Space Sounds Like An Eerie Chorus Of 'Alien Birds'


Illustration of NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes in orbit within Earth’s magnetic field

If you ask Craig Kletzing, the recordings echo the chirping of crickets. To his wife, they sound like a chorus of alien birds.

But there is no life where these sounds are made, in the dazzling and dangerous stream of highly charged particles that surrounds our planet. For years, Kletzing, a physics professor at the University of Iowa, has been monitoring the radio waves that undulate through the void around Earth. When the data is turned into sound files, the result is an eerie cosmic symphony.

Although space is a vacuum, it is neither empty nor quiet. Just above our atmosphere exist two belts of energetic particles from the sun that get trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. This phenomenon is vital to making our planet livable; the captured electrons and protons zip back and forth between Earth’s magnetic poles instead of streaming through the atmosphere to bombard the surface. But the zones where these particles dwell, called the Van Allen Belts, are still dangerous: The trapped particles pose a threat to satellites and astronauts at the International Space Station, and the belts play a role in space weather that can destroy power grids on the ground.
 

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A cutaway model of the Van Allen radiation belts.

“There are lots of practical reasons,” to be interested in the Van Allen belts, Kletzing said. The physics of this violent region is fascinating in and of itself. Fluctuating electric and magnetic fields plow through the cloud of charged particles, called plasma, stealing energy from some particles and giving it to others, pushing them to high speeds.

In 2012 NASA launched the Van Allen Space Probes, twin robotic crafts that orbit the Earth and monitor this roiling envelope of charged particles. The probes carried a suite of instruments called EMFISIS, short for Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (apparently all aspiring physicists and astronomers take “Intro to Backronyms” before they get their PhDs). EMFISIS is designed to detect radio waves rippling around the Earth.

“It’s literally like sticking a microphone out into space, but instead of listening to sound waves we’re listening to electromagnetic waves,” said Kletzing, EMFISIS’s lead investigator.

Humans can’t hear all the activity in the Van Allen belts. Our ears respond only to sound waves, which we sense via the vibration of molecules that are disturbed by the waves as they propagate through the air. Space is airless – practically void of matter – and therefore soundless.

But the electromagnetic waves are in the same frequency range as the part of the sound spectrum that is audible to humans. It was a simple matter to translate those radio waves as MP3s – turning EMFISIS data into a radio broadcast from the heavens.

One variety of wave sounded like Star Wars light sabers. These “whistler waves” were generated by lightning in the Earth’s atmosphere, but escaped and bounced along the magnetic field. The lightning generates waves at multiple frequencies, and the faster (higher-pitched) waves reached the sensors just before the slower (and lower-pitched ones), resulting in the signature falling pitch that gives these waves their name.

When waves propagate through the plasmasphere – the shell of relatively low-energy plasma that encases the Earth just above the atmosphere – they generate what’s known as plasmaspheric hiss.

Beyond the plasmasphere, where the plasma is warmer, electrons are pushed around in explosions generated by tangled lines of the Earth’s magnetic field. As the particles from the sun are pushed toward the night side of the Earth, lower-energy particles create the “chorus” waves that Kletzing’s wife said sounded like alien birds.

“There’s a side of me that listens to it and says ‘Wow, what interesting wave forms,’ ” Kletzing said. “But there’s also a piece that just listens, and there’s sort of an amazement at a certain level that the universe produces things that you recognize: birds, and in the background it sounds to me … like crickets chirping.”

The cricket-like sounds are compelling to Kletzing, not just because they evoke a languid summer evening. These sounds suggest that there could be smaller waves in space that trigger the larger ones – something Kletzing never noticed when he simply looked at the data on a computer screen.

“There’s little bits of stuff in there that our ear can kind of pick out . . . that your eye on a plot doesn’t do quite the same way,” Kletzing said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Barbara Sinatra, Last Wife Of Frank Sinatra, Dies At 90


Barbara Sinatra died of natural causes surrounded by family and friends at her home

Former model Barbara Sinatra, a humanitarian activist who was Frank Sinatra’s last wife, died Tuesday in California, her foundation said. She was 90.

A family spokesman said Sinatra — born Barbara Blakely — died of natural causes surrounded by family and friends at her home in Rancho Mirage.

She wed Sinatra in Rancho Mirage in July 1976. She was 49 and he was 60.

They were married 22 years, the fourth and longest marriage for the American crooner. He died of a heart attack in 1998.

In 1985, she raised money with her husband’s support, to open the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center for the youngest victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

“Barbara Sinatra was not a woman who just lent her name to a cause or event,” her foundation said.

“Barbara was an avid and tireless fundraiser and child advocate… In her many travels, she served as keynote speaker and appeared before groups and organizations of all sizes on behalf of abused children in England, Australia, Canada, Italy and throughout the United States.”

Trough her efforts, more than 20,000 children have received therapy to cope with abuse-related trauma at the center, it said.

Sinatra was previously married to actor Zeppo Marx, of the Marx Brothers films.

Sinatra is survived by her son Robert Oliver Marx, his wife Hillary Roberts and her granddaughter Carina Blakeley Marx.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Pre-crash debt problems 'rearing their heads', Reeves warns


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Debt problems seen in the run up to the financial crisis are “rearing their heads” again, the new head of the business select committee has warned.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who worked at HBOS during the crisis, said regulators needed to be “forever vigilant”.

She echoed the Bank of England which warned earlier this week of a sharp rise in household debt and car loans.

Ms Reeves also pledged to question company bosses over their record on reducing the gender pay gap.

The recently elected chairman of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee told the BBC’s Today Programme she was concerned that UK households were overextending themselves with personal debt.

Working conditions

“I do worry about the growth of some of those issues we saw in the mortgage market in 2008 now rearing their heads in unsecured lending and in car purchases,” said Ms Reeves.

“We’ve got to be forever vigilant. We’re not going to have the same crisis as in 2008, but there are risks building up in the financial services sector as well as in household debt.”

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Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley appeared before the committee in 2016

Ms Reeves’s words chime with a warning from the Bank of England’s Alex Brazier this week that personal loans had increased by 10% over the past year and were now at “dangerous” levels.

Ms Reeves, an economist, worked in the retail banking arm of HBOS between 2006 and 2009. She became MP for Leeds West in 2010 and served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet.

Under her predecessor as committee chairman, Iain Wright MP, the select committee prompted headlines over the appearances of some prominent business leaders.

Most notable were its cross-examination of Sir Philip Green, interviewed about his role in the collapse of BHS, and the appearance of Sports Direct boss, Mike Ashley, after allegations surfaced over poor working conditions and under-payment at the company’s Derbyshire warehouse.

Ms Reeves said she thought those events were “really powerful and actually changed behaviour in some cases”.

She said she was keen to pursue a similar strategy and also planned to look at employment practices in the gig economy.

Pay ratio

Ms Reeves signalled her intention to get tough with companies over the difference between what they pay male and female employees.

From next April firms must publish information on the ratio of pay between the genders.

“I’d like the select committee to scrutinise that, to look at what sectors and businesses are doing well and which have some way to go,” she said.

“And I am keen to call in some of those businesses to understand why some – I hope – are getting close to parity on pay, while others are still out of step.”

Following her election earlier this month she also indicated the committee would hold companies to account over their disability and ethnicity pay gaps.



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Strange Foamy Balls Are Washing Up On The Shores Of Northern France


Unexplained arrival of spongelike balls baffled locals and tourists alike along France’s Opal Coast.

Nobody knew what they were at first.

They’ve been described as “strange spongelike clumps,” “yellow mousse” and, perhaps most disturbingly, “possibly the biggest balls of earwax ever.”

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of mysterious yellow blobs have swept across about 20 miles of the beaches in northern France, according to the Local. Ranging in size and shape, the balls looked like they had the consistency of anything from packing foam to unbaked scone dough.

The unexplained arrival of the spongelike balls baffled locals and tourists alike along France’s Opal Coast, usually better known for its tranquil beaches and laid-back fishing villages.

It wasn’t long before speculation and tongue-in-cheek headlines about the shapes emerged. Many jokingly pointed to a certain pineapple-dwelling underwater character.

Last week, local firefighters collected samples and sent them to be analyzed. The spongelike clumps were deemed to be paraffin wax, and Pas-de-Calais prefecture officials said in a statement that the substance did not pose any danger to public health or flora and fauna, according to La Voix du Nord.

The statement also noted that the paraffin wax did not need to be specially treated before being discarded – but did warn visitors with children not to accidentally eat any.

In an interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, however, Jonathan Hénichart, president of the nonprofit Sea-Mer Association, said he still had concerns about what the beached sponge balls could mean. He suspects that a cargo ship carrying industrial paraffin wax may have washed its tank and emptied the paraffin residue too close to shore. It wasn’t the first time paraffin wax had appeared on France’s shores, he added.

“The first time it was not yellow, it was a pink paraffin wax, and then this winter, we got three tons of this paraffin wax but it was white,” Henichart told “As It Happens” host Helen Mann. “And now we received some yellow ones. I don’t know maybe they think it’s funny to send us some different colors each time.”

Henichart added that even though local officials had said the substance was harmless, the sheer amount of wax on the beach “makes it toxic because the local wildlife will live with this.”

“It looks like regulations are too light,” Henichart told CBC Radio. “It’s too easy for ships are able to do what they want.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Trump 'Disappointed' In Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Decision 'Soon'


Washington, United States:  US Attorney General Jeff Sessions found himself in an increasingly untenable position Tuesday, as President Donald Trump once again publicly skewered his top law enforcement official, calling him “VERY weak” and saying he is “disappointed.”

Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest and most loyal supporters, but the Republican billionaire has turned on him publicly in the past week, as rumors fly that the former senator from Alabama will be replaced.

Trump has openly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing a federal probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to meddle in the 2016 US presidential elections.

On Tuesday, Trump berated Sessions over what he deemed insufficient efforts in pursuing intelligence leaks and for failing to go after former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over her private email server.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails &DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump said in one of his trademark early morning tweetstorms.

Later, he again said he was “disappointed” in Sessions and reiterated that had he known Sessions would remove himself from the Russia probe, he would not have hired him.

“He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office and, if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have quite simply picked somebody else,” Trump told reporters.

Decision ‘soon’

New White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated Tuesday that Trump was not going to change his mind, and her boss, communications director Anthony Scaramucci said: “”We’ll get to a resolution soon.”

US presidents normally go to great pains to avoid being seen as influencing ongoing or possible investigations, making Trump’s attacks on Sessions all the more extraordinary.

With pressure mounting from the investigation led by special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller, Trump has sought to revive an election year controversy over Clinton’s use of a private server to send emails while secretary of state.

The Washington Post has reported that Trump’s team sees getting rid of Sessions as part of a potential strategy to fire Mueller and end the investigation.

Sessions, however, has said he has no plans to resign.

The website Axios reported that Trump was considering replacing Sessions with another early supporter, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

But Giuliani dismissed the report and said Sessions was right to have recused himself from the Russia probe, CNN reported.

On Monday, Trump had already wondered out loud why Sessions was not investigating Clinton.

“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Trump asked.

The White House also alleged last week that the Democrats colluded with Ukraine during the 2016 campaign, adding another twist to the president’s counter-offensive.

“Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G.?” Trump asked in another early morning tweet Tuesday.

Kiev’s embassy in Washington refuted that claim, saying it didn’t help “any candidate” in the election.

‘Witch hunt’

Trump has expressed increasing anger with Sessions as his Justice Department’s investigations into possible Trump-Russia collusion has quickened.

Sessions recused himself because of his role on Trump’s campaign and because he failed to tell the Senate during his confirmation hearings about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador in Washington.

On Tuesday, senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway said Sessions’s recusal had opened the door to what Trump sees as a “witch hunt.”

Trump’s eldest son, son-in-law and top aides have become entangled in the widening investigation led by Mueller.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top White House official, was questioned Monday and Tuesday by lawmakers about contacts with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a Russian financier and a Russian lawyer who offered dirt on Clinton.

Kushner made a statement Monday denying collusion after testifying behind closed doors, insisting the string of undisclosed meetings with Russian officials were “proper.”

“Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch Hunt. Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!” Trump tweeted Tuesday, referring to his youngest son.

In May, Trump fired FBI director James Comey over the bureau’s investigation into Russia. That led to Mueller’s appointment as a special prosecutor.

Sessionss’ onetime Republican colleagues in the Senate came to his defense, saying he showed good judgment in removing himself from the Russia probe.

“Jeff understands that we are a nation of laws, not men,” said Lindsey Graham.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer chimed in: “It’s clear that President Trump is trying to bully his own attorney general out of office. How can anyone draw a different conclusion?”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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US Energy Secretary Thought He Was Talking To Ukraine PM. It Was A Prank


US Energy Secretary Rick Perry was convinced he was talking to the Ukrainian PM Volodymyr Groysman

It was a winding, wonkish and occasionally obscure conversation about foreign coal exploration, natural-gas pipelines and pig manure as a power source.

But only one of the men on the line – Energy Secretary Rick Perry – held sway over his nation’s energy policy. On the other end of the conversation were Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, who had just added Perry to their list of high-profile hoax victims.

“Secretary Perry is the latest target of two Russian pranksters,” DOE Spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in an email to The Washington Post. “These individuals are known for pranking high level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine.”

During the conversation, which was posted in its entirety on Vesti, a Russian news site, Perry was convinced he was talking to the Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who appears to speak through a translator. Perry talked about a potential pipeline across the Baltic sea for Russian gas, cyber attacks on the U.S. power grid, natural-gas exploration in Ukraine and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

“I hope that stepping away from the Paris accord will not have any negative impact with our relationship with the Ukraine,” Perry said. “We tried to divorce the politics from this and really just let our record stand, one that I’m very proud of.”

He also talked about a meeting scheduled for August where they’d let American business executives talk about extracting oil natural gas in Ukraine.

“What we have seen in Texas is the great increase of productivity, particularly in shale gas because of hydraulic fracturing and the directional drilling,” Perry said.

Perhaps the only giveaway about the true nature of the call was a statement the “Ukrainian prime minister” made about a new biofuel invented by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to the Pravda Report newspaper.

The fuel was made from a mix of home-brewed alcohol and pig manure.

Perry said he’d like to get more information about the “scientific development.”

The pranksters seemed to get past Perry’s defenses with opportunistic timing.

On June 20, Perry hosted Groysman and his delegation at the Department of Energy, a meeting that was widely reported in the Ukrainian press, according to the DOE.

Three weeks later, the department received a request for a phone follow-up with the Ukrainian prime minster, in advance of another meeting with the Ukrainians in August.

That phone call happened on July 19.

The pranksters say they have a victims’ list that includes several high-profile names: Elton John, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Croatian prime minister, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The rumor debunking website Snopes has said some of those claims are unproven, and points out that if the pranksters can impersonate one person on the phone, they can easily impersonate two.

The pranksters called singer Elton John in 2015 claiming to be Russian President Vladimir Putin. The call happened shortly after the singer had criticized the president’s stance on LGBT rights.

