Start Up No.983: North Korea hacks Chilean ATMs, Facebook’s face meme, US chases Huawei again, keep that sunscreen!, and more

Japan’s “robot hotel” is laying off robots. Guess what’s taking over. CC-licensed photo by dalai_alana on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Available for discussions but only with party leaders. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

North Korean hackers infiltrate Chile’s ATM network after Skype job interview • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


an investigation conducted by Chilean tech news site trendTIC revealed that the financial firm was the victim of a serious cyber-attack, and not something that could be easily dismissed.

According to reporters, the source of the hack was identified as a LinkedIn ad for a developer position at another company to which one of the Redbanc employees applied.

The hiring company, believed to be a front for the Lazarus Group operators who realized they baited a big fish, approached the Redbanc employee for an interview, which they conducted in Spanish via a Skype call.

trendTIC reports that during this interview, the Redbanc employee was asked to download, install, and run a file named ApplicationPDF.exe, a program that would help with the recruitment process and generate a standard application form.

But according to an analysis of this executable by Vitali Kremez, director of research at Flashpoint, the file downloaded and installed PowerRatankba, a malware strain previously linked to Lazarus Group hacks, according to a Proofpoint report published in December 2017.

The malware, Kremez said, collected information about the Redbanc employee’s work PC and sent it back to a remote server. Collected information included the PC’s username, hardware and OS details, proxy settings, a list of current processes, if the infected host had RPC and SMB open file shares, and the status of its RDP connection.


North Korea isn’t changing its spots. Still focussed on nuclear weapons and hacking as its two most important strategic strengths. The Lazarus Group was behind the Sony Pictures hack in October 2014, as I wrote in my book Cyber Wars.
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Facebook’s ’10 year challenge’ is just a harmless meme—right? • WIRED

Kate O’Neill wondered about that “my picture side by side ten years apart” meme: could it be a secret attempt to train a facial recognition


Is it bad that someone could use your Facebook photos to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily; in a way, it’s inevitable. Still, the broader takeaway here is that we need to approach our interactions with technology mindful of the data we generate and how it can be used at scale. I’ll offer three plausible use cases for facial recognition: one respectable, one mundane, and one risky.

The benign scenario: Facial recognition technology, specifically age progression capability, could help with finding missing kids. Last year police in New Delhi reported tracking down nearly 3,000 missing kids in just four days using facial recognition technology. If the kids had been missing a while, they would likely look a little different from the last known photo of them, so a reliable age progression algorithm could be genuinely helpful here.

Facial recognition’s potential is mostly mundane: Age recognition is probably most useful for targeted advertising. Ad displays that incorporate cameras or sensors and can adapt their messaging for age-group demographics (as well as other visually recognizable characteristics and discernible contexts) will likely be commonplace before very long. That application isn’t very exciting, but stands to make advertising more relevant. But as that data flows downstream and becomes enmeshed with our location tracking, response and purchase behavior, and other signals, it could bring about some genuinely creepy interactions.


She then goes into more detail about the scenarios. Very interesting.
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Robot hotel loses love for robots • WSJ

Alastair Gale and Takashi Mochizuki:


The hotel launched with around 80 robots. The initial positive reaction encouraged it to add many more for guests’ entertainment, such as a team of human and dog robot dancers in the lobby.

That’s when problems started to pile up, said the hotel’s general manager, Takeyoshi Oe.

Toshifumi Nakamura, a former hotel guest, recalled that about half the puppy-size lobby dancers appeared to be broken or in need of charging when he visited in mid-2016. Mr. Oe said the hotel increased overtime for the human staff to cope with the additional workload.

Guests became frustrated when the hotel’s robots failed to keep pace with Siri or Alexa. One laggard was the robot assistant in each room named “Churi” because of its tulip-shaped head. The doll-like device can manage simple hello-how-are-you type conversations and adjust room heating and lighting in response to voice commands. But some guests quizzed her in vain about things like the opening time of the nearby theme park.

Atsushi Nishiguchi, a guest at the hotel in 2017, said that after an irate exchange with Churi he decided to phone the hotel reception, only to find there was no phone in the room because the assistant was intended to handle guests’ requests. He used his cellphone to call the main hotel number to reach a human worker.

Mr. Ishikawa, the heavy snorer, said he wasn’t sure how to turn Churi off. “She got a bad reputation,” said Hideo Sawada, president of the travel company that owns the hotel. Churi was among the robots removed.

Similarly, the hotel’s main concierge robot was axed because guests peppered it with questions it couldn’t answer, such as flight schedules and tourist attractions in nearby cities. These days, a human staff member is usually available to answer questions in the lobby.


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Ocean warming is accelerating faster than thought, new research finds • The New York Times

Kendra Pierre-Louis:


A new analysis, published last Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40% faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” said Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.


