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Stealing bitcoins with badges: How Silk Road’s dirty cops got caught

8/17/2016 6:00am

(credit: Aurich Lawson)

DEA Special Agent Carl Force wanted his money—real cash, not just numbers on a screen—and he wanted it fast.

It was October 2013, and Force had spent the past couple of years working on a Baltimore-based task force investigating the darknet's biggest drug site, Silk Road. During that time, he had also carefully cultivated several lucrative side projects all connected to Bitcoin, the digital currency Force was convinced would make him rich.

One of those schemes had been ripping off the man who ran Silk Road, "Dread Pirate Roberts." That plan was now falling apart. As it turns out, the largest online drug market in history had been run by a 29-year-old named Ross Ulbricht, who wasn’t as safe behind his screen as he imagined he was. Ulbricht had been arrested earlier that month in the San Francisco Public Library by federal agents with their guns drawn.

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Hands-on with Huawei’s Honor 8—$400 for flagship-class specs

8/16/2016 11:30pm
  • The Huawei Honor 8.

Huawei might not be well known in the US, but after Samsung and Apple, it's the third most popular smartphone OEM worldwide. The company's sub brand, "Honor," launched in the US in the beginning of the year, and today the company took the wraps off its second US-bound phone, the Honor 8. The device is more or less a cheaper version of the Huawei P9.

For $399, you get a 5.2-inch 1920×1080 LCD, an eight-core HiSilicon Kirin 950 SoC, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (with an SD card slot), and a 3000mAh battery. There's also the option of upgrading to a 64GB model for $449.99.

Don't worry if you've never heard of a "HiSilicon Kirin 950 SoC." Huawei is one of the few companies that makes its own SoCs, and this division is called "HiSilicon." The Kirin 950 uses four 2.3GHz Cortex A72s and four 1.8GHz A53s, making it a high-end chip that should be within the ballpark of a Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890. Other goodies on the Honor 8 include a totally not optional 3.5mm headphone jack, an NFC, a USB Type C plug, a fingerprint sensor, and an IR LED.

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Univision buys Gawker Media for $135 million

8/16/2016 7:38pm

(credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

Multiple media outlets reported Tuesday that Gawker Media, the embattled online media company that has been the target of multiple lawsuits, announced that it had been acquired by Univision for $135 million. Univision beat out a lower bid by Ziff Davis.

The deal must formally be approved by the federal judge overseeing Gawker’s bankruptcy case.

Univision, which owns the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States, has recently been expanding its online holdings. Earlier this year it bought out Disney’s stake in the Fusion network and website. Univision also expanded investments in The Onion, a humor site, and The Root, a site that focuses on African-American news.

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Privacy lawsuit over Gmail will move forward

8/16/2016 7:10pm

(credit: cinefil_)

Thanks to a judge's order, Google must face another proposed class-action lawsuit over its scanning of Gmail. The issue is a lingering headache for the search giant, which has faced allegations for years now that scanning Gmail in order to create personalized ads violates US wiretapping laws.

In a 38-page order (PDF), US District Judge Lucy Koh rejected Google's argument that the scanning takes place within the "ordinary course of business."

"Not every practice that is routine or legitimate will fall within the scope of the 'ordinary course of business'," Judge Koh wrote.

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Tesla and language: The politics of the word “Autopilot” and CEO promises

8/16/2016 6:15pm

(credit: Windell Oskay)

Tesla is making headlines this week over some of its communications choices. First Reuters reported that the company dropped the translated term “Autopilot” and “self-driving” on its Chinese language website. Then, the AP reported that Tesla had reversed course and said that removing the term "Autopilot” was a mistake, though the company admitted it had revised some language on the site.

Next, in an unrelated report, the Wall Street Journal did some communications analysis of its own, finding that CEO Elon Musk has made 20 projections for the company that haven’t quite panned out in the timeframe he stated.

The Chinese Autopilot debacle

This weekend, Reuters reported that Tesla had removed the Chinese translation for the terms “self-driving” and “Autopilot” from the company’s website, after a 33-year-old Tesla owner side-swiped an illegally parked Volkswagen. The accident took place in Beijing earlier this month while the car was in Autopilot mode.

