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New Mac ransomware is even more sinister than it appears

Ars Technica - 4 hours 39 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

The threat of ransomware may seem ubiquitous, but there haven't been too many strains tailored specifically to infect Apple's Mac computers since the first full-fledged Mac ransomware surfaced only four years ago. So when Dinesh Devadoss, a malware researcher at the firm K7 Lab, published findings on Tuesday about a new example of Mac ransomware, that fact alone was significant. It turns out, though, that the malware, which researchers are now calling ThiefQuest, gets more interesting from there. (Researchers originally dubbed it EvilQuest until they discovered the Steam game series of the same name.)

In addition to ransomware, ThiefQuest has a whole other set of spyware capabilities that allow it to exfiltrate files from an infected computer, search the system for passwords and cryptocurrency wallet data, and run a robust keylogger to grab passwords, credit card numbers, or other financial information as a user types it in. The spyware component also lurks persistently as a backdoor on infected devices, meaning it sticks around even after a computer reboots, and could be used as a launchpad for additional, or "second stage," attacks. Given that ransomware is so rare on Macs to begin with, this one-two punch is especially noteworthy.

"Looking at the code, if you split the ransomware logic from all the other backdoor logic the two pieces completely make sense as individual malware. But compiling them together you're kind of like what?" says Patrick Wardle, principal security researcher at the Mac management firm Jamf. "My current gut feeling about all of this is that someone basically was designing a piece of Mac malware that would give them the ability to completely remotely control an infected system. And then they also added some ransomware capability as a way to make extra money."

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As COVID-19 spreads, researchers tracking an influenza virus nervously

Ars Technica - 5 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Liz West / Flickr)

SARS-CoV-2 wasn't the first coronavirus that spawned fears of a pandemic; there were worries about SARS and MERS before it arrived. But influenza viruses have also been a regular source of worries, as they can often spread from agricultural animals to us. Earlier this week, a report was released that described an influenza virus with what the researchers who identified it called "pandemic potential." The virus is currently jumping from agricultural animals to us, but it is not currently able to spread between humans.

Under surveillance

The institutions that some of these researchers are affiliated with—the Key Laboratory of Animal Epidemiology and Zoonosis, the Chinese National Influenza Center, and the Center for Influenza Research and Early-Warning—provide some indication of how seriously China has been taking the risk of the newly evolved influenza strain.

For seven years, these centers supported the researchers as they did something that makes whatever you did for your thesis research seem pleasant: taking nasal swabs from pigs. Nearly 30,000 of these swabs came from random pigs showing up at slaughterhouses, plus another 1,000 from pigs brought in to veterinary practices with respiratory problems. Why pigs? Well, for one, some historic pandemics, named for their species of origin, are called swine flu. And there's a reason for this: pigs are known to be infected by influenza viruses native to other pigs, to birds, and to us humans—who they often find themselves in close proximity to.

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Homebound with EarthBound

Ars Technica - 6 hours 10 min ago

EarthBound got a nice Nintendo Power push. But in retrospect, Nintendo of America, you could've tried a lot harder with this trailer.

Give me 10 minutes. I need to defeat five giant moles so the miner can find the gold... which I need to get $1 million and bail out the rock band... who can arrange a meeting with the evil real-estate-developer-turned-mayor I need to beat down.

My partner doesn't get it, which I completely understand. When I first tried EarthBound, I didn't either. The now-cult-classic SNES title first arrived in the United States in June 1995. And I, a nine-year-old, had no chance. I craved action as a kid gamer, and that largely meant co-op, multiplayer, and sports titles (a lot of NBA Jam, Street Fighter, and Turtles in Time). Nothing about EarthBound, particularly when only experienced piecemeal through a weekend rental window, would ever speak to me. As one of the most high-profile JRPGs of the early SNES era, it embodied all the stereotypes eventually associated with the genre: at-times batshit fantastical storylines; slow, s l o w pacing; virtually non-existent action mechanics.

