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2 days ago


A supermoon will rise in the sky Tuesday night, looking to be the biggest and brightest of the year.

Not only will the moon be closer to Earth than usual, it will be full. Scientists call this cosmic combo a supermoon.

At its fullest, the moon will be 221,855 miles away, making it appear larger and more brilliant.

NASA is encouraging everyone to look skyward, whether they step outside or peer through a window.

Lunar scientist Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said the important thing is to stay safe while moon-gazing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you can’t get out safely ... then fine,” Petro said. “Go out next month or whenever it’s safe again. Use the full moon as an excuse to get out and start looking at the moon.”

He added: “Use this as an opportunity to not physically distance yourself, but emotionally connect with something that is physically far from us.”

A string of supermoons are on tap this spring. If you miss the one tonight, catch the next one May 7.

In mid-April, the waning moon will pass by Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, clustered in the southeastern sky before dawn.

All this comes after a brilliant Venus passed a few days ago in front of the Pleiades, the so-called Seven Sisters star cluster.

“We’ve really been fortunate to have some good astronomy — backyard astronomy or living room astronomy,” Petro said.
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6 days ago


Google Fi's response to COVID-19

To help people stay connected during this time of crisis, Google has announced that they will be temporarily increasing the data cap for its customers using its Google Fi service. The new data cap will now set at 30GB which is essentially double what Google Fi typically offers, and this will be applicable to all customers.

As it stands, Google Fi has a couple of different plans for users. One is the Google Fi Flexible plan that offers 15GB of data. Once users hit that cap, their speeds will be slowed. Then there is also the Google Fi Unlimited plan, which in reality is capped at 22GB of data before they are also slowed down once they hit their limit.

With Google increasing the data cap for its customers, those on the Flexible plan will get double, whilst those on the Unlimited plan get an extra 8GB, which we suppose isn’t too shabby considering that it is free. Google notes that data caps still apply, meaning that once you hit 30GB, your speeds will slow down and you will need to pay an extra $10 per GB if you want to resume full internet speeds again.

This increase in data cap is temporary and was implemented on the 1st of April. We’re not sure if Google plans on extending this offer, but presumably it will depend on how well the coronavirus situation is contained, and whether or not people will be able to resume their regular lives in the near future.

Google Fi isn’t the only mobile phone service to offer such features during these trying times. Other US carriers have announced that they will be suspending account cancellations and waiving late fees in the event that some customers might not have the money to pay their phone bills.

Source | Ubergizmp
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6 days ago


Skype rolls out 'Meet Now' calls that don't need a a sign-up or installation

With people forced out of their offices and schools to avoid spreading coronavirus, there are more video calls going on than ever. However, a significant chunk of the action has gone to Zoom, and not Skype, Microsoft's product that has been at the center of online voice and video chats since well before smartphones were commonplace. That's mostly because Zoom has made sharing meetings and the necessary software so easy -- perhaps too easy, with some security and privacy compromises -- but Skype is finally ready to fight back with "Meet Now."

With Meet Now, hosts can create and share a free meeting with just three clicks, according to the company. Even the host doesn't need to have Skype installed -- you can start the process from its website right here -- and then invite people either using a simple link or the share button. If the person you're inviting has Skype installed then it will open the app directly to the call, and if not then it will open the web client that works in Chrome or Edge.

Zoom has already made some changes and pledged more to address its issues -- we'll see if this setup helps Skype claw back any users who've already gotten used to using competitor's software for their meetings.

Source | The Verge
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1 week ago


The popular video conferencing application Zoom has been having a Moment during the Covid-19 pandemic. But it's not all positive. As many people's professional and social lives move completely online, Zoom use has exploded. But with this boom has come added scrutiny from security and privacy researchers—and they keep finding more problems, including two fresh zero day vulnerabilities revealed Wednesday morning.

The debate has underscored the inherent tension of balancing mainstream needs with robust security. Go too far in either direction, and valid criticism awaits.

"Zoom has never been known as the most hardcore secure and private service, and there have certainly been some critical vulnerabilities, but in many cases there aren't a lot of other options," says security researcher Kenn White. "It's absolutely fair to put public pressure on Zoom to make things safer for regular users. But I wouldn't tell people 'Don't use Zoom.' It's like everyone is driving a 1989 Geo and security folks are worrying about the airflow in a Ferrari."

Zoom isn't the only video conferencing option, but displaced businesses, schools, and organizations have coalesced around it amid widespread-shelter-in place orders. It's free to use, has an intuitive interface, and can accommodate group video chats for up to 100 people. There's a lot to like. By contrast, Skype's group video chat feature only supports 50 participants for free, and live streaming options like Facebook Live don't have the immediacy and interactivity of putting everyone in a digital room together. Google offers multiple video chat options—maybe too many, if you're looking for one simple solution.

"Zoom has just had so many missteps."

