Archive for November, 2020

The Supreme Court will finally rule on controversial US hacking law

November 30th, 2020
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch, back, and Stephen Breyer, right, seemed skeptical of the government's broad reading of the CFAA. Justice Thomas, center, seemed more sympathetic to the government's view. Chief Justice Roberts, left, kept his cards close to his chest.

Enlarge / Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch, back, and Stephen Breyer, right, seemed skeptical of the government's broad reading of the CFAA. Justice Thomas, center, seemed more sympathetic to the government's view. Chief Justice Roberts, left, kept his cards close to his chest. (credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court on Monday considered how broadly to interpret the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, America's main anti-hacking statute.

Here's how I described the case back in September:

The case arose after a Georgia police officer named Nathan Van Buren was caught taking a bribe to look up confidential information in a police database. The man paying the bribe had met a woman at a strip club and wanted to confirm that she was not an undercover cop before pursuing a sexual—and presumably commercial—relationship with her.

Unfortunately for Van Buren, the other man was working with the FBI, which arrested Van Buren and charged him with a violation of the CFAA. The CFAA prohibits gaining unauthorized access to a computer system—in other words, hacking—but also prohibits "exceeding authorized access" to obtain data. Prosecutors argued that Van Buren "exceeded authorized access" when he looked up information about the woman from the strip club.

But lawyers for Van Buren disputed that. They argued that his police login credentials authorized him to access any data in the database. Offering confidential information in exchange for a bribe may have been contrary to department policy and state law, they argued, but it didn't "exceed authorized access" as far as the CFAA goes.

Obviously, no one is going to defend a cop allegedly accepting bribes to reveal confidential government information. But the case matters because the CFAA has been invoked in prosecutions of more sympathetic defendants. For example, prosecutors used the CFAA to prosecute Aaron Swartz for scraping academic papers from the JSTOR database. They also prosecutied a small company that used automated scraping software to purchase and resell blocks of tickets from the TicketMaster website.

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Posted in CFAA, Policy, Supreme Court, Van Buren case | Comments (0)

The best Cyber Monday 2020 deals for working from home

November 30th, 2020
Vari Standing Desk with a monitor and laptop setup

Enlarge / Your home office can always use some sprucing up, especially when it's your main place of work. (credit: Corey Gaskin)

By Cyber Monday, most of us have been through the home-office setup phase of working from home but, with lengthening timelines to return to the office, Cyber Monday might be a good time to grab some of the essentials or upgrades you've been eyeing. Maybe the time has come to finally get the office chair that makes you feel like you're floating or the desk that floats, er, stands up with you. Or perhaps you're starting to run out of desk space or disk space and need something to organize or offload the clutter.

Whatever the case, we've found deals on some of our top picks for work-from-home gear, as well as a few high-value deals on Macs, Surface devices, iPads, noise-canceling headphones, and much more.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Posted in Chairs, Cyber Monday, dealmaster, desks, Home Office, Tech, WFH | Comments (0)

Driven by Ransomware, Cyber Claims Rise in Number & Value

November 30th, 2020
Companies are on track to file 27% more cyber claims in 2020, one insurer estimates, while another underwriter finds five out of every 100 companies file a claim each year.

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Does Tor provide more benefit or harm? New paper says it depends

November 30th, 2020
Does Tor provide more benefit or harm? New paper says it depends

Enlarge (credit: Westend61 / Getty Images)

The Tor anonymity network has generated controversy almost constantly since its inception almost two decades ago. Supporters say it’s a vital service for protecting online privacy and circumventing censorship, particularly in countries with poor human rights records. Critics, meanwhile, argue that Tor shields criminals distributing child-abuse images, trafficking in illegal drugs, and engaging in other illicit activities.

Researchers on Monday unveiled new estimates that attempt to measure the potential harms and benefits of Tor. They found that, worldwide, almost 7 percent of Tor users connect to hidden services, which the researchers contend are disproportionately more likely to offer illicit services or content compared with normal Internet sites. Connections to hidden services were significantly higher in countries rated as more politically “free” relative to those that are “partially free” or “not free.”

Licit versus illicit

Specifically, the fraction of Tor users globally accessing hidden sites is 6.7, a relatively small proportion. Those users, however, aren’t evenly distributed geographically. In countries with regimes rated “not free” by this scoring from an organization called Freedom House, access to hidden services was just 4.8 percent. In “free” countries, the proportion jumped to 7.8 percent.

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Posted in anonymity, Biz & IT, Policy, Privacy, Tech, tor | Comments (0)

Manchester United Cyberattack Highlights Controversy in Paying Ransomware Attackers

November 30th, 2020
The Premier League English football (soccer) club team is reportedly being held to ransom by cyberattackers. Manchester United may face a difficult decision: whether to pay a ransom for release of its stolen data.

