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Microsoft releases new all-in-one Office app for iOS and Android

Wed, 2020-02-19 18:04

Today, Microsoft launched the Microsoft Office app for iOS and Android. It combines PowerPoint, Word, and Excel into one application, and it adds a number of mobile-oriented features.

“This app maintains all the functionality of the existing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint mobile apps but requires far less phone storage than using three separate apps,” Microsoft’s description in the iOS App Store says. The app is free to download and use, but many “premium features” are locked behind an Office 365 subscription.

After a few privacy notifications and the like, the app launches to a homescreen that lists all your recent cloud documents, with a bottom navigation panel. That panel can take you to other places. The first is the add menu, where you can create a document or note either from scratch, from a template, or from something captured by your device’s camera. Documents you create can be stored in iCloud, OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox.

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Americans on coronavirus cruise ship barred from US after failed quarantine

Wed, 2020-02-19 17:33

Enlarge / YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 19, 2020: A bus carrying passengers who will take the flight chartered by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China drives past the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship docked the Daikoku Pier. (credit: Getty | Tomohiro Ohsumi)

On Wednesday, the initial 14-day quarantine aboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, officially ended. But the grueling saga seems far from for over for the ship’s 3,711 passengers and crew.

As the quarantine time ran out, Japanese officials were still reporting dozens of new cases of COVID-19 aboard. As of Wednesday, the number of coronavirus infections linked to the ship total 621—by far the largest cluster of COVID-19 infections anywhere outside of China. The next-largest cluster outside of China is in Singapore, which has 84 confirmed cases.

Japanese health officials are facing international criticism for their handling of the quarantine on the ship, the Diamond Princess. The quarantine was intended to curb the spread of disease by keeping people aboard, isolated from each other and from the public on land. But as cases mounted over the two weeks, it became clear that the control efforts only enabled the new coronavirus to spread. In fact, the 621 cases include at least three Japanese health officials, who were there to support the quarantine efforts but ended up becoming infected themselves.

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Battery charging meets machine learning

Wed, 2020-02-19 17:10

Enlarge / The seemingly simple act of charging is getting increasingly complex. (credit: Argonne National Lab)

Batteries tend to involve lots of trade-offs. You can have high capacity, but it means more weight and a slower charge. Or you can charge quickly and see the lifetime of your battery drop with each cycle. There are ways to optimize performance—figuring out the fastest charging you can do without cutting into the battery life—but that varies from product to product and requires extensive testing to identify.

But perhaps that testing is not so extensive, thanks to a new system described in the journal Nature. The system uses a combination of machine learning and Bayesian inference to rapidly zero in on the optimal charging pattern for any battery, cutting the amount of testing needed down considerably.

Not so fast

Fast charging is obviously useful for everything from phones to cars. But when a battery is subjected to fast charging, it doesn't store its ions quite as efficiently. The overall capacity will go down, and there's the potential for permanent damage, as some of the lithium ends up precipitating out and becoming unavailable for future use.

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Cyberpunk 2077 confirmed for GeForce Now, will have ray tracing via the cloud

Wed, 2020-02-19 16:35

Enlarge / Nvidia recently announced a limited edition, sweepstakes-only version of its most expensive consumer-grade GPU. One day later, the company announced a way that PC gamers can enjoy its RTX perks without even buying a new GPU. (credit: Nvidia)

Thanks to Cyberpunk 2077's delay to September 2020, gamers have even longer to decide how they'll play this highly anticipated game. Existing consoles? The upcoming PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X? Various PC configurations?

We're still waiting for more details on the game's launch strategy (particularly on newer consoles), but one other option just got more interesting: playing this stylish, Keanu-tinged adventure over the cloud. We already knew Google Stadia would have the game in September, but now, Nvidia has confirmed it's coming on launch day to its own GeForce Now service as well. Meaning, you'll be able to buy the game on Steam, then stream its gameplay from one of Nvidia's servers.

On the surface, this availability seems similar to Google Stadia's offer. If you want to play the (presumably) demanding Cyberpunk 2077 at its "highest quality" settings when it launches and don't want to pony up for a newer console or PC, you can stream the game as rendered by a server farm and contend with a hit to latency—which we've found in our tests ranges from annoying to tolerable to downright unnoticeable. Even with a smidgen of button-tap lag and a hit to bandwidth caps, the results could be easier to stomach than the sticker price of a new piece of hardware.