Frankly, I wasn't alone. Based on its sales, not many gamers seemed to understand EarthBound, and it's not clear Nintendo did, either. What on Earth does the trailer above say to you? In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company again and again (and again) tried to find a hit JRPG in the States without much success. Nintendo literally gave away games like Dragon Warrior—as a Nintendo Power pack-in—and still couldn't find an audience. Even the heralded Final Fantasy franchise struggled initially, as Nintendo brought it stateside with a big, splashy map-filled box that no one seemed to care about in the moment.

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NASA’s most iconic building is 55 years old and just getting started

Ars Technica - 7 hours 9 min ago

NASA's Kennedy Space Center is now nearly six decades old—it was formally created on July 1, 1962 as a separate entity from Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Construction began soon after.

At the time, the "Launch Operations Directorate" under Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists was based at Marshall. But NASA's leaders realized they would need their own facilities in Florida alongside the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. So they created a new "Launch Operations Center" on nearby Merritt Island. President Lyndon B. Johnson would rename the facility Kennedy Space Center a week after President John F. Kennedy's November 1963 assassination in Dallas.

As plans for the Apollo Program developed, NASA also soon realized it would need a large building in which to assemble the Saturn V rocket that would power the Moon landings. Work began on what was then known as the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB), where the big rocket would be stacked in a vertical configuration before rolling out to the launch pad.

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Minecraft: Lockdown lesson recreates ancient island tomb

BBC Technology News - 20 hours 49 min ago
The video game Minecraft becomes the perfect inspiration for some home schooling on Bronze Age history.

After a second-stage failure, Rocket Lab loses seven satellites

Ars Technica - 21 hours 8 min ago

Enlarge / The Pics Or It Didn't Happen mission lifts off. (credit: Rocket Lab)

On Sunday morning, local time in New Zealand, Rocket Lab launched its 13th mission. The booster's first stage performed normally, but just as the second stage neared an altitude of 200km, something went wrong and the vehicle was lost.

In the immediate aftermath of the failure, the company did not provide any additional information about the problem that occurred with the second stage.

"We lost the flight late into the mission," said Peter Beck, the company's founder and chief executive, on Twitter. "I am incredibly sorry that we failed to deliver our customers satellites today. Rest assured we will find the issue, correct it and be back on the pad soon."

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Coronavirus: Why Singapore turned to wearable contact-tracing tech

BBC Technology News - 21 hours 8 min ago
The TraceTogether Token is designed to make an app more effective, but worries privacy campaigners.

The explosive physics of pooping penguins: they can shoot poo over four feet

Ars Technica - July 4, 2020 - 7:45pm

Enlarge / Bombs away! When approaching a brooding penguin in its nest, it's best to beware of flying feces. Penguin poo can travel as far as 1.34 meters (about 4.4 feet), a new study finds. (credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Nature is a brutal place, so during brooding, chinstrap and Adélie penguins are reluctant to leave their eggs unguarded in the nest—even to relieve themselves. But one also does not wish to sully the nest with feces. So instead, a brooding penguin will hunker down, point its rear end away from the nest, lift its tail, and let fly a projectile of poo—thereby ensuring both the safety of the eggs and the cleanliness of the nest.

Back in 2003, two intrepid physicists became fascinated by this behavior and were inspired to calculate the answer to a burning question: just how much pressure can those penguins generate to propel their feces away from the edge of their nests? Answer: about three times more pressure than a human could produce. That paper earned them a 2005 Ig Nobel Prize and lasting glory among those obsessed with pooping penguins. Now, a pair of a Japanese scientists has weighed in on the matter, calculating the projectile trajectory of expelled feces and recalculating the rectal pressure. These scientists reported on their findings in a draft paper they posted to the physics arXiv.

