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British Airways Testing VR Headsets For First-Class Passengers This Year

Thu, 2019-08-15 13:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: British Airways announced that it is testing out virtual reality headsets for the rest of this year on flights between London's Heathrow and New York City's John F. Kennedy airport. The airline is tapping SkyLights for the VR eyewear headsets that will be available for its first-class passengers. The AlloSky hardware can present 3D views even when the viewer is lying flat. As far as programming, British Airways will have options. The VR headsets will offer visual entertainment in 2D, 3D, or 360-degree formats. The airline will also provide more therapeutic programs to help people who have a fear of flying. These VR experiences include guided meditation and sound therapy. This marks the first time British Airways is bringing virtual reality onto its aircrafts. The company also used SkyLights' hardware at its ticket counters in Heathrow to show passengers the experience of its first-class travel in an effort to encourage upgrades.

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London University Is Banning Beef To Help Fight Climate Change

Thu, 2019-08-15 10:00
Goldsmiths, a part of the University of London, is fighting climate change by taking beef off the menu. "[The university] will no longer serve beef burgers, beef burritos and the like on its campus," reports CBS News. From the report: Goldsmiths will take beef products off the menu starting in September, it announced Monday. The effort is part of a mission to become carbon neutral by 2025. Removing beef products on campus isn't the only action the university is taking. It also plans to install more solar panels, switch to a 100% clean energy supplier, plant more trees and make climate change education more accessible to students. Perhaps the biggest change the university is making aside from the elimination of beef is a fee of 10 pence (12 cents) on bottled water and single-use plastic cups. The goal is to "discourage use, with the proceeds directed into a green student initiative fund," the college's new warden, Professor Frances Corner, said.

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Scientists Reverse Aging Process In Rat Brain Stem Cells

Thu, 2019-08-15 07:00
Scientists who discovered aging appears to be related to the stiffness of the environment where cells live have reversed the process in rat brain stem cells. Newsweek reports: Researchers studied oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) in young and old rat brains, and found they were affected by stiffness in the organ caused by aging. These stem cells, meaning they can turn into other types of cell, are found in the central nervous system. Researchers studied oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) in young and old rat brains, and found they were affected by stiffness in the organ caused by aging. These stem cells, meaning they can turn into other types of cell, are found in the central nervous system. Kevin Chalut, a biophysicist at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study published in the journal Nature told Newsweek: "The study tells us that aging, at least for stem cells we studied, is not driven by anything intrinsic to the cell. It is instead driven by the environment. This was already known to be a factor, but the true significance here is to show that it is the stiffness of the environment alone that drives the aging of the stem cells. "This is rather remarkable because it suggests an entirely new way of thinking about what controls aging in stem cells, and furthermore, since stiffness is a single factor from the environment, it suggest a means to straightforwardly reverse aging in stem cells'" Chalut explained.

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Scientists Have Created a Vaccine For Cat Allergies, But You Can't Have It Yet

Thu, 2019-08-15 03:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: People unjustly kept away from feline companionship due to an allergy are rejoicing this week, after news resurfaced of a potential vaccine that makes cats less able to cause allergies. But while this research is promising, a finished product won't be available any time soon. The vaccine in question is being developed by Swiss-based Hypocat and is the company's lead experimental and namesake drug. This April, Hypocat published results from a study on the vaccine. And it's this news that the internet has, for reasons lost to the void, started to buzz about again. The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, details a very clever strategy to tackle cat allergies. The vaccine doesn't try to desensitize the immune system of people allergic to cats, as other existing immunotherapies like allergy shots do. Rather, it attempts to train the immune system of cats to go after a specific protein, or allergen, that they naturally produce called Fel d 1. It's supposed to accomplish this trick by hitching a genetically modified version of the protein to a virus-like particle derived from a plant virus (only being a particle, it shouldn't be capable of causing disease). Some 90 percent of people with a cat allergy produce antibodies to Fel d 1. So if successful, the vaccine would basically turn cats hypoallergenic by greatly reducing the amount of Fel d 1 they make and eventually spew into our noses and mouths. While the company behind the vaccine says it's been in discussions with both U.S. and European drug approval agencies, Gizmodo notes that "even if these trials started today and the vaccine passed them with flying colors, you'll still have to wait years before it could hit the market."