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Hack the galaxy: The nascent No Man’s Sky PC modding scene

8/16/2016 5:44pm

Back in 2014, Hello Games' Sean Murray acknowledged in a Game Informer interview that official modding tools were practically a must for No Man's Sky. "I almost feel like we need to give them the [modding] tools; otherwise then they're just going to start making them, tearing apart your game," Murray said at the time. "That's what I have more of a fear of."

Fast forward to today, and some PC No Man's Sky players (who can manage to get the game running) are indeed just tearing apart the game to make their own mods. Despite the current lack of official mod tools, players are extracting game files and tinkering with them to create unsupported mods just days after the game's PC release.

This short video outlines the basic process used to create these unofficial mods. Interestingly enough, the PC version of the game seems to be built on top of a host of files in the PlayStation Archive format, though they've been renamed to the more generic PAK extension for Windows. Regardless, these files can be uncompressed using a PSARC decompiler tool, and then edited and recompiled to get a modified version of the game up and running.

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Confirmed: hacking tool leak came from “omnipotent” NSA-tied group

8/16/2016 5:09pm

The leak over the weekend of advanced hacking tools contains digital signatures that are almost identical to those in software used by the state-sponsored Equation Group, according to a just-published report from security firm Kaspersky Lab.

"While we cannot surmise the attacker's identity or motivation nor where or how this pilfered trove came to be, we can state that several hundred tools from the leak share a strong connection with our previous findings from the Equation group," Kaspersky researchers wrote in a blog post published Tuesday afternoon.

The finding is significant because it lends credibility to claims made by a mysterious group calling itself ShadowBrokers. When members of the previously unknown group claimed in a blog post that they hacked Equation Group and obtained never-before-seen exploits and implants it used, outsiders were understandably skeptical. The publication of state-sponsored hacking tools is an extremely rare if not unprecedented event that is sure to catch the attention of leaders all over the world.

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[Updated] SpaceX not ready to confirm large purchase of carbon fibers

8/16/2016 5:06pm

(credit: SpaceX)

Update: On Tuesday evening SpaceX would not confirm that a large deal had been reached. "Toray is one of a number of suppliers we work with to meet our carbon fiber needs for Falcon rocket and Dragon spacecraft production, and we haven’t announced any new agreements at this time," a company spokesman told Ars. "As our business continues to grow, the amount of carbon fiber we use may continue to grow."

Original story: SpaceX appears to be betting big on carbon fiber composites, which could increase the capacity of its future rockets to get people and supplies into space—and eventually to the surface of Mars. According to a report in Nikkei Asian Review, SpaceX has signed an agreement with Toray Carbon Fibers estimated to be worth $2 billion to $3 billion. The total price and delivery dates have yet to be finalized.

It is not immediately clear exactly when, and in which launch vehicles, these lightweight composites will be employed by SpaceX. But the company is not alone in its interest—NASA and other aerospace companies have been experimenting with the materials because of their potential to increase the amount of payload that can be carried by a rocket. They could also lower overall manufacturing cost.

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Yes, a n00b like Angela could pull off what happened on Mr. Robot last week

8/16/2016 4:52pm

(credit: NBCUniversal)

Warning: This piece contains minor spoilers for the most recent episode of Mr. Robot (S2E6)

Last week on Mr. Robot, the intrepid hackers of fsociety went back to command-line school. They didn't need the training, of course. In order to access an FBI system on location at E-Corp headquarters—which currently houses a temporary FBI division after last season's cyber-attacks—the hacker collective needed someone on the inside. Their only option was a relative n00b: Elliot Alderson's family-friend-turned-E-Corp-employee Angela Moss.

The episode ends on a slight cliff-hanger. As Angela continues to execute instructions pumped into her headphones from fsociety, the show's new FBI character, Dom DiPierro, arrives at her side to request a quick interview. Until that point, this newly made hacker had successfully socially engineered her way into an FBI space, executed some code in a bathroom stall, and then dropped a femtocell at an official workstation. For a show that prides itself so much on accuracy in hacking, does having a novice best the FBI go one step too far?

