Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Source of Protective Space Shield Identified

Human-caused space pollution can range from a hammer that floats away from a space station, to a nuclear weapons test in the atmosphere, and could damage nearby spacecraft. But one unexpected source of “pollution” helps many satellites. The special pollution protects spacecraft from “killer electrons,” in a region above the earth called the Van Allen belts. Reporting from Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports.

High Rise Buildings Can Be Earthquake-Proof

After a deadly earthquake in 1985, authorities in Mexico City decided they must start constructing houses that can withstand strong shakes. Government buildings, hospitals and schools are now built according to stricter rules, while architects are pushing for their application to other structures too, especially high rise apartment buildings. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Facebook Tests Splitting Its News Feed Into Two

Facebook Inc said on Monday it was testing the idea of dividing its News F eed in two, separating commercial posts from personal news in a move that could lead some businesses to increase advertising.

The Facebook News Feed, the centerpiece of the world’s largest social network service, is a streaming series of posts such as photos from friends, updates from family members, advertisements and material from celebrities or other pages that a user has liked.

 

The test, which is occurring in six smaller countries, now  offers two user feeds, according to a statement from the company: one feed focused on friends and family and a second dedicated to the pages that the customer has liked.

The change could force those who run pages, everyone from news outlets to musicians to sports teams, to pay to run advertisements if they want to be seen in the feed that is for friends and family.

The test is taking place in Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia and Sri Lanka, and it will likely go on for months, Adam Mosseri, the Facebook executive in charge of the News Feed, said in a blog post.

Mosseri said the company has no plans for a global test of the two separate feeds for its 2 billion users.

Facebook also does not currently plan to force commercial pages “to pay for all their distribution,” he said.

Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, frequently tests changes big and small as it tries to maximize the time people spend scrolling and browsing the network. Sometimes it makes changes permanent, and other times not.

Depending on how people respond, two news feeds could mean that they see fewer links to news stories. News has proved to be a tricky area for Facebook, as hoaxes and false news stories have sometimes spread easily on the network.

The test has already affected website traffic for smaller media outlets in recent days, Slovakian journalist Filip Struharik wrote over the weekend in a post on Medium.

Publishers might need to buy more Facebook ads to be seen, he wrote: “If you want your Facebook page posts to be seen in old newsfeed, you have to pay.”

 

Amazon Says It Received 238 Proposals for 2nd Headquarters

Amazon said Monday that it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the United States, Canada and Mexico hoping to be the home of the company’s second headquarters.

The online retailer kicked off its hunt for a second home base in September, promising to bring 50,000 new jobs and spend more than $5 billion on construction. Proposals were due last week, and Amazon made clear that tax breaks and grants would be a big deciding factor on where it chooses to land.

Amazon.com Inc. said the proposals came from 43 U.S. states as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, three Mexican states and six Canadian provinces. In a tweet, the company said it was “excited to review each of them.”

Besides looking for financial incentives, Amazon had stipulated that it was seeking to be near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand that headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

Generous tax breaks and other incentives can erode a city’s tax base. For the winner, it could be worth it, since an Amazon headquarters could draw other tech businesses and their well-educated, highly paid employees.

The seven U.S. states that Amazon said did not apply were: Arkansas, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Ahead of the deadline, some cities turned to stunts to try and stand out: Representatives from Tucson, Arizona, sent a 21-foot tall cactus to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters; New York lit the Empire State Building orange to match Amazon’s smile logo.

The company plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second one will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in September. Amazon has said that it will announce a decision sometime next year.

Pay-by-Minute Electric Cars

Electric cars are steadily gaining ground in the global auto market, but it’s a slow process. Along with their high price, one of the main reasons for the consumers’ reluctance is the scarcity of infrastructure needed for charging the cars’ batteries. VOA’s George Putic looks at efforts to remove one of the obstacles on the road towards the electric future.

Electric Vehicles Poised to Go Mainstream

The bumper sticker on the back of Scott Wilson’s car reads, “This is what the end of gasoline looks like.”

And what does that car look like? A sleek, sci-fi experimental vehicle? A $100,000 Tesla luxury car? 

Nope. It’s just a Kia Soul EV, the battery-powered version of the Korean automaker’s boxy hatchback.

Once the domain of concept cars and hobbyists, electric vehicles are no longer so exotic. And sales are picking up. A record 150,000 of them sold last year in the United States.

