Router hack risk not limited to Virgin Media


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Virgin Media’s Super Hub 2 had a weak default password

A weakness that left thousands of Virgin Media routers vulnerable to attack also affects devices by other providers, security experts warn.

Virgin Media’s Super Hub 2 was criticised for using short default passwords that could easily be cracked by attackers.

But experts say the underlying problem also affects older routers provided by BT, Sky, TalkTalk and others.

They recommend users change their router password from the default.

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Media captionHow safe is your router?

“It’s a bit unfair that Virgin Media has been singled out here. They made a mistake – but so have many other internet service providers,” said Ken Munro from security firm Pen Test Partners.

“This problem has been known about for years, yet still ISPs issue routers with weak passwords and consumers don’t know that they should change them.”

The weakness in Virgin Media’s Super Hub 2 was highlighted in an investigation by consumer group Which?

The company has since advised customers using default network and router passwords to update them immediately.


Why were the routers vulnerable?

Many routers are distributed with a default wi-fi password already set up.

Some use a long password with mixture of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and sometimes symbols.

But others use short passwords with a limited selection of characters, and many follow a pattern than can be identified by attackers.

The Virgin Media Super Hub 2 used passwords that were just eight characters long, and used only lower-case letters.

That gives cyber-criminals a framework to help them crack passwords quickly, using a dedicated computer.


“Because the default wi-fi password formats are known, it’s not difficult to crack them,” said Mr Munro.

Once an attacker has access to your wi-fi network, they can seek out further vulnerabilities.

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Default passwords that follow patterns are easier to crack

Mr Munro said the problem was well-known, but the Which? investigation had reignited discussion.

“It has popped up again because attention has been drawn to the fact that very few people change their wi-fi password from the one written on the router,” he told the BBC.

Experts recommend that people change the default wi-fi password and router’s admin password, using long and complex passwords to make life more difficult for attackers.



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Tech Tent: Uber at a crossroads


  • Stream or download the latest Tech Tent podcast
  • Listen to previous episodes on the BBC website
  • Listen live every Friday at 15:00 GMT on the BBC World Service

On the Tech Tent podcast this week, we explore the stunning resignation of Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick. We also hear why Indian IT workers are suffering mass lay-offs – and we ask whether virtual reality could have a more serious purpose beyond games and entertainment.

Uber loses its head

After last week’s news that Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick was taking a leave of absence from the company, some observers might have assumed that would be the end of the turmoil for Uber’s management – at least for now.

But this week the company announced Mr Kalanick was stepping down from his role altogether – though he will remain on the company’s board.

The move came after a series of scandals over the the way Uber bosses treated female employees and customers.

Matters came to a head recently when a female ex-employee wrote a blog post detailing how managers failed to act on her complaints about sexism at work. That resulted in an investigation by the former US Attorney General Eric Holder, which recommended ways in which the company could change its culture and be run better.

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On the podcast, we speak to Silicon Valley tech journalist Sarah Lacy, who, with her team, was among the first to report on Uber’s attitudes to women. She says it is the first time in three years that she can wake up without worrying whether she or her family will face some sort of retaliation from Uber.

But she says it may be ambitious to think Uber can change its culture unless it hires a totally different type of senior manager.

“It is hard to believe there is going to be a huge cultural reset here, and it is hard to believe that a company that is entirely staffed by people hired under that regime are suddenly going to do a big cultural re-shift,” she says.

India’s IT workers out of work

In recent years, India’s IT sector has been a poster-child for the country’s rapid economic growth. By providing outsourced IT services to brands across the world, the multibillion dollar industry helped create millions of jobs for Indians.

But the industry is now facing a slowdown because of a trend by Western companies to bring some IT jobs home, and the inroads being made by automation. Some of the jobs that used to be done by Indian workers can now be handled by software. These changes have led to drastic cuts, and there are fears there could more layoffs in the coming months and years.

The BBC’s Sameer Hashmi travelled to Bangalore – regarded as India’s Silicon Valley – to meet workers and managers.

He met 49-year old Pankaj Rao, who, after working in a prestigious IT job for a decade, was dismissed along with his entire team. He is now frantically sending his resume to prospective employers.

“My father, my wife, my children, all are worried what will happen tomorrow,” he says.

But Atul Kanwar, the chief technology officer at the IT giant Tech Mahindra, says it’s likely that all jobs that involve repetitive tasks will be automated.

“Automation is all-pervasive,” he says. “It used to be a situation of doing it at the lowest end but now automation is for any repetitive task.” He advises workers: “Make sure that over time you are not doing a repetitive task.”

A virtual trip to space

So far, the focus for virtual reality has been on games and entertainment. But could its so-called “killer application” be in the workplace, for training staff, for example?

Zoe Kleinman visited the IBM research labs in Hursley, Hampshire, where she tried out a VR simulation.

From inside an English country house she paid a virtual visit to the International Space Station, where she floated around and even popped out through a hatch into Space to explore outside the craft.

Gwillam Newton, emerging-tech specialist at IBM, tells Zoe how the company is pitching the technology as a way for companies, such as airlines, to train aircrew without leaving the ground.

“Places where it’s hard to go and train people or are expensive, the idea is that you create a few virtual reality rigs like this, and people can explore virtual reality in a safe and cost-effective manner.”



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China's 'straddling bus' hits its final roadblock


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It seemed like a glimpse into the city of tomorrow – but China’s “straddling bus” was riddled by doubts early on and now is headed for the scrap yard.

The futuristic idea was a bus that would drive above traffic, allowing other commuter cars to pass underneath.

The project was announced last summer to much acclaim but soon ran into feasibility and investment problems.

Many of China’s cities suffer from chronic traffic congestion so there’s a strong hunger for ingenious solutions.

The project faced strong headwinds from the very beginning and according to Chinese media, the test site is now being demolished entirely.

Reports are saying that workers have already begun dismantling and removing the test track in Qinhuangdao.

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The TEB was to zoom above traffic, elevated 2 meters above the daily gridlock

The idea of a traffic-straddling bus first appeared in China in 2010, but it didn’t make much impact until the model was presented at the 2016 Beijing International High-Tech Expo.

The so-called Transit Elevated Bus was touted as a revolution in public ground transportation, able to glide over traffic, literally lifting commuters from the daily grind of being stuck in their cars for hours.

Yet only a few days after its much-lauded test-run in Qinhuangdao city, Hebei province, all test-runs had been halted and doubts began to emerge.

Many doubted the vehicle would be able to manage curves or fit under footbridges in Beijing, and critics have asked how it will turn corners, whether it is strong enough to bear its own and passengers’ weight and how long its battery would last.

There was also confusion about whether the project had ever been approved by the local authorities and there was even suspicion it could be an investment scam.

But the widespread interest in the idea did show that there’s an appetite for ideas that could help big cities out of the grip of the daily traffic gridlock – even if this one appears to have hit a final roadblock.



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Snapchat map update raises child safety worries


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SNap

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Snap Map lets people track their friends

An update to Snapchat that shows publicly posted images on a searchable map has raised safety concerns among parents.

Snap Map lets people search for places such as schools and see videos and pictures posted by children inside.

It also lets people locate their “friends” on a map that is accurate enough to determine where people live.

Snap, the company behind Snapchat, stressed to the BBC that location sharing was an opt-in feature.

Exact location

Snap Map was launched on Wednesday and was promoted as a “new way to explore the world”.

Video clips and photos that members have posted publicly can be discovered on the map, while members who have chosen to share their location can also be seen on the map by those they have added as “friends”.

A member’s friends list might include strangers as well as people they actually know.

A message to parents posted by St Peter’s Academy in Staffordshire warned that the location-sharing feature lets people “locate exactly where you are, which building you are in and exact whereabouts within the building”.

One parent described the update as “dangerous” while another said she could not find the setting to disable it.

People have expressed concern online that the app could be used for stalking or working out exactly where somebody lives.

“If you zoom right in on this new Snapchat map thing it literally tells you where everyone lives? Like exact addresses – bit creepy no?” wrote one user called Leanne.

“This new Snapchat update is awful. An invitation for stalkers, kidnappers, burglars and relationship trust issues,” suggested Jade.

Snap told the BBC that accurate location information was necessary to allow friends to use the service to meet, for example at a restaurant or crowded festival.

It said points of interest on the map, such as schools, were provided by third-party mapping service Mapbox.


How to switch off Snap Map location sharing

  • When in photo-taking mode, pinch the screen to open Snap Map
  • Touch the settings cog in the top right corner of the screen
  • Tap “Ghost Mode” to switch off location sharing
  • Photos and videos posted to Snapchat’s public ‘Our Story’ will still be discoverable on the map



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Google scrubs medical records from search


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Information about plastic surgery procedures was stolen in a hack attack

Medical records of private individuals will no longer be findable via a Google search, reports Bloomberg.

The news organisation noticed that the search giant had added the data type to its list of information automatically removed from search results.

Now Google will make sure “confidential” medical information cannot be found when people search.

The change comes after some medical data was put online accidentally and hackers stole some records.

Fake news filter

In May, people from the UK, Denmark, Germany and Norway who had had plastic surgery at a Lithuanian clinic got a ransom demand from hackers who stole pictures and other data from the health firm.

In December last year, an Indian laboratory wrongly uploaded records of 43,000 patients who had had blood tests for many different conditions including HIV.

Over the last 12 months, hackers have targeted health organisations, including hospitals, and data taken from them has often appeared for sale online.

A Google spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the changes only affected the lists of results people got when they carried out a search.

The types of information Google removes from its search corpus has been tweaked several times recently. Credit card details, pirated content and revenge porn have all been added to the list of excluded categories.

In addition Google, along with many other web firms, has filtered results following criticism about the legitimacy it lends misleading articles or fake news stories.



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WannaCry helps speeding drivers dodge fines in Australia


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Peak hour traffic in Melbourne as the morning fog makes way for sunrise

Hackers behind the infamous WannaCry virus have inadvertently helped lead-footed Australian drivers avoid costly speeding fines.

Fifty five traffic cameras, most in inner-city Melbourne, were infected by the ransomware.

A maintenance worker unknowingly uploaded the malware to the camera network using a USB stick on 6 June.

Victorian Police have cancelled 590 speeding and red-light fines despite the belief they were correctly issued.

“I cancelled the fines because I think it’s important the public has 100% confidence in the system,” Acting Deputy Commissioner Ross Guenther said.

