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Industry & Technology

Bugs that let sites hijack Mac and iPhone cameras fetch $75k bounty

Ars Technica - 5 hours 20 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Ryan Pickren)

A security bug that gave malicious hackers the ability to access the cameras of Macs, iPhones, and iPads has fetched a $75,000 bounty to the researcher who discovered it.

In posts published here and here, researcher Ryan Pickren said he discovered seven vulnerabilities in Safari and its Webkit browser engine that, when chained together, allowed malicious websites to turn on the cameras of Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Pickren privately reported the bugs, and Apple has since fixed the vulnerabilities and paid the researcher $75,000 as part of the company’s bug bounty program.

Apple tightly restricts the access that third-party apps get to device cameras. For Apple apps, the restrictions aren’t quite as stringent. Even then, Safari requires users to explicitly list the sites that are allowed camera access. And beyond that, cameras can only have access to those sites when they are delivered in a secure context, meaning when the browser has high confidence the page is being delivered through an HTTPS connection.

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Xbox architect sues Atari over unpaid work on crowdfunded console

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 9:50pm

Rob Wyatt, perhaps best known as the system architect on Microsoft's original Xbox, has filed a lawsuit against Atari Gamebox LLC. The suit, filed in a federal court in Colorado, alleges that the company has failed to pay Wyatt and his firm Tin Giant nearly $262,000 invoiced for work on the long-delayed Atari VCS microconsole.

The project now known as the Atari VCS was first announced as Ataribox back in 2017, and it was originally targeting a spring 2018 launch. But despite a $3 million IndieGogo campaign in 2018, Atari's hybrid PC/microconsole has since limped through production pauses and delays over the months. Most recently, the company wrote that supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic may delay a planned March 2020 rollout to initial backers and pre-orderers.

Wyatt says in his lawsuit that he and Tin Giant have been unfairly defamed as "scapegoats" for these development troubles to the press. "The fact that Atari’s Console Project was or is delayed has nothing to do with the quality of Tin Giant’s work but is the fault of Atari’s own mismanagement of the Console Project," Wyatt alleges in his suit. "The architecture being used by Atari on the Console Project is exactly what Plaintiffs designed under the Agreement."

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“We hit 3M hard“—Trump orders 3M to keep US-made masks in the US

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 9:35pm

Enlarge (credit: pengpeng/Getty Images)

Minnesota manufacturing giant 3M warned Friday that a Trump administration order reserving US-made N95 masks for the US market could backfire. Demand for these masks, also known as respirators, has surged in recent weeks because they help protect health care workers from contracting COVID-19.

"Ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same," a 3M statement warned. "If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease."

The statement was a response to President Trump's Thursday decision to invoke the Defense Production Act against 3M. The 1950 law gives the president broad powers to order US companies to devote manufacturing capacity to products that are essential to national defense.

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Google knows if everyone in your county is actually staying home or not

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 8:58pm

Enlarge / The reports are all public, but the nifty magnifying glass effect is not actually included. (credit: Google)

The entire world is scrambling to mitigate the novel coronavirus pandemic. By now, a majority of US states are under some kind of stay-at-home order, with governors nationwide asking or requiring non-essential businesses to close and everyone to plant their butts at home as much as possible.

As the disease continues to march its way across the country and the globe, though—as of this writing, there have been more than 250,000 US diagnosed cases—officials, regulators, and we the work-from-home masses are all wondering: are we all actually complying with these new rules, or is it still chaos on the streets out there somewhere?

Google has unfathomable reams of data from billions of individuals worldwide, and it has pulled some of that location information together into community mobility reports to try to answer that question. Here's the good news: by and large, trips to virtually everywhere that isn't "home" have dropped a whole lot.

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Face masks for COVID-19: A deep dive into the data

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 8:45pm

Enlarge / Self-sewn protective face masks in a fabric store on April 3, 2020 in Jena, Germany. (credit: Getty | Jens Schlueter)

As COVID-19 cases increase sharply nationwide, some health experts are now recommending that seemingly healthy members of the public wear cloth masks when they’re out and about. On April 3, President Trump announced a new federal recommendation urging the public to wear cloth masks to prevent people who are infected, but may not have symptoms, from unknowingly spreading the disease.

The recommendation is an about-face from previous guidance on mask usage. Until now, officials at the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies worldwide have discouraged the public from wearing masks unless they are sick or caring for someone who is sick. They noted that there is little evidence to support mass masking and that the limited data we do have suggests it may reduce disease transmission only marginally at best.