“It used to be I knew everyone I saw that was driving an electric car,” said Wilson, the vice president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, D.C. “Now, I don’t.”

There are about to be a lot more strangers in EVs on the roads, many experts say.

Big carmakers, big plans

Volvo says every car it makes in 2019 and beyond will have an electric motor. General Motors says the company “believes in an all-electric future.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) predicts that in just over two decades, EVs will make up more than half of all vehicles sold.

Other analysts have more modest expectations. But even Exxon Mobil sees EVs topping 10 percent of the market by 2040.

Automakers hit a significant milestone in the past year. In December, General Motors launched the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the first car with a price tag under $40,000 and a range of more than 320 kilometers.

Automakers hit a significant milestone in the past year. In December, General Motors launched the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the first car with a price tag under $40,000 and a range of more than 320 kilometers.

That range is “basically double anything else that’s available at a comparable price,” said Chevrolet spokesman Fred Ligouri. Those figures “do wonders for getting beyond” what’s known as range anxiety, potential buyers’ fear of draining the battery before reaching their destination.

One-third of buyers have never owned an electric vehicle before.

“They went from (an) internal combustion engine vehicle right into pure electric,” an encouraging sign, Ligouri said.

The Bolt’s performance has impressed critics as well. Motor Trend magazine named the Bolt the 2017 Car of the Year.

The Bolt beat industry upstart Tesla to the mid-priced market. A modest 15,000 or so have been sold so far. But nearly a half-million people have ordered the Tesla Model 3, the company’s entrant into the mass market, despite long waits and slow production.

“Those are signals that there’s unmet demand for some of these new technologies,” said the World Resources Institute’s Eliot Metzger.

Electrification is cheaper than ever as the price of lithium ion batteries plummets faster than analysts expected. As costs come down, experts are moving up the date when electric vehicles can compete with internal combustion engines on price. BNEF puts that date in the second half of the next decade.

“We’re much further along than most researchers (and) industry insiders would have projected just two or three years ago,” said Nic Lutsey at the International Council on Clean Transportation.

China syndrome

Another reason the industry is moving fast: China.

Officials in the world’s biggest auto market will require carmakers to meet an electric vehicle quota starting in 2019.

Beijing aims to increase EVs’ share of the market from 1 to 2 percent today to around 4 percent in 2020.

“That’s a very large scale up within just several years,” Lutsey noted, but automakers say they can do it.

The push for electric vehicles is part of the government’s plan to clean up the toxic air in China’s major cities. Chinese officials are considering a ban on gas- and diesel-powered cars.

But it’s not just China. Pollution concerns in France, the United Kingdom, and India have officials there considering bans, too.

In the United States, the Trump administration aims to relax vehicle emissions standards, though state policies will likely complicate those efforts.

Without a push from government, experts say electric vehicles will have a hard time making major gains as long as gas prices are relatively low.

But as electric vehicle driver Wilson points out, that can change at any time.

“After the next crisis, when gas is $5 a gallon, then there will be waiting lists for cars like this,” he said.

Electric Vehicles Poised for Mainstream, Experts Say

Electric cars have been a futuristic promise for decades. And electric vehicles finally appear poised to enter the mainstream. Major carmakers, from Volvo to General Motors, are proclaiming the future is electric. VOA’s Steve Baragona has a look at how soon that future may arrive.

US Warns About Attacks On Energy, Industrial Firms

The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation warned in a report distributed by email late on Friday that the nuclear, energy, aviation, water and critical manufacturing industries have been targeted along with government entities in attacks dating back to at least May.

The agencies warned that hackers had succeeded in compromising some targeted networks, but did not identify specific victims or describe any cases of sabotage.

The objective of the attackers is to compromise organizational networks with malicious emails and tainted websites to obtain credentials for accessing computer networks of their targets, the report said.

U.S. authorities have been monitoring the activity for months, which they initially detailed in a confidential June report first reported by Reuters. That document, which was privately distributed to firms at risk of attacks, described a narrower set of activity focusing on the nuclear, energy and critical manufacturing sectors.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell declined to elaborate on the information in the report or say what prompted the government to go public with the information at this time.

“The technical alert provides recommendations to prevent and mitigate malicious cyber activity targeting multiple sectors and reiterated our commitment to remain vigilant for new threats,” he said.