Police detected the virus last week after noticing that cameras were rebooting more often than usual.

The virus infected organisations in 150 countries in May.

Among those affected were the UK’s National Health Service, US logistics giant FedEx and Russia’s interior ministry.



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Mexican president denies spying on journalists, lawyers and activists


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Enrique Peña Nieto strongly denied the claims in a speech in Jalisco

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has strongly denied his government spied on prominent journalists and activists by hacking their phones.

He said there was “nothing more false” than to suggest his government was behind the installation of spyware.

Several alleged victims have filed a criminal complaint following reports that the Israeli-made spyware had been found on their mobile phones.

Mexican prosecutors have opened an investigation.

A report in the New York Times said lawyers, journalists and activists investigating corruption and human rights abuses in Mexico were targeted with spyware that can infiltrate smartphones and monitor calls, texts and other communications.

The software, known as Pegasus, was sold to Mexican federal agencies by Israeli company NSO Group on the condition that it only be used to investigate criminals and terrorists.

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Victims of the alleged spying held a news conference to state their grievances

An internet watchdog at the University of Toronto said it had found more than 76 fake messages sent to Mexican journalists and lawyers which contained links to the NSO Group’s spyware.

Speaking at an event in the state of Jalisco, Mr Peña Nieto said those accusing his administration had to produce more evidence.

“This government categorically rejects any type of intervention in the private life of any citizen,” he said.

“None of the people who feel aggrieved can affirm, demonstrate or show evidence that their life has been affected by these supposed interventions and by this alleged espionage.”

On Wednesday, the Mexican attorney general’s office said prosecutors would investigate the origin of the fake messages as well as the supplier of the spyware.


How does the software work?

  • A link is usually sent in a message to a smartphone. If the person taps on it, the spyware is installed, and huge amounts of private data – text messages, photos, emails, location data, even what is being picked up by the device’s microphone and camera – is hacked
  • Very little is known about NSO Group, the secretive Israel-based company behind Pegasus, but security researchers have called it a cyber arms dealer. The company was thought to be worth $1bn (£780m) in 2015
  • The company has acknowledged that it sells tools to governments but has given very little details about who its customers are. It has said, however, that it has no control over how its tools are used and for what purpose

Read more here


The alleged cases

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The software was developed by the Israeli NSO Group

  • Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Centre: One of the most respected human rights groups in Mexico, it has looked into the disappearance and suspected massacre of 43 students in 2014 and other high profile cases, including a military raid that left 22 dead in 2014. Its executive director and two other senior executives allegedly received infected messages
  • Aristegui Noticias: Award-winning journalist Carmen Aristegui, who also hosts a daily programme on CNN en Español, has reported on suspected cases of corruption and conflict of interest, including a scandal involving the wife of President Enrique Peña Nieto acquiring a $7m (£5.5m) house from a government contractor. Two members of her investigative team and her under-age son allegedly received some 50 messages
  • Carlos Loret de Mola: A popular journalist at leading TV network Televisa, he allegedly received several messages containing the software
  • Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO): It has led efforts for anti-corruption legislation. Two senior members were allegedly targeted.



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Virgin Media urges password change over hacking risk


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Virgin Media has told 800,000 customers to change their passwords to protect against being hacked.

An investigation by Which? found that hackers could access the provider’s Super Hub 2 router, allowing access to users’ smart appliances.

A child’s toy and domestic CCTV cameras were among the vulnerable devices.

Virgin Media said the risk was small but advised customers using default network and router passwords to update them immediately.

Extra security

A spokesman said: “The security of our network and of our customers is of paramount importance to us.

“We continually upgrade our systems and equipment to ensure that we meet all current industry standards.

“We regularly support our customers through advice and updates and offer them the chance to upgrade to a Hub 3.0 which contains additional security provisions.”

The company said the issue existed with other routers of the same age and was not exclusive to their model.

The study, carried out in conjunction with ethical security researchers SureCloud, tested 15 devices -of which eight had security flaws.

In one case a home CCTV system was hacked using an administrator account that was not password protected. Hackers were able to watch live pictures and in some cases were able to move cameras inside the house.

‘More sophisticated’

Which? called for the industry to improve basic security provisions, including requiring customers to create a unique password before use, two-factor authentication, and issuing regular software security updates.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “There is no denying the huge benefits that smart-home gadgets and devices bring to our daily lives.

“However, as our investigation clearly shows, consumers should be aware that some of these appliances are vulnerable and offer little or no security.

“There are a number of steps people can take to better protect their home, but hackers are growing increasingly more sophisticated.

“Manufacturers need to ensure that any smart product sold is secure by design.”

Which? said it had contacted the manufacturers of the eight affected products to alert them to the security flaws.



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Yahoo closes internet prodigy's news app


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Mr D’Aloisio launched the Yahoo News Digest app at 2014’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to great fanfare

Yahoo has announced it is shutting down its award-winning News Digest app at the end of this month.

It was launched in 2014 and is based on a technology developed by a British teenager that compressed other news outlets’ reports into shorter articles.

Yahoo was reported to have paid £20m for the tech and offered its creator Nick D’Aloisio a full-time job, but he opted instead to go to university.

The closure marks one of the first cuts made since Verizon bought Yahoo.

The telecoms company paid $4.5bn (£3.6bn) for the internet services firm in a deal that was completed on 13 June.

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Yahoo

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Yahoo News Digest tried to select a small number of stories to suit each user to avoid overwhelming them with choice

Yahoo News Digest was a past winner of Apple’s software Design Award and it has been installed on to millions of iOS and Android devices.

Twice a day it presents each user with a digest of six to eight major stories made up of text, images and graphics, telling the reader they are “done” when they have all been flicked through.

The Next Web tech blog has described Yahoo’s decision to retire the service as “shooting itself in the foot by doing away with the best app it’s ever built”.

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Yahoo News Digest users are now warned of its imminent closure

Users are now met with a message saying that they should download a different app, Yahoo Newsroom.

It acts as a wider news aggregation service that also lets users post articles they have seen elsewhere and discuss them with others.

“Yahoo News Digest was particularly popular with the tech-savvy part of the population,” said Sameer Singh, from the app analytics specialist App Annie.

“But Yahoo Newsroom is probably a better fit with Verizon’s current advertising strategy.”

Yahoo Newsroom was launched in the US in October. However, a link provided to the service does not work for users elsewhere – including in the UK – because it is not available worldwide.

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Yahoo

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Yahoo Newsroom offers more stories and social features than the earlier app

Mr D’Aloisio originally said he would combine his degree in science and philosophy at the University of Oxford with time working on maintenance of the News Digest app.

However, the 21-year-old split with Yahoo more than two years ago and has since had one of his academic papers published by a peer-reviewed journal.

A friend told the BBC that Mr D’Aloisio did not feel he had any comment to add.



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Exploding cream dispenser kills French fitness blogger


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Rebecca Burger

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Ms Burger described herself as a fitness, travel, and fashion enthusiast

A well-known lifestyle blogger in France has been killed by an exploding whipped cream dispenser.

Rebecca Burger’s death was announced on Facebook in what her family called a “domestic accident”.

A warning against the faulty dispensers was posted to her Instagram account, saying it had “exploded and struck Rebecca’s chest, causing her death”.

French media reported she had died of cardiac arrest after the incident, despite medical attention.

The popular fitness and travel figure was well-known in France, with some 55,000 Facebook fans and 154,000 followers on Instagram.

One of Ms Burger’s family members took to Instagram, warning readers not to use the dispenser, saying that tens of thousands of “defective devices” remain in circulation.

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Instagram

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“An example of a whipped cream siphon that exploded”

A whipped cream dispenser works by injecting gas into a metal container, keeping the entire dispenser under high pressure.

One French consumer group has warned readers for years about faulty connectors on the gas capsules, causing them to break and expel at high speed.

You might also want to read:

The injuries caused range from broken teeth and tinnitus to multiple fractures and, in one case, the loss of an eye, consumer magazine 60 Millions said. But the magazine says new dispensers made since 2015 appear to be safe.

In 2013, one victim of an exploding cream dispenser told RTL radio: “I had six broken ribs, and my sternum was broken.

“At the hospital, I was told that if the shock and blast had been facing the heart, I would be dead now.”

The number of accidents prompted the government office for consumers to issue a warning, saying the accidents stretch back as far as 2010, and can occur at any time – even after years of use.

At least one manufacturer issued a product recall – but a year after that recall, only 25,000 were returned out of 160,000 sold, Le Parisien reported.

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Siri storm caused by economist's comments


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When it comes to virtual assistants, do you trust a male or a female voice more?

A leading economist has inadvertently caused a storm by saying he preferred the voice on the iPhone Siri virtual assistant to be male because he felt that made it more trustworthy.

Nobel prize laureate Sir Christopher Pissarides’s comments at a conference in Norway attracted fierce criticism.

He told the BBC he apologised for upsetting people and his comment was meant to be “light-hearted”.

“It’s a mistake and I’m sorry, but the audience was laughing.”

Sir Christopher was part of an all-male panel taking part in a Q&A audience discussion at the Starmus Festival in Trondheim about the future of humanity.

During the conversation, he took out his iPhone and asked Siri a question about the temperature.

The answer was given in a male voice and when moderator Larry King pointed out that Siri is typically voiced by a woman in the US, Sir Christopher replied: “I chose a man because you trust the voice of a man more, I was told.”

His comments were strongly criticised as being sexist by both the audience and later on Twitter.

Equality

However, he defended himself, saying: “I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, After I demonstrated Siri, the audience was laughing, I was being teased.

“I said it at the beginning of the panel and someone only raised it one hour later at the end of the session. It was the last comment made in a session lasting 70 minutes and my comment was the first comment. No one raised it at the time, but when the woman did raise it, I apologised.”

Sir Christopher, who jointly won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics, said that earlier in the day, he had given a lecture about the future of work, in which he discussed two policies to empower more women in the labour force.

These were education for girls and government-subsidised elderly care centres so that instead of caring for family members, more women could enter the workforce and get jobs better suited to their talents.

“My work, over the last 40 years, has been dedicated to equality in the labour market. When people ask me what is the greatest problem in the labour market, I tell them equality between men and women and races. Of course I believe in equality,” he said.

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Film director Oliver Stone (left) was another panel member along with Sir Christopher Pissarides

The prestigious festival had already attracted negative comments for lacking invited female speakers.

