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Right-to-repair name and shames terrible tech • The Register

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Six right-to-repair advocates assembled on Friday morning to present Repair.org’s second annual Worst in Show Awards, a selection of the “the least private, least secure, least repairable, and least sustainable gadgets at CES.”

In a presentation streamed on YouTube, author and activist Cory Doctorow presided over the condemnation session. He said that he has been attending the Consumer Electronics Show for decades and vendors will gladly enumerate the supposed benefits of their products.

“But what none of those people will ever do is tell you how it will fail,” said Doctorow. “And that’s kind of our job here today, to talk about the hidden or maybe not so hidden and completely foreseeable failure modes of these gadgets.”

Kyle Wiens, co-founder of iFixit, gave the new Mercedes EQS EV the award for the worst product in terms of repairability. Showing a slide of the warning screen the car presents to its driver, he said, “You cannot open the hood of the car. It is locked, warning of accident, warning of injury if you open the hood. Mercedes’ perspective is, ‘Hey, this is an electric car. There’s nothing the owner needs to do under the hood of this car.”

Wiens said this is not the first time Mercedes has gone down this road, noting that a few years ago the company removed the dipstick from its C-class vehicles, arguing that only an authorized technician should change the oil.

“So this is everything that is wrong with the future,” he said.

Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, gave the award for the worst privacy to the Sengled Smart Health Monitoring Light.

“This is a light bulb that is supposed to be monitoring your health, but really is monitoring the humans in the room,” explained Cohn.

The idea, she said, is that the device can track your sleep, heart rate, body temperature, and can do so all over the house if multiple units are used.

“These are one of these things where …some people are like, ‘we can do this thing now let’s find a need for it’ and then I guess the need for it was in case grandma falls down,” she said. “Of course, grandma has all sorts of other ways to tell you that she’s fallen down, that are really only about surveilling her and that she can control as opposed to this one, which is outside of grandma’s control.”

Cohn said the idea that you need your light bulb to monitor your heart rate is just creepy, weird, and unnecessary. And what’s more, she added, it’s not clear what happens to the data the device gathers, where it gets stored, and who has access to it.

NFTs at a price

Nathan Proctor, national campaign director for public interest non-profit USPIRG, bestowed his disdain on Samsung’s new NFT Aggregation Platform.

“One of the beautiful things about the digital age is that the marginal cost of sharing and making copies of things is pretty close to zero,” he explained.

“But there are just some people who have a hard time rolling with that kind of sharing. So we are so used to value that’s derived from scarcity that we have to inject scarcity into the digital world where it’s totally unnecessary and serves no purpose other than to create uniqueness, for things that are actually truly not unique.

If you don’t know what an NFT is, I am honestly jealous of your life

“This brings me to my selection for the worst in class for the environment,” Proctor continued. “Samsung’s new TV NFT aggregation platform, a way to buy, sell and display your NFT artwork from your huge ginormous OLED Samsung TV.”

“If you don’t know what an NFT is, I am honestly jealous of your life,” he said. “But let me explain poorly, because there’s no way to actually explain it without boring you to death. It stands for Non-Fungible Token and it’s a piece of digital media with some kind of permanent, non-transferable marker attached to it, which kind of confirms it’s, you know, been attributed to you in some way. It’s basically a way to create scarcity for digital images that would otherwise not have that as part of their existence.”

NFTs, Proctor said, are sold on markets as if they were collectibles, “sort of like a Beanie Baby craze for crypto tech bros – if Beanie Babies required massive continual energy consumption on a warming planet to remain corporeal.”

They’re bought and sold, he said, using Ethereum, noting that one researcher recently calculated that an artist selling two pieces of artwork used 176 megawatt hours of electricity, creating greenhouse gas emission equivalent to 21 years of average US household energy use.

Paul Roberts, founder of securerepairs.org, cautioned that since he hadn’t had hands-on time with the products he considered, the award he bestowed is speculative. Nonetheless, he chose industrial equipment maker John Deere’s fully autonomous 8R tractor, not because of known vulnerabilities but because of the way the company engages with the security community and the inevitability of bugs in the software governing such a complicated machine.

“Any company that makes any software, let alone again, multi-ton robotic equipment with … millions of lines of code is going to encounter security problems,” he explained. “Cybersecurity issues and vulnerabilities are just a byproduct of how much code you write. So Deere, like every other device maker, is going to encounter security issues and vulnerabilities, some of them very serious.”

