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  • Ethereum Thinks it Can Change the World. It's Running Out of Time To Prove It.
    The blockchain system has daunting technical problems to fix. But first, its disciples need to figure out how to govern themselves. From a report: The handful of idealistic researchers, developers, and administrators in charge of maintaining its software are under increasing pressure to overcome technical limitations that stymie the network's growth. At the same time, well-funded competitors have emerged, claiming that their blockchains perform better. Crackdowns by regulators, and a growing understanding of how far most blockchain applications are from ready for prime time, have scared many cryptocurrency investors away: Ethereum's market value in dollars has fallen more than 90% since its peak last January. The reason Devcon (the annual "family reunion" organized by the Ethereum Foundation; this year's edition was held in October) feels so upbeat despite these storm clouds is that the people building Ethereum have something bigger in mind -- something world-changing, in fact. Yet to achieve its goal, this ragtag community needs to crack a problem as complicated as any of the toe-curling technical challenges it faces: how to govern itself. It must find a way to organize a scattered global network of contributors and stakeholders without sacrificing "decentralization" -- the principle, which any cryptocurrency community strives for, that no one entity or group should be in control.

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  • In a Test, 3D Model of a Head Was Able To Fool Facial Recognition System of Several Popular Android Smartphones
    Forbes magazine tested four of the most popular handsets running Google's operating systems and Apple's iPhone to see how easy it'd be to break into them with a 3D-printed head. All of the Android handsets opened with the fake. Apple's phone, however, was impenetrable. From the report: For our tests, we used my own real-life head to register for facial recognition across five phones. An iPhone X and four Android devices: an LG G7 Linq, a Samsung S9, a Samsung Note 8 and a OnePlus 6. I then held up my fake head to the devices to see if the device would unlock. For all four Android phones, the spoof face was able to open the phone, though with differing degrees of ease. The iPhone X was the only one to never be fooled. There were some disparities between the Android devices' security against the hack. For instance, when first turning on a brand new G7 Linq, LG actually warns the user against turning facial recognition on at all. No surprise then that, on initial testing, the 3D-printed head opened it straightaway. [...] The OnePlus 6 came with neither the warnings of the other Android phones nor the choice of slower but more secure recognition.

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  • Apple To Build $1B Austin Campus, Add Thousands of Jobs in US Expansion
    Apple said Thursday it plans to invest $1 billion building a new corporate campus in Austin, Texas, that could eventually create 15,000 jobs. From a report: The iPhone maker will also set up new offices in Seattle, San Diego and Culver City, Los Angeles County, as well as expanding operations in Pittsburgh, New York and Boulder, Colorado, according to the press release. The Austin campus will be located less than a mile away from Apple's existing facilities in the Texas city, which already employ 6,200 people (its largest group of employees outside Cupertino). The new area will initially hold 5,000 employees, with capacity to grow to 15,000 over time.

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  • Tesla Is Seeking $167 Million From Former Employee Accused of Sabotage
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Tesla is seeking more than $167 million in a lawsuit against former employee Martin Tripp, recent legal filings revealed. In the lawsuit, which was filed by the electric car maker in June, Tesla alleges that Tripp, a former process engineer, had illegally exported data and made false claims to reporters, among other things. Tripp had earlier claimed in a number of press interviews that Tesla engaged in poor manufacturing practices at its massive battery plant outside of Reno, Nevada, and that it may have used damaged battery modules in its Model 3 vehicles, posing a risk to drivers. An interim case management report published on Nov. 27 reveals that Tripp's attorneys aim to depose Tesla CEO Elon Musk and more than 10 people involved with the company. Tesla has refused to make Musk available and sought to limit the number of people deposed by Tripp's defense team at the law firm Tiffany & Bosco. Tripp's lawyers wrote in that report: "Tesla has objected to Mr. Tripp's desire to take more than ten depositions... In this case, where Mr. Tripp is being sued for more than $167,000,000 and has asserted counterclaims against Tesla, more than ten depositions is certainly reasonable and appropriate." Tripp attorney Robert D. Mitchell said in an email to CNBC: "The purported damage amount claimed by Tesla relates to supposed dips in Tesla's stock price by virtue of the information Mr. Tripp provided to the press last summer." He characterized the damage claims as "absurd."