With evidence of benefits in short supply, experts also raised concerns about potential harms. Mask wearing may give people a false sense of security, some experts said. This may lead some members of the public to be lax about other, far more critical precautions, such as staying two meters apart from others, limiting outings, and washing their hands frequently and thoroughly.

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US edits National Stockpile website after Kushner claims it’s not for states

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 8:35pm

Enlarge / President Donald Trump speaks as Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, listens during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House on Thursday, April 2, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

The Trump administration changed the Strategic National Stockpile website's description of the program yesterday after White House adviser Jared Kushner falsely claimed that the medical-supply stockpile is not meant to be used to help states. The description was changed to minimize the stockpile's role in helping states through crises like the current pandemic, but other portions of the official website still make it clear that Kushner was wrong.

After Jared Kushner's comment about how the Strategic National Stockpile is not supposed to be for states, lots of people pointed to the fact that its own website says it is.

The language on the website has now been changed.

My screenshot from last night vs. one from today:

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 3, 2020

Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law, claimed in a news conference Thursday that "the notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile, it's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use." Kushner made the remark while discussing ventilators and masks. (See transcript.)

Kushner acknowledged that the federal government is giving ventilators and other equipment to states, even though he argued that the stockpile isn't meant to be used by states. But the Strategic National Stockpile website homepage, maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), previously made it clear that the stockpile is for the entire country. Before Kushner's remarks, the page said:

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Intel’s 10th-generation H-series laptop CPUs break 5GHz

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 7:47pm

Yesterday, Intel announced the launch of its newest laptop CPUs, the tenth generation Comet Lake H-series. If you're not up on all the minutiae of CPU naming schemes, H-series parts (for both Intel and AMD) are specialty high-performance parts with much higher thermal design power than the standard U-series, and they're usually deployed in systems with higher-powered, discrete graphics.

Pay careful attention to the word "fastest"

The big news Intel is pushing on the tenth series Comet Lake H-series is their high turbo clockrate. All of the i7 SKUs, as well as the lone i9, are capable of breaking 5GHz on the high end of their turbo clock rate.

Most consumers would define the "fastest" processor in terms of real performance—time to complete benchmarks, frames per second achieved in AAA gaming titles, and so forth. Intel talks a lot about the "fastest" processor but seems careful to hide its definitions away in the fine print.

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Apple Store appears to leak new, iPhone 8-like iPhone SE

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 6:50pm

The last time the iPhone SE appeared in an Apple presentation was in this 2018 slide showing it being scrapped for materials. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

An apparent leak on the Apple Store suggests that a new phone carrying the iPhone SE name is coming soon.

A product title for a Belkin screen protector in Apple's online store listed the supported devices as iPhone 7, 8, and SE. This seems to indicate that a new SE would be the same size as an iPhone 7 or 8, making the new SE bigger than its 4-inch predecessor from 2016. The product page has since been updated to remove the iPhone SE name; it just says 7 and 8 now.

This leak corroborates a vaguely sourced rumor from 9to5Mac published only a short time earlier, which cited a “tip from a highly trusted reader” that Apple is days away from announcing a new low-cost iPhone and that the phone would be called the iPhone SE, not the iPhone 9 or iPhone SE 2. Like so many other Apple products, it would be distinguished from its predecessors by its year of release (2020).

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Haunting Tales from the Loop brings ’80s alternative timeline to vivid life

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 6:37pm

Tales from the Loop trailer.

Residents of a rural town find themselves grappling with strange occurrences thanks to the presence of an underground particle accelerator in the new series Tales from the Loop, inspired by the stunningly surreal neofuturistic art of Swedish artist/designer Simon Stålenhag. The eight-episode series was originally slated for a limited premiere at SXSW last month; the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans, along with our collective social lives. But now everyone can watch the series on Amazon Prime, and I highly recommend that you do so. It's visually arresting, with powerful performances from a very talented cast, and brings out the underlying humanity and hope of all great science fiction.

(Mild spoilers below.)

Tales from the Loop has its roots in Stålenhag's 2014 narrative art book of the same name. That book, and 2016's Things from the Flood, centered on the construction of a fictional particle accelerator dubbed "the Loop" and its impact on the surrounding people and environment. (A third book, The Electric State, focused on a young girl and her robot companion traveling across the western US, which in that reality is known as Pacifica.) A child of the 1980s, Stålenhag grew up on the rural outskirts of Stockholm, a witness to the decline of the Swedish welfare state. That sense of decline infuses his Loop-based work, which sets rural settings and easily recognizable common objects like Volvo cars alongside mysterious structures and mechanical robots.