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Intel will allow ARM chipmakers to use its 10nm manufacturing process

8/16/2016 4:42pm

(credit: Intel)

Intel will be opening up its newest chip factories to companies making ARM mobile processors, according to joint press releases from both Intel and ARM. Companies designing chips based on ARM's Artisan Physical IP will be able to manufacture them on Intel's upcoming 10nm FinFET process, giving those chip companies an option aside from the currently dominant Samsung and TSMC. It sounds like ARM licensees who use ARM's off-the-shelf technology will be able to use Intel's fabs to create chips but that licensees like Qualcomm who use a lot of their own custom CPUs and GPUs won't be able to.

"The initial POP IP will be for two future advanced ARM Cortex-A processor cores designed for mobile computing applications in either ARM big.LITTLE™ or stand-alone configurations," according to ARM's press release. Intel's release says that LG will be using the process to "produce a world-class mobile platform based on Intel Custom Foundry's 10nm design platform."

The Intel Custom Foundry business has slowly been expanding since Intel first offered 22nm capacity to Achronix back in 2010, though its list of customers is still fairly small. Initially, Intel mostly offered capacity to chip companies that didn't compete with Intel in any significant markets, and in at least one case, Intel has actually purchased a company it was doing business with. But Intel dramatically scaled back its smartphone SoC plans a few months ago after years of poor sales and few design wins, so letting ARM SoC makers use Intel's factories could now be Intel's best option for making money in the mobile SoC business. The company is also continuing to work on its modems, one of which is rumored to be included in the next-generation iPhones.

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Snowden speculates leak of NSA spying tools is tied to Russian DNC hack

8/16/2016 4:05pm

(credit: AK Rockefeller)

Two former employees of the National Security Agency—including exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden—are speculating that Monday's leak of what are now confirmed to be advanced hacking tools belonging to the US government is connected to the separate high-profile hacks and subsequent leaks of two Democratic groups.

Private security firms brought in to investigate the breach of the Democratic National Committee and a separate hack of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have said that the software left behind implicates hackers tied to the Russian government. US intelligence officials have privately said they, too, have high confidence of Russian government involvement.

In the weeks following the reports, WikiLeaks and an unknown person using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 have published a steady stream of documents. One batch released just ahead of last month's Democratic National Convention contained embarrassing private conversations that led to the resignation of DNC Chair Debra Wasserman Schultz. A more recent installment included a spreadsheet detailing the cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other personal information of every Democratic member of the House of Representatives. The Obama administration has signaled that it may impose new economic sanctions on Russia in response to what critics claim is Russian attempts to disrupt or influence the US presidential election.

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Ford to mass-produce a completely self-driving car within five years

8/16/2016 3:21pm

On Tuesday, the Ford Motor Company became the latest car maker committed to putting a fully autonomous car into production in the next five years. "The world is changing, and it's changing very quickly," Ford CEO Mark Fields said. The company intends to build a high-volume car capable of SAE's level 4 autonomy, but the target customer is not regular consumers—it's ride-sharing services. "Starting in 2021, if you want to get around the city without the hassle of driving or parking, Ford's new fully autonomous vehicle will be there for you," Fields said.

The announcement took place in Palo Alto, outside Ford's Silicon Valley Research and Innovation Center. As part of Ford's future plans, that research center will double in size over the next 16 months. Although Fields cited the safety implications of autonomous cars—90 percent of traffic crashes are attributable to human error, after all—he was also enthusiastic about the possibility of making transportation more accessible to the elderly, disabled, and people too young (or too disinterested) to drive themselves.

Ford has designs on being more than an automaker, too; the company's Smart Mobility pilot programs have been showing the way here. "We know there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all transportation solution," Fields said, adding that ride-sharing would make more efficient use of vehicles, with less time wasted for people and less pollution.