The FBI declined to comment on the report, which security researchers said described an escalation in targeting of infrastructure in Europe and the United States that had been described in recent reports from private firms, including Symantec Corp.

“This is very aggressive activity,” said Robert Lee, an expert in securing industrial networks.

Lee, chief executive of cyber-security firm Dragos, said the report appears to describe hackers working in the interests of the Russian government, though he declined to elaborate. Dragos is also monitoring other groups targeting infrastructure that appear to be aligned with China, Iran, North Korea, he said.

The hacking described in the government report is unlikely to result in dramatic attacks in the near term, Lee said, but he added that it is still troubling: “We don’t want our adversaries learning enough to be able to do things that are disruptive later.”

The report said that hackers have succeeded in infiltrating some targets, including at least one energy generator, and conducting reconnaissance on their networks. It was accompanied by six technical documents describing malware used in the attacks.

Homeland Security “has confidence that this campaign is still ongoing and threat actors are actively pursuing their objectives over a long-term campaign,” the report said.

The report said the attacker was the same as one described by Symantec in a September report that warned advanced hackers had penetrated the systems controlling operations of some U.S.

and European energy companies.

Symantec researcher Vikram Thakur said in an email that much of the contents of Friday’s report were previously known within the security community.

Cyber-security firm CrowdStrike said the technical indicators described in the report suggested the attacks were the work of a hacking group it calls Berserk Bear, which is affiliated with the Russian Federation and has targeted the energy, financial and transportation industries.

“We have not observed any destructive action by this actor,” CrowdStrike Vice President Adam Meyers said in an email.

Kids, Screens and Parental Guilt: Time to Relax a Bit?

Parents of small children have long been hearing about the perils of “screen time.” And with more screens, and new technologies such as Amazon’s Echo speaker, the message is getting louder.

And while plenty of parents are feeling guilty about it, some experts say it might be time to relax a little.

Go ahead and hand your kid a gadget now and then to cook dinner or get some work done. Not all kids can entertain themselves quietly, especially when they are young. Try that, and see how long it takes your toddler to start fishing a banana peel out of the overflowing trash can.

“I know I should limit my kid’s screen time a lot, but there is reality,” said Dorothy Jean Chang, who works for a tech company in New York and has a 2-year-old son. When she needs to work or finds her son awake too early, “it’s the best, easiest way to keep him occupied and quiet.”

Screen time, she says, “definitely happens more often than I like to admit.”

She’s not alone. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group focused on kids’ use of media and technology, said in a report Thursday that kids ages 8 and younger average about 2 hours and 19 minutes with screens every day at home. That’s about the same as in 2011, though it’s up from an hour and a half in 2013, the last time the survey was conducted, when smartphones were not yet ubiquitous but TV watching was on the decline.

While the overall numbers have held steady in recent years, kids are shifting to mobile devices and other new technologies, just as their parents are. The survey found that kids spend an average of 48 minutes a day on mobile devices, up from 15 minutes in 2013. Kids are also getting exposed to voice-activated assistants, virtual reality and internet-connected toys, for which few guidelines exist because they are so new.

​Mixed message

Some parents and experts worry that screens are taking time away from exercise and learning. But studies are inconclusive. 

The economist Emily Oster said studies have found that kids who watch a lot of TV tend to be poorer, belong to minority groups and have parents with less education, all factors that contribute to higher levels of obesity and lower test scores. For that reason, it’s “difficult to draw strong conclusions about the effects of television from this research,” Oster wrote in 2015.

In fact, the Common Sense survey found that kids whose parents have higher incomes and education spend “substantially less time” with screens than other children. The gap was larger in 2017 than in previous years.

Rules relaxed

For more than a quarter century, the American Academy of Pediatrics held that kids under 2 should not be exposed to screens at all, and older kids should have strict limits. The rules have relaxed, such that video calls with grandma are OK, though “entertainment” television still isn’t. Even so, guidelines still feel out of touch for many parents who use screens of various sizes to preserve their sanity and get things done.

Jen Bjorem, a pediatric speech pathologist in Leawood, Kansas, said that while it’s “quite unrealistic” for many families to totally do away with screen time, balance is key.

“Screen time can be a relief for many parents during times of high stress or just needing a break,” she said.

Moderation

Bjorem recommends using “visual schedules” that toddlers can understand to set limits. Instead of words, these schedules have images — dinner, bed time, reading or TV time, for example. 