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Trump offered Assange a pardon if he denied Russia gave him emails, lawyer says

Wed, 2020-02-19 16:09

Enlarge / LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19, 2020: A demonstrator wearing a Julian Assange mask attends a demonstration ahead of the preliminary hearing. Assange's lawyer claims President Donald Trump's administration had offered a pardon in exchange for covering up Russian involvement in the leaks of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election. (credit: Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In August of 2017, then-Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. Rohrabacher told The Wall Street Journal that he was trying to broker a deal between Assange and the White House that would allow Wikileaks' Julian Assange to leave the embassy and be granted a pardon or similar clemency by the Trump administration—in exchange for information proving that the Russian government had not been the source of Democratic Party emails published by WikiLeaks.

But in court today, an attorney for Assange put a different spin on his dealings with Rohrabacher: the congressman promised a pardon in exchange for covering up Russia's role in the leaking of Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails. Assange's lawyer for his extradition hearings (Edward Fitzgerald) offered into evidence a statement from another Assange lawyer (Jennifer Robinson) which showed, Fitzgerald said, “Mr. Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange... said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks."

The US government is seeking Assange's extradition to face 18 charges (including conspiracy to commit computer intrusion) connected to the leak of Defense Department and State Department documents to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is presiding over the hearing at Westminster Magistrate's Court, ruled the statements by Robinson as admissible evidence.

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No Playstation for PAX East: Sony backs out, citing coronavirus

Wed, 2020-02-19 15:05

Enlarge / Guess what won't be on display at one of the biggest US gaming gatherings? (credit: Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

One of the biggest names in gaming won't be at one of the biggest US gaming conventions next week, as Sony today unexpectedly pulled out of PAX East, citing coronavirus concerns.

Sony Interactive Entertainment today announced its withdrawal from the event as an update to an earlier blog post touting its planned lineup for the exhibition.

"We felt this was the safest option as the situation is changing daily," the update reads. "We are disappointed to cancel our participation in this event, but the health and safety of our global workforce is our highest concern."

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Anatomy of a dumb spear-phish: Hitting librarians up for Zelle, CashApp cash

Wed, 2020-02-19 13:34

Enlarge (credit: Sarah Shuda / Flickr)

Here's a clue for would-be Internet financial scammers: do not target librarians. They will catch on fast, and you will have wasted your time.

Yesterday, the outgoing chair of the Young Adult Library Services Association's Alex Awards Committee (and my wife) Paula Gallagher got a very odd email that purported to be from a colleague within her library system who is a member of YALSA's board. The email asked, "Are you available to complete an assignment on behalf of the Board, And get reimbursed? Kindly advise."

There were a few things off about the email. First of all, while the first half of the email address that the message came from matched the email address of her colleague, the domain name was very phishy:, a site that offers "secure private email" to users who want to "keep President Ronald Reagan's legacy alive." The purported sender of the message was, to put it mildly, not a big fan of President Reagan's legacy. (Ars attempted to reach the operators of the site for comment, but they are very privacy-minded.)

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Google launches the Android 11 Developer Preview today

Wed, 2020-02-19 13:00


It's a bit earlier than the usual March release, but today Google is launching the first Android 11 Developer Preview. This first OS preview is coming to the Pixel 2, 3, 3a, and 4, along with generic system images for Project Treble devices. It also has a new name. Typically these releases have been denoted by a letter—Android 10 was the "Android Q Preview"—and while Android 11 is still called "Android R" internally, publicly this is the "Android 11 Developer Preview" to all us non-Googlers. True to form, Google has already started with the Spinal Tap references and starts the blog post with a dial that goes to 11.

For now we're just working off a giant blog post with lots of bullet points, and nearly zero screenshots, so we're not sure what the scope of this release is really like. We'll have a hands-on later, but for now, here are some highlights.

One of the most-used features of Android 11 will probably be a new "one-time permission" option for apps that want to access location, microphone, and camera data. In Android 10, Google added the ability to grant a permission to an app only when it was running in the foreground, and now users will be able to grant access to a permission a single time. This is already in iOS, and it makes a lot of sense for certain apps.