According to Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of the Research Institute of Luminous Organisms in Japan, a co-author of the original 2003 paper, these fecal findings all started with an expedition he led to Antarctica. Although he was collecting samples of local marine worms and tiny terrestrial insects called springworms for further study, he also took copious photographs of the many penguins in the region, which he used in his lectures. During a seminar at Kitasato University in Japan, a young woman asked about a slide showing a penguin brooding on its nest, wondering about the white and pink lines radiating outward. She interpreted them as "decoration" and asked how the penguins made them.

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5G was going to unite the world—instead it’s tearing us apart

Ars Technica - July 4, 2020 - 4:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Photographer is my life)

The world came together to build 5G. Now the next-generation wireless technology is pulling the world apart.

The latest version of the 5G technical specifications, expected Friday, adds features for connecting autonomous cars, intelligent factories, and Internet-of-things devices to crazy-fast 5G networks. The blueprints reflect a global effort to develop the technology, with contributions from more than a dozen companies from Europe, the US, and Asia.

And yet, 5G is also pulling nations apart—with the United States and China anchoring the tug-of-war. Tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade, human rights, the handling of COVID-19, and Chinese misinformation are escalating global divisions around the deployment of 5G. A growing number of countries are aligning with either a Western or a Chinese version of the tech.

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How one IndyCar driver turned his type 1 diabetes into an advantage

Ars Technica - July 4, 2020 - 3:30pm

Enlarge / Charlie Kimball, driver of the #4 TRESIBA / AJ FOYT RACING Chevrolet, races during practice for the NTT IndyCar Series GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 03, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Like most of us, 2020 hasn't exactly gone to plan for IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball. Here in July, we should already be midway through the season. But the sport only waved the green flag in early June, starting a condensed 14-race season that wraps up—hopefully—in Florida in October. It promises to be hard work for the drivers; with no power steering and high cornering loads, an IndyCar requires more muscles to drive than most race cars.

"The challenge in driving an IndyCar is that, at 200 miles an hour, it produces 5,000 pounds of downforce. I've got 750 horsepower under my right foot, and I have no power steering, no power brake. Plus the adrenaline and the physiological response to competition means that during a race my average heart rate is between 150 and 170 beats per minute," he told Ars when we spoke recently. And don't forget—an IndyCar race can last well over three hours if we're talking about something like the Indy 500.

The best way to be race-fit is to do a lot of racing, but the extended off-season obviously made that impossible. But Kimball thinks he's better prepared today than he was back in March when the original season-opener was cancelled.

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A few good tech deals happening this July 4th weekend

Ars Technica - July 4, 2020 - 3:20pm

Enlarge / Activating Siri on an Apple HomePod speaker. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

Greetings, Arsians! It’s Independence Day in the United States, so the Dealmaster is back with a special Fourth of July edition of their usual tech deals roundup. While today’s holiday isn’t well-known for providing big discounts on tech—the biggest price drops will still come on Black Friday and Cyber Monday—we've found a handful of genuine deals worth considering on video games, tablets, speakers, and more. Below are the best Fourth of July tech deals we could find this year.

Sega Genesis Mini for $40 at Amazon (normally $60)

The Sega Genesis Mini. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

This is tied for the largest discount we’ve seen on Sega’s bite-sized retro console, which we reviewed positively when it launched late last year. Much like the NES Classic and Super NES Classic before it, the Genesis Mini packs a few dozen hits in an adorably tiny replica of the console on which it’s based.

Here, you get 42 pre-loaded and well-emulated games—including favorites like Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage 2, Gunstar Heroes, and Ecco the Dolphin—along with two controllers. Those gamepads aren’t the six-button models Sega launched later in the original console’s life, unfortunately, and there’s no way to “rewind” your progress if you screw up in-game. But at half off the original MSRP, this is a good value for nostalgists or anyone who missed out on the Genesis experience back in the day.

