Category Archives: Communications

Your GPS Devices May Stop Working On April 6 If You Don’t Or Can’t Update Firmware

Zorro shares a report from The Register: Older satnavs and such devices won't be able to use America's Global Positioning System properly after April 6 unless they've been suitably updated or designed to handle a looming epoch rollover. GPS signals from satellites include a timestamp, needed in part to calculate one's location, that stores the week number using ten binary bits. That means the week number can have 210 or 1,024 integer values, counting from zero to 1,023 in this case. Every 1,024 weeks, or roughly every 20 years, the counter rolls over from 1,023 to zero. The first Saturday in April will mark the end of the 1,024th week, after which the counter will spill over from 1,023 to zero. The last time the week number overflowed like this was in 1999, nearly two decades on from the first epoch in January 1980. You can see where this is going. If devices in use today are not designed or patched to handle this latest rollover, they will revert to an earlier year after that 1,024th week in April, causing attempts to calculate position to potentially fail. System and navigation data could even be corrupted, we're warned. U.S. Homeland Security explained the issue in a write-up this week. GPS.gov also notes that the new CNAV and MNAV message formats will use a 13-bit week number, so this issue shouldn't happen again anytime soon. The site recommend users consult the manufacturer of their equipment to make sure they have the proper updates in place.

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FCC Chairman Warns of ‘Regulatory Intervention’ as He Criticizes Carriers’ Anti-Robocall Plans

The Federal Communications Commission will consider "regulatory intervention" if the major telecommunications carriers don't set up a system this year to stop spoofed robocalls, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday. "It's time for carriers to implement robust caller ID authentication," Pai said in a statement, noting that some companies have already committed to carrying out protocols, known as the SHAKEN/STIR framework, in 2019. A report adds: Pai sent letters to major wireless carriers in November demanding that they adopt industry-wide frameworks to crackdown on the practice of "spoofing," where robocallers mask a call's origin with a fraudulent number on their caller ID. On Wednesday, the FCC chair followed up with another demand that they implement caller authentication systems this year and a threat over the repercussions if they don't comply. You can read responses from carriers FCC's website.

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‘You’ve Won $72 Million and a Mercedes Benz’: Phone Scammer Gets 6 Years in Prison After He Made the Mistake of Calling William Webster, Ex-FBI and CIA Director

Reader McGruber writes: The Washington Post has an amusing story about phone scammer Keniel A. Thomas, who made the mistake of calling William H. Webster. Thomas told 90-year-old Webster that he had won $72 million and a new Mercedes Benz in the Mega Millions lottery, but that he needed to send $50,000 in taxes and fees to get his money. Thomas also told Webster he'd done his research on the top winner. "You're a great man," the scammer cajoled. "You was a judge, you was an attorney, you was a basketball player, you were in the U.S. Navy, homeland security. I know everything about you. I even seen your photograph, and I seen your precious wife." Thomas's research didn't turn up everything. He didn't learn that the man he was calling was the former director of the FBI and the CIA, the only person ever to hold both jobs. And he didn't know that Webster would call him back the next day with the FBI listening in. Thomas was arrested in late 2017, after he landed in New York on a flight from Jamaica. He pleaded guilty in October and faced a prison term of 33 to 41 months under federal sentencing guidelines. But with Webster and his wife in the courtroom, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell on Friday added another 2 years to Thomas's sentence, giving him nearly six years to serve. Howell said that the scam qualified as "organized criminal activity" and that Thomas posed "a threat to a family member of the victim."

