FL Students Develop Anti-Skimming Detector to Stop ATM Hackers

While hackers steal credit card numbers online, other crooks do it directly from the card, at the point where a consumer exchanges the data with a cash or banking machine. The U.S. Secret Service says those crooks, called skimmers, steal more than a billion dollars annually. A group of students at the University of Florida is developing a device that may put a stop to this type of crime. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Afghan Immigrant Women Prosper in Male Dominated Tech World

The United States is a land of opportunity for many immigrants. But some who come to the US often face big hurdles. The challenges can be especially great for immigrant women trying to succeed in male dominated careers in STEM fields: for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. VOA spoke with three Afghan women, all of whom prove that where there is a will, there’s usually a way. Zheela Noori went to Silicon Valley to find out what drives them. Freshta Azizi narrates.

NY Times: US Investigating Cambridge Analytica

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook Inc user information, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have sought to question former Cambridge Analytica employees and banks that handled its business, the newspaper said, citing an American official and others familiar with the inquiry.

Cambridge Analytica said earlier this month it was shutting down after losing clients and facing mounting legal fees resulting from reports the company harvested personal data about millions of Facebook users beginning in 2014.

Allegations of the improper use of data for 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. election campaign, have prompted multiple investigations in the United States and Europe.

The investigation by the Justice Department and FBI appears to focus on the company’s financial dealings and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, the Times said.

Investigators have contacted Facebook, according to the newspaper.

The FBI, the Justice Department and Facebook declined to comment to Reuters. Former officials with Cambridge Analytica was not immediately available to comment.

Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013, initially with a focus on U.S. elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times has reported. Bannon left the White House on August 2017.

Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ Adapted for Video Game

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth — err, game.


Henry David Thoreau wrote those words — most of them — in his seminal book, “Walden.” They make up the objective of a video game that seeks to translate his exploits in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts, into a playable digital reality.


“Walden, a Game” is adapted from the book and launches Tuesday on PlayStation 4. It has been available on computers for almost a year.


“Obviously it’s an odd or unique idea for a game,” said Tracy Fullerton, who conceived the idea and led the team that created it at the University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab.


Fullerton told The Associated Press that “Walden” is one of her favorite books, and she thinks its meaning —  a tale of escaping technology to appreciate nature — is topical today.


“It seemed to be a kind of game that he was playing,” Fullerton said. So she created one to mimic it.


Fullerton acknowledges the irony of trumpeting nature in a video game but said she hopes the game will be more contemplative than others.


Players drop in with a half-built cabin on the shores of Walden Pond. From there, they can essentially decide everything they do over eight seasons (Thoreau thought a year was better divided into eight parts than four), which takes six hours of real time.


They can finish building the house and toil in the fields, or they can venture out into 70 acres of virtual nature.


The objective is to find the right balance between survival — players can’t die, but they can faint — and fulfillment. As players seek more inspiration from nature, interacting with animals and trees, the actual game world becomes more colorful and more physically beautiful, Fullerton said.


The team at USC spent more than a decade creating the game, she said. Team members consulted literature and history experts to ensure the accuracy of its portrayals, and the game’s sound designer recorded all of its audible elements in the real Walden woods.


It’s available for free for teachers, and a curriculum is available online, but Fullerton said the game’s primary purpose is entertainment.


Joseph Simpson, a software developer from Ohio, said he reads Walden every year and discovered the game while reading about Fullerton.


“I immediately, without hesitation, bought it and started playing it,” he said. Simpson said the essence of the book has been implemented into the game in a way that doesn’t corrupt it with too many objectives or missions.


“I may not have to read Walden this year because I can play the game,” he said.


Experts on the textual version of “Walden” also were intrigued.


Robert Hudspeth, a former president of the Thoreau Society and an English professor at the Claremont Graduate University in California, said he has heard of the game but hasn’t played it.


“I will say, however, that anything that might spark an interest in Thoreau’s writing is welcome,” Hudspeth said. “If playing a game stimulates the players to go to the books, then I’m all for it!”

US Senate Preps for Net Neutrality Vote

Senate Democrats are mounting a last-ditch campaign to preserve so-called “net neutrality” that has prevented certain content or users from being slowed on the internet in the United States — an effort most Republicans say is misguided and counterproductive.

On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on whether to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s December decision to repeal Obama-era rules that barred internet service providers from favoring certain users or material. All 49 Democrats and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, back the resolution in the 100-member chamber.

