China

China Reassigns 60,000 Soldiers To Plant Trees In Bid To Fight Pollution 124

According to The Independent, citing the Asia Times, China has reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plan trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country's forest coverage. The soldiers are from the People's Liberation Army, along with some of the nation's armed police force. From the report: The majority will be dispatched to Hebei province, which encircles Beijing. The area is known to be a major culprit for producing the notorious smog which blankets the capital city. The idea is believed to be popular among members of online military forums as long as they can keep their ranks and entitlements. It comes as part of China's plan to plant at least 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 square miles) of trees by the end of the year, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Ireland. The aim is to increase the country's forest coverage from 21 per cent of its total landmass to 23 per cent by 2020, the China Daily newspaper reported.
United Kingdom

UK Blames Russia For Cyber Attack, Says Won't Tolerate Disruption (reuters.com) 142

Britain blamed Russia on Thursday for a cyber-attack last year, publicly pointing the finger at Moscow for spreading a virus which disrupted companies across Europe including UK-based Reckitt Benckiser. From a report: Russia denied the accusation, saying it was part of "Russophobic" campaign it said was being waged by some Western countries. The so-called NotPetya attack in June started in Ukraine where it crippled government and business computers before spreading around the world, halting operations at ports, factories and offices. Britain's foreign ministry said the attack originated from the Russian military. "The decision to publicly attribute this incident underlines the fact that the UK and its allies will not tolerate malicious cyber activity," the ministry said in a statement. "The attack masqueraded as a criminal enterprise but its purpose was principally to disrupt," it said.
Communications

Turkey Rolls Out Domestic Rival To WhatsApp, Raising Surveillance Concerns (reuters.com) 36

Turkey has launched a domestic messaging app to rival Facebook's popular WhatsApp Messenger service, raising concerns among government critics that Ankara (capital of Turkey) could use the new platform to tighten surveillance and bolster an 18-month-old crackdown. From a report: The app, called PttMessenger after Turkey's Post and Telegraph General Directorate (PTT), was introduced in a limited roll-out to state institutions and some private companies this week. It is expected to be publicly available in six months. PttMessenger will provide a "system safer than WhatsApp," government spokesman Bekir Bozdag told a news conference. "Since no data is stored with the host, it will be impossible to access these data. A system safer than WhatsApp has been developed." Critics cast doubt on the suggestion PttMessenger data could not be retrieved, fearing it will give authorities greater ability to monitor dissent, pointing to the widespread crackdown that was launched after a failed military coup in July 2016.
The Military

German Navy Experiences 'LCS Syndrome' In Spades As New Frigate Fails Sea Trials (arstechnica.com) 222

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica, highlighting the problems the Germany Navy is facing right now. It has no working submarines due to a chronic repair parts shortage, and its newest ships face problems so severe that the first of the class failed its sea trials and was returned to the shipbuilders in December. From the report: The Baden-Wurttemberg class frigates were ordered to replace the 1980s-era Bremen class ships, all but two of which have been retired already. At 149 meters (488 feet) long with a displacement of 7,200 metric tons (about 7,900 U.S. tons), the Baden-Wurttembergs are about the size of destroyers and are intended to reduce the size of the crew required to operate them. Like the Zumwalt, the frigates are intended to have improved land attack capabilities -- a mission capability largely missing from the Deutsche Marine's other post-unification ships. The new frigate was supposed to be a master of all trades -- carrying Marines to deploy to fight ashore, providing gunfire support, hunting enemy ships and submarines, and capable of being deployed on far-flung missions for up to two years away from a home port. As with the U.S. Navy's LCS ships, the German Navy planned to alternate crews -- sending a fresh crew to meet the ship on deployment to relieve the standing crew.

Instead, the Baden-Wurttemberg now bears the undesirable distinction of being the first ship the German Navy has ever refused to accept after delivery. In fact, the future of the whole class of German frigates is now in doubt because of the huge number of problems experienced with the first ship during sea trials. So the Baden-Wurttemberg won't be shooting its guns at anything for the foreseeable future (and neither will the Zumwalt for the moment, since the U.S. Navy cancelled orders for their $800,000-per-shot projectiles). System integration issues are a major chunk of the Baden-Wurrenberg's problems. About 90 percent of the ship's systems are so new that they've never been deployed on a warship in fact -- they've never been tested together as part of what the U.S. Navy would call "a system of systems." And all of that new hardware and software have not played well together -- particularly with the ship's command and control computer system, the Atlas Naval Combat System (ANCS).
schwit1 adds: "Perhaps most inexcusable, the ship doesn't even float right. It has a permanent list to starboard."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Founder John Perry Barlow Has Died At Age 70 (eff.org) 61

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that its founder, John Perry Barlow, has passed away quietly in his sleep this morning. He was 70 years old. From the report: It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow's vision and leadership. He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance. Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the Internet could solve all of humanity's problems without causing any more. As someone who spent the past 27 years working with him at EFF, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth.

Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter: "I knew it's also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key totalitarianism.'" Barlow's lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the Internet into "a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth... a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity."

Encryption

Camera Makers Resist Encryption, Despite Warnings From Photographers (zdnet.com) 291

An anonymous reader shares an article from the security editor of ZDNet: A year after photojournalists and filmmakers sent a critical letter to camera makers for failing to add a basic security feature to protect their work from searches and hacking, little progress has been made. The letter, sent in late 2016, called on camera makers to build encryption into their cameras after photojournalists said they face "a variety of threats..." Even when they're out in the field, collecting footage and documenting evidence, reporters have long argued that without encryption, police, the military, and border agents in countries where they work can examine and search their devices. "The consequences can be dire," the letter added.

Although iPhones and Android phones, computers, and instant messengers all come with encryption, camera makers have fallen behind. Not only does encryption protect reported work from prying eyes, it also protects sources -- many of whom put their lives at risk to expose corruption or wrongdoing... The lack of encryption means high-end camera makers are forcing their customers to choose between putting their sources at risk, or relying on encrypted, but less-capable devices, like iPhones. We asked the same camera manufacturers if they plan to add encryption to their cameras -- and if not, why. The short answer: don't expect much any time soon.

United States

Hawaii Missile Alert Worker Fired, Will Sue State for Defamation (khon2.com) 172

This week Hawaii finally fired the employee who issued a false missile alert warning to the entire state, while the head of the state's emergency management agency resigned, another official quit, and a fourth was suspended over the incident. But new details also emerged about the incident:
  • The New York Daily News reports that the warning officer missed those words "because someone in the office picked up the receiver instead of hitting the speaker." And he insists that "I'm really not to blame in this. It was a system failure. And I did what I was trained to do. I can't say that I would do anything differently based on what I saw and heard." His lawyer adds that "The place was a circus and they got their scapegoat... All that was missing were clowns and balloons."
  • The fired worker now plans to sue the state of Hawaii for defamation, and possibly also for libel and slander, according to his lawyer, "because they lied about what happened." He also says that his client has already received numerous death threats.

Crime

Investigators Crack DB Cooper Code, Identify Suspect With Possible CIA Connections (seattlepi.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: A private investigative team announced Thursday morning that members now believe D.B. Cooper was a black ops CIA operative possibly even involved with Iran-Contra, and that his identity has been actively hidden by government agents. The 40-member cold-case team comprised of several former FBI agents and led by Thomas and Dawna Colbert made its latest reveal after a code breaker working with the team found connections in each of five letters allegedly sent by Cooper in the days following the famed hijacking in 1971.

What's more, several people who knew Colbert's top suspect, a man named Robert W. Rackstraw, have noted possible connections to the CIA and to top-secret operations, Colbert said. "The new decryptions include a dare to agents, directives to apparent partners, and a startling claim that is followed by Rackstraw's own initials: If captured, he expects a get-out-of-jail card from a federal spy agency," Colbert said in a news release... In a brief phone call last year, Rackstraw only told SeattlePI to verify Colbert's claims; he didn't issue a denial, or comment further on Colbert's investigation...

Late last year, Colbert's team obtained a fifth letter allegedly sent by Cooper that Colbert said supports a possible FBI cover-up, but also included random letters and numbers. A code breaker on Colbert's team was able to decode the letters and numbers and find they pointed to three Army units Rackstraw was connected to during his military service in Vietnam. The code was meant to serve as a signal to his co-conspirators that he was alive and well after the jump, Colbert said... Another letter, in which Cooper claimed to be CIA openly, also had the letters "RWR" at the end -- the initials of Robert W. Rackstraw, according to Colbert.

Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite Into Orbit On a Used Falcon 9 Rocket (techcrunch.com) 38

Darrell Etherington reports via TechCrunch: SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 rocket loaded with a geocommunications satellite commissioned by the Government of Luxembourg. The satellite, created by Orbital STK and to be operated by SES, will support humanitarian and military operations for Luxembourg, among other communications functions. The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday, a day after its initial planned launch. The original window wasn't viable due to weather, but the rocket launched as planned at the opening of its backup date with favorable weather conditions today. This launch today didn't include a recovery attempt of the Falcon 9 first stage booster used during the launch. The booster used was a reflown rocket, however, having been used May last year during a mission for a different client.
Government

Pentagon Reviews GPS Policies After Fitness Trackers Reveal Locations (npr.org) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Locations and activity of U.S. military bases; jogging and patrol routes of American soldiers -- experts say those details are among the GPS data shared by the exercise tracking company Strava, whose Heat Map reflects more than a billion exercise activities globally. The Pentagon says it's looking at adding new training and policies to address security concerns. "Recent data releases emphasize the need for situational awareness when members of the military share personal information," Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway of the U.S. Marine Corps said in a statement about the implications of the Strava data that has made international headlines. Strava -- which includes an option for keeping users' workout data private -- published the updated Heat Map late last year. The California-based company calls itself "the social network for athletes," saying that its mobile apps and website connect millions of people every day. Using data from fitness trackers such as the Fitbit, Strava's map shows millions of users' runs, walks, and bike trips from 2015 to September of 2017 -- and in some countries, the activities of military and aid personnel are seen in stark contrast, as their outposts shine brightly among the comparative darkness of their surroundings.
The Military

Fitness-Tracking App Reveals Locations of Secret Army Bases (theguardian.com) 118

Coisiche shared this story from the Guardian: Sensitive information about the location and staffing of military bases and spy outposts around the world has been revealed by a fitness tracking company. The details were released by Strava in a data visualisation map that shows all the activity tracked by users of its app, which allows people to record their exercise and share it with others. The map, released in November 2017, shows every single activity ever uploaded to Strava -- more than 3 trillion individual GPS data points, according to the company. The app can be used on various devices including smartphones and fitness trackers like Fitbit to see popular running routes in major cities, or spot individuals in more remote areas who have unusual exercise patterns.

However, over the weekend military analysts noticed that the map is also detailed enough that it potentially gives away extremely sensitive information about a subset of Strava users: military personnel on active service... In locations like Afghanistan, Djibouti and Syria, the users of Strava seem to be almost exclusively foreign military personnel, meaning that bases stand out brightly. In Helmand province, Afghanistan, for instance, the locations of forward operating bases can be clearly seen, glowing white against the black map.

One analyst analyst predicted that after this discovery, "A lot of people are going to have to sit through lectures come Monday morning."

Another military analyst told the Guardian "U.S bases are clearly identifiable" -- though he added that the map "looks very pretty."
NASA

Amateur Astronomer Discovers Long-Dead NASA Satellite Has Come Back To Life (behindtheblack.com) 62

schwit1 shares a report from Behind The Black: In his hunt to locate Zuma, an amateur astronomer has discovered that a long-dead NASA satellite, designed to study the magnetosphere, has come back to life. IMAGE went dead in 2005, and though NASA thought it might come back to life after experiencing a total eclipse in 2007 that would force a reboot, no evidence of life was seen then. It now appears that the satellite came to life sometime between then and 2018, and was chattering away at Earth waiting for a response. NASA is now looking at what it must do to take control of the spacecraft and resume science operations. Zuma is the secret U.S. government payload that was launched by SpaceX earlier this month and reportedly lost. As for why Scott Tilley -- the amateur radio astronomer -- decided to have a look for the present of secret military satellites, Ars Technica reports that he apparently does this semi-regularly as a hobby and, in this case, was inspired by the Zuma satellite.
AI

Can Machine Learning Guess True Emotions From Facial Microexpressions? (cmu.edu) 55

jbmartin6 writes: Microexpressions are fast, involuntary facial expressions which other people may not consciously recognize, but arise from our real emotions instead of the face we wish to present to the world. Carnegie Mellon University released an interesting blog entry about new approaches to using computers to recognize these microexpressions with a focus on the security and military applications. If you haven't taped over the cameras on your devices, it might be time to start thinking about it. Just imagine how advertisers would (mis)use this sort of technology.
"Our approach uses machine learning features that treat the whole face as a canvas," writes the lead researcher, adding "One challenge we faced for this project was finding a dataset with accurately labeled data to establish ground truth.

"Few existing databases capture subjects' suppressed reactions...."
The Military

Pentagon Document Confirms Existence of Russian Doomsday Torpedo (popularmechanics.com) 375

Popular Mechanics reports that "a key U.S. nuclear weapons document confirms that the Russian government is developing the most powerful nuclear weapon in more than a half century...a 'new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo'" with a range of 6,200 miles. But what really makes "Kanyon" nightmare fuel is the drone torpedo's payload: a 100-megaton thermonuclear weapon. By way of comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 16 kilotons, or the equivalent of 16,000 tons of TNT. Kanyon's nuke would be the equivalent of 100,000,000 tons of TNT. That's twice as powerful as Tsar Bomba, the most powerful thermonuclear weapon ever tested. Dropped on New York City, a 100-megaton bomb would kill 8 million people outright and injure 6 million more.