The issue for Roberts is Deere’s corporate security culture, which he contends is insufficiently responsive to the research community. He points to the disclosure in April last year of vulnerabilities that allowed security researchers to penetrate the company’s corporate website and operations center website.

“Deere’s response to this has been lacking. It really boils down to what I would consider security washing. They launched a bug bounty program with HackerOne, they sent their CISO out on a press tour and talked about how seriously they take security,” he said.

“But in reality, there’s very little to show for that. The bug bounty program exempted hardware from the types of things that researchers were invited to to scrutinize. They’ve had 100 reports since it launched but only 40 are resolved, so they’ve got 60 unresolved issues sitting in the queue.”

Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org, revealed that the Community Choice poll for Worst in Show also went to John Deere, noting her organization is fighting the company in every state legislature to make its products easier to repair.

“It’s nice to see that the broad public is getting the message that allowing one giant union-busting, profit-taking rapacious ag tech company to corner the market on how we get our food and then just turning them loose to do whatever they want with the machines that are necessary is probably not the path we need to a better future,” Doctorow observed before presenting his pick for the overall Worst in Show: Lenovo’s new ​​Smart Clock Essential with Alexa.

“This is a device that you put next to your bed, that if you make an unintelligible random sound, turns on and starts listening to everything you say,” Doctorow said, pointing to the work of security researchers who have looked into the data captured by Amazon’s smart speaker system and the company’s use of contractors who review captured audio to assure transcription quality. “And that just feels to me like one of those things that right out of the gate we should be able to spot is not something that we want in our homes.”

“We are long overdue in this country for federal privacy law with a private right of action, the kind of thing that might discipline one of these companies and you know, here we are…here’s the example of why we need firms to go beyond self regulation and to be regulated by democratically accountable lawmakers that think about the public interest.” ®



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$2.5m last year • The Register

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Scammers have scammed their fellow cybercriminals out of more than $2.5 million on three dark web forums alone over the last 12 months, according to Sophos researchers.

In a Black Hat Europe session, Sophos threat hunters detailed their investigation, which examined scams on two well-established Russian-language marketplaces, Exploit and XSS. They also looked at BreachForums, which launched in April 2022 after a Europol-led operation shut down the earlier version of the stolen-data souk, RaidForums.

And it turns out that scammers gonna scam, even in the criminal underground.

“We saw referral cons, fake data leaks and tools, typosquatting, phishing, ‘alt rep’ scams (the use of sockpuppets to artificially inflate reputation scores), fake guarantors, blackmail, impersonated accounts, and backdoored malware,” writes Sophos senior security researcher Matt Wixey, in the research posted today. “We even found instances where threat actors got revenge by scamming the scammers who scammed them.”

Scams on these three cybercrime forums are so prevalent that all of them have dedicated “arbitration rooms.”

Exploit, which has about 2,500 reported scams, has two: one for claims and another, the Black List, for confirmed scams. These have been around since the mid-2000s, along with closed Russian attacker forum XSS, which reported around 760 scams on its site, according to Sophos. XSS also keeps a “ripper list” that indexes scam sites.

“Exploit is the worst for scams, both in terms of numbers of reports and money lost to scammers,” Wixey writes. “It does have around twice as many members as XSS, and may also attract more scammers because of its reputation.”

Exploit’s open claims’ room lists 211 claims totaling $1,021,998, while its Black List cited 236 exploits that cost other crooks $863,324. 

In one case, an Exploit user opened an arbitration claim in an attempt to negotiate with ransomware gang Conti about decrypting a company’s assets. Exploit admins, however, closed that claim because ransomware is banned on the marketplace, so apparently there are some standards.

Meanwhile, XSS, for comparison, reported 120 open claims valued at $509,901. BreachForums’ arbitration room, which has only been around since that market opened in April, lists 21 claims worth $143,722.

While higher-end scams on all three forums hit six figures — $160,000 on Exploit and XSS are the most lucrative — some victims on these sites have filed claims for as little as $2, according to Wixey. “Threat actors seem to be as indignant about having their money stolen as anyone else, no matter the amount,” he notes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the claims processes sometimes descend into name calling, insults and general chaos with the accuser accusing the accused of scamming. In some cases the alleged victims end up getting banned from the sites for being dishonest.

While banning is the most common punishment for ripping off fellow criminals on these forums, BreachForums also publishes banned users’ email address, registration, and last-seen IP address, thus leaving them open for doxxing, the research says. 

