Tech news

School bomb hoax suspect arrested in US

An American man accused of deluging schools and Los Angeles’s airport with hoax bomb threats has been arrested.

Timothy Dalton Vaughn is suspected of being part of the Apophis Squad hacker group that was allegedly behind the pranking spree.

One member of Apophis, Briton George Duke-Cohan, is serving a three-year jail sentence for aiding the attacks.

Clues to Mr Vaughn’s identity emerged when a gaming firm was hacked and user data leaked.

Stolen database

In a lengthy indictment document, Mr Vaughn is accused of conspiring to carry out a series of hack attacks that, say prosecutors, involved:

  • threatening FBI offices with anthrax and Ebola
  • crashing websites
  • defacing webpages
  • spoofing emails
  • sending bomb threats to 2,000 US and 400 UK schools

One fake bomb threat led to a United Airlines jet being quarantined for four hours at San Francisco International Airport as the warning was investigated.

The document said the incidents took place between January and August 2018. The Department of Justice said if Mr Vaughn was convicted of all 11 charges he faced, he could go to jail for 80 years.

Cyber-security expert Brian Krebs, whose digital detective work helped to unmask Duke-Cohan, said the identity of his claimed US conspirator had remained a mystery for some time.

Clues to his identity emerged when the user database from gaming firm Blank Media Games was stolen and made available online.

An email address seen in the stolen data dump resembled one of the aliases Mr Vaughan is alleged to have used, wrote Mr Krebs, and showed that whoever owned that account logged in regularly from North Carolina.

Earlier this week, Mr Vaughan was arrested at his home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

This story was originally published on BBC Technology News

New pill could reduce asthma attacks, trials show

An advanced clinical trial of a new pill to treat asthma led by scientists at the University of Leicester has shown good results for sufferers.

The team in both Leicester and Vancouver in Canada have shown that, in phase II trials, the new drug Fevipiprant reduces the amount of smooth muscle in patients’ airway linings.

Professor Chris Brightling said: “Our research shows for the first time that Fevipiprant not only reduces inflammation in the airways, but also reduces the amount of muscle in the lining of the airway.

“This is likely to explain some of the effects seen in the symptoms and breathing tests following treatment,” added Professor Brightling, a consultant respiratory physician and professor at the University of Leicester.

Cultured airway smooth muslce wiht green flourescent stain

Image: Green flourescent stains show smooth muscle reductions

An increase in this kind of muscle in the airway lining significantly increases the likelihood of frequent asthma attacks and even asthma-related deaths, according to researchers.

Professor Brightling added: “From previous trials conducted we found that Fevipiprant led to improvements in symptoms, breathing tests, inflammation and also helped to repair the lining of patients’ airways.

“Our latest research gives us a better understanding of the mechanisms behind the efficacy of the drug and how changes in one part of the airway wall can impact on others.

More from Leicestershire

“Our findings suggest that Fevipiprant could have positive long-term effects upon the progression of the disease through remodelling, as well as improve symptoms and reduce attacks.”

Cultured airway smooth muscle with red flourescent stain

Image: Red flourescent stains in this image show smooth muscle reductions

An image of smooth muscle with green fluorescent staining shows muscle cells taken from a biopsy of an asthma patient that have been cultured in a laboratory.

They have a green colour because they produce actin, which is how the scientists know they are muscle cells and not any other type of cell, and these were used to test the drug’s effects.

Another image featuring red fluorescent stained cells are also of muscle cells cultured in the laboratory.

The staining in this image shows that the cells are producing a protein called DP2.

The asthma drug specifically blocks the activation of this protein, which reduces the movement of the immature muscle cells from forming a bundle and blocking the airway.

UNDATED: In this undated image an asthma inhaler is seen dispensing a dose of drug. A report released on May 3, 2005 to mark World Asthma Day claims that one person dies from asthma every hour in Western Europe. (Photo by Getty Images)

Image: Inhalers are currently the primary way that asthma sufferers are treated

There are more than 300 million people who are affected by asthma worldwide and the number is increasing. In the UK there are roughly half a million people who are assessed to have moderate to severe asthma.

Currently there are no drugs available on the NHS which treat the build-up of smooth muscle mass as a method of reducing asthma symptoms.

For some extreme sufferers, a procedure called thermoplasty which uses heat to decrease the amount of smooth muscle in airways can be offered – but is not typical.

