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News for nerds, stuff that matters
Updated: 19 min 33 sec ago

Russian Cyberspies Targeted MH17 Crash Investigation

Sun, 25/10/2015 - 3:36pm
itwbennett writes: Security researchers from Trend Micro have found evidence that the Pawn Storm cyberespionage group set up rogue VPN and SFTP servers to target Dutch Safety Board employees before and after the report on the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was finalized. It is likely that the rogue servers were set up with the goal of phishing login credentials from people involved in the MH17 crash investigation in order to obtain access to confidential information, the researchers said.

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Joomla SQL-Injection Flaw Affects Millions of Websites

Sun, 25/10/2015 - 2:31pm
An anonymous reader writes: Joomla has just issued a patch that fixes a SQL-injection vulnerability discovered by a researcher at Trustwave SpiderLabs. The flaw allowed malicious users to extract a browser cookie assigned to a site's administrator, giving them access to restricted parts of the server. The flaw first appeared in Joomla 3.2, released in November, 2013. An estimated 2.8 million websites rely on Joomla. The Joomla team and the researcher who found the flaw recommend an immediate update to version 3.4.5.

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Oklahoma Earthquakes Are a National Security Threat

Sun, 25/10/2015 - 1:25pm
An anonymous reader writes: A Bloomberg article makes the case that the U.S. must consider the earthquake situation in Oklahoma a national security threat. The town of Cushing, OK is small — fewer than 10,000 people. But enough oil is stored there at times to eclipse the entire U.S. daily usage. "The oil in Cushing props up the $179 billion in West Texas Intermediate futures and options contracts traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange." In the wake of the September 11th attacks, government officials posted guards near the giant storage facilities; they're that important to the U.S. economy. Unfortunately, the rising seismic activity in Oklahoma is putting those tanks at risk. The article argues that if a terrorist attack would threaten national security, so must an equally devastating natural disaster. This raises major questions for the legality of fracking, which has been linked to the increased number of earthquakes striking Oklahoma over the past decade. "Last month the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees oil and gas, ordered wells within three miles to shut down entirely and those between three and six miles from the town to reduce their volume by 25 percent."

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Apple Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over iOS Wi-Fi Assist

Sun, 25/10/2015 - 12:22pm
An anonymous reader writes: A class-action suit has been filed against Apple in U.S. District Court over Wi-Fi Assist being turned on by default in iOS 9. Wi-Fi Assist is designed to switch to cellular data when a user is trying to perform an action over the internet on a poor Wi-Fi signal. This has the natural side effect of using cellular data. Since iOS 9 turned it on for many users, they weren't necessarily expecting that extra use, causing some of them to exceed their data caps. A former Apple employee who was in a leadership position for Mac OS X Wi-Fi software has commented on the issue, saying that the Wi-Fi Assist mess was unavoidable given how Apple's management treats that part of the business. Quoting :"[O]ne particular directorial edict which I pushed back against at the end of my tenure sticks out as not just particularly telling, but deeply misguided: 'Make it self-healing.' Self healing in this context meaning that the networking system, Wi-Fi in particular, should try to correct problems that caused the network to fail, which, if you have spent any time trying to diagnose networking issues is a clear misunderstanding of the issues involved. ... Asking the devices which connect to this vast complex network of networks to detect, and then transparently fix problems in the infrastructure without the permission of the administrators is, well, it's absolutely the pinnacle of buzzword driven product management. Real pointy-haired boss territory."

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Engineers Create the Blackest Material Yet

Sun, 25/10/2015 - 9:32am
schwit1 writes: Researchers have created the least reflective material ever made, using as inspiration the scales on the all-white cyphochilus beetle. The result was an extremely tiny nanoparticle rod resting on an equally tiny nanoparticle sphere (30 nm diameter) which was able to absorb approximately 98 to 99 percent of the light in the spectrum between 400 and 1,400nm, which meant it was able to absorb approximately 26 percent more light than any other known material — and it does so from all angles and polarizations.

