Huawei Executive Resolves Criminal Charges in Deal with US 

A top executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies has resolved criminal charges against her as part of a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that could pave the way for her to return to China. 

The deal with Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, was disclosed in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday. It calls for the Justice Department to dismiss the case next December, or four years after her arrest, if she complies with certain conditions. 

The deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, resolves a yearslong legal and geopolitical tussle that involved not only the U.S. and China but also Canada, where Meng has remained since her arrest there in December 2018. Meng appeared via videoconference at Friday’s hearing. 

The deal was reached as President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have sought to minimize signs of public tension, even as the world’s two dominant economies are at odds on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, climate change, human rights, and trade and tariffs. 

A spokesperson for Huawei declined to comment, and a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

Charges unsealed in 2019

Under then-President Donald Trump, the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges in 2019, just before a crucial two-day round of trade talks between the U.S. and China, that accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets. The charges also alleged that Meng had committed fraud by misleading banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran. 

The indictment accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. 

Meng fought the Justice Department’s extradition request, and her lawyers called the case against her flawed. Last month, a Canadian judge didn’t rule on whether Meng should be extradited to the U.S. after a Canadian Justice Department lawyer wrapped up his case saying there was enough evidence to show she was dishonest and deserved to stand trial in the U.S. 

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, and some analysts say Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms amid allegations of technology theft. The company represents China’s progress in becoming a technological power and has been a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns. 

It has repeatedly denied the U.S. government’s allegations and the security concerns about its products. 

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Disabled People Can Now Use Android Phones with Face Gestures

Using a raised eyebrow or smile, people with speech or physical disabilities can now operate their Android-powered smartphones hands-free, Google said Thursday.

Two new tools put machine learning and front-facing cameras on smartphones to work detecting face and eye movements.

Users can scan their phone screen and select a task by smiling, raising eyebrows, opening their mouth, or looking to the left, right or up.

“To make Android more accessible for everyone, we’re launching new tools that make it easier to control your phone and communicate using facial gestures,” Google said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 61 million adults in the United States live with disabilities, which has pushed Google and rivals Apple and Microsoft to make products and services more accessible to them.

“Every day, people use voice commands, like ‘Hey Google,’ or their hands to navigate their phones,” the tech giant said in a blog post.

“However, that’s not always possible for people with severe motor and speech disabilities.”

The changes are the result of two new features, one is called “Camera Switches,” which lets people use their faces instead of swipes and taps to interact with smartphones.

The other is Project Activate, a new Android application which allows people to use those gestures to trigger an action, like having a phone play a recorded phrase, send a text, or make a call.

“Now it’s possible for anyone to use eye movements and facial gestures that are customized to their range of movement to navigate their phone – sans hands and voice,” Google said.

The free Activate app is available in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States at the Google Play shop.

Apple, Google and Microsoft have consistently rolled out innovations that make internet technology more accessible to people with disabilities or who find that age has made some tasks, such as reading, more difficult.

Voice-commanded digital assistants built into speakers and smartphones can enable people with sight or movement challenges to tell computers what to do.

There is software that identifies text on webpages or in images and then reads it aloud, as well as automatic generation of captions that display what is said in videos.

An “AssistiveTouch” feature that Apple built into the software powering its smart watch lets touchscreen displays be controlled by sensing movements such as finger pinches or hand clenches.

“This feature also works with VoiceOver so you can navigate Apple Watch with one hand while using a cane or leading a service animal,” Apple said in a post.

Computing colossus Microsoft describes accessibility as essential to empowering everyone with technology tools.

“To enable transformative change accessibility needs to be a priority,” Microsoft said in a post.

“We aim to build it into what we design for every team, organization, classroom, and home.” 

 

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Benin Startup Builds Low-Cost Computers

BloLab is converting plastic jerricans into computers using recycled components.. Anne Nzouankeu visited the startup in Cotonou, Benin in this story narrated by Moki Edwin Kindzeka.

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Media: ‘Quad’ Countries to Agree on Secure Microchip Supply Chains

Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia will agree to take steps to build secure semiconductor supply chains when they meet in Washington next week, the Nikkei business daily said Saturday, citing a draft of the joint statement.

