Category Archives: Technology

Farewell the ‘porn block’ – a PR exercise but lousy policy | Amy Orben

Without greater access to our online habits, politicians cannot frame laws for the digital age

The UK government’s porn block was a dead man walking for months, if not years. It is long overdue that this attempt to curb children’s access to online pornography is scrapped. Almost two years ago, a close colleague and I sat in a meeting with one of the policymakers who had recently been asked to implement the proposal. The pained look on his face when we queried his progress confirmed our suspicions that it was an impossible task. It was clear to many that the block could – and would – never come to pass.

The plan did not have just one achilles heel – it had many.

Scientists and other stakeholders cannot access information about what the population is actually doing online

Related: UK drops plans for online pornography age verification system

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China has built ‘massive global data-collection ecosystem’ to boost its interests

Chinese use state-owned enterprises, local tech companies and foreign partnerships, ASPI report says

The Chinese government is sweeping up vast amounts of data from all around the world to bulwark the nation’s security, but most critically to secure the political future of the Communist party, a new report argues.

Engineering Global Consent, a policy brief by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Dr Samantha Hoffman, argues that the Chinese party-state seeks to influence – and where possible control – global online and political environments so that public sentiment around the world is more favourable towards its interests. China has expanded its operations of influence into organisations such as universities in the UK, the US and Australia.

Related: Peter Dutton: China accuses home affairs minister of 'shocking' and 'malicious' slur

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Related: Australia's relationship with China in a 'terrible' state after Morrison's US visit, Labor says

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Prevent database is secure but not secret | Letter

Describing a documented database as ‘secret’ risks causing unjustified distrust in a multi-agency programme that seeks to protect those vulnerable to all forms of radicalisation and keep our communities safe, writes Chief Constable Simon Cole

Your front-page lead (7 October) talks of a “secret” police Prevent database. It is not a very well kept “secret”; a quick online search brings up numerous references to its existence in public documents – and it is where the published annual referral statistics are sourced from. The Prevent pages on the National Police Chiefs’ Council website also refer to the fact Prevent officers keep records.

We do this for exactly the same purpose we document other forms of supportive safeguarding activity such as for child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse or human trafficking. It means we can be – and are – subject to oversight and accountability.

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Windows 10 1903 on ARM Gets a Virtualization-based Security Feature

Windows 10 version 1903 on ARM has gotten an additional virtualization-based security feature that creates secured regions of memory that are isolated from the operating system. These secured and isolated regions of memory can then be used by security solutions so that they are better protected from vulnerabilities in the operating s [...]

It’s Google’s World. Your Business Is Just Living in It

Fifty attorneys general announced earlier this month that Google is the target of an antitrust probe. Any business owner who has happened to find themselves stuck in the company’s orbit–that would be any company with a digital presence–won’t hesitate to tell you such a move is long overdue.

Case in point: I just did a Google search for Basecamp, an online project management tool. The first two hits were for different companies–Smartsheet and Monday.com. Not too long ago, the same search resulted in a first hit featuring Basecamp, but it was an ad. The copy: “We don’t want to run this ad.”

“We’re the #1 result,” Basecamp’s ad copy continued, “but this site lets companies advertise against us using our brand. So here we are. A small, independent co. forced to pay ransom to a giant tech company.”

Basecamp founder and CEO Jason Fried doubled down on this sentiment on his Twitter feed, stating “[Y]ou’re forced to pay up if you want to be found. It’s a shakedown. It’s ransom.”

An Offer Businesses Can’t Refuse

Fried is by no means alone. Any business with an online presence has at one time or another played by Google’s rules to stay competitive. For most, it’s a daily reality. The reason is simple. Most businesses need websites, and websites need to follow Google’s best practices to be found in online searches, terms Google can force because it currently has 92 percent worldwide market share on search.

Google can make drastic changes to these best practices that have effectively buried companies overnight. A business that finds itself out of Google’s good graces, or in the case of Basecamp, finds itself nestled one or two slots beneath competitor ads in search results, would need to create a paid campaign via Google Ads (38.2 percent of the online advertising market) and pay to show up in search results.

A business with a physical location that wants to show up in local search results needs to create an account for Google My Business, so it can show up in Google Maps (which accounts for 67 percent of navigation app usage), but also needs to keep an eye on Google Reviews left on its business listing. The performance of ads, search traffic, and app usage can all be tracked via Google Analytics (over 70 percent of the analytics market), which provides business owners (and Google, of course) detailed information about who’s visiting their websites or using their apps. Most of these users will be using Google’s Chrome web browser (64 percent of users worldwide), on a device running Android (76 percent of mobile users worldwide), which was, of course, developed by Google.