However, Sophos also cites a few cases “involving serial scammers” who were banned, and simply created new profiles, paid another registration fee, and carried on with their criminal ways.

As Wixey notes: “If there’s a takeaway from all this, it’s that no user is immune; any trade on criminal forums involves an inherent risk of scams.” ®

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Meet the award-winning geneticist changing patients’ lives

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Prof Sally Ann Lynch talks about the complexity of DNA tests and the work that led to her winning the HRCI Research Impact Award.

Last Thursday (1 December), consultant geneticist Prof Sally Ann Lynch won the inaugural Health Research Charities Ireland (HRCI) Research Impact Award for her contribution to the field of research.

The award highlights the role of health research charities in funding research as well as principal investigators who have participated in the joint funding scheme from HRCI and the Health Research Board.

Lynch’s work, which was supported by the National Children’s Research Centre and the Children’s Health Foundation, Temple Street, was recognised for its real-world impact and for making a positive difference to patients’ lives.

Specifically, Lynch and her team undertook two projects under the scheme, which identified a total of 11 genes that have been responsible for significant health issues for people.

One of these genes, the LARS gene, and its association with a failure to thrive in babies was a brand-new discovery.

With the remaining 10 genes, Lynch discovered new clinical symptoms that were not previously associated with diseases for these genes, from lung disease to neurological conditions.

Lynch told SiliconRepublic.com more about her research, which started 10 years ago.

“We were using new technology to try and make diagnoses in families where routine testing was negative. It was done in collaboration with a team in UCD [University College Dublin],” she said.

“We successfully identified new diagnoses in a number of families using this. Now, this technology forms part of routine diagnostic testing in the investigation of children and adults with various different clinical problems.”

‘I do feel it is important to try and find diagnoses where one hasn’t been found’
– SALLY ANN LYNCH

Lynch said the LARS gene had not been previously recognised as a gene that caused human disease.

“This gene, if it is not working properly, causes children to fail to thrive. Many had evidence of anaemia and liver problems and when these children got a dose of flu or other viral illnesses, they could get very ill and go into liver failure,” she said.

“A colleague working in the metabolic unit in Temple Street had identified a small number of families who had affected children so we collaborated together and received consent from the families to use this new technology to see if we could identify the cause of the liver failure. We found genetic alterations in this gene, LARS.”

The discovery can help many children around the world be diagnosed as well and, while a new treatment has not been developed yet, a greater understanding of the condition can help with day-to-day management.

The challenges around genetic testing

While discoveries such as these can be amazing for diagnostics, medicine and innovations in health, the work is not without its challenges.

Because there is so much variation in DNA, trying to work out if these variations are causing a disease or if they are completely benign can be extremely difficult.

“It is important that due care and attention is paid to genetic test reports as they are not always black and white. The biggest challenge we face is interpreting DNA changes and trying to work out if we have reached a diagnosis or if it still remains elusive,” said Lynch.

She added that DNA tests are often misconstrued as easy to organise and have the ability to give a yes or no answer, when the reality is far more complex.

“DNA tests might give you a diagnosis, they might not give you a diagnosis. Sometimes a gene change is found and no one is sure whether a diagnosis has been reached or not because there is not enough evidence to be completely sure. DNA tests need consent. DNA tests need thought.”

Upon winning the Research Impact Award, Lynch spoke about her passion for solving rare diseases and said that an estimated 300,000 people in Ireland are living with a rare disease.

“Rare diseases undoubtedly get less bite of the funding cherry than other conditions, even though they are more in number and are just as, if not more, challenging. This needs to change.”

She added that identifying new genes is the first step in a long road that will hopefully one day lead to a new treatment.

As part of her research work, Lynch helped produce a handbook, Genetic Testing & Risk Assessment of Rare Disorders, for primary healthcare professionals.

“As a medic, staying still is not OK. I do feel it is important to try and find diagnoses where one hasn’t been found. I do feel I have to keep trying.”

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Infinite lives: the company saving old arcade machines | Games

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On a rural industrial estate five miles outside Honiton, under the flight path of a nearby aerodrome, sits a rather nondescript warehouse. Only one feature marks it out: in front is a graveyard of stripped arcade cabinets, slowly rotting in the cold and damp.