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T-Mobile claims it didn’t lie about 4G coverage, says FCC measured wrong

Wed, 2020-02-19 12:18

Enlarge / The logo of Deutsche Telekom, owner of T-Mobile, seen at Mobile World Congress in February 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

T-Mobile says the Federal Communications Commission screwed up 4G measurements in a report that accused the carrier of exaggerating its mobile coverage. The FCC report "incorrectly implies, based on a flawed verification process, that we overstated coverage," T-Mobile said in an FCC filing Monday.

The FCC staff report, issued in December, found that Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular exaggerated their 4G coverage in official filings. As the FCC said, "Overstating mobile broadband coverage misleads the public and can misallocate our limited universal service funds."

The FCC relies on carriers' submissions to determine which parts of the country receive government funding to expand broadband access. The disputed submissions are among those the FCC is using to distribute up to $4.5 billion in Mobility Fund money over the next 10 years.

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Google parent pulls the plug on power-generating kite project

Wed, 2020-02-19 10:17

Enlarge (credit: Makani)

Google-parent Alphabet is shutting down its power-generating kites company Makani, the first closure of a so-called moonshot project since founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped back from management in December.

Sundar Pichai, who took over as Alphabet chief executive, is under pressure to stem losses from the company’s “Other Bets” segment, which includes endeavors such as self-driving cars and Internet-providing balloons. Other Bets lost $4.8 billion last year—widening from a $3.4 billion loss in 2018.

Makani was acquired in 2013 and taken into the experimental “X” lab. It was developing airborne wind turbines that could be tethered to floating buoys, removing the need for the expensive ocean bed structures needed to support permanent turbines.

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Why fixing security vulnerabilities in medical devices, IoT is so hard

Wed, 2020-02-19 10:05

Enlarge / The complex web of software and hardware components and their licensing schemes makes it difficult for healthcare organizations to upgrade or patch systems that prove to be vulnerable. (credit: Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

When your family opened up that brand-new computer when you were a kid, you didn’t think of all of the third-party work that made typing in that first BASIC program possible. There once was a time when we didn't have to worry about which companies produced all the bits of licensed software or hardware that underpinned our computing experience. But recent malware attacks and other security events have shown just how much we need to care about the supply chain behind the technology we use every day.

The URGENT/11 vulnerability, the subject of a Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency advisory issued last July, is one of those events. It forces us to care because it affects multiple medical devices. And it serves as a demonstration of how the software component supply chain and availability of support can affect the ability of organizations to update devices to fix security bugs—especially in the embedded computing space.

URGENT/11 is a vulnerability in the Interpeak Networks TCP/IP stack (IPNet), which was licensed out to multiple vendors of embedded operating systems. IPNet also became the main networking stack in Wind River VxWorks, until Wind River acquired Interpeak in 2006 and stopped supporting IPNet. (Wind River itself was acquired by Intel in 2009 and spun off in 2018.) But the end of support didn’t stop several other manufacturers from continuing to use IPNet. When critical bugs were discovered in IPNet, it set off a scare among the numerous medical device manufacturers that run it as part of their product build.

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Divided, we fall: How ant behavior mimics political polarization

Wed, 2020-02-19 06:45

Enlarge / Studying how ants organize division of labor within a colony can lend insight into how political polarization occurs in human society. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Ants may be tiny critters with tiny brains, but these social insects are capable of collectively organizing themselves into a highly efficient community to ensure the colony survives. And it seems that the social dynamics of how division of labor emerges in an ant colony is similar to how political polarization develops in human social networks, according to a recent paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

"Our findings suggest that division of labor and political polarization—two social phenomena not typically considered together—may actually be driven by the same process," said co-author Chris Tokita, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. "Division of labor is seen as a benefit to societies, while political polarization usually isn't, but we found that the same dynamics could theoretically give rise to them both."

