FCC wants to stop spending on gear from companies that ‘pose a national security threat’

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The U.S. maneuvers against China’s tech giants continue today with an official announcement from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that the agency may soon ban purchasing anything from companies that “pose a national security threat.” Huawei, ZTE and other major tech manufacturers aren’t named specifically, but it’s clear what is meant.

Pai lists the risk of backdoored routers, switches and other telecoms equipment as the primary threat; Huawei and ZTE have been accused of doing this for years, though hard evidence has been scarce.

The proposal would prohibit any money from the FCC’s $ 8.5 billion Universal Service Fund, used for all kinds of projects and grants, to be spent on companies beholden to “hostile governments.” Pai mentioned the two Chinese giants in a previous letter describing the proposed plan.

Both companies in question have strenuously denied the charges; perhaps most publicly by Richard Yu, CEO of the company’s consumer business group, at CES this year.

But warnings from U.S. intelligence services have been ongoing since 2012, and Congress is considering banning Huawei equipment from use by government entities, saying the company “is effectively an arm of the Chinese government.”

Strong ties between these major companies and the Chinese government are hard to deny, of course, given China’s particularly hands-on methods in this sort of thing. Ironically, however, it seems that our spy agencies are so sure about this in great part because they themselves have pushed for and occasionally accomplished the same compromises of network infrastructure. If they’ve done it, they can be sure their Chinese rivals have.

The specifics of the rule are unknown, but even a relatively lax ban would likely be a big hit to Huawei and ZTE, which so far have failed to make a dent in the U.S. phone market but still manufacture all kinds of other telecommunications gear making up our infrastructure.

The draft of the new rule will be published tomorrow; the other commissioners have it now and are no doubt reading and forming their own opinions on how to improve it. The vote is set for April 17.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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Russians Pose as Americans to Steal Data on Social Media

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Americans have been targeted on social media by Russian agents on a mission to harvest personal information. The agents pretended to work for organizations promoting African-American businesses as a ruse to obtain personal information from black business owners during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Using names like “BlackMattersUS” and “Black4Black,” the agents set up hundreds of social media accounts. Facebook’s recently introduced tool for identifying Russian propaganda doesn’t address Kremlin agents masquerading as Americans.
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Broadcom’s Qualcomm takeover plans pose national security risk, US Treasury says

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The U.S. government considers there to be possible national security risks in Broadcom’s proposed $ 117 billion acquistion of Qualcomm, enough to warrant a full-scale investigation, the U.S. Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for investment security said in a letter to the two Apple suppliers.
AppleInsider – Frontpage News

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Heads of US law & spy agencies say phones by Apple rival Huawei pose inherent national security risk

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The heads of several U.S. law and spy agencies claim that smartphone buyers should avoid buying products from China’s Huawei, since the company poses a risk of data theft and surveillance of users, but also are a danger to national security as well.
AppleInsider – Frontpage News

Apple responds to iPhone source code leak, says it doesn’t pose a threat to security

Apple iBoot source code leak

Hours after Motherboard reported that the iBoot source code for iOS 9 had been leaked on GitHub, Apple has issued a response, significantly downplaying the severity of the leak. When the leak was first uncovered, panic set it almost immediately, with one security researcher going as far as to call it “the biggest leak in history.”

As Motherboard explains, iBoot is the program responsible for ensuring that the operating system of the device loads correctly. It’s the first process that runs when you boot up an iPhone or an iPad, and having it out in the open could potentially give hackers the ability to develop new exploits or jailbreaks for the software.

At least, that’s what we were led to believe from the initial story. Apple tells a different version of the story:

Old source code from three years ago appears to have been leaked, but by design the security of our products doesn’t depend on the secrecy of our source code. There are many layers of hardware and software protections built into our products, and we always encourage customers to update to the newest software releases to benefit from the latest protections.

The report suggests that the leaked code might still be useful for hackers despite the fact that it’s over two years old, but Apple’s statement seems to refute that claim. Just keep your devices updated, and you’ll be fine.

Of course, that didn’t stop Apple from issuing a takedown notice and having the code removed as quickly as it could, but the company makes it sound like iOS device owners don’t have anything to worry about. Here’s hoping Apple is right, because the code was up long enough for it to spread far beyond GitHub.

