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98.6 Degrees Fahrenheit Isn't the Average Anymore

Sat, 2020-01-18 10:00
schwit1 shares a report from The Wall Street Journal: Nearly 150 years ago, [German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich] analyzed a million temperatures from 25,000 patients and concluded that normal human-body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In a new study, researchers from Stanford University argue that Wunderlich's number was correct at the time but is no longer accurate because the human body has changed. Today, they say, the average normal human-body temperature is closer to 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source). To test their hypothesis that today's normal body temperature is lower than in the past, Dr. Parsonnet and her research partners analyzed 677,423 temperatures collected from 189,338 individuals over a span of 157 years. The readings were recorded in the pension records of Civil War veterans from the start of the war through 1940; in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1971 through 1974; and in the Stanford Translational Research Integrated Database Environment from 2007 through 2017. Overall, temperatures of the Civil War veterans were higher than measurements taken in the 1970s, and, in turn, those measurements were higher than those collected in the 2000s. The study has been published in the journal eLife.

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NBC's New Peacock Streaming Service Is Just One Big Ad-Injection Machine

Sat, 2020-01-18 07:00
Comcast's NBCUniversal is launching a new streaming service in April called Peacock. With three pricing tiers from free to $10 per month, Comcast wants Peacock "to be an ad delivery system to destroy all others in its path," writes Ryan Waniata via Digital Trends. From the report: In a shockingly long investor call, NBC revealed its big new strategy for delivering its many intellectual property spoils online, which will be offered in a multi-tiered plan (with both ad-based and ad-free versions) rolling up a content hodge-podge, including NBCUniversal TV classics and films on-demand, a handful of new exclusive shows, and live content, from NBC News to the Tokyo Olympics. Peacock's ad-based service -- which rolls out first to the company's Xfinity and Flex cable customers from within their cable box -- will arrive in at least some form for zero dollars per month. A $5 monthly charge will get you more content (but still carry ads), while a $10 fee will get you ad-free viewing and the whole kit-and-caboodle. But here's the thing: The execs at Comcast don't even want you to buy that service. It's an also-ran. A red herring. NBCUniversal Chairman of Advertising & Partnerships Linda Yaccarino spoke vociferously to the crowd of investors, saying, "Peacock will define the future of advertising. The future of free." To hook viewers into their ad-loaded trap, NBC execs have leveraged Peacock to offer "the lightest ad load in the industry," with just 5 minutes of ads per hour. To be fair, that ad-to-content ratio would be quite light these days in TV talk. But, Yaccarino continued, these would be revolutionary new ad innovations for Peacock, including ads that won't be as repeated over and over. Ads that will look "as good as the content" they accompany (whatever that means). Solo ads where "brands become the hero" and offer a TV show brought to you by a single advertiser. Ads. Ads. And more ads.

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An Algorithm That Learns Through Rewards May Show How Our Brain Does Too

Sat, 2020-01-18 03:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: In a paper published in Nature today, DeepMind, Alphabet's AI subsidiary, has once again used lessons from reinforcement learning to propose a new theory about the reward mechanisms within our brains. The hypothesis, supported by initial experimental findings, could not only improve our understanding of mental health and motivation. It could also validate the current direction of AI research toward building more human-like general intelligence. At a high level, reinforcement learning follows the insight derived from Pavlov's dogs: it's possible to teach an agent to master complex, novel tasks through only positive and negative feedback. An algorithm begins learning an assigned task by randomly predicting which action might earn it a reward. It then takes the action, observes the real reward, and adjusts its prediction based on the margin of error. Over millions or even billions of trials, the algorithm's prediction errors converge to zero, at which point it knows precisely which actions to take to maximize its reward and so complete its task. It turns out the brain's reward system works in much the same way -- a discovery made in the 1990s, inspired by reinforcement-learning algorithms. When a human or animal is about to perform an action, its dopamine neurons make a prediction about the expected reward. Once the actual reward is received, they then fire off an amount of dopamine that corresponds to the prediction error. A better reward than expected triggers a strong dopamine release, while a worse reward than expected suppresses the chemical's production. The dopamine, in other words, serves as a correction signal, telling the neurons to adjust their predictions until they converge to reality. The phenomenon, known as reward prediction error, works much like a reinforcement-learning algorithm. The improved algorithm changes the way it predicts rewards. "Whereas the old approach estimated rewards as a single number -- meant to equal the average expected outcome -- the new approach represents them more accurately as a distribution," the report says. This lends itself to a new hypothesis: Do dopamine neurons also predict rewards in the same distributional way? After testing this theory, DeepMind found "compelling evidence that the brain indeed uses distributional reward predictions to strengthen its learning algorithm," reports MIT Technology Review.