Mr King and another moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, were also criticised for failing to stop Sir Christopher’s comments, according to news site Motherboard.

Several high-profile attendees, including physicist Jim Al-Khalili (winner of the 2016 Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication), astrobiologist Sara Seager and the renowned astronomer Jill Tarter decided to walk out as a result.

The event’s organisers later issued an apology, saying: “Starmus deeply regrets the sexist comments made by Chris Pissarides during a panel discussion and we accept the outrage that this has sparked.

“Our programme consists of incredible women and men from all over the world and we have made it clear that comments of this nature will not be tolerated at our festival.”

‘Social judgements’

The gender and accent of Apple’s voice assistant across iPhone, iPad, Mac and other Apple devices has historically been dependent on regional settings. However, recent software updates have allowed users to change both the gender and accent via a menu.

“The comments made do reflect consistent results that people make social judgements about computer speech outputs, and those seem to relate to gender stereotypes that exist in the wider world,” Dr Kate Hone, a computer science academic at Brunel University, told the BBC.

Dr Hones carried out a study in 2003 looking at which voices older adults would prefer to listen to on smartphones. Out of the 15 male and 17 female participants interviewed, the participants mainly preferred male voices because they found the voices to be more reassuring.

Other studies have produced similar results, with one in 1997 by Stanford University finding that people were more comfortable getting technical advice from a male voice, but preferred a female voice for tips on emotional issues.

‘Idiotic’

However, Prof Aaron Sloman, an artificial intelligence and cognitive science expert at the University of Birmingham said he was not bothered how these voices sounded.

“It sounds completely idiotic to me,” he said.

“The voice of a computer-generated chatbot is something that can be arbitrarily changed. I cannot see how gender would have anything to do with the reliability of the content or the quality of the engineering that went into the AI system.”

Prof Sloman, who is 80, said that he has problems with his ears and some radio programmes feature male voices that for him are more penetrating and easier to hear rather than female voices.

“I don’t understand why we are gendering our AI at all – it’s a computer program, not a person,” said Phoenix Perry, a lecturer in computing and researcher for feminism in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at Goldsmiths, University of London.

“When we use search, we don’t think of Google or Safari as having a gender. I’m not sure why when we interact with it using voice command, it needs a gender. Microsoft Word, which can read out documents to you, definitely does not have a gender.”



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California earthquake alarm sounded – 92 years late


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Californians regularly go through safety drills to help them survive quakes and tremors

A warning about a massive earthquake off the coast of California has been sent 92 years late.

A computer error caused the US Geological Survey (USGS) to issue the false alarm about the magnitude 6.8 quake.

The quake actually took place in 1925 when it laid waste to the city of Santa Barbara and caused 13 deaths.

In a statement, the USGS said its computers had “misinterpreted” data causing the alarm to be wrongly issued.

Substantial collapse

News organisations across the US received the emailed alert about the quake which, if it had been real, would have been one of the largest ever recorded in California.

Few organisations reacted directly to the news because it was dated 29 June 2025 – exactly 100 years after the actual event took place.

The LA Times, which uses AI-based software to automatically write up the USGS alerts, did issue a news story based on the alarm notice.

The federal body said work it was doing to revise and update information about where the historic quake struck had caused computer systems to misinterpret the data and think it was seeing a novel event.

It apologised for causing any alarm and said it was “working to resolve the issue”.

The 1925 quake is classed as a level seven-to-nine event on the intensity scale used by the USGS to measure the damage done by earthquakes.

At the higher end of this range, the quakes would cause “considerable” damage even to structures designed to withstand tremors, bring about a partial collapse of substantial buildings and make many buildings shift on their foundations.



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Two Britons arrested over Microsoft hack


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Reuters

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The hack attacks targeted internal customer information

Two men have been arrested for their part in an alleged plan to hack into Microsoft’s network.

A 22-year-old from Sleaford and a 25-year-old from Bracknell were detained by police on Thursday.

It is believed that the men were involved in repeated attempts to infiltrate the Microsoft network between January and March this year.

Both were charged under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act that criminalises unauthorised access to computers.

Police said the pair were part of a larger group that was plotting the cyber-intrusion into the software giant’s systems, seeking to steal customer data.

Detectives from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (Serocu) carried out the raids which, said Det Sgt Rob Bryant, also led it to seize devices believed to have been used in the attacks.

He added that Serocu had worked with Europol, the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, the FBI and Microsoft to investigate the intrusions.

“After speaking with Microsoft, we can confirm they did not gain access to customer information,” he said. “It is too early to speculate on what information the group has accessed.”



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Sega debuts free classic games on mobiles


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Sega

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The 1991 Sonic game is one of the first available via the Sega Forever gaming service

Sega has started to release free mobile versions of classic games from its back catalogue.

The first five, including Sonic the Hedgehog, are available now via the Apple and Android app stores.

The gamemaker said it planned to release additional titles every two weeks for the Sega Forever service.

Some fans have complained about the first releases, saying Sega has done a poor job of converting the classic titles to mobile devices.

“Above all else Sega Forever is a celebration of nostalgia,” said Mike Evans, head of Sega’s mobile division in San Francisco in a statement. “It’s about allowing fans to reconnect with past experiences.

“It’s a very easy conversion to take those games to free,” Mr Evans told games website GamesIndustry.biz.

As with many other apps, Sega said it would run ads before and after the games were played. However, it said it would make it easy for players to avoid them.

“We’re just bolting in the advertising support model and a single in-app purchase that can disable those ads,” Mr Evans added.

Playable offline

Sega said it would cost $1.99 in the US and £1.99 in the UK to turn off the ads.

The online gaming catalogue will eventually feature titles from all the Sega console eras. Initially Sega said it was concentrating on games for the Master System, Mega Drive and Game Gear consoles but those made for the Dreamcast and Saturn would follow.

The first five games on Sega Forever are:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Comix Zone
  • Phantasy Star II
  • Kid Chameleon
  • Altered Beast

Games can be played via a portable device’s touchscreen or by a controller. Sega said they would also be playable offline but people can save their progress online if they wish. The games firm said it would eventually add a multiplayer option to many of the games.

But not all fans of older games were happy with the arrival of Sega Forever. Retro games enthusiast John Linneman criticised the way they had been transferred or ported to mobile devices.

He said the “lousy emulation” led to glitches during gameplay.

“There are loads of dropped frames, hitches and skips,” Mr Linneman told games website Nintendo Life. “And when a notification occurs, it gets much worse. So it never plays smoothly.”



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UK rail ticket machines hit by IT glitch


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PA

Rail ticket machines across the UK fell out of service this morning preventing commuters from using them to pay fares.

Messages on their screens said they had “no online connectivity”, making it impossible for them to transmit payment card details.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group told the BBC the issue had been resolved shortly before 09:00 BST.

He added that the fault appeared to have been with the software and systems provided by Scheidt & Bachmann.

A spokeswoman for the German company was unable to provide additional information.

Southern Rail, Greater Anglia, Great Northern, ScotRail and Thameslink were among those affected to have apologised via Twitter after customer complaints.

More to follow



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Star Trek virtual reality game boldly goes with IBM Watson


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Ubisoft

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IBM Watson is helping a new Star Trek game to understand audio commands issued by players

Players of the virtual reality game Star Trek Bridge Crew will be able to control the Starship Enterprise using voice commands, following a collaboration with IBM’s supercomputer.

IBM Watson works with a program called Conversation to interpret the commands.

The game was released last month, but the new voice command feature will be unlocked on Thursday.

One player, the captain, can play with two other crew members played either by other people or by the computer.

“The idea is you can now talk to your bridge crew, and that part has been powered by Watson,” said Joshua Carr, technical liaison at IBM.

“Originally, there was a set of menus to click to instruct the helm and so on

“It works fairly well, but it is the lowest common denominator – we are using our hands to give out instructions – but this is virtual reality, and this is Star Trek.

“When we think about some of the incredible lines by Patrick Stewart’s Jean Luc Picard or [William Shatner’s] Captain Kirk, it’s all about your voice – how you communicate.”

Piers Harding-Rolls, a research director for IHS Markit, told the BBC News website: “In your average video game experience, you don’t have things like voice control.

“When it comes to virtual reality, you’re looking for something to keep you in the experience.

“Using your voice to engage with characters in the game is a step further, it adds believability to the experience you’re having, unlike if you had to use a controller.”


Trying it out

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Ubisoft

Image caption

Now you too can experience what it’s like to work on the bridge of the USS Voyager

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to utter the immortal words “Engage” and “Warp speed ahead” and then zoom off around outer space, then you are in for a bit of a treat.

Star Trek Bridge Crew has a triple-A rating, which means it had a huge budget, and it shows.

The graphics are impressive and the production values are high.

It retails at about £35 in the UK, but you also need a high-end VR headset to enjoy it – and they cost considerably more.

Crucially, using the new voice control, you don’t have to use set phrases to communicate – you can use your own words. Or, at least, that’s the plan.

Being captain of the USS Enterprise for a short while was great fun, but the demo model I tried wasn’t entirely able to follow my commands.

At one point, it felt more like a game of charades as I struggled to think of as many different ways as possible of telling the crew to beam aboard another crew on a stricken vessel we were supposed to rescue – it failed to understand the essential Trekkie phrase “beam them up”.

This turned out to be a rookie mistake on my part as I’d forgotten to scan the virtual vessel first – but my virtual crew had no response when I asked them why they didn’t understand me – it would have been useful if they had been able to tell me what I’d done wrong.

Joshua Carr says this will be part of the learning process for the Watson-enabled software as it gets to grips with human speech.




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Social media pressure is linked to cosmetic procedure boom


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Science Photo Library

Young people are turning to cosmetic procedures such as botox and dermal fillers as a result of social media pressure, according to a report.

A study by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says government must protect people from an unregulated industry.

The report also condemns makeover apps and online plastic surgery games aimed at children as young as nine.

The authors fear such apps are contributing to growing anxieties around body image.

Much of the cosmetic procedures industry is unregulated so reliable data on its size is hard to come by.

In 2015 one market research company estimated the UK market could be worth as much as £3.6bn.

But there is little doubt it has grown significantly over the past decade.

Focus on body image

The report identifies several factors that are encouraging young people in particular to focus on body image.

