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To get a one-touch flush solution • The Register

Voice Of EU



Something for the Weekend, Sir? I have a self-flushing toilet.

Not one of those novelty models from Japan, mind. No indeed, my self-flushing lav uses a unique system; it must be a DIY job, er, I mean a custom build.

But what do I know? I had a peek inside and the insides are so unfamiliar I may just as well have been staring into an alternative toilet dimension of Lovecraftesque proportions. It’s all cogs, levers and pendulums surrounded by barbed wire and mystic runes. I think I spotted a Mayan calendar at the back and I can hear monks chanting. Cthulu would refuse to snip a cable on anything less.

“Do you have a screwdriver?” asks the plumber, who has turned up literally empty handed. “And a flashlight? Oh, and a pencil and some string?” Next he’ll be asking me for a wrench, copper piping and a blow torch.

I have called in a plumber because I do not want a self-flushing toilet.

Call me unadventurous but I would prefer a conventional crapper that flushes when you press a button, turn a handle or yank a chain. The one I have at the moment triggers the flush mechanism all by itself every 23 minutes, day and night. The noise is driving us nuts, not least that of the water meter by the front door tick-tick-ticking through the euros with every useless drain and refill.

The plumber keeps whistling through his teeth, puffing out his cheeks and making clicking noises with his tongue. At first, I thought he was trying to communicate in one of those South African languages and I wondered if I should respond in semaphore or by tapping out Morse code on my knee with spoons.

How hard can it be to make a privy work at the touch of a button? After all, everything works at the touch of a button these days, or at least the sales and promotional material say it does. Whether it’s a smart speaker for the home, a project management suite for civil engineering or a surgery stuffed with brain surgery robotics, it’ll be marketed as “simple” and “easy to use.” One touch is all that’s required!

Obviously this is not true.

I saw a smart speaker advertised to say my entire library of banging tunes was instantly streamable upon me saying a word. What, one word? Which word? “Skelf”? “Adscititious”? “Oxyphenbutazone”?

Or do they mean I can assign a unique single-word shortcut to each track? So, for example, instead of having to clumsily request Der Mussolini by Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft three times while Alexa laughs at my accent, I could just say “Dwaal”. Or to save me the trouble of ordering the device to play Bomb by Bush, I could simply utter the shortcut “Pneumonoul­tramicrosc­opicsilico­volcanocon­iosis.”

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My electricity provider tells me I can call up my bills on screen “at the click of a mouse.” I tried this and it doesn’t work: apparently, I have to switch on my computer first.

Then I have to run a web browser which, depending on how I set things up, might itself require two clicks, albeit in rapid succession. Even assuming I have already bookmarked my electricity provider’s website, I need two more clicks to find the bookmark and launch it. Then I have to log in with a username and password, which my password manager might deal with but I still have to click the “Connect” button. After this I have to dismiss cookie notices, notification requests and the pop-up Helpbot window with further clicks in order to navigate the site’s impenetrable menus and eventually locate the billing section.

Then, finally, with a single click, I can call up my bill.

This strikes me a being a bit like a grocery shop claiming “We’re located just around the corner!” when in fact you have to drive the first 27 miles to get to that particular corner they’re just around.

The plumber has given up humming, hissing and tutting – which is just as well as it has been sending my smart speaker into a tizzy. Who knew that muttering “Ah no no no, tut-tut” was the shortcut to play Anthrax’s cover version of Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky featuring Leonard Cohen on the twanging ruler?

He admits to me that he has never seen a flushing mechanism like it before in his life, which makes me feel a lot better as he reluctantly returns my screwdrivers, pencil, spot welder, electron microscope, ladders and forklift. He says he’ll email me a quote and politely takes his leave. The barstard’s still walked off with the string I lent him, but no matter: while he was huffing and puffing over the cistern, I lifted his house keys from his jacket by way of collateral. We can exchange later on Glienicke Bridge.

The plumber’s reaction reminds me of that of the owner of a small independent garage that used to service my car for many years. The garagist eventually sold up because, he told me, cars had become too computerised for his oily-rag-and-wrench motor mechanic skills.

I imagine that similar emotions were experienced by the transport boss on the Toronto transit system when it fell victim to a ransomware attack last week.

It wasn’t exactly The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, was it? Instead of slamming up and down a noisy control room, yelling quotable one-liners in a Bronx accent while sporting a tartan shirt and mustard tie, the transit manager probably ended up in a tiny side-office stacked up with broken monitors, dancing from one foot to another while a PFY poked around on a keyboard.

