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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 20 min 53 sec ago

Google Play apps with >10 million installs drain batteries, jack up data charges

42 min 19 sec ago

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Is your Android phone feeling hot to the touch, acting sluggish, in need of frequent charges, or using dramatically more data than it used to? It may be a victim of DrainerBot, a major fraud operation distributed through Google Play apps with more than 10 million downloads, researchers said Wednesday.

The apps catered to a wide variety of interests, from makeup and beauty to mobile gaming. Under the hood, the apps download hidden video ads to the phones that consume as much as 10GB per month of bandwidth. While the videos are never viewed or visible by anyone, the downloads generate fraudulent advertising revenue each time a legitimate end user device appears to view a video while visiting a spoofed but legitimate publisher site.

“DrainerBot is one of the first major ad fraud operations to cause clear and direct financial harm to consumers,” said Eric Roza, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Data Cloud, which uncovered the scheme. “DrainerBot-infected apps can cost users hundreds of dollars in unnecessary data charges while wasting their batteries and slowing their devices.”

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The first private mission to the Moon may launch Thursday night

3 hours 25 min ago

Enlarge / An artist's concept of the Space IL lunar spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. (credit: SpaceIL)

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday night, and while it may not be the primary payload, a small Israeli lunar lander is by far the mission's most intriguing payload.

The 180kg Beresheet spacecraft, privately developed by SpaceIL in Israel and funded largely through philanthropy, will spend more than six weeks raising its orbit and becoming captured into lunar orbit before finally making the first private attempt to land on the Moon. Until now, only the US, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have ever successfully landed on the Moon.

This means there is a lot of pressure on the small Israeli team leading the mission, both in their native country and among the commercial lunar community, which wants to prove that private ventures can do what only nations have done before. "What it means to me is that the responsibility is very high," said Yoav Landsman, a senior systems engineer for the project, in an interview.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Guidemaster: The least-awful Android phones

4 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / These two got new phones, and look at how happy they are! (credit: Ron Amadeo)

So you want to buy an Android phone, eh?

It's often said that a strength of the Android ecosystem is the sheer number of manufacturers out there producing devices, but that also means there is an absolutely intimidating amount of devices to pick from. Over 400 Android devices were released just in 2018—and the idea of buying a single device and then living with it for years can be daunting. Throw in tons of different price points, carrier compatibility, and user preferences, and "What Android phone should I buy?" can be a very complicated question.

We're here to sift through the absolutely crazy amount of choices and point out the phones we think would be best for most people. These are the best Android phones you can buy.

Read 49 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Playtime to the max: Snapshots from the 2019 New York Toy Fair

5 hours 5 min ago

Every year, despite frigid temperatures and threats of snow, toymakers from across the country gather at New York City's Javits Center to show off their newest playthings. Companies big and small set up booths to showcase the year's most exciting forthcoming toys, and Ars wandered around most (although not all) of the 1.8 million-square-foot convention center to scope them out.

The Toy Fair takes up the entirety of the Javits Center, or four expansive floors that can and will mystify attendees as they walk through them. Around every corner are all-new stuffed animals, board games, collectibles and figurines, and of course, huge structures made by toymakers to impress. We were particularly struck by the K'NEX area, which housed a fully functioning ferris wheel, a huge rollercoaster with zipping cars, and other moving creations, as well as a life-sized LEGO Unikitty creation that appeared to be guarding one of the escalators.

We only spent one day at this year's Toy Fair (the entire show spanned the long President's Day weekend), but we managed to check out new additions to Funko, LEGO, and Hasbro's already impressive toy families. The latter two companies have embraced new technologies more than ever before, both featuring connected toys that appear regular to the unknowing eye. Hasbro's new Star Wars Lightsaber Academy features a typical glowing lightsaber, but a customizable module inside the handle lets you choose the Master you want to "train" you.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Montana legislator introduces bills to give his state its own science

16 hours 55 min ago

Enlarge / The Montana State Capitol building, site of a rather unusual hearing. (credit: Montana.gov)

It's no secret that some of our federal legislators don't have a firm grip on scientific evidence; it only takes watching a session of the House Science Committee, where one member suggested the climate-driven rise of the oceans might instead be caused by rocks falling into the ocean.

