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Update April - May, 2019


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Technology
 

British cyber expert pleads guilty to creating malware

This Monday, May 15, 2017, file photo shows Marcus Hutchins, a British cybersecurity expert during an interview in Ilfracombe, England. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Ivan Moreno

Milwaukee (AP) — A British cybersecurity researcher credited with stopping a worldwide computer virus has pleaded guilty to developing malware to steal banking information.

Federal prosecutors in Wisconsin and Marcus Hutchins' attorneys said in a joint court filing Friday that the 24-year-old agreed to plead guilty to developing malware called Kronos and conspiring to distribute it from 2012 to 2015. In exchange for his plea to those charges, prosecutors dismissed eight more.

"As you may be aware, I've pleaded guilty to two charges related to writing malware in the years prior to my career in security," Hutchins said in a statement on his website. "I regret these actions and accept full responsibility for my mistakes. Having grown up, I've since been using the same skills that I misused several years ago for constructive purposes. I will continue to devote my time to keeping people safe from malware attacks."

Hutchins faces up 10 years in prison but could receive a more lenient sentence for accepting responsibility, the court filing said. Attorneys said Hutchins understands he could be deported.

Sentencing has not been scheduled.

Hutchins' arrest in Las Vegas in August 2017, as he was about to board a flight to England, came as a shock; just months earlier he was hailed a hero for finding a "kill switch" to the WannaCry virus that crippled computers worldwide. At the time, he told The Associated Press in an interview that he didn't consider himself a hero but that he was combating malware because "it's the right thing to do."

Prosecutors said Hutchins made incriminating statements during a two-hour interrogation, and later during a jailhouse phone call that Hutchins was told was being recorded, he told an unidentified person that he "used to write malware" years before.

"I knew it was always going to come back," Hutchins said on the call, but that he didn't "think it would be so soon."

Prosecutors said in court filings that Hutchins sold the Kronos software to someone in Wisconsin and that he "personally delivered" the software to someone in California. The malware was designed "to intercept communications and collect personal information, including usernames, passwords, email addresses, and financial data" from computers, prosecutors said.

Kronos was "used to infect numerous computers around the world and steal banking information," prosecutors said, without providing an exact number. It's unclear how much Hutchins' profited from creating the malware, but in online chats the FBI intercepted on November 2014, Hutchins' lamented he had only made $8,000 from five sales. Hutchins said he thought he would be making around $100,000 annually by selling Kronos with one of his conspirators, who is not named in the indictment.

Hutchins initially pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was scheduled to go on trial in July. While his case has been pending, prosecutors barred Hutchins from returning home. He has been living in California, working as a cybersecurity consultant.


How not to break the bank on streaming services

 

There are more TV streaming services than ever before and more people are opting to drop cable in favor of streaming services. But monthly subscriptions can add up fast. A little research on which services are best for you can help save big bucks. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Mae Anderson & Sarah Skidmore Sell

New York (AP) — With more TV streaming services than ever before, from newcomers like Disney Plus to stalwarts like Netflix, consumers may feel the ideal viewing experience is finally at hand.

Americans have, on average, three streaming video subscription services, according to a recent study of digital media trends by Deloitte. While some have dropped cable and its average bill of around $100 a month altogether, about 43% have both pay TV and streaming subscriptions.

Yet patching together a variety of services to get just what one wants isn’t always seamless. Families and individuals can still find themselves with service that doesn’t perfectly suit their viewing habits. And those monthly subscriptions can add up fast.

“It doesn’t make sense to pay for a bunch of content you have no interest in watching,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of marketing for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “Finding a service that lets you scale your channel lineup based on your interests can also help you avoid paying for things you don’t need.”

A little research on which services are best for you can help save big bucks.

For Families

Disney is making the biggest play for family viewership. The owner of Disney Channel, the Star Wars franchise and most recently Fox’s entertainment business is betting its mix of family-friendly franchises and beloved animated classics, along with original programming, will make the Disney Plus service irresistible to families, even if they already subscribe to other services. The service, launching Nov. 12, will cost $7 a month initially.

For some kids, there may be no substitute for watching Disney’s “Frozen” over and over again. But other services that families might already subscribe to have a lot of family-friendly programming too. Amazon Prime ($119 per year or $13 per month for Prime loyalty program membership; Prime Video alone costs $9 a month), Hulu ($6 to $12 per month), and Netflix ($9 to $16 per month) all offer kids programming.

Another choice for parents: HBO Now ($15 a month) is the home for the classic kids TV show “Sesame Street.” And for spendthrifts, YouTube’s free Kids channel offers an endless stream of kid-friendly fare, although quality varies widely.

For Movie Buffs

Movie fans will soon have to work a bit harder to find movies to stream. As Disney, Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers and others offer their own streaming services, they will all eventually pull their content from Netflix. But niche services are there to fill the void.

