The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 31 Issue 61

Sunday 15 March 2020


A lawsuit against ICE reveals the danger of government-by-algorithm
This Unpatchable Flaw Affects All Intel CPUs Released in Last 5 Years
How the Cloud Has Opened Doors for Hackers
Hackers Can Clone Millions of Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia Keys
Before Clearview Became a Police Tool, It Was a Secret Plaything of the Rich
The New York Times
How Hackers and Spies Could Sabotage the Coronavirus Fight
Bruce Schneier and Margaret Bourdeaux, Foreign Policy
Cybersecurity label for smart home devices
The Straits Times
South Korea warns when potential virus carriers are near
COVID-19, toilet paper, hoarding, and emergency preparedness
Rob Slade
U.S. Treasury Sanctions Individuals Laundering Cryptocurrency for Lazarus Group
Treasury via geoff goodfellow
Black Market White Washing- Why You Shouldn't Take Legal Advice From Criminals
Disruptive Labs
Can YouTube Quiet Its Conspiracy Theorists?
Risks of publishing web browser screenshots
China's Geely invests $326M to build satellites for autonomous cars
Congress Must Stop the Graham-Blumenthal Anti-Security Bill
Gabe Goldberg
Empty Promises Won't Save the .ORG Takeover
Gabe Goldberg
How to clean up the mess we've made that's orbiting the Earth
The Hill
How fake audio, such as deepfakes, could plague business, politics
Ransomware Attacks Prompt Tough Question for Local Officials:: To Pay or Not to Pay?
Through apps, not warrants, Locate X allows federal law enforcement to track phones
A hybrid AI model lets it reason about the world's physics like a child
MIT Tech Review
This Satellite Startup Raised $110 Million To Make Your Cellphone Work Everywhere
Your smartphone is dirtier than a toilet seat. Here's how to disinfect it.
PCI Fireside Chat: Vint Cerf and Ian Bremmer
The Unstable Globe
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

A lawsuit against ICE reveals the danger of government-by-algorithm (The Washington Post)

Richard Stein <>
Fri, 6 Mar 2020 15:07:46 +0800

“The immigration agency's New York office tweaked risk-evaluation software to keep thousands in jail, watchdog groups say.”

This Unpatchable Flaw Affects All Intel CPUs Released in Last 5 Years (PTSecurity)

geoff goodfellow <>
Fri, 6 Mar 2020 11:45:14 -1000

All Intel processors released in the past 5 years contain an unpatchable vulnerability that could allow hackers to compromise almost every hardware-enabled security technology that are otherwise designed to shield sensitive data of users even when a system gets compromised.

The vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2019-0090, resides in the hard-coded firmware running on the ROM (read-only memory) of the Intel's Converged Security and Management Engine (CSME), which can't be patched without replacing the silicon.

Intel CSME is a separate security micro-controller incorporated into the processors that provides an isolated execution environment protected from the host opening system running on the main CPU.

It is responsible for the initial authentication of Intel-based systems by loading and verifying firmware components, root of trust based secure boot, and also cryptographically authenticates the BIOS, Microsoft System Guard, BitLocker, and other security features.

Although this insufficient access control vulnerability is not new and was previously patched by Intel last year when the company described it just as a privilege escalation and arbitrary code execution in Intel CSME firmware modules, the extent of the flaw remained undervalued.

Researchers at Positive Technologies have now found that the issue can also be exploited to recover the Chipset Key, a root cryptographic key or sort of a master password that could help unlock and compromise a chain of trust for other security technologies, including digital rights management (DRM), firmware Trusted Platform Module (TPM), and Identity Protection Technology (IPT).