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The Fashion Line Designed To Trick Surveillance Cameras

Thu, 2019-08-15 02:10
Freshly Exhumed shares a report from The Guardian: Automatic license plate readers, which use networked surveillance cameras and simple image recognition to track the movements of cars around a city, may have met their match, in the form of a T-shirt. Or a dress. Or a hoodie. The anti-surveillance garments were revealed at the DefCon cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas on Saturday by the hacker and fashion designer Kate Rose, who presented the inaugural collection of her Adversarial Fashion line. To human eyes, Rose's fourth amendment T-shirt contains the words of the fourth amendment to the U.S. constitution in bold yellow letters. The amendment, which protects Americans from "unreasonable searches and seizures," has been an important defense against many forms of government surveillance: in 2012, for instance, the U.S. supreme court ruled that it prevented police departments from hiding GPS trackers on cars without a warrant. But to an automatic license plate reader (ALPR) system, the shirt is a collection of license plates, and they will get added to the license plate reader's database just like any others it sees. The intention is to make deploying that sort of surveillance less effective, more expensive, and harder to use without human oversight, in order to slow down the transition to what Rose calls "visual personally identifying data collection." "It's a highly invasive mass surveillance system that invades every part of our lives, collecting thousands of plates a minute. But if it's able to be fooled by fabric, then maybe we shouldn't have a system that hangs things of great importance on it," she said.

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Watch Out Google, YouTubers Are Unionizing

Thu, 2019-08-15 01:50
IG Metall, Europe's largest trade union with 2.3 million members, has joined forces with a German YouTuber who set up a Facebook group called The YouTubers Union after his videos started getting "de-monetized." The German metalworkers union is throwing itself in the battle between Google and the millions of people whose income derives from uploading videos to the site. It's inviting YouTubers to become members and is running a campaign called FairTube to press for better terms. IG Metall has "given Google a deadline of August 23 to come to the negotiating table," reports Bloomberg. "If it refuses, IG Metall plans to use its deep pockets and army of lawyers to pursue legal options." From the report: So what exactly can IG Metall do? A lawsuit is the most likely next step. The union claims that decisions made to de-monetize a video with no explanation contravene the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation. One strand of the rules, introduced last year, gives people the right to know whether their personal data is being processed, for what purpose, and to request a copy of it all. The union argues that algorithms deciding to stop ads being attached to a clip generate such data. It's a smart play. With the deep pockets afforded by its huge membership, IG Metall is able to contest issues where an individual would struggle. Notably, the union is trying to use the same tool of its members' atomization -- the online platform -- to organize them. Even before it joined forces with the YouTubers Union Facebook group, IG Metall had launched an initiative called FairCrowd, a website where gig economy workers provide feedback on the apps they work for. It's not that far from its home turf: IG Metall already represents employees at tech companies like SAP SE.

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Researchers Found World-Readable Database Used To Secure Buildings Around the Globe

Thu, 2019-08-15 01:30
Researchers said they have found a publicly accessible database containing almost 28 million records -- including plain-text passwords, face photos, and personal information -- that was used to secure buildings around the world. Ars Technica reports: Researchers from vpnMentor reported on Wednesday that the database was used by the Web-based Biostar 2 security system sold by South Korea-based Suprema. Biostar uses facial recognition and fingerprint scans to identify people authorized to enter warehouses, municipal buildings, businesses, and banks. vpnMentor said the system has more than 1.5 million installations in a wide range of countries including the U.S., the UK, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka. According to vpnMentor, the 23-gigabyte database contained more than 27.8 million records used by Biostar to secure customer facilities. The data included usernames, passwords and user IDs in plaintext, building access logs, employee records including start dates, personal details, mobile device data, and face images. The researchers said the data also included more than 1 million records containing actual fingerprint scans, but the report provided no data to support the claim. "The vpnMentor researchers said they discovered the exposed database on August 5 and privately reported the finding two days later," reports Ars Technica. "The data wasn't secured until Tuesday, six days later."