“We thought it wasn’t likely that Putin would want to meet with him and call, at least not so quickly,” Krasnov said, according to the Guardian.

“But it turned out that Elton John was really waiting for this call, and so he immediately believed it really was a conversation with the people who we said we were,” he told newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Elton John was elated about the call with the Russian leader. He posted “an effusive Instagram post in which he thanks the Russian leader for having reached out to him.”

He took it down shortly afterward.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Apple CEO 'Promised Me Three Big Plants,' Says Donald Trump: Report


Donald Trump’s comments on Tuesday were some of the first he has made regarding Apple’s manufacturing.

Chief Executive Tim Cook has committed to build three big manufacturing plants in the United States, the Wall Street Journal quoted US President Donald Trump as saying.

“I spoke to (Cook), he’s promised me three big plants-big, big, big,” Trump told the Journal in an interview on Tuesday. 

Trump didn’t elaborate on where those plants would be located or when they would be built, the paper reported.

Cook said in May that Apple planned to create a $1 billion fund to invest in U.S. companies that perform advanced manufacturing. He also said the company intended to fund programs that could include teaching people how to write computer code to create apps.

Apple came under fire from Trump during his campaign because it makes most of its products in China.

“We’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries,” Trump had said in a speech in January last year. 

Apple, on its part, had been making disclosures to highlight how it had been contributing to job creation in the United States.

Cook said in February that Apple spent $50 billion in 2016 with its US suppliers.

The world’s largest company by market valuation had also claimed that it created 2 million jobs in the United States, 80,000 of which are directly at Apple and the rest coming from suppliers and developers for the company’s app ecosystem.

Trump’s comments on Tuesday were some of the first he has made regarding Apple’s manufacturing since assuming the presidency.

“I said you know, Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I won’t consider my administration an economic success,” the Journal quoted Trump as saying.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump also said that Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, plans to build a big plant in the United States and is “strongly considering” putting it in Wisconsin, the Journal reported.

Foxconn said last month it plans to invest more than $10 billion in a display-making factory in the United States.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Maju Samuel)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Will Strike 'Heart Of US' If Kim Jong-un Regime Threatened: North Korea


North Korea threatened to harm US with its “powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time”

Pyongyang:  North Korea has threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong-un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run news agency reported.

The report in Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday quoted a spokesman from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

The spokesman said the law stipulates that if the supreme dignity of the nation was threatened, “it must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it, by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones.”

“Should the US dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the US with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman added.

The threat was in response to comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said the Donald Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile, CNN reported on Tuesday.

“As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system,” Pompeo said last week.

“The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.”

North Korea’s threat comes amid an ongoing assessment from the US intelligence community that Pyongyang has accelerated its intercontinental range ballistic missile program, CNN reported.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Hiding out among the net's criminal class


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LagartoFilm

Image caption

Researchers assume many different identities as they monitor underground forums

Security researcher Liam O’Murchu lives a double life. And sometimes a triple life. Now and then he divides himself even more thinly.

Living multiple lives is part of his job with security firm Symantec, which also involves being a covert part of the forums, chat boards and discussion rooms that comprise the net’s underground economy.

It is there that deals are done that lead to companies being hacked, websites knocked offline and booby-trapped emails spammed out to millions. Exploit kits are bought and sold, allowing less proficient attackers to pay their better-skilled brethren for access to tools that make it simple to hunt out and infect vulnerable victims,

“You can see what tools are being released, what people are interested in, how they are making their money and maybe politically how they are motivated,” he said.

The monitoring encompasses all levels of cyber-crime – from sites that cater for beginners and unskilled “script kiddies” to the higher-level groups where the pro criminals gather.

It’s in these that Mr O’Murchu and his colleagues exchange banter with other members to gather information that can help when a big attack is under way or a novel threat hits lots of the PCs that Symantec is helping to protect.

Image caption

Dutch police infiltrated and then closed the Hansa web marketplace

For instance, he said, if 500,000 machines are enrolled overnight into a botnet – a network of hijacked PCs that can be used to spread spam or conduct other types of computer crime – he will dig into the incident and find out how they were caught out.

“If we discovered that it was distributed via spam, via web exploit packs and compromised websites, we might discover that those compromised websites were actually sold in the underground,” he explained.

“Then we’ll go and find out who is selling them, how you pay for them and how you sign up.”

The result might mean Symantec stops the malware spreading or develops defences that can guide customers to protect themselves.

Hiding out

Mr O’Murchu has seen many changes ripple through the underground in the years he has been immersed in it – many of them in response to action by law enforcement that took down sites or led to arrests.

A big change occurred last year, after Russian police arrested 50 people thought to be behind several large malware campaigns. It turned out, he said, that they also ran and sold an “exploit kit” that gave subscribers access to a large and growing library of software vulnerabilities that could be used to gain access to a lot of different companies.

“We believe that the businessman behind that group had been buying exploits to put into the packs,” he said.

The wave of arrests “spooked” the businessman backer, who promptly disappeared and took his wallet with him.

“That took a lot of the money out of the community, so now we don’t see so many exploit packs being used,” he said.

The packs still available sell to the professional criminals who pay up to $10,000 (£7,700) a month to get a steady stream of software bugs they can exploit for their own ends – be it to inveigle their way into a target organisation or to make malware even more effective.


Tracking the top cyber-criminals, by Andrei Barysevich

“We obtain access to the most secretive communities – the closed discussion groups that you will not be able to find through Google.

“When you get access you create one or more personas and assign criteria to them. You could be a hacker, a forger or a DDoS attacker. To build these personas takes time.

“We see when criminals get access to a company but not enough to gain valuable data and then go to the community and say: “I have got this far but need help to go further.”

“In a lot of cases we can get info for the victim to find out how the perpetrator got access and patch it before they get at the data.

“The legality can be a problem for anyone that’s not experienced. We know how to manipulate the mindset of the criminals to avoid this. It’s a lengthy process.

“Where the criminals make mistakes is when they are inexperienced, when they first enter the realm of cyber-crime and have little idea of operational security.

“Sometimes they use the same user name that’s connected with their Skype account, Facebook account or Russian VK pages.

“We have an extensive list of profiles where we outline the most valuable details about the most prolific actors. In some cases we can confirm who is behind a particular alias.”

Andrei Barysevich is director of advanced collection, Recorded Future


Backers with cash who bankroll development work by criminal hackers are increasingly common, said Mr O’Murchu.

“You essentially get start-up companies operating in these forums,” he said. “You have a financer come in and he would back some project and you would have 10-to-15 people working on that.”

“He would use that as a revenue generator,” he added. “They put people on the project and resell that on the underground at a profit. It’s just a matter of whether they can mark it up enough.”

Paranoia justified

Arrests of hackers and raids on well-known forums have driven a growing sense of paranoia among the inhabitants of the criminal underground, said Mr O’Murchu.

“The people in these forums understand that they are being watched and that what they talk about, if they talk about anything specific, will be tied back to them,” he said.

“The people who are doing this at the top level understand the stakes,” he said. “And they understand that the police can come busting through their door at any time, so they are really very, very careful about who they let in and who they talk to.”

Some of that paranoia is justified, he said, because security researchers and law enforcement officers watching the forums are just waiting for the bad guys to make a mistake.

Image copyright
PA

Image caption

Security researchers work with police to profile people using online crime forums

Mr O’Murchu said one error, even if it was made years ago, could undo even the most careful hacker.

One gang was caught out after Symantec had been watching them for 18 months, he said. During that time Mr O’Murchu and colleagues had mapped where they connected from and the net addresses they used.

He said zeroing in on them was hard because they used only encrypted links or staging posts, known as proxies.

“Eventually, after hundreds of thousands of connections, we found maybe five where they had not used encryption or a proxy,” he said.

It was a small slip, but enough to reveal where they lived.

“From that we identified who they were and we provided that to law enforcement,” he said. Soon after, the gang was raided and broken up.

“Everyone makes mistakes.”


This week BBC News is taking a close look at all aspects of cyber-security. The coverage is timed to coincide with the two biggest shows in the security calendar – Black Hat and Def Con.

We will have further features and videos on Wednesday, and then coverage from the two Las Vegas-based events over the following days.

Follow all our coverage via this link



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North Korea Advances Rapidly In Its Ability To Strike US, Experts Warn


North Korea will be able to field a reliable, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year, U.S. officials have concluded in a confidential assessment that dramatically shrinks the timeline for when Pyongyang could strike North American cities with atomic weapons.

The new assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which shaves a full two years off the consensus forecast for North Korea’s ICBM program, was prompted by recent missile tests showing surprising technical advances by the country’s weapons scientists, at a pace beyond which many analysts believed was possible for the isolated communist regime.

The U.S. projection closely mirrors revised predictions by South Korean intelligence officials, who also have watched with growing alarm as North Korea has appeared to master key technologies needed to loft a warhead toward targets thousands of miles away.

The finding further increases the pressure on U.S. and Asian leaders to halt North Korea’s progress before it can threaten the world with nuclear-tipped missiles. President Trump, during his visit to Poland earlier this month, vowed to confront Pyongyang “very strongly” to stop its missile advances.

The DIA has concluded that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be able to produce a “reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM” program sometime in 2018, meaning that by next year the program will have advanced from prototype to assembly line, according to officials familiar with the document. Already, the aggressive testing regime put in place in recent months has allowed North Korea to validate its basic designs, putting it within a few months of starting industrial production, the officials said.

The DIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to address any classified assessments.

But Scott Bray, ODNI’s national intelligence manager for East Asia, said in a statement: “North Korea’s recent test of an intercontinental range ballistic missile – which was not a surprise to the intelligence community – is one of the milestones that we have expected would help refine our timeline and judgments on the threats that Kim Jong Un poses to the continental United States. This test, and its impact on our assessments, highlight the threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to the United States, to our allies in the region, and to the whole world. The intelligence community is closely monitoring the expanding threat from North Korea.”

One of the few remaining technical hurdles is the challenge of atmospheric “reentry” – the ability to design a missile that can pass through the upper atmosphere without damage to the warhead. Long regarded as a formidable technological barrier for impoverished North Korea, that milestone could be reached, beginning with new tests expected to take place within days, U.S. analysts said. U.S. officials have detected signs that North Korea is making final preparations for testing a new reentry vehicle, perhaps as early as Thursday, a North Korean national holiday marking the end of the Korean War.

“They’re on track to do that, essentially this week,” said a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence report who, like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive military assessments.

North Korea has not yet demonstrated an ability to build a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be carried by one of its missiles. Officials there last year displayed a sphere-shaped device the regime described as a miniaturized warhead, but there as been no public confirmation that this milestone has been achieved. Preparations reportedly have been underway for several months for what would be the country’s sixth underground atomic test. The last one, in September, had an estimated yield of 20 to 30 kilotons, more than double the explosive force of any previous test.

North Korea startled the world earlier this month with its successful July 4 test of a missile capable of striking parts of Alaska – the first such missile with proven intercontinental range. The launch of a two-stage “Hwasong-14” missile was the latest in a series of tests in recent months that have revealed startlingly rapid advances across a number of technical fields, from mastery of solid-fuel technology to the launch of the first submarine-based missile, current and former intelligence officials and weapons experts said.

“There has been alarming progress,” said Joseph DeTrani, the former mission manager for North Korea for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a former special envoy for negotiations with Pyongyang. “In the last year they have gained capabilities that they didn’t have, including ones that we thought they would not have been able to obtain for years.”

The July 4 missile test also caught South Korea’s intelligence service off guard, prompting a hasty revision of forecasts, according to South Korean lawmakers who have received closed-door briefings.

“The speed of North Korea’s ICBM missile development is faster than the South Korean Defense Ministry expected,” said lawmaker Lee Cheol-hee, of the left-wing Minjoo party, who attended an intelligence committee briefing after the July 4 test.

The South Korean government, which is actively trying to engage the regime in Pyongyang, has declined to call the most recent test a success. North Korea still has not proved it has mastered some of the steps needed to build a reliable ICBM, most notably the reentry vehicle, Lee said.

Still, officials across the political spectrum acknowledged that North Korea is rapidly gaining ground. “Now they are approaching the final stage of being a nuclear power and the owner of an ICBM,” said Cha Du-hyeogn, who served as an adviser to conservative former president Lee Myung-bak.

U.S. spy agencies have detected multiple signals that North Korea is preparing to test a reentry vehicle. Analysts believe that the July 4 test was intended to demonstrate range – the ability of its new two-stage ICBM prototype to reach altitude and distance milestones – while the new launch will seek to validate engineering features designed to protect the warhead as it passes through the upper atmosphere and then is delivered to a distant target.

The latest designs appear to cobble together older systems – including portions of a missile frame used to launch satellites into orbit –with a more advanced engine that North Korea began testing earlier this year. Much of the technology is based on old Soviet-era designs that have been reworked by what U.S. experts describe as an increasingly capable cadre of homegrown engineers, goaded along by a leadership that has pursued nuclear weapons and delivery systems with single-minded zeal.

Kim vowed in January to successfully test a nuclear-capable ICBM in 2017, achieving a long-sought goal that North Koreans believe will serve as the ultimate deterrent against threats to the communist regime’s survival. At the time, the U.S. intelligence community’s formal assessment still held that a credible ICBM threat would not emerge until 2020 at the earliest.

“North Korea’s timeline moved faster than we expected,” said the U.S. official familiar with the new DIA assessment. “We weren’t expecting an ICBM test in July.”

Former U.S. officials and weapons experts said a successful test of a nuclear-capable ICBM would dramatically raise the stakes in the North Korean crisis, putting new pressure on North Korea’s neighbors and increasing the risk of miscalculation.

“The danger is that decision time and warning is greatly reduced when North Korea has the weapons, and that escalation can happen quickly,” said Jon Wolfsthal, senior director for arms control and nonproliferation with the Obama administration’s National Security Council.

The specter of a nuclear-armed, ICBM-capable Kim “takes the risk to a new level but does not change the nature of the threat we have faced for some time,” Wolfsthal said. “We have to deter North Korea from ever using any nuclear weapons and make clear that any move to use these weapons is suicide.”



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Leo And Kate Will Be Your Date, For The Right Price


Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet played star-crossed lovers in James Cameron’s classic Titanic

Los Angeles:  Ever yearned to swap tales of the sea with “Titanic” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet?

Well strap on your life jacket, because the pair are auctioning off a private dinner in their exclusive company for charity, a spokesman for the actor told AFP on Tuesday.

The glamorous date — planned for a restaurant of the winner’s choice in New York City in the fall — is among several lots being offered at the star-studded Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gala in the French resort of Saint-Tropez on Thursday.

The environmentally-minded charity raised $45 million during its auction last year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Oscar winners DiCaprio, 42, and Winslet, 41, played star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose in James Cameron’s 1998 retelling of the sinking of the Titanic, and were reunited in 2009 as a warring couple in “Revolutionary Road.”

