US review shows pesticides harm threatened salmon, whales

Federal scientists have determined that a family of widely used pesticides poses a threat to dozens of endangered and threatened species, including Pacific salmon, Atlantic sturgeon and Puget Sound orcas.

The National Marine Fisheries Service issued its new biological opinion on three organophosphate pesticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — after a yearslong court fight by environmental groups. At the urging of pesticide manufacturers, the Trump administration had sought a two-year delay of a court-ordered deadline to issue the findings by the end of 2017, but it was unsuccessful.

The exhaustive 3,700-page federal review , dated Dec. 29, concludes that chlorpyrifos and malathion jeopardize 38 out of the 77 species under the jurisdiction of the fisheries service and that diazinon was found to jeopardize 25 of the listed species.

The report makes detailed recommendations to the Environmental Protection Agency for new restrictions on how and where the pesticides can be sprayed to help limit the harm.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in March reversed an Obama-era effort to bar the use of chlorpyrifos on fruits and vegetables after peer-reviewed academic studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children’s brains.

EPA’s press office did not respond Friday to a request seeking comment about the latest federal study on the threat to protected species.

Organophosphorus gas was originally developed as a chemical weapon before World War II. Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Michigan, has been selling chlorpyrifos for spraying on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops since the 1960s. It is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with Dow selling about 5 million pounds (2.3 million kilograms) domestically each year.

Dow AgroSciences, the Dow subsidiary that sells chlorpyrifos, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The Associated Press first reported in April that lawyers representing Dow and two other pesticide companies sent letters to three of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries saying the academic studies were flawed. Dow wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities, and company CEO Andrew Liveris led a now-disbanded White House manufacturing working group.

CropLife America, an industry trade group that lobbies Congress and federal agencies on pesticide regulations, said it is still reviewing the final National Marine Fisheries Service opinion.

“The denial of a requested extension of time to complete the opinion resulted in a document that has the potential to create exaggerated and unfounded concerns regarding threatened and endangered species and have a negative impact on farmers as well as public health protection,” said Jay Vroom, the CEO of CropLife.

A coalition of environmentalists and commercial fishermen has fought in court for more than a decade to spur the federal government to more closely examine the risk posed to humans and endangered species by organophosphates.

Studies have shown for years that even low levels of pesticides running off into streams and rivers can impair the growth, swimming ability and reproductive systems of salmon. Potentially harmful levels of the toxins then build up in the bodies of orcas, also known as killer whales, that eat salmon.

“Salmon have been waiting four decades for relief from toxic pesticides in many of our rivers,” said Glen Spain, the northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “The agencies should do their job.”

———

Follow AP Environmental Writer Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/us-review-shows-pesticides-harm-threatened-salmon-whales-52316287

Samsung’s profit jumps 64 percent to record high on chips

Samsung Electronics said its October-December operating profit jumped 64 percent to a record high, capping off 2017 with the biggest annual operating income and sales in its history thanks to the blockbuster semiconductor business.

In its earnings preview Tuesday, the South Korean company put its operating profit at 15.1 trillion won ($ 14.1 billion) for the final three months of last year, compared with 9.2 trillion won a year earlier.

The result, however, missed expectations. Analysts polled by financial data firm FactSet expected 16.2 trillion won in operating profit. Analysts lowered their views on Samsung last month, citing the one-time bonuses to employees and the appreciation of the local currency against the U.S. dollar. Nomura estimates that Samsung spent 700 billion won ($655 million) as bonuses to employees.

Fourth-quarter sales rose 24 percent to 66 trillion won ($61.8 billion), also at a record high.

For the entire year, Samsung’s operating income stood at 53.6 trillion won ($50.2 billion), a 83-percent surge from 2016, on sales of 239.6 trillion won ($224.2 billion), up 19 percent from the previous year.

Samsung did not give a quarterly net profit or breakdown figures for each businesses. The company is due to disclose more details of its financial performance later this month.

What drove Samsung’s monstrous year was the company’s semiconductor division, which has been cashing in on the skyrocketing demand and prices of memory chips. The world’s demand for more storage for pictures, videos, files and other digital data in their gadgets and servers, as well as demand for more computing power to run many programs faster, pushed up demand for memory chips that are dominated by Samsung.

