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Archive for February, 2016

(credit: Mayak project)

A group of engineers and space enthusiasts from Moscow University of Mechanical Engineering has hit the goal for a crowdfunding project that may change the night sky for a while. The team’s “Mayak” (Beacon) satellite project has raised enough money to launch what amounts to an orbital night-light into orbit—a solar-synchronized satellite that will deploy a 16-square-meter tetrahedron-shaped reflector. The reflector will bounce back the sun’s rays at the Earth as it orbits, making it brighter than any star in the night sky.

The team behind Mayak (which translates as “Beacon”) has raised 1.72 million rubles ($23,000) on the Russian crowdfunding site Boomstarter (which looks suspiciously like Kickstarter). According to the group’s page, the Russian space launch company Roscosmos has “Confirmed the possibility of (Mayak) being added to a launch on a Soyuz-2 rocket in the middle of 2016.” The scheduled launch is also carrying the Canopus-B-IR satellite, an earth observation satellite for monitoring forest fires.

Like most crowdfunding efforts, this one comes with a mobile app, which will give users the location of the satellite at any time. And it has stretch goals as well—the next goal is to fund construction of a model of Mayak for Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics. After that, the team hopes to construct an experimental atmospheric braking system that would help Mayak (and potentially other future satellites) re-enter the atmosphere and be recovered without the use of retro-rockets.

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In a blog post on Sunday, Snapchat executives revealed that the payroll data of some current and former employees was exposed as the result of a scam e-mail sent to a human resources employee at the company.

“The good news is that our servers were not breached, and our users’ data was totally unaffected by this,” a company spokesperson said in the post. “The bad news is that a number of our employees have now had their identity compromised. And for that, we’re just impossibly sorry.”

On February 26, an employee in Snapchat’s payroll department received a “spear phishing” e-mail that appeared to be from Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel—but that came from an external e-mail address. The message requested employee payroll information. The individual targeted didn’t recognize the message as a scam, and they forwarded the requested information.

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A federal judge denied the use of the All Writs Act, a law that federal authorities have cited in insisting on Apple’s help breaking into iPhones.


Step 4: expose yourself digitally to the rest of the plane. (credit: Arjun Singh)

There’s a certain degree of doubt about whether it’s possible to hack into an airplane’s avionics from the in-flight Wi-Fi, as one security researcher claimed last year. But it’s possible to do all sorts of things to fellow passengers—as USA Today columnist Steven Petrow recently found out. Following an American Airlines flight, Petrow was approached by a man who claimed to have gained access to the content of his e-mails, which showed communication with sources for a story Petrow was writing.

Petrow offered a bunch of advice on how to protect privacy on mobile devices (strong passwords, password managers, and encrypted communications apps). But none of these really addresses how he got “hacked”—the in-flight Wi-Fi provided a perfect environment for an attacker to undermine the security of other passengers’ communications. It’s something that could easily be fixed, but in-flight Internet providers are in no hurry to do so, because it’s not in their interest.

When you’re on any public Wi-Fi, you’re bound to give up some personal information to anyone who might be watching the traffic (whether that be the company providing the service, for marketing purposes, or someone with more malicious intent). For example, in previous tests (such as the ones we conducted with NPR), we saw iPads and iPhones that identified themselves to the network by their owner’s name, and Web requests to websites and mobile app traffic (some including personal data) were also visible. And as might have happened to Petrow, old-school POP/SMTP e-mail messages could be practically read off the wire.

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A survey found that a single recent review that mentions bedbugs lowers hotel room values by $38 for business travelers and $23 for leisure travelers.


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