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The Art of Technology
Updated: 57 min 48 sec ago

Facial recognition service becomes a weapon against Russian porn actresses

4/26/2016 7:00am

Photos used in Dvach's doxing campaign. (credit:

This story originally appeared on Global Voices Advocacy.

The developers behind “FindFace,” which uses facial recognition software to match random photographs to people’s social media pages on Vkontakte, say the service is designed to facilitate making new friends. Released in February this year, FindFace started gaining popularity in March after a software engineer named Andrei Mima wrote about using the service to track down two women he photographed six years earlier on a street in St. Petersburg. (They’d asked him to take a picture of them, but he never got their contact information, so he wasn’t able to share it with them at the time.)

From the start, FindFace has raised privacy concerns. (Even in his glowing recommendation, Mima addressed fears that the service further erodes people’s freedoms in the age of the Internet.) In early April, a young artist named Egor Tsvetkov highlighted how invasive the technology can be, photographing random passengers on the St. Petersburg subway and matching the pictures to the individuals’ Vkontakte pages using FindFace.

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PSA: Fan-made Star Fox cartoon recalls best of ‘70s sci-fi animation

4/26/2016 6:00am

"All your friends are out of the game, Wolf! Don't make me shoot you down!" Thus begins A Fox In Space, the best fan-made Nintendo cartoon I've probably ever seen. (credit: Matthew Gafford / A Fox In Space)

After watching the first 12-minute episode of A Fox In Space, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was somehow an official Nintendo project. Maybe some hip promotions person at the big N thought an Adult Swim-caliber, '70s animation throwback series starring characters from the Star Fox games would make for some good PR—especially with a new Star Fox Wii U game hitting store shelves.

A Fox In Space. Warning: This video contains a few curse words, in case that makes it NSFW for you.

As it turns out, the above video wasn't made by Nintendo, or Adult Swim, or any established animation house, really. A Fox In Space is largely credited to a self-taught artist named Matthew Gafford, and in addition to serving as the cartoon's sole animator, he was also its scriptwriter, editor, director, soundtrack co-writer, and lead voice actor for most of the characters.

The result is a high-quality tale whose dark-comedy atmosphere and animation styles recall the best of Heavy Metal and Don Bluth. Episode one finds the series' rival faction, Star Wolf, exploiting a rare moment of Fox McCloud emotional weakness, and its opening Arwing battle montage gives way to a lower-key kidnapping plot. The voice acting is shockingly on-target for the aesthetic—and I'm particularly stunned by the animator pulling off such quality, different-sounding voices for Fox and Wolf—while the slow-but-simmering pacing still leaves room for a lot of impressive animation and beautiful scenery design. (Plus, I'm partial to the cartoon's gags about silly series elements like Fox's legs.)

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White woman sues sperm bank—again—after getting black man’s sperm

4/25/2016 9:33pm

Jennifer Cramblett with her daughter Payton in 2014. (credit: Family via Georgia Newsday)

An Ohio woman has sued a sperm bank that mistakenly gave her sperm from an African-American donor.

Plaintiff Jennifer Cramblett, who is white, gave birth to her mixed-race daughter Payton three years ago. In her lawsuit (PDF), she says that the sperm bank's mixup led to "an unplanned transracial parent-child relationship for which she was not, and is not, prepared."

Cramblett was artificially inseminated with sperm she ordered from Illinois-based Midwest Sperm Bank, meant to be from Donor No. 380, a Caucasian man. Five months into her pregnancy, she found out that she had actually been sent a sample from Donor No. 330, an African-American male.

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Mile-long “Band of Holes” in Peru may be remains of Inca tax system

4/25/2016 8:20pm

The Band of Holes in a photograph taken by drone. The road stretches for a mile up a mountain top and may be the remains of a structure used for collecting and measuring food tributes for the Inca state. (credit: Charles Stanish)

The Inca Empire covered vast parts of South America, uniting distant cities in Chile, Peru, and even Argentina with well-engineered highways. Sophisticated agricultural systems and architecture allowed the Inca to live on the steep slopes and jagged peaks of mountains. And they did it all without money or markets as we know them. Instead, Inca leaders had an elaborate system of tributes or taxes that took the form of the land's most precious resource: food.