While saving the planet has been DiCaprio’s preoccupation for years, Winslet is involved with charities helping autistic children, as well as organizations for the homeless and disadvantaged people with cancer.

The lot is the latest example of a burgeoning celebrity trend of offering dinner dates or other face-to-face meetings to raise cash for charity.

British actor Idris Elba agreed to share Valentine’s Day this year with the highest bidder in aid of the “W.E. Can Lead” initiative, which provides education for African youngsters.

“It is one of the easiest ways for celebrities to contribute,” a public relations specialist told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that it generates huge amounts of cash.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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An Iranian Ship Did Not Heed The US Navy's Warning. Then Shots Were Fired


A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired a warning shot at an Iranian military ship Tuesday as it made an alarmingly fast and close approach in the Persian Gulf, marking the latest aggressive encounter between the two adversaries.

The unidentified Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel got within 150 yards of the USS Thunderbolt and risked a collision, U.S. officials said, before the American patrol boat fired multiple warning shots and quickly ended the encounter.

One Pentagon official who spoke to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity described it as an isolated incident and confirmed that no one was hurt.

U.S. officials have not specified where the incident occurred, saying only that U.S. and coalition ships were participating in a daytime training exercise when the Iranians conducted an “unsafe and unprofessional interaction” by failing to observe internationally recognized maritime customs.

It’s also unclear how many Americans were aboard the Thunderbolt. Based in Norfolk, Virginia, it can carry a crew of 27 and is used primarily for patrolling coastlines and to provide surveillance for interdiction operations.

U.S. officials have not yet disclosed what type of weapons the crew fired. The ship is heavily armed, carrying chain guns, automatic grenade launchers and .50.-caliber machine guns.

At least three other American vessels were nearby at the time.

Video released by U.S. Central Command shows the Iranian vessel approaching the Thunderbolt’s starboard side, approaching extremely close to the ship’s bow.

“The Iranian vessel did not respond to repeated attempts to establish radio communications as it approached,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Defense Department spokesman. “Thunderbolt then fired warning flares and sounded the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts on the ship’s whistle, but the Iranian vessel continued inbound. As the Iranian vessel proceeded toward the U.S. ship, Thunderbolt again sounded five short blasts before firing warning shots in front of the Iranian vessel.”

Iranian military officials characterized the incident as a U.S. provocation and took credit for having “neutralized” the threat.

In a report published last winter, the Office of Naval Intelligence indicated that vessels operated by the Revolutionary Guard Corps routinely monitor U.S. and allied warships in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a busy waterway that links to the Gulf of Oman. The majority of these encounters are “safe and routine,” it said, but “unprofessional or aggressive” run-ins are becoming more frequent.

“Such operations increase the likelihood for a mishap at sea, potentially leading to strategic tension and insecurity in the region,” the report said.

The Pentagon documented 35 such interactions with the Iranians last year, up from to 23 in 2015, according to the Associated Press. This year, it has acknowledged at least five.

Last month, Iranian forces harassed a formation of three American ships – the amphibious assault ship Bataan, the guided-missile destroyer Cole and the dry cargo ship Washington Chambers – shining floodlights on them from a distance of 800 yards and pointing a laser at an airborne U.S. helicopter.

Twice in March, the USNS Invincible, which is outfitted with sonar and radar equipment, had close encounters. In one incident, an Iranian frigate moved within 150 yards. In the other, Revolutionary Guard fast boats cut in front of the U.S. ship, forcing it to rapidly change course to avoid a collision.

Such adversarial behavior between the two nations’ navies belies what has become a more complicated dynamic on the ground inside Iraq and Syria.

Speaking at a security forum last week in Colorado, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, described how American troops now come “coffee-breath close” to Iranian-backed forces also battling the Islamic State, according to CNN.

The general also noted that during one of his recent trips to Iraq, his plane was parked next to one belonging to Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s infamous Quds Force.

“We bump into them everywhere,” he said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Ransomware spike blamed on easy-to-use malware builders


Security experts say a sharp increase in ransomware attacks is in part a result of how easy the malware is to acquire.

Researchers at Cylance and AlienVault were able to find off-the-shelf ransomware using a normal search engine, which could then be used to lock victims’ computer files and blackmail them.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick.


This week BBC News is taking a close look at all aspects of cyber-security. The coverage is timed to coincide with the two biggest shows in the security calendar – Black Hat and Def Con.

We will have further features and videos on Wednesday, and then coverage from the two Las Vegas-based events over the following days.

Follow all our coverage via this link



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Trump Ex-Campaign Manager Manafort Not Testifying Wednesday


Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner are at the center of probes about a meeting with a Russian lawyer.

Washington:  A Senate committee investigating Russian election interference withdrew Tuesday its subpoena compelling President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to testify, saying he has begun cooperating.

Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner are at the center of probes about a closely scrutinized meeting they and other campaign officials had with a Russian lawyer last year.

Manafort had been served a subpoena to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but plans changed and the subpoena was retracted when he agreed to meet with committee investigators behind closed doors, Politico reported.

The panel said Manafort had “committed to negotiating in good faith” a time when he would be interviewed by the committee. 

The former Trump aide had tried to avoid a hearing in favor of a private transcribed interview submitted to one of the multiple congressional investigations into the alleged Russian interference. 

“It’s important that he and other witnesses continue to work with this committee as it fulfills its oversight responsibility,” Republican committee chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democratic member Dianne Feinstein said in a joint statement.

“As we’ve said before, we intend to get the answers that we need, one way or the other. Cooperation from witnesses is always the preferred route, but this agreement does not prejudice the committee’s right to compel his testimony in the future.”

Manafort spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Politico reported.

During last year’s election campaign, Manafort attended a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who had promised the president’s son Donald Trump Jr compromising material on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate running against Trump.

Kushner, who is now a top aide to the president, also attended the June 2016 meeting and was interviewed Monday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

In a statement read out after the hearing, Kushner insisted he had not colluded with Russia to tip the election in his father-in-law’s favor. 

Kushner appeared again Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee, one of a slew of bodies investigating the Russian meddling claims.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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How facial recognition could replace train tickets


A facial recognition system designed to replace the need for tickets on trains is being tested in the UK.

An early version that uses two near-infrared lights to help a single camera determine texture and orientation of each pixel it captures was shown to BBC Click.

The system, being developed by the Bristol Robotics Lab, is being partly funded by government and the private sector.

Researchers told the programme that they believe it will successfully identify passengers without the need for them to stop walking and could replace ticket gates.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick.


This week BBC News is taking a close look at all aspects of cyber-security. The coverage is timed to coincide with the two biggest shows in the security calendar – Black Hat and Def Con.

Click’s full report on biometric security is on the BBC News Channel, BBC World News and on BBC iPlayer (Uk only) on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 July 2017 as part of the BBC’s ‘Cyberhacks’ season.

Follow all our coverage via this link



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Cardinal George Pell To Face Australia Court On Historical Sex Charges


Cardinal George Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Francis’ economy minister.

Melbourne:  Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell arrived at a court in his native Australia on Wednesday for his first appearance to face historical sex charges as the most senior Roman Catholic official to face such accusations.

Pell, 76, a top adviser to Pope Francis, was escorted into Melbourne Magistrates’ Court by police through a large crowd of media, protesters and supporters.

Australian police charged Pell last month with “historical sexual offences” from multiple complainants.

Pell has previously said he was looking forward to his day in court to fight charges he said are false.

Protesters shouted as Pell climbed the steps of the courthouse. He did not speak to waiting media.

Pell’s appearance in court was expected to be brief as prosecutors formally file the charges against him. Australian court rules do not require him to enter a formal plea. A full trial was expected at a later date.

Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Francis’ economy minister, which he started in 2014.

In testimony to an Australian government-backed inquiry into child abuse last year, Pell said the Church had made “catastrophic” choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish, and relying too heavily on the counsel of priests to solve the problem.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Jane Wardell and Paul Tait)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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US Senate Advances Health Care Bill, Tough Debate Looms


Washington:  Donald Trump’s drive to abolish Obamacare scraped through a key Senate vote Tuesday, with John McCain coming to the US president’s rescue in a dramatic return to Congress following cancer surgery.

The vote, which allows the Senate to begin debate on health care reform legislation, was a victory for Trump, who had spent weeks cajoling, strong-arming and warning Republicans to get on board with his effort to overhaul Obamacare.

In recent weeks, several measures have been proposed — but ultimately collapsed, revealing fissures within the Republican Party on how to reach a goal they have had since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010.

With Republican leaders earning the chance to begin debate, the path forward was no clearer than before the vote, as a multitude of different plans was now being considered for the legislation.

Despite the step forward, several Republicans remain skeptical about how the effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act might affect millions of Americans.

Trump was nevertheless thrilled.

“This was a big step,” he said shortly after the vote at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, calling Obamacare a “disaster for the American people.”

McCain, who announced last week he is suffering from brain cancer, cast a critical vote for the measure, leaving senators evenly split and forcing Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie for a 51-50 final count. 

All 48 Democrats and independents voted against, along with Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

McCain received a standing ovation from his colleagues as he entered the chamber, having made the trip from his home state of Arizona, where he was convalescing.

While he called for greater bipartisan cooperation in Congress, McCain directly denounced the closed-door process that has marked the health care reform effort, saying it was wrong to try to force lawmakers to “swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work in the end, and probably shouldn’t,” he said.

Senators will now launch into long hours of debate, with Republican conservatives and moderates divided over how to proceed.

The first votes on changes to the bill could come as early as Tuesday night, a Republican leadership aide said.  

‘First step’

One Republican plan under consideration would dismantle Obamacare but delay actual implementation of the repeal to allow time for a viable replacement to be crafted. It is expected to fail. 

Another plan that repeals and replaces Obamacare, but includes other elements and is likely to require a 60-vote threshold because of procedural rules, is also set to fail.

The question then becomes what can get over the finish line. Lawmakers have begun speaking about a “skinny” repeal that would dismantle only parts of the Affordable Care Act, but it is not yet clear whether the plan will gain traction this week.

“We can do better than Obamacare,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. 

“Today’s vote to begin debate is the first step.”

Trump has repeatedly grilled fellow Republicans for not following through on their — and his — campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

On the Democratic side, senators urged cooperation — and restraint.

“I can’t believe this process and the hard and calculated rhetoric we see,” Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Tuesday.

“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect piece of legislation. It needs repair. We both agree to that. Then we need to fix it.”

Secretive process

Forecasts by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on various health reform bills have predicted that millions of Americans would lose health care if the measures become law. 

In the case of a bill that repeals Obamacare and provides no replacement, 32 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 as compared to current law, CBO forecast.

Some Republicans have expressed concern with how the legislation would impact Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and the disabled. 

The latest repeal-and-replace bill would roll back an expansion of Medicaid and slash its federal funding. 

It would also end the mandate that most individuals have health insurance, and allow states to let insurance companies offer bare-bones plans not allowed under current law.

Democrats have blasted the secretive process, accusing Republican leaders of rushing a mammoth bill to the floor without sufficient discussion or debate.

Several outside health groups have criticized the various iterations of the repeal-and-replace effort. 

One of the most emphatic rejections came from a group of some 7,000 Catholic nuns, who wrote Senate leaders on Monday to say the bill “would be the most harmful legislation for American families in our lifetimes.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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How long until Ukraine is hacked again?


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Patients at one of Kiev’s biggest private medical clinics faced delays as a result of June’s cyber-attack

When the attack came, it took hold quickly and brought a screeching halt to many businesses across Ukraine.

“None of the computers or machines worked except for the General Electric-powered machines like the MRIs [magnetic resonance imaging],” recalled Mykhailo Radutskyi, president of the Boris Clinic – Kiev’s largest medical clinic.

His radiologists decided to turn off the body scanners anyway as a precautionary measure after the building’s IT system went down at two o’clock in the morning in late June.

Doctors across the centre had to resort to taking records solely by paper and pen for the first time since the mid-1990s.

“The main problem for us was that Ukrainian law requires us to keep all our patient info for 25 years, and we lost that medical documentation for the 24 hours when our systems were down,” Mr Radutskyi divulged.

“But thankfully we keep back-ups, so we didn’t lose any information.”

All in all, Mr Radutskyi reckons his clinic’s damage tally totalled $60,000 (£46,000).

Others have been unwilling to reveal how badly they were hit. Oschadbank – one of the country’s biggest lenders – was among those that declined an interview with the BBC.

Image caption

The MRI machines at Boris Clinic’s radiology department were turned off as a safety measure

Even now, almost a month after the so-called NotPetya strike, some companies inside and outside the nation are still facing disruption.

Ukraine’s top cyber-cop disclosed that some of the nation’s largest companies were still too scared to share the full scale of the fallout with his investigators.

And Sergiy Demedyuk – head of Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs’ cybercrime division – added he has come to believe there are aftershocks still to come since the hackers appear to have compromised their targets for some time before they pounced, and might still be sitting on data they could yet exploit.

Hijacked software

NotPetya initially appeared to be a ransomware attack, but many now suspect its blackmail demands were a cover for something more ominous.

Experts who have spoken to the BBC are seemingly sure of two things: first, Ukraine was the target, and second, it was not about money.

Despite denials, suspicion has fallen on Ukraine’s eastern neighbour, Russia.

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Getty Images

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Ukraine was worst hit by the NotPetya attack in June

“Cyber-attacks are just one part of Russia’s wider efforts to destabilise the country,” Nato’s former chief civil servant Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the BBC.

“In my time as secretary general we agreed that a cyber-attack could trigger Nato’s mutual defence clause.

“The Alliance has been assisting Ukraine especially with monitoring and investigating security incidents. However… more support is also needed for prevention.”

One cybersecurity veteran has been investigating how a local software developer’s program, MeDoc, came to be hijacked to spread the malware.

“It wasn’t just [a case of] take over MeDoc’s update server and push out NotPetya,” explained Nicholas Weaver from University of California, Berkeley.

“Instead, they had previously compromised MeDoc, made it into a remote-control Trojan, and then they were willing to burn this asset to launch this attack,” he added, referring to the fact the servers have since been confiscated by the police.

“That really is huge.”

MeDoc’s tax filing services were used by more than 400,000 customers across Ukraine, representing about 90% of its domestic firms.

Although it was not mandatory for local companies to use it, by virtue of its ubiquity, it’s almost as if it were.

“This was gold they had, basically a control point in almost every business that does business in Ukraine,” said Mr Weaver.

“And they burned this resource in order to launch this destructive attack.”

Losing control

Image copyright
Reuters

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Mr Demedyuk believes the hackers stole financial details from their victims before encrypting their data

Mr Demedyuk said his police force had concrete evidence that MeDoc was hacked a long time ago and had been used to spy on economic activity within Ukraine.

“The [developers] claimed on their website that it was certificated, that it had been examined with international audit and it’s 100% safe. In fact, it wasn’t true,” he added.

One ex-US Army cyber-expert said the hackers might have felt forced to carry out their attack through fear that MeDoc’s computer servers were about to slip out of their control.

