Unhappy To Report
July 20, 2021
The Good News
- Reducing incarceration in 2020 did not lead to increase in overall crime in Baton Rouge, study finds (The Advocate)
- This restaurant owner spends his free time fixing old cars and donating them to people in need (CNN)
“Birds sing after a storm. Why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?” — Rose Kennedy
Track The Hack
Many cell phone users may have chosen Apple iPhones because they think they’re more secure. The company does tout security as an important feature of its products. In 2016, Apple famously involved itself in a high-profile legal battle with the FBI over whether it could be forced to unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Apple burnished its reputation for guarding users’ privacy by refusing to comply. Ultimately, however, the FBI found an Australian cybersecurity firm that could unlock the iPhone 5c without any help from Apple. The company continues to improve its technology with each new generation of iPhones. But reports of hacks to iPhones have increased, and evidence exists that attackers discovered vulnerabilities in widely used iPhone apps, particularly iMessage.
NSO Group Technologies, founded in 2010, is an Israeli cyberarms firm whose signature surveillance tool, Pegasus, enables the remote surveillance of smartphones. Pegasus can be covertly installed on mobile phones running most versions of iOS and Android. NSO Group claims its Pegasus spyware is “used exclusively by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and terror.” In 2020, a list of over 50,000 phone numbers — gathered since 2016 by clients of the NSO Group — was leaked to Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit. The information was shared with the Washington Post and numerous other journalists and news organizations that did additional research and analysis, which eventually came to be known as the Pegasus Project and was above and beyond the forensics analyses done by Amnesty International’s Security Lab.
What the investigation uncovered is that Pegasus wasn’t just tracking terrorists and criminals; it was also being used by authoritarian governments to spy on private individuals. Amnesty’s Lab examined 67 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives, lawyers, and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — all of whose numbers were on the Forbidden Stories list. Forensic evidence was found of Pegasus infections or attempted infections in 37. Of those, 34 were iPhones and three were Android devices. Pegasus successfully infected 23 iPhones, and attempted to infect 11. iMessage played a role in 13 of the 23 successful infiltrations of iPhones, and also in six of the 11 failed attempts. Of the 15 Android phones inspected, three showed signs of attempted infection, although it should be noted that Android phones, unlike iPhones, don’t log the kinds of information required for Amnesty’s detective work.
Amnesty’s examination wasn’t able to reveal what was collected, but the potential is vast. For years, Pegasus has been able to collect emails, call records, social media posts, user passwords, contact lists, pictures, videos, sound recordings, and browsing histories. It can activate cameras or microphones to capture fresh images and recordings, and it can listen to calls and voicemails. It can collect location logs of where a user has been, and determine where that user is now or where he’s going.
All of this can happen without a user ever touching the phone, or knowing a mysterious message was received. They’re called “zero-click” attacks in the surveillance industry, and they can work on even the newest generations of iPhones. Apple’s protestations to the contrary, iPhone security is simply no match for NSO spyware. (WaPo, NSO Group, Amnesty)
Deported Down Under
- Australia’s border remains closed to most non-residents, but last week a 46-year-old far-right British celebrity named Katie Hopkins arrived in Sydney on a “critical skills” visa. She reportedly got the travel exemption to appear on a reality TV show, Celebrity Big Brother. But she quickly attracted criticism for ranting on Instagram about quarantine rules and mocking the lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne, among other irritations.
- During her mandatory 14-day quarantine, she posted a since-deleted video online in which she joked about breaching hotel rules by answering the door naked and maskless to people delivering her meals. Angry Australians were not amused, especially those stranded overseas unable to return due to arrivals caps, and over 22,000 people signed a petition to send Hopkins back to the U.K.
- By Monday, she had been fired from the show and fined $737. She then had her visa canceled, and was taken to Sydney International Airport and deported. Reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner also faced backlash for flying in Friday to take part in Celebrity Big Brother. A group representing Australians stranded abroad said the fact a celebrity can fly in while others struggle to is a “slap in the face.” (news.com.au, Axios)
- 40 inmates have remained at Guantanamo Bay detention center, the U.S. high-security prison on the island of Cuba that once held 800 prisoners. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to shutter the facility within a year of taking office; two days after his inauguration, he issued an executive order to close Gitmo. The subject became a political hot potato, but by the end of 2016, Obama had reduced Gitmo’s population from 245 to 41 detainees.
- In January 2017, Donald Trump ordered that the prison remain open, and during his administration only one prisoner was moved out. Last month, President Biden quietly began efforts to close the facility, which he hopes to do before the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
- Early Monday, the Defense Department announced the transfer of Abdul Latif Nasir to his native Morocco. Nasir was an accused al-Qaeda fighter who had been at Gitmo since 2002, one of five men whose transfers were approved in 2016, but didn’t go through. Nasir spent nearly two decades behind bars, without ever being charged or having a trial. 39 detainees now remain at Gitmo. (NBC News, WaPo)
Additional World News
- 2 Weeks After Surgery, The Pope Is Back At St. Peter’s Square (NPR)
- Afghan ambassador, diplomats withdrawn from Islamabad (The Hill)
- US blames China for hacks, opening new front in cyber offensive (CNN)
- Turkey’s Erdogan says Taliban should end “occupation” in Afghanistan (Reuters)
- Chinese Unesco official defends plan to list Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’ (Guardian)
- Almost 200 dead as Germany counts devastating cost of floods (NBC)
- For years, big banks have earned enormous profits by charging outrageous fees while paying near-zero rates. Axos Bank is one bank that’s looking to change that by giving money back to the people.