Another idea for toddlers? “Sensory bins,” or plastic tubs filled with beads, dry pasta and other stuff kids can play around with and, ideally, be just as absorbed as in mobile app or an episode of “Elmo.”

Of course, some kids will play with these carefully crafted, Pinterest-worthy bins for only a few minutes. Then they might start throwing beans and pasta all over your living room. So you clean up, put away the bins and turn on the TV.

In an interview, Oster said that while screen time “is probably not as good for your kid as high-quality engagement” with parents, such engagement is probably not something we can give our kids all the time anyway.

“Sometimes you just need them to watch a little bit of TV because you have to do something, or you need (it) to be a better parent,” Oster said.

Wearable Air Filter Combats Pollution

Environmental pollution, from filthy air to contaminated water, kills at least 9 million people a year, according to a new study published by the medical journal The Lancet. Two entrepreneurs from Georgia have invented a wearable filter they say can produce clean, fresh air. Faith Lapidus reports.

G-7 Backs Internet Industry Effort to Detect, Blunt Extremism

The Group of Seven industrialized nations threw their support behind a new technology industry alliance aimed at detecting and blunting online propaganda, saying Friday it had a “major role” to play in combating extremism on the internet.

G-7 interior ministers meeting in Italy invited representatives from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter to a session Friday dedicated to the fight against terrorism. In a final communique, the ministers pressed the industry as a whole to do more.

“Internet companies will continue to take a proactive role and ensure decisive action in making their platforms more hostile to terrorism, and will support actions aimed at empowering civil society partners in the development of alternative narratives online,” the statement said.

Social media companies have long seen themselves as neutral platforms for other people to share information, and have traditionally been cautious about taking down objectionable material. But as social media platforms have increasingly been used to recruit jihadis, radicalize young people, share fake news and incite extremism, they have come under pressure from governments to take action.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube in June created the Global Internet Forum to Combat Terrorism, which got an early boost when British Prime Minister Theresa May used a speech to the U.N. General Assembly to applaud the initiative and demand internet companies develop technology to more quickly identify and remove terrorist content.

The alliance says it is committed to developing new content detection technology, to helping smaller companies combat extremism and to promoting “counter-speech,” content meant to blunt the impact of extremist material.

The G-7 endorsed the aims and pledged to work collaboratively across the industry to counter the “misuse of technology” by terrorist organizations.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said “a great alliance” had been formed between world governments and major internet providers. While stressing the internet has been an important tool for promoting freedom, “at the same time we all together have agreed that al-Qaida and Islamic State are enemies of our freedoms.”

Several ministers said that while the industry had made progress to quickly remove extremist content, more needed to be done, and faster.

“Our enemies are moving at the speed of a tweet, so we have to counter them just as quickly,” said acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

At G-7, Social Media Firms Pushed to Do More to Fight Terror

Technology firms have improved cooperation with the authorities in tackling online militant material but must act quicker to remove propaganda fueling a rise in homegrown extremism, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Wednesday.

The United States and Britain will push social media firms at a meeting of G7 interior ministers this week to do more on the issue, Duke told reporters in London where she had been meeting British Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Duke said there has been a change in the attitude of tech companies since a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August turned deadly when a counter-protester was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

“There has been a shift and for us somewhat with the Charlottesville incident,” she said. “There are a lot of social pressures and they want do business so they really have to balance between keeping their user agreements and giving law enforcement what they need.

“The fact they are meeting with us at G7 is a positive sign. I think they’re seeing the evidence of it being real and not just hyperbole.”

Series of attacks

After a series of Islamist militant attacks this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers such as Rudd have been demanding action from tech leaders such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more about extremist material on their sites.

British politicians have also called for access to encrypted messaging services like Facebook’s WhatsApp, a campaign that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave his backing to after meeting Rudd and the head of the UK domestic spy agency MI5 last week.

Internet companies say they want to help governments remove extremist or criminal material but say they have to balance the demands of state security with civil liberties.

“We would like to have the ability to get encrypted data with the right legal processes,” Duke said.

Propaganda’s role

Asked what action governments might take if social media firms failed to act to improve their removal of extremist material, she said: “We will continue to push as far as we can go. I think that we have the cooperation of those companies and we just need to work on that.”

Authorities say propaganda from Islamic State has played a major part in radicalizing people in the West but despite its defeat in its capital Raqqa in Syria, Duke said the group’s online presence was likely to increase.

