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Patch for Intel Speculative Execution Vulnerability Could Reduce Performance by 5 to 35%

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 08:51 AM PST

It appears that all modern Intel processors contain a hardware-level security flaw. Details are being suppressed while patches are developed, but it appears that a user process can put a reference to a privileged address in speculative execution, and thereby bypass privilege restrictions.

Since simply marking certain areas of the virtual memory space as privileged is insecure, operating systems will have to completely isolate their kernels, i.e., remove them from the virtual memory space of user processes. This will make context switching more expensive. Presumably, every OS call will now require swapping out the virtual memory map and flushing the page tables cache in the processor. Twice: one to go to the kernel, and once to return to the user process. This will be a significant performance hit: depending on the application, up to 30%.

This is apparently an Intel-specific bug; processors by other manufacturers are not affected. However, they may still suffer the performance hit: The changes to the OS are substantial, and it seems unlikely that OS manufacturers will, in the long-term, maintain two completely different kernel-access strategies for different processors.

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Another TRAPPIST-1 Habitability Study

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 07:17 AM PST

A study has found that the two outermost TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets are the most likely to be able to retain their atmospheres:

The last thing the planets around the red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 need is abundant sunshine. Active eruptions and flares from the star would wreak havoc on the rocky planets in orbit. But fortunately, the outer planets might be safe from this barrage of high-energy space weather.

According to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences [DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1708010115] [DX], the outer planets of the system could cling on to their atmospheres. This finding is despite previous studies showing that TRAPPIST-1 might be so active that it blows away planetary atmospheres.

[...] The new results show that while all seven planets could retain their atmosphere, the more likely scenario is that the outermost two, -1g and -1h, have the best odds (and -1e and -1f have a weaker chance.)

This could be resolved by JWST observations.

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Necurs Botnet Launches Massive 47 Million Emails Per Day Campaign

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 05:44 AM PST

The Necurs botnet continued to launch massive global ransomware attacks through the Holiday Season with researchers stopping as many as 47 million emails per day.

Threat actors behind the attacks continue to distribute Locky and GlobeImposter ransomware preferring to use either a malicious .vbs (visual basic script) or .js (javascript) file located inside a .7z (seven-zip archive) to pull down the ransomware payload, according to a Dec. 26 blog post.

The seven-zip archive keeps file sizes small to evade detection from basic email filters that don't scan inside archives. Between Dec. 19 and Dec. 22 AppRiver researchers spotted a large influx in attacks that at its peak, blocked a maximum sustained traffic of 5,704,052 malicious emails sent by the for-rent botnet.

[...] AppRiver researcher David Pickett hypothesizes the threat actors may have been testing or monitoring the rate of infections before realizing many of their potential targets were on vacation.

Last month, Necurs pushed out a total of 12 million malicious emails in one morning helping move it from tenth to eight place for the month's Most Wanted Malware list.


Original Submission

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Microsoft, DOJ Set to Go Head to Head at Supreme Court in 2018

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 03:41 AM PST

United States of America v. In the matter of a Warrant to Microsoft, Inc.

In October 2017, the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case that is being closely watched by major tech firms.

The question is this: can American law enforcement, with a valid warrant, obtain data physically held abroad by an American company? Microsoft argues that no, any data held abroad cannot be touched by an American court order, while the Department of Justice argues that this allows companies to easily defy judicial orders.

This particular case revolves around email held in an Outlook account in Ireland—it is not publicly known what the government hopes would be revealed by acquiring the email, which was sought as part of a drug investigation. Investigators have also not revealed whether the email account owner is American or if that person has been charged with a crime.

American authorities sought this data under the Stored Communications Act. The US government, could, however, use the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process as a way to contact Irish authorities to serve a local warrant upon Microsoft's Irish subsidiary, which controls the data center, to obtain the data. That procedure, which may have already been undertaken, is likely slower than a SCA warrant. However, if the government did go ahead with an MLAT request, it was likely to have been fulfilled during the lengthy process of the judicial appeal.

