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Amazon faces a reckoning with Alabama union vote

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Ballots have been cast in the tense campaign for warehouse workers in Bessemer to unionise, which could arouse more unions efforts in the US.

Votes are being tallied in Alabama for a union vote among Amazon workers, the results of which could have a profound effect on the tech giant’s employment practices.

Workers at a fulfilment centre in Bessemer are voting on whether to join up with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, in what would be the first unionisation of Amazon warehouse workers in the US.

The campaign has attracted many high-profile supporters including Bernie Sanders and Danny Glover, hoping to establish a precedent for workers in Amazon’s warehouses, while Amazon has stood in opposition.

Up to 5,800 employees are casting their ballots on the union vote, with the results expected next week. But it hasn’t been an affable affair.

Amazon has been stern in its rebuttals against unions and promotes its $15 an hour minimum wage, which more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

However, the stories of workers in Bessemer and other warehouses brought up discontent with reports around docking an hour’s pay for being a few minutes late, insufficient break times and curbs on taking toilet breaks.

These are all claims that Amazon has refuted and firmly pushed back against. Recode reported that Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos was angry over the criticisms being repeatedly lobbed at the company and urged executives to push back more aggressively.

This may partially explain a bizarre scenario where one of Amazon’s Twitter accounts began publicly firing back missives at critics, namely Elizabeth Warren. The Amazon News Twitter account also took issue with allegations that Amazon delivery drivers urinate in bottles while on their shifts because they can’t take toilet breaks.

Meanwhile, a slew of allegedly fake Twitter accounts that supported the company were unearthed.

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It was amid this tense backdrop that Bessemer workers cast their ballots. The National Labor Relations Board is currently counting up the votes which, with ongoing health restrictions, were cast by mail. Amazon had requested that cameras be installed to monitor the boxes being opened and counted but this was denied.

Ripple effects

Whatever the outcome of the vote in Alabama, the campaign has caused a stir once again for the tech giant. Other unions and workers will be watching keenly. If the campaign is successful, some workers in other states will surely follow suit. If it is unsuccessful, it may provide a playbook of sorts on what did and didn’t work.

The vote in Alabama may be the first of its kind in the US but Amazon is facing increasing union efforts in Europe, which have intensified over the last year.

The issue became particularly tense in France last May when workers protested Covid-19 safety protocols in warehouses, where people are typically working in close proximity to each other.

Last September, a collection of trade unions in Europe that represent 12m workers wrote to the European Commission demanding an investigation into Amazon’s practices.

And in the last two weeks, warehouse workers in Germany and Italy led strikes over conditions. In Germany, employees across six sites have gone on strike.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is seeking to represent the Alabama employees, expressed solidarity with the German strikes.

“It’s not just workers in Alabama, it’s workers everywhere who are saying to Jeff Bezos that enough is enough,” he said. “No matter what language they speak, Amazon workers around the globe will not stand for the working conditions they’ve been forced to endure for too long.”

For Jeff Bezos, it’s one last headache for one of the world’s richest men as he prepares to step down from his role as chief executive after 27 years at the helm, steering Amazon into the behemoth it is now.

For his successor Andy Jassy, the headaches may be just beginning.



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North Korea made ‘$400m’ in cryptocurrency heists last year • The Register

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In brief Thieves operating for the North Korean government made off with almost $400m in digicash last year in a concerted attack to steal and launder as much currency as they could.

A report from blockchain biz Chainalysis found that attackers were going after investment houses and currency exchanges in a bid to purloin funds and send them back to the Glorious Leader’s coffers. They then use mixing software to make masses of micropayments to new wallets, before consolidating them all again into a new account and moving the funds.

Bitcoin used to be a top target but Ether is now the most stolen currency, say the researchers, accounting for 58 per cent of the funds filched. Bitcoin accounted for just 20 per cent, a fall of more than 50 per cent since 2019 – although part of the reason might be that they are now so valuable people are taking more care with them.

“These behaviors paint a portrait of a nation that supports cryptocurrency-enabled crime on a massive scale,” the report finds. “Systematic and sophisticated, North Korea’s government — be it through the Lazarus Group or its other criminal syndicates — has cemented itself as an advanced persistent threat to the cryptocurrency industry in 2021.”

