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Technology

    That's according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited a report from security firm FireEye sent to some Equifax customers including financial firms this week. The breach on March 10 came two days after security researchers at Cisco Systems warned of a flaw in an open-source software package called Apache Struts. The report says hackers entered the command 'Whoami,' which would have allowed them to determine a username for a computer it had gained access to. Equifax did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report. A spokeswoman for FireEye, a subsidiary of security firm Mandiant, declined to comment.
  • Facebook is apologizing for letting advertisers use phrases like 'Jew-haters' as a targeting criteria and for not noticing it until it was pointed out. The company is also tightening policies and tools that let businesses target advertisements to its 2 billion users, hoping to ensure that this doesn't happen again. The move follows a ProPublica report that found advertisers could use terms such as 'how to burn Jews' to target ads to people with those terms in their profile. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, wrote in a post on Wednesday that the company 'never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us.' It hasn't been a good month for Facebook. The ad-targeting fiasco follows news that the social media giant has unwittingly allowed groups backed by the Russian government to target users with ads. The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said Tuesday that Facebook should testify as part of its probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, the company 'seems to have been less than forthcoming' with Congress. Sandberg said Facebook is taking steps to ensure that material violating its community standards cannot be used to target ads. This includes anything that attacks people on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and other categories. The company says it is also adding more manual oversight to its automated processes — a sign that as much as Facebook wants to rely on artificial intelligence to solve its problems, it is not quite there yet. And Facebook is adding a program to encourage users to report abuse of its advertising systems. 'Seeing those words made me disgusted and disappointed — disgusted by these sentiments and disappointed that our systems allowed this,' Sandberg wrote. 'Hate has no place on Facebook — and as a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate.
  • Apple confirmed that its new Series 3 Apple Watch can encounter problems connecting to a cellular network. The problems arise when the watch joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity. This can happen when the watch tries to join a Wi-Fi network the user has previously logged in to using another Apple device, like an iPhone or a computer. The company says it is investigating a fix for the problem. To work around it, users can get their phone to 'forget' the network. The latest watch, which starts at $399, has been hotly anticipated because its cellular connectivity means people can use it without carrying their phone around. The watch doesn't require a new data plan, but an add-on to existing plans. This generally costs $5 to $10 a month.
  • Home device maker Nest Labs is adding Google's facial recognition technology to a camera-equipped doorbell and rolling out a security system in an attempt to end its history of losses. The products announced Wednesday expand upon the internet-connected thermostats, smoke detectors and stand-alone security cameras that Nest has been selling since its inception six years ago. Although Nest has been among the early leaders in the effort to make home appliances as intelligent as people's smartphones, it hasn't been able to make money to the frustration of its corporate parent, Alphabet. In an attempt to shake things up, Alphabet brought in cable industry veteran Marwan Fawaz to replace Nest founder Tony Fadell as CEO after Fadell stepped down 15 months ago. Nest had been supplementing its existing product line with slightly different choices until Wednesday's move into entirely new categories. The Hello doorbell comes with a built-in video camera and speakers that will make it seem like it can recognize and talk to people. The doorbell will draw upon Google's facial recognition technology so it can warn a home's occupants when a stranger approaches. Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion in 2014 and then spun it off after it hatched Alphabet as its parent company. Nest is now lumped into a group of risky companies venturing into new areas of technology that have collectively lost $10.6 billion during the past three-and-half years alone. Alphabet hasn't disclosed how much Nest has contributed to it the losses in its 'Other Bets' segment Nest isn't announcing a price for its new doorbell until it hits the market sometime during the first three months of next year. Google's facial recognition technology is coming to the doorbell a few months after Nest introduced a more sophisticated indoor security camera featuring the same tool. Nest also announced Wednesday that the same facial recognition tools will be deployed on an outdoor security camera that will cost $349. Apple is implanting a different form of facial recognition into its $1,000 iPhone X to unlock the device, telegraphing a future where cameras increasingly are going to be able to identify people within its lens' range. The new phone will be released in November. Nest's usage of facial recognition hasn't yet sparked privacy concerns because it doesn't tap into Google's vast database of photos to automatically recognize people. Instead, a user of the Nest camera or doorbell must manually tag and name people before the device recognizes someone. The Nest home security system is being billed as a simpler and more convenient way to protect a home than the alarms and other kinds of sensors that have long been sold by other vendors. Nest's 'Secure' system will sell for $499 for its basic toolkit of devices.