These include increasing levels of anxiety around appearance, the rise of social media where photos can receive positive or negative ratings and the popularity of celebrity culture, complete with airbrushed images and apparently perfect lifestyles.

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Prof Jeanette Edwards says the panel was shocked to discover palstic surgery apps aimed at young girls

Prof Jeanette Edwards, from the University of Manchester, who chaired the council’s inquiry into ethical issues surrounding cosmetic procedures, said some of the evidence around games aimed at younger children had surprised the panel.

“We’ve been shocked by some of the evidence we’ve seen, including make-over apps and cosmetic surgery ‘games’ that target girls as young as nine.

“There is a daily bombardment from advertising and through social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that relentlessly promote unrealistic and often discriminatory messages on how people, especially girls and women, ‘should’ look.”

Plastic surgery Apps

The report describes how apps with names such as “Plastic Surgery Princess”, “Little Skin Doctor” and “Pimp My Face” could be contributing to mental health problems in young people.

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Media captionDeclan Green: ‘You want to show everything you’re doing 24/7’

Prof Edwards also called for cosmetic procedures to be banned for anyone under 18 unless they involve a multi-disciplinary team of specialists, GPs and psychologists.

“Under 18s should not be able to just walk in off the street and have a cosmetic procedure.

“There are legal age limits for having tattoos or using sun beds. Invasive cosmetic procedures should be regulated in a similar way.”

‘Immense pressure on the young’

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, said that it had already introduced standards for those performing cosmetic procedures to ensure they work safely and ethically and was developing similar guidelines for surgeons.

“Cosmetic interventions are not without risk, and anyone considering a procedure must have confidence that those carrying it out have the necessary skills and competence to do so safely.

“We hope this certification system will, in time, help set the standard for similar forms of accreditation in different areas of practice, that will provide additional reassurance to patients.”

A government spokesperson also said action had been taken to improve regulation.

But they added: “This report highlights once again that we live in a world where young people are under immense pressure on a daily basis about how they should look – it is ethically wrong for companies to exploit this and offer unnecessary cosmetic procedures to under 18s.”

Kevin Hancock, of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said the report “voices may of the same concerns” his organisation has.



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US official: Russia 'hacked' 21 US states in election


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Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 US states during last year’s campaign, said a US official.

Jeanette Manfra of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) refused to identify the states during her testimony before a Senate panel, citing confidentiality agreements.

But she added there no was evidence to suggest actual vote ballots were altered in the election hack.

US intelligence agencies believe Moscow interfered to help Donald Trump win.

Ms Manfra, the department’s acting deputy undersecretary of cyber security, testified on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence committee, which is investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

“As of right now, we have evidence that election-related systems in 21 states were targeted,” she told the panel.

She said DHS still had confidence in the US voting system because they are “fundamentally resilient”.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in election cyber hacks while Mr Trump has dismissed allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia as “fake news”.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday refused to say whether Mr Trump believes Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

“I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing,” Mr Spicer said during a daily news briefing.

“Obviously we’ve been dealing with a lot of other issues today. I’d be glad to touch base.”

Senator Mark Warner, a top Democrat on the panel, argued on Wednesday the country was “not any safer” in concealing which states were hit in the hack.

Both Arizona and Illinois last year confirmed that their voter registration systems had been attacked by hackers.

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Media captionRussia’s most famous pop star explained why he backs Trump

Republican Senator Marco Rubio also expressed concern, adding that as the investigation continues “it is important Americans understand how our voting systems work and communicate that in real time”.

Ms Manfra’s comments echoed earlier testimony by Samuel Liles, acting director of the DHS cyber division.

Mr Liles told Congress DHS detected hacking activities last spring and summer and later received reports of cyber probing of election systems.

But he added: “None of these systems were involved in vote tallying.”

Mr Liles also said “a small number of networks were exploited – they made it through the door.”



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Microsoft admits disabling anti-virus software for Windows 10 users


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Drew Angerer

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Microsoft has admitted to disabling anti-virus software, but only as part of updating Windows 10

Microsoft has admitted that it does temporarily disable anti-virus software on Windows PCs, following an anti-trust complaint to the European Commission by a security company.

In early June, Kaspersky Lab filed a complaint against Microsoft.

The security company claims the software giant is abusing its market dominance by steering users to its own anti-virus software.

Microsoft says it implemented defences to keep Windows 10 users secure.

Detection rates

In an extensive blog post that does not directly address Kaspersky or its claims, Microsoft says it bundles the Windows Defender Antivirus with Windows 10 to ensure that every single device is protected from viruses and malware.

“We built Windows Defender Antivirus to make a promise to our customers that every Windows 10 device always has protection from viruses and malware… our test results are among the top of security industry leaders, including recent real-world testing where Windows Defender Antivirus scored over 99% detection rates,” writes Rob Lefferts, a partner director of the Windows and Devices group in enterprise and security at Microsoft.

“We also know that Window customers value choice, and that is why we actively engage with and support a community of over 80 independent software vendors through the Microsoft Virus Initiative (MVI) program.

“This engineering programme enables us to share key technical details of Microsoft technologies with our AV [anti-virus] partners to collaborate on future directions and problem solve on existing security challenges to protect our shared customers from malicious software.”

Temporarily disabled

To combat the 300,000 new malware samples being created and spread every day, Microsoft says that it works together with external anti-virus partners.

The technology giant estimates that about 95% of Windows 10 PCs were using anti-virus software that was already compatible with the latest Windows 10 Creators Update.

For the applications that were not compatible, Microsoft built a feature that lets users update their PCs and then reinstall a new version of the anti-virus software.

“To do this, we first temporarily disabled some parts of the AV software when the update began. We did this work in partnership with the AV partner to specify which versions of their software are compatible and where to direct customers after updating,” Mr Lefferts writes.



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Queen's Speech: New data protection law


Plans for new data protection rules in the UK have been confirmed in the Queen’s Speech.

They will give young people the right to demand social networks delete any personal data they had shared prior to turning 18.

The Queen said the UK would retain its “world-class” data protection regime.

The proposed Data Protection Bill will reflect plans described in the Conservative Party manifesto ahead of the general election in June.

In a document further detailing its plans, the government said its key priorities were:

  • ensuring data protection rules were “suitable for the digital age”
  • “empowering individuals to have more control over their personal data”
  • giving people the “right to be forgotten” when they no longer wanted a company to process their data – providing there were no legitimate grounds for a company retaining the data
  • modernising data processing procedures for law enforcement agencies
  • allowing police and the authorities to “continue to exchange information quickly and easily with international partners” to fight terrorism and other serious crimes

The government also said it would implement the General Data Protection Regulation – new EU data protection rules due to come into force in 2018.

It said the new UK bill would ensure the country met its obligations while a member of the EU, and would help the UK maintain its “ability to share data with other EU members states and internationally after we leave the EU”.

The new bill will replace the Data Protection Act 1998.

Responding to the speech, a spokesman for the technology industry trade body techUK said: “We support the government’s commitment to maintain the UK’s world-class protection of people’s personal data. This will include implementing the General Data Protection Regulation, the biggest transformation of data protection rules in a generation.”

The announcement was also welcomed by Nick Taylor, managing director at business consultancy Accenture Strategy.

“This new data protection law is the news that many companies have been waiting for to accelerate their GDPR programme and make it a concrete part of their business,” he said.

“Companies now have certainty that they will have to comply with tougher rules, and this gives them the incentive, and need to get their GDPR programme right.”



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Google's DeepMind extends controversial Streams app


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DeepMind

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The Streams app is saving nurses hours each day says the Royal Free hospital

Google’s DeepMind has extended the use of its Streams health app to Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset.

The app, which helps doctors and nurses spot signs of kidney failure, proved controversial when it was rolled out at the Royal Free hospital in London.

The issue centred around whether it should have sought consent to access 1.6 million patient records.

The BBC understands that in the new deal there will be no opt-out for patients who do not wish to share their data.

DeepMind is Google’s artificial intelligence firm, although development of the app did not involve any AI. The firm has a health division and is keen to explore new ways that technology can be used in the NHS.

While the Streams app was welcomed by doctors and nurses, questions were raised about whether the NHS should have shared data with a firm such as Google.

DeepMind has always reiterated that no data is shared with its parent firm.

Rapid response

A report from the the head of the Department of Health’s National Data Guardian said patients should have been informed about the partnership and data sharing arrangement.

The app is also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Following some negative headlines, DeepMind pledged to be more open with patients about its health plans and hold regular patient engagement forums.

Musgrove Park Hospital plans to hold workshops and open day events with staff and the public to see how the app works, what it will mean for patients and how it will be developed in future.

The hospital did not rule out the possibility that it could be used in future to detect other health conditions.

Dr Luke Gompels, consultant in medicine at Musgrove Park Hospital, said: “This is all about early detection of seriously unwell patients so that we can immediately escalate care, ensure a very rapid response, and make sure they are treated quickly by the right specialist doctor. In this way we can make more of a difference, more quickly.”



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'Bots used to bias online political chats'


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Reuters

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Bots are pervading many conversations about politics on social media, researchers say

If you’ve been chatting about politics on social media recently, there’s a good chance you’ve been part of a conversation that was manipulated by bots, researchers say.

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) has studied such discussions related to nine places – US, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Canada, China, Taiwan, Brazil and Poland – on platforms including Twitter and Facebook.

It claims that in all the elections, political crises and national security-related discussions it looked at, there was not one instance where social media opinion had not been manipulated.

Bots in propaganda

Bots – programs that perform simple, repetitive tasks – are integral to what the OII calls “computational propaganda” – instances of people deliberately distributing misleading information on social media by various means.

Bots can communicate with people – retweeting fake news, for example – but they can also exploit social network algorithms to get a topic to trend.

They can be fully or only partly automated. A single individual can use them to create the illusion of large-scale consensus. They can also be used to stifle critics by mobbing individuals or swamping hashtags.

The methods the OII used for identifying bots in each country study varied.

The institute has, however, been criticised in the past for identifying social media accounts as being “bots” whose owners insisted they were nothing of the kind.

‘Anyone can launch a bot on Twitter’

Bots are built by authoritarian governments, by corporate consultants who hire out their expertise, or by individuals who have the know-how, says the OII.

“Because the Twitter API [application programming interface – the means by which one bit of software can talk to another] is open, anyone can launch a bot on Twitter,” explained director of research for the project, Samuel Woolley.


