US Says It ‘Hacked the Hackers’ To Bring Down Hive Ransomware Gang

The FBI revealed today that it had shut down the prolific ransomware gang called Hive, “a maneuver that allowed the bureau to thwart the group from collecting more than $130 million in ransomware demands from more than 300 victims,” reports Reuters. Slashdot readers wiredmikey and unimind shared the news. From the report: At a news conference, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco said government hackers broke into Hive’s network and put the gang under surveillance, surreptitiously stealing the digital keys the group used to unlock victim organizations’ data. They were then able to alert victims in advance so they could take steps to protect their systems before Hive demanded the payments. “Using lawful means, we hacked the hackers,” Monaco told reporters. “We turned the tables on Hive.”

News of the takedown first leaked on Thursday morning when Hive’s website was replaced with a flashing message that said: “The Federal Bureau of Investigation seized this site as part of coordinated law enforcement action taken against Hive Ransomware.” Hive’s servers were also seized by the German Federal Criminal Police and the Dutch National High Tech Crime Unit. The undercover infiltration, which started in July 2022, went undetected by the gang until now.

The Justice Department said that over the years, Hive has targeted more than 1,500 victims in 80 different countries, and has collected more than $100 million in ransomware payments. Although there were no arrests announced on Wednesday, Garland said the investigation was ongoing and one department official told reporters to “stay tuned.”

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Q4 2022 Was a Disaster For Smartphone Sales, Sees the Largest-Ever Drop

The International Data Corporation has the latest numbers for worldwide smartphone sales in Q4 2022, and it’s a disaster. Shipments declined 18.3 percent year-over-year, making for the largest-ever decline in a single quarter and dragging the year down to an 11.3 percent decline. With overall shipments of 1.21 billion phones for the year, the IDC says this is the lowest annual shipment total since 2013. Ars Technica reports: In the top five for Q4 2022 — in order, they were Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo — Apple was, of course, the least affected, but not by much. Apple saw a year-over-year drop of 14.9 percent for Q4 2022, Samsung was down 15.6 percent, and the big loser, Xiaomi, dropped 26.5 percent. For the year, Samsung still took the No. 1 spot with 21.6 percent market share, Apple was No. 2 with 18.8 percent, and Xiaomi took third place at 12.7 percent.

The IDC also notes consumers are keeping smartphones longer than ever now, with “refresh rates” or the time that passes before people buy a new phone ‘climb[ing] past 40 months in most major markets.’ The report closes saying: “2023 is set up to be a year of caution as vendors will rethink their portfolio of devices while channels will think twice before taking on excess inventory. However, on a positive note, consumers may find even more generous trade-in offers and promotions continuing well into 2023 as the market will think of new methods to drive upgrades and sell more devices, specifically high-end models.”

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Member of Congress Reads AI-Generated Speech On House Floor

U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss read a speech on the floor of the U.S. House that was generated by AI chatbot ChatGPT. “Auchincloss said he prompted the system in part to ‘write 100 words to deliver on the floor of the House of Representatives’ about the legislation,” reports the Associated Press. “Auchincloss said he had to refine the prompt several times to produce the text he ultimately read. His staff said they believe it’s the first time an AI-written speech was read in Congress.” From the report: The bill, which Auchincloss is refiling, would establish a joint U.S.-Israel AI Center in the United States to serve as a hub for AI research and development in the public, private and education sectors. Auchincloss said part of the decision to read a ChatGPT-generated text was to help spur debate on AI and the challenges and opportunities created by it. He said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of the advent of social media, which started small and ballooned faster than Congress could react. “I’m the youngest parent in the Democratic caucus, AI is going to be part of my life and it could be a general purpose technology for my children,” said Auchincloss, 34.

The text generated from Auchincloss’s prompt includes sentences like: “We must collaborate with international partners like the Israeli government to ensure that the United States maintains a leadership role in AI research and development and responsibly explores the many possibilities evolving technologies provide.” “There were probably about a dozen of my colleagues on the floor. I bet none of them knew it was written by a computer,” he said. Lawmakers and others shouldn’t be reflexively hostile to the new technology, but also shouldn’t wait too long before drafting policies or new laws to help regulate it, Auchincloss said. In particular, he argued that the country needs a “public counterweight” to the big tech firms that would help guarantee that smaller developers and universities have access to the same cloud computing, cutting edge algorithms and raw data as larger companies.

