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ISS crew shelters from debris after Russia blows up old sat • The Register

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In a test of its missile technology, Russia destroyed an old space satellite on Monday, littering Earth’s orbit with fragments and forcing astronauts on the International Space Station to temporarily take shelter.

The cloud of debris was generated when Cosmos 1408, a 2,200-kg defunct signals intelligence satellite launched in 1982, was blown up by a Russian anti-satellite missile. The US Department of State condemned the experiment for endangering “human spaceflight activities.”

“Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites,” the department’s spokesperson Ned Price said at a press briefing on Monday. “The test has so far generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations.

“In addition, this will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities. Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical. The United States will work with our allies and partners to respond to Russia’s irresponsible act.”

It is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts

The seven astronauts onboard the International Space Station were directed to close all hatches to external modules and climb into the Soyuz MS-19 and Crew Dragon capsules for safety. They remained there for about two hours, and will periodically close off and isolate sections of the ISS as the debris cloud crosses the station’s path every 90 minutes or so, according to NASA.

“I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action,” fumed NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.”

Only last week, the ISS performed an orbital burn to avoid any chance of smashing into the passing remains of a Chinese satellite that was blown up by Beijing.

The cloud of shrapnel that was once Cosmos 1408 will disperse and continue to occupy low-Earth orbit, where it all risks crashing into other objects. Some 1,500 pieces will probably remain in the region for decades. Small flecks of debris traveling at orbital speeds can cause huge amounts of damage, potentially setting off a chain reaction where collisions create more amounts of junk that go on to smash into more objects and so on.

This nightmare scenario, known as the Kessler syndrome, would make low Earth orbit a hostile environment as debris levels increase. It’d be difficult to launch future spacecraft without weighty armor and all existing satellites and space stations would be in danger of getting pelted by the junk.

“The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers,” US Space Command said in a statement. “Space activities underpin our way of life and this kind of behavior is simply irresponsible.”

Roscosmos – which can’t wait to put its own space station in orbit and be done with the international science lab – was not immediately available for comment. ®



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Now that I’ve finally played The Last of Us, who wants to talk about that ending? | Games

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‘OK, Dad, this is an incredible essay on the effects of grief and grey morality in a postapocalyptic society,” says the eldest child, AKA the millennial. “It’s got proper female characters, progressive takes on sexuality and tonnes of rain.”

“They’ve made a video game of The Handmaid’s Tale?”

“No, Dad. It’s The Last of Us. Don’t worry. It’s still a zombie shooter. And both games have the best ending ever.”

Now she has my interest. Video game endings fascinate me, because my generation started out with arcade games that didn’t have them. Pac-Man kept eating dots and chasing ghosts and the Space Invaders kept coming, wave after incessant wave. The first arcade game that had an actual ending was Dragon’s Lair and nobody actually saw that because it was so hard to complete.

I have a tough start with The Last of Us because I hate games where you search for stuff in every room of a house. I spend my normal life doing that with car keys and headphones. I want games where you walk into a room and all the objects get sucked into a magic pocket. But that isn’t realistic, I hear you cry. Well, neither is only being able to carry three shivs in a world where, despite the zombie apocalypse, cargo pants clearly still exist.

The Last of Us.
Jaw-dropping … The Last of Us. Photograph: Sony

I also hate any form of crafting, because that was what my generation had to do for “fun” as kids before we had video games. Whether it’s smoke bombs from sugar and explosives or a set of Action Man drawers from matchboxes, it’s all boring to me.

“Keep going,” I tell myself. “The millennial says it’s got the best ending ever.”

Throughout the first chapter of Joel and Ellie’s jaunt across a post-infected US I keep trying to guess what this great ending will be. Maybe Ellie isn’t immune to infection after all? Maybe Joel is her real father? Maybe they’re both unwitting participants in some reality TV show, I’m Infected Get Me Out of Here?

As you will all know by now – and if you’ve yet to play The Last of Us then please stop reading – the ending has Joel murder a perfectly innocent and well-intentioned doctor who wants to cut Ellie open to find a cure that will save humanity. But Joel has no truck with utilitarian philosophy, because Ellie has now become a replacement for the daughter he lost. So, he disregards mankind’s future and, by stopping the operation, effectively murders the entire human race (alongside a whole hospital’s worth of doctors).

“Why does he do that?” I asked the millennial, in one of many fantastic discussions we had about the game.