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PopSockets CEO Calls Out Amazon's 'Bullying With a Smile' Tactics

Sat, 2020-01-18 02:02
At a House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee on competition in the digital economy, PopSockets CEO and inventor David Barnett described how Amazon used shady tactics to pressure their smartphone accessory company. Mashable reports: "Multiple times we discovered that Amazon itself had sourced counterfeit product and was selling it alongside our own product," he noted. Barnett, under oath, told the gathered members of the House that Amazon initially played nice only to drop the hammer when it believed no one was watching. After agreeing to a written contract stipulating a price at which PopSockets would be sold on Amazon, the e-commerce giant would then allegedly unilaterally lower the price and demand that PopSockets make up the difference. Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter asked Barnett how Amazon could "ignore the contract that [PopSockets] entered into and just say, 'Sorry, that was our contract, but you got to lower your price.'" Barnett didn't mince words. "With coercive tactics, basically," he replied. "And these are tactics that are mainly executed by phone. It's one of the strangest relationships I've ever had with a retailer." Barnett emphasized that, on paper, the contract "appears to be negotiated in good faith." However, he claimed, this is followed by "... frequent phone calls. And on the phone calls we get what I might call bullying with a smile. Very friendly people that we deal with who say, 'By the way, we dropped the price of X product last week. We need you to pay for it.'" Barnett said he would push back and that's when "the threats come." He asserted that Amazon representatives would tell him over the phone: "If we don't get it, then we're going to source product from the gray market."

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Google Parent Company Alphabet Hits $1 Trillion Market Cap

Sat, 2020-01-18 01:25
Google parent-company Alphabet has hit $1 trillion in market capitalization, making it the fourth U.S. company to hit the milestone. CNBC reports: Apple was the first to hit the market cap milestone in 2018. Then, Microsoft and Amazon followed. Apple and Microsoft are still valued at more than a trillion dollars while Amazon has since fallen below the mark. Analysts are bullish on the company's newly appointed CEO, Sundar Pichai. In a surprise announcement in December 2019, Alphabet founder Larry Page announced plans to step down as CEO, along with co-founder and president Sergey Brin. Pichai had already been the CEO of Google, which includes all the company's core businesses -- including search, advertising, YouTube and Android -- and generates substantially all its revenue and profits. But he reported to Page, who also oversaw other businesses making long-term bets on experimental technology like self-driving cars and package delivery drones. Now, he's in charge of the whole conglomerate, although Page and Brin still have control over most of the company's voting shares, giving them significant influence in major decisions. "Optimism also comes from the company's growth in its Cloud business, which -- while still far behind the leader Amazon and runner-up Microsoft -- doubled its revenue run rate from $1 billion to $2 billion per quarter between Feb. 2018 and July 2019," adds CNBC.