Samsung controls about half of the world’s DRAM memory chips that temporarily hold data and help computers run many programs at the same time, and about one third of the world’s NAND chips, which store files. It was the biggest beneficiary of the jump in prices of those memory chips in 2017.

Some analysts however worry the price of chips may fall this year and weigh on Samsung’s earnings while others remain bullish on Samsung that a possible fall in chip prices would be outweighed by a big increase in sales.

The stellar financial achievement has coincided with Samsung’s management crisis. Its de facto leader Lee Jae-yong, a grandson of Samsung’s founder and the only son of the ailing Samsung chair, is fighting at an appeals court to overturn his five-year prison sentence for bribery and other charges. Lee has been in prison for nearly a year. Prosecutors who also appealed the lower court’s ruling have demanded a 12-year prison term for Lee. The ruling is expected on Feb. 5.

The company made major management changes in November. After Samsung’s longtime head of the semiconductor division offered to resign, the heads of the mobile business and TV divisions also stepped down. Those three divisions are now helmed by younger leaders.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/samsung-electronics-reports-64-percent-jump-4q-profit-52222305

Japanese PM kicks off six-nation European tour in Estonia

Japan’s prime minister has kicked off a five-day European tour to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania — becoming the first-ever head of the Asian nation to visit those countries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived Friday in Estonia’s capital of Tallinn, where he focused on cybersecurity and information technology issues. The small Baltic nation of 1.3 million people is considered one of Europe’s most advanced technological nations.

Tokyo has been increasingly worried about potential cyberthreats from North Korea and China, and is looking to learn from Estonia, whose public institutions and private companies were hit by a large-scale cyberattack in 2007.

Following a meeting with Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas, Abe said both leaders agreed about the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arms program. He urged the international community to “maximize the pressure” on Pyongyang.

Abe is expected to address the North Korea issue in more detail when he visits Bulgaria, which took over the European Union’s rotating presidency from Estonia on Jan. 1.

Abe announced that Japan would join NATO’s cyberdefense center in Tallinn to boost its capabilities to deal with digital threats.

Abe also met with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid over discussions on EU-Japan relations and bilateral trade, accompanied by a business delegation with several dozen representatives from Japanese companies.

He travels to Estonia’s Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania on Saturday.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/japanese-pm-kicks-off-nation-european-tour-estonia-52305906

The Latest: CES organizers say power fully back at tech show

The Latest on the CES technology show in Las Vegas (all times local):

2 p.m.

Organizers of the CES gadget show in Las Vegas say power has been fully restored at the world’s biggest consumer technology show.

Some showrooms and hallways went dark inside the vast Las Vegas Convention Center for about two hours on Wednesday. Sony, Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm and LG are among the companies with bigger booths in Central Hall, the area that was most affected and evacuated during the blackout. The official CES Twitter account says Central Hall is being reopened.

NV Energy, the region’s power supplier, hasn’t responded to requests for comments.

Several brands used the opportunity to pitch their wares. One vendor invited people to visit its booth to check out a battery pack, for instance. Intel had a tongue-in-cheek announcement for a product called “Blackout.”

———

12:50 p.m.

The CES technology show in Las Vegas is seemingly all robots, drones and smart gadgets. But its subtext is all about Google versus Amazon.

The two companies are waging war to establish their digital assistants as de facto standards for a new generation of voice-controlled devices. Their struggle underlies many of the product announcements and other events at the show.

Google has plastered digital billboards and the Las Vegas Monorail with ads, announced a new array of gadgets featuring its assistant and sent out an army of sneaker-wearing evangelists to extol its technology at partner booths.

Amazon, which grabbed an early lead in this market, opted for a more subtle approach. Executives from both companies have also been turning up at press conferences held by other companies.

———

12:40 p.m.

What happens to all those internet-connected refrigerators, robots and other devices when the power goes out?

Thousands of people attending the world’s biggest consumer technology show got a chance to test the battery life of the latest gadgets Wednesday when some showrooms and hallways went dark inside the vast Las Vegas Convention Center.

The power has been out for at least an hour in some areas of the annual CES event.

Conference organizers said on Twitter that it was an “isolated power outage” they were working to resolve.

Dozens of reporters queued quietly for lunch boxes in a darkened press room. The room was dimly lit thanks to emergency overhead lights and the glow of laptops running on battery power.