On December 13, 2017, the Republic of Ireland filed its own amicus brief—supporting neither side—arguing essentially that it would comply with an MLAT request "if and when it be made."

Oral argument has been scheduled for February 27, 2018.


-- submitted from IRC

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Should US Marijuana Laws Address Past Drug Convictions?

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 02:07 AM PST

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

The state of California legalised recreational cannabis use in November 2016, and it will become legal state-wide on Monday. That means anyone 21 and older will be able to buy cannabis from a licensed store, known as a dispensary.

The resentencing provisions of Proposition 64, California's cannabis legalisation initiative, have been in effect since last year, said Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance, a group working to end drug prohibition. But few people know about the resentencing provision, which applies to people who are currently imprisoned or out on parole, Hernandez told Al Jazeera.

Individuals who apply for resentencing may be released from prison or have the charge on their criminal record reduced. Felonies may be lowered to misdemeanours, misdemeanours to infractions, or infractions to an outright dismissal of charges.

Resentencing will likely affect thousands of lives, since at least 500,000 marijuana-related arrests have been recorded in California over the last decade, Hernandez said.

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New Jersey State Police Spent $850,000 on Harris Corp. Stingray Devices

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 12:33 AM PST

Information obtained via right-to-know request revealed The New Jersey State Police spent at least $850,000 on stingray devices from Harris Corp.

Authorities didn't respond to NBC10's request to discuss the use of the technology described in more than 100 pages of invoices and other heavily redacted documents detailing the devices purchased. Jeanne LoCicero, deputy legal director ACLU of New Jersey, asked for the same documents that NBC10 sought and received the same response from the department upon further inquiry.

[...] New Jersey State Police department's lack of transparency on the device is not uncommon from what has been seen with other law enforcement agencies at both the local and federal level when similar requests have been made.

Source: https://www.scmagazine.com/850000-spent-on-harris-corp-stingrays-by-new-jersey-state-police/article/733485/

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Power Prices Go Negative in Germany, a Positive for Energy Users

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 11:01 PM PST

Submitted via IRC for Bytram

Germany has spent $200 billion over the past two decades to promote cleaner sources of electricity. That enormous investment is now having an unexpected impact — consumers are now actually paid to use power on occasion, as was the case over the weekend.

Power prices plunged below zero for much of Sunday and the early hours of Christmas Day on the EPEX Spot, a large European power trading exchange, the result of low demand, unseasonably warm weather and strong breezes that provided an abundance of wind power on the grid.

Such "negative prices" are not the norm in Germany, but they are far from rare, thanks to the country's effort to encourage investment in greener forms of power generation. Prices for electricity in Germany have dipped below zero — meaning customers are being paid to consume power — more than 100 times this year alone, according to EPEX Spot.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/25/business/energy-environment/germany-electricity-negative-prices.html

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Genetically Designed Chocolate

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 09:28 PM PST

If you can't maintain a viable habitat for cacao trees in the wild, maybe you can genetically design them to survive the world that's coming?

Scientists forecast that reduced humidity, caused by rising temperatures, will make cacao trees extremely vulnerable by 2050, threatening the chocolate industry. Luckily for cacao farmers and chocolate fiends, researchers are attempting to save the bean-like seeds with CRISPR, the same gene-editing technology associated with creating "designer babies," eradicating diseases, and bringing back the wooly mammoth.

According to a report published Sunday by Business Insider, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and the global confectionary company Mars are collaborating to create cacao plants that can survive in warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Scientists at the university's Innovative Genomics Institute are using CRISPR to enable them to grow in different elevations while being disease-resistant.

[...] This project is a part of Mars's larger initiative, a $1 billion pledge to reduce the carbon footprint of its business and increase the sustainability of the crops used in its products. In 2008, Mars launched the Cacao Genome Project, an effort to publicly release the sequence of the cacao gene so breeders could "begin identifying traits of climate change adaptability, enhanced yield, and efficiency in water and nutrient use."

