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Inside TurboTax's 20-Year Fight to Stop Americans From Filing Their Taxes for Free

Thu, 2019-10-17 14:00
This year, nearly 40% of U.S. taxpayers filed online and some 40 million of them did so with TurboTax, far more than with any other product. But the success of TurboTax rests on a shaky foundation, one that could collapse overnight if the U.S. government did what most wealthy countries did long ago and made tax filing simple and free for most citizens. From a report: For more than 20 years, Intuit -- the developer of TurboTax, has waged a sophisticated, sometimes covert war to prevent the government from doing just that, according to internal company and IRS documents and interviews with insiders. The company unleashed a battalion of lobbyists and hired top officials from the agency that regulates it. From the beginning, Intuit recognized that its success depended on two parallel missions: stoking innovation in Silicon Valley while stifling it in Washington. Indeed, employees ruefully joke that the company's motto should actually be "compromise without integrity." Internal presentations lay out company tactics for fighting "encroachment," Intuit's catchall term for any government initiative to make filing taxes easier -- such as creating a free government filing system or pre-filling people's returns with payroll or other data the IRS already has. "For a decade proposals have sought to create IRS tax software or a ReturnFree Tax System; All were stopped," reads a confidential 2007 PowerPoint presentation from an Intuit board of directors meeting. The company's 2014-15 plan included manufacturing "3rd-party grass roots" support. "Buy ads for op-eds/editorials/stories in African American and Latino media," one internal PowerPoint slide states. The centerpiece of Intuit's anti-encroachment strategy has been the Free File program, hatched 17 years ago in a moment of crisis for the company. Under the terms of an agreement with the federal government, Intuit and other commercial tax prep companies promised to provide free online filing to tens of millions of lower-income taxpayers. In exchange, the IRS pledged not to create a government-run system. Since Free File's launch, Intuit has done everything it could to limit the program's reach while making sure the government stuck to its end of the deal. As ProPublica has reported, Intuit added code to the Free File landing page of TurboTax that hid it from search engines like Google, making it harder for would-be users to find.

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Categories: Linux fréttir

Berkeley City Council Unanimously Votes To Ban Face Recognition

Thu, 2019-10-17 13:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Berkeley has become the third city in California and the fourth city in the United States to ban the use of face recognition technology by the government. After an outpouring of support from the community, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance introduced by Councilmember Kate Harrison earlier this year. Berkeley joins other Bay Area cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, which also banned government use of face recognition. In July 2019, Somerville, Massachusetts became the first city on the East Coast to ban the government's use of face recognition. The passage of the ordinance also follows the signing of A.B. 1215, a California state law that places a three-year moratorium on police use of face recognition on body-worn cameras, beginning on January 1, 2020. As EFF's Associate Director of Community Organizing Nathan Sheard told the California Assembly, using face recognition technology "in connection with police body cameras would force Californians to decide between actively avoiding interaction and cooperation with law enforcement, or having their images collected, analyzed, and stored as perpetual candidates for suspicion."

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China's Helicopter Prototype Looks Like a UFO

Thu, 2019-10-17 10:00
CNN has a story about a Chinese prototype helicopter that looks like a UFO. Slashdot reader ClickOnThis shares the report: China has been unveiling a lot of new weaponry lately, but one of their latest reveals looks really, well, out of this world. Called the "Super Great White Shark" by Chinese media, the aircraft conjures up images of 1950s sci-fi movies more than 21st century technology. But China says the "armed helicopter" was designed for the "future digital information battlefield." State-tabloid the Global Times published an image gallery of the aircraft, calling it a fusion of modern, proven helicopter designs -- such as the American AH-64 Apache and CH-53 Sea Stallion as well as the Russian Ka-52 and Mi-26 copters. It also has the blended-wing design employed by stealth aircraft, including the US B-2 bomber. [...] The prototype was displayed last week at the China Helicopter Exposition in Tianjin. It was a static display only. The aircraft is landbound -- at least for now.

