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Who will be the first to put a human on the Moon in this century?

  • NASA
  • Russia
  • China
  • India
  • Japan
  • SpaceX
  • Blue Origin
  • Other (specify in comments)

[ Results | Polls ]
Comments:55 | Votes:133

posted by takyon on Tuesday June 25, @04:36AM   Printer-friendly
from the probing-and-prodding dept.

Ecuador Judge Frees Swedish Programmer Close to Assange; Probe Continues

An Ecuadorean judge on Thursday ordered that a Swedish citizen and personal friend of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be freed, two months after he was detained for alleged participation in a hacking attempt on the government.

But Ola Bini, a 36-year-old software developer who has lived in Ecuador for five years, remains under investigation in the case and will be barred from leaving the country, according to the court ruling.

Bini was detained in April at the Quito airport before boarding a flight to Japan, hours after Ecuador withdrew asylum for Assange, who had lived at its London embassy for almost seven years while facing spying charges related to WikLeaks' 2010 publication of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

Ecuador's Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo had accused him of seeking to destabilise the Andean country's government and compromising its national security. Bini has denied those allegations, but has acknowledged being close to Assange.

Previously: Julian Assange Associate Arrested In Ecuador

Original Submission

posted by takyon on Tuesday June 25, @02:56AM   Printer-friendly
from the see-you-next-tuesday dept.

Submitted via IRC for Bytram

It's official. You can get FUCT, US Supremes tell scandalized bureaucrats in rude trademark spat

When Erik Brunetti in 2011 first tried to obtain a trademark for his clothing company FUCT, the US Patent and Trademark Office blocked his application.

The USPTO relied on a portion of the Lanham Act that allows trademarks to be denied if they "[consist of or comprise] immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter." So Brunetti challenged the decision in court.

On Monday this week, the US Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision affirmed a December 2017 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that found the act's trademark limitation violates the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

Pointing at its own 2017 ruling in Matal v. Tam, which said the USPTO could not deny music group The Slants a trademark just because the term might offend some people, the Supreme Court told the agency in so many words to get FUCT on its registry. "[T]he 'immoral or scandalous' bar is substantially overbroad," the majority opinion, from Justice Elena Kagan, reads. "There are a great many immoral and scandalous ideas in the world (even more than there are swearwords), and the Lanham Act covers them all. It therefore violates the First Amendment."

[...] In the past, trademark applications for beverages "Marijuana Cola" and "Ko Kane," for clothing line "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," were denied for being scandalous. But trademarks have been granted for "FCUK" and "Handjob Nails and Spa."

Also at NYT, Courthouse News Service, NPR, Reuters, National Review, CNN, and Vice.

Previously: Can You Trademark an Offensive Name or Not? US Supreme Court to Decide
Two Unanimous SCOTUS Victories for Free Speech
U.S. Supreme Court Considers Issue of Trademark Protection for Profanity

Original Submission

posted by chromas on Tuesday June 25, @01:10AM   Printer-friendly
from the farty-minutes-to-uranus dept.

With the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing fast approaching, there's a veritable deluge of programs, events, and media of various forms, all dedicated to recapturing an astonishing moment in humanity's collective history. All of these things face a serious challenge: the Apollo missions have been revisited so many times and from so many angles, it's difficult to say anything truly new.

Go for the obvious points, and you'll face telling a big chunk of your audience things they already knew. Aim for something truly novel, and there's the risk that you'll end up focusing on an aspect that's obscure simply because it's not that interesting or important. These problems are compounded for an audience like Ars', where most of us have spent a bit of time obsessed by the space program, and the hurdles to finding some novelty grow even higher.

The promise of a new angle on a familiar subject was what got me listening to a production by the BBC's World Service entitled 13 Minutes to the Moon. This multi-episode podcast focuses on what's really the key moment in Apollo 11: the final descent and touchdown of the Eagle lander that delivered Armstrong and Aldrin to the Moon's surface.

