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À partir d’avant-hierArs Technica

An advanced and unconventional hack is targeting industrial firms

Par Dan Goodin
A large amount of zeroes and ones.

Enlarge / Binary code, illustration. (credit: KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images)

Attackers are putting considerable skill and effort into penetrating industrial companies in multiple countries, with hacks that use multiple evasion mechanisms, an innovative encryption scheme, and exploits that are customized for each target with pinpoint accuracy.

The attacks begin with emails that are customized for each target, a researcher at security firm Kaspersky Lab reported this week. For the exploit to trigger, the language in the email must match the localization of the target’s operating system. For example, in the case of an attack on a Japanese company, the text of the email and an attached Microsoft Office document containing a malicious macro had to be written in Japanese. Also required: an encrypted malware module could be decrypted only when the OS had a Japanese localization as well.

Recipients who click on a request to urgently enable the document’s active content will see no indication anything is amiss. Behind the scenes, however, a macro executes a Powershell script. The reason it stays hidden: the command parameters:

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Minecraft Dungeons review: A smashing good Diablo clone for any age

Par Sam Machkovech
Redstone golems are a real pain in the <em>Minecraft Dungeons</em> butt.

Enlarge / Redstone golems are a real pain in the Minecraft Dungeons butt. (credit: Mojang)

When Microsoft acquired the game studio Mojang in 2014 for a whopping $2.5 billion, fans of its biggest series, Minecraft, immediately wondered what would happen next. Would this be the end of Minecraft on rival platforms like PlayStation? Was the Java version toast? Would we have to suffer through some ill-fitting abomination like Minecraft: Kinect Dance Party?

Turns out, Microsoft has largely been a solid shepherd for the blocky series. The traditional Minecraft game continues receiving regular free updates across every platform imaginable, and its cross-platform builds sit alongside the original Java incarnation. Also, we didn't wind up with a bunch of annoying spin-off games; so far, there has just been a well-reviewed Telltale adventure and a decent Pokemon Go clone.

Microsoft and Mojang's combined ambitions grow this week with Minecraft Dungeons, the first series spin-off to germinate from within Mojang's offices. At E3 2019, the studio admitted to having run a skunkworks division for some time, focused on finding the right game concept for its mega-hit universe. Its first spinoff salvo comes in the form of a family-friendly action-RPG.

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Apple battles Ableton Live with new Logic Pro X 10.5 features

Par Samuel Axon
  • Logic Pro X 10.5. [credit: Apple ]

Today, Apple announced Logic Pro X 10.5, a major update to its popular digital audio workstation (DAW) for macOS. Key new features include a pro version of Live Loops, a new drum-machine-like tool (Step Sequencer) for making drum beats and other sounds, and some significant updates to the Sampler tool.

Taking a page right out of competing DAW Ableton Live’s book, Live Loops offers a grid-based approach to plotting out loops and samples. Apple also introduced a new feature called Remix FX that allows application of filters in a way that works for live performance. Live performance is something most music producers feel competing DAW Ableton Live excels at, compared to Logic, so this reads as an effort to close that gap.

The Sampler tool has been updated with a new interface and some small new features. The company also offers Quick Sampler here, a tool that lets you pull audio samples from places like the Voice Memos app (and elsewhere) and turn them into playable instruments within Logic.

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The Ars COVID-19 vaccine primer: 100-plus in the works, 8 in clinical trials

Par Beth Mole
HUBEI, CHINA - APRIL 15: (CHINA MAINLAND OUT)220 volunteers from Wuhan are vaccinated with the novel coronavirus vaccine, which is in a human clinical trial.

Enlarge / HUBEI, CHINA - APRIL 15: (CHINA MAINLAND OUT)220 volunteers from Wuhan are vaccinated with the novel coronavirus vaccine, which is in a human clinical trial. (credit: Getty | TPG)

The clearest way out of the COVID-19 crisis is to develop a safe, effective vaccine—and scientists have wasted no time in getting started.

They have at least 102 vaccine candidates in development worldwide. Eight of those have already entered early clinical trials in people. At least two have protected a small number of monkeys from infection with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19.

Some optimistic vaccine developers say that, if all goes perfectly, we could see large-scale production and limited deployment of vaccines as early as this fall. If true, it would be an extraordinary achievement. Less than four months ago, SARS-CoV-2 was an unnamed, never-before-seen virus that abruptly emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Researchers there quickly identified it and, by late January, had deciphered and shared its genetic code, allowing researchers around the world to get to work on defeating it. By late February, researchers on multiple continents were working up clinical trials for vaccine candidates. By mid-March, two of them began, and volunteers began receiving the first jabs of candidate vaccines against COVID-19.

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Here’s why Tony Stark drove an Audi in the Avengers movie

Par Jonathan M. Gitlin
  • Audi's vehicles have shown up in plenty of movies recently, but this RSQ e-tron concept car was designed just for Spies in Disguise. [credit: Audi ]

One of the more jarring things about movies for the last couple of decades, to me at least, has been the heavy product placement that comes with the price of admission. You know the sort of thing—a shot that needlessly lingers on a beer bottle's label or a car's badge before moving to the actual drama of a scene. Sure, it gets the product in front of the audiences' eyeballs, but it often ruins any suspension of disbelief that was going on at the time. But on Wednesday, Audi gave us a look at the other side of that equation by posting a Q&A with Kai Mensing, its head of international product placement.

Mensing has been in his role for a decade now, during which time we've seen Audis show up in, among other things, Transformers: Age of Extinction as well as several Marvel movies (including the Iron Man films, where Tony Stark drives various R8 supercars) and (to my surprise, because I haven't seen them) the various Fifty Shades films.

