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Aujourd’hui — 20 septembre 2019Ars Technica

“Grassroots” anti-Amazon nonprofit turns out to be retailer astroturfing

Par Kate Cox
The Amazon logo at the entrance of a logistics center in France, July 2019.

Enlarge / The Amazon logo at the entrance of a logistics center in France, July 2019. (credit: Denis Charlet | AFP | Getty )

It's no secret that retailers who compete with Amazon for consumer dollars want regulators to take a closer look at the way their titanic, globe-spanning rival works. They've openly said so, many times. And yet, three major firms reportedly spent a great deal of time and effort obscuring their ties to a nonprofit that exists to rally support against Amazon.

The nonprofit, called the Free and Fair Markets Initiative, describes itself as "a nonprofit watchdog committed to scrutinizing Amazon’s harmful practices and promoting a fair, modern marketplace that works for all Americans." According to a new report today from The Wall Street Journal, however, the group is funded by rivals, including Walmart, Oracle, and mall-owner Simon, who all have a strong financial interest in dethroning Amazon.

All three are competing fiercely with Amazon in their own market sectors. Walmart, the nation's biggest big-box store, competes in retail, selling goods and groceries. Oracle competes in Internet services and has been fighting against Amazon, for example, to secure a $10 billion government contract. And Simon, the country's largest mall owner, is at the front and center of the retail apocalypse and all the dead malls that retail bankruptcies leave in their wake.

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AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X, Threadripper on hold until November

Par Jim Salter
That "premiering with 24 cores" fine print is our only concrete clue about November's Threadripper launch.

Enlarge / That "premiering with 24 cores" fine print is our only concrete clue about November's Threadripper launch. (credit: AMD)

AMD announced in a surprise email today that its Ryzen 9 3950X, originally slated for launch this month, has been delayed until November, when it and new Zen 2 Threadripper CPUs will debut:

We are focusing on meeting the strong demand for our 3rd generation AMD Ryzen processors in the market and now plan to launch both the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X and initial members of the 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper processor family in volume this November. We are confident that when enthusiasts get their hands on the world’s first 16-core mainstream desktop processor and our next-generation of high-end desktop processors, the wait will be well worth it.

The 3950X will be a 16-core, 32-thread desktop CPU running with a 4.7GHz boost clock, with a suggested retail price of $749. Details on the Threadrippers debuting next month are thinner, although graphics describe it as "premiering with 24 cores." Presumably, we'll eventually see Zen 2 Threadrippers with 32 cores and 64 threads to match the last generation's 2990WX. Although there haven't been any official statements, rumors are floating around about one existing Threadripper 3000 32-core CPU—user benchmarks claiming to be from an engineering sample showed up at Geekbench last month.

The delay of Ryzen 9 3950X's launch—along with extreme shortages of the already-launched Ryzen 9 3900X—leads to obvious supply line speculation. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the foundry AMD uses for its Zen 2 processors (and Apple uses for the 7nm A13 CPU in the iPhone 11), recently increased its lead time for new orders from two months to six. This increased lead should not directly affect the 3950X or Threadripper launches, since the silicon for those processors would have been ordered months ago.But it is an indication that TSMC may be approaching production or binning limits.

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Medicine show: Crown Sterling demos 256-bit RSA key-cracking at private event

Par Sean Gallagher
Robert Grant, Crown Sterling CEO and founder, emcee'd a demonstration of crypto-cracking at an event yesterday. Cryptographers were not impressed.

Enlarge / Robert Grant, Crown Sterling CEO and founder, emcee'd a demonstration of crypto-cracking at an event yesterday. Cryptographers were not impressed. (credit: Crown Sterling, via YouTube)

On September 19, in a conference room at the Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach, California, Crown Sterling CEO Robert Grant, COO Joseph Hopkins, and a pair of programmers staged a demonstration of Grant's claimed cryptography-cracking algorithm. Before an audience that a Crown Sterling spokesperson described as "approximately 100 academics and business professionals," Grant and Hopkins had their minions generate two pairs of 256-bit RSA encryption keys and then derive the prime numbers used to generate them from the public key in about 50 seconds.

In a phone interview with Ars Technica today, Grant said the video was filmed during a "business session" at the event. The "academic" presentation, which went into math behind his claims and a new paper yet to be published, was attended by "mostly people from local colleges," Hopkins said. Grant said that he didn't know who attended both sessions, and the CEO added that he didn't have access to the invitation list.

During the presentation, Grant called out to Chris Novak, the global director of Verizon Enterprise Solutions' Threat Research Advisory Center, naming him as a member of Crown Sterling's advisory board. The shout-out was during introductory remarks that Grant made about a survey of chief information security officers that the company had conducted. The survey found only 3% had an understanding of the fundamental math behind encryption.

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AT&T tells court: Customers can’t sue over sale of phone location data

Par Jon Brodkin
The AT&T logo displayed on a smartphone screen.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | SOPA Images)

AT&T is trying to force customers into arbitration in order to avoid a class-action complaint over the telecom's former practice of selling users' real-time location data.

In a motion to compel arbitration filed last week, AT&T said that plaintiffs agreed to arbitrate disputes with AT&T when they entered into wireless service contracts. The plaintiffs, who are represented by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorneys, will likely argue that the arbitration clause is invalid.

The case is pending in US District Court for the Northern District of California. In March 2018, a judge in the same court ruled that AT&T could not use its arbitration clause to avoid a class-action lawsuit over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans. That's because the California Supreme Court had ruled in McGill v. Citibank "that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek the statutory remedy of public injunctive relief in any forum is contrary to California public policy and therefore unenforceable," the District Court judge wrote at the time.

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iOS 13 ships with known lockscreen bypass flaw that exposes contacts

Par Dan Goodin
iOS 13 ships with known lockscreen bypass flaw that exposes contacts

Enlarge (credit: Jose Rodriguez)

Apple released iOS 13 with a bunch of new features. But it also released the new OS with something else: a bug disclosed seven days ago that exposes contact details without requiring a passcode or biometric identification first.

Independent researcher Jose Rodriguez published a video demonstration of the flaw exactly one week ago. It can be exploited by receiving a FaceTime call and then using the voiceover feature from Siri to access the contact list. From there, an unauthorized person could get names, phone numbers, email addresses, and any other information stored in the phone’s contacts list.

Rodriquez’s video was the topic of more than 100 news articles over the past week. Since iOS 13 was in beta when it first appeared, I assumed Apple developers would fix the bypass in time for yesterday's release. Alas, they didn’t, and it’s not clear why.

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Sacklers threaten to scrap opioid deal if they aren’t shielded from lawsuits

Par Beth Mole
PURDUE PHARMA, STAMFORD, CT, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/12: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on September 12, 2019 outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement.

Enlarge / PURDUE PHARMA, STAMFORD, CT, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/12: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on September 12, 2019 outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement. (credit: Getty | Erik McGregor)

Lawyers for OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma filed a new complaint late Wednesday threatening that the company’s mega-rich owners, the Sackler family, could pull out of a proposed multi-billion-dollar opioid settlement deal if a bankruptcy judge doesn’t shield the family from outstanding state lawsuits.

Purdue’s lawyers argue that if the lawsuits continue, the Sacklers will have to waste “hundreds of millions of dollars” on legal costs that could otherwise go to claimants in the settlement. The family's lawyers added that in that event, the family “may be unwilling—or unable—to make the billions of dollars of contributions” to the proposed settlement.

State attorneys general, however, argue that the tactic is yet another move designed to shield the Sacklers and their ill-gotten wealth.

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Apple releases iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and Apple Watch series 5

Par Samuel Axon
Another view of the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Enlarge / The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today, Apple shipped units of the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max handsets to customers who ordered online, and the phones went on sale in stores around the world. Apple also launched a new Apple Watch, the series 5, today.