Filed under “things that are more important than Brexit”.
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Did the Wall Street Journal fall for a prank directed at Laura Loomer? • Right Wing Watch

Jared Holt:


After Loomer’s handcuffing stunt [where she handcuffed herself to Twitter’s HQ after being banned from it for repeated violations], Nathan Bernard and his associates, who say they seek to rile up and expose right-wing figures through a media operation they’ve dubbed “Bernard Media,” got to work devising a prank in which they would pose as a Twitter employee named Brad and seek to convince Loomer that “Brad” could help get her account reinstated.

As the prank wore on and Loomer continued communicating with Bernard and his friends, they devised a plan to see how hard it would be to play off her anti-Muslim attitudes and convince her that Muslim groups were directly responsible for her suspension. Since December, Bernard and his friends exchanged hundreds of text messages with Loomer and spoke with her on the phone for nearly a half-hour, a conversation in which they offered deadpan confirmations of all conspiracy theories Loomer suggested to them about Muslim groups’ responsibility for her suspension.

They even sent her a fabricated appointment calendar they said showed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s schedule, and it included a notation for a meeting with CAIR on a date just days before Loomer’s suspension from the platform.

When the Wall Street Journal published a story last week in which reporters repeated Loomer’s claims about what she said was CAIR’s role in her Twitter suspension, Bernard and his associates shared details of their prank with Right Wing Watch.


I really hope these guys don’t try this again. They’ll never pull it back: Loomer will insist till the moon dissolves that it was true – for example that she was getting similar stuff from *other* sources – and the WSJ reporters aren’t going to retract easily. And even if they do, the crazy right-wing sites such as Breitbart will never retract it. That’s a win for Loomer. Thanks, pranksters.
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Apple talking to private Medicare plans about subsidizing Apple Watch • CNBC

Christina Farr:


Apple has been in talks with at least three private Medicare plans about subsidizing the Apple Watch for people over 65 to use as a health tracker, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The insurers are exploring ways to subsidize the cost of the device for those who can’t afford the $279 price tag, which is the starting cost of an older model. The latest version of the device, which includes the most extensive health features including fall detection and an electrocardiogram to measure the heart’s rhythm, retails for a minimum of $399, which many seniors could benefit from but can’t afford.

The talks have not resulted in any official deals just yet, the people said. Apple has paid a visit to several of the largest insurers in the market, as well as some smaller, venture-backed Medicare Advantage plans…

…Health experts say that seniors are an ideal market for the Apple Watch, which has introduced features that can be used by anyone, but are most beneficial to seniors, including fall detection and cardiac arrhythmia monitoring. It also makes sense as a business model for insurers, as seniors are a particularly lucrative market.


Some VCs suggested to Business Insider that appealing to an older demographic would “tarnish [Apple’s] cool, fashion-adjacent image”. Somehow, I don’t think so.
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United Neuroscience’s Alzheimer vaccine just might work • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance:


United Neuroscience Inc. hasn’t solved Alzheimer’s yet, nor has it claimed to. But previously unreported results from a small, recent United clinical trial show that 96% of patients responded, without serious side effects, to the Alzheimer’s vaccine the company calls UB-311. The patients demonstrated improved brain function and showed a reduction in the protein plaque gumming up their neurons, the company’s report says. “We are doing better than the placebo on all these things,” says chief executive officer Mei Mei Hu. “We can’t make any claims yet, but we’re pointing in all the right directions.”

While scientists aren’t sure what causes or exacerbates Alzheimer’s, there are several prime suspects: amyloid, a group of proteins that build up in the body over time and clump together in ways that wreak havoc on the brain; tau, another family of proteins with similar issues; and inflammation in general. United’s vaccine stimulates the patient’s own immune system to attack amyloid, which some researchers believe to be the leading cause. The vaccine’s job is to slow the proteins’ clumping and, if possible, reverse some damage and restore brain function.


Promising; this is a phase 2 trial, so the next move if this is confirmed would be phase 3 – full human testing. After that, it would aim to get on the market, if it can be shown to work.
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Federal prosecutors pursuing criminal case against Huawei for alleged theft of trade secrets • WSJ

Dan Strumpf, Nicole Hong and Aruna Viswanatha:


Federal prosecutors are pursuing a criminal investigation of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. business partners, including the technology behind a robotic device that T-Mobile US Inc. used to test smartphones, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation grew in part out of civil lawsuits against Huawei, including one in which a Seattle jury found Huawei liable for misappropriating robotic technology from T-Mobile’s Bellevue, Wash., lab, the people familiar with the matter said. The probe is at an advanced stage and could lead to an indictment soon, they said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

A Huawei spokesman declined to comment. The company contested the T-Mobile case, but conceded that two employees acted improperly.