But the car company has been helping movie makers with cars for a lot longer—Mensing points to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as the first, which saw an Audi 5000 sedan share a little screen time with the brown wrinkly alien and his young costars. The company also provided a first-generation S8 sedan for what might have been the last truly good car chase movie—John Frankenheimer's Ronin. (Frankenheimer was a true petrolhead and director of 1966's Grand Prix, so the man knew how to film things on four wheels.)

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Missouri sues China over coronavirus, claims nation “lied to the world”

Par Kate Cox
Courthouse rotunda in front of Gateway Arch.

Enlarge / St. Louis, Missouri, back before everything was cancelled due to coronavirus. (credit: Tetra Images | Henryk Sadura | Getty Images )

The pandemic is a challenge for all of us. The economic knock-on effects of the health crisis are themselves another crisis. Many people are wildly casting about, not just for solutions, but for someone to take the blame. It's hard to punish the SARS-CoV-2 virus, of course; whether or not one regards a virus as a living thing, it is most certainly not a legal person in any sense.

The office of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has apparently decided that, in the absence of any way to sue a virus, the next best course of action is to take to court the entire nation where the disease originated. To that end, Schmitt's office said yesterday it had filed a lawsuit against "the Chinese government, Chinese Communist Party, and other Chinese officials and institutions" for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint (PDF) first confirms that, as of Monday, there were more than 5,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Missouri, from which at least 177 persons had died. It then claims that "the virus unleashed by the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government has left no community in the world untouched," adding that the pandemic "is the direct result of a sinister campaign of malfeasance and deception" carried out by all of China's leadership.

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Needs more Zendaya: We have our first look at the new Dune film

Par Jennifer Ouellette
Screenshot from upcoming film Dune.

Enlarge / Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in this first look at Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. (credit: Chiabella James/Warner Bros.)

We have been eagerly anticipating director Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel Dune since the project was first announced way back in 2016. Now Vanity Fair has given us our first look at the film, including several photos of some of the main characters. Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides? Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides? Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho? Zendaya as the mysterious Chani? They're all featured, along with a few other key cast members.

As we reported last year, Dune is set in the distant future and follows the fortunes of various noble houses in what amounts to a feudal interstellar society. Much of the action takes place on the planet Arrakis, where the economy is driven largely by a rare life-extending drug called melange ("the spice") that also conveys a kind of prescience. There's faster-than-light space travel, a prophecy concerning a messianic figure, giant sandworms, and lots of battles, as protagonist Paul Atreides (a duke's son) contends with rival House Harkonnen and strives to defeat the forces of Shaddam IV, emperor of the known universe.

That brief synopsis hardly does justice to the sweeping grandeur and enormous cultural influence of Herbert's novel. When it was first published, the Chicago Tribune called it "one of the monuments of modern science fiction." Astronomers have used the names of many fictional planets in Dune to identify various topographical features on Saturn's moon Titan. Herbert wrote five sequels, and the franchise also includes board games, computer games, and numerous prequels and sequels written by his son, Brian Herbert, with Kevin J. Anderson.

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Hollow corkscrews may put a cork in noisy ventilation

Par Chris Lee
Hollow corkscrews may put a cork in noisy ventilation

Enlarge (credit: Man Sun)

And now for a bit of research that is suddenly highly relevant in today’s locked-up and closed-in world: noise reduction. Does air-conditioning drive you mad? The constant hiss of sterile air?

The average building designer doesn’t seem to give a damn about it. As long as water doesn’t drip out of the vents and the dust is kinda-sorta filtered out… well, you’ve got headphones don’t you?

Don’t stop the hiss

It is actually surprisingly difficult to get rid of ventilation noises. Fans and airflow are noisy, and the very ducting that allows the air to flow into your office space also allows the sound in. Therefore, the easiest way to get rid of ventilation noises is to just close the air duct. More realistically, you need a baffle that damps the sound waves over a wide range of frequencies but doesn’t restrict air flow.

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Glowing silicon nanowire reveals how to put optics in your CPU

Par Chris Lee
Image of a disordered collection of small wires.

Enlarge (credit: Stanford engineering)

The key term in integrated circuits is integrated. The ability of fabrication facilities to integrate things sets limits on what processes are available and what materials can be safely used. As soon as you suggest a different material or process, the whole chain is broken, and anybody suggesting such a thing should expect people questioning your suitability for your current position. “Compatibility” is why you will not find laser-powered integrated circuits in your laptop.

The ability to make lasers using integrated-circuit-compatible materials, however, may have gotten a boost, with a demonstration of glowing (but not yet lasing) silicon.

Looking on the bright side

Optics and lasers are the backbone of high-speed data transmission. You do not use copper wires to transport data at 1Tb/s. Instead you will use glass and some finely tuned and very expensive laser diodes. But laser diodes are made using processes and materials that are not compatible with those used to make integrated circuits. So, while it is possible to create, say, an optical interconnect between a RAM module and a CPU, you have to somehow glue the optics to the silicon chip in exactly the right location. Research labs are happy to sacrifice PhD students to such ventures, but PhD-bots don’t scale well, are high maintenance, and their deployment leads to dark looks.

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The next PlayStation controller is called DualSense, looks like a cool robot

Par Sam Machkovech
  • The PlayStation 5's new gamepad is called DualSense and sports a bold two-toned design. Did Aperture Science make this? [credit: Sony / Aurich Lawson ]

While we still don't know what the PlayStation 5 console will look like (or whether it will really still hit its "holiday 2020" release window), we at least know about its controller. The PS5's gamepad, dubbed the DualSense, largely resembles previous DualShock models, but it appears to have just enough changes under the hood to merit a mostly new name.