That means the flaw could be exploited to extract data from encrypted hard-drives and to bypass DRM protections and access copyright-protected digital content. […]

How the Cloud Has Opened Doors for Hackers (WashPost)

ACM TechNews <>
Wed, 4 Mar 2020 11:53:53 -0500 (EST)

Craig S. Smith, The Washington Post, 2 Mar 2020
via ACM TechNews; Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Corporate transfers of operations to the cloud have elevated the threat of hacking, as the cloud can be accessed remotely with ease. Manav Mital, co-founder of cloud security startup Cryal, said cloud companies manage the upkeep and security of physical servers, but client requirements for ease of access have spawned new apps and databases, and increasingly complex services that are difficult to manage and monitor. Although companies still shield private data behind firewalls and other security measures, more people and programs require access to data in the cloud, making it easier for bad actors to find potential vulnerabilities. The Ponemon Institute estimated that cloud breaches cost each individual company $3.92 million on average.

Hackers Can Clone Millions of Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia Keys (WiReD)

Gabe Goldberg <>
Fri, 6 Mar 2020 11:19:24 -0500

Encryption flaws in a common anti-theft feature expose vehicles from major manufacturers.

Even so, the researchers say that they decided to publish their findings to reveal the real state of immobilizer security and allow car owners to decide for themselves if it's enough. Protective car owners with hackable immobilizers might decide, for instance, to use a steering wheel lock. “It's better to be in a place where we know what kind of security we're getting from our security devices. Otherwise, only the criminals know.” [Garcia quoted]

That paragraph—last in article—is ridiculous. I once put steering wheel lock on a borrowed car, then realized owner hadn't given me key for it. Locksmith took about two minutes to pick the lock—not needing to cut it off—saying that with practice anyone can do that.

Before Clearview Became a Police Tool, It Was a Secret Plaything of the Rich (The New York Times)

Gabe Goldberg <>
Fri, 6 Mar 2020 11:39:15 -0500

Investors and clients of the facial recognition start-up freely used the app on dates and at parties and to spy on the public.

How Hackers and Spies Could Sabotage the Coronavirus Fight (Bruce Schneier and Margaret Bourdeaux, Foreign Policy)

“Diego.Latella” <>
Fri, 06 Mar 2020 17:57:30 +0100

Cybersecurity label for smart home devices (The Straits Times)

Richard Stein <>
Fri, 6 Mar 2020 15:23:10 +0800

“Market research firm Gartner has estimated that the number of IoT devices in use globally will grow from 8.4 billion in 2017 to 20.4 billion this year, with twice as many consumer installations as industrial ones. But the rules surrounding how IoT devices are designed for cybersecurity are lax, raising concerns about major privacy and security risks as such devices proliferate.”

The ‘cybersecurity’ label might grow larger than the device package. When, or if, it does switch to an alternate rating indicator: ‘Stars’ or ‘Smileys’?

There's always ‘human error’ when testing for product release readiness characteristics: performance, reliability, function, ease of use, or device security/safety for example. Latent defect escape potential elevates deployment exploitation risk.

What about correlating IoT software (or hardware) component integration against CVEs (, and using this outcome to establish a ‘security’ or ‘defect’ escape risk rating? Given their perfect operational record, a HAL-9000 would be ideal for this exercise.

Risk: Inaccurate ‘cybersecurity label’ indicators misguide consumer IoT product purchase decisions.

South Korea warns when potential virus carriers are near (BBC)

Mark Thorson <>
Thu, 5 Mar 2020 11:42:24 -0800

And where they've been, like bars, love motels, etc. Deanonymization of the data is sometimes a trivial exercise for social media users.

“He was at his work in Mapo district attending a sexual harassment class. He contracted the virus from the instructor of the class.”

COVID-19, toilet paper, hoarding, and emergency preparedness

Rob Slade <>
Fri, 6 Mar 2020 11:55:31 -0800

Toilet paper? Really?

Of course, I've seen the news stories showing streams of shoppers with carts full of toilet paper. The news stories all showed Costco, so I was hoping that maybe it was only Costco members who were that stupid. But, no. On my way home last night I stopped for some groceries and the toilet paper aisle in my local Save-On was pretty bare. (Not, fortunately, completely denuded, so my neighbours aren't completely deluded.) (And, if you're looking, the Safeway had a decent stock, albeit with some bare sections.)

