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Industry & Technology

Marcus Hutchins, slayer of WannaCry worm, pleads guilty to malware charges

Ars Technica - 13 min 24 sec ago

Enlarge / Then-23-year-old security researcher Marcus Hutchins in his bedroom in Ilfracombe, UK, in July 2017, just weeks before his arrest on malware charges. (credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Marcus Hutchins, the security researcher who helped neutralize the virulent WannaCry ransomware worm, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of creating and distributing malware used to break into online bank accounts.

“I regret these actions and accept full responsibility for my mistakes,” Hutchins wrote in a short post. “Having grown up, I’ve since been using the same skills that I misused several years ago for constructive purposes. I will continue to devote my time to keeping people safe from malware attacks.”

Hutchins was changed in August 2017 with creating Kronos, a banking trojan that stole online bank account passwords from infected computers. A superseding indictment filed 10 months later charged him with 10 felony counts that alleged he created a second piece of malware called UPAS Kit. Hutchins, whose online persona MalwareTech attracts more than 143,000 followers on Twitter, had a league of vocal defenders claiming the allegations were false.

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Hacking 'hero' Marcus Hutchins pleads guilty to US malware charges

BBC Technology News - April 19, 2019 - 10:45pm
Marcus Hutchins said he regrets his actions and accepts "full responsibility for my mistakes".

Reverse review bomb? AC: Unity draws praise for Notre Dame preservation

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 8:55pm

Enlarge / The famous cathedral lives on in interactive digital form.

At this point, we're actually a little tired of stories about "review bombing," where various put-upon groups of gamers gather together to leave a flood a negative user reviews, often for issues that have nothing to do with the game itself. But this week's flood of positive reviews for Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Unity on Steam is a different (and much rarer) story altogether.

The impetus for this reverse review-bomb (Review rocket? Review scaffolding? Review hug?) came earlier this week after the tragic fire in Paris' Notre Dame cathedral. On Wednesday, Ubisoft announced it would be donating €500,000 to help rebuild the cathedral that's recreated as a central landmark in Assassin's Creed Unity. On top of that, the company is giving away free copies of the game on its UPlay platform through April 25 as a way to encourage further donations and in order "to give everyone the chance to experience the majesty and beauty of Notre-Dame the best way we know how."

"When we created Assassin's Creed Unity, we developed an even closer connection with this incredible city and its landmarks," the company wrote this week. "One of the most notable elements of the game was the extraordinary recreation of Notre-Dame... We hope, with this small gesture, we can provide everyone an opportunity to appreciate our virtual homage to this monumental piece of architecture."

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New automation features are coming to macOS in Shortcuts—but not for every app

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 8:30pm

Enlarge / A few examples of "Shortcuts" that can be applied to Siri with iOS 12. (credit: Apple)

According to a report at 9to5mac citing people familiar with Apple’s plans, several iOS features will come to the Mac in macOS 10.15.

First and foremost among these is Shortcuts, the automation application that Apple built out of its acquisition of Workflow. The app, support for which was introduced in iOS 12, allows iPhone and iPad users to define steps for their devices to perform when they deliver certain user-definable Siri voice commands, tap user-created home screen icons, and so on.

Shortcuts is tightly integrated with Siri, and it was positioned by Apple as a way to make Siri much more powerful than it has been previously. Third-party app developers could develop their own Shortcuts and accompanying Siri commands that could be accessed across the operating system.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

This little electric car is the coolest thing at the NY Auto Show

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 8:20pm

As we detailed on Monday, this year's Shanghai auto show has been the place to be if you want to see car designers' ideas for future electric cars. But not everyone chose China as the place to reveal their electric concept cars. Genesis thinks the Big Apple is a better place to make an annual statement.

In 2017 it was the GV80, a hydrogen fuel cell EV that was the first clean-sheet design for the new Korean luxury brand and a vehicle that seems a lot more plausible now that we've driven Hyundai's Nexo. Last year, we got the Essentia, an electric hypercar that will almost certainly remain nothing more than a concept. Now, for the third year in a row, Genesis has stolen the New York International Auto Show, this time with the Mint, its take on a small luxury battery EV.

Forget an electric car for the masses, this one is for a niche within a niche: the city dweller who only needs two seats but still wants cargo space, plus the added drama of scissor doors and a leather-lined interior that looks like it belongs in a coachbuilt Bugatti from the 1930s. Admittedly, it's not the biggest demographic in the world, but I count myself firmly in that camp.

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Surprise! Satellites show that thermometers don’t lie

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 8:15pm

Enlarge / Official weather stations are more standardized than this consumer one, which helps them track global temperature trends. (credit: Raymond Shobe)

Taking a human’s temperature is easy. Taking a pet’s temperature is similarly straightforward, if a bit rude. Taking a planet’s temperature, on the other hand, is much more of a challenge. The temperature isn’t the same everywhere, so one thermometer won’t get it done. Weather stations on land near population centers are relatively common, but remote areas and the vast oceans also need to be represented.