———

11:20 a.m.

Tech leaders promoting new innovations at the CES gadget show can’t get away from lingering questions about large-scale security flaws in the underlying computing platforms.

The industry has been reeling since last week’s disclosure of flaws affecting processing chips built by Intel and other chipmakers. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich attempted to tamp down worries during an opening keynote Monday, but questions remain.

Even those whose products are peripherally affected are taking pains to explain their response.

At a media event Wednesday, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said his company’s bread-and-butter graphic processing units are “immune” to the bugs, contrary to reports suggesting otherwise. He says confusion arose because of software fixes the company and many others are making to address the vulnerabilities.

———

10 a.m.

A $5,000 ice cube maker might seem wasteful when your freezer could make ice, too.

But instead of being made with water, ice cubes from this machine are made entirely out of vodka or whiskey.

The machine, Beyond Zero, cools to a point where high-alcohol liquor freezes — much colder than the freezing point of water.

Its inventor, Jason Sherman, says it solves the age-old bartending problem of ice diluting drinks with water. Instead, ice merely melts into more alcohol.

The machines sell for about $5,000. But if you’re a serious drinking, you’ll probably want to add ice storage for about $5,000 more.

The high-priced freezer was on display at the CES tech show, which runs through Friday in Las Vegas.

———

midnight

Today’s vision of a smart home has more to do with what’s technologically possible than what people really need.

Thus an endless parade of internet-connected wine openers, water bottles and refrigerators, and a dearth of automation that would clean and fold our laundry, pick up things around the house or assist aging people as their physical strength wanes.

Not that some tinkerers aren’t trying to come up with life-changing tools. The annual CES gadget show that opened in Las Vegas on Tuesday is a showcase of the latest innovations from big corporations and tiny startups.

Some of these inventions could soon be useful to consumers. Others look outlandishly impractical — or maybe it’s too soon to tell.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/latest-ces-organizers-power-fully-back-tech-show-52267402

House OKs spy program after conflicting Trump tweets

President Donald Trump’s puzzling tweets about a key U.S. spying law threw the House into temporary disarray Thursday, but lawmakers ended up renewing the law — with a new restriction on when the FBI can dig into the communications of Americans swept up in foreign surveillance.

During a hectic morning of House votes and presidential tweets, Trump’s national intelligence director also issued new guidance for how officials can find out the names of Americans whose identities are blacked out in classified intelligence reports.

Trump has said previous rules were far too lax and led to damaging leaks about top aides, a claim fiercely contested by Democrats.

The new guidelines on “unmasking” Americans, however, were a side show to the House showdown over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, reauthorizing a collection program set to expire on Jan. 19. The bill passed 256-164 and is now headed to the Senate. It would extend for six years the program, which includes massive monitoring of international communications.

Trump has said he’ll sign the renewal, but his first tweets Thursday suggested he had suddenly turned against the program, alarming intelligence officials.

In one tweet, Trump linked the program to a dossier that alleges his presidential campaign had ties to Russia.

“‘House votes on controversial FISA ACT today,’” Trump wrote, citing a Fox News headline. “This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”

Trump then spoke by telephone with House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to a Republican familiar with the call but not allowed to publicly discuss private conversations.

And a short time later, Trump changed his tune. “This vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land,” he tweeted. “We need it! Get smart!”

Democrats pounced on his earlier criticism.

“This is irresponsible, untrue, and frankly it endangers our national security,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the Senate intelligence committee’s top Democrat, tweeted. “FISA is something the President should have known about long before he turned on Fox this morning.”

National Intelligence Director Dan Coats applauded the House action, saying it was a critical step in protecting Americans and U.S. allies and “I have faith that my former colleagues in the Senate will follow the House’s lead.”

“Our security is not a partisan issue,” said Coats, a former senator from Indiana.

Lawmakers had begun the day readying for two votes related to the program that intelligence officials call the “holy grail” because it provides insight into the thinking and actions of U.S. adversaries.

While the program focuses on foreign targets, Americans’ emails, phone calls and other communications get vacuumed up in the process. Privacy advocates and lawmakers from both parties have argued for years that government agencies should have to get warrants if they want to look at Americans’ communications in the database.

The bill approved by the House allows the FBI to continue scanning the database, using search terms, for information on Americans. But it would require investigators to get probable cause warrants to view the actual content in cases unrelated to national security.