Patrick Wardle, Jamf

At the same time, recent findings about Zoom's security and privacy failings have been legitimately concerning. Zoom's iOS app was quietly—and the company says accidentally—sending data to Facebook without notifying users, even if they had no Facebook account. The service pushed a fix late last week. Zoom also updated its privacy policy over the weekend after a report revealed that the old terms would have allowed the company to collect user information, including meeting content, and analyze it for targeted advertising or other marketing. And users have been creeped out by Zoom's attention-tracking feature, which lets the meeting host know if an attendee hasn't had the Zoom window in their screen's foreground for 30 seconds.

During the pandemic, a type of online abuse known as Zoombombing, in which trolls abuse Zoom's default screen-sharing settings to take over meetings—often with racist messages or pornography—has also spiked. Zoom offers tools to protect against that sort of assault, specifically the option to password-protect your meeting, add a waiting room for vetting attendees, and limit screen sharing. Some paid and free speciality versions of the service, like Zoom for Education, also have different screen sharing defaults. But in general the service doesn't highlight these options in a way that would make them intuitive to enable.

"It's as though, in suddenly shifting from the office to work from home, we didn't so much move the conference room into our kitchens as into the middle of the public square," says Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society. "Enterprise platforms are now seeing the same abuse problems that we've long been used to seeing on Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc. Those platforms were inherently designed to let strangers contact other strangers—and yet they had to tack on anti-abuse features after the fact too."

Perhaps most jarring of all, the service has a security feature that it falsely described as being "end-to-end encrypted." Turning on the setting does strengthen the encryption on your video calls, but does not afford them the protection of being completely encrypted at all times in transit. Achieving full end-to-end encryption in group video calling is difficult; Apple memorably spent years finding a way to implement it for FaceTime. And for a service that can support so many streams on each call, it was always unlikely that Zoom had actually achieved this protection, despite its marketing claims.
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Zoom did not return a request for comment from WIRED about how it is handling this deluge of security and privacy findings in its product.

All of this compounds with the fact that even before the pandemic, Zoom had a reputation for prioritizing ease of use over security and privacy. Notably, a researcher revealed flaws last summer about how Zoom seamlessly joined users into call links and shared their camera feeds without an initial check to let users confirm they wanted to launch the app. That means attackers could have crafted Zoom links that instantly gave them access to a user's video feed—and everything going on around them—with one click. The research also built on previous Zoom vulnerability findings.

Zoom's gaffes have also started to invite even more potentially consequential scrutiny. The company is facing a class action lawsuit over the data its iOS app sent to Facebook. And the office of New York attorney general Letitia James sent a letter to the company on Monday about its mounting punch list. "While Zoom has remediated specific reported security vulnerabilities, we would like to understand whether Zoom has undertaken a broader review of its security practices," the attorney general's office wrote.

Given this track record and all the commotion about Zoom security in the past few weeks, macOS security researcher Patrick Wardle says he recently got interested in poking at the Mac desktop Zoom app. Today he is disclosing two new security flaws he found during that brief analysis.

"Zoom, while great from a usability point of view, clearly hasn’t been designed with security in mind," Wardle says. "I saw some researchers tweeting about strange Zoom behavior and literally within 10 seconds of looking at it myself I was just like, aw, man. Granted I research this stuff, so I know what to look for. But Zoom has just had so many missteps, and that’s very indicative of a product that has not been adequately audited from a security point of view."

Wardle's findings pose limited risk to users in practice, because they would first require the presence of malware on a target device. One attack focuses on a Zoom installation flow that still relies on a now-retired application programming interface from Apple. The company deprecated the API because of security concerns, but Wardle says that he sometimes still sees products using it as a lazy workaround. An attacker who has infected a victim device with malware, but hasn't yet achieved full access, could exploit Zoom's insecure install settings to gain root privileges.

The other vulnerability Wardle found is also significant, though still only a local access bug. macOS offers a feature called "hardened runtime" that lets the operating system act as a sort of bouncer while programs are running and prevent code injections or other manipulations that are typically malicious. Developers can choose to add exemptions for third-party plugins if they want to have that additional functionality from an external source, but Wardle notes that such exceptions are typically a last resort, because they undermine the whole premise of "hardened runtime." Yet Zoom's macOS application has such an exemption for third-party libraries, meaning malware running on a victim's system could inject code into Zoom that's trusted and essentially link the two applications—allowing the malware to piggyback on Zoom's legitimate microphone and video access and start listening in on a victim or watching through their webcam whenever the malware wants.

Though it doesn't look like researchers will stop finding flaws in Zoom any time soon, the most important takeaway for regular users is simply to think carefully about their security and privacy needs for each call they make. Zoom's security is likely sufficient for most people's general communications, but there are more protected group video chat options—like those offered by WhatsApp, FaceTime, and particularly Signal—that could be a better fit for sensitive gatherings.

"The reality is that companies are going to have mistakes in their software," says Jonathan Leitschuh, a security researcher who found the webcam hijacking flaws in Zoom last summer. "The more criticism of a platform, the more secure it’s hopefully going to be. So hopefully Zoom is taking the information that they’re gaining and actually acting on it. But if you need to be secure and secret, I would not recommend you have those conversations over Zoom. Use a platform that’s built for the level of security you need."

