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When the FBI Seizes Your Messages from Big Tech, You May Not Know for Years

When America's law enforcement investigators serve tech companies with subpoenas or search warrants,"the target of the investigation has no idea their data is being seized," the Washington Post pointed out this weekend. It's becoming surprisingly common in the U.S. "And if investigators obtain a gag order, the records must be handed over without the person's knowledge or consent — depriving the person of an opportunity to challenge the seizure in court." Every year, Facebook, Google and other technology companies receive hundreds of thousands of orders from law enforcement agencies seeking data people stash online: private messages, photos, search histories, calendar items — a potentially rich trove for criminal investigators. Often, those requests are accompanied by secrecy orders, also known as nondisclosure or gag orders, that require the tech companies to keep their customers in the dark, potentially for years... In the last six months of 2020, Facebook received 61,262 government requests for user data in the United States, said spokesman Andy Stone. Most — 69 percent — came with secrecy orders. Meanwhile, Microsoft has received between 2,400 and 3,500 secrecy orders from federal law enforcement each year since 2016 — or seven to 10 per day — according to congressional testimony by vice president of customer security and trust Tom Burt. Google and Apple declined to disclose the number of gag orders they've received. But in the first half of 2020, Google said U.S. law enforcement made 39,536 requests for information about 84,662 accounts — with many of the requests targeting multiple accounts. Apple said it received 11,363 requests... Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, federal prosecutors are required to seek digital information from tech companies, not their customers. Since then, prosecutors have routinely used gag orders to prevent the companies from spilling the beans to suspects who might destroy evidence, go into hiding or threaten someone's life. But the practice has mushroomed over the past two decades, part of a broader surveillance ramp-up following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, lawyers said. As the orders have proliferated, privacy advocates and the tech companies themselves have become increasingly concerned. Some tech company officials have accused prosecutors of reflexively requesting gag orders for routine investigations, regardless of whether the cases actually require such secrecy. And an array of company officials and legal experts argue that the practice robs tech company customers of their constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. "Across all the rest of society, it's understood that government doesn't get to take your stuff, doesn't get to come in and into your house, doesn't get to break into your file folders or your lock box at the bank without a warrant. And you get to know about that warrant and you get to exercise your legal rights," Microsoft's Burt said in an interview. "Someone cannot exercise their Fourth Amendment rights when their data has been taken in secret." U.S. lawmakers are considering changes, the article points out. One idea? Require tech companies "to preserve digital files that are the subject of court orders and permit customers to challenge the orders in court before the information is turned over to prosecutors." Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon points out that's how wiretaps currently work — and is also drafting a measure that would finally require federal courts to publish statistics on the number of surveillance and secrecy orders they've issued.

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Posted on 27 September 2021 | 3:42 am

Microsoft Joins a Linux Foundation Nonprofit's Effort to Decarbonize the Grid

"Microsoft has joined forces with LF Energy, a Linux Foundation nonprofit working to accelerate the energy transition of the world's grids and transportation systems through open source," reports ZDNet: Microsoft has become a strategic member of the foundation and Audrey Lee, senior director of energy strategy at Microsoft, was elected to serve on the LF Energy Foundation Governing Board. Dr. Shuli Goodman, executive director of LF Energy, told ZDNet that the foundation believes Microsoft will play an important role in helping to advance their mission of decarbonization of the power grid, transportation and the built environment. "LF Energy Foundation is thrilled to have Microsoft join our organization as a General member. Through Microsoft's commitment to a carbon negative position they are directly encouraging the tech sector to look for more efficient ways to purchase and consume power," Goodman said. "LF Energy nurtures the most cutting edge of all open source projects focused on improving automation, control, security, virtualization, and interoperability of power systems. Our members contribute valuable code, tooling, resources and expertise to increase the velocity of these projects...." Goodman called Microsoft a "force multiplier" and said having the company backing LF Energy will help propel their projects forward at a rapid pace.