Exceptions would apply, such as for murder, kidnapping and other crimes specified in the bill. The House rejected an alternative proposal that would have imposed stiffer restrictions on the FBI, requiring warrants to query the database at all.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee’s top Democrat, warned that stiffer restrictions would “cripple” the intelligence program. He described the bill that passed as reaching a “very sensible balance.”

However, fellow California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, who backed the defeated proposal, warned the government was gathering “the content of your phone calls, content of your emails, content of your text messages, video messages,” and searching them “for crimes that have nothing to do with terrorism.”

The vote cut across party lines, with 65 Democrats joining 191 Republicans to pass the bill. Forty-five Republicans and 119 Democrats voted no.

There are no obvious links between the dossier Trump spoke of, which includes salacious but unsubstantiated allegations against him, and the reauthorization of the spying program, or between the program and Trump’s oft-repeated claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

Top intelligence and FBI officials and Republicans in Congress have rejected the wiretapping accusations as false.

CNN reported last year that details from the dossier were used in part to get a warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page after the FBI independently corroborated them. The Associated Press hasn’t independently confirmed the report.

White House aides scrambled on Thursday to explain Trump’s apparent about-face, saying the president was happy to see the House approve the bill.

“We weren’t confused, but some of you were,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Just as the House was voting, National Intelligence Director Coats issued his own guidance on how redacted names of Americans in intelligence reports can be requested and disclosed. Only top intelligence officials or their designees can approve such requests, which must be justified and documented.

Coats’ policy is designed to prevent names from being disclosed for political reasons, especially during presidential transitions. But Republicans and Democrats dispute whether there is any need for the change.

Republicans have alleged that Obama administration officials improperly shared the identities of Trump presidential transition team members mentioned in intelligence reports. Democrats say there is no evidence that happened.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/house-oks-spy-program-conflicting-trump-tweets-52300214

What robot strippers say about sexism, tech and the future

On a recent evening in Las Vegas during the CES technology show, robot strippers offered a window into technology’s gender fault lines — not to mention our robot future.

From a distance, the mechanical humanoids on a strip-club stage looked something like real dancers in robot drag. But close up, they were clearly mannequins with surveillance-camera heads and abstractly sculpted feminine chests, buttocks and backs, shimmying and thrusting their boxy plastic hips.

On one level, this was a classic Vegas stunt, a cheap way for the club to cash in on the presence of the world’s largest tech convention. After all, the android dancers weren’t really strippers, since they wore no clothes; in fact, they were barely even robots, since they were tied to their poles and only capable of a limited set of motions.

But they still provided some striking parallels to the much bigger tech show nearby. The robots served a racy but utilitarian function by drawing gawkers to the club, much the way provocatively clad “booth babes” lure CES visitors to wares on the convention floor. And they offered a glimpse of futurism crossed with sex, the sort of thing previously provided by the porn expo that used to overlap with the final days of CES.

“I see robotic strippers and I see half-naked women on the showroom floor promoting products,” said Ashleigh Giliberto, a CES attendee who works at a public-relations firm. “It’s like, aren’t we worth more than that?”

TECHNOLOGY AND WOMEN

Last year was a watershed moment for women speaking out against sexism and sexual abuse, much of which reverberated through the tech industry.

Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick was forced to step down as CEO after he fostered a startup culture rife with alleged sexual misconduct. Several prominent venture capitalists likewise left their firms following accusations that they’d made unwanted sexual overtures to female entrepreneurs.

CES itself has long had a boy’s club atmosphere. Only about 20 percent of attendees this year are women; just two of the 15 keynote speakers at CES are female, as are only a quarter of the roughly 900 total speakers.

The conference took pains to note that it has no affiliation with the strip club nor its temporary robot workers. In a statement, organizers said they do not tolerate “inappropriate behavior on our convention grounds or at official show events.” Unsanctioned events, the statement said, aren’t reflective of CES “or the tech industry at large.”

CES AND WOMEN

Yet critics point out that CES doesn’t do much else to create a positive environment for women. For instance, while the convention prohibits sexual harassment and other misbehavior, it doesn’t lay out its policies in a formal code of conduct for attendees the way many other large tech gatherings do.