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Working On Microsoft's Cortana Is Laborious and Poorly Paid

Thu, 2019-08-15 00:50
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Apple, Google, Amazon, and most recently Facebook have been found hiring human workers to transcribe audio captured by their own products. Motherboard found Microsoft does the same for some Skype calls, and is still doing so despite other companies suspending their reliance on contractors. A cache of leaked documents obtained by Motherboard gives insight into what the human contractors behind the development of tech giants' artificial intelligence services are actually doing: laborious, repetitive tasks that are designed to improve the automated interpretation of human speech. This means tasks tech giants have promised are completed by virtual assistants and artificial intelligence are trained by the monotonous work of people. The work is magnified by the large footprint of speech recognition tools: Microsoft's Cortana product, similar to Apple's Siri, is implemented in Windows 10 machines and Xbox One consoles, and is also available as on iOS, Android, and smart speakers. The instruction manuals on classifying this sort of data go on for hundreds of pages, with a dizzying number of options for contractors to follow to classify data, or punctuation style guides they're told to follow. The contractor said they are expected to work on around 200 pieces of data an hour, and noted they've heard personal and sensitive information in Cortana recordings. A document obtained by Motherboard corroborates that for some work contractors need to complete at least 200 tasks an hour. The pay for this work varies. One contract obtained by Motherboard shows pay at $12 an hour, with the possibility of contractors being able to reach $13 an hour as a bonus. A contract for a different task shows $14 an hour, with a potential bonus of $15 an hour. A Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard in an emailed statement, "We're always looking to improve transparency and help customers make more informed choices. Our disclosures have been clear that we use customer content from Cortana and Skype Translator to improve these products, we engage third party expertise to assist in this process, and we take steps to de-identify this content to protect people's privacy."

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Slashdot Asks: Do You Use Your Laptop's Headphone Jack?

Thu, 2019-08-15 00:10
The headphone jack is increasingly being omitted from smartphones and tablets, but what about laptops? When Apple launched the redesigned MacBook Pro in 2016, it decided to remove the SD card slot, full-sized USB Type A ports, and Thunderbolt 2 ports -- but keep the 3.5mm headphone jack, even though it axed the headphone jack in the 2016 iPhone 7. The reason, Apple said, had to do with the lack of wireless solutions for pro audio gear that many users use with their MacBooks. "If it was just about headphones then it doesn't need to be there," said Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller. "We believe that wireless is a great solution for headphones." He added: "But many users have set-ups with studio monitors, amps and other pro audio gear that do not have wireless solutions and need the 3.5mm jack." While most laptops today still retain the headphone jack, that trend doesn't seem like it'll last for too much longer as the industry moves to embrace wireless audio. Laptop alternatives like Apple's iPad Pro and Samsung's Galaxy Tab S5e have both ditched the 3.5mm port, meaning it's only a matter of time until laptops themselves lose the port. Our question to you is: do you use the headphone jack on your laptop? Would you mind if a manufacturer removed the port to make room for a bigger battery or make the device slimmer and more portable? Let us know your thoughts below.

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Credit Karma Glitch Exposed Users To Other People's Accounts