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Posted on 27 September 2021 | 1:42 am

With HTTPS Everywhere, EFF Begins Plans to Eventually Deprecate 'HTTPS Everywhere' Extension

The Record reports: The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it is preparing to retire the famous HTTPS Everywhere browser extension after HTTPS adoption has picked up and after several web browsers have introduced HTTPS-only modes." "After the end of this year, the extension will be in 'maintenance mode' for 2022," said Alexis Hancock, Director of Engineering at the EFF. Maintenance mode means the extension will receive minor bug fixes next year but no new features or further development. No official end-of-life date has been decided, a date after which no updates will be provided for the extension whatsoever. Launched in June 2010, the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension is one of the most successful browser extensions ever released. The extension worked by automatically switching web connections from HTTP to HTTPS if websites had an HTTPS option available. At the time it was released, it helped upgrade site connections to HTTPS when users clicked on HTTP links or typed domains in their browser without specifying the "https://" prefix. The extension reached cult status among privacy advocates and was integrated into the Tor Browser and, after that, in many other privacy-conscious browsers. But since 2010, HTTPS is not a fringe technology anymore. Currently, around 86.6% of all internet sites support HTTPS connections. Browser makers such as Chrome and Mozilla previously reported that HTTPS traffic usually accounts for 90% to 95% of their daily connections. From EFF's announcement: The goal of HTTPS Everywhere was always to become redundant. That would mean we'd achieved our larger goal: a world where HTTPS is so broadly available and accessible that users no longer need an extra browser extension to get it. Now that world is closer than ever, with mainstream browsers offering native support for an HTTPS-only mode. With these simple settings available, EFF is preparing to deprecate the HTTPS Everywhere web extension as we look to new frontiers of secure protocols like SSL/TLS... We know many different kinds of users have this tool installed, and want to give our partners and users the needed time to transition. The announcement also promises to inform users of browser-native HTTPS-only options before the day when the extension reaches its final sunsetting — and ends with instructions for how to activate the native HTTPS-only features in Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and Safari, "and celebrate with us that HTTPS is truly everywhere for users."

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Posted on 27 September 2021 | 12:11 am

US Military Seeks Comments on Its Plan to Build a Small, Transportable Nuclear Reactor

America's Department of Defense "is taking input on its plan to build an advanced mobile nuclear microreactor prototype at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho," reports the Associated Press: The department began a 45-day comment period on Friday with the release of a draft environmental impact study evaluating alternatives for building and operating the microreactor that could produce 1 to 5 megawatts of power. The department's energy needs are expected to increase, it said. "A safe, small, transportable nuclear reactor would address this growing demand with a resilient, carbon-free energy source that would not add to the DoD's fuel needs, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments," the Defense Department said. The draft environmental impact statement cites President Joe Biden's January 27 executive order prioritizing climate change considerations in national security as another reason for pursuing microreactors. The draft document said alternative energy sources such as wind and solar were problematic because they are limited by location, weather and available land area, and would require redundant power supplies. The department said it uses 30 terawatt-hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons (37.9 million liters) of fuel per day. Powering bases using diesel generators strains operations and planning, the department said, and need is expected to grow during a transition to an electrical, non-tactical vehicle fleet. Thirty terawatt-hours is more energy than many small countries use in a year. The department in the 314-page draft environmental impact statement said it wants to reduce reliance on local electric grids, which are highly vulnerable to prolonged outages from natural disasters, cyberattacks, domestic terrorism and failure from lack of maintenance. The department also said new technologies such as drones and radar systems increase energy demands... The Defense Department said a final environmental impact statement and decision about how or whether to move forward is expected in early 2022. If approved, preparing testing sites at the Idaho National Lab and then building and testing of the microreactor would take about three years.