On top of this geographical span, researchers have to deal with the reality that various issues like equipment changes have to be accounted for to ensure that the data is consistent over a century or more.

A handful of teams around the world separately maintain surface temperature datasets, including NASA, NOAA, the UK Met Office, and the Japan Meteorological Agency. The differences between their results are so small that only climate scientists could find them noteworthy. They all show pretty much exactly the same amount of global warming over time. But this hasn’t stopped conspiratorial critics from claiming that temperature measurements are somehow manipulated to create the appearance of warming where none exists. (These critics never explain how this cabal of scientists got shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, and migrating species to play along.)

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World of Goo is Epic Game Store’s next freebie—and all PC owners will get HD update

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 7:53pm

Enlarge / The Goo is back! And free! And updated for existing owners! Everyone wins, we think. (credit: 2DBoy)

As has become a regular occurrence lately, Epic Games announced another solid free video game coming to all of its Epic Games Store (EGS) users, which has so far been an every-two-weeks promo for the relatively new storefront. And again, as has become a regular occurrence, the news came with some confusing crossover with Steam, the mega-ton retailer that EGS is not-so-subtly taking on.

Friday's announcement confirmed that the award-winning puzzle game World of Goo, which launched in 2008 on PC and the Wii before reaching other platforms, will become an EGS freebie starting May 2. Users will have a two-week window to log in and claim a copy of the game (which currently retails for $10 at Steam and other digital-download storefronts).

Shortly after Epic's announcement, a PC Gamer report clarified one key detail: this version of World of Goo includes a significant "framework" update with an emphasis on higher resolutions. However, that report didn't answer if that update was an EGS exclusive—the kind of update that would require the game's existing fans to log into a second storefront and claim a free copy—or when exactly its Steam equivalent will get the update.

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McAfee joins Sophos, Avira, Avast—the latest Windows update breaks them all

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 5:26pm

Enlarge / A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Cynthia Goldsmith) (credit: CDC)

The most recent Windows patch, released April 9, seems to have done something (still to be determined) that's causing problems with anti-malware software. Over the last few days, Microsoft has been adding more and more antivirus scanners to its list of known issues. As of publication time, client-side antivirus software from Sophos, Avira, ArcaBit, Avast, and most recently McAfee are all showing problems with the patch.

Affected machines seem to be fine until an attempt is made to log in, at which point the system grinds to a halt. It's not immediately clear if systems are freezing altogether or just going extraordinarily slowly. Some users have reported that they can log in, but the process takes ten or more hours. Logging in to Windows 7, 8.1, Server 2008 R2, Server 2012, and Server 2012 R2 are all affected.

Booting into safe mode is unaffected, and the current advice is to use this method to disable the antivirus applications and allow the machines to boot normally. Sophos additionally reports that adding the antivirus software's own directory to the list of excluded locations also serves as a fix, which is a little strange.

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Facebook fights to “shield Zuckerberg” from punishment in US privacy probe

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 5:07pm

Enlarge / Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaving the Merrion Hotel in Dublin after meeting with Irish politicians to discuss regulation of social media on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Federal Trade Commission officials are discussing whether to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally accountable for Facebook's privacy failures, according to reports by The Washington Post and NBC News. Facebook has been trying to protect Zuckerberg from that possibility in negotiations with the FTC, the Post wrote.

Federal regulators investigating Facebook are "exploring his past statements on privacy and weighing whether to seek new, heightened oversight of his leadership," the Post reported, citing anonymous sources who are familiar with the FTC discussions.

"The discussions about how to hold Zuckerberg accountable for Facebook's data lapses have come in the context of wide-ranging talks between the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook that could settle the government's more than year-old probe," the Post wrote.

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The future of high-speed computing may be larger CPUs with optics

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 4:50pm

Enlarge (credit: FreeGreatPicture)

Contrary to current trends, the CPU may get bigger in the future. Yes, the size of CPUs are larger today than they were in the past, but they also pack in more transistors. The future may involve larger CPUs but with a much lower density of transistors. Why? Because of optics.

The idea of purely optical computers—and hybrid electronic-optical computers—is not new. But a set of recent advances is the first time I’ve thought we might be entering an era where some functions beyond long-distance communication will be handled optically.

Have you seen the light?

There are two properties of optical computers that make them attractive. The first is that they are naturally fast: light pulses travel at (yes) the speed of light. And when light switches light—the optical equivalent of a transistor—it happens very fast (think femtoseconds, which are 10-15 of a second). These two properties combine to make optical computers much faster than electronic computers.