But how do you quantify many different forms of tribute—from squash and rope to corn and peppers—without a system like money to measure exchange value? Perhaps by inventing other systems of measurement. Archaeologists are exploring a mile-long road made entirely of shallow, rock-lined holes that may have once been a dropoff point for Inca food tributes. Dubbed the "Band of Holes," the road climbs the slope of Peru's Monte Sierpe in a region that has been home to complex human settlements for thousands of years. The rock here is so hard that the people who built it did not bother to dig their carefully sized holes (each is about 3 feet wide and 20 to 40 inches deep); instead, they constructed the nearly 6,000 holes out of soil and fist-sized rocks they brought from elsewhere. Seen from above, the Band of Holes looks like ribbon of precisely placed firepits or maybe an infinite punchcard.

Though locals have always known about the Band of Holes, it's possible that archaeologists have ignored it because it's hard to see except from the air. The first modern-day record we have of the structure comes from an aerial photograph taken in 1931, and today two archaeologists, Charles Stanish and Henry Tantaleán, are exploring it with drones.

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DOJ, FCC chairman ok Charter/Time Warner Cable deal, with a few caveats

4/25/2016 6:52pm

Cole Marshall's house—and a welcome message from Charter. (credit: Cole Marshall)

The Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission chairman have formally signed off on the blockbuster deal that allows Charter Communications to purchase Time Warner Cable for $78 billion and Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion.

However, both agencies expressed conditions that the telcos must abide by for the deal to go through. The remaining full FCC must now vote on the proposed deal.

As Ars reported earlier, Charter is now set to become the nation's second largest Internet service provider after Comcast, with the two companies controlling the majority of high-speed Internet subscriptions. Comcast struck a deal to buy Time Warner Cable in February 2014, but it failed to convince the FCC and DOJ to approve that merger. Among other things, the agencies were concerned that a bigger Comcast would try to harm online video providers that need access to Comcast's broadband network.

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Billion dollar Bangladesh hack: SWIFT software hacked, no firewalls, $10 switches

4/25/2016 6:15pm

The Bangladesh central bank had no firewall and was using a second-hand $10 network when it was hacked earlier this year. Investigation by British defense contractor BAE Systems has also shown that the SWIFT software used to make payments was compromised, enabling the hackers to send money around the world without leaving any trace in Bangladesh.

In February, unknown hackers broke into the Bangladesh Bank and almost got away with just shy of $1 billion. In the event, their fraudulent transactions were cancelled after they managed to transfer $81 million when a typo raised concerns about one of the transactions. That money is still unrecovered, but BAE has published some of its findings.

The SWIFT organization is owned by 3,000 financial companies and operates a network for sending financial transactions between financial institutions. Institutions using the network must have existing banking relationships; SWIFT transactions do not actually send money but instead send payment orders that must then be settled by having the institutions involved moving money between accounts.

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Businesses pay $100,000 to DDoS extortionists who never DDoS anyone

4/25/2016 6:09pm

Enlarge (credit: CloudFlare)

In less than two months, online businesses have paid more than $100,000 to scammers who set up a fake distributed denial-of-service gang that has yet to launch a single attack.

The charlatans sent businesses around the globe extortion e-mails threatening debilitating DDoS attacks unless the recipients paid as much as $23,000 by Bitcoin in protection money, according to a blog post published Monday by CloudFlare, a service that helps protect businesses from such attacks. Stealing the name of an established gang that was well known for waging such extortion rackets, the scammers called themselves the Armada Collective.

"If you don't pay by [date], attack will start, yours service going down permanently price to stop will increase to increase to 20 BTC and will go up 10 BTC for every day of the attack," the typical demand stated. "This is not a joke."

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Congress demands to know how many citizens are being spied on

4/25/2016 4:49pm

Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. (left) and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah (center) are both signatories to a letter demanding answers about how many Americans have had their information caught up by NSA "upstream" data collection. (credit: Getty Images)

On Friday, a group of members of Congress who are central to the surveillance debate demanded some kind of answer, even a vague one, about how many Americans are having their data harvested by surveillance programs.

In a sharply worded letter (PDF) to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, 14 members of the House Judiciary Committee insisted he provide some type of "public estimate" of the number of US communications that are being caught up in surveillance programs authorized by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. That's the law that spy agencies like the NSA use to justify "upstream collection" of bulk data from Internet infrastructure.

"We note that we are not the first to ask you for this basic information," states the group of representatives. They mentioned that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and former Sen. Mark Udall (D-N.M.) have asked for such information since 2011.

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In a first, US military plans to drop “cyberbombs” on ISIS, NYT says

4/25/2016 3:47pm

(credit: US DefenseImagery)

Opening a new front in its campaign to defeat Islamic State terrorists, the US military has for the first time directed its Cyber Command to mount hacking attacks against ISIS computers and networks, The New York Times reported Sunday.