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FCC: TracFone made up “fictitious” customers to defraud low-income program

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 6:12pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Jozef Polc | 500px)

TracFone Wireless is facing a potential $6 million fine for allegedly defrauding a government program that provides discount telecom service to poor people.

The Federal Communications Commission proposed the fine against TracFone yesterday, saying the prepaid wireless provider obtained FCC Lifeline funding by "enroll[ing] fictitious subscriber accounts." TracFone improperly sought and received more than $1 million from Lifeline, the FCC said.

The FCC press release said:

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Pandemics: Do we need an app for that?

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 5:47pm

Enlarge (credit: Purism)

Right now, with huge numbers of infected individuals and a limited testing capacity, the US has no way of knowing who's at risk for a SARS-CoV-2 infection. The ultimate goal of socially isolating, however, is to reduce the levels of infection so that we can do what's called contact tracing: figuring out everyone an infected individual has been in contact with and isolating and testing them. If implemented effectively, this will catch newly infected people before they become contagious, keeping the virus from spreading.

That process, however, relies on contact tracing being efficient and accurate enough to identify anyone at risk before they move on and infect multiple new people. A new study by a group of Oxford researchers suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is simply too infectious for this to work well. The team isn't without a solution, though: a smartphone app that caches contact information and alerts all contacts as soon as a positive test result happens.

Without a trace

Contact tracing is, in principle, really simple. Once an infected individual is identified, they're interviewed to ask where they've come into contact with other people for a while. In reality, it's a nightmare. People's memories are faulty, and it can be difficult to reconstruct everywhere they've been. And it's one thing if they know they visited a few friends or family members; it's something else if they rode a bus or stopped by a large store. Identifying who was even in the same place at that time can take days if not weeks.

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Leaked Amazon memo: Walkout leader “not smart or articulate”

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 4:37pm

Enlarge / Chris Smalls. (credit: CNBC)

Amazon was eager to make warehouse manager Chris Smalls the face of worker activism at the company, an internal memo shows. The memo was leaked to Vice, which published excerpts of the document on Thursday.

“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” wrote David Zapolsky, Amazon's general counsel. Zapolsky was summarizing discussions at a daily meeting of senior Amazon executives focused on the coronavirus crisis. Vice reports that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attended the meeting.

Smalls was a manager at an Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island, New York. It's one of Amazon's largest facilities, with around 5,000 workers. On Monday, Smalls was one of a number of workers—Amazon says 15, organizers say 60—who walked off the job to protest what they saw as inadequate precautions for worker health.

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Subscription drive, day 4: A pitch from “Comcast’s least favorite journalist”

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 4:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

After eight and a half years working full-time for Ars Technica, it's time for me to write something totally unlike anything that previously appeared under my name: a sales pitch. I'm a journalist for good reason, as I'm too gruff and unfriendly to be in sales, so please temper your expectations.

As you probably gathered by now, we're doing a subscription drive this week. Every person who buys a subscription will help us get through a difficult financial time, as the pandemic and oncoming recession cause a predictable decline in advertising revenue throughout the media industry.

In addition to giving you some nice perks like ad-free articles and a YubiKey 2FA device, your subscription dollars help make sure that people like me get to keep writing for Ars. I've written more than 3,000 articles for Ars Technica, and I don't intend to stop any time soon.

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Searching for the ultimate Super Mario Bros. player among the masses

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 4:10pm

Video directed by Joe Pickard and edited by Scott Pearson. Click here for transcript.

If you're a geek of, shall we say, a certain age, odds are you've experienced the first-hand joy of plopping yourself down cross-legged on the carpet in front of a blurry television—set to channel 3 or channel 4, of course—and whiling away an entire day playing the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. (You also know for a fact that all deaths are the stupid controller's fault.)

Indeed, Super Mario Bros. is probably one of the pop-culture pillars of the GenX/Millennial collective unconscious (and maybe for GenZ, too, though going by common cohort dates, the GenZ folks were more likely to have grown up with much more advanced consoles than the poor old Nintendo Entertainment System). But how pervasive is it, really? How universal is the experience of settling in to play SMB in its original NES format, without emulators on an actual CRT television, and having those levels (and that music!) tattooed directly onto your brain?