Hoarding is a particularly insidious threat. It's hard to protect against. Unless you're going to ration, how do you tell people what (and how much) they can and cannot buy? (Yes, I know. Rationing smacks of socialism, or some other type of non-or-anti-capitalist system. But hoarding is the inherent weakness of capitalism: unrestricted, capitalism tends to concentrate capital, which then becomes useless.) Now, we are not only faced with the coronavirus, but with the COVID-19 toilet paper meme virus. People see that there is a run on, or shortage of, toilet paper, so they run out and drive around (wasting gas) trying to buy toilet paper. Creating a shortage of toilet paper.

(It's particularly galling here in BC. We have trees. We make toilet paper. By the ton.)

Why toilet paper? I mean, I defer to no one in my admiration for the stuff. It is one of the marvels of the modern age. (Toilet paper, and the Internet.) It has lots of uses besides that originally intended. But it has no magical medicinal properties.

Yes, I know. We, in the emergency management field, have been trying, for years, to get people to build emergency prep kids. Have enough supplies to tide you over for three days. Or seven days. Or, in this case, two weeks. Fine. I get it. But do you know how much toilet paper you use in two weeks? You don't need to clear out stores.

(I have noticed gaps in the canned beans section, and also in the soup aisle. Although, for some reason, Campbell's Chunky soups are completely stocked. Personally, I like chunky soups …)

And, if you are going to build an emergency prep kit, during an emergency is not the time to do it. You have to put some thought into it. How much toilet paper do you use in a week? How much soup do you eat in a week? Do you eat soup? Yes, I advise you to build an emergency prep kit. But build one. Don't just rush out and buy toilet paper.

Besides, COVID-19 is not going to be the type of ‘stock up on water and canned beans’ type of regional disaster. You will still be able to get Amazon to deliver toilet paper to you if you get sick and have absolutely no friends in all the world to take care of you. (They may want to drop it and run, and you may have to keep watch on your Ring-camera-that-is-insecure- because-you-haven't-changed-the-default-password-have-you to prevent doorstep thieves from stealing your toilet paper, but they will deliver.) (So, by the way, will Save-On.) Travel is going to be a problem, and stocks may be a problem, and there may be lots of other problems. But toilet paper is not going to be a problem. Unless people hoard it.

U.S. Treasury Sanctions Individuals Laundering Cryptocurrency for Lazarus Group

geoff goodfellow <>
Tue, 3 Mar 2020 13:36:10 -1000


The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today sanctioned two Chinese nationals involved in laundering stolen cryptocurrency from a 2018 cyber-intrusion against a cryptocurrency exchange. This cyber-intrusion is linked to Lazarus Group, a U.S.-designated North Korean state-sponsored malicious cybergroup. Specifically, OFAC is designating Tian Yinyin (Tian) and Li Jiadong (Li), for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, a malicious cyber-enabled activity. Tian and Li are also being designated for having materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Lazarus Group.

“The North Korean regime has continued its widespread campaign of extensive cyber-attacks on financial institutions to steal funds. The United States will continue to protect the global financial system by holding accountable those who help North Korea engage in cybercrime.” (Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin)

Tian and Li's Activities

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) trains cyber-actors to target and launder stolen funds from financial institutions. Tian and Li received from DPRK-controlled accounts approximately $91 million stolen in an April 2018 hack of a cryptocurrency exchange (referred to hereinafter as the exchange D), as well as an additional $9.5 million from a hack of another exchange. Tian and Li transferred the currency among addresses they held, obfuscating the origin of the funds.

In April 2018, an employee of the exchange unwittingly downloaded DPRK-attributed malware through an email, which gave malicious cyber-actors remote access to the exchange and unauthorized access to customers' personal information, such as private keys used to access virtual currency wallets stored on the exchange's servers. Lazarus Group cyber-actors used the private keys to steal virtual currencies ($250 million dollar equivalent at date of theft) from this exchange, accounting for nearly half of the DPRK's estimated virtual currency heists that year.