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Paris Zoo Unveils the 'Blob,' An Organism With No Brain But 720 Sexes

Thu, 2019-10-17 07:00
The Paris Zoological Park on Wednesday showcased a mysterious new organism, dubbed the "blob," that has no mouth, no stomach, no eyes, yet it can detect food and digest it. The blob also has almost 720 sexes, can move without legs or wings and heals itself in two minutes if cut in half. Reuters reports: "The blob is a living being which belongs to one of nature's mysteries," said Bruno David, director of the Paris Museum of Natural History, of which the Zoological Park is part. "It surprises us because it has no brain but is able to learn (...) and if you merge two blobs, the one that has learned will transmit its knowledge to the other," David added. The blob was named after a 1958 science-fiction horror B-movie, starring a young Steve McQueen, in which an alien life form - The Blob - consumes everything in its path in a small Pennsylvania town. "We know for sure it is not a plant but we don't really if it's an animal or a fungus," said David. "It behaves very surprisingly for something that looks like a mushroom (...) it has the behavior of an animal, it is able to learn."

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Magic Mushrooms Can Help Smokers Kick the Habit

Thu, 2019-10-17 03:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: New research shows that psilocybin might be an effective treatment for diseases such as depression and addiction. While the work is still in its early stages, there are signs that psilocybin might help addicts shake the habit by causing the brain to talk with itself in different ways. "These brain changes lead to, oftentimes, a sense of unity," says Matthew Johnson, an experimental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. It all may sound a little "woo-woo," he admits, but it seems to be working. Early results suggest that psilocybin, coupled with therapy, may be far more effective than other treatments for smoking, such as the nicotine patch. Psilocybin seems to work because it temporarily rewires the brain, according to Johnson. Sections that don't normally talk to each other appear to communicate more, and parts of the brain that normally do talk to each other talk less. Johnson's small initial psilocybin study was extremely promising. So now he is doing a larger, more rigorous trial comparing the nicotine patch to psilocybin. Results are still coming in, but right now, half of the people who took psilocybin are smoke-free after a year. That's about twice as effective as the patch. Nutt, who's now conducting his own follow-up trials on depression treatments, is impressed with Johnson's work. Nutt believes psilocybin potentially also could be used to treat other addictions, such as alcohol and opioids. But there are some reasons to be cautious. First of all, the amount of psilocybin Johnson administers in his trials is considered a high dose, and it's paired with months of counseling. Bad trips can be common for those using the drug for treatment of diseases, and memories and experiences brought up by the drug can be challenging and disturbing. Second, the treatment is really expensive and the whole process takes months. Finally, not everybody should use psilocybin. People with predispositions for schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses may be harmed by taking the drug.

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Categories: Linux fréttir

SpaceX Says 12,000 Satellites Isn't Enough, So It Might Launch Another 30,000

Thu, 2019-10-17 02:10
SpaceX is seeking permission to launch another 30,000 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for its Starlink broadband network, which would be in addition to the nearly 12,000 satellites the company already has permission to launch. But it's too early in the process to determine whether SpaceX is likely to launch most or all of the additional 30,000 satellites. Ars Technica reports: The Federal Communications Commission made the requests on SpaceX's behalf, as is standard practice, in a series of filings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last week. (Here's an example of one of the filings.) The 30,000 satellites would operate "at altitudes ranging from 328 kilometers to 580 kilometers," SpaceNews reported yesterday. The filings are known as coordination requests. As SpaceNews noted, the ITU coordinates spectrum "to prevent signal interference and spectrum hogging." SpaceX's filings could help the company reserve spectrum before other operators claim it, but it's an early step in the process and doesn't commit SpaceX to launching all 30,000 satellites. SpaceX's constellation alone would dwarf the total number of satellites orbiting Earth today. As of January 2019, about 8,950 satellites had been placed into Earth orbit since 1957, and about 5,000 of those were still in space, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). Only about 1,950 of those are still functioning. If SpaceX proceeds with the additional 30,000 satellites, it would have to seek FCC permission and provide more technical detail, including plans to minimize debris and prevent collisions. SpaceX is designing its satellites to burn up completely during atmospheric re-entry in order to prevent physical harm from falling objects.