Ship times for online orders are already getting long, though. Consumers might have trouble finding the phones in stores today if they hadn't already pre-ordered or stood in line at stores this morning. The US Apple Store website indicates that most configurations of the iPhone 11 Pro will deliver between October 11 and 18 if ordered today. The iPhone 11 looks like it will have a little bit more availability; estimates for delivery are around October 2.

Apple also reopened its Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City to considerable fanfare today, with executives in attendance for the product launches.

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Ad Astra: A journey upriver to meet your demons, internal and otherwise

Par John Timmer

Brad Pitt stars as an astronaut in search of his long-lost father (Tommy Lee Jones) in Ad Astra.

On its own, the title of this week's blockbuster release—Ad Astra, Latin for "to the stars"—doesn't tell you much about what the film is about. The trailers haven't done much to clarify, promising everything from family drama to violent car chases on the Moon.

None of the details provide much clarity, either. The movie was co-written and directed by James Gray, whose films have tended to be on the critically acclaimed, publicly obscure end of the spectrum and are set in realistic versions of the present. Yet this one is clearly set in a sci-fi future and is loomed over by enormous Hollywood figures including Jones, Pitt, and Donald Sutherland.

The movie holds together much better than that description might suggest. While there's plenty here to nitpick, the film offers an interesting vision of the future and a plot that enables its focused human drama to become central to that future. What follows is a review that will attempt to spoil nothing that wasn't already revealed in the trailers.

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How do you manage software and saves on a second Switch? It’s complicated

Par Kyle Orland
  • I do...

With the launch of the Switch Lite this week, a lot of families are going to be adding a second, more portable Switch to their household. This is definitely doable, but there are some important caveats to keep in mind, especially if you purchase downloadable games from the eShop.

To help clarify the whole process, here's a quick run-down of how juggling software and accounts between multiple Switch units works in practice.

Setup and save data transfer

When you first turn on your second Switch, you're offered the opportunity to import your account and user data created on another Switch. The system will ask if you currently have the Switch from which you want to import data and if you'll be keeping that original system going forward.

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Untitled Goose Game review: HONNNNNNK

Par Sam Machkovech
Untitled Goose Game screenshot

Enlarge / *record scratch* *freeze frame* Yep, that's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation... of being a cantankerous, honking goose. (credit: House House)

Ack! The tall human grabbed a broom! HONK!

No, no, no, no, no, run away, run away! I'm gonna lift my worthless wings (curse these loosey-goosey things) and trot away, trot trot trot. Don't sweep me, ma'am...

OK. Whew. Gosh, in the madness of running away, I forgot that I have her carrot. It's in my beak.

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Ancient slag offers insight into the uneven pace of technological advances

Par Kiona N. Smith
Color photo of archaeologists excavating layers of copper production waste in a deep pit.

Enlarge / Copper production waste at Khirbat en-Nahas, Jordan, was piled 6m (18 ft) deep. (credit: T. Levy 2019)

Sometimes, clues about ancient technology are hidden in the most mundane things. In this case, Tel-Aviv University archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef and his colleagues went rummaging through heaps of slag, the glassy waste discarded after smelters separate copper from its ore. Their goal? To hunt for clues about industry and innovation in the ancient Edomite Kingdom.

Less copper mixed with the slag suggests more-efficient smelting, so by tracking changes in the slag, Ben-Yosef and his colleagues could track the progress of a technology that powered the ancient world.

The archaeologists found mostly small, gradual improvements over the course of five centuries, punctuated by a sudden, drastic increase in efficiency around 925 BCE in the wake of an Egyptian invasion of the area. That suggests that a model for the evolution of new species may also apply to human technology and that we may need a little instability to break out of equilibrium and trigger bursts of innovation. It also reveals how one society in particular benefitted from the Bronze Age Collapse and later took advantage of the disruption of a foreign invasion to make a leap forward in technology.

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iOS 13 on the iPhone 6S and SE: New software runs fine on a phone that’s still fast

Par Andrew Cunningham
The iPhone 6S and SE are the new baseline for iOS 13, and everything is still running smooth.

Enlarge / The iPhone 6S and SE are the new baseline for iOS 13, and everything is still running smooth. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

People upgrading to iOS 13 this year may have more of an incentive than usual to keep using their old phones rather than upgrading to new ones. After all, 2016's iPhone SE was the last Apple phone to include a 4-inch screen suitable for smaller hands and pockets, and both the SE and the 6S were Apple’s last phones to include conventional 3.5mm headphone jacks.

But running Apple’s newest software on its oldest supported hardware hasn’t always been a pleasant experience, something we’ve been tracking going all the way back to iOS 6 and the iPhone 3GS in 2012 (see also: iOS 7 and 7.1 on the iPhone 4; iOS 8 and 9 on the iPhone 4S; iOS 10 on the iPhone 5 and 5C; and iOS 11 and 12 on the iPhone 5S). After using iOS 13 on both the 6S and SE recently, I can say that both devices still feel just fine to use—if you’re happy with how iOS 12 runs right now, you’ll be fine with iOS 13, too. They’re both good for hand-me-down devices. But there are still compelling reasons to upgrade if you’re thinking about it, and good reasons not to buy a used or refurbished version of either phone just to get the small screen or the headphone jack.

Apple’s A9 is still pretty good

For this performance test, I did a fresh install of iOS on each device, signed it into a test iCloud account, and let the phones sit for a while to complete any indexing or other behind-the-scenes tasks. I then opened each app three times and averaged the results. In the past, this has been a fairly reliable indicator of how each phone will actually feel in day-to-day use. If opening an app and waiting for it to load on a fresh iOS install feels slow, that usually means that the rest of the phone (including waiting for the keyboard to pop up, waiting for pages to load, and other tasks) will feel slow too, especially as you download more stuff and connect more accounts.

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iOS 13: The Ars Technica review

Par Samuel Axon
iOS 13 on an iPhone 11 Pro.

Enlarge / iOS 13 on an iPhone 11 Pro. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Last year, Apple set users’ expectations with iOS 12, saying it would be focused on improving performance and fixing bugs and stability issues instead of adding a bunch of new features. And while there were still plenty of bugs over the course of the iOS 12 cycle, performance was improved—particularly on older devices.

Apple hasn’t tempered expectations for iOS 13 this year, so users might be expecting a big leap forward. iOS 13 does bring a new look to the software that runs on iPhones, overhauls a few oft-criticized first-party applications, and puts additional emphasis on user privacy. Most of all, it adds new, powerful interactions for power users—some of which we thought we'd never see in Apple's mobile software.

iOS 13 is successful at most of what it sets out to do, even though it leaves some things that users have wanted to see overhauled—like the home screen—relatively untouched.

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Rocket Report: Russia to build 11 more Protons, Boeing wants EUS funding

Par Eric Berger
A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (credit: Aurich Lawson/SpaceX)

Welcome to Edition 2.15 of the Rocket Report! We're back after traveling last week, and the newsletter is packed with information about all manner of rockets. Perhaps the most surprising tidbit this week is the possibility that Stratolaunch may be returning to the skies.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab says Atlantic spaceport progressing. The smallsat rocket company said it has installed the launch platform at its second launch site, Launch Complex 2, which marks one of the final steps in the construction of the new pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. Rocket Lab is preparing for the first Electron launch from US soil in "early 2020."

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Teen vaping surge: 25% of 12th graders report recent use, 11% daily use

Par Beth Mole
Teen vaping surge: 25% of 12th graders report recent use, 11% daily use

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Justin Sullivan )

Preliminary data from two long-standing nationwide surveys reveals a sustained surge in e-cigarette use—aka vaping—by teens over the last two years.