Tian ultimately moved the equivalent of more than $34 million of these illicit funds through a newly added bank account linked to his exchange account. Tian also transferred nearly $1.4 million dollars' worth of Bitcoin into prepaid Apple iTunes gift cards, which at certain exchanges can be used for the purchase of additional Bitcoin. […]

Black Market White Washing- Why You Shouldn't Take Legal Advice From Criminals (Disruptive Labs)

geoff goodfellow <>
Tue, 3 Mar 2020 13:35:36 -1000

Fraudsters who operate shops in criminal marketplaces are constantly massaging their marketing pitches to assure prospective customers (and lurking law enforcement) that their service is legal. It's become clear recently that some infosec professionals can't seem to identify these services as bad, so these marketing efforts may have succeeded for one audience.

That is what happened recently when WeLeakInfo was taken down and a number of infosec people expressed shock and dismay that their favorite OSINT tool was gone. This isn't the first time a password shop was taken down, but this one was unusually successful at whitewashing its origins in fraud and, disturbingly, some professionals seemed either unaware of this or did not care. Some even recommended the site, or a competitor, to their industry peers. Those professionals risk financing the same criminal gangs they are paid to stop.

A number of other cybercrime tools have attempted to make their way into mainstream use, with mixed success.


One example is booter AKA network stresser services. These services were sold on criminal marketplaces as a way to knock video game opponents offline with DDoS attacks. Despite a business model obviously centered around abuse — shown both in advertisements and target demographic, booter owners believed they had an ace up their sleeve. Their ToS informed users that the booter was “for legal purposes only”, as a sort of legal figleaf. Under this speculative legal theory which was copied by nearly every vendor, booter owners assured their customers that the service was entirely legal and safe to use.

To quote the FBI in a 2018 indictment against a booter service named Downthem. […]

Can YouTube Quiet Its Conspiracy Theorists? (NYTimes)

ACM TechNews <>
Wed, 4 Mar 2020 11:53:53 -0500 (EST)

Jack Nicas, The New York Times, 2 Mar 2020
via ACM TechNews; Wednesday, March 4, 2020

University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) researchers found that while YouTube has reduced how often its algorithm recommends conspiracy theory-related videos, its progress in dealing with conspiracy theories has been uneven, and the service still promotes certain types of fictional stories. The study examined 8 million recommendations by the video-sharing platform over a 15-month period and found that while YouTube has almost completely removed some conspiracy theories from its recommendations, other falsehoods continue to flourish. Said UC Berkeley's Hany Farid, “It is a technological problem, but it is really at the end of the day also a policy problem. … If you have the ability to essentially drive some of the particularly problematic content close to zero, well then you can do more on lots of things.”

Risks of publishing web browser screenshots (MarketWatch)

David Tarabar <>
Thu, 5 Mar 2020 13:39:53 -0500

A Fox News analyst posted a web browser screenshot on Twitter. The screenshot displayed the intended political info. It also displayed browser tabs of websites that had been previously visited - including Sexy Vixen Vinyl.

China's Geely invests $326M to build satellites for autonomous cars (Reuters)

geoff goodfellow <>
Tue, 3 Mar 2020 13:38:06 -1000

China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group said on Tuesday it was investing 2.27 billion yuan ($326 million) in a new satellite manufacturing plant, where it plans to build low-orbit satellites to provide more accurate data for self-driving cars.

Geely, one of China's most internationally-known companies due to its investments in Daimler, Volvo and Proton, is building the facilities in Taizhou, where it has car plants. It aims to produce 500 satellites a year by around 2025, with around 300 highly-skilled staff, it said in a statement.