Tuesday's surprise announcement comes courtesy of the official PlayStation Blog. The biggest technical difference comes in the form of a wholly updated "haptic feedback" suite, which we understand compares favorably to Nintendo's "HD rumble" feature in its Switch Joy-Con controllers. Sony senior VP Hideaki Nishino doesn't go into fine detail about how the DualSense's rumbling will differ from the DualShock 4 line, but finer-tuned haptic feedback can offer a greater range of rumble sensitivity and placement than most gamepads offer, at least when done right. "Stereo" rumbling feedback that carefully rumbles from one side to the other could be possible with such a system, but Sony didn't clarify.

Nishino only mentions one specific DualSense rumbling bonus compared to other gamepads: "Adaptive" rumbling feedback. Nishino offers a vague description of how pressing the PS5's "L2" and "R2" triggers will let players "truly feel the tension of your actions, like when drawing a bow to shoot an arrow."

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Shkreli’s plea from prison: Free me and I’ll cure COVID-19

Par Beth Mole
Martin Shkreli outside federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Enlarge / Martin Shkreli outside federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, June 29, 2017. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Who can save us from disease and despair in these harrowing times? Why, none other than Martin Shkreli, of course.

Yes, the widely despised ex-pharmaceutical executive currently serving a seven-year federal prison term for fraud is, in fact, humanity’s One True Savior... if only we’d let him out of jail for a few months.

In a brief document posted online this week, Shkreli and a small band of associates lay out scientific plans to develop a cure for COVID-19.

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New Guinea villagers unearth evidence of the island’s Neolithic past

Par Kiona N. Smith
Handmade clay pottery.

Enlarge (credit: Ben Shaw)

When people in New Guinea started tending crops like yam and fruits around 8,000 years ago, they transformed nearly everything about life on the island. By around 5,000 years ago, people had begun settling in houses supported by wooden posts. The farmers developed new kinds of cutting tools, and they carved stone pestles to prepare yams, fruits, and nuts. They also wove brightly colored fabrics with dyed fibers, elaborate carved stone figures of birds, and traded across 800km of ocean for obsidian.

The details of daily life were uniquely New Guinea. But the big picture—more people, settled village life, new types of stone tools, and a sudden flourishing of symbolic art—might have been familiar to people from other early agricultural societies around the world. Together, those things are a bundle of cultural trends that archaeologists call Neolithic.

Until recently, archaeologists didn’t think New Guinea had developed its own Neolithic culture. Instead, many researchers thought all the trappings of Neolithic village life had arrived around 3,200 years ago with the Lapita, a group of seafaring farmers who came to the island from Southeast Asia. That’s because the few Neolithic artifacts that could be properly dated all seemed to come from after the Lapita arrived. But the people of the small highland village of Waim recently rewrote that narrative with a chance discovery during a local construction project.

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Activision has a First Amendment right to use Humvees in Call of Duty

Par Kyle Orland
Depicting a Humvee like this in <em>Call of Duty</em> is allowed by the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled.

Enlarge / Depicting a Humvee like this in Call of Duty is allowed by the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled.

A federal judge ruled this week that Activision has a first amendment right to include Humvees in its Call of Duty titles, despite vehicle manufacturer AM General's claims of trademark infringement and false advertising for the in-game use of the military vehicles.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit first filed by AMG in 2017, which suggested that Call of Duty players were being "deceived into believing that AM General licenses the games or is somehow connected with or involved in the creation of the games." That's not a completely ridiculous idea, since Activision and other major game manufacturers generally arranged licenses for their in-game guns until 2013.

In his ruling this week, though, District Judge George B. Daniels dismissed AM General's claim. That decision hinged in part on a 1989 precedent that established that artistic works could make reference to outside trademarks as long as the usage was relevant to the work and did not "explicitly mislead as to the source of the content or work."

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No joke: Rick and Morty has a new trailer; second half of S4 will air May 3

Par Jennifer Ouellette

The last five episodes of Rick and Morty S4 will air a bit earlier than fans expected.

Just a few days after dropping a special samurai-themed Rick and Morty episode, "Samurai and Shogun," Adult Swim has given us the trailer for the hotly anticipated second half of the popular animated series, along with a release date: May 3. That should delight hardcore fans, who had feared the release of the special episode meant a longer wait for the regular series' return.

(A few mild spoilers for prior seasons below.)

The first five episodes of S4 aired last November and December, and they featured Rick and Morty harvesting "death crystals" that predict various outcomes for one's demise; teaming up with Mr. Poopybutthole and "Elon Tusk" for a heist; freeing horny dragons from the Wizard who enslaved them; and battling time-traveling alien snakes, among other adventures. As always, pop-culture references abounded, riffing on the films Edge of Tomorrow, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Akira, Battlestar Galactica, and Terminator, for instance.

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Microsoft announces Microsoft 365, a service to replace personal Office 365

Par Samuel Axon
  • Teams will offer features for families. [credit: Microsoft ]

Starting April 21, Microsoft’s Office 365 personal and family subscription suite will be renamed Microsoft 365 in a move that heralds an effort by the company to win over more consumer users.

Seeking to make a point with the rebranding, Microsoft calls it “a subscription service for your life,” which might conjure visions of Amazon Prime. Microsoft 365 will cost $6.99 per month, and a six-user, $9.99 family plan will also be offered. Its apps will be available on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.

It will include Office applications like Word and Excel as Office 365 has, but it comes with a promise of new apps and services both today and in the future. In a blog post describing the new service, Microsoft wrote that Microsoft 365 will offer “new artificial intelligence (AI), rich content and templates, and cloud-powered experiences.”

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Real learning in a virtual classroom is difficult

Par Chris Lee
A virtual classroom setup.

