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China

China Cracks Down On International VPN Usage (thestack.com)

An anonymous reader writes: China's government has announced a 14-month crackdown on the use of unauthorised Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), commonly used by visitors and native activists, amongst others, to communicate with the world beyond the Great Firewall of China. Sunday's announcement [Chinese] from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reiterated regulations first outlined in 2002, but which have since been subject to sparse, selective or lenient enforcement. The new announcement promises a 'clean up' regarding the VPN situation in China, beginning immediately and running until March of 2018.
Google

More People Than Ever Are Using DuckDuckGo; Site Says It Observed 14M Searches in One Day This Month (betanews.com) 105

An anonymous reader shares a BetaNews article: A lot of people are more privacy aware than they have been in the past, and are wary of entrusting everything they search for to Google. That's where privacy-focused sites like DuckDuckGo come in. Its growth since it launched 8 years ago has been nothing short of staggering, with the number of searches skyrocketing since 2013, when Edward Snowden first revealed how the US government was spying on its people. The search site says it has to date served up over 10 billion anonymous searches, with 4 billion of those occurring in the last year alone, and the company says it is growing faster than ever. On January 10 2017, the site received in excess of 14 million private searches.
Crime

Western Union Pays $586M Fine Over Wire Fraud Charges (reuters.com) 92

The head of the FTC says Western Union "facilitated scammers and rip-offs," while the company "looked the other way." An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: The world's biggest money-transfer company agreed to pay $586 million and admitted to turning a blind eye as criminals used its service for money laundering and fraud, U.S. authorities said on Thursday. Western Union, which has over half a million locations in more than 200 countries, admitted "to aiding and abetting wire fraud" by allowing scammers to process transactions, even when the company realized its agents were helping scammers avoid detection, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission said in statements...

Fraudsters offering fake prizes and job opportunities swindled tens of thousands of U.S. consumers, giving Western Union agents a cut in return for processing the payments, authorities said. Between 2004 and 2012, the Colorado-based company knew of fraudulent transactions but failed to take steps that would have resulted in disciplining of 2,000 agents, authorities said... Between 2004 and 2015 Western Union collected 550,928 complaints about fraud, with 80 percent of them coming from the United States where it has some 50,000 locations, the government complaint said. The average consumer complaint was for $1,148, the government said.

Reuters seemed to suggest that nearly one out of every thousand transactions was fraudulent, reporting that Western Union "said consumer fraud accounts for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of consumer-to-consumer transactions."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Three States Propose DMCA-Countering 'Right To Repair' Laws (ifixit.org) 172

Automakers are using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to shut down tools used by car mechanics -- but three states are trying to stop them. An anonymous reader quotes IFixIt.Org: in 2014, Ford sued Autel for making a tool that diagnoses car trouble and tells you what part fixes it. Autel decrypted a list of Ford car parts, which wound up in their diagnostic tool. Ford claimed that the parts list was protected under copyright (even though data isn't creative work) -- and cracking the encryption violated the DMCA. The case is still making its way through the courts. But this much is clear: Ford didn't like Autel's competing tool, and they don't mind wielding the DMCA to shut the company down...

Thankfully, voters are stepping up to protect American jobs. Just last week, at the behest of constituents, three states -- Nebraska, Minnesota, and New York -- introduced Right to Repair legislation (more states will follow). These 'Fair Repair' laws would require manufacturers to provide service information and sell repair parts to owners and independent repair shops.

Activist groups like the EFF and Repair.org want to "ensure that repair people aren't marked as criminals under the DMCA," according to the site, arguing that we're heading towards a future with many more gadgets to fix. "But we'll have to fix copyright law first."
United States

Is The Tech Industry Driving Families Out of San Francisco? (nytimes.com) 345

Why does San Francisco now have fewer children per capita than any of America's largest 100 cities? An anonymous reader writes: A move to the suburbs began in the 1970s, but "The tech boom now reinforces the notion that San Francisco is a place for the young, single and rich," according to the New York Times. "When we imagine having kids, we think of somewhere else," one software engineer tells the paper. The article describes "neighborhoods where employees of Google, Twitter and so many other technology companies live or work" where the sidewalks make it seem "as if life started at 22 and ended somewhere around 40."