Geely's technology development arm, Geely Technology Group, launched Geespace to research, launch, and operate low-orbit satellites in 2018. […]

Congress Must Stop the Graham-Blumenthal Anti-Security Bill

Gabe Goldberg <>
Wed, 04 Mar 2020 04:58:21 +0000 (UTC)

There's a new and serious threat to both free speech and security online. Under a draft bill that Bloomberg recently leaked, the Attorney General could unilaterally dictate how online platforms and services must operate. If those companies don't follow the Attorney General's rules, they could be on the hook for millions of dollars in civil damages and even state criminal penalties.

The bill, known as the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act, grants sweeping powers to the Executive Branch. It opens the door for the government to require new measures to screen users' speech and even backdoors to read your private communications—a stated goal of one of the bill's authors.

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have been quietly circulating a draft version of EARN IT. Congress must forcefully reject this dangerous bill before it is introduced.

Empty Promises Won't Save the .ORG Takeover (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Gabe Goldberg <>
Wed, 04 Mar 2020 04:57:29 +0000 (UTC)

The Internet Society's (ISOC) November announcement that it intended to sell the Public Interest Registry (PIR, the organization that oversees the .ORG domain name registry) to a private equity firm sent shockwaves through the global NGO sector. The announcement came just after a change to the .ORG registry agreement—the agreement that outlines how the registry operator must run the domain - that gives PIR significantly more power to raise registration fees and implement new measures to censor organizations' speech.

It didn't take long for the global NGO sector to put two and two together: take a new agreement that gives the registry owner power to hurt NGOs; combine it with a new owner whose primary obligation is to its investors, not its users; and you have a recipe for danger for nonprofits and NGOs all over the world that rely on .ORG. Since November, over 800 organizations and 24,000 individuals from all over the world have signed an open letter urging ISOC to stop the sale of PIR. Members of Congress, UN Special Rapporteurs, and US state charity regulators [pdf] have raised warning flags about the sale.

How to clean up the mess we've made that's orbiting the Earth (The Hill)

geoff goodfellow <>
Tue, 3 Mar 2020 13:39:08 -1000

One company is building a space garbage truck. But experts say it will take more than that to rid our outer atmosphere of decades of floating debris.

We've been shooting large metal objects into space since 1957. Satellites, rockets, space stations, missiles. So it's no wonder that a garbage truck is set to launch in 2025 to start cleaning up the mess.

The pioneering ClearSpace <> device is designed to locate, capture and remove large items that threaten to crash into the satellites orbiting the planet. The problem, experts say, is that there's probably more than 34,000 pieces of space junk larger that 10 centimeters — and all of it is a hazard.


Orbiting at 17,000 miles per hour, these bits of metal can pierce anything they hit with the velocity of a bullet.

Sure, there's a lot of space in space. Our atmosphere starts at about 62 miles above sea level and items can continue orbiting as high as 150 miles. But experts agree that we must think ahead. Every year, countries and private companies launch a steadily increasing number of satellites and other equipment skyward on a collective arsenal of more than 100 rockets every year. […]

How fake audio, such as deepfakes, could plague business, politics (Bakersfield)

geoff goodfellow <>
Wed, 4 Mar 2020 10:21:58 -1000

Fake voices generated by artificial intelligence tools may be the next frontier in scams that could trick companies into forking over cash or fool voters into believing a politician said something he or she didn't.

Computer-synthesized voices are not new. Anyone familiar with Amazon's Echo and Google's Home devices, or Apple's Siri, already knows the soothing female voice that answers queries.

But that same technology can be adapted for devious means, said Vijay Balasubramaniyan, co-founder and CEO of Pindrop, a technology company that uses machine-learning techniques to identify voice fraud.

Criminals can use publicly available video and audio of top corporate executives to analyze and create a fake voice of a CEO and use that in combination with an email hack to trick the company's executives into sending money. Or they can apply similar tactics to make politicians appear to say something they never did.

At a brief demonstration during the RSA Conference in San Francisco, Balasubramaniyan logged on to a secure company computer network that held artificial intelligence algorithms able to analyze publicly available YouTube video and audio of major political and business leaders and produce a voice file of a person saying something they had never uttered.

Balasubramaniyan chose President Donald Trump from a drop-down menu and typed in the words “This morning American forces gave North Korea the bloody nose they deserve.” into a box and hit enter. […]

Ransomware Attacks Prompt Tough Question for Local Officials: To Pay or Not to Pay? (Pew)

geoff goodfellow <>
Thu, 5 Mar 2020 12:25:16 -1000

When cybercriminals struck Lake City, Florida, last June, city officials had to make a tough choice: Pay the hackers or restore systems on their own.

A ransomware attack had hijacked the government's computer network and held it hostage for several weeks. While the attack didn't affect the police, fire or financial departments, it wreaked havoc on phone lines, email, utility records and many other services.

The hackers first demanded about $750,000 in bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, from the small, rural city to give it back control of its network.

The city tried to recover the data on its own, City Manager Joseph Helfenberger recalled, but that failed. Its insurance company negotiated with the hackers and got the ransom down to about $470,000. It recommended paying, and officials figured that was the best option because the city would have to cover only the $10,000 deductible. “This is not a rich community. They can't afford to spend money they don't have. You have to look at what is going to serve the community the best.”

There were at least 113 successful ransomware attacks on state and local governments last year, according to global cybersecurity company Emsisoft, and in each case, officials had to figure out how to respond.


Some states have passed laws to target cybercriminals who deploy ransomware, but prosecutors have rarely used them. And local officials often are left vulnerable.

In Baltimore last May, hackers crippled thousands of computers, then demanded a ransom of about $76,000 in bitcoin. Democratic Mayor Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young refused to pay. Workers were unable to access online accounts and payment systems for weeks.

The attack ended up costing the city at least $18 million—a combination of lost or delayed revenue and the expense of restoring systems. Young said in a statement last June that the FBI advised the city not to pay, and that it was “just not the way we operate. … We won't reward criminal behavior.” The mayor's office did not respond to Stateline requests for comment.


Baltimore and Lake City aren't alone. The majority of publicized ransomware attacks in the United States last year targeted local governments, according to a recent report by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.


Yet no one knows how many local and state governments have been hit by a ransomware attack. There is no national clearinghouse that collects all that information. Nor is every attack publicly reported. The FBI, which tracks national crime data, couldn't be reached for comment before publication. […]

Through apps, not warrants, Locate X allows federal law enforcement to track phones (Protocol)

geoff goodfellow <>
Thu, 5 Mar 2020 12:26:12 -1000

Federal agencies have big contracts with Virginia-based Babel Street. Depending on where you've traveled, your movements may be in the company's data.

U.S. law enforcement agencies signed millions of dollars worth of contracts with a Virginia company after it rolled out a powerful tool that uses data from popular mobile apps to track the movement of people's cell phones, according to federal contracting records and six people familiar with the software.

The product, called Locate X and sold by Babel Street <>, allows investigators to draw a digital fence around an address or area, pinpoint mobile devices that were within that area, and see where else those devices have traveled, going back months, the sources told Protocol.

They said the tool tracks the location of devices anonymously, using data that popular cell phone apps collect to enable features like mapping or targeted ads, or simply to sell it on to data brokers.

Babel Street has kept Locate X a secret, not mentioning it in public-facing marketing materials and stipulating in federal contracts that even the existence of the data is confidential information. Locate X must be “used for internal research purposes only,” according to terms of use distributed to agencies, and law enforcement authorities are forbidden from using the technology as evidence—or mentioning it at all—in legal proceedings.


Federal records show that U.S. Customs and Border Protection purchased Locate X, and the Secret Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also use the location-tracking technology, according to a former Babel Street employee. Numerous other government agencies have active contracts with Reston-based Babel Street, records show, but publicly available contract information does not specify whether other agencies besides CBP bought Locate X or other products and services offered by the company.

None of the federal agencies, including CBP, would confirm whether they used the location-tracking software when contacted by Protocol. Babel Street's other products include an analytics tool it has widely marketed that sifts through streams of social media to ‘chart sentiment’ about topics and brands.

A former government official familiar with Locate X provided an example of how it could be used, referring to the aftermath of a car bombing or kidnapping. Investigators could draw what is known as a geo-fence around the site, identify mobile devices that were in the vicinity in the days before the attack, and see where else those devices had traveled in the days, weeks or months leading up to the attack, or where they traveled afterward.

“If you see a device that a month ago was in Saudi Arabia, then you know maybe Saudis were involved. It's a lead generator. You get a data point, and from there you use your other resources to figure out if it's valid.”

A former Babel Street employee said the technology was deployed in a crackdown on credit card skimming <>, in which thieves install illegal card readers on gas station pumps, capturing customers' card data to use or sell online. The Secret Service was the lead agency in those investigations, which, according to published reports, led to arrests and the seizure of devices.

A spokesperson for the Secret Service declined to comment on its work with Babel Street, saying the agency does not reveal methods used to carry out missions.

While federal records show that CBP purchased Locate X and last year upgraded, paying for premium licenses, the records neither describe what Locate X does nor define the difference between a basic and premium license. A CBP spokesperson would not comment in detail about the use of the tool, but said the agency follows the law when deploying open-source information.

Told of Protocol's reporting on Babel Street, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon who has pushed for tougher privacy legislation, questioned whether uses of the technology might violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court, in the landmark case Carpenter v. United States <>, ruled in June 2018 that the government must obtain a search warrant to access cell-tower location data for individual phone accounts. Wyden: The court “recognized that the government needs a warrant to get someone's location data. Now the government is using its checkbook to try to get around Carpenter. Americans won't stand for that kind of loophole when it comes to our Fourth Amendment rights.”

A spokesperson for Babel Street, Lacy Talton, declined to answer specific questions about the company's government sales or its Locate X technology, but said the firm handles data carefully to comply with both the law and Internet terms of service. There is no indication Babel Street is doing anything illegal. […]

A hybrid AI model lets it reason about the world's physics like a child (MIT Tech Review)

geoff goodfellow <>
Mon, 9 Mar 2020 09:55:20 -1000

A new data set reveals just how bad AI is at reasoning—and suggests that a new hybrid approach might be the best way forward.

Questions, questions: Known as CLEVRER, the data set <> consists of 20,000 short synthetic video clips and more than 300,000 question and answer pairings that reason about the events in the videos. Each video shows a simple world of toy objects that collide with one another following simulated physics. In one, a red rubber ball hits a blue rubber cylinder, which continues on to hit a metal cylinder.

The questions fall into four categories: descriptive (e.g., What shape is the object that collides with the cyan cylinder?), explanatory (What is responsible for the gray cylinder's collision with the cube?), predictive (Which event will happen next?), and counterfactual (Without the gray object, which event will not happen?). The questions mirror many of the concepts that children learn early on as they explore their surroundings. But the latter three categories, which specifically require causal reasoning to answer, often stump deep-learning systems.

Fail: The data set, created by researchers at Harvard, DeepMind, and MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab is meant to help evaluate how well AI systems can reason. When the researchers tested <> several state-of-the-art computer vision and natural language models with the data set, they found that all of them did well on the descriptive questions but poorly on the others.

Mixing the old and the new: The team then tried a new AI system that combines both deep learning <> and symbolic logic. Symbolic systems used to be all the rage before they were eclipsed by machine learning in the late 1980s. But both approaches have their strengths: deep learning excels at scalability and pattern recognition; symbolic systems are better at abstraction and reasoning.

The composite system, known as a neuro-symbolic model, leverages both: it uses a neural network to recognize the colors, shapes, and materials of the objects and a symbolic system to understand the physics of their movements and the causal relationships between them. It outperformed existing models across all categories of questions.