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GitLab Won't Exclude Customers On Moral Grounds, Says That Employees Should Not Discuss Politics At Work

Thu, 2019-10-17 01:30
GitLab, a San-Francisco provider of hosted git software, recently changed its company handbook to declare that it won't ban potential customers on "moral/value grounds," and that employees should not discuss politics at work. The Register reports: The policy addition, created by co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij and implemented as a git pull request, was merged (with no approval required) about two weeks ago. It was proposed to clarify that GitLab is committed to doing business with "customers with values that are incompatible with our own values." Such a declaration could run afoul of legal boundaries in some circumstances. While workers have no constitutional speech protection in the context of their employment, federal labor law requires that employees be allowed to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment and possible unlawful conduct like harassment, discrimination, and safety violations. But it's perhaps understandable given how, over the past few years, workers in the tech industry have become more vocal in objecting to business deals with entities deemed to be immoral or work that conflicts with declared or presumed values. Sijbrandij amended his company's handbook to state: "We do not discuss politics in the workplace and decisions about what customer to serve might get political." And what reason does Sijbrandij's pull request provide to support this position? It says, "Efficiency is one of our values and vetting customers is time consuming and potentially distracting."

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Google Ejects Open-Source WireGuard From Play Store Over Donation Links

Thu, 2019-10-17 00:50
Google appears to be removing apps that have donation links, including open-source apps where donations are one of the main sources of revenue. WireGuard, a free and open-source VPN, has been reportedly dropped over this according to WireGuard lead developer Jason Donenfeld. Phoronix reports: After waiting days for Google to review the latest version of their secure VPN tunnel application, it was approved and then removed and delisted -- including older versions of WireGuard. The reversal comes on the basis of violating their "payments policy." The only bit of possible "payments" within the WireGuard app is a donation link within the program taking the user to the WireGuard website should anyone want to donate to support this promising open-source secure networking tech. An appeal to the situation was also rejected by Google, Donenfeld has confirmed this morning on their mailing list. In trying to make it back into Android's Play Store, Jason has dropped the donation link from the Android app version while it's still awaiting review from Google.

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For Now Women, Not Democracy, Are the Main Victims of Deepfakes

Thu, 2019-10-17 00:10
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: While the 2020 U.S. presidential elections have lawmakers on edge over AI-generated fake videos, a new study by Netherlands-based deepfake-detection outfit Deeptrace shows that the main victims today are women. According to Deeptrace, deepfake videos have exploded in the past year, rising from 8,000 in December 2018 to 14,678 today. And not surprisingly for the internet, nearly all of the material is pornography, which accounts for 96% of the deepfake videos it's found online. The fake videos have been viewed 134 million times. The numbers suggest deepfake porn is still niche but also growing quickly. Additionally, 90% of the fake content depicted women from the U.S., UK, and Canada, while 2% represented women from South Korea and 2% depicted women from Taiwan. "Deepfake pornography is a phenomenon that exclusively targets and harms women," the company notes. That small number of non-pornographic deepfake videos it analyzed on YouTube mostly contained (61%) synthesized male subjects. According to Henry Ajder, a researcher at Deeptrace, currently most of the deepfake porn involves famous women. But he reckons the threat to all women is likely to increase as it becomes less computationally expensive to create deepfakes. As for the political threat, there actually aren't that many cases where deepfakes have changed a political outcome.

