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Raphael Pirker Official Leweb Photos Flight regulators and a drone pilot have settled litigation that was at the center of an ongoing battle over whether the Federal Aviation Administration may bar the commercial use of drones in the US. Raphael Pirker was fined $10,000 in 2011 in the government's first legal action against an on-the-ground pilot. Piker was operating a 4.5-pound drone and was cited for illegally operating the plane for commercial purposes and operating it in a "wreckless manner" while filming a commercial over the University of Virginia. He fought the citation, claiming that the government was enforcing a law against the commercial application of drones when there was no such law, among other things. In March, he prevailed before an administrative law judge, a decision that was reversed in November. Along the way, the government began opening the door, albeit slightly, to the commercial use of drones, allowing them on a case-by-case basis. Hollywood, for example, was granted the right to make movies with drones last year. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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With Lee Hutchinson about to grab the mic and tell us about visiting Munich, we're wrapping up my time in the spotlight by doing a live Q&A. At 1pm Eastern tomorrow, I'll set up a live chat and field questions about anything that interests you, from sichuan peppers to real-time control software. I'd also be happy to talk a bit about the differences between academic and commercial research, as well as the challenges of making sure that the results of your research can be mass produced. If people have questions about science, or the challenges of writing about it, I'd be happy to field those, too. So stop by tomorrow and say hi. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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NEW YORK—"Did the defendant share a secret with you?" prosecutor Timothy Howard asked the gaunt computer engineer on the stand. If he wanted to stay out of prison, 31-year-old Richard Bates, once a close friend of Ross Ulbricht's, had no choice but to answer. "Yes, he did," Bates answered, his voice quaking. "He revealed that he created and ran the Silk Road website." Ulbricht was on trial in federal court on Thursday, accused of running the Silk Road drug-trafficking website. If convicted, he faces a potential sentence of life in prison. It's the second week of a trial expected to last two to four weeks. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A device used to monitor the gasoline levels at refueling stations across the United States—known as an automated tank gauge or ATG—could be remotely accessed by online attackers, manipulated to cause alerts, and even set to shut down the flow of fuel, according to research to be published on Thursday. The security weakness—identified by Jack Chadowitz, a former process control engineer and founder of control-system monitoring service BostonBase—could theoretically affect the devices at many of the approximately 115,000 fueling stations in the United States, but only a small fraction of those systems—about 5,300—appear to be vulnerable to an Internet attack, according to security firm Rapid7, which conducted a scan for such devices on January 10. While automated tank gauges are typically accessed to monitor fuel inventories, so as to know when to order gasoline, attackers could also access the settings, Chadowitz said. “One could change the calibration and make the tank report full or empty,” he told Ars. “If you report the tank is full, no one is going to order fuel.” Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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While visiting GE's China Technology Center, we got to take a look at reverse osmosis membranes. Reverse osmosis is the most energy-efficient means of removing dissolved substances from water. It's what's used commercially for desalination, the process of producing drinking water from seawater. The term "membrane" is typically used to mean a thin sheet of some material (in fact, the word "sheet" appears in the definition of the term). But for some of the things GE is using it for, the membranes were thin yet robust tubes, each one capable of supporting the weight of a bowling ball. Despite that toughness, features on the tubes are so fine that they can allow water molecules to pass through but reject many things that are roughly the same size, such as the salt ions found in seawater. This all raises an obvious question: how do you actually produce anything like that? We decided to look into the process of making reverse osmosis membranes. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Greetings, Arsians! Thanks to our partners at TechBargains, the Dealmaster is back, and we've got a bunch of deals for your consideration. The top item is a Lenovo Z50 laptop with a 15.6-inch 1080p screen, 2GHz Core i7-4510U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 2GB Geforce GT 820M GPU, and 1TB Hard drive for $599. With an MSRP price of $1,099.99, you're saving $500.99 off the normal price! We also have a ton of other deals on monitors, Bluetooth speakers, and home office items! Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The fight between Republicans and Democrats over whether states should be allowed to ban or restrict municipal broadband projects continued today with Democrats unveiling legislation that would overturn the state laws. President Obama recently called for an end to laws in 19 states that make it difficult or impossible for cities and towns to offer Internet service to residents, protecting private Internet service providers from competition. The Community Broadband Act unveiled today by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) would achieve that goal. "No statute, regulation, or other legal requirement of a State or local government may prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting or substantially inhibiting, any public provider from providing telecommunications service or advanced telecommunications capability or services to any person or any public or private entity," the bill says. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Barrett Brown, a journalist formerly linked to the hacking group Anonymous, was sentenced Thursday to over five years in prison, or a total of 63 months. Ahmed Ghappour, Brown's attorney, confirmed to Ars that Brown's 28 months already served will count toward the sentence. That leaves 34 months, or nearly three years, left for him to serve. In April 2014, Brown took a plea deal admitting guilt on three charges: “transmitting a threat in interstate commerce,” for interfering with the execution of a search warrant, and to being "accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer." Brown originally was indicted in Texas federal court in December 2012 on several counts, including accusations that he posted a link from one Internet relay chat channel, called #Anonops, to another channel under his control, called #ProjectPM. The link led to private data that had been hijacked from intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, or Statfor. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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It's the type of bug that could have visited a world of hurt on a sizable number of people using Google Apps to manage business e-mail and calendars. A cross-site scripting (XSS) flaw in https://admin.google.com/ made it possible for attackers to force Google Apps admins to execute just about any request on that subdomain. Forced actions included creating new users with "super admin" rights, removing two-factor authentication and other security controls from existing accounts and modifying domain settings so e-mail is redirected to addresses controlled by the attacker. But instead of causing disaster for businesses using Google Apps or generating headlines of an alarming new zero-day vulnerability, the bug was privately reported to Google on September 1 and fixed 17 days later. In exchange for the report, Google paid application security engineer Brett Buerhaus $5,000. The speed and lack of fuss contrasts sharply with vulnerability travails that have recently visited Microsoft. Twice this month, the software company has been shamed when Project Zero, the vulnerability research team sponsored by Google, has publicly reported unfixed bugs that threaten the security of Windows users. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Warning: disturbing content. A local New Jersey newspaper has published the dash cam footage of police officers killing a passenger during a routine traffic stop, the latest haunting images to surface online as President Barack Obama and others push law enforcement to equip themselves with surveillance cameras in the wake of this summer's officer-involved shooting death of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri. If it wasn't for an Open Public Records Act request by the South Jersey Times, the Bridgeton Police Department would not have released the short video. The footage shows officers shooting 36-year-old passenger Jerame Reid—who appeared to have his hands up. "In absence of the OPRA request this video would not be released to the public out of respect for the family of Jerame Reid, basic human dignity, and to protect the constitutional rights of all those involved," Michael Gaimari, the agency's captain, said in a statement. He said the police department does not "consider the posting of any such video as compassionate or professional." Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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I recently worked with SplashData to compile its 2014 Worst Passwords List, and yes, 123456 tops the list. In the data set of 3.3 million passwords I used for SplashData, almost 20,000 of those were in fact 123456. But how often do you genuinely see people using that, or the second most common password, password, in real life? Are people still really that careless with their passwords? While 123456 is absolutely the most common password, that statistic is a bit misleading. Although 0.6 percent of all users on my list used it, it’s important to remember that 99.4 percent of the users on my list didn’t. What is noteworthy here is that while the top passwords are still the top passwords, the number of people using those passwords has dramatically decreased. In 2011, my analysis showed that 8.5 percent had the passwords password or 123456, but this year that number has gone down to less than one percent. This is huge. The fact is that the top passwords are always going to be the top passwords, it’s just that the percentage of users actually using those will—at least we hope—continually get smaller. This year, for example, a hacker using the top 10 password list would statistically be able to guess 16 out of 1,000 passwords. Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Yesterday a Bloomberg report stated that the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S6 would be skipping Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 due to the chip overheating. The report said that the heat issues would force Samsung to go with its own Exynos chip worldwide, a big departure from the way previous Samsung products have worked. We already knew the Snapdragon 810 will be in Xiaomi's Mi Note Pro and LG's Flex 2, and after Samsung's reported Qualcomm diss, LG has stepped up to defend the semiconductor company's honor. Speaking to Reuters, Woo Ram-chan, LG's Vice President for Mobile Product Planning said, "I am very much aware of the various concerns in the market about the [Snapdragon] 810, but the chip's performance is quite satisfactory... I don't understand why there is a [sic] issue over heat." Of course, Samsung can be a lot pickier than LG when it comes to SoCs. LG has only dabbled in SoC production, but Samsung has far more advanced capabilities and uses its own SoCs in many territories. LG is essentially stuck with whatever Qualcomm puts out, unless it wants to switch to unpopular options from Nvidia and Intel. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Verizon is urging the Federal Communications Commission to reject a call for an investigation into statements it has made on utility rules, net neutrality, and its fiber network. Verizon was accused of "deceiv[ing] the FCC" by telecom analyst Bruce Kushnick of New Networks Institute and audit director Tom Allibone of telecom customer advocacy group Teletruth. Verizon has used its status as a telephone utility to gain favorable government treatment of its fiber network even while telling the FCC that applying similar rules to Internet service would deter private investment. Kushnick and Allibone called Verizon "the 'Janus' of telecom," referring to a two-faced god of Roman mythology. Right now, Verizon's fiber lines carry both heavily regulated telephone service and lightly regulated broadband and TV service, but the FCC could change that by reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act. The FCC would use Title II to enforce net neutrality rules while forbearing from stricter regulations that apply to traditional telephone service. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Word for Windows 10. These touch-optimized apps are separate from the desktop Office suite. 5 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true});The Office tablet and phone apps for iOS and Android both ship with a touch-optimized subset of the features of the full flagship Office suite, and even though Microsoft is readying an Office release for Windows phones and tablets, the desktop version will still reign supreme. Microsoft says that the next version of the flagship suite, dubbed Office 2016, will be "generally available in the second half of 2015." It will remain optimized for keyboards and mice. The touch-optimized Office apps for Windows 10 are still on their way, though, and Microsoft has shared some screenshots that show what the apps will look like on both phones and tablets. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook Mail, and Outlook Calendar for Windows 10 (the official product names) unsurprisingly share a lot in common with the touchscreen apps for other platforms. Microsoft released Office for iPad in March of 2014, and that UI has served as the foundation for all the tablet versions of the suite, including the still-in-beta Android version. The phone-sized versions of the apps look more like the new iPhone versions released in November, not like the limited versions that are currently available on Windows phones. The Outlook app for Windows 10 is something we haven't seen on other platforms yet. Microsoft has released Outlook clients for iOS and Android, but they only support business-class Office 365 accounts and are more or less just wrappers for the standard Outlook Web client. The version for Windows 10 looks more full-featured, more closely resembling the desktop version of Outlook, at least in the three-column tablet view. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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On Tuesday, police in the northern Mexican city of Tijuana found a drone “loaded” with drugs that crashed in a supermarket parking lot near the US-Mexico border. In a Facebook post yesterday, Tijuana Police described it as a DJI Spreading Wings S900. The device can carry up to 6.8 kilograms (roughly 15 pounds) for 18 minutes. “The machine was carrying six packs of a synthetic drug known as crystal [methamphetamine] and weighed approximately three kilograms,” the authorities wrote in the Spanish-language post, noting that the drone crashed on Tuesday night. “It seems that the drone could not withstand the load and therefore fell.” Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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In 2011, researchers announced that they had reprogrammed the genome of the bacteria E. coli, changing it so that one of DNA's methods of encoding information went unused. While a technological tour-de-force, the scientists didn't actually do anything with the newly available bit of genetic code. Now a few years later, two different groups have used it to accomplish the same end: creating genetically modified organisms that may never be able to escape into the wild. All forms of life we're aware of use what's called a triplet code: it takes three bases in a row in order to encode for one of the amino acids that make up a protein. A series of triplets, stretched out along the DNA, can be read to determine the precise order of amino acids. At the end of the list of amino acid codes, you'll find what's called a stop codon. The three stop codons (TAA, TAG, and TGA in their DNA form) don't code for any amino acids, which the cell interprets as an indication to terminate translation of codes into amino acids. Since there are three stop codons that mean essentially the same thing, the earlier work involved replacing all instances of one of them (TAG) with a different one (TAA). The editing process preceded in stages but, by the time it was done, all 314 cases where TAG was used as a stop codon had been replaced. This, in effect, freed up TAG to encode something else, such as an artificial amino acid. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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BlackBerry CEO John Chen laid out a net neutrality plan of his own yesterday in a letter to US lawmakers and in a post on the Canadian company's blog. One part of his proposal in particular has garnered attention: Chen thinks net neutrality rules in the US should force Apple and Netflix to make apps for BlackBerry hardware. Net neutrality proposals generally focus on Internet service providers, banning discrimination against Internet content and applications. Chen wants makers of software to have to follow neutrality rules as well. While BlackBerry makes its own messaging service available for multiple platforms, Apple has not returned the favor. Netflix has also "discriminated against BlackBerry customers" by not releasing a BlackBerry app. Chen wrote: Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Before there were rock stars, one man put them on the map. That man was William “Strata” Smith, and his map of the rocks at the surface in England, Wales, and part of Scotland—completed in 1815—was the first major geologic map ever made. Smith wasn’t a wealthy aristocrat, free to pursue his interests. He wasn’t even a trained geologist. He oversaw the digging of canals and drainage ditches. But those who dig discover what is buried. He saw that the English bedrock was not just a random jumble, but that there was an order to the layers, an order that stretched across the country. And so he gradually put together a map, revealing the record of deep history that lies beneath the soil. Part of his insight was the recognition that fossils could be used to correlate layers of the same age, even if many miles separated the places where they could be inspected. Given its importance to the history of geology, Smith’s story can be found in many books about the history of science, as well as Simon Winchester’s popular The Map That Changed the World. In honor of the 200th anniversary of his historic map, Tom Sharpe of Cardiff University’s Lyme Regis Museum penned an article about William Smith for the journal Science, which you can read here. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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SAN FRANCISCO—California’s top digital cop told an assembled crowd of law enforcement, civil libertarians, and concerned citizens that the “possibilities are limitless” when it comes to using facial recognition to solve crimes. “It doesn’t require a front face shot,” Robert Morgester, the senior assistant attorney general and the head of the state’s eCrime Unit, said on Wednesday. “The software has become so robust that you can do a side shot. If mugshots are in use—each region has their own database of mugshots—and agents can query pictures of a known suspect.” That was just one of a handful of surveillance technologies that Morgester ran through—he explored the law enforcement benefits of not only facial recognition, but also mobile DNA testing, license plate readers, and drones. He faced off with an attorney from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Jennifer Lynch, who eloquently articled counter-arguments and raised privacy concerns. Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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For the second time in as many months I feel like I've taken a step into the world of science fiction—and for the second time in as many months, it's Microsoft who put me there. After locking away all my recording instruments and switching to the almost prehistoric pen and paper, I had a tantalizingly brief experience of Microsoft's HoloLens system, a headset that creates a fusion of virtual images and the real world. While production HoloLens systems will be self-contained and cord-free, the developer units we used had a large compute unit worn on a neck strap and an umbilical cord for power. Production hardware will automatically measure the interpupillary distance and calibrate itself accordingly; the dev kits need this to be measured manually and punched in. The dev kits were also heavy, unwieldy, fragile, and didn't really fit on or around my glasses, making them uncomfortable to boot. But even with this clumsy hardware, the experience was nothing short of magical. Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Cortana responds in more places in Windows 10 on the phone. She now gives smart responses even to typed queries, for example here figuring that you're probably interested in the results of the game if you're searching for the Seahawks. A couple of new keyboard features are also shown off. The microphone in the autocomplete bar indicates that you can use dictation instead of typing. Pressing and holding on the blue dot reveals a 4-way cursor, for fine caret positioning. This is a very nice addition. 