Thanks to an article I saw on Ars Technica, I was reminded that the BBC is in the process of producing and releasing a series of downloadable podcasts called 13 Minutes To The Moon which covers people and events which lead up to and included the launch of Apollo 11 — the first manned landing on the moon — on July 20, 1969:

On 13 May 2019, the BBC will be launching 13 Minutes To The Moon, a 12-part series covering the Apollo programme through the final dramatic 13-minute descent of the Apollo 11 mission, when everything came close to going badly wrong. Communication was breaking down, technology was failing and fuel was running out.

The BBC World Service has been making a major impact on the world of podcasting and this new series tells the story of the scientists, engineers, programmers and astronauts whose work during those tense minutes - and for years beforehand - prevented failure. The theme music written by Grammy and Academy Award-winner Hans Zimmer for Bleeding Fingers Music, is the first that the composer has ever written for podcast.

The final episode will be recorded live at Houston’s Rice University, where U.S. President John F. Kennedy made his speech in 1962, famously announcing his ambition to take humankind to the moon. It will be released on the exact 50th anniversary of the moon landing, 20 July 2019.

13 Minutes to the Moon is the full story of how a predominantly young workforce was mobilised to make JFK’s vision a reality, despite having no idea at the start how to do it. The podcast has secured revealing, in-depth interviews with some of the key figures who made it happen. And we’ll hear about what happened between 1961 and 1969 to create what was one of humanity’s greatest triumphs.

By the end of the series, listeners will know in detail the dramatic sequence of events of those final 13 minutes to the moon. Episode 11 will be the 13 minutes in real time.

The show is hosted by Dr. Kevin Fong, who wanted to be an astronaut, and holds degrees in astrophysics, medicine and space engineering. He grew up inspired by stories of the Apollo programme, and wanted to take the listener along with him on a deep dive into a subject of lifelong fascination. As he says in the first episode, it isn’t a spoiler to say we know they got there: "This podcast is about trying to understand how that happened."

New episodes of the podcasts are being released periodically. So far, 4 introductory pieces and 6 episodes are available for direct listening or download.

I just finished listening to Episode 6: Saving 1968 and must confess I always thought Apollo 8's mission seemed strange... approach and orbit the moon, but do not land when you were so very close? This episode made clear how much of an undertaking that mission actually was and how great a triumph it actually was.

Most highly recommended!

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posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @11:42PM   Printer-friendly
from the deep-seated-insecurities-and-paranoia dept.

NSA Starts Contributing Low-Level Code to UEFI BIOS Alternative

The NSA has started assigning developers to the Coreboot project, which is an open source alternative to Windows BIOS/UEFI firmware. The NSA's Eugene Myers has begun contributing SMI Transfer Monitor (STM) implementation code for the x86 processor. Myers works for NSA’s Trusted Systems Research Group, which according to the agency’s website, is meant to “conduct and sponsor research in the technologies and techniques which will secure America's information systems of tomorrow.”

Myers published a paper about STM last year on how NSA’s STM implementation could work. All Coreboot code, including all the STM contributions from the NSA, are open source, so anyone could verify that there is no backdoor in there -- in theory.

In practice, the NSA could have also written the code in a less-than-secure way with vulnerabilities that are hard to detect without more experienced security researchers. Alternatively, the NSA could also update this implementation years later, when there are less eyes on the STM implementation and the update would no longer make headlines.

Better to avoid coreboot and feel secure that the hardware could never subvert my expectations of security and privacy. /s

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @10:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the Smelt-it dept.

New Atlas:

While Saturn's ostentatious rings have been known since 1610, Uranus's faint ring system is a relatively recent discovery, only made in 1977, and more rings were discovered when Voyager 2 whizzed past for a closer look in 1986. The rings only reflect a small amount of light in the optical and near-infrared parts of the spectrum, which normally makes them hard to see.

That historical dimness makes the new shots, snapped by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT), all the more astounding. In these thermal emission images, the first ever taken of Uranus, the rings are clearly visible around the smelly, unfortunately-named planet. The dark bands in the upper atmosphere are thanks to large amounts of molecules that absorb radio waves, while the bright spot at the north pole indicates an area mostly devoid of these molecules.

