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Government

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 (bbc.com) 26

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.
Security

Hackers Steal $31 Million at Russia's Central Bank (cnn.com) 36

The Bank of Russia has confirmed Friday that hackers have stolen 2 billion rubles ($31 million) from correspondent accounts at the Russian central bank. Central bank security executive Artiom Sychev said it could've been much worse as hackers tried to steal 5 billion rubles, but the central banking authority managed to stop them. CNNMoney reports: Hackers also targeted the private banks and stole cash from their clients, the central bank reported. The central bank did not say when the heist occurred or how hackers moved the funds. But so far, the attack bears some similarity to a recent string of heists that has targeted the worldwide financial system. Researchers at the cybersecurity firm Symantec have concluded that the global banking system has been under sustained attack from a sophisticated group -- dubbed "Lazarus" -- that has been linked to North Korea. But it's unclear who has attacked Russian banks this time around. Earlier Friday, the Russian government claimed it had foiled an attempt to erode public confidence in its financial system. Russian's top law enforcement agency, the FSB, said hackers were planning to use a collection of computer servers in the Netherlands to attack Russian banks. Typically, hackers use this kind of infrastructure to launch a "denial of service" attack, which disrupts websites and business operations by flooding a target with data. The FSB said hackers also planned to spread fake news about Russian banks, sending mass text messages and publishing stories on social media questioning their financial stability and licenses to operate.
Crime

Foxconn Employee Faces 10-Year Prison Sentence For Stealing 5,700 iPhones Worth $1.5 Million (thenextweb.com) 27

A Taiwanese Foxconn manager faces a stiff prison sentence after he stole 5,700 iPhones from his employer, and went to sell them for $1.56 million. The Next Web reports: Foxconn is a tech manufacturing giant. It makes a lot of things, including laptops for HP, phones for Apple, games consoles for Sony, and its workers so depressed it has to install suicide nets. The Taiwanese manager at the center of this crime -- known only by his family name, Tsai -- worked in the testing department at Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen, mainland China. According to Taiwanese prosecutors, Tsai ordered eight of his subordinates to smuggle out thousands of iPhones which were used by the company for testing and quality assurance purposes. These were destined to be scrapped after use. The stolen iPhones (mostly iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s models) made their way to stores in Shenzhen, and went on to make Tsai and his accomplices nearly $1.56 million USD (Tw$50 million). Tsai has since been charged with breach of trust and, if found guilty, he faces a maximum 10-year jail term.
AI

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs (businessinsider.com) 263

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines. Automation will, "in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," Hawking wrote. "The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive." He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: "We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent." Combined with other issues -- overpopulation, climate change, disease -- we are, Hawking warns ominously, at "the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity." Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
Crime

Lawyer Sues 20-Year-Old Student Who Gave a Bad Yelp Review, Loses Badly (arstechnica.com) 61

20-year-old Lan Cai was in a car crash this summer, after she was plowed into by a drunk driver and broke two bones in her lower back. She didn't know how to navigate her car insurance and prove damages, so she reached out for legal help. Things didn't go as one would have liked, initially, as ArsTechnica documents:The help she got, Cai said, was less than satisfactory. Lawyers from the Tuan A. Khuu law firm ignored her contacts, and at one point they came into her bedroom while Cai was sleeping in her underwear. "Seriously, it's super unprofessional!" she wrote on Facebook. (The firm maintains it was invited in by Cai's mother.) She also took to Yelp to warn others about her bad experience. The posts led to a threatening e-mail from Tuan Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen. Nguyen and his associates went ahead and filed that lawsuit, demanding the young woman pay up between $100,000 and $200,000 -- more than 100 times what she had in her bank account. Nguyen said he didn't feel bad at all about suing Cai. Cai didn't remove her review, though. Instead she fought back against the Khuu firm, all thanks to attorney Michael Fleming, who took her case pro bono. Fleming filed a motion arguing that, first and foremost, Cai's social media complaints were true. Second, she couldn't do much to damage the reputation of a firm that already had multiple poor reviews. He argued the lawsuit was a clear SLAPP (strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Ultimately, the judge agreed with Fleming, ordering the Khuu firm to pay $26,831.55 in attorneys' fees.
AT&T