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AR Mario Kart anchors Universal’s Super Nintendo World in February

November 30th, 2020

It's been over five years now since Nintendo first announced plans to collaborate with Universal Studios on a real-world theme park. Now, Universal has announced a Feb. 4, 2021 opening for the Japanese edition of Super Nintendo World in Osaka, and is showing off some of the attractions in detail for the first time.

"Mario Kart: Koopa's Challenge" is one of the highlights of the new Nintendo-themed area of Universal Studios Japan. Housed inside an intricate model of Bowser's castle, the ride puts four attendees in a replica kart, complete with augmented reality glasses to help them be "fully immersed in the game." While the kart is on rails that prevent free driving around the track, augmented reality glasses should let players actually see shells being thrown to take out opponents.

Universal also announced a "Yoshi's Adventure" ride, featuring Captain Toad and a quest for hidden colored eggs. Both attractions last about five minutes.

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Posted in Gaming & Culture | Comments (0)

Baltimore County Public Schools Closed Due to Ransomware Attack

November 30th, 2020
The incident struck the day before Thanksgiving and interfered with online classes for some 115,000 students, officials report.

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DeepMind AI handles protein folding, which humbled previous software

November 30th, 2020
Proteins rapidly form complicated structures which had proven difficult to predict.

Enlarge / Proteins rapidly form complicated structures which had proven difficult to predict. (credit: Argonne National Lab / Flickr)

Today, DeepMind announced that it had seemingly solved one of biology's outstanding problems: how the string of amino acids in a protein folds up into a three-dimensional shape that enables their complex functions. It's a computational challenge that has resisted the efforts of many very smart biologists for decades, despite the application of supercomputer-level hardware for these calculations. DeepMind instead trained its system using 128 specialized processors for a couple of weeks; it now returns potential structures within a couple of days.

The limitations of the system aren't yet clear—DeepMind says it's currently planning on a peer-reviewed paper and has only made a blog post and some press releases available. But the system clearly performs better than anything that's come before it, after having more than doubled the performance of the best system in just four years. Even if it's not useful in every circumstance, the advance likely means that the structure of many proteins can now be predicted from nothing more than the DNA sequence of the gene that encodes them, which would mark a major change for biology.

Between the folds

To make proteins, our cells (and those of every other organism) chemically link amino acids to form a chain. This works because every amino acid shares a backbone that can be chemically connected to form a polymer. But each of the 20 amino acids used by life has a distinct set of atoms attached to that backbone. These can be charged or neutral, acidic or basic, etc., and these properties determine how each amino acid interacts with its neighbors and the environment.

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Posted in AI, biochemistry, Biology, computational biology, Computer science, deepmind, protein folding, science | Comments (0)

Verizon wiring up 500K homes with FiOS to settle years-long fight with NYC

November 30th, 2020
A Verizon FiOS box truck on a street in New York City.

Enlarge / A Verizon FiOS truck in Manhattan on September 15, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Smith Collection | Gado)

Verizon has agreed to bring FiOS fiber-to-the-home service to another 500,000 households in New York City by July 2023, settling a lawsuit over Verizon's failure to wire up the entire city as required in a franchise agreement.

"Today's settlement will ensure that 500,000 households that previously lacked Verizon broadband access because of a corporate failure to invest in the necessary infrastructure will have the option of fiber broadband, and create critical cost competition in areas where today only one provider exists," NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's office said in an announcement last week. The settlement's full text is available here.

New York City sued Verizon in March 2017, saying the company failed to complete a citywide fiber rollout by 2014 as required in its cable-TV franchise agreement. At the time the lawsuit was filed, Verizon said it had brought its fiber network to 2.2 million of NYC's 3.1 million households.

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Posted in fiber-to-the-home, FiOS, New York City, Policy, verizon | Comments (0)

Cases against Facebook are reportedly coming… when FTC decides how

November 30th, 2020
Giant monitors displaying the Facebook logo hang from the ceiling of an empty convention center.

Enlarge / All Facebook, no matter which way you look. (credit: Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

After well over a year spent investigating Facebook, state and federal regulators are more than ready to start launching a slate of cases against Facebook, new reports say—that is, as soon as the agencies can agree on how they actually want to do it.

New suits against Facebook should come before the end of January, The Wall Street Journal writes. Both the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of attorneys general for 47 states and territories are expected to take some kind of action.

The state and the federal probes are basically looking into two overall buckets of potentially anticompetitive behavior. The first has to do with Facebook's effects on other businesses that could or do compete with it. That's the investigation that delves into mergers and acquisitions, both large and small, as well as Facebook's behavior toward companies that refuse a buyout.

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Posted in antitrust, Competition, department of justice, DOJ, Facebook, Federal Trade Commission, FTC, google, Instagram, Justice Department, lawsuits, Policy, Whatsapp | Comments (0)