 

U.S. President Joe Biden will host a first in-person summit of leaders of the “Quad” countries, which have sought to boost co-operation to push back against China’s growing assertiveness. The draft says that in order to create robust supply chains, the four countries will ascertain their semiconductor supply capacities and identify vulnerability, the Nikkei said, without unveiling how it had obtained the document.

 

The statement also says the use of advanced technologies should be based on the rule of respecting human rights, the newspaper said on its web site.

 

The draft does not name China, but the move is aimed at preventing China’s way of utilizing technologies for maintaining an authoritarian regime from spreading to the rest of the world, the Nikkei said.

 

The United States and China are at odds over issues across the board, including trade and technology, while Biden said in April his country and Japan, a U.S. ally, will invest together in areas such as 5G and semiconductor supply chains.

 

No officials were immediately available for comment at the Japanese foreign ministry.

 

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‘Devious Licks’ Videos of Damage, Thefts Bedevil US Schools 

Kids across the U.S. are posting TikTok videos of themselves vandalizing school bathrooms and stealing soap dispensers and even turf from football fields, bedeviling school administrators seeking to contain the viral internet trend. 

The “devious licks” challenge that swept social media this week is plaguing principals and school district administrators who already must navigate a bitter debate over requiring masks to keep COVID-19 in check. Some schools have had to more closely monitor or even shut down bathrooms, where much of the damage is occurring. 

No section of the nation appears to have been untouched. In northeastern Kansas, Lawrence High School had to close several bathrooms after students pried soap dispensers off the walls. Then, students tried to steal the “closed” signs, so staff is guarding the bathrooms, even the closed ones, said 17-year-old student Cuyler Dunn, relaying Friday what he called “total destruction.” 

“Some of them were to the point where they were borderline unusable,” said Dunn, who is also the co-editor-in-chief of Lawrence High’s student newspaper. “Locks on stalls had been taken off.”

Ice Bucket Challenge

While social media did spawn the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for research into the condition known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it also led to a rash of poisonings several years ago when teenagers swallowed pods of laundry detergent for the “Tide Pods challenge.” The latest trend follows close upon a viral challenge to walk on stacks of milk crates.

Some school officials are reluctant to say much about “devious licks,” which is slang for theft. In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson Kathleen Miller emailed that officials were aware of several incidents of property damage and that “disciplinary action has and will be taken.” 

Outside of that statement, Miller noted that the school district was saying little to avoid “encouraging copy-cat behavior.” 

A spokesperson said TikTok was removing “devious licks” content and redirecting hashtags and search results to its guidelines to discourage the behavior and that it doesn’t allow content that “promotes or enables criminal activities.”

While some school officials say they don’t know what caused the “devious licks” challenge to go viral, others chalk it up to a desire for peers’ attention or adolescents’ lack of impulse control. Some incidents have involved smashing things, like bathroom mirrors and sinks.

Tradition of senior pranks

Dunn said that his Kansas high school has a tradition of senior pranks that led someone to set chickens loose inside last year. But he said some students are starting to worry about the repercussions of “devious licks,” not only for kids who get caught but also for big events as the school tries to prevent thefts. His newspaper wrote about “devious licks” this week.

He said a detour sign taken from another school after a football game is in Lawrence High’s parking lot and that students even stole a small section of artificial turf off the school’s football field.

“The general vibe around the student body is that this is just another one of those funny things that high schoolers do,” he said. “But it has started to reach a point where it is starting to get in the way of things.” 

Damage displayed on social media

Northeast of Sacramento, California, the Rocklin school district has seen students destroy soap dispensers, damage faucets, plug toilets with whole rolls of toilet paper and tear mirrors and railings off walls, then share videos and photos on social media.

Spokesperson Sundeep Dosanjh said that the damage can close bathrooms for extended periods, an issue potentially made worse by “national supply chain disruptions” that have arisen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Police in the central Florida city of Bartow, located about 50 miles east of Tampa, said they arrested a 15-year-old student who vandalized a new building’s bathroom by tearing off soap dispensers and leaving one in a sink. 

“He said he did it because of this TikTok challenge and he wanted to be cool,” police Chief Bryan Dorman said. 

In the Cherry Creek school district serving an affluent Denver neighborhood and nearby trendy suburbs, the district sent parents of middle and high school students a letter warning that kids who are caught face being suspended, could be forced to make restitution and might have their cases forwarded to police.

