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Top Stories for the Week of April 4, 2018

  • Episode 550
  • April 4, 2018

Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday April 4, 2018

The FCC has approved SpaceX's plan to launch nearly 4,500 broadband satellites

The FCC has approved SpaceX's plan to launch nearly 4,500 broadband satellites.

SpaceX has received US approval to launch 4,425 low-Earth orbit satellites, a key milestone in its plan to offer broadband with high speeds and low latency around the world.

The Federal Communications Commission issued an order approving SpaceX's application with some conditions. SpaceX intends to start launching operational satellites as early as 2019, with the goal of reaching the full capacity of 4,425 satellites in 2024. The FCC approval requires SpaceX to launch 50 percent of the satellites by March 2024, and all of them by March 2027.

SpaceX's network (known as "Starlink") will need separate approval from the International Telecommunication Union. The FCC approval is contingent upon SpaceX receiving this.

Like other operators, SpaceX will have to comply with FCC spectrum-sharing requirements. Outside the US, coexistence between SpaceX operations and other companies' systems are governed only by the ITU Radio Regulations as well as the regulations of the country where the earth station is located, according to the FCC.

SpaceX and several other companies are planning satellite broadband networks with much higher speeds and much lower latencies than existing satellite Internet services. SpaceX has said that it will offer speeds of up to a gigabit per second, with latencies between 25ms and 35ms. Those latencies would make SpaceX's service comparable to cable and fiber, while existing satellite broadband services have latencies of 600ms or more.

SpaceX states that once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will provide full-time coverage to virtually the entire planet.

SpaceX's application drew opposition from other satellite operators, who raised concerns about interference with other systems and debris as well. The FCC dismissed some of the complaints. For example, OneWeb wanted an unreasonably large buffer zone between its own satellites and SpaceX's. The FCC says that if operators fail to agree on a coordination plan in the future, "the Commission may intervene as appropriate."


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Fed up with Facebook data-slurping? Firefox has a cunning plan.

Fed up with Facebook data-slurping? Firefox has a cunning plan.

Sensing an opportunity in Facebook's squandering of public trust through its previously unrestrained giveaway of user data, Mozilla on Tuesday unveiled a defense against the social ad biz. And what was that defense? An add-on for Firefox called, “Facebook Container.”

The Firefox add-on, as its name suggests, works to contain Facebook's tracking attempts, in an effort to provide refuge from the internet advertising panopticon.

Along similar lines, Mozilla last week said it would stop advertising on Facebook in an effort to encourage CEO Mark Zuckerberg to improve Facebook privacy settings. It also said it plans to implement a basic ad filter in Firefox later this year.

Mozilla began developing Containers for Firefox in 2016 and started deploying them last year. The technology provides a way to create contexts (tabs) in which browser-based data can be sandboxed.

“Facebook Container” implements a Container specifically for Facebook: to restrain its informational reach. Facebook tries to track interactions on third-party websites that have implemented Facebook technology such as the Like button or the Facebook Login; the Add-on keeps Facebook in a separate Container to prevent it from following your activity on other websites.

While Facebook Container may help a little, it does have limitations. For example, Facebook ads employ links that pass tracking IDs outside of the Facebook Container, making it possible for third-party ad firms to associate Facebook authenticated profiles with an external profile.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

The patches Microsoft released for Meltdown in Windows 7 actually made the operating system LESS secure.

The patches Microsoft released for Meltdown in Windows 7 actually made the operating system LESS secure. You'll want to install the March update right away . . . if you can avoid broken networking.

Microsoft's January and February security fixes for Intel's Meltdown processor vulnerability opened up an even worse security hole on Windows 7 PCs and Server 2008 R2 boxes.

Microsoft's early Meltdown fixes for 64-bit Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 left a crucial kernel memory table readable and writable for normal user processes. This, in turn, means any malware on those vulnerable machines, or any logged-in user, can manipulate the operating system's memory map, gain administrator-level privileges, and extract and modify any information in RAM.

The problem boils down to a single bit accidentally set by the kernel in a CPU page table entry. This bit enabled read-write user-mode access to the top-level page table itself.

On Windows 7 and Server 2008 that PML4 table is at a fixed address, so it can always be found and modified by exploit code. With that key permission bit flipped from supervisor-only to any-user, the table allowed all processes to modify the table, and thus pull up and write to memory addresses they are not supposed to reach.

Windows 8 and 10 aren't affected. The March 13 Patch Tuesday updates contain a fix that addresses this permission issue, and a subsequent "emergency patch" from Microsoft should close up the issue.

In short, patch your Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 machines with the latest security updates to protect against this OS flaw, otherwise any processes or users can tamper with and steal data from physical RAM, and give themselves admin-level control.

Fingers crossed your system isn't among those that will suffer networking woes caused by the March security patches. Microsoft's security updates this month broke static IP address and vNIC settings on select installations, knocking unlucky virtual machines, servers, and clients offline.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Last year's Pokemon Go Fest attendees got their tickets refunded; but that wasn't enough.

Last year's Pokemon Go Fest was a disaster for the game's developers, Niantic. The company has now settled a class action suit that was filed as a result, for almost $1.6 million.

The event was plagued with problems from the outset, with the game crashing frequently, and leaving most players unable to use the app.

In the wake of the underwhelming festivities, Niantic issued full refunds to the Fest's attendees, $100 worth of in-game PokeCoins, and issued an apology, with a spokesperson saying the staff were "horrified" by the situation.

Their efforts to smooth things over proved to be insufficient, with the affected parties demanding that their travel costs be reimbursed too. A lawsuit seeking expenses was put together in July last year,

Now, Niantic is settling the lawsuit with a $1,575,000 payout to cover the costs of travel, accommodation, car rental, and other expenses incurred by a large chunk of the 20,000 attendees.

According to documents from a Chicago court pertaining to the suit, there are a few caveats. Claimants will have had to have checked in to the event through the app, and will need receipts for expenses amounting to more than $107.

Any money left over after the settlement will be donated to charity.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson


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