Or is San Francisco just part of a larger trend? "California, which has one of the world's 10 largest economies, recently released data showing the lowest birthrate since the Great Depression. And the Los Angeles Times argues California's experience may just be following national trends. The drop "likely stems from the recession, a drop in teenage pregnancies and an increase in people attending college and taking longer to graduate, therefore putting off having children, said Walter Schwarm, a demographer at the Department of Finance."

So is this part of a larger trend -- or something unique about San Francisco? The New York Times also quotes Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, who believes technology workers are putting off families when they move to the Silicon Valley area because they anticipate long working hours. There's also complaints about San Francisco's public school system -- 30% of its children now attend private schools, the highest percentage of any large American city. But according to the article, Peter Thiel believes that San Francisco is just "structurally hostile to families."
Power

New Wyoming Bill Penalizes Utilities Using Renewable Energy (csmonitor.com) 452

An anonymous reader quotes a Christian Science Monitor report on "a bill that would essentially ban large-scale renewable energy" in Wyoming. The new Wyoming bill would forbid utilities from using solar or wind sources for their electricity by 2019, according to Inside Climate News... The bill would require utilities to use "eligible resources" to meet 95 percent of Wyoming's electricity needs in 2018, and all of its electricity needs in 2019. Those "eligible resources" are defined solely as coal, hydroelectric, natural gas, nuclear, oil, and individual net metering... Utility-scale wind and solar farms are not included in the bill's list of "eligible resources," making it illegal for Wyoming utilities to use them in any way if the legislation passes. The bill calls for a fine of $10 per megawatt-hour of electricity from a renewable source to be slapped on Wyoming utilities that provide power from unapproved sources to in-state customers.
The bill also prohibits utilities from raising rates to cover the cost of those penalties, though utilities wouldn't be penalized if they exported that energy to other states. But one local activist described it as 'talking-point' legislation, and even the bill's sponsor gives it only a 50% chance of passing.
Power

Are Squirrels A Bigger Threat To Our Critical Infrastructure? (bbc.com) 144

"The real threat to global critical infrastructure is not enemy states or organizations but squirrels, according to one security expert." Long-time Slashdot reader randomErr quotes the BBC. Cris Thomas has been tracking power cuts caused by animals since 2013... His Cyber Squirrel 1 project was set up to counteract what he called the "ludicrousness of cyber-war claims by people at high levels in government and industry", he told the audience at the Shmoocon security conference in Washington. Squirrels topped the list with 879 "attacks", followed by birds with 434 attacks and then snakes at 83 attacks.
Those three animals -- along with rats -- have caused 1,700 different power cuts affecting nearly 5,000,000 people .
Cellphones

FTC Dismantles Two Huge Robocall Organizations (onthewire.io) 117

Billions of robocalls came from two groups selling extended auto warranties, SEO services, and home security systems over the last seven years -- many to numbers on the "Do Not Call" list -- but this week the Federal Trade Commission took action. Trailrunner7 shares this report from OnTheWire: Continuing its campaign against phone fraud operations, the FTC has dismantled two major robocall organizations... They and many of their co-defendants have agreed to court-ordered bans on robocall activities and financial settlements... The FTC and the FCC both have been cracking down on illegal robocall operations recently. The FCC has formed a robocall strike force with the help of carriers and also has signed an agreement to cooperate with Canadian authorities to address the problem.
"The law is clear about robocalls," says one FTC executive. "If a telemarketer doesn't have consumers' written permission, it's illegal to make these calls."
Education

New Senate Bill Would Give US Grads Preference In Receiving H-1B Visas (computerworld.com) 220

dcblogs quotes a report from Computerworld: A new bill in Congress would give foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools priority in getting an H-1B visa. The legislation also "explicitly prohibits" the replacement of American workers by visa holders. This bill, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, was announced Thursday by its co-sponsors, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), longtime allies on H-1B reform. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gives this bill an immediate big leg up in the legislative process. This legislation would end the annual random distribution, via a lottery, of H-1B visas, and replace it with a system to give priority to certain types of students. Foreign nationals in the best position to get one of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually will have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. school, have a well-paying job offer, and have preferred skills. The specific skills weren't identified, but will likely be STEM-related. "Congress created these programs to complement America's high-skilled workforce, not replace it," said Grassley, in a statement. "Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programs by cutting American workers for cheaper labor."
AI