- Axos Bank offers pro-consumer accounts with high interest earnings and little-to-no fees. Take the Rewards Checking account, for example, where you can get up to 1.25% Annual Percentage Yield (APY). That’s higher than most accounts on the market.
- Axos Bank has zero fees, and unlimited ATM fee reimbursements in the United States. Plus, their mobile banking app will knock your socks off. Isn’t it time to start putting your money back into your own pockets? If you think so too, sign up for a Rewards Checking account today.
- Paul Allard Hodgkins of Tampa, Florida, was sentenced to eight months in prison for his role in the Capitol riot on January 6. After he serves his prison sentence he will have two years of supervised release. The 38-year-old pleaded guilty last month to a single felony count of obstructing an official proceeding.
- Hodgkins is the third person to be sentenced for being part of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, but the first to be sentenced for a felony. In June, an Indiana woman was given three years probation after pleading guilty to a charge of illegally demonstrating in the Capitol. Last week, another Florida man was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. More than 500 people have been charged with federal crimes stemming from January 6. (CNBC)
Unhappy To Report
- KUSA 9News is Denver’s defining news station, the market leader for a number of years. All its top executives are White. 25% of Colorado residents are Latino, and the state is rapidly becoming more diverse. Yet of the more than 100 journalists that worked in the KUSA newsroom, three were Latina. And then, in the course of one year from March 2020 to March 2021, all three were gone.
- Kristen Aguirre worked at KUSA as an anchor and reporter. But months after recovering from an ischemic stroke, she was forced to leave in March 2020. Lori Lizarraga had urged editors to involve Black and Latino colleagues in more decisions about news coverage. By March 2021, she was gone.
- When Sonia Gutierrez began as a reporter for the station, she was told she could report on immigration, but only if she were to state her own immigration status on air in every story on the subject. She had never tried to hide that her parents had brought her as a baby from Mexico without documentation. But Gutierrez, 30, wasn’t willing to either broadcast her status, or give her story ideas to other reporters. She was ousted in November 2020.
- The dismissal of the three reporters was revealed when Lizarraga wrote about it in Westword, a free digital and print media publication based in Denver, Colorado. Now, a group of local elected officials as well as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists are calling for the dismissal of KUSA’s top news executive, Tim Ryan. (NPR, Westword)
Additional USA News
- Fauci says polio would still exist in the US if the ‘false information’ currently being spread existed decades ago (CNN)
- More evacuations ordered after California wildfire jumps highway (The Hill)
- Pollsters: ‘Impossible’ to say why 2020 polls were wrong (Politico)
- 3 dead, 2 taken to hospital in suspected carbon monoxide exposure during Michigan music festival, police say (CNN)
- Vaccine Mandate At Indiana University Upheld By Federal Judge (NPR)
- Klobuchar: Infrastructure bill could include voting measures (ABC)
Open The Hatch
Matt Damon grew all those starchy potatoes on Mars, but real-life astronauts on the International Space Station are attempting to grow something a little more, well, tangy.
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough is part of a team with Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Research and Technology programs. In June a bunch of Hatch chili pepper seeds arrived at the space station aboard SpaceX’s 22nd commercial resupply services mission. On July 12, Kimbrough initiated the growth experiment by inserting 48 Hatch chile pepper seeds in a device called a science carrier that slots into the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH), one of the three plant growth chambers on the orbiting laboratory in which astronauts raise crops.
The peppers will grow for about four months before the astronauts harvest them for the final time. The peppers can be eaten green, although they turn red when fully ripe. The plan is for the crew to eat some of the peppers and send the rest back to Earth for analysis. If the experiment is successful, PH-04 will add another crop NASA can use to supplement astronauts’ diets on future missions.
It’s the first time NASA astronauts will cultivate a crop of chile peppers on the station from seeds to maturity. And with so many kinds of chili peppers, why Hatch, you ask?
Hatch chile peppers are actually a generic name for New Mexican peppers that are grown and harvested in the Hatch Valley region of New Mexico, often referred to as the Chili Capital of the World. Most Hatch peppers are about a third as hot as a typical jalapeno pepper, but some can be as hot as your typical jalapeno, or hotter, on par with habanero pepper heat. Hatch chilis taste great roasted, though that probably won’t be an option in space.
Chili pepper heat is measured by Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Hatch chilis can vary from a fairly mild 1,000 SHU, to around 8,000 SHU. Overall, chili pepper heat ranges from Bell peppers, at 0 SHU, to the Carolina Reaper, with an SHU from 1,500,000 to 2,200,000. (IMDB, NASA, Thrillist, Food and Wine, Chili Pepper Madness)
- Watch NASA’s breathtaking ‘starship captain’ flyby video of Jupiter and its moon Ganymede (CNET)
- MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule. (Vice)
- Warby Parker Revamps Its Eye Exam App—and Bets on Telehealth (Wired)
- The Pentagon Is Bolstering Its AI Systems—by Hacking Itself (Wired)
- The surprising connection between a mockingbird’s song and Kendrick Lamar (Ars Technica)
- Genealogists say Leonardo da Vinci has 14 living relatives (Ars Technica)
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