GIMP 3.0, Liquid Air Energy, Hyperloop Passengers, MS Teams Users Under Attack, Decentralized WWW

  • From Category5 Technology TV S14E04
  • November 11, 2020
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday November 11, 2020

A major release of the GIMP is on its way, and you can preview it now.

A new development version of the GNU Image Manipulation Program is available for testing, and get ready: it's a game changer!

GIMP 2.99.2 may be considered "unstable," but it's a huge step toward the long-anticipated GIMP 3.0 release, which promisees to be the most significant release of the free image editing tool to date.

GIMP 3.0 will be based on the GTK3 UI toolkit, which will bring many improvements over the current GTK2 that GIMP currently uses.

GIMP 3.0, and the 2.99.2 preview for that matter, include multi-layer selection and support for applying changes to multiple layers at a time. It also promises to deliver a faster, more responsive user experience, leveraging render caching within the interface.

GIMP 2.99.2 is an unstable release. That means it's intended for developers, bug hunters, and enthusiasts only, and is not recommended for production use. Some of the features on the roadmap are a work in progress, so there are bound to be many bugs throughout. That said, you can download GIMP 2.99.2 now if you'd like to take it for a spin. Windows users can get it on the GIMP developer download page and Linux users can grab it through a Flatpack on Flathub's beta channel. There's also a continuous build AppImage on the official GIMP GitHub repository. Sorry, Mac users: It's not ready for testing on macOS just yet.

There isn't a firm release date for GIMP 3.0, but the devs hope to have it ready for release sometime in 2021.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Work is beginning on what is thought to be the world's first major plant to store energy in the form of liquid air.

Work is beginning on what is thought to be the world's first major plant to store energy in the form of liquid air.

It will use surplus electricity from wind farms at night to compress air so hard that it becomes a liquid at -196 Celsius.

Then when there is a peak in demand in a day or a month, the liquid air will be warmed so it expands.

The resulting rush of air will drive a turbine to make electricity, which can be sold back to the grid.

The system was devised by Peter Dearman, a self-taught backyard inventor from Hertfordshire, and it has been taken to commercial scale with a £10m grant from the UK government.

Mr Dearman said his invention was 60-70% efficient, depending how it is used.

That is less efficient than batteries, but he said the advantage of liquid air is the low cost of the storage tanks - so it can easily be scaled up.

Also, unlike batteries, liquid air storage does not create a demand for minerals which may become increasingly scarce as the world moves towards power systems based on variable renewable electricity.

"Batteries are really great for short-term storage," Mr Dearman said. "But they are too expensive to do long-term energy storage. That's where liquid air comes in."

Mr Dearman had been developing a car run on similar principles with liquid hydrogen when he saw the potential for applying the technology to electricity storage.

He is now a passive shareholder in Highview, one of the firms building the 50MW plant.

The 50MW facility near Manchester will store enough energy to power around 50,000 homes for up to five hours.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Hyperloop has carried its first set of passengers.

Virgin Hyperloop has trialled its first ever journey with passengers, in the desert of Nevada.

The futuristic transport concept involves pods inside vacuum tubes carrying passengers at high speeds.

In the trial, two passengers - both company staff - travelled the length of a 500m test track in 15 seconds, reaching 172km/h.

You may recall from our past coverage as far as 2018 that the top speed for the Hyperloop is said to be 1,000 km/h, and while this is only a fraction of that ambition, it's a big step toward Hyperloop transportation becoming a reality.

Virgin Hyperloop is not the only firm developing the concept but nobody has carried passengers before.

Sara Luchian, director of customer experience, was one of the two on board and described the experience as "exhilarating both psychologically and physically."

She and chief technology officer Josh Giegel wore normal clothing rather than flights suits for the event, which took place on Sunday afternoon outside of Las Vegas. Ms Luchian said the journey was smooth and "not at all like a rollercoaster" although the acceleration was "zippier" than it would be with a longer track. Neither of them felt sick, she added.

She said that their speed was hampered by the length of the track and acceleration required.

The concept, which has spent years in development, builds on a proposal by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Some critics have described it as science fiction.