Warnings sent to parents

Districts in Miami and Scottsdale, Arizona, sent similar warnings to parents.

Cherry Creek spokesperson Abbe Smith said its schools had seen “a handful” of incidents of damage to or theft of soap dispensers, toilet paper dispensers and fire extinguishers. 

In southern Alabama, Robertsdale High School’s principal said a student there is facing criminal charges after he was caught on surveillance cameras swiping a fire extinguisher. He also was suspended from school. 

Punishments aren’t effective

In Wichita, Kansas, the district has found that punishments like suspensions aren’t effective in stopping such behavior, and community service is the more likely response, said Terri Moses, its director of safety services. The district’s middle schools have lost soap dispensers, paper towels and toilet paper. 

And, she said, the district warns students that what they post now could hurt their chances of getting jobs in their early 20s. 

“What they’re putting out on social media is giong to be with them for a long time,” Moses said. “We’re trying very hard to relay that.” 

 

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Navalny App Gone from Google, Apple Stores on Russia Vote Day

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting app disappeared from Apple and Google stores Friday as Russians began voting in a three-day parliamentary election marked by a historic crackdown on the opposition.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” top Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter.

The app promoted an initiative that outlines for Navalny supporters which candidate they should back to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

Russia had accused Google and Apple of election interference, demanding this week that they remove the app from their stores. 

Exiled Navalny ally Leonid Volkov said the companies had “caved in to the Kremlin’s blackmail.”

“We have the whole of the Russian state against us and even big tech companies,” Navalny’s team said on Telegram.

In a message from prison, Navalny had urged supporters to download the app, which aims to help Russians to vote out candidates from President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party in the upcoming polls. 

On the eve of the vote his team urged Russian voters to back Communist Party candidates. 

Navalny – who was detained in January – has this year seen his organizations declared “extremist” and banned, while all his top aides have fled.

Russia’s media regulator has since barred dozens of websites linked to Navalny including his main website navalny.com. 

 

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China Gets Serious About Cracking Down on Youth Online Gaming

With China’s new restrictions on minors playing online games, the global gaming industry wonders what’s next. Michelle Quinn reports.

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Clive Sinclair, Computing Pioneer, Dies at 81

Sir Clive Sinclair, the British inventor who pioneered the pocket calculator and affordable home computers, died Thursday at age 81.

He died at his home in London a decade after being diagnosed with cancer, U.K. media said, prompting tributes from many who fondly recalled their first experience of computing in the early 1980s.

He was still working on inventions last week “because that was what he loved doing,” his daughter Belinda Sinclair told the BBC. “He was inventive and imaginative, and for him, it was exciting and an adventure. It was his passion.”

Sinclair’s groundbreaking products included the first portable electronic calculator in 1972.

The Sinclair ZX80, which was launched in 1980 and sold for less than £100 at the time, brought home computing to the masses in Britain and beyond.

Other early home computers such as the Apple II cost far more, and Sinclair’s company was the first in the world to sell more than a million machines.

Follow-up models included the ZX Spectrum in 1982, which boasted superior power and a more user-friendly interface, turbocharging the revolution in gaming and programming at home.

British movie director Edgar Wright, whose latest film, Last Night in Soho, premiered in Venice this month, paid tribute to Sinclair on Twitter.

“For someone whose first glimpses of a brave new world were the terrifying graphics of 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81, I’d like to salute tech pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair,” he said. “He made 21st century dreams feel possible. Will bash away on the rubber keys of a Spectrum in your honour. RIP.”

Tom Watson, former deputy leader of Britain’s opposition Labor Party, tweeted: “This man changed the course of my life.

“And arguably, the digital age for us in the UK started with the Sinclair ZX80, when thousands of kids learnt to code using 1k of RAM. For us, the Spectrum was like a Rolls-Royce with 48k.”

However, not all of Sinclair’s inventions were a runaway success.

The Sinclair C5, a battery-powered tricycle touted as the future of eco-friendly transport, became an expensive flop after it was launched in 1985.

But in retrospect, it was ahead of its time, given today’s attention on climate change and the vogue for electric vehicles.

“You cannot exaggerate Sir Clive Sinclair’s influence on the world,” gaming journalist and presenter Dominik Diamond tweeted. “And if we’d all stopped laughing long enough to buy a C5, he’d probably have saved the environment.”