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Texas Lawmaker Wants To Ban Mobile Throttling In Disaster Areas

Bobby Guerra, a Democratic member of the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives, filed a bill last week that would prohibit wireless carriers from throttling mobile internet service in disaster areas. "A mobile Internet service provider may not impair or degrade lawful mobile Internet service access in an area subject to a declared state of disaster," the bill says. If passed, it would take effect on September 1, 2019. Ars Technica reports: The bill, reported by NPR affiliate KUT, appears to be a response to Verizon's throttling of an "unlimited" data plan used by Santa Clara County firefighters during a wildfire response in California last year. But Guerra's bill would prohibit throttling in disaster areas of any customer, not just public safety officials. Wireless carriers often sell plans with a set amount of high-speed data and then throttle speeds after a customer has passed the high-speed data limit. Even with so-called "unlimited" plans, carriers reserve the right to throttle speeds once customers use a certain amount of data each month. Despite the Verizon/Santa Clara incident, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has taken no action to prevent further incidents of throttling during emergencies. Pai's repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules allows throttling as long as the carrier discloses it, and the commission is trying to prevent states from imposing their own net neutrality rules.

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Amazon’s Home Security Company Is Turning Everyone Into Cops

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Neighbors is not just a social media app: it's a service that's meant to be used with Ring security cameras, a Wi-Fi-powered home security company that was acquired by Amazon last February in a $1 billion deal. Neighbors was launched in May 2018, three months after the acquisition. If you have Ring security cameras, you can upload video content straight from your security camera to Neighbors. [...] Beyond creating a "new neighborhood watch," Amazon and Ring are normalizing the use of video surveillance and pitting neighbors against each other. Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College who studies institutional tech policy, told Motherboard in a phone call that such a "crime and safety" focused platforms can actively reinforces racism. In Amazon's version of a "new neighborhood watch," petty crimes are policed heavily, and racism is common. Video posts on Neighbors disproportionately depict people of color, and descriptions often use racist language or make racist assumptions about the people shown. In many ways, the Neighbors/Ring ecosystem is like a virtual gated community: people can opt themselves in by downloading the Neighbors app, and with a Ring camera, users can frame neighbors as a threat. Motherboard individually reviewed more than 100 user-submitted posts in the Neighbors app between December 6 and February 5, and the majority of people reported as "suspicious" were people of color. Motherboard placed the "home" address at the VICE offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and kept the default 5-mile neighborhood radius, meaning the neighborhood encompassed all of lower Manhattan, most of Brooklyn, and parts of Queens and Hoboken. According to the Ring Community Guidelines, the Neighbors app bans "direct threats against any individuals, bullying, harassment, and any posts that demean, defame, or discriminate," but it relies on Neighbors users to report posts that violate that rule. The guidelines also claim that only "crime and safety related content" is allowed. The guidelines do not define what qualifies as "safety," but they do encourage users to "consider the behavior that made you suspicious and whether such suspicion is reasonable." When asked if Ring moderates content on Neighbors or reviews posts for racism, a company spokesperson said, "The Neighbors app by Ring is meant to facilitate this collaboration within communities by allowing users to easily share and communicate with their neighbors and in some cases, local law enforcement, about crime and safety in real-time."

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Ajit Pai Loses in Court — Judges Overturn Gutting of Tribal Broadband Program

A federal appeals court has overturned Ajit Pai's attempt to take broadband subsidies away from tribal residents. From a report: The Pai-led Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in November 2017 to make it much harder for tribal residents to obtain a $25-per-month Lifeline subsidy that reduces the cost of Internet or phone service. The change didn't take effect because in August 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed the FCC decision pending appeal. The same court followed that up on Friday last week with a ruling that reversed the FCC decision and remanded the matter back to the commission for a new rule-making proceeding. [...] The Pai FCC's 2017 decision would have limited the $25 subsidy to "facilities-based" carriers -- those that build their own networks -- making it impossible for tribal residents to use the $25 subsidy to buy telecom service from resellers. The move would have dramatically limited tribal residents' options for purchasing subsidized service, but the FCC claimed it was necessary in order to encourage carriers to build their own networks.