Elite Scientists Have Told the Pentagon That AI Won't Threaten Humanity (vice.com) 157

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A new report authored by a group of independent U.S. scientists advising the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) on artificial intelligence (AI) claims that perceived existential threats to humanity posed by the technology, such as drones seen by the public as killer robots, are at best "uninformed." Still, the scientists acknowledge that AI will be integral to most future DoD systems and platforms, but AI that could act like a human "is at most a small part of AI's relevance to the DoD mission." Instead, a key application area of AI for the DoD is in augmenting human performance. Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD, first reported by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, has been researched and written by scientists belonging to JASON, the historically secretive organization that counsels the U.S. government on scientific matters. Outlining the potential use cases of AI for the DoD, the JASON scientists make sure to point out that the growing public suspicion of AI is "not always based on fact," especially when it comes to military technologies. Highlighting SpaceX boss Elon Musk's opinion that AI "is our biggest existential threat" as an example of this, the report argues that these purported threats "do not align with the most rapidly advancing current research directions of AI as a field, but rather spring from dire predictions about one small area of research within AI, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)." AGI, as the report describes, is the pursuit of developing machines that are capable of long-term decision making and intent, i.e. thinking and acting like a real human. "On account of this specific goal, AGI has high visibility, disproportionate to its size or present level of success," the researchers say.
Encryption

Lavabit Is Relaunching (theintercept.com) 54

The encrypted email service once used by whistleblower Edward Snowden is relaunching today. Ladar Levison, the founder of the encrypted email service Lavabit, announced on Friday that he's relaunching the service with a new architecture that fixes the SSL problem and includes other privacy-enhancing features as well, such as one that obscures the metadata on emails to prevent government agencies like the NSA and FBI from being able to find out with whom Lavabit users communicate. In addition, he's also announcing plans to roll out end-to-end encryption later this year. The Intercept provides some backstory in its report: In 2013, [Levison] took the defiant step of shutting down the company's service rather than comply with a federal law enforcement request that could compromise its customers' communications. The FBI had sought access to the email account of one of Lavabit's most prominent users -- Edward Snowden. Levison had custody of his service's SSL encryption key that could help the government obtain Snowden's password. And though the feds insisted they were only after Snowden's account, the key would have helped them obtain the credentials for other users as well. Lavabit had 410,000 user accounts at the time. Rather than undermine the trust and privacy of his users, Levison ended the company's email service entirely, preventing the feds from getting access to emails stored on his servers. But the company's users lost access to their accounts as well. Levison, who became a hero of the privacy community for his tough stance, has spent the last three years trying to ensure he'll never have to help the feds break into customer accounts again. "The SSL key was our biggest threat," he says.
Democrats

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As the 45th US President (reuters.com) 1525

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to "America First" policies at home and abroad. Reuters reports: As scattered protests erupted elsewhere in Washington, Trump raised his right hand and put his left on a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln and repeated a 35-word oath of office from the U.S. Constitution, with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
Earth

Scottish Government Targets 66% Emissions Cut By 2032 (bbc.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: The Scottish government has outlined a new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 66% by 2032. Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham set out the government's draft climate change plan for the next 15 years at Holyrood. She also targeted a fully-decarbonized electricity sector and 80% of domestic heat coming from low-carbon sources. Ministers committed last year to cut harmful CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, with a new interim target of 50% by 2020. The previous interim target of 42% was met in 2014 -- six years early. However, the independent Committee on Climate Change said the decrease was largely down to a warmer than average winter reducing the demand for heating. Ms Cunningham said the new targets demonstrated "a new level of ambition" to build a low-carbon economy and a healthier Scotland. Goals to be achieved by 2032 include: Cutting greenhouse emissions by 66%; A fully-decarbonized electricity sector; 80% of domestic heat to come from low-carbon heat technologies; Proportion of ultra-low emission new cars and vans registered in Scotland annually to hit 40%; 250,000 hectares of degraded peatlands restored; Annual woodland creation target increased to at least 15,000 hectares per year. The 172-page document sets a road map for decarbonizing Scotland. The aim -- although not new -- is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds by 2032. Among the policies are making half of Scotland's buses low-carbon, full-decarbonizing the electricity sector and making 80% of homes heated by low-carbon technologies.
China

