Technology Blog

August 15, 2022

Police Used a Baby’s DNA To Investigate Its Father For a Crime

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: If you were born in the United States within the last 50 or so years, chances are good that one of the first things you did as a baby was give a DNA sample to the government. By the 1970s, states had established newborn screening programs, in which a nurse takes a few drops of blood from a pinprick on a baby's heel, then sends the sample to a lab to test for certain diseases. Over the years, the list has grown from just a few conditions to dozens. The blood is supposed to be used for medical purposes -- these screenings identify babies with serious health issues, and they have been highly successful at reducing death and disability among children. But a public records lawsuit filed last month in New Jersey suggests these samples are also being used by police in criminal investigations. The lawsuit, filed by the state's Office of the Public Defender and the New Jersey Monitor, a nonprofit news outlet, alleges that state police sought a newborn's blood sample from the New Jersey Department of Health to investigate the child's father in connection with a sexual assault from the 1990s. Crystal Grant, a technology fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union, says the case represents a "whole new leap forward" in the misuse of DNA by law enforcement. "It means that essentially every baby born in the US could be included in police surveillance," she says. It's not known how many agencies around the country have sought to use newborn screening samples to investigate crimes, or how often those attempts were successful. But there is at least one other instance of it happening. In December 2020, a local TV station reported that police in California had issued five search warrants to access such samples, and that at least one cold case there was solved with the help of newborn blood. "This increasing overreach into the health system by police to get genetic information is really concerning," Grant says. The New Jersey lawsuit alleges that police obtained the blood sample of a newborn child (who is now elementary-school aged) to perform a DNA analysis that linked the baby's father to a crime. This was done using a technique called investigative genetic genealogy, or forensic genealogy. It usually involves isolating DNA left at a crime scene and using it to create a digital genetic profile of a suspect. Investigators can upload this profile to genealogy websites where other people have freely shared their own DNA information in the hope of connecting with family members or learning about their ancestry. Because DNA is shared within families, investigators can use relative matches to map out a suspect's family tree and narrow down their identity. According to the New Jersey lawsuit, police had reopened an investigation into a cold case and had used genetics to place the suspect within a single family: one of several adults or their children. But police didn't yet have probable cause to obtain search warrants for DNA swabs from any of them. Instead, they asked the state's newborn screening lab for a blood sample of one of the children. Analysis of this genetic information revealed a close relationship between the baby's DNA and the DNA taken at the crime scene, indicating that the baby's father was the person police were seeking. That was enough to establish probable cause in the assault investigation, so police sought a warrant for a cheek swab from the father. After analyzing his DNA, the suit contends, police found that it was a match to the crime scene DNA. "Because there are no federal laws governing newborn screening programs, states set their own policies on which diseases they test for, how long samples are stored, and how they can be used," notes Wired. "Some states hold on to blood samples for months, others for years or decades. Virginia only keeps samples from infants with normal results for six months, while Michigan retains them for up to 100 years. New Jersey stores samples for 23 years before destroying them."

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August 15, 2022

Update Zoom For Mac Now To Avoid Root-Access Vulnerability

If you're using Zoom on a Mac, it's time for a manual update. The video conferencing software's latest update fixes an auto-update vulnerability that could have allowed malicious programs to use its elevated installing powers, granting escalated privileges and control of the system. From a report: The vulnerability was first discovered by Patrick Wardle, founder of the Objective-See Foundation, a nonprofit Mac OS security group. Wardle detailed in a talk at Def Con last week how Zoom's installer asks for a user password when installing or uninstalling, but its auto-update function, enabled by default, doesn't need one. Wardle found that Zoom's updater is owned by and runs as the root user. It seemed secure, as only Zoom clients could connect to the privileged daemon, and only packages signed by Zoom could be extracted. The problem is that by simply passing the verification checker the name of the package it was looking for ("Zoom Video ... Certification Authority Apple Root CA.pkg"), this check could be bypassed. That meant malicious actors could force Zoom to downgrade to a buggier, less-secure version or even pass it an entirely different package that could give them root access to the system.

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August 15, 2022

Russian Army Expo Shows Off Robot Dog Carrying Rocket Launcher

At a military convention in Russia, a local company is showing off a robot dog that's carrying a rocket launcher. From a report: Russian news agency RIA Novosti today filmed the four-legged bot at the Army 2022 convention, which is taking place near Moscow and sponsored by the country's Ministry of Defense. The robot was recorded trotting along on the convention floor while wielding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher on its back. The robot is also capable of crouching on the floor, making it harder to spot, while it presumably waits to fire off a rocket. It remains unclear if the robot will ever be used on the field when Russia is locked in a war with Ukraine, and already using air-based drones at least for recon and targeting purposes. But according to RIA Novosti, the bot is dubbed the M-81 system and comes from a Russian engineering company called "Intellect Machine." The developers say the robot dog is being designed to both transport weapons and ammunition and fire them during combat missions.