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Comet Lovejoy Giving Away Alcohol

Sun, 25/10/2015 - 6:13am
Thorfinn.au writes: Comet Lovejoy lived up to its name by releasing large amounts of alcohol as well as a type of sugar into space, according to new observations by an international team. The discovery marks the first time ethyl alcohol, the same type in alcoholic beverages, has been observed in a comet. The finding adds to the evidence that comets could have been a source of the complex organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life. 'We found that comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity,' said Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory, France, lead author of a paper on the discovery published Oct. 23 in Science Advances. The team found 21 different organic molecules in gas from the comet, including ethyl alcohol and glycolaldehyde, a simple sugar. Comets are frozen remnants from the formation of our solar system. Scientists are interested in them because they are relatively pristine and therefore hold clues to how the solar system was made. Most orbit in frigid zones far from the sun. However, occasionally, a gravitational disturbance sends a comet closer to the sun, where it heats up and releases gases, allowing scientists to determine its composition.

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New Algorithm Provides Huge Speedups For Optimization Problems

Sun, 25/10/2015 - 3:07am
An anonymous reader writes: MIT graduate students have developed a new "cutting-plane" algorithm, a general-purpose algorithm for solving optimization problems. They've also developed a new way to apply their algorithm to specific problems, yielding orders-of-magnitude efficiency gains. Optimization problems look to find the best set of values for a group of disparate parameters. For example, the cost function around designing a new smartphone would reward battery life, speed, and durability while penalizing thickness, cost, and overheating. Finding the optimal arrangement of values is a difficult problem, but the new algorithm shaves a significant amount of operations (PDF) off those calculations. Satoru Iwata, professor of mathematical informatics at the University of Tokyo, said, "This is indeed an astonishing paper. For this problem, the running time bounds derived with the aid of discrete geometry and combinatorial techniques are by far better than what I could imagine."

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The Army Bug Bounty Program: a Critical Need In Defense

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 11:01pm
hypercard writes: It seems just about every major tech company and even a few other large non-tech corporations have bug bounty programs as part of an effort to improve security through a community effort. Captains Rock Stevens and Michael Weigand, both Cyber officers in the U.S. Army, recently published Army Vulnerability Response Program, an outline for a legal way of disclosing bugs in Army software and networks. They say, "[T]he Army does not have a central location for responsibly disclosing vulnerabilities found through daily use, much less a program that can permit active security assessments of networks or software solutions. Without a legal means to disclose vulnerabilities in Army software or networks, vulnerabilities are going unreported and unresolved."

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Judge Tosses Wikimedia's Anti-NSA Lawsuit Because Wikipedia Isn't Big Enough

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 9:54pm
An anonymous reader writes: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Wikimedia Foundation, Amnesty International, and others against the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies for their surveillance of internet communications. The judge used some odd reasoning in his ruling to absolve the NSA of any constitutional violations. He said that since the plaintiffs couldn't prove that all upstream internet communications were monitored, they didn't have standing to challenge whatever communications were monitored. This is curious, given that tech companies are known to be under gag orders preventing them from discussing certain types of government data collection. The judge also made a strange argument about Wikipedia's size: "For one thing, plaintiffs insist that Wikipedia's over one trillion annual Internet communications is significant in volume. But plaintiffs provide no context for assessing the significance of this figure. One trillion is plainly a large number, but size is always relative. For example, one trillion dollars are of enormous value, whereas one trillion grains of sand are but a small patch of beach."

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Mimic, the Evil Script That Will Drive Programmers To Insanity

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 8:54pm
JustAnotherOldGuy writes: Mimic implements a devilishly sick idea floated on Twitter by Peter Ritchie: "Replace a semicolon (;) with a Greek question mark (;) in your friend's C# code and watch them pull their hair out over the syntax error." There are quite a few characters in the Unicode character set that look, to some extent or another, like others – homoglyphs. Mimic substitutes common ASCII characters for obscure homoglyphs. Caution: using this script may get you fired and/or beaten to a pulp.

