AT&T outclassed Verizon in hurricane response, and it wasn’t close, union says

A Florida man sets up a sign that says,

Enlarge / PANAMA CITY, Fla. – OCTOBER 19: Mark Mauldin hangs a sign near the front of his property expressing his dissatisfaction with his Verizon cell phone service following Hurricane Michael, which slammed into the Florida Panhandle on October 10. (credit: Getty Images | Scott Olson )

filing with the Federal Communications Commission, which recently found that carriers’ mistakes prolonged outages caused by the hurricane. Many customers had to go without cellular service for more than a week.

It’s not surprising for a union to argue that union workers are preferable to contractors, of course. But it seems clear that AT&T did a better job than Verizon after the storm. In the days following the October 2018 hurricane, Florida Governor Rick Scott slammed Verizon for its poor hurricane response while praising AT&T for quickly restoring service.

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Department of Justice opens investigation into failed carbon-capture plant

Cranes stand at the construction site for Southern Co.'s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Miss., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014.

Enlarge / Cranes stand at the construction site for Southern Co.’s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Miss., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (credit: Gary Tramontina/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Southern’s most recent financial statement (PDF).

The Mississippi-based facility had received $387 million in federal grants to build a state-of-the-art coal gasification and carbon-capture power plant (otherwise known as an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, plant). But in 2017, Southern’s subsidiary, Mississippi Power, decided to scrap the cutting-edge tech and only use the power plant to burn cheaper natural gas, in a major blow to the proponents of carbon capture.

Bad timing

Kemper was a complicated project. It was located near a lignite coal mine, which was intended to serve Kemper exclusively. Lignite is a low-grade coal compared to the anthracite and bituminous coal that’s found in Wyoming and Montana, so Kemper planned to synthetically transform the plentiful local coal to gas. The plant would then burn the syngas in a turbine, strip the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the power plant’s flue, and send that CO2 through a pipeline to an oilfield where it would be used for enhanced oil recovery. (That is, CO2 is forced down into an oil well to increase the pressure of the well so more oil can be recovered.)

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Google unveils auto-delete for location, Web activity, and app usage data

A large Google sign seen on a window of Google's headquarters.

Enlarge / Mountain View, Calif.—May 21, 2018: Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet. (credit: Getty Images | zphotos)

Google will soon let users automatically delete location history and other private data in rolling intervals of either three months or 18 months.

“Choose a time limit for how long you want your activity data to be saved—3- or 18-months—and any data older than that will be automatically deleted from your account on an ongoing basis,” Google announced yesterday. “These controls are coming first to Location History and Web & App Activity and will roll out in the coming weeks.”

Google location history saves locations reported from mobile devices that are logged into your Google account, while saved Web and app activity includes “searches and other things you do on Google products and services, like Maps; your location, language, IP address, referrer, and whether you use a browser or an app; Ads you click, or things you buy on an advertiser’s site; [and] Information on your device like recent apps or contact names you searched for.”

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SpaceX cuts broadband-satellite altitude in half to prevent space debris

An illustration of the Earth, with lines circling the globe to represent a telecommunications network.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Olena_T)

risk of space debris and improve latency.

SpaceX’s satellite project, named Starlink, aims to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband around the world. In a statement on the new FCC approval, SpaceX said that “Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”

SpaceX last year received FCC approval to launch 4,425 low-Earth-orbit satellites at several different altitudes between 1,110km to 1,325km. However, the FCC approval was contingent on SpaceX filing a more detailed debris mitigation plan.

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Probable Russian Navy covert camera whale discovered by Norwegians

Evidence suggests that the Russian Navy has been looking for new ways to leverage what amounts to the original underwater “drone”—militarized cetaceans. Norwegian fishermen discovered a friendly beluga whale in the Barents Sea off the northeast coast of Norway on April 25. Belugas are native to the Barents, so the whale’s presence wasn’t the surprise—the surprise was that it was fitted with a camera harness with Russian markings.

The beluga kept approaching fishing boats and rubbing against them in an apparent effort to remove the harness. After failed attempts to remove the harness themselves, fishermen sent photos to a marine biologist with Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries, and they reported that the whale was in distress. A Fisheries boat was in the area and responded, as reported by a Directorate of Fisheries spokesperson on Facebook:

The Directorate of Fisheries’ oversight boat Rind was in the area and was asked to assist to release the whale for the tight straps. The crew of the Marine Service are trained to free whales from ropes and fishing gear. After a little lure with cod fillets, and with the fisherman Joar Hesten getting into the water wearing a survival suit, the inspectors Jørgen Ree Wiig and Yngve Larsen from the Marine Service and the Horse managed to release the whale…

The whale has probably escaped from Russia where it may have been trained to perform different missions such as underwater photography.

Video from Norwegian television of an attempt to remove the harness on a beluga.

The harness was reportedly marked with the label “Equipment St. Petersburg” and had an attachment point for a GoPro camera. Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsø (UiT), told Norway’s VG that neither Norwegian nor Russian academic researchers put harnesses on whales. “I have been in contact with some Russian researchers,” Rikardsen said. “They can confirm that it is nothing they are doing. They tell me that most likely is the Russian Navy in Murmansk.”