“If you read [security firm] ESET’s report, you see that they gained and lost access repeatedly as legitimate MeDocs updates were pushed,” Jon Nichols said.

“It is possible that the actors just wanted to cause as much damage as they could before they lost control again.”

Image copyright
Jon Nichols

Image caption

Mr Nichols shared these notes of when the hackers lost and regained access to the MeDoc servers

This theory is backed up by another US expert.

“It’s not unheard of if you think you’ll lose your position to launch prematurely,” said Beau Woods deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.

He added that if the perpetrators had, indeed, gathered financial data about most of Ukraine’s companies, they might still find ways to cause further damage.

Future attacks

Mr Demedyuk said that although only four police officers had been assigned to his NotPetya investigation full-time, he had about 300 people across Ukraine supporting the inquiry.

Furthermore, he has met with Interpol to discuss ways to share information with other international authorities.

While they try to unravel how the attack was carried out, others are preparing for follow-up cyber-assaults.

Image caption

Local cyber-security companies are helping Ukranian businesses tighten their online security

In particular, the chief executive of Ukraine’s state-owned energy giant Ukrenergo is concerned it will be a target.

“All our life as an independent country in the last 25 years, we’ve been connected to the Russian power grid and they’ve balanced us,” Vsevolod Kovalchuk told the BBC.

However, he explained, an agreement his firm has struck with European electricity transmission operators to modernise Ukraine’s power grid might have put the firm in Moscow’s cross-hairs.

It might sound like paranoia, but Ukrenergo had already been hit by two cyber-attacks prior to NotPetya.

One occurred just before Christmas.

“That virus worked in our local network for over one year,” Mr Kovalchuk said.

“It collected information and after collecting the information, the hackers put another malware specific for our northern substation and switched it off for 15 minutes. It was only a test but they tried and it was successful.”

Before that Ukrenergo was caught up in the infamous Black Energy attack, in December 2015. It took down half a city’s power for three hours in the dead of winter.

Image caption

A mural made for the state-owned energy firm UkrEnergo, which has been struck by three cyber-attacks in recent years

The two incidents meant the firm was already battle-hardened when it was infected by NotPetya.

“A dispatcher called me and said they couldn’t do anything because all of their screens had turned black and were asking for money,” recalled Mr Kovalchuk.

“That was at 11:02 EET [Eastern European Time], and then several minutes later, other computers were in the same situation so I called to my chief IT officer and asked what is this, is this WannaCry or something similar?” he said referring to a ransomware attack that disrupted the NHS and others in May.

“We disconnected our networks, switched off our computers, and then we used our protocols from the past, using paper standards, phones and continued to operate without any computers, without databases, without any systems.”

This time round, the electricity grid was unharmed and power flowed uninterrupted. But the company was left without secondary functions for 10 days.

For Ukraine, the most important questions from here on seem to be: How bad does an attack have to be before serious international attention is paid to it? And: At what point does it become a war crime?

“I think that every six months, we’ll see attacks,” predicted Prof Michael Schmitt, lead author of the Tallinn Manual – the definitive international legal guide to cyber-conflict.

“Even though I’m not 100% sure that it’s Russia, I don’t understand which other country could attack Ukraine. It’s the only logical answer.”

And Ukrainian cybersecurity experts like Alexey Yankovski believe every single business is at risk.

“Ukraine is a playground for attacks, and a large part of the cyber-security community here believes that most of the companies have already been infected,” he told the BBC.

“Every company here should be prepared for the fact that it will be hacked sooner or later.”


This week BBC News is taking a close look at all aspects of cyber-security. The coverage is timed to coincide with the two biggest shows in the security calendar – Black Hat and Def Con.

We will have further features and videos on Wednesday, and then coverage from the two Las Vegas-based events over the following days.

Follow all our coverage via this link



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Shoddy data-stripping exposes firms' to hack attacks


Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Fraud targeting senior executives is a “key threat”, said Europol

Large firms are vulnerable to targeted hack attacks because they do little to strip data from files on their websites, suggests research.

The data gets added as employees create documents, images and other files as they maintain and update websites.

The research found user names, employee IDs, software versions and unique IDs for internal computers in the files.

Attackers could use it to craft attacks aimed at senior staff, said security firm Glasswall which did the survey.

Banks, law firms, defence contractors and government departments were all found to be leaking data.

“This is really low-hanging fruit,” said Lewis Henderson, a vice-president at Glasswall, which carried out the survey for the BBC.

Leaky media

To gather the data, Mr Henderson “scraped” target websites for days to ensure he grabbed copies of all the files published by an organisation. Pictures, PDFs, spreadsheets and other documents made public via the sites were all sampled.

“This was all done from a single IP [internet protocol] address and in broad daylight,” he said.

Image copyright
Devonyu

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The data could be used to craft targeted messages that sought to catch out senior staff, warn security firms

Mr Henderson said that a significant proportion of the files contained metadata which betrayed key information about the people who created that file, when they did it, and the version of the software and machine which they used. About 99% of one particular document type contained this data.

In some cases, he added, user names were annotated with internal user IDs and, in one case, he found a detailed guide to a remote login procedure for a law firm’s Far Eastern regional office.

The cache of data gathered would be a perfect starting point for any sophisticated attack that sought to target senior staff or their aides, said Mr Henderson.

“We did what a malicious actor would do,” he said, “which is intelligence gathering on a large scale.”

Booby-trapped

Armed with the information, Mr Henderson said an attacker would then turn to social media, especially Facebook and LinkedIn, to relate the names found buried in the documents to real people.

Emails bearing booby-trapped attachments could then be crafted for specific individuals after studying their biographical details and recent activity.

“The more information you have the more you can customise the package sent to targets,” he said.

The virus code that attackers buried in the malicious attachments could lurk until it hit the machine used by a specific person, he said, guaranteeing it reached a particular target.

Chief executives and finance heads were rarely targeted directly, said Mr Henderson. Instead attackers tended to go after their aides who are busy, deal with a lot of different people day-to-day and receive a lot of documents.

“Organisations are always surprised when they get hit by targeted attacks,” he said. “They always ask how they found out all that information.”

Cleaning up files to strip out useful data was “simple”, said Mr Henderson.

Image copyright
AFP

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By using information shared on social media fraudsters make phishing emails more convincing

“All of them will probably have a policy that says this should not happen,” he added. “But although there’s a policy, there’s not necessarily the due diligence and process to do it.”

The techniques used by Glasswall were “absolutely” the same as those seen in sophisticated, customised cyber-attacks, said Rick Holland, vice-president of strategy at security firm Digital Shadows.

“Anyone doing a targeted attack is going to look at all the documents in a firm’s public footprint,” he said.

Any data on user names gathered from that file sweep would then be compared to the logs derived from recent massive data breaches, he said, adding that this was a technique used by security firms who were under contract to test the digital defences of a company or organisation.

The breach logs might reveal a password associated with a user name that an attacker could use in a bid to take over an account, said Mr Holland.

The recent slew of “mega-breaches” meant there were a lot of user names and passwords available to attackers, he said. One site that gathers breach data, Have I Been Pwned, has amassed data on almost four billion accounts stolen from more than 226 websites.

Firms failed to view the files and documents on their websites as a security risk, he said, because they were focused more on internal threats.

“Many organisations just do not know that the risk is out there,” he said. “Few look at the total risk picture of their digital footprint.”


This week BBC News is taking a close look at all aspects of cyber-security. The coverage is timed to coincide with the two biggest shows in the security calendar – Black Hat and Def Con.

We will have further features and videos on Wednesday, and then coverage from the two Las Vegas-based events over the following days.

Follow all our coverage via this link



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Love in a cold climate


Image caption

Maggie MacDonnell warned of high suicide rates among young people in Inuit communities

As a little girl growing up in rural Nova Scotia in Canada, Maggie MacDonnell was worried by locals gossiping about the Mi’kmaq indigenous people who lived on a nearby reserve. They said the Mi’kmaq were trapping on her family’s land.

She recalls: “I went to my dad, a huge man, six foot something and in the woods a lot, and said, ‘Dad you’ve got to watch out, the Mi’kmaq are hunting on our land.’

“He looked at me and responded, not in a chastising way, ‘This is their land and we always have to remember that. They can hunt and fish and trap anywhere they want. We are guests on their land.'”

This year Maggie MacDonnell was named as winner of the Global Teacher Prize – and she links this accolade with these attitudes in her early years.

“I was lucky to have that influence at an early age,” she explains.

“Because maybe other kids didn’t go home and have that conversation with their parents, maybe they had a more prejudiced conversation.”

Meeting presidents

Ms MacDonnell’s understanding of the injustices meted out to Canada’s indigenous people helped her work with students at Ikusik School in the 1,400-strong Inuit village of Salluit in northern Quebec on the Arctic circle.

It’s an isolated place, accessible only by air, where young people have few job opportunities and where there have been problems with high levels of drink and drug abuse and shocking levels of suicide among teenagers.

At the award ceremony she spoke movingly of the experience of teaching in a school after a funeral of one of the students.

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Global Teacher Prize

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Maggie MacDonnell received the Global Teacher Prize at a ceremony in March

Her success was also remarkable because she had not even heard of the teaching prize, run by the Varkey Foundation, until she was nominated for it.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said she won the prize because of her “superhuman” tenacity in wanting to improve the chances of her students in Salluit.

“There are no roads to get there, the climate is tough and these communities are living with the legacy of generations of inequality.

“Due to the harsh conditions, where temperatures can reach -25C in winter, there are very high rates of teacher turnover, which is a significant barrier to education in the Arctic,” said Mr Varkey.

“Many teachers leave their post after six months and many apply for stress leave, but Maggie has stayed on for six years, painstakingly building bonds with her students and instilling them with hope,” he said.

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Canada’s 150th anniversary raises questions about how indigenous people have been viewed

But since the awards ceremony in Dubai in March, Ms MacDonnell has used the prize to highlight the needs of her students.

She took Inuit students and teachers to the Toronto Film Festival to show and discuss the documentary film Salluit Run Club about the running club she set up to try to build up the resilience of her students and the local community.

“The young people I brought opened up all sorts of conversations for parents to have with their kids on indigenous issues in Canada. It was awesome,” she says.

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Reuters

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous people

Two of her students went to the United Nations in New York for a one-hour conversation with former US president Bill Clinton.

On a visit to Chile, two students met the country’s president, Michelle Bachelet, and were guests of the indigenous Mapuche people.

President Bachelet publicly asked the Mapuche and other indigenous people for forgiveness for the historic injustices.

“That was an amazing moment for the Inuit youth who I work with to witness and be part of,” said Ms MacDonnell.

Pressure on indigenous people

Last week, thanks to the funding from the prize, she took four young Inuit people to her own home turf of Nova Scotia to take part in her newest initiative, a kayaking project.

It is a one-week course designed to give them a basic kayaking certification to build their confidence on the water.

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Maggie MacDonnell founded a running club to provide something positive for young people

The kayak is a potent Inuit symbol. It once enjoyed a more prominent place before pressures like enforced residential schools separated Inuit youth from traditional cultural and economic roles.

It was an emotional visit. There were already connections in place. Her social worker sister Claire has adopted two Inuit children from her time in Salluit (she was there before Maggie), and her mother had also visited the village.

Maggie’s work and her prize have helped highlight the struggle of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Canada has been marking its 150th anniversary – Canada 150 – and as part of this commemoration prime minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the “victims of oppression”.

“As a society, we must acknowledge past mistakes,” said Mr Trudeau, about the need to acknowledge previous wrongs to indigenous people and to achieve future reconciliation.

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While Canada celebrates 150 years, Inuit people have been there much longer

The comment chimes with Maggie MacDonnell’s teaching experience. Her Inuit community has been in the region for thousands of years, and the past 150 have not been kind to them, so even those who are proud Canadians may have had trouble celebrating Canada 150.

The Nunavik region, made up of 14 villages that include Salluit, suffers from a chronic housing shortage.

This exacerbates other problems which include alcohol and drug dependency and a high rate of tuberculosis.

Maggie MacDonnell’s work with indigenous people in Canada also has resonances elsewhere.

Global warming

She has worked in Tanzania and wants to take Inuit students to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with local youth “to bring more attention to an African symbol of climate change, because on Kilimanjaro the glaciers are melting”.


Global education

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Her own community is already aware of the impact of global warming. Her students posted on Facebook a picture with a brown bear taken locally.

“That’s ridiculous,” she says, “like seeing a giraffe walk through London.” They are usually found much further to the south.

“We need to collaborate on a global level,” she said. “There are opportunities to weave together global issues, particularly for indigenous people, and especially climate change, social justice, gender empowerment.”

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The teacher prize has brought attention to the Canadian Arctic

The ambitions may stretch internationally, but Maggie MacDonnell’s work is firmly grounded in her community.

On the theme of Canada 150 she said: “I guess you can say that education does offer opportunities for reconciliation.

“I think that if Canada can seize this opportunity and become a global leader and an example for healing relationships between our indigenous and non-indigenous people, that’s when we are going to be a truly developed country.

“I wish that all Canadians could see the benefit of how we would all be richer, not just economically, when we really start to value and ensure that indigenous people can unlock their full potential.

“What Canada could look like then would be phenomenal. When we embrace all that diversity and all those different outlooks, that’s what would make Canada so exciting.

“Canada 300 – a really great party that I’d like to come back to if possible.”



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Odd choice


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Kate Spade

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The branding of the On Purpose products is “subtle but appropriate”, says Mary Beech

It’s easy to miss. The words “on purpose” are printed on a small label inside the tote bag alongside the name of the woman who made it. It sits inconspicuously next to the other handbags on the shelves at high-end fashion brand Kate Spade.

There is nothing notably different about it.

Yet it was made in a factory that doesn’t have a reliable source of running water, where the electricity routinely cuts out, and where, until relatively recently, the workers didn’t have the necessary manufacturing skills.

It’s in a tiny village called Masoro in landlocked Rwanda.

There are no dependable roads, which means all the products made here have to be airlifted out – a much more expensive option than the usual way of sending them by ship.

And perhaps most unusually, this factory didn’t exist at all until global fashion firm Kate Spade decided to open it and fund its creation just over three years ago.

The obvious question is: Why?

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Kate Spade

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On Purpose senior manager Taryn Bird says it was important the project was commercial as well as charitable

“We like to stretch ourselves,” laughs Mary Beech, chief marketing officer at the firm.

She says as a brand that makes clothing and handbags for women, and whose employees are mainly female, doing something to help empower women “came very naturally”.

The branding of the product is subtle, says Ms Beech, because they don’t want it to be a token charity product.

“We want women to buy these bags because they walk into the store and love them. First and foremost it has to be a beautiful product which is completely natural and integrated,” she adds.

Rwanda’s horrifying 1994 genocide, when 800,000 Rwandans were killed, continues to affect people today, and Kate Spade says this history was an added incentive for choosing the location.