“All [net neutrality] does is protect the openness of the internet to competitors across the country,” said Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats. “I believe this resolution will restore us to a place where small businesses will be able to compete and blossom and prosper.”

Added Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts: “Net neutrality is our 21st century right, and we will fight to protect it. Eighty-three percent of Americans, in polling, say they want to protect net neutrality.”

Republicans insist they, too, believe in net neutrality, but want to safeguard it by crafting forward-looking legislation rather than re-imposing an outdated regulatory structure.

“Democrats have decided to take the issue of net neutrality and make it partisan,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota said. “Instead of working with Republicans to develop permanent net neutrality legislation, they’ve decided to try to score political points with a partisan resolution that would do nothing to permanently secure net neutrality.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, defended the commission’s decision at a recent telecommunications conference in Washington, saying antiquated and heavy-handed federal internet regulation slows innovation and discourages investment in cyberinfrastructure.

“If you want something to operate like a slow-moving utility [company], there is no better way to ensure that than by regulating it as such,” Pai said. “[The American people] want more access, they want competition. They want the internet to be better and faster and cheaper.”

The FCC chairman added that federal regulators retain the ability to crack down on any unfair practices regarding internet access, and that service providers are required to disclose whether they slow any content or offer paid so-called “fast lanes.”

Such assurances have not satisfied more than 20 U.S. states that sued to prevent the FCC’s decision from going into effect June 11. In Washington, Democrats say small-business owners are worried they will be at a disadvantage in reaching new customers if net neutrality disappears.

“It’s all about having equal access to the internet,” King said, pointing to Certify, a small Web-based company in Portland, Maine, as an example of what is at stake. “One hundred fifty employees. It has two million users around the globe — that’s because of the power of the internet. We don’t want that business to be choked off by a large competitor who can pay preferential rates [for internet access].”

America’s largest internet service providers have said they will not engage in “throttling” — dramatically slowing down certain content — once the new FCC rules go into effect next month.

The net neutrality resolution could pass in the Senate 50-49, given the absence of Arizona Republican John McCain. From there, it faces significant hurdles. Passage is seen as less likely in the Republican-led House of Representatives, and President Donald Trump is unlikely to sign a bill overriding a decision backed by the FCC chairman he selected.

Even so, Democrats see an opportunity to highlight an issue of concern to many Americans ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

“This vote will allow senators to show once and for all where everyone stands on #NetNeutrality,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted.

Twitter Changes Strategy in Battle Against Internet ‘Trolls’

Twitter Inc on Tuesday revised its strategy for fighting abusive internet trolls,” saying it would use behavioral signals to identify harassers on the social network and then limit the visibility of their tweets.

San Francisco-based Twitter, known for freewheeling discussions since it was founded in 2006, has been trying to rid itself of harassment out of concern that personal attacks were driving people away.

Twitter’s rules already prohibit abuse, and it can suspend or block offenders once someone reports them. Users can also mute people they find offensive.

Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said Twitter now would try to find problematic accounts by examining behavior such as how frequently people tweet about accounts that do not follow them or whether they have confirmed their email address.

Tweets from those accounts will appear lower in certain areas of the service, such as search results or replies to tweets, even if the tweets themselves have not been found to violate any rules.

“We want to take the burden of the work off the people receiving the abuse or the harassment,” Dorsey said in a briefing with reporters. Past efforts to fight abuse “felt like Whac-A-Mole,” he added.

Tweets will not be removed entirely based on behavioral signals, Dorsey said.

In tests the new approach resulted in a 4 percent decrease in abuse reports originating from search results and an 8 percent decrease in abuse reports from the conversations that take place as replies to tweets, according to the company.

Most abuse comes from a small number of accounts that have an outsized impact, said Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president for trust and safety.

Social media firms including Twitter and Facebook are under pressure to remove bullies, many of whom target women and minorities. Many women cannot express themselves freely on Twitter without fear of violence, Amnesty International said in a report in March.

Reducing abuse could also help Twitter’s business. If more people sign up and spend time on the service, marketers may buy more ads on it.

Dorsey said that Twitter’s 336 million monthly active users should expect a series of other changes over the next several months as the company explores ways to encourage tweets that are more civil.

In March, Twitter sought proposals from academics and others to help gauge the “health of public conversations.” Dorsey said the company is reviewing 230 submissions it received.

Dutch Government Dropping Kaspersky Software Over Spying Fears

The Dutch government is phasing out the use of anti-virus software made by Russian firm Kaspersky Lab amid fears of possible spying, despite vehement denials by the Moscow-based cybersecurity company.