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Gearbox’s Pitchford: Steam may be “a dying store” in 5 to 10 years

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 4:28pm

Enlarge / "You can't get us on Steam, and that's a good thing."

Earlier this month, Gearbox drew some ire from Steam-loving Borderlands fans by announcing the next game in the series, due in September, would be exclusive to the Epic Games Store on PC. In a massive tweet thread earlier this week, though (helpfully collated in this reddit post), Gearbox founder and CEO Randy Pitchford defends that decision and highlights what he sees as the long-term positives that Epic's competition with Steam will bring to the industry.

While acknowledging that Epic's platform currently lacks many quality-of-life features available on Steam, Pitchford pointed to Epic's public road map for adding many of those features before September's Borderlands 3 launch. In fact, Pitchford sees the game's impending release as a "forcing function... that will, in turn, make all those features available on a faster timeline than otherwise possible... If I were to bet on this... Epic will inevitably surpass Valve on features and quality of service."

Pitchford acknowledges that publisher 2K and developer Gearbox could have hedged their bets by releasing on both Steam and Epic. But he added that he feels the entire industry will be better served in the long run if Borderlands 3's exclusivity can help make the Epic Games Store competitive with Steam. (The sizable investment Epic has made in paying to get exclusive content on its store probably didn't hurt, either)

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Get a look at Android’s browser and search ballots for the EU

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 3:58pm

Last year the European Commission ruled that Google had illegally used Android to dominate search. Last month the European Commission gave Google feedback that bundling Chrome with the OS was also frowned upon. This week Google is implementing actual software changes to Android. The company has created a Windows-style ballot system which will encourage users to actively pick alternative browsers and search engines.

Google outlines the new ballot system in a post on its official blog. Pictures show two new setup screens in Android, one shows the currently installed search engine (usually Google Search) and offers to install alternatives like DuckDuckGo and Qwant. The second screen shows the currently installed browser (Chrome) and offers alternatives like Firefox and Edge.

Rather than make these screens part of setup that would be shown to new users only, Google says "These new screens will be displayed the first time a user opens Google Play after receiving an upcoming update." The browser and search pages each show five apps total, including any apps that are already installed. Google notes that the app selection will vary by country, and that new apps "will be included based on their popularity and shown in a random order." There's also going to be a new prompt in Google Chrome, which will encourage users to pick a search engine.

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Toyota leads $1B investment in Uber’s self-driving tech

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 3:21pm

Enlarge / Uber has been using Volvo XC90 hybrid SUVs as R&D platforms. Soon, we can expect these to be joined by Toyota Siennas. (credit: Uber)

On Thursday, news broke that Toyota, Denso, and the SoftBank Vision Fund are investing heavily in Uber's autonomous driving operation. Together, the three companies will put $1 billion into Uber's Advanced Technologies Group: $667 million from Toyota and Denso, with an additional $333 million coming from SoftBank.

"Leveraging the strengths of Uber ATG’s autonomous vehicle technology and service network and the Toyota Group’s vehicle control system technology, mass-production capability, and advanced safety support systems, such as Toyota Guardian™, will enable us to commercialize safer, lower cost automated ridesharing vehicles and services," said Shigeki Tomoyama, Toyota executive vice president and president of Toyota’s in-house Connected Company, in a statement sent to Ars.

It's actually not the first time Toyota has opened its wallet for Uber. In August 2018, the Japanese OEM signed a $500 million deal to integrate Uber's autonomous tech into Toyota Sienna minivans, which will operate through Uber's ride-hailing network at some future date. That followed an earlier investment of $300 million in 2016.

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Anti-vax parents lose in NY court, face steep fines for not vaccinating

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 2:50pm

Enlarge / A sign warns people of measles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg on April 10, 2019 in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a state of emergency and mandated residents at the center of the outbreak to get vaccinated for the viral disease. (credit: Getty | Spencer Platt)

A Brooklyn judge on Thursday rejected the petition from five anonymous anti-vaccine mothers who attempted to block the city’s recent vaccination mandate amid the largest measles outbreak the city has seen in several decades.

And the city wasted no time enforcing its upheld order. As the judge made his decision Thursday, city health officials doled out the first penalties to violators, according to the New York Times. Officials sent summonses to the parents of three children for failing to vaccinate the children even after city officials determined that they had been exposed to the dangerous viral illness.

Measles is so contagious that up to 90 percent of unvaccinated or otherwise susceptible individuals who are exposed will become ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles’ extreme contagiousness is due in part to the fact that once it is launched into the air from a cough or sneeze it can remain airborne and infectious for up to two hours. Any vulnerable passersby who breathe in the virus or touch contaminated surfaces can pick it up.