“I would surmise being able to put terrorist propaganda on the internet might become more imperative,” said Duke, who described the terrorist threat to the United States as being as high as it had been since pre-9/11.

She also warned that those who turned to violence by being radicalized by such material posed a bigger problem than the comparatively small number of fighters who had joined the militant group returning to United States.

“The number of foreign fighters we have returning is declining,” she said. “The number of home-grown violent extremists, most of them inspired by terrorist organizations, is increasing.”

Iridium to Rely on Used SpaceX Boosters for Next 2 Launches

Iridium Communications says its next two launches of new-generation satellites will use refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 first-stage boosters that have flown previously.

The announcement Thursday is another step in SpaceX’s effort to reduce launch costs.

 

The company has launched a few used boosters and is trying to expand acceptance of reusability across the industry.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has had successful landings of Falcon 9 first stages after launches from both coasts.

Iridium is in the midst of seven launches to replace its satellite fleet that provides global mobile voice and data communications.

The McLean, Virginia, company says insurers confirmed there is no increase in premiums for “flight-proven” rocket use.

Thirty new satellites are in orbit and the fourth launch is scheduled for Dec. 22 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Experimental Virtual and Mixed Reality Technologies Can be Applied to Military of the Future

The U.S. Military is looking at technologies such as wearable sensors, virtual and augmented reality to enhance the training of its recruits. At a recent meeting of military personnel and academics at the University of Southern California’s Global Body Computing Conference, commanding officers talked about why there is a need for ever more modern technology. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles on some of the emerging technologies that can help the military.

Teens Overwhelmingly Prefer Snapchat to Facebook, Study Finds

Teenagers are turning away from traditional social media like Facebook and increasingly turning to Snapchat to communicate with their friends, according to a new study released Wednesday.

According to Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens” research survey, 47 percent of teenagers said Snapchat is their favorite social media platform, compared with just nine percent who said Facebook was their favorite.

The results show a sharp spike in the number of teens who said Snapchat is their favorite platform, up from 24 percent when the survey was given in the spring of last year.

In addition to Snapchat and Facebook, 24 percent of teens said they preferred Instagram – virtually unchanged from 2016 – and seven percent said they prefer Twitter, down from 15 percent last year.

For the report, Piper Jaffray interviewed 6,100 teens in 44 states, with an average age of 16.

While Snapchat is the most popular social medium used by teens, it is also the most harmful for them, according to a study released earlier this year by the British Royal Society for Public Health.

The study, which ranked the psychological impact of various social media on teenagers, showed Snapchat, along with Instagram, to cause the largest number of “health and well-being” issues among those surveyed.

Those issues include anxiety, depression, quality of sleep, body image, loneliness and real-world friendships and connections.

Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the RSPH, said Snapchat and Instagram likely cause the most mental health issues among teens because “both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

To combat the negative influence of social media, the researchers recommend adding pop ups that warn users of heavy usage, which was supported by 71 percent of the people surveyed.

Twitter Vows New Crackdown on Hateful, Abusive Tweets

Twitter vowed to crack down further on hate speech and sexual harassment, days after CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet-storm that the company was “still” not doing enough to protect its users.

The policy changes were specifically aimed at protecting women who unknowingly or unwillingly had nude pictures of themselves distributed online or were subject to unwanted sexual advances. They would also aim to shield groups subject to hateful imagery, symbols and threats of violence.

In an email Twitter shared with The Associated Press Tuesday, Twitter’s head of safety policy outlined the new guidelines to the company’s Trust and Safety Council, a group of outside organizations that advises the company on its policies against abuse.

The company said it would enact the changes in the weeks ahead. News of the policy changes was first reported by Wired.

Among the changes, Twitter said it would immediately and permanently suspend any account it identifies as being the original poster of “non-consensual nudity,” including so-called “creep shots” of a sexual nature taken surreptitiously. Previously, the company treated the original poster of the content the same as those who re-tweeted it, and it resulted only in a temporary suspension.

It said it would also develop a system allowing bystanders to report unwanted exchanges of sexually charged content, whereas in the past it relied on one of the parties involved in the conversation to come forward before taking action.

Twitter also said it would take new action on hate symbols and imagery and “take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause,” though it said more details were to come.

While it already takes action against direct threats of violence, the company said it would also act against tweets that glorify or condone violence.