Enlarge / A virtual classroom setup. (credit: Chris Lee)

"Remote teaching sucks. It's yucky, and it is not the future of education."

Thus spake my wife, a high school English teacher with many years of experience. And she's right. I teach at a university, and we have also moved to virtual lessons in the face of COVID-19. Even before the current crisis, I already made extensive use of digital tools in the classroom. However, virtual lessons are a poor substitute for actual in-person instruction. Let me take you on a tour of a future that we all should be trying to avoid. (It isn't all doom and gloom, though; we've discovered some hidden treasures as well.)

The problem is that teaching is an intimate activity: students give up a certain degree of control to the teacher and trust that person to help them master some new topic. It doesn't matter how big the class, that intimacy is unchanged for the teacher. Teaching is personal. Yes, from the student's perspective, a one-on-one lesson is more personal than a lecture delivered to 500 students. But the anonymity and safety in large classes does not mean that teachers are not seeing and modifying their approach via instantaneous feedback from their classes.

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Trump orders GM to make ventilators, claims company is “wasting time”

Par Jon Brodkin
President Trump speaking in front of a podium at a daily briefing.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump speaks as Vice President Mike Pence looks on during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic at the White House on March 26, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Drew Angerer )

President Donald Trump today ordered General Motors to make ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients and accused the company of "wasting time." Trump announced that he "signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators."

Hours before Trump took this step, GM said it is working with ventilator-maker Ventec Life Systems "to deliver the first ventilators next month and ramp up to a manufacturing capacity of more than 10,000 critical care ventilators per month with the infrastructure and capability to scale further."

Trump's statement did not specify how many ventilators GM should build, but he said that GM is moving too slowly:

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Long narrow wires carry heat with little resistance

Par Chris Lee
Image of lots of small wires.

Enlarge / Tiny wires may boost heat flow. (credit: Rice University)

Getting rid of heat is one of the central challenges with modern technology. It doesn’t matter whether the technology is a high-end server CPU or some pathetically anemic processor in a no-brand set-top box—someone has had to think about thermal management. One of the central issues in thermal management is thermal resistance, a material's tendency to limit the flow of heat. The thicker a material, the larger the temperature gradient required to achieve the same amount of cooling because the thermal resistance increases with thickness.

Except when it doesn’t. If the heat is carried by ballistic phonons, thermal resistance stays constant.

Energy in motion

Heat is basically energy. In a solid material, energy is stored in two places: the motion of electrons, and the motion of the nuclei. The motion of electrons can pull nuclei into motion, while likewise, nuclei kick electrons around, so energy travels back and forth between the two.

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Apple will update iWork suite with trackpad support and iCloud folder sharing

Par Samuel Axon
The keyboard and trackpad attachment for the iPad Pro.

Enlarge / The keyboard and trackpad attachment for the iPad Pro. (credit: Apple)

In the notes for its iPad Pro announcement earlier today, Apple announced a couple of major new features coming to the iWork suite that are specifically oriented around new offerings for the iPad.

Pages, Numbers, and Keynote will all get full trackpad support on the platform, but they'll also gain iCloud Folder Sharing. "Collaboration will also become easier than ever with support for iCloud folder sharing and the ability to edit shared documents while offline," Apple wrote in its newsroom article.

Users have been asking for iCloud folder sharing for a while, and there have been indications that the company has been working on it for a while, but it hadn't come to fruition yet. In fact, it seems to have been delayed before.

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Student privacy laws still apply if coronavirus just closed your school

Par Kate Cox
A mother and child daughter look at a laptop together.

Enlarge / "School" is probably going to look something like this for a whole lot of families in the coming weeks. (credit: Rafael Ben-Ari | Getty Images)

Hundreds of colleges and universities are suddenly shutting their doors and making a rapid switch to distance learning in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus disease. Likewise, hundreds of K-12 districts nationwide have either already followed suit or are likely to in the coming days.

Online education comes with a whole host of challenges of its own, though, especially when everyone's doing the best they can to pull together ad hoc solutions at the last minute. Many of the logistical questions are daunting in their own right: does everyone have a device to use? Does everyone have an Internet connection to use it on? What software tools do we already have that we can use for this? How on earth do we adapt intensive hands-on classroom curriculum, like lab work, for home viewing?

Even when all of the immediate logistical and technical needs have been triaged and handled, though, there remains another complicating factor. While the United States doesn't have all that much in the way of privacy legislation, we do, in fact, have a law protecting some student educational data. It's called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

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Before it sued Google for copying from Java, Oracle got rich copying IBM’s SQL

Par Timothy B. Lee
Before it sued Google for copying from Java, Oracle got rich copying IBM’s SQL

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

More than a decade ago, Google re-implemented the Java programming language as part of its new Android mobile operating system. Oracle, the owner of Java, then sued Google for copyright infringement in 2010. Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this epic copyright case that will have huge implications for the entire software industry—and that could cost Google billions of dollars.

Google says it has done nothing wrong. Copyright law specifically excludes "systems" and "methods of operation" from copyright protection. Google argues that the aspects of Java it copied—function names, argument types, and so forth—fit squarely into these exceptions. Google also argues that copyright's fair use doctrine allows for this kind of copying.

The case is being closely watched by the software industry. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have warned that Oracle's stance could create chaos for the industry. They argue that making this kind of copying illegal would not only create legal headaches for a lot of software companies—it would be bad for customers, too.

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Call of Duty’s free-to-play, cross-platform battle royale launches March 10 [Updated]

Par Sam Machkovech

The worst-kept secret in the Call of Duty universe is now wide open: a brand-new, free-to-play shooter on both PC and consoles that revolves around, you guessed it, the battle royale genre.