I am here to visit Play Leisure, a company that restores and sells old arcade games. It has a compelling TikTok account where it shares new discoveries – a recent post showed off a Deadstorm Pirates machine with its enormous sit-in cabinet and giant cinematic display. I’ve dragged my friend and fellow arcade fanatic Joao Sanches along, and now I’m feeling nervous and responsible because, walking up to the unmarked entrance, I’ve no idea if they will have anything interesting in stock after our 90-minute drive.

But peering inside, I spot it immediately, sat there in the cramped reception area amid piles of cardboard boxes: a pristine 1992 Street Fighter II machine, the backboard sporting a wild illustration of Ryu kicking Ken, each special feature on the playfield named after famous Street Fighter attacks. I almost gasp.

Matt Conridge, the owner of Play Leisure, has always been interested in arcade machines. “Like a lot of us in our 30s and 40s, it comes from back when I was a kid,” he explains as he comes to greet us. “I used to visit arcades at seaside resorts – places like Dawlish and Lynmouth.”

Matt Conridge, the owner of Play Leisure.
‘It comes from back when I was a kid’ … Matt Conridge, the owner of Play Leisure. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Three years ago, Conridge was running a video game bar in Bideford, north Devon, when Covid hit. Facing disaster, he decided to close up and use his contacts in the arcade scene to pivot into a new project: restoration. He rented a warehouse, employed a small team of specialist engineers and started buying up all the old coin-ops he could get his hands on. The plan was to repair them and sell them on to private collectors and retro theme bars, after the pandemic.

“Back then, we were only buying small quantities so it usually came from collectors. Now we take them on an industrial scale,” says Conridge. “At the moment, with what’s happening in the economy, arcades are cutting costs, getting rid of some of the lower performing machines that cost them more to run than they make in revenue. We get clearances from arcades, play centres, trampoline parks … ”

Another problem is that older coin-ops require specialist engineers to maintain them. “A lot of the people who used to build and service these machines have retired,” says Conridge. “That knowledge is dying.”

Matt takes us through to the main warehouse space, where we’re momentarily stunned again. Crammed into a space about the size of a tennis court are 200-odd arcade machines from throughout gaming history. The first thing I spot is the twin cabinet version of Sega’s brilliant 1995 racing game Manx TT Super Bike, which allowed players to sit on reproduction motorcycles and compete against each other along narrow country lanes. Nearby there’s Konami’s thrilling Silent Scope 2: Fatal Judgement, complete with its authentic sniper rifle controller, and further back in this electronic labyrinth is a twin cab of Final Furlong, the crazy Namco horse racing game that you control by sitting on a plastic horse and jumping up and down.

I’m taken back to the first time I visited Japan in 2000 to attend the Tokyo Game Show. I walked into an arcade in Akihabara and saw salarymen on their lunch hour, dozens of them in rows playing this game, grimacing with effort in the darkness.

The warehouse has about 200 arcade machines from throughout gaming history.
The warehouse has about 200 arcade machines from throughout gaming history. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

The machines arrive in huge shipping containers and Conridge is never quite sure what games he’ll find or what condition they will be in. “The problem is, arcade operators don’t generate any more money by keeping machine internals clean,” he says. “If you open it up and start cleaning the inside you may end up causing issues. We’ve opened them and found coins, tools … We found a porno mag in the back of a machine once. We’ve just got one from Blackpool, a crane machine that dispensed sweets – it’s been left for a few years and the sweets have fallen inside and rotted, then the flies got in there … ugh.”

Will they clean that? “No,” laughs Conridge. “We’ll sell it off and let someone else deal with it.”

Conridge is however, conscientious about whom he sells brittle older machines to. “There are some retro machines that we advise people not to buy unless they’re technically minded,” he says. “There’s a pinball machine, a 1966 electromechanical model we’re just about to put on sale, and we’ll refuse to sell that to nine out of 10 people who contact us because we know it won’t be suitable for them. These machines are like classic cars: they are specialist pieces of equipment and need constant care. If I sell it to someone who just wants a working machine, they’ll be fed up after five minutes – we’ve got to choose the right customer for it. Someone who is able to tinker.”

It’s not just ancient pinball machines that are problematic. The big video arcade games of the 1990s – the technical peak of the industry – often used proprietary hardware that is simply impossible to replace or reproduce. “The Sega Model arcade boards used custom Lockheed Martin chips, which you just can’t source,” explains Chris, the lead engineer. “We have to decide whether to harvest parts from less interesting games and use them to resupply classics like Sega Rally.” Around the outskirts of the warehouse space, there are shelves groaning under the weight of esoteric parts, haphazardly piled or collected in boxes.