US feds starting the year as they mean to go on: by finding old civil cases and seeing whether they can hang a criminal case around it.
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Don’t abandon sunscreen just yet • Slate

Shannon Palus, following up on that surprising story (linked earlier this week) which suggested that we shouldn’t use sunscreen because it could lead to vitamin D deficiency:


even sunscreen-adherents end up spending a non-negligible amount of their time outdoors uncovered, allowing Vitamin D in. And the amount of sun exposure you need to get Vitamin D is actually pretty minimal: experts advocating sun exposure as the best way to absorb the vitamin say that you should spend on the order of 10 to 30 minutes three times a week with your arms and legs exposed during midday in the summer for ideal exposure (it’s impossible to give an exact amount, as that will vary by location and skin tone, and yes, as Jacobson notes, it seems possible this recommendation is geared toward light-skinned folks). But even considering that a low estimate, it’s an extremely easy level of exposure if you’re spending a day outside—even if you wear sunscreen.

Jacobson takes pains throughout his piece to acknowledge that his thesis is supported by a new, small line of research that is regarded with skepticism within the dermatology community, which is all the more reason not to take the piece as advice on how to live your daily life, at least not yet. But it’s not clear that some of the main pieces of evidence for this rogue take are even correct. For example, he strangely evokes the health of “our ancestors” who “lived outdoors in tropical regions and ran around half naked” without noting the improvements in lifespan since, despite that being an incredibly relevant factor to cancer incidence.

Jacobson’s article does contain an important truth: Sunscreen isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription.
Some of the more rigorous research seems like weak support, too.


I’m glad this article appeared, because an Overspill reader with a lot of expertise in this subject (who doesn’t want to be identified, but pointed me to this) had suggested that the original might be overstating the case. “Having been a melanoma researcher, I wear sunscreen every day,” in their words. So, your decision. But the scientists aren’t moved at present.
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2018 E-scooter findings report • The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland obliged scooter companies to share data with it during a trial period:


Tens of thousands of Portlanders and visitors alike enthusiastically embraced scooters. During the four-month period, people took 700,369 trips covering 801,887 miles on 2,043 e-scooters. Trip data analysis and survey data revealed more about ridership trends:

A majority of Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively. In a representative citywide poll by DHM Research, 62% of all Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively at the end of the pilot. Support was even higher among Portlanders under 35 (71%), from people of color (74 percent), and those with incomes below $30,000 (66%).

Portlanders primarily used e-scooters for transportation. 71% of Portlanders reported that they most frequently used e-scooters to get to a destination, while only a third of respondents (28.6%) said they most frequently used e-scooters for recreation or exercise. 

E-scooters replaced driving and ride-hailing trips. 34% of Portland riders and 48% of visitors took an e-scooter instead of driving a personal car or using Uber, Lyft, or taxi.

E-scooter users preferred riding on low-speed streets and in bike lanes. Many of the highest utilized streets were part of Portland’s bikeway network. Staff observations also found lower rates of sidewalk riding on low-speed streets or those with dedicated space for non-motorized users. Users ranked bike lanes as their preferred road type, and sidewalks last.

E-scooters attracted new people to active transportation. 74% of local users reported never riding BIKETOWN and 42% never bicycling.


Then there’s the bit about injuries. That’s worth reading. As is the NY Times piece on the analysis.
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SEC brings charges in Edgar hacking case • Securities and Exchange Commission


The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against nine defendants for participating in a previously disclosed scheme to hack into the SEC’s EDGAR system [for distributing price-sensitive news and other data] and extract nonpublic information to use for illegal trading. The SEC charged a Ukrainian hacker, six individual traders in California, Ukraine, and Russia, and two entities. The hacker and some of the traders were also involved in a similar scheme to hack into newswire services and trade on information that had not yet been released to the public. The SEC charged the hacker and other traders for that conduct in 2015 (see here, here and here).

The SEC’s complaint alleges that after hacking the newswire services, Ukrainian hacker Oleksandr Ieremenko turned his attention to EDGAR and, using deceptive hacking techniques, gained access in 2016. Ieremenko extracted EDGAR files containing nonpublic earnings results. The information was passed to individuals who used it to trade in the narrow window between when the files were extracted from SEC systems and when the companies released the information to the public. In total, the traders traded before at least 157 earnings releases from May to October 2016 and generated at least $4.1m in illegal profits.


Now *that’s* audacious.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Philip writes: “The last line of today’s [now yesterday’s] Overspill has the first double meaning emoticon (pun?) I’ve ever seen. Very very clever.” Thanks. We’ve promoted the intern.

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1 thought on “Start Up No.983: North Korea hacks Chilean ATMs, Facebook’s face meme, US chases Huawei again, keep that sunscreen!, and more

  1. There’s one insurance company that already already offers subsidised apple watches in the UK, US, and south africa. Vitality, I think? I wrote a leader about the implications.

    Nearly bought a policy, too, until I realised I’d have to get an iphone as well. Life’s too short for that.

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