[...]The study also helped to confirm that Uranus's brightest and densest ring, the epsilon ring, is very different to other known systems. Saturn gets its trademark bling thanks to a ring system made up of differently-sized objects, from microscopic dust particles to roughly house-sized boulders. But Uranus's rings are mostly made up of relatively large objects.

Uranus's rings are hard to see and comprise large chunks.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @08:27PM   Printer-friendly
from the artificial-muscles-should-run-on-artificial-sweetener dept.

New Atlas:

Scientists at Linköping University have blurred the line between robot and organism by developing an artificial muscle that runs off of glucose and oxygen like its organic counterpart. Made of a special polymer, the new plastic muscles open the promise of implantable artificial muscles and micro-robots that can be powered like living organs.
the Linköping team led by Edwin Jager, senior lecturer in Sensor and Actuator Systems in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, turned to muscles made out of a "polymer actuator" made from polypyrrole.
To make an artificial muscle, the researchers formed the polymer into two layers with a thin membrane between them. When a charge is developed on one side, the ions in the polymer are expelled across the membrane and the sheet shrinks. Meanwhile, the sheet on the other side absorbs the electrons and expands. This makes the whole thing bend like a contracting muscle.

According to Linköping, this charge can be applied from a battery, but it can also be derived from glucose and oxygen by doping the polymer with enzymes that enhance the reaction, burning the glucose for energy the same as a muscle does.

What would you do with artificial muscles?

Original Submission

posted by chromas on Monday June 24, @07:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the's-the-spacer's-edge dept.

[Updated (20190624_230722 UTC) Added link to live stream a link to the press kit, noted plans to recover all 3 cores, and added links to NWS current conditions and hourly forecast pages. --martyb]

SpaceX is about to launch 152 dead people's remains into orbit aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket

[...] rocket will propel 24 satellites into orbit around Earth — as well as the ashes of 152 dead people. The launch of cremated remains is facilitated by a company called Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, which purchases available room on spacecraft, installs a container, then packs it with small metal capsules filled with ashes. It refers to these as "participants."

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is currently the world's largest operational rocket. It has a center core comprising a modified Falcon-9 rocket with an additional Falcon-9 core on either side. The four-hour flight window of its third-ever flight is scheduled for the night of Tuesday June 24 into the morning of Wednesday, June 25. According to SpaceX:

The Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission, managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), is targeting launch on June 24, 2019, with the launch window opening at 11:30 p.m. ET. Lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this mission will deliver 24 satellites to space on the DoD's first ever SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. The STP-2 mission will be among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history with four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of over six hours. In addition, the U.S. Air Force plans to reuse side boosters from the Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy launch, recovered after a return to launch site landing, making it the first reused Falcon Heavy ever.

An attempt will be made during this flight to land all 3 cores; the side boosters are to return to the launch site (at Landing Zones 1 and 2) and center booster is to land on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship which will be located 1200 km downrange.

According to Spaceflight Now's Launch Schedule:

Launch window: 0330-0730 GMT[*] on 25th (11:30 p.m.-3:30 a.m. EDT on 24th/25th)
Launch site: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program-2 mission with a cluster of military and scientific research satellites. The heavy-lift rocket is formed of three Falcon 9 rocket cores strapped together with 27 Merlin 1D engines firing at liftoff.

[*] GMT: "Greenwich Mean Time" (link) See also: UTC: "Coordinated Universal Time" (link)

Spaceflight Now also reports Falcon Heavy to Flex Muscles on Demanding Demo Launch for U.S. Air Force:

On its third flight Monday night, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket will fly to three different orbits with two dozen spacecraft on a mission set to last more than six hours, prompting SpaceX founder Elon Musk to declare it the company's "most difficult launch ever."

The triple-core rocket, made by combining three Falcon 9 boosters on a single launcher, is set for liftoff from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a four-hour launch window opening at 11:30 p.m. EDT Monday (0330 GMT Tuesday).