While US National Security Agency hackers have targeted ISIS members for years, its military counterpart, the Cyber Command, conducted no virtual attacks against the terrorist organization. The new campaign reflects President Obama's desire to bring the types of clandestine military hacking operations that have targeted Iran and other nations to the battle against ISIS. According to the NYT:

The goal of the new campaign is to disrupt the ability of the Islamic State to spread its message, attract new adherents, circulate orders from commanders and carry out day-to-day functions, like paying its fighters. A benefit of the administration’s exceedingly rare public discussion of the campaign, officials said, is to rattle the Islamic State’s commanders, who have begun to realize that sophisticated hacking efforts are manipulating their data. Potential recruits may also be deterred if they come to worry about the security of their communications with the militant group.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is among those who have publicly discussed the new mission, but only in broad terms, and this month the deputy secretary of defense, Robert O. Work, was more colorful in describing the effort.

“We are dropping cyberbombs,” Mr. Work said. “We have never done that before.”

The campaign began by installing several implants in the militants’ networks to learn the online habits of commanders. Now, Cyber Command members plan to imitate the commanders or alter their messages. The goal is to redirect militants to areas more vulnerable to attack by American drones or local ground forces. In other cases, officials said, US military hackers may use attacks to interrupt electronic transfers and misdirect payments.

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James Clapper: Snowden sped up sophistication of crypto, “it’s not a good thing”

4/25/2016 3:00pm

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, seen here in 2013. (credit: Partnership for Public Service)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Monday that the Snowden revelations have sped up the sophistication of encryption by "about seven years," according to the Christian Science Monitor.

"From our standpoint, it’s not a good thing," Clapper reportedly said at CSM's breakfast event. When asked how he came up with that figure, he cited the National Security Agency.

“The projected growth, maturation, and installation of commercially available encryption—what they had forecasted for seven years ahead, three years ago—was accelerated to now because of the revelation of the leaks," Clapper continued.

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John Romero, Adrian Carmack announce new video game and not much else

4/25/2016 2:24pm

If you're hoping for a gameplay reveal from John Romero's newest game announcement, too bad. Instead, here's some concept art. Hey, look, a barrel. (credit: Night Work Games)

How deep—and selective—does your first-person-shooter nostalgia run? John Romero and Adrian Carmack, who cut their teeth on Doom and Quake before Romero burnt his reputation to the ground with Daikatana, are curious to find out. The ex-id Software staffers launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new video game on Monday with little more than fond memories and concept art as selling points.

Don't do anything illegal, and don't forget your physical hashtag-filled sign, kids!

In a four-minute video, Romero told fans that new game Blackroom "hearkens back to classic shooter gameplay," but the Kickstarter campaign doesn't currently back those promises up with hard details. Sci-fi concept art is shown as Romero describes a hologram-obsessed plot and tells us to expect "circle-strafing enemies and, of course, rocket jumping." But as of press time, the campaign isn't forthcoming with anything that looks like gameplay, let alone any enemy, level, or weapon descriptions. (The closest we really get is a recent Romero-built remake of a Doom level, and it's admittedly a damned good take on e1m8.)

We also have no idea who is going to build the game alongside Romero and Carmack—remember, that's Adrian Carmack, id's former art director, not John Carmack, id's original lead programmer. Romero is listed as the game's only programmer thus far. Instead, fans are assured that the project already has a "metal composer" in the form of George Lynch, who has played in bands such as Dokken. More staffers will presumably be hired to help build a "10-hour" single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode that consists of six Romero-made maps plus whatever the community creates, since the game will be "fully moddable" and support custom maps and dedicated servers.

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Game of Thrones season premiere underscores show’s lack of focus

4/25/2016 1:04pm

Enlarge / Oh, Tyrion. I'm worried, too. (credit: HBO)

Spoiler alert: The below contains heavy spoilers for the Game of Thrones season six premiere and the entire series to date. If you haven’t watched and want to go in fresh, stop reading now.

Though Game of Thrones has earned a reputation for its top-billing-can’t-keep-you-safe unpredictability, the season six premiere last night did what every Game of Thrones premiere has done. It’s a sweeping check-in on the characters who are still standing and a chance to resolve most of the major cliffhangers from last year. Only once that's done do we begin the arduous table-setting process for what we hope are the more action-heavy episodes that typically hit around the middle and end of the season.