Neither has it ever instructed attendees, participants and hosts “to not have booth babes, strippers, objectified, sexualized women as part of the ‘entertainment,’” said Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive turned sex-tech entrepreneur. (CES policies do forbid the use of escort services, though. CTA also says exhibitors must be “suitably dressed” and bans “inappropriate” displays, although it didn’t provide further details.)

CES participants didn’t have to visit the club to come across the robots; images were prevalent on social media searches for CES-related posts. Their presence during the show reflects “a tone-deafness about women and gender within the industry,” said Elizabeth Ames, a senior vice president at the Anita Borg Institute, a nonprofit aimed at advancing women in the technology business.

Executives from the Consumer Technology Association, which oversees CES, have promised to “redouble” efforts to add women’s voices to the speaker lineup next year. But those same officials have said they’re hamstrung by a policy that restricts keynote slots to company CEOs — most of whom are men.

Tania Yuki, CEO of the social analytics firm Shareablee and a speaker at CES, said she doesn’t think the show’s organizers are purposely sexist, just trapped in status-quo thinking that worked for years. The dearth of female speakers and the presence of scantily clad show floor models are more “lazy” than “deliberately offensive,” she said.

SEX AND TECHNOLOGY (AND ART)

The robots are the work of artist Giles Walker, who made them seven years ago after he found two surveillance cameras on a warehouse floor. “I wanted to do a sculpture about voyeurism and the power between the voyeur and the person who’s being watched, ” he said.

Walker acknowledged that bringing the robots to the strip club for an undisclosed fee has led the project astray from his initial vision. “I’m not going to pretend,” he said. “They’re paying my bills and giving me the chance to do other art that I do which is much less commercial and is much more underground.”

But his sexualized androids also point to a future in which robots might not just take on many jobs now held by people, but are also likely to become companions — even intimate companions, a subject that squicks out many actual humans. Some of these robocompanions are already here; high-end sexbots with ultra-realistic silicone “flesh” and artificial-intelligence personalities are available online for as much as $15,000.

As robot technology advances, that future could get very weird very quickly. For instance, academics are already wrestling with the ethical implications of sexbots designed to look like children, not to mention practical questions such as whether they might deter actual pedophilia.

———

Ortutay reported from New York.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/robot-strippers-sexism-tech-future-52293681

Q&A: What Facebook’s shift could mean to users, businesses

In coming days, Facebook users will see fewer posts from publishers, businesses and celebs they follow. Instead, Facebook wants people to see more stuff from friends, family and other people they are likely to have “meaningful” conversations with — something the company laments has been lost in the sea of videos, news stories (real and fake), and viral quizzes on which “Big Bang Theory” character you are.

Here are some frequently asked questions about what users and businesses might expect from the changes.

——

WHY IS FACEBOOK DOING THIS?

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been doing a bit of soul-searching about the negative effects his company may be having on society and its users’ psyches. He’s come a long way since November 2016, when he dismissed the notion that fake news on Facebook could have influenced the U.S. presidential election as a ” pretty crazy idea .”

Now it’s his personal goal for 2018 to fix the site and weed out hate, abuse, meddling by malicious nation states, while also making it more “meaningful” and less depressing for users.

While he acknowledges that Facebook may never be completely free of malign influences, Zuckerberg says that the company currently makes “too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing the misuse of our tools.”

The company also faces pressure from regulators in the U.S. and abroad, and a growing backlash from academics, lawmakers and even early executives and investors about the ways in which social media may be leaving us depressed, isolated, bombarded by online trolls and addicted to our phones.

Facebook would much rather make changes on its own than have its hand forced by regulators — or to see disillusioned users move on to other, newer platforms.

———

HOW WILL IT AFFECT THE COMPANY’S BUSINESS?

Facebook’s stock price dropped almost 6 percent on Friday morning before regaining some ground. That suggests investors take Facebook seriously when it says the move will likely make users spend less time on its service. Less time, of course, means fewer advertising eyeballs at any given time.

This is a huge shift for Facebook, which until recently has been laser-focused on keeping users glued to the service by offering a bevy of notifications and “engaging” but low-value material.

Facebook has been doing very well financially. Its stock hit an all-time high earlier this month, and the company’s market value is more than $522 billion. Its quarterly results routinely surpass Wall Street’s expectations.