FCC Calls Out AT&T, Verizon For 'Zero Rating' Their Own Video Apps (zdnet.com) 46

U.S. regulators are calling out AT&T and Verizon for exempting their own video apps from data caps on customers' smartphones. The FCC has sent letters to the country's biggest wireless carriers saying the way they handle the practice, known as "zero rating," can hurt competition and consumers. From a report on ZDNet: AT&T launched DirecTV Now earlier this week. AT&T Mobility customers can stream video data over LTE without impacting their data allowance. Verizon offers something similar with its go90 service. AT&T and Verizon don't see any wrongdoing. In a statement Friday, AT&T said exempting services like DirecTV Now from data caps saves customers money. Verizon said its practices are good for consumers and comply with regulations. "We will provide the FCC with additional information on why the government should not take away a service that saves consumers money," AT&T wrote in a statement Friday. The FCC hasn't released any official ruling on "zero rating," just guidance. It said on Thursday a similar letter was sent to AT&T in November, but the FCC didn't like AT&T's original response.
Movies

Free TV-Show Streaming Hurts Online Sales, Research Finds (torrentfreak.com) 61

New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that online piracy is not the only worry for TV distributors. Based on Downton Abbey streaming and sales data provided by PBS, as reported by TorrentFreak, the researchers find that free legal streams can significantly reduce download sales. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that free streaming options should be banned. From the report: The researchers were able to estimate the impact in a natural experiment, since PBS was required to pull the free streams for all episodes at the same time. This means that some were streamable for more than a month, while others only for a week, or two. In addition, they had sales data for several seasons, allowing them to make an alternative comparison between years, where the streaming windows varied. In both cases, they show that free streaming cannibalizes download sales. "Our analysis in our primary specification indicates that availability in the free streaming window reduces EST sales by 8.4%. Using an alternative specification we find that free availability reduces EST sales by 9.9%," they write. The negative effect is not unexpected. However, it doesn't mean that it is wrong to offer free streaming in the long run, as there are several positive side-effects. That's where the puzzle starts to get complicated.
Facebook

Facebook Knows What You're Streaming (bloomberg.com) 96

Facebook is gathering information about the shows Roku and Apple TV owners are streaming. The company then uses the Facebook profile linked to the same IP addresses to tailor the commercials that are shown to individual users. From a report on Bloomberg: For the past few weeks, the social network says, it's been targeting ads to people streaming certain shows on their Roku or Apple TV set-top boxes. It customizes commercials based on the Facebook profiles tied to the IP addresses doing the streaming, according to a company spokesman. He says Facebook is trying out this approach with the A&E network (The Killing, Duck Dynasty) and streaming startup Tubi TV, selecting free test ads for nonprofits or its own products along with a handful of name brands. This push is part of a broader effort by social media companies to build their revenue with ads on video. Twitter is placing much of its ad-sales hopes on streaming partnerships with sports leagues and other content providers. In October, CFO Anthony Noto told analysts on an earnings call that the ads played during Twitter's NFL Thursday Night Football streaming exclusives had been especially successful, with many people watching them in their entirety with the sound turned on. The participants in these partnerships don't yet have a default answer to questions such as who should be responsible for selling the ads or who should get which slice of revenue.
Android

Multiple Vulnerabilities In AirDroid Opens At Least 10 Million Android Users To MITM Attacks, Hijackings (androidpolice.com) 28

AirDroid is a popular Android application that allows users to send and receive text messages and transfer files and see notifications from their computer. Zimperium, a mobile security company, recently released details of several major security vulnerabilities in the application, allowing attackers on the same network to access user information and execute code on a user's device. Since there are between 10 and 50 million installations of the app, many users may be imperiled by AirDroid. Android Police reports: The security issues are mainly due to AirDroid using the same HTTP request to authorize the device and send usage statistics. The request is encrypted, but uses a hardcoded key in the AirDroid application (so essentially, everyone using AirDroid has the same key). Attackers on the same network an intercept the authentication request (commonly known as a Man-in-the-middle attack) using the key extracted from any AirDroid APK to retrieve private account information. This includes the email address and password associated with the AirDroid account. Attackers using a transparent proxy can intercept the network request AirDroid sends to check for add-on updates, and inject any APK they want. AirDroid would then notify the user of an add-on update, then download the malicious APK and ask the user to accept the installation. Zimperium notified AirDroid of these security flaws on May 24, and a few days later, AirDroid acknowledged the problem. Zimperium continued to follow up until AirDroid informed them of the upcoming 4.0 release, which was made available last month. Zimperium later discovered that version 4.0 still had all these same issues, and finally went public with the security vulnerabilities today.
Censorship