About 25% of 12th graders in 2019 reported using nicotine-containing vaping products within 30 days of taking one of the surveys. That figure was about 21% in the 2018 edition of the same survey and 11% in 2017.

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Payment card thieves hack Click2Gov bill paying portals in 8 cities

Par Dan Goodin
Payment card thieves hack Click2Gov bill paying portals in 8 cities

Enlarge (credit: Mighty Travels / Flickr)

In 2017 and 2018, hackers compromised systems running the Click2Gov self-service bill-payment portal in dozens of cities across the United States, a feat that compromised 300,000 payment cards and generated nearly $2 million of revenue. Now, Click2Gov systems have been hit by a second wave of attacks that’s dumping tens of thousands of records onto the Dark Web, researchers said on Thursday.

The new round of attacks began in August and have so far hit systems in eight cities, six of which were compromised in the previous episode, researchers with security firm Gemini Advisory said in a post. Many of the hacked portals were running fully up-to-date systems, which raises questions about precisely how the attackers were able to breach them. Click2Gov is used by utilities, municipalities, and community-development organizations to pay bills and parking tickets as well as make other kinds of transactions.

“The second wave of Click2Gov breaches indicates that despite patched systems, the portal remains vulnerable,” Gemini Advisory researchers Stas Alforov and Christopher Thomas wrote. “It is thus incumbent upon organizations to regularly monitor their systems for potential compromises in addition to keeping up to date on patches.

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Weighing in: Physicists cut upper limit on neutrino’s mass in half

Par Jennifer Ouellette
The spectrometer for the KATRIN experiment, as it works its way through the German town of Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen in 2006 en route to the nearby Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Enlarge / The spectrometer for the KATRIN experiment, as it works its way through the German town of Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen in 2006 en route to the nearby Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. (credit: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

Isaac Asimov dubbed neutrinos "ghost particles." John Updike immortalized them in verse. They've been the subject of several Nobel Prize citations, because these weird tiny particles just keep surprising physicists. And now we have a much better idea of the upper limit of what their rest mass could be, thanks to the first results from the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino experiment (KATRIN) in Germany. Leaders from the experiment announced their results last week at a scientific conference in Japan and posted a preprint to the physics arXiv.

"Knowing the mass of the neutrino will allow scientists to answer fundamental questions in cosmology, astrophysics, and particle physics, such as how the universe evolved or what physics exists beyond the Standard Model," said Hamish Robertson, a KATRIN scientist and professor emeritus of physics at the University of Washington. "These findings by the KATRIN collaboration reduce the previous mass range for the neutrino by a factor of two, place more stringent criteria on what the neutrino's mass actually is, and provide a path forward to measure its value definitively."

The ghostly particles are devilishly hard to detect because they so rarely interact with other particles, and when they do, they only interact via the weak nuclear force. Most neutrino hunters bury their experiments deep underground, the better to cancel out noisy interference from other sources, notably the cosmic rays continually bombarding Earth's atmosphere. The experiments usually require enormous tanks of liquid—dry-cleaning fluid, water, heavy water, mineral oil, chlorine, or gallium, for example, depending on the experimental setup. This increases the chances of a neutrino striking one of the atoms in the medium of choice, triggering the decay process. The atom changes into a different element, emitting an electron in the process, which can be detected.

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Amazon orders 100,000 electric trucks to fight climate change

Par Timothy B. Lee
  • A publicity shot shows the truck Rivian plans to build for Amazon. [credit: Amazon ]

Amazon has ordered 100,000 electric trucks from startup Rivian, the e-commerce giant announced Thursday. The order is part of Amazon's larger pledge—also announced today—to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2040. Amazon aims to use 80% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% by 2030.

Rivian is an electric-vehicle startup that is initially focusing on trucks and SUVs. Amazon led a $700 million funding round for the company earlier this year.

"The first electric delivery vans will go on the road in 2021," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at an event in Washington DC. "The 100,000 will be completely deployed by 2024, let's say."

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We can phase out fossil fuels fast without having a burst of warming

Par Diana Gitig
A truck filled with coal drives down a freeway in China.

Enlarge (credit: Han Jun Zeng / Flickr)

Burning fossil fuels spews carbon dioxide into the air, which warms the climate through the greenhouse effect (as if you didn’t know that). But burning fossil fuels also spews sulfur dioxide into the air, and sulfur dioxide forms aerosols that can deflect the sun’s rays and thus cool the climate. It has thus been argued that phasing out fossil fuels would have the undesirable effect of accelerating the warming of the planet in the near term, since we’d be getting rid of the cooling aerosols at the same time.

This very argument was made by countries with serious air pollution issues, and it indicated to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change policymakers that the countries were struggling to figure out how, and how much, to limit emissions.

But climate scientists Drew Shindell and Christopher Smith have now re-analyzed the modeling data and concluded that there is no way we could halt emissions quickly enough for the aerosols' "climate penalty" to be meaningful. "Even the most aggressive plausible transition to a clean-energy society," they write, "provides benefits for climate change mitigation."

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Huawei’s new flagship smartphone ships without Google apps

Par Ron Amadeo
  • Here you can see the bottom speaker and USB-C port, and you can also see that the screen wraps really far around the sides. [credit: Huawei ]

Huawei has officially taken the wraps off its next flagship smartphone release, the Mate 30 Pro. This phone is interesting not just as the latest device from the world's second-biggest smartphone manufacturer (after Samsung) but also because this is the first big Huawei launch after the Trump administration's executive order banning US companies from doing business with Huawei. As a result, the Mate 30 Pro is an Android phone that doesn't have any Google apps! The company is not even allowed to use the word "Android," which is a Google trademark. It's Huawei's ecosystem or bust.

At the end of a lengthy presentation on the Mate 30, Huawei CEO Richard Yu acknowledged the phone would not be coming with Google's apps and services. Instead, he highlighted "Huawei Mobile Services" as a replacement. Huawei has been using its own app ecosystem in China for some time, as Google Play is not available there, and now this ecosystem will have to come to Europe and the other places Huawei does business.

Does anyone want to buy a phone without Google Play, Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube? How many of your go-to apps will stop working without Google Play Services? It's a scary proposition for consumers. Huawei apparently doesn't think this plan is going to work either, as it's expecting a $10 billion drop in its consumer devices business this year, thanks to the export ban.

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Facebook and Google have ad trackers on your streaming TV, studies find

Par Kate Cox
A photograph of a TV as taken through a pair of eyeglasses.

Enlarge / A Vizio TV seen at CES in 2011. (credit: Ethan Miller | Getty Images)

Modern TV, coming to you over the Internet instead of through cable or over the air, has a modern problem: all of your Internet-connected streaming devices are watching you back and feeding your data to advertisers. Two independent sets of researchers this week released papers that measure the extent of the surveillance your TV is conducting on you. They also sort out who exactly is benefiting from the massive amounts of consumer data that is taken with or without consumer knowledge.

The first study (PDF), conducted by researchers at Princeton and the University of Chicago, looked specifically at Roku and Amazon set-top devices. A review of more than 2,000 channels across the two platforms found trackers on 69% of Roku channels and 89% of Amazon Fire TV channels.

The most prevalent tracker, Google's, showed up in 975 of the top 1,000 Roku channels, with Google analytics trackers showing up in 360, the researchers found. Over on the Amazon side of things, perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon trackers were the most prevalent, showing up in 687 of 1,000 channels. Doubleclick trackers were found on 307 channels, and Facebook trackers were on 196.