“Because he’s a white male,” came the answer, because it’s 2022 and she’s in her 20s. And maybe she’s right. Either way it is a jaw-dropping, supremely brave ending and the terrific Left Behind side-story also brought the feels.

The Last of Us Part 2
Grey morality … Ellie in The Last of Us Part 2. Photograph: Naughty Dog

So, when it came to The Last of Us Part 2, I was beyond excited. Fifty million hours later I was beyond disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, the millennial nailed it when she said it was a great exploration of the effects of grief and grey morality. But after spending the whole game switching between two strong female characters (literally, have you seen Abby’s arms?) and contrasting factional creeds, you have the final confrontation. They fight. And … they both live. And go their separate ways. The only real damage is Ellie losing a couple of fingers, and the game portrays the worst consequence of this as not being able to play guitar any more. Seriously? That’s the biggest drawback to being fingerless in a zombie apocalypse? The first game ended with Joel murdering an entire civilisation, the second ends with Ellie murdering one song on a guitar. It’s a scene you might have found in The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s hilarious.

The Last of Us Part 2 leaves us with exactly the same non-ending as those original arcade games. Ellie and Abby will go on killing to keep their respective postapocalyptic factions going, both driven by the grief of murdered loved ones. They are both trapped, endlessly chasing ghosts. Sounds familiar…

The millennial says this shows there are no winners when it comes to revenge. I say they want both protagonists alive for The Last of Us 3. It’s a cynical cop out. But then, The Last of Us Part 2 is a game that features the most cynical scene ever, where apropos of nothing, after genuinely bravura portrayals of women, transgender and gay characters, alpha female Abby suddenly gets rogered from behind by some guy. It happens out of nowhere. The game spends umpteen hours portraying progressive sexuality, and then it’s like some marketing man decided they needed to toss the incels a piece of red meat to stop them hate-bombing all over 4chan (which didn’t work). It is easily the most gratuitous bit of nudity I have ever seen in games, and I have played The Witcher 3. The rogerer in question even has a girlfriend. Who is pregnant. Way to shit on a sister, Abby.

“It’s basically Pac-Man with gratuitous boobs,” I say to my eldest, who sighs and pours herself a large cup of coffee. This will be another long discussion.

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Texts from HMRC could show taxpayers’ location • The Register

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Exclusive Britain’s tax collection agency asked a contractor to use the SS7 mobile phone signalling protocol that would make available location data of alleged tax defaulters, a High Court lawsuit has revealed.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs had the potential to use SS7 to silently request that tax debtors’ mobile phones give up location data over the past six years, according to papers filed in an obscure court case about a contract dispute.

SMS provider MMGRP Ltd, operators of HMRC’s former 60886 text messaging service, filed a suit against the tax agency after losing the contract to send text messages on its behalf. Court documents obtained by The Register show that the secret surveillance capability was baked into otherwise mundane bulk SMS sending carried out by MMGRP Ltd.

The tax collection agency, which has the power to retrospectively change laws, had been using SMS reminder messages as an enforcement tool.

We asked HMRC for comment, posing a series of questions including how long had it used HLR look-up techniques against taxpayers; did HMRC obtain necessary warrants to carry out HLR lookups and, if so, under what legislation and from which courts; how many times it had used this technique; under what circumstances it was deployed; and is the capability present in a contract with its new supplier.

In response, the Brit tax collection agency admitted to using home location register (HLR) checks, although it maintained: “HLR checks were used solely to check if a customer’s phone number was still active before sending a SMS message.”

What the papers say

The since-settled lawsuit over an alleged breach of public procurement laws was filed by the company which operated HMRC’s former 60886 SMS sender number and brought the HMRC surveillance powers to light.

MMGRP sued the HMRC last summer alleging breach of public contract regulations after the tax authority awarded a multi-million pound deal to one of MMGRP’s rivals in March.

Particulars of claim filed in the High Court in July last year by the SMS provider said:

The document also said the agency had asked for the capability of doing more than merely verifying that tax demands sent by text had been delivered, quoting the contract between the pair as requiring, under “Existing Services”:

In its defence document filed a month later, on 19 August last year, HMRC’s legal team admitted that part of MMGRP’s case, meaning they did not contest its truth.

The Reg wonders why HMRC did not dispute this is the legal papers, and and why the capability was baked into the contract the tax collector was not going to use it.

Describing the contract outlined in the lawsuit as “slightly odd”, Professor Alan Woodward, the University of Surrey-based compsci expert, told The Register: “I can see how this might be required if HMRC must later prove that a letter was received and read in a specific jurisdiction. Someone they are taking to court might claim they never received it or that it had no effect where they were when they were served with some form of formal notice.”

