posted 7 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Do not mess with Burnham, you Klingon supremacist scum. (credit: CBS) A white-knuckle cliffhanger ended the first half of Star Trek: Discovery's first season. Frenetic, fascinating, and sometimes shocking, "Into the Forest I Go" raised more questions than it answered. There are conspiracies wrapped in conspiracies, and we've got the entire mid-season break to mull them over. Spoilers ahead! Yes, I mean it! If you read past these sentences and complain about spoilers in the comments, you will be turned into a newt. Algorithms in spaaaaaaaaace! I'm starting to feel like every episode of DISCO has to have a Fringe-like element of mad science. Last week we had the Avatar-esque sparkleplanet, with the (sentient?) antenna rising inexplicably out of its inexplicable ecosystem. This week, we got a mission to build an algorithm that will allow Star Fleet to calculate the location of cloaked Klingon vessels. Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, gestures from the balcony of Ecuador's embassy in London. (credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images) As part of its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Congress received a cache of Twitter direct messages between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks—at least some of those messages have now been leaked to The Atlantic. When Ars asked Twitter whether some users' DMs had been turned over to Congressional investigators or the Office of Special Counsel, which is also investigating possible Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, Emily Horne, a Twitter spokeswoman, declined comment. In July 2016, WikiLeaks published 20,000 internal e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, a hack that likely originated from Russia. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Members of the Texas Army National Guard move through flooded Houston streets as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey continue to rise on August 28, 2017. More than 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard have been called out to support local authorities in response to the storm. (credit: Zachary Wes) Hurricanes strike the US with regularity, but there's nothing on record that is at all like Hurricane Harvey's pummeling of Houston. Understanding the risk of that kind of wind and rainfall happening again is critical if we intend to rebuild infrastructure that's going to survive to its expected expiration date. But freakish storms like Harvey make risk calculations challenging. These storms have no historic precedent, so we have no idea how often they occur; and the underlying probability of these events is shifting as our planet grows warmer. An MIT professor named Kerry Emanuel, however, has helped develop a system that analyzes hurricane frequency in a warming world. Using it, he has found that Harvey-sized rainfall could go from being extremely rare to having an 18-percent chance of happening in any given year by the end of this century. “Biblical” rainfall Rainfall experiences a lot of local variations, and sites within a few miles of each other can often see very different numbers. To get a clearer picture of a storm's damage, the research community has settled on a figure called the "area integrated rainfall." By that measure, Harvey is the largest storm on record, having dumped 850 millimeters on the Houston area. That's extreme, but there are other storms of similar magnitude. Texas saw more than 500mm of rain from the remnants of hurricane Patricia just two years earlier. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / DFJ Partner Steve Jurvetson speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017 at Pier 48 on September 18, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (credit: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch) Steve Jurvetson, a partner at a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm that bears his name—Draper Fisher Jurvetson—has left the company amid accusations of sexual harassment. However, he is still listed as a "partner" on the DFJ website. Jurvetson currently serves on the boards of Tesla and SpaceX, but he has taken a leave as a result of these allegations, according to CNBC. In a tweet on Monday afternoon, Jurvetson wrote that he would be pursuing "legal action," but he did not respond to Ars' query as to when or where such action would be taking place. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Andrzej Barabasz) A new cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Gold is now live on the Internet. It aims to correct what its backers see as a serious flaw in the design of the original Bitcoin. There are hundreds of cryptocurrencies on the Internet, and many of them are derived from Bitcoin in one way or another. But Bitcoin Gold—like Bitcoin Cash, another Bitcoin spinoff that was created in August—is different in two important ways. Bitcoin Cash is branding itself as a version of Bitcoin rather than merely new platforms derived from Bitcoin's source code. It has also chosen to retain Bitcoin's transaction history, which means that, if you owned bitcoins before the fork, you now own an equal amount of "gold" bitcoins. Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 7 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Google Play Store) Google is cracking down on apps that use Android's accessibility API. Even though the APIs have been around for years without any kind of rules about usage, Google has now started telling developers that using the accessibility API for anything other than helping users with disabilities will result in a ban from the Play Store. As first reported by Android Police, a number of app developers have receiving an email from Google in regards to their accessibility app. According to the email, Google's new rules require that "Apps requesting accessibility services should only be used to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps." The email says that developers "must explain to users how your app is using the 'android.permission.BIND_ACCESSIBILITY_SERVICE' to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps." Google says that if developers don't comply with the new policy within 30 days, their app will be removed from the Play Store. Google's new policy will hurt a large swath of power-user apps. Android accessibility APIs are meant for alternative input devices and alternative output methods, but they are also a powerful set of controls that have been co-opted by the Android tweaking community to give users more control over their devices. If you want to write a powerful Android app and don't want to modify your phone for root access, tapping into the accessibility API is the next best thing. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai being interviewed at Fox Studios on November 10, 2017 in New York City. (credit: Getty Images | John Lamparski) Two Democratic lawmakers today called for an investigation into whether Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai "has taken actions to improperly benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group." The FCC has made several decision that benefit Sinclair, a broadcast station owner with a right-wing tilt. Among other things, the FCC rolled back broadcast TV station ownership limits, which could help Sinclair complete an acquisition of Tribune Media Company and, in the process, reach 72 percent of TV-owning households in the US. According to two representatives, Pai hasn't sufficiently answered questions about his relationship with Sinclair. Those congressmen are Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD.), who said as much in a letter to FCC Inspector General David Hunt. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / These two wander around for a long time. (credit: New Line Cinema) Amazon has acquired the global television rights to The Lord of the Rings, and the Internet giant has already committed to a multi-season TV series rooted in author J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth setting. Both Amazon's own press release title ("Amazon to Adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's Globally Renowned Fantasy Novels... ") and earlier rumors suggested that the series would be a direct adaptation of the books, but that is now confirmed not to be the case. Rather, the series will introduce new stories that are set before The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the trilogy. Tolkien estate and HarperCollins representative Matt Galsor said the series will "bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien's original writings." To Tolkien fans, it's unclear what that means exactly. Will characters and situations be based on unpublished Tolkien works? Many of those exist, but the author's son Christopher Tolkien has been editing and completing key works in those categories as published books for several years now. It's unclear what remains. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: EPA) Researchers studying state-level climate policy in the US confirm what high school teachers already know: if you make an assignment voluntary and offer no incentives for completing it, no one’s gonna do it. In an assessment of 17 climate and energy policies enacted by US states between 1990 and 2014, researchers from Emory University found that mandatory policies usually had a positive effect on emissions reduction while voluntary policies always had negligible or no effect. What may be more interesting, however, is to look at which policies worked best. Such an analysis has growing practical implications. This year, the Trump administration reversed many of the Obama administration’s federal emissions-reducing guidelines, rules, and regulations, meaning states that want to curb emissions are left to their own devices. Legislators who are serious about crafting good environmental policy would do well to look at what has worked for others before making proposals. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Bkav) Security researchers say they used a $150 mask to break the Face ID facial recognition that locks Apple's new iPhone X. The work may be a significant, it may be little more a stunt with few real-world consequences, or it could possibly be something in the middle. So far, it's impossible to know because the researchers have evaded key questions about how they went about breaking into the device. The supposed hack was carried out by researchers from Vietnamese security firm Bkav, which in 2009 demonstrated a way to bypass face-based authentication in Toshiba and Lenovo laptops. On Friday, company researchers published a video showing them unlocking an iPhone X by presenting it with a custom-made mask instead of the live human face that Apple says has repeatedly insisted is the only thing that can satisfy requirements of the facial recognition system. How Bkav tricked iPhone X's Face ID with a mask The researchers said they designed their mask using 2D and 3D printers and that an artist made the nose by hand using silicone materials. Other features of the mask used 2D images and "special processing on the cheeks and around the face, where there are large skin areas" in a successful attempt to defeat the artificial intelligence Face ID uses to distinguish real faces from images, videos, or masks. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 7 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Global Carbon Project 2017) For the last few years, global carbon dioxide emissions have done something surprising—they haven’t really gone up. The most optimistic among us may have felt there was a change in the wind, but it was too early to call this the peak of our emissions. And in fact it wasn't, as the preliminary analysis for 2017 shows that emissions will once again tick upward. Every year, a huge group of researchers publishes an analysis of the global carbon cycle, projecting the final tally for human emissions for the year based on data through September. At the same time, they make any necessary revisions to the numbers for previous years, based on new data or improved estimates. The team estimates not just the emissions from burning fossil fuels and other industrial activities, but from the other terms in the global equation, too. That includes the emissions caused by human land use changes (like deforestation) and the carbon absorbed and released by Earth’s land ecosystems and oceans. Last year’s global human emissions projection for 2016, an increase of just 0.2 percent, held up when the final numbers came in. But the projection for 2017 shows an increase of 2.0 percent—a disappointing bump. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Getty | ullstein bild) Your next romp with a paramour may blow your mind, but it’s unlikely to stop your heart, according to research presented this weekend at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017 in Anaheim, California. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if you do suffer cardiac arrest from an amorous encounter, there’s a decent chance your partner will just let you croak. In an analysis of 4,557 adult cases of cardiac arrest in a Northwestern US community between 2002 and 2015, only 34 of them occurred during or within an hour of sexual intercourse. Of those, 32 were in men. That means that sex is linked to only about one in a hundred cases of cardiac arrest in men. For women, the rate is around one in a thousand. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Last week, Broadcom made an unsolicited offer to buy Qualcomm, one of the biggest SoC and cellular modem manufacturers for smartphones. Qualcomm officially rejected the initial bid today, which was for $105 billion (it was originally reported to be around $130 billion). When reports first surfaced about the offer, it was known that Qualcomm wasn't happy with the deal. In a statement released today, Qualcomm's board say the offer "significantly undervalues" the company. "No company is better positioned in mobile, IoT, automotive, edge computing and networking within the semiconductor industry," Qualcomm's Chief Executive Officer Steve Mollenkopf said in the statement. "We are confident in our ability to create significant additional value for our stockholders as we continue our growth in these attractive segments and lead the transition to 5G." Broadcom "remains fully committed" to the acquisition and said in its own statement that combining the two companies would create "a strong, global company with an impressive portfolio of industry-leading technologies and products." Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / A Soyuz rocket launches from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (credit: NASA) As recently as 2013, Russia's venerable fleet of rockets commanded nearly half of the global share of the commercial launch market. Since then, the emergence of other players, most notably SpaceX, has considerably shrunk the once-dominant Russian position. This year, although Russia has made 17 successful orbital launches, only about a third of them have flown for paying customers other than the Russian government or the International Space Station. By contrast, SpaceX has made 16 launches this year, 11 of which have been for commercial customers. A SpaceX projection for 2018 suggests that disparity will continue to grow if the company continues to increase the flight rate of its Falcon 9 rocket. Recognizing its dimming market position, the Russian rocket corporation, Energia, has fast-tracked development of a new medium-class launch vehicle that it is calling Soyuz-5. This rocket could replace the existing Soyuz rocket that carries cosmonauts and astronauts into space while competing with SpaceX for commercial payloads. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Commodore International declared itself insolvent on April 29, 1994 under Chapter 7 of US bankruptcy law. Ordinarily, this would have been followed immediately by an auction of all the company’s assets. However, Commodore’s Byzantine organizational structure—designed to serve as a tax shelter for financier Irving Gould—made this process far more lengthy and complicated than it should have been. During this time, Commodore UK, Ltd. continued to operate. It had been the strongest of all the subsidiary companies, and it always had a positive cash flow. As the other subsidiaries went under, Commodore UK purchased all of their remaining inventory and continued to sell Amigas to British customers. The head of Commodore UK, David Pleasance, hatched a plan to purchase the mother company’s assets at auction. His idea was to raise enough money not only to buy Commodore International but to fund the new company as an ongoing concern, including the continuation of research and development projects. The business plan was to continue to sell Amiga 1200 and 4000 computers and CD32 consoles while slowly transitioning to next-generation hardware based on Dave Haynie’s Hombre RISC architecture. Read 58 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / SoftBank Group Corp Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, February 8, 2017. Son has spearheaded the new round of investment in Uber. On Sunday, Uber’s board of directors formalized a new arrangement that enables SoftBank and the Dragoneer Investment Group to purchase at least 14 percent of the ride-hailing startup. The move expands upon negotiations and related moves that took place over a month ago. Notably, Benchmark, a venture capital firm that had sued former CEO Travis Kalanick won't pursue its lawsuit for now so that the SoftBank deal can go forward, per the Wall Street Journal. Back in August, Benchmark, which holds about 13 percent of the company's stock sued former CEO Travis Kalanick in August 2017, accusing him of "gross mismanagement and misconduct" during his tenure at chief executive. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 8 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images News) One bitcoin is now worth less than $5,900, down 25 percent from Wednesday's high above $7,800. Meanwhile, the currency of a rival, spinoff network called Bitcoin Cash has doubled to more than $1,500 over the same four-day period. This is good news for one side in Bitcoin's ongoing civil war—the side that sees an urgent need to boost the network's capacity to deal with growing congestion and rising transaction fees. People in this camp have been flocking to Bitcoin Cash after a plan to expand the capacity of the main Bitcoin network fell apart on Wednesday. "Bitcoin Cash is what I started working on in 2010," tweeted Gavin Andresen on Saturday. "A store of value AND means of exchange." It was a pointed dig to the mainstream Bitcoin network, where slow transactions and rising fees have made it an increasingly unappealing way to make everyday payments. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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US Army’s 249th Power Division works on a distribution line in the northeast part of Puerto Rico, Oct. 30. (Photo by Jeff Miller) (credit: Western Area Power) Since Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria in late September, the island has struggled to repair power lines, water pumps, cell phone towers, roads, and bridges. The electrical system has come under the most scrutiny. The commonwealth’s power provider—Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority or PREPA—was bankrupt going into the disaster, and has faced scandal after scandal in recent weeks. After reconnecting more than 40 percent of its customers early last week, a major power line failed on Thursday, reducing the number of reconnected PREPA customers to 18 percent. Although the line was quickly fixed, currently only 47 percent of PREPA’s customers have power now, according to statistics from the Puerto Rican government. That means that more than 50 percent of previously-connected Puerto Ricans have been living off generators or solar panels for nearly 7 weeks, or they live without power. On Thursday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló demanded that his entire cabinet submit undated letters of resignation to his office, according to the New York Times. Rosselló said he hoped to cut cabinet members to form a more nimble government. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: USGS) As the human population grows and the human middle class grows in developing countries, we are going to need more. More food, more meat, more energy. And producing more is going to require more resources. Since we are just about tapped out of the resources required for food production—namely water and land—we are going to have to figure out how to use these limited resources as efficiently as possible. A number of suggestions have been made to try to achieve this, from the lower tech—like curbing animal consumption and minimizing food waste—to the higher tech, like planting GMOS that might improve yields, developing better fertilizers, and maximizing irrigation efficiency. A new analysis in Nature Geoscience offers up one more: switching what we grow where. The authors write: “We find that the current distribution of crops around the world neither attains maximum production nor minimum water use.” This is hardly surprising, since agriculture developed in a haphazard, piecemeal way, pushed by different political entities with different agendas over centuries. No one ever sat down with the whole globe before to determine what would grow best in each region. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / It took a while to get all these folks in the same place fighting the same battle, but boy was it satisfying... (credit: Netflix) Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things 2 through episode six. You can read our review of season one or episodes 1-3 and episodes 4-6 elsewhere on site. If Strangers Things 2 had a traditional TV broadcast schedule, we’d be discussing episode 3 this week. Instead, visions of tweens dancing at arms’ length and more darkness looming over Hawkins will be the last glimpses of Eleven, Hopper, and co. until at least 2018. (Yes, the Duffer Bros. have already discussed a third season with a similar time jump and a desire to do a fourth and final go-round.) Haters, lamenting some lack of urgency or happenings in the early part of Stranger Things 2, may hear such news and immediately sigh. Why do we need more Stranger Things (or Star Wars, Star Trek, beloved series X), they ask? Based on the final trio of this Stranger Things sequel, even familiar stories in a beloved universe can deliver the things that made them beloved in the first place. The Duffer Bros. and their collaborators have, once again, shown they know how to stick a landing that’s packed with both action and feeling. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech) On Earth, the heat that drives geology is partly leftover from the planet's formation and partly the result of radioactive decay. For the smaller bodies of our Solar System, neither of these should be big factors. Yet many of them are geologically active, thanks to heat generated by gravitational interactions. Uneven gravitational forces throughout a moon's orbit leads to internal flexing, generating enough heat to power geysers and volcanoes. Or we think. In the case of Enceladus, Saturn's geyser-riddled moon, calculations suggest that the heat generated by orbital torques would only be enough to keep the moon's internal ocean liquid for about 30 million years. And, once its sub-surface ocean freezes, the moon's ability to flex goes down, which means less internal friction to warm it back up again. So why does Enceladus have an ocean at all, billions of years after it formed? According to new research published in Nature Astronomy, that ocean survives because the core of the moon isn't a solid sphere of rock and metal; instead, it's a porous, loosely aggregated hunk of rock. Its sponge-like nature allows tidal heating to warm up its water to roughly 90°C. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 9 days ago on ars technica