Kanyon is designed to attack coastal areas, destroying cities, naval bases, and ports. The mega-bomb would also generate an artificial tsunami that would surge inland, spreading radioactive contamination with the advancing water. To make matters worse there are reports the warhead is "salted" with the radioactive isotope Cobalt-60. Contaminated areas would be off-limits to humanity for up to 100 years.

Slashdot reader schwit1 adds that "being sea-based makes it immune to ballistic missile defense."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: Thousands of People Have Secure Messaging Clients Infected By Spyware (eff.org) 35

An anonymous reader quotes the EFF: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and mobile security company Lookout have uncovered a new malware espionage campaign infecting thousands of people in more than 20 countries. Hundreds of gigabytes of data has been stolen, primarily through mobile devices compromised by fake secure messaging clients. The trojanized apps, including Signal and WhatsApp, function like the legitimate apps and send and receive messages normally. However, the fake apps also allow the attackers to take photos, retrieve location information, capture audio, and more.

The threat, called Dark Caracal by EFF and Lookout researchers, may be a nation-state actor and appears to employ shared infrastructure which has been linked to other nation-state actors. In a new report, EFF and Lookout trace Dark Caracal to a building belonging to the Lebanese General Security Directorate in Beirut. "People in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Lebanon, and France have been hit by Dark Caracal. Targets include military personnel, activists, journalists, and lawyers, and the types of stolen data range from call records and audio recordings to documents and photos," said EFF Director of Cybersecurity Eva Galperin. "This is a very large, global campaign, focused on mobile devices. Mobile is the future of spying, because phones are full of so much data about a person's day-to-day life."

Dark Caracal apparently gets installed through carefully-targeted spearphishing attacks, accoridng to the EFF. "Several types of phishing emails directed people -- including military personnel, activists, journalists, and lawyers -- to go to a fake app store-like page, where fake Android apps waited. There is even evidence that, in some cases, Dark Caracal used physical access to people's phones to install the fake apps."
The Military

America's Fastest Spy Plane May Be Back -- And Hypersonic (bloomberg.com) 301

A Lockheed Skunk Works executive implied last week at an aerospace conference that the successor to one of the fastest aircraft the world has seen, the SR-71 Blackbird, might already exist. Previously, Lockheed officials have said the successor, the SR-72, could fly by 2030. Bloomberg reports: Referring to detailed specifics of company design and manufacturing, Jack O'Banion, a Lockheed vice president, said a "digital transformation" arising from recent computing capabilities and design tools had made hypersonic development possible. Then -- assuming O'Banion chose his verb tense purposely -- came the surprise. "Without the digital transformation, the aircraft you see there could not have been made," O'Banion said, standing by an artist's rendering of the hypersonic aircraft. "In fact, five years ago, it could not have been made." Hypersonic applies to speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. The SR-71 cruised at Mach 3.2, more than 2,000 mph, around 85,000 feet.

"We couldn't have made the engine itself -- it would have melted down into slag if we had tried to produce it five years ago," O'Banion said. "But now we can digitally print that engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integral into the material of the engine itself and have that engine survive for multiple firings for routine operation." The aircraft is also agile at hypersonic speeds, with reliable engine starts, he said. A half-decade before, he added, developers "could not have even built it even if we conceived of it."

The Military

'Don't Fear the Robopocalypse': the Case for Autonomous Weapons (thebulletin.org) 150

Lasrick shares "Don't fear the robopocalypse," an interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists with the former Army Ranger who led the team that established the U.S. Defense Department policy on autonomous weapons (and has written the upcoming book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War). Paul Scharre makes the case for uninhabited vehicles, robot teammates, and maybe even an outer perimeter of robotic sentries (and, for mobile troops, "a cloud of air and ground robotic systems"). But he also argues that "In general, we should strive to keep humans involved in the lethal force decision-making process as much as is feasible. What exactly that looks like in practice, I honestly don't know."

So does that mean he thinks we'll eventually see the deployment of fully autonomous weapons in combat? I think it's very hard to imagine a world where you physically take the capacity out of the hands of rogue regimes... The technology is so ubiquitous that a reasonably competent programmer could build a crude autonomous weapon in their garage. The idea of putting some kind of nonproliferation regime in place that actually keeps the underlying technology out of the hands of people -- it just seems really naive and not very realistic. I think in that kind of world, you have to anticipate that there are, at a minimum, going to be uses by terrorists and rogue regimes. I think it's more of an open question whether we cross the threshold into a world where nation-states are using them on a large scale.