So let’s remember where everyone was at the end of last year:

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4U Storage Pods offer 240TB of storage for 3.6¢/GB

4/25/2016 11:41am

That's a lot of hard disks. (credit: Backblaze)

For the last few years, we've looked at the hard disk reliability numbers from cloud backup and storage company Backblaze, but we've not looked at the systems it builds to hold its tens of thousands of hard disks. In common with some other cloud companies, Backblaze publishes the specs and designs of its Storage Pods, 4U systems packed with hard disks, and today it announced its sixth generation design, which bumps up the number of disks (from 45 to 60) while driving costs down even further.

The first design, in 2009, packed 45 1.5TB disks into a 4U rackable box for a cost of about 12¢ per gigabyte. In the different iterations that have followed, Backblaze has used a number of different internal designs—sometimes using port multipliers to get all the SATA ports necessary, other times using PCIe cards packed with SATA controllers—but it has stuck with the same 45 disk-per-box formula.

The new system marks the first break from that setup. It uses the same Ivy Bridge Xeon processor and 32GB RAM of the version 5, adding extra controllers and port multipliers to handle another 15 disks for 60 in total. The result is a little long—it overhangs the back of the rack by about four inches—but it's packed full of storage.

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Gallery: The costumes and crowds of PAX East 2016

4/25/2016 11:35am

Pretty soon, there's going to be a Fallout 4 bobblehead for every month of the year. Then every week... then every day...

27 more images in gallery

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I do a lot of traveling to various gaming conventions for this job, but PAX East is the show I look forward to more than any other on the calendar. The convention straddles the marketing-heavy vibe of a show like E3 and the geeky/wonky vibe of the Game Developers Conference with aplomb. It then mixes in the passion of actual gamers who don't work in the industry and who have paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for a chance to commune with their fellow fans for the weekend.

Indie games have never been a rare sight at PAX East through outfits like the Indie Megabooth, but this year's show floor showed a marked shift away from massive booths for big publishers toward the "little guy." Everywhere you looked was another practically unknown, two-person developer team with a booth barely bigger than a folding table and a pixel-art aesthetic. Simply spending 10 minutes with every game on offer could easily take an entire week, much less a weekend (and that's without the massive queues of show-goers).

Check out the above gallery to get a feel for some of the best costumes, booths, and random sightings at this year's show.

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Solar Impulse completes long-delayed flight across the Pacific

4/25/2016 11:15am

The first justified use of a selfie stick I'm aware of: Bertrand Piccard, high above the Pacific. (credit: Solar Impulse)

Last night, after over 60 hours in the air and months of work on the ground, Solar Impulse completed its crossing of the Pacific. The landing at Moffett Field completed the most challenging part of its round-the-world journey, one interrupted by a long layover in Hawaii that allowed the team to sort out issues with the craft's batteries.

Solar Impulse is attempting to complete the first fuel-free circumnavigation of the Earth. It started the journey last year, with pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg completing legs that took the craft to Japan and then across the Pacific to Hawaii. Progress was slow, however, as the delicate aircraft has some very specific requirements in terms of wind and weather in order to take off and land safely. It also needs to complete the journey within the Northern Hemisphere's summer, or the on-board battery capacity would be insufficient to power it through the longer winter night.

Once in Hawaii, however, the team identified problems with overheating batteries that required a major overhaul. This put the completion of its journey on hold for the year. With the work completed and the longest day of the year about two months away, the team was ready to resume its journey.

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Depression, neuroticism, and sense of well-being may have genetic links

4/25/2016 10:35am

(credit: Nogas1974)

The role of genetics in mental illness is a complex topic. On the one hand, evidence of genetic and biological causes for mental illnesses may help to fight the stigma that often accompanies them. On the other hand, certain researchers have suggested that a focus on genetics rather than traumatic life events can run the risk of ignoring the social ills that underlie or enhance many mental illnesses.

Despite some ambiguous feelings, the work has gone on. A genetic study recently published in Nature Genetics describes the results from the work of an eye-popping 190 scientists around the world. It describes an in-depth exploration of three separate traits: depression, neuroticism (the tendency to experience anxiety and fear easily), and subjective well-being (an experience of life satisfaction and/or happiness). They found evidence suggesting that these three traits are influenced by some of the same genes and are linked to the pancreatic, adrenal, and central nervous systems.