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Cable expands broadband domination as AT&T and Verizon lose customers

8/16/2016 2:50pm

(credit: Getty Images | Yuri_Arcurs)

The cable industry's majority share of US broadband subscribers rose again last quarter, as Comcast and Charter gained nearly 500,000 subscribers, combined, while phone companies AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, and Frontier all lost Internet customers.

The 14 largest ISPs, accounting for 95 percent of the US market, gained 192,510 Internet customers in Q2 2016, bringing the total to 91.9 million, Leichtman Research Group reported today. Cable companies accounted for all of the gains, adding 553,293 subscribers for a new total of 57 million. The phone companies lost 360,783 subscribers, bringing them down to 34.9 million. Phone companies' losses more than doubled since Q2 2015, when they lost about 150,000 subscribers.

"Over the past year, cable companies have added about 3.5 million broadband subscribers, while telcos have had net losses of about 500,000 broadband subscribers," the group's president, Bruce Leichtman, said in the press release.

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Windows Holographic coming to Windows desktop next year

8/16/2016 2:39pm

Microsoft's Windows Holographic promo video.

In June, Microsoft announced its plans to build a single platform suitable for virtual reality, augmented reality, and any other system that mixes computer-generated and real-world content.

At IDF in San Francisco today, Microsoft's Terry Myerson said that the Windows Holographic experience, including the shell used on the HoloLens hardware, will be made available as an update to the standard Windows 10 desktop operating system some time next year.

Currently, the HoloLens runs a specialized variant of Windows. Desktop Windows offers many of the same APIs as the HoloLens, but the 3D user interface that mixes existing 2D apps with new 3D ones is only available on the augmented reality headset. Next year's update will make it available to all, opening it up not just to Microsoft's standalone device but also to hardware such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive that provide tethered virtual reality.

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Intel’s all-in-one Alloy VR headset doesn’t require a PC or smartphone

8/16/2016 2:10pm

(credit: Intel)

The still-young virtual reality headset wars have a new competitor, though it's being sold as more of a "mixed reality" solution than purely VR. At the Intel Developer Forum today, the company announced Project Alloy, an untethered headset that packs everything into a single head-mounted display without the need for a PC or a mobile phone.

In addition to the battery, display, and computing resources needed to run the headset, Project Alloy will also include Intel's Real Sense motion tracking system, which will use cameras and sensors to map the world around you and track your hands without the need for gloves or handheld controllers. The system can also see real-world objects and integrate them into the virtual world, as shown in a demo where the user opened a real door and saw his boss' face appear in the virtual world (hence the "mixed reality" moniker Intel stressed in its presentation).

Alloy will be integrated with Microsoft's Windows Holographic platform, which will itself be available on all Windows 10 PCs next year. Intel also said it plans to release the Alloy hardware specs under an open source license at some point, letting others essentially use it as a reference design for their own hardware.

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The 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid punches above its weight class

8/16/2016 2:00pm
  • The 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. $51,385 gets you six seats, lots of driver assists, and a very refined ride.

Middle-market SUVs might not set the heart racing, but just one model within this ubiquitous SUV segment means more—more volume, more customers—than the latest hypercar that 100 people might actually buy. Realize this and you awaken to the far greater statistical relevance of the plain old SUV. SUVs make the automotive world go 'round far more than exotics.

Couple that ubiquity with a hybrid drivetrain and it starts to get interesting. Hybridize a small car and you might increase fuel efficiency from 40 to 50MPG. But many more people drive big 15MPG SUVs than small efficient cars, and a hybrid SUV that delivers 20MPG actually involves a bigger improvement from the starting point. The stakes are higher.

Which brings us to Toyota's Highlander. A mainstay of that ever-present strain of suburban SUVs, the Highlander offers a luxuriously impressive inside and comes close to elegance on the outside. Where Lexus has adorned all its recent cars and SUVs with the sharp-edged—and polarizing—corporate "spindle" grille and highly angular overall styling, it's possible that the Highlander gets you most of the way to Lexus luxury but without the fussiness. Actually, it's more than possible.