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The remote British village that built one of the UK’s fastest Internet networks

Ars Technica - July 4, 2020 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Laying some cable in rural UK. (credit: B4RN, Author provided / The Conversation)

Nestled between Lancashire’s stand-out beauty, the Forest of Bowland, and the breathtaking vistas of the Yorkshire Dales, the serene, postcard-perfect village of Clapham seems far removed from the COVID-19 pandemic. But when the British government announced a nationwide lockdown in mid-March, Clapham went on high alert.

Local residents formed what they dubbed “Clapham COBRA," a volunteer emergency response initiative that aimed to mitigate the negative effects of isolation by sharing information, delivering supplies, and checking in on one another. Like many rural villages, Clapham is fairly geographically isolated and home to an ageing population, with most of its roughly 600 residents over the age of 45. But when it came to confronting extreme isolation, it also has a unique advantage: unlike much of rural England, Clapham boasts one of the best Internet connections in the country—and the locals built it themselves.

Ann Sheridan remembers well the moment she got Broadband for the Rural North, known as “B4RN” (pronounced “barn”), to her farm in Clapham in March 2016. She recounted to me over the phone:

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We traced Namco’s “new” Pac-Man demake to its source: A 2008 fan ROMhack

Ars Technica - July 4, 2020 - 2:00pm

This 2017 video of "Pac-Man CE for NES" bears a striking resemblance to a "new" demake Bandai Namco released on Switch last month.

Last month, Bandai Namco announced a special bonus for Switch players who invested in the new Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1. In addition to 10 emulated Namco classics, the game's official Nintendo store page notes it includes "a newly created 8-bit demastered version of Pac-Man Championship Edition" (emphasis added).

That bonus game combines the gameplay of the 2007 Xbox 360 Championship Edition release with the graphics and sound effects of an NES title for a doubly nostalgic dose of retro appreciation. And this was no faux-retro demake either; shortly after release, hackers managed to extract the Pac-Man CE ROM from the Namco Museum collection and found it actually works on real NES hardware.

As it turns out, though, the "newly created" part of the game's promotion isn't quite accurate. Bandai Namco has confirmed to Ars Technica that its much-lauded Championship Edition demake is actually based directly on an obscure NES/Famicom ROMhack created over a decade ago by a Japanese fan going by the handle Coke774.

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Can a BBC reporter make better pizza than a machine?

BBC Technology News - July 4, 2020 - 1:38pm
Picnic's machine is able to put together 300 pizzas an hour, but can a human make something tastier?

The 416 quadrillion reasons why Japan’s supercomputer is number 1

Ars Technica - July 4, 2020 - 1:00pm

Local Fox news stations had this English captioned version of a very popular, supercomputer-generated video from Japan.

For a good part of last week, the unrivaled highlight of Japanese television—looped on news programs—was a short computer simulation of a salaryman sitting at his desk and coughing. Its primetime primacy is total: this cough is the Killing Eve of animated expectoration.

The imagined office in the video, like tens of thousands of its real-life equivalents around Japan, appears carefully prepared for the great return to work and new normal of life under COVID-19. The desks are separated by decent physical space and sensible plastic partitions cleave the landscape.

But it is all in vain. As the simulation shows in terrifying particulate detail, while most of the army of droplets released from the cougher’s mouth are blocked by the screens, a crack platoon makes it over the partition, delivering its deadly payload into the neighbouring workspace.

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Dad horrified at £4,642 gaming app bill

BBC Technology News - July 3, 2020 - 10:35pm
A father who paid £4.99 for his daughter to use a smartphone app was shocked to find a £4,642 bill.

Review: Fierce and fun Warrior Nun is a perfect Fourth of July binge-watch

Ars Technica - July 3, 2020 - 7:50pm

A young woman gains extraordinary powers when a divine artifact is accidentally embedded in her back, and she finds herself reluctantly battling demons on Earth in Warrior Nun, a new Netflix series based on the comic books by Ben Dunn. It sounds like a cheesy premise, but this adaptation is anything but. It's a fiercely fun, entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking series that will have you hooked and eager for a second season.