Tiny cumulative effects

Psychology researcher Richard Bentall argues that genetic studies are fruitless; so many genes have been identified as playing a role in mental illness that their medical usefulness becomes diluted. And, even when the genetics are simple, it's not always helpful. “Consider Huntington’s Disease, a terrible degenerative neurological condition that is caused by a single dominant gene with a known biological function,” he writes. “Many years after this gene was discovered there is still no sign of a medical therapy for this simplest of all the genetic conditions.”

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The curious incident of Doctor Who’s new companion

4/25/2016 9:15am

(credit: BBC)

Doctor Who fans may be fretting about the sci-fi show's break from our screens this year, but the BBC has already began its PR blitz for the next series by unveiling the Time Lord's new companion.

Step forward (or should that be run away from the Daleks?) Pearl Mackie, who is expected to make her debut as the Doctor's sidekick on this year's Christmas special.

Mackie's character name is Bill, and—based on a short introductory clip—appears to be a straight-talking ("wouldn't it be quicker just to say 'kill'?"), and cheeky ("it's got a sucker on it") Londoner for the tenth season of the rebooted show.

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Warning to tech CEOs: Silicon Valley’s new season is sharpest satire yet

4/25/2016 9:15am

As Season Three starts, Richard Hendricks is heading out the door, and everyone is thinking through their options. (credit: HBO)

When I watched the first season of HBO's Silicon Valley in 2014, I thought it was OK, but not amazing. Yet I kept thinking about the show and talking to friends about it. That's when I realized—Silicon Valley isn't a perfect satire, but that doesn't matter. It's the satire we need in our tech-obsessed world. Hunger is the best seasoning, and when it came to tech satire, I was a starving man.

The tech corporations that run the machines in our pockets and the skies have more money, power, and influence than ever before. Even when they're good, but especially when they're bad, we've got to take them down a notch sometimes—just to stay sane. And nothing does that like satire.

So where's The Daily Show for the tech world? Comedies about computers tend to be insipid, miss the target, or worse, culminating with The Internship. That vapid and formulaic 2013 film used the considerable talents of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn to produce what amounted to a Hollywood press release for Google.

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No sunset for Dawn at Ceres? Spacecraft may get a new mission

4/25/2016 9:00am

Occator crater on Ceres keeps some shiny secrets. (credit: NASA)

NASA's Dawn spacecraft is a success from both a scientific and a technical standpoint. During the nearly nine years since its launch, the probe has orbited both Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt. For scientists, Dawn's most notable discovery is that it found spectacular craters on Ceres, the Texas-sized dwarf planet dotted with brilliant white specks.

Dawn has also demonstrated the viability of ion propulsion as a means of interplanetary travel. The spacecraft's thrusters ionize its xenon propellant, offering a considerable savings in terms of a propellant-to-thrust ratio. Ion engines get good gas mileage compared to traditional chemical rockets, although on this scale they travel more slowly. NASA may eventually use larger ion thrusters to ship large amounts of cargo to Mars in advance of human landings.

Now thanks to this efficiency, even after getting into orbits around both Vesta and Ceres, Dawn has a little bit of xenon gas left. Originally mission managers had planned to park it in a stable orbit around Ceres later this summer, creating a permanent artificial satellite. They could not crash the spacecraft into Ceres, as is customary with many similar missions, because Dawn has not been sterilized in accord with planetary protection procedures. But the extra xenon has created an additional opportunity.

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Active drive-by exploits critical Android bugs, care of Hacking Team

4/25/2016 8:10am

Enlarge (credit: Blue Coat)

An ongoing drive-by attack is forcing ransomware onto Android smartphones by exploiting critical vulnerabilities in older versions of Google's mobile operating system still in use by millions of people, according to research scheduled to be published Monday.

The attack combines exploits for at least two critical vulnerabilities contained in Android versions 4.0 through 4.3, including an exploit known as Towelroot, which gives attackers unfettered "root" access to vulnerable phones. The exploit code appears to borrow heavily from, if not copy outright, some of these Android attack scripts, which leaked to the world following the embarrassing breach of Italy-based Hacking Team in July. Additional data indicates devices running Android 4.4 may also be infected, possibly by exploiting a different set of vulnerabilities.

It's the first time—or at least one of only a handful of times—Android vulnerabilities have been exploited in real-world drive-by attacks. For years, most Android malware has spread by social engineering campaigns that trick a user into installing a malicious app posing as something useful and benign. The drive-by attack—which has been active for at least the past 60 days and was discovered by security firm Blue Coat Systems—is notable because it's completely stealthy and requires no user interaction. The company's findings have been published here.

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