Apple – BGR

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ pose for a photo [Updated]

We’ve seen front panels and back panels of Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. But so far we’ve not seen the finished article in real life photos – until now, perhaps. This purports to be the first such photo. Update: it’s not. As Szabolcs points out in the comments, this is from a video by ConceptCreator. Here’s the video: Original story follows below: The image may be doctored (it certainly seems like someone adjusted the brightness if nothing else), but it lines up quite well with the 3D renders provided case makers. The thing to note here is that the smaller Galaxy S9…

GSMArena.com – Latest articles

98% of Knockoff iPhone Chargers Pose Severe Risk of Shock and Fire

According to researchers affiliated with U.K.-based Electrical Safety First, an advocacy group devoted to promoting the safe use of electricity, as many as 98 percent of knockoff or lookalike iPhone chargers put users at risk of potentially fatal electric shock or fire.

To reach their conclusion, the group conducted a series of tests using 50 counterfeit iPhone chargers, the majority of which were acquired in the U.K. The firm’s Technical Director, Martyn Allen, revealed that 49 of the 50 chargers failed basic safety checks.

“This report shows that anyone purchasing an iPhone charger from an online marketplace or at an independent discount store is taking a serious risk with their safety,” Allen warns.

Key Findings

The chargers used in this study were all knockoff versions of Apple’s OEM charger, sourced from a variety of online and retail marketplaces, discount stores and stalls across the U.K., according to a DailyMail report. Below is a brief compilation of what the researchers found:

  • The chargers were sent through a series of electrical and mechanical tests — including an “electrical strength test,” which revealed that over 50 percent of them pose a “severe risk of electrical shock” during use.
  • Additionally, researchers noted that of the 50 chargers tested, all but one failed multiple tests, while one in three failed every single test.
  • An internal examination of the chargers revealed that 68 percent of them were either manufactured using “sub-standard internal components,” or pose a severe risk of electric shock due to their designs which “lack sufficient insulation.”
  • Lastly, of the 15 chargers that passed the electrical tests, zero of them went on to pass the ‘plug pin strength test’, which reveals the concerning (but not omnipresent) danger of fake chargers simply “breaking off” inside a wall socket.

“The vast majority of chargers we tested had the potential to deliver a lethal electrical shock or cause a fire,” Allen and his associates concluded.

Interestingly, this week’s report appears to echo the findings of a 2016 investigation, conducted by the U.K.-based Chartered Trading Standards Institute, which revealed that 99 percent of counterfeit Apple chargers lacked sufficient insulation to prevent damage or potentially fatal electric shock.

How to Protect Yourself

The first thing you’ll want to do is determine whether your existing charger is the authentic, Apple-branded accessory supplied with your device. If it is, you’re golden.

However, if you’ve recently purchased a charger or cable from a discount retailer under the impression that perhaps you scored a really good deal, these findings should at the least encourage you to think twice.

Of course, should you ever find the need to replace your original Apple charger, your best best would be to purchase an MFi certified charging cable, as Apple has guaranteed they’re designed and optimized to work best with iOS devices.

iDrop News

Risky Scripts Pose Threat to Web Surfers, Say Researchers

A popular technique used by website operators to observe the keystrokes, mouse movements and scrolling behavior of visitors on Web pages is fraught with risk. The technique offered by a number of service providers uses scripts to capture the activity of a visitor on a Web page, store it on the provider’s servers, and play it back on demand for a website’s operators. The idea behind the practice is to give operators insights into how users are interacting with their websites and to identify broken and confusing pages.

Metals shortages pose little risk to future battery production, MIT finds

Metals shortages pose little risk to future battery production, MIT finds

MIT-led study finds that while short-term supply chain bottlenecks could limit battery production in future, there is no shortage of metals with which to manufacture them. 

The battery industry can relax. In the near future, shortages of critical metals will place “absolutely no limitations” on battery manufacturing, according to a report published this week by US academics.

Since batteries are what will keep the IoT ticking along, this will come as a big relief to many in the industry.

