United States

No One Knows How Long the US Coastline Is (discovermagazine.com) 36

How long is the U.S. coastline? It's a straightforward question, and one that's important for scientists and government agencies alike. From a report: The U.S. Geological Survey could give you an answer, too, but I'm going to tell you right now that it's wrong. In fact, no one could give you the right answer, and if you look around, you'll find a number of estimations that differ by seemingly improbable amounts. One government report lists the number as 12,383 miles. The same report admits that a different government agency says the figure is actually 88,612 miles. That's an almost eight-fold disparity for a fact that seems simple to obtain. We all know how to use a ruler, right?

Well, we all know how to measure a straight line, but what about a curve? And what if that curve has curves? The crux of the problem comes down to geometry, and the fundamentally uneven nature of coastlines. Though the border between land and sea may look fairly straight when seen from far away, they're anything but. Coastlines jut and dip, curve and cut, and each deviation from a straight line adds distance. Some of these features are massive, like bays, while others are miniscule.

Social Networks

Kaspersky Lab Banned From Advertising on Twitter Because of Its Alleged Ties With Russian Intelligence Agencies (cyberscoop.com) 33

An anonymous reader shares a report: Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab has been banned from advertising on Twitter due to its allegedly close and active ties between the company and Russian intelligence agencies, according to the social network. The ban is the latest blow in an ongoing saga for Kaspersky, which includes two ongoing legal battles with the U.S. government. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Lab, took to Twitter on Friday to condemn the ban. A Twitter spokesperson reiterated that the "decision is based on our determination that Kaspersky Lab operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices."
Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 133

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

Facebook

Audit Approved of Facebook Policies, Even After Cambridge Analytica Leak (nytimes.com) 66

Nicholas Confessore reports via The New York Times: An auditing firm responsible for monitoring Facebook for federal regulators told them last year that the company had sufficient privacy protections in place, even after the social media giant lost control of a huge trove of user data that was improperly obtained by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The assertion, by PwC, came in a report submitted to the Federal Trade Commission in early 2017. The report, a redacted copy of which is available on the commission's website, is one of several periodic reviews of Facebook's compliance with a 2011 federal consent decree, which required Facebook to take wide-ranging steps to prevent the abuse of users' information and to inform them how it was being shared with other companies. The accounting firm, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, effectively gave Facebook a clean bill of health. "Facebook's privacy controls were operating with sufficient effectiveness to provide reasonable assurance to protect the privacy" of users, said the assessment, which stretched from February 2015 to February 2017. But during that period, Facebook was aware that a researcher based in Britain, Aleksandr Kogan, had provided Cambridge Analytica with private Facebook data from millions of users.
Earth

Since 2016, Half of All Coral In the Great Barrier Reef Has Died (theatlantic.com) 187

A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, reports that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 2016. The authors inspected every one of its reefs, surveying them on an almost species-by-species basis, and found the damage to be widespread across the entire ecosystem. "Two of its most recognizable creatures -- the amber-colored staghorn corals, and the flat, fanlike tabular corals -- suffered the worst casualties," reports The Atlantic. From the report: "On average, across the Great Barrier Reef, one in three corals died in nine months," said Terry Hughes, an author of the paper and the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Australian government's federal research program devoted to corals. "You could say [the ecosystem] has collapsed. You could say it has degraded. I wouldn't say that's wrong," Hughes said. "A more neutral way of putting it is that it has transformed into a completely new system that looks differently, and behaves differently, and functions differently, than how it was three years ago."

In the summer months of 2017, warm waters again struck the reef and triggered another bleaching event. This time, the heat hit the reef's middle third. Hughes and his team have not published a peer-reviewed paper on that event, but he shared early survey results with me. Combined, he said, the back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. It is a fact almost beyond comprehension: In the summer of 2015, more than 2 billion corals lived in the Great Barrier Reef. Half of them are now dead. What caused the devastation? Hughes was clear: human-caused global warming. The accumulation of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere has raised the world's average temperature, making the oceans hotter and less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.

Government

FDA Wants Medical Devices To Have Mandatory Built-In Update Mechanisms (bleepingcomputer.com) 92

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: The US Food & Drug Administration plans to ask Congress for more funding and regulatory powers to improve its approach towards medical device safety, including on the cybersecurity front. An FDA document released this week reveals several of the FDA's plans, including the desire to force device makers to include mandatory update systems inside products for the purpose of delivering critical security patches.