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Researchers Find Serious Flaws In WordPress Plugins Used On 400K Sites

Sat, 2020-01-18 00:45
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Serious vulnerabilities have recently come to light in three WordPress plugins that have been installed on a combined 400,000 websites, researchers said. InfiniteWP, WP Time Capsule, and WP Database Reset are all affected. The highest-impact flaw is an authentication bypass vulnerability in the InfiniteWP Client, a plugin installed on more than 300,000 websites. It allows administrators to manage multiple websites from a single server. The flaw lets anyone log in to an administrative account with no credentials at all. From there, attackers can delete contents, add new accounts, and carry out a wide range of other malicious tasks. The critical flaw in WP Time Capsule also leads to an authentication bypass that allows unauthenticated attackers to log in as an administrator. WP Time Capsule, which runs on about 20,000 sites, is designed to make backing up website data easier. By including a string in a POST request, attackers can obtain a list of all administrative accounts and automatically log in to the first one. The bug has been fixed in version 1.21.16. Sites running earlier versions should update right away. Web security firm WebARX has more details. The last vulnerable plugin is WP Database Reset, which is installed on about 80,000 sites. One flaw allows any unauthenticated person to reset any table in the database to its original WordPress state. The bug is caused by reset functions that aren't secured by the standard capability checks or security nonces. Exploits can result in the complete loss of data or a site reset to the default WordPress settings. A second security flaw in WP Database Reset causes a privilege-escalation vulnerability that allows any authenticated user -- even those with minimal system rights -- to gain administrative rights and lock out all other users. All site administrators using this plugin should update to version 3.15, which patches both vulnerabilities. Wordfence has more details about both flaws here.

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It's Not Just You: Google Added Annoying Icons To Search On Desktop

Sat, 2020-01-18 00:03
Kim Lyons, writing for The Verge: Google added tiny favicon icons to its search results this week for some reason, creating more clutter in what used to be a clean interface, and seemingly without actually improving the results or the user experience. The company says it's part of a plan to make clearer where information is coming from, but how? In my Chrome desktop browser, it feels like an aggravating, unnecessary change that doesn't actually help the user determine how good, bad, or reputable an actual search result might be. Yes, ads are still clearly marked with the word "ad," which is a good thing. But do I need to see Best Buy's logo or AT&T's blue circle when I search for "Samsung Fold" to know they're trying to sell me something? Google says the favicon icons are "helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results & decide what to explore." If you don't care for the new look, Google has instructions on how to change or add a favicon to search results. Lifehacker also has instructions on how to apply filters to undo the favicon nonsense.

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Best Buy Opens Probe Into CEO's Personal Conduct

Fri, 2020-01-17 23:20
The board of Best Buy is investigating allegations that CEO Corie Barry had an inappropriate romantic relationship with a fellow executive (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), who has since left the electronics retailer. The Wall Street Journal reports: The allegations were sent to the board in an anonymous letter dated Dec. 7. The letter claims Ms. Barry had a romantic relationship for years with former Best Buy Senior Vice President Karl Sanft before she took over as CEO last June. "Best Buy takes allegations of misconduct very seriously," a spokesman told The Wall Street Journal. The Minneapolis company said its board has hired the law firm Sidley Austin LLP to conduct an independent review that is ongoing. "We encourage the letter's author to come forward and be part of that confidential process," the Best Buy spokesman said. "We will not comment further until the review is concluded." Ms. Barry didn't address the allegations and said she is cooperating with the probe. "The Board has my full cooperation and support as it undertakes this review, and I look forward to its resolution in the near term," she said in a statement.

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DigitalOcean Is Laying Off Staff

Fri, 2020-01-17 23:03
Cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean announced a round of layoffs, with potentially between 30 and 50 people affected. TechCrunch reports: DigitalOcean has confirmed the news with the following statement: "DigitalOcean recently announced a restructuring to better align its teams to its go-forward growth strategy. As part of this restructuring, some roles were, unfortunately, eliminated. DigitalOcean continues to be a high-growth business with $275M in [annual recurring revenues] and more than 500,000 customers globally. Under this new organizational structure, we are positioned to accelerate profitable growth by continuing to serve developers and entrepreneurs around the world." Before the confirmation was sent to us this morning, a number of footprints began to emerge last night, when the layoffs first hit, with people on Twitter talking about it, some announcing that they are looking for new opportunities and some offering help to those impacted. Inbound tips that we received estimate the cuts at between 30 and 50 people. With around 500 employees (an estimate on PitchBook), that would work out to up to 10% of staff affected.