Call of Duty: Warzone, whose existence leaked a month ago, received its first confirmed gameplay reveal early Monday morning via Chaos, a CoD enthusiast channel on YouTube. The 11-minute video appeared before we received any official statements from the series' publisher Activision.

  • Parachuting onto a giant video game landscape for the sake of a massive battle... where have we seen this before? [credit: Chaos / Activision ]

While many of the game's exact details are missing in the video, its raw gameplay footage confirms some major selling points. First, CoD: Warzone is the series' first free-to-play game on PCs and consoles (Xbox One, PlayStation 4). Chaos' video implies that owners of last year's Modern Warfare reboot will get either earlier access to the mode or exclusive customization content, but we don't have exact details how that will work at this time. The video also didn't include any footage of its real-money store, so we'll have to wait and see whether this free game includes paid options like a "battle pass" system.

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Study: Building a better super-capacitor out of super-stinky durian fruit

Par Jennifer Ouellette
Widely known and revered in Southeast Asia as the "king of fruits," the durian is distinctive for its large size, strong odor (often compared to rotten onions, raw sewage, or turpentine), and formidable thorn-covered husk.

Enlarge / Widely known and revered in Southeast Asia as the "king of fruits," the durian is distinctive for its large size, strong odor (often compared to rotten onions, raw sewage, or turpentine), and formidable thorn-covered husk. (credit: Danita Delimont/Getty Images)

The ubiquity in the modern world of consumer electronics has created a corresponding demand for better super-capacitors for energy storage, thereby enabling rapid-charging for our mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and electric cars. But the best materials for building high-performance super-capacitors are often costly. Now, scientists from the University of Sydney in Australia have successfully created a low-cost alternative, building electrodes for super-capacitors out of waste scraps from durian and jackfruit, according to a new paper in the Journal of Energy Storage.

"Durian waste, as a zero-cost substance that the community wants to get rid of urgently due to its repulsive, nauseous smell, is a sustainable source that can transform the waste into a product to substantially reduce the cost of energy storage through our chemical-free, green synthesis protocol," said co-author Vincent Gomes of the University of Sydney in Australia.

Scientists have typically relied on a variety of carbon-based materials as electrodes when building super-capacitors: activated carbon, carbon nanotubes, and graphene sheets, for example. It's best to use materials that boast high porosity, since they help diffuse electrolytes through the electrodes, and to maximize surface area.

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Sorry, Tulsi Gabbard, Google can’t violate the First Amendment

Par Timothy B. Lee
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in March 2020.

Enlarge / Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in March 2020. (credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

When longshot presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard sued Google last year alleging a violation of her First Amendment rights, legal experts were scathing in their responses.

The lawsuit "has so many problems it's hard to know where to begin," tweeted attorney Gabriel Malor. Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman described the lawsuit as "terrible."

Now a federal judge has confirmed these experts' views. In a Tuesday ruling, he threw out the lawsuit. Gabbard's lawsuit claimed that Google violated her free speech rights when it blocked her from buying campaign ads for a few hours on the evening of June 28, 2019. But Stephen Wilson, a federal district judge in the central district of California, ruled that Gabbard didn't have a case.

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Google faces state lawsuit alleging misuse of schoolkids’ private data

Par Kate Cox
Students use Google Suite apps on computers in a classroom in Groton, Mass. on May 11, 2016.

Enlarge / Students use Google Suite apps on computers in a classroom in Groton, Mass. on May 11, 2016. (credit: David L. Ryan | The Boston Globe | Getty Images)

Adults who use Google products and services tend to know, at least on some background level, that the cost for access to "free" tools is paid in data. Google also provides low- and no-cost hardware and software tools to students and educators in school districts nationwide, and one state now says that children are also paying that privacy price, in violation of the law.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit (PDF) alleging Google's collection and use of data from schoolchildren in his state is in violation violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act.

COPPA, one of the few US federal laws protecting data privacy, imposes certain restrictions on the collection and use of personal data associated with children under age 13. Under the law, websites, apps, and digital platforms that collect data from young users are required to post a privacy policy and have parents consent to it, to give parents the option to opt out of having their children's information shared with third parties, to let parents review their children's data, and to follow sound data storage and retention policies. The suit accuses Google of deliberately deceiving school districts and parents with regards to its data policies. A platform explicitly designed for use in elementary and middle schools, by schoolchildren, is by definition going to be associated with children under age 13.

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A US gas pipeline operator was infected by malware—your questions answered

Par Dan Goodin
A US gas pipeline operator was infected by malware—your questions answered

Enlarge

Tuesday’s news that a ransomware infection shut down a US pipeline operator for two days has generated no shortage of questions, not to mention a near-endless stream of tweets.

Some observers and arm-chair incident responders consider the event to be extremely serious. That’s because the debilitating malware spread from the unnamed company’s IT network—where email, accounting, and other business is conducted—to the company’s operational technology, or OT, network, which automatically monitors and controls critical operations carried out by physical equipment that can create catastrophic accidents when things go wrong.

Others said the reaction to the incident was overblown. They noted that, per the advisory issued on Tuesday, the threat actor never obtained the ability to control or manipulate operations, that the plant never lost control of its operations, and that facility engineers deliberately shut down operations in a controlled manner. This latter group also cited evidence that the infection of the plant’s industrial control systems, or ICS, network appeared to be unintentional on the part of the attackers.

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Dunes use turbulence as a buffer to prevent collisions

Par Chris Lee
A sand dune constructed from red glass beads. Some of the beads are being blown off by water flow.