So arguably the company can afford to shift its focus a bit away from quarterly profit gains and metrics like “user engagement” that get advertisers salivating. Zuckerberg already signaled this would happen late last year, when he said the company’s planned investments in preventing abuse would hurt profitability.

While the changes could hurt Facebook’s business in the short term, happier users could make for better profits over the long term. At least, that’s what the company hopes.

———

IS THIS THE END FOR BRANDS AND PUBLISHERS ON FACEBOOK?

Many news organizations, bloggers and businesses have grown reliant on Facebook to spread information — articles, videos, infomercials — to their followers without paying for ads. The changes could jeopardize that route to their audiences, though some speculate it could be a ploy to force these companies to buy more Facebook ads.

“It’s obvious that the days of getting exposure as a business on Facebook are coming to an end,” said Michael Stelzner, the CEO of social media marketing company Social Media Examiner. While Facebook has made plenty of changes to its news feed algorithm in the past, he said, this time might be different.

That’s because Facebook is being “far more explicit” in its wording about what sorts of posts will diminish. “It has never been this black and white,” Stelzner said.

———

WON’T THIS JUST REINFORCE THE “FILTER BUBBLES” THAT TRAP USERS AMONG THE LIKE-MINDED?

Do you enjoy arguing with people you disagree with? Maybe, maybe not. But Facebook’s goal is to make people happier using the site — not to expose them to opposing views. So yes, this is possible.

That said, company says this is how people make friends and interact with each other offline. We gravitate toward people like us. And Facebook says its own research shows that users are exposed to more divergent views on its platform than they would be otherwise. Of course, this is difficult to verify independently, since the company doesn’t often show that data to outsiders.

———

ARE PEOPLE REALLY GOING TO SPEND LESS TIME ON FACEBOOK?

Admitting that its changes will likely reduce the time people spend on Facebook less was a big deal for the company. Video, especially, has been a big focus for the social media giant — and videos have been especially good at keeping users around. This latest move, however, will de-emphasize videos too.

While it’s too early to tell what users will do, there’s little reason not to trust Facebook on this particular question.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/qa-facebooks-shift-users-businesses-52311309

US Senate in Russian hackers’ crosshairs: Cybersecurity firms

The same Russian government-aligned hackers who penetrated the Democratic Party have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, a cybersecurity firm said Friday.

The revelation suggests the group often nicknamed Fancy Bear, whose hacking campaign scrambled the 2016 U.S. electoral contest, is still busy trying to gather the emails of America’s political elite.

“They’re still very active — in making preparations at least — to influence public opinion again,” said Feike Hacquebord, a security researcher at Trend Micro Inc., which published the report . “They are looking for information they might leak later.”

The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which is responsible for the upper house’s security, declined to comment.

Hacquebord said he based his report on the discovery of a clutch of suspicious-looking websites dressed up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system. He then cross-referenced digital fingerprints associated with those sites to ones used almost exclusively by Fancy Bear, which his Tokyo-based firm dubs “Pawn Storm.”

Trend Micro previously drew international attention when it used an identical technique to uncover a set of decoy websites apparently set up to harvest emails from the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in April 2017. The sites’ discovery was followed two months later by a still-unexplained publication of private emails from several Macron staffers in the final days of the race.

Hacquebord said the rogue Senate sites — which were set up in June and September of 2017 — matched their French counterparts.

“That is exactly the way they attacked the Macron campaign in France,” he said.

Attribution is extremely tricky in the world of cybersecurity, where hackers routinely use misdirection and red herrings to fool their adversaries. But Tend Micro, which has followed Fancy Bear for years, said there could be no doubt.

“We are 100 percent sure that it can attributed to the Pawn Storm group,” said Rik Ferguson, one of the Hacquebord’s colleagues.

Like many cybersecurity companies, Trend Micro refuses to speculate publicly on who is behind such groups, referring to Pawn Storm only as having “Russia-related interests.” But the U.S. intelligence community alleges that Russia’s military intelligence service pulls the hackers’ strings and a months-long Associated Press investigation into the group, drawing on a vast database of targets supplied by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks, has determined that the group is closely attuned to the Kremlin’s objectives.

If Fancy Bear has targeted the Senate over the past few months, it wouldn’t be the first time. An AP analysis of Secureworks’ list shows that several staffers there were targeted between 2015 and 2016.