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You Can't Get Smarter, But You Can Slow How Fast You Get Dumber

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 7:52pm
An anonymous reader writes: An article at the NY Times summarizes the state of research on cognitive improvement. There are multiple industries — from big pharma to the makers of "brain-training" games — trying to convince you there are ways to become more intelligent. Unfortunately, scientific research doesn't really bear that out. There is, however, evidence you can provide short-term boosts, slow aging-related cognitive decline, and trick yourself into achieving better outcomes. Experiments show that simply telling a group of low-performing students that intelligence is malleable led to higher test scores. Researchers also found a use for mental exercises, but only in adults over the age of 60, a time at which some level of cognitive decline is common. Physical exercise seems to help fight that cognitive shrinkage as well. Oddly, different exercises fight it in different ways. As for drugs, there is some evidence that stimulants help with long-term memory, but that's about it. That's not to say they have no effect, just that their effect is more to make you feel smarter instead of actually being smarter. The article does point out one of the best ways to combat cognitive decline: maintain social engagement as you get older. "[P]eople with the highest level of social integration had less than half the decline in their cognitive function of the least socially active subjects."

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Do Not Call 911! The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 6:50pm
theodp writes: Earlier this week, Amazon sicced former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on the NY Times and the ex-Amazon employees that were interviewed for the NYT's brutal August 2015 article about Amazon's white-collar workplace culture. So, one can hardly wait to see how Amazon and Carney will respond to The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp, Dave Jamieson's epic new HuffPo piece on what the future of low-wage work really looks like. Jamieson tells the heartbreaking tale of Jeff Lockhart Jr., who through some workforce sleight-of-hand was working-at-Amazon-but-not-entitled-to-Amazon-benefits when he met his maker after he collapsed in aisle A-215 of Amazon's Chester, VA fulfillment center and laid unconscious beneath shelves stocked with Tupperware and heating pads. Lockhart, whose white work badge distinguished him as a member of the Integrity Staffing Solutions temp worker caste as opposed to a blue-badged Amazon employee (Google yellow-badged its benefits-less temp workers), sadly left behind a wife and three kids, the oldest of which is legally blind. Jamieson writes, "Whoever found Jeff on the third floor apparently alerted Amcare, Amazon's in-house medical team, which is staffed with EMTs and other medical personnel. In the event of a health issue, Amazon instructs workers to notify security before calling emergency services. An employee brochure from a facility in Tennessee, obtained through a public records request, reads: 'In the event of a medical emergency, contact Security. Do Not call 911! Tell Security the nature of the medical emergency and location. Security and/or Amcare will provide emergency response.'" If you're pressed for reading time, Salon's Scott Timberg has a nice TL;DR recap.

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FBI Chief Links Video Scrutiny of Police To Rise In Violent Crime

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 5:43pm
HughPickens.com writes: This year, murders have spiked in major cities across America. According to FBI director James B. Comey the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers that has come in the wake of highly publicized incidents of police brutality may be the main reason for the recent increase in violent crime. "I don't know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year," says Comey. He says he's been told by many police leaders that officers who normally would stop to question suspicious people are opting to stay in their patrol cars for fear of having their encounters recorded and become video sensations. That hesitancy has led to missed opportunities to apprehend suspects and has decreased the police presence on the streets of the country's most violent cities. Officers tell Comey that youths surround police when they get out of their vehicles, taunting them and making videos of the spectacle with their cell phones. "In today's YouTube world, there are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime," says Comey. "Our officers are answering 911 calls, but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns."

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'Zeno Effect' Verified: Atoms Won't Move While You Watch

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 4:40pm
An anonymous reader writes: One of the oddest predictions of quantum theory – that a system can't change while you're watching it – has been confirmed in an experiment by Cornell physicists. Graduate students Yogesh Patil and Srivatsan Chakram created and cooled a gas of about a billion Rubidium atoms inside a vacuum chamber and suspended the mass between laser beams (abstract). In that state the atoms arrange in an orderly lattice just as they would in a crystalline solid. But at such low temperatures the atoms can "tunnel" from place to place in the lattice. The famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that position and velocity of a particle are related and cannot be simultaneously measured precisely. The researchers observed the atoms under a microscope by illuminating them with a separate imaging laser. A light microscope can't see individual atoms, but the imaging laser causes them to fluoresce, and the microscope captured the flashes of light. When the imaging laser was off, or turned on only dimly, the atoms tunneled freely. But as the imaging beam was made brighter and measurements made more frequently, the tunneling reduced dramatically.