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FBI Probes Snapchat’s Role In Fentanyl Poisoning Deaths

Federal agencies are questioning Snapchat’s role in the spread and sale of fentanyl-laced pills in the United States as part of a broader probe into the deadly counterfeit drugs crisis. The Los Angeles Times reports: FBI agents and Justice Department attorneys are zeroing in on fentanyl poisoning cases where the sales were arranged to young buyers via Snapchat […]. The agents have interviewed parents of children who died and are working to access their social media accounts to trace the suppliers of the lethal drugs, according to the people. In many cases, subpoenaed records from Snapchat have shown that the teenagers thought they were buying prescription painkillers, but the pill they swallowed was pure fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine.

On Wednesday, the involvement of technology companies in the ongoing fentanyl crisis will be discussed on Capitol Hill at a House Energy and Commerce Committee roundtable. One of the listed speakers, Laura Marquez-Garrett, an attorney with the Social Media Victims Law Center, said Snapchat will be the focus. “The death of American children by fentanyl poisoning is not a social media issue — it’s a Snapchat issue,” she said. […] While dealers use many social media platforms to advertise their drugs, experts, lawyers and families say Snapchat is the platform of choice for arranging sales. Dealers prefer to use Snapchat because of its encrypted technology and disappearing messages — features that have given the platform an edge over its rivals for fully legitimate reasons and helped it become one of the world’s most popular social media apps for teens.

Former White House drug czar Jim Carroll said drug traffickers are always going to flock to where the young people are. “From everything I have read, I do believe that Snapchat has been more widely used for facilitating drug sales,” than other platforms, said Carroll, who serves on Snap’s safety advisory council and now works for Michael Best Consulting. “I think that’s because of its popularity among the young.” In December, Snap reported 363 million daily active users in its quarterly earnings report. That same month, the National Crime Prevention Council wrote a letter to Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, urging the Justice Department to investigate Snap and its business practices. “Snapchat has become a digital open-air drug market allowing drug dealers to market and to sell fake pills to unsuspecting tweens and teens,” the letter said. Garland didn’t respond, but federal investigators have started to ask questions, multiple people said. Santa Monica-based Snap, which makes Snapchat, said it has worked with law enforcement for years to clamp down on illegal activity on its platform and has boosted moderation efforts to detect illegal drug sales. Last year, Snap said it removed more than 400,000 user accounts that posted drug-related content.

“We are committed to doing our part to fight the national fentanyl poisoning crisis, which includes using cutting-edge technology to help us proactively find and shut down drug dealers’ accounts,” Rachel Racusen, a Snap spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

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Shutterstock Launches Generative AI Image Tool

Shutterstock, one of the internet’s biggest sources of stock photos and illustrations, is now offering its customers the option to generate their own AI images. Gizmodo reports: In October, the company announced a partnership with OpenAI, the creator of the wildly popular and controversial DALL-E AI tool. Now, the results of that deal are in beta testing and available to all paying Shutterstock users. The new platform is available in “every language the site offers,” and comes included with customers’ existing licensing packages, according to a press statement from the company. And, according to Gizmodo’s own test, every text prompt you feed Shutterstock’s machine results in four images, ostensibly tailored to your request. At the bottom of the page, the site also suggests “More AI-generated images from the Shutterstock library,” which offer unrelated glimpses into the void.

In an attempt to pre-empt concerns about copyright law and artistic ethics, Shutterstock has said it uses “datasets licensed from Shutterstock” to train its DALL-E and LG EXAONE-powered AI. The company also claims it will pay artists whose work is used in its AI-generation. Shutterstock plans to do so through a “Contributor Fund.” That fund “will directly compensate Shutterstock contributors if their IP was used in the development of AI-generative models, like the OpenAI model, through licensing of data from Shutterstock’s library,” the company explains in an FAQ section on its website. “Shutterstock will continue to compensate contributors for the future licensing of AI-generated content through the Shutterstock AI content generation tool,” it further says.

Further, Shutterstock includes a clever caveat in their use guidelines for AI images. “You must not use the generated image to infringe, misappropriate, or violate the intellectual property or other rights of any third party, to generate spam, false, misleading, deceptive, harmful, or violent imagery,” the company notes. And, though I am not a legal expert, it would seem this clause puts the onus on the customer to avoid ending up in trouble. If a generated image includes a recognizable bit of trademarked material, or spits out celebrity’s likeness — it’s on the user of Shutterstock’s tool to notice and avoid republishing the problem content.

