Once Written Off for Dead, the Aral Sea Is Now Full of Life ( 38

Years ago, the Aral Sea was the world's fourth-largest freshwater lake with an area of some 26,000 square miles. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union's agricultural policies. Water from its two river sources -- the Amu Darya and Syr Darya -- was intentionally diverted for cotton cultivation. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. From a report: This rapid collapse over less than three decades -- which environmental scientists say is one of the planet's worst ecological disasters -- is marked today by the sea's reduced size. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What's left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west.

But Kazakhstan's North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. Along with repairs to existing dikes around the basin to prevent spillage, an eight-mile dam was constructed just south of the Syr Darya River. Completed in the summer of 2005, this dam, named Kokaral, surpassed all expectations. It led to an 11-foot increase in water levels after just seven months -- a goal that scientists initially expected would take three years. This turnaround in the North Aral Sea's fate has meant that the fish stocks have returned to its waters, injecting new life into the local communities. Just as government policies had doomed the Aral Sea, careful planning and research helped revive at least part of it.


YouTube Kids Has Videos on How Reptilians Rule the World, Moon Landing Was Fake ( 166

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube Kids, the supposedly child-friendly version of YouTube that's been shown to often play host to troves of slop content and disturbing videos, apparently was showing videos from British conspiracy theorist David Icke, a guy who believes reptilian aliens secretly control the world and are responsible for the Holocaust. According to a Saturday report in Business Insider, searching for the term "UFO" on YouTube kids turned up a video purporting "to show a UFO shooting at a chemtrail." The suggested followups for that video featured a number of Icke's clips, including a nearly five-hour lecture on how aliens built the pyramids and secretly run the planet through a ruling class extraterrestrial-human hybrids. The video also delves into a number of other conspiracy theories, including claims Freemasons indulge in human sacrifice and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by his own government.

According to Business Insider, "Two other conspiracy theory videos by Icke appeared in the related videos, meaning it was easy for children to quickly go from watching relatively innocent videos about toys to conspiracy content." Searching for the term "moon landing" also resulted in a number of conspiratorial videos emerging, including one making the claim that CERN's Large Hadron Collider had opened a portal to another world that an unfortunate employee then vanished in.


1 in 3 Michigan Workers Tested Opened A Password-Phishing Email ( 111

An anonymous reader quotes the AP: Michigan auditors who conducted a fake "phishing" attack on 5,000 randomly selected state employees said Friday that nearly one-third opened the email, a quarter clicked on the link and almost one-fifth entered their user ID and password. The covert operation was done as part of an audit that uncovered weaknesses in the state government's computer network, including that not all workers are required to participate in cybersecurity awareness training... Auditors made 14 findings, including five that are "material" -- the most serious. They range from inadequate management of firewalls to insufficient processes to confirm if only authorized devices are connected to the network. "Unauthorized devices may not meet the state's requirements, increasing the risk of compromise or infection of the network," the audit said.

Did Cambridge Analytica Harvest 50 Million Facebook Profiles? ( 120

Slashdot reader umafuckit shared this article from The Guardian: The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump's election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters, in one of the tech giant's biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box... Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on."

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals... On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending further information over misuse of data. Separately, Facebook's external lawyers warned the Observer on Friday it was making "false and defamatory" allegations, and reserved Facebook's legal position...

The evidence Wylie supplied to U.K. and U.S. authorities includes a letter from Facebook's own lawyers sent to him in August 2016, asking him to destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan to harvest the profiles... Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he said. "That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back."

Wylie worked with Aleksandr Kogan, the creator of the "thisisyourdigitallife" app, "who has previously unreported links to a Russian university and took Russian grants for research," according to the article. Kogan "had a licence from Facebook to collect profile data, but it was for research purposes only. So when he hoovered up information for the commercial venture, he was violating the company's terms...

"At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential U.S. voters."
Open Source

How An Open Source Plugin Tamed a Chaotic Comments Section With A Simple Quiz ( 146

Long-time Slashdot reader jebrick quotes an article from Ars Technica about how Norway's government-owned public broadcasting company "employs open source tactics to fight trolling": The five-person team behind a simple WordPress plugin, which took three hours to code, never expected to receive worldwide attention as a result. But NRKbeta, the tech-testing group at Norway's largest national media organization, tapped into a meaty vein with the unveiling of last February's Know2Comment, an open source plugin that can attach to any WordPress site's comment section. "It was a basic idea," NRKbeta developer Stale Grut told a South By Southwest crowd on Tuesday. "Readers had to prove they read a story before they were able to comment on it"... He and fellow staffers spent three hours building the plugin, which Grut reminded the crowd is wholly open source... "[W]e realized not every article is in need of this. We are a tech site; we don't have a lot of controversy, so there's not a big need for it. We use it now on stories where we anticipate there'll be uninformed debate to add this speed bump."
What do you think? And would a quiz-for-commenting-privileges be a good addition to Slashdot?
Electronic Frontier Foundation