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 10:52 pm

Samsung Engineers Propose 'Copying and Pasting' the Brain onto AI Chips

Samsung has proposed a way to build brain-like computer chips by "copying and pasting" a brain's neuron wiring map onto 3D neuromorphic chips. Engadget reports: The approach would rely on a nanoelectrode array that enters a large volumes of neurons to record both where the neurons connect and the strength of those connections. You could copy that data and 'paste' it to a 3D network of solid-state memory, whether it's off-the-shelf flash storage or cutting-edge memory like resistive RAM. Each memory unit would have a conductance that reflects the strength of each neuron connection in the map. The result would be an effective return to "reverse engineering the brain" like scientists originally wanted, Samsung said. The move could serve as a 'shortcut' to artificial intelligence systems that behave like real brains, including the flexibility to learn new concepts and adapt to changing conditions. You might even see fully autonomous machines with true cognition, according to the researchers. "Envisioned by the leading engineers and scholars from Samsung and Harvard University, the insight was published as a Perspective paper, titled 'Neuromorphic electronics based on copying and pasting the brain'..." Samsung said in a statement. In short, they're proposing a method that "directly downloads the brain's neuronal connection map onto the memory chip."

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 8:43 pm

A Cryptocurrency-Trading Hamster Beats Warren Buffett's Performance - and the S&P 500

"What if we told you there was a hamster who has been trading cryptocurrencies since June — and recently was doing better than Warren Buffett and the S&P 500?" asks NPR: Meet Mr. Goxx, a hamster who works out of what is possibly the most high-tech hamster cage in existence. It's designed so that when Mr. Goxx runs on the hamster wheel, he can select among dozens of cryptocurrencies. Then, deciding between two tunnels, he chooses whether to buy or sell. According to the Twitch account for the hamster, his decision is sent over to a real trading platform — and yes, real money is involved. Last Monday, after 100 days the hamster's portfolio was up 48%, reports one site, "before Bitcoin tumbled, which brought the rest of the crypto market down with it." But the hamster's portfolio is still up nearly 30% since he started trading in June, the article points out, "outperforming Bitcoin, the S&P 500, and even Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway." The hamster's business partner adds that profits aren't yet enough to cover the initial investment on Mr. Goxx's cage. And there's other issues... "Since Mr. Goxx is an honorable business rodent, he must calculate with about 35% tax being subtracted on all his returns, so there is still some work left before he can really talk about making money."

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 7:42 pm

Former Reddit CEO Asks: Why Is Theranos' Holmes the Only Tech CEO Facing Prosecution?

Federal prosecutors allege that Elizabeth Holmes and the No. 2 at Theranos, Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, "broke the law by deceiving investors about how well the business was doing and the capabilities of its testing machines, in addition to allegedly providing false or flawed test results to patients," reports NPR. But they add that in Silicon Valley, the trial has launched this debate. "Since Holmes was following a playbook used by dozens of tech CEOs, why is she the only one to face prosecution when a company becomes engulfed in a scandal?" To Ellen Pao, the former CEO of Reddit, who is a vocal critic of gender discrimination in tech, sexism is partially to blame. "When you see which CEOs get to continue to wreak havoc on consumers and the market, it's people who look like the venture capitalists, who are mostly white men," Pao said. She points to Adam Neumann, who drove WeWork into the ground; former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who resigned after a sexual harassment scandal; and Juul's Kevin Burns, who stepped down amid questions over the company's role in stoking the youth vaping epidemic. There were lawsuits, settlements and more fallout — but notably, Pao points out, no criminal prosecutions. "That all these people continue to lead their lives and not be held accountable for all the harm that they've caused, it does send a message," she said. Former prosecutors who have tried white-collar crime say there are several reasons why Holmes stands out among disgraced tech CEOs. First, the allegedly fraudulent behavior was egregious: Holmes told the world she had a miracle machine that would upend laboratory science. Prosecutors say, compared with her claims, the technology barely did anything at all. Mark MacDougall, a former federal prosecutor who focused on fraud cases in the U.S. Justice Department, said Theranos' being a biotech company raised the stakes. "It allows the government to contend, with some evidence, that the health of private citizens, the health of innocent people, was put at risk," MacDougall said. Another reason Holmes was charged, according to former prosecutors, was that the government says it obtained evidence that she acted intentionally, which can be difficult to establish in fraud cases. Prosecutors now plan to show Holmes "knowingly and intentionally" defrauded investors and patients, "something her defense team says is false," the article points out. "Proving that Holmes is guilty will turn on demonstrating her intent, since exaggerating a product's potential, missing financial forecasts and running a secretive company do not constitute federal crimes." Pao's argument is that Holmes "was encouraged by the high-risk, high-reward culture of venture capital. That said, Pao said she is not defending Holmes, saying her behavior warranted prosecution." "At the same time, Pao wants a broader discussion in Silicon Valley about why other CEOs accused of wrongdoing have not faced criminal consequences."