Yay, open source - does this mean we're going to get designer chocolates with extra good stuff grown right in at the source? Chocolate Kingdom grows a few specimen cacao trees indoors in Orlando. They're a little on the tall side for commercial indoor cultivation, but maybe if they're putting out high quality theobromine and similar goodies, it might make commercial sense.

Original Submission

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Criminals Spoof Scanners and Printers by the Millions to Spread Malware

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 08:55 PM PST

Cyber-criminals are spoofing scanners by the millions to launch attacks containing malicious attachments that appear to be coming from the network printer.

Barracuda researchers first witnessed the initial attack in late November 2017 and said the attachment provides the attackers with the ability to initiate covert surveillance or gain unauthorised access to a victim PC backdoor into the victim PC, according to a 21 December blog post.

[...] "Receiving a PDF attachment in an email sent by a printer is so commonplace that many users assume the document is completely safe," researchers said in the blog. "From a social engineering perspective, this is exactly the response that the cyber-criminals want."

[...] The emails subject read something like "Scanned from HP", "Scanned from Epson", or "Scanned from Canon," while containing a malicious file attachment with anti-detection techniques such as modified file names and extensions inside the traditional file archive, which allows attackers to hide the malicious code inside the archive, imitating a '.jpg', '.txt' or any other format.

The malware in the attachments was designed to gain unfettered access to a user's device including the ability to monitor user behaviour, change computer settings, browse and copy files, [and] utilise the bandwidth to victim's devices.

Source: https://www.scmagazineuk.com/criminals-spoof-scanners-and-printers-by-the-millions-to-spread-malware/article/733793/

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Scientists Create Single Device Capable of Dual Transistor Operation

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 07:22 PM PST

For the first time, scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have combined these two different types of transistors into a single device that can easily switch between power-efficient and high performance modes, depending on the need. The device has a special type of metal-semiconductor junction which can be tweaked to make it behave either like a MOSFET or a tunnel FET.

"You have flexibility," says Shubhadeep Bhattacharjee, Ph.D. student at the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering, IISc and first author of the paper published in Applied Physics Letters. "Using the same device, you can have either high performance which compromises on power, or an optimal performance, low-power operation. Think of it as using the same car as either a Tata Nano or a Mercedes Benz."

[...] The dual-gated device was able to operate at a voltage lower than possible with conventional MOSFETs, greatly reducing power consumption. This would enable reduction of operating voltage to less than half a volt. It also showed superior performance compared to current state-of-the-art tunnel FETs.

The new composite design offers much more flexibility in transistor function than previously possible, and may improve the efficiency of electronic devices significantly, the authors say.

More information: A sub-thermionic MoS2 FET with tunable transport, published in Applied Physics Letters, October 2017 (Featured among Editor's picks). aip.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/1.4996953

Source: https://phys.org/news/2017-12-scientists-device-capable-dual-transistor.html

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Single Metalens Focuses All Colors of the Rainbow in One Point

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 05:49 PM PST

Metalenses—flat surfaces that use nanostructures to focus light—promise to revolutionize optics by replacing the bulky, curved lenses currently used in optical devices with a simple, flat surface. But, these metalenses have remained limited in the spectrum of light they can focus well. Now a team of researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has developed the first single lens that can focus the entire visible spectrum of light—including white light—in the same spot and in high resolution. This has only ever been achieved in conventional lenses by stacking multiple lenses.

The research is published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Focusing the entire visible spectrum and white light - combination of all the colors of the spectrum—is so challenging because each wavelength moves through materials at different speeds. Red wavelengths, for example, will move through glass faster than the blue, so the two colors will reach the same location at different times resulting in different foci. This creates image distortions known as chromatic aberrations.

Cameras and optical instruments use multiple curved lenses of different thicknesses and materials to correct these aberrations, which, of course, adds to the bulk of the device.