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Kate Spade

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Around 150 people, mainly women, work at Abahizi Dushyigikirane Corporation, known as ADC

Of course, many brands undertake charitable projects.

Fashion firm Asos, for example, sells a “Made In Kenya” range produced by local clothing manufacturer Soko, which it says aims to support local craftsmanship.

Similarly, footwear firms Toms and Roma Boots both give away a pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair they sell.

The difference with Kate Spade’s charitable initiative On Purpose, the firm says, is that it’s a business venture that had to make commercial as well as emotional sense.

“It couldn’t be a crafty aside done for corporate social responsibility that didn’t tie back into economic sustainability,” says Taryn Bird, senior manager of the On Purpose initiative.

She said this was because the firm wanted to set up something that lasted and enabled the factory to be financially independent, eventually taking orders from other fashion brands and becoming part of the global supply chain.

The only way to make sure this happened, was to set it up themselves, says Ms Bird.

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Katie Spade

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Kate Spade has trained ADC’s workers so they have the skills needed to make its products

The factory is not owned by Kate Spade, but is an official supplier. The people who work there – around 150 – are employed by Abahizi Dushyigikirane Corporation, known as ADC.

So is this just exploiting Rwanda’s low-wage economy?

Kate Spade says not, pointing out even the lowest paid worker’s salary in the country is considerably higher than the median salary for private sector jobs in Rwanda.

It has also set up a life skills programme at the company, offering counselling, information on health and nutrition and English language lessons.

While the firm won’t be drawn on how much exactly it ploughed into the factory to get it going, Ms Beech says it was “a minimal investment”. Almost four years on she says they are “on track” to get their investment back and for the factory to become profitable. The staff retention rate is an impressive 98%.

But Africa is not such an unusual choice for a firm looking to diversify its supplier base.

Labour costs are already much lower than in China. According to Georgetown University in Washington, which studied the Kate Spade project, staff in factories in coastal China earned around $700 (£537) a month, over six times the average $113 monthly salary at the ADC factory.

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Kate Spade

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Africa is seen by many as the world’s next low-cost manufacturing hub

Africa also offers what Ms Bird describes as “a very business friendly climate for export companies”.

ADC does not have to pay duties on incoming raw materials and is also able to export the finished bags to the US without tariffs.

In contrast, tariffs on handbags from Asian suppliers range from 4.5% to 17.5%, according to Georgetown University.

So Africa has the potential to become the world’s next low-cost manufacturing hub thanks to a cheap workforce and an abundance of raw materials. A lot of production has moved there already.

Ms Beech, however, says that wasn’t why Kate Spade chose Rwanda. The bags made there were additional orders reflecting increased demand for its products.

Pietra Rivoli, a professor teaching finance and international business at Georgetown University, who led the study of the project, says the factory proves it’s possible to put a factory anywhere.

“The set up was not terribly complex. It’s not something that other companies could not do given the motivation and support from management,” she says.

She says the supportive factory set-up made ADC feel very different to any other factory she had visited.

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Kate Spade

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Kate Spade offers “a demonstrative case study” of an alternative approach, says Prof Pietra Rivoli

“I’m not saying other factories are somehow bad. But most supplier relationships tend to be very transactional. The relationship is one of monitoring for labour abuses, whereas the ADC approach is a much more positive philosophy.”

Typically, how cheaply and quickly something can be made are the main criteria a company uses for deciding where to locate a factory.

Prof Rivoli says the Kate Spade example offers “a demonstrative case study” of an alternative approach.

“What they have shown is that it can really be a win-win. The factory can pay the company back [for the set-up costs] and the firm can support the worker and their communities.

So far it’s one small-scale experiment. But Kate Spade says it is already planning to pilot a second factory in a different developing country in the next couple of years.

“This time we’ll make sure it has access to a port,” laughs Ms Beech.


Global Trade

More from the BBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

Where’s hot? This summer’s most popular holiday spots

The lucrative world of ‘the super tutor’

How the ‘better burger’ is taking over the world

What it takes to get Beyonce on a world tour

The country losing out in the breakfast juice battle

Why a $1.6bn car plant has been left to decay

Read more global trade series here.




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Old £1 coin spending deadline looms


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Consumers have less than three months to spend, bank or donate round £1 coins as the new 12-sided version outnumbers the old for the first time.

The Treasury says there are now more of the new £1 coins, which first entered circulation in March, than the old round pound.

From 15 October, shops can refuse the old version of the coin.

However, most banks and Post Office counters will continue to accept them from customers.

They can be exchanged at any time in the future at the Bank of England in London.

“The clock is ticking. We are urging the public to spend, bank or donate their old pound coins and asking businesses who are yet to do so, to update their systems before the old coin ceases to be legal tender,” said Andrew Jones, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

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Media captionA brief history of decimal coins

The Royal Mint is striking 1.5 billion new 12-sided £1 coins, which were introduced to help crack down on counterfeiting.

The Mint has claimed the new £1 is the “most secure coin in the world”, replacing the previous £1 coin, of which about one in 40 are thought to be fake.

The new coin has a string of anti-counterfeiting details, including material inside the coin itself which can be detected when electronically scanned by coin-counting or payment machines.

Other security measures include an image that works like a hologram, and micro-sized lettering inside both rims.


The new £1 coin: Vital statistics

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PA

Thickness: 2.8mm – thinner than old coin

Weight: 8.75g – lighter than old coin

Diameter: 23.43mm – larger than old coin

Number to enter circulation: 1.5 billion – about 23 per person. Old £1 coins will be melted down to make new ones

Outer ring: gold-coloured, made from nickel-brass

Inner ring: silver-coloured, made from nickel-plated alloy



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Pak Breaking Ties Between Terrorists And Facilitators: Army Chief General


Qamar Javed Bajwa said hostile agencies are using terrorism as a tool.

Islamabad:  Pakistan is making progress in breaking connection between terror masterminds, their facilitators and executors, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said today.

Mr Bajwa said hostile agencies are using terrorism as a tool, a day after a terror attack in Lahore killed 27 people. “Regional actors and hostile intelligence agencies are fully involved to use terror as policy tool,” Mr Bajwa was quoted as saying by Radio Pakistan.

Mr Bajwa also said that cowardly incidents of terrorism cannot lower national resolve to eliminate militancy from its roots in the country.

“We are making gains in breaking connectivity between terror masterminds, their facilitators and executors,” he said.

He added that the army fully supports and stands with police and other law enforcement agencies towards performance of their role as first responders.

He said concurrent blasts at Kabul and Lahore are testimony of both Pakistan and Afghanistan are victims of terrorism and will continue to suffer if these actors are able to use Afghan territory with impunity.

At least 26 people were killed and 41 wounded today after a Taliban-claimed car bomb struck a bus carrying government employees through a Shiite neighbourhood in Afghanistan.

He reiterated that Pakistan is ready to help Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist safe havens in their border areas.



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Trump says Apple will build three 'big' new plants in US


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Apple’s boss attended a technology roundtable at the White House in June

Apple’s boss has promised to build three new manufacturing plants in the United States, according to an interview President Donald Trump has given to the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump told the Journal he had a phone conversation with Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook.

“I spoke to (Cook), he’s promised me three big plants – big, big, big,” said President Trump.

Apple has declined to comment on the report.

President Trump told the Wall Street Journal during the interview that discussed a range of matters including tax reform, that Mr Cook had called him to confirm plans for the plants were “going forward”.

During the campaign last year, President Trump made repeated calls for American companies to produce more in the US in order to create jobs and revive the manufacturing sector. Apple was one of the companies that came under fire.

“We’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries,” Mr Trump said in a speech in January last year.

Apple currently manufactures almost all of its products in China but the company employs developers and designers in the US and buys some of its parts from US-based manufacturers such as Corning.

A few products are also made by contract manufacturers in the US.

In May the Apple chief executive said the company was creating a $1bn fund to invest in advanced manufacturing in the US.

Foxconn, a major contractor for Apple, has said it also plans to invest more than $10bn in a display-making factory in the US, possibly in Wisconsin.



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New diesel and petrol vehicles to be banned from 2040


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New diesel and petrol cars and vans will be banned in the UK from 2040 in a bid to tackle air pollution, the government is set to announce.

Ministers are to unveil a £255m fund to help councils introduce steps to deal with pollution from diesel vehicles as part of £3bn spending on air quality.

The government is due to publish a court-mandated clean air strategy on Wednesday.

This is just days before a deadline set by the High Court.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron announced similar plans for France.

BMW announced on Tuesday that a fully electric version of the Mini will be built at the Cowley plant in Oxford from 2019.

Meanwhile Volvo has said all new models will have an electric motor from the same year.



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US House Approves New Russia Sanctions, Defying Donald Trump


Washington:  The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to slap new sanctions on Russia, and force President Donald Trump to obtain lawmakers’ permission before easing any sanctions on Moscow, in a rare rebuke of the Republican in the White House.

House members backed the measure, which also imposes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, by a near unanimous margin of 419-3, with strong support from Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, despite objections from Trump, who wanted more control over the ability to impose sanctions.

The sanctions bill coincided with lawmakers taking steps to show they are willing to push hard as they investigate possible meddling by Russia in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion by Republican Trump’s campaign.

Moscow has denied it worked to influence the election in the Republican candidate’s favor, and Trump has denied his campaign colluded.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called the bill “one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history.”

Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the three countries threaten US interests, and said the North Korea restrictions were important given Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests.

House members added the North Korea sanctions package, which passed the House by 419-1 in May, to the Iran and Russia bill after becoming frustrated with the Senate’s failure to advance the measure.

The combined sanctions bill must pass the Senate before it can be sent to the White House for Trump to sign into law or veto. The latest version of the legislation has run into objections from some Senate members, who are unhappy that the House added new sanctions on North Korea after holding up the measure for more than a month.

Senate leaders have not said when they might consider the House bill, and said that, with the Senate mired in debate over efforts to overhaul the US healthcare system, they did not know whether it would come up before lawmakers leave Washington for their summer recess.

The White House said the president had not yet decided whether he would sign the measure if it reaches his desk. Rejecting the bill – which would potentially hamper his hopes of pursuing improved relations with Moscow – would carry a risk that his veto could be overridden by lawmakers.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was not sure the bill would “fly through” the Senate.

“The only language we agreed to was Iran and Russia. So adding North Korea on, I just don’t know how we’re going to deal with it yet,” Corker told reporters. “The better route would have been to send over what had been agreed to.”

The bill has raised concerns in the European Union, where the legislation could result in fines for companies helping Russia build gas pipelines like the 9.5 billion euro ($11.1 billion) Nord Stream 2 project.

INVESTIGATIONS

The intense focus on Russia, involving several congressional probes and a separate investigation by a Justice Department-appointed special counsel, has overshadowed Trump’s agenda.

The scrutiny has angered and frustrated the president, who calls the investigations a politically motivated witch hunt fueled by Democrats who cannot accept his upset win in last November’s election against Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, a former US secretary of state.

Without offering evidence, Trump lashed out on Twitter on Tuesday about “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage” his presidential campaign in order to aid Clinton. The Ukrainian embassy in Washington denied the accusations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee said on Tuesday it wanted Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for Trump, to appear at a hearing as part of its investigation.

Also on Tuesday, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent three hours with the House of Representatives intelligence panel, his second straight day on Capitol Hill answering questions about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.

Kushner had a “very productive session” with the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic representative Adam Schiff after the meeting.

Republican representative Michael Conaway said Kushner was “straightforward and forthcoming. He wanted to answer every question that we had.”

Kushner, who is now a top aide in Trump’s White House, told reporters on Monday he had no part in any Kremlin plot..

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Karen Friefeld; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Frances Kerry, James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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America's Warrior-Senator John McCain Returns To Senate – For Now


John McCain announced last week he was suffering from brain cancer.

Washington:  The scar above John McCain’s eye and purplish bruise on his face stood as evidence that all was not normal in the US Senate. 

But the veteran Republican lawmaker, who announced last week he was suffering from brain cancer, nevertheless made a triumphant and emotional return Tuesday, showing glimpses of the fiery passion that has defined his long career.

In dramatic style, the maverick McCain made his colleagues wait for it.

The other 99 senators erupted in applause and cheers when the 80-year-old strode into the chamber half an hour into an extraordinarily tense showdown over health care reform, walked to the center well and cast the final vote.

It was the first time that most had seen McCain since the shock news that the Arizona senator — who stared down his torturers in a Vietnamese prison and rose to become the 2008 Republican presidential nominee a generation later — was now facing the fight of his life against an aggressive cancer.

He took advantage of the moment to deliver a stern message to his colleagues in the body that has lost many of its bipartisan traditions: shape up, and quick.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle,” McCain said, as most senators sat listening at their desks — a respect seldom afforded these days to a lawmaker addressing the body.

The latest deliberations are “more partisan, more tribal, more of the time than at any time than I can remember,” he said.

“I hope we can again rely on humility on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other, learn how to trust each other again, and by so doing better serve the people who elected us.”

– ‘I’m glad he’s back’ –

It was a stirring speech, and most senators rose to hug the warrior-senator afterwards.

“There’s no one in the Senate like John McCain,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who was not yet born when McCain was shot down over Hanoi, told AFP.

“I’m glad he’s back, and I hope that it lifts his spirits to be back on the battlefield.”

If only the political battles he is facing could be less ideological.

McCain has been a reliably even-keeled voice in an increasingly partisan chamber, a lawmaker whose quick temper has never prevented him from working with Democrats to craft important bipartisan policy.

He entered the Senate in the mid-1980s, and while he brought his military hot temper to Washington, he appreciated the comity and compromise of the upper chamber. 

He described himself as conservative, though he has never been ruled by party orthodoxy.

But the US political tones shifted, culminating with the verbal jabs of one Donald Trump, who beat all expectations and became president. 

In 2015, Trump angered millions when he said McCain was not a war hero because he was captured.

But on Tuesday, the billionaire president changed his tune, thanking him on Twitter “for coming to D.C. for such a vital vote.”

McCain, who said he would spend “a few days” in Washington before returning to Arizona for more treatment, looked back with fondness on his Senate service Tuesday, calling it “the most important job I’ve had in my life.”

But he also implored colleagues — in his own coarse way — to use more civility and compromise.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loud mouths on the radio, television and internet,” McCain boomed. “To hell with them!” 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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'I'm Not A Fan' Of Bashar Al-Assad: Donald Trump


Donald Trump said “I am not somebody that will stand by and let him get away.”

Washington:  US President Donald Trump accused Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday of committing “horrible” crimes against humanity, and vowed to prevent his regime from carrying out any more chemical attacks.

Speaking at a White House press conference with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Trump also called the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah a threat to the entire Middle East.

“I’m not a fan of Assad. I certainly think that what he’s done to that country and to humanity is horrible,” Trump said.

Recalling that he had ordered cruise missile strikes on Assad for using chemical weapons, Trump said: “I am not somebody that will stand by and let him get away with what he tried to do.”