China Cancels Over 100 Coal-Fired Power Plants (reuters.com) 278

In an effort to improve air quality, the Chinese government has canceled over 100 coal-fired power plants in 11 provinces -- totaling a combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts. Reuters reports: In a document issued on Jan. 14, financial media group Caixin reported, the National Energy Administration (NEA) suspended the coal projects, some of which were already under construction. The projects worth some 430 billion yuan ($62 billion) were to have been spread across provinces and autonomous regions including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi and other northwestern areas. Putting the power projects on hold is a major step towards the government's effort to produce power from renewable sources such as solar and wind, and wean the country off coal, which accounts for the majority of the nation's power supply. To put it in perspective, some 130 GW of additional solar and wind power will be installed by 2020, equal to France's total renewable power generation capacity, said Frank Yu, principal consultant at Wood Mackenzie. "This shows the government is keeping its promise in curbing supplies of coal power," Yu said. Some of the projects will still go ahead, but not until 2025 and will likely replace outdated technology, he said.
Oracle

Labor Department Sues Oracle For Paying White Men More (usatoday.com) 313

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: Oracle is being sued by the Labor Department for paying white men more than their counterparts and for favoring Asian workers when recruiting and hiring for technical roles. The administrative lawsuit is the latest from the Labor Department to take aim at the human resources practices of major technology companies. The Labor Department warned the lawsuit could cost Oracle hundreds of millions in federal contracts. Oracle makes software and hardware used by the federal government. "The complaint is politically motivated, based on false allegations, and wholly without merit," Oracle spokesman Deborah Hellinger said in a statement. "Oracle values diversity and inclusion, and is a responsible equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. Our hiring and pay decisions are non-discriminatory and made based on legitimate business factors including experience and merit." The lawsuit is the result of an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs review of Oracle's equal employment opportunity practices, the Labor Department said. According to the lawsuit, Oracle America paid white male workers more, leading to pay discrimination against women, African American and Asian employees. The Labor Department also accused Oracle of favoring Asians for product development and other technical roles, resulting in discrimination against non-Asian applicants. Oracle refused to comply with the Labor Department's investigation, which began in 2014, such as refusing to provide compensation data for all employees, complete hiring data for certain business lines and employee complaints of discrimination, according to the federal agency.
NASA

Earth Hit Record Hot Year in 2016: NASA (news.com.au) 266

Earth sizzled to a third-straight record hot year in 2016, government scientists have said. They mostly blame man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino, which has since disappeared. From a report: Measuring global temperatures in slightly different ways, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that last year passed 2015 as the hottest year on record. NOAA calculated that the average 2016 global temperature was 14.84 degrees Celsius (58.69 degrees Fahrenheit) -- beating the previous year by 0.04 Celsius (0.07 degrees F). NASA's figures, which include more of the Arctic, are higher at 0.22 degrees (0.12 Celsius) warmer than 2015. The Arctic "was enormously warm, like totally off the charts compared to everything else," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York, where the space agency monitors global temperatures. Records go back to 1880. This is the fifth time in a dozen years that the globe has set a new annual heat record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005.
Government

CIA Releases 13M Pages of Declassified Documents Online (bbc.com) 88

About 13 million pages of declassified documents from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been released online. The records include UFO sightings and psychic experiments from the Stargate programme, which has long been of interest to conspiracy theorists. From a report on BBC: The move came after lengthy efforts from freedom of information advocates and a lawsuit against the CIA. The full archive is made up of almost 800,000 files. They had previously only been accessible at the National Archives in Maryland. The trove includes the papers of Henry Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as well as several hundred thousand pages of intelligence analysis and science research and development.
United States