He added: “As with other powers, provided there is suitable legislation, oversight and transparency then it may have a place in chasing some of the tax evaders.”

GSM security expert Tobias Engel told The Register this location-finding service looked like a natural bolt-on to the SMS systems MMGRP was providing to HMRC, characterising it as a fairly routine service feature.

“A few years back this was still very easy,” said Engel, “since getting SMS routing information (the infamous so-called ‘HLR lookup’) already revealed a coarse location of the phone, and that same routing information could then be used to query the network for a more precise location.”

How does it work?

Signalling System Number 7 (SS7) is the signalling protocol used by mobile phone networks to route Short Messaging Service (SMS) messages.

Using SS7 to detect where messages were received is relatively simple. In essence SS7 tells mobile networks where to send messages based on which mast a particular phone number was last connected to. A register of those connections is kept and can be queried.

Thus the technique is called Home Location Register (HLR) lookup. Commands exist for querying a network’s HLR for a particular Mobile Station Integrated Services Digital Network number (MSISDN, or “phone number” to you and I). If you know the location of a mast where that MSISDN was last connected, you’ve got a radius of where the phone could be located. Cross-referencing that radius with multiple masts helps triangulate a specific phone, and thus its user.

This is the data used by police forces and others to locate criminals by tracking their mobile phones.

Bitter contract dispute

MMGRP’s lawsuit came about after HMRC had repeatedly extended the contract following its original expiry date of July 2020.

HMRC leaned heavily on the SMS provider for those short-duration extensions, raising the spectre of “reputational damage to HMRC, to outer [sic] Government Departments who utilise the service and ultimately to [MMG] as a provider” if the company didn’t agree.

For its part, MMGRP admitted that director Daniel Layton, “in the heat of the moment” threatened to shut off HMRC’s SMS services altogether when the tax authority told him it was awarding the contract to another company instead of renewing at the end of its existing term in early 2021.

“Mr Layton rapidly withdrew that threat,” the company’s particulars of claim added.

Ultimately the service was awarded to rival business IMImobile after lots of short-term extensions with MMGRP.

MMRGP owns the old HMRC 60886 SMS shortcode, which is why taxpayers are no longer advised to look out for messages from that number.

The court case has since been settled. HMRC does not say on its website that it makes use of HLR technology to identify taxpayers’ locations – but does list a range of ways in which it might try to contact them. ®

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‘It’s a complex, challenging role’

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TikTok’s Caroline Goulding discusses navigating the evolving privacy landscape, how the tech sector needs to lead on cybersecurity, and the importance of ‘peeling back the layers’ at work.

Caroline Goulding is TikTok’s data protection officer, based at the social media company’s growing hub in Dublin.

She was previously LinkedIn’s first data protection officer and prior to that held a variety of trust and safety roles at LinkedIn and eBay.

‘Privacy and compliance is an ever-evolving challenge’
– CAROLINE GOULDING

What does your role involve?

I joined TikTok in early 2020 as the first in-house data protection officer. As well as being a member of the senior leadership team in Ireland, I also worked with colleagues to establish the office of the data protection officer for TikTok.

It is a complex and challenging role, but I am excited to be guiding our efforts in this space. Part of the responsibility of my role is supporting the company to navigate the ever-evolving privacy and compliance landscape.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I apply ruthless prioritisation when it comes to my working life. Ultimately, I am hyper aware that every single day something unpredictable can crop up, so at the start of each day I sit down and outline my top three essential priorities for that day.

Like so many, my schedule can be quite demanding. But every day I make sure that I get away from my desk for a few minutes and I pick one meeting to do over the phone while I am walking. This is typically a one-to-one call, so as well as getting away from the desk and reenergising with some fresh air, it also means the person I am speaking to has my full attention and I am not distracted by any other screens or incoming emails and messages.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

TikTok, like so many others in the tech sector, is always looking to attract the best talent. There is intense competition in the data protection arena as well as in many other areas of our business, such as online safety, which will see a raft of new laws come into effect, including the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

Cybersecurity, of course, remains a challenge for all sectors, evidenced by the ransomware attack on the HSE here in Ireland in the middle of a pandemic. The tech sector has an important role to lead out in this area and TikTok takes that very seriously.