Most people in the UK affected by asthma routinely manage the condition with inhaled drugs and steroids.

Fevipiprant could offer sufferers a way to avoid some of the side-effects associated with using steroids to control smooth muscle mass, including weight gain.

Dr Himanshu Kaul, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia, said: “Our computer model represents a milestone towards patient-specific models in respiratory medicine that has the potential to help design new drugs and optimise existing therapies.”

This story was originally published on Sky News Technology

YouTube's copyright claim system abused by extorters

Google has removed a YouTube channel after it was found to be abusing copyright claims to extort money from users.

Kenzo and ObbyRaidz, whose channels predominantly feature them playing Minecraft, reported receiving messages demanding money in exchange for dropping two claims against them.

These messages threatened that refusal to pay would result in a third copyright “strike”, which, according to Google, results in a YouTube channel being “subject to termination”.

The extorter’s YouTube account has been deleted after the illegal activity was made public.

The extortion

Kenzo and ObbyRaidz both received messages demanding payment ranging from $75 to $400 (£58 to £309) be sent via Paypal or Bitcoin.

Neither paid and British YouTuber Kenzo, who has 60,000 subscribers, took to social media to plead for help after one of his videos was taken down by the extorter’s second fraudulent copyright strike,

In its response to Kenzo’s tweet, YouTube said both of the copyright claims against him had been “obviously abusive” and it had reinstated his video to its platform.

“This is an example of a fraudulent legal request, which we have zero tolerance for,” it said in a statement. “We [have] terminated [the extorter’s] channel.”

Google, which owns YouTube, did not respond to a request for information regarding how YouTube intended to prevent such extortion attempts in the future.

How easy is it to make a copyright claim?

A successful “copyright takedown notification” results in a video being removed and the infringing YouTube channel receiving a copyright strike.

To make such a claim, an individual must provide their contact information and a description of the copyright they say has been infringed by the video in question.

The applicant must also accept possible legal consequences for “false or bad faith” allegations of copyright infringement.

But US-based YouTuber ObbyRaidz has now called the system “broken”, in a video posted to his YouTube channel.

“Anybody can do it,” he said. “They made it so easy to take somebody’s channel down – they strike a few videos and your channel is terminated.

“The way I look at it, YouTube just put a Band-Aid on a much bigger issue,” he said, referring to the deletion of the extorter’s account.

“This is something that can affect more channels in the future and they need to fix this right now.”

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Copyright strikes and Content ID

YouTube has come under fire for its Content ID system, which automatically determines whether a video contains copyrighted material.

This system was criticised in 2018 after it resulted in a YouTuber receiving a copyright infringement notice for including his own song in a video.

A copyright takedown notification, in contrast, results from an application submitted to YouTube by an individual.

These claims, however, do not necessarily lead to a takedown and a strike being placed on a channel.

For example, an individual can choose to make a copyright claim that, if successful, keeps a video online but directs any ad revenue towards the original copyright holder.

This type of copyright claim is becoming increasingly commonplace, with YouTuber MrBeast – who has more than 14.8 million subscribers – revealing that five of his most recent videos have all been demonetised under such claims.

This story was originally published on BBC Technology News

When love becomes a nightmare: Online dating scams

Roses are red, violets are blue, watch out for these scams or it may happen to you

The embrace of online dating services, such as dating apps or virtual places to meet people, is a phenomenon that has occurred worldwide. According to GlobalWebindex, in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region, apps and dating sites are accepted between about 45%, while in the United States and Europe the figure is about 28%.

Currently, more than 40% of single men used an app or a dating site in the last month, says GlobalWebIndex. There are dozens of dating apps available; some operate globally, while others only work in some countries that have greater acceptance of them.  But without a doubt, two of the most popular applications among the extensive great offerings that exist are Tinder and Happn, which claim more than 50 million users each.

Although these apps and sites have the potential to bring great happiness into the lives of their customers, there is a darker side as well: scammers abuse these services to their own nefarious ends, leading to heartbreak both emotionally and financially for the scammers’ victims.

Multiple forms of deception

Although they come in different flavors, in most cases the criminals committing romance scams study the profiles of their victims and collect personal information, such as their work activity, their level of income, and their lifestyle, because the mismanagement of our personal information in the digital age allows a criminal to build a fairly detailed profile of a future victim.