China Is Censoring People's Chats Without Them Even Knowing About It (qz.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A new study from The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, reveals that censorship on WeChat occurs primarily in group chats rather than one-on-one chats between two people, and often in such a way where the sender of a text isn't even aware a piece of text has been scrubbed. The discoveries illuminates how China's government attempts to keep its citizens blind to the scope of its censorship regime. The researchers set out find the extent to which certain keywords got scrubbed from conversations between two or more users in WeChat. To do this, in June 2016 the team posed as a Chinese WeChat user and sent out 26,821 keywords containing terms that had been censored on other apps, including Tom-Skype (a made-for-China version of Skype) and YY (a live broadcast app). A corresponding Canadian user in the two-way chat would then report back to say whether or not the message had been received. The report states that out of the entire sample, only one term -- Falun Gong -- had been scrubbed. When they ran an identical test in August, even that text mysteriously passed without censorship. Yet when they tested group chats, they found multiple cases in which certain keywords triggered a removal. Specifically, while sensitive terms used in isolation were unlikely to trigger censorship (say "June 4th," a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests, brutally put down on June 4, 1989), it took effect when they were used in a full sentence or with other keywords. The researchers also discovered that when WeChat censored a message, the sender received no notice informing him that his text had not reached the intended recipient. The study also notes that "WeChat only censors content for users who bind their account to a mainland Chinese phone number when they first register to use the app." The censorship is still applied even if Chinese residents move to different countries or change phone numbers.
Botnet

International Authorities Take Down Massive 'Avalanche' Botnet, Sinkhole Over 800,000 Domains (arstechnica.com) 52

plover writes: Investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, Eurojust, Europol, and other global partners announced the takedown of a massive botnet named "Avalanche," estimated to have involved as many as 500,000 infected computers worldwide on a daily basis. A Europol release says: "The global effort to take down this network involved the crucial support of prosecutors and investigators from 30 countries. As a result, five individuals were arrested, 37 premises were searched, and 39 servers were seized. Victims of malware infections were identified in over 180 countries. In addition, 221 servers were put offline through abuse notifications sent to the hosting providers. The operation marks the largest-ever use of sinkholing to combat botnet infrastructures and is unprecedented in its scale, with over 800,000 domains seized, sinkholed or blocked." Sean Gallagher writes via Ars Technica: "The domains seized have been 'sinkholed' to terminate the operation of the botnet, which is estimated to have spanned over hundreds of thousands of compromised computers around the world. The Justice Department's Office for the Western Federal District of Pennsylvania and the FBI's Pittsburgh office led the U.S. portion of the takedown. 'The monetary losses associated with malware attacks conducted over the Avalanche network are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide, although exact calculations are difficult due to the high number of malware families present on the network,' the FBI and DOJ said in their joint statement. In 2010, an Anti-Phishing Working Group report called out Avalanche as 'the world's most prolific phishing gang,' noting that the Avalanche botnet was responsible for two-thirds of all phishing attacks recorded in the second half of 2009 (84,250 out of 126,697). 'During that time, it targeted more than 40 major financial institutions, online services, and job search providers,' APWG reported. In December of 2009, the network used 959 distinct domains for its phishing campaigns. Avalanche also actively spread the Zeus financial fraud botnet at the time."
The Courts

French Man Sentenced To Two Years In Prison For Visiting Pro-ISIS Websites (theverge.com) 371