Per Bob Dylan, “It doesn’t take a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.” It would seem that Google has a monopoly, but that’s for the court to decide. On the face of it, it’s not necessarily bad news; anyone who remembers the days of phone books, mail order catalogs, and paper maps is most likely glad for the convenience of the services Google provides–businesses and consumers alike.

What’s problematic is the necessity of it all. It’s all but impossible for a business to opt out of Google’s services. Even taco trucks have websites. It’s equally difficult for us as consumers to opt out entirely, although alternatives (e.g., iOS, Apple Maps, and Bing) do exist. The fact is that businesses and industries that don’t in some way rely on at least one of Google’s services to be discovered are few and far between.

Our Data Is Valuable

However much value our data has, the fact remains that Google charges us to share it with Google. Nice work if you can get it, right?

When companies use Google’s services to make themselves known to the world, they have to share data on themselves, and also on their customers and clients. Every search query leading to a site, every ad click, every map search, and every visit tracked by analytics is actively helping Google build its library of information on as many people as possible–even people who have never actually used the internet.

As Google continues to expand its services, its ecosystem is oozing into businesses that have no choice but to pony up and participate or be lost in cyberspace. The evolution thus far points to the possibility of increasingly Orwellian methods in the realm of advertising and data collection.

What do I mean by Orwellian? Google Home and Nest products are aggressively moving into the field of facial recognition, and, of course, the company is thus far characteristically coy about the intended uses for the data thus collected.

“We can never say never,” said Google’s general manager of Home and Nest products when asked if data from face scanning would be used to target consumers for advertising. He added that it is not being used for that purpose now.

It’s far too soon to tell how the antitrust probe of Google will turn out, and it’s guaranteed to take a long time to play out. One thing is certain: The stakes are just as high, if not higher, for businesses as they are for consumers, and we all would be better served were we not being served by Google’s tentacular array of services.

The post It’s Google’s World. Your Business Is Just Living in It appeared first on Adam Levin.

Scientists invent new technology to print invisible messages

Messages can only be seen under UV light and can be erased using a hairdryer

Forget lemon juice and hot irons, there is a new way to write and read invisible messages – and it can be used again and again.

The approach, developed by researchers in China, involves using water to print messages on paper coated with manganese-containing chemicals. The message, invisible to the naked eye, can be read by shining UV light on the paper.

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YouTube’s fine and child safety online | Letters

Fining YouTube for targeting adverts at children as if they were adults shows progress is being made on both sides of the Atlantic, writes Steve Wood of the Information Commissioner’s Office

The conclusion of the Federal Trade Commission investigation into YouTube’s gathering of young people’s personal information (‘Woeful’ YouTube fine for child data breach, 5 September) shows progress is being made on both sides of the Atlantic towards a more children-friendly internet. The company was accused of treating younger users’ data in the same way it treats adult users’ data.

YouTube’s journey sounds similar to many other online services: it began targeting adults, found more and more children were using its service, and so continued to take commercial advantage of that. But the allegation is it didn’t treat those young people differently, gathering their data and using it to target content and adverts at them as though they were adult users.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vendor Risk

Insider risk, supply chain vulnerability and vendor risk all boil down to the same thing: the more people have access to your data, the more vulnerable it is to being leaked or breached.

This summer brought an interesting twist to that straight-forward situation: Can data leaked by an employee or a contractor be a good thing?

In July, a Belgian contractor who had been hired to transcribe Google Home recordings shared several of them with news outlet VRT. The leak revealed that customers were being recorded without their consent, often times after unintentionally triggering their devices. Google’s response was immediate. They went after the contractor. (Never mind that they were doing something that they had denied. The leaked recordings were for research!!!)

“Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” the company said in a press release.

Translation: We’re not sorry we got caught doing whatever we want, but we are sorry we hired the wrong vendor and will try not to do that again.

An Apple contractor shared a similar story with the Guardian a short time later. Recordings taken from the company’s audio assistant Siri were also being transcribed by third-party contractors. This time the news was worse. The company’s watch was consistently recording users without any explicit prompting. Weeks later, a contractor for Microsoft went to Vice with what at this point had become a familiar story, this time in connection with both Skype and Cortana.

Whistleblower or Data Leak?

The typical narrative is that someone with inside knowledge of a company or its technology is able to exploit it to some sort of ill purpose. The accused hacker behind the recent Capital One data breach had previously worked for Amazon Web Services and was able to exploit her knowledge of a common firewall misconfiguration to steal customer data: more than 100 million records. Anthem and Boeing similarly suffered large-scale breaches perpetrated by insiders.