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FCC Struggles To Convince Judge That Broadband Isn’t ‘Telecommunications’

A Federal Communications Commission lawyer faced a skeptical panel of judges on Friday as the FCC defended its repeal of net neutrality rules and deregulation of the broadband industry. From a report: FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson struggled to explain why broadband shouldn't be considered a telecommunications service, and struggled to explain the FCC's failure to protect public safety agencies from Internet providers blocking or slowing down content. Oral arguments were held on Friday in the case, which is being decided by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Throttling of firefighters' data plans played a major role in today's oral arguments. Of the three judges, Circuit Judge Patricia Millett expressed the most skepticism of Johnson's arguments, repeatedly challenging the FCC's definition of broadband and its disregard for arguments made by public safety agencies. She also questioned the FCC's claim that the net neutrality rules harmed broadband investment. Circuit Judge Robert Wilkins also expressed some skepticism of FCC arguments, while Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams seemed more amenable to FCC arguments.

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New Net Neutrality Bill Headed To Congress

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) said today he would "soon" introduce a bill to permanently reinstate the net neutrality rules that were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, in 2017. From a report: Markey's announcement comes as a federal court is set to hear oral arguments over the FCC's repeal of net neutrality regulations in 2017. Markey, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has previously introduced a bill that would permanently reinstate net neutrality as a member of the House of Representatives, although the measure ultimately failed. It's unclear when the bill would be formally introduced, but Markey said it was imminent. "We will soon lay down a legislative marker in the Senate in support of net neutrality to show the American people that we are on their side in overwhelming supporting a free and open internet." Further reading: Net Neutrality Repeal at Stake as Key Court Case Starts: Oral arguments are set to begin Friday in the most prominent lawsuit challenging the federal government's repeal of broadband access rules known as net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission approved the rules in 2015 to ensure internet users equal and open access to all websites and services. The commission, under new leadership, rolled the rules back in 2017. The plaintiffs in the suit to be argued Friday, led by the internet company Mozilla and supported by 22 state attorneys general, say the commission lacked a sound legal reason for scrapping the regulations. The government is expected to argue that the rules were repealed because of the burden they imposed on broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast.

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Criminals Are Tapping Into the Phone Network Backbone to Empty Bank Accounts

Sophisticated hackers have long exploited flaws in SS7, a protocol used by telecom companies to coordinate how they route texts and calls around the world. Those who exploit SS7 can potentially track phones across the other side of the planet, and intercept text messages and phone calls without hacking the phone itself. From a report: This activity was typically only within reach of intelligence agencies or surveillance contractors, but now Motherboard has confirmed that this capability is much more widely available in the hands of financially-driven cybercriminal groups, who are using it to empty bank accounts. So-called SS7 attacks against banks are, although still relatively rare, much more prevalent than previously reported. Motherboard has identified a specific bank -- the UK's Metro Bank -- that fell victim to such an attack. The news highlights the gaping holes in the world's telecommunications infrastructure that the telco industry has known about for years despite ongoing attacks from criminals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the defensive arm of the UK's signals intelligence agency GCHQ, confirmed that SS7 is being used to intercept codes used for banking. "We are aware of a known telecommunications vulnerability being exploited to target bank accounts by intercepting SMS text messages used as 2-Factor Authentication (2FA)," The NCSC told Motherboard in a statement. "Some of our clients in the banking industry or other financial services; they see more and more SS7- based [requests],â Karsten Nohl, a researcher from Security Research Labs who has worked on SS7 for years, told Motherboard in a phone call. "All of a sudden you have someone's text messages."

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Americans Got 26.3 Billion Robocalls Last Year, Up 46 Percent From 2017

Americans are now getting so many robo-calls on a regular basis that many are simply choosing not to answer the phone altogether. From a report: That's one big takeaway from a report [PDF] released Tuesday by Hiya, a Seattle-based spam-monitoring service that analyzed activity from 450,000 users of its app to determine the scope of unwanted robo-calling -- and how phone users react when they receive an automated call. Consistent with other analyses, Hiya's report found that the number of robo-calls is on the rise. Roughly 26.3 billion robo-calls were placed to U.S. phone numbers last year, Hiya said, up from 18 billion in 2017. One report last year projected that as many as half of all cellphone calls in 2019 could be spam. While many businesses have legitimate purposes for using robo-calls -- think package delivery services, home maintenance technicians and banks -- unwanted robo-calls represent a growing challenge for regulators and telecom companies. In its analysis of a month's worth of calling data, Hiya found that each of its app users reported an average of 10 unwanted robo-calls. Many more incoming calls, about 60 on average, were from unrecognized numbers or numbers not linked to a person in the recipient's address book.