Russia Extends Edward Snowden's Asylum To 2020, To Offer Citizenship Next Year (cnn.com) 278

Whistleblower and former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been allowed to remain in Russia for another three years and will next year qualify to apply for Russian citizenship. From a report on CNN: Edward Snowden's leave to remain in Russia has been extended until 2020, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has confirmed to CNN. Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, sought asylum in Russia in June 2013 after leaking volumes of information on American intelligence and surveillance operations to the media. On Tuesday, Zakharova announced an extension of a "couple of years" in a Facebook post that criticized former CIA acting director Michael Morell for an opinion piece he wrote suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin should consider returning Snowden to the United States as "the perfect inauguration gift" to President-elect Donald Trump. Snowden settled in Moscow after initially traveling to Hong Kong following his 2013 public disclosure of classified information. The Russian government granted him asylum soon after. In August 2014, Snowden received a three-year extension to his leave to remain in Russia. That extension was due to expire this year.
Communications

Ambulances In Sweden Will Be Able To Hijack Car Radios During Emergencies (digitaltrends.com) 161

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: The Swedish government wants to make it impossible to be caught off guard by a speeding ambulance. Sure, their sirens are loud -- but soon they'll be able to take over your car's radio. Swedish students at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have developed a way for emergency vehicles to transit radio signals to warn other vehicles of an approaching truck. It's called the EVAM System, according to Phys.org, and it's designed to send a signal over a specific FM radio band that'll interrupt music or radio and display a test message over the system's tuner display -- so long as the car is equipped with a Radio Data System (RDS). The number of crashes caused by muted sirens is on the rise, Florian Curinga, one of the students working on the project, said. That's because of improved sound insulation in cars. Emergency vehicles in Stockholm will begin testing the system this year. The EVAM System can also predict how far in advance the message needs to be broadcast, depending on traffic speed, according to Phys.org. It may also be helpful in warning drivers about upcoming accidents, the students added. EVAM will work on two-thirds of all vehicles on the road, Curinga said. All drivers need to do is have their radio systems turned on. If a message is broadcast then, they'll see it -- and hear it -- from the tuner.
Windows

Windows 10 Privacy Changes Appease Watchdogs, But Still No Data 'Off-Switch' (zdnet.com) 210

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced several privacy changes in Windows 10, but it didn't give users an option to completely opt-out of data-collection feature. The announcement came at a time to coincide with a statement by the Swiss data protection and privacy regulator, the FDPIC, which last week said it would drop its threats of a lawsuit after the company "agreed to implement" a string of recommendations it made last year. The news closed the books on an investigation that began in 2015, shortly after Windows 10 was released. Though the Swiss appear satisfied, other critics are waiting for more. The French data protection watchdog, the CNIL, was equally unimpressed by Microsoft's actions, and it served the company with a notice in July to demand that it clean up its privacy settings. In an email, the CNIL said that the changes "seem to comply" with its complaint, but it's "now analyzing more in [sic] details Microsoft answers in order to know whether all the failures underlined in the formal notice do now comply with the law." ZDNet adds: Microsoft still hasn't said exactly what gets collected as part of the basic level of collection, except that the data is used to improve its software and services down the line; a reasonable ask -- but one that nonetheless lacks specifics. Microsoft said it wants users to "trust" it. And while the likelihood that the company is doing anything nefarious with users' information is frankly unlikely, the running risk is that the data could somehow be turned over to a government agency or even stolen by hackers is inescapable. That risk alone is enough for many to want to keep what's on their computer in their homes. While changing the privacy controls is a move in the right direction, it's still short of what many have called for. By ignoring the biggest privacy complaint from its consumer users -- the ability to switch off data collection altogether -- Microsoft has favored the "just enough" approach to appease the regulators. Without a way to truly opt-out, Microsoft's repeated pledge (eight times in the blog post, no less) to give its users "control" of their data comes off as a hollow soundbite.

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