But, the researchers warn, “without proper planning”, there could still be short-term bottlenecks in the supplies of some metals, particularly lithium and cobalt, that could cause temporary slowdowns in production.

The study was conducted by Professor Elsa Olivetti and doctoral student Xinkai Fu at MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Gerbrand Ceder at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB); and Gabrielle Gaustad at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Their report appeared this week in the journal Joule.

Read more: Microsoft and GE team up on wind energy and battery tech

Key ingredients

The researchers decided to focus their research on the five most essential ingredients needed to produce today’s lithium-ion batteries: lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and carbon, in the form of graphite. Other key ingredients, they say, are so abundant that they are not considered to be a limiting factor.

Among those five key materials, it quickly became clear that nickel and manganese are used so widely in other industries that battery production – even if it significantly increases – doesn’t constitute “a significant slice of the pie”, according to Olivetti.

Instead, it’s supply chains of lithium and cobalt that are most likely to be impacted by shortages. Since Lithium can either be mined or processed from brines, with the latter process easy to ramp up quickly, in as little as six to eight months, serious disruption to battery production is unlikely. Cobalt production, however, is more complicated, since its major source is the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has a history of violent conflict and corruption.

Read more: Battery tech will power global smart grid ambitions

New mines ahead

But the main potential cause of delays in obtaining new supplies of the mineral comes from not its inherent geographic distribution, but from actual extraction. “The delay is in the ability to open new mines,” said Olivetti. “With any of these things, the material is out there, but the question is at what price.”

To guard against possible disruptions in the cobalt supply, she added, researchers “are trying to move to cathode materials [for lithium-ion batteries] that are less cobalt-dependent.”

Still, the good news is that, over the next 15 years, while potential bottlenecks exist, there are no serious obstacles to meeting rising demand. And that matters to the IoT, as batteries are what keep many connected sensors, devices and machines ‘alive’ – particularly electric vehicles.

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Stanford’s Final Exams Pose Question About the Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Stanford’s Moral Pickle

When bioengineering students sit down to take their final exams for Stanford University, they are faced with a moral dilemma, as well as a series of grueling technical questions that are designed to sort the intellectual wheat from the less competent chaff:

If you and your future partner are planning to have kids, would you start saving money for college tuition, or for printing the genome of your offspring?

The question is a follow up to “At what point will the cost of printing DNA to create a human equal the cost of teaching a student in Stanford?” Both questions refer to the very real possibility that it may soon be in the realm of affordability to print off whatever stretch of DNA you so desire, using genetic sequencing and a machine capable of synthesizing the four building blocks of DNA — A, C, G, and T — into whatever order you desire.

*2* Stanford Entrance Questions Ethics of Genetic Engineering

The answer to the time question, by the way, is 19 years, given that the cost of tuition at Stanford remains at $ 50,000 and the price of genetic printing continues the 200-fold decrease that has occurred over the last 14 years. Precursory work has already been performed; a team lead by Craig Venter created the simplest life form ever known last year.

The Ethics of Changing DNA

Stanford’s moral question, though, is a little trickier. The question is part of a larger conundrum concerning humans interfering with their own biology; since the technology is developing so quickly, the issue is no longer whether we can or can’t, but whether we should or shouldn’t. The debate has two prongs: gene editing and life printing.

With the explosion of CRISPR technology — many studies are due to start this year — the ability to edit our genetic makeup will arrive soon. But how much should we manipulate our own genes? Should the technology be a reparative one, reserved for making sick humans healthy again, or should it be used to augment our current physical restrictions, making us bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter?

The question of printing life is similar in some respects; rather than altering organisms to have the desired genetic characteristics, we could print and culture them instead — billions have already been invested. However, there is the additional issue of “playing God” by sidestepping the methods of our reproduction that have existed since the beginning of life. Even if the ethical issue of creation was answered adequately, there are the further questions of who has the right to design life, what the regulations would be, and the potential restrictions on the technology based on cost; if it’s too pricey, gene editing could be reserved only for the rich.

It is vital to discuss the ethics of gene editing in order to ensure that the technology is not abused in the future. Stanford’s question is praiseworthy because it makes today’s students, who will most likely be spearheading the technology’s developments, think about the consequences of their work.

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