Arstechnica

Syndicate content
The Art of Technology
Updated: 8 hours 26 min ago

Google Voice confirms MMS support for “nearly a hundred” carriers

10/7/2014 12:55pm
The Android Hangouts app, seen here translating an MMS message from a Sprint account.

On Monday, Google announced that its free Google Voice service received a long-awaited service upgrade in the form of Multimedia Message Service (MMS) support across nearly every major cellular carrier in North America.

Senior software engineer Alex Wiesen took to his personal Google Plus page to post a statement on Google's behalf, declaring that the company worked with "nearly 100 different North American carriers," including AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, to ensure that MMS texts received on Google Voice would display correctly starting this week.

Up until this week, Google Voice users didn't see MMS messages as intended; instead, they arrived as SMS messages. Depending on the carrier, they'd either come with a link to the originally attached image or no indication that an image was ever attached. Now, while outbound Google Voice MMS attachments still appear on most carriers as a link, inbound MMS messages render images natively within Google Voice.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Blue LEDs given Nobel Prize in physics

10/7/2014 12:40pm
Nobel Prize Committee

Each year, roughly a quarter of the electricity we generate goes to lighting. For decades, that lighting came in the form of an incandescent light bulb, which produced 16 lumens for every Watt it was fed. Fluorescent bulbs are roughly five times as efficient, but recent LEDs do nearly 19 times better than incandescents, producing 300 lumens for each Watt.

The first LEDs date back to 1907, but it's only recently that their incredible efficiency has been brought to bear on the lighting market. One of the key holdups was our inability to generate a broad spectrum of colors. Specifically, we couldn't make white light because we lacked the ability to produce blue LEDs. Now, the Nobel Prize in Physics is being given to three materials scientists who overcame this roadblock.

The people receiving the honor are Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, both faculty at Nagoya University in Japan, and Shuji Nakamura, now of UC Santa Barbara, who did much of his key work while at Nichia Chemicals, a small company in Japan.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google+ isn’t going anywhere, says guy in charge of Google+

10/7/2014 12:05pm

When Google+ head Vic Gundotra abruptly left Google earlier this year, it quickly led to rumors that Google would be scaling back its ambitions for the social network and cutting the division's resources. In an interview with Re/code today, new head of social media Dave Besbris said that the Google+ team is still going strong, and the service won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

“We’re the largest we’ve ever been,” Besbris told Re/code. "We’re actually very happy with the progress of Google+, [Larry Page] said this at the time that Vic transitioned that he’s going to continue working on building this stuff, that he’s very happy with it. The company is behind it."

The full interview is worth a read—while Besbris didn't give surprising answers to any of the questions asked, he did talk about Google+'s ad policy and the challenges of battling peoples' "pre-conceived notions" about the social network. He also attempted to reassure those who feel they have been forced into signing up for Google+ just because they want to use another Google service.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

US says it can hack into foreign-based servers without warrants

10/7/2014 12:00pm
Davide Restivo

The US government may hack into servers outside the country without a warrant, the Justice Department said in a new legal filling in the ongoing prosecution of Ross Ulbricht. The government believes that Ulbricht is the operator of the Silk Road illicit drug website.

Monday's filing in New York federal court centers on the legal brouhaha of how the government found the Silk Road servers in Iceland. Ulbricht said last week that the government's position—that a leaky CAPTCHA on the site's login led them to the IP address—was "implausible" and that the government (perhaps the National Security Agency) may have unlawfully hacked into the site to discover its whereabouts.

Assistant US Attorney Serrin Turner countered (PDF).

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

High school tutor accused of planning keylogging ring finally arrested

10/7/2014 11:06am
Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California. D. Ramey Logan

Timothy Lance Lai, a Southern California tutor accused of orchestrating a group of Corona del Mar High School students to install keyloggers on their teachers’ computers, has finally been arrested after more than eight months of being on the lam. Lai's keylogging ring aimed to alter student grades at the school, but he is now being held at the Santa Ana Jail in Orange County.

Lai was arrested late Monday after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, and he was promptly charged with one felony count of second degree commercial burglary and four felony counts of computer access and fraud, according to the Newport Beach Police Department. The police also noted that if Lai is convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of five years and eight months in jail.