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Facebook’s auto-captions for a recent launch video are hilariously bad

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 2:10pm

An Antares rocket built by Northrop Grumman launched on Wednesday afternoon, boosting a Cygnus spacecraft with 3.4 tons of cargo toward the International Space Station. The launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, went flawlessly, and the spacecraft arrived at the station on Friday.

However, when NASA's International Space Station program posted the launch video to its Facebook page on Thursday, there was a problem. Apparently the agency's caption service hadn't gotten to this video clip yet, so viewers with captions enabled were treated not just to the glory of a rocket launch, but the glory of Facebook's automatically generated crazywords. As of Thursday morning, 86,995 people had watched the Facebook video.

Some of the captions are just hilariously bad. For example, when the announcer triumphantly declares, "And we have liftoff of the Antares NG-11 mission to the ISS," the automatically generated caption service helpfully says, "And we have liftoff of the guitarist G 11 mission to the ice sets."

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Unexpected protection added to Microsoft Edge subverts IE security

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 1:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Brian Smithson / Flickr)

A researcher has uncovered strange and unexpected behavior in Windows 10 that allows remote attackers to steal data stored on hard drives when a user opens a malicious file downloaded with the Edge browser.

The threat partially surfaced last week when a different researcher, John Page, reported what he called a flaw in Internet Explorer. Page claimed that when using the file manager to open a maliciously crafted MHT file, the browser uploaded one or more files to a remote server. According to Page, the vulnerability affected the most recent version of IE, version 11, running on Windows 7, Windows 10, and Windows Server 2012 R2 with all security updates installed. (It’s no longer clear whether any OS other than Windows 10 is affected, at least for some users. More about that in a moment.)

Below this paragraph in Page's post was a video demonstration of the proof-of-concept exploit Page created. It shows a booby-trapped MHT file triggering an upload of the host computer's system.ini file to a remote server. Page's video shows the file being downloaded with Edge.

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Iron Man VR preview makes me want to put on nerdy headgear again

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 12:30pm

Trailer for PSVR game Marvel's Iron Man VR

AUSTIN, Texas—In some ways, I am the worst candidate among the Ars Technica gaming braintrust to demo the world premiere of Iron Man VR, a video game slated to launch on PlayStation VR by the end of this year. I have never used a PSVR, let alone any VR headset between the pricey HTC Vive and the build-it-yourself Nintendo Labo VR. And I'm an inconsistent Marvel movie follower at best. If we don't count the early 2000s Spider-Man trilogy, Black Panther is my only MCU reference point.

But maybe that actually makes me the best candidate to fake like Tony Stark via a bulky headset. There is no veneer of VR snobbery to rely on. Instead, I had simple questions: Is this fun? Would I do it again, and for longer?

After a 20-minute(ish) flight test with a rep from the devs at Camouflaj (the studio behind the upcoming PSVR game) nearby, I can still confidently say the old X-Men co-op arcade cabinet remains my favorite Marvel game of all-time. But I would absolutely be down to fly around a bit more in Iron Man's ruby-red armor soon, which is probably good news for millions of VR and Marvel novices who might be intrigued by the possibility of becoming their own living-room Iron Person.

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Rocket Report: A new Delta 2, Blue Origin inks with NASA, a fiery Falcon Heavy

Ars Technica - April 19, 2019 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace)

Welcome to Edition 1.45 of the Rocket Report! This week, half of our stories concern the biggest rockets on the planet, from Blue Origin engine tests at Marshall Space Flight Center to NASA's efforts to accelerate development of the Space Launch System.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Stratolaunch flies for the first time. The world's largest airplane, nicknamed Roc, took to the skies for the first time on Saturday, April 13. The flight lasted 150 minutes, during which time the aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet and a top speed of 189mph, Parabolic Arc reports. Backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and built by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, the aircraft is designed to air-launch satellites using boosters carried on the wing between its two fuselages.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Robot dogs pull truck and other tech news

BBC Technology News - April 19, 2019 - 5:20am
BBC Click's Jen Copestake looks at some of the week's best technology stories.

In new gaffe, Facebook improperly collects email contacts for 1.5 million

Ars Technica - April 18, 2019 - 10:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Facebook's privacy gaffes keep coming. On Wednesday, the social media company said it collected the stored email address lists of as many as 1.5 million users without permission. On Thursday, the company said the number of Instagram users affected by a previously reported password storage error was in the "millions," not the "tens of thousands" as previously estimated.

Facebook said the email contact collection was the result of a highly flawed verification technique that instructed some users to supply the password for the email address associated with their account if they wanted to continue using Facebook. Security experts almost unanimously criticized the practice, and Facebook dropped it as soon as it was reported.

In a statement issued to reporters, Facebook wrote:

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