"Metalenses have advantages over traditional lenses," says Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the research. "Metalenses are thin, easy to fabricate and cost effective. This breakthrough extends those advantages across the whole visible range of light. This is the next big step."


A broadband achromatic metalens for focusing and imaging in the visible, Nature Nanotechnology (2018). nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/s41565-017-0034-6

-- submitted from IRC

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Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 04:16 PM PST

At Rainbow Grocery, a cooperative in this city's Mission District, one brand of water is so popular that it's often out of stock. But one recent evening, there was a glittering rack of it: glass orbs containing 2.5 gallons of what is billed as "raw water" — unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water, $36.99 each and $14.99 per refill, bottled and marketed by a small company called Live Water.

"It has a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile," said Kevin Freeman, a shift manager at the store. "Bottled water's controversial. We've curtailed our water selection. But this is totally outside that whole realm."

Here on the West Coast and in other pockets around the country, many people are looking to get off the water grid.

[...] Raw water is such a nascent business that there's debate over what exactly to call the liquid. Daniel Vitalis hosts a podcast, "ReWild Yourself," that promotes hunting for food and gathering water; he started the site called FindASpring.com to help people locate springs. He prefers the term "unprocessed water," which echoes the idea of processed versus unprocessed food.

"I don't like 'raw water' because it sort of makes people think of raw sewage," Mr. Vitalis said. "When you say 'live water,' that's going to trigger a lot of people who are into physics and biology. Is it alive?"


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Robocalls Were Worse Than Ever in 2017

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 02:43 PM PST

Complaints about automated telemarketing calls jumped steeply last year, and have quintupled since 2009, according to a recent FTC report. The report says that in fiscal year 2017, the agency received over 375,000 complaints per month about automated robocalls, up from only 63,000 per month in 2009. That's a total of 4.5 million robocall complaints, plus an additional 2.5 million complaints about live telemarketing calls. For comparison, there were 3.4 million robocalls and 1.8 million live calls in 2016. (The FCC also regulates robocalls, but has received far fewer complaints — only 185,000 since August of 2016.)

The report says that robocalls are steadily increasing because of cheap access to internet calling services and autodialing, and because it's getting easier for spammers to hide their true identity and location. People reported more "neighborhood" number spoofing, where calls appear to come from a local area code, in 2017. The most popular topic by far, according to complaint responses, was debt reduction. People also reported spam calls about vacations and timeshares; warranties and protection plans; prescription medication; and "imposter" calls ostensibly from businesses, the government, or family and friends.


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A US Customs Computer Snafu Caused Major Airport Delays

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 01:09 PM PST

US Customs and Immigration computers went down at various airports around the US yesterday, causing some havoc for travelers returning from holidays. It left hundreds of folks stuck in lines for a couple of hours in a part of the airport where there's normally not a lot to do. The agency didn't say what caused the problem, but said "there is no indication the service disruption was malicious in nature."

As Reuters notes, a similar outage occurred at the same time last year, so it might be that the customs systems were slammed with Christmas travelers and couldn't handle the excess traffic. Agents were still able to process passengers using an alternative system, albeit at a much slower rate.

Source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/01/02/a-us-customs-computer-snafu-caused-major-airport-delays/

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Happy New Year- Welcome to Linux Journal 2.0!

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 11:36 AM PST

The Linux Journal gets a second wind through the assistance of Private Internet Access (PIA), owner of the Freenode and Soonet IRC networks.

[...] First, the PIA people are hard-core Linux, free software and open-source hackers. They are just as committed to FOSS values as Phil Hughes was when he published the first issue of Linux Journal in April 1994, the same month Linus released version 1.0 of Linux. (Friends and colleagues of Phil's, especially those who worked for him at Linux Journal for many years, know how completely principled he was and still is.) They also want to do right by developers, users, and the whole free and open networked world. That's one reason they stepped forward to save us. [...]

Source : Happy New Year- Welcome to Linux Journal 2.0!

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