And if so, I think it's worth asking, what do we mean by"them"? What degree of autonomy? There are automated defensive systems that I would characterize as human-supervised autonomous weapons -- where a human is on the loop and supervising its operation -- in use by at least 30 countries today. They've been in use for decades and really seem to have not brought about the robopocalypse or anything. I'm not sure that those [systems] are particularly problematic. In fact, one could see them as being even more beneficial and valuable in an age when things like robot swarming and cooperative autonomy become more possible.

The Military

Russian Military Base Attacked By Drones (bellingcat.com) 183

A Russian military base in Syria was recently attacked -- 20 miles from the frontline. The only video of the attack is from a Facebook group for a nearby town, which identifies the noises as an "anti-aircraft response to a remote-controlled aircraft," while the Russian Ministry of Defence claims at least 13 drones were involved in the attack, displaying pictures of drones with a wingspan around 13 feet (four meters).

Long-time Slashdot reader 0x2A shares a report from a former British Army officer who calls drones "the poor man's Air Force," who writes that the attack shows "a strategic grasp of the use of drones, as well as a high level of planning." The lack of cameras on the drones suggest that they are likely pre-loaded with a flight plan and then flown autonomously to their target, where they dropped their payload en masse on a given GPS coordinate... The lack of any kind of claim, or even rumours from the rebels, indicates that whoever is producing these drone and launching these attacks has a high level of discipline and an understanding of operational and personal security...

Although some regard the threat from commerical off-the-shelf and improvised drones as negligible, they have the power to inflict losses at both a tactical and strategic level... Although the plastic sheeting, tape and simple design may belie the illusion of sophistication, it seems that the use of drones, whether military, commerical off-the-shelf or improvised, is taking another step to becoming the future of conflict.

The article notes there's already been four weaponized drone attacks in Syria over the last two weeks, which according to CNBC may be part of a growing trend. "Experts said swarm-like attacks using weaponized drones is a growing threat and likely to only get worse. They also said the possibility exists of terrorists using these drones in urban areas against civilians."
United States

Top US Government Computers Linked to Revenge-Porn Site (thedailybeast.com) 97

Joseph Cox, reporting for The Daily Beast: Data obtained by a security analyst and shared with The Daily Beast reveals the behind-the-scenes of the epicenter of revenge porn: a notorious image board called Anon-IB, where users constantly upload non-consensual imagery, comment on it, and trade nudes like baseball cards. The data shows Anon-IB users connecting from U.S. Senate, Navy, and other government computers, including the Executive Office of the President, even as senators push for a bill that would further combat the practice, and after the military's own recent revenge-porn crisis. "Wow tig ol bitties. You have any nudes to share?" someone wrote in November, underneath a photo of a woman who apparently works in D.C., while connecting from an IP address registered to the U.S. Senate.

Anon-IB is a free-to-use message board where users post images, typically of women, and which is split into various genre or location sections. Some parts are focused on countries, while U.S. sections may narrow down to a state. Many users pursue so-called wins, which are nude or explicit photos, and may egg each other on to share more images. Anon-IB was also intertwined with a 2014 breach of celebrity nudes referred to as The Fappening. "Looking for wins of [redacted]. She used to send nudes to my friend all of the time. Would love to see some more," someone connecting from the U.S. Senate IP address wrote last August.

Space

Rumors Swirl That Secret Zuma Satellite Launched By SpaceX Was Lost (scientificamerican.com) 171

Many media outlets are reporting that the U.S. government's top-secret Zuma satellite may have run into some serious problems during or shortly after its Sunday launch. Zuma was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday evening -- a launch that also featured a successful landing back on Earth by the booster's first stage. While everything seemed fine at the time, rumors began swirling within the spaceflight community that something had happened to Zuma. "According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket," Ars Technica's Eric Berger wrote. Scientific American reports: To be clear: There is no official word of any bad news, just some rumblings to that effect. And the rocket apparently did its job properly, SpaceX representatives said. "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally," company spokesman James Gleeson told Space.com via email. Space.com also reached out to representatives of aerospace company Northrop Grumman, which built Zuma for the U.S. government. "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions," Northrop Grumman spokesman Lon Rains said via email. All we know about the satellite itself is that it was destined for a low-Earth orbit and built for the U.S. government. We will update this story if we hear anything else about Zuma's status.

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