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World’s most destructive botnet returns with stolen passwords and email in tow

Par Dan Goodin
Cartoon image of a desktop computer under attack from viruses.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

If you've noticed an uptick of spam that addresses you by name or quotes real emails you've sent or received in the past, you can probably blame Emotet. It's one of the world's most costly and destructive botnets—and it just returned from a four-month hiatus.

Emotet started out as a means for spreading a bank-fraud trojan, but over the years it morphed into a platform-for-hire that also spreads the increasingly powerful TrickBot trojan and Ryuk ransomware, both of which burrow deep into infected networks to maximize the damage they do. A post published on Tuesday by researchers from Cisco's Talos security team helps explain how Emotet continues to threaten so many of its targets.

Easy to fall for

Spam sent by Emotet often appears to come from a person the target has corresponded with in the past and quotes the bodies of previous email threads the two have participated in. Emotet gets this information by raiding the contact lists and email inboxes of infected computers. The botnet then sends a follow-up email to one or more of the same participants and quotes the body of the previous email. It then adds a malicious attachment. The result: malicious messages that are hard for both humans and spam filters to detect.

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In India, you don’t need a Google phone to have a Google Assistant

Par Jim Salter
Photograph of a payphone in India.

Enlarge / Google Assistant isn't just for smartphones anymore—at least, not in India. (credit: McKay Savage / Flickr)

India is an enormous developing market for international companies like Google—who list Hindi as the second most-used Google Assistant language, after English—but many of those potential Indian customers don't have smartphones and may frequently be in areas with little or no data coverage. Today, Google announced a partnership with telco carrier Vodafone Idea that brings the Google Assistant to those users by way of a simple, toll-free dial-in service.

Indian users can now call 000-800-9191-000 and interact with the Google Assistant entirely by voice in either English or Hindi, with other language support planned over time. Most of the standard "Hey Google" functionality is available—you might ask what actress played a particular movie role, who sings a popular song, or where to find a nearby store.

This version of the Assistant isn't tied to any individual user's Google account, so it can't do things that require personal data access, such as creating a calendar event or calling a friend. Whether this is a bug or a feature is left as a thought exercise for the reader—Incognito Mode Google Assistant, anyone?

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Comcast promised not to raise prices—guess what happened next

Par Jon Brodkin
A Comcast sign at the Comcast offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Enlarge / A Comcast sign at the Comcast offices in Philadelphia. (credit: Getty Images | Cindy Ord )

Comcast offered customers in Utah a "lifetime" price guarantee in order to compete against Google Fiber, then later violated the lifetime promise by raising those customers' prices, according to a lawsuit pending in a federal court.

"In 2016, Comcast was under intense competitive pressure from Google's high speed fiber-optic data service," the lawsuit says. In Salt Lake City, "Comcast engaged extra sales staff to try to effectively beat the Google Fiber sales staff as they made their way up and down the streets of each neighborhood. To compete, Comcast sales staff began to offer 'lifetime' contracts to some of its customers and sold Comcast's broadband services by using door to door salespeople, especially in cities and neighborhoods where Google was aggressively offering its fiber-optic service."

Customer Brian Baker, the plaintiff in the proposed class-action suit, says that in July 2016 he took up Comcast's offer for a $120-per-month plan including TV, Internet, and phone service. Baker's lawsuit says he received a mailing from Comcast that said the $120 price would be locked in for as long as he wanted.

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Hier — 19 septembre 2019Ars Technica

Forget the marshmallow test; this could be the real secret to kids’ future success

Par Jennifer Ouellette
For decades, Walter Mischel's "marshmallow test" was viewed as a key predictor for children's future success, but reality is a bit more nuanced.

Enlarge / For decades, Walter Mischel's "marshmallow test" was viewed as a key predictor for children's future success, but reality is a bit more nuanced. (credit: Igniter Media)

Kindergarten children whose teachers rate them as being highly inattentive tend to earn less in their 30s than classmates who are rated highly "pro-social," according to a recent paper in JAMA Psychiatry. In fact, inattention could prove to be a better predictor of future educational and occupational success than the famous "marshmallow test" designed to assess a child's ability to delay gratification. And a single teacher's assessment may be sufficient to identify at-risk children, the authors claim.

The marshmallow test was a landmark behavioral study conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s and 1970s. He brought in some 600 children between the ages of four and six—all from Stanford University's Bing Nursery School—and gave each of them a marshmallow in a private room. Mischel told the children they could eat the marshmallow right away, or they could wait 15 minutes. If they chose the latter, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Then Mischel would leave the room, and a hidden video camera would record the children's behavior.

You can find videos of different versions of the marshmallow test all over YouTube. They're hugely entertaining. As with Mischel's original study, some kids eat the marshmallow immediately, cramming it into their mouths with unabashed delight. Others try to find a handy distraction: covering their eyes or kicking the desk. Some children poke at the marshmallow with their fingers, sniff it, lick it, or take tiny nibbles around the edges. My personal favorite is a little girl who participated in a re-creation of the study with children in Colombia by motivational speaker Joachim de Posada. She carefully ate just the inside of the marshmallow, leaving the exterior intact, in hopes of fooling the researchers into thinking she had resisted temptation. ("I predict she will be successful, but we will have to watch her," Posada joked.)

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Dealmaster: A bunch of Amazon devices are on sale for Prime members today

Par Ars Staff
Dealmaster: A bunch of Amazon devices are on sale for Prime members today

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a new round of discounts on Amazon devices, including the company's Fire TV Stick streamers, Fire tablets, and Kindle e-readers, among others. The catch? Most of the discounts are for Prime members only.

Still, that covers a whole lot of people, and a few of the discounts here either match or come close to the prices we saw during Amazon's Prime Day event in July. The company's latest (and waterproof) Kindle Paperwhite, for one, is down to $90, while the entry-level Kindle is down to $65. Both are $5 more than they were on Prime Day. At $50 and $30, respectively, the Fire HD 8 and Fire 7 are now matching their Prime Day prices and are still generally worthwhile choices for people wanting to spend as little as possible on a tablet. The Fire TV Stick 4K and 1080p Fire TV Stick aren't as steeply discounted, meanwhile, but they're both $15 off for those in need of a new streaming stick. The company's Cloud Cam security camera and Echo Show 5 smart display are significantly discounted for those who don't have Prime, too.

The big caveat here is that Amazon is announcing new hardware of some sort next week. The company held an event last September where it mainly introduced new Echo devices and other smart home accessories, so it's not certain that the Fire and Kindle devices here will be replaced, but there's at least some chance that these discounts are designed to clear out inventory. Still, most of what's here is a good value all the same. And if you're not interested in having more Amazon in your life, we also have deals on Roku streamers, Logitech keyboards and mice, external hard drives, and more. Have a look at the full rundown below.

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Apple launches iOS 13, watchOS 6, and Apple Arcade

Par Samuel Axon
Apple's Craig Federighi unveils iOS 13 at WWDC 2019.

Apple's Craig Federighi unveils iOS 13 at WWDC 2019. (credit: Ron Amadeo / Ars Technica)

Apple has begun pushing iOS 13 and watchOS 6 to supported iPhones and Apple Watches. Both updates bring substantial changes—especially iOS 13—and mark the beginning of a new annual update cycle.

While it may take some time, most users should see iOS 13 become available in the Settings apps on their iPhones or iPod touches by the end of the day today. The watchOS update will pop up in the Watch app on iPhones that are connected to an Apple Watch.

Also launching today is a new service called Apple Arcade, a $4.99/month subscription service that gives users access to 100 or more mobile games. None of the games are microtransaction-driven titles. They are all premium titles, and many are from prestigious designers and studios like Zach Gage (SpellTower, Really Bad Chess), Snowman (Alto's Odyssey), Dinosaur Polo Club (Mini Metro), The Gentlebros (Cat Quest), and more. Apple has added a dedicated tab in the App Store for Arcade.