Trump also said he believed there might not be any Russian or Iranian involvement in Syria today had former president Barack Obama taken action against Assad.

Trump accused Hezbollah and Iran of fueling the humanitarian disaster in Syria.

“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” he said.

“The group continues to increase its military arsenal which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel,” Trump added. “With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.”

Hezbollah’s “true interests are those of itself and its sponsor, Iran,” he said.

Trump demurred when asked to comment on sanctions against Hezbollah.

“I’ll be making my position very clear over the next 24 hours,” he said. “I have meetings with some of my very expert military representatives and others, so I’ll be making that decision very shortly.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Vatican Switches Off Fountains As Italy Battles Drought


Ten regions across Italy called for state of emergency to be declared country suffers drought.

Rome, Italy:  The historic fountains in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican lay empty Tuesday after the tiny city state turned them off as Italy struggles with a prolonged draught.

The dry basins of the two fountains by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were symbolic of a period of sweltering temperatures which have devastated farms and forced Rome to consider water rationing.

Ten regions across the country have called for a state of emergency to be declared after Italy suffered the second-driest spring in 60 years and rainfall in the first six months of the year was down 33 percent.

The dry spell has deprived Italy of 20 billion cubic metres of water so far this year — the equivalent of Lake Como.

And there is little hope for those anxiously watching the skies in the capital: the national meteorological service has predicted small showers in the coming days but not enough to relieve the pressure.

Some 300 of the city’s famous “big nose” public fountains — so called because of their shape — have already been turned off and more will follow.

The Lazio region is considering rationing water in Rome from Saturday for 1.5 million inhabitants for up to eight hours a day — though the proposal is being fiercely challenged by the city’s anti-establishment mayor.

The rationing threat follows the decision to stop withdrawing water from Lake Bracciano near Rome because it had dropped to such a low level that it risked sparking an environmental disaster.

Acea, the utility firm which runs Rome’s water system, has slammed the stop on using water from the lake as “unnecessary” and said the move left it no choice but to cut off supplies to residents.

‘Rome water network leaking’

Farmers from the southern island of Sicily to the country’s northern plains are also raising the alarm.

The Po river, on which 35 percent of the nation’s agricultural production depends, lies 50 centimetres (20 inches) lower than the same period last year, according to Coldiretti, Italy’s agricultural union.

The union estimated that losses suffered by farmers and live-stock owners would exceed two billion euros ($2.3 billion), with production of crops from cereals to olives and tomatoes hit in two-thirds of the country.

Geologist Mario Tozzi told AFP that fountains were not the problem, the real issue was wasted water.

“The water network in Rome is leaking, almost 40 litres out of 100 are lost,” he said, adding that the cost of repairing damaged pipelines across Italy was estimated at about 60 billion euros.

He also pointed the finger at the low price of water: “Farmers pay so little that they don’t bother to put in place a system that would allow them to save water, it makes more sense for them to waste it,” he said.



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Hezbollah A 'Menace' To Entire Middle East: Donald Trump


Donald Trump said Hezbollah is a menace to Lebanese state, Lebanese people and the entire region.

Washington:  US President Donald Trump called the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah a threat to the entire Middle East on Tuesday, accusing it and Iran of fueling a humanitarian disaster in Syria.

“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” Trump said at a joint press conference alongside Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the White House.

“The group continues to increase its military arsenal which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel… With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Swiss Police Arrest Man Wanted For Chainsaw Attack


Swiss police had issued an international warrant for his arrest (Representational)

Schaffhausen, Switzerland:  Swiss police on Tuesday tracked down and arrested a man believed to have carried out a chainsaw attack in an office building which left several injured, local media said.  

The ATS news agency said the man, identified as Franz Wrousis, 51, was detained late Tuesday in Thalwil, a town south of Zurich. 

Wrousis, who has a criminal history and had reportedly been living in a forest, is alleged to have targeted the CSS insurance company on Monday in the northern town of Schaffhausen, storming into their office and injuring two people, one of them seriously.  

Three other people suffered various injuries amid the subsequent fracas, public broadcaster RTS reported.  

Wrousis was caught on camera after the rampage carrying a black bag and rucksack, local media said.  

Swiss police had issued an international warrant for his arrest. 

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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New UAE Documentary Claims Qatar Complicit In September 11 Attacks


The documentary comes amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf (File Photo)

Deported camels. Rerouted planes. Just when you thought the Gulf crisis couldn’t get any more absurd, a media outlet linked to the Abu Dhabi ruling family has announced the release of a documentary claiming that Qatar was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sky News Arabia, owned in part by Emirati scion Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will release the documentary, called “Qatar… The Road to Manhattan,” on Wednesday. It focuses on Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s visit to Qatar in 1996 as well as “Qatar’s long-term support for him, including protection and financial assistance, to achieve his terrorist goals and plans,” according to a report by Gulf News.

The documentary comes amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf. In early June, long-simmering tension spilled over into open hostility when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and other countries broke ties with Qatar over what they claimed was its financing of terrorism. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt have imposed a blockade until Doha accedes to their demands, isolating the tiny Gulf peninsula and strangling its economy.

Qatar lobbed the same accusation at the UAE back in June. “Emiratis, not Qataris, were among the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers,” wrote Qatari Ambassador to the United States Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani in a June 18 Wall Street Journal opinion piece. “The UAE was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money to terrorists.”

Reports that a high-ranking Qatari minister shielded Khalid Sheikh Mohammad from the CIA in 1996 are certainly known, but they are hardly new.

While none of the hijackers were Qatari nationals, two of them were from the UAE, and 15 out of 19 were Saudi. Osama bin Laden was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, currently held in Guantanamo, is Pakistani.

In response to the blockade, Qatar has launched an international public relations blitz in an attempt to win support against the three far larger countries, including lobbying in Washington, to play up the human rights violations the blockade has caused. Saudi Arabia has launched its own campaign, hiring top Washington lobbyists.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to the region in July, shuttling between capitals in an attempt to smooth the relationship between two of the United State’s most important regional allies. On July 10, he signed a memorandum with the Qatari government agreeing to work towards combatting terrorism financing.

An annual report released last week by the State Department indicated that Qatar cooperated with international efforts to combat terrorism and terrorism financing and that it had made strides in shutting down the informal financial system within its borders that had previously channeled some illicit funding into the wrong hands.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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US Detects Signs Of New North Korea Missile Test


In all, six sets of UN sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since 2006 (File Photo)

Washington:  The Pentagon has picked up signs that North Korea is prepping for another missile test, a US defense official said Tuesday, as the United States cited progress in pushing China to impose tough new UN sanctions.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP that if the test goes ahead, it would “probably” occur on July 27, which is the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

The date is a public holiday in the nuclear-armed North and celebrated as Victory Day.

The official said the test would be of either an intermediate-range missile or North Korea’s ICBM — known as a KN-20 or a Hwasong-14.

That would be the second time Pyongyang has tested an ICBM, after its July 4 rocket launch that caused global alarm.

Experts assessed it could have put Alaska in range, bringing Pyongyang’s long-held dream of a missile that can deliver an atomic warhead to the United States within reach, and presenting President Donald Trump with a stark challenge.

South Korea’s news agency Yonhap quoted a government source as saying Seoul had seen North Korea moving transporter erector launchers carrying ICBM launch tubes in North Pyongan province.

“They’re setting up for something,” a second US defense official told AFP.

‘Pretty serious sanctions’

After North Korea’s July 4 test, the United States launched a push at the United Nations for tougher measures against Pyongyang.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday cited progress in talks with China on imposing what she termed as “pretty serious” new UN sanctions.

The United States has been locked in negotiations with China for nearly three weeks on a new raft of measures, and Haley said China was negotiating with Russia separately on possible tougher sanctions.  

“I think we are making progress,” Haley said. 

“It’s not as fast as I would like but these are pretty serious sanctions and so I think that there is a lot of thought going into this.”

Haley told the UN Security Council after the test that she hoped to present new measures in a few days, such as cutting off oil supplies, banning North Korean guest workers or imposing new air and maritime restrictions on North Korea.

In all, six sets of UN sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006, but two resolutions adopted last year significantly toughened the sanctions regime.

Haley said the true test will be Russia’s role. Moscow maintains the July 4 launch was not an ICBM, citing its defense ministry’s assessment.

Moscow has also argued that sanctions are not the answer to rein in North Korea, and that talks, as advocated by Beijing, were needed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who personally oversaw the July 4 launch, described it as a gift to the “American bastards.”

‘Close surveillance’

CNN cited a US defense official saying transporter vehicles carrying launching equipment were seen arriving at Kusong in North Pyongan last Friday.

Kusong has been the scene of past tests, including in May when an intermediate-range ballistic missile traveled more than 700 kilometers (435 miles).

The North last week refused to respond to the South’s offer to open dialogue to ease tension. 

“We’re keeping close surveillance on the North for possible provocative acts,” a South Korean defense ministry spokesman told AFP.

Yonhap also quoted a different Seoul government source as saying that an 1,800-ton North Korean submarine in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) may be collecting data to prepare for a ballistic missile test-launch from the North’s largest submarine.

The North last August successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Donald Trump Attacks US Attorney General As Weak On Clinton Emails


Donald Trump attacked Jeff Sessions calling him “VERY weak” in pursuing intelligence leaks.

Washington, United States:  US President Donald Trump attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions again on Tuesday, calling him “VERY weak” in pursuing intelligence leaks and failure to go after former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over her emails.

Trump’s latest Twitter salvo followed a report in the Washington Post that the president and his advisers have discussed replacing Sessions, once one of his closest allies.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails &DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump tweeted.

Trump has openly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing a federal probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian to meddle in the 2016 US presidential elections.

Sessions has said he has no plans to resign.

With pressure mounting from the investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, Trump has sought to revive a campaign year controversy over Clinton’s use of a private server to send email while secretary of state.

During the campaign, former FBI director James Comey, whom Trump later fired over the Russia probe, had declined to recommend Clinton be prosecuted over her handling of classified material on her email server.



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Turkish President Urges All Muslims To 'Visit' And 'Protect' Jerusalem


Trukish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also denounced attacks on synagogues in Turkey.

Ankara, Turkey:  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday urged all Muslims to visit and protect Jerusalem after violence broke out over metal detectors that Israel installed and later removed from a sensitive holy site in the city.

“From here I make a call to all Muslims. Anyone who has the opportunity should visit Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa mosque,” Erdogan said in Ankara. “Come, let’s all protect Jerusalem.”

He was referring to the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, which is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the site, which also includes the Dome of the Rock, following an attack on July 14 that killed two Israeli police officers.

Palestinians viewed the security measures as Israel asserting further control over the site and deadly clashes erupted during protests.

“They are attempting to take the mosque from Muslim hands on the pretext of fighting terrorism. There is no other explanation,” Erdogan said in a speech to ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers in parliament.

He said Israel’s legitimacy rested on the extent of the respect it showed to Palestinians and their rights.

Erdogan also denounced attacks on synagogues in Turkey, referring to reports that an ultra-nationalist group threw stones at a synagogue in Istanbul last week.

“It does not make sense to attack synagogues here because something has happened at Al-Aqsa mosque. This does not suit our religion and it is not allowed,” he said.



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Adobe to kill off Flash plug-in by 2020


Image caption

Adobe’s Flash software is regularly updated to remove flaws that cyber-thieves exploit

Adobe Systems has said that it plans to phase out its Flash Player plug-in by the end of 2020.

The technology was once one of the most widely used ways for people to watch video clips and play games online.

But it also attracted much criticism, particularly as flaws in its code meant it became a popular way for hackers to infect computers.

In recent years, much of its functionality has been offered by the rival HTML5 technology.

One of HTML5’s benefits is that it can be used to make multimedia content available within webpages without requiring users to install and update a dedicated plug-in.

Decline and fall

Apple was one of Flash’s most vocal critics. The late Steve Jobs once wrote a public letter about its shortcomings, highlighting concerns about its reliability, security and performance.

The plug-in was never supported by Apple’s iOS mobile devices.

Adobe’s vice president of product development Govind Balakrishnan said that the firm had chosen to end Flash because other technologies such as HTML5 had “matured enough and are capable enough to provide viable alternatives to the Flash player”.

He added: “Few technologies have had such a profound and positive impact in the internet era.”

Apps developer Malcolm Barclay, who had worked on Flash in its early days, told the BBC: “It fulfilled its promise for a while but it never saw the mobile device revolution coming and ultimately that’s what killed it.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWATCH: BBC’s Chris Foxx asked how long Flash would survive in 2015

When Adobe acquired Flash in its 2005 purchase of Macromedia, the technology was on more than 98% of personal computers.

But on Chrome, now the most popular web browser, Flash’s usage has fallen off dramatically. In 2014, it was used each day by 80% of desktop users, according to Google. The current figure is just 17%.

“This trend reveals that sites are migrating to open web technologies, which are faster and more power-efficient than Flash,” Google added. “They’re also more secure.”

Google phased out full support for Flash software at the end of last year.

Mr Balakrishnan said it did not expect the demise of Flash to affect profits at Adobe.

“We think the opportunity for Adobe is greater in a post-Flash world,” he said.

But the firm added that it remained committed to support Flash up until the end of 2020 “as customers and partners put their migration plans into place”.

There was immediate reaction to the news on Twitter.

Image copyright
Twitter



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US House Set To Vote To Sanction Russia, Iran, North Korea


Washington:  The US House of Representatives will vote Tuesday to slap new sanctions against Russia, a move that limits President Donald Trump’s ability to tinker with the penalties and has also triggered uproar in Moscow and Europe.

The legislation is the result of a congressional compromise reached at the weekend and is aimed at punishing the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

But it could end up penalizing European firms that contribute to the development of Russia’s energy sector.

New sanctions against Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which stands accused of supporting terrorism, and North Korea, for its missile tests, are also included in the bill.

The vote is expected around 5:00 pm (2100 GMT).

“The House will vote on bipartisan legislation to hold Russia, Iran and North Korea accountable for their aggression,” said congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Key among the provisions is one that handcuffs the US president by making it difficult for him to unilaterally ease penalties against Moscow in the future — effectively placing him under Congress’s watch.

Initially, Trump resisted the legislation. But faced with near-total consensus among Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the White House blinked, but did not say directly that the billionaire president would sign it into law.

“He’s going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Monday on Air Force One.

Veto likely not effective

In mid-June, the Senate voted 98-2 in favor of tough sanctions on Moscow and Tehran, but the text stalled in the House.

Now that an agreement has been reached, the House vote could be similarly overwhelming.

The measure would then return to the Senate for final passage, likely before summer break begins in mid-August.

US lawmakers, including Republican leaders, have remained wary of the intentions of the billionaire businessman-turned-president — who has called for better relations with Moscow — regarding a relaxation of pressure on Putin.

But even if Trump were to veto the legislation, Congress would likely be able to overcome such a blockage with a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

Russia says sanctions ‘counterproductive’

The Kremlin warned that fresh sanctions on Russia would adversely affect both sides.