There is a 70 percent chance of favorable weather during the overnight launch window, which officials selected to satisfy the payloads' thermal requirements on their ride into orbit.

It will be the first night launch by SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket currently in service. The rocket's 27 Merlin main engines will drive the rocket off the ground with 5.1 million pounds of thrust, nearly twice the thrust of any other operational launch vehicle.

What's more, the rocket's two side boosters will come back to Cape Canaveral minutes after liftoff. The fiery night launch and landings, coupled with the roar from the Falcon Heavy's 27 main engines and crackling sonic booms upon return of the boosters, will be a can't-miss spectacle for space enthusiasts and local residents, weather permitting.

SpaceX completed a pre-launch engine test-firing Wednesday night at pad 39A, then returned the rocket to its hangar Friday to receive its 24 satellite payloads. The research and weather observation satellites come from the U.S. Air Force, NASA, NOAA, universities, international partners and non-profit organizations.

The Air Force is overseeing the launch through the Defense Department's Space Test Program, a unit that arranges rides to space for the military's experimental satellites.

The launch is typically live-streamed on YouTube. We will update this story when a link is made available. Update: The SpaceX channel on YouTube provides this link to a live stream of the STP-2 Falcon Heavy Launch. See also, the SpaceX-hosted webcast page.

Also, there is a press kit (pdf) which lists all the payloads as well as the planned times for all significant events pre- and post-launch.

Lastly, if you want to check on the weather there, here is the National Weather Service Current Conditions and Extended Forecast page as well as the Hourly Forecast page.

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posted by takyon on Monday June 24, @05:25PM   Printer-friendly
from the smelt-it dept.

Submitted via IRC for Bytram

NASA's Curiosity rover makes surprising methane discovery on Mars

NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected the largest amount of methane yet measured during its seven years on the Red Planet. It's a particularly riveting discovery because the methane levels discovered by the rover are about three times higher than previous detections, leading to some speculation the gas may be biological in origin.

A report by the New York Times on Saturday first revealed the curious finding after obtaining an internal email from Ashwin Vasavada, a project scientist on the mission. On Sunday, NASA released a statement confirming the discovery, explaining how Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments had detected methane at 21 parts per billion units by volume -- much higher than ever before.

[...] Scientists have detected hints of methane on the surface of Mars in the past, including as far back as the Viking missions in the 1970s. Thus, the discovery of more methane doesn't necessarily mean we've stumbled upon life. Spikes in Mars' methane levels aren't unusual, with a study reporting last June on seasonal variations in the molecule's atmospheric concentration.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate, has cautioned against jumping straight to the E.T. solution on Twitter, noting methane can be created by geological processes. And sadly, as far as we know, rocks are not living beings.

Also at BBC and New Atlas.

Original Submission

posted by takyon on Monday June 24, @03:50PM   Printer-friendly
from the pie-4-u dept.

The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B has been launched, despite months of tricky misdirection implying that it wouldn't be on the market until 2020. The technical specifications include two micro HDMI ports, two USB3 ports, two USB2 ports, dual band Wi-fi, Bluetooth 5, Gigabit Ethernet, and either 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB of RAM. Power consumption is noticeably higher than similar earlier models and the power can be supplied over USBC.

From the spec sheet:

  • Broadcom BCM2711, Quad core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.5GHz
  • 1GB ($35), 2GB ($45), or 4GB LPDDR4-2400 SDRAM ($55)
  • 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz IEEE 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 5.0, BLE
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 2 USB 3.0 ports; 2 USB 2.0 ports.
  • Raspberry Pi standard 40 pin GPIO header (fully backwards compatible with previous boards)
  • 2 × micro-HDMI ports (up to 4kp60 supported)
  • 2-lane MIPI DSI display port
  • 2-lane MIPI CSI camera port
  • 4-pole stereo audio and composite video port
  • H.265 (4kp60 decode), H264 (1080p60 decode, 1080p30 encode)
  • OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics
  • Micro-SD card slot for loading operating system and data storage
  • 5V DC via USB-C connector (minimum 3A*)
  • 5V DC via GPIO header (minimum 3A*)
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE) enabled (requires separate PoE HAT)
  • Operating temperature: 0 – 50 degrees C ambient

takyon: Review at Tom's Hardware. Cons: "Key software doesn't work at launch, Poor high-res video playback". Cases for the previous Pi don't work due to the new micro-HDMI ports. Tom's measured nearly ten times better storage performance using one of the new USB 3.0 ports, and the gigabit Ethernet port can actually reach nearly 1 Gbps (943 Mbps vs. 237 Mbps for the previous model).