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  • Arctic Posts Second Warmest Year On Record In 2018, NOAA Says
    According to a new report released on Tuesday by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic had its second-hottest year on record in 2018. "Arctic air temperatures for the past five years have exceeded all previous records since 1900," according to the annual NOAA study, the 2018 Arctic Report Card, which said the year was second only to 2016 in overall warmth in the region. Reuters reports: The study said the Arctic warming continues at about double the rate of the rest of the planet, and that the trend appears to be altering the shape and strength of the jet stream air current that influences weather in the Northern Hemisphere. "Growing atmospheric warmth in the Arctic results in a sluggish and unusually wavy jet-stream that coincided with abnormal weather events," it said, noting that the changing patterns have often brought unusually frigid temperatures to areas south of the Arctic Circle. Some examples are "a swarm of severe winter storms in the eastern United States in 2018, and the extreme cold outbreak in Europe in March 2018 known as 'the Beast from the East.'"

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  • Russian State TV Shows Off 'Robot' That's Actually a Man In a Robot Suit
    A "hi-tech robot" shown on Russian state television turns out to be a man in a suit. While airing footage of a technology forum aimed at kids, a Russian state TV reporter proclaimed that Boris the robot "has already learned to dance and he's not that bad." Gizmodo reports: This "robot" actually retails for 250,000 rubles (about $3,770), as first reported by the Guardian, and is made by a company called Show Robots. "Boris" features glowing eyes, and plastic parts -- and shockingly human-like movements. Probably because he needs a human inside to operate properly. This faux-robot (fauxbot?) mystery was actually first unraveled when some eagled-eyed Russian viewers on the internet noticed that a suspiciously human-like neck was showing in the video. The report notes that "there's no indication" that there was intent to deceive anyone. Instead, it "appears to be a case of a TV presenter getting confused with what he believed to be 'modern robots.'" You can watch the broadcast on Russia-24's YouTube channel.

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  • 'Cryptocurrencies Are Like Lottery Tickets That Might Pay Off in Future'
    With the price of bitcoin down 80% from its peak a year ago, and the larger cryptocurrency market in systemic collapse, has "peak crypto" come and gone? From a column: Perhaps, but don't expect to see true believers lining up to have their cryptocurrency tattoos removed just yet. At a recent conference I attended, the overwhelming sentiment was that market capitalisation of cryptocurrencies could explode over the next five years, rising to $5-10tn. For those who watched the price of bitcoin go from $13 in December 2012 to roughly $4,000 today, this year's drop from $20,000 was no reason to panic. It is tempting to say, "Of course the price is collapsing." Regulators are gradually waking up to the fact that they cannot countenance large expensive-to-trace transaction technologies that facilitate tax evasion and criminal activity. At the same time, central banks from Sweden to China are realising that they, too, can issue digital currencies. As I emphasised in my 2016 book on the past, present, and future of currency, when it comes to new forms of money, the private sector may innovate, but in due time the government regulates and appropriates. But as I also pointed out back then, just because the long-term value of bitcoin is more likely to be $100 than $100,000 does not necessarily mean that it definitely should be worth zero. The right way to think about cryptocurrency coins is as lottery tickets that pay off in a dystopian future where they are used in rogue and failed states, or perhaps in countries where citizens have already lost all semblance of privacy. It is no coincidence that dysfunctional Venezuela is the first issuer of a state-backed cryptocurrency (the "petro").

