variant 2 CVE-2017-5715 attack on CPU speculative execution, will be available next week.
IOS

Apple Is Blocking an App That Detects Net Neutrality Violations (vice.com) 204

dmoberhaus writes: Apple isn't allowing a new app developed by a university professor that detects when your internet is being throttled by ISPs from being listed on the app store. The company claimed the app contained "objectionable content" and "has no direct benefits to the user."
The reporter, who tested the app through the beta channel, writes: The app is designed to test download speeds from seven apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. According to the app, my Verizon LTE service streamed YouTube to my iPhone at 6 Mbps, Amazon Prime video at 8 Mbps, and Netflix at 4 Mbps. It downloaded other data at speeds of up to 25 Mbps.
United States

US Doctors Plan To Treat Cancer Patients Using CRISPR (technologyreview.com) 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: The first human test in the U.S. involving the gene-editing tool CRISPR could begin at any time and will employ the DNA cutting technique in a bid to battle deadly cancers. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania say they will use CRISPR to modify human immune cells so that they become expert cancer killers, according to plans posted this week to a directory of ongoing clinical trials. The study will enroll up to 18 patients fighting three different types of cancer -- multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and melanoma -- in what could become the first medical use of CRISPR outside China, where similar studies have been under way. An advisory group to the National Institutes of Health initially gave a green light to the Penn researchers in June 2016, but until now it was not known whether the trial would proceed.
AI

Google Has Made It Simple For Anyone To Tap Into Its Image Recognition AI (gizmodo.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Google released a new AI tool on Wednesday designed to let anyone train its machine learning systems on a photo dataset of their choosing. The software is called Cloud AutoML Vision. In an accompanying blog post, the chief scientist of Google's Cloud AI division explains how the software can help users without machine learning backgrounds harness artificial intelligence. All hype aside, training the AI does appear to be surprisingly simple. First, you'll need a ton of tagged images. The minimum is 20, but the software supports up to 10,000. Using a meteorologist as an example for their promotional video was an apt choice by Google -- not many people have thousands of tagged HD images bundled together and ready to upload. A lot of image recognition is about identifying patterns. Once Google's AI thinks it has a good understanding of what links together the images you've uploaded, it can be used to look for that pattern in new uploads, spitting out a number for how well it thinks the new images match it. So our meteorologist would eventually be able to upload images as the weather changes, identifying clouds while continuing to train and improve the software.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft Puts Minecraft Boss In Charge of Xbox Games (theverge.com) 46

Microsoft is promoting its Minecraft boss to the head of the company's games studios. "Matt Booty's new role sees him oversee Microsoft Studios, second only to Microsoft's games chief Phil Spencer," reports The Verge. "Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella previously promoted Phil Spencer from head of Xbox to a new role overseeing all games, associated hardware, and game strategy." From the report: Spencer reports directly to Nadella, with Booty now reporting directly to Spencer. GamesBeat reports that Booty's new role will see Microsoft devoting more resources to its games business. Booty will be looking after Microsoft's relationships with 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Rare, Turn 10 Studios, and Global Publishing. Booty first joined Microsoft back in 2010, and helped launch games for Windows phones. He's also helped develop Xbox Live Arcade, and oversaw Minecraft maker Mojang after Microsoft acquired the company for $2.5 billion back in 2014.
Crime

Software 'No More Accurate Than Untrained Humans' At Predicting Recidivism (theguardian.com) 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The credibility of a computer program used for bail and sentencing decisions has been called into question after it was found to be no more accurate at predicting the risk of reoffending than people with no criminal justice experience provided with only the defendant's age, sex and criminal history. The algorithm, called Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), is used throughout the U.S. to weigh up whether defendants awaiting trial or sentencing are at too much risk of reoffending to be released on bail. Since being developed in 1998, the tool is reported to have been used to assess more than one million defendants. But a new paper has cast doubt on whether the software's predictions are sufficiently accurate to justify its use in potentially life-changing decisions.

The academics used a database of more than 7,000 pretrial defendants from Broward County, Florida, which included individual demographic information, age, sex, criminal history and arrest record in the two year period following the Compas scoring. The online workers were given short descriptions that included a defendant's sex, age, and previous criminal history and asked whether they thought they would reoffend. Using far less information than Compas (seven variables versus 137), when the results were pooled the humans were accurate in 67% of cases, compared to the 65% accuracy of Compas. In a second analysis, the paper found that Compas's accuracy at predicting recidivism could also be matched using a simple calculation involving only an offender's age and the number of prior convictions.

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