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The Creators Of Pokemon Go Mapped The World. Now They're Mapping You

Wed, 2019-10-16 23:30
Cecilia D'Anastasio and Dhruv Mehrotra report via Kotaku: Today, when you use Wizards Unite or Pokemon Go or any of Niantic's other apps, your every move is getting documented and stored -- up to 13 times a minute, according to the results of a Kotaku investigation. Even players who know that the apps record their location data are usually astonished once they look at just how much they've told Niantic about their lives through their footsteps. For years, users of these technologists' products -- from Google Street View to Pokemon Go -- have been questioning how far they're going with users' information and whether those users are adequately educated on what they're giving up and with whom it's shared. In the process, those technologists have made mistakes, both major and minor, with regards to user privacy. As Niantic summits the world of augmented reality, it's engineering that future of that big-money field, too. Should what Niantic does with its treasure trove of valuable data remain shrouded in the darkness particular to up-and-coming Silicon Valley darlings, that opacity might become so normalized that users lose any expectation of knowing how they're being profited from.

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Volvo To Roll Out a New Electric Vehicle Every Year Through 2025

Wed, 2019-10-16 22:50
Volvo Car Group President and CEO Hakan Samuelsson laid out the company's new business strategy that includes introducing a new EV every year through 2025 and slashing the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of every car and SUV it builds by 40%. All of the changes are aimed at Volvo Cars' target to become a climate neutral company by 2040. TechCrunch reports: A critical piece to hitting its target will be making more EVs available. The automaker plans to launch an all-electric car every year over the next five years. By 2025, it wants all-electric vehicles to represent 50% of global sales with the rest compromised by hybrids. As of this year, every new Volvo launched will be electrified, which means it could be a hybrid, plug-in electric (PHEV) or all-electric (BEV) vehicle. To hit this target, every Volvo model will include a Recharge option. This means a plug-in hybrid or all-electric version will be available, according to the company. To further encourage electric driving, every Volvo Recharge plug-in hybrid model will come with free electricity for a year, provided through a refund for the average electricity cost during that period. Volvo also plans to triple its manufacturing capacity and is now quickly ramping up its production globally, Bjorn Annwall, head of global commercial operations at Volvo, said during the press conference. Volvo is aiming for plug-in hybrid cars to make up 20% of total sales in 2020. Volvo isn't ditching combustion engines completely. But it's distancing itself from them by spinning it out. Volvo Cars and its Chinese parent company Geely Holdings will merge their existing combustion engine operations into a standalone business. The move will "clear the way for Volvo Cars to focus on the development of its all-electric range of premium cars," Samuelsson said. "So we believe we will bring sustainability into our company, not as something to add on, because it's good or something that is expected for us," Samuelsson said. "We bring it into the company because we think it's really good for our business. It will make our company grow faster it will make our company stronger exactly as safety made Volvo stronger."

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Huge Child Porn Ring Busted As Authorities Cite Ability To Crack Bitcoin Privacy

Wed, 2019-10-16 22:10
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Federal authorities in the U.S. have unsealed charges against the South Korean operator of a child porn ring that's been billed as the world's "largest dark web child porn marketplace." The child porn site, known as Welcome to Video, charged some users in Bitcoin and authorities say they successfully unmasked those Bitcoin transactions in order to catch the perpetrators. An additional 337 people from around the world have been charged in relation to the Tor-based site. Welcome to Video contained over 200,000 videos of child sexual abuse and had users from countries like the U.S., UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, and Australia, according to the indictment, which was uploaded by NBC News reporter Cyrus Farivar. Users could download videos through a system of credits that could be gained by referring new users or by buying those credits with Bitcoin. Charges in the U.S. against the site's operator Jong Woo Son were only unveiled today, but the 23-year-old Korean national was arrested in March of 2018 and is already behind bars in South Korea. The operation was a joint investigation by numerous law enforcement agencies around the globe. Between June 2015 and March 2018, Welcome to Video received Bitcoin transactions totaling over $370,000 in U.S currency. Undercover agents in Washington D.C. monitored the site, filled with images of child rape, and were able to deanonymize the Bitcoin transactions, something that average users often believe is impossible. The investigation uncovered at least two former federal law enforcement officials allegedly involved in the child porn site, a 35-year-old U.S. Border Patrol Agent from Texas, and a former HSI special agent, also from Texas.