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Nintendo Switch Lite is the best portable system Nintendo has ever made

Par Kyle Orland
  • Congratulations! It's a bouncing, baby gaming console!

When I first tried the Nintendo Switch nearly three years ago now, I summed up the experience by saying that “Nintendo has made a great portable console that just happens to connect to your TV rather than a great TV console that happens to be portable.” This week’s launch of the Switch Lite really underscores that claim, refining some of the design compromises that were necessary to allow to allow the Switch to... well, switch between TV and portable modes. Thirty years after the launch of the original Game Boy, Nintendo has created what is easily its most compelling portable console yet.

Big things, small packages

Switch Switch Lite
Screen dimensions 6.2" diagonal; 1280 x 720 resolution 5.5" diagonal; 1280 x 720 resolution
Unit dimensions 4" x 9.4 " x 0.55" (with Joy-Cons) 3.6" x 8.2" x 0.55"
Weight Approximately 0.88 lbs (with Joy-Cons) Approximately 0.61 lbs
Battery life 2.5 to 6.5 hours (original model); 4.5 to 9 hours (new model) 3 to 7 hours
Storage 32 GB internal (with SD card expansion slot) 32 GB internal (with SD card expansion slot)
TV connection Yes No
Removable controllers Yes No
Force feedback Yes ("HD rumble") No
MSRP $300 $200

Nintendo Switch Lite product image

Nintendo Switch Lite

Buy Now
(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)
Some of the most striking differences about the Switch Lite are apparent before you even open the box. The packaging is so small that a standard Switch would have trouble fitting inside, and the massive dock that accompanies the standard system would stand no chance. Inside the box, there’s a Switch Lite, a USB-C wall outlet charger, and a small FCC safety pamphlet. That’s it.

On paper, the differences between the Switch Lite and the original model seem pretty modest. It’s 0.4in (10mm) shorter from top to bottom (a 10% reduction), 1.2” (30mm) narrower side to side (13% reduction) and about 0.27lb (115g) lighter (about 30% reduction). In the hand, though, the difference in bulk is immediately noticeable. This is a system designed, from top to bottom, to be comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The reduced size also helps the unit fit better in a bag or back pocket (though the analog sticks still poke out annoyingly in the latter case).

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Arcimoto begins customer deliveries of its fun little electric trike

Par Jonathan M. Gitlin
Mark Frohnmayer, Arcimoto's founder and President, with an Evergreen Edition at the company's Oregon factory.

Enlarge / Mark Frohnmayer, Arcimoto's founder and President, with an Evergreen Edition at the company's Oregon factory. (credit: Arcimoto)

We've been fortunate enough to test some fun vehicles over the past few years, but few have put as big a smile on my face as the Arcimoto fun utility vehicle, or FUV. This little electric vehicle looks like nothing else on the road: a tricycle layout, steered by handlebars, with tandem seating for two occupants who are partially protected from the elements by a windshield and roof. In 2017, the company raised almost $20 million in its IPO—more than double the amount it was initially seeking—and today it announced that deliveries are beginning for customers in California, Oregon, and Washington.

The Arcimoto is powered by a pair of electric motors outputting 60kW (81hp) that drive the front wheels, with a top speed of 75mph (120km/h) and a 0-60mph time of 7.5 seconds. The motors are fed by a lithium-ion battery that provides an EPA-rated city range of 102.5 miles (165km). And because that battery is low down in the tube frame chassis, the Arcimoto is remarkably stable for a trike.

As is often the case with the launch of a new vehicle, the first production models are fully loaded. In this case, that means the $19,900 Evergreen Edition, which comes with heated seats and handlebar grips, removable doors, a lockable storage compartment at the rear, and Bluetooth speakers.

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Tesla Model 3 wins top safety rating after acing crash tests

Par Timothy B. Lee
  • The small overlap driver's side front crash test. [credit: IIHS ]

Tesla's Model 3 has earned the highest possible safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety after the group performed a series of crash tests on the vehicle. The IIHS named the Model 3 a "Top Safety Pick+," the second all-electric vehicle to win that designation this year after the Audi e-tron.

The Model 3 beat out the Chevy Bolt, which fell short in one of its crash tests earlier this year. The Bolt's headlights also got a poor rating due to excessive glare.

While Tesla's older Model S earned generally good marks in 2017 testing by IIHS, it missed out on a Top Safety Pick rating because of less-than-stellar results in one of its crash tests.

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Iowa officials claim confusion over scope led to arrest of pen-testers

Par Sean Gallagher
The Dallas County, Iowa, courthouse, the site of a penetration test gone wrong.

Enlarge / The Dallas County, Iowa, courthouse, the site of a penetration test gone wrong. (credit: By Iowahwyman - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

In a post to the Iowa Judicial Branch website today, a spokesperson for the state's court administration released redacted images of the documents associated with the security tests that landed two penetration testers in jail earlier this month. The "rules of engagement" document for the contract shows that the state court administration did request a physical security assessment from the security firm Coalfire. State officials say that Coalfire's employees interpreted the documents differently than they had. But it would appear that the real problem behind the arrest of Coalfire's team is a turf war between state and county officials—and whether the state judicial administrators had cleared the security tests with local authorities.

In the post, the Iowa Judicial Branch spokesperson wrote:

Coalfire and State Court Administration believed they were in agreement regarding the physical security assessments for the locations included in the scope of work…yet, recent events have shown that Coalfire and State Court Administration had different interpretations of the scope of the agreement. Together, Coalfire and State Court Administration continue to navigate through this process.

State Court Administration has worked with Coalfire in the past to conduct security testing of its data and welcomed the opportunity to work with them again. Both organizations value the importance of protecting the safety and security of employees as well as the integrity of data.

State Court Administration apologizes to the sheriffs and boards of supervisors of Dallas County and Polk County for the confusion and impact these incidents have caused.

The document showed that the state authorized Coalfire's team to "perform lock-picking activities to attempt to gain access to locked areas." But the document also stated the testers should "talk your way into areas" and allowed for "limited physical bypass."

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Roku updates $29 Express and $99 Ultra players, adds new discovery tools to OS

Par Valentina Palladino
  • The new Roku Express with its remote. [credit: Roku ]

Ahead of the holiday season, Roku made some minor updates to its media-streamer lineup as well as its Roku software as a whole. You won't find any totally new Roku devices this year, but you'll find an updated, $29 Roku Express player that's smaller and uses less power as well as an updated, $99 Roku Ultra set-top box with a new remote that has customizable shortcut buttons.

Roku Express remains the company's most affordable streaming device at $29. The new version is 10% smaller than its predecessor and comes with an adhesive strip so you can attach it to the back of your TV. But more exciting are the updates to its internals—the new Express runs on less power than the previous model, and it can draw power from your TV if you plug it into one of the TV's USB ports. That means you don't need to plug this device into a wall outlet or other power source in order to use it—just plug it into both a USB port and your TV's HDMI port to start streaming.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Roku Ultra, the company's top-tier streaming device that costs $99. The new version will remain at that price point, but it has a faster quad-core processor and more memory, which should help the device launch channels faster than the previous model. Instead of overhauling the Ultra's design, Roku focused more on performance in hopes that it could remove as much lag and slowness as possible so users can get to their content faster. This will purportedly come in handy with content that cord-cutters gravitate toward, like live news and sports coming from any number of free and subscription services.

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Harnessing machine learning to make managing your storage less of a chore

Par Jim Salter
As far as we know, none of the storage vendors using AI have gone <a href=''>neuromorphic</a> yet—let alone biological.