North Carolina Police Obtained Warrants Demanding All Google Users Near Four Crime Scenes ( 197

An anonymous reader quotes the public records reporter from North Carolina TV station WRAL: In at least four investigations last year -- cases of murder, sexual battery and even possible arson at the massive downtown fire in March 2017 -- Raleigh police used search warrants to demand Google accounts not of specific suspects, but from any mobile devices that veered too close to the scene of a crime, according to a WRAL News review of court records... The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data [in two homicide cases] described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses... The account IDs aren't limited to electronics running Android. The warrant includes any device running location-enabled Google apps, according to Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman Laura Hourigan...

On March 16, 2017, a five-alarm fire ripped through the unfinished Metropolitan apartment building on West Jones Street... About two months later, Raleigh police obtained a search warrant for Google account IDs that showed up near the block of the Metropolitan between 7:30 and 10 p.m. the night of the fire... In addition to anonymized numerical identifiers, the warrant calls on Google to release time stamped location coordinates for every device that passed through the area. Detectives wrote that they'd narrow down that list and send it back to the company, demanding "contextual data points with points of travel outside of the geographical area" during an expanded timeframe. Another review would further cull the list, which police would use to request user names, birth dates and other identifying information of the phones' owners.

"Do people understand that in sharing that information with Google, they're also potentially sharing it with law enforcement?" asks a former Durham prosecutor who directs the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University. And Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also criticized the procedure. "To just say, 'Criminals commit crimes, and we know that most people have cell phones,' that should not be enough to get the geo-location on anyone that happened to be in the vicinity of a particular incident during a particular time." She believes that without probable cause the police department is "trying to use technology as a hack for their job... It does not have to be that we have to give up our privacy rights in order to participate in the digital revolution."

Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, put it succinctly. "At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people."
The Courts

Entire Broadband Industry Will Help FCC Defend Net Neutrality Repeal ( 86

The biggest lobby groups representing broadband providers will help the FCC defend the repeal of net neutrality rules in court. Ars Technica reports: Yesterday, three trade groups that collectively represent every major home Internet and mobile broadband provider in the U.S. filed motions to intervene in the case on behalf of the FCC. The motions for leave to intervene were filed by NCTA--The Internet & Television Association, CTIA--The Wireless Association, and USTelecom--The Broadband Association. NCTA represents cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, and Altice. CTIA represents the biggest mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint. USTelecom represents wireline telcos with copper and fiber networks, such as AT&T and Verizon. All three groups also represent a range of smaller ISPs.

As intervenors in the case, the groups will file briefs in support of the net neutrality repeal order and may play a role in oral arguments. NCTA's motion noted that its members would once again be subject to "common-carriage regulation under Title II of the Communications Act" if the FCC were to lose the case. CTIA said that its members "would be adversely affected if the [net neutrality] Order were set aside and the prior Title II Order classification and rules were reinstated."


Sierra Leone Records World's First Blockchain-Powered Election ( 66

The citizens of Sierra Leone went to the polls on March 7 but this time something was different: the country recorded votes at 70% of the polling to the blockchain using a technology that is the first of its kind in actual practice. The tech, created by Leonardo Gammar of Agora, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results. TechCrunch reports: "Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora's blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate," said Gammar. "This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology." "Sierra Leone wishes to create an environment of trust with the voters in a contentious election, especially looking at how the election will be publicly viewed post-election. By using blockchain as a means to immutably record ballots and results, the country hopes to create legitimacy around the election and reduce fall-out from opposition parties," he said.

Why is this interesting? While this is little more than a proof of concept -- it is not a complete voting record but instead captured a seemingly acceptable plurality of votes -- it's fascinating to see the technology be implemented in Sierra Leone, a country of about 7.4 million people. The goal ultimately is to reduce voting costs by cutting out paper ballots as well as reducing corruption in the voting process.


China To Bar People With Bad 'Social Credit' From Planes, Trains ( 169

China says it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. From a report: People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission's website on Friday. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions, said the statements which were dated March 2. It added that the rules would come into effect on May 1.
United States

Chinese Hackers Hit US Firms Linked To South China Sea Dispute ( 52

Chinese hackers have launched a wave of attacks on mainly U.S. engineering and defense companies linked to the disputed South China Sea, the cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. said. From a report: The suspected Chinese cyber-espionage group dubbed TEMP.Periscope appeared to be seeking information that would benefit the Chinese government, said FireEye, a U.S.-based provider network protection systems. The hackers have focused on U.S. maritime entities that were either linked to -- or have clients operating in -- the South China Sea, said Fred Plan, senior analyst at FireEye in Los Angeles.

