Microsoft exec: We stopped Russia from hacking 3 congressional campaigns

Microsoft’s Tom Burt talks about phishing attacks detected by Microsoft against political campaigns at the Aspen Security Summit.

In a panel discussion at the Aspen Institute’s Security Summit yesterday, Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Customer Security and Trust Tim Burt said that in the course of hunting for phishing domains targeting Microsoft customers, members of Microsoft’s security team detected a site set up by Russian actors that was being used in an attempt to target congressional candidates.

“Earlier this year,” said Burt, “we did discover that a fake Microsoft domain had been established as the landing page for phishing attacks, and we saw metadata that suggested those phishing attacks were being directed at three candidates who are all standing for election in the midterm elections.” While Burt would not disclose who the candidates were, he did say that they “were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint.”

Microsoft alerted US law enforcement and worked with the government to take down the sites. “We took down that domain and, working with the government, were able to prevent anyone from being infected by that particular attack,” Burt said. “They did not get in, they tried, they were not successful, and the government security teams get a lot of credit for that.”

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Judge says climate issues the purview of federal government, tosses NYC lawsuit

On Thursday, a US District judge dismissed a lawsuit from the City of New York against major oil companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell. New York City had alleged that the oil majors created a nuisance by actively promoting oil use for decades, even after they were presented with significant and reliable information showing that catastrophic effects from climate change would result. The judge didn’t dispute the effects of climate change, but he did dispute (PDF) that courts exercising state law could remedy the situation.

In the January complaint, NYC demanded that the oil majors pay for the costs of adapting to climate change, like expanding wastewater storage areas, building new pumping facilities to prevent flooding, and installing new infrastructure to weather storms. The city stated that the oil companies named in the suit were responsible for more than 11 percent of carbon and methane emissions that had built up in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, more than all other individual industrial contributors.

The oil companies didn’t dispute that, and neither did the judge. As early as the mid-1980s, the judge’s opinion states, “Exxon and other major oil and gas companies, including Mobil and Shell, took actions to protect their own business assets from the impacts of climate change, including raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines, and roads in the warming Arctic.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fossil fuel lobbyists grossly outspend “Big Green”

One of the stranger conspiracy theories against climate science is that corporate interests are pulling all the strings so that “Big Green” can get rich from action against climate change. Of course, it’s no secret that industries related to fossil fuels have lobbied for the exact opposite, pushing to avoid any significant climate policy.

So what do American industries spend to lobby Congress on this issue?

Drexel University’s Robert Brulle used lobbying reporting laws to find out. Not every penny spent on persuading congresspeople has to be reported—and a lot of political activities, like think tank funding, don’t count as lobbying. But spending on lobbying itself has been tracked in the US since a 1995 law mandated it. Brulle was able to sift through climate-related expenditures between 2000 and 2016, sorting the entities into groups.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC will now take your comments on whether to allow T-Mobile/Sprint merger

The Federal Communications Commission will accept petitions from now until August 27 to deny the $26 billion T-Mobile USA/Sprint merger, the commission announced yesterday.

Petitions to deny—as well as less formal comments—can be submitted online at the FCC’s docket page. Recent filings can be found here.

After petitions to deny the merger are filed, T-Mobile and Sprint or other supporters of the merger can submit oppositions to the petitions until September 17. Under the current schedule, a final round of replies would be due on October 9.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. While many companies already let you download your information, that’s not very helpful if you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere — whether you want to evacuate a social network you hate, back up your data somewhere different, or bring your digital identity along when you try a new app. The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work.

Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services. The DTP could potentially offer a solution to a major problem with social networks I detailed in April: you can’t find your friends from one app on another. We’ve asked Facebook for details on if and how you’ll be able to transfer your social connections and friends’ contact info which it’s historically hoarded.

From porting playlists in music streaming services to health data from fitness trackers to our reams of photos and videos, the DTP could be a boon for startups. Incumbent tech giants maintain a huge advantage in popularizing new functionality because they instantly interoperate with a user’s existing data rather than making them start from scratch. Even if a social networking startup builds a better location sharing feature, personalized avatar, or payment system, it might be a lot easier to use Facebook’s clone of it because that’s where your profile, friends, and photos live.

If the DTP gains industry-wide momentum and its founding partners cooperate in good faith rather than at some bare minimum level of involvement, it could lower the barrier for people to experiment with new apps. Meanwhile, the tech giants could argue that the government shouldn’t step in to regulate them or break them up because DTP means users are free to choose whichever app best competes for their data and attention.

Uber drivers “employees” for unemployment purposes, NY labor board says

New York City’s largest taxi driver advocacy group is hailing a legal decision by the New York State Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board, which ruled last Friday that three out-of-work Uber drivers can be considered employees for the purpose of unemployment benefits. The decision was first reported Thursday by Politico.

In other words, three men—and possibly other “similarly situated” Uber drivers who had quit over low pay or who were deactivated from the Uber platform—can get paid.

“The decision means that New York Uber drivers can file for unemployment insurance and likely receive it,” Veena Dubal, a labor law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, emailed Ars.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Newer Tesla batteries contain Cuban cobalt, likely illegal under US sanctions

Panasonic, the exclusive supplier of batteries to Tesla, has decided to halt buying cobalt from a Canadian company after Reuters raised questions as to its provenance.

Cobalt is a crucial element in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, which are found in Tesla cars, among most other consumer electronics.

The news outlet, citing anonymous sources, said that “some of the cobalt” in Tesla’s batteries contain cobalt mined in Cuba by Sherritt International, based in Toronto.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The 5,000% price hike that made Martin Shkreli infamous is no longer paying off

Martin Shkreli’s former pharmaceutical company lost more than $1 million in the first quarter of 2018 amid waning sales of the drug made famous by Shkreli’s more than 5,000-percent price increase. That’s according to financial documents recently reviewed by Stat.

Vyera Pharmaceuticals, formerly known as Turing Pharmaceuticals, had brazenly maintained Shkreli’s despised price hike of the drug Daraprim, which treats relatively rare parasitic infections that often strike babies and HIV/AIDS patients. As founder and CEO of Turing, Shkreli bought the rights to the cheap, off-patent drug and—without any generic competitors—abruptly raised its price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill in the fall of 2015.

The move was wildly unpopular (to say the least) and attracted intense public scrutiny to the country’s quickly escalating drug costs. But it was a lucrative decision for Turing and later Vyera—at least until recently.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments