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AT&T gets sued over two-factor security flaws and $23M cryptocurrency theft

Crypto investor Michael Terpin filed a $224 million lawsuit against AT&T in California federal court Wednesday alleging that the phone company’s negligence let hackers steal nearly $24 million in cryptocurrency from him, Reuters reports. He’s also seeking punitive damages.

Terpin says hackers were twice able to convince AT&T to connect his phone number to a SIM card they controlled, routing his calls and messages to them and enabling them to defeat two-factor authentication protections on his accounts. In one case, he says hackers also took control of his Skype account and convinced one of this clients to send money to them rather than Terpin.

The second hack came even after AT&T agreed to put an additional passcode on his account, when a fraudster visited an AT&T store in Connecticut and managed to hijack Terpin’s account without providing the code or a “scannable ID” as AT&T requires, he says.

“We dispute these allegations and look forward to presenting our case in court,” AT&T told Reuters.

The trouble is, experts have said, it’s often relatively simple to trick phone company employees into reassigning numbers to thieves in what’s called a “SIM swap” scam. Once they control the number, they can intercept texts for two-factor authentication programs and password resets, quickly hijacking other accounts. The victim sometimes even struggles to contact the phone company, since his or her phone is disabled once the new SIM card is activated. Crypto investors have been a particular target, presumably since stolen digital funds are relatively hard to trace. Victims have included Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson.

Last week, security journalist Brian Krebs reported that a 25-year-old Florida man was arrested for being part of a multistate SIM swap scam ring, using the technique to steal bank accounts. Police were allegedly first alerted by a worried mom who heard one of the conspirators on the phone pretending to be an AT&T employee.

Protect yourself: Experts recommend using a non-phone-based two-factor-authentication system when it’s available, such as Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator. If you do have a service that requires phone authentication, one possibility is to connect it with a number that’s not widely associated with you, even if that means getting a separate number just for that purpose.

You can also ask your phone company to put additional passwords on your account, though that may not always help if an employee doesn’t follow procedures or is even in cahoots with the criminals.

Building Burning Man looks way more fun than attending

Long before the festival starts, surveyors and builders conjure Black Rock City out of the forbidding desert. It looks like a blast.

Black Rock City, the temporary town that hosts Burning Man’s annual clusterf*ck of art, food, and parties, doesn’t just magically appear in the middle of the Nevada desert every year. Its planning and construction is a lot more mundane–and a lot more fun, according to a new mini-doc.

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Digital basketball players teach themselves to dribble

Researchers have developed a physics-based, real-time method for controlling animated characters that can learn basketball dribbling skills from experience. In this case, the system learns from motion capture of the movements that people dribbling basketballs performed.

This trial-and-error learning process is time consuming, requiring millions of trials, but the results are arm movements that are closely coordinate with physically plausible ball movement.

Players learn to dribble between their legs, dribble behind their backs, and do crossover moves, as well as how to transition from one skill to another.

digital basketball player dribbling
Digital basketball player dribbling. (Credit: Carnegie Mellon)

“Once the skills are learned, new motions can be simulated much faster than real-time,” says Jessica Hodgins, professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Hodgins and Libin Liu, chief scientist at DeepMotion Inc., a California company that develops smart avatars, will present the method at SIGGRAPH 2018, the Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Vancouver.

“This research opens the door to simulating sports with skilled virtual avatars,” says Liu, the report’s first author. “The technology can be applied beyond sport simulation to create more interactive characters for gaming, animation, motion analysis, and in the future, robotics.”

A physics-based method has the potential to create more realistic games, but getting the subtle details right is difficult.

Motion capture data already add realism to state-of-the-art video games. But these games also include disconcerting artifacts, Liu notes, such as balls that follow impossible trajectories or that seem to stick to a player’s hand.

A physics-based method has the potential to create more realistic games, but getting the subtle details right is difficult. That’s especially so for dribbling a basketball because player contact with the ball is brief and finger position is critical. Some details, such as the way a ball may continue spinning briefly when it makes light contact with the player’s hands, are tough to reproduce. And once the ball is released, the player has to anticipate when and where the ball will return.

Liu and Hodgins opted to use deep reinforcement learning to enable the model to pick up these important details. Artificial intelligence programs have used this form of deep learning to figure out a variety of video games. The AlphaGo program famously employed it to master the board game Go.

The motion capture data used as input was of people doing things such as rotating the ball around the waist, dribbling while running, and dribbling in place both with the right hand and while switching hands.

This capture data did not include the ball movement, which Liu explains is difficult to record accurately. Instead, they used trajectory optimization to calculate the ball’s most likely paths for a given hand motion.

Software makes movie-style digital animation easier

The program learned the skills in two stages—first it mastered locomotion and then learned how to control the arms and hands and, through them, the motion of the ball. This decoupled approach is sufficient for actions such as dribbling or perhaps juggling, where the interaction between the character and the object doesn’t have an effect on the character’s balance.

Further work is required to address sports such as soccer, where balance is tightly coupled with game maneuvers, Liu says.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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Moral outrage online can backfire big time

When outcry against offensive behavior on social media goes viral, people may see those challenging the behavior less as noble heroes doing the right thing and more as bullies doling out excessive punishment, according to a new study.

Through a series of laboratory studies, Benoît Monin, a professor of ethics, psychology, and leadership at the Graduate School of Business and professor of psychology at Stanford University, and PhD candidate Takuya Sawaoka found that while comments against offensive behavior are seen as legitimate and even admirable as individual remarks, they may lead to greater sympathy for the offender when they multiply.

Viral anger

“One of the features of the digital age is that anyone’s words or actions can go viral, whether they intend to or not,” says Sawaoka.

“In many cases, the social media posts that are met with viral outrage were never intended to be seen by people outside of the poster’s social circle. Someone doesn’t even need to be on social media in order for their actions to go viral.”

“We’ve all either been in one of those maelstroms of outrage or just one step away from one as bystanders on our social media news feeds…”

Because of social media, responses to questionable behavior reach further than ever before.

“We’ve all either been in one of those maelstroms of outrage or just one step away from one as bystanders on our social media news feeds,” says Monin, noting how frequent these public outcries have become on social media.

For example, in 2013 there was public outcry over a young woman who tweeted that she couldn’t get AIDS while traveling to Africa because she was white. Her post, which she says she intended as a joke, went viral across social media and quickly made its way into the news. It led to her losing her job.

“On the one hand, speaking out against injustice is vital for social progress, and it’s admirable that people feel empowered to call out words and actions they believe are wrong,” says Sawaoka. “On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel somewhat sympathetic for people who are belittled by thousands of strangers online, and who even lose friends and careers as a result of a poorly thought-out joke.”

‘Outrage at the outrage’

Sawaoka and Monin put their observations to the test. They conducted six experiments with a total of 3,377 participants to examine how people perceived public outcry to an offensive or controversial post on social media. The researchers set up a variety of scenarios, including asking people how they felt when there were only one or two comments versus a mass of replies.

In one study, the researchers showed participants a post taken from a real story of a charity worker who posted a photograph of herself making an obscene gesture and pretending to shout next to a sign that read “Silence and Respect” at Arlington National Cemetery.

“There is a balance between sympathy and outrage…”

They asked participants how offensive they found the photograph, as well as what they thought about the responses to the post.

The researchers found that when participants saw the post with just a single comment condemning it, they found the reaction applaudable.

When they saw that reply echoed by many others, they viewed the original reply—which had been praiseworthy in isolation—more negatively. Early commenters were de facto penalized for later, independent responses, they say.

“There is a balance between sympathy and outrage,” says Monin about their findings. “The outrage goes up and up but at some point sympathy kicks in. Once a comment becomes part of a group, it can appear problematic. People start to think, ‘This is too much—that’s enough.’ We see outrage at the outrage.”

What about a white supremacist?

The researchers were curious to know whether people would feel less sympathetic depending on the status of the offender. Would they feel differently if something offensive was says by a well-known person, or by someone many people regard as abhorrent, like a white supremacist?

“Obviously, the implication is not that people should simply stay silent about others’ wrongdoing.”

In one study, participants were shown a social media post taken from a real story where a comedian ridiculed overweight women. The researchers set up two conditions: one where they referred to him as an average social media user, and another where they said he was an up-and-coming comedy actor.

Mirroring their earlier findings, the researchers found that a high-profile persona did not elicit any less sympathy than the average person—despite the fact that people believed they could cause more harm from their post. And like their previous results, the researchers found that people viewed individual commenters less favorably after outrage went viral.

When Sawaoka and Monin tested for affiliation to a white supremacist organization, they found similar results. Although participants were less sympathetic toward a white supremacist making a racist comment, they did not view the individuals who participated in the outrage any differently. They still perceived the display of viral outrage as bullying.

Negative posts out-do flops in social media marketing

“These results suggest that our findings are even more broadly applicable than we had originally anticipated, with viral outrage leading to more negative impressions of individual commenters even when the outrage is directed toward someone as widely despised as a white supremacist,” Sawaoka and Monin write.

No quick fix

The question about how to respond to injustice in the digital age is complex, Sawaoka and Monin conclude in the paper.

“Our findings illustrate a challenging moral dilemma: A collection of individually praiseworthy actions may cumulatively result in an unjust outcome,” Sawaoka says.

Depression more likely for social media addicts

“Obviously, the implication is not that people should simply stay silent about others’ wrongdoing,” he clarifies. “But I think it is worth reconsidering whether the mass shaming of specific individuals is really the best way to achieve social progress.”

Source: Stanford University

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Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics, updated for the drone age

Drones are coming. Here are three principles for incorporating drones into public life ethically.

Even the word “drone” is a tough sell. A continuous humming noise. Monotonous speech. A remote-controlled aircraft or missile. With definitions spanning bees and bombs, it’s understandable why the public may want more cowbell but doesn’t want more drone. Consider that, despite concerns about our potentially dystopian futures in the face of increasingly powerful machines and artificial intelligences, there are cute robots. But there are no cute drones. That’s because drones are mostly perceived to be within the territories of the military’s hunter-killer UAVs, nosey neighbors, and police departments exploring the constitutional limits of surveillance. That’s a troubling Venn diagram.

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Two drivers are better than one for SoundFlux truly wireless earphones

The SoundFlux truly wireless earphones are billed as the first in the world to feature a ...

Though dual driver earphones are not uncommon these days, most earphones send all the audio through a single driver only. Truly wireless buds – spearheaded by the successfully crowdfunded Earins – are in the wild too, but the majority of Bluetooth-enabled ear plugs have cables between each earphone, which will also likely feature a single driver. How about a combination of both dual driver and truly wireless? KNZ Technology says that’s not just rare, but doesn’t actually exist. The Georgia-based company is looking to change that with its “world’s first” SoundFlux dual-driver truly wireless headphones.

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Why did Facebook and YouTube need cover from Apple to ban Alex Jones?

The tech sector today appears to have finally turned against Alex Jones and his conspiracy-mongering InfoWars empire, with Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify all now banning content from the show.

But when it comes to such ethical stances, timing and motivation is often more important than the action itself. Over the weekend Buzzfeed News reported that Apple had removed five of six Jones and Jones-related podcasts from its iTunes and Podcasts apps because they violated its rules on hate speech. Note that Apple didn’t just zap single offending podcasts, but rather the listings for whole podcast titles. YouTube and Facebook had previously deleted individual Jones/InfoWars videos in the past, but never came close to banning the Jones/InfoWars pages and channels full-stop until now.

Why did it take Apple banning Jones to get Facebook and Alphabet/Google/YouTube to take action?

Apple deserves credit for taking action—and it has long proven that it’s not afraid to engage in big-time political and legal battles—though it’s worth noting that it may have had the least to lose from its banning of Jones. The company doesn’t earn its money from social content in the way that Facebook and YouTube do, so it risks less in cracking down on inappropriate content.

Still, and most importantly, Apple appears to have provided cover to Facebook and YouTube to remove Jones and InfoWars pages and channels from their sites. It’s likely that neither Facebook nor YouTube would have 86’d Jones on their own, neither wanting to be the lone target of criticism from the alt-right crowd howling about Jones’s First Amendment rights.

Now, with Apple, Facebook, and Alphabet/Google/YouTube all taking similar action, it appears that the “tech community” is acting together, and that’s how it’s being reported in the press. (Spotify, too, removed specific Jones podcasts from its service last week, but only after Apple took action did the company remove all of Jones’s content.)

Any of these tech giants could have acted alone without cover from Apple. They all have specific language against hate speech in their content rules.

And hate speech language violations may be the best weapon against provocateurs like Jones. Banning a podcast or page or video channel on the grounds that it constitutes hate speech is very different from banning something for containing disinformation. As Facebook has learned with its fight against false news, saying when something crosses the line from mostly-true to mostly-BS is a tough call.

Fortunately for the content police, Jones and his flunkies lace their disinformation with hate, and that has proved to be their undoing.

These 4 fears are hindering your credibility in meetings

You probably spend far too many of your working hours in meetings. Chances are, you’ve contemplated how you can have less of them. But have you ever thought about how you can make those meetings more productive and beneficial? After all, they provide opportunities to showcase yourself as a star employee, and even present yourself as a potential leader of your company.

But to get there, you need to speak up in those meetings. Far too many of my clients don’t do that (which is why they come to me in the first place). By staying silent, they’re leaving potential career advancement opportunities on the table.

If you can’t cut the number of meetings, you can at least make them a more productive use of your time. Here are five things that might be stopping you from voicing your point of view, and how to push past those fears.

1. You don’t want to seem overbearing

If you’re always around people who force their opinions in every conversation, you might be inclined to do the opposite. After all, you don’t want to be that annoying person, right?

But there is a difference between talking for the sake of talking and speaking up because you have something valuable to contribute. You don’t necessarily have to have an opinion for every meeting item, but when you do, you should make that clear. You can start off by voicing one opinion per meeting until you become comfortable with expressing your thoughts in front of your colleagues. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.


Related: Three types of annoyingly chatty coworkers and how to shut them up


2. You’re too worried about your words

You’re unlikely to jump in with your thoughts if you’re the type of person who insists on finding perfect words to describe your ideas. But the thing is, your colleagues are probably not going to be paying that much attention to the words you say. Instead, they’re more likely to pay attention to your arguments. If you have a clear thesis, you don’t need fancy words (in fact, using them can backfire.)

Remember also that your listeners will be filtering your words through their own assumptions and interpretations, so focusing on them won’t make your messages more effective. Rather than getting too hung up on your vocabulary, include an anecdote. That allows you to connect with your colleagues at a personal level, and they’re more likely to resonate with your message.

3. You continuously question whether your ideas are “right”

Perfectionists like to micromanage their ideas until they feel that they’re 100% “right” or “perfect.” But by the time they’re happy with them, they’ve missed their chance to make their mark. Perhaps their employer has moved on or started implementing other people’s ideas already.

The solution to this is simple, though not easy–give up this goal of perfection. Think about your ideas like minimum viable products–something to test out and fine-tune later. Trust that your ideas are good enough to mention in meetings. If you sense that your boss and colleagues are interested in pursuing it further, then you can refine it.


Related: What to do when your meeting discussions becomes incoherent


4. You underestimate yourself

One of the biggest barriers to speaking up in meetings is simply underestimating yourself. You might feel unqualified to discuss subjects outside of your area of expertise. You need to get rid of this mind-set if you want to be perceived as a leader. Leaders don’t know everything, but they are comfortable expressing their perspective. Remember, vocalizing your thoughts on one subject matter doesn’t mean going into nitty-gritty details. You can point out an overarching issue, then defer to a subject-matter expert when discussions take a more technical turn.

You don’t need to be a chatterbox to gain credibility as a leader or high-performing employee. You do, however, need to make your opinions known when it comes to important issues. By understanding your resistance to speaking up in meetings, you can learn to push past those fears. You won’t get there overnight, but with plenty of practice, you’ll find that it becomes easier.

The surprising psychology of dieting and plate design

New research is challenging long-held assumptions about how our eyes influence our stomachs.

You’ve probably heard the idea that using smaller plates and bowls can affect your perception of how much you’re eating, thereby helping you eat less. But how well does it work? A new study sheds light on that popular theory, finding that if you’re really hungry, it doesn’t work. The reason why is a glimpse into the fascinating psychology of how we see and judge the world around us.

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Is this the disposable cup of the future?

One designer wants to popularize cups that are grown, not manufactured.

Earlier this month, Starbucks announced plans to ditch plastic straws in all its coffee shops around the world by 2020. It’s a very small start in the larger effort to limit waste associated with single-use plastic. Disability advocates criticized Starbucks’s approach while environmentalists pointed out that using lids to replace straws doesn’t really reduce the use of plastic at all.

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