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All-Photonic Quantum Repeaters Could Lead To a Faster, More Secure Global Quantum Internet

"University of Toronto Engineering professor Hoi-Kwong Lo and his collaborators have developed a prototype for a key element for all-photonic quantum repeaters, a critical step in long-distance quantum communication," reports Phys.Org. This proof-of-principle device could serve as the backbone of a future quantum internet. From the report: In light of [the security issues with today's internet], researchers have proposed other ways of transmitting data that would leverage key features of quantum physics to provide virtually unbreakable encryption. One of the most promising technologies involves a technique known as quantum key distribution (QKD). QKD exploits the fact that the simple act of sensing or measuring the state of a quantum system disturbs that system. Because of this, any third-party eavesdropping would leave behind a clearly detectable trace, and the communication can be aborted before any sensitive information is lost. Until now, this type of quantum security has been demonstrated in small-scale systems. Lo and his team are among a group of researchers around the world who are laying the groundwork for a future quantum Internet by working to address some of the challenges in transmitting quantum information over great distances, using optical fiber communication. Because light signals lose potency as they travel long distances through fiber-optic cables, devices called repeaters are inserted at regular intervals along the line. These repeaters boost and amplify the signals to help transmit the information along the line. But quantum information is different, and existing repeaters for quantum information are highly problematic. They require storage of the quantum state at the repeater sites, making the repeaters much more error prone, difficult to build, and very expensive because they often operate at cryogenic temperatures. Lo and his team have proposed a different approach. They are working on the development of the next generation of repeaters, called all-photonic quantum repeaters, that would eliminate or reduce many of the shortcomings of standard quantum repeaters. "We have developed all-photonic repeaters that allow time-reversed adaptive Bell measurement," says Lo. "Because these repeaters are all-optical, they offer advantages that traditional -- quantum-memory-based matter -- repeaters do not. For example, this method could work at room temperature."

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Google Voice VoIP Calls Will Be Live For Everyone by Next Week

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google took a long, long break from Google Voice a while back. After letting the app fall into disrepair, Google expressed a renewed commitment to Voice in 2017. It has since announced a handful of feature updates, including VoIP calling in 2018. However, that feature never actually rolled out to everyone. Google's Scott Johnston says it's almost time, though. We know that some Voice users got VoIP calling as far back as September. Like far too many Google features lately, this is a server-side change and not controlled by an app update. For some unknown reason, Google has dragged its feet rolling it out to everyone. According to Johnston, things are back on track and the VoIP calling feature will be live for all users by next week.

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Zuckerberg Plans To Integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, plans to integrate the social network's messaging services -- WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger -- asserting his control over the company's sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandals. The New York Times: The move, described by four people involved in the effort, requires thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger function at their most basic levels. While all three services will continue operating as stand-alone apps, their underlying messaging infrastructure will be unified, the people said. Facebook is still in the early stages of the work and plans to complete it by the end of this year or in early 2020, they said. Mr. Zuckerberg has also ordered all of the apps to incorporate end-to-end encryption, the people said, a significant step that protects messages from being viewed by anyone except the participants in the conversation. After the changes take effect, a Facebook user could send an encrypted message to someone who has only a WhatsApp account, for example. Currently, that isn't possible because the apps are separate.