  • Scientists at a Nevada earthquake lab on Wednesday tested new bridge designs with connectors they say are innovative and created to better withstand violent temblors and speed reconstruction efforts after major quake damage. University of Nevada, Reno engineers performed the experiments on a giant 'shake table' to simulate violent motions of an earthquake to rattle a 100-ton (91-metric ton), 70 foot (21-meter) bridge model to determine how well it would hold up. The tests, conducted a day after a big quake struck Mexico, shook large concrete columns and beams back and forth for about 30 seconds at a time, displacing some nearly a foot before returning largely to their original spot. Graduate students measured and marked indications of tiny fractures but no major structural damage was observed in the initial review of the experiments. 'The bridge has done better than we expected,' said Saiid Saiidi, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who served as the project leader. He's done related research for more than 30 years. Bridges are already designed not to collapse in earthquakes but often are unsafe for travel after big quakes. He said the designs that were tested employed special types of connectors to link prefabricated bridge parts, including ultra-high performance concrete. 'Earthquakes by themselves don't kill people — it's the structures,' Saiidi said. The elements have been tested on their own but never before combined in a bridge model subjected to realistic earthquake motions, like the 1994 Northridge, California quake. Wednesday's test inside the University of Nevada's Earthquake Engineering Laboratory simulated activity of a quake as large as magnitude 7.5. Some design work by the engineers has been incorporated into a highway off-ramp under construction in Seattle. It's the first bridge in the world that uses flexible columns and reinforcement bars made out of a metal alloy with titanium that bends and then springs back into shape when quakes hit. Among other things, the innovative connectors allow for prefabricated concrete and other materials to be attached to an existing bridge foundation so as to speed repair and reconstruction Part of the research centers on a so-called 'pipe pin' connection developed by the California Department of Transportation's bridge designers for use in connecting certain beam interfaces in bridge construction. The pin consists of a steel pipe that is anchored in the column and extended into a steel can embedded in the beam. A gap between the steel pipe and the can enables the extended segment to freely rotate inside the steel can and prevents bending of the protruded segment inside the can. The University of Nevada's Earthquake Engineering Lab is the largest of its kind in the United States. The latest project is funded by the California Department of Transportation, which currently is developing plans for 10 pilot projects based on the developing bridge connector technology. 'This study today is going to allow them to make observations of those designs,' Saiidi said.
  • German officials say there's no sign of concerted cyberattacks aimed at influencing the outcome of the country's upcoming election, but warned Wednesday against giving the all-clear yet. Security officials have warned over the past year that the Russian government in particular might attempt to destabilize Germany by promoting extremist parties in Sunday's vote. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the driving force behind maintaining international sanctions against Russia over its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. 'We don't see that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has meddled in the election campaign,' Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, told mass-circulation daily Bild in an interview Wednesday. 'Maybe they didn't try. Maybe it's still coming.' A spokesman for the interior ministry, Johannes Dimroth, told reporters that security officials regularly see cyberattacks against government bodies and politicians in Germany, but these haven't caused any major damage. 'Luckily we can't report any large-scale attacks. But in our view we haven't reached the point in time where we can give the all-clear,' Dimroth said, citing the last-minute release of emails from Emmanuel Macron's party on the eve of the French presidential election in the spring. Researchers recently have observed a more subtle attempt to influence the German election in the shape of an increasing number of fake Twitter accounts backing the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. Luca Hammer, a data analyst working for the civil society group Fearless Democracy , said he identified a group of apparently automated Twitter accounts — so-called bots — that began flooding the social network with racist and anti-government messages earlier this month. The bots appeared to mimic a tactic used by far-right activists in the United States to promote Donald Trump's campaign during the U.S. presidential election last year. Unlike in the U.S., though, Twitter isn't widely used in Germany. 'Overall, it's hardly relevant,' Hammer told The Associated Press. 'But lots of journalists and politicians are on Twitter and for them it might create a misleading image of what the public thinks.' The view was echoed by Laura Rosenberger, a senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States. The Washington-based think tank recently launched a digital tool to monitor the Twitter activity of a network linked to the German-language account of Kremlin-controlled news website Sputnik. 'Even if many people aren't seeing this directly, the ideas we see pushed around Twitter are making it into the mainstream,' Rosenberger said. Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has by far the biggest presence on social media . The party uses it to send a steady stream of anti-immigrant and anti-Merkel messages to hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. Rosenberger said many of the messages seen coming from the Sputnik-linked Twitter network reflect the positions of AfD. 'But we are also seeing a pattern in Germany where a lot of messages aren't about particular parties or candidates, but about sowing divisions in society and trying to exploit them,' she said. Hammer, the data analyst, said political ads designed to target specific groups on Facebook may have a greater effect on Germany's election. Earlier this month, it was revealed that hundreds of phony Facebook accounts, likely run from Russia, spent about $100,000 on ads aimed at stirring up divisive issues during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Facebook has refused to allow researchers to analyze its content in the same way as Twitter, said Hammer.