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 6:42 pm

Report: In 2017 America's CIA Plotted to Kidnap Julian Assange From Ecuador

"In 2017, as Julian Assange began his fifth year holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London, the CIA plotted to kidnap the WikiLeaks founder," reports Yahoo News, "spurring heated debate among Trump administration officials over the legality and practicality of such an operation." The report is based on conversations with more than 30 former U.S. officials, "eight of whom described details of the CIA's proposals to abduct Assange." Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration even discussed killing Assange, going so far as to request "sketches" or "options" for how to assassinate him. Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred "at the highest levels" of the Trump administration, said a former senior counterintelligence official. "There seemed to be no boundaries...." While Assange had been on the radar of U.S. intelligence agencies for years, these plans for an all-out war against him were sparked by WikiLeaks' ongoing publication of extraordinarily sensitive CIA hacking tools, known collectively as "Vault 7," which the agency ultimately concluded represented "the largest data loss in CIA history." President Trump's newly installed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange, who had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape allegations he denied... The CIA's fury at WikiLeaks led Pompeo to publicly describe the group in 2017 as a "non-state hostile intelligence service." More than just a provocative talking point, the designation opened the door for agency operatives to take far more aggressive actions, treating the organization as it does adversary spy services, former intelligence officials told Yahoo News. Within months, U.S. spies were monitoring the communications and movements of numerous WikiLeaks personnel, including audio and visual surveillance of Assange himself, according to former officials... There is no indication that the most extreme measures targeting Assange were ever approved, in part because of objections from White House lawyers, but the agency's WikiLeaks proposals so worried some administration officials that they quietly reached out to staffers and members of Congress on the House and Senate intelligence committees to alert them to what Pompeo was suggesting... In late 2017, in the midst of the debate over kidnapping and other extreme measures, the agency's plans were upended when U.S. officials picked up what they viewed as alarming reports that Russian intelligence operatives were preparing to sneak Assange out of the United Kingdom and spirit him away to Moscow... In response, the CIA and the White House began preparing for a number of scenarios to foil Assange's Russian departure plans, according to three former officials. Those included potential gun battles with Kremlin operatives on the streets of London, crashing a car into a Russian diplomatic vehicle transporting Assange and then grabbing him, and shooting out the tires of a Russian plane carrying Assange before it could take off for Moscow. (U.S. officials asked their British counterparts to do the shooting if gunfire was required, and the British agreed, according to a former senior administration official.) One former senior official told Yahoo News that "It got to the point where every human being in a three-block radius was working for one of the intelligence services — whether they were street sweepers or police officers or security guards."

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 5:43 pm

The World's Longest Cave System Just Got Even Longer

schwit1 shared this report from LiveScience: The world's longest known cave system just set a new record after surveyors spent hours mapping an additional 8 miles (13 kilometers) of the passageways at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The corridors at Mammoth Cave now measure a whopping 420 miles (676 km) in length, according to the National Park Service (NPS). That's about the distance between New York City and Raleigh, North Carolina. Mapping the cave system was a huge undertaking, carried out by volunteers at the Cave Research Foundation (CRF), a Kentucky-based nonprofit group, and other locals, including those from the Central Kentucky Karst Coalition. "Many of the cave trips are long and arduous, involving climbing, vertical exposure, squeezes, crawlways, water and mud," Karen Willmes, the eastern operations manager with CRF, said in an NPS statement... "After the trip, cartographers turn the data collected on the cave trip into a map. Other volunteers provide surface support.