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After White House stop, Twitter CEO calls congresswoman about death threats

A controversial tweet by President Trump was the subject of a phone call between Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Rep. Ilhan Omar, according to the Washington Post.

Enlarge / A controversial tweet by President Trump was the subject of a phone call between Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Rep. Ilhan Omar, according to the Washington Post.

Just after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey paid a visit to the White House on April 23, he called Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar about a somewhat related topic—death threats that had been made against her on Twitter following a post by President Trump himself.

According to a Washington Post report, Dorsey defended the decision not to pull Trump’s tweet—a video that combined a single phrase from Omar’s speech at a Council on Islamic Relations banquet with footage of the attacks on the Twin Towers. Trump captioned it all: “NEVER FORGET.”  The post remains up.

Omar has been the target of a stream of hateful content on Twitter. As she said in a statement posted on Twitter, “Since the President’s tweet… I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life—many directly referencing or replying to the President’s video.”

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Twitter shuts down 5,000 pro-Trump bots retweeting anti-Mueller report invective

The since-suspended account for the empty "news site" The Globus was at the center of a 5,000 bot Twitter army denouncing the Mueller campaign and posting pro-Trump (and pro-Saudi) messages.

Enlarge / The since-suspended account for the empty “news site” The Globus was at the center of a 5,000 bot Twitter army denouncing the Mueller campaign and posting pro-Trump (and pro-Saudi) messages. (credit: Twitter.com via Internet Archive)

Twitter has suspended over 5,000 accounts tied to a network amplifying a message denouncing the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a “RussiaGate hoax.” According to a researcher, the accounts—most of which had only posted three or four times in the past—were connected to other accounts previously used to post pro-Saudi messages.

In response to an inquiry by Ars, a Twitter spokeswoman said, “We suspended a network of accounts and others associated with it for engaging in platform manipulation—a violation of the Twitter Rules.” An investigation into the network is still ongoing, the spokeswoman said, but no determination has yet been made about who was behind the campaign.

“In cases such as this, attribution is difficult,” the spokeswoman noted. “If we do have reasonable evidence to support state-backed activity, we will disclose the accounts as part of our information operations archive.” (This archive is the data repository used to reveal operations of networks previously tied to election manipulation and other state-backed information operations.)

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The wave of domain hijackings besetting the Internet is worse than we thought

Artist's impression of state-sponsored "Sea Turtle" hacking campaign.

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of state-sponsored “Sea Turtle” hacking campaign. (credit: Chunumunu / Getty Images)

over the past few months is worse than previously thought, according to a new report that says state-sponsored actors have continued to brazenly target key infrastructure despite growing awareness of the operation.

The report was published Wednesday by Cisco’s Talos security group. It indicates that three weeks ago, the highjacking campaign targeted the domain of Sweden-based consulting firm Cafax. Cafax’s only listed consultant is Lars-Johan Liman, who is a senior systems specialist at Netnod, a Swedish DNS provider. Netnod is also the operator of i.root, one of the Internet’s foundational 13 DNS root servers. Liman is listed as being responsible for the i-root. As KrebsOnSecurity reported previously, Netnod domains were hijacked in December and January in a campaign aimed at capturing credentials. The Cisco report assessed with high confidence that Cafax was targeted in an attempt to re-establish access to Netnod infrastructure.

Reverse DNS records show that in late March nsd.cafax.com resolved to a malicious IP address controlled by the attackers. NSD is often used to abbreviate name server demon, an open-source app for managing DNS servers. It looks unlikely that the attackers succeeded in actually compromising Cafax, although it wasn’t possible to rule out the possibility.

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Initial findings put Boeing’s software at center of Ethiopian 737 crash

The Boeing 737 MAX's MCAS software was officially linked by FAA investigators to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight earlier this month. The software was intended to compensate for the aerodynamic differences caused by the aircraft's larger engines.

Enlarge / The Boeing 737 MAX’s MCAS software was officially linked by FAA investigators to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight earlier this month. The software was intended to compensate for the aerodynamic differences caused by the aircraft’s larger engines.

At a high-level briefing at the Federal Aviation Administration on March 28, officials revealed “black box” data from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 indicated that the Boeing 737 MAX’s flight software had activated an anti-stall feature that pushed the nose of the plane down just moments after takeoff. The preliminary finding officially links Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to a second crash within a five-month period. The finding was based on data provided to FAA officials by Ethiopian investigators.

The MCAS was partly blamed for the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX off Indonesia last October. The software, intended to adjust the aircraft’s handling because of aerodynamic changes caused by the 737 MAX’s larger turbofan engines and their proximity to the wing, was designed to take input from one of two angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors on the aircraft’s nose to determine if the aircraft was in danger of stalling. Faulty sensor data caused the MCAS systems on both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights to react as if the aircraft was entering a stall and to push the nose of the aircraft down to gain airspeed.

On March 27, acting FAA Administrator Daniel Ewell told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee that there had been no flight tests of the 737 MAX prior to its certification to determine how pilots would react in the event of an MCAS malfunction. He said that a panel of pilots had reviewed the software in a simulator and determined no additional training was required for 737-rated pilots to fly the 737 MAX.

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