Previously, Lai was wanted as a person of interest by local police but had not been formally charged with a crime. There also wasn't a warrant for his arrest. The police did execute a search on Lai's home in December 2013, seizing a number of items, including hard drives, flash drives, and school materials.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Super Smash Bros. brawls its way onto the Wii U on Nov. 21

10/7/2014 10:13am
The above controller/adapter bundle will set you back nearly $100 when Smash Bros. finally hits the Wii U on Nov. 21.

Nintendo certainly took its sweet time to announce the release date for the last undated major console release of the year, but our long wait is finally over. The game officially known as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will be coming to North America on November 21, just in time for the holiday sales rush to start on Black Friday, November 27. Europe will be getting the game on December 5, followed by Australia and Japan on December 6.

For the record, only four of the 58 Nintendo-published games on the Wii or Wii U had their release dates announced less than 46 days before their eventual release (there are currently 45 days until November 21), meaning Nintendo waited almost as long as possible to confirm the release date. On its release, Smash fans will have waited 1,263 days since Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was first publicly announced on June 7, 2011, by far the largest such gap in Nintendo history.

The release date announcement follows the release of the 3DS version of the game over the weekend in Europe and North America, and that first portable Smash is already a huge success. Nintendo announced sales of more than 2.8 million copies worldwide. To put that number in context, Nintendo had sold just over three million Wii U hardware units in the Americas as of June 30, and best-seller Mario Kart 8 hit two million worldwide sales on the Wii U after about a month on sale.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Finding dark matter in a haze of gamma rays

10/7/2014 10:00am
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope NASA

As we've recently discussed at length, dark matter is likely to be a WIMP: a weakly interacting massive particle. Weakly interacting doesn't mean no interactions, though, and there's always the chance that dark matter particles will collide with something else. Since dark matter is also the most common matter in the Universe, there's a good chance that the "something else" will be another dark matter particle. And if the collision results in the destruction of dark matter particles, it should produce a spray of things we can see, like energetic particles and photons.

On its own, these collisions will be too rare to detect. But summed over large regions of the sky, we might be able to detect the collective output of many collisions. This has led to a number of astronomical dark matter searches, some of which have claimed to observe puzzling excesses of high-energy photons. Yet for each one of these results, there have been other researchers who have suggested that the champagne bottles reserved for the discovery must be quietly put back to chill longer.

Why so many on-again, off-again discoveries? A review published in PNAS explains why looking at high-energy photons has been so difficult, and it describes what our prospects are for making one of these discoveries stick.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Soylent gets a version bump to 1.1—new flavor, new gut flora help

10/7/2014 9:30am
A single week of Soylent contains seven meal pouches and seven oil containers. Total weight is just about 10 lbs (4.5 kg). Lee Hutchinson

Soylent, the slushy slightly sweet meal supplement/replacement from California engineer Rob Rhinehart and his company Rosa Labs, has by most accounts been a smashing success story. We tried it and liked it a year ago. While we wrote more about why folks might (or might not) want to drink it once it hit its official release, the Rosa Labs development team has continued work even as shipments of the powder leave the factory by the truckload. In an update e-mail yesterday morning, Rosa Labs announced two major milestones: first, that shipments have (finally) been completed to everyone who backed the Soylent crowdfunding project prior to its closure, and secondly, that Soylent is getting its first major update to version 1.1.

It seems a little weird that food (or "food") has a version number, but Rhinehart always intended Soylent to be a product that changed over time based on feedback and market forces. In a quick post on the official Soylent blog, Rhinehart explains that the bump to 1.1 brings with it a decrease in the product’s sucralose level, dialing down the release version’s vague sweetness to a more truly neutral taste. The logic here, explains the post, is that it’s easier to add sweetness than to take it away, and many Soylent 1.0 users have expressed a desire to flavor the product with add-ons (peanut butter is a popular one, as is blended fruit).

The second change deals with my biggest issue with Soylent—what can be politely termed as "a bit of gas." Regular Soylent use eliminates the gas, but using Soylent as an occasional substitute for a missed meal—which is my preferred usage of the stuff—can introduce some thunderous gut activity (which I referred to in my original Soylent review as "horse-killing farts").