According to French media, a court in the department of Ardeche on Tuesday sentenced a 32-year-old man in France to two years in prison for repeatedly visiting pro-ISIS websites -- even though there was no indication he planned to stage a terrorist attack. Police raided his house and found the man's browsing history. They also found pro-ISIS images and execution videos on his phone, personal computer, and a USB stick, an ISIS flag wallpaper on his computer, and a computer password that was "13novembrehaha," referencing the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead. Slashdot reader future guy shares with us an excerpt from The Verge's report: In court, the man argued that he visited the sites out of curiosity. "I wanted to tell the difference between real Islam and the false Islam, now I understand," he said, according to FranceBleu. But the man reportedly admitted to not reading other news sites or international press, and family members told the court that his behavior had recently changed. He became irritated when discussing religion, they said, and began sporting a long beard with harem pants. A representative from the Ardeche court confirmed to The Verge that there was no indication that the man had any plans to launch an attack. In addition to the two-year prison sentence, he will have to pay a 30,000 euros (roughly $32,000) fine.
Transportation

Apple Will Use Drones To Improve the Quality of Apple Maps (bloomberg.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple plans to use drones and new indoor navigation features to improve its Maps service and catch longtime leader Google (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternate link), according to people familiar with the matter. The Cupertino, California-based company is assembling a team of robotics and data-collection experts that will use drones to capture and update map information faster than its existing fleet of camera-and-sensor ladened minivans, one of the people said. Apple wants to fly drones around to do things like examine street signs, track changes to roads and monitor if areas are under construction, the person said. The data collected would be sent to Apple teams that rapidly update the Maps app to provide fresh information to users, the person added. Apple is also developing new features for Maps, including views inside buildings and improvements to car navigation, another person familiar with the efforts said. Apple filed for an exemption on Sept. 21, 2015, from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones for commercial purposes, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News. At that time, exemptions were required to commercially operate drones. In a response dated March 22, 2016, the FAA granted Apple approval to "operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct data collection, photography, and videography," according to one of the documents. Apple's application told the FAA that it would use a range of drones sold by companies such as SZ DJI Technology Co. and Aibotix GmbH to collect the data. Apple has hired at least one person from Amazon's Prime Air division to help run the drone team, one of the people said.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Exchange Ordered To Give IRS Years of Data On Millions of Users (gizmodo.com) 201

Last month, instead of asking for data relating to specific individuals suspected of a crime, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) demanded America's largest Bitcoin service, Coinbase, to provide the identities of all of the firm's U.S. customers who made transactions over a three year period because there is a chance they are avoiding paying taxes on their bitcoin reserves. On Wednesday, a federal judge authorized a summons requiring Coinbase to provide the IRS with those records. Gizmodo reports: Covering the identities and transaction histories of millions of customers, the request is believed to be the largest single attempt to identify tax evaders using virtual currency to date. As a so-called "John Doe" summons, the document targets a particular group or class of taxpayers -- rather than individuals -- the agency has a "reasonable basis" to believe may have broken the law. According to The New York Times, the IRS argued that two cases of tax evasion involving Coinbase combined with Bitcoin's "relatively high level of anonymity" serve as that basis. "There is no allegation in this suit that Coinbase has engaged in any wrongdoing in connection with its virtual currency exchange business," said the Justice Department on Wednesday. "Rather, the IRS uses John Doe summonses to obtain information about possible violations of internal revenue laws by individuals whose identities are unknown." In a statement, Coinbase vowed to fight the summons, which the company's head counsel has previously characterized as a "every, very broad" fishing expedition.
Piracy

UK ISPs To Start Sending 'Piracy Alerts' Soon (torrentfreak.com) 66

Beginning next year, internet service providers in the UK will send email notifications to subscribers whose connections have been allegedly used to download copyright infringing content. In what is an attempt to curtail piracy rates, these alerts would try to educate those who pirate about legal alternates. TorrentFreak adds: Mimicking its American counterpart, the copyright alert program will monitor the illegal file-sharing habits of UK citizens with a strong focus on repeat infringers. The piracy alerts program is part of the larger Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative which already introduced several anti-piracy PR campaigns, targeted at the general public as well as the classroom. The plan to send out email alerts was first announced several years ago when we discussed it in detail, but it took some time to get everything ready. This week, a spokesperson from CCUK's "Get it Right From a Genuine Site" campaign informed us that it will go live in first few months of 2017. It's likely that ISPs and copyright holders needed to fine-tune their systems to get going, but the general purpose of the campaign remains the same.

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