Kaspersky To Kill Its VPN Service In Russia Next Week

Kaspersky is stopping the operation and sales of its VPN product, Kaspersky Secure Connection, in the Russian Federation, with the free version to be suspended as early as November 15, 2022. BleepingComputer reports: As the Moscow-based company informed on its Russian blog earlier this week, the shutdown of the VPN service will be staged, so that impact on customers remains minimal. Purchases of the paid version of Kaspersky Secure Connection will remain available on both the official website and mobile app stores until December 2022. Customers with active subscriptions will continue to enjoy the product’s VPN service until the end of the paid period, which cannot go beyond the end of 2023 (one-year subscription).
Russian-based users of the free version of Kaspersky Secure Connection will not be able to continue using the product after November 15, 2022, so they will have to seek alternatives. BleepingComputer emailed Kaspersky questions regarding its decision to stop offering VPN products in Russia, but a spokesperson has declined to provide more information. Russia’s telecommunications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, announced VPN bans in June 2021 and then again in December 2021. “The reason for banning 15 VPNs in the country was because their vendors refused to connect their services to the FGIS database, which would apply government-imposed censorship in VPN connections, and would also make user traffic and identity subject to state scrutiny,” reports BleepingComputer.

“Ever-increasing controls are strangling VPN usage in Russia. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Digital Transformation requested all state-owned companies to declare what VPN products they use, for what purposes, and in what locations.”

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Comcast’s New Higher Upload Speeds Require $25-Per-Month xFi Complete Add-On

The availability of Comcast’s promised internet speed boosts has a catch: users need to purchase a $25-per-month xFi Complete add-on. Ars Technica reports: “As markets launch, Xfinity Internet customers who subscribe to xFi Complete will have their upload speeds increased between 5 and 10 times faster,” an announcement last week said. “xFi Complete includes an xFi gateway, advanced cybersecurity protection at home and on the go, tech auto-upgrades for a new gateway after three years, and wall-to-wall Wi-Fi coverage with an xFi Pod [Wi-Fi extender] included if recommended. Now, another benefit of xFi Complete is faster upload speeds.”

Comcast is deploying the speed upgrade in the Northeast US over the next couple of months. Plans with 10Mbps upload speeds will get up to 100Mbps upload speeds once the new tiers roll out in your region — if you pay for xFi Complete. Comcast told Ars that faster upload speeds will come to customer-owned modems “later next year” but did not provide a more specific timeline. There is a cheaper way to get the same xFi Gateway with Wi-Fi 6E, as Comcast offers the option to rent that piece of hardware for $14 a month. But Comcast is only making the upload boost available to those who subscribe to the pricier xFi Complete service. While the standard monthly rate for xFi Complete is $25, new customers who sign up by December 31 can get it for $20 monthly during the first year of service.

We asked Comcast today if there’s any technical reason it can’t deliver the higher upload speeds on customer-owned equipment. A company spokesperson responded that Comcast is working on bringing faster uploads to non-Comcast modems. “We intend to extend the experience to customer-owned modems later next year and are working through the technical requirements as we learn,” Comcast said. “We started offering it with our own equipment first and now are working through how to extend to customer-owned equipment.” Comcast also said that giving the upload boost to xFi Complete customers first follows its “typical validate, test, and certification process for a new network innovation.” But if the reasons for limiting the upload boost to Comcast hardware initially are purely technical instead of revenue-based, it’s not clear why people who rent the gateway for $14 a month shouldn’t get the same benefit.

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Two-Year Internet Outage In Ethiopia Continues

Zecharias Zelalem writes via Reuters: Few have been spared the effects of a nearly two-year internet and phone shutdown in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has been cut off since fighting erupted between Tigrayan rebels and government forces in November 2020. The conflict resumed last month after a months-long humanitarian truce, dashing hopes for communications to be restored. Even the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who hails from Tigray, said he had been unable to reach his relatives back home, or send them money. “I don’t know even who is dead or who is alive,” Tedros told a recent news conference in London.

As fighting continues in Tigray and elsewhere in Ethiopia, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says shutdowns are needed to curb violence, but critics accuse authorities of using the internet as a weapon of war. “Access to communications and other basic services, and most importantly humanitarian assistance, is explicitly used as a bargaining chip by the Ethiopian government,” said Goitom Gebreluel, a political analyst specialising in Horn of Africa affairs. “It is used as leverage against both Tigray and the international community.” In Ethiopia, sporadic internet and phone blackouts have been used as “a weapon to control and censor information,” the group said, making it difficult for journalists and activists to document alleged rights crimes, and for aid to be delivered.

In Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, emergency workarounds such as satellite phones have become a vital tool for aid agency operations. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also maintains a satellite phone service for local residents — giving them a way to get a message to loved ones. So far this year, the ICRC has facilitated some 116,000 phone calls and oral messages “between family members separated by conflict and violence,” said spokesperson Alyona Synenko. With almost half of the region’s six million people in severe need of food, the shutdown as well as road blockades have hampered humanitarian aid deliveries, according to the U.N. World Food Program. The lack of mobile phone networks has also “crippled both the emergency and regular health monitoring systems,” a WHO spokesperson said in emailed remarks. The only way to communicate is “via paper reports that need to be delivered by hand. All meetings have to be held in person.”