To try to find out, we grabbed 30 randos from the New York area (back in January, in the Long-Long-Ago when people still walked the streets freely) and challenged them to slip on their plumbers' overalls and see how long they could survive on a journey through World 1-1 of the Mushroom Kingdom. We also brought in SMB speedrunners Authorblues and Kosmic to break down the iconic level design of World 1-1 and to walk us through some of the esoteric tricks speedrunners use to blast through the level as fast as humanly possible.

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Coronavirus: 'Not smart' memo shows Amazon's union stance

BBC Technology News - April 3, 2020 - 4:06pm
The firm's lawyer says his comments were personal, spoken out of emotional frustration.

Coronavirus: Garden centres switch to virtual personal shopping

BBC Technology News - April 3, 2020 - 3:48pm
Plants are being sold via livestreams, emails and social media as lockdown forces traders to close.

Zoom 'unsuitable' for government secrets, researchers say

BBC Technology News - April 3, 2020 - 2:49pm
The meeting app used by Cabinet has odd encryption and sends data through China, researchers say.

Racing turns hard into esports while the real world is on hold

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 1:38pm

Enlarge (credit: Elle Cayabyab Gitlin)

When it comes to sports, 2020 is going to be one of those asterisk years, like 1919. People years from now will scroll down the page to a note explaining that "*normal stuff was supposed to happen, but then we had a pandemic instead." The Summer Olympics are being postponed for a year, and pretty much every major sports series is on hold as organizers anxiously wait to see if public gatherings can happen once more later in the year.

Motorsports is no exception, and its prospects are bleak when you consider what collapsing sales will do to marketing budgets. But while the pandemic rages, drivers, teams, and series are coming together online to put on a show for the rest of us. Or as NASCAR's Scott Warfield puts it, to give people "a distraction for 90 minutes, two hours on a Sunday and return some sense of normality to their lives."

The move from real-world to online racing really took off in mid-March, over the weekend that should have seen F1 start its year with the Australian Grand Prix. The first events to draw big audiences were put on by esports organizers. By week two, big racing series like F1 and IMSA were starting to get in on the act. These days every real-world series has an esports league, so none of them is exactly a stranger to the concept. But NASCAR was the first to elevate its esports to broadcast TV with the start of its iRacing Pro Invitational series. It's also leading the pack when it comes to giving fans something approaching normality.

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SpaceX loses its third Starship prototype during a cryogenic test

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 1:18pm

SN3 cryo test failure.

This week, SpaceX workers in South Texas loaded the third full-scale Starship prototype—SN3—onto a test stand ​at the company's Boca Chica launch site. On Wednesday night, they pressure-tested the vehicle at ambient temperature with nitrogen, and SN3 performed fine.

On Thursday night SpaceX began cryo-testing the vehicle, which means it was loaded again with nitrogen, but this time it was chilled to flight-like temperatures and put under flight-like pressures. Unfortunately, a little after 2am local time, SN3 failed and began to collapse on top of itself. It appeared as if the vehicle may have lost pressurization and become top-heavy.

Shortly after the failure, SpaceX's founder and chief engineer, Elon Musk, said on Twitter, "We will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake." A testing issue would be good in the sense that it means the vehicle itself performed well, and the problem can be more easily addressed.

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Here are 10 alternative ideas for what NASA could do with its Moon budget

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 12:45pm

Enlarge / Lake Bosumtwi, located in Ghana, is situated inside a meteorite impact crater. Perhaps we should protect ourselves? (Photo by USGS/ NASA Landsat/Orbital Horizon/Gallo Images/Getty Images) (credit: USGS/ NASA Landsat/Orbital Horizon/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

One year ago, NASA embarked upon a journey to send humans back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Program. At the direction of the White House, NASA seeks to land astronauts at the South Pole of the Moon by 2024. Only recently, in February, did the space agency put a price on this Artemis Moon plan—$35 billion over the next five years above its existing budget.

Since then, of course, the world has turned upside down. In the weeks after NASA released this cost estimate, the threat posed by COVID-19 has swamped space budget debates or policy concerns. Moreover, most of the space agency's major hardware development programs for the Moon landing are temporarily shuttered. And truth be told, no one knows what kind of economy or federal budget will emerge on the other side of this pandemic.

So during this pause in government spaceflight activity perhaps it is worth asking, is the Moon worth it? Certainly for much of the human spaceflight community, the Moon is the next logical step. It offers a nearby place to test our ability to fly humans beyond low-Earth orbit and the next frontier for human economic activity in space.

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