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

DriveClub review: the next generation of time trials

10/7/2014 9:00am
Fans of driving games can generally be split into three overlapping groups. There are those who want the most accurate simulation possible, driving virtual cars that feel exactly like the real thing. There are those that want "arcade"-style accessibility, with crazy speeds and crazier turns that don't require perfect technique. Then there are those time trial fiends that just want to dominate the game with the absolute fastest races possible.

DriveClub makes a few nods to those first two groups, but it seems designed to appeal mainly to the third group of time trial fans. If you enjoy challenging friends and strangers to overcome your best driving performance while answering the gauntlet from others, you'll quickly fall in love with DriveClub's deeply integrated system of online challenges. If repeating the same track for an hour to earn a place on the leaderboards doesn't sound too appealing, this probably isn't the game for you.

As the name implies, getting the most out of DriveClub involves joining together with fellow players in your own "club" of up to six people. Club members don't actively race together in real time, but they do compete for the common good, representing their club in online challenges. For this reason, it's generally better to be able to form a club with other people you know in real life, but you can jump in to a club with strangers if you want.

Any player can set up an online challenge, on behalf of an individual or club, using an automatically saved recording of a previous race as the basis for the "time to beat." (There are also trials to measure who can perform the best drifts, which is surprisingly fun.) Once a challenge is set, other entrants can dive in and try to beat that time before the challenge expires. If an entrant at least shows up in the Top 7 they will receive some credit for the challenge.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Testing a $35 Firefox OS phone—how bad could it be?

10/6/2014 9:00pm

Hey! You there! You've got it pretty good, you know that? While you're sitting there using your Internet-enabled device to read about some other Internet-enabled device, it's easy to forget that the majority of people doesn't have any access to the Internet at all. The "World Wide" Web is actually not that worldwide—only about one-third of the population is online. That's 4.8 billion people out there with no way to get to the Internet.

Bridging this digital divide will be one of the tech industry's biggest challenges—and growth opportunities—over the coming years. As all-encompassing as the Internet feels now, the user base has the potential to triple in size. So as of late, we've started to see Internet companies take an interest in getting more of the disconnected world online. Facebook launched Internet.org, and Google has a ton of projects that aim to provide Internet by fiber, balloon, and drone for example.

CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});But these initiatives are all focused on merely bringing Internet access, not addressing the actual hardware necessary to display the Internet. Enter the Intex Cloud FX, a $35 (Rs 1,999) smartphone from India aimed precisely at this issue. The Cloud FX runs Firefox OS, Mozilla's home-grown OS. Firefox OS is entirely Web-powered, and, therefore, Gecko, Firefox's layout engine, runs just about everything on the device. Apps are built entirely from Web technologies. Think "Chrome OS"—but from Mozilla and on a smartphone.

Read 49 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple’s sapphire manufacturing partner files for bankruptcy

10/6/2014 6:30pm
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were rumored to have sapphire-coated screens right up until the announcement, but it didn't come to pass. Megan Geuss

Back in late 2013, Apple signed a deal with a company named GT Advanced Technologies to build a sapphire manufacturing plant in Arizona. Apple would build the facility, and GT would manufacture sapphire for use in Apple's devices. Sapphire is even harder and more scratch-resistant than the Corning Gorilla Glass used in many smartphones and tablets today, and the deal gave rise to rumors that Apple would be using sapphire to protect the screens of its new iPhones.

Those rumors were repeated many times in subsequent months, though others indicated that it wasn't a sure thing. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus ended up launching with glass screens after all. Apple still uses sapphire to protect a few important surfaces on iPhones—the camera lenses and TouchID buttons, specifically—but those components are much smaller and therefore less lucrative for their manufacturer.

GT Advanced Technologies' stock took a dive in the days following the announcement, and the Wall Street Journal now reports that the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Under Chapter 11, companies generally continue to operate as they attempt to reorganize their operations, and GT CEO Tom Gutierrez emphasized that the company wouldn't be shutting down.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FBI director says Chinese hackers are like a “drunk burglar”

10/6/2014 6:10pm
Ivan David Gomez Arce

James Comey, the Federal Bureau of Investigation director, says Chinese hackers are daily targeting US companies' intellectual property.