Enlarge / As far as we know, none of the storage vendors using AI have gone neuromorphic yet—let alone biological. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

While the words "artificial intelligence" generally conjure up visions of Skynet, HAL 9000, and the Demon Seed, machine learning and other types of AI technology have already been brought to bear on many analytical tasks, doing things that humans can't or don't want to do—from catching malware to predicting when jet engines need repair. Now it's getting attention for another seemingly impossible task for humans: properly configuring data storage.

As the scale and complexity of storage workloads increase, it becomes more and more difficult to manage them efficiently. Jobs that could originally be planned and managed by a single storage architect now require increasingly large teams of specialists—which sets the stage for artificial intelligence (née machine learning) techniques to enter the picture, allowing fewer storage engineers to effectively manage larger and more diverse workloads.

Storage administrators have five major metrics they contend with, and finding a balance among them to match application demands approaches being a dark art. Those metrics are:

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Zelda: Link’s Awakening review: This beach adventure looks 2019, feels 1993

Par Sam Machkovech
Welcome back to Koholint Island, the world of <em>Link's Awakening</em>, newly reborn as a lively, plasticky world of toys.

Enlarge / Welcome back to Koholint Island, the world of Link's Awakening, newly reborn as a lively, plasticky world of toys. (credit: Nintendo)

What can you expect from an official remake of a Nintendo classic? For nearly three decades, the answer has been all over the map. Sometimes, the company serves a graphical touch-up and nothing more. Sometimes, we get a full redo of a classic with new controls, mechanics, and plot. There's also an in-between zone where a classic returns more-or-less authentically but with clear "quality-of-life" changes and other surprise twists.

This year's remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, which debuted on the original Game Boy in 1993, stands alone in the company's re-release pantheon. No Nintendo game has ever returned with this much of a luxurious, jaw-dropping coat of audio-visual paint—while also gripping so fiercely to its original gameplay. As a result, you may not find a more polarizing first-party game on the Nintendo Switch.

Spoiler alert: It’s pretty much the same

  • The steps you'll take to reclaim your sword on Koholint Island's beach are identical to the Game Boy original.

Let's be frank: You can spoil most of the new Link's Awakening by watching an existing YouTube playthrough of the Game Boy original. It's that allegiant to the source material, right down to the placement of terrain, enemies, and doorways. Need to solve a puzzle? Wondering where one of the game's "seashell" collectibles is hiding? Stuck on a boss's weak point? Go ahead, read an ASCII-formatted, decades-old walkthrough on a site like GameFAQs. It'll work.

Nintendo has rewound to a very specific adventure design era, somewhere between 1986's Legend of Zelda and 1991's Link to the Past, by re-releasing its final 8-bit Zelda game in such authentic fashion. What does that mean, exactly? On a basic level, this is top-down Zelda adventuring of old. You play as Link, an adventuring child in a green tunic who wakes up under mysterious circumstances. You proceed through a large overworld and its many dungeons to acquire keys and items while battling monsters and bosses. And many of the world's puzzles hinge on finding and using brand-new items.

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Some NASA contractors appear to be trying to kill the Lunar Gateway

Par Eric Berger
NASA conceptional artwork for the Exploration Upper Stage carrying the Orion spacecraft.

Enlarge / NASA conceptional artwork for the Exploration Upper Stage carrying the Orion spacecraft. (credit: NASA)

During a hearing of the House space subcommittee on Wednesday, the outlines of a battle over the future of NASA's Artemis Moon program emerged. Yet it was not a partisan fight over whether the Republican White House plan to land humans on the Moon by 2024 should or shouldn't happen. Instead, some members of both political parties questioned how the space agency planned to conduct the Artemis program.

These members, including Oklahoma Democratic representative and committee chair Kendra Horn, as well as Alabama Republican representative Mo Brooks, were particularly skeptical of private rockets in their comments and questions during the hearing. They also pressed NASA on why the agency is not moving more quickly with development of a powerful second stage upgrade for the agency's Space Launch System rocket. This "Exploration Upper Stage" would increase the amount of mass the rocket could send to the Moon from 26 tons to 37 tons.

Wednesday's hearing was notable because it appears to mark an escalation in an intense lobbying battle going on behind the scenes by some contractors—most likely led by Boeing—to kill NASA's proposed Lunar Gateway and instead accelerate funding for the Exploration Upper Stage.

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AT&T considers getting rid of DirecTV as TV business tanks, WSJ reports

Par Jon Brodkin
An AT&T logo seen on the outside of a building.

Enlarge / An AT&T store in Chicago. (credit: Getty Images | jetcityimage)

AT&T is considering whether to "part ways" with DirecTV, just four years after buying the satellite company, the Wall Street Journal reported today. The Journal report doesn't use the word "sale" to describe what AT&T is considering, but the end result could be AT&T no longer owning DirecTV.

"The telecom giant has considered various options, including a spinoff of DirecTV into a separate public company and a combination of DirecTV's assets with Dish Network, its satellite-TV rival," the Journal report said, citing "people familiar with the matter."

It's still early in the process, so AT&T could end up sticking with DirecTV. "AT&T may ultimately decide to keep DirecTV in the fold. Despite the satellite service's struggles, as consumers drop their TV connections, it still contributes a sizable volume of cash flow and customer accounts to its parent," the Journal reported.

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50% of US homes still won’t have fiber broadband by 2025, study says

Par Jon Brodkin
A US map with lines representing communications networks.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | metamorworks)

Fiber broadband is now available to more than 30% of households across the US, and fiber networks should reach 50% of homes by 2025, a new study says.

But 50% coverage would obviously leave another 50% of homes without access to the fastest wireline broadband technology. Reaching 80% of homes instead of just 50% would require an additional cash infusion of $52 billion over the next 10 years, the study says. Going from 80% to 90% would then require another $18 billion. Going from 90% to 100% would be far more cost-prohibitive because it would require wiring up the least populated parts of the country, which make up "the vast majority of US land," the study said.

The study was commissioned by the Fiber Broadband Association, whose members include municipal broadband providers, private ISPs such as Verizon and Sonic, and various vendors that sell equipment to the broadband industry. The industry group hired consulting firm Cartesian to conduct the study and submitted it to the Federal Communications Commission last week (see full study).

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More evidence points to Iranian cruise missiles, drones in attack on Saudi oilfield

Par Sean Gallagher
  • Drone wreck and cruise missile wreckage from the attack on the Aramco Abqaiq oil refinery is displayed during a Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense news conference in Riyadh on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. [credit: Vivian Nereim/Bloomberg via Getty Images ]

Debris gathered from the drones and missiles used to attack an oil field and refinery in eastern Saudi Arabia increasingly lends credence to US and Saudi accusations that Iran was in some way behind the attacks. Other evidence presented thus far also suggests that the attacks may have been launched from Iran rather than Yemen, as the leadership of the Houthi militia fighting Saudi Arabia there has claimed.

A total of 25 drones and missiles were used in the attack. The missiles appear to have been identical to the Quds-1 cruise missile revealed by Ansar Allah (the Houthi militia) in a weapons display on July 7. The drones were delta-winged, propeller-driven unmanned aircrafts with stabilizer fins at the tips of each wing.

Quds it be?

An Ansar Allah video of the unveiling of the Quds-1 cruise missile and other Houthi drones and weapons on July 7, 2019.

The Quds-1 is a smaller missile than the Soumar—Iran's clone of a Soviet-era cruise missile obtained from Ukraine in 2001—and its latest iteration, the Hoveyzeh. The Quds-1 uses what appears to be a Czech-built turbojet engine, the PBS Aerospace TJ100 (which PBS advertises as "especially suitable for unmanned aerial vehicles") stuck onto its upper fuselage for propulsion.