“We consider such a continuation of the rhetoric of sanctions counter-productive and harmful to the interests of both countries,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

From Paris to Berlin, the sanctions bill was seen as a unilateral action by Washington that disrupts a carefully crafted order.

To date, sanctions against Moscow have been coordinated on both sides of the Atlantic, to maintain a united front.

“For us, G7 unity regarding sanctions is of key importance,” European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said.

European Union member states were due to meet Wednesday and discuss the issue — and a possible response.

Several European nations including Germany are livid because the new law would allow the punishment of companies working on pipelines from Russia, for example by limiting their access to US banks.

The provision could theoretically pave the way for sanctions against the European partners in Nord Stream 2, a project to build a pipeline carrying Russian gas across the Baltic which could boost supplies to Germany from 2019.

Such partners include France’s Engie, Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, Austrian firm OMV and the Anglo-Dutch Shell.

To date, Washington and Brussels had agreed that sanctions would not affect Europe’s gas supply.

In an apparent concession, the House slightly modified a provision so that the bill only targets pipelines originating in Russia, sparing those which merely pass through that nation, such as the Caspian pipeline which carries oil from Kazakhstan to Europe.



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McDonald's sales up on premium hamburgers and cheap soda


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Getty Images

McDonald’s, facing pressure from increased competition, says it has found a recipe for success in $1 sodas and a new line of high-end hamburgers.

The fast food pioneer had its highest quarterly sales at established stores in five years in the three months to the end of June.

The firm credited its turnaround efforts, which involve remodelling stores and using better ingredients.

Now appetites are returning, said McDonald’s boss Steve Easterbrook.

The UK, for example, had the highest monthly sales in its history in April.

“We’re building a better McDonald’s and more customers are noticing,” said Mr Easterbrook, the fast-food giant’s British-born chief executive.

McDonald’s shares jumped more than 3.4% after the company released its earnings , which showed profits 28% higher year-on-year, lifted by changes to its real estate portfolio, cost-cutting and other initiatives.

Total revenues remained lower than the same period in 2016, down 3% to $6bn, but momentum was building, the company said.

Mcdonald’s, which has more than 37,000 restaurants globally, saw sales at stores open at least 13 months jump 6.6% from 2016, more than double the growth rate a year ago.

New offerings

“Everyone is working hard to up their game,” Mr Easterbrook said suggesting the firm was squaring up to the increasing competition from other fast food chains.

“Our gain will result in pain being felt elsewhere,” he said.

McDonald’s said customers are responding to new offerings, including a new line of signature sandwiches, such as the BBQ, with bacon, coleslaw and cheddar in the UK.

In the US, McDonald’s has also started selling any size of soda for $1 and beverages such as smoothies and frappes for $2.

The value options are convincing guests to return more often, it said.

The company is also expanding its delivery and mobile payment options to emphasize convenience.

But getting the basics right is just as important, Mr Easterbrook said.

“We can never underestimate the importance of clean bathrooms, friendly service and hot, fresh food,” he said.

In the US, the firm’s biggest market, sales at established stores increased 3.9%, compared to 1.8% a year ago.

The UK, Canada, Germany and China were also strong markets, the firm said. The UK had its 45th consecutive quarter of positive comparable sales.



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Uncharted: Moving on from Nathan Drake


“It was daunting,” Sean Escayg tells Newsbeat about making an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake.

The creative director of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy says: “Once we had worked out a new story we were committed to it.”

The wise-cracking, treasure hunting heartthrob’s tale came to a conclusion at the end of Uncharted 4.

This new title, originally planned as downloadable extra content, focuses on the adventures of Chloe Frazer.

Chloe Frazer has appeared in previous Uncharted games as a secondary character.

“She’s an interesting character, she’s pretty mysterious, we don’t know much about her and yet she’s still a fan favourite,” Sean says.

Chloe has featured in previous Uncharted stories but as a secondary character, this time she’s in the spotlight.

“There’s wasn’t any concern or any preoccupation with the fact that we weren’t using Nathan any more.

“We were so invested into the Chloe story that it just started to move on its own.

“The team bought in, pitching ideas and we’re pretty excited about it.”

Uncharted Gameplay

Image caption Sean says he’s proud the game has two female main characters but says the decision was based purely on the story

The Nathan Drake-led series of Uncharted games have been a critical and commercial success.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is thought by some to be one of the greatest games of all time and received over 50 game of the year awards in 2009.

The latest in the series, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End won a BAFTA in 2017 for game of the year.

Sean says the change of lead character will have a noticeable impact on the game.

“The very nature of Chloe changes things, she’s a thief and a hustler.

“This very un-heroic approach to life, in comparison to Nathan Drake, is shifting the tone and experience of the game.”

Uncharetd Gameplay

Image caption Nadine Ross in action in the PlayStation exclusive, out in August

Chloe is joined by mercenary Nadine Ross as her sidekick in this adventure.

Another veteran of previous games, it means the title has two female leads characters, not something you see everyday.

Sean tells us: “We explored pairing Chloe with other characters from this universe.

“Nadine was just the best fit, we’re pretty proud we have two female lead characters.

“We’re not ones that would shy away from that, we just pursue the best story no matter what.”

Uncharted Gameplay

Image caption Sean says he isn’t worried with the similarities with the Tomb Raider franchise

A treasure hunting adventure title with a feisty female lead character does ring some bells though. Lara Croft anyone?

Sean says they’re not worried about people making the comparison: “I’ve not played Tomb Raider!” he laughs.

“Subconsciously we can’t help but be influenced by what we’ve seen, but I don’t know much about the franchise so I know I’m not influenced by it.”

Originally planned as additional downloadable content for Uncharted 4, the title grew into a full game of its own.

Sean says they’re hoping to appeal to long standing fans of the franchise while also attracting new players: “You could play this game by itself it’s fully standalone.

“If you are an Uncharted fan then you will find references to that world.”

Find us on Instagram at BBCNewsbeat and follow us on Snapchat, search for bbc_newsbeat



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'We Don't Care' About US Travel Ban: North Korea Official


Pyongyang, North Korea:  Washington’s ban on US citizens travelling to North Korea will have no effect on the country’s tourism industry and Pyongyang does not care about it “at all”, a senior development official insisted Tuesday.

The measure is due to be enacted this week and once it goes into force US passports will no longer be valid for travel to the isolated country, which is subject to multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

Around 5,000 Western tourists visit the North each year, tour companies say, with Americans numbering about 20 percent of them. Standard one-week trips cost about $2,000.

But Han Chol-Su, vice-director of the Wonsan Zone Development Corporation, denied that the loss of business would have any impact.

“If the US government says Americans cannot come to this country, we don’t care a bit,” he told AFPin Pyongyang.

Washington announced the move after the death of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour in the North for trying to steal a propaganda poster.

Warmbier was sent home in a mysterious coma last month — Pyongyang said he had contracted botulism — and died soon afterwards, prompting US President Donald Trump to denounce the “brutal regime”.

The State Department has long warned its citizens against travelling to North Korea, telling them they are “at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement”, which “imposes unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States”.

Han’s organisation is trying to promote the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourist Zone, a grandiose vision of a tourism hub on the east coast.

He said Washington’s move was politically motivated. “The US has been continuing with sanctions against us but we don’t care at all,” he said.

Pyongyang officials consistently say that sanctions against their country have no effect on it.

But according to tour companies business has already been hit hard by recent developments, including tensions over the North’s weapons programmes, with Trump administration officials warning that military action was an option on the table.

“Certainly, of all the dramas that have gone on lately, the Warmbier issue is the biggest one for tourism,” said Simon Cockerell, general manager of market leader Koryo Tours which has seen bookings fall 50 percent. “It’s depressed the market quite considerably.”

The US decision, he said, would hit North Koreans working in the tourist sector, and wipe out “any possibility of a humanising human element between those two sides who demonise each other so much”.

Matt Kulesza, of Young Pioneer Tours — the company which brought Warmbier to the country — said the ban’s effect on the North would be “absolutely nothing”.

But Americans, he added, would lose “the freedom to travel to DPRK (North Korea) and experience the DPRK for themselves”.

Gleaming towers

A promotional video for Han’s project takes in beach resorts, the Masikryong skiing centre, and Mount Kumgang, renowned throughout the peninsula for its beauty.

It shows the port of Wonsan transformed into a mass of gleaming towers, shopping, entertainment and trade districts, served by multiple transport links including a dual carriageway with four lanes in each direction — a far cry from the bumpy potholed road with unlit tunnels that currently links it to Pyongyang.

Air routes from China, Russia and Japan are also displayed, but no regular international flights have so far been scheduled to Wonsan’s newly-built airport.

In 2015, said Han’s colleague Ri Kyong-Chol, there had been negotiations to start direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai. But “since then, because of political circumstances, the participants of the other side balked”.

The vast majority of foreign tourists to North Korea are Chinese.

Han was unable to put a cost on the scheme. Foreign investment would be welcome, but so far none had been forthcoming due to US sanctions, he said.

Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans used to visit Mount Kumgang every year, travelling to a Seoul-funded tourist resort that was the first major inter-Korean cooperation project.

But that came to an abrupt end in 2008 when a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who strayed off the approved path and Seoul suspended the trips.

New South Korean president Moon Jae-In favours engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table as well as sanctions.

In a five-year plan unveiled last week, his government said it would move to resume tours to Mount Kumgang and re-open the shuttered Kaesong Joint Industrial Zone, where South Korean firms employed tens of thousands of North Korean workers, “when conditions are ripe”.

But the North’s tourism development plan did not factor in visitors from the other side of the divided peninsula, Han said.

“We don’t need to think of them,” he said. “North and South should cooperate among themselves but because of US sanctions, this is not being done. Southern authorities have no intention to do so either.”



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Trump: UK-US trade deal could be 'big and exciting'


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EPA

Donald Trump has said he is working on a “major trade deal” with the UK.

The US President tweeted that a bilateral trade agreement with the UK after it leaves the EU in 2019 could be “very big and exciting” for jobs.

Mr Trump, who backed Brexit, also took a swipe at the EU accusing it of a “very protectionist” stance to the US.

The US President, whose officials are meeting British counterparts this week, has been accused of protectionist rhetoric by his political opponents.

The UK’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is currently in Washington discussing the potential for a UK-US trade deal after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March 2019. No deal can be signed until after then.

Mr Trump has said he would like to see a speedy deal although free trade agreements typically take many years to conclude and any agreement, which will have to be approved by Congress, is likely to involve hard negotiations over tariff and non tariff barriers in areas such as agriculture and automotive.

On Monday, Mr Fox published details of commercial ties between the UK and every congressional district in the US as a working party of officials met to discuss a future trade deal for the first time. Two-way trade between the two countries already totals £150bn.

Mr Fox is also discussing other issues, including the continuation of existing trade and investment accords, with trade secretary Wilbur Ross and the US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer.

At a breakfast meeting for members of the House of Representatives, Mr Fox said his twin objectives were to provide certainty for foreign investors ahead of Brexit and to expand the volume and value of trade with the US.

“The EU itself estimates that 90% of global growth in the next decade will come from outside Europe, and I believe as the head of an international economic department that this is an exciting opportunity for the UK to work even more closely with our largest single trading partner the US,” he said.

Sir Vince Cable, the new leader of the UK parliament’s fourth largest party, the Liberal Democrats, said a US-UK trade deal could bring significant benefits – but he called on the government to guarantee parliament would get a vote on it first.

“Liam Fox and Boris Johnson must not be able to stitch up trade deals abroad and impose them on the country,” he said.

“It is parliament, not Liam Fox, that should be the final arbiter on whether to sacrifice our standards to strike a deal with Trump.”



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Man Shouting 'Allahu Akbar' In Spain Knife Attack


A grab from video shows Spanish Police apprehending a man armed with a knife.

Madrid, Spain:  A knife-wielding man shouting “Allahu Akbar” entered the border post between Morocco and the Spanish territory of Melilla on Tuesday, threatening police who wrestled him to the ground.

The man is in custody, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido tweeted, without indicating whether the incident was an attempted terror attack.

Zoido posted security camera footage of the drama — which took place on Spanish soil — showing the man in a blue top walking slowly through the border post holding a knife, police closing in on him.

One of the officers hurled a portable road barricade at him, throwing him to the ground as other agents pounced to remove the knife.

“A man entered the border post and once inside, pulled out a large knife and confronted (police) shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Greater), slightly injuring a policeman,” Irene Flores, spokeswoman for the central government’s representative office in Melilla, told AFP.

Flores said an initial investigation indicated the man was Moroccan, but this has yet to be confirmed.

A police spokesman had earlier said the man ran into the border post, but that is not visible on the footage.

Restive border

Melilla and its sister Spanish city Ceuta, both Spanish territories on Morocco’s northern coast, are the only two land borders between Africa and the European Union.

Many Moroccans live there or go there daily to buy tax-free products.

They are also a strong draw for migrants desperate to reach Europe, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

These regularly storm the border fences or try and smuggle themselves in.

The Melilla border has been hit by three car-ramming incidents this year, with people driving vehicles with migrants hidden inside into the border post at high speed.

But this is believed to be the first incident of this type.

Spain has so far been spared the kind of extremist violence that has occurred in nearby France, Belgium and Germany.

But it was hit by what is still Europe’s deadliest jihadist attack in March 2004, when bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people in an attack claimed by Al Qaeda-inspired extremists.

Since 2016, Spain has emerged as a potential target for jihadists, with extremist websites mentioning it for historical reasons, since much of its territory was once under Muslim rule.

Third tourism destination

Generally, authorities in Spain — the world’s third largest tourism destination — remain discreet on the terror threat.

But they publicise every arrest of alleged jihadists, most of them detained for propaganda, recruitment for extremist groups or “glorifying terrorism.”

According to the interior ministry, more than 180 “jihadist terrorists” have been arrested since June 2015 when Spain raised the terror alert level to four out of a maximum of five, in domestic and foreign operations.

In Ceuta and Melilla, where poverty and unemployment are rife, such arrests are frequent.

The last in Melilla dates back to June 23 when a man suspected of having tried to recruit fighters for the ISIS group (IS) was detained.

“Radicalisation in Spain isn’t uniform over all the national territory but appears to be concentrated around clusters or pockets of radicalisation,” said Clara Garcia Calvo from the Real Instituto Elcano think tank, who researches global extremism.

She told AFP that these “clusters” were in Madrid, Barcelona, Ceuta and Melilla.



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Inside US/UK trade deal


Image copyright
NHS

Image caption

The US has some big healthcare businesses which would be keen to establish a stronger presence in the UK

Relations with the United States were always going to be a high priority for British trade policy post-Brexit.

So no surprise that Liam Fox has gone to Washington to discuss prospects.

The International Trade Secretary is pushing for a bilateral trade liberalisation agreement with the US to take effect when the UK leaves the EU.

And his American hosts seem well disposed to the idea in principle. Better access to the US market would go down well among many UK businesses too.