What makes the rash of recent data leaks noteworthy is that external contractors had access to data that they didn’t think they should have, and they did something about it. With the exception the leaked data in question was passed along to press outlets for the express purpose of preserving customer data. And it worked, at least in the short term. Apple and Google suspended their use of human transcribers, and Microsoft has made their privacy policy more explicit.

HR or IT?

What’s interesting here (other than the revelation that just about every major IoT speech-recognition product on the market has been spying on us without telling us) is what it reveals about insider risk.

It seems increasingly apparent that risk has as much to do with a company’s HR department as it does its cybersecurity policy. A single disgruntled employee with an axe to grind is a familiar scenario, and one that can be mitigated through careful data management, but widespread unhappiness with a company’s ethical practices is significantly more difficult to manage. It brings to mind that semi-old adage, now-defunct company motto at Google: Don’t be evil. Or rather, be nicer to make yourself less of a target.

Google has had to contend with internal protests ranging from its involvement with Chinese censorship to its work with U.S. border and immigration agencies. Both Amazon and Microsoft experienced similar unrest among employees for their contracts with ICE. While none of these have led to large-scale data breaches yet, knowing that there are potentially thousands of employees and contractors with access to sensitive information and a motive to leak, it is a matter of serious concern.

The new law of the cyber jungle: Widespread disapproval exponentially increases one’s attackable surface.

While employee whistleblowers are nothing new (just ask Enron or Big Tobacco), it’s semi-terra incognita in our era of massive data breaches. We’re used to thinking of any kind of data breach and any kind of data leak as being a bad thing, and it usually is. But there is a grey area when companies are not playing by the rules in an environment where people are highly motivated to call them out for bad behavior.

What’s the Takeaway?

From a strictly technical perspective, even a well-intentioned data leak has the unfortunate side effect of showing where in the supply chain companies are most vulnerable. If hackers weren’t aware that organizations were entrusting intimate customer data to external contractors, they most certainly know it now.

The post How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vendor Risk appeared first on Adam Levin.

Guardian investigations: how tech helps tackle big data … and big lawyers

Our head of investigations explains how a new IT system, Giant, has the power to find needles in journalistic haystacks

There aren’t too many places to hide at the Guardian. The offices are open-plan and most of the meeting rooms have glass walls.

There is one room, however, that has a special status. In recent years, when we have been involved in big investigations, this is the place where reporters and editors have relocated for months on end.

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Voice Deepfake Scams CEO out of $243,000

The CEO of a UK-based energy firm lost the equivalent of $243,000 after falling for a phone scam that implemented artificial intelligence, specifically a deepfake voice.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the CEO of an unnamed UK energy company received a phone call from what sounded like his boss, the CEO of a German parent company, telling him to wire €220,000 (roughly $243,000) to a bank account in Hungary. The target of the scam was convinced that he was speaking with his boss due to a “subtle German accent” and specific “melody” to the man’s voice and wired the money as requested. 

According to a representative of Euler Hermes Group SA, the firm’s insurance company, the CEO was targeted by a new kind of scam that used AI-enhanced technology to create an audio deepfake of his employer’s voice. While the technology to generate convincing voice recordings has been available for a few years, its remains relatively uncommon in the commission of fraud.

Security experts worry the exploit could spark a new trend. 

“[W]e’re seeing more and more artificial intelligence-based identity fraud than ever before,” said David Thomas, CEO of identity verification company Evident in an article on Threatpost. “Individuals and businesses are just now beginning to understand how important identity verification is. Especially in the new era of deep fakes, it’s no longer just enough to trust a phone call or a video file.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article here (subscription required).

The post Voice Deepfake Scams CEO out of $243,000 appeared first on Adam Levin.

A ‘deep fake’ app will make us film stars – but will we regret our narcissism?

Users of Zao can now add themselves into the scenes of their favourite movies. But is our desire to insert ourselves into everything putting our privacy at risk?

‘You oughta be in pictures,” goes the 1934 Rudy Vallée song. And, as of last week, pretty much anyone can be. The entry requirements for being a star fell dramatically thanks to the launch, in China, of a face-swapping app that can decant users into film and TV clips.

Zao, which has quickly become China’s most downloaded free app, fuses the face in the original clip with your features. All that is required is a single selfie and the man or woman in the street is transformed into a star of the mobile screen, if not quite the silver one. In other words, anyone who yearns to be part of Titanic or Game of Thrones, The Big Bang Theory or the latest J-Pop sensation can now bypass the audition and go straight to the limelight without all that pesky hard work, talent and dedication. A whole new generation of synthetic movie idols could be unleashed upon the world: a Humphrey Bogus, a Phony Curtis, a Fake Dunaway.