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Disney Drops 'Fox' Name, Will Rebrand As 20th Century Studios

Fri, 2020-01-17 22:45
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Variety: In a move at once unsurprising and highly symbolic, the Walt Disney Company is dropping the "Fox" brand from the 21st Century Fox assets it acquired last March, Variety has learned. The 20th Century Fox film studio will become 20th Century Studios, and Fox Searchlight Pictures will become simply Searchlight Pictures. On the TV side, however, no final decisions have been made about adjusting the monikers of production units 20th Century Fox Television and Fox 21 Television Studios. Discussions about a possible name change are underway, but no consensus has emerged, according to a source close to the situation. Disney has already started the process to phase out the Fox name: Email addresses have changed for Searchlight staffers, with the fox.com address replaced with a searchlightpictures.com address. On the poster for Searchlight's next film "Downhill," with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, the credits begin with "Searchlight Pictures Presents." The film will be the first Searchlight release to debut with the new logo. "Call of the Wild," an upcoming family film, will be released under the 20th Century banner, sans Fox. Those logos won't be dramatically altered, just updated. The most notable change is that the word "Fox" has been removed from the logo marks. Otherwise, the signature elements -- swirling klieg lights, monolith, triumphal fanfare -- will remain the same.

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Xiaomi Spins Off POCO as an Independent Company

Fri, 2020-01-17 22:05
Xiaomi said today it is spinning off POCO, a sub-smartphone brand it created in 2018, as a standalone company that will now run independently of the Chinese electronics giant and make its own market strategy. From a report: The move comes months after a top POCO executive -- Jai Mani, a former Googler -- and some other founding and core members left the sub-brand. The company today insisted that POCO F1, the only smartphone to be launched under the POCO brand, remains a "successful" handset. The POCO F1, a $300 smartphone, was launched in 50 markets. Xiaomi created the POCO brand to launch high-end, premium smartphones that would compete directly with flagship smartphones of OnePlus and Samsung. In an interview in 2018, Alvin Tse, the head of POCO, and Mani, said that they were working on a number of smartphones and were also thinking about other gadget categories. At the time, the company had 300 people working on POCO, and they "shared resources" with the parent firm.

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How Just Four Satellites Could Provide Worldwide Internet

Fri, 2020-01-17 21:25
We've known since the 1980s that you don't need mega-constellations comprising thousands of satellites to provide global internet coverage to the world. Continuous worldwide coverage is possible with a constellation of just four satellites placed at much higher altitudes. So why don't we have that? The big obstacle is cost. Several factors work to degrade a satellite's orbit, and to combat them, you need a huge amount of propellant on the satellite to consistently stabilize its orbit. Manufacturing, launch, and operational costs are just too high for the four-satellite trick. An anonymous reader writes: A new study proposes a counterintuitive approach that turns these degrading forces into ones that actually help keep these satellites in orbit. Instead of elliptical, the satellites' orbits would be circular, letting them get by with less fuel while still providing nearly global coverage (at slower speeds). The team ran simulations and found two that would work -- but there are still too many other issues for it to ever happen.

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Every Place is the Same Now

Fri, 2020-01-17 20:45
With a phone, anywhere else is always just a tap away. From a column: Those old enough to remember video-rental stores will recall the crippling indecision that would overtake you while browsing their shelves. With so many options, any one seemed unappealing, or insufficient. In a group, different tastes or momentary preferences felt impossible to balance. Everything was there, so there was nothing to watch. Those days are over, but the shilly-shally of choosing a show or movie to watch has only gotten worse. First, cable offered hundreds of channels. Now, each streaming service requires viewers to manipulate distinct software on different devices, scanning through the interfaces on Hulu, on Netflix, on AppleTV+ to find something "worth watching." Blockbuster is dead, but the emotional dread of its aisles lives on in your bedroom. This same pattern has been repeated for countless activities, in work as much as leisure. Anywhere has become as good as anywhere else. The office is a suitable place for tapping out emails, but so is the bed, or the toilet. You can watch television in the den -- but also in the car, or at the coffee shop, turning those spaces into impromptu theaters. Grocery shopping can be done via an app while waiting for the kids' recital to start. Habits like these compress time, but they also transform space. Nowhere feels especially remarkable, and every place adopts the pleasures and burdens of every other. It's possible to do so much from home, so why leave at all?