What's often overlooked is that state legislators are even worse (though it's not clear how much this is a product of there simply being more of them). Each year, they oversee a variety of attempts to introduce pseudoscience into the public schools of a number of states.

But it recently came out that a legislator in Montana was attempting to have the state officially renounce the findings of the scientific community. And, if the federal government decides to believe the scientists and do something about emissions, he wants the Treasure State to somehow sit those efforts out.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dreams will finally launch this Spring on PS4 for $30—in “limited early access”

17 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge / This Spring, Media Molecule's latest "play, create, share" game could be yours... once we figure out what they mean by "limited early access." (credit: Media Molecule)

Dreams, the first major PS4 exclusive from longtime PlayStation developer Media Molecule, is finally almost here. But if you think its protracted development cycle is anywhere near over, think again.

PlayStation Blog has the news today: starting "this Spring," gamers will be able to buy the latest "play, create, share" title from the makers of LittleBigPlanet for $29.99 ($39.99CDN in Canada, €29.99 in Europe). But there's a catch: this version of the game will be given a loud "early access" label, a rarity on the PlayStation Store.

"If you participated in the [closed] beta and felt like Dreams wasn’t fully featured enough for you yet, or you wanted more Media Molecule game content, then Early Access might not be for you," Media Molecule director Siobhan Reddy wrote on Wednesday. The sales pitch seems targeted at excited content creators who are ready to dive into the game, even without a full-fledged "campaign" mode or finalized UI and tutorials.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

US sues contractor for allegedly over-billing on now-defunct MOX fuel facility

17 hours 55 min ago

Enlarge / Construction at the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility before the project was stopped. (credit: MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility)

Last week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against a company called CB&I Areva MOX Services and its subcontractor, Wise Services, for allegedly billing the US government for supplies that were never delivered. According to the complaint, a manager at Wise offered kickbacks including football tickets, guns, a YETI cooler, and a television to receive preferential treatment on a US government project to build a nuclear fuel reforming facility.

MOX Services was contracted by the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to build the Mixed Oxides Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF), which would have repurposed weapons-grade plutonium as fuel for nuclear reactors in the United States.

After wasting more than $7.6 billion on the MFFF, the US Department of Energy (DOE) canceled work on the South Carolina facility. The department has been quietly moving plutonium out of the area since then.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft culls secret Flash whitelist after Google points out its insecurity

18 hours 10 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

In 2017, Microsoft changed its Edge browser so that Flash content would be click-to-run (or disabled outright) on virtually every site on the Web. A handful of sites were to be whitelisted, however, due to a combination of Flash dependence and high popularity.

The whitelist was intended to make it easier to move to a world using HTML5 for rich interactive content and to limit the impact of any future Flash vulnerabilities. At the same time, the list would still allow sites with complex Flash-dependent content to keep on running. If only a few trusted sites can run Flash content by default, it should be much harder for bad actors to take advantage of Flash flaws. A similar approach was adopted by other browsers; Google, for example, whitelisted the top-10 Flash-using sites for one year after switching Chrome to "click-to-run."

But Google figured out how Edge's whitelist worked (via ZDNet) and found that its implementation left something to be desired. The list of 58 sites (56 of which have been identified by Google) including some that were unsurprising; many of the entries are sites with considerable numbers of Flash games, including Facebook. Others seemed more peculiar; a Spanish hair salon, for example, was listed.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Florida inmate says prison sold him $569 of music, then took it away

February 20, 2019 - 11:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

Florida inmate William Demler says that since 2012, he has spent $569.50 on digital music via a proprietary digital music service sponsored by the Florida prison system. Demler listened to his music on a prison-sponsored music player he purchased for $99.95. Demler, who is serving a life sentence, says ads for the prison-sponsored service promised access to his music for his entire prison term.

