Court Orders Maker of Pegasus Spyware To Hand Over Code To WhatsApp

Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports via The Guardian: NSO Group, the maker of one the world’s most sophisticated cyber weapons, has been ordered by a US court to hand its code for Pegasus and other spyware products to WhatsApp as part of the company’s ongoing litigation. The decision by Judge Phyllis Hamilton is a major legal victory for WhatsApp, the Meta-owned communication app which has been embroiled in a lawsuit against NSO since 2019, when it alleged that the Israeli company’s spyware had been used against 1,400 WhatsApp users over a two-week period.

NSO’s Pegasus code, and code for other surveillance products it sells, is seen as a closely and highly sought state secret. NSO is closely regulated by the Israeli ministry of defense, which must review and approve the sale of all licences to foreign governments. In reaching her decision, Hamilton considered a plea by NSO to excuse it of all its discovery obligations in the case due to “various US and Israeli restrictions.”

Ultimately, however, she sided with WhatsApp in ordering the company to produce”all relevant spyware” for a period of one year before and after the two weeks in which WhatsApp users were allegedly attacked: from 29 April 2018 to 10 May 2020. NSO must also give WhatsApp information “concerning the full functionality of the relevant spyware.” Hamilton did, however, decide in NSO’s favor on a different matter: the company will not be forced at this time to divulge the names of its clients or information regarding its server architecture.

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John Walker, Founder of Autodesk, Dies At 74

John Walker, the founder of computer-aided design software company Autodesk and co-author of AutoCAD, passed away on February 2nd. He was 74. Consultant and programmer Owen Wengerd shared the news on behalf of John’s family (via Scanalyst, a website created by John): It is with great sadness that we announce John’s death on Friday, February 2, 2024. He was born in Maryland, USA to William and Bertha Walker, who preceded him in death. John is survived by his wife Roxie Walker and a brother, Bill Walker of West Virginia. Declining to follow in his family tradition of becoming a medical doctor, John attended Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) to pursue a future in astronomy. However, after he discovered the brave new world of computers, he never looked back. John worked at the university’s Project Chi (X) computing center where he studied computer science and earned a degree in electrical engineering.

John met Roxie on Thanksgiving Day in 1972, and they married the following year. Roxie and John drove cross-country a few months later for John’s new job in California. Eventually he left that first job and worked at various others in the bay area. In late 1976, John designed his own circuit board based on the then-new Texas Instruments TMS9900 microprocessor. This venture became Marinchip Systems, and eventually led to Autodesk. The beginnings of Autodesk are well documented by John himself in The Autodesk File 2.0k and from there John’s story is best told by John himself in his prodigious work, which is all methodically organized and available to the public at his website Fourmilab 1.4k.

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After 32 Years, One of the Net’s Oldest Software Archives Is Shutting Down

Benj Edwards reports via Ars Technica: In a move that marks the end of an era, New Mexico State University (NMSU) recently announced the impending closure of its Hobbes OS/2 Archive on April 15, 2024. For over three decades, the archive has been a key resource for users of the IBM OS/2 operating system and its successors, which once competed fiercely with Microsoft Windows. In a statement made to The Register, a representative of NMSU wrote, “We have made the difficult decision to no longer host these files on hobbes.nmsu.edu. Although I am unable to go into specifics, we had to evaluate our priorities and had to make the difficult decision to discontinue the service.”

Hobbes is hosted by the Department of Information & Communication Technologies at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In the official announcement, the site reads, “After many years of service, hobbes.nmsu.edu will be decommissioned and will no longer be available. As of April 15th, 2024, this site will no longer exist.” The earliest record we’ve found of the Hobbes archive online is this 1992 Walnut Creek CD-ROM collection that gathered up the contents of the archive for offline distribution. At around 32 years old, minimum, that makes Hobbes one of the oldest software archives on the Internet, akin to the University of Michigan’s archives and ibiblio at UNC.

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The Lights Have Been On At a Massachusetts School For Over a Year Because No One Can Turn Them Off

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: For nearly a year and a half, a Massachusetts high school has been lit up around the clock because the district can’t turn off the roughly 7,000 lights in the sprawling building. The lighting system was installed at Minnechaug Regional High School when it was built over a decade ago and was intended to save money and energy. But ever since the software that runs it failed on Aug. 24, 2021, the lights in the Springfield suburbs school have been on continuously, costing taxpayers a small fortune.

“We are very much aware this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money,” Aaron Osborne, the assistant superintendent of finance at the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, told NBC News. “And we have been doing everything we can to get this problem solved.” Osborne said it’s difficult to say how much money it’s costing because during the pandemic and in its aftermath, energy costs have fluctuated wildly. “I would say the net impact is in the thousands of dollars per month on average, but not in the tens of thousands,” Osborne said. That, in part, is because the high school uses highly efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs, he said. And, when possible, teachers have manually removed bulbs from fixtures in classrooms while staffers have shut off breakers not connected to the main system to douse some of the exterior lights.