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NPD's Best-Selling Games of the Decade Charts 'Call of Duty' Domination

Fri, 2020-01-17 20:06
The NPD group has rounded up sales stats for the last month, but with the flip from 2019 to 2020 it is also listing some of the best sellers over the last ten years. From a report: Grand Theft Auto V is the best selling game across all platforms and outlets tracked from 2010 through the end of 2019, but otherwise the top ten is dominated by the Call of Duty series, with Red Dead Redemption at number 7 and Minecraft at number 10 as the only other titles. 1. Grand Theft Auto V 2. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Call of Duty: Black Ops II 4. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 5. Call of Duty: Black Ops III

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A Hacker is Patching Citrix Servers To Maintain Exclusive Access

Fri, 2020-01-17 19:26
Catalin Cimpanu, writing for ZDNet: Attacks on Citrix appliances have intensified this week, and multiple threat actors have now joined in and are launching attacks in the hopes of compromising a high-value target, such as a corporate network, government server, or public institution. In a report published today, FireEye says that among all the attack noise it's been keeping an eye on for the past week, it spotted one attacker that stuck out like a sore thumb. This particular threat actor was attacking Citrix servers from behind a Tor node, and deploying a new payload the FireEye team named NotRobin. FireEye says NotRobin had a dual purpose. First, it served as a backdoor into the breached Citrix appliance. Second, it worked similar to an antivirus by removing other malware found on the device and preventing other attackers from dropping new payloads on the vulnerable Citrix host. It is unclear if the NotRobin attacker is a good guy or a bad guy, as there was no additional malware deployed on the compromised Citrix systems beyond the NotRobin payload. However, FireEye experts are leaning toward the bad guy classification. In their report, they say they believe this actor may be "quietly collecting access to NetScaler devices for a subsequent campaign."

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Teaching Assistants Say They've Won Millions From UC Berkeley

Fri, 2020-01-17 18:45
The university underemployed more than 1,000 students -- primarily undergraduates in computer science and engineering -- in order to avoid paying union benefits, UAW Local 2865 says. From a report: The University of California at Berkeley owes student workers $5 million in back pay, a third-party arbitrator ruled on Monday, teaching assistants at the university say. More than 1,000 students -- primarily undergraduates in Berkeley's electrical engineering and computer science department -- are eligible for compensation, the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865, which represents 19,000 student workers in the University of California system, told Motherboard. In some cases, individual students will receive around $7,500 per term, the union says. "This victory means that the university cannot get away with a transparent erosion of labor rights guaranteed under our contract," Nathan Kenshur, head steward of UAW Local 2865 and a third-year undergraduate math major at Berkeley, told Motherboard. Thanks to their union contract, students working 10 hours a week or more at Berkeley are entitled to a full waiver of their in-state tuition fees, $150 in campus fees each semester, and childcare benefits. (Graduate students also receive free healthcare.) But in recent years, Berkeley has avoided paying for these benefits, according to UAW Local 2865. Instead, the university has hired hundreds of students as teaching assistants with appointments of less than 10 hours a week. On Monday, an arbitrator agreed upon by the UAW and the university ruled that Berkeley had intentionally avoided paying its student employees' benefits by hiring part-time workers. It ordered the university to pay the full tuition amount for students who worked these appointments between fall 2017 and today, a press release from the union says.