Classic movies can be difficult to find streaming. Movie fans suffered a loss when AT&T, which bought Time Warner last year, decided to discontinue Film Struck, a streaming service that was a collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection. But a similar service called The Criterion Channel that offers 1,000 classic and contemporary films is stepping up to fill the void. It costs $11 a month or $99 for a year.

Other movie-centric streaming services include Fandor ($6 per month or $50 per year) or Mubi ($11 per month). Both offer a curated selection of movies.

Those on a budget can try Kanopy, a streaming service that works with public libraries and universities to offer library card holders streaming movies for free.

For Sports Fans

Sports fans do have streaming options, but they cost more since sports must be watched live. Basic live TV options are cheaper but may not include sports channels. Which service you choose depends on which sport or which team you want to watch.

There are a variety of live TV streaming services that offer a wide range of sports, but they’ve recently been raising their prices. Fubo TV offers more than 85 channels including ones that broadcast football, baseball, soccer and other sports. It costs $45 for the first month, then $55 a month after that. DirecTV Now costs $50 a month for the cheapest tier. Sling TV costs $25 to $40 a month. Hulu raised the price for its live-TV service in February, by $5, to $45. Sony’s PlayStation Vue costs $45 to $80 a month. Google’s YouTube TV is increasing its monthly fee to $50. It launched at $35 and has raised prices as it added more channels. Most of the live TV services offer the major sports channels such as Fox Sports and NBC Sports Network, as well as games broadcast on network TV. But ESPN, for example, is on Hulu Live and YouTube TV but not Fubo TV, so fans of a specific team or sport should examine the channel listings for each service.

There’s no budget offering for watching high profile sporting events. But Disney’s ESPN Plus costs $5 a month or $50 for the year. It offers some live games, including some hockey, soccer and baseball games, as well as content about sports like ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series. But you can’t watch most major league sports games on the service.

Mix and Match

If you’re a sports fan who also loves movies and has a family, you’ll have to mix and match services while trying to stay within your budget. It is still possible to stay below the monthly cost of cable, says the NFCC’s McClary.

“The acceptable threshold for spending is up to each household, but most ‘live’ and ‘on demand’ streaming services would be on the low end of the scale compared to traditional cable packages,” he said. “One good measuring stick is to compare the monthly rate to your monthly content consumption patterns and what it would cost if you paid movie rental rates each time you watch a program.”


UK considers direct regulation of social media companies

London (AP) - The U.K. has proposed directly regulating social media companies for the first time, with senior executives potentially facing fines if they fail to block damaging content such as terrorist propaganda or images of child abuse.

The regulations proposed Monday would create a statutory “duty of care” for social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to protect young people who use their sites. The rules would be overseen by an independent regulator funded by a levy on internet companies.

Media Secretary Jeremy Wright says: “Voluntary actions from industry to tackle online harms have not been applied consistently or gone far enough.”

The proposed regulations were released for public comment on Monday.


Toyota robot can’t slam dunk but shoots a mean 3-pointer

Toyota’s basketball robot Cue 3, the 207-centimeter (six-foot-10) -tall machine made five of eight three-pointer shots in a demonstration in a Tokyo suburb Monday, a ratio its engineers say is worse than usual. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

Yuri Kageyama

Tokyo (AP) - It can’t dribble, let alone slam dunk, but Toyota’s basketball robot hardly ever misses a free throw or a 3-pointer.

The 207-centimeter (six-foot, 10-inch)-tall machine made five of eight 3-point shots in a demonstration in a Tokyo suburb Monday, a ratio its engineers say is worse than usual.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s robot, called Cue 3, computes as a three-dimensional image where the basket is, using sensors on its torso, and adjusts motors inside its arm and knees to give the shot the right angle and propulsion for a swish.

Efforts in developing human-shaped robots underline a global shift in robotics use from pre-programmed mechanical arms in limited situations like factories to functioning in the real world with people.

The 2017 version of the robot was designed to make free throws.

Yudai Baba, a basketball player likely representing host Japan at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, took part in the demonstration and also missed a couple of shots. If the robot could learn a few more tricks, he was ready to accept the robot on the team, he said.

“We human players are still better for now,” he said.

Right after missing, the robot slumped over. It wasn’t disappointment, but a temporary power failure.

Cue 3’s name is supposed to reflect the idea the technology can serve as a cue, or signal of great things to come, according to Toyota.

The company plays down how the technology might prove useful. It’s more about boosting morale among engineers, making them open to ideas and challenges.

In making the robot’s outer covering something like that of an armadillo, the engineers said they were just trying to avoid the white metallic look often seen on robots.

The maker of the Camry sedan, Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models has shown off various robots, including one that played a violin. Another, resembling R2-D2 of Star Wars, slides around and picks up things. At Monday’s demonstration, it handed the basketball to Cue 3.

Experts say robots that can mimic human movements, even doing them better, could prove useful in various ways, including picking crops, making deliveries, and working in factories and warehouses.