Ah, good, my groin has lit up. I must have new mail.

I wake up my laptop to check and my email program announces it has updated itself while I was away. I must remember to fix this. A while back, in a fit of pique, I denied it permission to send me notifications, and now it just does whatever it wants without asking me first.

The plumber’s email is waiting for me in the inbox but just as I am about to click on it, a message gets in the way to thank me for updating and to announce that I can now call up a list of its revised keyboard shortcuts “with a single touch.”

Just the one, eh?

Since you ask, the new magic keystroke is CTRL+Y. I gave it a try using just one touch. Apologies for any typos in this week’s column, but my finger is still in a splint.

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He asked the plumber how long it might take to replace the flushing mechanism. The plumber replied “How long is a piece of string?” … which is an odd thing to say since only the plumber himself can accurately answer that question at this time. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy? • The Register

Voice Of EU



In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn’t pay a $20 million ransom. 

Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government’s computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti’s leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that “We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency.” 

Experts who spoke to the AP said they doubt actual regime change is likely, or the goal; Emsisoft analyst Brett Callow told the newswire that the threats are simply noise, and not to be taken seriously.

Callow may be right: News unfolding late this week suggests that Conti has gone offline, and may be breaking into several subsidiary groups. Its political ambitions in Costa Rica may just be a distraction, albeit one that could also turn a tidy profit. 

NSA: Trust us, no post-quantum encryption backdoors

The NSA wants to ease everyone’s concerns now: Even though it’s been involved in the US government’s post-quantum encryption research, the spy agency won’t have a backdoor.

Speaking to Bloomberg while discussing the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s post-quantum encryption competition, NSA Director of Cybersecurity (and Christmas-tree hacker) Rob Joyce said the new standards being developed are so strong that “there are no backdoors.” 

That would be a departure from previous encryption standards, which the NSA is believed to have had ready access to – until foreign spies acquired a copy of the backdoor software for their own use. The Biden administration recently announced additional funding for post-quantum encryption research, which aims to develop a form of protecting sensitive data so secure that even a quantum computer couldn’t crack it. 

The US has been actively working to develop encryption standards able to stand up to quantum computers for some time; Joyce claimed to Bloomberg that the NSA has had its own post-quantum encryption algorithms for several years, but those aren’t part of the NIST competition or available to the public. 

Despite spending tens of millions to address the security problems posed by quantum computers, the NSA also readily admits that it has no idea when, or even if, quantum computers able to crack modern public key cryptography will be realized. 

Frustrated IT admin gets seven years for deleting company databases

A former database administrator from China who wiped out his employer’s financial records has been sentenced to seven years in prison as a result.

Han Bing, who managed databases for Chinese real estate brokerage Lianjia, allegedly used his administrator access and root privileges to log in to two of Lianjia’s database servers, and two application servers, where he wiped financial data and related applications that took the company’s entire finance system offline, said Chinese news sources. 

Bing was reportedly disgruntled with his employer. He repeatedly warned them of security flaws in Lianjia’s finance system but felt ignored and undervalued, Lianjia’s ethics chief testified in court. Bing’s actions directly cost the company around $27,000 to recover data and rebuilt systems, but that doesn’t include the impact of lost business.

Bing was caught when Lianjia questioned everyone with access to the financial systems who had permissions to do what Bing did, of whom there were only five. The company claims that Bing acted suspiciously when asked to present his laptop for inspection, refusing to provide his password and claiming privacy privileges. 

The company said it suspected none of the laptops would show traces of the attack, but wanted to see how those it questioned would react. Investigators were later able to recover logs that pointed to Bing’s laptop’s IP and MAC addresses, and crosschecking logs against security footage put Bing in the right place at the right time to be the guilty party.

Apple patches a whopping 98 separate vulnerabilities

Apple has had a busy week: In a series of security updates released Monday and Wednesday, the iMaker patched 98 separate vulnerabilities out of its various software platforms.

The updates in question cover most every bit of software Apple makes: WatchOS, iOS and iPad OS, macOS Monterey, Big Sur and Catalina, Xcode, tvOS, Safari and iTunes for Windows were all included. Most of the vulnerabilities are from the past few months, but one common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) number covered by the updates dates back to 2015.

A few of the vulnerabilities covered by this week’s glut of Apple patches were rolled out previously for one system, but not others, as was the case with CVE-2022-22674 and -22675, which were patched in macOS Monterey, but not older versions, in April. Those vulnerabilities were reportedly being actively exploited at the time. 