"I liken them a bit to a drunk burglar. They're kickin' in the front door, knocking over the vase, while they're walking out with your television set," Comey said Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes. "They're just prolific. Their strategy seems to be: `We'll just be everywhere all the time. And there's no way they can stop us."'

60 Minutes Comey's remarks on the news magazine comes two weeks after a Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded that China's military broke into Pentagon contractors' computer networks at least 50 times—hacks that threaten "to erode US military technical superiority."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The HP split: Does half a dinosaur move twice as fast?

10/6/2014 6:00pm
A breakup years in the making, and possibly at least three years too late. Hewlett-Packard Development Company L.P.

Three years ago, almost to the day, as Meg Whitman was taking over as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, I offered her some unsolicited advice on what to do to save the company. Now it looks like she’s taken that advice, albeit a bit too late for the thousands of employees that will now be released into the wild to do something else with their lives. Was this trip really necessary?

As we’ve reported, HP’s executive team has decided to split the company in two, setting the PC unit free—bundled with HP’s money-printing printer unit. That’s essentially the advice I gave in October 2011, when Whitman was trying to decide what to do with the wreckage left by her predecessor, Léo Apotheker. Apotheker had blown billions on the acquisition of the “big data” software company Autonomy, only to announce that HP would spin off or sell the personal computer business because “continuing to execute in this market is no longer in the interest of HP and its shareholders.”

Since then, Whitman has been through several revisions of a new strategic vision to turn the company around. Instead of following through on Apotheker’s urge to get out of the consumer hardware business and become more like IBM—a business model that now even IBM is having a hard time with—Whitman pulled back from throwing away the PC business. She began a long process of trying to figure out what HP wanted to be when it grew up.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple updates definitions to prevent “iWorm” botnet malware on Macs

10/6/2014 5:30pm
Among other items, the XProtect list now includes several iWorm variants. Andrew Cunningham

In case you missed it over the weekend, MacRumors reports that Apple has updated OS X's built-in XProtect malware definitions list to include the Mac.BackDoor.iWorm malware we reported on late last week. The iWorm malware allegedly managed to infect more than 17,000 Macs worldwide, and it was apparently using a (now closed) Minecraftserverlists board on reddit to distribute the IP addresses of control servers to infected Macs.

XProtect was first introduced to OS X in Snow Leopard in response to the MacDefender malware that managed to infect some OS X systems back in 2011. While the complete list is only 40 items long as of this writing, OS X silently checks for XProtect updates daily, and Apple also uses the list to mandate the usage of up-to-date versions of Java and Flash. While XProtect doesn't do anything to clean existing infections, it can prevent new ones by telling users explicitly that they're attempting to install known malware.

Dr. Web, the antivirus vendor that first reported the existence of both the malware and the botnet, recommends that you buy its products to scan for and delete malware that may already be on your computer—researchers at antivirus companies can get the word out about new vulnerabilities, but they don't do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Developer Jacob Salmela has some instructions that can help you delete the malware manually.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Bugzilla 0-day can reveal 0-day bugs in OSS giants like Mozilla, Red Hat

10/6/2014 5:25pm
C

Security firm Check Point Software Technologies used a flaw it discovered in the Perl programming language to hack into the popular Bugzilla bug-tracking system and add four users to the administrator group, giving them power to see the details of undisclosed vulnerabilities.

The bold demonstration, detailed in a private bug report made public on Monday, took advantage of a new class of flaws discovered by Check Point in the Perl programming language, allowing the organization to craft specific strings of text that essentially fooled Bugzilla's user database. Check Point created administrator accounts for mozilla.com, mozilla.org, bugzilla.org, and bugzilla.bugs in the system.

"This is not an SQL injection attack, this is something rather new," Shahar Tal, security research team leader at Check Point, told Ars. "This is part of research that we have been working on for a couple of months on a specific Perl issue. Bugzilla is a good example and sample, but it is not the only project that we were able to find vulnerabilities in."

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New York City orders Bluetooth beacons in pay phones to come down

10/6/2014 4:30pm
Alexander Rabb

After BuzzFeed revealed late Sunday that a digital advertising firm, Titan 360, was using public pay phones in New York City (yes, they still exist) to host Gimbal Bluetooth tracking beacons, the mayor’s office has now ordered them to come down.

The beacons can be used to log nearby phones’ Bluetooth addresses and mark the date, time, and location where they are seen. As such, the beacons can be used as a way to track physical movements of cellphone users, potentially allowing advertisers to serve those phones customized spots. (Users who have Bluetooth turned off on their phones will not be seen by the beacons.)

As recently as last month, Gimbal’s beacons—a rival to Apple’s iBeacon—were also being tested by another ad firm in GameStop stores in Texas. But in NYC, "the beacons will be removed over the coming days," according to New York City mayoral spokesman Phil Walzak, in a statement sent to Ars.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

First Ebola transmission outside of Africa reported

10/6/2014 2:30pm

The BBC is reporting that a Spanish nurse has contracted Ebola after treating a patient in Madrid. The patient in question, a priest who worked in West Africa, died in late September after returning to his native Spain. If he was the cause of the nurse's infection, then it would represent the first transmission of the virus outside the range of the current epidemic.

Health care workers in West Africa have frequently contracted Ebola due to the lack of advanced isolation facilities there. But the availability of these facilities in developed countries has been a key factor in limiting the spread of the virus outside of Africa, even as infected individuals returned home without knowing that they were infected or were brought home for treatment. This apparent instance of transmission may heighten tensions regarding our ability to limit the spread of the virus in an era where intercontinental travel is commonplace.

These tensions were on display as a flight from Belgium arrived in New Jersey this weekend, bearing a sick passenger who traveled to West Africa. A full evaluation of his status in a local hospital revealed no cause for concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

At 650% interest, that online payday loan is a steal

10/6/2014 1:35pm
Fraud and Abuse Online: Harmful Practices of Inernet Payday Lending

Online payday loan operators threaten their customers, promote loans designed for long-term indebtedness, and charge exorbitant interest rates, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"Lump-sum loans online typically cost $25 per $100 borrowed per pay period—an approximately 650 percent annual percentage rate," Pew said.

The report, "Fraud and Abuse Online: Harmful Practices in Internet Payday Lending," (PDF) comes a month after the Federal Trade Commission halted an only payday scheme that the government said "allegedly bilked consumers out of tens of millions of dollars by trapping them into loans they never authorized and then using the supposed 'loans' as a pretext to take money from their bank accounts."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FDA: Medical device cybersecurity necessary, but optional

10/6/2014 1:30pm

The US Food and Drug Administration released guidance last week in which it suggested that medical-device manufacturers consider the dangers of hacking in the design of their products, while not requiring countermeasures.

The nine-page document informs companies of the agency's "current thinking" on the topic of cybersecurity. In it, the FDA recommended that companies assess any dangers on the intentional or unintentional misuse of a device in their design stage. In addition, medical devices and systems should detect and log attacks and allow technicians to react to such attacks, whether through patching a vulnerability or other action.

"The need for effective cybersecurity to assure medical device functionality and safety has become more important with the increasing use of wireless, Internet- and network-connected devices, and the frequent electronic exchange of medical device-related health information," the agency stated, adding that "manufacturers should address cybersecurity during the design and development of the medical device, as this can result in more robust and efficient mitigation of patient risks."

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Intel issues #GamerGate apology, still not advertising at Gamasutra [Updated]

10/6/2014 1:05pm
Aurich Lawson

UPDATE: On Friday, Intel issued a statement via its company blog to apologize for its part in the #GamerGate conversation. The post began with an acknowledgement that the company pulled ads from news site Gamasutra, confirming that the company would "not continue with our current ad campaign" there after receiving a wave of user complaints.

"Our action inadvertently created a perception that we are somehow taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate in the gaming community," the post continued. "That was not our intent, and that is not the case. When it comes to our support of equality and women, we want to be very clear: Intel believes men and women should be treated the same."

The post concluded by decrying "any organization or movement that discriminates against women," then saying, "we apologize and we are deeply sorry if we offended anyone." Intel's apology did not acknowledge the content of Leigh Alexander's September article, nor any other concerns or complaints attributed to #GamerGate.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

novalug.com