  • Amazon is attempting to develop glasses that pair with Alexa and would allow users to access the voice-activated assistant outside the home, according to a newspaper report. The Financial Times, citing anonymous sources, says the glasses could be released before the end of the year. Amazon.com Inc., based in Seattle, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Wearable technology, glasses specifically, is already in limited use. Snapchat sells $130 glasses that take a short video and post it on the social media app. And Alphabet Inc. sells Google Glass to employers, so that doctors or factory workers can search information or talk to co-workers hands free.
  • A group of hackers suspected of working in Iran for its government is targeting the aviation and petrochemical industries in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and South Korea, a cybersecurity firm warned Wednesday. The report by FireEye also said the suspected Iranian hackers left behind a new type of malware that could have been used to destroy the computers it infected, an echo of two other Iran-attributed cyberattacks targeting Saudi Arabia in 2012 and 2016 that destroyed systems. Iran's office at the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday and its state media did not report on the claims. However, suspected Iranian hackers long have operated without caring if people found it was them or if there would be consequences, making them incredibly dangerous, said Stuart Davis, a director at one of FireEye's subsidiaries. 'Today, without any repercussions, a neighboring country can compromise and wipe out 20 institutions,' Davis said. FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group as APT33, an acronym for 'advanced persistent threat.' APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make it look like the messages came from Boeing Co. or defense contractors. The hackers remained inside of the systems of those affected for 'four to six months' at a time, able to steal data and leaving behind the malware that FireEye refers to as Shapeshifter. The coding contains Farsi-language references, the official language of Iran, FireEye said. Timestamps in the code also correspond to hackers working from Saturday to Wednesday, the Iranian workweek, Davis said. The programs used in the campaign are popular with Iranian coders, servers were registered via Iranian companies and one of the spies appears to have accidentally left his online handle, 'xman_1365_x,' in part of the code. That name 'shows up all over Iranian hacker forums,' FireEye's John Hultquist said. 'I don't think they're worried about being caught. ... They just don't feel like they have to bother.' The Associated Press was able to find other clues pointing to an Iranian nexus. One of the malicious websites used in the operation was registered in February 2016 via an Iranian company called Server Pars, the firm's chief executive, Ali Mehrabian, said. Mehrabian declined to make the customer's name available publicly, citing his company's privacy policy, but said they had a Tehran address. The hacker known as 'xman' did not return emails seeking comment. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran's contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers. A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time having the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country's civil war. Suspicion again fell on Iran. FireEye's report said it believed APT33 'is likely in search of strategic intelligence capable of benefiting a government or a military sponsor.' High on the list of any potential suspects within Iran would be its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. U.S. prosecutors in March 2016 accused hackers associated to Guard-linked companies of attacking dozens of banks and a small dam near New York City. Hackers linked to the Guard also have been suspected of targeting the email and social-media accounts of Obama administration officials. ___ Associated Press writer Raphael Satter in Paris contributed to this report. ___ Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap. His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz.