Among them: Robert Zarate, now the foreign policy adviser to Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who now runs a Washington consultancy; and Jason Thielman, the chief of staff to Montana Senator Steve Daines. A Congressional researcher specializing in national security issues was also targeted.

Fancy Bear’s interests aren’t limited to U.S. politics; the group also appears to have the Olympics in mind.

Trend Micro’s report said the group had set up infrastructure aimed at collecting emails from a series of Olympic winter sports federations, including the International Ski Federation, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the International Bobsleigh Skeleton Federation, the International Luge Federation and the International Biathlon Union.

The targeting of Olympic groups comes as relations between Russia and the International Olympic Committee are particularly fraught. Russian athletes are being forced to compete under a neutral flag in the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics following an extraordinary doping scandal that has seen 43 athletes and several Russian officials banned for life. Amid speculation that Russia could retaliate by orchestrating the leak of prominent Olympic officials’ emails, cybersecurity firms including McAfee and ThreatConnect have picked up on signs that state-backed hackers are making moves against winter sports staff and anti-doping officials.

On Wednesday, a group that has brazenly adopted the Fancy Bear nickname began publishing what appeared to be Olympics and doping-related emails from between September 2016 and March 2017. The contents were largely unremarkable but their publication was covered extensively by Russian state media and some read the leak as a warning to Olympic officials not to press Moscow too hard over the doping scandal.

Whether any Senate emails could be published in such a way isn’t clear. Previous warnings that German lawmakers’ correspondence might be leaked by Fancy Bear ahead of last year’s election there appear to have come to nothing.

On the other hand, the group has previously dumped at least one U.S. legislator’s correspondence onto the web.

One of the targets on Secureworks’ list was Colorado State Senator Andy Kerr, who said thousands of his emails were posted to an obscure section of the website DCLeaks — a web portal better known for publishing emails belonging to retired Gen. Colin Powell and various members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign — in late 2016.

Kerr said he was still bewildered as to why he was targeted. He said that while he supported transparency, “there should be some process and some system to it.

“It shouldn’t be up to a foreign government or some hacker to say what gets released and what shouldn’t.”

———

James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this report.

———

Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphaelsatter.com

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/cybersecurity-firm-us-senate-russian-hackers-crosshairs-52303914

Behind the smart gadgets, Amazon and Google are waging war

The flash of the CES technology show in Las Vegas is all about robots, drones and smart gadgets. But its subtext is all about Google versus Amazon.

Both companies usually shun conventions like CES, preferring to debut gadgets at their own press events. But these tech giants have built an imposing presence here this year as they work to weave their voice-operated digital assistants more deeply into our personal lives.

Google has plastered digital billboards and the Las Vegas Monorail with the “Hey Google” wake-up command. It’s announced a range of new gadgets featuring its assistant on everything from smart displays to pressure cookers. And it’s sent out the clowns — a jumpsuit-wearing army of advertising associates wearing brightly-colored Converse sneakers and hovering around partner firms’ booths to explain how Google’s technology works.

Amazon, which grabbed an early lead in this market, opted for a more subtle approach. Instead of an advertising blitz, its Alexa digital assistant has merely been popping up regularly in “smart” products across the convention — everything from mirrors and toilets to headphones and car dashboards.

Executives from both companies have also been turning up at press conferences held by other companies such as Panasonic, LG and Toyota. “What we’re seeing is heavy competition between all the personal assistants,” says Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

THE STAKES

The two companies — and to a lesser extent, Apple, with Siri, and Microsoft, with Cortana — are waging a fierce struggle to establish their assistants as de facto standards for a new generation of voice-controlled devices. It’s similar in some respects to the decade-old battle between the iPhone and Google’s Android system in smartphones, or to the much older fight between Apple’s Mac computers and Microsoft’s Windows PCs.

Both companies see the competition in existential terms. Getting shut out of voice devices could imperil Google’s lucrative digital-advertising business, the source of its financial strength. Amazon, meanwhile, wants to ensure that its customers can directly access its “everything store” in contrast to now, when they mostly shop via devices and software systems controlled by Amazon’s rivals.

For consumers, meanwhile, the spread of these assistants offers new convenience in the form of an ever-present digital concierge. But there could also be some uneasiness about revealing even more about their habits, preferences and routines to distant computers that are always listening for their commands.