But last year, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) switched music vendors, and as a result, Demler lost access to his music collection. He was told that he'd need to buy the same songs again using the new system if he wanted to continue listening to them.

So Demler is suing the FDOC, arguing that the prison system broke its own promises and violated the US Constitution by depriving him of his music without compensation. He is seeking class-action status, allowing him to represent every prisoner in the Sunshine State who has lost access to the music.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How did Yoshi’s Island music end up in an official US gov’t Web game?

February 20, 2019 - 11:27pm

Enlarge / A shot from the EPA's Recycle City Challenge. Not shown: The Yoshi's Island DS music that played in the background of the game. (credit: EPA.gov)

A flash game available on the Environmental Protection Agency website since at least early 2017 made surprising use of copyrighted music from Nintendo's 2006 game Yoshi's Island DS.

Recycle City Challenge is an extremely simple educational Web game that asks players to answer basic questions about how to reduce waste and energy use. But yesterday, fan site Nintendo Soup was among the first to publicly notice that the Web game used a looping version of Yoshi's Island DS' "Underground" theme in the background.

The music, which played in a version of Recycle City Challenge accessed by Ars as recently as this morning, has since been removed from the live version on the EPA's website. You can still hear it in this Internet Archive copy of the site, though, and compare that directly to the same song on the Yoshi's Island DS soundtrack. Perhaps not coincidentally, a file named "yoshidsunderground.mp3" containing a copy of the song in question was in a music subfolder on the EPA website (as cataloged in this Internet Archive link) until earlier today.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hubble images show a Neptune moon that may have been repeatedly reborn

February 20, 2019 - 11:07pm

Enlarge / An artist's concept of the tiny moon Hippocamp. (credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Olmsted)

As the Voyager probes moved through the outer Solar System, they compiled a massive record of discovery. Among the newly found objects and phenomena were a large collection of small moons orbiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Most of these were beyond the ability of Earth-based hardware to image at the time—we actually had to be there to see them.

Since then, however, improvements in ground-based optics and the existence of the Hubble Space Telescope have enabled us to find a few small bodies that had been missed by the Voyagers, as well as other small objects elsewhere in the Solar System, such as the Kuiper Belt object recently visited by New Horizons. Now, researchers have found a way to use advances in computation to increase what we can do with imaging even further, spotting a tiny new moon at Neptune and possibly spotting another for the first time since Voyager 2 was there.

Finding moons

Given that Neptune has been visited by Voyager 2 and imaged frequently since then, any moons we haven't already spotted are going to be pretty hard to see, presumably because they're some combination of small and/or dim. The simplest way to see them is to increase the exposure time, allowing more opportunity for dim signals to emerge from the noise. This method won't work if there's a bright object nearby, which isn't so much of a problem with the outer planets.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Samsung refreshes wearables line, including new Galaxy Watch Active

February 20, 2019 - 9:15pm

Along with the S10 smartphones and the new Galaxy Fold handset, Samsung officially announced new wearables in its Galaxy family at its Unpacked event today. Information that leaked just days ago about Samsung's own Galaxy Wearables mobile app has been proven correct, as Samsung showed off a new Galaxy Watch Active smartwatch, a Galaxy Fit tracker, and new true wireless earbuds called the Galaxy Buds.

Starting in the audio department, the Galaxy Buds are Samsung's latest entry in the cordless earphone market popularized by Apple's AirPods. Samsung says they get six hours of battery life on their own per charge, with an additional seven hours available through their charging case. That case supports wireless charging, and it can be powered by one of those new Galaxy S10 phones.