See also:

One in eight UK election Twitter links is ‘junk’

Massive networks of fake accounts found on Twitter

Clinton bots ‘hit back in second debate’


While bot and other propagandistic behaviour was specific to the political context of each country, the study also identified several trends.

In every country, it said, civil society groups struggled to protect themselves against misinformation campaigns.

And in authoritarian countries, it added, social media was one of the key ways the authorities had tried to retain control during political crises.

The frontline of disinformation

Computational propaganda has been particularly prevalent in Ukraine, the research suggests.

There had been “significant Russian activity… to manipulate public opinion” the report said, adding that Ukraine had become “the frontline of numerous disinformation campaigns” since 2014.

The typical way this worked, it explained, was that a message would be placed in an online news outlet or blog’s article.

This was possible, it said, “because a large number of Ukrainian online media… publish stories for money”.

These would then be spread on social media via automated accounts and potentially picked up in turn by “opinion leaders”, with large followings of their own.

With enough attention, the message would ultimately be picked up by mainstream media, including TV channels.

The study provides an example related to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 to illustrate how such campaigns work.

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AFP/Getty

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Russia has heatedly disputed official investigations into the downing of flight MH17

A conspiracy theory claiming that the plane was shot down by a Ukranian fighter jet originated with a tweet from a non-existent Spanish air traffic controller, called Carlos (@spainbuca).

The post was then retweeted by others and was picked up by Russia’s RT television network as well as other Russian news outlets.

Ukraine’s information ministry later revealed the account had been used to retweet pro-Russian messages earlier in the year.

In Russia itself, the OII suggested that about 45% of politics-focused Twitter accounts were highly automated, “essentially reproducing government propaganda”.

‘Tools against democracy’

It remains difficult to quantify the impact such bots have had.

But the OII’s researchers believe that “computational propaganda is now one of the most powerful tools against democracy”.

They have called on social media firms to do more to tackle the issue.

Lead researcher Prof Philip Howard proposed several steps that could be taken by the tech firms, including:

  • making the posts they select for news feeds more “random”, so as not to place users in bubbles where they only see likeminded opinions
  • giving news organisations a trustworthiness score
  • allowing independent audits of the algorithms they use to decide which posts to promote

Prof Howard cautioned, however, that governments must be careful not to over-regulate the technology for fear of suppressing political conversation on social media altogether.

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Reuters

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to reduce the sharing of fake news on the platform

In response, Twitter reissued a statement saying that third-party research into bots on its platform was “often inaccurate and methodologically flawed”.

It added that it strictly prohibited bots and would “make improvements on a rolling basis to ensure our tech is effective in the face of new challenges”.

A spokeswoman from Facebook was unable to provide comment.



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Hackers claim responsibility for Skype outage


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Reuters

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A hacking group is claiming it is behind the ongoing Skype outage

A hacking group is claiming responsibility for connectivity problems affecting Skype over the last two days.

The Skype outage began on Monday 19 June at 19:01 GMT.

There have been numerous complaints that people were unable to log in, receive messages or make voice calls.

Hacking group CyberTeam announced on Twitter that it was responsible for the attack.

The Skype outage has affected multiple countries across Europe, as well as Japan, Singapore, India, Pakistan and South Africa, according to service monitor Down Detector.

Microsoft has published a blog about the outage but has declined to comment further.

“We are aware of an incident where users will either lose connectivity to the application or may be unable to send or receive messages. Some users will be unable to see a black bar that indicates that a group call is ongoing, and longer delays in adding users to their buddy list,” Jagadish Harihara wrote on the blog on Monday.

At 20:00 GMT on Tuesday, he updated the post, saying: “We have made some configuration corrections and mitigated the impact. We are continuing to monitor and we will post an update when the issue is fully resolved.”

DDoS attack?

CyberTeam claimed responsibility for the attack in a tweet, which reads “Skype Down by Cyberteam”. A second tweet from the group indicates that it next wants to target the digital gaming platform Steam.

There has been speculation that the Skype outage was caused by a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on its network.

“DDoS attacks are some of the most common approaches for taking down networks. Skype have not publicly gone into detail about what is happening, but the disruption we’re seeing could certainly be explained by a DDoS attack amongst other possibilities,” Dr Steven Murdoch, a cyber-security researcher in the department of computer science at University College London told the BBC News website.

“Some DDoS attacks can be extremely large and can disrupt even the largest companies. We’ll have to wait and see whether Skype could have handled the situation better. But on the upside, if it is a DDoS attack, this does not affect customers’ private details.”



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Queen's Speech: Bill to secure UK space sector


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Orbital Access

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Artwork: A number of companies are looking to develop low-cost air-launch systems

A government plan to secure growth in the UK’s £13.7bn space industry is laid out in the Queen’s Speech.

The stated purpose of the new Bill is to make the UK the most attractive place in Europe for commercial space – including launches from British soil.

It would help increase the UK share of the global space economy from 6.5% today to 10% by 2030.

Officials and stakeholders are keen to ensure the space sector does not lose out when the UK leaves the EU.

Spaceports have been an important sticking point.

Previous feasibility work has already identified a number of aerodromes that might make suitable spaceports – from Cornwall to Scotland.

But as the law stands, rocket planes and other launch systems currently in development around the world would not be able to operate out of the UK. The Bill would sweep away this barrier by “enabling [scientists] to launch from UK soil”.

The government says its legislation would “offer the UK’s world-leading small satellite companies new options for low-cost, reliable access to space”.

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OHB

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Artist’s impression: There are currently 18 Galileo satellites in orbit

Overall, the legislation aims to “deliver a stronger economy by generating jobs and putting British business, engineering and science at the forefront of this technology”.

It is also intended to secure continued growth of the space industry, which has been growing at an annual rate of 8% over the last decade. The sector already outperforms the UK economy as a whole.

While Brexit will not affect the UK’s status as a member of the European Space Agency (Esa), projects such as Galileo – the European sat-nav system – are largely funded by the EU.

Guildford-based satellite manufacturer SSTL is building satellites for the system as part of a UK-German consortium.

But there are restrictions on “third countries” working on classified EU information and technologies, which applies to Galileo.

There is now a concerted effort to keep the UK – and SSTL – inside the programme.

One key concern for industry is getting access to qualified staff. At the moment, engineers can move without restriction inside the EU, and the UK space sector’s leaders have told government that if the ambitious target for future growth is to be achieved then the recruitment of talent from the continent must continue to be frictionless.

Follow Paul on Twitter.



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UK hacker exploits online bank loophole to steal £100,000


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A hacker stole almost £100,000 by exploiting a loophole in Clydesdale Bank’s online banking system

A UK hacker has been jailed for stealing almost £100,000 from a bank by exploiting a bug in the bank’s online banking system.

James Ejankowski, who’s 24, defrauded Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group of more than £99,000 in December 2016.

He spent the money on a BMW, a Range Rover and tattoos for his face.

He lied to his family that he had won the money on a scratchcard, according to the prosecutor.

Ejankowski discovered that if he used the Clydesdale Bank’s online banking software to transfer notional funds between his current account and his savings account between midnight and 01:00, the transaction would work and the bank would not find out.

“For one hour there was a credit balance in his account even though he did not have any money,” Prosecutor Shaun Dryden told Teesside Crown Court on Monday, according to the Teeside Evening Gazette.

He used his partner Charlotte Slater’s Natwest account to funnel £53,399. In addition to making purchases for himself, Ejankowski, who is unemployed, also used the money to pay off debts and to give two thousand pounds to his aunt and £1,362 to his father-in-law.

Four weeks after he began stealing the funds, he turned himself in to the police on Boxing Day and made a full admission of guilt, saying he only had £40 left.

Clydesdale Bank has so far been able to recover £34,000.

Ejankowski has been sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment for fraud. Slater received a suspended sentence over her supporting role in the crime.

Ejankowski was previously convicted in May 2015 for seven offences of fraud over selling items on the internet. He received a community service punishment of 200 hours of unpaid work, which was later replaced by a curfew.

A Clydesdale Bank spokesperson told the BBC News website: “This was a one-off isolated incident. We take fraud very seriously and note the court’s decision.”



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Uber: The scandals that drove Travis Kalanick out


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Uber’s embattled chief executive Travis Kalanick has resigned from the firm, following pressure from shareholders.

His resignation comes after a chaotic few months at the firm, including a series of scandals about sexual harassment, macho culture and the departure of senior executives.

Mr Kalanick had already said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence following the sudden death of his mother in a boating accident.

There is no doubt that Travis Kalanick, the billionaire founder of the Uber lift-sharing platform, built a company that is one of the giants of Silicon Valley.

However, recent months have seen him make a series of apologies for both his own behaviour and that of members of his leadership team.

Uber now operates in 662 cities around the world and is valued at nearly $70bn (£55bn).

Mr Kalanick’s reputation for ruthlessness and machismo has led to some deeply uncomfortable reports about the culture inside Uber: with persistent stories about organisational sexism and disputes with drivers over their terms and with local authorities and taxi companies.

“Travis’s biggest strength is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals,” investor and mentor Mark Cuban told the New York Times.

“Travis’s biggest weakness is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals. That’s the best way to describe him.”

‘Scrappy entrepreneur’

Travis Kalanick’s informal “bro-like” tone has not always helped.

In a widely reported email to staff ahead of a company party in Miami in 2013, Mr Kalanick – known as TK – asked employees not to have sex with each other if they were in the “same chain of command” or to throw beer kegs off tall buildings, and levied a $200 (£158) “puke charge” for anyone who was sick, presumably as a result of over-indulgence.

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Arianna Huffington has said Travis Kalanick needs to change his leadership style

It’s difficult to imagine Apple’s Tim Cook or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg writing a similar missive.

Board member Arianna Huffington said in March that Mr Kalanick needed to evolve his leadership style from “scrappy entrepreneur” to “leader of a major global company.”

President Jeff Jones is one of a stream of executives who have parted ways with the company in recent months. Mr Jones left after less than one year in post.

“It is now clear… that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business,” he said in a statement to Recode.

Mr Kalanick himself acknowledged that he needed to “grow up”, after a video of him swearing at an Uber driver in a row over rates was shared online.

He said he was “ashamed” of his behaviour and accepted that he needed “leadership help”.

He now has a private driver.

Women

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It has been claimed that Mr Kalanick saw the medical records of a woman who accused an Uber driver of rape in India, after they were obtained by Uber Asia executive Eric Alexander.