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3D Printing Soft Body Parts: a Hard Problem That Just Got Easier

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 3:36pm
sciencehabit writes: Humans are squishy. That's a problem for researchers trying to construct artificial tissues and organs, and one that two separate teams of engineers may have just solved. Using a dish of goo the consistency of mayonnaise as a supporting 'bath,' a team led by biomedical engineer Adam Feinberg at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, can now print 3D biological materials that don't collapse under their own weight as they form—a difficulty that has long stood in the way of printing soft body parts (abstract). Once printed, the structures are stiff enough to support themselves, and they can be retrieved by melting away the supportive goo. The other team, from the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville, has a similar system for printing (abstract), but without the slick trick of the melting goo.

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Mozilla Giving $1 Million To Open Source Projects It Relies On

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 2:31pm
An anonymous reader writes: Mozilla has been a big part of the open source community for a long time, and their main projects rely heavily on independent open source work. They've now announced the Mozilla Open Source Support program, which aims to give back to the projects they rely on, and to also reward other projects that make the community stronger. Mozilla has allocated $1 million to award to these projects — to start. This appears to be Mozilla's efforts to fix a problem we've become painfully aware over the past year and a half: huge portions of the modern web rely on critical bits of open source software whose developers have minimal resources. The company has already begun to compile a list of the projects they rely on. Hopefully it will inspire other organizations to support the open source software projects they rely on as well.

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A Tower of Molten Salt Will Deliver Solar Power After Sunset

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 1:29pm
schwit1 sends this report from IEEE Spectrum: Solar power projects intended to turn solar heat into steam to generate electricity have struggled to compete amid tumbling prices for solar energy from solid-state photovoltaic (PV) panels. But the first commercial-scale implementation of an innovative solar thermal design could turn the tide. Engineered from the ground up to store some of its solar energy, the 110-megawatt plant is nearing completion in the Crescent Dunes near Tonopah, Nev. It aims to simultaneously produce the cheapest solar thermal power and to dispatch that power for up to 10 hours after the setting sun has idled photovoltaics. ... [The system] heats a molten mixture of nitrate salts that can be stored in insulated tanks and withdrawn on demand to run the plant’s steam generators and turbine when electricity is most valuable. ... Eliminating the heat exchange between oil and salts trims energy storage losses from about 7 percent to just 2 percent. The tower also heats its molten salt to 566 degrees C, whereas oil-based plants top out at 400 degrees C.

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European ISPs Exaggerate Performance; US ISPs Slower But More Honest

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 12:27pm
itwbennett writes: New studies of broadband Internet access across Europe and the U.S. published by the European Commission have found that European broadband Internet access providers advertised download speeds of 47.9 Mbps, but only delivered 38.19 Mbps, while U.S. providers delivered more or less what they advertised. But if you want fast fixed-line Internet access, you're still better off in Europe than in the U.S. Average DSL, fiber, and cable Internet speeds in Europe were all ahead of U.S. average speeds, and at lower prices.

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Hands-On WIth Dell's 4K Infinity Edge-Equipped Laptops

Sat, 24/10/2015 - 9:22am
MojoKid writes: Dell's 2015 version of the XPS 13, the company's 13-inch premium ultrabook, is arguably one of the most acclaimed laptops of the year, with its "Infinity Edge" display that comes in resolutions from 1080p up to UHD 4K, with almost no bezel, and a carbon fiber composite chassis design with a machined aluminum lid. Based on the product's success in the market, Dell recently announced they were bringing the design approach and 4K Infinity Edge display to both their XPS 15 consumer based ultrabooks as well as their Precision 15 professional line up. At Dell World 2015 this week Austin, the company had both 15-inch versions on display for demos and this quick hands on shows just how compact and well-built the machines are, though they're also now refreshed with Intel Skylake processors and PCIe NVMe SSDs.

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