In addition, the FDA also plans to force device makers to create a document called "Software Bill of Materials" that will be provided for each medical device and will include software-related details for each product. Hospitals, healthcare units, contractors, or users will be able to consult the medical device's bill of materials and determine how it functions, what software is needed for what feature, and what technologies are used in each device.

United States

The Higher Your Salary, the More Time Your Employer Will Pay You Not To Work (qz.com) 396

The best-paid workers in the US not only make more money than many of their colleagues, they also tend to get more paid vacation days. An anonymous reader shares a report: An annual survey of of employee benefits conducted by the US government shows that, in 2017, nearly half of the people in the top 25% of earners received at least 10 days of paid vacation. The bottom 25% was not so lucky -- only around a tenth of them received such generous leave. Paid vacation time is often overlooked in measures of pay inequality in the US, because the value of time off does not appear in the household income statistics.
Businesses

Finland Is Killing Its Basic Income Experiment (businessinsider.com) 538

tomhath shares a report: Since the beginning of last year, 2000 Finns are getting money from the government each month -- and they are not expected to do anything in return. The participants, aged 25-58, are all unemployed, and were selected at random by Kela, Finland's social-security institution. Instead of unemployment benefits, the participants now receive $690 per month, tax free. Should they find a job during the two-year trial, they still get to keep the money. While the project is praised internationally for being at the cutting edge of social welfare, back in Finland, decision makers are quietly pulling the brakes, making a U-turn that is taking the project in a whole new direction. "Right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income," Kela researcher Miska Simanainen told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 72

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
Communications

Iran Bans State Bodies From Using Telegram App, Khamenei Shuts Account (reuters.com) 38

Iran banned government bodies on Wednesday from using the popular Telegram instant messaging app as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office said his account would shut down to protect national security, Iranian media reported. From a report: ISNA news agency did not give a reason for the government ban on the service which lets people send encrypted messages and has an estimated 40 million users in the Islamic Republic. The order came days after Russia -- Iran's ally in the Syrian war -- started blocking the app in its territory following the company's repeated refusal to give Russian state security services access to users' secret messages. Iran's government banned "all state bodies from using the foreign messaging app," according to ISNA.
China

Huawei To Back Off US Market Amid Rising Tensions (nytimes.com) 91

Huawei is reportedly going to give up on selling its products and services in the United States (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) due to Washington's accusations that the company has ties to the Chinese government. The change in tactics comes a week after the company laid off five American employees, including its biggest American lobbyist. The New York Times reports: Huawei's tactics are changing as its business prospects in the United States have darkened considerably. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to proceed with a new rule that could effectively kill off what little business the company has in the United States. Although the proposed rule does not mention Huawei by name, it would block federally subsidized telecommunications carriers from using suppliers deemed to pose a risk to American national security. Huawei's latest moves suggest that it has accepted that its political battles in the United States are not ones it is likely to win. "Some things cannot change their course according to our wishes," Eric Xu, Huawei's deputy chairman, said at the company's annual meeting with analysts on Tuesday. "With some things, when you let them go, you actually feel more at ease."
Crime

Former FCC Broadband Panel Chair Arrested For Fraud (dslreports.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: The former chair of a panel built by FCC boss Ajit Pai to advise the agency on broadband matters has been arrested for fraud. Elizabeth Ann Pierce, former CEO of Quintillion Networks, was appointed by Pai last April to chair the committee, but her tenure only lasted until September. Pierce resigned from her role as Quintillion CEO last August after investigators found she was engaged in a scam that tricked investors into pouring money into a multi-million dollar investment fraud scheme. According to the Wall Street Journal, Pierce convinced two investment firms that the company had secured contracts for a high-speed fiber-optic system that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue. She pitched the system as a way to improve Alaska's connectivity to the rest of the country, but the plan was largely a fabrication, law enforcement officials say. "As it turned out, those sales agreements were worthless because the customers had not signed them," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in prepared remarks. "Instead, as alleged, Pierce had forged counterparty signatures on contract after contract. As a result of Pierce's deception, the investment companies were left with a system that is worth far less than Pierce had led them to believe." Quintillion says it began cooperating with lawmakers as soon as allegations against Pierce surfaced last year. Pierce was charged with wire fraud last Thursday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
United States