Uber did not comment directly but confirmed that Mr Alexander no longer worked there.

In February 2017, a blog post by former Uber engineer Susan J Fowler, which documented her experiences of sexism at Uber, went viral.

It led to Mr Kalanick launching an investigation into the culture of the organisation.

He described her experiences as “abhorrent” and against the company’s values.

Another Uber employee who wrote about her time there said it had been suggested to her – by another woman – that a male manager couldn’t look her in the eye because she was wearing a sleeveless tank top.

There are other anecdotes about Uber’s attitude to women that have raised eyebrows.

‘Boob-er’

During an interview with the magazine GQ in 2014, Mr Kalanick joked about a service for women on demand, which he nicknamed “Boob-er”.

Ex-girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth recalled going with Mr Kalanick and a team of employees to an escort-karaoke bar in Korea where women sat in a circle at the bar, wearing tags with numbers on them.

He did not get involved and the pair did not stay for long.

She said she had later been asked by senior vice-president Emil Michael to tell reporters they had sung karaoke and “had a good time”.

Mr Michael said this was not his recollection of the conversation.

Uber said the event had been reported to human resources and the workplace culture report investigators.

Mr Michael left the company on 12 June.

Also in 2014, a promotion by Uber in Lyon promised to pair riders with “hot chick” drivers for a maximum period of 20 minutes – Buzzfeed obtained screenshots of the blog post, subsequently deleted, which featured models in lingerie.

The same year Emil Michael suggested at a dinner that the company should hire researchers to dig dirt on its critics, singling out one female journalist in particular.

Mr Michael later apologised for the “off the record” remarks.

Breaking the rules

Some of Uber’s operations under Travis Kalanick’s watch have been in decidedly grey areas.

The New York Times revealed that it had been using a computer program called Greyball, which it claimed had been used to identify officials trying to catch its drivers and deny them service in areas where Uber had not yet been authorised.

Uber said the program had been used to prevent “fraudulent users” from violating its terms.

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Getty Images

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Apple forbids apps from tracking its devices

It was also reported that Apple boss Tim Cook had personally intervened when his company had discovered Uber had been using “fingerprinting” code to track iPhones by collecting their serial numbers, which is against the terms of the app store.

Uber claimed the process deterred criminals from installing its app on stolen handsets.

Waymo, the self-driving car firm owned by Google’s parent firm Alphabet, has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets.

In court, Waymo alleged that Anthony Levandowski, a former employee, downloaded 14,000 confidential files before leaving the company in 2016 and later joining Uber to head up its self-driving car project.

Uber denies receiving or using stolen technology.

In May 2017 it fired Mr Levandowski for allegedly declining to assist in its investigation relating to the lawsuit.

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Getty Images

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An Uber driverless car in San Francisco

The idea of driverless cars was never going to sit well with Uber’s thousands of drivers, even though it appealed to its investors, and the company approached it with the steamrolling tactics favoured by Mr Kalanick.

A research collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics centre soured after 40 of its researchers and scientists left to join the ride-sharing firm.

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Getty Images

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Uber was criticised for raising prices during heavy snow in New York

Uber has also been criticised over its price-surging policy, where the price of a journey goes up if it is in high demand.

On that subject, Mr Kalanick was unapologetic.

“We did more trips because of our approach, not fewer,” he told Wired following a price surge during heavy snow in New York in 2013.

“We gave people more options to get around, and that is the whole fricking goal.”

Perhaps it is his burning ambition to meet that one “fricking goal” that might ultimately have driven Travis Kalanick to bad behaviour.

“We characterise him as aggressive, dog-eat-dog, and he’s obviously an extremely driven individual, that’s how he’s achieved what he’s achieved,” said John Blakey, executive coach and author of The Trusted Executive, in a recent BBC interview.

“[But] what got you here, won’t get you there. Those attributes – the challenge, the boldness, the brashness – to get to the next stage of the game, he has to recognise he needs new qualities.”



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Fatal Tesla crash driver 'given warnings'


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Reuters

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Tesla has modified the autopilot mode in the wake of the crash

The Tesla driver involved in a fatal crash in May 2016 was given repeated automated warnings about his driving behaviour, according to a US government report.

The National Transportation Safety Board released 500 pages of findings on the death of driver Joshua Brown, 40.

His Model S car collided with a lorry in Florida while in autopilot mode.

It found that in 37 minutes of driving, Mr Brown had his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds.

The documents also found that Mr Brown had set cruise control at 74mph (119km/h) which was above the 65mph speed limit.

The US authorities investigated Mr Brown’s death amid speculation that it might be the first to be caused by self-driving technology. The driver of the truck, which was pulling a trailer, was unhurt.

In its report, the Safety Board said the truck should have been visible to Mr Brown for at least seven seconds before impact but that he took “no braking, steering or other actions to avoid the collision”.

The report said that the car remained in autopilot mode for most of his trip and that it gave him a visual warning seven separate times that said “hands required not detected”.

In six cases, the system then sounded a chime.

In September, Tesla unveiled improvements to autopilot, adding new limits on hands-off driving. The updated system temporarily prevents drivers from using the system if they do not respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car.

In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had found no evidence of defects in the car.



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VR headset viewers 'barely turn their heads'


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Emma Gibbs

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Most people don’t bother to turn their heads and bodies to see the full 360 degrees of a VR video

Don’t like twisting your neck while wearing a virtual reality headset? You’re not alone.

Google has discovered that most people who watch VR videos rarely bother to turn their heads to view the full 360-degree experience.

Research into how users view virtual reality videos on YouTube has shown that users spend most of their time looking at what is in front of them.

Google has created heatmaps showing where in videos people focus the most.

Looking at the analytics for 360-degree videos posted on YouTube, Google found that people spent 75% of their time looking at the front 90 degrees of a video.

About 20% of the views came from people looking behind them at the full 360-degree space in some of the most popular VR videos.

“The more engaging the full scene is, the more likely [that] viewers will want to explore the full 360-degree view. Try using markers and animations to draw attention to different parts of the scene,” Google advised in a blog post.

Anyone who uploads 360-degree videos to YouTube can now access the heatmaps for their videos by going to the Video Manager and looking for the 360 Heatmaps tool under Analytics.

Content producers are advised to wait a few seconds at the start of the video before jumping into the action, as viewers usually need time to get comfortable with headsets.



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Netflix lets children call TV shots


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Netflix

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Children can decide which characters to interact with in a Puss in Book spin-off of the Shrek movies

Netflix is launching two interactive children’s TV shows that let audiences determine the on-screen action.

The animated programmes ask youngsters to choose between two options at several points in their plots.

The firm says the nature of its online streaming platform has allowed it to experiment with “branching narrative” tech in a way that would not be possible for traditional broadcasters.

But it acknowledges that such shows are more costly to make than normal.

“It was actually a little bit more than twice as much animation as a typical episode,” explained Doug Langdale, executive producer of the Puss in Book series, which was made in conjunction with Dreamworks Studios.

“It was about 50 minutes [of footage] where it would normally be 22. Especially with computer animation, that’s tremendously more expensive.

“It’s not easy or cheap. But it’s the next thing, and we’ve got to try it.”

Netflix reported that it had about 100 million subscribers in April.

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Netflix

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Netflix hopes children will want to watch the interactive shows many times to explore their different options

The programmes can be watched and controlled via smart TVs, games consoles and iOS devices – but cannot be downloaded and viewed offline.

In addition to the special episode of Puss in Book – subtitled Trapped in an Epic Tale – Netflix is making an interactive episode of the stop-motion series Buddy Thunderstruck available.

The former has two possible endings and the latter, four, but in both cases there are several ways that viewers can steer the stories to their conclusions.

It has taken two years to bring the shows to screen, with part of the challenge being trying to ensure their plots remain logical and compelling whatever choices are made.

A third child’s show, based on the superhero Stretch Armstrong, is planned for 2018. But at present Netflix has no plans for adult-themed choice-based shows, nor has it committed itself to making further examples for children.

“The main priority right now is starting to learn how our members are going to engage with this [and] learning how we can tell these stories,” Carla Fisher, Netflix’s director of product innovation, told the BBC.

“Then we will go from there.”

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Netflix

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The Puss In Book writers had to create a map of the different story options to ensure each variation of the plot made sense

Netflix is far from being the first to develop interactive programming.

Beyond the many video games that have adopted the format, there have been:

  • a series of Choose Your Own Adventure DVDs released over the past decade
  • an interactive cookery show developed by the BBC. The broadcaster’s R&D team also created a drama whose plot could be shaped in real time to suit each viewer’s personality
  • a still-in-development film, four years in the making, from 20th Century Fox, which aims to let audiences collectively vote on plot choices via their smartphones

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The BBC unveiled Cake, an interactive cookery programme experiment, last year

However, one media analyst said scripted entertainment risked being made “gimmicky” by being forced into an interactive format.

“When it comes to linear entertainment there is an attraction to being presented with a fixed story, and having that crafted narrative presented to you by the director and writers,” explained Tom Harrington of Enders Analysis.

“I doubt Netflix is going to be filled with these kind of interactive shows in 10 years.

“But it does know the value of great press, and it will get lots of publicity out of this.”



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AI may take your job – in 120 years


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Experts working in the field of machine learning are cautious about the progress of AI

A global survey of experts in machine learning suggests it will be 120 years before all human jobs are automated.

In 45 years’ time, though, half of jobs currently filled by humans will have been taken over by an artificial intelligence system, results indicate.

The report, When will AI exceed human performance?, says AI will reshape transport, health, science and finance.

The study was compiled by the Future of Humanity Institute, at the University of Oxford.

It asked three keys questions about AI:

  • How will high-level machine intelligence affect economic growth?
  • What are the chances this will lead to extreme outcomes?
  • What should be done to help ensure AI progress is beneficial?

Intelligence explosion

The experts believe that in the next 40 years AI will outperform humans in the following tasks:

  • translating languages (by 2024)
  • writing school essays (by 2026)
  • driving a lorry (by 2027)
  • working in retail (by 2031)
  • writing a best-selling book (by 2049)
  • working as a surgeon (by 2053)

On the big question of whether AI would be good or bad for the human race, most felt the probability for a bad outcome was low (10%), compared with a median probability of 25% for a good outcome.

The probability for extremely bad (ie the extinction of the human race) was given at 5%.