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 4:34 pm

Chipmakers To Carmakers: Time To Get Out of the Semiconductor Stone Age

Long-time Slashdot reader BoredStiff shares this report from Fortune: Moore's law of ever-increasing miniaturization seemingly never reached the automotive industry. Dozens of chips found in everything from electronic brake systems to airbag control units tend to rely on obsolete technology often well over a decade old. These employ comparatively simple transistors that can be anywhere from 45 nanometers to as much as 90 nanometers in size, far too large — and too primitive — to be suitable for today's smartphones. When the pandemic hit, replacement demand for big-ticket items like new cars was pushed back while sales of all kinds of home devices soared. When the car market roared back months later, chipmakers had already reallocated their capacity. Now these processors are in short supply, and chipmakers are telling car companies to wake up and finally join the 2010s. "I'll make them as many Intel 16 [nanometer] chips as they want," Intel chief executive Pat Gelsinger told Fortune last week during his visit to an auto industry trade show in Germany. Carmakers have bombarded him with requests to invest in brand-new production capacity for semiconductors featuring designs that, at best, were state of the art when the first Apple iPhone launched. "It just makes no economic or strategic sense," said Gelsinger, who came to the auto show to convince carmakers they need to let go of the distant past. "Rather than spending billions on new 'old' fabs, let's spend millions to help migrate designs to modern ones...." Reliability plays a major concern. Most systems in cars are safety-critical and need to perform in practically every situation regardless of temperature, humidity, vibrations, and even minor road debris. With so much at stake, tried and true is better than new and improved.... If semiconductor suppliers like Intel and Qualcomm have their way, however, the days of the auto industry relying on these cheap commodity chips are numbered. The article cites a prediction that 10% of pre-pandemic car production could be eliminated due to chip shortages — and includes this quote from a press briefing by the Volkswagen Group's head of procurement. "Because of a 50-cent chip, we are unable to build a car that sells for $50,000."

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 3:34 pm

Scientists Find Hormone That Allows Seeds To Germinate In Low Water Conditions

Slashdot reader StellarThoughts shares an announcement from the University of California, Riverside. (Alternate URL): Plants have the ability to perceive drought. When they do, they emit a hormone that helps them hold on to water. This same hormone, ABA, sends a message to seeds that it isn't a good time to germinate, leading to lower crop yields and less food in places where it's hot — an increasingly long list as a result of climate change. "If you block ABA, you mess with the chemical pathway that plants use to prevent seed germination," said Aditya Vaidya, UC Riverside project scientist and study author. "Our new chemical, Antabactin, does exactly this. If we apply it, we have shown that dormant seeds will sprout." Demonstrations of Antabactin's effectiveness are described in a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This work builds on the same team's creation of a chemical that mimics the effects of the ABA hormone, produced by plants in response to drought stress. That chemical, Opabactin, slows a plant's growth so it conserves water and doesn't wilt. It works by inducing plants to close tiny pores in their leaves and stems, which prevents water from escaping. Next, the team wanted to find a molecule that would have the opposite effect, opening the pores, encouraging germination and increasing plant growth. Though seed dormancy has largely been removed through breeding, it is still a problem in some crops like lettuce. Sean Cutler, a UC Riverside plant cell biology professor and study co-author, said accelerating and slowing plant growth are important tools for farmers. "Our research is all about managing both of these needs," he said... In their paper, the team members showed that applying Antabactin to barley and tomato seeds accelerated germination. Conceivably, both Antabactin and Opabactin could work together to help crops flourish in a world becoming drier and hotter. Once Antabactin has helped seeds sprout into healthy plants, a farmer might start saving water early in the growing season by spraying Opabactin. This way, enough water is "banked" for when the plants start flowering.