On Friday, Dorsey foreshadowed the coming policy changes in a series of tweets, saying the company’s efforts over the last two years were inadequate.

Monitoring Pollution in Cities from Space

The European Space Agency ESA has launched a new satellite that will collect data useful to ordinary people everywhere on earth. For at least seven years, the Sentinel 5 Precursor will monitor air pollution caused by both man-made and natural activities, alerting people about the concentration of pollutants that may affect their health. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Telegram CEO’s Court Appeal Tests Russia Eavesdropping Laws, Technical Acumen

Telegram founder Pavel Durov has announced plans to appeal a Moscow court’s decision Monday to fine the encrypted messaging service some $14,000 (800 thousand rubles) for failing to provide law enforcement agencies with user information and access to private correspondences.

Providing security services with encryption keys to read users’ messaging data violates Russia’s constitution, he said in a post on Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, which he co-founded in 2007.

“Everyone has the right to privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic and other communications,” Durov said, quoting constitutional excerpts.

Russian special services need decryption keys to “expand their influence at the expense of the constitutional right of citizens,” he said, building on similar comments Durov made in September, when he announced that FSB officials had requested backdoor access to Telegram.

Russian security officials have said encryption codes are vital to protecting citizens against terror attacks such as those earlier this year in St. Petersburg, in which perpetrators, Kremlin officials says, communicated via Telegram.

According to Pavel Chikov, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer, the FSB state security organization (formerly KGB) is trying to gain technical access by announcing ultimatums and making threats. While fines levied aren’t too burdensome for a company of Telegram’s size, they do indicate an FSB willingness to block Telegram from continuing to operate in the country.

Third-party hackers

The situation, Chikov said, is similar to legal proceedings that resulted from FBI requests for encryption access to Apple iPhones — a request that ultimately was dropped, leaving federal investigators to rely on third-party hackers.

Secrecy, anonymity and “the ability to communicate in such a way that representatives of the state do not hear these conversations,” should also be respected in Russia, Chikov told VOA Russian.

“Generally speaking, if we are talking on [a conventional] telephone, the conversation is protected by constitutional guarantees,” Chikov said. However, Russian police and various state security agencies can obtain court-ordered warrants to tap the phone of specific individuals suspected of a plotting criminal activities — and they have the technical acumen required to do it.

Although privacy laws are generally the same for peer-to-peer text-messaging devices, Russian security agencies lack the technical sophistication to hack Telegram’s encrypted conversations.

Durov ‘most likely right’

Professor Ilya Shablinsky, a constitutional law expert with Moscow’s National Research University, says Durov is “most likely right” that FSB demands represent a constitutional violation, as allowing FSB access to Telegram would allow for users’ correspondence to be read.

“When that constitutional norm was drafted, correspondence was typically drafted on paper,” he said.

“And the Russian Constitution’s authors never envisaged a technological variant [such as Telegram]. In this case, we do not know exactly what kind of information the FSB requested, and what it means for Telegram to provide that information.”

According to Shablinsky, although a Russian court can demand access to correspondences of a specific individual who is suspected of committing a crime, it is not known whether the provision covers access to the decryption devices for an entire network of users.

The free instant-messaging app, which lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted about 100 million users since its launch in 2013.

Telegram threatened

In June, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog, threatened to ban Telegram for failing to provide user registration documents, which were requested as part of a push to increase surveillance of internet activities.

Although Telegram later registered, it stopped short of agreeing to Roskomnadzor’s data storage demands. Companies on the register must provide the FSB with information on user interactions; starting from 2018, they also must store all of the data of Russian users inside the country, according to controversial anti-terror legislation passed last year, which was decried by internet companies and the opposition.

Telegram has 10 days to appeal Monday’s decision.

‘No planned block’

Asked about a potential block of the service, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said, “As far as I know … there is no discussion of a block at this time.”

But observers like Chikov say the risk is quite high.

“It is not necessarily going to happen right after the decision on the penalty comes into effect, as I believe that the authorities will still take a pause and try to negotiate with the company’s management,” he said. “However, with its refusal to provide access to correspondence, Telegram entered into direct conflict with the interests of the special services. Consequently, the political weight of people who decide to block is significantly higher than that of the same Roskomnadzor.”

Telegram, one-tenth the size of Facebook-owned rival WhatsApp, has caught on in many corners of the globe, including for a while with Islamic State as an ultra-secure way to quickly upload and share videos, texts and voice messages.