Online Tax Filers Will Get Extension After IRS Payment Website Outage (cnbc.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: The IRS will give last-minute filers additional time to file their tax returns after the page for paying their tax bills using their bank accounts crashed, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Associated Press. The IRS "Direct Pay" page allows filers to transfer funds from their checking or savings account to pay what they owe. As of 5 p.m. ET on April 17 -- Tax Day -- the page was still unavailable. Direct Pay is a free service. The "Payment Plan" page, where filers can pay their tax bill in installments also appears to have crashed. "I'd strongly advise folks who owe any federal taxes and cannot pay online to mail a check or money order to the IRS to the appropriate address," said Patrick Thomas, director of Notre Dame Law School's Tax Clinic. According to a TurboTax spokesperson, the IRS's technical difficulties are affecting all tax preparers and tax returns. "Taxpayers should go ahead and continue to prepare and file their taxes as normal with TurboTax," the spokesperson said. "TurboTax has uninterrupted service and is available and accepting e-filed returns," she said. "We will hold returns until the IRS is ready to begin accepting them again." H&R Block said it will continue to accept returns from filers.
Government

IRS 'Direct Pay' Option Not Working on Tax Day (cbsnews.com) 137

An anonymous reader shares a report: Online payments on IRS.gov are partially down. But the government still expects its money. A page on the IRS website that allows taxpayers to make a payment is not working for many as of Tuesday morning. Clicking on "Make a payment" on the payments page redirects the user to a page titled "unplannedOutagePage. Note that your tax payment is due although IRS Direct Pay may not be available," the page notes. UPDATE 04/17/18: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Associated Press that online tax filers will get an extension due to today's website outage.
Businesses

Cybersecurity Tech Accord: More Than 30 Tech Firms Pledge Not to Assist Governments in Cyberattacks (cybertechaccord.org) 67

Over 30 major technology companies, led by Microsoft and Facebook, on Tuesday announced what they are calling the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a set of principles that include a declaration that they will not help any government -- including that of the United States -- mount cyberattacks against "innocent civilians and enterprises from anywhere."

The companies that are participating in the initiative are: ABB, Arm, Avast, Bitdefender, BT, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cloudflare, DataStax, Dell, DocuSign, Facebook, Fastly, FireEye, F-Secure, GitHub, Guardtime, HP Inc., HPE, Intuit, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Nielsen, Nokia, Oracle, RSA, SAP, Stripe, Symantec, Telefonica, Tenable, Trend Micro, and VMware.

The announcement comes at the backdrop of a growing momentum in political and industry circles to create a sort of Digital Geneva Convention that commits the entire tech industry and governments to supporting a free and secure internet. The effort comes after attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya hobbled businesses around the world last year, and just a day after the U.S. and U.K. issued an unprecedented joint alert citing the threat of cyberattacks from Russian state-sponsored actors. The Pentagon has said Russian "trolling" activity increased 2,000 percent after missile strikes in Syria.

Interestingly, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter are not participating in the program, though the Tech Accord says it "remains open to consideration of new private sector signatories, large or small and regardless of sector."
Canada

19-Year-Old Archivist Charged For Downloading Freedom-of-Information Releases (www.cbc.ca) 418

Ichijo writes: According to CBC News, a Canadian teen "has been charged with 'unauthorized use of a computer,' which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence, for downloading approximately 7,000 freedom-of-information releases. The provincial government says about 250 of those contain Nova Scotians' sensitive personal information."

"When he was around eight [...] his Grade 3 class adopted an animal at a shelter, receiving an electronic adoption certificate," reports CBC. "That lead to a discovery on the classroom computer. 'The website had a number at the end, and I was able to change the last digit of the number to a different number and was able to see a certificate for someone else's animal that they adopted,' he said. 'I thought that was interesting.' The teenager's current troubles arose because he used the same trick on Nova Scotia's freedom-of-information portal, downloading about 7,000 freedom-of-information requests."
The teen is estimated to have around 30 terabytes of online data on his hard drives, which equates to "millions" of webpages. "He usually copies online forums such as 4chan and Reddit, where posts are either quickly erased or can become difficult to locate."
Businesses

New Child Protection Nonprofit Strikes Back At Sex-Negative Approach of FOSTA-SESTA (youcaring.com) 210

qirtaiba writes: When the FOSTA-SESTA online sex trafficking bill passed last month, it sailed through Congress because there were no child protection organizations that stood against it, and because no member of Congress (with the brave exceptions of Ron Wyden and Rand Paul) wanted to face re-election having opposed a bill against sex trafficking, despite its manifest flaws. In the wake of the law's passage, its real targets -- not child sex traffickers, but adult sex workers and the internet platforms used by them -- have borne the brunt of its effects. Websites like the Erotic Review and Craigslist's personals section have either shut down entirely or for U.S. users, while Backpage.com has been seized, leaving many adult sex workers in physical and financial peril.