THE EVERPRESENT COMPUTER

In a video presentation by LG, one consumer cooks while reading a recipe from the smart screen of the company’s voice-activated robot CLOi. Another prepares to embark on a vacation and shuts off her lights by saying, “Hey, Google, I’m leaving.”

Google said this week it’s integrating its voice assistant to allow remote control of some settings in Kia and Fiat Chrysler vehicles, while Toyota announced a similar arrangement with Amazon that enables drivers to ask Alexa turn the heat up at home before they arrive.

But these smart products can — and sometimes do — support multiple assistants. Toyota Connected CEO Zack Hicks told reporters that “we’re not exclusive” with Amazon, and that nothing prevents Toyota from partnering with others.

General Electric is showing off a suite of smart kitchen gizmos that connect its “Geneva” voice assistant to those of Amazon and Google. For example, you can preheat your oven by saying, “Alexa, tell Geneva to preheat the upper oven to 350.” China’s Baidu on Monday announced it was integrating its voice assistant into a lamp speaker and dome ceiling lights.

Whether people will truly pay more for the ability not to walk over and flip a switch themselves is unclear. But manufacturers aren’t taking the chance that they’ll be left behind if one or the other assistant becomes dominant.

“Five years ago, no one could predict what was going to happen with the smart home,” says LG Electronics USA marketing vice president David VanderWaal. “Five years from now, we’re not quite sure either. So this open partner, open platform system, is definitely the way to go.”

THE RUNNERS UP

For the moment, voice competitors to Amazon and Google remain largely in the wings.

Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, which is available on PCs running Windows 10, allows hundreds of millions of users to search the web using Bing. But it hasn’t been a huge factor in gadget announcements leading up to CES. In fact, Alexa is even starting to encroach on Cortana’s turf by making its way onto some PCs.

Apple hasn’t been prominent this year, either. But many manufacturers have adopted its HomeKit software in order to ensure they’ll work easily with iPhones and Siri. Apple, however, had to push back release of the HomePod, its almost-$350 smart speaker, until “early” this year; it was originally scheduled for December 2017.

Some analysts also say it’s too soon to rule out Bixby, Samsung’s AI assistant, which the company vowed to make a more central part of all its connected devices by 2020.

——

Associated Press writer Matt O’Brien contributed to this report.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/smart-gadgets-amazon-google-waging-war-52266081

No long walks and cleanup required for Sony’s new robot dog

Man’s best friend has just become more bionic.

Sony unveiled Monday the new “aibo” autonomous entertainment robot that “brings fun and joy to the entire family,” Sony President and COO Mike Fasulo told ABC News.

“We were thinking companions, we were thinking how do you take on artificial intelligence and bring emotion to people’s lives,” Fasulo said. “Look at them, they’re adorable!”

The robotic dog can form an emotional bond with members of the household while providing love and affection. No cleanup required.

PHOTO: Sony unveiled Monday the new aibo autonomous entertainment robot dog. ABC News
Sony unveiled Monday the new “aibo” autonomous entertainment robot dog.

Besides its adorable appearance, the robotic dog possesses a natural curiosity, vibrant movements and a responsiveness to its owner. It will even develop its own unique personality through everyday interactions as it grows closer and closer to its owners. And just like a real life dog, it may or may not respond to an owner’s request.

This robotic dog will also be able to actively seek out its owners, detect words of praise, smile and let its owner pet and scratch it, allowing the dog to learn and remember what actions make its owners happy.

PHOTO: Sony unveiled Monday the new aibo autonomous entertainment robot dog. ABC News
Sony unveiled Monday the new “aibo” autonomous entertainment robot dog.

The robotic companion comes with the “My aibo App,” which is designed to help owners enjoy life with their “aibo” by providing support and convenience, access to photos taken by the dog as well as a feature to play with a virtual “aibo” inside the app. The app also features a store where users can add additional tricks to their “aibo.”

Sony said the dog will require an “aibo” basic plan subscription necessary to utilize the dog. The plan will allow users to access information stored on the cloud, and will also allow users to be able to back up the dog’s data periodically.

This mechanical take on man’s best friend will cost roughly $1,700 and is now available for pre-order.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/long-walks-cleanup-required-sonys-robot-dog/story?id=52289532