The Dutch Justice and Security ministry said in a statement late Monday the decision had been taken as a “precautionary measure” in order “to guarantee national security.”

But Kaspersky Lab, whose anti-virus software is installed on some 400 million computers worldwide, said Tuesday it was “very disappointed” by the move.

The firm, which is suspected by US authorities of helping the Kremlin’s espionage efforts, also announced Tuesday that it was moving its core infrastructure and operations to Switzerland.

“Our new center in Switzerland will strengthen the proven integrity of Kaspersky Lab’s products, [and] significantly improve the resilience of our IT infrastructure to any trust risk — even theoretical ones,” the Russian company said in a statement.

Last year, the US federal government removed Kaspersky from its list of approved vendors, weeks after senior US intelligence agency and law enforcement officials expressed concerns about the safety of its software.

The Netherlands fears Kaspersky’s anti-virus software is “deep in systems” and any abuse could “pose a major security risk.”

Dutch officials also voiced concern that under Russian law companies such as Kaspersky are “required to cooperate with the Russian government.”

But the company hit back saying “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyber espionage or offensive cyber efforts” and adding it was “being treated as guilty merely due to geopolitical issues.”

It said it would try to arrange a meeting soon with the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism to discuss the situation.

Dutch intelligence officials have increasingly warned however that they fear the Kremlin is trying to hack into Dutch companies and manipulate elections here.

“Russia has an active offensive cyber program focusing on the Netherlands and vital Dutch interests,” the ministry warned, adding it had therefore concluded there was a risk of “digital espionage and sabotage.”

Bubble Barrier Stopping Plastic Trash in River Streams

According to the University of California, in 1950 the world produced about two million tons of plastic products. By 2015 the production increased to 380 million tons. If it continues at this pace by 2050 the weight of plastic waste in the world’s oceans may equal that of all fish. Researchers in the Netherlands say they have found an efficient and environmentally safe way for stopping plastic trash floating in rivers from entering our oceans: Bubbles. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Study Finds Uber’s Growth Slows after Year of Scandal; Lyft Benefits

Uber Technologies’ growth has slowed as a series of scandals has allowed the ride-hailing company’s chief U.S. competitor, Lyft, to grab more market share, digital research firm eMarketer said in a report on Monday.

The research firm has lowered its forecasts for Uber’s growth for the next several years. It projects 48 million U.S. adults will use Uber at least once this year, up 18 percent from last year but well off eMarketer’s earlier forecast of more than 51 million.

EMarketer based its analysis on data from Uber and Lyft, such as trip numbers and app downloads, as well as customer surveys from researchers at JP Morgan and other firms.

The report quantifies the effect of a series of scandals at Uber last year, which included an internal probe of sexual harassment and workplace behavior; a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into whether Uber managers violated U.S. laws against bribery of foreign officials; a lawsuit by Alphabet alleging trade secrets theft that Uber settled for $245 million; and the departure of Uber’s chief executive officer, who was pushed out by investors concerned about the growing list of problems.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Lyft has grown quickly, adding more than 160 cities last year, benefiting from Uber’s tarnished image and as a later entry into markets where people are already familiar with ride-hailing services, eMarketer said. On Monday, Lyft said it has 35 percent of the national ride-hailing market, and in 16 U.S. markets its share exceeds 40 percent.

“Uber’s brand image took an even bigger hit than expected as it grappled with a series of scandals and PR disasters in 2017,” said Shelleen Shum, eMarketer’s forecasting director. “Lyft, which had been rapidly expanding its coverage, seized on the opportunity to brand itself as a more socially conscious alternative.”

The research firm said it has lowered its forecast for Uber’s growth every year through 2021, reflecting the company’s competitive disadvantage after last year’s problems. EMarketer’s previous projections pegged the number of Uber users in 2017 at about 44 million, but the actual number ended up being fewer than 41 million.

Even so, Uber remains the dominant U.S. ride-hailing company. At the end of this year it will have about 77 percent of the market, down from 90 percent in 2016, while Lyft will have 48 percent, up from nearly 29 percent, according to eMarketer.

EMarketer’s projections for 2022 show Uber with nearly 74 percent of customers and Lyft with 59 percent of ride-hailing customers. Some people use both services.

Lyft operates in roughly the same number of U.S. cities as Uber, as well as in Toronto. Uber operates across the globe, although it has retreated from Southeast Asia, Russia and China after losing billions of dollars competing with local rivals.