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 2:34 pm

After 47 Years, US Power Company Abandons Still-Unfinished $6 Billion Nuclear Power Plant

America's federally-owned electric utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has spent billions of dollars with nothing to show for it, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "Nearly 47 years after construction began on the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Northeast Alabama, the Tennessee Valley Authority is giving up its construction permit for America's biggest unfinished nuclear plant and abandoning any plans to complete the twin-reactor facility..." Giving up the construction permit at Bellefonte signals the end of any new nuclear plant construction at TVA with only seven of the 17 nuclear reactors the utility once planned to build ever completed.... Since the 1970s, a total of 95 nuclear reactors proposed to be built by U.S. utilities have been canceled due to rising construction costs, slowing power demand and cheapening power alternatives. The NRC now regulates 93 remaining commercial nuclear reactors at 56 nuclear power plants, including TVA's Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants in East Tennessee and the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Athens, Alabama. Collectively, those nuclear plants provide more than 40% of TVA's power and over 20% of the nation's electricity supply... TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said in the past two decades, the growth in power demand in the Tennessee Valley has continued to slow as more energy efficiency measures have been adopted and the price of natural gas, solar power and additional hydroelectric generation has declined in competition with nuclear. Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader The Real Dr John for sharing the story. And today the Chattanooga Times Free Press opinions editor offered this suggestion: TVA still owns the 1,600-acre site, as well as the plant that has never — and likely now will never — generate the first spark of nuclear-produced electricity. But that doesn't mean it can't make power some other way. A gas plant? Uggh. A wind field? Seems unlikely given the stillness of North Alabama. A solar plant? That could be more of a possibility. All of the transmission equipment and the electrical grid is at the ready... By now — after siting, building, scrapping, building again, abandoning, putting up for sale, agreeing to sell for pennies on the dollar and finally going to court to defend not selling the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant — TVA ratepayers and taxpayers have lost somewhere between $6 billion (according to TVA) and $9 billion (according to a 2018 letter from five congressmen)... TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said Wednesday that TVA is making no decisions immediately. "But we're not taking anything off the table," he added... Hopson said TVA's May 2021 "strategic intent and guiding principles" notes the utility has solar commitments to date of more than 2,300 megawatts of solar capacity expected to come online by the end of 2023. Including those projects, TVA expects to add 10,000 megawatts of solar power by 2035 — a 24-fold increase from today. That 10,000 megawatts of solar power would be equal to more than eight would-be Bellefonte reactors.

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 11:34 am

Facing Post-Brexit Petrol Shortage, UK Issues Emergency Visas for EU Truck Drivers

Slashdot reader AleRunner tipped us off to some excitement in the UK: The British government said on Friday it may draft in the army to help deliver gas after shortages caused by a scarcity of truck drivers forced the closure of stations across the country. The haulage industry said there was a shortfall of some 100,000 drivers, and that could also lead to shortages of turkeys and toys this Christmas. Some 25,000 drivers returned to Europe after Brexit, and the pandemic halted the qualification process for new workers... Gas is just the latest thing that people in the U.K. are finding hard to come by after its departure from the European Union. Previously McDonald's has been forced to take milkshakes off the menu, KFC has run short on chicken and supermarket shelves have been left bare. The crisis is already beginning to bite in other areas of life, with 18 percent of adults saying they have been unable to buy essential food items in the past two weeks, according to the U.K.'s Office for National Statistics. The pandemic means that many countries are facing supply chain problems, as manufacturing centers in Asia are hit by continuing cases and restrictions. Now the Associated Press reports the government has decided to issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers: Post-Brexit immigration rules mean newly arrived EU citizens can no longer work visa-free in Britain, as they could when the U.K. was a member of the trade bloc. Trucking companies have been urging the British government to loosen immigration rules so drivers can more easily be recruited from across Europe... One cause of the trucker shortage is a backlog caused by the suspension of driver testing for months during Britain's coronavirus lockdowns. The government has already increased testing capacity, as well as extending the number of hours that drivers can work each week, prompting safety concerns. The government said military driving examiners would be pulled in to further boost civilian testing capacity.