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NYC to Offer Free Broadband to 300,000 Public Housing Residents

New York City is partnering with Charter and Altice to provide free high-speed internet and basic cable TV service to about 300,000 residents of public housing. Bloomberg reports: Called “Big Apple Connect,” the program aims to bridge the digital divide between wealthier residents and lower-income people who lack the tools necessary for remote learning, access to health care and job opportunities, city officials said. An estimated 30% to 40% of people who live in buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority lack broadband, according to the cable providers. The city plans to have the service available in more than 200 NYCHA buildings by the end of 2023.

The program differs from a previous short-term promotion by Altice’s Optimum and Charter’s Spectrum that gave New York City students free internet service after the pandemic hit. Some parents said they were duped into signing up for paid subscriptions after the promotion ended. Under a three-year agreement with the providers, New York will pick up the cost at about $30 per household. The city is in talks with a third major cable TV carrier in the city, Verizon, to join the program. NYCHA residents enrolled in Big Apple Connect will still be able to use the federal Affordable Connectivity Program benefit to save money on their cell phone bills and provide discount of up to $30 per month toward internet and cellular data service, city officials said.

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Comcast Starts Rolling Out 2-Gigabyte Download Speeds to Millions of US Homes

Comcast says it’s “evolving its entire network architecture” (along with its equipment and customer devices) — and it’s not just a multi-gig network. They’re calling it America’s fastest — and its largest. It’s being rolled out “immediately” to millions of homes and business, “combined with up to 5x-to-10x faster upload speeds.”

“Comcast plans on bringing multi-gig internet speeds to 34 cities across the U.S. by the end of this year,” reports the Verge, “and will later expand its reach to more than 50 million households by the end of 2025.”

According to a press release, the company has already started rolling out 2-gig speeds over its broadband network in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Augusta, Georgia; Panama City Beach, Florida; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Customers in these cities will also get to take advantage of upload speeds that Comcast says are five to 10 times faster than what it currently offers. The upload speeds appear to max out at 200Mbps, even with the new Gigabit x2 plan, but Comcast intends to change that. It’s launching multi-gig symmetrical speeds next year, which will enable multi-gig speeds for both downloads and uploads.
“As part of this initiative, Comcast is accelerating the transformation of its network to a virtualized cloud-based architecture that is fully prepared for 10G and DOCSIS 4.0…” explains the press release, “which will deliver multi-gig symmetrical speeds over the connections already installed in tens of millions of homes and businesses.”

The big advantage of digital network technology is “rather than maintaining, updating, and replacing traditional analog network appliances by hand — which can take days or even weeks — Comcast engineers can reliably maintain, troubleshoot, and upgrade core network components almost instantly, with a few keystrokes on a laptop or mobile app. This also makes the network much more energy efficient and is an important element of Comcast’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2035.”

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Ubisoft To Shut Down Multiplayer For Older Games

A collection of over a dozen games from Ubisoft will see their online elements shut down on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 in September, “which means players won’t be able to play their multiplayer components, access their online features, link Ubisoft accounts in-game, or install and access downloadable content,” reports The Verge. From the report: “Closing the online services for some older games allows us to focus our resources on delivering great experiences for players who are playing newer or more popular titles,” Ubisoft’s help page reads. With Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood having originally released in November 2010, it’s had almost 12 years of online support. But it’s always sad to see a piece of gaming history become inaccessible, especially given the game’s multiplayer element was missing from its remaster on the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Alongside Brotherhood, the online services associated with 2011’s Assassin’s Creed Revelations on PS3 and Xbox 360 are also being shut down, as well as 2012’s Assassin’s Creed 3 on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. […] Other games set to have their online services decommissioned across various platforms this September include Driver San Francisco, Far Cry 3’s 2012 release, Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Prince of Persia the Forgotten Sands, Rayman Legends, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist. You can view the full list of games here.

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California’s Attempt To Protect Kids Online Could End Adults’ Internet Anonymity

Thomas Claburn writes via The Register: California lawmakers met in Sacramento today to discuss, among other things, proposed legislation to protect children online. The bill, AB2273, known as The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, would require websites to verify the ages of visitors. Critics of the legislation contend this requirement threatens the privacy of adults and the ability to use the internet anonymously, in California and likely elsewhere, because of the role the Golden State’s tech companies play on the internet.

“First, the bill pretextually claims to protect children, but it will change the Internet for everyone,” said Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University School of Law professor, in a blog post. “In order to determine who is a child, websites and apps will have to authenticate the age of ALL consumers before they can use the service. No one wants this.” The bill, Goldman argues, will put an end to casual web browsing, forcing companies to collect personal information they don’t want to store and protect — and that consumers don’t want to provide — in order to authenticate the age of visitors. And since age authentication generally requires identity details, that threatens the ability to use the internet anonymously.

Goldman also objects to this American state-level bill being modeled after the UK’s Age-Appropriate Design Code (AADC) because European law makes compliance a matter of engagement and dialogue with regulators, in contrast to the US rules-based approach that allows more certainty about what is or not allowed. Furthermore, he contends that the scope of the bill reaches beyond children’s privacy and implicates consumer protection and content moderation. He thus considers the bill “a trojan horse for comprehensive regulation of Internet services” and would turn the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA) into a general internet regulation agency.

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