Durov, who has been described as “the Russian Mark Zuckerberg,” spent years fending off intrusions into his users’ communications, forging an uncompromising stance on privacy after founding VKontakte, only to lose control of that social media company for refusing Russian government demands to block dissidents.

Since leaving Russia in 2014 to set up Telegram in self-exile, Durov and his core team of 15 developers have become perpetual migrants, living only a few months at a time in any one location, starting in Berlin, then London, Silicon Valley, Finland, Spain and elsewhere. The company is incorporated in multiple jurisdictions, including Britain.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service. Some information for this report provided by AFP.

 

Microsoft Rolls out new Windows 10 Update and Laptops

Microsoft has begun rolling out an update to its Windows 10 operating system, hoping to spark enthusiasm for its virtual- and augmented-reality ambitions.

 

The Windows 10 update became available Tuesday.

 

Several of Microsoft’s partners — Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo — are simultaneously launching their first “Windows Mixed Reality” headsets Tuesday. Samsung is also releasing one early next month.

 

Microsoft is also announcing a new generation of laptops in its Surface line. Two versions of the new Surface Book 2 — one 13.5 inches and the other 15 inches — will go on sale next month.

Cybersecurity Firm: North Korea Likely Behind Taiwan SWIFT Cyber Heist

Cybersecurity firm BAE Systems Plc said on Monday it believes the North Korean Lazarus hacking group is likely responsible for a recent cyber heist in Taiwan, the latest in a string of hacks targeting the global SWIFT messaging system.

“The likely culprit is Lazarus,” BAE cyber-intelligence chief Adrian Nish told Reuters by telephone.

The British firm has previously linked Lazarus to last year’s $81 million cyber heist at Bangladesh’s central bank, as have other cyber firms including Russia’s Kaspersky Lab and California-based Symantec Corp.

BAE’s claim that Lazarus is likely responsible for the hack on Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank demonstrates that North Korea continues to seek to generate cash through hacking.

Nish said he expects the group to continue to target banks.

“They are not just going to go away. They’ve built the tools. They are going to keep going back,” he said.

Still, he noted that the group appears to have had difficulty in pulling funds out of the banking system, after the massive Bangladesh heist, which prompted SWIFT and banks to boost security controls.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported last week that while hackers sought to steal some $60 million from Far Eastern Bank, all but $500,000 had been recovered by the bank.

BAE previously disclosed that Lazarus attempted to steal money from banks in Mexico and Poland, though there is no evidence the effort succeeded.

A security executive with SWIFT, a Belgium-based co-operative owned by banks, last week told Reuters that hackers have continued to target the message system this year, though many attempts have been thwarted by the new security controls.

SWIFT declined comment on the findings, which BAE detailed in a report on its website.

The report provides technical details on malware samples that BAE believes were likely used to target the Taiwan bank.

US Top Court to Intervene in Government’s Email Dispute With Microsoft

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear an appeal from the Justice Department on whether U.S. investigators can obtain emails stored overseas if they have a search warrant.

Since 2013, Microsoft has defied U.S. authorities in turning over emails that were stored on a data center in Ireland. While the investigators had a search warrant to obtain private records – in this case, emails – regarding a drug-trafficking case, Microsoft argued the warrant was valid under U. S. law but did not apply to other countries.

Microsoft’s lawyers maintained that the Stored Communications Act of 1986, the federal law that regulates electronic records, does not extend beyond the United States. Under the same logic, the tech company argued foreign governments could cause Microsoft to turn over data stored on U.S. servers.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court in New York overruled the Justice Department in favor of Microsoft. The Microsoft-Ireland decision, as it has come to be known, set a precedent for tech companies on U.S. soil. Essentially, tech companies can withhold digital evidence of crimes in the United States if the data is on a foreign server.

“Hundreds, if not thousands, of investigations of crimes – ranging from terrorism to child pornography to fraud – are being or will be hampered by the government’s inability to obtain electronic evidence,” Jeffrey Wall, Deputy Attorney General, said in the appeal, which was made in June. “The decision protects only criminals whose communications are placed out of reach of law enforcement officials because of the business decisions of private providers.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case early next year. Unlike most cases regarding privacy, the case does not hinge on Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, but the Stored Communications Act of 1986 on electronic records and privacy.