Wed, 2019-08-14 23:30
Users of credit monitoring site Credit Karma have took to Reddit and Twitter to complain that they were served other people's account information when they logged in. TechCrunch has confirmed several screenshots that show other people's accounts, including details about their credit card accounts and their current balance. When contacted, a Credit Karma spokesperson said these users "experienced a technical malfunction that has now been fixed," and that there's "no evidence of a data breach." The company didn't say for how long customers were experiencing issues. TechCrunch reports: One user told TechCrunch that after they were served another person's full credit report, they messaged the user on LinkedIn "to let him know his data was compromised." Another user told us this: "The reports are split into two sections: Credit Factors -- things like number of accounts, inquiries, utilization; and Credit Reports -- personal information like name, address, etc.. The Credit Reports section was my own information, but the Credit Factors section definitely wasn't. It listed four credit card accounts (I have more like 20 on my report), a missed payment (I'm 100% on time with payments), a Honda auto loan (never had one with Honda), student loan financing (mine are paid off and too old to appear on my report), and cards with an issuer that I have no relationship with (Discover)." Another user who was affected said they could read another person's Credit Factors -- including derogatory credit marks -- but that the Credit Report tab with that user's personal information, like names and addresses, was blank. One user said that the login page was pulled offline for a brief period. "We'll be right back," the login page read instead.

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Scientists Discover a Cure For the Deadliest Strain of Tuberculosis

Wed, 2019-08-14 22:50
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: When she joined a trial of new tuberculosis drugs, the dying young woman weighed just 57 pounds. Stricken with a deadly strain of the disease, she was mortally terrified. Local nurses told her the Johannesburg hospital to which she must be transferred was very far away -- and infested with vervet monkeys. "I cried the whole way in the ambulance," Tsholofelo Msimango recalled recently. "They said I would live with monkeys and the sisters there were not nice and the food was bad and there was no way I would come back. They told my parents to fix the insurance because I would die." Five years later, Ms. Msimango, 25, is now tuberculosis-free. She is healthy at 103 pounds, and has a young son. The trial she joined was small -- it enrolled only 109 patients -- but experts are calling the preliminary results groundbreaking. The drug regimen tested on Ms. Msimango has shown a 90 percent success rate against a deadly plague, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration effectively endorsed the approach, approving the newest of the three drugs used in the regimen. Usually, the World Health Organization adopts approvals made by the F.D.A. or its European counterpart, meaning the treatment could soon come into use worldwide. Typically, patients in South Africa treated with this deadly strain of tuberculosis are required to take up to 40 daily pills for up to two years. "But in the trial Ms. Msimango joined, nicknamed Nix-TB, patients took only five pills a day for six months," the report says. "The pills contain just three drugs: pretomanid, bedaquiline and linezolid. Someday, the whole regimen might come in just one pill, as H.I.V. drugs do, one expert said."

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Apple, Spotify Discuss Siri Truce, as Antitrust Battle Looms

Wed, 2019-08-14 22:10
Apple and Spotify are in talks about potentially enabling Siri to play songs, albums, and playlists from the leading subscription music service. The Verge: A new report from The Information confirms that Spotify would be taking advantage of new capabilities that Apple is introducing in iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, which allow other apps to be on equal footing with Apple Music when making music requests through the company's Siri voice assistant. If Spotify takes advantage of the new tools, you'll be able to play music without having to open the app on your iPhone or iPad. The integration could be a sign of progress between two companies that have butted heads to a more heated degree than ever before over the last year. In March, Spotify filed an antitrust complaint with the EU that accused Apple of disadvantaging third-party services that compete with its own apps. Among other gripes (such as Apple's subscription tax), Spotify pointed to hands-free Siri compatibility as one convenient feature that Apple was reserving for its own Apple Music service. Further reading: Apple Says Spotify Wants 'the Benefits of a Free App Without Being Free'; and Apple Cites Irrelevant Spotify Subscription Stats In New Antitrust Defense.

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AI Researchers Launch SuperGLUE, a Rigorous Benchmark For Language Understanding

Wed, 2019-08-14 21:22
Facebook AI Research, together with Google's DeepMind, University of Washington, and New York University, today introduced SuperGLUE, a series of benchmark tasks to measure the performance of modern, high performance language-understanding AI. From a report: SuperGLUE was made on the premise that deep learning models for conversational AI have "hit a ceiling" and need greater challenges. It uses Google's BERT as a model performance baseline. Considered state of the art in many regards in 2018, BERT's performance has been surpassed by a number of models this year such as Microsoft's MT-DNN, Google's XLNet, and Facebook's RoBERTa, all of which were are based in part on BERT and achieve performance above a human baseline average. SuperGLUE is preceded by the General Language Understanding Evaluation (GLUE) benchmark for language understanding in April 2018 by researchers from NYU, University of Washington, and DeepMind. SuperGLUE is designed to be more complicated than GLUE tasks, and to encourage the building of models capable of grasping more complex or nuanced language.