(Mild spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As we previously reported, the first issue in Dunn's manga-style comic book series, "Warrior Nun Areala," debuted in 1994. The series largely features Sister Shannon Masters, a modern-day crusader for the Catholic Church's (fictional) Order of the Cruciform Sword. In the series mythology, the Order dates back to 1066, when a young Valkyrie woman named Auria converted to Christianity. Renamed Areala, she selects a new avatar every generation to carry on her mission of battling the agents of hell. Sister Shannon is the Chosen One. It's like Buffy the Vampire Slayer got religion.

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Schools already struggled with cybersecurity. Then came COVID-19

Ars Technica - July 3, 2020 - 3:30pm

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)

This time last year, Jaggar Henry was enjoying the summer like so many other teens. The 17-year-old had a job, was hanging out with friends on the weekends, and was just generally spending a lot of time online. But then, at the end of July, Henry combed his hair, donned a slightly oversized Oxford shirt, and appeared before his school district's board in Polk County, Florida—one of the larger school districts in the United States—to outline a slew of security flaws he had found in its digital systems. His presentation was the culmination of months of work and focused on software used by more than 100,000 students.

Those vulnerabilities have been fixed, but Henry, who now works full time on education technology, says that his experience illustrates the challenges facing school districts across the United States—and a problem that's grown more acute in the wake of COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic has had major cybersecurity implications around the world. Tailored phishing attacks and contact-tracing scams prey on fear and uncertainty. Fraudsters are targeting economic relief and unemployment payments. The stakes are higher than ever for ransomware attacks that target health care providers and other critical infrastructure. For businesses, the transition to remote work has created new exposures and magnified existing ones.

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How mobile games crushed consoles

Ars Technica - July 3, 2020 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Apparently, enough people bought Fortnite's wholly optional outfits and dance moves to fuel $100 million of prizes for the game's first year of esports tourneys. (credit: Epic Games)

The coronavirus crisis has proved a bonanza for video game makers, as shut-in consumers turn to digital distractions in greater numbers and for longer sessions than ever before.

But while the sector’s big listed groups such as Nintendo, Activision Blizzard, and Take Two have enjoyed share price rises of more than 25 percent since early March, a clutch of mobile gaming studios, many privately held, have enjoyed the real windfall. Along with the sudden rise in leisure time among a ready market of more than two billion smartphone owners, they have reaped the rewards of a plunge in mobile advertising prices as other corporate sectors slashed their marketing budgets.

“That gave a huge opening for companies like ours,” said Alexis Bonte, group chief operating officer at Stillfront, a free-to-play gaming group based in Stockholm whose share price has more than doubled since mid-March. “We got a double effect—the increased organics [usage growth] but also the effect of more efficient marketing . . . It was huge.”

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Stellar deepfake thriller The Capture lands in USA thanks to NBC Peacock

Ars Technica - July 3, 2020 - 2:00pm

NBC Peacock, the 370th streaming service to debut in the past 12 months, will publicly launch on July 15 after an Xfinity-exclusive soft launch earlier this year. That means it’s time to review the service’s exclusive series—though in the case of The Capture, one of Peacock’s most captivating launch options, that “exclusivity” is regional.

Unlike Peacock offerings like Brave New World and Intelligence, The Capture is an import for American viewers, having already aired on the online-only BBC Three in autumn 2019. But it’s still decidedly current: a mystery thriller that revolves around deepfake technology and government distrust.

Due process versus “real” videos

By turns enthralling and suspenseful, The Capture is the sort of show one could easily binge in an afternoon. (In fitting BBC fashion, the series’ first season runs a lean six episodes.) It stars Holliday Grainger (Strike) as DI Rachel Carey, an SO15 officer on loan to Homicide & Serious Crime, who finds herself embroiled in the case of former Lance Corporal Shaun Emery, played by Callum Turner (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald).

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