Football fans furious after FIFA 22 after top players’ accounts taken over

Electronic Arts (EA) has confirmed that some of the top players of the FIFA 22 football (soccer in Freedom Language) game have had their accounts taken over after it dropped the ball.

“Through our initial investigation we can confirm that a number of accounts have been compromised via phishing techniques,” EA said in a statement.

“Utilizing threats and other ‘social engineering’ methods, individuals acting maliciously were able to exploit human error within our customer experience team and bypass two-factor authentication to gain access to player accounts.”

In response EA says that it has strengthened its account verification process and is training up staff to be on the lookout for behavior that indicates someone is playing foul. It says this will take time and may lead to support delays, but asks fans not to show it the red card.

US government warns of Russia and Iranian online intrusion, makes tools public

It has been a busy week for those monitoring government hacking threats, beginning with a warning from the FBI, NSA and CISA about Russian state online spies are breaking into US systems, followed by a report from US Cyber Command on Iranian online foes.

The Russians are targeting US government, energy and infrastructure companies, the first advisory warns, and are using advanced tactics to do so. The key protection is frequent logging and examination of network activity, but also watch for unexpected equipment activity like unplanned reboots, and multiple failed login attempts on accounts, they advise.

Not to be outdone, US Cyber Command released a report into an online gang called MuddyWater, which the agency says operates under the auspices of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. It’s primarily an intelligence collection group and had been targeting other Middle Eastern states, but is now expanding operations in the US and Western Europe.

MuddyWater specialize in using open-source tools and side-loading DLLs, and they also are adept at using tunneling to shield their activities. VirusTotal have been informed and you can get the full details here.

Texans hit by QR code phishing campaign

Residents of the Lone Star state have been under sustained attack from a QR code phishing scam using traffic meters that is designed to harvest credit card information.

Police in Austin, Houston and San Antonio have warned that persons unknown are attaching fake QR codes to parking meters that redirect users to a carefully crafted phishing site. When the meter user tries to pay for their parking that are simply handing over their card information to the criminals.

What makes this form of attack particularly odd is that none of the cities targeted actually use QR codes on their meters. “We’ve talked to industry professionals who have warned us about using QR codes, and that’s why we do not utilize QR codes on our infrastructure at all,” Austin Parking Enterprise Manager Jason Redfern told Fox 7.

Still using WordPress? Plugin vulns rose 142 per cent last year

WordPress is a very popular platform but security isn’t one of its strengths, as a review of its progress in 2021 has shown.

Research by Risk Based Security found that last year the number of vulnerabilities found in WordPress plugins shot up 142 per cent, 77 per cent of them contained known public exploits and 73 per cent were remotely exploitable. While the average rating for flaws using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System was 5.5 there are still some very nasty issues out there that need to be addressed.

“There are over 58,000 free plugins for download, with tens of thousands more available for purchase,” the report warns. “Unfortunately, few of them are designed with security in mind, so one vulnerability could potentially affect millions of users.”

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Space missions to watch out for in 2022

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Monica Grady of the Open University looks at plans for a rocket system destined for the moon and a new rover beginning its journey to Mars.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Astronomers ended 2021 on a high with the launch on 25 December of the James Webb Space Telescope, a joint mission between the European Space Agency, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. It was a relief to hear that the precision drives that opened up the complex sunshield, which is about the size of a tennis court, worked perfectly.

The telescope is now on the way to its destination, 1.5m kilometres away from Earth, where it will begin a series of tests once it arrives in late January. If the mission goes to plan, we can expect to start receiving images from the telescope in mid-2022.

But what else lies in store for space science this year? Here are a few missions to watch out for.

Moon missions

NASA’s Artemis programme to send human astronauts back to the moon in 2024 should get underway in 2022. The last astronauts to step foot on the moon in 1972 made it there on a Saturn V rocket.

Now NASA has created a new generation of rockets, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will be tested for the first time in March with the launch of the Artemis 1 mission. This will be a three-week-long, uncrewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft, which will include a flyby 100km above the surface of the moon.