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Facebook Appears To Be Quietly Building Laser Satellites For Global Communications

The snow-dusted peak of Mount Wilson in California has been home to many famous observatories. Until 1949, its 100-inch (2.5-meter) Hooker telescope was the largest aperture telescope in the world, and in 2004, its CHARA array became the world's largest optical interferometer. Now, two new observatories are being built there that, while not focused on the stars, might prove equally historic. They could house Facebook's first laser communications systems designed to connect to satellites in orbit. IEEE Spectrum reports: Construction permits issued by the County of Los Angeles show that a small company called PointView Tech is building two detached observatories on the mountain peak. PointView is the company that IEEE Spectrum revealed last year to be a previously unknown subsidiary of Facebook working on an experimental satellite called Athena. In April, PointView sought permission from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to test whether E-band radio signals could "be used for the provision of fixed and mobile broadband access in unserved and underserved areas." That application was still pending at the FCC before the current U.S. federal government shutdown took effect, but it and other public documents and presentations now strongly suggest that PointView is planning to utilize laser technology, possibly both in Athena and future spacecraft. Facebook has long been interested in free space optical, or laser, communication technology. Lasers are able to support much higher data rates than radio transmitters for a given input power, and their signals are largely immune to interference or hacking, although clouds can be problematic. Although Facebook developed millimeter-wave E-band links for its stratospheric Aquila drones, it was also experimenting with air-to-ground laser communications before it canceled its drone program last June. The laser tests, which used technology supplied by German company Mynaric, succeeded in establishing 10-gigabit-per-second links between a ground station and a light aircraft flying overhead.

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Cable Outage Sees Tonga Fall Back To Satellite Internet

The subsea cable providing Tonga, a country in the South Pacific Ocean, with broadband, the Tonga Cable, has been out since 20:30 local time on Sunday night, with the nation now relying on satellite internet instead. From a report: Provided by Kacific, the nation's digital connection to the outside world is now a Ku-band satellite accessed through local ISP Ezinet. Tonga Cable Director, Paula Piveni Piukala, said Kacific is working to boost internet and voice capacity for priority communications. "We appreciate Kacific's assistance, as Tonga currently has no other internet or mobile phone connectivity to the outside world," Piukala said. "Kacific's satellite service ensures that essential services can be maintained as we work to resolve the issue."

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In an Attempt To Tackle Spread of Fake News, Facebook’s WhatsApp Puts Limit on Message Forwarding

WhatsApp users will be blocked from forwarding messages to more than five individuals or groups under new rules the messaging service is rolling out worldwide to fight the spread of misinformation. The company's vice-president for policy and communications, Victoria Grand, announced the policy at an event in Jakarta on Monday. The five-recipient limit was initially put in place in India last July. A larger limit, of 20 recipients, was put in place globally. WhatsApp said at the time the limits would "help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app." Carl Woog, the head of communications at WhatsApp, which recently reportedly surpassed parent company Facebook's app in usage recently, said, "We settled on five because we believe this is a reasonable number to reach close friends while helping prevent abuse."

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Researchers Created Artificial Cells That Can Communicate With Each Other

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have for the first time created artificial cell assemblies that can communicate with each other. The cells, separated by fatty membranes, exchange small chemical signaling molecules to trigger more complex reactions, such as the production of RNA and other proteins. Scientists around the world are working on creating artificial, cell-like systems that mimic the behavior of living organisms. Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin have created such artificial cell assemblies in a fixed spatial arrangement. The highlight is that the cells are able to communicate with each other. Gels or emulsion droplets encapsulated in thin fat or polymer membranes serve as the basic building blocks for the artificial cells. Inside these 10- to 100-micron units, chemical and biochemical reactions can proceed uninhibited. The research team used droplets enclosed by lipid membranes and assembled them into artificial multicellular structures called micro-tissues. The biochemical reaction solutions used in the droplets can produce RNA and proteins, giving the cells a of a kind of gene expression ability. Small signal molecules can be exchanged between cells via their membranes or protein channels built into the membranes. This allows them to couple with each other temporally and spatially. The systems thus become dynamic, as in real life. Chemical pulses thus propagate through the cell structures and pass on information. The signals can also act as triggers, allowing initially identical cells to develop differently. "Our system is the first example of a multicellular system in which artificial cells with gene expression have a fixed arrangement and are coupled via chemical signals. In this way, we achieved a form of spatial differentiation," says Friedrich Simmel, Professor of Physics of Synthetic Biosystems at Technical University of Munich.

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