21 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true});REDMOND—Windows 10 on phones—and that's what Microsoft is calling it, at least for now—will be available in preview in a few weeks. In the meantime, we had a short look at it on Microsoft's Redmond campus at its Windows 10 "Next Chapter" event. The big point Microsoft was making was that Windows 10 on phones was Windows 10, and it runs Windows 10 apps. Core applications, including e-mail (now under the Outlook brand), mapping, photo management, and messaging, as well as the Cortana digital assistant, are all now universal apps, sharing their code between phone and desktop, but tailoring their interfaces to each device. This means much greater commonality between the platforms. Their status as apps also makes for easier maintenance: Microsoft no longer needs to roll out an operating system update to improve mail, for example. It can just update the app through the store. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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If you've been meaning to disable Adobe Flash, now might be a good time. Attacks exploiting a critical vulnerability in the latest version of the animation software have been added to a popular exploitation kit, researchers confirmed. Attackers often buy the kits to spare the hassle of writing their own weaponized exploits. Prolific exploit sleuth Kafeine uncovered the addition to Angler, an exploit kit available in underground forums. The zero-day vulnerability was confirmed by Malwarebytes. Malwarebytes researcher Jérôme Segura said one attack he observed used the new exploit to install a distribution botnet known as Bedep. Adobe officials say only that they're investigating the reports. Until there's a patch, it makes sense to minimize use of Flash when possible. AV software from Malwarebytes and others can also block Angler attacks. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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NEW YORK—Shortly after he got on the stand, prosecutors handed FBI agent Tom Kiernan an item called Government's Exhibit 200. It was a Samsung 700z laptop wrapped in thick plastic wrap. Kiernan removed it, not without some difficulty, and inspected it. Yes, Kiernan told prosecutor Timothy Howard, this was the computer he and two other federal agents had taken from Ross Ulbricht in October 2013. It was a prize so important they literally snatched it out from underneath him, before they even arrested Ulbricht. On that day, a male and female agent started an argument in San Francisco's Glen Park public library, to get Ulbricht's attention. As soon as Ulbricht was distracted, another agent grabbed the open computer and gave it to Kiernan, who is an FBI computer specialist. Kiernan spent the next three hours doing "triage" on the machine. Without allowing it to go idle, and thus become encrypted, he took photographs, went through the browser history, and ultimately handed it off to another agent who imaged the hard drive. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Peter Bright The new Start screen for tablets is familiar but more malleable than the old one. Note the menu along the left side of the screen, which recalls the Start menu of yore. 15 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true});REDMOND, Wash.—Microsoft delivered Windows 10 and more during today's two-hour-plus media event. While holograms (or FREAKING HOLOGRAMS) stole headlines, the new iteration of Windows 10—along with all the changes and improvements it brings—deserves a closer look. We'll be certain to spend some in-depth time with the new OS as it becomes available on desktop (next week) and mobile (after February 1), but Microsoft was kind enough to let reporters briefly interact with and view the new Windows 10 experience in the meantime. Above are a few photographs with observations sprinkled without, but stay tuned for more in-depth reviews and analysis on Redmond's latest initiatives. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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In a speech given in Brussels on Tuesday, Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith said that in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in France, the company turned over data requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on behalf of the French government in 45 minutes. “Just two weeks ago, the French Government sought the content of e-mails from two customer accounts held by Microsoft when it was in the midst of pursuing the Charlie Hebdo suspects,” Smith said according to Bloomberg. Describing the request, Smith said that Microsoft employees had to make sure the request “was proper” before pulling the e-mail content in question. Smith went on to address movement by European Union countries as well as UK Prime Minister David Cameron to allow more government spying and crack down on terror speech. In France and Germany, political leaders said on Tuesday that they "expect US Internet and social- networking companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google to preemptively remove terror content from their services--or face new laws aimed at forcing them to do so," according to Nasdaq's news service. Cameron, too, recently said that if he were reelected he'd push to have a backdoor put into all encrypted messaging systems. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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