  • A chief gripe with Apple Watch is that it requires you to keep an iPhone with you for most tasks. The inclusion of GPS last year helped on runs and bike rides, but you're still missing calls and messages without the phone nearby. A new model with its own cellular-network connection is Apple's next step toward an untethered world. Now you can make and receive calls and messages on the watch while leaving your phone at home. But the watch still needs regular contact with an iPhone, and for most tasks, the phone needs to be on and connected, even if it's nowhere nearby. So you can't get away with ditching the iPhone altogether. (Android users have their own wristwear options, including Samsung Gear and Android Wear watches, some of which can already manage their own network connections.) The new Apple Watch Series 3, distinguished by a red crown, comes out Friday starting at about $400. You can forgo cellular, and the red crown, for $70 less. Or get a first-generation model, without GPS, for about $250. ___ WHERE IT HELPS You might not want to bring your phone on a short jog; the watch can still keep you in touch. Or you can leave the phone home while walking the dog or performing a quick errand. You need a data add-on from the same wireless provider as your phone. It typically costs $5 or $10 a month and uses the phone's data allotment. While the watch technically has its own phone number, the major carriers have worked out number syncing. Calls to your phone will go to the watch, and calls from the watch will appear on caller ID with your regular number. Same goes for texts and iMessage chats. Calls use the watch's speaker and microphone, or wireless earphones. Colleagues say call quality was fine. It came in handy for sneaking in runs during conference calls (though if you're my boss, just kidding! Now, about that raise ...). Phone calls and iMessage chats work on the watch even if your phone is off, as do turn-by-turn maps and queries to the Siri voice assistant. For texts, the phone needs to be on — somewhere. With the phone on, you can perform a variety of other tasks, including checking weather apps, Yelp recommendations and notifications that go to the phone. Coming soon: the ability to stream Apple Music, even with the phone off. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to rival music services or Apple's podcast app. ___ LIMITATIONS Because the watch screen is small, many apps offer only a sliver of information and refer you back to the phone to view more. That was little more than an annoyance when the phone was in the same room. If you've left the phone behind, though, you'll be left hanging. You can also run into trouble while roaming, particularly internationally. For one thing, engineers weren't able to squeeze in support for cellular frequencies around the world. And outside the U.S., only a handful of carriers are supporting the cellular watch. In any case, don't forget to switch to airplane mode on flights. Cellular data also drains the battery quicker. Apple's promised 18 hours of battery life includes about four hours of such use. An hour of phone calls over LTE will drain the battery completely. I got dropped from two conference calls because the battery was low to begin with. Plan ahead. A spare watch charger at your desk helps for those days you're dumb enough to leave your phone on the kitchen counter. ___ EMBRACING THE TETHER It can be handy to untether the watch at times, but it's not always necessary. Even when tied to the phone, Series 3 offers improvement such as tracking elevation, so you get credit for climbing stairs or jogging up a hill. And you can now hear Siri responses on the watch speaker, something enabled by the new version's faster processor. ___ SOFTWARE UPDATE For owners of past models, a software update out this week, watchOS 4, will bring easier access to music playback controls when exercising — just swipe left. There are more prompts when reaching or nearing daily goals, and options for multiple sports in a single workout. A new heart rate app now shows heart rate at rest and averages when walking or recovering from exercise. These can help you gauge your overall fitness. And if your heart rate is high without any signs of exercise, you'll get an alert. You enable this when you first open the heart rate app. It can signal health problems, though Apple is stopping short of telling you to see a doctor or visit the emergency room, as the watch isn't marketed — or certified — as a medical device.
  • Prime Minister Theresa May is urging internet companies to block the spread of extremist material, calling on social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google to develop technologies that will prevent content from being posted in the first place. Britain's leader will focus on the fight against extremist content during a meeting with internet companies Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. May says that while social media platforms have made progress in fighting extremist propaganda, they need to ensure content is removed in less than two hours. She will say that 'industry needs to go further and faster in automating the detection and removal of terrorist content' because extremists 'are placing a greater emphasis on disseminating content at speed in order to stay ahead' of surveillance.