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Who needs qubits? Factoring algorithm run on a probabilistic computer

Par John Timmer
The correct answer is a matter of probabilities, so some related wrong answers also appear with some frequency.

Enlarge / The correct answer is a matter of probabilities, so some related wrong answers also appear with some frequency.

The phenomenal success of our integrated circuits managed to obscure an awkward fact: they're not always the best way to solve problems. The features of modern computers—binary operations, separated processing and memory, and so on—are extremely good at solving a huge range of computational problems. But there are things they're quite bad at, including factoring large numbers, optimizing complex sets of choices, and running neural networks.

Even before the performance gains of current processors had leveled off, people were considering alternative approaches to computing that are better for some specialized tasks. For example, quantum computers could offer dramatic speed-ups in applications like factoring numbers and database searches. D-Wave's quantum optimizer handles (wait for it) optimization problems well. And neural network computing has been done with everything from light to a specialized form of memory called a memristor.

But the list of alternative computing architectures that have been proposed is actually larger than the list of things that have actually been implemented in functional form. Now, a team of Japanese and American researchers have added an additional entry to the "functional" category: probabilistic computing. Their hardware is somewhere in between a neural network computer and a quantum optimizer, but they've shown it can factor integers using commercial-grade parts at room temperature.

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Advanced hackers are infecting IT providers in hopes of hitting their customers

Par Dan Goodin
Image of ones and zeros with the word

(credit: Pixabay)

A previously undocumented attack group with advanced hacking skills has compromised 11 IT service providers, most likely with the end goal of gaining access to their customers' networks, researchers from security firm Symantec said on Wednesday.

The group, dubbed Tortoiseshell, has been active since at least July 2018 and has struck as recently as July of this year, researchers with the Symantec Attack Investigation Team said in a post. In a testament to Tortoiseshell’s skill, the new group used both custom and off-the-shelf hacking tools. At least two of the 11 compromises successfully gained domain admin level access to the IT providers’ networks, a feat that gave the group control over all connected machines.

Tortoiseshell's planning and implementation of the attacks was also notable. By definition, a supply chain attack is hacking that compromises trusted software, hardware, or services used by targets of interest. These types of attacks require more coordination and work. Taken together, the elements suggest that Tortoiseshell is likely a skilled group.

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Viking berserkers may have used henbane to induce trance-like state

Par Jennifer Ouellette
Sixth century Viking matrix used in the manufacture of helmet plaques, depicting Odin accompanied by a Berserker.

Enlarge / Sixth century Viking matrix used in the manufacture of helmet plaques, depicting Odin accompanied by a Berserker. (credit: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

The legendary Viking warriors known as berserkers were renowned for their ferocity in battle, purportedly fighting in a trance-like state of blind rage (berserkergang), howling like wild animals, biting their shields, and often unable to distinguish between friend and foe in the heat of battle. But historians know very little about the berserkers apart from scattered Old Norse myths and epic sagas. One intriguing hypothesis as to the source of their behavior is that the berserkers ingested a specific kind of mushroom with psychoactive properties. Now an ethnobotanist is challenging that hypothesis, suggesting in a recent paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology that henbane is a more likely candidate.

Accounts of the berserkers date back to a late ninth-century poem to honor King Harald Fairhair. The 13th-century Icelandic historian/poet Snorri Sturluson described Odin's berserkers as being "mad as dogs or wolves" and "strong as bears or wild oxen," killing people with a single blow. Specific attributes can vary widely among the accounts, often veering into magic or mysticism. There are claims that berserkers were not affected by edged weapons or fire, but they could be killed with clubs. Other claims say they could blunt the blades of their enemies with spells or just by giving them the evil eye. Most accounts at least agree on the primary defining characteristic: a blind ferocious rage.

The onset of berserkergang purportedly began with bodily chills, shivering, and teeth chattering, followed by swelling and reddening of the face. Then the rage broke out, and once it abated, the berserker would experience both physical fatigue and emotional numbness for a few days. Several hypotheses have been proposed for why the warriors would have behaved this way, including self-induced hysteria—aided by biting their shields and howling—epilepsy, ergot poisoning, or mental illness. One of the more hotly contested hypotheses is that the berserkers ingested a hallucinogenic mushroom (Amanita muscaria), commonly known as fly agaric, just before battle to induce their trance-like state.

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Facebook plans launch of its own “Supreme Court” for handling takedown appeals

Par Kate Cox
The Facebook logo is displayed on a TV screen on September 9, 2019 in Paris, France.

Enlarge / The Facebook logo is displayed on a TV screen on September 9, 2019 in Paris, France. (credit: Chesnot | Getty)

Facebook, which has managed to transcend geographic borders to draw in a population equal to roughly a third of all human life on Earth, has made its final charter for a "Supreme Court" of Facebook public. The company pledges to launch this initiative by November of next year.

The new Oversight Board will have five key powers, according to a charter (PDF) Facebook released yesterday. It can "request that Facebook provide information" it needs in a timely manner; it can make interpretations of Facebook standards and guidelines "in light of Facebook's articulated values"; and it can instruct the company to allow or remove content, to uphold or reverse a decision leading to content being permitted or removed, and to issue "prompt, written explanations of the board's decisions."

"If someone disagrees with a decision we've made, they can appeal to us first, and soon they will be able to further appeal this to the independent board," company CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a letter (PDF). "As an independent organization, we hope it gives people confidence that their views will be heard and that Facebook doesn't have the ultimate power over their expression."

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RF Chirp tech: Long distance, incredible penetration, low bandwidth

Par Jim Salter
The first pitch I saw for Sure-Fi pegged the meter pretty hard.

The first pitch I saw for Sure-Fi pegged the meter pretty hard. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

At Ars, we get daily product pitches that range on a scale from "must review" through "no thanks" to "WTF." So when a representative for a small company's PR firm reached out with a pitch for a "radio signal that's thousands of times more robust than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi" and invited us to "take the Wi-Fi challenge," it pegged my BS meter—but I took a closer look anyway.

It turns out that Sure-Fi isn't intended to replace Wi-Fi at all. When Ars spoke to Sure-Fi president Mark Hall, he clarified that the company's gear is high tech RF for industrial controls, and it's not intended for a consumer audience. It uses 900MHz spectrum RF chirp communications to establish a low-bandwidth, high-reliability connection between industrial equipment (such as HVAC systems or electronic security gates) and their controllers.

With a typical throughput of around 300 bits per second, you definitely wouldn't want to browse the Internet across a Sure-Fi bridge. That's roughly equivalent to the external dial-up modem I used to connect to BBSes in the mid-1980s—and it would take more than an hour to load Ars Technica's current front page. But you can get a lot done in 300 bits per second if you don't need graphics. For industrial controllers that really only need to relay simple commands and occasional meter readings, it's more than enough. It would also make one heck of an RC drone controller!

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À partir d’avant-hierArs Technica

This new eco-friendly game packaging could save tonnes of plastic every year

Par Kyle Orland
  • Sports Interactive Studio Director Miles Jacobson holds the new packaging in a video alongside Spanish footballer Hector Bellerin.

Sega and Sports Interactive have announced that Football Manager 2020 will be sold in new eco-friendly package that uses much less plastic, and they're pushing for the rest of the entertainment industry to follow suit.

The new packaging replaces the now-standard plastic DVD case used for most game discs with a folded, reinforced cardboard sleeve made of 100% recycled fiber. The shrinkwrap surrounding that package has also been replaced with a low-density LDPE polyethylene that's highly recyclable. Even the ink on the cardboard has been changed out for a vegetable-and-water-based version (so it's technically vegan if you're desperate for a snack).