Also at The Verge and Ars Technica.

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posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @02:29PM   Printer-friendly
from the the-seedy-side-of-organ-harvesting dept.

An independent tribunal sitting in London has concluded that the killing of detainees in China for organ transplants is continuing, and victims include imprisoned followers of the Falun Gong movement.

The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was a prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said in a unanimous determination at the end of its hearings it was “certain that Falun Gong as a source - probably the principal source - of organs for forced organ harvesting”.

“The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilisations known to modern man.”

He added: “There is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing.”

[...] China announced in 2014 that it would stop removing organs for transplantation from executed prisoners and has dismissed the claims as politically-motivated and untrue.

[...] There have been calls for the UK parliament to ban patients from travelling to China for transplant surgery. More than 40 MPs from all parties have backed the motion. Israel, Italy, Spain and Taiwan already enforce such restrictions.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @12:52PM   Printer-friendly
from the taking-what-they're-giving-cuz-i'm-shilling-for-a-living dept.

Jon Brodkin over at Ars Technica is reporting on a scheduled vote next month (10 July 2019) at the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The decision would invalidate San Francisco's Article 52[PDF], which requires property owner-owned cable plant to be shared by multiple ISPs.

As Brodkin reports:

The Federal Communications Commission will vote next month on whether to preempt a San Francisco city ordinance that was designed to promote broadband competition in multi-unit buildings.

San Francisco's Article 52, approved in December 2016, lets Internet service providers use the existing wiring inside multi-unit residential and commercial properties even if the wiring is already used by another ISP that serves the building. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors and then-Mayor Ed Lee approved it in order to spur competition in multi-unit buildings where occupants often have only one option for Internet service.

The ordinance only applies when the inside wiring belongs to the property owner. Under the rule, property owners who have outfitted their buildings with Internet wiring cannot deny access to ISPs, making it harder for them to strike exclusive deals with Internet providers.

[...] When San Francisco passed its rule, the city argued that property owners were sidestepping a federal law that "bans property owners, landlords, and property managers from entering into exclusive agreements with service providers."

Despite that federal law, "local ISPs estimate that approximately 500 multi-dwelling unit buildings, representing more than 50,000 units, have limitations in place that effectively deny them the opportunity to provide Internet access," the city's Board of Supervisors said at the time. The new ordinance was written to "clos[e] these glaring loopholes... and establish parameters and requirements for how and when qualified ISPs can provide service to multi-unit buildings."

[...] The FCC's decision to preempt the rule comes in response to a February 2017 petition[PDF] from the Multifamily Broadband Council (MBC), a trade group for ISPs that serve multi-tenant properties.

[...] San Francisco opposed the MBC preemption request, not surprisingly. The city told the FCC that its rule doesn't conflict with FCC regulation because it only applies to wiring owned by a property owner.

"Article 52 does not impose any obligation to share existing wiring owned by a cable television provider or telecommunications provider, nor does it allow a communications provider to access any UNEs [unbundled network elements] owned by a telecommunications provider," San Francisco said. San Francisco also said the FCC's priority in this case should not be to "protect the business model favored by MBC's members."

What say you, Soylentils?

Is the FCC limiting competition and picking winners by favoring incumbent ISPs/exclusive agreements?

Is San Francisco abridging the rights of property owners to use their infrastructure as they see fit?

Should the FCC have a say in local wiring codes?

Does the result of such local regulation (increased choice/competition in multi-unit buildings) justify modifying existing building codes in this way?