One of the most common methods is the scammer who emotionally manipulates the victim to send them money, gifts or personal information. Another type of common deception is sextortion, which usually begins as a normal relationship between two people who begin to know each other until the scammer tries to take the conversation off the dating platform, such as, for example, to WhatsApp. Here, the criminal will try to convince the victim to send some risqué photos or intimate videos … and then use that salacious materiel to blackmail the victim.

Last month, for example, in the United States a man who was the victim of this type of scam – he related an attack strategy similar to that in a case reported in Chile in 2018 – after having met the person through an online dating site and gained his trust, the scammer requested the sending of intimate photos. Shortly after they were sent, the victim received a message from a man claiming to be the father of a minor and who threatened to file charges against him for sending a child an explicit image, unless he sent him two prepaid ‘money cards’ with US$300 each. The victim was informed that it was a hoax after he had contacted the police.

Another scam is known as ‘catfishing’, which is luring the victim into a relationship based on the attacker’s fictitious online persona.

Scams related to online dating: A global phenomenon

In Australia in 2018 there were a reported 3,981 cases of scams related to online dating through social networks, and dating apps or websites, which represented losses of more than AU$24 million; and so far in 2019, 349 cases have already been recorded, with losses equivalent to more than AU$1 million, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reports.

In the United Kingdom, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) stated that in 2017, on average, every three hours a case of fraud related to online dating was reported, while more recent figures from Action Fraud revealed that in all of 2018 more than 4,500 complaints of online romance fraud were filed and it estimated that 63% of the victims were women, the BBC reported.

Cases from around the world

A case in Spain occupied the headlines of several media outlets when a man nicknamed the King of Tinder, was arrested in 2018. Using techniques similar to other fruadsters, this criminal knew his victims through dating apps like Tinder or Meetic, he gained their trust to the point that his victims sent him money after he fed them stories of bogus problems relating to his ‘family’.

Recently, in Canada, the story of a senior who spent his life savings and then borrowed against his house as a result of a “romantic scam” came to light. The 67-year-old widower who met a scammer claiming to be someone called Sophia Goldstein whom  he met through the online dating site Match. Soon after establishing a relationship, the miscreant, who claimed to also be from Canada, began asking for financial help to solve various problems that the scammer began asking for help to solve various financial problems. Over a period of eight months before he died, the victim made a total of 19 bank transfers of more than CA$730 thousand dollars to an account in Malaysia.

Latin America is no stranger to such scams; in 2017, the Argentine media published a scam using Tinder.  After investigating several cases, they reported that victims were contacted by a person apparently seeking a serious relationship, but living far away.

These reports explained that the same MO was used in these cases: the scammer presented as an attractive woman, sent alluring pictures of herself to the victim, and eventually gained the victim’s trust.  The scammer requested and received the victim’s phone number, then once trust was established, convinced the victim to send money with a promise to return the ‘loan’ once they finally met in person. 

How to protect yourself

Users of online dating sites and apps should bear in mind that anyone can be deceived. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind.

  • Look for inconsistences; if you find any, be cautious.
  • Romance scammers tend to profess excessive romantic interest in their victims, and very quickly within “meeting” them.
  • Scammers also tend to quickly try to move the discussion off the platform or app to some other form of messaging such as email, Skype, or a secure messaging app. This prevents any fraud detection systems employed by dating services or apps from monitoring their attempts to defraud their victims.
  • It is common that after a while (weeks or months) and after having established some confidence, the person you know will tell you a very elaborate story that ends with a request for money, sending a gift or something similar. Never send money to someone you have met in an online dating scenario before getting to know them personally.
  • Suspect anyone who always has an excuse to not meet in person.
  • Never share with the person you are meeting, especially if you do not know them personally, information that may compromise you, such as photos or videos, your address, place of work or phone number.
  • If you decide to meet someone in person that you’ve met online, be sure to set up the meeting in a safe, public place.

14 Feb 2019 – 11:27AM

This story was originally published on We Live Security by Eset

Airbus scraps A380 superjumbo jet as sales slump

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has pulled the plug on its struggling A380 superjumbo, which entered service just 12 years ago.

Airbus said last deliveries of the world’s largest passenger aircraft, which cost at least $25bn (£19.4bn) to develop, would be made in 2021.