The company claims the Galaxy Buds' case is 30 percent smaller than that of its previous Gear IconX earbuds. Samsung's much-maligned Bixby assistant is built into the earphones by default, letting users perform some smartphone controls with their voice—send texts, answer calls, change songs, and more—but the earphones can also use Google Assistant. They connect over Bluetooth 5, and Samsung is touting easier connectivity with its own devices. The company says the Galaxy Buds' audio has been tuned by its AKG subsidiary, though we'll have to give them a listen before making any judgments there.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Samsung officially debuts Galaxy S10 smartphone after weeks of rumors, leaks

February 20, 2019 - 8:32pm

Today is Samsung's big launch event, and the company has made the thoroughly leaked Galaxy S10 official. The company announced the S10 and S10 Plus smartphones onstage today at Samsung Unpacked 2019 after it unveiled the impressive and incredibly expensive Galaxy Fold foldable handset.

The Galaxy S line never joined the notch trend of 2018, and this year, Samsung is going with a new scheme to maximize display space while still having a front camera: the hole-punch display. Samsung is pushing the display boundaries all the way out to the edges of the phone. A camera is located under the display panel, so you get a display with a round camera hole in it (cut out by a laser) and pixels all around the camera lens.

The slimmer bezels means screen sizes are getting even bigger. The S10 has a 6.1-inch 3040×1440 AMOLED display—up from 5.8-inches in the S9—while the S10 Plus is getting a 6.4-inch 3040×1440 AMOLED panel—up from 6.2-inches on the S9 Plus and now the same size as the Galaxy Note 9. Both phones are a few millimeters wider than last year, so they will feel a bit bigger when you're holding them.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Forget Airwolf: One of these is the Army’s next assault “helicopter”

February 20, 2019 - 8:20pm

The Army's future "helicopter" takes shape. A transcript of this video can be found here. (video link)

The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and its many variants have been the backbone of the US Army's helicopter force for decades. Designed during the Army's last major helicopter procurement push in the 1980s, the Black Hawk now flies in some form in all of the military services. But its range and speed have become limiting factors in the Army's airborne assault operations. And to add to the problem, the Army lacks a scout helicopter that meets the demands of deployment overseas. The Eurocopter UH-72 Lakota isn't combat-capable, so AH-64 Apaches have had to play the role of armed scouts with the assistance of drones.

As a result, the Army has two separate helicopter procurement programs running for the first time since the Black Hawk and Apache were in the pipeline. The two programs, which emerged from the "capability sets" of the Army's Future Vertical Lift program, seek Black Hawk and Kiowa replacements that are "optionally manned"—meaning that they can fly with or without an aircrew—as well as being easier to maintain and fly than their predecessors.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Samsung’s foldable phone is finally official—meet the Galaxy Fold

February 20, 2019 - 8:09pm

After years of teasing, Samsung on Wednesday took the wraps off its first foldable smartphone: the Galaxy Fold.

The device will start at a whopping $1,980 and arrive on April 26. It'll hit Europe on May 3 and start at €2,000. Samsung says it will sell both LTE and 5G-capable variants, but has only confirmed AT&T and T-Mobile as carrier partners in US. The electronics giant detailed the Android phone-tablet hybrid at an event in San Francisco, where it also unveiled its new flagship Galaxy S10 phones.

As the company hinted at its developers conference last year, the Galaxy Fold consists of two OLED displays: a 4.6-inch, 21:9, 1960x840-resolution panel that serves as a more traditional smartphone display, and a foldable 7.3-inch, 4.2:3, 2152x1536-resolution panel that behaves more like a tablet.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ajit Pai says broadband access is soaring—and that he’s the one to thank

February 20, 2019 - 8:06pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai listens during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Ajit Pai says the Federal Communications Commission's annual broadband assessment will show that his deregulatory policies have substantially improved access in the United States. The annual report will also conclude that broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely basis.

The FCC hasn't released the full Broadband Deployment Report yet and won't do so until the commission votes on whether to approve the draft version sometime in the next few weeks. For now, the FCC has only issued a one-page press release with a few data points and some quotes from Chairman Pai in which he claims that his policy changes caused the improvements.