Source | WIRED
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1 week ago


Stay Home, Stay Safe 🙏 ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago


For Sri Lanka | Read all latest news from all major news providers in Sri Lanka at once via

Sri Lanka extends nationwide curfew to fight coronavirus pandemic.Nearly 3,500 people, including 31 foreigners from 14 countries, quarantined in 45 centres across the island nation.
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3 weeks ago


YouTube has switched to standard definition streaming by default in Europe.

We asked the company if it planned to do this yesterday, and today a spokeswoman confirmed the step. The move was reported earlier by Reuters.

It’s a temporary measure in response to calls by the European Commission for streaming platforms to help ease demand on Internet infrastructure during the coronavirus crisis.

Users can still manually adjust video quality but defaults remain a powerful tool to influence overall outcomes.

A YouTube spokesperson confirmed the switch, sending us this statement:

People are coming to YouTube to find authoritative news, learning content and make connections during these uncertain times. While we have seen only a few usage peaks, we have measures in place to automatically adjust our system to use less network capacity. We are in ongoing conversations with the regulators (including Ofcom), governments and network operators all over Europe, and are making a commitment to temporarily default all traffic in the UK and the EU to Standard Definition. We will continue our work to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience.

Yesterday Netflix announced it would default to SD streaming in the region for 30 days for the same reason.

In recent days, the EU’s internet market commissioner, Thierry Breton, has held discussions with platform executives to urge them to help reduce the load on Internet infrastructure as scores of Europeans are encouraged or required to stay at home as part of quarantine measures.

The Commission is concerned about the impact on online education and remote work if there’s a major spike in demand for digital entertainment services — and is pushing for collective action from platforms and users to manage increased load on Internet infrastructure.

Breton met with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki to press the case for lowering the quality of video streams during the coronavirus crisis.

Today he welcomed YouTube’s move. “Millions of Europeans are adapting to social distancing measures thanks to digital platforms, helping them to telework, e-learn and entertain themselves. I warmly welcome the initiative that Google has taken to preserve the smooth functioning of the Internet during the COVID19 crisis by having YouTube switch all EU traffic to Standard Definition by default. I appreciate the strong responsibility that Mr Pichai and Mrs Wojcicki have demonstrated. We will closely follow the evolution of the situation together,” said Breton in a statement.

Google’s spokeswoman told us it hasn’t seen much change in regional traffic peaks so far but said there have been changes in usage patterns from more people being at home — with usage expanding across additional hours and some lower usage peaks. (The company routinely makes traffic data available in the Google Traffic and Disruptions Transparency Report.)

YouTube, along with other major social platforms, has faced scrutiny over the risks of their tools being used to spread coronavirus-related misinformation.

Although, in the case of Google, the company appears to have taken a proactive stance in suppressing bogus content and surfacing authoritative sources of health information. YouTube’s spokeswoman noted the homepage directs users to the World Health Organization for info on COVID-19 or other locally relevant authoritative organizations, for instance.

She also noted the company is donating ad inventory to governments and NGOs to use for education and information — pointing to a blog post earlier this month in which Pichai discussed some of the measures it’s taking to shield users from misinformation that could be harmful to public health.

YouTube will be rolling out a campaign rolling across Europe that encourages people to follow health authorities’ guidance and stay home, she added.

Google’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic looks to be a far swifter and more aggressive to the threat posed to public health than its approach to other types of content that can also be harmful to people’s health — such as anti-vaccination content, which YouTube only moved to demonetize last year.

Source | Tech Crunch
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3 weeks ago


Based on results of clinical trials conducted with affected patients in both Wuhan and Shenzhen by Chinese medical authorities, Japanese-made flu drug favipiravir (also known as Avigan) has been shown to be effective in both reducing the duration of the COVID-19 virus in patients and to have improved the lung conditions of those who received treatment with the drug.

The trials involved 340 patients in total, and since the drug has already been developed and approved for use in treating flu, it has a “high degree of safety,” according to China science and technology ministry official Zhang Xinmin, who spoke to reporters on Wednesday according to The Guardian. The tests showed a reduction in the period during which patients tested positive for the new coronavirus from 11 days down to just four, and showed improvements in the lung condition of around 91 percent of patients treated with favipiravir, compared to just 62 percent for those without among the trial participants.

The Chinese studies are not the only attempt to test the efficacy of the drug in COVID-19 treatment – Japanese doctors are bonding their own studies. A Japanese health ministry source told Japanese newspaper the Manichi Shimbun that the drug so far has been given to around 70 to 80 people, but that early results suggest it isn’t effective in treating those with more severe symptoms where the virus has already multiplied to a much greater extent.

Still, a treatment that is effective in reducing the duration of the presence of the virus even in milder cases, and in lessening the impacts in moderate symptomatic patients, would be a huge benefit to the ongoing fight against the coronavirus. Any approvals for use of favipiravir would, of course, require further clinical testing, followed by approval of widespread use by each country’s relevant medical treatment regulating body.

Other drug treatments have been tested for COVID-19 treatment, and are in the process of development, but no antiviral has yet been approved or created specifically for dealing with the new coronavirus. Other drugs that have shown early promising signs include remadesivir, a compound developed by Gilead Sciences that has shown some promise as a general antiviral.

Source | Tech Crunch
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