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @12:37PM   Printer-friendly
We are aware of issues when trying to access the site. First noticed at approx. 0300 UTC. Our servers look okay. It appears there may be issues with upstream connectivity.

Also, Linode is planning some server reboots over the next week or so. We will try to give advance notice and keep downtime to a minimum.

Update: Everything seems to have quieted down. Many many thanks to NotSanguine for jumping in and lending his expertise to help identify and isolate where things were borked.

Indications are that a bad BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) route was published causing a relatively small AS (Autonomous System) to have all traffic to/from a large fraction of the internet attempt to go through its routers.

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @11:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the need-more-redundancy dept.

Early Sunday morning, all of mainland Argentina lost power in an "unprecedented" blackout event that left most of the country's 44 million citizens in the dark until the evening. The blackout also extended to Uruguay (which is connected to Argentina's power grid) and limited parts of Chile. Although the exact cause of the blackout is still being investigated, Argentina experienced heavy rains over the weekend, and there is reason to believe that the inclement weather played a starring role in the largest blackout in recent history.

Extreme weather events are a leading cause of blackouts around the world, and the blackout in Argentina is a reminder that our electric grids aren't ready to handle the increasing intensity of storms resulting from climate change. Although the United States isn't likely to see a nationwide blackout like the one that hit Argentina, localized blackouts in the United States have increased in both frequency and duration in recent years. This is due in no small part to massive forest fires, snow storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes that cause localized blackouts often affecting tens of thousands of people.

"There is clear evidence that extreme weather events have increased over the past 20 years, and so have the number of outages and the number of customer hours out of service," says Alison Silverstein, an independent energy consultant and previous advisor to the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "We need to accept this and do a better job at helping customers and communities survive these growing outages and threats."

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @09:37AM   Printer-friendly
from the need-more-cowbell^W-blockchain dept.

Hackers exploited a pair of potent zero-day vulnerabilities in Firefox to infect Mac users with a largely undetected backdoor, according to accounts pieced together from multiple people.

Mozilla released an update on Tuesday that fixed a code-execution vulnerability in a JavaScript programming method known as Array.pop. On Thursday, Mozilla issued a second patch fixing a privilege-escalation flaw that allowed code to break out of a security sandbox that Firefox uses to prevent untrusted content from interacting with sensitive parts of a computer operating system. Interestingly, a researcher at Google's Project Zero had privately reported the code-execution flaw to Mozilla in mid April.

On Monday, as Mozilla was readying a fix for the array.pop flaw, unknown hackers deployed an attack that combined working exploits for both vulnerabilities. The hackers then used the attack against employees of Coinbase, according to Philip Martin, chief information security officer for the digital currency exchange.

"We've seen no evidence of exploitation targeting customers," Martin added. "We were not the only crypto org targeted in this campaign. We are working to notify other orgs we believe were also targeted." Martin also published cryptographic hashes of code used in the attack, along with IP addresses the code contacted.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @08:00AM   Printer-friendly
from the I-hear-what-you-did-there dept.

At Micron's memory chip fabrication facility in the Washington, DC, suburb of Manassas, Virginia, the entire manufacturing area is blanketed in electronic detectors in all their various forms. But the primary purpose isn't to keep intruders out or anything so prosaic. "A lot of them are microphones," a spokesman for Micron said. "They listen to the robots."

It turns out that there are thousands of microphones throughout the facility, or "fab," as silicon manufacturing plants are commonly known. There are microphones inside the giant $70 million cameras that imprint the component layout on the silicon surface of a memory chip. There are microphones lining the tracks of the robot controlled railways that carry colorful plastic FOUPs (front opening universal pods) along the ceiling throughout the plant. There are microphones near essentially every moving part in the facility.

All those thousands of microphones are listening for signs of wear—for variances to develop in the noises made by the machines—so that maintenance can be scheduled before anything breaks and causes downtime. Downtime, as you might imagine, is about the worst thing that can happen to an automated chip-making facility.

Original Submission