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Microsoft Launches Two New Open Source Projects for Developers -- OAM and Dapr

Wed, 2019-10-16 21:30
Continuing its embracing of open source, Microsoft has today announced two new open source projects. From a report: The first is Open Application Model (OAM), a new standard for developing and operating applications on Kubernetes and other platforms. The second project is Dapr (Distributed Application Runtime), designed to make it easier to build microservice applications. Microsoft says that both OAM and Dapr "help developers remove barriers when building applications for cloud and edge." Microsoft has worked on OAM with Alibaba, and the aim is to simplify the development and deployment of applications. The company explains that: "OAM is a specification for describing applications so that the application description is separated from the details of how the application is deployed onto and managed by the infrastructure. This separation of concerns is helpful for multiple reasons." The second open source project is Dapr, which Microsoft describes as "an open source, portable, event-driven runtime that makes it easy for developers to build resilient, microservice stateless and stateful applications that run on the cloud and edge."

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FCC Votes To Approve T-Mobile-Sprint Merger

Wed, 2019-10-16 20:50
The FCC on Wednesday formally approved the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. The vote comes months after the Justice Department greenlit the deal. The Verge reports: In May, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai first signaled that he would vote to approve the merger after the commission and the companies struck a deal that Republicans believed would help foster a faster 5G rollout. The other Republican commissioners, Brendan Carr and Michael O'Rielly, also voiced support for the merger at the time. The merger was pushed through on a party-line vote with Democrats dissenting, an FCC official told The Verge. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel announced her disapproval in an op-ed for The Atlantic Wednesday morning. In it, she argues that a merged T-Mobile-Sprint would only hurt consumers, driving up prices and staving off competition. "These state officials understand something fundamental: With less competition, rates rise and innovation falls. All the evidence demonstrates that this holds true in the mobile-phone industry too," Rosenworcel said. "If this merger succeeds, consumers will pay the price." The other Democrat, Geoffrey Starks, was the last to vote on the deal. In September, Starks put out a statement calling on the FCC to delay any votes on the merger until Sprint could be fully investigated for allegedly misappropriating Lifeline subsidy funds for around 885,000 ineligible accounts. "There is no credible way that the merger before us can proceed until this Lifeline investigation is resolved and responsible parties are held accountable," Starks said at the time. Before the deal closes, representatives from the two companies said they'll wait until a multistate lawsuit trying to block the deal is resolved.

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Analogue Announces Game Boy Clone Dubbed 'Analogue Pocket'

Wed, 2019-10-16 20:10
Analogue is set to announce a new Game Boy clone. From a report: Analogue, known for their FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array)-based hardware clones of the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis/Megadrive, will be launching a handheld addition to their lineup called the "Analogue Pocket." The unit will be compatible with the entire library of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, as well as Sega's Game Gear, SNK's Neo Geo Pocket Colour, and Atari's Lynx -- essentially bringing every 90's handheld under one hardware roof, without software emulation. The unit will also feature a 3.5" LTPS LCD at 1600 x 1440 resolution (615ppi), and USB-C charging port. Further reading: Game Boy has turned Game Man, just in time for the original device's 30th birthday.

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Yahoo Groups Is Winding Down and All Content Will Be Permanently Removed

Wed, 2019-10-16 19:30
Yahoo announced on Wednesday that it is winding down its long-running Yahoo Groups site. From a report: As of October 21, users will no longer be able to post new content to the site, and on December 14 Yahoo will permanently delete all previously posted content. "You'll have until that date to save anything you've uploaded," an announcement post reads. Yahoo Groups, launched in 2001, is a cross between a platform for mailing lists and internet forums. Groups can be interacted with on the Yahoo Groups site itself, or via email. In the 18 years that it existed, numerous niche communities made a home on the platform. Now, with the site's planned obsolescence, users are looking for ways to save their Groups history.