Lining the warehouse are shelves of esoteric parts.
Lining the warehouse are shelves of esoteric parts. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Adding to the value of these machines now is the fact that arcades historically dumped old units when they stopped being profitable. “Ten to 15 years ago companies just didn’t foresee that there would be any interest from collectors,” says Conridge. “We just sold an Addams Family pinball machine for £10,000 – that would have been chucked in a skip 15 years ago. People didn’t expect anyone would want them.”

This was especially true of larger speciality machines, such as rhythm action games, with their bulky floor pads and complicated controllers, and driving games with their realistic race car cabinets. Not only did they take up valuable floor space, they were expensive to maintain. Their growing rarity represents an interesting challenge for Play Leisure, because games like Dance Mania and Guitar Hero are exactly the sorts of machines that the new era of retro gaming bars – such as the NQ64 chain, which has just taken on £2m of funding – are looking for: not only are they fun to play in a bar environment, they’re fun to watch, too. “Dance Mania is now a £3k machine,” Conridge says.

When cabinets arrive, their condition is assessed. For Conridge there is a delicate balance between restoration and preservation. He shows me a Point Blank machine that’s just come in: Namco’s entertaining light gun shooter, which was also popular on the PlayStation, is a currently a hit with buyers. He will aim to repair these machines whatever state they arrive in – even though the guns themselves, with their delicate recoil mechanic, are often busted beyond repair (“they get really smashed by kids in the arcade”).

On this cabinet, the lavishly illustrated decals on the sides are peeling off: do they change the artwork for a modern reproduction? “If we do, it will look better but it won’t be original,” says Conridge. “It’s a challenge. We don’t tend to sell perfect-looking machines. When we went into arcades as children, the machines would have cigarette burns – that’s how you remember them. There’s a certain charm to that.”

‘I almost gasp’ … at the sight of the classic arcade game Street Fighter II.
‘I almost gasp’ … classic arcade game Street Fighter II. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Some arcade cabinets are not economically viable to repair, but that doesn’t mean they’re unsellable. “We sell quite a lot of project machines,” he says. “For a collector working in their garage, that’s fine. We had a Star Wars 1982 Atari machine come in about 14 months ago. We put it on TikTok and Facebook – someone rang and they were desperate for it. It was nice to save this original machine from being scrapped.”

If they can’t be repaired, they’re stripped for parts: circuit boards, cathode ray monitors, joysticks, motors. Almost none of these are manufactured any more, so they’re all saved. Even completely stripped cabinets can have value: people often use them as a shell for their own arcade machines, using a PC and LED monitor. “Our customers can be really creative,” says Conridge. “We have people turning them into cocktail cabinets, stands for DVD players and games consoles. It’s nice because they’re not ending up in a landfill site – they’re getting another life.”

Conridge reckons half his machines go to retro bars and modern arcades. The rest are bought by private collectors. There’s a highly active arcade-collecting community, based around Discord servers and forums such as UKVAC, and Covid brought in a lot of new customers who started building gaming dens in the midst of lockdown.

Besides retro pinball tables and 1990s hits, the big sellers are attached to film or TV licences. Play Leisure has sold three Star Wars Battle Pods, really big immersive machines, for £10,000 each. An Aerosmith-branded arcade game named Revolution X will sell for £1,500, an X-Files pinball table for £3,500. There’s an odd market too for old coin-pushing machines, mostly thanks to the TV quiz show Tipping Point and the growing popularity of TikTok accounts that specialise in coin-pushing live streams.

Close-up of game instructions.
‘It’s nice because they’re not ending up in a landfill site – they’re getting another life.’ Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Joao and I spend the whole day here, snaking between the machines, peering into their exposed innards. We photograph everything. A long time ago we worked together on the video game magazine Edge, often reporting on arcade shows – these machines, which are now antiques, were the newest, hottest tech when we started our careers.

And before that, as a kid, I hung out in arcades in the 1980s. Donkey Kong, Defender, Space Harrier, Out Run; a pocket full of 10 pence coins, a whole day to waste. It is bittersweet to see the machines here, their CRT monitors cracked or missing, light gun holsters worn and split.

It is good that these things are being saved. To many of us, these are more than just disposable commercial products: they are works of art containing within them the experiences of thousands of players, my own included.

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