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  • Ships Infected With Ransomware, USB Malware, Worms
    An anonymous reader writes: IT systems on boats aren't as air-gapped as people think and are falling victims to all sorts of cyber-security incidents, such as ransomware, worms, viruses, and other malware -- usually carried on board via USB sticks. These cyber-security incidents have been kept secret until now, and have only been recently revealed as past examples of what could go wrong, in a new "cyber-security guideline" released by 21 international shipping associations and industry groups. One of the many incidents: "A new-build dry bulk ship was delayed from sailing for several days because its ECDIS was infected by a virus. The ship was designed for paperless navigation and was not carrying paper charts. The failure of the ECDIS appeared to be a technical disruption and was not recognized as a cyber issue by the ship's master and officers. A producer technician was required to visit the ship and, after spending a significant time in troubleshooting, discovered that both ECDIS networks were infected with a virus. The virus was quarantined and the ECDIS computers were restored. The source and means of infection in this case are unknown. The delay in sailing and costs in repairs totaled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (U.S.)." The document also highlights an incident involving ransomware. "For example, a shipowner reported not one, but two ransomware infections, both occurring due to partners, and not necessarily because of the ship's crew," reports ZDNet. Another ransomware incident occurred because the ship failed to set up proper (RDP) passwords: A ransomware infection on the main application server of the ship caused complete disruption of the IT infrastructure. The ransomware encrypted every critical file on the server and as a result, sensitive data were lost, and applications needed for ship's administrative operations were unusable. The incident was reoccurring even after complete restoration of the application server. The root cause of the infection was poor password policy that allowed attackers to brute force remote management services successfully. The company's IT department deactivated the undocumented user and enforced a strong password policy on the ship's systems to remediate the incident.

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  • FCC Panel Wants To Tax Internet-Using Businesses, Give the Money To ISPs
    The FCC's Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which includes members like AT&T, Comcast, Google Fiber, Sprint, and other ISPs and industry representatives, is proposing a tax on websites to pay for rural broadband. Ars Technica reports: If adopted by states, the recommended tax would apply to subscription-based retail services that require Internet access, such as Netflix, and to advertising-supported services that use the Internet, such as Google and Facebook. The tax would also apply to any small- or medium-sized business that charges subscription fees for online services or uses online advertising. The tax would also apply to any provider of broadband access, such as cable or wireless operators. The collected money would go into state rural broadband deployment funds that would help bring faster Internet access to sparsely populated areas. Similar universal service fees are already assessed on landline phone service and mobile phone service nationwide. Those phone fees contribute to federal programs such as the FCC's Connect America Fund, which pays AT&T and other carriers to deploy broadband in rural areas. The BDAC tax proposal is part of a "State Model Code for Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Deployment and Investment." Once finalized by the BDAC, each state would have the option of adopting the code. An AT&T executive who is on the FCC advisory committee argued that the recommended tax should apply even more broadly, to any business that benefits financially from broadband access in any way. The committee ultimately adopted a slightly more narrow recommendation that would apply the tax to subscription services and advertising-supported services only. The BDAC model code doesn't need approval from FCC commissioners -- "it is adopted by the BDAC as a model code for the states to use, at their discretion," Ajit Pai's spokesperson told Ars. As for how big the proposed taxes would be, the model code says that states "shall determine the appropriate State Universal Service assessment methodology and rate consistent with federal law and FCC policy."

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  • Google Training Document Reveals How Temps, Vendors, and Contractors Are Treated
    "An internal Google training document exposed by The Guardian reveals how the company instructs employees on how to treat temps, vendors, and contractors (TVCs)," writes Slashdot reader Garabito. "This includes: 'not to reward certain workers with perks like T-shirts, invite them to all-hands meetings, or allow them to engage in professional development training.'" From the report: "Working with TVCs and Googlers is different," the training documentation, titled the The ABCs of TVCs, explains. "Our policies exist because TVC working arrangements can carry significant risks." The risks Google appears to be most concerned about include standard insider threats, like leaks of proprietary information, but also -- and especially -- the risk of being found to be a joint employer, a legal designation which could be exceedingly costly for Google in terms of benefits. Google's treatment of TVCs has come under increased scrutiny by the company's full-time employees (FTEs) amid a nascent labor movement at the company, which has seen workers speak out about both their own working conditions and the morality of the work they perform. American companies have long turned to temps and subcontractors to plug holes and perform specialized tasks, but Google achieved a dubious distinction this year when Bloomberg reported that in early 2018, the company did not directly employ a majority of its own workforce. According to a current employee with access to the figures, of approximately 170,000 people around the world who now work at Google, 50.05% are FTEs. The rest, 49.95%, are TVCs. The report notes that "the two-tier system has complicated labor activism at Google." On November 1st, after 20,000 workers joined a global walkout, "the company quickly gave in to one of the protesters' demands by ending forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment -- but only for FTEs."

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