Related: The rise of the deepfake and the threat to democracy

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Chinese deepfake app Zao sparks privacy row after going viral

Critics say face-swap app could spread misinformation on a massive scale

A Chinese app that lets users convincingly swap their faces with film or TV characters has rapidly become one of the country’s most downloaded apps, triggering a privacy row.

Related: The rise of the deepfake and the threat to democracy

In case you haven't heard, #ZAO is a Chinese app which completely blew up since Friday. Best application of 'Deepfake'-style AI facial replacement I've ever seen.

Here's an example of me as DiCaprio (generated in under 8 secs from that one photo in the thumbnail) pic.twitter.com/1RpnJJ3wgT

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Uighurs in China were target of two-year iOS malware attack – reports

Android and Windows devices also targeted in campaign believed to be state-backed

Chinese Uighurs were the target of an iOS malware attack lasting more than two years that was revealed last week, according to multiple reports.

Android and Windows devices were also targeted in the campaign, which took the form of “watering hole attacks”: taking over commonly visited websites or redirecting their visitors to clones in order to indiscriminately attack each member of a community.

Related: China’s hi-tech war on its Muslim minority

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Maths and tech specialists need Hippocratic oath, says academic

Exclusive: Hannah Fry says ethical pledge needed in tech fields that will shape future

Mathematicians, computer engineers and scientists in related fields should take a Hippocratic oath to protect the public from powerful new technologies under development in laboratories and tech firms, a leading researcher has said.

The ethical pledge would commit scientists to think deeply about the possible applications of their work and compel them to pursue only those that, at the least, do no harm to society.

Despite being invisible, maths has a dramatic impact on our lives

Related: Google whistleblower launches project to keep tech ethical

Related: To fix the problem of deepfakes we must treat the cause, not the symptoms | Matt Beard

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Myki data release breached privacy laws and revealed travel histories, including of Victorian MP

Researchers able to identify MP Anthony Carbines’s travel history using tweets and Public Transport Victoria dataset

The three-year travel history of a Victorian politician was able to be identified after the state government released the supposedly “de-identified” data of more than 15m myki public transport users in a breach of privacy laws.

In July 2018, Public Transport Victoria (now the Department of Transport) released a dataset containing 1.8bn travel records for 15.1m myki public transport users for the period between June 2015 and June 2018.

Related: Major breach found in biometrics system used by banks, UK police and defence firms

See you about 05.24AM tomorrow at Rosanna to catch the first train to town. Well done all. Thanks for hanging in there. Massive construction effort. Single track gone. Two level crossings gone. The trains! The trains! The trains are coming! pic.twitter.com/kk2Cj3ey9T

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Major breach found in biometrics system used by banks, UK police and defence firms

Fingerprints, facial recognition and other personal information from Biostar 2 discovered on publicly accessible database

The fingerprints of over 1 million people, as well as facial recognition information, unencrypted usernames and passwords, and personal information of employees, was discovered on a publicly accessible database for a company used by the likes of the UK Metropolitan police, defence contractors and banks.

Suprema is the security company responsible for the web-based Biostar 2 biometrics lock system that allows centralised control for access to secure facilities like warehouses or office buildings. Biostar 2 uses fingerprints and facial recognition as part of its means of identifying people attempting to gain access to buildings.

Related: The Great Hack: the film that goes behind the scenes of the Facebook data scandal

Related: Chinese cyberhackers 'blurring line between state power and crime'

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From Watergate to El Paso: should we be relying on unelected bodies to protect us? | John Naughton

Web security firm Cloudflare’s decision to terminate 8chan as a customer is welcome, but risks setting a dangerous precedent

Last Saturday morning, a gunman armed with an assault rifle walked into a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, and shot 22 people dead and injured 24 more. Shortly before he did so, a post by him appeared on the /pol/ [politically incorrect] message board of the far-right website 8chan. Attached to it was a four-page “manifesto”. The 8chan thread was quickly deleted by a site moderator (it was news to me that 8chan had moderators), but archived copies of it rapidly circulated on the internet.

“There is nothing new in this killer’s ramblings,” wrote one analyst who had read it. “He expresses fears of the same ‘replacement’ of white people that motivated the Christchurch shooter and notes that he was deeply motivated by that shooter’s manifesto.”

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Chinese cyberhackers ‘blurring line between state power and crime’

Cybersecurity firm FireEye says ‘aggressive’ APT41 group working for Beijing is also hacking video games to make money

A group of state-sponsored hackers in China ran activities for personal gain at the same time as undertaking spying operations for the Chinese government in 14 different countries, the cybersecurity firm FireEye has said.