Nearly half of those questioned said that research on minimising the risks of AI should be prioritised by society.

The so-called intelligence explosion – the idea that AI systems will quickly become vastly superior to humans in all tasks once high level machine intelligence is achieved – was seen as improbable but not impossible.

Noel Sharkey, a robotics and AI expert at Sheffield University, said: “Survey results about the future can be useful within a five to 10 year range. That is the foreseeable future. Once we get beyond that, it is pure speculation.”

He said it was inevitable that machines would outperform humans on many tasks but questioned whether this would make the technology comparable to humans.

“I don’t know if it will ever be able to get up in the morning and understand my partner’s mood or if the dog needs to go out, or to make meaningful human decisions,” he said.

“And why would we want that anyway? Even if it was possible, we might reject it within 40 years.”



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Accenture and Microsoft give millions of refugees digital IDs


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Reuters

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Accenture and Microsoft are working with the UN to build a digital ID network that refugees can access from anywhere

Technology companies are helping the United Nations provide digital legal identification for refugees who have no official documents.

Accenture and Microsoft have designed a digital ID network running on blockchain technology.

The prototype connects existing public and commercial records so people can access their personal details from any location.

The UN wants everyone on the planet to have legal identities by 2030.

There are currently 1.1 billion people around the world with no official documentation, including people who have been displaced from their original homes.

The UN’s latest report estimates that there are about 22.5 million refugees. There are no figures for how many of these are undocumented, but it is likely many are.

The digital ID network was unveiled at the ID2020 summit in New York on Monday. ID2020 is an alliance of governments, public sector organisations and technology companies working together to help the UN realise its goal.

The system, which builds on Accenture’s existing biometrics identity management platform, will be tested with aid agencies in the near future.


How it works

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Accenture

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Using the digital ID network, the refugee’s data from a previous employer can be authenticated and a “stamp” is issued

Often when people arrive at a refugee camp for the first time, they don’t have anything to prove their identity, which is essential for a range of health, financial and education services.

Usually, several aid agencies at once will be trying to work with the same refugees, and, until now, there has not been a way for them to share data securely.

Now, when a refugee arrives at a camp, their face, irises and fingerprints will be scanned and the resulting biometric data stored, with their name, on one of the aid agency’s servers.

The blockchain digital ID network then creates a “stamp” – a unique identifier between the refugee and the data on the servers – that proves they have been authenticated for each service they receive.

If they receive healthcare services in the camp, such as a vaccine, then they receive a stamp.

If another agency confirms their education and birth, these become other stamps.

Eventually, they will have an album of stamps they can show to any provider or government to prove their identity digitally, without needing to worry about data going missing from various providers.


What is blockchain?

The blockchain is a method of recording data – a digital ledger of transactions, agreements, contracts, anything that needs to be independently recorded and verified as having happened.

The big difference is that this ledger isn’t stored in one place, it’s distributed across several hundreds or even thousands of computers around the world. No one person or entity can control the data, which makes it transparent.

The data forms blocks that are encrypted into a continuous chain using complex mathematical algorithms. Once updated, the ledger cannot be altered or tampered with, only added to, and it is updated for everyone in the network at the same time.


“For someone who has nothing, who is starting over, this is a means by which they can start over and not lose their identity again. It’s a much richer set of identity information than we have today,” David Treat, a managing director in Accenture’s financial services practice, told the BBC News website.

But the technology would be very useful for the rest of society, as there was always the fear that we could lose our identity data too, he said.

“We all have challenges with identity because it is fragmented and it is owned by the authorities and not by us. If you count the number of logins you have, there are a lot, and you don’t own a lot of your information, someone else does. This is the basis by which identity can be stolen or corrupted,” said Mr Treat.

“The ability for us to control our own data opens up the possibility for us to decide who we want to get marketing from, and whether we want to share the accurate data for them to do so.”



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Spotify trials adding 'sponsored songs' to playlists


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Taylor Swift recently put her music back onto Spotify.

Spotify has confirmed it is experimenting with allowing music labels to promote songs by adding them to users’ playlists as sponsored content.

The Swedish-based music platform said subscription payers were not included in the small trial.

Those whose accounts are affected are able to opt out via the settings.

Spotify has more than 140 million active users but continues to operate at a loss.

It recently revealed that while it had revenues of more than 2.9bn euros (£2.6bn) in 2016, it reported a net loss of 539.2m euros (£471.6m).

“This is not the silver bullet but instead part of what will be a multi-faceted answer to Spotify’s margin woes,” said Mark Mulligan, managing director of Midia research.

“In a broader context, this may presage a wider strategy similar to that of Facebook’s, whereby it effectively starts charging artists and labels for access to fans.”

Spotify is considering becoming a public company and listing on the stock market.

It says it has more than 50 million subscribers, who can access its library of 30 million tracks without advertising.

The monthly subscription is currently £9.99 in the UK, $9.99 in the US and 9.99 euros in France. The company operates in 60 countries.

“We are always testing new promotional tools that deliver the highest relevancy to our users,” Spotify said in a statement.



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South Korean firm's 'record' ransom payment


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Webroot

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Ransomware known as WannaCry recently infected hundreds of thousands of computers around the world

South Korean web-hosting firm Nayana has agreed to pay a $1m ransom to unlock computers frozen by hackers.

It is believed to be a record amount, although it is worth noting that many ransom payments are never made public.

Nayana’s chief executive revealed that the hackers initially asked for $4.4m, payable in bitcoin.

Security experts warned that firms should not pay such ransoms or enter into negotiations with hackers.

Angela Sasse, director of the Institute in the Science of Cyber-Security, said that she was surprised both by the size of the ransom and that the firm went public about paying.

“This is a record ransom from what I know, although some will have paid and not gone public.

“It could be that it had to disclose the amount under the South Korean regulatory structure or it could have been done out of a sense of public duty,” she said.

“From the attackers’ point of view, they might have preferred that the firm kept quiet. It is such a large ransom that it might spur a lot of companies to look more carefully at their security.”

Bankrupt

The ransomware – known as Erebus – targeted computers running Microsoft Windows and was also modified so a variant would work against Linux-based systems.

It appears that Nayana entered into negotiations with the hackers, lowering the fee from $4.4m to less than $500,000 although at the last minute, the hackers doubled the negotiated amount to $1m.

They are believed to have encrypted data on 153 Linux servers and 3,400 customer websites.

An update posted on Saturday said that engineers were in the process of recovering data but added that it would take time.

Nayana’s chief executive apologised for the “shock and damage” of the incident.

In an earlier statement, he said that the attack had hit his bank balance.

“Now I am bankrupt. Everything I’ve been working on for 20 years is expected to disappear at 12:00 tomorrow.”

Ms Sasse said that ransomware attackers had grown much bolder in recent years.

“Two years ago, they tended to target individuals or smaller businesses believing that they would have less good security measures but they have found that they can get bigger targets and the pay-off is much larger. It is a lucrative business.”



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Mexico 'spied on journalists, lawyers and activists'


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Journalist Carmen Aristegui is among those allegedly targeted by the government

Several prominent journalists and activists in Mexico have filed a complaint accusing the government of spying on them by hacking their phones.

The accusation follows a report in the New York Times that says they were targeted with spyware meant to be used against criminals and terrorists.

The newspaper says messages examined by forensic analysts show the software was used against government critics.

A Mexican government spokesman “categorically” denied the allegations.

The report says that the software, known as Pegasus, was sold to Mexican federal agencies by Israeli company NSO Group on the condition that it only be used to investigate criminals and terrorists.

The software can infiltrate smartphones and monitor calls, texts and other communications, the New York Times said. It can also activate a phone’s microphone or camera, effectively turning the device into a personal bug.

But instead of being used to track suspected criminals, the targets allegedly included investigative journalists, anti-corruption activists and even lawyers.

Nine people have now filed a criminal complaint. At a news conference in Mexico City, journalist Carmen Aristegui accused the state of criminal activity.

“The agents of the Mexican state, far from doing what they should be doing legally, have used our resources, our taxes, our money to commit serious crimes,” she said.


The alleged cases

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Getty Images

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The software was developed by the Israeli NSO Group

  • Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Centre: One of the most respected human rights groups in Mexico, it has looked into the disappearance and suspected massacre of 43 students in 2014 and other high profile cases, including a military raid that left 22 dead in 2014. Its executive director and two other senior executives allegedly received infected messages
  • Aristegui Noticias: Award-winning journalist Carmen Aristegui, who also hosts a daily programme on CNN en Español, has reported on suspected cases of corruption and conflict of interest, including a scandal involving the wife of President Enrique Peña Nieto acquiring a $7m (£5.5m) house from a government contractor. Two members of her investigative team and her under-age son allegedly received some 50 messages
  • Carlos Loret de Mola: A popular journalist at leading TV network Televisa, he allegedly received several messages containing the software
  • Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO): It has led efforts for anti-corruption legislation. Two senior members were allegedly targeted.

A spokesman for President Enrique Peña Nieto rejected the allegations, saying that the government carries out intelligence work against the organised crime and threats to the national security in accordance with the country’s laws, but that it does not include journalists or activists.

“The government categorically denies that any of its members carries out surveillance or interference in communications of defenders of human rights, journalists, anti-corruption activists or any other person without prior judicial authorization,” a spokesman told the BBC.



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Personal details of nearly 200 million US citizens exposed


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The personal details and political biases of almost 200 million US citizens have been leaked online

Sensitive personal details relating to almost 200 million US citizens have been accidentally exposed by a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee.

The 1.1 terabytes of data includes birthdates, home addresses, telephone numbers and political views of nearly 62% of the entire US population.

The data was available on a publicly accessible Amazon cloud server.

Anyone could access the data as long as they had a link to it.

Political biases exposed

The huge cache of data was discovered last week by Chris Vickery, a cyber-risk analyst with security firm UpGuard. The information seems to have been collected from a wide range of sources – from posts on controversial banned threads on the social network Reddit, to committees that raised funds for the Republican Party.

The information was stored in spreadsheets uploaded to a server owned by Deep Root Analytics. It had last been updated in January when President Donald Trump was inaugurated and had been online for an unknown period of time.

“We take full responsibility for this situation. Based on the information we have gathered thus far, we do not believe that our systems have been hacked,” Deep Root Analytics’ founder Alex Lundry told technology website Gizmodo.