Enlarge / A red dune racing around an underwater track. (credit: Karol A. Bacik)

Sand dunes are amazing. They sing, they move, they organize into regular structures—and then those structures can fall apart. Dunes can collide and combine into a single dune, and a single dune can break into multiple dunes. We are all familiar with pictures of dune fields in the desert, but you may not realize that the ripples of sand that are on the ocean floor are also dunes—just on a different scale. To test our understanding of sand dune models, physicists have been playing with underwater sandcastles. The result is that the models are OK but need work.

Building dunes

Dunes are not just a creation of sand; they are the result of a combined effort between free-flowing sand and a fluid (water or air) that moves it about. Understanding these dynamics involves a combination of modeling and measurement.

Yet the modeling is… challenging. A single dune involves too many particles to create a particle model, so researchers have come up with a short cut: they model dunes as autonomous blobs that can careen about the desert. As the dunes move and collide with each other, they exchange mass. Eventually, all the dunes end up with the same mass and move at the same speed, which results in regular structures, like we observe in dune fields and stream beds.

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Netflix goes full spoiler with short teaser for Stranger Things S4

Par Jennifer Ouellette

It looks like David Harbour will return as Jim Hopper for the fourth season of Stranger Things.

Netflix just dropped a short teaser for the upcoming fourth season of Stranger Things, and it reveals a doozy of a spoiler. Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is alive and working on a Russian chain gang somewhere in the desolate frozen expanse of the Soviet Union.

(Spoilers for first three seasons below.)

When we last left our plucky teenaged sleuths and their allies, they had successfully beaten back a third attempt by the so-called Mind-Flayer to escape the Upside Down and take over the town of Hawkins, Indiana, where the series has thus far been set. But that victory did not come without a cost: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) lost her telekinetic powers after being bitten by the Flay-Monster. And her adoptive father, Hopper, sacrificed himself to save the town in the season three finale. Eleven is taken in by Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), and the entire Byers clan moves away from Hawkins.

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GeForce Now loses all Activision Blizzard titles weeks after launch

Par Kyle Orland

Nvidia has announced that all Activision Blizzard games available on its GeForce Now streaming service will soon be removed from streaming play at the publisher's request. The move affects a number of GeForce streamable games on Blizzard's Battle.net launcher, including Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, and the Call of Duty series (Destiny 2 is still streamable since Bungie split with Activision just over a year ago).

"[We're] continually adding new games, and on occasion, having to remove games – similar to other digital service providers," Nvidia said in a statement. "While unfortunate, we hope to work together with Activision Blizzard to re-enable these games and more in the future."

Activision Blizzard hasn't publicly commented on the reason for this pullback, and the company's games could return soon. But last month Activision Blizzard announced that it had entered into a multiyear partnership with Google Cloud to provide backend infrastructure support for its game, as well as esports streaming services through YouTube. Activision didn't announce any plans to bring games to Google's Stadia service at that time, but such a move would make some sense as an extension of that existing partnership.

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New ransomware doesn’t just encrypt data. It also meddles with critical infrastructure

Par Dan Goodin
Stock photo of energy plant at night.

Enlarge (credit: An Energy Company / Flickr)

Over the past five years, ransomware has emerged as a vexing menace that has shut down factories, hospitals, and local municipalities and school districts around the world. In recent months, researchers have caught ransomware doing something that's potentially more sinister: intentionally tampering with industrial control systems that dams, electric grids, and gas refineries rely on to keep equipment running safely.

A ransomware strain discovered last month and dubbed Ekans contains the usual routines for disabling data backups and mass-encrypting files on infected systems. But researchers at security firm Dragos found something else that has the potential to be more disruptive: code that actively seeks out and forcibly stops applications used in industrial control systems, which is usually abbreviated as ICS. Before starting file-encryption operations, the ransomware kills processes listed by process name in a hard-coded list within the encoded strings of the malware.

In all, Ekans kills 64 processes, including those spawned by human-machine interfaces from Honeywell, the Proficy Historian from General Electric, and licensing servers from GE Fanuc. The same 64 processes, it turns out, are targeted in a version of the MegaCortex ransomware. That version first came to light in August.

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Record labels want to ask potential jurors: Do you read Ars Technica?

Par Jon Brodkin
Illustration of a person's hands holding up a vinyl record, which has an Ars Technica logo.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Music-industry lawyers plan to ask potential jurors in a piracy case whether they read Ars Technica.

"Have you ever read or visited Ars Technica or TorrentFreak?" is one of 40 voir dire questions that plaintiffs propose to ask prospective jurors in their case against Grande Communications, an Internet service provider accused of aiding its customers' piracy, according to a court filing on Friday. TorrentFreak pointed out the juror question in an article yesterday.

Grande was sued in April 2017 by the three major labels, namely Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Bros. Records. The case is in US District Court for the Western District of Texas.

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Archaeologists put stone tools through modern engineering tests

Par Kiona N. Smith
It turns out the robot uprising will be equipped with (checks notes) sharp chert flakes.

Enlarge / It turns out the robot uprising will be equipped with (checks notes) sharp chert flakes.

A team of archaeologists recently applied high-tech engineering tests to stone tools, and the results suggest that even very early members of our genus, like Homo habilis, knew how to select rocks with the right combination of sharpness and durability for the work at hand.

Species on the hominin family tree have made and used stone tools for about 2.6 million years that we know of; you could call it a family tradition. At Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania, sediment layers dating back to about 1.8 million years ago contain simple stone tools—the handiwork of a small hominin called Homo habilis. That species was an early member of our genus who walked upright and had a mixture of human and ape-like features. Starting around 1.2 million years ago, a later hominin species called Homo erectus made more complex stone tools, like hand-axes.

Think about a stone flake from the oldest layers at Olduvai. That simple tool exists because 1.8 million years ago, a Homo habilis picked out a rock, worked the stone into the right shape, and then used it to do something. Archaeologists can learn a lot about what ancient hominins knew and how they lived by studying the wear and knapping marks on such tools. But the rock itself has a story to tell. Why did a hominin 1.5 million years ago pick this kind of rock, and why this particular chunk of it?