We are mindful that over a billion people come to TikTok every month to express themselves creatively and to be entertained. Keeping our community safe and allowing them to enjoy this in a welcome environment is our overarching priority. In order to ensure we do this to the best possible standard, our dedicated Fusion Centres, located in the US and Ireland, allow us to detect and respond to critical incidents in real time.

Privacy and compliance is an ever-evolving challenge and something which is of the utmost importance to TikTok. To me, education is key to ensure we tackle this issue appropriately.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Our global community continues to grow every day, and we feel privileged to provide such a diverse platform for Irish creators, NGOs and businesses to interact and engage in a meaningful way with new and existing audiences.

Recognising the vital role that community organisations, their workers and volunteers play in Irish creativity, TikTok recently announced details of the St Patrick’s Festival x TikTok Creative Fund, which has seen €100,000 allocated to 10 groups around the country for a creative project.

We also launched a SMB Hub for Irish small businesses, which is something I’m particularly proud of being Irish and given the important role SMBs play at the heart of the Irish economy. It has been specifically designed to enable businesses of all sizes in Ireland to start activating on the platform at scale. Irish SMBs have the opportunity to use TikTok Ads Manager, joining thousands of small businesses in Europe reaching engaged audiences, growing their sales on TikTok and potentially even going viral!

What set you on the road to where you are now?

My journey started in risk and fraud and has evolved towards privacy and compliance, so I’ve worn multiple hats and have been privileged to see it from a variety of angles.

Prior to joining TikTok, I spent nine years at LinkedIn and before that I worked at eBay. I had a variety of roles – from leading global teams handling a wide array of member and customer legal privacy and intellectual property issues, to sitting on the trust and safety leadership team with exposure to a range of security matters including risk, fraud and content issues.

The mix of legal-related knowledge, ability to operationalise at scale and experience in interfacing with both users and regulators has put me in a unique position. Looking back, I’m able to connect the dots, even though the path was much less clear at the time.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Not showing up authentically. In the past I used to think one had to act, speak, dress and ultimately manage things in a certain way. But I learned that this meant connecting with people on a surface level. Through learning to peel back the layers and be more vulnerable on a daily basis, it has led to a much more enriching work life with deep relationships and a much stronger foundation from which to achieve work objectives together.

Working during the global pandemic definitely helped solidify this and was a learning curve for me. Everyone was impacted in some shape or form. I learned that by being honest if I was having a bad day meant it was more likely someone else would open up and tell me when they were too, and work priorities could be shifted around to accommodate and support each other.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I have always admired the astute advice of Simon Sinek and in particular his wisdom on the role of the leader to serve those around them. He said: “The responsibility of a company is to serve the customer. The responsibility of leadership is to serve their people so that their people may better serve the customer.” I take those words to heart in all of my different roles.

Trust and empathy are also vitally important to me. I invest a lot of time in getting to know my team and colleagues on a personal level. To me, empathy can also mean not shying away from uncomfortable or awkward conversations and instead having the courage to engage on the meatier topics ,which ultimately benefits the individual and the team as a whole.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

I am passionate about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and continually look for opportunities to progress this important and defining topic whenever I can. I founded the Women at TikTok Europe Committee to work alongside our business’s D&I leadership. As part of this role, I helped drive and promote the company’s International Women’s Day efforts.

However, I am acutely conscious that on International Women’s Day in March each year, a host of stats are released and it can be disheartening to read that it will still take X number of years to achieve equity in the boardroom or at the C-suite level. Even worse is that the 2021 Women in the Workplace report found that the pandemic has disproportionately affected women leaders who took on more mission-critical, though often ‘invisible’, work in addition to their day-to-day roles.

Diversity encompasses a lot of different areas beyond gender, from race to sexuality, age and nationality. When it comes to the latter, this is an area where Ireland’s tech companies are thriving with an incredible array of international talent.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I consider The Culture Map by Erin Meyer essential reading for everyone working in a multinational environment where progress and success is highly dependent on the skills to navigate through cultural differences.

How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop is my go-to for whenever I need a lift before an important speaking engagement.

Contagious You by Anese Cavanaugh crystallises how a leader’s intentions, energy and presence sets the tone and regardless of where we are in our careers, how we show up matters.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I start every morning listening to the business news on Newstalk. Having recently had the opportunity for business travel after a long pandemic hiatus, it reminded me how indispensable noise-cancelling headphones are.

Now that the days are so much darker and the work-from-home video calls are here for the foreseeable future, I have joined the ring light fan club. And of course, TikTok provides me with some light entertainment as I end the working day.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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