In a report released on Thursday, the company said the hacking group APT41 was different to other China-based groups tracked by security firms in that it used non-public malware typically reserved for espionage to make money through attacks on video game companies.

Related: Australia joins condemnation of 'huge, audacious' Chinese hacking plot

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Briton who helped stop 2017 WannaCry virus spared jail over malware charges

  • Marcus Hutchins pleaded guilty to two malware charges
  • 25-year-old ‘incredibly thankful’ to be sentenced to time served

The British computer expert who helped shut down the WannaCry cyberattack on the NHS said he is “incredibly thankful” after being spared jail in the US for creating malware.

Marcus Hutchins was hailed as a hero in May 2017 when he found a “kill switch” that slowed the effects of the WannaCry virus affecting more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries.

Related: FTSE 250 firms exposed to possible cyber-attacks, report finds

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Is buying a ‘smart nappy’ really such a clever idea? | Arwa Mahdawi

Anxious parents may see the appeal of measuring their baby’s vital signs – but sharing your child’s data with a private company may not be wise

This week’s instalment of innovations no one was waiting for is brought to you by Pampers, which has announced a “smart nappy” system. Lumi consists of a sensor that you stick to a specially designed nappy; the gizmo then beams information about how much your little bub is peeing and sleeping to a dedicated app. You can complement this with a video monitor that links to the app and tracks room temperature and humidity. Voilà: your embarrassingly low-tech baby is now a sophisticated analytics machine.

If you can’t wait to start a more data-driven relationship with your newborn, I am afraid to say there is no word on when Lumi will launch in the UK (it arrives in the US this autumn). If you are in South Korea, however, you can grab some Huggies smart nappies; these let you know, via Bluetooth, whether your baby has urinated or defecated. A truly brilliant update to the obsolete technology known as “your nose”.

Related: ‘You can track everything’: the parents who digitise their babies’ lives

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How do I remove malware from my Windows laptop?

Don’s laptop is infected with malware and he’d like a clean machine, what’s the best way?

What’s the cheapest way to get my Windows laptop swept and cleaned out of malware etc? Don

There are two obvious ways to clean a Windows laptop, and both of them are free. The first is to run a number of anti-malware programs to find and remove the bad stuff. The second is to reset it to factory condition.

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Hacked forensic firm pays ransom after malware attack

Largest private provider Eurofins hands over undisclosed fee to regain control of systems

Britain’s largest private forensics provider has paid a ransom to hackers after its IT systems were brought to a standstill by a cyber-attack, it has been reported.

Eurofins, which is thought to carry out about half of all private forensic analysis, was targeted in a ransomware attack on 2 June, which the company described at the time as “highly sophisticated”. Three weeks later the company said its operations were “returning to normal”, but did not disclose whether or not a ransom had been paid.

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How Chinese spy app allows officials to harvest personal data

Intrusive software collects emails and texts and could be used to track movement

The tourists travelling into China were never supposed to know their phones had been compromised.

The surveillance app being installed on their devices should have been removed by the border officers tasked with the job. But their apparent carelessness has provided a rare insight into the techniques used by China to snoop on visitors and the kind of information being harvested from their phones.

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Australian National University hit by huge data breach

Vice-chancellor says hack involved personal and payroll details going back 19 years

The Australian National University is in damage control after discovering a major data breach a fortnight ago in which a “significant” amount of staff and student information was accessed by a “sophisticated operator”.

The university has confirmed an estimated 200,000 people have been affected by the hack, based on student numbers each year and staff turnover.

Related: Australian security services investigate attempted cyber attack on parliament

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The Guardian view on cybercrime: the law must be enforced | Editorial

Governments and police must take crime on the internet seriously. It is where we all live now

About half of all property crime in the developed world now takes place online. When so much of our lives, and almost all of our money, have been digitised, this is not surprising – but it has some surprising consequences. For one thing, the decline in reported property crimes trumpeted by successive British governments between 2005 and 2015 turns out to have been an illusion. Because banks were not required to report fraud to the police after 2005, they often didn’t. It would have made both banks and police look bad to have all that crime known and nothing done about it. The cost of the resulting ignorance was paid by the rest of government, and by the public, too, deprived of accurate and reliable knowledge. Since then, the total number of property crimes reported has risen from about 6m to 11m a year as the figures have taken computerised crime into account.

The indirect costs to society are very much higher than the hundreds of millions that individuals lose. One example is the proliferation of plagiarism software online, which developed an entire industry in poor, English-speaking countries like Kenya, serving idle or ignorant students in England and North America. The effort required by schools and universities to guard against such fraud has been considerable, and its cost entirely disproportionate to the gains made by the perpetrators.

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