Malicious applications executing arbitrary code with kernel privileges appears to be the most common type of hole being closed in this round of patches, though some do stand out, like Apple Watch bugs that could let apps capture the screen and bypass signature validation.

On iOS, vulnerabilities patched include websites being able to track users in Safari private browsing mode, while macOS users are being protected against apps being able to bypass Privacy preferences and access restricted portions of the filesystem.

Russian-backing Chaos ransomware variant is pure destruction

Cybersecurity firm Fortinet has discovered a variant of the Chaos ransomware that professes support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but appears to have no decryption key to rescue victims in Putin’s regime. 

The variant appears to have been compiled with Chaos’ GUI customization tool as recently as May 16, Fortinet said. The researchers said they’re unsure how the Chaos variant infects its victims, and said the variant doesn’t act any differently than typical Chaos ransomware. 

Like other forms of Chaos, it enumerates files on infected systems, and irrevocably damages any larger than around 2MB by filling it with random bytes. Anything smaller is encrypted, but recoverable with a key. Chaos also typically attacks commonly used directories like Desktop, Contacts, Downloads and Pictures, which are encrypted entirely. 

Here’s where this Chaos variant differs: It’s overtly political, and instead of offering contact info and a ransom demand, the malware simply says “Stop Ukraine War! F**k Zelensky! Dont [sic] go die for f**king clown,” along with a pair of links to sites claiming to belong to the Information Coordination Center, but offering no information otherwise. Files are also encrypted with a “f**kazov” extension, likely referring to the Ukrainian Azov Battalion.

Fortinet said that this Chaos variant appears unique in the sense it appears designed to be file-destroying malware. “This particular variant provides no such avenue as the attacker has no intent on providing a decryption tool … clearly, the motive behind this malware is destruction,” Fortinet said. 

The FortiGuard team behind the research warns that with its GUI, Chaos ransomware has become a commodity product, and it expects additional attacks of this variety to emerge. ®

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UCD-led research finds potential treatment for advanced eye cancer

Voice Of EU



The team said their research could help improve treatment options for advanced uveal melanoma, which currently has a poor survival rate.

An international team of researchers led by University College Dublin (UCD) have uncovered a potential treatment for a type of cancer that effects the eye.

The researchers looked at uveal melanoma (UM), the most common form of eye cancer which is diagnosed in 50 to 60 people in Ireland each year. The team explained that UM begins in the middle layer of the eye, but if it spreads to the liver and other parts of the body, patients have a poor survival prognosis.

Future Human

In their study, the team aimed to uncover treatment options for the advanced stage of this eye cancer, as it becomes very difficult to treat once it has spread.

The researchers focused on a drug called ACY-1215, which is currently in clinical trials for other solid tumours and blood cancers. This drug belongs to a relatively new group of anticancer drugs called histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi).

“We wanted to understand how ACY-1215 works to prevent tumour cell growth and spread, in the context of UM,” said postdoctoral researcher Dr Husvinee Sundaramurthi.

Histones are proteins that provide structural support for DNA in cells, allowing DNA to be tightly packaged together. The researchers said these proteins act like a spool that a thread of DNA can wrap itself around.

In the study, the team used the drug ACY-1215 to interfere with the histones in advanced UM cells, to stop the processes involved in their survival and growth.

“We uncovered the particular molecules that may be involved in the anticancer effects the drug ACY-1215 has in advanced UM cells,” said study lead Prof Breandan Kennedy.

“This study will pave the way to look more closely at the benefits of using HDACi, specifically ACY-1215, as a suitable treatment option for advanced UM.”

Kennedy said that by understanding the therapeutic potential of the small molecules involved in the anticancer effects, researchers can improve UM patient care and create personalised treatment strategies.

The international research team involved groups from Spain, Sweden and Ireland. Funding was provided through grants from the Irish Research Council, in collaboration with Breakthrough Cancer Research, UCD’s TopMed10, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions CoFund Programme and Horizon 2020.

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Crypto is starting to lose its cool – just look at El Salvador | Rowan Moore

Voice Of EU



To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.

Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”

Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.

But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?

Unsecured credit line

Boris Johnson waves his arms behind a podium with the Elizabeth line sign.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan looks on as Boris Johnson gives a speech at Paddington station on 17 May 2022. Photograph: Reuters

The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.

Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.

Behind the red wall

Characters from The House of Shades gather around a table on stage
Mounting misery: The House of Shades. Photograph: Helen Murray

If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then The House of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.

It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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