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Google Workers Demand Company Not Work With Border Agencies

Wed, 2019-08-14 20:43
Some Google employees have called on the company to publicly promise not to work with U.S. immigration authorities, which they said are abusing human rights. From a report: U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently said it was looking for proposals from companies to supply it with cloud-computing services. Google is a leading cloud provider. Activists and politicians have accused the agency of human rights abuses along the border with Mexico. The agency has separated children from their families, and is detaining migrants for indefinite periods of time. The Google workers, who said Wednesday they have a petition with 70 employee signatures, want the company to commit to not bidding on the contract, as well as to refuse to work on projects for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

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WeWork IPO Reveals It Lost $1.9 Billion Last Year, and Is Losing About $5,200 Per Customer

Wed, 2019-08-14 20:03
WeWork, the office-sharing, kegger-hosting phenomenon that has redefined the modern workspace, is also raising the bar for how much money a startup can lose and still be considered a buzzy investment. From a report: WeWork's corporate parent, the We Company, which released its IPO documents on Wednesday, loses roughly $5,197 per customer who inhabits its office space per year. That's considerably more than newly public companies like Uber or Beyond Meat are losing on their growing customer bases. WeWork, which says in the offering document that its corporate mission is no less than to "to elevate the world's consciousness," is on track to lose $2.7 billion this year from its operations, up from nearly $1.7 billion last year. The company's revenue in the first six months of the year nearly doubled from last year's first half, to $1.5 billion. The company said its losses rose just 10% from a year ago, but that includes a $470 million non-operating, and likely non-recurring, gain. Exclude that, and losses from the We Company, which says it will trade under the ticker symbol "WE," rose 60%. "If you work at WeWork, drive home with Uber, and then order food by DoorDash, you're engaging with three companies that are projected to lose about $13 billion this year," tweeted Derek Thompson, a staff writer at The Atlantic. Further reading: WeWork Files For IPO After Losing $1.9 Billion Last Year.

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The Video Game Industry Claims Its Products Avoid Politics, But That's a Lie.

Wed, 2019-08-14 19:23
Josh Tucker, writing for The Outline: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North was a Marine platoon commander in Vietnam, a U.S. Senate candidate, and eventually, a National Rifle Association president. At the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan, he helped manage a number of violent imperial operations, including the U.S. invasion of Grenada. Due to televised hearings in the Summer of 1987 where he gave horrifying testimony about the things that he and the United States government had allegedly done, he is probably best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Alternatively, you might instead recognize North as a minor character from Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In the game, he makes an appearance, service ribbons and all, to talk a retired Alex Mason -- the game's protagonist -- into joining a covert mission in Angola. The cameo was accompanied by North's role as an advisor and pitchman for the 2012 title. It was very bizarre, and, according to the developers, not at all political. In an interview with Treyarch head Mark Lamia, Kotaku's Stephen Totilo asked if the studio had expected the controversy around using North as a consultant. "We're not trying to make a political statement with our game," Lamia responded. "We're trying to make a piece of art and entertainment." This answer would be farcical under any circumstances, but to be clear, Black Ops II was already a jingoistic first-person shooter in a series full of dubious storylines and straight-up propaganda. Its writer and director, Dave Anthony, would later go on to a fellowship at D.C.'s Atlantic Council, advising on "The Future of Unknown Conflict." Regardless, Lamia felt comfortable insisting on record that there was nothing political about getting the Iran-Contra fall guy to shill for its game. In the time since, this brazen corporate line has become the standard for blockbuster games, including the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. "Are games political?" continues to be exhaustingly rehashed, because game companies continue to sell an apolitical delusion.

