Category Archives: Technology

Developer faces prison after admitting admin software was really a RAT

By | July 16, 2018

A Kentucky man has pleaded guilty to federal charges he developed, marketed, and provided technical support for software he knew customers used illegally to take control of other people’s computers.

Colton Grubbs used the handle KFC Watermelon to advertise the LuminosityLink administrative tool on Hackforums[dot]net, federal prosecutors alleged in an indictment filed last month. The indictment said the tool provided a variety of malicious capabilities including the ability for purchasers to control others’ computers, surreptitiously record users’ activities, and to view their files, login credentials, and personal information. The defendant, prosecutors said, also used the hacker forum and a website located at luminosity[dot]link to teach users how to conceal their identities and prevent antivirus programs from detecting the tool.

On Monday, Grubbs signed a plea agreement that admitted that from 2015 to 2017 he designed LuminosityLink and sold it for $40 apiece to more than 6,000 individuals, knowing that some of them were using it maliciously. While previously claiming the software was a legitimate tool for system administrators, Monday’s plea agreement admitted he knew some customers were using it to control computers without owners’ knowledge or permission. The document, which was signed by Grubbs, stated:

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Essential Phone fire sale is the best way to spend $250 on a smartphone

By | July 16, 2018

It’s Amazon Prime Day, and that means a large collection of deals that may or may not be a great value. We have a big post covering much of the tech stuff, but I wanted to highlight this insane Essential Phone deal that lets you have a 2017 flagship smartphone for $250. Less than a year ago, this phone was $700. A comparable Snapdragon 835 phone from Samsung (the Galaxy S8) is $500. Today, you can buy two Essential Phones for the cost of the Galaxy S8.

We found the Essential Phone to be a very interesting product when we reviewed it last year. It had a new-age notched display, a minimal design, a unique ceramic body, and felt really well made, especially for something from a brand-new company. It ran stock Android and came with a promise of two years of software updates.

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News of Trump passing cognitive test may make it harder to detect dementia

By | July 16, 2018

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump answers questions about the 2016 US election during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. (credit: Getty | Chris McGrath)

News reports in January that President Donald Trump passed a widely used test that screens for mild cognitive impairment flung the little-known clinical tool into public focus. Google searches for the test—the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA)—spiked as dozens of media reports shared parts or all of the test and political commentators batted it around.

The president’s supporters proudly played up the test, boasting of Trump’s perfect 30-out-of-30 score and using it to laugh down those who questioned Trump’s mental state. Others snickered over the test’s seemingly straightforward components, such as asking test takers to correctly draw times on a clock and identify animals.

But the laugh may be on all of us, according to a research letter published Monday, July 16 in JAMA Neurology.

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Dangerous plutonium stolen from rental car in a hotel parking lot

By | July 16, 2018

(credit: Alex Proimos / Flickr)

Two workers from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory lost an undisclosed amount of plutonium and cesium from a rental car parked overnight in a San Antonio, Texas, hotel parking lot in a neighborhood known for car break-ins and other crimes, according to an article published Monday by the Center for Public Integrity.

The loss of the highly radioactive material occurred in March 2017 and was discovered when the two workers awoke the next morning to find the window of their Ford Expedition had been smashed. Missing were radiation detectors and small samples of plutonium and cesium used to calibrate them. The workers were transporting the equipment and materials during an assignment to retrieve dangerous nuclear materials from a nonprofit research lab in San Antonio when the theft occurred. The vehicle had been parked in the lot of a Marriott hotel in a San Antonio neighborhood where car break-ins are common.

More than a year later, state and federal officials still don’t know where the substances are. No public announcement of the March 21 incident was ever made by either the San Antonio Police Department or by the FBI, which police consulted. Officials have declined to say how much plutonium and cesium were taken. A spokeswoman with the Idaho lab told reporters Patrick Malone and R. Jeffrey Smith that the amount of plutonium taken wasn’t enough to create a so-called dirty bomb and that there’s little or no danger from either sources being in the public domain.

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D-Wave’s quantum computer successfully models a quantum system

By | July 16, 2018

Enlarge (credit: D-Wave Systems)

D-Wave’s hardware has always occupied a unique space on the computing landscape. It’s a general-purpose computer that relies on quantum mechanical effects to perform calculations. And, while other quantum-computer makers have struggled to put more than a few dozen qubits together, D-Wave’s systems have already scaled to more than 2,000 addressable bits. But the D-Wave systems don’t perform calculations in the same way and, despite all those bits, haven’t clearly demonstrated performance that can outpace even traditional computing hardware.

But D-Wave has come out with a research paper in Science that suggests that the system can do interesting things even in its current state. The company’s researchers have set it loose modeling a quantum system that closely resembles the bits used in the hardware itself, allowing them to examine quantum phase transitions. While this still isn’t cutting-edge performance, it does allow researchers full control over the physical parameters of a relevant quantum system as it undergoes phase changes.

Spins and spin glass

D-Wave’s systems can be thought of as a large collection of magnets, each of which can flip orientations. These aren’t qubits in the same way that the components of IBM or Intel’s quantum processors are, but they do rely on quantum behavior for performing calculations. On their own, there’s nothing that favors one orientation over another. But put a second magnet nearby and the two influence each other; now, if one flips its orientation, it changes the energy content of the system. D-Wave’s current system scales this up to 2,048 individual magnets, along with associated control hardware that determines which of these magnets is connected and how strong that connection is.

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Suspect behind bitcoin exchange that “catered to criminals” ordered to France

By | July 16, 2018

Enlarge / Courts in Thessaloniki, Greece, rules extradition of the Russian bitcoin master suspect Alexander Vinnik to France after the French authorities request. (credit: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Greek court in Thessaloniki ruled last week that the creator of a shady bitcoin exchange under investigation by American authorities will be extradited to France rather than to the United States or to his native Russia.

Last summer, federal authorities identified Alexander Vinnik as a central figure in the massive bitcoin theft that was a major factor in the downfall of Mt. Gox, the Japanese bitcoin exchange that led the market in bitcoin’s early years. If Vinnik is ultimately determined to be involved in the crash and eventual bankruptcy of Mt. Gox, that revelation would finally solve what has remained one of the bitcoin community’s biggest mysteries.

American prosectors have previously said that the exchange, BTC-e, was behind around $4 billion worth of money laundering.

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Microsoft killing off the old Skype client, adding built-in call recording

By | July 16, 2018

Enlarge / Skype 8.0. (credit: Microsoft)

Skype’s development history is a bit checkered; a wide range of clients has been developed with disparate features and a lack of clarity over direction. This has been especially true on Windows, where two different clients were available—the “Classic” client is a Win32 application that can trace its heritage back to the days before Microsoft bought Skype, while the “modern” client shipped through the Microsoft Store—each with its own interfaces and features.

Microsoft has finally, however, managed to more or less unify its Skype development across Windows, macOS, Linux, and the mobile apps. This effort was itself years in the making (we reported on it in 2016), and with that work done, the company is at last working on new features.

Today, the application allows video chat with screen sharing at up to 1080p with up to 24 people. Messaging now supports the convention of using @mentions in a group chat to alert users and file sharing works with files up to 300MB. It’s also now easier to find historic shared media with a built-in gallery of media content.

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