But Pai offered no proof of any connection between his policy decisions and the increased deployment. Moreover, broadband deployment improved at similar rates during the Obama administration, despite Pai's claims that the FCC's net neutrality rules harmed deployment during that period.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Liveblog: The Samsung Galaxy S10 launch

February 20, 2019 - 7:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Samsung)

Samsung Unpacked 2019 will kick off Wednesday, February 20, at 11am Pacific (2pm ET) in San Francisco. We're going to hear all about Samsung's Flagship lineup for 2019, which includes the Galaxy S10 in many variants.

We already have a huge post here outlining what to expect, but the highlight of the event will be the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus. These devices are expected to bring a number of advancements to mainstream smartphones. They will be one of the first device families to feature the Snapdragon 855 SoC, Wi-Fi 6, and an ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor. There's also a slick new "hole punch" camera cutout in the display, along with slim bezels, which means the displays are getting even bigger.

We're also getting way more than just the S10 and S10 Plus. There's expected to be a cheaper version of the Galaxy S10 called the "Galaxy S10e," and we might get a look at the upcoming 5G version. Samsung has also spent some time teasing that "The future of mobile will unfold" at the event, which means we'll hear a bit more about the company's upcoming foldable smartphone (the Galaxy F?).

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: Trump officials tried to fast-track nuclear tech transfer to Saudi Arabia

February 20, 2019 - 7:06pm

Enlarge / President Donald Trump is intent on a deal that allows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud's government to purchase nuclear technology built by US companies. There's a small problem with that: it's against the law. (credit: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

An interim report from the staff of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform shows evidence that members of the Trump transition team and administration attempted to push through a plan from a consortium advised by former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn to sell nuclear technology to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The plan would have led to the construction of 40 nuclear power plants and facilities to enrich uranium fuel. The technology, while focused on civil nuclear power, could give the Saudis resources that could be used to build nuclear weapons. The plan would also have pumped billions into a number of US companies involved in the nuclear industry, including the bankrupt nuclear services company Westinghouse Electric—which would have build the reactors.

Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told NPR's Ari Shapiro in an interview that the details in the report were "bonker-balls…can't come up with a better word. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. It's a half-baked, grandiose plan with all kinds of things that could go wrong in it and people screaming at them to stop. And they don't stop."

Despite repeated wave-offs by national security officials, members of the White House team and Trump confidants outside the White House—including Tom Barrack, the chairman of the Trump inauguration committee and a close friend of the president—continued to press forward on the scheme. Barrack, who urged Trump to take on Paul Manafort as his campaign manager, also tried to broker a secret meeting between Manafort and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, according to a New York Times report.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Users alarmed by undisclosed microphone in Nest Security System

February 20, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / You can't see it, but there is actually a microphone in here. (credit: Nest)

Google's Nest smart home brand is in hot water this week after news surfaced (via Daring Fireball) that its home security system, Nest Secure, shipped with an undisclosed microphone. Google activated the microphone earlier this month for Google Assistant functionality, but that meant the device sat in users' homes for up to a year as an unknown potential listening device.

Nest Secure launched last year as a $500 home security system. It's just a collection of door, window, and motion sensors, along with a small desktop box that acts as a hub for the devices and a security code keypad. It has a speaker for alarms and other sounds, but it isn't something you would ever expect to have a microphone.

Google gave a statement to Business Insider yesterday, saying, “The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part.” According to the company, "the microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.”

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft, Paradox allow open game modding on Xbox One for the first time

February 20, 2019 - 4:54pm

Enlarge / Surviving Mars will be the first Xbox One game to allow the upload of user-created mods without pre-approval.

In a console industry first, Paradox Interactive and Microsoft are allowing Xbox One players to get direct access to game modifications created on the PC without any pre-approval from the console maker or publisher.

This isn't the first time players have been able to add their own modified content to a console game. Bethesda enabled Fallout 4 mods on Xbox One back in May 2016 and on PlayStation 4 months later. Paradox itself followed with a similar modding program for the Xbox One version of Cities: Skylines early last year.

But the player-made mods made available on those and other console games in the past had one major distinction from their PC cousins: they had to be individually and manually approved by the platform holder and game publisher for potential content and security issues.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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