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Hacking 20 High-Profile Dev Accounts Could Compromise Half of the NPM Ecosystem

Wed, 2019-10-16 18:59
The npm ecosystem of JavaScript libraries is more interwoven than most developers think, and the entire thing is a gigantic house of cards, being one bad hack away from compromising hundreds of thousands of projects, according to a recent academic study. From a report: The research, carried out by the Department of Computer Science from the Technical University of Darmstadt, in Germany, analyzed the dependency graph of the entire npm ecosystem. Researchers downloaded metadata for all the npm packages published until April 2018 and created a giant graph that included 676,539 nodes and 4,543,473 edges (lines connecting the nodes). In addition, academics also analyzed different versions of the same packages, looking at historical versions (5,386,239 versions for the 676,539 packages), but also at the package maintainers (199,327 npm accounts), and known security flaws impacting the packages (609 public reports). [...] Their goal was to get an idea of how hacking one or more npm maintainer accounts, or how vulnerabilities in one or more packages, reverberated across the npm ecosystem; along with the critical mass needed to cause security incidents inside tens of thousands of npm projects at a time. [...] But while some npm packages load code from too many packages and from too many developers, there is another dangerous trend forming on the npm package repository -- namely the consolidation of popular npm packages under a few maintainer accounts. "391 highly influential maintainers affect more than 10,000 packages, making them prime targets for attacks," the research team said. "If an attacker manages to compromise the account of any of the 391 most influential maintainers, the community will experience a serious security incident."

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Hubble Observes First Confirmed Interstellar Comet

Wed, 2019-10-16 18:10
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers their best look yet at an interstellar visitor -- comet 2I/Borisov -- whose speed and trajectory indicate it has come from beyond our solar system. In a press release, the space agency said: This Hubble image, taken on Oct. 12, 2019, is the sharpest view of the comet to date. Hubble reveals a central concentration of dust around the nucleus (which is too small to be seen by Hubble). Comet 2I/Borisov is only the second such interstellar object known to have passed through the solar system. In 2017, the first identified interstellar visitor, an object officially named 'Oumuamua, swung within 24 million miles of the Sun before racing out of the solar system. "Whereas 'Oumuamua appeared to be a rock, Borisov is really active, more like a normal comet. It's a puzzle why these two are so different," said David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), leader of the Hubble team who observed the comet.

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Interview With Fedora Project Leader Matthew Miller On 15 Years of Fedora

Wed, 2019-10-16 17:30
intensivevocoder writes: Fedora -- as a Linux distribution -- will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its first release in November, though its technical lineage is much older, as Fedora Core 1 was created following the discontinuation of Red Hat Linux 9 in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Five years after the start of Fedora.next, the distribution is on the right track -- stability has improved, and work on minimizing hard dependencies in packages and containers, including more audio/video codecs by default, flicker-free boot, and lowering power consumption for notebooks, among other changes, have greatly improved the Fedora experience, while improvements in upstream projects such as GNOME and KDE have likewise improved the desktop experience. In a wide-ranging interview with TechRepublic, Fedora project leader Matthew Miller discussed lessons learned from the past, popular adoption and competing standards for software containers, potential changes coming to Fedora, as well as hot-button topics, including systemd.

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US Carried Out Secret Cyber Strike on Iran in Wake of Saudi Oil Attack

Wed, 2019-10-16 16:50
The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters. From the report: The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation took place in late September and took aim at Tehran's ability to spread "propaganda." One of the officials said the strike affected physical hardware, but did not provide further details. The attack highlights how President Donald Trump's administration has been trying to counter what it sees as Iranian aggression without spiraling into a broader conflict. Asked about Reuters reporting on Wednesday, Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said: "They must have dreamt it," Fars news agency reported. The U.S. strike appears more limited than other such operations against Iran this year after the downing of an American drone in June and an alleged attack by Iran's Revolutionary Guards on oil tankers in the Gulf in May. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany have publicly blamed the Sept. 14 attack on Iran, which denied involvement in the strike. The Iran-aligned Houthi militant group in Yemen claimed responsibility. Publicly, the Pentagon has responded by sending thousands of additional troops and equipment to bolster Saudi defenses -- the latest U.S. deployment to the region this year.

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