Part of a spacecraft is lifted into a testing chamber in a large room, with the NASA logo and a poster about moon exploration in the background.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is lifted into a thermal cage for testing. Image: NASA/Marvin Smith

Eventually, the SLS will transport astronauts to the Lunar Gateway, the next-generation international space station that will be positioned in orbit around the moon and act as a way station for missions to the surface.

The moon will also be targeted by other space agencies in 2022. South Korea is hoping to launch its first lunar mission, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, from Cape Canaveral in August. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, plans to launch Luna 25 to the moon’s south pole in July – over 45 years since Luna 24 returned almost 200g of lunar soil in August 1976.

Psyche asteroid

Mid-2022 will be a busy time for space exploration, as NASA will also launch its Psyche asteroid mission. Psyche, which is orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, is an M-class asteroid, made of metal, so it’s similar to the core of the Earth.

We’ve never been close to an M-class asteroid before, nor have we been able to study the core of the Earth because it’s too deep down, so once this mission arrives in 2026 it should give us a whole new understanding of asteroid and planetary processes.

DART mission

Not long after Psyche’s journey begins, the DART mission, which launched in November 2021, should arrive at its destination in late September.

DART – which stands for the double asteroid redirection test – is heading to asteroid Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos. The goal is to test what technology it would take to save the Earth from an incoming asteroid in future. DART will deliberately crash into the smaller of the two bodies, Dimorphos, to move its orbit a little bit closer to Didymos, the larger one. This could give valuable insights into how to shift any asteroid on a collision course with Earth in the future.

ExoMars

2021 was a busy year for Mars missions with NASA’s Perseverance rover and the Chinese Zhurong rover, both of which continue to send back incredible images and data from the surface of the Red Planet.

In September 2022, the European Space Agency is due to launch the next part of its ExoMars mission in collaboration with Roscosmos. The first part of the mission, ExoMars 2016, sent a Trace Gas Orbiter to orbit around Mars in late 2016.

ExoMars 2022 plans to send a Mars rover, the Rosalind Franklin, to the Martian surface to look for signs of past life. If the launch goes to plan, we’ll have to wait until 2023 for ExoMars to arrive and for the rover to start roaming the surface.

All in all, 2022 is looking to be a very exciting and fruitful time for space exploration.

The Conversation

By Monica Grady

Monica Grady is professor of planetary and space sciences at the Open University.

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‘You may feel your cortisol levels declining’: why Siri should be an Irish man | Life and style

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Inside my iPhone is a cornucopia of Irish men.

“It’s currently clear and 25 degrees,” Colin Farrell replies when I ask him the weather.

“A 7.45am alarm is now off,” says Michael Fassbender when I beg him for some extra sleep.

“Here’s what I found on Google,” Domnhall Gleeson cheerily answers when I screech: “I have spilt coffee all over my stovetop – how to clean white shirt and kitchen bench?” I feel like he is negging me – or playing hard to get, perhaps.

Changing my iPhone’s Siri voice to that of an Irish man has been an exercise in self-soothing. Generic American register begone; now I have a generic Irish lilt – or, if I suspend my disbelief hard enough, the rapturous musings of Colin, Michael, Domnhall, or Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh.

Niall Horan was (obviously) my preferred One Direction member as a boyband-crazy teen. As everyone swooned for Paul Mescal and his chain-sporting ways last year, I finally felt vindicated. Good old Pauly had been telling me the forecast for years.

Of course, being Irish is not the only virtue of these men. They also have great faces – which you, too, can conjure up at a moment’s notice by navigating the labyrinth of settings on your phone. The payoff is well worth it; with each gentle instruction from your personal Irish smooth-talker, you may feel your cortisol levels declining. (Your doctor may disagree.)

There are more tangible psychological ramifications to be found: a 2019 study by the United Nations revealed that the female voices of digital assistants – like Siri and Alexa – were entrenching gender stereotypes. “The speech of most voice assistants … sends a signal that women are obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers,” the study found.

By altering your Siri’s voice setting, you are training your brain to unlearn the coded biases within its subconscious – or at least that’s what you can tell yourself.

No more women doing your bidding. Just make Ronan Keating do it instead.

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