"They are going after data that can be used strategically, so it is line with state espionage," said Plan, whose firm has tracked the group since 2013. "A private entity probably wouldn't benefit from the sort of data that is being stolen." The TEMP.Periscope hackers were seeking information in areas like radar range or how precisely a system in development could detect activity at sea, Plan said. The surge in attacks picked up pace last month and was ongoing.

United States

US Says Russia Hacked Energy Grid, Punishes 19 for Meddling ( 220

Associated Press: Pushing back harder on Russia, the Trump administration accused Moscow on Thursday of a concerted hacking operation targeting the U.S. energy grid, aviation systems and other infrastructure, and also imposed sanctions on Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 election. It was the strongest action to date against Russia by the administration, which has long been accused of being too soft on the Kremlin, and the first punishments for election meddling since President Donald Trump took office. The sanctions list included the 13 Russians indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose Russia investigation the president has repeatedly sought to discredit. U.S. national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies had determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyberattacks beginning a year ago that have infiltrated the energy, nuclear, commercial, water, aviation and manufacturing sectors. Further reading: Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sectors (US-Cert); U.S. blames Russia for cyber attacks on energy grid, other sectors (Reuters); U.S. says Russian hackers targeted American energy grid (Politico); Trump administration finally announces Russia sanctions over election meddling (CNN); U.S. sanctions on Russia cite 2016 election interference -- but remain largely symbolic (USA Today); U.S. Sanctions Russians Charged by Mueller for Election Meddling (Bloomberg); and Trump Administration Sanctions Russians for Election Meddling and Cyberattacks (The New York Times).

Encrypted Email Service ProtonMail is Being Blocked in Turkey ( 35

ProtonMail: We have confirmed that Internet service providers in Turkey have been blocking ProtonMail this week. Our support team first became aware of connectivity problems for Turkish ProtonMail users starting on Tuesday. After further investigation, we determined that was unreachable for both Vodafone Turkey mobile and fixed line users. Since then, we have also received some sporadic reports from users of other Turkish ISPs. At one point, the issue was prevalent in every single major city in Turkey. After investigating the issue along with members of the ProtonMail community in Turkey, we have confirmed this is a government-ordered block rather than a technical glitch. Internet censorship in Turkey tends to be fluid so the situation is constantly evolving. Sometimes ProtonMail is accessible, and sometimes it is unreachable. For the first time ever though, we have confirmed that ProtonMail was subject to a block, and could face further issues in the future. In the post, ProtonMail has also outlined ways to bypass the block.

How Amazon Became Corporate America's Nightmare ( 241

Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg that details Amazon's rapid growth in the last three years: Amazon makes no sense. It's the most befuddling, illogically sprawling, and -- to a growing sea of competitors -- flat-out terrifying company in the world. It sells soap and produces televised soap operas. It sells complex computing horsepower to the U.S. government and will dispatch a courier to deliver cold medicine on Christmas Eve. It's the third-most-valuable company on Earth, with smaller annual profits than Southwest Airlines Co., which as of this writing ranks 426th. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person, his fortune built on labor conditions that critics say resemble a Dickens novel with robots, yet he has enough mainstream appeal to play himself in a Super Bowl commercial. Amazon was born in cyberspace, but it occupies warehouses, grocery stores, and other physical real estate equivalent to 90 Empire State Buildings, with a little left over. The company has grown so large and difficult to comprehend that it's worth taking stock of why and how it's left corporate America so thoroughly freaked out. Executives at the biggest U.S. companies mentioned Amazon thousands of times during investor calls last year, according to transcripts -- more than President Trump and almost as often as taxes. Other companies become verbs because of their products: to Google or to Xerox. Amazon became a verb because of the damage it can inflict on other companies. To be Amazoned means to have your business crushed because the company got into your industry. And fear of being Amazoned has become such a defining feature of commerce, it's easy to forget the phenomenon has arisen mostly in about three years.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

New Bill In Congress Would Bypass the Fourth Amendment, Hand Your Data To Police ( 247

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Medium: Lawmakers behind a new anti-privacy bill are trying to sneak it through Congress by attaching it to the must-pass government spending bill. The CLOUD Act would hand police in the U.S., and other countries, extreme new powers to obtain and monitor data directly from tech companies instead of requiring a warrant and judicial review. Congressional leadership will decide whether the CLOUD Act gets attached to the omnibus government spending bill sometime this week, potentially as early as tomorrow... If passed, this bill would give law enforcement the power to go directly to tech companies, no matter where they or their servers are, to obtain our data. They wouldn't need a warrant or court oversight, and we'll be left with no protections to ensure law enforcement isn't violating our rights. A recent report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how the CLOUD Act circumvents the Fourth Amendment. "This new backdoor for cross-border data mirrors another backdoor under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an invasive NSA surveillance authority for foreign intelligence gathering," reports the EFF. "That law, recently reauthorized and expanded by Congress for another six years, gives U.S. intelligence agencies, including the NSA, FBI, and CIA, the ability to search, read, and share our private electronic messages without first obtaining a warrant. The new backdoor in the CLOUD Act operates much in the same way. U.S. police could obtain Americans' data, and use it against them, without complying with the Fourth Amendment."