It is, after all the UK’s largest single export market, though well behind the rest of the EU taken together.

The US is also the second largest foreign supplier to the UK. So a freer trade relationship could reduce the cost of those imports.

Priority

There was also a great deal of enthusiasm among British business for the EU’s negotiations with the US, a project known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Now that British business won’t be able to make use of any benefits that might come from that exercise, if it is ever completed, a deal with the US would be helpful for many.

Having said that, many regard it as a higher priority to preserve trade access to the EU as far as possible on existing terms. That is broadly the position of a number of British business lobbies.

There are some areas of any UK/US talks that might be difficult. Experience with the TTIP negotiations gives some clues as to the kind pressures the British government is likely to face at home.

Image copyright
Science Photo Library

Image caption

Genetically modified crops – like this maize – is an area for discussion

One is resolving disputes under the agreement, particularly any involving foreign investors.

Many trade and investment agreements provide for tribunals to be established if a foreign investor believes their interests have been harmed by the host government acting in a way that contravenes the agreement.

They can seek financial compensation, and there are many cases where they have been successful. The system is known as investor state dispute settlement (ISDS).

It has been around for decades, but has become more controversial in recent years. Critics see it as giving international businesses unfair leverage over the policies of elected governments.

NHS impact

There will be business lobbies on both sides keen to see some sort of arrangement along these lines and campaigners vigorously opposed.

There is a particular issue for some groups in the UK about how this might affect the National Health Service. It came up in the context of the TTIP negotiations.

The issue was partly whether the agreement might force the British government to privatise health service provision – and also about whether the agreement would make it hard or impossible to reverse any privatisation that did occur.

The issue was that reversing such a move could deprive a foreign health company of business, which campaigners argued could enable it to use the ISDS tribunal system to seek compensation from the host (British) government.

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Chlorinated chicken is a familiar feature on US shelves but is banned in the EU

The US has some big healthcare businesses which would be keen to establish a stronger presence in the UK. How well founded that fear would be would depend on the wording of the agreement, but once detailed negotiations get underway it’s likely to be brought up.

Chlorine and hormones

In the context of TTIP, the idea that it would compromise public provision of healthcare was robustly rejected by, among others the British government, but campaigners did not accept that.

Then there are food issues. Dr Fox has already responded to concerns about American chicken washed with chlorine. That came up in the TTIP talks too and it might well make an appearance again. The practice is widely used in the US to remove microbial contamination, but it is not permitted in the UK.

Beef fed with growth promoting hormones, another practice used in the US, could also be difficult. It’s banned in the EU on the basis of health concerns.

This is a trade dispute that has rumbled on for many years and the EU has lost the case in the World Trade Organization, which accepted that the hormones were safe.

The EU has never complied with that ruling and still bans such meat.

Genetically modified approvals

Another food issue is genetically modified crops. They do have a presence in the European food chain, partly through animal feed. But the approval process for new GM crops is seen by US farm groups as excessively slow and cumbersome.

Movement on all three of these issues is likely to be important for US negotiators. The National Farmers’ Union in the UK is receptive to the idea of reforming the GM approvals process, but the other two are more of a problem.

Nonetheless there are certainly opportunities that businesses in both countries can see. For industry, the relatively straightforward area is tariffs, taxes on imported goods.

They are relatively low in both the US and the UK (which currently adopts the EU’s tariff policy). But there are some goods for which they are relatively high (10% for cars entering the UK from outside the EU, for example).

Industry and financial services groups would also welcome closer regulatory cooperation. It would simplify business for suppliers and could conceivably lower costs for customers.

In any event, for now the UK remains a member of the EU and its common trade policy.

But that certainly doesn’t stop negotiators discussing what a post-Brexit deal would look like.



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Court Battle Over UK Baby Raises Ethical Conundrum


Charlie Gard’s parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard in London.

London, United Kingdom:  A five-month legal battle over the fate of a terminally-ill British baby that drew the attention of Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump has also stoked an often angry debate about medical ethics and the courts.

Charlie Gard’s parents waged a high-profile campaign with the help of social media and Britain’s tabloids for him to receive experimental treatment in the United States, striking a chord worldwide.

They are now spending the last few days with their 11-month-old son before life support is withdrawn at a hospital in London after acknowledging in court on Monday that therapy could no longer help him.

“No-one wanted this outcome. No-one believes this outcome was in Charlie’s best interests,” said Julian Savulescu, director of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford.

“There has got to be a better way.”

Charlie was born on August 4 last year with a rare form of mitochondrial disease that causes progressive muscle weakness in the heart and other key organs and is only able to survive with life support.

His parents raised money to take their baby to the United States through crowdfunding but were prevented from doing so by the hospital and first went to court in March to try and overturn that decision.

Their appeals went all the way to the Supreme Court but were turned down at all stages of the judicial process and judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg refused to intervene.

Who should decide?

Charlie was due to be taken off life support before the Vatican intervened on July 2 with a statement in which Pope Francis expressed his support for the parents and said he hoped doctors would allow them to “care for their child until the end”.

Trump offered his support the following day, saying in a tweet that he would be “delighted” to help.

A Vatican-run hospital in Rome and a US hospital then offered to treat Charlie and London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital went to court to seek a ruling on whether to allow him to undergo experimental therapy.

There have also been small protests by supporters of Charlie’s parents — a group calling itself “Charlie’s Army” — outside Buckingham Palace and Downing Street calling for the hospital to listen to the parents.

Savulescu said social media had given greater power to parents to make their case heard.

“The question of who should decide is legitimate. Some people have wrongly concluded that these decisions should only be up to parents.

“But at the same time it is right that doctors, scientific experts and the courts should not be considered almighty, beyond question or account.”

He said doctors should only activate legal mechanisms if “there is disagreement between the parents, or they are going to an unsafe place or they are very confident the parents’ choice is unreasonable”.

“The problem is not who has the power, it is how it is used and the need for robust, and humble, ethical deliberation,” he added.

Charlie’s case is far from the only medical ethics case to end up in court in Britain and elsewhere.

In France, the case of a man who was left severely brain damaged and quadriplegic as a result of a 2008 road accident has been in the courts since 2014.

Family members of Vincent Lambert are divided on whether to withdraw life support.

Role for mediation

Dominic Wilkinson, a consultant neonatologist and professor of medical ethics at Oxford University said court reviews in cases like Charlie Gard’s was “not ideal”.

“It is adversarial, costly and lengthy,” he said.

“We need to find better ways to avoid cases of disagreement from coming to court. There is an important role for mediation to help parents and doctors where they have reached an impasse.”

But Ian Kennedy, emeritus professor at University College London said the courts must be respected.

“Parents cannot always be the ultimate arbiters of their children’s interests,” he wrote in The Guardian.

“We are not in the realm of there being a right answer. We are in the realm of judgment, reasoned judgment, and we look to the courts to provide this.”

Kennedy warned that campaigns against the courts were “increasingly a feature of modern discourse”.

“It is one thing to comment on or criticise a particular decision. It is a very different thing to attack the institution of the courts.”



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Robot vacuum company mulls selling maps of homes


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iRobot

IRobot, the maker of the Roomba smart vacuum, could one day sell data drawn from the maps the devices build up of individual homes as they clean.

The Roomba is an automated floor cleaner that can be activated via an app and find its own way around, using sensors and a camera.

Founder Colin Angle said the data they gathered could be used to make other devices work better in a smart home.

Nothing would be done without the owner’s consent, he added.

“Right now, iRobot is building maps to enable the Roomba to efficiently and effectively clean your home,” he said in a statement.

“In the future, with your permission, this information will enable the smart home and the devices within it to work better.

“For example, in order for the lights to turn on when you walk into a room, the home must know what lights are in which rooms.”

The device became compatible with Amazon’s digital assistant, the Echo, in March, and Mr Angle suggested to Reuters that Amazon, Google or Apple could be interested in the data collected by Roomba.

None of the companies commented.

Privacy

Roomba’s terms and conditions state that it collects a range of data about its customers, including when they interact with it on social media.

When connected to wi-fi, the device can collect and transmit information about itself and its location, they add.

Security researcher Ken Munro, from Pen Test Partners, told the BBC that privacy could be an issue.

“I think manufacturers aren’t seeing the growth everyone expected in internet of things, and the temptation for gathering data from your house and monetising it is enormous,” he said.

“We think about the internet of things invading our security, but actually it has the potential to invade our privacy too.”



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US Navy Ship Fires Warning Shots At Iranian Vessel: Official


The Thunderbolt was being accompanied by several US Coast Guard vessels.

WASHINGTON:  A US Navy ship fired warning shots toward an Iranian vessel near the northern Arabian Gulf on Tuesday after the vessel came within 150 yards (137 meters), a US official told Reuters.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the USS Thunderbolt fired the warning shots after the Iranian vessel ignored radio calls and the ship’s whistle. The Thunderbolt was being accompanied by several US Coast Guard vessels.

The Iranian vessel appeared to be from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the official added.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

US President Donald Trump’s administration recently declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign last September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harasses the US Navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water.”

Similar incidents happen occasionally, the last in January when a US Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they closed in at high speed and disregarded repeated requests to slow down.

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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Musk and Zuckerberg clash over future of AI


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Elon Musk is worried that artificial intelligence could eventually destroy humanity

Elon Musk has accused Mark Zuckerberg of failing to understand artificial intelligence.

It comes after the Facebook boss said that the doomsday scenario put forward by Mr Musk was unhelpful.

Mr Musk tweeted: “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited.”

The pair represent two distinct groups, those saying AI’s benefits will outweigh its negatives and those saying it could ultimately destroy humanity.

Mr Zuckerberg’s comments were made as part of an informal Facebook Live chat, aired during a barbecue at his Palo Alto home.

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Getty Images

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Mark Zuckerberg is an optimist, believing AI will bring far more benefits than downsides

A viewer asked him about a recent interview with Mr Musk, in which he said his biggest fear for the future was AI.

“I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic. I think you can build things and the world gets better. But with AI especially, I am really optimistic,” Mr Zuckerberg replied.

“And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios – I just, I don’t understand it.

“It’s really negative, and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.”

“In the next five to 10 years, AI is going to deliver so many improvements in the quality of our lives.”

Mr Musk began warning AI could destroy humans three years ago, when, during a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the billionaire Space X founder called it humanity’s “biggest existential threat”.

And he has founded OpenAI, a billion-dollar non-profit company working for “safer artificial intelligence”.

Bill Gates has also voiced concern about the threat AI poses, as has Prof Stephen Hawking.

But Mr Zuckerberg said: “AI is going to make our lives better.”

And Facebook, the company he founded, uses AI to offer better targeted advertising, for curating news feeds and for photo tagging.



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Woman Tries To Kill Bug With Lighter, Ends Up Setting Apartment On Fire


A woman in Topeka, Kansas, tried to kill a bug with a cigarette lighter. She wound up setting her apartment on fire, forcing an evacuation of the building and causing extensive damage.

Topeka Fire Marshal Mike Martin confirmed that the blaze, which caused $140,000 in damages and the displacement of 17 people, resulted from an “occupant trying to kill a bug with a lighter.”

Monique Quarles told the Topeka Capital-Journal that shortly before 3:45 Monday morning, her daughter Ausha Scott and 2-year-old granddaughter were on the third floor of their Fairlawn Green apartment complex.

In a video interview with the Capital-Journal, Quarles said her daughter alerted her to the bug. “I found the bug, picked the bug up and I put it in my hand and lit it on fire,” Quarles said.

She then decided to pick up her mattress to see if there were any more bugs. Quarles and her daughter saw a medium sized bug. Again Quarles tried to set it on fire.

But her flip-style lighter “started sparking” and the box spring ended up in flames.

At first, they tried to put out the fire themselves.

But as it spread, “I said, ‘Get out, get the baby, call 911.’ And that’s what we did,” Quarles said describing the scene. The mother and daughter said they started knocking on doors to alert their neighbors to get out.

It’s unclear why Quarles chose to kill the bug with a lighter instead of, say, a shoe.

Topeka Fire Department Battalion Chief Chris Herrera said two fire crews responded to the scene with “30-something” firefighters arriving in total.

Herrera said one resident was transported to the hospital for minor smoke inhalation. Later, a firefighter went to a local hospital after experiencing heat exhaustion.

He also said two or three cats were rescued and some had to receive oxygen.

Fire officials said 13 adults and four children have been displaced because of the fire. The Red Cross was on the scene to help residents.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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India says no to driverless cars to protect jobs


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India’s traffic can be chaotic, which could make developing autonomous vehicles difficult

India is resisting the push towards driverless cars in order to protect jobs, its transport minister has said.

Nitin Gadkari said the government would “not allow any technology that takes away jobs”.

He said India needed to recruit about 22,000 more commercial drivers and would be opening 100 training facilities to address the need.

India’s road system and sometimes chaotic traffic makes it a difficult place to develop the technology.

The Hindustan Times reports Mr Gadkari as saying: “We won’t allow driverless cars in India. I am very clear on this.

“In a country where you have unemployment, you can’t have a technology that ends up taking people’s jobs.”

Truly autonomous cars

However, he did not rule out the idea of a future change of policy.

“Maybe some years down the line we won’t be able to ignore it, but as of now, we shouldn’t allow it,” he added.

Google, BMW, Tesla, Audi and Uber are among businesses working hard to be the first to bring truly autonomous cars on to roads.

Self-drive technology trials, both for private cars and commercial vehicles, are being carried out around the world.

‘They haven’t changed’

Google has been testing self-drive cars in California and other states since 2012.

Paris began a three-month test of self-driving buses at the beginning of the year, and in the UK a consortium of companies plans to test driverless cars on motorways in 2019, while others are testing cars in off-road sites, including in London.

Commenting on the decision on Twitter, Indian congressman Gaurav Pandhi tweeted: “The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) said the same when Rajiv Gandhi talked about introducing computers to India. They haven’t really changed.”



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Plans to compare bank customer service


Banks should provide evidence of the quality of service – such as the frequency of security incidents – to allow customers to compare accounts.

The time taken to open an account or to replace a lost or stolen card should also be published, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

Such service guides should make it easier to compare accounts, the FCA said.

The industry welcomed the proposals, which could take effect next year.

The proposals also cover business current accounts, and suggest quarterly publication of a string of service guides, such as how and when customers can make payments, cancel cheques and whether 24-hour help is available, or the amount of time before access to a current account is available through power of attorney.

The frequency of security incidents would be closely watched as, at the moment, there is little evidence available abouit the number of times bank services are unavailable due to security or operational incidents.

A spokeswoman for UK Finance, which represents the major banks, said: “Banks work hard to ensure the products and services they offer meet customers’ needs – this initiative is a positive step that will make it easier for consumers and businesses to compare the quality of service offered by different current accounts.

“We look forward to working closely with the FCA to help ensure this information can be presented clearly, simply and consistently.”

Consultation ends on 25 September, with a proposal that figures should be collected from April and first published in mid-August 2018.



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