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Climate Models Are Getting Future Warming Projections

Fri, 2020-01-17 18:05
Alan Buis of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, writes: There's an old saying that "the proof is in the pudding," meaning that you can only truly gauge the quality of something once it's been put to a test. Such is the case with climate models: mathematical computer simulations of the various factors that interact to affect Earth's climate, such as our atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface and the Sun. For decades, people have legitimately wondered how well climate models perform in predicting future climate conditions. Based on solid physics and the best understanding of the Earth system available, they skillfully reproduce observed data. Nevertheless, they have a wide response to increasing carbon dioxide levels, and many uncertainties remain in the details. The hallmark of good science, however, is the ability to make testable predictions, and climate models have been making predictions since the 1970s. How reliable have they been? Now a new evaluation of global climate models used to project Earth's future global average surface temperatures over the past half-century answers that question: most of the models have been quite accurate. In a study accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a research team led by Zeke Hausfather of the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a systematic evaluation of the performance of past climate models. The team compared 17 increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature developed between 1970 and 2007, including some originally developed by NASA, with actual changes in global temperature observed through the end of 2017. The observational temperature data came from multiple sources, including NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) time series, an estimate of global surface temperature change. The results: 10 of the model projections closely matched observations. Moreover, after accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other factors that drive climate, the number increased to 14. The authors found no evidence that the climate models evaluated either systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over the period of their projections.

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Toshiba Touts Algorithm That's Faster Than a Supercomputer

Fri, 2020-01-17 17:24
It's a tantalizing prospect for traders whose success often hinges on microseconds: a desktop PC algorithm that crunches market data faster than today's most advanced supercomputers. Japan's Toshiba says it has the technology to make such rapid-fire calculations a reality -- not quite quantum computing, but perhaps the next best thing. From a report: The claim is being met with a mix of intrigue and skepticism at financial firms in Tokyo and around the world. Toshiba's "Simulated Bifurcation Algorithm" is designed to harness the principles behind quantum computers without requiring the use of such machines, which currently have limited applications and can cost millions of dollars to build and keep near absolute zero temperature. Toshiba says its technology, which may also have uses outside finance, runs on PCs made from off-the-shelf components. "You can just plug it into a server and run it at room temperature," Kosuke Tatsumura, a senior research scientist at Toshiba's Computer & Network Systems Laboratory, said in an interview. The Tokyo-based conglomerate, while best known for its consumer electronics and nuclear reactors, has long conducted research into advanced technologies. Toshiba has said it needs a partner to adopt the algorithm for real-world use, and financial firms have taken notice as they grapple for an edge in markets increasingly dominated by machines. Banks, brokerages and asset managers have all been experimenting with quantum computing, although viable applications are generally considered to be some time away.

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FBI: Nation-State Actors Have Breached Two US Municipalities

Fri, 2020-01-17 16:46
Nation-state hackers breached the networks of two US municipalities last year, the FBI said in a security alert sent to private industry partners last week. An anonymous reader writes: The hacks took place after attackers used the CVE-2019-0604 vulnerability in Microsoft SharePoint servers to breach the two municipalities' networks. The FBI says that once attackers got a foothold on these networks, "malicious activities included exfiltration of user information, escalation of administrative privileges, and the dropping of webshells for remote/backdoor persistent access." "Due to the sophistication of the compromise and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) utilized, the FBI believes unidentified nation-state actors are involved in the compromise," the agency said in its security alert. The FBI could not say if both intrusions were carried out by the same group. The agency also did not name the two hacked municipalities; however, it reported the two breaches in greater detail, listing the attackers' steps in each incident.

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Biden Wants To Get Rid of Law That Shields Companies like Facebook From Liability For What Their Users Post

Fri, 2020-01-17 16:06
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wants to get rid of the legal protection that has shielded social media companies including Facebook from liability for users' posts. From a report: The former vice president's stance, presented in an interview with The New York Times editorial board, is more extreme than that of other lawmakers who have confronted tech executives about the legal protection from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. "Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms," Biden said in the interview published Friday. The bill became law in the mid-1990s to help still-nascent tech firms avoid being bogged down in legal battles. But as tech companies have amassed more power and billions of dollars, many lawmakers across the political spectrum along with Attorney General William Barr, agree that some reforms of the law and its enforcement are likely warranted. But revoking the clause in its entirety would have major implications for tech platforms and may still fail to produce some of the desired outcomes. Section 230 allows for tech companies to take "good faith" measures to moderate content on their platforms, meaning they can take down content they consider violent, obscene or harassing without fear of legal retribution.

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