The decision comes after Emirates, the largest A380 customer, cut its order.

The A380 faced fierce competition from smaller, more efficient aircraft and has never made a profit.

What has prompted Airbus’ decision?

The A380’s future had been in doubt for several years as orders dwindled. But in a statement on Thursday, Airbus said the “painful” decision to end production was made after Emirates reduced its latest order. The Dubai-based airline is cutting its overall A380 fleet size from 162 to 123.

Emirates said it would take delivery of 14 further A380s over the next two years, but has also ordered 70 of Airbus’ smaller A330 and A350 models.

“Emirates has been a staunch supporter of the A380 since its very inception,” said the airlines’ chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum. “While we are disappointed to have to give up our order, and sad that the programme could not be sustained, we accept that this is the reality of the situation,” he added.

The order cut meant keeping production going was not viable, said Airbus chief executive Tom Enders, who is due to step down in April. There was “no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years” he said.

Airbus has taken a €463m charge for shutdown costs, but it is expected that the repayment of government loans could be waived to help cushion the blow. The aerospace giant said the financial impact of the decision was “largely embedded” in the firm’s 2018 results, which showed a net profit for 2018 of €3bn (£2.6bn) up nearly 30% from the previous year.

Airbus said it would deliver between 880 and 890 new commercial aircraft this year.

What does it mean for jobs?

Airbus said it would start discussions with partners regarding the “3,000 to 3,500 positions potentially impacted over the next three years”.

The company did not specify which jobs or locations would be affected, but it said it hoped there would be scope for “a significant number” of redeployment opportunities given increased production of the A320 and the additional orders from Emirates for other aircraft.

Airbus UK makes the wings for its wide variety of aircraft in the UK. The company employs about 6,000 staff at its main wings factory at Broughton in Flintshire, as well as 3,000 at Filton, near Bristol, where wings are designed and supported.

Parts of the A380 are manufactured in France, Germany, Spain, and the UK, with final assembly and finishing split between Toulouse and Hamburg.

Airbus had already cut staffing as A380 orders dried up, and the future of employment at the company very much now depends on the success of its new generation of aircraft.

Why has demand for the A380 fallen?

The spacious jet, which had its first commercial flight in 2007 with Singapore Airlines, was popular with passengers but it was complicated and expensive to build, in part thanks to the way production was spread across various locations.

But ultimately demand for the A380 from airlines dried up as the industry shifted away from larger planes in favour of smaller, wide-body jets.

When Airbus was conceiving the A380, Boeing was also considering plans for a superjumbo. But the US company decided to scrap the idea in favour of its smaller, efficient – and more successful – 787 Dreamliner.

“The very clear trend in the market is to operate long-haul aircraft with two engines [such as] Boeing’s 787 and 777, and Airbus’s A330 and A350,” said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of Flight Global.

Airbus had been working on a revamped A380 to make it more efficient, but needed sufficient launch orders to make the huge investment viable.

Despite Airbus’ website describing the Airbus as the “future of long-distance travel” the last aircraft will be delivered in 2021.

Where did Airbus go wrong?

Analysis: By Dominic O’Connell, Today programme business presenter

When Airbus’s A380 first took off it was hailed as a technological marvel that would meet airlines’ needs for a new large aircraft to connect the world’s crowded airport hubs – London, New York, Dubai, Tokyo. Airbus confidently predicted it would make about 1,500 of the giant planes. After today’s decision to end production, the end tally will be just over 250.

In hindsight, airlines were already turning their back on very large aircraft when the A380 made its debut. Advances in engine technology meant planes no longer needed four engines to fly long distances – and carriers were able to use a new generation of light, fuel-efficient, twin-engined aircraft to link secondary cities, bypassing the crowded hubs altogether.

Even though Airbus was aware of the threat posed by these new types of plane, they pressed ahead. There was a bigger game afoot – Airbus needed to negate Boeing’s 747, believing that the profits the American company made on 747 sales were helping it cross-subsidise other, smaller planes. The A380 succeeded in that – the last passenger 747 was built two years ago – but Boeing will have a kind of last laugh. Freighter versions of the 747 will be built past 2021, meaning the venerable jumbo jet will outlive the plane sent to kill it.

This story was originally published on BBC Technology News