But there’s hope on the horizon that the lights at Minnechaug will soon be dimmed. Paul Mustone, president of the Reflex Lighting Group, said the parts they need to replace the system at the school have finally arrived from the factory in China and they expect to do the installation over the February break. “And yes, there will be a remote override switch so this won’t happen again,” said Mustone, whose company has been in business for more than 40 years.

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MSI Intends ‘To Continue With Afterburner’ Overclocking App Despite Not Paying Its Russian Dev

Jacob Ridley writes via PC Gamer: MSI Afterburner is an app used the world over for graphics card monitoring, overclocking, and undervolting. It’s become pretty synonymous with general GPU tinkering, yet the app’s developer has suggested it might not have long left to live in a forum post earlier this month. MSI disagrees, telling us “we fully intend to continue with MSI Afterburner.” MSI Afterburner is developed by Alexey ‘Unwinder’ Nicolaychuk, a Russian national who has kept the overclocking app functioning over many years. Nicolaychuk is also responsible for the development of RivaTuner Statistics Server, which is part of the foundational software layer powering Afterburner. In a post on the Guru3D forums (via TechPowerUp), Nicolaychuk suggests that Afterburner’s development has been “semi-abandoned.” “…MSI afterburner project is probably dead,” Nicolaychuk says.

“War and politics are the reasons. I didn’t mention it in MSI Afterburner development news thread, but the project is semi abandoned by company during quite a long time already. Actually we’re approaching the one year mark since the day when MSI stopped performing their obligations under Afterburner license agreement due to ‘politic [sic] situation’.” Nicolaychuk says development of the app has continued over the past 11 months, but that may also be ending soon. “I tried to continue performing my obligations and worked on the project on my own during the last 11 months, but it resulted in nothing but disappointment; I have a feeling that I’m just beating a dead horse and waste energy on something that is no longer needed by company. “Anyway I’ll try to continue supporting it myself while I have some free time, but will probably need to drop it and switch to something else, allowing me to pay my bills.”

Development of the RivaTuner Statistics Server — software is pivotal to many of the functions of Afterburner — is materially separate from Afterburner and will continue, Nicolaychuk notes. Nicolaychuk suggests the issue comes down to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and we’ve since confirmed with MSI that this is the case. MSI has stated to PC Gamer that the payments were halted due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, saying: “payments had been put on hold due to the RU/UA war and the economic regulations that entailed.” […] On this being the end for Afterburner, MSI disagrees. “We fully intend to continue with MSI Afterburner,” MSI tells PC Gamer. “MSI have been working on a solution and expect it to be resolved soon.”

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Frederick P. Brooks Jr., Computer Design Innovator, Dies at 91

Frederick P. Brooks Jr., whose innovative work in computer design and software engineering helped shape the field of computer science, died on Thursday at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 91. His death was confirmed by his son, Roger, who said Dr. Brooks had been in declining health since having a stroke two years ago. The New York Times reports: Dr. Brooks had a wide-ranging career that included creating the computer science department at the University of North Carolina and leading influential research in computer graphics and virtual reality. But he is best known for being one of the technical leaders of IBM’s 360 computer project in the 1960s. At a time when smaller rivals like Burroughs, Univac and NCR were making inroads, it was a hugely ambitious undertaking. Fortune magazine, in an article with the headline “IBM’s $5,000,000,000 Gamble,” described it as a “bet the company” venture.

Until the 360, each model of computer had its own bespoke hardware design. That required engineers to overhaul their software programs to run on every new machine that was introduced. But IBM promised to eliminate that costly, repetitive labor with an approach championed by Dr. Brooks, a young engineering star at the company, and a few colleagues. In April 1964, IBM announced the 360 as a family of six compatible computers. Programs written for one 360 model could run on the others, without the need to rewrite software, as customers moved from smaller to larger computers. The shared design across several machines was described in a paper, written by Dr. Brooks and his colleagues Gene Amdahl and Gerrit Blaauw, titled “Architecture of the IBM System/360.”
“That was a breakthrough in computer architecture that Fred Brooks led,” Richard Sites, a computer designer who studied under Dr. Brooks, said in an interview.

But there was a problem. The software needed to deliver on the IBM promise of compatibility across machines and the capability to run multiple programs at once was not ready, as it proved to be a far more daunting challenge than anticipated. Operating system software is often described as the command and control system of a computer. The OS/360 was a forerunner of Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. At the time IBM made the 360 announcement, Dr. Brooks was just 33 and headed for academia. He had agreed to return to North Carolina, where he grew up, and start a computer science department at Chapel Hill. But Thomas Watson Jr., the president of IBM, asked him to stay on for another year to tackle the company’s software troubles. Dr. Brooks agreed, and eventually the OS/360 problems were sorted out. The 360 project turned out to be an enormous success, cementing the company’s dominance of the computer market into the 1980s. “Fred Brooks was a brilliant scientist who changed computing,” Arvind Krishna, IBM’s chief executive and himself a computer scientist, said in a statement. “We are indebted to him for his pioneering contributions to the industry.”

Dr. Brooks published a book in 1975 titled, “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering.” It was “a quirky classic, selling briskly year after year and routinely cited as gospel by computer scientists,” reports the Times.

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