Born in 1940, Sinclair left school at 17, becoming a technical writer creating specialist manuals.

At 22, he formed his first company, making mail-order radio kits, including what was then the world’s smallest transistor radio.

Other ventures included digital watches and an early version of a flat-screen television.

He was knighted in 1983.

Ironically, in a 2013 interview with the BBC, Sinclair revealed that he did not use computers.

“I don’t like distraction,” he explained. “If I had a computer, I’d start thinking I could change this, I could change that, and I don’t want to. My wife very kindly looks after that for me.” 

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UN Rights Chief Calls for Moratorium on Artificial Intelligence Systems

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, is calling for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence systems, which she says pose a serious risk to human rights. The High Commissioner’s report, which will be submitted to the U.N. human rights council, provides an analysis of how advances in digital technologies are affecting people’s human rights.   The report argues that artificial intelligence, or AI, can be a force for good, but also can be overly intrusive and have negative, even catastrophic, effects on people’s right to privacy and other human rights. Peggy Hicks, director of thematic engagement at the U.N. Human Rights Office, says AI systems can be faulty and have embedded biases. These, she says, can lead to discrimination that might jeopardize job prospects or welfare and social security benefits.   She says there are numerous cases of people being treated unjustly because of the faulty use of AI in law enforcement, national security, and criminal justice and border management areas. “We see AI being used for profiling and suspect identification,” she said. “Biometric technology, such as facial recognition and emotional recognition, are being used, including remotely in real time to identify people — with documented cases of erroneous identification and disproportionate impact on certain groups, often minorities.”   The report notes biometric technologies increasingly are being used by governments, international organizations, and technology companies to identify people in real time and from a distance. This potentially allows unlimited tracking of individuals. Hicks says the High Commissioner specifically recommends a moratorium on the use of remote biometric recognition technology in public spaces given the serious threats to public freedoms associated with such surveillance. “Without immediate and far-reaching shifts and how we address AI deployment and development, the existing harms will multiply at scale and with speed,” she said. “And the worst part of it is, we will not even know the extent of the problem because there is so little transparency around artificial intelligence and its use.”   U.N. rights chief Bachelet says there needs to be much greater transparency by companies and states in how they are developing and using AI. She says the power of AI to serve people is undeniable, but so is its ability to invade their privacy and violate human rights on an enormous scale and with virtually no visibility. 
 

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US Accuses Russia of Stonewalling on Cybercrime

U.S. warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin over shielding cybercriminals holed up in Russia appear to have made little impact, according to top U.S. law enforcement and cyber officials. “There is no indication that the Russian government has taken action to crack down on ransomware actors that are operating in the permissive environment that they’ve created there,” Paul Abbate, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Tuesday at an intelligence summit just outside Washington.  “We’ve asked for help and cooperation with those who we know are in Russia, who we have indictments against, and we’ve seen no action,” Abbate said. “So, I would say that nothing’s changed in that regard.” U.S. President Joe Biden has twice called on the Russian leader to take action against cybercriminals operating out of Russia — first at a summit in June in Geneva and again in a phone call a month later. FILE – President Joe Biden, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the Villa la Grange, in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.”I made it very clear to him that the United States expects when a ransomware operation is coming from his soil, even though it’s not sponsored by the state, we expect them to act if we give them enough information to act on who that is,” Biden told reporters following the July phone call.Biden, Putin Discuss Ransomware Attacks From Russia Biden warns of consequences if attacks continueSince the initial talks, senior White House officials have noted a decrease in ransomware attacks, though they have been hesitant to attribute the change to any action by Moscow. “The present absence of criminal activity should not be confused with solid policing,” U.S. National Cyber Director Chris Inglis told an audience later Tuesday. “There’s still a monetary incentive and possibly a geopolitical incentive to allow that to come back,” he said, pushing back against calls for the U.S. to go on the offensive. “There is a sense that we can perhaps fire some cyber bullets and kind of shoot our way out of this. That will be useful in certain circumstances if we have a clear shot at a cyber aggressor and it could take them offline,” Inglis said. “That’s not going to affect the leadership that allows this to happen.”  “We have to figure out what is it that matters to Putin and the oligarchs and how do we change their decision calculus,” he added. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any role in a series of ransomware and cyberattacks against U.S. companies and infrastructure. And following the Biden-Putin call in July, it issued a statement supporting collaboration on cybersecurity, calling for such efforts to “be permanent, professional and nonpoliticized and should be conducted via special communication channels … and with respect to international law.” New: Discussions w/#Russia on #cyber continue, per Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber Anne Neuberger@POTUS “looking for action” she says, adding US must also focus on “doing everything we can to lock our digital doors”— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 2, 2021The U.S. blames Russia or Russian-based cyber actors for a series of high-profile hacks and ransomware attacks, including the December 2020 hack of SolarWinds, a U.S.-based software management company, and for the May 7 ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline operator in the U.S.  U.S. officials have blamed the GRU for targeting the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 elections and the pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines against the coronavirus.  US, Britain Warn of Russian ‘Brute Force’ Cyber CampaignUS officials urge agencies and organizations to take basic precautions as a first step in fighting backAsked Tuesday whether the U.S. has reached the point where it is ready to take action against Russia, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command deferred to the White House. “That’s obviously for the president to decide,” CYBERCOM’s General Paul Nakasone said. “But those options certainly will be provided for his consideration.” VOA’s Masood Farivar contributed to this report.
 