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 7:34 am

26,000 and Counting: America is Installing Hundreds More Bitcoin ATMs Each Week

The cryptocurrency-ATM company Coinmover has over 100 machines in stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Washington state — and plans to have 1,250 machines in 18 states by the end of the year, reports the Boston Globe. Right now each machine is selling "an average of about $40,000 in cryptocurrency each month." There's a nationwide surge in easier ways to buy cryptocurrencies, with bitcoin ATMs leading the way. According to the industry tracking site Coin ATM Radar, there were about 6,000 such machines in the U.S. at this time last year, but over 26,000 today, with hundreds more installed every week. And that only counts "pure" bitcoin ATMs, the ones that only sell cryptocurrency. In addition, thousands of traditional cash-vending ATMs have been modified to support crypto purchases as well. Then there's Coinstar, which makes the coin-counting machines found in many US supermarkets. About 7,500 of these machines now sell bitcoin, and that number is expected to reach 10,000 by year's end. Researchers at a different site, How Many Bitcoin ATMs, have added these hybrid machines to the mix, and estimate there are over 42,000 bitcoin vending machines in the US today.... Financial technology giant NCR has entered the game. Last month NCR acquired Boston-based LibertyX, one of the first bitcoin ATM companies. These days, LibertyX mainly makes software to add crypto vending capabilities to standard ATMs and retail point-of-sale devices — the modern equivalent of cash registers. NCR is one of the world's leading makers of ATMs and point-of-sale devices. The LibertyX acquisition doesn't just mean thousands more crypto-capable ATMs. It could also mean that thousands of retail stores could sell crypto just like candy bars. It's already happening. LibertyX has deals with retailers CVS, Rite Aid, and 7-Eleven to enable bitcoin purchases at selected stores. A customer uses a LibertyX smartphone app to punch in the amount he or she wants to buy, up to $500 per day. A barcode appears on the phone's screen. A clerk scans the barcode and the customer hands over the cash. It's instantly added to the customer's bitcoin account, less a $4.95 transaction fee. LibertyX claims this service is now available at over 20,000 retail stores... According to a survey from the University of Chicago, 13 percent of US adults bought or sold cryptocurrency during the past year. That's nearly 33 million people. How many more will buy in, when thousands of retail stores and ATMs become bitcoin trading posts? We're about to find out.

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 3:34 am

VoIP.ms Battles Week-Long Sustained DDoS-for-Ransom Attack

Slashdot reader Striek writes: VoIP.ms, a Canadian VoIP provider [also serving the US], has been under a sustained, and presumably massive DDoS attack which started on the September 16th, 2021. The attack has been disruptive enough to be covered by major media outlets, including Hacker News, ZDNet, Ars Technica, BleepingComputer, CTV News, and The Toronto Star. They have so far refused to pay a ransom demand, which has grown from 1 bitcoin at the outset ($45,000 USD at that time), to 100 bitcoin now, or $45 million. Similar attacks have occurred recently on several UK based VOiP providers. With DDoS attacks against VOiP infrastructure difficult to defend against — or at least more difficult than your bog-standard denial of service, this may be setting a worrying trend. Bleeping Computer reported Monday that the attack was "severely disrupting the company's operation: As customers configured their VoIP equipment to connect to the company's domain name, the DDoS attack disrupted telephony services, preventing them from receiving or making phone calls. As DNS was no longer working, the company advised customers to modify their HOSTS file to point the domain at their IP address to bypass DNS resolution. However, this just led the threat actors to perform DDoS attacks directly at that IP address as well. To mitigate the attacks, VoIP.ms moved their website and DNS servers to Cloudflare, and while they reported some success, the company's site and VoIP infrastructure still have issues due to the continued denial-of-service attack. ZDNet has been following the story: In an update on Wednesday, VoIP.ms apologized to customers and confirmed it was still being targeted by what it described as a 'ransom DDoS attack' . VoIP.ms says it has over 80,000 customers in 125 countries. And in addition, this afternoon the company's Twitter account announced that "Our main U.S. upstream carrier is currently experiencing major issues on their network affecting inbound and outbound calls and messaging to US numbers. We have already been in contact with their senior leadership team and they are on it along with their whole NOC."

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Posted on 26 September 2021 | 1:34 am