Toys R Us To Close All 800 of Its US Stores ( 194

Toy store chain Toys R Us is reportedly planning to sell or close all 800 of its U.S. stores (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company winds down its operations after six decades. The Washington Post reports: The news comes six months after the retailer filed for bankruptcy. The company has struggled to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt -- much of it dating back to a 2005 leveraged buyout -- and has had trouble finding a buyer. There were reports earlier this week that Toys R Us had stopped paying its suppliers, which include the country's largest toy makers. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 100 of its U.K. stores. In the United States, the company told employees closures would likely occur over time, and not all at once, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

Sri Lanka Accuses Facebook of Failing To Control Hate Speech That Contributed To Deadly Riots ( 73

The Sri Lankan government is accusing Facebook of failing to control rampant hate speech that it says contributed to anti-Muslim riots last week that left three people dead and the country under a state of emergency. The accusations come after the country blocked Facebook and several other platforms last week in an effort to prevent the spread of hate speech. The Guardian reports: On Thursday Fernando, along with the Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and communications officials, will meet a Facebook team that has flown to Colombo. The Sri Lankans will demand a new, faster system for taking down posts flagged as a national security risk by agencies in the country. "Facebook is not reacting as fast as we have wanted it to react," Fernando said. "In the past it has taken various number of days to review [flagged posts] or even to take down the pages." On Tuesday he highlighted a tweet from a user who claimed to have reported a Facebook post in the Sinhala language that read "Kill all Muslims, don't even let an infant of the dogs escape." The user claimed he received a reply six days later saying the post did not contravene a specific Facebook community standard. The extremist leader Amith Weerasinghe, who was arrested last week in Kandy after being accused of helping to instigate the violence, had amassed nearly 150,000 followers on his Facebook page before it was taken down last week.

China's Anti-Pollution Initiative Produces Stellar Results ( 84

hackingbear writes: China has declared war on its pollution -- one of the worst on the planet -- and now appears to be winning. Popular Mechanics reports: "Over the past four years, pollution in China's major cities has decreased by an average of 32 percent, with some cities seeing an even bigger drop, according to professor Michael Greenstone of the Energy Policy Institute. This decline comes after several aggressive policies implemented by the Chinese government, including prohibiting the building of new coal plants, forcing existing plants to reduce their emissions, lowering the amount of automobile traffic, and closing down some steel mills and coal mines. Some cities, like Beijing, have achieved even greater reductions in air pollution. Beijing has seen a 35 percent drop in particulates, while the city of Shijiazhuang saw a 39 percent drop. China has prioritized pollution reduction in these cities, with the government spending over $120 billion in Beijing alone."

Trump's Pick for New CIA Director Is Career Spymaster ( 309

An anonymous reader shares a AP report: President Donald Trump's choice to be the first female director of the CIA is a career spymaster who once ran an agency prison in Thailand where terror suspects were subjected to a harsh interrogation technique that the president has supported. Trump tweeted Tuesday that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and that he has selected Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo. Haspel, the current deputy CIA director, also helped carry out an order that the agency destroy its waterboarding videos. That order prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges. Haspel, who has extensive overseas experience, briefly ran a secret CIA prison where accused terrorists Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

US Navy Under Fire In Mass Software Piracy Lawsuit ( 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Navy began using BS Contact Geo, a 3D virtual reality application developed by German company Bitmanagement. The Navy reportedly agreed to purchase licenses for use on 38 computers, but things began to escalate. While Bitmanagement was hopeful that it could sell additional licenses to the Navy, the software vendor soon discovered the U.S. Government had already installed it on 100,000 computers without extra compensation. In a Federal Claims Court complaint filed by Bitmanagement two years ago, that figure later increased to hundreds of thousands of computers. Because of the alleged infringement, Bitmanagement demanded damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. In the months that followed both parties conducted discovery and a few days ago the software company filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to rule that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement. According to the software company, it's clear that the U.S. Government crossed a line. In its defense, the U.S. Government had argued that it bought concurrent-use licenses, which permitted the software to be installed across the Navy network. However, Bitmanagement argues that it is impossible as the reseller that sold the software was only authorized to sell PC licenses. In addition, the software company points out that the word "concurrent" doesn't appear in the contracts, nor was there any mention of mass installations. The full motion brings up a wide range of other arguments as well which, according to Bitmanagement, make it clear that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement.

ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches ( 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.

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