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Error-filled state gang database lists 42 people less than 1 year old

8/16/2016 1:32pm

(credit: Brandon Anderson)

An internal database used by California's police agencies chronicles some 150,000 suspected gang members. However, the CalGang database is so riddled with errors that its authenticity, and its ability to help the authorities fight gang violence, is now being questioned by the state's auditor.

Consider that an audit of the crime-fighting database—which points to gang member booking photographs, birth dates, race, gender, known addresses, tattoos, convictions, interactions with police, and so on—listed 42 people under the age of one as suspected gang members.

"We found 42 individuals in CalGang who were supposedly younger than one year of age at the time of entry—28 of whom were entered for 'admitting to being gang members,'" Elaine Howle, the state's top auditor, wrote in a recent review of the database, which is administered by police agencies across California's 58 counties.

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Louisiana’s 1,000-year floods inundated 80,000 homes and businesses

8/16/2016 11:27am
  • A view of cars stranded on Interstate 12, near Baton Rouge, on Sunday. Boats can be seen on the right side of the image. Louisiana Civil Air Patrol

It is difficult to know where to begin with the historic flooding in Louisiana during the past week. There is the sheer volume of water itself—based on rainfall accumulations, an estimated 4 trillion gallons of rain fell across southern Louisiana from the middle of Thursday through Saturday morning. That is roughly the same amount of water discharged by the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 80 days.

The rains hit hardest just to the east of Baton Rouge in Livingston Parish, which straddles Interstate 12 and is home to about 130,000 people. Some state officials have estimated that as many as 70 percent of the homes and businesses in this parish—more than 30,000 homes—were flooded. Across the state, officials say as many as 80,000 structures may have flooded. Some 20,000 people had to be rescued from flooded homes and vehicles. Very early damage estimates pegged the storm at $1 billion to $2 billion. At least seven people have died.

Area roadways were also hit extremely hard. The state's Department of Transportation and Development estimates that 30 state roads were washed out, and thousands of miles of state roads were under water as water levels rose on Sunday. Some 1,400 bridges will need to be inspected, as well. From Saturday through Monday large chunks of Interstate 10 and 12, which cross the southern tier of Louisiana, were closed due to floodwaters. As of Tuesday morning, parts of Interstate 10 remained closed due to flooding.

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Final Fantasy 15 hands-on: Brave new direction or just pandering to fans?

8/16/2016 11:04am

Get a sneak peek at one whole hour of Final Fantasy 15 from the very beginning of the game. Naturally, the video contains some spoilers. The text below is spoiler-free. (video link)

COLOGNE, Germany—It finally happened, a decade's worth of expectation fulfilled with a simple push of a button. Though I still can't quite believe it (and a recent delay hasn't helped) Final Fantasy XV, a game that's taken on near mythical status alongside the likes of The Last Guardian, Beyond Good and Evil 2, and Half Life 3, is finally being released on November 29—and I've already played it.

Selecting "New Game" has never been quite as satisfying before.

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You can watch free episodes of Amazon shows on YouTube and Facebook

8/16/2016 10:54am

Amazon is pushing its Original Series shows out to more outlets, this time for free. The company announced it will upload full pilot episodes of ten original shows on social media sites including YouTube and Facebook, free for anyone to watch.

According to a Broadcasting and Cable report, Amazon will share the pilots for five primetime shows (including Bosch, The Man in the High Castle, and Transparent) and five kids shows (including Tumble Leaf and Wishenpoof!) on its YouTube channel and Facebook page. Currently only Amazon Prime members have access to these shows in their entirety, so this is the first time non-Prime customers can watch these episodes for free. All ten episodes have already been uploaded to Amazon's YouTube channel.

Until now, these social media accounts have been used to show teasers and trailers for new Original Series content. It's likely that Amazon is trying to encourage new customers to sign up for Prime by giving them a sneak peek into its Video service. In addition to free two-day shipping, one of the perks of Amazon Prime is free, full access to Amazon Prime Video, which includes original content from Amazon as well as many other movies and TV shows.

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