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Dropbox Engineer Explains Why the Company Stopped Sharing Code Between iOS and Android And Started Using Native Languages on Each Platform

Wed, 2019-08-14 18:43
Eyal Guthmann, a software engineer at cloud storage service Dropbox, writes: Until very recently, Dropbox had a technical strategy on mobile of sharing code between iOS and Android via C++. The idea behind this strategy was simple -- write the code once in C++ instead of twice in Java and Objective C. We adopted this C++ strategy back in 2013, when our mobile engineering team was relatively small and needed to support a fast growing mobile roadmap. We needed to find a way to leverage this small team to quickly ship lots of code on both Android and iOS. We have now completely backed off from this strategy in favor of using each platforms' native languages (primarily Swift and Kotlin, which didn't exist when we started out). This decision was due to the (not so) hidden cost associated with code sharing. Here are some of the things we learned as a company on what it costs to effectively share code. And they all stem from the same basic issue: By writing code in a non-standard fashion, we took on overhead that we would have not had to worry about had we stayed with the widely used platform defaults. This overhead ended up being more expensive than just writing the code twice.

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The Arrogance of the Anthropocene

Wed, 2019-08-14 18:02
EmagGeek writes: Peter Brannen has an interesting, if humbling take on the anthropocentric view of geology currently held by many scientists and governments, and the staggeringly arrogant assignment to humanity of its own epoch, despite all of human civilization fitting within a time period, on a geologic timescale, equivalent to that of the exposure time on a high speed camera. The idea of the Anthropocene is an interesting thought experiment. For those invested in the stratigraphic arcana of this infinitesimal moment in time, it serves as a useful catalog of our junk. But it can also serve to inflate humanity's legacy on an ever-churning planet that will quickly destroy -- or conceal forever -- even our most awesome creations. The article also ponders what will become of human civilization, and whether there will be any trace of it remaining when the (likely nonhuman) archaeologists of 100 million years from now go looking for new historical discoveries. An interesting read, for sure.

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Capital One Hacker Stole 'Terabytes' of Data From More Than 30 Companies, Court Docs Reveal

Wed, 2019-08-14 17:23
Paige A. Thompson, the hacker accused of breaching US bank Capital One, is also believed to have stolen data from more than 30 other companies, US prosecutors said in new court documents filed today and obtained by ZDNet. From the report: "The government's investigation over the last two weeks has revealed that Thompson's theft of Capital One's data was only one part of her criminal conduct," US officials said in a memorandum for extending Thompson's detention period. "The servers seized from Thompson's bedroom during the search of Thompson's residence, include not only data stolen from Capital One, but also multiple terabytes of data stolen by Thompson from more than 30 other companies, educational institutions, and other entities." US prosecutors said the "data varies significantly in both type and amount," but, based on currently available information, "much of the data appears not to be data containing personal identifying information."

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Major Breach Found in Biometrics System Used By Banks, UK Police and Defence Firms

Wed, 2019-08-14 16:42
The fingerprints of over 1 million people, as well as facial recognition information, unencrypted usernames and passwords, and personal information of employees, was discovered on a publicly accessible database for a company used by the likes of the UK Metropolitan police, defence contractors and banks, The Guardian reported Wednesday. From the report: Suprema is the security company responsible for the web-based Biostar 2 biometrics lock system that allows centralised control for access to secure facilities like warehouses or office buildings. Biostar 2 uses fingerprints and facial recognition as part of its means of identifying people attempting to gain access to buildings. Last month, Suprema announced its Biostar 2 platform was integrated into another access control system -- AEOS. AEOS is used by 5,700 organisations in 83 countries, including governments, banks and the UK Metropolitan police. The Israeli security researchers Noam Rotem and Ran Locar working with vpnmentor, a service that reviews virtual private network services, have been running a side project to scans ports looking for familiar IP blocks, and then use these blocks to find holes in companies' systems that could potentially lead to data breaches. In a search last week, the researchers found Biostar 2's database was unprotected and mostly unencrypted. They were able to search the database by manipulating the URL search criteria in Elasticsearch to gain access to data.

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