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Apple Plugs ‘No-Click’ Phone Hack Attributed to Pegasus Spyware

Apple released a critical software patch to fix a security vulnerability that researchers said could allow hackers to directly infect iPhones and other Apple devices without any user action.
 
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said the security issue was exploited to plant spyware on a Saudi activist’s iPhone. They said they had high confidence that the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire firm, Israel’s NSO Group, was behind that attack.
 
The previously unknown vulnerability affected all major Apple devices — iPhones, Macs and Apple Watches — the researchers said. NSO Group responded with a one-sentence statement saying it will continue providing tools for fighting “terror and crime.”
 
It was the first time a so-called “zero-click” exploit — one that doesn’t require users to click on suspect links or open infected files — has been caught and analyzed, the researchers said. They found the malicious code on September 7 and immediately alerted Apple. The targeted activist asked to remain anonymous, they said.
 
“We’re not necessarily attributing this attack to the Saudi government,” said researcher Bill Marczak.  
 
Citizen Lab previously found evidence of zero-click exploits being used to hack into the phones of Al-Jazeera journalists and other targets but hasn’t previously seen the malicious code itself.
 
Although security experts say that average iPhone, iPad and Mac user generally need not worry — such attacks tend to be limited to specific targets — the discovery still alarmed security professionals.
 
Malicious image files were transmitted to the activist’s phone via the iMessage instant-messaging app before it was hacked with NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which opens a phone to eavesdropping and remote data theft, Marczak said. It was discovered during a second examination of the phone, which forensics showed had been infected in March. He said the malicious file causes devices to crash.
 
Citizen Lab says the case reveals, once again, that NSO Group is allowing its spyware to be used against ordinary civilians.
 
In a blog post, Apple said it was issuing a security update for iPhones and iPads because a “maliciously crafted” PDF file could lead to them being hacked. It said it was aware that the issue may have been exploited and cited Citizen Lab.  
 
In a subsequent statement, Apple security chief Ivan Krstić commended Citizen Lab and said such exploits “are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users.” He noted, as he has in the past, that such exploits typically cost millions of dollars to develop and often have a short shelf life.  
 
Apple didn’t respond to questions regarding whether this was the first time it had patched a zero-click vulnerability.
 
Users should get alerts on their iPhones prompting them to update the phone’s iOS software. Those who want to jump the gun can go into the phone settings, click “General” then “Software Update,” and trigger the patch update directly.
 
Citizen Lab called the iMessage exploit FORCEDENTRY and said it was effective against Apple iOS, MacOS and WatchOS devices. It urged people to immediately install security updates.
 
Researcher John Scott-Railton said the news highlights the importance of securing popular messaging apps against such attacks.
 
“Chat apps are increasingly becoming a major way that nation-states and mercenary hackers are gaining access to phones,” he said. “And, it’s why it’s so important that companies focus on making sure that they are as locked down as possible.”
 
The researchers said it also undermines NSO Group’s claims that it only sells its spyware to law enforcement officials for use against criminals and terrorists and audits its customers to ensure it’s not abused.
 
“If Pegasus was only being used against criminals and terrorists, we never would have found this stuff,” said Marczak.
 