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August 15, 2022

Linux 6.0 Arrives With Performance Improvements and More Rust Coming

Linux creator Linus Torvalds has announced the first release candidate for the Linux kernel version 6.0, but he says the major number change doesn't signify anything especially different about this release. ZDNet: While there is nothing fundamentally different about this release compared with 5.19, Torvalds noted that there were over 13,500 non-merge commits and over 800 merged commits, meaning "6.0 looks to be another fairly sizable release." According to Torvalds, most of the updates are improvements to the GPU, networking and sound. Torvalds stuck to his word after releasing Linux kernel 5.19 last month, when he flagged he would likely call the next release 6.0 because he's "starting to worry about getting confused by big numbers again." On Sunday's release of Linux 6.0 release candidate version 1 (rc-1), he explained his reasoning behind choosing a new major version number and its purpose for developers. Again, it's about avoiding confusion rather than signaling that the release has major new features. His threshold for changing the lead version number was .20 because it is difficult to remember incremental version numbers beyond that. "Despite the major number change, there's nothing fundamentally different about this release - I've long eschewed the notion that major numbers are meaningful, and the only reason for a 'hierarchical; numbering system is to make the numbers easier to remember and distinguish," said Torvalds. Torvalds lamented some Rust-enabling code didn't make it into the release. The Register adds: "I actually was hoping that we'd get some of the first rust infrastructure, and the multi-gen LRU VM, but neither of them happened this time around," he mused, before observing "There's always more releases. This is one of those releases where you should not look at the diffstat too closely, because more than half of it is yet another AMD GPU register dump," he added, noting that Intel's Gaudi2 Ai processors are also likely to produce plenty of similar kernel additions. "The CPU people also show up in the JSON files that describe the perf events, but they look absolutely tiny compared to the 'asic_reg' auto-generated GPU and AI hardware definitions," he added.

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August 15, 2022

The US Could See a New ‘Extreme Heat Belt’ By 2053

An "extreme heat belt" reaching as far north as Chicago is taking shape, a corridor that cuts through the middle of the country and would affect more than 107 million people over the next 30 years, according to new data on the country's heat risks. From a report: The report, released Monday by the nonprofit research group First Street Foundation, found that within a column of America's heartland stretching from Texas and Louisiana north to the Great Lakes, residents could experience heat index temperatures above 125 degrees Fahrenheit by 2053 -- conditions that are more commonly found in California's Death Valley or in parts of the Middle East. The projections are part of First Street Foundation's new, peer-reviewed extreme heat model, which shows that most of the country will have upticks in the number of days with heat index temperatures above 100 degrees over the next 30 years as a result of climate change. The heat index represents what a temperature feels like to the human body when humidity and air temperature are combined. It is commonly referred to as the "feels like" temperature. "Everybody is affected by increasing heat, whether it be absolute increases in dangerous days or it's just a local hot day," said First Street Foundation's chief research officer, Jeremy Porter, a professor and the director of quantitative methods in social sciences at the City University of New York.

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August 15, 2022

Science is Getting Closer To a World Without Animal Testing

Academics and pharmaceutical companies hope that technology based on human cells will help them phase mice and monkeys out of their labs. From a report: The umbrella term for the new field is microphysiological systems or MPS, which includes tumoroids, organoids and organs-on-a-chip. Organoids are grown from stem cells to create 3D tissue in a dish resembling miniature human organs; heart organoids beat like the real thing, for example. Organs-on-a-chip are plastic blocks lined with stem cells and a circuit that stimulates the mechanics of an organ. "We need to move away from animals in a systematic way," says Salim Abdool Karim, South Africa's leading infectious disease expert. "Thatâ...âinvolves regulators being given the data to show that non-animal biological systems will give us compatible, if not better, information." Nathalie Brandenburg co-founded Swiss start-up Sun Bioscience in 2016 to create standard versions of organoids, which makes it easier to trust that results are comparable, and convince scientists and regulators to use them. "When we started we had to tell people what organoids were," she says, referring to the early stage of her research journey. In the past two years, and particularly as scientists emerged from lockdowns -- when many had time to read up on the technology -- demand from large pharmaceutical companies for Sun's products has soared, she says. Companies are becoming more interested in reducing their reliance on animals for ethical reasons, says Arron Tolley, chief executive of Aptamer Group, which creates artificial antibodies for use in diagnostics and drugs. "People are becoming more responsible now, from a corporate governance point of view, and looking to remove animal testing when necessary," he says. Using larger animals, such as monkeys, is particularly problematic, Tolley adds. "The bigger and cuter they get, the more people are aware of the impact." Rare diseases are especially fertile ground for models based on human tissues, says James Hickman, chief scientist at Hesperos, an organ-on-a-chip company based in Florida. "There are 7,000 rare diseases and only 400 are being actively researched because there are no animal models," Hickman says. "We're not just talking about replacing animals or reducing animals, these systems fill a void where animal models don't exist."