The new packaging does cost a bit more to produce—about 20 (British) cents per unit (or 30 percent), according to an open letter from Sports Interactive Studio Director Miles Jacobson. But those costs are somewhat offset by reduced shipping and destruction costs for excess units, he added. And as Spanish footballer Hector Bellerin says in a video accompanying the letter, "if there's no Earth, there's no money to spend."

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Report: Google Wifi 2 is half Wi-Fi router, half Google Home

Par Ron Amadeo
The first-gen Google Wifi.

Enlarge / The first-gen Google Wifi. (credit: Google)

With Google's big 2019 hardware event set for October 15, we're starting to zero in on what exactly to expect from the show. Besides the heavily leaked Pixel 4, we're also expecting a new Google Home Mini, maybe a new Pixelbook, and today's subject: a sequel to Google's mesh Wi-Fi router, the Google Wifi.

A report from 9to5Google claims that the new Google Wifi will be the long-rumored hybrid device, combining a Google Wifi's mesh router capabilities with a Google Home's microphone and speaker that integrates the Google Assistant for voice commands and music playback. Rather than call this device the "Google Wifi 2," the Wifi line will reportedly fall under Google's reworking of Nest into a Google-wide smart home sub-brand. Thus, it will be called the "Nest Wifi." It's also going to come in a selection of three colors, which would be in line with the Google Home Minis.

Unlike the current generation Google Wifi, which uses multiple identical devices, the report says the new Nest Wifi will have a larger primary router and smaller satellite routers that extend the mesh network. The primary router won't have any Assistant features, according to the report—only the smaller satellites would have speakers, microphones, and the Google Assistant. For users of the current Google Wifi, you'll be able to mix and match new and old hardware.

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Los Angeles partnership launches platform to help people catch phishes

Par Sean Gallagher
The City of Los Angeles is getting some help from a DHS-funded nonprofit in the fight against phishing.

Enlarge / The City of Los Angeles is getting some help from a DHS-funded nonprofit in the fight against phishing. (credit: Getty Images)

The relentless march of ransomware, business email compromises, and other attacks against small private and public organizations over the past few years has demonstrated the hazard of operating below the information security poverty line—the point at which local governments, small and midsize businesses, and other institutions lack the expertise and budget required to implement basic computer and network security best practices needed to protect the organizations against cybercrime.

So on September 17, a Los Angeles-based cybersecurity nonprofit organization unveiled a new effort to help end that cycle, at least locally. Partnering with IBM Security and enterprise intelligence management provider TruStar, LA Cyber Lab has launched two initiatives to help organizations spot and stop malware and phishing attacks—a Web portal for sharing threat data and a mobile application targeted at helping small businesses detect and avoid email-based attacks like spear phishing.

LA Cyber Lab, a 501(c) nonprofit organization, received $3 million in funding from the US Department of Homeland Security in 2017. The organization is a "private-public partnership," LA Cyber Lab executive director Joshua Belk told Ars, "which works with the City of Los Angeles and the business committee of the Greater Los Angeles area." The lab's mission is helping Los Angeles area organizations "protect themselves and be more aware of cyberattacks and just different things that are happening in that realm," Belk explained.

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Protocol found in webcams and DVRs is fueling a new round of big DDoSes

Par Dan Goodin
A fanciful representation of the Internet spanning the globe.

Enlarge (credit: Akamai)

Hackers have found a new way to amplify the crippling effects of denial-of-service techniques by abusing an improperly implemented tool found in almost 1 million network-connected cameras, DVRs, and other Internet-of-things devices.

The technique abuses WS-Discovery, a protocol that a wide array of network devices use to automatically connect to one another. Often abbreviated as WSD, the protocol lets devices send user datagram protocol packets that describe the device capabilities and requirements over port 3702. Devices that receive the probes can respond with replies that can be tens to hundreds of times bigger. WSD has shipped with Windows since Vista and is one of the ways the operating system automatically finds network-based printers.

IoT strikes again

The WSD specification calls for probes and responses to be restricted to local networks, but over the past few months, researchers and attackers have started to realize that many Internet-of-things devices allow devices to send probes and responses over the Internet at large. The result: these improperly designed devices have become a vehicle capable of converting modest amounts of malicious bandwidth into crippling torrents that take down websites. Depending on the device, responses can be anywhere from seven to 153 times bigger, an amplification that puts WSD among the most powerful techniques for amplifying distributed denial of service attacks.

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The world’s best bush plane is destroyed on takeoff in Reno

Par Ars Staff
  • Emergency services respond to the crash at Stead Airport in Nevada. [credit: Mike Patey/Youtube ]

Mike Patey, the Utah entrepreneur who transformed his Polish-built Wilga 2000 short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft into a million-dollar "ultimate bush plane" called DRACO, crashed on takeoff leaving the Reno National Championship Air Races on Monday.

Patey was attempting to depart Reno (where DRACO had been featured in a static display) the day after the races were over, seeking to beat a fast-moving weather front. With him aboard DRACO were his wife and best friend. All three escaped the crash without injury.

The incident

The crash occurred at about 10:12 pm local time. According to the Meteorological Aerodrome Report (METAR), the winds at Stead Airport were out of the southwest, blowing steady at 24 knots (28mph, or about 45km/h) and gusting to 38 knots (44mph, or about 71km/h). Patey was taking off on runway 26 with a crosswind from his left.

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HP debuts Elite Dragonfly 2-in-1 with ultra-light chassis, 24-hour battery life

Par Valentina Palladino
  • The new HP Elite Dragonfly 2-in-1. [credit: Valentina Palladino ]

The commercial PC space can be slow to catch up to the consumer space when it comes to design and next-gen features. But HP thinks it has a solution for business users who want a laptop that looks just as good as it works and doesn't sacrifice pro features to do so. The HP Elitebook Dragonfly, despite its playful name, doesn't play around with its top-tier specs, and at just 2.2 pounds, it's one of the lightest business notebooks you'll find.

The "dragonfly" name refers to the device's ultra-light weight and its color, which HP calls dragonfly blue. The 13-inch Dragonfly is certainly one of the lightest business notebooks I've touched, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that HP still managed to include one USB-A port and an HDMI port on the convertible's slim frame. Those ports are accompanied by two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack, and a security lock slot.

The Dragonfly's modern design would make it seem like a good competitor for machines like Dell's XPS 13 or even the now-discontinued MacBook, but it is part of the Elitebook family, so it has a number of features that pro- and business-users will require standard. The machine has a chassis made of magnesium alloy and ocean-bound plastic material and is MIL-STD 810G certified, so it will withstand drops and shocks better than most of its consumer counterparts. In addition to a shutter-able webcam, the Dragonfly can be equipped with an IR camera, and it comes with a fingerprint reader standard for Windows Hello. The Dragonfly will also support vPro Intel CPUs, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 2TB of storage, Wi-Fi 6, and optional 4x4 LTE connectivity.

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Musk spent $50,000 digging into critic’s personal life

Par Timothy B. Lee
A man in a suit speaks at a podium.

Enlarge / Elon Musk in 2015. (credit: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Elon Musk spent more than $50,000 digging into the personal life of British expat and Thai caver Vern Unsworth in summer 2018 in an effort to substantiate the claim that he was a "pedo guy." Musk revealed the spending in his latest response to a defamation lawsuit Unsworth filed against him last year.

Initially, Musk's investigator turned up some seemingly damning information about Unsworth, including a claim that Unsworth began dating his wife when she was around 12 years old. However, further investigation failed to confirm this claim, with the investigator finding she was actually around 18 years old when the couple met. (The wife, Woranan Ratrawiphukkunand, later told UK newspapers she was 33 when they met.)

But Musk argues that it doesn't matter, legally speaking, if his claims about Unsworth were actually true. What matters is that Musk believed the claims were true at the time he repeated them to BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac.

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