Tokita and his adviser/co-author, Corina Tarnita, were collaborating with a group at Rockefeller University that was using camera tracking to study ants—specifically, how division of labor emerges in very small groups (between 12-16 ants). Their job was to devise a model for a behavioral mechanism that would explain the patterns that the Rockefeller people had observed in their experiments. "Originally, we thought social interactions might play a part," Tokita told Ars. "But it turns out we didn't need to think about social interactions to capture their results."

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US natural gas operator shuts down for 2 days after being infected by ransomware

Tue, 2020-02-18 22:00

Enlarge (credit: Glen Dillon)

A US-based natural gas facility shut down operations for two days after sustaining a ransomware infection that prevented personnel from receiving crucial real-time operational data from control and communication equipment, the Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s advisory from the DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, didn’t identify the site except to say that it was a natural gas-compression facility. Such sites typically use turbines, motors, and engines to compress natural gas so it can be safely moved through pipelines.

The attack started with a malicious link in a phishing email that allowed attackers to pivot from the facility’s IT network to the facility’s OT network, which is the operational technology hub of servers that control and monitor physical processes of the facility. With that, both the IT and OT networks were infected with what the advisory described as “commodity ransomware.”

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Judge rules a 2019 law singling out Huawei is constitutional

Tue, 2020-02-18 21:45

Enlarge / A customer looks at a Huawei smartphone in a Huawei store in Moscow. (credit: Sergei Karpukhin / TASS via Getty Images)

A federal judge has slapped down a Huawei lawsuit that sought to overturn a ban on federal agencies buying Huawei telecommunications gear. Congress passed the legislation, part of the military's 2019 appropriations bill, out of concern that the Chinese government could infiltrate Huawei-based networks.

Huawei had argued that the law was unconstitutional under the Constitution's ban on bills of attainder. The federal government argued that was nonsense. On Tuesday, Texas Federal Judge Amos Mazzant sided with the government.

The Constitution prohibits Congress from imposing "bills of attainder"—legislation that singles out individuals for punishment without trial. This was an infamous practice in Great Britain in the decades before the American Revolution. Huawei argued that it was a "person" under US law and hence entitled to this protection.

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“The Switcher” improves: Witcher 3 reduces blur, now works with Steam, GOG

Tue, 2020-02-18 17:47

Enlarge / CD Projekt Red's official update image is a bad choice for showing off the huge updates. Why not a massive GOG logo instead? (credit: CD Projekt Red)

In bringing The Witcher 3 to Nintendo Switch late last year, the porting team at Saber Interactive already pulled off an impressive feat. This week, the developer went one step further with the port's biggest patch yet, and the included quality-of-life changes just elevated its value—especially for the game's fans on PC.

The Thursday patch was hinted at by Saber in late January in a tweet that has since been deleted, and after launching exclusively in Korea in the wee hours of the morning, it began rolling out across the globe through Thursday. While developer CD Projekt Red has yet to release a comprehensive list of patch notes about smaller bug fixes and tweaks, two of its biggest changes are front and center in the opening menus: cross-save support, and an overhauled "post-processing" list of toggles.

The former only works with the game's PC version, but you're in luck whether you've purchased the game via GOG or Steam. Choose either storefront, then enter your username and password in a Web interface to confirm that you want to connect your Switch copy with your PC version. Doing this allows you to either upload or download a single save file with either service, since both support cloud saves by default. CDPR's official update includes two warnings for longtime PC players: the Switch version will only recognize save files whose names haven't been manually edited, and any saves that contain metadata from modded versions of the game could affect Switch performance.

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Apple’s new iPad Pro could be delayed due to the coronavirus, report claims

Tue, 2020-02-18 17:11

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook looks on as the iPhone X goes on sale at an Apple Store on November 3, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Apple published a note to investors this week saying that it will miss its quarterly guidance for the next quarter because of the impact the COVID-19 coronavirus has had on supply lines and Chinese consumer demand. The note says that Apple expects "worldwide iPhone supply will be temporarily constrained" and that Apple and its partners may not be able to make enough iPhones to meet demand around the world.

During the company's last quarterly earnings call on January 28, it already gave an unusually large guidance range because of concerns about the health crisis, but the situation seems to be worse than Apple predicted. Several manufacturing facilities that assemble Apple products in China have been shut down amid the Chinese government's efforts to contain the virus, and the investor note says that while those facilities are now coming back online, they're still behind schedule.