NASA On Saturday, the Dream Chaser space plane completed a milestone in its development. During an “approach and landing” test, the spacecraft was dropped from a helicopter to fly back to a landing strip at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The company behind the space plane confirmed the successful test in a tweet on Saturday night, saying, “The Dream Chaser had a beautiful flight and landing!” The company released no immediate, additional details about the test. (It promised more information Monday). But Saturday’s flight clearly marks a significant milestone for Dream Chaser and its manufacturer, Sierra Nevada Corporation. During the last free-flight test in 2013, the spacecraft had a problem with the deployment of its left landing gear, causing the plane to skid off the runway and leading to minor damage. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Derelicts start weak but are potentially some of the most powerful cars in the game—assuming you grind enough. (credit: Electronic Arts) Despite being an overall fantastic year for games, 2017 has brought some real lemons in the racing world. Need for Speed: Payback should have been poised to flip that narrative. The once-annual series had a year off to center itself and looked like it was leaning into a promising premise—a Fast and Furious-like tale of professional car thieves/street racers. The stars seemed downright aligned to light the way for Need for Speed’s comeback. Unfortunately, even next to relatively weak Gran Turismo and Forza releases, Payback might just be the worst major racing game this year. It's certainly the worst Need for Speed in some time, which is saying something given the series’ own flailing in the last few years. Sanitary revenge The game’s issues begin almost immediately, with the revenge plot that gives Payback its name. It's an almost comically low-stakes setup in which one member of a gang of five street-racing heroes betrays the others over a Koenigsegg Regera (that’s a fancy sort of car). Nobody dies, goes to prison, or is grievously hurt over it. The betrayed gang members just get different jobs—as a getaway driver, mechanic, valet, and stunt driver for YouTube celebrities, respectively. That indignity is apparently worth the gang getting back together and plotting life-or-death raids against “The House,” a vaguely criminal organization that wants to rig all gambling in Fortune Valley (aka “Fake Las Vegas”). All such raiding involves street racing of some form or another, because that’s what a Need for Speed must be about, regardless of any seemingly unrelated MacGuffins the plot wraps around it. Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / To get the Dolby Atmos version of Automatic For The People, you'll have to buy this complete 3-CD, 1-Blu-ray edition. (credit: R.E.M./Craft Recordings) As much as I love overpriced gizmos in my living room, I still tend to be reluctant about new standards. TVs are a great example. I've appreciated the bonuses offered by 3D, 4K, and HDR, but I concede they all lack content and are less amazing than salespeople would lead you to believe. They're also generally not worth replacing TVs that are only a few years old. The same goes for audio, which fortunately hasn't strayed far from a "5.1" surround-sound profile since the dawn of DVD adoption. Really, I've been fine with two good speakers and a subwoofer for my entire adult life. I laugh at overblown, pre-film Dolby intros in a theater. I shrug at the surround effects in hectic action movies. I have failed A/B tests in picking out major differences between 5.1 and 7.1 systems. Surround audio can be cool, sure. But if I were to ever change up my entire living room, I'd need something to blow my aural expectations away. This week, that might have finally happened. Read 53 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Microsoft) Fancy Bear, the advanced hacking group researchers say is tied to the Russian government, is actively exploiting a newly revived technique that gives attackers a stealthy means of infecting computers using Microsoft Office documents, security researchers said this week. Fancy Bear is one of two Russian-sponsored hacking outfits researchers say breached Democratic National Committee networks ahead of last year's presidential election. The group was recently caught sending a Word document that abuses a feature known as Dynamic Data Exchange. DDE allows a file to execute code stored in another file and allows applications to send updates as new data becomes available. In a blog post published Tuesday, Trend Micro researchers said Fancy Bear was sending a document titled IsisAttackInNewYork.docx that abused the DDE feature. Once opened, the file connects to a control server to download a first-stage of piece of malware called Seduploader and installs it on a target's computer. DDE's potential as an infection technique has been known for years, but a post published last month by security firm SensePost has revived interest in it. The post showed how DDE could be abused to install malware using Word files that went undetected by anti-virus programs. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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