Facebook’s WhatsApp also was allegedly targeted by an NSO zero-click exploit. In October 2019, Facebook sued NSO in U.S. federal court for allegedly targeting some 1,400 users of the encrypted messaging service with spyware.
 
In July, a global media consortium published a damning report on how clients of NSO Group have been spying for years on journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, and people close to them, with the hacker-for-hire group directly involved in the targeting.  
 
Amnesty International said it confirmed 37 successful Pegasus infections based on a leaked targeting list whose origin was not disclosed.One case involved the fiancee of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi just four days after he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The CIA attributed the murder to the Saudi government.
 
The recent revelations also prompted calls for an investigation into whether Hungary’s right-wing government used Pegasus to secretly monitor critical journalists, lawyers and business figures. India’s parliament also erupted in protests as opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of using NSO Groups’ product to spy on political opponents and others.
 
France also is trying to get to the bottom of allegations that President Emmanuel Macron and members of his government may have been targeted in 2019 by an unidentified Moroccan security service using Pegasus.
 
Morocco, a key French ally, denied those reports and is taking legal action to counter allegations implicating the North African kingdom in the spyware scandal. 

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Hospitals Turn to Robots to Free Up More Time for Patients

A robot called Moxi is helping nurses and hospital staff focus more on patients by taking care of menial tasks. The VOA’s Deana Mitchell has the story.   

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First Private All-Civilian Orbital Spaceflight Set for Wednesday 

Four people are set to become the world’s first all-civilian crew to fly into Earth orbit when they blast off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Wednesday as space tourism takes its biggest leap yet.  Weather conditions are 70% favorable for Wednesday night’s scheduled launch of Americans Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor from the U.S. spaceport’s historic Launch Pad 39A, which was used for the Apollo moon missions during the 1960s and 70s.  The four-member crew will fly into space aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft built by SpaceX, the privately-run company which has begun sending astronauts to the International Space Station. The fully automated Crew Dragon spacecraft will take the crew to an altitude of 575 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, just above the current positions of both the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope.   SpaceX said the four space tourists will “conduct scientific research designed to advance human health on Earth and during future long-duration spaceflights” before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida coast three days later.   The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, will be led by the 38-year-old Isaacman, a billionaire technology entrepreneur and founder of an online payment-processing company who is said to have paid SpaceX several million dollars for the flight. The 29-year-old Arceneaux is a childhood bone cancer survivor who has a titanium rod in her leg, which makes her the first person to fly in space with a prosthesis. Sembroski is a 42-year-old retired U.S. Air Force ballistic missile maintenance engineer who now works in the aviation industry, while 51-year-old Proctor is a geoscientist and community college professor who was a NASA astronaut finalist in 2009.  Sembroski and Proctor were selected through a nationwide search contest, while Arceneaux is flying as a representative of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she was treated during her battle with cancer and now works as a physician’s assistant. Isaacman is using the flight to raise $100 million for St. Jude, and has pledged $100 million of his own money to the hospital. Isaacman’s flight will far exceed those of fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, who each took brief non-orbital flights to the edge of space aboard their own self-financed vehicles — Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, respectively — earlier this year.      Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse. 

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Cyber Arms Dealer Exploits New iPhone Software Vulnerability, Watchdog Says