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Android 14 Set To Block Certain Outdated Apps From Being Installed

To help reduce the potential for malware, Android 14 will begin fully blocking the installation of apps that target outdated versions of Android. 9to5Google reports: For years now, the guidelines for the Google Play Store have ensured that Android developers keep their apps updated to use the latest features and safety measures of the Android platform. Just this month, the guidelines were updated, requiring newly listed Play Store apps to target Android 12 at a minimum. Up to this point, these minimum API level requirements have only applied to apps that are intended for the Google Play Store. Should a developer wish to create an app for an older version, they can do so and simply ask their users to sideload the APK file manually. Similarly, if an Android app hasn’t been updated since the guidelines changed, the Play Store will continue serving the app to those who have installed it once before.

According to a newly posted code change, Android 14 is set to make API requirements stricter, entirely blocking the installation of outdated apps. This change would block users from sideloading specific APK files and also block app stores from installing those same apps. Initially, Android 14 devices will only block apps that target especially old Android versions. Over time though, the plan is to increase the threshold to Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), with Google having a mechanism to “progressively ramp [it] up.” That said, it will likely still be up to each device maker to decide the threshold for outdated apps or whether to enable it at all. The report notes that it’ll still be possible to install an outdated version of an app “through a command shell, by using a new flag.”

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Strava Acquires Fatmap, a 3D Mapping Platform For the Great Outdoors

Strava, the activity tracking and social community platform used by more than 100 million people globally, has acquired Fatmap, a European company that’s building a high-resolution 3D global map platform for the great outdoors. TechCrunch reports: Founded in 2009, Strava has emerged as one of the preeminent activity tracking services, proving particularly popular in the cycling and running fraternities which use the Strava app to plot routes, converse with fellow athletes, and record all their action for posterity via GPS. The company has increasingly been targeting hikers too, and last year it launched a new trail sports and routes option aimed at walkers, mountain bikers, and trail runners.

Fatmap, for its part, was founded a decade ago, with an initial focus on providing ski resorts with high-resolution digital maps. In the intervening years, the company has worked with various satellite and aerospace companies to bolster its platform with detailed maps incorporating summits, rivers, passes, paths, huts, and more, arming anyone venturing into mountainous terrain the information they need to know exactly what they’ll encounter before they arrive. With 1.6 million registered users, Fatmap’s mission, ultimately, is to be the Google Maps of the great outdoors, with a premium subscription ($30 / year) unlocking access to extra features such as downloadable maps and route planning in the mobile app.

The ultimate long-term goal for Strava is to integrate Fatmap’s core platform into Strava itself, but that will be a resource-intensive endeavor that won’t happen overnight. And that is why Strava is working to create a single sign-on (SSO) integration in the near-term, meaning that subscribers will be able to access the full Fatmap feature-set by logging into the Fatmap app with their Strava credentials. While Strava and Fatmap will remain separate products for now, Strava said that it will decide in the future whether Fatmap will live on as a standalone product once the technical integration has taken place. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, TechCrunch suggests the price of this deal “could comfortably be in the 9-digit range” given the $30 million Fatmap had raised in funding, “including a hitherto undisclosed $16.5 million round that it said it closed in early 2020.”

“It’s clear that the proprietary 3D mapping technology Fatmap had developed would have taken too much time and resources for Strava to replicate itself from scratch, which is why buying Fatmap outright likely made more sense in this instance,” the report added.

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GameCube and Wii Games Are Now Easier To Play On Xbox Consoles

The new standalone Dolphin emulator will let you play almost any GameCube or Wii game on your Xbox console. Windows Central reports: Dolphin Emulator for UWP first rolled out in beta on December 6, 2022. It has since received a couple of updates, bringing it to version 1.02. The standalone Dolphin emulator is capable of upscaling games to up to 1440p. You can also play titles at their original resolution if you prefer. With mods, you can use HD texture packs to make games look more modern and have higher resolution. The emulator also supports a broadband adapter, but the usefulness of that varies greatly depending on the game you want to play online. For example, Mario Kart Double Dash would require tunnelling software to access online play.

Of course, you can’t just download the Dolphin emulator through the Microsoft Store. The easiest way to install the emulator is by enabling Developer Mode on your Xbox console. It’s also possible to set up by using retail mode. A computer is needed to configure your Xbox controller and other parts of your system. You should also have a USB drive handy. Modern Vintage Gamer walks through the entire process in their video. It’s possible to run Dolphin Emulator for UWP on older Xbox consoles, such as the Xbox One X, but performance will see a significant drop compared to playing on the Series X or Series S. Modern Vintage Gamer walks through the setup, testing, and “other neat things” on YouTube.

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