It is based on the world's fastest magnetic levitation trains, then made faster by placing the train inside vacuum tubes.

The world record speed for a Maglev train was set in 2015 when a Japanese train reached 374mph in a test run near Mount Fuji. The Hyperloop has already exceeded that speed, but never with passengers.

Critics have pointed out that Hyperloop travel systems would involve the considerable undertaking of both getting planning permission and then constructing vast networks of tubes for every travel path.

Ms Luchian acknowledges the potential difficulties, saying: "Of course there's a lot of infrastructure to be built but I think we've mitigated a lot of risk that people didn't think was possible."

In speaking about the infrastructure challenges, she pointed out that while governments can continue building up yesterday's transport systems, people are looking for new solutions: the transportation of the future.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Microsoft Teams users are under active attack.

Microsoft Teams users are under active attack in a ‘FakeUpdates’ malware campaign.

Attackers are using ads for fake Microsoft Teams updates to deploy backdoors, which use Cobalt Strike to infect companies’ networks with malware.

Microsoft is warning its customers about the so-called “FakeUpdates” campaigns in a non-public security advisory revealed by Bleeping Computer. The campaign is targeting various types of companies, with recent targets in the K-12 education sector, where organizations are currently dependent on using apps like Teams for videoconferencing due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Cobalt Strike is a commodity attack-simulation tool that’s used by attackers to spread malware, particularly ransomware. Recently, threat actors were seen using Cobalt Strike in attacks exploiting Zerologon, a privilege-elevation flaw that allows attackers to access a domain controller and completely compromise all Active Directory identity services.

In the advisory, Microsoft said it’s seen attackers in the latest FakeUpdates campaign using search-engine ads to push top results for Teams software to a domain controlled by the attackers and used for nefarious activity. If victims click on the link, it downloads a payload that executes a PowerShell script, which loads malicious content.

Cobalt Strike beacons are among the payloads also being distributed by the campaign, which give threat actors the capability to move laterally across a network beyond the initial system of infection. The link also installs a valid copy of Microsoft Teams on the system to appear legitimate and avoid alerting victims to the attack.

Malware being distributed by the campaign include Predator the Thief infostealer, which pilfers sensitive data such as credentials, browser and payment data. Microsoft also has seen a backdoor and ZLoader stealer being distributed by the latest campaigns.

Microsoft is recommending that people use web browsers that can filter and block malicious websites, and ensure that local admin passwords are strong and can’t easily be guessed.

Admin privileges also should be limited to essential users and avoid domain-wide service accounts that have the same permissions as an administrator, according to the report.

They advise organizations to limit their attack surface to keep attackers at bay by blocking executable files that do not meet specific criteria or blocking JavaScript and VBScript code from downloading executable content.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson

Tim Berners-Lee hopes to improve the privacy of the Internet with his new company.

Inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, is having another crack at fixing the internet’s biggest problems with the launch of a new enterprise server.

The Inrupt Enterprise Solid Server is the first product from a company the inventor started two years ago in response to the problem of personal data online, where tech giants like Facebook and Google build vast databases on user's profiles and sell them to advertisers to make massive profits.

Inrupt has worked on a series of new standards that allow individuals to store their personal information in “pods” whose access they control.

The decentralized approach allows for the free and fast sharing of data but with control in the hands of its owners. The project is called Solid and after two years of work at MIT, the team behind it has released an enterprise service: the goal being to move the whole idea from concept to reality.

The enterprise server will allow organizations to build applications using others’ data pods that can do useful things like draw comparisons across users, or build greater context around user data, while keeping the user in control of their data.

For many businesses, it will be a chicken-and-egg conundrum where it won’t be worth investing in the Solid system until there is sufficient data and users of the system; and users won’t bother providing their data until there are sufficient companies and applications.

With new regulations like GDPR and California’s privacy law, a system like Solid would make it significantly easier for companies to gather and use data without having the weight of administering it all and being responsible for constantly updated permissions.

In a blog post Monday, Berners-Lee announced a number of big-name partners that will run pilots, including the BBC, NatWest Bank, the National Health Service and Flanders Government. The pilots are small and the intent is to spark greater awareness of the technology and grow adoption.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


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