Stanford University Professor Oussama Khatib, who directs the university’s robotics lab, said Cue 3 demonstrates complex activities such as using sensors and nimble computation in real-time in what he called “visual feedback.”

To shoot hoops, the robot must have a good vision system, be able to compute the ball’s path then execute the shot, he said in a telephone interview.

“What Toyota is doing here is really bringing the top capabilities in perception with the top capabilities in control to have robots perform something that is really challenging,” Khatib said.

Japan has been aggressive in developing humanoids, including those that do little more than offer cute companionship.

Toyota’s rival Honda Motor Co. has its Asimo, a culmination of research into creating a walking robot that started in the 1980s. It not only can run, but also recognize faces, avoid obstacles, shake hands, pour a drink and carry a tray.

When will such robots be able to slam dunk, a feat that will require running, dribbling and jumping?

“In 20 years, with technological advances,” said Tomohiro Nomi, a Toyota engineer who worked on Cue 3.


Thousands in Germany protest planned EU internet reforms

People protest against the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market by the European Union in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, March 23, 2019. People fear for the freedom of the internet when users content has to pass upload filters to protect copyrights. (Peter Endig/dpa via AP)

Berlin (AP) - Tens of thousands of people have marched in cities across Germany to protest planned European Union copyright reforms that they fear will lead to online censorship.

The dpa news agency reports the biggest protest Saturday was in Munich, where 40,000 people marched under the motto “save your internet.”

Thousands of others took part in smaller demonstrations in the German cities of Cologne, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin and other cities against the bill that is being voted on this week.

The most controversial section would require companies such as YouTube and Facebook to take responsibility for copyrighted material that’s uploaded to their platforms.

Proponents say the new rules will help ensure authors, artists and journalists are paid.

Opponents claim they could restrict freedom of speech, hamper online creativity and force websites to install filters.


Digital scrapbooking site Pinterest files for IPO

In this Oct. 11, 2018, file photo, Evan Sharp, Pinterest co-founder and chief product officer, poses for a photo, standing beside a wall of pegs symbolizing the company logo at Pinterest headquarters in San Francisco. Pinterest is pinning its future on Wall Street, with the digital scrapbooking site on Friday, March 22, 2019, filing for an initial public offering of stock. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Rachel Lerman & Barbara Ortutay

San Francisco (AP) - Pinterest is pinning its future on Wall Street, with the digital scrapbooking site filing for an initial public offering of stock on March 22.

It follows a similar filing with securities regulators earlier last month by ride-hailing company Lyft in what is shaping up to be a busy season for technology IPOs. Also expected to sell stock to the public in the coming weeks: Lyft rival Uber and messaging app Slack.

Pinterest said in its filing that it intends to list itself on the New York Stock Exchange using the ticker symbol “PINS.” The company hasn’t yet said how many shares it’s selling in the IPO or how much money it intends to raise.

The San Francisco-based company had revenue of $756 million last year, a 60 percent bump from 2017. It had a loss of $63 million last year, compared to a loss of $130 million in 2017.

Pinterest allows people to search for and “pin” images as inspiration for fashion, interior design, travel and more.

The company said it has more than 250 million users each month, and users have saved more than 175 billion pins since the site was launched.

Pinterest has raised nearly $1.5 billion in the private markets, and was last valued at $12.3 billion in 2017, according to PitchBook Data.

Pinterest has long shunned being labeled a social network. Because of that, it doesn’t push users to add friends or build connections. It also means it’s been able to avoid problems of its larger rivals like Facebook.

But despite the lack of friend networks, many advertisers likely still consider Pinterest to be part of their “social” budgets, said eMarketer analyst Andrew Lipsman, meaning it competes in part with Facebook, Snapchat and others.

Pinterest makes advertising revenue when businesses promote pins in users’ feeds. Pinterest has the potential to be more valuable than most digital media to advertisers, Lipsman said, because it has direct information about what a user wants.

It’s all clear in the search - if a user is searching for new floor lamps or diamond rings, there’s a decent chance they want to buy those things.

“Visual search has a much bigger impact in terms of driving desire,” Lipsman said.

Pinterest was founded in 2010 by Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp, who still serve as CEO and chief product officer, respectively.

The company has been working on developing its artificial intelligence search, which allows people to take a photo or upload a screenshot of an item and find similar products on Pinterest.

Like many other tech companies, including Facebook and Google, Pinterest will create two classes of stock - one that will give the holder one vote per share, and another that will get 20 votes per share. Shares held by executives and board members will be converted into shares of the second, more powerful, class. Pinterest’s filing did not break down the percentage of ownership.
 


UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

British cyber expert pleads guilty to creating malware


How not to break the bank on streaming services


UK considers direct regulation of social media companies


Toyota robot can’t slam dunk but shoots a mean 3-pointer


Thousands in Germany protest planned EU internet reforms

Digital scrapbooking site Pinterest files for IPO