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August 15, 2022

Google Releases Android 13, Rolling Out First To Pixel Phones

This year's major Android update, Android 13, is officially releasing today for Googleâ(TM)s Pixel phones, the search giant has announced. From a report: The annual update is getting an official release a little earlier than usual, following Android 12's release last October and Android 11's release in September 2020. The list of updates arriving with this year's version of Android is likely to be familiar if you've been keeping up with Android 13's beta releases. There's the ability to customize non-Google app icons to match your homescreen wallpaper that we saw in Android 13's first developer preview, a new permission to cut down on notification spam, and a new option to limit which of your photos and videos an app can access. Back in January, we wrote that Google planned to spend this year catching up with Apple's ecosystem integrations, and there's more evidence of this in Android 13's official release. The update includes support for spatial audio with head tracking, which is designed to make sounds appear as though they're coming from a fixed point in space when you move your head while wearing compatible headphones, similar to a feature Apple offers for its AirPods. Today's post doesn't say exactly which headphones this will work with, but Google previously announced it would be updating its Pixel Buds Pro to offer support for spatial audio. Secondly, there's the ability to stream messages from apps including Google Messages directly to a Chromebook, similar to iMessage on the Mac.

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August 15, 2022

Faster Internet Is Coming To America – as Soon as the Government Knows Where To Build It

The government's $42.5 billion plan to expand internet service to underserved communities is stuck in a holding pattern nearly nine months after approval, largely because authorities still don't know where gaps need to be filled. From a report: The broadband plan, part of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last November, stipulates that money to improve service can't be doled out until the Federal Communications Commission completes new maps showing where homes and businesses lack fast service. Lawmakers demanded new maps after flawed data in past subsidy programs caused construction projects across the country to bypass many of the Americans that they were supposed to serve. Officials warn, however, that getting the mapping right will take time. "We understand the urgency of getting broadband out there to everyone quickly," said Alan Davidson, chief of the Department of Commerce office in charge of allocating the broadband funding. "We also know that we get one shot at this and we want to make sure we do it right." That could mean a delay in the expansion of service to people who have long struggled with slow internet. Internet providers including AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast and Verizon have yet to include any of the 2021 infrastructure law's broadband funding in their public financial projections for the coming years. "The maps are not going to be issued from the FCC until a little bit later this year, and until that happens, the money really can't start to flow at the state level," AT&T Chief Executive John Stankey told analysts on a July conference call.

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August 15, 2022

As Crypto Crashed, Coinbase Stopped Some Notifications

An anonymous reader shares a report:Back in November 2021, cryptocurrencies, which saw a huge surge during most of the pandemic, suddenly began to nosedive. Joe Hovde, a New York-based data scientist, decided that this might be his moment to buy into crypto: He took a risk on the price plunge and bought some Ethereum, the next most popular crypto asset after Bitcoin, on Coinbase, a crypto exchange. A couple of months later, Hovde started getting emails from Coinbase notifying him of swings in the prices of Ethereum, Bitcoin, and other tokens. Though already a steady consumer of financial news and current events, Hovde used the notifications to passively keep tabs on his investment while juggling other things. So when crypto assets began to take another nosedive in April 2022, Hovde noticed that at some point, the emails seemed to have stopped coming. Hovde, who has worked on projects culling trends and patterns from large data sets for both tech companies and media outlets, scraped his inbox and confirmed that he'd received no emailed price notifications from the end of February to when they started back up again at the beginning of June; during that time period, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other currencies lost dozens of percent worth of value in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. Coinbase's decision to stop email notifications in the middle of a dramatic cryptocurrency crash has not been previously reported. But academics who spoke to Mother Jones note that Coinbase's decision likely contributed to losses for retail crypto investors who may otherwise have sold their holdings ahead of further devaluation. The change to price updates could run afoul of federal or state consumer protection laws, they said, particularly if it hurt the wallets of any of the relatively inexperienced traders who flocked to crypto in droves during the pandemic.

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