Why it matters: As children, we learn to observe the world around us, infer why things happened and make predictions about what will happen next. These predictions help us make better decisions, navigate our environments, and stay safe. Replicating that kind of causal understanding in machines will similarly equip them to interact with the world in a more intelligent way.

This Satellite Startup Raised $110 Million To Make Your Cellphone Work Everywhere (Forbes)

geoff goodfellow <>
Tue, 3 Mar 2020 13:37:05 -1000


Anyone who's been on a long hiking trip or had a car break down on a road trip knows that the phone connectivity you take for granted in your daily life can quickly disappear. Despite advances in technology, how far a voice or data signal can travel is still limited to how far away you are from a cellphone tower.

The Midland, Texas-based AST & Science aims to use satellites to overcome those limitations. It's just raised $110 million in a series B round led by U.K.-based mobile provider Vodafone and Japanese e-tailer Rakuten to launch a mobile broadband network, called SpaceMobile, powered by satellites. These can connect to phones anywhere on the planet, when you're flying on an airplane, in a remote location, at sea—94anywhere, says the company's founder and CEO Abel Avellan.

The company successfully tested its technology last year when it launched a prototype satellite called BlueWalker 1 in April. The satellite was able to successfully deliver signals to phones and demonstrate the company's abilities. With the new round of capital, which brings its total fundraising to $128 million, it will be able to ramp up production of the hundreds of satellites it plans to put in orbit, using a modular manufacturing approach to keep costs down.

AST is one of several companies that's aiming to put satellites in low Earth orbit to provide data. SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon and others are building large mega-constellations to provide broadband Internet directly to customers. Their target market is premium customers, taking advantage of the lower lag times provided by satellites to entice users away from broadband Internet providers such as Comcast or AT&T.

By contrast, AST is targeting a different market. Rather than try to provide broadband Internet services, which requires building out bigger, higher-cost satellites and expensive ground infrastructure, it's instead partnering with mobile phone providers. For these providers, AST gives their customers the ability to use their existing devices in places that are hard to connect otherwise, such as in the mountains or on a cruise ship. It's a similar model to existing satellite phone providers like Iridium, except it doesn't require any proprietary hardware—customers can use the phones they already own. […]

Your smartphone is dirtier than a toilet seat. Here's how to disinfect it. (Mashable)

geoff goodfellow <>
Sat, 7 Mar 2020 09:37:13 -1000

Yep, you read that right: There are 10 times more germs on our smartphones than on a toilet seat. So unless you're regularly cleaning your lil' portable germ box, you're not really doing that good a job of protecting yourself from getting sick. In fact, we should allbe making a habit out of cleaning that damn thing, with or without the new coronavirus outbreak as motivation. <>


Apple offers a very detailed cleaning guideline <> for iPhones, as does Google <> for Pixels. Samsung, though, doesn't offer much for its Galaxy phones. But, it's safe to assume that they all can be cleaned in the same way because their surfaces share similar features: glass screens and/or casings with oil-repellent (oleophobic) coating, and some degree of water resistance.

That means two things: It's okay to clean your phone with a damp cloth and you should stick with mild cleaning solutions to avoid damaging the glass coating. So, unless you have a fancy UV light <> to sanitize your phone, here's how you can get it done the old-fashioned way. What you need…


PCI Fireside Chat: Vint Cerf and Ian Bremmer (The Unstable Globe)

geoff goodfellow <>
Mon, 9 Mar 2020 09:53:23 -1000

American political scientist, Ian Bremmer <>, joined Internet pioneer and PCI co-founder, Vint Cerf <> for an inaugural virtual fireside chat=9D to discussed today's evolving geopolitical and technological landscape.

The two explored how our increasingly interconnected world is changing dynamics among countries, challenging international institutions, and (at least temporarily) benefitting authoritarian regimes. The globe faces challenges—including shifts in the influence of superpowers, polarization resulting from social media, and pandemics—that require a new technological, political, social and institutional coherence that has yet to manifest.

Some highlights, insights and soundbites from the conversation:

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