A cyber surveillance company based in Israel developed a tool to break into Apple iPhones with a never-before-seen technique that has been in use since February, internet security watchdog group Citizen Lab said Monday. The discovery is important because of the critical nature of the vulnerability, which requires no user interaction and affects all versions of Apple’s iOS, OSX, and watchOS, except for those updated Monday. The vulnerability developed by the Israeli firm, named NSO Group, defeats security systems designed by Apple in recent years. Apple said it fixed the vulnerability in Monday’s software update, confirming Citizen Lab’s finding. An Apple spokesperson declined to comment regarding whether the hacking technique came from NSO Group. In a statement to Reuters, NSO did not confirm or deny that it was behind the technique, saying only that it would “continue to provide intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world with life-saving technologies to fight terror and crime.” Citizen Lab said it found the malware on the phone of an unnamed Saudi activist and that the phone had been infected with spyware in February. It is unknown how many other users may have been infected. The intended targets would not have to click on anything for the attack to work. Researchers said they did not believe there would be any visible indication that a hack had occurred. The vulnerability lies in how iMessage automatically renders images. IMessage has been repeatedly targeted by NSO and other cyber arms dealers, prompting Apple to update its architecture. But that upgrade has not fully protected the system. “Popular chat apps are at risk of becoming the soft underbelly of device security. Securing them should be top priority,” said Citizen Lab researcher John Scott-Railton. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had no immediate comment. Explosion in attacksCitizen Lab said multiple details in the malware overlapped with prior attacks by NSO, including some that were never publicly reported. One process within the hack’s code was named “setframed,” the same name given in a 2020 infection of a device used by journalists at Al Jazeera, the researchers found. “The security of devices is increasingly challenged by attackers,” said Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak. A record number of previously unknown attack methods, which can be sold for $1 million or more, have been revealed this year. The attacks are labeled “zero-day” because software companies had zero days’ notice of the problem. New cybersecurity focusAlong with a surge in ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure, the explosion in such attacks has stoked a new focus on cybersecurity in the White House as well as renewed calls for regulation and international agreements to rein in malicious hacking. As previously reported, the FBI has been investigating NSO, and Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess allegations that its spyware has been abused on a global scale. Although NSO has said it vets the governments it sells to, its Pegasus spyware has been found on the phones of activists, journalists and opposition politicians in countries with poor human rights records. 
 

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SpaceX to Launch Private, All-civilian Crew into Earth Orbit

SpaceX is set to launch four people into space Wednesday on a three-day mission that is the first to orbit the Earth with exclusively private citizens on board, as Elon Musk’s company enters the space tourism fray.    The “Inspiration4” mission caps a summer that saw billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos cross the final frontier, on Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spaceships respectively, a few days apart in July. The SpaceX flight has been chartered by American billionaire Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of payment processing company Shift4 Payment. He is also a seasoned pilot. The exact price he paid SpaceX hasn’t been disclosed, but it runs into the tens of millions of dollars.   The mission itself is far more ambitious in scope than the few weightless minutes Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin customers can buy. The SpaceX Crew Dragon will be flying further than the orbit of the International Space Station.   “The risk is not zero,” said Isaacman in an episode of a Netflix documentary about the mission. “You’re riding a rocket at 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour around the Earth. In that kind of environment there’s risks.” SpaceX has already given no fewer than ten astronauts rides to the ISS on behalf of NASA — but this will be the first time taking non-professional astronauts. Lift-off is scheduled for Wednesday from 8:00 pm Eastern Time (0000 GMT) from launch pad 39A, at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida, from where the Apollo missions to the Moon took off. ‘Are we going to the Moon?’In addition to Isaacman, who is the mission commander, three non-public figures were selected for the voyage via a process that was first advertised at the Super Bowl in February.    Each crew member was picked to represent a pillar of the mission.   The youngest, Hayley Arceneaux, is a childhood bone cancer survivor, who represents “hope.”  She will become the first person with a prosthetic to go to space. “Are we going to the Moon?” she asked, when she was offered her spot.   “Apparently people haven’t gone there in decades. I learned that,” she laughed, in the documentary.   The 29-year-old was picked because she works as a Physician Assistant in Memphis for St. Jude’s Hospital, the charitable beneficiary of Inspiration4.   One of the donors secured the seat of “generosity”: Chris Sembroski, 42, is a former US Air Force veteran who now works in the aviation industry.  The last seat represents “prosperity” and was offered to Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old earth science professor who, in 2009, narrowly missed out on becoming a NASA astronaut. She will be only the fourth African American woman to go to space. Months of trainingThe crew’s training has lasted months and has included experiencing high G force on a centrifuge — a giant arm that rotates rapidly.    They have also gone on parabolic flights to experience weightlessness for a few seconds and completed a high altitude, snowy trek on Mount Rainier in the northwestern United States. They spent time at the SpaceX base, though the flight itself will be fully autonomous.   Over the three days of orbit, their sleep, heart rate, blood and cognitive abilities will be analyzed.  Tests will be carried out before and after the flight to study the effect of the trip on their body.  The idea is to accumulate data for future missions with private passengers.     The stated goal of the mission is to make space accessible for more people, although space travel remains for the moment only partially open to a privileged few.   “In all of human history, fewer than 600 humans have reached space,” said Isaacman.  “We are proud that our flight will help influence all those who will travel after us.” 

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