A new child protection organization, Prostasia Foundation, has just been announced, with the aim of taking a more sex-positive approach that would allow it to push back against laws that really target porn or sex work under the guise of being child protection laws. Instead, the organization promotes a research-based approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse before it happens. From the organization's press release: "Prostasia Director Jaylen MacLaren is a former child prostitute who used a website like this to screen her clients. She now recognizes those clients as abusers, but she does not blame the website for her suffering. 'I am committed to preventing child sexual abuse, but I don't believe that this should come at the cost of civil liberties and sexual freedom,' Jaylen said. 'I have found ways to express my sexuality in consensual and cathartic ways.'" Nerea Vega Lucio, a member of the group's Advisory Council, said, 'Child protection laws need to be informed by accurate and impartial research, and ensuring that policy makers have access to such research will be a top priority for Prostasia.'"

United States

T-Mobile To Pay $40 Million Over False Ring Tones on Rural US Calls (reuters.com) 77

David Shepardson, writing for Reuters: T-Mobile USA agreed on Monday to pay $40 million to resolve a government investigation that found it failed to correct problems with delivering calls in rural areas and inserted false ring tones in hundreds of millions of calls, the Federal Communications Commission said. T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom, agreed to changes and acknowledged that it had injected false ring tones into hundreds of millions of long-distance rural calls, the FCC said, in violation of FCC rules.

False ring tones "cause callers to believe that the phone is ringing at the called party's premises when it is not," the FCC said, noting uncompleted calls "cause rural businesses to lose revenue, impede medical professionals from reaching patients in rural areas, cut families off from their relatives, and create the potential for dangerous delays in public safety communications."

Transportation

Why New York City Stopped Building Subways (citylab.com) 219

New York City, which once saw an unprecedented infrastructure boom -- putting together iconic bridges, opulent railway terminals to build the then world's largest underground and rapid transit network in just 20 years -- has not built a single new subway line in more than seven decades. As New York's rapid transit system froze, cities across the globe expanded their networks. A closer inspection reveals that things have actually moved backward -- New York's rapid transit network is actually considerably smaller than it was during the Second World War, and due to this, today's six million daily riders are facing constant delays, infrastructure failures, and alarmingly crowded cars and platforms. This raises two questions: Why did New York abruptly stop building subways after the 1940s? And how did a construction standstill that started nearly 80 years ago lead to the present moment of transit crisis? The Atlantic's CityLab explores: Three broad lines of history provide an explanation. The first is the postwar lure of the suburbs and the automobile -- the embodiment of modernity in its day. The second is the interminable battles of control between the city and the private transit companies, and between the city and the state government. The third is the treadmill created by rising costs and the buildup of deferred maintenance -- an ever-expanding maintenance backlog that eventually consumed any funds made available for expansion.

To see exactly how and why New York's subway went off the rails requires going all the way back to the beginning. What follows is a 113-year timeline of the subway's history, organized by these three narratives (with the caveat that no history is fully complete).

Communications

France is Building Its Own Encrypted Messaging Service To Ease Fears That Foreign Entities Could Spy on Private Conversations (reuters.com) 87

The French government is building its own encrypted messenger service to ease fears that foreign entities could spy on private conversations between top officials, the digital ministry said on Monday. From a report: None of the world's major encrypted messaging apps, including Facebook's WhatsApp and Telegram -- a favorite of President Emmanuel Macron -- are based in France, raising the risk of data breaches at servers outside the country.

About 20 officials and top civil servants are testing the new app which a state-employed developer has designed, a ministry spokeswoman said, with the aim that its use will become mandatory for the whole government by the summer. "We need to find a way to have an encrypted messaging service that is not encrypted by the United States or Russia," the spokeswoman said. "You start thinking about the potential breaches that could happen, as we saw with Facebook, so we should take the lead."

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