"While our iPhone manufacturing partner sites are located outside the Hubei province—and while all of these facilities have reopened—they are ramping up more slowly than we had anticipated," Apple says.

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Ring cameras are more secure now, but your neighbors still snoop with them

Tue, 2020-02-18 16:45

Enlarge / An Amazon Ring security camera on display during an unveiling event on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (credit: Andrew Burton | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Ring, Amazon's line of cloud-connected home surveillance equipment, faced a high-profile series of camera hacks late last year. That string of breaches—though traumatic for the families that were targeted—has at least finally led to one silver lining: increased security for user accounts.

Two-factor authentication of some kind is now mandatory for all accounts, Ring announced today. Every device owner and authorized user will have to enter a one-time, six-digit code, sent through email or SMS, in order to log in to a Ring account.

While email and SMS are not necessarily the most secure forms of two-factor authentication out there, either is a sight better than what Ring had been mandating before, which was nothing. The ease with which bad actors were able to access huge numbers of Ring cameras, take control of them, and harass homeowners with them was in large part due to weak security on those Ring accounts.

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Did birds still migrate during ice ages?

Tue, 2020-02-18 15:30

Enlarge (credit: Alberto_VO5 / Flickr)

Even though it was, in most ways, identical to the present planet, the Earth still looked very different at the bottom of the last ice age 20,000 years ago. The globe was around 4°C cooler on average, and ice sheets covered large portions of the Northern Hemisphere, including Canada and Scandinavia. One thing you might wonder, given how much of the planet was barely habitable, is what migratory species did.

Given the loss of all that habitat to mile-thick glacial ice and a reduced winter-summer contrast courtesy of Earth’s orbital cycles, some researchers have hypothesized that bird migration wasn’t much of a thing then. Is it possible that bird species turned this behavior on and off through the ice ages?

A team led by Yale’s Marius Somveille tested this idea with a model of the factors controlling migratory behavior—and it predicts patterns surprisingly similar to the present day.

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Hackers exploit critical vulnerability found in ~100,000 WordPress sites

Tue, 2020-02-18 15:08

(credit: Pixy)

Hackers are actively exploiting a critical WordPress plugin vulnerability that allows them to completely wipe all website databases and, in some cases, seize complete control of affected sites.

The flaw is in the ThemeGrill Demo Importer installed on some 100,000 sites, and it was disclosed over the weekend by Website security company WebARX. By Tuesday, WebArx reported that the flaw was under active exploit with almost 17,000 attacks blocked so far. Hanno Böck, a journalist who works for, also spotted active attacks and reported them on Twitter.

If you use this plugin and your webpage hasn't been deleted yet consider yourself lucky. And remove the plugin. (Yes, remove it, don't just update.)

— hanno (@hanno) February 18, 2020

"There's currently a severe vuln in a wordpress plugin called "themegrill demo importer" that resets the whole database," Böck wrote. " It seems attacks are starting: Some of the affected webpages show a wordpress 'hello world'-post. /cc If you use this plugin and your webpage hasn't been deleted yet consider yourself lucky. And remove the plugin. (Yes, remove it, don't just update.)"

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ISPs sue Maine, claim Web-privacy law violates their free-speech rights

Tue, 2020-02-18 14:43

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Yuichiro Chino)

The broadband industry is suing Maine to stop a Web-browsing privacy law similar to the one killed by Congress and President Donald Trump in 2017. Industry groups claim the state law violates First Amendment protections on free speech and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution.

The Maine law was signed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in June 2019 and is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2020. It requires ISPs to get customers' opt-in consent before using or sharing sensitive data. As Mills' announcement in June said, the state law "prohibits a provider of broadband Internet access service from using, disclosing, selling, or permitting access to customer personal information unless the customer expressly consents to that use, disclosure, sale or access. The legislation also prohibits a provider from refusing to serve a customer, charging a customer a penalty or offering a customer a discount if the customer does or does not consent to the use, disclosure, sale or access of their personal information."

Customer data protected by this law includes Web-browsing history, application-usage history, precise geolocation data, the content of customers' communications, IP addresses, device identifiers, financial and health information, and personal details used for billing.

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