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Sick of Big Pharma’s pricing, health insurers pledge $55M for cheap generics

Par Beth Mole
A pharmacy technician grabs a bottle of drugs off a shelf at the central pharmacy of Intermountain Heathcare on September 10, 2018 in Midvale, Utah. IHC along with other hospitals and philanthropies are launching a nonprofit generic drug company called "Civica Rx" to help reduce cost and shortages of generic drugs.

Enlarge / A pharmacy technician grabs a bottle of drugs off a shelf at the central pharmacy of Intermountain Heathcare on September 10, 2018 in Midvale, Utah. IHC along with other hospitals and philanthropies are launching a nonprofit generic drug company called "Civica Rx" to help reduce cost and shortages of generic drugs. (credit: Getty | George Frey)

Fed up with the exorbitant price tags on old, off-patent medications, 18 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are partnering with a nonprofit dedicated to manufacturing and selling affordably priced generic drugs.

The BCBS companies are providing $55 million in their new partnership with nonprofit Civica Rx, the two organizations announced.

Like the new venture, Civica was born out of frustration with the pharmaceutical industry’s steep price increases as well as perilous shortages of essential drugs. In 2018, numerous health care organizations banded together with three philanthropies to manufacture their own brand of generic drugs, forming Civica and thwarting the generic industry. Their aim was to provide hospitals with injectable generic medications in steady supplies at affordable prices.

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The machines are whispering: We tested AI Dungeon 2 and cannot stop laughing

Par Ars Staff
A child with TV for a head wields a toy sword

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In February 2019, we at Ars Technica learned about the Generative Pre-trained Transformer-2 (GPT-2) toolset, a freakish machine-learning algorithm that was trained on roughly 40GB of human-written text. Its ability to generate unique, seemingly human text scared its creators (the non-profit research group OpenAI) enough for them to temporarily lock the tools up for public consumption. (Despite those fears, we at Ars got to access and play with the results two weeks later.)

Since then, GPT-2's public availability has exploded with tons of experiments, and the one that has arguably made the rounds more than any other is AI Dungeon, a freely available "text adventure" that is designed to create a seemingly endless interactive narrative experience. That experience received a formal "sequel" in December, and we've finally tested the results as a staff.

According to its creators, the game combines GPT-2 with roughly 30MB of stories lifted from ChooseYourStory.com, a community-driven hub for interactive fiction. The resulting database is served to users in a funnel of one of four story prompts: fantasy, mystery, apocalyptic, or zombie. (A fifth option lets users write their own one- or two-sentence prompt to describe their own ideal setting.) From there, users are given some sort of verbose prompt, then left to type out whatever action, description, or rumination they imagine doing in that fictional universe.

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Advocates ask colleges to avoid facial recognition as surveillance grows

Par Kate Cox
Exterior photograph of college campus.

Enlarge / Students from George Washington University in DC are among those calling for a resolution against the use of facial recognition at their school. (credit: Toni L. Sandys | The Washington Post | Getty Images)

Ah, college: that time in a young adult's life for encountering new friends, new areas of study, ill-advised time management and beverage consumption decisions, and a pervasive surveillance network to track it all.

Sophisticated systems for tracking people have sprung up everywhere as we march through the 21st century, and institutions of higher education are no exception. To that end, digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future today launched a campaign to get facial recognition off of college campuses. The campaign is partnering with student advocacy groups at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and DePaul University in Chicago.

"Facial-recognition surveillance spreading to college campuses would put students, faculty, and community members at risk. This type of invasive technology poses a profound threat to our basic liberties, civil rights, and academic freedom," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a written statement. Greer added that facial recognition is not yet widely seen on college campuses, and she and the members of the campaign hope to keep it that way.

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I broke Giant’s handheld scanner system by only buying two things

Par Kate Cox
I broke Giant’s handheld scanner system by only buying two things

Enlarge (credit: Ahold Delhaize)

This is a silly story about the most stupid interaction I have had with a piece of technology that's supposed to make life easier, and it all starts at the grocery store.

The closest supermarket to my house is a Giant (ironically, a medium-sized one). It's nearby, well-stocked, price-competitive, and generally well-run, so my family does most of our grocery shopping there. One major feature for us is the chain's SCAN-IT service: a handheld scanner, or an app you can put on your phone, that allows you to check out and bag your own items as you go. Pretty convenient, as far as it goes, except for one major flaw: the system apparently cannot do basic arithmetic, such as determining that two is in fact less than seven.

Scan-It and the honor system

The Scan-It app is straightforward to use. You load it up on your phone while on the store's Wi-Fi network and point your phone camera at the barcodes on the things you want to buy. The store has scales throughout the produce section where you can weigh your fruit and vegetables and print a label to scan. For loose items such as bagels or muffins, the bakery has centralized barcodes hanging on signs.

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A look ahead to the 2020 IMSA sports car season

Par Jonathan M. Gitlin
  • 2019 was the year that Mazda Motorsport finally saw victory with the RT24-P. The car lost none of its speed in the offseason and set a new unofficial track record in preseason testing at Daytona. There are even rumors of a third Mazda joining some rounds of the series, but it's all unconfirmed as of now. [credit: Mazda Motorsport ]

Motorsport doesn't have much of an offseason these days. That's particularly true for IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, North America's main endurance racing series. After wrapping up 2019 in late October, the series has already conducted its big preseason test—called "the Roar before the 24"—and is gearing up for the first and one of its biggest events of the year, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which takes place at the end of January. With that in mind, let's take a look at what storylines might be bubbling up for 2020.

IMSA's series has been in fine form the past few years, with strong interest from manufacturers and teams eager to prove their prowess in each of the different classes that all compete on track at the same time. 2020 is going to be somewhat of a transition year for the sport. Entries are down, and fans of Nissan and Ford will have to find new teams to cheer for as both OEMs are ending their factory-backed participation.

But it's not all bad. A new boss is running things, the highly anticipated new mid-engined Corvette makes its racing debut, and everyone's starting to think about possible convergence with the new set of technical rules being written for Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship.

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California considers selling its own generic prescription drugs

Par Beth Mole
A close up of Newsom's face turned to face reporters not pictured, with camera lights in the background.

Enlarge / California Governor Gavin Newsom. (credit: Getty | AGUSTIN PAULLIER )

California could become the first state to introduce its own brand of generic prescription drugs in an effort to drag down stratospheric healthcare costs.

The plan for state-branded drugs is part of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal, which he is expected to unveil Friday, January 10.

“A trip to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or hospital shouldn’t cost a month’s pay,” Newsom said in a statement. “The cost of healthcare is just too damn high, and California is fighting back.”

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Researcher promoting red meat, sugar failed to disclose industry ties—again

Par Beth Mole
A close-up of charred meat cooking on a grill with flames below and rising smoke

Enlarge / Cooked. (credit: Getty | picture alliance)

A controversial researcher known for bucking the well-established dietary advice that people should limit their sugar and red meat intake has, once again, failed to disclose his financial ties to the food industry.

Epidemiologist Bradley Johnston failed to report funding from a research agency backed by the beef industry when he published a high-profile review on red meat consumption, according to the journal that published the review last year, Annals of Internal Medicine. The review concluded that consumers should continue—not reduce—their consumption of red and processed meats, which has been fiercely criticized by nutrition experts.

Annals issued a correction on the review last week, updating the review's accompanying disclosure forms.

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Big Pharma celebrates new year by raising prices on over 250 drugs

Par Beth Mole
Big Pharma celebrates new year by raising prices on over 250 drugs

(credit: Images Money)

Leading drug makers rang in the new year by once again raising list prices of their drugs—this time on more than 250 of them, according to an analysis reported by Reuters.

Data examined by healthcare research firm 3 Axis Advisors found that major drug makers including Pfizer Inc, GlaxoSmithKline PLC, and Sanofi SA, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Gilead Sciences Inc, and Biogen Inc hiked prices this week.

The larger price tags applied to a range of medications, from blood thinners to cancer therapies and treatments for respiratory conditions, HIV, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

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Plant-based burgers will make men grow boobs, Livestock News reports

Par Beth Mole
Photo taken in Borl_nge, Sweden

Enlarge / Photo taken in Borl_nge, Sweden (credit: Svante Berg | EyeEm | Getty Images)

Amid the growing popularity of the Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat products, and other plant-based meat alternatives, the meat industry has declared war.

Despite coming out with their own competing alternative and plant-based products, various meat industry-backed efforts have claimed that the vegetarian-friendly foods are harmful and “ultra-processed.” They’ve also compared them to dog food.

Now, there’s a new claim: that they’ll make men grow breasts.

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“OxySacklers” angry that Tufts removed family name from campus

Par Beth Mole
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 5: Tufts employee Gabe Ryan removes letters from signage featuring the Sackler family name at the Tufts building at 145 Harrison Ave. in Boston on Dec. 5, 2019.

Enlarge / BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 5: Tufts employee Gabe Ryan removes letters from signage featuring the Sackler family name at the Tufts building at 145 Harrison Ave. in Boston on Dec. 5, 2019. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

The Sackler family is pushing back after Tufts University removed the family name from its buildings and programs due to the family’s link to the ongoing opioid epidemic, according to a report in The New York Times.

In a letter to Tufts’ president, a lawyer for the family wrote that the removal was “contrary to basic notions of fairness" and “a breach of the many binding commitments made by the University dating back to 1980 in order to secure the family’s support, including millions of dollars in donations for facilities and critical medical research.”

Tufts made the decision to remove the family name after getting the results of an independent review of the university’s relationship with the Sacklers and OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, which the Sacklers own. Both the family and the company have been accused of helping to spark the crisis by aggressively marketing the powerful painkiller and misleading doctors, patients, and regulators about its addictiveness.

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Sacklers siphoned nearly $11 billion from Purdue amid opioid crisis

Par Beth Mole
Closeup of hands with a hammer and chisel removing letters from a wall.

Enlarge / A Tufts employee removes letters from signage featuring the Sackler family name in Boston on Dec. 5, 2019. Tufts University stripped the Sackler name from buildings and programs after months-long conversations and a report that censured the school for its relationship with the family behind OxyContin, an opioid blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths nationwide. The Sackler family gave Tufts $15 million over nearly 40 years and got its name prominently displayed throughout the university's Boston health sciences campus. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

As the epidemic of opioid abuse and overdoses ravaged the United States—claiming hundreds of thousands of lives—the Sackler family withdrew more than $10 billion from its company, OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma. That's according to a new 350-page audit commissioned by Purdue as part of the company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring.

The revelation is likely to fuel arguments from some states that say the Sacklers should offer up more cash to settle the more than 2,800 lawsuits accusing them and Purdue of helping to spark the opioid crisis. The plaintiffs in those cases—mostly states and local governments—collectively allege that Purdue and the Sacklers used aggressive and misleading marketing to push their highly addictive painkillers onto doctors and patients.

In a proposed $10-$12 billion settlement, the family has offered at least $3 billion of its own fortune. The family also said it would give up ownership of Purdue, which will transform itself into a public-benefit trust.

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