“Since this event has come to our attention, we have updated the access settings and put protocols in place to prevent further access.”

Apart from personal details, the data also contained citizens’ suspected religious affiliations, ethnicities and political biases, such as where they stood on controversial topics like gun control, the right to abortion and stem cell research.

The file names and directories indicated that the data was meant to be used by influential Republican political organisations. The idea was to try to create a profile on as many voters as possible using all available data, so some of the fields in the spreadsheets were left left empty if an answer could not be found.

“That such an enormous national database could be created and hosted online, missing even the simplest of protections against the data being publicly accessible, is troubling,” Dan O’Sullivan wrote in a blog post on Upguard’s website.

“The ability to collect such information and store it insecurely further calls into question the responsibilities owed by private corporations and political campaigns to those citizens targeted by increasingly high-powered data analytics operations.”

Privacy concerns

Although it is known that political parties routinely gather data on voters, this is the largest breach of electoral data in the US to date and privacy experts are concerned about the sheer scale of the data gathered.

“This is deeply troubling. This is not just sensitive, it’s intimate information, predictions about people’s behaviour, opinions and beliefs that people have never decided to disclose to anyone,” Privacy International’s policy officer Frederike Kaltheuner told the BBC News website.

However, the issue of data collection and using computer models to predict voter behaviour is not just limited to marketing firms – Privacy International says that the entire online advertising ecosystem operates in the same way.

“It is a threat to the way democracy works. The GOP [Republican Party] relied on publicly-collected, commercially-provided information. Nobody would have realised that the data they entrusted to one organisation would end up in a database used to target them politically.

“You should be in charge of what is happening to your data, who can use it and for what purposes,” Ms Kaltheuner added.

There are fears that leaked data can easily be used for nefarious purposes, from identity fraud to harassment of people under protection orders, or to intimidate people who hold an opposing political view.

“The potential for this type of data being made available publicly and on the dark web is extremely high,” Paul Fletcher, a cyber-security evangelist at security firm Alert Logic told the BBC.



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GTA V: Force Hax, Lexicon and Menyoo sites shut down


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Rockstar Games

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Take-Two has shut down three popular GTA modding tools that charged money to let players cheat at the game

Grand Theft Auto’s creator Take-Two Interactive has shut down three hugely popular tools that let players alter features and cheat at the game.

The modding tools Force Hax, Lexicon and Menyoo, which incurred a fee for subscribing, have been taken offline with all earnings going to charity.

The tools allowed players to give themselves endless amounts of money.

The news comes less than a week after legal threats forced the closure of a popular Russian toolkit for the game.

Open IV’s Russian developers stopped distribution after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Take-Two.

Steal money

The mod menus work by offering players multiple ways to cheat in the game, including gifting themselves rare items and endless money that are not easy to obtain.

In particular, Force Hax allowed users to carry out nefarious actions in another user’s name, such as kicking other players out of GTA Online, freezing the game so it stops working, or deliberately killing or trapping another user to prevent them from playing the game.

The modding tool also enabled users to steal money from other players’ accounts.

Force Hax’s website now redirects to a blank webpage containing a single statement: “After discussions with Take-Two Interactive, effective immediately we are ceasing all maintenance, development and distribution of the Force Hax cheat menu services.

“We will be donating our proceeds to charity and we apologise for any and all problems Force Hax services have caused to the Grand Theft Auto Online community.”

The statements posted on Lexicon and Menyoo are identical to the one posted on the Force Hax site.

Game experience

Although GTA fans acknowledge that the three tools were enabling players to unfairly gain an advantage in the game instead of playing it in the correct way, they are angry that Open IV was shut down.

To them, it was designed to enhance the overall game experience by letting players customise objects, models and textures. Sadly, some malicious users sought to use the tool to cheat and harm other players, which is what prompted Take-Two to take legal action.

Fans have started a petition asking Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive to allow Open IV to continue distributing, saying that the software is only used to make the game more enjoyable. The petition now has almost 51,000 signatures.

“The future of GTA V mods feels shaky and uncertain right now, and players are expressing worry that their favourite tool will be next on the radar. After all, modding tools fuel everything from the ever-elusive Chiliad Mystery, to popular role-playing servers,” writes Zach Zwiezen of video game website Kotaku.

“While taking down a mod menu like Force Hax is definitely a good thing, overall, Take-Two and Rockstar have an uphill battle to fight if they want to gain back the community’s trust.”



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Nerve centre


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Analysts and officers track live crime data in Chicago’s 11th police district

In a cramped office in a police station in Chicago’s 11th district, the sound of gunfire is a little computerised ping that rings out a few times a day.

Somewhere in the district a microphone has picked up the percussive sound of a bullet and sent a signal, via California, to the station, which is where Kim Smith hears about it.

Ms Smith, a data analyst from the University of Chicago, works at one of the city’s new Strategic Decision Support Centres, where data, technology, and old-fashioned police work are being combined in an effort to control a sudden surge in gun violence.

Seconds after a ping, a large flatscreen monitor displays a Google map of the gunshot location. Another connects to surveillance cameras activated by the shot, sometimes fast enough to see a gunman fleeing, and usually two or three minutes before the first 911 call comes in.

Sometimes someone happens to open fire while a live feed is rolling in the room. “I’ve seen a lot of shootings actually happen on screen in front of me,” said Ms Smith, who was new to the world of law enforcement when she joined the project.

“The first time I was really shocked. You hear stories about people going out in the middle of the day in broad daylight, just walking the dog, and someone starts firing off rounds, but then to actually see it…”

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Crosses for murder victims sit in an empty lot in Chicago’s Englewood district

The strategic centres were established in February after more than 4,000 shootings and 762 homicides in 2016 – a massive 59% increase on the previous year and more murders than New York and LA combined. President Trump threatened in January to “send in the Feds” if the city didn’t fix “the horrible carnage”.

Taking blueprints from similar operations in LA and New York, Chicago PD set up two centres in the city’s two most violent districts – Englewood and Harrison, which account for 5% of the city’s population but nearly a third of all shootings last year. Eventually there will be six across the city, with initial set-up costs of about a million dollars each.

Chicago PD borrowed civilian data analysts – including Ms Smith – from the University of Chicago in an attempt to make better use of existing technologies like the Shotspotter microphones and more sense of the crime data routinely collected by the department.

The new cutting edge of anti-gun policing in Chicago had a modest start. The Englewood district centre set up shop in a disused line-up room, the partition wall and one-way glass knocked through to make more room. The first strategic meeting of the Harrison district centre was lit by a single lamp in a bare office.



Now there are large flatscreen monitors fixed to the walls displaying live maps and charts, while analysts track data on two or three screens in front of them. Each morning there is a strategic meeting where officers and analysts pore over maps and reports, attempting to predict trends or identify trouble spots.

Using a piece of predictive software called HunchLab, they translate the data into “missions”, which can involve anything from talking to local business owners in certain areas to watching certain surveillance feeds at certain times.

And they might be getting results. The two pilot districts – on the South and West sides – have seen a 30% and 39% drop in gun violence so far this year, against a 15% drop city-wide. Chicago Police Deputy Chief Jonathan Lewin, who oversaw the development of the centres, said it was still early days.

“This is still a pilot so it’s tough to determine causality,” he said. “Is it the process, is it the technology, is it cars being more mobile because we’re tracking them more rigorously? That’s the million-dollar question.”

In reality, the stakes are higher than that. Chicago’s murder rate soared last year, breaking 750 for the first time since the violent crime peak of the early 1990s and putting pressure on the police department to try new approaches.

There’s no one easy reason for the sudden homicide spike. The murder rate is down so far this year compared with 2016, and still a long way from the violence of the early 90s, but the dramatic surge has made national headlines.

Jeff Asher, a crime analyst who has studied homicide rates in major cities, pointed to poor clearance rates, as well as a sudden and substantial decrease in street stops. The number of solved murders in Chicago fell to just 26% last year, according to analysis by the University of Chicago, compared with a national average of 62%.

“Chicago’s murder clearance rate last year was abysmal,” he said. “Gun violence begets gun violence, and if people believe crimes aren’t going to be solved that increases the likelihood of retribution shootings and violence generally.”

An 80% decrease in street stops between November 2015 and January 2016 has been linked to the November 2015 release of footage showing the controversial police shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald during a stop, as well as new laws on street stops introduced around the same time.

“Whether that played a role is difficult to say for sure,” said Mr Asher. “But it suggests that policing matters, and that the degree of policing can have an impact on murder reduction.”

Chicago PD has faced accusations that it turned to technology to paper over fundamental problems with community-police relations, strained further by the killing of McDonald. A Department of Justice report published in January accused the department of a pattern of racism and excessive use of force.

And surveillance is another concern. In a city which is already the most surveilled in the country, the number of police cameras in the two pilot districts rose by 25%.

“We can’t use data and technology in a way that supplants suspicion for real evidence that someone is involved in a crime,” said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois. “Community-police relations are already poor in this city, and if the technology simply becomes a stand-in for community policing, then that’s a problem.”

This isn’t the first time the department has turned to data to tackle gun crime. For about four years it has used a controversial secret list, based on a secret algorithm, to predict potential gun violence criminals and victims, angering civil liberties campaigners.

A report by research body the Rand Corporation suggested that the so-called “heat list” – which was recently made public for the first time – had no impact on homicide rates and actually increased the likelihood of arrest for those identified as potential victims.

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Mayor’s office

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Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel visits the Harrison centre

It isn’t news to Chicago PD that there’s a community relations problem. “A decade ago Chicago was recognised for its community policing and unfortunately we got away from that,” said spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “Every single district now has to refocus the way they think.”

Part of that was under way with smarter policing, driven by the strategic support centres, he said. The next phase would shift focus to the community, including a programme that will put trainees into districts to forge community ties before they hit the beat for real.

“Don’t mistake this for success, but it’s progress,” he said.

Others were less cautious. “I think it’s made a huge difference already,” said Kevin Johnson, police commander in the Harrison district. “Officers are more engaged, more involved, right across the department from patrol cops to narcotics to gang crime.” And they had embraced the civilian analysts, he said. “I think we needed a different perspective.”

Ms Smith is on indefinite loan from the university and plans to stick around as long as she’d needed. “It can be hard to gauge how much of an effect you’re having,” she said, “but think a lot of people have good reason to believe that what we’re doing is making a dent on violence in Chicago this year.”



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